Wednesday, December 31, 2008

HOT5 Daily 12/31/2008

1. "9 Reasons This Recession Will Be Good" Examines the positive effects of recession.

Representative Sample: Prosperity tends to produce a lot of economic sediment, like unneeded purchases and excessive debt, that coagulates like gunk in a pipe.

2. "Hillary Clinton and Pakistani nationalism" A Pakistani perspective and analysis of U.S. foreign policy toward Pakistan.  I'm pro-India, but this is worth reading.

Representative Sample: Hillary Clinton has to recognize the Pakistani nationalism which thinks of India as the big bully of South Asia.

3. "Japanese Apology In 1972 Angered Arab Nations" In case anyone needs a reminder of the insane level of Arab hatred forJews.

Representative Sample: Arab nations invariably stand by the actions of terrorists when it comes to killing Israelis and are infuriated when Israel kills Arabs.

4. "Chemistry is not a crime, and Lewis Casey is not a criminal" More drug war stupidity.

Representative Sample: Casey wasn't making drugs, but they kept him in jail anyway on the grounds that he had materials that could have been made into explosives.

5. "Top 10 humanitarian crises of 2008"  list of this year's top 10, presented as hyperlinks to detailed information about each.

Representative Sample: Read this list, click through to details about each crisis, and then count your own blessings.

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Making Atheists Look Bad -- Again

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, the same idiots who put up the atheist sign as a holiday display in Seattle, have filed a lawsuit "against prayer" at the presidential inauguration. The organization spokesman said of atheists and agnostics

we are subjected to someone else's religious views with the endorsement of the government, which makes us feel like second class outsiders," he said.
Thanks for making atheists look like hypersensitive whiny babies, who can't even tolerate the most innocuous, traditional, ceremonial uses of religion. 

Groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation do not speak for a majority of atheists, yet they help perpetuate a stereotype of atheists as hostile, anti-religious zealots.  Actions like this latest effort go far toward keeping atheists as a despised minority in America.

Useful Reminders

Back in 2007 Ralph Peters published an article called, "12 Myths of 21st Century War." It is well worth reading in the light of the current situation between Israel and Gaza, and our own ongoing wars. Here are a few of the highlights.

"Myth No. 1: War doesn’t change anything." You'll hear this incredibly stupid, historically ignorant statement repeated by many people. War has of course been a huge agent of change, and still is.

"Myth No. 3: Insurgencies can never be defeated." Another incorrect assertion often parroted by anti-war types. 

"Myth No. 4: There’s no military solution; only negotiations can solve our problems." As Peters points out
The only negotiations that produce lasting results are those conducted from positions of indisputable strength.
Often military action is necessary before negotiations can succeed.

"Myth No. 6: Killing terrorists only turns them into martyrs." Dead martyrs don't kill anyone else.

"Myth No. 12: The Middle East’s problems are all America’s fault." This should be obvious, but surprisingly it isn't to some people.

The entire article is worth considering before reading any news coverage dealing with war or terrorism.

HOT5 Daily 12/302008

1. "Stupid Ideas And The People Who Think Them" British nanny state official wants to censor the internet.

Representative Sample: Welcome to the book burnings of the twenty-first century.

2. "I just don’t get the left’s argument" Me either.  A response to nonsense about Gaza.

Representative Sample: it is stunning to me that somehow launching dumb missles into someone's country is simply not grounds for defending one's country

3. "Disquieting Signs from the Other Hot Spot" In case anyone was distracted from this more serious situation by Gaza.

Representative Sample: Pakistan and India are building up forces along the border

4. "The Four Groups Of Conspiracy Theorists" An interesting attempt to categorize conspiracy theorists.

Representative Sample: I tend to lump conspiracy theorists into four groups -- maybe there are more, maybe there are less

5. "Viagra “Enlarges” cooperation in Afghanistan where they rape women and then shoot them dead"  The possible unintended consequences of using Viagra as a bribe.

Representative Sample: Afghanistan. A place where they shoot women in the head for……well, just “because”

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Right-wing Plug for NPR

National Public Radio isn't too popular on the right.  It has a more or less center-left slant on politics, and rarely features any strong conservative voices.  But I would still highly recommend it to anyone.  There are few programs where you can get information on such a wide variety of topics. And even when issues are debated between different guests, each side is allowed to make its points, there's no shouting down of opposing views, and everything is conducted in a civil tone.

I do some part-time work filling in for a courier a few times a month, and today is one of those days.  It involves about five hours of driving during the morning and afternoon, and about another six at night.  Although I like music, I don't want to listen to it for eleven hours. It's nice to have NPR.  And since the topics and hosts vary wildly, it's not like you are listening to the same show for hours on end.  This morning they had a detailed examination of the Israeli-Gaza situation, with interviews talking to people on each side.  There was also an extensive interview with former ambassador Peter Galbraith about Iraq.  Even though I disagree with some of his perspectives and conclusions, it was well-worth hearing for anyone interested in U.S. foreign policy and the Middle East.  Those were just a couple of the highlights.  

HOT5 Daily 12/29/2008

1. "6 Reasons to be Bullish in 2009" There's not too much optimism around. Here's some.

Representative Sample: it is now quite apparent that the Fed will do whatever it takes to prop up the economy. 

2. "The war on Christmas fails again" A liberal admits failure. Short but funny.

Representative Sample: Well, we’ve failed again — and by we, I mean liberals.

3. "2008 In Review: Quotes Version 1 - Politics" A good list of quotes.

Representative Sample: a look back at the most memorable quotes - and the ones we try our hardest to forget - of 2008.

4. "Being the Best: Reinforcing America's Position in the World" A positive vision for the U.S.

Representative Sample: We need to play to win again in everything we do

5. "South Korean Government to Invest Millions in Video Games" A stimulus package for the gaming industry?

Representative Sample: the South Korean government is planning to invest more than $200 Million dollars to support their own video game industry.

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

No Sales Tax Shopping Days?

According to the Wall Street Journal, the the National Retail Federation has proposed
three periods of sales tax-free shopping that would last 10 days each in March, July and October 2009.
At first glance this sounds good, but as you read on you find that it involves more federal spending. Even an idea to suspend state sales taxes means more federal spending. What doesn't require more government spending lately? 

The proposal calls for the federal government to reimburse the states for their lost sales tax money, and also to make payments to the states that don't have sales taxes -- apparently to replace the money they would have lost if they did have them. That's how crazy this plan is. We would save taxpayers money on their shopping, but then take the tax money they supposedly saved and give it to the states anyway.  

Sunday, December 28, 2008

HOT5 Daily 12/28/2008

1. "Charts: The tragic results of the 'Community Reinvestment Act' " The title is self-explanatory.

Representative Sample: The charts provide ample evidence of the tragic errors associated with attempts to "social engineer" the free market system.

2. "I know where the WMDs are ...A look at the worst-case scenario of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan.

Representative Sample: The real threat of WMDs is also less that of a terrorist strike than of an unmanageable regional conflict in which one or both combatants employs them.

3. "What century is this again?" The barbarism of our "ally" Saudi Arabia.

Representative Sample: Want to read something that might just make you puke in your mouth a little?

4. "UN and Defamation: Something of a Scandal" The UN's latest ridiculous declaration.

Representative Sample: This nonsensical resolution flatly contradicts the principles of free speech and free belief 

5. "About Anarchy" A concise smackdown of the the underpinnings of anarchism & objectivism.

Representative Sample: People are asses. Given the opportunity, they will misbehave. Every Single Time.

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Atheist Supports Christian Missionaries in Africa

Matthew Parris has an interesting article in the Times Online called, "As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God." He argues that Christianity has a transforming and liberating effect that enhances the everday life of people who are held back by tribal customs and superstition. In his words
Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.
This sort of talk is anathema to many atheists.  (And I'm sure the usual suspects will accuse him of neo-colonialism.) Why should we substitute a new set of superstitions instead of relying on reason? From a purely philosophical standpoint I agree. But as a practical matter, I understand where the author is coming from. Many atheists focus on the negative aspects of Christianity and ignore its many positive features -- including the ability to transform people's lives for the better. That doesn't mean the Christian God is real, or that its doctrines are true, but the utility of the religion and its positive works in certain areas are undeniable. The article is well worth reading, especially for atheists.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Krauthammer Wants more Gas Taxes Too

After just attacking the New York Times proposal to raise gas taxes through the roof, I was apalled to see Charles Krauthammer put forth a similiar proposal in the Weekly Standard.  Now granted, Krauthammer's idea is a lot less drastic, and he would offset it with a reduction in the payroll tax; but he still wants to raise gas taxes during a recession. He admits that
today's economic climate of financial instability and deepening recession, moreover, makes the piling on of new taxes--gasoline or otherwise--not just politically unpalatable but economically dubious in the extreme.
But he then goes on to argue that we should do it anyway, because
the only time you can possibly think of imposing a tax to achieve them is when oil prices are very low.
He makes a detailed case for the benefits of his gas tax,  and argues that it would be superior to our current attempts to regulate car manufacturers.
a gas tax would render these government-dictated regulations irrelevant and obsolete. If you want to shift to fuel-efficient cars, don't mandate, don't scold, don't appeal to the better angels of our nature. Find the price point, reach it with a tax, and let the market do the rest.
That's some real utopian dreaming there.  In what world is the government going to remove regulations on auto manufacturers just because we pass a new gas tax?  Does Krauthammer, who is usually pretty astute, actually believe there is any chance of such a thing happening? What we will get instead is double government coercion.  The government will continue to regulate the car companies, plus they will impose higher direct and indirect costs on businesses and consumers through higher gas taxes.  And the indirect costs of this tax will not be offset by any payroll reduction.

The economy is in bad shape, with no sign that it will get much better in the near future. Some even speculate that we could be headed for a depression or a multi-year recession.  The government is borrowing and spending like no tomorrow, and already massively interfering with the free market -- with little to show for it.  One of the few bright spots in the dismal economic picture has been low gas prices.  It's bad enough when the NYT advocates coercing people into conservation through the blunt instrument of high taxation.  The Times is a known supporter of big government solutions, and rarely sees a tax hike it doesn't like.  But I expect more from Krauthammer.

Israel and Gaza

I was going to write something about the current situation, but this post at Say Anything summed it up pretty well:

Finally: Israeli Warplanes Pound Hamas Targets In Gaza

NYT: Let's Force Americans to Use Less Gas

The New York Times had an op-ed up on Dec. 26 called simply, The Gas Tax.  Now if you didn't know it was the NYT, you might think an article about the gas tax right now might examine ways to reduce it, as another means of stimulating the economy.  Oh no, the NYT thinks we should raise it.  One of their suggestions:

to devise a variable consumption tax in such a way that a gallon of unleaded gasoline at the pump would never go below a floor of $4 or $5
What a great idea.  Let's cripple the transportation industry and raise the cost of everything that relies upon it -- permanently.  They reluctantly admit that raising gas taxes might not be such a good idea right this minute.  But they are longing for the day when raising taxes can push gas back up over $4 a gallon.

The article operates from the standard left-wing central government planning premise that we can't allow the market to work -- even though the Times admits that gas prices will eventually rise on their own.  And since we can't allow the market to work, of course we can't possibly allow people to choose what types of vehicles we want to buy -- that would involve way too much personal freedom.   People are basically sheep that need to be guided by the government, and forced into doing the right thing -- as defined by the NYT.

HOT5 Daily 12/27/2008

1. "Krugman: Barry Be Good" Exposing the many problems with Krugman's latest column.

Representative Sample: Krugman's column... it is truly ridiculous, but entertaining as you watch yet another person with a Nobel prize make a complete ass out of himself.

2. "Nobel for Sale" Speaking of the Nobel prize ... examines the latest controversy.

Representative Sample: Although previous awards have been presented to undeniably worthy recipients, today’s Nobel prizes appear to be not unlike the Hollywood Walk of Fame stars

3. "Pardons - Mend 'Em, Don't End 'Em" The problems with presidential pardons and ideas for fixing them.

Representative Sample: I think we should amend the Constitution to limit the pardon power. Mend it, don't end it

4. "Why Do Celebrities Say Such Stupid Things?" It seems to be a requirement for celebrity. This post examines some recent celebrity idiocy.

Representative Sample: Actress Kate Winslet is the latest celebrity to utter something incredibly stupid.

5. "JINDAL IS NOT THE ANSWER"  A good analysis of why Jindal should not be the GOP nominee for president in 2012 . This  post is guaranteed to annoy many  Republicans.

Representative Sample: blatant race-based politics that can proclaim Jindal a serious candidate based at least partly – or mostly – on the color of his skin has no place in any party to which I want to belong.

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Thanks But No Thanks

Former Saudi Ambassador to the the U.S., Turki al-Faisal, has a column in today's Washington Post entitled, "Peace for the Mideast:  How Our Plan Could Aid Barack Obama's Efforts."  What is this plan the Saudi's are urging President-elect Obama to adopt?  Here it is in a nutshell:  
The United States, the European Union, the Russian Federation and the United Nations must embrace the Arab initiatives and pressure Israel to do the same.
Bascially the Saudi "plan" involves blaming Israel for the problems in the Middle East, and forcing it to make a bunch of concessions, including withdrawal from East Jerusalem.  What are the Palestinians going to do to help achieve peace?  Apparently nothing.  That's what passes for a peace plan in Saudi Arabia.  

HOT5 Daily 12/26/2008

1. "Another question about our campaign finance disclosure laws" The unintended consequences of public disclosure.

Representative Sample: transparency is now making possible a new level of political intimidation.

2. "Motherships on Land, Sea, and in the Air" An examination of a weapon systems concept that takes different forms.

Representative Sample: An example of a mothership currently in widespread use is the Stryker combat vehicle.

3. "The Formerly Great United Kingdom" An anglophile laments the decline of Great Britain.

Representative Sample: Great Britain is no longer great, in fact given the policies of the current Labour Government it may not even be the United Kingdom

4. "A tale of two pundits: Sowell v. Huffington"  Economic myths, the current situation, and the sharp differences of perspectives

Representative Sample: Thomas Sowell specializes in exploding pernicious myths, Arianna Huffington excels at reinforcing them.

5. "2009 Predictions" A list of predictions for the new year.

Representative Sample: The average price of unleaded regular in the US will be $2.96

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

No HOT5 Daily today

HOT5 Daily will be back tomorrow.  Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Cheney - Wallace Interview Part II

Here's Part II of my look at Vice President Cheney's recent interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News.

When asked about the effectiveness of the controversial measures taken by the administration, Cheney responds:

the actions that we took, based on the President's decisions and based on some outstanding work by the intelligence community and by the military, has produced a safe seven-and-a-half years, and I think the record speaks for itself.
.  I've seen this dismissed out of hand by various commentators as an empty justification for illegal actions.  In my opinion, those views are nothing more than baseless partisan bias.  Just because Cheney didn't list a bunch of specifics detailing how intelligence was used, doesn't mean the actions taken were ineffective.  Once again, Cheney is entitled to claim credit for preventing another direct attack on the U.S., regardless of what you think of his methods.

There is a long exchange between Cheney & Wallace regarding the administration's cooperation and conflict with the other two branches.  I think there are couple of key points covered.  First, Cheney makes another case for war powers based on the U.S. being at war after 9/11, rather than facing a law enforcement situation.  He then argues that detainees were not covered by the Geneva Convention, and that enemy combatants can be held for the duration of the war.  Unlike some, I find Cheney's arguments reasonable on principle.  The problems lie with the nature of the war(s) and the specific actions taken by the administration. They handled things in a haphazard fashion, in a way that often maximized conflict with the other two branches, and compounded the difficulties thru secrecy.  Cheney's words clearly demonstrate that his attitude was that the executive would do whatever it thought best until stopped by the courts or Congress.  That's not exactly a recipe for success in a government based on three coequal branches.

Overall the interview is very interesting, despite the fact that much is just typical self-justification by a political leader.  But the interview also shows again the gray areas in which the administration operated, and the shaky basis for its extreme claims of executive power.  

HOT5 Daily 12/24/2008

1. "Wacky" A smackdown of the NYT's uninformed op-ed on military procurement.

Representative Sample: There’s no system so internally complex that an outsider, with no real experience, can’t fix by waving his magic wand. 

2. "There Is Indeed a Christmas Story" An interesting article on the origins and meaning of  X-mas.

Representative Sample: On this day, children all over the world turn color blind to appreciate the pastel-perfect joys of Santa Claus and his reindeers

3. "Casualties of the American Drug War" Analysis of the drug war and its spillover in Mexico.

Representative Sample: When will enough be enough in the failed attempt to prohibit drug use in this country by force of arms?

4. "Jihad by the Shoe: Who Was Behind it and why?" A Middle East expert provides a detailed examination of the  Bush/Iraq shoe-throwing incident.

Representative Sample: The public simply wasn’t told - with accuracy - what actually unfolded in that incident, which was another battle in the ongoing War of Ideas

5. "The delightful holiday whimsy of Michelle Malkin"  Irrational leftist consumed with hatred for Michelle Malkin accuses Malkin of "hate" for posting widely-circulated x-mas humor.

Representative Sample: There's not much on God's green earth that Michelle Malkin doesn't hate

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Cheney - Wallace Interview Part I

Cheney's recent interviews have gotten quite a bit of attention in the blogosphere.  Here's my take on the recent interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News.

I'm going to skip the beginning parts about the economy.  I totally disagree with the administration's response to the economic crisis/recession, and in my opinion they don't have the slightest idea what they are doing.  The national security aspects of the interview are the most contentious anyway.  Cheney states that

We didn't set out to achieve the highest level of polls that we could during the course of this administration. We set out to do what we thought was necessary and essential for the country.
I take him at his word on that.  This is where I differ from extreme critics.  Although I think the administration has been lousy overall, and highly incompetent in some areas, I do not ascribe bad motives to its actions. I think that Cheney, (and Bush), did the things they did because they thought they were acting in the best interests of the country.  Cheney goes on to say
I think the fact that we were able to protect the nation against further attacks from al Qaeda for seven-and-a-half years is a remarkable achievement.
True.  If you want to blame the administration for not preventing 9/11, for all their various screwups, and for the economic crash happening on their watch, it's only fair to give them credit for preventing another attack on the U.S.  I think that's a major accomplishment, but it's also one of the administration's only great accomplishments.  Although if you are a Democrat, one of its great accomplishments was delivering Congress & the Presidency to Democratic control, and at least temporarily, putting the GOP in a big hole.

Cheney makes his case for the expanded war powers of the executive branch, vis a vis the other branches of government.  He argues

If you think about what Abraham Lincoln did during the Civil War, what FDR did during World War II. They went far beyond anything we've done in a global war on terror
 That's true, but the problem with that argument is twofold. First of all, just because Lincoln and FDR were able to get away with certain things, doesn't mean all future presidents should also be able to exceed their constitutional authority. Second, a civil war is always a special case, and World War Two was a declared war -- the last war that we actually entered under Congress' constitutionally-specified powers.  An undeclared war against nebulous terrorist enemies is not the same situation.  And a Congressional resolution is not the same thing as a formal declaration of war.

The vice-president argues that

you're fully justified in setting up a terrorist surveillance program to be able to intercept the communications of people who are communicating with terrorists outside the United States. I think you can have a robust interrogation program with respect to high-value detainees.
I agree with him in a broad sense, in that the executive should and does have the power to do such things.  The problem comes in the exact details.  Just because the executive has the power to do them, doesn't mean the other two branches have no say.  For example, the executive has the power to set up interrogation practices to collect intelligence.  But the judiciary has the power to determine the legality of such actions.  One power doesn't cancel out the others, as Cheney seems to believe. 

Then we get to the most commented-on section of the interview, where the vice president basically says that "as a general proposition," anything the executive does to protect the country is legal.  I agree with other critics who see this as an extreme claim of almost unlimited executive power.  There is no constitutional basis for his assertions.  And again we come back to the fact that we are not even in a declared war. Accepting Cheney's claim would mean that any time we are engaged in hostilities, the executive branch can basically do whatever it wants and ignore the other branches. During the exchange, Cheney also puts forth an intellectually dishonest argument by using the nuclear football example.  He says that the president

could launch the kind of devastating attack the world has never seen. He doesn't have to check with anybody, he doesn't have to call the Congress, he doesn't have to check with the courts. He has that authority because of the nature of the world we live in.
I'm sure Dick Cheney knows that the president has that nuclear authority in order to respond to a nuclear attack on the U.S.  It does not in any way mean that he has the authority to initiate an attack on his own responsibility.  

Cheney goes on to attack the War Powers act as unconstitutional  -- pretty funny coming from someone who has just made an argument for unhindered executive power based on nothing found in the constitution. The War Powers act was Congress' lame attempt to get back some of the power they voluntarily surrendered by giving up their consitutional right to declare war.  But that's another issue.

The interview continues into some specific actions taken by the administration.  I'll adress them in Part 2.  

Reading the Left for Amusement

I often read Open Left, not for amusement, but because it normally provides one of the more rational left-wing perspectives.  But today it made me laugh.  Matt Stoller has a post up called, "Lowering Expectations for Obama/Biden," which is a reaction to some recent statements by Joe Biden.  First off, there is the title.  When I saw it, I immediately thought, "how much lower could could expectations be"? Then I remembered I was on a liberal blog.

Reading through the post, Stoller refers to Dick Cheney as a "brutal monster."  I had visions of Democrats scaring their children by telling them stories about the evil Cheney monster, who might come to get them if they didn't grow up to be good liberals.  Stoller goes on to whine about Iran Contra.  He's still mad that the Clinton administration didn't seek vengeance against the previous administration.  Really.  He laments the "illegal war in Central America and egregious desecration of the Constitution." I always find it laughable whenever left-wingers go on about how wars are "illegal," as if that had any actual meaning.  And of course since the Constitution is still in place and operating, I guess it wasn't desecrated too egregiously.  I keep asking which constitutional rights we've lost, but I've yet to hear any answers other than incoherent sputtering about the horrors of Bush/Cheney.  

There's still more amusement to be had, but it's mostly just garden variety BDS, combined with a shot at Obama for picking Rick Warren -- another thing the left is all upset about.


HOT5 Daily 12/23/2008

1. "Found: Source of All Those New Democrats" An amusing theory on why there are more Democratic voters.

Representative Sample: truth-challenged, reality-denying kids would be much more likely to grow into Democrat-voting young adults

2. "The Pagan Origins of Christmas" Where does X-mas actually come from?

Representative Sample: Most Christmas stories start with a journey to Bethlehem. This one starts with a calendar. 

3. "2008 Government-Subsidized Auto Show"  Great examples of government-produced cars.

Representative Sample: A Car Czar must be appointed to distribute cash to our automobile industry so that we can protect it from the Capitalist evil of competition.

4. "Wasteful war spending"  Pentagon wasting  money. Big Surprise there.

Representative Sample: a trio of recently released documents recall just how badly the Pentagon managed the hundreds of billions spent to date on the wars

5. "Military Brass Still Casting About for a Strategy in Afghanistan" The problems with just sending in more troops, specifically more Special Forces.

Representative Sample: adding more troops, without a logistical arm that can support them, is almost totally pointless.

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Silent Military Coup?

Thomas A. Schweich has an article in the Washington Post that combines some useful analysis & thought-provoking suggestions, with hysterical overreaction.  The opening paragraph starts out with the author calling himself a "life-long Republican and son of a Retired Airforce colonel." My first thought was -- not a good sign.  Lately an introduction like that often indicates that a pile of left-wing nonsense will soon follow.  Sure enough, he then asserts that
the most unnerving legacy of the Bush administration is the encroachment of the Department of Defense into a striking number of aspects of civilian government. Our Constitution is at risk.
He argues that we need to
reverse the current trend of Pentagon encroachment upon civilian government functions, or they could complete the silent military coup d'etat

Despite this ridiculously hyperbolic language, the rest of the article is actually worth reading. Although some of his fears border on paranoia, he makes a solid case that the Pentagon has too much power vis a vis the State Department, the Justice Department, and other agencies involved with U.S. foreign policy,  and notes that former & serving military officers have been dominating civilian agencies.  He gives specific proposals to reverse this trend, including getting rid of Rumsfeld holdovers, putting more civilians in charge of important positions, and transferring money and responsibility away from the Pentagon in some areas. 

UPDATE There's a good critique of the article here

HOT5 Daily 12/22/2008

1.  "What Is The Current Economic Crisis? And How To End It?"  Specific economic proposals from a conservative perspective.

Representative Sample:  what are the solutions to the economic crisis of today (and what would their benefits be)?

2.  "Black Sabbath Meets Santa Claus"  As a Black Sabbath fan, I had to link this for X-mas.

Representative Sample: What if Black Sabbath did a Christmas song?

3.  "Government Can Create Jobs ... Just Not Real Jobs"  Things to keep in mind about the upcoming "stimulus" package.

Representative Sample:  The government persuades the economy to shrink when it takes over the role of "job creator" from the American people.

4.  "The US in Africa: Halting Terror, Fostering Growth"  An excellent review of U.S. operations in Africa

Representative Sample:  Though there are fears for American imperialism and exploitation, early results seem to showcase the opposite.

5.  "I Now Pronounce You, Man and Goat"  A point-by-point rebuttal of anti-gay marriage arguments.

Representative Sample:   that’s half the problem with the points; once they’re given the consideration they warrant, they fall apart easier than a house of cards

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at Put HOT5 in the subject.

The ACLU & Guantanamo

Over at Stop the ACLU there's an post up called, "ACLU Whining About Gov’t Charging Jihadi Involved In USS Cole Bombing." It points out that
the American Civil Liberties Union is providing lawyers to represent an Islamic jihadist who was involved in the bombing of the U.S.S Cole a little over 7 years ago

I'm not normally an ACLU-basher like many on the right. In my opinion, it is useful to have a civil rights watchdog organization, and I appreciate the ACLU's vigorous support of the first amendment in particular. In this case the ACLU has specifically created something called the John Adams Project to provide

defense teams to be available to assist in the representation of those Guantánamo detainees who have been charged under the Military Commissions Act.
They named it after John Adams because he provided legal services for British soldiers prosecuted for the Boston Massacre. This makes little sense as a comparison with the Guantanamo situation, since the Boston Massacre trials were in 1770, when the American colonies were still part of the British Empire.  So John Adams, a British subject, served as a lawyer for British soldiers, not foreign terrorists.

From the ACLU's main mission statement:

the ACLU is our nation's guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country.
What does that have to do with defending hostile aliens during wartime? Their actions in this case have nothing to do with the rights of U.S. citizens. I could understand if an international human rights organization such as Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International wanted to take up the case of the Guantanamo detainees. But why is a U.S. organization dedicated to defending the rights of Americans instead defending enemies of America? In the words of Stop the ACLU
the ACLU wonders why those of us on the right question their patriotism and protection of America.
In some cases that might be over-the-top criticism of the ACLU. Not this time.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

HOT5 Daily 12/21/2008

1.  "Don't You Dare Help Me Or I Will Sue!"  Lawsuit stupidity in California.

Representative Sample:  We seem to have an over abundance of the mentally criminal out here on the West coast, as felony-stupidity is running rampant as of late.

2.  "Rewriting the Narrative of Detainee Abuse"  Right-wing view of the recent report on detainee treatment.

Representative Sample:  Not one of the investigations concluded that Bush or higher ups approved or tolerated detainee abuse.

3.  "Rick Warren and the Presidency" An very interesting atheist view on the whole Rick Warren issue.

Representative Sample:  It’s hard to decide which is more laughable: Warren’s conception of the presidency or of atheists. 

4.  "How to Plan a Trip to Somalia"  Are you insane and thinking of traveling to Somalia for X-mas?  Read this first.

Representative Sample:  here is my cut-out-and-keep decision model for anyone thinking of a trip

5.  "As Economy Worsens Obama Makes More Promises" Short, but to the point.

Representative Sample:  Worried about the economy? Don’t worry, Obama’s got things firmly in hand.

Israeli General Speaks about Attacking Iran

A former Israeli general and national security council chairman gave a realistic assessment of the difficulties faced by any Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear program. Giora Eiland said that
To our regret, there is no Israeli military capability that would enable us to reach a situation whereby Iran's nuclear capabilities are destroyed without the possibility of recovery," he said. "The maximal achievement that Israel can accomplish is to disrupt and suspend Iran's nuclear program.

Eiland also noted that any attack would have to be coordinated with the U.S. and pointed out all the obvious risks.

I know there are some on the right who support a U.S. attack on Iran and hope that Israel will do it for us.  As much as I'd like to see the Iranian nuclear program destroyed, it appears that it just isn't feasible.  Instead of hoping that the Israelis will pull off a miracle, we need to face reality and start looking at the best methods of deterring Iran from using the nuclear weapons it is going to produce. 

Joe Biden to Do Nothing as VP

According to an AP report this morning,  Vice President-elect Joe Biden will "oversee a task force" to "make recommendations on how to build the ranks of the middle class."

Hmm.  It sounds like President-elect Obama knows that Biden is a loose cannon who can't be trusted with any significant responsibilites, and has decided to give him something harmless to waste time on when not attending state funerals.

Biden: "Hey Barack, what do you have in mind for my role?  How are you going to use my superior intelligence and experience? Huh, what've you got for me?"

Obama: "Well, Joe, I've been thinking.  I'm creating a task force to, uh, build the middle class, and I want you to head it."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

HOT5 Daily for 12/20/2008

1.  "Have You Driven A Ford Lately? No, Because They Suck"  Interesting & entertaining analysis of the auto bailout & related issues.

Representative Sample:  What happened to the American economy? When did it become such a gold-diggin’ ho?

2.  "Santa vs God"  A comparison of Santa and God complete with original graphic

Representative Sample:  go look at it.

3.  "Franken is Winning, and Coleman Knows It"  Depends on how you define "winning." A serious analysis that illustrates, unintentionally, how ludicrous the entire Minnesota recount situation is and has been.

Representative Sample:  Franken's lead is almost certain to diminish once the Canvassing Board reviews more than 5,000 withdrawn challenges, and defaults them to the rulings originally made at the county level.

4.  "Tragic Clown Al Franken Now Leads in Minnesota Senate Recount"  Read the detailed analysis of post #3, and then read this for a pithy summary of how almost every Republican (incl. myself) views the Minnesota race.

Representative Sample: In at least one precinct the number of ballots discovered exceeds the number of voters who signed in to vote. But who cares?

5.  "A theory on the financial crisis — a science fiction parable"  What's really going on?  Does anyone know? Here's an interesting way of looking at it.

Representative Sample:  at some point high finance truly does become almost magical alchemy. It’s no longer balance sheets and stacks of physical money, it’s more arcane incantations, esoteric handshakes and ephemeral figures

To submit a blog post for HOT5 Daily, please e-mail me at  Put HOT5 in the subject.

Congress Gives Itself a Pay Raise

The economy is a mess, people are losing their jobs in massive numbers, companies are begging for taxpayer money to stay afloat, and every member of Congress just got a $4700 pay raise.  What's wrong with this picture?

My expectations for Congress are low -- really low.  But they are politicians.  You would think they might see some political wisdom in taking a pay freeze this year, just to show solidarity with the rest of the country, make it look like they care, and pretend to feel the pain by continuing to struggle by on a measly $169,300 a year. But no, they need that raise.  Is it any wonder the current RCP average for Congressional approval has them at 18.4%?

Electric Cars in Israel?

A company called Better Place has begun construction of a nationwide network of recharging sites to support electric cars throughout the state of Israel.  They also have pilot projects underway in Hawaii and elsewhere.  Their cars are built in partnership with Renault-Nissan, and have similar acceleration and top speed as typical gas-powered vehicles.

I'm highly skeptical of electric cars in general, but I find this company interesting.  They understand that you can't sell electric cars without first having a support network in place.  Their website puts forth all sorts of grandiose plans, but it appears that they are taking things one step at a time, in a more realistic manner than some of their propaganda might suggest.  It will be interesting to see if they succeed in creating a support network in Israel, and whether or not the cars themselves can be commercially viable.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Operation Was a Success But the Patient Died

"I've abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system"

Yes, that was George W. Bush on Tuesday, making a bid to be included on top lists of most idiotic statements of all time.  I guess that's one way to create a legacy.

New Feature - HOT5 Daily

I am starting a new feature here called HOT5 Daily.  Each day I am going to link five recent blog posts that I found interesting.  They could be interesting because of their insightful analysis, their incredible stupidity, or for other reasons.  Most will be political in nature, but not necessarily all. They will only be links to blog posts, not to regular news stories or mass media published articles. If you have a blog and think you have a post I should read, or want to suggest something, please let me know.  Put "HOT5" in the subject. On to the list:

1.  "Who Do You Think You Are Anyway"  This could also be called Cynical Rant of the Day.  The author may be a liberal, but this made me want to read his blog.  

Representative Sample: Let me tell you some things that you may or not know. First of all, the Federal government doesn’t give a f**k about you. They never have and they never will.

2.  "This beaver is clearly up to something"  NSFW-language. This is a must read.

Representative Sample: beavers don't just go around tapping their fingers together like an evil genius for no reason.

3.  "Matt Yglesias Is A Moral Leper"  A vicious right-wing smackdown.

Representative Sample: a snobby, know-it-all, chomskyite punk who graduated from Harvard the same year the war in Iraq began

4.  "Don’t Mention the (Cold) War"  An incisive capsule view of Russia today.

Representative Sample: there is a concerted effort on the part of the Putin/Medvedev regime to turn back the clock on Russia's relations with the United States

5.  "Syria And Iran: Know Who You're Dealing With"  Why we can't trust either of them.

Representative Sample: It isn’t that no one has tried negotiating with Iran on its nuclear program but merely that Iran has broken all its pledges

Want your blog post linked, or have a suggestion?  E-mail me at  Put HOT5 in the subject.

Blackwater Guards Were Under Fire

Back on December 8, I had a post up looking at The Blackwater Manslaughter Case.  At the time, I wrote that "it seems unlikely that the guards, all former military men, would just open fire on civilians without a good reason." An AP report yesterday reveals that Blackwater radio logs during the incident
describe a hectic eight minutes in which the guards repeatedly reported incoming gunfire from insurgents and Iraqi police.
It looks like the prosecution's case just fell apart.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Israeli Arms Sales to Russia?

Ares Defense Blog at Aviation Week reports a possible $12 million arms deal between Israel and Russia, with Israel supplying 100 of its Hermes 450 UAVs.  The Hermes 450 has multi-payload capacity, as well as real-time intelligence capabilities.  Russia encountered the UAV in its conflict with Georgia, which had previously bought some from Israel.

Hmm, selling advanced UAVs to Russia, the main arms supplier of Israel's Arab (and Persian) enemies.  What could go wrong?  I can understand the Israeli armaments industry's desire to reach new markets, but Putin's Russia is a terrible choice.  Why not just sell some to Syria and Iran while they are at it?

Religious Freedom & Guantanamo

The Washington Post  "On Faith" section has a daily column called "Under God." The latest article looks at a court case involving four British Muslims, held for two years and released uncharged, who claim that they were tortured and denied "their rights to practice their religion." They assert that
during their detention their beards were shaved, their daily prayers were banned or interrupted, copies of the Koran and prayer mats were denied to them, and one copy of the Koran was thrown in a toilet bucket in their presence.

Their case was unanimously rejected by the federal appeals court, but the Supreme Court is giving them another chance to make their case.  The appeals court, among other things, ruled that foreign non-resident detainees are not entitled to the same rights as U.S. citizens and legal resident aliens.

The Post writers are highly sympathetic to the former prisoners, are incredulous about the appeals court reasoning, and tout the fact that various religious groups share their position.

I don't share their views.  Let's pretend that the former prisoners even have a case based on something other than their own unsubstantiated assertions -- a big assumption.  And let's exclude the torture part of their claim, since this article only deals with the religious freedom aspect.  This case is still a complete waste of time and should be dismissed.

First, the appeals court was correct. Non-U.S. citizens do not and should not have the same rights as U.S. citizens.  The idea that they do, because the constitution refers to "people" or "persons" is simply ridiculous.  That notion is even more absurd when applied to presumed hostile aliens captured during wartime.

Then there are the specifics of the claim about being denied the rights to practice their religion. When you are in custody, even if you are a U.S. citizen, your full ability to practice your religion is going to be restricted.  There are dress and hygiene requirements in prison.  You don't get to have all the ceremonial implements you might think you need.  If your religion requires you to sacrifice a goat every Tuesday morning, is the prison going to provide you with a goat and a knife? Prisons have schedules, and prisoners aren't free to do whatever they want.  If you think you need to pray at a fixed time, it's likely that you might be interrupted occasionally.  If your prayers are loud, disruptive or otherwise irritating, they might be banned.  

All of the allegations in the claim can be easily understood as reasonable restrictions on religious practice based on prison conditions.  The Koran in the toilet incident, if it even occurred, was a an alleged trivial single occurence in a two year span and is therefore irrelevant -- especially since we don't know the circumstances. This "religious freedom" case is a frivolous suit based on shaky claims of constitutional rights that don't even exist for the persons in question.

As an aside, there is a hilarious quotation in the article by J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee, and one of the Washington Post's "On Faith" panelists.  

When anyone's God-given religious freedom is denied, everyone's is threatened
Religious freedom is "God-given"?  Really?  Which god is in favor of religious freedom? Mr. Walker might want to read back through the bible and see what his god has to say about the practice of other religions.  He can start witih "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Exodus 20:3.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Brzezinski's Foreign Policy Recommendations

Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski has a new column out titled, "The global political awakening." He gives some fairly specific recommendations for the direction of U.S. foreign policy.  Let's examine some of them:

1.  "re-establish a shared sense of purpose between America and Europe."  This is pretty vague, but essentially he's calling for the U.S. to work closer with European allies and make them feel like they have a role in U.S. foreign policy decisions.  I'm not sure how we accomplish that, but it appears to be a worthy goal.

2. "A regular personal dialogue...between the U.S. president and the Chinese leader."  Brzezinski wants more engagement with China to develop "a shared sense of responsibility." This is a realist approach that recognizes that we need Chinese cooperation on various issues.  It seems like a reasonable proposal.  We can't afford to ignore China.

3.  Diplomatic efforts toward Russia, in conjunction with Europe, to "seek agreements that enhance global stability, promote nuclear weapons reduction and deal with such regional problems as Iran."  Unfortunately such efforts assume that Russia is willing to cooperate.  There haven't been many signs of that lately.  He writes that the U.S. and Europe have to 

find a way of reaffirming their commitment to the integrity of Ukraine and Georgia while conveying to Russia that their interest in these two states relates to the gradual construction of a larger democratic Europe and is not designed to threaten Russia itself.

Good luck with that.

4.  "The Israeli-Palestinian peace process needs to be a priority."  Here I strongly disagree.  As a realist, Brezinski should understand that the Israeli-Palestinian situation is an unsolvable problem. The best thing we can do is to try to keep it from escalating. Wasting our time trying to come up with new agreements is pointless. We should also stop pretending to be some sort of honest broker and recognize that Israel is our ally, the Palestinians are hostile, and act accordingly.

5.  "undertake seriously reciprocal negotiations with Iran."  Useless and counterproductive.  Our only negotiations with Iran should be in the form of clear, unmistakable threats -- ie. deterrence. The current Iranian regime cannot be trusted.  Making some sort of deal with Iran, which they will then break -- either openly or secretly -- is a terrible idea.

6. "America's strategy regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan needs a basic reassessment."  Here he argues for a shift in Afghanistan toward a policy aimed at trying to separate the Taliban from Al Qaeda -- more diplomacy and less military action.  I think we should definitely consider such a strategy.  He does not elaborate with regard to Pakistan.

The entire article is definitely worth reading, even though I disagree with some of his assumptions and recommendations.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ticking Bomb Scenario & Torture

While surfing the left-wing blogosphere, I came across a short post by John Cole at Balloon Juice entitled:  "Tick Tock, You Don’t Stop." Cole is referencing an op-ed piece by Reuel Marc Gerecht, and a subsequent exchange between Gerecht and Andrew Sullivan.  Cole argues that
every attempt to justify torture inevitably returns to the mythical ticking time-bomb scenario

But of course there's nothing mythical about a ticking time-bomb or an analogous situation.  Why is it so difficult for left-wingers to understand that information can be time-sensitive? Unlike what Cole seems to believe, there is an excellent reason the ticking time bomb scenario comes up so often in arguments about torture.

There are three broad positions regarding torture.  Most people subscribe to one of them, although there is some overlap between groups.  The first I'll call Moral Absolutism. Moral Absolutists oppose torture on any and all occasions, because they see torture as morally wrong and indefensible.  The ends never justify the means.  The second position I characterize as Utilitarian.  Utilitarians evaluate torture on the basis of its effectiveness alone.  They aren't swayed by moral concerns.  This is the position often taken by torturers themselves, who argue that their actions were both necessary & effective -- the best way to save lives or whatever. The last group is almost certainly the largest, I'll call them Ticking Bomb Theorists.  Ticking Bomb Theorists tend to oppose torture in most cases.  But unlike Moral Absolutists, they believe that there are certain situations where torture might be justifiable, such as of course, a ticking bomb. Obviously the devil is in the details, and different people in this category can have far different thresholds for the use of torture.  

The ticking bomb scenario is just a convenient, easily understood scenario that illustrates why most people are not moral absolutists.  No one expects moral absolutists to agree.  But it would be nice if they'd stop pretending that possible real-world situations are nothing more than myth.

More Smoker Lawsuits

The Supreme Court rendered another bad 5-4 decision, opening the way for more lawsuits against tobacco companies based on "deceptive business practices" involving the marketing of light and low tar cigarettes.  The usual suspects, Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsberg & Breyer were in the majoirty.

Most tobacco lawsuits are little more than schemes to extort money from the unpopular tobacco companies -- particularly the cases filed by state attornies general.  Many individual cases rely on someone claiming to be such a moron that he/she didn't realize smoking was bad for health, and was tricked by the deceptive advertising of smoking companies.  Amazingly enough, this tactic has paid-off incredibly well.

I'm thinking of buying a Cadillac CTS and then suing GM for deceptive business practices if it doesn't turn me on.  They can pay me out of their bailout money.

Read it and Weep

According to Politico, the Bush administration & Congress have given us a Christmas package that consists of 
$8.7 trillion dollars’ worth of potential taxpayer commitments for loans, guarantees and other bailout goodies for businesses and distressed homeowners.

One analyst, James Bianco, points out that in adjusted dollars the current bailouts make the Marshall Plan and even the New Deal look like tiny expenditures. When asked how much money we are really talking about with regard to these bailouts and the planned "stimulus" package, Bianco said to "just use the number infinity." As he pointed out, no one understands the scope of these numbers, including the people pushing the bailouts.

If Senate Republicans don't apply a brake -- as they did temporarily in the case of the auto bailout -- who will? Part of the Senate Republican minority, along with a couple of fiscally conservative Democrats, form the last line of defense against endless bailouts.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Gingrich & Freddie Mac

Newt Gingrich remains popular on the right.  But anyone thinking of supporting him for any future bid for office might want to read this article.  Republicans rightly attacked Democrats for their connections to Fannie Mae.  But it turns out that prominent Republicans helped block tighter regulation of Freddie Mac., including Newt Gingrich.  He received $300,000 from Freddie Mac in 2006 to trumpet the "benefits of the Freddie Mac business model."  What was the impact of Republican lobbying by Gingrich & others? 

The tactics worked — for a time. Freddie Mac was able to operate with a relatively free hand until the housing bubble ultimately burst in 2007.

Now Freddie Mac and its sister company, Fannie Mae, are in financial collapse and under government control

The GOP doesn't need politicians like Gingrich back in power.

h/t Daniel J. Mitchell at Cato@Liberty

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Irrational Left & the Auto Bailout

The reaction to the auto bailout failure in the Senate demonstrates yet again the irrationality of what passes for analysis amongst much of the left.  The Blogometer's 12/12 roundup has the excerpts from the blogosphere.  The basic left-wing view is that evil, nasty Republicans don't care about the economy.  They just hate the UAW and that's why they opposed the bailout. Seriously, they really believe that.  Here's a representative sample:

Jane Hamsher at Firedog Lake: "I think this erases all doubt -- the Republicans quite plainly want the economy to fail"

Digby at Hullabaloo: "At this point, the only route they see power is to make things worse and blame it on the Democrats. What else do they have?"

John Cole at Balloon Juice: "you do have to be crazy to be able to pretend that somehow any principles are at stake other than union busting"

Read pretty much any left-wing site, and the theme is similar.  That brings up a few questions. What about the most evil Republicans of all, Bush & Cheney?  Oh yeah, they favored the auto-bailout.  What about the ten Republicans that voted for it?  How do they fit in to the dirty union-busting Republican theme?  How about all the Republican senators who voted against both the $700 billion rescue package and the auto bailout?  Could it be that maybe they don't think bailouts are a good idea at all?  No, of course not; they just want to destroy the economy.  What about the four Democrats who opposed the auto bailout?  Did they want to crush the union too, or do they get to have principles by virtue of being Democrats?  Eight Republicans didn't even vote.  They must have missed the memo about busting the union.  And if the auto bailout was so crucial to our economy, why did vice-president elect Joe Biden not even bother to vote on it, along with Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, and Wyden of Oregon.  Do they not care about the economy? But they're Democrats.  I thought only Republicans wanted to send us into a depression.

Here's the roll call on the financial bailout, and the roll call for the auto bailout.  Of the 31 GOP senators that voted against the auto bailout, 13 of them also voted against the financial bailout. So even assuming the worst, only 18 Republican senators could be accused of targeting the union and refusing to vote for the bailout, even though they were willing to support a much greater bailout.  But that doesn't stop the left from ascribing the worst motivations to Republicans in general.  Why?  Because they know that Republicans are evil and always act based on bad motives.  

How many times have we had to listen to left-wingers whine and snivel about the right questioning their patriotism?  Yet they feel free to portray the entire Republican party as an unprincipled organization bent on destroying the economy for political purposes, based on nothing more than policy differences regarding one vote.

"Language of Faith" Wins Wars?

There's an article up at Pajamas Media by Elisabeth Scalia entitled "Winning This War Requires Language of Faith."  The war in question is the fight against radical Islamic terrorism.  Her thesis is that 
As the West evolves into a post-faith society — disdainful of religion and confident in the primacy of reason alone — it is rendering itself ineffective and mute. Mute against an enemy that, for better or worse, communicates solely in the language of the supernatural and belief.
According to Scalia
Silencing the language of faith in public discourse and policy weakens the West’s ability to engage and defeat an enemy entirely motivated by relentless theology. By failing to speak in the same language, it has no weapons for victory, short of destroying whole cities.

I find her argument weak, lacking in specifics, and unconvincing -- it is little more than a call for "faith," as if engaging in magical thinking will somehow help us defeat terrorism.  It is built on a series of strawmen.  Scalia condemns various unrealistic approaches to dealing with radical Islam, such as appeasement and diplomacy.  But what do they have to do with faith? There are plenty of non-religious people, such as myself, who agree on these points.  Does she think that only the religious can understand that radical Islam cannot be reasoned with or accommodated? She appears to be confusing part of the secular left with all secular individuals.  Do prominent atheists Christopher Hitchens & Sam Harris have any difficulty understanding the threat of radical Islam? 

Scalia claims that "We should consider that Islamic terrorism may not be defeatable, except on its own terms, on the battlefield of the supernatural."  What is that supposed to mean?  We need to rely on our God(s) to beat theirs? She never spells out how the "language of faith" should be used, or what it will accomplish.  The article is so vague on these points that she could be calling for anything from mild propaganda to a crusade.  When you write an article that advocates relying on faith as a strategy for fighting radical Islam, you have no standing to criticize anyone else for taking an unrealistic approach.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Yet Another Reason to Oppose Bailouts reports that the Federal Reserve refuses to divulge information about what it has done with $2 trillion in emergency loans:
The Federal Reserve refused a request by Bloomberg News to disclose the recipients of more than $2 trillion of emergency loans from U.S. taxpayers and the assets the central bank is accepting as collateral.

Bloomberg is suing under the Freedom of Information Act.  

Not only is the government handing out unprecedented amounts of taxpayer money, they don't think the taxpayers even have a right to know where that money is going.  It's only $2 trillion, why should we worry about it?  I'm sure they'll use it wisely, just like the government always uses tax money.

Christian Attack on Bush

Bush's recent interview in which he said he wasn't a biblical literalist prompted a blistering attack from Baptist minister and Constitution Party leader Chuck Baldwin at  Here are some representative snippets: 

acceptance of the Bible's literalness is one of conservative Christianity's most sacred doctrines... Bush twice denied the veracity of the Scriptures...George W. Bush clearly stated that he does not believe the Bible is God's Holy, inspired Word...where are Dobson and PCC now? Will any of them utter a word of rebuke to their "Christian" President for his apostasy

I was wondering if Bush's interview would produce that reaction among fundamentalists Christians. Baldwin has despised Bush for quite awhile, but I would bet that others had a similar response.

h/t John Derbyshire at Secular Right

Diplomatic Failure and North Korea

Throughout much of its two terms, the Bush administration has pursued pointless & counterproductive negotiations with North Korea about its nuclear program, similar to those started by the Clinton administration.  The premise of the six-party talks was that North Korea had "agreed in principle to scrap its nuclear program, including weapons, in return for aid and diplomatic benefits."

Anyone with an ounce of common sense, apparently something not possessed by many diplomats or the Bush administration, would be highly skeptical of making any deals with North Korea and its erratic, possibly insane dictator.  But no, the six party countries, including the U.S.,  promised "one million tons of heavy fuel oil for shutting down and disabling the Yongbyon complex."  More than half has already been delivered prior to any agreement on verification.  The U.S. said that North Korea "verbally accepted" verification.  So basically we took the word of Kim Jong Il.  Smart move.   

This is exactly the approach the Obama administration needs to avoid with regard to Iran. Bribing enemy states to stop doing something is just not a wise policy -- especially when you start paying them off before you have any evidence they've even done what you are bribing them to do.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Vatican Attacks Science

The Washington Post reports that the Vatican has issued 
its first authoritative statement on reproductive science in more than 20 years, today condemned human cloning, designer babies, embryonic stem cell research that destroys human embryos and a host of techniques widely used to help infertile couples.

Maybe it's just me, but something seems strange about a religious body putting out an "authoritative statement" on science.  Along with condemning human cloning, the Vatican also proscribes embryonic stem cell research and a wide range of infertility treatments.

According to Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, "the church is very closely watching scientific progress and favors that progress but wants ethics to be part of that." That's one way of putting it.  Another way would be that the church wants to tell scientists which parts of science are ethical, and which are not.

Senate Republicans Get Something Right

Congratulations to Senate Republicans, who finally developed a spine and killed the auto industry bailout -- at least for now.  With the large Democratic majority in the House, the Senate is the last line of defense against more bailouts.  I had given up on on the GOP Senate minority after it acquiesed to the horrible, panic-driven $700 billion "rescue" plan.  It's good to see that they aren't going to go along meekly with every government handout,  after some weak protests.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Nuclear Deterrence and Iran

According to an article from Haaretz, the Obama administration will "offer Israel a 'nuclear umbrella' against the threat of a nuclear attack by Iran." This would also include "a new and improved Israeli anti-ballistic missile system." 

I'm already seeing some criticism of this from the right, assuming the story is even true.  I'm not going to join in.  In my opinion, a policy of deterrence is our only realistic option.  Iran is not going to give up its nuclear aspirations, and we simply do not have the political will, let alone any popular support,  for the type of sustained attack on Iran necessary to cripple its nuclear program.  [See my previous post on that subject here.]  As for the Israelis, unless they are prepared to launch a first strike with nuclear weapons, it is difficult to see how they could carry out such an attack either, without U.S. acquiesence & support -- which would cause most of the same sorts of difficulties as a solo U.S. attack.  Given the state of the U.S. economy, the planned withdrawal from Iraq, and the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, there is simply no support for a war with Iran.  It's not going to happen unless Iran starts one.

I still fear that Obama might be suckered into making some sort of deal with Iran, in which they pretend to give up their nuclear program ala North Korea, and we naively provide them with some sort of quid pro quo.  But I view Obama's focus on deterrence in the case of Iran as a welcome sign of realpolitik.  If true, it will raise my low estimation of his foreign policy acumen by a couple of notches.  

Torture in Germany

In reference to a comment about my earlier post, "Nonsense About Torture," in which I made the argument that torture works, I noticed this account of German police interrogation that occurred in 2002.  While interrogating a kidnapper who had abducted a child, police told him that they “will make you feel pain like you have never felt before.” They followed up this threat of torture by
shaking him so violently that his head bangs against the wall and hitting him in the chest hard enough to leave a bruise over his collarbone.
The kidnapper talked within minutes, telling police that he had killed the boy, and directing them to his body.  The mere threat of torture, combined with a beating, quickly produced accurate information.  Something to keep in mind the next time someone makes a blanket statement that torture doesn't work.

Training Kids to fight Gunmen

MSNBC reports that a Fort Worth, Texas school district is teaching students what to do if a gunman invades their classroom.  The instruction, provided by "Response Options," that employs military trainers,  is teaching kids to attack the intruder:
rush him and hit him with everything they've got — books, pencils, legs and arms.

One of the trainers, British Army reserve Major Robin Browne recommends that 

students and teachers “react immediately to the sight of a gun by picking up anything and everything and throwing it at the head and body of the attacker and making as much noise as possible. Go toward him as fast as we can and bring them down.”
Naturally this training is controversial, but as the father of an eleven year old, I'm in favor of it. If someone comes into the classroom shooting, there's no point sitting there, being a target, and waiting to die.  Unfortunately there aren't too many places to hide in a typical schoolroom. As Maj. Browne says:
“The fact that someone walks into a classroom with a gun does not make them a god. Five or six seventh-grade kids and a 95-pound art teacher can basically challenge, bring down and immobilize a 200-pound man with a gun.”

Bailing Out Christmas

The Wall Street Journal reports that 
the Treasury Department is drawing up plans to bail out Christmas. "We have reason to believe," said a person close to the matter, "that without an immediate capital injection, Santa Claus will fail before December 24."
The whole article is pretty funny.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Destroying the "Deregulation" Myth

Blaming the Bush administration's "deregulation" for all or part of the current economic crisis is highly popular on the left -- except that it never happened.  Veronique de Rugy, writing at Reason Online, details the massive expansion of regulation that took place under Bush.  As she points out: 
The Bush team has spent more taxpayer money on issuing and enforcing regulations than any previous administration in U.S. history. Between fiscal year 2001 and fiscal year 2009, outlays on regulatory activities, adjusted for inflation, increased from $26.4 billion to an estimated $42.7 billion, or 62 percent.
A legitimate argument can be made that the right type of regulations were not in place, or that enforcement was lacking in crucial areas, but the idea that Bush was some sort of deregulator is a complete myth.

Rational thoughts from Robert Scheer

I know, rational thought & Robert Scheer don't normally go together.  But he has a new article up at The Nation that makes a surprising amount of sense, aside from the obligatory attempt to to link the roots of our current problems to Reagan. Speaking of the bailouts, Scheer writes: 
It's enough to drive one back to the invisible hand of Adam Smith. Personally, I would rather we took our chances these days with letting the corporations sink or swim on their own without government interference.
Is this really Scheer, or is someone impersonating him? There's more: 
we all may end up on the public dole, scrambling for droppings from a too heavily laden nationalized table. Socialism for the rich is not the way to go.
Scheer argues that we should look after the workers who become unemployed as a result of corporate failures, rather than bailing out the companies that got in trouble through mismanagement.  I was shocked to find myself in agreement with many of his points.

Another Misleading News Headline

The New York Times online has a story up entitled, "U.S. Forces Mistakenly Kill 6 Afghan Police." If you just read the headline, you would naturally assume that his was a U.S. military screw-up. But if you read the article you find that 
A statement issued jointly by the American and Afghan military commands said a contingent of police officers fired on American forces after the Americans had successfully overrun the hideout, killing the suspected Taliban commander and detaining another man.
So, unlike what the headline implies, U.S. forces had carried out a successful operation when they were mistakenly fired upon by Afghan police. Only then did they return fire, killing them.  Why use a headline that while technically correct, badly distorts what happened?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Vicious Case of Police Brutality

The New York Times reports that three NYC police officers have been charged in conjunction with a case in which one officer:

took his retractable baton and “shoved it” up Mr. Mineo’s anus, Mr. Hynes said, and that “resulted in an anal rectal tear.”

Apprarently he was smoking pot, and ran from police.  Yeah, that justifies being sodomized with a baton.  Naturally the police tried to cover it up, but according to other reports,  a transit officer who witnessed the attack came forward to testify.

The officer who actually carried out the assault faces up to twenty-five years in jail.  If convicted he should get the maximum.  The police are given greater power & responsibility than other citizens; if they abuse it they should also receive greater punishment.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Inflated Military Contracts - Another Egregious Example

According to Strategy Page the defense department's contract with Lockheed Martin to build the F-22 fighter has a disturbing clause. If the military stops buying F-22s, we the taxpayers have to pay Lockheed Martin $147 million. Why would the government enter into such a contract in the first place? Apparently Congress wanted to "encourage building more F-22s."  So they decided to penalize the country if we changed our minds later about how many we needed.

Like most on the right, I favor a strong military and support spending on advanced weapon systems.  But that doesn't mean we need to be stupid and wasteful about it, as is all too often the case.

Obama Birth Certificate Conspiracy Theory

Every nut on my side of the aisle who thinks this is a real issue and challenges the legitimacy of Obama's election  should read David Horowitz's article, "Obama Derangement Syndrome" at National Review Online.  The people pushing this theory are, to paraphrase Horowitz, sore losers and an embarrassment to conservatism. As he writes, 

Respect for election results is one of the most durable bulwarks of our unity as a nation. Conservatives need to accept the fact that we lost the election, and get over it

And this isn't some liberal, moderate Republican, or RINO slamming the right. This is David Horowitz of Frontpage Magazine.  Let's not replace BDS with ODS.

The Blackwater Manslaughter Case

The Washington Post reported today that five Blackwater security guards were charged with manslaughter in conjunction with a shooting incident in Iraq in Sept. 2007 that left 17 civilians dead.  According to the article, the guards were: 
working as Blackwater security contractors for the State Department when their convoy pulled into Nisoor Square and they opened fire.

They claim they were under fire from insurgents.  But the Iraqi government contends that they "fired without provocation."  Military & FBI investigations couldn't find anything to support the Blackwater guards' assertion that they were fired upon.

With the caveat that I don't know all the details, but going just by this article and other published reports, this whole thing smacks of a political prosecution.  It seems unlikely that the guards, all former military men, would just open fire on civilians without a good reason.  If they are convicted, I hope the convictions rest on something stronger than the word of the Iraqi government about something that happened in a war zone.

It is also worth mentioning that one of the charges is a firearms charge.  

The guards face the firearms charge under a 1980s drug law that made it a crime to use a machine gun in a crime of violence, according to the sources.
The sheer stupidity of this charge, when applied to paramilitary forces working for the State Department, makes me question the validity of the prosecution.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Nonsense About Torture has a story up entitled, Ex-Interrogator: Torture Doesn't Work.  The article, with its highly misleading title, reports on a new book by the leader of an interrogation team in Iraq, who details his experiences and opinions. The article's title is contradicted by information given in the text -- and of course by logic and facts.  The officer, who uses the alias Matthew Alexander, admits that torture did sometimes produce useful information.  He is basically making a case that it is counterproductive overall, and that other methods were more effective -- a much stronger argument than pretending that torture doesn't work.  However, his points are weakened by ridiculous overstatement.  According to the article, Alexander says

the US military's use of torture is responsible for the deaths of thousands of US soldiers because it inspired foreign fighters to kill Americans.

Anyone making such a ludicrous claim cannot be taken seriously, no matter what his experience and background.  Total U.S. military losses are in the "thousands."  So he is essentially arguing that our interrogation practices caused the majority of U.S. military deaths.  I guess there'd only be a couple hundred U.S. military deaths if we hadn't resorted to torture.  Does anyone actually believe that?  

There are various powerful arguments against using torture or torture-like techniques. Making false statements that torture doesn't work, or putting forth crazy assertions that it somehow caused thousands of military deaths are not among them.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Humorous Skeptics in Japan

There is an organization in Japan named "The Academy of Outrageous Books." According to Japan Times, the group's mission is 
squeezing a good laugh out of books that, contrary to the creator's earnest intentions, feature writing, theories and presumptions that were too far-fetched or scientifically faulty to be taken seriously.
Apparently Japanese publishing, much like American, prints numerous works based on "conspiracy theories, occultism, UFOs and pseudoscience." The academy, headed by novelist Hiroshi Yamamoto analyzes and debunks them, and then recommends the most outrageous for entertainment reading.  

Friday, December 5, 2008

More on Mumbai

An article in the Christian Science Monitor analyzes the Mumbai attack as a template for possible future terrorist operations.  The experts quoted in the article emphasize the skillful coordination, and what one calls a "tremendous amount of strategic thinking" on the part of the terrorists.  They point out that no police force is prepared for that type of attack.

Despite the apparent sophistication of the Mumbai operation, I remain unconvinced that a great deal of skill, training, and coordination is necessary to pull off a major terrorist attack.  Imagine ten terrorists with civilian weapons and homemade bombs.  They split into three groups with their weapons concealed under heavy coats or whatever.  Each group enters a crowded shopping mall during the Christmas season,  and they all attack at a prearranged time.  How many people would be killed, wounded, or trampled in the panic, before an effective police response took place? Give them grenades & selective fire military small arms  and the number of casualties would be even greater.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Voice for Capitalism

At the Telegraph, Iain Martin has an article entitled Capitalists: get up off your knees, please.  When I read that title I couldn't help think of the performance of John McCain & Sarah Palin during the presidential campaign.  Throughout, especially in the debates, I kept hoping they'd actually speak out in defense of the free market.  But instead, all we got was economic populism that consisted mostly of bashing "Wall Street greed."

Martin's article is specific to the UK, but most of what he says applies equally to the U.S.  As he writes: 

big government and elements of big business have been colluding, hoping we'll all think: "It's not as though this is real money; if we run out, we can just print more."
That's certainly the situation here in the U.S.  He also points out that
The advocates of free markets seem frozen in shock. So who should speak up? Well, we should hear from those businessmen who are not corporatists keen to stitch up a deal with big government.
The entire article is well worth reading.  Unfortunately it will almost certainly fall on deaf ears.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

No-strings Bailout Money

From todays Washington Post:

Bailout Oversight Lacking, GAO Says: Investigators Find Few Safeguards or Gauges of Success

Wow, what a surprise.  Who would have thought that the government would be so careless with taxpayer money? According to the article, the Treasury department has given out over 150 billion of the 700 billion "rescue" package.  How are the 52 firms involved using this massive handout of tax dollars?  Who knows?  Treasury hasn't gotten around to doing any monitoring yet, so they have no idea what's going on.  Could there be conflicts of interest?  Well, the Treasury department "currently relies on the firms to disclose any conflicts."  That sounds like a great idea -- let's let the companies getting the funds decide whether or not they are using them as intended.  What could go wrong?  It's only taxpayer money anyway.   

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Irrational Left - Another of Many Examples

I was skimming thru a few left-wing sites and stopped on Balloon Juice. There's a post up called "Great Moments In Bootlicking." It's an eye-grabbing title, so I read it. John Cole, the blog's author, is responding to something Ed Morrisey wrote at Hot Air. Here's what Morrisey wrote:

“Unprepared for war”? That admission won’t help him in the final weeks. I think it’s also inaccurate. The Bush administration was prepared for war in Iraq, but they were not prepared for the occupation that followed. If he’s referring to 9/11, he was just as prepared for that as the Clinton administration, and for the same reasons. No one wanted to believe we were already at war with Islamist terrorists — and some people refuse to believe it even today. John Edwards called the war on terror a “bumper sticker”, and unfortunately he’s hardly alone.

Now to a rational person that might sound pretty reasonable, even if he/she doesn't agree with every particular point. Was Bush prepared for war and unprepared for the occupation?  One can certainly make that case pretty easily.  Was Bush unprepared for 9/11, just like the Clinton administration would have been unprepared?  Yes, that's pretty much a given -- we were obviously unprepared for that type of terrorist attack.  Did people in general think we were at war with Islamic terrorism before 9/11?  No.  Do some people now downplay the threat?  Yes.  

So Morrisey's points are either facts, or at least debatable.  But what does Cole think?  According to him, Morrisey's comments demonstrate "unprecedented heights" of "Bush sycophancy" and illustrate the "disintegrating credibility of movement Republicanism in a nutshell."  Really? Yes, he's actually serious.  In Cole's left-wing world, anything but the most rabid BDS-style attack on Bush is "Bush sycophancy."

Anyone who has ever argued with left-wingers about the Bush administration has seen this phenomenon over and over.  It's a prime symptom of Bush Derangement Syndrome.  It goes something like this:

Left-winger:  puts forth ridiculous, over-the-top attack on Bush

Right-winger:  agrees that Bush has done x, y, and z wrong, but points out that Left-winger's attack is irrational, purely partisan, a conspiracy theory, or otherwise weak.

Left-winger:  accuses Right-winger of being a worshiper of Bush.

No matter how critical you are of Bush, the moment you say anything that could be interpreted by a leftist as the slightest defense of him,  you have then achieved "unprecedented heights" of "Bush sycophancy."


The Obama Administration & Iran

Now that Obama has named his foreign policy/national security team, one of the problems they'll have to confront is what to do about Iran & its nuclear program. Obama said during the campaign that he would not permit Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. Some of the latest estimates say that Iran already has enough enriched uranium to make at least one warhead. How is the Obama administration going to stop them? Short answer -- they can't and won't.

Iran's nuclear program is too far along to be stopped by any sort of surgical military strikes. The ISIS report of August 7, 2008 details the difficulties of eliminating a gas centrifuge program. A military solution would require massive, sustained action against Iran. With the U.S. winding down its operations in Iraq, still embroiled in Afghanistan, and in the midst of a world-wide recession, there is no way any U.S. administration, let alone Obama's, is going to go to war with Iran. That leaves the diplomatic option.

Despite Democratic propaganda to the contrary, the Bush administration has been talking to Iran, and there has been some international pressure on it to give up its nuclear program. These efforts have been unsuccessful because Iran is dedicated to becoming a nuclear power. From their perspective, obtaining nuclear weapons is a critical project for Iranian security and prestige. There are only two main ways in which diplomacy could possibly force Iran to give up its nuclear aspirations. These could be employed separately, or in combination as a carrot/stick approach. The first involves imposing so much pressure, and so many sanctions, that the nuclear program isn't worth the price they have to pay for it. The second rests on creating positive incentives that convince Iran to change its direction. Neither of these approaches has any real chance of success. The first requires unprecedented international cooperation and resolve, and has to include all major powers, such as Russia & China. The second rests on the assumption --a very large one -- that there is anything that we would be willing to offer Iran, that could sway them from their nuclear designs.

So how does the Obama administration handle the situation?  I fear that Obama will attempt to make a deal with Iran, similar to the Clinton approach to North Korea.  I would not be at all surprised to see a U.S. initiative that offers Iran incentives to stop its nuclear program.  This is a terrible idea for one simple reason: the Iranian government cannot be trusted.  Such a deal would almost certainly result in Iran taking whatever we are willing to give them, and secretly continuing its nuclear program.  If I'm wrong, and Obama is somehow able to get the international cooperation necessary to impose truly crippling sanctions on Iran, I'll applaud him. But I think a bad deal is far more likely.