Archive for June, 2009
Several weeks ago, one of my readers posted a link to an article that attempted to empirically prove that Islam is a dangerous religion. While I reject the article’s conclusion, a part of it did resonate with me.
Do you ever read something and a light goes off in your head and you say “wow, that’s me!” The author, David Steinberg (not the comedian), specifies what he believes to be the dividing point between classical liberals and contemporary liberals:
Liberalism withholds judgment until finding an answer bulletproofed by logic and reason, and this practice is nothing less than the bedrock of the first world.
I am of course referring to classical liberalism, now tragically mistitled conservatism. The half-philosophy known as the Left co-opted that most precious word, liberty, then stopped reading at “withholds judgment.”
He goes on to say:
Technically, the Left preaches that the most enlightened human behavior is to withhold judgment in favor of first concluding a thorough self-examination. But that self-examination process — the perfecting of America and the West prior to judging another culture — can never conclude. There will always be a poor decision, a misguided decision, or a failed policy enacted by democratically elected officials. A Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam.
Our country is run by a marketplace of ideas. Some will win support and be proven right and some will win support and be proven wrong. Representatives will be voted in and out, the future will always remain unknown, and our leaders will continually take risks with our direction. So withholding judgment in favor of a thorough self-examination becomes a fraud, a half-measure. It becomes a permanently withheld judgment, which is no approach at all. Just a worthless, subjective, illogical philosophy of government, a perennial invocation of “this sentence is false,” to the point that a definable Leftist international policy does not, in fact, exist.
Yes folks, I saw myself so clearly in that analysis. My point of view has always been to look to oneself for fault before blaming others. I had to chuckle at how Mr. Steinberg had so accurately nailed one aspect of the modern American liberal. What’s more, it gave me insight into why I (and my fellow liberals) enrage conservatives. It is as much frustration as it is rage. I see it in the comments section of this blog all the time. Readers who give me credit for having at least half a brain, cannot fathom how I come to the conclusions that I do.
What conservatives, and Mr. Steinberg, fail to see is how the other extreme is just as dangerous if not more so. When you begin from the premise that you are unquestionably “right” and therefore the fault must lie with the “other”, there is no room for discussion, for compromise, for empathy or for anything remotely resembling “relationship”. The only logical conclusion is for the right party to defeat the wrong party. The consequence of this philosophy is that all conflicts must be resolved by confrontation. All enemies must either be ignored (like “lazy welfare mothers” in the inner city) or vanquished, like the regimes of Iran and North Korea. No room for conversation. Right is right, wrong is wrong and that’s that.
This difference between extreme conservative thought and extreme liberal thought is irreconcilable. The extreme conservative refuses self examination and the extreme liberal gets so bogged down in it as to become ineffective.
While I think the bulk of Mr. Steinberg’s article is a justification for anti-Muslim bigotry, I must give him credit for holding a mirror up to me on my more extreme days and helping me understand why I frustrate the crap out of my conservative readers.
This week President Obama shares his satisfaction with the clean energy bill recently passed in the House of Representatives. Critics such as John Boehner say that the legislation will only raise costs to consumers and put intolerable burdens on home builders, home sellers and others. From what I can see, the Republican alternative lacks any incentive for compliance nor any punishment for non-compliance. Once again, as in the case of Republican budget alternatives, the GOP has done little homework and offered flimsy thin solutions that do not provide a viable alternative to what is being championed by the Democrats. The two party system only works in this country when both parties bring good ideas to the table. If the Democratic agenda has major flaws, the Republican party has no one to blame but themselves for its passage. As I have said repeatedly on these pages, we need a Republican party with fresh and intelligent ideas, and not just a bunch of naysayers. I don’t see that yet.
And now, the President of the United States of America:
Sanford Addendum: What I Did For Love
Normally, I don’t clutter my Obama Video updates with off topic stuff but this week I just had to revisit the Mark Sanford fiasco. I was appalled by the release of private e-mails between Sanford and his mistress, Argentinian former journalist Maria Belen Chapur. Be that as it may, what amazes me even more is the near unanimous free pass the Governor is getting from lots of TV commentators. MSNBC’s Mike Barnacle has stated “the heart wants what the heart wants”. On ABC’s “This Week …”, none other than hardass Kathleen Parker tried to remind the panel of talking heads how irrational being in love can be.
What the heck is going on here? Has the media gone all mushy romantic on us? Is there some secret inside-the-beltway scuttlebutt that Jenny Sanford is a “bitch” who deserves to be cheated on? I am truly puzzled by the way several folks in the media have elevated Sanford above your standard card carrying adulterer (e.g. Spitzer, Edwards, Vitter, Ensign, Clinton, etc.) simply because he exchanged lovey-dovey e-mails with his mistress and was friends with her before he got down and dirty with her.
Have almost nine years of marriage made me forget the power of “being in love”? Or is the media full of horsepucky? Well in my home, the verdict is in, emphatically. Mrs. Lawson has stated unambiguously that Sanford, being a married man, has “no right to be in love with another woman”. To make matters even clearer, I cannot find any trace of my hiking equipment anywhere in the house.
Should politician’s families always be off limits? At what point does the media go over the line in the treatment of family members and private family issues?
Two cases crossed my desk this morning. One of them inescapable if you have a TV or read a paper, the other more obscure and my take on each is quite different.
The first is that of Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina. Now I am as guilty as the rest of using his misfortune for amusement. I’ve made several irreverent tweets about his recently revealed affair with an Argentinian woman. But I do think the media has crossed the line in one way. Why are we reading e-mails between him and his mistress? What possible decent productive purpose does it serve for this private correspondence to be aired in public? It is for pure titillation, nothing more. I don’t see how the South Carolina newspaper, The State, legally obtained these e-mails and I would love to hear their editorial defense for their publication. They should be ashamed of themselves. And yes, when I first heard about them, I tweeted “Sanford: It gets worse. There are e-mails.” But after I read them and gave the matter further thought, I decided this was nothing to tweet about. It’s over the line.
Then there is the flip-side, a politician who consistently parades her family in public to make political points and then gets angry when this backfires on her. You’ve probably guessed I am talking about Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.
The latest incident involves a mock photo in which a picture of her and new baby Trig was photoshopped to replace Trig’s face with that of a local conservative talk show host. You can find the photo and corresponding article here. One particular passage of Palin’s spokesperson’s response really boiled my blood:
Recently we learned of a malicious desecration of a photo of the Governor and baby Trig that has become an iconic representation of a mother’s love for a special needs child.
An “iconic representation of a mother’s love for a special needs child”? Excuse me? What should be iconic about a mother’s love for her special needs child? Is there something heroic or outstanding that she loves her mentally retarded baby? Would it be acceptable if she did NOT love her mentally retarded baby? What kind of total foolishness is this? So far, her youngest daughter Piper is the only one to escape exploitation by this attention craving pol. She paraded her pregnant daughter Bristol all over the place to score points with the pro-life contingent. She equated her daughter Willow with statutory rape in an unnecessarily prolonged battle with David Letterman to enhance her “women’s rights” street cred. And now poor Trig is thrown to the wolves so Sarah can get more attention.
There are limits to how the media should cover politicians and their families. In the case of Sanford, the media crossed that limit. In the case of Palin, she’s the one who crossed it. Again.
If you have a child living at home with you, take some time today to look at your son or daughter and imagine them living in a hellish state where military force rules, a state where true democracy is a joke. Then take a moment to appreciate the good fortune of your child being born in this country.
This is not mere nationalism on my part. Some things are objectively right and some objectively wrong. A state that kills its own people to maintain its power is wrong. Case closed. Period. End of sentence.
If you need a graphic reminder of how fortunate you are to live in this country, then watch the video below. It is not for the squeamish. It depicts, as best as can be verified, a young woman dying in the streets of Iran after being shot by parties acting on behalf of the government.
There is heated debate in this country about what our government should do and say regarding the Iran uprising. Most reasonable people look at our history with Iran and concede that the less said by us right now, the better. Iran’s knee-jerk reaction to internal strife is to blame it on external “interference”. If we allow our country to become part of the argument in Iran, we take away the legitimacy of the protesters. They become the “tools” of imperial America. That is not what they need and that is not what we need.
Still the President issued a statement over the weekend that should unambiguously clarify our country’s position on this conflict:
The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.
As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion.
Martin Luther King once said – “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I believe that. The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples’ belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness. — Market Watch
What more needs to be said? What stronger message are Senator Lindsay Graham and other Republicans looking for? The fact is that President Obama has stated the view of our country clearly and concisely without swagger.
The sad truth is that since this turmoil is not happening in our country, all we can really do is appeal to what little decency may exist within the Iranian government and hope that cooler heads prevail. We can also tuck our children in at night with gratitude toward our dumb luck that we (or at least they) were born in the United States of America where the imperfect experiment of democracy is exercised better than in any other country in the world.
This week President Obama discusses the formation of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which will enforce regulations to stop unfair lending practices and other unethical conduct on the part of banks and credit card companies. It is amazing how opponents of Obama find fault even with policies that are designed to level the playing field and protect them from abuse. It is the very function of government to protect its citizens. It will be interesting to see what objections this new initiative will get.
And now, the President of the United States of America:
For the second week in a row, President Obama addresses his health care initiative this time focusing on cost savings and fiscal discipline.
It is interesting that Obama is getting criticism from both ends of the political spectrum. For example, part of the health care reform may involve a public option that proponents say will increase competitiveness among insurance companies. Opponents say there are more than enough insurance companies in the private sector to fulfill any need for competitiveness. Opponents see the new health care reform paving the way toward a socialist government.
But folks on the far left are not happy either. Part-time comedian, part-time political pundit, Bill Maher tore into Obama on last Friday night’s show complaining that the President was not implementing enough change. One of the areas he cited was health care, where he felt the President was appeasing all the usual fat cat players.
I think the only thing that will differentiate this year’s health care cat fight from that of the 1990′s is that this one will not stall some sort of initiative. Something of some flavor will get implemented during this administration and possibly as soon as this year. Whether it saves us money and improves our care remains to be seen.
And now the President of the United States of America:
The title is of course an exaggeration. There is little doubt that 88 year old James W. von Brunn did not emerge from the womb sufficiently full of hate that he would one day attempt to kill visitors of the Washington D.C. Holocaust Museum. Still, a good portion of this man’s life has been spent rabidly and irrationally hating others. In the early 80′s he went to prison for trying to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve. He emerged from prison blaming blacks and Jews for his troubles. Today he decided to take action again and before he could be stopped, he had indeed killed a black man, a guard whose presence at that museum may have saved several lives.
In the past two weeks, we have seen three high profile murders with political underpinnings. Private William Long was murdered by an American convert to Islam. Doctor George Tiller was murdered by a pro-life extremist and now this attack in Washington. What chills me is not so much the expressions of rage and frustration evidenced by these men, it is the fuel that sets them off. What chills me is the environment of intolerance, hatred and outright wackjob rhetoric that serves as the backdrop for these crimes.
Just a few days ago, I wrote in the comments section of this blog my growing concern over the insane speech that I’ve seen in the blogosphere. One of my readers regularly e-mails me unsolicited items concerning nutty conspiracy theories. These notes speak of Obama’s lack of legal authority because he is not a citizen of the United States (by the way, von Brunn was a “birth certificate skeptic”). They speak of impending violence. One of the latest spoke of the World Health Organization upgrading swine flu to pandemic level six which would mandate “global martial law” and give the US government authority to enter your home without warrant. These notes are not sent to me by a skeptic. They are sent to me by a believer.
A couple of months ago I encountered the blog of a man who had recently lost his family to divorce and then his job. He was about to be put out on the street. The blog was full of seething rage and thinly veiled threats of violence against an entire host of perceived enemies from the government to the church. I chose to make some comments on that blog that were predictably greeted with contempt. After the shooting today in Washington, I now wonder if I shouldn’t have called the blog to the attention of law enforcement.
The Internet has given us a view into people’s souls, some of them very disturbed souls. von Brunn had written enough hate speech on his blog to make today’s act completely predictable. But how do we discern between a person posing, a person just venting, and a person who is truly dangerous? What role do we play in these people’s lives by the words we write in our blogs and our online comments? What role do we play in their lives by reading their vitriolic and usually irrational rants and then ignoring them? We write them off as crackpots. When they take action, is there blood on our hands?
Giving up our free speech is too great a price to pay on the offhand chance that if everybody writes “nice” things, no one will ever be harmed. Violence existed before the advent of the blogosphere and the blogosphere cannot be blamed entirely for the current climate. Yet isn’t it worth our examining what role we play? From the moment someone yelled “kill him” at a John McCain rally (referring to Barack Obama), I knew we were entering the age of the powder keg. Social analysts much smarter than I have pointed out there is a confluence of forces at work right now in this country that can spell danger.
- People who took their comfort for granted being displaced by a broken economy
- An increase in the sheer numbers of “minority” folks, making those in the “majority” feel disenfranchised
- A small but vocal portion of society that associates leadership with male Caucasians and now finds themselves led by a black US president
- Minority groups who identify for whatever reason with terrorist factions abroad
These are just some of the forces at play. I’ve been accused of being an alarmist. Yet the tea party demonstrations earlier this year, which I dismissed as silly, carried an undercurrent of social unrest. These three recent murders represent a microcosm of society losing control of its inhibitions. How many more incidences will it take before the recently released Homeland Security report is taken seriously rather than met with demands of apology from Janet Napolitano?
I submit that today’s crime and the two crimes that recently preceded it were fueled by words. Words matter. The lack of civility in our public dialogue and the logical abyss into which much of our rhetoric has fallen, only serves as a predictor for subsequent violence and irrational behavior. Unless we want a return to 1968, we must change course. We can only do it by examining our own beliefs and strongly challenging the beliefs of those who might do this country harm. We cannot censor the “nutjobs” but we must shine a bright light on them and declare them for what they are. Complacency at this time in our history is equivalent to complicity in the horrors that may follow.
One of the highlights, or lowlights depending on your perspective, of last year’s presidential campaign was John McCain’s announcement that he was “suspending” his campaign to rush to Washington and save our failing financial system. He said this effort might preclude having the first televised debate with then-candidate Barack Obama. Obama’s classic response was that a president ought to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.
Today’s video exemplifies his putting his money where his mouth is. One would expect that this week’s video address would be about Obama’s travels throughout Europe and the Middle East, but instead he chose to discuss health care reform. Whether you like this president or not, you must concede that he has a lot on his plate and he isn’t shying away from any of it.
While I wouldn’t want to base a health care dissertation on the anecdotal evidence I gleaned from a conversation with a Canadian friend of mine, I did learn a bit that gave me cause for alarm. Whatever Obama does by way of health care reform, he must avoid the temptation to totally socialize medical care in this country. My Canadian friend told me that government provided health care carries a huge tax burden. Emergency care is readily available and of good quality. Non-emergency care however can take as long as six to eight months to schedule.
Obama’s challenge is to improve the state of health care in this country without introducing a bureaucratic nightmare that will result in delayed care to many and an overly burdensome tax bill to all. I see nothing yet in Obama’s plans that say we are headed for socialized medicine and I do hope it remains that way.
And now the President of the United States of America:
Today’s speech by President Barack Obama in Cairo, Egypt was greatly anticipated. This was the first time that an American President went out of his way to speak to the practicing Muslims of the world and attempt to forge a new beginning in how Americans view Muslims and how Muslims view Americans.
The speech addressed seven major areas of concern:
- Violent extremism
- Nuclear proliferation
- Religious freedom
- Women’s rights
- Economic development and opportunity
Nothing Obama said in these areas should have surprised anyone. In each area his message was consistent with America’s core beliefs. Conservatives, of course will be enraged by the fact that Obama called the war in Iraq a war of choice (as opposed to the war in Afghanistan which he labeled a war of necessity). The “right” will also get their undies in a knot over Obama’s concession that we have tortured and his commitment that we will do so no more. As far as I am concerned, these things had to be said. If we hold ourselves to be perfect, we cannot build peace with other nations. We must first look to our own deficits, admit them, and correct them before we can hope to influence the minds and hearts of others.
Obama did not let Muslims “off the hook” for their own contributions to the current state of affairs. He pointed out how Muslims must resolve the Sunni/Shia struggle. He commented on how Muslims must not oppress followers of other religions, singling out the Copts in Egypt as an example.
What I felt Obama did most skillfully was what every preacher does. My criticism of organized religion is that scripture can be cherry-picked to prove just about any point you want to prove. Today, Obama was a master of scripture cherry-picking, relying mostly on the Quran, but ending in a beautiful “triple-play” of Christian/Jewish/Muslim text.
As thetells us, Be conscious of God and speak always the truth.
The Holy Quran teaches that whoever kills an innocent is as — it is as it if has killed all mankind.
And the Holy Quran also says whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind.
There is one rule that lies at the heart of every religion, that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
And then the grand finale:
The Holy Quran tells us, Mankind, we have created you male and a female. And we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.
The Talmud tells us, The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace.
The Holy Bible tells us, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
When all is said and done, I don’t expect the world to change because of this speech. Yet it still says something about the United States of America that we can send forth a leader to deliver a message to the world that needs to be delivered.
The man who does not speak because he believes no one will listen, is not a noble man. The very act of trying to change hearts and minds through peaceful persuasion is a noble one, regardless of the consequences.
For other perspectives on this speech from around the WPPBA, please visit these blogs: