Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Don't jump off the roller-coaster.

A friend called me yesterday, a little panicked about the market's sudden plunge on the news that the bailout was defeated in the vote.  He wanted to know what was going on.  I told him that I thought it was nothing more than fear overriding greed: that half of those who sold sold on the expectation (and fear) that the bailout would pass, and that they'd lose money as the government started seizing more and more companies; and the other half are those who sold when the bailout failed, certain that the economy was going to completely collapse.

Well, today, the market was back up, and with a vengeance.  The Dow dropped over 700 points (roughly 7%) yesterday, but was up by nearly 500 points (roughly 4.5%, more than half of yesterday's loss) today.  Those who sold yesterday lost a lot of money.  If they'd had the intestinal fortitude to leave their money where it was, the market wouldn't have dropped, and fewer would have been hurt as bad financially.

There's a folk tale out there that, one day when Wal-Mart dropped severely in the market, a reporter asked Sam Walton how he felt about losing that much money.  His reply was that he hadn't lost any money, despite the stock dropping, because he didn't sell.  

The moral of the story is that we shouldn't be afraid.  Though it doesn't look like it now, the fundamentals of the economy really are sound--just let them work.  The average investor is terrified, though, because of the atmosphere of terror in the government, media, and on Wall Street.  They're forgetting the safety rules of riding roller-coasters: tighten the belt, hang on, and don't try jumping off because you're scared, because that's when you'll get hurt.

Actual progress

I start every semester by explaining what speech codes are, that our campus has them, and that they should consider my classroom as much a free speech zone as the small outdoor area designated by the campus administration.  I also tell them that, if I offend any single one of them, that that individual should come to me and let me know, and that I will figure out how to push everyone else's buttons so that the offended individual doesn't feel singled out. 

I think this is one of the main reasons that I've never had a single student in five years of teaching complain about being offended: they know I don't mean to.  

That observation about student complaints was a serious one.  As a part timer, or adjunct professor, I don't have the same protection against getting fired as my full-time, tenured colleagues.  However, that may be starting to change.

The FIRE reports that, more and more, colleges are looking toward extending the same academic freedom protections to adjuncts that they extend to their full professors.   

That would be some real progress.  I'll keep an eye on developments.  If it comes to something real happening, I won't be so nervous about being able to keep my job with my political opinions being a full one-eighty away from my colleagues'.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Stop pointing fingers.

First, everybody blamed everybody else for the credit "crisis" brought on by subprime mortgages collapsing the industry. It's not the left's fault or the right's fault--it's both their faults. Then, everybody started blaming everybody else for the dollar falling and the market crashing. Once again, placing blame isn't the way to go: it's not the fault of either party, but the fault of both. Now, they're blaming one another over the vote going wrong on the $700 billion bailout, which most of the country isn't even sure is necessary, or should necessarily be that big. It's still not the fault of one side or the other--the vote was too close for that--but rather, the blame lies with both parties.

Or maybe it lies with the voters, who contacted their representatives and said "Don't do it, or you're fired."

In any case, I do not think the bailout was the correct action. The banks are buying each other up in bids to become "too big to fail." I think, with Washington Mutual's failure, we're seeing that that just isn't possible, that megabanks fail, too.

What ought to be done is exactly the opposite: the banks should downsize. Smaller banks take fewer accounts down with them when, not if, they fail. And with the FDIC beginning to go broke from the insured deposits at smaller banks, heaven help us when the big boys start to fail.

Honestly, the government shouldn't be trying to bail out mortgages, the stock market, auto makers, or anything else like that--if anything, they need to be pumping that money into the FDIC. The market will, after all, self correct, as long as individual bank accounts don't disappear, taking the middle class with them again.

Exactly how is this a "lose-lose" situation?

A man in Indiana killed a man who broke into his home to rape his 17-year-old daughter. The AP report says that the homeowner, 64-year-old Robert McNally, found the intruder, 52-year-old convicted sex offender David T. Meyers, naked in his daughter's bedroom, holding rope and a knife. McNally wasn't trying to kill Meyers--all he did was grab the naked criminal in a headlock and drag him into the hall to pin him while his wife called 911.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), Meyers had a heart condition, and had a heart attack.

Police don't anticipate charges against McNally, because all he did was pin the perp to the floor in the hall while his family awaited the police. However, the case is being investigated by the county's prosecuting attorney.

McNally called the whole situation a "lose-lose" situation, because Meyers had family, too. In my opinion, that makes McNally a much better person than many of us. If he can sympathize with the family of the man who almost raped his daughter, he's very good man, and an example for the rest of us to try to follow. We know he has to be his daughter's hero.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Won't the real Islam please stand up?

Brad Thor’s new novel, The Last Patriot, is a definite page turner.  The plot moves along quickly and well, dragging the reader from Paris to Washington to Boston, from city streets to book sellers to college campuses to Thomas Jefferson’s homes.  It’s a very hard book to put down, thanks to the plot.  However, where the plot stands strong, Thor’s character development is a little too spare, and his place description is, like Hemmingway’s, less descriptive than I would have liked.

Let’s start with the plot: frankly, I’d be surprised if it hadn’t gotten Thor a lot of death threats from the Islamofacists.  The main point of the plot is that, just before he died (was murdered), Mohammed had a startling last revelation that completely negated the previous revelation that militant Islam was based upon.  This last revelation was why Mohammed was murdered by his closest followers: they were trying to suppress it.  They failed.  This book’s plot traces the footprints of the revelation through time, through scholars, and through previous presidents’ run-ins with militant Islam.  Though the secret is never revealed to the reader, the reader is alerted that it would give the peaceful moderate Muslims a very large broom with which to clean house of the rabid radicals. 

Thor’s plot, as I said, was terrific.  I couldn’t put the book down easily.  Thank goodness the chapters were short.

That said, his characterization and scene setting left a little to be desired.  Granted, this is not the first book in that particular series.  He may have done his character set up in earlier books.  However.  Most of the writers I read do keep in mind that not all of their books’ readers come in at the beginning of the series, and they do enough character work to compensate.  If Thor develops his characters at all, he doesn’t do much with character development in this book.  It wasn’t the characters that kept me turning pages, but the desire to see the rabid, radical, militant Islamofacists get theirs. 

Thor’s scene setting wasn’t much better.  I’ve never been to Paris.  Or Washington, D.C.  Or any of the other places that he tells us the trail of the mystery goes.  He never describes place. 

Correction: he minimally described the main character’s home, in that it’s a very old church, converted first to a military installation, and then to a paranoid survivalist’s dream home, with subterranean rooms and passages hidden behind and beneath the church’s altar.

He does, however, describe weapons.  His descriptions of the guns and their capabilities had me drooling.

All in all, I’d have to say Thor’s The Last Patriot is definitely worth a read.  Despite its weaknesses, it’s a fun romp through a dangerous world.  It certainly gives the reader their money’s worth on the violence, and on the social, moral, political, and religious themes.  It will really appeal to anyone who truly realizes what a clear and present danger militant Islam is to the rest of the world.

Umm...we actually do have a plan, if the environmentalistas would get out of the way...

Edwin Black, writing for FoxNews's opinion section is, currently, correct about one thing: the United States is not prepared for one of the major dangers we currently face, given that we as a nation are so dependent so many enemies for one of our major commodities.  We are not prepared to face a long-term oil cutoff.  Such a cutoff is a clear and present danger: we buy a good bit of our oil from Iran, Venezuela, and other nations hostile to our nation and way of life.

Where Black misses the target is in his claim that no one has a plan to deal with it, should it happen.  He's right that the plans out there, particularly those of our current presidential candidates, are short sighted.  However, he doesn't seem to realize that, with the expiration of the offshore drilling ban, we could be up and running within a matter of weeks, if not months: long before the strategic reserves have run out.  

Or perhaps he believes the persistent myths about oil exploration and production.  Most are listed in an AP story that FoxNews links to.  The current consensus is that oil production from new wells is at least ten years away: that lease negotiation, exploration, drilling and tapping, and getting the product to market will take around a decade.

However, that consensus hides a lot of politics that has nothing to do with actual production.  According to Ben Lieberman of the Heritage Foundation, for the past 26 years, congress has refused to even allow exploration for additional reserves.  Eighteen years ago, the first President Bush added an executive order to that ban, creating overlapping protections that certain lobbies insisted upon.  Before those bans were placed, we had estimates that there were about 19 billion barrels of oil, or something like 30 years' worth of oil imported from Saudi Arabia alone.  

Those estimates are a quarter of a century old.  As Janet Levy of the American Thinker points out, estimates only guess what's recoverable at current technology levels.  The likelihood is that the reserves are much larger.  In fact, she says
Although Congress has not authorized a thorough inventory of offshore resources for over 30 years, the American Petroleum Institute estimates recoverable U.S. oil resources at about 86 billion barrels offshore and 32 billion barrels onshore.[7]  This estimate doesn't take into consideration technological advancements, unconventional sources and recent discoveries. 
I will concede that the lease negotiations may well take years--but that's politics, not production.  As is the refusal to allow drilling in one small area where there are proven, recoverable, oil reserves that would nudge us toward, if not independence, then toward being less dependent upon hostile nations' oil sales.  

Environmental arguments about risks to wildlife and pristine forests have kept ANWR off limits to energy development, even though such risks are unfounded.  Drilling in the region would cover a mere tenth of one percent of its 19 million acres.  Plus, ANWR is a flat, treeless plain with temperatures inhospitable for most animal species.  The area is already home to a village of Native Americans, who support its development.  It currently contains an airstrip, power lines, an oil well and a military radar site.  Two decades of drilling in the North Slope area has had no negative effects on the ecology of the area and, during that time, the caribou population actually increased sevenfold.
Also political are the nearly-instantaneous lawsuits that environmental lobbies file upon any announcement of any new lease to oil exploration companies, seeking to block any new exploration.   These take years to fight.

So, maybe the ten year estimate isn't that far off, but it has nothing to do with production, and everything to do with lobbies and politics.  However, with gas prices soaring, and people getting impatient with the environmental lobbies, I doubt that future lawsuits will prevent oil exploration and drilling for nearly as long.  Unfortunately, that doesn't stop the bureaucratic nonsense that the Department of the Interior puts upon lease-seekers.  

However, refusing to allow leasing, exploration,  and new production just because it will be ten years before it gets to market is as short sighted as deciding not to save money for your children's college, just because they're infants, and therefore have no need for the money now.  It's as short sighted as--never mind.  We've already seen how short-sighted politicians and the American voter can be with the subprime mortgage popularity and subsequent collapse.

Still.  Renewal of the offshore production that was cut off by the offshore ban passed in 1982 could start flooding the American market with oil within the next couple of months.  The wells are there.  The equipment is there.  The infrastructure for getting the oil from the well to the shore is there.  All the producers have to do is update and upgrade equipment left for a quarter of a century.

Hugo Chavez needs to shut up.

I don't know why this man is still making headlines.  Chavez says this.  Chavez says that.  Chavez helped annoy the Saudis into leaving OPEC, at least temporarily (though that's not a bad thing for us).  The man just needs to shut up.

Hugo Chavez has delusions of credibility.  His only credibility is with nations who already don't like us (like Iran, a few tiny Central American countries, some parts of the EU, and their new friends in Russia).  The media reports on the things he says simply because he's bombastic and sensational enough to be interesting.  Well, that, and he's a nutso lefty.

In the first story I linked to, Chavez claims that the US government isn't going to be able to fix the economy (true, as far as that goes), that the government is trying to fix it by printing more money (not really true, but it sure seems like it), and that the US government wants to buy the world with worthless paper.  He said this while in France, meeting with the French president.  Remember what I said about countries who already don't like us?  The French president warned him not to say such things yet, that the US government was headed into an election, and that he was merely making a caricature of himself.  

The sad little king of a sad little hill didn't listen to the president of France--but then again, who does?  Today, he commented that the United States needed to draft a new constitution, one that would take our country in a more socialist direction, because he thinks that the current problems we're having with our economy can be traced directly back to capitalism.

News flash to the dictator of Venezuela: it isn't that our constitution that needs fixed, nor is it our capitalist system.  It's that our government has been systematically ignoring our constitution as it was written for years,by  taking on powers that were never allowed the federal government to interfere in commerce and capitalism.  Our federal government needs to be replaced, not our constitution.  The only thing that's kept our country as stable as it is (as opposed to most of Central and South America) is our people's belief in the founding documents, and the occasional bloodless rebellion that forces our government to pay attention to them again.

The United States was founded upon the rule of law.  The law is what's codified in the Constitution.  Without that, all we have are ever-changing precedents, like what most of the older countries in Europe depend upon, or the whim of dictators like Chavez.  The rule of law, and a people's strong belief in that rule of law, can weather any financial storm, given time.  

That's what Chavez wants changed.  He's not our friend.  He's not making recommendations for us to re-write our constitution because he wants to help.  He wants the United States unable to stand between him and what he wants.  With our constitution giving our people something to believe in, we will always stand between petty tyrants and their desires to expand their tyranny.  Without that belief, we will fall.  And that's what Chavez, and his new friends in Russia, Europe, and the Middle East, really want.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A couple of giggles for a gloomy world

I was surfing around on the internet, and came across a really ironically funny story on FoxNews:

Besides the pun (exposed as pole dancer? Well, duh--they're strippers!), I cracked up when I saw the headline. Talk about your preacher's daughter gone wrong! I had to click on it to get the whole story (and make sure the girl was still alive). She admitted to the reporters that she chose to do what she does out of rebellion against her father's beliefs.

Her father's reaction? Typical preacher. He says that her actions are between her and God, and that she will have to face up to them on judgement day. He said that God will forgive her anything except turning from Islam.

So, she is still alive, for now. I wouldn't put it past her father to initiate an "honor killing" if she converts to a different religion, though.

The second headline that made me chuckle was from Drudge:

It's about time somebody took exception to what this slimy, lying, traitorous creep said about our Marines in 2006. The timing really makes it better, though: he's being sued for slander, by one of the Marines that served at Haditha during the incident that Murtha said was murder "in cold blood" six weeks before he's up for re-election.

Would that all politicians who publicly slime our military had to face the very ones they'd slimed in a court of law. I'd love to see a few more sued for slander--especially that close to election time.

Well, why not one more funny headline from FoxNews? This one's just hilarious, with no political or religious implications at all:

Apparently, Granpa had checked in with severe abdominal pains. He checked out with a prescription for pain meds and a startling diagnosis--thanks to a couple of wrong keystrokes in a busy hospital.

The story reminded me about the old joke about the nun who went to the doctor with the hiccups, and I had to giggle.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Freedom: To and From

What is freedom? To the average American, it’s almost indefinable: it just is. Really, though, there are two distinct freedoms that Americans hold dear: freedom to and freedom from.

Americans are aware that we have the freedom to own property, own and use firearms, and to speak our minds on many topics. Better yet, we have the freedom to choose our own government representatives. We have the freedom to do anything not forbidden by our federal, state, and local laws. Many are also aware that we have freedom from government repression of speech, religion, press, intrusion into our daily lives, imprisonment without reason, and seizure of private property without due recompense. Those freedoms are, after all, so important that they were written into our first and foremost legal document: the Constitution of the United States. This document overrides any other law, federal, state, or local, that contradicts it.

We do not, however, have the freedom from being offended.

Nowhere in the Constitution is anyone, of any race, sex, creed, or sexual preference guaranteed the right to never be offended by the speech of another. They’re guaranteed the right to equality, to having the expectation that the government cannot discriminate against them because of their race, sex, creed, or sexual preference by the Constitution of the United States; however, the right to freedom from offense is nowhere except in the fevered minds of those who see repression even in the personal opinions of private individuals.

I do not have the right to never be offended. I have never claimed to have that right. I will never claim to have that right. I believe, very strongly, that whosoever has an opinion on an issue that offends me, either morally or intellectually, has the right to voice that opinion, despite my discomfort or anger. I will fight to the death to protect their rights to voice their opinions, no matter how much I disagree, or how offended I get.

I don’t seem to have that same right. Many don’t.

Granted, each American has—on paper, at least—exactly the same rights. Unfortunately, there are some groups that believe that, since they have been so repressed in the past, they have more rights than the other groups do. I will not identify groups, since we all know who they are. We have all faced pressure, either official or unofficial, at the workplace to silence opinions that are contrary to what is “politically correct.”

We have all faced threats being called racist, sexist, or homophobic, simply because we may have said something (perhaps meant as a compliment, or perhaps a joke) that someone overheard and misinterpreted. Some of us have faced more than threats: Larry Summers was forced to resign over statement summarizing paper topics at a conference, and Donald Hindley harassment over a criticism of the term “wetback.” Each, a white, upper-class, highly educated man, was persecuted and prosecuted by those for and with whom he worked simply because he offended someone with something he said. Neither man’s freedom of expression, a constitutionally guaranteed right, was protected by those in charge, simply because someone else claimed an unsupported freedom from being offended.

I do wonder, though, if the groups who are the most vocal about trampling others’ freedoms are not simply so sensitive to the repression they faced, and fear the return of that repression so deeply, that they see even opinions held by private individuals that will never really have any power over any member of these groups as a threat to their freedom from official, governmental, repression.

If this is the case, they have my deepest sympathies. But I will not let them take my freedom to believe what I want, or my freedom to express those beliefs. Nor will I allow theirs to be trampled.

Too dire to contemplate.

I have said it before, and I will continue saying it: Iran is too unstable and irresponsible of a regime to be allowed access to nuclear technology.

I know I have friends, like Kill the Cat, who believe that, since we're the only nation in the world to have used nuclear weapons in any capacity, we are too irresponsible of a regime to be allowed nuclear technology.  I, of course, disagree.  

Yes, we did drop a large nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, and three days later, a smaller one on Nagasaki, Japan.  Yes, a lot of people died instantly, a lot more died a lot slower from the burns and blast damage, and still more died the most horrible deaths of all from the radiation.  I fully admit that we did drop the bombs, and as a consequence caused the devastation that still causes us, today, sixty-three years later, to recoil in horror from what we did.

That's my point: we didn't fully understand all of the long-term consequences of what we'd unleashed.  Not then.  And now, now that we understand, we are not likely to use nuclear weapons against a nation without both overriding need and just cause.  I'd say that this horror of what we unleashed makes us the most, not least, responsible nation regarding the possession of nuclear weapons.

Not so Iran.  

Iran is not, by any means, a rational regime.  Their hatred of Israel is completely unreasoning.  (I'm sad to say that I cannot say the same thing for their hatred of us.)  Israel knows that Iran wants the nation, and all of its inhabitants, wiped from the face of the earth, and how not, when the Iranian president has repeatedly said so?  Israel knows that, once Iran acquires nuclear technology, a bomb will soon follow.  They also know that the first bomb--maybe two, for good measure in taking care of the "one-bomb target" Iran has referred to their nation as--will be launched at them as soon as it is assembled.  They are willing to do whatever is necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear technology.

Unfortunately, we are not in agreement.  We still believe, wrongly, that the answer lies in multilateralism, diplomacy, and deterrence.  Iran's president has said, outright, to us and to the UN, that the sanctions against them, and the technology embargoes put in place to prevent them from developing nuclear technology, have failed.  He understands that there is no nation on earth (with, perhaps, the exceptions of China and Russia) that will provide him with nuclear materials, and that Iran will have to mine and refine their own radioactive material for their plants.

He's right, too.  Europe is decidedly uneasy about Iran's interest in nuclear technology.  While they're not uneasy enough to be willing to do much, they will complain and pass resolutions that they cannot enforce.  

Right now, Iran is unable to reach Europe with a nuclear weapon.  Right now, there is no incentive, in the collective European mind, to do more than complain.  However, Iran's planning to change that: they're telling the world that they plan to launch an Iranian made satellite into high orbit with an Iranian made rocket.  With this technology, they could reach any nation in the world with a nuclear, chemical, or biological agent.  

That might change things a little.  After all, there are certain radical sects of the population that believes that Armageddon is coming, and that it's not something to be avoided, but embraced.  With a sect like that as a large and powerful a part of Iran as it is, I argue that Iran has not been, is not now, and without significant regime change, will not be in the foreseeable future, a sane and responsible enough regime to be allowed access to nuclear technology.

After all, that radical sect that wants to set off Armageddon runs the nation.

This is why the Monroe Doctrine was created.

Russia is still playing in our pond.  They've dispatched nuclear powered and warhead carrying naval vessels to play with Chavez's navy in the Caribbean.  They've announced that they want closer ties with Latin America.  And now, they're offering Venezuela help with developing nuclear capability.  

Yes, they've beaten out a compromise with us to ask for more worthless resolutions from the UN against Iran's nuclear ambitions.  That's not the point.  No, they're making more threats, and nastier ones, by cooperating with our hostile neighbor's nuclear ambitions.

They're also acknowledging that they are getting involved in another Cold War with us: the puppet president has announced that Russia is putting up its own missile defense shield.  

Why put up the defense shield?  Might it be because they know damned well that they're doing, in Venezuela, would have gotten them spanked during the last Cold War?  I don't know if they don't realize that we don't have the political will, or simply aren't sure if we do or not, and don't want to risk the attack.  In any case, forcing them to do the spending is a good first step in the new Cold War.

Bad timing.

Following on the FDIC's announcement yesterday that it would need $150 billion because of small bank closures, we hear that one of the largest banks in the United States--Washington Mutual--has been seized.  And sold.  Hopefully, JP Morgan Chase's role in purchasing the other giant bank will prevent the FDIC from going under, since WaMu's (at least mostly) insured assets were floating at an estimated $1.9 billion.

With that much money in the bank, why did they fold?  Insufficient liquidity and bad mortages.  

Germany's right: we are well on our way to losing our status as world financial superpower.  Their finance minister thinks that this year heralds the rise of a more multi-lateral world in financial power.  If it were just Western Europe--our nominative allies in the EU--I wouldn't be too worried, but that's not where the money, or even the most stable money, is.  Much of the most stable income is currently in the hands of our oil-producing enemies, making them the potential financial superpowers.

For now.  I don't doubt that we will eventually regain our financial footing in the world, but now's a bad time for us to lose it with everything else going wrong for us.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

As if we needed proof that the government bailout is the wrong tactic...

Hugo Chavez thinks that the nationalization of the mortgage giants is a sign that America has realized the superiority of socialism over capitalism.  

I don't think the average American thinks so.  I think the government is beginning to slip, though, and show its true colors of wanting more and more control over the economy, and through the economy, the day-to-day lives of its people.  

Today, the government has approved a measure lending (at government interest rates) $25 billion to the auto industry.  I understand the reasoning behind the loans--though auto makers' interests would be better served by moving plants out of the areas they're in to try to get out from under the onerous pay and benefits packages the unions force them to pay, it would definitely not be in the nation's best interests to lose the jobs these plants represent.  Ergo, we have this huge taxpayer funded loan to make up for the money that the average investor is too wise to pour into the manufacturers.  They do, after all, need to modernize.  

I believe that the big three automakers are also shifting away from building the gas guzzler trucks and SUVs toward building more small, efficient, cars, as well.  So, while I think they're unwise to accept union "deals," they're at least (finally) showing wisdom in their product production choices.

We've also learned today that the FDIC is going to need a good-sized bailout.  Unlike Hong Kong, or even our own banks during the Great Depression, our banks' deposits are insured by a governmental agency--each account, up to $100,000 will be repaid, even if the bank goes under.  
Unfortunately, they're not set up to deal with how many banks are going under, or how much money is deposited in each bank.  

Without government interference introducing the concept of fairness in housing in the '60s, the platform wouldn't have been there for the easy extension in the '90s that set up the mortgage problem.  Without that easy back door into forcing banks to make loans to those who were very much unqualified financially, the government likely wouldn't have been able to interfere quite so heavily.  Without the current subprime lending collapses, banks likely wouldn't be collapsing at the rate and frequency that they currently are, and the FDIC wouldn't need more government interference to keep working to prevent a run on banks.

I believe that, while things might get a little worse before they get better without the government bailout that's being contemplated right now, if the government does push through the $700 billion bailout, things will be much worse for much longer.  After all, it was FDR's policies between the time he was elected to his first term and December 1941 that caused the Great Depression to stretch on as long as it did.

Globalism's darker side.

With the current financial meltdown, the world is starting to see the darker side of being so economically intertwined with one another.  Hong Kong's banks are beginning to feel the pinch of American markets crashing.  Apparently, Chinese bank customers have even lower confidence in their banking systems than Americans are beginning to: for the second time in the past ten years, bank customers are lining up to withdraw their savings from the banks.

That hasn't happened in the United States since 1932.  Not really.  Not en masse.  And not with every bank.

Consequently, China has decided to stop allowing their banks to lend money (i.e., invest in) to American banks.  I assume that this is a measure to try to keep their economy from tanking with ours.  

Unfortunately for them, that's not the only way theirs is tangled with ours.  They sell more goods to the United States than to pretty much any other nation in the world.  And, the worse our economy gets, the less goods our people buy as their incomes either fall or stay static while prices rise.  The less the American consumer buys, the less money flows back into China.  In other words, China is, like the American government, doing the wrong thing at the wrong time to try to stave off the problems that both economies face.

That is, of course, an assumption that this is only about trying to prevent their economy from tanking.  There's no guarantee that it's not an attempt to sink ours while trying to keep theirs more or less afloat.  They are, after all, more business partners than allies and friends.  And honestly, they're more our competitors than anything.

Then again, I could be paranoid.

Academic freedom at its finest.

The FIRE, which has been making regular reports on the progress (or lack thereof) in the case against Brandeis University, reports that Brandeis University has created such an atmosphere of fear of reprisal, Hindley's colleagues are afraid to speak up with their disapproval of his treatment.  Hindley said, in an interview, 
"that despite the response of the faculty Senate and the committee on faculty rights," which has been uniformly scathing and critical of Brandeis' administration, "individual tenured members of his department, though outraged, would not stand up publicly on his behalf. One of them explained to him, 'I'm about to retire.' He and others fear retaliation." 
Lovely.  Just another case of "academic freedom" at an institution where the only freedom is the freedom to agree with the administration.

On the academic freedom for students front, we have another interesting case.  English professor Andrew Kent Hallam at Denver, Colorado's, Metro State College, assigned an essay to his composition class.  He didn't allow them to pick the topic, or pick the side of the argument, or even pick who they wanted to criticize.  The whole class was assigned to write an essay critical of Republican Vice Presidential Nominee Sarah Palin.  

Like I've said, I teach English Composition.  I do not, however, choose my students' topics for them.  I've learned that not every student is interested in the same types of topics as I am, or even as each other.  I've also learned that, when the student isn't interested, or when they flat disagree with the premise put forth in an assigned topic, they do not do their best work.  I don't grade on their topic choice--unless they pick one that's too broad for the page range, and then all I do is help them figure that out, and narrow it down.  I don't grade on the side of the issue they take up.  I don't grade on their opinions.

And, while I do allow debate between the students in class, and do allow them to tease each other good naturedly, I do not allow them to become derogatory towards one another.  Hallam, on the other hand, "encouraged the majority liberals to repeatedly deride" the few, singled out Republicans in the class.

Way to teach freedom of speech, thought, and opinion, dude.  

Mexico is having as many problems with illegals as we are.

The Mexican government has announced that it will be stepping up its vehicle inspections on vehicles entering Mexico from the United States.  I say good for them.  What we look for in vehicles coming into the US is drugs.  While that increases the amount of crime in our streets through addicts desperate for their next hit, what they're looking for is far more dangerous: the guns that drug dealers' agents buy illegally in the United States to smuggle back to the cartels.  

A lot of their problems stem back to the Mexican army's and law enforcement's epidemic of corruption.  The government doesn't pay their employees a lot, so employees take bribes.  The army takes bribes from the drug cartels to guard shipments, and do violent jobs that the cartels don't have the equipment to do.  Mexican law enforcement takes bribes to look the other way.

The drug cartels are the major problem down there.  They're the ones that are bucking government control.  They're the ones that smuggle criminals across our borders to sell drugs and do other illegal business to send money back.  

Speaking of sending money back...our economic trouble is hitting the Mexican economy kind of hard.  Not only are the illegal workers in this country headed home, but the money sent home by legal and illegal alike is drying up.  

So, not only is the Mexican government having trouble with the cartels, but with their own economy.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

This ought to help.

The senate just passed a "massive" tax relief bill.  The bill will save some 20 million taxpayers from suddenly getting hit by the alternative minimum tax.  

For those who don't know, the alternative minimum tax was a law created in 1969 to make sure the "wealthy" couldn't dodge income taxes through loopholes and deductions and such.  If a family makes x amount of money, they have to pay y amount of taxes.  When this law was passed, no provisions were made for inflation.  Now, the tax will more likely hit the upper-middle class, or the average income earner in New York City, rather than the ultra wealthy, unless it's fixed.  The patch that congress is willing to compromise on must be redone every year to keep the AMT from hitting those who cannot truly afford it.

Also part of the tax bill were tax breaks for small businesses and individuals that were set to expire, and provisions that will make mental health insurance equal to physical health insurance in the eyes of the law.  

The other item I ran across today that will probably boost our economy (by keeping oil prices at least stable, if not dropping them a bit) is that there isn't enough congressional support to keep the offshore oil drilling ban going.  

While the government keeps debating whose fault the whole economic mess is, including an FBI investigation of fraud in Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, and AIG, and what to do and not to do, the news about the tax break extension and offshore drilling ban lifting is probably the best thing the American citizen can hope for.  The tax breaks and energy solutions will do more to help the economy than anything else the government could do that might help, and far more than what the government wants to do.

The solutions to sanctuary cities exists.

Many cities in the United States declare themselves "sanctuary cities," where immigrants cannot be asked about the legality of their residence by police, and police cannot report illegal immigrants to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  For an incomplete list, by state, go here.

A lot of American citizens--and legal immigrants--are frustrated: aren't their local municipal governments supposed to do the everyday legislative, executive, and enforcement chores to keep them safe?  Why don't their elected officials do what they're supposed to do?  And what can we do about it?

Well, according to Judicial Watch, we do have solutions.  

The policies of sanctuary cities are voided by federal law.  All states must do is enforce the federal laws regarding the communications block that sanctuary city councils have set up between local law enforcement and ICE.  If states were to further criminalize that communications block, and prosecute those that ignored the law--noisily and publicly--I'm betting that sanctuary cities would disappear quickly.

Another option we have is similar to the state laws passed nation wide regarding eminent domain use: any city that abuses the federal law gets defunded by their state.  Totally.  No more funds for highway repairs, education, or any of the other hundreds of projects cities rely on state funds to pay for.  

In any case, we do have options.  All it takes is the political intestinal and testicular fortitude--both on our parts, to demand that our state legislatures do something; and on the parts of our state legislators, to stand up against the identity politics special interest groups.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What now?

The whole world is watching our financial meltdown.  Iran blames it on our "military engagements" worldwide.  The two current candidates for president blame each other's parties.  Mexican workers, both legal and illegal, are starting to head for home at record rates.

I'm done trying to figure out who's at fault.  I'm pretty sure I have a good idea of the two who did the most to hurt the economy.  Others are pretty sure they know, too, and their opinions are completely opposite mine.  

The question is no longer "Whose fault is this?" but "What should we do now?"

I do not think the current bailout plan is the answer, for several reasons.  First, I do not trust the federal government with $700 billion to spend how it sees fit.    Second, I do not believe that the government has its taxpayers' best interests at hear so much as its own.  And last, but certainly not least, I do not want to see our government turn our economy into a copy of the socialist command economies that have failed repeatedly around the world.

Donald Luskin, of the National Review Online's financial corner, has three very good questions that should be answered before any bailout occurs.  Those are "Is it necessary?  Will it work?  Is it morally justifiable?"  His answer to the first question is a simple "We don't know."  And we really don't.  We have two or three past instances to compare this current situation to: the stock market crash in 1929 that led into the Great Depression, and the stock market crash in 1987 that actually led to a market resurgence.  

In the Depression, we had more bank trouble than we did in 1987, and government interventions that stretched it out all the way to WWII.  I, and others, think that the Depression stretched out as long as it did thanks to the increase in socialist policies and programs that FDR instituted to try to manage the problems.  Though the changes were initially meant to be temporary, the federal government has only continued to grow from that time to this.  The crash in 1987 did not lead to a depression; on the contrary, the market ended the year way up.

There is no way to tell if a government bailout is necessary at this point.  We simply don't know if the economy will react like it did in 1929 or if it will react like it did in 1987.

In Luskin's opinion, the answer to the second question, "Will it work?" is the same: we don't know.  I disagree: with each government intervention--the Bear Stearns buyout, and the Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and AIG seizures--the problem seems to have gotten progressively worse.  I'm not sure if it's because the more government intervenes, the more people fear another banking collapse like the S&L crisis, or the bank collapses of the Great Depression, or if, like FoxNews's Radly Balko (and myself), people fear the government's sharp turn from capitalism to the failed socialist policies that stretched out the Depression and toppled the USSR.  After all, the current deficits the subprime lenders face is about equal to the national deficit.  If our government can't keep from overdrawing the bank account known as the taxpayer's dollars, how in the world is it going to be able to fix the banking problems with this bailout?

Laskin's last question, "Is it morally justifiable?" is, in my opinion, best answered by a resounding "no!"  No, it is not morally justifiable. This government has run up a several thousand dollar per person debt.  It is absolutely wrong to take even more taxpayer money to bail out debts that it forced on lenders by requiring them to make subprime loans in the name of "racial equality," or "social responsibility."  Forced redistribution of wealth--which is all this comes down to--is nothing better than the government reaching into the taxpayers' pockets and stealing their hard-earned money to give to those who don't make as much as they want to be making.  In this case, it's worse: the welfare is going to those who are making a lot of money.  Remember, the Kerrys had $2 million invested in AIG before it collapsed far enough that the government decided to intervene.  How is it right to take money from families making less than $40,000/year to give to investors?

So, what do we do?  There are suggestions.  Newt Gingrich's are good:
Four reform steps will have capital flowing with no government bureaucracy and no taxpayer burden. 

First, suspend the mark-to-market rule which is insanely driving companies to unnecessary bankruptcy. If short selling can be suspended on 799 stocks (an arbitrary number and a warning of the rule by bureaucrats which is coming under the Paulson plan), the mark-to-market rule can be suspended for six months and then replaced with a more accurate three year rolling average mark-to-market. 

Second, repeal Sarbanes-Oxley. It failed with Freddy Mac. It failed with Fannie Mae. It failed with Bear Stearns. It failed with Lehman Brothers. It failed with AIG. It is crippling our entrepreneurial economy. I spent three days this week in Silicon Valley. Everyone agreed Sarbanes-Oxley was crippling the economy. One firm told me they would bring more than 20 companies public in the next year if the law was repealed. Its Sarbanes-Oxley’s $3 million per startup annual accounting fee that is keeping these companies private. 

Third, match our competitors in China and Singapore by going to a zero capital gains tax. Private capital will flood into Wall Street with zero capital gains and it will come at no cost to the taxpayer. Even if you believe in a static analytical model in which lower capital gains taxes mean lower revenues for the Treasury, a zero capital gains tax costs much less than the Paulson plan. And if you believe in a historic model (as I do), a zero capital gains tax would lead to a dramatic increase in federal revenue through a larger, more competitive and more prosperous economy. 

Fourth, immediately pass an “all of the above” energy plan designed to bring home $500 billion of the $700 billion a year we are sending overseas. With that much energy income the American economy would boom and government revenues would grow.

However, since these possibilities reduce the size of government, and involve breaking up bureaucracies, I do not believe that they would ever have a snowball's chance in the tropics of being enacted, or carried out without being watered down to inefficacy if they were.

The National Review Online'Deroy Murdoc has simpler ideas that are even less likely to be enacted: Break up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and sell off the pieces to investors.  Since both entities were initially government programs that were spun off, there's no way the government is going to break them up now.

So, what do we do now?  What can we do but brace for the government to forge ahead with the bailout and plunge us into a sinkhole that looks like it has the possibility of becoming worse than the Great Depression?

It is an election year, folks.  Both sides are trying anything they can think of to get their candidate elected.  That means that, despite what the American investors and taxpayers might prefer, ill-considered action will be taken.

Update: Go take a look and listen to Dave Ramsey's take.

More "freedom" in the halls of academia.

Brandeis University, the institution harassing one of its professors with a political watchdog, has gone further in its steps toward totalitarian thought control: they've hired a "university defender" to teach its faculty and staff about "racially harassing speech."

Their new hire is a lawyer whose specialization is defending universities against civil rights lawsuits.  He's to present to all faculty and staff on Thursday about "the legal definitions and boundaries of racially harassing speech and the implications of case law on this subject." Much of the definitions that the lawyer will present on are the definitions in the university handbook, and have been ruled, by the school's own Committee on Faculty Rights, to be a violation of the academic freedoms that professors and students are supposed to enjoy.  

So basically, not only have the university administration forced Donald Hindley to accept an observer in his classroom, reminiscent of the political watchdogs the Soviet Union used to place with their submarine and ship captains to insure political loyalty, but they university plan to step all over the First Amendment rights of all of its faculty and staff.

At least, this way, they can't be accused of singling out conservative faculty for harassment.  

Monday, September 22, 2008

Distractions only work if they're legitimate dangers.

Once again: Russia isn't willing to fight us openly.  They didn't during the last cold war.  They will not with this one.  What they did then, and are doing now, is using proxies to draw us out, thin down what we could throw at them, should we have to, and generally try to hedge in our influence.

But distractions only work if they're legitimate dangers, like the threats in the Middle East, South America, and Korea.

Middle Eastern Proxies

The Middle East, in particular, is a very good distraction.  Currently, we have the occupation in Iraq.  They won't need us to be there much longer--the Iraqi army is working up to Western European standards, and the majority of the people are happy with the government that they've set up.  They're working with their army and our peacekeepers to drive the radical jihadists out of their country.  

The downside to that is that, with our attention (and troops) out of Iraq, much of our attention will be free to shift...elsewhere.  Unless something else pops up to threaten us.  Something like Iran.  Or Pakistan.  Or Somalia.

Currently, with Russia's help, Iran is about to bring its first nuclear power plant online.  Beyond that, despite denials, the whole sane world believes that the only reason that Iran wants nuclear technology is so that they can adapt it to weapons tech.  No one knows how close they are to a bomb, but everyone is aware that the window for diplomacy is closing.

I'm wondering, since we're working on hunting the same bunch, why Pakistan has chosen now to decide they don't want us chasing the terrorists across their borders.  In fact, they've begun firing on our troops for crossing their borders at all.  Pakistan is fully aware that we, and they, are fighting the same enemy.  They're aware that this enemy is extremely dangerous, and that their top leaders' lives were only saved from this last attack by a last minute change of plans.   I don't see an obvious link, but the links between Russia and its former proxies were tenuous at best during the first cold war, and I don't have access to any raw data reports that were all that showed the links then, and probably don't even exist now.

I'm not fully sure that Somalia is, technically, part of the Middle East, or that Russia is involved in the way the issues there are heating up again, but the timing is awfully interesting, especially since Russia used a lot of rebel forces in their proxy wars against legitimate governments that were our allies.

South America

Of course, the loudest squeaky wheel in South America is currently Venezuela.  They've invited Russia to participate in naval war games in the Caribbean.  Russia has, of course, accepted in their attempts to create closer ties between themselves and Latin America--true to form with their re-emergence as a threat.  In fact, their ships are on their way.

Venezuela has also announced that it has plans to acquire military aircraft from China.  Actually, the announcement was that the plans for purchasing training and combat aircraft were now in the final stages.  Keep in mind that China, during Cold War I, was an ally of the USSR, and though they're currently a trading partner, they are neither a political ally nor even really friendly.  

North Korea

Once again, though I don't see clear links between Russia's renewed belligerent behavior and North Korea's, I don't doubt that it's there, behind the scenes.  North Korea's timing in determinedly pursuing nuclear technology--with which it has built at least one bomb--is too convenient for Russian interests to be a coincidence.

I think that Russia's likely up to something, something more than what they've already tipped their hands to.  Otherwise, they wouldn't be backing, publicly or privately, so many distractions that we, as a nation (and the rest of the world's peacekeeper), simply cannot ignore.  


I really enjoy news stories like these:

Apparently, an archaeologist found what he thinks is the capital of an ancient empire that adopted Judaism as their state religion: the Khazars.   That particular empire has disappeared so thoroughly that, until recently, it was as mythological as Troy.  Actually, on second thought, since the ancient city of Troy from Homer's Illiad has recently been found, I suppose it's still as mythological as Troy.  

I've read about this technology--known in sci-fi vocabulary as "beanstalk" technology--in the fiction written by Robert Heinlein and John Scalzi.  According to theories, it could very well be more efficient, more enviornmentally friendly, and cheaper to use than the shuttle technology currently in use.  


Apparently, two big money-losers in the AIG collapse were two big names in government: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and Senator John Kerry.  And those are just the names of big investors that have been released.

Europe is alternately gloating and concerned with our meltdown.  They're gloating because they're blaming American capitalist greed for America's market shennanigans last week, and concerned because, quite frankly, each and every major market in the world is tied to ours.  If we go down, so do most of them.  

Many, Europeans and Americans alike, also--and rightly, to a certain extent--blame then-Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan for the current market issues.

However, Greenspan's policies did not force the subprime mortgage market gates wide open.  The Federal Reserve isn't responsible for setting policy on housing.  No, Greenspan's fault lies solely in that he cut the interest rates banks charged one another so low, kept them there so long, and declined to do anything about the growing "irrational exuberance" (to use his own phrase about another financial bubble) regarding investments backed by mortgages, both good and bad.  

In any case, the time for laying blame is past.  Or, if not, a useless exercise in arguing who missed seeing the iceberg until the Titanic hit it.  We need to figure out what to do now, and how to stop our politicians from more and more large company bailouts and seizures.

So this is why the immigration problem hasn't been solved.

Between officials taking bribes, to politicians deciding more foreigners in without visas, our own government is screwing us over. 

In the first story, we're told that the official involved in taking bribes to free illegal aliens who happen to be violent offenders will get the maximum sentence for his crime.  Three years.  Two of the violent offenders he worked to get released were rapists, one of whom went on to murder a college student less than a year after his release.  

Another interesting bit is that this man worked with a Lebanese restaurant owner to get his illegal workers legal by helping them fraudulently marry American women--dangerous to the American people in a whole other way, since Syria uses Lebanon to train their terrorist operatives.  So, unless the restaurant owner is hiring only family, he could unknowingly import terrorists into the US. 

The other interesting story about why we can't get anything done to curb illegal immigration is that our own citizens are tipping factories and workers off about raids.  

Without the outrage forcing politicians to act, they won't.  Illegals, in many cases, create Social Security numbers to gain jobs, and pay payroll taxes.  Without this chunk of income that will never have to be repaid to the people from whom it was taken, Social Security would have collapsed some ten years ago.  

It's pretty easy to see why officials are playing so fast and loose with our safety: identity politics, the actions of some of our citizens that say louder than words that Americans are fine with "guest workers" whether they're legal or not, and extra income tax money coming in.  

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bluster and ranting

Iran is not now, has not been, and unless action is taken to force regime change, will not be at any time in the future, a responsible enough entity to be allowed any access to nuclear power.  

Don't believe me?  Then listen to them.

Recently, their military had a parade, showing off the weapons that they have, and making threats against other nations.  In particular, one truck carried a banner that read, in both English and Iran's native Farsi, "Israel should be eliminated from the universe."

Does this sound like a nation responsible enough to be trusted with the capability to create nuclear weapons?  

During that parade, their president announced that sanctions had failed.  He announced that those who believed that "economic and scientific sanctions could break down our revolution and our nation" were wrong, and added that the world had lost hope.  

First of all, the world is well aware that sanctions have failed.  They likely would have succeeded were it not for Russia ignoring them to help Iran build "civilian" nuclear power plants.  Second, any sane government would be afraid, not happy, that Western civilization has lost hope that sanctions could succeed.  Once diplomatic options have been exhausted, all that's left is attack, and we're already over there, right next door to Iran.  Israel is even more determined than we are that Iran not become a nuclear power.

But wait, there's more: during the parade that showed off long range missiles (at least, long range enough to reach UN bases in the Middle East, as well as Israel), Iran's president vowed that they're ready for military attack, and will strike back at the slightest hint of hostilities.  He says "If anyone allows himself to commit even a tiny offense against Iran's legitimate interests, borders, or sacred land, our armed forces will break his hand before he can pull the trigger." 

The UN is in agreement with us that "legitimate interests" is doublespeak for "nuclear ambitions."  It's also pretty clear that it could very well count for "wiping Israel from the face of the earth with those nuclear ambitions."  And if that statement isn't a threat for preemptive attack the moment they feel they can win, I don't know what it is.

And there are still people out there, in the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and NATO that think Iran isn't a threat, that they genuinely want peaceful use of nuclear energy to create clean, efficient, electrical energy for their people.  I think these people need to listen to just a little bit of Iran's bluster and ranting.  A little bit goes a long way to convince reasonable observers that Iran's regime is neither sane nor responsible enough to be allowed access to nuclear technology.

Down, but not out.

Al Qaeda is on the run in many places.  We, and the Iraqi people, have almost cleared them out of Iraq.  Not quite, but getting close.  They've been chased all the way back to Yemen, where one of their most recent successes was a sophisticated truck bomb set off at the US embassy.

I said "one of their most recent successes."  The Marriott hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan, was hit yesterday with another sophisticated truck bomb attack.  The hotel, according to some sources, was a secondary target, hit only after the terrorists were prevented from reaching Parliament, which was meeting at the time, or the Prime Minister's office, where the new President was having dinner with several officials.

Pakistan blames al Qaeda and the Taliban for the attacks.  

Al Qaeda may be down in the Middle East, but is not, and will not be, out until the moderate Muslims stand up and say "enough," as they have begun to do in Iraq.  Jihadi terrorist organizations will not go away until the regimes that support them, such as Iran's and Syria's governments, are cut off, isolated, and perhaps replaced.

Though I have to say that it's ironic that the attempts upon Pakistan's government and attack on Pakistan's people came after Pakistan's vow to fire upon American forces that cross the border to take out these jihadist radicals in surgical strikes.   Just hours before, the new president of Pakistan had addressed Parliament, saying that Pakistan would not allow terrorist organizations to shelter in Pakistani territory--but that neither would they allow "foreign powers" to "violate Pakistan's sovereignty," even in pursuit of the same terrorists as they flee over the border from scenes of attack in Afghanistan.

I wonder if this attack will change Pakistan's government's collective mind about US troops pursuing terrorists, or committing surgical strikes.  It seems to me that, until our troops were threatened, we were working just as hard to keep Pakistan's government and civilians safe as we were those of Afghanistan.

A touching birthday present

Sometimes the news just gets to me. We have Russia stirring up trouble again, in Europe, the Middle East, and South America. We have suicide bombings in Yemen and Pakistan (more on the latter one later). We have economic problems that the government is just making worse here at home.

But once in a while, the media comes across and reports on a genuinely nice human interest story, like this one.

Basically, a 54 year old man hunted down his father's fondly-remembered M1 Garand rifle that he carried during the Korean war. His dad talked about that rifle whenever the war was brought up, and how much he loved it, and what-all he could do with it. He even remembered the serial number.

So, Jim Richardson searched gun shops nation wide for that serial numbered Garand, finally finding it in Kentucky. He bought it for his dad's 79th birthday.

That was one of the most touching and meaningful birthday gifts I've ever heard of between son and father.

Sometimes, I run across stuff like this, and the smile and warmth it brings eases the weight of the rest of the news. For a little while.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Psychological projection at its finest...

Russia's now claiming that we, and Europe, are attempting to isolate them, to put them "behind thick walls and an 'iron curtain.'"

Bullshit.  It's their own behavior that's isolating them.

Though the Russian government may try to deny it, they are sliding back into their authoritarian ways.  They are the ones reverting to the behavior that had the free world afraid that the USSR was going to become large enough, and powerful enough, to devour everything.  They are the ones that are silencing the freedoms of speech and the press that the free world holds inviolable.  

Russia claims that the US, EU, and NATO are forcing them back, and building the iron curtain anew, when in reality, they're the ones holding and using the welders, rivet guns, and iron sheeting.

More of the same--nothing but words.

Russia said, yesterday, that war with the US is not a possibility.  They also said that they want the European Union--read the United Nations, since the EU doesn't really have what Russia's asking for--to provide peacekeeping troops to the regions of Georgia that are currently under dispute.  Are they unaware that most of the UN's peacekeeping troops are...ours?  

Apparently not--they're also ramping up their defense spending, as if they're afraid we'll pull the same trick on them that they pulled on Georgia.  Given that they're asking the EU and not NATO to provide peacekeeping troops, they obviously are afraid that somebody will come after them for what they've done.

It could be that they're right to be worried.  NATO has realized that the original threat that the organization was created to contain hasn't gone away.  They're putting plans together for a rapid-reaction force to prevent more such Russian aggression against former satellite countries.

Russia's claim that they're not seeking war with us is more of the same: diplomatic doublespeak.  They are planning on some conflict--they wouldn't have increased defense spending otherwise--but I doubt that it will be direct.  It's more likely to be more of the same type of proxy war they fought against us during the entire first Cold War.  

I'm not sure, but I certainly suspect that NATO's plans will never be put into practice.  They may believe that the simple existence of rapid-reaction plans will deter Russia from acting against its former subjugated satellites.  Once again, more diplomatic doublespeak.  

This isn't settling down, and it won't go away if we ignore it and wish it would.  We have to react, and react strongly.  We're the only ones Russia fears--and then, only they believe we'll carry out the threats we make. 

Friday, September 19, 2008

Religious beliefs

I’m sure that, in the course of polite conversation, everyone has been taught that they’re supposed to avoid two subjects: politics and religion. That’s been hammered into people because nobody really likes to have their beliefs questioned. Or challenged. They’re far more comfortable believing than they are thinking about those beliefs.

Do you believe in God? Which God? The God of Christians, Jews, Muslims (arguably one and the same), or of some other religion? What do you believe in if you don’t believe in the concept of God, either with a big g or little g? Environmentalism? Political liberalism? Secular humanism? Everyone believes in something.

Secular humanism is the prevailing belief of those in the United States that don’t believe in a higher power. Those who believe in secular humanist ideals are, typically, wonderful people with beautiful ideas. They typically believe that, since human beings are inherently good, crime, violence, and all of the other ugliness of the world is a product of misunderstanding. They believe that violent individuals are those who have been disadvantaged by society, and have no other way of expressing their unhappiness. Many believe that their concepts of right and wrong are equal to anyone else’s concepts of right and wrong, and that there are no absolutes in Good and Evil. It is a lovely belief, and one that shapes many ideologies. And yes, it is as much a religious belief as Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.

Many of those who do believe in an omnipotent higher power, i.e. God, believe that humanity is inherently flawed and evil, and that there are rules set out to guide us into Good. The dominant religions in the world that believe this are Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Indeed, the three often have the very same beliefs about what those absolutes are, and where the lines between Good and Evil lie. Unfortunately, we’ve been to busy fighting each other about them to stand up for them in the face of the ongoing culture wars.

The two (arguably) most contentious religions in the world are Islam and Christianity, both of which truly have their roots in Judaism. Christians believe that we serve the same God as the Jews and Muslims, but we also serve his Son, Jesus Christ, through whom God revealed his will and saved all believers. Islam believes that there is no God but God, and that Mohammad was the last, most important prophet, through whom God revealed His Word. They also believe Christ existed, and that he was one of the divine prophets (second only to Mohammad), but that there is no salvation but through total submission to the Will of Allah (as the Jews believe that there is no salvation but through the Messiah who will come, and total submission to the Will of God).

With so much in common, why do Christians and Muslims fight each other so viciously? Why do the Muslims seem so determined to wipe the Jewish homeland from the face of the earth?

I think it’s partially that there are no fights so bitter as those among family (Mohammad himself referred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike as “children of the book,” and exhorted his followers to treat the other children of the book as brothers), partially because of a lack of understanding between we modern Western Christians and the Muslims that are, in a very real sense, still stuck culturally in the dark ages. Dinesh D'Souza put it well in his Townhall essay earlier this week.

Honestly, I completely understand their rejection of what many Americans idolize as modernity, or “living in the 21st century.” Look around. What do we have over here in the United States? We have women used for their bodies by the cultural expectations of sex without commitment. We have what looks like the sluttification of the entire society—I mean, seriously. Look at the current fashions in Hollywood, which is where most the rest of the world get the images that wind up associated with modern Western Civilization in general and the United States in specific.

We have the movie Juno, and the recent teen celeb pregnancy of Brittany Spears’ baby sister. We have what appears to be a pregnancy pact amongst a whole bunch of underage teens in the Northwest. Many conservative Christians wonder if the situation in the small, blue-collar town in the secular liberal state was influenced by the glorification in Hollywood of teen pregnancy. Muslims probably wonder the same. We have that in common, but they don’t know that—they’re under the impression that Hollywood is the American mainstream.

On the flipside, we have modern radical feminism’s insistence that women leave their homes, husbands, and children and pursue their own personal fulfillment, often at the expense of the fulfillment of the desire for a family. The media, and our own government, pushes with foreign aid packages contraceptives and abortions, both geared toward taking women from the home and putting them in what conservative Muslims, men and women alike, think of as a man’s role. They’re told that, to reject the sexual revolution, birth control, and abortion is to reject all Western values. Their own radical religious leaders, who really do want to reject all Western values, do not tell them otherwise. They’re under the impression that this is part of the American mainstream, and want nothing to do with either the sexual revolution or its consequences.

We have Britney’s 55-hour marriage, her disastrously failed marriage to a failed rapper and backup dancer, and her mental crack-up. Most of those who watched the whole train wreck believe that her whole life is an illustration of how the modern, radical feminist, hedonistic culture born in the ‘60s hurts young women. A lot of Muslims are told by their religious leaders that this is the outcome of feminism and equality. They’re told that their only choices are between their daughters and wives locked in burquas or dressing (or not dressing, as the case may be) and acting like Britney Spears. Since that’s the images our media pushes, and what Hollywood glorifies, how else are they supposed to see us?

We have the movie Brokeback Mountain, and states passing laws that legalize gay marriage, when Muslims believe that homosexuality is an abomination. They aren’t told, either by the Western media or their own leaders, that much of the American population feels that way, too, regardless of what they’re told they must think and feel. Though, to be fair, most conservative Christians believe that Christ told us to love the sinner but hate the sin—which leads us to the doctrinal hair splitting that the individual isn’t the abomination, it’s the choice to commit the act that is the sin. I don’t think most Muslims would necessarily agree, but I don’t think they’d disagree as violently as they do with the insistence that a modern Western-value-oriented world would embrace the act as inherently equal to the procreative act between husband and wife.

The Muslim world was once the seat of scientific and mathematical enquiry, the rule of law over barbarism, and cultural equality amongst the children of the book. Somehow, sometime, during the Dark Ages, that changed. It’s swinging back.

Modern Muslims embrace, once again, the idea of independence, the rule of law rather than that of dictators secular or religious, and scientific advancement. What they reject—often violently—is the image of modernity that Hollywood pushes as the American ideal.

Maybe we, as Americans, need to re-think the images of us that our entertainment industry and media pushes out to the rest of the world. It's certainly got a hand in current problems between two religions that have more in common than they don't.

"A generation which ignores history has no past--and no future."

The title of this post is by Robert A. Heinlein--a visionary science fiction writer, who, through the course of his long and prolific career, predicted many of our current societal woes.  Including the current financial...turbulence.

1929 brought us Black Tuesday, probably the worst stock market crash in history.  Black Tuesday brought a run on the banks, a government mandated bank holiday (read: forced closing and reorganizing of financial institutions), and a depression that lasted into WWII.

1987 brought us another stock market crash: Black Monday.  One of the main reasons that this isn't part of our national memory is because, while the market lost, and lost huge, all over the world, it didn't turn into the same type of long-term depression that 1929's crash did.  

Yesterday, it was stated that the current turbulence was "the worst financial crisis since the '30s, with no end in sight."

While I will admit that it's bad now, and we could be headed into another market crash that rivals Black Tuesday, I also have to say that that day is not yet.  The market's been gaining and losing and gaining back 4-5% per day this whole week.  On October 28, 1929, the Monday before the day listed in the history books, the market lost 13%, immediately followed by another 12% on October 29th, the infamous day that saw brokers committing suicide by leaping from upper story windows on Wall Street.  That's a total loss, over a two day period, of a full quarter of the market's value.  

We're nowhere near that.  Yet.  And there's still hope: Congress is currently saying that, a) they're going to recess because no one is sure quite what to do, and b) that they're going to buy the most toxic assets that are currently causing financial institutions to go belly up and the market to tank.  

I advocate the first option mentioned.  It is, after all, the fault of government intervention that the economy is in its current straits with the sub-prime mortgage industry collapsing and causing a domino effect.  

In the early '90s, the federal government expanded regulations that were intended to encourage minority home ownership.  The problem with this was that there were good reasons most were denied loans: they had nothing saved for a down payment, they didn't have sufficient income to make the payments, and payments they had weren't made on time.  This made them bad risks for loans.  

The federal government decided that redlining people who were otherwise ineligible wasn't because they were bad risks, but because they were minorities, twisting the motivations for denying the loans from good business to racism.

We're currently seeing the results of such policies.  The portion of the economy that's currently having the trouble is the sub-prime mortgage industries, and the securities backed by sub-prime lending.  It's not the traditional mortgages--the 20% down, 30 year, fixed rate mortgage--that's dragging us down.  It's the nothing down, super-high, adjustable interest rate mortgages that carry options that include not paying principle that are beginning to collapse the market.  Those who opt for such insanely stupid mortgages are beginning to default as interest rates reset, or payment options (such as the interest-only payments, or the only 1% of the 7-10% interest rate payments) reset.  Those who only were able to get the loans through the interference of a well-meaning government that didn't take possible consequences of their "kindness" into account.

No, I'm not saying it's the sub-prime consumers' fault.  It's not their fault at all that these insanely risky terms were made available.  Once again, it's the responsibility of the federal government.

Now, the best action for the federal government to take to "fix" the problem would be for it to step back, repeal the regulations forcing financial institutions to make the risky loans, and let the market correct.

Not that I think they'll do the right thing.  Not in an election year, and not with their candidate facing stiff competition in the race for the first time since it started two years ago.  And in my opinion, this goes for both sides of the aisle: neither candidate has it locked up, and neither candidate's economic plans are something that the people trust.  Unfortunately, the government is so far out of touch that they really don't realize that the market, overall, doesn't want another bailout.

It's a wonderful country we live in.

If this idiot had said something similar in, say, Russia, he would probably be in prision now.  Same with the people who burn flags on the steps of Federal buildings nationwide (except they'd likely be dead).  People in China who protested the razing of their homes to build the Olympic complex were either imprisioned or laughed off and turned out into the streets with assets seized and jobs lost.  Americans protesting there were also arrested and held--likely a shock, given the way they're treated at home.

Not here.  Thank the founders for that.  The body of our constitution was written to limit the role that the Federal government can play in our lives.  The amendments protect the liberties that the founders held dearest: the very first amendment guaranteed us the freedom to meet as we choose, worship as we choose, think as we choose, and speak our minds when we choose.  Josh Howard of the Dallas Mavericks needs to remember that he needs to be thankful he lives in this country, and that the National Anthem, while written by a white man, and for a country governed by white men, where only white men could vote when it was written, is one of the symbols of that freedom.

He does, however, have the same freedom to say "I don't celebrate this [expletive].  I'm black," that I have to say that he's an ungrateful jackass.  And I would fight to the death to protect his freedom to disrespect his nationality.