Archives for: November 2015

They Obviously Don’t Know Who He Is

You got to hand to Obama, rules are for suckers. To make an “awesomeness” souffle you have to break a few eggs, or rules. Here is Obama in Paris at the Climate Summit, treating his host the same way he treats Congress and the American people;

No wonder all the world leaders thinks he is a stooge, who says he is not proud to be an American?

Colorado Again

We’re still learning the details, but some information has emerged on Friday’s shooting at a Planned Parenthood Clinic. It does appear that Planned Parenthood was the target but that no one was killed there because the patients and staff went behind a security door (abortion clinics have developed extensive security procedures since a wave of anti-abortion violence hit in the 90’s). Preliminary reports are that the shooter was talking about baby parts so this does not appear to have been a random attack.

A few little thoughts:

Democrats who are jumping on this to promote gun legislation can go to hell. Colorado has background checks and an assault weapons ban and it’s still not clear what weapons were used. I have lost patience with this business of milking every tragedy for their agenda.

Last week, we got a bunch of think pieces asking why Muslims always have to denounce jihadist violence. We’re already seeing those same outlets demanding that anti-abortion politicians and Christian organizations denounce this act of violence. Of course, many of them, including Mike Huckabee, already have.

Was this terrorism? Well, it wasn’t part of a mass organization to attack abortion clinics. But it is violence directed against innocent people to try to end abortion. So, yeah, I have no problem calling it terrorism.

There has been a recent uptick in attacks on abortion clinics. But, overall, violence directed against clinics and providers is way down from the late 90’s. Keep that in mind.

In keeping with my previous posts, I will not name the shooter. I will, however, name Garret Swasey, the police officer murdered by this lunatic.

Rethinking Wilson

Students at what Amy Alkon aptly describes as “nursery schools with beer” continue to issue demands. Walter Olson compiles the most outrageous ones and John McWhorter, who has some experience with racism, address the broader issue. But one weird thing that’s come up at Princeton is the demand to acknowledge the racist legacy of Woodrow Wilson and remove his name from some buildings.

This may seem odd to some of you. Wilson is frequently rated as one of our greatest Presidents by historians. And just a few years ago, beating up on Wilson was regarded as right wing lunacy by no less than the New York Times. This, despite, as Radley Balko points out, Wilson having an awful awful record on race, civil liberties and executive power:

He dishonestly led us into a pointless, costly, destructive war, and assumed control over huge sectors of the economy to wage it. He seized railroads, food and energy production, and implemented price controls.

He suppressed dissent and imprisoned war critics. Said Wilson, “Conformity will be the only virtue. And every man who refuses to conform will have to pay the penalty.” He signed the Espionage and Sedition Acts, the latter of which made it a criminal offense to “oppose the cause of the United States.” He retaliated against critical newspapers, and directed the U.S. Postal Service to stop delivering mail determined to be critical of the war effort.

Wilson not only continued existing racial segregation of federal government workers, he extended it.

He instituted the first military draft since the Civil War.

He signed the first federal drug prohibition.

He reinstituted the federal income tax.

A few more, from Gene Healy’s book, The Cult of the Presidency:

Wilson believed in an activist, imperialist presidency. In his 1909 book Constitutional Government, he made the case against checks and balances and the separation of powers. The government, Wilson argued, is a living organism, and “no living thing can have its organs offset against each other as checks, and live.”

He ordered unconstitutional, unilateral military interventions into Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico. (He also oversaw military interventions in Panama and Cuba, and instituted American-favored dictators throughout Latin America.)

Wilson believed God ordained him to be president, and acted accordingly, boasting to one friend in 1913 that “I have been smashing precedents almost daily every since I got here.” Every president since Jefferson had given the State of the Union in writing. Wilson reinstituted what Jefferson derided as the “speech from the Throne,” and ordered Congress assembled to hear him speak, giving rise to the embarrassing spectacle the SOTU has become today.

He oversaw a massive domestic spying program, and encouraged American citizens to report one another for subversion.

Healy’s book is very good, incidentally. Wilson is a central figure, with a detailed analysis of his early writings wherein Wilson detailed exactly what he through the President should be and exactly what he tried to make him: a monarch.

And the students are right on thing: Woodrow Wilson was racist, even by the standards of his time. He praised the Klan. He made numerous racist statements. He refused to do anything about lynching. He re-segregated the government, which meant black federal employees got demotions, pay cuts and, in at least one case, were put in literal cages so they wouldn’t interact with white people.

And yet … historians still talk about how great he was because he was progressive and “lead” us through World War I and tried to broker a reasonable peace after the war. That’s all fine and dandy. No President is uniformly awful. But, when you include everything, Wilson was a bad President. A really bad one.

I’ve talked before about the tendency of historians to love Presidents who start wars and crush liberty and look down on Presidents who provide simple competent leadership:

As Boaz notes, the historians favor guys who make for interesting history books. Roosevelt, who turned his back on the plight of European Jews, interred the Japanese, ignored race issues and prolonged the Depression, ranks his usual #1. Teddy Roosevelt, a “progressive” who abused his power, expanded government and slimed the nation of Panama into existence, ranks #2. I have no quibble with some of the others. But ranking the racist, free-speech crushing Woodrow Wilson at #8 is ridiculous. Andrew Jackson was a lunatic who defied the Court to send thousands of Indians to die on the Trail of Tears. But he’s ranked 14th.

The list of Presidents historians regard as great includes the over-rated Harry Truman, the racist Woodrow Wilson, the murderous Andrew Jackson and the “OK, but what did he actually do?” JFK. Meanwhile, Presidents who expanded freedom, kept us out of wars and basically did their jobs are regarded as, at best, mediocre. Cleveland, Clinton, Harding, Coolidge, Bush I … these guys have generally been regarded as “meh” (although Reagan and Clinton have moved up in recent years). I had issues with Clinton and his accomplishments were mainly a result of having a Republican Congress. But ranking him below Wilson and Jackson is ridiculous. Say what you want about Clinton. He wasn’t a genocidal maniac or an unapologetic racist.

Returning to Wilson, let’s contrast him with his successor, Warren Harding, generally rated as one of the worst Presidents of all time. Warren G. Harding cleaned up much of the mess Wilson had left after the end of World War I, presided over an important arms reduction treaty, repaired some of the diplomatic damage Wilson had done in South America, cut taxes, embraced aviation and radio, promoted anti-lynching legislation and racial equality, released Wilson’s political prisoners and made solid SCOTUS appointments. The result was one of the most peaceful and prosperous decades in American history. He also increased tariffs, restricted immigration and had huge problems with corruption, so it wasn’t all roses. But, on balance, that’s a decent record and way better than Wilson or Jackson. He was very popular when he was in office and mourned around the world when he died. But historians literally regard him as the worst President of all time because of the corruption and his infidelities, problems that don’t seem to bother historians when they consider Clinton or Kennedy or Johnson.

In the end, I think historians tend to rate President by how interesting the books about them are. This goes double for any power-hungry President that Doris Kearns Goodwin has written an overlong (and possibly plagiarized) slavering hagiography of. This is one of the reasons I expect historians to start regarding Bush II in a better light one day. Historically, he’s the kind of liberty-crushing incompetent bumbler they like to write books about.

As for the Princeton business … I’m reluctant to whitewash history. However awful a President Wilson was, he was still a President and still played a huge role in making Princeton a premier institution. I’m fine with acknowledging his awful racist legacy. I’m less fine with pretending he never existed.

Turkeys and Drumsticks 2015

For eight years running, I have taken advantage of the Thanksgiving Holiday to give out my awards for Turkey of the Year and Golden Drumsticks. The latter are for those who exemplify the best traits in our public sphere. The former are for those who exemplify silliness and stupidity. I rarely give them out to someone who is evil; they are reserved for those who regularly make me shake my head and wonder what they’re thinking. It’s a sort of “thank you” for making blogging easier.

We’ll start with the Turkeys of the Year. For reference, the past winners are:

2007: Alberto Gonzalez, Nancy Pelosi, Hugo Chavez

2008: Sarah Palin, Sarah Palin’s critics, Hillary Clinton, Congress, Joe Biden

2009: Mike Steele, Glen Beck, the State Department, Sarah Palin, Andrew Sullivan.

2010: Janet Napolitano and TSA, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, MSNBC, Lower Merion Schools, California Voters.

2011: Nancy Pelosi, Republican Presidential Field, Occupy Wall Street, Anthony Weiner, the Eurozone.

2012: The Culture Warriors, Unions, The Poll Unskewers, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, MSNBC

2013: Healthcare.gov, the Platinum Coin, the Shutdown Caucus, the National Park Service, Fiscal Cliff Panic Mongers.

2014: Jonathan Gruber, Lamenting Democrats, Barack Obama, Jim Ardis, Paul Krugman

For This Year:

The Presidential Field: Here are your candidates for 2016:

On the Democratic side, a 68-year old political insider with a 30-year track record of deception, vindictiveness and blame evasion, running on her record of having unleashed chaos in Iraq, Syria and Libya. Then there’s the 74-year-old socialist, rejected because his views on gun control are insufficiently pure. Then there’s the “young” guy running on his horrible track record as mayor of a failed city and governor of a failed state. And, because things weren’t surreal enough, there was the former senator who looked like he’d gotten baked on his yacht and accidentally wandered into a Presidential debate.

On the Republican side, you have the reality TV show star with narcissistic personality disorder who has an iffy relationship with the truth and seems determined to insult every demographic he can. You have the brilliant brain surgeon who is clueless on policy and has crackpot ideas about history. You have the asshole Texas senator. You have the President of a nearly collapsed company running on her record as a businesswoman. You have the worst Bush yet, somehow managing to piss away the complete support of the establishment. And then you have a bunch of little guys vying to get 3% support so they can stay in the big debate.

Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Coolidge, Reagan, Bush I … and one of these guys. Ay, caramba.

So far, the only ones who impressed me are Webb and Rubio (see below). One is out and the other is still in fourth place.

College Students: Have you guys seen Life of Brian? In that movie, the anti-Roman guerrillas spend way more time fighting each other than fighting the Romans. This was modeled on 1970’s left-wing radical who hated the government but hated each other more for “splitting” the movement and being insufficiently ideologically pure. This process is happening with political correctness as they slowly turn on each other.

Think of what we’ve been seeing. Who are college students forcing out of positions of power? Who are they screaming at in public squares? Who are they banning from bringing cameras into their “safe spaces”? This ire is directed against people who agree with them on 95% of the issues. Occasionally, there are real issues. But all too much of the anger is because lectures on European history are too European, because there aren’t enough tenured professors of women’s studies, because someone suggested, maybe, that it wasn’t the university’s job to tell grown men and women what Halloween costumes to wear.

Previous generations of college students protested against wars, against vicious racism and against in loco parentis. This generation is protesting against offenses so trivial they are literally called “microgggressions”.

The Election Media: It’s a little under a year until the election and I’m already exhausted. They’ve pronounced Trump dead at least eight times. They’re bending over backward to not criticize Clinton. And they’re doing nothing to illuminate the issues with their focus on the horse race.

Rolling Stone: Last year, they published a horrifying tale of a campus rape that turned out to be a fiction. The blame laid squarely on them. They didn’t bother to call the fraternity in question. They didn’t bother to talk to the supposed victim’s friends. They didn’t bother to read the rather famous (in Charlottesville) book about a rape that the victim took her story from. That’s horrible. What moves them into mockery land is their refusal to take responsibility. No one was fired. They blamed it on the victim for being a good liar. And now they’re being sued for millions.

(And it would seem the lesson has not been learned. The Hunting Ground, a new and much-praised, documentary about campus rape, has an equally problematic relationship with the truth.)

Barack Obama: He pronounced ISIS contained days before they attacked Paris. His Obamacare is seeing double-digit rate increases and companies leaving because they’re hemorrhaging money. His Iran deal is … dubious. The Democratic nominees are trying to pretend that Republicans have secretly been President for the last eight years. His attempts to gin up support for Syrian refugees infuriated half the country.

Maybe he needs to appear between two ferns again.

Dishonorable Mention: Kim Davis, Jeremy Corbyn, Vox, Everytown USA, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Vox, Bill deBlasio, the NFL, the anti-vaxxers, Sepp Blatter, Greece, Volkswagen, Putin.

Now the Golden Drumsticks, awarded to those who best exemplified what is right with the world. Here are the past awards, the first round from West Virginia Rebel.

2007: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ron Paul, Barack Obama, David Petraeus, Juan Carlos, Burma’s monks

2008: US Military, Jeff Flake, Ron Paul, Republican Governors, Barack Obama

2009: The American Fighting Man, Kimberly Munley and Mark Todd, George W. Bush

2010: The Tea Party, Chris Christie, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, the Next Wave of Republicans, David Cameron and Nick Clegg, The American Soldiers

2011: Seal Team Six, Mark Kelly, The Arab Spring, the Technicians at Fukushima

2012: Down Ballots, The Sandy Responders, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, Mathew Inman

2013: Francis I, Edward Snowden, Rand Paul, The American Military, The Institute for Justice

2014: Ebola Responders, Francis I, Rand Paul, David Brat, The Supreme Court

For 2015:

New Horizons and Dawn: It was another banner year for science, headlined by New Horizons stunning visit to Pluto and Dawn‘s visit to Ceres. The Philae lander also revived and began providing more data from a sublimating comet. In other science news, rubella has been rendered extinct in North America and polio is on the run.

Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler: These are the three men who stopped a would-be terrorist on a French train. Stone came home … where he got stabbed protecting a friend. As Charles Cooke said, we’re a few news cycles away from finding out this guy is Batman.

Amnesty International: In the face of withering criticism and a rising intense moral panic about sex trafficking, they did the right thing: called for the complete decriminalization of sex work for both providers and clients.

Video and Body Cameras: There are legitimate civil liberties concerns when it comes to cops always carrying cameras on them, especially with our culture’s tendency to exploit and shame people doing things on tape. But they are making a huge difference. They not only show when cops do bad things (such as recent horrific shootings in Chicago and Marksville), they exonerate cops who’ve been falsely accused of brutality or sexual harassment. For cities that have implemented them, complaints about police brutality and abuse are way down, both because cops are acting better and because people find it harder to make false claims. There are still issue to work out about when and how footage becomes public. But I think this is a big help on the way to criminal justice reform.

The Non-Crazy Presidential Candidates: Marco Rubio may not get the nomination and Rand Paul definitely won’t. But they’ve injected some much-needed sanity and real debate into the Republican primary. Jim Webb gets a shout-out here too for trying (and failing) to find a moderate stream of Democrat.

Honorable Mention: USA women’s soccer team, the American military, France, Francis I.

Put your nominees in the comments. And have a great Thanksgiving.

Thankful Vittles

Over the years I have written many Thanksgiving posts, with two primary themes. The first being how the Pilgrims, initially believing that communism, a pooling of resources and labor, would best fit their needs. On the brink of starvation and ruination, they changed course and tried a little free market capitalism;

The most able and fit young men in Plymouth thought it an “injustice” that they were paid the same as those “not able to do a quarter the other could.” Women, meanwhile, viewed the communal chores they were required to perform for others as a form of “slavery.”

On the brink of extermination, the Colony’s leaders changed course and allotted a parcel of land to each settler, hoping the private ownership of farmland would encourage self-sufficiency and lead to the cultivation of more corn and other foodstuffs.

As Adam Smith would have predicted, this new system worked famously. “This had very good success,” Bradford reported, “for it made all hands very industrious.” In fact, “much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been” and productivity increased. “Women,” for example, “went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn.”

And so it began.

The other theme had to do with George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation, this symbiotic existence of religion and politics separates us as a nation and one of the things I believe make us great;

In setting aside a day for Thanksgiving, Washington established a non-sectarian tone for these devotions and stressed political, moral, and intellectual blessings that make self-government possible, in addition to personal and national repentance. Although the First Amendment prevents Congress from establishing a religion or prohibiting its free exercise, Presidents, as well as Congress, have always recognized the American regard for sacred practices and beliefs. Thus, throughout American history, Presidents have offered non-sectarian prayers for the victory of the military and in the wake of catastrophes. Transcending passionate quarrels over the proper role of religion in politics, the Thanksgiving Proclamation reminds us how natural their relationship has been. While church and state are separate, religion and politics, in their American refinement, prop each other up.

Today, although just as thankful for my good health, wealth, and prosperity, I want to focus on food and what’s on your dinner table.

If your family is like mine, certain foods are reserved for Thanksgiving that we don’t eat at other times, making them traditional. For the last 10 years or so I BBQ my turkey in a Weber. If the entire bird is covered in mayo, to sear the outside keeping in all the juices, it is just as juicy and tasty as the deep fried birds, another good way to cook it. I used to experiment with different smokes (fruit woods, hickory, pecan, even birch) I have found that the smokey taste of contained heat works just fine. I make a sausage stuffing, with an apple/hazelnut a close second. My wife makes a shredded potato dish with cheddar/chives/sour cream and a fruit salad straight out of hand written recipe book from my mom, stuff I have never seen anywhere, you should taste her Christmas cookies. And pies (pecan and mince meat) from a local bakery that has been around for about a hundred years. My uncle was raised in the same town as the Duck Dynasty family, his mom created her own recipe for Louisiana pecan pie, I was hooked and never looked back.

So that’s my Thanksgiving, you got anything to stand up to that?

The Donald’s Imagination

The longer this goes on, the more I think that Donald Trump’s candidacy is designed specifically to wreck the Republican Party and get Hillary elected. Either that, or this is a big publicity game to him. Either way, I’m rapidly losing patience with it.

This week, fresh off saying that we should be surveilling mosques and maintaining a database on Muslims, Donald Trump made the assertion — one he has since repeated — that thousands of American Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the fall of the Twin Towers.

First things first. This claim is totally false. The Trumpeteers have fixated on a paragraph from an old WaPo story that described the FBI investigating reports of people celebrating 9/11. But nothing came of that and there certainly weren’t thousands of people dancing in the streets. And it certainly wasn’t on television. You can read Kessler’s long article where he responds to various conspiracy theorists and Trumpeteers claiming that no, this totally happened. But it didn’t. Had Americans been celebrating 9/11, it would have been front page news, not buried in some obscure MTV broadcast or the 15th paragraph of a WaPo story or whispered by someone who knows someone who saw it. The objections are rapidly settling into “no Jews were in the Twin Towers” territory.

But … that’s really beside the point. The point of Trump’s statement is not whether American Muslims celebrated 9/11 or not. The point is that Trump, since the Paris attacks, has been blowing a dog whistle.

Let’s take a step back…

In the 1960 Presidential race, John F. Kennedy was only the second Catholic to ever run for President and the first to be elected. During the campaign and after his election, there were people who openly said that being Catholic meant his loyalty was to the Vatican, not to the United States (this for a man who fought in World War II and acted with genuine valor when his torpedo boat was sunk). Numerous religious organizations opposed Kennedy for this reason and it probably cost him hundreds of thousands of votes. Nixon, to his credit, decided to leave the religious issue alone. But it was garbage. Catholics have long proven to be just as loyal to the United States as anyone else.

As a Jew, I grew up having my loyalty to the United States questioned. Jews, I was told, were loyal to Israel not the United States. People told me this to my face. People said this about my family (which included my father, an Air Force Colonel who stayed in the reserves until they tore the uniform off his back). This clamor grew loudest when the traitor Jonathan Pollard was caught. But it was still garbage.

Similar but less intense bigotry surfaced in 2008 when Mitt Romney looked like he might become the first Mormon presidential candidate. His loyalty wasn’t questioned, but people openly mocked his religion and questioned his sanity regarding the so-called “magic underwear”. Thankfully, by 2012, this has calmed down. But there were decades when Mormons were seen as “the other”, a crazy cult that would do God-knows-what if they ever got power.

Donald Trump is simply continuing this long and disgraceful legacy of questioning the loyalty of a religious minority. This isn’t about facts; it’s about saying, over and over again, that Muslims are fundamentally disloyal to the United States and can’t be trusted. In doing so, he is wading directly into racially charged waters and appealing to a very ugly element of our society. This manifested over the weekend when he retweeted bogus and racist crime stats sent to him by an admitted neoNazi.

It was not American Muslims who attacked us on 9/11 (in fact, a few dozen Muslims died when the towers fell). It was not an American Muslim who tried to detonate a bomb in his shoe or in his underwear. It was an American Muslims who definitively proved that Al-Qaeda has caused 9/11. And we have seen thousands of Muslims serve our country with honor and many die fighting the War on Terror.

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Now, it was an American Muslim who murdered 13 people at Fort Hood. It was an American Muslims who tried to bomb Times Square (and it was also one who alerted the police to the danger). There’s certainly a case to be made for keeping an eye on radicals. But over the past 25 years, we have lost way more people to crazed “right wing” terrorists (Oklahoma City) or white supremacists (Charleston) or our own damned government (Waco) than we have to American Muslims.

As I noted in a previous post, George W. Bush was very careful, after 9/11, to walk the line of denouncing extremism while not casting aspersions upon American Muslims. It was walking that narrow line that allowed him to be as effective as he was in destroying radical terrorists. It’s a pity to see the Republican front-runner abandon this. Because, in the end, it’s not only bad for the War on Terror, it’s bad for the Republican Party. People won’t forget that, at a tense time, Donald Trump was perfectly willing to play to bigotry and prejudice.

But … if his goal is to pave the way for Clinton, it suddenly all makes sense, doesn’t it?

Clearing out the Tabs

A few things I don’t have time for a full post on:

Talking Turkey

Query: am I the only person in American who doesn’t have shouting political discussions at Thanksgiving? Passover, sure. When I was a kid, it wasn’t a real Passover until my Reagan Republican dad and his Roosevelt Democrat parents started talking about whether Walter Mondale was an idiot, a kook or a kooky idiot. But Thanksgiving?

The reason I ask this is that every liberal outlet on the planet is putting up some thinkpiece about “how to argue with your conservative relatives at Thanksgiving”. I’ve got news for liberals. If you’re constantly arguing politics over turkey, the problem is not them; it’s you.

Talking Turkeyshit

As you know, I’m in favor of admitting Syrian refugees, given proper vetting. But my own side is beginning to annoy the crap out of me with ever more ridiculous arguments. Viz:

Guns, Guns, Guns:

The Democrats have proposed that we ban gun sales to people who are on the terror watch list. Charles CW Cooke responds, pointing out that the terror list is an ad-hoc conglomeration of data, rumor and myth. No less than the ACLU oppose using it for … anything. There are hundreds of thousands of people on it for arbitrary or unknown reasons. And it’s hard to get off of it. And now the Democrats want to deprive citizens of a constitutional right based one it.

In times past, officials advocating the simultaneous undermining of a range of constitutional rights would have been tarred, feathered, and dumped into the sea, along with their staff, their press agents, and anyone else who saw fit to acquiesce in the scheme. A little of that spirit might be welcome here.

However the press might cast it, there are not in fact “two sides” to this issue. It is not a “tricky question.” It is not a “thorny one” or a “gray area” or a “difficult choice.” It is tyranny. Somewhere, deep down, its advocates must know this. Presumably, Chuck Schumer would not submit that those on a terror watch list should be deprived of their right to speak? Presumably, Harry Reid would not contend that they must be kept away from their mosques? Presumably, Diane Feinstein would not argue that they should be subjected to warrantless searches and seizures? Such proposals would properly be considered disgraceful — perhaps, even, as an overture to American fascism. Alas, there is something about guns that causes otherwise reasonable people to lose their minds.

As Cooke points out, people would go ape if we talked about suspending first Amendment rights for a million people because their name is on a list. The problem is that Democrats don’t see the Second Amendment as a fundamental civil liberty.

You should read the whole thing. It’a an awesome rant.

(And I’m working on Turkeys and Drumsticks post. A lot of Turkeys this year. Hard to sort them out.)

What An Effing Mess

Bring up Syria, anywhere, and some predictable responses take place. If its a millennial, Syria is either that commune outside of Newfoundland, or a heavy metal band from Oslo, then a quick subject change as to why they are not going to pay back their student loans, so there. Some on the right want the B-1’s called in, while some on the left want open borders, a flower in one hand and a welfare check in the other. But most all folks will admit one thing, it’s complicated.

I found a short video over on Vox that sums up the whole mess quite nicely;

As if things were not bad enough, Turkey downs a Russian jet who it accuses of violating it’s sovereign air space (I thought borders and border enforcement was passe). Then the Syrian rebels down a rescue Russian helicopter with an American made TOW missile.

As much as I despise the bleeding heart leftest, those unwilling to even label Radical Islam as such, thinking either a big hug is what unhappy Muslims need, or attacking the real root cause-global warming, those bomb happy send in the Marines from the right are also annoying.

Although not be design, the chicken hearted world citizen of a president we have and his penchant for inaction down to a fine science is probably just what was needed in an area of the world where no one has the moral high ground. No, not the part about total retreat out of Iraq against the advise of ALL of his military advisers, or the phony bologna red line over chemical weapons, or even his watered down bombing campaign , but if the ME has taught us anything over the years, it is that rushing in before the dust settles in never a good idea.

Sunnis vs. Shia, Muslims vs. everyone else, then throwing in oil money to put the conflict on a world stage, not to mention a major player just getting permission to expand and export it’s nuclear technology, holy smokes, what a mess.

Maybe because I see no really good solutions I have little patience for those that project supreme confidence in solving the problem over night. Where before I had Pat Buchanan whispering in my ear ,”It’s their problem, stay away and don’t get sucked in”, now we have some major players involved and taking sides. So much for American leadership in the world projecting an image of justice for other nations too small to stand up for themselves.

Here is where I stand now. I am tired of reading stories about $50 million dollars spent to train 5 freedom fighters. I am tired of Russia telling us to stand down because they want to bomb some of our allies that particular day. I am tired of my president being so detached that 6 hours before the Paris attack he was patting himself on the back with statements of ISIS is contained. If somehow a coalition of the willing can be brought together (maybe the next president, this guy couldn’t organize a two-car parade) where many nations are 1) supplying troops and 2) fitting the bill, I am certainly interested. Holland, a side from being a socialist, seems like a stand up guy with stones enough to get it going. We know Obama will never lead, but maybe he can be persuaded to follow with others.

Wither the Refugees

One of the biggest issues to emerge after the terror attacks in Paris is what we should be doing about the Syrian refugee crisis. This might seem odd, given that none of the attackers were Syrian nor were any of them refugees. But, as is often the case, a tragedy is serving as a springboard for another issue (see my post on encryption). It may reach a head this week as the House voted overwhelmingly to pause the refugees program despite angry veto threats from the President. And many governors have refused to allow refugees to be settled in their states (it’s not clear that they have such power, however).

There’s a lot to unpack here so pull up a chair.

First, I agree with many of the critics that the fear of refugees is out of proportion to the danger they represent. You can read a number of articles going through the basics. Bottom line:

Of the 859,629 refugees admitted from 2001 onwards, only three have been convicted of planning terrorist attacks on targets outside of the United States, and none was successfully carried out. That is one terrorism-planning conviction for every 286,543 refugees that have been admitted. To put that in perspective, about 1 in every 22,541 Americans committed murder in 2014. The terrorist threat from Syrian refugees in the United States is hyperbolically over-exaggerated and we have very little to fear from them because the refugee vetting system is so thorough.

You should also check out this debunking of various myths about the Syrian refugees including the myth that Middle Eastern countries aren’t taking them in (they’ve taken in about 5 million) and that most of the refugees are military-age men (they aren’t). It also goes a bit into our vetting process, which is a very thorough year-long process that requires refugees to detail and document everything about their lives. You can’t just show up at the border with a torn-up robe and get in.

That having been said, I don’t think the concern about refugees is completely irrational. We have had incidents where potential terrorists have gotten into this country. The Obama Administration itself suspended its Iraqi refugee program for six months due to vetting concerns. I don’t think people are opposing refugees because they are uncaring racists cowering in fear and horror from three-year-old orphans. There’s nothing irrational about not wanting to die at the hands of a terrorist.

Indeed, as pointed out by Megan McArdle, who favors admitting more refugees, the arguments being raised by the pro-refugees side are not only terrible, they’re almost designed to rile up the opposition:

Perfectly reasonable people are worried that a small number of terrorists could pretend to be refugees in order to get into the U.S. for an attack. One response to these reasonable people has been: “How dare you say people fleeing terrorism are terrorists!” This is deeply silly. Obama administration officials have admitted that they can’t be sure of screening terrorists out from asylum seekers.

Obama, to put it mildly, has been acting like a world class shit. Instead of trying to work with his opponents and assuage their entirely reasonable concerns, he’s hectoring them, accusing them of cowardice and bigotry. That’s sure to play well with liberals, who’ve long wanted that sort of tone. It’s sure to rally people to support Clinton. But it is not going to persuade anyone. When was the last time, “you’re a coward and a bigot!” was met with the response of, “Oh, yeah, you’re right.”?

And frankly, I’m getting a little tired of being lectured about what we should be afraid of from a man who lives in a big house surrounded by an iron fence and a cadre of heavily armed, if not always sober, Secret Service agents. It’s incredibly condescending. In fact, Obama’s arguments are so bad and so designed to stiffen the opposition, I’m actually wondering if that’s the point. I’m wondering if Obama wants to suspend the refugee program but wants to blame Republican racism for it.

(Probably my least favorite argument in favor of the refugees? That blocking them is “what ISIS wants”. This is an argument I find it both glib and extremely weak. “What ISIS wants”, even presuming we know what they want, is kind of irrelevant. We need to do what’s appropriate, whether they want it or not. Japan wanted a war with us when they bombed Pearl Harbor. It didn’t work out too well for them.)

A few people have proposed a compromise where we only accept Christian refugees. Putting aside other concerns, I find this to be an odd proposition. Do they think that terrorists will fake passports, murder people, blow themselves up … but draw the line at pretending to be Christian?

What do I think? I think, with proper vetting, we should be admitting refugees. Not hundreds of thousands, but a significant number. Stopping the flow of refugees to stop terrorists is like burning down your house because you saw a cockroach. There are millions of Syrian refugees, hundreds of thousands of whom have gone to Europe specifically and we have … so far … no terrorist attacks involving them.

The 9/11 hijackers were not refugees. The undie bomber wasn’t. The Fort Hood shooter wasn’t. The shoe bomber wasn’t. The Tsarnaev brothers were immigrants but were not technically refugees and, in any case, were not sleeper agents but were radicalized right here in the United States.

Refusing refugees because of Paris will cause suffering for thousands and is unlikely to prevent any terrorist attacks. We are much better off focusing our efforts on electronic and human intelligence. We are much better of tracking radicals and attacking ISIS at its source.

The gripping hand is that I am loathe to make rash decisions in the immediate aftermath of a horrible tragedy. That’s how we get things like the Patriot Act. I think it’s entirely appropriate to demand rigorous screening of refugees. I think it’s entirely appropriate to keep an eye on them. I think we may make accepting them conditional on returning once the situation has improved (if it ever does). And I don’t think it’s beyond the pale to suspend refugee admissions until we’re clear that all of the above has been done.

So, for right now, I’m sort with the Republicans on this. But long term, I do think we have something of a moral obligation here. We did, after all, create this problem. By toppling Saddam, then by leaving, then by letting ISIS wax, then by throwing in against Assad. We unleashed this chaos. And I think we have some culpability in cleaning up the mess.

The Food Stamp Gambit

Recently, at one of Sal 11000 Beta’s events, we were asked to engage in an activity. We were told that the average food stamp benefit was about $150 per person per month, which works out to about $6 per meal for a family of four. We were then given a newspaper ad for a grocery store and asked if we could feed a family of four on a food stamp benefit. This is apparently a big thing now in social justice circles.

Of course, the food stamp benefit is supposed to be supplementary. You’re not usually required to feed a family on just that. For most of the poor, they have some additional cash they can devote to food.

But even with that, the exercise completely backfired. It didn’t persuade me that you couldn’t feed a family on food stamps; it persuaded me that you could. It became immediately obvious that if you bought food in bulk and concentrated on staples that $6 per meal was adequate. Granted, you couldn’t afford luxuries like deserts or soda. But, to paraphrase O’Rourke, the biblical injunction is to feed the hungry, not wine and dine them.

This shouldn’t have surprised me. We feed my family of four for about $800 a month and that’s with only some basic economization and a few luxuries. And one of the biggest problems the poor have right now is obesity, not hunger.

(The latter problem has been a problem for people saying we need to increase anti-poverty spending. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to argue that tens of millions of Americans are going hungry when obesity rates are highest among the poor. What they talk about now is “food insecurity”, or the stress of not being sure that they’ll have enough money/benefits to go around. That’s shifting the goal posts a bit.)

When faced with this, the social justice crowd turns the tables and says that, since luxury foods are a rare treat for food stamp families (as they should be) the real problem is “shaming” of people who buy them on food stamps.

Look, I think the current efforts to restrict food stamps so people can’t buy things like soda are a bit misguided. But it’s not ridiculous for the public to get a little up in arms about what is being bought on their dime. Food stamps are intended to keep people from going hungry, not to replace the food budget or create the kind of “food security” that comes with working. And while poor people shouldn’t be humiliated, being on the public’s dime should be associate with at least a little bit of shame. Shame is not a bad thing; it’s often what motivates people to do better. I know people who’ve spent some time on food stamps … middle class people who lost jobs or had some other crisis like a divorce. They did what was necessary but they also got off them as soon as they could. Why is that a bad thing?

Telling people there’s nothing wrong with being on food stamps or any other form of welfare has been a growing emphasis on the Left. But this doesn’t “empower” the poor; it disempowers them by asserting that they have no control over their life and no choice but to be on the dole.