February 28, 2005

Realism, Liberalism, Classicalism, Neo-ism:
Bush's Foreign Policy Ideology

Much has been made of Bush's foreign policy perspective. Most of the observations are either irrelevant or incorrect, which is more due to the abstract, hoity-toity nature of foreign policy academia than anything else.

All political views flow from philosophy. Domestic politics are hopelessly bogged down by both the status quo and the insanely annoying theory of positivism. Without getting into either at all, the effect is simple: domestic politics are measured more by one's actions and rhetoric than one's philosophy reasoning for them. If you support welfare because capitalism is evil then you would be no more left than somebody who supports it out of religious ideals, unless you supported MORE welfare - more action. In reality, the Christian welfare state and the anarcho-communist social critique are worlds apart because of such distinct philosophical views.

In foreign policy, the ideologies go by your philosophy less than your actions. Unfortunately, idiotic Democrats and total jerks like Hannity and Gibson haven't the foggiest idea what a philosophy is - let alone how to do identify. This isn't to say they're stupid in general, just that a lot of people try to speak intelligently on a subject they clearly didn't bother to research first.

Stupid Republicans' View of Foreign Policy: Good leaders act tough, don't back down, tell the world who is the boss, and don't stand for any monkey business. It doesn't so much matter why, as long as they're tough. Bad leaders are wimpy and slimy and will sink to any low to hate America and worship Europe.

Stupid Democrats' View of Foreign Policy: Good leaders value compromise and never go to war except when totally unavoidable, and make sure they always listen to foreign viewpoints - or at least the foreign viewpoints Democrats like. Bad leaders are arrogant and don't listen to others.

The Way It Really Works: Foreign policy is actually a little more complex but still pretty easy to grasp. Instead of looking at whether leaders are 'tough' or 'diplomatic' you should look to their justifications and perspectives. While in the broadest sense there is some connection from realist to tough and liberalist to diplomatic, this is a pretty sorry link - there's no reason realists couldn't be slimy cowards or liberalists couldn't be tough cowboys.

Here's a quiz on SelectSmart authored by myself. It's rough and short, but it ought to be fairly accurate:
Foreign Policy Philosophy Selector

The simple way to explain the distinction between realists and liberalists (I'm excluding Marxists, who are widely discredited and hardly worth discussing) is Hobbes versus Locke.

Hobbes, author of Leviathan, said famously that life in the state of nature is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" without a state to protect you. In the state of nature, a euphemism for the time before states while anarchy reigned, people are selfish, mean, short-sighted, greedy and will do whatever they want for themselves. They do not have any rights, moral or legal, and do whatever they want for the here and now - without regard for their own futures or the interests of others. Since there is no overarching government or state to rule us all, chaos reigns.

Hobbes solved the chaotic state of nature with the Leviathan, an all-powerful ruler. Realists don't solve the anarchy of the world. They argue (somewhat correctly) that there is no "international 911" to call for help - and that any attempt to create one is likely to result in failure. Since everybody is selfish and short-sighted, we have to be tougher and meaner to protect ourselves. This is why some like to shorthand realists for tough guys - but Hobbes himself was proud to be a coward. Realist doesn't mean tough. It means watching out for survival, without morality, compassion or prosperity. It means trying to keep an edge, trying to gain relative strength against all others. It means back-stabbing anyone if you have to and making friends with anybody you need to. It means a constant life-or-death struggle without ethics, reason or fairness.

Locke, author of Second Treatise on Government, argued that the pre-government state of nature had moral rights, liberty and generally happiness. It is the lack of impartial justice that ruins the state of nature and necessitates a government among us. People are basically good, smart and of roughly equal capabilities. Perfecting the implementation of justice is the key to smoothing out the problems. He was a strong believer in liberty, and an early proponent of democracy - unlike Hobbes who argued against democracy in the strongest possible terms and had no use for liberty in the slightest form.

In foreign policy, the Lockean view is that we can appeal to the better nature of other states and come to a solution to many conflicts before they boil over into conflict. Lockean views also emphasize commerce and more open trade, as well as increased communication between countries. In more advanced forms, group security arrangements attempt to create the International 911 that would better protect countries from invasion and attack. Liberalists do not have to be weak - and they are not the same thing at all as Democrats or modern-day US 'liberals.'

Now, I could go on and on and explain more about each. I'm trying to trim it down a little to make it easier to read.

The simple way to explain the distinction between classicals and neos is to ask one question: "do institutions shape actors or do actors shape institutions?" It might be hard to answer this one, or at least to pick one side decisively. It comes to the root of your philosophy.

Classicals believe that the nature of a state ('actor') is intrinsic. No matter what 'institutions' (UN, WTO, NATO) you place in, around or near a state it will continue to do and be what it is naturally. For the classical realist, this means that a state will always seek only its own survival and relative power. Whether there is no UN or a strong UN, each state will behave the same way, seeking its own interest. More controversially, democracies, dictatorships and communist states all behave the same way, a realist believes, so there's little point in worrying about the domestic nature of a state. For the classical liberalist, this all means that a free state will usually behave ethically and appropriately while an unfree state will usually behave unethically and inappropriately. The undemocratic, unfree states cannot be changed by the UN or NATO. Institutions should still exist, but free states should only include other free states, since the unfree states cannot act in the interests of liberty.

Neos believe that the nature of a state-actor is pretty flexible. Placing good institutions near or on a state can make it adopt certain behavior, while the like of institutions often allows it to degrade into worse behavior. For neo-realists this means that the structure of world politics causes conflict, not the nature of states. Neo-realists say that we can encourage peace through a variety of institutional and structural changes, especially a bipolar world. The creation of pseudo-empires, like in the Cold War, can make a bipolar world where two powers control their minor and major allies and work together to avoid confrontation. The structure is the cause of conflict or peace. To neo-liberalists, this means that an unfree state becomes better by surrounding it with good institutions like the UN, WTO, NATO and so forth. It becomes better from the influence, communication and ideas and tries to emulate the other members. Therefore the classical liberalist strategy of excluding non-democracies is counter-productive because we should be including unfree states to change them.

Most people fall somewhere in between classical and neo, but the realist-liberalist continuum is a little more polarizing. Personally I am a liberalist and I gravitate much more to the classical line (institutions only matter if they communicate with the populace, not the leaders of a country). There are other manifestations and sections of foreign policy - most infamously the neocons.

The neocons are liberalist in their belief that morality girds foreign policy and that democracy and freedom are the fundamentals of that morality. They are realist in their embracing of anti-democratic allies. They are classical in their sweeping belief that the nature of states is the biggest sign of their loyalties and actions. The neocons have a complex perspective, but ultimately it comes down to classical liberalism with a not-insignificant dash of realism thrown in.

So what is Bush? It's hard to say, since politicians and diplomats have to be careful about their comments. One thing is clear: Bush is no realist. Bush is a liberalist, pushing the case for greater democracy and freedom as a precursor to security and prosperity. He has weak neo credentials in that he does not use institutions to shepherd along dictators and tyrants, but instead calls them out, in classical fashion, as irreconcilably tyrannical. There's a lot of studying to be done and there are many criticisms to be made when it comes to President Bush's foreign policy, but let no person call him a realist in the foreign policy sense.
Democracy's Growing Fan Club

There's a lot of good news in the world right now for democracy. While of course it's never all good, there's a lot of recent stuff to be happy about.

Ukraine: The Orange Revolution, which made a big splash in the media, used many weeks of protests against questionable election results to get a pro-democracy, Western-oriented reformist into office. This is a sign of changing trends in the Ukraine, which has a large slavophile/russophile contingent with little sympathy for Western-style liberal democracy (and whose members often speak Russian instead of their native Ukrainian).

Iraq: Obvious. Removing a violent dictator that sends money to suicide bombers and gives aid and shelter to terror groups, then replacing him with a democratically-elected, multi-partisan, multi-sectarian democracy is a darned good thing. I'd say Iraq and to a lesser extent the Ukraine have really helped pushed the way for further democratization in the Middle East.

Lebanon: Two weeks of protesting that seemed reminiscent of the Orange Revolution culminated in the resignation of the Lebanese puppet cabinet supported by the Syrians. Protest not directed against imperialism or Judaism is relatively rare in the Middle East (though certainly not unheard of, considering the pathetic state of so many Arab governments) and the success of this attempt suggests we might see protests becoming more and more common in oppressed Muslim-dominated countries (hint hint, Iran).

Saudi Arabia: Although a very small step for one of the most oppressive states in the world today (and one of the most oppressive US allies ever), the Saudis held small elections for some local offices. Women were not allowed to vote, although they may be allowed to do so in the next election. The elections aren't going to do much in the way of power-brokering or policy-making in the country, but it is the first time representatives elected by Saudis will be included in the government there.

Egypt: President Mubarak is looking at an amendment to allow multi-candidate presidential elections next time around, and Condi Rice canceled a visit to Egypt in protest of a political dissident being arrested here. Multi-candidate elections in Egypt is only really relevant if the elections are free and fair, since the legislative elections also have had three competing parties for years (it's just that the threat of arrest keeps them from suggesting any major change, and it's assured that the winners will follow the President, since they have little power not to do so). Egyptian democracy is perhaps the most important of these five examples - a) Egypt has a large population, b) Egypt is a central state, geographically and culturally, to Muslim and Arab culture, c) a lot of terrorists come from Egypt, and therefore a good amount of terrorist-creation would be eliminated with a transition to Egyptian democracy.


Russia: Putin has to allow free press and free speech in Russia, free Khodorovsky (or at least put him on trial) and publicly acknowledge his commitment to democracy without being recently forced to do so. The next elections there also have to be fully free and fair.

Iran: They need to eliminate the Guardians Council, the source of most regressive and reactionary politics in the country and the body responsible for eliminating reformist candidates for the Majlis (Parliament). The Guardians Council is clerics and Islamic lawyers with the responsibility to make sure all Iranian state acts jive with Islamic law (and traditions). They need to be out on their asses. Iran is a pseudo-democracy, but it is not free. The people have decent enough elections; it's just that the candidates are heavily screened. Iran needs street protests on holding a referendum to eliminate the Guardians Council and hold a new constitutional convention. I'd also say that US military action must be ruled out except in the most dire of circumstances - Iran has a strong rebellious domestic contingent that loves the US for our freedom and for our NOT being the clerics. If we were to attack Iran, we could more or less count on losing all sympathy from these Western- and US-oriented reformers.

Gulf States: Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE and Qatar should all be pushed to hold free and fair elections and to become fully constitutional monarchies (or even constitutional republics). Kuwait is the closest to this already, even though their Parliament has been shut down several times, since that country has more of a political culture involving some measure of dissent. Kuwait is also affluent, educated and has the closest thing to a middle class - as well as heightened access to foreign and free media - and of course they have an abiding sympathy for the US since we saved them from Saddam in 1991. Kuwait and the other rich Gulf states (not all the states in the Persian Gulf have oil) should be strongly encouraged to enact democratic reforms, including free and fair elections. Free Trade Agreements should be the huge carrot here, and the specifics of a US-Bahrain FTA have already been worked out. We should not do FTAs with the Gulf states until they have at least one, if not two or three, successful elections that are free and fair.

North Africa: If the European Union ever does get on-board with democracy promotion for real, then they could be of some assistance with North Africa. The colonial connection is always a strange one, with a weird love-hate theme. The EU in general could help with regard to Libya, which has already made some tremendously important moves toward ending military confrontation but not so much toward ending political repression. Qadafi's moves to normalize relations with the West could definitely be used to encourage a broader move toward democracy. Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria each have stronger current connections to France (at least linguistically) than other European countries. If Chirac wanted to steal some of Bush's thunder (or alternately, help out the West or the US in democracy promotion) then he could lead the efforts for Mahgreb democracy. It would also be a surefire path to proving French power and relevance in foreign affairs, which is probably the most convincing reason for them to do it.

Syria: Still one of the most dangerous states in the world, Syria supports lots of terrorists and violence - in Lebanon, in Iraq, in Israel. The Syrian government is in desperate need of a swift kick to the pants, but it would probably be better to let them stew. We should start putting serious efforts on Syria, and make them one of the top monetary priorities for democracy promotion - everything from Arabic-language radio programming (Radio Free Syria) to funding their democratic opposition groups (rhetoric only, no militants). Otherwise, we need to let Syria stew a while. We need European pressure on them, but frankly I don't expect much from most EU countries on this front. Syria needs to boil a little and allow the democrats there to try and press the political case for reform. The US is too likely to cause automatic opposition there, so we shouldn't overwork the Syrians directly. After a year or two of helping the opposition there, our rhetoric needs to get bigger. Hopefully then the Iraqis, the Lebanese and some of the various Gulf state politicians will have nascent democratic credentials and can urge the government to accept a more accountable, representative government. I'd also recommend that the Syrian Reform Party and others start holding street protests and the like, because there's no reason why internal pressure shouldn't start right now.

Burma, North Korea, China and other Asian authoritarian states: The Asian tyrants need to loosen their grip. North Korea is far too hot and Kim far too crazy for us to push democracy right now. It's also entirely too poor and desperate for the population there to give a damn about elections. We need to solve the other problems there first. China has already held some minor local elections that have no real bearing on anything. They should be pressured to legalize opposition parties and allow openly-contested elections of delegates to a major constitutional convention. They also need to figure out autonomy and independence for the various regions, especially Tibet and the Uighur Autonomous Region. Hong Kong residents could be a big help here, if the democratic culture survives there. Burma is probably the most tyrannical country in the world, and needs drastic action. For both China and Burma, the US needs to ask Australia and Japan to take the lead, the UK to take second fiddle, and let the US be the big, bad cop in the background in case the preliminary negotiations fail.

Venezuela: Trendy Che t-shirts aside, Huge Chavez is not a democrat. He led two different failed coup attempts in the early 1990s, and he has overseen large expansions of state control over society and economy - including expropriations of land greater than the total area of Belgium. He is a populist, anti-Western demagogue and he has provoked protests from professional, labor and guild groups in Colombia. Massive protests have not replaced him or made him step down. Venezuela should hold new elections and allow in observers to make sure they are free and fair. In conjunction with the Organization of America States, the leaders of Chile, Costa Rica, Colombia and Brazil (especially Lula in Brazil) should encourage Chavez to accept democratic limits and simply hold a new election. Venezuela has a relatively strong democratic tradition by Latin America's standards, though it is not without its blemishes. Its previous blemish was a military tyrant, subsequently replaced by an elected system - and that ex-tyrant was invited by Hugo Chavez to sit in a place of honor at his inauguration. He also enjoyed meeting with other tyrants - notably Saddam and Castro.

Cuba: Castro will die soon. As soon as he does, we move in with a simple offer to completely end the embargo and all its restrictions if the new regime is determined through free and fair elections. If somebody wanted to end it before Castro dies, my best suggestion is to either partially or totally end the embargo and start more or less exporting political upstarts to the island – at least some of them American citizens without Cuban descent – that would get Castro in deep trouble to jail. Have them disseminate democratic literature and organize non-violent street protests for elections (which was Castro's rallying point in the 1950s against Batista).

Haiti: This one is a stumper. The key is to build up the economy and to rebuild the physical geography of the island. The mudslides there destroy so much life and economy that democracy is far away. Rebuilding the physical island is a precursor to economic success, and economic success is a precursor to democracy. This is a long, slow process and it is much more difficult than other countries. This is a place where aid agencies like Red Cross and others should work, to prepare it for further development and investment from the outside.

Sudan, Zimbabwe, Africa in general: Africa is not looking too great for democracy right now, though Burundi just held elections (it's a lot like Rwanda, only to the south). I know the least about Africa than any other continent (except maybe Antarctica) and Africa is an even worse ground for democratic reforms than Asia. My suggestion is to find democratic allies in or near the region to push the case. Other than South Africa (which suffers credibility loss from extensive white-European connections) this is slow-going. The simplest answer is use South African leadership, be tough with Zimbabwe and show no leniency to genocide in the Sudan. The black-Africans in the southern parts of the Sudan are Christian and animist, so they receive harsh treatment from the Arabs in the northern parts that are Muslim. Getting a whole new country for the Christian/animist Sudanese, if economically viable, could be a springboard for sub-Saharan democracy. Getting Egyptian or Tunisian democracy is not very relevant to democracy in Rwanda or Sierra Leone; black-Sudanese democracy is much more relevant. I think this might be our foot in the door, just as Iraq was democracy's foot into the Middle East's door. Besides which, there's a serious issue of genocide and widespread rape in the Sudan of Muslims against blacks. These people need to be protected from the drawn-out war and genocide of the area. Creating two new states might be a good approach to protect them, and would be a wonderful way to jumpstart the democratic movements in black (sub-Saharan) Africa. Expanding democracy is the best way to prevent further troubles in the region, especially Nigeria and the tumultuous Horn of Africa.

Is this all ambitious? Yes, very - especially trying to jumpstart democracy in Africa while the Middle East is still in the earliest stages of a POTENTIAL democratic revolution. It's likely too ambitious, and certainly will not be attempted. However, it could be attempted with unhesitant assistance from the rest of the world - especially Europe (i.e. France) towards North Africa; Australia and Japan towards Asia; South Africa towards sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil (and Chile/Colombia/Costa Rica) and the OAS towards Cuba and Venezuela; and the entire world towards genocide in the Sudan. It's ambitious, but democracy anywhere supports democracy everywhere. As it advances, democratic values naturally take root. Freedom is infectious because it's both prosperous and invigorating. It naturally enriches and encourages one to do as he wishes, live as he wishes, and think as he wishes - so long as he accepts the same right for others.

Getting democracy to reach across the globe - and not just the whiter, richer parts of it - ought to be the goal of this century. Naturally this is a long process of development, industrialization, liberalization, education and negotiation. Anyone who thinks it will be easy is a fool. Similarly, anyone that thinks democracy is doomed because of one or many ominous signs or dangerous trends is a coward. Freedom is not for the weak, and spreading the values of freedom require an even more courageous constitution. But through a systematic process of economic development, political education, diplomatic pressure and free elections we can see accountable, respectful governance take hold in progressively wider areas across the globe.

February 24, 2005

Politburo-Tested, Proletariat-Approved

SimCity is a better video game to play, despite "bourgeois" assumptions for the economics, because it's better than mindless militarism the Maoist International Movement says. Apparently MIM is making sure that we only play approved games with ideologically-approved content. It's amazing how similar this socialist review sounds like a born-again Christian website's review of similar video games (or of books, movies, Harry Potter, etc.) just aimed at a different audience.

I have the sudden urge to play a video game that involves killing communists and getting paid exorbitant amounts of money to do it.
Pejmanesque: Bloggers Are Just Really Opinionated Readers

Mainstream journalists would do well to remember that bloggers are simply readers (listeners, viewers, whatever) that have a personalized method of communicating their views on a subject. That's what Pejman says in the entry above.

I'd take the description one step further: when a blog does news analysis it's like Letters To The Editor that the editors don't publish.
Immigration Reform: Posner

Richard Posner recommends charging people to immigrate here if we think they'd be a net drag on the economy and welfare state. It's a creative and sensible enough solution, but I have a couple reasons why we shouldn't spend time doing it:

1) Most of the people trying to walk across the border are not going to have the education, contacts or language skills to test well on the interview to determine if they have to pay for admission. However, they tend to avoid most welfare in my anecdotal and informal observations and tend to work often. They pay their taxes and they love to make money (of the many immigrant pizza drivers I've worked with, most of them were positively money-making machines). So while they may have no education and limited language skills, they can still provide a net benefit to the economy by working without drawing excessively from public funds.

Perhaps a way to make sure that immigrants will continue to take little welfare is to reduce or eliminate the amount of welfare non-citizens can legally request. Once they get their citizenship they can take welfare like any other citizens.

2) If we start charging the immigrants that fail the interview process, then what will they do? These are the people with less money and less education - it would be a very regressive fee. The poorest immigrants would probably end up paying the most. Since there's basically already a thriving black market on immigration, they'd ignore the fee and just get into the country anyway. In the end, little revenue would come from the fees, as few of those required to pay it would be able to do so. Most people would come in the same way - cutting through the fence.
The Next SCOTUS Appointee

There are names and resumes going around the blog rumor mill on who will replace the much-respected Rehnquist after his predicted retirement this year. I don't have anything to add except that my only heightened expectation is that he be pro-life. Obviously, qualified, intelligent, literate - all these things are a given. Above and beyond these qualifications, the next appointee must be pro-life. Whether it's straight to the top as CJ or to an AJ slot and bumping up a current member, the new person has to be pro-life.

That's not to say I'm making a prediction - more like a demand of sorts. If every Republican nominee had been anti-Roe and every Democratic nominee pro-Roe, then there wouldn't have been the Roe v. Wade decision as we know it (it would've been 6-3 the other way). The same goes for Casey v. Planned Parenthood (it would've been 8-1 the other way). The Court right now has 7 Republican appointees, yet 4 of them back the basic essence of abortion rights and 3 of them think there's a constitutional right to partial-birth abortion.

Now, I realize there are two main responses that pro-choicers will feel here: 1) that I'm a religious nut and 2) that this is political wrangling over constitutional issues.

First - no, I'm not a religious nut. I hold a scientific and ethical objection to abortion. Religion is a red herring issue brought up by people too lazy to adequately explain why some human beings should be allowed to kill and destroy other human beings. The slavery abolition movement was derided by Southerners as religious interference in privacy and property rights; the abortion abolition movement is today derided by the pro-choice and pro-abortion lobbies as religious interference in privacy rights. Religion is irrelevant. I don't have to be devout to oppose murder.

Second - yeah, there's already going to be a political angle to the appointment. People for the American Way already has office space and phones prepared to oppose Bush's next appointee - and they don't even know when that will happen or who it is yet.

As long as there are different ways to rule on court cases, it's appropriate to express an opinion on what method is best - and who is best to execute that method. I'd place the same requirement on presidents in the 1850s and I'd point out the Dred Scott (1857) and Lemon (1860) cases as two important decisions affected by presidential appointments (among others).

Lives are hanging in the balance here. Bush needs to hold the line - it's currently 6-3 on abortion and 5-4 on partial-birth abortion. Letting Rehnquist be replaced by a pro-choice jurist would tip the scales even further and only delay the inevitable end of the abortion-for-profit industry.
What Libertarians Have To Offer

Continuing on with the Libertarian/Republican discussion spanning so many blogs the last few days, I wanted to offer my opinion on this post from secureliberty.org. This part toward the end especially grabbed my notice:

    Libertarians need to seek out their natural allies on big issues. opposing tigher immigration reform is both stupid and politically stupid. Opposing all drug laws is a political loser. Focus on free speech and free market economics. Limited government within the construct provided by the founders... The concept of the Bill of Rights applying to the states via the 14th Amendment is a big government idea, particularly as it has been applied of late.
First, immigration: President Bush is trying to include immigrants, normalize their presence here, and make sure they can get the jobs they seek. Businesses are already using immigrants faster than they can get here, so why shouldn't Bush support it? Social conservative Republicans and military enthusiast Republicans like to think that all conservatives want to tighten the border - not just against terrorists or even against Muslims and Arabs, but against Mexicans and Hispanics as well. This simply isn't true, and the President is a big example of this. Many other Senators have been pushing for common sense immigration reform, to accept those hard-working immigrants and screen out the hostiles potentially hiding among them. Senator Hagel is one of them (I mention him because he's supposed to be so horribly different from Bush, if the Freeper crowd is any indication).

I think Americans are more than mature enough to realize this basic distinction: Hispanics are not responsible for 9/11. Whatever you think about terrorism, we shouldn't take 9/11 and turn it into screening out guys from Chihuahua and Sonora that just want to work in a hotel or a restaurant as a cook or a janitor for a few years. They mean us no harm. They want to work and American businesses want to pay them.

It's interesting that social conservatives have such a huge disconnect between the idea of immigrants and free markets. Immigrants want to come here to work, buy and sell - to engage in the free market economics that are so difficult and repressed in Mexico and other parts of Latin America. I'm not for open borders, but I have sympathy for people just trying to work hard and get ahead - the political rhetoric practically writes itself on behalf of immigrants.

Not only can we help our economy and help immigrants, but we can secure our borders. By wasting less time on peaceful, hard-working migrants from Mexico and elsewhere, the INS officials and agents have more time to spend on the process. Furthermore, when immigration is legal people go through the border checks. This lets the agents spend more time focusing on terror suspects and less time on would-be hospitality-industry employees. It also means that Mexicans crossing the border would go through the roads, and not walk across the desert - and that the ratio of agents to illegals in the desert would shift dramatically in favor of the agents. Legalizing more immigration is a GREAT way to fix the problem and focus on TERRORISTS, not just people who speak a different language.

We should press the case AGAINST those that oppose immigration, because they weaken our country. They're pushing a pre-existing social agenda; they wanted immigrants kept out long before 9/11. If you want to secure the country, then let INS spend less time on peaceful Latin Americans and more time double-checking the terror watch lists.

Who's worse: Jose Sanchez from Baja or Mohamed Atta from Hamburg by way of Madrid? (scroll to Jan 10, 2001) On a related note, the INS should spend less time worrying about Cuban cigar-smugglers and more time worrying about suitcase nukes. Priorities.

Second, drugs: it's fallacious to make the argument against ALL drug laws but not address the idea of progressive drug reform. It violates the charity principle (the idea that one ought to always attack the strongest manifestation of his opponent's argument, not a weaker one). Sure, immediate legalization of all drug laws would be unpredictable and is definitely too unpopular to happen. But legalizing medical marijuana is very doable, and has already been approved in a number of states. Hell, medicinal marijuana is more popular than gay marriage - one passed Montana in 2004 and the other didn't, for example (MT 96 and MT 148).

It makes a lot of sense to look at incremental reform. Why should police and courts spend time on people smoking pot in their basements on the weekend when they could be putting that energy into violent crime - child disappearances, rape, abuse, and so forth. The drug war has also been a near-constant excuse to violate our civil liberties, privacy and due process rights. Relieving some of the pressure of the drug war would in turn strengthen our rights as Americans, even in areas unconnected to drugs.

Overall, I think the left and right will want libertarians to push whatever's convenient for their side. The left will want libertarians to push drugs and abortion. The right will want libertarians to push guns and tax cuts. It's very convenient that they want us to remake ourselves in their image - just as libertarians would want Democrats and Republicans to remake themselves in something closer to our image.

In the end, we should push the things that are most likely to improve liberty in both the short-term and the long-term. This means improving security through judicious use of military force abroad and re-focusing border controls on terrorists instead of peaceful would-be workers. It means improving the criminal justice system by focusing on violent crimes, not peaceful gun owners or private recreational drug users. It means replacing an expansive welfare state with transitional programs like personal investment accounts, medical savings accounts, and state-funded programs. It means pushing the ideas that work to protect the liberty we desire.

I made a mistake in the post above. Randy Barnett is not a member of the GOP, as I had stated. Many apologies.
Conservative Europeans & Dynamic Americans

Everybody likes to have his personal opinions reinforced ... and I'm no different. This quote from Der Spiegel (a major German magazine) is something that everybody needs to both hear and understand before engaging in any long-term discussion of the relative conservatism of the US and Europe.

    Europeans today -- just like the Europeans of 1987 -- cannot imagine that the world might change. Maybe we don't want the world to change, because change can, of course, be dangerous. But in a country of immigrants like the United States, one actually pushes for change. In Mainz today, the stagnant Europeans came face to face with the dynamic Americans. We Europeans always want to have the world from yesterday, whereas the Americans strive for the world of tomorrow.
This is a very perceptive quote. It's funny that most people see the US' attachment to capitalism and our relative faith in religion and God as reasons we're more conservative. Neither is true. That's a shallow political analysis from those that are incapable of critically analyzing politics. Those who parrot the line that the US is the most conservative country in the world are no more intelligent than the thousands of semi-literate pre-teens shouting the exact same thing in chat rooms.

There was an editorial for the April 12th, 2003 Financial Times (a UK paper) that really hit at the distinction. I don't have the full version any longer, but I do have the highlights. I'll re-post it here. In case you didn't recognize the timing, this was a few days or weeks after the Saddam statue was dragged down and beaten by jubilant Iraqis.

    Americans, almost alone in the world, have a serious, unironic, uncynical, even simplistic belief that their country is a force for enduring good. They acknowledge it does not always get it right, that at times its antics fall far short of its highest ideals, but all but the most hardened cynics really believe in America as a force for freedom and prosperity and in the universality of these goals...

    For most of the rest of the world, this ingenuous faith in the nation's unyielding will and power to produce beneficial outcomes for everybody is almost non-existent. Europeans, especially, live in a post-religious, post-ideological, rationalist-pragmatist haze. Coming off a century that left millions of them dead at the hands of successively failed ideologies, and a succession of wars that almost everyone lost, they are understandably sceptical of politicians and pundits who claim their country is an effective force for good. They are more inclined to see the world as a complex struggle between morally equivalent interests...

    It is not hard to see why this self-belief evinces such cynicism around the world. The US record - supporting tyrants, even in places such as Iraq where it eventually topples them - is hardly unblemished. At times, America's commitment to liberty has looked a little selective.

    But you can hardly blame Americans as they contemplate once again a rapid victory by the force of their arms, followed by scenes of jubilation in a foreign land, for thinking that they sit on the right side of history. And you surely cannot help but marvel at the fact that they are almost alone in seeing themselves that way."
    - Gerard Baker 4/12
I don't really agree that Europeans are especially rational (in my experience, many are more willing than Americans to be irrational if it serves some self-interested motive) but I think the best part is that Europeans see the world as a complex struggle of morally equivalent elements.

They don't necessarily see the US, UK and USSR as having freed Europe in WWII, but simply another ghastly war fought by bad guys and worse guys. They don't see the US and UK as fighting terrorism and fascism in Iraq to supplant both with freedom and democracy, but simply one big country and one follower-country beating up a dark-skinned country.

They refuse to believe the idealistic answer, because after the apparent 'failure' of both pre-WWI idealism and pre-WWII cynicism they don't know what to do. World War I shattered their view of the world as being relatively civilized and safe. Freud, Nietzsche and other Romantics saw increasing popularity for their dark views of human nature. But then these ideas did nothing to prevent World War II, which was ten times worse than World War I. With both idealism and anti-idealism squashed, what were they to do? Sit around in a funk, apparently.

Europeans have trouble believing anything will work because they've seen so many things fail. The American response to horrible things like world war and Holocaust is reform. After both world wars, American presidents came up with grand ideas, themes and policies to not only avert war but actually build peace. Wilson's League would have been ratified by the Senate if he had only allowed a few important, reasonable changes to happen.

Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points is a dramatic contrast to the greedy, selfish, short-sighted actions of Georges Clemenceau, Vittorio Orlando and David Lloyd George. FDR's Atlantic Charter, though signed by Winston Churchill, was a striking contrast to the blatant imperialism of the Stalin-Churchill "percentages agreement." Even Harry Truman -known over here for his down-to-Earth, common-sense, Midwestern charms- was comparatively idealistic next to the European and Soviet tendencies for compromise and subversion.

Now, this is not something that all Americans have and that all foreigners lack - far from it. There are and have always been a great deal of intelligent, educated idealists coming out of Europe. The problem is that so many of them left for European colonies there aren't a great deal left back in Europe.

Australia and New Zealand, for example, are famous (infamous?) for their say-what-you-mean attitude. Australian politicians are often getting into trouble regarding Asia, human rights and sovereignty, because to almost all Asian leaders and politicians it is highly inappropriate and ghastly rude to call into question the behavior of other countries without burying it in subtler comments. The brash, loudspoken ex-British colonies down there don't like it when Asian countries behave undemocratically or un-freely, and they say as much. Asian leaders prefer a subtle interplay of words, actions, apologies and visual symbols to communicate (in some Asian cultures, the type of fruit served with tea can indicate friendship or hostility).

Anyway, the point is not "America good, foreigners bad" (though that may be true) but rather that this is something Americans have more of than others usually do. Many Europeans don't like a big powerful country talking about change, idealism and democracy. They want nuances, complicated relationships - and most of all they want to "go along to get along" in regard to the authoritarian countries of this world.

Well, no dice. They can either sign on board to try and fix things in the world or they can sit there like whining, aged men talking about the good old days when European kings and states colonized the world.

The world doesn't belong to imperialism anymore, and if our best intentions are any indication, idealism will be its heir.
Rise of the Mammies

Condi Rice was just the first black female Republican to be creamed in the press, the blogs and the political cartoons for being who she is. Rather than being attacked for what she says, what she's done or even what she thinks, a number of people are attacking her for how she looks.

I don't think that race needs to be ignored or even that it's a subject inappropriate for humor. Race should be about as important as national ancestry or hair color - only important as a joke or a superficial differentiation between people. I wouldn't say that blond jokes or German jokes are out of line (the Beck's commercials are hilarious), so I wouldn't say that a joke about race is automatically out of bounds. But when you try to force people to join one or another group and mock them when they hold their own opinions, that's clearly racist.

Until now, it's mostly been an Uncle Tom thing. In the modern usage, it's a black man who is a conservative or a Republican. It's been used notably against Colin Powell and JC Watts, but also against Alan Keyes and others. It's an absurdly racist thing to say, because it means that your race ought to dictate your beliefs and behaviors. Criticizing a black Republican for being a Republican is fine; criticizing a black Republican for being a black person in the GOP is racist. You'd think this was a fairly simple explanation, but for some people I've encountered it's far from simple.

This is just another symptom of the Democratic solution on race, which is to make sure everybody everywhere not only notices on race but actually fixates on it - and then expects it to somehow not be a problem subsequently. Rather than trying to avoid race as an issue of any real importance, Democrats try to play up race and then be positive about it. But once race is a tool capable of hurting their opponents, many Democrats, especially those feeling quite vulnerable and impotent, have no qualms about dredging up the worst of it.

Now that the GOP is starting to again include more and more middle-class black women, it's inevitable that they will proceed to positions of importance and visibility. Condi Rice is one, and Janice Rogers Brown (a judge from California, and a conservative) is another. Despite the major flap over political cartoons portraying Rice as a mammy and so forth (here: 1 2 3 4 5) I'm sure that the trend is far from over. Look for more racist name-calling from the left side of the street over the years as black women try to get somewhere in the GOP.

February 23, 2005

Libertarian Dilution

Randy Barnett has a well-reasoned and widely noticed entry on the VC blog about the LP and how the split of Libertarians from the GOP is detrimental to the political values of libertarians. Now, he's a libertarian in the GOP and has argued this for at least a few years if not longer. That might put him in a suspect position to die-hard Libertarians. I, however, have been a member of the Missouri LP, registered Libertarian in Virginia, and have signed onto the Free State Project. Perhaps this inoculates me against some of the potential criticisms when I say I agree at least in part that splitting libertarians into two or three or four different parties is silly.

The most active and energetic libertarians tend to split and join the LP. This means that literally hundreds and thousands of activists, as well as over a million votes (combined for the House races the LP contests) are siphoned off from the GOP. That, in itself is fine. If any political party fails, then fuck them. I really don't care, prima facie, if the GOP or any other political vehicle fails. However, if the ethics, goals and policies I value are demeaned or weakened because of a GOP loss, then I definitely care.

A party is just a vehicle. If it fails, so be it. I'd weep no less than if an old Chevy were recycled and turned into bottom-quality scrap metal. But if a party represents a future I like, or at least dislike less than its alternatives, I have a reason to care. The GOP, and indeed any party, only matters inasmuch as it advances laudable or important policies. A party is not lovable in and of itself - despite what the partisans seem to believe.

A lot of people deride the two-party system. I understand why - it appears to force away change and encourage lockstep thinking. This is misleading, however. The two-party system is effective because it absorbs good (or rather popular) ideas and eventually eschews bad (or less popular) ones. It's not perfect by any means, and it's not even as accurate as the free market, but it operates fairly well over the long term. Enough people want America created, slaves liberated, the union preserved or civil rights guaranteed and eventually the two parties respond.

It is within the two parties that real change can happen. Each party is itself a very flexible coalition. This is more flexible than parliamentary democracy in terms of ideas and somewhat less flexible in terms of officers. In the end, it preserves a great variety of ideas, politicians and policies. I don't think we need to move over to multi-party elections, because we have multi-ideology elections. Ideology and policy are the reason a multiparty democracy is desirable anyway, so there's no need to bother changing for the sake of more parties if it wouldn't increase debate significantly.

Within every party are factions - Republicans For Choice, Democrats For Life, Democrats that want tax cuts, Republicans that want spending hikes, etc. It's very complex. The interplay on foreign policy alone is striking - the GOP has its balancing factions, its aggressive factions, its liberalist factions, its isolationist factions, and so forth.

Politicians, interest groups, newspapers and magazines often pick sides in this never-ending interplay of ideas and interests. Buchanan's American Conservative magazine will square off against the Weekly Standard from Barnes and Kristol - even though both backed Bush in 2004 (Weekly Standard moreso). It's a complex game and it's damn time libertarians really started playing it.

One of the most important parts is think tanks - the source of studies, conferences, ideas, policies and press releases that generate buzz and generate legislation. The libertarian faction already has a great one. The Cato Institute is a premier group, both learned and respected, and has had a great deal of interchanging between its fellows and experts and various GOP and White House groups. Cato is quite successful. Yet when it gets reported in the news, what it's called? "The Cato Institute, a conservative think tank..." or "The conservative-minded Cato Institute..." and so forth. Sometimes it gets recognition for being libertarian, but this usually only in Republican and conservative circles when saying something meant to be read and circulated among like-minded folks.

It's time libertarians for to step into the GOP and take the influence we can achieve. We've got ideas, energy, experience and people. All we need now is to unify it.

As it stands, a great deal of people are alienated from the idea of even calling themselves libertarian because the GOP and LP are separate. There are a lot of people with libertarian sympathies who would be much more willing to follow our ideas if we were in their party. Moreover, we could get GOP lawmakers to listen to us if we offered them votes. We could elect libertarian-friendly legislators if we started giving them money. As it stands, a million dollars dunked on a Senate race would probably end up with a Libertarian struggling to break 15% at the polls. But $500,000 in a Senate primary could tip a libertarian-friendly legislator to victory over a more moderate or social-conservative opponent.

This is how Club For Growth has been successful. They pour their money into primaries and try to influence the GOP outcome. This is an important party of the electoral process, and one in which libertarians could be very effective.

Joining the GOP means we bring to the table a lot of things. On Election Day, our current numbers might appear quite small. But on the primaries, we have greater power - a group of active, interested, educated people who will go out and vote. We could have a lot to say about which candidate is nominated.

Now, I know there are a lot of problems with some Republicans. Just remember: 1) there are almost always more problems with the Democrats, 2) the point I'm making is that party-coalitions are going to have internal disagreement, and 3) would you prefer the Republican you helped chose and who listens to you or the Republicans you didn't help choose and has no allegiance to you? The choice is simple.

I know the LP won't dissolve, but I think it ought to consider reforming as an interest group. It already has a website, contacts and affiliates in every state. There is a lot to be done and the LP has a lot going for it. We just need to refocus: put our influence into the GOP, accept when we fail and rejoice when we succeed.

Some Libertarians are looking at influencing the Democrats, and a few are in the Greens. I don't feel a lot of sympathy for economically-left or collectivist libertarians, because to me capitalism and free markets are the essence of liberty. I don't expect Democratic libertarians to listen to me any more than I would listen to them in this instance. I wish them the best possible luck in the Democrats. My only advice to the left-libertarians is to those not joining the Democrats, but staying independent or Green: join the Democratic Libertarians, because they have a much better shot in the end of having some influence. Better to get some of your values than none at all.

But the preponderance of libertarians will probably concede, if pressed, that the Republicans are better prospects for libertarian fusion than the Democrats. To all these libertarians, I recommend you consider re-focusing your influence to the GOP. Personally, I haven't decided to call myself a Republican yet (I'm far too uncomfortable with the South, for instance) but I'm definitely considering working with libertarian candidates in the GOP. I'd also like to help my favored Republican to win the 2004 nomination. So while I'm not a Republican, I think it's time for libertarians to consider pooling together as much of our resources as possible into the best bet for liberty: two-party politics.

A lot of libertarians and third-partiers LIKE losing because it reinforces their view that the center is corrupt and that they themselves are purists on the fringe. So be it. I'd rather see progressively greater and greater support for liberty from the center of political debate, and I think something like the Republican Liberty Caucus might be the way to do just that.

CORRECTION: Randy Barnett reproduced part of the above entry on the VC blog here and pointed out that he's not in the GOP. I assumed, inferred, guessed - whatever term you prefer to instead of 'made it up.' Sorry Randy Barnett; I assumed and made an 'ass-' out of '-u-' and '-me.' To be more accurate: he defends libertarian association with the Republican Party.
Pejmanesque: Arabic Linguistic Appeals

Pejman covers an article on an interesting topic - not only are a good quarter of Arabs illiterate (it's a complex language and a region squelched by economic over- and mis-management) but they differ greatly in dialect between countries. The different references, idioms and sounds make it seem perhaps that they are different languages, not simply different dialects.

The suggestion is that the US ought to follow this trend. What good is a Radio Free Mid-East if only the elites and most educated can understand it? That's an excellent point (I'm summarizing it rather inelegantly - follow the link for an explanation superior in composition and structure).

My addition to this point at first might seem minor, but I think it's important. We need to make sure our communication efforts are linguistically compatible, but we should avoid direct attempts to undermine pan-Arabism. I have no particular feelings on pan-Arabism, but I do think it could be quite unwelcome to give fuel to our opponents by obstructing Arab unity. After all, if England and France had tried to keep the US in 13 colonies or otherwise divide America, we'd be mightily pissed (both the UK and France DID support the Confederacy, to some degree, to this anti-unifying end). We shouldn't abuse Arab conceptions of unity any more than we'd accept our own conceptions of unity being mocked or derided.

After all, TRYING to keep Arabs divided would only impel them to further unity out of spite for us. We should try to appeal to local quirks and customs, but not at the further expense of the public image of our communications efforts in the Greater Middle East. Trustworthiness must be the first and last tool of a Radio-Free-Europe style project in the Arab world.
Advice for the GOP: 2008 and 2028

Remember, no matter how good you feel about your 1994, 2000, 2002 and 2004 victories, you're not invincible. The Democrats used to be kicking your asses for the better part of two whole generations. Politics is somewhat unpredictable, despite all the predictions made about it (and the predictions I'm making now). I'm offering advice on how to be both good politicians and good policy-makers. I could give moral and ethical reasoning now, but I'll save for that for some other time. Right now, I'm making an appeal to self-interest.

Just remember to stick to the right side of history. History judges the abolitionists very well, even though in the 1830s probably only about 5% of Yankee society, tops, was really abolitionist. Even in the late 1850s abolitionists were a pretty small section of the free state population, and into the 1860s it was widely assumed that long-term racial integration on equal terms was impossible. So being on the right side of history requires long-term thinking and clear vision. I put them roughly in order - the first being least achievable, the final being most achievable.

1) Stop getting in the way of gay people. Bush is somewhat better than advertised about this in the historical context, the FMA notwithstanding, because he endorsed civil unions (initiatives like FMA are often ignored by history if they don't pass). Cheney endorsed state choice and same-sex marriage. History will view them differently than others that took more hardline oppositional views. I understand everyone has religious, moral and cultural views, but don't stand on culture on this issue because you think it's popular today.

Fifty-odd years ago it was very popular in parts of the South to oppose black integration. While the parallel between black rights and gay rights is hardly perfect, I think it's a fairly appropriate model to understand how the long-term view of the issue will develop. Trent Lott, Strom Thurmond, Zell Miller, Jimmy Carter and so forth have stuff in their pasts to disavow or ignore. Those without shady anti-gay comments will have it easier in the future. Unless you've got an objective commitment on this issue, is it worth being on the wrong side?

If you think it's wrong to be gay for independent reasons (intrinsically so, not just because society currently says so) then stick to it. But for those who oppose gay issues for either subjective, cultural reasons or simply out of opposition to Democrats, I really recommend dropping it. Especially with the referenda that just passed, gay marriage is on the back burner right now. Eventually gay people are going to get married, adopt, and live pretty unremarkable lives in every state and the more Republicans that stood in their way, the less support this affluent, highly educated minority will have for the GOP.

Maybe you're willing to write them off, but remember that it could also cause a lot of backlash with straight people that aren't gay. If you don't have a strongly-held moral or theological opinion against gays, I'd suggest you tone down your statements or even try to start taking up the reforming side.

2) Immigrants aren't bad people. Immigrants are not terrorists. Immigrants' lives suck in their old countries, so they come here - the same reason most of our ancestors came here.

Immigrants almost ALWAYS seem like they won't integrate, like they'll speak their own language forever and avoid our customs. This doesn't hold out, historically. Almost every immigrant group - Dutch and Germans, Irish, Jews, Italians, Asians, and so forth - at first seems like it will stubbornly resist mainstream integration. Eventually their kids integrate and bring with them some of their home country - good food, good music, fresh genes, etc.

Remember two things. First, Americans are much more attractive than most foreigners because we have a wide gene pool due to immigration. You'll notice how ugly inbred people are, and you can see a similar unhealthy, unmixed pall among many Europeans. Mixing of genes is healthy and attractive (avoids disease and recessive genes, primarily). Second, it's the Democrats that are supposed to be the busybodies and society-manipulators. Leave the meddling to the left and embrace immigrants for what they usually are: hard-working people that want better lives.

3) The Constitution is your friend. Don't abandon it. You will lose the respect of many intellectuals and the votes of the libertarian-leaners in the GOP - who are a bigger chunk than you'd think. The Constitution exists for a reason. It gives us the rules and processes by which our country is to operate. The Constitution and Bill of Rights should bind you guys as much as it was supposed to bind the Democrats when they were in power.

The Constitution was a friend to many GOPers during the long dark period of Democratic control in the House. Don't be a fair-weather friend to the Constitution now that you've got a taste of power.

4) Don't degenerate into an isolationist or chest-thumping foreign policy. It's okay to pull back and mind our own business, and certainly sometimes a little war-drums action is an important thing. Just don't think that foreign policy can survive on either or both of those. The focus of foreign policy, like the focus of domestic policy, has to be based on something both good and intelligent. Idealism is what propels us.

Retain and expand on the idealism that the Reagan and Bush-43 presidencies have extolled. Make it fuller and more consistent, make it stronger and better appreciated. Simply being aggressive isn't a foreign policy; any proper use of aggression always achieves some greater, idealistic end. Keep democracy and freedom at the center of the foreign policy realm.

5) You are a party of the middle class, liberty and free markets. This is and ought to remain the underlying linchpin of the GOP coalition. Don't ignore budget discipline, free trade and economic common sense. Don't give into temptation to spend your way out of any issue or to use the treasury as a tool to win the support of various groups. Keeping the identity of the GOP clear - middle class, tax cuts, strong defense, common sense, to be brief - is critical. Liberty is not negotiable when it comes to the GOP. You're there to reign in the excesses of the Democrats and to apply some consistent, intelligent common sense to foreign policy and the budget.

Now is the time to come back to the tradition that helped the GOP at its 1856 founding. Forward-thinking, intelligent, middle-class vision for a prosperous, free society. In the process of replacing the Democrats, don't become their shadow.

February 22, 2005

Apparently I'm A Blogophobe

There's a group trying to protect bloggers and they've written a Bloggers' Bill of Rights (it's not supposed to be law, just company policy and a threat to boycott blogophobic companies). Here is most of the document:

1.) If an employer wishes to discipline an employee because of his/her blog, it must first establish clear-cut blogging policies and distribute these to all of its employees.
2.) Blogging employees shall be given warning before being disciplined because of their blogs.
3.) NO ONE shall be fired because of his/her blog, unless the employer can prove that the blogger did intentional damage to said employer through the blog.

Blogophobic companies, who violate the Bloggers’ Bill of Rights, will be blacklisted by millions of bloggers the world over.

The first two are just plain fairness and good sense. The third one is silly. So what if you embarrass your company by mistake? That just means you're a fucking idiot who couldn't understand that X action, publicized infinitely again and again by websites and blogs, could hurt his or her employer. If anything, those that knowingly do damage might at least possess the capacity to control it. The unintentional damage can still be your fault.

Just as ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it, ignorance of public opinion is no excuse for falling on the ill side of it. I didn't realize incompetence at public relations was now a valid reason to avoid termination.

Companies don't have to stand behind employees that make public relations blunders - and by the same token, employees have no obligation to stick by companies that support or exhibit inappropriate behavior and commentary (or are run by executives that do the same). The only qualifier is if somebody signed a contract to not fire or quit over that purpose.

Hypocritically the site has a free speech ribbon (blue) because they support their own speech. If employers don't want to be associated with immature, inappropriate or intolerant speech, however, suddenly free speech goes out the window. They have principles, sure - right up until those freedom-loving principles mean they could be fired.

Freedom works both ways, three ways, a billion ways - every direction. If you can decide what to say and what not to say, then your employer can do the same. Companies can say or not say whatever they want, the same as anybody else. If a blog is dragging their name through the mud or drawing on images and values they don’t reflect or want to be seen to reflect, they can break it off. In a way, it’s no more significant than having a friend do embarrassing things and you decide to distance yourself because of it.

I guess I'm a blogophobe, then - I don't support special rights for bloggers. After all, if I made disparaging comments or exhibited embarrassing behavior in any other forum where people heard it - especially somewhere with as much public exposure as the Internet - I'd be fired from almost anywhere. Blogs don't need special rights; blogging is just high-tech pamphleteering mixed with gossip. Thomas Paine was doing it in 1776. The original Bill of Rights ought to be sufficient.
Anti-Genocide Coalition Charts

To flesh out the idea I laid out in an earlier blog entry (here) I've created some charts.

The first one is large and somewhat confusing. I've tried to simplify it, but it still looks large and confusing. It alctually makes a lot of sense. Reading the chart with the first blog entry handy will greatly improve reading. I don't believe I changed a single thing between the two, except emphasis and specificity.

The second one is simpler, much skinnier, and quite a bit longer. It takes you through the process of an intervention from start to finish (although it doesn't really cover the internal workings of each step; it's mostly just the relations and interactions of the actor-entities.

I'm also doing this just to get the responsibilities and relationships nailed down. Seeing how the groups' arrows and boxes interact gives me a vague idea of how complex or simple the job would be in real life.

In case you haven't put it together, the reason it's divided into three branches is function-derived. In order to intervene, there has to be a governing body with a military - the members Council Branch. In order to determine when intervention is appropriate, there must be a process to discover or respond to genocide in the world - the Liberties Watchdog Branch. In order to clean up a country after removing the murderer-in-chief there, we'd need to address both the immediate human needs and long-term political needs of the populace - the Reconstruction Efforts Branch. I designed this thing from function upwards. I could've arguably given the military its own Branch but I wanted to keep it subverted to the larger goal. I also wanted to keep the bureaucracy of the organization's military in check.

The working title, again, is International Defense Coalition.
original blog entry
process chart
relationship chart

February 21, 2005

Total Piece of Garbage

This Social Security calculator, though praiseworthy for its creativity and net-savvy, is fraudulently incorrect.

1) Nowhere does it say 'estimated' or 'average' for the numerical predictions. How do they know how much I will invest in my private account?

2) They simply assume that Social Security can be maintained WITHOUT any tax hike or spending cut, which is utter garbage. There should be, under the left side column, a field to include "How Much You Would Pay In New Taxes."

3) The most popular lefty plan on SS right now is to un-cap payroll taxes after $90,000 a year... and surprise! The calculator doesn't change for any income above 90k (does anyone believe the average $90k salary person will invest the same amount into private accounts as the average person making $150k or $300k?) They're ignoring the fact that some people will definitely benefit from the proposed change (even if they are the much-maligned rich people).

4) They don't even account for Social Security going bust or cutting pay-outs for younger people, which is the flip-side of the tax thing. They have to include either one, the other or both because Social Security will go insolvent - even according to the trustees that are in charge of it.

5) There is no change in benefits yet proposed. So far, the traditional pension/pyramid-scheme aspect of Social Security isn't going to be changed - only augmented with a parallel private accounts system. They are assuming that a change in index from wages to prices (which does make more sense) will be decided. Whether or not that's a fair assumption to make, that is not the Bush plan. There is no plan to change benefits for those under 55 yet, because that could alienate Congress prematurely.

This calculator is a lie. They can't even wait for Bush to have a plan before they start lying about it? Jeepers.
Blogs vs. Mainstream Media, round 8 bajillion

Bloggers often like to deride the existing major media sources and upraise the blogosphere. Vodkapundit (Stephen Green) raises a good point - any individual blogger is likely as prone to inaccuracy or bias as any individual reporter. The structure of blogs is what makes it a superior method of reporting (in some ways).

1) Rise Quickly, Fall Quickly - there is a very low threshold for entering the blogosphere (a few minutes time to register), so it's easy to start. You don't need millions in seed money, contacts with editors, journalists and publishers, and you don't need a complex marketing strategy to make it self-sustaining. It's really simple: you write, people read (or don't read).

Since the same factor makes blogs rise and fall, it is a lot simpler for blogs to replace existing, inferior blogs and to be replaced by newer, superior blogs. While it is of course true that "experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed," in the end people will stop reading bad blogs and replace them with better ones (or no blogs at all). Most blog-readers have at least a few blogs they frequently read, and if one gets the facts wrong, provides inane rants or simply boring content then it will be read by fewer and fewer people - and be replaced by blogs that are chosen to fill the gap.

In broadcast news, you basically have NBC, CBS and ABC for national news. Cable news gives you MSNBC/CNBC, the CNNs and FNC. In both situations, you have only a few choices (especially since CNBC, CNNhn and CNNfn are somewhat specialized and not likely to fill the same role as MSNBC, CNN and FNC try to fill.

With blogs, the number is difficult to estimate but certainly the number of blogs with at least a few entries each week has got to easily be in the hundreds and more likely thousands. That's a lot of competition - and a lot of incentive to give, honest

2) Instant Interaction - unlike the broadcast networks and cable-news networks, there is a high degree of interaction and direct communication between bloggers. This has a number of effects, the most important being instantaneous double-checking of your facts. A well-read blog with a bad fact or report will get caught very quickly, sometimes in minutes, and either e-mail or other blogs will point it out. In newspapers and so forth, this process takes at least a day.

3) Update Feature - when a magazine, newspaper or TV news outfit makes a mistake of any caliber, it is ALWAYS run later (because the laws of physics - if they knew the mistake when they reported the initial story, they would've fixed it then). Since blogs are usually linked at individual postings, a blogger that makes any sort of mistake can put an UPDATE in big letters, or even CORRECTION and fix the mistake in the exact same place and time that many people are first reading it. The story can be seen by readers but still controlled by the blogger at the same time, unlike almost any other medium (except online message boards).

4) Group Culture - okay, so this one isn't really structural (except in that it's an 'outsider' medium). The attitude of bloggers toward mainstream coverage is a big factor in shaping the reaction of bloggers to poor, false or irresponsible reporting among each other. The desire to be consistent is a strong motivator for calling out mistakes anywhere.

At the same time, the mainstream media relies on its status as sort of an elite group of gatekeepers. More mainstream sources have less of an interest, since they aren't in the habit of calling each other out and have more of a gentleman's agreement to not point out when the emperor has no clothes. They have an interest in not calling each other out, so that they themselves won't get called out.

It's probably also not-insignificant that journalists lean so far to the left of things. Putting a group of similarly-opinionated people into a room and asking them for an edition is going to come out different than a group of differently-opinionated people. I notice it myself - when I speak to someone of a certain view that I consider my friend or at least positive acquaintance, I will be less likely to simply flame his or her view. If he or she mentions that what I've said is biased then I will respond to their point differently than if it's someone I dislike. It's largely human nature to do so, I'd wager.

5) Open Bias - this one is one of my favorites because it's widely applicable. Blogs are usually pretty open about biases, and the links to the side give you an idea of what they think on things. Knowing that a person or group comes from a certain position allows me to think "of COURSE you would argue X" or "hmm, very fair-minded of them to admit Y." When the person or group is questionable as to bias and pretends it can somehow maintain an unbiased or 'balanced' position then it simply hides their pre-arrived positions. If Dan Rather just got up and admitted that he was a Gore-voting, Kerry-loving Democrat and that oftentimes this affects his reporting then I would care much less about his bias. It's when the bias acts as the elephant in the room that it becomes a real problem.

Think of it like this: if a journalist held some above-average financial stake in a company but reported on the company without disclosing that fact, then it would be unethical; you need to know that he MIGHT have an ulterior motive that you could have to correct in your observation. If a journalist wrote about a political group that he or she supports, contributes to and votes for, then you ought to be told about at least the gist of their views before reading their editorials or articles.

Well, overall it's largely a structural thing - put one person into a blogging atmosphere and she'll be more likely to gain the advantages and disadvantages of blogging. Put her into mainstream journalism and she'll take on the advantages and disadvantages of that occupation. The biggest non-structural factor (which is still structurally-influenced) is the way so many mainstream journalists see themselves as both exceptional and elite.

The royal attitude is also the most easily mockable aspect of the MSM. If those at fault could work to drop that, then it would get easier all around.
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. - Gandhi

Guess which of those stages this LA Times column falls into.
CNN Caught Violating Federal Firearms Law

In an attempt to get a story (on the dangerous availability of guns), an employee of CNN seems to have run afoul of the law. Travel to another state to buy and then transport a weapon is generally a federal felony. Follow the link for a more complete explanation.

Apparently buying firearms for recreation and self-defense = bad, but buying firearms to oppose firearms sales = good. Let's see what happens here - especially with Ashcroft and Justice claiming stronger enforcement of existing gun control laws.
Then I Saw Its Title; Now I'm A Believer

This possibly one of the coolest things I could ever own. I should save up for it, maybe buy it in a few months.

February 20, 2005

Global Provincialism and Democracy's Backslide

While I don't think that democratic institutions and values are in a global backslide overall, I do believe that in Russia this is certainly the case. The elections were somewhat irregular and possibly altered, the government has shut down more or less all major independent media, and Khodorovsky (a pro-western wealthy Russian banker and businessman) was arrested a year or two for criticizing the 'managed democracy' that Russia has become.

Now, remember that business with Jorg Haider, the Austrian Freedom Party and the EU boycotting Austria? He used a xenophobic term in the campaign to describe an excess of immigrants; the same term was used by Hitler in the 1920s and 1930s, so people naturally got upset. The boycott came about because the Freedom Party managed to get into the government and Haider got a spot in the Cabinet. Haider resigned, the Freedom Party stayed in-government, and the boycott ended (I believe).

Although Haider and the Freedom Party profited from fear and bigotry regarding immigrants, they 1) were elected in a free and fair election that was not questioned as fraudulent or irregular, 2) did not become the ruling or even dominant party in the Austrian government as a result of the election, and 3) didn't actually do anything more than profit from questionable campaign rhetoric. So while they weren't exactly choir boys, they hadn't yet done anything more than call upon the natural prejudices against a vulnerable minority.

Why then, has the European Union been so disinterested in Russia's recent actions? Putin was elected in questionable elections, holds an overwhelming influence over the country's political institutions, and has done a number of objectionable things (from shutting down free media and jailing opponents to leveling Grozny in Chechnya).

Now, the US has similarly been way too comfortable with Putin's embrace of false-front democracy. Of course, the US didn't boycott Haider, either. Conversely, the US is supposed to be building democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq yet a) didn't do half as much as it could've to build Russian democracy and b) is barely even glancing at the numerous authoritarian portends in Russia today.

Why is it that we want freedom and democracy sometimes, but not all the time? How is it that the EU can boycott and march and protest to block even the first signs of a Nazi resurgence in Austria but won't do the same for the repeal of free speech and free press in Russia? How is it that the US is selling democracy in some countries as a prerequisite to peace and security, but tacitly condoning its decline in Russia, the single-largest country in the world and a nuclear power?

Seems like everybody needs some brushing up on Universalism 101, and maybe a follow-up in Stoicism for Policy-Makers.
We're All Unique, Except When We're Not
The Gender Genie Knows What Lurks In The Underpants Of Humans

This is a nifty little device. The gender genie takes a writing sample, prefer samples greater than 500 words, and (correcting for fiction, non-fiction or blog entry) determines the likelihood that it was written by a man or a woman. It's supposed to be about 80% correct. Aside from the blog entry where I used license to repeat the word 'more' something like eight bajillion times, almost every blog entry I entered contained more masculine words than feminine words. Try it out.
lgf: Congressman Says Rove Planted CBS Memos
CBS Sucks Either Way

If CBS reported on a memo planted by Rove instead of a memo planted by a Bush-hater, it doesn't absolve CBS from fault. That would just mean CBS 1) exercised some shoddy methods, 2) didn't double-check poor reporting skills and 3) is likely to run something given to it if it bashes Bush - regardless of its authenticity.

Of course, it's also a ludicrous accusation. This guy is obviously either a hothead or an idiot. Making random, unfounded allegations without evidence is absolutely bonkers. Suddenly I don't feel as inadequate that I used to live in Herr Moran's district in NoVa.
I Guess 'One Voice' Officially Failed

Pitt and Aniston broke up. They had been backing the One Voice group calling for negotiated settlement and a consensus for peace in the Middle East. They had Jason Alexander (George Costanza) and Danny DeVito, among other famous actors and others, but it was started by a businessman.

As if Hamas and Islamic Jihad weren't enough, now the poor Israelis have to deal with this latest catastrophe. When will the hurting stop?!
Other George Syndrome

I went to GW undergrad, so I can attest to how often people confuse George Washington with Georgetown. I could probably throw in some vulgar, anti-Catholic reference to illustrate the distinction, but I've little love for GW right now and therefore won't. Suffice to say, they're named after the King (I believe - just like Charleston, Virginia, Carolina and so forth are all named for royals) and GW is named for the big guy himself. I can only imagine how bad it must be at George Mason, being lowly George #3.

Of course, GW is also confused with Washington University (in St. Louis) and occasionally with schools in Washington state. It doesn't help the confusion that I'm from St. Louis. Most people recognize the school, though. And hey, my old school WAS mentioned nearly twice in the Tom Hanks movie Big.

And by the way, the team name for Manhattan is the Jaspers? That really sounds vaguely racist (I have no idea what it signifies). Why not call them the Reubens?
Summers, Harvard and Identity (from VC)

The Lawrence Summers stir (where the Harvard big shot and former Clinton Cabinet member caused a controversy by suggesting there were wider social and biological causes behind female under-representation in science) isn't dead yet in the blogosphere. A particularly clever commentator over on Janegalt.net pointed out the apparent hypocrisy in those who reflexively reject the idea of anti-conservative discrimination and reflexively accept the idea of anti-female discrimination.

Of course, the reason behind this apparent contradiction is obvious once you think about it. It goes straight to identity, not to logic, reason or even fairness. Many professors see themselves a certain way: progressive, intelligent, positive, energetic, fighting for the little guy, and maybe even heroically holding back raging hordes of conservative anti-intellectuals. The degree to which this self-identification is utter nonsense doesn't matter.

If you see yourself as intelligent, progressive and populist then you latch onto the symbols of being those things. To reinforce your identity and to prove that you are an upstanding member of the relevant identity (whether religious, social or political) you take on certain opinions and behaviors. This often means lip service paid to a number of broad concepts. For progressives, it tends to mean talking about discrimination against women, racial minorities, gay people, etc. It also means supporting the various favored policies of progressive leaders, such as affirmative action, abortion rights, etc.

The people silencing Summers believe what they believe because of how they have defined themselves. "I am a progressive Democrat. I care about the plight women. Therefore, I must make sure everyone else acknowledges the plight of women, to prove how much I care." I wish I were joking here. Now, this is obviously a simplification, but it's essentially how the thought process works. Just to be clear, this is how many people seem to work in my experience, not just professors or Democrats.

When it comes to near-total lack of conservatives in academia: "I am a progressive Democrat, not a conservative. I should not make statements that would work to increase conservatives in academia, because that would be a conservative thing to do."

Now, to be clear, this is not just a matter of trying to look appropriate to others. That sort of peer pressure does exist, but I am not referencing it now. What I am truly speaking of is convincing yourself, not others, that you are a worthy member of your identity group. It's not done out of fear, but out of self-shaping.

This is why the idea of "I'm a Christian but I'll work for the rights of atheists" or "I'm in group X but I'll works for the rights of group Y" is such a remarkable and important one. It's often misapplied and people claim this principled position even when they don't really hold it, but the importance of it is unblemished.

The effects of self-identification spread beyond the narrow area of the discrimination debate. To continue with the progressives, just because they're fun to pick on, it's a major reason why people support abortion rights. Aside from the moderate and fringe people, pro-choicers almost invariably seem disinterested in a lengthy, two-sided debate on the issue. They'll argue semantics, philosophy, entertainment, economics, race and religion for hours but more than a few superficial platitudes about abortion and they'll start declaring the topic unsolvable or too controversial. If it's too much to handle in a debate, why hold an opinion on it? Well, obvious answer: self-identification.

"I am a progressive Democrat, who cares about the plight of women. Therefore, I must pay lip service to abortion rights." You don't have to prove it rationally; you need only believe it.

I've argued, observed and interviewed enough pro-choice people to figure out roughly why many of them believe what they believe. It seems to me like it's 98% dependent on self-identification. They see themselves as progressive, feminist, Democratic, intelligent, educated, forward-thinking, liberal, libertarian and scientific. They see being pro-life as the things they are not: reactionary, misogynist, Republican, ignorant, uneducated, redneck, conservative, authoritarian and irrational. The fact that these stereotypes and identifications are often totally untrue is irrelevant.

Some people determine their statements and positions not by their pre-formed opinions or by objective reasoning, but as a vehicle to prove or validate their identity. "I am a Democrat; therefore I am pro-choice; therefore I should argue on behalf of women; therefore I shouldn't argue on behalf of conservatives." Again, this is a simplified explanation, but I believe it is a well-reasoned theory.

Guilt-absolving qualifying remarks: I am not speaking in universalities or even generalities; I am only suggesting that a not-insignificant portion of people (regardless of race, gender or political and sexual orientations) follow this process to guide their political rhetoric and behavior.
Publicity ... from Alaska?

For reasons I'm not entirely clear on, this blog seems to be linked at a couple places on the net. The first one I noticed is the Democratic Freedom blog. I have it on the blogroll at left (it pairs well with New England Republican). It makes sense that it'd be there, since I posted over there a couple times a few weeks or months ago (and ran off my big mouth). What surprises me is that some random Alaskan Pot devotee seems to have set me up on this site:

Alaska - Election Results November 2004 Alaska Marijuana

I don't know why. I think I did mention the Alaska marijuana initiative after the election, so that could be it. So, hello to all zero of you that follow the link to this blog. For reference, I'm not from Alaska and I've never been there - though I am more than somewhat interested in moving there. I'm a little surprised I'm on the list, which is eclectic - to say the least. But hey, free press is free press.

Today: Alaskan Marijuana links page. Tomorrow: the WORLD!

update: Also, I have been linked here, along with half the Western World (and three-sixteenths of the Eastern World).
Extremism Isn't Everything

There seem to be a lot of people who confuse strongly-held positions with principled positions. They are often worlds apart. Extremism certainly has its virtue, when coupled to other ideas, but by itself it's not indicative of anything beyond itself.

The instances of people believing this are easy:

- When Republicans fail to distinguish between a foreign policy that is realist and aggressive and one that is liberalist and aggressive, or think that an aggressive realist has more in common with an aggressive liberalist than a cautious realist. They assume that willingness to show strength is the first and last matter of foreign policy, all others deriving from this one litmus test. Hannity is especially annoying in his ignorance here. There's a hell of a lot more to foreign policy than being tough.

- People who fail to distinguish between aggressive politics and principled politics. Simply opposing the other side and advancing your side is not smart politics or principled politics. It's just opposition. Opposing them based on some principle - and offering a clear, reasonable, attractive alternative - is smart politics and principled politics. A lot of people think their favored political party ought to "sitck it to" the opposing party.

- Democrats who have convinced themselves that their party was built on adherence to left-wing values, and not just a shopping list of subsidies and protections for various demographic and economic groups. They think that if they just present more and more arguments for more extreme versions of their current platform that people will HAVE to see the principle, because it's extreme. That's absurd. People voted Democrat to get a law or money passed fopr their favored group - unions, racial minorities, certain immigrant groups, certain religious minorities, the South, etc. They won't respond to extreme and view it as principled - and they weren't even signing on for principle in the first place.

It's very annoying to hear people assume that DOING MORE is going to fix everything. Problem with schools? More money! More teachers! More desks! More computers! Obviously a 30-stall bathroom and seven multimedia labs will teach these kids how to do basic division!

Problems in the Iraq war? More troops! More guns! More bombs! More patrols! All we have to do is MORE and that will fix everything!

Problem with terrorism? Clearly we don't need any hint of structural changes or strategic visions, just more cops, more firefighters, more spies, more soldiers, more boats, more government, more laws and more subsidies.

Moronic, uncreative, uni-linear thinking is such a pet peeve of mine. This, by the way, is why I separate myself from the Republican Party and why I really dislike so many, many, many, MANY Democrats.
The Lost Cause of Muslim Women

The Iraq War has more casualties than just human, economic and diplomatic - it also has intellectual casualties. The one I'm speaking of now is the feminist and pro-woman cause and activism on behalf of women in Muslim states. It's a casualty because the conservatives defending the Iraq war are unused to speaking in stereotypically feminist subjects, and feminists are often unwilling to make comments that could be construed as endorsing the US military action against Iraq or Afghanistan. As a result, the plight of women in Arab and Muslim states is getting less press than usual - and far less than it deserves and needs.

While it's important to recognize that Islam is hardly synonymous with misogyny or spousal abuse, it's difficult to underestimate the mistreatment of women in some of the more under-educated and impoverished parts of the greater Arab world, especially the poorer Palestinian areas.

Mistreatment of women is a cultural thing in this context. Islam itself is relatively equal towards men and women, with a number of passages espousing equality and at least a few passages requiring inferiority. For example, women have to stay behind a special wall in mosques - in practice sort of like the black-only balconies in Jim Crow-era theaters. But this in itself isn't all-damning - after all, the New Testament (1 Corinthians 14:34) requires women to be silent in churches.

Let's move beyond the religious text, since religious text is often made subservient to cultural demands as often as it is made instructive over them. People will often read religious texts in opposite ways, if only to reinforce their pre-conceived views and behaviors. I'd also like to move beyond cross-cultural examinations, even though it would be very fun to get into it right now.

Moving right to the core: a lot of Muslim countries perpetuate practices that are downright abusive, degrading and immoral regarding women. This is especially prevalent in Arabic countries, but it is not unheard of elsewhere.

Case in point - a few years back, a little Pakistani girl and a little Pakistani boy walked home one day unchaperoned. The boy, 11 years old, was from Gujar tribe and the girl was from mastoi tribe. The boy's tribe was of much lower caste, and so there had to be a reckoning - but not for the girl, rather for the tribe. This was not seen as a boy wronging a girl; this was one tribe wronging another. Vengeance had to be taken from the other tribe, and it was - when four Mastoi men raped the 18-year-old sister of the Gujar boy. They didn't simply roam out and do this - it was actually sentenced to be done by a tribal council. She was gang-raped by the four in a hut, while hundreds of Mastoi stood outside, cheering in jubilation.

Believe it or not, this is one of the better examples of mistreatment toward women. That's not to say the crime was not horrific, because it was. It's not as bad as others, like Palestinian honor killings, because Pakistani police aggressively investigated the case and Pakistani civil society groups have been protesting tribal justice for years. The crime was horrific, but at least the preponderance of Pakstani government, society and elites recognize it as a crime.

In some Arabic regions, this is not so. While places like Dubai (UAE), Kuwait City (Kuwait), Doha (Qatar) and Manama City (Bahrain) often have very cosmopolitan cities, educated populations and wonderful access to various goods and luxury items, this is not true for many Arabs. In parts of the West Bank the Gaza Strip, an uneducated populace -whether in the densely-populated urban areas or the rugged rural villages- is plagued by views of women that date back many hundreds or thousands of years.

Women are responsible for everything that happens to them regarding monogamy - premarital sex, adultery, rape, incest, molestation, divorce, refusing an arranged marriage or even the barest rumor of any of these. Women are responsible for sex, whether consensual or rape, because it's assumed she brought it on herself with seduction or temptation. It is literally her fault that she was rapped. It is also her fault if the rumor persists that she did something wrong. It is still her fault, even if the sex-related rumor was proven false.

Remember, a lot of Muslim countries have various forms of female genital mutilation, from excision to infibulation. Although female cutting is always (acorss the world) performed and enforced by other women, it is indicative of a viewpoint where virginity goes beyond morality or romance to a deeply-held obsession. Love's got nothing to do with it. If a woman is not a virgin at marriage, the marriage can be denied and the woman returned to her family. For this reason, many Arab women have their hymens recreated before marriage to save their lives - failing to bleed the first night is proof enough of infidelity, many times.

There's also a culture of multiple marriages, both Arabic and Islamic. Muslim men can have four wives, but of course Muslim women do not have multiple marriages ever (not that it makes much sense, biologically). In addition, marriages are often arranged in these less-educated areas - perhaps more than half of West bank marriages are arranged without the bride's input.

So what happens when a woman breaks one of these rules or goes against this culture of derision toward women? She ruins her family's honor. Her impropriety, or perceived impropriety, is a source of great shame to the entire extended family. It grows worse and worse as time goes on. There is one way to fix it - honor killing.

An honor killing is when a male family member - father, brother, uncle, cousin, husband, son - executes the impure woman. One mis-step is sufficient to perform an honor killing - in fact, even one is enough to virtually require it by the rules of this culture. The honor killing not only restores the lost honor, through eliminating the impure woman, but actually brings additional honor to the killer and to the family. There are numerous instances of honor killings in Arabic areas, but experts believe many of them are unreported or covered up. There are instances of stabbings, burnings, and multiple-wound shootings being classified by GS and WB police as suicides. In many cases the body is likely buried and never found.

In order to protect women from honor killings, the only thing that is done is jailing women. They are kept in jail for weeks, months or years to avoid killing. Even this tactic is largely ineffective, since they are often discharged into the custody of a male relative. Even though the male relative must swear not to kill her after release, it often happens anyway. One man who did exactly this trick to kill his own daughter received prison time... nine months' worth for fraud and pre-meditated murder.

That's what really makes it so horrible. Bad things happen everywhere, and rapists and murderers are hardly foreign to the West and the US, but it is the reaction of the judicial system and society that forms the real test of a culture and of a government. Honor killings in Palestinian areas are often not investigated at all, police can be persuaded off the case or bribed away from it, and even when it results in arrest (it's usually very easy to find the killers, since they receive widespread praise for the killing) then a) the punishment is often very light, almost never more than a year, and b) the killer almost invariably returns to a jubilant family and celebratory atmosphere on his release from prison.

Not only are women blamed for being raped, not only are women blamed for false rumors against them, not only are they killed by their own families for unsubstantiated charges of consensual acts - but the crime is encouraged, instead of punished. The legal system, such as it is, has special sanctions and allowances for honor killings written directly into it. This is the truly terrible part of the crime.

Now, I just want to clear something up. This is by no means a rant on the evils of all Muslims or Arabs, or even on most Muslims and Arabs. I've known and worked with a number of Arabs and Muslims, and a few Palestinians. In my experience most were polite, hard-working and in good humor. One Palestinian I knew loved drinking, sex and eating, and had no issues or hatred toward women, gays or anybody else. This is mostly aimed at pressing the moral case against a minority of the population that engages in these horrific acts. Don't use this as an excuse to hate all Arabs or Muslims, and don't assume that this somehow means Europeans and Christians don't have any connections to a sordid past or unsavory, horrific elements. Every culture and people has good points and bad, good people and bad. This is just supposed to remind us about something particularly bad that happens in a particular place - and that the peculiarities of world politics are giving this issue the cold shoulder right now.

To add an endnote on another aspect also being lost in the cracks between the anti-war left and pro-war right - the plight of gay people in Gaza and the West Bank is deplorable. Outright hatred of gay people goes beyond a theologically-inclined judgment of their lifestyles or even a subtly bigoted denial of housing opportunities. Honor killings are regularly performed against gay Palestinians in often horrific ways. Unlike being a woman, against whom honor killings require at least a rumor of sexual or marital infidelity, being gay is an automatic death sentence. This issue has also been lost by the anti-war, pro-gay marriage Democrats and the pro-war, anti-gay marriage Republicans.

So to all those who aren't simply anti-war partisans, try and revive one or both of these issues. Even if you find yourself normally opposed to 'feminist' arguments or pro-gay marriage arguments, there's absolutely no contradiction between that position and not wanting women or gays to be killed at the drop of a hat. If the anti-war left is going to close their eyes to avoid looking like neocons, then somebody has to remember the truly deplorable treatment of women and of human rights in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Here are some of the examples from the link provided at top.

Ahmed, a Palestinian boy who killed his teenage sister because she refused an arranged marriage, was commended upon his release from jail. Neighbors showered him with compliments, and his father called him a hero for restoring the family honor.
An eighteen-year-old Palestinian man stabbed his teenage sister forty times because of a rumor that she was involved in an extramarital affair. The family thanked God for her death.
In [one] neighborhood, a sixteen-year-old boy killed his divorced mother, stabbing her repeatedly as he chased her into the street. The boy told authorities he was upset because neighbors were gossiping about her allegedly immoral behavior.
Last year, seventeen-year-old Afaf Younes was killed by her father, who had allegedly been sexually molesting her. Afaf had tried to escape his sexual abuse by running away, but she was caught and returned to her father. He then shot her in the name of honor.
A sixteen-year-old Palestinian girl became pregnant after being raped by her younger brother. Once her condition became known, her family encouraged her older brother to kill her to remove the blemish from their honor. Her brothers, the rapist and the murderer, were exonerated. The girl was blamed. "She made a mistake," said one of her male cousins. "She had to pay for it."
[A] four-year-old Palestinian girl, raped by a man in his mid-twenties, was left by her family to bleed to death. They did this because they felt her misfortune would sully their honor.