So the new WikiLeaks stuff is out, I see. Not a whole lot of detail right now, but the UK Guardian has a few details in its article. Here I’m going to explain why none of it is important.
The United States was catapulted into a worldwide diplomatic crisis today, with the leaking to the Guardian and other international media of more than 250,000 classified cables from its embassies, many sent as recently as February this year.
First of all, I don’t believe for an instant that this is a diplomatic crisis, at least not between governments. I’m sure that they already know most of this. What’s upsetting to the US is that the general public might find out. But really, any halfway intelligent person is not going to be surprised by any of this information.
the Guardian can disclose that Arab leaders are privately urging an air strike on Iran
Then do it your goddamn selves, you motherfuckers. Why should the United States be the one to shoulder the financial burden and the deaths and materiel loss, and the international backlash? Oh right, because you’re all a bunch of fucking cowards who don’t want to upset the terrorists because then you will be the ones dying and getting your shit blown up.
US officials have been instructed to spy on the UN’s leadership.
Everybody spies on everybody. This is the way of things.
These two revelations alone would be likely to reverberate around the world.
Not really. I mean, the whole thing about Middle Eastern nations secretly wanting to destroy Iran is sort of embarrassing, but shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.
Among scores of other disclosures that are likely to cause uproar, the cables detail:
• Grave fears in Washington and London over the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme
Color me surprised.
• Alleged links between the Russian government and organised crime.
• Devastating criticism of the UK’s military operations in Afghanistan.
Oh, you mean like how the US and everybody else have also been totally ineffective at fixing that messed up country?
• Claims of inappropriate behaviour by a member of the British royal family.
Gosh, that could be just about any of them except maybe the Queen herself. Don’t UK tabloids exist mainly because of inappropriate behavior of the British royal family?
The material includes a reference to Vladimir Putin as an “alpha-dog”
This is both obvious and unimportant. I think Putin would be amused by the comparison, since he tries so hard to convey it in his public activities.
Hamid Karzai as being “driven by paranoia”
I’m not sure how it’s paranoia when everybody really is out to get him.
Angela Merkel allegedly “avoids risk and is rarely creative”
She’s the German Chancellor. It’s her job to avoid risk. Creativity is also not one of the important traits for someone in her position to have.
There is also a comparison between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Adolf Hitler.
Let’s see…encouraging citizens to have more children, encouraging women to stay home and keep house, price controls, military expansion, secret military buildup, obsession with superweapons, having a personal army under his direct control separate from the national military, imprisonment/torture/murder of political dissidents, persecution of anyone deviating from the proclaimed ideal in beliefs or personal behavior. Oh, and all that anti-Semitic ranting and obsessions with the “Zionist agenda”.
Sure sounds to me like they have a lot in common.
The cables name countries involved in financing terror groups
Once again, this is common knowledge, or at least unsurprising. I’m sure that Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan…well shit pretty much everybody over there…are on the list.
US ambassadors in other capitals were instructed to brief their hosts in advance of the release of unflattering pen-portraits or nakedly frank accounts of transactions with the US which they had thought would be kept quiet. Washington now faces a difficult task in convincing contacts around the world that any future conversations will remain confidential.
This will be yet another motivation for the rest of the world detaching from the United States. They’re already doing it economically. That it would also be diplomatic is not surprising.
The cables published today reveal how the US uses its embassies as part of a global espionage network, with diplomats tasked to obtain not just information from the people they meet, but personal details, such as frequent flyer numbers, credit card details and even DNA material.
Well DUH. What do you think embassy networks are for? You really think diplomacy is all they do? Anyone that naive shouldn’t be voting. All countries do this. Every. Single. One.
So far I’m having trouble getting excited about this new WikiLeaks release. As with the previous information they released, it’s really not that big of a deal. Nothing in it (so far) is surprising. Certainly not a smoking gun.
There’s an election coming up in a week or so and I thought it would be an interesting exercise to write up the reasoning behind my voting plans, starting with general principles and then applying them to the concretes of my actual ballot.
I’ve often said that I don’t have a political party, I have political values. Specifically, I value the principle of individual rights and I want to see it protected by the government across the board. This is a minority view in the culture today, which means politically I am put in the position of playing defense rather than offense. While I find the Tea Parties a promising cultural phenomenon, too many of their candidates are strongly religious and this poses serious dangers in the medium term. However, the egalitarian nihilism being advanced by the current Democratic party poses a much more immediate threat. Getting politicians who understand and support the principle of individual rights requires time for cultural and intellectual activism. That time will not be available if the government continues to bankrupt the country. The only way I see to buy that time is to block the ability of both parties to seriously advance their positions by preventing either one from gaining full control of both Congress and the White House. (In my lifetime there have been a total of 8 years in which the Democrats solidly controlled Congress and the White House: 1977-1980, 1993-1994 and 2009-2010. There have been 2 years in which the Republicans solidly controlled Congress and the White House: 2005-2006. Each of these periods provoked a massive political backlash and a swing to the opposition party. Apparently there is nothing that makes a party less popular than enabling it to implement its agenda.)
At the national level the primary strategic goal is gridlock, to buy time for further intellectual activism. The secondary strategic goal is to break the hold of the political-class Republicans on the leadership of the Republican Party by electing Tea Party candidates wherever possible. This is a variation of the gridlock principle applied to the internal power balance of the GOP itself. (If a similar internal power struggle could be ignited inside the Democratic party that would be great, but it doesn’t seem likely unless someone convinces Hillary Clinton to launch a primary challenge against Obama in 2012. A worthwhile goal but not relevant to the current midterm election. Update: On the topic of internal power struggles in the Democratic party, today I found this. Perhaps it’s not only more likely than I thought, but actually underway.)
At the state and local level my options are more limited, given that California is a heavily Democratic state and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. My main hope here is to try to keep politicians responsive by keeping their elections as close as possible, which leads to the general principle of voting anti-incumbent. Where I live that almost always means voting Republican just because the incumbents are almost always Democrats. If a particular challenger is unusually noxious I may simply refrain from voting in that race; if a seat is open and neither candidate impresses me as unusually good or unusually bad, I vote for the minority party on the gridlock principle.
For non-partisan offices, unless one of the candidates has come to my attention outside the campaign in a positive or negative way, I usually refrain from voting simply because I lack the information to make an informed judgment and the time to track it down. (An example of an exception: Back in 2006 there was a major corruption scandal in San Jose involving waste disposal contracts. The mayoral race was between two City Council members who both, during the race, criticized the contract. But only one of them, Chuck Reed, had strongly opposed it before it blew up into a scandal. On the theory that character is what you do in the dark — when the public isn’t roused and paying attention — I voted for Reed. Since he hasn’t come to my negative attention since then, I retain a measure of approval for him and will probably vote for him and/or his allies when and as possible.)
For ballot initiatives, my principles are a bit simpler. Anything that raises taxes or fees, I oppose. Anything that seeks to borrow money, I oppose. Anything that seeks to expand the scope of government action into previously free areas, I oppose. Anything that clearly abolishes a government policy that violates rights, I support. Anything fiddling with the nitty-gritty details of government operation, or too unclearly-written to have understandable consequences, I oppose on the principle of ‘the devil you know’. I also reserve the right to vote for anything that the political class hates on general principle, like anti-gerrymandering initiatives and term limits.
With that said, let’s take a look at the ballot and see how these rules translate into actual votes (or not). First, the elected offices.
Governor. This is an open office. Jerry Brown was noxious the last time he was governor, the state legislature is firmly in Democratic hands, and Meg Whitman doesn’t strike me as unusually bad. So the noxious candidate, gridlock and minority party principles all align. Meg Whitman, GOP.
Lt. Governor. Another open office. Gridlock doesn’t really apply, since as far as I can tell the office of Lt. Governor doesn’t actually do anything. But anyone who could get elected Mayor of San Francisco is automatically noxious in my book, and the minority party principle aligns with it. Abel Maldonado, GOP.
Secretary of State. Anti-incumbent. Damon Dunn, GOP.
Controller. Anti-incumbent. Tony Strickland, GOP.
Treasurer. Anti-incumbent. Mimi Walters, GOP.
Attorney General. Open office. Minority party principle. Steve Cooley, GOP.
Insurance Commissioner. Open office. Minority party principle. Mike Villines, GOP.
State Board of Equalization, District 1. (And doesn’t that sound like something out of Atlas Shrugged, or Anthem?) Anti-incumbent. Kevin R. Scott, GOP.
United States Senator. Anti-incumbent, gridlock and noxious all together. Carly Fiorina, GOP.
United States Representative, District 16. Anti-incumbent and gridlock. Daniel Sahagun, GOP.
State Assembly, District 24. Anti-incumbent, minority party. Robert Chandler, GOP.
San Jose/Evergreen Community College District, Governing Board Member Trustee Area 6. Anti-incumbent. Jeffrey Lease.
Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, District 1. Anti-incumbent. Forrest Williams.
San Jose City Council, District 9. Non-partisan, positive information principle — one candidate is a political ally of Chuck Reed, who still hasn’t pissed me off. Larry Pegram.
Various judicial offices, Superintendent of Public Instruction and Santa Clara Valley Water District Director, District 4 left blank by the non-partisan office, no information principle.
Wow, there’s a lot of the bloody parasites, aren’t there? Now on to the initiatives, state and local.
Measure 19: Legalizes marijuana for personal use. The drug war is an insane violation of individual rights; anything that dials it back even a little bit is a good thing. Yes.
Measure 20: Redistricting of Congressional districts. This is an anti-gerrymandering initiative, putting control of redrawing district lines in the hands of an independent commission instead of the state legislature. In general, allowing politicians to pick their own voters leads to less responsive government — and anything the political class hates this much is ipso facto probably a good idea. Yes.
Measure 21: Annual vehicle license fee surcharge. This is a tax/fee increase. No.
Measure 22: Requires state to distribute tax revenue to local governments for various purposes even in the face of severe fiscal hardship. California is facing serious ongoing budget problems — the state is essentially bankrupt. The state and local governments are fighting over the shrinking pie, and this initiative is a shot in that ongoing battle. Ultimately the only solution is to shrink the state government; I don’t see how locking in spending obligations helps with that. No.
Measure 23: Suspends implementation of a ‘viro emissions control law until the state unemployment level drops to 5.5% or lower. This kind of environmentalist legislation violates the freedom of production and trade; blocking it even temporarily is rights-protecting. Plus I hate the ‘viros, so it’s nice to stick a finger in their eye. Yes.
Measure 24: Repeals recent legislation that enhanced business’ ability to lower their tax liability. The less wealth the government takes by force, the better, all else being equal. No.
Measure 25: Changes legislative vote requirement to pass budget and budget-related legislation from 2/3 to simple majority. The legislature in California is strongly Democratic. The 2/3 requirement on the budget is the only thing that gives the Republicans any relevance in budget debates at all. Given the strong likelihood that Brown will win the governor’s race, this is the last sliver of resistance to a total left-wing political monoculture in the state. Hell No.
Measure 26: Reclassifies certain state and local fees so they require 2/3 approval. Anything that makes it more difficult for the government to nickel-and-dime the public is good. Yes.
Measure 27: Eliminates the State Commission on Redistricting. This is basically the evil twin of Measure 20, putting control of redistricting firmly in the hands of the legislature. All the reasons for supporting 20 are reasons to oppose this. No.
Measure A: Tax increase to fund public health care for children. They lost me at ‘tax increase’ and added insult to injury by playing the ‘for the children’ card. No.
Measure B: Motor vehicle registration fee increase to fund street maintenance. Raise a fee, lose a vote. No.
Measure C: Term limits for members of the Santa Clara Valley Water District. It’s weak sauce for an institution that probably shouldn’t exist at all, but they hate it and I hate them. Yes.
Measure G: A bond issue to fund local community colleges. It’s a bond issue. The first rule of crushing debt is we do not talk about crushing debt. The second rule is stop borrowing! No.
Measure U: Marijuana business tax. Legalizing marijuana is good. New taxes are bad. (I could be argued on this one on the grounds that treating marijuana businesses differently from other businesses weakens the principle of equality before the law, but this initiative looks like a special tax levied specifically against marijuana businesses. Oh, and it’s a gross receipts tax. <Expletive redacted> that.) No.
Measure V: Limit powers of outside arbitrators, and Measure W: Pension reform. These two initiatives are closely-coupled attempts by the San Jose City Council to begin addressing the problem of public pension expenses. The public pension tsunami is one of a number of massive problems looming ever larger in the economic windshield. While I can’t vouch for the likely effectiveness of these proposals, I do know that the status quo is leading to disaster. Yes.
Wow. If I’d known in advance that there were that many things on the ballot I might not have started writing this. Still, I hope you enjoyed this not-so-brief snapshot into how I think about voting decisions.
Today on FoxNews I see the headline “Clinton Urges Against Iran Military Expansion”, and my first reaction is:
Why does anybody, anywhere, think that anything anyone SAYS matters a damn?
Kyle, in the other room, responds, “Because they believe in magic?”
The United States, Clinton said, is increasingly concerned about the rise of military power in Iran, the main U.S. adversary in the Middle East.
That’s wonderful, Hillary. We’re concerned. And how long have we been concerned? I, for one, can remember us being concerned as far back as when Henry Kissinger was Secretary of State. The word “Ayatollah” has always been an epithet for my generation. We remember the hostages taken in Tehran in 1979, and that wasn’t the Shah who was in power at the time.
“But the early advocates of it said this would be a republic. It would be an Islamic republic, but it would be a republic. Then we saw a very flawed election and we’ve seen the elected officials turn for the military to enforce their power,” she said.
“Republic” is just a word. And to suppose that it is even possible for a government to be Islamic and have any semblance of liberty in its operation is, at best, naive. To permit any religion to dictate the functioning of government is an inherently bad idea. With Islam it is especially pernicious, because of how hostile Sharia law is to the idea of freedom and individual rights. While I understand that there are many regional variations of Sharia, and the extent to which it is implemented may vary, I will firmly claim that it is not a system under which anyone should be forced to live simply because it denies individual rights and equal treatment under the law.
Mandatory tithing (zakat) is described by Sharia. Inheritance is dictated, rather than being chosen by the owners of the wealth. Virgin women have their husbands chosen for them, and Muslims in general may only marry other Muslims. Any sexual intercourse outside the confines of marriage (and with the spouse) is forbidden and carries heavy penalties that include flogging and death. It is notable that women are typically punished more severely than men.
Court proceedings under Sharia are conducted by a judge only. There is no jury, no attorneys, no discovery process, and no punishment for perjury. Witnesses are considered more important than empirical evidence (modern law enforcement has long since known how unreliable even honest witnesses can be). Most of the legal protections and precedents codified in modern Western law are not recognized in Sharia.
I could go on at length about this. But my point is that talking about how much we dislike Iran doesn’t mean a goddamn thing. It won’t change Iran’s behavior. It won’t change their beliefs. It won’t do anything to address the threat that country is to its neighbors and the world at large. Clearly we are going to have to learn the hard way. Again. Iran is going to build a functioning nuke and deliver it to a major city, probably Tel Aviv.
What will we do then? Keep talking? Wring our hands and whine like we always do? Israel can probably be counted on to bomb the shit out of them, and anyone who tries to claim they shouldn’t will have absolutely no moral standing.
You would THINK that flying three airplanes full of people into 3 buildings full of people (and I can only wonder if the fourth plane was meant for the Capitol Building), causing the deaths of several thousand human beings and destroying a major cultural landmark in one of the world’s most prominent cities would wake people up. Especially people who remember it like I do. The enemy tried it once before in 1993 with the underground parking garage at World Trade One and Two, and failed, and we all went “ho hum”.
But no. We’ve forgotten. Politicians have let themselves feel safe again, and gone back to petty bickering about money and their own reelection. The President is babbling about another economic “stimulus” (which won’t work any more than the last one did, and will actually make things worse. Again) or some shit. Maybe if Flight 93 had destroyed the Capitol Building and killed 90% of Congress, we would have taken it more seriously. Somehow, with this level of apathy, I doubt it.
There is a simple solution to this, and it’s called “homeschooling”. I especially enjoy the internal contradiction of this:
A New York couple is suing a Catholic high school for refusing to grant a religious exemption that would allow their 14-year-old son to enroll in ninth grade without state-required vaccinations, claiming immunizations are a “violation of God’s supreme authority.”
They claim their son . . .should be granted an exemption to public health laws that require children to be inoculated for diseases including mumps, measles, rubella, hepatitis B and others.
“[W]e are all created in God’s image,” reads a letter the Polydors sent to the school on Feb. 13, according to the lawsuit. “Therefore, we must not defile our blood and our bodies with diseases and other impure substances. As the divine Architect, God designed our bodies to have immune systems that must not be defiled by vaccines. Immunizations are a violation of God’s supreme authority, and therefore, unholy. Since immunizations are unholy they violate my religious beliefs.”
The Polydors also claim that using vaccines would show a “lack of faith in God, and His perfectly designed immune system,” according to the lawsuit.
Okay…so…God created a perfect immune system for mankind. And that’s why nobody ever gets sick. Oh wait, is that only supposed to apply to people whose faith is strong enough? Or does it only apply to people who never “defile” their bodies from the time they’re born?
If the latter, it’s not very perfect, is it?
I’m used to reading about parents’ whaargarbl about their snowflakes being entitled to an education in a public school regardless of whatever ridiculous exceptions and special cases they insist upon. But for this whaargarbl to extend to a private school is a whole new level of entitlement. “I DEMAND THAT YOU TAKE MY MONEY AND MAKE AN EXCEPTION TO YOUR RULES”.
What the hell, guys? Find another school. That’s unlikely, however, given that God’s perfect immune system seems vulnerable to measles, mumps, rubella, polio, diphtheria, hepatatis B, and a variety of other dangerous illnesses.
Schools are ideal transmission vectors for diseases like this. For a school to not require immunizations is an invitation to epidemic among its students. It’s precisely because of the vaccine hysteria that diseases like measles are being seen again in outbreak clusters.
I don’t even want to talk about the “autism is caused by vaccines” issue. It’s stupid and doesn’t have a shred of evidence to support it.
This situation highlights the problem with the whole “religious exemptions” concept in our society. These people are just making up something that they want a religious exemption for. Is that the same thing as Muslim Sikhs who want to wear a kirpan (which, regardless of its symbolism, is a knife) to school or work? Is it the same thing as Catholics insisting on having Christmas Day off because it’s a high holy day for them?
I would argue that it is the same thing. Businesses and schools have rules. If you don’t like the rules, you should be free to find another business or school (yeah I know, the public education thing is another conversation entirely). Now personally I happen to think people should be allowed to carry daggers, even if they’re not Sikhs. Want Christmas Day off? File for vacation time.
But if you’re not willing to abide by the rules of a place, then that place should have the right to exclude you. Yes, I’m including things like disabilities, too (in some cases it’s a dick move but that’s part and parcel with private property rights and freedom of association). Courts should not even entertain a case like the Polydors’, because it should be an open-and-shut example of “private owner gets to make the rules on use of their own property”.
It has come to my attention that I have not been clear in my blog over the past couple of years (due to the fact that I largely stopped blogging for reasons now unclear to me) that my opinions of Bush and his policies have changed significantly from when he was first elected.
I was recently challenged on another forum to cite examples of my own writing where I have denounced various Bush era activities and policies. I was surprised to find that I was not able to give such citations, as they exist only in my mind. I have never committed it to print. So I will rectify this.
The capture and detention of prisoners of war is acceptable. What was not acceptable was the fact that the facility simply imprisoned them and then did nothing more. The prisoners should have been investigated according to military procedures to establish their crimes and involvement (to make sure we didn’t imprison actual innocent bystanders).
Prisoners of war captured on the battlefield are not entitled to the protections of the American civilian justice system.
But as a prison for convicted terrorists, I don’t have a problem with it.
Wrong target. Although it is nice that Saddam Hussein is no longer around to torture his people, that was never our job or our responsibility. We should not have invaded Iraq. We should have invaded Iran.
Although terrorists do hide in and are supported by Afghani forces, Afghanistan is not the main target. It is peripheral. Establishing “democracy” in Afghanistan is not going to solve the problem.
Iran is the hornet’s nest, the source of the funding and training of most Islamist terrorists. We should have invaded Iran and wiped out that support infrastructure, but we didn’t.
THE MIDDLE EAST IN GENERAL
We should not be trying to “liberate” the Middle East. For one thing, what Bush/Obama want to do is not liberty. Secondly, the cultures of the Middle East don’t know how to be democratic (nor do they really want to be). Sometimes various factions hate their governments, but tyranny is okay. They just want it to be their kind of tyranny.
Dictatorship, especially Islamic dictatorship, has been the government of choice in that part of the world for centuries. Various religious factions vie for supremacy. They don’t want to get along — they each want to be the one in charge.
Even if we free them and give them democratic choice, they will just choose to install another dictator, and be back to square one. We are seeing this pan out in Iraq right now.
PATRIOT ACT / WIRETAPPING
I am not an expert on the contents of the Patriot Act or the implications of it. But in general I do not endorse the restriction of individual rights and/or liberty. Government invasion into personal freedoms never has an innocent motive and never has good results.
TSA / AIRLINE SECURITY
All this new “security” at airports in the US is a farce, a dog and pony show some call “security theater”. It doesn’t actually make us safer. There are still many obvious loopholes that would allow a determined terrorist (or even a halfway intelligent one) to destroy an airplane and kill everyone on board.
The failure to apply proper profiling further reduces it to a circus. That 82-year-old white grandmother from Iowa is not a terrorist. But that 27-year-old Arab guy from Turkey might be.
DEFICIT / NATIONAL BUDGET
Bush’s military spending would have been justified if we had actually fought the right war, in the right place, against the right enemies (Iran). But we didn’t.
TORTURE / WATERBOARDING
I do not and have never endorsed torture (including waterboarding) as a method of interrogation on prisoners. It doesn’t work. A torture victim will say anything to avoid more torture. Information thus gained is not reliable.
SUSPENSION OF HABEAS CORPUS
On November 13, 2001, Bush suspended the right of habeas corpus by executive order. Basically, habeas corpus means that detainees have the right to seek relief from unlawful imprisonment. This is tied up in the right to a hearing, a trial, legal counsel, and the right to be free from detention if not charged with a crime.
This was to be used on “enemy combatants”, to allow the government to capture and indefinitely detain terrorists. The status of “enemy combatant” has been applied to American citizens, effectively suspending their rights to due process.
Foreign enemies are not “tried in courts”. They are captured on the battlefield and dealt with as prisoners of war by the military. The people waging war on the United States are typically not Americans. They may be here on visas, but that’s not the same thing. They are usually citizens of a foreign nation, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, etc.
I do not support the suspension of habeas corpus. An American citizen who wages war on the United States (such as John Walker Lindh) is guilty of sedition and treason, and should be charged and tried appropriately, with all rights normally due to citizens in an American court.
TARP / BANK BAILOUTS
This was never a good idea and I opposed it entirely from the first moment it was mentioned. “Too big to fail” is ridiculous. The banks should have been allowed to fail and recover on their own. Yes it would have impacted the economy. But it has anyway because TARP doesn’t work and was never capable of working.
AUTO INDUSTRY BAILOUTS
That’s Obama’s mess, not Bush’s.
I stumbled over this amusing video talking about the correct procedures for oil containment booming and why it’s being done totally wrong by BP and why everybody else is contributing to it being done totally wrong. CAUTION: lots and lots of cursing. NSFW.
That said, I know what he meant. Christie is definitely a breath of fresh air in the morass of contemporary politics — not necessarily because of his substantive policies, the full impact of which remains to be seen — but simply because he treats the people of his state like adults. He doesn’t pretend that the hard choices aren’t necessary, or that they can be made without pain, and he believes the public is mature enough to grasp the facts, evaluate them and act appropriately.
It’s a sad comment on the rest of our political leadership, on the left and the right, that that alone is enough to make Christie stand out from the crowd.