Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Archive for June, 2009

Thoughts on the passing of Michael Jackson

Posted by sanityinjection on June 26, 2009

Regular readers will know that I usually refrain from comment on the lives of entertainment celebrities unless I feel there is a point to be made beyond simple voyeurism. I do feel compelled to share a few thoughts regarding the sudden passing of Michael Jackson.

To me, Michael Jackson for a long time has been a tragic figure. So much talent and so much promise, but his life is a vivid illustration of how our modern “celebrity culture” destroys lives. Jackson went from being a handsome black man to a disturbing white androgyne; from the world’s darling, the “King of Pop”, to an accused child molester; from being a multimillionaire to being millions in debt; from being the world’s number one performer and recording artist to being unable to perform on stage or even clearly remember his own accomplishments through the haze of drugs.

In the long run, I think Michael Jackson will be rightly remembered for his music. But we should pause to reflect on the disturbing path his life began to take beginning in 1979. That was the year Jackson, already a megastar at 21, broke his nose during a dance move. His rhinoplasty was botched and led to subsequent nasal surgeries, which in turn led to purely cosmetic surgery on his eyes, lips, nose, and chin. Combined with the burns to his scalp sustained in 1984 while filming a Pepsi commerical, by the late 1980s Jackson was virtually unrecognizable, anorexic, and addicted to painkillers. The contrast between photos of Jackson in 1984 and 1988 is striking and shows the change from a heartthrob to a disturbing figure. He had become such a mega-celebrity that no one around him had the guts to stand up to him and make him seek counseling or go to rehab. Jackson’s money bought silence and acquiescence to his every whim, including the purchase of the Neverland Ranch that ultimately led to his downfall and debt.

Among the many eulogies being delivered for Jackson, I am particularly struck by comments made by Rabbi Shmuely Boteach, a close friend and companion of Jackson’s – to the extent that he indeed had any close friends – for about five years. While Boteach is a controversial figure who is himself accused of using Jackson for his own self-promotion, much of what he says in today’s Jerusalem Post rings true:

 “While I was heartsick at the news, especially for his three young children, I was not shocked. I dreaded this day and knew it had to come sooner rather than later….My fear was that Michael’s life would be cut short. When you have no ingredients of a healthy life, when you are totally detached from that which is normal, and when you are a super-celebrity you, God forbid, end up like Janis Joplin like Elvis…”

Boteach writes that “In many ways his tragedy was to mistake attention for love.” In fact, many of the oddest rumors and stories about Jackson – such as the story about him sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber –  were spread by Jackson himself as publicity stunts. Ironically, he later came to fear the intense media scrutiny that he had fueled, shielding himself and his children from the public with masks and veils.

Much has been made of Jackson’s abuse at the hands of his father as being partially responsible for his warped life. Yet, countless others have endured childhood abuse and grown up into remarkably normal individuals – haunted by their own demons perhaps but fundamentally no worse off than their neighbors. Rather, it was Jackson’s super-celebrity status that operated to prevent him from getting the help and care that a normal person would have. He stopped listening, so those around him stopped talking.

Jackson’s musical career was staggering, but one can only imagine what he might have been capable of  if he had been healthy and able to devote himself to his music for the last 15 years. Ultimately, Jackson’s family’s loss is shared by everyone who was touched by his music. But as the world grieves for Jackson’s death, I find myself more inclined to grieve for his sad and painful life.

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Posted in Current Events | Tagged: , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Cap-and-trade debate heats up – in Australia

Posted by sanityinjection on June 24, 2009

The US House of Representatives debates this week on a climate change bill, the central facet of which is the creation of new mandatory carbon emissions restrictions and a “cap-and-trade” program for companies emitting less carbon to sell their excess emissions allowance to those who need it. The House is expected to vote on the bill by Friday. It will probably pass, but its future in the Senate is unclear.

Some of the most fervent global warming hysterics are actually opposing the bill, claiming it doesn’t do enough to reduce carbon emissions. But it’s important to remember that the fundamental rationale for the bill is the assumption that man-made carbon emissions are the major cause of global warming. I have argued here many times that this assumption is false, and if I’m right, then there is no point to this legislation.

There is a saying, “Why re-invent the wheel?” In other words, if you want to do something, you can often save yourself a lot of work by studying  how other people have done it rather than having to learn everything independently. With this in mind, it’s instructive to turn to our friends from down under, where a similar cap-and-trade bill passed the Australian House and is now being considered by the Senate. At the same time, a new book by Australian scientist Ian Plimer (to be released in the US July 1) argues convincingly that the “science” behind man-made global warming is not science at all, or at least not good science.

You can read about this and about the quest of one independent Australian Senator to understand the truth about climate change here:

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2009/06/24/could_australia_blow_apart_the_great_global_warming_scare_97148.html

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

A few words about Neda Agha-Soltan

Posted by sanityinjection on June 23, 2009

It has been only three days since 26-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan was killed on the streets of Tehran, but in this age of the Internet she has already become known around the world as the martyred symbol of the protest movement in Iran.

And indeed, one would have been hard-pressed to handpick a better symbol. Neda was the New Iranian Woman.  From an average middle-class family and pictured respectably draped in chador, Neda was no rebel against Iranian society; no angry radical but a happy young woman with no great passion for politics. But at an age when her older female relatives might have been married off and having babies, Neda was studying to be a tour operator and taking piano lessons after having attended university to study Islamic philosophy. A photo from her vacation in Turkey shows her dressed in Western clothes, hair uncovered (when in Rome…) The contrast between the two photos of the same woman is the illustration of the tug-of-war operating in Iranian society – seeking modernity and connection with the wider world while trying to retain traditional values:

Neda Agha-SoltanNeda Agha-Soltan

Warned by friends and relatives that attending the street protests was dangerous, Neda reportedly replied: “Don’t worry. It’s just one bullet and its over.” Sadly prescient.

In a way that nothing else could, Neda’s death has exposed the reality of totalitarian oppression that lies beneath the false facade of the “Islamic Republic”. Neda was a threat to no one, except in the sense that by exercising her right to free speech she threatened those who cannot bear to hear the truth about themselves and who fear the voice of the people. Details now emerging suggest that Neda was shot not by the police, but by a Basiji paramilitary operative in plainclothes. The Basijis are a hard-line militia known for brutal attacks on university students and dissenters of any kind – a feared organization of thugs that does the regime’s dirty work outside the law with no accountability and could not exist in a truly free society. They lack only the brown uniforms and beer steins of Hitler’s Sturmabteilung (SA).

Even after Neda’s passing, the regime continues to insult her memory in order to serve the needs of the State:

“Security forces urged her friends and family not to hold memorial services for her at a mosque and asked them not to speak publicly about her, associates of the family said. Authorities even asked the family to take down the black mourning banners in front of their house, aware of the potent symbol she had become. But some insisted on speaking out anyway, hoping to make sure the world would not forget her.”

And the world will not forget. I have no doubt that someday, the spot on which this young woman who wanted to promote tourism was killed, will itself be a tourist attraction for those who would take a moment to remember that freedom is not free, but is only gained at great (and sometimes terrible)price.

Posted in Foreign Affairs | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Where do my federal tax dollars go?

Posted by sanityinjection on June 22, 2009

Probably to your elderly neighbors:

” [In 1960] 52 percent of federal spending went for defense, 26 percent for “payments for individuals” — the welfare state. By 2008, 61 percent consisted of “payments for individuals,” 21 percent for defense. Social Security and Medicare — programs for the elderly — represented the lion’s share: $1 trillion in 2008. Most Americans don’t consider these programs “welfare,” but they are. Benefits are paid mainly by present taxes; there’s little “saving” for future benefits; Congress can alter benefits whenever it wants. If that’s not welfare, what would be?” – Robert Samuelson, Newsweek

Look at those numbers again. That is a stunning change in revenue allocation. Personally, I think 21 percent is about right for defense spending given that we are still fighting 1 1/2 major military actions. But for 61 cents of every dollar paid in federal taxes to go to welfare and entitlements – that seems insane to me. As Samuelson points out, these programs are nothing but wealth redistribution; there is no investment. (You will often hear politicians refer to the “Social Security Trust Fund”; in fact, there is no such thing. Instead of investing the money paid in Social Security taxes and using the earnings to pay benefits, the government simply takes the money and hands it out again. If Social Security were a private operation, it would be an illegal pyramid scheme!)

I like elderly people and am not sorry to see them getting something back for all the contributions they have made to our country during their lives. But at the very least, there should be a means test for Social Security benefits. My parents receive Social Security benefits which they do not need at all, while other seniors who have no other money can barely get by on their Social Security check.

Clearly things have gone too far. Think of all the other things government could do with all that money – use it to protect the environment, fund education, or simply allow the people who earn it to keep it and use it to stimulate the economy, give to charity or whatever they choose. It is time for the United States to decide which national principle we want to move forward under: “From each according to ability, to each according to need” or “Liberty and justice for all.”

I know which way I’d vote. What about you?

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Irony, thy name is Al-Qaeda in Iraq

Posted by sanityinjection on June 22, 2009

Al Qaeda and other Sunni extremist groups in Iraq have said all along that they are fighting to end the American occupation of Iraq. This is the excuse they use to justify their barbaric terrorist attacks not only on US soldiers but on Iraqis themselves (the lives of the innocent are equally to be sacrificed for their glorious cause.)

So, with US troops on schedule to pull out of Iraqi urban areas by June 30 as part of the larger withdrawal plan, one might logically assume that the bombings and attacks would decrease with the removal of the provocative US presence. Indeed, this has been the essence of the anti-war argument offered by Western liberals: The US is to blame for terrorism because of its presence in the Middle East, and if we would just pull out and leave the region undefended, everyone would be happy and play nice. And Al Qaeda has echoed that line of thinking in their statements, since it works to their advantage.

In fact, though, we are more likely to see an increase in terrorist attacks in Iraq accompanying the US pullback. There are two reasons for this. One is that the removal of US forces simply makes it easier for the terrorists to carry out their attacks, and it’s only natural for them to take advantage of the opportunity. But the second, and more fundamental reason, is that in fact the last thing Al Qaeda in Iraq wants is for the US to leave – because it would remove their excuse for existing there. With the US gone, Iraqis will have little sympathy for Al Qaeda attacks on Iraqis. But in fact, Al Qaeda still wants to bring down the democratic government of Iraq and replace it with an Islamofascist theocracy.

The hope of Al Qaeda and their allies is that by increasing their attacks, they will force the US to reverse its pullback and keep our troops in Iraq, so they can continue to justify their existence and kill more of us and more Iraqis. Precisely the opposite of what they claim to want.

This is important for the Western defeatists to understand. Yes, the terrorists hate the US because of our presence in the Middle East, but not because it offends them. They hate us because we are the only force that has both the capability and the will to prevent them from establishing their Muslim caliphate. If we were to shrink back into our shell and leave the Middle East, the terrorists wouldn’t pack up and go home. They would renew their struggle with greater energy, knowing that the path to victory and the religious enslavement of the Middle East was now clear.

Posted in Foreign Affairs | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

What is North Korea thinking?

Posted by sanityinjection on June 19, 2009

Sometimes you have to wonder what is going through the minds of the North Korean leadership. Especially with the latest report from Japanese intelligence that North Korea plans to launch a missile at Hawaii on July 4, America’s Independence Day.

Part of it may be testing the new American President to see if he can be pushed around. Part of it may be a pattern of aggressive blustering to draw attention away from internal instability surrounding a possible transfer of power from Kim Jong Il to his son. But the missile launch still seems like a loony idea. With an effective range of about 4,000 miles, the North Korean Taepodong-2 would almost certainly fall harmlessly into the sea if not intercepted by the US first (which might be necessary if it carries a nuclear or chemical payload.) In any case it is unlikely to present a significant threat to America.

And even if the missile did hit Hawaii – what better way to galvanize US public opinion behind a strong military response to North Korea – which doesn’t exist now and is the very thing North Korea presumably doesn’t want – than an attack on US soil? Remember the unity in this country for a few months after 9-11?

I cannot help but be reminded of a 20th century novella – later made into a movie – called “The Mouse That Roared”. In that book, a tiny European principality, faced with an insurmountable budget crisis, takes the extreme step of declaring war on the United States. Their expectation is that they will quickly be defeated and then the US will spend billions to rebuild their country.

Is that what North Korea is thinking? That the best way to feed their starving people and fix their dysfunctional society would be to let the US defeat them in war and then be obligated to rebuild their country? I doubt it. No country having seen the devastation in Iraq would be likely to volunteer for that role. But it certainly would make for an intriguing conspiracy novel.

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OBCNews: ABC becomes the Obama Broadcasting Company

Posted by sanityinjection on June 17, 2009

One of the most important differences between a free democracy like the United States and a sham democracy such as Russia is the presence of a vibrant, free and independent media. In Russia, most media outlets are either owned by or controlled behind the scenes by the government. This creates an atmosphere in which free elections are impossible because government opponents are never given equal opportunity to present their views.

In the USA, we have never had a state-controlled media. Even PBS and NPR, which receive some government funding, are wholly independent in terms of their programming. However, that is about to change.

In a step that is without precedent in the modern era, ABCNews plans to turn its entire news operation into a mouthpiece for the Obama White House to use to advocate for the President’s version of health care reform. The plans include anchoring the nightly news from the White House, a one-hour prime time “town hall” with the President in which questions will be stage managed in advance by ABC, and slanted coverage on Good Morning America and Nightline. No opposing viewpoints will be featured.

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The Republican National Committee has understandably protested, demanding that the network either offer equal time to the opposition, or require the Democratic National Committee to pay for the airtime as with a campaign commercial. ABCNews has rejected the complaints as unfounded.

This may be a ratings move on ABC’s part, since their ratings are in the toilet and President Obama remains a figure of great interest to many Americans. Regardless of the network’s motivations, however, this level of media sycophancy is dangerously close to what we see in places like Russia, and Venezuela where President Hugo Chavez uses state-run television to harangue his subjects for literally hours on end. ABC simply cannot squirm away from the fact that their plans are designed to promote one side of a political issue that is of major importance to the nation.

Now, if this were a Republican Administration, ABCNews would instead be doing a prime-time special on the firing of  government inspector Gerald Walpin for investigating Obama’s political supporters for misuse of funds.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments »

Obamawatch: Presidential multi-tasking

Posted by sanityinjection on June 15, 2009

The Obama Administration seems to be taking multitasking to the highest level in pushing for more than one major program at the same time. With Democrat legislators still trying to craft a carbon emissions “cap-and-trade” bill that can command enough votes to pass, the White House is already starting its push for a health-care overhaul which also will need to be carefully handled in order to pass Congress.

Conventional wisdom says that a President shouldn’t try to push through two major bills at the same time. In other words, if you’re going into battle, you want to concentrate your forces on one objective rather than splitting them up and having half as many resources to apply to each one. On the other hand, this President doesn’t seem to put much stock in conventional wisdom. I see four possibilities: 1) Obama is supremely confident that his emissions legislation will pass quickly and is teeing up healthcare to follow in short order; 2) Obama has decided that he is going to lose on the emissions bill and is trying to shift Washington’s focus to a new issue so that no one has time to dwell on his failure; 3) Obama has no idea what he’s doing; 4) Obama somehow believes that forcing two issues at once will cause more havoc for the opposition than for him. Folks, your guess is as good as mine.

If I were advising the President, I suppose I would be encouraging him to move on to healthcare too. The emissions issue is tough to push in a sour economy because any way you slice it, it is going to cost everyone money including the average working family. Health care reform at least looks and sounds like something that would help the little guy – although when you look at the details that’s not necessarily the case. Still, even I would agree that health care reform is needed and would be a good thing – however, I agree with Robert Samuelson that the reform that is needed is cost reduction rather than expansion of coverage.

Still, Obama runs the risk of energizing the opposition if he is defeated on one issue and then has to go directly into battle on a second one. The coalitions that oppose the emissions and healthcare bills will be different, but there will be Democrats among both. Once it is shown that the Administration can be beaten, they will lose a lot of their power to push things through Congress.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Why are right-wing women fair game for sexist attacks?

Posted by sanityinjection on June 12, 2009

Amanda Fortini over at Salon.com addresses the recent dust-up over David Letterman’s remarks about Sarah Palin and her daughter, and a particularly vile Playboy piece about raping conservative female commentators:

http://www.salon.com/mwt/broadsheet/feature/2009/06/12/letterman_palin/index.html

Fortini, a liberal feminist herself,  points out the hypocrisy of liberal feminists remaining silent in these incidents: “Imagine if, say, Michelle Obama, or Rachel Maddow, or Nancy Pelosi became the target of similar invective. The outcry from the left would be deafening.” I applaud this intellectual honesty.

I don’t think it’s appropriate for a talk-show host – even a comedian – to call a sitting US Governor “slutty” on network television. I have to say though, I didn’t think Letterman’s joke about Palin’s daughter getting “knocked up” at a baseball game rises to the same level. First of all, I don’t think Letterman realized that it was Palin’s 14-year old daughter Willow, and not the older Bristol, who was at the game. Second, Palin and her family can hardly complain if people make jokes about her daughters getting “knocked up” when Bristol did just that.

But the larger point remains. Women in politics continue to be targeted with sexually-tinged verbal assaults that their male colleagues do not face. This represents an implicit continuation of the antiquated notion that women who voice their opinions are somehow unladylike or of dubious morals, and that it is somehow OK to sexually insult or even threaten them. Liberals need to confront their hypocrisy in staying silent when the targets happen to be conservatives, because that raises the even more ugly implication that a woman’s refusal to adhere to a specific orthodox set of political views deserves to be punished with sexual abuse.

Further, it cannot be left only to women to protest this sort of treatement, lest they be accused of being “oversensitive” or “humorless”. Most of the offenders are men, and it is only when other men make it clear that we do not find such behavior to be “cool” or acceptable that it will diminish.

Posted in Current Events, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Bolton: Foreign policy reality check

Posted by sanityinjection on June 11, 2009

I have to admit I almost didn’t read this column. I often skip op-ed pieces when I know either the author or the publication to be relentlessly partisan on one side or the other. There’s not much suspense if I can predict beforehand what the piece is going to say.

So, an op-ed piece by the very partisan conservative John Bolton (former US Ambassador to the United Nations) appearing in the very partisan conservative Washington Times, was not high on my priority list. But I had some time to kill, so I checked it out, and I’m glad I did.

Bolton doesn’t spend a lot of time discussing specifics about how to handle North Korea or Iran. Instead, he talks about the overall conservative philosophy of American foreign policy, and his concern about the direction that President Obama appears to be headed in:

“Conservative foreign policy is unabashedly pro-American, unashamed of American exceptionalism, unwilling to bend its knee to international organizations, and unapologetic about the need for the fullest range of dominant military capabilities. Its diplomacy is neither unilateralist nor multilateralist, but chooses its strategies, tactics, means and methods based on a hard-headed assessment of U.S. national interests, not on theologies about process. Most especially, conservatives understand that allies are different from adversaries, and that each should be treated accordingly….

Defending U.S. interests is neither arrogant nor disrespectful of others, but is instead the basic task of our presidents. Despite the 2008 election, neither the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, nor international terrorism, nor the challenges of geostrategic adversaries have in any way diminished….Overseas “apology tours,” public displays of empathy and inviting the likes of Iran to Fourth of July receptions at our embassies will not alter these underlying realities. Nor will reducing national-security budgets on such key items as missile defense and advanced weapons systems…make our adversaries more amenable to sweet reason. Sadly, such gratuitous indications of self-doubt and weakness only encourage the very adversaries whose favor we are currying….

Conflict with our interest and values is not some unfortunate exception to normality, it is normality. While harmony is desirable, it is far from inevitable, and the causes of disharmony are just as natural and human as their opposites….

In particular, conservatives reject the idea that America’s actions are the foundation for most international discord, and that it is our deviation from international “norms” that must be “corrected” for the natural state of harmony to return.

To the contrary, in the last century, America has repeatedly sought to solve problems others have created, but which risk our own security. Left to ourselves, we would have been more than happy for the others to solve their own problems. That option, however, has not been open to us for quite some time, nor will it return in the foreseeable future, if ever.

Full article is here: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/jun/10/obama-administration-continuation-of-second-bush-t/

Posted in Foreign Affairs | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »