The Obama Watch

My car is dead as a doornail so, while I’m waiting for a tow truck, I thought I’d publish a list of some of the best anti-Obama posts I found this morning.

The Economist’s Hope and Fear, about Obama’s depressingly populist economic prescriptions.  (H/t:  Captain’s Quarters)

Big Lizard’s Chicago Rules, which tracks the bizarre coincidence that Obama’s political opponents are always destroyed pre-election by the leak of privileged information.

Michelle Malkin’s “Fauxbama” and the Race Mongers, which examines the absurdity of Saturday Night Live having a debate as to whether a mixed-race actor is black enough to parody Obama on TV.

Hot Air’s confirmation that Obama blatantly talked out of both sides of his mouth when it came to NAFTA.

Tow truck’s here.  Bye.

Thumbing our noses at tyrants

One of the things that puts the Kumbi-ya crowd into an absolute frenzy is President Bush’s refusal to deal directly with murderous dictators. Forgetting the example set by Neville “Peace in Our Time” Chamberlain, this crowd is certain that, if they can just wrest a smile from someone evil, they’ll be halfway to ending all the wars in the world. To that end, Nancy Pelosi gets pally with Syria’s Assad, Columbia rolls out the welcome mat for Ahamdinejad, the New York Philharmonic makes beautiful music for Kim Jong-Il, and presidential contender Barack Obama announces that dictators of the world should line up at his office, because he’d just love to have a chat with them.

Right off the bat, it’s apparent that, for a supposedly smart man, Obama is pretty damn stupid. Negotiation works when both parties have a goal that, in a rational world, can be achieved without destroying the other party to the negotiation. Each side may have to give a little to get a little, but both will walk away have achieved their primary ends. But how do you negotiate with someone whose primary end is your own destruction? What Neville Chamberlain learned, and what Israel demonstrates daily, is that it is impossible to have a good faith negotiation with someone like that. There are only two outcomes in such negotiations: either the other party will lie through its teeth to set the preconditions for your destruction, or you’ll just have to agree to shortcut the whole process by committing suicide.

Such statements about an open door policy for negotiation with any and all comers are especially stupid coming from a man who is not only (at least in theory) a lawyer, but also a law professor. It’s a fundamental principle of law that negotiations, to be valid, have to be in good faith. Otherwise, as any person with on the ground experience knows, they are, at best, a waste of time and, at worst, terribly destructive.

Faced with Obama’s manifest idiocy, George Bush, showing himself to be a smart and righteous man, got all hot under the collar:

At a news conference where Bush showed unusual passion for a president in his waning months, he said “now is not the time” to talk with Castro.

“What’s lost … by embracing a tyrant who puts his people in prison because of their political beliefs?” he said. “What’s lost is, it’ll send the wrong message. It’ll send a discouraging message to those who wonder whether America will continue to work for the freedom of prisoners. It’ll give great status to those … who have suppressed human rights and human dignity.

“The idea of embracing a leader who’s done this, without any attempt on his part to … release prisoners and free their society, would be counterproductive and send the wrong signal.”

Warming to the subject, Bush continued: “Sitting down at the table, having your picture taken with a tyrant such as Raul Castro, for example, lends the status of the office and the status of our country to him. He gains a lot from it by saying, ‘Look at me. I’m now recognized by the president of the United States.’”

Good old horse sense, which is sorely lacking on the academic Left, demonstrates the truth behind Bush’s words — you don’t validate evil by treating it as ordinary and respectable. But I don’t need horse sense alone to reach this conclusion. I have testimony from someone who lived under one of the world’s most evil regimes — Communist Russia — and who writes with deep conviction about the strength it gave the Russian anti-Communist opposition to know that, out in the wider world, there were people and governments who willingly and loudly called out evil when they saw it. The testimony of which I speak comes from famed Soviet dissident and political prisoner Natan Sharansky, and is found in his book The Case For Democracy : The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror.

Sharansky’s book is a sustained attack against “detente” or normalization of relationships between dictatorships and democracies.  (And isn’t that what Obama is really proposing?)  After detailing the various sophistic arguments (many well-intentioned) that supported the broad detente policy the West adopted vis a vis the USSR, Sharansky explains why it was such a bad policy when it came to dealing with a totalitarian dictatorship:

Fortunately, there were a few leaders in the West who could look beyond the facade of Soviet power to see the fundamental weakness of a state that denied its citizens freedom.  Western policies of accommodation, regardless of their intent, were effectively propping up the Soviet’s tiring arms.  Had that accommodation contined, the USSR might have survived for decades longer.  By adopting a policy of confrontation instead [as Reagan did], an enervated Soviet regime was further burdened.  Amalri’s analysis of Soviet weakness [Andrei Amalrik's 1969 dissident treatise explaining the fatal cost to a dictatorship of having to "physically and psychologically control[] millions of its own subjects”] was correct because he understood the inherent instability of totalitarian rule.  But the timing of his prediction [that the Soviet Union would not outlast the 1980s] proved accurate only because people both inside and outside the Soviet Union who understood the power of freedom were determined to harness that power.  (p. 11.)

Obama preaches pabulum from the ivory tower; Sharansky speaks truth learned the hard way in a totalitarian society.  Who are you going to believe?  I’m with George Bush, who accepts and understands a Democracy cannot and should not prop up dictators by treating them before the world as if they are just “regular guys.”

Make a difference to the troops in Afghanistan

The New York Times has attacked veterans at home as homeless people, substance abusers and killers.  Apparently those attacks have not sated its blood lust.  Instead, the Times has directed its demoralization efforts at paratroopers in Iraq, troops who are already suffering under very difficult field conditions.  Fortunately, as Blackfive explains, you can help with some morale building:

Please send an email of support to skysoldiers173rd@gmail.com

Or you can mail cards to:

    Leta Carruth
    P O Box 100
    Cordova, TN  38088

Due to security reasons in Afghanistan please do not put addresses or phone numbers on any correspondence.  All emails will be printed out here in the US and mailed to Afghanistan as they do not have the resources to receive a large number of emails.  All letters and emails will be vetted to make sure there are no negative comments.  These are letters of support, so please keep them positive and uplifting.

Sounds like a plan to me.

All lawbreakers, please come to San Francisco

Last night, I was discussing with my mother the British woman I met in Florida who said that the situation in England, vis a vis Muslims, is much worse than even the papers describe. Aside from pointing to political correctness as the culprit, I also also laid the blame, as did the British woman, on Britain’s unlimited immigration problem, hatched at Oxbridge and imposed on the rest of the nation. My kids, who were listening, asked what unlimited immigration meant.

I explained to them that it’s healthy for a country to take in new people, because it brings in new ideas and new energy. However, I said that a country should be able to control how many come in, and should be able to ensure that the people are healthy and are not criminals. They looked blank. I sought an analogy. Imagine, I said, if we went into downtown San Francisco and announced that anybody who wanted could come and live in our house. All they had to do was show up. And imagine, I said, that the ones who showed up were drug addicts and crazy people and criminals, as well as some nice people. Their eyes widened. I went on to explain, and they agreed, that within minutes of this policy, our house would be trashed, stinky, and minus all its nice stuff. They agreed that a country, just like a homeowner, ought to have (and exercise) control over those whom it invites in.

Why does this involve San Francisco? Because I just read today that San Francisco, in violation of federal law, is again inviting criminals into its borders and to use up taxpayer funded resources:

San Francisco’s “sanctuary” policy for illegal immigrants, which has drawn sharp criticism from conservatives, will be promoted in an advertisement campaign complete with multilanguage brochures and radio and TV public service announcements.

The city-funded outreach campaign is expected to roll out this spring and build on San Francisco’s response to last year’s federal immigration raids, which city officials said scared undocumented immigrants into not accessing city services, reporting crimes or sending children to school.

City officials Wednesday were not able to provide The Examiner with a cost breakdown for the campaign.

“We have worked with the Board of Supervisors, Department of Public Health, labor and immigrant rights groups to create a city government-wide public awareness campaign so that immigrants know The City won’t target them for using city services,” said Nathan Ballard, Mayor Gavin Newsom’s spokesman.

[snip]

Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who is working on the planned outreach campaign to undocumented immigrants, said it will ensure “a lot of deserving people” take advantage of city services. “To me, it’s a logical follow-through.”

Boy, am I glad I don’t live in San Francisco anymore. It would drive me into a frenzy to know that my money was being used to turn the City into a haven for criminals. (And I do believe that all illegal aliens, even if they’re not violent or criminally negligent, are criminals because, by definition, they’ve broken the law.)

More on the “don’t get sick” in a socialized medicine country

One of Obama’s (and Clinton’s) many sins is the desire to nationalize medicine, so that the government gets to decide who deserves treatment and who doesn’t.  Britain, as always, serves as a useful horrible example of what can happen under such a system:

A 61-year-old grandmother has been denied vital heart surgery for being too old – despite the guideline being out of date.

Dorothy Simpson branded NHS chiefs “heartless” after they claimed the operation should only be carried out on people aged 60 and under.

But her own specialist said he wrote the guidelines three years ago and that they had now been superseded by national guidelines, which set no age limit.

Dorothy, of Thirsk, North Yorkshire, has suffered from an irregular heartbeat for three years, which is having an increasingly debilitating impact on her life.

But NHS managers in North Yorkshire have so far refused to fund a £5,000 operation to treat the problem – despite patients older than her in Teesside, less than 30 miles away, having the treatment.

On a completely unrelated point, I’ve been in Thirsk, Simpson’s home, which when I saw it was not only a charming northern village, but was also home to James Herriott.

British police like the Archbishop’s idea

You recall the uproar a few weeks ago when the Archbishop of Canterbury said that it’s unfair for Muslims to have to follow British law and that it would be a good thing to incorporate elements of Sharia law into British law.  It turns out that he’s not the only one thinking these thoughts.  The British are now planning on teaching their police forces Sharia law, which they vaguely describe as a way to improve community relations:

Police will be trained on the importance of sharia law and the Koran to Muslim communities, under new plans to fight extremism.

The lessons in Islamic faith and culture will become part of the formal training of constables working in towns and cities across the country.

Chief constables say that, by understanding the community they are policing, officers will build better relationships.

These could prove crucial in rooting out extremism and preventing a terrorist attack, according to the Association of Chief Police Officers.

The plan’s opponents understand precisely what is going on:

But critics have described the plan as “politically correct thinking”.

Philip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley, said: “Police officers are not there to implement sharia law. They are there to implement British law.

“This idea is misguided. We will only get community cohesion when everybody signs up to being British and following British law.”

You can read the rest here.

What we really need to fear about Obama. (Hint: it’s not his middle name) *UPDATED*

The headline caught my eye — “Right wing plays Muslim card against Obama” — since it was such an obvious attempt to smear all conservatives as, not racists, but religious-ists. As you now, while a conservative radio host did make a speech in which he emphasized Obama’s actual, real, true middle name, McCain was quick to reject the implications behind that speech. In addition, some of the earliest attacks on Obama’s Muslim heritage came from the Clinton campaign, not the Right.

Given all the nasty implications in a seven word headline, I was interested to see how the rest of the article stacked up. It pretty much matched the headline, since it was a patchwork of half truths, outright falsehoods, and sleazy innuendos. Here’s a little fisk of one of the Chron’s front page stories:

When a conservative talk show host introduced Sen. John McCain at an Ohio rally this week and referred to his possible opponent by his full name – “Barack Hussein Obama” – he highlighted a probable attack strategy, should Obama get the Democratic nomination: American xenophobia. [Please note my comments above, to the effect that the emphasis on Obama's religious heritage started as a Clinton strategy and that McCain has gone on record to distance himself from this approach. Also, while there is no doubt that Cunningham emphasized the Hussein part of Obama's name, this paragraph is so disingenuously written that it makes it sound as if any reference to Obama's middle name has become off limits.]

If the ascendancy of Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic race shows that Americans’ attitudes toward race and gender have evolved, the latest round of media images alluding – incorrectly – to an overseas Muslim upbringing for Obama will test the degree to which Americans fear foreigners in a post-Sept. 11 world. Obama is a Christian who never worshiped at a mosque and was raised in a secular household. [To the extent all the statements about Obama's non-Muslim upbringing are asserted as absolute, inviolate truths, this is simply wrong. While Obama was not raised as a strict Muslim, was not educated in a Madrassa, and does not now profess to be a Muslim, he was definitely given instruction in Islam during his time in Indonesia and attended mosques. This, coupled with his father's Muslim background is sufficient to make him a Muslim, if not in his own eyes, in the eyes of ] He attends the United Church of Christ.

Nevertheless, these allusions raise new issues for Americans accustomed to presidential candidates with WASP-sounding names. About 48 percent of the respondents to a February 2007 Pew Research Center poll said they would be “less likely” to support a candidate who is Muslim; 48 percent said it made no difference. The same poll found that 50 percent of respondents would be less likely to support a candidate 70 or older; McCain is 71.

The Muslim allusions “do resonate with people,” said Karen Hanretty, an unaffiliated GOP consultant who formerly worked for former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson. “The vast majority of voters are Protestant or Catholic, and it is unfamiliar to them.”

She predicted that the incorrect Muslim references to Obama will continue [Except for the debunked claim that Obama attended a radical madrassa, everything else this article refers to as an "incorrect" Muslim reference is, in fact, correct. Obama does have a Muslim middle name. He did receive Islamic instruction. He did attend mosques. While none of these statements may reflect the radical Christian he is today, none are incorrect.], but probably wouldn’t emanate from the McCain campaign or the national GOP. Instead, they would flourish anonymously on the Internet or be pushed by independent organizations not connected to the candidates. [Did you notice that the article, now in its fifth paragraph, never explicitly mentions the fact that Sen. McCain explicitly rejected any attempts to attack Obama by implying that he is a practicing Muslim?]

Rumors on the Web

The anti-Muslim baiting has shadowed the Obama campaign for more than a year, when a widely circulated, yet untraceable, e-mail stated he was Muslim. The Obama campaign thinks enough of the power of these rumors that part of the campaign Web site is dedicated to debunking them, using headings such as “Barack is not and never has been a Muslim.” [This is actually an interesting statement from the Obama camp. What religion is a child? His mother and birth father were committed leftists, so their God was probably Communism. He was raised in Indonesia at a school that gave him Muslim religious instruction. His stepfather took him to mosques. At any time, someone could accurately have referred to him as "that Muslim little boy" or, given his Mom's views, "that little atheist boy." The fact is, his childhood religious affiliations, imposed upon him before he reached the age of reason, are irrelevant given that, as an adult, he instead embraced radical Christianity, not Islam. The more accurate statement probably would have been that, "While Barack was exposed to some Muslim education as a child, he is and remains a committed Christian."] The contents of the anonymous e-mails also have been debunked by various media outlets.

Still, for much of the last year, the Muslim whispers have largely passed below the mainstream media radar. But the allusions and images have intensified in recent days, much of them expressed in a cultural shorthand for anti-Muslim sentiment and preying on post-Sept. 11 fears, analysts said.

A 2006 photo of Obama in Kenya wearing traditional Somali dress, including a turban, was leaked to the online Drudge Report, and quickly picked up by mainstream outlets. At a McCain rally Tuesday in Ohio, conservative talk show host Bill Cunningham three times referred to “Barack Hussein Obama” – a none-too-subtle reference to the late Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, analysts said. McCain denounced the remarks afterward. [Ah! At last, we've reached paragraph 8 and, considering that the article attempts to paint all right wingers as Islamaphobes ready to kill at the drop of a hat, we finally get what should have been in paragraph one -- the frontrunner's repudiation of smear tactics.]

This week, the Tennessee Republican party sent an online memo to supporters entitled “Anti-Semites for Obama,” saying Americans should be concerned about “the future of the nation of Israel, the only stable democracy in the Middle East, if Sen. Barack Hussein Obama is elected president of the United States.” [And this is absolutely true, not because Obama had some instruction in Islam as a 9 year old, but because he is a Leftist associated with an antisemitic, black supremacist church.]

The memo highlighted recent praise of Obama by Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan, who has a history of anti-Semitic remarks. (Obama denounced Farrakhan in Tuesday’s televised debate with Clinton.) [But he's not denouncing Wright, is he?]

The memo also featured the photo of Obama in the Somali outfit over a caption saying, Obama is “pictured dressed in Muslim* attire in a 2006 visit to Africa.” At the bottom of the Web page next to the corresponding asterisk, the Tennessee GOP admitted that it wasn’t actually Muslim attire but “rather Somali-tribal garb.” [That was, in fact, a stupid tactic, although it certainly made visual sense given the article's thesis. Travelers often dress in local garb and, unlike the Palestinian kufiyah, which has become a stand-alone political statement, other garb from Muslim communities doesn't have any political odor attached -- it's just local color.]

No response from RNC

Republican National Committee spokesman Paul Lindsay declined to respond whether the party would refer to Obama by his full name, saying, “This election will be decided on the important issues facing this country, and that’s how our party intends to win. At the end of the day, voters will reject the Democratic agenda of massive government spending, higher taxes and retreat in the war on terror.” [Get that? Again, Obama's given, legal name is off limits for the debate. This is PC gone mad.]

McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said Wednesday that “Sen. McCain has been clear that he rejects those sorts of tactics. He wants the campaign to be about the issues.” [At last! Given McCain's prominence in the campaign -- he is, after all, the inevitable Republican candidate -- the story took long enough to get around to this explicit statement about McCain's views on this subject.]

Still, even mainstream outlets are chiming in. This week, Time magazine blogger Mark Halperin outlined a 16-point analysis titled “Things McCain Can Do to Try to Beat Obama That Clinton Cannot.” Point No. 11: “Emphasize Barack Hussein Obama’s unusual name and exotic background through a Manchurian Candidate prism.” [Why can't Clinton do that? As I noted at the top of this article, she's already done so more than a year ago.]

“It’s Islamophobia,” said Dina Ibrahim, an assistant professor of broadcast studies at San Francisco State who is Arab and Muslim. “Stick a turban on somebody and call them a bad guy.” [Well, the fact is that certain Muslims do have a little problem with violence, but I freely concede that Obama is not a Muslim, and that my problems with him have nothing to do with his middle name or his childhood exposure to Islam.]

So what’s wrong with calling Obama by his full name? “Because Americans are overly sensitive of terrorists, and they’ve been trained to think that every Muslim is a terrorist,” said Ibrahim. [How dumb do they think we are?]

Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh – who often calls Obama by his full name – dismissed such fears as political correctness. On his syndicated radio program Wednesday, Limbaugh blasted McCain for apologizing about Cunningham’s remarks, saying, “What if John McCain’s middle name was Adolf instead of Sidney?” [You go, Rush!]

E-mails have legs

No matter what commentators left or right are saying, the Muslim-alluding e-mails continue to travel online. [The nature of emails like this is that we truly don't know their origin. Given Clinton's campaign tactics, it's just as likely that the come from her camp. Why does the article imply that the emails are an evil, racist, Right-wing phenomenon?]

Lori McKinnon, a 43-year-old suburban Dallas resident who nearly always votes for Republicans for president but is now volunteering for Obama, said, “Everyone gets that Muslim e-mail down here. It’s a really big deal.”

But Pew Research Center President Andrew Kohut said, “The remarks may be inflammatory, but there is such a broad acceptance of Obama that it’s doubtful they would do much harm to him. It could whip up the extreme right, but that’s about it.”

“I think the question (of such allusions resonating with voters) has already been answered. Voters have looked at that stuff and said, ‘Why are people talking about that?’ ” said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute and a Democratic Party superdelegate who supports Obama. “He’s not anti-Semitic. He’s not a Muslim. But he respects the religion of Islam.”

It’s a lousy story and it’s a hit piece on the Right. More than that, it sets up a straw man that allows the media, again, to avoid actually looking at the real Obama: the man who wants to disarm America; who expressly rejects choosing judges who actually apply the law, as opposed to contemplating their liberal navels; who intends to spend America into a stagnant European style economy; who has the stench of Chicago politics and political favoritism hanging about him; who intends instantly to withdraw from Iraq, thereby snatching defeat from the jaws of victory; who deeply admires one of the loudest black voices touting antisemitism, anti-Americanism and black supremacy; who has a bad habit of speaking out of both sides of his mouth; whose wife and mother dislike America and all that it stands for; and who has the most liberal voting record in the Senate.

By the way, that’s just a partial list of things both conservative and moderate Americans should fear when it comes to Obama. The middle name issue is a straw man — it’s not the real thing. We don’t need to fear “Obama the Muslim,” who doesn’t exist, except for purposes of newspaper smears. We do need to fear Obama the uber-liberal and the man who surrounds himself by people who hate America, who hate capitalism, who hate whites, and who hate Jews.

(Incidentally, the only election attack that I know of that was truly a direct religious attack, as opposed to all the innunedo contained in this article, came from Democrats, not Republicans.)

UPDATE:  Wolf Howling, in addition to discussing the nexus between McCain’s financing problems and Obama’s political/legal manipulations, has a great round-up of articles explaining why Obama is a problem — and none of them involve his middle name.

I’ve been saying this for years

Frankly, I don’t know if I’ve ever said it on my blog, but both my mother and Don Quixote can corroborate the fact that I’ve been saying for years that mutually assured destruction is not deterrent when dealing with Iranian leaders because they not only believe in the Muslim equivalent of the Apocalypse, they also believe that it’s their responsibility to bring it about.  These same leaders, therefore, are not worried that sending off a nuclear bomb will result in one coming right back to Iran.  Instead, they think that’s a pretty darn good idea.  (Of course, it would be an equally good idea, at least from my point of view, if they’d just turn the bomb on themselves and leave us out of their end-of-days visions.)

Since this whole thing is a truly horrible thought, I probably shouldn’t be so pleased that noted Islamic scholar Bernard Lewis is now saying the same thing about Iran.  However, since I would believe the risk Iran poses to be true even if Lewis didn’t second it, it salves my intellectual ego to know that I’m in good company with regard to my end-of-the-world nightmares.

The women in Obama’s life and their effect on his personality and politics

Spengler, writing at Asia Times Online, has one of the more fascinating attacks I’ve seen on Barack Obama, and one that exposes some Obama history about which I was blissfully unaware. I knew that Michelle Obama, in her role as candidate’s wife, has forced herself to speak positively about America, to the point where she even grudgingly admitted that, given the positive response to Obama, she’s actually (and for the first time ever) proud of her country, although in a very limited way. I knew, too, that she likes to put him down in public, speaking denigratingly of his ineptitude at home and his morning breath, points that were perhaps meant to humanize him but that, in fact, just make her look angry.

What I didn’t know, though, was that Obama’s mother comes from the far, far Left, and raised him in a deeply anti-American environment:

Friends describe her [Ann Dunham, Obama's mother] as a “fellow traveler”, that is, a communist sympathizer, from her youth, according to a March 27, 2007, Chicago Tribune report. Many Americans harbor leftist views, but not many marry into them, twice. Ann Dunham met and married the Kenyan economics student Barack Obama, Sr, at the University of Hawaii in 1960, and in 1967 married the Indonesian student Lolo Soetero. It is unclear why Soetero’s student visa was revoked in 1967 – the fact but not the cause are noted in press accounts. But it is probable that the change in government in Indonesia in 1967, in which the leftist leader Sukarno was deposed, was the motivation.

Soetero had been sponsored as a graduate student by one of the most radical of all Third World governments. Sukarno had founded the so-called Non-Aligned Movement as an anti-colonialist turn at the 1955 Bandung Conference in Indonesia. Before deposing him in 1967, Indonesia’s military slaughtered 500,000 communists (or unfortunates who were mistaken for communists). When Ann Dunham chose to follow Lolo Soetero to Indonesia in 1967, she brought the six-year-old Barack into the kitchen of anti-colonialist outrage, immediate following one of the worst episodes of civil violence in post-war history.

[snip]

Barack Obama received at least some instruction in the Islamic faith of his father and went with him to the mosque, but the importance of this experience is vastly overstated by conservative commentators who seek to portray Obama as a Muslim of sorts. Radical anti-Americanism, rather than Islam, was the reigning faith in the Dunham household. In the Muslim world of the 1960s, nationalism rather than radical Islam was the ideology of choice among the enraged. Radical Islam did not emerge as a major political force until the nationalism of a Gamal Abdel Nasser or a Sukarno failed.

I’m not arguing that the sins of the father should be visited on the children. As I’ve frequently discussed here, my father was raised as a Communist although he was a solid Democrat during my life. He would never have voted Communist, but he did carry with him the anger and pessimism that characterized Communism, and he was really incapable of seeing America’s virtues, which he always viewed as instruments of oppression. However, I am not my father. I have explicitly disavowed those viewpoints and, indeed, I never did support his more Leftist leanings. I loved him dearly and respected him greatly, but I did not agree with his more radical political beliefs.  Further, to the extent that I’ve left my own generic Democratic past, I have attempted to explain where I feel that the Democratic party changed (abandoning me), and where I have changed (abandoning the Democratic party).

Significantly, Obama has never done what I have done; namely, rejected explicitly the more distasteful views of his family and associates.  With regard to Obama’s careful silence on these hot topics, Spengler makes a rather stunning point about Obama’s personality and techniques:

Barack Obama is a clever fellow who imbibed hatred of America with his mother’s milk, but worked his way up the elite ladder of education and career. He shares the resentment of Muslims against the encroachment of American culture, although not their religion. He has the empathetic skill set of an anthropologist who lives with his subjects, learns their language, and elicits their hopes and fears while remaining at emotional distance. That is, he is the political equivalent of a sociopath. The difference is that he is practicing not on a primitive tribe but on the population of the United States.

There is nothing mysterious about Obama’s methods. “A demagogue tries to sound as stupid as his audience so that they will think they are as clever as he is,” wrote Karl Krauss. Americans are the world’s biggest suckers, and laugh at this weakness in their popular culture. Listening to Obama speak, Sinclair Lewis’ cynical tent-revivalist Elmer Gantry comes to mind, or, even better, Tyrone Power’s portrayal of a carnival mentalist in the 1947 film noire Nightmare Alley. The latter is available for instant viewing at Netflix, and highly recommended as an antidote to having felt uplifted by an Obama speech.

America has the great misfortune to have encountered Obama at the peak of his powers at its worst moment of vulnerability in a generation. With malice aforethought, he has sought out their sore point.

Spengler’s language is even stronger than that which I’ve used (I’ve repeatedly called Obama a demagogue, but never a sociopathic), but fundamentally there is nothing in there with which I disagree.  I believe that Obama is a very scary political figure, and I devoutly hope that Americans will look at John McCain’s ebullient energy, his positiveness, if you will, and reject the scarily empty rhetoric that masks Obama’s deep dislike for America and its political and economic systems.

Hat tip: El Gordo

Government versus private business — and the dictatorship of one

In several posts over the last few days, I’ve commented about Disney efficiency.  Thousands of people are fairly painlessly shuffled from place to place; Fast Passes are a think of beauty, especially if individuals handle them well; everything is immaculately clean, including the overused bathrooms; the equipment functions superbly well considering the demands made upon it; and the people who work there are pleasant and handle their jobs with competence.  The whole place is a testament to corporate efficiency.  Many, however, think corporations are bad things (Obama, anyone?) and, if elected, assure us that they will see to it that the government will manage more and more aspects of our lives (healthcare, anyone?).

For those of you who think this liberal vision is a good thing, I’d like to give you a little example of how the government handles things, along with the added bonus of some insight into how disability advocates view society’s obligations to them:

Where else but San Francisco City Hall could a 10-foot-long wheelchair ramp wind up costing $1 million?

Thanks to a maze of bureaucratic indecision and historic restrictions, taxpayers may shell out $100,000 per foot to make the Board of Supervisors president’s perch in the historic chambers accessible to the disabled.

What’s more, the little remodel job that planners first thought would take three months has stretched into more than four years – and will probably mean the supervisors will have to move out of their hallowed hall for five months while the work is done.

“It’s crazy,” admits Susan Mizner, director of the mayor’s Office on Disability. “But this is just the price of doing business in a historic building.”

Supervisor Jake McGoldrick said Tuesday that the issue went to the heart of liberal guilt that often drives the city’s decision making. He also choked on the price tag, and asked that the board take some more time to come up with an alternative, like maybe just getting rid of the president’s elevated seat.

The root of the problem dates back to when City Hall got a $300 million makeover in the 1990s that made just about every hallway, bathroom and office accessible to the disabled. The exception was the board president’s podium, which is reachable only for someone who can climb the five steps from the chamber floor.

The understanding was that the room would eventually be made fully accessible. But no one worried about the podium until 2004 when Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, who uses a wheelchair, joined the board.

City architect Tony Irons and representatives of the state Office of Historic Preservation – which had to be consulted to make sure the city was sensitive to the building’s designation as a state landmark – were called in to take measurements.

Then preservation architects from the San Francisco firm Page and Turnbill worked up no fewer than 18 design options – at a cost of $98,000 – with ideas ranging from an electric lift to abandoning the president’s lordly podium altogether.

No one could decide which design to use, so after a year of arguing, the Department of Public Works was ordered to make 3-D computer models of all the options.

The ramp won, which means lowering the president’s desk, which means eliminating three of the “historic” stairs and tearing out Manchurian oak panels that are no longer available, which in turn will mean finding a historically correct replacement.

And because the ramp was going to encroach on the room’s sound equipment, officials decided they might as well use the opportunity to upgrade the board chamber’s entire audio-visual system, to the tune of $300,000.

Here’s what else is going into the million-dollar ramp:

– $77,000 for the city’s Bureau of Architecture project manager, design and construction fees.

– $455,000 for the actual construction, plus asbestos removal.

– $28,000 for a construction scheduling consultant.

– $3,500 for an electrical consultant.

– $68,000 for the Bureau of Construction Management to oversee the construction and various consultants.

– $12,000 for Department of Technology and Information Services oversight.

– $16,500 for permits and fees. (Yes, believe it or not, the city charges itself.)

– And as much as $65,000 for bid overruns.

All for a total of: $1,123,000.

And counting.

The supervisors considered signing off on the work Tuesday but put it over for another week. Even if the board gives its final blessing, however, construction of the ramp won’t be completed before the end of the year – midway through Alioto-Pier’s second and final term.

“I deserve equal access to every part of the chamber,” Alioto-Pier told her colleagues, adding that ending discrimination is worth the $1 million.  [Emphasis added plus this point:  One million in taxpayer money, that is.]

Incidentally, I am not unsympathetic to the hurdles the handicapped face in this world.  It’s also true that many handicapped access ramps and bathroom stalls extend an unexpected benefit to moms with strollers.  However, as I’ve blogged before, there has to be some cost/benefit analysis before we give over huge sums of public money, not to benefit all or most of the handicapped, but to benefit one person (as in Alioto-Pier, the only wheelchair bound supervisor ever) or, as is often the case with relentless bureaucratic initiatives, no persons at all.

Things I never knew

I’ve always referred to the numbers we used as Arabic numerals (as distinct from Roman numerals), and I’ve accepted that it was under Islam that medicine flourished during the Dark Ages.  Turns out I was wrong:

FP: So how about Muslim claims of accomplishment that aren’t real?

BetBasoo: Muslims claim many, many accomplishments we know they had nothing to do with. Arabic numerals? From India . The concept of zero? From Babylonia . Parabolic arches? From Assyria . The much ballyhooed claim of translating the Greek corpus of knowledge into Arabic? It was the Christian Assyrians, who first translated to Syriac, then to Arabic. The first University? Not Al-Azhar in Cairo (988 A.D.), but the School of Nisibis of the Church of the East (350 A.D.), which had three departments: Theology, Philosophy and Medicine. Al-Azhar only teaches Theology.

Speaking of medicine, Muslims will claim that medicine during the Golden Age of Islam, the Abbasid period, was the most advanced in the world. That is correct. But what they don’t say is that the medical practitioners were exclusively Christians. The most famous medical family, the Bakhtishu family, Assyrians of the Church of the East, produced seven generations of doctors, who were the official physicians to the Caliphs of Baghdad for nearly 200 years.

There are many more examples, but I think these are enough to make the point.

Jonah Goldberg asks a very good question

While I was gallivanting in Florida, news came out that Obama paid his respects to William Ayers, a leader of the infamous Weather Underground of the 1960s, which left a trail of bombings and deaths in its wake. Jonah Goldberg looks at this quickly buried news squiblet, as well as the connections prominent liberals have to other America haters and murderers, and asks the right question:

Why is it only conservative “cranks” who think it’s relevant that Obama’s campaign headquarters in Houston had a Che Guevara-emblazoned Cuban flag hanging on the wall? Indeed, why is love of Che still radically chic at all? A murderer who believed that “the U.S. is the great enemy of mankind” shouldn’t be anyone’s hero, never mind a logo for a line of baby clothes. Why are Fidel Castro’s apologists progressive and enlightened but apologists for Augusto Pinochet frightening and authoritarian? Why was Sen. Trent Lott’s kindness to former segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond a scandal but Obama’s acquaintance with an unrepentant terrorist a triviality?

I have my own answers to these questions. But I’m interested in theirs. In the weeks to come, maybe reporters can resist the temptation to repeat health care questions for the billionth time and instead ask America’s foremost liberal representatives why being a radical means never having to say you’re sorry.

I think the answer lies with the New York Philharmonic, among other things. As you know, it’s making beautiful music for the North Korean government. Shortly before the New York Philharmonic embarked on this epic journey into evil, James Taranto wrote about its director’s justification for making the trip:

The Associated Press reports that some in the Philharmonic, including Korean-American violinist Lisa Kim, have misgivings about the trip. But Lorin Maazel, the Philharmonic’s music director, waves away those concerns:

Maazel rejects such assertions, noting that he had conducted concerts in Brezhnev’s Russia, Salazar’s Portugal and Franco’s Spain. “I thought I was making music and stretching out a welcoming hand to the folks who might not have been believers of the regime under which they were living. I feel this way certainly about North Korea,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Besides, he added, “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw bricks, should they? Is our standing as a country–the United States–is our reputation all that clean when it comes to prisoners and the way they are treated? Have we set an example that should be emulated all over the world? If we can answer that question honestly, I think we can then stop being judgmental about the errors made by others.”

Maazel is making two separate assertions here. The first–that going to Pyongyang is an act of “stretching out a welcoming hand” to North Koreans, as distinct from the communist regime–is a practical one. We tend to agree with [Terry] Teachout that this argument does not hold water because Pyongyang’s regime is much more repressive than the erstwhile Iberian military dictatorships to which Maazel compares it, or even than the Brezhnev-era Soviet Union. But this is a claim that ultimately can be tested against the evidence, and reasonable people may draw different conclusions.

Maazel’s second argument, however, is pernicious and perverse. “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw bricks,” he says, mangling the cliché. Because America’s “reputation” isn’t “all that clean,” because we haven’t “set an example that should be emulated around the world,” we should “stop being judgmental about the errors made by others.”

In other words, because America has waterboarded three terrorist masterminds, it’s fine to consort with a regime that has imprisoned, tortured and murdered tens of thousands of its own citizens. America is sufficiently evil that her enemies can’t be all bad.

By the same logic, liberal politicians who once consorted with America’s home grown enemies, really have nothing to apologize for. America’s home grown terrorists, no matter their misguided tactics, wanted to improve America, which is as evil a country as the next one. So, as to any contacts with them, why apologize? The same holds true for the Che connection. Forget the blood-stained hands — his intentions were good.

Of course, once one wanders into that kind of moral territory, one can start excusing any dictatorship — and the Left usually does. Indeed, the only dictator who is still considered irredeemably evil is Hitler, and I’m sure that’s only because the Left mistakenly views him as having come from the Right. In other words, as a putative conservative, he wasn’t trying to improve the world, he was trying to repress it. On the Left, however, whether you’re talking Mao, or Stalin, or Castro, or Che, or Chavez, they’re all trying to make things better for the little people, so the overzealousness of their tactics has to be excused, given the purity of their motives.

As I write this, I’m wishing I’d brought home a souvenir airsickness back from my trip. That people would think this way isn’t just pathetic, it’s truly sickening.

UPDATE:  This Mark Steyn video dissecting multiculturalism is another side to the reason that liberals never have to say they’re sorry for supporting the worst of the worst:

Watcher’s update

Since I was away last week, the Watcher’s election just passed me by.  Nevertheless, I would be more than remiss if I didn’t notify you about the fine winners (and placers and showers) on both sides of the aisle, council and non-council.  As is often the case when I read these posts, I find myself thinking “I wish I’d said that.”  I bet you’ll think that too.
Council:

Votes Council link
2  1/3 Make Washington’s Birthday a National Holiday Again
Right Wing Nut House
1  2/3 Iraqi Political Progress Leaves Few Places For The Left To Move The Target
Wolf Howling
1  1/3 Muslims and the Right Not To Be Offended
Joshuapundit

Non-Council:

Votes Non-council link
3  2/3 The Dungeon of Fallujah
Michael J. Totten
1  1/3 How Rachel Corrie Really Died (Hint: Not Protecting a House)
Israel Matzav
1 Feels Like the First Time
Captain’s Quarters
1 U.S. Rewarding Palestinian Terrorism
The Terror Finance Blog
1 Dear Paperlicious — Stamping and Politics
Paperlicious

Comforting news

As you know, I find the thought of an Obama Presidency frightening.  I therefore found heartening a poll that, despite having a methodology that favored Democrats, still showed that McCain would beat both Obama and Clinton if the Presidential election were held today.  Much can change between now and November but this does show that, at least as of February, American voters are not the fools the media would like them to be.

Walt Disney’s boundless optimism

I’ve been mentally debriefing myself in the 36 hours since my return from a fairly intense Disney vacation and wanted to share some of those thoughts with you.

I’ve always loved Disneyland. When I was young, I was taken in by the apparent magic. I didn’t notice the motors and wires and paint. To me, it was all real and it was wonderful. Now that I’m older, I’m equally fascinated by the real magic, which is the way in which Disney so efficiently manages the theme parks. They are immaculate and run with few hitches. Government could learn something from Disney.

On my last few visits to both Disneyland and Disney World, I’ve also been struck by one other thing: the clear difference between the sites and rides that Walt Disney himself planned and those that Disney corporation created without his input. The former have an intangible charm and coherence that is completely lacking in the latter — and I find this to be true no matter how high the quality of the new additions. They may be good, but they lack the magic. It’s no surprise to me, therefore, that my favorite Disney World parks are the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, both of which realize Disney’s vision, and that Disney/MGM and Disney’s Adventure Park fell into a fairly distant second. The latter were imaginative and well-maintained, but they lacked that unique Walt Disney . . . something. Disney was a true visionary.

Thinking about it, part of that indefinable Disney something is the man’s boundless optimism and patriotism. When the corporation is planning a ride, it’s thinking about demographics and focus groups and usability. Sometimes, this works wonderfully, as in Soarin’, which is a technical wonder, and sometimes it’s an awful failure, as in the dark, disco travesty at Disney World that was once the charming Enchanted Tiki Room. Walt Disney’s ideas seemed to spring from a creative well that was unique to the man and had little to do with suits sitting around a table brainstorming as to what will compete against Universal Studios.

In a funny way, Disney’s genius can be defined by the fact that my father hated the man and his products. My Dad, as you know, was raised a Communist and, despite eventually voting for Reagan, never recovered from the anger that Communism seems to bring to its adherents. What he hated about Disney was the man’s absolute faith in the American future — his sense that America’s beginnings were good and that her future was only going to get better. My father, a Zinn-ite before Zinn existed, rejected the rosy respect Disney had for America’s past and couldn’t see the way to a brighter future.

My Dad’s pessimistic outlook about America’s past, present and future, an outlook shaped by a Communist childhood in Weimar Germany, was the antithesis of the optimism so perfectly expressed in Disney’s favorite show, the Carousel of Progress (which I last saw and loved in California in 1970, and that my children were able to see and love in Florida in 2008.) If you’re unfamiliar with the Carousel, it’s a circular theater where the the stage is fixed, but the audience revolves around. This revolution takes the audience to vignettes of an American family at the turn of the last century, the 1920s, the post-War 1940s and the early 1990s. (When I first saw it, the last scene was from 1967.) Each scene opens and closes with the song “There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow” and, in each scene, the father of the household expounds on the wonders of the era — whether it’s gas lighting, a refrigerator, electricity, dishwashers, or computer games. It is a lovely homage to the good in America’s past, present and future. The whole show reflects one man’s delight in his country, and I don’t see any corporation, no matter how well run, ever matching this joyous optimism and patriotism.

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it

I keep telling my children that saying “May I please have that toy” is much more effective than “Give me that toy!”  My point is that the same thought can be expressed in many different ways.  From an editorially perspective, Time Magazine proves precisely this point, only in a much more unpleasant way for those of us on the Righter side of the political divide.  Thus,  Verum Serum caught Time Magazine reporting an almost identical incident — a police officer killed while riding near a motorcade — but with very different spins, a negative one for George Bush, a neutral one for Hillary Clinton.

Hat Tip:  Brutally Honest

If you don’t like Obama…. *UPDATED*

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I dislike the idea of a Barack Obama presidency. Perhaps in 10 years, when the man has had some seasoning, I might like him more. Right now, however, when I believe we’re engaged Norman Podhoretz’s World War IV, I find extremely unnerving having as President an untried neophyte who thinks we can just “talk” to the bad guys to make them guy away. (If you want to read all my beefs with Obama, go here.)

If you are a blogger and are unhappy with a potential Obama presidency, because he is the most liberal member of the Senate, because he is utterly untried, and because he’s a surrender-crat, there is something you can do about it. It’s called “Googlebombing.” As I understand it, it means to link heavily to high profile articles about a particular subject so that people who use Google to search for that subject are more likely than not to be driven to that article. John Hawkins explains:

 

 

Once again, the Left side of the blogosphere is plotting out a Googlebombing campaign. From Open Left,

It is time to start bomb bomb bomb, bomb bombing again. No, not Iran, but John McCain’s Google ranking.In looking for a search engine optimization against McCain, the first step is to choose good websites to optimize. Here some criteria for good websites:

* The website should already be in the Google top 100, for searches on John McCain, making it easier to increase the ranking over time.

* The website should have the word “McCain” in the title of the search result making it easier to optimize.

* The website should be from a well-known news source, making is less obviously a partisan attack.

* The website should have a long life span, and not in danger of being removed before the general election.

* The website should be a negative news story on McCain, not an opinion piece.

Of course, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander and in 2006, the right side of the blogosphere actually put together a more effective Googlebombing campaign than the Left did, even though it didn’t make much of a difference in such a lousy year for the GOP.

That being said, it will be significantly harder to make it work this time. Google has changed its search engine rankings to cut down on the effectiveness of Googlebombing, plus, there is so much coverage of the presidential candidates that it’s just plain old harder to drive up links on their names.

Still, making sure a few negative articles show up under a search for Barack Obama’s name could, over the course of the year, turns tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of voters off to him. In other words, if the election in 2008 is as close as the elections in 2000 or 2004, Googlebombing could be the difference between the winner and loser.

That being said, how ’bout suggesting some articles that deserve to be pushed out there? The bigger the news source, the better. I can also tell you that You Tube videos did REALLY WELL in 2006.

So, how bout suggesting some articles that deserve to be pushed up in the search engine rankings in the comments section? You get them to me, I will compile a list, and in the next day or two, I will make sure that they get widely linked all over the place.

As Hawkins notes, you can direct suggestions to him about the anti-Obama articles you favor. You can also link to those articles in your blog — as I have repeatedly done in mine. I think it’s important to get the word out that, in this election cycle, Obama is to politics what Oakland was to Gertrude Stein: There is no there there.

UPDATE: Thanks to Rockdalian for alerting me to this Power Line blog post about Obama’s plans to render America defenseless.

UPDATE II:  Because I’m on an Obama role, here’s another article highlighting his plans to render America economically weak.  For an allegedly smart man, he sure backs stupid ideas — which is a dead giveaway that he’s an academic, ensconced in any ivory tower of theory unconnected to reality.  His complete disconnect reminds me of my conversation with that British woman from England’s north (which has morphed in 25 years from the most English part of England to the most Muslim part of England).  She blamed the Oxbridge crowd for the catastrophic immigration and welfare policies, because they spin out their theories while being completely unaffected by the way in which those theories play out on the ground.

The pursuit of happiness

Here it is, my first day back from a long-ish vacation, and I’m not finding any blogging inspiration in today’s news. Instead, it’s exactly the same stuff that was in the news when I left: unrest in Pakistan; Hillary’s free-fall; alleged campaign shenanigans from the Hillary camp aimed at the Obama camp; Obama’s problem with Israel and Jewish voters; student unrest in Iran, which is intriguing but, currently, ineffectual; and the usual bad CBS polls trying to create a self-fulfilling prophecy by pushing Democratic candidates. Ho-hum. Boring. Rather than commenting on things as to which I’ve commented a hundred times before, therefore, I’ve decided to dust off some notes I made weeks ago about about happiness and government. Nothing I’ll say is new, but I still thinks it’s worth thinking about.

You all know, of course, these stirring words from the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. (Emphasis mine.)

Did you know, though, that California has a Constitution that grants to its citizens a distinctly different right when it comes to being happy? Here:

All people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights. Among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness, and privacy. (Emphasis mine.)

Although the words look similar (with “pursuit” and “happiness” showing up in both places in the same sentence), the meanings are spectacularly different. As I understand it, the Founders, with that simple phrase “the pursuit of Happiness,” were saying that Government cannot step in and regulate too closely the decisions that people make with their lives. Government cannot insist that you engage in a certain trade, or marry a specific person, or socialize only with a pre-determined group. Instead, government must stand back so that you can make those decisions about your life that you believe will lead to your greatest happiness. It is up to you (and fate, I guess) whether you do, in fact, achieve success in that pursuit, or whether happiness remains a chimera, forever out of your grasp.

In California, however, the government guarantees that you will not only pursue that happiness but that you will obtain it. The question then becomes, how does a state determine whether its citizens have obtained happiness? As Dennis Prager likes to say in his happiness hour, happiness can vary from minute to minute. When I’m blogging, I’m happy; when I’m folding laundry or summarizing really, really boring depositions, I’m probably not very happy. When I’m riding Soarin’, I’m happy; when I’m plunging backwards into the darkness on Expedition Everest, I’m probably not happy, just motion sick. And then there are those situations when I’m feeling both emotions, such as boredom about standing in line, coupled with happy expectation about the pleasure of an upcoming experience.

Clearly, unless the government has some probe stuck in my brain 24 hours a day, it’s going to be impossible to tell whether I’m obtaining that guaranteed happiness (and the probe would have a challenge when dealing with conflicting emotions). Additionally, since my happiness level probably averages out over a day, a week or month or even a year (with a preponderance of individual “happy” experiences determining whether I’m happy over an extended period of time), such a probe, even if it existed, would be useless.

Given the impossibility of monitoring every individual’s actual happiness quotient, the only thing left for the government to do is to define happiness and then force it on its citizens. A lot of governments, usually socialist or theocratic governments, have tried to do that. They’ve defined happiness in economic terms and in terms of an individual’s relationship to the state. In communist countries, you will be happy because the state has provided you with housing (no matter how abysmal); with food (no matter how unappetizing or limited); and employment (no matter how dangerous, demoralizing or dreary). In religious countries, the government forces you to live according to its religious dictates, and then declares that you are happy because it has enabled you to please God.  End of story.  The state has defined happiness and then provided it. That your wishes, inclinations and abilities might leave you feeling personally unhappy is irrelevant, because once a state guarantees happiness, it can no longer afford to let the individual provide the definition of what that happiness looks like.

As you probably expected, all of this talk is going to wrap around to encompass this year’s elections and the differing visions of the Left and the Right. Although compassionate conservatism shows bad signs of tipping over into guaranteeing happiness, conservative principles still hew closer to guaranteeing opportunities to pursue happiness. Thus, it holds a greater promise that government will provide security (both at home and abroad) and economic flexibility so as to enable people to do what they want to do.  In a weird inversion of the hippies’ promise, it is the conservatives that create the environment in which citizens can “follow their bliss.” Each citizen can define happiness as he wants, whether it’s where the person lives, what he does, how he spends his recreational time, who he chooses as friends, etc.

This is the same principle that appears in the conservative belief that people should have equality of opportunity, although the government (wisely) refuses to guarantee equality of outcome, or even a successful outcome. There was certainly no guarantee in the 1970s, when Steve Jobs was futzing about in a garage, or Bill Gates was dropping out of college, that either would be anything more than a long-haired loser. We benefited from the fact that the State was unable to force them to stay in school or use their skills toward particular forms of employment. Instead, they followed their dreams and, as luck and the capitalist system would have it, they and we reaped a profit from their efforts.

The Left, however, keeps scootching closer and closer to a situation in which government doesn’t create a petri dish within which we can cultivate our own happiness, but actually tries to define happiness. Two examples spring to mind, but I suspect that you can supply more. The first example is the promise of universal health care. The Democrats want to determine what constitutes quality health care for all Americans (what will guarantee us “medical happiness”) and then to bypass the market to impose that vision on all of us. There are a lot of problems with the government approach.

To begin with, as Britain and and Canada keep demonstrating over and over and over again with regard to health care, the government does not end up providing something that guarantees health happiness. Instead, it provides a bare minimum service that leaves a few people happy, and most people resigned to the scraps doled out to them. The rich, of course, opt out entirely.

Moreover, there are indications that not all people want health care. Studies show that, while there are people who are genuinely at economic health care risk (mostly the elderly), there are also people, well-to-do people, who make a conscious decision to opt out of obtaining health care that they could otherwise afford. They’ve clearly decided that the odds are that their health is good and that they can better pursue their happiness by putting their money with an entity other than an insurance company. A 25 year old guy may decide that he’d rather than have a BMW, which he knows will increase his chances with the ladies, than a Blue Cross policy he probably won’t use. He also knows that he will get health care if he needs it, since ERs are barred from turning people away, and he’s willing to take the risk of subsequent bills. This guy might be very unhappy if Hillary coerced him into turning over even more of his money to the government, leaving him healthy (as he probably would be anyway), but driving a used Hyundai — a car that is most decidedly not a chick-mobile.

The second example of the Left defining happiness occurs with Obama’s relentless calls for unity. First off, this assumes that people want unity. As for me, I feel that unity can turn into brainlessness, with people effortlessly coasting along in what may be a dangerous status quo. It is the vigor of the marketplace of ideas, the fact that different ideas rub up against each other and have to defend themselves, that creates energy and quality. If you don’t believe me, look at a government office that doesn’t face competition — it’s slack, a fact that’s very irritating to those people in the office who, by temperament, crave efficiency and effectiveness. People and institutions need rigor to keep themselves polished. (Rigor, of course, is not the same as horrible threats.)

Second, as the above argument indicates, the only way in which one can actually obtain this unity that Obama impliedly promises will make us all happy is for us all to think the same way. That is, unity exists only when everyone is in agreement. But, as with the happiness problem, how do we define agreement? In my family, we all liked Disney World, but I hated Expedition Everest, and my children loved it. Were we unified or not?

On the political side, Obama is careful not to define the unity he insists he is capable of providing, but I’m quite certain that, as with government guaranteed happiness, this promised unity can exist only if Obama can also define the issues about which we will be unified. And if you look at his perfect liberal voting record, the one that makes him the most liberal Senator in government today, I can promise you that his definition of unity (read: happiness) will not match your definition of unity. Indeed, it will probably match the definition of unity only in a few select communities, such as Berkeley, San Francisco, parts of Boston, Austin, and Manhattan.

Obama’s definition of unity won’t even match the ideas of all those African-Americans who now overwhelmingly support him. His idea of unity requires abortion on demand and no school vouchers — but most African-Americans, as Larry Elder reminds us in the wonderful Stupid Black Men: How to Play the Race Card–and Lose are pro-Life and want vouchers. They’re unified behind his being black (aren’t identity politics wonderful?), but they actually don’t support some of his core policies.

Heck, as Elder points out, even Obama himself isn’t unified, playing the race card to black audiences and disavowing it to white audiences.  To make a very extreme analogy, in this he is reminiscent of the Arab spokesmen who speak peace to the West in English and, in the next breath, preach Jihad to the Muslims in Arabic.  The analogy goes even further in that, just as Western papers listen only to the English pronouncements from these death-seeking Muslims, so too do mainstream American papers listen only to Obama’s “race isn’t a problem” speeches, while assiduously ignoring his more inflammatory pronouncements and affiliations. When it comes to the press, Ostriches and monkeys, the cliched examples of avoidance, spring to mind.

The guarantee of happiness sounds like a wonderful thing.  Heck, we all want to be happy.  Before you get too excited, though, about the candidate who promises you that happiness (even if he phrases it in soporific terms of “unity”), think long and hard about what government-provided happiness really means.  It sounds great in theory, but history and current events show that, when it plays out in fact, they only happy people are the fat-cat bureaucrats who simultaneously define the happiness imposed upon us from on high and, usually, opt out of it themselves, preferring instead to pursue their own happiness.  As for me, I’d infinitely prefer living in a country where the government stands aside as much as possible, merely creating situations in which I can make those decisions I believe are most likely to provide me with the happiness I seek.

Home, Sweet Home!

I’m back!  Hurrah!  It was a great trip, but I won’t bore you to tears with the endless travel monologue.  Suffice to say that, as a Disney-lover, I had a good time, and as a homebody, I’m so glad to be home.  I’m also incredibly grateful to Don Quixote for the way in which he nurtured this blog in my absence.  He’s not as prolific as I am, but he makes up for that with posts more intelligent and thoughtful than anything I could ever aspire to.  Thank you so much, DQ, for taking such good care of my “home” on the internet.  I’m almost embarrassed to start blogging again, because it will take readers from the sublime — well, not to the ridiculous, but to the banal.

What would make this blog better (besides Bookworm’s return)?

Bookworm will be back and blogging tomorrow or Wednesday.  Yea!!!  They didn’t have a judge for me today, but they swear they’ll have one for me tomorrow and so I’ll be in trial.  So, I thought I’d ask for some advice to welcome Bookworm back.  Personally, I think she runs a terrific blog, and  those of you who visit regularly must find something of value here.  But what can she do to make this blog a better place to visit? 

Personally, as you can guess by the nature of my posts, I’d love to find a way to get more political discussion going.  But, discussion is best when it is an exchange of conflicting ideas.  When we were regularly getting streams of 100+ comments it was because we had at least five active commenters who were well left of center.  Made for exciting comment streams.  But most of those have drifted off over time.  What can we do to attract more folks who disagree with Bookworm and me — folks like Helen, who can disagree with us constructively and, I hope, whom we can disagree with constructively as well? 

What else can Bookworm do to make this a better place?  Her posts are much more diverse than mine and this is her home (I’m just keeping the place going while she’s vacationing).   But what do you particularly like and dislike about the variety of posts she does?  What would you like to see more of?  Less of? 

I probably won’t have time to blog much for a while, but I’ve enjoyed our little discussions.  Thanks to all the commenters who have made things so interesting while Bookie has been gone.  I look forward to doing this again next time she’s on vacation.

A Capital Idea?

Trial starts tomorrow so, as you can imagine, I’ve had no time to think about much of anything else this weekend.  Let me quickly throw out a topic I’m interesting in hearing about from you.  Really, two topics, I guess.

First, should America use capital punishment?  My own view is that humans are capable of doing things for which they deserve to die and any society that does not punish such behavior appropriately is not a society confident enough in its own values.

Second, if we are to have capital punishment in this country, how can we make it work effectively?  Right now, the system is clearly broken.  It takes 20-30 years and millions of dollars to execute even someone who clearly deserves it.  What is the point of a system that hands out the death penalty, but is so insecure about carrying it out that most death penalty criminals will die of old age before they die at the hands of the state?

I understand perfectly well that death penalty opponents have done everything in their power to make actually executing someone as expensive as possible, so they can then argue it’s not worth the expense (a tactic carried out with stunning effectiveness by nuclear power opponents!).  But is there a way to create a system with appropriate safeguards that still achieves justice relatively quickly and inexpensively?  My own suggestion is that a death penalty defendant be given, as a matter of right, a trial, a first appeal to the court of appeal, a second appeal to the state supreme court (states like Wyoming which don’t have Courts of Appeal could have a special appellate panel of senior lower court judges to serve in place of the Court of Appeal), one request for clemency to the governor, and that’s it.  The trial should be brought within a year of arrest.  The first appeal should be decided within one year of trial.  The second appeal should be decided within six months of the decision in the first appeal.  The clemency decision should be made within one month after the decision in the second appeal.  The execution should take place within one week after clemency is denied. 

Under this plan, the defendant has four chances to escape the penalty — one before a jury, two before panels of judges, and one before an elected politician.  That’s enough.  Essentially, instead of dragging our feet forever in death penalty cases we should take them seriously, giving ample opportunity to avoid death to those who do not deserve it, but acting surely and (relatively) swiftly, against those who do.   Instead of taking twenty or thirty years, we take two or three. 

What do you think?  Should we have a death penalty at all and, if so, how would you implement it?

Lots of luck

Thursday, we went to Disney’s Adventure Park and were one of the groups randomly chosen to receive a card with Fast Passes for each of the major attractions. The beauty of these is that there is no time limit attached to these Fast Passes. That was luck. However, it turned out we used only one of the passes: the park was not crowded and we’d already gone twice on Expedition Everest, the main attraction for the kids and even they were done. The card ended up being a nice souvenir.

Mr. Bookworm and I wryly bemoaned the fact that we weren’t going to be so lucky Friday, when we went to the Magic Kingdom. We were right — we didn’t get that pass, but we got even more luck. The Magic Kingdom was set to close early on Friday (at 7) so that Disney could host a special “Pirates and Princesses” evening with special parades, fireworks and prizes. Even better, all the rides would be open and the park would be almost empty. Again, we got luck. When we inquired about the event and learned it would cost us another $150.00, we pretty much decided not to do it. Imagine our surprise, then, when the clerk gave us free tickets to the event.

It turned out to be a perfect Magic Kingdom day: again, very low park attendance generally; good Fast Pass management got us onto all our favorite rides; the weather wasn’t too hot; after 7 there were no lines at all; and the fireworks show was, without doubt, the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

Even with all that luck, we didn’t see everything in the Magic Kingdom, so we’re heading back today, for a late, leisurely day. The late part is good because we exhausted ourselves yesterday and because we want to shift the kids back to California time.

So far, this has been a very good Disney vacation.

Prisons As Hell

Before I get to today’s topic, thank you all for the thoughtful, insightful comments.  It’s always a pleasure guest hosting Bookworm’s blog because of the intelligence and thoughtfulness of her readers.  Quote of the day has to go to Lissa, “Why should we judge a society by its poorest and weakest? Why not judge it by its best, and the opportunity for the poorest and weakest to become neither poor nor weak?”  For all of its history, America has been the land of opportunity, the one place on earth poor and weak people could come to make themselves rich and strong.  In recent years, social programs have encouraged people to stay poor and weak by rewarding poorness and weakness, rather than hard work and achievement.  But the opportunities are still here to work hard and do well, for those with the strength of character to reject the invitation to permanent victimhood and dependence. 

On to today’s topic.  When I was growing up, I was taught decency and morality with a carrot and a stick – heaven and hell.  These were very real places and hell was a place you definitely did not want to go.  With the exception of fundamentalist Christians and Islamists it seems few people believe in hell as a real place any more. 

I thought of this when Sgt. Dave and others talked about reforming prisons, to make them places of punishment, places you would not want to go.  Most Americans still say they believe in God and, perhaps in some vaguely undefined heaven, but not as many believe in hell.  This has a profound effect on the way our society views life and death.  Back when we believed in heaven and hell, capital punishment was no big deal.  If we killed a woman as a witch or a man as a pickpocket and they were innocent, all we really did was hasten their entry into heaven.  Not a bad outcome, even when we were wrong. 

Today, though, if we kill someone and that person turns out to be innocent we view the matter as a great tragedy.  When life is all there is, ending life is a very big deal.  Or take war.  It used to be that there was nothing more honorable than dying for ones country or religion.  The Islamists still believe in this and are quite willing to die.  Mothers are proud to send their sons and even their daughters to kill and to die.  In the West, though, the death of a soldier is a much bigger deal.  Each death is viewed not as a noble act or a passage to heaven, but as an unmitigated tragedy, to be avoided at all costs.  The anti-war movement, with its obsessive running tabulation of the body count, cannot imagine that death in a war may be a good thing, even for the person who dies, or at worst a necessary evil that protects our society, our country and our way of life.

Of all the people who suggested ways to improve the decency and morality of our society, no one mentioned heaven and hell.  But a number of people did talk about our prisons, which, I think, reflect an ambivalence about punishment.  On the one hand, we understand that criminals need to be separated from the general population, so we stick them in prisons in record numbers.  On the other hand, we don’t treat criminals like criminals once we get them in the prisons.  For some, they are better off inside the walls of the prison than outside.  Perhaps in all our cultural relativism we’re no longer sure decency & morality are worth defending any more.

We need to return to the idea that prisons exist for more than to warehouse bad people and keep them away from the general public.  Prisons serve two other purposes — punishment and rehabilitation.  Certainly not to the extent of hell, but like hell, prisons should be places no one wants to go, ever.  They should punish prisoners for having acted indecently and immorally.  They should rehabilitate prisoners to give them the tools to succeed while acting decently and morally when they return to the general public. 

I won’t repeat all the good ideas from your comments about how to make prisons places of punishment and rehabilitation instead of comfortable wearhouses.  But let me suggest that a key starting point is reducing the number of prisoners so we can adequately deal with those who remain.  Several commenters said we have too many laws and I quite agree.  Take all victimless crimes off of the books.  What consenting adults do is nobody else’s business.  Decency and morality are about treating each other as human beings, not about controlling the private actions of others.  Shorten sentences for other less serious crimes.  If prisons really are places of punishment, it doesn’t take as long to convince prisoners that they’d better shape up because they don’t want to come back.

Prisons should have books and education programs and job skills training.  But they should have no entertainments and amusements.  Prisons should be serious places where serious people do their best to punish and rehabilitate the inmates.

Does this make sense?  Most importantly, is it politically practical?  Does our society have the strength of character and does it believe in its standards of decency and morality enough to aggressively punish those who violate those standards?  What do you think?