Thursday, January 26, 2006

Saudi Hypocrisy, Western Tolerance

Saudi Arabia has recalled its ambassador to Denmark. Recalling one’s ambassador is a diplomatic move usually meant to express severe displeasure with another government without resorting to nasty language. Why did the Saudi’s yank their ambassador from his posh Copenhagen lodgings? Because of a series of cartoons run in a Denmark newspaper last year. The cartoons depicted the Prophet Mohammed in a variety of unflattering ways, including as a terrorist. Muslims in Denmark quickly took umbrage to the cartoons – Islam forbids any visual depiction of the Prophet - and protested loudly. Contrast this to the silence of Danish Muslims after the killing of Theo van Gogh, or September 11, or Bali. When Danish Muslim advocacy groups failed to get the newspaper to kneel before them and beg for forgiveness, they went to the Danish government, demanding that the newspaper’s editor and cartoonist – both predictably on the receiving end of death threats – be silenced and punished.

Shockingly (for a European leader), Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen reminded the constantly-agitated Muslims that Denmark is not a Muslim country (yet), and thus respects the right of freedom of speech. The government, Mr. Rasmussen, explained, thus has no authority shut down newspapers. This did not mollify the Danish Muslim community, which (probably unused to seeing a European politician with a spine) promptly enlisted the support of Islamic governments in the Middle East to pressure Denmark to punish the newspaper. Taking their case to the Middle East rather bluntly exposed where the true allegiance of Danish Muslims actually lies (and it isn’t Denmark), but Muslim radicals expect Westerners to ignore such small things. Remarkably, despite the whining of various Islamic dictatorships and theocracies, the Danish government refuses to budge. Apparently, Copenhagen isn’t quite willing to abandon Western Civilization for the bloodbath of the Sharia just yet.

Stunned by their inability to cow the Danish government, Saudi Arabia is throwing a tantrum.

On Thursday, the Saudi government said it had recalled its ambassador "for consultations in light of the Danish government's lack of attention to insulting the Prophet Muhammad by its newspapers".

Danish food producers Arla Foods said the anger sparked by the cartoons had prompted a boycott of its dairy products in Saudi Arabia.

Arla director Finn Hansen said there had been calls for boycotting Danish products in Friday prayers and on Saudi television and in newspapers.

"We are certainly afraid this will spread across Saudi Arabia and affect our business," he told Reuters news agency.

There were street protests both in Denmark and in Muslim countries following the publication of the cartoons.

Yet there were no mass protests against al-Qaeda in Muslim countries after 9/11. One wonders why.

Saudi Arabia’s reaction is remarkable if only for its spectacular hypocrisy, which again, the radicals in Riyadh expect the West to ignore if only because the West has been ignoring it so consistently for so long. Saudi media outlets including television, radio and newspapers, have been spewing the most offensive hatred against non-Muslims for years with Saudi government endorsement and tolerance (there is no freedom of speech, or anything else in the kingdom). Take for example this little gem published in a journal published by the Religious Affairs Department of the Saudi armed forces:

"World Jewry has established a shadow government run by 300 Satans who call themselves 'elders.' They always choose one man who is considered to be a king and to be the successor to King David and [King] Solomon. They do not reveal his name in public, and each time he dies they appoint another of the rabbis in his place. The Jewish millionaire Walter Rathenau told the German newspaper The Weiner Press [meaning the Wiener Freie Presse ] on December 25, 1909: 'There are 300 people, all of whom know one another. They have arbitrary rule over Europe's fate. They choose people to do their bidding from among those who surround them. These Jews have the means to annihilate any government that doesn't satisfy them.'"

Or, perhaps someone, maybe the plucky Danish Prime Minister, might want to remind the Danish Muslims so riled by the cartoons that in Christian-by-heritage Denmark they are free to practice their religion openly and freely, whilst Muslim Saudi Arabia grants no such freedom to non-Muslims.

The Saudi daily Al-Jazirah reported that 40 men, women, and children with Pakistani citizenship were arrested on April 21, 2005 after performing Christian religious rites in an apartment in the Thaharat Al-Badi'a neighborhood in western Riyadh. The arrest was part of a sweeping police operation by the Riyadh District Police, at the order of Riyadh Governor Prince Salman bin Abd Al-'Aziz.

The paper reported that the operation came after Saudi religious police – known as the Authority for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice [1] – followed and collected information on the activity of the 40, who listened to a proselytizing lecture by a Pakistani minister.

The paper also noted that during the police operation, which lasted nearly 10 hours, a cross and a large number of proselytizing books and cassettes were found [in the apartment]. The detainees themselves stated that they had come to listen to lectures by the minister. One of the detainees was a Muslim Pakistani, who acknowledged that he had been influenced by the Christian ideology. [2]

The Saudi daily Al-Riyadh said that the detainees had set up a church in the apartment, equipped with crosses, pictures, and statues. Likewise, it was said that during their religious activity, one of them was found praying, as the others present repeated their words, and one of the women arrested was listing the people's confessions and distributing writs of absolution. The Al-Riyadh report included a photo of the detainees and of a large cross and the group which was arrested.

A Saudi religious police source explained the reason for the arrest: "These people tried to spread the poison and their beliefs to others, by means of distributing pamphlets and [missionary] publications." He said that all the detainees "had been transferred to the relevant bodies for investigation."

Of course, reasoning with Islamic radicals is as productive as telling a grizzly bear to stop harassing the salmon. Which is why it’s better to keep them out of your country in the first place. Surely, that’s a thought that must be on the minds of many Danes right about now.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Pacifica's Logical Descent

On his blog, left-of-center Marc Cooper laments the ongoing disintegration of leftist media radio network Pacifica. Mr. Cooper specifically bemoans the choice of an extreme conspiracy theorist (9/11 was a Bush-organized coup) to run the network as yet another example of Pacifica's self-marginalization. His analysis of the network is trenchant.

Instead of  producing, as it should and could, a satellite or web-fed daily schedule of 12, 18 or  even 24 hrs of  solid, listenable national programming, the “network” remains, instead, a rag-tag hodgepodge of stations with tiny listenerships and all held hostage to self-serving programmers more interested in hearing themselves talk than in building a real audience. It’s a half-billion dollars rotting away.

The “flagship” New York station, WBAI, which in the 70’s was a hothouse that produced a generation of able journalists who later took their skills and their liberal or lefty politics into the mainstream media, is today an irrelevancy that teeters on bankruptcy. The programming is domianted by a toxic brew of crude race-politics. 

The Pacifica outlet in Washington D.C., WPFW, which, in the age of Bush, ought to be a mighty bastion of on-air political pushback, continues to be – as has been the case for two decades—primarily a black jazz station. White guilt, and a veritable PC-cult that permeates the internal Pacifica culture, has constrained the network from turning that station into what it ought to be –  a powerful and massively listened-to alternative in the heart of the nation’s capital. 

The Houston outlet, KPFT, remains a peanut-whistle station. KPFA in Berkeley, whose core paid staff has been the same for 25 years, is but an echo-chamber of  its pony-tailed, core community. Listening to the station for more than five minutes is like tuning into a clandestine ethnic radio narrow-casting in an obscure tongue to some tiny Balkan enclave. 

The Los Angeles station, KPFK,  whose drive-time is dominated by an combination of screamers and, believe it or not, a couple of followers of the maoist Revolutionary Communist Party, finds itself in a similar sorry state. With a signal area that encompasses 25 million people, its average listenership during any given quarter hour is under 10,000.  Over a seven day period, the 110,000 watt station collects a cumulative audience of  barely  175,000. That’s less than the number of unique visitors that a big blog – like Daily Kos—gets in one single day. 

But Mr. Cooper misses the point. Pacifica's disintegration has less to do with the organizational politics of a particular media outlet than it reveals the broader collapse of the intellectual underpinnings of the Left itself. The second half of the twentieth century witnessed one leftist dream after another collapse in failure, or be unmasked as a lie. Socialism didn't produce economic benefits, even when benignly practiced as in Western Europe (France); its muscular ideological brother Communism turned every country it infected into a abattoir. In the West, Leftists refused to acknowledge the failure of collectivist economics, and instead plowed ahead, promoting collectivist cultural ideas - multiculturalism and racial/gender identity politics, radical egalitarianism and the like. So much intellectual evasion and deceit were needed to advance these agendas and maintain them in the face of overwhelming evidence of their perniciousness, that any credible common intellectual framework on the left ultimately collapsed. Leftists know they oppose things, but often can't offer a substantive argument why they do so. Faced with this intellectual deficit, but unwilling to acknowledge it, the Left usually resorts to shrill name calling (anyone who questions them is a racist, sexist, imperialist, patriarchist, etc. etc., ad nausem) or wild conspiracy theories. Thus, George Bush doesn't simply make horrendous mistakes because he is ill-informed. He is the chess master of a grand global conspiracy to impose capitalist/partriarchical/corporatist hegemony over the whole world. For an example of this sort of nonsensical thinking, read anything said by Harry Belafonte in the past five years. Belafonte denounces Bush as a dictator even as he stands next to Fidel Castro - and the American left looks the other way.

As the Left grows increasingly disconnected from reality, the conspiracy theories grow wilder, tinged ultimately with a hateful loathing of the entities associate with the capitalist/imperialist oppressors. Hence the self loathing of many white leftists, who can't decide whether they hate themselves more for being white, or being Americans. This self-loathing also explains the refusal of the Left to criticize its more demented members - radicals like Howard Blum who recently basked in the glow of Osama bin Ladin's praise for his anti-American writings.

The underlying self-loathing - sometimes termed "liberal guilt" - has sapped the Left's ability to denounce radicals who imperil the movement, or the nation (the concept of nationhood now itself ideologically suspect). Hence, race baiters like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are allowed a free pass; hate organizations like the Latino La Raza are deliberately ignored; and America-hating anarchists like Ward Churchill are tolerated on American college campuses - all with the mainstream left's silence or active defense.

But self-loathing and detachment from reality does not make for a stable ideological core, which is why the left has fragmented so badly. Unity cannot exist in a vacuum. Nor does an intellectual vacuum attract new supporters. Democrats - mostly mainstream leftists - cannot understand why they lost the 2004 election, especially against a candidate as weakened as George Bush. Part of the answer is that they offer no credible, coherent alternative to GOP policies. Another part is that many Americans have sensed the self-loathing and intellectual bankruptcy underlying the Democrats and recoil instinctively from it. The GOP - which has been corrupted by Washington money and power and delusions of Wilsonian grandeur - holds on to power because enough Americans just don't trust Democrats in a time of war. They don't trust Democrats to fire back if the US is attacked. Self-loathers don't shoot back; they try to understand their attackers and sympathize with them. (Recall that the radical left - best represented by - was against the war in Afghanistan, not just Iraq.)

Pacifica's descent into a Balkan-like morass of conspiracy theorists, unrepentant Communists (many of the increasingly-quaint Stalinist school), and racial agitators marks the logical outcome of a movement whose core ideology has failed and whose membership is now drifting into senescence. Pacifica, thus, simply epitomizes the ideological Schizophrenia afflicting the Left as a whole. It can't be fixed and will only get worse.

Monday, January 23, 2006

US Deficits Spell Long Term Decline

Short-sighted US politicians have been telling the American public for years that America's trade imbalances are nothing to worry about. More treaties like NAFTA would spread American products overseas and remedy the situation, they argued. When the trade imbalances only worsened in the aftermath of such arrangements, they suggested that trade imbalances didn't exist at all, and that Americans should pay no attention to Walmart stores stocked to the rafters with items bearing the "made in China" stamp, and thousands of US technology jobs forwarded like email to India. Nor should they worry about all the illegal aliens standing on street corners waiting for work and driving down wages for the lower class. But now America's financial elite are beginning to worry, as are their international counterparts.

Timothy Geithner, president of the New York Federal Reserve, on Monday dismissed the view that the US current account deficit was sustainable, suggesting the risk of a sudden fall in the dollar would grow the longer the trade gap widened.

In a speech at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, Mr Geith-ner said the problem could not necessarily be expected to solve itself.

“Time does not necessarily help. The longer these gaps continue to build, the greater the ultimate adjustment required, and the greater the risks that accompany that process,” he said.

“The plausible outcomes range from the gradual and benign to the more precipitous and damaging,” he said. “The size and duration of these [global] imbalances, perhaps the most visible of which is the US current account deficit, present challenges – and risks – for the world economy.”

His warning came as Raghuram Rajan, chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, repeated his concern over the risk of a run on the dollar.

The US account deficit is not the only deficit that should give Americans pause. Under a Republican administration, with a GOP-controlled Congress, the budget deficit has exploded. The president's tax cuts aren't to blame. Runaway GOP-promoted federal spending is.

During the first five years of President Bush's presidency, nondefense discretionary spending (i.e., spending decided on an annual basis) rose 27.9 percent, far more than the 1.9 percent growth during President Clinton's first five years, according to the libertarian Reason Foundation. And according to Citizens Against Government Waste, the number of congressional "pork barrel" projects under Republican leadership during fiscal 2005 was 13,997, more than 10 times that of 1994.

This is fiscal conservatism? The long term consequences of these policies - presided over by Republicans, not Democrats - augur nothing good for the US, or the world, whose stability depends on a prosperous US.

Currently the federal government consumes about 20 percent of the GDP, which is another way of saying that about 20 percent of Americans' income, on average, is paid in taxes to the federal government. According to the Government Accountability Office, that is on course to rise to 30 percent by 2040. Most of that 30 percent would be redistributed as payments to other Americans, rather than spent on standard government services like law enforcement, transportation, defense, national parks, orspace exploration.

While foreign policy has taken a rightward turn since Sept. 11, 2001, it, too, could drift leftward in coming decades. As the government allocates more of its budget to entitlements, there will be less money available to spend on the military, embassies, aid agencies, and other apparatuses that enable us to wield outsized influence in world affairs. We are on track to become more like the welfare states of Europe and Canada, where entitlement spending leaves limited funds available for bold foreign policy initiatives.

The US may not be as far down the garden path of national decay as Europe, but unless present trends are reversed - and there is not sign that the Republican establishment has even the slightest inclination to do so - then America will find itself increasingly forced to follow Europe's slide. Like a rock rolling downhill, that slide will only increase in speed. Not to worry, however. There will be plenty of political sideshows - i.e. "Intelligent Design" in the classroom, anit-porn crusades, gay marriage, perhaps a foreign war or two - to distract the public from the real national threat until it is too late.