State of the Union

WikiLeaks: Best Thumbnail Retort to Govt. Officials

From the Guardian:

<blockquote>• If all our emails, however personal, are to become subject to the scrutiny of the government, why shouldn’t all the government’s emails, however sensitive, become subject to the scrutiny of us? If we can’t plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament without their knowledge, why can they and Saudi Arabia plot to blow up Iran without ours?</blockquote>

<blockquote>Allan Baker

Kettering, Northamptonshire</blockquote>

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European Disunion

When communism collapsed in Moscow, Prague and Belgrade at the end of the Cold War, ethnic nationalism surged to the surface in all three nations and tore them apart into 24 countries.

Economic nationalism is now resurgent across Europe. And it is hard to see how a transnational institution like the European Union, run by faceless bureaucrats, and the 16-nation eurozone it created long survive.

As of Monday, Greece and Ireland had been bailed out — Greece with $145 billion, Ireland with $89 billion. All eyes have now turned to Iberia, to Portugal and Spain, where bond prices are sinking and interest rates are rising, and investors are eying the exits.

Monday’s stock and bond sell-off across Europe testifies to a belief that this storm is far from over.

Why cannot a series of bailouts, cobbled together by the EU and International Monetary Fund, contain these serial crises?

Two reasons: populism and a return of economic nationalism.

Consider two telling comments from the Irish about the terms of the bailout of their country.

“(S)enior bank bondholders are to be protected, while the lowest paid and those most vulnerable people dependent on public provision are to be crucified,” said trade union leader Jack O’Connor.

“I think the government should default on the bonds,” said writer Valerie Wilson. “We are suffering so the bondholders don’t suffer. It’s capitalism gone mad.”

Translation: Put Irish people first, before any foreigners holding bonds. Read More…

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Give TAC for Christmas

“Cyber Monday” sounds like bunk to me, but any day is a good day to give a gift subscription to The American Conservative. Not only does the magazine for thinking conservatives make a great Christmas gift, it’s a present that keeps giving year round and won’t be forgotten after December 31. It’s also a vital way to support TAC and spread the word about the conservatism of peace, liberty, and tradition.

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Israeli Airport Security

Steve Clemons has a useful post about GOP demands for Israeli-style airport security in place of the TSA’s strip-’n'-grope regime. Not only would it be more expensive than TARP, and quite probably impractical, but as Stephen Walt writes to Clemons, there’s a bigger question going unaddressed here:

Am I the only person who sees the irony in the recommendation that the US adopt the Israeli approach to airline security? The proper question to ask is: why do we suddenly need greater airport security?

Could it be because we’ve gradually adopted Israel’s approach to the Middle East too?

It’s not only TSA policy that needs to change.

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Why Are We Still in Korea?

This writer was 11 years old when the shocking news came on June 25, 1950, that North Korean armies had crossed the DMZ.

Within days, Seoul had fallen. Routed U.S. and Republic of Korea troops were retreating toward an enclave in the southeast corner of the peninsula that came to be known as the Pusan perimeter.

In September came Gen. MacArthur’s masterstroke: the Marine landing at Inchon behind enemy lines, the cut-off and collapse of the North Korean Army, recapture of Seoul and the march to the Yalu.

“Home by Christmas!” we were all saying.

Then came the mass intervention of a million “volunteers” of the People’s Liberation Army that had, in October 1949, won the civil war against our Nationalist Chinese allies. Suddenly, the U.S. Army and Marines were in headlong retreat south. Seoul fell a second time.

There followed a war of attrition, the firing of MacArthur, the repudiation of Harry Truman and his “no-win war,” the election of Ike and, in June 1953, an armistice along the DMZ where the war began.

Fifty-seven years after that armistice, a U.S. carrier task force is steaming toward the Yellow Sea in a show of force after the North fired 80 shells into a South Korean village.

We will stand by our Korean allies, says President Obama. And with our security treaty and 28,000 U.S. troops in South Korea, many on the DMZ, we can do no other. But why, 60 years after the first Korean War, should Americans be the first to die in a second Korean War? Read More…

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The Pope and the Condom Controversy

The American Conservative‘s own Michael Brendan Dougherty puts in a Bloggingheads.tv appearance with Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches to discuss what Benedict XVI said — and meant — in his recent remarks about condoms:

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Managing the News

Driving to buy a turkey this morning, I was treated to NPR news, which featured a leading report stating that most Americans approve of the new body scanners being used at US airports.  The story was also the top headline in the Wash Post print edition today, leading with “Most support full body scanners.”  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/22/AR2010112205514.html

The two stories are based on an opinion poll carried out by the Washington Post and ABC News, but when one actually reads the question that was asked it is clear that the spin on the story is quite misleading.  The pollsters asked “The TSA is increasing its use of full body digital x-ray machines.  Which comes closer to your own view:  (A) They improve the ability to spot weapons and explosives and reduce physical searches, and (B) They invade privacy by producing images of a naked body and don’t provide enough added security to justify this.”  64% of those polled endorsed A and 32% B, but consider the questions.  While it is for certain that the B supporters oppose the practice, the question in A is about the technical capability of the system, not about whether one supports the use of the machines.  Even I, an opponent of the practice, would have to agree with A while selecting B for reasons unrelated to the technology.  If they were to ask “Would stripping passengers naked and physically examining their orefices improve the ability to spot weapons and explosives”  most people, based on the nature of the question, would similarly have to agree.

The problem is that NPR and the Washington Post are integral parts of the status quo, like it or not, and it is impossible to imagine that they would take the lead in opposing a major government counter-terrorism initiative.  In this case, it seems to me that they are clearly shaping the polling questions and then spinning the story to come up with the conclusion that they prefer.  I spend most of my waking hours talking to an emailing fellow conservatives and I have never seen outrage like that which is currently being expressed about TSA and its activities.  TSA is basically saying, “Shut up.  We know what is best for you.”

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Self-defeating antics

A young couple from the Twin Cities suburb of Apple Valley, Pete and Alisha Arnold (http://www.minnpost.com/dailyglean/2010/11/19/23539/putting_pregnancy_to_an_online_vote_hoax_or_not) have put their unborn child’s future up to an online vote. This couple reportedly said two recent miscarriages had put their hopes for their new child in jeopardy and actually created a website (www.birthornot.com) to put their decision of whether to have an abortion or not up for a vote saying “”Voting is such an important part of who we are as a people…”Here’s a chance where people can be heard about whether they are pro-choice or whether they are pro-life, and it makes a difference in the real world.”

There’s evidence to suggest this is all hoax. Reportedly the domain was registered a month before the supposedly unplanned pregnancy took place and the language of the website and its images (complete with ultrasound pics many in the anti-abortion community want pregnant women to be forced to view before even considering an abortion) were not those of a couple one would would assume was fanatically pro-abortion (http://jezebel.com/5693386/internet-abortion-vote-looking-like-an-anti+choice-prank).

If this turns out to be a hoax, hopefully, its just another in a long line of self-defeating antics, not tactics, antics, from the pro-life “movement” that have ranged from supporting clueless analogies (Roe v. Wade is just like Dread Scott), civil disobedience, the federalization of family life-or-death issues, terrorism, to the obscenity of the dead baby pictures on protest signs (http://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/2010/05/25/rand-paul-unprincipled-hero/). Obviously this website was done for shock value but wonders why any couple would want to take the miracle of birth, something to be celebrated among themselves and both kith and kin, and make it into world-wide spectacle and sick and tasteless one on top of it. If this couple has no respect for their own child to do this, why should anyone respect the cause to which they supposedly support?

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GOP Risks a New Cold War

Before Republican senators vote down the strategic arms reduction treaty negotiated by the Obama administration, they should think long and hard about the consequences.

In substance, New START has none of the historic significance of Richard Nixon’s SALT I or ABM treaty, or Jimmy Carter’s SALT II, or Ronald Reagan’s INF treaty removing all intermediate-range missiles from Europe, or the strategic arms reductions treaties negotiated by George Bush I and Bush II.

The latter cut U.S. and Russian arsenals from 10,000-12,000 nuclear warheads targeted on each nation to 2,000 — a huge cut.
If Republicans could back those treaties, what is the case for rejecting New START? Barack Obama’s treaty reduces strategic warheads by 450, leaving each side 1,550.

Is this not enough to deter when we consider what the Chernobyl disaster did to the Soviet Union and what the knockdown of two buildings in New York has done to this country? Ten hydrogen bombs on the United States or Russia could set us back decades, let alone 1,000.

Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona is holding up the treaty until he gets more assurances that the administration will do the tests and upgrades necessary to maintain the reliability of U.S. nuclear weapons. He should receive those assurances.

Maintaining the credibility of the U.S. deterrent is a vital national interest. But does this justify holding the treaty hostage?
Without a treaty, we lose our right and our ways and means to verify that Russia is carrying out the terms of arms treaties already agreed upon. Read More…

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Virginia Postrel on the Allure of Having Friends and Enemies

Virginia Postrel argues this weekend that environmentalists favor high-speed rail and wind power not because they reduce carbon emissions but simply because they look good. “These technologies,” she writes,

aren’t just about getting from one city to another. They are symbols of an ideal world, longing disguised as problem solving.  You can’t counter glamour with statistics.

Though she doesn’t say so, Postrel plainly thinks that “statistics” — or what she  later calls the “annoyingly practical concerns the policy wonks insist on debating” — militate against high speed rail and wind power.  Environmentalists, in other words, can’t think straight because they are thralls to beauty.  Like the philosopher who banished the poets from the city, Postrel concludes by admonishing her readers to shun the seductions of  green technology.

Clever as it is, Postrel’s techno-glamour thesis doesn’t withstand scrutiny.  For one thing, she takes for granted that wind turbines are attractive.  Really?  If anything the movement for wind power is handicapped by the ugliness of wind turbines.  The Kennedys, for example, a wealthy Irish-Catholic family who now own a house on Cape Cod, objected to a proposed offshore wind farm on largely aesthetic grounds.  As Kenendy scion Robert wrote in The New York Times:

Cape Wind’s proposal involves construction of 130 giant turbines whose windmill arms will reach 417 feet above the water and be visible for up to 26 miles. These turbines are less than six miles from shore and would be seen from Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Hundreds of flashing lights to warn airplanes away from the turbines will steal the stars and nighttime views. The noise of the turbines will be audible onshore. A transformer substation rising 100 feet above the sound would house giant helicopter pads and 40,000 gallons of potentially hazardous oil.  According to the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the project will damage the views from 16 historic sites and lighthouses on the cape and nearby islands. The Humane Society estimates the whirling turbines could every year kill thousands of migrating songbirds and sea ducks.

Giant arms, flashing lights, the annual slaughter of migrating songbirds: this is hardly the stuff of glamour.

Postrel skirts the ugliness of real-life wind turbines by focusing instead on the pleasant images we often see of them.  Those images, she says, promise a radiant, efficient and clean future, which distracts us from the actual costs of green technology.   But we are treated every day to glamour shots not just of green technology but of pretty much anything under the sun that anyone has any interest in defending.  Check out these shots of off-shore oil platforms, for example. One could write just as rapturously of them as Postrel writes of wind turbines:

The platform stands potent and erect over the deep,  a steel hymn to man’s mastery over nature. In the face of so mighty an image, arguments against drilling for oil are beside the point. You can’t counter glamour with statistics, after all.

Yet somehow environmentalists aren’t swept up in the romance of offshore oil drilling. Postrel, who makes her living writing about (and defending) the aesthetics of consumer culture, has grossly over-estimated the power of aesthetics to distort debate.

A better explanation of the appeal of green technology might start by asking what makes Postrel’s column so alluring.  Might it not have something to do with the unflattering portrait she draws of environmentalists?  Those who wish to cut carbon emissions often see themselves as level-headed champions of an indubitable scientific consensus.  Postrel instead depicts them as aesthetes impervious to rational argument.  At the same time, she shrewdly declines to take any stance on the actual merits of wind power.  Enviro-skeptics can thus take pleasure in Postrel’s subtle ridicule without having to indulge in any crass ad hominem attacks.

Tribalism, in other words, and Postrel’s skill in catering to it, best explains the allure of her column.  She depicts environmentalists as effeminate and irrational, skeptics as sober and analytic. For the enviro-skeptic, what’s not to like?  Likewise, glamour shots of green technology help reinforce environmentalists’ belief that they seek a radiant, beautiful future, while their opponents, presumably, seek one that is polluted and ugly.  All politics is tribal.  That’s the lesson of green technology glamour shots — and of Postrel’s column.

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