Sunday, September 27, 2009

Libertarianism ≠ Anarchy

I had a friend who recently had the following Facebook status: "Libertarianism = Anarchy." Having recently self-identified as a libertarian, I find this misconception to be very interesting. Prior to this moment, I always thought that libertarianism meant being ammoral, indifferent to those around them, in short, a libertine "live and let live" attitude. As I outline below in this very brief primer of libertarian principles, I thought wrong.

Liberty. Ever since the Exodus in Egypt, we have yearned freedom--it's part of our human nature. Not only is it natural, but it also maximizes one's potential to succeed in this world. Without it, we become slaves in this world. Although we don't live in a Communist state, we're surely having our liberties eroded by a government that breeds dependency upon it. Maximizing one's freedom is the best way for everyone to amicably get along while pursuing their life's ambitions.

Non-agression. The principle of non-agression is the deontological ethical stance that states that the initiation of physical force is inherently illegitimate. This is key in libertarian thought because it is the very mechanism that assures the maximization of liberty. It holds many forms in all the monotheistic religions, and is accepted by all libertarians, as well as many political conservatives and traditionalists. The basis for this concept is the dignity of the individual and the importance of individualism.

Free markets. The right to property is essential to ensure liberty in the marketplace. A free market creates the incentive to do well. Incentive creates competition, which creates the most innovative product at the lowest price while maximizing the wealth, a win-win both for both customer and producer.

Limited Government. Thomas Paine called government a "necessary evil." I don't disagree with that statement. The reason is because, as a good friend of mine reminded me, "if we were all angels, there would be no need for government." This is what separates the libertarian from the anarchist. Anarchists want no government whatsoever, whereas the libertarian believes that the government should do the minimal amount to assure the maximization of liberty. Since we don't live in a world full of angels, a non-governmental would be bad because if everyone had absolute freedom, ultimately the person would gain total control, which, last time I checked, is called tyranny.

The more people respect the lives of others, the less need for government interventions. However, since we want to prevent tyranny, there are moments when government intervention is absolutely necessary. The purpose of government is to be used minimally, and when necessary, it is used to protect G-d-given rights, not tread on them. National defense comes to mind as one of the exceptions. So is the necessity of a police force to make sure nobody else is committing aggression towards another human being. But overall, the purpose of government is to ensure our G-d-given rights by protecting individuals to make sure they’re not violated. Because of this, there actually is a personal incentive for the individual to behave morally—less government. This moral incentive would bring us closer to a harmonious, free society, which is nothing like anarchy.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Responding to Obama's Speech in front of the UN General Assembly

After reading the transcript of Obama's UN General Assembly speech, I can shockingly say that I was actually impressed with a couple of things he brought up. He didn't apologize for defending American interests, he stressed the importance of mutual, global interest, and most amazing, he stated that "this cannot be solely America's endeavor. Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world's problems alone.....[N]ow is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges." A call for other nations to pitch in, now that's a novel idea!
However, I do keep in mind that this was still the 44th President of the United States talking, so naturally, I had issues with what he had to say. He mentioned four pillars that are fundamental to the global problems at hand. Let's take a look at them.
1) International nuclear disarmament. He mentioned that he is working with Russia to reduce production of nuclear warheads. This sounds very nice if we were making a feel-good film where the world becomes a better place, but it's not. Without delving into Jewish notions of Messianic thought, it is safe to say that we do not live in a world where all nations would honor an NPT.
First, we are in an age where we're discussing alternative energy sources. Based on waning oil supplies and the harmful effects of coal production, we very well might be heading towards an age of nuclear power.
Second, historically speaking, Russia hasn't honored such an agreement. Sure, you had SALT I and SALT II, but diplomatic negotiations didn't bring the collapse of the former Soviet Union. Not only do you have to overcome Russian political corruptness, but you have to deal with the fact that the wounds of the aforementioned collapse are still fresh. Russia was once a great world power, and if they're motivated by shame and finding an opportunity to regain their honor in the global sphere, they'll take it. Russia isn't the only issue. Iran is developing nukes, as is North Korea. Both of these are rogue states, and neither one are going to relinquish their change to gain better favor in regional geo-politics. When everyone is on the same page, we can discuss disarmament. In the interim, let's be realistic about other nation's intents.
2a) The Pillar of Pursuit of Peace. Issue #1 I had with this pillar is his take on Afghanistan and Pakistan. The naïveté on the issue is something I have posted on lately. Obama is ordering our troops to nation-build in Afghanistan, but at the same time, he said today that "[D]emocracy cannot be imposed on any nation from the outside." Defeat al-Qaeda by nation-building in Afghanistan, not exert democracy on other nations--sounds like to conflicting ideas to me.
2b) "We will work with the UN and other partners to support an enduring peace." Since when has the UN ever had the militaristic muscle to bring about peace? As soon as Egyptian troops approached the border in the Sinai Peninsula, the UN troops skedaddled, and Israel had to fend for itself in the Six Day War. The UN also didn't do anything to help those in Rwanda. And as for Kosovo, that was primarily the power of NATO that resolved that conflict. The reason that nobody takes the UN seriously is because they don't have the hard power to coerce their will on others. This won't occur because there are way too many nation-states with way too many conflicting self-interests. Plus, the notion just reeks of elitist authoritarianism on a global scale.
2c) Obama discusses building a lasting peace between Israel, Palestine, and the Arab world. It's nice that Obama wasn't shaking his finger solely at Israel this time. But at the same time, how is natural settlement development just as morally egregious as blowing up innocent civilians? And stating that the Israelis have been occupying Palestinian land since 1967? I'm no historian (although I do my fair share of reading), but Palestinian nationalism didn't even exist until the 1970s. The man has chutzpah to state that Israel is occupying land, implying they have no right to it. If the issue were land, I might accept the argument. But since land has been offered to these people since the Balfour Declaration, history tells us that it's anything but. Also, why hasn't Saudi Arabia or Jordan helped an Arab brother out? I guess it's more amusing for them to be a wedge to help eradicate the "evil" Zionist entity.
3) Preserve our planet. The primary issue brought up in this pillar is cutting back on CO2 emissions. As the article below attests from Reason Magazine, a libertarian entity, the probability of cutting emissions that low is essentially nil. The sad part is that Obama is not mentioning nuclear power. It’s. only type of energy that acts as a “baseload resource” (i.e., being able to meet bulk-power demands) without emitting CO2. This is one of the few areas where I admire the French because they’re 80% nuclear, and their country hasn’t had any meltdowns.

4) A Global Economy that advances the opportunity for all people. I only suggest that Obama read “Cool It” by Bjorn Lomborg because Lomborg discusses prioritizing global issues by focusing on what’s most economically pragmatic while at the same time resolving most problems. Knowing how Obama has treated issues domestically, he will throw money at the problem, just on an international level.

Conclusion: Tackling all of these problems sounds dandy, but the truth is that the UN is ineffective at preserving human rights. I thought the ineptness of the Oil-for-Food Programme would have been sufficient evidence. The fact that 30% of U.N. resolutions have been against Israel should also tell you something about its anti-Semitism. Since its inception, it has been incapable of fostering any national, let alone global, peace. As long as other nation-states act as separate, distinct nation-states, the UN cannot act with any real authority.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Is the Right Really Racist?

Last Friday night, during the eve of the Jewish New Year, I had to sit through a rabbi's sermon that demonized conservatives for being hate-mongering racists. The three examples that were brought up were the following:
1) People who discriminated against Muslims after 9-11.
2) Calling Obama a Nazi. (This, of course, was a reference to a poster during the 9/12 protest in DC)
3) People being racist against Obama, and how this perpetuates racism in America.

In short, this rabbi lectured his congregation about not bringing about hate via negative stereotypes, although he manages to do so in the same breath. It doesn't matter if it's a professor, politician, clergyman, or layman, I never cease to be amazed at the Left and double standards. I'm not even going to lecture about Jews putting the Democratic Party before Judaism--that would take at least a three-parter post. What I want to do right now is answer the charges put forward. Are conservatives really ignorant, racist S.O.B's? Needless to say, the answer is a resounding "no!" But what fun would it be just to answer with "nuh-ah" like a five-year old? Let's take the charges, one at a time.

1: People are anti-Muslim because of post-9/11 paranoia. Yes, 9/11 was a very traumatic event for the American psyche. It was the first time since the War of 1812 since foreigners made an attack on American soil. It makes us feel more insecure. I will quote Abdel Rahman al-Rashed, a Muslim, to adequately prove my point:

"It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims."

I couldn't have said it better myself. It is not the Amish or the Jews that are causing this agony (although I'm sure there are enough conspiracy theorists who would fall for the latter out of sheer stuipidity), but rather it's the Muslims. The 1972 assassination of the Israeli athletes at the Summer Olympics, the Palestian suicide bombers, the Pan Am flight in 1988, the USS Cole, 9/11, the bombings in Madrid, London, and Chechnya, the attack in Bombay. The common link between just about every single terrorist act in the past 40 years is that they have been committed by Muslims who are driven by a certain interpretation of Islam that seems radical to those in the West. Obviously, every Muslim in the world doesn't want to strap a bomb to themselves and kill innocent civilians. That's absurd! But at the same time, we cannot ignore that the "world's fastest-growing religion," has a deadly fundamentalist strain to it, which, sadly enough, is becoming more and more mainstream as the West acts complacent. When it comes to our own life and liberty, are we really supposed to ignore the sole identifiable commonality about terrorists in the 21st century? This isn't racism--it's about preventing such agregeous acts from re-occurring. Not only should non-Muslims all be on board, but so should any non-Jihadist Muslim who believes that their religion should be protected from such contamination.

2: We need to stop comparing Obama to a Nazi. He never killed 6 million Jews and millions of others. What I would like to point out in this scenario are a few things. First of all, this was one poster out of hundreds of thousands. Second, I never heard any liberals, especially any Jewish ones, bemoan the Hitler mustache on Bush posters at anti-war rallies. And that's when they were being nice to Bush! Finally, hating on the President is about American as apple pie, baseball, or wearing red, white, and blue on the Fourth of July. As loathsome as it is, this sort of demonization goes all the way back to George Washington. Lincoln got his fair share of public criticism, which was an important lesson I learned at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield. FDR was portrayed as a Bolshevik, and Clinton a draft-dodging, sexual predator. And we all know Bush (43) was definitely insulted and demonized enough.

3: Stop hating on Obama because he's black! This is something I've gotten from liberals all the time. I couldn't care less if Obama were white, black, green, or purple! What I care about is his socialist policies and his delusion that Keynsian economics is going to solve everything, when it's only going to exacerbate the current state of the economy, American health care system, and environment. I don't care about the race of the president. I just care that he does what needs to be done to ameliorate the problems that currently plague America.

Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream that we would be judged by the content of our character, rather than by the color of our skin. Obama is held up to the same standards as any other man is. A majority of Americans are angry with Obama, it's true. But his skin color has no bearing on that. They're royally ticked off because the amount of government intervention, spending, and inefficiencies are a tangible wake-up call to most Americans. If we don't take a more active role in politics, Obama is going to tread on my rights, as he will with other American.

In all honesty, playing the race card is a last-resort effort used by those Obamaniacs who cling onto cognitive dissonance in hopes that their Messiah brings redemption. It just goes to show which side is truly obsessive about race. Rather than worry about immaterial externalities, let's make MLK proud by examining the merits of our President rather than the look of him.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Obama & The Ill-Treatment of International Coersion

"Trade war with China."  That's the jist of some headlines I have read today.  This, of course, is in response to President Obama enacting a 35% anti-dumping tariff on China recently.  Although I'm not sure if China will invetiably implode because it will push its economy, people, and environment beyond its threshold, what I can predict with fair certainty is that China will, at least for a decade, be a major player in international politics.  Many predict that it will increase its international influence, and even maybe surpass the United States as a world power, G-d forbid.  Either way, China is not going away anytime soon.  Why anger a giant that is getting bigger every day?  This is not a concession towards appeasing to an authoritarian state.  It is, however, warning of a degree of prudence that we should show within our economic relations.  Globalization has caused economic interdependence amongst nations.  The interdependence is so much intertwined than it was during the Smoot-Hawley tariff in the 1930s.  When other countries have economic downfalls, yes, we feel it.  It happened in 1997 when the Four Asian Tigers took an economic tummult.  It was a short-term recession for America, but it was still felt.  It's amazing that the two worst economic disasters in the past century (the Great Depression and now) have two things in common: they originated from the U.S., and they were both caused by protectionism.  Does Obama need to embody the worst of ex-Presidents Hoover and FDR?  Does he think he's going to score political points by winning back some pro-protectionist factory workers because they're starting to develop a negative opinion about him and this health care bill?  Obama already got off to a bad start when Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner accused China of manipulating its currency.  Whether or not this will start an outright trade war with Beijing, it's not wise for America to enact protectionism that will surely agitate the country whose economy is so intertwined with ours that most "American" products say Made in China.

Speaking of agitating allies, Obama is doing this to Israel, as well.  Since when is it wise to chastize and humiliate your longest-lasting and one of your strongest allies?  Settlements aren't the issue here; read the blog I wrote:  Obama has P.O'ed 96% of Israelis, which is quite a feat, considering the fact that Israelis can't agree on anything else in politics with such unamity.  It should be no shock, then, that Israel trades military weaponry to China and India.  Israel might be the size of New Jersey, but considering its size, it is a disproportionate powerhouse. 

Also, Obama even managed to agitate Cuba, as well, by extending the trade embargo for another year.  Consiering we're in a recession, and that Fidel Castro is still alive and kicking, maybe it's not the worst idea for the US to open its economy up a bit to Cuban goods, such as cigars, sugar cane, and tourism.

You'd think Obama would stop at enraging allies and potential allies.  But no, no, no, he has to go a step further by appeasing enemies.  Since when has diplomacy done us any good against people who are out of their minds?  I'm not worried that North Korea is ever going to have enough capabilities to strike the U.S., although their abilitity to strike South Korea or Japan are a whole different story, especially since Japan doesn't have nukes.  But it makes you wonder what gives.  Iran, though, is a whole other story.   On the 8th, Tehran stated that it would partake in bilateral talks with America, but only if its about general international concerns.  That means they're not halting their quest for nuclear power.  It should not only be disturbing for Israel, or even Sunni Muslims that Ahmadinejad would love to destroy because their version of Islam doesn't line up with Iran's.  It should be disturbing because Iran, if not stopped, will disturb balance of power politics if it manages to get its hands on nuclear power. 

I can continue on a criticism of Iran, but the point I want to drive home is this: Obama has no sense of prioritization when it comes to diplomatic relations.  Burning bridges with friends while pursuing failed attempts at consolidating relationships with faux amis is not only harmful to our international relationship--it becomes borderline idiotic.  It makes some our peacenik European counterparts happy, and I'm sure the Arabs are loving the part where Obama chews out Israel while patting the "Palestinians" on the head.  But this makes us look weak and morally confused.  Even though I would like to be hopeful that Obama doesn't perform any more international idiocies, I'm sure that Obama chairing the UN Security Council meeting on the 24th will just be more of the same.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Some REAL Alternatives to ObamaCare

Many of my friends who are supportive of ObamaCare either accuse people on the Right, especially Republican congressmen, of merely being finger-pointing nay-sayers who don't care about the state of health care in America or merely want to see Obama fail. Well, the second part is true--honestly, who wants to see socialism ruin America? On a personal level, I've been accused of not caring about people with financial woes due to health care, which essentially portrays me as a "cold-hearted bastard."

Fallacious accusations set aside, I can definitely state two things. First of all, ObamaCare, whether in the form of a government option or insurance reform, is nothing more than a Trojan Horse for a single-payer system, something that he has promised since the campaign trail. This would unquestionably cause rationing, politicizing, long wait lines, and a significant decrease of quality in health care. I don't care how good of an orator the President was last night; this false Messiah doesn't have the ability to suspend the laws of economics.

Second, one of the bigger myths surrounding this debate is that conservatives or libertarians don't provide alternatives. This is patently false! After about an hour of research and talking to one of my fellow libertarian friends, this a compilation of alternatives I came up with:

1) Personal responsibility! This is my personal favorite, no pun intended. Sometimes, I'm truly surprised at how unhealthy the "American Way of Life" can be. You know the percentage of health-care spending linked to bad diet, lack of exercise, and other risky behavior, such as excessive smoking and drinking? 70%! This should be no shock to people. Two-thirds of America are overweight, half of which are obese. One in six Americans smoke.  Half of Americans don't exercise enough to have an impact on their health.  Instead of focusing on treatment (rather than prevention), how about encouraging healthy behavior instead?  If people are taught how to eat healthily, learn how to exercise, and embrace preventative health care as a part of their daily life, the demand for health care would be considerably less.  So I provided a simple, but nevertheless nifty formula:

Healthier lifestyle = Less health care bills

2) Tort reform! America is a sue-happy country, mostly because if you can get a whole lot of money for doing virtually nothing, why not? But guess what? This causes doctors to be scared to practice without a lawsuit, which leads to higher insurance premiums and overtesting. Between overtesting and the ridiculous paperwork that needs to be filled out, we're talking up to $500 billion (yes, that's billion!) in wasted money. (Actual savings are closer to $54B over ten years. Please see my addendum in the comments section as to why I changed my figures; edited 4/7/2014). Putting a cap on malpractice suits will decrease a need for paperwork, as well as decrease insurance premiums, which ultimately leads to a decrease in inefficient health care spending.

3) End the distortion of the supply of the doctor labor market: The AMA limits how many doctors can be certified, thus altering the medical labor market. With less doctors, the AMA creates a shortage of doctors and a net diminution of overall care, not to mention $40 billion spent. Instead of the government condoning this action, maybe the government should help increase the amount of doctors admitted by the AMA. That way, there are more doctors in this country. More doctors in the labor market means they don't have the ability to make outrageous charges anymore.

4) Stop employer-mandated insurance: The reason why health care has become a hot-button issue in the first place is because our unemployment rate is high. What exacerbates this fact is the fact that the costs of health care are hidden. How much does an office visit cost? Or double-bypass surgery? Nobody knows! "Who cares what it costs? My insurance company covers it," says Joe Schmo. No wonder we have an over-consumption in health-care services. It's easier to spend other peoples' money than spending your own. If we ended employer-based insurance, a few things would happen. One, over-consumption of health care would desist. Two, there would be transparency of health care costs. Three, health care could be bought like any other good, and it wouldn't matter if you're employed or not. That means, like any other good, health care will be more competitive. Competition creates incentive to offer better health care at a lower cost. A win-win for everybody!

5) Allow insurance to be carried across state lines: This would be feasible once we stop employer-mandated insurance. If we permit this interstate exchange, not only would this bring about the advantages inherent within [interstate] competition, but it would also cover 17 million uninsured, and here's the catch--it wouldn't cost a penny!

6) Stop discriminating against workers without employer-provided health insurance. Provide workers with the same tax breaks as those with employer-based insurance.  In this day in age, less taxation is a good thing.

7) Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).  An HSA is a high-deductible medical savings account in which the savings are drafted before taxation.  Not only is the premium much lower (simply because you're not paying for preventative health care), but the other advantage to this program is that whatever you do not use for the current year rolls over into the next year.  This concept works together very well with my next proposition, which is.....

8) Less health insurance. Yes, I know this concept seems foreign to you. "Health care" and "health insurance" have become interchangeable terms in everyday vernacular, although history tells a different story. Until the designing of Medicare in 1965, only a small minority of Americans even had health insurance. On average, it costs $500 a year just to administer health insurance, which comes out to about $1.6 billion. On top of that, insurance comes with filing claims. Guess how much this costs? About $210 billion! We use health care to cover just about everything. Insurance plans have many procedures that most Americans don't use, and we have to pay for it. If you walk into a hospital and have insurance, it's essentially applied that someone else is footing the bill. I recently watched a John Stossel special where he talked about the hypothetical, but nevertheless ridiculous notion of what would happen if groceries had their own insurance. Remember the aforementioned Joe Schmo? If Joe had grocery insurance, he'd go with a $300 bottle of wine. But if it were his own money he were spending, maybe he'd go with the $8 bottle of wine, or better yet, realize that he doesn't need the wine at all. With less health insurance, there is less needless consumption, which ultimately leads to, you guessed it, lower health care prices.
9) Cut out federal and state level benefits.  Here's another example of "government is the problem" rather than "government is the solution."  Programs such as acupuncture, alcohol treatment, pastoral counseling, massage therapy, marriage therapy, and even breast reductions, are government mandates.  Although the 2,100 benefit mandates are small unto themselves, when they're added up, they raise premiums up 20-50%.  Although some of these benefits have good intentions behind them, I couldn't care less about good intentions if it cranks up the cost of health care.  By eliminating these mandates, we're one step closer to lowering costs and empowering people with their own health care decisions.

10) Transparency in health care costs.  If the government isn't going to totally self-deregulate, the least it should do is deliver consumer-oriented data that informs Americans the costs of health care services.  As I brought up in my fourth point, nobody knows the costs of health care.  If Americans know how much a given procedure costs, at least they would know if they're being ripped off or not.  That way, they could look at other practices that offer cheaper prices, thereby encouraging competition, and ultimately, lower prices.

Many of these suggestions don't cost anything, some cost a bit, but nothing compared to what ObamaCare would cost. Either way, in the end, it leads to a substantial net gain.  Financial empowerment leads to competition.  Competition leads to provide doctors with an incentive to deliver better health care for less.  Less money spent on health care expenditures makes Americans happy and free.  Now isn't that what we all want?

Monday, September 7, 2009

One More Reason to Pull Out of Afghanistan, An Addendum to 9/2 Article

On September 2nd, I adequately pointed out why, from a right-winged point of view, the American troops should pull out of Afghanistan:

If that wasn't convincing enough, I have come up with yet another reason to pull out.The Heritage Foundation recently put out a statement stating why we should support Afghanistan:

Aside from the fact that they don't address any of the self-evident issues with being over there, it forced me to do a little bit of math. As they point out, there are only 173,000 men in their army and police, where as Iraq has 600,000. This is as startling contrast, considering the fact that Afghanistan is three times the size of Iraq. Last time I checked, if the Afghani government wanted to be comparable to Iraq, 600,000 x 3 = 1.8 million. On top of that, my other reasearch told me that 160,000 soldiers were in Iraq for its moderate levels of success, so 160,000 x 3 = 480,000 soldiers, and right now there are only about 110,000. So just some basic math here, which will be me subtracting the amount of necessary forces that are currently lacking in Afghanistan:

  • 1.8 million - 173,000 = 1,627,000 Afghani soldiers and policemen short
  • 480,000 - 110,000 = 370,000 American, NATO, and other foreign soldiers short
In total, we're a little bit shy of 2 million men short of being able to pull of such an operation.  If Heritage is stipulating that we cannot do "minimalist, off-shore tactics" and need to go in there "head-on," can somebody explain to me where this large quantity of men is going to come from?  Since WWII, most operations such as these have primary backing from the US.  Where is the US going to get 370,000 men?!  We have so many domestic issues to deal with right now, and the support for the war is already low, which kills morale.  Also, how are we going to train over 1.6 million Afghanis?  Better question, why should we even train them in the first place?  We have crime in America--let's use it for our police forces, or better yet, guarding the US-Mexican border from narco-terrorism.  Heck, it can be used to get Al Qaeda in Pakistan.  There are so many other things that this money could be used for.  Just because it's erroneously gift-wrapped in the ruse of "national security" doesn't make it any less of pork than building an Alaskan "Bridge to Nowhere."  No matter where you are on the political spectrum, one thing should be clear by now--we're wasting valuable resources on something that cannot be won.

Friday, September 4, 2009

"We Should Just Talk to Them"

I figured after those last two entries, I’d write something a bit more “right-winged” before my friends thought that I’ve gone to the Loony Left, in spite of the fact that my arguments were grounded in right-winged libertarian thought.
A friend of mine recently told me that we should have a shift in Middle Eastern policy. The two things he noted is that we should try to reach out to the Arabs to get them to understand where we’re coming from. My friend opined that we haven’t been emphasizing that part of the policy, and as such, should find a more diplomatic solution to the problem. He also stated that it’s OK to be a little tough with Israel because we have normalized, stable relations with Israel. Where does one begin?

I’ll tackle the first issue, which is that Obama is not, by any means, stabilizing relations with Israel. If anything, he is causing the demise of American-Israeli relations. The most recent poll out of Israel states that only 4% of Israelis think Obama is pro-Israel…..4%! For those of you don’t know, Israelis are not people who agree on anything. The fact that Israelis have a virtually unanimous opinion of Obama, which happens to be negative, ostracizes Israel, and will probably end up causing an ultra-nationalist fervor in Israel, which would exacerbate the situation.
The second presumption is that by talking to them, we will work things out. Two things I would like to point out about that:
1) We’ve been talking to them in hopes of creating a “two-state solution” since the British Mandate. Israel has tried in the 1937 Peel Commission, 1947 UN Partition, giving land after the Six-Day War, the Oslo Peace Accords, the Camp David peace talks before the USS Cole was blown up, and more recently, the Annapolis Conference.

2) Why doesn’t talking work? Because Arabs are the main obstacle to peace. The reason why it’s so one-sided is because Arabs, not even the “moderate” Mahmoud Abbas, recognizes Israel’s right to exist. Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin stated that “you don’t make peace with your friends. You make peace with your enemies.” He only got it half-right. You make peace with your former enemies. If Palestine would only recognize the existence of a Jewish state, the goal of peace would be much more obtainable.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Operation Enduring Freedom Should No Longer Endure

"War, what is it good for?  Absolutely nothing!  Say it again...."  It's a lousy song, not to mention the fact that the conlcusion Edwin Starr comes to is incorrect, but it does make one wonder about the costs and benefits of what's going on in Afghanistan.  Like everything else in life, everything should be a cost-benefit analysis.  If the benefits outweights the cost, do it!  And vice versa if it's not the case.  After taking a look, it seems as if we should cease operations in Afghanistan, but for argument's sake, let's take a look at what is going on:

  • Current state of Afghanistan: After nearly eight years of occupation, I am sorry to say that Afghanistan is the failed state that it was beforehand.  There's no centralized government, the political corruption there makes Mexico look wholesome, it still has a highly illiterate, uneducated, rural, and decentralized population, and the only real industry they have is opium.  This nation sacrificed nearly 800 American soldiers in a failed attempt to turn Afghanistan into a democracy, which has lead to the unintended result of preserving the status quo over there.  This brings me to another point.....
  • Nation-building: Why is it America's job to partake in nation-building?  A better question is "Why Afghanistan?"  In terms of geo-political status, Central Asia gives the American military no strategic advantage.  Even if you don't agree with that conclusion, let's analyze the initial reason to go over there in the first place: capturing those responsible for 9-11 and bring them to justice.  We couldn't even capture Bin Laden and his cohorts because they went over the Pakistani border, and now are enjoying the protection of the Pakistani government.  The Pakistanis, our supposed allies, aren't going to help us.  As a matter of fact, the turmoil caused by the Taliban is better for the Pakistanis because it levels out the balance of power with India in that region of the world.  And then you want to throw nation-building on top of that failure?!  If you're just left with nation-building and "those poor Afghanis," what about Darfur?  You've been hearing about that for years.  Or what about Somalia or Sierra Leone?  If we over-extend ourselves to help transform every nation into a democracy, America's soldier would be overburdened, foreign aid would inveitably have to be rationed, and our grandchildren would have to pay for it.  Funny how that sounds like the same argument used against ObamaCare!
  • America Looking Weak: This, I'm sure, is an argument that many of my conservative friends use to support it.  "We need to stay the course and support our troops because if we don't stay, we'll look like we chickened out and that we're too weak to handle a puny nation like that."  Wait a moment!  American military, weak?  Did you just use those two words in the same sentence?  Even with Obama in office, America has a military that parallels no other.  We are responsible for approximately half of the world's military spending, we could knock out an entire nation-state with the click of a button if we wanted to, and with our military prowess, we have a strong influence over the four corners of the globe.  America won't look weak--it'll actually look quite intelligent because the world will realize that America is actually thinking with its head rather than with right-winged emotionalism of fervent patriotism (yes, conservatives can be guilty of emotionalism, but it's just that liberals do it a lot more often).  
  • War on Terror:  Many neo-conservative friends I have will tell me that by relinquishing Afghanistan, we lose face with the terrorists.  Let's face it, most Americans could not succinctly tell you what the War on Terror is about.  And even if they could, they're focused on domestic issues, such as unemployment, health care, and the recession.  If the American people and government want to fight "terrorists," three things have to occur: 
  1. Stop calling the problem "terrorism."  Call it out for what it is--Islamist radicals perpetuating jihadism throughout the world.  By identifying the enemy, we already have part of the problem solved.
  2. Prioritize!  Afghanistan is a lost cause, move on.  Plus, they're no longer (if they were in the first place) in this "War on Terror."  Two enemies (out of a myriad of enemies) that could use some emphasizing are Pakistan and Iran.  Pakistan is protecting Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, not to mention supporting the Taliban.  Obviously, the big problem is that they have nuclear arms, and odds are that Obama isn't going to tackle that anytime soon.  But let's look at an enemy that doesn't quite have nuclear arms--Iran.  Ahmadinejad said he wants to wipe of Israel off the map, but surprisingly enough, Israel isn't the only one worried about Iran.  Many of the Sunni countries, including Iraq, Morroco, and much of the Arab world is worried about Shi'ite retaliation.  Or if we really want to prioritize our foreign policy, let's worry about the growth of China, because if they succeed, America in deep.
  3. This war against Islamists will not merely be won with military might.  It ultimately needs to be fought and won internally.  This is one arena that a Jew such as myself cannot enter.  It has to be done by moderate and traditionalist, non-violent Muslims who realize that the very essence of Islam is at stake, and if they don't win, Islam will always be a reactionary, antagonistic force in American foreign policy.
These fundamentalists won't disappear with wishful thinking.  I'm sure that's a lesson Neville Chamberlin realized sometime after the "peace in his time."  But to be stubborn about something that cannot be done or won is nothing more than a malignant form of obstinate pride that would make America look foolish and idiotic in the history books.  That's precisely why if we're going to have any hope of eradicating this kind of evil in the world, we need to learn how to prioritize in such a way that the benefits greatly outweigh the cost.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Gay Marriage Won't Cause The Sky To Fall In Vermont

Today is the first day that the state of Vermont has allowed "gay marriage" to be permitted.  After reading some conservative websites and blogs today, I was amazed at the amount of alarmism--it was like I was listening to a liberal environmentalist discuss global warming.  "If we allow gays to get married, it'll bring down the institution of marriage, which will bring down society as a whole."  This hot-button issue, of course, is not one to take lightly, especially since I'm a practicing Jew.  Nevertheless, it raises important questions.  I'm not going to start a discussion here on Judaism and homosexuality--I'll leave that for another day just because it would take up twice the ink that a secular/civil argument would.  Plus, America is not a Jewish state, so in the case of Vermont, it's moot.  One thing I will say regarding that, though, is that in order to truly be tested, you truly need to be free, free to do a mitzvah as well as free to commit an issur (trasngression), G-d forbid.

The question at hand is the one of whether or not this civil (not religious, but civil) institution dubbed as "gay marriage" will cause ruin to society.  As always, I have my two cents.

First of all, we do live in a society where we have the freedom of religion, as guaranteed by the First Amendment of our Constitution.  But we also have an implicit freedom from religion, because if we didn't Fundamentalist Christians would be able to force their religion upon me.  As a religious minority, I fear that prospect as much as an atheistic government taking away my G-d-given right to practice Judaism.  The Religious Right, of course, will say that the institution of marriage predates the creation of the nation-state and government.  But guess what else does?  Homosexuality!  Look at any ancient society, minus the Israelites, and you'll find that there are varying degrees of homosexuality that were either tolerated, or even more glaring, accepted.  It's not as if homosexuality is anything new.  What's new is how we respond to the issues at hand.

Second, the notion of freedom is at stake in this discussion.  When I used to be a conservative ideologue (admittedly!), "freedom" was a buzzword that was often used, as was the phrase, "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." When it came to discussing freedom and abortion, I argue[d] that because there is more than one life at stake, the life of the fetus superseded the mother's temporary inconvenience.  When I came to the issue of civil unions (or gay marriage), I was stuck because this did not, in any way, violate the libertarian principle of non-aggression.  A homosexual couple co-habiting doesn't violate a heterosexual's couple to commit themselves "until death do them apart."   As such,  they should be afforded that freedom.  As Kinky Friedman so eloquently stated, "I support gay marriage because I believe they have the right to be just as miserable as everybody else!"

Third, gays cannot, from an objective standpoint, be blamed for the downfall of heterosexual marriages.  Homosexuals make up roughly 5% of the population.  Even if every single one of them married and ultimately divorced (which is such a statistical unlikelihood it's not even funny), that still would leave 90% of divorced couples unaccounted for.   If  religious people were in any way sincere about ameliorating the current state of marriage, they would identify the real problems to marriage: no-fault divorces, promiscuity, male womanizing, and workaholism.  It's clear as day that homosexuals are such a negligible threat to marriage,  If you want to improve the institution of marriage rather than partake in scapegoating, you first need to be intellectually honest in terms of identifying the real root problems.

Finally, and I say "finally" only because I don't want this to be longer than it already is, but this is a fine example of how the Tenth Amendment, that being the amendment regarding enumerated states rights, should be used.  If Vermont wants this institution and Alabama doesn't, fine!  Oddly enough, Alan Keyes would actually agree with me on this point.  In addition, I truly think the Founding Fathers were genius in creating this amendment because it gives America the chance to be innovative and try new things.  Prohibition would have worked out much better if it hadn't become the 18th Amendment.  Let's say that a few states had tried prohibiting alcohol, and it was a complete disaster.  The other states would know not to implement it.  If it had worked, then the ban on alcohol would have become more widespread.  In short, it gives this nation to try something new, and if, for whatever reason, it doesn't work, at least the damage is more isolated.  The analogy also implies to gay marriage.  Let's face it--we don't have enough studies proving or disproving it.  And even the studies we do have to be taken with way more than a grain of salt simply because this is such a hot-button issue.  Even though this has already been tried in Scandinavia, Netherlands, and Canada without the sky falling, the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution gives us the objectivity to test and see if it works.  For those who are against it, if it doesn't work, then it's isolated in one state, and you'll have all the empirical evidence you'd need.  And odds are that it's a "blue state" anyway, so do you honestly think it's a huge loss?  If it does work, however, other states can say, "Oh, it worked there, let's see if it'd work here, too."  Not only do we get to find the answer to a highly controversial topic, but we also preserve freedom and constitutionality in the process.