Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog

 
Friday, August 13, 2004

Where are the Moderates?

The BBC has this list of Muslim media responses to the battle in Najaf. Take just this one from Egypt:
The foreign interventions are a subjugation of the people's will, a usurpation of their powers, as well as an outlawing of their very existence... The slogans shouted by Anglo-American forces before the attacks on Iraq have changed into the opposite. Freedom has turned into slavery and stability into an enraged volcano.


The rest are very similar, almost uniformly condemning the US and the Iraqi Provisional government.

But what do those actually in Iraq have to say?

Hammurabi

Muqtada Sadr injury is a fabrication by his thugs!

Najaf war is Iranian fight against US/Iraqi forces. Iran determines to win! It should not have given this opportunity. The mistake is the CPA one when they postponed arresting Sadr. It is also the mistake of the Judge (Al-Maliki) who announced the arrest for Sadr publicly. It should have been done without noises! All by all Iran used it and created what is going on now!

British journalist taken hostage in Basrah by unknown thugs may be related to Sadr/Iran Militia!

Imam Ali shrine polluted by the Sadr thugs and converted into a camp for their arms and dirty asses!


The Mesopotamian

Since Thursday night, armed militias and gangster terrorists (calling themselves the Mehdi Army) have been attacking Iraqi Police stations and other public property in the Holy City of Najaf. The fighting and criminal violence continued over Thursday night and for much of Friday. These enemies of a united and peaceful Iraq have been carrying out appalling acts against innocent Iraqis and their property.

It is clear that these people are not from the Holy City of Najaf. Interrogation, by Iraqi Police, of captured fighters is revealing that they are mostly criminals released from prison by the former regime immediately prior to the latest war.

In the face of this attempt to destabilise the country, the Interim Government of Iraq ordered a combined operation involving Iraqi military forces and units from the Multinational Force with the task of regaining control of the city. It is now clear that the operations have been a complete success. Over 1200 criminals have surrendered to Iraqi forces. The Holy City of Najaf is secured.


Iraq at a Glance

And I want you to read this:
My brother is a doctor; he and his colleagues were in the medical center waiting for the driver of the ambulance and another doctor, they waited for them because they had an emergency there…
They kept waiting and waiting….. And suddenly they reached the center but without the car… ‘Where is the ambulance?’ they asked.. the driver replied: ‘Thank God we are alive……AlMahdi militia came across the street carrying RPGs and rifles with that green piece fastened around their heads, we were forced to stop, then one of them shouted ‘get out of the car..we have a duty’, immediately we got out and escaped, we were so frightened………..’


And

He’s like the cancer, if we don’t uproot it, it’ll destroy all our body.


In short, the folks on the ground, those who call Iraq home, want to get rid of Al Sadr and his thugs, and welcome the help of the US in doing so; according to the Beeb, so-called moderate muslims in Egypt, Jordan, and the rest of the Middle East want to get rid of the US, and leave Iraq to the criminals.

How is this moderate?

Posted by Rich
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Thursday, July 29, 2004

Liberalism Revisited

Awhile back, I wrote a piece on liberalism, and its flaws called Liberalism: The Lie at Its Heart

I need to revisit that topic, and revise it abit, so as to not offend my two liberal readers. It's not a lie, really, more of an exaggeration.

First, truth in advertising requires that I mention that most of what follows (OK, all of it) comes from a comment I just wrote over at SKBubba's place, but I was planning to write it here anyway; it just dovetailed nicely into a discussion I was having over there, and why write it twice when cut and paste works so nice?

I'm a libertarian conservative, favoring a limited role for the government, a role in line with the original boundaries set forth in the Constitution. Neither Party today gives a rat's ass about the Constitution, so I'm not a supporter of either. On the one hand, I oppose abortion, confiscatory taxation, progressive taxation, income taxation, federally funded social engineering, and Bob Dylan.

On the other, I'm in favor of fiscal conservatism, and social liberalism. I favor gay marriage, drug legalization, lowering the drinking age to the age of consent (since the two activities involved are so often linked anyway), full recognition of the bill of rights, including the individual right to keep and bear arms, and in general keeping the federal government out of our lives to the maximum extent practical.

So why am I constantly challenging liberalism?

I'm not a liberal, because I have a problem with any philosophy that starts with the assumption that the world owes me anything, and liberalism is based on the principle that every human being has the right to expect their government to meet their basic needs, if, for any reason, they are unable or unwilling to do it themselves.

The world simply doesn't work that way. There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch isn't just a saying, it's a natural law, as inexorable as gravity and any philosophy that fails to acknowledge this is headed for trouble. Modern liberalism flatly contradicts it. Without getting too deep into it, a society works only when its members produce as much or more than they consume. To the extent that they produce more, they have the opportunity, not the obligation, to use the surplus to help members who come up short. Enlightened self interest (reciprocal altruism for you behavioral evolutionists and Randians) may even dictate that such sharing creates a benefit to the society as a whole.

But it isn't a right; it's a privilege that comes from living in a wealthy society.

Now here is where it gets tricky; if sharing the surplus produces a benefit to the society, then shouldn't the society have the right to require it? That, in a nutshell is the rationale behind progressive taxation; that society as a whole benefits when those who have the most pay more than the rest, in order to help those who need it, preventing them from becoming a drain on society.

Unfortunately, charity can have a corrosive or addictive effect; people come to expect it, then believe they are owed it, forgetting that it's not a right, but a privilege. On the other side of the equation, those who are paying more than their fair (ie proportionate to income) share begin to resent having the benefits of their work taken away from them. People on both sides of the equation lose the incentive to work. I'm sure you're familiar with the Tragedy of the Commons, which is closely related to this problem. In order to get the benefit of sharing the surplus, we must firmly maintain that it is not a right, but a privilege; in that way we can avoid the ToC. Means testing or payback programs are a couple of ways to achieve this.

It becomes a question of balance; how much assistance is enough to obtain the maximum benefit to society while minimizing the attendant negatives and disincentives? As long as liberals and conservatives continue to refuse to recognize any validity to the other side, we won't find that balance. Instead of a scale, we'll be the rope in a tug of war.

However, for the sake of argument, let's assume that the liberal philosophy is correct, and conservatives are completely wrong. Society does have a responsibility to make sure that all members have their basic needs met to the maximum extent practical, including housing, food, clothing, education, health care, and retirement income. And, to make things easier, let's also assume that we can do so without overburdening the wealth creators with overly punitive taxes, so that they continue to work hard, invest their earnings, and create wealth.

There's still a problem.

Responsibility brings with it authority. The two are inextricably linked. If you give away one, the other goes with it. We're talking about making the government responsible for every facet of our lives, which, in the long run, means we're also giving the government authority over every facet of our lives.

You don't believe me? Take a look at your state budget sometime and see how much of it comes from the federal government. But the fed wouldn't use that for financial blackmail, would they? Well, Jimmy Carter did.

Remember the good old days of the double nickel speed limit. Speed limits are set by the states, but Carter put out the word that any state that didn't lower their speed limit would lose their highway funding.

Guess what? Double nickels it was from coast to coast. More recently, Ronald Reagan did the same thing when he forced the states to raise the drinking age to 21 in 1984. This is not a partisan thing; it's inherent in the nature of government. If it's their responsibility, you can bet they'll regulate it whether they're reps, dems, or independents.

So now consider health care. If the gov't is going to guarantee you get health care, it would only be prudent for them to protect their investment by "encouraging" people to live healthier lives. How would you like for the Center for Science in the Public Interest to become an official branch of the FDA? Say goodby to Chinese food, Mexican food, popcorn, and god forbid you should eat a hamburger. Hell, they'd even come after Bubba's scotch, which might even be enough to get him to vote republican!*grin*

I've seen how the feds "encourage" co-operation, and I'll pass on it.

(How much you want to bet that Bubba puts a word limit on comments after this baby? Don't worry; for anybody still reading this, I'm almost done.)

Like I said above, we need to find a working balance between liberal and conservative principles because both are valid and both are vital for a properly functioning society. Work must bring a reward proportionate to the effort and risk involved and we are all better off if we can help those who are less able or less fortunate to help themselves. We need to retain the values that made America strong, independence, self sufficiency, innovation, and hard work, while embracing newer values that can make us even stronger, like tolerance, and acceptance of those who are different. We need both sides of the coin, the yin and the yang, if we are going to continue to thrive. If we lose that balance, no matter which side we tilt to, we'll lose everything.

Or, it could be that it's 2:34 in the am and I'm completely full of shit. It's hard to tell.

Goodnight.

PS: I was only kiding about Bob Dylan. Bob Denver, on the other hand...

Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, July 27, 2004

A Contrast in Styles; More Moore Homage

John Kerry flies in secret to Boston, where he throws out the first pitch in a Red Sox-Yankees game. He failed to get the ball across the plate. He was roundly booed. Security around the visit was tight, with the press on board his plane ordered not to talk about the trip, to protect Mr. Kerry's photo op.

Gearge W. Bush flies in secret to Baghdad, where he serves turkey to the troops on Thanksgiving. He got a rousing ovation. The turkey made it over the plate and to the hungry service members. Security around the visit was tight, with the press on board his plane ordered not to talk about the trip, to protect the president's life.

Posted by Rich
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Cavorting with the Clueless; An Homage to Michael Moore

I was flipping through the channels last night and stopped to watch the latest edition of America's Funniest Home Videos. I wasn't even aware that the show still existed! I thought it died along with Bob Saget's career, but apparently it lives on in syndication. AFHV that is, not Bob's career.

Sorry about that, Bob.

As I watched, I noticed that it wasn't as funny as it used to be; where before, there used to be plenty of funny shots of guys getting hit in the jewels by their kids, or of 350 pound men destroying vinyl swimming pools by doing a cannon ball off the 4x4 in the driveway, now there were just a bunch of raving lunatics spouting gibberish and foaming at the mouth.

That's not funny; it's just sad. Why humiliate those unfortunate folks by airing their deficiencies on national television. Isn't it cruel to laugh at another human being's shortcomings? I was vaguely repulsed and was about to change the channel to Monster Garage and check out the latest creation from Jesse and the boys when I checked the listings again and realized I was watching the Democratic National Convention, and then it all made sense.

Let's check out the highlights of the Kerry Campaign so far, shall we?

We have the presumptive first lady telling a reporter to "Shove it" after giving a speech about the lack of civility in politics. How about a little less preaching and a little more practicing, babe.

We've seen the press sit on stories that could damage Kerry, while playing up those that damage Bush.
  • Joe Wilson has been revealed as a liar, and Bush's SOTU speech vindicated. But you'd never know it if you get all your news from CBS, who has chosen not to run the story, despite the over 40 pieces they ran detailing the Wilson story when it first broke, not to mention the hour long infomercial for his book.
  • Sandy Berger mishandles (steals)classified documents, and possibly alters them. Compare the Berger coverage with the Plame coverage and tell me there's no bias in the media.

We've seen Ted Rall use the "N" word about Condaleeza Rice, in most cases a death sentence in any public position, with absolutely no outcry from the usual PC crowd, including the NAACP. I guess Condi isn't black enough for the NAACP.

And let's not forget about those wonderful convention speeches from last night, starting with the big dog himself:
  • Bill Clinton:
    Therefore, we Democrats will bring the American people a positive campaign, arguing not who’s good and who’s bad, but what is the best way to build the safe, prosperous world our children deserve.

    Cool, the speech will not be a negative attack on Bush, but a positive statement of what Democrats will do differently. This is a first for the Kerry campaign.
    They think the role of government is to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of those who embrace their political, economic, and social views, leaving ordinary citizens to fend for themselves on matters like health care and retirement security. Since most Americans are not that far to the right, they have to portray us Democrats as unacceptable, lacking in strength and values. In other words, they need a divided America.

    Sigh. Well, that didn't last long. OK, maybe it was a reflex attack, and now that he's got it out of his system, he'll get on with telling us what Democrats will do.
    When I was in office, the Republicans were pretty mean to me. When I left and made money, I became part of the most important group in the world to them. At first I thought I should send them a thank you note—until I realized they were sending you the bill.

    OK, another attack, but hey, this is a convention right? Even though the DNC said to tone down the attacks, a few are going to slip through the cracks, right? Any minute now, Bill will end the attacks and tell us what the Kerry will do differently
    They protected my tax cuts while:

    · Withholding promised funding for the Leave No Child Behind Act, leaving over 2 million children behind

    · Cutting 140,000 unemployed workers out of job training

    · 100,000 working families out of child care assistance

    · 300,000 poor children out of after school programs

    · Raising out of pocket healthcare costs to veterans

    · Weakening or reversing important environmental advances for clean air and the preservation of our forests.

    Boy, am I a sucker! Falling for another Clinton lie! This speech is nothing but an argument about "who's bad and who's good." But maybe, just maybe, now that he's finished attacking Bush, he'll tell us what John Kerry will do differently.
    John Kerry and John Edwards, have good ideas:

    · To make this economy work again for middle-class Americans;

    · To restore fiscal responsibility;

    · To save Social Security; to make healthcare more affordable and college more available;

    · To free us from dependence on foreign oil and create new jobs in clean energy;

    · To rally the world to win the war on terror and to make more friends and fewer terrorists.


    Alright! Now we're getting somewhere. Obviously these are all great goals, and just as obviously, these are the same goals the Bush campaign is running on. Now Bill can tell us how Kerry/Edwards plan to achieve them, and how they differ from Bush.

    Wait a minute, why the standing ovation? Why's Bill leaving the podium? The speech isn't over yet; it can't be! He never said anything about what Kerry was actually going to do! All he said was 'elect a Democrat instead of a Republican.'

    What a ripoff!

  • Next Jimmy Carter:
    In repudiating extremism we need to recommit ourselves to a few common-sense principles that should transcend partisan differences. First, we cannot enhance our own security if we place in jeopardy what is most precious to us, namely, the centrality of human rights in our daily lives and in global affairs. Second, we cannot maintain our historic self-confidence as a people if we generate public panic. Third, we cannot do our duty as citizens and patriots if we pursue an agenda that polarizes and divides our country. Next, we cannot be true to ourselves if we mistreat others. And finally, in the world at large we cannot lead if our leaders mislead.

    A picture is worth a thousand words, Jimmy.
    free speech.JPG
    This is human rights at home? It's a few blocks from where you were giving your speech! Why didn't you say something about it? Surely you don't condone locking up dissidents in razor wire cages, guarded by anonymous fellows in full riot gear and holding some pretty nasty looking weapons. That's not human rights, is it? Jimmy? You still there?

    When our national security requires military action, John Kerry has already proven in Vietnam that he will not hesitate to act.

    Here's what John Kerry had to say about his fellow soldiers 'acts' in Vietnam:
    They told their stories. At times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.

    And his own 'acts'
    "There are all kinds of atrocities, and I would have to say that, yes, yes, I committed the same kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers have committed..."

    Do these acts go along with Mr. Carter's concerns for human rights? Is this what he had in mind when he said John Kerry wouldn't hesitate to act? Jimmy? Are you with me? Maybe I should be talking to Amy. She's the brains of the family.

  • And last but not least, Al Gore:
    I didn't come here tonight to talk about the past...

    Excellent, a progressive who's actually looking forward.
    After all, I don't want you to think I lie awake at night counting and recounting sheep. I prefer to focus on the future because I know from my own experience that America is a land of opportunity, where every little boy and girl has a chance to grow up and win the popular vote.

    Ha ha. Move on to the future, Al.
    I want to thank you as Democrats for the honor of being your nominee for president four years ago. And I want to thank the American people for the privilege of serving as vice-president.

    The future, internet boy. Talk about what's ahead.
    And let's make sure that this time every vote is counted.

    Sigh. Alright, Get it out of your system.
    Let's make sure not only that the Supreme Court does not pick the next President, but also that this President is not the one who picks the next Supreme Court.

    Can we please return to 2004 and the current election?
    To those of you who felt disappointed or angry with the outcome in 2000, I want you to remember all of those feelings. But then I want you to do with them what I have done: focus them fully and completely on putting John Kerry and John Edwards in the White House.

    Apparently not


And that's the Kerry convention in a nutshell folks. No new ideas, no plan for tomorrow, nothing that really makes them stand out. That's why the speeches were so empty last night. When the DNC put out the word to tone down the negative campaigning, the dems had nothing else to offer.

It's sad.

Posted by Rich
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Monday, July 12, 2004

John Edwards is Right!

There are two Americas; rather, there are two visions of America.

In one vision, Americans come together and resolve their differences in the face of a common enemy, emerging stronger and more unified than ever before. In this vision, Americans are an intelligent, resourcefull and capable people, able to to take care of themselves, and compassionate enough to help those who, for whatever reason, aren't capable of helping themselves. In this vision, the individual is valued as highly as the group, because it is recognized that the success of the individual benefits the group. This is a vision of optimism, of faith in the future, of belief that America is a geat nation.

Then there's the other vision.

In this vision, Americans dissolve into a variety of special interests groups, each looking out for their own interests, competing for a bigger slice of an ever shrinking pie. In this vision, the American people are weak and foolish. They must be cared for, coddled, and protected against their own ignorance and self destructive tendancies. They are unable to make important decisions for themselves, and must look to other, wiser citizens for guidance. And should they fail to follow that guidance, then they must be corrected, punished if necessary, for the greatest good. In this vision, the individual is subordinate to the group; individual achievement is downgraded in favor of group achievement, resulting in overall mediocrity. This is the vision of pessimism, of doubt, of the belief that America is a venal nation, and must be restrained from causing more damage to the earth and the nations on it.

Come November, each of us has a couple of decisions to make. First, which vision do we believe more accurate reflects reality? Is America a land of ignorant sheep, or of intelligent, free men and women? Are Americans blessed with the greatest freedoms, or are we unknowing slaves to hidden masters? Are we a beacon of hope for the rest of the world, or the torch that lights off the final conflagration? Are we a nation built on self reliance, or are we a people who must rely on a strong federal government to make sure our basic needs are met?

Once you've answered that question, the next one is easy. Which candidate sounds the most like you and comes closest to sharing your vision? Which one sounds like he's on the other side?

That call is easy for me to make. I believe in my fellow man; I believe Americans are can-do people. I do not believe that our nation is a corrupt ravening monster, working evil across the globe. I believe we do our best to live up to a standard we ourselves have set; that we sometimes fall short is not an indictment of our intentions, despite the views of the Michael Moores of the world. Instead it is a measure of just how high we've set the bar, and a testament to how often we do manage to reach it.

I'm filled with hope. Not blind hope, I recognize that we have problems, and that we are moving through perilous times. But I have confidence that the overwhelming majority of Americans are smart, optimistic, creative, and clever people, and that we will continue to solve our problems as we have for over two hundred years. I refuse to believe that you can reduce the American people to the lowest common denominator, and treat them like a herd. In America, the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts.

So, the next time you're listening to or reading a political debate, remember which side shows respect for the common man, and which side denigrates him. Remember which side shows a true affection for America, and which side only tries to tear her down. Remember which side values the individual and the group, and which only values the group. Remember which side speaks with love and pride, and which speaks with hate and fear.

Remember these things when it's time to cast your vote.

Posted by Rich
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Friday, July 09, 2004

That’s Me; Silly and Clueless.

Kevin over at lean left had this to say on July 4th:
America is not a nation, not in the traditional sense. Yes, there is a geopolitical designation with borders and armies and whatnots, but that isn't the real America. America is an idea - all men are created equal, that all men shall be judged as they deserve, not as their fathers deserved. Citizenship is granted, not by the fortune of being born on a particular piece of dirt, but by the choice to live by that idea. Every Saudi woman who wants to walk down the street without fear, every Venezuelan peasant who wants his voice heard, every Sudanese slave who dreams of a life without masters, every person anywhere who wants nothing more than to be accorded the simple dignity due them as a human being - they are all Americans.


I posted a comment, suggesting that Kevin's idea made American intervention in sovereign nations inevitable, since we would be obligated to protect the rights of our fellow Americans, regardless of their geographical location. Kevin replied:

Rich, you have to be kidding, right? I mean, seriously, you aren't really suggesting that the only two choices are invasion or nothing, right?


Nowhere did I state that invasion is the only alternative. I only pointed out that, if all freedom loving people are "just as American" as you or I, then certainly their oppression deserves more from us than a limp condemnation before an incompetent and ineffective UN. If there were real American citizens being slaughtered like the Tutsis in Rwanda, we would have invaded, and been justified in doing so. Kevin says we should have stopped the massacre, but is he agreeing that we should have used military intervention, or was he saying we should have used some unspecified, less confrontational tactics? If the former, then he accepts the argument he characterized as "silly." If the latter, then he demonstrates that even he doesn't really believe his statement about the nature of being American.

So, which is it? Is he silly, or a hypocrite?

The answer, of course, is neither. He oversimplified my argument in order to avoid dealing with it, and found himself trapped in an artificial paradox. Obviously, there are more ways to intervene than direct military invasion, but the fact remains that they are still interference in a sovereign nation's internal affairs, something not lightly undertaken. Are we justified in trying to impose our core values on other cultures just because some members of that culture agree with us more than their countrymen? Put another way, would Soviet Russia be justified in interfering with American internal policy because we have a Communist Party?

In my comment, I went on to note a curious comparison, where liberals tend to favor domestic intervention to help people, while favoring a hands off approach internationally, while conservatives are the exact opposite. Kevin responded:

They are investments in the social and physical capital -- investments that made this country great.


Oddly, those investments he mentioned didn't really kick into gear until the 1930's and the New Deal Is Kevin suggesting that America's greatness didn't begin until then? History says otherwise. American greatness was forged long before the New Deal. Social investments did not make this country great; self reliance, independence, and a limited government get the credit for that.

However, let's take a look at the actual spending numbers for some very interesting revelations.

In 1940, human (Welfare, Medicare, Social Security, education training etc) and physical (WPA, CCC, TVA, Interstate Highways, etc) resource spending totaled 68.1% of the budget, with human resource spending holding a 2:1 edge. Now remember that this was deep into the New Deal, prior to our entry into WWII. The federal government was spending every dollar it could to lift people out of the depression.

Now, fast forward to 1950. The war was over; and the economy vibrant. H and P spending totaled 42% of the budget, with human resource spending holding an almost 4:1 lead. It was the highest level that would be seen for that decade, yet despite a gradual decrease in social spending, the 50's saw tremendous growth in the US and strength in the economy.

At the end of the 50's H and P spending begin to rise again, maintaining about a 3:1 ratio, still favoring human resource spending. This continues throughout the sixties, except for an interesting change. In 1969, total H and P spending reached 42.7% of the budget, but now the ratio was 6:1 human verses hysical resource investment. H and P spending increased throughout the 70s, reaching 63.9% of all outlays in 1979. Throughout the decade, the ratio remained between 5 and 6 to 1, still favoring human resource spending.

Which brings us to the evil 80's when Ronald Reagan robbed from the poor to help out the greedy rich bastards. Except that h and p resource spending hovered between 56 and 64% of all government spending throughout the 80s. In short, during the 80's, a time of economic strength, we were spending the same percentage of our total budget on social spending as we did during the Great Depression.

What's wrong with this picture?

But wait; it gets worse. By 1998, 67% of the federal budget went to social spending.

I'll say that again. Two thirds of the money spent by the US government in 1998 went for human and physical resource spending.

If you think that's unbelievable, you might want to sit down for this next bit. The ratio went from 3:1 in the 40s to 5-6:1 in the 60s to a preposterous 17:1 in 1997! Physical resource spending dwindled through the 80's and 90's while human resource spending bloated like a rotting corpse on an August afternoon in Alabama. I can make a very strong argument that the lack of government spending on infrastructure was due entirely to out of control human resource spending.

And nothing has changed. The estimate for 2003 shows a total of 70.9% for H and P spending.

And have we received good value for the money we've invested? According to most liberals, who think this country is headed directly into the toilet, with a terrible economy, poorly paying jobs, untrained workers, undereducated students, and so on, blah blah blah, the answer must certainly be "No, we haven't" yet their answer is to spend still more money.

Why keep pissing our money away? As an investment, this ranks right up there with a Pyramid scheme; it's great if you're the one collecting all the dollars, but it sucks for the rest of us.

Finally, Kevin adds this little bit:

if you love the country only because it was where you were born, then you haven't the first clue about what is important.


Show me where I said that. What I object to is the automatic bestowing of American status on anyone anywhere simply because they love freedom. It's hyper-romantic bilgewater. America is a nation, defined both by its physical borders and its ideology, and even more importantly, by a shared culture and history. Love of freedom is only one small part of what it means to be an American. The ideas are important, but so is the culture, the history, the shared experience, and yes, the land itself. Americans were shaped by this land every bit as much as we shaped it. To say that a man who has never seen America, never lived there, never tasted the freedom we take for granted can truly be an American is simply wrong. America is more than just a physical location; but the physical location is integral to the ideal. You can't have one without the other.

Posted by Rich
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Monday, June 21, 2004

Yeah!  Let’s Be More Like the French!

If we don't like what somebody writes, we can just sue them for inciting racial hatred.

Brigette Bardot was fined $6000 for saying, among other things, that she was "against the Islamisation of France" in her book, A Scream in the Silence. She was convicted of "inciting racial hatred," which is kind of curious, since Islam is a religion, not a race.

Those silly french!

But here's the really ironic part. The same folks who fined Bardot for inciting hatred just gave Michael Moore the Palme d'Or for the very same thing.

I guess it all depends on who you hate, n'est ce pas?

Posted by Rich
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Monday, May 31, 2004

Memorial Day

This is a day when we stop and reflect on the sacrifice so many men and women have made to protect America. Of course, for most of us now, the meaning of the day gets lost in the feverish activities of a three day weekend. Somehow, getting the entire race in before the rain hits is more important that actually pausing to consider what these folks have sacrificed, and even more importantly today, what they've made that sacrifice for.

Over the last few years, as I've watched the news, listened to talk radio, read weblogs, listened to politicians, and talked to folks I work or play with, I've become more and more concerned over the irrational anger and hatred that divides us. America is in the process of tearing herself apart, and today, I am convinved that this division is the single greatest enemy we face, far more dangerous than any WMD al Qaeda can come up with. Unless we can find a way to heal this rift, our foreign enemies won't have to do anything to destroy us; we'll take care of that ourselves.

And it may already be too late.

For eight years, we watched the opposition tear into a president they hated, taking every opportunity to attack him and his policies, even as he lead the country into one of the greatest periods of economic expansion in its history. He was vilified by the opposition, even as he advanced initiatives they proposed. Despite nearly non-stop criticism by the press, and the utter loathing of the opposition, he was re-elected to a second term, and retains great popularity with the party faithful today.

Which President am I talking about?

Your answer probably depends a great deal on your politics, since the above description applies equally well to either Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton. There exists such a divide in our political consciousness today that the same man can be hailed as a hero or condemned as the worst president ever, depending on the political affiliation of the observer. How can any single entity survive such a radically diverging view of reality? The answer is it can't. There was a time when we could afford this national schizophrenia, when partisan gridlock worked to keep an already over-reaching federal government somewhat in check, but that time ended on the morning of September 11, 2001. That morning was a clear signal that the world's scavengers had sensed a terminal weakness in America's spirit, and struck a savage blow, targeting our economic and political heart.

The results of that blow, echoing over the past 32 months, have shown just how accurate their perception was. Instead of rallying together, emphasizing our common interests over our differences, America is more divided today than she was then, and like a flawed diamond, one more blow, applied with a jeweler's precision, may shatter our nation forever.

Liberals take deliberate aim at the President, heaping scorn and derision on everything he does, deserved or not, all in the attempt to win power for their party, at any cost, and by any means necessary. Conservatives are no better, attacking the presumed Democratic candidate just as viciously, and with as little basis in fact. Liberals hold President Bush accountable for every failure, while giving him no credit for any successes. They distort reality, painting a bleak picture both here and Iraq, refusing to admit that anything is going well. Of course, this is nothing new; conservatives did the same with former President Clinton; and before him former President Reagan was given the same treatment. This leads inevitably to hypocrisy, since the instant their candidate is in office, the standards change 180 degrees.

Both parties are guilty of playing this game, and the excuse, "They started it" is just as weak and childish today as it was in a kindergarten sandbox. We need to be better than that.

This is not to say that there are not legitimate points of contention between liberals and conservatives, or that we must bury those differences in some patriotic fervor, only that the increasingly nasty partisanship on both sides leads to national paralysis at a time when we can ill afford it. A healthy debate is vital to the survival of a republic, but when that debate is dominated by specious claims of falsified military records and claims of unfulfilled military obligations, it is anything but healthy.

The reason I bring this up today, when we honor those who've given their lives to protect our country, is that it would be a damn shame if their sacrifice was wasted because we were too busy fighting each other to defend ourselves. Historically, democracies have not fallen to outside invaders; instead, they quietly rot from within.

Is that the road we want to travel?

I hope not.

Posted by Rich
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Wednesday, May 12, 2004

A Simple Answer

Define torture.

It's funny how often the simplest questions are so hard to answer.

Most of the folks I've talked to define torture the way Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart defined obscenity. They aren't really clear on what the definition should be, but they know it when they see it.

Except they don't; not really. There's a tremendous range of actions that some call torture, and others call acceptable.

In this case, the word torture was being thrown around when all we really knew about was abuse no worse than your average fraternity hazing. Can we really use the same word to describe beating a man to death as we use to describe keeping him awake for an extended period of time?

[break]

I wrote the above Monday night, setting the framework for a discussion on the line on just what torture meant. However, today's events have changed everything, making that discussion irrelevant. The animals of al Qaida have given us a stark lesson in the difference between unsanctioned abuse and systemic torture.

A poor quality videotape on the site showed a man bound to a white plastic chair in a bare room, then kneeling on the floor with five masked men behind him.


The masked men then pushed him to the floor and shouted "God is greatest" above his screams as one of them sawed his head off with a large knife, then held it aloft for the camera.


The Web site said Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a top ally of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, was the man who cut off the man's head. The statement in the video was signed off with Zarqawi's name and dated May 11.

For all the weak-minded, pathetic fools who claim that the abuses in Al Ghraib prison make us no better than our enemy, you've just been proven hideously wrong. Nothing we've done, proven or alleged, comes near to the sheer inhuman brutality of what happened to Nick Berg.

It's not even close.

Any rational person can clearly see the wide chasm separating our behavior, even at its worst, from their routine actions. Islamofascists routinely act in ways that seem inhuman to Western mores. They are willing to kill dozens of innocents, even their own people, if it means killing one enemy. And this isn't a new developement, following the revelations of abuse at al Ghraib prison. Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and murdered well before we had invaded Iraq; the 4 contractors were torn to shreds and the Italian had his throat slit long before Al Ghraib became public; suicide bombings and random mortar/rocket attacks have killed hundreds of Iraqi citizens. Any claim that Berg's murder is simply a result of Al Ghraib is sheer nonsense and nothing more than a pathetic excuse for weaklings and cowards to attack the President and his policies. They would play politics with a man's murder.

Let's keep it very simple, in deference to those brain-dead apostles of appeasement.

The responsibility for this outrageous act lies solely and entirely with the men who ordered it and carried it out.

For those who aren't convinced yet, let's compare and contrast these two events.
  • Nobody was beheaded by US forces in Al Ghraib prison.
  • The videotapes in Al Ghraib were not taken for public display. They only became public after they were used to launch an investigation into the abuse, an investigation initiated by the US armed forces. The videotape of Nick Berg screaming as his head was sawn off was sent directly to the press by al-Zarqawi, as a PR gambit.
  • The leader of the US forces did not personally carry out the abuse. In fact, she may have been unaware that it took place at all. al-Zarqawi was the man that wielded the bloody knife.
  • The people involved in Al Ghraib are being investigated and those found guilty will be punished. al-Zarqawi and his men will be rewarded for their actions.
  • The leader of the US has strongly condemned the actions in Al Ghraib and elsewhere, and vowed to put a stop to it. al-Zarqawi called on Muslims to commit more murders and atrocities.
  • The leader of the US has apologized to those who have suffered abuse, and to the Arab people in general. al-Zarqawi is proud of what he did.
  • The leader of the US has said this will happen no more. al-Zarqawi has called for more murders.
  • The pictures and videos from al Ghraib have been shown unedited on all the major media. The Berg video is heavily edited due to its content: it's too gruesome for public display.


All of this leads me to a very simple and practical definition of torture. If you can show it on the front page of a newspaper, or on the evening news, it's not torture.

Posted by Rich
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Friday, May 07, 2004

And the Answer is…

Earlier this week, I posted on an article dealing with the strength and growth of the US economy, and attributed that strength and growth to the Bush tax cuts.

Today, we got more good news. Despite analysts expectations of 180,000 new jobs, the labor report released today showed 288,000 new jobs. Even better news, the estimate for last month, already a robust 308,000, was adjusted to 337,000. And even better, manufacuring jobs are beginning to comeback as well, showing a gain of 21,000 jobs.

By the way, unemployment is now down to 5.6%.

Are there any liberals left who really think that Kerry should run on the economy?

UPDATE: As of Friday, the economy has created 867,000 new jobs. If job creation continues at this rate for the rest of the year, we'll see 2.6 million jobs created in 2004.

Why is this important? Well, back in February, the Bush administration predicted job growth of 2.6 million jobs by the end of the year. At the time, there were some who claimed that was impossible, just pie in the sky propaganda.

It doesn't seem quite so outlandish now, does it?

Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Hobbsian echoes

Bill Hobbs usually takes care of the economic blogging for the RTB, but this story is simply too good to pass up.

The 2004 federal budget deficit, which is forecast at $477 billion by the Congressional Budget Office and $521 billion by the Office of Management and Budget, could come in at $370 billion, or 3.1 percent of gross domestic product, according to a new Citigroup forecast.

The Treasury confirmed its improving fiscal position yesterday when it announced plans to borrow a net $38 billion in the April-to-June quarter, half the amount estimated three months ago.


That's a 29% decrease in the projected deficit if the Citigroup forecast is correct. And to what do the analysts attribute this 180 degree turn in the economic forecast?

The decrease in borrowing is due to higher receipts, both from lower refunds and higher payroll and individual taxes, lower outlays, and higher State and Local Government Series net issuances,'' the Treasury said in announcing its second-quarter borrowing requirements.

Actual borrowing in the January-to-March quarter was about $30 billion less than anticipated, "largely attributable to lower tax refunds and higher payroll taxes,'' Treasury said.


But haven't the liberals been telling us for years that cutting taxes would decrease revenues? How could this be?

What liberals won't tell you is that historically, when you cut taxes, revenue collections increase. It's happened every time. Why would something so counter-intuitive be the case? Because the economy is not a zero sum game. Unlike energy and mass, wealth can be created, and reducing the tax burden puts money into the hands of the people best equipped to create wealth; the entreprenuerial class. If you lower the marginal rate, and as a result, people can earn more money, you collect more taxes. It seems like magic, but it has worked every time it has been tried.

But the news gets even better.

In the last two months, "withheld receipts jumped 12.5 percent annualized,'' Wiegand said. "The message is, there is no way that you can see withheld income taxes rising unless there's a decisive turn in labor market conditions, including payrolls, hours and compensation.''


Either more people are going back to work or the people with jobs are working more hours, or they're getting paid more. These are the only possibilities to explain an increase in withholding receipts at a lower marginal rate. This certainly lends credence to the position that unemployment has been drastically overestimated, and that the Household report is the more accurate picture.

This type of move suggests something real is happening on the labor front,'' Wiegand said. "And you need high wage jobs to see this type of upturn in the tax base."


No matter which estimate you believe, if withholding receipts are up, that means there's more money in the hands of the workers, a conclusion born out by the data:
Personal income rose 4.9 percent in the year ended March compared with the recent low of a 1.55 percent annual increase in January 2002. After-tax income adjusted for inflation rose 4 percent in the past year compared with a 0.7 percent increase in June 2001.


Of course, the liberal spin on all of this good news will be that the tax cuts that they claimed would bankrupt us were actually too small to do us any good. Except that fails to explain why unemployment is down, no matter how you measure it, the economy is growing at a strong rate, and personal income is increasing at roughly 4 times the rate of inflation.

So, who do we have to thank for this economic turn around?

All Together Now:"I Blame the Bush Tax Cuts!"

Posted by Rich
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Thank the Liberal Media!

Ted Rall just spat on the memory of a good man, and many folks (only conservatives, judging by the blogosphere and blogdex) are outraged.

Why?

Did you expect anything different from this guy? This is the same jerk who slammed the families of 9-11 victims; why are you surprised about this? Isn't hateful ignorance the standard MO for a fringe lunatic type?

What does bug me though, is that he still gets national exposure in the so-called mainstream media. Let's face it folks, whether you are liberal or conservative or in between, you know without a doubt that if a conservative like Limbaugh had spewed equivalently hateful garbage, he'd be gone.

There's no question about it.

Limbaugh was fired from ESPN for making comments that brought up the issue of racial bias in the sports media. Yet Rall gets a pass from everyone.

A quick check on the liberal sites and blogs shows the usual silence produced by the left when one of their own steps in it big time. Usually, you have to prod at them to get even a mild disclaimer. Compare that to conservatives, who move quickly to censure one of their own. Remember Trent Lott?

So why is it that you can count on a conservative to speak out against his own when they are wrong, but not expect the same from a liberal?

My guess is that we have the mainstream media to thank for conservatives' willingness to to self police their more radical elements. Conservatives have long known that the liberal bias of most reporters and editors would ensure that thier transgressions would receive the utmost scrutiny, and have developed the defense mechanism of doing it first. There's no great moral superiority in this; it's just simple political expediency, like a University sanctioning it's sports program in an effort to avoid worse sanctions from the NCAA.

Liberals, on the other hand, have, by and large, not had to face such a level of scrutiny before. In the past, their fringe elements been given pretty much a pass by the press. But not anymore. Two trends have emerged that will make it exceedingly difficult for liberals to continue to gloss over the more radical elements of their party.

First, in part because of the long standing and relentless pursuit of conservatives, political journalism has become a blood sport. It's no longer as important what the politics of the person are; once the press smells blood in the water, they go into a feeding frenzy. Liberals are beginning to feel the effects of the same treatment the press has given to conservatives for decades; Bill Clinton was only the first victim.

Second, the media, both old and new, are now more than ever driven by the demands of the public. Where the news business once held itself separate from the people, providing information that was needed rather than wanted, for better or worse, it's now all about ratings, which means they give the people what they want, not necessarily what they need. And that has led directly to a political balkanization of the media. Instead of providing the basic facts to everyone, each media outlet caters to a target audience, and slants its coverage accordingly.

And that means that it's always open season on someone. If NPR isn't going after Bush, then Fox will be going after Kerry. Unfortunately for liberals, conservatives have benefited from bitter experience, and know how to minimize the effects of an attacking press corps. Liberals will learn eventually, but until they catch up, conservatives will have a decided advantage.

And it's all due to a liberal media. It's positively darwinian.

Posted by Rich
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Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Reality vs. Spin

OK, it's warming up outside, and the annual dionysian frenzy known as Spring Break is upon us once again. I was listening to the radio on my way into work last week when I heard Hallerin Hill talking to a young sounding woman about Spring Break in Florida, and what goes on there. Hallerin reacted in what must of been feigned shock to discover that kids on Spring Break actually consumed alcohol to excess!

Say it ain't so!

But that's not what got me started. What really brought the milk through my nose was this girl's repeated statement that parents would be shocked to know what goes on at Spring Break. I hate to break it too all you young folks out there, but there is nothing, and I mean nothing going on during Spring Break today that wasn't going on when your parents were there. Check out Spring Break if you don't believe me. The movie is all about sex and drinking (and swimming with a knife in your teeth), and is over 20 years old. In fact, it's probably a safe bet that some of you going to Florida this year were conceived during a Spring Break bacchanalia. (If that image doesn't lead kids to use contraception, I don't know what will.)

I know y'all hate to think of your parents and sex in the same sentence, but the reality is that today's generation did not invent sex, drugs, and rock n' roll; hell, y'all haven't even improved on 'em all that much.

I flipped over to another station, only to hear the male half of the morning team sanctimoniously claim that if you have any more than 5 drinks at a single setting, you are binging and have a drinking problem.

Since when have we lost our collective minds?

Nobody questioned this pronouncement, which, if you just think for half a second, is patently ridiculous. Now, my dad just died in January from the cumulative effects of a lifetime of alcohol abuse, so I have no reason to love alcohol. In fact, I made the choice early on not to drink, since alcoholism runs in my family. At his worst, Dad would start the day with a bottle of champagne. He'd finish that by around 10AM, and switch to beer, finishing off 6-12 by noon to 2PM, when he'd switch to Jack or Jim Beam (straight up, or with a single ice cube) to finish out the day. He'd repeat the cycle the next day.

Now that's a drinking problem. That's binging. How in the hell can you say that 5 drinks in one setting is the same as that?

Consider the guy who sits down on his couch on a fall Sunday to watch a couple of football games. The games run from 1PM through about 7 or 7:30PM. During that time, he drinks a six pack of beer. By definition, he's just been on a binge, even though he probably didn't drink enough to be legally intoxicated. Or to feel more than a minor buzz. Or even to experience the wonderful joy of a hangover. This is a binge?

I don't think so.

So why is the threshold so ridiculously low?

Could it be to create the perception of a problem that would allow nosy busy-bodies to mind somebody else's business instead of their own?

Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, March 16, 2004

A Few Quick Hits

Brief notes from a busy life:
  • I was watching The Princess Bride the other night with my kids and when we got the the Iocaine powder duel, I had a political epiphany: John Kerry is Vizinni the Sicilian reincarnated.

  • For those who didn't get it the first time, the reason the Spanish election represents a win for the terrorists is simple. Prior to the bombing, the socialists had a very slim lead, well within the margin of error. After the bombing, they won in a walk. Even a whacked out terrorist can grasp cause and effect. Set off a bomb, and your enemies crumble.

    You couldn't pay me to live anywhere in Europe for the next decade or so.

  • Let me get this straight. Some moron eats fast food three times a week for a month and gains weight, and this is news? And now McDonalds, in a remarkably craven atempt to pander to more morons who feel the need to monitor what I decide to eat, has decided to remove the Super Sized items from their menu. So it appears that in America, who you eat in the bed room is your own business; what you eat in a restaurant is everybody's business.

    Well, McDonalds won't have to worry about me in the future. I'll give my business to someone who actually wants to sell me what I want, rather than what some loudmouthed busybodies think I should be allowed to have.

  • Speaking of gay marriage, some mayors and other officials have begun issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples, even though it's against the law. Their reasoning is that the law is wrong, and therefore, they shouldn't have to follow it.

    Try that argument the next time you get a speeding ticket.

  • Paging Dr. Dean, Dr. Howard Dean. Anybody heard from him since his primal scream? He's disappeared off the screen faster than Jay Leno's warm up comic when The Tonight Show starts taping.

    Like all good fluffers, he got the ball rolling, then stepped out of the way for the real stars.

  • John McCain is reportedly shocked, very shocked, to find that Democrats are funneling truckloads of money through the loopholes in his campaign finance reform law. Obviously, his solution is to enact an improved campaign finance reform act to close the loopholes in the first one.

    Given the effects of his first stab at it, before long, average folks won't be allowed to talk politics over the water cooler without filing 37 forms, in triplicate, via snail mail, and paying a $275 fee to cover the background check and other processing. Meanwhile, the usual suspects will be able to buy their candidates at a greatly reduced rate since competion from actual citizens will be all but eliminated.

  • In a surprise move that confounded long time observers, John Kerry has come down firmly and unequivocally on one single side of an issue, with no waffling qualifiers. He's completely opposed to "Laci and Connor's law," which would classify a fetus as an additional victim if it is injured or killed during an attack on the mother.

    The Kerry campaign denies that the fact that fetuses cannot vote has anything to do with his uncharacteristic lack of nuance.

  • Let's see, $30 million investment; years of effort to plan, film, market and distribute a film most industry insiders predicted would never make back a cent; and now Mel looks like he's going to clear somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million for The Passion, a movie very few people will see more than once.

    Tell me again how he's wrecked his career?

  • John Kerry has claimed that he's been in touch with foreign leaders who support his candidacy. When pressed for details, he claims that it would violate a confidence if he were to name names.

    Didn't most of us grow out of this crap roughly around the 11th grade? Is this guy running for United States President, or Junior Class President?

    Jeez, people.


OK, that's enough spleen venting for one night. Catch y'all tomorrow, when I promise I'll have a more coherent piece on applying to be a contestant on a TV reality show.

Posted by Rich
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Friday, February 27, 2004

Effective Bias

Which approach is more effective at changing your mind?

Approach A:
"We live in fictitious times. We live in a time with fictitious election results that elect fictitious presidents. We live in a time when we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons...we are against this war, Mr Bush. Shame on you. Shame on you!"


Approach B:
"Overall, the policies of the United States are still very unpopular around the world. The Bush Doctrine, a preference for unilateral military action and a disdain for multinational diplomacy, is under scrutiny more than ever."


The first is Michael Moore's spleen exploding out of his mouth during the Oscars. The second is the Oct. 17th, 2003 lead in to Bob Edward's newscast on NPR's Morning Edition, as quoted here.

The stridency in Michael Moore's voice and his intemperate outburst warn you that you are in the presence of a zealot, and that you will have to take his words with a grain of salt the size of Mt. Ranier. But when Bob Edwards delivers the news, it is in the calm, measured tones of a professional news anchor. There is no tell tale hysteria in his voice, no audible clues that we are listening to a man who is nearly as biased as Michael Moore. We have to look at his actual words to get that information. And that makes him much more effective.

Let's look at the above quote. Where's the bias? That's right, the second sentence. Edwards states as fact something that at the very least is highly debateable, if not outright false. To suggest that President Bush disdains multilateralism is to disregard half the facts. Yes, he went forward in Iraq without the UN; yes, he withdrew from Kyoto; and yes, he moved forward on a missile defense system. But were these actions based on a disregard for cooperation, or because he saw what he considered a clear duty, and went forward? I don't think any objective person can deny that Iraqis are much better off now than they were a year ago, and with recent concessions by Syria and Lebanon, a strong argument could be made that the Middle East as a whole is moving towards increased security. Add to this the multiple times President Bush went to the UN, either in person or thorugh Colin Powell or others, laying out his case for going into Iraq. The failure of the UN to go along is not proof that President Bush preferred to go it alone, only that he was left no other choice.

Most observers now admit freely that Kyoto was deeply flawed, trading environmental efficacy for political advantage. In fact, most countries have failed to ratify the treaty, both for that reason, and the huge economic burder it imparted, with negligible results.

Even the withdrawal from the ABM treaty can be seen as necessary, given the probability that terrorist groups or rogue nations may aquire ballistic missile and WMD warheads.

Whether you agree with these arguments or not is really not that important, and strong counter arguments exist for each; what is important is that Bob Edward's characterization of Bush's foreign policy is more opinion than fact, even though it is represented as fact, and it is clear that Edwards may indeed view it as fact. It is this quiet substitution of opinion for fact that makes the bias of many major news outlets, in this case, NPR, so effective.

When Michael Moore rants and raves, we immediately activate our BS detectors. By his presentation, we expect him to be biased; by his history, we expect him to distort the facts to fit his philosophy. But when our friendly, fatherly news anchor does the same thing, in calm, well reasoned tones, we don't have the same reaction. No alarm bells ring, and we may allow that opinion to register as a fact, which in turn can lead us to draw a false conclusion.

The subtle nature of this bias is it's greatest strength. It's hard to point out, and even when you do find a clear example, it's easy for critics to dismiss as "just a little thing." But little things add up, and when the bias is pervasive enough, say, throughout an entire network, the cumulative effect can be astounding.

Try this experiment at home. Watch a news broadcast; it doesn't matter which channel. Listen very closely to the anchors and see how many times you can catch them voicing an opinion or judgment as a fact. Listen closely to hear how many judgments they make while telling you the news. Those judgments may be verbal, or more often non-verbal, the shake of a head, a frown, etc. If you pay attention closely, you'll be amazed at just how much editorializing is going on during a newscast.

Posted by Rich
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