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    Obama’s 95% Illusion

    Posted by demimasque on 14th October 2008 (All posts by )

    One of the things that has bothered me, since at least the first presidential debate of this campaign, is Obama’s outright Orwellian use of the term “tax cut”. The Wall Street Journal now debunks the illusion:

    It’s a clever pitch, because it lets him pose as a middle-class tax cutter while disguising that he’s also proposing one of the largest tax increases ever on the other 5%. But how does he conjure this miracle, especially since more than a third of all Americans already pay no income taxes at all? There are several sleights of hand, but the most creative is to redefine the meaning of “tax cut.”

    For the Obama Democrats, a tax cut is no longer letting you keep more of what you earn. In their lexicon, a tax cut includes tens of billions of dollars in government handouts that are disguised by the phrase “tax credit.” Mr. Obama is proposing to create or expand no fewer than seven such credits for individuals:

    • A $500 tax credit ($1,000 a couple) to “make work pay” that phases out at income of $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 per couple.
    • A $4,000 tax credit for college tuition.
    • A 10% mortgage interest tax credit (on top of the existing mortgage interest deduction and other housing subsidies).
    • A “savings” tax credit of 50% up to $1,000.
    • An expansion of the earned-income tax credit that would allow single workers to receive as much as $555 a year, up from $175 now, and give these workers up to $1,110 if they are paying child support.
    • A child care credit of 50% up to $6,000 of expenses a year.
    • A “clean car” tax credit of up to $7,000 on the purchase of certain vehicles.

    Here’s the political catch. All but the clean car credit would be “refundable,” which is Washington-speak for the fact that you can receive these checks even if you have no income-tax liability. In other words, they are an income transfer — a federal check — from taxpayers to nontaxpayers. Once upon a time we called this “welfare,” or in George McGovern’s 1972 campaign a “Demogrant.” Mr. Obama’s genius is to call it a tax cut.

    The word “socialist” has, since the fall of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, lost its force as a political charge. People don’t feel threatened by “socialism” the way they did by “fascism”. That is simply too sanguine.

    I don’t doubt that most voters will read through that list of what counts as “tax credits” and say to themselves, “I fit in there, I’m a good person, and by golly, in this economy, I can use all the help I can get.” But ask yourselves, “Where is this money coming from?”

    I myself have been the recipient of unemployment benefits, and though I enjoyed not having to work for a while and getting money nonetheless, I always felt guilty about it. Not enough to get a job until the money flow ran dry; and that is the point. When there is “free” money, people become lazy. Further, the money Obama is promising to “95% of tax payers” is not “free”; it is gotten by increasing taxes on “the wealthy”.

    Put in other words, this is nothing more than a blatant attempt to use government forcefully to redistribute wealth. It might not seem forceful right now because it does not happen at the tip of a gun, but rest assured that that is exactly what it is: coerced charity.

    One reason why “socialism” has never gotten the same bad rap that “fascism” had is that people feel warm when they think about the purported intentions of socialists, which is to better the lives of the everyman. How callous must one seem who argues against providing for the everyman!

    But that assumes that government is the only instrument by which we can take care of the less fortunate. To be sure, government often has incomparable scale, such that it can theoretically purchase for less due to greater bulk (but those who have supplied government contracts know that this is more the exception than the norm), and provide the logistical support to boot (although that didn’t seem to work real well during Katrina). Nevertheless, government, particularly a distant federal government of a nation that covers a third of a continent and a third of a billion people, has a tendency to lose touch. Further, to inure itself against lawsuits and charges of unfairness (in essence, to cover its own ass), it requires much more bureaucracy and red tape that eventually begins to undermine the gains from its scale. With such remove, is it any wonder that government often ends up helping opportunists and rejecting those in real need of help?

    Contrast this with private charities. A private charity may not have the same scale as government (except perhaps for the Roman Catholic Church). However, private charities tend to be more involved in the lives of those getting their help; this is particularly true of religious charities, because of the motivation to win converts, whether through direct proselytization or through serving as values models. Further, private charities must always work to raise money, and a primary form of persuasive argument is demonstrating the good work that they have done.

    Government, on the other hand, need never raise money, as it can levy taxes directly (with the implied support of “lawful use of force”), or indirectly by siphoning funds from a general account. In addition, all that is necessary in order for government to commit itself to such action is enough votes in the legislature, or the action of the executive, all of which requires, essentially, a simple majority of votes of the voting public–and yet, once 50%+1 of votes are cast in favor of action, government suddenly has access to the funds raised from 100% of the taxpaying public, not all of whom are eligible voters.

    Charity is best which comes from the heart, and worthless which is imposed by government with the implied threat of violent force. In modern America, a compromise has been found by providing loopholes in the tax code that provide incentive to the rich to give. Although resultant giving may be less altruistic, nevertheless it gives “the rich” a choice, so that in some sense that charity still can be said to come from heart.

    When Obama promises to pay for these “refundable tax credits”, he increases the number of those who end up paying no taxes, he rewards others who have no income, he stratifies income bands (thus reducing income and social mobility), and he does it all by punishing those who best have means to leave this country and its tax burdens. Look beyond the stated intentions, and you will see that such socialist economics will do nothing but impoverish this country. Can we really afford that in this economy? Is it any answer to claim that because Obama did not cause this state of the economy, he is therefore the antidote?

    I think not.

    (Cross-posted from Between Worlds)

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Leftism, Morality and Philosphy, Politics, Taxes | 6 Comments »

    Beijing Travelogue

    Posted by demimasque on 20th June 2007 (All posts by )

    Over a course of two weeks at the end of May and the beginning of June, I had the good fortune to take a class on international trade, focusing on China and the WTO, in Beijing. Naturally, I brought back many pictures, and I’ve written the trip, as reflected in the pictures, in nine parts at my blog. Not all of my reactions and reflections about China are expressed in the write ups, because there was just so much. Still, if you’re interested in what I do have up, please visit:

    1. UIBE
    2. Beijing in General
    3. Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City
    4. The Great Wall
    5. Clubbing
    6. Food
    7. Farewell Banquet
    8. Hanging Out
    9. Post Script

    Enjoy!

    Posted in China, Photos | 6 Comments »

    A Muslim Lysistrata?

    Posted by demimasque on 4th May 2007 (All posts by )

    Aristophanes penned Lysistrata during the Peloponnesian War, about Greek women who manage to stop the war by withholding sex from their soldier-husbands. In a way, this is what Western women have been doing in the second half of the 20th Century. By leaving the home to work, they have made their sexual favors more dear. By earning their own wages, they have unchained themselves from supplicating reliance on the menfolk. We in the West have had a long time to get used to this transformation, and for the most part we are better off for it. I don’t have the data, but I suspect that societies where women make up more than one third of wage earners have seldom if ever gone to war against each other.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Islam | 19 Comments »

    First Amendment Symposium

    Posted by demimasque on 26th February 2007 (All posts by )

    This weekend past, a First Amendment Symposium was held at Loyola Law School in honor of esteemed alumnus Steven Shiffrin. It was attended by eminent constitutional law scholars, including Erwin Chemerinsky, Kurt Lash, and Eugene Volokh. The topic was commercial speech, particularly in the context of Kasky v. Nike, Inc., 27 Ca. 4th 939 (2002). I’ve broken down just a hint of the arguments that each of the distinguished speakers made.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Law, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Society | 3 Comments »

    Rageh Omaar – Inside Iran

    Posted by demimasque on 20th February 2007 (All posts by )

    Rageh Omaar of the BBC takes a trip to Tehran to discover what the lives of ordinary Iranians is like.

    It is a timely reminder that Iran is the home of an old and proud civilization, that just happens now, like the People’s Republic of China, to be caught up in a form of government that is behind the people’s capacity and taste for modernity and sophistication. Take the time to watch this, and to learn more about a remarkable people.

    [Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

    Posted in Iran | 10 Comments »

    Is Obama Right?

    Posted by demimasque on 12th February 2007 (All posts by )

    Senator Obama states that the more than 3000 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq were “wasted”.

    NBC Nightly News reports that the soldiers beg to differ.

    Those who have seen Jarhead know that what’s reported from the front might not always be what the soldiers really think. The insinuation in that movie is that any time you see positive, upbeat videos of American soldiers in the front lines, it’s been carefully censored by the Pentagon, or if not, the front line commanders have exerted much pressure on the soldiers not to complain. (Along that line of thought seems to be the implied message that complaining, a trait commonly thought of as “unmanly”, is preferable to “manly” stoicism. Would that mean that having an “unmanly” armed forces is what those who think along those lines really want?)

    Is Senator Obama right? After all, he’s a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School. Moreover, he was president of the Harvard Law Review. In other words, he’s about as educated as a man can be. Surely his education has enlightened him in a way that no mere grunt in the sands of Mesopotamia could possibly understand. After all, as Senator Kerry once sagely remarked: “You know, education–if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, uh, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

    I’m sure all those chicken hawk neocons are completely out of line to believe the self-congratulatory propaganda of the American military-industrial complex (run by none other than Vice President Cheney through his vise grip on all things Halliburton) could possibly be worth any more than the enlightened dismissal of the doyens of our brilliant, public-spirited intellectuals, whose Ivy League education places them leaps and bounds above the mean existence of mere mortals.

    Yes, that was a bit arch and snide. I actually don’t necessarily believe that Senator Obama is a preening elitist. (For all I know he’s just a regular elitist. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) The point is, I’m afraid there are people out there who probably do buy into that world view. If you see one that effuses about how magnificent this or that current darling of the media is, smile and politely remind him (or her!) to take everything with a grain of salt, including the advice of those who would tell them to take only one side’s story (such as those of the soldiers) with a helping of a salt lick.

    By the way, Matteo found some interesting commentary about the rhetorical parlor game against so-called “chicken hawks” (quoting Ace of Spades HQ):

    Exit question: Since Arkin asserts that the troops should not be allowed to influence the public’s opinion on the war, and since the entire left demands that anyone supporting the war become a troop himself — has the left pretty much created a Catch-22 by which any and all support for the war is illegitimate?

    Campaign ’08 is well and truly under way!

    (Hat-tip: Instapundit)

    [Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

    Posted in Iraq, Leftism, Politics | 9 Comments »

    Class Warfare Statistics

    Posted by demimasque on 16th October 2006 (All posts by )

    Engram has compiled some data on the after-tax income levels of American taxpayers, comparing them from the last three years of the Clinton Administration and the first three years of the Bush Administration. The raw data seems to suggest that the top 20% of taxpayers kept more money after taxes under Clinton than they did under Bush. This would refute the common canard that the Bush tax cuts only benefitted that amorphous class referred to as “the rich”.

    There is more to the facts than Engram presents; but there’s always more to it than meets the eye. One salient factor lost among all the talk of class struggle is the very real question of socioeconomic mobility. The membership of the top 20% isn’t always the same; neither is the membership of the bottom 20%. As we approach the margins, of course, the membership tends to solidify; but even so, such economic classes are far less unchanging, and far more fluid, in the United States than in most other places.

    Although it’s pretty easy to pay lip service to class warfare, my gut instinct is that American voters intuitively understand this fluidity. Our general national aspiration toward “moving up and out” saves us from the worst parts of Marxist struggle.

    Be sure to read the article for the charts, and the interesting notes in the comments. By the way, Engram is a registered Democrat.

    (via Instapundit)

    Posted in Economics & Finance | 12 Comments »

    Courage and Freedom of Speech

    Posted by demimasque on 4th October 2006 (All posts by )

    We’re covering freedom of speech now in Constitutional Law, and I found a couple of quotes that are particularly stirring, especially in light of the following column from Lenoard Pitt:

    In 1989, photographer Andres Serrano exhibited a photo he called “Piss Christ,” depicting a crucifix submerged in urine. It raised a furor and was condemned on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

    Nobody was killed.

    In 1999, artist Chris Ofili exhibited a painting he called “The Holy Virgin Mary,” in which the mother of Jesus has an exposed breast made of elephant dung. It drew a rebuke from the mayor of New York and crowds of protesters.

    Nobody was injured.

    Last year, a Danish newspaper printed political cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, one showing him with a bomb in his turban. There were weeks of rioting across Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa. At least one person died in Somalia, five in Afghanistan, a hundred in Nigeria. An untold number of people were injured. Property damage was in the millions.

    You may think the point of the foregoing parallel is that Christians react more maturely to provocation than Muslims. You would be mistaken. After all, Muslims in America, surely as offended by the cartoons of the prophet as Muslims anywhere else, did not riot or kill. Their protests were confined to statements of anger and letters to editors.

    No, the point has less to do with religion than with culture. As in, some cultures value freedom of expression more than others. Some realize the person who is not free to speak his or her mind is not truly free at all.

    And some know courage is the price of that freedom.

    And to salute that, I quote the following from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ dissent in Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652 (1925):

    Every idea is an incitement. It offers itself for belief and if believed it is acted on unless some other belief outweighs it or some failure of energy stifles the movement at its birth. The only difference between the expression of an opinion and an incitement in the narrower sense is the speaker’s enthusiasm for the result. Eloquence may set fire to reason.

    And the following is from Justice Louis Brandeis’ concurrence in Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357 (1927):

    If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.

    Islam right now is going through major growing pains, exacerbated by the difficulties of coping with modernity. As such, it is experiencing the same doubt that Americans must have felt when confronted with the Russian Revolution of 1919, and the subsequent Bolshevik triumph over Tsarist loyalists in the 1920s. Islam and its adherents feel beset on all sides, and is in very real danger of falling for the human temptation to silence critics rather than rebut the critics’ claims. If Allah smiles on the umma, courage rather than cowardice will have the last say in this generational struggle for civilizational identity.

    It is also a reminder, to those of us in the West that have come through, not only to continue to support the courageous members of the umma, but also not to give in to our own darker temptations. Gitlow and Whitney were decided less than a century ago (although to Americans that is a long time), and the freedom of speech is still a litigated field. Let us not betray the hopes of Justices Holmes and Brandeis.

    [Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

    Posted in Civil Liberties | 2 Comments »

    What Really Happened to Castro

    Posted by demimasque on 11th August 2006 (All posts by )

    Apparently, the long-time dictator of Cuba was struck from behind:

    Zidane Vs. Fidel Castro – video powered by Metacafe

    Posted in International Affairs | 2 Comments »

    My Cubicle

    Posted by demimasque on 9th August 2006 (All posts by )

    A great take on James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful”:

    [Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

    Posted in Humor | 2 Comments »

    Penn and Teller on College

    Posted by demimasque on 7th August 2006 (All posts by )

    When I applied to college in the fall of 1992, I did it not because I had any groundbreaking aspirations, but because, quite simply, it was the next thing to do. Having attended a school whose sole point was to prepare students for college, and growing up as the son of intellectuals (both my parents have Masters degrees), one of whom is from a family of teachers, education was seen as an end, not a means. So, it was off to college, and all that college stood for.

    Even then, though, I found myself nauseated by the attitudes of the poltical correctness activists. While the opinions voiced by students came in all types (albeit with an undeniably “liberal” slant), the loudest voices were those of the hypocrites. These were the people who stole, and sometimes burned, all the copies of the Daily Californian that they could find whenever the student-run (but not university financed) paper took a position contrary to what the leading lights of the Progressive movement deemed acceptable. One such excuse was the publication of a full-page ad denouncing Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The denunciation had to be in the form of an ad, paid for out of a private person’s pocket, because the paper was officially impartial. The paper defended the decision to allow publication of the ad as a purely business decision; that wasn’t good enough for the activists, who even torched one of the distribution stands.

    Even worse was when the power got to the heads of the student activists. In the spring of 1995, during the campaign season leading up to the student senate elections, the Daily Californian was again targeted, with copies stolen and distribution stands defaced, when the paper endorsed a candidate for a major position in the student government. At the time, the two major student political coalitions were, loosely speaking, the Progressive activists, and the non-aligned coalition, which included among its constituent groups engineers and, worse, conservatives.

    It was easy for me, as a science major, to get by without much of an attempt at indoctrination by the faculty. Perhaps, also, I was lucky to have gotten in at a time when the forced indoctrination hadn’t yet gotten to a fever pitch. To be sure, there were a lot of bullshit classes on offer, taught by what one suspects are almost-failed academics. But for the most part, there was little indoctrination.

    As Penn and Teller describe, however, that’s no longer the case, at least in liberal arts curricula:

    Mad Minerva says it better than I can:

    If you’re a novice about the campus cult of diversity and political correctness, you will find this interesting indeed. As for me, this is the sort of thing I live with! Notice also one statement that shows up in the video: the idea that if Person A is offended by Person B’s words, then the campus should make Person B shut up. Here’s the core of the First Amendment battles on campus: if you have free speech, sooner or later somebody will get offended. But that’s part of free speech. You have a right to free speech, not a right to never be offended.

    And, of course, as I like to point out to people, without free speech it’s much harder to tell who the idiots are.

    [Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

    Posted in Education | 8 Comments »

    Perception

    Posted by demimasque on 4th August 2006 (All posts by )

    They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. What they don’t tell us, and what an intelligent consumer of information should know, is that the existence of a picture is no guarantee of the veracity of the thousand words it may be worth. Sometimes, as in the works of Salvador Dali, the thousand words serve merely to describe the picture; certainly “The Persistence of Time Memory [Thanks, Lex; the watchfaces always throw me off]” is not meant to be a faithful representation of the world as it is.

    But what happens when the news media, which proclaim themselves the final arbiters of impartial truth, buy into staged or exaggerated productions? A picture of a corpse on the ground, for example, tells you nothing about how the death occurred, or when, or wherefore. A still image can be useful in capturing a moment, but that moment must not be taken out of its context. Indeed, Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty dictates that we may know an object’s momentum or its exact location at any given moment in time, but not both.

    Michael Costello applies this principle to the news media:

    THE most powerful influences on global opinion are television pictures. An experienced TV journalist will tell you that the picture is the story. No picture, no story. Those same journalists will tell you that a powerful picture will overwhelm reality. The picture becomes reality.

    After considering the current conflict in its proper context, that of Israel’s struggle for recognition and existence, Mr. Costello notes:

    This is the true heart of the problem. The Palestinian issue cannot be resolved because a significant part of the Arab and Muslim world still do not accept Israel’s right to exist. They will not accept the two-state solution beloved of analysts because they do not accept the existence of one of those two states, Israel. This is just not a matter of politics to them; it is a matter of religion. It is non-negotiable.

    Until this changes, Israel will remain as it has for 60 years: under siege. Those who seek Israel’s elimination will engage in conflict and terrorism against Israel and its friends.

    So what are we to conclude? That Israel is just too much trouble? That it causes all of us too much grief? That in defending itself against these implacable enemies Israel offends our sensibilities by the manner in which it feels compelled to use force?

    Already there are growing whispers from the so-called realist school of international relations that it would be a really smart thing if we just quietly walked away from Israel because it has become an embarrassment and inconvenience to our larger interests. Such is the consequence of privileging the power of the TV image over reason.

    I wonder if he had this piece by Charles Krauthammer in mind:

    The United States has gone far out on a limb to allow Israel to win and for all this to happen. It has counted on Israel’s ability to do the job. It has been disappointed. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has provided unsteady and uncertain leadership. Foolishly relying on air power alone, he denied his generals the ground offensive they wanted, only to reverse himself later. He has allowed his war cabinet meetings to become fully public through the kind of leaks no serious wartime leadership would ever countenance. Divisive cabinet debates are broadcast to the world, as was Olmert’s own complaint that “I’m tired. I didn’t sleep at all last night” (Haaretz, July 28). Hardly the stuff to instill Churchillian confidence.

    His search for victory on the cheap has jeopardized not just the Lebanon operation but America’s confidence in Israel as well. That confidence — and the relationship it reinforces — is as important to Israel’s survival as its own army. The tremulous Olmert seems not to have a clue.

    Faith, Charles, and courage!

    [Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

    Posted in International Affairs | 3 Comments »

    Good and Evil in Stark Contrast

    Posted by demimasque on 4th August 2006 (All posts by )

    For generations, fantasy literature had been thought of as a not-very-worthy genre. Lumped together with that, perhaps, are science fiction and superhero comics. However, all three have hit the big screens with astounding success in recent years. Fjordman has some ideas as to why that is:

    Maybe I�m reading too much into it, but is the sudden reappearance of superheroes exemplified by Superman, Spider-Man and swarms of other similar characters a sign of a renewed sense of vulnerability and insecurity in the West following the Jihad attacks of 9/11? Another closely related meta-trend is the renewed popularity of fantasy literature. In online magazine The American Thinker, blogger Bookworm has some interesting comments to the surge in fantasy literature and some of the values we are presented there. J.K. Rowling�s enormously successful books about teenage wizard Harry Potter have been belittled as merely �silly books for children.� But as Bookworm notes, some of the later books such as Order of the Phoenix are much darker than its predecessors. It �centers on Harry�s desperate efforts to convince the Powers That Be that evil once again walks among them. Only with tremendous effort is he able to rally some believers to his side and prepare them for war.� Sounds familiar, doesn�t it?

    Indeed it does! Fjordman also takes a shot at academics for their relativistic attitudes, by postulating how they might have psychoanalyzed the fantasy world:

    In this age of Multiculturalism and cultural relativism, the only places we can identify evil and fight it are in fictional worlds, be that the Middle Earth of Tolkien or the Hogwarts of J.K. Rowling. Maybe that is why it is such a relief to visit them, if only for a few hours. In the real West, our Universities would advise us to negotiate with Sauron and identify his legitimate grievances. Our media would say that the real reason why the Orcs kill people is because they suffer from institutionalized racism and Orcophobia. We would all get sensitivity training, invite Orcs to settle in our major cities by the millions and teach our children about the richness of Orc culture.

    Isn’t it our educated betters that first pooh-poohed the genre? Fortunately, all is not lost. After all, both J.R.R. Tolkien, and his colleague and compatriot C.S. Lewis, were academics themselves. Proof, perhaps, that in a world with many fake knock-offs and mediocre wannabes, there can still be found brilliant diamonds in the rough.

    (Hat-tip: Mad Minerva)

    [Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

    Posted in Morality and Philosphy | 3 Comments »

    What Does It Take to Win?

    Posted by demimasque on 21st July 2006 (All posts by )

    I’ve stated before that I’m not adverse to use of massive force:

    I think reasonable people can disagree as to whether the Israeli response is “disproportionate”. I myself have no qualms about destroying an enemy’s infrastructure if civilian deaths can be kept to a minimum and the payoff in psychological damage to the enemy is great enough (think about General William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea).

    I went a little deeper into this in response recently to a comment from someone:

    I don’t want to sound like a “make love not war” type of guy, but come on, dropping bombs with that might … is a bit of an “over kill” literally …. It’s like a little kid goes to a football player (Defense) and kicks him in the knee, which makes the football player rip him apart

    My response:

    Without supporting or protesting any specific Israeli tactics, I would pose the following question: What does it take to win? In your analogy, the stakes aren’t very high; probably a bruised ego at best. But in the actual war between Israel and Hezbollah, the stakes are the very survival of Israel. Sure, Hezbollah does not currently have the wherewithal to wipe Israel off the map, as long as there’s a little more than token resistance on the part of Israel. But asking Israel to do no more than that is essentially to say to Israel to grab her ankles.

    Personally I’m in favor of General Sherman’s idea of total war: Destroy the infrastructure. I grant that General Sherman’s methods may not entirely apply here, because unlike the Union occupation of the South after the American Civil War, Israel’s not likely to occupy even just southern Lebanon after the conflict, with an eye toward annexation.

    So, back to the question: What does it take to win? Israel has nuclear weapons. If all it wanted was to be rid of Hezbollah, why not just nuke the frontier areas? Goodbye south Lebanon, goodbye Gaza. But the international relations repercussions of such an activity, to say nothing of the moral repercussions, argue against such a tactic.

    Thus I think I have established that merely putting up token resistance, or nuking Hezbollah, are extreme solutions that are non-starters. What does it take to win?

    The kind of power politics we’re used to seeing, which has developed over the Cold War era, is that the international system does not want any party to a conflict to win outright. While it’s easy for remote adversaries to come to a ceasefire agreement (North Korea/United States), or even to declare a winner (United States > North Vietnam, United Kingdom > Argentina, etc.), it is far more difficult for neighbors to live with the sense that one side or another has “won” (Iraq v. Iran, Iraq v. Kuwait, Somalia v. Somalia, Ethiopia v. Eritrea), much less a convincing victory (Israel > Egypt + Jordan + Iraq + Syria + Saudi Arabia). More times than often, one neighbor complete absorbs the other (North Vietnam > South Vietnam). In fact, outside of the Americas and most of Europe, neighbors often exist alongside each other with some unease (North Korea v. South Korea, Japan v. North Korea + South Korea + China, Vietnam v. China, China v. India, Cambodia v. Vietnam, Indonesia v. East Timor, India v. Pakistan, Iran v. Iraq, Serbia v. Croatia, to list just a few outside the Middle East).

    In fact, the international system as it currently exists tends to support the underdog blindly. In some case, this may be good, if the underdog was attacked (Bosnia, Kuwait, and Egypt in 1956); in others, it’s probably not good, if the underdog is the aggressor (the occasional incursions by Pakistan). The only exception to this rule is that when Israel is the underdog but not the aggressor, it is not supported (1967, 1973).

    A system which applies pressure for war to cease before a workable peace is possible merely buys time for the side that was about to lose. This is not to say whether that’s good or bad, but at least in the case of post-1967 Israel, we’re not talking any longer about states rubbing up against each other, jostling for land and/or resources. No, we’re talking now about an enemy that intends for the complete and irrevocable eradication, not only of the Jewish state, but of any Jewish blood in the Middle East. Against that backdrop, a system that does not allow one side or the other to win is actually a way to lengthen the conflict, not to ameliorate it.

    We go to great lengths to say that we want the war to stop because innocents are getting killed. But what we end up doing is forcing the parties to refight the same war every few years. When you add it up, the civilian casualties turn out greater than if we were to let the parties have a free-for-all, last man standing.

    If you don’t mind keeping the conflict simmering, then Israel is “overreacting”. But keep in mind that essentially what you’re supporting in this conflict by limiting Israeli options is the continued existence of Hezbollah.

    If you want a real end, let Israel do what it must, and punish it later for its excesses.

    I’m sure some of the dates can be cleaned up, but overall I think this is a pretty good representation of the current international system, which is in fact a rather “reactionary” one, a truly “conservative” system.

    [Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

    Posted in War and Peace | 5 Comments »

    BonaVista Lounge

    Posted by demimasque on 17th July 2006 (All posts by )

    Los Angeles is not famous for its skyline, even though it is recognizable, at least to locals. The nightlife downtown also leaves a little to be desired. Still, there are a couple of cool places, including the BonaVista Lounge, a rotating lounge on the 34th floor of the Westin Bonaventure, hemmed in by 4th Street on the north, Flower Street on the east, 5th Street on the south, and Figueroa Street on the west. The Lounge has a meager offering of cocktails, unfortunately, but you really can’t beat the view:

    Both pictures were taken with a time exposure of 10 seconds to take in the night light. The first was taken with the camera resting along a part of the floor that was not revolving. The second was taken with the camera resting on our table, which moved along with us and the floor.

    [Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

    Posted in Photos | 2 Comments »

    The Double Standards of the Impotent

    Posted by demimasque on 15th July 2006 (All posts by )

    In a performance on Broadway a few years ago, Robin Williams riffed on French impotence by doing an impression of a suffocatingly snobbish Frenchman deriding all things American. In the middle of this imaginary Frenchman’s tirade, his head snaps around, and he declares, “The Germans are here!” Whereupon this realization, he faces the audience again, stretches out his arms, and says, “We love Americans! Welcome Americans!” Now, Robin Williams is not a fan of George W. Bush by any stretch of the imagination; but that bit always tickled me for the excellent way in which it shows the double standards of a power so seemingly impotent.

    In a similar vein, Ray D. of Davids Medienkritik has this to say about the German magazine Spiegel Online:

    According to SPIEGEL, Americans are warmongers, mercenaries, cowboys, Rambos, religious nuts and conceited bungling occupiers who have created a catastrophe-disaster-debacle-quagmire-civil war in the Middle East. And now the same online magazine wants us to believe that the current crisis in the region “calls for US leadership”!? Does that make sense to anyone else? Could it be that the United States really is a positive force in the world and not the summation of vile stereotypes and chronic biases displayed on German newsstands?

    And never mind that Europe can do little about the crisis other than look on in bumbling impotence. This is all America’s fault, because Bush is not being decisive enough and has allegedly tied his nation down in Iraq. Mascolo quotes Time magazine’s assertion that America is too weak to act because it has “bled itself white in Iraq.” Bled itself white with fewer US deaths in Iraq than on 9/11 alone? Bled itself white with dozens or even hundreds of times fewer casualties than in previous wars? As an historic reminder to Mr. Mascolo, the United States suffered 81,000 casualties and 19,000 combat deaths in the Battle of the Bulge alone, and the nation was certainly not too weak to finish the task of occupying Germany.

    I’m not so naive as to think that all Germans necessarily feel this way. Specifically, though, I find Spiegel Online to be like the child who declares his parents unfair and unjust for disapproving of his rebelliousness, but then turns around and demands a raise in the allowance so he can carry on with that very rebellion.

    Hopefully Spiegel Online doesn’t speak for all Germans. I suspect they represent Germans about as well as, say, Newsweek or Time represent all Americans. But certainly, by the very inconsistency of their protestations, they cannot be taken seriously. It would be like saying that the editors at Vanity Fair ought to be given run of the United States.

    [Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

    Posted in Media | 43 Comments »

    Chirac Lachrymose Over Conflict in Levant

    Posted by demimasque on 14th July 2006 (All posts by )

    Jacques Chirac is not usually in an enviable position, and, at least to many Americans, his comments often come off the wrong way. Still, I find his remarks on the Israeli raid on Lebanon to be absolutely tone deaf:

    President Jacques Chirac said Friday that Israel’s military offensive against Lebanon is “totally disproportionate” and asked whether destroying Lebanon was not the ultimate goal.

    However, he also said that rockets fired on Israel by Hezbollah and Hamas are “inadmissible, unacceptable and irresponsible.” Chirac implicitly suggested that Syria and Iran might be playing a role in the expanding crisis in the Middle East which, along with the Iranian nuclear issue, creates “a truly dangerous situation in which we must be very, very careful.” (AP)

    First of all, news that’s hot off the wire can sometimes be wrong or provocative and inflammatory. Certainly there was no shortage of anti-Bush bias during the 2004 elections. Still, the subtext of what President Chirac is saying is quite disturbing.

    I think reasonable people can disagree as to whether the Israeli response is “disproportionate”. I myself have no qualms about destroying an enemy’s infrastructure if civilian deaths can be kept to a minimum and the payoff in psychological damage to the enemy is great enough (think about General William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea).

    President Chirac’s snide suggestion is that Israel is trying to destroy Lebanon, when it is in fact Hezbollah that wants not only to destroy Israel, but to wipe it completely off the map. Such an insinuation is insulting at best. Fortunately, unlike Third World professional victims, Israel doesn’t whine about its hurt feelings. Israel, for all its flaws, is strong and confident. Perhaps that’s what infuriates President Chirac so.

    Moreover, Lebanon has been of Gallic interest for the better part of a millennium. The Levantine kingdoms of the Crusades were, after all, French, and the French have resented any non-French outside influence in Lebanon, including that of Syria. Would that the French would also be more forthright about the Iranian influence; but I suppose asking France to stand up to a real power that might just strike back is asking too much.

    (Hat-tip: Israellycool)

    [Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

    Posted in International Affairs | 9 Comments »

    Speeches and Debates

    Posted by demimasque on 12th July 2006 (All posts by )

    Congressman William Jefferson’s contention, that all materials in his office are immune from searches and seizures, has been struck down by Federal District Judge Thomas F. Hogan as an improper interpretation of the Speeches and Debates Clause (U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 6). (Judge Hogan’s opinion is here in PDF format.) The Conclusion follows:

    The facts and questions of law presented here are indeed unprecedented. It is well-established, however, that a Member of Congress is generally bound to the operation of the criminal laws as are ordinary persons. The Speech or Debate Clause does not “make Members of Congress super-citizens, immune from criminal responsibility.” Brewster, 408 U.S. at 516. Members of Congress are not “exempt[] . . . from liability or process in criminal cases.” Gravel, 408 U.S. at 626.

    The existing broad protections of the Speech or Debate Clause – absolute immunity from prosecution or suit for legislative acts and freedom from being “questioned” about those acts (including privilege from the testimonial act of producing documents in response to a subpoena) – satisfy the fundamental purpose of the Clause to protect the independence of the legislature. The Court declines to extend those protections further, holding that the Speech or Debate Clause does not shield Members of Congress from the execution of valid search warrants. Congressman Jefferson’s interpretation of the Speech or Debate privilege would have the effect of converting every congressional office into a taxpayer-subsidized sanctuary for crime. Such a result is not supported by the Constitution or judicial precedent and will not be adopted here. See Williamson v. United States, 28 S. Ct. at 167 (“[T]he laws of this country allow no place or employment as a sanctuary for crime.”) (quotation omitted).

    For the foregoing reasons, the Court has found that the search executed on Congressman Jefferson’s congressional office was constitutional, as it did not trigger the Speech or Debate Clause privilege, did not offend the principle of the separation of powers, and was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Accordingly, the Court will deny the motion for return of property. An appropriate order will accompany this Memorandum Opinion.

    This seems to bear out what I had written:

    It seems to me that Jefferson’s Complaint claims not so much that he is protected by the privilege from Arrest than that his office is immune to searches and seizures because searches and seizures should be interpreted as questioning him about his legislative operations.

    My guess is that no judge will grant absolute immunity of the sort Jefferson seems to be looking for. I also don’t think any judge will lay down an exact rule as to how a search may be conducted. If anything, the court would probably issue a guideline or a balancing test to help future judges decide whether or not appropriate precautions have been and will be taken before signing off on a warrant.

    Judge Hogan’s conclusion seems reasonable, and consistent with what I know of Constitutional Law. If appealed, I highly doubt his ruling will be overturned. At most, it may be remanded for further consideration, if a higher court does formulate a newer guideline.

    [Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

    Posted in Politics | 2 Comments »

    Apples

    Posted by demimasque on 21st June 2006 (All posts by )

    Thanks to a discussion from another post, I thought I’d share a picture from my friend’s wedding to demonstrate what a Canon Powershot S70 can do in low-light:

    Posted in Photos | 2 Comments »

    Moral Equivalence: Why We Are Not the Same

    Posted by demimasque on 21st June 2006 (All posts by )

    Amid news about the recovery of the corpses of two American soldiers, and that the soldiers may have been tortured before decapitation, I’ve seen a troubling pattern here on the home front. People seem to be going beyond blaming President Bush personally for the deaths of the two soldiers; now, with none other than Andrew Sullivan leading the charge, critics of the President are claiming that the torture of hostages by terrorists is somehow morally equivalent to the torture of enemy combatants by U.S. personnel:

    Some people wonder why I remain so concerned about torture, and the surrender of our moral standing with respect to this unmitigated evil. Maybe the news of captured, tortured and murdered Americans will jog their conscience. Or maybe it will simply reinforce the logic of torture-reciprocity endorsed by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Gonzales.

    While I share Andrew’s concern about the use of torture, I must disagree with his faulty logic that Islamoterrorists torture because we torture, in some hocus pocus, smoke-and-mirrors “cycle of violence” that is so much en vogue among many members of the Left. Even a passing glance at the video messages from terrorists, such as the late and unlamented Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, will show that fighting Iraq in the Persian Gulf War, basing troops in Saudi Arabia, enacting sanctions against Saddam Hussein, invading Afghanistan, are all nothing more than raisons du jour for the terrorists. Their aim is nothing more than the complete takeover of the world by their extremist version of the already-intolerant Wahabbi sect of Islam. Pay attention, and you’ll see calls by Osama bin Laden for the reconquest of al-Andalus, and calls by Zarqawi for the extermination of Shiites whom he sees as apostates, and therefore far more deserving of hell than even “infidels and crusaders”. No, Andrew, the torture of non-Muslim hostages predates even the Iraq War. But I guess that would throw off the “everything is Bush’s fault” tint to your world view.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Terrorism | 9 Comments »

    Chicago Tour

    Posted by demimasque on 18th June 2006 (All posts by )

    I recently paid a visit to Chicago, and had a pleasant visit with Lex. I also got to take some pictures around Chicago, especially along the river. With no further ado, I present the pictures:

    Update: It seems the link below was wrong before. I’ve fixed that now. Thanks for the comments on the pictures; I have to say that Chicago architecture makes taking great pictures so much easier!

    [Excerpted from Between Worlds]

    Posted in Architecture | 12 Comments »

    Voter Apathy

    Posted by demimasque on 13th June 2006 (All posts by )

    James Taranto makes the following comment on a recent E.J. Dionne column, regarding the pretentions of the two national parties:

    It has been widely noted that congressional Republicans have failed to live up to their billing as the party of small government, especially since George W. Bush became president. There are exceptions, to be sure, but the allure of spending other people’s money has proved so great that voters have not gotten the spending restraint they expected when they elected a Republican Congress in 1994. About all that Republicans can say in defense of this record is that Democrats have been worse.

    Yet what is less widely noted is that the Democrats, in opposition, have presented themselves to a large extent as an antigovernment party. One of their main themes has been that the Bush administration is “incompetent”–that, at least for now, the government can’t do anything right. As we noted in September, former Enron adviser Paul Krugman blamed the allegedly poor response to Hurricane Katrina on Ronald Reagan’s “ideological hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good.”

    This attitude betrays a fundamental lack of faith in government. Its implication is that the institutions of government are too frail to withstand the pressures of American democratic politics. It is also a remarkably self-serving position. Liberal Democrats take credit for creating an enormous government, which, according to them, doesn’t work–but would work just fine if only the populace were smart enough to elect liberal Democrats.

    In sum: Republicans favor small government but embrace big government when they have the power to control it. Democrats favor big government but insist that it can work only when they have the power to control it. Politicians in both parties, then, seem to see government as a means to the same end: their own political power. Little wonder that voters are suspicious of government.

    That seems about right. I think many Americans were intrigued, in 1994, by the possibility that the Contract with America might just prove to be the tonic long needed in national government. Unfortunately, as with most revolutions, this one too reversed to Establishmentarian form once its enumerated objectives were met.

    Given the choice between bad ideas and no ideas, is it any wonder voters and citizens are tuning out?

    [Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

    Posted in Politics | 1 Comment »

    “They shall in all Cases …”

    Posted by demimasque on 30th May 2006 (All posts by )

    Finals season is over, but all is not quiet in Law Law Land. It is now time for the write-on competition for positions on the school’s journals, the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review, the Loyola of Los Angeles International and Comparative Law Review, and the Loyola of Los Angeles Entertainment Law Review. The subject just so happens to involve Amendment IV, which came up obliquely as part of another topic I’ve been keeping my eye on lately: The raid of Congressman William Jefferson’s offices.

    I won’t get into the nitty gritty of the particular events, but I wanted to recall a conversation I had with an online friend lately. The friend had said, in part, the following:

    Whether or not the warrant is valid is a separate issue from whether or not the search is allowed ab initio. The warrant could have been perfectly valid and any special procedures could have been followed and the search could still be entirely illegal per AI S6.

    This is what I wrote in response:

    Hrm. Let me restate what I think you’re saying: Regardless of whether or not procedures are in place and followed in order to separate Speeches and Debates material from material required for a major criminal investigation (specifically, AIS6 excepts “Treason, Felon and Breach of the Peace”), the presence of Speeches and Debates material exempts all other materials in the office.

    If I’m misunderstanding you, skip the rest of this post and correct me.

    If I’m not misunderstanding you, we have 2 issues raised by that interpretation:

    1. Are there ever any circumstances in which a MoC’s office can be searched? What about in case of a bomb scare, in which officers (presumably led by Capitol Police, who report to Congress, but possibly including ATF and/or FBI officers, who report ultimately to the Executive) are called about a possible bomb in one of the offices? Such a thing was unfolding this morning when someone reported that there were gunshots at the Rayburn House Office Building. Capitol Police fielded the call, but FBI were involved as well.

      If there are some circumstances in which a MoC’s office can be searched, what might pose such a circumstance?

    2. AIS6 poses the following (as you’re aware):

      They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.

      Notice:

      1. The privilege from Arrest has nothing to do with “Speech or Debate”.
      2. The exceptions come first. So where a major crime is involved, there is no privilege.
      3. Nowhere does it mention an extraordinary privilege from searches and seizures, except possibly with regard to Speeches and Debates.

    It seems to me that Jefferson’s Complaint claims not so much that he is protected by the privilege from Arrest than that his office is immune to searches and seizures because searches and seizures should be interpreted as questioining him about his legislative operations.

    From there, I can see another way of getting to your conclusion, that validity of warrant is irrelevant. The core issue, as proposed by Jefferson, seems to be: Searches and seizures of an office which holds legislative material should be interpreted as questioning his speech and debate material.

    I think there is definitely an issue of law there. A judge must then consider the practical effects.

    1. If he agrees with the interpretation (i.e., a search of an office, regardless of the target and regardless of procedure, is an unrebuttable per se violation of AIS6), then the following becomes true:
      1. Jefferson wins.
      2. Any Member of Congress can hide evidence of treason and felony in his office and claim immunity.
      3. There would be new issues as to what exigencies, if any, can justify any searches. (That goes back to the item about today’s reported gunfire.)
    2. If he disagrees with the interpretation (i.e., a search of an office, regardless of the target and regardless of procedure, is an unrebuttable per se violation of AIS6), then the following needs to be resolved:
      1. Must searches and seizures be limited to Capitol Police, which report to the Congress?
      2. May Executive Branch officers ever be involved (considering the FBI’s heavy involvement in D.C., it probably would not be practicable to exclude Executive Branch officers entirely)?
      3. Under what circumstances may Executive Branch officers be involved? (Presumably, only when the Judiciary signs off on a warrant; i.e., no unilateral action by the Executive Branch.)
      4. Under what circumstances, if any, may a Judicial Branch officer sign off on a search?

    My guess is that no judge will grant absolute immunity of the sort Jefferson seems to be looking for. I also don’t think any judge will lay down an exact rule as to how a search may be conducted. If anything, the court would probably issue a guideline or a balancing test to help future judges decide whether or not appropriate precautions have been and will be taken before signing off on a warrant.

    [Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

    Posted in Politics | Comments Off on “They shall in all Cases …”

    The Shining Beacon

    Posted by demimasque on 7th May 2006 (All posts by )

    Reader Marian Wirth recently took me to task over an earlier piece on immigration. Marian took issue with my characterization of French and German immigration policies, and expounds on the debate much more fully his own website.

    First, the semantic issues. It is quite true that the failure of border patrol in the United States does not amount to much of a policy. As for what German immigration is, I’ll defer to Marian’s more intimate familiarity with that issue. However, what I was speaking of was immigration systems. This is probably a bit of a vague term, so I’ll get on with it.

    Second, and more to the point, I want to address the illegal immigration issue here in the United States.

    Ever since I can remember, the political discourse in the United States regarding immigration has been broadly characterized in the media as a typical struggle of Marxist proportions (although no newspaper will use those words). Specifically, the media portrays it as a struggle between poor, downtrodden laborers, and the rich, racist, WASPs who criminalize them with wicked laws. Since 9/11, another hue has been added to the picture: In addition to being rich, white, and oppressive WASPS, those in favor of tighter border security are now portrayed as paranoid right-wing nutjobs irrationally trying to isolate themselves from the world. This is a characterization which Democrats have unfortunately been quick to seize upon. From the Pete Wilson-era propositions which would have discontinued funding for bilingual immersion classes, and withheld all but emergency medical services from illegals, to the push to require legal status (citizenship, residence, guest worker, approved student, etc.) in order to obtain a driver’s license, anything that tried to find any semblance of structure was met with one epithet: racist.

    Thus, anyone who didn’t support the May Day protests with full-hearted enthusiasm must be racist. Never mind that nobody’s advocating an end to immigration; the boycott was also called Immigrant Day. Never mind that what many are objecting to is the flood of illegal immigration. If you opposed illegal immigration you must be ipso facto a racist opposed to all immigration. Many of the organizers wanted the world to think that this was all about jobs and nothing else. (It really is no coincidence that the people trying to turn this into a debate about labor mobility are, for the most part, post-modern Communists. International A.N.S.W.E.R., a vociferous critic of capitalism, was one of the organizers. The first of May, by the way, happens to be May Day, or International Workers’ Day, a Communist holiday.)

    So let’s take them at their word, that all immigration was only about jobs. Let us also take into account the fact that the overwhelming number of illegal immigrants are from Mexico, which the activists would have you believe is a symptom of racism, rather than of the geographical fact that Mexico has a long border with the United States. If the issue was only jobs, why not reform the immigration system so that we have a more flexible way of providing for everybody’s needs?

    Like Mad Minerva, I come from a family that immigrated to the United States legally (although many better-placed families were able to use their connections to expedite their visa applications in the rush to leave Taiwan after President Carter officially switched recognition to the People’s Republic of China). We would represent those that intend to make the United States our home, a place where we intend to develop roots.

    There are many others who would be more than happy to just come to the United States to work, then after they’ve saved up enough money, go back to their home countries and, hopefully, retire. Examples of these include a large portion of illegals from Mexico, but also a large number of pre-20th Century immigrants from all over the world, including Ireland after the potato famine, and China during the California Gold Rush. Many of these probably would like to stay eventually.

    And why not? Engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty is a poem that beckons to the world’s tired, hungry, and wretched. America, it is said around the world, is a land of dreams, of opportunities. The tales of streets paved with gold are a bit exaggerated, but the promise of reward to go with a good work ethic is basically alive and well.

    But what dream would it be if it could be dashed at any moment by instability, if there is no rule of law to settle disputes? And yet some of these activists would have us throw out our system of laws, just because Jose or Juan couldn’t be bothered to file for a work visa?

    Clearly, the status quo does not serve us well. But is amnesty the right answer? DJ Drummond thinks so, and brings up some very good points:

    Sharpen the definitions of ‘citizen’ and ‘resident’, make clear that we welcome all sorts of legal immigrants but must protect our borders and enforce our laws, and offer the chance to start over for people who leave politely and immediately. And make very, very clear that anyone who remains here against the law after than point may expect a stronger and more determined, coordinated response at all levels.

    I don’t care for the word “amnesty”, but if that’s what it must be called to get the requisite votes to clear Congress, so be it. But DJ is clearly on the right track. There is no way we can afford to deport 12 million people. Like it or not, we’re stuck with them. So, how do we integrate them into our society, and how do we pave the way for a more effective future system?

    I won’t pretend that I have the perfect, or even the only viable plan. But here’s what I think:

    • Revamp the guest worker program. Create two tiers, one for skilled professionals and another for unskilled professionals. Unskilled professionals will not be entitled to unemployment benefits, and will have shorter grace periods for picking up new work in case of a layoff.
    • Increase staffing in consulates general to expedite background checks.
    • Amounts paid into social security can accrue for future payouts, but if a worker is forced to leave the country by, for example, unemployment or other ineligibility for renewal, and does not qualify for re-entry for more than a year, amounts paid into social security are forfeit. That money could probably be best used to pay benefits to citizens and legal residents, who, in an economy that cannot even employ guest workers, will probably need the help.
    • Harsh penalties for human traffickers. I suspect a lot of these middlemen entice workers with promises of the golden land in exchange for exorbitant amounts of future debt. This is at the very least true for many illegal immigrants from China; there is nothing that suggests that it isn’t true of illegals from Mexico or other places as well.
    • Rather than designate current illegals as felons, allow them a grace period to apply for guest worker status. Those with violent criminal records must be deported immediately. Those with minor, non-violent records must pay a fine. Those who have been here for less than, say, 5 years must also pay a fine. None will qualify for social services in excess of what they earn from here on.
    • In all cases, contribution to and participation in local communities will be mitigating factors.

    The point is, people see the shining beacon that is America. They should be allowed to become “official” Americans, provided they can show, through their hard work and contributions to the life of the community, that they love this country. This is important; have you ever seen the giddiness a “newly minted” American exudes? While certain cultural values will always be shifting, others cannot be abrogated. Civic awareness, typically very low in non-Western nations, is important.

    Integration does not mean simply providing services and then hoping the immigrants sink or swim, as with the European model. Integration means actual involvement with the day-to-day civic life. Perhaps America doesn’t need to reach out anymore to scour the planet for those who want to come here; but we need to make sure there are no delusions about what it takes to be an American, and no mistakes that the vast bounty of America’s resources will not be doled out to those who would break American laws.

    I imagine some will be turned off by this. You can’t please everyone. But I’m pretty sure that if someone is turned off because he has to (*gasp*) work at getting what he wants, American really doesn’t want him around. We’ve got plenty of people who already do not believe in personal responsibility; we don’t need more.

    [Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

    Posted in Immigration | 8 Comments »

    A Humanitarian War?

    Posted by demimasque on 24th March 2006 (All posts by )

    Do you remember the first time you gave some money to a beggar? How many had you turned away, telling yourself, “next time, next time” before you finally dug some change out of your pocket? If you have given often, have you ever thought, he’s just going to use it to get drunk? I’ll bet you have. Did that stop you from giving again?

    If you could help everyone who was in need, and it was no sacrifice, I bet most of you would. But you can’t, so you have to be picky. The guy at the street corner with that smoldering spark of hope in his eyes, holding up a sign declaring that he will work for food: I bet you’d rather help him than the inebriated chap stumbling toward you saying, “Gimme yer money, I need some fuckin’ money!” I bet the choice is even easier when both guys are standing right there, in front of a bar. You have this gut feeling that the guy who hasn’t given in to drink is probably more worth your dollar than the lush.

    So it is with humanitarian aid: In a world of finite resources, you help the ones that will benefit most, or maybe the one that’s easiest to reach. So too with humanitarian intervention. Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe writes in defense of a humanitarian case for the Iraq War, beginning with a quote from Pamela Bone:

    She is writing about a group of female Iraqi emigrees whom she met in Melbourne in November 2000.

    “They told me that in Iraq, the country they had fled, women were beheaded with swords and their heads nailed to the front doors of their houses, as a lesson to other women. The executed women had been dishonoring their country with their sexual crimes, and this behavior could not be tolerated, the then-Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, had said on national television. More than 200 women had been executed in this manner in the previous three weeks…. Because the claims seemed so extreme, I checked Amnesty International’s country report…. Some of the women’s ‘sexual crimes’ were having been raped by one of Saddam’s sons. One of the women executed was a doctor who had complained of corruption in the government health department.”

    It was cruelty such as this that has stirred other liberal lions, such as Christopher Hitchens, to join others in support of the war. And yet. And yet:

    I remember asking Ted Kennedy during the run-up to the war why he and others in the antiwar camp seemed to have so little sympathy for the countless victims of Ba’athist tyranny. Even if they thought an invasion was unwise, couldn’t they at least voice some solidarity with the innocent human beings writhing in Saddam’s Iraqi hell? Kennedy replied vehemently that he took a back seat to no one in his concern for those who suffer under all the world’s evil regimes, and demanded to know whether supporters of war in Iraq also wanted to invade North Korea, Burma, and other human-rights violators.

    It was a specious answer. The United States may not be able to stop every homicidal fascist on the planet, but that is hardly an argument for stopping none of them.

    It is not a perfect analogy to the beggars, certainly. The fact of war makes it a less than perfect analogy. But the fact is that, despite whatever you, dear reader, may believe about the Bush Administration’s rationale for war, there was a deeply urgent humanitarian need in Iraq, that could only be met by the ousting of Saddam’s regime. Iraq was the case that could most benefit from “help”, and that was most easily reachable: Saddam had, through his intransigence not only on ceasefire terms, but U.N. Security Council Resolutions (for what they’re worth), provided the legal basis for what amounted to a resumption of the first Gulf War. There are few other countries that are implacable inimical to the United States, that are also security risks as well as humanitarian time bombs waiting to go off.

    There is no doubt that we have expended much treasure on Iraq, not only in money, but in the irreplaceable lives of our sons and daughters. A cost so dear may not seem, to some, to have been worth it. Yet how much more meaningful is our aid, than mere money? Anyone can throw money around. But how many would have sacrificed lives? Especially, who among the Western nations would have sent soldiers in the path of real harm, for a people from such a different culture?

    Anyway, what’s done is done. Now we have a choice. Do we withdraw, and congratulate ourselves for having given a fish to the pauper? Or do we stay, and teach the pauper how to fish for himself?

    (Hat-tip: Lorie Byrd)

    [Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

    Posted in Iraq | 14 Comments »