Archive for April, 2007

Words mean things

James Jay Carafano talks about the War of words and how Congress is misusing words in a way that puts politics over country.

Case in point: The House Armed Services Committee recently ruled that the phrase “the long war” cannot be used in writing the annual defense authorization bill. Committee leaders claim they want the language of the law to be more precise. If that is truly what they want — that is, if this wasn’t about scoring political points — then maybe they don’t understand what the war on terrorism is all about.

Acknowledging that America is waging a long war is essential. It must be recognized to ensure this nation takes the right steps to win. It’s just as important as when we called the Cold War “cold,” which helped Americans understand we couldn’t defeat the Soviet empire through direct military confrontation.

When Congress tries to call a particular war by the wrong name, it risks losing sight of what needs to be done.

The House Armed Services Committee appears to be guilty of the criticism so often made of the administration — hubris, or overweening self-confidence in its own beliefs.

It is hubris to think it is all about us, to believe if we just change the words, elect new leaders, or adopt “smarter” policies that America will automatically triumph. It takes a humble and realistic leadership to admit that the fight is tough — that the war will, in fact, be a “long” one — because the enemy is determined.

Simply changing words won’t change the war’s nature. Changing words substitutes rhetoric for substance and sound strategic thinking. Congress can do better.

Twisting or misusing words is a propaganda technique, and not an honest one. It is also a denial technique – a means whereby someone can avoid facing an unpleasant reality. Neither of these two models makes for effective governance.

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Compare and contrast

William Kristol contrasts the words of McCain v. Reid in This isn’t just about politics. The question, the hard question, is a value judgment. Which of these two is healthier for the country? Which is looking forward and considering the entire nation? Which is the more base and geared towards greed and power?

Compare

“We, who are willing to support this new strategy, and give General Petraeus the time and support he needs, have chosen a hard road. But it is the right road. It is necessary and just. Democrats, who deny our soldiers the means to prevent an American defeat, have chosen another road. It may appear to be the easier course of action, but it is a much more reckless one, and it does them no credit even if it gives them an advantage in the next election. This is an historic choice, with ramifications for Americans not even born yet. Let’s put aside for a moment the small politics of the day. The judgment of history should be the approval we seek, not the temporary favor of the latest public opinion poll.” – Sen. John McCain (R-Az.), speaking at the Virginia Military Institute, April 11, 2007

to

“We’re going to pick up Senate seats as a result of this war. Senator Schumer has shown me numbers that are compelling and astounding.” – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), speaking to reporters, April 12, 2007

and

“This war is lost.” – Reid, April 19, 2007

The question is about the kind of country its citizens think the U.S. really is. Is the cause, the values of freedom and liberty that define the U.S., worth any effort? Do we value winning seats and defeating political opponents or defeating terror and oppression? Do we value keeping our commitments and our word or do we abandon those who depended upon what we said yesterday?

Now we are at a moment of truth. There is McCain’s way, a way of difficulty and honor. There is Reid’s way, a way of political expediency and dishonor. McCain may lose the political battle at home, and the U.S. may ultimately lose in Iraq. But some of us will always be proud, at this moment of choice, to have stood with McCain, and our soldiers, and our country.

Some only see the cost while others see what is being purchased. Some only see mayhem and have no concept of honor. Some only live for today and have no concept of what today’s action will do on the morrow.

You will make the choice and are making the choice. Where is your horizon?

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Why worry

Dr. Sanity describes the urge to understand odd behavior. A part of this urge is to just understand, create a model, for what we see. Another part is to be able to anticipate trouble. Critical to this is the realization that people grow and change and solve emotional troubles over time. They may start with solutions that are “immature” and dangerous if they do not change to more productive and effective or “mature” means of dealing with reality.

Some defenses may be considered “immature” or even completely out of touch with reality; while others are “mature”. This is not necessarily a value judgement, since it only reflects the fact that throughout development from childhood to adulthood; certain psychological strategies are generally discarded in favor of healthier and more effective strategies. The difference between the two types–mature and immature–is that the psychotic and immature defenses may cause considerable human misery and are, in the long run, not particularly adaptive or healthy. In some cases, they can even distort or warp reality to such an extent, that the person using the defense puts his life (and possibly others lives) at stake.

This is a very high price to pay to avoid a reality that is unpleasant or unacceptable.

Thus, when I see the predominance of “immature” strategies (e.g. projection, fantasy, acting out)–and/or some of the more primitive and potentially psychotic strategies (denial, distortion, paranoia)–being used by supposedly grownup adults, I begin to look around for explanations of their conduct that are not being acknowledged.

When I observe such strategies being used by large groups or even nations, I cringe; because the liklihood of a large number of deaths and considerable human misery is an almost inevitable outcome.

Often what another does to deal with reality isn’t of any concern to us. At other times, their efforts to cope impinge on us. This can either be by a tragedy such as the recent run Amok or the Venezuelan decent into delegating basic civic responsibilities – both extreme cases to illustrate just how far and how disastrous it can go.

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News of the day

Sen Reid has declared the Iraq war as lost and offered a psychoanalysis of the President with advice to fix the problem by turning tail and letting the terrorists have their way. Here is what happened the last time we saw this sort of behavior:

The following year, after Mr. Fulbright’s political allies in Congress cut off U.S. support for South Vietnam, the government there collapsed. What followed in South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos was catastrophic. Hundreds of thousands in South Vietnam were murdered or imprisoned in slave-labor camps, and the Khmer Rouge killed nearly 1.7 million people in Cambodia in one of the worst examples of genocide in modern times. The only thing standing between Iraq and a similar disaster today are the 150,000 U.S. troops and their coalition allies. If Mr. Reid and his allies are successful in prematurely aborting the mission in Iraq, no one should be surprised if the resulting bloodbath is much worse than what took place three decades ago in Indochina.

Harold C. Hutchison, on Strategy Page, points out how Sen Leahy and friends are supporting terror by freezing funds and otherwise obstructing anti-terror efforts – this again in Cambodia as a reminder that the cut and run efforts of the past didn’t solve much of anything.

The human rights groups and those in Congress who support their agenda have once again shown that they have more concern about terrorists and their support networks than they do about the people that FARC and ELN kill, kidnap, or maim. This is despite the fact that for years, the State Department has considered FARC and ELN terrorist groups. This means the war in Colombia will go on longer, with more casualties.

Sen. Clinton worries about things swept under the Oval Office Rug while a good rundown of things the present administration encountered there can be found in an open thread at JustOneMinute. The amount of effort involved in the last few years to replicate the problems of the previous administration has been incredible in many ways such as its vigor, its nastiness, and its lack of result.

Mark Steyn gets on the gun-o-phobia problem in False posturing and real threats

I think we have a problem in our culture not with “realistic weapons” but with being realistic about reality.

and Ms. Brazile provides a counterpoint in A real check on firearms which makes Steyn’s point about reality a bit more poignant.

Before the anti-gun-control pundits start spouting boilerplate rhetoric, know this: I am a firm believer in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which allows us to own a firearm, but I also am a strong supporter of common-sense gun control laws that keep firearms out of the hands of minors, criminals, undocumented workers and mentally unstable persons.

That, perhaps, is why Dr. Williams thinks Using the ignorant is a problem.

So many Americans graduate high school and college having learned what to think as opposed to acquiring the tools of critical, independent thinking. Likewise, they have learned little about our nation’s history. As such, they fall prey to the rhetoric of political charlatans and quacks.

The problem, of course, is that no one thinks they are ignorant or that their opinions or perception of reality might have some problems. It is the other guy that needs an education. Maybe this is telling us something.

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What the? how do you understand the ‘opposition?’

David Limbaugh writes about the actions being taken by the leaders of the Democratic Party in opposition to the administration.

If I were not actually witnessing this spectacle unfold before our eyes, I wouldn’t believe it.

Harry Reid fiddles, the globe-trotting Nancy Pelosi flouts presidential authority and the Logan Act, Mr. Biden waxes negative and Mr. Byrd exhorts all these charlatans to ratchet up their mischief.

Though Mr. Bush isn’t isolated, he has been ceaselessly slandered and rebuffed by this militant opposition party. Recently, he invited these obstructionists to the White House to discuss their gamesmanship over the supplemental funding bill to support our troops in Iraq. Trying to be cute, they snubbed him and demanded he come to their turf instead.

Their puerile petulance is one thing, but we are talking about an area over which the president is primarily in charge: foreign policy. This means it is incumbent on them to come to the White House to discuss the matter.

Democrats will not honor protocol, will not play by the rules and will not respect their constitutional role, even though their abominable behavior guarantees negative consequences to our national security and fighting forces.

Meanwhile there is a Kucinich effort to file for the impeachment of the Vice President and the hoard that is proclaiming the President as abusing the Constitution and fascist or dictatorial usurpation. As Limbaugh notes, there is no evidence for such allegations. It is like the note about Soros complaining how the Israeli lobby has squashed criticism of Israel – right next to a hit piece on Israel. Or like Sen. Joe Biden contradicting the administration and the military’s claims that the “surge” in Iraq is producing dividends. Evidence doesn’t matter, no matter how blatant and obvious.

What the heck is going on? Is BSD really that severe a psychosis? It’s bad enough when it is only the fringes flapping in the breeze but this is elected leadership and the lack of intellectual integrity there has much broader and more severe consequence. That, in essence is the message of the opposition crowd but the facts point to them and not towards their target.

How do you tell who is right? You have to only take an honest look at reality and listen carefully. Limbaugh is one of many who provide examples to consider.

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Barone on virtuous victims

Michael Barone, Of victims and virtues, illustrates a linkage between small stories and big in the current news.

Our enemies are virtuous victims. We are the evil oppressors. Just like those Duke lacrosse players.

Whether it is a statue in Colorado, a story in the BBC, terrorists, or the response to crime, there is a common factor.

This need to believe the victim class is always virtuous and the oppressor class is guilty is widespread, and perhaps growing, in this country and abroad. It is particularly strong among those lucky enough to get paid to observe how most people work and live — academics, journalists, apparatchiks of advocacy organizations.

It is a luxury to be so vacuous in one’s blame. At Virginia Tech it touched a bit close to home. There is the holocaust survivor, an engineering lecturer, who charged the gunman and saved his students – but that doesn’t fit the mold. It is encouraging to see notice of the happiness of the legislators who squashed a concealed carry permit for campus recently and how just one student or professor might have prevented the tragedy if armed.

The contrast is the Colorado story where an effort to remember a hero is protested because he was a military hero – with weapons. And we can’t have weapons because that was the oppressor at Columbine.

Make sense? If it does to you, then perhaps you need some help?

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What? You’re afraid to debate?

One of the techniques used to ‘debate’ a rather ridiculous issue is to use the reluctance to debate inanities as a fear of loosing a debate. The creationist crowd often gets this one past the media. Eye on Science notes one case.

while the Discovery Institute doesn’t have the first clue about actual science, it’s very adept at the techniques of propaganda. The Institute is much too cagey to aim its spin at scientists, who actually know something about science, but rather at the average reader, who probably doesn’t. What the DI does is present a long list of half- and quarter-truths and hope nobody will notice.

the Darwinists are afraid of two things. The first is giving you folks a shred of credibility by appearing in the same room with you. The second is that your piles of half truths will actually make people more ignorant.

You might call this a clash of cultures. The Darwinists are looking at the earth record: what they see in their microscopes, and experimental results, and the geologic record. The creationists are looking at the Bible and will look no further.

What can one do to make sense of this? One concept to consider is that it is the creationists are the ones pushing the issue. The Darwinists are trying to teach science as demanded by the engineering and scientific market. This leaves the creationists out and they don’t want to be left out, so they sue and protest and carry on. The Darwinists are not trying to foist their ideas on the Bible or on theological teaching.

These efforts at intrusion into other’s markets by force and its lack of integrity are indicators that can be used to determine the quality of the point of view. That is, if you think that a good measure of a point of view is how well it will stand on its own merits without needing distortion in its presentation or forcing it down the throats of those who do not accept it.

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Framing the skeptic as a denialist

Chris Mooney talks about his co-authored paper in Science at his blog. Climate Science takes off on that to further discuss the idea of the need for framing by scientists who want to ‘educate’ the public. There are a number of examples in these entries and the comments that should be noted.

One is this idea of framing. Another term for this is spin. As Mooney says:

Nisbet and I are advising scientists to start to actively “frame” their knowledge, especially on hot-button issues like evolution, global warming, embryonic stem cell research.

On these highly politicized topics, scientists need to stop thinking that technical knowledge, alone, suffices to drive decision-making or change minds. That’s simply not how the media works, or how the public perceives and processes information

“Sticking to the facts” is being submerged beneath the need to convince the public of the ‘truth’ and the proper interpretation. The public is too dumb to handle the technical details or to understand what the scientist knows. Therefore a bit of spin is needed to make sure the funding continues and the appropriate attitude prevails. Then ends will justify the means taken.

Another term gaining ground is denier when skeptic might be more appropriate. An example is from one of the comments

Demiers of anything will always find areas of uncertainty to mine. During my research of WWII for a book, I unfortunately ran into a holocaust denier. They use a series of false causes basically, in which they attribute the blame to some kernal of truth, and discrediting the evidence of certain intra-events is a key part.

The latest example is on the stem cell debate. Here, the matter of federal funding is being portrayed – e.g. framed or spun – as whether or not this sort of research is to be banned by nasty anti-science, Christian fundamentalist, Republicans. The reality is that the issue is about whether the federal government should fund research in only one aspect of such research.

Getting the true story is made more difficult when you have folks spending their efforts ‘framing’ the conversation and not in getting the issues out on the table.

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Matters of culture

McQ responded to a Radley Balko post that smelled much like the fantasy reality many on the left have built about their image of the U.S. military (Hyperbole and stereotyping detract from Balko’s point). It is the image of the military as composed of mind numbed robots who are simply parts of a big government machine.

Balko’s characterization of the Army is a bleak stereotype of an amoral institution which has no basis in fact.

This matter of culture is highlighted by observations of the recent behavior of British sailors after capture by Iran (It is a matter of culture).

One of the striking things about the British hostage situation that has caused so many American veterans (and active duty members) to react with a level of shock is the apparent speed in which the hostages cooperated with the Iranians. As I’ve been theorizing, some of that has to do with a lack of training.

But I think some of it may also have to do with the culture of the present British military. And I say this after googling “British military code of conduct” and being unable to find anything. I had no problem finding the US Code of Conduct for members of the military.

What you will see if you read the U.S. Military Code of Conduct is a value based guide, not a set of orders. The guide presumes soldiers that will exercise effective judgment and be able to act independently in a responsible manner. It is just those characteristics that make the U.S. military so effective.

But, no matter the reality, there are many on the left whose view of the military side of life is tainted. They excuse their rants as just a bit of misplaced hyperbole when called but that does not change the fact that matters of honor, duty, loyalty, and pride are fundamental factors in the U.S. military and what made the behavior of the British sailors remarkable in a negative manner by comparison.

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Staying powers of myths

The Reno Gazette Journal reports on yet another highway safety effort. The governor wants to reduce Nevada traffic fatalities from 400 per year to 300. So the highway patrol is going to up the speed limit enforcement.

It isn’t until near the end of the report that it is noted that a lack of seat belts is involved in nearly half of the fatalities.

There is good attention given to the need to “pay attention” such as drivers who are “eating, on a cell phone or otherwise distracted.” This particular mantra is also invoked as the means to reduce pedestrian deaths.

The problem is that the traffic crash reports make it clear that the solutions being proposed are not addressing what causes the crashes. That reports that the major contributing factors of fatal crashes are “DUI, alcohol, inattentive driving, and failure to yield.” Yet the myth continues – going after ‘speeders’ with the rationalization that it will reduce traffic fatalities.

Until there is a bit more intellectual integrity in these matters it is likely that to toll on the highways will continue.

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Flip flop – the why is more important than the flip

Shrinkwrapped gets into the basis for resistance the change in Lessons from History and Neuroscience. While a sudden change in position, such as Sen Reid’s flip flop between November 2006 and April 2007 on troop funding support, are an easy binary metric, a much more useful measure of the politician can be made by learning of the reasons for the change. It may be that a polar change of position indicates an open mind and an ability to learn from new insight.

The current demand by our MSM and by many in the blogosphere that our politicians adhere to rigid, ideologically defined positions, and that anyone who changes his mind is a “flip flopper” …

For the current political season, would it be preferable to have reporters and commentators playing “gotcha” with Hillary Clinton viz Iraq or with Rudy Guliani viz abortion, or try to find a way for the candidates to fully explicate what their positions are, how they have evolved, or stayed the same, and how they arrive at their conclusions? Do we want a candidate who remains faithful to positions when conditions change, or is able to change his opinions and course when the situation warrants? And, most importantly, how do the candidates differentiate between their underlying, bedrock convictions, and their more expedient political positions?

What must also be considered is the difference between a change of opinion and a case of buyer’s remorse. We can value a change of opinion based on solid rationale supported by insight gained through effective learning. But when a decision has been made, that opinion has been turned into action. Subsequent change of opinion cannot reverse this action but instead must accommodate it. Buyer’s remorse is not to be excused by a halo of being open minded and able to change one’s views.

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What’s the dif?

Paul at Powerline took note of what he heard on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” on the way to work. It illustrates just why it is so difficult to have a rational discussion of issues because there seems to be no common reference point against which to measure the quality of ideas.

NPR’s reporter described the Iranian capture of British sailors as part of a tit-for-tat involving the capture of Iranians and British personnel in and around Iran. So for NPR, the seizure of British sailors minding their own business on the open seas is not just morally indistinguishable from our capture of Iranian agents sent to Iraq to foment killing, including the killing of Americans; it’s an understandable response to that action.

It is the same mindset that equates leaving Iraq to leaving Vietnam and not seeing the Cambodian killing fields or the Vietnamese boat people as of any consequence. It is the same mindset that accuses the executive of power grabs ignoring the legislative and judicial actions that are much more questionable in this regard. It is the same mindset that figures that the hijacking of multiple aircraft and running them into large buildings is just a crime and not an act of war. It is the same mindset that figures 9/11 is a government conspiracy. It is the same mindset that cannot figure out why freedom has a price and only sees casualties in a valiant struggle. It is the same mindset that sees nothing wrong with using non combatants as shields or decoys. The list goes on. So does the denial. It should be worrisome. Until and unless all of us form the social will to recognize what we value and to step forward for our values, we will continue to loose the fruit of those values that we all currently enjoy.

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Understanding the separation of powers

Gary L. McDowell is the Tyler Haynes Professor of leadership studies, political science and law at the University of Richmond. His column in the Washington Times, Congress overreaches, is a good synopsis of the reasoning behind the separation of powers in the US government.

The reason the Framers so carefully crafted their scheme of separated powers was their fear not of executive overreach but of “legislative usurpations.” They had no doubts that history had shown time and time again the undeniable and unhealthy “tendency of the legislative authority to absorb every other.”

they knew that the fundamental cause of such legislative incompetence, imbecility and tyranny as they had witnessed was the result of there being no real executive power to keep the legislature in its place.

The legislature, by its very nature, must be a deliberative body characterized by “differences of opinion, and the jarrings of parties.” It is, by design, intended to produce an open and thorough consideration of the pressing issues of the day. Debate, not “promptitude of decision,” is the end sought. This is just the opposite from the executive branch. In the office of the president, the ends sought are not openness and debate but “decision, activity, secrecy and dispatch” — all the qualities a numerous assembly can never have.

Examples of “legislative usurpations” are easy to find but nowhere near as dramatic as those of ‘executive usurpations. Some who disagree with the current administration accuse it of arbitrary exercise of power, fascism, and trampling the Constitution. The opposition party has now taken its position to exercise ‘oversight’ to respond to these feelings by investigation into any allegation of the appearance of wrongdoing. The promise is that the next two years will be a continual circus of political disagreement being paraded as criminal or ethical lapse.

But at least these kinds of behaviors are only pushing boundaries, not exceeding them. When there is legislative usurpation you have the kind of socialism that currently plagues much of Europe. It is also interesting that the two most prominent examples of executive usurpation, Venezuela and Russia, derive from the manipulation of legislative action.

There is only so much that a process of the separation of powers can do to tamp the natural inclinations of the human spirit. It still requires the responsible behavior of the participants and the diligence of the populace to maintain and manage the system.

And then there are the courts …

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The ‘All Out’ myth

There has been this mantra that the global war on terror is not serious because we do not sacrifice, we do not have rationing, Rosie is not riveting. This particular tendency is seen in SP’s rant about sending the Bush Daughters off to the front. It is also seen in what some think are lessons learned as in Andrew Sumereau’s Vietnam and Iraq column.

Bush and company should have known this from all that history teaches. They, and we, are paying the penalty of ignoring the lessons of Vietnam. They are:

Never again commence an undeclared (by Congress) war.

Never again commence any war without clearly defined and achievable objectives. (Did we win yet?)

And never, never commence a war and sacrifice American blood and treasure unless we are willing to use all our resources in an all out effort to win.

The truth Mr. Voth’s piece examines, once again, is that if we ignore the past, through hubris or ignorance, we will inevitably repeat avoidable mistakes.

The question is always that the future is not and will not be exactly the same as the past. As the saying goes, ‘the past is prolog’ it is not the actual thing. We learn from history but are not bound by it. By using history to learn but not to bind we can meet new challenges and find new solutions.

In this collection of lessons to learn there are differences between past and present that are glossed over. Going down the list:

As we see in the recent act of war by Iran, the fact of war is no longer what it was, no longer the big issue it used to be, no longer so clear cut.

Clearly defined and achievable objectives require a clearly defined opponent when it comes to war. They also require a responsibility and honesty in terms of such things as patriotism, sedition, and treason. In the GWOT we have neither.

“All our resources in an all out effort to win” should lead one to wonder about when this has ever occurred. Do resources include fortitude as well as materiale? What about the problem of using a sledge hammer to drive ten penny nails? Like many platitudes it sounds nice but conveniently ignores many aspects of the real world.

The fact is that Congress did declare war by authorizing the use of force for a defined set of reasons that provide both the rationale and the objectives. The limitations on pursuing those objectives have been political. A group of those who were gung ho to start have changed their minds and now seek to destroy what they set in motion. They take no responsibility for their own actions.

The lessons that need to be learned from Vietnam are more abstract and more significant. As with holocaust denial, there are many that pretend that what happened didn’t and what resulted from what happened also didn’t. These are the folks that bemoan the US military casualties but ignore the Cambodian killing fields and the Vietnamese boat people and the economic repression of a country for thirty years.

The lesson to learn is that a decision that is made cannot be undone without consequence. Once the vote is taken, all must accept the outcome and see the job to its finish. The Kurds now face their third abandonment by the US. UBL used the history of the US to abandon its decisions as a driver for his tactics and strategy. Somalia and 9/11 were results.

It is one thing to face yet another Iranian hostage act of war with indecision and appeasement. It would be another to make one decision and then deny it later – as the US Congress has now done for its more serious decisions of several years ago in regards to Iraq. We should learn from history that countries are best served if they are consistent in the expression of their values and culture and self identity so that others can depend upon them in one way or the other.

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