January 30, 2005

Iraqi Elections

A democratic Iraq is a lot closer today. The polls are closed in Iraq after the first post-Saddam elections - and the only free and fair modern election in that country. Iraqis, Americans and Britons died voting and protecting voters. Cowards strapped bombs to their bodies to turn themselves into suicidal weapons. Yet the rough estimate right now for turnout is 60%. That turnout is lower than expected but most of the drop seems to be in Sunni areas.

A good number of both Americans and Iraqis arbitrarily pegged 50% as the threshold for successful Iraqi elections. That's funny, if only because so many American elections hover around 55% turnout. Regardless, it appears they've met that standard. Kudos to the Iraqis that voted for peace.

The naysayers are out in force to try and jinx the election. It's mind-boggling how these people, who almost unanimously scream about democracy at every turn during our elections, could be so critical. The answer is obvious why they do this: they don't want Bush to get any success. They'd rather see the Iraqis' freedom thwarted, the region plunged into chaos and the country divided into civil war then admit that Bush did something right on purpose.

It's a wider version of the little kid who gets fouled in basketball and then decides to leave and take the ball home with him. In this case, the Democrats lost several consecutive elections and have failed to block the war, and they want the Middle East to go to hell so they can be proven right.

Kerry got up today saying the real victory is about a coming-together in the next few days and whether the country can reconcile its internal differences. Ass. Way to jinx the election, man. This is a time for the Iraqis to celebrate the elections as a time of national energy, unity and opportunity. Reminding them "hey, you have lots of work to do, you're all supposed to hate each other and this is a meaningless occasion" is just trying to throw cold water on a happy people who've had very little cause for happiness these last few decades. Again, what an ass. Thank God he's not President.

There are others, of course. The beginning of this month saw blogger David Mason predicting that the Bush Administration would cause massive civil war in Iraq, followed by a Shi'a fundamentalist regime and then of course the canceling of US elections and Bush's covert support of both 9/11 and 'the next' terrorist attack. Obviously a raving loony who is not representative of the comments of the left (though perhaps more are thinking closer to this than they let on publicly). But WHY somebody is being so negative is an interesting question to me.

Especially humorous is this line from the same blog: "There are dictators in Pakistan, Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia who are all sitting on militant Muslims of their own, and these dictators have to perform a delicate tiptoeing act to appease them. They all knew this could set off a conflagration for the ages. And, they warned us about it." In other words, these dictators are GOOD guys doing a valuable service and our security is dependent on the LACK of democracy in Muslim and Arab states. That's absurd. That's the argument used by very conservative Cold Warriors to create friendly dictatorships and to topple elected governments at the first whiff of red allegiance.

That's supposed to be against everything the left stands for in foreign policy. They used to be against realism and the stark national-interest-only crowd, and against the do-nothing isolationists - both on the grounds of idealism and humanitarianism. They're supposed to be against friendly dictatorships and for supporting democracy abroad. But this reveals the true impulses of some of the crazy lefties.

They were against the conservatives in the Cold War, so they adopted the language of idealism and democracy then. The same kind of people are against Bush and the Republicans in the War on Terror, so they adopt the language of consensus, status quo and pragmatism. Both are aimed at opposing the Republicans rather than either security or ethics. It's absurd. Obviously a good deal of the left has more principle than that, but it appears that they've getting thrown around just opposing whatever Bush does.

Let's just lay it out clearly now: democracy is good for Iraq. I'm proud to think that we're on the side of the reformers and the democrats in Iraq and elsewhere. I'd like to be on the side of the reformers in every dictatorship, and not on the side of propping up a dying dictatorship for the sake of short-term security interests. Our long-term security interest is served by being on the side that will win: democracy. Ultimately the reformers will win because dictatorships are not stable - they don't cater to the needs and the wishes of the middle class, and that ultimately causes they're downfall.

Either we embrace the democratic reformers in toppling dictators or we embrace a backwards despot and force the reformers to turn into radical insurgents to get their cause heard. We cannot prop up dictatorships forever and eventually they will fall. It's our choice whether the new government sees us as comrades-in-arms who share the cause of liberal democracy or see us as a brute imperialist aggressor that seeks to exploit them.

Good luck to the Iraqis. In the coming days there will be more obstacles for them, but today is a happy day for their country. To get them through the hard times, I offer this quote said by Tony Blair (on another issue) a few weeks ago:

"The difference between democracy and tyranny is not that in a democracy bad things don't happen, but that in a democracy when they do happen people are held and brought to account." - Tony Blair

January 29, 2005

Schiavo Case: Right to Die?

The case of Terri Schiavo, the incapacitated woman whose husband is trying to starve to death and whose parents are trying to obtain custody over, is a sad one. It has looked many times as though she may die, and at least a few times she has been taken off her feeding tube.

She has received no rehabilitation in over a decade after a massive loss of oxygen to her brain - possibly caused by a potassium imbalance - rendered her more or less incapacitated. The husband got, both on her behalf and separately for himself, a number of jury awards and settlements for medical malpractice issues. In order to do so, he argued that Terri 1) COULD be rehabilitated with the money and 2) WOULD be rehabilitated with the money.

A few months after getting it (in the early 90s) he decided that she could not be rehabilitated and spent a huge portion of the roughly $2mil-plus awards on lawyer fees since that date, fighting the parents. In 1993 he ordered the nursing staff not to treat Terri for a simple infection that could have become terminal if untreated. Naturally this was denied as inhumane and illegal.

What's interesting about this story is that some mainstream media types present it as a "right to die" case. I think AP, Reuters or one of the other wire services must have done this because it shows up in the more superficial teasers, bylines and ticker-lines and in a myriad of different media sources. Unfortunately, it's wrong.

Terri didn't leave a living will indicating she wanted to die. Her prior statements on the issue , as given by friends and family, are contradictory (if true). It's relatively clear that her husband Michael was initially correct: Terri is not in a permanent vegetative state and could be rehabilitated with time and attention. Why is this presented, then, as a right-to-die case?

In part, because of the lawyer representing Terri's parents and fighting to get Terri rehabilitative care. He's trying to frame it as a religious liberty issue; Terri's religious liberty is supposedly violated here. That's just silly, since her perspective on the issue is not explicitly available. And if it were then it's silly to make it religious liberty. If somebody puts in a living will "please don't pull the plug on me" then they don't need to be religious to have that granted. He's obscuring the issue and making it political when he needs to be making it on more mainstream legal arguments.

I think the remainder of the issue is the ignorance and superficiality of the wire service reporters. It's only right to die if Terri wants it. She didn't put it in a living will and she's not able to communicate her choice. It's the husband's right to terminate. The lack of good reporting on the issue is embarrassing; for example, the fact that Michael Schiavo has been living with a woman since 1995 and has been engaged to her since 1997 is rarely mentioned - not to mention the fact that they live together with their two kids.

But going so far as to characterize it as "right to die" is absurd. She's not trying to call in Kevorkian to ease her pain. She doesn't want to end it all. Her opinion has not been clearly communicated as a result of her state.

What is especially heinous is the larger issue - a woman will be denied her right to rehabilitation, which is guaranteed by Florida statute, and will be starved to death. Her only means of mechanical assistance is a feeding tube, since she can't swallow. More accurately, her ability to swallow has not been tested, because Michael Schiavo contends it would be rehabilitative and therefore he refuses it. That's highly suspicious in itself. He refuses all rehabilitation to an almost pathological degree. When a nurse placed a cloth in Terri's hand for a moment Michael said it was rehabilitation and took it out. He's had the blinds pulled shut in the room so that she wouldn't get the stimulation of sunlight or outside. It's absurd - if she's so incurable why would he refuse these two examples, both of which cost no money?

It appears he fears her being cured. I could make some guesses about why - like he fears a divorce hearing, he wants to keep all the money from their marriage and from the settlements, or even something crazy like he caused the accident through abuse and he's covering up the crime. My guess is it's just selfishness: he figures she's gone and there's no reason he shouldn't keep the money, but the longer she hangs around, the longer he waits to marry his current fiance.

Frankly, I think he has a clear divergent interest. He is, in practical terms, her ex-busband. He is doing all the activities of marriage with his new fiance, except the legally binding license and ceremony. They live together, they have and raise children together, and they have even been connected together in various Terri-related legal proceedings. I don't think there's a whole lot to be done to fix this situation, but he's basically her estranged husband and he should not possess guardianship over her - besides which, he stood to gain over a million bucks in 1993 when he first started trying to have the nurses kill Terri.

Well, it must be fairly obvious I think she shouldn't be killed. What's interesting is they're not just removing the feeding tube, as the court order says, but actually denying her food itself (which is probably not allowed and certainly not in the court order explicitly). But the larger issue is clear - the Florida statutes already mandate that, in the absence of a living will, she gets access to both support and rehabilitation. The conflict is really over whether Terri wanted to die in this situation or not. Since it's not clear what she wanted and she left no living will, we should rehabilitate her and then ask her.

A bunch of doctors and neurologists have examined her and determined that she is not in a permanent vegetative state and that she could be rehabilitated. I think that's more than enough expert opinion to warrant at least SOME efforts to rehabilitate her. Let's hope a thinking, living person isn't going to be extinguished out of the selfish wants of her adulterous estranged husband.

For more on the issue, check out my expository article on it here.

January 24, 2005

The Problem With Democrats

The center-left is completely obsessed with the question of why they lost the elections of 2002 and 2004, what it takes to win again, and how they get back on top. While it's silly to think that after holding the House almost uninterrupted from 1932 to 1994 - nearly six decades in total - the Democrats are suddenly bemoaning the current situation like a pack of spoiled brats, it's not off-base for them to ask why they suck. They do suck, and the reason will not be immediately obvious to them.

The reason they are casting about for any and every solution is because they so thoroughly hate and fear Bush and the GOP. Why is that? The answer is also the first part of the two-part answer they're all looking to find and exploit. They believe their own lies; they believe the propaganda, fear-mongering and negativity they hurl at Bush and conservatives and even often hurl at more bipartisan and conservative Democrats like Lieberman and Zell.

They believe their BS that Bush is going to blow up the world, going to tank the global economy, going to make old people eat dog food, going to bring back segregation and then sharecropping, going to make girls un-enroll in school and go home to cook and wear burqas barefoot, going to let corporations belch forth entirely unnecessary pollution to destroy the environment he hates so much and that he's going to let the rich and the rednecks run the country forever after.

First, how they somehow have combined the rich and powerful CEOs and the dirt-poor trailer-inhabiting rednecks into the same pseudo-conspiracy is a testament to the purely superficial nature of these charges. But they actually believe on some level that these are true. That Bush, who by and large avoids a lot of controversy and sends tons of cash to the mindless government programs Democrats love, is a horrible person and a horrible President. This fear, brought on by their own over-zealous electioneering and pressure groups, is why they can't stomach this election result. They 1) hate that Bush and his friends beat them (though Bush is frankly a more moderate Republican on almost all issues than even most GOP Senators) and they 2) can't believe somebody they 'knew' was so horrible could beat them.

So part one of the two-part answer: they believe their own propaganda. Propaganda, both the true and the untrue, is a part of politics and often a useful and necessary part. But if they can't separate from that and realize that they need to be at least somewhat open to working with the White House and ignore the crazy nuts on the fringe, then they're screwed. They can't flirt with Michael Moore when he says things like there is no terrorist threat (he equates it to auto accidents, I believe) and they can't get mixed up with the idea that Bush knew about 9-11 or that Israel knew or that the attacks were faked in whole or in part.

Michael Moore sat right next to Jimmy Carter on primetime TV. More than that, Democrats and Kerry didn't seem to ever explicitly distance themselves from Moore when he said his kookier stuff (his movie Fahrenheit 9/11 basically said Bush and the Republicans were Orwellian fascists). The people who did trash Moore from the center-left were either small potatoes or Bush-voters like Zell. Now Zell got trashed by the Democratic talking points, but Moore didn't. When Democratic proxies, pundits and so forth got on the news they would either ignore Moore or defend him to some degree. This is symptomatic of the left's problem separating from its rhetoric.

Of course, there were also a lot of problems relating to the war - unfounded charges of profiteering, widespread charges of intentional, grand deception that weren't satisfactorily proven, and of the not-rare-enough instances of Moore and others actually siding with the Iraqi insurgents. The Democrats, especially Kerry and Terry McAuliffe, did not do enough to distance themselves from the radicals. They didn't have to be part of it, they just weren't on the other side of it. Their silence meant something - it allowed the protesting far-left to think they were marginally better than Bush and the GOP. But it also meant something to voters in the middle, who saw that Kerry wasn't entirely shutting down the loonies to his left.

Believing their own lies let them think that people gave a damn about silly French theories that 9-11 was faked, that the war was entirely fought for oil, that Bush was going to invade another dozen countries, and that he was evil incarnate. If they had been more objective - able to judge their message, propaganda and PR from an outside perspective - then they might have realized that they need to step away from that stuff and prove that the Democrats could be patriotic without being conservative or moderate. They might have tried to build a more principled, better-defined policy path instead of fluctuating between appealing to the anti-war left and appealing to the pro-war center.

Even worse, they were and many still are convinced that running out, yelling loudly and being extreme somehow equates to being principled. Just because you're loud, proud and unique doesn't make your principled. They confused extremism with standing up bravely for their principles.

The second part stems from the first. They refuse to see anything but their own propaganda, and then often a relatively raw version of it. This has blocked them from getting new ideas. Why do they need a plan to reform Social Security? It's fine! For education, their plan is to throw more money at it and maybe to equalize funding - hardly a new idea. For almost everything, they are rehashing unorigtinal, uninspired ideas that mostly involve more money, more bureaucrats and more commissions to talk about hiring more bureaucrats to spend more money.

The good ideas have come from the center-right - their think tanks, their politicians, their proxies. Vouchers and health savings accounts are two of the most innovative examples, but there are many others. The Republicans have good, original ideas to present in addition to their tried and true staples like defense spending, tax cuts and ending abortion. The Democrats just aren't the party of ideas; most of their ideas are already in place.

They are reduced to just augmenting the status quo. More money to the same educational system, more government spending on the same health care system, more money routed to the same military and police forces, more money sent to local fire and police, more money sent to environmental clean-up and oversight, more money money spent on all the things they think people like.

The Democrats are a shopping list, not a political party.

Each item on the list represents a pressure group, a social demographic or a retort to Republican policies. The result is that they just spend money in place of instituting any real reforms.

They're stuck peddling their bad ideas and their silly propaganda because they think it's the honest truth. This is blocking them from getting new ideas and fresh blood, since they thought the old ones were so correct. The base thinks that more energy is the same thing as more principled, so that's what the left will go and do unless the center-left of the Democrats manage to grab hold and make a new direction.

The Democrats need to build up their think tanks, need to encourage new ideas, need to stop name-calling about those with different opinions on race, religion, economy and society, and need to come up with a platform that's more than just spending priorities.