Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Last day of the year: contemplating American Exceptionalism

I have learned quite graphically over the past two days that differences of opinion over Israel and the Palestinians are--if possible--more polarizing than differences over abortion rights or gay marriage. There appears to be a sort of absolute moral calculus involved in contemplating that confict that eliminates all possibility of reasonable discourse between otherwise rational people. So be it.

Strangely enough, this got me to thinking about another moral absolute for many, many of my fellow citizens: the idea that the United States and her citizens represent something unique among all the nations and peoples of the world, a beacon of freedom, a nation given a special mission by God to spread democracy and human freedom around the world....

A city on a hill....

The greatest country God gave any people...

Manifest destiny....

They hate us for our freedom....

As far as I know (and most authorities agree with me), the term American Exceptionalism was coined by the Frenchman, Alexis deToqueville in his Democracy in America, and consisted originally of five inter-related conceptual observations about what made our society tick:






And, at some point, the concept of Anti-Statism ended up in the mix.

There's an outstanding primer to both the concept, its advocates, and how it has changed over the years here.

In the 20th Century, American Exceptionalism in the Toquevillian sense was assumed to be part of the answer to the question, Why has America--unlike the other industrialized nations--never developed a major Socialist or Labor Party movement?

[A fair question: after reading Stephan Thernstrom's Poverty and Progress in graduate school, which challenged the idea of upward social mobility in America in the late 19th Century, I had one of those blinding flashes that's either insight or unsubstantiated fantasy, in which I speculated that in American extreme geographic mobility often substitutes for (or distorts) true social mobility. One of those things I'd like to have had time to research along the way....]

One of the most intriguing formulations of the consequences of American Exceptionalism that I have ever read was written by historian Seymour Martin Lipset [who has had a number of different positions on the issue throughout his career]:

Born out of revolution, the United States is a country organized around an ideology which includes a set of dogmas about the nature of a good society. Americanism, as different people have pointed out, is an "ism" or ideology in the same way that communism or fascism or liberalism are isms. As G. K. Chesterton put it: "America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence. . . ." As noted in the Introduction, the nation's ideology can be described in five words: liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissezfaire. The revolutionary ideology which became the American Creed is liberalism in its eighteenth- and nineteenth-century meanings, as distinct from conservative Toryism, statist communitarianism, mercantilism, and noblesse oblige dominant in monarchical, state-church-formed cultures.

Other countries' senses of themselves are derived from a common history. Winston Churchill once gave vivid evidence to the difference between a national identity rooted in history and one defined by ideology in objecting to a proposal in 1940 to outlaw the anti-war Communist Party. In a speech in the House of Commons, Churchill said that as far as he knew, the Communist Party was composed of Englishmen and he did not fear an Englishman. In Europe, nationality is related to community, and thus one cannot become un-English or un-Swedish. Being an American, however, is an ideological commitment. It is not a matter of birth. Those who reject American values are un-American.

Wow. Those last couple sentences strike pretty hard.

Then there's Lipset's observation about the nature of labor movements in US history:

Prior to the 1930s, the American trade union movement was also in its majority anti-statist. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) was syndicalist, believed in more union, not more state power, and was anti-socialist. Its predominant leader for forty years, Samuel Gompers, once said when asked about his politics, that he guessed he was three quarters of an anarchist. And he was right. Europeans and others who perceived the Gompers-led AFL as a conservative organization because it opposed the socialists were wrong. The AFL was an extremely militant organization, which engaged in violence and had a high strike rate. It was not conservative, but rather a militant anti-statist group. The United States also had a revolutionary trade union movement, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The IWW, like the AFL, was not socialist. It was explicitly anarchist, or rather, anarcho-syndicalist. The revived American radical movement of the 1960s, the so-called New Left, was also not socialist. While not doctrinally anarchist, it was much closer to anarchism and the IWW in its ideology and organizational structure than to the Socialists or Communists.

This would all be something of a curiousity for historians and political theorists, I guess, except for the jingoistic, evangelical turn that American Exceptionalism has taken over the past few decades.

These days we find the idea of American Exceptionalism invoked in churches and along the campaign trail to justify all manner of foreign adventures or public policies.

Both Libertarians and Progressives (merely to name ideologies on opposite ends of most political spectra) regularly appeal to American History to support their positions, when--in reality--they are appealing to a constructed public memory of an idealized society that never really existed.

[The surest sign that politicians are distorting history for their own ideological purposes, I tell my students regularly, is to check to see if their lips are moving.]

Moreover--and this is a touchy subject, going toward religion and all, but what the hell--the whole concept of American Exceptionalism goes against the grain of Christianity as I understand it. Isn't it the case that all souls are equal (even if equally loathesome, thanks to original sin) in the eyes of God? If so, in a religion that emphasizes the spiritual equality of all human beings--men and women, slave and free, Hebrew and Greek, a creed that emphasizes humility, where do we get off in internalizing the concept that where we live and the accident of our birth makes us inherently special?

Yet we have this ugly tendency to usurp Biblical language (especially what is called kingdom language) for our own political agendas, invoking God in prayers of war and battle because--as Americans--we apparently don't have to worry about whether our cause is just.

It's a tautology: we are Americans and therefore our cause is just.

I think there is a valid use--at least philosophically speaking--for the concept of American Exceptionalism, but that use falls in the nature of a challenge rather than a justification.

As a Libertarian and (perhaps paradoxically, I'm not certain) a Catholic, I've always had a tough time with American Exceptionalism, primarily, I think, because both claim to be universalist doctrines. This leads me into some pretty strange places, such as my own convoluted stand on immigration (specifically by brown people without papers).

The man I will always think of as my priest (Fr. Paul Mast) led me to the question of whether American laws should trump God's injunction that all people have the right to go peacefully to (or flee from) anywhere in search of a better life for themselves and their families.

They are coming here to take jobs away from real Americans, they're here to wreck our medical system and bleed dry our government benefits....

Strange, isn't it?

Throughout most of our history we have accepted the doctrine that immigrants to America were moved by freedom, liberty, and economic opportunity (American Exceptionalism!), that they each brought two working hands rather than one consuming mouth...

This last generation of immigrants, however, has suddenly become parasitic leeches. When did I miss the transition (don't worry--somebody will not notice that was a rhetorical question and set me straight in the comments, never fear)?

Does it not strike anyone else, on either first or last day of the year, that we as a nation are so damn sure of the value of American Exceptionalism that we wish to export the travel package to the rest of the world---

Political power flows from the barrel of a gun--stop that, Mao!

--but slam shut the gates and pull up the drawbridge when people want to come here by the millions and partake?

American Exceptionalism is a funny thing--funny here being used in a sort of Dennis-Rodman-he's-a-funny-freak-but-you-can't-look-away sense--an insidious thing.

It tries to make us all super-nationalists. It encourages us to rewrite history (next time you're watching Saving Private Ryan or The Big Red One, ask yourself what your high school history book told you about the significance of the Russian Front in World War Two). It requires us to categorize those who disagree with us--either fellow citizens or the leaders of foreign countries--as enemies to be vanquished and not people to be convinced.

Yes, I know there are real threats and real enemies out there. I spent twenty-one years wearing my country's uniform; I've spent a career studying military history. And I've learned that kill 'em all and let God sort it out makes a much better movie than a foreign policy.

This is the end of a year that has been troubling to me, both personally and in my interpretation of world events. I believe we are less safe--that my children's future is less safe--because we persist in pursuing interventionist policies abroad and intrusionist policies at home.

The ball will drop in less than two hours past the mummified face of Dick Clark, channeled through Ryan Seacrest.

If I have one resolution for the New Year that I have any chance of keeping (I gave up on those weight and exercise lies a long time ago), it's this: I will challenge those who blindly raise the standard of American Exceptionalism to deal with real facts, real history, and even real Christianity before they go after their fellow citizens as un-American, and reach the point where the photographic image of a wounded, dying human being no longer evokes an empathic reaction because that person was born and lived in Myanmar, or Gaza, or Cabinda, or even south-central LA.

Does criticism of Israel equate to support for Hamas?

In 1943 the German Army discovered a mass grave of Polish officers, executed by the Soviet NKVD (forerunner of the KGB) after the partition of Poland in 1939.

Sensing a gigantic propaganda opportunity, the Nazis invited in the international press, to say, Look, what a mass-murdering bastard Stalin is!

Of course, by that time, 80% of all the Jews who would die in the Holocaust were already dead.

Did the fact that the Third Reich had committed genocide absolve the Soviet Union of mass murder?

Another case: during the final round of the Seminole Wars in the early 1830s, the United States Army managed to defeat the elusive Seminoles under Tecumsah by simply burning their crops and continuing operations through the summer in order to prevent them from planting any more. As Seminole children began starving, the leaders--including Tecumsah--found themselves forced to parley. Tecumsah was eventually executed by the US Army in a bizarre set of circumstances.

Our justification for tactics that starved Seminole children? The Seminoles had been allowing runaway African slaves to join their bands, and had raided southern Georgia plantations for food, weapons, and tools. The Seminoles also sometimes tortured captives to death.

Was the tactic of starvation of civilians justified by the actions of the Seminole leaders and warriors?

One more case: during William T. (for Tecumsah--how ironic) Sherman's March to the Sea, from Atlanta to Savannah in late 1864, he learned that the far outnumbered Confederate defenders had mined some major roads to discourage their use by advancing Union columns. Outraged, Sherman sent for captured Confederate soldiers and made them walk at the head of his columns, to set off any mines. At about the same time, in the Shenandoah Valley, Phillip Sheridan responded to Rebels blowing up railroad tracks to disrupt his supplies by tying Southern civilians to the front end of the trains, so that they would die first.

Is retaliation that targets a civilian population--even a complicit civilian population--moral, even in wartime?

Since the European religious wars of the 15th and 16th Centuries, scholars and soldiers have been attempting to codify laws of war. It seems most often like a paradoxical enterprise, especially when you are fighting an enemy who doesn't play by the same rules. Most often the response--particularly of those with a national, emotional, or personal stake in a given conflict--is that once our enemies have violated the rules of war, then all bets are off, or else its close-cousin corollary: war is meant to be fought to victory by whatever means necessary.

This is insanity, especially for a nation--here you may select either the United States, Great Britain, or Israel--that has repeatedly sullied the reputations of its overwhelmingly honorable soldiers by covering up, excusing, or ignoring the misdeeds that inevitably occur in any given war.

Hamas is a sub-national, religiously-oriented, nationalistic organization that routinely employs terror tactics.

I do not subscribe to, nor approve of, terror tactics--by anyone.

The people who argue--from either side--that peace can never be achieved until side X is destroyed have fallen prey to the unfortunate thinking referenced in a quotation attributed to HG Wells: The first man to pick up a stick to hit his neighbor was the first man to run out of ideas.

The Middle East today is a place almost completely devoid of both ideas and imagination, in any positive sense, and on all sides.

The current insistence of those who consider criticism of Israel for its current campaign in Gaza (or previous campaigns in Lebanon) that to condemn a tactic used by the Israelis is to support Hamas terror is an emotional and not an intellectual response.

There will, of course, be pragmatic rejoinders to this opinion, people who say, After all these years of continuing Arab emnity and threats to its existence, what do you expect Israel to do?

I'm not sure--how's that as honesty?

But I do expect the inheritors of one of the great religious and cultural traditions on Earth--albeit one that in its most radical interpretations seems based on a mythical history of Deity-approved genocide--to display more imagination than it is currently displaying.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A just cause operates in daylight, right?

Now, stung by an unusually bad reception for its Gaza attacks in online media, the Israeli Defense Force has decided to go into the spin business itself:

Across the world, mainstream journalists are expressing increasing disquiet at the way the Israeli government is trying to manage international coverage of its war on the Gaza Strip. Journalists have been barred not just from the strip itself, but the government is now prohibiting journalists from going to parts of Israel near the Gaza Strip....

The Israeli military has therefore announced that online media and the blogosphere are another warzone for the military to manage. To that end, the military is launching its own Youtube channel to bring the viewing public footage of “precision bombing operations” in the strip.

In ensuring that the only footage of their military operation is provided directly from them, the Israeli military is another step closer to completely managing public perception of the ongoing attacks. The military says the footage will allow the public to “know that people killed did not have peaceful intentions toward Israel,” which presumably means coverage of the killing of five children in their beds in a refugee camp last night, and the scores of other civilian deaths, will be carefully omitted from the official coverage.

President-elect Obama's silence on the Gaza killings should not be a surprise...

.... even though people didn't want to hear what he was saying during his campaign, or examine the Muslim world's responses to his appointment of Rahm Emmanuel as Chief of Staff.

Waiting to see the steel in his spine....

[An aside for Hube and others who take a pro-Israel stance here: read the second link and find out just how carefully Barack Obama tried to have it both ways--once before an Arab group and then before AIPAC. Exactly who does the man support, and what does he really know about the situation?}

Will President Obama nix the US Army's new domestic mission?

I'd write a post breaking the news that the Pentagon (read SecDef Gates of both the current and soon-to-be administrations) is looking more an more seriously at employing American soldiers under Federal control in domestic law enforcement, peace-keeping, and disaster-relief rolls, like my friends at or Delawareliberal, except....

That I first posted on the issue almost exactly three months ago, and followed it up several days ago.

The steady erosion of posse comitatus restrictions on national military forces has been under way since the 1980s, primarily through the vehicles of thewar on drugs and the war on brown people without papers.

It's a done deal. The 3rd Infantry Division is not only being assigned the duty under Northcom, it's being expanded into the Army's largest division (at 25,000 troops with five brigades) to handle the task.

So the question to ask now is, "What is President Obama going to do about it?"

Does he support the use of Federally controlled military force in a domestic setting, or does he support constitutional limitations on the use of the military?

A lot of campaign rhetoric and a lot of credibility is--or should be--riding here. I've seen the famous editorial cartoon of Barack sitting in the Oval Office taping the US Constitution back together.

So here's a place to start.

President Barack Obama could issue an Executive Order during the first week of his Presidency that forbids the use of Federal military forces in situations of domestic unrest that fall short of the Constitutional definition of insurrection.

There are plenty of military forces available, trained for disaster relief and useful for local security operations, in the National Guard. There are only two drawbacks, from the imperial perspective, about relying on them.

1) They'd have to be home to be used.

2) They fall under the statutory authority of the Governor, not the Feds, and most of the soldiers are citizens of the states wherein they might be employed. Both of these items are a great check on the tendency of the Federal government to misuse such forces internally.

Anybody care to bet that President Obama will choose to accept a strict constitutional limit on the domestic use of military force?

I've got some mortgage money here that says otherwise.

Monday, December 29, 2008

New Labour Attempts To Export Its Police State

I lived almost five years in the UK, and during that time, I got to watch what happens to a relatively free Western society when the Nanny State crosses the line over into a police state.

And make no mistake, New Labour's Britain is undoubtedly a police state these days.

When I lived there, I watched as prison and/or draconian fines became a standard punishment for even the most minor of "crimes." Buy the wrong class of ticket for a train? Fine and prison.

Use a garden hose during a "water shortage" (caused by leaky pipes in a country where most of the year is rainy and overcast)? Fine and prison.

Demonstrate within one mile of Parliament? Fine and prison. (This law was passed after ruling party MPs got tired of seeing angry anti-war demonstrators out of their windows on their way to work). Incidentally, this law means that most of Central London, including Trafalgar Square, is now off-limits for political speech and demonstrations. The outrage over that trick was great enough that the government has promised it will repeal the law at some point. Maybe.

Cameras popped up everywhere. Britain is the most-watched society on earth, with the government boasting that it can track you on foot, and even track your car's movements at every step of the way... and keep the information for two years.

Own more than one mobile phone? The government is encouraging citizens to report you as a potential terrorist.

Are you a dark-complexioned Brazilian traveling on London's underground? Well, police may shoot you eight times in the head for no reason and then lie about you "being suspicious," but the chief of police will be "sorry" about your death -- while warning that such shootings could happen again.

Mandatory ID cards with biometric imprints have been created and implemented recently, first for new migrants to the country. Eventually, they will be mandatory for everyone. Don't have the card and cannot present it on demand to authorities? Fine and prison.

Don't have a TV license to watch television? We're watching you and we're coming to get you -- it's all in the database. The license, used to pay for the BBC, is mandatory for all TV owners and the British government is spending millions on a campaign to promote its ability to track you down.

Don't have the proper car tax disk? You're being tracked, and we'll come to crush your car.

But the Labour Party government in London isn't content to stop here. It has a new idea -- let's censor the Internet!

The kind of ratings used for films could be applied to websites in a bid to better police the Internet and protect children from harmful and offensive material, Britain's minister for culture has said.

We have to protect the CHILDREN!

Giving websites film-style ratings would be one possibility.

"This is an area that is really now coming into full focus," Burnham told the paper.

Internet service providers could also be forced to offer services where the only sites accessible are those deemed suitable for children, the paper said.

And helpfully, the Good Minister Of What We Should And Shouldn't See offers this helpful observation:

He said some content should not be available to be viewed.

"This is not a campaign against free speech, far from it; it is simply there is a wider public interest at stake when it involves harm to other people. We have got to get better at defining where the public interest lies and being clear about it."

Riiiiiight. "We" meaning government, "public interest" meaning government officials' interests, and "being clear" meaning a whole new hosts of fines, penalties and prison time for noncompliant nasties who dare to publish content Labour judges "not in the public interest."

So why am I blogging on this?

Because Britain's totalitarian ruling party isn't merely interested in starting this latest revolution in its Brave New World -- it wants to export it here to the United States!

Andy Burnham told The Daily Telegraph newspaper, published on Saturday, that the government was planning to negotiate with the administration of President-elect Barack Obama to draw up new international rules for English language websites.

"The more we seek international solutions to this stuff -- the UK and the U.S. working together -- the more that an international norm will set an industry norm," the newspaper reports the Culture Secretary as saying in an interview.

Unfortunately for the Minister, the pesky First Amendment over here would quickly put the kibosh on such a scheme (although the US government did make an attempt to implement a weaker version of censorship with the Clinton-era Communications Decency Act, which was largely stricken by federal courts.

This is one carefully-wrapped package from London that the new administration should return to its sender, post-haste.

The limits of philosophy meet the realities of the melt-down

Two arguments from individuals in the blogosphere whom I respect deserve legitimate answers:

First, from Waldo (because I believe he posted it first)

Greer is a small town in a pretty prosperous part of the Upstate [South Carolina]. Yet the number of people in need is growing. The support from the private sector is decreasing as the economic pinch gets worse.

What's the free market solution? Where are those billions that went to faith-based initiatives?

Point of clarification: Waldo is, as usual, tilting at the specific windmill of the SC GOP, but the question is one that Libertarians need to answer as well.

Second, from Dana at Delaware Watch [I could pick any number of posts here, Dana, but I'm using this one as representative]:

Here's an outcome of the recession that people will enjoy who never saw a welfare program they liked

[Followed by an extensive clip of States citing budgetary shortfalls to cut Medicaid benefits; you can read it there; I'm not citing it in full because I want to get straight to Dana's own words]

The poor don't need eyeglasses and hearing aids, do they? Nor do they need hospice care when they are dying. Let them, in the words of Scrooge, get on with it (death) and decrease the surplus population. Better that they go blind and deaf and die in back alleys than that anyone be "coerced" to give up a few dollars more in tax dollars.

The unqualified liberty of the needless is the tyranny of poverty and pain for the needy.

Enter the bleeding hearts (people like me):

The Democrats, who hold majorities in the House and the Senate, are sounding sympathetic for now. They are considering close to $100 billion to increase the share of Medicaid's costs that the federal government would pay during the next two years....

$100 billion that's—what?--3 months of occupation in Iraq? Yes, I too believe in cuts--cuts in the cost of empire building.

But there are other bleeding heart ideas under consideration like this one, which I think is a great idea:

According to a Washington source who is in close contact with lawmakers, some in Congress also are beginning to entertain the idea of allowing unemployed people who have lost health benefits to sign up for Medicaid, with federal money paying the entire bill.

I can imagine the consternation the help-haters will have about that proposal. "Why is it necessary to expand Medicaid, especially now during a recession," I can hear them say. I am tempted to let them stew in their blindness, but I cannot. It is during a period of deepening recession and increasing unemployment that people need help the most. Yet the knee jerk response of the help-haters is to call for cutting back such help during times like these. They feign acting responsibly even as their reasoning is trippingly counterintuitive.

When times are tough, people need help more, not less. Duh!

Here is the dynamic that a lot of Libertarians prefer to ignore:

1) While we would argue that most of the ills that either Waldo or Dana detail are the result of Statist intervention and not free-market policies [there is little, even back in the Reagan years, that could legitimately be defined as free market in any Libertarian sense], the reality of the present day is this....

2) Many American citizens have been placed, by our Statist Democratic and GOPer friends, in immediate chronic and/or acute financial and medical jeopardy by a muddled, part-Statist, part-semi-free-market, part-Robber Baron non-system....

3) And that while, long-term, only free market solutions offer the fundamental, lasting changes which will best secure the general welfare, it is an unfortunate fact that free market solutions (especially in light of our current f**ked up situation) operate too slowly and too subtly to provide immediate relief to millions of hard-working Americans going under now, thanks to the fact that they trusted ... the Government, and have been educated that when in danger or in doubt they should ... trust the Government over themselves, even if the Government helped get them into this mess.

[Aside: here's what I mean about short-term and long-term. As I pointed out in a series of posts on health care, one of the most significant moves that could be made toward reforming health care would be to relax or eliminate government licensing regulations that prevent Physicians' Assistants and Nurse Practitioners from setting up low-cost clinics around the country, while simultaneously giving Americans tax credits for every dollar spent on health care expenses. I stand by that position, but I must also admit that it would take several years to put in place, even if Congress decided to pass it in January, and that--if you child has a fever and you have no health insurance and no money--is not going to meet your immediate need.]

Do those people who lack the money or the health insurance have a right to health care services? Being a Libertarian and an advocate of negative rights, don't think so. But unlike a lot of my fellow Libertarians I do believe that, as an American citizen and a constitutionalist, we do have a responsibility toward our fellow citizens.

Here's what I wrote nearly a year ago [on New Year's Day 2008, as a matter of fact]:

But when we get to health care or education we are in a whole different ball park, because universal access to either at public expense cannot be formulated as a negative right.

Please do not mistake me here. I am not suggesting that public education or health care are not critical important issues. With Thomas Jefferson I agree that education has to be the mainstay of a republican form of government, and with millions of other Americans I agree that the inability of tens of millions of citizens to access health care is an outrage.

But it is not a violation of anyone's rights.

Instead, items like education and health care are societal RESPONSIBILITIES, and the role of government in meeting such responsibilities to any or all American citizens is something that is (A) part of the political process; (B) necessarily changes over time; and (C) involves the consent of the governed through elected representatives to fulfill these responsibilities through programs or legislation....

[There's more, and I think the argument is strong, but since it's there, I'm not going to re-post it all here.]

The point being: the current crisis involves two parts: (A) what we do in the long-term; and (B) what we do now.

The problem is that both progressives/liberals and social/fiscal conservatives generally want to pursue only short-term solutions that are consistent with the long-term ideological agendas that they are trying to implement, which unfortunately means that (in terms of acts rather than rhetoric) they see the current crisis as the opportunity to push society down their preferred road, rather than to grapple with the political process over whether or not to place pressure dressings on the arterial bleeding while arguing over the proper surgical regime to be followed later.

In many ways, Libertarians fall into this same false dichotomy.

One Libertarian blog that has some important insights into the healthcare side of this equation is Publius Endures, which recently ran a very thoughtful (not to mention dangerous) post entitled A Libertarian Argument for (limited) Single-Payer Health Care:

Yes, you read that title correctly. Before all the hate-mail starts pouring in, let me first make the caveat that all other things being equal, I would vastly prefer a truly free market approach to health care over either outright single payer or our current employer-based approach to health care. But depending on the goal of the health care system, single-payer health care might be a vast improvement over our current system. More likely, though, the absolute ideal would be a system in which almost all elements of the system were private and individual-based and other elements of the system were public and government based, with a very clear and recognizable boundary between the two.

The full argument is wonkishly detailed, but Publius eventually makes the point that the route to free-market health care may not lead through improvements in employer-paid health care, but through a very carefully limited experiment in single-payer health care. There are a lot of devils in the details here, like the bureaucratic inertia that, once the State had acquired single-payer power it would be loathe to relinquish it. But the entire argument is one of the few examples of a Libertarian thinker taking seriously the challenge of how we live up to our responsibilities to American citizens who are struggling under the current system.

[Does Publius convince me? Not entirely, but then I am not through digesting his arguments and links. The point here, however, is that everybody has to start thinking outside his or her particular philosophical/ideological box.]

I do know that disgustingly Darwinian responses, like this one, are not the way to think about other American citizens who have been so thoroughly failed by existing government bureaucracies and public education and should not be considered representative of the Libertarian movement:

Some of us don't want anything from the government EXCEPT DEFENSE!

Don't give me any welfare, don't give me any silly-ass health programs, and don't you dare make me pay for someone elses benefits.

The only thing I want from government is protection from Terrorism and Islamic extremism, and protection of the Borders from Illegal Immigration.

Beyond that, the Federal Government has little if any legitimate role in our lives.

The Feds keeping and maintaining the Smithsonian Institute, a few National Monumnents and Parks? That's fine by me. While some radical libertarians want to privatize everything, I'm okay with a tiny bit of government beyond the Military. Even some sort of safety net for the very elderly, blind and extremely handicapped.

But welfare programs to help fat, lazy couch potatos who spend all day watching Oprah, soaps, and game shows, instead of getting a real job. No thanks.

Hand-outs through Federal Welfare Programs for the able-bodied? Just get rid of them all.

Yeah, grossly over-simplifying the situation by demonizing people in difficulties who haven't been trained to become self-reliant, or who are barred from common-sense solutions by extensive government regulations meant to buck up Statist monopolies while ignoring the bank presidents leeching $1.6 billion in bonuses for driving their whole organizations into the ground at taxpayer expense--that's the way to reach people.

I draw an analogy between the current Meltdown and the issue of Gay Marriage.

As a Libertarian I would prefer to get the State completely out of the marriage game. Make civil unions simple another form of contract that any consenting adults (pairs or groups) can freely enter, while reserving the sacrament of marriage to the churches if people are so inclined and are willing to follow ecclesiastical rules.

But--in the short term--I support forcing the government to live up to the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution and quit discriminating against people who want to get married based on sexual orientation. I hope that pursuing the short-term solution will get us all closer to my preferred long-term solution, but I am unwilling to support the societal prejudices against LBGT American citizens or to trample on the opportunity for tens of thousands of gay Americans who want the societal, legal, and regulatory recognition of their relationship that we don't prevent drug-abusers, spouse-abusers, or even serial killers from enjoying.

Thus I find myself looking at what can be done now--in a carefully limited short-term--to use Libertarian philosophy and the political process to assist millions of other American citizens going down for the second time.

No, this is not any sort of definitive answer, nor a willingness to support any old welfare plan to come down the pike.

But it is a promise to my friends like Waldo and Dana--and other Americans--that I will look at every idea with an eye toward what we can do together, rather than what we can fight about.

And if that makes me a Nazi or a Stalinist to certain people, that I can live with.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The beliefs of Rick Warren (before he revised them)...

... for which you will have to go here to find the PDF shot of the Saddleback FAQ page before Warren had it revised after Barack Obama's invitation.

(Go here if you'd like to see how Saddleback has sanitized this page.)

Here's a selection:

On Jews:

Of course, today there are not as great a number of Jewish believers in Jesus as we would expect. If they are God’s chosen people, why aren’t more choosing faith in him? The Bible tells us in Romans 11 that there will be a day when this will change – a day when there will be a great revival of faith in God through Jesus among the Jewish people. Obviously, this is a day that we, as believers in Christ, want to pray for!

On dinosaurs:

The Bible tells in Genesis 1 that God made the world in seven days, and that he made all of the animals on the fifth day and the sixth day. All of the animals were created at the same time, so they all walked the earth at the same time. I know that the pictures we all grew up with in the movies were that dinosaurs roamed a lifeless, volcanic planet. Remember these are just pictures drawn by someone today! The Bible's picture is that dinosaurs and man lived together on the earth, an earth that was filled with vegetation and beauty.

What happened to the dinosaurs? The scientific record lets us know that they obviously became extinct through some kind of cataclysmic event on the earth. Many scientists theorize that this may have been an asteroid striking the earth, while many Christians wonder if this event could have been the worldwide flood in Noah's day. No one can know for certain what this event was.

Although it cannot be stated with certainty, it appears that dinosaurs may have actually been mentioned in the Bible. The Bible uses names like "behemoth" and "tannin." Behemoth means kingly, gigantic beasts. Tannin is a term that includes dragon-like animals and the great sea creatures such as whales, giant squid, and marine reptiles like the plesiosaurs that may have become extinct. The Bible's best description of a dinosaur-like animal is in Job chapter 40. We don't know for certain if these are actually dinosaurs or are some other large creatures that became extinct.

This should not sound so strange. After all, God tells us that he created all the land animals on the sixth day of creation, the same day that he created mankind. Man and dinosaurs lived at the same time. There was never a time when dinosaurs ruled the earth. From the very beginning of creation, God gave man dominion over all that was made, even over the dinosaurs.

On evolution:

When I was a new believer in Christ, I had some very strong feelings about the issue of evolution. Much as you have expressed, I believed that evolution and the account of the Bible about creation could exist along side of each other very well. I just didn't see what the big argument was all about. I had some friends who had been studying the Bible much longer than I had who saw it differently. But they didn't push me or argue with me, they simply challenged me to take some time to look into the facts and study the issues carefully. I'll always appreciate them for that, because this was an issue that I had to really think through. Eventually, I came to the conclusion, through my study of the Bible and science, that the two positions of evolution and creation just could not fit together. There are some real problems with the idea that God created through evolution.

I would encourage you to take some time to study this issue. I found that, although I'd understood the science side of the equation, I needed to take some more time to read what the Bible really had to say about this subject. Not having taken the time to really read the Bible, I was very ignorant about what it had to say. Let me give you one example. I discovered that the problem of sin, as addressed in the Bible, was much more serious than I had previously thought. When I realized that the world was clearly a perfect place as God created it, and that this perfection was ruined by the sinful choice of Adam and Eve, it really
started me thinking. Did the Bible teach evolution or did it teach the creation of a first man and woman named Adam and Evem If we evolved, which human being would have made the choice that brought sin into this world? If Adam and Eve were just allegorical pictures, why did the New Testament place some much importance upon them as responsible and real individuals? Since God clearly says that it is our sin that brought death into our world, how could there have been death for billions of years before the arrival of the first man who sinned on the earth? As I asked questions about this issue and studied what the Bible had to say, I found it to be one of the greatest times of learning in my life as a new believer. My prayer is that you will have this same experience!

On Why Good People Die:

The reason is simple -sin is present in our world. It doesn't always have to be my sin that causes me to suffer. The sins of others can bring suffering into my life. Also, just the fact that I live in a sinful world where things aren't perfect and natural disasters happen and sickness like cancer occurs causes even good people to suffer.

On other religious beliefs:

When we talk about people of other beliefs who have sincerity about them to the point that they are envied for their resolve and their belief, we wonder how they could be wrong. The truth is, it's obvious to all of us that you can be sincerely wrong. We know that we can be sincerely wrong about something like the law of gravity. It's a scientific fact that, if you try to deny it and step out of a second story window, you will find yourself falling to the ground. When it comes to the issue of religion and belief in God, it's tempting to think that our sincerity might be enough. But just as there are physical laws in the universe, there are also spiritual laws. Just as there are physical facts, there are also spiritual facts. It is a spiritual fact that God sent his son Jesus Christ to this earth. If sincerity were enough to get us back into a relationship with God, he wouldn't have needed to send his son. If other religions were the way to God, it would have been cruel and unnecessary for God to send his son to suffer and die for us. It would have been much better for him to use one of these other means to reach him. The truth is a spiritual law is at work here. We are separated from God, and we don't have the strength and power on our own to get back to him. That is why he had to send a Savior.

On homosexuality:

The Bible very clearly says that homosexuality is a sin.

I've heard it asked, "Isn't being homosexual something that a person is physically born with?" First of all, there are absolutely no facts to support this claim. From time to time studies have been reported in the news that seemed to indicate this, but every one of these studies has proven to be wrong. Secondly, even if some physical difference were discovered, it would be no excuse for sin. We know that some people can develop a stronger physical addiction to alcohol than others, but that's obviously no excuse for living an alcoholic lifestyle.

Finally, a word about being judgmental. It's not judgmental to say that what the Bible calls a sin is a sin, that's just telling the truth. Not being willing to talk to someone caught up in sin, or not believing that they can be forgiven, or thinking that you are not just as much in need of Jesus as they are ... that's being judgmental.

Because membership in a church is an outgrowth of accepting the Lordship and leadership of Jesus in one’s life, someone unwilling to repent of their homosexual lifestyle would not be accepted at a member at Saddleback Church. That does not mean they cannot attend church – we hope they do! God’s Word has the power to change our lives.

In the famous last words category: As Obama is leading the US government back to science....

And somewhere Waldo is laughing, or crying.... [h/t]

Eric Dondero labels all who oppose Iraqi War as Nazis or Stalinists...

...although he does it on the comments page, rather than have the fortitude to do so in a post:

Actually Stefan, IMHO, being Anti-Iraq War, is not just "extremely Leftwing," but very close to Nazi or Stalinist Authoritarian.

If you oppose the War in Iraq, you are essentially saying "I support Saddam Hussein, and wish he was still President of Iraq."

Recall Hussein was a Hitler worshipper, even knelt down 4 times a day in his Uncle's hut, to a large portrait of the Nazi leader, with candles around him.

So, being Anti-War in Iraq, is not so much "extremist," more Hitler-like.

I mention this because Eric likes to drop by here and call people names when they don't agree with him, like when he's running outrageous, manufactured stories about WMDs found in Iraq (the Tuwaitha yellowcake that Dubya himself handed back to the Iraqi security forces as no threat [we'd known about it since 1991]), support for the racist Sonny Landham as the Libertarian Senatorial candidate in Kentucky, or his whining proclamation that November 4, 2008, was The Day American Died.

Eric Dondero's America is populated not by citizens with different points of view, but with real Americans under constant siege by internal Stalinists, Nazis, punks, and whiners. The democratic process, to Eric, is only valid when it returns the result that he prefers. Every time it doesn't, that's prima facie evidence that evil people are about to take over.

I will, with pride, wear Eric's insult that I am a Nazi for opposing an interventionist foreign policy.

If he thought I was doing something right, I'd be worried.

Gaza killings raise the question of "change" in Obama administration foreign policy

Now that over 287 Palestinians have been killed and over 700 wounded in the latest round of Israeli rocket attacks on Gaza, world reactions are starting to pour in:

Russia was one of the first to respond, with a foreign ministry spokesman calling for an immediate halt to attacks by both forces. The European Union likewise called for a return to the cease-fire, saying there was “no military solution in Gaza” and urging Israel to allow the resumption of humanitarian aid.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said it was “an unimaginable and unacceptable act,” while the Jordanian government is pressuring the Arab League to unite in favor of an immediate end to the attacks. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is reportedly in talks with the King of Saudi Arabia about the situation as well. As Gaza’s hospitals filled with dead and wounded, Egypt has opened the Rafah border crossing to allow ambulances to bring in the wounded.

Virtually alone in refusing to criticize the killings was the United States, who instead blamed Hamas for the entire situation and simply urged Israel to keep the number of civilians it kills in the new war to a minimum.

You have to wonder who's going to be driving US foreign policy vis a vis Israel and the Palestinians.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi seems to be staking her claim:

Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi issued a statement concerning the Israeli operation in Gaza in which she wrote that "When Israel is attacked, the United States must continue to stand strongly with its friend and democratic ally."

According to Pelosi, "Peace between Israelis and Palestinians cannot result from daily barrages of rocket and mortar fire from Hamas-controlled Gaza. Hamas and its supporters must understand that Gaza cannot and will not be allowed to be a sanctuary for attacks on Israel."

President-elect Barack Obama, however, has been conspicuous by his absence in recent days, first declining any comment on the Israeli rocket attacks, and then allowing an aide to issue a statement that he's following the situation closely. (This is, of course, not inconsistent with previous statements of Senator Obama, who approved of any number of Israeli incursions into Lebanon.)

There are those, of course, who will take the approach that, as President-elect, Barack Obama should not be issuing statements that might be at odds with foreign policy pronouncements coming out of the White House. Certainly, however, such numbers won' include my liberal/progressive friends at Delawareliberal, one of whom recently proclaimed:

I am no longer calling him President-elect. In the heart and minds of 82% of the American people, he is already our President.

You have to wonder: for my liberal/progressive friends in Delaware, all issues of foreign policy seem to have disappeared from their radar (or at least their writing), along with any significant reservations about inviting an anti-science homophobe to deliver the invocation for the Inauguration.

Instead, they are focusing on the Republican National Committee chair's race...?

Certainly, President-elect Obama (just label me as one of the 18% who actually want to follow the Constitution here) could follow the example of his idol--Abraham Lincoln--who did absolutely nothing for several months after his election to provide anyone any idea of what he would do about the larger crises of his day....

...unlike Israeli protesters, who have taken to the streets and risked arrest to denounce the current assault on Gaza.

Hopefully, I'm wrong, and we'll very quickly discover the steel in his spine that VP-elect Joe Biden apparently saw when following his boss through an airport metal detector.

But there will have to an awful lot of it, as Aziz Huq points out in The Nation, writing about the temptations to maintain many of the unconstitutional powers that Dubya asserted over the past eight years:

No matter how decent, any new president is tempted by the tools and trappings of executive authority. However tainted the Oval Office is now, Obama's perspective will change dramatically on entering the White House. He is already reading more daily security briefs than Bush and beginning each day with a barrage of fearful intelligence, hinting at dangers that largely never materialize. Submersion in that flow of intelligence will wrenchingly change his sense of the world's risks.

So Obama will be tempted to maintain Bush's innovations in executive power. While the terror threat remains substantial, as the Mumbai attack shows, the Bush administration has left counterterrorism policy in tatters. We have no rational strategy for terrorist interdiction and prevention. Obama's nominations of Robert Gates as defense secretary and Gen. James Jones as national security adviser suggest he is acutely aware of these deficits and of the Democrats' perceived vulnerability on national security. Nor are terrorists the only threat that might lead Obama to reach for emergency powers: credit crunches and fiscal meltdowns can also prompt unilateral executive action, with consequences as sweeping as any national security initiative.
Internal pressure for changing the White House position on executive power will thus wane as the new administration settles in.

And pressure from the other two branches is unlikely to swell. The Obama White House will at first face a friendly Congress eager to show results on the economy and healthcare. Unlike the recently oppositional Congress, legislators in the majority have little incentive to make constitutional waves (expect some stalwarts, such as Senator Russ Feingold, to buck this trend). Matters are not helped by the turn from the feckless to the competent. Legislators and the public care most about the constitutional restraints on executive power when the occupant of the White House raises concerns about abuses of power. A more capable leader's entrance saps immediate pressure for reform, even when openings for such limits can be glimpsed....

I am thus not optimistic that the Obama administration will of its own volition restore the constitutional balance, even if it gives up some of Bush/Cheney's most extravagant and offensive policies.

Huq points out that if neither administration insiders, Congressional allies, or Dubya's new cadre of right-wing judges can be trusted to rein in temptations to hang onto Bush policies and prerogaties, somebody else will have to do the job:

President-elect Obama's first appointments to the Justice, State and Defense Departments mark no radical change. Rather, they return to a centrist consensus familiar from the Clinton years. But pragmatic incrementalism and studied bipartisanship will do little to undo the centerpiece of the Bush/Cheney era's legacy. At its heart, that regime was intent on forcing the Constitution into a new mold of executive dominance.

Obama enters the White House in a slipstream of forces that will hinder attempts to abandon this constitutional vision. He may be a careful constitutional scholar, but we can't rely on Obama alone to reorient the constitutional order. It will be up to progressives to insist on fundamental repudiation of the Bush/Cheney era.

To Huq's progressives I would add libertarians as well.

Here is the disquieting picture thus presented as we head toward the inauguration: continuing signs that the Obama administration will pursue foreign and military policies different only in degree but not in kind than that of its much-maligned predecessor, while there is also a strong case to be made that the constitutional usurpations of the past eight years won't be rolled back too quickly, either.

After all: "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

Considering The Genesis Of Anti-Religious Hostility

Have a read over Obama's new buddy Rick Warren's fawning praise of Nigerian Anglican Bishop Peter Akinola:

On April 30, 2006, pastor Rick Warren wrote an op-ed, for Time Magazine, which lavished praise on Akinola, likening the cleric to Nelson Mandela:

"Akinola personifies the epochal change in the Christian church, namely that the leadership, influence, growth and center of gravity in Christianity is shifting from the northern hemisphere to the southern. New African, Asian and Latin American church leaders like Akinola, 61, are bright, biblical, courageous and willing to point out the inconsistencies, weaknesses and theological drift in Western churches."

"...Akinola has the strength of a lion, useful in confronting Third World fundamentalism and First World relativism."

"...I believe he, like Mandela, is a man of peace and his leadership is a model for Christians around the world."

Then, consider what Akinola hath wrought in Nigeria:

Peter Akinola, who earlier that year had thrown his substantial political weight and religious authority behind draconian Nigerian anti-gay legislation to, among other strictures, "make it illegal for gay men and lesbians to form organizations, read gay literature or eat together in a restaurant."

Although I missed it at the time, the proposed legislation was apparently denounced, according to the current Wikipedia writeup on Akinola, by the US State Department: "The proposed legislation was formally challenged by the United States State Department as a breach of Nigeria's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."

That law, incidentally, is even worse than the Nazi's initial 1935 anti-gay law, known as Paragraph 175. (The documentary by the same name is a riveting and traumatizing look at the sheer inhumane brutality of the Nazi regime and its enablers.)

Consider that a large number of Anglican parishes are breaking away from the US Episcopal Church to join up with Akinola as one of their top leaders. Consider that the only people who have taken either (or both) Warren and Akinola to task have either been in the media, or international human rights activists based in London like Peter Tatchell or my friend Brett Lock.

Then consider the religious angle to this. As long as the dominant religious voices of the age remain silent over these sorts of brutal violations of human rights, those who are victimized by such predation tend to connect the brutality to religion itself and walk away. If organized religion wants to save others, it needs to start to save itself by taking decisive steps to address these sorts of situations -- and not leave the tough work exclusively to activists and HuffPo bloggers.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Libertarian National Committee Deathwatch Part 2

Imagine if Rob Power, Outright Libertarians' popular chair, had been put in place as the LNC's communications director.

Imagine if, in every press release on behalf of the LNC, he referred to Ron Paul supporters as "Paultards."

And imagine if, after being contacted and asked to stop -- by a large number of paying members -- he refused.

Pretty amazing, huh?

What if I told you that a similar situation happened at the LNC for most of last year and into this year?

Former communications director (and Bob Barr recruiter/supporter) Stephen Gordon did the equivalent to Outright Libertarians for most of last year.

Last year, we had two very simple requests of the LNC -- a press release on Freedom To Marry Week slamming government marriage licensing, and the use of the word "LGBT" in place of "homosexual" (which has a pejorative connotation to many LGBT people).

Gordon refused both requests, and actively fought the simple language request. And then-LNC executive director Shane Cory refused to put out the press release unless Outright used its own lobbying e-mail base to lobby its own party. That's when I began to suspect something was wrong at the Watergate. (Cory ended up releasing the press release after Outright members clogged his inbox).

Fast forward to today. Mr. Gordon, after facilitating the Barr campaign, has written a number of pieces complaining about how unlibertarian the GOP is (well duh!). His blog has one of its most prominent links pointing to The Next Right, a far-right-wing blog that explains why gay marriage is bad (well that explains the "homosexual" row), and how to build up the GOP for young evangelicals.

Now one would think that someone with such obvious far-right GOP leanings would be encouraged to pursue them full-time, or at least take a break from LP activism for a while.

You'd be right, in a sane and vital organization. But in the death-spiralling LNC, Mr. Gordon is now sitting on the committee establishing your party's next platform.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Isn't it great when you can actually watching crap rolling down the slippery slope?

... as in the new internet censorship scheme in Australia?

I don't think, after this post from Thoughts on Freedom, that you can legitimately call it filtering any more:

The Federal Government’s unspeakable internet filtering plan just got a whole lot scarier:

THE Federal Government’s controversial internet censorship scheme may extend to filter more online traffic than was first thought, Broadband Minister Stephen Conroy revealed today.

In a post on his department’s blog, Senator Conroy today said technology that could filter data sent directly between computers would be tested as part of the upcoming live filtering trial.

“Technology that filters peer-to-peer and BitTorrent traffic does exist and it is anticipated that the effectiveness of this will be tested in the live pilot trial,” Senator Conroy said.

Oh good. Because stateful inspection of every peer to peer connection in Australia is sure to go off without a hitch.

When the government first came out with the filtering plan, I remember mentioning to less tech-savvy friends that it would be useless at stopping child porn because it couldn’t filter P2P networks. I didn’t mean that as a suggestion.

Coming soon, to an internet near you?

I know where the WMDs are ...

... and who's most ready to use them.

That would be Pakistan, of course, with an estimated 60-120 nukes of up to 35 KT throw weight, and India, with an estimated 45-100 warheads deliverable by ballistic missles, cruise missiles, and/or nuclear submarine-launched missiles.

Latest reports have Pakistan moving troops away from the Afghani border toward India, and the Indian Air Force probing for gaps in the Paki radar net.

In case anybody has missed this, here's the abstract of a 2007 study published in New Scientist regarding a limited nuclear exchange between the two countries:

A nuclear war between India and Pakistan could cause one billion people to starve to death around the world, and hundreds of millions more to die from disease and conflicts over food....

Earlier studies have suggested that such a conflict would throw five million tonnes of black soot into the atmosphere, triggering a reduction of 1.25°C in the average temperature at the earth's surface for several years. As a result, the annual growing season in the world's most important grain-producing areas would shrink by between 10 and 20 days.

Helfand points out that the world is ill-prepared to cope with such a disaster. "Global grain stocks stand at 49 days, lower than at any point in the past five decades," he says. "These stocks would not provide any significant reserve in the event of a sharp decline in production. We would see hoarding on a global scale."

Countries which import more than half of their grain, such as Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan, would be particularly vulnerable, Helfand argues. So, too, would 150 million people in north Africa, which imports 45% of its food. Many of the 800 million around the world who are already officially malnourished would also suffer.

Weapons of Mass Destruction (nuclear, chemical, biological, or radiological) are not a chimera invented by Dubya and his boys, even though they never managed to find any in Iraq. The real threat of WMDs is also less that of a terrorist strike than of an unmanageable regional conflict in which one or both combatants employs them.

Cold, hard truth: if Al Qaeda detonated a nuke or dirty radiological device in, say, New York or Los Angeles tomorrow, we'd be talking a death toll of at least 10-12 million, but...

...and it is a fairly big but...

...we would not be talking about the same global impact as if India/Pakistan, Israel/Iran, China/Taiwan, North Korea/anybody start tossing them around.

What's amazing is that we have well-developed doctrines for fighting limited nuclear wars, even for deterring them, but the US does not have a set doctrine for limiting the damage of one started by third parties.

You have to wonder why this is.

The fact of the matter is this: modern military technology (developed primarily by the US, UK, France, Russia, China, and India) has made such wonderful advances that crude WMDs are within practical reach of most any nation with a decent tech infrastructure and even large sub-national groups like Al Qaeda or--something we really don't like to think of--a good thirty to forty international corporations.

Proliferation has occurred. Management and threat reduction is the new order of the day, and--surprise, surprise--unilateral US military intervention is unlikely to be the most effective tool for such over the next several decades.

Libertarian National Committee Deathwatch Part 1

As the LNC continues to lurch towards collapse, with the latest news of mass layoffs at HQ, I've decided to begin tracking those things leading the national party to irrelevance, even as state and local parties gain power. As news, rumors and rhetoric break out, I shall chronicle them in this ongoing series at Delaware Libertarian.

Organizations approaching failure have a number of characteristics. One of the most striking is renunciation of their purpose and effort to reinvent themselves as a "me-too" provider of services in the marketplace.

In this, the LNC has been on a collision course with destiny for a while now.

Recently, for example, it hired Republican Party web site developer TerraEclipse to redesign the LNC web site.

Terra created a web site very similar to those of the clients it brags most about -- far-right Republican conservatives like Tom McClintock and BJ Lawson.

A quick look at the web site they built for the LNC is instructive. The tagline on the web site is "Smaller Government, Lower Taxes, More Freedom" -- identical to right-wing Republican (and notorious culture-warrior) Dick Armey's FreedomWorks web site, which advocates "Lower Taxes, Less Government, More Freedom."

Mix in the Barr candidacy, the Root VP candidacy, Bill Redpath's pandering to the right wing (and abandonment of Libertarian principles on war and civil liberties) in his "list of promises to voters," and the efforts to replace the LP platform with a Republican Lite platform, and it's increasingly difficult to differentiate the Libertarian National Committee from the GOP -- except that the LNC lost all the time and the GOP lost only most of the time this year.

Organizations that abandon their core mission to become pale shadows of the competition are on their way to irrelevance. Every step of the way the LP takes in this direction is another step towards the glue factory -- as recent fundraising problems and fading relevance in the media indicate.

It's not yet too late to rescue the LNC and bring it back to strength, but time is running out.

Taking Up Steve's Challenge: Part 2 (A Day Late)

Now, some unsolicited advice for unbelievers:

1) Stop being so sanctimonious. So a lack of belief constitutes "common sense" for many of us, including you. Common sense is, by definition, common. Your decision to reject religious belief doesn't make you extraordinarily intelligent, gifted, or really all that unique, especially these days. Stop pretending you're a font of intellect that all others should drink copiously from.

2) Drop the absolutism about the evils of all belief. Religious beliefs are diverse, as are the outcomes of them. For every Jim Jones or Catholic pedophilia scandal, there's a Quaker meeting opposing the war or a congregation distributing food to the needy. While anti-common-sense attitudes and beliefs are *often* found in the political and outreach efforts of religious groups, they are not *always* found. Smearing every religious group as equivalent and identical is as stupid as some religionists' insistence to destroy the individuality of people in groups that THEY don't like.

3) Stop lying. All Christians don't want to stone disobedient children. All Christians don't believe in "ritual cannibalism." All Christians are not evangelicals. It's bad enough that "the other side" often tells big lies about its perceived enemies -- by duplicating the practice yourself, you're no "better" than those you claim to oppose.

4) Consider others' points of view. Approaching every believer as though he or she is a superstitious moron in need of being completely trounced is no different than a religious activist approaching a nonbeliever as a hellbound sinner worthy of punishment. If you want to introduce the joys of reason, you don't do it by repeating the same practices that make so many people despise the persistently and obnoxiously evangelical.

5) Depriving others of the ability to believe or say what they want is not liberty nor logic. Calls for bans on belief systems, as Richard Dawkins makes, are as illiberal as efforts to impose belief systems on others. Your lack of belief, and opposition to the tenets of various belief systems, doesn't entitle you to impose upon those who choose those beliefs. Debate in the free market of ideas, but don't use force to impose your ideas on others. For reason to prevail, it must exist in a reality where all ideas exist and succeed based upon their merit rather than a system of unilateral imposition.

Happy Winter Solstice! :)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

An early Happy New Year ... parsing the Washington Post on American military intereventionism

Reading between the paragraphs is a fun exercise, but I think that people too often don't have the resources to do it.

So, for fun, when I read this WaPo article by Ann Scott Tyson at, I thought I'd give it a try.

After all, the devil is in the details, and--far too often--people who take the time to read the papers and journals think they are getting the whole story:

The Army needs to add at least 30,000 active-duty soldiers to its ranks to fulfill its responsibilities around the world without becoming stretched dangerously thin, senior Army officials warn.

Its responsibilities around the world? This is code for maintaining our foreign network of over 750 military bases in other nations, which provide the logistical framework to be able to project American troops unilaterally into virtually any region on the planet.

"You can't do what we've been tasked to do with the number of people we have," Undersecretary of the Army Nelson Ford said in an interview last week. "You can see a point where it's going to be very difficult to cope."

Note this what we've been tasked to do is different from our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Already, the Army lacks a strategic reserve of brigades trained and ready for major combat, officials said, and units being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan are receiving new soldiers at the last minute, meaning they have insufficient time to train together before crossing into the war zone.

The original US Army doctrine of the Reagan years was to be able to fight and win two regional wars simultaneously. Clinton pared that down to fighting one regional war and deterring another simultaneously (based on the now unfortunately disproven idea that no American president would be stupid enough to fight two regional wars at a time by choice). Now that we're fighting two regional wars (and damn near losing the one in Afghanistan), we've got precious little left beyond nukes and saturation bombing even to deter a third flashpoint.

But the demand for soldiers extends beyond those countries, with the Pentagon creating new missions that require troops trained in cyber-warfare, homeland defense, intelligence-gathering and other areas, Ford said. "We have five to 10 new missions, and we are already stretched now."

New missions? Surprise, surprise: the Pentagon (and the incoming Obama administration--remember his debate comments about the need to stop genocide wherever it occurs) is planning to do more, not less in the way of military operations over the next decade.

The Army is currently on track to grow to 547,000 active-duty soldiers next year, up from 482,000 before the war. But Ford and other Army officials say that, with rising demand for ground troops for Afghanistan and other contingencies, the increase is insufficient.

We've already increased the size of the army by 65,000 troops; we need the other 30,000 to finish out what is known as the Gates' Plan. I'll let you go find it yourself [or check my archives and also note that Barack Obama has endorsed this plan]. What, by the way, are the other contingencies?

The service needs 580,000 soldiers "to meet current demand and get the dwell time," Ford said, referring to the amount of time soldiers have at home between deployments to train, rebuild and spend with families. "You can run a machine without oil for so long, and then the machine ceases," he said. "The people are the oil."

Note that this paragraph contradicts what was said above. Earlier, the Pentagon needed new troops for new missions. Here, the Pentagon needs new troops to meet current demand. It's tough to keep the talking points consistent.

Ford's remarks come two years after Donald H. Rumsfeld resigned as defense secretary, removing from the Pentagon a powerful opponent to expanding the Army. Rumsfeld opposed a permanent increase in the size of the Army and instead devoted much of his tenure toward turning it into a more agile force, an agenda that met with objections and dismay from senior Army officers.

A wonderful case of writing a usable historical narrative, by blaming Rumsfeld for not wanting a larger army. Rumsfeld, for all his other faults, wanted a shift in the structure of the Army, a reduction in the necessary logistical base, and a move toward a brigade-based organization--all of which would have meant a much larger Defense Budget, but about the same manpower.

The Army is also benefiting from the weakened economy, which has improved the service's ability to recruit and retain soldiers. Despite well-publicized recruiting problems faced by the Pentagon in the early years of the Bush administration, the Army has met its recruiting goals for the last three years, and it continues to see benefits from its $1.35 billion, five-year "Army Strong" advertising campaign launched in 2006.

Which is another reason nobody will cut the Defense Budget too much during the first two years of the Obama administration: the military is steady if dangerous work with great benefits.

But President-elect Barack Obama's transition team has signaled that the incoming administration will look to cut the Pentagon budget, of which military personnel costs are a rising share.

This is BS, plain and simple. Obama will make cosmetic cuts that lengthen R&D expenditures, and he'll probably go the neophyte route of cutting back some heavy air and armor weapons production (while granting exemptions to allow McDonnell Douglass et al to sell their overage to our friends), but he won't cut back on personnel, operations budgets, or benefits. He will (see below) use both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy to hide a significant amount of military spending.

Planning is underway at the Pentagon to add at least 20,000 more U.S. troops to the force in Afghanistan, but the Army is facing pressure to supply not only combat brigades but also the thousands of support soldiers required to facilitate operations in Afghanistan's austere terrain.

Ah, I already told you this, two weeks ago [again, go check the archive; I'm not feeling chartiable with links tonight]. There will be no significant Iraq Dividend, because supporting 60-80,000 troops in Afghanistan will cost every bit as much as supporting 130,000 in Iraq.

"Logistics issues in Afghanistan are just stunning," Ford said.

No shit. Who would have thought fighting a major war in a land-locked country surrounded by Iran, Pakisten, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and one other whatever-stan whose name I forget would be ... logistically difficult? Where did you think the supplies were going to come in from?

And in Iraq, even as the total number of U.S. troops declines, more support forces are likely to be required, in part to assist the Iraqi military, Army officials say. "As you draw down in Iraq, you're going to need more sustainment and aviation," said Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, which has been deployed to Iraq three times.

Ah, good old Tony Cucolo, always a man too honest for his position. For every five combat soldiers we take out of Iraq over the next 18 months, we're going to have to send in two new technical specialists. Nobody else is mentioning that, huh? Wonder why?

The demand for soldiers extends beyond the war zones, as commanders in other regions request troops, Ford said. "It's a real challenge. It's not just Centcom that thinks they need more soldiers; Northcom wants more soldiers, Africom wants a dedicated headquarters, Pacom wants more for 8th Army in Korea," Ford said, referring to the U.S. Central Command, Northern Command, African Command and Pacific Command.

Centcom is fighting two wars; I'll give it a break. Northcom wants new soldiers available in case YOU start rioting about current economic conditions. Africom needs to be ready for the new Obama Doctrine of consistent intervention in humanitarian crises. PaCom is worried about North Korea, Taiwan, and the Spratley Islands.

The shortage has serious implications for the Army's preparedness for other major contingencies, because constant rotations leave too little time to train for anything but the counterinsurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, the officials said. The Army last week unveiled a new training doctrine that requires preparation for "full-spectrum" combat, but service officials estimate it will take about three years before combat brigades have enough time at home between tours to carry out that training.

So what are we training full-spectrum combat forces for, if not for Iraq and Afghanistan? No, we're not planning any more interventions. Of course not.

"We need at least 18 to 24 months" at home for training, said Lt. Gen. James D. Thurman, the Army's deputy chief for operations. "If we get beyond 18 months, we can start building the full-spectrum capabilities back," he said. "We can start moving towards that within the next three years."

Note the level of almost hysteria here. What exactly are we worried about during the next 18-24 months? Has the Pentagon in fact learned through SecDef (for life, apparently) Gates that the Obama administration has new visions for (dare I say it?) a New World Order?

Yet the Army is constrained in its ability to increase time at home, because of a constant need to rotate forces overseas and the Pentagon's limit on the length of deployments for active-duty soldiers, as well as the mobilization time for reserve and National Guard soldiers.

Once they get the extra 30,000 active-duty troops, look for a push to add at least 50,000 to the Army National Guard.

The Army's current growth plan involves adding six active-duty combat brigades over the next three years, which will ease the rotational strain somewhat. At Fort Stewart, Ga., the 3rd Infantry Division, which now has 20,000 soldiers, will add 5,000 soldiers, including a fifth brigade by late next year, according to Brig. Gen. Tom Vandal, the division's deputy commander for support.

This is the scariest paragraph in the story. At 25,000, with five brigades, 3rd Infantry Division will be simultaneously (a) the largest division in the US Army; (b) the division with the most experience in no-holds-barred urban fighting; (c) the commander who is reputedly one of the most "take no shit" generals in the Army; and--get ready for it--the division already announced as the US Army's force trained for direct domestic intervention in times of emergency and/or civil unrest, posse comitatus be damned.

One of the primary aspects that separates a real republic from a bannana republic (aside from glossy mailers offering discount clothers) is that in real republics the active-duty military is not used for domestic intervention.

Start peeling.

Even though the sodium content is wa-a-a-a-y too high....

... go out this week and buy some Campbell's Soup, even if all you do is donate it to the Delaware Food Bank.

I'm not sufficient an authority figure for you? Follow the first link.

Challenges aside, I am a believer....

.... although the what I believe is something that sometimes sets my priest's teeth on edge.

Still, it is an important day for family and friends, especially in these times, even if you don't subscribe to the Incarnation.

I am with my family in Virginia, now, and the presents have mostly been opened. My wife and grandson are taking a Christmas swim.

To all my friends, both meatspace and virtual, I'd like to send all the best for you and yours.

I particularly want send my prayers to Dominique and her family, to Donviti and his, and to Brian Shields as well. All are struggling with their own tragedies or hard times, and yet all continue to reach out to others.

I am sure the next year will be one of ups, downs, and struggles with practicality, ideology, the economy, and all our own personal agendas.

But if you stop here, even occasionally, I wish you well, even if you come by only to poke a stick into the bars.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Feliz Navidad, Happy Kwaanza, and whatever else might be appropriate.

Even if you don't happen to be a Christian, I have a difficult time figuring anyone will be insulted by the message:

Peace on Earth, and good will to all people.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Taking Up Steve's Challenge: Part 1

Steve's post on the role of religious discourse in public life is an interesting one. As a "nonbeliever" myself, I'm going to offer up some advice to believers and nonbelievers alike.

In Part 1, I'll address believers. In Part 2, I'll address nonbelievers.

And yes, as you'd expect, I apportion blame to both sides.

So, without ado, my advice to believers:

1) Stop being so sanctimonious. Many of the most intolerable religious advocates are, frankly, snobs. They carry themselves as though they have done no wrong, and are God's agents upon earth -- here to pass judgment on others, comment on the most intimate aspects of their lives, and to enforce the will of the almighty. Here's the reality -- you're human just like everyone else, the "holy book" you thump has lots of admonitions against you as well, and supernatural beings don't need the "help" of mere mortals to enforce their "laws."

2) Nonbelievers often know your holy book as well, or better, than you do. Most nontheists are raised in religious environments -- I certainly was. I can quote the Bible (and Talmud) chapter and verse if need be. That's why many of us find constant "biblical quotes" tossed out like a cheap rhetorical point to be so tedious. We know that you've revised and shortened the quote. We know the following three verses that invalidate its application in the particular circumstance you're seeking to apply it in. And many of us, religious AND non-religious, view those verses as a product of the times in which they were written. Stop presuming that you're the only one who knows the content.

3) Stop lying. My favorite lie: "The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it." The Bible contradicts itself, and let's be honest -- you don't believe in all of it. You quote Leviticus to call for the punishment and death of gay folks, but you don't banish your menstruating wife to a ritual tent in the backyard to stay clean. You enjoy lobster, crabcakes and cheeseburgers. You have been divorced, despite Jesus's observation that divorce is banned and all divorcees who remarry are hell-bound adulterers. You don't stone your disobedient children. You don't own slaves, nor do you support submission of individuals who are enslaved. You don't support genocidal wars against nonbelievers (well, most of you don't). All that stuff is in the Bible, it says it, and you DON'T believe it.

4) Consider others' points of view. I have heard much outrage about the recent demonstrations by gays and others outside of Mormon temples and churches. A recent story about a small atheist sign contradicting religion generated terrabytes of outraged commentary, video and blog posts. Yet both of these infrequent and low-key events pale in comparison to what many religious people subject others to -- including fellow believers.

Jewish people are happy being Jewish. Stop trying to convert or "save" their young children. Imagine if Jews became evangelicals and got YOUR six-year-old to renounce Jesus. You'd be apoplectic. Jews and others respond similarly.

Gay people often have religious beliefs of their own, and are happy living the way they wish. They don't need or want your "I'm a Christian and want to save you from your evil ways" rhetoric, any more than you'd welcome commentary on your wardrobe, decorating skills, or sexual techniques from them.

Too often, those with religious zeal are unwilling to live and let live, and describe all backlash to their most obnoxious activities as "persecution," which leads me to...

5) Drop the persecution syndrome. In these politically correct times, I understand that victimhood status has its attraction. But for a white, middle class married Baptist pillar of his community to describe himself as "persecuted" is truly surreal and absurd. It's the driver of many folks' need to make fun of you.

6) If you have to brag about it, it's not charity. A large number of religious organizations do important charitable work, and I applaud that. However, they often point to it as justification for their political activities targeting other groups of people in society. Worse still, they advertise their work -- often through mass media.

Some, like the Salvation Army, have transformed charity into a weapon against those who they don't like... making news by denying aid to people they don't like in disaster areas, etc.

News for you: if you boast about charity, it isn't charity -- it's marketing. If you set religious, personal or other conditions on charity, it isn't charity -- it's coercion.

Tomorrow, I'll tackle those things that nonbelievers do that help muddy the waters. Comments are, of course, always welcome.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Exactly what do we need NATO for?

Having nominated as Secretary of State a woman who believes (as did Dubya before her) that NATO should continue to expand into the former Soviet republics, it is unlikely that President Barack Obama will rethink the US involvement in that organization.

Which is, as Douglas Bandow points out at AWC, is unfortunate:

America and Europe should continue to cooperate on issues of shared interest. But it is time for Washington to turn European security over to Europe.

In 1948 the world was in the midst of the Cold War. War-ravaged Europe remained an economic laggard vulnerable to communist subversion, democratic left-wing movements, and Soviet pressure. Joseph Stalin may never have contemplated an invasion of the West, but a U.S.-led alliance became the obvious means to, in Lord Hastings Ismay’s immortal words, keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down...

By the 1980s, NATO’s justification had grown threadbare. The sclerotic Soviet empire was still evil, but totally ill-prepared to launch a war of conquest to the Atlantic. Although the Europeans were fully capable of defending themselves, they saw little threat from Moscow and refused to up their military outlays or back Washington’s strategic priorities elsewhere around the globe. With the ascension of Mikhail Gorbachev and subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, NATO lost its essential purpose....

Embarrassed alliance officials debated giving the quintessential anti-Soviet military organization new duties, such as fighting the illicit drug trade and promoting environmental protection. About the only thing NATO advocates didn’t suggest was turning tanks into bookmobiles to distribute inspirational literature to disadvantaged youth across the continent.

None of these proposed substitute duties made the slightest sense. With the Soviet threat eliminated, the anti-Soviet alliance should have been either disbanded or turned over to the Europeans. Instead, NATO became an end rather than a means, to be preserved irrespective of circumstances, and its supporters settled upon two new roles.

The first was to conduct “out-of-area” activities—military action in regions unrelated to Europe’s defense. However, European unity was rare enough when the continent’s security was arguably at issue (witness the dispute over building a natural gas pipeline to the Soviet Union). The further afield the alliance moved, the less agreement the members could reach. Today policy towards Russia divides not only Europe from America, but Western from Eastern Europe....

The second new task for NATO was to help integrate the newly freed states of Central and Eastern Europe into the West....

The Membership Action Plan process cites “demonstrating a commitment to the rule of law and human rights” and “promoting stability and well-being through economic liberty, social justice and environmental responsibility.” However, NATO has no particular expertise in promoting democratic process, rule of law, market economics, “social justice,” civil society, and, yes, “environmental responsibility.”...

NATO expansion in any direction multiplies liabilities rather than assets. While the original alliance members spend as little as possible on the military, Britain and France, at least, nevertheless maintain competent and well-equipped militaries. None of the newer NATO members are able to defend themselves let alone make a meaningful combat commitment overseas. But all have a variety of internal weaknesses, border disputes, and international conflicts. Bringing countries like Albania, Georgia, and Macedonia into the alliance creates ever new risks with no corresponding advantages....

It’s time for a NATO rethink.

The alliance is a means, not an end. And NATO’s end has been fulfilled. Europe has recovered from the horrors of World War II; west and east have reunited; the continent is capable of fielding any size and quality of military force that it desires. American guarantees and forces are not needed to prevent its subjugation by outside forces, whether from Russia or, even more implausibly, some other hostile state.

But don't hold your breath waiting to believe in that kind of change.

You'd actually have to have nominated somebody with (a) real foreign policy experience and (b) enough moral imagination to think about doing it all ... a little differently.