Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Immigration Debate: Rhetoric vs Reality

This is a short, six-minute explanation of the "amnesty for illegals bill" currently being debated in Congress.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

1453: The Fall of Constantinople

Mehmet "The Conqueror" Enters Constantinople

Today marks the 554th anniversary of the Muslim conquest of Constantinople, certainly one of Chistendom's darkest days to date. It seems, unfortunately, that the city's history is not appreciated today as it should be. Rarely do we hear about the conquest and how the most beautiful Christian church in the world, Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), was converted into a mosque. Of course, the victorious Turks ransaked the city's innumerable churches, and thousands were killed or enslaved. The last emperor of Rome, Constantine XI, died heroically defending his city, his people and his empire.

An interesting historical anecdote: the last liturgy celebrated in Hagia Sophia was a Catholic Mass. The emperor had agreed, in principle, to a Catholic-Orthodox union months prior in the hope that desperately needed military aid would arrive from the West. Of course, it never came. The Greeks of the city refused to enter Hagia Sophia for some time because they viewed it as a lost church, defiled by the "heretical", boorish Latins. The night prior to the final conquest however, Latins and Greeks packed the Church (built over one-thousand years earlier by Justinian) to pray together for Divine deliverance. Past differences are easily forgotten in the face of imminent, mortal danger. Citizens processed through the streets chanting the Kyrie, carrying with them the city's most holy relics and stopping at each of the city's gates to implore God's protection from the belligerent Turks.

After the fall of Constantinople, Mehmet II, known as "The Conqueror" at only twenty-one, set his eyes set on Rome itself, hoping to reunite the defunct Roman Empire under Muslim rule. As sovereign of the New Rome, as Constantinople was called, Mehmet viewed himself as successor to the Roman Caesars. Understandably, news of his death was marked with jubilation in Rome and by the rest of Europe.

I came across this very well-written article on the event at American Spectator and thought to pass it along to the readers here.

Hagia Sophia: Once a Church, then a Mosque, now a museum

Monday, May 28, 2007

Arrests in Spain and Ongoing Events in Iraq

Despite the ludicrous assertion made by John Edwards (D-SC), that the War on Terror is merely a "bumper sticker slogan" crafted by the Bush Administration to rally support for his policies, the following three news reports speak to the very real and perpetual threat we face from al-Qaeda.

One story tells of Iraqis who were rescued recently by US forces. The captives, including a child, had been kidnapped by al-Qaeda terrorists and sadistically tortured. In this same story is the revelation of the discovery of a manual, detailing the modus operandi of al-Qaeda operatives in Iraq toward prisoners of war. The terrorists are serious about this John Edwards?

14 Arrested in Spain on Terror Charges
By CIARAN GILES, Associated Press Writer

Police arrested 14 people Monday on charges of recruiting volunteers for terror training in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Eleven suspects were arrested in Barcelona and in two other northeastern towns. Two others were arrested in the central town of Aranjuez, and one in the southern city of Malaga, a National Police spokesman said.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity as police force rules forbid him from being identified.
The suspects were believed to be Moroccan and they faced charges of recruiting people to be sent for training in camps in Afghanistan and Iraq. The spokesman said the police operation was continuing and that there could be more arrests.

A substantial amount of computer material was seized during the pre-dawn raids, he said.
Spanish police have arrested dozens of terror suspects since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington, and again after the 2004 train bombings in Madrid.

Currently, 29 suspects, mostly Moroccans, are on trial in the Spanish capital for their alleged roles in the Madrid train attacks.


BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. forces have freed 42 Iraqi citizens who were kidnapped, held by al Qaeda in Iraq for as long as four months and possibly tortured, a U.S. military spokesman said Sunday.

U.S. forces received a tip on where the hostages were held, said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver.
"There was some evidence of torture," he said.

Garver said he believed the kidnappings were part of al Qaeda's "fear and intimidation" campaign against Iraqi civilians.
"They will take members of a community, and hold them, trying to get the community to act in ways they want with the threat of killing these hostages," Garver said.

"We don't see much from al Qaeda in terms of actual monetary gain coming out of kidnappings, but we do see them trying to use kidnappings to hold whole communities hostage."
Some detainees had broken bones and are being treated for their injuries, he said.
"Some had stated that they had been hung from the ceiling," he said.
The overnight raid took place in Iraq's Diyala province, north of Baghdad, Garver said.

The military spokesman said tips that come from Iraqi citizens, including the one that led to the Diyala raid, are a sign of the growing trust with the U.S. military.
But not all the leads pan out, he said.
"In this instance we got very lucky," Garver said.

According to the U.S. military, disenchantment with al Qaeda is also evident in Iraq's predominantly Sunni Anbar province, where coalition forces recently freed 17 kidnapped Iraqis who were found in two separate torture rooms.
U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said last week that one of those freed was a 13-year-old boy, who "literally had been tortured, electrocuted, whipped, beat by these al Qaeda terrorists."

He said freed people told troops that one or two captives had died during the torture sessions, and the remaining captives expected to be ransomed off to their families, with the money going to support the al Qaeda insurgency.
In a raid earlier this month, coalition forces found a laptop computer containing an apparent al Qaeda manual on how to torture victims, Caldwell said.

The manual, illustrated by graphic drawings, shows how to use drills to torture people, sever hands, drag people behind vehicles, use a blowtorch or clothes iron on skin, remove eyes and electrocute people, among other tactics.
"They made it in a cartoon manner, so that no matter what your literacy rate, what nationality you are, all you've got to do is look at these pictures to understand how to conduct tortures of innocent people," Caldwell said on CNN's "The Situation Room."

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Saint Jerome's Treasures

A nice façade that hides the construction mess

There’s a very small collection of my preferred second and third-tier churches in Rome, notable for their exquisite art: paintings, sculptures, frescoed-domes, intriguing nooks and crannies, etc. Much to my frustration, these lesser-visited churches seem to be closed over ninety per cent time. So, on those rare occasions when I’m fortunate enough to come upon one of these churches during their very restricted open-hours, I always make it a point to stop in, if only for a few minutes. Saint Jerome’s is one of them. Artistically speaking, it packs a powerful punch, filled to the brim with Baroque jewels. This humble, blink and-you’ll-miss-it, church is located right off the very chic, and very French, Piazza Farnese in Rome. For as long as I can remember, the little church has been partially encased by unsightly construction materials. Most prominent among the temporary wooden walls, pipes, scaffolding and other bric-a-brac, is a ghastly blue crane towering menacingly over the church. From the outside, the centuries-old church, wedged somehow into a stiflingly narrow street, looks a little worn out; its façade slightly blackened, having absorbed into its surface ample doses of soot and pollution.

Inside, however, is another story. One of this Baroque church’s most popular attractions is a tucked away side-altar. Two kneeling, marble-cast angels guard the entrance to the altar and are seen clutching a graceful mantle carved in alabaster, which serves as the altar rail. The delicate, veined mantle droops noticeably in the middle and displays stunningly realistic ripples of gentle folds. The entire side-altar space is, in fact, encased from top to bottom in rich caramel-colored alabaster, set to a floral scheme. The focal point of the side-altar is a beautiful yet simple painting of the Madonna and Child. It’s probably the most unique side-altar I’ve seen in Rome and easily competes with those found in the first-tier churches and basilicas.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Troubling but Not Surprising

From the Associated Press and Fox News:

WASHINGTON — About one out of four young U.S. Muslims believe homicide bombings against civilians are OK to defend Islam, according to a new poll that finds some Muslim Americans seem to be separating from mainstream America in their attitudes toward the War on Terror and U.S. Mideast policy.

The Pew Research Center found that among the nation's younger Muslims, 26 percent say homicide bombings can at least rarely be justified "in order to defend Islam from its enemies."

Reagan vs. RFK

Here's a great article by Paul Kengor about a forgotten debate. I wish there was a way to watch it. Apparently, Reagan destroyed RFK in this face-off. I've pulled a line from the piece and included the address to the entire article:

Kennedy himself conceded defeat to Reagan, telling his aides after the debate to never again put him on the same stage with “that son-of-a-bitch.” Kennedy was heard to ask immediately after the debate, “Who the f—- got me into this?” Frank Mankiewitz was that aide, as Kennedy was quick to remind him a few weeks later: “You’re the guy who got me into that Reagan thing.”

Monday, May 21, 2007

Enough of Politics...

Last week was “culture week” here in Rome. To celebrate the occasion, all of Italy’s art and excavation museums were free. Normally, they cost anywhere from seven to 15 Euro, so I took advantage of the offer.

Here are a couple pictures from one of the National Galleries. This one has the best collection of statues from the Classical period I’ve ever seen.

Here are some pictures from Castle Sant’Angelo. It originally housed urns containing the ashes of Roman emperors but then became, among other things, a safe place for the pope when Rome was under siege. Saint Michael appeared over the site, saving the Romans from a plague, and the statue was erected in his honor. From its overlook, it provides some great views of the city.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Universal Health-Care: Greater Equality or Less Freedom?

Among the top-tier Democratic presidential contenders, a virtual prerequisite platform caveat is the advocacy for a universal health-care system in America. I myself have engaged in debates here in Europe about the ostensible inequities of the American system when held up to the more humane and socialized models found in Europe and Canada. To argue against a one-payment system is to face an uphill battle against an onslaught of emotional cants, coupled with saccharine personal anecdotes about close family members sans medical insurance, struggling to make ends meet. In a world where emotions and good intentions are sacrosanct, defending a privatized heath care system is becoming a more lonesome business these days.

The truth is, even before I had all the facts before me, there was something about the socialized plan that struck me as far-fetched. Of course, in a perfect world, (and there’s the catch) we shouldn’t have to pay for health care or anything, for that matter. But then, in a “perfect” world, would we even be menaced by the illnesses we now scramble to find cures for in the first place? Perfect worlds and fanciful utopias aside, we face some hard questions about the consequences of a state-run heath care policy; basic questions that perhaps come more naturally to those who have delved into the fundamentals of economic inquiry.

If the government is to provide free health care, where will the money come from to pay for all the costs? Medical research and treatments rank among the most costly fields out there. Tie this in with America’s three hundred million-plus population, and the price tag starts to get dizzyingly high. Further, what about competition’s indispensable role in the market as a refiner of quality and catalyst for innovation? If profits and salaries are to be set artificially by the state, might not doctors and researchers feel less motivation to work as hard? How will these MDs, who have invested mightily in terms of money, time and other opportunity costs to become doctors, react to state- regulations governing their practice? My reckonings on the one-payment health-care plan have brought me to focus on two chief criticisms: First, socialized health care treats doctors unfairly and second, in an ironic sense, it is perhaps even more cruel to those it is designed to benefit; namely, the ill.

To be sure, most Americans who advocate a one-payment system sincerely believe that this is the best path to follow. It is a sad reality that there are many, some aver up to 47 million, in America without medical insurance. And full candor requires the admission that a privatized system is not a perfect one. The quest, however, for the perfect system and best system, in light of hard facts and in a world of contingencies, are two very different objectives.

Years back, I studied under a great professor of political science who took delight in bursting the bubbles of well intentioned, know-it-all-type students who advocated such statist projects as the universal heath care plan. “Politics, and politicians, are about one word:” he would thunder, “POWER.” To emphasis the word, he would always say it with a little gravitas, using his fingers as quotation marks. Of course, one must be careful not to over-generalize, but the more I listen to certain politicians (on the left and even on the right) these days, Lord Acton’s adage that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” becomes all the more attractive.

Returning then, to the health-care debate: I am convinced that, from perspective of politicians, the dubious heath-care scheme is more about amassing power and expanding control over the lives of citizens than their professed desire to provide quality health-care to the less fortunate. Americans shouldn’t be distracted by the pandering and pietistic jargon of politicians. A sensible look into the fruits of European and Canadian health-care policies should prove convincingly that state-run heath care programs are counterproductive and in fact most detrimental to those in need. Americans should see through the rosy euphemisms propped up by politicians to defend this policy. Plans to introduce such fallacious systems in the United States should be strongly resisted.

A fascinating study by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, recently reported by the UK’s Telegraph, looked at the rate at which 64 new cancer-fighting drugs were introduced in Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, 19 European countries and the United States. The title of the article ever so delicately hints to the study’s findings: “Cancer Survival Rates Worst in Western Europe.”

The study reports the following:

“The proportion of female cancer patients surviving five years beyond diagnosis in France, Spain, Germany, Italy were 71 per cent, 64 per cent, 63 per cent, and 63 per cent respectively. In the UK, it was 53 per cent.” The news get even more grim for the indisposed of the UK, as only four out of 10 there “have access to new treatments provided since 1985.”

Dr. Nils Wilking, an oncologist at the Karolinska Institute observed, “Where you live can determine whether you receive the best available treatment or not…In the US we have found that the survival of cancer patients is significantly related to the introduction of new oncology drugs.”

Then comes the devastating clincher:

“The proportion of colorectal cancer patients with access to the drug Avastin was 10 times higher in the US than it was in Europe, with the UK having a lower uptake than the European average.”

The medical field in the US is already heavily regulated, but in spite of that, the study demonstrates that the American health-care system still far outpaces the hamstringed, socialized health-care systems of Europe and the rest of the world. After reflecting on the Karolinska Institute’s findings, one should ask: “If I or a loved one were struck by cancer, where would I rather be to ensure the quickest access to the most effective treatments?”

Similar studies of the health care system in Canada have mirrored the findings of the Karolinska Institute. The Vancouver, British Columbia-based Fraser Institute releases a yearly publication, aptly titled, "Waiting Your Turn." As the title suggests, the report takes a look at the length of the waiting period for patients; that is, the time between a general practitioner’s referral to a specialist and the patient’s actual meeting with the specialist for treatment. The results speak for themselves: The waiting period ranges from 4.9 weeks for oncology to 31.7 weeks for neurosurgery. Understandably, Canadians afflicted with illness are a little uneasy with the idea of waiting weeks or months for lifesaving medical care, resulting from backlogged hospitals, clinics and treatment centers. When health-care is free, i.e. socialized, doctor’s offices and hospitals are inundated by “patients” who are hot to the idea of a free check-up. As a result the privilege is abused, as people head to the doctor for any minor cough, sniffle or hangnail. As a result, those who really need serious medical attention are forced to “wait their turn.” To accommodate the burgeoning caseload, doctors are then forced to allot a fixed, artificial set of minutes per patient, regardless of the degree or severity of the illness. Back in 2000, the Canadian Medical Association Journal published an article entitled, "U.S. Hospitals Use Waiting-List Woes to Woo Canadians.” Here’s an excerpt from the article: "British Columbia patients fed up with sojourns on waiting lists as they await tests or treatment are being wooed by a hospital in Washington state that has begun offering package deals. A second U.S. hospital is also considering marketing its services." The article goes on the juxtapose the waiting period for an MRI in Canada (10 to 28 weeks) with the waiting period for the same scan at the Olympic Memorial Hospital in Washington State, (2 days). And surprise of surprises, Cleveland, Ohio has emerged as the most popular destination for Canadians in need of hip replacement surgery.

The Karolinska and Canadian studies place essential rules of the market under the spotlight; rules often overlooked or ignored by the disciples of socialized heath care:

- The first deals with quality: Goods circulated in an open economy will be challenged continuously by the drive of the competitor next door to develop a better product. Higher quality is a direct consequence of free competition. This key element is absent in nations with socialized health-care.

- The second rule deals with prices and costs: When governments apply price controls and ignore the laws of supply and demand, shortages necessarily result, due to a demand that outpaces the available supply. And, as a consequence of the decrease in supply, both prices and cost will surge. It is important not to confuse cost with price. Economist Walter Williams explains: “The cost of having or doing something is what had to be sacrificed.” In other words, the shortages that will naturally result from price controls will cause people to “pay” in other ways. To explain the meaning of cost, Williams uses the example of reading a newspaper that has been given to you for free: Sure, you didn’t pay for the journal, but you sacrificed time and the opportunity to do other things in return for reading the paper; hence the cost. As the Karolinska study demonstrates, the cost to the patient for waiting to receive life-saving, albeit free, treatment can be deadly. Further, in a state-run health care system, those who pay for the program are the taxpayers. The ever-increasing price of health care will result in swelling taxes to fund innovation, equipment, medicine, etc. Another salient angle of the taxpayer’s relevance to the health care issue deals with the question of “rights.” Income taxes, among others, are a confiscation of a portion of the individual’s income by the government (local and/or federal), for the purposes of the government. We’ve all become inured to the typical action-line, “People have a right to health care.” But when the state assumes the costs of health-care, the advocates of the health-care-via-tax-increase must also proclaim in the same breath that, “Someone else doesn’t have a right to the fruits of his labor.” To indulge in a cliché: Since money doesn’t grow on trees the government must take it, some might stay steal it, via heavier taxes. To say that Peter has a “right” to his X ($health care$), is to say at the same time that Paul doesn’t have a “right” to his Y (hard-earned income).

- The third rule has to do with opportunity. Innovators and researchers in medicine will naturally gravitate to environments where they foresee the opportunity for maximum profit. In the United States, we see countless drug companies racing and competing to find cures and treatments. The result is a fertile supply of medicine to the general public. The Karolinska study again seems to verify this assertion. The profit potential in the United States is very high because of the free market economy, which allows the producers of goods to “battle it out” and convince the public that its product is the best out there among others like it. The potential for enormous profits serve as a stimulus for creating a successful product. Related to this theme: Canada has witnessed an exodus of doctors who, realizing the opportunity to make a better living in the United States, have moved south of the border. Rather than receive a fixed salary from the government, these doctors prefer to give their skills a fair shake in the open market and receive the more competitive payment they believe their abilities are capable of bringing in.

The gerrymandering of certain politicians to sanction government supervision of health-care should be exposed for what it is—a power grabbing, wealth redistribution scheme, masquerading as a righteous cause. Privatized health-care benefits everyone, with the exception of the government (one less thing to control): First and foremost the patient, then, of course the doctors, the country and the economy. Local communities, churches and voluntary organizations need to do much more to band together to help those in need of medical treatment. Some churches have already taken the lead in this regard by creating a pool of donations from among the parishioners to purchase expensive prescription medicine for the elderly and less fortunate members of the parish. This is an example of real charity at work. If the federal government wants to help, they could start by massively slashing taxes so that citizens would have more of their own money to donate to such causes.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Giuliani in Quicksand

Not denying former NYC mayor Giuliani certain skills at leadership and political savvy, I can only marvel at his confusing twists and turns on abortion. On the one hand, he claims that he personally "hates" the practice, while on the other, he is adamant that women should have the "right" to abort. It's not that difficult to maneuver him into an awkward position: Why should something which he believes to be morally abhorrent; the killing of an innocent child, nonetheless be protected as a "right?" There's no logical defense of his stance. He's trying desperately to master a political three-card monte. Either you believe abortion is killing or you do not. You can't straddle both positions. If you believe it is killing, how on earth can you maintain the position that it should be protected as a "right?" Is it just because the Supreme Court said so in '73? If memory serves me, the Court also issued forth some shady rulings on slavery: is it a "right" or a crime against humanity? Since when did the Supreme Court become the final arbiter on morality anyway?

Watching Giuliani's rhetorical stumble during the Republican debate was quite a sight to behold. He claims to be an advocate for federalism, suggesting that the states should be able to decide such weighty issues as abortion. But as things stand in the US, states can't decide such issues, federalism is a virtually moribund concept in American politics, and Giuliani knows that. Further tying himself into knots, Giuliani went on to say that if the court did overturn Roe v. Wade, he would be fine with the decision, but if the court upheld it, that would be okay too.

Incidentally, I've never understood those who claim that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare." If there's nothing wrong with it, why should it be "rare?"

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Muslims in NJ Plot to Kill US Soldiers

This is really an astonishing story. It brings to a head the fact that one need not be a card-carrying member of al-Qaeda to be driven by the same ideology. Really, is there such a thing as a card-carrying member? It seems like a pretty easy movement to join.


Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, hate America, plot to kill Americans, work for a Muslim conquest and domination of the world.

Suspected NJ Plotters Called Quiet, Different:
By Jon HurdleWed May 9, 7:15 PM ET

Whether they were anti-social and inconsiderate or just absorbed with their own lives, the Duka brothers and their extended family were certainly different, neighbors said on Wednesday. The three Yugoslav-born, ethnic Albanians, who were charged along with three accomplices with plotting to kill soldiers at a New Jersey army base, largely kept to themselves in this modest suburban community some 20 miles east of Philadelphia.

In interviews the day after the six men -- described by prosecutors as Islamic extremists -- were charged in federal court, neighbors said they had very little to do with the family but were struck by the large number of people -- apparently several generations -- who lived in the home. All expressed surprise at the charges and some doubted whether the group was capable of executing the plot considering that it was uncovered when they asked a local store to copy a video onto a DVD. The video showed the suspects in military training and calling for holy war, officials said.

Susan DeFrancesco, 46, a mother of three who lives across tree-lined Mimosa Drive from the Duka family, said the women living there didn't converse with other parents at the school bus stop where people of different ethnicities usually mixed freely. "It was a different house, they were not involved," DeFrancesco said. She said she was sad about the charges.

But Tom Greenjack, 68, whose property backs on to the Dukas' said he had disputes with them because of backyard noise from their children's swings and from the construction of a shed. "I didn't like them," he said.

The Duka brothers, who ran a roofing business, and one of the other plotters were ethnic Albanians motivated by the idea of holy war against the United States, rather than by any nationalist cause, said James Jatras, director of the American Council for Kosovo, a nonprofit group. However, Jatras said, "there is a definite al Qaeda link" with the Kosovo Liberation Army with which at least one of the plotters was associated.

Prosecutors said there was no evidence the men were linked to international groups.

The accused are Dritan, Shain and Eljvir Duka, all illegal immigrants to the United States; fellow ethnic Albanian Agron Abdullahu; Jordanian-born Mohamad Schnewer, a taxi driver and U.S. citizen; and Turkish-born Serdar Tatar. They are aged 22 to 28.


At the Duka house, a two-story home with a faux stone balustrade and two miniature palm trees planted in the overgrown front yard, a woman in a headscarf said she had no comment to make to reporters.Another neighbor, Korean-born Han Koh, 45, said he believed the Dukas were very religious, and he would often hear "praying sounds" coming from their backyard.

He said the charges were a "very big surprise" and that he had found them sociable. The younger members of the household would sometimes play soccer in the front yard. "I didn't think they were bad people," he said. "They are different people. I didn't imagine they were planning such things."

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Bush Veto

Six and a half years, two measly vetoes. Since his inauguration in January 2001, President Bush has wielded his veto pen on only two occasions. Purebred conservatives are understandably flummoxed over the fact that, under Bush’s watch and with a Republican Congress, federal spending actually outpaced the money burning seen during the Clinton era. When the time comes for an evaluation of the domestic policies of the current administration, principle criticism will focus on the president’s liberal check signing at the behest of a spendthrift Congress. Once upon a time, Republicans talked about smaller government, real tax cuts, returning power to the states and a little thing called federalism, etc. That time has long since passed into distant memory.

However, Bush’s lonely vetoes do tell us a great deal about the man and his vision for America. Both speak to the precise reason why I have continuously, unapologetically, even stubbornly, stood pat in my support of him. His two vetoes: one of a bill that would have opened the door to further, destructive embryonic stem-cell research and the second, rejecting a Democratic-sponsored bill that did everything but raise a white flag in Iraq, have done much to compensate for earlier fiscal blunders.

As I see it, the United States is gravely threatened on two fronts: one menace is external and pertains to the proliferation of Islamic terror cells, the other is an internal hazard, threatening the moral cohesion of our society. The Democratic Party has, by and large, proven itself woefully incapable of providing a mature strategy for addressing the threat of terrorism, other than simply opposing Bush out of principle at every turn. At the same time, the left has become the unrivaled champion of the culture of death, promoting such measures as abortion on demand, contraception, euthanasia, destructive embryonic stem-cell research, gay “marriage,” and so on. The first of the president’s vetoes pushed back the advances made by the culture of death via the Democratic Party and the second slammed the door to a Democrat-sponsored, ignoble defeat at the hands of terrorist thugs in Iraq.

And speaking of vetos: Last week, House Democrats passed a bill that seeks to expand hate crime-laws to encompass sexual orientation and gender-based attacks. And, in an all-too-familiar and predictable display of liberal absurdity, the bill sets out to delineate twenty-five different sexual and gender orientations. The Senate will soon take up the bill and, more likely than not, pass it as well. Bush’s promised veto would bring the grand veto tally up to three. Where it counts the most, Bush’s veto has been a steady barrier against the harbinger of Democratic-spawned madness and folly. The White House reasonably argues that the Democratic bill, were it to become law, would prove superfluous because extant state and local laws already punish violent crimes.

The dirty little secret is that the Democratic bill reveals the alarming degree to which the left in America is interested in pursuing thought-control legislation. In light of existing punishments already in place for all acts of violence perpetrated against individuals, what further motivation can the bill’s authors have, other than to induce a move toward regulating, not only actions, but thought as well? How are we to define a “hate crime?” Is it too far beyond the realm of possibility to suggest that such a malleable and broad nomenclature could effortlessly expand to include mere criticism of a particular act? Over time, the umbrella-term that is “hate crime” legislation would dilate without limits, until everything that is deemed by those in power to be disagreeable or discriminatory would be targeted as “hateful,” swiftly suppressed and those responsible punished.

Another tucked-away caveat of the Democratic-sponsored bill is that it starts with an offensive premise: It suggests that the bill’s opponents, by the sole fact of their opposition, are hateful and bigoted. Their reasoning is faulty but cunning. Those, for example, opposed on principle to homosexual acts must, de facto, harbor odium toward gays as people. Opposition to affirmative action must imply deep-seated hatred for minorities. Such a law would certainly stymie free speech and the free-flow of discussion of germane issues facing contemporary society. The dread of being labeled a racist or bigot, and the possibility of facing prosecution at the hands of the zealous Jacobins charged with enforcing the law, would cow all who value honest debate to the same imposed silence that has enveloped totalitarian regimes.

House Republicans, understandably concerned about Democratic scheming to loosen restrictions on abortion by surreptitiously slipping various provisions into bills, recently wrote to President Bush, requesting that he reiterate his position in favor of life and his objection to any such attempt by Democrats. The president responded swiftly in a statement; vowing to veto any bill that would push back the significant progress made over the years to sideline abortion.

He’d better get used to the feel of that pen.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

MTV Trash

Just the other day, I stopped in a pizza joint by my house for a quick bite to eat. The pizza is decent, nothing spectacular, but it’s cheap, so it suits me well when I’m trying to be frugal. This particular pizzeria is a popular spot for Italian adolescents. During peak hours, the times when I make it a point not to go there, the place is jammed with loud teenagers, sitting inside at the tables and hanging around outside, chomping away at pizza as they sit on their scooters, parked up on the sidewalk in typical chockablock Italian fashion.

As is usual for me, I timed this visit during a lull in the restaurant’s business to avoid the shoulder-to-shoulder experience with rambunctious Italian teenyboppers. As I was eating, the television nestled in the corner was blasting MTV, accompanied of course, with the requisite Italian subtitles. I have to confess, I’m really something of a pop-cultural naïf when it comes to MTV; I’ve hardly ever watched it, so most of what I do know about it has come to me second or even third-hand. But judging from the painful five or ten minutes I caught while eating a few slices of mediocre pizza, I have to officially declare my professed naïveté as a badge of honor. Okay, before I proceed, I’ll issue a preemptive rejoinder to the inevitable accusation of being an uptight Catholic prude or boring killjoy: No one who revels in Renaissance and Baroque art, as I do, can be successfully pinned down as a through and through puritan. But what I was getting from MTV the other day was, to put it as succinctly as possible, banal filth. The network probably has the singular honor of boasting that it has perfected the art of imbecilic gutter entertainment to a T. Indeed, the most bizarre and disturbing thing about the particular show of the hour was how mightily it strove to make what can only be described as sleaze (lame jokes about pornography, sleeping around, etc.) appear as something hip and normal to young people. These shows, while doubtlessly mindless and hollow as a tin can in substance, nonetheless reflect an intelligent design of sorts, as they are carefully crafted to seduce and bag impressionable youth.

A friend of mine once coined the useful phrase “coliseum entertainment” to describe the cultural phenomenon of highly addictive, yet thoroughly asinine, television reality shows. I thought it was a pretty smooth appellation. The basic gist is that some “entertainment” quite literally entrances us, and has a soporific effect on those higher faculties that would otherwise alert us to the danger, and stupidity, posed by the experience. We become, in a sense, lost within ourselves, as the rush of passions, adrenalin and curiosity overwhelm our psyche. After all, what was the entertainment of choice in the august days of ancient Rome: The mob enthralled by an endless stream of macabre battle spectacles, all unfolding on the blood-soaked sand of the coliseum. The Academy Award winning film Gladiator magnificently captured this gruesome historical anecdote of roma antica.

Our enlightened twenty-first century sensibilities are rightly scandalized at the thought of thousands of gawking spectators whipped into a frenzy at the sight of bloody face-offs between human beings, hell-bent on tearing each other part. Unfortunately, much of the mainstream, pop-culture entertainment of today, while lacking the gory edge of Roman times, nevertheless takes direct aim at stimulating and controlling our basest passions, particularly in the arena of unrestricted sexual license. The modern day forum for much of what passes as entertainment these days unfolds on television; late night shows and MTV in particular. It’s certainly tragic that these shows, dripping with a poisonous ideology that exploits human sexuality, have ensnared legions of insecure teenagers and twenty-somethings.

As I watched the show at the pizzeria I couldn’t help asking: “Is that the best they’ve got to offer my generation?” I was more than a little irked and insulted at the thought of highfalutin, ne’er-do-well network execs and producers seated around a large table, presuming to know what I wanted to see and proceeding further, based on their muddled theories, to concoct some newfangled brand of degenerate coliseum-style entertainment, glossed-over of course, with a gauzy veneer of glamour and celebrity. I would like to believe that the majority of American youth do not reflect, in their everyday lives and choices, the debauched stereotype graphed onto them en masse by the know-it-alls at MTV. And what’s more, I certainly hope that the majority of American youth, guided and enlightened by basic common sense and decency, are not attracted to such shows.

However, that this crooked caricature of American youth is interminably beamed around the world particularly galls me. While it is unfortunately true that many youth do follow the kind of lifestyle represented and promoted by the MTV culture, it would be unfair to generalize and assume that all, or even a majority, follow such a path. And, given the artificially overrated, but nevertheless high-profile, status MTV has attained as a reputable outlet for young lads in search of quality leisure time, is there any wonder why people the world over make moral correlations between the decadent Roman Empire of Caligula’s day and the United States of today? In fact, if I was living in an isolated village in country bled mercilessly by the abuses of the most recent Johnny come lately dictator who, nevertheless, had me convinced that America was to blame for all of my problems and further, if I was exposed regularly to glitzy American life as depicted on MTV, I would understandably arrive at some pretty harsh conclusions about the good ol’ U.S. of A. “Down with Rome!” So Americans, in addition to being incensed at the corrupting influence MTV effects on the nation’s youth, should also express outrage at the disservice MTV is doing to our image across the globe.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Hail Stupidity!

Here's an excerpt from a Reuters story on China and global warming. The zinger: China claims that its one-child policy is helping the environment.

From Reuters:

"China is already doing a lot," said Hu Tao, of China's State Environmental Protection Administration. He said China's one-child per couple policy introduced in the early 1980s, for instance, had a side-effect of braking global warming by limiting the population to 1.3 billion against a projected 1.6 billion without the policy. "This has reduced greenhouse gas emissions," he told a conference in Oslo last month. China is the number two emitter of greenhouse gases, mainly from burning fossil fuels, behind the United States and ahead of Russia.

The Obama Dilemma

The more I ascertain about Democrat-superstar Barack Obama, the more I’m convinced of the danger he would pose to the United States, were he to be elected to the nation’s highest office. A rather brusque evaluation no doubt, but, as I intend to demonstrate in course of this brief overview, it is well merited. My concerns regarding Obama run deeper than his neophyte status as a Washington DC, Johnny-come-lately and his refusal to take seriously a host of post 9-11 realities. (Those who observed his performance in the last debate noticed the manner in which he responded to questions about national security, not with a well thought-out plan or aggressive strategy, but rather with slick talking-points, gleaned right from his campaign trail and web-site.) This factor alone should cause Democrats to demur over his claim to their Party’s nomination. But at another level, I am thoroughly convinced that, beneath the élan of the Kennedy-esque glamour and silver-tongued bromides espousing hope and unity, there lies a leftist radical, the likes of which we have not seen in American political history.

Over the years, I’ve become somewhat inured to the Socialist-lite patois of the Democratic Party. As vexing as their infatuation with tried-and-failed redistributionist policies may be, up until now, they have struggled mightily to summon forth a candidate who could fully conceal the ugly consequences of these policies, if implemented, let alone convince a majority of Americans that such policies would actually be worth a try in the first place. As a result, those Democrats who have succeed in the past, Bill Clinton immediately comes to mind, have been forced to attenuate the intensity of their devotion to their particular philosophy of governance. Hillary Clinton’s ignominious pratfall with healthcare reform in the early nineties was roundly rejected as impractical and wrongheaded and as president, Bill Clinton signed welfare reform into law and memorably declared, “The era of big government is over.” Chastened Democrats have learned the hard way that a careful balancing act is obligatory if they are to stand any chance at winning back power.

Enter Barack Obama. His talent lies, not merely in his ability to distract people from the nebulous particulars of his vision with shimmering rhetoric, but further, to rely on these glossy platitudes to raise people’s expectations to such a level that they don’t really care about the means or ends. In a twist of irony, he presents himself as the paragon of a political messiah who transcends politics; a man who has come to redeem a troubled nation in dire need of salvation from the blunders of both parties. A former law-school colleague of Obama paints an accurate picture of his modus operandi and the potent impact he could have in America if elected president: “When I first heard Obama’s folksy brand of redistributionist liberalism, I knew he was someone who could make the most radical policy prescription seem reasonable…Obama’s vague message of hope speaks to the frustration and cynicism of today’s electorate, much of which will all too easily embrace him without really knowing or caring what he intends to do with the power he seeks.” We do know enough however, to know not to endorse him. Looking at his voting record and past statements, Obama’s status as an unabashed, far-left liberal is unquestionable. He may be able to dazzle with words but he can’t completely cloak his leftist sympathies from public scrutiny.

Obama operates almost exclusively in a rarified realm of carefully selected, soothing motifs that evade the inconvenience of being pigeonholed or cornered for further elaboration or dissection. His genius, or cunning, can be found in his capacity to hover safely above the messier world of particulars by abstracting vague generalities from those concrete realities. Responding to the Virginia Tech massacre, Obama briefly commented on the shootings as the work of “a madman at some level.” But instead of further elaboration on the event, Obama, as if on cue, took off and cautioned Americans to be on the look out for “other forms of violence” like the “verbal violence” on the Don Imus show. That “verbal violence” is an extremely expansive nomenclature, capable of being subject to any number of interpretations and applied to many varying circumstances, goes without saying. But it was more than a little shrewd for Obama to ever so delicately link the terrible massacre of so many students with the foolish talk of an irrelevant radio bombast like Imus.

Further, Obama has forcefully called for universal health-care, a palliative, even counter-productive measure, characteristic of the socialist-induced nations of Europe and, of course, Canada. What would be the inevitable consequences of this misguided policy if sanctioned in the United States? Quality would surely plummet, resulting from the elimination of private-sector competition, patients would be forced to wait months for life-saving exams and treatments, medical innovation and progress would be severely stunted, due to price and profit controls, and, since costly medical equipment doesn’t grow on trees, taxes would rise continuously to fund the interminable demands of the medical field, and so on. Such consequences are not hypotheticals or esoteric speculations, they are hard facts of life. We see the endless stream of Canadians, for instance, who flock to the US for treatment because of endless waiting lists back home. Quite often, receiving prompt medical attention literally means the difference between life and death. Canada’s patients aren’t the only ones heading south. As a result of its system of socialized health-care, Canada has suffered from an exodus of talented doctors as well, who, realizing the potential for better profits in the states, pack their bags. And who can blame them? Good intentions do not a sound policy make. It would be an amusing spectacle to see Obama pressed hard to explain exactly how he would pay for this costly program. I’m not holding my breath for this moment, but I can dream. We are swooned by his words and rendered helpless, so Obama gets a pass on providing the particulars. He gains ample mileage by strumming away on the cords of good intentions and the public’s emotions, mistakenly believing that the resulting noise will necessarily translate into good music.

During a recent speech on the campaign trail, Obama lambasted the current administration for spending billions on two wars and, comparatively speaking, a mere pittance on fighting the nation’s poverty. “Why is it that we can find the money in a second for a war that doesn't make any sense, but we can't find the money to take out the bullet of poverty in this country and stitch up our community so every child has a chance at a decent life?” Again, he took the easy route, falling back on his knack for utilizing colorful language to beguile his audience, yet coming up short in the arena of providing specifics. By advancing the novel concept that protecting the nation from militant fanatics, hell-bent on our destruction, ought to play second fiddle to misplaced notions of social justice and egalitarianism, Obama revealed the audacity of his mixed-up understanding of executive branch responsibilities. In the course of his raving cant against the Bush Administration’s alleged moral shortcomings, he failed to mention that, over the course of decades, the United States government has outspent its military ventures by far in its quest to end poverty. He conveniently overlooked the fact that the government has spent billions upon billions to redress the poverty problem. From the Great Society to the War on Poverty, Democrat have poured buckets of taxpayer dollars into faulty programs that have abrogated the responsibilities of the individual to the state, thus perpetuating and magnifying the problems faced by the poor and, in the process, creating a permanent victim class in American society, wholly dependant on government beneficence.

America needs to start asking Sen. Obama some tough questions. And this review has only skimmed the surface. It is unlikely that the coquette between the media and the charming Illinois senator will ever end and consequently, it is even more unlikely that they will ever instigate the serious questioning. Americans can take matters into their own hands by confronting Obama with relentless demands for specifics. We’ve had enough of the slogans. His status as an intriguing pop-cultural figure has run its course. He has thus far only been presented as a fresh alternative to the dry status quo of Washington politics. But in truth, his philosophy for government and vision for the future is nothing but a botoxed, repackaged version of the same failed, liberal policies of the past. There’s nothing new under the sun with Barack Obama’s message of hope.