Daily Archives: July 6, 2010

Thomas Sowell’s "Reversed Analogy"

Economist and conservative commentator Thomas Sowell posted an interesting political opinion today. Following the logic of the Lucy-Charlie Brown football analogy, Democrats are always promising bipartisanship and lower spending then they pull the football away from Republicans. Funny, I thought that it was the other way around. Democrats offered to work with Republicans, then Republicans would back out at the last minute. It seems to be part of their strategy of just saying “No” to Obama’s course of action. Mitch McConnell even admits it.

Another problem with his opinion is that he is basically saying Republicans are the party of saving (Frank) and Democrats are the party of spending and free lunches (Santa). This is mostly a myth. Both parties spend and have increased taxes. Both parties voted for bailouts and increased military spending. Both have also ran really high deficits. Here I am not defending the Democrats, but the Republicans are just as guilty.

Further Reading:

Sowell’s piece

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The "Unbreakable Bond"

This afternoon, President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Blair House to discuss several matters of importance for both sides. The two major issues that seemed to have dominated the meeting were the Israeli/Palestinian peace process and the Iranian nuclear issue. Although nothing of substance seemed to have come out of the meeting, the ceremonial aspect of it made it feel very comforting.

At the press conference after the meeting, President Obama stated that the Israel and the U.S. have an “unbreakable bond.” What he obviously meant by this is that no bad event, such as the building of settlements or the Israeli attack on a Turkish flotilla, can stop this relationship. Essentially, Obama is saying that these two are “best friends forever.” Unfortunately, this unbreakable bond might be more of a “friends with monetary benefits” relationship than anything else.

The New York Times reported this morning that at there are at least 40 American groups that received approximately $200 million in tax breaks that provide Israeli settlers services in the occupied territories. Many of these were Christian or Jewish groups that have religious ties to the area. This is very problematic when the president is trying to get passed the issue of settlements and has hopes of creating a settlement freeze. The settlements are usually used by Israel to annex part of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by slowing moving in to crowd out the Palestinians. In fact, this issue interrupted Vice-President Biden’s trip a few months ago when on the same day 1,600 new settlements were announced in East Jerusalem.

Furthermore, the U.N. sees the settlement freeze as crucial to restarting talks with the Israelis. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon wrote sternly in a letter to a U.N. committee on the rights of the Palestinians, “The coming months will be decisive in determining if we can move towards direct negotiations.”

The Israeli government even rejected a bill that would extend the already 10 month settlement freeze in place two days ago. Although the U.S. has agreed to indirect talks with the Israelis and the Palestinians, the settlement issue is the real barrier to fostering peace in the Middle East.

Israel did make some progress though when they decided to ease the blockade on the Gaza Strip. The Associated Press reported that Israel will reduce the blockade on necessary humanitarian items such as house hold cleaners and timber. Certain construction materials will still be scrutinized, but some will be let through. Israel uses the blockade for security reasons against Hamas.

Prime Minister Netanyahu also supported President Obama’s fresh round of sanctions against Iran. President Ahmadinejad of Iran has often attacked Israel and said he wanted to “wipe it off the face of the earth.” Netanyahu also hopes other countries will pursue similar paths towards sanctions. This is also helpful to thaw the cold relationship with the U.S. Obama must be careful though not to get too close with Israel as to alienate countries such as Turkey that could be a useful alley in the future.

So, although the settlements are still a major wedge between Israel and the U.S. at least easing the blockade will help the situation. Maybe the “unbreakable bond” does have some cracks after all.

Further Reading:

WSJ article on Netanyahu/Obama meeting

Council on Foreign Relations analysis of importance of the meeting

NYT story on tax-exempt companies helping Israeli settlers

Israel rejects extension of settlement freeze

Israel eases Gaza blockade

U.N. Sec. General says settlement freeze is crucial

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Cultural Commentary: Why are Liberals Funnier Than Conservatives?

In the world of twenty-four hour news and daily newspapers, people seem to be turning to comedians for analysis. Jon Stewart, Stephan Colbert, and Bill Maher all rule the airwaves with their daily or weekly comedy shows. Interestingly, they all seem to be liberal, why is this the case? Why are liberals funnier than most conservatives? Although this is not a current events topic, some cultural analysis is necessary here.

There are three primary reasons that I believe this to be true. First is that liberal views lend themselves better to comedy than conservatives. It is much easier to laugh at views that are “stuck in the good ole’ days” such as not having universal health care, teaching creationism in American high schools, and the even mocking the old days by saying that the 1950s were wonderful, if you were a white man. Not to mention, the conspiracy theorists that come with the recent Tea Party Movement provide excellent comic relief. The birthers and death panel believers are certainly ridiculous making the joke writing material much easier for the comedian.

Second, liberals use humor as a tool for deconstruction. About two years ago, I wrote a forensics speech about being more serious in life. My naïve brain did not seem to realize the advantage of Jon Stewart’s philosophical breakdown. Humor allows for the audience to see a view in another light. Deconstruction allows the comedian to take the issue and cut it down to a much easier format for the listener. Comedy relief, as Shakespeare is the master of, relaxes the audience member allowing them to connect to the jester on the stage.

Finally, liberals seem to be better at having a good time versus conservatives. It is much harder to have a good time, unless you are Republican House Majority Leader John Boehner who rumor has it goes to bars after hours, when you are part of the conservative value system. The strict moral order of using clean language and fighting against change is not very appealing for a comedy routine. Liberal comedians have the ability to use strong language, as Jon Stewart demonstrates nightly, and an advantage of being opposed to the system. This luxury is something that conservatives simply will never posse.

I hope someday for a good conservative comedian, but the odds will most likely be stacked against them. A few years ago, Fox News tried a show called the “Half Hour News Hour” with conservative humor. To me, it seemed rather trite and hard edged. Someday, conservatives might succeed in this endeavor of getting a successful comedy show, but until that time Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter will have to suffice.

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Filed under conservatives, funny, humor, liberals

Afghanistan: The Graveyard of Delusion

Welcome to Afghanistan: the 2nd most corrupt place on earth. The perfect vacation spot. In this Middle East paradise the weather is warm and the opium could not be better. For some great tourist destinations, check out Kabul home to Hamid Kazi, the most unpopular man in land. If you get bored his brother Wali can give you a wonderful tour of the village life on the CIA’s budget. Afghanistan, ranked by Foreign Policy Magazine as the 6th most failed stated in the world – and the place where you should spend your next tropical/desert getaway.

Sadly, I wish that a brochure for a future Afghanistan vacation would look rosier than the former. Unfortunately, this “dream vacation” spot is exactly as RNC Chairman Michael Steele put it “the graveyard of empires.” To me, the “good war” is turning into a war for a mysterious cause lost long ago. The words “America failure” is not a phrase that the home of the brave love hearing, but sometimes it happens. So, here is the news that I dread telling.

As mentioned above, Foreign Policy ranked Afghanistan as the 6th most failed state in the world, Iraq came in 7th. Only ahead of Afghanistan were the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Chad, and Somalia (the #1 failed state). The scores were ranked by categories from demographics pressures to the security apparatus ranging on a scale of 1 to 10. Out of the total, Afghanistan was only 5 points behind Somalia, which has not had a functioning government since 1991-92. What this points to is the failure of the U.S. science project in democracy promotion, joining the others such as Vietnam and Iraq.

Now terms such as “failed state” and its meaning are very debatable. I would certainly argue that categories such as technological advancement and government legitimacy were two categories that should have been added to the study, not that Afghanistan would have fared much better in the results. What is disturbing is that these terms are being used and yet billions of dollars have been allocated towards this noble cause. For instance, the National Priorities Project indicates that Afghanistan is costing around $281 billion dollars since 2001. Newsweek even reported in January that spending for the war would be around $6.5 billion for this year (2010). If the numbers are broken down further, 49% of those funds go to military operations, while only 11.4% goes to training the Afghan army and 3.98% goes to construction. To put it simply, the military is winning the war of funding over the humanitarian effort.

The results appear to be showing the dire progress, or at least trying to paint a lousy picture of it. The Washington Post reported in May that while the Obama administration hopes to meet its goal of increasing the Afghan forces from 109,000 to 134,000 by this fall that does not mean quality. The same report indicated that there is only 1 American trainer for every 29 recruits. Furthermore, the New York Times stated on June 28 that the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction says that there is not a good way to tell whether the Afghan soldiers are being properly trained or any indication of whether the numbers of soldiers are accurate.

I bring up these facts about military and humanitarian operations specifically because that is the strategy that President Obama wants to use to win in Afghanistan. This “civilian surge” is the strategy that is supposed to save this nightmare country. I did not even mention the corrupt the government in Kabul, the continuing spread of opium, the Taliban border hopping to Pakistan, or even the strain in civilian-military relations.

On Monday, Vice President Biden told the Afghanistan government to “get in the game” as if he were a basketball coach telling giving his team a pep talk after being twenty points down at halftime Instead, maybe the U.S. should “get in the game.” Obama and Petraeus are being to sound like Henry Kissinger at the end of peace negotiations in 1972 of the Vietnam War saying “Peace is at hand,” which was hardly the case. The leaders seem to be deluding themselves that these strategies will work after using the same strategy for the last 7 years. During this great recession/possible depression, it is important to note that this war is creating tradeoffs. The National Priorities Project indicates that the War in Afghanistan for my home state of Kansas will cost the state 45,467 policemen for 1 year, 366,408 Head Start children losing spots in school for 1 year, and 46,033 elementary school teachers jobs for 1 year.

I know that everyone dreams of making Afghanistan the desert paradise of tomorrow, but is it really worth destroying the economy in a time of recession for today? I beg to differ. The leadership loves to believe that this time will be different than all the others.

Ironically, I believe President Obama said it best when he spoke at West Point last fall, “Simply put, American innovation must be the foundation of American power – because at no time in human history has a nation of diminished economic vitality maintained its military and political primacy.”

Alas, like the Soviets before us hoping for a communist dream in this land last conquered by Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan (who were not worried about Human Rights Watch), our efforts will be thrown into the graveyard of delusion called Afghanistan.

Further Reading:

Foreign Policy Failed State Index

Transparency International Corruption Chart

Cost of the Afghanistan War – watch the money rise

Tradeoffs of Afghanistan War

Biden on Afghanistan

Newsweek Breaks Down Afghanistan Costs

Obama West Point Speech

Washington Post on Afghanistan training – though it says it improves that is debatable

NYT on Afghanistan army training flawed report

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