Sometimes it takes somebody to step back from the tactical morass of the pending primaries and presidential elections and take a look at the significant issues. I am referring to actual decision trees that must be traversed to establish policies that affect the United States, as opposed to emotional and class-divisive issues that are used for political short-term electoral positions.

Now political pundits will say that there is nothing other than the tactical political position — after all, the goal is to get elected and you can’t resolve real issues if you aren’t in a position of power or authority. But candidates mired in the short term tactical issues — addressing irrelevancies for a point here or there against their opponents — can become intellectually bankrupt of vision. Then, even if elected, they cannot address the real issues, or perhaps have compromised their political capital to the extent they are totally ineffective.

By and large, I want to address issues that can be managed in some concrete fashion, not issues that parties believe should be managed. Party issues that are litmus test issues, such as abortion, cannot have a resolution in the current political system. 40% of people oppose abortion, 40% are “pro-choice”, and the rest either don’t care or have mixed positions. Given this distribution, any executive is not going to be able to generate a policy that has an immediate impact on the United States. One might be able to create an environment where one position or another might be enabled in a future act, but such environments are very fragile. The issue of stem cells is a case in point — for all the posturing, the issue became irrelevant when Japanese scientists persuaded ordinary skin cells to transform back into undifferentiated stem cells (and with the added benefit that they were donor specific.)

So enumerated below are some issues and my tags:

AbortionAbortion — (easy since I’ve already addressed it in brief) Doesn’t matter. Can’t be resolved in the current system. Trying to make this a plank is a waste of time. Yes, there are moral and ethical issues on both sides and the current treatment is inconsistent and there are deep feelings on both sides. Doesn’t matter. Irrelevant.

ImmigrationImmigration — The United States needs to get its act together here. We have two contradictory processes at work that need to be reconciled. Our food supply is dependent on manual labor imported from outside. To increase the pay scale to the point compatible with a job an American Union Worker would take will increase the cost of food. Economically we are chained to cheap imported labor. The presence of people in the country who exist outside the legal system creates massive economic costs, yet it still somewhat to our benefit to educate and care for a certain number of these people — the cost of not doing so may be greater still.

Further, much of America’s growth is due to legal immigration, its innovation due to contributions from immigrants. From the technological and innovative point of view, why would be want to train and educate students from other countries, and rather than employ them here with a H1B, send them back to India, or China, or Pakistan where they can use what we have taught them to develop competing businesses.

The current set of immigration policies are horrible with no consistent underlying vision or plan. We need to restore the United States to that land of opportunity that calls people from all walks of life to participate in achieving their dreams, and makes them want to be legal participating citizens in the American democratic process.

The Plank: Recognize that America is built on immigration and adjust policies to reflect this fact. Increase or eliminate H1B visa limitations. Devise a guest worker program as a means to satisfy our current economic dependency while at the same time requiring such workers to exist within our legal framework (i.e., valid driver licenses, auto insurance, immunizations, etc.). Finally, enforce the subsequent laws.

BusinessBusiness Investment — The current governmental bureaucracies (both State and Federal) have created an environment where investment is going elsewhere: London, China, Russia. Our policies and laws like Sarbanes-Oxley have made the hurdle of listing in the United States financially onerous. The FDA has made developing new drugs near-impossible with the result that corporations are being fined millions of dollars for reporting their research protocols to doctors (off-label touting is a crime); deciding drugs need not be approved because existing drugs are already available (competition anyone?); and generally making the process so complex and lengthy that the evil pharmaceutical companies have to charge an arm and a leg to break even of the research and development. The Justice department obtains some of its own budget from the fines levied in actions. (oops)

These, and many more government bureaucracies have to be checked, reduced or eliminated. The government can and should regulate commerce so that the playing field is level, but by and large, issues such as who can compete should be left to the market to decide.

The sub-prime/securitization/derivatives financial liquidity crisis is providing another opening for government to over-regulate. The market is already sorting out (in the British SAS sense of the phrase) the people who were stupid. Banks are moving assets back to their balance sheets. Hedge funds are unwinding and assets are being marked to real market value. Government interference here is what created the mess. Let’s not multiply the problems.

The plank: The Government’s role should be to provide transparency. Hold hearings, investigate processes and systems but without moralizing and demonizing the industries. And then do nothing while the system, now aware of the problems, corrects itself.

In general, any law passed by Congress establishing a regulatory or oversight mission (and its associated bureaucracy) needs a sunset provision and a requirement for periodic review to determine whether its still needed. Establish a goal to cut by 10% annually both the budget and employee count of every major department. (The Jack Walsh method.)

TaxA Rational Tax Policy — The current situation is not sustainable. The class-based tax warfare must stop. Now we have the situation where the top 1% of the country’s earners pay 39% of the Federal income tax; and that 60% of the people pay less than 1%, if any. And what do we hear from Congress: “Taxes need to be more progressive.” and “We can’t have executives making $30 million dollars.” and (of course) “We have to ensure that the rich pay their fair share.” So what occurs when 0.1% of the earning population pays 99% of the income tax? What happens if they get pissed off and leave? (oops!)

Also, it is unconscionable that a PhD in accounting and mathematics, let alone a typical citizen can’t read their tax return instructions. The entire system (and the IRS) needs to be abolished and replaced with a simplified taxation system that requires no more than one page to fill out. And keep Congress out of it. Their attempts to “fix” things got us into this mess. Remember the AMT, supposedly legislated to insure that 140 people who paid no tax forty years ago, never ever got a free pass again? And now 30 million Americans have to figure their taxes twice and pay because they are now “rich”!

The Plank: Set up a commission to oversee the collection of taxes — ten members max — like the Fed. Make any revision to the code require a supermajority of 80% Congress. Make it flat or at most two tiered with no exclusions. Most people would pay a higher rate just to not fill out the forms ( or pay their tax accountants to do it for them — they would save money.) Dump the AMT, eliminate capital gains tax or any reinvestment double taxation. Simplify — forbid social reform and manipulation via taxation.

WarThe War in Iraq — Doesn’t matter. We are there, we can’t leave until its stable. Why beat a dead horse. We kill more teenagers on the highways than in the armed forces. Fix foreign policy and this will go away. Irrelevant

Foreign PolicyForeign Policy — Which one? The White House, The State Department, The Trade Office, the CIA?

The Plank: Downsize the bureaucracies and reduce the competing agendas. Let’s get some consistency in the message America sends to the rest of the world. Like Patrick Swayce in Roadhouse: Be nice, be nice, be nice until it’s time to stop being nice. Let’s treat Russia and China and other countries with respect and some understanding that they have legitimate concerns. America, for better or worse, is a superpower and is likely to remain so.

Castle RomeoNuclear Proliferation — Doesn’t matter. The first world knows this through detente. The third world has to learn. And it’s not as if we can really do anything about it — any physics grad with some practical engineering experience can do it.

Few alive today have an understanding of the effects of these weapons. If a state uses one against another state, that state is toast. Self-correcting problem. Irrelevant.

JudicialThe Judiciary — At first I was going to assign this a ‘doesn’t matter’ but I rapidly came to the conclusion that it does in the long term. Two things:

Any president should have the right to select and should have the expectation that his selection be confirmed unless there are really significant problems with the choice. By problems, I mean competency, legal and qualification problems, not fundamental philosophical differences. When the people select a president through an election, they are (hopefully) voting for a vision and a philosophy and they expect that that vision will have its day in the sun. Selecting like-minded people is an executive’s prerogative. This includes judges and attorneys-general. This is part of the implementation of the vision (and philosophy). Using the confirmation process as a weapon deprives the People of the United States of their choice of a vision. Conflicting visions each deserve a chance so confirmation should be competency-driven instead of philosophically-driven.

Since certain judicial positions are life positions, judicial appointments establish long-term trends and enable conditions for follow-on legislation by establishing the interpretative environment for that legislation. When the judicial system is strictly constructionalist, this does not matter, but whenever judges use their authority to bypass legislative strictures, and have become ‘activists’, different concerns arise. For those who believe that certain positions are warranted and have an intrinsic value independent of that determined by the will of the people (as expressed by a majority of the legislative body), judical activism is a key component in achieving these positions. Consequently, judicial appointments become critical in preserving this channel of change, and this is reflected in the acrimonious confirmation process of today.

I note in passing that a conservative position of strict construction with regard the the US Constitution is not inherently an adverse position. At most it is a neutral position with respect to ‘active change’. At most, supporters of changes currently enabled via judicial activism have only to assure that their laws pass Constitutional muster. Of course, the entire reason for judicial activism is not for reviewing laws, but for circumventing the legislative process in the first place. If they could get their laws passed, there would be no need for judicial activism. This activism is also not the exclusive province of the left. In the early 20th century, laissez-faire courts blocked Federal regulation of interstate commerce on the basis of the ‘santity of private commerce’, an appeal beyond any reasonable Constitutional interpretation.

The Plank: Confirm presidential appointments on the basis of competency and not philosophy. Develop policy to prevent and avoid judicial activism. Let the process work by confirming presidential selections, and let Democracy work by reducing judicial activism.

[Many thanks to AOC for his erudite analysis and review.]

As I was walking my dog this morning, I walked past a day care center. Every morning I have to dodge cars making rapid blind turns into this establishment. It is located across a field from a local fire station. This morning, as I walked past, the fire alarm went off. Now this is a loud abrasive buzzing accompanied by several bright xenon strobes flashing. Day care operators dutifully herded their charges out the west doors onto the playground and across the field you could watch the firemen don their heavy rubberized coats and climb into their trucks. Let’s stipulate that there was a large amount of ‘optical and aural input’ available.

Yet as I watched (after dodging their turns), several moms exited the cars and led their children INTO the building. Into the loud buzzing, strobe flashing, entrance, which was in plain view of the playground where most of the children were gathered. Into a probable burning building. And not just one parent, either, but several—one after another, as I watched.

I was contemplating the stupidity and total recklessness of this behavior as the fire trucks arrived. One mom even walked her child around the fire truck and into the building. Now it was true that there were no visible flames, and no smoke that I could see, however, a prudent person usually allows the fire inspector/fire chief to make the determination that the building is, in fact, not on fire. Fires are tricky things.

Bursting through my consideration of the intellectual capacity of people who apparently try to set the record for the minimum time to detatch a young child from their busy and highly scheduled life, came the glint of an understanding. Americans are addicted to convenience , and investigating the possibility that your child might not be safe in a potentially burning building would be —well, inconvenient. Moms, after all, have to get to work on time, and bosses are so inconsiderate about leeway for tardiness for such things as making sure your children are safe. Best get the child to the caregiver where she can handle the situation.

Americans tolerate high gas prices. We are a mobile society. Good public transportation is available at a fractional ( and subsidized) cost of owning a car. But, you know, it’s so … inconvenient. The bus only comes around every 20 minutes, and the trips are at least 40 minutes long with those inconvenient stops to pick up other people.

Most supermarkets have a fresh food section. Raw broccoli stacked on iced shelves has given way to microwavable bags of cut broccoli. Fresh fruit and vegetables, and raw ingredients such as flour, and fresh meat comprise perhaps 15% of the store’s floor area. The rest is given over to bagged food, frozen prepared meals, sliced and prepared meats (even the fresh meat section has pre-marinated chickens, stuffed fish, peppered filets), and cans and cans of highly processed food. All very convenient.

Internet sex sites? Very convenient — avoids the problems of building a relationship. Everything you dated to find out is strewn out in explicit detail.

Americans are the most productive people in the world. The gross state product of even a medium state exceeds that of say Russia. Americans can do this because they are absolved of the inconveniences of preparing foods, riding transportation to work, having romantic relationships with people in the real world, or even exhibiting concern about the safety of their children.

The 9/11 attack in New York irritated people because it was highly inconvenient —for Mayor Guillani, — disrupting the nicely flowing pattern of lives with inconvenient items such as falling concrete, flames, choking dust and mounds of debris, not to mention having to consider that “someone doesn’t like America’ which doesn’t fit in to the convenient conceptual framework established by the media, Madison Avenue and the barrage of stimuli that directs your drinking, buying, selling, eating and sleeping habits.

Fortunately, we had a convenient resource available—the US Military, which we could send out to tidy up all of this nasty inconvenience in the form of radical Taliban governments and genocidal Baathist dictators. But sadly we had forgotten how inconvenient some of these things—like obtaining democracy—could be. We actually have to make sacrifices.

Fortunately, for most of us, this war on inconvenience, is not itself a source of inconvenience. Aside from the annoying increases in the cost of gasoline, and the continual barrage of combat KIA statistics in the media, our lives haven’t changed much. The sacrifices made are limited — scarcely a fraction of those who are killed by our use of the convenient automobile.

In World War II, we fought another war on inconvenience. In the 1940’s however, we weren’t so productive, and as a result, fighting that war required us to substantially alter our lifestyles. We allowed, even pushed, women into the work force; voluntarily limited our consumption of meat, sugar, rope, and a plethora of other materials, all rationed in the effort to support the military; and accepted a significant curtailment of our rights. And as a result of this, everyone was affected by the war. Everyone had a stake in the outcome.

With our productivity level today, in order to subject the population to the 1940’s level of sacrifice and commitment, we would have to broaden the war on inconvenience to significantly stress our economy. To ensure that every child toting mom at the daycare understood that the United States was making a committment to democracy and freedom, one that would curtail her addiction to convenience, we would have to simultaneously declare war on Iran, Syria, Russia, Nigeria, Venezuela and Somalia while rendering assistance to Darfur, Kosovo, the rest of the Balkans, with the occasional side trip to Sumatra to provide earthquake and tsunami relief.


The Angry Men are once again pleased to welcome a new voice of anger to the fold. In keeping with our belief in the healing power of anger, we present the Angry Virginian in his own words, writing about his recent epiphany:

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Once upon a time, I didn’t understand conservatives at all. I mean, what is it that they have against poor people? Why do they like violence so much? Why don’t they care about the future of our planet? They just seemed like a bunch of greedy and hypocritical old men to me.

Then, a funny thing happened that turned my view of conservatives on its head. It wasn’t George Bush’s election – He seemed like a harmless nitwit, and by himself, he didn’t do much to change my view on anything. It wasn’t even the September 11 attacks, as I’m the sort of person who believes that whatever was a good (or bad) idea on September 10 was still just as good (or bad) an idea on September 12. However, the United States’ response to the September 11 attacks, which has been inefficient at best and utterly terrifying at worst, dramatically changed the way I view politics, government, and international affairs.

First and foremost, I learned why so many conservatives don’t like big government. When you realize for the first time that your tax dollars are being spent on things that are stupid and unethical… well, you get mad. You get frustrated. You realize that when the government does something wrong, it does it on such a vast scale and with so much momentum that there is little (if anything) the private sector could do to counteract it. Previous presidents might have been sleazy or inconsistent, but they didn’t waste too much of my country’s time and money doing it. George W. Bush taught me just how wrong the government could go, and he made me wonder if maybe government is inherently bad after all. It’s a possibility that I hadn’t considered – Thank you, George, for pointing that out.

Speaking of evils that I hadn’t believed in before, how about some more government surveillance? I participated in a protest so that I could speak out against the invasion of Iraq – Does that mean I’m on a government watch list now? I mean, I have nothing to hide, but that shouldn’t mean squat. The idea that expressing one’s political views and participating in public debate could be punished by the United States Government is deeply and truly disturbing. All of those gun-toting libertarians who have been fretting about Big Brother don’t seem so paranoid any more.

There’s another area where Bush has made me more conservative. For many years, liberals (myself included) have favored increased federal power, as the states dragged their feet in providing many Americans with fair treatment and essential liberties. However, as the federal government now seems to be more in the business of discrimination and restricting rights than many of the states are, my attitude is shifting. As long as certain powers are reserved to the states (hey, it’s that Bill of Rights again!), then I will always have the option to leave my embarrassingly-red home state for somewhere more civilized and yet stay in the United States.

To sum it all up:

  • If my taxes are funding a pointless war, then I want my taxes to be cut.
  • If law enforcement is being directed to go after pacifist old-ladies, then maybe I really do to hide from the government and buy a gun.
  • If the federal government is going to be so stupid, then maybe some power needs to be given back to the states.

Living under the Bush administration has taught me that these conservative ideas make a lot more sense than I thought.

Recently, Governor and Presidential Candidate Bill Richardson could not restrain himself from sharing his plan for resolving the terrible “Crisis in Iraq” (cue CNN theme music). Certain that his brilliance would be displayed for all to see, Gov. Richardson dazzled us with this bold and innovative plan to resolve this ongoing “problem of our time:”

Which boils down to (my gentle musings following in italics):

  1. Set a hard timetable to withdraw in 2007, and make sure all factions of Iraq know we’ll be leaving whatever happens.
    (Rise up in civil revolt? We’re leaving. Execute 10,000 Sunnis in a single a day? We’re leaving. Gas 100,000 Shias with Sarin during a festival? We’re leaving… After all, they’re only brown people. They don’t feel pain like we do, so the huge body counts won’t interfere with their rationally seeking a solution to the violence.)
  2. Remove all troops.
    (Including all those training the Iraqis. “Bye-bye, guys, and good luck—you’ll need it!”)
  3. Since Bush won’t do 1-2 for some reason, use the War Powers Act to force him. Which of course the Administration will take to the Supreme Court.
    (Perhaps that case will be resolved before 2008… In the meantime, since the only power Congress actually has is the purse, you can only “force” Bush by removing all funds for the troops, in the field, during a war. Good one, Bill, that’ll play well for you in 2008.)
  4. Have a nice conference to get the Iraqis to iron everything out.
    (I’m sure that will work. Especially because of #1! Tell me, Bill, just what incentives do the extremists and militias have to deal, given that the biggest barrier to more sectarian violence will be leaving by December? Oh, well, it’s only brown people!)
  5. Trust Syria and Iran to do the right thing. Really.
    (I’m sure we can trust them, because, well… Okay, I’m not really sure why Bill thinks that they will suddenly be overwhelmed with a desire not to meddle in Iraq. I mean, it’s not like Iran and Syria would be fighting over a hugely important country in a pivotal place in the region or anything. Oh, and perhaps the Turks will be happy to contribute to that peacekeeping force. Say, 500,000 “peacekeepers” for Iraqi Kurdistan. Of course they’ll have to forcibly disarm those pesky Kurds, but I’m sure dead Kurdish kids are a price he’s happy to pay for peace. I mean, heck, they’re only brown people…)
  6. Yes, let’s a have a fund raiser for Iraqi reconstruction.
    (Actually, this isn’t a bad idea. I’m sure lots of nations will promise billions, since they know they’ll never have to actually pay—since funds won’t be dispersed until Iraq stabilizes itself. So really, never, except perhaps a few billions to bury the 10 million dead when it’s all over.)
  7. Redeploy to, ah, somewhere. Kuwait is mentioned, because, you know, that isn’t right next to Iraq and kinda on the Arabian peninsula (depending upon which wackjob you ask).
    (I’m sure Al Qaeda, Iran, and Syria will be fine with a huge number of US troops permanently camped in Kuwait. You betcha! Also, Bill, what happened to “Bring the troops home. All of them.” Is it really a good idea to start breaking campaign promises at the start of the campaign?)

We risk being dazzled by the brilliance, of course, but Bill’s final summary deserves to be quoted verbatim:

We also must bring our National Guard home where they are needed for homeland security, and we must focus our energy and resources on real threats, such as nuclear proliferation, Al Qaeda, public health, and global warming.

If Bill had been running in 1952, I’m sure his platform would have been to get out of Korea, so that those nice Koreans could settle everything. We could relocate our troops to, oh, Japan, and concentrate on the real problems of the day. I’m sure that would have worked out really well, Bill!

I suppose Bill wanted to stake out the “unambiguous retreat in the face of hard struggle” position early. A good idea, really, given the general temperment of the Democrats these days. But not, I’m thinking, a sure-fire way to win the country in 2008. Somehow, I think this message will come off a bit inadequate in the face of a Giuliani or McCain. (I would have said “even in comparison to Her Dread Majesty”, but it looks like I would have been wrong about that.)

Tell me, Bill, whatever happened to “You broke it, you bought it” as the Dems liked to tell the Republicans after the 2003 invasion? Oh, yes, the Dems managed to get power in 2006 and no longer want a difficult war to worry about. Once again, I was thinking of the brown people as actually human and deserving decent lives. Stupid me.

Of course, persumably, Bill Richardson also believes that Iraqis shouldn’t be gunned down on the streets for taking the wrong position in a 1300 year old theological debate. Just not enough to think that they’re worth American lives. Or American time. Or American attention. Well, I’m sure that relying upon international consensus will work as well in Iraq as it has worked in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Sudan. Bye-bye Iraqi liberals, feminists, and democrats—sorry you actually put faith in your liberal American brothers! Maybe, one day you’ll learn that the American New Left has only one word for their foreign brothers in the struggle when the going gets hard:


How would you like to make small untraceable donations to Al-Qaeda? Interested in supporting Terrorism and helping America’s enemies win? Then you’re in luck my friend! All you have to do is buy an SUV. That’s right, by purchasing a Sports Utility Vehicle, you too can be a terrorist. In the spirit of Regan’s Trickle-down economics, soulless American consumerism has brought you Trickle-down terrorism. Sure everyone needs to drive, and so some money from US oil purchases will end up in the hands of unsavory types, but by buying an SUV, you can ensure that you are funneling your hard earned dollars into terrorist hands even faster!

Before we really begin to dig into the issues here, I want to preface my argument by pointing out that some people need SUVs, or big trucks. Farmers in particular, who use SUVs and trucks as actual workhorses, are blameless, as are disabled individuals for whom sitting in a car causes discomfort or pain. These people are forced into using SUVs because of their jobs, or personal injuries. But these people are the minority. Most of the individuals who drive SUVs do so because they are hip, shiny and cool, and to help them keep up with the Joneses. After all, if your car isn’t as new and pointless as the one Chad and Buffy Jones just parked next door to your coastal McMansion, you might not be invited to the next shallow cocktail party they throw!

Given that over 25% of our daily oil imports come from countries with known or suspected ties to terrorism (and an additional 13% comes from Venezuela, a country none too fond of Western governments), we should be weighing our consciences to see if driving that new Ford Valdez is really worth the price. The average SUV uses 169% of the gas of a sedan does to move the same distance, and 281% of the gas a hybridized car uses. The cost of this useless inefficiency isn’t just to your wallet. The cost is paid by your children too. By wasting money on SUVs instead of the passenger car you really need, more money ends up in the hands of people who hate freedom.

But how much money ends up in the hands of terrorists each time you fuel up your good old SUV? It’s easy to ignore the costs when they’re just abstractions so I am going to tear away the curtain and force you to pay attention to the terrorist behind it. With the current US gas price of $2.87 and roughly 20 gallons in the tank of an average SUV, we’re talking about $57.40 for a full tank. Of that, roughly 45% of your money goes towards the oil producing countries, or $25.83, and of the money that ends up back at the sources 25% of it goes to nations with known or suspected terrorist ties, giving us the final amount of $6.45. Every time you fill up your SUV, you donate $6.45 to Al Qaeda. Based on DOE average yearly gas consumption, the average SUV driver donates more than $240 to Al Qaeda every year.

But $240 isn’t a lot of money right? Wrong. Your yearly donation to Al Qaeda helps to outfit 24 terrorists in Afghanistan with assault rifles. Or perhaps it will be used to buy 10 Improvised Explosive Devices in Iraq? Either way that SUV parked outside of your house right now means more innocent people dead every year. It is time to do our patriotic duty as Americans, and get rid of our SUVs, replacing them with fuel efficient alternatives. Stop trickle-down terrorism today!

-Angry Midwesterner

There has been a lot of hand wringing from the hippies lately about the attention given to the deaths at Virginia Tech, despite the fact that more people died in Baghdad on the same day. Quite frankly, those people need to put down their megaphones and pick up some common decency. I’m not saying that deaths in Iraq aren’t tragic, the ongoing war in Iraq is a horrible thing which we should be endeavoring to end to prevent the further loss of life. Context, however, is important.

These supposedly bleeding heart types are ignorantly pissing on the collective sorrow felt by many Americans and trying to make us feel guilty for the worry and anguish that these killings have caused us. But we aren’t the ones who should feel guilty. The context is important. Just as we would grieve more over the loss of a family member or close friend, than we would over the loss of soldiers in a far away war, so too do we grieve more for the deaths of people we or our close friends know than we do for Iraqi civilians. It isn’t callous of us, it is natural. Grief hits harder when those who die are closer to the those doing the grieving.

Just as NBC has trampled the memories of those slain at Virginia Tech by airing the atrocious final wishes of their brutal killer, so too are certain segments of the Anti-War camp committing horrible crimes against the dead by trying to make us feel guilty for our grief. That we as a country grieve more for those young men and women with whom we share closer bonds, than unknown civilians in a country far away, is only natural. We should feel no shame. We are after all, only human.

-Angry Midwesterner

Heart of oak are our ships,
Jolly tars are our men,
We always are ready,
Steady, boys, steady,
We’ll fight and we’ll conquer
Again and again

Once, the Royal Navy was rightly feared throughout the world. Even at the end of the 20th Century, while stripped of much of its granduer and power, it was still an aged bulldog—able to occasionally lash out and bite the incautious. And even in its relative weakness, it seemed to have maintained its spirit and tradition, long the pride of the naval world.

No longer.

Now we have been treated to the shameful and degrading spectacle of watching 15 British marines and sailors meekly surrender to Iranian motorboats. Now, if this had happened in some deep insertion mission after days dodging Iranian patrols, it would be one thing. But it happened under the guns of a British frigate not 5 miles away. Literally under its guns, since the frigate’s main gun has a range of at least twice that.

And as fast as they are, Iranian speedboats don’t just appear. The British must have tracked them for minutes at least, and yet nothing was done before, during, or after the capture of a boarding party executing a standard mission they’d done dozens of times before. Small groups of troops are always in danger of being overrun and captured, but for their ship to stand by and do nothing? Oh, Nelson, if you’d lived to see this day! From its origins as pirates to the sad state of prey—surrendering its sailors to the first thug happening by—how the Royal Navy has fallen!

The British understood, once, that allowing petty tyrants to push your navy around means your navy isn’t worth spit. In those days, there was a simple phrase for what the Iranians pulled off: Act of War. And a simple response: inflict superior damage on the enemy so that he learns the error of his ways. Sadly, the Royal Navy long ago traded that tradition in for touchy-feeling multi-culti bullocks, narcissistic self-esteem rubbish, and soft-hearted European idiocy. “Acts of war” have become “public relations issues”, to be managed and spun and packaged. Respond to a blatant hostile action by threatening Iran’s navy? Barbaric, sir!

When the Navy’s policies force an officer of the hardest, most competent marines in the world to explain that he avoided fighting back because people might have been, well, hurt, and there might have been, gosh, an international incident, you wonder what the point of having a Navy is anyway. Surrender doesn’t really take much in the way of training, technology, or tradition. It’s certainly not what the marines and sailors signed up for.

Let me emphasize that: I don’t place blame on the marines and sailors captured. Rot this deep runs up through the ranks. And, in this case, it’s clear that the commanders on the scene failed utterly to defend their men. From the First Sea Lord on down, there’s a disgusting uniformity of spin and denial. When your top staff is this rotten, you can’t blame Jack Tar. This rot spread from Whitehall, and it’s turned the once-proud Hearts of Oak into a pulpy mess.

It’s a dangerous world, full of petty tyrants, dangerous fanatics, and unbalanced despots, and if the Royal Navy is unwilling or unable to protect its men—and its honor—it should do the right thing: mothball its fleet, sell off its assets, and close up shop. There’s no room for a Navy whose admirals have lost the will to fight.

Last week, Sean Penn posted another shrill diatribe lambasting the Bush administration, denouncing the war in Iraq, and raging against the idea of military confrontation with Iran. In the most general of terms, I agree with Mr. Penn on all of these points (Bush & Co. = awful leaders; war in Iraq = wrong decision; war with Iran = compounding an already awful situation). Unfortunately, Mr. Penn seems to have the same cognitive deficiencies as the President. (And judging by his gross misuse of commas and semicolons, Mr. Penn’s screeds aren’t edited before they’re posted).

To wit:

Sean Penn: And if we give that corrupt leadership, (by attacking Iran militarily) the opportunity to unify that great country in hatred against us, we’ll have been giving up [sic] one of our most promising future allies in decades. If you really know anything about Iran, you know exactly what I’m referring to.

GWB: The best way to protect this country is to defeat the enemy overseas so we don’t have to face them here at home.

Both of the above statements lack the substance and/or reason to justify either the Iraq war or a non-military approach to the Iran situation. Unfortunately, these superficial assessments of complex matters of geopolitics are always the loudest voices on either side of the debate. I could write a small book on what currently passes for debate on the US policy in the Middle East. Instead, I’ll focus on the two statements above, because I think the essence of each shows exactly why reasonable people (on both sides) continue to get shut out of this discussion.

[I’m trying to remain neutral here, but in the interest of full disclosure, I am no fan of the Bush administration]

Bush’s and Penn’s fundamental error is that neither of them is capable of seeing the situation in anything more than episodic bits. First we invaded Iraq because they were developing WMDs and had links to terrorists, then, to capture Saddam, and now to keep the terrorists from being transported from our TVs into our neighborhoods. Considering that the terrorists in Iraq (or whatever you want to call the people attacking US forces) are using rather simplistic means to attack Iraqis and westerners (e.g., IEDs, car bombs, and assorted booby traps), and considering that the administration has gotten a fair number of Americans paranoid of brown-skinned people, how likely is this scenario? Really? You’re telling me that dozens or hundreds or thousands of so-called terrorists are going to get passports, get money, fly to the US, and start militant jihad on our soil? We’re so paranoid that we’re arresting people who don’t even have the means to scout–let alone attack–their alleged target. The collective hand-wringing and scaremongering isn’t a good technique to persuade terrorists to try a negotiation method short of their literal self-destruction. Addressing Bush’s elementary argument, at what point are our enemies “defeated?” There will always be someone somewhere roaming freely hating America, or taking up arms in the name of a radical practice of some religion.

On the other hand, Penn talks about his trips to Baghdad and Iran as though simply being in a country qualifies him to advise on international policy. The gibe, “If you really know anything about Iran, you know exactly what I’m referring to,” is just as inane as “Either you’re with us, or you’re against us.” Though I’ve never been to Iran, I think I know more than the average person on the street, and I have no clue “exactly what” Sean Penn refers to. I know in 1953 we successfully ignited a revolution that brought a relatively stable secular regime into power for 25 years; I know that puppet regime was toppled, the US embassy was stormed, and 70 Americans were held hostage for over a year; I know we funneled weapons to Iran in the 1980s; and I know that while the current Iranian leader has a knack for saying inflammatory things, he’s really not the one calling the shots. Given any or all of these facts, one could draw several different conclusions about what Sean Penn is trying to get us to understand. As long as Ahmadinejad or Bush is in power, I don’t see much hope for the great future alliance to which Penn alludes. I’ll be happy if the two leaders can keep from escalating the current situation beyond the status quo.

If Mr. Penn were to explicitly tell us “exactly what” he’s talking about re: Iran, and then go so far as to embellish on the “exactly what,” maybe he’d fade into the masses, where most reasonable people sit, and the neo-conservative militants would be exposed as raving mad. But as long as he’s more theatric than substantive in his arguments, he’s hindering the cause he’s trying to champion.

Last Tuesday, the US Senate voted for an arbitrary date for withdrawal from Iraq. Whatever the situation on the ground, US troops would be mandated to leave Iraq by March 31, 2008 (as far as you can mandate anything in non-binding language). Unlike the House, the Senate language does not demand that the President step down as Commander-in-Chief and cede that position to a Committee-of-the-Whole in Congress. But there is still the possibility that reconciliation with the House bill will result in that language.

And, of course, the President will almost certainly deliver on his threat to veto the bill if that happens, so it would be back to the Congress again for another round of moral posturing and pork-barrel payola. The long and short of it is that the bill as written is as much about sound bites and funding constituent programs than serious foreign policy.

But, nonetheless, last week the majority in Congress took a very dangerous step. In most cases, I suspect, out of real convictions regarding the War in Iraq and what we should do about it. Charity requires us to assume the best of intentions on the part of people—and many of them have expressed sentiments against the war for a year or more. Voting one’s conscience is what a representative is supposed to do in a Republic. Then the voters decide whether your conscience is worth re-election. (Or that’s the theory, isolated from multi-million dollar campaigns and good old fashioned human weakness.)

So I don’t want to impugn the motives of most of the backers of this withdrawal language. But I do want to point out which destination the road paved with good intentions leads to.

The real tragedy is that those voting for this sort of fixed withdrawal date are voting for something guaranteed to produce the worst possible results. Whatever they want, they won’t get it. Instead, if they get their way, they’ll get blood and death on an unimaginable scale. Consider for a moment some common slogans behind this bill:

We need to put pressure on the Iraqis to solve their problems—this is “a signal to the Iraqi leaders that we cannot save them from themselves” (Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich).
Except that it isn’t. It’s a signal that we’ll abandon them whether or not they solve their problems. It asks the Iraqi leadership to display heroic virtue and risk their lives trying to solve problems that might well take more than a year to solve. No matter how close they get in a year’s time, if Iraq can’t stand on its own April 1, 2008 (September 2008 in the House version), these people get to die horribly. Need another year? Another few months? Another few weeks? Too bad, times up. Perhaps the Iraqi leadership will rise to the challenge and succeed in meeting our arbitrary deadline. But should you gamble hundreds of thousands of lives on it being done in a year—with absolutely no flexibility in the timetable?

Iraq cannot be stabilized through military force—“there will not be a military solution to Iraq” (Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb).
Absolutely true, as far as it goes. Sunni/Shia violence, eradicating Al Qaeda in Iraq, bringing the remaining Baathists into the political process, ending Iranian and Syrian funding of terrorists and sectarian fighters—none of these has a purely military solution. But look at each and ask yourself: “Does a fixed timetable make solving this problem more likely?” What incentive is there for extremists to negotiate and neighbors to respect borders if the US is certain to be gone in one short year? Sure, they might lie low for that one year, not wanting Congress to wise up and realize its error. But negotiate in good faith? When waiting ensures you get everything you want after the Americans are gone? Remember, you’re an extremist convinced of the rightness of your cause and that the only reason you’re not in charge is because of those damned Americans. Now they’ve shown their coward’s colors. You’ll wait them out and inherit the land.

The US presence is now an impediment to a real solution—we need to “force the Iraqis to fight their own war” (Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa).
Adds a grave misunderstanding of human nature on top of all the problems of the previous topic. Leaving aside whether the Iraqis can fight and win against terrorists backed by Syria and insurgents backed by Iran (bolstered with Iranian troops), should that really be our goal in Iraq? Do we not care what kind of regime triumphs in Iraq after this war fought by Iraqis? Do we not realize the likely tactics to be used in such a war? If you think the US has been careless of civilian casualties, just wait—you ain’t seen nothing yet. What kind of irresponsible hubris allows a Congressman to simply wash his hands of the nation his party voted to plunge into chaos? (And, yes, the Democrats did exactly that when they voted to authorize the invasion. They may be angry or ashamed that they did so, but they don’t get to rewrite history.)

War is bad, peace is good—“if you want peace, stop funding this war” (Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio).
To be fair, most of this crowd probably voted against the current bills, since they didn’t mandate immediate unconditional withdrawal. But one can’t really let this pass by without remarking: peace for whom? Certainly not for the poor Iraqis. Whatever the possibility for final victory, the recent troop surge has improved the lives of many. US troops aren’t saints, but they’re a damn sight better than sectarian zealots or Al Qaeda murderers. To advocate obtaining peace for ourselves by abandoning the Iraqis to their fate seems so cruel and bigoted that one must presume, in charity, that those calling for it either haven’t thought about the outcome or are certain its unavoidable. Although you’d think that in the latter case, simple human concern would require you to offer asylum to the progressives, homosexuals, feminists, and just plain folks who will be on the chopping block once we leave.

We can’t win, victory is impossible—we should minimize US casualties by leaving now.
Ironically, this is perhaps the most reasonable (if also most viciously pragmatic) possible reason. Ironically, because I did not see any prominent quotes touting it. Either most of those against the war don’t believe this, or don’t want to say it, for some reason. In any event, if you believe this, you still shouldn’t be for a fixed timetable for three reasons: troop morale, enemy tactics, and moral considerations. No matter the facts, the troops are going to feel that a fixed deadline which both leaves them in harms way for a year and guarantees that their buddies deaths past, present, and future are pointless isn’t going to sit well. At some point before the fixed deadline, we’ll have to begin preparations for withdrawal. At some point, those preparations will be impossible to stop. And at that point, our enemy will know that we can’t simply change our policy, and they will take their revenge: against us, against those who helped us, and against anyone they just don’t like. Why allow them a year to plan their slaughter, months to line up the resources for it, and weeks to carry it out?

And that last consideration, the moral one? It’s the simplest. If the war is really lost, and our presence makes no bit of difference in the long run, then every day we stay gets people killed for no reason. Since we can’t do anything about Iraqi casualties (in this view they’ll happen regardless), we need to minimize our own. That means we withdraw now, as soon as feasible, without any prior warning. Not slowly, but as quickly as we staged in we stage back out.

Sure, that will mean an absolute slaughter of all those who mistakenly put their trust in us. But again, on this view, that’s going to happen in any event.

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In every single case, a fixed timetable for withdrawal that gives no flexibility to the President, the military, or the Iraqis is the worst possible “solution” for the problems in Iraq. If those who voted for it last week got their way, they would be responsible for the hundreds of thousands of deaths that will come as a result. And they’d be responsible for the hundreds of American deaths that will come during that final year. Whatever you think about Iraq, you can’t think about Iraq and support this. This road—though paved with the best of intentions—really does lead to Hell.

I am optimistic that the people of the United States of America will realize one day that talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words, and that the true measure of great leadership will be recognized. Ok. So how many of you have been in a position of authority – say C-level of a corporation, or even a director of a University department for example? One of the things that occurs is that you are responsible for everything that happens below you: all decisions that are made reflect on you and chances are you haven’t a clue as to what is going on. In the corporate world, C-level executives rely on underlings to provide them information. Typically this information is fragmentary, inaccurate, misdirected and suspect. A good C-level executive is a processor of fragmentary information – one who can extract both direction and policy from partial data and at the same time filter that data for accuracy and for the agendas of the source. If decisions and policies that result are “good” 51% of the time, then that leader or executive is considered a good leader. If “good” decisions are made, say 60%, of the time, that executive is a great leader.

Contrast that to Washington. In Washington, everyone has an agenda, and they are similar to those in corporate worlds, e.g., related to obtaining power and weath. But the number of agendas is so great and noise input so much higher, that quantity becomes a quality in itself. During Jimmy Carter’s presidency, he become so immersed in the details of management of the country that he forgot to lead. Ronald Reagan was considered a great leader because he left the management details to others but was an astute processor of information and could extract reasonable policy from the morass of data forwarded to him.

A good leader establishes a vision of where he wants to be, or where he wants the country to be, and then conveys that vision through directives and orders to his staff. The vision then flows down to the next level of government until the directives become so vague as to be unactionable. Think of a Xerox copy of a copy. After a certain number of copies, the final one is unreadable. Working up from the bottom are personal agendas. Optimistically, these agendas are based on honest visions of where the country needs to be, which may differ from that vision established by the executive. Practically, there are a lot of assholes out there that don’t have any vision other than to provide for themselves. Both , however, act as noise against the vision of the executive.

A successful executive must formulate a strong and simple vision, convey it with enthusiasm and clarity, and defend it with passion and agressive action. More so in the Government where the amount of noise is constant and large. I am not sure that anyone, even ‘W’ himself, would have been able to define the vision of Bush 43 in the first months of his presidency prior to 911. Mostly, he was elected because the Democrats were visionless. 911 defined Bush and forced him to elucidate a clear vision for the country. People responded. The last presidential election was a mandate for vision and leadership. People want leaders who espouse clear and powerful visions, and support to those who do. And even if that vision may differ in aspects from their personal views, they will, in general, stand with a President who displays leadership.

In some sense, George W Bush created the perfect mission for America—defeat terrorism. His vision is to defeat it by promoting democracy in regions which have never seen democracy. Yes, this is problematic—no infrastructure or rule of law exists in those areas—but the vision is simple. The mission is straightforward and supportable by almost anyone. The vision is clear and reproducible and is able to be pushed down many levels before being buried in the noise of Washington. The Democrats can sense this and constantly provide noise (but notice that they cannot even dent the mission and vision—to do so would be political suicide). At best, Bush will be viewed in history as a great leader. At worst, he will be judged as a good leader hobbled by the noise of his own party and the Democratic opposition.

Greatness is achieved by standing for something. The current crop of Democrats are against things. Greatness is not achieved by opposition. When Bush wanted to hold Iraq troop levels constant per the advice of Rumsfeldt, Democrats in Congress inisted that more troops were required. When Bush appointed Petraeus and wanted a “surge” in troops in Bagdad, Democrats in Congress positioned themselves against the surge. In fact, one might say that the Democrats are are defined by Bush – they are the Bush antithesis. Which bodes poorly for them when Bush goes away (Hello Jeb?).