Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Overactive Ahmadinejad

We do believe that if war is waged in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is because of Zionists' provocation. If Sudan is suppressed it is because of Zionists' temptations. Zionists are behind all the conspiracies of the arrogance and colonialism. They do not allow the main factor of excuses for Palestine occupation to be examined and surveyed. The pretext for establishing the Zionist regime is a lie - a lie which relies on an unreliable claim, a mythical claim, and the occupation of Palestine has nothing to do with the Holocaust.
- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, during Iran's annual al Quds (Jerusalem) Day ceremony, repeating the baseless accusation that all of the problems in the Arab world are due to the existence of the Jewish State of Israel. (MEMRI, Sep. 18)

Iran president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's world view - albeit ludicrous - is actually a fascinating study in imaginative paranoia and anti-Semitism. In particular, his views on Zionism make for an entertaining (if infuriating) read. According to Ahmadinejad, it was in fact the Zionists who installed Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban-Al Qaeda nexus in Afghanistan. They then engineered both Saddam's intransigence and Al-Qaeda's terrorism (including, of course, 9/11), allowing America - always the Zionist lackey - to invent the reasons for asserting their hegemony in the Muslim world. Thus, tiny Israel wags the super-power America, who sacrifices thousands of soldiers and a trillion dollars to facilitate Zionism's nefarious conspiracies in Iraq and Afghanistan and maintain Jewish dominance of Muslim holy land.

Perhaps Hitler was also a Zionist conspiracy, wiping out a third of world Jewry purely in order to generate enough world sympathy to ensure a UN mandate for the establishment of Israel in 1948. Clearly there is no end to the fiendish exploits of these ultra-powerful Jews. Somehow Zionists also found succor in arranging for Arab North Sudan to massacre 500,000 African (Christian) fellow citizens in Southern Sudan.

And since biblical Judea, Jerusalem and Israel were likewise fantastical myths (Jewish-controlled Hollywood would be proud), it is not entirely clear who the Babylonians, the Greeks and then the Romans conquered in Judea, why their writings and artifacts confirm the same, and exactly which temples were put to flames in 586 BC and 70 AD. Are a billion Christians misguided to believe Jesus was a Judean Jew, born in Bethlehem and crucified in Jerusalem? Was he rather a Muslim forbearer and the Romans occupied a Muslim Jerusalem over which Herod (another confused Jew) reigned? Apparently, the Jewish Old Testament, seeded in the Exodus from Egypt and the revelation at Sinai, evolved for a thousand years in Judea, codified in Babylon after the destruction of the First Temple, then finally institutionalized in Judea during the Roman occupation, is likewise a convoluted Jewish conspiracy. Christianity must similarly be a fantasy as without the crucifixion, without the Old Testament, without a Jewish Jerusalem on which to base its essence, it must rank as the preeminent hoax of the millennia.

Ironically - and obviously - all this hogwash calls into question the validity of Islam itself, the remaining elephant in the room. Isn't Islam in fact based on the Old Testament and a so-called refinement of the Jewish experience over the previous centuries in Judea? It all gets very confusing, so much so that I await Ahmadinejad's creative eloquence on the origins of his Shia Islam traditions. How exactly does he tie in thousands of years of Jewish persecution, the crusades and the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust and the decades-long attacks on the state of Israel - are all these somehow hidden advantages the Zionists have cleverly conspired to create? Is there no end to the invisible web Jews spin? If so, I would venture a guess that the Zionists would gladly stop spinning for a few years of peace and quiet. And that's the last thing Ahmadinejad wants to see.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Capitalist Truths & Capitalist Labels

It is unfortunate that in media saturated America - with its sound bite obsessed spin-meisters and its attention deficit consumers - the truth behind our ever-present labels is everywhere perverted. "Capitalism," for example, is condemned by (self-described) socialist-leaning leftists. Yet many on the American left have little in common with authentic Marxism or European Socialism. In fact, like the media buffoon Michael Moore, they are often closet capitalists who make a fortune out of exposing selective ills of the society and system from which they benefit. "Capitalism" has been twisted and turned by more prosaic figures as well, first by the Wandering Republicans and now by the Sputtering Democrats. A basic tenet of a mature and evolved capitalism is that the pricing of goods is not artificial and that it incorporates the true costs of production, use and disposal, as well as the true demand for and costs/benefits of their use. In our allegedly hyper-capitalist country, however, subsidies for farmers, trade union pressures for increased salary and benefits, and arbitrary import taxes - among other politically-driven distortions - are all designed explicitly to exaggerate or undercut prices.

More egregious examples come from our (ever-shrinking) energy pot. We charge less than $3 per gallon of gasoline while Europe charges more than double that (around $7). Why? While the Europeans themselves may be motivated by funds for their bloated bureaucracies, in fact their pricing of oil reveals a stronger dose of reality than our "free-er" economy. We spend hundreds of billions of dollars protecting the supply of oil in Iraq, in the wider Middle East and in large swathes of the world. We do not spend the billions needed to reverse and compensate for the often hidden environmental (and thus also social) costs arising out of the production, shipping, processing and use of oil. Either way, these costs need to be factored into the price of gas in order for the price to be authentically capitalist; a capitalism that is defined not by its generally rapacious origins, but rather by its emphasis on cost-driven prices and market solutions to social problems. As in the energy market, we fool ourselves with unrealistically low cost consumables from China, where proliferating pollution is often ignored and the health of the population and environment is deteriorating at an irresponsible rate. China's "capitalist" coffers are overflowing whilst its peoples are accruing birth defects and terminal diseases, suffering from dying rivers and the most rancid urban air in the world. America by contrast has the opportunity to show the world what a mature and civilized capitalism could look like.

In the same vein of this cost-focused capitalism, every citizen should accept his or her responsibilities vis-à-vis society, achieving a balance between limited government and a participatory society and, importantly, helping to achieve an equality of opportunity. Currently, America is in the midst of acquiring the socialized opposite thereof, as our politicians shape a bastardized capitalism where every person has seemingly boundless rights to share in the largess of big bureaucratic government without any corresponding obligations to give back to society. We are mostly about what society owes us by virtue of merely being born, and very little about what we need to give to our future, to our children and their enduring freedom.

Is it conceivable that a compulsory (with reasonable exceptions) national service be implemented after high school or university, whereby every young citizen gives a year of service to his or her country? Potential sectors include health care, education, philanthropy, substance abuse rehabilitation, family and children's services, geriatric support, and support for military, police, and fire forces. Capitalism need not be incompatible with acknowledging a higher order, a deeper meaningfulness about life. Freedom and democracy come at a price. We pay taxes - we need also to give time; and time is of the essence, it is the ultimate service as our soldiers keep proving again and again. In fact, perhaps we can substitute one for the other, leading to better outcomes for all. Call this commitment "big community." In return, the government should reduce "big government:" reduce taxes and other barriers to entrepreneurship, and reduce any undue restrictions on personal freedom and focus its largesse on the ill, the young and the old. A fair exchange.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Absolutism and Good Intentions

As a youth, I was infatuated with ideas, the power of the word, the magic of conceptual brilliance. I believed that the purity of my soul and the strength of my convictions would light the path before us and open even the most hardened of hearts. Ideas - my first love: they were so convincing, so true, so complete, so self-validating and right. I vested them with sacredness and held them close to my heart. Of course, very few loves - and even fewer ideas - are in fact sacred.

Now, in my sixth decade of trial and error, of the testing of these ideas, I am increasingly aware of the psychological cover-ups, the social make-overs, the media spin that underlie the (diverse) range of idea-based claims to moral and intellectual superiority.

Egocentric, selfish, and controlling individuals consistently layer their self-seeking motivations with an array of good intentions. The claim to know what is best for mankind is the perfect "feel good" ointment for what is essentially selfishness and narrowness. More dangerously, this approach often grants its propagators the self-righteous high ground from which to impose one’s world view on others. If you have seen the light, and it feels good, and it covers all your insecurities, ambivalences, with vanities (or its corollary, self-loathings), then clearly you are required to enlighten, by persecution or even force if necessary, those less fortunate, less educated, and less informed.

Thus, the Saudi mullahs’ modern day Fatwas, directives from the Spanish Inquisition in 15th century Spain, or the emergence of aggressively proselytizing movements in any setting conspicuously share the sincerity of holy 'good intentions'.

Thus, the tasks of Hitler, Mussolini, Idi Amin, the messianic Khomeini, the trumpeting Chavez and all those who know, without error or doubt, the absolution society craves, are all facilitated by the wondrous music of their good promises, their purity of intentions.

The head-strong scientists who banned the use of DDT in Africa and spurred a malaria driven holocaust as a result, the green fundamentalists who would risk poverty, disease and famine to advance an uncomprising agenda of a carbon free atmosphere - these groups also lay claim to the absolution of pure idealism. They have also spurned democracy and would happily and unilaterally impose their superior understanding on the rest of us.

Previously enthralled with ideas, I am now convinced that people should do more and theorize less; politicians should care more about providing choice than imposing ideals. Every person, from the mother in India saving to buy a sewing machine to the farmer in Idaho tilling his soil, has the inalienable right to their own version of freedom, not your version, or mine. And the sooner our ideologues respect and honor that, the sooner we will face down the scars of war and poverty.

Indeed, the clash between freedom and absolutism speaks to one of the quintessential questions our time. How do free, tolerant societies pragmatically develop the requisite intolerance to the near-fascistic, aggressively evangelical approach of other cultures, religions and systems that wish to impose their views, beliefs and behaviors on us? More specifically, can such societies defend themselves and their freedoms when doing so may require the use of overpowering military force or the uncomfortable limitation of rights for those who use our generosity, our legal protections and our charity to pursue their radical and totalitarian goals? In short, can we protect and maintain free societies at the same time?

I am reminded often enough that war is never the answer. Exactly, I reply - except when one party unilaterally starts the war. Or that violent preemption is also never the answer, never legal. Precisely, I concur - except when the other side is actively, passionately and irredeemably planning terrorism. Nuclear disarmament is desirable, of course - except when the only parties verifiably disarming are democratic countries.

Now seven decades old, Churchill’s advice about the unfortunate habit of civilized society to sleep until danger nearly overtakes them silently echoes in the background of our current scenario. “[For] want of foresight, the unwillingness to act when action will be simple and effective, the lack of clear thinking, the confusion of counsel until emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong.”

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