Date ►►► April 30, 2008

Ask Not for Whom the Death Toll Tolls

Hatched by Dafydd

On March 25th, Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered a surprise attack on Sadrite militiamen in Basra. It was such a surprise, he forgot to tell the American forces about it until a couple of days before it began.

We scrambled to catch up with the Iraqi Army to give them the close-air support and logistics they needed. For a while, the battle for Basra seemed a bit dicey; a green Iraqi unit broke and ran during a counterattack, but Maliki was quickly able to replace them with forces he brought in from elsewhere in Iraq. Another front opened in Sadr City, a slum section of Baghdad controlled for many years by the Mahdi Militia; we took the lead there, and we've seen much success.

The fighting has been intense... but at last, with Iraqis in the lead, we're seeing exactly what military experts and even many Democrats have said is essential for Iraq to unite as a viable nation: The Shiite majority has proven that it governs for all Iraq, not just for the Shia... and they did it by finally confronting the Shia insurgent Muqtada Sadr, who has been in hiding in Iran for about a year now, and the Mahdi Militia that he either controls or doesn't fully control, depending who you ask.

Now, after more than a month of fighting, it has become increasingly clear that Maliki's gamble paid off:

  • The Sadrites are in full retreat in Basra and other cities and provinces, and in complete disarray in Sadr City;
  • The Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, has called on his bloc to return to the government in direct reaction to Maliki's campaign against Sadr;
  • Sadr himself has been shown to be near impotent: Recently, he threatened "open war" against the Iraqi government if it did not end the campaign (Operation Knights' Charge) against the Mahdi Militia. One week later, Sadr rescinded the threat and again begged for a ceasefire;
  • Maliki continues the offensive; combat has now changed to mopping up; the Iraqis have demonstrated they can run their own operations and troop movements, needing only logistical and close-air support from us; and most of the political demands of the Democrats upon the Iraq -- including this one -- have been met or are in the process of being met.

Here are the specifics... The return of the wandering Hashemi is a very big story; it's the birth of an Iraq Venus on the half shell:

Iraq's Prime Minister met on Sunday with the Sunni Vice-President to discuss reintegrating Sunni political parties into his Shiite-dominated government as five people died in clashes and a suicide car bombing in Baghdad, police said. [Talk about your non-sequiturs... can anybody imagine a story that begins, "Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton met for a debate last night as 47 Americans were murdered across the country"?

The meeting between Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki and Tariq Al Hashemi came a day after the Sunni leader described the return of his boycotting political bloc, the National Accordance Front, to the Cabinet as a priority....

Al Hashemi has been one of Al Maliki's most bitter critics, accusing him of sectarian favouritism, while the Prime Minister has complained that the Vice-President is blocking key legislation. But Al Hashemi and other Sunni leaders apparently have been swayed by Al Maliki's crackdown against Shiite militias.

And here is the devolution of Sadr's position. Here is Sadr defiant on April 19th:

Anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is threatening a new uprising if an American-Iraqi crackdown against his followers continues.

The cleric says he is giving his final warning to the Iraqi government to stop working with the U.S. military against him or he will "declare an open war until liberation."

Saturday's statement has been posted on al-Sadr's Web site.

The threat to lift a more than seven-month-old cease-fire comes amid fighting between al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia and U.S.-Iraqi troops in Baghdad's Sadr City and the southern city of Basra.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also has said the Sadrists will be politically isolated if the Mahdi Army isn't disbanded.

And here he is with his tail between his legs just seven days later, on April 26th:

Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for an end to Iraqi bloodshed on Friday and said his threat of an "open war" applies only to U.S.-led foreign troops -- stepping back from a full-blown confrontation with the government over a crackdown against his followers.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, meanwhile, took a hard line against al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia and other illegally armed groups, setting conditions for stopping military operations against them that included surrendering weapons.

Al-Sadr's new message, which was read during prayers and posted on his Web site, eased fears that the anti-U.S. cleric was planning to lift a nearly 8-month-old cease-fire, a move that would jeopardize recent security gains....

"I call upon my brothers in the police, army and Mahdi Army to stop the bloodshed," al-Sadr said in the statement. "We should be one hand in achieving justice, security and in supporting the resistance in all of its forms."

All in all, April was a very, very good month in Iraq for the forces of democracy, and a catastrophic month for the terrorist forces of chaos and human sacrifice. So how would you expect the mainstream media to characterize the Battle of Basra and Baghdad, which has routed the Mahdi Militia from the south and shattered many of its elite terrorist cells in Sadr City?

You guessed it: US troop deaths push monthly toll to 7-month high in Iraq:

The killings of five U.S. soldiers in separate attacks in Baghdad pushed the American death toll for April up to 49, making it the deadliest month since September. One soldier died when his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb. The second died of wounds sustained when he was attacked by small-arms fire, the military said Wednesday. Both incidents occurred Tuesday in northwestern Baghdad.

A third soldier died after being struck by a bomb while on a foot patrol early Wednesday in a northern section of the capital, while another roadside bomb killed two American soldiers in southern Baghdad, the military said in separate statements.

The spike in U.S. troop deaths comes as intense combat has been raging in Sadr City and other neighborhoods between Shiite militants and U.S.-Iraqi troops for more than a month.

In all, at least 4,061 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

"We have said all along that this will be a tough fight and there will be periods where we see these extremists, these criminal groups and al-Qaida terrorists seek to reassert themselves," U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner told reporters in Baghdad.

"So, the sacrifice of our troopers, the sacrifice of Iraqi forces and Iraqi citizens reflects this challenge," Bergner said in response to a question about what's behind the increase in American troop deaths.

Trust AP to turn a proactive campaign begun against the most deadly group in Iraq (they've killed several times more innocent Iraqis than al-Qaeda has), the militia that currently most threatens the stability of the Iraqi government, into nothing but a rise in "US troop deaths!"

Worse, AP uses selective quotation to make it appear as though the fight is being taken to us, willy nilly, by the Sadrites as they "reassert themselves." (They just started killing the American Army and Marine victims, who were helpless against the onslaught!) Leaping lizards; is AP ignorant of the operational tempo, or do they know what they're implying is the mirror opposite of reality?

I suppose it never crossed the minds of AP writers Slobodan Lekic, Sinan Salaheddin, and Qassim Abdul-Zahra that anytime democratic forces initiate a major operation against terrorists and insurgents, our death toll will necessarily go up: In military terms, that's normally called being "aggressive" and "taking the fight to the enemy."

Figures I've seen indicate that while we lost 45 soldiers, Marines, and British soldiers in April, the Mahdi Militia appears to have lost somewhere between 400 and 1,000 terrorist killers. Once again, we're in that 15:1 ratio of dead enemies to friendlies. I know the Pentagon hates body-count comparisons... but that's a heck of a victory nonetheless.

Of course, while the Associated Press compares the April, 2008 combat-death figure to that of September, 2007, they don't actually tell us the September figure. I suspect it's because that datum might interfere with "the story," which appears to be -- stop me if you've heard this -- that "the surge," as so many refer to it, has failed. After all, if the intent was to lower casualties, and here we just had the highest death toll in seven months, then good heavens, the surge didn't do a thing!

So what was the number of Coalition deaths back in September? According to Iraq Coalition Casuality Count, it was 69 -- averaging 2.3 per day -- contrasted with 1.63 per day this month. In other words, the death toll in April is still less than 2/3rds that of September. And it's important that in September 2007, the counterinsurgency had already begun having its effect and combat deaths were down. The local peak of coalition combat fatalities was May 2007, when 131 troops died (4.23 per day). April 2008 was only a third of that... and that's during an offensive campaign.

iCasualities also reports that April saw 565 Iraq civilian deaths, compared to 752 in September 2007 and 2,864 in February 2007; April 2008's civilian death toll is only 22% of February 2007. I think most folks would consider a 78% drop in civilian deaths -- which is, after all, the main goal of a counterinsurgency strategy, to protect the civilian population -- a positive thing. But from the lack of interest on the part of the elite media to report on this, I suppose they either don't consider "fewer dead civilians" to be positive, or at the very least, they're not sure. ("We're unbiased journalists, so we can't have any opinion!")

Elite Iraq-war journalists: Can't live with 'em; can't... hm.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 30, 2008, at the time of 4:11 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Date ►►► April 29, 2008

Gee, He Really Is Conservative - Page 2: Health Care

Hatched by Dafydd

A week ago yesterday, we posted about John McCain's economic policy speech delivered at Carnegie Mellon. We summarized thus:

What was refreshingly unexpected was how fiscally conservative McCain is, particularly in comparison to the last few GOP presidential candidates... by some measures, McCain is more fiscally conservative than Ronald Reagan, who never made much of a move to rein in spending (Reagan was more concerned with winning the Cold War and lowering taxes).

Today, McCain delivered his next big policy speech, this time on fixing the health insurance... well, "crisis" would be too strong a word; but certainly there's a vast unease in the air. He spoke in Tampa, Florida, at the University of South Florida; specifically, at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute. And once again, I believe most of us would agree that McCain's approach is not only more conservative than either Democrat running -- it's intrinsically conservative on its face, not merely by comparison.

(I have placed the transcript of McCain's entire speech in the "slither on.")

Personalizing health-insurance decisions

McCain begins with a strong denunciation of socialized medicine, or "a nationalized health care system," as he puts it. He notes that when families make their own health-care decisions, that alone reduces the cost of the system: Patients become more frugal of expenditures when they're paying for it themselves... either directly, via a health savings account (HSA), or indirectly through paying their own premiums.

So the first change McCain proposes is the biggest and most radical. Right now, most Americans (158 million, according to Hillary Clinton) get their insurance through their employers. Employers offer one or more health insurance plans, and the government gives a tax credit to the employer for each employee who enrolls. John McCain proposes that this employer credit be eliminated -- and the same credit given directly to each person or family instead; it works out to $2,500 for an individual or $5,000 for a family.

This money would only be available for use in paying medical premiums or for building up an HSA; from the transcript of the speech:

Americans need new choices beyond those offered in employment-based coverage. Americans want a system built so that wherever you go and wherever you work, your health plan is goes with you. And there is a very straightforward way to achieve this.

Under current law, the federal government gives a tax benefit when employers provide health-insurance coverage to American workers and their families. This benefit doesn't cover the total cost of the health plan, and in reality each worker and family absorbs the rest of the cost in lower wages and diminished benefits. But it provides essential support for insurance coverage. Many workers are perfectly content with this arrangement, and under my reform plan they would be able to keep that coverage. Their employer-provided health plans would be largely untouched and unchanged.

But for every American who wanted it, another option would be available: Every year, they would receive a tax credit directly, with the same cash value of the credits for employees in big companies, in a small business, or self-employed. You simply choose the insurance provider that suits you best. By mail or online, you would then inform the government of your selection. And the money to help pay for your health care would be sent straight to that insurance provider. The health plan you chose would be as good as any that an employer could choose for you. It would be yours and your family's health-care plan, and yours to keep.

The value of that credit -- 2,500 dollars for individuals, 5,000 dollars for families -- would also be enhanced by the greater competition this reform would help create among insurance companies. Millions of Americans would be making their own health-care choices again. Insurance companies could no longer take your business for granted, offering narrow plans with escalating costs. It would help change the whole dynamic of the current system, putting individuals and families back in charge, and forcing companies to respond with better service at lower cost.

This is clearly a step towards a freer market in health-insurance and health-care, thus a good, conservative approach. But of course, it brings up a problem: What about those with pre-existing conditions?

Under the current system, employers buy group plans that include all employees and their families (or a significant portion of them). That's good for insurance companies, because it reduces the otherwise staggering administrative overhead. But the payback is that insurers cannot refuse coverage to people who are bad health-insurance risks; even if you or your spouse has, say, a heart condition, the group-plan insurer must still take you -- even if it knows in advance that you're going to be a net financial loss. The rest of the plan makes up for it.

But when insurance plans are held by individuals, not groups, how do we (as a country) prevent insurers from simply refusing to accept any bad-risk patients? Since a great many of us have pre-existing conditions for which we must take prescription medicine, insurers would naturally want to drop us and take only healthy people who will be big money-makers for the insurance company.

McCain's solution to this is about the least statist possible. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama promise simply to force insurers to accept poor-risk members, thus forcing the companies to act contrary to their own economic self-interest, wrecking any hope of a free market that could reduce costs. From the New York Times:

Unlike Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, both Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton would both make it illegal for health insurance companies to deny an applicant because of age or health status. The two Democratic rivals argue that such regulation is needed to end discrimination against those with pre-existing medical conditions.

McCain has a different approach: He will work with the states to create a pool of high-risk patients. The administration would contract with insurers such as Blue Cross to offer pool members special insurance -- more expensive than for healthy people, but the rates limited to prevent companies from completely excluding people with pre-existing conditions. Here is McCain, from his speech:

Even so, those without prior group coverage and those with pre-existing conditions do have the most difficulty on the individual market, and we need to make sure they get the high-quality coverage they need. I will work tirelessly to address the problem. But I won't create another entitlement program that Washington will let get out of control. Nor will I saddle states with another unfunded mandate. The states have been very active in experimenting with ways to cover the "uninsurables." The State of North Carolina, for example, has an agreement with Blue Cross to act as insurer of "last resort." Over thirty states have some form of "high-risk" pool, and over twenty states have plans that limit premiums charged to people suffering an illness and who have been denied insurance.

Personalizing health-care decisions

McCain also calls for government to deregulate both insurance companies and doctors so that they can provide services across state lines; and he wants new "transparency" rules to force health-care providers (doctors, hospitals, hospices, clinics, and so forth) to clearly post the cost of medical treatment, their safety records, and so forth, thus allowing patients to become better shoppers... and again, allowing the market to come into play. We can choose to go to a lower-tier facility and pay significantly less, or pay premium rates for the best care available; we'll have access to all the information we need to make wise decisions.

Removing money-sinks from the system

McCain calls for major tort reform to stop out-of-control malpractice cases -- the kind that made former senator and failed presidential candidate John Edwards a multi-millionaire. Currently, they drain tens of billions of dollars out of the system; but that's not the worst effect.

Far more insidious is that lawsuit-fever and jackpot justice forces doctors to prescribe likely hundreds of billions of dollars of "defensive medicine" -- tests and procedures with no real medical value in that cast, performed solely to stave off lawsuits in the event that a medical risk occurs... even one that was well known and thoroughly disclosed to the patient in advance.

Fostering healthier habits

I don't know how important exercise and preventative care are to McCain's health-care policy; they are of course vital to an individual's health, but they're things each individual must do for himself.

In this case, McCain says he will "work with business and insurance companies to promote the availability and use of these programs." I get the feeling this is mostly lip service -- bully pulpit stuff -- so it's really not relevant to the McCain health-care policy. (Besides, I'm sure that all three candidates would "work with business and insurance companies, blah blah.")

Interconnecting to the future

I like this point McCain makes, particularly because it doesn't really cost anything but can have a gigantic payoff. I'll just let McCain speak for himself:

We can make tremendous improvements in the cost of treating chronic disease by using modern information technology to collect information on the practice patterns, costs and effectiveness of physicians. By simply documenting and disseminating information on best practices we can eliminate those costly practices that don't yield corresponding value. By reforming payment systems to focus on payments for best practice and quality outcomes, we will accelerate this important change.

Finally, he favors lots of experimenting with different kinds of health-care delivery. Again, everybody promises this; but I trust McCain actually to do it more than I trust either Democratic candidate.

Gravitas (bottom)

Simply put, this is a very presidential health-care policy; it is a clear break from the past, even from President George W. Bush's policies; and it is distinctively conservative: The centerpiece -- switching from employer-based to consumer-based insurance plans to put more power into the hands of patients and their families, thus keeping cost down -- is anathema to the Democrats. From AP:

Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton said under McCain's plan, millions of Americans would lose their health care coverage through their jobs.

"The McCain plan eliminates the policies that hold the employer-based health insurance system together, so while people might have a 'choice' of getting such coverage, employers would have no incentive to provide it. This means 158 million Americans with job-based coverage today could be at risk of losing the insurance they have come to depend upon," Clinton said in a statement.

Right... we'll lose the insurance we have come to depend upon; but we'll gain insurance over which we have much more control, and which is better geared to our needs.

But Obama is no better:

A spokesman for Democrat Barack Obama said McCain was "recycling the same failed policies that didn't work when George Bush first proposed them and won't work now. Instead of taking on the big health insurance companies and requiring them to cover Americans with preexisting conditions, Senator McCain wants to make it easier for them to reject your coverage, drop it, or jack up the price you pay."

In other words, both Mr. Change Agent and his cobelligerent argue against the McCain policy by saying we should reject substantive change towards a market-based system.

The Democratic position is Statism on parade. I don't know how he managed it, but McCain has somehow lured both his rivals into standing foursquare behind the current system... which everybody, even Democrats, know is inefficient, intrusive, impersonal, and ludicrously expensive.

Yet even while praising the status quo -- they continue to agitate for socialized medicine! I don't follow their point at all; a quick survey of socialized medicine in Great Britain, Canada, and Japan demonstrates that its most common result is to magnify all the bad parts of the current system, while adding no benefit (except for greater government control, which only seems like a benefit if you happen to be a member of Congress).

Socialized medicine is a twentith-century delusion for a twenty-first century problem; it simply doesn't fit. As I've seen many people put it, who wants to get his health care from the same kind, considerate, responsive, respectful people who staff the IRS?

Socialism: McCain denounces it; Democrats embrace it.

With every passing month and every new policy offering, McCain comes closer and closer to being a pure conservative on every issue except two: immigration and political speech. And even with those two, he is still more conservative than either Democrat who threatens to seize power in la Casablanca.

(Full text of McCain's speech is in the slither-on.)

Remarks By John McCain On Health Care On Day Two Of The "Call To Action Tour"

April 29, 2008

ARLINGTON, VA -- U.S. Senator John McCain will deliver the following remarks as prepared for delivery at the University of South Florida -- Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute, in Tampa, FL, today at 10:00 a.m. EDT:

Thank you. I appreciate the hospitality of the University of South Florida, and this opportunity to meet with you at the Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute. Speaker Moffitt, Dr. Dalton, Dean Klasko, thank you for the invitation, and for your years of dedication that have made this campus a center of hope for cancer victims everywhere. It's good to see some other friends here, including your board member and my friend and former colleague Connie Mack. And my thanks especially to the physicians, administrators, and staff of this wonderful place.

Sometimes in our political debates, America's health-care system is criticized as if it were just one more thing to argue about. Those of you involved in running a research center like this, or managing the children's hospital that I visited yesterday in Miami, might grow a little discouraged at times listening to campaigns debate health care. But I know you never lose sight of the fact that you are each involved in one of the great vocations, doing some of the greatest work there is to be done in this world. Some of the patients you meet here are in the worst hours of their lives, filled with fear and heartache. And the confident presence of a doctor, the kind and skillful attentions of a nurse, or the knowledge that researchers like you are on the case, can be all they have to hold onto. That is a gift only you can give, and you deserve our country's gratitude.

I've had a tour here this morning, and though I can't say I absorbed every detail of the research I certainly understand that you are making dramatic progress in the fight against cancer. With skill, ingenuity, and perseverance, you are turning new technologies against one of the oldest enemies of humanity. In the lives of cancer patients, you are adding decades where once there were only years, and years where once there were only months. You are closing in on the enemy, in all its forms, and one day you and others like you are going to save uncounted lives with a cure for cancer. In all of this, you are showing the medical profession at its most heroic.

In any serious discussion of health care in our nation, this should always be our starting point -- because the goal, after all, is to make the best care available to everyone. We want a system of health care in which everyone can afford and acquire the treatment and preventative care they need, and the peace of mind that comes with knowing they are covered. Health care in America should be affordable by all, not just the wealthy. It should be available to all, and not limited by where you work or how much you make. It should be fair to all; providing help where the need is greatest, and protecting Americans from corporate abuses. And for all the strengths of our health-care system, we know that right now it falls short of this ideal.

Some 47 million individuals, nearly a quarter of them children, have no health insurance at all. Roughly half of these families will receive coverage again with a mother or father's next job, but that doesn't help the other half who will remain uninsured. And it only draws attention to the basic problem that at any given moment there are tens of millions of Americans who lost their health insurance because they lost or left a job.

Another group is known to statisticians as the chronically uninsured. A better description would be that they have been locked out of our health insurance system. Some were simply denied coverage, regardless of need. Some were never offered coverage by their employer, or couldn't afford it. Some make too little on the job to pay for coverage, but too much to qualify for Medicaid or other public programs. There are many different reasons for their situation. But what they all have in common is that if they become ill, or if their condition gets worse, they will be on their own -- something that no one wants to see in this country.

Underlying the many things that trouble our health care system are the fundamental problems of cost and access. Rising costs hurt those who have insurance by making it more expensive to keep. They hurt those who don't have insurance by making it even harder to obtain. Rising health care costs hurt employers and the self-employed alike. And in the end they threaten serious and lasting harm to the entire American economy.

These rising costs are by no means always accompanied by better quality in care or coverage. In many respects the system has remained less reliable, less efficient, more disorganized and prone to error even as it becomes more expensive. It has also become less transparent, in ways we would find unacceptable in any other industry. Most physicians groups and medical providers don't publish their prices, leaving Americans to guess about the cost of care, or else to find out later when they try to make sense of an endless series of "Explanation of Benefits" forms.

There are those who are convinced that the solution is to move closer to a nationalized health care system. They urge universal coverage, with all the tax increases, new mandates, and government regulation that come along with that idea. But in the end this will accomplish one thing only. We will replace the inefficiency, irrationality, and uncontrolled costs of the current system with the inefficiency, irrationality, and uncontrolled costs of a government monopoly. We'll have all the problems, and more, of private health care -- rigid rules, long waits and lack of choices, and risk degrading its great strengths and advantages including the innovation and life-saving technology that make American medicine the most advanced in the world.

The key to real reform is to restore control over our health-care system to the patients themselves. Right now, even those with access to health care often have no assurance that it is appropriate care. Too much of the system is built on getting paid just for providing services, regardless of whether those services are necessary or produce quality care and outcomes. American families should only pay for getting the right care: care that is intended to improve and safeguard their health.

When families are informed about medical choices, they are more capable of making their own decisions, less likely to choose the most expensive and often unnecessary options, and are more satisfied with their choices. We took an important step in this direction with the creation of Health Savings Accounts, tax-preferred accounts that are used to pay insurance premiums and other health costs. These accounts put the family in charge of what they pay for. And, as president, I would seek to encourage and expand the benefits of these accounts to more American families.

Americans need new choices beyond those offered in employment-based coverage. Americans want a system built so that wherever you go and wherever you work, your health plan is goes with you. And there is a very straightforward way to achieve this.

Under current law, the federal government gives a tax benefit when employers provide health-insurance coverage to American workers and their families. This benefit doesn't cover the total cost of the health plan, and in reality each worker and family absorbs the rest of the cost in lower wages and diminished benefits. But it provides essential support for insurance coverage. Many workers are perfectly content with this arrangement, and under my reform plan they would be able to keep that coverage. Their employer-provided health plans would be largely untouched and unchanged.

But for every American who wanted it, another option would be available: Every year, they would receive a tax credit directly, with the same cash value of the credits for employees in big companies, in a small business, or self-employed. You simply choose the insurance provider that suits you best. By mail or online, you would then inform the government of your selection. And the money to help pay for your health care would be sent straight to that insurance provider. The health plan you chose would be as good as any that an employer could choose for you. It would be yours and your family's health-care plan, and yours to keep.

The value of that credit -- 2,500 dollars for individuals, 5,000 dollars for families -- would also be enhanced by the greater competition this reform would help create among insurance companies. Millions of Americans would be making their own health-care choices again. Insurance companies could no longer take your business for granted, offering narrow plans with escalating costs. It would help change the whole dynamic of the current system, putting individuals and families back in charge, and forcing companies to respond with better service at lower cost.

It would help extend the advantages of staying with doctors and providers of your choice. When Americans speak of "our doctor," it will mean something again, because they won't have to change from one doctor or one network to the next every time they change employers. They'll have a medical "home" again, dealing with doctors who know and care about them.

These reforms will take time, and critics argue that when my proposed tax credit becomes available it would encourage people to purchase health insurance on the current individual market, while significant weaknesses in the market remain. They worry that Americans with pre-existing conditions could still be denied insurance. Congress took the important step of providing some protection against the exclusion of pre-existing conditions in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act in 1996. I supported that legislation, and nothing in my reforms will change the fact that if you remain employed and insured you will build protection against the cost of treating any pre-existing condition.

Even so, those without prior group coverage and those with pre-existing conditions do have the most difficulty on the individual market, and we need to make sure they get the high-quality coverage they need. I will work tirelessly to address the problem. But I won't create another entitlement program that Washington will let get out of control. Nor will I saddle states with another unfunded mandate. The states have been very active in experimenting with ways to cover the "uninsurables." The State of North Carolina, for example, has an agreement with Blue Cross to act as insurer of "last resort." Over thirty states have some form of "high-risk" pool, and over twenty states have plans that limit premiums charged to people suffering an illness and who have been denied insurance.

As President, I will meet with the governors to solicit their ideas about a best practice model that states can follow -- a Guaranteed Access Plan or GAP that would reflect the best experience of the states. I will work with Congress, the governors, and industry to make sure that it is funded adequately and has the right incentives to reduce costs such as disease management, individual case management, and health and wellness programs. These programs reach out to people who are at risk for different diseases and chronic conditions and provide them with nurse care managers to make sure they receive the proper care and avoid unnecessary treatments and emergency room visits. The details of a Guaranteed Access Plan will be worked out with the collaboration and consent of the states. But, conceptually, federal assistance could be provided to a nonprofit GAP that operated under the direction of a board that i ncluded all stakeholders groups -- legislators, insurers, business and medical community representatives, and, most importantly, patients. The board would contract with insurers to cover patients who have been denied insurance and could join with other state plans to enlarge pools and lower overhead costs. There would be reasonable limits on premiums, and assistance would be available for Americans below a certain income level.

This cooperation among states in the purchase of insurance would also be a crucial step in ridding the market of both needless and costly regulations, and the dominance in the market of only a few insurance companies. Right now, there is a different health insurance market for every state. Each one has its own rules and restrictions, and often guarantees inadequate competition among insurance companies. Often these circumstances prevent the best companies, with the best plans and lowest prices, from making their product available to any American who wants it. We need to break down these barriers to competition, innovation and excellence, with the goal of establishing a national market to make the best practices and lowest prices available to every person in every state.

Another source of needless cost and trouble in the health care system comes from the trial bar. Every patient in America must have access to legal remedies in cases of bad medical practice. But this vital principle of law and medicine is not an invitation to endless, frivolous lawsuits from trial lawyers who exploit both patients and physicians alike. We must pass medical liability reform, and those reforms should eliminate lawsuits directed at doctors who follow clinical guidelines and adhere to patient safety protocols. If Senator Obama and Senator Clinton are sincere in their conviction that health care coverage and quality is their first priority, then they will put the needs of patients before the demands of trial lawyers. They can't have it both ways.

We also know from experience that coordinated care -- providers collaborating to produce the best health outcome -- offers better quality and can cost less. We should pay a single bill for high-quality disease care, not an endless series of bills for pre-surgical tests and visits, hospitalization and surgery, and follow-up tests, drugs and office visits. Paying for coordinated care means that every single provider is now united on being responsive to the needs of a single person: the patient. Health information technology will flourish because the market will demand it.

In the same way, clinics, hospitals, doctors, medical technology producers, drug companies and every other provider of health care must be accountable to their patients and their transactions transparent. Americans should have access to information about the performance and safety records of doctors and other health care providers and the quality measures they use. Families, insurance companies, the government -- whoever is paying the bill -- must understand exactly what their care costs and the outcome they received.

Families also place a high value on quickly getting simple care, and have shown a willingness to pay cash to get it. If walk-in clinics in retail outlets are the most convenient, cost-effective way for families to safely meet simple needs, then no policies of government should stand in their way. And if the cheapest way to get high quality care is to use advances in Web technology to allow a doctor to practice across state lines, then let them.

As you know better than I do, the best treatment is early treatment. The best care is preventative care. And by far the best prescription for good health is to steer clear of high-risk behaviors. The most obvious case of all is smoking cigarettes, which still accounts for so much avoidable disease. People make their own choices in this country, but we in government have responsibilities and choices of our own. Most smokers would love to quit but find it hard to do so. We can improve lives and reduce chronic disease through smoking cessation programs. I will work with business and insurance companies to promote the availability and use of these programs.

Smoking is just one cause of chronic diseases that could be avoided or better managed, and the national resources that could be saved by a greater emphasis on preventative care. Chronic conditions -- such as cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and asthma -- account for three-quarters of the nation's annual health-care bill. In so many cases this suffering could be averted by early testing and screening, as in the case of colon and breast cancers. Diabetes and heart disease rates are also increasing today with rise of obesity in the United States, even among children and teenagers. We need to create a "next generation" of chronic disease prevention, early intervention, new treatment models and public health infrastructure. We need to use technology to share information on "best practices" in health care so every physician is up-to-date. We need to adopt new treatment programs and fi nancial incentives to adopt "health habits" for those with the most common conditions such as diabetes and obesity that will improve their quality of life and reduce the costs of their treatment.

Watch your diet, walk thirty or so minutes a day, and take a few other simple precautions, and you won't have to worry about these afflictions. But many of us never quite get around to it, and the wake-up call doesn't come until the ambulance arrives or we're facing a tough diagnosis.

We can make tremendous improvements in the cost of treating chronic disease by using modern information technology to collect information on the practice patterns, costs and effectiveness of physicians. By simply documenting and disseminating information on best practices we can eliminate those costly practices that don't yield corresponding value. By reforming payment systems to focus on payments for best practice and quality outcomes, we will accelerate this important change.

Government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid should lead the way in health care reforms that improve quality and lower costs. Medicare reimbursement now rewards institutions and clinicians who provide more and more complex services. We need to change the way providers are paid to focus their attention more on chronic disease and managing their treatment. This is the most important care for an aging population.

There have been a variety of state-based experiments such as Cash and Counseling or The Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) that are different from the inflexible approaches for delivering care to people in the home setting. Seniors are given a monthly allowance that they can use to hire workers and purchase care-related services and goods. They can get help managing their care by designating representatives, such as relatives or friends, to help make decisions. It also offers counseling and bookkeeping services to assist consumers in handling their programmatic responsibilities.

In these approaches, participants were much more likely to have their needs met and be satisfied with their care. Moreover, any concerns about consumers' safety appear misplaced. For every age group in every state, participants were no more likely to suffer care-related health problems.

Government can provide leadership to solve problems, of course. So often it comes down to personal responsibility -- the duty of every adult in America to look after themselves and to safeguard the gift of life. But wise government policy can make preventative care the standard. It can put the best practices of preventative care in action all across our health-care system. Over time that one standard alone, consistently applied in every doctor's office, hospital, and insurance company in America, will save more lives than we could ever count. And every year, it will save many billions of dollars in the health-care economy, making medical care better and medical coverage more affordable for every citizen in this country.

Good health is incentive enough to live well and avoid risks, as we're all reminded now and then when good health is lost. But if anyone ever requires further motivation, they need only visit a place like the Moffitt Center, where all the brilliance and resourcefulness of humanity are focused on the task of saving lives and relieving suffering. You're an inspiration, and not only to your patients. You're a reminder of all that's good in American health care, and we need that reminder sometimes in Washington. I thank you for your kind attention this morning, I thank you for the heroic work you have done here, and I wish you success in the even greater work that lies ahead.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 29, 2008, at the time of 8:40 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Date ►►► April 28, 2008

ID (the Other Kind): Beginning of the Death of the Democratic Party?

Hatched by Dafydd

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court -- in a shock 6-3 decision (shocking because Justice John Paul Stevens was on the side of the angels!) -- held that states could indeed require voters to show photo-ID before voting... causing Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY, 90%) to eructate, "This decision is a body blow to what America stands for -- equal access to the polls" (for senior citizens, minorities, and the poor... most of whom, apparently, carry no identification).

The Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s voter-identification law on Monday, declaring that a requirement to produce photo identification is not unconstitutional and that the state has a “valid interest” in improving election procedures as well as deterring fraud.

In a 6-to-3 ruling in one of the most awaited election-law cases in years, the court rejected arguments that Indiana’s law imposes unjustified burdens on people who are old, poor or members of minority groups and less likely to have driver’s licenses or other acceptable forms of identification. Because Indiana’s law is considered the strictest in the country, similar laws in the other 20 or so states that have photo-identification rules would appear to have a good chance of surviving scrutiny.

The ruling, coming just eight days before the Indiana primary and at the height of a presidential election campaign, upheld rulings by a Federal District Court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which had thrown out challenges to the 2005 law.

It's not just Chuck Schumer who is incensed by this ruling, and more generally, by the voter-ID laws that sparked it; almost the entire Democratic party seems up in arms about the very idea of requiring government-issued photo-ID before voters are allowed to vote.

So why are they so adamant? Let's consider a few points that may edge us away from their stated reasons -- concern that "legitimate voters" will be disenfranchised -- and towards what I think is their real motivation.

  1. While I agree that the "poor or members of minority groups" are less likely to have government ID, that is entirely by their own choice (or more likely, their own apathy).

Mere lack of money can't stop a voter from getting identification; although the Times doesn't consider it the kind of news "that's fit to print," the related AP story is more forthcoming on this point:

Indiana provides IDs free of charge to people without driver's licenses. It also allows voters who lack photo ID's to cast a provisional ballot and then show up within 10 days at their county courthouse to produce identification or otherwise attest to their identity.

So money is no object; government ID is literally "priceless."

  1. Where is the evidence that registered voters who are senior citizens are less likely to have photo-ID from the government than younger voters?

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to find that they're more likely, not less, to have identification. I suspect this unsourced claim is intended to broaden the pool of putative "victims" of voter-ID laws... and especially to broaden it to include as many Republicans as possible.

The Times article ends a heart-rending story about a black woman, a senior citizen, turned away from the polls in Indiana for lack of ID. The last line: "Ms. Williams, in her early 60’s, is black -- and is a Republican." (Cue melodramatic music.)

Last and most important point. When I say this decision, and the legislation it will spark, could spell the death of the Democratic Party, I don't mean because it will somehow -- metaphysically, perhaps -- make it harder for senior citizens (who are more likely to vote Republican anyway), the poor, and minorities to vote. It won't; even though the latter will still vote in lesser numbers than those who are more well off and those who are not "federally protected minorities," that has nothing to do with any supposed inability to get a photo-ID.

Rather, I think it will inflict a deep wound in the Democratic Party because:

  1. Such bills will, when fully implemented -- for example, when extended to the rest of the United States and to include absentee balloting -- make it much, much harder to commit voter fraud... and today's Democratics depend so heavily on fraud, they probably can't survive without it.

Critics of the law make much of the fact that there have been so few prosecutions for voter fraud in Indiana. But that's Indiana, where Republican election officials pretty control the elections. I doubt that voter fraud has ever been a serious problem in that state.

But how about Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, New York City, Compton, East L.A., New Orleans, Miami, and other cities and even entire states where Democrats control the "standards" required to vote? That is where you're going to find massive voter fraud that turns the Democratic majority into a supermajority -- and the Republican minority into political impotence.

Take Loretta Sanchez: She first won California's 46th district in 1996, beating "B-1" Bob Dornan by 984 votes. California officials threw out 124; and when Congress investigated, they found 624 more votes that were definitely fraudulent... which reduced Sanchez's lead down to 236 votes (out of about 100,000 votes cast). At that point, not being able to prove that the voter fraud Congress found was enough to flip the election, the House for political reasons voted to end the investigation.

But look here... according to a column by Wall Street Journal writer John Fund, the INS subsequently found that as many as 4,023 ballots were cast in the 46th district by "illegal voters." But since there was no way to know for sure whether these four thousand Hispanic non-citizens and unregistered Hispanic voters voted for Loretta Sanchez or Bob Dornan, that could not be used in the investigation of her "victory."

(Much of this work was done after the House voted to terminate the investigation, and the full House finally shut down the committee and INS investigation before it could find even more voter fraud, thus embarassing Newt Gingrich even further.)

But there is more in that same John Fund column:

In 2002, Dean Gardner, a losing GOP candidate for California's state legislature, sent out a survey to 14,000 first-time voters. A total of 1,691 surveys came back. The results were startling: 76 people admitted that they weren't citizens but had voted, while 49 claimed not to have registered at their correct residence, as the law requires. Gardner lost by only 266 votes.

In the 2000 election, as the Missouri secretary of state later discovered, 56,000 St. Louis-area voters held multiple voter registrations. No one knows how much actual fraud took place, but it may have played a role in the Democratic defeats of incumbent Republican senator John Ashcroft, who lost his seat by 49,000 votes, and gubernatorial candidate Jim Talent, who lost by 21,000 votes....

A Post analysis [of the 2000 presidential election vote in Florida] discovered that 5,600 people voted whose names matched those of convicted felons. "These illegal voters almost certainly influenced the down-to-the-wire presidential election," the Post reported. "Of the likely felons identified by the Post, 68 percent were registered Democrats."

Note that this only counts actual, bona-fide election fraud; Democrats also have an array of legal or quasi-legal ways to prevent enemy votes from being counted, ranging from closing polls in Republican-leaning districts earlier than those in Democrat-leaning districts, to hypercritical challenging of Republican votes by elections boards, to selective recounts, all the way to actually filing lawsuits attempting to suppress the Republican vote (as in the Florida cases filed in Martin and Seminole counties in 2000, seeking to disenfranchise 25,000 absentee voters). None of these would be affected by voter-ID laws.

I believe that voter fraud increased substantially after President Bill Clinton signed the motor-voter bill in 1993 -- which I vigorously opposed from the very beginning: If a person has so little interest in the franchise that he won't bestir himself to register unless he's practically forced, then I don't want him voting at all. Fund evidently agrees:

Why is such activity proliferating? It flows from the success of Democratic lawmakers in pushing aside clear, orderly, and rigorous voting procedures in favor of elastic and "inclusive" election rules that invite manipulation. A machine for corruption is the 1993 "Motor Voter Act," the first bill that President Clinton signed. The law requires government officials to allow anyone who renews a driver's license or applies for welfare or unemployment to register to vote on the spot, without showing ID or proof of citizenship. It also allows ID-free registration by mail. The law also makes it hard to purge voting lists of those who've died or moved. All this makes vote fraud a cinch, almost as easy as when Tammany Hall handed out pre-marked ballots.

In California, it is actually against state law for polling places to demand any form of ID that indicates citizenship. Not even Democrats try to defend that on its own grounds; it was simply pushed through the legislature in a power play. There can be no other purpose for such a bill than to make committing voter fraud as easy as taking a pie in the face.

ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), a socialist group that agitates for various left-wing causes, is the king of registration fraud, I suspect, having registered thousands and thousands of fake voters. But they have many competitors, including the Public Interest Research Group and Project Vote... nearly all of whom lean very far to the left.

I am convinced that it is this fact -- not weird speculation about the poor and certain minorities and their lack of interest in obtaining IDs -- that actually animates and drives the intense Democratic opposition to voter-ID laws across the country. But why would Democrats be so anxious to lock into place a system that practically begs for fraudulent voting -- unless they believe they really and truly need election fraud to stay in power?

I take their own obvious opinion of themselves and their election strategy very seriously. Thus I say again: If voter-ID bills sweep the rest of the country (the 30 states, plus D.C., that have no requirement to show a photo-ID before voting), and especially if it is extended to absentee balloting, then the Democratic Party as we know it today could collapse. It would most probably be replaced by a new and much more moderate Democratic Party. (It's much less likely to be replaced by a different party, since we have been stuck with these two for more than 150 years.)

But either way, the heyday of the contemporary, ultra-leftist Democratic Party of 2008 -- that can dither between nominating Hillary Clinton (left) or Barack Obama (lefter); that can openly call for America to declare defeat and go home from a war we're winning; that responds to a possible recession by proposing staggering tax increases (economic policy which even John Maynard Keynes rejected); that is willing to ally itself with America's enemies (and Islamic religious fundamentalists), applauds Communists like Oogo Chavez and Raul Castro, and argues that the CIA cannot interrogate captured foreign terrorists held abroad any harsher than police can interrogate an American citizen suspected of robbing a convenience store; that is so radical, it cannot gain power except through voter fraud -- that kind of Democratic Party is soon to pass from history.

It will not be missed.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 28, 2008, at the time of 5:49 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Date ►►► April 25, 2008

Expelled: No Intelligence Offered - part 2 (Ben in the Dock)

Hatched by Dafydd

(For Brad Linaweaver's review, see here now!)

Here lieth the second and final part of the analysis and meditation upon Ben Stein's movie Expelled, wherein is to be found absolutely everything that is wrong with Intelligent Design write large across the silver screen. Cushlamochree!

(The first part contained fits 1-5; this part contains the final four fits.)

Fit the sixth: Hear ye, hear ye!

Critical to the core thesis of Expelled is the claim that the high priests of "normal science" have never really looked at ID; they just fire "dissenters"to silence them and shut out the new paradigm. ("Paradigm" in this case means "a set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline.")

But this simply is not true; many scientists have responded to the claims of ID -- very effectively; Francis Collins is only one among many. The problem is that ID proponents have no persuasive scientific answer to the points raised against it.

The primary argument against ID is that it does not fit the normal definition of science: In order for any hypothesis or system of thought to be considered "scientific," it must pass all of the following five tests:

  1. It must be predictable: It must tell us what we will find if we make certain measurements in the future, measurements we have not yet made.
  2. It must be tentative: It must say, "This is how things appear at the moment, according to current evidence." Since theory flows from evidence, then as evidence changes, the theory must also change. If the system is eternal -- if contradictory evidence "proves" (to proponents) that the evidence must therefore be mistaken -- then it is not science.
  3. It must be falsifiable: Proponents must enunciate some humanly possible experiment that has the potential to totally discredit their hypothesis. In other words, "if measurement X isn't within this range, then my theory is shot down.
  4. It must be based upon previous scientific inquiry, not pulled out of left field; it must arise from the literature and be compatible with all previous observations, allowing for occasional experimental error.
  5. It must invoke only natural causes that still exist in the world today and can be measured by other means, not supernatural causes that either no longer exist or never could have been observed in the first place.

So does ID meet these requirements? Remember, it must pass all five tests... but in fact, Intelligent Design passes none of them.

It predicts nothing; ID proponents never say, "make the following brand-new observation, and this is what you will find."

It is not tentative; for example, no matter how many examples of "irreducible complexity" are shown to be thoroughly reducible, Behe, the Discovery Institute, and all of Intelligent Designdom stubbornly embrace the conclusion that life is irreducibly complex, hence could not have evolved via traditional evolutionary theory. Faith in Intelligent Design is primary; evidence that does not conform is rejected.

ID invokes a cause -- the "Designer" -- that not only cannot be measured today, He, She, It, or They would actually exist outside the physical universe itself, if exist the Designer did. Therefore, it is definitely not falsifiable, either; how could any experiment imaginable disprove the existence of a designer who is, by definition, outside the entire spacetime continuum and operates according to laws far beyond all physical laws that humans can detect?

And ID arises from no previous scientific theory; it arises from the ashes of Creation Science, which itself is not a science (and arose from Biblical Creationism). The idea of a "Designer" bubbled up as a way to restore Genesis literalism in the wake of the publication of the Origin of Species; and it came from religious leaders who were critical of evolutionary theory back when Charles Darwin was still alive. Their main complaint, like Phillip Johnson's, was that natural selection appeared to dethrone God and raise up blind chance in His place.

All right, perhaps Intelligent Design is not itself a scientific theory. But isn't it at least a valid critique of traditional evolutionary theory? Shouldn't it be taken seriously as a worthwhile activity and given some latitude to be developed? After all, science (including evolutionary theory) has a long and honorable tradition of responding to strong, scientific criticism by reworking its theories and models to fix any contradictions or disagreements with the evidence. That's part of the "tentativity" requirement above.

If ID were scientific criticism, this would be a valid point. But the same problems that prevent it being a scientific theory also plague its ability to be proper scientific criticism.

Simply put, when ID "scientists" raise criticisms, and established scientists respond -- either with further research or by demonstrating the points are not actually problematical -- IDers do not respond in kind. In fact, it's ID proponents who ignore the establishment response and grimly stand by their critique. Here is a perfect example...

I noted above that Michael Behe of the Discovery Institute argues that complex biological structures composed of many components are "irreducible," thus cannot evolve by random mutation. Every mutated component of a complex structure, argues Behe, would have to appear via mutation simultaneously for the structure to provide any survival advantage; and such simultaneous mutation is so unlikely, it could not have occurred within the lifetime of the universe.

But this argument has been answered many times, both by argument (Darwin himself in Origins on the evolution of the mammalian eye) and by scientific advances, e.g., in genetics. The claim of "irreducible complexity" is thoroughly exploded in Collins' the Language of God, pp. 189-193. Collins first notes "the well-established phenomenon of gene duplication": A rung-by-rung examination of DNA discloses that many genes appear multiple times on the strand. This is important, because if one of the duplicates of a vital gene mutates away from its original function, the organism would not die... because there are still other copies that can provide that essential functionality.

Thus, the mutated version can mutate further and futher, until by random chance, it hits upon a new function that advantages the organism... and natural selection is off and running. Taking Michael Behe's favorite example, Collins explains how gene comparisons conducted since Behe's original writings on "irreducible complexity" are in fact reducing the complexity of bacterial flagella to more primitive parts that could have evolved separately while still advantaging the organism:

A particularly damaging crack in the foundation of Intelligent Design theory arises from recent revelations about the poster child of ID, the bacterial flagellum. The argument that it is irreducibly complex rests upon the presumption that the individual subunits of the flagellum could have had no prior useful function of some other sort, and therefore the motor could not have been assembled by recruiting such components in a stepwise fashion, driven by the forces of natural selection.

Recent research has fundamentally undercut this position. Specifically, comparison of protein sequences from multiple bacteria has demonstrated that several components of the flagellum are related to an entirely different apparatus used by certain bacteria to inject toxins into other bacteria that they are attacking.

This bacterial offensive weapon, referred to by microbiologists as the "type III secretory apparatus," provides a clear "survival of the fittest" advantage to organisms that possess it. Presumably, the elements of this structure were duplicated hundreds of millions of years ago [gene duplication], and then recruited for a new use; by combining this with other proteins that had previously been carrying out simpler functions, the entire motor was ultimately generated.

To date, Behe has neither acknowledged this counterargument or come up with a counter-counterargument of his own. Even today, right where you are sitting now, you can download a "briefing packet for educators" on "the Theory of Intelligent Design" from the Discovery Institute which states, on p. 8:

What Are Some Scientific Problems with Darwinian Evolution and Chemical Evolution?...

Biochemistry: Unguided and Random Processes Cannot Produce Cellular Complexity. Cells contain incredible complexity, similar to machine technology but dwarfing anything produced by humans. Cells use circuits, miniature motors, feedback loops, encoded language, and even error-checking machinery which decodes and repairs our DNA. Many scientists have claimed that Darwinian evolution does not appear capable of building this type of integrated complexity.

This is nothing but Behe's "irreducible complexity" redux, just as if no one had ever answered him, as if there had been no advance in genetics in the fifteen years since he first raised the issue.

Thus the answer is No, ID is not a scientific theory; and it is not even a good scientific critique of the traditional theory of evolution by random mutation filtered through natural selection. It is barely more scientific than astrology.

Would any reader find it odd or conspiratorial that a refereed astronomy journal would refuse to publish a paper on astrology? Or that a researcher, having received a grant to study some question of astrophysics, who was found to have frittered the money away studying the zodiac and the writings of Nostradamus, would have his grant revoked and his contract not renewed?

Wouldn't any respected university or accountable government body want to protect its good name by not allowing university donations or taxpayer money to be used to investigate how the stars at our birth control our destinies?

Contrary to Expelled -- that's what we're reviewing here, in case you forgot in all the excitement -- "Big Science" has indeed deigned to notice and respond to the claims of ID; but there has been no counter-response, no new research, no answer to the points that scientists raise against ID. The lights on, but nobody appears to be home.

Fit the seventh: God of the gaps

All of the arguments ID offers against mainstream evolutionary theory fall into the same argumenative category, what Wall Street Journal science writer Sharon Begley calls the "argument by personal incredulity" (she attributes the term to "one wag"):

For years, intelligent-design theory had been bogged down in what one wag calls "the argument from personal incredulity" ("I can't see how natural forces could produce this, so it must be the work of God"). Darwin's new foes, however, are smart enough to realize that just because most of us can't imagine how the sun can burn so hot for so long, it doesn't follow that God, not nuclear fusion, keeps the fires stoked.

In 1996, biochemist Michael Behe of Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pa., therefore offered a stronger argument against evolution. Complex living structures, he argued in his book "Darwin's Black Box," possess "irreducible complexity." That is, they can't function until all their components are assembled, much as a mousetrap isn't much good until the base, spring, bar and all the rest are connected.

I have already dealt with this argument on its own terms; but now let's understand the terrible danger such an argument poses to religious faith. It is not evolutionary theory that leads to atheism. It is the premise that God is to be found wherever there is a temporary lack of understanding on some scientific point, no matter how small. As Collins notes:

ID proponents have made the mistake of confusing the unknown with the unknowable, or the unsolved with the unsolvable.

Such reasoning reduces the role of the "Designer," God, to hiding in any tiny evolutionary mousehole that is unexplained today. Collins calls this the "God of the gaps" fallacy.

The danger is that science never stands still; it perpetually moves forward. Given time, it will inevitably explain all of the unexplained gaps in our understanding of evolution. And what of God then, when His gaps disappear? Collins -- a very religious Christian for whom the existence of God is not a proposition but simple truth -- makes his fears explicit on pp. 194-5:

The perceived gaps in evolution that ID intended to fill with God are instead being filled by advances in science. By forcing this limited, narrow view of God's role, Intelligent Design is ironically on a path toward doing considerable damage to faith.

The sincerity of the proponents of Intelligent Design can hardly be questioned. The warm embrace of ID by believers, particularly by evangelical Christians, is completely understandable, given the way in which Darwin's theory has been portrayed by some outspoken evolutionists as demanding atheism. But this ship is not headed to the promised land; it is headed instead to the bottom of the ocean. If believers have attached their last vestiges of hope that God could find a place in human existence through ID theory, and that theory collapses, what then happens to faith?

A long time ago, people believed the thunder and lightning were God's wrath; then we discovered it was a completely natural electrical discharge -- and God lost the thunder.

Ages ago, people believed the stars were the lights of heaven; then we deduced that stars were natural fusion engines burning unfathomable distances away -- and the lights of heaven dimmed.

Once we thought that God pushed the sun, the planets, and the stars around the Earth; we now understand the motive force is simple gravity, the same gravity that pulls us all towards the center of this planet -- and that the focus of the solar system orbits is the sun, not the Earth. God abruptly lost his digs in the gated community of the Celestial Spheres. (Technically, each planet's orbit has two foci, since it's an elipse; but the other foci are all points in empty space near the sun.)

Each of these discoveries caused a crisis of faith -- but only because men had foolishly assumed that yesterday's unknown was unknowable. These were early examples of the fragile "God of the gaps," trying to substitute the supernatural for every hole in our knowledge of what was then called natural philosophy. Each was resisted by the religious ancestors of today's Intelligent Design movement.

And if ID believers continue that sad legacy by declaring that their inability in 1996 to explain the "irreducibly complex" bacterial flagella proves the existence of an intelligent Designer, then what happens to our Designer when even Michael Behe is forced to admit that flagella are quite reducible after all?

Will he find some new system, not yet perfectly explained, and argue that that's the real-deal irreducible complexity that proves intelligent design? Or will Behe lose his faith entirely, taking the opposite route that Francis Collins took some decades ago?

I don't know the man, but I presume he's not an utter fool. At some point, even Behe will come to realize that hunting for the "irreducible complexity" in nature is a mug's game, like trying to find a left-handed monkey wrench (or a right-winged monkey trial). Millions who now clutch at ID as their lifeline to living faith will be left empty handed. And the blame will fall on those like Michael Behe and Ben Stein, who lured conservatives into believing that God can be hidden in every lacuna in human knowledge -- even while they knew, somewhere deep down, that every mousehole would eventually be plugged.

So what is the way out of this labyrinth? Must science on the left and faith on the right be forever divided by the intellectual Berlin Wall posited by Stein? Must you abandon your belief in God in order to accept the findings of evolution?

That vile implication is what makes this movie so dangerous... and lowers Ben Stein far below those he attacks.

Why pinch the human intellect into an unbridgeable dichotomy? Both the left and right hemispheres of our brains are connected by the corpus callosum, which mediates between logic and dream, math and myth. Our right brain craves the connectedness of our mythos... but our left brain helps us select between myths that are true and healthy and those which are false and poisonous.

Fortunately, then, the answer to our question above is No; science and faith, properly considered, are not in any conflict... but you would never know it from watching Expelled.

Fit the eighth: The Great Divide

So what about Stein's secondary thesis, that the study of traditional evolutionary theory must by itself lead to atheism, with all the attendant evils and ills it portends? That a "Berlin Wall" rises between faith and science, and one must choose the former, lest one be dragged, willy nilly, into the latter?

In Expelled, Stein shows us an intact wall. We see some folks hammering on it; but by the end of the movie, the fanciful divide remains unbridgeable, as if we perpetually lived in the days of the 1961 tank confrontation.

But there is no more Berlin Wall in Germany; it was torn down shortly after Reagan's famous speech. Officials of the reunited Germany left a marker and a museum where "Checkpoint Charlie" once stood, just to remind themselves what used to divide the two cultures. I think this a more fitting image of the future than Stein's glowering gun towers and scientific no-man's land.

Stein has fallen for the same exclusionary fiction that animates Dawkins, thereby proving himself Dawkins' ideological twin brother. Why would a movie by an evolution dissenter feature an evolution absolutist in such a starring role? Because Dawkins is a militant atheist who hopes, as Stein fears, that studying science will lead to atheism.

This plays into Stein's idea of the recruiting power of evolutionary theory. He sees "Darwinism" as a charismatic, evangelical version of atheism -- "Dawkins-ism." It's true that Richard Dawkins shares Stein's belief in the miraculous (diabolical, in Stein's eye) power of evolution to convert; even so, he's nowhere near the monster that Stein paints him.

To be fair to Dawkins -- which Expelled is not -- he does not believe that losing one's faith in God means losing the idea of right and wrong; nor does he believe that his radical materialism negates the idea of free will. Dawkins finds himself falling back on his childhood belief in moral law -- even while he makes unconvincing protests that such morality can arise naturally. Even more astonishing, he believes that religion may arise naturally in human societies as a result of evolutionary processes... that it "may very well have a conventional Darwinian survival value." (Does that include celebate monks and nuns?)

In responding to an interviewer who asked Dawkins about his idea that human beings are "gene machines" and how that might relate to free will, Dawkins said:

I am very comfortable with the idea that we can override biology with free will. Indeed, I encourage people all the time to do it. Much of the message of my first book, "The Selfish Gene," was that we must understand what it means to be a gene machine, what it means to be programmed by genes, so that we are better equipped to escape, so that we are better equipped to use our big brains, use our conscious intelligence, to depart from the dictates of the selfish genes and to build for ourselves a new kind of life which as far as I am concerned the more un-Darwinian it is the better, because the Darwinian world in which our ancestors were selected is a very unpleasant world. Nature really is red in tooth and claw. And when we sit down together to argue out and discuss and decide upon how we want to run our societies, I think we should hold up Darwinism as an awful warning for how we should not organize our societies.

On the question of moral law:

QUESTION: If, as you have said, there is a tendency from our genes for us to be selfish, would that perhaps suggest that we need institutions like religion to encourage us to override this innate selfishness?

MR. DAWKINS: The phrase "the selfish gene" only means that genes are selfish. It doesn't mean that individual organisms are. On the contrary, one of the main messages of the selfish gene is that selfish genes can program altruistic behavior in organisms. Organisms can behave altruistically towards other organisms -- the better to forward the propagation of their own selfish genes. What you cannot have is a gene that sacrifices itself for the benefit of other genes. What you can have is a gene that makes organisms sacrifice themselves for other organisms under the influence of selfish genes.

I think we certainly benefit from social institutions which encourage us towards moral behavior. It's very important to have law. It's very important to have a moral education. It's very important to try to inculcate into children moral rules, such as "do as you would be done by." It's very important to do moral philosophy, to try work out the principles we want to live. But when you say religious principles, there I think I would part company. I see no reason why they should be religious. But I certainly think that they should be developed by society and not necessarily following biological dictates.

Despite these Dawkinsian positions -- easily found by a bit of Googling -- Stein devotes an entire section in Expelled to some professor of biology who goes on and on about how free will is just a delusion and how personally liberating he finds that queer state of affairs. I wish I could remember his name. In any event, when Stein attributes by implication this position to Darwin-induced atheism in general and Richard Dawkins in particular, he engages in "deception by omission."

[The professor -- of history, not biology -- has been tentatively identified as Will Provine of Cornell. Hat tip to commenter JoshuaZ.]

Stein could have allowed Dawkins to state his real views; the science writer is hardly shy about expressing himself. But instead, he segues directly from mainstream evolutionary theory, to Richard Dawkins' atheist dreams, to [Professor Provine] fulminating against free will. Stein thus leaves moviegoers with a dreadfully false impression.

Expelled clearly implies that those who reject Intelligent Design form an undifferentiated mass of anti-morality radicals... when instead, they form a continuum of divergent beliefs, running the gamut from the lunatic who believes humans are entirely gene-driven -- to a sincere, mainstream Christian like Francis Collins.

Stein's is the tactic of demagoguery, not debate. It is another example of which side is actually seeking to stifle dissent and mislead the public. Millions of people who see Expelled will now imagine that evolutionists believe we have no free will and that the only morality is nature "red in tooth and claw," when in fact they (and Dawkins) believe precisely the opposite.

Fit the ninth: The labyrinth and the Minotaur

Phillip Johnson and the others at the forefront of the ID movement today object to evolutionary theory primarily on grounds that it "defaiths" America (my term) by making the miraculous mundane. Under the relentless erosion of faith by science, God loses his thunder, his heavenly lights, and his celestial heavens.

But this makes no sense theologically: If it's miraculous that a "Designer" would pre-load bacterial DNA with instructions to create a flagellum, as Behe has suggested, then how much more miraculous is it that some intelligent "Designer" might have created the entire universe and its physical laws -- including those that allowed bacteria and their blessed flagella to evolve in the first place? Why accept only microscopic miracles as the acts of God, but not the creation of, well, all Creation?

ID simultaneously gives God too much jurisdiction and not enough credit. There is no need to invoke divine intervention to explain how bacteria move themselves; if we can move ourselves, there is no reason crabs, flatworms, seastars, and even microbes cannot do the same.

So if God's role is not to personally push all the buttons and pull all the levers of material processes, to perform micromiracles, like Maxwell's Demon, inside the gaps of our scientific understanding, then what is it? Why not return to Him the realm He has always historically occupied, and to which science lays no serious claim?

You may believe -- I certainly do, Dawkins or no Dawkins -- that civilized morality cannot be supported among mass numbers of people without a societal belief in what Dennis Prager calls "ethical monotheism"... a single, unitary God, omniscient and omnipotent, whose overriding concern anent human beings is that they treat each other with decency and justice. Prager believes it's more important for individuals to be decent and for institutions to be just. (I make no claim whether this societal belief is true, only that it's necessary.)

Unlike Francis Collins since his conversion, I am not certain of the existence of God. Unlike self-professed "Darwinist" and science writer Richard Dawkins since his disillusionment, I'm equally unconvinced of the contrary proposition. But let's consider the thesis that Prager's "ethically monotheist" God exists, the God of the Jewish and Christian Bibles, and that He created the universe... and that ever since that moment of "fiat lux," the physical universe has ticked along fully according to the physical laws that are inherent in Cosmos.

How then could faith in God be diminshed by scientific advancement, no matter how many amazing discoveries we make in the next hundred years? Rather, wouldn't every such discovery simply make the faithful even more awed by the glory of their God? That is certainly Collins' reaction.

Does this leave us with a Deistic God, rather than a Theistic one? Do we live in a clockwork universe with a God who is so remote that He cares nothing about human beings? Once He set the cogs in motion, has He turned His back and walked away?

There is no theological necessity for such an assumption: A Theistic God is perfectly consistent with all the creation occuring the moment before the Big Bang -- because the aspect we're interested in is not whether God personally spurts lava out of the volcano, but whether He personally responds to prayer, judges souls, and in the case of Christians, grants forgiveness to those who accept the sacrifice of Jesus.

A Pragerian God is not concerned with specifics of human biology but with our souls, which are forged by the decisions we make (driving actions or beliefs) from our own free will.

The most important article of Judeo-Christian faith, then -- as an agnostic, I may be treading on sensitive ground here -- is not that God personally created the bacterial flagella, but that He has a personal relationship with each human being and will lead humans away from sin and towards righteousness. (I am deliberately vague as to how, since different religions offer quite different mechanisms, from the Law to conscience to Christ.)

It's more important to believe that God wants us to be decent and just than to believe that God specifically designed the blood-clotting cascade... rather than "merely" designing the whole universe and its physical laws, which He (being omniscient) knew would ultimately evolve it.

Science flows from our reason, which is an essentially human (hence, to a believer, soul-bound) endeavor; faith flows from our mythic unconscious. To any believer, both ultimately derive from God. How can they conflict?

Science seeks only to explain the natural world; nothing discoverable by science could jeopardize faith, so long as the believer does not inappropriately hitch his faith to today's lack of knowledge. Faith civilizes society, and a civil society is necessary for free and open scientific inquiry. They compliment each other like the right and left hemispheres of the brain.

And I think culture is the analog of the corpus callosum: Culture is what mediates between science/rationality and faith/mythos. A sick culture allows one or the other to seize control and run everything, as in "jihadist" religious movements, or allows both to run rampant and enslave the masses, as with Communism, Naziism, fascism, and every other totalitarian socialism.

But a healthy culture trims the flight of each to keep them in formation: Faith does not try to squelch legitimate scientific inquiry -- into, say, embryonic stem-cell research -- while science is willing to accept ethical boundaries over its behavior, such as restricting such research to using only techniques that do not kill the embryo.

That is how to bridge the divide, by assigning each endeavor, science and faith, its own sphere. Science tells us what, faith (religious or otherwise) tells us why. And while the twain should frequently meet, there is no reason they should collide.

Science, even evolution, does not force us into atheism, because the Western God is no "Wizard of Oz," pulling levers behind a curtain. He is not the God of the gaps... He would be the God of the mythos; the deity of reason; the guardian of good and evil; the maker of morality; and the source of science. He did not specifically design the universe to trick us into materialism; but He left sufficient evidentiary clues to lead us through the labyrinth to a scientific understanding of the physical world. Reason and faith, connected by a thick bundle of cultural nerves.

But there is a monster lurking in that maze: A bullheaded man who will not think it possible he could be wrong, who will not accept that scientific reason is just as godly as religious faith, who imagines that the two can never be reconciled -- but that one must conquer the other. He has created a brutish movie that may ensnare many sincere people who should not be told they cannot pursue both hemispheres of knowledge.

At the end of this analysis, I find an unexpected burst of pity for Ben Stein. The dismal science he studied at Columbia appears to have led him into the Slough of Despond, and I don't know that he can find his way out.

I hope so; even a Minotaur should be allowed to evolve.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 25, 2008, at the time of 4:24 AM | Comments (80) | TrackBack

Date ►►► April 24, 2008

Expelled: No Intelligence Offered - part 1 (Win Ben Stein's Monkey Trial!)

Hatched by Dafydd

(For Brad Linaweaver's review, see here now!)

Conservative anti-evolution activist Ben Stein has a monkey on his back; perhaps I should say a monkey is haunting Stein, the monkey of "Darwinism." It climbs through his window at night and, pace Poe, attacks him in his dreams.

I have just suffered through 90 minutes of being informed that not only was I a Nazi, but a Communist and a eugenicist. I have been told I don't believe in free will, and that I actively suppress brilliant scientists whose only "crime" is to "raise the question" of Intelligent Design (ID). And I have been thus attacked by a man who I still support and defend on many other issues, and who I have long respected as an otherwise rational person. But on this subject, Ben Stein has truly gone off the rails.

He has released a documentary called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed; it's getting a lot of favorable buzz in conservative circles -- for all the wrong reasons: Not because it persuades (it doesn't); not because it bridges the divide between science and faith (rather, it deepens it); and certainly not because it is fair or just or truth-seeking, as it claims... because on those civic virtues, Expelled is more akin to Fahrenheit 9/11 than to the Path to 9/11.

The reason for its near ecstatic reception on the right is mostly (I believe) that it reaffirms the anti-evolution bias of a great many conservatives. Many (but not all) conservatives passionately believe that the theory of evolution by random mutation and natural selection is a boondoggle that "Big Science" -- yes, Stein uses the term in the advertising -- has somehow foised upon the world for nearly 150 years.

(This piece is long, so I will post it in two halves; the second should appear sometime late tonight.)

Intelligent Design dates to about 1993; it stems from a group of religious Christians and some Jews who reject modern evolutionary theory -- which they insist upon calling "Darwinism," or sometimes neo-Darwinism, as if it hadn't, well, evolved in the 149 years since Charles Darwin published the Origin of Species. The driving force behind it was Phillip Johnson, a lawyer and a very religious Christian at UC Berkeley; Johnson published Darwin on Trial in that year (and a number of other similar books since). Darwin on Trial spends some time arguing that there is no good evidence for evolution; but the conclusion of the book argues a very different point: That "Darwinism" is actually a materialist religion; and that the study of evolutionary theory leads directly to atheism. Thus Johnson posited a great divide between science (materialist religion) and faith (Creator-based religion)... and you must pick one or the other.

Ben Stein has clearly bought into the same fallacy; he believes that religious faith and science, or at least evolutionary theory, form a dichotomy -- which the movie symbolizes by the Berlin wall. Everybody is either on one side or the other. No Mugwumps allowed! He is a very partisan supporter of Intelligent Design (often abbreviated ID by its supporters); so partisan that virtually everything he says sounds suspect... even those points that are true!

I will not mince words: The movie is a monstrous and deadly lie. This piece, part review, part response, will show why Expelled is a lie -- and why it is so dangerous not only to society but even to mainstream religion...

Fit the first: Strategy and tactics

The first disappointment is that Ben Stein squanders the greatest asset that conservatives generally hold over liberals: fundamental fairness. The shorthand is that liberals use the appeal to emotion, while conservatives argue from the mind.

But in Expelled, Stein builds his thesis in the sensationalist and tendentious fashion of Michael Moore: He carefully controls the argument so that those he agrees with are allowed to endlessly explain their positions while tugging at our heartstrings, while those in the enemy camp have their words creatively clipped to provide maximal confusion. It's easy to win a debate when you get to script both sides; likewise, it's just as easy to win when you run the edit bay.

The core of Expelled is the "parade of horribles": He shows us number of (we are told) eminent scientists who have been "fired" (or "expelled," as Stein puts it) merely because they "questioned" the "dominant paradigm" and showed that the emperor has no clothes. Easy to understand; equally easy to misunderstand.

Each of these putative scientists is allowed to tell his or her tale of woe uninterrupted and clearly planned and rehearsed, while their counterparts get only a minute or so of raw, scary-lit footage at the very end to rebut.

Too, each interviewee who supports the "firing" of one of the ID-supporting "scientists" is hit with explicit questions about the situation with no warning, no chance to refresh his memory about the case, and no opportunity to gather his notes... a perfect conservative analog to the "60 Minutes" style. And Stein doesn't note for the audience another very important point: The squirming "neo-Darwinist" is legally restrained from defending his actions due to employee-privacy laws.

If he said what he really believed, the supposed victims could sue him and his university or governmental employer. That certainly dampens any enthusiasm the evolutionists might have to defend their decisions.

Those on the side of "Big Science" must fight with their tongues tied behind their backs, a perfect microcosm of the fundamental unfairness of the rest of the documentary. But wait... aren't the scientists, as clearly depicted in the movie, bad guys who "unfairly exclude" ID from the discussion? If so, then it's only right, some anti-evolution viewers argue, that ID gets a chance to do the same.

Is that the argument? If so, then Stein is really saying, Sure, we're being totally unfair to mainstream scientists; but if you believe the scurrilous charges we hurl at them, they deserve to be treated unfairly!

This is not an inspiring message. Worse, it's not a conservative message; it's "liberal logic," the same kind that gives us affirmative action: Blacks were wrongfully discriminated against for so long, isn't it about time we started wrongfully discriminating against whites, to even things out?

Truth would have been better served if Stein had allowed both sides a fair chance at making their points. If he complains that "Big Science" has discriminated against ID, the solution is not to discriminate in favor of ID instead. Alas, this is the paradigm of the entire movie Expelled. One reason this review expanded into a response is just that: no intelligent response allowed in the movie itself.

Fit the second: Absence of evidence is evidence of conspiracy

The reader has probably noticed that I've used terms like "putative" and "so called," along with scare-quotes, when I describe the supporers of Intelligent Design depicted in the movie as scientists. That is because many are medical doctors, rather than academics or working scientists; one is a philosopher; and another is actually a journalist, not a scientist. And even among those with some level of scientific credentials, none is shown even to be an adequate researcher, let alone eminent in his field. I can't say they're not, but Stein gives us no reason to believe they are, beyond his personal say-so.

A word about Ben Stein himself. He has no science background, unless one counts economics; he wasn't even a high-school science teacher, though he played one on TV. Even so, he should realize that merely calling someone top notch or brilliant is meaningless without some more substantial evidence.

Stein took his first university degree in economics, from Columbia College, then attended Yale Law School; like Phillip Johnson, founder of ID, Stein is a lawyer. But in both those two very respected fields, economics and the law, "truth" is an elusive concept.

At law, for every argument, there is a counterargument; neither can be said to be absolutely wrong. While a judge may decide against one side, the next year, the same judge may decide against the other. Nothing is fully resolved except by power-play: When a big enough court decides an issue, it can enforce its decision -- whether "right" or "wrong" in some cosmic sense (think of Dred Scott v. John Sanford or Roe v. Wade).

Similarly, in ecnomics -- especially back in the 60s, when Stein was learning the field at Columbia -- everybody has his own theory; nobody can prove, within the field of economics, that one economic theory is better than any other. Great economists have included free-market economists (Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman) and absolute statists (John Maynard Keynes, John Kenneth Galbraith), or "neoliberals" like the contemporary Robert Reich, Bill Clinton's Secretary of Labor; all five still have followers in academe.

But no working, respected, frequently cited physicist today rejects special relativity or quantum mechanics in favor of pure Newtonian mechanics. Newton's theories still hold true in limited cases; outside those limits, newer theories prevail; and nobody in the field stubbornly clings to the old ideas.

In science, there are no absolute proofs of hypotheses, but there are absolute refutations. Once you show that, i.e., Newtonian mechanics cannot explain the planet Mercury's orbital precession or the bending of starlight as it passes close to the sun, it's finished as a universal theory of everything (even though parts of Newtonian mechanics are still useful in special cases). Scientists are constantly refining our understanding of, for example, how best to model an atom; but no chemist or physicist disbelieves that molecules are composed of atoms and harkens back to the four "elements" of antiquity -- earth, water, air, and fire.

Ben Stein is unequipped by his education to deal in the realm of absolutes in nature. I'm sure he accepts what he calls "absolutes" in morality -- but there, he means absolute in the sense of divine revelation, the word of God. He does not understand that science is filled with a different kind of absolute, the natural absolute of mathematical and experimental evidence.

Judging from this movie, he thinks that it's "only fair" that ID gets to win some of the arguments, some of the time. After all, those "eminent" scientists who were "expelled" from Big Science are so passionate and sincere!

But they're passionately wrong.

This point is vital to Stein's thesis. If the academic employees whose contracts were not renewed were less than fully competent by the objective standards of science, then isn't that a perfectly valid reason to let them go? We need not look for some deeper conspiracy -- suppression of dissenting opinion and neo-Darwinist corruption, as Stein suggests. And here he means literal corruption; he explicitly charges that Big Science dangles grant money to bribe scientists into supporting evolutionary theory. Presumably, absent the big bucks, scientists would reject evolution as charlatanry, just as many conservative lawyers and economists do.

But if that were the case, then what caused scientists to accept evolutionary theory in the first place? All the establishments of the nineteenth century opposed it for decades. And why haven't we seen a flood of new, young researchers, who don't yet have established grant empires, overturning evolutionary theory in order to make their bones? Again, no need to posit a vast, Darwinian conspiracy: Evolutionary theory as explicated by Charles Darwin prevailed in the nineteenth century, and continues to hold sway today, because the evidence of scientific observation thoroughly supports it; and two hundred years of evidence (the earliest predating Darwin's solution by more than 50 years) could not be explained by any competing scientific theory.

This is a point that conservatives especially should understand better than they do. After all, conservatives have used the very same argument to defend President George W. Bush from conspiracy charges in his decision not to renew the appointments of some United States Attorneys. On that occasion, liberals led the crusade to accuse Bush of conspiring to suppress information by "firing" USAs who investigated the "Republican culture of corruption."

The charge was ludicrous then, and its brother is ludicrous now, even if a conservative makes it.

Fit the third: The vague-abond king

One of Expelled's biggest failings is that none of its "bad boy" ID proponents actually explains why evolution could not have occurred, why Intelligent Design is a better hypothesis to explain the rise of species than variation and natural selection, why ID is scientific, or even what, exactly, ID theory actually claims.

At what point in the evolution of life is the intelligent Designer supposed to have intervened? And how exactly -- by what physical mechanism -- did He do so? Is there any evidence for this intervention beyond the "argument by personal incredulity" ("I just can't imagine how X could have occurred naturally, so it must not have.")

None of these issues is even addressed: Not only do Stein's subjects never offer evidence for ID (or even against mainstream evolutionary theory), none of the expert witnesses can even define Intelligent Design in the first place!

The irony is that one ID proponent in the flick carefully and accurately defines traditional evolutionary theory; then another ID expert at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, the Mecca of Intelligent Design, is shown bitterly lamenting that reporters always misstate the claims of ID. He tells us what he thinks ID does not claim -- that some structures of life are "too complex" to be explained by traditional evolutionary theory; yet he never tells us what ID actually does claim.

Thus Stein leaves the audience in the dark -- what, specifically, is the argument actually about? We don't learn from Expelled; we only learn that it isn't about whether evolution can create complexity.

Which is a breathtaking assertion... because the chief scientist-architect of ID -- Dr. Michael Behe -- in fact explicitly claims that ID's best argument is the "irreducible complexity" of some biological structures, such as the mammalian eye, the bacterial flagellum (a "nanomotor" that allow bacteria to move by themselves), and the human blot-clotting cascade. Isn't "irreducible complexity" an argument from complexity?

Behe asserts that such complex structures, which comprise many separate components (simple structures or proteins), are "irreducible." By this, Behe means that complex structures could not have evolved by random mutation, because (he argues) every component would have to evolve simultaneously for the structure to work properly, thus to provide any survival advantage to the organism.

He tries to make his case by noting that if you chemically suppress, for example, any of the dozen proteins involved in blood clotting or any of the 40 or so proteins used by bacterial flagella, the entire system fails. Since, he says, the individual components themselves confer no advantage without all the others, how could they have evolved in the first place?

While Behe relies mostly upon the flagellum example, lawyers like Michael Medved prefer to use the mammalian eye -- likely because they can't understand Behe's argument about flagella or clotting cascades, having never studied biology or any other science. Medved often notes that a retina all by itself, without an optic nerve or lense or cornea, is useless. Likewise, a lens all by itself, without the other components, has no function, and so forth. The problem with this example (and why Behe rarely uses it), is that even Darwin himself presented a very persuasive, step by step way that the eye could have evolved. Since then, of course, the evolution of the eye has been extensively researched; scientists, unlike Michael Medved, know almost exactly how the modern eye came into being.

If you're incredibly interested, there are entire books published on the subject; but Francis Collins has a succinct sketch in the Language of God, pp. 191-2. Anybody interested in this debate cannot skip this book, no matter which side the reader is on; I will return to it over and over. Collins himself is a world-renowned geneticist and physician -- he headed the Human Genome Project -- but he is also a traditional, scripture-believing Christian. He had been an atheist until he was converted in 1976 by reading several works by C.S. Lewis.

I will return to Behe's primary example, bacterial flagella, later. For now, it's enough to note that his argument is that some structures are "irreducibly complex," so could not have evolved by random mutation coupled with natural selection.

This seems remarkably well described by the shorthand, "some structure in life are too complex to be explained by traditional evolutionary theory;" I don't know why the chap from the Discovery Institute is so exercised. Stein leaves theater-goers tip-toeing on eggshells, trying not to misquote IDers, but with the uneasy feeling that whatever we think we know about ID is necessarily wrong.

There is a good reason this movie, arguably the most important (and unarguably the best funded) media support for Intelligent Design ever, does not actually define Intelligent Design: ID proponents refuse to define it themsleves. Trying to get IDers to clearly state their core theses is like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. Reading the ID literature looking for anything deeper than an intense loathing of "Darwinism" is an exercise in futility: You're groping in the dark for a black cat who isn't there.

Do they argue that organisms don't change over time? No; they believe in "microevolution." Do they say that even the slightest change in an organism is personally directed by some intelligent designer? Definitely not. Is the Designer God? They won't say publicly (but they spilled the beans in an internal Discovery Institute memo that leaked).

Do they argue that the sheer complexity of life proves the existence of ID? Apparently not -- that is the very "misunderstanding" that so exercised the director of the Discovery Institute, though it appears to be a perfectly respectable journalistic shorthand for Behe's "irreducible complexity."

Well, what specifically does ID claim? Where does it differ from mainstream evolutionary theory? They're too coy to say. In fact, supporters of ID only seem comfortable arguing one thing for certain: Whatever really occured to produce all the species now living on Planet Earth, it couldn't have been caused by random variation and natural selection, by "Darwinism."

Fit the fourth: Cult of poisonality

Stein's refusal to call evolutionary theory by its correct name is not simple truculence: By linking evolutionary science inextricably with one man (and one book, the Origin of Species), he reduces science to a religious-like sect... or even to a political cult.

What other general systems (as opposed to technical terms like Newtonian mechanics LaPlace transforms) are identified by a proper noun followed by a variant on "-ism or -ite?" Those I can think of are either religious movements -- Lutheranism, Paulite, Franciscan; political movements -- Marxism, Leninism, Stalinism, Hitlerism, Jeffersonian, Stirnerite, Reaganism; or bizarre cults of various stripes -- Nietschean, Fullerism, Chompskian, Keynesianism.

What do all of the above, forgetting Darwinism for the moment, have in common? They are systems of thought, philosophies, that follow the teachings of some leader... a guru, if you will. Each constitutes to some extent a cult of personality; in some cases benign or even beneficial, such as Lutheranism and Reaganism; in others dangerous or repellant, as with Maoism and Wahhabism. But in each case, acolytes attempt to follow to the letter the goals and principles of the founder, which are held to be eternal verities.

And then there's "Darwinism." As they sang on Sesame Street, "one of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong."

Contrary to what Expelled would have us believe, evolutionary scientists do not seek to promote the teachings of Charles Darwin, any more than modern physicists do not practice Newtonism and contemporary chemists do not engage in Boyleism.

Fit the fifth: Science of unreason

Ben Stein believes and wants to convince moviegoers that modern evolutionary scientists act as Mediaeval thrones, powers, and cherubim, singing endless praise of Charles Darwin, god of evolution. But this is a grotesque misunderstanding of science. There is no "Newtonism," "Boyleism," or "Mendelism;" the greats of science are not worshipped, nor are they considered inerrant or their systems eternal.

By the very nature of science, nothing is eternal; by definition, all is tentative -- that is to say mutative, ever changing. The core idea of evolutionary theory remains constant -- that natural variation or mutation in an organism's genetic code, coupled with an environment that privileges a few variations while punishing most, leads to evolution over time of one species into another. Yet the differences between what Charles Darwin wrote and what contemporary evolutionary scientists believe are myriad. It has been nearly a century and a half, and science never stands still even for a minute.

Evolutionists do not continue to believe in evolutionary theory simply because they have been seduced, either by the weight of tradition or by the lure of research grants. They continue to believe evolution because every experiment, every measurement, every observation without exception confirms, over and over, that the theory is a still-valid model of physical reality... even while the details of that model are constantly readjusted.

But still it is not eternal. Biologists, geneticists, and other evolutionary scientists are always aware that Darwin's ideas could (in theory) be overturned in a moment, even after standing for centuries. After all, that's exactly what Albert Einstein and Werner Heisenberg, et al, did in physics with relativity and quantum mechanics; and that's even what Kurt Gödel did for mathematical logic with his famous Incompleteness Theorem (see Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter).

Evolutionary theory's continued existence depends utterly upon the evidence from experiment and observation; if that ever stops supporting it, if some new way of measuring contradicts what the theory predicts, then down it goes, in flames.

Yet proponents of Intelligent Design have made no headway whatsoever into the scientific community. Ben Stein tells us that it is they are suppressed, repressed, and oppressed by the scientific establishment. This is partially true; Big Science does tune ID out, ignore what they say, and refuse to sanction Intelligent Design as being on a par with mainstream evolutionary theory... but not because scientists reject freedom of speech. Rather, ID is dismissed because it is not a science, it was not developed scientifically, and its proponents have no positive, scientific evidence to offer. (They claim boatloads of evidence, mostly of the "how do you explain this niggling little detail?" variety; but again to paraphrase Fred Pohl on a different subject, "You and I have completely different ideas of what constitutes 'evidence.'")

What does Expelled give us to resolve this intellectual quagmire? A few scraps of suggestive firings (or contracts not renewed); an occasional angy atheist who is also an evolutionist; and the reassurances of partisans that they're right and the other side is wrong.

Of course, scientists say they're right and ID is wrong; it's he-said, she-said -- let's split it down the middle and give both sides equal weight! That is certainly the position Ben Stein takes; but would conservatives agree if the subject were not evolution but the war against global caliphism? Bin Laden and Zawahiri want to turn the entire world into one giant caliphate, destroying all democracies along the way; we say this is evil incarnate, and we'll fight them every step of the way. Is that just he-said, he-said? Do we split it down the middle and invite al-Qaeda to create a hemispherical caliphate?

Conservatives normally argue that just because two people disagree doesn't mean the truth necessarily lies somewhere between them. Sometimes (not always), one side is right and the other wrong, end of story. Yet too many folks on the right will not even entertain the possibility that "Big Science" might be right and Intelligent Design wrong, that evolutionary theory dominates the sciences because it's one of the most well-documented and persuasively evidenced theory in the history of science. Conservatives would do well to remember what Oliver Cromwell once wrote:

I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.

Scientists live by this motto; there is not a scientist alive who has not seen a beloved pet theory collapse due to some observations that he expected to go the other way. He is forced to abandon his theory and start over from scratch; it's a normal part of life in the scientific world. But in the realm of philosophy and religion, this almost never happens -- for such systems never die by disproof, but only through ennui.

This subset of conservatives also refuses to address another charge: That the only purpose of ID is to throw sand at evolution for purely religious reasons: Some Christians (and a few Jews) have talked themselves into believing that evolution denies the two creation passages in Genesis. Expelled can't even see this question and the potential it has to destroy the very idea of ID; if ID is nothing but Biblical Creationism tarted up to look scientific, then who but the most anti-American religious zealot would demand it be taught as science? Would you demand we teach as science the doctrine of the Trinity?

But this is not to say that Stein doesn't see a religious dynamic at issue here; he does. And not very surprising, given his legal background, the movie spends much of its time warning against the same deadly threat that Phillip Johnson associated with "Darwinism."

Ben Stein's primary thesis in Expelled is of course that Big Science hasn't given Intelligent Design a fair hearing, that it stifles and suppresses them for sundry unsavory reasons. But his secondary thesis, nearly as important, is the claim, made explicit throughout the movie, that merely by studying evolutionary theory -- or, one surmises, any science at all -- faith in God is chipped away until, in the end, the student is left shorn of belief in deity, in transcendence, even in free will. The young become easy pickin's for Progressivists who ache to create the "New Socialist Man," per one of Adolf Hitler's speeches that Stein helpfully shows us.

(Given all the Nazi references in the movie, my brother wondered whether Ben Stein had utterly "Godwinized" himself.")

Let's take each of these in turn, starting with whether establishment science -- the "dominant paradigm," as Stein puts it, using the language of Thomas Kuhn's the Structure of Scientific Revolutions -- has really suppressed mountains of evidence pointing to Intelligent Design, all in order to prevent a paradigm shift that would leave the establishment no longer king of the anthill.

Here endeth the part the first; part the second will arriveth anon...

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 24, 2008, at the time of 6:28 PM | Comments (40) | TrackBack

Date ►►► April 23, 2008

Once Upon a Radical

Hatched by Dave Ross

Although I am rather appalled to find myself agreeing with Tom Hayden about anything, I was actually able to make it to the end of “Why Hillary Makes My Wife Scream” without gnawing my arm off.

I’m attracted to any title that couples Hillary with “scream,” or screech, but to my disappointment, the article was not about “that voice” or the ability of the former first lady to make a fingernail across a chalkboard seem soothing by comparison. If you are familiar with Edvard Munch’s painting “the Scream,” you may have some idea of how I react whenever this woman is on television.

Seeing her every night on the news since December has reinforced just what a disaster it would be hearing her every night of the year for an entire “term.” [Dafydd adds: "Sentence" would be the better word, as least as far as the American people are concerned.] You think George Bush’s smirk has gotten grating (it has!)? This has the makings of suicide by Michael Bolton. Listen to Hillary long enough and your head explodes. Or you become a member of the Village of the Damned.

But I degress. Fact is, I began this column with a digression, so I’m going to force myself back on the road and consider Hayden’s column.

Tom Hayden, for those of you who think you might have heard of him, is an original, unreconstructed, unrepetent 60s radical. The kind that was quite seriously trying to pull down the republic by violent revolution during the Vietnam War. He was a member of the Chicago Seven, and was put on trial with the likes of Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin for conspiracy to incite riot at the 1968 Democratic Convention. He helped found the Students for a Democratic Society, also a radical group. He later acquired respectability of a sort by becoming a California state senator and marrying, for a time, Jane Fonda.

His point, and he does have one (as do I, somewhere), is that he knows radicals. And he knows that Hillary Clinton used to be one. Which is why he finds it so frustrating that Hillary and her surrogates attack Barack Obama (the messiah, the all merciful, blessed be his name!) because of past associations with radicals.

It’s actually pretty enlightening to be reminded that in the 60s Hillary was part of this movement, although she never achieved any kind of notoriety over it to the extent that Hayden did. Obama, of course, was a little boy while all this was going on.

As Hayden points out:

She was in Chicago for three nights during the 1968 street confrontations. She chaired the 1970 Yale law school meeting where students voted to join a national student strike again an "unconscionable expansion of a war that should never have been waged." She was involved in the New Haven defense of Bobby Seale during his murder trial in 1970, as the lead scheduler of student monitors. She surely agreed with Yale president Kingman Brewster that a black revolutionary couldn't get a fair trial in America. She wrote that abused children were citizens with the same rights as their parents.

All of this reinforces the hypocrisy of the Clintons, who will repeat lies without batting an eye, lies that even the majority of people listening to them know are lies, yet which they must figure some people will buy as the truth.

Barack will be a bad president, of that I have no doubt. But the Clintons are a breed of cat that only infrequently surfaces in American politics, the Aaron Burrs and the Alexander Hamiltons, the Richard Nixons, politicians with the scruples and ambition of the Borgias and the intestinal fortitude to do anything to win.

Hatched by Dave Ross on this day, April 23, 2008, at the time of 8:48 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Date ►►► April 22, 2008

LAT: Is McCain Fit to Serve as Prez - Even Though He Can't Raise His Arms Above the Shoulder?

Hatched by Dafydd

This entire post is a fractal, contained within its title. Only a quote or two is necessary from today's Los Angeles Times:

John McCain gets tax-free disability pension [merely for being disabled! Outrageous!]

The disclosure of the Navy benefit for injuries incurred as a Vietnam POW may raise fitness questions.

When McCain released his tax return for 2007 on Friday, he separately disclosed that he received a pension of $58,358 that was not listed as income on his return.

On Monday, McCain's staff identified the retirement benefit as a "disability pension" and said that McCain "was retired as disabled because of his limited body movements due to injuries as a POW."

McCain campaign strategist Mark Salter said Monday night that McCain was technically disabled. "Tortured for his country -- that is how he acquired his disability," Salter said.

Raise your hands, everybody -- not you, Sen. McCain -- who believes Mark Salter actually said that McCain was only "technically disabled."

Evidently, it's the Times' position that if one is disabled enough to receive a disability pension, then one is utterly incapable of doing anything with one's life. Disabled people should have no lives; they should just sit in a room waiting for relief from the State, or perhaps sit with a bowl in the train station hoping for handouts. God knows they shouldn't be in the Senate, certainly not the White House.

Blind people should be selling pencils from a tin can, for example; certainly not serving as the governor of a state. I'm certain I remember the Times inveighing against just the thought of such a thing. Thank goodness we've never had to face that horrific possibility.

Just to be sure we all realize what, exactly, the Times is saying...

McCain spent 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war in Hanoi. After he was released in 1973, he returned home on crutches and began a painful physical rehabilitation. He later regained flight status and commanded a Navy squadron before retiring from the service in 1981....

The fact that he is legally designated with a disability pension may raise further questions.

"It is a legitimate question to ask about the commander in chief: Is he fit to serve [despite not being able to play basketball!]," said Robert Schriebman, a senior Pentagon tax advisor and tax attorney who recently retired as a judge advocate for a unit of the California National Guard.

If McCain can hike across the Grand Canyon, then why should he be getting disability payments from the government that are tax-exempt, Schriebman asked.

A friend of McCain's who spent some time with him in that North Vietnamese resort in Hanoi has an answer:

Paul Galanti, another former POW in the group, said that while McCain's injuries were serious enough to qualify him for disability, it would not affect his performance as president.

"I don't know of any physical requirements to be commander in chief," Galanti said. "He would have a nice car to drive around in and a nice airplane to fly in."

But really... how could anybody serve as president if he can't raise his arms above his shoulders? How could he do the Macarana, which I understand to be a job requirement?

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 22, 2008, at the time of 11:59 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Date ►►► April 21, 2008

Gee, He Really Is Conservative - Page 1: Economics 101

Hatched by Dafydd

Some days ago (tax extortion day) John McCain gave a speech at Carnegie Mellon University in the Pitts -- I mean, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The speech focused on his fiscal policy, taxing and spending in particular.

What was refreshingly unexpected was how fiscally conservative McCain is, particularly in comparison to the last few GOP presidential candidates... by some measures, McCain is more fiscally conservative than Ronald Reagan, who never made much of a move to rein in spending (Reagan was more concerned with winning the Cold War and lowering taxes).

Afterwards, that well-known "spending hawk," Howard Dean, chairman of the DNC lashed out at McCain, railing that the presumptive Republican nominee had no plan to "turn the economy around" (does Dean mean from generally improving to generally failing?)

So what is McCain's lousy plan that doesn't pass muster with the Dean Scream Machine? A few highlights are in order.

A taxing problem...

Here is McCain on taxes in general:

In the same way, many in Congress think Americans are under-taxed. They speak as if letting you keep your own earnings were an act of charity, and now they have decided you've had enough. By allowing many of the current low tax rates to expire, they would impose -- overnight -- the single largest tax increase since the Second World War. Among supporters of a tax increase are Senators Obama and Clinton. Both promise big "change." And a trillion dollars in new taxes over the next decade would certainly fit that description.

Of course, they would like you to think that only the very wealthy will pay more in taxes, but the reality is quite different. Under my opponents' various tax plans, Americans of every background would see their taxes rise -- seniors, parents, small business owners, and just about everyone who has even a modest investment in the market. All these tax increases are the fine print under the slogan of "hope": They're going to raise your taxes by thousands of dollars per year -- and they have the audacity to hope you don't mind.

The first salvo. No candidate since 1988 has been so Reganesque on taxes as John McCain. He even has a radical proposal of his own that starts from one of Reagan's own reforms, reducing the number of tax brackets, and carries it to the next step; but more on that anon.

The one time McCain voted against a tax cut was the George W. Bush proposal; I am convinced that he did so out of continuing anger at Bush. While this is pettiness that does not reflect well on McCain, I would sure as heck rather put up with an occasional small-mindedness than suffer endlessly under the passionate Democratic faith in a massive government funded by draconian taxes to solve all our problems.

John McCain will lower your taxes and simplify your tax returns. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will raise your taxes and vastly complexify your returns. If lowering taxes matters to you, if letting Americans keep more of their own money matters, then you can neither vote for a Democrat nor sit out the election in a snit.

We're spent!

On spending in general:

In so many ways, we need to make a clean break from the worst excesses of both political parties. For Republicans, it starts with reclaiming our good name as the party of spending restraint. Somewhere along the way, too many Republicans in Congress became indistinguishable from the big-spending Democrats they used to oppose. The only power of government that could stop them was the power of veto, and it was rarely used.

If that authority is entrusted to me, I will use the veto as needed, and as the Founders intended. I will veto every bill with earmarks, until the Congress stops sending bills with earmarks. I will seek a constitutionally valid line-item veto to end the practice once and for all. I will lead across-the-board reforms in the federal tax code, removing myriad corporate tax loopholes that are costly, unfair, and inconsistent with a free-market economy.

McCain is even stronger on spending than he is on taxes. He has the best "porkbuster" record of almost anyone; he rejects the very concept earmarks, which are the single most corrupt scheme members of Congress have ever invented precisely because it's so hard to prove the manifest bribery in a court of law.

Both Clinton and Obama oppose a ban on earmarks; they side with Squeaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Haight-Ashbury, 95%) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Caesar's Palace, 85%), along with the most liberal spenders in the 110th Congress.

You may argue the Republicans spent like drunken sailors while they held the majority; but during that period, there were many projects that Democrats wanted but never got. Had the party of Pelosi and Reid been in control the first six years of the Bush presidency, our budget deficit would be much larger and we would be close to bankruptcy as a nation, even including the galaxy-sized tax burden they would have maintained.

John McCain will hold down spending and will veto any bill containing earmarks; the Democrats will raise spending out of sight and enshrine earmarks as the normal way to fund everything. If spending matters, you know what you must do.

They're all ears...

McCain on earmarks:

I will veto every bill with earmarks, until the Congress stops sending bills with earmarks....

I have a clear record of not asking for earmarks for my state. For their part, Senators Obama and Clinton have championed a long list of pork-barrel projects for their states -- like that all-important Woodstock museum that Senator Clinton expected Americans to pay for at the cost of a million dollars. That kind of careless spending of tax dollars is not change, my friends: It is business as usual in Washington, and it's all a part of the same wasteful and corrupting system that we need to end.

See above. We're all ears, too.

Particularly taxing...

Think McCain is all meaningless bluster? Has no concrete solutions, as Howard Dean says? Here is McCain on specific tax proposals (other than the big one -- see below):

The goal of reform, however, is not merely to check waste and keep a tidy budget process -- although these are important enough in themselves. The great goal is to get the American economy running at full strength again, creating the opportunities Americans expect and the jobs Americans need. And one very direct way to achieve that is by taking the savings from earmark, program review, and other budget reforms -- on the order of 100 billion dollars annually -- and use those savings to lower the business income tax for every employer that pays it. [Yeah, I know -- ears, ears, ears!]

So I will send to Congress a proposal to cut the taxes these employers pay, from a rate of 35 to 25 percent [Cut in the corporate income-tax rate; how likely is that to come from the jawbone of the asses in the donkey party?]....

I will also send to the Congress a middle-class tax cut -- a complete phase-out of the Alternative Minimum Tax to save more than 25 million middle-class families more than 2,000 dollars every year [Perfect pitch; the AMT, if it ever had a purpose (which I dispute), has certainly outlived it.]....

I will send to Congress a reform to increase the exemption -- with the goal of doubling it from 3,500 dollars to 7,000 dollars for every dependent, in every family in America [Kids -- those damned kids! Seriously, even the United States is skating on the edge of having too low a fertility rate to reproduce our population; incentives for people to have more children not only help directly, they send the message that America welcomes new and larger families.]....

I will propose and sign into law a reform agenda to permit the first-year expensing of new equipment and technology... to ban Internet taxes, permanently... to ban new cell phone taxes... and to make the tax credit for R&D permanent, so that we never lose our competitive edge.

And while we're on the subject of incentives, here are some good ones to encourage more technological development... which just happens to be America's forte.

John McCain will make changes in the tax law to cut the corporate tax rate, benefit parents, kill off the AMT, and support new technology. The Democrats will increase taxes, spending, and regulation of businesses. Which hand do you choose?

The great one (not Jackie Gleason)...

McCain on his big proposal, a voluntary "fair tax" option:

It is not enough, however, to make little fixes here and there in the tax code. What we need is a simpler, a flatter, and a fair tax code. As president, I will propose an alternative tax system. When this reform is enacted, all who wish to file under the current system could still do so. And everyone else could choose a vastly less complicated system with two tax rates and a generous standard deduction.

I like this proposal for several reasons, even though I'm not sure I would elect that option; I would do my taxes the old-fashioned way -- using TurboTax, I mean -- and then also using the new-fangled method... then select whichever one got us a bigger refund; time spent is less valuable to me than money saved. But here is why the "fair tax" is a spectacularly good political bombshell:

  • It's a grand plan, much more transcendent than anything proposed by either Democrat (in this usage, transcendent means leaping out from the run-of-the-millstone policy-wonk proposals that pepper every presidential campaign);
  • It's clearly a reform, making McCain the real reformist in the race;
  • It has a huge base of popularity in all recent polls: People like it because it has the real-world effect of simplifying what is, for most people, one of the most nerve-wracking and traumatic events of an ordinary year;
  • It focuses attention on an area where Republicans still command a big lead over Democrats: tax policy;
  • It's something that George W. Bush never did; his transcendent plan was privatization of Social Security (well, partial privatization) -- which attracts a lot of people (those who know much about the current system and therefore loathe it), but also scares the bejesus out of even more (people who wrongly imagine the SS is a "lockbox" in which their benefits sit, which might be pried open and stolen by unscrupulous stock brokers). It's absurd, but lots of things people believe are similiarly absurd.

The only transcendent scheme proposed by either Democrat is the "Department of Peace" that Hillary Clinton lifted from Dennis Kucinich, leaving plenty of fingerprints. But since nobody knows what the heck a Department of Peace would do, other than pay the salaries of a bunch more bureaucrats, I don't think anybody cared.

McCain will score big on this one... and it has not yet been factored into the polling, as few have heard of it yet. McCain's "fair tax" plan will give Americans a choice to simplify their taxes; Democrats will fubar taxes beyond all recognition. For me, the choice could not be clearer.

You big meanie...

McCain on means-testing the prescription-drug benefit of Medicare, pushed through by George W. Bush:

Those who can afford to buy their own prescription drugs should be expected to do so. This reform alone will save billions of dollars that could be returned to taxpayers or put to better use.

This is actually far more radical an idea than it at first appears.

You all know why some programs (Social Security, Medicare, Veteran's Benefits) are called "entitlement programs," while others that seem superficially similar (WIC, food stamps, federal education grants) are called "discretionary spending"... right? Entitlement programs are those that do not depend upon the economic condition of the recipient; everyone gets the same benefit, no matter how poor or well to do he is: Thus, even Bill Gates will get Social Security and Medicare (including the prescription drug benefit), despite the fact that he is the richest man in America (at one time, richest man in the world).

Never before that I can recall has the nominee for president from one of the two major parties openly called for means testing an entitlement program. It is a huge step forward, every bit as radical a reform, though not as important, of course, as Bush's suggestion that a small part of Social Security be broken off to be privately invested.

If McCain is elected and if he can push this through Congress, we will have broken the wall of separation between entitlement and need; surely other means-testing will follow, and we might finally get a handle on the budget... which is out of control precisely because of "entitlement" spending, which goes up all by itself, rather than by discretionary spending. It might also open the floodgates for more and more complete proposals for privatizing Social Security.

McCain will attempt to means-test a piece of an entitlement program, the Medicare prescription drug benefit. The Democrats would prefer to turn all discretionary social spending into entitlement programs. There's no comparison; McCain is better on every issue than the Dems, even including immigration policy.

Church of the subprime genius...

McCain on the subprime-mortgage crisis and his solution:

These reforms must wait on the next election, but to help our workers and our economy we must also act in the here and now. And we must start with the subprime mortgage crisis, with the hundreds of thousands of citizens who played by the rules, yet now fear losing their houses. Under the HOME plan I have proposed, our government will offer these Americans direct and immediate help that can make all the difference: If you can't make your payments, and you're in danger of foreclosure, you will be able to go to any Post Office and pick up a form for a new HOME loan. In place of your flawed mortgage loan, you'll be eligible for a new, 30-year fixed-rate loan backed by the United States government. Citizens will keep their homes, lenders will cut their losses, and everyone will move on -- following the sounder practices that should have been observed in the first place. [If we must do anything at all for fools working in banks and S&Ls who lent money to people unqualified to receive such a loan -- and politically we must -- then this is the way to go about it, rather than the massive bailout of subprime borrowers and wholesale punishment of financial institutions proposed by the anti-Capitalist Democrats.]

It's important as well to remember that the foolish risk-taking of lenders, investment banks, and others that led to these troubles don't reflect our free market as it should be working. In a free market, there must be transparency, accountability, and personal and corporate responsibility. The housing crisis came about because these standards collapsed -- and, as president, I intend to restore them.

The "penalty," if you want to call it that, applied to the financiers who broke their own rules to lend out money inappropriately should be to tighten our scrutiny of them -- not fine them more of what they clearly ain't got anymore!

McCain won't freak out about the subprime "crisis" and impose some grandiose and ludicrous Keynesian control on the financial markets, as the Democrats propose. Again, unless you enjoy economic collapse as a spectator sport, you should vote for McCain over either of these two Democratic knaves.

It's a gas, gas, gas...

McCain on gas:

I propose that the federal government suspend all taxes on gasoline now paid by the American people -- from Memorial Day to Labor Day of this year. The effect will be an immediate economic stimulus -- taking a few dollars off the price of a tank of gas every time a family, a farmer, or trucker stops to fill up. Over the same period, our government should suspend the purchase of oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which has also contributed to the rising price of oil. This measure, combined with the summer-long "gas-tax holiday," will bring a timely reduction in the price of gasoline. And because the cost of gas affects the price of food, packaging, and just about everything else, these immediate steps will help to spread relief across the American economy.

If states followed suit, then gas prices would drop by a heck of a lot more than 18.4 cents per gallon; here in California, the state takes an additional 18 cents of direct tax on every gallon... but there is also the "tax" of requiring a special gasoline mix for each separate state and other enviro-wacko requirements, each of which also raises the price of gas. Altogether, eliminating federal and state gasoline taxes would save California drivers probably close to 50 cents per gallon -- a drop of $7.50 per tank for a 15-gallon tank. Assuming you get 20 mpg, that saves you a dollar for every 40 miles you drive.

The benefit may be less in some states; but it's still absurd to tax gasoline any differently than any other sale is taxed... unless the goal is to hurt truckers and commuters in particular and raise the price of nearly everything for nearly everybody (since nearly everything is driven somewhere by planes, trains, and eighteen-wheelers).

My only objection to this McCain proposal is -- the federal gas taxes go back up again after Labor Day. Dang.

McCain has already introduced a summer-long moratorium on federal gas taxes; the Democrats call for an increase in gas taxes, to punish people for driving too much. (While the Dems get chauffeured around and fly first class on commercial jets.) Want to continue driving? Vote McCain, not Hillary or Obama.

Five diamonds and a lump of coal...

Here McCain gives us five solid conservative progams -- but one clinker, the inevitable globaloney appeasement:

In the weeks and months ahead, I will detail my plans to reform health care in America... to make our schools more accountable to parents and taxpayers... to keep America's edge in technology... to use the power of free markets to grow our economy... to escape our dependence on foreign oil... and to guard against climate change and to be better stewards of the earth. All of these challenges, and more, will face the next president, and I will not leave them for some unluckier generation of leaders to deal with.
Of course, even on arthritic globaloney, McCain's "cap and trade" program is hugely better than the strict ceiling on CO2 emissions demanded by Democrats.

McCain has a number of other good proposals; and even on the bad policy, hysterical global fear of warming, his plan is better than theirs.

Campaigning, what is it good for?

It's good for demarcating the boundaries within which the candidate would govern. Campaign speeches tell us not only the specifics of what a candidate wants to go, but more important, the principles (or lack) by which he decides those specifics.

If a candidate's speeches are nothing but long "laundry lists" of unrelated ideas, then you can bet he is a pragmatist, a weathercock who will turn any way the wind of opportunity blows, like our previous president: Nobody listening to Bill Clinton in 1992 imagined how liberal he would govern in 1993-1994; and nobody who got used to Bill Clinton ver. 2.0 could be anything but aghast at Bill Clinton ver. 3.0, starting after Democrats lost the 1994 elections. He went from moderate DLCer to ultra-liberal Progressive to triangulating egoist without ever visibly changing his spots -- because he hadn't any in the first place; he had (and has) no discernable principles whatsoever.

Contrariwise, if a candidate's proposals all fit together into a single, coherent narrative, then that tells you he has a firm set of principles. And if that narrative has been fairly consistent throughout his career, that tells you he is steadfast, and you can rely upon him to have the same principles while governing as he does while campaigning -- for good or ill.

Note that this category applies to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as much as to John McCain, though I hope most readers here find that a compelling reason to vote for the last and against the first and second. They are steadfast, all right; steadfast liberal-progressives!

In this case, McCain's fiscal policies all point the same direction: Letting Americans keep more of their hard-earned money and reducing the size and scope of the federal government. If that makes any difference to you, then please don't let your angst about whether he is "pure" enough a conservative cause you to lose sight of the stark, raving differences between McCain and his two rivals.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 21, 2008, at the time of 6:47 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Date ►►► April 19, 2008

Response to Patterico: the Two-Timing Times and Its Two-Time One-Timer

Hatched by Dafydd

Oddly enough, Patterico noted a very amusing mistake by the Los Angeles Times. (I say "oddly" because Patterico's well-known aversion to that paper generally causes him never to write about it or even mention it on his blog... except occasionally, perhaps 300 or 400 times a year.) The TV cricket of the Times, Mary McNamara, wrote the following:

George Washington (David Morse) so quickly tired of the infighting among his Cabinet and vagaries of public opinion that he stepped down from the presidency after a single term. "I know now what it is like to be disliked," he says to Adams, his perpetually disliked vice president.

That would be the single term from 1789 to 1793 and from 1793 to 1797, I presume.

After gleefully noting this latest stupidity from his foil, Patterico -- who evidently hasn't yet watched his tape of the relevant episode -- added this cautionary disclaimer:

Straining to give [the Times] the benefit of the doubt, I wonder: Does the miniseries somehow portray Washington as having served only one term? I haven’t seen it, but I doubt it.

So to prevent some lefty blogger friend of Patterico's to be the latter's only source, I herewith offer the services of Big Lizards... for we have watched our DVR recording of the relevant episode, and in fact all of them to date.

Thus I can state authoritarianly, "No, Patterico; the miniseries didn't get it wrong." But I think I see where the Times was misled.

  1. The HBO miniseries presumes throughout that viewers have some basic knowledge of colonial and early American history -- a rather unfair disadvantage to liberals in the first place. Ergo, it doesn't bang you over the head with irrelevancies... such as Washington's 1792 reelection.

    They don't bother showing it: Nobody "ran" for president back then, as you know; the electors were chosen by the states and sent to the capitol (Philadelphia, in Washington's case) to cast their votes. Washington was unanimously elected in 1788 and again in 1792... so with no campaign and no competition, and since the focus is on John Adams anyway, not GW, the miniseries doesn't even mention the election.

  2. There is a dispositive line towards the end of the episode wherein Adams has his vice presidency (repeated at the beginning of the next episode, his presidency): Abigail Adam flatly marvels that Washington would step down "after two terms," when he could have been president for life. But it's not emphasized in the episode, and it would be easy to miss for a viewer paying only half attention. (As I expect "Mary McNamara, Times Television Critic" was -- bored to tears because it wasn't about her, and it wasn't even about a real revolutionary and hero of the people -- "Che," for example. Later in the same column, she says about the series, "I myself remained underwhelmed.")
  3. Washington did choose to step down rather than run; as he was the first president, there was of course no tradition yet of serving only two terms. He does say the line McNamara quotes -- but it's after his second, not first term. It is true, however, that Washington stepped down because he was frustrated by the rise of political parties and by how politics had overtaken patriotic duty.
  4. So in this case, McNamara put 2 and 2 together and alas got 7.3. Since Washington chose not to run when he could have, and since McNamara is probably unaware that the "two-term" rule was only added to the Constitution in 1951 via the 22nd Amendment, she probably thought that if he stepped down, it must have been after only one term... otherwise, assuming she thought the two-term limit comes from the Constitution itself (not a 20th-century amendment), after two terms, he would have to step down.

    In any event, her little column wasn't really about all that imperialist warmongering at the founding of the most vile and degraded country on the planet; it was about the much more urgent subject of contrasting establishment HBO to the hipper Showtime.

So there you have it; the miniseries got it right, but Mary McNamara has such a skullful of liberal mush that it's not really her fault when she gets so confused about basic American history -- such as President George Washington and his giant blue ox, Babe. After all, you can't make a silk purse out of a pig's breakfast.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 19, 2008, at the time of 6:27 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Date ►►► April 18, 2008

I appear to have become a Nazi...

Hatched by Dafydd

...Along with everyone else who accepts the modern theory of evolution by variation and natural selection.

I was just listening to Ben Stein on the Michael Medved show. Stein has a new documentary out, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which argues that "Big Science" has systematically suppressed all the evidence showing that God exists, that He specially created all live on the planet, and that Darwinism is the great hoax of the 19th century.

One paragraph in, and already I'm getting sidetracked! This reminds me of a story Fred Pohl tells. When he was hosting the Long John Neville show, during one of his frequent episodes debunking UFOlogy, an angry believer in alien abductions demanded of Pohl, "How much evidence do we have to present before you admit They're here?"

Pohl's response was brilliant, though I must paraphrase: "A million pieces wouldn't be enough, because you and I have completely different ideas of what constitutes 'evidence.'"

Alas, just a few minutes into Stein's stint on Medved, I discover something unsavory about myself: Stein and Medved, both of whom reject evolutionary theo-- excuse me, "Darwinism" -- spent some time reassuring each other that the entire Nazi movement was founded on Darwinism, and that Hitler saw Darwinism as an integral part of Naziism. Ergo, I appear to have become a "Nazi" as well as an "atheist" "Darwinist".

Now a purist might note that Hitler was far more interested in "social Darwinism" -- by which he meant his prepenultimate bête noire Capitalism, rather than biological "Darwinism" -- and that Hitler railed against Capitalism for its social Darwinism, among other reasons... what fascists call inefficient and unjust competition. Even today, the term "social Darwinism" generally means Capitalism to everyone but Ben Stein. (Hitler's three biggest bugbears were, in reverse order, Capitalism, Communism, and Jews.)

Think I'm exaggerating about Stein's argumentum? From Ben Stein's own blog, here is his conflation of "Darwinism" (he never calls evolution by its actual name) with imperialism (if the first link doesn't resolve, try this one):

Let’s make this short and sweet. It would be taken for granted by any serious historian that any ideology or worldview would partake of the culture in which it grew up and would also be largely influenced by the personality of the writer of the theory....

In other words, major theories do not arise out of thin air. They come from the era in which they arose and are influenced greatly by the personality and background of the writer.

The Stein thesis is already misleading and boorish. Evolutionary theory is not an "ideology or worldview;" it is a scientific theory. And science uses the word "theory" differently than do other disciplines.

As Stein understands the word, it means any supposition, no matter how airy: the theory of Progressivist economics, the theory of deconstructionism. But in science, a theory is a hypothesis that has been thoroughly vetted, for which a tremendous amount of favorable evidence has been produced, and against which there is no significant contradictory evidence... a hypothesis or model doesn't become a theory until there is a consensus of well-respected scientists in relevant fields -- including previous dissenters -- who now support it.

Of course scientific ideas are affected by the cultures in which they arise, but primarily because different cultures generate different problems to solve and produce different technologies by which to measure the real world. Science itself, however derived, works equally well in every culture, every country, every continent, and (we presume) on every planet in the universe.

It is thus truly universal in a way that faith, morals, and philosophy can only dream about. But the price paid is that science is strictly limited to explaining how the natural world works; it cannot, even in theory (there's that pesky word again), be used to prove or disprove the existence of a being outside the natural world, such as God -- Richard Dawkins notwithstanding.

Stein is already off on the wrong track, through a combination of half-grasped science and misappropriation of terms. We continue:

Darwinism, the notion that the history of organisms was the story of the survival of the fittest and most hardy, and that organisms evolve because they are stronger and more dominant than others, is a perfect example of the age from which it came: the age of Imperialism. [This is a bizarre misapprehension of the theory even when the Origin of Species was published in 1859, let alone today. How "dominant" is a shrew or a sponge? "Fittest" means best able to survive and reproduce in that environment.] When Darwin wrote, it was received wisdom that the white, northern European man was destined to rule the world. This could have been rationalized as greed -- i.e., Europeans simply taking the resources of nations and tribes less well organized than they were. It could have been worked out as a form of amusement of the upper classes and a place for them to realize their martial fantasies. (Was it Shaw who called Imperialism “…outdoor relief for the upper classes?”) [I don't know. Was it? What makes Mr. Stein believe Shaw said or wrote that? I certainly can't find it in any standard book of quotations or on the internet.]

But it fell to a true Imperialist, from a wealthy British family on both sides, married to a wealthy British woman, writing at the height of Imperialism in the UK, when a huge hunk of Africa and Asia was “owned” (literally, owned, by Great Britain) to create a scientific theory that rationalized Imperialism. [And this is nonsense on stilts; evolutionary theory has nothing whatever to do with "imperialism" or racism or Naziism; this is cotton-candy reasoning that dissolves upon contact into nothing but a bad aftertaste.] By explaining that Imperialism worked from the level of the most modest organic life up to man, and that in every organic situation, the strong dominated the weak and eventually wiped them out, Darwin offered the most compelling argument yet for Imperialism. [Wrong again; the better-reproducing weak will wipe out the less-reproducing strong.] It was neither good nor bad, neither Liberal nor Conservative, but simply a fact of nature. In dominating Africa and Asia, Britain was simply acting in accordance with the dictates of life itself. He was the ultimate pitchman for Imperialism.

This is so wrong, it's maddening. Charles Darwin never used his evolutionary theory to pitch or even justify imperialism; nor did he ever agitate for eugenics programs. His cousin, Francis Galton, invented the idea of eugenics by applying Darwinian ideas to societies... but even he never proposed the government eugenics programs that riddled fascist, Marxist, Nazi, and Progressivist societies. And Darwin himself was skeptical of the expansion.

The philosophy (not science!) of "social Darwinism" was created after Darwin's death by Progressivists, as our hypothetical purist noted; liberals appropriated the term during FDR's administration to attack Capitalism, conflating it with racism and imperialism. Darwin himself was not an imperialist, certainly not in the mold of, say, Rudyard Kipling or Winston Churchill.

But to Ben Stein and Michael Medved, evolutionary theory equals "Darwinism" (similarly, one must presume that quantum mechanics and special relativity are aspects of Newtonism, and I got my graduate degree in Euclidism); Darwinism equals social Darwinism; and social Darwinism is Naziism; ergo... Seig heil!

Evolution by natural selection is the most maligned theory in history; every political hack or philosophy monger twists the science to suit his own prejudices: The lefties twist it to indict Capitalism and individualism; Stein twists it to indict scientific "imperialism" that stands in the way of teaching Judeo-Christian religious precepts as science in the public schools. This saddens me, because I love so many other aspects of Ben Stein's conservatism.

An even purer purist than our previous purists might note -- as Jonah Goldberg did -- that socialists in general, including Progressivists and liberals but not Capitalists, were the real "social Darwinists;" they believed in abortion or sterilization of "defectives" and euthanasia for the handicapped, and suchlike examples of eugenics programs. You can hardly get more "socially Darwinist" than that.

Said purer purists would also argue that the Third Reich in general and Adolf Hitler in particular were not noted for their comprehensive understanding of basic science... you know, that whole "the earth is a hollow sphere and we live on the inside of it" thingie, and the moon being made of ice, and all that "race-science" stuff with its heirarchy of superior to inferior races, and their weird idea that any scientific theory that had a Jew anywhere among its developers was "Jew science" and must be banned. Therefore they could not possibly be exemplars of biological evolutionary theory. Nazis had no more idea of what evolutionary biology actually held than does my dog Scrimshaw... and he's been dead for twenty years.

Fascists, Communists, Progressivists, socialists, and liberals (and conservatives like Ben Stein) have utterly misunderstood Darwin's original, long supplemented if not supplanted thesis; and they are not even aware of the decades of refinement (even by the 1920s) that reshaped it. When you point it out to them, they see this constant refinement of the model as inconstancy; they contrast it negatively to the constancy of Biblical values and use that as another club to bash evolution: If the theory keeps changing, it's an admission that it was wrong; and there's no reason to believe that the current version is any better! But the Bible never changes (heh); it's very permanence proves its value and truth.

The absolute purest of the pure would point out that the entire Steinian argument on this point boils down to:

  1. Nazis were social Darwinists;
  2. Social Darwinism sounds superficially similar to Darwinism, our misleading pet name for modern evolutionary theory;
  3. Therefore, evolutionary theory has a disturbing link to Naziism, and those who believe in it are akin to Nazis.

Here, try this one:

  1. Supporters of Intelligent Design eat carbohydrates;
  2. Carbohydrates sound superficially similar to hydrocarbons, the principal constituents of petroleum (oil) and natural gas;
  3. Oil sometimes leaks, producing oil slicks;
  4. Oil slicks kill baby seals;
  5. Vicious fur hunters also kill baby seals;
  6. Therefore, supporters of Intelligent Design have a disturbing link to evil baby-seal clubbers.

I suppose I'll have to see the movie, but I'll tell you in advance what I predict it will show: endless sequences of "atheists" and "secular humanists" being asked rude and scientifically ignorant questions in a querulous, argumentative, and incoherent manner. And when those atheists (meaning anyone who believes in modern evolutionary theory, since Stein appears to believe that faith and mainstream science are fundamentally at odds) and secular humanists (meaning "generic badthing") can't answer the paralogical question, the IDer will proclaim victory and do a triumphant dance.

But just in case I'm wrong, I'll go see the movie. Just in case all the ID books and articles and pamphlets I've read just didn't have the proper killer argument, I'll go. I'll go just so that no one can say I didn't give ID a fair shake -- which, by the way, ID has never given evolutionary theory; I've yet to encounter an IDer who actually understands the (fairly low-level) science behind the basic concepts of modern evolutionary theory and statistical mathematics... and without that background, it's no wonder "Darwinism" sounds weird and implausible. It's like trying to explain viral infection to someone who believes disease is caused by the evil spells of witches. Here, again, is the man himself (Stein, not Darwin):

Darwinism is still very much alive, utterly dominating biology. Despite the fact that no one has ever been able to prove [to the satisfaction of those who reject evolution for religious reasons] the creation of a single distinct species by Darwinist means, Darwinism dominates the academy and the media. Darwinism also has not one meaningful word to say on the origins of organic life, a striking lacuna in a theory supposedly explaining life. [But not so striking in a theory explaining how contemporary species of life evolved from earlier species of life. Evolutionary theory makes no claim to explain the ultimate origin of life; that is left for other theories and hypotheses -- as it should be.]

Alas, Darwinism has had a far bloodier life span than Imperialism. [Imperialism killed tens of thousands during the crusades and the Inquisition, hundreds of thousands in the British, Spanish, and Belgian empires, and millions under Communist imperialism. How many people have been killed by rampaging biologists?] Darwinism, perhaps mixed with Imperialism, gave us Social Darwinism, a form of racism so vicious that it countenanced the Holocaust against the Jews and mass murder of many other groups in the name of speeding along the evolutionary process. [Either Stein argues that Darwin approved of such a use -- which would be a complete fabrication -- or Stein must admit that he is deliberately trying to make fools of us all.]

Now, a few scientists are questioning Darwinism on many fronts. I wonder how long Darwinism’s life span will be.

Considering that "Darwinism" (evolutionary biology) has already withstood 149 years of hostile questioning by real scientists, I doubt that a few months of interrogation by religiously motivated ID zealots is going to shake the theory's foundations.

The central confusion, as always, is the one so thoroughly refuted by geneticist and staunch Christian believer Francis Collins in his seminal work, the Language of God: Stein and Medved both clearly believe that faith in God is incompatible with belief in evolution... as if God could not have created human beings by the mechanism of evolution. Collins shows the nonsensical theology behind this "argument by personal incredulity," as well as debunking the numerous examples of "well, Darwinism can't explain the evolution of this specific organ or organelle," upon which ID depends for its smattering of vaguely scientific arguments.

Until both conservatives and socialist atheists drop that absurd, self-created dichotomy, which does not exist in reality, we will continue to be subjected to such offensive claptrap as both Intelligent Design -- and books like Richard Dawkins' the God Delusion.

More's the pity.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 18, 2008, at the time of 5:23 PM | Comments (49) | TrackBack

Date ►►► April 17, 2008

Obama's Own "Hagee" Problem

Hatched by Dafydd

Barack Obama was stunned when numerous sermons of his deeply racist and America-hating "spiritual mentor," Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ, Obama's church in Chicago, hit the airwaves. The candidate's surrogates responded by immediately denouncing John McCain for accepting the endorsement of Rev. John Hagee, who some have called "virulently anti-Catholic."

"Well you're another!" appears to be Camp Obama's preferred non-sequitur to almost any charge, however well founded -- in the Wright case, by Wright's and Obama's own words. Just yesterday, George Snuffleupagus asked Obama about the latter's association with hippie revolutionary wannabe Bill Ayers, and whether he would apologize for staying on a board of directors with Ayers even after the latter used an interview (published on September 11th, 2001, emetically enough) to brag about his bombing campaign and sigh that he only regrets not having bombed enough. Obama responded by demanding of Snuffleupagus whether he, Obama, should also apologize for his friendship with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK, 100%) -- a well-known right-to-lifer, which is surely worse than a mere terrorist bomber.

But what about Hagee? Will he be a problem for Catholics who might otherwise support McCain?

Hagee has certainly made a number of accusations against the early Catholic Church, but many of them are actually true: He accuses the mediaeval Church of being deeply antisemitic, which it was (it endorsed a number of Jew exterminations during the crusades, as well as expulsions of Jews, such as the one committed in 1492 by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain); he blamed the Church for the atrocities committed during the crusades (well, who else would be responsible?); he accused the Church of judicial mass murder for the Inquisition (obviously); and he blamed the Church for the Dark Ages, which is an absurdity: The Roman Empire didn't fall because of Christianity.

Hagee also argues that the Church was too chummy with the Nazis in the 1920s and 30s; here he's on shakier ground: Pope Pius XI (r. 1922-1939) issued the 1937 encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge that explicitly condemned Naziism, racism, and totalitarianism. Many have said his successor, Pius XII (r. 1939-1958), didn't do enough; but Hagee goes too far in implying complicity.

However, I've always been befuddled by this liberal accusation against McCain, linking him with the "anti-Cathlic" John Hagee. What bothers me is that liberals themselves appear to be more virulently anti-Catholic than John Hagee... so why would they care that McCain was endorsed by Hagee? (In my head, I keep hearing the line from Jesus Christ Superstar: "What is this new respect for Caesar? Till now this has been noticeably lacking!") It's as if Obamaniacs denounced John McCain by saying, "how can you vote for him? He's one of those global-warming alarmists!"

But the most amusing element of the hypocrisy, à la "the biter bitten," is that we have someone far more poisonously anti-Catholic than John Hagee could ever be on his worst day, someone who attacks the Church with reckless abandon in the vilest terms, who claims that the Catholic Church actually had a doctrinal policy of molesting children, and who claims that the current Pope, Benedict XVI, "used to be a Nazi."

The bigot is Bill Maher... and on February 1st this year, Maher endorsed Barack H. Obama for president. I'm still waiting for liberals to demand that Obama denounce Bill Maher and his endorsement.

Here, according to Newsbusters, is some of what Maher said about the Church, Catholicism in general, the pope, and Catholics everywhere on April 11th, 2008; it echoes what he has said about them for years, so it cannot have come as a shock to the Obama campaign:

In fact, whenever a cult leader sets himself up as God’s infallible wingman here on Earth, lock away the kids. Which is why I’d like to tip off law enforcement to an even larger child-abusing religious cult. Its leader also has a compound, and this guy not only operates outside the bounds of the law, but he used to be a Nazi and he wears funny hats. That’s right, the Pope is coming to America this week and ladies, he’s single!

The pope, Joseph Ratzinger, was born in 1927, three years after Hitler was released from prison for the "Beer Hall Putsch." Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany when Ratzinger was six years old. World War II began with the invasion of Poland when Ratzinger was twelve. And the Nazis were destroyed, Germany lay in ruins, and Hitler was a suicide two weeks after Ratzinger's 18th birthday. I'm not exactly sure when the future pope would have had time to "be a Nazi."

Perhaps Maher meant the fact that at age 14, Ratzinger became a Hitler Youth -- I suppose Maher was unaware that this was mandatory in the Third Reich at the time; pure German children were actually drafted into the Hitlerjugend. Maher is likely also ignorant of the fact that the Ratzinger family was vehemently anti-Nazi. By all accounts, Ratzinger was never an active member of the HJ and only attended meetings when compelled.

Or maybe Maher meant Ratzinger was a "Nazi" because he was drafted into the German army two years later in 1943. After training, he deserted. But mayhap Maher is one of those people who believes that all Germans are Nazis, regardless of their personal beliefs about Naziism.

But it's Maher's remarks about the sex-abuse scandal and the Catholic Church that are particularly vile and unjust:

Now I know what you’re thinking: "Bill, you shouldn’t be saying that the Catholic Church is no better than this creepy Texas cult." For one thing, altar boys can’t even get pregnant. But really, what tripped up the little cult on the prairie was that they only abused hundreds of kids, not thousands, all over the world. Cults get raided, religions get parades. How does the Catholic Church get away with all of their buggery? Volume, volume, volume!

If you have a few hundred followers, and you let some of them molest children, they call you a cult leader. If you have a billion, they call you 'Pope.' It’s like, if you can’t pay your mortgage, you’re a deadbeat. But if you can’t pay a million mortgages, you’re BearStearns and we bail you out. And that is who the Catholic Church is: the BearStearns of organized pedophilia -- too big, too fat. And that’s the Church’s attitude: 'We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it,' which is fine, far be it from me to criticize religion.

In the world according to Maher, the sexual shenganigans of some priests were the actual doctrine of the Church itself: He calls them examples of "organized pedophilia" and refers to the sexual assaults as part of the actual "religion" of Catholicism.

Where to begin? In the first place, there is no question that the Church (under the previous pope) did too little to stop the problem. But let's be more honest about what that problem was: The huge majority of what people often call "pedophilia" (they mean pederasty) actually comprised gay priests having "consensual" sex with teenaged boys, some of the "victimization" continuing long past the age of consent and even into the "victim's" twenties: The Church has been ill-served by its 1960s policy of accepting still-practicing homosexuals into the seminaries, then not disciplining them when they continued having gay sex there and even after being ordained.

(I put consensual in quotation marks above because the law says a 16 year old cannot "consent;" but if the law says that 16 year olds cannot or do not actually make such choices, however ill-advised they may be -- then as Beedle Bumble said, "the law is a ass.")

A lot of the putative "molestation" occurred in Catholic seminaries, some of which were reportedly turned almost into gay brothels. I have read that some heterosexual seminary students were pressured to either put out or shut up -- or get out. Lamentably, this is considered normal sexual behavior among a small (but still too large) subset of the gay male community... call them "bathhouse gays." (I have heard similar stories from acquaintances of mine in the theater, in dance, and other areas that end up being dominated by aggressive gays.)

Every study I have seen indicates that the gay male community in general is significantly more promiscuous, having more sex with more partners and less concern about relationships or consequences than the straight community. Obviously there are monogamous gays and heterosexual swingers; there is always more variation within a group than between groups. But it's equally obvious that the community-wide trends are very different.

The priests in this category were clearly violating canon law and the Commandment against adultery (sixth or seventh, depending on the sect or religion). Some may even have been violating laws against statutory rape or workplace regulations against sexual harassment. But ephebophiles by definition are interested in post-pubescent teenagers -- not children. This sort of sex, while it can be traumatic to the teen, is not in the same league, legally, medically, or morally, as actual child molestation.

A much smaller number of priests were committing actual child molestation or actual forcible rape. For example, child rapers Brendan Smyth, Jim Grennan, John Geoghan, and Sean Fortune.

There is no question that the Church did not act in a timely fashion to stop such molestation and inappropriate sexual contact. There is no question that the Church, afraid of being sued out of existence by victims and their parents, chose to cover up the problem instead of root it out. There is no question that some guilty priests were shunted around in a game of musical molesters, where they preyed upon more children instead of praying upon their knees for forgiveness and the strength to just stop.

But there is also no question that the Church did make a real, concerted effort to stop the sexual madness, particularly when word finally filtered up to Pope John Paul II. The cardinals forced the resignation of some very high-ranking officials, including several bishops and even Cardinals Bernard Francis Law and Hans Hermann Groër. And the Vatican itself was never implicated; John Paul took strong action against a horrific practice that threatened to destroy everything the Church stood for and drive people away from the belief in God.

But Bill Maher (remember him? this post is about him) is not interested in nuances, shades of gray, truth; it's much funner for the arrogant, outspoken atheist to lash out at the Church as a "cult" of "pedophiles." And he's not above out and out slander, either. After saying Pope Benedict "used to be a Nazi," Maher adds this gem to his anti-Catholic rant:

When the current pope was in his previous Vatican job as John Paul’s Dick Cheney, he wrote a letter instructing every Catholic bishop to keep the sex abuse of minors secret until the Statute of Limitations ran out.

Maher lied in his teeth, as Newsbusters so ably demonstrates. The letter spoke only about the ecclesiastical trials of those accused. It said nothing whatsoever about criminal trials by states and other secular jurisdictions and certainly did not tell any priests to conceal evidence until charges could no longer be filed. Maher simply made it all up.

Even under the highly restrictive standards of "actual malice" and "reckless disregard" for the truth that apply to public figures since 1964, Pope Benedict would easily win a slander suit against Maher, were the pope interested in such foolishness -- which of course he is not, a reluctance that Maher relies upon when he pronounces such slanders on his HBO show. (HBO would also be a defendant in any such lawsuit, because they broadcast the slander; I wonder if they've run that past their crack legal team?)

But of course, Barack H. Obama, as a presidential candidate, cannot skate with a standard of "Not sued for slander yet!" He has to deal with the fact that a lot of Democrats are Catholics, and a lot of non-Catholic Democrats nevertheless do not applaud anti-religious hate speech. It's even possible that some Democrats were appalled by Hagee's endorsement of McCain because they literally believed that Church-haters (whether or not Hagee actually is such) should be shunned.

What must they think about Obama cheerfully accepting the endorsement of Bill Maher and saying nothing at all about Maher's despicable hatred of the Catholic Church, every other kind of church (except perhaps the Trinity United Church of Christ, which may get a Maherian dispensation), all other religions except Islam (I suspect he secretly hates Moslems, too, but is too cowardly to say so out loud), and of course God Himself?

If Obama gets to the general election, he must deal with Independents, moderates, libertarians (all eight of them), and even Republicans, many of whom also actually believe in God, who believe in Judeo-Christian religion, and who do not believe in slandering churches.

So when will Obama be forced to give a "Bill Maher" speech, to rack up alongside his "Jeremiah Wright" speech, his "Antoin Rezko" speech, his "Nadhmi Auchi" speech, his "Bittergate" speech, and his "Bill Ayers" speech? At some point, every press event will become an effort to explain away yet another weirdo crony, endorsement, or misstatement.

I fully expect before November that we'll hear speeches from Obama explaining why we shouldn't pay any attention to his salad days in PETA, his missionary work for Brother Theodore, going rabbit-hunting with Jimmy Carter, glad-handing Pee-Wee Herman, and his years as financial advisor to Raul Castro. Golly, I'm looking forward to this campaign!

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 17, 2008, at the time of 6:40 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Date ►►► April 16, 2008

Responding to Comments on "Move 'Em Out - Lock 'Em Up"

Hatched by Dafydd

Every so often, I start writing a comment, and it -- well, it just gets away from me. In this case, I believe what I wrote is different enough from the original post by Sachi that it makes sense simply to publish it here as a new post.

In this case, I will omit (as I generally do) specific names of those to whom I respond. You can find them out readily enough by just going to the original and reading the comments, looking for the quoted phrases.


The thesis of Move 'Em Out - Lock 'Em Up was the brutality of Red China even today, and especially in response to having won the 2008 Olympics. Sachi listed a number of examples of such oppression. A commenter responded:

Granting you all your points, won't you agree that the Communists built a China the Chinese people can be proud of? A China entirely different from the one that existed 70 years ago? A world economic and military power? A country which will not be conquered by a neighbor one-twentieth its size? Which will not have its face pushed into the mud by the French, the British or the Dutch for the benefit of their trading companies? Which will no longer be vulnerable to becoming a nation of opium addicts at the point of a gun? Which will not see the beheadings of 100,000 of its civilians in just one city by an occupying army?

This entire list of achievements of the Communist Party in China could equally well be said about the achievements of the Communist Party in Russia or the Nazi Party in Germany. The only thing the commenter missed praising them for is making the trains run on time.

These are simply elements of modernity; to ascribe them to Communism is to imply that the modern world can be entered only through the door of totalitarianism... which is nonsense, obviously, as modernity was invented by liberal democracies when socialism did not yet even exist.

I seem to be defending communism which is the last thing I want to do. But Hong Kong or Taiwan do not approach China's majesty in today's world.

Then why do it? By "majesty," all one means is a massive conscript army and a bunch of nuclear missiles -- that China simply stole from the West, just like the Soviets.

What other "majesty" could one be talking about? The majesty of gigantic, tomb-like public buildings? The majesty of pollution so great, it dries up rivers and kills people in foreign lands, due to food exports?

I expect that in one more generation China will be a much more free and open society and substantially, if not perfectly, democratic.

But the most likely way that this would happen is as a result of a catastrophic collapse of the entire vicious system, leading to mass starvation, epidemic disease, and the death of Chinese culture -- not to mention hundreds of millions of individuals. What a joyous future to look forward to!

NB: I originally wrote that "the commenter later explains" the above; the commenter now says that was not how he or she meant it; so I have changed the wording to the version above.

And even then, it may not work; such collapse is generally followed by tyranny, not liberty. And we have never before had to deal with a failed state of that size -- and with such an arsenal of nuclear missiles, biological, and chemical weapons, and with literally millions of conscripts with AK-47s, who would of course become mercenaries to feed themselves, killing being all the trade they know. How can anyone contemplate such a future so calmly?

Instead of watching from the sidelines as such apocalypse unfolds, then blaming the pre-modern occupied peoples for a flaw that is a fundamental part of the modernist conquering culture instead, why not work to avert such a hell on earth in the first place -- by doing everything possible to force the Communists from power in favor of those promoting liberty, individualism, and Capitalism?

China would just as readily have entered modernity -- which is all that the entire list above entails, anyway -- had Chiang Kai-Shek won that war, instead of Mao Tse-Tung. Taiwan did it, without Communism.

We are all aware that fascist and Communist movements are essentially modernist; but they are also essentially illiberal, undemocratic, contra-economic, non-integrating, brutal, murderous, expansionist, utterly unconcerned with the fate of individuals (only the State, the hive-collective) -- and they are fundamentally evil.

I marvel that some don't understand this; it should be imprinted on our social DNA.

Socialism is not the only way to enter the modern world; in fact, it's one of the worst ways, because by the very nature of such movements, they freeze at the moment of modernity at which they were born and never grow beyond that.

Red China does not innovate. It does not grow, except by imposing an early 20th-century worldview on those elements of the countryside that are still pre-modern; this will get you a high growth rate -- but a very low ceiling beyond which you cannot grow. (It also gets you poisoned water, poisoned food, and poisoned air when you combine stolen 20th-century manufacturing with a 19th-century attitude towards pollution.)

Without freedom and individualism, Communist China is forever cut off from entering the post-modern world; it will never rise beyond the level achieved by the Soviet Union. It's only still in existence because it steals innovations from the West.

And it's soul-killing, just as every other Communist utopian "movement," from the USSR to North Korea to Cuba to Venezuela.

I find it surreal that a post-modern person in 2008 -- writing on a post-modern, fundamentally individualist invention like a PC! -- can enthuse so ecstatically about the grand, new socialism of a century ago.

That was basically my previous points, i.e. that China was selected by the IOC to hold the 2008 Olympics, and talk of a boycott immediately started. Now, with the Olympics almost ready to start, the anti-China frenzy is running overtime…in High Gear.

Politics need to stay out of the Olympics, and make no mistake; this anti-China frenzy is supported by political agendas from many sources and sides. So much for the "Olympic Spirit".

Except that the selection of the PRC by the International Olympic Committee was itself utterly political.

They were in no way ready to host an Olympic games, just as they were not in the least ready for WTO membership. The thoroughly political (and utopian) idea was that by giving them the benefits of post-modern society, they would somehow "see the light" and enter the twenty-first century themselves.

Instead, they act like the host of the 1936 Olympics -- and their trade policy more or less mimics that of the Soviet Union in the 1920s. Surprise, surprise, on the Jungle Cruise tonight.

As you [Sachi] have stated, this anti-China agenda started "years before the recent Tibetan problems began", and has forced China to respond.

Sachi never said the Chinese Communist Party was "forced... to respond." That's the argument of the oppressor on a nutshell... "Look what you made me do!"

The anti-Stalin agenda forced him to murder millions of people and throw an even larger number into the gulag. The anti-Khmer Rouge agenda forced Pol Pot to butcher "intellectuals" who were literate, or who knew another language, or who wore glasses.

Or for that matter, the anti-imperialis agenda forced the British Empire to make Hong Kong residents buy opium at gunpoint... it's an all-purpose justification for oppression.

My God; do people even even listen to what they are forced to say, just to excuse Red China's brutality? This one is particularly ripe. The commenter began by quoting from George Friedman at StratFor:

If China were to withdraw from Tibet, and there were no military hindrance to population movement, Beijing fears this population could migrate into Tibet. If there were such a migration, Tibet could turn into an extension of India and, over time, become a potential beachhead for Indian power. If that were to happen, India’s strategic frontier would directly abut Sichuan and Yunnan -- the Chinese heartland.

Yes; if one's goal is imperialist Chinese hegemony over the entire world, I can see why this would be an impediment to liberating Tibet. I'm sure Islamic caliphists feel the same pressure.

India is a capitalist democracy. Shouldn't we want a liberal democracy to abut the border of Red China? I understand why Communist dictatorship would fear democracy... but why do some commenters on this post?

The Chinese regard [the Dalai Lama] as an Indian puppet… their view is that the Indians could shut the Dalai Lama down if they wanted to, and that they don’t signals Indian complicity...

Yes -- Indian "complicity" in freedom of religion, a crime in China.

China won the 2008 Olympics…other countries were upset (in some cases upset that they didn’t win it). China has come a long way since the cold war, and that change was reflected in their winning of the 2008 Olympics.

I never cease to be amazed by the knots defenders of Red China will tie themselves into to try to make their case: Now they argue that we only support freedom of religion, speech, and the press in China because... we're in a snit that we didn't win the 2008 Olympics?

What does the StratFor argument demonstrate? That Red China is afraid to allow liberty in Tibet -- or indeed across its heartland -- because liberty threatens the despotic reign of the Chinese Communist Party. (Which is all that Friedman was saying, not that we in the West should applaud and support such imperialist thinking.)

There was a time when Americans and other Westerners would consider that a reason to support those calling for liberty... not a sufficient reason to imprison and execute them. I weep for America.

Rather than dig in one's heels to defend the monstrous crimes of the ChiComs, which surely must make China-defenders squirm -- and rather than blithely accept a future of unutterable misery, primitivism, and a mass die-off of literally hundreds of millions of people, as some appear to believe inevitable -- why not work to bring freedom, liberty, democracy, individualism, Judeo-Christian religion, and real Capitalism to China... and save that country from its hellish, 60-year nightmare?

That would be the right thing to do. What's more important, that is the American thing to do.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 16, 2008, at the time of 3:03 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Date ►►► April 15, 2008

Move 'Em Out - Lock 'Em Up

Hatched by Sachi

I've been reading comments on my last entry, and I realized that many American readers are unaware of the atrocities committed by China against the Tibetan people in the last month. For that matter, many readers don't know that the Chinese government has been "cracking down" on Chinese dissidents, Christians, Buhddists, bookstore owners, unlicensed pamphleteers -- and even forcibly removing ordinary citizens and demolishing their homes, without compensation, just because they were in the way of new Olympic-related development. And all in the name of renewal for the 2008 summer Olympics.

Shortly after Beijing was selected in 2001 by the International Olympic Committee -- years before the recent Tibetan problems began -- there was already talk of a boycott in the Japanese-language conservative blogsphere. By now, readers must have seen the "Boycott Beijing" logo of Reporters Without Borders:

Olympic handcuffs

Boycott Beijing 2008 logo

Reporters Without Borders, an international organization advocating freedom of the press, has been running a boycott campaign for more than a year now.

Anti-Chinese sentiment is very strong among the Japanese right-wing; many believe fascist Japan's invasion of China in the 1930s actually "rescued" the latter from a state of primitive feudalism, "modernizing" them into the twentieth century. Sound familiar? Although that is a very tendentious reading of history, the antipathy of the Japanese Right towards Communist (or fascist) China today is completely supportable: Whatever some may say, the government is unquestionably evil.

Before I go on, I should tell you a bit about me: I am a naturalized American citizen, but I was born and raised in Japan during the cold war. I have always hated Soviet Communism with a passion, as well as its Chinese cousin. I despise the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, as well as the Cambodian and Vietnamese revolutionary Marxist/Maoist movements.

It shouldn't be necessary to tell you that I do not hate the Chinese people. I have many Chinese friends, such as Mr. Ching; and they hate Communist China more than you can imagine. I am furious at Mao and his successors for what they did to their own people, as well as to others, including Tibetans, Mongolians, and other minor local tribes.

So let me tell you what the ChiComs -- I'm proud to use that word -- have been doing to "prepare" for the Olympics; you may not be quite so quick to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Forcible evictions

The Communist government has been forcibly removing residents unfortunate enough to live on future Olympic sites. Since government-owned construction developers do not sufficiently compensate evicted residents (sometimes not at all), many refuse to move. So what happens? This is what happens.

Olympic removal

Olympic renewal = peasant removal

I found a version of the original article in Japanese; here is my translated summary:

Last November, a married Beijing farm couple, who were protesting the destruction of their home of 30 years, attempted suicide when construction workers tried to remove them by force. Their house was located on the site where the Communists plan to build an expensive condominium for Olympic use. Construction workers had just dug a ditch around the couple's house, totally isolating it.

On November 29th, security guards hired by the construction company cordoned off the area and ordered the couple -- 殷永利, 53 and his wife 廬桂敏, 50 -- to leave. They climbed onto their roof and refused to move. When the workers forcibly tried to get them down, the couple swallowed pesticide. They were immediately carried to a nearby hospital, but the husband is in critical condition. Later that day, their house was completely demolished with everything still inside it.

This is hardly an isolated case. This type of forced eviction has been going on for years:

The Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) handed China one of its not-so-prestigious "Housing Rights Violator Awards" in 2005. The Centre's executive director Scott Leckie stated, "The Beijing government has admitted [to] a minimum of 400,000 people [being] moved to create space to build various Olympic venues...."COHER also reports the "800 year old Jiaodoku neighbourhood was flattened in July 2003, destroying over 2,000 households, to make way for Olympics-related construction."

Like the couple above, many citizens who lost their homes resorted to suicide as a form of protest:

Another widely reported protest occurred on October 1, 2003. Beijing resident Ye Guoqiang jumped from the Jinshui Bridge in an attempted suicide to protest how the Chinese government forcefully evicted him from his home to make way for Olympic construction. He survived the fall but was jailed for illegally demonstrating. Apparently Guoqiang was not alone; in November of 2003, over 1,200 Beijing residents signed a petition on the Internet in support of his actions. Seven other protesters were charged with causing social unrest in October 2003, and two more protesters were detained. In 2004, another protestor, Ye Guozhu was detained "and sentenced to four years' imprisonment for protesting against the razing of his home and two of his restaurants." Daily protests against demolition and eviction occurred in Tiananmen Square and the Zhongnanhai Compound from September to December of 2004.

Crackdown on dissidents

Gearing up for the Olympics, China's repression of journalists -- and of many other professions that might offer visiting foreigners a glimpse of China contrary to the government-mandated image -- has gone into full throttle:

"There has been a renewed crackdown on journalists and internet users in the past year -- a fact that makes government commitments to 'complete media freedom' ring hollow," said Catherine Baber. "The current state of affairs runs counter to the most basic interpretation of the 'Olympic spirit' with the 'preservation of human dignity' at its heart...."

As well as carrying out forced evictions from Olympic related sites, Beijing city authorities have decided that in order to clean up the city's image in the run-up to the Olympics, targets of 're-education through labour' -- imprisonment without charge -- should to be expanded to include 'unlawful advertising or leafleting, unlicensed taxis, unlicensed businesses, vagrancy and begging'.

Religious persecution in China is infamous; but it has accelerated in recent years, according to the February 7th, 2008 issue of Christian Post:

China stepped up its crackdown on Christians last year compared to 2006, with an overall increase in reported persecutions of believers, according to the China Aid annual report released Wednesday.

There were a total of 60 cases of known house church persecutions by the government covering 18 provinces and one municipality in 2007, up from 46 cases in 2006, according to the report. The number of people persecuted was 788, up from 665 the previous year, and the number of people arrested and detained increased 6.6 percent, from 650 to 693.

The number of people sentenced or imprisoned decreased slightly from 17 in 2006 to 16 people in 2007....

Besides targeting house church leaders, China focused on disrupting Christian activities occurring in urban areas. Over half of the reported persecution cases occurred in urban areas, accounting for 58.3 percent of the 60 cases. The number of people persecuted in urban areas was 599, which is 76 percent of the total number of those persecuted.

The Chinese government also targeted Christian publications, with seven cases related to the operation, printing, transportation and distribution of Christian literatures.

Here's one amazing bit of news, unknown to those Americans who haven't paid much attention to China in recent years:

A notable case is that of Christian businessman and well-known house church leader Zhou Heng, who was formally arrested on Aug. 31, 2007, for receiving 3 tons of Bibles.

Zhou is the manager of a registered bookstore [!] that sells some Christian books published legally and officially inside China. He was detained when he went to pick up three tons of Bibles at a bus station. The Bibles were reportedly donated by South Korean churches and intended for local believers free of charge. But the government only allows officially sanctioned (state) churches to print and distribute a limited number of Bibles each year.

It is reported that Zhou was beaten in prison severely by inmates and prison guards.
Court officials, after investigating Zhou’s case, returned it to Public Security Bureau (PSB), ruling insufficient grounds for prosecution, according to the latest update. The PSB has neither sentenced nor released Zhou, who remains in detention.

Olympic Tibetan-baiting competition

China controls speech and access to the press; it controls all aspects of politics; it controls sports, and virtually every profession must be licensed and strictly regulated; even bookstores must be registered, and the owners can be arrested for selling unapproved Bibles. The Party controls the religion of their subjects -- and of course, even the number of children families can bear. Chinese are arrested without charge, held for indeterminate sentences, and beaten; they have no recourse at law against the will of the Party.

But thank goodness they're not "totalitarian."

In this context, it is undestandable that the Chinese Communist Party, facing unprecedented foreign-press scrutiny because of the Olympics, would decided to teach Tibetans a lesson in blind obedience, to crack down on whomever may have even thought about conducting an unlawful assembly -- of course, all assemblies are unlawful, unless they have government approval -- or otherwise embarassing the government, say by receiving unlicensed Bibles. But how would the Chinese leadership justify brutalizing people who are known for nonviolence?

In my estimation, the most obvious play would be first to stage a "violent riot" or two in Tibet, led by supposed Buddhist monks... and even one or two violent incidents in foreign countries, supposedly carried out by supporters of Tibetan independence. This would give the elite new media around the world the impression that Tibetans are the real problem, not their Chinese occupiers, oppressers, brutalizers. "They" (those protesting enslavement) are the ones disrupting the Olympics -- not those enslaving them!

How is this any different than saying the civil unrest in America in the late 1950s and early 60s was all the fault of those blacks who didn't know their place -- not those white politicians who enacted Jim Crow laws in the first place?

Judging from some of the comments we received, I must say this Chinese propaganda has worked very well indeed.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, April 15, 2008, at the time of 11:19 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Date ►►► April 14, 2008

Why women should NOT rule the world

Hatched by Dave Ross

Note: This is the first of what I intend to be a series on my premise that the decline of America began when women began being put in charge of the school systems of this nation. I’m beginning what I think is a novel experiment in the annals of blogging: I’m going to compose this series with, I hope, the help of my readers. I’m soliciting examples from the readers that, if suitable, I will incorporate into the series, and, which I eventually hope to use to create a much larger piece that I hope will find wider circulation in some publication that has the cajones to print it. (yeah, that’ll be the day!)

The title of this series was suggested to me by the recent publication by former Clinton White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers of her book “Why Women Should Rule the World,” although I have been toying with the premise for several years.

It is given urgency by the (admittedly less likely) possibility that Hillary Clinton might become president.

It would be foolish of readers jump to the conclusion that I am in any way against the idea of women in leadership positions, or equal pay for equal work. I’m speaking of the rise to primacy and in fact dominance by women of our elementary and secondary education system in the last few years. Because almost everyone goes through the public school system, this accords women a particular opportunity to dominate a sector of our lives that has a profound affect on our society as a whole.

Think back when many of us were in school. Yes, women dominated the classroom. But usually it was a man at the head of the school, or of the district. When little boys would face off in the school yard, as little boys have a tendency to do, usually it was a man who would separate them.

“Who started this?” the principal would demand. He would send the guilty party to detention, or to sit out in front of the principal’s office for the rest of the day to consider the error of his ways. Or the principal might demand that the two boys shake hands and go back to class. The boy who was defending himself usually had leave to go about his business without further repercussions.

Compare that to the way we do things today in many schools around the land. Under the “zero tolerance” policies in force in many school districts, both boys, the aggressor and the defender, will be punished. Occasionally the police will be summoned. It is considered just as bad to fight, even if someone else threw the first blow. Presumably the only way to get out of being punished under these circumstances is to fall down in a faint upon being punched!

A second example occurs to me that comes from my real world experience as the editor of a small town newspaper. A few years ago our high school football team was preparing for the upcoming season. Each year the team poses for a group picture for a poster that carries the calendar of all the games. Each year the team plays under a slogan. One year it was “Get it Done!” (a particularly neanderthalistic slogan if you ask me). But this year it was “Cowboy Up!” That is a rodeo term that refers to the cowboy in a rodeo getting ready to mount the bucking bronco. So the football coach suggested that the boys of the team be photographed in cowboy regalia, on horseback. He added the touch of giving the boys Remington rifles to hold to make them look more like cowboys.

The superintendent, a woman, hit the ceiling. The photo was withdrawn and the team photographed again, this time without the offending firearms.

Twenty, or even ten years before, this episode would not have turned out the way that it did. Today, even if the superintendent had not been a woman, it would probably would have turned out as it did, because of the pervasive influence of the female perspective on schools. Even when men are in charge they frequently run schools as if women were in charge.

A third example will suffice to bring this introduction to a close. Just last week a 6-year old Virginia first grader was declared a sex offender for slapping another student on the bottom! The police were called and an incident report was filed. Now, I have no evidence that the top school officials in this case were women, but the unseen hand of a philosophy that we have all heard articulated by radical feminism is in evidence: the idea that all “men” no matter how young, share a group guilt.

You might persuasively argue that this is all simply political correctness run amok. But would political correctness be as strong as it is if the female perspective hadn’t become the dominant “rubric” (a favorite term among educators) in our public school system, and therefore in society as a whole?


Hatched by Dave Ross on this day, April 14, 2008, at the time of 8:51 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Democrats Try to Sue Their Way Into the White House. Again.

Hatched by Dafydd

Back in 2000, after Al Gore lost the presidential race to George W. Bush, he did something unprecedented: He ordered his crack legal team to file lawsuits to overturn the election and declare himself the winner.

Gore didn't just sue for recounts; he also tried to suppress many overseas votes by servicemen. And in a scheme as stunning in its audacity as it was represensible in its aim, the Gore team sued in Martin and Seminole counties to suppress the entire absentee vote -- thus trying to disenfranchise fully 25,000 voters, Democrat as well as Republican. (Why would they do that? Because those two counties went heavily for Bush, and the absentee ballots alone accounted for a net of nearly eight thousand extra votes for the Republican. Since Bush only won by 537 votes, a loss of 8,000 disenfranchised voters would have meant that Al Gore would have won by 7,500.)

This year, however, the Democrats have gotten craftier: They've decided to avoid the rush by filing their lawsuits early, hoping to sue John McCain out of the race before the first vote is cast. That way, likely Democratic nominee Barack H. Obama could fight the sort of race he is more comfortable (and experienced) fighting: one where his opponent is either fighting in handcuffs or is absent altogether (see our earlier post Chicago Rules for enlightenment).

This is from "the Trail," the Washington Post's campaign blog (I'm sorry, its "daily diary of campaign 2008," not a blog):

The Democratic National Committee announced today it will file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court Monday to force Sen. John McCain to stay in the public financing system until he formally accepts the Republican presidential nomination in September.

The lawsuit asks the Court to compel the FEC to conduct an investigation into McCain's decision to unilaterally withdraw from the public financing system, and, should the FEC continue to fail to do so, to allow the DNC to sue McCain directly for disobeying campaign finance laws.

"We believe he's breaking the law every day," said DNC Executive Director Tom McMahon on a conference call Sunday.

The WaPo blog -- diary! -- doesn't really explain what this suit is all about in this entry... so I turn to my old Watcher's Council colleague Wolf Howling to explain what's actually happening (which the Wolfman did back in February -- using as his source an earlier, more explanatory entry from "the Trail." Go figure.)

McCain needs to be hammering home the anti-Obama message starting as soon as it becomes clear that Obama will be the nominee -- which will likely be March 4. But it may well be that McCain is hamstrung by FEC rules and unable to spend any more than just a few million dollars between now and the nominating convention in September. That would be catastrophic.

The questions at issue revolve around public campaign financing during the two phases of the campaign, the primaries and then the general election. A candidate can accept public financing in one, both, or neither. If a candidate opts to accept public financing, it comes with very specific spending limits. If McCain is found to have accepted public financing in the primaries, then his spending limit is $50 million during the primaries -- and he is close to that limit already.

The problem began when McCain's campaign was on the ropes last summer. He applied for public financing, since the alternative was to quit the race.

Now that itself would not require him to accept it; he would have to have actually taken the money to incur that obligation. And in the end, he did not use any public funds directly. Thus he argues that he did not legally accept public financing and is not obliged to observe the spending restrictions.

Yet there is what Larry Elderberry would call "a big butt": While McCain did not actually take the money, or even use it as collateral for a loan (which counts as using it), he did offer it as potential collateral; he obtained a $1 million loan, for which the public financing would have been collateral... had he ever used any of that loan money. But he did never did, because his own fundraising picked up.

The Democrats, however, argue that saying you might use the public funds as collateral (even if you don't end up doing so) nevertheless locks you into public financing -- and those killer spending limits. As Wolf Howling put it:

That notwithstanding, McCain has now notified the FCC that he intends to withdraw from the public financing agreement during the primaries. The rules say that if you dip into the public funds – which McCain hasn’t – or you use public funds as collateral for a loan, than you are obligated to follow the public financing rules.

So, the question is, did McCain use those funds as collateral? That is a legal question, and one has to look to the terms of his loan.

McCain's loan from Fidelity involves what experts termed a highly unusual arrangement: He pledged that if he left the public financing system and started to lose the election, he would reenter it and use the federal funds to repay the loan.

"The loan terms were carefully drafted to exclude from the bank's collateral any matching funds," to assure McCain would have the "flexibility to withdraw from the program," said the letter from lawyers Matthew S. Bergman and Scott E. Thomas. Thomas, a Democrat, is a former FEC chairman.

Only "future certifications of matching funds" were pledged as collateral, the letter says -- and that would have occurred only if McCain had started to lose, which he never did.

Amusingly enough, this scheme was not invented by the McCain people; it was lifted whole and intact from the identical scheme used by some feller named Howard Dean, when he pulled the same dodge back in 2004 and got away with it.

McCain is in a bit of a bind; he needs a ruling from the Federal Elections Commission, saying that, like Dean, McCain did not actually "accept" public funding, thus isn't trapped in the spending limits. But the FEC can't vote, because it only has two of its six seats filled, which is two commissioners short of a quorum.

And why are they short handed? Because one Democratic senator is blocking the GOP appointment to the FEC (they must be appointed in pairs, one Democrat and one Republican, so no party has an advantage). Until that senator lifts his hold, the FEC will remain unable to hold a vote or issue the opinion McCain needs.

The senator who put the hold on the Bush nominee is (wait for it) Barack H. Obama... the very candidate poised to benefit most from this quagmire.

And now, the Democrats have actually filed a suit in federal court, demanding that the third branch of government (the Judiciary) cooperate with them in rigging the vote for the second branch of government (the Executive):

Republican National Committee spokesman Alex Conant called the pending suit "total nonsense."

"It is now clear that the trial-lawyer Democrats' idea of campaigning for President is to hire lawyers and file frivolous lawsuits. It's unfortunate the DNC is now trying to drag the federal courts into their circus as well," he said in a statement. "As for the lawsuit itself, it is clearly without merit and filed only for public relations purposes. The FEC's own regulations provide that the Commission must be given 120 days to review any complaint before they may be sued in court. It has only been 49 days since the DNC's initial meritless complaint to the Commission was filed, and thus we expect this lawsuit to be thrown out at the first opportunity."

I would not be so sanguine, however; Democrats have proved remarkably adept overall at getting the courts to do their dirty work for them: Remember the Supreme Court of Florida -- a.k.a., the aptly abbreviated SCOFLA. So I stand by my earlier recommendation to John McCain from "Chicago Rules":

Tell the FEC to FO. McCain should ignore the FEC and raise and spend as much as he needs, without regard to the primary spending limits for those joining the federal campaign-finance system. If the FEC threatens him, laugh in their faces. What are they going to do, vote to fine him? They can't vote to impose a penalty -- they don't have a quorum! Remember? That's what started this whole nonsense.

If McCain cannot stand up to the Democratic-Party shenanigans, how can he hope to stand up to the Iranians, the Syrians, Red China and North Korea, the U.N., or even al-Qaeda? But I expect he will stand up to the DNC; I expect he'll tell them to go jump in the lake. The people's right to a free and fair election outweighs any pedantic parsing that McCain somehow inadvertently squeezed, without ever intending to, some arcane trigger for the whole campaign-finance monstrosity.

Put aside both schadenfreude and a sense of irony; this issue is bigger than McCain personally: This is an affront to all citizens of the United States, just as it would have been had the Democrats been able to freeze out of the election all those absentee voters in two Florida counties.

So come on, Sen. McCain; forget about your own shameful involvement in unconstitutional (no matter what the Supreme Court said) restrictions on free elections. Just rise up off your duff and loudly proclaim, for all to hear, that no matter what anyone says, you will continue to campaign vigorously, fundraise prodigiously, and spend freely.

And tell the DNC they can fling off their suits and drop their briefs to the floor.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 14, 2008, at the time of 12:37 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Date ►►► April 13, 2008

Forget It. It's Chinatown... Big Lizards Breaking Bombshell News!

Hatched by Sachi

Correction below: Secondary photographic charge refuted, but the primary charge remains; and even the secondary charge remains, albeit by other evidence, not the bottom photograph. See below.

The most iconic photograph from the riots attending the torch-bearing ceremony, the one that has every tongue wagging, is surely this one: A Tibetan supporter violently assaulting a wheelchair-bound woman carrying the torch through Paris.

This one picture came to symbolize the heartless violence of the Tibetan protesters, thus justifying, in many people's minds, the paramilitary troops that China sent to harass, beat, and brutalize the protesters in other countries -- from France and London to the United States to South America:

Chinese Attacks Wheelchair Torch Bearer

Violent protester attacks wheelchair-bound torch bearer.

Note especially the bandana this vicious thug wears; it's clearly the Tibetan flag, as you can see from the image below:

Tibetan flag

Tibetan flag

For contrast, here is the Chinese Communist flag; the two are quite distinct, and you cannot mistake one for the other:

Chinese flag

Chinese flag

Rather like the infamous Mohammed al-Durrah photograph, used by the Palestinians to turn the world against Israel by claiming they shot a young boy, this photograph began to turn the world against the victims of Red China's brutal occupation and subsequent attempt at slow genocide.

But wait; that's an odd comparison to make, isn't it? For the al-Durrah footage is now known to be a fake; careful investigation has shown that the Israelis could not possibly have shot the child from the positions they occupied. He had to have been shot by Palestinians -- if he were shot at all.

So the video footage is infamous mostly because it is a clumsy fake, one of the first instances of "Pallywood."

Surely that can't be case with this photo of the Tibetan protester and the lady in the wheelchair; after all, we see him clearly -- and the camera never lies.


There are several Japanese-language blogs I read that are written by Chinese living in Japan. (This may seem like a detour, but it's not, I promise.) I believe the authors are mostly Japanese nationals, but they still have strong ties to China. And of course, they're usually anti-Communist... which is why they don't live in China in the first place.

Mr. Ching is one of them. He often introduces events happening in the Chinese blogosphere.

China has not broadcast any images to the Chinese people of what they are doing in Tibet; but according to Mr. Ching, the Communists did broadcast the image of that wheelchair-bound woman being attacked by a Tibetan protester. A number of Chinese bloggers (in China) were outraged by the attack; they started to look into the identity of the attacker. In the course of their investigation, they found something shocking...

They stumbled across some other photographs: pictures of the attacker, clearly that same Tibetan protester (still wearing his Tibetan-flag bandana), arriving earlier for the festivities -- and marching in the company of a number of Chinese carrying Chinese flags:

Fake Tibetan -- actually Chinese -- with friends

Our protester with his actual friends; note the flags.

Is it possible that our "protester" friend is in fact -- a Chinese agent provacateur? That would require us to believe that the Chinese Communists could be so devious and duplicitous as to commit an atrocity, just to blame it on the Tibetan protesters and arouse retroactive justification for the crackdown by the Chinese paramilitaries we talked about in an earlier post.

Bah. That would just be -- too Clintonian.


The Chinese bloggers were still outraged; but when the truth became obvious, they switched targets. Once they posted the photos, and readers began to share the images with their non-blogging friends, public opinion in China also turned around. Now, according to Mr. Ching, Chinese citizens are inflamed by their own government's conspiratorial manipulation of public sentiment.

The plot backfired; and now the Chinese blogosphere is going into overtime. For example, there is also this:

Chinese soldiers holding fake Tibetan monks' robes

Chinese soldiers holding fake Tibetan monks' robes... I wonder why?

Correction: Benign explanation alert -- but only of the photograph itself. Chinese bloggers evidently stumbled across this picture of Chinese soldiers with monks' robes more than a week ago; and it has actually been explained: The government says that the soldiers were just serving as extras in a movie. Whether or not this is true, the picture is actually old, dating at least from 2003 -- when there was no crackdown in Tibet (that we know of). So it turns out that this last photo does actually have a benign explanation. "Burglarly tools" or not, this one isn't what it seems.

New Question: Has anybody actually seen this alleged 2003 appearance of this photo? The claim is that it's on the back cover of a magazine... but so far, nobody has linked to any such picture. As this is the main piece of evidence "refuting" the idea that the picture was more recent, hence perhaps not as benign as the Chinese government claims, it would be somewhat more convincing with a real link to go with it.

The Chinese government is claiming that the picture was the back cover of the 2003 annual report by the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD); however, the index of reports inconveniently shows only the front covers; and the PDF of the 2003 report shows neither cover. Nor does it contain the word "movie," and the only instance of "robe" is unrelated to the Chinese claim. Color us a bit skeptical until we see an actual, physical copy of that report.

So for all readers out there trying to defend the honor of the People's Republic of China -- please post a comment that includes a link to a 2003 website containing that photo. Thanks!

You can start with this blogger, who tries to prove that the picture is just from a movie. Alas, although some of what he says seems plausible (taking into account his obvious anti-conservative bias), none of his claims are linked; so again, it's impossible to verify anything he says. But if anyone can find some links for these claims, we will publish them here in this post.

We are not prepared to say that the photo is actually evidence; but we can say that so far, those claiming that it is from 2003 have not presented any convincing evidence to that effect, either.

However... while that photograph itself appears benign, the charge that the Chinese themselves fomented the rioting to justify a crackdown in advance of the Olympics is now being made by the Dalai Lama. And a Canadian newspaper links to a story reprinted in the Epoch Times (March 27th, 2008) that says the British equivalent to our NSA -- GCHQ, the Government Communications Headquarters -- believes that the Chinese People's Liberation Army may in fact have staged some of the rioting:

Britain's GCHQ, the government communications agency that electronically monitors half the world from space, has confirmed the claim by the Dalai Lama that agents of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, the PLA, posing as monks, triggered the riots that have left hundreds of Tibetans dead or injured.

GCHQ analysts believe the decision was deliberately calculated by the Beijing leadership to provide an excuse to stamp out the simmering unrest in the region, which is already attracting unwelcome world attention in the run-up to the Olympic Games this summer.

(This is reprinted from the G2 Bulletin, which requires a paid subscription to view, alas.)

So while the photograph has been refuted as evidence of anything, the actual substance of the secondary charge is still open.

And there is still no explanation for how the "Tibetan" attacker of the girl in the wheelchair happens to be such pals with supporters of Communist China that they would all march to the demonstration together, surrounded by Chinese Communist flags -- right before rioting against each other.

What follows is the original end of this post; while reading about the photograph, bear the above correction in mind:


This is a group of Chinese soldiers in Tibet. I can't say whether they're in the same paramilitary group as the "jogging-suit Janissaries;" but for some peculiar reason, each of these Chinese soldiers holds in his hands an ersatz Tibetan monk's robe.

Now, far be it from mere bloggers (on either side of the Pacific Rim) to make accusations against the noble fighting men of Red China. But it does occur to us that much of the armed violence committed by China against the Tibetan monks has been justified on the basis that Tibetan monks -- in their robes -- have been "attacking" Chinese civilians in Tibet.

Of course, just because a fellow is caught outside a house at midnight carrying burglary tools doesn't prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is a burglar. But can anyone think of an innocent reason why a company of Chinese soldiers should each have a Tibetan monk's robe, when they are trying to suppress protest by a bunch of robed Tibetan monks?

China is beginning to discover what Americans -- Dan Rather in particular -- learned to their chagrin some years ago: We live in the age of new media; and in this epoch, we know that cameras lie all the time. They lie about the "death" of a Palestinian boy; they lie about exploding trucks and fraudulent Air National Guard memos... and they can most certainly lie about who really attacked a beautiful, young girl in a wheelchair.

But those infernal recording devices have two edges; where one photo lies, another can reveal the truth.

Truth to the Left is like Kryptonite to Superman. All the lackeys, minions, and lickspittles of Hu Jintao will never be able to live down this blow to their carefully constructed public image -- not just the violence itself, but the repugnant way they have tried to shift the blame to the very victims of that violence.

I wonder; are they starting to regret getting the Olympics after all?

Hatched by Sachi on this day, April 13, 2008, at the time of 5:12 AM | Comments (47) | TrackBack

Date ►►► April 12, 2008

Barack Obama - "Liberal Fascist" on Parade

Hatched by Dafydd

Here's Sen. O:

Obama, in remarks he planned to make to reporters Friday morning, wants Congress to pass legislation he has sponsored that would require corporations to have a nonbinding vote by shareholders on executive compensation packages.

Under Obama's legislation, shareholders could not veto a compensation package offered to an executive and would not place limits on pay. Rather, they would have a means to publicly express their position.

A similar bill passed the House last year.

Oh. Well... I turn to my well-thumbed pocket-sized edition of the United States Constitution (I filched it from Sen. Robert Byrd's jacket while he was gibbering on about his little dog Billy). There's this section in there, see, that lists what powers Congress has... the only powers. You'll find it in Article 1, Section 8; but to save you the trouble of looking it up, I'll quote it here. It's pretty long, but you can just skim, if you're in a hurry:

Section 8. The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

To borrow money on the credit of the United States;

To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes;

To establish a uniform rule of naturalization, and uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States;

To coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures;

To provide for the punishment of counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the United States;

To establish post offices and post roads;

To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;

To constitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court;

To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations;

To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;

To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;

To provide and maintain a navy;

To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;

To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States, and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings;--And

To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.

And that's pretty much all the powers that Congress has. You may notice that nowhere in there does it say that Congress has any authority to order corporations to hold a vote among all their shareholders -- non-binding or not -- on the compensation packages they offer the CEO or any other corporate officer or employee. If the Senate follows suit on what the House already did, then both chambers will be in egregious breach of the Constitution.

Of course, that possibility holds no terror for members of Congress: They've been passing laws that bore no relation to any enumerated power for many decades now, and usually they're upheld by liberal judges. But that's not the issue here.

Rather, this proposal of Barack Obama's is a wonderfully illustrative window into his totalitarian heart. Like all good "liberal fascists," Obama is not concerned with ancient words written on dead trees. So what if Congress has no authority to do what is necessary... it's necessary! Enough talk; Obama wants action, action, action!

John McCain at least understands constitutionality: He promises only to use the presidency as a "bully pulpit" to try to shame corporate boards of directors into reining in some of the more outrageous salaries, bonuses, and stock options; and fulminating from the presidential pulpit is certainly within the scope of powers of the president. (Now, if he were to issue an executive order forcing corporations to comply, that would be just as unconstitutional as Barack Obama's law.)

Nor do I think the Securities and Exchange Commission has any such authority, nor the Federal Trade Commission, nor OSHA, nor any other regulatory regime. I'm pretty sure executive pay is solely at the discretion of the corporation itself, through its officers and its directors. If they choose to put the CEO's compensation up for a non-binding referendum among the shareholders, that's their own business (literally).

Neither Congress, nor the president, nor the Court has the right to issue such an order, in my non-lawyerly opinion. There is still such a thing as freedom and Capitalism in this country; and we have a Constitution that restrains government from just steamrolling over private parties or publicly held corporations.

But to Obama, the Constitution is just an obstacle that must be got around or simply ignored. What's more important, all those "procedures" that limit what government can do to help people's lives? Or enacting what the masses really want -- making CEOs work for no more than the company would pay a journeyman machinist? Action, action!

"President Obama" will try to force his laws through; and if blocked, he'll issue a whirlwind of royal proclamations (executive orders)... all to "solve problems" using the "third way"... not Communism nor democracy and Capitalism, but just the efficiency of a maximum leader who has his finger on the pulse of America, giving the people what they want without the foot-dragging of democracy or the destructive competition of Capitalism.

Just letting you know what we're in for, if -- out of mistaken support for Mr. Audacity or equally foolish McCain Derangement Syndrome -- we allow Senator B.O. to be elected president.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 12, 2008, at the time of 6:24 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Date ►►► April 11, 2008

Special (Forces) Olympics

Hatched by Sachi

The Olympic torch came to San Francisco yesterday -- and quickly departed, leaving nary a trace.

The City of Brother Love wanted to avoid the violent disturbances experienced in Paris and London, as pro-Tibet protesters used the occasion to draw attention to China's nearly six-decade occupation of that country. So San Francisco changed the torch-bearers' route,
bypassing protesters and potential spectators alike:

The nation’s only chance to see the Olympic flame up close became an elaborate game of hide-and-seek here on Wednesday, as city officials secretly rerouted the planned torch relay, swarmed its runners with blankets of security and then whisked the torch to the airport in a heavily guarded motorcade....

Just before the flame’s planned debut, the police along the announced route put on riot gear, seemingly in expectation of the flame’s arrival.

Mayor Gavin Newsom said the decision to change the route was made shortly after the torch was lighted outside AT&T Park, when it was briefly held aloft by Chinese Olympic officials and then promptly taken into a waterfront warehouse....

"It was a simple decision," Mr. Newsom said. "Do we cancel the event or do we change the event to assure the safety and security of the torchbearers?"

The whole point of Olympic torch is to celebrate the upcoming Olympics; if the people are intentionally prevented from seeing it, then what is the point of having a torch-bearing ceremony in the first place? They should have simply cancelled the event, rather than waste taxpayer's money for an elaborately secured farce.

But there is a more significant issue here than liberal obtuseness. Notice, in the photos below, several Chinese-looking men in blue track suits running alongside of the torch bearer: Although the New York Times says nothing about it -- and are probably not even aware of the controversy -- I believe these runners are members of Chinese paramilitary police unit, sent by the Chinese government to protect the torch flame.

According to the London Times, these paramilitaries have been traveling with the torch all over the world; their presence was witnessed in Paris and London this past week, for example:

China's blue-clad flame attendants, whose aggressive methods of safeguarding the Olympic torch have provoked international outcry, are paramilitary police from a force spun off from the country’s army.

The squad of 30 young men from the police academy that turns out the cream of the paramilitary security force has the job at home of ensuring riot control, domestic stability and the protection of diplomats.

Compare these two photos, the one on the left from San Francisco, the one on the right from either London or Paris:

Paramilitaries in San Francisco    Paramilitaries In Europe

Chinese paramilitary police in San Francisco (L) and London (R)

The problem is that unlike the civilized European and American police, these Chinese paramilitaries act as if they are at war; they have no regard for freedom of speech no tolerance of dissent, no matter where they happen to be. They have strongarmed protesters and bystanders alike and have even peremptorily ordered the torch bearers around, as if they were already in Beijing (an ominious sign of things to come when the athletes are actually in Beijing):

The Olympic medallist and organiser of the 2012 Games [Lord Sebastian Coe] was overheard saying that the officials had pushed him around as the torch made its way through the capital on Sunday. He added that other countries on the route should "get rid of those guys".

"They tried to punch me out of the way three times. They are horrible. They did not speak English . . . I think they were thugs."

His comments came after Konnie Huq, the former Blue Peter presenter, who was one of the torchbearers on Sunday, described how she had seen the officials in "skirmishes" with the police.

Ms Huq, who was carrying the torch when a pro-Tibet activist tried to snatch the flame, said of the guards: "They were very robotic, full-on . . . They were barking orders like 'run' and 'stop' and I was like, 'Who are these people?'."

The obvious question is, Who authorized their activity? The UK government must have known about them, but evidently, they didn't tell Parliament; and the Tories are demanding clarification from the Government:

David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, wrote yesterday to Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, seeking clarification of the role of the Chinese officials. Mr Davis asked: "Who in the British Government authorised their presence and what checks were made as to their background?"

The London Times says that 30 of these paramilitaries were sent overseas to follow the torch from city to city, while other graduates of the same academy had a slightly different assignment:

Less than a year ago these mysterious “men in blue” were elite students from China’s Armed Police Academy and were selected amid great fanfare to form the grandly titled Sacred Flame Protection Unit.

In China, tens of thousands of their paramilitary colleagues have been deployed across Tibetan areas to restore order during riots, even opening fire when the antiChinese demonstrations have threatened to run out of control again.

Although these "guardians of the flame" appear to have been in San Francisco as well, the city’s decision to reroute the relay avoided any confrontation between protesters and the Chinese security force. But in Australia, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that these Chinese torch guardians were not welcome in the torch parade at all:

Chinese paramilitary police will not be allowed to run alongside the Olympic torch in Australia, the country's prime minister said Thursday, after their heavy-handed tactics drew criticism in earlier legs of the relay.

The men in bright blue tracksuits were dispatched by Beijing to guard the Olympic flame on its journey around the world. They sparked concern in London and Paris, with the top official for the 2012 London Olympics calling them "thugs."

The torch is scheduled to pass through the Australian capital of Canberra on April 24, but the Chinese security agents escorting it will have to travel in a bus during the relay, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said.

The torch is now headed to South America. It will eventualy go to Nagano, Japan, where the city has also announced that they will not let the Chinese guards run alongside the Olympic torch (I believe Japan Probe is a blogsite):

National Public Safety Commission Chairman Shinya Izumi indicated on Friday that Japan will not welcome "security runners" from China to accompany the Olympic torch when it arrives in Nagano if their role is to serve as guards.

Of course, Nagano is not keen on the protesters, either:

The National Police Agency announced today that it is planning to use the "hooligan provision" of immigration law to prevent radical anti-China activists from entering Japan and holding protests in Nagano. It has also been announced that the initial security force plan of about 500 Nagano police officers and 1,000 private security guards will be boosted to an unspecified number.

The Olympic torch is a very important symbol with a very specific meaning -- that nations can transcend politics to allow the people of the world to come together in a celebration of individual achievement in sport. It's telling that the Red Chinese government chose to protect that symbol with thuggish paramilitary troops. But by doing so, they have only revealed how oppressive and totalitarian is their own government, and how cowed is their culture and population.

For China, the Olympics were supposed to validate their status as a "modern country." Instead, the runup to the games has focused the world's attention on the barbarity of Chinese Communism. The neo-Maoists can no longer hide behind their inscrutable expressions or pretend that the Tiananmen Square massacre was an out-of-character, one-time fluke.

The world has belatedly realized that China is not up to the civilized standard. But why didn't the International Olympic Committee figure this out seven years ago, when they decided to award the Olympics to Beijing... instead of Toronto, Paris, or Istanbul; or if the IOC was determined that the Olympics should be in the Far East, then why did they so quickly eliminate Osaka, the second largest city in Japan, which had successfully held a World's Fair nearly four decades ago in 1970?

Dafydd responds...

I believe the answer to Sachi's question is one word: appeasement. Appeasement occurs when you reward a dangerous person or country in advance, hoping it will be satisfied and will refrain from causing trouble... rather than waiting to see what it does, then either rewarding or punishing it accordingly.

The People's Republic of China has coveted two things for a number of years: an Olympic games, which they have tried to get since the 1980s, and membership in the World Trade Organization, which they've demanded since it was founded in 1995.

Despite the fact that China really had not demonstrated that they were ready for either "plum," the typically liberal mindset of both the IOC and the WTO (echoed by the Bush administration, alas) held that the best way to move them towards civilized behavior would be to give them the rewards first -- to appease them. I suppose the idea is that the only reason China strictly controls its markets, oppresses and brutalizes Tibet, bullies its neighbors, threatens our allies like Japan, and terrorizes its own citizens is that they're upset at not being treated better by the rest of the world.

They bid for the 2000 Olympics, leading through most rounds of the 1993 voting. When Sydney, Australia ended up winning instead, the Chinese pitched a terrible fit. I'm sure that played a big part in the decision by the IOC in July 2001 to give them the 2008 Olympics. I'm sure they wanted to mollify China for the "snub" of 1993, and they thought giving in would make the PRC less aggressive. Instead, they're rampaging across Tibet and sending paramilitaries to bully citizens of other countries.

Then in December of that same year, 2001, the WTO voted China membership -- despite China not meeting the minimial WTO requirements of openness, transparency, and connectivity -- presumably on the theory that being in the organization would all by itself reform China's socialist and protectionist policies. Yet as recently as the administration's report to Congress in December 2007, the best the president could say is:

In 2007, U.S. industry began to focus less on the implementation of specific commitments that China made upon entering the WTO and more on China’s shortcomings in observing basic obligations of WTO membership as well as Chinese policies and practices that undermine previously implemented commitments....

At the root of many of these problems is China’s continued pursuit of problematic industrial policies that rely on excessive Chinese government intervention in the market through an array of trade-distorting measures. This government intervention, evident in many areas of China’s economy, is a reflection of China’s historic yet unfinished transition from a centrally planned economy to a free-market economy governed by rule of law. As another major trade association explained in its written comments, "[t]he legacies of China’s command economy continue to be a drag on China’s complete integration into the global economy and, as a result, cause a variety of problems for China’s trading partners."

For that matter, six years after China became a WTO member, I think it has not even allowed the value of its currency to be set by the international currency-exchange markets -- which was supposed to be an absolute requirement for WTO membership that all other countries had to accept before they could become members. As usual, China is granted exceptional dispensation.

It still may be on balance more good than bad that the PRC is a member of the WTO; but the idea that membership alone would improve their behavior was utopian, in my opinion -- the same kind of utopianism that says the root cause of violent behavior of some public-school students is that they don't have a high enough opinion of themselves (!), so they need "self-esteem" programs.

Once again, the most fundamental aspects of human nature elude liberals (and evidently even "compassionate conservatives," at least occasionally):

Once the bad guy has everything he wants, you no longer have any leverage over him; and you only have his word that he will keep his promises to you.

Let's hope that someday we actually learn that lesson. It has a number of applications, which are left as an exercise to the discerning reader.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, April 11, 2008, at the time of 5:32 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Date ►►► April 10, 2008

"Time to Begin to... Focus on the Challenges Posed by Afghanistan"

Hatched by Dafydd

The wit and wisdom of Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, April 8th, 2008:

Without mentioning Senator McCain by name, Senator Clinton responded that supporters of the Bush administration's policy often talk about the cost of leaving Iraq, yet ignore the greater cost of continuing the same failed policy....

"I think it is time to begin an orderly process of withdrawing our troops, start rebuilding our military and focusing on the challenges posed by Afghanistan, global terrorist groups and other problems that confront America," she said.

I think it safe to say that if Democrats have one unifying theme to their national-security policy, it is that Iraq is nought but a "distraction" from the real war, which is against al-Qaeda... but only against the branch of al-Qaeda found along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. They insist we must immediately withdraw virtually all our forces from Iraq and plant at least a significant portion of them in Afghanistan, to fight the good fight there instead.

Let's not speculate (for this post) about the real motivation behind the call to withdraw from Iraq or even whether Democrats are actually sincere in saying they would vastly increase the forces in Afghanistan. Let's assume complete good faith on their part. (I know it's a stretch, but work with me here.)

My question is -- what more, exactly, do Democrats expect us to do in Afghanistan?

We currently have 31,000 troops in Afghanistan as our component of the NATO mission (the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF); we have already pledged an additional 3,000 Marines for fighting and training purposes (to improve the Afghan National Army). Our ISAF allies have collectively sent an additional 28,000 forces, some of whom fight, while others only participate in nation-building efforts, bringing the total current NATO commitment to 59,000 troops.

The former Chief of Naval Operations of the U.S. Navy, now Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, wants this overall figure to increase by 7,500 soldiers and 3,000 military trainers; outgoing ISAF commander Gen. Dan McNeill wants to increase by two combat brigades (3,000-8,000 soldiers or Marines) and one training brigade (1,500-4000 soldiers or Marines):

[U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert] Gates said the number of additional combat troops would depend on several things, including the extent of U.S. and NATO success on the battlefield this year, as well as the impact of a new senior U.S. commander taking over in coming months. Gen. David McKiernan is due to replace Gen. Dan McNeill this spring as the top overall commander in Afghanistan.

McNeill has said he believes he needs three more brigades - two for combat and one for training. That translates to roughly 7,500 to 10,000 additional troops. The Bush administration has no realistic hope of getting the NATO allies to send such large numbers.

McKiernan told Congress on Thursday that while he can't yet say how many more troops he would want there, he believes he needs additional combat and aviation forces, intelligence and surveillance capabilities, and training and mentoring teams.

Marines don't use brigades as a normal organizational force; they prefer the regiment. Gen. McNeill is Army, much of our ISAF committment are Marines... so I'm not sure exactly how many troops he calls for. Let's just split the difference between small brigades and big: 5,500 incoming combat troops and 2,750 incoming trainers.

This would mean that we expect our ISAF partners -- all of whom have pledged more troops (France alone will up their committment by at least 700) -- to pony up an additional 3,500 combat troops and 1,750 trainers... unless the next president plans to increase our own committment by more than President Bush has proposed. As noted above, it's unlikely that we can get the full complement from our allies, whose military budgets are woefully small compared to ours (as ours is woefully small, as percent of GDP, compared even to the average of the last 45 years).

However we reach the goal, that would bring the NATO forces in Afghanistan to a total of more than 67,000 combined combat forces and training forces. That, by the way, is all the force that the top commander of ISAF says he needs; he has not called for additional tens of thousands of men.

So what about the Afghan National Army? We have been training them just as we have trained the Iraqi army. As of December 2007, the Afghan army comprised 57,000 soldiers, or about as large as the current ISAF force level. Presumably they are still recruiting, so we can expect tha tnumber to rise along with the NATO forces. But even as they are now, that makes a total integrated army of 116,000 today, rising to about 125,000 over the next year.

(The Afghans are probably not as close to being a modern army in equipment, strategy, and attitude as are the Iraqis, but that is a very high standard; they're certainly far better than they were just a year ago. Fewer units can take the lead, but they generally fight very well when NATO leads.)

So the real question for the Democrats is this: What could we do with, say, 225,000 troops that we can't do with 125,000? If we funneled even just 100,000 of our current 150,000 Iraqi troops into Afghanistan instead, what exactly would the extra brigades be doing that we're not doing successfully now?

And there's where you nit the snag: Afghanistan is even less a force-on-force war than Iraq. When we shifted from the failed "attrition" strategy of Gen. George Casey to the successful counterinsurgency strategy (COIN) of Gen. David Petraeus, we added only 30,000 extra soldiers, an increase of 23%. In Afghanistan, that would mean an increase of only 13,500 NATO troops -- which is only 3,500 more than we're already increasing them.

Is that all the Democrats envision, an additional 3,500 troops? Or are they thinking of something vastly bigger? I have the bizarre image in my head of a Democratic army of 200,000 extra soldiers, all linking hands and walking the length of the border to "find Osama bin Laden!" When (of course) they fail to find him, they'll declare that he, too, was invented by Bush, just like the WMD; there never was a 9/11 attack; and we can go back to Clintonian somnambulism again.

Back to real life. The main point of the so-called "surge" in Iraq was not the increase in troops but the change in strategy; the strategy -- specifically crafted for the Iraq situation -- happened to require 160,000 soldiers, and we only had 130,000 at the time; thus we increased our force structure by the difference.

There's been no such crafting of a COIN strategy in Afghanistan that I know of, because the situation there is not the same as it was in Iraq. But if we eventually do switch to COIN, we will have to evaluate the military needs from scratch... and we might end up increasing forces, but we might end up leaving them the same or even reducing them. The strategy must drive the troop levels, not the other way round. We won't increase troop levels just to increase troop levels, but only as part of a new strategy that demands more soldiers: The strategy comes first; setting force levels is a byproduct of the strategy.

Needless to say, no Democrat -- and no general advising a Democrat -- has crafted such a strategy or reasonably could, since it could only be done by a COIN specialist like Gen. Petraeus who had spent years in Afghanistan and was intimately familiar with the progress of the war and the nature of the enemy right there. So what the heck do candidates like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and other Democratic elected officials, mean by saying we should be "focusing on the challenges posed by Afghanistan, global terrorist groups and other problems that confront America?" What does "focus" mean in this case?

They advocate pulling troops out of Iraq and putting them into Afghanistan. But doing what? Deployed how? Do they mean for combat or training? What mix of Special Forces, air forces, grunts, and administrative/logistics?

How do they want them organized? What strategy should they follow? What would be their rules of engagement? Can ground forces cross into Pakistan in hot pursuit? How about initiating cross-border contact?

Al-Qaeda's presence is mostly in the tribal areas that span the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan -- Balochistan, which also includes a piece of north-eastern Iran; South and North Waziristan in Pakistan; and several other provinces on both sides of the border; the heaviest fighting is currently in southern Afghanistan, which touches both Iran and Pakistan. According to Bill Roggio, attacks are heavy in Kunar in the eastern region, Khost in the southeast, and Helmand and especially Khandahar in the southern region:

According to NATO statistics, “More than 75% of [Afghanistan] experienced less than 1 security incident per quarter per 10,000 people, supporting the assessment that the insurgency is not expanding across [Afghanistan]. 70% of the events occurred in 10% of the districts. The population of these districts is less than 6% of the population of [Afghanistan].” NATO attributes the increase in violence to increased operations by NATO forces.

The problem is that the tribes there do not recognize the border; and there are many trails that cross the Tora Bora mountains or the Hindu Kush, along which al-Qaeda can retreat into Pakistan when we attack (or into Afghanistan when the Pakistani troops attack).

What we really need is a coordinated operation attacking from both sides simultaneously; but we could never get President Musharraf to go along with it... and I suspect we're even less likely to ally with his successor, who will almost certainly be a member either of the Pakistan Muslim League (N) (the "N" is for Nawaz Sharif) or the Pakistan People's Party of the late Benazir Bhutto, both of which are more Islamist and less America-friendly than is Musharraf.

Sad to say, I don't think that a single Democrat has even so much as thought about these questions, let alone come up with any answers. The Democratic slogan "Withdraw troops from Iraq and send them to Afghanistan!" has every bit as much semantic content as their other slogan -- "Free Tibet!"... none at all.

At some point, we may well change strategy in Afghanistan to COIN... or we may change to some other strategy. We may decide to launch a pre-emptive attack on Balochistan and Waziristan; or we may end up cutting a deal with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani or caliph-maker Nawaz Sharif, after Pervez Musharraf is voted out.

But there is no way to know at this point what we're going to end up doing, because everything is in flux. Thus it's not not irresponsible, it's imbecilic to announce in early 2008 your military plan for Afghanistan in 2009. It's like a financial manager saying, "in 2009, we're going to sell the following stocks and invest in these others here." How can you possibly know today whether that will be a good decision a year from now?

So even giving the Democrats all benefit of the doubt on sincerity and motive, just taking their pronouncements at face value, I can only conclude, in strict social-science terms, that the Democrats are behaving like poorly trained baboons. Their long-war rhetoric is just empty jingoism, whose only purpose is to make them look tough in advance of elections.

They have no specific plan; they have no grand strategy; they're not even aware that such things are required (or exist). They've never read any books that would explain this to them. They don't even know enough to know that they don't know enough; to borrow a wonderful phrase from Donald Rumsfeld, to the Democrats, military strategy is an "unknown unknown."

I recommend we not put one in la Casablanca. I'm not even comfortable with them sitting on the national-security committees; alas, there's nothing we can do about that.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 10, 2008, at the time of 6:16 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Date ►►► April 9, 2008

Between the Lines

Hatched by Sachi

It's never safe to take at face value anything written by the mainstream media about Iraq. You must always tease the real story from the misleading and sometimes completely fabricated "first draft of history" they publish. But even propaganda can reveal the deeper truth.

It's now clear that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Iraqi army and Iraqi National Police showed decisive leadership and initiative -- perhaps a bit too decisive! -- during the recent Operation Knights' Charge in Basra. Even AP is reluctantly reporting the latest achievement of Nouri al-Maliki... though of course they couch it in dismissive terms:

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's faltering crackdown [!] on Shiite militants has won the backing of Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties that fear both the powerful sectarian militias and the effects of failure on Iraq's fragile government.

The emergence of a common cause could help bridge Iraq's political rifts.

The head of the Kurdish self-ruled region, Massoud Barzani, has offered Kurdish troops to help fight anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.

More significantly, Sunni Arab Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi signed off on a statement by President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and the Shiite vice president, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, expressing support for the crackdown in the oil-rich southern city of Basra.

The elite media used to criticize Maliki for not being able to bring other parties together and for not going after Shiite militias (that is, the Mahdi Militia, a.k.a. Jaish al Mahdi, or JAM). It's true that Vice President Hashemi and Prime Minister Maliki have been bitter rivals; but then, now that Hashemi has decided to support Maliki’s effort, how can the "crackdown" be “faltering?” Rather, shouldn't it now be called "strengthening" -- or even that other favorite media word, "mounting?" (I forgot for a moment: Only problems for Republicans are allowed to "mount.")

Political players in the Middle East are not known for backing the underdog; the best conclusion is that Hashemi has correctly assessed that the Basra crackdown is working, so now he wants to join the "strong horse." Of course, the Associated Press has its own defeatist tale of how the Battle of Basra ended:

The Basra crackdown, ostensibly waged against "outlaws" and "criminal gangs," bogged down in the face of fierce resistance and discontent in the ranks of government forces. Major combat eased after al-Sadr asked his militia to stop fighting last Sunday.

But al-Maliki continued his tough rhetoric, threatening to take his crackdown to the Mahdi Army's strongholds in Baghdad. Al-Sadr hinted at retaliation, and the prime minister backed down, freezing raids and arrests targeting the young cleric's supporters.

How can a campaign that ends with the enemy’s surrender be described as “bogged down?” (Thank goodness they didn't say "quagmired.") It's true that Maliki stated that he would halt offensive action for ten days, but not because he was afraid of Sadr’s revenge; if he feared Sadr, he would never have attacked in the first place -- or at least he would have stopped the moment he saw that the JAM was stronger than he expected.

But instead, Maliki responded to the fierce fighting by sending reinforcements into the battle and driving the JAM out of their entrenched positions. Now it's the Iraqi army that patrols the streets of Basra, not the Mahdi Militia.

There's more, much more that we now learn...

Here is what Bill Roggio (you knew he had to come into this debate somewhere!) has to say about the Battle of Basra:

Subsequent to the ceasefire, the Iraqi military announced it was moving reinforcements to Basra, and the next day pushed forces into the ports of Khour al Zubair and Umm Qasr. Iraqi special operations forces and special police units have conducted several raids inside Basra since then, while an Iraqi brigade marched into the heart of a Mahdi-controlled Basra neighborhood on April 2. And two days after Sadr called for a ceasefire, the government maintained a curfew in Sadr City and other Shia neighborhoods in Baghdad. None of this would be happening had Maliki simply caved to Sadr. [So much for the image of the PM cowering in fear of the sidelined Muqtada Sadr... who is himself still hiding in Qom, Iran, and afraid to show his face even in the Shiite areas of Iraq.]

Maliki's governing coalition did not revolt over this operation. When the Iraqi opposition held an emergency session of parliament to oppose the Basra operations, only 54 of the 275 lawmakers attended. AFP reported, "The two main parliamentary blocs--Shiite United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdish Alliance--were not present for the session which was attended by lawmakers from radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's bloc, the small Shiite Fadhila Party, the secular Iraqi National List and the Sunni National Dialogue Council." The fact that the major political blocs in Iraq's parliament ignored the emergency session is politically significant, and no evidence suggests that Maliki's governing coalition has been jeopardized since then.

(Roggio is now posting at a new website you should all bookmark, Iraq Status Report)

The ten days suspension of offensive operations in the south was meant to give militia members time to lay down their weapons and surrender. Operation Knights' Charge continues against those Iran-trained, Iran-led elements of the JAM that have not stopped their own attacks, according to Roggio, this time writing in the Long War Journal, which he edits.

One of the reasons cited by the elite media to prove that Muqtada Sadr won the Battle of Basra is that Sadr's followers listened to him and stopped fighting when he told them. But it has become increasingly clear that Sadr himself no longer has operational control over the JAM; those element who were actually fighting against the Iraqi army were under the direct leadership of Iranian Qods Force commanders (the so-called "Special Groups")... as is Sadr himself, as Bill Roggio notes in the Long War Journal:

Just as the new Iraqi forces began to arrive in Basrah and US and British forces were gearing up to augment the Iraqi military, Muqtada al Sadr, under orders from Iran’s Qods Force, called for his fighters to withdraw from the streets. Sadr issued a nine-point list of demands, which included that operations cease. Maliki refused and Iraqi and US forces continued to move into Basrah and conduct pinpoint raids against Shia terror groups. More than 200 Mahdi Army fighters were killed, 700 were wounded, and 300 captured during the six days of fighting in Basrah alone.

Despite Sadr’s so-called "order" for them to stand down, some of these Special Groups continue to fight... and continue to be driven out. Eventually, they will have nowhere left to flee to except back into Iran, where they came from.

The media have also criticized Maliki for "not making political progress." Several senators said as much to Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker during the hearings in the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But now, as Maliki successfully reaches out to Kurds and Sunni and gains their support, do the MSM praise his effort? (Is that a rhetorical question?)

Of course they don't. They accuse him of seeking short term political gain for his own interests:

But other motives may have played a role in the crackdown.

Provincial elections are scheduled to be held before Oct. 1 and Shiite parties are gearing up for a tough contest in the Shiite heartland of southern Iraq, where oil-rich Basra and the wealthy religious centers of Najaf and Karbala are prizes.

A successful crackdown in Basra would have boosted the election chances of al-Maliki's Dawa party and his Shiite allies in the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, whose Badr Brigade militia is the Mahdi Army's sworn enemy.

Let's pause a moment to ponder that last sentence. Nouri al-Maliki was originally a client of Muqtada Sadr. The Dawa Party has historically been associated with the JAM; opposing them on the Shiite side, as AP admits, has been the Badr Brigades (now Badr Organization and no longer functioning as a private militia), controlled by the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (formerly the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq).

So AP says that Maliki attacked the militia associated with his own Dawa Party, rather than the one associated with the SIIC, in order to get more Shia to vote for both Dawa and the SIIC.

This is as creative an interpretation as their line that the Iraqi forces were utterly crushed, and Muqtada Sadr was on the brink of wiping them out and making himself Caliph of Mesopotamia... when he suddenly had a change of heart and surrendered instead.

If that makes perfect sense to you, you're probably a liberal.

And now, Maliki and the leaders of the other parties in the Iraqi parliament are taking a bold step to isolate the JAM even further -- by barring any party that maintains a militia from even contesting seats in the Iraqi provincial elections this coming October. From the same Long War Journal piece linked above:

Less than two weeks after Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki launched Operation Knights' Assault to clear the Mahdi Army and other Iranian-backer militias in Basrah, the Iraqi government is moving to ban Muqtada al Sadr's political movement from participating in the election if it fails to disband the militia. Facing near-unanimous opposition, Sadr said he would seek guidance from senior Shia clerics in Najaf and Qom and disband the Mahdi Army if told to do so, according to one aide. But another Sadr aide denied this.

The pressure on Sadr and his Mahdi Army started on Sunday after Maliki announced the plans to pass legislation to prevent political parties with militias from participating in the political process. "The first step will be adding language to a draft election bill banning parties that operate militias from fielding candidates in provincial balloting this fall," Reuters reported on Sunday. "The government intends to send the draft to parliament within days and hopes to win approval within weeks...."

The legislation is said to have broad support from the major Sunni, Kurdish, and Shia political parties, and is expected to quickly pass through parliament.

This leaves the Sadrists in a pickle: If they disband the JAM, then they're just another (minor) political party in the Shiite alliance. But if they don't, they will be nothing but a militia. At that point, Maliki would have even more support for annihilating all trace of the mighty Mahdi Militia from Iraq: They would be the Iranian version of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

But of course, the elite media assure us that Muqtada Sadr won the Battle of Basra, while Prime Minister Maliki was politically ruined.

Yesterday and today, Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker testified on Capitol Hill to various congressional committees. As a glimpse into our political leaders' understanding of such a crucial issue of the Iraq war and how it relates to the larger war against global caliphism, the transcripts of those hearings are illuminating, frightening, and frustrating.

(The transcript for the House Armed Services Committee hearing can be found here; the transcript for Senate Armed Services Committee hearing here; and the transcript for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing here.)

Judging from the Democratic senators’ questions during General David Petraeus’s testimony before Congress this morning, their understanding of the Basra situation is little better than that of the MSM. For that matter, Democratic senators' understanding of Iraq itself, let alone the war, is completely outdated: They imagine it's still 2006, the "civil war" still rages, and a hundred civilians are being slaughtered each day.

But according to Iraq Coalition Casualities, during last month, civilian deaths averaged 27 per day, not 100; but that included the Battle of Basra. February saw only 19 killings per day across the whole country, a drop of more than 80% from the highs of late 2006, before we changed to the counterinsurgency strategy. This stunning turnaround has mostly flown below the Democrats' Iraq-success radar -- which, to be perfectly blunt, is rarely even turned on.

Some of the exchanges are laugh-out-loud funny, such as this between Gen. Petraeus and a certain senator with a "chest full of medals," during the former's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The good senator was trying to get Petraeus to admit that our continued presence in Iraq was the only reason that Iraqis have not stepped up to the plate; if we simply walked away, that would make everything much better:

SEN. KERRY: But isn't there a contradiction, in a sense, in your overall statement of the strategic imperative? Because you've kept mentioning al Qaeda here today. Al Qaeda -- AQI, as we know it today -- first of all didn't exist in Iraq till we got there. The Shi'a have not been deeply interrupted by AQI. The Kurds --

GEN. PETRAEUS: Oh, sir, they were. They were blown up right and left by AQI. That was the height of the sectarian violence.

SEN. KERRY: I understand that. I absolutely understand that. But it is not a fundamental, pervasive -- I mean, most people that I've talked to, Shi'a, and most of the evidence of what's happened in the Anbar province with the Sunni is that once they decided to turn on al Qaeda and not give them a welcome, they have been able to turn around their own security --

GEN. PETRAEUS: And we helped them, sir.

SEN. KERRY: (Inaudible.)

GEN. PETRAEUS: And we cleared Ramadi, we cleared Fallujah, we cleared the belts of Baghdad --

SEN. KERRY: And every plan I've seen --

GEN. PETRAEUS: -- (inaudible) -- Baqubah and everything else.

SEN. KERRY: Every plan I've seen here in Congress that contemplates a drawdown contemplates leaving enough American forces there to aid in the prosecution of al Qaeda and to continue that kind of effort.

GEN. PETRAEUS: That's exactly right, yes, sir.

SEN. KERRY: But then why doesn't that change the political dynamics that demand more reconciliation, more compromise, accommodation, so we resolve the political stalemate which is at the core of the dilemma?

GEN. PETRAEUS: Sure. No, that's -- sir, that's a great question. One of the key aspects is that they are not represented right now. And that's why provincial elections scheduled for no later than October are so important. The Anbar sheikhs, for example, will tell you "We want these elections," Senator, as they, I'm sure, did, because they didn't vote in January 2005. Huge mistake.

SEN. KERRY: (Inaudible.) [By this point, Kerry appears to be just making small squeaking noises.]

GEN. PETRAEUS: And they know it. They'll do much better this time than they did before. More important, even in Nineveh province, where because they didn't vote you have a different ethnic group, actually, that largely is the head of the provincial council. So again, all of those.

SEN. KERRY: (Inaudible.)

GEN. PETRAEUS: Yes, sir. Thank you.

Here is another exchange, this time with Sen. Barbara "Mrs. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" Boxer (D-CA, 80%): She seizes an extremely important, even urgent issue in her teeth; and like a deranged Pekingese, she won't let it go:

SEN. BOXER: If I could say, I agree with you that there are certain factions there that certainly support Iran. That's part of the problem. But my question is this. Ahmadinejad was the first national leader --


SEN. BOXER: Can you please cool it back there? Ahmadinejad was the first national leader to be given a state reception by Iraq's government. Iraq President Talabani and Ahmadinejad held hands as they inspected a guard of honor while a brass band played brisk British marching tunes. Children presented the Iranian with flowers. Members of Iraq's Cabinet lined up to greet him, some kissing him on both cheeks. So it's not a question about the militias out there. I'm saying, after all we have done, the Iraqi government kisses the Iranian leader! And our president has to sneak into the country. I don't understand it Isn't it true that after all we've done, Iran has gained ground?

AMB. CROCKER: Senator, Iran and Iranian influence in Iraq is obviously an extremely important issue for us, but it's very much, I think, a mixed bag. And what we saw over these last couple of weeks in Baghdad and in Basra, as the prime minister engaged extremist militias that were supported by Iran. is that it revealed not only what Iran is doing in Iraq, but it produced a backlash against them and a rallying of support for the prime minister in being ready to take them on. Iran by no means has it all its own way in Iraq. Iraqis remember with clarity and bitterness the 1980 to '88 Iran-Iraq war.

SEN. BOXER: Yes. Well, that's my point.

AMB. CROCKER: In which --

SEN. BOXER: And now he's getting kissed on the cheek. That's my point.

AMB. CROCKER: And there was a lot of commentary around among Iraqis, including among Shi'a Iraqis, about just that point; what's he doing here after what they did to us during that war? But Iraqi Shi'a died by the tens, by the hundreds of thousands defending their Arab and Iraqi identity and state against a Persian enemy, and that's, again, deeply felt. It means when Iran's hand is exposed in backing these extremist militias that there is backlash, broadly speaking, in the country, including from Iraq's Shi'a. And I think that's important, and I think it's important that the Iraqi government build on it.

SEN. BOXER: I give up. It is what it is. They kissed him on the cheek. I mean, what they say over the dinner table is one thing, but actually kissed him on the cheek. He got a red carpet treatment and we are losing our sons and daughters every single day for the Iraqis to be free. It is irritating is my point.

AMB. CROCKER: Senator, the vice president was in Iraq just a couple of weeks after that, and he also had a very warm reception.

SEN. BIDEN: Did he get kissed?

AMB. CROCKER: I believe -- (laughter) -- he did get kissed.

SEN. BIDEN: I want to know whether he got kissed. That's all. (Laughter.)

Perhaps the general and the ambassador can educate this sad crew of media manipulators in motley; but somehow I doubt it.

Dafydd adds: "The Lord helps those who help themselves." We should begin an urgent project of homeschooling Senate Democrats.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, April 9, 2008, at the time of 7:08 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Lizard Cheesecake

Hatched by Dafydd

I stole this from Rich "Mullings" Galen. God only knows why he missed the obvious question here:

Phuket Mermaids

Actual caption: Models present creations of Top & Bottoms by Phuket Mermaids during Bangkok International Fashion Week March 23, 2008.

Wait. "Phuket Mermaids?" Do you take me for a fool?

(Don't answer that question!)

Mullings is a three-times weekly "cybernet column" written by Rich Galen, a political heavy hitter who was last seen as the PR guy for Fred Thompson's presidential campaign, and (earlier) for the Coalition Provisional Authority. (And long before that, for Vice President Dan Quayle and Shrieker of the House Newt Gingrich). I believe his son, "the lad," was at one time on President Bush's staff.

If you don't already subscribe to Mulllings, you've a treat in store.

You see Rich now and again on the various argue-shows, like Hannity & Colmes. I befriended the poor, befuddled man and gave him aid and comfort. When Sachi and I were last in Washington D.C., he took us to lunch. Rich was very friendly and jovial, unlike Paul Mirengoff (who also gave us lunch): Paul spent the entire prandial meeting scowling at me as if he'd seen me somewhere before -- and was more than half convinced it was on bulletin board at the Post Office. (I kept trying to adjust my tie to a more convincing angle... which was odd, as I was, of course, not wearing one.)

Strangely, Galen gave no sign of having noticed the name of the bikini company. But that may have been due to the Mullings Director of Standards and Practices (his wife) breathing down his neck.

Nota bene: If you think the model on the right is hotter than the model on the left, you're probably a latent homosexual. (Hah! See? Pour an apple martini and a glass of port into the reptile, and his real personality comes out...!)

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 9, 2008, at the time of 2:30 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Date ►►► April 8, 2008

ABC Newsflash: 100% of US Troops In Iraq Plan to Vote Democratic

Hatched by Dafydd

In an ABC News story titled "Surprising Political Endorsements By U.S. Troops," crack reporter Martha Raddatz finds that 80% of all troops interviewed plan to vote for Barack Obama, while 20% plan to vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton Rodham. None at all plans to vote for John McCain.

  • 60% of all the soldiers interviewed said the main reason they supported Obama was that he would bring them, personally, home immediately, regardless of whether the job is finished.
  • That includes 20% whose support for Obama was due to the fact that he would "probably support us a lot more." Raddatz helpfully clarified: By "support," that 20% interviewed meant "pulling out troops."
  • 20% cited Obama's "representation for change." I'm not exactly sure what that means, but clearly Republicans are all lying criminals.
  • By contrast, the remaining 20% of all American troops interviewed supported Hillary Clinton, because "we should have a gradual drawdown."
  • No troops whatsoever supported McCain, or indeed made reference to him. It's doubtful that anyone in the military is aware that the Republican Party still exists. Even those who seemed to support the mission generally were not quoted as having any particular preference for president, oddly enough. One can only surmise that soldiers must look down upon veterans with a strong and particular distaste.

Surprisingly enough, the American military in Iraq totally opposes the war and wants an immediate end to it, no matter what happens, according to ABC:

Though the military is generally a more conservative group, soldiers like Sgt. Justin Sarbaum are just as eager for a pull-out as the Democratic candidates. Sarbaum said he wondered which presidential candidate would be able to better the U.S. relationship with rogue nations, such as Iran, so that soldiers are not sent off to another war.

"Iran is obviously a big issue," Sarbaum said, "Here in Iraq for my third time; starting another war right now -- is it really necessary?"

Although some might think that the survey's sample size -- five soldiers -- is somewhat, er, scant, the overwhelming, Saddam-sized support for a Democrat in the White House in 2008 (100% of all soldiers whose interviews ABC printed) surely makes up for not having interviewed, say, 1200 or 1500 soldiers instead of five.

(And in fact, to be fair to ABC, they did interview six additional soldiers but chose not to print their preferences for president. You can't say ABC didn't go the extra mile.)

Based on the astonishing unanimity of opinion, it's very clear that the Army hates George W. Bush as commander in chief and would much prefer Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. Once again, the elite media has exposed another myth pushed by Christianist conservatives: that soldiers actually want to win the wars they fight. Now that we know they don't care about the mission -- only their personal safety -- I believe the Democrats can and should make a strong case for dissolving the military entirely.

If voters are concerned about so-called "national security," perhaps a bunch of yeoman farmers (equally divided between the sexes and all races, proportionately represented, except for males without color) -- armed with olive branches, trained doves, horns of plenty, and inflatable puppets -- would do a better job "defending" America than a bunch of warmongers in "uniform."

I believe we all owe ABC a debt of "gratitude" (and a couple of Pullet Surprises) for opening our eyes to the "lies" we have swallowed since 1776.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 8, 2008, at the time of 3:22 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Date ►►► April 7, 2008

Colombian Red

Hatched by Dafydd

President Bush is formally submitting the U.S. -- Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (a free-trade agreement, FTA) to Congress today for ratification or rejection; once he does, senators and representatives have 90 days to act. But many congressional Democrats -- and a few RINOs, such as Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME, 36%) -- have already signalled that they will fight to defeat it:

The agreement with Colombia, negotiated in 2006, has become a subject of fierce controversy, dividing Republicans from Democrats and Democrats from one another. Supporters of the agreement argue that, by opening new markets in Colombia for American farm goods, machinery, chemicals and plastics, the pact would stimulate the United States economy at a moment in history when the economy sorely needs it.

Opponents say the agreement would accelerate a depressing trend, encouraging American companies to transfer their manufacturing operations to Colombia and adding to the woes of sagging Rust Belt areas in the United States.

This FTA, signed in December, 2005, by President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia, mirrors the one also signed by Peru, which the Democratic Congress was eager to accept after some minor amendments on labor and environmental issues (mainly accepting a general right to collective bargaining and agreement that Peru would enforce its environmental laws). The House and Senate both approved the Pervian FTA at the end of December, 2007. A similar FTA with Ecuador is on hold while negotiations are frozen.

The case for the agreement is primarily economic, with no serious dissent that the Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement would dramatically increase the ability of American companies to compete in Colombia on a "level playing field" with local companies; this would certainly boost the American economy at a time when that issue is very much on the minds of voters. Opponents assert that it would lead to the "export" of U.S. jobs to South America, though I haven't seen much of an argument to that effect:

President Bush, who has been speaking in favor of the trade agreement for weeks, conceded on Monday that there could be some harmful effects at home, but he said the benefits would far outweigh them. The United States imports grains, cotton and soybeans from Colombia, much of it duty-free under temporary accords already in place. But American exports to Colombia — agricultural products, automobile parts, medical and scientific equipment -- remain subject to tariffs.

“I think it makes sense to remedy this situation,” the president said. “It’s time to level the playing field.” Trade between the United States and Colombia amounted to about $18 billion in 2007.

(As expected, John McCain very much supports the FTA, because it strengthens Capitalism; Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama oppose it for the same reason.)

The Left is very unhappy with the agreement with Colombia, however, because of the ongoing war between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a communist naroc-terrorist "people's army," and so-called "right wing" paramilitaries -- which arose in the 1990s to combat the rising power of the FARC, then consolodated in 1997 as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC); this war has led to many murders of trade-union activists... some of whom may well have been (as the paramilitaries claim) fronts for the FARC, but most of whom were only attempting to "organize" peasants and workers -- albeit using the traditional strongarm tactics of labor movements everywhere.

But leftist and unionist organizations in the United States and other countries have made these deaths into a human-rights crisis; and while they admit that the killings are very much diminished and the paramilitaries mostly disbanded, they still demand -- and the Democrats jump to obey -- that Colombia do "much more" to bring the killers to justice before the Left will support an FTA:

President Bush asserted on Monday that approval of the agreement “will advance American national security interests in a critical region,” in large part because Colombia’s president, Álvaro Uribe Vélez, has done much to eliminate internal violence, including attacks on labor activists, and root out the drug-traffickers who for years linked Colombia and cocaine in the public’s mind.

Moreover, Mr. Bush said, Colombia is a vital counterweight to neighboring Venezuela, where the socialist president, Hugo Chavez, is openly anti-American. Many Democrats have said it is important, in view of the attitude of Venezuela, to bolster relations with Latin American allies of the United States.

But Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic majority leader, said on Monday that President Bush’s perspective was skewed....

“Many Democrats continue to have serious concerns about an agreement that creates the highest level of economic integration with a country where workers and their families are routinely murdered and subjected to violence and intimidation for seeking to exercise their most basic economic rights. And the perpetrators of the violence have near total impunity.”

Where this argument utterly fails, however, is in the fact that of all recent Colombian presidents, the current one -- Álvaro Uribe Vélez, who won by more than twenty points over his nearest rival -- has done the most to curb and even dismantle the AUC paramilitaries, and to give unprecedented government protection (bodyguards, security perimiters around their houses and offices, intel from government police) to the very trade-unionist leaders that the Left supports... more than 1500 of them.

Because of these and similar policy changes, deaths of trade unionists and other civilians in Colombia has plummeted almost as much as it has in Iraq. A spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch, testifying before Congress, admitted that killings of trade-unionist leaders has dropped by nearly two-thirds (197 down to 72) from 2001 to 2006; and the first five months of 2007 saw only 13 deaths, for an annual rate of 31... which would be a drop during Uribe's administration of 84%.

(It's of more than passing interest that the enemy driving the bloodiest violence in Iraq is Iran... and Iran is fast becoming the closest collaborator with Colombia's most dangerous enemy -- Venezuela and Oogo Chavez. Meet the new thug, same as the old thug.)

Uribe also fought a brutal and very successful war against the FARC and has stood up to Oogo Chavez and his rampaging Stalinism; and I believe this is the real reason the Latin American Left (hence their me-too parrots in the United States) hates Uribe. That, and the fact that Uribe is a great friend of America -- the man doesn't even hate George W. Bush! What kind of Latin American is he anyway? Uribe has embraced Capitalism, and because of that, has led Colombia to an extraordinary GDP growth rate of 7.5% per year.

Worse, he is an apostate from the Colombian Liberal Party. He replaced the largely ineffective Conservative Party president, Andrés Pastrana Arango, who negotiated a calamitous "safe haven" for the FARC, inside of which they were allowed to operate freely (also for another Communist insurgency, the Ejército de Liberación Nacional de Colombia, ELN). Pastrana was rejected after only a single term, and the safe haven for terrorists dissolved.

But an 84% drop in murders and a dynamic growth rate that is lifting all Colombians out of poverty is evidently not good enough.

Despite Uribe's extraordinary record (or, as I believe, because of it), the Democrats in Congress are trying desperately to stop the Colombian TPA from being enacted... until a Democrat is in the White House, of course. I think it would pass in the Senate, but it's going to be very dicey in the House: Today on Hugh Hewitt's show, he asked Rep. David Dreier (R-CA, 72%) about its prospects, and Dreier refused to predict victory.

But if the Democrats do kill the agreement, it will be a potent economic argument for Republicans to use against them in November: On the one hand, they Democrats gleefully proclaim that we're "already in a recession" (or, per George Soros, de facto kingmaker of the Democratic Party, a "depression"); but on the other hand, they want to raise taxes and prevent American goods from being sold in South America.

The claim that they're only trying to prevent job losses makes no sense, because Colombia can already sell freely in the United States with no tariff; so if an American company wanted to relocate its plant to Bogota for the cheap labor, they can already do so and still sell to the American market. All that this FTA will do is open up Colombia's markets to American companies... which would unquestionably be good for the American economy.

Thus, the only logical conclusion to draw is that the Democrats are not only "talking down" the economy, they're directly trying to drive it down... all just to hurt Republicans in the upcoming elections, without regard to how many American workers and consumers get hurt.

Democratic leaders may find themselves scrambling to defend such anti-Capitalist, anti-American economic policies, given how many Americans are more economically sophisticated than they were just a couple of decades ago. (I blame new media.)

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 7, 2008, at the time of 6:35 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Something New Here...

Hatched by Dafydd

Check the sidebar; there is something new.

It's an experiment. It's intentionally a bit hard to make out (to frustrate spambot-OCRs); if it's utterly impossible, I might be able to make it a bit easier.

If we start getting massive non-sequitur responses, especially if it's spam, we may eliminate it. But if it works for the intended purpose, then I hope you're all satisfied, you verminous lachanocephalics.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 7, 2008, at the time of 5:22 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Date ►►► April 6, 2008

Warmonger! Draft Dodger! Warmonger!

Hatched by Dafydd

Let me see if I have the sequence of Democratic electoral argument straight...

1992: "Don't vote for the World War II combat veteran who was shot down; war is immoral! Vote for the moral, draft dodging peace protester."

1996: "Don't vote for the World War II combat veteran who was shot up; war is immoral! Vote for the moral, draft dodging peace protester who has led us into wars unrelated to American national security."

2000: "Don't vote for the draft-avoiding non-veteran; he's a chickenhawk! Vote for the combat-reporting veteran. Only a military veteran understands how to be Commander in Chief."

2004: "Don't vote for the draft-avoiding non-veteran; he's a chickenhawk! Vote for the combat veteran with a chest full of medals. Only a heavily decorated military veteran understands how to be Commander in Chief."

2008: "Don't vote for the Navy-brat Vietnam combat veteran who was shot down and held as a POW for five and a half years, served with distinction for more years after his return, is heavily decorated, and who has had three children in either the Navy or Marines in combat positions; the Vietnam and Iraq wars were immoral! Vote for either the wife of the moral, draft-dodging peace protester or the cocaine-abusing "community activist" -- you can't be Commander in Chief if you're too close to the military."

Have I got this about right, or did I miss something (as usual)?

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 6, 2008, at the time of 1:33 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

The Things That Make Lizards Laugh

Hatched by Dafydd

I happened to be reading the Wikipedia entry for Morgantown, West Virginia. Does anybody else find this sentence laugh-out-loud funny, in a Bob Newhart sort of way?

Morgantown is the largest city in North-Central West Virginia, and is the principal city of the Morgantown, West Virginia Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 6, 2008, at the time of 1:10 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Date ►►► April 4, 2008

Squeaker Warns Petraeus He Had Better Admit Iraq War Is Lost

Hatched by Dafydd

In a frankly stunning display of the audacity of hopelessness, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Haight-Ashbury, 95%) "warned" Gen. David Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker, according to the Voice of America yesterday, that in their upcoming congressional testimony, they had better not say that Iraq is doing well:

A few days before General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker appear before House and Senate committees to deliver their latest update on Iraq, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi makes clear what she hopes they will not say.

In a news conference together with the chairmen of the House committees on Armed Services and Foreign Affairs, she refers to the recent fighting in Iraq's southern port city of Basra, saying Petraeus and Crocker should not attempt to put a positive spin on events.

"We have to know the real ground truths of what is happening there, not put a shine on events because of a resolution [of the situation in Basra] that looks less violent when it has in fact been dictated by someone [Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada] al-Sadr who can grant or withhold that call for violence or not," said Nancy Pelosi.

Yesterday, the New York Times revealed that one of the major "anonymous" sources claiming that Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had lost the Battle of Basra -- and that Muqtada Sadr and the Mahdi Militia had won -- was none other than Ambassador Crocker himself:

But the Iraqi operation was not what the United States expected. Instead of methodically building up their combat power and gradually stepping up operations against renegade militias, Mr. Maliki’s forces lunged into the city, attacking before all of the Iraqi reinforcements had even arrived. By the following Tuesday, a major fight was on.

“The sense we had was that this would be a long-term effort: increased pressure gradually squeezing the Special Groups,” Mr. Crocker said in an interview, using the American term for Iranian-backed militias. “That is not what kind of emerged.”

“Nothing was in place from our side,” he added. “It all had to be put together....”

“He went in with a stick and he poked a hornet’s nest, and the resistance he got was a little bit more than he bargained for,” said one official in the multinational force in Baghdad who requested anonymity. “They went in with 70 percent of a plan. Sometimes that’s enough. This time it wasn’t.” [Anonymous "sources" still outnumber named sources seven to one in this article, even with the "outing" of Amb. Crocker... a ratio that is astonishing all by itself.]

As the Iraqi military and civilian casualties grew and the Iraqi planning appeared to be little more than an improvisation, the United States mounted an intensive military and political effort to try to turn around the situation, according to accounts by Mr. Crocker [which are not quoted but only characterized by the Times] and several American military officials in Baghdad and Washington who spoke on condition of anonymity. [Naturally.]

Crocker may very well have been taken out of context; a thorough reading of the Times story paints a fact picture significantly at odds with the conclusionary nature of the article itself. For example, it's not until the very end of the article that we learn how much in control Iraqi forces were during the battle:

The United States helped the Iraqis ferry in supplies by C-130. The Iraqis, however, also began to fly in supplies and troops using their two C-130s. More than 500 Iraqi replacement soldiers were moved by air while an additional brigade was sent by ground. The Iraqis also flew Huey and Hip multimission helicopters.

Taking a page out of the American counterinsurgency doctrine, the United States encouraged the Iraqis to distribute aid and mount job programs to try to win over the Basra population.

To ease the distribution of supplies, American officials from the Agency for International Development flew with Iraqi officials to Basra to work with United Nations officials. The Americans also encouraged Mr. Maliki to proceed with his plan to seek an alliance with the Shiite tribes, as the Americans had done with Sunni tribes in the so-called Anbar Awakening.

“We strongly encouraged him to use his most substantial weapon, which is money, to announce major jobs programs, Basra cleanup, whatnot,” Mr. Crocker said. “And to do what he decided to do on his own: pay tribal figures to effectively finance an awakening for Basra.”

All of the most explosive charges -- for example, that Maliki was really trying to "weaken the Mahdi Army and the affiliated political party of the renegade cleric Moktada al-Sadr before provincial elections in the south that are expected to be to be held this year" -- still remain in the mouths of unnamed and even unquoted sources; in this case, "one American intelligence officer in Washington."

But this overtly condemnatory but covertly explupatory article has now become the basis for Pelosi and Reps. Howard Berman (D-CA, 85%) and Ike Skelton (D-MO, 85%) to demand that Petraeus and Crocker tell Congress that Basra is lost, and thereby that the "surge" is a failure. .. once again pointing out how the elite media has made itself into simply the propaganda arm of the Democratic Party. From the VOA article:

Thursday's news conference came in the wake of seemingly critical comments by Ambassador Crocker in a New York Times interview about the Iraqi government's handling of military operations in Basra.

Elaborating during a Baghdad news conference, Crocker indicated again that Iraqi military decisions caught U.S. forces by surprise. But he described Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as having acted decisively, and praised the Iraqi military for its ability to plan, execute and adjust its operation....

Democratic House foreign affairs chairman Howard Berman says the Iraqi government appears, in his words, to have largely frittered away chances for political reconciliation:

"The purpose of the [U.S. military] surge was to create political space for Iraqis to make meaningful strides toward national reconciliation, but sectarianism sadly remains the dominant force in Iraq and the sacrifices involved in getting us to this point don't seem to have put us much closer to the goal," said Howard Berman.

Left unexplained by Rep. Berman is how the Iraqi government -- controlled by the Shia -- attacking the Shiite militias under Iranian control is an example of "sectarianism."

Berman also announced -- again without explanation -- that the Iraq war had created "the inarguable strengthening of Iran, the most dangerous state in the Middle East." As the point was "inarguable," the VOA did not report any demur from Republicans. I would love to see a transcript of the committee meeting, however, to see whether the inarguable was, in fact, argued with.

Democrats, still giddy from their 2006 electoral victories, have persistently tried to dictate political analyses to the generals running the Iraq war, frequently chastising them for reporting facts that are inconvenient to Democratic defeatism. This breathtaking attempt to hijack the president's position as Commander in Chief hit its liberal apotheosis today; I doubt that ever before in the history of the Republic (perhaps of the West) has a government ordered its own military to falsely claim defeat in the face of clear victory.

In that sense, the 110th Congress of the United States is indeed historic.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 4, 2008, at the time of 2:45 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Date ►►► April 3, 2008

Memo to Japan: You Are Aware There's a War On... Right?

Hatched by Sachi

On February 19th, a Japanese Aegis destroyer, JS Atago, equipped with an advanced radar system, collided with a small fishing boat Seitokumaru off the Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture. Tragically, the accident killed a father-and-son pair of fishermen aboard Seitokumaru. Atago was on her way home from Pearl Harbor, having just finished four grueling months of training and testing in Hawaii waters.

It seemed a mere traffic accident, and it had nothing to do with the Aegis system or the radar installation. However, it was the latest in a series of mishaps and scandals that have plagued the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF -- the Japanese "navy") over the last couple of years. The Minister of Defense egregiously mishandled the collision investigation and public relations, further exposing the deep-seated problems of the ministry itself; and the Japanese press instantly blamed Aegis, demanding to know why a multi-million dollar system designed to intercept missiles in flight didn't somehow make a fishing trawler get out of Atago's way.

The stunned ministry took severe disciplinary action against 88 defense-ministry officials and service members, including Adm. Eiji Yoshikawa, MSDF chief of staff. (This does not include Atago's captain or crew, since the investigation is still underway.) The crew were confined aboard the ship in port, essentially in jail, for over a month; they were subjected to harsh treatment from zealous investigators and scathing criticism from the media. One sailor who'd been on watch the morning of the accident actually attempted to "cut his stomach" -- commit suicide to save his face.

The "mere traffic accident" has metastisized into a full-blown fiasco for the Maritime SDF...

The government concluded that Yoshikawa, who took office in August 2006, should take responsibility for a series of accidents and blunders, including a fire on the destroyer Shirane at Yokosuka base in Kanagawa Prefecture in December 2007 and the leakage of confidential information, including data on the Aegis system....

Kohei Masuda, vice defense minister, will have his pay cut by 10 percent for two months.

Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba said he will return two months of salary for the minister's post in a self-imposed disciplinary measure.

Year 2007 did not start well for JMSDF. In March, a petty officer second class from Destroyer JS Shirane -- yes, the same ship that later had a huge fire -- was arrested for illegally removing classified Aegis-related information from his ship and giving it to his Chinese wife:

Police confiscated digital storage devices containing the data during a search in January of the home of the 33-year-old petty officer 2nd class in connection with his Chinese wife, who is suspected of violating immigration law. The couple were not identified, and the law the wife was suspected of violating was not specified.

Information on her current status was not provided.

The hard drives and other storage media contained Aegis destroyer radar data and telecommunications frequencies, sources said.

Since the unidentified PO2 did not have authorized access to any secret information, police realized that higher up personnel had to be involved in the leak. A 43 year old lieutenant commander was later arrested as well, and he implicated 34 year old Lt.Com. Sumitaka Matsuuchi.

Note: The linked Sankei Newspaper’s article is in Japanese; this quote comes from the same article from the English-language Yomiuri Newspaper, from which no link is available.

A 34-year-old Maritime Self-Defense Force lieutenant commander was arrested Thursday on suspicion of leaking top-secret information about key functions of MSDF Aegis destroyers.

The Kanagawa prefectural police and the MSDF’s Criminal Investigation Command arrested Sumitaka Matsuuchi, a former member of the MSDF’s vessel development team in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, on suspicion of violating the Law Concerning the Protection of Secrets for the Japan-U.S. Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement.

It was the first time for a person to be arrested under the law since its enactment in 1954. The law prohibits the leaking of information about weaponry and warships containing U.S. technology.

According to investigators, Matsuuchi used the SDF internal mail service to send a compact disc holding a computer file of top secret information to one of his colleagues around August 2002, at which time he was working for the vessel development division.

By doing so, he leaked secret material to the 43-year-old lieutenant commander, who was an instructor at the MSDF’s First Service School in Etajima, Hiroshima Prefecture, the investigators said.

Matsuuchi admitted the allegation. He told the investigators: “It’s true I handed it to a lieutenant commander who studied in the United States with me after he asked for it. I knew it was top secret material, but I sent it by the SDF’s internal mail delivery service anyway.”

I want to clarify one interesting point about the age of the unnamed lieutenant commander, because it leads directly into the real problem with the Japanese Maritime SDF: In the Japanese military, members often reach a rank plateau and simply stay there for the rest of their careers. Thus it's not unusual to find a 43 year old lieutenant commander (O-4) who remains at that rank for fifteen years.

Why? Because a central problem for the Japanese military is that neither the government nor the country itself really sees the "Self Defence Force" as a real army or the Maritime SDF as a real navy. Japan has been "allergic" to having a real military ever since the Japanese parliamentary democracy was founded after the post-World War II occupation ended.

2007 ended as it began -- with another blow to the pride of the Maritime SDF: JS Shirane, the same ship from which the second class stole the classified information, caught fire when a sailor brought a defective "unauthorized space heater" aboard:

Japanese MSDF 5200 ton destroyer Shirane scheduled to sail out early morning on December 15, caught fire at about 2220 hours on December 14. The Shirane destroyer can hold three helicopters and this is the first Japanese warship to carry a three-dimensional radar....

This fire cause substantial damage to the ship and inured three sailors.

Last year, I worked in Hawaii with a number of members of the Japanese Self Defense Force (SDF). Right after Japan’s first ballistic-missile defense ship, JS Kongo, successfully completed a live firing event, I talked extensively with the public affair officer from Japan. He told me the success of Kongo was very important because the "series of unfortunate events" surrounding the Aegis program had tarnished the Maritime SDF’s reputation, driving public support to an all time low.

The SDF desperately hoped for the total success of Atago’s Aegis system test events in early 2008... and they were not disappointed. Atago successfully completed the final live firing tests in February, and everyone -- including all the American team members I spoke to -- was ecstatic. Finally, they thought, the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force will become the pride of the Japanese people!

Then on the way home, Atago crashed into the fishing trawler.

When I first heard that almost 90 military and civilian personnel were being disciplined, I thought the Japanese government had gone into overkill, as usual. But the more I think about it, the more convinced I become that this purge may be just what they need.

The impression I got from working with JMSDF servicemen is mixed:

  • On the one hand, they are highly efficient, professional, and eager to learn.
  • But on the other hand, they have a certain unseriousness that disturbs me. They seem to think the military is just a jobs program with quirky gamerules.

For a simple example, in the United States Navy, we have a rule that officers and enlisted men must "move up or move out;" if a service member is not promoted after several opportunities, he's pushed out the door (I believe this is also true for the other branches). This keeps a constant circulation of new blood in the service and prevents the military from becoming a dumping ground for useless officers and non-coms who are simply given a "window seat," a Japanese term from the days when nobody was ever fired -- but some employees were sidelined into do-nothing jobs where they couldn't cause any damage.

Don’t get me wrong, the SDF service personnel I interacted with were vigilant about checking visitors IDs and logging all recording media that came in to or went out from the ship. They may think the gamerules are peculiar, but they normally follow them.

But oftentimes they forgot that unclassified and classified media should never be mixed; and I believe it was because they never got the underlying point behind the regulations.

For another example, Japanese sailors train for emergency procedures vigorously, much more than their American counterparts. But the training scenarios are always predetermined and known in advance to all the sailors; they would know the exact day and time of the drill -- which in my opinion defeats the whole point of emergency training.

Just as they treat the military as a jobs program, the SDF is simply not on a “war footing” in any other respect. Nobody seems to take the Self Defense Forces seriously as a real military... and that is a fatal flaw.

China poses a much bigger threat to Japan than to the United States. The Chinese government is quite hostile to Japan, and of course much closer; and that's not even taking into account their other enemy, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea -- or their very intense competitor, the Republic of Korea. Seeing what China is doing to the Tibetans, and remembering all the Japanese civilials who were kidnapped over the years by North Korea, it's astonishing that the Japanese imagine those countries would never attack Japan.

Serviceman with access to highly classified information must start taking their responsibilities seriously; they must understand that the beautiful Chinese girl who is overfriendly may very well be a spy.

This is no April Fool; the Chinese government has one of the most active, world-wide human-intelligence spying program in the world. In fact, Gregg Bergersen, a weapons analyst at the Pentagon, just pled guilty to transferring classified air-defense information to a Chinese businessman, Tai Kuo, whom he thought "only" had connections to Taiwan, but who turned out to be a spy for Red China. Kuo is a naturalized American citizen.

The nonchalant attitude towards security on the part of so many Japanese members of the Self Defense Forces and the defense ministry, and towards basic safety -- such as not using unauthorized electric devices on board and failing ot keep an observant watch on the deck -- are all symptoms of fundamental unseriousness about the global war against caliphism. The entire culture of the SDF needs to be upended and overhauled: The Self Defense Force needs to become real military.

The hostility of Japanese public opinion towards the SDF in Japan is unbelievable. Before any details of the accident become clear, the Japanese elite media had already indicted and convicted the sailors. In such a political environment, it seems impossible to imagine turning the SDF into a real, full-time, professional military; but the fate of Japan as a significant power in the 21st century demands it.

I have no idea if they can finally grow beyond the simplistic "war, what is it good for?" meme they absorbed following the catastrophic defeat in 1945... but if they cannot, I'm afraid they will never be able to maintain their economic hegemony in the Orient. Japan can defend its own prosperity without having to recreate the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, April 3, 2008, at the time of 7:04 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Date ►►► April 2, 2008

Who Won the B. of B., and Who Lost? Hint: Listen to the Military Guys

Hatched by Dafydd

Power Line asks "the question;" so do the Counterterrorism Blog and Col. Austin Bay. Bill Roggio is too busy answering the question to ask it. The elite media thinks it has the answer, but it's fooling itself (and us), as usual.

Paul Mirengoff at Power Line is skeptical of all sides, as is his wont. Alas, in this case, extreme skepticism leads to terminal agnosticism; but I think we have, at the least, a method we can follow to decide who won: Stop paying attention to the spin and just look at the actual facts on the ground.


Start with this one: In any military engagement, the side that calls for a ceasefire soonest and loudest is almost certainly the losing side. Why would the winner be anxious to terminate a successful operation before it's over?

In the case of Operation Knights' Charge, all sides agree that it was Muqtada Sadr who called for a truce, and he did so repeatedly. Buttressing this position is the fact that Sadr accompanied his call for a ceasefire with a series of imperious demands -- for example, that the Iraqi government must immediately release all imprisoned members of the mighty Mahdi Militia who had not yet been convicted of crimes. Yet despite the concession inherent in that last point, nobody, not even the elite media, claim that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has acquiesced to a single demand... but the Mahdi Militia surrendered Basra anyway.

For example, a fawning, almost sycophantic story yesterday on Time Magazine's website mentions the main demand, but then curiously drops the subject without saying whether Maliki accepted it:

One of Sadr's principal demands when he met with the delegation of Shi'ite political leaders to discuss the new cease-fire was that more of his forces be released under the amnesty law. This was to appease his disgruntled followers whose brothers and uncles are the ones behind bars and who feel they have taken an unfair brunt of the surge while former Sunni insurgents are getting paychecks in the Concerned Local Citizens units. Like any good politician, he has to prove he can deliver the goods to his followers -- even if he has to go to war for it.

And there the piece ends! Does anyone think that if reporter Charles Crain had the slightest bit of evidence that Sadr's demand was met, he wouldn't have shouted it from the rooftops? Especially in a piece titled, in typical unbiased fashion, "How Moqtada al-Sadr Won in Basra."

Location, location, location

Another clear indicator is where each side is when the fighting stops. At the beginning of the Battle of Basra, all sources agree that the Mahdi Militia was virtually in control of the city of Basra -- thanks to the British policy of walking softly and carrying a toothpick. The militia patrolled the streets, they shook down citizens, they paraded openly, they held major rallies in public. They kidnapped and killed people at will; they controlled the airport, the seaport, and the oil fields.

Today, it is the Iraqi Army that patrols the streets of Basra; the militia -- again, all sides agree -- has pulled its fighters from the streets and no longer asserts control of the city. From the International Herald Tribune:

Iraqi troops met no significant resistance as a dozen-vehicle convoy drove Wednesday into the Hayaniyah district of central Basra, scene of fierce clashes last week with al-Sadr's Mahdi Army fighters.

Troops set up checkpoints and searched a few houses before leaving the neighborhood after a couple of hours, witnesses said.

Here is what Bill Roggio says:

While the intensity of operations against the Mahdi Army in Basrah and the South have decreased since Sadr called for his unilateral cease-fire, Iraqi security forces continue to conduct operations. Today the Iraqi Army marched through the Mahdi Army-infested Hayaniyah district in central Basrah. On April 1, the Hillah Special Weapons and Tactics unit captured 20 “smugglers” in Basrah. On March 31, Iraqi Special Operation Forces killed 14 “criminals” during a raid against Mahdi Army forces occupying a school in Basrah.

The Iraqi security forces will continue to clear Basrah, according to the Army. During Sunday’s press briefing, Major General Abdul Aziz said several districts of Basrah were cleared, and these operations would continue. “Our troops managed to clear certain areas in Basra, Najubya, Al Ma’qil, Al Ashshar Wazuber and Garmat Ali and other places as well,” said Aziz. “Starting from today, we will work on clearing the other places from the wanted individuals and criminals and those who are still carrying weapons....”

The Iraqi Army has also moved troops into the ports of Khour al Zubair and Umm Qasr in Basrah province on April 1. The Iraqi troops replaced the facility protection services guards, who are often accused of criminal activities.

Clearly, the Iraqi Army ends the operation (or rather, the major-combat element of it) in a significantly improved position from where they started, while the militia is correspondingly dispossessed. Based on this metric alone, the winner should be clear.

Hip hip, chin chin, to the rhythm section

Another good measure is which side controls the post-combat operational tempo. Here again, there is no dispute, even among those who claim that Sadr won: The Iraqi Army continues its operations, while the militia removes itself from the streets, and it hides. The army continues raiding "safe" houses, arresting wanted militants, securing the area, and sending in reinforcements to hold the territory.

The Potter's Field

The "body count" metric is not always dispositive by itself; but combined with the other measures above, it adds its amicus curiae argument. Hundreds of Mahdi Militia members were killed, hundreds more captured, and hundreds more were wounded. Nobody claiming that Sadr won has even hinted that Iraqi Army casualties were anywhere near that high.

Roggio's latest numbers:

The Mahdi Army has also taken high casualties since the fighting began on March 25. According to an unofficial tally of the open source reporting from the US and Iraqi media and Multinational Forces Iraq, 571 Mahdi Army fighters have been killed, 881 have been wounded, 490 have been captured, and 30 have surrendered over the course of seven days of fighting.

Austin Bay has slightly different numbers (because they are official, so probably err on the side of caution):

A dispute over casualties in the firefights has ensued, as it always does. An Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman alleged that Sadr's militia had been hit hard in six days of fighting, suffering 215 dead, 155 arrested and approximately 600 wounded. The government spokesman gave no casualty figures for Iraqi security forces.

No one, of course, could offer an independent confirmation, but if the numbers are accurate they provide an indirect confirmation of reports that Sadr's Mahdi Militia (Jaish al-Mahdi, hence the acronym JAM) had at least a couple thousand fighters scattered throughout southern Iraq. This is not shocking news, but a reason to launch a limited offensive when opportunity appeared.

Assuming Austin Bay's estimate of 2,000 fighters (before Knights' Charge) in southern Iraq is accurate, that means that Sadr lost at least 18.5% of his force killed or captured, taking the official Iraqi Interior Ministry lowball, and perhaps as much as 53% (!) if Roggio is more accurate. But even a loss of 18% of the southern force and an overall casualty rate of 48% is a staggering blow... particularly to a clandestine organization that will now have a significantly harder time recruiting, since they're no longer seen as being "in charge."

How the elite media tries to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory

So how on earth does anyone argue that Sadr was the victor? Very simply; in each case (yes, even with Andrew Cochran's tendentious editorial on the Counterterrorism Blog), those claiming Sadr won -- or more accurately, those claiming that Maliki lost -- completely ignore the facts on the ground and claim that Maliki suffered a political loss because the Iraqi Army didn't grind Sadr's bones to make their pita bread... and do it in six or seven hours, eight tops.

The fact that Sadr is still sucking air, that he can still give orders and have some portion of the militia listen, and the fact that the intrasectarian struggle ain't over yet -- hey, that's good enough to throw Maliki under the tank treads. Time Magazine:

In the view of many American troops and officers, the Mahdi Army had splintered irretrievably into a collection of independent operators and criminal gangs. Now, however, the conclusion of the conflict in Basra shows that when Sadr speaks, the militia listens.

That apparent authority is in marked contrast to the weakness of Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki. He traveled south to Basra with his security ministers to supervise the operation personally. After a few days of intense fighting he extended his previously announced deadline for surrender and offered militants cash in exchange for their weapons. Yet in the cease-fire announcement the militia explicitly reserved the right to hold onto its weapons. And the very fact of the cease-fire flies in the face of Maliki's proclamation that there would be no negotiations. It is Maliki, and not Sadr, who now appears militarily weak and unable to control elements of his own political coalition.

He does? Despite numerous calls by Sunni, Kurdish, and pro-Sadr Shiite elements within Iraq, Maliki not only continued to fight, the army continues its operations against Sadr to this very day. Yet Crain, who seems to have an odd and somewhat disturbing admiration for Muqtada Sadr, insists it was really Sadr who won because when he called on his troops to abandon control of Basra, they listened to him. Such loyalty!

In Cochran's case at the Counterterrorism Blog, the partisan nature is diametrically opposite that of Time, which evidently wishes Sadr (hence Iran) would take control of the entire country. It's clear to me, by contrast, that Cochran is furious that Maliki didn't press the assault until every last Sadr lieutenant, every wanted militant, every member of the militia, every Shia who had ever picked up a gun, and Sadr himself were all dead and dismembered... and the little dog he rode in on, too.

(Killing Sadr would have been a particularly remarkable achievement, since I've seen no evidence that Muqtada Sadr has even returned to Iraq from Iran. Certainly none of the articles I've seen has claimed he's back; when they need a Sadr quotation, they always get it from his spokespeople.)

Despite Time and the Counterterrorism Blog being on opposite sides, they link arms to attack the center in a conspiracy of shared short-term interests. Thus, Cochran agrees with Time that Maliki lost; he believes that Sadr won because he's still sucking air, as if a Monty Pythonesque "I'm not dead yet!" is Sadr's only victory condition:

Based on reports from the area since then, including this morning, I'll conclude that the short-term gains that U.S. forces made are bound to give way to a long-term strategic victory in Iraq for Moqtada al Sadr, the broader Shiite community, and Iran, unless the U.S. redeploys significant numbers of our troops to Shiite strongholds throughout Iraq.

Contradictory signals abound in asymmetric conflicts like the Iraqi offensive. An Iranian general who is a designated terrorist played some significant role in the ceasefire, thus vaildating my prognosis. Sadr's backers in Baghdad are claiming victory today, even as U.S. troops patrol their streets. [Sic; Roggio, et al, say it is the Iraqis patrolling the streets; Cochran offers no evidence that American forces are doing it instead.] The British are now freezing plans to withdraw more troops from that city, signaling a lack of confidence that the Iraqis will secure the area anytime this year. But an admission from a U.S. Army general in Iraq is telling:

"Army Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner said he welcomes the Iraqi government’s commitment to target criminals in Iraq’s second-largest city but he concedes there are challenges. He said most of the Iraqi troops “performed their mission” but some “were not up to the task” and the Iraqi government is investigating what happened. The government was surprised by ferocious resistance from followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to the offensive. The Iraqi campaign in Basra also faced desertions and mutiny in government ranks before a cease-fire order by al-Sadr on Sunday."

The "admission" by Gen. Bergner has been flashed around the news world by the drive-by media; it's their only take-away from the fight: Some Iraqi "security units" (as AP calls them) "were not up to the task." Left unexplained is whether these security units were army or police (both were involved in the fight), how many were not up to the task, and whether they damaged the operation or just didn't fight as effectively as we hoped. If it's a small number of units, mostly from the National Police, and if they were helpful but not as much as demanded by our very high standards, that's a far cry from the media implication -- that the entire Iraqi Army is worthless.

But the last sentence in the Cochran quote above is hardly a surprise: We have long known that some National Police stations were compromised by Sadrites. The main 30-man unit that defected to Sadr's side, or probably was in Sadr's pocket all along, has been captured and disbanded... which is yet another blow to the Mahdi Militia, which now has one fewer covert platoon in the Iraqi National Police.

Victory through superior winning

Reading through Cochran's biography, it appears he was a career bureaucrat (lawyer, CPA) at the Commerce Department, then senior oversight counsel to the House Committee on Financial Services, where he first appears to have gotten experience with counterterrorism... in particular, tracking terrorist groups by the financial trail of breadcrumbs they dribble behind them. This is an incredibly valuable skill, and I have no doubt he is an expert in all fields financial and in the finances of terrorism.

But I don't see any indication of a military background or strategic experience. Consequently, I prefer to listen to the military guys, like Bill Roggio and Austin Bay, rather than financial guys like Andrew Cochran. Particularly when Cochran's analysis doesn't even mention any of the military facts on the ground.

So to answer Paul Mirengoff's question, I would have to say that the clear winners were Nouri al-Maliki and Iraq. Not a single one of these points is even in dispute:

  • It was Sadr who called for the truce, made the Mahdi Militia's surrender conditional, then surrendered anyway even when the conditions were not met by the Iraqi government;
  • The Iraqi Army now controls the territory formerly controlled by the Mahdi Militia;
  • The army has continued operational tempo, while the militia is in hiding, its leader afraid to show his face in public (in Iraq, at least);
  • The militia suffered a loss of at least 18% of its total southern force with another 30% wounded;
  • The most that critics of the war can say is that Sadr "won" by virtue of not being killed (wherever he is) and because his Mahdi Militia was not utterly annihilated and have not utterly repudiated him.

If readers still wish to be agnostic about victory, well, it's a free country... now.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 2, 2008, at the time of 4:35 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

The Wit of the Ancient Mariner

Hatched by Dafydd

Watching the 163 year old Republican nominee one-up David Letterman (scripted or not) in a head-cutting contest: Priceless:



Listen to that crowd -- they love him! Much as I like Mitt Romney as a policy wonk -- and I do hope he has a senior financial role in the McCain administration, perhaps Treasury Secretary -- I just can't picture Romney being able to connect with a young audience as John McCain does.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 2, 2008, at the time of 3:46 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Date ►►► April 1, 2008

Name That Personage...

Hatched by Dafydd

Who am I?

I am the son of a privy counselor and slightly royal by blood, and I'm the first member of my family to attend school of any kind.

I attended a mission school with other members of the royal family. I eventually went to university, where my best friend was the heir to the throne of one of the tribes -- hence a great supporter of the reservations that dotted the country, widely seen as perpetuating the laws preventing members of my race from voting or participating in the larger government. Despite that friendship, I began protests against legal racism at college... and I was expelled for leading a boycott.

I fled my home town to avoid an arranged marriage and headed to the capital city. After graduating from university by mail, I attended law school. But when the National Party was elected, pressing for much more discriminatory Jim Crow-like laws, I joned the Defiance Campaign and the Congress of the People, where we adopted the Freedom Charter.

I opened a law firm with a close friend, and we provided free or nearly free legal help to oppressed blacks. Mohandes Ghandi was my great hero. But then, at age 38, I was arrested for treason. I was acquitted, along with 150 co-defendants.

At this point, I became deeply involved in the Communist movement, where my party began accepting significant funding from Moscow. I took up arms against my country. I sabotaged military and government facilities; and despite my earlier admiration for the founder of non-violence, I planned with my comrades to launch a guerilla war. I knew there would be casualties, but you can't make an omlet without breaking a few legs. I believed that the violence of my country's government made non-violent resistance useless.

I went underground for a year and a half, but I was arrested again at age 54. I was convicted of leading a strike and trying to leave the country without permission and sentenced to five years in prison. A year later, while still in prison, I was tried on new charges of sabotage and treason with a number of my co-conspirators in my party. I pled guilty to the former but denied the latter. At trial, I defended the use of violence after the Sharpesville Massacre. I closed my defense thus:

During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the... people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

I was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. I spent the next twenty-seven years behind bars, first at Robben Island, then Pollsmoor Prison. I was offered release after 21 years, but only if I renounced violence and revolution. I refused and remained at Pollsmoor.

Over the next decade, my country's racist white government was voted out, and a much less discriminatory government voted in. At age 71, I was at last unconditionally released from prison by the new president of my country. He and I jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize three years later. And the next year, at age 75, I was the first black man to be elected president of my country.

So...who am I?

Yes, you guessed right... according to the Pulitzer Prize winning feminist and author of the Color Purple, Alice Walker, I am Barack Obama!

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 1, 2008, at the time of 1:00 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

California's new kind of vehicle checkpoint

Hatched by Dave Ross

The California Highway Patrol announced this week that towns around the state will introduce a completely new kind of vehicle checkpoint.

Officer Oliver Brownstain, an agency spokesman, explained that officers will conduct intelligence tests of drivers and confiscate the keys of drivers who fail to pass them.
The checkpoint will be set up along the busiest sections of road in each city and could entail delays of up to 90 minutes for each driver, depending on how stupid they are.

According to Brownstain, “In January of 2008 SB 28284 took effect. This bill, popularly known as the 'Driving While Stupid,' law, mandates that California’s drivers demonstrate that they are intellectually capable of operating a motor vehicle. ”The law exempts some vehicles, such as Humvees."

He added, without cracking a smile, “If you think that this law is unnecessary, then we probably want to talk to you further.”

Motorists taking the test will first be asked to get out of the car and go stand in the corner of a circle. The assistant testing officer will offer to hold any small bags of marijuana that they may be carrying on their person while they take the test.

Drivers’ keys will be examined for scorch marks, a sign of the operator attempting to insert the key into the cigarette lighter instead of the ignition.

The test will not be a rehash of the existing driver’s test that most motorists are required to pass when they first apply for a license. It will consist of multiple-choice questions such as: If a homeless person holding a sign asking for donations stands at the on ramp to a freeway, do you:

  1. Put the parking brake on before you come to complete stop to give him some money?
  2. Pass him first, and then stop and go into reverse in order to give him a donation?
  3. iIgnore him and continue drivng?

Another asks: The best way to stop a car is:

  1. By shifting into reverse;
  2. By running out of gas;
  3. With your foot.

The law is considered a companion to a law that will take effect in July requiring motorists to use hands free devices when operating a cell phone.

Legislative researcher Hans Frei, after whom that law was named, explained the reasoning: “We figure that most people are really too intellectually challenged to figure out how to use hands free devices. So this law will catch them, too. You must realize that the purpose of traffic laws, contrary to popular belief, is to generate income for the state, not make people safer. We thought about lowering the speed limit on freeways to 35 mph, but this seemed to be less of a hassle to enforce.”

The new law is being introduced with a marketing campaign. Its slogan: “If you’re stupid, we want your car keys,” is starting to show up on billboards all over the state of California.

Brownstain emphasized that drivers seen sounding out the syllables on the billboards will be subject to being pulled over.

The campaign will include TV and YouTube personalities particularly associated with stupidity, such as Dom Deluise, Jessica Simpson, Lindsey Lohan, Jade Goody and Paris Hilton. Britney Spears is honorary chairman. At several large cities in the state local news anchors will take turns as honorary spokesmen. In New York a similar law is being introduced with Eliot Spitzer as celebrity spokesman.

Officer Brownstain conceded that these checkpoints may entail some inconvenience to motorists and might even possibly cause some people to miss airline flights, doctor’s appointments and funerals.

“That’s the way it goes,” he remarked.

When confronted by a reporter who asked if this wasn’t a callous disregard for the rights of motorists, he chuckled and asked the reporter: “Where are you parked?”

He then commented, “We’re taking a page from our TSA brothers who have long held that the more they make people wait in line and the more humiliations they subject them to, the more they can justify their salaries. And while I wouldn’t want to bring up the current budgetary problems in Sacramento, I’m sure we could make these logjams move a little less like molasses if we were paid a living wage. Just a thought.”

The law was passed after intense lobbying by Mothers Against Dumb Driving, and S.M.A.R.T. (Single Matrons Against Retarded Transportation).

It was opposed by YTYSM (You Think Your So Smart!) an organization dedicated to ending discrimination in the workplace on the basis on non-performance. YTSYM plans to have demonstrators at various checkpoints throughout the state.

“It’s bad enough that workers are required to be on time and do their jobs without mistakes. Now they are making it harder for us to get to work by making us know how to drive! It’s unfair!”

Officer Brownstain explained that CHP hopes to use the checkpoints as a way of improving public relations with local residents.

“We know that we’ll have folks as a captive audience so we might as well have a good time. We’ll serve refreshments, including doughnuts and coffee, which is always a big favorite with us.”

Hatched by Dave Ross on this day, April 1, 2008, at the time of 12:02 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

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