Monday, July 31, 2006

Beach Reading

I will be out of town for the remainder of the week, so I’ll have no new posts until the 7th. But before I head out, I wanted to leave y’all with some links to other posts you may enjoy:

Amba dissects a recent David Brooks column and examines what an Israeli withdrawal would mean for Islam and Islamic terrorists.

The American Moderate Party has an update on the latest Unity ’08 goings on.

Centerfield has a discussion on the Republican minimum wage plan.

Charging RINO weighs in on the moderate vs. centrist debate.

Reader_IAM, looks into the inanity of Mel Gibson’s recent brouhaha and the inanity that has followed.

Michael Reynolds has been on a roll, giving us his take on who lost Iraq and reminding us all of what total war is and why it is useful.

Finally, Richard Lawrence Cohen offers up a poignant tale about tarot cards and the deeper desire to know one's life.

Some good stuff here from some great writers. I often wish I had the insight of Amba, the wit of Michael Reynolds and the poeticism of Richard Lawrence Cohen. But at least I have one thing none of them do – a 5-day vacation at a Mexican resort. Hasta luego mis amigos.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

From Spain to Iraq

"The war with Israel does not depend on cease-fires ... . It is a Jihad for the sake of God and will last until (our) religion prevails ... from Spain to Iraq."

So said al Qaeda's #2, Ayman al-Zawahiri in a statement released today.

Looks like al Qaeda thinks this could be the moment, the pieces finally in place for their great war against the rest of us. Al-Zawahiri is calling on all Muslims, Shiite and Sunni, to rise up against their own governments, destroy Israel and create a Muslim empire stretching from Spain to Iraq.

That really has been al Qaeda's endgame all along. Keep stirring things up until the entire Mid East descends into chaos. In the ashes they hope a radical Muslim order will take control (as it did in the ashes of Afghanistan after the Soviets left).

They will not stop stirring things up until chaos is no longer a possibility. And considering how very far we are from a real, lasting peace in the Middle East, I think we'll be entangled over there for at least another generation.

We (and by "we" I mean all those who oppose the radical Islamist agenda) are the wall and the girders against chaos and against what threatens to come after. In Iraq, in Lebanon, in Afghanistan, in any city or country where they ferment chaos, we must stand our ground. Not an easy task. But one we must take on, in whatever ways we can.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The American Dream Initiative

The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the Democratic group that sits on the party’s right flank and near America’s center, has released a plan on which they want their entire party to run. The American Dream Initiative is the DLC’s vision for what Democrats can achieve for our nation if elected this November.

They call the plan an “opportunity agenda” and provide a list of principles as follows:

• Every American should have the opportunity and responsibility to go to college and earn a degree, or to get the lifelong training they need.

• Every worker should have the opportunity and responsibility to save for a secure retirement.

• Every business should have the opportunity to grow and prosper in the strongest private economy on earth, and the responsibility to equip workers with the same tools of success as management.

• Every individual should have the opportunity and responsibility to start building wealth from day one, and the security and community that come from owning a home.

• Every family should have the opportunity to afford health insurance for their children, and the responsibility to obtain it.

• In order to expand opportunity for all Americans, we must demand a new ethic of responsibility from Washington: to put government's priorities back in line with our values -- and its books back in balance -- by getting rid of wasteful corporate subsidies, unchecked bureaucracy, and narrow-interest loopholes; collecting taxes that are owed; clamping down on tens of billions of dollars in improper payments and no bid-contracts; and restoring commonsense budgeting principles like pay-as-you-go.

Each of these broad statements of principles/goals is fleshed out with more details later in the plan. All said, it’s a fairly comprehensive domestic agenda that is heavy on practicality and light on sweeping reforms. Some will criticize it as too filled with small ideas while Republicans will certainly criticize it as another case of Democrats wanting government to hold too many hands and perform too many unneeded services.

But right now, the DLC is probably most concerned with what its own party will say. The left flank, led by Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean, have previously stated that the choice between Republicans and Democrats is clear and have not pushed to create an agenda outside of the “let’s get rid of those incompetent/evil Republicans” plan.

Without the party leadership’s backing, the DLC plan will never gain traction. Which would be a shame because, even with its cloying name, The American Dream Initiative is a sturdy agenda with reasonable ideas and a clear message that, despite over a decade of power, the Republicans have done a poor job of helping average Americans deal with modern problems. I don’t like every idea they put forth, but I like that they are addressing real issues with some interesting solutions—that’s more than most politicians in either party are doing.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Evangelicals and Israel

A new political/religious group has formed to rally Christians in support of Israel. Christians United for Israel, a primarily evangelical group, just held a Washington, DC summit where members met with congressional representatives and advocated pro-Israel policies. All because, as group founder Rev. John Hagee says, Christians are Biblically commanded to support Israel (i.e. Romans 15:27).

So, while anti-Semitism flares up on the international left, pro-Jewish sentiment is being embraced by the American right. What’s going on here?

Well, the International left is terminally ill with the cancer of Marxist/moral relativistic thought and has lost all ability to distinguish right from wrong in any meaningful or realistic way. I’m disinterested in them. What I’m interested in are the evangelical Christians who are increasingly pro-Israel.

Pat Robertson claims the support is born of a shared covenant and a common enemy (radical Islam). Of course, others point out that evangelical support for Israel is also heavily influenced by Biblical interpretation. The prophecy of Armageddon and the second coming of Christ cannot occur unless Israel is whole.

It is this aspect that has led many to view the Evangelical/Israeli alliance with skepticism and derision. But I think such distrust is misplaced. Yes, the Biblical tale of Armageddon isn’t particularly nice to the Jews, but there’s no evidence that any of these Evangelical groups are planning to hurry things along. They are sincere in their support of Israel and should not be condemned simply for believing in the Book of Revelations.

History does not offer many examples of overt let alone fervent Christian/Jewish alliances. Anti-Semitism has been the norm for centuries upon centuries. So I, for one, am glad to see such pro-Jewish voices coming from American Christianity—even if I don’t agree with every policy position they put forth.

Given that the Democratic Party has traditionally been and still very-much is a pro-Jewish, pro-Israel party, it appears as if America can proudly claim to be the most anti anti-Semitic nation on Earth (well, outside of Israel). That’s at least one positive unifying belief in today’s divided culture.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Hot Enough For Ya?

As the U.S. and Europe are gripped in a blazing heat wave, I thought I'd bring up global warming, a topic on which I've very rarely touched.

Not too many years ago, it was fashionable for global warming denialists to claim the event wasn't occurring at all. Now, after several mountain-loads of scientific evidence has shown that the earth is indeed heating up, the denialists have turned to a new tactic: claiming it is a natural event and not the result of greenhouse gas emissions.

Now, clearly there are many political motivations on both sides of the global warming issue. And clearly some of the more alarmist voices are overstating the case against greenhouse gases while ignoring what role natural climate change patterns may be playing.

But here's my thinking: if global warming is just a natural climate change event, isn't it an amazing coincidence that this serious warming trend so closely corresponds with mankind's increasing emissions of greenhouse gases? I mean, what are the odds? Isn’t it a bit more likely that there isn’t a large coincidence at play and that the science is correct: greenhouse gases are warming the planet.

While the current heat wave may or may not have anything to do with global warming, it does give us all a chance to stop and realize we should take a proactive stance against global warming rather than just sitting back and hoping the science is wrong.

Another Round With the Stem Cells

Once you've been blogging for awhile, you find the same debates keep coming back around. This is helpful for a time-strapped blogger such as myself because I can just link to previous posts. In the case of stem cells, I wrote a number of opinions when the issue came up over a year ago. Those of you who are interested in where I stand can read my thoughts here and here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

On the Brink

In a look at how war is being played out on CNN, Amba of AmbivaBlog has assembled a disturbing post that is like postmodern art—a new, deeper meaning created out of otherwise bland cultural fabric. A truth uncovered in the white noise.

That truth? We are not in the best of times. A reality Amba conveys as she ends the post with Yeats’ famous poem, The Second Coming.

I am sure the current Israeli-Hezbollah war has left many of us feeling apprehensive. Will this escalate? Are we deluding ourselves into thinking the conflict between Western values and Radical Islam will end without a world war? And, do we as a people have the strength and vision necessary to capably resolve the growing crises of the world?

That last question is as, if not more important than any other we may ask ourselves. In Amba’s post, the incongruity between fluffy-pseudo news and unyieldingly real news is starkly clear and truly unsettling. These times call for a serious, mature people—but we may not qualify.

Of course, my fears could be silly. It is entirely possible that all generations, in their short time here, feel as if the whole world is on the brink. Is it human nature to view our own times as the end times (if not THE end, at least the end of the world as we know it)?

We all live our lives perched on the precipice, knowing a swift wind will soon rise and send us tumbling. Is it any surprise that we believe our world is in the same precarious situation? Are our fears the same fears our ancestors once had? And, if so, did not the world go on after them, changed but hardly ended?

Yet, even as I write the above, I am not particularly comforted by it. I simply cannot shake the feeling that we are truly, truly, yes this time, truly on the brink. That weak wills, calcified minds and cruel hearts conspire to take us all down.

I would be depressed if not for my relentless belief that greatness will rise and pull us away from the cliff's edge. I see the superficiality in our culture but do not believe we are submerged by it. I see the insincerity and selfishness in our leaders, but do not believe they control us. I see the bitter, absurd divides in our culture but do not believe the rifts are irreparable.

I see us near the brink, yes, but not so weak that only one swift wind could end us. I think we can pull back. I think the fortitude is there. All we need to do is rise to the occasion. Easier said than done, but it would be foolish to think it impossible.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Oh Give me a Bleepin' Break

So the headline of the day is that President Bush used a common expletive while privately discussing the Israeli/Hezbollah situation with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The men thought the microphones were off.

Really? The use of a swear word is the lead headline? As if it's shocking (shocking!) that a grown man would curse during a private conversation.

The real news is the conflict and how Bush plans to use U.S. influence to help resolve the crisis. In fact, in the very sentence in which Bush swore, he laid out what he thought would be the best course of action. Bush said:

See the irony is what [the UN] need[s] to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this s___ and it's over.

Actually, that's not a horrible idea. If the international community could convince (or force) the backers of Hezbollah to release the Israeli soldiers and stop firing rockets into Israel, then Israel would certainly stop bombing Lebanon. Not an easy task, but it is likely one of the better options open to the international community.

But why make Bush's preferred strategy the headline when the "s___" is so much more fun to crow about? Another shining moment for the American media.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Democrats Leading in New Poll

In the most recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll, Democrats are still favored to reclaim the House this November. Here’s how it breaks down:

Not surprisingly, 81 percent of self-described liberals said they would vote for the Democrat. Among moderates, though, 56 percent backed a Democrat in their district and almost a quarter of conservatives — 24 percent — said they will vote Democratic.

Democrats also held the advantage among persuadable voters — those who are undecided or wouldn't say whom they prefer. A total of 51 percent said they were leaning Democrat, while 41 percent were leaning Republican.

Of course, a national lead for the Democrats doesn’t mean they’ll pick up those 15 seats they need to take back the House. But you have to figure they actually have a pretty good shot. And should they succeed, it’s all but curtains for the Bush administration.

With a Democratic House, we can expect 2 years of gridlocked government—which might not be such a bad thing. There are times when I would prefer our current leaders do nothing at all rather than try to do something and just cause more harm than good. But I’d be a lot more excited about a Democratic House if it didn’t come with Nancy Pelosi as its Speaker. That thought sends my stomach churning.

But none of us get to decide which party is in charge. We vote for one Representative. For me, that means choosing between 20-year Republican incumbent Lamar Smith and Democratic challenger, John Courage. While I can’t find any confirmation on a major news site, a number of blogs have declared my district in play based on Smith’s low approval ratings. If this is true, then I look forward to casting a meaningful vote.

And right now, it looks like a lot of Americans will be casting meaningful votes this year. The Democrats can only hope enough of those will be for their candidates.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

No Easy Answers for Israel

Even as Israel has made slow, unsteady but generally persistent progress towards securing peace with its neighbors, the region has remained a powder keg just waiting for a spark to ignite a war. Has that spark come?.

Israel is engaged in military attacks larger than anything we’ve seen since the early-to-mid 1980s. Their goal is to force the release of two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah. But make no mistake, this is more than a one-issue conflict. As seriously as Israel obviously takes the kidnappings, this conflagration is the result of years of mounting tensions screwed ever tighter by the unceasing blood-thirst of Hezbollah and its sponsors in Lebanon and Iran.

Whether Israel’s response is likely to succeed, I don’t know. There was a time when I would have harshly criticized what appears on the surface to be an overly intense response. But I am no longer so quick to criticize Israel for her actions against terrorists.

Whenever I consider the issue of culpability and right-vs-wrong, I always ask myself, if Hezbollah and like-minded groups stopped their attacks, stopped spreading hate and started building communities, would Israel stop its military strikes? The answer is a clear yes. But, if Israel were to never again drop a bomb or launch a missile, would Hezbollah and others stop their attacks? I don’t see any indication that they would. And that is why I’m ever slow to criticize Israel.

However, I am not claiming Israel’s current actions are unequivocally wise. What I’m saying is that I am not so naïve as to believe there is necessarily a better way.

The next few days and weeks will reveal whether Israel’s response was wise … and whether we have a serious conflict on our hands or just another series of bloody volleys that will soon end but resolve nothing.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Summer Cold

There's something not quite fair about catching a summer cold. During the winter, you're prepared, stocked on tissues, ready with the cold medicine. But in the summer, it's a complete and completely unwelcome surprise.

If you haven't guessed by now, that's where I've been. Mowed down by a nasty summer cold--the gift of my ever-cute and ever-germy little two-year old. The good news is, the clouds are beginning to part and I should be functional again soon. At that point, I might actually have something worthwhile to say about the state of the world.

Right now, I'm only capable of such deep observations as: summer colds suck.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Giuliani Could be Helped by Democratic House

Today, The Wall Street Journal opinion pages look into Giuliani’s chances and give him a more than average chance at victory, if the cards fall right.

The editorial discusses everything from Giuliani’s possible trouble with the Republican social-conservative base to a rather nasty, race-baiting video produced by leftists seeking to tar Giuliani as a minority-bashing, civil-liberties trampling dictator.

None of that is surprising—Giuliani has never be afraid to upset constituencies on the left or the right and any Giuliani observer knows the man has a lot of hurdles between him and the presidency. But what if that path to the White House could be made smoother by a Democratic takeover of Congress?

[A] Democratic takeover of Congress would be a gift for all Republican presidential candidates, but especially for a Republican centrist. The would-be Democratic speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, has already made it plain that she intends to put an investigation of the Bush administration at the center of her otherwise thin agenda--and thereby to replicate the mistake made by Republicans in the Clinton era. A variety of other high-profile Democratic leftists, including Charles Rangel and John Conyers, would ascend to committee chairmanships, giving the House so marked a partisan complexion as to enable even the most moderate of Republicans to position themselves to the right of it.

I find this analysis to ring rather true. Plus, with a partisan House fighting a partisan administration for the next two years, Americans would be even more likely to reach towards a strong leader with a history of placing the public interest over partisan games. Giuliani fits that profile.

Democrats seeking to recapture Congress this year should be careful what they wish for. With the current Democratic leadership of the House being what it is, a win in 2006 could lead straight to another Republican presidency in 2008.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy 4th of July

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

Monday, July 03, 2006

Loneliness and Our Increasingly Divided Culture

According to a new study in the American Sociological Reviews, Americans are lonely. And we’re getting lonelier. We have fewer close friends and belong to fewer social organizations than we did even just 20 years ago.

Why is this so? The theories include everything from endless and isolating media options to a workaholic office culture to suburban sprawl. But whatever the cause, the effect is a culture battling with dramatic increases in depression and feelings of disconnection.

The question I find myself asking is: to what degree does this rising loneliness influence our political culture? It seems to me that there is an obvious and direct link between a nation of increasingly isolated souls and a nation of increasingly polarized views. When we belong to real-world organizations (whether they be a formal club or just a group of people who go to happy hour every Friday) we are exposed to a much wider range of opinion than if we sit at home alone, watching the news channel we most agree with and reading the blogs that mirror our own perceptions of the world.

When you befriend Bob in your bowling league and later discover he’s a Bush supporter, it makes it that much harder to believe that all Bush supporters are idiots or jerks. After all, Bob is a nice guy who’s intelligent and enjoyable to be around.

Is it that simple? No. But it may not be too much more complex. When we isolate ourselves, we stop exposing ourselves to new ideas. At that point, we open ourselves up to exploitation by politicians who can only win elections through divisiveness—by making us believe the other side is not merely mistaken but fundamentally abhorrent. If you are friends with no one on that “other side” it makes it really easy to fall for the bait.

As for how we reignite sociability in our society, I don’t think there is any one solution or even a single collection of solutions. But we should be thinking about how we can encourage more people to join more real-world (and not just online) groups. And we should each be making a personal effort to get out from behind our computers, away from our televisions and into a more sociable atmosphere—whether it’s a weekly poker game or happy hour or quilting bee—anything that brings us together with people who may open our eyes to new ideas or at least temper our outrage towards those on the “other side.”