Black Shards Press – Electronic Gumbo is Our Specialty

Iraq Votes Peacefully and Properly

31.01.2009 (11:50 pm) – Filed under: Democracy,Iraq ::

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Iraq’s provincial council elections went off smoothly under the watchful eye of the military, the BBC reports, and the country’s Sunni minority turned out in force this time after boycotting similar elections in 2005, losing political representation as a result.

The head of the Iraqi electoral commission in Anbar province – a centre of the Sunni resistance to the US occupation – said he was expecting a 60% turnout.

Security was tight as voters had to pass through stringent checks.  Aiding the effort were thousands of Iraqi women who helped ensure traditional garments could not be used to disguise explosives.

Reports indicate that while some irregularities took place the election was for the most part run smoothly.  Even so, some Iraqis still have reservations about the process:

A Shiite lawmaker, Nassir al-Saadi, also found the election process generally good, but noted the real test is yet to come: how the major political bloc perceive the outcome.

“The only real gauge whether the election is credible or not is the results,” he said. “If the results are fair then we can say the election was fair.”

Superficially that may seem true.  However, the fairness of an election has nothing to do with whether parties, whether large or small, are happy with the outcome, a lesson some Iraqis evidently still need to learn.  That at least some of those are elected officials themselves is a little disheartening.

On one level it’s thrilling to see democracy taking hold in a country that’s never had a legitimately representative government.  On another, a nation isn’t truly free and functioning until such elections can be held without the presence of soldiers at polling places.  That’s the measure of how far Iraq still has to go.

Democrats and Taxes: Math is Hard

31.01.2009 (11:12 pm) – Filed under: Politics,Taxation ::

When Barack Obama selected Tom Daschle to be his secretary of Health and Human Services one of the last thinks he could have imagined was that Daschle was a 6-figure tax evader.  Yet here we are again.

What is it with Democrats and taxes?  According to Vice-President Joe Biden, paying taxes is a patriotic duty.  The left was in lock-step agreement with Biden after he made this statement.  The disconnect between the left’s ideals and the actions of their elite politicians is embarrassing.

Hilzoy says that the problem is one of entitlement:

Part of what bothers me about this is the sense of entitlement: the sense that having a car and driver is just one of those ordinary things that happen to a person, not worth noticing or thinking of as compensation or a gift.

While that’s certainly true, Daschle’s problem goes much deeper than a lack of awareness about the people and things in his environment.  Daschle’s unreported income over the 3 years in question was nearly $340,000.

That’s several years of salary for me, a college grad with a master’s degree and a good job in the technology field.  For Pete’s sake, how does a man who used to be a U.S. Senator forget that he was paid enough to provide for 7.5 average American families?  Well, math is hard.

Unfortunately, the unreported income isn’t even the real issue.  What’s particularly offensive about Daschle’s “problem” is the other correction that he had to make to pass legal muster: reducing his charitable contributions by $14,963. 

Claiming extra itemized deductions doesn’t just happen by accident or through negligence.

Obama Planning to Slash Defense Budget

31.01.2009 (10:20 pm) – Filed under: Finance,Military,Politics ::

Fox News is reporting that Barack Obama has asked the military’s Joint Chiefs for Staff to cut the defense budget by 10% for FY 2010.  This is an unfortunate “request” given the massive expenditures being planned in virtually every other area of the budget. 

These proposed cuts are not a good idea for national security purposes, needless to say.  Neither are they good from an economic stimulus perspective.  Some economists, including Martin Feldstein of Harvard, say that defense spending is one of the best ways to ensure that stimulus money hits the economy quickly.

Writing about the trillion dollar stimulus package, Jim Manzi says:

the net effect of this bill is to shift the distribution of U.S. government spending as a whole away from defense and public safety and toward social programs: for good or ill

This is a Democratic dream and, as I predicted, the inevitable result of voters being gullible enough to vote the entitlement party into control of the presidency and both houses of Congress.

It’s time to get on the phones and blow the dust off of your typewriters, folks.  Contact your congressman and senator and make sure they know that you want the defense budget to, at a minimum, remain static when adjusted for inflation.

h/t Doug Ross

Culture War’s End in Sight? Not Likely.

30.01.2009 (8:00 pm) – Filed under: Abortion,Conservatism,Liberalism,Politics,Religion ::

Damon Linker writes at The New Republic that it’s not beyond the pale to think that Barack Obama may be able to lead liberals to a victory in the decades-old culture war.  How?  By subtle, gradual conversion away from conservative positions on 3 traditional value issues: Church/State Separation, Homosexual Rights/Gay Marriage, and Abortion.

Not bloody likely, in my estimation.  Then again, ordinary Americans undoubtedly felt safe in their majority at the beginning of the left’s radicalization, certain that both right and numbers were on their side.  Conservatives should beware now, as they should have half a century ago.

It should be remembered that it was the left that declared the culture war in the first place.  After all, America was in one state in 1961 and an entirely different one in 1965.  It wasn’t the right and center of American society that were in the streets burning down the country, it was the left.  Now the radicals want an end to the fighting. 

On what terms?  I ask.  And Damon answers.

Church/State Separation

Mr. Linker lands with both feet squarely on former President Bush, saying “the president was telling them [non-believers] that their failure to conform to traditionalist Catholic-Christian moral teaching made them bad citizens.”

This is nonsense but it serves to springboard Damon to his real point, which is that he thinks Obama can lure conservatives away from their position – namely that some Christian morality and expressions thereof are good for the nation’s soul and belong in schools, courtrooms, and legislatures – by simply not discussing the issue.

That idea is a non-starter because, though the far left makes a practice of demeaning the intelligence of conservative Christians, the fact that monuments to the 10 Commandments are being removed from county courthouses, high school football games can no longer start with a much-needed prayer, and the ACLU is still witch-hunting after teachers who dare to bring a Bible to school will not escape them.

Christianity has always been a central feature of American life.  In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote:

In the United States the sovereign authority is religious,… there is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America, and there can be no greater proof of its utility and of its conformity to human nature than that its influence is powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth.

If only that were still so.

What middle America – I’m speaking both geographically and politically here – didn’t know in the 1960s was the degree of ferocity the radical liberals of the Baby Boom would use to further their agenda.  The Silent Majority could not stand against them but that does not mean the America that existed before the Summer of Love has been forgotten.

Although the generations that were brought up in an American still based on Christian morality are fading fast, enough of the historical record documenting the relative peace and prosperity that existed prior to the radicalization of liberalism still exists to inform current conservative leaders.

Unfortunately, history is a thin thread compared to the left’s extreme liberalization of the political, judicial, and educational systems.  Perhaps Linker is correct then, for history can be obfuscated and/or revised and is often forgotten by the very people who ought to heed its lessons.

Homosexual Rights/Gay Marriage

Damon says that the right has already lost the battle over gay marriage.  He’s overly optimistic as the passage of Prop. 8 in California, by far the most liberal state in the nation, demonstrates.  It is not often that the citizenry rebukes a state supreme court in such public fashion. 

Logical consideration shows that homosexual rights and gay marriage are distinct issues.  Our legal and medical systems do unfairly discriminate against homosexuals by denying them the same rights as heteros.  The right to will property to and utilize the medical benefits of a gay partner should be affirmed as elemental to citizenship.

Gay marriage is another issue altogether and one on which I trust I’ve previously made my position clear.  Suffice to say that a majority of Americans believe as I do, that marriage can only exist between a man and a woman.  Moreover, American Christians will not accept any other definition of the institution.  Period.  Nor should they.  The entire history of mankind supports this line of thinking and conservatives are correct to believe that America has gone quite far enough in accommodating so-called alternative lifestyles.

Abortion

The way forward on abortion, Damon says, is through compromise up to and including the narrowing or reversing of Roe v. Wade.  The far left is utterly unable to accept such an outcome peacefully; however, it is the only way that this issue can ever be resolved to the satisfaction of a sizable majority. 

Linker’s most excellent argument:

this is the core of the problem. Roe “settled” the question of abortion by saying that the pro-choice side wins 100 percent of the time, now and forever: America is a pro-choice nation and those who don’t like it can (respectfully) go to hell. No wonder we’ll still fighting these battles 36 years later. (This is also why it’s so unfortunate that Tim [Fernholz] is content to tell abortion opponents, in effect, to go fuck themselves: if abortion rights make “the religious right angry, that’s what happens in a liberal democracy.” No, what normally happens in a liberal democracy is that two sides in a rancorous public debate seek to reach a compromise

Indeed, the problem is the same on all 3 issues under discussion but none more so than abortion.

To imagine, as radical feminists groups purport to do, that Christians will ever accept the status quo of Roe is to live in a fantasy world.  For an excellent discussion of why this is, read Gary Graham’s essay at Big Hollywood.  There’s little more to add than what Gary has written here. 

An important snippet:

I’m telling you, once you draw that line and say this is the moment it’s a human being…you’ve lost the argument. Because it’s arbitrary. On this date it’s a baby, but yesterday it was just a bunch of cells…this blob of a nothing and you can do anything you want with it, it’s okay. Babies have been born premature in the second trimester and lived. Happens all the time. So please, somebody tell me how is taking a baby and delivering all but the head, then plunging a tube into its skull and sucking the brains out…how is that not murder? This is what happens in partial-birth abortions, and unfortunately, this happens all the time, too.

And we as a nation…as a people…are all right with this?

I understand the hate that is leveled at someone like me who reminds people of this. To contemplate the reality is daunting. The act is horrendous and made more tragic when you consider the numbers of babies that are being disposed of every day.

Our willingness to tolerate such a holocaust says volumes of how our entire culture has been coarsened.

Still, I do think that a significant number of Christians would agree to lay down arms on this issue if abortion were restricted to the first trimester, for example.  Not all, not by any stretch of the imagination.  But enough that a solid center could be formed on this issue, if the left could reciprocate.

The question of whether the left can compromise on abortion is similar to that posed of moderate Muslims in the Middle East.  Will the moderates who are in the vast majority be able to reign in the destructive tendencies of the radicals?

Given the lessons that can be drawn from the initial phase of the war the left declared on America in the 1960s, the answer is a clear “No”.  Radicals fight with the single-minded purpose and strength of cornered animals, whether it makes sense to fight or not and whether their cause is right or not.

The cause of abortion is not right, make no mistake.  But they will fight on anyway, to the literal death, at least of the children.

Ch-ch-ch-change

30.01.2009 (5:23 pm) – Filed under: Society ::

Obama’s Immigration Czar to Rid U.S. of Criminal Aliens – if We Can Figure Out Who They Are

29.01.2009 (9:45 pm) – Filed under: Immigration ::

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Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano wants to expel what she calls “criminal aliens” from the United States, starting with those already in custody.  Napolitano also says that she’s looking at existing immigration enforcement programs to see if taxpayers are getting their money’s worth.

The agency estimates there are now as many as 450,000 criminals in federal, state and local detention centers who are in the country illegally.

Getting rid of all of these folks would make a nice dent in the illegal immigrant problem.  Assuming DHS’ count is in the ballpark, we already have 3-4% of illegals locked up at any given moment.  But exactly how many – and who – are we talking about? 

No one knows.

As a software professional, this is the part that cracks me up:

Napolitano said she wants to improve data-sharing among local, state and federal facilities. So far, there are jails in 26 counties across the country with computer systems that can talk instantly with immigration systems.

Really, 26 counties nationwide?  That’s pretty unimpressive given my (admittedly unofficial) count of 3,095 counties among the 50 states, including 254 in Texas alone.

New Jobs Under-Stimulated by Dem’s Plan

29.01.2009 (9:11 pm) – Filed under: Finance,Politics ::

Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) had some unpleasant words to say about the Democrat’s economic stimulus plan:

Not since the passage in 1909 of the 16th Amendment – which cleared the way for a federal income tax – has the United States seriously entertained a policy so comprehensively hostile to economic freedom, nor so arrogantly indifferent to economic reality. …

This bill is not a stimulus, ladies and gentlemen; it is a mugging. It is a fraud.

Elana Schor says that’s because DeMint wants to make the Bush tax cuts permanent and trots out the tired leftist line about tax reductions benefiting the rich.  A little imagination, ‘Lana, please!

There couldn’t possibly be anything wrong with the Democrats’ plan, could there?  Martin Feldstein, a conservative professor of economics at Harvard University, thinks so.

Feldstein says that he’s all for a stimulus package at this time.  Just not this one.  Seems the Obama stimulus plan won’t be stimulating the right nerve endings in the economy if it’s passed.

A summary of Feldstein’s findings:

  • The plan is to give a tax cut of $500 a year for two years to each employed person. That’s not a good way to increase consumer spending.
  • The proposed business tax cuts are also likely to do little to increase business investment and employment.
  • The bonus depreciation plan would do little to raise capital spending in the current environment of weak demand
  • Computerizing the medical records of every American over the next five years is desirable, but it is not a cost-effective way to create jobs.
  • The largest proposed outlays amount to just writing unrestricted checks to state governments. Nearly $100 billion would result from increasing the “Medicaid matching rate,” a technique for reducing states’ Medicaid costs to free up state money for spending on anything governors and state legislators want. An additional $80 billion would be given out for “state fiscal relief.”
  • The plan to finance health insurance premiums for the unemployed would actually increase unemployment by giving employers an incentive to lay off workers

Here’s what should be done instead, Feldstein says:

  • Why not a temporary refundable tax credit to households that purchase cars or other major consumer durables
  • If rapid spending on things that need to be done is a criterion of choice, the plan should include higher defense outlays, including replacing and repairing supplies and equipment, needed after five years of fighting.
  • All new spending and tax changes should have explicit time limits that prevent ever-increasing additions to the national debt.

Obviously the purpose of an economic stimulus package is to jump-start the economy immediately, not years down the road.  The plan passed by the House does not do that and should be rejected by the Senate.

Yet even Feldstein’s more palatable plan is made up of dubious objectives given the massive debt burden American taxpayers face as a result of past Congressional budget blunders that have resulted in a current $10T national debt and a total of unfunded future mandates totaling about $50T more.

Fundamentally the U.S. economy is in the dumper because of deficit spending by its government and citizens alike.  Are we truly supposed to believe that even more spending is the way out? 

The only way that can be true is if the additional spending now provides a net increase in real future wealth.  But artificially maintaining high prices for goods, services, and stock prices is part of the problem.  While doing so may be comforting now, it’s difficult to see how what can only be called a risky, short-term strategy can be the solution as well.

Iraq Partnering with U.S. Universities

29.01.2009 (1:17 pm) – Filed under: Education,Iraq ::

Iraq and the United States recently announced a cooperative education agreement that will allow Iraqi students to study at universities here in the U.S.  The goal?  Sending 500 Iraqi students to universities overseas as part of that country’s ongoing effort to educate its citizens.

Larry H. Dietz, [Southern Illinois University Carbondale] SIUC’s vice chancellor for student affairs, and John S. Jackson, a visiting professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, returned Thursday morning from ceremonies in Baghdad launching the Iraq Education Initiative.

Dietz said Iraq’s initial goal is to send 500 Iraqi students abroad this fall to universities as a pilot project. The Iraqi government will use oil revenues to pay for the full scholarships, according to published reports.

Education infrastructure, instructors, and even students were all targeted by murderous Islamic radicals in Iraq’s post-Saddam non-civil war three years ago.  Now it appears as though the country is stable enough to begin thinking about a real future, one in which college-level education is relevant again.

Moreover:

Minister Abed Theyab says an agreement has been reached with Texas A&M University, North Carolina State University and Ohio State University for professor and student exchanges.

Teaching the teachers is an important step in bootstrapping the local education system in Iraq, so I’m glad to see that it hasn’t been overlooked in these negotiations.  TAMU, my alma mater, and the other schools mentioned are top-flight public institutions that can provide great resources to Iraqi citizens if the program is utilized to its utmost.

Minister Theyab:

“We don’t want to see tanks and weapons (in Iraq), instead there will be a scholarly exchange,” Theyab told reporters at a joint press conference with the U.S. Embassy counselor for public affairs.

Good for them.  Far from being anyone’s enemy, the U.S. has, for all of its faults and mistakes, always been willing to partner with any nation willing to work for good in the world.  That may sound simplistic and even sappy, but I think it’s true.

People will be arguing about whether the invasion of Iraq was justified or a good idea – two different things – for a long time.  Frankly that discussion is irrelevant.  The U.S. has an obligation to do what it can to set Iraq on the right path.  Sticking with the military solution was the right idea in 2006 and shifting to a peace-time rebuilding in 2009 is likewise the right thing to do.

House Does the Right Thing, Keeps Digital TV Moving

28.01.2009 (5:31 pm) – Filed under: Technology ::

The House of Representatives rejected President Obama’s plan to delay the mandatory conversion to digital television.  The delay had been approved earlier by the Senate and would have extended the deadline until June of this year.  Congress originally authorized the distribution of an additional broadcast channel to each broadcast TV station so that they could start digital broadcasts almost 13 years ago in 1996.  Good to see plans moving ahead as scheduled.

Stimulus

28.01.2009 (3:03 pm) – Filed under: Finance,Politics,Youth ::

Jim Manzi at NRO’s Corner blog feels the same way I do about the contents of the so-called Stimulus Package but draws a different conclusion about whether the spending is a good idea:

consider the gigantic—as in close to $100 billion—amount of extra federal money these guys are proposing to spend on education.  Study after study has shown that, at a minimum, there is no clearly demonstrable educational benefit from more aggregate spending on schools. Unless you adopt the hard-core Keynesian doctrinaire perspective that it literally doesn’t matter what we spend money on, this will be wasted. We will spend $100 billion on schools and not expect kids to read, write or do math any better. How can this be wise? Do we really want to borrow (because that’s where 100% of this money is going to come from) this much money from our kids for that?

Nobody wants to repeat the mistakes of Herbert Hoover. This is a healthy concern.Hopefully we will be able to restrain ourselves from passing trade restrictions. Trying to balance the budget or restrict the money supply right now is almost certainly a fairly crazy experiment to run. 

Perhaps, though one could easily counter that statement by saying that spending over a trillion dollars on make-work projects is equally crazy, particularly when it’s known up front that vast sums will simply be wasted in the effort to spend the money as fast as possible.  That simply doesn’t sound efficient.

Even if government spending advocates are correct in thinking that the stimulus project will work in the short-term there are still the long-term effects to consider.  Specifically, when, if ever, will the money they propose to borrow now be paid back?

Deficits incurred as a result of the New Deal and WW II were paid back by the post-war economic boom and the years of relative stability.  Are spending advocates counting on those fortuitous circumstances again?  If so, I hate to be the one to say it, but that ain’t happening.

If today’s young people are going to enjoy a healthy economy we need to start being much more efficient with our military, education, and tax dollars.  I don’t see that principle being invoked anywhere in the stimulus plan.