The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

No Excuses

I have, on numerous occasions, lamented the strange and saddening de facto coalition that has formed between the angry-Left in the West and Islamofascists throughout the Middle East. It’s difficult for me to understand how progressives accept and often apologize for an ideology that is flatly opposed everything they hold dear.

And yet, people like Michael Moore say: “The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not 'insurgents' or 'terrorists' or 'The Enemy.' They are the revolution, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow - and they will win.” He says this about Islamofascist death squads who murder their fellow Moslems (civilian men, women and children) on a daily basis. Or Cindy Sheehan who says: “We were told that we were attacked on 9/11 because the terrorists hate our freedoms and democracy ... not for the real reason, because the Arab Muslims who attacked us hate our Middle-Eastern foreign policy.” So in other words, if you don’t like our Middle-Eastern foreign policy, the murder 3,000 civilians is understandable.

It’s reasonable to argue that Moore and Sheehan are far-Left ideologues or delusional idiots (I opt for the second choice, personally). But what seems to be happening is their toxic rhetoric and ideas are moving away from the fringes and into mainstream Leftist thinking.

But there is hope. British left-leaning journalist David Aaronovitch has produced a wonderful documentary, No Excuses for Terror, (hat tip: LGF) that is a thought-provoking look at the Left’s current attitudes and what they mean to the progressive movement. Every person interviewed --labor leaders, politicians, people on the street – is a liberal, and every one of them discusses this issue in a thoughtful way. The documentary is 40 minutes long and is well worth the time. One can only wonder why we never see anything like it among the many broadcast outlets in the USA.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Zeno’s paradox

Each of us has observed a predictable phenomenom that occurs when diplomacy is initiated. Talks make some “progress,” we get close to a solution or to "consequences" that will occur if a solution is not reached, talks continue, we may backslide a bit but then get closer to "consequences," we backslide a bit more, but continue talking, getting even closer to the "consequences," but more times than not, and virtually all of the time in the Middle East, we never get to a place where both parties can be satisfied and only rarely enact the promised "consequences."

It seems to me that representative from some Islamic countries in the Middle East play the game of diplomacy well, aided and abetted by Western diplomats and many intellectuals who believe that as long as we keep talking, everything is alright.

In an interesting piece at The Belmont Club, the on-going violence between Christian and Muslim militias in Indonesia is described. Each group works to slaughter the other with predictable atrocities on both sides. Observing the carnage, Wretchard comments:
Civilization was invented so that ordinary folks could leave the tasks of vengeance and justice to a state who would presumably dispense it impartially according to laws enacted by common consent. But as states fail to do their job, and as the "International Community" gets reduced to impotence and symbolic acts by the dead weight of political correctness, a growing number of people are finding themselves living in a world of increasing anarchy. Paradoxically, the amount of real civilization in the world -- as represented by actual security and effective governance -- is declining in direct proportion to the increase in the number of filigrees and curlicues in the treaties, declarations, understandings and covenants that the "International Community" has barricaded itself with. Two parallel universes begin to coexist. An imaginary universe obsessed with Global Warming, multiculturalism, world governance and image inhabited by bureaucrats and intellectuals, and a real universe shot with poverty, rife with ethnic hatreds, chaos and inhabited by militias; with the imaginary universe pretending it is in control of the real universe.

I don't want to make too much of a single example, but I think it is reasonable to say that the international system is starved for effective action. The incessant back and forth between the United Nations and Iran over the issue of its uranium enrichment program is classic example of Zeno's paradox as applied to international affairs. Every diplomatic moment halves the distance between warning and activity but the distance, though ever decreasing, never quite crosses the line between thought and deed. We will always almost, but never quite, come to the rescue of Darfur; just as we are condemned to be forever on the verge of stopping Iran's nuclear program. The moment of action never comes; and the process of warning never ends. Kofi Annan denied having advised Iran's Ahmadinejad that he could safely ignore the Security Council's demands to stop the uranium enrichment program. In this case Annan was on the side of right, or at least of fact. He should have admitted the accusation and defended himself by claiming he was only telling the truth.

At some level I want to follow those who believe that diplomacy is the only option when we are faced with a group or nation that threatens us. After all, it’s is far better to talk than to resort to "consequences." But then I think about the “real universe” and Zeno’s paradox.

Diplomats are a lot like a physician who sees life threatening symptoms in a patient, but has no clue about how to treat the illness. The physician may try a few palliative measures, but overall, he hope that the disease will run its course and the patent will get better on his own. I get the feeling that that’s what diplomats hope for – they just want to keep talking and maybe something might happen that will cause the problem to go away. It might, but then again, while they continue to talk, something else might be taking shape. And that something else can kill as surely as any fatal disease.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Assholes and Assassins

I once had a friend and colleague, who in fit of anger at other members of the faculty with whom we had major disagreements, looked at me and said, “What we’re dealing with here, folks, are assholes and assassins.” I laughed and never forgot his coarse but brutally accurate assessment of our adversaries.

As I watched Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad parade in front of the UN and give inflammatory speeches in colleges, forums, and churches in New York City, I couldn't help recalling my colleague's comment. But unlike harmless, if misguided, faculty members who posed no real threat, Chavez demonstrates the virulent anti-American sentiment that has pervaded the UN (and some institutions within the US) and Ahmadinejad demonstrates how a purveyor of a vicious Islamofascist ideology can appear to be almost reasonable as he lays plans to subjugate the West.

There is a consistent meme that pervades the speeches of both men. The West (really, the USA) is an hegemonic power, trying to control the actions and resources of “non-aligned” nations. All the world’s problems could be rectified if only the “devil” (George Bush) weren’t in office and the United States would reject “imperialism” and treat others with respect. It’s the same mime that the angry Left has been espousing for years.

Here we see Chavez change the Venezuelan constitution to stifle dissent, jail a labor leader (sentence: 16 years) for a perfectly legal work action, and rake in billions in oil revenue while his country’s poor suffer from historically high malnutrition. I’m not surprised that student’s at Cooper Union and a congregant’s of a church in NYC gave him a standing ovation. What a guy!

And Ahmadinejad, the leader of a country that funds terror groups who purposely murder innocents, that advocates the destruction of Israel (but don’t worry, he stated yesterday that he has “nothing against Jews”), that stifles dissent of any kind in the name of religion, that oppresses women in both small and significant ways, that ... the list is tediously long. I’m not surprised that he was warmly received by the UN general assembly.

Both men decry the tyranny of the West -- our media, our technology, our fashion, our culture, our impact on the world.

Armed Liberal at discusses this when he writes:
I don't delude myself enough not to believe that many people see our Western power as tyranny - and in some ways it has been and it is.

But the choices offered are not between the tyranny of Western values and institutions and an idealized freedom, but between the tyranny of MTV and Citibank to that of the burqua, public stoning, and the Ministry For The Protection Of Virtue.

So when you hear these “leaders” talk of tyranny, think of my friend's words: “What we’re dealing with here, folks, are assholes and assassins.”

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Many people are angered by “lies” that are attributed to the Bush administration. The President “lied” about WMDs, his Vice president “lied” about the relative ease with which Democracy would be introduced in Iraq, government spokespeople “lied” about progress in Afghanistan, government investigators “lied” about the likelihood that Iran is pursing nuclear weapons … the list of perceived “lies” is long -- very long.

For just a moment, let’s assume that each of these “lies” is exactly what it's claimed to be—a purposeful untruth that is intended to mislead and manipulate the people on the receiving end. It follows that the people on the receiving end of these lies would despair about the honesty of the government, would discount any claim or commitment made by the government, and would generally condemn the people doing the lying as dishonest and untrustworthy. Given the administration’s penchant for lying, it would be incumbent upon the main stream media to assess the government’s claims with a jaundiced eye, suggesting through words and style that any government claims are clearly suspect. In fact, these things have come to pass.

It troubles me, therefore, that other “lies” just don’t seem to excite the passion of the same groups that are so concerned about the Administration's “lies”. In other posts I’ve discussed documented, proven lies eminating from the Gaza via Hamas (e.g., "Pallywood"); fraudulent (that’s another word for lying) Israeli war crimes claims that Hezbollah has concocted (e.g., the Red Cross ambulance case), and 30 years of lies that the Iranian regime has used whenever they “negotiated” with any western entity. Of course, for those of us who are slowly learning a bit about Islam, this lying really isn’t lying– rather it’s called taqiya -- religiously sanctioned untruths designed to confuse and ultimately defeat the infidel.

Many of these lies are small, but their overall impact is insidious. For example, Michael Rubin relates how a small lie was used by Iran in a famous case of freedom of speech:

Iranian authorities showed diplomatic duplicity once again after Khomeini issued a declaration calling for author Salman Rushdie's death. Four months before Khomeini's death, then-president Khamenei demanded that Mr. Rushdie apologize in exchange for cancellation of a religious edict ordering his murder. Mr. Rushdie apologized, but the Iranian government nevertheless kept the bounty in place. President Khamenei was insincere, his diplomacy was a tactic. By winning an apology, he confirmed Mr. Rushdie's guilt.

When taken as a whole, this Web of lies is astonishing. But where is the outrage? Where are the media exposes? Why is it that the same people who have become so exercised about our government's lies purposely overlook continual and blatant lying on the part of various middle-eastern entities? Why is it that we’re asked to negotiate with these lying entities? How can we possibly believe that the promises and commitments derived through arduous negotiation will have meaning? Rubin comments about the calls for direct negotiation with Iran:
While diplomacy necessarily involves talking to adversaries, Washington should not assume that the ayatollahs operate from the same set of ground rules … . The Iranian leadership will say anything and do anything to buy the time necessary to acquire nuclear capability. That Foggy Bottom still advises against any strategy that might undercut the possibility of some illusionary breakthrough signals triumph not of realism but of negligence. Diplomacy cannot succeed if one side is playing for real and the other only for time.

But it does appear that lying will succeed, if it emanates from perceived “victims” and beleaguered nation states. Maybe that’s because the same people who are convinced that Washington is not telling the truth, want so badly to believe that Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran are.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Deliveryman

I decided to take a break from three major writing projects and spend a few hours writing a short story. I enjoy writing fiction, although I haven't had much success in that area of publishing. Be that as it may, my short story is a dark tale that I hope never comes to pass ... but it could. The story is called The Deliveryman. I hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Pope

The controversary surrounding the Pope’s comments about Islam grows as attacks by “outraged” Muslims, driven to violence by Imans after Friday’s prayer services, escalate. The New York Times , in an unintended irony of epic proportions, blames the messenger:
There is more than enough religious anger in the world. So it is particularly disturbing that Pope Benedict XVI has insulted Muslims, quoting a 14th-century description of Islam as “evil and inhuman.”

In the most provocative part of a speech this week on “faith and reason,” the pontiff recounted a conversation between an “erudite” Byzantine Christian emperor and a “learned” Muslim Persian circa 1391. The pope quoted the emperor saying, “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

… The world listens carefully to the words of any pope. And it is tragic and dangerous when one sows pain, either deliberately or carelessly. He needs to offer a deep and persuasive apology, demonstrating that words can also heal.

Tigerhawk provides an eloquent response:
This [The NYT editorial] is obscene. Apart from its factual inaccuracy -- there is no evidence that any of the enraged Muslims "listened carefully" to the words of the pope -- this is like blaming a beaten wife for provoking the bastard who throttles her. It is the leaders of prayers in the mosques of the Muslim world who call on their faithful to riot in the streets. It is they who sow pain and incite violence, and anybody unburdened by a loathing of Western civilization knows it. Pope Benedict has nothing to apologize for. The leading clerics of the Muslim world have a great deal to apologize for.

Neither the pope nor the Muslim clerics are the only actors here. Tens of thousands of Muslims chose to act in violence or condone violence yesterday. Millions more supported them in this, the evidence being that Muslim politicians jumped on the bandwagon. These millions of Muslims are hardly candles in the wind, helplessly manipulated by the imams. They chose their religion. They chose their mosque. They chose not to "listen carefully" to the words of the pope. They chose to take to the streets in rage, and they chose to burn and attack and kill perfectly innocent people, all on the say-so of one or another demagogue in a turbin. They are not children, however much the cultural relativists who absolve the rioters and their sympathizers infantalize them. I condemn these people for making bad choices; liberals, such as the editors of the New York Times, refuse to condemn them because they believe that Muslims are incapable of choices. I may deplore the choices of these rioting Muslims, but the New York Times holds them in contempt, regarding them as nothing more than wild animals. Just as we all blame humans who antagonize an animal into a violent response, the New York Times blames Westerners who "sow pain," as if Muslims have the free will of a cornered wolf.

For my part, I am sick of "Muslim rage." Whether inspired by the pope or Danish cartoonists or the clumsy use of the word "crusade" by a Western politician, there is simply no defense for the behavior of these imams and their followers. It is barbaric, and everybody who is not barbaric or an unreconstructed apologist for barbarians knows it. The Muslims who commit arson and mayhem in response to some Westerner speaking his opinion -- and the pope, as leader of the Roman church, is exactly that -- have chosen to act as enemies of reason, peace, and everything that is good in the world.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Saving Detroit

In a distressing article, entitled “Detroit Flails in Latest Effort to Reinvent Itself,” in today’s New York Times, Ford Motor Company announced that it would cut tens of thousand of jobs and would still not post a North American profit until 2009.
Despite insisting all this year that they had solutions to their financial struggles well in hand, both the Ford Motor Company and the Chrysler Group conceded Friday that the steps they had taken were not working and that more bad news was coming in one of the deepest auto industry crises in Detroit’s history.

Ford, which has held second place behind G.M. for 70 years, admitted for the first time that it would inevitably be ceding that spot to Toyota because of slumping sales and its decision Friday to close more factories and cut thousands of additional jobs. It also said it did not expect to make a profit in North America until 2009.

At the same time, the Chrysler Group, also pummeled by the decline in sales of big sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks, said it would report a loss for this summer of $1.5 billion, more than double what it had originally anticipated.”

I bought my last American-made in the 1970s. The car, a Ford Granada, was so poorly designed and so shabbily made that I swore never to buy another American car. The next car I bought was a vehicle manufactured by a small, almost unknown company, Toyota. It provided reliable transportation for almost 10 years. I kept my promise and I'm sure I'm not alone.

I laugh every time a Detroit senior exec pontificates on the changes that will be necessary to regain market share. Their strategy always boils down to massive job cuts, attempts to achieve other manufacturing efficiencies, and mergers and acquisitions. Textbook Detroit thinking.

Maybe it’s time for one of these automotive geniuses to recognize that cost cutting and linear innovation won’t save their companies. Maybe it’s time to try something new, something out-of-the-box.

Here’s an idea – build and aggressively market an electric vehicle (EV). The idea, anathema in Detroit for two decades, is one whose time has come. The objections to EVs are based on a number of myths: (1) that Americans won’t buy them because they don’t want them; (2) that their range precludes their use for most people and families; (3) that the technology simply isn’t there yet, and (4) we tried it in California in the 1980s and it failed.

All four myths are just that -- untruths and misinformation that have been fostered by the auto and oil industries.

Let’s take them one at a time:

Americans won’t buy EVs because they don’t want them. Economic realities and environmental concerns will drive interest and create a major market, one that could easily surpass the market for conventional SUVs. Gas prices are falling at the moment, but they will not fall forever. Every day, an article or TV expose’ on global warming appears. Marketing a vehicle that is 'green,' cost effective, and “cool” is a slam dunk. Americans can be convinced to buy virtually anything, if the marketing and sales strategy is right.

The mileage range for EVs precludes their use for most people and families. The vast majority of American drivers travel less that 60 miles each day. The range of modern EVs can extend to well over 100 miles. Are EVs right for everyone? No, but neither are 2-seat sports cars, pick-ups, or SUVs, yet Detroit has no trouble focusing on those market segments.

The technology simply isn’t there yet. Untrue! In the 1980s, GM built an EV that was truly remarkable in terms of technology and capability. It never adequately marketing the vehicle and then pulled all of them off the market and destroyed them. I wonder why? The technology has improved even more since then, and more importantly, as a market grows, technology improvement accelerates (think PCs).

We tried it in California in the 1980s and it failed. See the movie Who Killed the Electric Car? and you’ll learn why this is untrue.

So, think EVs Detroit, and maybe you’ll can regain your lost greatness. You got very little left to lose.

Friday, September 15, 2006


Many on the left and a few on the right argue that using coercive measures (a.k.a. "torture") to obtain information from terrorists crosses a moral line. Many others on the right argue that the potential to save many lives with the information acquired outweighs the moral qualms each of us might have. Although both sides argue in absolutes, I'm not sure things are quite that simple.

In a detailed article, “The Myth of the Ticking Time Bomb”, in The Progressive, Alfred McCoy argues against the use of all coersive measures to obtain information from a captured terrorist. He begins by noting that Jack Bauer (of “24” fame) isn’t for real and his methods (including mild torture) work only in the make-believe land of TV. Thanks for the heads-up, Mr. McCoy. And here I thought “24” was a real-life documentary.

His more serious and detailed argument begins with the following:
With torture now a key weapon [as argued by President Bush] in the war on terror, the time has come to interrogate the logic of the ticking time bomb with a six-point critique. For this scenario embodies our deepest fears and makes most of us quietly—unwittingly—complicit in the Bush Administration’s recourse to torture.

Number one: In the real world, the probability that a terrorist might be captured after concealing a ticking nuclear bomb in Times Square and that his captors would somehow recognize his significance is phenomenally slender.

I think McCoy is taking the ticking time bomb metaphor a bit too literally. Coersive measures are not necessarily time sensitive. Information obtained by wearing a subject down and making him uncomfortable can lead to knowledge that would allow us to foil a plot (possibly months away) that could result in a “ticking nuclear bomb in Times Square.”

It's also important to note that words matter. The word "torture" conjures images of electodes attached to sensitive body parts -- things that are still done in some parts of the world, and are, in the main, reprehensible. Coersive measures to acquire information rely on psychological stress -- unpleasant -- but not life threatening or physically painful. There is a difference.

In response to this argument McCoy recalls a recent case:
Take the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, who sat in a Minneapolis cell in the weeks before 9/11 under desultory investigation as a possible “suicide hijacker” because the FBI did not have precise foreknowledge of Al Qaeda’s plot or his possible role. In pressing for a search warrant before 9/11, the bureau’s Minneapolis field supervisor even warned Washington he was “trying to keep someone from taking a plane and crashing into the World Trade Center.” But FBI headquarters in Washington replied there was no evidence Moussaoui was a terrorist—providing us with yet another reminder of how difficult it is to grasp the significance of even such stunningly accurate insight or intelligence in the absence of foreknowledge.

Precisely. That's why we need multiple information sources – some attained using benign methods and a few using coercive methods, if required. It is the intersection of these information vectors that leads to our ability to “grasp the significance” of what we learn. McCoy would take away an important option for acquiring intelligence, reducing our abilities to develop multiple information vectors and the insight they might yield.

McCoy next argues against the efficacy of “torture:”
Number two: This scenario still rests on the critical, utterly unexamined assumption that torture can get useful intelligence quickly from this or any hardened terrorist.

McCoy argues that information acquired through coercive measures cannot be trusted. I’m not an expert, just an observer. I find it interesting that much of the actionable intelligence in the WoT comes from terrorists imprisoned in Middle Eastern countries (e.g., Pakistan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt). Their detainees often provide us with useful intelligence – quickly and with some degree of reliability. Yet, those terrorist detainees held within the USA tend to be much less forthcoming. I wonder why that is?

But McCoy counters:
After fifty years of fighting enemies, communist and terrorist, with torture, we now have sufficient evidence to conclude that torture of the few yields little useful information. As the ancient Roman jurist Ulpian noted 1,800 years ago, when tortured the strong will resist and the weak will say anything to end the pain.

A glib response, but I am unaware of any controlled studies that prove McCoy’s point. Furthermore, no one is suggesting that “pain” alone is the key. Stress, sleep deprivation, disorientation, uncertainty and many other psychological motivators may cause even the “strong” to crack. How can McCoy be so sure that these methods don’t work, and why is he willing forego them, even when no true pain is involved? Even if there is only a 10 percent chance of success, the effort might be worth it if thousands of deaths are avoided.

Number three: Once we agree to torture the one terrorist with his hypothetical ticking bomb, then we admit a possibility, even an imperative, for torturing hundreds who might have ticking bombs or thousands who just might have some knowledge about those bombs. “You can’t know whether a person knows where the bomb is,” explains Georgetown University Law Professor David Cole, “or even if they’re telling the truth. Because of this, you end up going down a slippery slope and sanctioning torture in general.”

Ah ... the old slippery slope meme. Using McCoy’s logic, we could also argue that providing even one Moslem graduate student with a Visa to study in the USA will lead to a "slippery slope" on which hundreds and then thousands of Visas will be provided to jihadi sympathizers and ultimately, dozens of Islamofascist terrorists will be in our midst. I wonder if McCoy would conjure the image of a "slippery slope" in this case and ban Visas for Moslem students entirely. I suspect he wouldn't.

Frankly, a slippery slope is avoided the same way in both instances, by relying on internal guidelines and the honor of those who exercise them. It's not uncommon for some on the Left to assume that members of the military and intelligence community have little intelligence and even less honor. They are wrong.
Number four: Useful intelligence perhaps, but at what cost? The price of torture is unacceptably high because it disgraces and then undermines the country that countenances it. For the French in Algeria, for the Americans in Vietnam, and now for the Americans in Iraq, the costs have been astronomical and have outweighed any gains gathered by torture.

…In short, the intelligence gains are soon overwhelmed by political costs as friends and enemies recoil in revulsion at such calculated savagery.

There is, undoubtedly, some truth to this and we have to be sensitive to it. But when the threat is real and the stakes are very high, we must use every means at our disposal. Does this necessarily result in “savagery.” I think not, in fact, psychological coersion is probably more effective and unquestionably less “savage.”
Number five: These dismal conclusions lead to a last, uncomfortable question: If torture produces limited gains at such high political cost, why does any rational American leader condone interrogation practices “tantamount to torture”?

One answer to this question seems to lie with a prescient CIA Cold War observation about Soviet leaders in times of stress. “When feelings of insecurity develop within those holding power,” reads an agency analysis of Kremlin leadership applicable to the post-9/11 White House, “they become increasingly suspicious and put great pressures upon the secret police to obtain arrests and confessions. At such times, police officials are inclined to condone anything which produces a speedy ‘confession,’ and brutality may become widespread.” In sum, the powerful often turn to torture in times of crisis, not because it works but because it salves their fears and insecurities with the psychic balm of empowerment.

Just as people who oppose the aggressive military action against Islamofascists dismiss known threats in times of stress, hoping that by ignoring them or appeasing their perpetrators, the threat will somehow dissipate. Further, I suspect that people who argue against coersion measures for information acquisition revel in a self-defined moral high ground, ignoring the potential consequences of their objection in order to feed their own sense of moral superiority. There are psychological motivators on both sides of this issue, so please, Mr. McCoy, spare us the psychobabble, and I promise I’ll do the same.
Number six: The use of torture to stop ticking bombs leads ultimately to a cruel choice—either legalize this brutality, à la Dershowitz and Bush, or accept that the logical corollary to state-sanctioned torture is state-sponsored murder, à la Vietnam.

Again, McCoy conjures images of murder, but exactly who is advocating “murder” – psychological coersion – yes; the possibility of limited and controlled pain, maybe, but murder – who has seriously advocated this?

There is, I might add, an image of "murder" that is relevant. That’s the mass murder of hundreds or thousands of US citizens, or the death of hundreds or thousands in a European city, or the slaughter of hundreds or thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq or some other middle eastern country. Are you willing to forgo every means available to avoid these murders? Apparently, Mr. McCoy and those who agree with him are willing to take the risk. I’m not.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


I would really like to see change in Washington -- two strong and responsible political parties, and the emergence of two solid philosophies that would move the country forward regardless of the one chosen by the electorate. The Republicans are the party in power. Therefore, it’s encumbant upon the Democrats to stop hating President Bush long enough to clearly enunciate how they would lead the USA into the future.

And so, it is with a mixture of dismay and amusement that I read an article, written over a month ago in The New York Times. It begins: “Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, a likely Democratic presidential candidate in 2008, delivered a 15-minute, blistering attack to warm applause from Democrats and union organizers here on Wednesday.” Who or what was Biden attacking? No, it wasn’t the Bush Administration, or the War in Iraq, or our lack of energy independence. It was Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart!

The NYT article continues quoting Biden:
“My problem with Wal-Mart is that I don’t see any indication that they care about the fate of middle-class people,” Mr. Biden said, standing on the sweltering rooftop of the State Historical Society building here. “They talk about paying them $10 an hour. That’s true. How can you live a middle-class life on that?”

Now, I’m not trying to defend Wal-Mart’s wage policies or their medical insurance coverage or any other aspect of their business. It would be nice if they paid $25.00 an hour and provided full, company paid medical insurance to all full- and part-time employees. But then, it’s likely that their prices would have to be significantly higher and their business income and growth would shrink. But who cares?

The very people whom the Democrats purport to care about. That’s who cares.

When a new Wal-Mart opened outside Chicago (yes, the same Chicago whose Democratic city council passed a resolution to force Wal-Mart to pay higher wages and better benefits, only to be vetoed by Democratic Mayor Richard Daly), 25,000 people applied for 325 jobs. You can bet your life that the majority were “working people” who somehow felt that Wal-Mart was a decent place to work.

And yet, the Dems seem obsessed with Wal-Mart. The NYT continues:
The focus on Wal-Mart is part of a broader strategy of addressing what Democrats say is general economic anxiety and a growing sense that economic gains of recent years have not benefited the middle class or the working poor.

Their alliance with the anti-Wal-Mart campaign dovetails with their emphasis in Washington on raising the minimum wage and doing more to make health insurance affordable. It also suggests they will go into the midterm Congressional elections this fall and the 2008 presidential race striking a populist tone.

But is the Dem’s criticism of Walmart “populist” or elitist?

I submit that the vast majority of political leaders who castigate Wal-Mart rarely, if ever, shop there. I further submit that Wal-Mart’s real customers shop there regularly because of its low prices – prices that help low income households (a significant percentage of the Wal-Mart demographic) make ends meet.

George Will suggests the following about Dem’s campaign against Wal-Mart:
Liberals think their campaign against Wal-Mart is a way of introducing the subject of class into America's political argument, and they are more correct than they understand. Their campaign is liberalism as condescension. It is a philosophic repugnance toward markets because consumer sovereignty results in the masses making messes. Liberals, aghast, see the choices Americans make with their dollars and their ballots, and announce -- yes, announce -- that Americans are sorely in need of more supervision by ... liberals.

Wills’ comments may be overly harsh, but there is a condescending tone to the Dems comments about Wal-Mart. There’s nothing wrong with the party of the people striving the better the lot of “working people.” But there’s a lot wrong with demonizing a major company that has created 1.3 million jobs—most of them for the very people that the Dems sympathize with.

In the final analysis, Wal-Mart's employment practices are hard-nosed and not all that generous for its employees. But the company saves an estimated $200 billion for its tens of millions of customers. That’s $200 billion that working families can use to better their lot in life. It seems to me that the Dems would be better if they stopped trying to find villains and made a real effort to define their path to the future.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

It's Probably Nothing

It’s probably a false alarm. After all, those of us who worry that Islamofascists will stop at nothing to murder large numbers of infidels are often called alarmists (or worse) by those who truly believe that 9/11 was a one-off attack and that our current efforts in the GWoT are either ill-conceived or a blatant attempt to steal our freedoms by an administration that has accomplished virtually nothing in the five years since the attack on the WTC. Worse, any terror warnings are obviously part of a politically motivated conspiracy and designed to subvert the electorate’s free will.

Having said that, there are some troubling tidbits of information that point to someone (Adnan G. El Shukrijumah), something (a dirty bomb attack), and a date (the beginning of Ramadan, late September) that are cause for concern. You’ll recall that about a week ago all MSM outlets posted Shukrijumah's picture, indicating that a massive FBI manhunt was underway. Relatively little about him or the threat was discussed, but there was an eerie sense of urgency in the reporting.

Anyhow, the best summaries of the tidbits associated with this story can be found at The Riehl Report and the The Jawa Report As I said, these things are usually false alarms and that’s probably the case here. It does seem odd, however, that diverse sources are reporting this threat … just like they did in the month before 9/11. It's probably nothing.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


In an op-ed in yesterday’s USA Today, ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani discussed 9/11 and its aftermath. In his op-ed, he touches on the topic I wrote about in my last post, Five Years. Giuliani writes:
Some argue that our enemies seek negotiation and understanding. But our enemies have made clear to us that what they seek is the annihilation of our most precious freedoms.

One of the main reasons for the founding of the United States was to establish freedom, particularly freedom of religion. Our enemies oppose freedom, particularly freedom of religion. This was made shockingly clear by the recent gunpoint "conversion" of two kidnapped journalists in Gaza. The terrorists don't want to understand and co-exist alongside Western democracies. There are those over the past 30 years, and even to this day, who want to negotiate with the fanatic Islamic terrorists. But the fanatics don't want to negotiate. They want to establish a world in which everyone practices a perverted version of their religion. They want to return to a time before the modern age, to a world in which women have no rights and religious dissent is met with death.

These attacks are about a radical form of Islam that views our very existence as a grave threat. This is not a debate over values or policies. This is not a border dispute. This is a war over the preservation and expansion of the modern world.

And then there’s Christopher Hitchens in yesterday’s on-line Wall Street Journal who writes:
In the past five years, I have either registered or witnessed or protested at or simply "observed" the following:

(1) The reopening of a restaurant in Bali, where several dozen Australian holidaymakers and many Indonesian civilians had earlier been torn to shreds. (2) The explosion of a bomb at a Tube station in London which is regularly used by two of my children. (3) The murder of a senior Shiite cleric outside his place of worship in Iraq. (4) The attempt to destroy the Danish economy--and to torch Danish embassies and civilians--as a consequence of the publication of a few caricatures in the Danish press. (5) The murder of the U.N. envoy to Baghdad: a heroic Brazilian named Sergio Vieira de Mello, as vengeance (according to his murderers) for his role in shepherding East Timor to independence. (6) The near-successful attempt to blow up the Indian parliament in New Delhi, and two successful attempts to disrupt the commerce and society of Mumbai. (7) The destruction of the Golden Dome in Samara: a place of aesthetic as well as devotional importance. (8) The bombing of ancient synagogues in Tunisia, Turkey and Morocco. (9) The evisceration in the street of a Dutch filmmaker, Theo van Gogh, and the lethal threats that drove his Somali-born colleague, a duly elected member of the Dutch parliament, into hiding and then exile. (10) The ritual slaughter on video of a Jewish reporter for this newspaper.

This list is not exhaustive or in any special order, and it does not include any of the depredations undertaken by the votaries of the Iranian version of Islamic fundamentalism. I shall just say that I have stood, alone or in company, with Hindus, Jews, Shiites and secularists (my own non-sectarian group) in the face of a cult of death that worships suicide and exalts murder and desecration. This has not dimmed, for me, the importance of what happened in New York and Washington and Pennsylvania. But it has made me slightly bored with those who continue to wonder, fruitlessly so far, in what fashion "we" should commemorate it.

The time for commemoration lies very far in the future. War memorials are erected when the war is won. At the moment, anyone who insists on the primacy of September 11, 2001, is very likely to be accused--not just overseas but in this country also--of making or at least of implying a "partisan" point. I debate with the "antiwar" types almost every day, either in print or on the air or on the podium, and I can tell you that they have been "war-weary" ever since the sun first set on the wreckage of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and on the noble debris of United Airlines 93. These clever critics are waiting, some of them gleefully, for the moment that is not far off: the moment when the number of American casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq will match or exceed the number of civilians of all nationalities who were slaughtered five years ago today. But to the bored, cynical neutrals, it also comes naturally to say that it is "the war" that has taken, and is taking, the lives of tens of thousands of other civilians. In other words, homicidal nihilism is produced only by the resistance to it! If these hacks were honest, and conceded the simple truth that it is the forces of the Taliban and of al Qaeda in Mesopotamia that are conducting a Saturnalia of murder and destruction, they would have to hide their faces and admit that they were not "antiwar" at all.

In another anniversary column, Cathy Young of the Boston Globe comments on the vicious political divisions within our country and the arguments made on both the left and the right:
Today, rancorous partisanship is one of the defining features of American political life, and the debate about the practical and moral aspects of the West's response to terrorism abounds with questions to which there are no clear answers.

Take, for instance, the comparisons of the radical Islamic terror network to the threat once posed to democracies by Nazism and by communism. Some say that the analogy is ridiculous, and that a network of a few thousand people with guns and homemade bombs can hardly be equated with Hitler's war machine or the nuclear missile-armed Soviet empire. Others argue that the Nazi and Soviet parallels may underrate the terrorist threat, since today's enemy is far more amorphous, dispersed in our very midst, and likely, like the hydra in Greek myth, to sprout new heads to replace severed ones. Each side in this debate has strong and convincing arguments.

Or take national security versus civil liberties and the rules of civilized warfare. Many conservatives argue that the magnitude of the threat necessitates an indefinite state of emergency in which our survival may require expanding the government's power of surveillance, limiting the rights of suspects, and curbing the disclosure of sensitive information in the media. Liberals and libertarians argue just as passionately that if we compromise our freedoms and our ethics, we will lose the very things that make our civilization worth fighting for.

While I support the libertarian argument and agree that the terrorist threat has been used for demagogic purposes, I don't think conservative warnings can be dismissed out of hand. But can we dismiss a scenario in which only wiretapping could prevent another Sept. 11?

Or take the relationship between Islamic radicalism (including terrorism) and Islam itself. There is much evidence that extremist attitudes in Islam today are not limited to a fringe but represent a powerful strain in many Muslim societies. But when does recognition of the deep-rooted problems in contemporary Muslim culture turn into a bigotry as vile as the anti-Semitism spouted by much of the press in the Muslim world?

Young is looking for “clarity in a more complex world.” I’d suggest that she read Rudy’s op-ed in USA Today. and Hitchen's piece in the On-line Journal. They’ll help.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Five Years

Thousand of articles have been written commemorating this 5th anniversary of 9/11. Among the most compelling, is a piece (I urge you to read it in its entirety) by Wretchard of the Belmont Club which concludes with the following:
But the greatest event of all of the past five years has been the slow hardening of the human heart, as each of us sets his face against the unknown, our household goods and gods sheltering pitifully behind; an event undetectable save for the slow, crepitating sound of walls setting solid across the expanse of our global and tribal world.

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

And with the pity, the hate. That was ever man's tragedy: an angel, but a killer angel.

Hate does lie at the core of the evil that we face. Hate so focused that it is exhausting and frightening to contemplate. Hate so encompassing that it is taught to children in Madrassahs across the Moslem world. Hate so profound that it is difficult to defeat.

But what causes this hate? That’s the real question … the core of the issue … the key to our understanding. Many believe that our (the West's) actions are the cause of this hate. They are monumentally incorrect, but it doesn’t matter—they believe. Our actions have very little to do with it, but our existence does.

Of all of the stupidity that has passed for morality over the past five years, the thing that bothers me most is the comment that “we are the ‘root cause’ of Islamofascist terrorism.” It’s actually a very cowardly (or maybe ‘frightened’ is a better word) statement. It implies that our actions have created the Islamofascist monster and our subsequent actions can somehow appease it, that by being modern, we have offended and humiliated Islam, and terrorism is a natural consequence. It assumes that in this dangerous, chaotic world, we have supernatural control to sway a deeply ingrained religious ideology that is driven by hatred, taught since a tender age, and encouraged by religious leaders.

But why call it a cowardly or frightened statement? The world is a scary place and each of us would like to think that we can control the forces that threaten us. If we can control them, then we can answer positively when the MSM repeatedly asks the inane anniversary question, “Are we any safer today than we were on 9/11?”

By suggesting that our actions are a “root cause,” the speaker suggests that changing our actions will moderate Islamofascist behavior and thereby increase our control over the threats we face. Certainly, it’s easier than blaming uncontrollable, irrational, third-world religious extremists, because if we do that, we have almost no control. And that is scary – the specter of ‘no control’ is truly frightening.

Blaming ourselves is a lot like keeping a small night light on in child’s room. It illuminates very little, but it does make the child feel less frightened of things that go bump in the night. It allows the child to believe that he has control over the dark, and that’s a good thing. The problem, I suppose, is that we don’t stay children forever.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The “I” Words

Iran and Iraq. Many politicians and the MSM give us the impression that each can be considered separately. From the left we hear calls to withdraw from Iraq as quickly as possible, and at the same time, calls for negotiation directly with the Mullahs to convince them to give up their nuclear ambitions. From the right, we hear arguments against precipitous withdrawal from Iraq and warnings that a nuclear Iran threatens worldwide security.

In an extremely well thought-out treatment of Iran and Iraq, STRATFOR suggests the following in its weekly newsletter:
A military solution to the U.S. dilemma [in Iraq] has not been in the cards for several years. The purpose of military operations was to set the stage for political negotiations. But the Americans had entered Iraq with certain expectations. For one thing, they had believed they would simply be embraced by Iraq's Shiite population. They also had expected the Sunnis to submit to what appeared to be overwhelming political force. What happened was very different. First, the Shia welcomed the fall of Saddam Hussein, but they hardly embraced the Americans -- they sought instead to translate the U.S. victory over Hussein into a Shiite government. Second, the Sunnis, in view of the U.S.-Shiite coalition and the dismemberment of the Sunni-dominated Iraqi Army, saw that they were about to be squeezed out of the political system and potentially crushed by the Shia. They saw an insurgency -- which had been planned by Hussein -- as their only hope of forcing a redefinition of Iraqi politics. The Americans realized that their expectations had not been realistic

If one agrees with STRATFOR’s assessment (and I do), then it might follow that since our “expectations had not been realistic,” the best approach would be to follow the advice of those who suggest withdrawal and leave. But the problem is far more complex. STRATFOR continues:
The first sign of the collapse was a sudden outbreak of fighting among Shia in the Basra region. We assumed that this was political positioning among Shiite factions as they prepared for a political settlement. Then Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), traveled to Tehran, and Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army commenced an offensive. Shiite death squads struck out at Sunni populations, and Sunni insurgents struck back. From nearly having a political accommodation, the situation in Iraq fell completely apart.

The key was Iran. The Iranians had always wanted an Iraqi satellite state, as protection against another Iraq-Iran war. That was a basic national security concept for them. In order to have this, the Iranians needed an overwhelmingly Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad, and to have overwhelming control of the Shia. It seemed to us that there could be a Shiite-dominated government but not an overwhelmingly Shiite government. In other words, Iraq could be neutral toward, but not a satellite of, Iran. In our view, Iraq's leading Shia -- fearing a civil war and also being wary of domination by Iran -- would accept this settlement.

It nows appear that the reason that our failed policy in Iraq is Iran. STRATFOR identifies a two-pronged Iranian strategy:
First, in Iraq, the Iranians encouraged a variety of factions to both resist the newly formed government and to strike out against the Sunnis. This created an uncontainable cycle of violence that rendered the Iraqi government impotent and the Americans irrelevant. The tempo of operations was now in the hands of those Shiite groups among which the Iranians had extensive influence -- and this included some of the leading Shiite parties, such as SCIRI.

Second, in Lebanon, Iran encouraged Hezbollah to launch an offensive. There is debate over whether the Israelis or Hezbollah ignited the conflict in Lebanon. Part of this is ideological gibberish, but part of it concerns intention. It is clear that Hezbollah was fully deployed for combat. Its positions were manned in the south, and its rockets were ready. The capture of two Israeli soldiers was intended to trigger Israeli airstrikes, which were as predictable as sunrise, and Hezbollah was ready to fire on Haifa. Once Haifa was hit, Israel floundered in trying to deploy troops (the Golani and Givati brigades were in the south, near Gaza). This would not have been the case if the Israelis had planned for war with Hezbollah. Now, this discussion has nothing to do with who to blame for what. It has everything to do with the fact that Hezbollah was ready to fight, triggered the fight, and came out ahead because it wasn't defeated.

The end result is that, suddenly, the Iranians held the whip hand in Iraq, had dealt Israel a psychological blow, had repositioned themselves in the Muslim world and had generally redefined the dynamics of the region. Moreover, they had moved to the threshold of redefining the geopolitics to the Persian Gulf.

Stated bluntly, the Iranians aren’t as crazy as they sometimes act. They clearly outsmarted us throughout the region and now hold almost all the cards as we move further into the game.

Given this, you might argue that we should change a losing game. Get out now and let the Iraq “civil war” lead to a breakup of the country. STRATFOR comments:
If Iraq were to break into three regions, the southern region would be Shiite -- and the Iranians clearly believe that they could dominate southern Iraq. This not only would give them control of the Basra oil fields, but also would theoretically open the road to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. From a strictly military point of view, and not including the Shiite insurgencies at all, Iran could move far down the western littoral of the Persian Gulf if American forces were absent. Put another way, there would be a possibility that the Iranians could seize control of the bulk of the region's oil reserves. They could do the same thing if Iraq were to be united as an Iranian satellite, but that would be far more difficult to achieve and would require active U.S. cooperation in withdrawing.

So the Left was right – it is, in the final analysis, all about oil (but then again, we would never have had any interest in the ME if it wasn’t for oil). If we exit Iraq and allow events to unfold as they probably will, Iran may very well control (either directly or indirectly) all middle eastern oil by the end of the decade. An Islamofascist government with affinity to known terrorists and a hatred for all things Western would now have access to mega-wealth and the ability to effect outright economic blackmail. If this were to happen, war (for oil) would be guaranteed.

So what now? It appears that exiting expeditiously is a loser, but so is continuing the fight. STRATFOR lays out the options:

The United States has four choices, apart from the status quo:

1. Reach a political accommodation that cedes the status of regional hegemon to Iran, and withdraw from Iraq.

2. Withdraw forces from Iraq and maintain a presence in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia -- something the Saudis would hate but would have little choice about -- while remembering that an American military presence is highly offensive to many Muslims and was a significant factor in the rise of al Qaeda.

3. Halt counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and redeploy its forces in the south (west of Kuwait), to block any Iranian moves in the region.

4. Assume that Iran relies solely on its psychological pre-eminence to force a regional realignment and, thus, use Sunni proxies such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in attempts to outmaneuver Tehran.

None of these are attractive choices. Each cedes much of Iraq to Shiite and Iranian power and represents some degree of a psychological defeat for the United States, or else rests on a risky assumption. While No. 3 might be the most attractive, it would leave U.S. forces in highly exposed, dangerous and difficult-to-sustain postures.

Iran has set a clever trap, and the United States has walked into it. Rather than a functioning government in Iraq, it has chaos and a triumphant Shiite community. The Americans cannot contain the chaos, and they cannot simply withdraw. Therefore, we can understand why Bush insists on holding his position indefinitely. He has been maneuvered in such a manner that he -- or a successor -- has no real alternatives.

Spend a moment and re-read the last paragraph. If you want to be angry at the administration of George W. Bush, the STRATFOR analysis provides you with a well-reasoned argument for your feelings. Now re-read it again, and you'll understand why we can't simply leave.

Personally, I suspect that not a single one of the administration’s opponents (both democrat and republican) have any clue about how to proceed from here, given the situation as it has been delineated by STRATFOR. And that’s scary.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


These are halcyon days for anti-war activitists. The war in Iraq is going poorly -- American military deaths and injuries continue, thousands of Iraqi deaths occur due to in Muslim on Muslin violence, the American public is exhausted and just wants the war to end, and even some of the administration's supporters are asking for a plan that will enable us to extract ourselves from the conflict.

Maybe we should follow the suggestion of Bill Maher, interviewed last night on CNN who suggested "Let's just get out and see what happens." Yeah, maybe we should do that. What could possibly go wrong?

It's difficult to criticize folks for being anti-war because all of us are. Anti-war sentiment runs the full spectrum from those those who believe that force is never justified -- true pacifists -- to those who believe that force trumps futile diplomatic efforts in virtually every case (even though they recognize that war is hell).

Today, I ran across an article at Pajamas Media by Richard Fernandez, the truly brilliant essayist, “Wretchard” of the Belmont Blub. In it he relates something Gandhi once said that I had never before encountered:
In 1940 Gandhi advised the British to act thus towards Hitler: “You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions…. If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourselves, man, woman, and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them.” To the Jews just emerging from the concentration camps in 1946 Gandhi said: “The Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs.” Only a religious pacifist — or a Jihadi — could say that.

If Gandhi were alive, I have to wonder how he would advise us today. I also wonder how many modern anti-war activitists would applaud Gandhi's point of view? Hopefully, not too many. But for those who do, I can only suggest that they be first in line to martyr themselves, their friends, and families for their ideals.

It's kind of ironic that jihad means "submission." For those anti-war people who subscribe to Gandhi's view, I suppose pacifism means "submission" as well. The Islamofascist aggressor wants it, and the true pacifist provides it. It's a perfect storm.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

I’m Sorry, Never Mind

Those of you who can recall the 1970s may remember a wonderful comedic character, Emily Latella, created by the late Gilda Radner of Saturday Night Live fame. Goofy Emily would present an editorial comment on the “news” portion of SNL. Her facts would be completely incorrect and her conclusions would be hilariously off-kilter. Finally, one of the show's “news anchors” would snap and correct her. Emily was never fazed, she’d simply say, “I’m sorry, never mind.”

Lorie Bird recalls Emily when she writes:
There have been quite a few “never mind” media opportunites during the Bush years. They range in significance from such incorrect stories as that of the plastic Thanksgiving turkey in Baghdad, to stories such as those of widespread rape and murder in the Superdome following Hurricane Katrina. Michelle Malkin once used a reference to Emily Litella when writing about the “Gitmo Koran flushing” story. Few of the “never minds” have gotten the prominent play that the original inaccurate reports received though. More distressing is that many of them have passed unrealized at all. Instead of even a “never mind,” too often we have gotten dumb silence.

In a recent post entitled, Lies, I lamented the outright incompetence or bias (take your pick) exhibited by the MSM in reporting dozens of anti-Israel stories about the Israeli-Hezballah war. Stories that tuned out to be provably false. Almost no MSM outlet followed up with a front page expose into the lies they reported as truth.

An exception truly does prove the rule. In yesterday's edition, the Washington Post does a mea culpa for the Valary Plame affair:
Nevertheless, it now appears that the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plame’s CIA career is Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming — falsely, as it turned out — that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials. He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife. He diverted responsibility from himself and his false charges by claiming that President Bush’s closest aides had engaged in an illegal conspiracy. It’s unfortunate that so many people took him seriously.

The people “took him seriously” because the MSM didn’t do its job, hoping (like Dan Rather) that a watergateque story was in the making. As has been the case far, far too often, they were, dead wrong.

I can only wonder when CNN, ABC, MSNBC, The NYT, The LA Times, Time, Newsweek, and many, many others will do similar mea culpas. Don’t hold your breath.