1.21.2015

State of the Union - President Peter Pan

I frequently go over the President's State of the Union message to analyze the actual text.  There is, I think, little point to doing so regarding last night's speech.  It was essentially a bird flipped at congress and the voters together with an assessment of international affairs so wildly divorced from reality that even MSNBC commentators had to acknowledge it as fantasy.

My advice to congress is to go ahead and pass legislation so the president will veto it.  Let the president spend the next two years vetoing everything that comes across his desk.  Instead of a do-nothing congress, then, the public will see that it is presidential intransigence and his unwillingness to negotiate in good faith with the congress that underlies our political impasse.

Call his bluff.  And it is a bluff.  He does not have the political capital to do what he insists on doing.  Oh, sure, he'll veto stuff.  But the more he vetoes, the more he will be seen as the problem and the more pressure there will be on Democrats in congress to overturn that veto.  He wants to play hardball, then play hardball.

1.20.2015

Daniel Pipes Demands Too Much of Muslims

I think Daniel Pipes is uncharitable in his assessment of Egyptian president al-Sisi.  With regards to a recent speech the Egyptian gave to the leading muslim scholars in Egypt, Pipes says:
Indeed, until we know more about Sisi’s personal views and see what he does next, I understand his speech not as a stance against all of Islamism but only against its specifically violent form, the kind that is ravaging Nigeria, Somalia, Syria-Iraq, and Pakistan, the kind that has placed such cities as Boston, Ottawa, Sydney, and Paris under siege. Like other cooler heads, Sisi promotes Sharia through evolution and popular support, rather than through revolution and brutality. Nonviolence, to be sure, is an improvement over violence. But it’s hardly the reform of Islam that non-Muslims hope to see...
We must be careful not to demand more of our friends among Islam more than can be delivered.  It is not possible to be a faithful muslim and not advocate some form of Shari'a.  To ask a muslim to repudiate Shari'a is the functional equivalent of asking Jews and Christians to repudiate the Ten Commandments.  It isn't going to happen and it is unreasonable to expect it.  That al-Sisi thinks the ideal society would be a muslim one should neither surprise nor concern us if he is sincere in his desire to restrict his method of achieving it to peaceful, democratic persuasion without recourse to violence and intimidation.  Indeed, that this is his expressed desire is precisely the sort of reform this particular non-muslim hopes to see.  The difference between nonviolence and violence is not a mere nothing to be swept aside as irrelevant.

Pipes goes on to conclude:
True reform requires scholars of Islam, not strongmen, and a repudiation of implementing sharia in the public sphere.
But the speech al-Sisi gave was an obvious effort to persuade exactly that group Pipes identifies in his first clause - a collection of scholars of Islam rather than strongmen.  It was a speech that chastised those scholars for providing rationalized justifications for those who murder in the name of Islam and called on them to help develop a genuinely muslim form of democracy - one that was both faithful and not violent.

For Pipes to go so far as to demand true reform involve repudiation of Shari'a is for Pipes to demand muslims cease being muslims.  Al-Sisi is taking the better course - demanding muslim scholars figure out a way for muslims to be authentically muslim within the context of democratic society and a democratic society will, inevitably, be pluralist to some extent.

1.19.2015

Things That Make "President Biden" Seem an Improvement

Stung by criticism for not showing up to march in Paris, the Kerry State Department decided to deploy...James Taylor.

Huh?

For smart people, they can be awfully dumb.

It was a stupid move to not send Biden or Kerry to Paris, or tell Holder to stay over an extra day and walk a couple miles with people grieving and outraged over the assault on Charlie Hebdo.  In the grand scheme of things, though, it's a relatively minor faux pas.  Say you're sorry.  Admit it was dumb.  Don't make the same mistake again.  Maybe send Biden or Kerry to one of the funerals or something.

But calling a glorified press conference so you can give a "big hug" and have James Taylor sing a song or two, as if that makes up for the gaffe?  Don't get me wrong.  I like James Taylor's music, too.  Even so, what the hell were you thinking?  In addition to calling attention to the gaffe and emphasizing it, the stunt just shows how utterly disconnected from reality the Obama administration is.  Some guys just broke into an office and gunned down twelve people.  We respond with a figurative hug and "You've Got a Friend" several days late and more than a few dollars short?  Next time, just send flowers.

This isn't high school, and cheap, maudlin sentimentality is not the answer.  That our president and secretary of state thought it might be just highlights the incompetence of our leadership at this point.  This is the sort of thing that makes the thought of President Biden actually seem like it would be an improvement.

1.16.2015

Political Dream Team for Fantasy Goofball

Romney is starting to make noises like he may run again in 2016.  My gut reaction to this is that it would be a good way to get Hillary Clinton elected.  Given all of Obama's manifest faults - faults that were quite evident in 2012: Obamacare, foreign policy incompetence, misguided economic policies, disregard for constitutional limits, race-baiting, and the rest.  Given all this, Romney still could not manage to eke out a victory.

What makes him think he'll have a better chance in 2016?  He had his shot, gave it as good an effort as he could, and came up short.  Aggravating - the more so since it is now obvious to a lot of people who voted for Obama that Romney would have been the better choice.  We can't go back and reload the game, though.  It's done.  

I'd like to see a Walker/Jindal ticket, and I don't much care which is up for president and which for vice.  Maybe they can switch out - 4 with Jindal/Walker, 4 with Waker/Jindal, then repeat.  Yeah.  I know.  Doesn't work like that.  Still, 8 years of one, then 8 of the other would not be a bad thing.

Let's see...  Put together your political Dream Team in "Fantasy Goofball."  All scoring will be completely subjective, thoroughly rigged, and require collection of vast sums from either George Soros or Charles Koch, depending on whether you're playing Left or Right.  Sorry, if you want to play Center you'll just get crushed by everyone.  Besides, moderation is not the stuff of fantasy.  Who dreams of having just an okay day?

Walker - president (or Jindal)
Jindal - vice-president (or Walker)
Christie - Department of Transportation
Cruz - Department of Justice
Perry - Department of Homeland Security
Jeb Bush - Department of Education
Thune - Department of Agriculture
James T. Conway, USMC - Department of Defense
Manchin - Energy Department
Herman Cain - Commerce Department
Veronique de Rugy - Department of the Treasury
Rubio - State Department
Rush Limbaugh - EPA

JUST KIDDING! He'd never accept and wouldn't be any good at it, but oh would it be great fun to see the reaction.

1.15.2015

A Pleasant, If Dull, Dream About the IRS

The IRS is promising that they will provide lousy service.

At least on that point, they're honest.

Between their efforts to intimidate conservative political groups, providing occasionally confusing advice to taxpayers regarding the already confusing body of tax law, making cheesy videos for "training" programs foisted upon them, and violating the Constitution by levying taxes not provided for in law, how much time do you think they'll have to actually do their jobs efficiently?  Not much, if the head of the IRS is to be believed.

I have a dream.  I dream of a simplified tax code (even a flat tax?) and an IRS 1/4 its present size.  I'd even give up the Clergy Housing Allowance and the Charitable Contribution deduction if it would get us a 10% flat tax on all income above 100% of the poverty line - no other deductions, no other credits, no other nothing.

That's not the only dream I have, although it is perhaps the dullest.  Even so, it would be nice.

1.13.2015

Fighting Against Jihad - Stark Assessment, Fearful Conclusion

Cory Heidelberger raises a point that is worth treating more fully in his comment on this post.  He asks:
Can we ((Western Christians, Jews, secularists, infidels all) fight this war? Doesn't fighting jihadism only feed jihadism? Doesn't the real war against jihadism have to be fought by faithful Muslims themselves?
I don't know that fighting jihadism feeds it.  But if faithful muslims do not find a way to persuade their coreligionists that it is possible for Islam to coexist with other religious views in a pluralistic society, the rest of the world will be forced to do one of two things - submit to Islam, or destroy it.

I do not say that lightly.  Neither do I say it in the hopes that it will be destroyed.  I say the intransigence of hundreds of millions of muslims who think non-muslims should be slaughtered or enslaved will force us to that horrible choice.  We must be prepared to face that stark reality and point out again and again that it is muslims who put us in this position.  We are willing, even eager, to share the world with muslims, to debate them, learn from them, persuade them, in an interplay of ideas and culture that, in our opinion, can only benefit all participants.  It is muslims who reject such pluralism and dialog.  It is muslims who reject debate and demand only submission.  It is muslims who demand we surrender our freedoms to their sensitivities.

I am not surprised, mind you, that they should be so.  Until the Wars of Religion that tore Europe apart from 1517-1648, Christians tended to think it impossible for people of different religious views to share a country, too.  Even with the end to those wars with the Peace of Westphalia and the affirmation of the cuius regio, eius religio (whose region, his religion) principle from the 1555 Augsburg treaty, it still left in place the notion that a given territory would have a uniform religion.  The U.S. Constitution perpetuated this practice, but left it to the states - the actual First Amendment only bans the federal Congress from making laws respecting the establishment of religion or curtailing its free exercise.  Most states disestablished their religions in the first half-century of the Republic (I think Massachusetts was the last to do so in 1833), but according to Robert L. Cord in his book Separation of Church and State: Historical Fact, Current Fiction it was not until the US Supreme Court decision in Everson v. Board of Education that the kind of broad disestablishment we now know came into play.  That decision was handed down in 1947.

The idea that we could live together in peace within the borders of a given polity, even if differing in religion, is relatively recent for Christians - late 16th century for the birth of the concept, early 19th century before it is lived out (and then, only in the U.S.), mid 20th century before being solidified.  The concept was only birthed and attempted because the civil war within western Christendom had gone on for several decades with no clear winner and all sides were exhausted.  Those wars devastated central and western Europe - the population of Germany declined by 30% or more between 1617 and 1648.  They ended in large part because so much blood and treasure had been sunk into the attempt to reunify Europe's religion they simply could not fight any more.

That's from a religion whose leading figure eschewed earthly political power, suffered and died at the hands of earthly political powers, and which for the first 3 centuries of its existence was persecuted as an illegal and deviant sect by all known earthly political powers.

Islam was founded on the union of the political and religious power in the person of the prophet Muhammad.  It has only ever advanced by the extension of political domination - by war and conquest.  True, there is something of tolerance in its early doctrine and practice.  Judaism and Christianity were allowed to continue, but not attempt to gain converts, and only in a severely curtailed and oppressed status.  Genuine pluralism is as foreign to Islam as sushi in a McDonald's.

It is vitally necessary, then, for those of us being attacked by muslims to stand firm in resistance.  We must provide all support to those muslims who are trying to develop a muslim way of pluralism, whether it be the young Rashid from the Ahmadi muslims in America, or al-Sisi as president of Egypt.  We must also resist with force those who want to carve out a muslim enclave within our countries where pluralism is not allowed and then use this as a base for denying pluralism beyond those enclaves.  We must contain these non-pluralist muslims to the countries where it now resides and resist by force its extension.  Finally, we must attack the will to fight.  There is no way to do this but to reward our friends and punish our enemies as quickly and severely as possible.  It wasn't defeat at Gettysburg, or Atlanta, or Vicksburg that destroyed the southern will to continue fighting the north.  It was Sherman's march through Georgia and the Carolinas - a march that did not kill very many people, but did destroy the infrastructure, the plantations, the prosperity, the way of life of those who most eagerly promoted war against the Union.  It will take similar measures to win this war against Islam.

1.08.2015

Paris Terror - a Muslim Act

A young muslim man, Qasim Rashid, was on FoxNews condemning the attacks in Paris.  Good for him.  Fox billed it as "American Muslim Community Reacts."  I'm not sure he can legitimately claim to be a spokesman for the entire American muslim community - he is part of a sect of Islam called "Ahmadi".  That sect is typically regarded as heretical by most muslim groups and is actively persecuted in Pakistan, which is where about half (5 million) Ahmadi muslims live.  Wikipedia puts the U.S. figures at 15,000 out of roughly 2,000,000 muslims in the U.S.  Mr. Rashid did not claim to speak for all muslims, mind you.  Fox claimed that he did.

In his efforts to defend Islam, Mr. Rashid stated that all religions have extremist groups and that it is unfair to label this act "muslim terrorism" - it is not true Islam, and Christians have such groups, too.  The Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda was mentioned.  At its peak, it numbered no more than 3,000 fighters.  Recent estimates put it at less than 300.  It is largely confined to Uganda and parts of neighboring Congo and Sudan.  It is highly localized, typically referred to as a cult, and has never been accepted as legitimately Christian by any group outside itself.

The same cannot be said for ISIS, al Qaeda, and numerous other independent and affiliated terrorist groups among muslims.  The comparison and attempt to establish equivalence between al Qaeda and the Lord's Resistance Army is laughable.  Cory Heidelberger over at Madville Times sums the matter up quite nicely.
No matter how oppressed some of us may feel by the sometimes radical statements and legislation of South Dakota's Christian fundamentalists, let us remember that our Christian friends don't kill us.
For far too many muslims around the world, this cannot be said.  My suspicion is that, for all Mr. Rashid's efforts, there are far more than 15,000 muslims in this country who think attacks like the one in Paris are eminently justified and only regret that more muslims aren't so dedicated to the faith.  Nevertheless, Mr. Rashid is to be encouraged.  Those same muslims would kill him just as soon as they would kill French editors of satirical publications.  I would not be surprised if his brief appearance on Fox News did not generate a fresh round of death threats for him.

The Christian magazine First Things recently ran a piece - by a non-muslim - arguing that a true, legitimate understanding of Islam would condemn such attacks, so these terror groups aren't legitimately muslim.  Millions of muslims, however, say that they are.  Who am I to believe on this question - a non-muslim scholar of Islam, or dozens (if not hundreds) of muslim scholars and millions of ordinary believers?

It is wishful defiance of fact to suggest that groups like ISIS and al Qaeda represent a minority extreme sect of Islam in the same way that the Lord's Resistance Army is in regards to Christianity.  They may not be the majority of muslims - it's hard to tell - but they are not insignificant, localized groups of insane malcontents.  I wish Mr. Rashid and others well in their efforts to persuade muslims to treat ISIS the way Christians treat the LRA of Uganda, but we aren't anywhere close to that yet.

The attack in Paris was an act of muslim terrorism, supported and endorsed by large numbers of muslims around the world.  Until that changes, we are at war.