Courtesy of our comrades at The People’s Cube:
Ockham’s Razor – Since October 2001 – by Scott Kirwin
Archive for the ‘Obama’ Category.
Having grown up with Watergate, even watching the congressional testimony on the network news instead of episodes of Match Game or the TV clown on the local UHF station, I agree with this assessment voiced by the Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Daniel Henninger.
“The Watergate break-in was the professionals of the party in power going after the party professionals of the party out of power. The IRS scandal is the party in power going after the most average Americans imaginable.”
As a former supporter of the Iraq War I was none too pleased to see Obama fail to negotiate a status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government in 2011, nor was I thrilled to watch the country we freed fall into the orbit of Iran after we left. Watching Sunni Islamic militants sweep southward and threaten to topple the Shiite led government though does fill me with a smidgen of schadenfreude though. The New York Times is reporting the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki asked the US to strike militant positions last month, but the Obama administration declined.
Other nations must be taught the US is not the world’s policeman nor is it an empire. When we are asked to leave, we leave. We do not act the way extremists on the right (Ron Paul) and left (Noam Chomsky) claim. If you want us out, we’ll go. The Iraqis wanted us gone, and much to the dismay of many on the right including myself, we went.
Now the Iraqis are reconsidering when they have a band of beheading jihadis in pickup trucks heading their way. Too bad. Instead of asking Washington DC PM al-Maliki needs to ask Teheran for help. Sure I’d rather not see Iraq become a failed state run by terrorists, but actions have consequences and the current leadership which won a free and fair election we created must face the consequences of their actions. After they do, then perhaps we’ll consider our options but not before then.
As a parent of a military aged son I’m willing to cut Bergdahl’s parents some slack over their actions and comments of the last five years. I can’t imagine what I’d do in their shoes, but I know myself well enough to understand that I’d be willing to do anything to get my son back if he were held captive. Even if he willingly joined the Taliban I might push the limits of patriotism in order to get him back onto American soil where I would do my best to undo their brainwashing.
But I understand why others might not cut them a break, especially when American lives were lost looking for him. The numbers might be in dispute but that should not detract from the fact that Berdahl’s disappearance did cost American lives. The only question is how many. And just as I can imagine what pressures I’d be under if my son was held captive, I can also imagine the inconsolable loss of my son in combat searching for him.
In my view there is sympathy enough for everyone involved in this fiasco except for the man who pulled it off. Barack Obama. Walter Russel Meade says it best, writing:
(I)t was the White House that politicized this family and brought them under a spotlight better left unlit. Rather than let Sgt. Bergdahl quietly return home, the White House turned the klieg lights on the Bergdahl family, and left them blinking in a glare that did not serve them well.
Whatever else this episode may be, it is not a clear win for the United States or for the increasingly rattled and off-balance Obama Administration. Nor will it endear the President to veterans who are disgruntled about the ongoing scandal of VA fraud and incompetence.
The utterly counterproductive and inappropriate rollout of the news indicates that somebody in the President’s circle has at least temporarily lost his or her grip on reality. How a competent professional could have thought this story was the kind of big win to put on center stage escapes us. The President would be wise to ask whether some of his political operatives are losing their edge; his enemies create enough trouble for him without his friends getting involved.
Obama’s incompetence is only matched by that of the lackies he’s surrounded himself with. It just makes me wonder how the Republic is going to survive such buffoonery for another 2 1/2 years.
Here’s Mad Magazine’s take:
Since most of my Facebook friends are liberals (about 2/3rds at last count), my newsfeed on Facebook provides me with a steady stream of consciousness from the liberal perspective. Take for example a friend of mine who lives and works in Hollywood. He takes predictable positions on issues and inevitably concludes that all problems in our society are caused by the opponents of the progressive agenda. I hold my tongue. When the Occupy movement was in full-swing, his posts and the comments of his friends (he has 6x the number of friends than I do on FB) demonized the 1% and belittled anyone else who questioned the authenticity of the Occupy crowd or the intelligence of its slogans. Fast forward two years later, and the same friend who demonized the 1% supports tax breaks for millionaires in the form of subsidies encouraging liberal movie moguls like Harvey Weinstein to keep movie production in California.
I am not pointing this out to show how stupid my friend is. Quite the opposite. He’s an intelligent man who has built a very successful life for himself. There is nothing wrong with pursuing policies that are in our own self-interest as long as we don’t start believing that our motives are purely altruistic. As for supporting tax breaks for millionaires while at the same time demanding for them to “pay their fair share,” we are all prone to cognitive dissonance regardless of our ideology and more importantly we are all manipulated by our leaders, although some more than others. It is our job as social beings living in modern society to be naturally skeptical of what we are told, and to also question as objectively as possible our own deeply held beliefs. I have my blind spots just as he his, but at heart I believe he is a good person even if he does spout off like an idiot sometimes*.
After my personal beliefs have moved through the ideological spectrum I am becoming increasingly aware of the limits of our two-party system. Take for example the Republican Party, the one I am currently registered with. Within the party there are people who have chosen the party because it reflects their beliefs. I am one of these people. While I don’t subscribe to everything the party stands for, I believe that it reflects my views at this time better than the other party. But that could change.
Ralph Nader is proposing a libertarian/progressive alliance. Under such an alliance my progressive friend and I would be united under the same banner. It’s an interesting idea to consider especially since the top GOP candidate that he mentions, Rand Paul, is one of my current favorites. I noted that at a recent speech at UC-Berkeley Paul received a standing ovation from the crowd. That told me that perhaps there was an awareness among the left of the common ground the two groups shared. After all drug decriminalization, the expansion of individual freedom and an end to crony capitalism were once celebrated by the progressives of the 1960s. Today this mantle has passed to the libertarians who now find themselves a home in the Republican Party of all places, the more accommodating of the two parties.
Such an alliance would shatter both parties but in my view they deserve such fates. The GOP leadership has shown little interest in the ideas of the libertarians or other ideologues in their party, choosing instead to sideline anyone who dares question their authority (like the grassroots Tea Party organizations). It seems to me the only thing that John Boehner and his ilk care about is taking power, and they will do anything, say anything to keep it.
The Democrats now act like the Republicans of the 1970s and 1980s. They stifle thought and expression through politically correct dogma just as the GOP did when the Moral Majority called the shots back in the Reagan-Bush era. Is selling arms to Iran to pay for guns for the Contras any worse than the NSA spying scandal under this administration? Is Watergate really worse than using the IRS to target administration enemies like Tea Party members? Is the Meese Commission any different from the anti-pornography crusade by Obama’s Department of Justice?
What’s the difference exactly between John Boehner and Harry Reid, or Reince Priebus and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz? One party wants the government to control your life and is in power, the other wants the government to control your life and is out of power. Both parties want tax breaks for their friends and to end tax breaks for the friends of the other party. The only difference is the libertarian wing of the GOP and a small cohort of progressives who recognize the danger of government as exemplified by the IRS and NSA scandals.
Will such an alliance happen? It is impossible to say. Everything changes and what may seem impossible today becomes inevitable tomorrow. All I can say for sure that it’s in the best interest of my Facebook friend and myself to stay friends, to let the rants slide, and to never forget what bound us together in the first place.
Lenin and the early Bolsheviks believed the world had gotten to a point in its history that the proletariat would revolt. Like a forest full of dried timber baking in the hot sun all that was needed for the Communist Revolution they so desired was for a spark, iskra, to set the forest ablaze. The concept was so important to Lenin that he named his newspaper after it while he lived in exile. It was a continuation of Marx’s belief in the evolution of control over the means of production. Marx looked at the world around him at the height of the Industrial Revolution and saw the dehumanizing impact of life living in the crowded cities and working in the factories. To him this was a natural progression from the dawn of civilization that would inevitably lead to the rising up of the working class to take ownership of the factories they slaved in. Marx expected this revolution to occur in countries on the vanguard of the industrial revolution such as Prussia, France and Great Britain, but except for the brief interlude of the Paris Commune in 1848, socialist uprisings failed to materialize in these countries.
The United States has always had a small contingents of people who wanted nothing more than to be left alone. During the colonial period various groups came to America fleeing religious persecution in continental Europe. The expansion of America westward was led by individualists like Daniel Boone and religious heretics like the Mormons followed by vast waves of immigrants seeking better lives after escaping oppressive regimes in Ireland, Central Europe and Russia. Each individual of that time left a legacy that is written in our DNA as a people. Echoes of the suffering of each Russian Jew arriving penniless in New York City or illiterate Irish woman sleeping with her children on the deck of steamer paddling up the Mississippi from New Orleans can be heard as whispers in our collective unconscious. These unique experiences are why we so frustrate our allies and enemies alike. It is impossible for a Brit to truly understand why Americans instinctively abhor collectivism and celebrate the codified rights of the Constitution that protecting individual liberty. The divisiveness that comes with individual rights also encourages our enemies to see America as a “paper tiger” that will explode into confetti with the right spark, be that a sneak attack on the Pacific fleet while in port or twin skyscrapers in Manhattan.
This is also a lesson that the American left socialized on European collectivist thought has forgotten over the past generation. The American Left has always looked towards the Continent for inspiration but that had been tempered at least somewhat by the home-grown anarchism of Henry David Thoreau and at least found common cause with American libertarians. But sometime over the past forty years being a socialist or progressive has meant believing in the power of the State. This reflects an acceptance by the American Left of “Big Government” European-style Socialism which ironically is in decline in the Scandinavian countries, the UK and Germany. As a consequence anarchists and libertarians who once were considered extreme leftists are now viewed by the American Left as extremist members of the right wing.
Today’s American Left wing now sees the State as its salvation and protector. Unions in the private sector have almost disappeared yet the public sector unions are thriving. In 2011 the Economist reported, “government unionisation has risen from 23% in 1973 to 36% today, while private-sector unionisation has declined from 24% in 1973 to 7% today.” Challenges to state power are no longer coming from the Left as they did in the 1960, but from the Right as exemplified today by the Bundy Ranch standoff in Nevada.
In this dispute the Left stands with the federal government while the Right including the libertarians side with the Bundy family. Progressive groups have gone on the attack including calling for the silencing of Tea Partiers and other supporters of the Bundy family. In It’s Time to be Honest: The Tea Party Has Become a Terrorist Group, Allen Clifton writes,
But the longer these people are given a voice, the more they’ve moved from a political movement to a domestic terrorist organization. In politics, they’re doing everything possible to sabotage our country for political gain while outside of politics they’re becoming even more brazenly radical than ever before.
And much like traditional terrorists, these domestic tea party terrorists have a main goal of demonizing and destroying the United States government.
The Bundy standoff has shown the true face of the American Left. Transport the hippies of 1967 through Time to today and it’s unlikely they’d find the federal government all that groovy. The anti-establishment of that era has become the Establishment.
So now it’s up to the right wing and its individualist supporters to take up the idea of “iskra.” The right wing and old-school libertarians have always had a paranoid fringe, but Edward Snowden’s revelations of domestic spying along with the IRS persecution of conservative groups exacerbated by the government takeover of health care proves the wisdom of Henry Kissinger’s quote that even paranoids have enemies. Could Bundy be that spark that ignites the conservative base into open revolt?
Cliven Bundy is not a natural leader for everyone who distrusts the government, nor is his issue with the federal government a clear-cut case of abuse of the individual by the State. It would be nice if there was a more appealing leader than a Mormon rancher, and a more obvious case of government persecution, but the mere fact that the Bundy Ranch dispute continues making headlines on both sides of the political divide shows the there is plenty of tinder in the forest. Only time will tell if the Bundy standoff will set it ablaze.
This explains why Obama is scrambling around the White House trying to find the receipt for its purchase…
HatTip, photo and translation brought to you by SimplyJews.
In his article Vladimir Putin, Russian Neo-Con Atlantic contributing editor Peter Beinart takes neo-cons to task for exhibiting the same focus on military strength and ignoring economic power as Vladimir Putin. “In his approach to foreign policy, Vladimir Putin has a lot in common with those very American hawks (or “neocons” in popular parlance) who revile him most.”
Neo-cons revile Putin the most? Seriously? Beinart clearly doesn’t understand neo-cons at all.
To put it bluntly hawks respect other hawks not doves.
Neo-cons don’t revile Putin. Sure they think he’s a warmongering Russian leader who must be confronted by a strong American and European response, but “revile” him? Absolutely not. The neo-cons see Putin as a man who has been dealt a very poor hand but who has played it brilliantly. He has maintained power in a country with more ethnic, racial, political, economic, and social fault lines than any other nation on the planet. His opponents are vastly richer than his nation, yet he has been able to divide them in ways that are diabolical or brilliant depending on your perspective. America has the largest standing army on the planet yet Putin has managed to hold it at bay in Syria, and is able to bully and invade his neighbors with impunity as shown in Georgia in 2008 and in Ukraine today.
This doesn’t mean that neo-cons want to see Putin win in Ukraine or Syria. They still want to see him defeated. But in Putin they see a man who thinks like they do, who feels a deep sense of duty to his country and is willing to do whatever it takes to make his country great again. They may disagree with his actions, but they don’t question his motives.
Neo-cons revile the likes of President Obama and his administration. They detest the thinking so prominent in academia here and among European statesmen that the solution to every problem can be resolved through talking, and that war is an anachronism with no place in the modern world. They hate the assumption that underlays the thinking of the western intelligentsia, that nationalism is dead and borders are the last impediment to a new transnational utopia. And they especially loathe the attitude that words matter more than actions; Obama’s empty rhetoric is despised much more than Putin’s use of his military.
The truth is that if neo-cons could find an American version of Vladimir Putin they would do whatever it took to put him in the White House. Thanks to Putin people fear Russia in ways they no longer fear the United States, a fact that progressives who detest neo-cons don’t quite understand because they don’t see the world as Putin and the neo-cons see it: a zero sum game with winners and losers. Putin will do what it takes to see that Russia wins, and neo-cons respect that.
Pity the small business. The federal government treats small business owners as cheats and shows them no mercy. Every month small businesses regardless of size must file payroll taxes which include the other 7.5% of each employee’s FICA plus withholding taxes. Every quarter the business also must file estimated taxes for the current fiscal year. Life is simpler for W-2 employees. Most of the work is hidden from them because if the average worker was responsible for carrying his or her share of the burden to comply with local, state and federal regulations, there would be riots in the streets. So instead governments burden the employers who must write it off as the cost of doing business in our society, and workers believe their tax refund is a “gift” from a benevolent government.
Much is being said about Matt Drudge’s “Liberty Tax”, and it’s clear that none of the critics have ever had to file a small business corporate return. If they had they’d understand how taxes are collected in this country and would recognize that Drudge isn’t lying. One issue I haven’t seen mentioned, however, is the individual penalty. Although Congress has raised the issue of delaying the individual penalty for those who opt out of Obamacare, it doesn’t appear likely to pass anytime soon, meaning that the penalty is already in force. We just don’t feel it yet.
Those who opt out, or carry a policy that doesn’t meet Obamacare’s minimum criteria of providing maternity care to men or Viagra to women, should increase their withholding amounts immediately or risk a surprise tax bill next year. How much will the penalty be? Here is an ACA Penalty Calculator that will estimate the amount due next year. For example, if you are filing as single with no dependents and make $75,000 this year, you will pay an additional $649 in 2014 rising to $1,339 next year and $1,725 the year after that (assuming 3% wage growth). Assuming the worker didn’t want to be stuck with that bill and was paid 26 times a year, she’d have to boost her withholding amount by another $25 a check this year, another $26.50 the next, and another $15 in FY2016. Things get complicated real quick with other permutations. Nothing the IRS does is simple, and handling Obamacare penalties is no different.
Most people don’t think about taxes until a few weeks before they are due, so I don’t expect this issue to get much airplay until early next year. But if you don’t have employer-sponsored health care or your plan isn’t qualified, then don’t kid yourself. You’re paying the penalty now.
So this is what a weak America looks like. President Obama issues threats to the Russians over their takeover of the Crimea, and they respond with laughter. Crimean Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov tweets a picture of Obama wearing a Russian lieutenant’s uniform.
A Russian news anchor states, “Russia is the only country in the world realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash.” Pundits on the Left and Right, in Europe and the US see no way for the administration and its western allies to respond. Now Ukraine watches nervously with 60,000 Russian troops on its borders, awaiting Vladimir Putin’s next move. There is no downside to whatever it is. Putin can send the troops to take the Ukraine by force and nothing will stop him. The EU will fume, and the President will make another phone call, but nothing will stop him.
Putin has a once in a century shot at rebuilding the Russian empire at no cost. He’d be stupid to stop now. Not only Ukraine is at play, the entire former Warsaw Pact is now up for grabs. The Baltic states of Latvia and Estonia can’t resist Russian pressure, and neither can Poland. Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. The promise of 1989, of freedom and democracy for half a continent that had known nothing but war followed by repression, is threatened by a Russia that laughs at Western sanctions and posts photoshopped pictures of the American president. Oh, and one shouldn’t forget that it is also home to 4,500 nuclear warheads, so that comment about turning America into radioactive ash is not hyperbole.
For decades the Left has detested American exceptionalism. Starting after World War 2 and supported by the KGB, the Left has demanded America unilaterally disarm. Every movement the United States made to protect Europe was resisted by leftist parliamentarians, student protests and protestors chaining themselves to the gates of American military bases. European bureaucrats condoned this anti-Americanism while at the same time relied upon the American soldiers stationed at these bases as well as the political leadership in Washington DC that was willing to use them.
Now one of those Leftists sits in the White House. He has unilaterally withdrawn American forces from Iraq and now does the same with Afghanistan. Around the world American forces are being cut back to pre-World War 2 levels, replacing American soldiers with rhetoric. He has led an administration that rewards American adversaries like Russia, Iran and China, and punishes its friends like the UK and Israel. In short he has acted like conservatives expected him to act: gutting the military, weakening America and its alliances, and encouraging its foes. Putin’s actions in the Ukraine merely reflect this new reality.
Some leftists, particularly the more ideologically pure, will see these events in a positive light. A humbled America is the final bulwark standing between transnational socialism so its demise at the hands of one of their own will usher in the the triumph of socialist intellectual thought over capitalist avarice. The fact that China and Russia, two of the largest remaining socialist powers on the planet, are preparing to reap the benefits of the end of Pax Americana is as it should be.
The problem with this train of thought, perhaps perceived clearly by the Leftists in Europe, is that neither Russia nor China are true socialist states. Russia is controlled by the basest form of crony capitalism, with the oligarchs siding with Vladimir Putin reaping the state’s largess at the expense of the masses, before shuttling it off to offshore banks in Switzerland. China too is not very socialist. The people do not own the means of production unless you specify the term “people” to mean the children of party leaders. In fact China today has one of the purest forms of capitalism around, more akin to Britain during the industrial revolution and America a century ago as opposed to some communist utopia. In fifty years it’s more likely to look like 20th century America than some sort of Marxist paradise.
Since World War 2 some European states like Sweden and Denmark have crafted socialist paradises, and others like Germany, France and the UK have pursued socialist policies that now find themselves threatened by Russia. Russia controls 30% of the natural gas flowing to the continent, and has shown the willingness to use this resource as a weapon in the past. There is nothing to stop it from doing so in the future, which would destabilize these socialist-leaning European states through higher energy prices. With the Ukraine crisis proving NATO to be a paper-tiger, the continent lays ripe for the picking for Putin and his kleptocrats. The only realistic constraint on Russia is logistical: Putin doesn’t have enough men-at-arms or the ability to project force with lengthy supply lines.
In less than 3 years time America will replace the leftist in chief with another leader. Can Europe hold off Putin until then? The likely butt in the Oval Office chair will either belong to Hillary Clinton, a woman whose political experience helped create this problem with Russia in the first place, or Rand Paul, a neo-isolationist libertarian. Either case would mean the American Calvary wouldn’t be charging anytime soon to save Europe for a third time in a century.
Europe is on its own and will be for the foreseeable future. It will have to deal with Mr. Putin on his terms. For decades European lefties have dreamed of a weak America and it has succeeded. President Obama has taken a 300 lb man who was respected and feared and turned him into a 90lb weakling respected by no one, the laughing stock of the international community. It will be interested to watch how the Continent handles this blessing. At the very least, the Germans and Swedes better hope they don’t have any Russian-speaking minorities.
Update: Did Russian Intelligence Promote Obama from Lieutenant to Colonel? Personally I think his behavior warrants a promotion for the devotion he has shown to the Motherland.
Russian leaders have many qualities but unpredictability isn’t one of them. Events unfolding in the Ukraine have followed a pattern blazed by Soviet tanks crushing rebellions in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia 12 years later. The only question at this point is where will they stop?
Any world leader that reacts with surprise over recent events in the Crimea, the appearance of soldiers wearing uniforms without insignia outside of airports, then the appearance of similarly clad men at other key facilities in the peninsula, followed by a formal request for Russian troops by the puppet authorities put into place by the men in the insignia-less uniforms, should be immediately impeached. Since his rise to power Vladimir Putin has acted the way one would expect the former head of the KGB in Soviet times to act. Putin sees the world in zero sum, Cold War era terms, and has acted accordingly.
While the US and Europe viewed the Cold War as long over, Putin evidently failed to get the memo. George W. Bush believed his personal relationship with “Pootie-Poot” would help him in his global war against terrorism. Putin provided little support, instead bolstering socialist regimes in Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela, capping off 2008 with an invasion of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. By then relations with Russia had deteriorated to the point where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised a reset of relations with the Kremlin, blaming the problems with Russia on the Bush administration. Putin acted accordingly, helping Iran develop its nuclear capabilities. Missing an opportunity to bolster the Libyan regime of Mohamar Khadaffi, Putin didn’t pass up the chance when the Arab Spring swept into Syria. While the West dithered over the support of rebels against Bashir Assad’s regime, Russia didn’t hold back. It provided money and diplomatic cover for the regime in the United Nations, the favorite playground for the post-Cold War thinkers proliferating in the West, and did the same for Assad’s primary backer Iran.
For those of us educated during the Cold War, none of this is surprising or new. Of course Obama and his crew were all educated during the Cold War as well, but evidently they were educated into believing the US was the reason the Soviets did the things they did. Such an attitude also manifests itself in what is called “beaten spouse syndrome” where an abused person believes he or she can control the abuser if only he or she did the right thing. This attitude is narcissistic, fantasy-based and wrong.
The control the US had against the Soviets was blunt. Brute force, mountains of men and material and lots of cash. Truman used it in Berlin in 1948, and for the next 40 years this power was wielded by his successors with varying degrees of effectiveness. That was pretty much it. Every word we said was backed up by the use of force. It was a simple language originating from the dawn of Time and the Soviets understood it.
Now Putin and his Soviet-era thinking has confronted Obama and his liberal idealist philosophy. And the winner? Well… The Russians still control most of Georgia. Iran is still refining uranium. Syria still has its chemical weapons. And the Ukraine is experiencing the same type of fear and hysteria Czechoslovakia felt in 1968.
A famous Democrat once said, “No man can tame a tiger by stroking it.” Before him one of his relatives once cautioned, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” These lessons have been lost on Obama and his minions who have lived in their comfy cocoons for too long. They are about to be schooled by Putin and the Russians, and this time Obama’s transcripts will be there for everyone to see.
There is nothing short of full-out war that Obama and the European leaders can do about Putin’s annexation of the Crimea. Putin knows the West has no stomach for war, so it will acquiesce to his aggression. Then the question is, where should Putin stop?
From a realpolitik standpoint, I see no reason why Putin should not fan his forces northward out of the Crimea to liberate Ukraine. At this point the only hindrances would be logistical. Do his forces have enough supplies to make it to Kiev? My guess is that local resistance would be miniscule in the countryside, and that most small and medium sized towns would side with the Russians. Only in Kiev would the Ukrainian regime be able to mount any type of notable resistance, and that could be handled through deals with many of the Ukrainian oligarchs supporting the regime. With Russia in control of the countryside, funding in-fighting and supplying anti-regime forces inside Kiev while laying a de facto siege to the city, resistance wouldn’t take long to overcome. Putin then could sweep away the current regime, promise elections in the fall to give a veneer of Democracy to the re-installation of a pro-Russian regime. This playbook was written in Eastern Europe after World War 2.
Will he stop with Ukraine? Success breeds success which is another way of saying people get greedy. I have no idea, but I’m reminded of something said long ago after another “surprise” annexation in Europe. When Chamberlain returned from Munich, Winston Churchill said, “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war.” Obama and the Europeans have shown their dishonor, and as a result the likelihood of war next week is much greater than it was last week.
I grew up a Democrat, and although my party affiliations have since changed (and may change back given the stupidity shown by the current GOP leadership) certain Democratic ideals and icons still resonate me with. Sure John F. Kennedy cheated on his wife and wasn’t very effective at getting his legislation passed in Congress, but he did inspire generations of people who came after him. He promised to go to the moon by the end of the 1960’s, “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…” He stood at the erection of the Berlin Wall, saying “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner!”” just as Reagan would stand a generation later shortly before it’s destruction saying “President Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
Growing up in our modest home that my Depression era parents purchased with 90% down (because they feared debt in a way later generations cannot yet fathom), I remember a heavy wrought iron plaque of JFK mixed in with paintings of the Blessed Virgin and Sacred Heart, emblazoned with the words “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” It’s a statement that I know so well I didn’t need to look it up. It’s ingrained in my memory and the memories of many, which shouldn’t be surprising since Kennedy’s Inauguration Speech is considered one of the greatest speeches in American history. It’s not as memorable or brief as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, nor is it as important to our history as the vision laid out in Washington’s Farewell Address, but that single sentence alone catapults it into the pantheon of important and inspiring words for lovers of liberty to know by heart.
I think about Kennedy’s words a lot these days. They came to mind on Friday evening when the Wife was home late from the office after filling out paperwork for some of her Medicaid patients. She has a whole slew of patients who are grossly (in every sense of the word) obese, depressed and on public assistance. She being the liberal care-giver she is does her best to help these people, but she cannot say to them what they truly need to hear: that nearly all of their problems would be solved if they lost weight and got off the taxpayer’s dime.
We did not evolve to become the fat couple I saw at Wal-mart Saturday night: the 400+ lb wife in a scooter-cart being filled by her 300 lb husband. Now I am by no means a food nazi; if you want to drink a gallon of Pepsi flavored with high fructose corn syrup everyday until your toes fall off, then knock yourself out – that is, as long as you’re not on public assistance. If you are, then guess what? People like me have a right to what you shove into your pie hole.
If you weigh over 300 lbs and aren’t a Sumo wrestler, a linebacker or over 7 feet tall, you’ve got a problem. A weight problem. No amount of anti-depressants that doctors like my wife prescribe is going to make you happy; no windfall from the Federal Government will ever be enough to make you feel good about yourself. We evolved in the African savannah and prospered in Asia, Europe and the Americas because we could move and fend for ourselves. Spear a mammoth and running it down with your buddies provided immense personal satisfaction. Finding a hidden supply of food in the forest and giving it to your kids went a long way to chase away the blues. Our Pleistocene ancestors didn’t have paxil, klonopin, or xanax. They moved their bodies. They walked, ran, lifted, hefted, jumped, threw, stooped, crawled, jogged, swam, and swung. They were highly motivated: If they didn’t something ate them.
When I watched the fat guy waddle down the aisle and knock a box of powdered donuts into his wife’s scooter-cart with a laugh and what appeared to me to be some type of satisfaction over his athletic prowess, I didn’t feel the pity that my wife feels for her obese patients. I felt anger. It’s not a secret that sugar soft drinks and sweets make it easy to pack on the pounds, and it’s not Wal-Mart’s job to keep the junk off the shelves. You can become as fat as you want, but don’t expect to be happy. Nothing my wife prescribes will do more than take the edge off your sadness and self-hatred. And here’s where Kennedy comes back into my screed.
Kennedy saw the wisdom of service. He didn’t say the reverse, “Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what your country can do for you.” This is exactly what the Democratic Party has evolved into and one of the reasons I left it. We as free human beings are not meant to be served, we are meant to serve. It’s healthier to think about and fulfill the needs of others than it is to focus on one’s own self, a fact lost in today’s narcissistic culture. I still remember the day I truly became an adult. It was the day that I accepted I was going to become a father. Prior to that day my life had been about me; after it my life revolved around my child and the family that supported him. After that everything became different; I saw the world in a completely new way and was a better man for it. Thinking about others and doing for others won’t cure all of one’s ills, but it’s a start. Given studies have shown antidepressants to be only slightly better than placebos at best and sometimes make depression worse for some, building a life focused on service is a cheap way to fight depression and anxiety.
Notice how Kennedy did not use the word government either. He didn’t say, “Ask what you can do for your government.” Since taking over the White House the Democratic Party has worked overtime to equate the two in our minds, labeling Tea Party supporters and others opposed to the current regime as racist, extremist or unpatriotic. It’s not much different from what the Bush White House and the GOP did for those opposed to the war in Iraq, so both parties will wrap themselves in the mantle of “country” if we let them.
But America is bigger than our government and Kennedy knew it. America is a country that doesn’t exclude anyone. It transcends any divide that we throw at it. Gays or Straights? Americans. Muslims or Jews? Americans. Tobacco-spitting Rednecks or Arugula Eating Vegans? Americans. He wasn’t asking for each of us to serve our government, or our particular social group. He was asking us to serve America, to act and make our country with all its diversity and differences better. Action. Movement. Doing these it’s hard to be fat, but doing nothing, sitting back and waiting for the government to give us “free s**t” will deaden our souls.
I truly believe our nation under the Democrats has lost its way. John F. Kennedy was a Democrat yet his message today transcends both parties. Asking what one can do for one’s country sounds positively subversive these days when we don’t equate “country” with “government”. Such statements are only found among Tea Partiers, and both parties loath them. After all the GOP has not tasked us to act to make America better; they’re just looking to switch out the Democrats in Washington DC and get the same perks the current administration has.
But we Americans can do better than that. We can serve one another with a spirit that Kennedy believed when he said those words and Americans of all political stripes can share. We just need to get off our butts and move. For years we’ve grown flabby; it’s time we acted.
There’s a song I like that has a verse, “Fortune presents gifts not according to the book. When you expect whistles it’s flutes. When you expect flutes it’s whistles.” I hear that song a lot these days even as life becomes extremely predictable. Obama makes another speech and continues to avoid the consequences of his actions. Another prominent opponent of the administration gets arrested or audited by the IRS and the media yawns. The stock market rising to greater heights even as middle class wages stagnate.
But as the song goes, when you expect one thing, be prepared for something else completely different. And that something just might be a war with tanks, missiles, ships and men in uniform, a conventional war after years of asymmetric guerrilla-style conflicts in Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Such a war would be fought on a scale not seen since World War 2, with tactics, technologies and weapons that have not seen mass usage since their inception, wielded by soldiers who have grown up in societies where “shared sacrifice” doesn’t go beyond recycling garbage.
For decades Americans have been conditioned to dealing with far-away threats that are small and because of their size, manageable. It was easy to sympathize with the Vietcong as many on the Left did during the 1960s and 1970s when the VC posed more of an existential threat to Saigon than San Francisco. Even today when those like me proclaim the threat posed by radical Islam, the potential of such a threat lies in one-off terrorist attacks and the long-term danger posed by the acceptance of the normality of Islam, due to our culture’s chauvinistic belief in moral relativism, than in cruise missiles striking targets in Washington DC or airstrikes in Los Angeles. Such ideas are almost unthinkable except as fodder for movies like Red Dawn or video games like Call of Duty: Ghosts.
We have lived for generations expecting whistles. Tin-horn dictators causing trouble in small, far away countries. The occasional terrorist attack by radicals, or some despotic regime stirring up trouble like North Korea. What happens when Fortune decides to present us with flutes instead?
If one listens carefully you can hear the high pitch whispering sound in the air emanating from the West. For centuries China has felt disrespected by its neighbors and bullied by the West. Today it is enjoying power and prosperity on a relative scale that hasn’t been experienced since the 17th century. But that economic might hasn’t translated into the military variety, and in some minds it cannot truly be freed from its past unless China takes its place as a military superpower. For many that means a return to a bygone era when China was the center of the world, and all states, especially those at its periphery, bowed to it.
And that time has come. The states at its borders are currently weak and in disarray. The United States is being eclipsed in economic, diplomatic, and military power by the Chinese regime, its president weak and timid. The next two to three years represent the best time for China to act with force and grasp its destiny. After that countries like Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines will have rebuilt their defenses enough to resist Chinese advances, and America will likely replace an appeaser like Obama with a Republican warmongerer the way Reagan followed Carter over 30 years ago.
There are three likely scenarios:
1. Forceful Unification of Taiwan – The Chinese have been building up their amphibious attack capabilities as well as locating several large missile bases across the Taiwan Straits for decades. During the same time they have infiltrated all levels of the government and military making it likely that a cross-straits invasion would be firmly ensconced on Taiwanese soil before any adequate response would be mounted by the Taiwanese government or military.
Then there’s the question of America. Would the Americans go to war over Taiwan? Much has been written about the defense treaty between the United States and Taiwan, but like all treaties, they are only as good so far as the treaty partners are willing to abide by them. The Taiwanese themselves expect an invasion within the next six years and believe the US would be defeated by China even if it did respond. Given the propaganda that would pour out of Beijing, it’s sycophants in European capitals, and its agents in the US all touting the invasion as an internal matter between Chinese, it is unlikely the US would go to war with China over Taiwan at all. The Chinese know this. The Taiwanese suspect this, and the Obama administration won’t admit this.
Diplomats like to state something to the effect that with all the cross-border trade and personal ties between Taipei and Beijing there is no need for a war to forcefully reunify China. Aside from similar attitudes towards Germany in the 1930’s, this ignores the problems of different elites ruling Beijing and Taipei. The princes who run mainland China, the scions and heirs of Communist revolutionary leaders, are not the same people who run Taiwan. Simply put there isn’t room for both in a reunited China, and it’s unlikely the Taiwanese elite, the scions and heirs of the Nationalists who fled China, would allow themselves to be ruled by the sons and grandsons of the enemies of their parents and grandparents. For elites survival is a zero-sum game, and it is likely to be the case with China and Taiwan. War will be the only way to decide who survives and who is forced into posh and comfortable European exile.
It’s not so much about economics or even territory anymore given that most of Taiwan’s investment is in mainland China. It’s about righting a wrong in the eyes of mainland Chinese nationalists. An independent Taiwan is as much an affront and humiliation to Chinese nationalists as the takeover of the American embassy in Teheran in 1979 was for Americans, except the embassy takeover lasted only 444 days while Taiwanese independence has lasted 65 years. Just because Americans have the attention spans of gnats with ADHD they shouldn’t assume the Chinese are the same. What happened in 1949 is just as important to them today as it was in 1949, just as the treatment at the hands of the European powers, and the United States, in the 19th century is as real and important today as it was yesterday, the day before or a 100 years ago. The Chinese have a memory that is just as long as their 5,000 years of history. Americans must remember that.
2. Small Battles Over Disputed Territories - China seems to make claims and demands of its neighbors on a daily, seemingly ad hoc basis. So far no lives have been lost, but it’s only a matter of time before China pushes its luck and a Philippine frigate or a Vietnamese “fishing boat” decides to push back. Such disputes are expected to be more common as China builds up its military and it’s neighbors do the same. While the scale of these confrontations will be small, and the likelihood of a unified aggressive response small, particularly from the United States, over time China will have seized what it covets at the expense of turning east and south Asia into the most heavily armed region in the world.
3. Full-Scale Sino-Japanese War – A small skirmish over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands could easily lead to full-scale war between the second and fourth largest economies in the world. Such a conflict is the least likely of these three scenarios to occur but it also stands as the most dangerous. An attack on Japanese soil by China could not be portrayed as a civil matter between participants as would be the case for an invasion of Taiwan. The Japanese response would also be much faster since Chinese spy capabilities to disrupt command and control in Japan through the spreading of disinformation and sabotage are nowhere near as developed as they are in Taiwan or even Europe and the United States. The Japanese ability to change their collective minds and act accordingly seemingly in the blink of an eye has been shown numerous times, beginning in the Meiji Period when the Japanese embraced modernity and embarked on transforming their feudal country into a modern nation, to the rise of the military junta in the 1930s that united the country in the war effort, to the post-war period when shared sacrifice rebuilt a country ravaged by the deprivations of war. Even more recently the rebound in Kobe after the 1995 earthquake and the effort to rebuild after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster show how quickly Japanese society can mobilize and work together on a common goal.
This ability to change and the national resilience it represents is unlikely to be adequately appreciated by Chinese military strategists. Pacifism has pervaded Japanese culture since the end of World War 2, and on the surface it’s difficult for foreigners to understand how Japan could turn away from it. But this ignores a basic fact: they’ve done it before, in the days after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were smoking ruins. They can easily slip back into a more militaristic stance.
Finally there is always a 4th option: a Black Swan that by definition cannot be foreseen, but could involve North Korea in some way shape or form. Also this analysis ignores South Korea, which at this time finds itself in the middle between China and the US and could play an important role in any conflict in the region. Additionally I don’t mention Russia since it is a weak player in the region.
In the past I have talked about the Chinese point of view of seeing the world in zero-sum terms. It is impossible for Chinese nationalists to believe that China can rise without other nations falling. Such nationalism has been out of favor for so long in the West that it’s difficult to see the world in these terms, yet our failure of imagination should not blind us to the forces motivating China as it takes its place as the world’s hyperpower. Regardless of what Sinophiles like myself and others want to believe about China, it is only the reality that counts. And the reality is that China’s rise is no longer peaceful, and the consequences will likely return the world to its default state of war.