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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘conservatives’

Why Current US Foreign Policy Debate Doesn’t Make Sense and How to Fix It

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Something very bad is happening with the U.S. foreign policy debate. Aside from all of the specific problems and bad appointments, the whole discussion is being conducted on the wrong assumptions and context.

There is nothing easier than to argue about obsolete issues simply because we’ve become so used to the reality of those that have been around for decades. The first step is comprehending that we are dealing with entirely new categories.

In the old days, at least supposedly, the battle was between those who wanted a high level of U.S. intervention and activism–including a relative willingness to use military force–and those who wanted to do less and were horrified either by the use of force or by recent experiences where that strategy had failed. For the last decade, this argument is most symbolized by President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. In theory, conservatives were and are gung-ho for American unilateralism and intervention; liberals were and are more circumspect.

First, that wasn’t entirely true. It was John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson who took the United States into Vietnam. Kennedy also ordered the covert invasion of Cuba. Moreover, liberals often favored a different kind of intervention into the affairs of foreign states, pressing for more democracy (Jimmy Carter in the shah’s Iran) and opposing coups (notably in Latin America), for instance.

On the other side, it was the Nixon Doctrine which first made official policy the idea that the United States should not try to be the world’s policeman but instead back friendly regional powers so war-fighting and intervention by America could be reduced.

Second, most of these kinds of debates were in the context of the Cold War. Liberals and conservatives both wanted to counter Soviet expansionism or influence but proposed different ways of doing so at times. To show how varied were these tactics, to more effectively fight that Cold War, Richard Nixon normalized relations with the Peoples’ Republic of China.

Liberals often supported a “third way” approach. They’d say: We don’t want Communist regimes and we don’t want right-wing dictatorships either. The best thing is to have moderates, liberals, pragmatic reformers in power. But if that option didn’t exist, liberals generally opted for a realpolitik status quo that combatted the Communists and pro-Soviet regimes even at the price of supporting old-fashioned dictatorships. Those liberals, however, would not have regarded revolutionary Islamists as being in the desirable category.

In effect, the Obama argument is this: In the past, the United States has been a bully. It has supported bad governments for the people living in those countries. Now, however everything is going to be different. We are going to support bad governments that not only hurt the people in those countries but also hurt U.S. interests! And we are going to give such radical, dictatorial-oriented forces preference over helping moderates, liberals, and pragmatic reformers!

Today, in a post-Cold War world, the ill-conceived “neo-conservative” strategy has now become a left-wing doctrine of spreading democracy ironically, more often than not, by backing anti-democratic forces. The process has become more important than the result.

Nor is intervention as such avoided. Bush’s basic concept has been adopted by the Obama Administration and its supporters. Obama’s intervention in Libya was more popular than Bush’s in Iraq simply because American soldiers weren’t killed, far less money was spent, and forces were not tied down in fighting for years. Yet in substance the two interventions were based on the same concept.

The debate now is not whether the United States should go around the world spending billions of dollars and fighting wars, at least outside of a debate over whether the United States should attack Iran if that country gets nuclear weapons. The fact that there is no chance of this happening (it’s true, there isn’t) underlines my point. Everybody serious recognizes the limits on American resources, the priority on domestic issues, and past failures with such over-extension.

Nor is the debate between isolationism and international engagement.

Nor is the issue to pretend that America has little influence in the world. Obviously, there is a limit, but the United States could definitely have had a major effect, for example, on the direction of Egypt’s political change in January-February 2011 and the same holds for the post-Assad regime in Syria today.

Madmen and Crowds

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

There was a temporary interval in American life when a shooting spree by a madman would have been viewed as the crime of one man. The dead would have been mourned. The killer, if he had been taken alive, would have been punished, and while the memorial might have been accompanied by some leading sermons, the country would have been spared the media exploitation and blame-a-thon that invariably follows such events.

The trouble is that there are no more individuals. Or rather the individual is no longer recognized as having any standing. “All private plans, all private lives, have been in a sense repealed by an overriding public danger,” Roosevelt declared in 1940 to the Democratic National Convention.  And the repeal never seems to have been repealed. Instead all private plans and private lives are being constantly repealed by a turmoil of overriding public dangers, most of them sociological in nature.

A shooting takes place and the media urges that millions of firearms be confiscated. Every crisis requires that more freedoms be sacrificed for that overriding public danger that the talking heads are screaming about this week over news feeds from every corner of the globe. There are no more private lives. Only public ones. Everyone will sooner or later pass before the camera and be judged by millions of strangers in a narrative that will transform him or her into a hero or villain in the great social struggle against the public danger of the day.

Calling Adam Lanza a madman has little meaning now. The madman retreats to a private world of his own making. But the collective culture does not recognize madness as a detachment from the crowd. Instead it views it as yet another social malady to be solved. Re-open the asylums. Provide more mental health funding. Open hotlines for anyone with suicidal thoughts. Social solutions for a social society coping with the anti-social.

But even our madmen are public figures now. Cut off from the collective culture by their minds, they still strive to connect to its most fundamental value. Fame.

America’s spree killers don’t drive pickup trucks with gun racks. They aren’t NRA members and have never opened a bible. They are young, mentally ill and famous. They are exactly like the real and fake celebrities who crowd magazine covers, television screens and paparazzi-choked premieres. But they can’t sing or dance, and have no unique way to embarrass themselves into staged fame. Instead they kill their way to being famous.

As schizophrenic as our shooters were, as unable to connect to the groupthink of the larger culture, they understood the one thing that we valued. And they got it in a brute force way. They became what every girl with dyed blonde hair waiting on line to impress the judges of television’s dueling singing competitions, every waiter with sunglasses waiting to become a movie star on Rodeo Drive, every “internet personality” leaning precariously over a webcam on YouTube, every kid trying out rhymes on his friends and building a fake biography of all the people he shot in drug deals gone bad, want to be. Famous.

In mass culture, fame is the only oxygen of the individual. It is the only thing that distinguishes the vanishing individual from the herd. The celebrity is to 21st Century America as the general, the writer, the poet, the politician and the genius were to former eras. All these things and many more have been distilled down to the simple status of celebrity. You are either famous or you aren’t. You either have a private life that everyone knows about or your private life has already been repealed by the overriding public dangers of cow farts, racism and large sodas. You are either a slave to the public or just a public slave.

A culture of crowds makes crazy people even crazier. There’s nothing for paranoia like a major city and these days we all live in the major city of a culture that is crowded in even its most rural areas. Crowd culture expects everyone to follow the leader, to join the meme, to move with the flow, but that is something that crazy people cannot do. The madman is always out of step and out of sync, the paranoid schizophrenic occasionally makes a compelling leader, but he is unable to be a follower.

Madness can at its simplest be viewed as the gap between his thinking and our own. Like cultural differences, it often explodes into violence, but unlike cultural differences it cannot be bridged because there is no common language. The madman is a member of a unique culture of one. He is a citizen of himself. He has his own laws, his own values and even his own mental language. And it is one that no sane person will ever understand.

The madman is the ultimate individual dying in his own private rebellions that mean nothing to anyone else. A sane society may lock him up, it may crudely tinker with his brain chemistry or even carve up his gray matter, but it will never truly make him one with the group. And our society, addled by nearly as many drugs as your average madman, is a long way from sane. It flirts with madness in its aimless attempts at reestablishing the place of the individual in a collectivist culture, and it veers recklessly from sympathizing with violence to pretending not to understand where violence comes from. It’s the feigned innocence of those who are just jaded enough not to want to know how jaded they have truly become.

If the madman has lost the ability to speak to the crowd, the crowd has equally lost the ability to speak to the individual. The madman suffers from a defective mental vocabulary and the mad society has lost the ability to formulate concepts relating to individual behavior.

In our society the individual is always seen as putting on a public performance of accepting or rejecting group values. All private lives become a public competition to see who recycles the most, is the least racist, the most giving and the best example of what a cog in the great social machine should be. Every individual act is a commentary, not ultimately on the individual, but on the social machine. Crime is no longer a private act, but a public one, that emerges out of social factors such as the poverty rate, race relations, the availability of firearms, cold medication in pharmacies and the amount of funding for midnight basketball, outpatient mental health therapy and a thousand others.

All private plans are a public danger. All individual acts are really collective acts. There is no “I” in individual. There is only the crowd, its avatars who live out their fantasies and entertain them, and the masses shuffling off toward their daily labors until they are released from the grind and allowed a few hours to entertain themselves watching their avatars live a public show of private life.

How does one speak of individual responsibility to such people and how can they be expected to distinguish individualism from madness? The ant hive cannot be expected to think of the ant. It cannot understand anthood apart from the hive.

The Blame-a-Thon continues. Blaming Adam Lanza for his own actions is insufficient. Even blaming his dead mother is insufficient. Individuals do not matter. Only groups do. Corporations. The NRA. The Tea Party. Private tragedy becomes a political event complete with campaign speeches and fundraising letters. Organizations converge. New offices are opened and phone lines are installed. Press conferences are given. “This is a wake up call. A call for action. It’s time we did something.”

Within an hour, the responsibility is transferred from a killer to the society at large and then to the groups that do not share the values of the new collectivist society. War is declared. Press releases are faxed. Letters are sent out. “We need your help, Michael.” “Stand with us, Susan.” The dead are buried and their bodies are used to make the mulch of a new wave of political repression and profiteering. The dead, like singing competition contestants, are ultimately disposable, as are their killers. It is the producers and the judges who endure.

Each call to action is signed with the promise, “So that this will never have happen again.” That is the sociological siren song of the crowd. The promise of a powerful government safety net that will keep every terrible thing from ever happening a second time. But there is no net that madmen cannot slip through when they choose to. It is possible to repeal the private lives and private plans of all gun owners, but not the private lives and plans of madmen who are not peninsulas, but islands in the stream, who do not care about laws, regulations and expectations. Broken men looking to break.

There is more danger than safety in the crowd. Not only can the crowd not deter a madman, for the same reason that Kitty Genovese bled to death lay dying for an hour, but the crowd is also mad. It is a madness that is harder to detect because it is the madness of a crowd. The individual irrationality of a madman is detectable by outsiders, because of its conflict with the group reality, and even to the person of the madman by that same conflict, which fuels his paranoia toward the outside world, but the group cannot detect its own irrationality and is too large and pervasive for its irrationality to be recognized on the outside.

Our crowd is not yet as collectively insane as Adam Lanza, but it’s getting there. And it will not be pretty when it does. The madness of crowds is not a pretty thing. It can be seen in the hysterical crowds that greeted Hitler or the equally hysterical crowds swooning at the sight of a celebrity. Individual madness is flawed chemistry, but crowd madness is a will to madness, a raving desire to be one with the collective view, to be famous or almost famous, to exchange reason for sensation and individuality for the group immortality of the group.

Originally published at Sultan Knish.

The Perfect Prison

Monday, December 24th, 2012

There are as many ways to look at a man as there are at a glass of water. Either half empty or half full. Either people are basically good or they are basically rotten. And all theories of government come down to one view or the other.

If people are basically good, then they can also be left to their own devices. They may even be allowed to run their own affairs. If however they are basically rotten, then a system is needed that will force goodness on them. And this system’s own goodness will be protected by strict conformity to an ideology that is also inherently good. Those who run the system can only be chosen from the ranks of the faithful adherents of that ideology.

Arguments for goodness or “badness” are wholly anecdotal. And always have been. A man walks into a school and murders children. A man throws himself under a car to save a woman. Which of them is a definite commentary on the species or the culture? That’s a matter of picking and choosing. Both are arguably exceptions to the rule. But on the whole we have far more people who do not shoot anyone than those who do. Far more who do not steal, than steal. Far more who may not wear a halo, or that we would want to share a long train ride with, but who on the whole could be trusted not to turn on their neighbors if one day every police department within a 100 miles folds up shop.

Gun control, like most liberal social legislation, is a barometer for the state of the human glass. It is a Rorschach test for how we see others. This week’s MSNBC commentary has been the usual notes about the paranoia of gun owners. But if there is gun owner paranoia about being attacked, it seems to be outmatched by the paranoia of gun controllers who believe that every gun owner is a ticking time bomb. Or pretend to believe it when the red light turns on and the commercial break ends.

“How much firepower does a law-abiding gun owner need?” is the leading talking point of the gun controllers. But it could just as well be, “How much cold medicine does a law-abiding sneezer need?” Cold medicine has been regulated to the extent that you need a photo ID if your nose is stuffed up under a bill sponsored by a community organizer from Chicago who stayed briefly in the Senate on his way to bigger and worse things. And people have been arrested for buying too much cold medicine.

If you believe that people are basically good, then they can be trusted with an AR-15. If you believe that people are basically bad, then they can’t even be trusted with cold medicine.

We have come a long way from the muckrakers who headed downtown from their cozy digs, toting along heavy cameras and notebooks to document the conditions there. And proposed reforms. Some of the reforms were even salutary. Others were cruel and capricious. The reformers saw to it that a woman walking alone in 19th Century New York City could be arrested for prostitution. Because if you believe that people are basically bad… then you already know the rest of the story whether it’s cold medicines, guns or a woman walking down the street.

When you dig up enough dirt, then everyone looks dirty and the justification is there for a mandatory clean-up program. That is what the reformers and the muckrakers accomplished by displaying an image of a broken society. Their work was selective and biased, and they insisted on defining the city by its worst parts, and the entire country by the city. Their grand achievements have culminated in a national system of one-size-fits-all legislation. Lanza is America. America is Lanza.

Mayor Bloomberg is right that New York City has a problem with gun violence, but it’s not a problem caused by guns. Still talking about guns is easier than talking about shooters. Urban mayors are waging war on gun shops in more rural and better behaved parts of the country as if urban social problems come from those gun shops, when if anything it’s the other way around.

It’s Time We Had a Serious Discussion About Assault Vehicles

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

Americans are in love with anything on wheels. This is the country of the Corvette and the Hog where driving fast is considered a national birthright despite the toll in lives and pollutants. And most of the rest of us have come to accept that.

We may shake our heads at the billions wasted on gasoline, on air fresheners and dashboard ornaments that could have been used to feed the starving children of the world. But when tragedy strikes it is important for us to set aside the political rhetoric and have a serious discussion about assault vehicles.

Let’s talk about motorcycles.

Unlike cars, motorcycles have no practical purpose. No one commutes to work on a motorcycle. No one drives to pick up their children from soccer practice on a motorcycle. But for some people a motorcycle is a symbol of their masculinity and that symbol has become death on wheels.

Americans are in love with motorcycles. 9 percent of Americans own 11 million motorcycles as part of the 18 billion dollar motorcycle industry. Some Americans even own more than one motorcycle, even though one motorcycle is the most that any normal person could possibly need.

Motorcycle deaths have risen sharply in the last ten years and the motorcycle industry is to blame for preventing us from addressing this horrifying epidemic of highway death.

In 1994, there were 2,320 motorcycle deaths. In 2012 that number increased to 4,500 as the assault vehicles greased their wheels with the blood of innocent men, women and children.

1 in 7 US traffic deaths is now caused by the motorcycle. Or what we should properly rename the Assault Cycle. Unfortunately movies like Easy Rider glamorize motorcycle culture and the motorcycle industry preys on the vulnerable male psyche as riders chase after some escapist fantasy of personal autonomy.

Motorcycle culture has always been associated with violence and the escalating death toll now threatens our moral standing as a country. America was once known as a nation that the rest of the world looked up to, but now whenever I visit Lichtenstein or Luxembourg for an environmental conference, one of the first questions that I am asked is when Americans will join the rest of the civilized world in restricting the manufacture and sale of assault cycles. And I can only sadly shake my head while downing another Shirley Temple.

But perhaps tragedy will serve as a wake-up call. In Fairfield, California, an off-duty California Highway Patrolman is killed in a collision with a pickup truck. In Duarte, California, former MLB pitcher Frank Pastore died of injuries resulting from a motorcycle accident.  In Florence, Kentucky, a motorcycle driver lost control of his assault vehicle and collided with a utility pole. In Tarpon Springs, Florida, a woman riding as a passenger on the back of a motorcycle fell off and was run over by a passing vehicle. These are just a few of the deaths caused by assault cycles that have taken place in the last week.

We cannot meet these awful tragedies with apathy. Only immediate unthinking action will suffice. A serious dialogue must begin in which all options are on the table. The politicians who have been in thrall to the motorcycle industry must look at these dead people that I have just mentioned and completely ignore the law and all other considerations to do whatever I want.

No one is talking about completely banning the motorcycle, except for those who are, but we must work together to reach a sensible solution. Motorcycle owners will still be able to keep and even drive their toys, but we must take action against the deadliest overpowered assault cycles with too much horsepower that have no legitimate purpose.

There is no reason for any law-abiding motorcycle owner to own one of the “superbikes” whose accident rate is 30 times higher than that of cars. These insanely overpowered assault vehicles, such as the Suzuki GSXR1000 and the Kawasaki Ninja, are literal killing machines. Although assault cycles only account for 10 percent of the motorcycles on the road, they account for 25 percent of all fatal motorcycle accidents.

200 horsepower is far too much for any legitimate street bike and it’s time that our elected officials stood up to the motorcycle industry and said no to the assault cycle.

And it cannot end there.

As pernicious as motorcycle culture is, car culture is even deadlier. Millions of children will grow up coughing and wheezing from asthma attacks because they live near a highway. And many more will die in the daily car accidents that mar our nation’s roads, bridges and tunnels.

Americans are in love with their Assault Sedans and their Murder Hatchbacks.  The U.S. had 246 million registered vehicles for just 209 million drivers in a country of 311 million. There is no better evidence of the power of car culture than the fact that some people actually own more than one car, so that they can perhaps crash their first car into a crowd, and then get into their second car and crash that it into a crowd too to maximize the death toll.

40,000 people die in car crashes a year. That’s 400,000 a decade or 4 million over a century. That is the grim ugly face of America’s macabre love affair with cars. America leads the world in car ownership, aside from Monaco, and if we are going to take a horrible place like Monaco as our role model, then I no longer want to be an American.

The children, the most innocent among us, are the real victims of America’s insane car culture.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children from 2 to 14 years old. An average of 6 children die every day in car crashes… and 700 more are injured. Some of those injuries will cripple them for life.

Any decent person, even a car owner, can’t help but look at these statistics and demand immediate unthinking action of some kind. It is up to decent people like us, and even them, to join together and call for that action. It is up to us to capitalize on the deaths of these sweet innocent children for the greater good of all.

No one is talking about banning all cars. Some cars, like those that drive environmental activists to environmental conferences, are strictly necessary. But there is a big difference between legitimate and illegitimate cars.

There’s no reason for a law-abiding driver to own a car that goes faster than 35 miles per hour. Above that speed is when most fatal accidents occur and closing that speed loophole will save millions of lives. Cars that travel faster than 35 miles per hour, let’s call them assault vehicles, have no purpose except to cater to a sick car culture that values speed over the lives of innocent children. We owe it to our children to give them a better world. A world where 35 miles per hour isn’t just the speed limit in  my gated community, but throughout the entire land.

An assault vehicle ban will also be good for the environment. Many drivers will discover that they can get to work faster by riding a bike than by driving their fume-spewing murder machines.

Speaking of bicycles, there has unfortunately been a sharp rise in cyclist deaths as well. I remember many hours of joy riding my bike up and down the street as a child, and I still put in a few miles on my exercise bike when my schedule allows for it, but these innocent vehicles are being upstaged on the road by killing machines that have very little in common with my 12 inch Huffy and exist only to race and kill.

I have never understood why there must be any bikes with more than 6 speeds. The bike industry, the bike lobby and the bike culture is irresponsibly pushing multi-speed bikes that are completely unnecessary. These Assault Bicycles which have 18 speeds are murder vehicles of death.

It might be best if we put an end to vehicle culture altogether. It might be best if everyone just walked. So long as they walk responsibly.

The number of pedestrian deaths has risen sharply in 2012 and the problem may lie with what I like to call, Assault Walking, or walking too fast, not to mention Assault Running.

To all the paranoid alarmists out there, no one is talking about banning you from going on a light jog or even a brisk walk; so long as you keep it under the speed indicated on your government issued Citizen Pedometer with built-in breathalyzer. If you wish to walk faster than that, you will have to apply for a license, undergo a psychological evaluation, give up your health insurance and then wait six weeks.

America is a great country, but we can be an even greater country if we just banned everything… for the children.

Originally published at Sultan Knish.

How to Win the Demographic and Culture Wars

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

There is no better outcome that the Democrats could have hoped for than the demographic despair that has overtaken some sections of the conservative movement. While the Republican establishment prepares to accept Obama as the new FDR, the grass roots feels alienated and willing to write off the whole country.

Demographics is a serious issue, but it’s not a done deal either. Countries are not static. America was created because a large number of Europeans moved to a place that had formerly been populated by the descendants of Siberian refugees crossing over the Bering Strait. I have often said that demographics kind is destiny, but it’s a mathematical destiny. Change the numbers and you change the destiny.

Taking back America demographically is a matter of having enough children within a cultural structure that passes down the values of adults to the children, while focusing on limiting immigration as much as possible. This isn’t an impossible task.

The Amish population doubles every 20 years and they retain the majority of their children within their communities despite the obvious appeals of the outside world. There are 250,000 Amish in the United States and Canada now. By 2040 there will be over a million of them.

Utah has the highest fertility rate in the country and 9 out of 10 children are born to married couples. The Mormon Church is slowing down its expansion, and is having some retention and birth rate issues, perhaps due to its liberalization and growing investment in overseas missionary work, but its numbers are still a reminder of what is possible.

Demographics can be deceptive, because what we are really talking about are the economic and cultural factors that dissuade large family sizes and that alienate children from the values of their ancestors. What we are really talking about is a clash between progressives and traditionalists.

As an Orthodox Jew, I represent a group that is at the front lines of the clash. In the last century and a half, Jewish progressives have done everything possible to destroy Jewish religion, values and even nationhood. For half that time they were enormously successful, wreaking havoc across entire communities, using state power to force parents into their own schools, and building a literary and cultural infrastructure aimed at ridiculing and destroying traditional values.

They are still at it today, and their tactics and propaganda are as bad as they ever were, but they also losing. While the progressives embrace the culture of abortion and gay rights, the traditionalists have children. Within a decade, a majority of New York Jews will be traditionalist and the impact of that is already being felt in elections. The progressives have ramped up their usual hate campaigns against Orthodox Jews, which is why you see so many negative stories in the media, but the demographics of their progressive culture doom them to extinction.

This same outcome would have taken place nationally in the clash between American traditionalists and progressives, if not for the ace in the hole of immigration. And yet immigration is only half the picture. The bigger half of the picture is culture.

Would the Amish be who they are if in between plow breaks they were watching Reality TV and getting lessons on liberal values? Instead the Amish segregated themselves from the culture and have thrived because of it. And that can be done without completely abandoning technology as a whole.

Orthodox Jews built a cultural infrastructure to convey their values to our children while cutting them off, as much as possible, from the cultural programming of progressives. The largest expense of Orthodox Jewish parents and the community as a whole is on the infrastructure of private schools that teach traditional values to their children. An Orthodox Jewish community is defined by its schools and its best and brightest go into Chinuch or Education.

But schools aren’t enough. Orthodox Jews raise their children on their own books and their own music. Everything that children are exposed to from the youngest ages is supposed to come from within their own culture to such an extent that when Oprah visited a Chassidic family they had no idea who she was, or who Mickey Mouse and Beyonce were. Obviously this isn’t universal and the degree of exposure varies, but retention rates and birth rates are highest among those with the lowest levels of progressive cultural exposure.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/daniel-greenfield/how-to-win-the-demographic-and-culture-wars/2012/12/13/

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