Category ►►► Civics 101
July 31, 2013
When Worlds Collide
The fatal encounter between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman was brought about by the opposing aspects of male identity that the respective principals were seeking for themselves. These identities, mostly idealized until the night of the incident, collided when both were acted upon.
Zimmerman desperately wanted to be in law enforcement, to be a protector of the community and seen as such. His law-enforcement studies, his carry permit, his neighborhood watch involvement, and his own statements attest to this -- and the prosecution and media disparaged him for all of these things.
Martin, ten years younger, wanted a different identity; his self-portraits with bling, a firearm, and marijuana suggests that he sought "street cred" and identified with activities and attitudes that he believed would confer such status on him. The gun and the interest in developing his physical combat skills could be completely unrelated to any desire for gangsta credentials; but in this case, taken together with his school suspensions, his attire, his mode of speech, and the photos on his cell phone, the connection seems clear.
It may well be that when young Martin set out for the store, only snacks, not trouble, were on his mind. But sometime between his first sighting of Zimmerman and the moment when Martin threw the punch that broke Zimmerman's nose, that intention clearly changed.
No theory of the encounter will comfort Martin's parents. No rehash of the facts will satisfy every protester or armchair analyst. Martin and Zimmerman could each have made different, conciliatory, or at least de-escalating choices at many points on the timeline. But these two facets of male identity are so antithetical to one another by nature, it is no surprise that they often collide in the field.
Given time and guidance toward better aspirations, Martin might well have outgrown his identification with the trappings of the gangsta lifestyle as a path to respect. But the door to that alternative future began to shut when Martin eschewed a clear chance to go home or just talk to Zimmerman, and instead lingered in anticipation of confrontation. The door slammed shut when Martin either threw the first punch (as I believe he did), or at least pressed the attack when Zimmerman went down.
In the final scene, Zimmerman fired a single, fatal shot, driving the deadbolt home. But given Trayvon Martin's life trajectory, the same sad ending might well have eventually happened, even if Martin had never crossed paths with George Zimmerman.
July 7, 2010
...And Now You Don't!
I began yesterday's lone post with this preamble:
The first clue that a new governmental policy is boneheaded is that the promulgating administration instantly attempts to "clarify" its pronunciamento.
The decision to prevent access by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees to various categories of website, one of which comprised those with "controversial opinion," was simultaneously so tendentious and so risible that I fully expected a speedy withdrawal.
Alas, I blinked, and I missed it:
After intense media scrutiny, the Transportation Security Administration on Tuesday backed off a new policy that would have restricted employees from visiting "controversial opinion" sites at work.
Employees at the TSA were initially informed last Friday that five categories of websites would be blocked on internal computers. They included: chat/messaging, criminal activity, extreme violence and gruesome content, gaming and controversial opinion.
But following questions about how broadly the last category would be interpreted, the TSA sent around an e-mail to employees on Tuesday saying "controversial opinion" sites would not be blocked.
So a policy that was likely implemented after months of discussion and planning, amid what one would expect to include numerous findings of fact and policy, and touted as a necessary measure to eliminate "increased security risk," is promulgated on a Friday -- then partially voided four days later, in response to "intense media scrutiny!"
Can there be any clearer admission, short of outright confession and penance, that adding sites containing "controversial opinion" to the banned list was purely political, never related to actual security concerns?
The TSA, likely at the direction of Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, tries to sneak through a provision to stop employees from viewing sites that pay insufficient homage to the settled questions of the liberal Vision. Had it worked, I'm sure the same orders would have been issued to every other federal agency, administration, and department in the federal government, and might become the basis for many left-leaning states to follow suit.
Instead, such bastions of conservatism as CBS News pick up the story and run it, quite properly, as a massive assault on freedom of speech. So the Obama administration sheepishly draws back a stump and utters an Emily-Litella-esque, "Never mind!"
The Barack H. Obama administration, far from being "post-partisan," is the most intensely partisan and politicized administration in my lifetime, possibly in the entire twentieth and twenty-first centuries. At least the ultra-liberal Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Richard Nixon administrations had occasional real-world problems that they had to deal with, and did so on the basis of reality and pragmatism. By contrast, I don't believe the Obamunists have made a single decision, drafted a single policy, or made a single, cynical appointment, with any thought in mind other than how it would play politically.
That is a breathtaking record that likely won't be repeated before I leave this planet (one way or another).
July 6, 2010
TSA CYA - Now You See It...
The first clue that a new governmental policy is boneheaded is that the promulgating administration instantly attempts to "clarify" its pronunciamento.
The initial edict was as indefensible as it was inexplicable:
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is blocking certain websites from the federal agency's computers, including halting access by staffers to any Internet pages that contain a "controversial opinion," according to an internal email obtained by CBS News....
It states that as of July 1, TSA employees will no longer be allowed to access five categories of websites that have been deemed "inappropriate for government access."
Four of the blocked categories make at least some sense: chatting and messaging sites (potential security breach), sites devoted to engaging in criminal activity (duh), sites depicting "extreme violence" (where one can watch jihadist beheading videos, for example), and gaming sites (we don't want government employees playing online poker or HALO on taxpayer time). But then there's the joker -- websites that provide "controversial opinion."
The email does not specify how the TSA will determine if a website expresses a "controversial opinion."
But I bet I can guess...
The e-mail was sent Friday afternoon (the day after it officially went into effect -- how well timed!); the story ran on CBS's website Saturday; and today (Tuesday), the TSA was already scrambling to "explain" what the heck it was doing. The pushback spin, however, was one of those "non-explanatory explanations":
In response, the TSA sent the following statement to CBS News Tuesday:
"TSA routinely makes improvements to our information technology systems to stay ahead of evolving cyber threats to keep our systems secure. As part of this continued effort, TSA uses a security technology to limit access to categories of web sites that pose an increased security risk. TSA does not block access to critical commentary about the organization and in fact expressly created the TSA IdeaFactory and the TSA Blog to promote diverse opinions. TSA employees will be able to access web sites required for work purposes."
So the reason they must block employee access to websites with "controversial opinion" is that, in order to "keep [their] systems secure," they must "limit access to categories of web sites that pose an increased security risk." There, what could be clearer or more convincing?
Thus one presumes that the Drudge Report, Power Line, the National Review Online, Fox News, the Washington Times online, and the Washington Examiner online might all pose such immediate and obvious security risks that blocking them is a no-brainer: They interfere with employees suckling at the teat of (uncontroversial) liberal orthodoxy.
The TSA Administrator is currently John S. Pistole, a former Deputy Director of the FBI; but he was just recently appointed in May and confirmed by the Senate on June 25th. Since I assume this policy was in the works longer than one week before being announced last Friday, it's probably the baby of Pistole's predecessor, Acting Director Gale Rossides.
But in reality, the TSA is part of the Department of Homeland Security; so the real capa dei capi is Janet Napolitano, President Barack H. Obama's intensely politicized administrative protégé, acolyte, and all-around groupie. If nothing else, blame the policy on the Democratic culture of suppression.
From the very beginning, the Obama administration has fought tooth and nail against freedom of speech, in both its aspects -- speaking out, and hearing what others have to say:
- Obama's attempts to freeze out Fox News;
- His administration's initial refusal to give interviews to any news medium that didn't already share "the Vision;"
- His refusal, for more than three hundred days, even to hold a press conference;
- His staggering use of "policy czars" to keep all decision-making within the administration (and under the rose), not even allowing the ultra-Democratic Congress into the inner circle of knowledge;
- His repeated invocation of "national security" and "executive privilege" -- more than any president since Richard Nixon! -- to clam up his federal employees and keep the public in the dark;
- His bitter opposition to allowing campaign expenditures (themselves a form of speech) by corporations, in order to balance those routinely made by unions.
And his threats to employees to zip it -- or face termination, or possible prosecution, as in the recent disclosures about the Justice Department killing the already-won case against the New Black Panther Party. One career federal prosecutor was exiled to South Carolina (ending his career); another had to resign, giving up his career voluntarily, in order to be free to speak out.
In each case, Obama has made it clear that freethinking, open discussion, and especially "controversial opinion" was neither valued nor tolerated in his administration. Under pure Obamunism, only the truth is allowed to be spoken -- where "the truth" equals the catechism of the radical Left.
Of course, Barack Obama is not the first "progressive" to see dissent as at best a nuisance -- and at worst, a criminal act; consider Woodrow Wilson's signing of the Sedition Act of 1918, which in his administration included any "'disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language' about the United States government, its flag, or its armed forces or that caused others to view the American government or its institutions with contempt," is a direct precedent.
So why should we be shocked that someone in his administration -- whether Rossides, Napolitano, or the big B.O. himself -- has troubled to codify that antipathy to free speech in an internal e-mail?
The only "hope and change" we have left is that we can begin undermining his anti-American power base this November, and that this task will continue through the presidential election of 2012.
That's when the real work begins, of course, trying to undo six years of Alinskyite radicalism before it metastasizes to a terminal cancer in the American body politic, economy, and culture.
March 2, 2007
Dividing the Tar Baby
Or, the text and subtext of black gold
This AP story amazes; it manages to encapsulate, in a very few words, the essence of what is happening overall in Iraq; what America's role in the transmutation; and even points to the challenges and achievements still to come.
This is a tale of shrinking the Non-Integrating Gap, one country at a time; and this is exactly how it will be done:
The Iraqi Cabinet approved draft legislation Monday to manage the country's vast oil industry and divide its wealth among the population, a key U.S. benchmark for progress in this country. The legislation now goes to parliament for approval....
All major parties [of the Shia, the Kurds, and the Sunni] have agreed to work for approval of the measure by May, but there are no guarantees in Iraq's fractious, sectarian political system.
There it is in a nutmeg: Representatives of the entire country of Iraq have finally agreed that their own economic and political interests are best served by constructing a national rule-set for divvying up the oil leases, oil contracts, and oil revenue -- rather than every Arab for himself.
We all hope it will pass parliament; but even if it does not, the impetus is there: The government will simply amend the bill to take the objections into account and try again, and eventually it will pass.
That's not Gap thinking; that's Core thinking. And it's beautiful to see.
But wait, what exactly is the deal? Is it really fair and just to every province?
Under the measure, revenues will be distributed to all 18 provinces based on population size -- a concession to the Sunnis whose central and western homeland has relatively few proven reserves. Most of Iraq's oil is in the Kurdish north and Shiite south, and many Sunnis fear they would be cut out of a fair share....
Under the oil legislation, regional administrations will be empowered to negotiate contracts with international oil companies. The contracts will be reviewed by a central government committee in Baghdad headed by the prime minister.
Note the strong appeal to an almost American-style Federalism: the central government does not control how the provinces or regions distribute their oil revenues, nor is the ultimate power to negotiate held close by parliament. Instead, the regions or provinces can negotiate deals, subject only to a veto by the national government. This is a huge improvement from the traditional parliamentary system, which is Nationalist, not Federalist (the central government decides everything and tells the states, provinces, or prefectures what to do).
All Iraqi provinces get a per-capita share of the revenue, whether they actually produce oil or not. This represents the long-awaited recognition by Iraqis that they'll all in this game together. The Sunni may not have any oil, but they carry out other services (anything high tech, for example) that enables the oil to flow... and without the cohesion of a unified national state, there would be no oil to pump or sell.
But why is it so important to come up with a new economic rule-set for oil revenues and contract negotiation? Why don't the majority Shia just seize all the oil revenues from the southern fields and let the Kurds keep all the revenue from the north? Why not just have warlords and tribal leaders control everything, using oil as a way to bribe the West, as Saddam always did?
Because they desperately want foreign investment, which further integrates Iraq into the global economy:
A new law is needed, most outside experts believe, to encourage international companies to pour billions into Iraq to repair pipelines, upgrade wells, develop new fields and begin to exploit the country's vast petroleum reserves, estimated at about 115 billion barrels.
According to Iraqis familiar with the deliberations, the draft law would offer international oil companies several methods to invest, including production-sharing agreements. Those would give U.S. and other international companies a substantial share of the oil revenues to recover their initial investments and then allow them big tax breaks.
The correlation is absolute: Iraq needs the huge Western companies, with their staggering financial and engineering resources, to heavily invest in the oil fields in order to fully exploit their potential value. But such companies as Exxon-Mobile and Royal Dutch Shell will not invest any significant money at all -- unless they are assured that there is a just, fair, and predictable rule-set that will ensure Iraq doesn't treat them like Hurricane Hugo in Venezuela:
- There must be strict rules governing who gets what from each deal;
- The rules must be in writing and known in advance;
- The interpretation of rules must be consistent from contract to contract; you cannot have a tax of 10% suddenly become a tax of 30% because a creative judge decided the government needed more revenue;
- There must be a civil-court system that has actual teeth and will treat all litigants with fairness and justice;
- Above all else, business wants stable growth: they hate surprises... and a system like Iraq had under the late and unlamented dictator was full of 'em. Every time Saddam's mood changed, so would change the contracts, like a weathervane.
This new law -- when passed by parliament -- will go a long, long way towards reassuring "big oil" that they will make a profit, that they will be able to predict the profit, and that the profit (or even the original investment) won't be "nationalized" away from them, and that they won't be forced to pay a bribe at the drop of a turban.
But did the United States have anything to do with this? Are we doing anything in Iraq besides killing people and breaking things? I'm glad you asked:
The tortuous negotiations are reminiscent of the intense American arm-twisting, public pressure and backroom dealmaking that have pushed nearly every step in Iraq's political transformation since the U.S.-led invasion nearly four years ago.
The process sometimes has produced agreements that enabled Washington to declare success but ultimately created a new set of problems -- such as a divisive 2005 election that invigorated the Sunni insurgency, and a new constitution that the U.S. now acknowledges must be amended substantially to bring peace.
Hey, how about that? Is this perhaps the first time that the Associated Press has admitted that America has been working just as hard to build a nation, where once there was only a criminal state, as we have to kill the bad guys?
And notice now negatively AP sees this process: How else do they expect a nascent country like Iraq to make the painful transition from tribalist, traditionalist Gap state to Core state but by being dragged, kicking and screaming all the way? And that "new set of problems" they worry about is akin to the new challenges faced by a child when he transitions to being a teenager.
We are giving Iraq a future; we are slowly raising them to Core status. In a generation, Iraq will be a free, stable democracy with a very significant per-capita GDP... and they will be our allies. How do I know this? Because fellow Core nations always end up allied against states and transnationals in the Gap.
(Yes, even France: they're not doing any fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan because they're incapable of doing so, due to decades of neglect of their military obligations. But they are helping us in many other ways, from intelligence gathering to police training to helping with technological upgrades.)
There are problems; traditionalists (religious and nationalist) will fight against Iraq integrating with the global economy, the global legal assumptions, and most especially the global communications grid. They'll scream and lash out against internet porn and trashy Hollywood movies. Heck, Tipper Gore did a pretty good job lashing out herself against smutty rap lyrics, right here in the United States.
And as far as amending constitutions, of course Iraq will have to do so! As major problems or challenges arise, they must change their operating system to take them into account. For heaven's sake, we ourselves have amended our own Constitution twenty-seven times -- the last time as recently as 1992. (We even used one Genie wish to unwish a previous wish.)
This is a spectacular breakthrough... but AP is so mired in Bush Derangement Syndrome and so terrified that a Republican might win the presidency in 2008 that they don't even recognize what is happening right under their collective proboscises. (Or worse: They do, but they hope that we don't!)
This single act is just as important as our security operation, the enactment of the Iraqi constitution, and the parliamentary vote... because it's the first really big example demonstrating that the constitution and the government actually work to benefit the Iraqi people, all of them, in "real time." Their rule-sets are not purely ornamental, as with the "constitution" of the old Soviet Union (whose only function was to serve as a Potempkin document.)
Similarly, in our own history, the four "Organic Laws of the United States of America" comprise four documents:
- The Declaration of Independence;
- The Articles of Confederation;
- The Constitution;
- And the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.
Why that last? Because that act of Congress created the Northwest Territory... the first expansion of the United States beyond the foundational thirteen states. The Northwest Ordinance was the first real demonstration that America was to be a real country, not simply a historical quirk, stifled in its cradle by the inability to grow and eventually reabsorbed back into Mother England.
For a country to thrive (or even exist) in actuality, it needs not only an intellectually rigorous set of rules; it must also demonstrate that those rules can actually operate for the good of its citizens in the crucible of the real world. Because of the Nothwest Ordinance, and because of the new oil-sharing law (when it's finally approved), we can honestly say that the United States and Iraq are more "real" than the United Nations -- which consists of unbridled intellectualism deliberately divorced from any real-world application.
I say that's a hell of an achievement by our "decider" in la Casa Blanca, one with which he is not generally credited, even by Republicans.
December 26, 2006
The Way the Future Wasn't
Talk about "the biter bit," or perhaps people getting their "just desserts" -- Iran appears to be running out of oil, or more accurately, running out of oil revenues:
Iran earns about $50 billion a year in oil exports. The decline is estimated at 10 to 12 percent annually. In less than five years, exports could be halved, and they could disappear by 2015, Stern predicted. [Roger Stern is "an economic geographer at Johns Hopkins University."]
The problem is that they're pouring so much of their revenue into their military, into terrorist groups like Hezbollah (and now Hamas), and into nuclear research -- that they have neglected to reinvest in oil exploration and extraction technologies.
Surprise, surprise... another socialist economy that lives in the present and ignores the future. In this case, it allows us to refine our thesis.
We've known for some time that atheism is both a symptom of, and the cause of a lack of belief in the future; when one doesn't believe in the future, one lives for today, and to hell with tomorrow. (Think of Europe, as Mark Steyn notes, where birthrates have plummeted to about half replacement-rate in countries like Spain; a society that does not envision a future does not have children, and vice versa.)
But evidently, there are also some religions that care only about amassing power today and do not think about tomorrow... those religions whose god is concerned more about obeisance to sterile, mindless rituals than about creating a just and decent life for Mankind on Earth (see the comments in Jihadis With Yarmulkes for my definition of "sterile rituals").
They may obsess about "the end times," but not about next year -- and certainly not about 2015! Ahmadinejad doubtless believes that the Twelfth Imam will have returned long before then, so the oil revenues won't matter a whit: Allah will provide for Iran from the treasures of the shattered infidels and dhimmi.
Once again, we see the intimate relationship between what Dennis Prager calls "ethical monotheism" and what we call "futurism," the belief that there is a future that will be controlled by humans for a long time; and that therefore, we had better think very carefully about how our behavior today affects our options in that anthropogenic future.
Note that neither James Watt nor Ronald Reagan ever said that it doesn't matter how many trees we cut down, because Jesus is coming back soon. That supposed quotation is in fact a fabrication of the secular Left. Neither did they believe that, because they believed -- this is integral to the faith of the vast majority of evangelicals -- that since no man knows when Jesus will return (or for Jews, when the messiah will come for the first time), we must therefore create a just and decent society today, and one that will sustain into the undetermined future.
Thus does it appear that the social belief in ethical monotheism is essential for a society to be capitalist, individualist, and to provide liberty.
This is true even if some individual agnostics or atheists are perfectly capable of supporting capitalism, individualism, or liberty themselves (though that's not the betting line): such folks are exceptional... but society needs belief to enforce due consideration of tomorrow and tomorrow's tomorrow: you cannot build a self-sustaining culture out of the exceptions.
August 14, 2006
Ocupado - a Lemma
Throughout history, occupation has always required the consent of the occupied, for the same reason that a government always requires the consent of the governed: it's not just a good idea, it's a law of human nature.
It flows from the theory of "hegemony" enunciated by Italian Communist Antonio Gamsci at great length in his Prison Notebooks (he was imprisoned by the Fascists for the last ten years of his life). I generalized his theory to remove the Communist elements.
In my reformulation, Hegemony is the perceived fitness to rule. What is a king? A man in a robe with a shiny hat. He tells other men -- bigger and better armed -- to risk their lives invading some other country; what makes them obey?
Hegemony. They have chosen to consent to his rule. It may be because his father was king before him, or because the high priests said God chose him, or just because he speaks with the voice of authority. If ever the hegemonic chain is broken, he becomes just an unpleasant, old man in a robe and shiny hat, which any one of the palace guards can take away and put on another head (remember Claudius hiding behind the curtain). Only hegemony holds them back.
Remember, "hegemony" is the perceived fitness to rule, which results in social consent; it need not be the reality of simple brute force. Elizabeth I of England was one of the most powerful monarchs that nation ever had... yet she herself had virtually no army; she had a bunch of noblemen who loved her with a passion, and she "borrowed" their armies to keep England strong.
A mugger can force you to hand over your wallet at gunpoint; but it takes a government with hegemony to get you to consent to pay your taxes, even when nobody is looking.
In democratic countries, hegemony flows from the vox populi via the medium of an election and is conditioned upon the ruler's willingness to follow certain written guidelines. In dictatorships, it flows from the decision of the top military officers to follow the dictator, and the junior officers to follow the leaders, and the ordinary soldiers to kill their friends and neighbors upon orders from the junior officers.
But in an occupied country, the chain of hegemony is severed: the old king or president is deposed and probably dead, and no new one has been allowed to be set up by the normal procedures. Thus, whether the occupier can rule depends upon whether he can establish his own chain of hegemony over the occupied, persuading them to obey his commands even when the occupying forces are busy elsewhere.
Thus, occupation requires the consent of the occupied, and the lemma is demonstrated.
March 30, 2006
The Two Branches of Government
Just forget everything. Forget everything They ever taught you -- it's garbage anyway.
Yeah, yeah, I know what you learned; I learned it too. There are three branches of federal government, not two:
But those are just the branches of the temporary government, the elected/appointed wing. There is another wing of the government... the permanent government. And that comprises only two branches:
- The State branch
- The Defense branch
The permanent (or "bureaucratic") wing of government prevails from Congress to Congress and across all administrations. It never disappears; new members are simply assimilated, Borg-like, into the massmind. Old members are sloughed off like a snake shedding its skin to expose the bright, pink, new skin beneath... which in mere hours looks just like the old skin (and believe me, thisssss is sssomething I have sssssssstudied.)
In each administration, one or the other branch of the permanent government is ascendant. You can always tell which branch by which secretary is stronger -- the Secretary of Talkfare or the Secretary of Warfare:
During the Bush-43 administration, Defense is on the rise. Clearly Rumsfeld trumps Rice, just as he trumped Powell. The vice president is a former secretary of Defense, and the president defers to the generals on all war-related issues. Even State is the former National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice.
You can also tell because the Central Intelligence Agency -- a creature of the State Department (see below) -- is on the warpath against the president.
During Clinton, State was on top. Does anybody even remember who Clinton's three Secretaries of Defense were? I think it was Bill Cohen and a couple of other guys. Something to do with skiing... who was that?
But everybody remembers Madeleine Albright -- "Madam" -- and Warren Christopher (often confused with Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones). They ran foreign policy; they ran domestic policy; they even ran Clinton's wars.
- And George H.W. Bush was a total State Department guy, through his longtime association with the CIA and his connections with an earlier State-Department administration, the Nixon/Ford-Ford/Rockefeller administration... is it even possible to get more "State" than Nelson Rockefeller? That was such a State administration -- two diplomacy nuts as president and Hammerin' Hank Kissinger bridging between them -- as was Bush-41, that one could almost see the heavy, heavy Defense orientation of the current presidency as the Revenge of the Jilted Defense Secretaries: Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld.
- Reagan was purely a Defense-driven presidency, just as the current one. His Secretaries of State (Haig and Schultz) were strong capable men... but it was the late, great Cap Weinberger who ran policy, with the first campaign being run by Reagan's favorite advisor, William Casey.
Casey was an odd duck: he ran the CIA, so you would think he leaned towards State. But in fact, he was an old OSS man... and the OSS -- often wrongly called the CIA's predecessor -- was run by War, not by State.
In fact, the creation of the CIA via the National Security Act of 1947 was a triumph of State over War; World War II was over, and Harry Truman was president. The old OSS of "Wild Bill" Donovan had been dissolved two years earlier and played little role in the new agency; the Company was always oriented towards playing the "Great Game" during the Cold War, diplomacy under official cover. They even primarily operate out of embassies!
It's maneuver and counter-maneuver, spy vs. spy, best exemplified by the moral ambiguity and relativity of John le Carré's writings from the 1960s and 1970s (contrast them with Ian Flemming's James Bond series).
State presidents are usually caretakers, while Defense presidents are the only ones that get anything done. So it's no surprise that Clinton spent eight years diddling the interns, while Bush has spent five years overthrowing oppressive dictatorships, destroying giant, transnational terrorist groups, and bringing the country out of the recession left him by his predecessor.
- I think Roosevelt-32 was an exception to the rule: he seems to have made nearly every major decision himself, and neither his various Secretaries of State nor of War seem to have made much of an impression. Maybe one of each -- Cordell Hull (State until nearly the end) and Henry Stimson (the WWII War Secretary) -- are at least noticed and remembered; but everything from the New Deal to Yalta was run right out of the Oval Office.
During George W. Bush's Defense presidency, State's stalking horse, the CIA, has been doing everything possible to unseat him. During Clinton's State presidency, the Pentagon despised him.
So it goes.
A correct understanding of the vicissitudes of the permanent wing of the federal government explains absolutely everything that has ever puzzled you about American federal politics. If it doesn't... then you haven't understood it correctly.
February 4, 2006
Abbott and Costello Meet Radical Prophetism
Finally, amid current calls for "toleration" and "respect for belief," we need to be very clear about the distinction between religious toleration and religious freedom.
Religious toleration means not insulting somebody else's religion, and it is a good thing. But religious freedom means being free to reject somebody else's religion and even to insult it. Government should want and encourage its citizens to be tolerant of one another, but its primary responsibility is to protect its citizens' rights and freedoms. The fact that people are sometimes insulted is one cost of freedom. The Jyllands-Posten affair calls us to uphold that principle internationally as well as domestically.
This really puts it on a pistachio nutshell, and I agree completely with this. To break it down myself, herewith:
- This incident has nothing to do with the governments of any of the European countries, and they have no obligation -- indeed no right -- to "apologize" for what private newspapers chose to print; you cannot apologize for what somebody else has done, unless you control that person... and free nations do not control their presses.
- Nor does any of these governments have an obligation (or right) to force the newspapers to respect Moslem sensibilities.
- Notwithstanding the above, it was boorish, and therefore a bad thing, that the newspapers chose to print cartoons that insult Islam and offend Moslems... just as European (and American) newspapers are wrong to publish cartoons that ridicule Christianity or Judaism and offend Christians and Jews.
- One has a right to be boorish, but that does not make boorishness any less disrespectful to its target -- or degrading to the boor.
- When the victim of boorishness retaliates violently to the boor, or to third parties that have nothing to do with the churlish act, the governments and their citizens have a positive duty to defend against the attack.
Here is what has bothered me more than anything else about this whole, sordid affair: I want us to win this war against Islamist jihadism; that means we will have to win many battles.
The best way to ensure winning a battle is to be the one who picks its time and place. You want to pick a time when the enemy is not prepared and a place where he is at a discomfiting disadvantage.
But what has happened here is that the adolescent shenanigans of the newspaper staff has effectively thrown down the gauntlet, then allowed the jihadis to select the time and place of the battle. In fencing terms, the West sat back and allowed the militant Islamists to seize the right-of-way. The cartoons were published in September or October (people seem to differ)... and the agents provocateurs had more than three months to gather strength, whip the mobs into a frenzy, plan their strategy, and then to strike at a time and place of their own choosing, putting us immediately on the defensive.
Too, the insult partly undid more than eighteen months of careful, delicate, and strategic splitting of the ummah into one camp that supports freedom and democracy and another that preaches senseless violence. We have told the Moslem world that Zarqawi should be shunned because he does not distinguish between enemy soldiers and innocent civilians... and now the newspapers publish offensive cartoons that do not distinguish between jihadis and Moslems allied with the West.
Thanks, Danish MSM. Couldn't have done it without you.
We're cast willy-nilly into a defensive crouch again, right after the French riots finally subsided. Rather than advancing into enemy territory -- we're forced to defend our own. Again. ("Our" meaning the West's.)
Scott also quoted at length -- at great length -- from a press conference with Sean McCormack, spokesman for the U.S. State Department; McCormack made very clear the position of the administration (including the president) on this issue. I know you are all shocked to discover that the Antique Media misreported what McCormack said, but here it is:
Our response is to say that while we certainly don't agree with, support, or in some cases, we condemn the views that are aired in public that are published in media organizations around the world, we, at the same time, defend the right of those individuals to express their views. For us, freedom of expression is at the core of our democracy and it is something that we have shed blood and treasure around the world to defend and we will continue to do so. That said, there are other aspects to democracy, our democracy -- democracies around the world -- and that is to promote understanding, to promote respect for minority rights, to try to appreciate the differences that may exist among us.
We believe, for example in our country, that people from different religious backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds, national backgrounds add to our strength as a country. And it is important to recognize and appreciate those differences. And it is also important to protect the rights of individuals and the media to express a point of view concerning various subjects. So while we share the offense that Muslims have taken at these images, we at the same time vigorously defend the right of individuals to express points of view. We may -- like I said, we may not agree with those points of view, we may condemn those points of view but we respect and emphasize the importance that those individuals have the right to express those points of view.
That's it. The European newspapers had the right to print the cartoons, but it was wrong of them to exercise that right the way they did, to belittle people based upon their religion. In exactly the same way, while the Arab and Iranian presses have the right to print antisemitic garbage, to do so is reprehensible, and it will kill their souls. Not to mention moving them yet closer to crawling on their hands and knees, looking for the head they used to wear.
It was offensive and stupid; but now that it's been done -- like when Gen. Jack D. Ripper sent the bomber wing to nuke Russia in Dr. Strangelove -- we may have no alternative but to fight the enemy -- on his terms and our soil.
Europe seems to have two responses to Islamist jihadism: they either retreat and cower in fear... or else they drop trou and moon the entire Moslem world! The two modes are equally childish; can't Europe find some adults to take charge?
December 12, 2005
When Mob Violence May Actually Be a Good Thing
Violent attacks -- reprisals, now -- back and forth between the Arab-Moslem population of Cronulla, Australia (a southern suburb of Sydney) and the white Australian population are both disturbing and interesting. The Sydney Morning Herald reports:
Mobs of men have damaged a number of vehicles in an outbreak of fresh violence in the southern Sydney suburb of Cronulla tonight.
A reporter from radio station 2GB said "chaos" had broken out in the beach shopping centre with vehicles damaged and police making arrests as mobs of men roam the streets.
They're disturbing in that both the Arab-Australians/Arab immigrants and the white Australians are increasingly using race as a proxy for deciding whether a person is good or bad. Racism is the ugliest and lowest form of tribalism, in my opinion; and it's depressing to see it bubble forth whenever danger threatens. (It happens here too, when concerns about illegal immigration cross the line into generic immigrant bashing.)
But there is also an element of hope here... because mobs of patriots standing up to Moslem rioters is precisely the element that was missing from the recent riots in France, where nobody, it appeared, was willing to stand up for his country and culture.
After Australians were legally disarmed by repressive anti-gun legislation in 1996, following a highly publicized mass gun murder, violent crime in Australia increased markedly: from 1995 to 2001, assaults rose by 39% per 100,000, rape by 19%, and robbery by 70%... while all three categories of crime decreased during the same period in the United States, as many more states made it easier for civilians to get concealed-carry permits. The murder rate in Australia did decrease, but only by 11%; it plummeted 32%, three times as much, in the U.S. (Australian numbers from "the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as compiled and reported by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC)," then posted by the website linked above; American stats can be obtained online from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a division of the Department of Justice).
But even so, and even in despite of the racially tinged nature of the Australian mobs, there is still a refreshing brashness to the Aussies who will not "respond" to Moslem violence by sitting quietly in the dark and waiting for instructions from the hapless government. Of course, the Australian government is not "hapless," as the Chirac government in France was: it took Paris more than a ten days before they decided to "crack down;" and even then, the riots only receded when the rioters got tired and bored. The violence in France eventually ebbed down to the normal rate -- of 900 cars torched every night.
I trust John Howard a lot more than Jacques Chirac, or even Nicolas Sarkozy, French minister of the Interior (that is, the top cop in France -- and probably the next president). After the Sydney police warned about rampaging racism -- they seemed to apply the term only to the white rioters, not the Arab rioters -- Howard responded in a measured way, noting the danger of both racism and also hysterical charges of mass racism; the Sydney Morning Herald quotes the prime minister:
"Mob violence is always sickening,'' Mr Howard told reporters.
"Attacking people on the basis of their race, their appearance, their ethnicity, is totally unacceptable and should be repudiated by all Australians irrespective of their own background and their politics,'' he said.
"I believe yesterday's behaviour was completely unacceptable but I'm not going to put a general tag [of] racism on the Australian community.
"I think it's a term that is flung around sometimes carelessly and I'm simply not going to do so.''
Howard continued by warning that the police were not going to stand idle while lives were threatened and property damaged:
Mr Howard said he fully supported the actions of police at Cronulla and said that anybody who broke the law yesterday or on the previous weekend, when two lifesavers and a camera crew were assaulted, should be apprehended and prosecuted.
Mr Howard warned anyone considering further violent behaviour they would face the full force of the law.
Yet it remains to be seen whether he means it (and has the political power to carry through), or whether this is just tough talk. The French government talked very tough throughout the riots while doing virtually nothing for days. In the meanwhile, both sides have now tasted the wrong end of violence, and each knows that it can be burned as well. I expect this in itself will dampen enthusiasm for the fight.
Mob violence is always ugly, but we should think a second time before opining that it is always wrong; the Birmingham bombing was an act of mob violence -- but so was the Boston Tea Party. Like nearly everything else in life, nuance is important: the former was a horrific act of terrorism intended to frighten blacks into accepting American apartheid, while the latter was a legitimate act of protest against unrepresentative government.
In the Australian case, the mob might cut either way; but I have faith that the innate decency of Australian culture will steer sentiment towards defending Australian and Western values and away from the knuckle-dragging racial hatred we've seen in, e.g., Zimbabwe.
Of all the countries in the Commonwealth of Nations, I've always thought of Oz as the closest to America in spirit, even as it's the farthest in geographical distance.
September 16, 2005
Vamping Until Ready
I have a friend who is a professor of theater history (which came as news to me -- not that John would be such, but that such a position even existed!) He tells me of a theater expression, "vamping until ready." If I understand it correctly, it describes an actor up on the stage doing schtick until the real performance is ready to begin.
In a sense, that's what this post is: I'm writing it before I'm quite ready to go live with Big Lizards. But the phrase does an even better job of describing the absurd overreaction to a Reuters photo of President Bush writing the infamous "bathroom note" to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The note, which Bush allegedly wrote "during a Security Council meeting at the 2005 World Summit and 60th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York September 14," reads: "I think I may need a bathroom break? Is this possible?"
This causes great mirth among the Beavises and Buttheads of, not just the nation, but the world. For a generation raised on Saturday Night Live and Animal House, I suppose that's inevitable. But evidently, many on the left side of the aisle imagine this raises some serious issue... at least if Editor and Publisher can be believed:
A source at the Washington Post tells E&P that the paper is considering it for prominent play tomorrow morning, in the context that, at least in some minds, it raises questions about overall perception of the U.S. at the United Nations, right or wrong. Reuters reports extremely strong interest in the photo today.
The fact is, according to Reuters -- and this has not been widely reported -- President Bush did indeed take a bathroom break after passing the note to Rice.
This apparently raised some eyebrows around the room, because American representatives (among others) have a reputation for suddenly bolting, though normally for a far different reason than this latest one. Fair or not, the European press has already had a field day with the photo, often centering on the notion that Bush had to ask Rice for permission.
I don't actually find it humorous that a person trapped in an endless, gassy U.N. meeting might have to arise to use the facilities. But the idea that Europeans would think this meant that the president had to ask permission from the Secretary of State before doing so -- that I find hilarious!
Talk about vamping until ready, the world press is still desperate, after nearly five years, to find some issue -- any issue! -- that will finally take down the Bush presidency. And they're still tap dancing, waiting for the show to begin.
For the benefit of those in the creaky, old part of the world, the biggest problem the president has (any president of any political party) is to get members of his staff to tell him when they disagree with something he has said or plans to do. The presidential cabinet and staff tend rather to be too deferential, too respectful, almost to the point of awe.
Mike Deaver, Deputy Chief of Staff for Ronald Reagan, tells an anecdote about needing to cross Reagan's hotel bedroom in the middle of the night to get some important document. Deaver literally crawled on his hands and knees to avoid waking the president. There is a solemnity that encompasses the American presidency that -- to put it in terms Europe might actually understand -- is more akin to that of a monarch than a prime minister. This holds whether the president is Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, or George W. Bush: from George W. to George W., no president has ever had to "ask permission" from his staff to do anything.
Presidents have bullied their staffs, cajoled them, argued with them, demanded too much of them, let them run off and create their own little bureaucratic empires, fired them, and betimes even fought with them -- probably literally, at least back in the nineteenth century. But the one thing presidents have never done is ask permission from a cabinet member before doing something: the very last thing any president needs to be told is that he is the boss... nobody ever became president via timidity!
(Besides, there are many more logical explanations for the note (assuming Bush actually wrote it); the photographer who snapped the picture thinks Bush was just unsure of the Byzantine protocol of how one goes about excusing himself duing a Security-Council meeting -- something Rice would know better, having been at many in her capacity as National Security Advisor and now Secretary of State. My own idea is that Bush was asking Condi whether something urgent was about to be discussed for which his presence was required.)
There is a larger issue here. The meme that Bush would have to ask Condi for "permission" to go potty plays into the persistent absurdist fantasy of the Left that Bush is just a puppet, and the real power is (fill in the blank). First it was Karl Rove; then it was Dick Cheney; for a while, it was Karen Hughes, and then Paul Wolfowitz. I reckon it must be Condoleezza Rice now.
The Left, both at home and abroad, wants simultaneously to believe two contradictory absurdities: first, that President Bush has the IQ of an eggplant; and second, that President Bush is an evil genius, a Professor Moriarty. Ordinary people would realize that they sort of have to pick one and drop the other. But lefties, growing up believing you can have it all, baby, must find a way to integrate the two... hence the puppet meme: Bush is still a drooling moron, but the power behind the throne is the evil genius!
Once settling upon this peculiar view of the world, they must of course seize upon any opportunity to trumpet "evidence" of their shared hallucination. Hence, the "bathroom note" is adduced to prove that the president is really subordinate to his secretary of state: ahh-HAAA!
Oh well. I can hardly complain: they are obsessed with finding a less ego-shattering way to view the world than the frightening idea that a Texas businessman of mediocre educational attainments can kick their butts in six elections, walk on their spines with cowboy boots, and colonize them. You'd think their years of experience with Ronald Reagan -- and Lyndon Johnson before him -- would have gotten them used to the idea; but evidently, like a perpetually renewing virgin, the experience surprises them anew each time. And it causes the Left to stubbornly insist upon misunderestimating Bush again and again... to the benefit of America, and indeed the entire world.
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