Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Atheists as "Idolaters"

I was skimming articles today, and I came across one of the more laughable attacks on atheists that I've seen in awhile. It's a column in Christianity Today-Australia called, "Idolatry." The article is for Christians of course, but it uses atheists as a strawman example of idolaters. Here are the relevant passages:  
Atheists and other god-deniers are clear examples of idolaters. They reject the God of the universe, and choose to instead worship themselves, their own intellect, their own abilities, and their own values. Self becomes enthroned, while the real God is dethroned. They tell God that they will call the shots, not him.
‘I am the Lord thy God . . . Thou shalt not have strange gods before me.’ It was as if Moses had written: ‘Atheists are not godless men; they are men addicted to false gods.’ Thus, the battle of love to which the Christian is honourably called today is the struggle to liberate his atheist neighbours from enthrallment to false gods and to help these neighbours find the True God.”

The author, Bill Muehlenberg, extends this ridiculous argument to warn against "Christian atheism." According to him, if you focus on "self" instead of God, that makes you an idolater. And since atheists are his prime example of idolaters, that makes you a Christian atheist.

Muehlenberg's concept of atheism is actually not all that uncommon among theists. Some are incapable of understanding that atheists really don't believe in God. They are so wrapped up in their religious beliefs, that the sheer alien nature of disbelief baffles them. Because they don't understand it, they instead assume that atheists reject God. Why would someone reject God? Well, it must be because they worship something else in God's place. They simply can't envision not worshipping anything at all. If you patiently explain to such a theist that you don't believe in God because you see no evidence for his existence, he will assume that you must be lying, and will begin trying to psychoanalyze you to determine why it is that you've decided to reject God.

Andrew McCarthy on Spain's Legal Attack on the U.S.

Many on the right have downplayed the recent Spanish court inquiry into filing charges against former Bush administration lawyers, quickly dismissing it as just another example of BDS, not to be taken seriously. But Andrew McCarthy of National Review Online has an outstanding article up about the whole situation. I'm going to highlight a few of his points.  With regard to the Geneva Conventions

Controversies about compliance were never meant to be fodder for lawsuits, much less to be legal weapons in the arsenal of lawless barbarians. Had our diplomats had any inkling, when the conventions were adopted in 1949, that they were surrendering national-security decisions to politically unaccountable federal judges, let alone to foreign tribunals whose strings are pulled by perfervid anti-Americans, the conventions would never have been signed.

Exactly. But for some reason, many seem to think the conventions are supposed to protect non-state terrorists who haven't signed them, and don't abide by them. Treaties designed to assure civilized treatment between warring states have been perverted to grant terrorists "rights." And now they are being used to attack not just American policymakers, but the lawyers who advised them. 

McCarthy also has some interesting information about Gonzalo Boye, the lawyer who filed the case in Spanish Court. Just who is he anyway? Guess what? He's a former terrorist. Somehow that information didn't make it into the New York Times.

Boye, a Chilean, was a member of the terrorist Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) when, in collusion with the ETA, Spain’s Marxist-Leninist Basque terrorist outfit, he participated in the abduction of a Spanish businessman, Emiliano Revilla.

Apparently he's also rabidly anti-Israel, and has served as a legal advisor for Hamas. That's a big surprise. Who would have thought a radical leftist would attack the U.S. & Israel, while assisting Hamas?

And finally, McCarthy reinforces a point I made in an earlier post

Even if the very notion of pursuing charges against good-faith legal advisers at the behest of an anti-American radical drawn directly from the swamps of terrorism did not make the whole exercise a farce, Spain’s maneuvering would still be provocative. Were it not camouflaged as legal process, it would properly be regarded as a hostile act
It is definitely a hostile act, yet our useful idiot left is busy cheering it on.
The question is: Do we have a president who is on our side, or on the side of terror’s enablers?

That's an excellent question. I think Obama would like the entire issue to just go away. I don't see him taking a strong stand either way.

The Broken Military Budget Estimation Process

A wire story was out yesterday called, "Nearly 7 in 10 major U.S. arms programs over budget." The details come from a GAO report. Here are some key points:
Of those reporting relevant cost data, 69 percent, or 64 programs, chalked up increases in total acquisition costs, the GAO said. 

A total of 75 percent, or 69 programs, reported increases in research and development costs and these were 42 percent above their original estimates in 2008, up from 40 percent above the year before.

And delays in delivering weapon systems increased. What ever happened to underpromising and overdelivering as a principle for estimating? For as long as I can remember, the Pentagon has based its acquisitions on rosy estimates of cost & development times. This is typical government inefficiency taken to the extreme. Instead of basing our acquisitions on worst-case realistic estimates, we base them on fantasy projections that lead to massive cost overruns and undelivered or non-functioning systems. The spiraling costs lead to cuts, some of which affect promising platforms that have to be killed because we can no longer afford their development -- all because we can't be bothered to use reasonable, conservative estimating practices.

What are the administration's plans?

Ashton Carter, the Obama administration's choice to become the Pentagon's top arms buyer, told his Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday he would go program by program to crack down on cost overruns if confirmed.

That's like treating the symptoms of a cancerous tumor, while ignoring the tumor itself. The Obama administration should call for a complete overhaul of the military cost estimation process. It's one area where reform is desperately needed.

HOT5 Daily 3/31/2009

1. "Misery manufactured by Arabs"  An interesting perspective on Gaza.

Representative Sample: The Gaza misery is not the outcome of some natural disaster. It is the result of deliberate choice – something the liberal-minded westerners can barely grasp – of Arab and Palestinian leadership to perpetuate the condition of Palestinians

2. "I’d Like To Hear The Left’s Comments About The Expansion Of “Executive Power” Now …" If it's done to exert more control over industry= good, for national security= bad.

Representative Sample: After all the caterwauling by the left about “unprecedented executive branch power expansion” during the Bush years, they’re rather quiet about these.

3. "Why No One Believes What Democrats Say" Friendly fire from the left.

Representative Sample: Democrats keep saying, in public, that the only reason they support certain positions is to trick people into thinking that they are moderate.

4. "Guest Post: Barack Obama as Herbert Hoover" A much better comparison than FDR.

Representative Sample: While the Americans are trying to reflate the bubble and bring back the same unbalanced system which got us here, the Europeans are putting their heads in the sand, wishing all of this would go away.

5. "DoD Failing To Build Good Strategists" U.S. emphasizes tactical training, badly neglects education in strategic thinking.

Representative Sample: We may have the best weapons and and best trained troops, but if we use them badly the results are unlikely to transcend the abilities of the fine men and women who serve in the military.

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

Monday, March 30, 2009

Empty Soda Machines Give No Soda

There's a soda machine that appears to be filled with soda, and you are thirsty -- very thirsty. You grab some change from your pocket and put it in the coin slot. Out comes a soda and you drink it. But you are still very thirsty. You put in more money, but this time nothing comes out. You put in the last of your money -- still no soda. You are sure this machine isn't out of soda, and you must have some more. In desperation you pick up a crowbar and pry it open, only to find that the machine is empty. There just isn't any more soda. Does this mean that ripping open soda machines to get soda doesn't work?

Since the Washington Post printed its misleading story about Abu Zubaidah, many, particularly on the left, have uncritically accepted the opinion of one group of unnamed sources as if it were gospel truth. That's nothing surprising. But they've also generalized from this one incident, claiming that the Abu Zubaidah case somehow proves that torture doesn't work -- even though we know for a fact that it can and has worked. I don't expect much reasoning ability from people who don't believe torture can work, since they evidently live in their own little fantasy worlds, but it would be nice if they'd apply even a minimum of elementary logic to their arguments. The Post story, if true, clearly indicates that Abu Zubaidah did not have the information the U.S. thought he had.

If someone does not have information, nothing will get it out of them. I know this is probably difficult for some to grasp, but attempting to extract information from someone who doesn't have it won't work, no matter what method you use. A failure in that case does not invalidate the method. 

Jehovah's Witness at the Door

I was getting ready to head out to my office when I heard someone pounding on my door. I answered and found a man holding a flyer. Before I could say anything he handed it to me, and I immediately noticed it was a Watchtower publication. The last time a Jehovah's Witness showed up he attempted to launch into his proselytizing spiel, at which point I cut him off saying, "Don't waste your time, I'm an atheist and I'm totally uninterested." That produced a look of horror, and he mumbled something and took off. But this guy just wanted to inform me about some Easter event here in town, and mainly wanted to give me the flyer. It was nice to see a lower-pressure approach from one of the more aggressive religious organizations. Although he could have just stuck the flyer in my mailbox.

The Non-existent Right to Privacy

The Miami Herald ran a story on Saturday which gives another example of why I laugh whenever anyone cites the non-existent "right" to privacy. Apparently insurance companies deny applicants based on the medications they are taking, even if those applying don't reveal that information. If you thought your medical information was private, think again. The Herald found that data-mining operations harvest information from pharmacies and other drug suppliers, and then sell that information to insurance companies, which use it to deny applications. If someone knows what drugs you are on, they know your medical conditions. 

As a default position I assume that any information that passes through electronic media of any form, including the telephone, is not private. If someone wants it bad enough they can get it.

HOT5 Daily 3/30/2009

1. "Released GITMO Detainees Should Go Back To Their Own Country - To be Tortured or Not"  I'll second that.

Representative Sample: China is a Full Member of the United Nations right up to holding a permanent Seat on the UN's Security Council. What happens to the Chinese Uighurs upon their return to China by the US is not our problem.

2. "A Mexican Standoff with Reality" Why we should take a worst-case view of the Mexican situation.

Representative Sample: This line that Mexico is fundamentally sound, while helpful to President Calderon’s political standing when expressed in public, is analytically speaking, sheer nonsense, and if enforced in private, counterproductive

3. "Hope And Change: Obama Administration Won’t Be Touching “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” Policy" Issue to go on the back-burner.

Representative Sample: making a decision on that would require some actual leadership from the President on a tough, divisive issue. And we all know Obama favors form over substance. Pretty speeches, not a lot of meaning.

4. "If Ashley Biden was Sarah Palin’s Daughter and got Caught with Cocaine, The Media Would Be On Fire" Stating the obvious is sometimes necessary. There are actually people who don't believe most major media slants Democratic.

Representative Sample: If Ashley were Sarah Palin’s daughter, would the media not have had this FRONT PAGE NEW[s] OF EVERY PAPER IN THE WORLD with no vetting at all?

5. "Sex offender says he will continue to molest children; is released anyway" Our legal system at work.

Representative Sample: A convicted sex offender due to be released Saturday from prison after serving 11 months warned in letters that if set free, he would reoffend, even against children. In the letters, Michael McGill begged authorities to keep him locked up for life.

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

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Abu Zubaida & the Necessity for the Torture Option

In the previous post, I took issue with the Washington Post's labeling of their story on Abu Zubaida. While skimming the blogosphere response, I noticed that the usual suspects, mostly on the left, have seized on the story as expected.  Naturally they accept the one-side of the report that supports their views and ignore the rest. Their reaction goes something like this [italics mine]. See, see, we told you. Not only is torture evil, immoral & illegal, but this story proves that it's also a waste of time and gets nothing but false leads. This is typical of the sort of surface thinking that passes for analysis among much of the left. Unfortunately, the very version of the story they accept demonstrates the flaws in their thinking.

For the purposes of argument I am going to stipulate that the unnamed critics of the administration in the Post's story are correct. According to their version of events, Abu Zubaida was a lower-level cog in the Al Qaeda machine instead of a major figure. Rather than being a prime source of intelligence, he instead knew very little, and what little he did know we learned during initial, non-coercive interrogations. The waterboarding and other coercive techniques produced nothing but false leads. And we disproved every supposed lead that he divulged under torture. This narrative is an excellent illustration of why torture is sometimes necessary and should remain an option in such cases. 

From the critics' own version we know the following things:

1. The government believed that Abu Zubaida was a high-level Al Qaeda leader.

2. Given #1, it was reasonably assumed that he had wide knowledge of Al Qaeda operations.

3. Initial non-coercive interrogations produced limited information.

4. Given #1 & 2, the government reasonably assumed that Abu Zubaida was concealing far more information than had been gained through interrogation.

Therefore the U.S. government faced the following scenario at the time. They had a major Al Qaeda figure in custody with information deemed critical to U.S. national security. Normal interrogation procedures had failed to produce that information. They then had two basic options:

1. Discard everything they believed about Abu Zubaida and accept that they just weren't going to get more out of him. And hope for the best.

2. Try coercion to make him talk and reveal the critical information they believed he possessed.

Which option makes more sense from a national security standpoint? Unlike those worried about the imaginary rights of terrorists, I prefer that the U.S. government err on the side of protecting the country. If a terrorist is mistakenly tortured for information he doesn't actually possess, oh well, that's just too bad. Torture in captivity should be one of the hazards of the terrorist occupation. Better to torture them and reveal false information, than fail to take action and allow an attack to go forward unimpeded.

Unlike what many seem to believe, intelligence operations do not usually involve clear, easily evaluated information. And sometimes people aren't what they seem. Chasing down leads, some or all of which might be dead ends, is a part of intelligence work, whether such information is gained through torture or otherwise. On issues of national security, assuming the worst about a terrorist captive and acting on that assumption is the prudent government position.

Deceptive Headline about Abu Zubaida

The Washington Post has a story out with the title, "Detainee's Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots." You'd think with such a definitive headline they might have some actual evidence to support it. They don't.  What they have is information from anonymous "former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations." But if you read the article, it is clear that there are other unnamed government officials who strongly disagree.
"It's simply wrong to suggest that Abu Zubaida wasn't intimately involved with al-Qaeda," said a U.S. counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because much about Abu Zubaida remains classified. "He was one of the terrorist organization's key facilitators, offered new insights into how the organization operated, provided critical information on senior al-Qaeda figures . . . and identified hundreds of al-Qaeda members. How anyone can minimize that information -- some of the best we had at the time on al-Qaeda -- is beyond me."

Here we have a major U.S. newspaper, taking the opinion of one set of unnamed officials and presenting it as fact, while effectively dismissing the opposite view of another group -- at least according to their headline. Based on the full report, the headline of the story could just as easily have read: Detainee Harsh Treatment Revealed Invaluable Intelligence. We will almost certainly never have a complete picture of exactly what happened as a result of secret, highly-classified operations against Al Qaeda. People believe what they want to believe because of their political outlook. But it would be nice if our news sources just reported the facts to the best of their knowledge, without such blatantly deceptive slants one way or the other.

NATO & American Interests

Pat Buchanan, who I rarely ever agree with, had an article up yesterday called, "Can Uncle Sam Ever Let Go?" Buchanan argues that "NATO has been irrelevant for at least two decades." He goes on to attack NATO expansion.
Why did we expand NATO to within a few miles of St. Petersburg when NATO is not a social club but a military alliance? At its heart is Article V, a declaration that an armed attack on any one member is an attack on all. 

America is now honor-bound to go to war against a nuclear-armed Russia for Estonia, which was part of the Russian Empire under the czars.
That's a very good question. Unfortunately much of our political elite does not seem to understand that treaties and other international agreements should serve U.S. interests. Another obvious example is the ridiculous argument that we should extend the benefits of the Geneva Convention to non-state terrorist groups. Buchanan sharpens his case with a clear illustration of the dangers of treating NATO as a social club.  
can anyone believe that, to keep Moscow from re-establishing its hegemony over a tiny Baltic republic, we would sink Russian ships, blockade Russian ports, bomb Russian airfields, attack Russian troop concentrations? That would risk having some Russian general respond with atomic weapons on U.S. air, sea and ground forces.

Yet by bringing the Baltic states into NATO, we obligate ourselves to do just that. I'm am strongly against appeasement, and we should respond forcefully if a country like Russia threatens our vital interests. But what vital interest does the U.S. have in the Baltic states that is worth antagonizing Russia over? Georgia is another prime example. Had we admitted Georgia into NATO, we would have been obligated to defend it against Russia. Would that have been in the U.S. interest?

Before we enter into any treaty obligation of any kind, whether involving the expansion or creation of a defensive alliance, a convention of international law, an agreement involving climate change, or any other binding commitment, we should ask one question.  How and why does this serve U.S. interests? It would be nice if our government would ask that question before it takes any international action, such as handing out tax payer money all over the world. But it is critically important before committing the nation to a binding obligation.

HOT5 Daily 3/29/2009

1. "Left Wing Activists Embrace 9/10 Mindset, Eagerly Await Prosecution Of Bush Advisors"  Calling it 9/10 mindset is extremely generous.

Representative Sample: This particular Spanish inquisition will be a litmus test for the Obama administration as it will tell the public whether real adults are in charge of US foreign policy and the War on Terror or if the radicals bent on revenge at all costs have assumed control.

2. "A Far Worse World is Possible"  A long but good defense of capitalism.

Representative Sample: Both language and market economics are self organizing creations of the aggregate “mind” of humanity. Like bees in a hive, humans create the market system without any individual having a real understanding of the enterprise.

3. "Questions from a skeptic" A skeptic of the administration's plans for Afghanistan/Pakistan.

Representative Sample: I know we want Pakistan to be our ally. I get it. But calling them one is a little like calling a cloud in the sky a tiger or a racing car just because it happens to look like one at the moment.

4. "Water Torture Device" For our own personnel, not terrorists. 

Representative Sample: METS™ devices simulate underwater disorientation caused by a rapidly sinking, inverted helicopter.

5. "Video Games Get the Blame in Colorado Shooting Spree" If it isn't guns being scapegoated for the actions of maniacs it's something else, in this case games.

Representative Sample: A Colorado police officer has suggested that a troubled 22-year old man who went on a random shooting spree last October may have been influenced by violent video games.

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

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Spanish Court Attacking American Officials?

The New York Times reports that a "high-level" Spanish Court is planning to investigate and possibly indicte former Bush administration officials for "providing a legalistic framework to justify the use of torture of American prisoners at Guantánamo Bay." The officials under consideration do not include former President Bush or former Vice President Cheney. 

The fact that such an idiotic action is even contemplated demonstrates an amazing lack of logic, especially for supposedly trained legal minds. Rather than attack those in charge who bear the primary responsibility, this Spanish court is focused on the lawyers, who did exactly what they were supposed to do, provide legal guidelines for the administration. Gonzalo Boye, the lawyer who filed the complaint tried to justify it by saying,

“This is a case from lawyers against lawyers,” he said. “Our profession does not allow us to misuse our legal knowledge to create a pseudo-legal frame to justify, stimulate and cover up torture.”

What a pile of garbage. That's exactly what lawyers do. They protect their clients. If their client wants to undertake a certain course of action, they attempt to find a legal method -- something that often involves seeking loopholes and coming up with creative interpretations of the law. Just because some might disagree with their interpretations, doesn't mean they should be subjected to criminal prosecution. Any attempt to prosecute Bush administration lawyers, whether from Spain or here in the U.S.,  is an attempt to criminalize legal advice & legal interpretations because of political differences -- plain and simple.

I doubt whether it would do so, but the Obama administration should make it clear to Spain that it would regard any such indictments as an unfriendly act harmful to U.S.-Spanish relations. Should such actions go forward, the U.S. should examine and consider possible retaliatory measures. It is also worth noting that according to Amnesty International, police torture is a"pervasive" problem in Spain. Instead of worrying about the actions of Bush administration lawyers, Spanish courts would be well-served to put their own house in order.

HOT5 Daily 3/28/2009

1. ""Renewable" Energy: In Search of Definition"  What does it actually mean?

Representative Sample: I have grown increasingly concerned about a lack of common sense in the country’s energy debates. Even simple terms underlying our leading debates sometimes are poorly considered.

2. "Housepets: It's Them or Us" Any cat owner will appreciate this post.

Representative Sample: I'm already buying the cat food, refreshing the water supply, cleaning out the cat box, and providing for medical care. These creatures are already suckling at my teat, and now I have to make extra trips to and from the garage? Not in this life.

3. "Justice" But when will it actually be carried out? Ten years from now?

Representative Sample: he’s resigned to dying. That’s nice. That’s more options than he offered his victims.

4. "Next Generation Capsule Endoscope" Amazing medical technology that is surprisingly inexpensive as well.

Representative Sample: The patient gulps down the capsule, and the digestive process begins. Over the next eight hours, the pill travels passively down the esophagus and through roughly 20 to 25 feet of intestines, where it will capture up to 870,000 images. The patient feels nothing.

5. "From a Crotchety Old Man" Ten complaints about the under-30 generation.

Representative Sample: 3) Things that people did and learned more than six or seven years ago actually might be valuable.

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

Friday, March 27, 2009

Interesting UK Perspective on Torture

Most media stories that focus on torture take the default position that it's horrible, inhuman, unacceptable etc., regardless of the situation or who was tortured. Many indulge in outright whining and sniveling and other forms of moral outrage over the supposed or actual torture of terrorists. So whenever a contrary view appears, I take note of it. I was skimming through various stories when I came across an article in the Buckinghamshire Advertiser (a publication I had never even heard of). It's called, "Grumpy Gripes and Torture/Hypocrisy." He makes a couple of useful points. Here's his opening question,
How many of those who instantly become consumed with moral outrage when the word ‘torture’ is mentioned would personally resort to torture if the lives of their own loved one’s were about to be forfeit?

I'm guessing quite a few, although that's not a good argument in favor of allowing the use of torture. Many of us might resort to otherwise unthinkable actions to protect the lives of loved ones. That natural response isn't a good basis for national policy. But it does help put the moral outrage in perspective.  The article has a much better argument for considering the use of torture:  

Would I... sanction the use of torture to prevent the potential destruction of our cities and all who live in them? Of course I would - and I’d expect any Leader of any Party, no matter how much they personally abhorred the concept of torture, to put the safety of the nation and the lives of decent hardworking folk before their own selfish views.
I'd put all sorts of caveats on that argument, but at its core it is very difficult to counter, except with moral absolutism or blind legalism, unless you pretend that torture can't possibly be effective.
Mass death and destruction by some terrorist group or another is going to happen. It’s only a matter of time. Somebody knows who and where these people are. 

What are you going to do if you catch one of them?
Advise them of their rights and give them lawyers? That seems to be the answer of most torture opponents who think foreign terrorists deserve legal rights. Mr. Terrorist Leader is captured and we bring him in for interrogation, planning to use all of those great non-coercive techniques that some argue are way more effective than torture. And Mr. Terrorist leader says, "Screw you. I'm saying nothing. I want a lawyer." And he refuses to say another word. Then what?

HOT5 Daily 3/27/2009

1. "You Can’t Squeeze Blood From A Turnip"  That doesn't mean they won't try.

Representative Sample: Raising taxes and having government “invest” that money will not work. Government is subject to the political process, which virtually guarantees waste.

2. "Palestinians Who Helped Create Israel" What?! Yes, it's an interesting article.

Representative Sample: So great was their cumulative assistance, one wonders if the State of Israel could have come into existence without their contribution.

3. "Conflicting policies cloud the future of domestic energy production" The administration's energy policies vs. reality.

Representative Sample: alternative sources will not be able to replace conventional sources any time soon, and while these new sources of energy are being developed we must rely on fossil fuels, and government policies must support that reality.

4. "Rise of Atheism to be Taught in British Religious Studies Classes" They are teaching about atheism but "largely" excluding the Bible and other religious texts. Yeah, that makes a whole lot of sense. 

Representative Sample: In new religious studies classes in the UK, the topics on the syllabus are keeping up with the times

5. "Sexist poll announced" Attractive(well, many of them anyway) female politicians from around the world.

Representative Sample: Vote for your favourite hot politician.

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

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Chinese Reminder

China's hypersensitive overreaction to a published Pentagon report assessing Chinese military capabilities should remind everyone of the type of regime that still rules the country. China even made the ridiculous claim that the mere publication of such a report constituted interference in their internal affairs. This is same language they employ with regard to Taiwan, Tibet, human rights criticism, and pretty much anything else they object to.
'The report issued by the United States continues to play out the theory of China's military threat, severely distorts facts and interferes with China's internal affairs,' Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said of the document
It has gone so far as to file a formal protest, all over a standard Pentagon assessment.

Reporting on China often focuses on its rapidly expanding economy, and its close financial ties with the U.S., particularly as China buys up more of the debt that allows us to keep spending wildly. The Chinese reaction to this report is a useful reminder that the country is still controlled by paranoid communist oligarchs who cannot abide the slightest criticism, even from outside sources. It's something to keep in mind the next time someone suggests that we should cancel a major weapon system because it doesn't fit in with the types of wars we are now fighting.

Atheist Billboards in Texas

An atheist group in North Texas is putting up billboards which read, "Don't believe in God? You are not alone." According to their spokesman, unlike some other atheist efforts, this one isn't meant to attract people to atheism. Instead, the purpose is to reach out to atheists and let them know there are groups they can connect with.

Like many of these atheist advertising campaigns, this one seems pretty pointless to me. I'm pretty sure most atheists are well-aware that they aren't alone. Anyone with access to the internet can find all sorts of information about atheism, atheist groups, blogs, and so forth. It's their money and they can do whatever they want with it, but I think an atheist group should be able to find better causes worthy of financial support than putting up some billboards.

HOT5 Daily 3/26/2009

1. "Drug War Threatens Second Amendment"  Along with other rights.

Representative Sample: conservative friends, who are so enamored of the War on Drugs, take notice that the next casualty is going to be the Second Amendment.

2. "Russian Tactical Nuclear Weapons" How many does Russia have and where are they?

Representative Sample: Earlier this week, RIA Novosti quoted Vice Admiral Oleg Burtsev, deputy head of the Russian Navy General Staff, saying that the role of tactical nuclear weapons on submarines “will play a key role in the future,”

3. "The front-line shopping mall" Can't fight terrorism overseas? Prepare to fight it at home.

Representative Sample: British citizens will provide their own layer of counter-terrorist security by being encouraged to confront people who “threaten democracy” while more shop, hotel and service industry staff will be trained to deal with terrorist threats

4. "Xytex: Sperm Bank's Stimulus Deal" This is actually a real story.

Representative Sample: Assuming you're in the market for the stuff, is sperm really something that you want to buy on sale?

5. "The Middle East goes nuclear" From the department of really bad ideas.

Representative Sample: there's been a race between the United States, Russia, France, and China to sign nuclear cooperation deals with countries in the Middle East

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

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Medal of Honor Day

Today is Medal of Honor Day, and the president laid a wreath on the Tomb of Unknowns at Arlington, along with 37 of our greatest war heroes. There's an interesting story at CBS News about Vietnam veteran and Medal of Honor winner Robert Howard. I remember reading about him when I was young. If you ever want to read some amazing military history, read the Medal of Honor citations.

Something Nobody Wants to Hear

The Washington Post reports that withdrawing from Iraq will be
a "massive and expensive effort" that is likely to increase rather than lower Iraq-related expenditures during the withdrawal and for several years after its completion
The Government Accountability Office report notes the difficulty and expense of closing numerous bases and installations throughout Iraq, and also contains more bad news. Since 2003 the U.S. has provided 87% of the funding for the oil, electricity, and water services in Iraq. And the current situation is still not good.
"Iraqi managers lack the skill level and authority to create plans and buy the materials necessary to sustain projects in the energy and water sectors." Despite both U.S. and Iraqi expenditures, the report said, electricity supply in 2008 met only 52 percent of demand and "many Iraqis are without water" or do not have access to a safe supply.

Are we still going to be paying most of the bill for Iraq's essential services after we withdraw most of our forces? Those costs will rise if the Iraqis allow services to deteriorate because they are unable to handle complete responsibility for their own affairs. 

Often you will hear people talk about how much money we could be saving if we'd just get out of Iraq. Unfortunately we are nowhere near done paying for the Iraq War, and it currently looks like we'll be paying indefinitely. According to the GAO, the withdrawal itself is going to cost a gigantic amount and almost certainly will take longer than anticipated. If conditions deteriorate after military withdrawal, we could end up seeing most of our cost-savings eaten up by the need to provide massive financial support to the Iraqi government.

It would have been nice if the U.S. government had negotiated our withdrawal agreement on the basis of U.S. interests, and secured permanent bases and basing rights, oil concessions, arms contracts, preferential treatment for U.S. firms and a whole array of advantages that would help offset the costs we will continue to incur from Iraq for the foreseeable future. Yeah, I know, getting something for our money is "imperialism," so we couldn't possibly do that.

Foreign Policy is an Afterthought?

Spencer Ackerman, writing in reaction to Obama's press conference, has a post in the Washington Independent called, "Hi, I’m Foreign Policy. Remember Me?" That's a great title, and it illustrates what seems to be Obama's lack of focus on foreign policy, and as Ackerman points out, the press corps' lack of interest in questioning him about it. Obama's one major foreign policy initiative, an escalation of troop strength in Afghanistan and a supposed new emphasis on that war, wasn't even mentioned. On the other hand, since Obama's foreign policy instincts appear to contain an inclination toward appeasement of our enemies, maybe it's a good thing that he's tied up with domestic affairs.

HOT5 Daily 3/25/2009

1. "Expect Fight on Cap And Tax"  An issue where the GOP actually has a strong advantage, assuming they can put out a coherent message for a change.

Representative Sample: I’d love seeing the Democrats defend their anti-coal, anti-production, anti-nuclear power, pro tax increase bill against the Republicans’ pro-production alternative.

2. "Offended" An excellent defense of free speech against those, both right & left, that wish to restrict it.

Representative Sample:In other words: We need the First Amendment to protect speech that offends people. That's the whole freakin' point.

3. "Environmentalism and the Death of the West" A significant minority of the left embraces a crippling form of environmentalism.

Representative Sample: We now have a powerful segment of our mainstream Left that seems to sincerely believe that the point of existence is mere stasis and stability. Gone is the desire to create, explore and improve. The pre-’60s Left that thought only in terms of onward and upward is dead.

4. "How's that "reputation" thing going?" Obama's early impact on the reputation of the U.S.

Representative Sample:Obama insisted during the campaign and has reiterated in his presidency that he would "restore America's reputation." Let's see how he is doing

5. "Should the Pentagon Establish a Fourth Military Service for Conducting Cyberwar?" Interesting question. I'd say no.

Representative Sample: Yes, according to Col. John “Buck” Surdu, chief of staff at the Army Research Engineering and Development Command, and Lt. Col. Gregory Conti, assistant professor of Computer Science at the U.S. Military Academy.

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Problem With Political ID Quizzes

I just stumbled on another political quiz. My score was 93.7% personal, and 87.6% economic. According to the quiz, I'm a "Radical Libertarian." Anyone who has read my blog for any length of time knows I'm not actually a libertarian -- let alone a radical libertarian -- although I do hold some fairly radical libertarian positions on domestic issues. The problem with most of these political identification quizzes is that they ignore or undervalue foreign policy, and issues involving nationalism/exceptionalism

Strip-searching Students

We regularly read horror stories caused by various public school policies, often so-called "zero tolerance" rules that produce incidents of incredible stupidity, as administrators put aside all common sense in favor of blind obedience.  The New York Times reports on one incident that has reached the Supreme Court. A thirteen-year old girl was subjected to a strip-search because school officials "suspected her of having brought prescription-strength ibuprofen pills to school." The appeals court ruled in her favor.

I'm not sure why the school is even appealing this to the Supreme Court. It seems like a pretty clear-cut case. As one of the appeals judges wrote:

“It does not require a constitutional scholar to conclude that a nude search of a 13-year-old child is an invasion of constitutional rights.”

Apparently the school had no evidence that she had any pills; they didn't even question her before subjecting her to a strip search, and she had no prior disciplinary problems. It sounds like they did a strip search as a first resort, rather than last. They didn't bother to contact the student's parents and get permission for the search, and just proceeded as if they had full authority to strip-search anyone at the school on mere suspicion. Hopefully the Supreme Court will uphold the verdict. It sounds like some school administrators need to be replaced.

HOT5 Daily 3/24/2009

1. "Obama’s massive budget"  Borrow and spend.

Representative Sample: Obama, of course, is saying that the CBO has it all wrong. HE, based on his immense government and management experience - which he has been displaying so brilliantly - says that he will cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term.

2. "UN Afghan Envoy: Obama Should Negotiate With The Taliban. All Of Them." UN thinks it's a good idea, many experts, including the Taliban themselves, disagree.

Representative Sample: "This does not require any response or reaction for this is illogical," Qari Mohammad Yousuf, a purported spokesman for the insurgent group, told Reuters.

3. "Plutonium Powered Pacemakers: Americans with Atomic Hearts" Not just for bombs and reactors.

Representative Sample: "Over the years, various power sources have been used for pacemakers, including thermoelectric batteries containing 2 to 4 curies of plutonium-238 

4. "Mega Slums Map" Where are the world's greatest slums?

Representative Sample: It's a graphic.

5. "No, Roger Cohen, No!" Someone else who thinks Roger Cohen is a useful idiot for Iran, but is a little nicer than I was about saying it.

Representative Sample: Why does this sound so familiar? Probably because it’s exactly what people who visited the Soviet Union a generation ago tended to say. Yet to take this position with Iran today requires a far greater degree of naivete

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

Monday, March 23, 2009

Useful Idiot for Iran

That would be Roger Cohen of the New York Times. Cohen visited Iran back in January & February, and now thinks he's an expert on Iranian thinking & motivations, as well as U.S. foreign policy toward the country. Not surprisingly, his recommendations all involve appeasement of Iran. Here's Cohen reading way too much into Obama's Iranian New Year's message:
He abandoned regime change as an American goal. He shelved the so-called military option. He buried a carrot-and-sticks approach viewed with contempt by Iranians as fit only for donkeys. And he placed Iran’s nuclear program within “the full range of issues before us.”
Did he really? I don't recall Obama actually doing any of those things. It's interesting how Cohen's wishful thinking corresponds to the desires of the Iranian regime.  He continues
Obama made it almost inevitable that one of the defining strategic issues of his presidency will be a painful but necessary redefinition of America’s relations with Israel as differences over Iran sharpen.
Again, is this Cohen or a mullah of Iran speaking? There's no "necessity" for any redefinition of U.S. relations with Israel. Cohen has simply adopted an Iranian position. 

Cohen goes on to make more wild claims for the supposed meaning of Obama's outreach to Tehran. He dismisses the hostile Iranian reaction out of hand as a mere "opening gambit." According to Cohen, Iran and the mullahs aren't the main problem in moving forward with better relations. Guess what is? That's right, Israel.
Obama’s new Middle Eastern diplomacy and engagement will involve reining in Israeli bellicosity and a probable cooling of U.S.-Israeli relations. It’s about time.
Iran has openly called for the destruction of Israel, yet it's Israel's "bellicosity" that we need to address. Let's just ignore everything Iran has done and is doing. We should please our enemy by damaging relations with an ally. He ends with this
America’s Israel-can-do-no-wrong policy has been disastrous, not least for Israel’s long-term security.

His obviously ridiculous characterization of U.S/Israel policy could have come straight out of the mouth of one of the mullahs. After basically saying we need to throw Israel under the bus in order to appease Iran, Cohen now has the nerve to pretend that he's worried about Israeli security. 

With the pandering to Iran, the calls for appeasement, and the attacks on Israel, what is missing from Cohen's article? There is no mention of U.S. interests. Why is appeasing Iran in the U.S. interest? Cohen doesn't bother laying out that case because he's acting as a spokesman for Iran, whether he realizes it or not. He's a prime example of a useful idiot. Iran should write him a check.

Giant Roadside Crosses

In Utah the American Atheists organization objects to having roadside crosses honoring state troopers killed in the line of duty. They sued the state claiming establishment of religion. When I first saw the story, I was prepared to write about how these idiot atheists were making the rest of us look bad. But then I looked into it a bit further.

It turns out that the crosses are twelve feet high and have the symbol of the Utah highway patrol. That's what you see when you drive down the highway: giant crosses with the state police logo. Here's a picture of one of them. If they had any memorials with different symbols, say a twelve-foot high star of David for a slain Jewish officer, I don't think there would be a problem. But putting up nothing but a bunch of giant crosses with the police logo does seem to be a bit much. It's understandable how someone could reasonably argue that the crosses imply that the Utah highway patrol is a Christian organization. But since they have been constructed by a private organization rather than by the police force itself, I don't think American Atheists have a case. Rather than asking for the crosses to be taken down, they should modify their position and simply ask that the highway patrol logo be removed.

HOT5 Daily 3/23/2009

1. "Losing Perspective"  After eight years of left-wing hysterics about Bush, some on the right are now greatly overreacting to Obama.

Representative Sample: Obama is one in many presidents. He’s just one of them. Not one president could destroy the United States nor truly weaken it significantly.

2. "Do Not Be Quickly Persuaded" Good advice that applies to any complex topic.

Representative Sample: Critical, skeptical people, right? Not so! Nearly half of them were willing to be instantly persuaded by a single talk without checking any sources or reading any rebuttals.

3. "Wow. I Didn't See This Coming" An interesting look at Taiwan's military strategy vs. Chinese attack.

Representative Sample: Well-trained and equipped troops are still key to counter-attacking any PLA footholds on Taiwan established by air- or sea-delivered means, but hammering the PLA as it approaches Taiwan is key to buying time

4. "Destroying value right and left" The problems with regulating executive pay.

Representative Sample: To the extent our politicians (of either party) are exploiting or promoting anger rather than calming people they are doing their constituents and their country a great disservice.

5. "Atheists According To A Muslim Website" Muslims just as clueless about atheists as Christians. It's pretty funny that they use the exact same airplane hypothetical.

Representative Sample: Allah is the reality we cannot deny. Imagine you are an atheist on a plane. Suddenly the pilot says we have 30 seconds to live, our engines are on fire. Even the atheist will then say “God help me!”

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

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Running Man

A sixty-five year old Japanese man just set a new world record, running a marathon every day for fifty-two days. Pretty amazing for anyone, let alone a man his age.

Arresting People for Having Sex

The Drudge Report has a link up called "Towns form secret CRAIGSLIST prostitution task force..." The article covers how Westchester County, NY is cracking down on prostitution, in which many of the people involved post ads on craigslist. One police chief told reporters that their operations against prostitution are " keeping area departments busy."

What a waste of police time and money, arresting consenting adults who want to have sex, merely because money changes hands as part of the agreement. And they don't just arrest those they happen to catch in the act, or in response to a complaint. Police departments create "task forces" and special units to conduct sting operations in order to entrap people, so they can make more arrests. I guess there isn't enough real crime to keep them busy. They are expending time and resources to keep us safe from two people having sex in a hotel room.

Over at Unreasonable Faith, Daniel Florian has a post up looking at the results of legalized prostitution in New Zealand, which took that step in 2003. Hopefully the U.S. will eventually move in the same direction.

HOT5 Daily 3/22/2009

1. "Rest in Peace"  Why have liberals abandoned liberal idealism on foreign policy?

Representative Sample: When did hope and change become all about making thug rulers comfortable and secure enough to die peacefully in their beds? When did liberalism become all about using nuanced thinking to justify retreat in the face of such tyranny?

2. "Laser-Shooting UAVs To Kill Mosquitos?" Changing the balance of power between man & mosquito.

Representative Sample: scientists want to mount these lasers on unmanned airborne drones, creating what could best be described as mosquito hunter-killer flying robots that shoot lasers… of awesomeness.

3. "JOHN DEMJANJUK AND THE AMAZING HYPOCRISY OF GERMAN JUSTICE" Country that allowed untold numbers of its own Nazis to escape justice wants to prosecute foreign-born Nazi.

Representative Sample: German authorities are apparently eager to have the honor of trying the Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk, who is alleged to have been dispatched to Sobibor as part of a legion of foreign SS “volunteers.”

4. "Evangelicals are good for us, whether we like it or not" Gaining a new appreciation for evangelicals -- pretty amusing.

Representative Sample: Evangelicals are like vultures - unsightly, but a necessary part of the ecosystem. So what if I don’t like them? They fill a role. And maybe instead of rolling my eyes at my future in-laws, I should appreciate them a little more.

5. "In Harm's Way" Woman in the military and the issue of rape.

Representative Sample: One of the more unpleasant aspects of being female is that women, by virtue of our smaller size and comparatively weaker physical strength, are always at risk for rape.

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

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Faith-based Funding for Atheism

I've written about the Atheist Bus Campaign a couple of times, and I just happened to see an article in the Daily Mail online. Apparently the atheist advertising is actually being partially funded with money intended to promote Christianity, as part of building "faith communities."

As an atheist I find this pretty amusing. And since I'm a U.S. citizen not a British one, I'm not too worried that British tax money supporting a particular program is being spent on something diametrically opposed to the goals of that program. But it's yet another example of how pretty much any government views taxpayer funds-- as free money to be spent however the bureaucrats decide.

HOT5 Daily 3/21/2009

1. "Obama's State-Ownership Society"  A look at why massive government interference with private industry is a bad idea.

Representative Sample: When government buys a significant stake in private companies, it creates a terrible conflict of interest; decisions that should be made entirely on economic grounds

2. "Josias Kumpf: Free Man in Austria" Former Nazi escapes punishment.

Representative Sample: Kumpf isn't going to be charged with any crimes. He's a free man. Austria made it clear all along that he wouldn't be prosecuted.

3. "Incompetent, feckless boob grovels, gets yet another smack for his trouble" Harsh but accurate.

Representative Sample: Our newest, bestest buddies’ response to Obama’s lily-livered mewling? Oh, about what anyone who’s not a complete HopeyChangey idiot would expect.

4. "Gay Marriage legalized in Vermont..." Not quite yet, but it's moving through the legislature and is expected to pass. Nice to see that they are doing it through the political process, instead of finding judges to create a "right."

Representative Sample: By the time my son's grown up, I foresee gender being as inconsequential to marriage as race (theoretically) is today.

5. "This is What the Drug War Does to Us" Terrorized and arrested for selling plastic baggies.

Representative Sample: Now, I know how a certain type of non-libertarian thinks, and I’d almost be willing to bet that one of them will show up here: “Well, they did have little plastic baggies. They were kind of asking for it

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

Friday, March 20, 2009

Giving Realists a Bad Name

When Stephen Walt isn't concocting conspiracy theories about the "Israel Lobby," he can occasionally be counted on for interesting analysis -- but not lately. He's not content to strengthen the perceived link between realism and anti-Israel sentiment; in his latest column he wants to associate it with appeasement as well.

The article is called, "A realistic approach to Iran's nuclear program." Unfortunately, the title is a serious misnomer. There's absolutely nothing realistic about it, except for his final note that we can rely on deterrence if they build nuclear weapons.  Walt's argument can be boiled down to this: remove the threat of military action & regime change, "pursue a comprehensive settlement of the key security issues that presently divide us," and explain to them why nuclear weapons really aren't in Iran's best interests.  

Walt comes off like a utopian dreamer, not a realist. He is operating from some extremely shaky assumptions. He assumes that the theocratic government of Iran is a rational actor that can be negotiated with in good faith. He assumes that Iran would believe us if we assured them we were ruling out military action & regime change. Why would they? He talks about a "comprehensive settlement" of key issues without explaining what he means, or how and why this would even be possible. What could we give Iran that would that be in our interests? Why should we appease them at all? Walt also assumes that Iran wants nuclear weapons because of the threat posed by the U.S. This is obviously an incredibly simplistic view that doesn't take into account Iran's national & regional aspirations, and assumes that their nuclear program is motivated purely by a desire for defense. 

If you read Walt's article without knowing that he was a noted realist, you might think he was just another liberal. He seems to think that if we talk nicely to our enemies and bend over backward to appease them, they'll behave like reasonable people and our problems will go away. This is realism?

HOT5 Daily 3/20/2009

1. ""Red is positive, black is negative and make sure his nuts are wet""  Someone at a major newspaper who isn't whining about torture.

Representative Sample: He says the thing that most of us really think about torture and terrorists, but which few of us admit except in private or on internet chatrooms, partly because we've been brainwashed by the prevailing culture

2. "Commentary: Airline Experience Begs Question, ‘Who Are America’s Heroes?’" Airline passengers able to identify American Idol winners, but not Medal of Honor winners. Big surprise there.

Representative Sample: many Americans grow to revere fictional heroes as well as sports and celebrity icons. But silence descended over the cabin of a flight bound from Jacksonville, Fla., to Baltimore when the conversation turned to those who had earned the nation’s highest honor for valor

3. "Islam Must Engage Critics" A Muslim with good advice for fellow members of the religion.

Representative Sample: We cannot hope or expect that people will continue to distinguish their distorted interpretation of Islam from the one that the vast majority of us hold; we must earn that understanding.

4. "Atheism and hope" Is atheism empty of hope for the future?

Representative Sample: atheism doesn’t define what a person DOES believe. Not all atheists are going to believe in the same things just because they happen to share a lack of belief in a god or gods.

5. "Why Republicans need to STRIP: A Random Guy's Perspective" (Sovereignty, Tradition, Restraint, Identity, and Property). Interesting article on GOP reform.

Representative Sample: Begin to reform our economic image: Our Party is frequently for using free-market language to justify subsidies for the wealthy.

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

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Your "Stimulus" in Action

Does anyone even know all the stuff that was in the stimulus package, you know, the one no one bothered to read before approving 787 billion in spending? Apparently it included $198 million for Filipino World War 2 veterans.
The fund provides for a one-time payment of $15,000 to Filipino veterans living in the United States who have become naturalized US citizens and $9,000 to those living in the Philippines. It is estimated that about 12,000 veterans live in the Philippines and 6,000 are in the US.
Now it's debatable whether or not we should have paid the Filipino veterans. But we decided not to pay them in 1946, and most of them are dead. Why pay the rest in 2009 in the middle of an economic crisis, as part of a supposed stimulus package? It's because this was a personal pet project of Senator Inouye, who inserted it into the bill, along with a billion other pet projects of various Democrats. What's next? Are there slavery reparations in that bill? Payments to native Americans? What about back taxes to Britain from when we were a colony? Is there anything Democrats don't want the government to spend money on? -- well, except for defense of course.

My Obligatory AIG Post

The AIG bailout/tax issue is all over the blogosphere. My take on it is pretty straightforward. 

1. There should have been no bailout. I have been, and am now,  against all government bailouts of private industry.

2. I oppose punitive retroactive taxation to fix government mistakes made when bailing out companies that should never have been bailed out in the first place. That sort of tax sets a terrible precedent that will almost certainly lead to abuses in the future. If you must hand taxpayer money to failing, mismanaged companies, do so with strict guidelines on how they can use it. Otherwise, expect them to misuse the funds and live with it.

Witch Hunting in Africa

Gambia is currently engaged in a massive witch hunt. No, it's not the kind that involves trying to find evidence of wrongdoing, they are actually rounding up suspected witches, the type that cast spells and brew potions. Really. And they are very serious about it. Here's one example:
Local witnesses said the paramilitary police armed with guns and shovels surrounded the village and threatened the villagers that anyone who tries to escape will be killed. “They randomly identified over 300 men and women who were forced at gunpoint into waiting buses and ferried to the President's hometown,” they told Amnesty International.

Apparently suspected witches are forced to bath in and drink something identified only as a "dirty herb." I guess this method is better than throwing them into water and seeing if they sink or float. 

As soon as I saw this story, I had to check to see how much, if any, money the U.S. was giving to Gambia -- because you know the U.S. hands out money to almost anyone. Sure enough we are giving them money, but only $88,000.

HOT5 Daily 3/19/2009

1. "Change We Can’t Afford"  Obama and health care..

Representative Sample: The fact that President Obama isn’t willing “to be pinned down on an estimate” is code for saying that he doesn’t want people to really know how expensive his plan is.

2. "HR 875 Would Essentially Outlaw Family Farms In The United States" More big government control over areas it should stay out of.

Representative Sample:This massive bloat in government regulation (and taxpayer expense to support it) would add additional cost and headache to every farm, some fishing boats, slaughterhouse, processing plant, CO-OP and anyone else associated with growing, storing, transporting or processing food.

3. "America Continues Questionable Foreign Policies" Another amateur hour Obama administration blunder.

Representative Sample: Connectivity is a good thing, and a unilateral disconnection of business activities in the middle of work being done with other countries is not smart power, indeed disruptions send the wrong signals to friends and create friction when and where it is unnecessary.

4. "Evolutionary Algorithms" Evolution as a computer design tool.

Representative Sample: EAs have been used throughout academia, industry and government to solve problems that seemed insoluble or to come up with answers that outclass their best human-designed competitors.

5. "Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Book VI: The People, They Have Arms" Clausewitz's armed citizen concept and the U.S.

Representative Sample: While the prevailing wind of legitimist Europe was in the direction of disarming the population, the United States, at least on paper, was dedicated to the proposition that every citizen should possess a military grade firearm and military training

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

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Death Penalty Dies in New Mexico

New Mexico just repealed the death penalty, replacing it with life without parole. Governor Bill Richardson made a big deal out of it, saying that it was “most difficult decision in my political life.” Why was it difficult? New Mexico never uses the death penalty anyway. According to the New York Times, that state has executed only one person since 1960.

Just out of curiosity I decided to check on the number of murders in New Mexico. Maybe they haven't had many, so there just isn't a need for a death penalty. After all, they've only executed one criminal in almost 50 years. If my addition is correct, after checking the statistics, there have been 6,033 murders in New Mexico from 1961 to 2007. Let's see now: over 6,000 murders, 1 execution. Wow, they sure are harsh on murderers there in New Mexico. And people wonder why the death penalty might not be an effective deterrent.

As an aside, the article notes that one of the main supporters of getting rid of the death penalty was the Catholic Church, which "lobbied hard for repeal." It's good to see that the church took time out from attacking child rape victims who have abortions, and discouraging people in AID-infested areas from using condoms, to successfully fight against a penalty that is never even used.

Releasing Terror Suspects on Bail

Suspected terrorist Ali al-Marri has a bond hearing today. That's right, the so-called "Al Qaeda sleeper agent" is being considered for bail. It's kind of funny in an unbelievably stupid sort of way. Here we have an individual, a Qatari national, who has been deemed a great enough threat (apparently based on substantial evidence) that he's been held in military prison for five years as an enemy combatant. But now we are actually considering letting him walk free on bail while awaiting trial. What possible risk could come from letting a suspected terrorist loose in the U.S.?

Now granted, the fact that this situation exists at all is the fault of the Bush administration, who simply decided to lock people away indefinitely with no effective plan for what to do with them. In my opinion the obvious known terrorists should have been condemned by military tribunal and executed. This includes Al Marri, if we know for a fact that he trained at an Al Qaeda camp, as the Washington Post timeline I linked indicates. Any suspects facing charges in other countries, where we were sure they would be imprisoned or executed, should have been deported and disposed of that way. Those with no real evidence against them should have been deported to anyone willing to take them and held in protective, but much more lenient confinement in the meantime. The questionable cases should have been tried by military tribunal. If any country interceded on the behalf of a suspect (such as Britain with Binyam Mohamed), we could have treated those cases on an individual basis.

But as we are now seeing, the worst idea of all is to treat foreign terrorist suspects as criminals, allow them access to civilian lawyers, and provide them with undeserved rights under the criminal justice system.  We now face the ridiculous situation where a lawyer is arguing that a suspected Al Qaeda terrorist from Qatar should be free to roam around the U.S. while awaiting trial. And we actually have to take that argument seriously, instead of dismissing it out of hand with the derision that it clearly deserves. Putting foreign terror suspects into the U.S. criminal justice system isn't a victory for civil liberties, American values, or the rule of law, it's a triumph of stupidity over reason.

HOT5 Daily 3/18/2009

1. "America in retreat..."  The appearance of weakness has consequences.

Representative Sample: America's new policy, or lack of it, could have a devastating impact on the chances of democratic forces throughout the region as it faces crucial elections in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Egypt and Algeria.

2. "Four countries I'm losing sleep over, and so should you" Places to keep an eye on.

Representative Sample: some of the countries that the Obama team is understandably relying on to play constructive roles in current crises -- or, at a minimum, is hoping will not cause further problems -- may themselves be at risk of destabilization.

3. "Obama Defunds Armed Pilots Program" Bad idea that illustrates, yet again, a return to a pre-9/11 outlook.

Representative Sample: If we get hit with another terrorist attack against planes, it’s on you Barack. It’s on you

4. "When enough is enough" Some Israelis have had enough of their government releasing terrorists. (In case anyone thought the U.S. was the only country playing catch & release with terrorists).

Representative Sample: All this is so unnecessary. If Israel would just sentence these terrorists to death when they are convicted of terrorism, there would be no more demands to let them go.

5. "The Politics of Demonization"Long but interesting article about a disturbing trend in Europe.

Representative Sample: Recently, we are being confronted with the bizarre phenomenon of defenders of Western freedoms, including Jews, being demonized as “Nazis,” while subsequently Nazi methods are used to eliminate them.

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

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Papal Nonsense About Condoms

Not content with the public relations disaster caused by the recent controversy in Brazil, the Catholic Church, in the person of the Pope, has decided to try to cause some actual damage. The Pope is heading to Africa, and on his way he spoke out on the AIDS issue. He attacked the distribution of condoms, claiming that "it increases the problem." That's right, the Pope thinks condoms make the AIDS situation in Africa worse.

Untold amounts of money and the efforts of numerous aid and health workers have gone into promoting condom use in Africa, because we know for a fact that it helps reduce the spread of AIDS. But the leader of one of the world's largest religions doesn't believe it. Not only doesn't he believe it, but he has no problem speaking out and trying to undermine health efforts in Africa. He's not just reaffirming the Catholic belief in abstinence, he's deliberately lying about the impact of condom use, and endangering the health of any Catholics who listen to him. 

Unsolicited Advice For Dick Cheney

Dick Cheney was on television this weekend harshly criticizing the Obama administration. I know it's difficult for Cheney to watch the Obama amateur hour, and I believe some of his criticisms are valid. But the best thing Cheney could do for the GOP is to shut his mouth and return to an undisclosed location for the foreseeable future.

Setting aside the fact that it has traditionally been considered classless for an outgoing administration to immediately start criticizing its replacement, Cheney is a terrible spokesman for the GOP. Every time he opens his mouth it reminds people of the unpopular Bush administration, and allows Obama to dismiss even valid criticism, because it's coming from Cheney. Dick Cheney needs to look in the mirror. When he does he'll see one of the main reasons the country is stuck with the Obama administration and Democratic control of Congress. Cheney had his chance at GOP leadership and fouled it up royally, helping dig Republicans a hole that they haven't yet begun to dig out of.

Mr. Former Vice President, If you want to help Republicans regain power, please do us all a favor and shut up, stay off the television, stop doing interviews, and return to private life. Go do some hunting or something (a bit more carefully of course). Keeping a low profile is the best thing you can do for the GOP.

HOT5 Daily 3/17/2009

1. "What Is The Big Deal About AIG Bonuses?"  A different perspective.

Representative Sample: I want to know what the big deal really is. My understanding is that the companies have to pay back the bailout money. If that is the case what does it matter how they spend it especially if there were no rules?

2. "Vatican, stung by cruelty accusations, tries to limit the damage to its reputation" Too late, again.

Representative Sample: In a frantic backtracking exercise, Brazilian bishops said last week that the excommunication of the mother and doctors of the girl, who was pregnant with twins after having allegedly been raped by her stepfather, was wrong and would not be applied.

3. "What Obama's Stump Speech Should Have Been" That would have required honesty -- something politicians are allergic to.

Representative Sample: Although my new spending proposals may raise the federal deficit in my first year to $1.75 trillion, I promise the American people that by the end of my first term, I will halve the federal deficit - albeit adding another $3 trillion to $5 trillion to the national debt.

4. "Have humans evolved a g-spot?" Not that one. The "g" stands for gods.

Representative Sample: I keep seeing reports from researchers in neuroscience that suggest we humans might be “hard-wired” for belief in gods. Recently another such report raised interest on the internet.

5. "the scary world of sex" More reasons to be glad you aren't an insect.

Representative Sample: Another mate who might just eat you during the act is the mantis female. While there are a few controversies about how common sexual cannibalism really is in mantises, there are cases in which a hungry female will bite off the head of her mate

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

Monday, March 16, 2009

The GOP, Minorities, & the Police

Shelby Steele has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled, "Why the GOP Can't Win With Minorities." It's short on specifics, and is basically a philosophical argument about why liberalism appeals to minorities. I found it unconvincing and question some of his premises. But the best critique I've seen is from Darren Lenard Hutchinson at Dissenting Justice. Hutchinson's response to Steele is called, "If Conservatives Listen to Shelby Steele, They Will Never Win Support From People of Color." The whole post is worth reading, but here's a key section:
While conservatives often espouse the virtues of limited government, they often embrace governmental intervention into some of the most personal areas of our lives, including pregnancy, abortion, sexual orientation, marriage, and consumption of "obscene" materials like pornography and even "sex toys." They also support very strict restraints on liberty by expanding the criminalization of conduct, promoting heavy sentencing, and condoning highly permissive policing methods that invade personal privacy and autonomy. The "free hand" is only selectively free, and quite often, the results of conservative-sponsored governmental intervention has a disparate impact on persons of color. These policies, not a grievance culture, explain the inability of the GOP to appeal to many persons of color.
I agree with Hutchinson, and I want to expand on one of those points that is a personal pet peeve of mine with regard to some fellow right-wingers.

As Hutchinson says, conservatives tend to support invasive policing methods. I have found that there is a reflexive deference, almost a reverence, toward the police among a significant number of conservatives. (That's true of attitudes toward the military also, but that's off-topic). Despite the general conservative dislike and distrust of government, particularly government bureaucracy, that distrust does not extend to the police -- quite the opposite. Many conservatives respond reflexively & defensively to any criticism of the police. There is a strong attitude that the police should be obeyed, and that anyone failing to show the correct degree of deference deserves whatever might happen to them. If you doubt this, visit any major conservative site and look for a post on a police brutality topic. A significant number of commentors, sometimes 50% or more, will defend the police, or at least minimize and try to explain away their offenses. Here's one example. Many conservatives also support the militarization of the police, the drug war, and inflexible sentencing. And minority complaints about police behavior tend to find little sympathy on the right.

It would be nice to see more conservatives take the attitude that the police are a necessary evil, an arm of state and local government, rather than heroic defenders of the public good. Police actions should be subject to a high degree of public scrutiny, and their abuses of authority should be severely punished.  I believe that such a shift in perspective by the GOP, particularly a resolve to hold police accountable to a higher standard of conduct, and to support severe punishment for abuses, would be a good step in reaching out to minorities.

New Reports on Missile Defense

The GAO and other organizations have recently released reports on ballistic missile defense (BMD) progress. The full GAO report can be found here, and the others here. USA Today has a misleading article up about them called, "Reports question U.S. shield of Europe." The first paragraph reads:
After 24 years and more than $100 billion spent to develop a U.S. missile defense, an American-operated system proposed for Europe would cost billions more to deploy and still may fail, a series of independent reports concludes.
Sounds bad, doesn't it? If you read through the article you'll see some pro and con views on BMD, but one of the cons is from the Union of Concern Scientists, which opposes missile defense on ideological grounds, and would almost certainly oppose deploying a system even if it was proven 100% effective. So their objections can be easily dismissed. The last word is given to a damning quote from physicist Richard Garwin:  
because it can be so easily defeated by decoys, the "system is not worth deploying, because it will be useless."

When otherwise smart people make such stupid comments, you have to question their motives. How about we work on improving it so that it can't be easily defeated by decoys?

Some of the main criticisms of missile defense are intellectually dishonest or just plain unreasonable. Pretty much everyone agrees that BMD requires some of the most complex military systems every devised. The idea that we are going to be able to develop, purely through testing, anything like a fully effective system is just crazy.  Military systems don't work that way. Prototypes have to be built, changes have to made. Sometimes after you build them they don't work right at all. Many of the critics are not interested in building effective BMD. They just want to block it entirely.

We will never have effective BMD until we deploy a full system and start extensively testing and modifying it based on actual conditions. Yes it will be extremely expensive. And yes, there is a chance that it may never achieve the results we want from it. It may have to be rebuilt, and almost certainly will have to be massively re-engineered, modified, and constantly updated. But if we don't deploy an actual complete system, we will never have effective BMD. At some point limited testing has to translate into actual deployment. We should reject the idea that we can't deploy until it is ready for action -- because it never will be. It will always need further testing.

Where the critics are correct is that we need to carefully monitor the Pentagon and associated contractors, push for more realistic testing, and expose overly optimistic propaganda that makes grandiose claims based on limited, controlled testing. We should not delude ourselves into thinking that any newly deployed system is going to be truly effective. Instead we should regard these new systems as first-generation prototypes that are very unlikely to work as advertised. 

HOT5 Daily 3/16/2009

1. "Gallup: Americans Think the United Nations is a Big Fat Fail"  A majority of Americans recognize the obvious.

Representative Sample: This annual poll is surprising in one respect: approximately a fourth of Americans persist in the belief that the United Nations is doing a “good job”.

2. "Common Sense About the Right Resurgence in Europe" Unfortunately that includes the far right.

Representative Sample:The icy silence in the left of centre political mainstream in response to Arab Jew hatred has Jews and many others feeling alienated from the Social Democratic and Christian Democratic parties that seem to have lost their voices.

3. "Was America Better off With Pervez Musharraf?" Quite possibly.

Representative Sample: I hate the fact that I am starting to miss Pervez Musharraf, but as the days go by it is becoming increasingly obvious that these nations are not ready for democracy.

4. "AIG is wasting taxpayer money" Understatement of the week. Unfortunately AIG is far from alone in wasting taxpayer money.

Representative Sample: Corporate socialism must be stopped. Legal obligations for the bonus money? The company wouldn’t even exist if taxpayer money wasn’t handed to it.

5. "My Obama Problem" Some thoughtful observations about Obama.

Representative Sample: The irritating aspect of the Obama campaign and now his presidency is this pretension of being post-ideological and politically transcendental.

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

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Black Site Torture

There's an article in yesterday's New York Times by Mark Danner called "Tales From Torture's Dark World," that details what supposedly happened to terrorists at CIA black sites. No doubt the usual suspects will be all over this, screaming about the horrors of the evil Bush regime. But for the more rational, there are several things to keep in mind about the article. First, these descriptions are based entirely on the stories told by terrorists to the Red Cross. Yes, really. The author foolishly accepts them as credible, because he thinks the similarities must mean they are true. I'm sure people like Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and the planner of the Cole bombing can be trusted not to twist the truth, exaggerate, or outright lie.  When the author calls his title, "Tales," he's accurately reflecting the weight we should give to these stories. But for the purposes of argument, I'm going to assume they are true.

Second, Danner admits that the people he is talking about are not innocents.

From everything we know, many or all of these men deserve to be tried and punished — to be “brought to justice,” as President Bush vowed they would be.

They aren't mere suspects picked up in a sweep, or even low-level types unlikely to have critical information. These are known terrorist leaders. The author argues that because they were tortured it won't be possible to achieve "justice." This is nonsense. If justice isn't achieved, it will be because of people who think like him, who put blind legalism above rationality. He also misses the obvious, as do many who make this legalist argument. If the U.S. captures someone assumed to have critical information necessary to protect the country, getting that information is far more important than the eventual disposition of that person.

Finally, the author also notes that

it is impossible to know definitively what benefits — in intelligence, in national security, in disrupting Al Qaeda — the president’s approval of use of an “alternative set of procedures” might have brought to the United States.
Even though I disagree with most of Danner's analyses and conclusions, I respect his honesty, which is more than can be said for many of those writing against torture. The vast majority of the people complaining about torture and pretending that it wasn't effective,  don't  have the slightest idea what intelligence was or was not gained from these methods. We'll probably never know for sure.

The individuals detailed in this article were "high value" terrorist leaders. They are in effect civilians who decided to wage war against the U.S. They respect no laws or rules, and deliberately targeted civilians. By the customary laws of war, such enemies are subject to summary execution upon capture. The U.S. was fully justified in using any means necessary -- including far more extreme torture than anything claimed -- to extract information from them. Once interrogations were complete, each of them should have been sentenced to death by military tribunal and executed. The only injustice here is that they are still alive.