State of the Union

Bovard, Marre, and Lind

After a slide-show snafu yesterday, you can now see a proper presentation on our main page of the latest articles from James Bovard (on Obama’s plans for AmericaCorps and, just maybe, mandatory national service) and Oliver Marre (on libel tourism). Take note, too, of a new article that isn’t included in the slideshow: Michael Lind’s review of the insightful new book from Michael Vlahos, Fighting Identity: Sacred War and World Change.

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Is Notre Dame Still Catholic?

By inviting Barack Obama to deliver the commencement address and receive an honorary degree at Notre Dame, the Rev. John Jenkins has polarized the Catholic community nationwide — and raised a question. What does it mean to be a Catholic university in post-Christian America?

Are there truths about faith and morality that are closed to debate at Notre Dame? Or is Notre Dame like London’s Hyde Park, where all ideas and all advocates get a hearing?

To Catholics, abortion is the killing of an unborn child, a premeditated breach of God’s Commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” The case is closed for all time. Any who participate in an abortion are excommunicated. Catholic politicians from Nancy Pelosi to Joe Biden who support a “woman’s right to choose” have been denounced from pulpits and denied Communion.

Obama, however, is the most pro-abortion president ever. On his third day in office, by executive order, he repealed the Bush prohibition against using tax dollars to fund agencies abroad that perform abortions.

He supports partial-birth abortion, where a baby’s soft skull is sliced open with scissors in the birth canal and its brains sucked out to ease its passage, a procedure Sen. Pat Moynihan said “comes as close to infanticide as anything I have seen in our judiciary.”

In the Illinois legislature, Obama helped block the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, a bill to save the lives of infant survivors of abortion. He voted to allow doctors and nurses to let these tiny babies die of neglect and be tossed out with the medical waste. Read More…

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Burt Blumert, Rest in Peace

Burt Blumert, founder of the Center for Libertarian Studies and an indispensable help in getting and (and many other anti-war, anti-state projects) off the ground, died this morning. Here’s Eric Garris’s remembrance. And here’s Lew Rockwell’s.

Blumert was an uproariously funny public speaker, and equally good on the printed page. His Bagels, Barry Bonds, and Rotten Politicians is well worth a read.

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Total Surveillance

My colleagues in the security business inform me that the United Kingdom is now the most constantly and thoroughly surveilled country on earth.  Cameras provide continuous coverage of the centers of most cities and there is monitoring of all major roads and bridges by CCTV linked to monitors that can send one a ticket automatically if the speed limit is exceeded and can also automatically convict you of more serious driving offenses.

The BBC is currently reporting the disappearance of Claudia Lawrence.  Lawrence was working as a chef at a university in York when she disappeared two weeks ago.  The BBC report included the following: “It was initially thought Miss Lawrence had disappeared after setting off on the three-mile walk from her home to work the following morning. But she does not appear on any CCTV footage from her normal route.”

On the basis of the CCTV, the police ruled out her having walked to work, which means that they were able to reconstruct a three mile route through the city and were reasonably sure that they had not missed Lawrence on the CCTV footage.   That the police would be able to do that and no one bats an eyelash over it for privacy reasons is astonishing to me and I must admit I did a double take when I read the BBC account.  Many jurisidictions in the US now employ traffic cameras, mostly at stop lights, but this is several generations beyond that kind of intrusion, which is bad enough.  It is reminiscent of Winston Smith in 1984 whose television was watching him while he was doing exercises in front of it.  Maybe George Orwell knew what was coming.

How do the British people like the surveillance state?  Well, maybe some of them don’t.  I was watching the BBC automobile show Top Gear last week when one of the drivers began to complain about the four ranks of cameras perched menacingly along Putney bridge.  He then described how they can be disabled using a strip of plastic wrap strategically placed which causes the camera’s focus mechanism to malfunction.  He recommended the technique because the plastic wrap has survivability, i.e. because it is transparent it is unlikely to be noticed by passing police and removed.  Some drivers apparently have been disabling the cameras using cans of spray paint. 

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Argue Louder

Shorter Andrew Breitbart(via Big Hollywood): Obama won because leftwing trolls wrote mean comments on conservative blogs and conservatives play too nice:

A digital war has broken out, and the conservative movement is losing. Read the comment sections of right-leaning blogs, news sites and social forums, and the evidence is there in ugly abundance. Internet hooligans are spewing their talking points to thwart the dissent of the newly-out-of-power. . .

Uninvited Democratic activists are on a mission to demoralize the enemy – us. They want to ensure that President Obama is not subject to the same coordinated, facts-be-damned, multimedia takedown they employed over eight long years to destroy the presidency – and the humanity – of George W. Bush. . .

The American right is in a heap of trouble in a media age that doesn’t shun the goons and liars that have poisoned the political process and won the American presidency by breaking the rules of fair play. It is time to fight back, but it won’t be easy. The enemy is willing to do and say anything in order to win.

So the Democrats won because they cheated, not because conservative Republicans came to power and ruined the country. It is becoming clear that most conservatives aren’t interested in learning from the Bush years, and any dissenter must be a troll or perhaps a traitor.  They remind me of the legal addage: When the facts are against you, argue the law. When the law is against you, argue the facts. When both the facts and law are against you, argue louder.

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Washington Post Shills for Terrorists

Not all terrorists are equally damndable, apparently.

The Washington Post has an article today on the Iraqi government’s plan to shut down the camp of the Mujaheddin-e Khalq, or MEK.  This is a violent Marxist organization that was designated by the State Department as terrorists in 1997 because of their long record of killing civilians (they also killed some Americans).  But the Post characterizes MEK as merely an “Iranian opposition group.”

The Bush administration -especially Dick Cheney –  loved and protected the MEK because the MEK ginned up information to justify threatening to attack Iran. The Post notes that “U.S. officials credit the MEK with providing information about Iran’s nuclear program.”

The Post neglects to mention that MEK’s allegations turned out to be crap and were debunked by a National Intelligence Estimate in late 2007.

MEK sanctified U.S. aggression, and thus they were the good guys.  The Washington Post‘s Middle East reporting continues its hallowed tradition of rising above the facts…

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I suppose that one has to accept that the US has a clear national interest to eliminate Usama bin Laden, even if al-Qaeda currently appears to be incapable of pulling off large terrorist attacks a la 9/11.  I am guardedly optimistic about the Obama plan for Afghanistan-Pakistan even if it does smell a lot like Vietnam because it appears to me that it has a built-in exit strategy.  Nail bin Laden, beef up the local police and army, leave.  The part I don’t like is the cost of the operation, which could exceed Iraq because of the incredible pricetag on supplying the troops, and the nation building bit.  No doubt Afghanistan would benefit from a nice infrastructure and civil institutions as well as a rule of law, but there is absolutely no evidence that the foundation for any of the above exists.  Quite the contrary.  Far better to let the Afghans figure out what works for them and as long as they do not again become a terrorist base, leave them alone.

Obama should also be given credit for realizing that there has to be a strategic plan for central Asia, something that Bush never quite figured out, and I expect that he will try to bring in all of the local players, including Iran and the Taliban, to work out some kind of modus vivendi. Again, that sounds a bit like the Paris Peace talks and Vietnam which produced an unsatisfactory result, but as long as the Afghans are not invading their neighbors or blowing up Rockefeller Center the rest of the world can just hold its collective nose and ignore them.

I would like to see more on what Pakistan might be encouraged to do to eliminate al-Qaeda since they have been trying and failing to do that for nearly eight years.  Also, nothing in the Obama plan really addresses the pervasive corruption and drug dealing, which could make any stabilization program problematical and virtually guarantees that the police force will be ineffective.  Karzai is hated and has to go no matter what, but with whom do you replace him.

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Earth Hour Power

I can think of few things more pointless than turning your lights off from 8:30 til 9:30 tonight to “vote” against global warming. The Earth Hour about page says:

For the first time in history, people of all ages, nationalities, race and background have the opportunity to use their light switch as their vote – Switching off your lights is a vote for Earth, or leaving them on is a vote for global warming. WWF are urging the world to VOTE EARTH and reach the target of 1 billion votes, which will be presented to world leaders at the Global Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen 2009.

If it has any effect, Earth Hour is likely to be counterproductive by convincing people that global warming is a problem that can be solved by symbolic gestures. It will also lead to responses like this from Nashville blogger, Glen Dean, who writes, “I am going to run the washer, dryer, and dishwasher. I plan on turning on all lamps, overhead lights, flood lights, porch lights, and I’ll probably even run the ole box fan, in spite of the fact that my AC will also be on. I’ll even crank up both vehicles and probably sit and rev up the one that smokes.”

Earth Hour promises to accomplish as much for the environment as hopping in your car and driving to an “EarthFest” on Earth Day.

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Why not let go of NATO?

“In 1877, Lord Salisbury, commenting on Great Britain’s policy on the Eastern Question, noted that ‘the commonest error in politics is sticking to the carcass of dead policies.’

“Salisbury was bemoaning the fact that many influential members of the British ruling class could not recognize that history had moved on; they continued to cling to policies and institutions that were relics of another era.”

“Relics of another era”–thus did Stephen Meyer, in Parameters in 2003, begin his essay “Carcass of Dead Policies: The Irrelevance of NATO.”

NATO has been irrelevant for two decades, since its raison d’etre — to keep the Red Army from driving to the Rhine — disappeared. Yet Obama is headed to Brussels to celebrate France’s return and the 60th birthday of the alliance. But why is NATO still soldiering on?

Read More…

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A Separate Peace

Welcome as the quiet is in Baghdad, it’s not because the raging sides have settled. AP reports, “Only an estimated 16 percent of the mainly Sunni families forced by Shi’ite militiamen and death squads to flee their homes have dared to return.”

We congratulate ourselves for securing the country, but the militias did that job for us. At the height of the ethnic cleansing, the Times of London ran the story of Um Noor, a Sunni woman whose Shi’ite husband was killed by a roadside bomb on his way to work. She had always considered herself nonsectarian—was her mixed marriage not proof? But soon after his death, she awoke to a sign spray-painted across her home in Baghdad’s Shi’ite Amil district: “Leave this house or else.” A week later, her brother was run down by the Madhi Army and shot three times for the crime of being Sunni. Desperate to save her three sons and two daughters, Um Noor made plans to flee, but as she waited for a refrigerator to be removed, masked men burst into her house, seizing her oldest son, 20-year-old Ali, and 6-year old nephew Abdullah. “I shouted and beat my breast and yanked my hair in the street but no one could do anything,” she told the Times. “A few minutes later we heard shots. I knew they were dead.”

Um Noor fled with her pregnant sister-in-law and their six remaining children to Sunni Abu Ghraib, but couldn’t escape the fear: “If anyone knew her children were Shi’ites, they would be cast out or killed, she said.” She buried the identity papers with their father’s Shi’ite name.

AP quotes Juan Cole, of the incomparable Informed Comment blog, “Baghdad has been turned from a mixed city, about half of its population Shi’ite and the other half Sunni, into a Shi’ite city where the Sunni population may be as little as 10 to 15 percent.”

U.S. and Iraqi forces have swept the militas from the streets—a task aided by the fact that their bloody mission was mostly accomplished. But would the uneasy calm hold if Sunnis began returning to their deserted neighborhoods? In many cases, they can’t: their districts are walled off and access is tightly controlled, lest the bloodletting begin again. And many have given up, struggling to establish new lives in Syria and Jordan.

It’s common now to credit the surge for pacifying Iraq, but we shouldn’t mistake annihilation for reconciliation. Democracy didn’t win out in Baghdad. The death squads did.

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