State of the Union

Happy New Decade . . .

Not this nonsense again. Marc Thiessen writes at NR‘s Corner that “2010 is the last year of the decade. The new decade begins in 2011!” Thiessen is reviving the who “there was no year zero” gotcha that killjoys employed in 1999 to try to ruin celebrations of the coming millenium. And they are right— there was no year zero. But what they don’t realize is that there was no year one either. The Western mode of dating isn’t some mathematically precise system, it’s more of a political/religious/cultural concept. If Wikipedia is to be believed, the Anno Domini system was created in A.D. 525, hundreds of years after the birth of Christ. My whole life, new decades started in a year ending zero: the 1980s started in 1980, the 1990s started in 1990, etc. Now they are supposed to begin in a year starting with a one.

This is all trivial. Nothing changes because it is a new decade or century or millenium A good guide to its importance is a car odometer. My Dad would always have me look when all the nines were rolling over into zeros. If he had waited, all I would see is one zero becoming a one. How lame is that?

Update: Here’s another NR perspective on the issue. “if the length of a day, a month, and a year can vary, why not the length of a decade? Why not define the first decade A.D. to be nine years long, ending in the year 9, and follow the natural 0-to-9 pattern from then on? That way, both sides can have their cake and eat it too, and the other side’s cake as well.”

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Bombs Away, Again

The Washington Post’s featured editorial today was “The Trouble With Yemen.”  One paragraph deserves to be quoted in full, “Yemen’s steady slide toward failed-state status in recent years means that it, like nearby Somalia, will probably demand concerted and multifaceted U.S. engagement for years to come. More than Special Forces and missile strikes are needed: The relatively friendly central government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh should be bolstered with education and economic development programs like those the United States has deployed for Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

All of which have worked very well in Pakistan and Afghanistan, haven’t they?  I do not pretend to have any real insight into what is going on in Yemen, but I believe I would be correct to say that what is taking place there is pretty much a civil war with tribal and cultural divisions plus religious differences fueling the conflict.  Plus the locals are reported to be so heavily armed that they make the Afghans look like Quakers.  Even if a group that identifies with al-Qaeda has claimed credit for an underwear bomber on a Detroit bound airplane, it is difficult to discern what the US national interest might be in getting involved beyond extremely limited assistance to the Yemeni government to improve its survivability.  We have been told that Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and Somalia threaten the United States and now it is Yemen’s turn.  Am I the only one who finds the assertion mind boggling? 

The United States is now militarily engaged in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen and it is likely only a matter of time before Mauretania and places like Chad join the list.  Plus sanctions against Syria have just been renewed and much harsher restrictions are pending towards Iran if congress has its way.  If all the interventionism and nation building were accomplishing something it would be one thing, but it should be clear by now that the heavy US military footprint followed by a transplanted model of good governance just does not work in most places in the world. This is not an ideological judgment, it is just common sense based on what has taken place since 9/11.  Meanwhile, many Americans and countless “collateral damagees” are dying and the US is running the wars on a credit card, which will someday have to be repaid.   Is there no one, Democrat or Republican, who will pull the plug on this idiocy?

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America’s Decade of Decline

About the first decade of what was to be the Second American Century, the pessimists have been proven right.

According to the International Monetary Fund, the United States began the century producing 32 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. We ended the decade producing 24 percent. No nation in modern history, save for the late Soviet Union, has seen so precipitous a decline in relative power in a single decade.

The United States began the century with a budget surplus. We ended with a deficit of 10 percent of gross domestic product, which will be repeated in 2010. Where the economy was at full employment in 2000, 10 percent of the labor force is out of work today and another 7 percent is underemployed or has given up looking for a job.

Between one-fourth and one-third of all U.S. manufacturing jobs have disappeared in 10 years, the fruits of a free-trade ideology that has proven anything but free for this country. Our future is being outsourced — to China.

While the median income of American families was stagnant, the national debt doubled.

The dollar lost half its value against the euro. Once the most self-sufficient republic in history, which produced 96 percent of all it consumed, the U.S.A. is almost as dependent on foreign nations today for manufactured goods, and the loans to pay for them, as we were in the early years of the republic.

What the British were to us then, China is today. Read More…

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Fake is just A OK here

Although Christmas has past, if still you’re  still looking to exchange gifts or use a gift card, perhaps might I recommend a book entitled Tinsel: A Search for America’s Christmas Present by Hank Stuever. Here is a review of it.

I just discovered this book the other day and I have nether have read or even bought it. But from the reviews it sounds profoundly interesting look at low upper-class or high middle class U.S. culture from the years 2006-08, particularly when it comes to Christmas itself and how it is celebrated in the Dallas suburb of Frisco.

Indeed this exchange between the author and one of the residents of the suburb says a profound lot:

“I ask Tammie if anybody has a real tree, or if she ever uses real greenery on the mantel.

Almost never, Tammie answers bluntly. None of it is real. She tells me to underline this one fact in my notes: “Fake is okay here.”

It is faux-finished, plasticized and derivative—but that’s not the point. Tammie has Christmas figured out. It has less to do with true authenticity than a feeling of it …

“Absolutely fake is okay here. Diamond earrings. Christmas trees. If you want me to prove that fake is okay here, let’s you and I go to the Stonebriar Country Club pool one day and check everyone out. You will see that fake is okay here.”

It seems as though our subdivisions are being built to resemble make-believe lands.

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Of Christmas, War, and Peace

“And this shall be a sign unto you: You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger.

“And suddenly there was with the Angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying: Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace to men of good will.”

Here the argument begins. Is it biblical to say, “Peace on earth and good will to men,” which is inclusive but inexact? Or does that dilute and distort the meaning of “Peace on earth to men of good will,” which is restrictive?

The former, while ecumenical, seems pacifist. Do we wish good will today to al-Qaeda? And is not the chorus singing out peace on earth “to men of good will” at the first Christmas a “heavenly army”?

And is not the purpose of an army to destroy enemies — in the case of the heavenly army, the army of the Devil?

“Peace on earth to men of good will” seems more consistent with the Sermon on the Mount, where the Lord says, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”

Surely, Christ was not here calling down blessings on the legions that had brought a Roman peace to the known world by conquering all tribes and nations through the power of the sword.

Yet Christ did not exclude Romans soldiers from the company of men of good will. Of the centurion who implored him to heal his servant from afar, as “I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof,” Christ said: “Amen, I say to you. I have not found such great faith in Israel.” Read More…

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The culture and how not to do anything about it

One of things that I’m sure frustrates plain old ordinary, non-factionalized conservatives is the ability of said cosmopolitan writers and pundits to complain about the vulgarities of popular culture or even the culture at large and bring up once again said Culture Wars, but not propose any kind of policies or actions to do something about it.

Peggy Noonan is usually good for a column like this and so she was at it again recently in the Wall Street Journal saying that Americans’ discontent couldn’t possibly just be about being unemployed or foreclosed from one’s home. No, that would be too simple and too commerical. Instead, morality must play a role too:

“I’d like to see a poll on this. Yes or no: Have we become a more vulgar country? Are we coarser than, say, 50 years ago? Do we talk more about sensitivity and treat others less sensitively? Do you think standards of public behavior are rising or falling? Is there something called the American Character, and do you think it has, the past half-century, improved or degenerated? If the latter, what are the implications of this? Do you sense, as you look around you, that each year we have less or more of the glue that holds a great nation together? Is there less courtesy in America now than when you were a child, or more? Bonus question: Is “Excuse me” a request or a command?

So much always roils us in America, and so much always will. But maybe as 2010 begins and the ’00s recede, we should think more about the non-economic issues that leave us uneasy, and that need our attention. Not everything in America comes down to money. Not everything ever did.”

Not to say that Noonan is wrong about this. One can find such comments in any Right publication regardless of faction. But what prompted this column had to do with apparently lewd and tasteless performance by one Adam Lambert at the American Music Awards back in November which was broadcast live on ABC.

I don’t mean to make too much of it. In the great scheme of things a creepy musical act doesn’t matter much. But increasingly people feel at the mercy of the Adam Lamberts, who of course view themselves, when criticized, as victims of prudery and closed-mindedness. America is not prudish or closed-minded, it is exhausted. It cannot be exaggerated, how much Americans feel besieged by the culture of their own country, and to what lengths they have to go to protect their children from it.”

Okay, again nothing too out of the ordinary in this either. But then what does Ms. Noonan proscribe we do about such offensive acts on TV? Do we sick the FCC on ABC and fine them heavily? Suspend a few local TV station licenses? Outright censorship of such programming? Hey, it may be against the First Amendment but at least it’s policy proposal and nowhere in Noonan’s column does one find any kind of detailed proposals to lift the siege of popular culture upon average Americans.

There’s no question politically the Right has benefited from speaking out about culture and crime and values in political terms as a means of organizing voters who feel “besieged” as Noonan said. But ultimately such rhetoric eventually becomes talking points and the voters expect results. What do you intend to do about naughty language, sexually explicit content or graphic violence in the media?  Other than a few tweaks here and there (sicking the Justice Department on pornographers for example, playing with the tax code in order to benefit married couples or banning homosexual marriage), the Right, when in power, hasn’t done a whole lot. This is because of a political paralysis that ultimately affects policy: What one wishes government to do to clean up the culture runs smack dab in the conservative ethos of limiting big  government’s involvement in citizen’s lives. An honest right-wing Social Democrat could make an argument  for heavy FCC policing of prime time network content to regulating the content of the internet. But most right-wing politicians don’t approach their “big-government conservatism” with any degree of honesty. Opportunism is more like it.

Read More…

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Christmas Break

The TAC editorial offices are closed for Christmas between now and Jan. 4, when we’ll resume updates to the main page of the site. In the meantime, there’ll be light but steady activity here and on our other blogs — including our newly installed TAC TV mini-site, home to Jack Hunter’s weekly podcasts. As well, the latest issue of the print magazine, featuring Andrew Bacevich’s sobering look at America’s record of not-exactly-winning wars from Korea to Iraq and Afghanistan, will be hitting stores and subscribers’ mailboxes shortly after Christmas. Also in the issue: Brian Doherty on the government-big business partnership to snoop on all of us; Dermot Quinn on the faith-informed historianship of Christopher Dawson; Peter Hitchens on the British National Party; William S. Lind on Benedict XVI’s ecumenical Counter-Reformation; and much more. See the full contents here.

While you’re in the festive spirit, consider giving a gift subscription to The American Conservative. TAC also gratefully accepts donations, which are especially important for keeping web features like Jack’s podcasts going strong.

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Nuclear Triggers and Other Fables

The Rupert Murdoch owned Times of London  reported last week  that a 2007 document demonstrates that Iran has been developing a trigger for a nuclear weapon.  Only problem is, it ain’t so.  My intelligence contacts are telling me that the story is a complete fabrication, probably originating either with the Israelis or with a European intelligence service.  The US was not involved in the deception in spite of the claims made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad implicating CIA, but it is nevertheless correct to say that the story is a deliberate attempt to provide supporting evidence for the thesis that the Iranians are developing a nuclear weapon.   The document that the news report  is based on was a forgery that apparently was “discovered” by Iranian opposition groups, the usual conduit for dubious information intended to demonize Iran.

This is not to suggest that Iran is some kind of innocent party in its nuclear program, but it does demonstrate that there are folks out there who are willing to go the extra mile to make a case for war.

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In Tea Parties We Trust

For Democrats like Harry Reid, who called them “evil-mongers,” and Nancy Pelosi, who called them “un-American,” the NBC News poll must have hit like a sucker punch at a Georgetown wine-and-cheese.

The Tea Party movement, those folks rallying against spending last spring and Obamacare in the summer town halls, are viewed more favorably than the Democratic Party.

Forty-one percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of the Tea Party movement, to 35 percent for Obama’s party. Only 24 percent view Tea Party activists unfavorably, while 45 percent hold a negative view of the Democrats.

While Tea Party types played a role in the GOP’s comeback — helping take down Gov. Jon Corzine in New Jersey and turning a John McCain deficit of 6 points in the Old Dominion into a 17-point victory for Bob McDonnell — the movement is no subsidiary of the GOP. For it played a major role in routing liberal Republican “Dede” Scozzafava in New York’s 23rd and came within a point of electing a third-party conservative.

As Congressional elections are 10 months off, though primaries begin in the spring, where do Tea Party types find the battles to keep them in fighting trim? Copenhagen may have provided an answer.

While Obama came home with a nothing-burger, Hillary stole the show. Without authorization of Congress, she committed the United States to lead a campaign to transfer, beginning in 2020, $100 billion a year “to address climate change needs in developing countries.” The fund would start at $10 billion and grow by 1,000 percent in a decade.

The $100-billion-a-year global fund sprang from the fertile mind of Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

By 2020, U.S. citizens, whose nation is careening toward default, will be borrowing tens of billions more every year from China, if Beijing is still willing to lend to us, so we can ship those tens of billions off to the sump holes of the Third World.

The arrogance of power here astonishes. Read More…

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Thank you Mr. Obama!

If I am reading this correctly, the pending health care legislation requires me to buy insurance but the insurance companies can continue to use preexisting conditions to set the rates that they will sell that insurance to me.  As my wife (in her fifties) and I (sixty-three) do indeed have preexisting conditions, as do most people our age, we have been unable to get any affordable insurance through the current system.  As I am self employed I cannot buy into a group plan.  The most recent quote we received was for $3000 a month for coverage, which we cannot afford.  So the government now might force me to buy that coverage?  This health plan only makes everything very much worse for my demographic, which is the first wave of post World War II baby boomers.

Unless I am missing something significant, it is not clear to me whom this plan benefits unless it is the insurance industry, which will be able to sell plans to lots of young and healthy individuals.

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