Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Taking a Break

I recently took on extra work at my job and have much less time to read the wide assortment of stuff that I look at on the internet. I've also been generally unmotivated to write lately, so I'm taking a break. Posting may or may not resume at some point. I am posting this explanation because it seems that most blogs just stop, and you never know whether the owner got hit by a bus, or just decided to stop blogging.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Conservative Whining About Mitt Romney

The "true conservative" wing of the GOP is constantly whining about Mitt Romney as a presidential candidate, despite polls regularly showing that he has the best chance of anyone running to defeat President Obama. The latest is an article from Erick Erickson, with the ridiculous title of "Mitt Romney as the Nominee: Conservatism Dies and Barack Obama Wins." Obviously conservatism isn't going to die whether or not Obama wins. Here's Erickson,
Mitt Romney is going to be the Republican nominee. And his general election campaign will be an utter disaster for conservatives as he takes the GOP down with him and burns up what it means to be a conservative in the process.
So far Romney has appeared to be the most competent GOP candidate.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is a man devoid of any principles other than getting himself elected. As much as the American public does not like Barack Obama, they loath a man so fueled with ambition that he will say or do anything to get himself elected. Mitt Romney is that man.
So is Obama, and his election disproves Erickson's assertion.
To beat Barack Obama, a candidate must paint a bold contrast with the Democrats on their policies. When Mitt Romney tries, Barack Obama will be able to show that just the other day Mitt Romney held exactly the opposite position as the one he holds today.

Voters may not like Barack Obama, but by the time Obama is done with Romney they will not trust Mitt Romney. And voters would rather the guy they don’t like than they guy they don’t trust.
This is another weak argument. There are plenty of issues on which voters don't necessarily want a "bold contrast" on policy positions, they just want to see competent leadership. I think Romney's flip-flopping on issues is much more important to the GOP conservative base that views him as a RINO, than it will be to the general public. The general public isn't looking for a true conservative. Erickson goes on to argue why Romney is so bad for conservatism at large, arguments which I find unconvincing at best.

For someone that is supposed to be a political expert, it is strange that Erickson -- like many other conservatives -- doesn't seem to grasp that almost all presidential elections are not about who is the greatest choice, but who is the lesser of two evils. We have a two party system with two huge parties that both embrace a wide variety of views. Their nominees almost never please every faction and viewpoint within the party on every issue. As Republicans, we vote GOP because overall we expect Republican policies to be better than Democratic ones, even if a particular candidate isn't much to our liking. Furthermore, we have to go with the candidates who are available, not some magical candidate that stands for everything we like. If there was a great conservative Republican candidate running who looked like a better bet to beat Obama than Mitt Romney, Erickson's article attacking Romney would make sense. Since there isn't, and since despite everything Erickson says, Romney appears to be the best bet of the current GOP candidates to win, attacking and trying to undermine him is stupid and counterproductive. Conservatives who whine about Mitt Romney and say they won't support him might as well go ahead and vote for Barack Obama, since they'll be doing so by default.
Some conservatives, of course, will not go all in for Romney. These conservatives will be blamed by major Republican and “conservative” mouth pieces for not doing enough to help Mitt Romney. They will be alienated, blamed, and made the scapegoat for the failures of the establishment GOP.
They'll be blamed because they'll deserve the blame for not supporting the GOP candidate. It will have nothing to do with the GOP establishment. That's a total cop-out. We have a nominating process. It's just too bad that the conservative base couldn't put forth a competent electable candidate. If Romney wins the nomination he's the GOP candidate -- period. If you are a Republican who won't support him, you deserve all the blame you get if Obama wins reelection.

Monday, November 7, 2011

War on Sugar in Schools Not Achieving Results

Despite bans on drinks containing sugar in schools, children are still drinking them.
health experts who would like to reverse the rise in childhood obesity. But a new study has some discouraging news: Students in schools that limited sales of soda and other sugary beverages on campus consumed just as many of the drinks, overall, as students in schools without any such restrictions.
Naturally, for anyone that seeks to control the lives of others by deciding what they consume, the problem as they see it is that we have a free society.
“in the contemporary ‘obesogenic’ environment, youth have countless ways to obtain SSBs through convenience stores, fast-food restaurants, and other food outlets in their community.”
We can't have that. Expect more calls for higher taxes on sugary drinks, which are apparently defined as just about anything containing sugar. Even with draconian policies in seven states which ban "all manner of sugar-sweetened beverages" in school, the bottom line is that these restrictions are achieving nothing -- aside from probably annoying kids.
[According to]all researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago who have been studying these issues for years. “The public health impact of these policies may be minimal.”
Don't worry, that won't stop them from coming up with new ones.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Casual Slurs Against Atheists

Even some people who aren't targeting atheists for criticism are predisposed to reflexively view atheism as a bad thing, and the act of being an atheist as a regrettable condition. Consider the following line I stumbled across at a website called "Vibe Vixen." It's from a short article about actress Tasha Smith appearing on the cover of Essence magazine.
The cover should definitely be a great read since this Jersey girl has had a spotted life as an atheist and a drug addict.
An atheist and a drug addict? Apparently being an atheist is right down there with being a drug addict. Unfortunately, there are all too many people who would read that line without even thinking twice.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Instead of Getting Raped, Shoot the Rapist

There have been some highly publicized incidents where certain police spokesmen advised women not to "dress like sluts" in order to avoid sexual assaults, in effect blaming the victims for enticing criminals. But after an attempted rape in South Carolina park, a local sheriff had some much better advice.
[He] is urging women to get concealed weapons permits and carry guns to protect themselves. ... He suggested that women carry a .45-caliber weapon, and showed reporters at a news conference a fanny pack women could use to carry a handgun while jogging.
The sheriff also noted that a gun is far more effective than mace, and had this to say.
"There won't be any doubt if you need to use your firearm to defend your life," he said. "I don't want this to happen, but I am telling you, I am tired of looking at victims and saying, 'I'm sorry, we've done the best we can to get them in jail.'"
I applaud the sheriff for speaking out on this issue and actually giving advice that could save women from rape or death. I've been saying for years that the best way to prevent rape is to give yourself the ability to respond with lethal force, an action that not only can prevent rape, but might remove rapists from the population permanently.

Huge Roadside Crosses Will Not Be Going Back Up in Utah

The Supreme Court refused to hear a case involving 12-foot metal crosses on Utah public land, essentially affirming a lower court decision that declared them an unconstitutional state endorsement of Christianity. I wrote about this case previously here and here. Justice Clarence Thomas wanted to hear the case and wrote a strong dissent,
chastising it for missing an opportunity to provide better guidance to lower courts on the complicated issue of public religious displays."Today the Court rejects an opportunity to provide clarity to an Establishment Clause jurisprudence in shambles," Thomas wrote.

I often agree with Thomas but not this time. I think the lower court ruling was reasonable, and that further time on this case would be a waste of the Supreme Court's time. Far from offering "clarity," Supreme Court involvement could just as easily create more confusion.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Flat Taxes & "Fairness"

Whenever anyone starts talking about "fairness" in a political context it raises a huge red flag to me, as it usually indicates a total lack of objective reasoning in favor of ideological propaganda. Most political commentary against a flat tax is a prime example, claiming that it wouldn't be fair since it would cut taxes for the rich while raising them for the poor. This type of reasoning is based only on the current system, ignoring the fact that it is harder to get much fairer than a tax where everyone pays exactly the same rate. The only way a flat tax isn't fair is if you believe that wealth should be seized from the rich and redistributed to the poor, that the wealthiest should bear a tax burden far greater than what is their fair share mathematically, and that the poorest should get tax "refunds" of money that they never even paid. Now you might think that's a good system, but it has nothing to do with fairness.

The problem with any flat tax proposal is its contrast with the current system, which taxes the rich at higher rates and transfers some of their money to the poor. Because the current system is so unfair, those who benefit from that unfairness, whether individually or politically, do not want anything fair. If you have gone for years paying no income tax, or have even received money that you never paid in from the earned income tax credit, why would you want a fair system that actually asks you to pay a proportional amount of your income? Likewise, if you see your political constituency as those who receive government benefits, rather than those who pay for them, you want to transfer even more benefits to your supporters, not force them to contribute.

In my opinion a true flat income tax is probably not politically viable in the U.S. And I'm not sure a flat tax that is loaded down with a maze of deductions and rules like the current system would be all that much better. But those who oppose a flat tax on the basis of "fairness" don't want anything fair. What they want is a system that conforms to their ideology, whereby the rich pay an ever-increasing proportion of their income, while the poorest receive greater and greater handouts of that money.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Simple Chart of Belief & Non-Belief

It's simple but it makes sense.
Gnosticism, for our purposes, is the belief that there is an absolute knowledge, so that one can say definitely that something is or is not true. So, in this case, somebody on the far “gnostic” side of our graph would argue that the statement “There is a God” can be proven to be 100 per cent valid or invalid; somebody on the far “agnostic” side, would argue that the same statement can never be proven to any degree of accuracy because it’s impossible to know. ... Is this the definitive way of charting people’s religious positions? Of course not. But it provides a helpful mental image when trying to discuss people’s views. A “strong theist” – let’s say the Pope – will be found at the maximum poles of gnosticism and theism: there is absolutely a God. Whether it exists and can be known is completely beyond doubt. A “strong atheist” hangs around the maximums of gnosticism and atheism
The rest of the accompanying article is good also.

Monday, October 24, 2011

More on the Drone Revolution

The Christian Science Monitor has an extensive article on the latest developments in drone technology that is worth reading.
"We're not about 20 years, or 10 years, or even five years away – a lot of this could be out in the field in under two years," says Mitchell Zatkin, former director of programmable matter at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, the Pentagon's premier research office.
The drone revolution and its continuing impact is fascinating to any student of military history and technology. As the article points out,
The development of a new generation of military robots, including armed drones, may eventually mark one of the biggest revolutions in warfare in generations. Throughout history, from the crossbow to the cannon to the aircraft carrier, one weapon has supplanted another as nations have strived to create increasingly lethal means of allowing armies to project power from afar.
The impact of the drone revolution on warfare is so dramatic that it creates numerous possibilities and raises many questions. If as expected, we eventually progress from the use of armed drones to true robots, acting according to programming as opposed to being under direct human command, we may have seen nothing yet.
In the not-too-distant future, military officials envision soldiers and robots teaming up in the field, with the troops able to communicate with machines the way they would with a human squad team member. Eventually, says Thompson, the robot-soldier relationship could become even more collaborative, with one human soldier leading many armed robots.
The whole article is extremely interesting reading.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Government Charities

Most supporters of big government advocate increasing revenue by force, in the form of higher taxes. This is euphemistically called "asking" people to pay more, in the same way a mugger "asks" you for your wallet. But what if we actually asked people to voluntarily contribute more to government programs? Let's take Medicaid for example. Everyone has seen ads for charities that ask people to pledge a monthly contribution to help a child in a third-world country. Why not have a Medicaid Support Fund where people can pledge their support or give lump-sum contributions?

I see ads for the United Way everywhere, and that organization takes in quite a bit of money. There's no reason we couldn't have a similar ad campaign for the Medicaid Support Fund. In fact, the entire campaign could be donated by some liberal advertising firm that would offer its expertise as a public service. All aspects of the fund would be managed by private entities willing to support the project -- because if it were done by the government it would almost certainly spend more money that it took in. This type of fund would encourage prominent liberal hypocrites like Warren Buffet, who pretend they aren't taxed enough while simultaneously shielding their money, to live up to their big government ideals and contribute more. It's almost a certainty that such government charities would also attract significant corporate contributions, if for no other reason than public relations.

There could even been government charity programs that appeal to those on the right, such as the Missile Defense Fund, or the Help Kill a Terrorist Fund, where donations would go directly to help defer the costs of our drone assassination program.

We actually have some of these types of charities now, such as the Navy League, but their advertising is minimal compared to better known organizations. When is the last time you saw an ad for the Navy League?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gilad Shalit Prisoner Swap

Israel's deal with Palestinians to release kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, held for five years by Hamas, demonstrates the lengths the Jewish state will go to take care of its service members.
His release by the militant Palestinian group Hamas launched a prisoner swap that ultimately will include the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. A total of 477 prisoners were freed Tuesday, after Shalit was returned to Israel.
Over a thousand prisoners released to free one soldier, including hundreds of terrorists who will probably kill more Israelis. Not everyone in Israel is happy.
Shalit’s father, Noam, appeared Monday before the Israeli Supreme Court, where he came face to face with relatives of victims of terrorist attacks who oppose the deal. Several relatives filed motions urging the court to annul the deal, and according to Israeli news reports, some angrily confronted the soldier’s father.
I understand how they feel. I'd have a pretty hard time supporting such a one-sided deal. According to the article, Hamas is celebrating the agreement as a great victory, for good reason. Kidnapping Shalit worked out really well for them. Plus, they now know that if they need to spring a bunch of their people from Israeli jails, they just need to kidnap another Israeli soldier.

Monday, October 17, 2011

What Some Real Cuts in Government Might Look Like

I'm not a Ron Paul fan, but I do like his economic plan that calls for cutting 1 trillion in spending in one year, as well as slashing the size of government.
a 10% reduction in the federal work force, ... lower the corporate tax rate to 15% from 35% ... end taxes on personal savings and extend “all Bush tax cuts.” ... also allow U.S. firms to repatriate capital without additional taxes ... Mr. Paul would eliminate the Departments of Education, Commerce, Energy, Interior and Housing and Urban Development.
My list of federal departments to be eliminated is similar: Education, Energy and HUD. But I'd shut-down the Department of Homeland Security rather than Commerce and Interior. Unfortunately there is as much chance of these cuts taking place as there is of Ron Paul being elected. The only way something like this will ever happen is if it's forced by some sort of economic collapse.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Latest in Our Ongoing War With Iran

The revelation of an Iranian plot to kill a Saudi diplomat on American soil was not particularly surprising. The U.S. has been engaged in a low-level war with Iran for years, although the war appears to be pretty one-sided, with Iran actively working to kill American soldiers, and doing everything possible to create anti-American proxies in Iraq -- among other things. Iran has been allowed to get away with this, despite its military weakness compared to the United States. Now it is true that there have been covert actions against Iran too, such as the killing and kidnapping of nuclear scientists, and cyberattacks aimed at its nuclear program. The level of U.S. involvement is unclear, but it is likely that U.S. allies such as Israel or Saudi Arabia might be behind them. Overall though, the U.S. has tolerated open hostility and acts of war from a third-rate power.

Some experts are surprised and skeptical about this plot's links to the Iranian government, because it seems reckless and somewhat amateurish. They could be right, and it might have been some sort of rogue operation. But I doubt it. I find it unsurprising that Iran might engage in what seems like a reckless escalation of the war, because it has little reason to fear any sort of significant response. It is well aware that the U.S. is preoccupied with various major issues, and that it is led by an extremely weak president, who has been nothing but spineless toward all enemies other than Al Qaeda and its affiliates. You have only to look at Obama's weak response to this situation. The U.S. government openly accuses Iran of trying to assassinate an allied diplomat on American soil, but then does nothing other than run to the UN and try to get more useless sanctions. Why should the Iranian rulers fear that sort of toothless action?

This situation demonstrates yet again that the Obama administration is incompetent when it comes to foreign policy. You don't accuse a hostile country of an act of war unless you are prepared to respond with force. A strong accusation combined with a weak response does nothing other than increase hostility while making you appear weak. One thing Obama is very good at is making the U.S. look weak.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

David Frum on Why He's a Republican

David Frum is much more of a big government Republican than I am, and I strongly disagree with his critique of current GOP positions on the economy. But his article gives some good reasons to be a Republican. Here are his main points with my comments.
The Republicans are the party of American nationalism. ... The flag-and-country themes of the GOP can be kitschy. They also are the indispensable basis of any idea of social cohesion across the vast continent.
He could have thrown in unabashed patriotism and belief in American exceptionalism, as opposed to the fuzzy internationalism of many Democrats.
Republican policies of lower taxes, less regulation, and restrained social spending may be poor medicine for the immediate crisis. But they remain the best formula to support the longer-term growth of the economy – way better than the Democratic preference for high taxes and opportunistic economic interventions.
They aren't poor medicine for the current crisis, but otherwise he's correct. If you want higher taxes, more government bureaucracy, an ever-increasing maze of regulations, greater government interference with the economy, and more hand-outs of taxpayer money, vote Democrat. If you want less you vote Republican.
my preferred approach to federal budgeting starts with national defense. Defense and national security are the supreme priority of the state. Only after fully funding defense can you then worry about the appropriate level of spending for everything else, and the appropriate level and form of taxation to pay for that spending.
Exactly. When government cuts are under discussion Democrats look to cut the most important function of government first, while Republicans look to other less vital areas of government.
I intensely oppose any aid or subsidy to particular companies or firms except in cases of the most extreme national necessity, eg TARP. Solyndra is only the latest example of the zeal of Democratic administrations dating back to Jimmy Carter’s to solve America’s energy problems by inserting government into the business of “picking winners.”
Ok, but the GOP has its own issues in this regard. However, as in most cases, the GOP is the lesser of two evils.
he omnipresent system of racial preferences built since the late 1960s in hope of compensating for the effects of slavery and segregation is not only a moral inequity, but also a practical disaster. ... this system is one of the most basic political commitments of the modern Democratic party.
It also requires that the current effects of racism be exaggerated to justify the continuation of such policies, and creates a whole group of racialist agitators.
real progress on the environment almost always comes under Republican presidents.
I'd say rather that the GOP is a bulwark against radical environmental extremism, whereas significant elements of the Democratic party embrace it.
Public sector unions rank as one of the most important obstacles to the improvement of public services from education to transit. And the Democrats are the party of the public-sector unions.
Absolutely. Public sector unions are a blight on the U.S., and inextricably linked with the Democratic party.
Democrats were wrong on crime from the 1970s through the 1990s, and I’m still mad about it.
Republicans tend to be better on addressing crime, as opposed to making excuses for criminals, or blaming inanimate objects such as guns.
I believe that the elected Prime Minister of Israel is a better judge of Israel’s national security than the Assistant Secretary of State for Near East affairs. Democratic administrations typically seem guided by the opposite theory.
Pretty vague reason. I could come up with a much more substantive distinction between the parties on foreign policy.
the GOP is the party more sympathetic to business concerns and challenges.
Understatement of the year there. As I write this, there are already some Democrats embracing the imbeciles of the "Occupy Wall Street" protests, people who out of envy, stupidity and the desire for hand-outs rail against capitalism -- the greatest engine of wealth creation in human history. The GOP has its problems, but they pale in comparison to the fringes of the Democratic party.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Big News That Isn't News

I just got on and checked the New York Times and Washington Post. Both lead with the same story: "U.N. Finds ‘Systematic’ Torture in Afghanistan," and "Afghan detainees tortured in prison, U.N. says." The Afghan government is torturing prisoners? No way! I'm totally shocked.

Out of concern about prisoner mistreatment, the NATO coalition said last month that it had stopped transferring detainees it arrested to 16 Afghan-run detention centers. The U.N. report said Afghan authorities were taking steps to address the problem.
If I were someone who cared how the Afghan government treated prisoners, I'd see the NATO action as a ridiculously belated effort at public relations and nothing more. No one with the slightest clue who paid even a little bit of attention has ever thought that the Afghan government treated prisoners by some sort of Western standards.

What's the next story to headline the New York Times and Washington Post? How about U.N Finds Endemic Corruption in Afghanistan?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Romney's Foreign Policy Speech

Mitt Romney gave a major foreign policy speech at The Citadel. Here are my comments on various parts.
America is not destined to be one of several equally balanced global powers. America must lead the world, or someone else will. Without American leadership, without clarity of American purpose and resolve, the world becomes a far more dangerous place, and liberty and prosperity would surely be among the first casualties.
This is an important point and one I want to hear from any presidential candidate. A strong America is not only good for the world in general, but more importantly it is good for America. I don't want a president who thinks the U.S. should fade into the background while some other power rises to dominance. Romney goes on to give a ringing defense of American Exceptionalism and then lists what he sees as specific threats. All of them require American strength.
there is one unifying thread that connects each of these possible threats: when America is strong, the world is safer.

Ronald Reagan called it “Peace through Strength” and he was never more right than today. It is only American power—conceived in the broadest terms—that can provide the foundation of an international system that ensures the security and prosperity of the United States and our friends and allies around the world.

American strength rises from a strong economy, a strong defense, and the enduring strength of our values.
He states 4 cores principles on foreign policy: 1. Clarity and resolve on our positions for both friends and enemies. This is something I advocate on a regular basis. 2. Promotion of open markets, representative government and human rights. This is pretty standard stuff, but I'd prefer an emphasis on advancing U.S. interests, and a realization that democracy and the promotion of human rights are not always in our interests depending on the situation. 3. Rapid reaction to events to defuse them before they require military action, and American military supremacy. I like the emphasis on military supremacy, but I'd rather hear that we are going to mind our own business and not feel like we need to interfere all over the world unless it is truly necessary for U.S. interests. 4. U.S. leadership in alliances and international actions/organizations, while retaining the right to act unilaterally. Sounds good.

Romney even lays out some specific actions he would take including strengthening the navy, prioritizing the deployment of a missile defense system, cybersecurity, deterrence against Iran, support for the so-called Arab Spring, a free trade economic policy toward Latin America, a full review of the situation in Afghanistan, greater support for Israel, closer ties with the UK, and talks with Mexico toward cooperation on their drug problems and bilateral security.

I'm in favor of strengthening the navy, our first line of defense and power projection. But as much as I support missile defense, I don't think we can afford it right now. I would not make deployment a priority. I've called for a policy of deterrence vs. Iran, and I'm all for free trade in general. I'd like to hear exactly what he means by supporting the Arab spring. I'm highly skeptical. I strongly support Israel, but don't think we should be increasing foreign aid to anyone any time soon, even allies. In fact, it would have been nice to hear about some cuts in aid, particularly in aid to places with hostile regimes or populations.

Despite my differences, overall this speech reinforces what I already thought about Mitt Romney -- that he is fairly solid on foreign policy.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Israeli Scientist Wins Nobel Prize for Chemistry

This isn't surprising, since despite its size, Israel is a leader in science and technology. From the New York Times,
An Israeli scientist won this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering quasicrystals, a material in which atoms were packed together in a well-defined pattern that never repeats. ... Dan Shechtman, 70, a professor of materials science at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel. Dr. Shechtman is also a professor at Iowa State University and a researcher at the United States Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory. ... Israeli leaders expressed delight and pride at the 10th Nobel Prize won by a citizen of Israel, which has a population of less than eight million. Two years ago, Ada E. Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, shared the award for chemistry as well.
It's useful to compare Israel's record of scientific achievement to that of its larger and more populous hostile neighbors and other states in the region. Their recent contributions to the world tend to be things like terrorism, Islamism, dictators, anti-Semitism, conspiracy theories, theocracy and varieties of burkhas for women.

Wikipedia has a good rundown of science & technology in Israel.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Leftist Protester With a Good Sign

From what I've seen, most of the "occupy wall street" protesters are a bunch of fringe nuts. But this sign is pretty good.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Obama's War on Al Qaeda

With the killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki (along with a bonus terrorist), I once again have to give President Obama credit for taking decisive, effective action against Al Qaeda. As much as I dislike the president, and think he's an naive incompetent when it comes to foreign policy in general, I have to admit that he has pursued our war with Al Qaeda with every bit as much ferocity as his predecessor. If anything, he has expanded our global reach, and has demonstrated that there are few safe havens for terrorist enemies of the U.S. -- especially leaders like al-Awlaki.

Back in 2009 I wrote a series of posts giving my opinion on things I thought we should be doing to prosecute our war against radical Islamic terrorists. In the concluding post I said,
The U.S. needs to start instilling some terror of our own in our enemies. The current fear faced by Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region -- that they could be killed at any minute by a drone strike -- should be extended to terrorist enemies across the globe. Rather than fear arrest, every member of an Islamic terror organization, their supporters, and the radical Islamic clerics who cheer them on, should be made to live their lives waiting for a bullet in the head from a U.S.-directed assassin.
I also wrote,
there is little hope that anything I've suggested will be done by the current administration
Clearly I was wrong. The President has actually done some of what I advocated in the passage above. His establishment of drone bases gives us the means to strike at terrorists in various areas. More importantly, he has not allowed U.S. striking power to be crippled by the blind legalism of terrorist rights supporters. All the bases and drones in the world are useless without the will to send them into action. Unlike some -- including a minority on the right -- the president appears to be able to tell the difference between terrorist enemies who should be eliminated, and criminals subject to the legal system. In the case of al-Awlaki, he rightly decided that in this special case, American citizenship should not shield someone who is openly recruiting terrorists to strike America.

I'm a Republican partisan and I don't want to see Obama get re-elected. But it my opinion it is intellectually dishonest for Republicans to pretend that the president is somehow soft on terrorism, at least as it applies to operations against Al Qaeda and its affiliates worldwide. The evidence says that he isn't, and he should get credit for the things he does right, even from political opponents.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Anwar al-Awlaki Killed

We've been hunting Anwar al-Awlaki for quite some time and it appears that we finally got him. Details are unclear, but several news sources are reporting that he was killed in a drone strike. Naturally terrorist rights supporters are unhappy. I wrote about al-Awlaki and the ridiculous arguments of those claiming that he deserved "due process," a year ago in my post "Kill Anwar al-Awlaki."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The New Debit Card Fees

Today we got yet another example of the unintended consequences of poorly-thought out and unnecessary legislation. Bank of America is now charging $5 per month for its debit cards, with other banks sure to follow suit. Why is it doing so? Awhile back, Congress, then led by Democrats, passed new regulations restricting the fees banks could charge merchants for accepting debit cards. The new restrictions go into effect on Saturday. Naturally banks are not going to passively accept a huge cut in income, and are now looking for ways to make up the difference from customers.

This is the sort of thing that happens when you have clueless government officials, primarily Democrats, interfering in business operations, and passing unnecessary regulations. If, like me, you make regular use of debit cards, you know they are extremely useful. One of the things that makes them so useful is the lack of fees. If they start to come with a monthly charge or other restrictions, they become another expense which lessens their overall utility.

You might wonder why it is any business at all of the government what fees banks should charge merchants for using debit cards. Why can't banks just set whatever fees they want and merchants decide whether or not they want to pay them, pass them on the customers, or reject them entirely? Was there some sort of major problem with debit card use that even required government action? No, there wasn't. There was no need whatsoever for this sort of overbearing big government regulation. And now consumers are going to pay for it. Here's one of the sponsors of the regulation, one of the biggest idiots in Congress, Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois,
"After years of raking in excess profits off an unfair and anticompetitive interchange system, Bank of America is trying to find new ways to pad their profits by sticking it to its customers. It's overt, unfair, and I hope their customers have the final say."
What are "excessive profits" and who are you to decide what businesses should make? Bank of America is not trying to pad their profits, they are attempting to preserve them from being cut by arbitrary regulation. It may be "overt," but there's nothing unfair about it. Banks are not obligated to provide free debit card use. They were doing so until you decided to interfere. It's an obvious reaction to your attempt to slash their profits, one which was abundantly clear to anyone with the slightest clue when this legislation was under discussion.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Foreign Policy Incompetence - Pakistani Edition

The Obama administration gets much well-deserved criticism for its incompetent and ineffective domestic policies. But it is always worth pointing out that administration incompetence also extends to foreign policy. Today we had another reminder.

Last Thursday Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, touched off a major diplomatic crisis with Pakistan when he said the following things:
[He] told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Pakistan’s spy agency was tied to the attack on the U.S. embassy last week as well as the truck bombing on Sept. 10 that wounded 77 American soldiers. ... Mullen told the committee the Haqqani network “acts as a veritable arm” of Pakistan’s intelligence agency.“In choosing to use violent extremism as an instrument of policy, the government of Pakistan, and most especially the Pakistani army and ISI, jeopardizes not only the prospect of our strategic partnership but Pakistan’s opportunity to be a respected nation with legitimate regional influence,” Mullen said. “They may believe that by using these proxies, they are hedging their bets or redressing what they feel is an imbalance in regional power. But in reality, they have already lost that bet.”

These are things that should never have been said unless A) we meant them, and B) we were prepared for the obvious Pakistani reaction and felt that somehow they would produce positive results. Apparently the Obama administration was too clueless to figure that out. Now that the damage has been done, it is trying to backtrack. From the first NYT link,
Asked on Wednesday whether he agreed that the Haqqani network was “a veritable arm” of the ISI, Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, told reporters, “It’s not language I would use.”

He pivoted quickly to say the Obama administration is united in its assessment that “links” exist between the Haqqani network and the ISI, “and that Pakistan needs to take action to address that.”
If that wasn't the language they wanted used, it shouldn't have been used by the senior military leader of the United States. The damage is already done.

Conor Friedersdorf Doesn't Know Much About Conservatives

Anyone who has read Conor Friedersdorf's columns at the Atlantic already knows that he's a regular critic of conservatives who doesn't actually know much about them. His latest column, called "The Heresies of Chris Christie," makes that abundantly clear. Regarding Christie's speech at the Reagan library, Friedersdorf writes,

he also made four key assertions that are now heretical within the Republican Party, and the significance of his speech is almost entirely wrapped up in those passages of politely stated dissent.
Unfortunately for his premise, none of those assertions are "heretical" to Republicans.

First, Friedersdorf thinks that political compromise is "anathema" to Republicans, "who regard compromise as tantamount to selling out principle." Republicans are not opposed to reasonable political compromise and never have been. The question is what is reasonable. If the compromise is in fact a selling out of principle, which some compromises are, then yes, many Republicans would oppose that, just as Democrats oppose selling out their principles.

Second, he makes a big deal out of Christie's comments on American Exceptionalism, apparently reading into them much more than was there, and creating a strawman regarding how conservatives might view them. Christie was primarily arguing from an economic perspective that U.S. exceptionalism requires us to lead by example. If our country is a fiscal mess, it ceases to be much of an example to the rest of the world. There are very few conservatives that would take issue with Christie on that point.

Third is more of the same. Christie argues that if America is a mess, and we can't fix our own problems, it lessens our influence. This is not even close to being "heretical" to conservatives, let alone Republicans in general.

And finally, Friedersdorf seizes on this passage,

"We certainly cannot force others to adopt our principles through coercion," he said. "Local realities count; we cannot have forced makeovers of other societies in our image. We need to limit ourselves overseas to what is in our national interest so that we can rebuild the foundations of American power here at home - foundations that need to be rebuilt in part so that we can sustain a leadership role in the world for decades to come."
Very few conservatives would disagree with those points, especially since they can be interpreted various ways, particularly with regard to limiting ourselves to what is in our national interest. There's certainly nothing there that would rise to the level of "heretical."

Friedersdorf has demonstrated on many occasions that he is a poor political analyst. In my opinion he's a pretentious, intellectual lightweight who has nothing more than a simplistic, caricatured view of conservatives and the GOP in general. There are actually plenty of things conservatives don't like about Chris Christie, such as his pro-gun control views, for example. It would be very easy to write an accurate article about why conservatives aren't thrilled with Chris Christie. Others have even done so.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Obama's Latest Anti-Business Proposal

I wrote about the president's new massive government spending proposal, misnamed as a job's bill, a couple of weeks ago. Now we find that it includes an idea that would encourage frivolous lawsuits against employers.
Mr. Obama’s jobs bill would prohibit employers from discriminating against job applicants because they are unemployed.

Under the proposal, it would be “an unlawful employment practice” if a business with 15 or more employees refused to hire a person “because of the individual’s status as unemployed.”

Unsuccessful job applicants could sue and recover damages for violations, just as when an employer discriminates on the basis of a person’s race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
Naturally this idea also involves giving more power to the government to scrutinize business hiring practices.
Under Mr. Obama’s proposal, the employment commission would be given new power to enforce the proposed ban on discrimination against the jobless.
What a great idea. If unemployed people fail to get a particular job, why not give them the ability to allege that they were discriminated against because they are unemployed? I'm sure greater government involvement and the threat of lawsuits if they turn someone down will do wonders to make businesses more interested in hiring instead of just deciding to do without that extra worker. Businesses love attention from government agencies and the threat of lawsuits.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Church or Jail

Bay Minette, Alabama is letting non-violent misdemeanor offenders decide between jail & fines or going to church for a year. That's right, you can avoid jail time and fines by agreeing to attend church for a year.
If offenders select church, they'll be allowed to pick the place of worship but must check in weekly with the pastor and police. ... If the one-year church attendance program is completed, the offender's case will be dismissed.
I had two main thoughts when I read this story. First, I found it pretty funny that this city judge is giving the impression that going to church every week is roughly equivalent to jail time. But after my initial amusement, came the reality that this is a ridiculous punishment that lets criminals off easy. I'm all for alternative sentencing for non-violent offenders. But how is attending church once a week for a few hours in any way equivalent to serving jail time and paying fines? I'm an atheist and I'd take that deal in a second. You can just sit in the back and take nap during the service, daydream, or whatever. It's not a punishment. Amazing as it may seem, many people actually like going to church. Depending on the church you pick, it might have good music, food and other benefits. You can steal things, get DUIs, and commit various other misdemeanors and get off with just going to church weekly?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Troy Davis Execution

I was going to write something about this execution, but John Hawkins of Right Wing News did it for me in his post at Huffington Post called, "Why Do Liberals Have Such a Soft Spot for Cop Killers Like Troy Davis?" Here are some of the key points.
We have a justice system that is already ridiculously slanted against the death penalty. It usually takes decades of appeals and retrials to put anyone to death, no matter how ironclad the evidence is against him. Despite farfetched claims that large numbers of innocent men have been put to death, there's actually no solid evidence that an innocent man has been executed in this country in the last fifty years. ... Liberals don't like the death penalty; so they are desperate to find proof that innocent men have been executed and there are people who are willing to make money providing that evidence, no matter how far they have to stretch to deliver it.
And the weight of evidence for Troy Davis' guilt is so great that despite all those years of appeals and efforts to overturn the verdict, or lessen the penalty, not a single court was willing to do so.
despite the incredibly slanted accounts you may have read, Troy Davis is not one of these mistakes. More than a dozen courts looked at the trial and came to that conclusion -- and no wonder. Davis shot a cop to death in public. There were 34 witnesses at the trial. Some of them were strangers. Some of them were friends of Davis. To this day, there are several people, some strangers and some former friends, who said they saw Davis shoot Officer Mark MacPhail and haven't recanted. How many eyewitnesses to a murder should you need to convict someone?
There's one other thing that Hawkins doesn't mention regarding the Supreme Court's refusal to stay the execution. There are outspoken liberals on that court, who have not been shy in expressing opposition to other executions.
In late June, for example, the court cleared the way for a Mexican national to be executed in Texas over the objections of the State Department, but the decision came on a 5-4 vote. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan disagreed.

No dissents were recorded in the Davis case. About 10:20 p.m., the court released a one-line order saying that the “application for stay of execution of sentence of death presented to Justice Thomas and by him referred to the court is denied.”
Despite all the pro-Davis propaganda, it apparently didn't even convince the liberal members of the Supreme Court. The overwhelming weight of the evidence is that Troy Davis was a murderer and was justly executed.


For those who might think I'm a reflexive, ideological defender of the death penalty in every case, I should point out that back in 2009 I wrote a post arguing that the Troy Davis case was a bad use of the death penalty. But, that's because I was uninformed about many details. As is sometimes the case in blogging, I was offering a quick take based on my reading of one op-ed which presented a skewed picture. A commenter pointed that out, which eventually led to me reversing my opinion.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Justice Served

There has been a lot of recent whining about the death penalty, based on a couple cases. But today we saw the death penalty serve its primary purpose: justice. The state of Texas executed Lawrence Russell Brewer for the incredibly vicious torture and murder of James Byrd back in 1998. In case you've forgotten, here's an account of the crime.
On June 7, 1998, Byrd, age 49, accepted a ride from Shawn Berry (age 24), Lawrence Brewer (age 31), and John King (age 23). Berry, who was driving, was acquainted with Byrd from around town. Instead of taking Byrd home, the three men took Byrd to a remote county road out of town, beat him with anything they could find, urinated on his unconscious body, chained him by his ankles to their pickup truck dragging him for three miles. Brewer later claimed that Byrd's throat had been slashed by Berry before he was dragged. However, forensic evidence suggests that Byrd had been attempting to keep his head up while being dragged, and an autopsy suggested that Byrd was alive during much of the dragging. Byrd died after his right arm and head were severed after his body hit a culvert. His body had caught the culvert on the side of the road, resulting in Byrd's decapitation.

Berry, Brewer, and King dumped their victim's mutilated remains in front of an African-American cemetery on Huff Creek Road; the three men then went to a barbecue.
Death penalty opponents often call execution "barbaric." In my opinion it is barbaric to allow those who would commit such a crime to go on living. It took a ridiculously long 13 years to execute just one of the murderers, but better late than never.

Not So Secret Drone Bases

The Washington Post has a front-page story about a "ring" of supposedly secret drone bases, apparently oblivious to the fact that if they are a featured story in the paper, they are hardly all that secret anymore. These bases, a critical part of our worldwide counterterrorism efforts, have been exposed by our enemy Wikileaks, as part of its release of stolen diplomatic cables.

As I've pointed out before, Wikileaks has already done far more damage to the U.S. than most terrorists can dream of, and this is just the latest example. Al Qaeda doesn't need intelligence operatives in the U.S. conducting espionage to uncover details about U.S. counterterrorism efforts. It has Wikileaks to do it for them. The exposure of these secrets might make for interesting reading, but that damage to U.S. interests is real and significant. The Post covers the situation with Seychelles.

The government of Seychelles agreed to host U.S. drones and to keep their counterterrorism mission secret, using a cover story that they were there for anti-piracy operations. The U.S. told Seychelles that the drones would be unarmed.

During a meeting with Seychelles President James Michel on Sept. 18, 2009, American diplomats said the U.S. government “would seek discrete [sic], specific discussions . . . to gain approval” to arm the Reapers “should the desire to do so ever arise,” according to a cable summarizing the meeting. Michel concurred, but asked U.S. officials to approach him exclusively for permission “and not anyone else” in his government ... Michel’s chief deputy told a U.S. diplomat on a separate occasion that the Seychelles president “was not philosophically against” arming the drones, according to another cable. But the deputy urged the Americans “to be extremely careful in raising the issue with anyone in the Government outside of the President. Such a request would be ‘politically extremely sensitive’ and would have to be handled with ‘the utmost discreet care.’ ”
Here you see that the U.S. made a secret agreement with the president to cut out the rest of his government. In order to conduct these type of operations we need to make agreements with various countries that involve these sorts of back-door dealings, because of domestic political consideration in the states hosting our drones. How much harder will it be to obtain bases now that everyone knows that the U.S. is unable to keep even sensitive diplomatic correspondence secret, and unwilling to take necessary actions to destroy a hostile organization that is stealing and publishing those secrets? If you were the president of some other nation approached by the U.S., would you make a similar agreement, knowing that the U.S. can't keep secrets?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Britons and Information Obtained by Torture

The polling organization YouGov has released the results of a UK survey which asked the following question:
Do you think there are ever circumstances where it is justified for the British security services to use information that other countries may have obtained through torture?
46% agreed that yes, there might be circumstances justifying the use of such information. 19% were unsure. And just over a third, 34%, said there were no circumstances that would justify its use.

From these results I conclude that 34% of Britons A) have no imagination, B) are complete and utter morons, or C) both. Regardless of what you think about the use of torture, consider the following hypothetical.

An Al Qaeda terrorist falls into the hands of Afghan security forces who torture him. During his torture-filled interrogation he gives up a large amount of information which may or may not be accurate. He states that Al Qaeda is planning an attack in Britain, and provides the names and approximate locations of two associates who he claims are already in the U.K. The Afghans pass this information to the U.S., which then informs the British. Would these 34% really oppose any investigation by British security forces? After all, they'd be acting on information obtained through torture. I guess they should just turn a blind eye and hope for the best.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Taxing the Rich

Once again President Obama is engaging in standard class warfare tactics by proposing new taxes on the rich in general -- as defined by him -- and on millionaires in particular, pretending that the people who already provide the vast majority of U.S. tax money are somehow not paying their fair share. It's such a transparent political ploy that you might think such demagoguery wouldn't get any traction at all. Yet it does. Why?

Demonizing the rich and proposing to forcibly extract more money from them appeals to at least two powerful human motivators: envy and self-interest. And it has the virtue of simplicity. Many people are envious of those who make more money than them, even though the relative difference doesn't affect their lives in the least. They are reflexively suspicious of rich people, and tend to see them as cheating somehow, people who are gaming the system to get more than their fair share. Class warfare naturally appeals to those with that attitude. It's a lot easier to believe bad things about the rich than to accept that in most cases they are just smarter and harder-working. Envy helps explain how it is possible to believe that people who pay more in taxes than you'll earn in your lifetime are in some way not paying enough.

Even those less envious and hostile to the rich can be taken in by class warfare schemes out of self-interest. Here you have those who think that if the government raises taxes on the rich, they won't need to tax ordinary people any more. Why should those of us who aren't rich care about people with tons of money? They've got more money than they'll ever spend, why not get more tax money from them? Just leave us alone. In my experience this is a common attitude among those who don't really follow politics closely, and know little about economics. Raising taxes on the rich sounds like a nice simple solution. It's clear and easy to understand.

Envy, self-interest, and simplicity to the point of simple mindedness, those things are the underlie the appeal of raising taxes on the rich. This latest attempt by Obama is no different. Fortunately the GOP controls the House. Thanks to all those who voted Republican in 2010 and have helped prevent Obama from inflicting even more damage on the U.S. economy.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Atheists in Pakistan

Pakistan is not a place you'd expect to find an atheist organization. But thanks to the internet there is a group called Pakistani Atheists and Agnostics (PAA).
How did the idea to bring together Pakistani atheists on a single platform come up? “When I became an atheist, I honestly thought there were no others like me in Pakistan. Through discussions on various social networking groups and forums, I found a few others like me. So we decided to make this group to find out how many more were out there,” says Hazrat NaKhuda, one of the founding members of the group. For obvious reasons, the PAA members go by pseudonyms to protect their identity.
It is a hopeful sign that even in hotbeds of religious extremism like Pakistan, some, especially young people are turning away from religion.
“Extremism is not the primary reason why people leave Islam. But looking at recent converts, I can say that it has become one of the reasons why people start questioning the religion of their forefathers,” explains Hazrat NaKhuda, who personally believes that religion does not make sense in this age. “Most people are following the beliefs of their parents and have no reason to proclaim that what they have is the truth. Once one realises that, it is fairly simple,” he adds.
Another member says,
we are taught that if only we turn to god, to religion, we will find answers and peace. When people, especially young ones, do that, and find that there is merely rhetoric, they feel rather disillusioned with religion, and that consequently pushes them away,” she says. “Another reason is that we are living in a progressing society. The whole world is undergoing a slow change in which it is leaving behind old religions and turning towards fixing a world, the problems of which are solely ours, not to be solved by a divine hand. ... The rapid progress of science has helped this process.
The whole article is interesting.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Rights Infringed

I recently put up a post laughing at the ridiculous notion that requiring identification for voting amounts to vote suppression, or some sort of attack on voting rights. This is accusation is particularly funny coming from Democrats, who in certain states have been in the forefront of suppressing constitutional rights. This is definitely the case in my state of New Jersey.

We had an incident at our house where gas was stolen from one of our vehicles late at night, even though we live in a reasonably nice area. Since I currently work at night, my wife, who is disabled and not that mobile, is home with our son. The thought occurred to me that it would not be good if she were to go outside after hearing some noise, and surprise a criminal. I decided to look into purchasing a handgun, primarily for my wife's protection, and secondarily to take to a range and do some target shooting for family recreation. Although we have various weapons in the house, none of them are of the type that my wife could reasonably take outside just in case. The area is rural, but not rural enough that walking outside with a shotgun wouldn't alarm a neighbor.

After looking into it, I have determined that buying a handgun in New Jersey is probably more trouble than it is worth. Before I can buy anything, I first have to go to my local police station, and submit a detailed form. Among other things, the form requires my employer information, and two references from non-family members. You must also be fingerprinted, pay multiple fees which appear to total at least a hundred dollars, and wait anywhere from one to five months, depending on your local police department and state processing. Separate forms must be filled out for each handgun purchase, each of which requires new fees. There is a blog post here that relates the details of that blogger's experience with buying a handgun in New Jersey.

Since buying handguns out of state is illegal, I will not be getting one without jumping through all those hoops. That's because I don't want to get an illegal weapon, something I doubt criminals are too concerned with. It certainly seems to me that my 2nd amendment right to keep and bear arms is at the very least being "infringed" by all of these requirements. But somehow this must be constitutional. I haven't decided whether or not I'm going to apply to purchase. If I do I will probably post my own experience.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Astronomers Discover Tatooine

What does this look like?

If you are a Star Wars fan it looks like Tatooine, a planet with two suns. But this is real. It's Kepler 16b, discovered by a NASA team using the Kepler space telescope.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Michele Bachmann's Idiotic Attack on HPV Vaccines

Wouldn't it be nice if public figures learned to keep their mouths shut rather than making blanket statements regarding things they know nothing about? I know that's not going to happen. Here's Michele Bachmann last night on the HPV vaccine. She referred to it as "what potentially could be a very dangerous drug." What is her expertise on evaluating the safety of vaccines?
“I will tell you that I had a mother last night come up to me here in Tampa, Fla., after the debate and tell me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter,” Bachmann said.

“It can have very dangerous side effects. The mother was crying when she came up to me last night. I didn’t know who she was before the debate. This is a very real concern, and people have to draw their own conclusion,” she said.
So one uninformed person blames her daughter's vaccination for retardation, and Bachmann takes it on faith and runs with it. I wonder if Michele Bachmann has ever heard that correlation does not imply causation? Does she have any idea how dangerous it is for public figures to discourage people from using vaccines based on unscientific accusations that they cause retardation, autism or other conditions? In reality, there is no evidence that HPV vaccines cause mental retardation, or are any more dangerous than other vaccines, as the linked article points out.

It's one thing to question whether vaccines should be mandated for children of certain ages. It's quite another to hear a story or two and jump to conclusions about something without bothering to get the facts. I haven't been a fan of Michele Bachmann anyway, but this incident lowers my opinion of her even further. Fortunately it is unlikely that she will get the GOP nomination.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Rumsfeld and the New York Times

Donald Rumsfeld canceled his subscription to the New York Times in response to Paul Krugman's outburst of Bush Derangement Syndrome on September 11. I find Rumsfeld's reaction silly. Krugman has been writing columns for the Times for quite awhile, and he's been a member of the leftist fringe since he started. No one, including Rumsfeld, should have been surprised or shocked that Krugman put up a BDS-influenced post on 9/11. You can find the same sort of attitudes on various leftist sites.

When you read the New York Times you know what you are getting: one of the world's most prestigious newspapers that delivers the news through the lens of a liberal worldview. But despite the editorial bias, it delivers a huge volume of news, including much high-quality reporting. Like most papers, it has various columnists, some good, some bad, and some whose quality differs depending on the day and/or topic. When you read Paul Krugman on economic issues, you also know what you are getting. His largely one-note economic perspective can be educational as a contrast to approaches that are more likely to be in favor on the right. But when he writes about political topics, Krugman is nothing more than a typical, garden-variety leftist, rarely capable of making a serious argument, and useful only as an object of ridicule. I'm not sure why someone like Rumsfeld would even take him seriously. Canceling your subscription to the Times because of one idiotic post by Krugman is a silly overreaction that makes Rumsfeld look petty and thin-skinned, and inadvertently gives Krugman more stature than he deserves.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tenth Anniversary of 9/11

This blog has been in existence for two previous 9/11 anniversaries. In 2009 I wrote my "Thoughts on the Anniversary of 9/11." And last year I attacked the ridiculous notion that the U.S. overreacted to 9/11 in the post, "The U.S. Did Not Overreact to 9/11." Reading back over my old posts, I think they still cover my thoughts today, on the tenth anniversary. Although I lived just twenty miles from Manhattan at the time, I was lucky enough not to lose any friends or relatives during the attack. My wife's niece, who has always been like a daughter to her, was in Manhattan for business, but escaped unharmed. Even though it was ten years ago, I still remember that day vividly, and just how traumatic and devastating it was to America. Unfortunately, as I wrote before, I think many have forgotten, despite all the remembrances.
They've forgotten the reaction and mood of the country at the time, and the horror that gripped most people as they watched the news on television. They've forgotten the complete shutdown of the civilian air transport system and the fear of follow-up attacks. They've forgotten the resolve of most Americans that this time we had to strike back hard against terrorism, instead of just launching a few cruise missiles and going about our business. And they've forgotten the strong consensus that we should stop waiting around to be attacked, and instead eliminate threats before they reached the potential to cause another 9/11.
I think what I wrote above in 2009 applies to all too many people, particularly among pundits.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

More of the Same from Obama

President Obama unveiled his new $447 billion government spending package, falsely labeled as a "jobs" program. In Obama-world there is no problem that can't be fixed by more government spending. It doesn't matter that it didn't work before, we need more of the same. Here are the actual proposals.

1. Cutting the 6.2% payroll tax paid by both employees and employers to 3.1% next year. Wow, a temporary payroll tax cut. I'm sure that will do a whole lot.

2. Spending $140 billion to save the jobs of state and local teachers and first responders, repair deteriorating schools and rebuild roads, railways and airports. If federal money is required to "save" these jobs because the states are unwilling or unable to pay for them, then maybe those jobs aren't really that necessary. The infrastructure spending will most likely be political payouts to buy votes in various areas.

3. Extending jobless benefits to the unemployed, with special emphasis on those out of work at least six months and those in low-income neighborhoods. Let's see if I have this straight. As part of a supposed jobs package, we are going to pay people who don't have jobs. Yeah, that makes sense.

In summary, for our $447 billion in new spending we get a temporary payroll tax cut, money for some government jobs, money to repair some government buildings, some work on various infrastructure projects, and a bunch more money paid to the long-term unemployed.


Here is a good summary of the actual speech.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Incisive Comments on Education

There's an excellent post by Heather MacDonald at Secular Right.
Educational technology would be the solution to mediocre academic performance only if the lack of educational technology were the cause. Somehow, however, John Milton managed to learn Latin, Greek, and Hebrew without an Ipad, as did thousands of other children far less gifted than he; generations upon generations have mastered algebra, geometry, and the rudiments of historical knowledge just reading from—gasp!—books!

The most important tools in the classroom are self-discipline, perseverance, and a desire to learn (or, failing that, fear of the consequences for not doing so).
Our problems with education in America don't involve spending too little money, or a lack of technology. Check out the whole post.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Obama Smears Congressional Republicans as Unpatriotic

President Obama used labor day to engage in some demagoguery, and implied that Congressional Republicans are unpatriotic partisans who put their party above the country.
Obama said that with widespread suffering, “the time for Washington games is over” and lawmakers must move quickly to create jobs.

“But we’re not going wait for them,” he said at an annual event sponsored by the Metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO. “We’re going to see if we’ve got some straight shooters in Congress. We’re going to see if congressional Republicans will put country before party.”

Here's a hint Obama, opposing your policies doesn't mean someone isn't putting the country first. The president's remarks are typical of the double standard in politics. Despite the fact that a significant minority of the left is actually unpatriotic or outright anti-American, on the rare occasion that some prominent figure on the right dares point out any example, there will be howls of outrage regarding questioning someone's patriotism. But questioning the patriotism of those on the right when they refuse to sign on with a leftist political agenda is quite alright. If you haven't been paying attention, here are a couple more examples.

The president has a clear record of making things worse. His policies haven't worked, and there is no reason to believe that more of the same will work any better. The best thing Republicans can do for the country is block Obama's proposals and policies, and submit their own instead. Hopefully we can count on the Congressional GOP to do just that and not be swayed by ridiculous attacks.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Much Ado About Nothing -- Gun Raffle Edition

The Pima County Republican Party held a raffle in order to raise money for get-out-the-vote efforts. The raffle prize was a Glock 23 pistol. Raffling off guns is fairly common and normally passes without much reaction, except from the more rabid gun-haters. But in this case Pima county happens to be the same one in which Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot. Even though deranged lunatic Jared Loughner shot her, many people appear to think the inanimate object, a similar type of Glock handgun was to blame. Since she was shot with a Glock handgun, the Glock brand must be tainted with evil. How dare those Republicans raffle off the same brand? This just proves how evil Republicans are, or at best, that they are totally insensitive jerks.

To those of us who don't assign some sort of taint to brands of inanimate objects because they happened to be used by killers, this is much ado about nothing. From a purely political perspective, the raffle was a bad idea, precisely because this sort of reaction should have been entirely predictable. But that doesn't mean the reaction is justified, or based on anything more than the usual stupidity regarding guns.

Weak Argument Against the Death Penalty

One of the weaker arguments against the death penalty is that it is applied unfairly, therefore it should be abolished. This is the line taken in a New York Times editorial on the military version of the death penalty. Here's the crux of the argument.
Minority service members are more than twice as likely as whites — after accounting for the crimes’ circumstances and the victims’ race — to be sentenced to death, according to a forthcoming study co-written by David Baldus, an eminent death-penalty scholar, who died in June.

The analysis is so disturbing because the military has made sustained, often successful efforts to rid its ranks of discrimination. But even with this record, its failure to apply the death penalty fairly is more proof that capital punishment cannot be free of racism’s taint. It is capricious, barbaric and discriminatory, and should be abolished.

First of all, this type of study proves nothing. It is impossible to say with certainty that a white service member would not have gotten the death penalty in the cases where a minority received it, because a white person was not on trial. We are dealing with hypotheticals. Second, it is quite possible that there are factors more important than supposed racial bias that influenced the death sentences, and that they involve the individual circumstances of each case. And most importantly, even if minorities are more likely to get the death penalty because of racism, that doesn't mean we have to throw out the death penalty. Why not take measures to ensure that sentences are fair and not based on a defendant's race? In other words, why not fix the military death penalty rather than eliminate it?

If we have something that works or is beneficial but is tainted in its operation by racism, we don't just scrap it. We fix it. For example, if a corporation discriminates against minority workers we don't close it down. We bring lawsuits and legal judgments which force it to alter its practices. Now you can certainly argue that the death penalty doesn't work and isn't beneficial, but that's a different argument. Saying we should simply do away with the military death penalty because some statistics correlate with apparent racial bias is a weak argument, the kind made by those already biased against the penalty and looking for any plausible excuse to do away with it.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Laughing at the Left - Imaginary GOP Vote Suppression

There's an entirely predictable article in Rolling Stone called, "The GOP War on Voting." It's hard to read it without laughing out loud.
As the nation gears up for the 2012 presidential election, Republican officials have launched an unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the elements of the Democratic vote that elected Barack Obama in 2008. Just as Dixiecrats once used poll taxes and literacy tests to bar black Southerners from voting, a new crop of GOP governors and state legislators has passed a series of seemingly disconnected measures that could prevent millions of students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly from casting ballots.
Naturally any good leftist conspiracy theory wouldn't be complete without false accusations of racism. When you read the article you find that the so-called war on voting is entirely imaginary. It consists of, wait for it, requirements that people have proper identification before voting. Isn't that horrifying? The rest of the article rests on the pretense that voter fraud doesn't exist. Since it doesn't exist, we don't need to bother with even the most minimal requirements for identification. Never mind that doing pretty much anything else involving the government requires proof of identity. You have to show an ID just to get into the federal building near where I work. Here in New Jersey, the ID requirements for a drivers license are ridiculously complicated and annoying. But it's just too much to ask that people show an ID before voting. It must be a racist GOP conspiracy to suppress the Democratic vote.

In actuality, the leftists at Rolling Stone want as much voter fraud as possible, because they expect criminals, illegal aliens and anyone else without valid ID to vote Democratic. Since they can't come right out and say that, they have to try and put a new spin on the same tired old propaganda about the GOP suppressing votes.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dick Cheney's Memoir

Here's a surprise. A retired politician writes a self-serving memoir in which he gives his version of events, while criticizing others. I know, that's just so unusual. But in this case it's Dick Cheney, so the sputtering outrage has already started.

It's pretty funny to read all of the whining, the sniveling about so-called "war crimes," Halliburton, and all the other hatred directed at Cheney. As a general rule I tend to avoid political memoirs, because there are more interesting things to read than packs of lies. But all the attacks on Cheney are almost making me want to read his book. I suspect it will have that effect on a large number of people. Cheney will probably be laughing all the way to the bank as his critics help boost sales.

More Damage From Wikileaks

Since the U.S. has failed to eliminate the threat posed by Wikileaks, it was only a matter of time before it inflicted more damage on U.S. interests.
WikiLeaks has published on the Web nearly 134,000 leaked diplomatic cables in recent days ... the newly published cables included the names of some people who had spoken confidentially to American diplomats and whose identities were marked in the cables with the warning “strictly protect.”
This isn't the first time Wikileaks has callously endangered the lives of people who have worked with the U.S.
Last year, WikiLeaks was sharply criticized by human rights activists for disclosing the names of Afghan citizens who had provided information on the Taliban to the American military.
Supposedly they've been more careful with their publication of stolen files until now. But I guess you can't expect people who solicit treason and publish secrets in an effort to damage U.S. interests to be very responsible. As I've written multiple times before, the U.S. government should be doing everything possible to destroy Wikileaks, a hostile non-state entity that poses a threat significantly greater than many of the terrorists we are killing with the drone assassination program.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Aftermath

We were prepared for the worst but it wasn't as bad as expected, at least at my house. We had a massive amount of rain and some high winds, but the winds weren't as high as they could have been. There were no thunderstorms either, and we did not lose power. There's still a fair amount of wind, and our power often goes out with little reason, so hopefully our good fortune will continue.

I haven't been away from the house, but apparently this area, Salem County, NJ, had major flooding that caused at least one death and closed roads. Overall though, we were lucky compared to the possibilities that had been predicted.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Outstanding Article on Evolution and Why it Threatens Christianity

I saw that Richard Dawkins wrote a response to Rick Perry on evolution in the Washington Post. Unfortunately the good points are preceded by typical leftist nonsense, which will cause the entire column to be dismissed out of hand by anyone who needs to read it. But today there is a far better article in the same "On Faith" section by Paula Kirby. Here are a couple of excerpts.
Education is about overcoming ignorance - so the idea of allowing ignorance to set the school curriculum and to perpetuate itself by continuing to teach generation after generation information that for the last 150 years we have known to be false, is a shameful betrayal: a betrayal of young people, who put their trust in us and who deserve better; and a betrayal of the very concept of education itself.

Remember that 'ignorance' is not an insult, but merely a term for 'lack of knowledge'. Many of the people who protest so vociferously against the teaching of evolution do not understand how overwhelmingly strong the evidence for it is; and many of those who proclaim “But it's only a theory” do not understand that the scientific and everyday usages of the word 'theory' are very different.
She zeros in on why evolution is such a problem for many Christians.
a threat that goes to the very heart of Christian teaching. Evolution means that the creation accounts in the first two chapters of Genesis are wrong. That's not how humans came into being, nor the cattle, nor the creeping things, nor the beasts of the earth, nor the fowl of the air. Evolution could not have produced a single mother and father of all future humans, so there was no Adam and no Eve. No Adam and Eve: no fall. No fall: no need for redemption. No need for redemption: no need for a redeemer. No need for a redeemer: no need for the crucifixion or the resurrection, and no need to believe in that redeemer in order to gain eternal life. And not the slightest reason to believe in eternal life in the first place.
I have heard similar explanations from Christians I've asked why it isn't possible to accommodate their beliefs to scientific reality. To them that reality destroys their beliefs, therefore it can't be real. Instead of rejecting their system of myths, they prefer to reject scientific reality. The whole article is well-worth reading.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What's Happening in Syria?

If you want to read a gripping account of the situation in Syria, take a look at Spiegel Online International's article, "Running from the Ghosts of Damascus."
For two hours, Nabil plays dozens of videos, including images even Al Jazeera won't show, images of heads ripped off, bodies torn to pieces, severed feet, targeted gunshot wounds to the ears, eyes, forehead. There are pictures of severely injured people being given basic treatment at improvised medical stations, which the resistance uses because people are often abducted from hospitals. In one scene, armed men jump out of an ambulance. "Shabiha or security forces," Awad says. "That's happened so often, people are afraid to take the injured to the clinics anymore."
According to the accounts in the article, the main source of terror and repression isn't the army -- although it is retaking control of cities, but the massive regime security forces and secret police, personally loyal to Bashar al-Assad.
the regime's true backbone is the security forces and secret services, believed to employ up to 400,000 people in their network of terror units, all competing to torture and kill. Their creator, former President Hafez al-Assad, managed all members as far down as mid-ranking officers.
If these forces remain loyal, and the army doesn't turn on the regime, Assad has a good chance of retaining power. There are, however, some signs of cracks in his control.
Hundreds of dead soldiers have been turned over to their families with bullet wounds and no further details about their deaths. Another 1,000 or more have deserted. In Deir ez-Zor, a colonel is said to have defected together with some of his troops. The regime is growing increasingly concerned about its own army, says a soldier in Damascus. "Until five weeks ago, you only needed a military ID to pass through checkpoints anywhere in the country," the soldier explains. "Now you have to have a permit for each leg of the trip, or they'll suspect you as a deserter."
If the conscript army decides to turn on Assad, that could bring him down. But so far it hasn't happened.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Effective Missile Defense

The Christian Science Monitor has a report on Israel's "Iron Dome" rocket defense system that credits it with contributing to a cease-fire with Hamas.
A key factor supporting the cease-fire was a new weapons system that allows Israel to protect its citizens and thereby lessen public pressure for swift retaliatory strikes on Gaza.

Though not fool-proof, the "Iron Dome" missile-defense system shot down about 20 militant rockets in recent days before they landed in Israel cities. That provided a window for mediators from Egypt and the United Nations to step in and calm the situation.
Iron Dome achieved a 93% success rate even though it has only deployed two of the fifteen batteries planned for defense against the Gaza terrorist attacks. For once the U.S. is getting its money's worth from some foreign aid, since Israel is essentially field-testing missile defense technology applicable to U.S. systems under actual hostile conditions.
Experts say the technology of Israel’s anti-missile interceptors – which also includes the Arrow II missile for Iranian ballistic rockets – is based on the same concepts as the US-conceived Star Wars missile defense program.
The other benefit, as the article emphasizes, is that effective defense against rockets lessens the need for immediate Israeli retaliation. This is important, since alone among states, Israel is expected to absorb rocket attacks against its cities without taking any serious retaliatory measures. When it takes even minimal measures against Gaza, its actions are called "excessive force" by Israel-haters and their useful idiots worldwide, and it comes under tremendous pressure to refrain from doing things necessary to protect its citizens. Even though it should have the right to use whatever force necessary to eliminate the terrorist threat from Gaza, Israel's unique position makes this rocket defense system even more significant than otherwise -- at least until Gaza terrorists find a new preferred method for targeting Israeli civilians.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Anti-Science Canard

Whenever there is a Republican candidate who doesn't believe in evolution, is skeptical of global warming, or opposes things like embryonic stem cell research, political opponents label him/her as "anti-science." There's a prime example at the Bad Astronomy blog, where Phil Plait recently hyperventilated about Rick Perry.

To say I am not a fan of Rick Perry, Republican Presidential candidate, is to seriously underestimate my antipathy toward him. He is anti-science in almost every sense of the word, and his stance on nearly every issue on which I’ve heard him speak is the exact opposite of where I stand.
That's a good way to make people disregard anything you might have to say since you admit extreme bias. But back to the anti-science claim. Let's take the common case of disbelief in evolution.

Unfortunately a lack of belief in evolution is a mainstream position in the U.S. According to a Gallup poll in 2009, a majority of Americans reject evolution. Does this mean that more than half the country is "anti-science"? Of course not. Being ignorant of important areas of science makes you ignorant, not anti-science. Then there is the religious angle. The reason so many Christians (and Muslims) have a problem with evolution is because of religious belief. Most Christians readily accept science that doesn't directly conflict -- as they see it -- with their religion. (Obviously there are Christians that have accommodated their beliefs and accept evolution -- I'm not talking about them.) I believe that most scientists would agree that evolution is a complex scientific topic, and is not intuitive. Poor science education, general ignorance, and religious belief opposing evolution are also abetted by an entire industry of professional creationists. For those better educated religious people who reject evolution but might feel uncomfortable about it, there are a whole bunch of pseudo-scientists out there feeding them on the notion that evolution is bad science imposed by a rigid academic orthodoxy. In short, it is easy to reject evolution. And it is entirely possible to be "pro-science" overall, while rejecting those parts of science which conflict with your beliefs.

Ignorance regarding certain aspects of science makes you ignorant, not anti-science. Calling someone who rejects evolution or global warming anti-science, is about as stupid an overstatement as labeling abortion supporters as pro-death, or opponents as anti-women. No doubt the oil industry, which relies heavily on science and technology,would be amazed to learn that Rick Perry is anti-science. I'm pretty sure that someone as smart as Phil Plait knows the difference between being opposed to science, and being ignorant in major areas. Unfortunately extreme dislike of political opponents often results in intellectual dishonesty, or an inability to separate analysis from emotional responses such as name-calling.

The Libyan Situation

CNN has live updates of the changing situation. The key questions right now are, where is Gaddafi, and will he accept defeat? According to reports his son, a leading spokesman for the regime, was captured Sunday and most resistance in the capital has collapsed. It looks like the rebels have won. But does Gaddafi retain enough military strength and support to continue fighting? Ideally he'll be captured, killed or flee the country and go in to exile.

If we assume that Gaddafi is finished and the rebels will be able to establish a new government, that raises more questions for the U.S. First, when will our involvement end? Will we, as usual, decide that we need to give Libya huge amounts of aid to help rebuild the country? And second, what type of government will emerge? In my opinion our intervention was unnecessary and not in the U.S. interest. However, if a decent friendly or even neutral government takes over, one that removes Libya from the column of nations we need to worry about, the operation will have achieved positive results. Although it isn't hard to do better than Gaddafi, it is unfortunately also possible that the new government will be dominated by Islamists, or be in other ways as bad or worse as the dictator it replaces. Other than just supporting the rebels, I'm not sure what exactly we are doing to try and produce a positive outcome. Right now we are in wait and see mode.