The vision thing

Whether or not one liked him, Ronald Reagan got “the vision thing.”  He had an extremely strong sense of America and her place in the world, and was never afraid to share that narrative.  America was the shining city on the hill, the bastion of true republican democracy, and the world leader in exporting freedom and wealth.  The Communists were, simply, evil.  They were the antithesis of America because they were the antithesis of freedom.

Sophisticates sneered at Reagan’s simple, (old) Hollywood vision of the world.  To ordinary Americans, though, Reagan’s clearly and repeatedly articulated vision of this country instilled in them a deep sense of pride that ran comfortably alongside an economic boom resulting from the policies that underlay Reagan’s vision.  Just as importantly, in gulags and prisons around the world, prisoners, and dissenters, and dreamers heard Reagan’s words too.  They understood that, not only was he describing something better than their totalitarian governments had to offer, but also that the leader of the most powerful nation in the world understood and willingly articulated that truth.

Obama also gets the vision thing.  His education, career and presidential trajectory show it very, very clearly.  His vision is that America is an arrogant nation rife with internal inequities.  Domestically, his job as president is to equalize people’s status within the country, which is best done through redistributive financial policies.  On the international side of things, his job is to subordinate America to the United Nations, making it just one nation among many.  ObamaCare and the Libya War stand as hallmarks of these domestic and foreign visions.

Obama’s vision is of America as Europe — not Europe during her imperialistic heyday, but a post-WWII Europe, socialist and humbled.  Of course, what he doesn’t seem to realize is that post-WWII Europe survived only as long as it did because America footed the bill.  No America, no post-WWII Europe.  He hasn’t grappled with that economic reality as he’s pushed America out of her financier mode and into her begging socialist mode.

What’s interesting about Obama is that, while he is consistent in his vision, and unfailing in his willingness to put it in effect, he refuses to articulate that vision.  Put him in front of a teleprompter, and he simply mouths platitudes about “America is great.”  Unscripted, he slips up periodically and talks about “sharing the wealth,” and the fact that there’s nothing exceptional about America.  Overall, though, he’s coy.

Reagan braved the ridicule of the world’s intellectuals to sell his vision to the world.  Obama already has the world’s intellectuals on board.  His vision about America and her place in the world is exactly the same as their vision.  He’s coy, then, not because he fears media and Ivory Tower derision, but because he knows that ordinary Americans will not buy what he would be selling were he to speak.  How much better to skip the sales pitch and just force the product on a credulous public?  Obama also doesn’t sell his vision because he knows that, abroad, while the Euro-trash and Muslim Brotherhood eat up what he has to say, the people languishing in prisons, in China, in Cuba, in Venezuela, in Iran, etc., would recognize his vision for what it is — not even snake oil, but pure venom.

The bullied kid as metaphor

Earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear meltdowns, market collapses, Middle Eastern turmoil . . . .  It’s been a busy week news-wise.  So you want to know what the hottest story is?  None of the above.  Per Allahpundit, the absolute hottest story is this video:

The story behind the video is that the bigger boy, Casey Heynes, has been bullied for years by swarms of kids at a difficult school in Australia.  The video represents the moment when, finally, he has his Popeye moment (“That’s all I can stands and I can’t stand no more.”).

Allahpundit decries the video’s popularity:

Between popping iodide tablets and fretting about the carnage to come in Benghazi, the world’s got a fee-vah and the only prescription is more bully body slam.

Which means, I guess, that I owe Obama an apology for goofing on him over his NCAA brackets. No worries, champ: Your priorities are just fine.

This is one of those rare occasions when I think Allahpundit has misread the zeitgeist at work here.

The video, distilled to its essence, shows that something bigger, whether a kid, a nation or a culture, can be swarmed and bullied by smaller kids (or nations or cultures).  For a long time, the big one takes it.  It doesn’t seem sporting to use that size against the aggressors.  If you’re not really being hurt, and if you’re not naturally aggressive by nature, you just stand there, sucking it up.  Indeed, if you’ve been told for a long time that you’re worthless and evil, part of you may even think you deserve the bullying.  But there comes a moment, finally, when enough is enough.  No one, no nation, no culture, can or should passively accept such unrelenting abuse and attack.

The thing is that when someone (or something) big finally snaps, that snap is BIG too.  Casey didn’t retaliate with a little push back or punch.  Casey used his size and strength with punishing force.

We in the West have been bullied relentlessly for years.  We are insulted, pilloried, reviled, blown up, shot, beheaded, robbed, etc., with impunity.  We’ve taken it.  Indeed, not only have we taken it, but we’ve funded those who attack us and opened our borders to those who steal from us.

Currently, our leader is one of those who thinks that we’re worthless and evil, and that we deserve the attacks, opprobrium and theft.  He’s not striking back.  But we, the people, in our hearts, are approaching our Popeye moment.  We’ve turned the other cheek as long as possible, knowing that our vast strength means that we run the risk of ourselves becoming bullies should we respond to the endless provocations.  There comes a moment, however, when you pop the spinach and strike back.  That’s what Casey did and the video is popular because that’s what we, in the West, long to do.

Between popping iodide tablets and fretting about the carnage to come in Benghazi, the world’s got a fee-vah and the only prescription is more bully body slam.Which means, I guess, that I owe Obama an apology for goofing on him over his NCAA brackets. No worries, champ: Your priorities are just fine.

Change is inevitable but, sometimes, should we accelerate that inevitability?

My book club met last night to discuss Robert Merry’s A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent. As the subtitle says, the book is about the way in which Polk, during his one term presidency, enabled America to stretch from sea to shining sea.  He promised he would only stay one term in office, a promise he kept, and he promised that he would bring into America the Texas territories, the Oregon territories and the California territories, another promise he kept.  It’s quite an amazing story, although Merry’s obsessive attention to less-than-interesting details made it a very difficult read.

One of the things we talked about at the book group was whether Polk needed to pursue all these territories quite as aggressively as he did.  His disputes were with Mexico and Britain, and he pushed both so hard that, with the former, we ended up in war, and with the latter (which held an interest in Oregon) we almost ended in war.  The fact was that Americans were flooding these territories in such numbers that they were becoming American by default.  Mexico was finding it impossible given its own dysfunctional infrastructure to hold the territories, and Britain, which was adept at managing far-off lands, could not stem the American tide.  The general feeling at our group was that war with Mexico was inevitable, and Polk just did it on his terms; but that there was no need to push the British crisis as he did.  He would have achieved the same ends more slowly, but with less belligerence.

This line of discussion opened an interesting question:  When are wars necessary?  Jimmy Carter, for example, long ago opined that the Revolutionary War was unnecessary because, given enough time, Britain would have lost her hold over the American colonies.  Many people say the Civil War was unnecessary because, over the long haul (as both Washington and Jefferson understood), it was economically unsustainable, not to mention the fact that increased mechanization took over a lot of the slave’s tasks.  Gandhi thought people, especially Jews, should have done nothing to stop the Nazi onslaught, which would have eventually burned itself out — leaving the dead with the moral high ground of having shown themselves to be peaceful people in the face of Nazi aggression.  I’ve commented here that the Islamists were foolish to get aggressive because, demographically, if they’d just sat quietly, they would have controlled Europe in a few decades.  It was their impatience that sounded the tocsin that, finally, seems to be waking Europe up to the threat within its borders.

All good — and bad — things come to an end.  Ancient Egypt took roughly 3000 years, ancient Israel roughly 1000 years, and the Huns had a heyday lasting a little more than 100 years.   Given that inevitability, when is it worth starting a war to speed a declining or evil system’s end?  That, of course, is a loaded question, because there is a huge difference between a declining and an evil system.  Slavery was evil.  It was morally wrong in the first place.  And it would have been morally wrong to condemn several more generations to servitude in the optimistic belief that it would have to die out some time.  Same for naziism, same for communism.

But what about Mexican control over California?  That would have ended much sooner than later regardless of American action.  In the meantime, though, while Mexico’s control over the territory waned, the state’s revenues would to Mexico City, not Washington, D.C., and the American population as a whole chafed at seeing their brothers and sisters subordinate to Mexican rule (never mind that these same brothers and sisters had voluntary headed to that nation’s territory).  Further, Americans believed (rightly) that this was a war they could win, so it wasn’t much of a gamble to hurry history along.  As it turned out, it was a smart gamble because, not only did the US gain the California territories, they got the enormous bounty of the California Gold Rush — both in terms of gold, and in terms of California’s settlement.

I’m not reaching any conclusions here.  I’m just ruminating.  I’d love to hear what you all think about the question of rushing history.

They really, really respect us, now

Chinese-born pianist Lang Lang plays an old, Korean-war vintage anti-American song, “Battle on Shangganling Mountain”, at Obama’s state dinner for Chinese President Hu-Jintao. The Chinese, of course, just loved it.

I can just feel the respect our competitors in the world have for us, now that international relations have been “reset”.

This will not end well.

Taxes, government dependency and happiness

Two interesting things rolled across my desk today, interesting because they address the same topic — dependence on Big Government — but reach diametrically opposite conclusions.  The first is a Dennis Prager column that examines why American conservatives are happier than American liberals.  This isn’t just Dennis’ opinion, by the way.  Instead, several recent polls have shown that, on the whole, conservatives are happier people.

Dennis opines that the matter essentially boils down to a few key differences in outlook.  One is a sense of victimhood.  In America, those who turn to the government for succor are those who feel betrayed by the American system, whether because they’re blacks invested in the notion of racism, or people of any color feeling that they haven’t succeeded in the American system as they deserved.  Another is the notion of utopianism.  Liberals believe in perfectibility, and are constantly disappointed; conservatives recognize flaws, and are always thrilled to live in the society that best harnesses negative human traits and gives the most rein to positive traits.  Conservatives are also more generous — they give their money away to causes, rather than waiting for the government to take it.  That affects how they feel about their own contributions to societal good.

The other article that came to me, via a very Progressive facebook friend, is one by Thom Hartmann that argues in favor of huge taxes on the rich, with the assurance that, in Denmark, people are happy because they pay such high taxes, with the rich taking the greatest hit, but not feeling it, while everyone else gets cheap, high-quality government services.  It’s a very sophisticated argument, and often a correct one, about the differing effect taxes have on the rich and the poor.

As I understand it, Hartmann argument boils down to this.  The rich earn far more than they can ever spend.  This means that taxes affect only their non-discretionary income, not their discretionary income.  If they’re taxed more, they might save less, but it won’t affect the money they spend annually on both life’s necessities and its reasonable frivolities.  The non-rich, however, spend everything they earn after taxes.  If taxes are raised, they have less after-tax money to spend, which hurts them.  BUT (and this is the kicker), Hartmann contends that, invariably, the market adjusts so that, after a few years, the non-rich end up getting from their employers precisely the same amount in adjusted dollars to bring them to spending parity with their situation before the tax increase.

This means, says Hartmann that, if top marginal tax rates are increased, only the rich will suffer.  Everyone else will remain the same, except that the government will have hugely greater number of dollars at its disposal for free health care and education. Further, the less money the rich people have to throw around, the more stable the economy is, because it prevents bubbles.  This means that there is no great wealth creation, but there are no collapses either.

A large chunk of the article is concerned with trying to figure out why non-rich people are so stupid that they don’t want to tax the rich at a higher rate, considering that, in the long run, higher rates will leave non-rich people with pretty much the same amount of disposable income.  Scaife comes into all of this, of course, as does the Heritage Foundation, William Kristol, and the usual conservative suspects. I found that part of the article uninteresting.  When Hartmann got back to substance, he started making thought-provoking points again.

Thus, Hartmann asserts that, if you increase tax rates, government actually shrinks, which is what sensible conservatives should want.  I can’t summarize the argument adequately, so let me quote it here:

From 1985 until 2008, William A. Niskanen was the chairman of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, and before 1985 he was chairman of Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers and a key architect of Reaganomics. He figured out something that would explode Reagan’s head if he were still around. Looking at the 24-year period from 1981 to 2005, when the great experiment of cutting taxes (Reagan) then raising them (Bush Sr. and Clinton) then cutting them again (Bush Jr.) played out, Niskanen saw a clear trend: when taxes go up, government shrinks, and when taxes go down, government gets bigger.

Consider this: You have a clothing store and you offer a “50 percent off” sale on everything in the store. What happens? Sales go up. Do it for a few years and you’ll even need to hire more workers and move into a larger store because sales will continue to rise if you’re selling below cost. “But won’t the store go broke?” you may ask. Not if it’s able to borrow unlimited amounts of money and never—or at least not for 20 years or more—pay it back.

That’s what happens when we have unfunded tax cuts. Taxpayers get government services—from parks and schools to corporate welfare and crop subsidy payments—at a lower cost than they did before the tax cuts. And, like with anything else, lower cost translates into more demand.

This is why when Reagan cut taxes massively in the 1980s, he almost doubled the size of government: there was more demand for that “cheap government” because nobody was paying for it. And, of course, he ran up a massive debt in the process, but that was invisible because the Republican strategy, called “two Santa Clauses,” is to run up government debt when in office and spend the money to make the economy seem good, and then to scream about the debt and the deficit when Democrats come into office. So while Reagan and W were exploding our debt, there wasn’t a peep from the right or in the media; as soon as a Democrat was elected (Clinton and Obama), both the right-wingers and the corporate media became hysterical about the debt.

And when Clinton raised taxes so that people actually started paying the true cost of government (a balanced budget as in the years 1999 and 2000), they concluded that they didn’t need as many services, so government actually shrank—in terms of both cost and the number of federal employees.

As a non-economist, I have to admit that what Hartmann says makes a certain amount of superficial sense.  I suspect, though, that there’s more to it.  For example, Laffer’s curve may be involved.  That says that lower tax rates create greater wealth, which actually increases government revenue.  With greater government revenue, profligate politicians and greedy citizens have more to play with. The problem, then, isn’t the tax structure; it’s the boondoggles, and earmarks, and “other people’s money” syndrome that inevitably plagues an organization that lacks fiscal discipline.

My core problem with Hartmann’s whole premise, though, is that it works because his allusion to Denmark shows that what he really wants is a world in which the government is responsible for all income that’s not dedicated to life’s necessities.  Under the current American system, that “excess” money that the “rich” have floating around — the money that Hartmann thinks the government should take and redistribute — is money that goes to banks that lend it to future homeowners and entrepreneurs; it goes into businesses that hire people; and it goes into funding innovation that improves people’s lives.

Having wealth circulate in the marketplace increases the risks of a slap happy economy, but it also vastly increases the possibilities of life improvement.  It increases innovation and, yes, greed, which is a powerful motivator.  In the Scandinavian countries, which until recently had stunningly homogeneous populations, no defense budgets, and no sense of obligation to the rest of the world (which we, in the U.S., heavily fund), it’s easy to have a tight little loop of shiny, clean, teeny houses; lean, mean Danish modern furniture; health care for that homogeneous population; and an almost zero track record on innovations that improve life for most of the world’s population.

Hartmann envisions a world in which everyone is happy with a brightly colored Danish modern version of very little.  Hartmann also fails to take into account dynamic populations.  The Scandinavian countries worked so well for so long because they were populated by people with precisely the same values and precisely the same life habits, habits that happened to be particularly neat and self-disciplined.  The tremors are starting, though, as these same countries struggle to deal with newcomers who have nothing in common with this nice, neat, egalitarian very white world view.  The welfare scams, violence, polygamy, cultural incest, etc., that the Muslim populations are bringing to Denmark and Sweden, and other northern countries, are all going to place a very interesting burden on these happy little taxpayers who could always rely on each other for homogeneity and on Papa America for world stability.

Before being quite so smug, places such as Sweden and Denmark might want to cast a jaundiced eye on Holland and Britain and France, all of which started with less homogeneous populations than the northern countries; all of which have had a head start on the challenging task of incorporating Muslims into their closed world views; and two of which (Britain and France) actually had to set aside defense budgets.  Hartmann, too, might want to consider that America is Holland, Britain, France, etc., on speed when it comes to population diversity; constant immigration; and defense spending upon which the entire Western world has relied since 1942.

At bottom, I’d rather be a happy American iconoclast, living with a fairly low level of risk (heck, we’re not yet Argentina, Greece or Ireland) and wedded to the infinite possibilities of a dynamic economy that trusts the innovation and drive individuals, rather than coping with a government’s overarching static, inefficient bureaucracy.  I’d also rather be in a surging country that, better than any place in the world, incorporates incomers, even illegal ones, as opposed to a country that is, for the first time, has to deal with profound outsider disruptions to its cozy little system.  I’m happy here.  Not droned, not pacified, not opiated, but happy.

Cross-posted at Right Wing News

A German economist bemoans the decline of Americanism

In Der Spiegel, of all places, one finds an article bemoaning, loudly and strongly, the profound mistake inherent in the Democrats’ Europeanization of America:

The Obama administration and the Federal Reserve want to fix the United States economy by spending more money. But while that approach might work for Europe, it is risky for the US. The nation would be better off embracing traditional American values like self-reliance and small government.

There’s no question about it: The 20th century was America’s era. The United States rose rapidly from virtually nothing to become the most politically powerful and economically strongest country in the world. But the financial crisis and subsequent recession have now raised doubts about its future. Are we currently witnessing the beginning of the end of the American era?

A firm belief in the individual’s ability, ideas, courage, will and a reliance on one’s own resources brought the US to the top. The American dream promised everyone the chance of upward mobility — literally from rags to riches, from minimum wage to millionaire. The individual’s pursuit of happiness was seen as the crucial foundation for the well-being of society, rather than the benevolent state which cares for its subjects — and certainly not the welfare state, which provides a social safety net for its citizens.

In the American system, every man was responsible for himself — in good times and bad. No one could count on government assistance, not even the wannabe millionaire who did not make it and ended up homeless.

Read the rest here.  Thomas Straubhaar essentially argues that America must be true to itself in order to reinstate its former economic greatness. Sounds right to me.

Happy July Fourth!

We are so blessed to live in America — and birthdays are about celebrating the blessings that came into our lives as the result of someone’s, or something’s, birth.  We may be going through a hard patch now, but our legacy of individual freedoms is a tough nut, and we’re not going to let it be cracked.  Hanging in there, and fight for America’s freedoms for this generation and the ones to come.

This seems like a good place to announce that (the brilliant) Andrew Breitbart has launched a new website called Big Peace, devoted to national security and, by extension, the American military.  You must check it out.  The first posts are wonderful.

Happy Birthday America!

The “patriotism” they’re teaching our school children — or, let’s talk about shallow thinking

I was at my child’s school the other day, and happened to glance at the daily handout the children receive.  It had the usual special announcements and ended with “Today’s Patriotic Quotation.”  I was rather pleased to see that there was a patriotic quotation included (on a daily basis, yet).  Reading the quotation, though, just depressed me.  As far as I could tell, it had nothing whatsoever to do with patriotism.

Patriotism means support of or pride in ones country.  A patriotic quotation, therefore, would laud something distinctly American.  I’ve been happily awash in patriotic quotations lately, since I signed up for daily emails from The Patriot Post.  Every day, as part of the material this organization sends to me, I get a quotation from the Founders reminding me of America’s exceptionalism.  Here are just a few examples:

“Our peculiar security is in the possession of a written Constitution. Let us not make it a blank paper by construction.” –Thomas Jefferson, letter to Wilson Nicholas, 1803

“No morn ever dawned more favorable than ours did; and no day was every more clouded than the present! Wisdom, and good examples are necessary at this time to rescue the political machine from the impending storm.” –George Washington, letter to James Madison, 1786

“The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust.” –James Madison, Federalist No. 57

“I trust that the proposed Constitution afford a genuine specimen of representative government and republican government; and that it will answer, in an eminent degree, all the beneficial purposes of society.” –Alexander Hamilton, speech to the New York Ratifying Convention, 1788

I admit that many of the Founder’s quotations are more intellectually sophisticated than the average 11 year old can comprehend, but there are other truly patriotic quotations floating around, highlighting the wonders of the American system and the fundamental goodness of the American people.  (And I would be delighted if you would send your favorite patriotic quotations to the comments section in my blog.)

The day I visited the school, though, the “Patriotic Quotation” had nothing whatsoever to do with America.  Instead, it was this, from Eleanor Roosevelt:

It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.

Am I missing something when I read that, or am I correct that it is entirely unrelated to America?  Instead, it’s the standard pabulum of the Left, waffling on about the wonders of peace.

Believe it or not, despite the fact that I’m a conservative, I’m all for peace.  But peace is only worthwhile if it stands for something.  As my regular readers know, I’m extremely fond of quoting Tacitus, who spoke of Roman military victories thusly:  “They make a desert and call it peace.”

Totalitarian countries are very peaceful.  There are no barroom brawls, no street protests, no euphoric rock concerts, no wacky TV shows, and no political debates.  All is quiet.  If citizens follow the myriad rules, if they keep their heads down and worship at the government’s shrine, all is peaceful.  The residents in such countries work at peace daily in their continual efforts to stay alive.

You’ll pardon me for being condescending here, but I cannot escape the feeling that the liberal approach to war and peace is extraordinarily shallow.  They attach labels to appearances, and then try to derive deep meanings from those labels.  (Hardly surprising, I guess, from a political orientation that rotates around the hardcore labeling that is identity politics.)

Here are the familiar liberal tropes, the behavior labels, if you will:  “War is bad.”  “Peace is good.”  “Small armed groups rising up against a large military are good.”

But what if the War is the Civil War, which broke the back of the institution of slavery?  (It also severely damaged states’ rights, which I understand, but I’m focusing on slavery here, a genuine evil that Progressives surely would want to see destroyed.)  Or how about if the War is World War II, which defeated Nazi Germany?

I don’t need to re-hash my peace shtick, set out above.  Peace is good only when it’s allied with freedom.  Peace alone can easily be the quiet of the grave.

As for the “small armed uprisings,” you know that I’m thinking of all the Progressives who compare Al Qaeda or Hamas to the American Revolution.  At the shallow strata that constitutes Progressive thinking, if you’re big, you must be the oppressor, and if you’re small, you must be the oppressed.

I actually wrote about this precise point some years ago in an American Thinker article regarding Leftist — or, as I called it, Marxist — morality, a post triggered by my watching an acclaimed movie called Maria Full of Grace, which was a sympathetic portrait of a drug smuggling illegal alien.  Marxist morality is a distinct creature from our more traditional Biblical morality.  Rather than reinvent the wheel, let me quote myself:

This ethical paradigm [i.e., Marxist morality] isn’t premised on right and wrong.  It is, instead, concerned with oppressor and oppressed. We all know, of course, that Marxism orders the world by oppressors and oppressed.  I always saw this hierarchical standard, however, as ex post facto retrofitting explaining, not why someone was right to do as he did, but why he shouldn’t be punished.  This Marxist approach was an explanation for things that had already happened (a la the Officer Krupke song), not a moral justification for determining future conduct.

[snip]

If you haven’t seen the movie, the plot precis is that a poor, unemployed, pregnant Columbian girl gets herself a job as a mule, running cocaine into America.  The San Francisco Chronicle, in its review, introduced the movie as follows:

A “Bonnie and Clyde” moment — when you find yourself rooting for the outlaw over the authorities — comes a third of the way into “Maria Full of Grace,” a revelatory independent film whose moments of incredible sadness are offset by the same state of grace that blesses its astonishing title character.

Given that the lead character is an unwed pregnant woman engaged in illegal conduct, I naively assumed that the “state of grace” to which the review refers was the moment in which Maria suddenly realizes that she is engaged in evil, immoral conduct; repents; and works to undo the wrongs in which she was involved.  Had I begun by reading the Roger Ebert review, I never would have made this silly mistake.  Thus, Ebert has this to say, in relevant part:

Long—stemmed roses must come from somewhere, but I never gave the matter much thought until I saw “Maria Full of Grace,” which opens with Maria working an assembly line in Colombia, preparing the roses for shipment overseas. I guess I thought the florist picked them early every morning, while mockingbirds trilled. Maria is young and pretty and filled with fire, and when she finds she’s pregnant, she isn’t much impressed by the attitude of Juan, her loser boyfriend. She dumps her job and gets a ride to Bogota with a man who tells her she could make some nice money as a mule — a courier flying to New York with dozens of little Baggies of cocaine in her stomach. [....]

Maria is a victim of economic pressures, but she doesn’t think like a victim. She has spunk and intelligence and can think on her feet, and the movie wisely avoids the usual cliches about the drug cartel and instead shows us a fairly shabby importing operation, run by people more slack—jawed than evil. Here is a drug movie with no machineguns and no chases. It focuses on its human story, and in Catalina Sandino Moreno, finds a bright—eyed, charismatic actress who engages our sympathy.

By writing the above, Ebert unwittingly defines the second part of Leftist morals, the part that states that, if you are on the bottom of the Marxist hierarchy, your status preemptively sanctifies any conduct in which you engage, provided that it is directed against oppression (however you define that oppression, or whoever creates that oppression).  In other words, morals aren’t just about feelings, anymore.  Instead, they can be determined relative to a person’s status on the economic ladder. “Maria is a victim of economic pressures.”  Given her situation, she cannot make immoral choices.  All of her choices are virtuous responses to her degraded situation.

[snip]

I might have spent several days brooding over the movie’s complete immorality, and the critics’ swoons over that same movie, if I hadn’t heard the next day a laudatory review on NPR  about the new Battlestar Galactica series. In that science fiction show, cyborgs have conquered humans living on a distant colony, and the humans are struggling to deal with the situation and to overthrow the cyborgs.  The critic interviewed in the NPR spot said that, to him, the show worked to make the viewer understand the insurgents in Iraq by showing us that they have an “oppressed minority fighting against conquering majority” viewpoint. In other words, it makes the Iraqi insurgents sympathetic.

Frankly, I have a hard time being sympathetic to people who back regimes that murder millions of its own people; who enjoy beheading innocents; and who would like to impose a relentlessly grim religious rule that requires death sentences for eating ice cream, singing, playing tennis, or putting on a clown show for children. These are not good people whether they’re in power or are seeking power.

In the Leftist moral view, however, just as all workers are exploited and should be praised for taking the initiative by engaging in utterly immoral, illegal activity, so too are all underdogs virtuous. If you’re in charge, you’re bad; if you’re struggling to overthrow those in charge, you’re good. It doesn’t seem to occur to Leftist moralists to examine the motives of those involved in any given struggle.

There’s more of the same in the rest of my article, here, but I think you get the point.

And so I’m right back at the quotation they served at my child’s school as an example of patriotism.  It had nothing to do with America, and everything to do with a conviction that some abstract peace is the highest goal.  Having read that, I sincerely wonder what yesterday’s patriotic quotation was, and what tomorrow’s will be.  Does the school ever praise our country, or does it just use famous Democrats and Leftists as mouthpieces for shallow and abstract ruminations about facile and meaningless goals?  I hope that the day I was there was just a one-off, since our children our vulnerable, and their schools’ indoctrination affects them strongly.

Good ideas take on a life of their own

Good ideas, thankfully, don’t just squirm away and die.  The best of them take on a life of their own.  This year’s good idea, one that has been in vogue for a while, but that is taking on heightened importance now, is the core nature of being an American.  My focus is on freedom, brought to you courtesy of the United States Constitution.  Patrick, the Paragraph Farmer, also sees in Americans a distinctly national character, defined by our beliefs — and by the things against which we stand.  Do check it out because, as we observe in the White House a president who believes freedom is anathema and who, by his upbringing, lacks any understanding of the American character, it is more important than ever that we affirm what makes us  us (or should I say what makes us U.S.?).

(Bad link fixed, I hope.)

Eric Holder works to subordinate American interests to a transnational world view

As is always the case with an Andrew McCarthy article, he efficiently marshals vast numbers of relevants to make a compelling argument, with today’s argument being that Holder’s decision to “investigate” CIA interrogators is not merely a sop to the radical Left in the U.S., but is actually part of a larger effort to subordinate American interests to a transnational world view.

Twenty or thirty years ago, when I, an unthinking Democrat, heard all those “loonies on the Right” talking about American sovereignty and fearing that the Left would push America into a world political order, I sneered.  I realize now that they were canaries in the coal mine because, for the first time, we have an administration where the transnationalists aren’t just shadowing figures talking in Ivy League lunch rooms and at Communist party gatherings (attendance:  10 people):

I believe the explanation lies in the Obama administration’s fondness for transnationalism, a doctrine of post-sovereign globalism in which America is seen as owing its principal allegiance to the international legal order rather than to our own Constitution and national interests.

Recall that the president chose to install former Yale Law School dean Harold Koh as his State Department’s legal adviser. Koh is the country’s leading proponent of transnationalism. He is now a major player in the administration’s deliberations over international law and cooperation. Naturally, membership in the International Criminal Court, which the United States has resisted joining, is high on Koh’s agenda. The ICC claims worldwide jurisdiction, even over nations that do not ratify its enabling treaty, notwithstanding that sovereign consent to jurisdiction is a bedrock principle of international law.

As a result, there have always been serious concerns that the ICC could investigate and try to indict American political, military, and intelligence officials for actions taken in defense of our country. Here it’s crucial to bear in mind that the United States (or at least the pre-Obama United States) has not seen eye-to-eye with Europe on significant national-security matters. European nations, for example, have accepted the 1977 Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, while the United States has rejected it. Protocol I extends protections to terrorists and imposes an exacting legal regime on combat operations, relying on such concepts as “proportional” use of force and rigorous distinction between military and civilian targets. That is, Protocol I potentially converts traditional combat operations into war crimes. Similarly, though the U.S. accepted the torture provisions of the U.N. Convention Against Torture (UNCAT), our nation rejected the UNCAT’s placing of “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” on a par with torture. By contrast, Europe generally accepts the UNCAT in toto.

You have to read the whole article to appreciate fully what is going on here. On you have to take the conspiracy blinders off, because this is no longer a whispered rumor in the dark. Instead, it is a very specific policy that is entirely consistent with administration officials who have long, and explicitly, made known their contempt for American sovereignty.

Patriotism, pure and simple v. tortured

I have two wonderful things for you to read on the subject of patriotism.  The first is from Zabrina, at Thought You’d Never Ask, in which she dispenses some words of wisdom to a child about to head off to college.  The second is from Jonah Goldberg, who explains why conservative Americans often don’t recognize as patriotism the feelings Barack Obama and those closest to him have for America.

Quick update:  James Taranto also has a good take on Obama’s patriotism speech.

I also want to add in connection with all this the fact that, when you criticize something brutally and relentlessly, it becomes ever harder to believe that you love it — and loving your country is, of course, the essence of patriotism.  As Dennis Prager once said, everybody would understand this principle if they were in the presence of a husband who heaps nonstop physical and verbal abuse on his wife, all the while claiming he loves her.  At a certain point, those protestations of love appear increasingly hollow and false.

Is/Was American the greatest society ever?

I asserted the other day that it was a “fact” that America built the greatest society the world has ever seen and Ozzie reasonably asked me to prove this was a fact and not merely my opinion. He has a point, but let’s see what facts we can offer.

It is, of course, opinion that America created the greatest form of government and greatest constitution ever, but it is a fact that dozens of countries have patterned their constitutions after ours. It is a fact that no society can boast the 200 year history of freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion that we have.

Ozzie rightly points out that some of this freedom has been lost in recent years. In fact, the point of my earlier comment was that the greatest society ever has been eroded in recent years. The greatest society ever was the America of the 1940′s through 70′s. We have gone downhill in a host of areas since then.

Slavery is the greatest scar on our constitution but no other society can boast of a Civil War in which so many white men died to free black slaves. As an aside, there is a myth that, as Helen put it, “Our (white people’s) riches were made by the (free) slave labor of African Americans.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that by the time of the Civil War the free northern states had economically far outstripped the slave southern states. And, of course, at the time of the Civil War, all of America was an economic backwater. Our great riches were created only after the elimination of slavery. Our riches resulted from our freedom, not our slavery.

It is a fact that at least the America of the 1940′s though 70′s was the most prosperous the world had ever seen. It is a fact that the America of that time, and even today, created the greatest military the world has ever seen.

I know without even bothering to look that it’s a fact that more Americans have won Nobel prizes than citizens of any other nation, and by a very wide margin. Americans invented everything from the telephone to teflon. Americans were the first to fly and the first (and so far only) to walk on the moon. What we didn’t invent, we perfected. More important medical breakthroughs were made by American than by any other country, both technological breakthroughs and cures. Americans harnessed the atom, for better and worse.

An American first proposed the League of Nations and America gave a home to the United Nations.

Whenever there is a disaster anywhere in the world Americans are first in line to help.

Someone pointed out in the thread than contained Ozzie’s and my comments that the average poor person in America has a larger homes than the average person in Europe. A comedian once point out that America was the only country whose poor people were fat.

In a sense, of course, Ozzie is right. It is merely my opinion that it is a fact that America created the greatest society ever seen. But, I’m sure if the Bookwormroom readers put your minds to it you can come up with hundreds of facts to support that opinion. At some point the weight of these facts becomes so overwhelming that there’s not much room left for difference of opinion. Help me out here. What irrefutable facts support, or for that matter oppose, the theory that America created the greatest society ever seen? Thanks in advance for your comments.

Existential anger *UPDATED*

Barack Obama has had a weird life, but not a bad one. Yes, his father abandoned him, but he’s certainly not the only person, of any race, to experience that. His mother loved him, his grandparents loved him, he grew up in the mellow, racially-mixed world of Hawaii (barring his Indonesian stint), he went to excellent schools throughout his academic career, and his political career has been stratospheric. And yet, if you look past the “I’m such a mellow unifier,” and you find a very, very angry man. Ann Coulter, who is no stranger to anger herself, recognized it right away and makes hay with the fact in her column about his autobiography. As his two decade affiliation with Wright shows, Obama also seeks out angry people.

One has to ask where this anger comes from. Obama himself makes no bones about his relatively good life, one that definitely is well within the bell curve of the normal American experience, with a lot of stuff coming on the upper end of the bell curve (loving parent, loving surrogate parents, fabulous education, etc.). I remarked to DQ today that it seems to me that Obama isn’t in a rage at his life experiences — he couldn’t rationally be — but instead that he seems to suffer from existential fury that goes back to his very being. Circumstances do not affect his outlook; he’s just mad at something, and views his circumstances through that lens. That he’s learned to present as a calm man doesn’t affect this basic attitude.

My observation wasn’t so very deep or intelligent, but DQ’s response (naturally) was. He thought a minute about what I’d said and responded, “You know, that description seems to apply to Americans generally, especially to liberals.” He’s right. We in America truly have it better than any being at any time in history, and yet so many Americans are angry and anguished, something reflected in the recent poll pointing to an 81% dissatisfaction rate in America. We’re far less happy and optimistic than the Iraqis, for Heaven’s sake!

I’m baffled by this existential unhappiness. Do you know where it comes from? Do you know why Americans, who have, as John McCain noted, over history shown themselves to be capable of doing the right thing and still experiencing material rewards, are such a miserable bunch?

UPDATE: I’m not good at math, but Rockdalian seems to be on to something important in his comment:

an 81% dissatisfaction rate in America

This is a truckload of patooey. I may not know a lot about polls, but I rummaged around the PDF file for myself. This is what I came across.

N = 1,368
Registered Voters = 1,196
Democratic Primary Voters= 510
Republican Primary Voters= 323

Have you already voted in or do you plan to vote in a Democratic primary or caucus this year, OR in a Republican Primary or caucus, or are you not voting in a primary or caucus at all this year?
Dem Primary 43%
Rep Primary 25%
Not Voting 25%
Never vote 1%
DK/NA 6%

Doing a little math ( this is premised on the idea of me reading this thing correctly, always subject to further review ) out of 1368 respondents, only 323 are self declared Republicans.
Not a weighted sample at all.
Reading through the question, the poll does not breakdown the response to the question by party.
The 81% negative, given no proof, I would bet comes from the more than two thirds that did not identify or for declared Dems.
This leads me to question what role religion, or lack thereof, plays into the responders answers.
If I remember correctly, when polled, that the religious people answered more to the affirmative about the positive outlook in their lives.

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.

Have some fun and make a good point

I had noticed today, when I checked out the British paper the Telegraph, an article in which people were asked to summarize their lives in six words. What I didn’t realize is that there is something of a meme going on out there, not in the internet so much as in the MSM. As Laer explains at Cheat-Seeking Missiles this meme is also playing out in the NY Times:

Stephen Dubner, writing at the Freakonomics blog at the NYT, is running a contest for a six-word slogan for the U.S.A.

The idea was triggered by a book of six-word memoirs of famous and not-so-famous people, and by England’s recent national slogan concept (“No Motto Please. We’re British”). As of this posting, Dubner’s post has generated 677 comments.

It’s a cute idea but would it surprise you to discover, as Laer did, that many of those comments are relentlessly negative?

Some are fresh: “Still Using Fahrenheit, Feet, and Gallons.”

Some are progressive deploringly negative and ignorant of how dynamic this land of opportunity and equality is: “White? Straight? Christian? Rich? Welcome Home!” or “‘Number One? Smells like number two.”

Some get it right: “To each, according to his ability”

It seems that few NY Times readers can summon six nice words to say about America. Laer would like to remedy that. He asks people to join him at his blog and to come up with some good six words descriptions of America, and starts with some ideas of his own:

Planet Earth’s shining light of freedom.

Give us your poor. Terrorists excluded.

Proving the magnetic attraction of opportunity.

Can you name one place better?

If you have some good ideas, please go here and share with Laer your six words describing what’s good about America.

UPDATE: Yay! Michelle Malkin gave a whole post to Laer. That ought to send people streaming over to his site, so please go there and check for all the good (and, sometimes, mean and loony) six word ideas they’re leaving in the comments section.

UPDATE II:  My current favorite, from the brilliant Bill Whittle at Eject! Eject! Eject!:  “Great Country! (Needs more math education though.)”

Explaining American Jews’ love for Israel and America

I did something fun tonight: I went to a moderated talk concerning Israel. The speakers were Dennis Prager, John Podhoretz and Mona Charen, with Michael Medved moderating. As you can imagine, the discussion was informed, vigorous, amusing, intelligent and opinionated. I enjoyed every minute of it and I gathered from the applause, laughter, murmurs of agreements and other sounds of an engaged audience that the hundreds of other people attending did as well. (And believe me, it impressed me tremendously that there were hundreds of conservative Jews who could be gathered together in San Francisco. Before I arrived, part of me suspected that only about 10 people would show up — just enough for a political minyan.)

At the end of the evening, I asked a question that got some very interesting answers. I didn’t go into the evening expecting to ask this question, by the way, but it seemed an appropriate question by evening’s end. You see, it was patently clear, both from the conversation at the front of the room, the periodic audience applause, and the audience questions, that people in that room were both fiercely supportive of Israel and deeply patriotic Americans. That love for and belief in two countries reminded me of a question that’s been thrown at me over the years (or, perhaps, it could be categorized more accurately as an accusation): “How can you support Israel and call yourself a loyal American?” So when Michael Medved went around the room with a microphone, I caught his eye, and quickly asked “For those people who claim that America’s and Israel’s interests are antithetical to each other, how do we justify or explain our loyalty to both?”

John Podhoretz answered first by pointing to the common values shared by both nations — their belief that all men (and women, of course) are equal before God and their commitment to true Democratic values (however imperfectly that commitment may sometimes be realized). He noted that these shared values have resulted in two unusually free societies, free by any standards, but especially when one compares Israel’s society to her neighbors. Although I don’t think he quite said it outright, I gather that Mr. Podhoretz believes that American Jews are not disloyal to America when they support Israel because it is the morally correct thing to do: one beacon of light supporting another. I think he’s right.

When he’d wrapped up, Mona Charen chimed in to point out that the most fervent support for Israel comes, not from American Jews, but from Evangelical Christians. In other words, support of Israel is not some shady Jewish conspiracy, but is part of the value system religious conservatives of all stripes, both Christian and Jewish.

Finally, Michael Medved closed with the flip side to these preceding answers. That is, after Mr. Podhoretz and Ms. Charen pointed out that it is not unpatriotic to support Israel, he explained why Jews are — or should be — patriotic. His take, and one with which I strongly agree, is that America is one of the great blessings bestowed on the Jews. In America, they have enjoyed freedom and opportunity the likes of which has never been seen before during diaspora history — and probably wasn’t seen that often during the Jews’ own Biblical history. We have every reason to be profoundly grateful to this nation that has treated us so generously over the centuries, and there is no reason to doubt the patriotism of Jews who recognize America’s beneficence.

Mr. Medved also suggested a thought experiment: if Jews could magically vanish onto a space ship (kind of like the space ship that Louis Farrakhan assures his followers will be coming for them), would the world like America any better? It’s doubtful that the Europeans would. Our support for Israel isn’t why they dislike us, it’s just a piece of evidence in the litany of complaints they have against us. As for the Muslim world, Medved believes that it is our support for Israel — real support, not just lip service — that forces the Muslim world to pay attention to us and to give us some influence in those lands, influence we’d never have if there was no Israel and they dealt with us only as supplicants for oil. He also pointed out that, in the Arab hierarchy, we’re the Great Satan, with Israel ranking only as the Little Satan. That may relate to geographic size, but one has to suspect it also goes to influence and importance.

I gathered that the panel thought it was a good question (something reinforced by the fact that Mr. Medved was kind enough to tell me — twice — that it was a good question). I liked their answers, but I’d be interested in what you have to say as well. So, my question again: Can American Jews be both patriotic Americans and supporters of Israel? And to take Mona Charen’s point, if an American Evangelical Christian supports Israel, should that call his patriotism into question in the same way that people feel it calls a Jewish person’s patriotism into question?

Ken Burns’ “The War”

Ken Burns’ new series about World War II is off to a good start although his stately pace can often be somewhat sleep inducing.  It’s one of those slightly bizarre situations where it’s worth your while to force yourself to stay awake.

Part of the first episode includes a run-down of what Americans were watching in the lead-up to the attack on Pearl Harbor:  they were watching three Axis powers, each of which considered its race superior to all others and each of which believed that its racial superiority justified its conquering lands and killing people.  It occurred to me that those who love the Bushitler analogy, and who constantly liken America’s current war to some imperialist Nazi act of aggression are missing something very fundamental.  Americans do have a superiority complex, but it’s not racial.  Instead, we believe that our values are superior.  But values, unlike race, are exportable.  We don’t need to murder to prove our superiority.  Our culture is what it is, and people who seek freedom inevitably drift in our direction.

In this regard, it’s worth comparing us to the Jihadists, who have taken a religion and elevated it to the same status as a race. They believe that they are so far superior to other people that it is totally okay to squash other people like flies, to murder them and their children, and to occupy their countries as if the native people were not there.  There is no moral equivalence between them and us.  In their outlook, they are precisely the same as the Nazis, and the World War II Japanese and Italians.  And we, in the 20th and 21st Centuries, have never changed:  our affirmative actions, when we’re not called upon to defend ourselves against attacks such as Pearl Harbor or 9/11, consist of exporting our freedom and our culture, and that is all.

The Israel lobby

With the resurgent charge that there is a pro-Israel lobby destroying U.S. interests around the world, I’d like you to read this essay, from George Friedman, of Stratfor, a geopolitical intelligence organization. I’m publishing it with permission of Stratfor, which included this message in the email I receive regularly with Stratfor articles:

This report may be distributed or republished with attribution to Strategic Forecasting, Inc. at www.stratfor.com. For media requests, partnership opportunities, or commercial distribution or republication, please contact pr@stratfor.com.

Having got the legalisms out of the way, here’s the analysis:

The Israel Lobby in U.S. Strategy

 

By George Friedman

U.S. President George W. Bush made an appearance in Iraq’s restive Anbar province on Sept. 3 — in part to tout the success of the military surge there ahead of the presentation in Washington of the Petraeus report. For the next month or two, the battle over Iraq will be waged in Washington — and one country will come up over and over again, from any number of directions: Israel. Israel will be invoked as an ally in the war on terrorism — the reason the United States is in the war in the first place. Some will say that Israel maneuvered the United States into Iraq to serve its own purposes. Some will say it orchestrated 9/11 for its own ends. Others will say that, had the United States supported Israel more resolutely, there would not have been a 9/11.

There is probably no relationship on which people have more diverging views than on that between the United States and Israel. Therefore, since it is going to be invoked in the coming weeks — and Bush is taking a fairly irrelevant pause at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Australia — this is an opportune time to consider the geopolitics of the U.S.-Israeli relationship.

Let’s begin with some obvious political points. There is a relatively small Jewish community in the United States, though its political influence is magnified by its strategic location in critical states such as New York and the fact that it is more actively involved in politics than some other ethnic groups.

The Jewish community, as tends to be the case with groups, is deeply divided on many issues. It tends to be united on one issue — Israel — but not with the same intensity as in the past, nor with even a semblance of agreement on the specifics. The American Jewish community is as divided as the Israeli Jewish community, with a large segment of people who don’t much care thrown in. At the same time, this community donates large sums of money to American and Israeli organizations, including groups that lobby on behalf of Israeli issues in Washington. These lobbying entities lean toward the right wing of Israel’s political spectrum, in large part because the Israeli right has tended to govern in the past generation and these groups tend to follow the dominant Israeli strand. It also is because American Jews who contribute to Israel lobby organizations lean right in both Israeli and American politics.

The Israel lobby, which has a great deal of money and experience, is extremely influential in Washington. For decades now, it has done a good job of ensuring that Israeli interests are attended to in Washington, and certainly on some issues it has skewed U.S. policy on the Middle East. There are Jews who practice being shocked at this assertion, but they must not be taken seriously. They know better, which is why they donate money. Others pretend to be shocked at the idea of a lobbyist influencing U.S. policy on the Middle East, but they also need not be taken seriously, because they are trying to influence Washington as well, though they are not as successful. Obviously there is an influential Israel lobby in Washington.

(more, including an update)

A (somewhat) sympathetic look at Christiane Amanpour

For six hours this Sunday I watched my TIVOed copies of Christiane Amanpour’s God’s Warriors specials. Amanpour’s biases clearly showed through, especially when she tried to portray Muslim radicals as some kind of a small fringe group, or when she spoke to fundamentalist Christian leaders in a tone dripping with disdain. But, it appeared, she also did her best to present reasonable looking and sounding spokespersons for the Warriors and allowed them to present themselves in their own words.

Thus, I was a bit startled to see the links Bookworm provided in her post in the subject, to writers who blasted Amanpour as if her report were a broad-sided attack on Israel. Had these people watched the same reports I had? It appears Amanpour’s attackers were as biased (in the other direction, of course) as she was.

Bookworm suggested that I blog on the subject, pointing out correctly that I do not have a dog in the fight, being neither a Jew, nor a Muslim, nor a practicing (never mind fundamentalist) Christian. That’s a tall order, but let me at least share some reactions on the “God’s Jewish Warriors” piece and reaction to it.

Bookworm’s first link is to a highly entertaining and well-written attack by Robert J. Avrech. Avrech gets off to a rocky start, though, by claiming that he stopped counting after Amanpour said “God’s Jewish Warriors” 57 times. In truth, the phrase is used a grand total of 20 times in the entire piece. Poetic license and all that, but if he’s going to criticize someone else for not getting her facts right, he might focus a little more on getting his own facts right.

Next, he takes Amanpour to task for saying that “The second intifada was an attempt by the Palestinians to shake off the Israeli occupation.” Though he puts this comment in quotes, he is paraphrasing. Here is what she actually said:

“Intifada, in Arabic, it means ‘shaking off.’ And beginning in September 2000, Palestinians turned increasingly to suicide bombs in the Second Intifada to shake off Israeli occupation and strike at the Jewish state.” This is hardly the “poisonous Arab propaganda” Avrech claims. Note especially the phrase “strike at the Jewish state” which at least implies what Avrech is saying – that nothing short of the destruction of the Jewish state will satisfy the Palestinians.

Avrech goes on to decry the bias of the “experts” presented and Amanpour’s bias, but he completely overlooks the extent to which Amanpour presents the Warriors sympathetically and in their own words.

But before we get to that, a word about the “experts.” It’s true she uses Jimmy Carter a lot, but she presents him as the controversial figure he is, not as an objective source. She introduces him in the following words: “I spoke with former President Jimmy Carter who has written a controversial book that’s critical of Israel and its settlement policy.” She discusses the charges he is anti-Semitic openly with Carter, even placing on the air a talk show caller who calls him “a bigot, a racist and an anti-Semite.” No reporter could resist the opportunity to interview an ex-President and public figure such as Carter, but Amanpour presents him as the controversial figure that he is.

Similarly, she introduces John Mearsheimer as “a prominent political scientist at the University of Chicago, co-authored one of the most controversial essays of late, arguing pro-Israel advocates have too much influence on American policy.” And so he is. Surely, Amanpour can present people on all sides of the issue, including people we disagree with, so long as she identifies them fairly and accurately.

Critically, Avrech all but ignores the positive “Warriors” Amanpour presents:

She begins with the haunting story of Tzippi Shissel, whose father was murdered by a terrorist and who, nevertheless, continues to live near to where he died. As Shissel explains, “We have the Holy Land. It’s where God says this is where the Jews has to live.” Amanpour has been criticized for commenting, “But it is also Palestinian land. The West Bank — it’s west of the Jordan River — was designated by the United Nations to be the largest part of an Arab state.” But this statement is true. It may be a bit misleading – the Arabs rejected the plan and the United Nations is hardly the authority for anything, but at most this exposes Amanpour’s bias in favor of international organizations and international law.

Aside: This bias really comes through when Amanpour declares that the settlements are illegal. She cites to international law and specifically to the International Court of Justice. She is 100% right and 100% wrong. The ICJ did conclude the settlements are illegal and the ICJ is the final arbiter of international law. But there is no such thing as international law, and there cannot be until there is one international government. The United States, as a country, supports the ICJ, but when was the last time any American got to vote on accepting its law? But I digress.

Amanpour ends with Idit Levinger, a West Bank settler who speaks eloquently of her beliefs: “I walk around here with my children and tell them this is the hill that Abraham climbed. This is where Jacob had his dream. It’s not something that was once upon a time. It’s alive and now. . . . I feel I’m part of these hills. I can’t see myself living without them. . . . My bond with this place is far more than a house.” Amonpour could have ended with a negative portrayal of the settlers. Instead, she closes with their fight (even against their own government) to remain, and presents their views through a most sympathetic spokesperson.

In between Shissel and Levinger, Amanpour presents many positives that her critics choose to ignore. She returns again and again to Hanan Porat, an attractive, well-spoken man who presents the settlers’ position in measured terms. She includes this exchange:

HANAN PORAT: If you think we are messianic with our beliefs, now, what they think, those who believe in peace with the Palestinians, is pure mysticism.

AMANPOUR: To God’s Jewish warriors, turning land over to the Palestinians would just bring more blood and more tears.

This is not nearly the hatchet job Amanpour’s critics are making it out to be. She shows Shimon Peres making the legal point that the territories are disputed, not occupied. She shows Morris Amitay accusing Carter and Mersheimer of “Promoting an agenda in which Israel is the bad guy. Basically the United States and Israel have the same goals in the Middle East. Peace, prosperity, keeping terrorists out. I just think that the success of the pro-Israel community is the fact that they have good arguments on their side.” She shows David Ha’ivri noting that “The Arabs have 22 of their own countries” – a point that Avrech makes as if Amanpour somehow hid it.

True, she stretches to find Jewish terrorists, but carefully explains the Palestinian terrorist act that turn Baruch Goldstein into a terrorist and, in turn, led to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

True, she doesn’t make a big deal of the West’s condemnation of their own terrorists or contrast that to the Arab world’s celebration of their terrorists as martyrs, but she explains that the plot to blow up the girls’ school is foiled by Israeli police, and the would-be-Israeli-terrorists tried and convicted. Their acts clearly are not celebrated. (By contrast, in the next segment, she shows Muslim mothers proudly describing their terrorist sons as martyrs. The point is made, if not as overtly as some would like.)

In short, Amanpour does the best she can within her restricted world view, and she does so by finding articulate and sympathetic “warriors” and presenting their stories sympathetically. She could have done far worse.

Perhaps the best and worst part of Amanpour’s report (depending on your point of view) is that she showed parallels in her presentation but nowhere overtly claims the “warriors” of the various faiths are at all parallel. Oddly, I’m reminded of the Fox News slogan, “We Report. You Decide.” Amanpour reported. She presented some experts who have little credibility in my eyes, but she identified them as the controversial figures that they are. She let her own biases show through at times, but I’m convinced that she tried to be fair as best she was able. She could have found crazed “warriors” who would have discredited all “warriors” but, to her credit, she did the opposite. Having presented the least biased report she was capable of, she leaves it to the viewer to decide whether there is any moral equivalence. There is not. And, in the end, with all its faults, Amanpour’s report demonstrates that; it does not refute it.

Why fight?

One of my favorite of the many conservative slogans printed on products sold at Protest Warrior is the one that says “Except for Ending Slavery, Fascism, Nazism and Communism, War Has Never Solved Anything.” To me, it’s always been self-evident that there are good wars, just as there are bad and pointless wars. And as the Protest Warriors’ slogan makes clear, good wars are those that use arms to destroy poisonous ideologies. In this regard, it’s important to note that these ideologies are themselves life destroying. That is, they’re not bad things that make people kind of sad. If that were the case, it would be difficult to justify blood shed as a means to destroy a merely depressing ideology. Instead, each of these horrible political systems has resulted in the deaths of millions or hundreds of millions of people. Even more significantly, the dead are not just those in the “enemy” nations countries in thrall to these ideologies attack to keep their citizens from focusing on their own misery. Instead, countries that have taken these dark paths routinely destroy their own citizens in huge numbers.

Given this reality (see, I’m a realist), I’ve never been able to understand the liberal mindset that says all wars are bad, without any exceptions. Historical evidence tells me that fatuous statement is just not true. Reading Bruce Bawer’s While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within, however, has finally offered an explanation for this amazing world view, one American liberals clearly copy from their European mentors.

The lead-up to the following quoted material is a conversation Bawer had with two Dutchmen who sneered at America, including American involvement in WWII. As one Dutchman said, “The idea that America entered the war to defend the cause of freedom is a fiction.” To these Marxist infused Dutchman, America’s motive could only have been the spread of economic imperialism. Here’s Bawer’s conclusion on this subject (p. 93):

And yes, maybe that’s what being an American does come down to — a sentimentalism, about liberty among other things, that many Western Europeans just can’t fathom. If they’re so quick to ascribe purely economic motives to America’s involvement in World War II, perhaps it’s because those are the only reasons they can imagine their own country — itself once a major colonial power — ever having for involvement in a far-away war, or any war.

Sitting there with Niek and Tom, I realized that they were genuinely unable to comprehend a land whose people take liberty seriously enough to die for it. Indeed, for these two men who had been born only a decade or so after the Nazi occupation, worlds like “freedom” and “tyranny” hardly appear to have any real meaning at all. To talk of freedom, in their view, was simply to spout emotionally charged rhetoric that — either naively or with cynical calculation — sugarcoated the evil reality of capitalism.

Having looked at the way in which Europeans fail to understand the American approach to war, since they can only project their cynical values, erasing American idealism, Bawer, using Kosovo as a springboard, contemplates the practical implications of this outlook — and they are serious realities indeed, with profound consequences for American interests at home and abroad (p. 95):

In America, we feel obliged to do something about the Milosevics of this world. In a way, this need to set things right is, again, a kind of romanticism. What else (aside from a desire to avenge Pearl Harbor) can explain the alacrity with which we renounced the safety of isolationism in 1941 and committed ourselves to the fight against fascism in places far from home?

Western Europeans are different. For the, the Milosevics of the world, however monstrous, are also, quite simply, a fact of life. Nothing will ever end that. Get rid of one, and another will come along soon enough to take his place. They think of themselves as realists — but this isn’t realism; it’s fatalism. And (as I have since come to recognize, but didn’t then) it can shade into a strange, disturbing respect for dictators, a respect rooted in Europe’s own history tyranny.

Bawer’s understanding of European cynicism and passivity certainly explains a lot. I don’t have anything to add to it. Do you? (I do have some useful images, though.)
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What is the effect of disbelief on war?

Thank you as always for your insightful and thoughtful comments.  I always love throwing out topics and seeing the wonderful places you take them. 

Today, I’d like to ask another question that relates to faith.  One thing that cannot be denied about the Islamists is that they have a deep faith.  It is hardly surprising that young men who truly believe they have 70 virgins waiting for them in heaven can’t wait to blow themselves up and take as many innocents with them as possible.  I suspect, though, that a person who does not believe in the afterlife, who believe that life is a one-shot deal, will be a lot less ready to sacrifice that life for any cause.

This difference might also account for some of the strangeness of the liberal viewpoint.  By and large, liberals do not have an abiding faith in God and an afterlife and they simply do not understand (and are a bit suspicious of) those who have a deep faith, be they Chriatian, Jewish or Islamic.   They can’t imagine sacrificing their lives for anything, and they act as if they can’t imagine anyone else doing so either.  How can they possibly have anything intelligent to say about the war against Islamists if they have no understanding of their foes?

So what effects do Bookwormroom readers think the loss of faith of so many in the West will have on the battle against the Islamists?  Also, those of you who don’t believe in an afterlife, who believe this life is a one-shot deal — what do you believe is worth dying for?  What would you give your life for, if you thought you were giving up everything for all eternity?

Britain’s epitaph (and one for the rest of us too)

From Mark Steyn:

Tony Blair was at pains to point out that the hostages were released ”without any deal, without any negotiation, without any side agreement of any nature.” But he’s missing (or artfully sidestepping) the point: Tehran didn’t want a deal. It wanted the humbling of the Great Satan’s principal ally. And it got it. Very easily. And it paid no price for it. And it has tested in useful ways the empty pretensions of the U.N., the EU and also NATO, whose second largest fleet is now a laughingstock in a part of the world where it helps to be taken seriously.

***

Even if there is more going on than meets the eye, what meets the eye is so profoundly damaging to the credibility of great nations that no amount of lethal special ops could compensate for it. Power is only as great as the perception of power. The Iranians understand that they can’t beat America or Britain in tank battles or air strikes so they choose other battlefields on which to hit them. That’s why the behavior of the captives gives great cause for concern: There’s no point training guys to be tough fighting men of the Royal Marines when you’re in a bloody little scrap in Sierra Leone (as they were a couple of years ago) if you allow them to crumple on TV in front of the entire world.

So in 2007 the men of the Royal Navy can be kidnapped and “the strong arm of England” (in Lord Palmerston’s phrase) goes all limp-wristed and threatens to go to the U.N. and talk about drafting a Security Council resolution. Backstage, meanwhile, deals are done: An Iranian “diplomat” (a k a Mister Terror Kingpin) suddenly resurfaces in Tehran after having been reported in American detention, his release purely coincidental, we’re told. But it’s the kind of coincidence that ensures more of your men will be kidnapped and ransomed in the years ahead. And, just to remind the world who makes the rules, six more British subjects were killed in southern Iraq even at the moment of the hostages’ release. The Iranians have exposed America’s strongest ally as the soft underbelly of the Great Satan.

My Country ’tisn’t of thee anymore

I volunteer with a youth choral group. In music theory today, one of the boys, who is learning sight singing, laboriously sounded out several tunes, and was then asked to name each of them. He was able to name Frere Jacques, Happy Birthday to You, and even My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean. What absolutely stymied him was My Country ’tis of Thee. He’d never heard the tune before, nor had the other eight elementary school age boys in the room with him.

I was shocked. I realize that the kids aren’t required to sing it every morning anymore, as I was when I was a child, but they don’t know it at all. None of the kids in my world know America, the Beautiful, nor do they know God Bless America (the last being no surprise because of the forbidden word in the title). The boys in the choral group know our national anthem, but that’s only because they’re invited annually to sing it at a baseball game.

Yeah, these old-fashioned songs are self-congratulatory, and I know that it’s totally unacceptable for modern educators to teach children to take even a scintilla of pride anymore in being Americans — but it’s so sad. There’s nothing that binds these children to each other and their country anymore, other than a shared knowledge of commercials and junk food.

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