Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Age Of Big Brother Dawns In America

Top News Stories
Tell It to the Marines
Latin America's Little Caesar Gets Smaller
Irrational Middle Ground on Immigration
The Age Of Big Brother Dawns In America
Chicago Loots Wal-Mart Stores
The Tamed Beast
Human Achievements: The Atomic Bomb
Things of Beauty: Mossy Woodland

1. Tell It to the Marines To my great surprise, the New York Times decided to commemorate Memorial Day by actually listening to what the troops fighting in Iraq think about the war, as expressed in the excellent pro-war op-ed linked to below. I particularly like the point about the need to maintain "our ability to react to future threats with a fist instead of five fingers."

Unfortunately, that is precisely how we have not reacted, so far, to the threat from Iran—with five or twenty different diplomatic fingers pointing in every different direction, and no fist in sight. On this issue, the New York Times isn't helping, wishfully reporting on an alleged "debate" within the administration about whether to fall for Iran's gambit of throwing out the existing EU-3 negotiations and starting a new round of fruitless one-on-one talks with Iran.

Yet according to the Times's own story, "Administration officials said President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have opposed direct talks"—and so does Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. That's some "debate"!

Meanwhile, the Iranian regime proves that the longer we let it go unswatted, the more trouble it will cause for us—most recently, by arming Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon in an attempt to provoke a conflict between Israel and Lebanon.

"The Troops Have Moved On," Owen West, New York Times, May 29 We are at the outset of a long war, and not just in Iraq. Yet it is being led politically by the short-sighted, from both sides of the aisle. The deterioration of American support for the mission in Iraq is indicative not so much of our military conduct there, where real gains are coming slowly but steadily, but of chaotic leadership.

Somehow Operation Iraqi Freedom, not a large war by America's historical standards, has blossomed into a crisis of expectations that threatens our ability to react to future threats with a fist instead of five fingers. Instead of rallying we are squabbling, even as the slow fuse burns.
One party is overly sanguine, unwilling to acknowledge its errors. The other is overly maudlin, unable to forgive the same. The Bush administration seeks to insulate the public from the reality of war, placing its burden on the few. The press has tried to fill that gap by exposing the raw brutality of the insurgency; but it has often done so without context, leaving a clear implication that we can never win….

No one was more surprised that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction than the soldiers who rolled into Iraq in full chemical protective gear. But it is time for the rest of the country to do what the military was forced to: get over it….

Soldiers are sick of apologizing for a sliver of malcontents who are not at all representative of the new breed. But they are also sick of being pitied. Our warriors are the hunters, not the hunted, and we should celebrate them as we did in the past, for while our tastes have changed, warfare—and the need to cultivate national guardians—has not.

2. Latin America's Little Caesar Gets Smaller Would-be Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, fueled by a windfall of oil money, has been trying to resurrect Communism in Latin America, but it looks like his effort is failing. His ally in Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez-Obrador, has been faltering in the polls, as has Peru's Ollanta Humala. Meanwhile, Colombia's pro-American President Alvaro Uribe has just been resoundingly re-elected.

That leaves Chavez with only one success in South America: the tiny, impoverished, landlocked, and strategically insignificant nation of Bolivia. Thanks to TIA Daily reader Gary Ware for recommending this link.

"Defeat Looms for Chavez's Allies," Sally Bowen, Times of London, May 28 "The revolutionary dreams of Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, are facing a setback in two Latin American elections where voters are poised to reject the candidates who have embraced the anti-American nationalism espoused by the strongman of Caracas.

President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia is coasting to re-election today despite criticism by Chavez of his co-operation with the United States in fighting drug trafficking and paramilitary groups.
In Peru, Chavez’s outspoken support for Ollanta Humala, an ultra-nationalist former army officer, appears to have backfired. Humala’s moderate leftist opponent Alan Garcia, the former president, has capitalised on irritation with Chavez’s “interference” to move 12 points ahead in the latest opinion poll before next Sunday’s presidential vote….

Chavez may in any case be obliged to concentrate on problems at home. Despite bumper revenues from high oil prices, Venezuela’s central bank said last week that it had lost $142m (£76m) in the first four months of this year, largely because Chavez’s administration had overspent.

3. Irrational Middle Ground on Immigration House Republicans have gone from being "berserk" in their opposition to immigration (the state of mind Texas Representative John Culberson projected onto his constituents) to being on the verge of panic—according to John Fund in the article below—over losing elections to immigration "restrictionists" (the new, polite term for nativists).

Unfortunately, this is causing Mike Pence to propose a compromise between the House and Senate immigration bills. President Bush has called for a "rational middle ground" on immigration. Well, this counts as an irrational middle ground, combining draconian border enforcement with a totally unworkable "guest worker" program that would ask millions of existing immigrants to "report to deport."

"Is Cannon Fodder?," John Fund, Wall Street Journal, May 30 Timing is everything in politics. Late next month, just as the conference committee that will decide the fate of an immigration bill gets down to business, a GOP primary for a Utah House seat in the country's most conservative congressional district may set the boundaries for any legislation that has a chance of passing both the House and Senate.

Illegal immigration is the key issue in the race, and should five-term incumbent Rep. Chris Cannon of Provo lose to a restrictionist challenger, look for House Republicans to dig in their heels and block any bill that creates a path to citizenship for illegal aliens.

"House Republicans are already spooked about immigration, and should one of our own lose on the issue, you will see panic break out," one GOP congressman told me. At the same time, several GOP pollsters, led by Whit Ayres, say their surveys show it is vital that Republicans pass some immigration bill this year to prove they can govern.

That's why it's good news that the glimmer of a workable compromise surfaced this week, courtesy of Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, head of the Republican Study Committee, a group of 115 conservative House Republicans. Mr. Pence, proud grandson of an Irish immigrant, says the only bill that can pass in this year's hothouse environment may have to be one that couples stiffer border enforcement with a no-amnesty guest-worker program.

His proposal…would have the US government contract with gold-standard private employment agencies such as Kelly Services to establish offices called Ellis Island Centers in countries that supply the most illegal alien labor today. The centers would provide an incentive for illegals to leave the country and apply for guest-worker visas in the US that would be granted within a week by matching workers with jobs employers can't fill with American workers. They would also make criminal and other background checks. Guest workers would be able to apply for citizenship, but they would have to follow current rules with no favoritism over those now waiting legally in line.

"It would encourage illegal aliens to self-deport and come back legally as guest workers," says Mr. Pence.

4. The Age Of Big Brother Dawns In America. I've been arguing for a long time that the efforts of so-called "small-government conservatives" won't amount to much until they can look beyond the tiny quantity of "pork-barrel" spending and roll back the programs that make up by far the largest portion of the federal budget: the "middle-class entitlements" of Social Security and Medicare. That is precisely the implication of this USA Today article.

If the liabilities of these programs are the biggest fiscal crisis facing the nation—dwarfing the federal budget deficit and the sum total of all private debt—how come this is not the most urgent domestic political debate right now? How come it is a political debate that was dropped last year and has been ignored—by both parties—ever since?

"Retiree Benefits Grow into 'Monster'," Dennis Cauchon, USA Today, May 24 Taxpayers owe more than a half-million dollars per household for financial promises made by government, mostly to cover the cost of retirement benefits for baby boomers, a USA TODAY analysis shows.

Federal, state and local governments have added nearly $10 trillion to taxpayer liabilities in the past two years, bringing the total of government's unfunded obligations to an unprecedented $57.8 trillion.

That is the equivalent of a $510,678 credit card debt for every American household. Payments on this delinquent tax bill must start soon if financial promises to the elderly are to be kept….

Americans' government obligations are five times what people owe for mortgages, car loans, credit cards, and other personal debt. The $57.8 trillion liability is the amount that government needs now, stashed away and earning interest, to generate enough cash to pay future obligations. The obligations are valued in today's dollars and come due as early as in a few days, when Treasury bills mature, to as long as 75 years for Social Security and Medicare….

"These numbers show our long-term financial problems are even greater than our short-term ones," says Ed Lorenzen, policy director at the Concord Coalition, which promotes fiscal responsibility.

5. Chicago Loots Wal-Mart Stores It was in Atlas Shrugged that Ayn Rand identified the pattern of the left's relationship to the productive enterprises that move the world: they want to destroy the wealth-creators, while still benefiting from the wealth they create. That is the relationship most large cities have with the nation's largest retailer, Wal-Mart: when they're not trying to prevent Wal-Mart from building stores, they're looting those stores.

Hence, Chicago has passed a new law, aimed directly at Wal-Mart and a few other big retailers, creating a higher minimum wage and mandated benefits just for those employers—as a special punishment reserved for the most successful businesses.

"In Chicago, New Pay Law Is Considered for Big Stores," Gretchen Ruethling, New York Times, May 28 Chicago may become the first city in the nation to require "big box" retailers like Wal-Mart or Home Depot to pay employees a "living wage" of at least $10 an hour plus $3 an hour in benefits.

So far, 33 of 50 City Council members have signed on to the proposed ordinance—more than enough to pass it, perhaps as soon as next month.

The bill would affect only stores that have at least 75,000 square feet and are operated by companies with at least $1 billion in annual sales, allowing smaller retailers to continue with the state minimum wage of $6.50 an hour.

"This is an effort to try to preserve the middle class," said Joe Moore, an alderman from the North Side who sponsored the measure. Mr. Moore called the notion that it would drive retailers out of the city "hogwash."

But others say the measure will scare off employers.

"Don't let me be the experiment," said Emma Mitts, the alderwoman in the poor and mainly African-American neighborhood of Austin on the West Side, where the city's first Wal-Mart is scheduled to open this year. "Not at a time when my community needs these jobs so badly."

6. The Tamed Beast I have described religious fanaticism in the West as a "tamed beast." Here's an example: Judge Roy Moore, the Bible-thumping former judge famous for defying a higher court's order to remove a Ten Commandments monument at his courthouse, can't even get elected in Mississippi—deep in the heart of the Bible Belt. If you can't promote even a watered-down theocracy in Mississippi, where can you do it?

(I say a "watered-down theocracy" because Moore seems to invoke God and the Bible for practically all of his political positions, yet he still can't help but to keep quoting Thomas Jefferson—a tireless opponent of established religion and a man of such highly unorthodox, Deistic religious beliefs that his contemporary political opponents derided him as "the infidel Mr. Jefferson.")

Similarly, the New York Times carried an interesting little overview on the role of God in the movies. Echoing my recent observations on The Da Vinci Code, the Times concludes: "Institutional religion is often villainous here, while genuine matters of faith are given the familiar Hollywood bromide treatment." In short, religion in America, for good and ill, is for most people a stale bromide.

It's for ill because, like all bromides, religious doctrines have been exempted from independent criticism and rational evaluation. It's for good because religious dogmas in the West are a stale, lifeless bromide, incapable of rousing most people to violent action.

For a contrast, observe the actions of a religion that still has a strong, violent, fanatical wing—and no, I'm not talking about Islam this time. It turns out that there is a "Hindu fundamentalist" movement that is protesting against secular government in Nepal and violently attacking Christians in India.

"'So Help Me God'," Kyle Wingfield, Wall Street Journal, May 27 Most politicians would kill for—or spend millions of dollars to acquire—the name recognition Roy Moore has in Alabama. Not necessarily the kind of name recognition, mind you. Just the level.

That's because here, and across the country, he's known not just as Roy Moore, but as "Roy Moore, Ten Commandments Judge"…. It's a moniker that wins him automatic support in some quarters, and deafens ears before he even opens his mouth in others. And as he runs for the Republican nomination for governor in his native state, that notoriety is both a blessing and a curse….

"Every function of government is related" to the acknowledgment of God, he says. "For example, an understanding of God leads to an understanding of the fallen nature of man, which leads to the separation of powers, checks and balances…."

In some ways, his platform could belong to just about any small-government conservative. But if you're starting to wonder what all this has to do with God, and whether Mr. Moore has lost support because he's strayed from his religious message, consider how he addresses these topics.

His arguments for limited government portray this political philosophy as the only one for those who believe in God. He quotes Jefferson: " 'Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.'…"

7. Human Achievements
The Atomic Bomb
"Every Memorial Day and Veterans Day, I am especially grateful for one human achievement in particular: the Atomic Bomb.

"The Manhattan Project, led by J. Robert Oppenheimer, included some of the best minds that the field of physics has ever seen. Oppenheimer, Einstein, Fermi and others on the project knew their enemy and knew what was at stake. Years of effort finally bore fruit when 'On Monday, July 16, 1945, at 5:29:45 a.m., the first atomic device detonated at the Trinity Test Site.'

"A little over two weeks after the success at the Trinity bomb site in New Mexico, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki were destroyed by atomic bombs. On August 14, 1945, Japan surrendered and World War II was over.

"It was estimated that anywhere between 500,000 and one million allied soldiers would have died if Japan had been invaded. And if Okinawa was any guide, the number of Japanese deaths would have been almost twenty times greater.

"In 1945, a 23-year-old F6F fighter pilot who was attached to the (second) aircraft carrier Lexington was training for the invasion of Japan. But thanks to 'Little Boy' and 'Fat Man,' he lived to have two children and a successful career as a structural engineer.
"That fighter pilot was my father."
Ah, maybe it's the northern girl in me that just can't quite handle the blaring heat of a southern summer, but I can't seem to pass up a great photograph of a cooling woodland path. Unless it is as hot and humid as a tropical jungle, any woodland path has a cooling effect. The smells of a forest—mosses and damp earth—are so much more cooling than the dusty aromas of a parched landscape or city. Then add to that the cooling effect of the shade and the sound of trickling or rushing water and you're well on your way to a cooling effect. To top it all off, every breeze is amplified by the rustling leaves so that even the slightest bit of air movement is brought to your full attention.

But while enjoying the cooling effects of a woodland path are easy, taking a good photograph in the woods is not always as simple. This photographer accomplishes his task by making the waterfall the focal point of his photograph. As far as we can tell, it might start up in the sky, but it falls and cuts across the frame of the image from upper right to lower left. In the foreground, our eyes are drawn to the rushing water as it splits and rushes between the many mossy rocks.
But to top it off, this photographer has also captured the effect of standing in the woods. We see dappled sunlight highlighting the foreground mossy rocks while the rocks along the left side of the image remain shrouded in shade. And throughout the forest we see many lush greens. But our eyes are drawn to the backlit, bright yellowish-green leaves along the upper part of this photograph. These little leaves glow in the dappled sunshine, tempering a dazzling day of summer sunshine into a delightfully dappled afternoon.

No comments: