Saturday, April 09, 2011

Political update for April, 2011

Missing Mubarak

Do we already miss Mubarak? Egypt is re-instituting diplomatic relations with Iran. The military seems to be engaging in the same type of oppressive behavior as their former fearless leader. Maybe we will miss Qaddafi too some day, despite the fact that one retired foreign minister says he personally ordered the Lockerbie tragedy.

Here’s my take on the Middle East right now and domestic threats in our own country – skipping the Israeli/Palestine issue for once. These are my givens.

There is a large portion of the ummah which is dedicated to traditional anti-Western jihad, a caliphate, aspects of Shariah law which are repugnant to us, and to being anti-Israeli, if not hoping, in most cases, for its complete destruction. What the percentage is, I can not say. I don’t think anyone can, but it is large enough. I do know that the numbers of citizens of Islamic countries that believe in stoning adulterers and apostates or similar atrocities by our standards, are astonishing from our perspective. If it was not their “culture,” we are discussing, we would be sure that any individual who felt the way they do was insane.

And while I ardently defend most American Muslims as being unfairly targeted by some members of the right, I think Representative Peter King actually hit it square on the head in his testimony at his controversial committee a few weeks ago:

“This Committee cannot live in denial which is what some would have us do when they suggest that this hearing dilute its focus by investigating threats unrelated to Al Qaeda. The Department of Homeland Security and this committee were formed in response to the al Qaeda attacks of 9/11. There is no equivalency of threat between al Qaeda and neo-Nazis, environmental extremists or other isolated madmen. Only al Qaeda and its Islamist affiliates in this country are part of an international threat to our nation. Indeed by the Justice Department’s own record not one terror related case in the last two years involved neo-Nazis, environmental extremists, militias or anti-war groups.

I have repeatedly said the overwhelming majority of Muslim-Americans are outstanding Americans and make enormous contributions to our country. But there are realities we cannot ignore. For instance a Pew Poll said that 15% of Muslim-American men between the age of 18 and 29 could support suicide bombings. This is the segment of the community al Qaeda is attempting to recruit.”

The problem for us right now is that we don’t know what is going to come out of these revolutions in the Middle East, and we really have no say either. Revolutions are that way. Sure, it worked out for the U.S in the 18th century, but the promising French Revolution soon after it ended up with the terror followed by Napoleon. Most of the revolutions of 1848 ended up for naught. The revolution in Russia brought us many years of communism. China as well.

In the Middle East it is just silly to even ask if some of these countries will end up anytime soon with a Madisonian democracy where individual rights are respected. It is more likely it will be one form of totalitarianism or another, or, a democratic theocracy that is no better from our point of view. Sure, we root for democracy, but are we rooting for democracy only to find that the Muslim Brotherhood ends up in charge in Egypt, and al Qaeda in Yemen? Democracy in Lebanon is so shattered by religion that it has become one more country dominated by Islamicists. The experiment with democracy in Algeria ended up with an immediate cessation, when Islamicists were voted in.

There is no policy that makes sense for us other than to verbally advocate for democracy with enlightenment values like free speech, press, conscience, religion, toleration, rule of law, separation of powers, and so on. I'm not saying we will get what we want, but we should advocate it, demonstrate by example how our system provides more of the things they want, and perhaps, when we really know who to root for, help with arms and similar non-combat roles (even though that is always fraught with the risk of error). Just as we ended up with an Afghanistan we didn’t expect, we may end up with a Yemen, Libya, Syria, and so on, worse than the one we started with.

Libya is a great example of how clueless we are. No one seems to know what the rebels want other than to say goodbye to Qaddafi. But, Q (the Libyan villain, not the character from The New Adventures of Star Trek) hates al Qaeda as much as we do. Either he painted the rebels to be al Qaeda to get our support, or at least toleration, or he was serious and correct. There may be a middle ground, but that’s not so likely to be good either. We’ll find out. But, probably not for a while.


Let’s say we had our druthers. What would we like these countries to become – Democracies? Republics?

A while back I read an article by Dr. Walter Williams, a conservative/libertarian economist, about minority rights. He stated that minority rights are the how and why he found democracy and majority rule as "contemptible," whereas he celebrated "republican" ideals in which apparently democracy had no place.

Then, in short order, right wingers David Limbaugh and Pat Buchanan also wrote similar articles. Glenn Beck has been barking up that tree for a while. More, many commenters on their articles (most, who, in my opinion, are politically educated, but not historically) were in a frenzy writing things like – “No Democracy. Just a Republic.”

Although much in favor of minority rights, this is all overstated and really based on the fact that there are no real accurate working definitions for democracy or republic. You can find them in the dictionary, of course, but it’s all so vague. “Democracy” comes from the Greek for people (Demos) and rule (Kratos). “Republic” comes from the Latin “Res” (thing) “Publica” (public) – public thing or public affair. Not a lot of difference between the two. Some on the right seem to want to make the definition of republic synonymous with our republic, which is also a mutt democracy – part Jeffersonian, part Madisonian, part Jacksonian, with a lot of other stuff thrown in. They certainly can’t mean republics like as in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, can they?

And yes, I’m well aware that some of the founders made statements opposed to democracy and in favor of republics, they didn't have an exact definition either, and they did not hold them to be mutually exclusive. Adams' A Defence of Constitutions of the United States references different kinds of republics, including democratic ones. Clearly when the constitution was made, majority voting was incorporated in it (sometimes super majorities), and voting was always apart of the countries tradition as it was in England for a long time.

But, this anti-democracy stirring is simply now a part of the right wing mythology (as opposed to the left wing mythology, which doesn’t really have a dog in this fight). Wonder where it was when George Bush was pushing democracy in the Middle East.  Of course, a pure democracy would have no minority rights by definition, unless recognized by the party in power. But, there has never been a nation-state which was a pure democracy, not even Periclean Athens. Today, representational democracy is an indispensible part of a modern republic and even of many constitutional monarchies, like Spain.

When people say that they want the Middle Eastern countries to become democracies, they don’t mean the non-existent pure democracy, nor do they mean a non-democratic republic either. In fact they really don’t care if they are monarchies either.

What they really mean – and it baffles me that this isn’t generally recognized by the pundits who comment upon it – is a government that believes in the enlightenment values as they have developed in modern times – things like meaningful voting, rule of law, separation of powers, toleration, freedom of speech, press and conscience, etc.

What I would like to ask these pundits, when they are opining so – is what do you recommend in place of voting - a monarchy or oligarchy?

The decision to go to war in Libya

I don’t know how you can call President Obama’s action constitutional. As our Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made clear, we have no dog in this fight. Senator Obama himself stated while campaigning for President: “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” This is consistent with the controversial War Powers Resolution, sec. 2(c): “The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.”

Clearly, the death of Libyan rebels cannot qualify as a national emergency created by an attack on the U.S. Without this, the 48 hour notice given by President Obama to congress, cannot even satisfy the resolution, never mind the constitution. Indeed, it never discusses a declaration of war, specific statutory authorization or a national emergency. Instead, it speaks to humanitarian needs in Libya and U.N. resolutions.

There is nothing strategic about this attack either. In 1981, we tussled with Libya when they declared a 200 mile territory out to sea in violation of what we and most countries believed was international law. But, they attacked us, not visa versa (we just teased them). In 1986, we attacked them with bombers so as to explain to them why they should not blow up European discos with Americans in them (although the idea of blowing up discos with no one in them may be deemed a humanitarian act). Our lesson didn’t work out so well that time as we managed to kill Q’s little daughter and Lockerbie occurred two years later. I was not as politically conscience back then, and although a hawk, I was not happy with it (but, I don't remember why). This is different as it is an ongoing affair and we weren't attacked by them. We just don’t like Q and this is a good way to get rid of him. Not that he’s not crazy and a tyrant – but that just explains why we don’t like him – not why after all these years we’ve attacked him.

What should we have done? Well, we should have made a lot of noise about democracy and enlightenment values. Supported the rebels. Encouraged our allies to fight with him. Perhaps helped them with logistics, rescue, and maybe even some supplies (would that trigger the War Powers Resolution?). And only step in if it looked like our friends are losing or there was going to be actual genocide. But, congress, not the president should decide. While I understand that there are certain things that only our military can accomplish, particularly our air force, that doesn’t mean it’s on lend to the world on the say so of the commander-in-chief.

At first, I did not want to impeach the president over this, but in the course of the last week I have changed my mind. One thing I have been reflecting on is that I hate when impeachment is about an attempt to unseat a president by the other side, as I believe it was with President Clinton (the noise over impeaching President Bush did not get very far). And, partisanship is so extensive, that I think I was persuaded that it was a "here we go again" moment. But, Dennis Kucinich is not a right wing ideologue. And, yes, our presidents do unconstitutional things from time to time (as does congress more frequently, although they can’t be impeached). But, first, Mom, he started it cannot be an excuse, and second, this is a biggee. Going to war is big. Suppose it doesn’t go well. Suppose Americans die, or in retaliation we have another Lockerbie. Should we then say – okay, now it’s impeachable?

I know, it’s not like President Obama had us attack Luxembourg or even Morocco. It’s Q and we hate him. But, that is justification for an unconstitutional act. Suppose instead of Libya, President Obama decided to protect Palestinians in Gaza based on a U.N. resolution that he supports (how close did we come to doing so the last time – see Susan Rice’s speech at the time) and started a no-fly zone in Israel? Of course, that would be political suicide, but what if it happened in his 8th year when it didn’t matter? Would we say – well, we excused it with Libya, we have to excuse it here? Of course we wouldn’t. People would be furious. But, there is no substantive difference in this context other than we like Israel's part democracy/part theocracy and we don’t like Q’s military dictatorship.

Bruce Fein, a constitutional lawyer from the Reagan administration I respect, has written up articles of impeachment, which traces the historical reasons up to quoting the president, the vice president and the secretary of state all to the effect that an act like this is unconstitutional. We all know where the secretary of defense stands. So, what's the hold up? Please don’t give me an answer like – well, then we should have impeached Bush, because, that's just  not an argument. Besides, Fein called for the impeachment of Bush and Cheney as well. You can find his proposed articles of impeachment online at

By the way, I have a sneaking feeling that Libya has already taken an American victim. His name is Newt Gingrich. He was all over the map on this war – for it, against it, then for it, and then he tried to blame his waffling on President Obama being all over the map, which, in his view, caused him to do the same. Sure. Know what the problem is with that? President Obama wasn’t talking to him about it alone. We all know what he said. How come no one else had the same problem keeping it straight, Speaker Gingrich?

I don’t think even the right is buying the ex-speaker's excuse. I noticed on a right wing blog last week that virtually no one seemed to support him anymore. The most recent poll shown on, by Fox, had him down to 7 percent from the teens. I think he was following the radio pundit philosophy of - no matter what the opposition does, disagree and criticize harshly. That doesn’t really work so well for politicians.

Let me wrap this up. I personally like President Obama. I even think he has good political and, if he would employ them, leadership skills, although policy-wise, I rarely agree with him. Yet, I say impeach him. Even if it doesn't work, they should try.  If you don’t say impeach for this – a clear violation of the constitution, what do you say impeach for? Just for having sex in the oval office? And, how do you recommend it for a president you don’t like in future? Unless, of course, you want your president to be able to do the same thing.

Paul Ryan and the budget

What if your representative knew the 2008 economic disaster was going to happen and did nothing b/c he was worried about politics? This is what Paul Ryan asked in speaking about his 2012 budget. “This [the upcoming financial breakdown] is the most predictable economic crisis we’ve ever had in this country.” Shouldn’t they avoid it?

Well, I hope so. We can see from the little fracas we are just past over 2011 spending, where the parties’ difference was a tiny fraction of the total spending, that the 2012 budget battle is going to be a knock down drag out fight.

What they are fighting over is not just money, it is a basic philosophy of government. Big government v. little government. Fiscal responsibility v. deficit spending. Government control of personal matters v. libertarianism. To name a few.

I have been writing about the coming financial meltdown since 2008. I don’t claim to have foretold it or that no one else was discussing it. Many were. But, many more were not. It is since then that little by little, even some of the biggest deficit spenders acknowledge – yeah, wait a second, this can’t work forever, can it?

Even President Obama, after the compromise last night, came on television and claimed that we had to something and they were good cuts? Funny, because his proposed budget had even far fewer.

When the tea parties swept the Republicans into power last year, I predicted they would crumble against the institutions of congress and the desire to get campaign help for re-election and spend like their predecessors. At least, it was my concern they would. Yet, so far, I am not unhappy. I would rather be wrong about that. The next six months will tell, of course, just how much will they stick to their guns.

If Paul Ryan is not an idiot, and other than Paul Krugman, no one thinks he is, then he has built a little cushion in to his cuts so that he can give something to the other side and still come out solvent. Personally, I would not do it like Mr. Ryan is doing it. Despite its shortcomings, I would cut everything 10% next year (everything?) and order the various departments and states, etc., to figure it out. Then, the year after, another 5% and then the year after another 5%. See where we are at that point.

By, the way – I would fire everyone in the federal government and hire them back immediately at reduced amounts regardless of contracts. I would default on all contracts, but pay the reduced amount. And, pensions would be cut as well. Plus, they can work for their pension.  I heard a Democratic congressman, named Kevin McDermott state that teachers, for example, were entitled to a pension after 35-40 years. Okay, I agree, but they don't work that. They work 25. Too soon.

But, guess what the first thing congress should cut is? Their own salaries. And they should pledge not to raise them again until we are in the black.

No, I do not believe that it would be a disaster. I believe that the various departments and states would find a way to do things cheaper and better. I believe that individuals benefitting directly from checks would find a way to live cheaper or would get jobs. Tough on seniors, I know, but we have to find a way to do that cheaper too. It is going to be really hard, but harder still if we don't do it.

And, if President Obama, who does have leadership skills, really wants to lead, he can show us how he is sacrificing and then ask us to also. I’m ready.

Since they are not going to impeach you, President Obama, what do you want to be – the hero or the goat? (apologies to Charles Schultz, rip).

Xtra special fascinating bonus material

Reader and occasional commenter Eric enjoyed the December 19, 2010 post – Who the heck is reading this thing? - in which I commented on the stats Google shows me about who is reading my blog and where they are from, etc. He suggested an update.

I checked the stats out yesterday. The most popular blog this past month is still the one featuring Oliver the Chimp, Chimeras, coydogs and a really strange chimp (8/30/07), with 59 page views, followed by the recent Three Cheers for the Union Jack (3/13/11), with 39 page views.

After that:

Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence (3/7/09)
A mountain man is an amazing man (6/14/07)
Fulfilling Edith Hamilton’s prophecy: J.R.R. Tolkien (5/14/09)
Death Match: Socrates v. Thoreau ((3/28/10)
Give me your stuff, sayeth Uncle Sam (3/27/11)
Tales from Herodotus (6/20/10)
One wacky case – Marbury v. Madison (10/29/10)
Toughness personified: George Chuvalo (9/10/07)

Chimeras, etc. is also the all time leader (since June last year when I started tracking, anyway) with almost 5 times as many views as the next most popular one regarding Edith Hamilton and Tolkien, followed closely by the Socrates/Thoreau one, the mountain man one, the Thomas Jefferson one, the one on early American partisanship (1/3/11), the one on Tales from Herodotus, and so on.

If I recall, what Eric was most interested in, though, was the stats on where the visitors came from. Here’s the list of countries from which the audience originated:

U.S. 314
Germany 42
U.K. 35
Russia 35
Slovenia 25
Canada 21
Denmark 19
India 17
Iran 17
China 10

So, Germany more than the U.K., and Russia and Slovenia topped out Canada. It is kind of interesting because you just ask yourself – why? I estimate that about 6-7% of the visitors are spam, since I average around 20-25 readers a day (guestimating based on the monthly stats) and I usually get one to two spam comments. I don’t publish those. If it is a lot more than that, I don't want to know. Too humiliating.

One entertainment tip for you. I caught the first episode of The Killing on AMC. It plays on Sunday and repeats Thursday night. It was a big mini-series in Denmark, then England, and this production was critically praised here. The critics are so often wrong, but not with this one. You should watch the first one first, of course. It’s free on AMC’s website. Good characters. Good pacing. Good drama.  I am even violating my usual rule about watching things involving violence to children. It has to be good for me to do that.


  1. Anonymous10:49 AM

    Thanks for the stat updates. You are the David Hasselhoff of bloggers (the Germans love you).


  2. Funny, I was just saying to Hasselhoff the other day that we had the same audience.


Your comments are welcome.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .