Cassandra is writing about a proposal to eliminate the Electoral College, and invites bloggers and commenters to consider the question.
Personally, I'm for keeping the college and doing away with Presidential elections; it seems to me the same logic allows for either option. All you Campaign Finance Reform supporters can jump on the bandwagon here: we can eliminate the need for campaigns all together! Or possibly also the existence of the states, as Mr. Spd Rdr suggests...
The possibilies are endless, when you take up tinkering with the Constitutional system for no particular reason.
Cassandra is writing about a proposal to eliminate the Electoral College, and invites bloggers and commenters to consider the question.
Credit where credit is due: even Senators come up with something sharp once in a while. This is a brilliant idea:
U.S. Senator George Allen (R-VA) tonight will use his keynote address to the CPAC Convention to announce a three-point plan to force fiscal discipline into the federal budget process including a call for a “paycheck penalty” that withholds salary from members of Congress unless all appropriations measures are passed by the start of the fiscal year, October 1.The other two points of the "three point" plan I'm not so happy with: the balanced-budget amendment seems like a good idea most years, but it's the fact that it would keep you from making exceptions in emergencies that concerns me. The line-item veto? I have some concerns about how it would be used -- not so much by Bush, who never vetoes anything, but by future Presidents.
“It is absurd that full-time legislators can’t get their job done on-time by October 1—then several months later—all kinds of unknown, unchecked spending occurs. They pass it in the dead of night, thinking nobody will notice what’s in these appropriations bills,” Senator Allen will tell hundreds of delegates to the CPAC convention being held in Washington, D.C.
“What my measure will do is say very clearly, ‘if you fail to pass appropriations bills by the start of the fiscal year—which is your job, which is what you are paid to do—your paycheck will be withheld until you complete your job, period.
This business about not paying lawmakers who don't do their jobs, though, that's good thinking. You wouldn't pay anyone else who failed to perform, and if you consistently can't meet your deadlines in the civilian market, you're out of a job entirely -- not just facing a missing paycheck. It'd be good if the folks in Congress had a few market-disciplines ensuring they perform their duties.
We are long accustomed to seeing the concept of "international law" misused. There is no such thing as international law, of course, but there are treaties: treaties which say only what they say, and are binding only if you choose to opt into them, and until you choose to opt back out. There is a legal process for doing so in each country, and it is that country -- not the international bodies overseeing the treaties -- which have all the power and sovereignty. From the American perspective, we believe that power arises from consent of the governed, through a lawful constitution; but, to simply matters, we often (and probably mistakenly) deal with "nations" that are mere dictatorships of force as if they had the right to be treated as actual nations.
An example of the misuse I mean comes in the recent "White Phosphorous" controversy; we saw a similar example in the early days of our operations in Afghanistan, over cluster bombs. Many NGOs and political groups wailed at the US use of "internationally banned" weapons. Yet the US was not a signatory to any treaty banning cluster bombs; and the treaty invoked to explain why WP should not be used actually said nothing of the sort. The "law" is only an agreement; it binds only those who agreed to it, and it says only what it says.
So today we are hearing from advocates of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) over proposed US plans to transfer nuclear energy technology to India.
First of all, India isn't a signatory to the NPT; but the US is. The provisions thus bind us, but not them.
Second, what exactly does it say? The Federation of American Scientists, a group founded to monitor and attempt to control the spread of nuclear weapons, has a website devoted to the NPT:
The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, also referred to as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), obligates the five acknowledged nuclear-weapon states (the United States, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, France, and China) not to transfer nuclear weapons, other nuclear explosive devices, or their technology to any non-nuclear-weapon state.Thus, we may not transfer nuclear technology to, say, Cambodia. India, however, is a nuclear-weapon state: it has demonstrated this adequately. So, the NPT does not ban us from doing what we are proposing to do.
There is, then, no question of whether we are allowed to do what is proposed. The question remains of whether we ought to do it. Yet it is critical to recognize, in order to prevent the debate from being conducted dishonestly by opponents of the transfer, that there is no issue of law here. What remains is an issue of policy: a question of whether this or that action would be wiser, and more likely to achieve good things and minimize bad ones.
Well, what about that?
We have three reasons to consider adopting this plan: the reduction of the Indian economy's need for oil, which reduces oil prices; the development of strategic ties with India, which is an excellent candidate for developing a US alliance similar to NATO in the increasingly critical Pacific / Asian region; and the development of India's economy, which will not only improve the lives of tens of millions who live in poverty, but increase the relative power of a free nation in a region increasingly under the sway of China's unfree political model.
We have two reasons not to: criticisms that transferring nuclear technology to a state which has made an end-run around the NPT will discourage other nations from adhering to the NPT; and general concerns about the development of nuclear power.
Factors that should influence the discussion: NPT signatory China is in favor of the US making this "exception," if that is the right word; developing nations like the Philippines are indeed watching, though the lessons they are drawing don't seem alarming to me, at least; Pakistan wants a similar agreement with the US, and we may open ourselves to charges of favoritism by not offering one; and the question of whether nuclear energy is safe and environmentally friendly compared to oil and coal energy production, which are India's other likely models.
As to the question of Pakistan, it is an important US ally in the GWOT, and we have long attempted to maintain a balance of sorts between them and India. It seems we may be reaching the point at which we cannot do that. India's rising importance and wealth mean that they will have to be dealt with on a different level from the way we deal with Pakistan. Just as China's increasing power and wealth has bought it an increasing number of US tolerances for things we wish it wouldn't do, so shall India's. The question is only how long we can, and should, continue to try to maintain the balance.
In winning India as an ally, we benefit from early signs of favoritism. We ought to want to convince India that we are their friends because we approve of and admire their devotion to freedom and human liberty. Pakistan is a dictatorship, and one we support only because the alternatives are worse (for now). India is a free nation based on an excellent model, and a friendship between our countries -- like the friendship with our most reliable ally, Australia -- can be one of the heart. We need friends like that in Asia.
Is there a political risk of losing Pakistan at this critical time? Possibly. They have been pursuing a closer relationship with China, and it is possible that they could be driven to prefer Chinese aid to US aid in the future. They would remain tied to the international system, though, rather than becoming a new Afghanistan: the Chinese are also threatened by the Islamists taking over a country they are depending on for naval access to the Persian Gulf, and will support the government in much the same fashion as we would. We benefit from getting a dictatorship off our tab, as it were; if it is necessary to prop up an unfree state, as it may be on occasion, by all means let China do it instead of us. It is proper, that the US should find a way to be on the side of freedom even in this difficult situation.
So: on balance, I think this nuclear deal is a good idea. I suggest to the readers that we give it our support.
Another quote from the BlackFive piece:
But rational, tolerant people do live in Muslim countries. I know they do. I have friends in Turkey, Jordan, India, and Indonesia (and here in the States) that are socially liberal moderates who are devoutly Muslim. Not to mention muslim soldiers of countries that I've served with and trained with...And they are terrified of both the extremists in their lands and our deaf ears here in the States.Today, Wretchard of the Belmont Club puts together a few stories that show a Left-Right unity in Europe on that Tipping Point:
How in the hell did we get here?
You can blame our media for displaying the worst of the Islamic extremists daily (and for bowing to the pressure of the worst of them - they're cartoons for crying out loud), and you can also blame the theocracies for feeding the blood lust and keeping their followers uneducated and duped in order to retain or build power. You can blame their governments for not protecting the moderates and the socially liberal among their societies. You can blame the rich oil sheiks for playing geopolitical games with their billions. And you can blame the moderates themselves for being cowards, much like the cowards in our own country who acquiesce at the first sign of a fight - whether that fight is taking down a murdering tyrant or cow-towing to the Politically Correct Police.
Glenn Reynolds wrote an excellent short piece on Sunday about the Tipping Point where Americans just don't trust (all) Muslims anymore. Apparently, we've had enough.
Have we had enough BS from the extremists to taint our feelings towards every Muslim in the world? Have we let the media influence us so?
twelve public figures have issued a Manifesto calling "Islamism" the new totalitarian threat of our time. Atlas Shrugs has the text of the declaration.... [which] has been signed by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Chahla Chafiq, Caroline Fourest, Bernard-Henri Lévy, Irshad Manji, Mehdi Mozaffari, Maryam Namazie, Taslima Nasreen, Salman Rushdie, Antoine Sfeir, Philippe Val, Ibn Warraq....This morning I see a story from the University of California, Irvine:
Gateway Pundit points to a new ad campaign being undertaken in Poland by an organization called the "Foundation of St. Benedictus" which calls attention to ordinary men and women being killed for religious reasons all over the world by a militant Islam. They are plastering posters on Polish public transportation. Some examples are shown below.
Tensions quickly escalated when the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, founder of the conservative Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny, said that Islam was an "evil religion" and that all Muslims hate America.Concern over this schism is not limited to the Western world. In Malaysia last month, there was a conference called "Who Speaks for Islam? Who Speaks for the West?" Some disagreeable characters showed up to speak there, too, but also some genuine moderates, such as Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. Badawi proposed the building of bridges between Muslim and Westerner, with the hope that we might speak up for one another:
People repeatedly interrupted the talk and, at one point, campus police removed two men, one of them a Muslim, after they nearly came to blows.
Later, panelists were cheered when they referred to Muslims as fascists and accused mainstream Muslim-American civil rights groups of being "cheerleaders for terror."
"[W]hen the bridge-builders reign supreme, the people of the West will speak for Islam and the Muslims will speak for the West."I have tried to do so, below. But we cannot stop at just saying nice things, and trying to pretend the differences do not exist. Abdullah Badawi is a moderate, certainly: he has gone far and wide preaching for what he calls "Civilizational Islam," an Islam that devotes itself to technology and education and rejects violence.
Yet he has also closed newspapers in Malaysia that have printed the Danish cartoons, stories about the Danish cartoons, or even cartoons about the cartoons. His government has asserted that it means to be equal-opportunity about this: it will close newspapers that say bad things about Jesus, too. That is a moderate position, but it is not a position consistent with liberty, or likely to lead us to mutual understanding. It attempts to avoid flashpoints, by silencing anyone who would explore the underlying problems.
On what foundations, then, are these bridges to be built? If what underlies them is not solid -- if people have reservations they have not been allowed to voice and have answered, or even considered -- how will such bridges bear any weight?
Badawi himself invokes a long set of complaints against the West, both past and present, in his speech. Perhaps he was playing to the crowd, which included a number of what pass for "dignitaries" these days, including figures from Zimbabwe and Iran. Some of these complaints are ritual (as the Malaysians themselves are aware), rituals that have to be performed so that you can get to the business at hand -- not only in the Muslim world, but closer to home as well. In Mexico, for example, the government has so long encouraged anti-Americanism in state education that it now has to frame issues as 'shoving our independence in the eye of evil America' even when what it desires to do is move into closer cooperation with America. Americans by and large don't notice, and so the anti-American rhetoric functions as a lubricant. It makes it easier for the Mexican government to do what it wants, but what it has taught its people to suspect as servile submission to a domineering neighbor. They still cooperate, but they have made their prominent display of independence, so their people don't notice so much that they're doing just what America would want.
By the same token, we don't really notice in America when even genuine moderates like Abdullah invoke "global hegemony" and accuse us of "systematically caus[ing] innocent children, women and men to be killed[.]" It is only grease for the wheel, which allows his audience to be receptive when he says that "I hold the strong view that in the case of Islam, those who deliberately kill non-combatants and the innocent; those who oppress and exploit others; those who are corrupt and greedy; those who are chauvinistic and communal, do not speak on behalf of Islam."
He has established his independence with the posturing display of rhetoric, and now can move them closer to us. So long as we do not notice the display, it will not push us further away.
Yet now we have noticed, this and other similar things. We have to make a choice about them. We can choose to be pushed away, which will keep the chasm open between Islam and the West. Or, we can choose to take the blow for what it is worth: to "turn the other cheek," that is to say, and pursue the good that these moderates are trying to create in spite of the ritual insults.
As this is the West, we cannot do that through silence and pretending not to notice. That is not our way. But we can do it by saying, "I feel those charges are unfair (for these reasons); but I understand you are attempting to lay the foundation for furthering good will, and so I will not respond with attacks of my own." We can point to the genuine concerns we have -- free expression and inquiry are our right and heritage, and we both can and should speak plainly -- without using language like "evil religion."
When others who do feel that they can only speak plainly by saying such things, Westerners should not silence them. Instead, we reply, and try to say -- as BlackFive and I have tried to say -- that it is not a fair, nor a complete picture.
None of this is easy, but many things that are best in life are not easy. I mentioned Richard and Saladin before, but let me try another one closer to home. In the South we tell our children that the great Robert E. Lee went about before war became certain, arguing against it and trying to keep it from breaking into ruinous conflict. He did, and many others did also; and when they failed, at last, the South found in them its staunchest defenders.
BlackFive, likewise, is a warrior who should be heeded. He does not say these things out of fear of Islam, or ignorance of it. If Richard and Saladin failed to make their peace, and General Lee could make his only after terrible war, let us learn instead, and show our strength by honesty and forgiveness in the hope of avoiding a greater, wider war. There may still be time.
Our friend Phil Van Treuren (who is now signing his emails "Officer Candidate" Van Treuren -- good for the Army, in recognizing his potential) has opened up a site called MilTracker. You might want to have a look at it, if you're interested in news that honors the American military.
I've gotten a couple of whole-mailing-list emails lately from Muslim co-workers, inviting me to learn more about Islam. One of them invited me to attend a seminar; the other, advertised an upcoming History Channel special (which I won't watch because I do not have television). I have to admit that my initial response to both emails was irritation.
In the first place, I was irritated because workplace evangelizing is normally in bad taste. Discussing religion with interested co-workers is fine; nothing wrong with a free discussion. Trying to get everyone to come to your church and hear The Truth, however, is annoying to people -- regardless of which Truth is on offer. For one thing, if I want to go to your church, I can probably find the way on my own. For another, a mass email or a flier distributed to everyone is plainly not the work of a friend who cares about you and wants your salvation; they aren't even thinking about you, in terms of preparing arguments and considering your particular case. They're just beating the bushes, to see if any game flushes -- and I don't like to be treated like prey. You flush a grizzly bear, you might wish you hadn't.
In the second place, it seemed to me that this wasn't the month to be evangelizing on behalf of Islam. This seemed like a good month for embarrassed silence on behalf of American Muslims, what with the US Embassy being attacked in Jakarta, embassies of Denmark burned along with American and Danish flags, Muslims blowing up each other's shrines and holy places in Iraq (and other Muslims blaming America for it, as if the 101st Airborne hadn't permitted fire from the Shrine of Ali to go unanswered rather than attack the shrine in the early days of the Iraq war; and as if the US Army hadn't continued to do so during the uprising in Najaf, to the point that Mehdi Army mortarmen didn't even bother to fortify their positions in the shrine because they knew there would be no counterbattery fire), torture and murder in France, a scholarly conference on Islam in Holland that is considered a national security emergency (with death-threats in the dozens for thinkers who participate), Islamic countries attempting to derail intervention in Darfur that might stop the killing (by Muslims) of minorites (who aren't), worldwide riots over cartoons, the recent election of a terrorist group to the leadership of Palestine, etc., etc.
One can go on essentially forever. If I were a Muslim, I'd be feeling pretty quiet just now. So, when I got instead a couple of mass emails directed at "educating" me about Islam, I was irritated by them. "This isn't the week," I thought, "for teaching me about the glories of Islam."
Yet as I think about it more, I believe I was being unfair. I have known these people for years. They're not evangelizing: they've never approached me before, nor to my knowledge have they ever been interested before now in pushing educational efforts of this sort. Also, they too are aware of the news, just as I am. It is not an accident that they suddenly became interested in outreach at this time.
They are afraid of what lessons you and I are learning from the news. They're afraid of the outrage over the ports deal in a way that they weren't afraid of the outrage over 9/11. They're afraid of the hostility directed at America by Muslims worldwide, and about the hostility increasingly -- and rationally -- felt by Americans toward much of worldwide Islam. They want us to know that there is a lot more to Islam that what is appearing in the news, that there is a beautiful and a peaceful side to it that has informed and brightened their lives.
Fair enough: America wants the Islamic world to know that there's a lot more to America than what they see on the news, particularly if they get their news from the conspiracists who seem to run the press in so many parts of the world. Yet, just as Karen Hughes has made a poor messenger to Islam, so too these efforts by Muslims to reach out to us are ineffective. They rather too obviously come from outsiders; they are rather too obviously biased. We might, and they might, be susceptible to an independent reading -- or a positive reading from one of our own. But tensions are too high for a sermon from within the other's camp.
So I'm going to tell you what I know about Islam. I think it's important that they have an advocate in one of us: and I will take up that cause, which is not my own, out of sympathy and a desire to ease the fear they feel. It is right to do this, as at least the fictional Lionheart held:
"I should in that case hold you," replied the yeoman, "a friend to the weaker party."The first Muslim friends I had I met in college. Most of them were from Pakistan. Pakistan is divided sharply between its ruling, educated class and the classes and tribes that are not. These were of the educated sort: military men, some of them, including a good friend I had who was an F-16 pilot. He was brave and smart and clever, as a fighter pilot ought to be; and well read, as a college student ought to be (but so rarely is). I enjoyed the conversations, which were challenging because they arose from a genuinely different point of view: their embedded interests in every political question were those of the Third, rather than the First world; those of Muslims, rather than the Christians I had mostly known; those of Pakistan, rather than America. They were a challenge, but an intellectual one. They were capable of, interested in, and passionate about intellectual inquiry and argument.
"Such is the duty of a true knight at least," replied the Black Champion.
Pakistan worries about what might happen if the uneducated, tribal groups should gain control of the state from the educated class. They are right to worry: but we should also remember that the educated class exists, and are natural allies of ours. This is not to say that they have the same interests: as I just finished saying, they have almost always different ones. But it is to say that the parts of Islam that worry us also worry them, and are a bigger threat to them than to us. We, alike, want to see that population educated and lifted into what we think of as the modern world.
At my wedding, one of my groomsman was a Muslim: a Scot who had converted from Presbyterianism. Yet he did not refuse friendship with non-Muslims, any more than had these Pakistani Muslims, regardless of what prohibitions may be in Islamic law. We have all read of such things, and they have a hold on the imagination of the radicals. Yet I have seen that it is not always that way, and that there are many Muslims who wish to be, and can be, good friends.
In China, I lived in a foreign residence hall at Zhejiang University -- this is where many of the few foreigners in the city of HangZhou were kept. We came from all over the world, centralized in one building because China wanted to keep watch on any foreigners in their country. There was little in the way of a common language: most people there spoke little or no English; most yet spoke little or no Chinese. I could manage French with the West Africans, who spoke it far better than I did.
Buddhists and Hindus and Christians all lived there, but there was no obvious community to them. Not so the Muslims. We talk a lot about the tribal aspects of much of those parts of the Islamic world where there is trouble, and indeed, much of Islam is still tribal. Yet it is also the case that Islam is the bridge across that tribalism, and an effective one. The Muslims -- from Pakistan, from Africa, from island nations, wherever they came from -- banded together at once in a bond of friendship. They washed and prayed together daily; they never failed, that I witnessed, to share equally food or cigarettes or whatever was needed by their brother Muslims.
Christians said and did little in the way of such things, knowing how the ever-present authorities in Communist China looks with suspicion on faith; but the Muslims prayed fearlessly and in public. If they had lost their scholarships and been thrown out of the country, particularly the Africans, it would have meant real poverty and a collapse of their dreams: but they never let that stop them. That was a high and fine thing to see, prayer in defiance of fear.
There is much good to be said for Islam. I will not hesistate to say it. I do not think Islam is a true faith, but that is for me to decide only for me. The road forward for the West is not to tear down the Crescent, but to raise up our own banners again. We are called, not to defile what they believe, but to recover again our own faith. We must, if we are to see the freedoms and virtues of the West survive into the next century and beyond.
Yet, in becoming a defender of the West, do not make yourself an enemy of Islam. Richard the Lionheart fought against the Muslim warriors more than most of us shall ever do, and yet he came to respect and honor Saladin. No Muslim every fought harder or more successfully against the West's armies, yet Saladin came to love and honor not only Richard but Western knighthood. That must be the model for us: defiant to the very last against any tyranny, Islamic or otherwise; yet prepared to be friends, in honorable disagreement, if we are received in friendship.
It is not impossible. I have been so received, now and then, and am proud and glad to say it.
It appears BlackFive and I are on the same page again:
After the first crusaders took Jerusalem in the eleventh century, a Kurd Sunni from Tikrit by the name of Saladin took it and much of the crusader gained territory back. Saladin, even seen as a conquering enemy, was revered by European courts for his grace, kindness and intelligence. They regarded him as a Knight. In actuality, he embodied more of the gentle and honorable traits of a Knight than most of the European gentry sent off to rid the world of non-Christians.Well said.
In the Reverse Crusades, our Saladin is not a "who", but a "what". Our Saladin must be the idea that all men and women were created equal and free.
We need to wage both war and peace at the same time. Both require strength of will, both require passion and understanding. Both require love.
After Hitchen's manifestation of last Friday, I cut directly down the hill to where it ran to water, a long and pretty stream called Rock Creek. It stretches through the capital, a basin between the cities that is left green and fertile; it winds beneath the mighty Taft bridge, a magnificient structure decorated with lions and copper. I walked the length of the park from the Danish embassy to the National Zoo.
While I was proceeding along the creek, I remembered something I read a while ago: the introduction to Hero Tales: How Common Lives Reveal the Heroic Spirit of America. The subtitle is not honest: there is nothing common about the lives detailed within the book, nor about its authors. Those authors were Theodore Roosevelt, and Henry Cabot Lodge.
The introduction to this edition was written by George Grant of Bannockburn College (the Bannockburn! Another name resonant in the history of liberty). In it, Grant reminds us that Roosevelt and Lodge took regular walks together along Rock Creek a century ago, pondering the history of the Republic, and the right way to champion and further its principles.
What they came up with was this book, a collection of essays about great Americans. You could do worse for reading matter: and, at less than nine dollars' price, I feel confident in promising that you won't find a richer treasure at a smaller cost. Daniel Boone, Washington, Davy Crockett and the Alamo, the cruise of the Wasp and "Damn the Torpedos!," Stony Point and King's Mountain, "Stonewall" Jackson and General Sheridan, Robert Gould Shaw and Francis Parkman, these and more are capped with an essay on the life of Lincoln.
Every American ought to read it, the more if they have been educated by those modern historians who present 19th century America in the solitary light of the oppression of the Indians, the breaking of unions, slavery and corporate greed. If you want to hear the other side, written by men -- genuine progressives! -- who loved and defended their country, here it is.
A call to storm the White House and institute a UN-led government in the United States, brought to you by CODEPINK, "Not In Our Name," the Communist Party, and the letter X.
I note that the White House is protected by the Secret Service, and a detachment of United States Marines.
I know where I'll be putting my money on any wagers as to the success of this little "revolution."
I realize this has been an issue for a little while, but for some reason this story from the AP strikes me as particularly funny:
International envoy James Wolfensohn hasSo, let me see if I understand this correctly: Israel is meant to pay tens of millions of dollars to Hamas, which has promised to destroy Israel as soon as possible? And the EU, US, and UN are meant to help pressure them to do so?
warned Mideast mediators that the Palestinian Authority is in danger of
financial collapse within two weeks, largely because Israel has stopped the
flow of tens of millions of dollars to the incoming Hamas government,
according to a letter The Associated Press obtained Monday.
Without the money from Israel, the Palestinian Authority will not be
able to pay wages, and that could have a destablizing effect on the region,
Wolfensohn wrote to the Quartet of international mediators -- the U.S., EU,
U.N. and Russia -- which he represents.
"I know I do not need to tell each of you that the failure to pay
salaries may have wide-ranging consequences -- not only for the Palestinian
economy, but also for security and stability for both the Palestinians and
the Israelis," the letter said.
I have never been a great supporter of Israel; as far as I can tell, the US has no interest in whether or not there is a Jewish homeland around Jerusalem. On the other hand, I think Israel has done a notable job of defending itself, and has won its right to exist on the battlefield -- where, I don't doubt, it can continue to defend it.
Still, while I don't see any reason why the US should go to great lengths on behalf of Israel, surely we shouldn't be going to great lengths to prop up Hamas either. Israel has no duty to support Hamas. It may choose to do so, but I can't imagine why it would. If the US, the EU or the UN came to me and told me that I had a duty to support people who wanted to kill me, I would be inclined to laugh in their face. Nor will I blame the people of Israel for doing so, should our President make any such suggestion.