Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Settle down on the playground

I know I’m supposed to get livid over things like this, but I find myself strangely philosophical about it.  I’ve heard of kids shows in Palestine approaching on the bizarre when it comes to indoctrinating kids to hate other people.  If you don’t think there’s something screwed up about that culture, then perhaps we just need to take a closer look at their children’s entertainment.

Gateway pundit points to this dialog regarding a guy in a bunny suit on a children’s show (Assud is the rabbit):

      Saraa: Did you see the West's attack against the Messenger [Muhammad]? What do you have to say about this?

      Amaani, (10 year old girl by phone): I say to the cowardly infidels...

      Assud: Criminals.

      Amaani: Criminals.

      Assud: Do you boycott Israeli and Danish products?

      Amaani: Yes

      Assud: You don't eat them at all?

      Amaan: I don't eat them at all.

      Assud: Great! Keep it up!

      Saraa: We will all boycott Danish products, and Israeli products first.

      * * * * *

      Saraa: What can we do for the Messenger?

      Inaas, (10 year old girl by phone): We can fight them because they cursed Allah's Messenger.

      Saraa: 'Tomorrow's Pioneers' army will redeem the Messenger, with their possessions and their blood, Assud, and will not let them repeat this attack.

      Assud: If they repeat it we will kill them, by Allah.

      Saraa: In His will.

      Assud: I will bite them and eat them!

Nice.  Those Danes might look tasty, but…
So we can argue all day about how its all Israel’s fault for the mental state these people are in, and that they wouldn’t be this foundational hatred if Israel had never existed, but you can also argue convincingly that there are some cultural issues at the heart of this, and Israel is just a scapegoat.  There are many groups of people who are suffering far worse at the hands of their own government, and they aren’t screaming death to anyone.

Regarding the tendency for many fundamental Muslims to rage against the machine every time they feel the least bit of disrespect toward them or their religion (think specifically of the cartoons published in many places, but notably Denmark) they cry bloody murder, literally.  Death to Denmark.  Death to Israel.  And while we’re at it, death to America.  Can’t leave them out.

This behavior is strikingly similar to pre-adolescent maturity striking out when pride has been injured.
Basically there are a few ways that a person can react when someone takes a shot at their pride.  One is to ignore it, which is what we try to teach our kids to do.  Sometimes you can’t ignore it, and you takes steps to either remove yourself from the scene or appeal to a higher authority.  In the kid’s case this would be a teacher or parent, right?  We would prefer that these responses be the ones our own children would use.  However…

Another possible approach is to defend yourself intellectually.  And by that, when I think of a 10 year old I’m thinking of ways you can jab back verbally, making it a war of words until you come up with the quip that will ensure legendary status in your lunchroom (“I know you are, but what am I”).  Either way, getting verbal jabs in gives you an outlet for your emotional stress.  Defending yourself verbally is they way many arguments SHOULD happen.

Now, here come the complaints from moms everywhere.  No, I don’t really advocate this in the extreme.   Abusive comments and cursing are also something I don’t encourage in my own children.  But if you can’t verbally defend yourself to the neighborhood bully it eventually might lead down this next path.

And that’s physical violence.  We often think about the adult who gets goaded into starting a bar fight because someone insulted his mullet as “infantile” and seriously lacking in self-respect.  If your only response to insult or demeaning comments is to attack the accuser physically, then perhaps you never really graduated from 3rd grade, emotionally anyway.

Now I must admit that whenever I see Muslim responses to criticism or insult, no matter how slight (or in some cases how misunderstood) I see the group acting like the 8 year old down the block who’s mother probably didn’t love him enough.  Unfortunately, like the mullet-sporting bar fighter above, you can’t go back home and regain that respect from your mother’s love.  At least not entirely.  And the Arab/Muslim community isn’t going to get over this by concessions from the west, nor is Israel rolling over and moving to Palm Springs going to repair the damage.  That must come from within.

There’s actually a better Christian answer for this,  but that’s for the individual, and I’m talking about a group and a culture.  Christian individuals, according to the faith, are supposed to expect insult and oppression.  We’re also supposed to take it, because if you can’t get someone to become a Christian by demonstrating it faithfully and defending it logically, then you’ve got nothing.  Muslims probably have a better response to critical statements about their religion than “Death to infidels,” but unless they use it they appear every bit the tike on the playground who lashes out at kids calling him fat.  Is it any wonder that we don’t take them seriously?

Power grab by the DEA

I’ve been interested lately in the way that government agencies attempt to grab power for themselves above and beyond what their actual mandate accounts for.  For instance an agency who attempts to get power from Congress over an arena that traditionally belongs to another agency.

This just whisked across the wire:

    Innovative new drugs such as OxyContin that have been developed in the last two decades provide targeted relief for intractable pain. While they have helped innumerable patients, they have also been abused. The DEA response?

    One was to try and get the power (now exclusively vested in the FDA) to have a final say over whether new narcotic medications should come to the market. Legislation to do so was temporarily passed in 2004 and the DEA sought its reauthorization in 2005 -- as a "rider" attached to its appropriations bill, without Congressional debate. At one time, the DEA even sent out solicitations to hire clinicians to review new drug applications for narcotics, a role reserved for the FDA. The DEA has stepped back from that effort -- at least for now.

It's often the case that measures that increase federal power are hidden inside larger bills and don't get adequate congressional scrutiny.  So now you have another case.  For your information this type of thing happens all the time, and is just another of the plethora of reasons to outlaw unrelated riders on Federal bills before Congress.  If you didn't already believe that.

It's interesting how, when looking back at the age where the Fed really started to acquire power in the early 20th century, much of the control that government has over society was inserted and enacted without popular support.  Social Security was generally unpopular in the 30s and 40s, as it went across the traditional American value of self-reliance.  But it ended up being sold as something it wasn't, and in the end many of it's measure have been passed as riders on larger omnibus bills which are difficult for legislators to vote against (usually because of something else that's in there).

Here's another example.  This is what Barack Obama says about a bill he introduced last year:

    American Jobs: Barack Obama introduced the Patriot Employer Act of 2007 to provide a tax credit to companies that maintain or increase the number of full-time workers in America relative to those outside the US; maintain their corporate headquarters in America; pay decent wages; prepare workers for retirement; provide health insurance; and support employees who serve in the military.

And this is what it does:

    The legislation, called the 'Patriot Employer Act', defines patriotic businesses as those that

    • "Pay at least 60 percent of each employee's health care premiums,"
    • Have a position of "neutrality in employee [union] organizing drives,"
    • "Maintain or increase the number of full-time workers in the United States relative to the number of full-time workers outside of the United States,"
    • Pay a salary to each employee "not less than an amount equal to the federal poverty level," and
    • Provide a pension plan.

So your patriotic if you obey, or fall into line with what certain members of government want you to do.  That's an interesting definition of the word "patriot" if you ask me.  And by the way, the tax credit is miniscule. 

But this type of stuff happens all the time.  Make the name of the bill sound good enough and it doesn't matter what it's called.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I'm getting behind

For the past few months I’ve been absent from this blog much of the time.  I’ve been busy, or in many cases I’ve been doing lots of reading and unsure what I wanted to write on.  Lately, I started briefly with the intention of scrutinizing the platforms of the candidates for President of the United States.  As I’ve been going along, I’ve been slow enough to have candidates drop out before I was done with them, such as Romney and Thompson.  Now I have a decision to make as far as candidates who appear done, such as Hillary. 

Yes, for those of you who know me and my inclinations politically, I will be looking hard at the Democrat and not dismissing them out right.  However, it’s not likely that I’m going to like what I see overall.

As for Hillary, some pundits (not insignificant ones) are starting to declare her candidacy all but Casper.  She hasn’t won a state in a while, and momentum seems to have finally taken hold of the Obama campaign, so much so that even states where Clinton was supposed to win are now looking like they might tilt.  There’s some concern that Hillary will use the Clinton machine to influence the decisions of the delegates and super-delegates, regardless of how the states voted.  It’s legally possible, but doing so would tear the Democrat party apart and they’d have a much less likely hope in November.

So, in subsequent posts I’m going to start looking at McCain and Obama.  Our primary here isn’t until May, but the races will be over by then, so why wait?  We might even see some third party candidates entering the general election by then.

I'm from the government…
…and I'm here to help you (bwaa hahahahaaa!).
In other political news, The Armed Liberal over at Winds reminds us that using government control as a way to try and influence the economy and peoples choices is a bi-partisan psychosis:

      January 31st, 2008 - WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., today joined Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in offering legislation to provide a tax credit for anyone purchasing a newly constructed home, a foreclosed home or a home where foreclosure is pending.

      “Providing Americans with this $15,000 tax credit over three years would provide a much-needed boost to the housing market and the economy,” Alexander said. “This incentive will restore confidence in the housing market while preventing a housing disaster by reducing the number of unsold and foreclosed homes on the market that threaten to lessen home values and reduce homeowner equity.”

And here’s what AL said:

      So the senator and his co-sponsor want to use the power of the US Treasury to punish private home sellers by making the federal government fund their competitors. Under this legislation, the government will be actively harming the financial interests of millions of private sellers in order to boost the fortunes of a few thousand other sellers.

I often criticize Democrats for making populist decisions designed to give the impression of help, and yet not really understanding how the economy works or really care what government control does to personal freedom over time.  However it seems that many Republicans don’t get this either.

That’s one of the things I’ll be looking for with the candidates this year.  How well do they understand the economy and how likely are they to impose populist measures designed to look good but actually increase government power to the detriment of us all.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Alas, the Republican is gone

I made a quick reference in that last Romney post about Fred Thompson, and how the last real conservative had departed the race, leaving us with Romney and McCain, both of which have been accuse of being Republican in Name Only. Before you start drenching me in comments extolling either one's conservative credentials, read this article, and then recall that most of Thompson's responses to questions regarding his stances on social issues and domestic economics amounted to: it's not the government's job. In a nutshell anyway. That's what traditional conservatism is about, not this passionate government-centered morality we see today.

In the end, the American political machine, and it's subjects the American people, couldn't digest the message Thompson was trying to get across. The biggest worry among Republicans was that he didn't have "fire in the belly."
Fire in the belly: For those of us who suffer from acid reflux, this is a phrase full of meaning. In the world of politics, however, the meaning is vaguer. William Safire's New Political Dictionary defines "fire in the belly" as "an unquenchable thirst for power or glory; the burning drive to win a race or achieve a goal." It's bad, apparently, not having fire in the belly. The premise seems to be that vein-popping ambition, unrestrained avidity, is a necessary if not sufficient quality for someone who wants to hold the highest political position in a democratic country.
So in our day and age, unquenchable ambition is what we want in our candidates. The desire, above all else, to rise to the top and grasp the reigns of power. This is a good thing?
Read the entire article. Then come back.

I got a little hot in my last post because of the one-liner, poster-board thinking that has become the right's social policy for any given candidate that wants to be seen as a card-carrying member of the Republican right. It's the nations inability to see beyond the headline that causes this, and perhaps we're wrong to look back and envision that 100 years ago, without the sound-bite medium of television, the only way you could get to know a candidate for national office was to spend time reading about them, and more Americans had the time and attention span to get beyond the headline.

Anyway, it's with great displeasure that I lament the dropping of the only candidate who understood that it's not about who's got the power, it's that the government has a roll in the life of a healthy democracy. And ours has over reached that roll in a way that Mt. Everest towers over the pile of sugar I put at the bottom of my coffee cup every morning. His ilk is unacceptable not just to the Democrats (who lost that tendency a long time ago) but alas, now also to the Republicans.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Mit Romney: Social issues

I always start these posts with a bit of ambivalence. It's hard to start, knowing that you want to do a good and thorough job and knowing that it's going to have to take a bit of research and a bit of writing. Which takes a bit out of your evening. However, I yearn to know a bit more about this candidate before I make some sort of decision this coming May, and then this coming November.

Since the last weekend, it seems that Rudy Giuliani has vacated the race, leaving only Romney, McCain and a few other lingering afterthoughts. I'm sorry to all those who were seriously thinking about voting for Huckabee, Paul and the like. But they really never had much of a shot, Huckabee's Iowa victory aside, and voting for them always seemed to me to be a Kucinich type vote. I.E. you're doing it because you want to affect policy, not because you though your guy had a real shot.

Up until this point in my investigation of Mit Romney, I've looked a bit at his stances on foreign policy and economics. In this arena, he and McCain aren't really that far off. McCain has some disturbing idea about campaign finance, but otherwise is strong in other areas. He also is pretty strong against some of the more intense interrogation techniques that the Bush administration has been in favor of, but that's understandable considering his past, and he's otherwise tough against terror.
But these candidates start to find some separation here in the social arena. But this is about Romney. More on McCain later.

Romney has one document on his site regarding conservatives culture and values ideas. These of course include things like right to life (abortion issues), marriage issues, children's entertainment and exposure to drugs and violence (in TV or reality), and second amendment issues, which he stylizes as basic rights issues.
Funny how both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans, can talk about how our rights and freedoms are being eroded, but talking about two totally different ways in which they want us to believe they're being eroded. Anyway...
This is a pretty general bunch of statements, and reading this page on his site, I just get that "he's delivering this to conservatives because he wants them to think he feels like them on these issues." But what's he really about here. He's been accused of treating these things much differently as the governor of Massachusettes, but the conundrum is this: does he really hold conservative values in the social arena and just lightened them up for his state, or does he hold fairly liberal values, which is how he became governor, and is molding them to conservatives to run for President?

Now I've said before that I feel like Presidents tend to hold themselves to what they say in campaign speeches more than how they've acted as officials in the past. So here's what Romney says:
  • He's against Roe v. Wade and would see it overturned, however defers the issue to the states (entirely?) while there is division of opinion in this country.
  • Supports a Federal Marriage Amendment to the constitution.
  • Advocates conservatives judges (says nothing about constructionists, just conservative. What does that mean?).
  • Proposes tougher laws and enforcement of child abuse, online porn and one-strike and your out for folks who prey on children through the internet (including lifetime tracking with GPS after they get out of jail).
  • Support volunteer efforts (specifically talks about supporting faith-based groups here).
The document then spends considerable time criticizing McCain-Feingold as an erosion of our first amendment rights, and then supports the second amendment without really saying anything else about it. He certainly hits all the hot buttons for conservatives. However, I don't see anything original here. No original thoughts or ideas. Why do I get the feeling this is just a placeholder in a platform of issues that appears just because people expect it to?

First of all, I'm not sure the "we're such a great nation because of our values" statement, coubled with naming those values as "life" and "marriage" is necessarily helpful. Those are part of our values, but the values this country has that propels us to super economic and cultural prominence in the world are so much more than that, and I think focusing on those like a laser is part of the problem.
Let me state first of all that I'm not saying that those things aren't important, and that the loss of those values will in fact take us down a dark path toward decline. But it's always been the social structures of our society that held those value in place. The values that created the most economically powerful and influential nation on earth are centered around the freedoms we have, and the protections that each and every citizen in this country enjoys. They come from some very smart guys who lived over 200 years ago, who decided that people would function better inside a framework of trust and autonomy, free from government intrusion.
And so when Republicans talk about social values, I get the same feeling sometimes that I get when Democrats talk about just about anything else. This is the government telling us what's right and wrong.

Two points there. Anyone who's spent any time at this blog knows that I have very complicated thoughts about abortion and marriage in a federal context. I understand the abortion crowd (apart from the deep seeded left) and here's something that might cause you to choke on your Thomas Kemper Orange Cream soda: I don't think Roe v. Wade needs to be overturned. At least at this moment I don't.
It's not because I'm pro-abortion. I firmly believe that life starts at the moment the cell formerly known as an egg becomes zygote. The DNA fundamentally becomes something the mother and father don't own any more. I've been willing to be pragmatic to the point that medical science has determined that infants in-utero feel pain, and generally start behaving human about halfway through the pregnancy, and so while there is a segment of society that feels that they need to have abortions for whatever reason and will fight to have that right, we can limit them to that point.
However, and this is key, I don't think that Roe means what 99% of the country thinks it means. The circumstances behind the decision were much more limited. At the time the entire argument AGAINST abortion was that medical practice was poor to the point that it was highly likely that performing an abortion would harm or kill the mother. By the time of Roe, medical science had improved to the point that most to almost all abortions could be performed safely (again, for the mother) and that argument no longer carried any weight.
But there was no discussion in the Supreme Justices arguments about the fetus and whether it had rights at all. That's the issue with what I see as a completely deluded debate. Roe can stand on it's own merits while coming to a conclusion that while there's no need to outlaw abortion in order to save the mother, the logic behind Roe, we need to come to a conclusion regarding the status of the baby growing inside. But until we put Roe aside and let it be, promising that it can stand without challenge, we'll never get the left dialogging.
OK. Rant over. Sorry, I just get peeved when I see this type of statement from a politician. It's not very well thought out and just panders to a conservative element in order to get elected.

This type of thinking permeates the rest of his points. Marriage Amendments and support for faith based groups will play well with social conservatives, but they never did well for Bush and could really nail his coffin in the general election. I could go on all day about how ill though out any idea along these lines is bound to be coming from a candidate for President, and creating amendments for social causes and funding religious groups is not really a conservative idea (in the classical sense of conservative).

Lastly, ripping on McCain for his landmark campaign finance bill is pretty disingenuous. Give McCain some credit for pushing something every citizen at the time thought would reform politics in this country, and got considerable resistance from career politicians. Heck, at the time I thought it was a good thing, and the real conservative in this Presidential race (alas, who is now gone) Thompson also voted for it before he realized what the true effect would be on politics.
True, McCain needs to be called to the carpet for not backing down and admitting that his great idea fell flat on his face, and ended up making our lives worse rather than better. But give the guy some credit.

The Washington Post took a look at some of what Romney was saying to try to get him away from any image he might have gained in Massachusettes as a liberal on the abortion issue. This is the thing that he gets a lot of criticism about, the possibility that he changed his stance because of where he was running.
Alas, it was too good to end there. The National Review article, by John J. Miller, also noted that Romneysaid during his gubernatorial campaign that he would "fully protect a woman's right to choose" abortion but now says his "political philosophy is pro-life." And it quoted Romney adviser Michael Murphy as saying: "He's been a pro-life Mormon faking it as a pro-choice friendly."
Now he's not as shifty as a Clinton, but you can't have it both ways.