Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How Will The Terrorists Hit Us Next?

Now that we've cleared the air on terrorists and profiling (we did, didn't we?), let's move on to a topic that's on many people's minds. As we discussed, Al Qaeda and the other terrorist groups are highly adaptive. That's one reason why any profiling is limited in scope and temporary in nature. We have to know what might be coming next.

Terrorism experts and just plain folks know that we have to be prepared for something different after each terrorist success or failure. Hijacked airliners, high explosives set off just outside or just inside compounds (embassies and military bases), the small boat attack on the USS Cole, airliners flown into skyscrapers, letter bombs, shoe bombs, and underwear bombs. As soon as we were on the watch for a certain type of attack, the terrorists changed their tactics. The strategy has never changed--to kill Westerners and Israelis in order to terrify them into submission.

So the facts are that even though previous methods will undoubtedly be used again, we must also try to think ahead of the terrorists and figure out what they might try next. Even the planned car bomb attack in Portland was a good example of old tactics, different cast and crew. A Bush II Homeland Security adviser said: "Al Qaeda's game plan is to create panic, damage our economy, and make us weaker. Was the attack in Mumbai, India, a rehearsal for something here?"

That's a good question. And in support of Andrew Price's position, it's likely that a newly-radicalized non-Arab or two will probably be the ones who try to pull it off. Official or unofficial, Arab male Muslims are being profiled, so the adaptive Al Qaeda is likely to find someone who doesn't fit the standard profile. We must be equally adaptive and watching for attacks to come from a previously-unsuspected quarter. As poor as the current administration's border security is, it is still getting harder to smuggle a foreign terrorist into the country. Why bother? There are always plenty of disaffected and disturbed people born and raised here, and they don't have to be Muslim to be used. And the rules regarding natural-born and naturalized American citizens are quite a bit more restrictive than investigating non-citizens and foreigners.

Although I don't intend to make too much of it, there has been a small but growing community of Muslim-Americans who will swallow their pride and even eschew family loyalties when it comes to mass murder. The Portland wannabe bomber is just the most recent example. Terrorism expert Clare Lopez feels that we have not expended sufficient effort on reaching out to these communities. She says: "I want to see more American Muslims break ranks and speak up in their own communities condemning sharia-justified violence."

As we know, concurrent with the Portland bomb attempt (or nearly so), there was a rash of attempted airline bombings using cargo instead of people to deliver the explosives. A lesser-known incident involved an airline passenger's luggage with a cell phone taped to a Pepto-Bismol bottle and multiple receiving cell phones and watches all taped together. Clumsy and unsuccessful, but it's another attempt to terrify. So the latest reaction from former Bush II Homeland Security Advisor Fran Townsend is to institute a worldwide 100% scanning of all luggage and cargo. It sounds good, but the technology is not yet widely available and would cause chaos for the airlines. But she at least recognizes that this is something for the (near) future, and that private enterprise must be heavily involved in the effort.

Finally, there are the genuine and horrifying threats that we have not yet faced--dirty nukes and chemical/biological attacks. But I guarantee you that someone, somewhere out there is doing everything possible to stage just such an attack. Even back in the late 60s and early 70s, there was the widespread recognition among investigative agencies that a very small amount of LSD introduced into the water supply of a major city could wreak immense havoc. While we're looking for traditional improvised explosive devices, there is some smart, amoral, college student or professor of physics and chemistry figuring out how to hit us with a weapon of mass destruction.

Several terrorist nations who are busily building nuclear facilities (Iran and North Korea come to mind) are also notoriously lax in their control over fissionable material. Old Soviet biochemical weapons are missing and unaccounted for. While Homeland Security is busy shutting down websites that they deem dangerous for stealing copyrighted materials, they are not busy enough monitoring materials which may be coming in from foreign nations which support terrorism. Imagine Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood getting hold of a few of those beauties. Are you listening, Ms. Napolitano? And with professors like William Ayers teaching at our universities, I hope they're paying a lot of attention to the physics and chemistry labs. But with a President who wants to see Ayers get professor emeritus status, I have my doubts.

One thing that most of the terrorism experts agree on is that the best defense is a good offense. So far, reacting has saved us at the last minute, but we can't continue to act like we're in an episode of Perils of Pauline. As one expert put it: "We must get on the offensive, attacking them and keeping them off-balance." Every minute the senior terrorists have to spend looking over their shoulders for the next American incursion is time they don't have to keep planning more new and even more terrible attacks.

It is my profound hope that the new Republican House will wake the administration up to the need for taking the offense and tracking down terrorists in their lairs. The House (and to a lesser extent, the Senate) have been told by the public to get the economy back in gear. A devastating attack on a major city is not an unrelated matter. The 9/11 attack dealt a terrible blow to the economy, but those were better economic times. An attack of similar magnitude, or worse yet several concurrent attacks, could bring an already-weakened economy to its knees. National security is not an issue complete and isolated in its own niche. It is a vital part of the American economy and must be treated as such.
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1979-1980/2010-2012. . . History Repeating?

Ronald Reagan became President at a low point for the United States. Our economy was failing, our military was neglected, our politics were poisonous, and our nation was demoralized. Over the next few years, Ronald Reagan turned all of that around. But even before Reagan brought us Reaganomics, Margaret Thatcher was beating Reagan to the punch, with similar stunning results. Well, our two countries feel a lot like 1979 again, and once again the British are showing us the way out of this mess.

In two short years, the Democrats have made a royal mess of our country. They’ve wasted trillions of dollars we could not afford, they’ve created what appears to be a permanent structural deficit, they’ve demoralized our foreign policy, they’ve disgraced our political system, and they’ve put the public on the verge of revolt. Labor did the same thing to Britain. But Britain is now turning this around.

When the British replaced their Labor government with a Conservative/Liberal coalition, few expected much in the way of reform. The Conservatives were led by David Cameron, who seems more like an effete elitist than a reputable leader. Indeed, his claim to fame before being elected was to rid the Conservatives of most of their ideology and to turn them into Tony Blair impersonators. His coalition partners, the Liberals, are a confused jumble of socialists and civil libertarians. That’s hardly the recipe for daring achievements. Yet, that is exactly what they are doing. Consider this:

1. Facing a $245 billion deficit (11.4% of GNP), the government issued a dramatic budget containing previously unthinkable cuts. Government agencies will be cut by 19% on average, 500,000 government jobs will be eliminated, welfare benefits will be cut, a middle class child credit will disappear, the retirement age will rise from 65 to 66, college tuition and train fares will rise, and so on. The only two errors were to exempt the National Health Service from cuts and to increase spending on foreign aid.

This is an incredible budget for a coalition that can hardly be called fiscal hawks and whose members range from both fringes to the squishy middle. So when our media is throwing up their hands trying to explain why not one penny of federal spending can be cut, keep Britain's example in mind. This is a blue print for the United States.

2. The government plans to cut overall immigration from 196,000 a year to below 100,000 by 2015. To achieve that, they’ve just imposed a 20% cut in the number of non-Europeans allowed to work in the U.K., cut the number of visas granted to foreign students, and will impose a minimum standard for English proficiency on marriage visas.

The focus on student visa (which account for 60% of immigration) is the result of many “students” coming to England but not actually working on degree programs, and of concerns that some “schools” are simply schemes to exploit student visas to get immigrants into the country -- and which may provide a gateway for terrorists to enter the U.K. Thus, the new government also will begin stringent background checks into the credentials of schools that offer visas to overseas students, and will give a preference to students in degree programs.

3. The government is completely reforming British schools. For example, they are dismantling the system put in place by Labor where students could get non-academic qualifications (like certificates in “sports leadership”) as a substitute for traditional subjects. They will grade schools on the performance of their students in English, math, science, history or geography, and a modern or ancient language. Moreover, teachers will need to pass math and English aptitude tests. Principals will be given more powers to restrain violent pupils, put students in detention, and search them for mobile phones. Also, about 400 schools will be taken over. Further, they have introduced a program to train soldiers to become teachers with the idea that they have the experience to teach students and to improve classroom discipline. Finally, they are planning reforms to “drive out ‘trendy’ learning methods” brought in under Labor.

That’s not a bad start for a coalition that wasn’t supposed to do much of anything, and it is a lesson for our country. Right now, people are ready for a radical remake of the current system. They don’t want to hear, “we don’t know how to cut the budget.” They don’t want fake 10 year plans where the cuts never come. They don’t want public sector employees to keep getting raises and untouchable jobs when their own jobs are hanging by a thread. They don’t want unchecked immigration. And they don’t want to double down on the liberal stupidity that has ruined the public schools.

If a coalition of quasi-Euro-socialists, actual socialists, and libertarians can do this, then so can the Republicans. It won’t happen until Obama is gone in 2012, but it’s time to start now and to fully implement what we start when the new Republican president takes office in 2012. Anyone promising less than that, need not apply.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Portland: It's For Terrorists

One of the bigger stories this weekend, at least until Wikileaks decided to add a little chaos to the world, was brought to us by Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a 19 year old Somali-born U.S. citizen. On Friday, Mohamud tried to blow up a packed public Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon. No thanks to Portland, he did not succeed.

First, let’s look at the bomber. This will shock liberals, but he’s a monster. He didn’t turn to bombing as a last resort or to free his people and he wasn’t forced into this by economic duress. He comes from an upper-middle class home and he simply likes killing. Said Mohamud of what he was trying to achieve: “I want whoever is attending that event to leave, to leave either dead or injured.” Why? What motivated him? Well, said Mohamud:
“You know what I like to see? Is when I see the enemy of allah then, you know, their bodies are torn everywhere. It’s gonna be a fireworks show. . . New York Times will give it two thumbs up. . . do you remember when 9/11 happened when those people were jumping from skyscrapers? I thought that was awesome.”
What does this tell us? This tells us he has no regard for human life. Indeed, he gets a kick out of seeing people die. It also tells us that he sees anyone who is not a Muslim as an enemy of allah and he believes that entitles him to kill them -- so much for the “religion of peace” and so much for the standard liberal trope: “they’re just like us, they’ve just been forced to become violent.”

Secondly, let’s look at Portland. One of the most interest facets of this was the non-involvement of Portland in this arrest. Prior to this event, Portland voted 4-1 to refuse to let its police officers work with the FBI’s counter-terrorism task force because the FBI would not guarantee that it would comply with Portland’s anti-discrimination measures. And while Portland claimed this was a matter of principle, it more likely than not was the result of the Portland city council assuming they were safe from terrorism and that they could therefore put asinine political statements above the safety of their people.

And it was exactly this appeasement that attracted Mohamud to Portland. Indeed, when he was asked why he chose Portland as a target, he told the FBI that Portland has lax law enforcement because people do not “see it as a place where anything will happen. People say, you know, why anybody wants to do something in Portland, you know. It's on the west coast, it's in Oregon; and Oregon's like, you know, nobody ever thinks about it.”

Clearly, liberals cannot escape the wrath of Islam by being cowards and pretending they aren’t part of America’s war on terrorism. But then, the rest of us knew that. Just ask the Spanish. FYI, Portland is now reconsidering helping the FBI, but to save face they are claiming the decision is being made because they trust the FBI under Obama, which they did not do under Bush.

Finally, let’s look at how he was caught. The FBI began investigating Mohamud when they received a tip from his parents that they were concerned about him. Beginning around the age of 15, Mohamud began speaking of becoming a martyr. At that point, they became concerned. Said one member of the 8,000 strong Somali community in Portland, “Before this happened, the father informed Homeland Security and the FBI that something was going on with his son. This a good family. The father is an engineer at Intel. This is not somebody who is on public assistance. He is a family man, a businessman, a religious man, a soccer player.” (Insert soccer violence joke here.)

After receiving court permission, the FBI monitored his e-mail and found that he was communicating with someone in Pakistan, with whom Mohamud was talking about “preparing for violent jihad.” In June 2010, the FBI put him on a no-fly list, which kept Mohamud from flying to Alaska. The FBI then moved in with agents and befriended him. They provided him with a fake bomb. He drove the vehicle with the bomb to the Portland ceremony. They watched him punch in the cell phone code that would have set the bomb off, and they arrested him. That’s an excellent investigation.

There are several interesting points to this. First, it’s becoming clear that the only way to catch terrorists is to get the assistance of people in the community and then to infiltrate terrorist cells and befriend terrorists. All the rest, is just window dressing. . . “security theater.” In fact, this has always been true historically, but people never learn from history.

Secondly, it’s clear that what is causing this wave of terrorism has nothing to do with US policy or US excesses. These idiots are being swept up in a mania that is being pushed by a violent religion that chooses to separate humanity into two classes -- believers, who deserve goodwill, and infidels, to whom you can do anything. Until that changes and Islam comes out of the dark ages and renounces this two-tier world, people like Mohamud will continue to justify their hate with Islam.

Third, Portland got very lucky here. And if he had succeeded, the blame should rightly have fallen on their city council and every other city like Portland that seeks to coddle terrorists and interfere with efforts to fight terrorism. Appeasing the Hitlers of the world only gets people killed.

So let’s congratulate the FBI and the parents, let’s condemn Portland, and let’s hang the monster.

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California Elected The Senator It Deserves

Shown is California's re-elected Senator Barbara Boxer. Post-election, she felt she could let her hair down. Unfortunately, that seems to be the only thing that was holding the rest of her face up. Either that or they ran out of prune juice at the Senate commissary. In any event, Babs is getting back up to speed very quickly. Her high and mighty majesty's latest pronouncement proves it.

Wishing to bring a bit of San Francisco to our military, Boxer has compared Bill Clinton's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military with the policies of a gang of totalitarian regimes. Speaking to her good buddy Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut: "We now stand with this rule with countries like Iran, North Korea and Pakistan in banning gays and lesbians from military service. Now our brave young men and women fight alongside allies like Australia, the United Kingdom and others who allow gays and lesbians to serve openly. Let's not stand with Pakistan, and with North Korea and Iran. It's just wrong."

Well, I don't have a quarrel with not standing with Pakistan, North Korea and Iran on much of anything. But I get a little lost on exactly how our treatment of gays in the military is anything like theirs. Muslim Iran and Pakistan have some rather draconian methods of dealing with gays--in or out of the military. And loony tunes Kim Jong Il said of America that it is part of the "popular gay culture in the West, which many perceive to embrace consumerism, classism and promiscuity." But he only kills gays when they don't laugh at his great sense of humor.

I'm not persuaded either way about gays and lesbians serving in the military, though I lean towards allowing them to live their own lives outside of military facilities and battlegrounds and keep their equipment in their pants while on duty (which is the same attitude I have towards straights in the military). Don't ask, don't tell seems a bit silly to me anyway, since any military personnel who exhibit the traditionally stereotypical caricature of homosexuals aren't going to have to tell anyway. Still, in the long run, I would accept the decision of the non-political officers and enlisted personnel before I would impose any drastic policy on our entire military.

As it stands now, our military simply doesn't prohibit gays and lesbians from serving in the military. Behave like a good soldier and nobody's going to rat you out. On the other hand, if you are so incapable of controlling your sexual impulses that you have the need to define yourself by whom you sleep with, perhaps the military is not a good career choice. Don't ask, don't tell was not instigated to keep gays out of the military. It was a compromise reached when Clinton overstepped his bounds (as Obama and Boxer wish to do now) by replacing prevailing opinion among the military (and probably a moderate majority of non-military civilians) with campaign promises, electoral pandering, and political-correctness. In other words, its express purpose was to allow gays into the service so long as they didn't make a big deal of being gay.

Furthermore, after nearly two decades of don't ask, don't tell, many enlisted men and commissioned officers are gay (just as they likely always were), and anyone who believes that their fellow service men and women don't know or care is being very naive. Every special favor done for gays in the civilian sector has resulted in at least an increase in flamboyantly sexual demonstrativeness that would otherwise have been moderated. Now if we're talking about a sales clerk at Macy's, it simply isn't that much of a problem. In fact, it might be a plus. But we're talking about the military where uniformity of behavior and absence of constant sexual innuendo is a necessity.

Still, wherever you stand on gays in the military, Boxer has just raised the stakes. She left Saudi Arabia out of her false parallels, thereby not mentioning that the punishment for homosexuality is a quick beheading. Even the New York Times made note of that distinction between Muslim and Western nations (including even the backwards old United States). Boxer seems to have a need for extreme rhetoric to avoid awakening America to the fact that her stand on the matter is nothing more than more forced social experimentation in the worst possible place. The current system works for both gays and straights, so why mess with success?

There are those who suggest that Boxer should think before opening her big mouth. They have apparently not seen the picture of what Boxer looks like when she tries that. Her personal petty self-image problem, her hysterical pronouncements, and her need to force her ultra-liberal personal beliefs on an unwilling military are all signs that both Boxer and more than 50% of California voters are at least a little psychotic.

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Abuse Of Power: Feds Seize Websites

I am a long-time critic of the use of government criminal power to do the bidding of private interest groups. This weekend showed again exactly why. The Department of Homeland Security. . . which can’t seem to keep terrorists from boarding airplanes with bombs, can’t secure our ports, can’t secure our borders, and can’t catch or convict a single terrorist except by pure luck. . . spent its weekend doing the bidding of the Recording Industry Artists of America (RIAA) and undermining our judicial system.

I’ve spoken about the RIAA and my disgust for their tactics before. They are an organization that tried to create a monopoly on music, tried to stand in the way of innovation, and when that failed, they lobbied (successfully) to upturn a thousand years of jurisprudence, by eliminating ideas like “innocent until proven guilty” and “the right to face your accuser,” and used the power they obtained to extort money out of average people in the hopes of terrorizing people into stopping file sharing. Their targets have ranged from individual users, to parents, to colleges, to employers, to ISPs. . . guilt or innocent hasn’t mattered to them.

Well, now they’ve got Homeland Security doing their dirty work for them. This weekend, Homeland Security shut down at least 72 websites and seized their domain names because they have been accused of file sharing. There has been no conviction, no hearing, no warning. . . just the accusation.

What’s more, not all of the websites shutdown were even accused of file sharing. One website, Torrentfreak was essentially a search engine. It neither hosted copyright material nor did it directly link to copyrighted material. Instead, it linked to sites that linked to file-sharing material. In other words, this would be like shutting down Google because you can use it to find sites that offer illegal material.

Three things are worrying about this.

First, this is not something Homeland Security should be wasting their time on. Their primary mission is to protect us, i.e. to keep the homeland secure. Working on side issues like this is a distraction from the mission that they are already not doing very well.

Secondly, it troubles me greatly that they have converted what is a private matter between two parties, i.e. copyright infringement, into a criminal offense with the full power of the federal government coming down on the side of the politically connected. There are thousands of claims of infringement of varying degrees and with various levels of merit each year, is Homeland Security to start shutting down tens of thousands of websites each year?

Moreover, what happened to proving guilt? There was no trial in this instance. Even worse, there was no right to face the accuser and no right to appear in court to challenge the ruling or present counter-evidence. This was essentially a raid done on the basis of probably cause. Anyone who knows anything about the criminal justice system knows that “probably cause” is synonymous with “the accuser’s suspicion.” This is the most easily abused legal standard imaginable.

Letting the authorities seize websites and shut them down without a conviction is deeply troubling. Our court system is the only thing protecting us from an overreaching government. And the fundamental cornerstone of our court system is that you have the right to appear and to challenge the evidence against you. The system Homeland Security and RIAA are exploiting, however, is a system based on the principle of “guilty until you can get a trial date to prove yourself innocent.” That’s unAmerican.

Finally, it is very disturbing that all of this is being done to please a highly-connected political lobby. This was not done to protect the public from harm or to maintain law and order. This was done because the RIAA has been unable to stop file sharing by extorting money from the public (a process proven to be much abused by RIAA), so it wanted to step up the firepower. If we allow this, what’s next?

It is the slipperiest of all slopes when we sell the power to have the federal government’s brutal police power at your beck and call, and when all you need to do to get the government hopping is to swear that you have a suspicion of wrongdoing. Should we let Homeland Security shut down your website because a debt collector claims you haven’t paid a bill? Should we let Homeland Security shut down your website because you failed to pay spousal support? What if you’re giving out advice that might be considered criminal? Bomb making? Sure. But what about a website listing speed traps? What about a website listing how to avoid ObamaCare’s requirements? Do we really want the government doing this?

This is very bad for our country.

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Take The Pledge, You Intolerant Bigot

Leaving San Francisco was one of the great joys in my life. At long last, I wouldn't have to spend most of my day being lectured about being a racist and a bigot simply for having come into existence. Living now in Caliente, in an area that is populated by whites, Mexicans and African-Americans who are too busy working together to waste time talking about tolerance, I thought I had gotten away from the legions of self-righteous hypocrites.

On the other hand, living the solitary life (family aside) I tend to watch a bit more television than in the past. Most of what's on is worthless, so I use the TV for background noise. But there are some shows worth watching, and there is one network that has done an amazing job of producing fun, interesting, thought-provoking fare. That network is USA. Sure, the vast majority of programming is nonsense, but their percentage of good stuff is far better than the networks and less over-the-top than pay cable/satellite channels.

To a greater or lesser degree, the shows I enjoy most and actually watch include White Collar, Royal Pains, Psych, Covert Affairs, In Plain Sight, and my absolute favorite, Burn Notice. For those of you who haven't figured it out by now, I'm not a cultural snob. I can quote Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, and Jefferson with the best of them. But sometimes life needs to be a bit more middle-brow (even low-brow under the right circumstances). So unlike so many of my friends and associates, I freely admit that I am a TV watcher. I laugh at the humor, tear over at the sad parts, and allow myself to be manipulated for those few hours by clever writers.

USA developed a theme a couple of years back called "Characters Welcome." I tended to ignore it because it was the usual pap. They would gather many of their stars together to say things like "I'm half-Mexican, I'm a Jew, I'm a Christian, I'm spiritual, I'm a single father," and other things of no note. In other words, these Hollywood/TV babies thought that all those things made them "characters," when in fact it simply made them Americans. Still, I didn't feel pressured into politically-correct thinking, nor was I either convinced to watch USA shows or refuse to watch them because of their little commercial squibs.

Lately (apparently for a month), the network has developed a new theme: "Characters Unite." The first of what is planned to be an entire month's worth of such feel-good messages was done using one of their pretty-boy stars of dubious sexuality telling us that he has taken the pledge, and wants all of us to join together with him and give up our intolerance. We must cast out our evil demons of bigotry and learn to love and respect each other's religions and beliefs.

Now I grew up with a 2000 year old message from a Jew with long hair who told us "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," and "even as ye do unto the least of these my brethren, ye do also unto me." So I've tried to follow that admonition with a mix of commendable success and terrible failure. Somehow, listening to a rather twisted version of the same message delivered by a vacuous child who was born twenty-five or thirty years after the Civil Rights movement, I am not motivated to rush out to the nearest person not of my race or religion, wear sackcloth and heap ashes on my head, and hug him in a show of slobbery brotherhood.

So what brought this all about? Was it the perfidious Jews practicing their satanic rituals? Or was it the Catholics hiding incendiary bombs sneaking down the street to burn down a Lutheran church? Perhaps it was the evil Buddhists, chanting constantly in order to keep all their neighbors awake at night and unable to function the following day. Maybe it's the Hindus trying to keep us all from having that hamburger at McDonald's lest the slaughtered cow that forms the main ingredient be somebody's grandmother. Or maybe it's all of them joining forces to murder that atheist in his bed. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Apparently, USA knows, but so far they have failed to enlighten us on just who is the perpetrator of this discrimination and who is the victim.

But you can rest your minds about one thing. We know without a doubt that at least one group is guilty of none of this horrible hatred. Islam is, after all, the religion of peace, and we also know that no more than fifty or sixty of them worldwide have ever done anything that violates the rules of that religion of tolerance and love. And joining with the Muslims throughout the world, the USA stars are echoing the loving brotherhood of Mohammed by giving us the following mission statement: "Characters Unite represents a movement committed to combating intolerance and discrimination, and to promoting greater acceptance and mutual respect."

USA will "donate $1.00 to its nonprofit partners for every pledge made during Characters Unite Month." Now doesn't that just warm your cockles? And since USA hasn't actually identified the victims of this massive outpouring of American intolerance, I'm going to assume that one of those "partners" is CAIR (the Council on American-Islamic Relations).

The whole campaign must have formed in the minds of the loving honchos at USA after several rounds of mass murders of American Muslims, uncountable burnings of Muslim mosques nationwide, public stonings of Muslim children, and the horror of group rape of innocent Muslim women in Poughkeepsie, Omaha and Bismarck. For shame, you bigots. You are attempting to wipe out an entire religion--the one that tolerates everyone, keeps women in high regard, and would never consider attacking those of a different faith or of no faith at all. Least of all would the religion of peace consider mass slaughter of civilians who aren't at war with anyone.

The great thing about movie and TV actors is that they see more than just the usual violent acts of bigots. They live such lives of scholarly study and deep introspection that they can see things we mere peasants can't see. Subtlety. They are also motivated to hector us for such massive acts of non-violent (so far) opposition to the building of an Islamic monument right next to the hole in New York City created by a few wacky kids who falsely claimed to be Muslims.

You should all cooperate with USA and their script-reading intellectuals by going to their website and getting that dollar for CAIR by swearing: "I took the pledge against prejudice, intolerance and hate." Just go to the link that says: "Support Characters Unite and spread the word throughout the world." Forget that outdated admonition "go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel." There are bigger fish to fry than what that insignificant bigoted Jew said 2000 years ago. It is time to cling to your olive branches and Korans and abjure all those other intolerant religions.

I'll have to close now so that I can myself take the pledge. I shall then spend the rest of the day speaking to my children and grandchildren about my lifelong mistakes made while I was an unthinking bigot. And as for the subtlety, I shall also point out to them that it was my secret intolerance and hatred of other religions that I cloaked in the misleading words "self-defense." Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. How do you say that in Arabic?

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Break

It's hard to soar with the eagles when you're surrounded by turkeys.

But--HAPPY THANKSGIVING anyway! [+]

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Question: What Are You Thankful For?

To me, Thanksgiving is the quintessential holiday for understanding what makes the American people so great.

This is the day we celebrate our history and our humble beginnings. It is the day we remember that our country of 300 million started as a “country” of less than 50 Pilgrims struggling in the woods in winter (see below). It is the day we recognize how the decisions of the past have led to the abundance of the present and it reminds us that we must strive to improve our futures and our children's futures. It is the day that reminds us that we all came from somewhere else, but now we are united together as one nation. And it is the day to renew our relationships with our friends and our families. Indeed, it is the day to be thankful for everything we have, because it was the labor, the wisdom, and the goodwill of our families, our friends, our neighbors, our countrymen, and our forbearers that made it so.

So as we prepare to take a few days off at Commentarama, tell us what you are thankful for! Happy Thanksgiving!

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Thankless Thanksgiving for Hope-he Changey

It’s a good thing Barack Obama isn’t that interested in American holidays, because he’s having a horrible pre-Thanksgiving. What’s gone wrong? What hasn’t? Let’s run through these in no particular order.

1. Obama’s job approval ratings have hit a disastrous 39%, with more than 50% of Americans (and many more independents) responding that he does not deserve to be re-elected. In fact, right now, he would lose to any Republican, to Glenn Beck, to the corpse of Richard Nixon, or to a syringe of Ebola.

2. Adding to his unpopularity, Obama’s TSA staff chose this week to start groping the public at airports, and they’ve reacted to the public’s outrage by complaining about fat, smelly Americans. Stay classy TSA! What’s worse, Obama flubbed his response and still doesn’t know what to do. . . even though both left and right apparently agree that TSA has gone too far.

3. Anyone remember how we were going to pull all American troops out of Afghanistan in the summer of 2011? Well, that slipped a little. . . to 2014.

4. Bristol Palin apparently will win some dancing competition, and the media has gone so foaming at the mouth with hate, that the public is once again reminded just how insanely hateful the left has become.

5. North Korea chose yesterday to test Obama’s metal by lobbing artillery shells at an ally that is under the protection of US soldiers. And what kind of metal has Obama proven that he possesses? 100% pure aluminum foil. At least this time, Obama recognizes that what Korea did was a very bad thing. . . he just doesn’t know what to do about it.

6. Joe Biden remains his Vice President and is due to say something really stupid, like last Turkey Day. Oh wait, didn’t he just call Obama “daddy” and tell the military that “daddy was going to take the training wheels off” So does that mean Obama’s been an amateur? Or is he implying that the military is the amateur? And how does that make you feel about the big surge that is already underway and which was supposed to save the day?

7. Remember that mosque in New York City? The one that angered everyone except the extreme left? Well, now they’re filing for federal funding. That means you and I will get to pay for this monument to murder, and Obama will be the guy forcing us to cough up.

8. Finally, MoveOn.org wrote the following about Obama: “Remember Barack Obama in 2008? . . . I miss that guy.”

Sounds like it’s going to be an unhappy holiday. I wonder what else could go wrong? Anyone want to bet the Turkey he pardons gets re-arrested in a double homicide within a week?

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Rise And Continuing Fall Of Al Gore

It’s been a bad year for environmentalists. The Earth cooled. Climategate exposed them. And now their Prophet Al Gore has admitted that his push for corn-based ethanol was nothing but pandering to Iowa farmers. In fact, Al Gore seems to keep imploding.

There is little doubt that Al Gore has become a prophet for the environmental movement. In fact, Penn and Teller did an interesting piece where they asked people to describe Al Gore, and to a liberal they all used religious terminology. He was Kool-Aid Obama before Obama.

But the right spotted Al Gore as a charlatan immediately. For one thing, he was known for telling whoppers, like how he invented the internet. But he also showed that he had no qualms with changing his positions to whatever profited him personally. For example, back when he was a mere Senator from Tennessee, sitting in the Senate seat he inherited from his father, Al Gore used to talk about being a tobacco farmer. In fact, he would go around describing how he lovingly planted tobacco plants. This made him sound like a real man of the Earth, which played well in Tennessee. But then he learned that there was more political cache to be earned by being anti-tobacco. So he became the world’s biggest opponent of cigarette companies. . . a position he suddenly claimed to always hold.

At the end of the 1980s, Al Gore adopted environmentalism when he wrote "Earth In The Balance." This was in stark contrast to his ownership interest in Occidental Petroleum or when his family entered the zinc mining business. But he saw environmentalism as his future ticket. So when the opportunity came up, in 1994, he cast the tie vote in the Senate to authorize a subsidized ethanol program in the U.S. This program would eventually spend about $7.7 billion a year to subsidize the production of corn-based ethanol in the U.S.

From the start, everyone knew this program was a bad idea. The environmental value of corn-based ethanol was dubious because the amount of energy required to make this ethanol was only slightly less (or possibly even more) than using oil. A much better alternative was Brazilian sugar-based ethanol, but that would not help US farmers. But since Al Gore wanted to be known as the environmentalist, he wasn't going to let this opportunity pass him by, and he attacked the program's critics as oil-industry stooges. The environmentalists fell in love.

Then Al Gore set about becoming a full-on environmental profit... er, prophet. No, actually, profit is right. For while Al Gore jetted all over the Earth lecturing people about saving the environment, it was soon discovered that he owned a home with the carbon footprint of a small city. And when Al Gore started pushing the idea that people could offset their carbon footprints by buying indulgences, it was discovered that he owned the company that was selling them. Even the offsets he claimed to have purchased himself, were bought from. . . himself. Then Al Gore and Goldman Sachs got into the carbon permit game, trying to buy up carbon permits and using our government to force through a cap and trade scheme that would make these valuable. With the election of the Republicans these things lost more than 90% of their value.

Then a Canadian mathematician (Steven McIntyre) proved that the science behind Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth (specifically his famous hockey stick graph) was fraudulent, and it would produce a hockey stick no matter what data you entered. This was followed by a British judge ruling that Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth contained enough errors that it could not be used as a learning tool in schools. Then the Earth entered a cooling trend that should never have happened according to Al Gore's teachings. This was followed by Climategate, which showed that the whole global warming industry was based on faked data.

Things were not looking good for Al Gore. (Not to mention he was suddenly facing personal problems, like the investigation into possible sex crimes and his surprise divorce.)

And now, Al Gore has admitted that the corn-based ethanol policy that got him started wasn’t a good idea. It has little environmental merit and it created a $7.7 billion a year subsidy that just won’t go away to make room for better environmental programs. . . just as the critics warned. That’s bad. Not to mention that, by diverting all this corn to ethanol, the price of food has been skyrocketing the world over.

But it gets worse because Al also admitted that the only reason he supported this program (which he knew was not a good idea) was that he wanted the votes of farmers in Iowa for his presidential run. In other words, he pushed a policy he knew was bad, while telling us it had benefits it didn’t and unfairly attacking the program's critics, because he knew it would get him votes. Some prophet!

Well, don't worry about poor Al Gore. He's not out of schemes just yet. In fact, he has a new plan for saving the planet that we should all trust: Al wants us to subsidize "second generation ethanol." What do you think are the odds that he already owns stock?

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Off To A Bad START

The Obama administration is pushing hard to pass the latest version of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) before the Senate, which ratifies treaties, becomes less-heavily Democratic in January. The Obama team has been negotiating with Russian President Medvedev, but the real power in Russia is the man in the picture--that smiling crocodile Vladimir Putin. Putin is pictured carrying a Russian sporting/negotiating accessory--a rifle.

President Obama is attempting to rush the treaty through the Senate, and on its face, it's not a bad treaty. But the devil is in the details, and in his rush to gain a badly-needed political victory, Obama has once again promised more than the treaty will deliver. Obama is pictured with a Democratic sporting/negotiating accessory--a big smile.

First--what's good about the treaty. It provides for both countries to monitor and reduce the size of their respective nuclear arsenals. Each would have the right to inspect the other's nuclear facilities. Each side would be limited to 1550 operationally-deployed nuclear warheads. Each would be limited to 700 launching platforms, including variously ICBMs, submarine-launch missiles, and more traditional bombers. In addition, each would be allowed another 100 non-deployed platforms to replace platforms that have become non-operational (for example, a bomber which has crashed).

Given that no human endeavor is ever perfect, and assuming that the Russians would actually comply honestly with the mutual inspection terms of the treaty, what the agreement does is to establish in a more coherent manner the ultimate peacekeeper of the Cold War--M.A.D. (mutually-assured destruction). The numbers of weapons and delivery systems are more than enough to assure that neither side would survive an all-out nuclear exchange in any form resembling a modern civilization.

So what could be wrong with that? If you eliminate the better red than dead antiwar no nukes unilateral disarmament crowd, this seems an ideal arrangement. But it ignores one extremely significant factor. Russia is not notoriously peaceful or humanitarian and its leadership is utterly determined to reestablish the evil empire as the predominant power in the previously-communist East. Obama and the Democrats on the other hand are notorious appeasers, and Obama himself has demonstrated the stereotypical American leftist revulsion at the thought of American nuclear power. Russia seeks domination while Obama seeks comity (or comedy, I'm not sure which).

Still, so far so good. America's delivery systems are still vastly superior to those of any other nation's on earth, including the Russians. Allowing the Russians to catch up makes a certain amount of counterintuitive sense, since MAD remains the ultimate unspoken goal. But--and this is a big one--what good is a state-of-the-art delivery system if the weapons being delivered are not reliable? Russia will willingly reduce its number of nuclear warheads to less than the allowed limit in order to spend and do whatever it takes to produce the best and most modern nuclear explosives possible. Then they will bring their number of warheads back up to the allowed limit.

At the same time, the Obama administration has shown absolutely no resolve to upgrade, modernize and improve America's aging nuclear stock. Why spend money on genuinely operational nuclear warheads when you can spend it on green energy and civilian trials for international terrorists? Nuclear weapons have a shelf-life, and for much of our nuclear arsenal that life is over or very close to it. If all 700 of our launchers are the image of perfection, it means nothing to the enemy if they know that most of our firecrackers will fizzle.

We must remember that Obama's stated strategic goal is not to bring Russia and the United States to nuclear parity, but to attain "a world free of nuclear weapons." You could say he's a dreamer, but he's not the only one. Much of Obama's Democrat-Progressive base dreams that the world will live as one, and in pursuit of that goal, is more than willing to lead the way by allowing America's nuclear capability to deteriorate into near-meaninglessness. Obama may actually succeed in fooling the American people into believing otherwise, but he won't fool the Russians or the Chinese. In fact, they're counting on his false humility and unshakable belief in his own ability to sell snake oil to death adders.

Obama's Nuclear Posture Review from earlier this year disclosed the actual number of American warheads at about 5,100. This was supposed to be the olive branch that would be greeted by a corresponding admission from the Russians. We're still waiting for that response. And at the same time, President Obvious reiterated that America would never launch a first strike unless "we face an extreme national emergency." But once again, that whole show was another way of saying that he is so sure that he can make this work that he'll weaken America's nuclear capabilities before receiving a formal response and genuine numbers from his counterparts in Russia.

There is absolutely no rush to get this treaty ratified, and the Republicans currently in the Senate should do everything in their power to keep the treaty from being ratified without further assurances from Russia and a plan for modernizing of our own nuclear warheads. We've waited over 60 years to reach a coherent and enforceable nuclear reduction treaty with the Russians. We can wait a few more months while plans are made to insure that "equal" actually means "equal," and not "apparently equal." Or as Barry Goldwater joked in 1964, "I don't want our new war cry to be 'damn the torpedoes, we're unilaterally disarmed.'"
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Monday, November 22, 2010

Peek-A-Boo. We Can't See You.

While the various state and federal government agencies carefully sniff out any forbidden display of traditional western religion, these same agencies have tip-toed around even the slightest hint of criticism of Muslim regalia. Political-correctness and government ineptitude are soon going to get some of us killed at airports or aboard airplanes because a little extra attention toward full Middle Eastern garb might--horrors!--be a symbol of the dread ethnic profiling.

Ethnic/racial/religious profiling is a highly useful tool of law enforcement in a dangerous world that is not--I repeat, not--forbidden by the Constitution. If all nine Supreme Court justices tell me otherwise, I will still not change my opinion on the matter. A plethora of muddle-headed decisions allegedly based on 14th and 1st Amendment strictures prove only that judges today are more frequently motivated by political-correctness than by reasoned law. Lincoln and Oliver Wendell Holmes declared that the Constitution is not a suicide pact. Today, judges need to heed that admonition.

The various Muslim versions of the veil (which is not specifically ordered or described with care in the Koran) have produced a major security problem that can't be addressed by touchy-feely religious nonsense. A modest scarf on the head, which may even be wrapped around the chin, is the most the Koran demands in its sensible belief that women be chaste and modest. I may or may not agree with its implementation, but it probably wouldn't be a half-bad idea if men followed the same advice (skipping the head scarf, of course). Still, you and I, and in their heart of hearts even the liberals, know that head scarves and religious freedom are not what has stirred up resentment among Westerners and rigid ideological madness among the left.

First of all, the Constitution forbids excessive government intrusion into religious matters, while at the same time protecting religious practices which do not endanger the rights of other people. Somehow, overweaning courts have variously found that displays of the Ten Commandments, pictures of Jesus, menorahs, crosses and various other non-Muslim religous displays must be rigidly banned from public view. At the same time, they have shown both their ignorance and their cowardice in the face of the onslaught of demands that Muslim women must be covered from head to toe with nothing of the bodies showing as a result of a purposeful misreading of the Koranic dress code. According to the Muslim zealots and their fellow-travelers on the constitutional left, nothing--absolutely nothing--must interfere with this phony religious right.

In order to subordinate women and make them into wrapped presents rather than human beings, sexually-suspect Muslim clergy have read the Koran to require the ridiculous abaya, chador, niqab and my favorite, the burqa. Now if women in Riyadh and Kabul want to go along with that, so be it. If Egypt and Nigeria wish to tolerate this domination and humiliation of women, that's their privilege. But when a full-body covering that is not even properly scriptural runs afoul of the clear necessity of being able to tell who and what is behind the mask, it's time to stop the lopsided protection of Muslim custom and stop tolerating a religious view that endangers American citizens on our own soil.

The current flap over airport screening takes a prominent place in this argument, since past court decisions lead me to believe that regardless of what modifications of the full-body scan and alternative full-body patdown security measures are reached, we will still be stuck with timid law enforcement and a religious exception which will apply to Muslims only. The issue of fully-veiled Muslim women demanding to get drivers licenses and government picture IDs has yet to be fully litigated or fully decided. The complete ludicrousness of these Muslim demands doesn't faze politically-correct fools and illiterate jurists. It's an ID, for crissakes, and how the hell are you going to tell who the person is from that picture?

Crazy Christian cults which require the handling of poisonous snakes as a test of faith are tolerated within their own enclaves, but let's see what happens if one of them decides to bring a Bible, a couple of eastern diamondbacks and a cobra into the Delta Airlines terminal. But at least the snake cult doesn't require the wearing of full-body coverings which could conceal the snakes, nor would airport security or a court accept the reasoning that "it is the will of Jehovah" that the person under the tent not be identified or identifiable.

For that matter, I'd like to see the reaction if the Grand Wizard showed up at JFK Airport in full Klan regalia demanding his right to be clothed from head-to-toe like a pointy-headed ghost because the Aryan Bible requires that he do so. Somehow, I don't think there'd be a a lot of judicial and constitutional head-scratching over that one. So how do we know that after a civilian jury acquits Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the Obama administration grants him asylum, it isn't good ole KSM under that burqa along with fifty pounds of high-explosives? "Don't touch me, I'm one of Allah's virgins," is no substitute for "take that tent off, or we'll take it off for you."

And after we've thought of the obvious, there's a horrendous example of just how dangerously foolish this whole politically-correct religious/ethnic argument can be. What if the person under the tent is not a Muslim, but actually a real live innocent child who has been kidnapped, raped and threatened into silence? And what if a suspicious police officer asks the crazed looking man with her to have her remove the cloth that is covering the child's entire upper body, and the man replies "you can't do that, our religious beliefs forbid anyone seeing our women other than her family and her husband?" And what if the police officer hesitates, then backs away for fear of being punished for being insensitive to the religion of another person? And what if the child then spends months in bondage being raped and tortured until a fluke leads police to her and her captor/rapist?

That's not a hypothetical situation, nor a bar exam question. That exact horror happened to Elizabeth Smart in exactly that manner. A police officer had been alerted to the abduction and possible whereabouts of the kidnapped child. He even had a general description of the pervert who was with her. Brian Mitchell was even courteous enough to look like a stereotypical psycho and his actions in the view of the officer were suspicious as hell. But as soon as the magic words were uttered, the officer abandoned all his training, gut instincts and common sense and let the rapist proceed to leave with the child.

Was Mitchell a Muslim? No. Was the child wearing Muslim garb? No. So not only does this prove that the simple requirement of viewing the face of another human being for security purposes isn't limited strictly to swarthy Middle Easterners nor genuine religious believers, but it proves that political-correctness doesn't just put the lives of crowds in danger. It can just as easily result in the most unimaginable horrors for an innocent child who is now emotionally scarred for life.

In a world without liberals, leftists, self-loathing Americans, and crazed jurists, that police officer would have said "step away from that child and have her remove that cloth covering, or I will beat you to a bloody pulp--with all due respect, sir. You have the right to live, or not, as you choose. If you live through the beating, you have the right to remain silent . . . . "

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Gropegate: TSA Bending To Not Break Their Union

In case you’ve been asleep for the past couple weeks, there’s been a wave of anger building in the public over the new security measures put into place by TSA to screen for terrorists. All signs now point to a policy shift. Why? I’d say it has everything to do with saving the unions. Seriously.

Gropegate began quickly when TSA introduced a new pat-down policy that requires TSA employees to do a police-style pat-down of airplane travelers. No sooner was this policy put into place than people began complaining about being groped by unfriendly TSA staff. As the number of complaints grew, so did the nature of the complaints. Soon we heard reports of TSA staff laughing at people’s genitalia as they went through the full body scan, of children being groped inappropriately, of a woman with a mastectomy being forced to show her prosthetic breasts, of passengers with false limbs being told to remove them, of a bladder cancer survivor ending up covered in their own urine as TSA messed with their medical equipment, etc. etc. Congressional offices were flooded with complaints.

By Sunday morning, pressure was building to the political breaking point, and by Sunday afternoon it had broken. Indeed, Sunday morning, TSA chief John Pistole struck a defiant tone when asked by CNN’s Candy Crowley if he would be willing to change TSA’s pat-down policy to make it less intrusive. He said he would not: “No, not going to change.”

But then Hillary Clinton was asked about the policy on “Meet the Press” and “Face the Nation.” She said that she understands “how offensive it must be” for some people to undergo such searches, and she said there is a need to “strike the right balance. . . to get it better and less intrusive and more precise,” a tacit admission that this policy needs to change.

Obama was asked too, and he said he “understand[s] people’s frustrations.” He then added that, “I'm constantly asking them whether is what we're doing absolutely necessary, have we thought it through, are there other ways of accomplishing it that meet the same objectives.” In other words, Obama is ready to make TSA a fall guy and his resolve to stand firm on this issue is withering under the pressure.

Thus, Sunday afternoon, when Politico asked John Pistole again if TSA might alter the policy, Pistole gave a very different answer: he said, the screening procedures “will be adapted as conditions warrant,” in an effort to make them “as minimally invasive as possible, while still providing the security that the American people want and deserve.” In other words, it’s time for a retreat.

So what brought about this change? More than anything, I would argue it was Obama’s fear that TSA was handing the Republicans an opportunity to crush their employee union.

When TSA was created to handle airport screenings, the Democrats won a substantial victory for government employee unions by ensuring that TSA employees would be unionized. This was supposed to guarantee that TSA got good employees. But of course, that’s not how unionization works. What TSA got instead was an insular culture lacking any oversight by the public. Indeed, its own Inspector General criticized TSA in 2004 for wasting half a million dollars in “unnecessary” award ceremonies at lavish hotels and for giving “lifetime achievement awards” to employees of an agency that had only existed two years. It also gave huge bonuses to its executives, averaging $16,000 more than other federal agencies, and it failed to justify those awards in more than 1/3 of the cases examined by the IG.

Enter Republican John Mica, the ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He criticized the new policy thusly: “I don’t think the roll-out was good and the application is even worse. This does need to be refined.”

What does Mica propose to do about this? He is proposing that airports nationwide drop TSA agents entirely and replace them with private contractors. Under a screening partnership program, 16 of the nation’s 460 commercial airports already have replaced TSA staff with private contractors. Reports are that the private sector staff are more courteous and more professional. They are also cheaper.

Right now, TSA employs 67,000 personnel. A shift to non-unionized private sector personnel would reduce the power of public sector unions by the loss of those members. That’s a huge hit that Team Obama cannot accept politically. But Obama can’t stop privatization because airports have the right to opt out of the TSA program. Thus, he needs to stop gropegate, which is handing the Republicans the perfect reason to push privatization. Consequently, I suspect Obama has decided that to save the TSA employee union, he must change the grope policy, even though he has repeatedly claimed that this policy is essential to protecting the American people.

But before you think I’m accusing him of undermining your safety, I’m not. I’m accusing him of fear mongering and hypocrisy, but not endangerment. The truth is that these gropes do nothing to improve airline safety. If you wanted to smuggle a bomb onto a plane, you could do it as an airport employee, without being groped. Or you could manufacture bombs out of everyday items that pass screenings, or mail them in a package that is likely to be put onto a plane. Or just drive near a runway and hit the plane with a missile. Any of these are just as effective. The point is that if a terrorist really wants to blow up a plane, groping the public won’t stop them. These searches are designed to give the public a false sense of security, to make people think that something is being done to protect them when very little really can be done to stop an intelligent and determined bomber. Thus, backing off on the grope-a-thon won’t lower our security at all.

I guess we should wait and see what excuse Obama gives for backing off?

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Trouble In Paradise

The love-fest in the Democratic caucus which just reelected Nancy Pelosi as House party leader is not the start to an era of good feelings among the Demo left. The Representative from Mars District 1, Dennis Kucinich, has announced he will make a run to unseat current House Oversight and Government Committee Chairman Edolphus Towns.

Now one would think that any Representative who communicates with UFOs would be a shoo-in for a job as future Democrat ranking member on any committee he chooses. But one must never forget the vicissitudes of leftist thinking. Towns has been a very weak chairman since he has neither overseen nor reformed much of anything. That has slowed down the Obama juggernaut unintentionally. The only other serious contender for the spot is Rep. Elijah Cummings, and he has said he will not challenge Towns unless Towns decides on his own to step down.

So what could be the trouble? Simple--Kucinich for all his leftists credentials suffers from insufficient melanin. In other words, he's white, and Towns and Cummings are both black. It is the position of the Congressional Black Caucus (which has not yet decided if it will allow a black Republican into the Caucus) that the senior position on the committee is a "black seat." Now I was surprised to find out that Kucinich is white. I thought Martians came only in green and gray.

Be that as it may, Kucinich has not yet directly attacked the current chairman beyond stating that he simply thinks he could do a better job. Kucinich is very good at knowing how to pick his fights. And one of the oldest tricks in the political and diplomatic worlds is to find a common enemy, and by boldly attacking that enemy, leave behind the inference that the current chairman hasn't attacked the enemy sufficiently. For purposes of this seat, the common enemy is Rep. Darryl Issa (R-CA) who is currently the ranking minority member and presumptive chairman when the House changes hands in January.

In declaring his candidacy via a letter to the committee, Kucinich stated: "Mr. Issa, through his eagerness to make unsubstantiated charges and to draw conclusions in advance of evidence, reveals a lack of restraint and basic fairness. This conduct in the Chairman of the Committee will degrade Congress' oversight credibility and undermine the institution of the House through a lack of restraint in the use of subpoena power."

Kucinich is staking his claim to be the king's champion on the committee in preparation for the expected onslaught of subpoenas calling doctrinaire leftist Democrats before the committee. The first in line is likely to be Attorney General Eric Holder both for his decision to dismiss the Black Panther voter intimidation judgments and his determination against the public will to try terrorists as common criminals in civilian courts. Holder has consistently ignored subpoenas from the US Commission on Civil Rights, but a Congressional subpoena is not as easy to ignore.

Aside from its belief that the chairmanship/ranking member position on the committee is a black seat, the Black Caucus would now have to face the ordeal of a white Congressman protecting the reputation of a black Attorney General (and by association, the president himself). Undaunted, Kucinich states in his letter that he has four basic goals: Zero tolerance for smears and innuendo, encouraging a "team approach" to committee activities, weekly updates for the members to give input, and cooperation with future Chairman Issa (whom he has declared uncooperative).

But for a peacemaking, cooperative, colorblind candidate, Kucinich's own house isn't in very good order. Kucinich staffer (and Capitol Hill regular) Jean Gosa, who is African-American, has lodged complaints about racial tensions in the Kucinich office. This started long before Dear Dennis considered his run against the current chairman. Kucinich's Domestic Policy Subcommittee staff director, Jaron Bourke has been feuding with Gosa rather publicly. And no, that's not Jason Bourne, which is a whole other leftist story. Gosa's fellow staffer, Noura Erakat, has posted as a regular at the Huffington Post, referring to Kucinich's office and Bourke's part in its operations variously as "the plantation," and "slave and overseer."

Then there's the problem with Gosa herself accidentally admitting publicly that she proposed doctoring testimony contained in documents for the committee which were edited and back-dated so as to appear valid and timely in accordance with certain deadlines for submission set by the chairman. Although they refused to be identified, several other staffers both confirmed Gosa's admission and stated categorically that it was impossible for Kucinich not to have known about it.

Not having to worry about offending Kucinich's Ohio constituency, The New York Times allowed reporter Janie Lorber to quote an unnamed committee staffer (not on Kucinich's staff) that "Mr. Kucinich would be a 'wild card,'" and that he was seeking the post only for political gain. The Times didn't include a full disclosure that it has long worked hand-in-glove with the current chairman, who is a New York Democrat representing the 10th District.

I think the whole jolly feud can be summed up by the ancient expression "a falling-out among thieves."
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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Al Gore--Meet Bjorn Lomborg

Al Gore, author of I'm Unbalanced, won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 largely based on his boffo film An Inconvenient Truth. For outright lies, distortions, false facts, jury-rigged evidence, and junk science, it is outdone by Mein Kamp and The Communist Manifesto. But Hitler and Marx neglected to convert their nonsense into box office gold.

Reichsfuehrer of Propaganda Gore wants to gain control of the spoils of the government cap 'n tax scheme which will impoverish America (except for Herr Gore and his fellow schemers). His movie was the best piece of government propaganda since Triumph of the Will. All emotion, triumphalism, mass hysteria, and rah-rah we're the best, with almost zero substance. There's a sucker born every minute, and every damned one of them must have shown up for Gore's movie--including the Nobel Committee.

But just as Triumph of the Will ignored the achievements of Jesse Owens, so An Inconvenient Truth [sic.] ignores another champion. That champion is Bjorn Lomborg. And unlike Owens, Lomborg has produced his own film to counter Gore's junk science movie. It's called Cool It.

Lomborg is not exactly a household word--yet. But his credentials as a reformed global warming enthusiast make him a force to be reckoned with. He knows the enemy camp because he used to be part of it. He knows his science, and he knows how to present it on film. This former Greenpeace activist does something very smart at the beginning of his movie. Before he proceeds to rip Gore's entire thesis apart (including pointing out that the earth has been cooling recently, so the mantra has changed to "climate change"), he introduces the audience to his biggest critics. They first began to attack him after his epiphany and publishing of 2001's The Skeptical Environmentalist. So Lomborg shows a clip of Stanford University Professor of Environmental Studies, Stephen Schneider, solemnly and ominously telling the camera crew that they're "not helping the world " by publicizing Lomborg's dissent.

Lomborg began his journey of learning about global warming the same way I began my journey about gun control. We were both incensed by an author who doubted the wisdom of the prevailing "consensus." Lomborg was sure the global warming scientists were right just as I was convinced that gun control enthusiasts were right. In Lomborg's case it was man-made global warming doubter Julian Simon in his book The State of Humanity. In order to attack Simon, Lomborg brought together a brain-trust of university scientists and students to prove Simon wrong. And much to his surprise, Lomborg found that the deeper and more carefully he delved, the more he found Simon to be correct. His Skeptical Environmentalist was the result.

Lomborg also states early on in the movie that he, like most scientists who don't have professional agendas that require them to think the way their sponsors tell them to think, is not a global warming denier. He simply says that the facts are not entirely clear on whether the earth will continue on a warming course, and more importantly that the real evidence shows that man's contribution to global warming (or "climate change") is statistically insignificant when compared with natural forces over which man has no control--and likely never will.

After establishing his credentials and his theory, he then goes on to the real business at hand--systematically tearing apart all the major assumptions in Gore's movie. He does so from his perspective as the director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, a think tank that devotes its efforts to finding the most cost-effective ways of using government money and assets for fighting global human misery. Needless to say, Lomborg concludes that Cap'n Trade is the worst possible way of doing it. Using that mode of presentation, Lomborg is able to establish that he is not some heartless bureaucrat who ignores poverty, disease, and natural disasters in the name of profit.

He also establishes that he is an environmentalist of the classic sort. Preserve and protect that which clearly needs to be preserved and protected, and use the rest in the most humane and sensible way so as to serve the earth and its people. It is much like the Biblical admonition to be good stewards of the earth. That includes not worshiping the earth as a god (or goddess) and building a religion around it.

He commits the heresy of contradicting "settled science" by proclaiming that the world of human-caused pollution and destruction has actually improved considerably over the past few decades (ask anyone who has lived in Los Angeles long enough to remember how the acidic yellow skies were frequently so noxious as to make it nearly impossible to breathe). He also points out that recent major loss and harm to human life is more the result of lack of preparedness and increased population in dangerous places than it is to human activity. He cites Katrina and Haiti as examples.

As for Katrina, there have been far worse hurricanes, but they didn't cause the huge loss of life and property because people were better prepared to fend for themselves, and human populations hadn't crowded together in large numbers in the middle of a low-lying area know to be in the path of hurricanes and sea surges. So Lomborg doesn't attack environmentalism--just shoddy unscientific environmentalism. Based on his studies in Kenya and Great Britain in which he asked "what would you spend funds on?" he finds that environmentalism of the current hysterical sort is the privilege of wealthy high-tech nations. The Kenyans replied "medical care." The Brits replied "global warming."

Much to my delight, Lomborg also debunks all the myths about Al Gore's favorite mascot--the polar bear. He lays out the statistics that show that polar bear populations have increased dramatically in the past two decades, even if certain isolated areas have seen a decrease. The evidence shows that if the Kyoto Accords had been implemented worldwide, it might have saved one polar bear per year. Lomborg says that if governments really want to have an effect on polar bear populations, they should ban polar bear hunting, and enforce the ban rigidly. Of course my thought was that if they do that, where am I supposed to get that new rug to go in front of my fireplace?

Lomborg concludes that crippling the economies of industrial nations by destroying the current energy infrastructure is a fool's errand. As a cost-benefit analyst, he logically concludes that if you're going to spend government money on improving the environment, spend the money on research and development on renewable energy and let the market take care of the result. He sensibly posits that if "green energy" eventually becomes scientifically superior and more cost-effective than coal and petroleum, people will make that choice without being driven first into bankruptcy by omniscient government bureaucracies.

My only personal objection to the movie is that it doesn't caricature Al Gore more successfully. A few shots of him pocketing millions of dollars earned from scamming the public would have been desirable. Gore is the ultimate hypocrite, decrying profits while making millions (probably even billions) on a dangerously foolish carbon emissions scheme. Gore tells everyone else how they should live in caves with candles instead of electrical appliances while he himself lives in a house bigger than Rhode Island using electricity at the rate of a small European nation.

On the other hand, I'm more than a little envious of Lomborg. The man is an excellent scholar, a fine scientist, and has many accomplishments under his belt. So when he showed up to tout his movie on TV last week, I was sure they had sent in a ringer and gotten his age wrong. Lomborg was wearing a black tee-shirt and looked like a twenty-five year old athlete or model. Is he really 45 years old? Apparently so.
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Friday, November 19, 2010

Top 258: Holiday Films You Should Know

With Thanksgiving upon us next week and Christmas following closely, it’s time to consider holiday movies. But this isn’t as easy as it sounds. For while holidays are some of the most deeply-ingrained aspects of our culture, there seem to be a shortage of significant holiday movies. It’s not as bad as trying to find films about the American Revolution, but it’s pretty close. So let’s call this a Top 8.

What’s interesting about holiday films is how few are actually about the holidays themselves, i.e. few films retell Christmas stories or tell us tales about Pilgrims. That tends to be the domain of television, where you find the likes of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and The Charlie Brown Christmas Special or A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Instead, we seem to consider a movie a holiday film if it takes place during the holidays and it involves “the holiday spirit.”

The holiday spirit consists of a combination of deep sentimentality and some form of redemption. Even the holiday films that aren’t truly sentimental in the strictest sense always end up with a moment near the end where all sins are forgiven, the bad guys are redeemed (as is the misguided hero), the value of family relationships and friendships is extolled, and everything ends happily. Here’s the list:

1. It’s A Wonderful Life (1946): Directed by Frank Capra and staring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, Life is the story of George Bailey, who is prevented from committing suicide when his guardian angel shows him what his family, friends and community would have been like if he had never been born. While this movie flopped when it came out, it’s become the most-loved holiday film and tops almost everyone’s list. “Harry wasn't there to save them, because you weren't there to save Harry.”

2. A Christmas Carol (various): Charles Dickens’ classic tale A Christmas Carol has been made and remade so many times and in so many forms that it’s impossible to pick a single version as the most influential or best. Many people swear by the 1951 British version, while others prefer the 1984 George C. Scott version. Some like Bill Murray’s version in Scrooged. Even It’s A Wonderful Life contains elements of this story. My personal favorite version is The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). In any form however, this is one of the most well-know stories on the planet, and everyone knows each of its elements. “What day is it?” “Why, it’s Christmas Day, sir.”

3. Miracle on 34th Street (1947): Miracle is the story of a department-store Santa who believes he really is Kris Kringle. When they try to institutionalize this Santa for being insane, a young lawyer defends him by arguing that he is the real Santa. In the process, this film points out that a little faith in good things makes all of our lives better. “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.”

4. A Christmas Story (1983): Set in small-town America in the 1950s, this tale of a young boy’s quest to get his hands on a Red Ryder BB gun swims in nostalgia and sentimentalism. This is another film that flopped in the theaters, but got a second life on television. By 2007, this film crawled to the top of several “best holiday film” lists. In fact, the film has became so popular that one cable station now airs a 24 hour Christmas Eve marathon each year, during which they run this film over and over. . . and people watch. “I want an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!”

5. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989): This is possibly the best of the Christmas comedies (see below), and I’ve separated it because this is the one that spawned a generation of holiday movies that took a cynical look at Christmas. Unlike prior, thoroughly-sentimental films, Vacation dug into the love/hate relationship that many people have with the event that is the family Christmas, and it waited until the end before it whipped out the usual sentimentality. “Welcome to our home - what's left of it.”

6. White Christmas (1954): The story of two army buddies who meet their former commander in Vermont amidst a series of romantic mix-ups, this light romantic comedy was based around the song of the same name and was basically a star vehicle for Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney. “There's no Christmas in the Army!”

7. The Bishop’s Wife (1947): The story of an angel (Cary Grant) who comes to Earth to help a bishop (David Niven) who has lost focus on what is important in life as he has become obsessed with building a cathedral. On Earth, Grant finds himself falling for Niven’s wife (Loretta Young). “Sometimes angels rush in where fools fear to tread.”

8. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1997): Not particularly influential, but very popular, Planes is the only Thanksgiving film on our list.Planes is the story of an advertising executive (Steve Martin) who wants to fly home for Thanksgiving, but finds himself stuck with an obnoxious salesman (John Candy) as a traveling companion. Written by John Hughes in three days, this film went on to gross $50 million and remains a television mainstay today. “Those aren't pillows!”

Christmas comedies: Finally, let’s finish off the list with a group acknowledgement for the holiday comedy. Films like Elf, Ernest Saves Christmas, Jingle All The Way, Bad Santa, Home Alone, and The Santa Clause are standard Hollywood comedies that touch upon Christmas in one way or another. There’s little to these films, and they have even less staying power, but they do tend to make money as star vehicles in the year they are made, and the ones listed here have been entertaining enough to stick around for a little. It's hard to say that any of these films is influential, but the genre itself continues to reflect the cynical side of our views of the holiday season.

There are other holiday films we could list and some that are seen as holiday films despite not having any particular holiday theme (like Babes In Toyland). But none of those films is particularly influential. In fact, even the holiday films listed here were not particularly influential, certainly not as influential as those on the other Top 25 lists. Perhaps this is because our holidays are defined elsewhere in the culture, and these films only reflect what we already know about the holidays rather than trying to make a statement about the holidays? Or, said differently, maybe we don’t need movies to tell us what Christmas and Thanksgiving mean because we already know?

So what are your favorite holiday films?

Check out the new film site -- CommentaramaFilms!

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Scan This !

The past few days have reminded me why I have avoided flying for more than two years. And my last two flights weren't my choice. I had to handle a matter in Las Vegas, fast, and then get back three weeks later just as fast. I managed to smuggle a pen knife and a couple of other deadly weapons on my body, but I forgot they make you take your shoes off, so they found my bomb.

Luckily I had a civilian trial, so I'm free to bore you with my opinions on government unfettered by a conviction for terrorism. Is this a great country or what? OK, you got me. I made most of that up. But the Vegas trip was true, and even then I felt like an accused felon being checked for weapons. And all of this was before they instituted the latest wastes of time, energy and money. I didn't have to make the choice of getting a blast of carcinogenic rays or getting felt up by a drooling moron who finally got off unemployment and went to work for the TSA.

Now the truth is that unlike the gal in the photo, I am neither a vegan nor do I have the same toned gender equipment. But I'm not crazy about being bombarded by dangerous machine emissions, and I've always had a certain reticence about being touched intimately by total strangers (well, at least since I left Berkeley). I'm not particularly shy, but I prefer to make the choice of when and to whom I'm going to show my private parts. And no, I'm not talking about that incident at the porn theater.

The TSA says we shouldn't be upset because they give us a choice. That's like my doctor saying I have the choice of cancer or a heart attack. Or simply the old choice of the devil or the deep blue sea. Of course there is the third choice, which is to say screw this, I just won't fly. That's the one I've chosen, and intend to stick to until the government decides to hire Mossad to conduct airport security. Then I'll know I'm safe--both from terrorists and the hands of amateurs who have no idea what they're doing. Of course there would always be the issue of ethnic profiling, but since 98% of airline terrorists have been Middle Eastern Muslims, I'll take that option.

This is supposed to be a banner year for the airlines at Thanksgiving. I'd rather stay home and give thanks that I'm not at an airport waiting to be X-rayed by some machine that will show the steel pin in my leg as a lethal weapon or being groped by a dull-normal government employee (who is likely soon to be a union employee who can't even be fired). If the 24 million people expected to fly this Thanksgiving would follow my lead, the airlines and the government would both get the message very quickly.

I loved flying in the old days. I commuted back and forth between San Francisco and Los Angeles on a regular basis. Boy, do I miss PSA and those stewardesses. And there was the freedom of deciding on a whim to head for New York or New Orleans for an unplanned weekend. Today, the airport security check (and I use that term very loosely) takes longer than the flight. I'm not known for my ability to keep my opinion to myself, and I suspect the first time one of those losers ordered me to submit to one or the other of the useless procedures, I'd probably be saying something far worse than "if you touch my junk, I'll have you arrested." At least if a cop makes such a demand of you, you've probably done something suspicious that has drawn his attention, and he's likely to know exactly what he's doing.

That's a major part of the fallacious security measures being taken today. Unable to distinguish between a sweet old Swedish grandmother and a turbaned Middle Easterner with crazed eyes mumbling "Allahu akbar" everybody is treated as a potential terrorist. No logic, no signs, no observation--everybody's a possible mass murderer. It wouldn't help if they tried to use the Israeli methods which have been so successful, since the Israeli security people are highly-trained professionals and our TSA employees are people who failed the tests for jobs as street-sweepers. Our geniuses couldn't distinguish between an elephant and an elephant seal.

Instead of looking directly into the passenger's eyes and asking pertinent question while observing body language and listening for inconsistent answers, our Transportation Silliness Agents stumblingly read the questions off a card they can't seem to memorize and don't even watch the person they're questioning. If they're not reading from the card, they're looking off into the distance for the airline clock that will tell them it's time for lunch. "Gee, Mr. bin Laden, are you planning on blowing up any buildings or airplanes today?" "Nope" "OK--next passenger."

The other problem is that the screeners (and their idiot bosses and the dumbass politicians) spend all their time concentrating on everything more hardened than a Q-Tip as being potentially dangerous in the air, and no time at all considering the importance of keeping a dangerous person on the ground and off the plane. Box cutters were used by the 9/11 terrorists, so now we can't carry penknives. Some explosives can be liquified, so now we can't carry over a certain amount of apple juice or mother's milk. A shoe-bomber almost pulled it off, so now we all have to take our shoes off, as if the silly screeners would know a shoe-bomb when they saw one, on or off the passenger's foot. Those lethal weapons wouldn't have been lethal if the jihadists hadn't been allowed on the plane in the first place.

As for the present garbage security, a ridiculously suspicious scumbag boarded a Christmas flight to Detroit with murder in his heart and explosives in his crotch, so now Grandma Johanssen has to have her nether regions scanned or groped. There were at least seven significant signs that the underwear bomber was too dangerous to be allowed on an airline flight, and his underwear was the least of them. I guarantee he never would have gotten on that plane if he had tried to embark from Tel Aviv airport.

The liar, liar pants on fire panty bomber wasn't even stopped on the plane until smoke started emanating from his trousers. Was he thwarted in his nefarious scheme by the pilot, the co-pilot, and air marshal, or one of the flight attendants? Nope. An observant and alert Dutch filmmaker didn't think people's crotches should be smoking under any circumstances, so he jumped on the damned fool and poured liquid on his flaming pants. Maybe we could just eliminate the TSA employees and hire Dutch filmmakers to do the screenings before the lowlives get on board a plane. "Observant" and "alert" are not words I would use to describe the TSA employees I've seen. "Semi-conscious" comes a great deal closer.

The Constitution forbids only a certain type of discrimination, and the definition applies to "ethnic profiling." That is a political concept, not a legal one. Sooner or later there's going to be one too many complaints from suspicious looking and behaving Middle Easterners about discrimination, and we might finally see a clear exoneration of profiling at the Supreme Court. The Court has already made it clear that it is not "discrimination" that is forbidden, but "invidious" discrimination. That means discrimination which is arbitrary, capricious, irrational, and not reasonably related to a legitimate purpose. A 98% Middle Eastern terrorist fact, combined with the clear need to protect airline passengers and the folks on the ground eliminates any sensible argument about singling out a certain group for special attention before boarding planes. It's not arbitrary, it's completely rational (statistically and factually), and what can be more reasonable than saving large numbers of lives?

So I'm suggesting that the next time you think of flying for any reason other than a dire emergency, cancel the flight and instead send a letter to the airline stating that you have chosen not to fly, and will continue to do so until the airlines, airports, TSA and politicians get their act together and institute genuine airport security instead of an expensive, intrusive sham. It might give the new Congress and hopefully the next administration the idea that the nonsensical, bureaucratic, welfare-to-workfare phony security imposed by TSA and Janet Napoleontano at Homeland Insecurity is making airline travel extremely undesirable. That is damaging to a very important, money-producing, tax-paying major business. I think the proper term for this waste of time and energy and violation of personal privacy is "counterproductive."
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