Friday, June 28, 2002

Weapons or Terrorists?

Recently I heard (on one of the News Channels) a security guy from Israel say that the USA will never achieve security if we continue to search for weapons instead of terrorists. The logic is stunning. Israel, the most obvious target for terrorists, has NO hijackings on its airline. They reason that a terrorist does not need a weapon, he uses terror and violence, weapons are secondary. Our government, obsessed with the need to avoid criticism regarding racism and profiling, is willing to sacrifice the lives of citizens if the price of effective security is the possible loss of votes. Just one example: recently, they took away a pair of blunt-nosed scissors from my pre-teen son, who was singled out for a random search, while I breezed through with a Swiss Army knife I had inadvertently failed to leave at home.

Another name for profiling is good solid police work. How many more innocents must die on the altar of political correctness? How many children will be searched while full grown men are waved through checkpoints? Why do Norman Minetta and Robert Mueller still feed at the public trough, while they still insist that the only person who absolutely must never have a weapon on an airplane is the PILOT.

Is Iran Our Best Ally?

Recent leaks from the administration reveal that one option for dealing with Saddam Hussein is to "insert Special Forces troops into southern Iraq and declare a liberated zone there. Working with opposition forces, the United States would provide air cover for an attack on Baghdad, providing intelligence and logistical support." Note that the southern portion of Iraq is composed of a predominant Shia muslim population. Shia is also the religion of the ayatollahs of Iran. Helping the Shia in Iraq would make the mullahs and ayatollas beholden to us. Do we want, or can we forsee, an alliance with Iran?

After you stop laughing, consider two facts. First, the Shia sect is much less focussed on world domination through jihad than the Sunni, especially the Wahhabi sect that dominates OBL and the Saudi regime. The second bit of trivia here is that the Iranian people are the muslims whose people want to be like us. This is the only muslim country that has frequent demonstrations against its own regime, and showing solidarity with our side post-9/11. (Turkey doesn't count, it is a secular state which executes its own jihadis).

After one gets over the knee-jerk reaction to the headline above, it just might make sense to make common cause with this muslim theocracy, the only such state that shows grass roots support for our cause. Long term, the prospects look good. The problem is, in our democracy, our leaders are only concerned with holding power in the next re-election. A longer term solution such as an alliance with the Shia would garner Bush no votes in 2004. I predict that if they go forward with this option, it will be only because they have failed to realize the ramifications of supporting a popular revolt with its genesis in the southern no-fly zone of Iraq.

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Israel Gets A Break

Finally an American president has made an unequivocal move in favor of the survival of the Jewish State. While it is easy to say that Bush made his latest statement on the Israeli question out of religious fervor (Christian fundamentalists feel that a viable jewish state fulfills biblical prophesy), it may just be that he has finally realized the simple truth: Israel is a democracy, and no peace plan can work where a majority of the Israeli electorate is against it.

This occurs at a time during which the the agenda of the Palestinians is becoming more widely revealed and recognized. My father fought there in 1948, and it has been no secret in my family that the Levantine Arabs prayed fervently for the extermination of the Jews. American presidents from FDR onward were complicit in supporting this effort. Even the Israeli left was too timid to state this was the goal of their enemy.

But, the Palestinian obsession with hatred and death has become so pervasive and obvious that a majority of Israeli and American voters have finally realized this simple truth.

While no one can know how this will work out, at least there is now a modus vivendi that allows all parties to proceed toward a future based upon this truth, instead of wishful thinking.

Why Elizabeth Smart?

Is it just me, or is the obsession of the TV news channels with the story of the disappearance of the little girl way out of line? OK, so she's white, very pretty, and lived in a million dollar home. Why are we forced to either listen to it, or watch something other than news? Especially now, with major news that goes uncovered to make room for this boring story.

Many other children 350,000 are abducted every year. They get no coverage. OK, so 98% are taken by a biological parent. This girl lived with both parents. Some run away. According to the parents, friends, and relatives, there is no chance that this girl ran. There are still plenty who are taken away and raped, then mostly mostly they are killed. My friends in law enforcement tell me that, at this point, there is virtually no chance that she is alive.

Elizabeth Smart is obviously the victim of the same syndrome that Martha Moxley fell to, rape and murder at the hands of a male who knows her enough to want her, but can't have her, so he takes her, then he kills her. And as long as rape is punished at the same rate as murder, rapists will see that it is easier to get away with murder than rape. This is a very old story. It's even in the bible. There is no suspense.

Sorry people. Nothing to see here. Just move along.

Thursday, June 20, 2002

Where's the Outrage? Has the Constitution Been Repealed?

Why is it that, on the mere accusation from the executive branch, Jose Padilla, born in the USA, has no right to hear the charges against him, but is detained without charge. Why does he not have access the "Great Writ", the writ of habeus corpus, or the right to confront his accusers, or the right to question, or even know the names of, the witnesses against him? Are these rights the basis of the greatness or our country or not? What are we afraid of?

Is it just me, or does Ashcroft look like he is operating way out of his depth? Nine months after the shock of the great victory of the forces of evil over the land of the free, I think that this is the time that we can see what is happening with clarity, and we can now see that the response of our government is not exectly what we had hoped for. Thousands of muslims have been arrested and released, and not a single charge of terrorism or association with same. But they arrest one idiot who was stupid enough to lose his passport in Pakistan and voila! Ashcroft announces that when Padilla could not raise enough money to build an H-bomb (with cartoon plans) he was ordered to create a very complicated device and kill thousands of people. The only evidence we are offered is a statement that he had $10,000 on him when he got off the plane. No plans, no skills, no phone numbers, no witnesses, no charges. Am I the only one who finds this story fishy?

And what about "Homeland Security?" Does anyone feel safer flying today? Does this obsession with keeping a weapon (nail file) off the plane while refusing to do anything to attempt to keep a terrorist off of the plane make any sense at all? Not to me. Has Tom Ridge done anything to make the Homeland more secure? OK, he came up with a fear color code, but no federal or police agency seems to be using it.

When the towers collapsed, I said a prayer of thanks that we had the best man in the White House (out of the three possibilites). And while I still believe that Bush is far better than either Clinton of Gore would have been, beyond that single opinion, I don't think the Emperor is wearing anything at all. He says the right things (if you can ignore the WAY he says them) but is constantly being contradicted by his flunkies, especially Powell, but don't forget the stunning reverse in his policy and campaign promises Christie Todd Whitman laid on his Global Warming stance.

Is this just a stupid act played by an MBA from Harvard designed to allow him to steal our freedom and de facto repeal or ignore selected pieces from our vaunted rights and liberties, or is it that our President really is as ineffectual as he seems. I hate to admit, but I'm beginning to think it might be true that he's not as bright as he looks. Then the entrenched bureaucracy is in charge, with no agenda other than a single-minded need to expand its own power.

I do not find it frightening that the government wants to reduce our rights as a free people, because that is their nature, but I am scared out of my wits that only extremists like me seem to care

Friday, June 14, 2002

What Is Zero Base Thinking?

If you remember the presidential campaign of Jimmy Carter, you might remember that his economic program relied on an idea called "Zero Base Budgeting." Without stooping to wonkery, this meant that, instead of starting with last year's budget, each department of the bureaucracy would begin each year's request for a budget at zero dollars, and attempt to justify each and every dollar that thay would plan to spend. Of course, no plan like that could fly in a world where entrenched interests rule, and nothing as sensible as requiring bureaucrats to justify funding yesteryear's mistakes could ever be allowed to exist. In today's federal budget planning, there is rarely any discussion about much beyond the per cent increase over last year for all the old stuff, and a request for funding for new initiatives and mandates. No wonder the government is awash in cash. They have the perfect mechanism to demand ever larger sums of money, coupled with the ability to get it, either from taxation, borrowing, or printing, in virtually unlimited amounts. Zero Base Budgeting is something that exists only in a few states, where there is a limit to the state's ability to tax, borrow, and print money. Washington has no such constraints.

I don't control any budget except my own, but I do control that which is and will be presented in these pages. I intend to utilize a process that I have used most of my life, and I have never understood why others don't do the same. I call this process Zero Base Thinking. While my opinions depend upon Franklin's dictum "where you stand depends upon where you sit," my thinking follows a different course. I try to filter out the garbage and lies that are infused throughout our public discourse. I assume that "the common knowledge" is almost always wrong. I suspect all "facts" until many reliable sources agree to the same "fact," but still realize that there are (at least) three sides to every story: his, hers, and the truth. Simply:
Question authority. Try to find out the facts. Filter out the spin. Think for yourself. Derive the truth.
It's simple, but it's not easy. It's called thinking for myself, and anyone can do it too, or you can watch me do it in these pages. It is a lot more work than believing one side or the other, having preselected the side. It's a lot more accurate though.

You might notice, however, that my opinions do not always square with my thinking. Since where I stand depends on where I sit, I think that, in the spirit of full disclosure, I should reveal my biases, right up front.

Some have called me a libertarian, but I prefer to be called a reactionary conservative, since I wish that Thomas Jefferson were still president. Few laws passed since Jefferson's time have improved our nation, and certainly no law passed since the presidency of Teddy Roosevelt has been needed. Congress should limit itself to repealing legislation, until laissez faire economics and personal freedom return. Government should support freedom, property rights, and national defense. Infrastructure should be a national interest only in the case of local failure or great need. The commons, such as roadways, water, and land should be paid for by the users. Charity should be voluntary. Taxes should be upon consumption, not production or income. I may, indeed, be a libertarian.

As a Jew whose parents were both affiliated with the Irgun, a Zionist organization, and a boy who grew up instilled in the memory of 11 uncles killed in the Holocaust, I am totally on the side of the Jewish State, and peace through strength. I have no illusions about man's inhumanity to man, and have contempt for those who believe (or claim to) that man has advanced beyond savagery, when push comes to shove. I also know that America and Israel are perhaps the only strong nations who have not used their strength to murder their opponents and take their land, and have no desire to build empires beyond their present borders. When I say this, I include Judea and Samaria within the present borders of Israel. I leave it to the democratic process within Israel to decide where to draw the line, and will support the Israeli people, whatever they decide.

Therefore, while I am a Zero Base Thinker, you will occasionally catch me with opinions that do not square with my logic, but you will always read the logic first.

I have actual work to do, which involves travel and an uneven schedule, so I will be posting to this blog unevenly. This makes maintaining a comment system too risky, but I promise to answer any and all emails (even if I just tell you to buck off). If anyone catches me being wrong about something, I will post a retraction.

Thursday, June 13, 2002

John Doe #2

So now that the Islamic connection to the Murrah Building bombing threatens to break into the sunlight (again) and the true believers are claiming (again) that the Feds had this stuff before, they discounted it then, and what's the big deal. For those with a childlike belief in the purity of the motives of those running the Justice Department, this story never made any sense. Even now, the mainstream media are ignoring this story (again).

What one needs to understand, is the mentality of the (mostly) men who are responsible for the administration of justice in this country. It is not about justice. It is not about love of country. It is not about making the world a better place for the children to live.

It's only about winning.

I don't mean to say that there are NO U.S. Attorneys or FBI agents to whom the law is a sacred calling that they were drawn to all of their lives. What I have seen, however, is that power corrupts, and with time, as these people ascend the ladder of power in their careers, childish ideals like justice and making the world a better place are replaced by the need to acquire power, to pursue the career track, to get their ticket punched. Only victory is rewarded in the world they live in. Preventing a crime, improving a life, doing the right thing becomes subordinated to the need to ascend that ladder one more rung.

When they get a case, their strategy is all about winning. Federal prosecutions are usually a slam dunk, with most US Attorneys having a batting average in the high 90 percentile conviction rate. Their most common tactic is to overcharge the case and then make a deal with most of the co-defendants, which increases their chance of garnering a conviction on the 'target' still more. Remember when the feds convicted John Gotti? They had dozens of witnesses, hundreds of hours of incriminating tapes, and they still found it necessary and reasonable to give Sal Gravano, who admitted to 19 murders a new lease on life (he was freed a few weeks after the jury voted to convict) to help the prosecutors get a conviction on Mr. Gotti, who was accused of only 10 murders.

When McVeigh became the target of the feds, every other participant became a tool in the conviction victory plan. They almost cut a deal with Nichols. They did cut deals with several individuals who were involved. Extraneous items, like witnesses who remembered a third man with McVeigh and Nichols, or testimony about an Iraqi money connection, were buried and witheld from the defense. There is nothing new here.

Except, now it looks like John Doe #2, a man who did not fit into the FBI's neat plan, their "theory of the crime," may have been out there, planning his next terror act. Sal Gravano is back in jail for crimes he committed after the Gotti trial as well. This is just business as usual for the government.

The next thing to look out for is how the FBI buys the dirty bomb testimony. It is quite possible that Mr. Padilla committed no crime greater than that of losing his passport in Pakistan after changing his name.

Wednesday, June 12, 2002

NBA Finals

My take on this year's basketball playoffs is pretty grim. I absolutely love this sport. I support the game in every way. The NBA finals are an example of the fact that capitalism and sport don't mix well. Money has lowered the pro game almost to the level of pro wrestling. I don't know about anyone else, but the sight of a magnificent 375 pound specimen of humanity who is as agile and quick as Shaquille O'Neal would be enough for me, even if he lost the conference finals to a team where his opponent was a Serb. The sight of three referrees ignoring easily a dozen offensive fouls per game, probably because their employer, NBA Entertainment, Inc., will make MUCH more money if the finals have Los Angeles in the TV finals rather than Sacramento, made me sick.

The Nets may have looked pathetic, but the superiority that the West has built up over the East is a different issue. The Celtics would have done no better. Any West contender would have beaten any East team in the finals. It is up to the team owners to address that. By and large Eastern teams don't have enough players 6'10" and over. The smaller, faster teams of the East contend largely against each other in the regular season. The schedule separates the teams, almost like two different leagues. There are no plans to change that insofar as I can tell.

Commissioner Stern might have done well with the "Jordan Rules" as a way of increasing the popularity of the league. So what if Mike got to take an extra step. So what if Kareem Alcindor was allowed to fend off with his left arm on every "sky hook." It was subtle, and the league needed something to bring excitement, and sell tickets. Live audiences were way down in those years. But like almost anything where humans are involved, over time, subtlety is lost. Whatever works becomes magnified. One little extra step has been transformed into a giant of a man being allowed to push a mere 260 pound 7-footer out of his way. Even commentator Bill Walton, (who also draws his check from NBA Entertainment, Inc.) was outraged by the non-calls.

But Sacramento has only about 10% as many home town fans as Los Angeles. 20 years ago, I thought that the miracle draft, where the New York Knicks were allowed to "win" the draft lottery, and thus pick Patrick Ewing, was a little too obvious. But it didn't make me think the game was rigged. The Western conference finals were. And the champions are the recipients of the David Stern affirmative action trophy.

Racial Profiling

Can't we all just agree that profiling, racial or ethnic, is just good solid police work? What is it about our (white, Christian) society that makes people cringe at the idea that they might be racist? And why is it that if a policeman stops a white kid in a Corvette who is cruising a poor black neighborhood that's ok, while if he stops a black kid with three gold teeth driving an old jalopy in a wealthy white neighborhood he must be a racist?

Today Jonah Goldberg, in his inimitable style gives his take on the profiling question, and he gets it about right, as usual. He, however buys into the idea that Abu Zubaydah has the best memory in humanity. Any practitioner of zero base thinking must conclude that either Abu Zubaydah remembers ALL of el Qaida's plans and personnel, or our government has decided, for reasons of its own, to ascribe to Abu Zubaydah any information that our intelligence services might have uncovered. Using Occam's Razor, one of the primary tools of zero base thinking, we can safely, I think, conclude that this lead came from somewhere else. Especially when news reports point out that suspicion attached to Padilla when he applied for a replacement passport in Karachi. I once did the same thing, over 25 years ago, and suspicion attached to me way back then. This looks like just another victory for good, solid police work.
I have read in several places lately that King Zahir Shah of Afghanistan was deposed in a "bloodless" coup. I was there in 1973, and am sure that his wives and cousins and generals who were killed that night and the following day might object to that characterization. In fact, if memory serves, the guy who took over, Mohammed Daoud, was a cousin of his as well. Tanks in the streets of Kabul, no mail or telephones for a few weeks; it didn't seem bloodless to me. They burned down a general's house, with everyone inside. That's the day that I found out that burning humans smell just exectly the same as seared beef steak. No, not quite bloodless.