Communist Emblems Are Not Cool

During my recent trip to the Baltic, I had the opportunity to visit St. Petersburg.  It's an impressive city.  But one thing about that visit really bothered me.  In both the ship's store and in the souvenir shops around the city, hats and other regalia bearing the old Soviet star were prominent.  Looking at them, I wondered, "Would you be promoting these things as eagerly if the emblem were a swastika?  Would parents be buying these hats for their children if it had that symbol of German National Socialism instead of Russian Communism?"

To ask the question is to answer it.  Of course they would not.  But millions were murdered by the Communists.  Later on that trip we were in Berlin, stopping by the remains of a wall built to prevent East Germans from leaving the country.  East Germany was, in effect, a large, open-air prison.  Yet here, too, the kitsch highlighted Communist symbols.

Is Nazism bemoaned because there was a single guy - Adolf Hitler - who could be used to personify it while Communism has dozens (Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, Mao, Castro, Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevera, Gorbachev, Kim Il Sun, Pol Pot, and more)?  Or is it because so many put their hopes, and still put their hopes, in the Marxist fantasy these murderers have used to justify their atrocities?  But German National Socialism was also premised on that Marxist fantasy - nationalist rather than international, to be sure, but Fascism was only "right wing" if one was pretty far out to the political left to begin with (see Jonah Goldberg's book Liberal Fascism).

I don't know.  But it is clear that, for us in the West, not all tyrannies are the same.  To those who lived under both (such as Janos Hovarth quoted here), however, there was no discernible difference.  A man who murders because the victim isn't a Communist is not an improvement over a man who murders because the victim isn't a Nazi.  I hope some day the children I saw sporting those souvenir caps will learn to be ashamed of the symbols on them and the terrible regimes they represent.

Sudanese Christian Woman Freed

In the "good news department" we have this little item - the Sudanese woman formerly sentenced to death for being a Christian, was released.  The local muslims still wanted to execute her and take her children from her, but there were other courts that took different views ranging from flogging her and taking her children to outright release with no penalties.

In the course of things, between US government efforts and other activities, the Italians managed to provide material assistance and took immediate advantage of the opportunity presented, getting her and her children out of the country and into Italy where she was welcomed with all the fanfare she deserves, including a meeting with Pope Francis.

But there are other Christians throughout muslim lands who remain under threat of execution, abuse, confiscation of property, kidnapping, and other evils for the offense of being Christian.  Whatever the theory of western academic muslims may be, where ever it is practiced as the majority religion, Islam does not allow for other religions.  Christians and Jews have historically been low-priority targets, giving place to eastern religions (the Taliban destroyed a number of Buddha statues and severely persecuted Buddhist believers in Afghanistan prior to the US invasion in 2001), but where local animist and eastern religions aren't present, the second-class status of Christians and Jews quickly becomes no status at all.

How American leftists can support Palestinian muslim terrorists who oppress women, hide behind children when attacking their neighbors, execute homosexuals, and deny political and religious freedoms to all is beyond me.  Self-loathing must run very deep in some at least.

Senator Walsh's Plagiarism Is 79% of His Master's Thesis

A bit more on Senator Walsh's plagiarism.  It is not a small thing - a paragraph or two for which he just forgot to put in a citation.  It's over 3/4 of his paper that is copied from other people (hat tip: Jonah Goldberg over at NRO).

That's not PTSD and it's not an accident.  That's a guy looking at a looming deadline, realizing he's never going to make it if he sticks to legitimate methods, and deciding he's going to take a short-cut hoping nobody will notice.  Somebody noticed and now he's fishing for excuses while others try to say it was no big deal.  Would those same people claim it was no big deal if the person caught plagiarizing 79% of his Master's thesis were, say, Tom Cotton (Republican candidate for Senate in Arkansas and also a combat veteran)?  No friggin' way.  Look, for instance, at a brief treatment of Sen. Rand Paul's use of others' material without attribution in some speeches and columns - political speeches, not academic papers and a couple paragraphs, not 79% of the speech.  Note that I'm not defending Senator Paul, just pointing out how a left-wing news blog reported on the matter.

The bottom line is, Senator Walsh cheated.  He went for appearances at the expense of substance, denied himself, the Army, and his soldiers the benefits that would have come had he actually done the work required by the Army War College, and claimed for himself honors (the Master's degree) he did not deserve.

The Army War College doesn't think it's no big deal, by the way.  They've convened a board of inquiry.  If the tools used by the Missoula paper are correct, it is hard to see how that board could conclude anything other than plagiarism and initiate disciplinary action.  It is likely that action would be relatively minor (Walsh retired in 2012 so there's not much they can do to him) - little more than rescinding his degree.

What that indicates about his potential service as a senator is not good.  Whether that's a deal-breaker for the citizens of Montana or not remains to be seen.


Excuse du Jour - PTSD Made Me Do It

This is, to but it mildly, bogus.  PTSD made him plagiarize?  I'm sorry, but no.   

This is the kind of blatant nonsense that makes it difficult to identify and properly treat actual PTSD.  Yes, Senator Walsh was in combat, but that doesn't mean every mistake, every lie, every poor decision or bad judgment call for the rest of his life can be blamed on it.  It also furthers the notion that a person who has seen combat is morally unreliable forever, as if every returning veteran is just a hair's breadth from going postal.  It is insulting, demeaning excuse-making.

A battalion commander in combat will make decisions that put his men in harm's way - decisions that will in all probability result at least some of those men dying as Senator Walsh undoubtedly knows.  He led a Montana National Guard battalion in combat.  Stress, whether pre-, post-, or in the midst of trauma does not absolve one because it is precisely in such stress that a leader needs to be able to hold on to his moral compass.  If he doesn't, he's worse than worthless because not only will others still die, they will die to no purpose.

A senator will also have to face stress, too - at least if he's honest (something apparently dubious in Sen. Walsh's case).  It's not just a decision to spend or not spend money, start or not start some program.  The money isn't endless and Congress can't do everything, despite their delusions to the contrary.  This program or that program may mean the loss of somebody's business with all the lost jobs that entails.  With those lost jobs comes suffering and pain and may, if it's at the wrong time, mean somebody dies.  Yet there's the vote and, unlike Obama who preferred to just vote "present" rather than make a morally accountable decision when he was a senator, Montana's voters expect their senators to make a decision.  Lives hang on the balance of a senator's votes, however much they may try to hide from that responsibility in numbers, test votes, and shunting of regulations over to the executive branch.

So, if a little thing like the stress of the US Army War College is too much for him, causing him to surrender his morals and betray integrity, maybe he should give up this senate job, too.  Maybe he can find a nice, cushy gig as vice- something where he gets the prestige and the pay, but others have the actual responsibility.  Maybe that Lieutenant Governor job he used to have is still available.

Just Because We Hide the Price Doesn't Mean It's Free

Scandinavia is interesting.  Only Finland has accepted the Euro - Sweden, Denmark, and Norway all maintain their own currencies and given the mess surrounding the Euro, they are likely to continue on that path.

The people we met in Sweden, Finland, and Denmark all made a point of mentioning Norway's North Sea oil fields and with a tinge of jealousy telling us Norway is very rich.  All of them also made a big deal about "free" education through the university.  Shortly after that, though, we heard them complain about their taxes.

Take Sweden, then, as an example.  Social Security/Medicare in the US is set at 15.3% although most people only see half of that since the other half is called a "payroll tax" and paid by the employer without ever showing up on your pay stub.  Since the employer is figuring that as part of the cost of employment, it's really still part of your pay.  All of it is "payroll tax" in Sweden, and in 2008 it was over 30%.  Say you get 1,000 Swedish Kroner (SEK).  It costs your employer SEK 1,300 to pay you that.  In effect, you're paying 30% of your stated income as social security tax, but you see neither the income nor the tax on your pay stub.  What you will see, because it's taken out of your base pay, is a 7% pension "contribution."

The average income tax - state, municipal, and county - was 31% in 2008.  This is figuring in differences in marginal rates and differences among the municipalities.  So, out of that 1,000 Kroner on your pay stub, 380 is taken out for income tax and pension, leaving you with 620.  Figuring in the social security payroll tax, you're paying 680 - more than 50% - of your total SEK 1,300 to the government.

That's the average working stiff, not the super rich.

Then you pay a VAT, a Value Added Tax or what we would call a sales tax.  In Sweden, that's 25% on most things.  For food and housing, it's only 12%.  For books it's only 6%.  On gasoline, it's even higher (gas in Stockholm is about $6/gallon).

You've got a pay stub saying you made SEK 1,000, hiding the SEK 300 you're paying for social welfare programs.  You buy a modest SEK 300 for groceries (SEK 6 = USD 1, roughly), costing you another SEK 36 in taxes.  Buy a pair of pants for SEK 225 because the VAT on that will put the price up to SEK 281.25 (VAT 25% = 56.25), leaving you with SEK 2.75.  Given this little scenario, almost 60% of the SEK 1,300 your employer pays to have you work for him at your average job - SEK 772 - goes to the government.

That university education, in other words, is anything but free.  You're paying for it.  You're paying a lot for it - even if you never attend the university.  If a relatively small, homogeneous society (Sweden has only 9.5 million inhabitants, just a bit more than the population of New York City) chooses to live this way, it may well work for a time.  Those who think, however, that this is a useful model for the U.S. are fantasizing.

Hamas Uses Children as Human Shields, Israel Blamed

It's been a very nice couple weeks - for me and my wife, anyway.  Not so nice if you fly on Malaysian airliners or have family that does or if you go to a school where the Palestinian Authority is stashing rockets and other ammunition.

As always, the media is big on showing pictures of Palestinian casualties.  In previous conflicts, many of these were in fact staged for effect by the Palestinians and their media allies, but both then and now one cannot escape the fact that Palestinians have been killed by Israeli action.  And yet...

Palestinians routinely attack Israel using children and women as human shields, just as other muslim terrorist groups do.  Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah - pick your muslim group as you will and all of them intentionally place civilians and children in the crossfire hoping some of them get killed, and the more grisly the killing the better as it makes more gripping television.  And the TV cameras show it, too.  Endlessly.

Take the event that sort of kicked this latest imbroglio over - the murder of three Israeli teenagers by terrorists associated with Hamas.  Did the US media plaster their faces all over the place, decrying Hamas or even connecting them with the murders?  Did the US media show pictures of Hamas and other Palestinians celebrating the murders?  No.  Because some Israelis decided to take revenge on a random Palestinian youth, that got press coverage.  Even though the Israeli government immediately moved to identify, arrest, and prosecute the perpetrators, even though the Israeli government forcefully condemned the murder, even though there were no demonstrations of public support for the murderers, the media in the West used this murder to paint all of Israel.  

The murderers of Israeli infants, sleeping families, teenagers out on a Saturday night - these people are celebrated by the Palestinians.  They get streets and squares named after them.  They get parades.  And the western media ignores it.  They lob their rockets at schools, grocery stores, day care centers, hospitals.  That Israel is successful at defending themselves and don't deliberately let some daycare center get blown up so they can use the bloodied bodies of their children as a weapon against Hamas - this does not mitigate the moral evil of Hamas' intent in targeting.  The Israelis, on the other hand, consistently act to minimize children and other civilian casualties, often at great risk to themselves and in ways that mitigate the success of their operations.  That Hamas is occasionally successful in countering that and arranging to have civilians in the target areas - that does not mitigate the moral virtue of the Israelis' intent as they try to defend themselves justly.

But the emotions are stirred, just as the picture of a random starving child in Africa stirs emotions in some charity's advertisement.  Emotions motivate people to act far more stridently than do facts, logic, reason.  But emotions also stir people to act in ways that are often counter-productive, even harmful because the goal of the act is not actually helping.  The goal is instead merely comforting the emotional distress one feels.  We get to feel noble and charitable, but the real object of our compassion, nobility, and charity is not the suffering ones.  It is ourselves. 

So it is here.  Hamas knows that we aren't really interested in justice.  We just want to do something that will make us feel better in the face of those awful images on our televisions.  If we were interested in justice and righteousness, nobody would give Hamas the time of day and we would blame them, not the Israelis, for the deaths of their own children.  Hamas is "losing" if you look at this merely as a military operation.  But Hamas is winning in its efforts to further delegitimize Israel, demonize the Israeli people, and put political pressure on them.  Remember - Hamas is committed to the elimination of Israel and the killing of all Jews in muslim lands.  With the able assistance of western media - BBC, CNN, NBC, various print media, and so on - Hamas is winning the propaganda war.  That's why they've rejected the latest cease fire proposals.  They think the political gains they can make will trump any military gains Israel achieves.


Leaving the Country

I'm leaving the country.

Before the lefties who read this get too excited, I'm coming back.

But in the intervening two weeks, I intend to enjoy the Baltic Sea, Scandinavian capital cities, good food, and the company of my wife in an environment where I am more-or-less out of touch with current events, work, and pretty much anything else that might cause stress.

Vacation.  It's a wonderful concept.

I may post something in that time frame, but I wouldn't bet on it.  If you're looking for a broad-based conservative blog that is fairly eclectic, then National Review Online's Corner is my recommendation.

If you're looking for something thoughtful and more attuned to religious matters, Paul Vander Klay's blog is pretty good, although it does tend to be quite specific to the CRCNA.  Still, the CRC isn't the only US denomination dealing with issues, so it's more broadly applicable.

And there's always something worth reading to be found at Arts and Letters Daily.