Saturday, July 05, 2008

Fools and Our Money

It never gets mentioned much in the dramas about our founding fathers, but one of the big reasons for the American Revolution, was money. You see, the British Empire was about two goals; power and wealth. The American colonies represented quite a bit of each, and while the phrase ‘cash cow’ did not come into use until much later, it’s a apt phrase to describe how the King and Parliament saw them. This, in short, meant that whenever the British government decided it needed to raise funds, an early and popular plan was to raise taxes in the American colonies. This reached a point where the colonists were angry enough to protest, and when complaints were ignored, to resist. I mention this, because our Federal government seems very much inclined to go down the same road.

A good example is the price of gasoline. There is a great deal of talk about concern for the consumer, but no serious action. Indeed, despite promising to lower gas prices to below $2 a gallon, the present Congress has sat idly by while prices instead doubled. Plans have been suggested which could address the problem, both in the short and long term, yet the government stubbornly clings to unproven hysteric theories rather than act in prudent fashion. Neither party is really addressing the problem from the perspective of the average citizen. As usual.

The federal government gets more than two trillion dollars of our money every year, yet they manage to run a deficit and to waste a lot of it on garbage projects to please their own egos. Two trillion dollars is about fifteen thousand dollars a taxpayer, every single year, not including the taxes you pay to a city, county, state or other tax authority. Leaving statistics aside, you have to pay when you get your wages, you pay every time you buy something, you pay for where you live, any nearby schools, a lot of your roads and bridges, and all sorts of fees even when you don’t use what they’re paying for. You get taxed on your phone – if I recall correctly, we are somehow still paying for the Spanish-American War, you get to pay taxes everytime the US government decides it wants to help someone else. That’s one thing when we are helping disaster relief, but something else when we are paying folks for not working, for a politically motivated cause, or for their personal campaigns. And then, after all this paying without our consent or in many cases much informing, we get to file income tax returns, which if done wrongly will lead to threats and penalties by the government.

As we celebrate the anniversary of our independence from Britain, it might be time to notice that someone else wants to make us their colony, their cash cow for whatever they please. And perhaps it is once again time to make clear that we are the nation, not those mandarins – Republican or Democrat – who claim ‘public service’ but only serve their own.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Americans Do Not Retreat

Over at Wizbang, Jay Tea and I have been bantering the 'Joe Horn' case, discussing various aspects of it and what it means to the greater society. Along the way, Jay mentioned the concept of 'duty to retreat'. The concept is based on the idea that when faced with an aggressor, a person has a moral duty to avoid confrontation, to give up ground and back away. That when a criminal gets it in his head that he wants to take something, we should just let him do so. That if he hurts someone, we should not try to prevent it. That the most we are allowed to do, is to stay out of the way, and if we feel guilty about doing nothing we can call the police later on and they will file a report about it.

This concept frankly strikes me as obscene, but more to the point, it is un-American. Concepts like duty to retreat seem to be very much how Liberals see the world. Such a concept explains how they can see Iraq's freedom from Saddam Hussein as a bad thing - we should not have taken him down, you see, it was somehow "wrong" to free millions of innocent Iraqis from a mad dictator. Same thing in Afghanistan; the Left would argue that even an evil usurping group like the Taliban somehow constituted a 'sovereign government', which we were wrong to confront and remove, even though they protected and supported Al Qaeda and the monsters who committed 9/11's horrors (for which the Left also blames America - we should not have gone outside our borders, you see, should not have promoted business anywhere in foreign lands, even where we were invited, should not have raised living standards and therefore expectations in third world countries, etc.). We see it in Europe now, where governments facing seditious thugs trying to tear apart their societies, actually apologize to the monsters and tell the victims not to make trouble. The established traditions and cultures of more than a thousand years are being dismantled, by the very governments which shuold be defending them, because those governments fear confrontation. It is a worse offense than cowardice, because a coward only shames his own name; the proponents of this concept would coerce a general condition of fear and self-loathing, all in the name of appeasement.

But I said this concept is un-American. Some who hate President Bush for protecting the nation, have claimed that his decisions and directives have hurt our standing in the world. I say rather the opposite, that the iron in his spine makes us taller in the view of everyone else. More and more nations copy the American model, in government, in business, and in culture. And what's more, President Bush is well in line with American tradition on that point. It is important to note that our nation was born in blood, though not a fight we wanted to have. When the British took to not only occupying major American towns in order to enforce its tax decrees, but quartering troops in American homes, they sparked a general rebellion which grew to drive a new nation into being. When the Barbary pirates raided our vessels and demanded tribute, we did not answer long with money, but soon replied with naval gunnery. The War of 1812 may well have been foolish, but by the time it was over, Europe knew better than to dictate terms to us. When we went to war with Spain over Cuba and the Philippines, we did not settle for a diplomatic victory, but removed Spain from those countries. And to address our attitude in World War 2 towards our enemies, one need only consider any of the public statements made by General Patton or Admiral Halsey. Only when we let ourselves get talked into considering our missions to have limits, do we lose wars. When we do whatever is necessary to win, we win easily.

This does not mean that war without restraint is always the most desirable, but it does mean that when we are attacked, we are right to answer in full force. When our objective protects our homeland, we are right to put our goals ahead of other nations'. Our friends must ever be aware that we will accomplish our missions, and our enemies must be made to know that there is no greater foolishness than to provoke our wrath. Mister Obama is very much wrong on that point - there must indeed be preconditions to any meeting with an adversary, the chief being that our enemies must know that they cannot hope to defeat us, that any attack against us will be answered, fully but in such time and manner as suits our plans, no one else.

Americans do not retreat.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Joe Horn, The Fourth of July, and Forgotten Duties

On November 14 of 2007, Pasadena resident Joe Horn called 911 because two men were breaking into his neighbor’s house. As time progressed and the police had not arrived, Horn became increasingly angry and worried as time progressed and the police did not arrive, angry that the burglars would get away and worried that just sitting in his house doing nothing might make him a target. Finally, against repeated urging from the 911 operator (who is not, just to be clear, a police officer or authorized to issue commands to the public) to stay in his home, Horn left his house, got his shotgun from his car, and when the two burglars, Diego Ortiz and Miguel de Jesus, emerged from the neighbor’s house, Horn accosted them, they entered his yard, and Horn shot both men to death. This past week, a grand jury declined to press charges against Mr. Horn.

I was uncomfortable with the story initially, because a number of points were unclear. Horn had threatened to kill the burglars while on the phone with the 911 operator, yet he had also expressed fear for his own safety. Which one was the larger motive in getting his gun? One of the men he shot was shot in the back and the other in the side, yet a police officer who witnessed the shooting testified the two men came from the neighbor’s yard onto Mr. Horn’s yard. I am a strong proponent of defending your home and family, but a bit less sure about shooting someone just because you think they will get away with a crime.

But as I thought about it, I began to recognize significant points, the first of which is that I was not there. That is, the facts are relayed from Mr. Horn, the police, any witnesses, and the forensic data, and worse, they are filtered through a biased media. More than one media company chose to presented only edited versions of Horn’s 911 communication, even though full unedited versions were released by the police. Almost any position taken by someone hearing the story will be biased by his or her preconceived opinion.

I also realized that the people attacking Mister Horn were, unintentionally, explaining why he had every right to do as he did. A lot of folks were saying that everything would have been just fine if Mr. Horn had just stayed in his house and not confronted the burglars. Think about that. A homeowner who has the right to go where he wants on his property is being told to ignore a crime going on right next to him, to not look at the criminals so he can report to the authorities, to not try to stop the crooks who are committing a crime right there, to basically just sit there and hide like a trapped animal.

There is something fundamentally wrong, something clearly evil, about suggesting that criminals should not be hindered, while honest folk should be told to hide out of the way and do nothing. That attitude can explain a lot of why crime is so bad in places; if crooks have the run of things and the honest folk run away and do not confront them, do not witness their crimes and report detailed descriptions, and the rights of citizens are degraded while thugs are emboldened, then no good can possibly come of it.

The next claim was that the police can handle crime, and doing anything to confront a criminal would just get in their way. That’s wrong on at least two levels. First, while I have great respect and appreciation for police officers in general and for many specific individuals I know, it has to be said that the pathetic track record of the police in solving - let alone preventing crime should be considered in this incident. Not to be cynical, but the police – at their best – react to events and may catch criminals at some point in the future, In the mean time, criminals continue to plague innocent victims, and have learned that the police are no real threat unless they are caught in the act. In my own experience, I have been robbed three times at gunpoint, my wheels were stolen off my car in 2003, my whole car was stolen in 2005, and an angry neighbor once smashed a side window of my car. In none of those cases did the police ever catch the crooks. In the case of the angry neighbor, the guy left a note explaining why he smashed my window – he said I was parked ‘in his space’ (in a lot with no assigned spaces), yet the police refused to arrest him, saying they ‘had no real evidence’. In the case of my stolen car, the car turned up three weeks later shot full of bullet holes – it had apparently been used in a robbery attempt, yet the police made no attempt to collect evidence from it, such as fingerprints or pieces of bullet, etc. The simple fact is that very few crimes matter to police the way they do to the victim. The second point, is that legal experts will tell you that in terms of the law, the police are not actually required to protect you. They work for the government, and have no specific directive whatsoever to protect you. Not that they could, though – even if you were on the phone to 911 when someone breaks into your house, the police could not possibly get to your house before the criminals could kill you. The operative lesson here, is that the only real defense is self-defense. And that, speaking bluntly, means having access to deadly force and the will to use it, if necessary.

Some folks will get mad at that. Such people were quick to blame Mr. Horn for, in their opinion, acting as judge, jury, and executioner. But they are wrong in such claims. Folks need to understand that an ordinary citizen is not a law officer or a court. That puts limits on what they may do, but it also means they are not limited in the way a court is. If I have a gun and am attacked, I do not have to do anything about the 'rights' of the criminal, I do not have to consider legal procedures when dealing with a crime happening right in front of me. Criminals deserve no advantage or privilege, and if a homeowner shoots a burglar, only the most perverse interpretation of law or civil rights could pretend that the homeowner is culpable.

This all started because two criminals forgot that a homeowner with a gun is not held to the same conditions as a man with a badge, that a neighbor is not required to just hide in his home while crooks do as they please - some might even argue that a good neighbor has the moral responsibility to get involved.

Some folks have, rather hysterically, called Mr. Horn a racist, simply because the men he killed were Hispanic while he was white. But that is an absurd notion on its face. The 911 call made no reference to race whatsoever; Mr. Horn was reacting to a break-in of his neighbor’s house, not the appearance of the criminals. The tape gives no reason to think that Mr. Horn knew what race the men were until he confronted them. Also, the tape shows that three seconds elapsed from when Horn warned “move and you’re dead” to when he first fired. An undercover police officer who witnessed the shootings told the grand jury that the men approached Horn, entering his yard in the process. That they turned when he started shooting does not in any way change the character of their behavior or Horn’s right to use force.

I should also note the character of the decedents. Diego Ortiz and Miguel de Jesus were illegal aliens from Colombia, and suspected in a number of burglaries. De Jesus was on parole when he died while attempting another burglary. These were not upstanding citizens, and while the death of anyone is a serious concern, it is impossible for any rational person to consider either of the two to be innocent victims in this matter.

So what does all this have to do with the Fourth of July? What do I mean by saying there are forgotten duties? It comes down to the character of our nation, even our identity. Time was, that Americans understood that we cannot depend on others for our own safety, that sometimes we have to do something difficult, even unpleasant, in order to protect ourselves, our families, and our neighbors. We carry rights and with them comes responsibility. Those rights in the first Ten Amendments, they are meant to be used, and for the welfare of our nation. It’s not about just your own house and your own interests, but your neighor’s place and your community. It’s about standing for more than just a slogan, being willing to do the heavy lifting, to take on the inconvenient chores to make things better for everyone. We all know this at some level, we all teach our kids to be responsible and to think of others. We teach our children to learn and use good judgment, and exercising that judgment shows in a lifetime of decisions and consequences. Sometimes those consequences are hard, as Mr. Horn has learned. And sometimes we have to stand against a tide of slackers, of the lazy or even the thuggish, to protect everything we know to be good against its dissolution. Fortunately, violence is rarely necessary to address this duty. We serve it in many ways, from work to civic responsibility, to community activity and faith life. But we all have work to do. Our country needs us, and no excuse will do.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Election Cycle Number 8

One thing people do every so often, is to look for trends. One fave trend has been to look at elections ending in 0, but this is not one of those years. I found it interesting to consider some of the odd Presidential elections in years ending in 8:

1988: Governor Mike Dukakis is lionized in the press for his supposed economic prowess, the “Massachusetts Miracle”. In the fall, however, he is effectively trounced by the relative lightweight, Vice-President G.H.W. Bush, the first Bush to surprise and annoy the Democrats.

1968: The ugliest election of the generation. Unpopular President Lyndon Johnson decides not to run again, but will not do much to support a candidate. Charismatic candidate Bobby Kennedy is assassinated, VP Hubert Humphrey wins the nomination but not much support, Governor Wallace leads the South in revolt and splits the Democrat vote, handing the White House, incredibly, to Richard Nixon.

1948: Unpopular President Harry Truman is written off early as hopeless, but makes a bold comeback and wins an improbable victory. However, he never gains his party’s full support, and he spends much of his time fighting to get anything done.

1928: Charismatic and popular Herbert Hoover doesn’t have to do much to win the White House. Two years later, as the Great Depression takes the country by the throat, it appears Hoover is still not doing much.

: Honoring a promise not to run for re-election, Popular Teddy Roosevelt hands the reins over to William Howard Taft, a man so inept that four years later, Republicans and Democrats alike are screaming for change.

What can we expect in 2008? Whatever we get, don’t plan on the predictable!

Monday, June 30, 2008

The W Factor, Still Alive

Over on Wizbang, I put up an approval poll on Dubs. As expected, regular people think he’s doing a pretty good job. Not perfect of course, but a whole lot better than he gets credit for. I always thought so, not least because I have watched the guy since he was running for Texas governor when I didn’t know much about him and thought he was not all that big a deal. Funny thing about W, folks have been trashing him for years, and it never sticks, not where it matters, It’s not Teflon, because there are a lot of folks who get their jollies smearing the guy, wishing he were assassinated, comparing him to all sorts of brutal leaders (even as their own party coddles just such monsters, but that’s nothing new, either), insulting him and ignoring every accomplishment he does, even as empty suits like Barack Obama cruise to high popularity and fund-raising success precisely because he has nothing in his resume but boasts and ego. I think it’s because we recognize, at some deep level, the fact that there is always a guy we can depend on. He’s not the smartest, maybe, but he gets the job done. He’s not the smoothest talker, but he says what he means. He’s not a favorite with Hollywood or the media, but he sticks to his core principles and pays whatever it costs to stay true to the most critical missions. In any town, there are people who get their picture in the paper, and there are people you can call when your car breaks down in the pouring rain at 3 AM. There are people who have millions in the bank, and there are people who don’t have much but they will make sure you have what you need. There are people who can impress you with how smart they are, and there are people you can trust to keep their word. Folks like Bush, they’re not glamorous or slick or witty. But you can depend on them. This fall, both of the candidates might want to think about the fact that for millions of us voters, we may like a good show but we will only trust the nation’s leadership to a man we can trust to mean what he says, to do what he promises, and to carry on even when everyone – including some of his best former buddies –deserts him for a few bucks and the limelight. Bush is going home after this term, but that doesn’t mean the nation does not still need someone a lot like him.