Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Strange Reaction to the President's Speech

I watched President Bush's speech on Iraq on NBC. After the speech ended I heard an analyst say that the President had changed the reason that we were in Iraq. Originally it was about WMDs but now it is about keeping fanatics from getting control of Iraq.

Where to begin? The original phase of the war was about overthrowing Saddam Hussein. WMDs entered into it because he had used them before and we were afraid that he would share them with terrorists.

That phase ended within weeks of the initial invasion. It doesn't matter if the WMDs had already been destroyed, shipped to Syria, or whatever. We are not hanging around in Iraq because of WMDs. We are hanging around because leaving right now would be disastrous to Iraq. Iran might take over. Al Qaida might gain control. Civil war might break out. None of these would help keep the country secure.

News analysts must know this. Why would one say otherwise?

Sunday, June 26, 2005

30 Days Part Deux

I just saw the second episode of 30 Days. In this one, a fairly young man tries to recapture the body he had when he was on the high school swimming team. In the intervening time he had not been exercising much and had gained weight and felt tired.

He was given a replacement therapy of testosterone and Human Growth Hormone (His counts were low). He was also assigned a personal trainer.

Three weeks into it he started showing problems with his liver and sperm count. His wife had a fit and started berating him about how they would never have any kids because he had done this (she must have meant "any more kids" since the had two already).

This was Spurlock's cue to splice in a bit about abuse of steroids among high school athletes. He gave the clear impression that replacement therapy under a doctor's supervision was the same as abuse by high school kids.

The segment ended with the subjects making statements about the body being a temple and no place to experiment. Spurlock ended with some homilies about growing old gracefully.

As expected, the entire episode was structured around a planned outcome - it's wrong to fight age. The choice of a 32-year-old trying to be 18 was bizarre. You are not fully grown at 18. You continue to gain muscle tone and mass for a few years past that age. An adult cannot turn back into a teenager.

Also, he was working out regularly when he was a teen - something he no longer did.

A more realistic choice would be a 50-year-old trying to feel like a 30-year-old.

There were some statements about the drugs being a shortcut. From what I heard on the show, his levels were lower than normal for a man his age. This would constitute a treatable medical condition.

But Spurlock never let the truth get in the way of a good rant. Here's a woman who lived on Spurlock's McDonalds diet and lost weight. How - she quit eating when she got full.

Next week someone who knows nothing about Islam becomes a Muslim for a month. The message will be that Moslems are the true victims of 9/11.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Expanding Government Power

In the last few days the government has expanded its power in ways that may affect the average person. Two of these were through Supreme Court rulings and the third through Congressional action.

In the first of the court cases, the Supremes ruled against medical marijuana. I don't think much of the movement to legalize pot. Many of the people pushing it are also anti-tobacco. Considering that pot has more untested substances in it than cigarettes, this seems backwards.

But the California law was on strong constitutional grounds. The pot could only be grown in the state and it had to be donated. By any reasonable standard this should not have been covered by the commerce clause in the Constitution. Somehow the justices made it fit, anyway. This establishes a president for federal law superseding state law on virtually anything. The liberal justices voted to strike down a law pushed by liberals but they did this in order to give government more power - a liberal goal (except when Bush asks for it).

The second case was about eminent domain. While it is easy to argue that government should have the right to force you to sell your land for a road, it is hard to justify the government forcing you to sell your land to a private developer. Abuses of this power have been going on for years and this ruling will only accelerate it. Except for the very rich, no one else's land is safe any longer. A developer can always bulldoze a neighborhood and put up classier houses or a mall or an industrial center. As long as this increases the tax base, local government can justify it.

Again, the liberals were for this and the conservatives were against it. I miss the days when liberals stood up for the rights of the common man against rich developers.

Finally we have the proposed flag burning amendment. One of the things that makes our country great is that we allow dissent. If you don't like the way the government is going you can say so. Burning the flag is an internationally accepted way of protesting against a government. This is a tradition that goes back decades or more.

The First Amendment is all about political speech. Now we want to add a footnote to it. This is a bad thing.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The ACLU and the AFA

I admit that I find it annoying when someone wants to convert me to their brand of Christianity. The last time it happened was at a New Years party, Dec. 1999. A woman wanted me to go out to the porch with her and accept Jesus Christ as my personal saviour, right that moment. When I declined she was insulted.

Prior to that, most of my high school friends were in a Baptist youth group (in the early 1970s) and tried to get me to join. I went to a few functions but I was never moved. No one was upset with me.

In general, I have found that people around twenty get excited when they discover religion and want to share with others. They are enthusiastic but seldom obnoxious about it.

I bring this up because of the investigation of the Air Force Academy and complaints about christian fundamentalism. I'd write more but here is a link that already says it all.

It's certainly reasonable for the AFA to foster a more tolerant institution. But it is reprehensible for cadets to be saddled with the concept of "impermissible expression of beliefs."

Shouldn't freedom of speech extend to those who actually protect those rights?

[...] Yet there are some groups, like Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union, with the help of some Democrats in Congress, that denigrate and undercut religious freedom at every turn.
It also touches on the Conyers "hearings" which included a witness who insisted that Jews and Israel were responsible for 9/11. At the same time, activists were handing out flyers with this libel at the Democratic national headquarters.

Between that and persistent talk about "the root causes of 9/11" meaning Us support for Israel, why do any jews vote Democrat?

Stranger Danger?

During the 1980s ABC would show a made-for-TV movie about some issue that was previously not talked about in polite society. The showing would become a national cause. People would organize. Sometimes new laws would be passed. The entire nation suddenly had a new fear. This happened at least a half dozen times but the one that started it was about a boy who was kidnapped and killed. Once this movie came out, every parent in America was convinced that child molesters were watching their child, just waiting for the parents to drop their guard for a moment.

Parents were given all sorts of warnings. There were special kits that parents were to put together to help identify their child once he was snatched. It didn't matter if the process scared the child to death. This was a good thing since it would make the children more wary around strangers.

It was understood that this would always be a stranger and that the odds of this happening were fairly high.

In reality, child molesters are almost always known to the child. He might be a neighbor or a cousin or mom's new boyfriend. He might be a scoutmaster. He is almost never a complete stranger.

Never the less, children were taught to be very scared of strangers.

This has two negative effects. One is that the children are scared of the wrong people. The other reason is that children are scared of strangers for no good reason.

Which brings us to the missing scout. After disappearing from a scout camp the boy was found days later. Why did the search take so long? In part it was because the Sheriff made a bad assumption. He assumed that children always follow the path of least resistance so the boy must have gone downhill. In fact, he went uphill.

A bigger problem is that the boy had been taught to fear strangers.
“When an ATV or horse came by, he got off the trail. When they left, he got back on the trail,” Jody Hawkins said. “His biggest fear, he told me, was that someone would steal him.”
Granted the boy is described as "immature and a little slow, but not mentally disabled" but the parents clearly gave their son the wrong impression about people.

Update: Here are someone else's thoughts on talking to strangers.

Durbin's Apology

Ok, he apologized, sort of. When a Democrat's apology is so bad that the Daily Show makes fun of it...

Even Keith Olbermann thinks that Nazi references are overused. After years of Bush=Hitler references, I hope that this the nation starts reserving the term for people who are actually Evil (with a capital "E").

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Are We Winning or Losing in Iraq?

I keep reading that we are losing or already lost Iraq. These statements always seem to come from people who don't like President Bush. Glenn Reynolds has been writing about this in his column at MSNBC. In the meantime, Vice-President Cheney said that the insurgency is in its last throws. Which side is right?

Things are not going well for the insurgency. The stresses between the two groups - Baathists and Islamists - are showing. al- Zarqawi spends more time attacking Iraqi civilians than attacking US troops. The has not gone unnoticed. An Egyptian minister proclaimed that, since al-Zarqawi's attacks hurt the Iraqis rather than help them, he must be an American agent. While it is annoying that Moslems assume that anyone hurting Moslems must be an American agent, it is still heartening to see that Zarqawi is losing the "Arab street". Who is going to volunteer to go to Iraq and blowhimself up for an American agent?

He is not getting along with the other insurgents, either. Relations are so bad that the insurgents are attacking each other.

The Islamists will find it very difficult to work in Iraq if the Iraqi people turn against them. The Baathists may make a deal with the Iraq transitional government. That would isolate the Islamic fundamentalists and probably drive them out.

There is still a lot that can go wrong but this seems to be the direction that Iraq is headed.

One thing that could still go wrong is announcing a timetable for withdrawing the troops. If the insurgents know exactly how long they have to hold on, they will. If they know that we will stay as long as they stay then they will give up.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Downing Street Mock-up

It turns out that the Downing Street Memos that were released were not exactly what they purported to be. They were hand-typed copies of copies of originals.


Some people have already pronounced that the memos are complete fabrications. Others think that they must be real because there is so little to them. Yet more think that they are real because no one in power has denounced them as fakes.

I agree that they probably are real. There are several differences between these memos and the Killian memos that were the center of the Rathergate story. The author of these memos was supposed to have written the memos for his own personal files and has since died. The Downing Street Memos are supposed to be part of the official record. The White House could not confirm or deny what someone who is now dead wrote in private. The British government can confirm or deny what is part of the official (although secret) record.

There are a couple of questions and a few possibilities. Why make a copy of a copy and why use a manual typewriter? This makes the memos impossible to verify. Does this really circumvent British law about secret records?

Now, the possibilities: 1) The memos are fake but are close to real events. 2) The memos are real but slightly altered. In either case, why bother? Because the only way to answer them would be to make the full records public and let reporters crawl through all of the records looking for an off-word that would indicate deception. If I was a conspiracy theorist I would believe that someone in the Left did exactly this - created or doctored memos in order to open up the real secret records.

But I'm not so I will believe that the memos are real and probably un-altered. Of course, there is no way to know for sure...

GM, Toyota, and Thomas Friedman

You win a Pulitzer for foreign affairs and you think that you know everything about everything. At least that's the impression you get from Thomas Friedman's column on automobiles. He starts out:

So I have a question: If I am rooting for General Motors to go bankrupt and be bought out by Toyota, does that make me a bad person?

It is not that I want any autoworker to lose his or her job, but I certainly would not put on a black tie if the entire management team at G.M. got sacked and was replaced by executives from Toyota. Indeed, I think the only hope for G.M.'s autoworkers, and maybe even our country, is with Toyota. Because let's face it, as Toyota goes, so goes America.
Why would this be a good thing?
Because Toyota has pioneered the very hybrid engine technology that can help rescue not only our economy from its oil addiction (how about 500 miles per gallon of gasoline?), but also our foreign policy from dependence on Middle Eastern oil autocrats.
500 miles per gallon? Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria proposed this a few months ago (another foreign affairs writer who thinks that this gives him special insights into automobiles. What Zakaria actually meant was using an 80%-20% alcohol/gas mixture so that cars are running mainly on alcohol. The problem here is that alcohol has zero net energy. What is brewed from corn does not burn. Just try lighting a beer or glass or ordinary wine. The alcohol content is too low. In order to increase it, you have to distill it two or more times. This burns up about as much energy as you get from the distilled alcohol. Since the process can be fueled by gas or coal it means a reduction in oil usage but it is not the same thing as 500 miles per gallon at all.

And Toyota is not working on this. What they have is a gas/electric hybrid, the Prius. Now, this is a neat piece of technology and it gets high mileage, something like 50+ MPG highway and 60+ city. The city mileage is accomplished partly because gas engines burn almost as much gas at idle as when moving while electric motors only use energy when moving. Every minute you sit at a stoplight you save energy (not counting the air conditioning and radio). Also, it recaptures some power when you brake.

But the Prius also gains mileage from being a small with poor performance. Any small, underpowered car will get better mileage than a big car with a powerful motor. Also, the Prius is expensive. Toyota offers nine car models. Only three are more expensive than the Prius. You are paying for dual engines. The most recent studies say that gas would have to cost $5/gallon in order for you to break even with a Prius.

It should also be pointed out that the Ford Escape hybrid has middle of the pack mileage and that Honda is now using hybrid technology more to boost the acceleration of its cars rather than the mileage.

Toyota sells 21 models of cars, vans, and trucks. Only one is hybrid.

Friedman goes on to suggest that Toyota should have home charging kits so that you could plug the car in overnight and get the first 20 miles of the day from your home's electricity instead of the car's gas motor. Plus he brings up the 80%/20% alcohol/gas mixture. This requires a special flex-fuel chip which has nothing to do with GM or Toyota. It would also require a major expansion of our electrical grid and generating capacity which Friedman seems to miss completely.

If GM were to scrap its entire line and switch over to hybrids tomorrow, would that save the company? Not unless it was able to drop the union contract that forces it to pay 100% medical costs for retirees. That is where the real problem is for GM.

In the meantime, Friedman's solution to oil independence is rather expensive. Figure up the additional cost of hybrid cars, new power plants, and a new electrical grid. None of that will come quickly or cheaply and would require government mandates.

And none of it will help GM's health benefit problem.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Nazis and Gulags

Last week, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin read an account of a couple of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. It part of a long speech but this is the part that everyone has picked up on:

"On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold....On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor."

If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others -- that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners.

Durbin also made references to the detainment of Japanese Americans during WWII.

While I do not question the accuracy of the FBI statement, I wonder about its completeness. Why were these men chained this way? Was this just being done for the amusement of the guards? Were they being interrogated? Were they being punished for something? If so, then what - had they started a fight? Tried to kill a guard? Abused a copy of the Koran?

This is important and its omission is telling. The examples that Durbin brought up - Nazis, Soviets, Pol Pot, and even the interment of Americans of Japanese ancestry, these were all political prisoners - people who were locked up for their racial/ethnic backgrounds or people who objected to their government.

None of those descriptions apply to the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Further, if the prisoners were being punished for an act of violence then the American people might lose all sympathy for the prisoners.

Elsewhere in the same speech Durbin said:
For example, they have even argued in court they have the right to indefinitely detain an elderly lady from Switzerland who writes checks to what she thinks is a charity that helps orphans but actually is a front that finances terrorism.
He never says that this elderly lady is at Guantanamo Bay but the implication is clear.

The same is true of Amnesty International's statements about "the gulag of our time." The prisoners at Guananamo Bay were captured in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many were under arms at the time. They are being held in solitary confinement.

Now, you have a prisoner in solitary confinement and he breaks the rules some how (this has included attempts on guards' lives). How do you punish him?

In Franklin County, Ohio, where I live, a prisoner who causes problems is often chained in a hogtie and left for the night. This imobilizes the prisoner and causes a fair amount of pain but it does not injure him. The position the Guantanamo Bay prisoners were in was probably less painful.

Meanwhile, in Durbin's home county, prison abuse is common. This includes actual beating and rapes.

Durbin is not calling for this jail to be shut down. He is not insisting that anyone who enters it will come out a criminal even if he was innocent going in. He does not think that this prison embarrasses us before the world.

Clearly this is nothing but faux indication. Durbin and others are claiming rightious indignation over the treatment of the Guantanamo prisoners even if they are treated better overall than people in American jails.

And none of this compares to the millions who were starved and killed by the Nazis, the Soviets, etc.

Durbin's comments were so over the top that even the Daily Show called him on it. When a congressman criticizing Bush is made fun of by Jon Stewart he has clearly crossed a line.

But the point of all this outrage is to embarrass President Bush. The Democrats hope that they can use reports of minor incidents from Guantanamo Bay the same way that the rather shocking pictures from Abu Ghraib did.

This is nothing but politics.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

30 Days

In a new show on FX, Morgan Spurlock ("Supersize Me") explores alternate life choices 30 days at a time. The premier episode has Morgan and his fiance, Alex, living on minimum wage in Columbus. Since that is where I live, I had to watch it to see what I recognized and how Columbus came off.

The choice of Columbus was a little strange. Spurlock says that he chose it because Ohio's economy is doing badly and because of the close presidential race. Columbus is doing much better than other parts of the state and the election was over months before Spurlock came here. From the beginning we wonder about his choices.

Before the show aired I wondered how difficult it would be to find a job that only paid minimum wage. As it turned out, it was impossible. According to a newspaper article, Alex's job paid more but the producers made her take a pay cut for the show. Spurlock said that his jobs were paying $7-$7.50 an hour. They never said if he got to keep the extra.

This is an important point. One of Spurlock's main theme's is that Congress should raise minimum wage. Since neither of them found a job that paid minimum, raising it would not have helped them a bit. Unless the producers made both of them accept pay cuts for the sake of the premise. If that's the case then their poor financial state was the producer's fault, not Congress's.

In many ways the show was like a segment of PBS's "House" series (1900 House, Colonial House, etc.). Call it "Minimum Wage House." The circumstances were very artificial. For example, they never tried to get better paying jobs. Temp jobs in Columbus pay $10 and up an hour. They could not get these jobs because of the show's premise. In trying to act like poor people, they were not allowed to act like real poor and try to get a better job.

Very little coverage was given to the other people working beside them. One man said that his first job, 30 years ago, was making cars for $7.30 an hour and now he was making $7. He did not say what happened in between. I'm guessing substance abuse.

When Spurlock gets his job it is at a sleazy temp agency. The work agreement includes things like not sleeping on the job and not hiding in the restroom. Spurlock laughs at this but I have seen people doing just these things. That's why they make $7 an hour.

The other person mentioned has four kids at the age of 22.

Alex complains that her job is the same as her first job when she was a teenager. Exactly. These low-paying jobs are taken by people who are either very new to the labor market or have problems holding a real job.

Spurlock also worked in some commentary on medical coverage. He hurt his wrist laying sod and Alex got a uninary tract infection. They tried a free clinic but the waiting line was too long and they were turned away for the day. Instead they went to the Emergency Room and were charged a fortune.

Spurlock makes a pitch for some sort of changes but I don't think he knows enough about the subject to go beyond wishing for free medical coverage for everyone.

His experiences show the effects of two different approaches to medicine. The free clinic had too many patients. Were we to offer free medical coverage to everyone then every place would likely have too many patients. That is what happened in Canada where the waiting lines for most procedures are weeks to months long.

Then there is using an emergency room for a non-emergency. Spurlock just needed an Ace bandage and a day off. He could have figured that for himself but Alex talked him into having it checked "just in case". If his experiment had lasted longer than 30 days he would have made better choices the next time. He probably would have have taken a day off work to go to the free clinic.

Spurlock and Alex constantly complained that being poor sucked. There was nothing to do. At one point Spurlock used a library computer to search for free things to do in Columbus and found a dumb site that suggested such things as touring an animal shelter. Had he looked a little further he would have found this site which has some real suggestions. Also, if he had been here a couple of months later he would have found free festivals going on most weekends. As it is, there are free concerts fairly often.

Plus, he was in a library. Columbus has one of the nation's top-rated libraries. The libraries alone often have performers. Most of these are kid-oriented, but they exist. Or he could read a book. You would think that a playwright would read occasionally.

But this interferes with his whole "life sucks if you are poor" theme. Spurlock obviously would like us to be more like the Europeans where unemployment is so common and so comfortable that it is now considered a lifestyle choice. Here is an account of an immigrant to Sweden whose family never had to work.

Spurlock mentions a few times that we are the wealthiest nation in the world. If we were to treat the poor like France does then that would no longer be true. The unemployment rate in France has been above 10% for decades and their economic growth is miserable. Someone compared the economies of Europe with the individual states. Spurlock's native West Virginia is one of the few states that is doing worse than the French.

Supersize Me showed someone forcing himself to make bad nutrician choices - only eating at McDonald's, supersizing whenever asked, and eating everything - and then using the results to indite the fast food industry. This installment of 30 Days does the same things. It may suck to be poor in the US but raising the minimum wage will not help when entry-level jobs are already paying 50% more than minimum.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

AIDS Slanders

Both President Reagan and Pope John Paul II died in the last year and in both cases commentators said something to the effect that their legacy is tarnished by their actions regarding AIDS. This is nothing but an attempt to tarnish the reputation of two conservative heroes.

In Reagan's case, the accusations started soon after AIDS was first discovered. Groups like ACT-UP insisted that more money was needed for AIDS research. They were convinced that there was a simple cure that could be discovered quickly if the government only spent enough money on it.

Medical funding doe not work that way. First you have to isolate the disease before any research can be done on treatment. Lines of inquiry have to be proposed and evaluated before work can begin. All of this happened and by the end of Reagan's term, AIDS research was among the top three in medical funding.

It is now around 20 years later. Billions have been spent on AIDS research and no cure has been found. There are treatments that will delay HIV from developing into AIDS and other treatments that extend the life of people who have AIDS but these are not cures.

That wasn't enough so protestors also claimed that Reagan had not done enough to warn people about AIDS. In response, the government sent a postcard to every household in the country. Again, it was not considered enough. The AIDS activists wanted someone to blame.

AIDS continues to increase. I doubt that there is a sexually active person born in the US who does not know about the risk of AIDS and the need for safe sex but it still is not enough.

Further, nearly everyone who dies from AIDS during the Reagan administration contracted it before anyone knew about AIDS. There is a long period between the original HIV infection and the development of AIDS. This runs from two to seven years. Most of the early cases of AIDS were in people who contracted HIV in the 1970s.

Certainly Reagan cannot be blamed for that. But he is. A made-for-tv movie had him saying callous things about gays with AIDS.

With John Paul II, the reasoning is that he refused to push for condom use so he is responsible for the AIDS crisis in Africa. There are several problems with this reasoning. The two most obvious are that 1) most Africans are Muslim, not Catholic and are therefore unlikely to follow the advice of the Pope, and 2) if someone is ignoring the Pope's position on fidelity, why would he listen to the Pope on condom usage?

Another factor is that AIDS in Africa might not be spreading sexually at all. The heterosexual transmission rate of AIDS is very low in the US where is remains confined to gays and people who share needles. There is a very real possibility that African AIDS is being spread through improper sterilization. This has never been studied for political reasons.

It should also be pointed out that the higher the percentage of Catholics an African country has the lower the percentage of AIDS cases. Again, without further study there is no way of knowing why this is true.

Blaming the Pope for AIDS is particularly heinous because he did take an active interest in AIDS. During a visit to the US he made a point of picking up an infected child. This was during the early days of AIDS when most people were afraid to touch AIDS patients. Many of the AIDS hospices in Africa are Catholic.

While the motives of people who say these things about Reagan are clear - they don't like Reagan's conservative politics, the motives of the John Paul-bashers are more complex. They resent him for not liberalizing the church so they are trying to create a negative consequence for his actions. This in turn pressures the new Pope to be more open to liberalization.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Why the ACLU Males Me Nervous

Back in the early 1990s the then-new-head of the ACLU was interviewed by Reason Magazine. One of the questions asked was why the ACLU ignored the 2nd Amendment and gun control in general. The answer was illuminating.

It seems that the ACLU is not protecting constitutional liberties. Their goal is to protect "natural" civil liberties. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights are tools that they use but no more than that.

So who decides what civil liberties need protecting? They do. Specifically, their board of directors decides what their specific policies are on issues.

That's why the ACLU sometimes seems so rudderless, at least to conservatives and libertarians. I judge civil liberties by their constitutional protections. Changing the Constitution is justifiably difficult and represents the consensus viewpoint of a super-majority of the nation.

Here are some examples taken from their web site:
Your First Amendment rights-freedom of speech, association and assembly. Freedom of the press, and freedom of religion supported by the strict separation of church and state.
Note the words I italicized. This is not what the First Amendments says. Here is how it is worded in the Bill of Rights:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...
The ACLU's version justifies suppression of all public references to religion. Schools no longer teach that the Pilgrims came to America in search of religious freedom, just freedom (or more likely, the Pilgrims are not taught at all).

Here's another one from their web site:
Your right to privacy - freedom from unwarranted government intrusion into your personal and private affairs.
The constitutional background for this is complicated. The closest provision in the Bill of Rights is the 4th Amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
In addition, the Supreme Court "discovered" a right to privacy between a woman and her doctor in their Roe v. Wade ruling.

The purpose of the warrant is to keep the police from making general house-to-house searches to see what they turn up. This was done under the British and was one of the reasons that we demanded independence.

The ACLU opposes the Patriot Act, particularly the part that allows delayed delivery of a warrant. The wording in the 4th Amendment has nothing to say on the matter implying that the fact that law enforcement officers have sworn out a warrant is enough.

The ACLU goes on:
We work also to extend rights to segments of our population that have traditionally been denied their rights, including Native Americans and other people of color; lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered people; women; mental-health patients; prisoners; people with disabilities; and the poor.
I wonder why lesbians lead the list? I also wonder exactly what they had in mind when they included the poor? Do they mean the poor's lack of access to representation or their lack of access to money?

While I can quibble about the wording on their web page, a bigger problem is that the ACLU goes beyond their official limits. They have a whole section on immigrants rights which is too long to reproduce here but it stresses legal immigrants and the rights of foreigners once they enter the US. Nothing is said about the unlimited right of foreigners to enter the US but that has been their policy. The ACLU was the biggest opponent of Operation Minuteman. This project placed volunteers with binoculars and cell phones near the Mexican border. When they spotted a group of people entering the country illegally they called the authorities. Contact between the Minutemen and the illegals was strictly prohibited. When one volunteer saved a Mexican from dying of thirst, he was sent home.

So why would the ACLU fight this? Because they decided that everyone in the world has the right to enter the US (and thereby receive all the benefits of citizenship without having to become citizens).

I do not oppose the ACLU on all issues and I greatly admire them for some of the stands they have taken in the past. At the same time, I sometimes feel that they are as oppressive about establishing their own values as any government and as intolerant of other's beliefs as some hate groups.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Downing Street Memo

For over a month the left has been buzzing about the Downing Street Memo. This memo summarizes meetings between Tony Blair's cabinet and the Bush Administration made during the Spring of 2002. A couple of days ago John Kerry complained that the memo has not received enough investigation. A statement that al Jazeera misquoted as a call for impeachment.

The left has jumped on three points. First, that Bush and Blair had already decided to go to war with Saddam nearly a year before opening hostilities. Second, this statement:
Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.
And third, this statement from the same paragraph:
There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.
As far as the first point, everyone knew by the Summer of 2002 that Bush and Blair wanted Saddam gone. This had been the official policy of the United States since the Clinton administration. This shows that Bush and Blair concluded that nothing short of a land war would dislodge Saddam. The problem was how to make the case.

The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.

The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult. The situation might of course change.

And they got their new UNSC authorization giving Saddam a new ultimatum with a deadline.

What about the WMDs? Did Bush know that they had already been destroyed? No, as shown in this quote:

On the first, CDS said that we did not know yet if the US battleplan was workable. The military were continuing to ask lots of questions.

For instance, what were the consequences, if Saddam used WMD on day one, or if Baghdad did not collapse and urban warfighting began? You said that Saddam could also use his WMD on Kuwait. Or on Israel, added the Defence Secretary

So the British were worried about Saddam using WMD on the battlefield! That would not be a worry if they knew that Saddam's supply was gone. Here is proof that Bush and Blair expected to find WMDs.

The third point, failure to plan for the post-invasion period may be a valid point but it is impossible to know from this memo how much planning was done between May 1, 2002 and the March, 2003 invasion.

Not much here to hang an impeachment on.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Dean - the Gift that Keeps on Giving

Or is that the Mouth that Keeps on Talking?

Either way, when the Democrats selected Howard Dean to be the party chairman, Republicans cheered. They were certain that Dean could not keep his mouth shut.

And they were right. It's bad enough that NBC did a story on it last night. A related story is here on MSNBC.

The old political math said that all a Democrat had to do to win was "fire up the base". The majority of the country would vote Democrat if you could just get them to the polls. That was the basis of the last presidential campaign - lots of inflammatory rhetoric plus a huge effort to turn out both new voters and existing ones.

It didn't work. The Republicans had an even better get out the vote campaign and shifting demographics now give the Republicans a slight lead in registered voters.

The only way that Democrats can win the next few elections is to appeal to moderate Republicans and swing voters. Some Democrats are doing this. Look at the number of stories about how the Republicans have been taken over by the scary Religious Right.

That's not how Dean sees it, though. He is still trying to fire up the base. Republicans? To him they are all dishonest.
"A lot of them never made an honest living in their lives," said Howard Dean on June 2 at a conference hosted by Take Back America.
On Tom Delay, Dean says:
This gentleman is not an ethical person, and he ought not to be leading Congress, period.
To put this in perspective, the leading Democrat Senators are Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd. Clinton and Kennedy have been in numerous scandals and Byrd is a former KKK recruiter.

This isn't going to sway many Republicans to vote Democrat.

Dean is living in the past. He is also the first celebrity party chair. Most party chairs can say anything they want to a supportive crowd and it will not get out. Not so with Dean. The media is everywhere and he is a superstar so everything he says is reported.

Maybe he's really a Republican plant.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Bush, the Jedi, and the Draft

Here's an interesting observation from the Huffington Post.
Leaving aside the question of whether you think these gibes are eviscerating commentary or sloppy caricature fully in keeping with the exhausted mediocrity of the rest of the film (guess what I think), overall "The Revenge of the Sith" is a dramatically pro-Bush movie. I am sure this is not Lucas' intent (although he lives in splendid exile his own Xanadu in Marin, I would assume Lucas toes the Mullholland Drive party line) but just the result of the fact that Bush and Lucas both trade in the same heroic mythology and iconography. Although the Jedi have their spiritual side, to be sure, they are warriors, quick on the draw, cavalierly light sabring anyone who blocks their path. There's little diplomacy in that galaxy far, far away, at least as far as the Jedi are concerned. Confrontations with the Jedi always escalate, as they must for dramatic drive and good story-telling, but not as we might hope in the real world. Furthermore, notwithstanding Obi-Wan's claim, the Jedi deal in absolutes every bit as much as the Sith do. The amorphous Dark Side sounds very much to me like George Bush's idea of Evil. It isn't something you can negotiate with or compromise with or the unfortunate resultant of vectors of poverty and fanaticism. It's an absolute, to be rooted out wherever exists.
I have to admit, he's onto something here. The Phantom Menace began with "aggressive negotiation". That failed and the bad guys invaded a peaceful government. The Jedi helped take the planet back. Shades of Desrt Storm!

There is no nuance to the Jedi. If they judge you to be good they help you. If they judge you to be bad they attack you.

We also know which side the Jedi would be on with Iraq. Until they found out that Palpatine was secretly a Sith lord playing both sides against each other they supported him even though they didn't like his politics. And none of the bad guys in Star Wars 1 through 3 were as bad as Saddam Hussein.

Also on the Huffington Post, Bill Diamond wonders why today's college students aren't worrying about the draft?

I refuse to believe that the world has changed so much that 18-year-olds today are any more anxious to die or be maimed on the battlefield than I was back in the late '70s. But given all the talk about the possible reinstatement of the draft, why aren't we hearing more from the nation’s campuses? Is there resistance brewing and it's just not getting reported? Or is it, as I think Jim is suggesting, that college-aged students have become so narcotized by our entertainment-obsessed culture that they don’t see what may be headed their way?
Gee Bill, it was all an anti-Bush election campaign. Didn't you get the memo? No one is seriously suggesting bringing back the draft. Today's 18 year olds understand this. Why don't you?

Friday, June 03, 2005

Living in a Post-Khobar World

Thomas Freidman wrote a couple of recent columns about turning back the clock. First, on May 27, he said that Guantanamo Bay prison should be shut down immediately. Next, on June 1, he wrote these cheery thoughts:

I worry that 20 years from now some eighth grader will be doing her National History Day project on how America's reaction to 9/11 unintentionally led to an erosion of core elements of American identity. What sparks such dark thoughts on a trip from London to New Delhi?

In part it is the awful barriers that now surround the U.S. Embassy in London on Grosvenor Square. "They have these cages all around the embassy now, and these huge concrete blocks, and the whole message is: 'Go away!' " said Kate Jones, a British literary agent who often walks by there. "That is how people think of America now, and it's a really sad thing because that is not your country."

Friedman also complains about what a hassle it is for people, especially Arabs, to get student visas into the US. He sums it up like this:

Bottom line: We urgently need a national commission to look at all the little changes we have made in response to 9/11 - from visa policies to research funding, to the way we've sealed off our federal buildings, to legal rulings around prisoners of war - and ask this question: While no single change is decisive, could it all add up in a way so that 20 years from now we will discover that some of America's cultural and legal essence - our DNA as a nation - has become badly deformed or mutated?
Of course, the prisoners at Gitmo Bay were taken prisoner while under arms, fighting on behalf of the Taliban or al Queda. Some of the prisoners who were released after swearing to be neutral have turned up killing Americans.

Several of the 9-11 hijackers entered this country under student visas which caused a large outcry.

Both of these are responses to 9-11. Reasonable people can debate them although Friedman gives the impression of a man who just wants everything like it was on September 10, 2001.

But that isn't why our embassies are fortresses. That goes back to June 25, 1996. On that date, terrorists exploded a truck containing the equivalent of 22,000 pounds of TNT near an Air Force barracks in Saudi Arabia. 19 service members were killed and hundreds were injured, not counting the Saudis also killed. The official report details actions to be taken to prevent similar actions in the future. The basic precautions involve exactly what Friedman is complaining about - fencing likely targets off from the host countries.

These precautions were not in place on August 8, 1998 when terrorists used car bombs on the US Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. 220 were killed and more than 4,000 injured. This official report on these bombings included this recommendation:

For those US diplomatic buildings abroad not meeting Inman standards, essential physical security upgrades should be made immediately and should include a number of specific measures involving perimeter and counter-surveillance.
When I was growing up it was common to hear older people reminisce about living in a time when people didn't bother to lock their doors. Friedman has become one of these people, railing at the world because it isn't the nice friendly place it used to be and blaming the US for taking precautionary measures.

We could do as he wants. We could empty the prisons of terrorists, open our already-porous boarders, and stop protecting our embassies. The death toll would be in the thousands but we would be showing the world a friendly face.

That's what it's all about isn't it? As long as we are open and friendly, terrorists would never attack us.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Third Phase of the War

Very little attention has been paid to the fact that the war in Iraq is now in its third phase. The first phase was the overthrow of Saddam Hussein which was a traditional military operation. The second phase was the organized resistance. This was a combination of Baathists and Islamic foreigners. They attacked the military from hiding using rocket powered grenades (RPGs) and improvised explosives (IEDs).

The newest phase is mainly foreign Islamists. They use car bombs and their main target is the Iraqi people. In May, there were nearly 9 Iraqis killed for every American.

A year ago Michael Moore claimed that the insurgents in Iraq were the same as the American Minutemen. John Kerry kept saying that Iraq was a distraction from the war on Terror. If these statements were ever true, they no longer are. George Washington was native-born and did not spend his time attacking civilians.

As for the "distraction" argument, it has become a distraction for Osama bin Ladden. No one seems to be interested in taking the fight to American soil when they can fight us in Iraq instead. In this way, the war is keeping us safer.

Yes, the cost has been high. As Nightline and Doonsbury love to remind us, a lot of Americans had died in this fight. What they don't like to remind us is that the body count started in the 1980s with a terrorist bombing of a marine barracks and continued through 9-11.

During Viet Nam the argument was that the communists in Asia were no threat to us. This is not true with the terrorists in Arabia. Some of them have already brought death to American soil. If we pull out of Iraq they will be encouraged and start killing us at home again.

That is why they are pushing so hard in Iraq. If they can weaken our resolve it will be a huge victory for them. With wide open boarders and a supportive Left, the terrorists will have no problem bringing the fight to us if we stop taking it to them.