Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Hapless is as Hapless Does

Losing Friends and Influence

It has taken just eighteen months, but the world generally seems to have decided that President Obama is a failure. A quick sampling of views and opinions follows.

Firstly, Mort Zuckerman, writing in US News and World Report:
President Obama came into office as the heir to a great foreign policy legacy enjoyed by every recent U.S. president. Why? Because the United States stands on top of the power ladder, not necessarily as the dominant power, but certainly as the leading one. As such we are the sole nation capable of exercising global leadership on a whole range of international issues from security, trade, and climate to counterterrorism. We also benefit from the fact that most countries distrust the United States far less than they distrust one another, so we uniquely have the power to build coalitions. As a result, most of the world still looks to Washington for help in their region and protection against potential regional threats.
Click here to find out more!

Yet, the Iraq war lingers; Afghanistan continues to be immersed in an endless cycle of tribalism, corruption, and Islamist resurgence; Guantánamo remains open; Iran sees how North Korea toys with Obama and continues its programs to develop nuclear weapons and missiles; Cuba spurns America's offers of a greater opening; and the Palestinians and Israelis find that it is U.S. policy positions that defer serious negotiations, the direct opposite of what the Obama administration hoped for.

The reviews of Obama's performance have been disappointing. He has seemed uncomfortable in the role of leading other nations, and often seems to suggest there is nothing special about America's role in the world. The global community was puzzled over the pictures of Obama bowing to some of the world's leaders and surprised by his gratuitous criticisms of and apologies for America's foreign policy under the previous administration of George W. Bush. One Middle East authority, Fouad Ajami, pointed out that Obama seems unaware that it is bad form and even a great moral lapse to speak ill of one's own tribe while in the lands of others.

Even in Britain, for decades our closest ally, the talk in the press—supported by polls—is about the end of the "special relationship" with America. French President Nicolas Sarkozy openly criticized Obama for months, including a direct attack on his policies at the United Nations. Sarkozy cited the need to recognize the real world, not the virtual world, a clear reference to Obama's speech on nuclear weapons. When the French president is seen as tougher than the American president, you have to know that something is awry. Vladimir Putin of Russia has publicly scorned a number of Obama's visions. Relations with the Chinese leadership got off to a bad start with the president's poorly-organized visit to China, where his hosts treated him disdainfully and prevented him from speaking to a national television audience of the Chinese people. The Chinese behavior was unprecedented when compared to visits by other U.S. presidents.

His conclusion:
America right now appears to be unreliable to traditional friends, compliant to rivals, and weak to enemies. One renowned Asian leader stated recently at a private dinner in the United States, "We in Asia are convinced that Obama is not strong enough to confront his opponents, but we fear that he is not strong enough to support his friends."

Nowhere has the tide against Obama turned so dramatically than in the UK. Niles Gardiner, writing in The Telegraph calls him the most unpopular man in Britain.
What a difference 18 months and an oil spill makes. In January 2009 Barack Obama was hugely popular on this side of the Atlantic, and could have walked on water in the eyes of the British media, the political elites, and the general public. In June 2010 however he probably qualifies as the most despised US president since Nixon among the British people. In fact you can’t open a London paper at this time without reading yet another fiery broadside against a leader who famously boasted of restoring “America’s standing” in the world.

When even Obama’s most ardent political supporters in Britain, including Boris Johnson, are on the offensive against the White House, you know the president’s halo has dramatically slipped. It’s hard to believe that any politician could become more disliked in the UK than Gordon Brown, but Barack Obama is achieving that in spades. And as Janet Daley noted of the British press, the love affair with Barack is well and truly over.

The key catalyst for rising anti-Obama sentiment in the UK has been his disastrous handling of the BP issue, and his relentless desire to crush Britain’s biggest company. There is no doubting BP’s responsibility over the Gulf oil disaster, and it is right that the firm is being held to account for its failures. But the brutal, almost sadistic trashing of BP by the imperious Obama administration, which has helped wipe out about half its value, threatens its very future, as well as the pensions of 18 million British people and the jobs of 29,000 Americans. There is now the very real danger of the bankrupting of a great British enterprise, and the prospect even of a Chinese or Russian takeover.

Instead of adopting a constructive, statesmanlike approach, Barack Obama’s decision to launch a “boot on the throat” campaign, while adopting a thinly veiled Brit-bashing agenda, has generated significant bad blood in America’s closest ally. At the same time, the president has inexplicably rejected offers of help from the UK and an array of European countries, no doubt out of both pride and protectionism.

As I wrote previously, we are witnessing one of the worst exercises in public diplomacy by a US government in recent memory, one that could cause significant long-term damage to the incredibly important economic and political partnership between Great Britain and the United States. And for those who say this is minor storm in a tea cup, I would point out that it is highly unusual for a British Prime Minister to have to stand up to an onslaught against British interests by an American president, as David Cameron has just done. In fact the prospect of a major confrontation between Downing Street and the White House grows stronger by the day.

But this is not the whole picture. President Obama’s handling of BP is part of a far bigger problem. This is an administration that has consistently insulted Britain, and has even sided with her foes in some cases, most notably in its wholehearted support for Argentina’s call for negotiations over the sovereignty of the Falklands, a position that has been strongly backed by Venezuelan tyrant Hugo Chavez. Time and time again, the Obama team has undercut America’s key allies, from London to Prague to Jerusalem, while kowtowing to the enemies of the United States in the name of engagement. It is a disastrous foreign policy that not only weakens American global power, but generates resentment and anger in nations that have traditionally stood shoulder to shoulder with America.

The Anglo-American Special Relationship, the most successful partnership of modern times, will survive long after President Obama departs the White House. It is far bigger than any one president or prime minister. But there can be no doubt that it is being significantly damaged and weakened at this moment by the Obama administration’s sneering approach towards Great Britain, at a time when British and American soldiers are fighting and dying alongside each other in a major war in Afghanistan. President Obama needs to see the big picture and understand that his anti-British posturing is hugely counter-productive and highly offensive. He is already one of the least popular US presidents of modern times, not only in the eyes of the American people, but now the people of Britain as well.

Should we expect that the UK will now withdraw its troops from Afghanistan sooner rather than later? The war was never popular in Britain to begin with--increasingly Britons must be asking why, oh why are we fighting Obama's war?

Here is Janet Dailey's take on the Obama brand in the UK media:
The BBC reports of Barack Obama’s speech last night are about as derisive as it would be possible to be about someone you were describing only a few months ago as the incarnation of Hope and Optimism. Yes indeed, the romance is over. The British media have decided that it was all a cruel deception: Obama is just one more ranting populist president who will do anything to divert attention from his own failure to get a grip. And this is not just about BP and the fate of all those pension funds.

Nor is it simply the demonising of Big Oil – which makes the US president sound as if he were recruiting his speech writers direct from the student union – that has evoked the UK media’s collective sneer. What has been much commented upon – especially by those fastidiously liberal BBC correspondents – is Obama’s pointedly bellicose language: the US is apparently engaged in a “battle” to be waged in very personal, anthropomorphic terms “against an oil spill that is assaulting” its coast. Considering how relentlessly the Bush “war on terror” was ridiculed, how long will it take before the Obama “war on an oil slick” is labelled as absurd? Given the tone of this morning’s coverage, perhaps not very long at all.

And, finally, this from Paul Rahe:
. . . from the outset, he [Obama] conducted himself in an irresponsible fashion that is highly unpresidential.

He forgot that, in the larger world, the President represents his country. Out of personal pique, he persistently insulted our friends abroad, displaying disdain for Gordon Brown, stiffing Nicholas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, treating Benyamin Netanyahu with open contempt, and turning his back on the people of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Iran. At the same time, he embraced Hugo Chavez, sucked up to Vladimir Putin, and kowtowed to the rulers of Saudi Arabia and China – all to no avail.

With regard to domestic affairs, he seems not to have recognized that, under our Constitution, it is the President of the United States who represents the national interest; that Congressmen more often than not cater to particular interests; that, if legislation is left to the latter, principle tends to give way to patronage; and that the result can be a profound embarrassment. And so he stood idly by while Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and the like drafted legislation – a so-called “stimulus bill” and healthcare reform, each more than a thousand pages in length, each embodying a multitude of corrupt bargains, each threatening to bankrupt the country. And, like a political hack, faithful to his party to the bitter end, he promoted and signed their handiwork.

All of this was obvious long ago, and it was evident as well that, if there were a real crisis, he would check out. This is what he did when Major Nidal Malik Hassan gunned down thirteen Americans at Fort Hood. This is what he did when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab nearly brought down a jetliner at Christmas time. And this is what he did when Faisal Shahzad was found to have planted a bomb in Times Square. All three cases revealed an egregious failure of our intelligence apparatus. In all three cases, the danger had its source in developments within Islam And, in the face of all of this, the President of the United States signaled that he could hardly bear to take a few minutes off from his vacation at the beach in Hawaii, cancel a party or two, or give up his golf game to acknowledge and address the failures of his administration, and at no time has he been willing to level with us about the source of our peril.

Obama's approval rating has now sunk to 41% in the US. Any more bureaucratic boondoggling in the Gulf and it will inevitably fall down into the 30's. Now even his former most rabid cheerleaders in the media are thinking him feckless and hapless. Not good.

Prisons and Tobacco

Going Up in Smoke

We have argued previously that in New Zealand, prisons and prison policy are an unholy mess. This is unlikely to change--at least in our lifetime--and probably not in several lifetimes. The fundamental reason for this intractable mess is that non-Christian societies have no sustainable foundation for justice. The bottom line is that non-Christian societies in general, and secular humanist societies (of which New Zealand is one) cannot settle upon any principle or dogma that defines justice per se.

It is all a big slough of shifting quicksand. Prisons are supposed to "deal to" criminals. But our society cannot--is unable--to decide whether this "dealing to" involves administering retribution, enforcing restitution, enabling rehabilitation, reducing crime, or protecting society from rapacious criminals. It end up running all these "lines" at the same time--and failing in all--since they are contradictory and work at cross purposes.

Moreover, our society has no basis to distinguish between sins and crimes: it ends up criminalising what ought not to be subject to the interdiction of the state, and decriminalising what ought to be. Abortion--a murderous act--has been decriminalised. Indeed it is propagated, supported, promoted, and funded by the state which is supposed to administer justice. On one hospital floor medical professionals will be exerting all their powers to save the life of a prematurely born baby. One floor above, they will be ripping a baby asunder and killing him or her. Confused? Inhumanly so.

On the other hand, the law of the land has criminalised acts of parental discipline of children but our Prime Minister has instructed the police not to apply the law. Confused? Ridiculously so.

Unbelief has no rational consistent criminal policy because it cannot define or settle the key issues attached to justice. It has no ultimate or absolute frame of reference--and as Sartre once said, a finite point, without an infinite reference point cannot have any definitive meaning.

So, in our society issues of justice, crime, and punishment comes down to whimsy around which a political consensus can swarm, albeit it fleetingly. So, one government administration will be committed to reducing the "crime rate." Its solution will be to shorten prison sentences, expand parole, and increase non-custodial sentences so that fewer recidivist, hardened criminals will be forged like orcs in the caverns of our prison system. Then the public will become outraged; the pendulum will swing. A new administration will be elected which is committed to (you guessed it) reducing crime rates. But the solution this time will be longer sentences, harsher prison conditions, less parole. The real world becomes more like a parody of Monty Python every day.

We are currently in a "harden up, get tough on crims" phase. The Minister of Corrections, Judith Collins has announced that within a year smoking will be banned in prisons. True to our madding Monty Python world of "we know better than God," four contradictory reasons have been advanced for this startling innovation: preventing prisoner access to dangerous materials (lighters, matches); making prison less palatable for prisoners (two thirds of whom smoke, we are told in a NZ Herald article); enabling prisoners to kick tobacco addiction--thereby achieving a nannying public health goal; and protecting prison officers from second hand smoke (in compliance with the law of tobacco free work places). This last reason is particularly a hoot, since the same Herald article tells us that half of corrections staff are smokers and the under the ban they, at least, will still be allowed areas where they can continue to smoke freely while at work.

So, which is it? What is the real reason for the change? All of the above? Which means none of the above. Our prediction? A very, very messy outcome. The unintended consequences will be huge. Bureaucratic boondoggles will abound. Last time we checked classified drugs were illegal in prison but drug use continues unabated. Now, tobacco is going to become a classified drug in prison, and two thirds of the prison population are addicted. Good luck with that one.

Let us ask a few simple questions: what has banning tobacco got to do with a person and his criminal act(s)? Nothing. Will it restitute the victim of the crime? Not at all. Is it an act of retributive punishment? Maybe, but the result is more likely higher smouldering anger and resentment. Will it help reduce recidivism? Nah.

Then, why is the government doing this again? The only understandable and defensible answer is to ensure compliance with the Smoke Free law. But if that is all it is (as we suspect is the case) the rest of the "reasons" advanced are smoke screens to appeal to other whimsies which float around our nation's prison policy. But why the smokescreen? Because to focus solely on the Smoke Free law as the overriding rationale would be to expose that particular piece of nannying legislation to ridicule, and risk reasonable people beginning to call for that egregious extension of state power and interference to be modified or changed. And that would never do.

So, to "sell" the idiotic, let's position it more in terms of public health, and more about what would be really good for prisoners in the long run. Prisons will be "framed" as the health and welfare reformatory to create the New Model Man. In anti-Christian societies, bad ideas get endlessly retreaded.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Economic Impacts of "No-Fault Divorce"

Minimising Marriage

Jennifer Roback Morse is an economist and the mother of two children plus two books: Love and Economics (about motherhood) and Smart Sex about, as the subtitle says, Finding Lifelong Love in a Hookup World. Here are edited excerpts of an interview with Morse conducted by Marvin Olasky.

Has having two children changed the way you approach economic questions? It made me realize how much economists take for granted: we assume that people are adults, that they can manage on their own, make contracts, pursue their own self-interests, defend themselves, respect property rights. . . . But I can tell you, 2-year-olds do not respect property rights.
They want what they want? Unless you get children from the stage where they're little bundles of impulses and somehow make them adults who can keep promises and contracts and respect other people's rights, you don't have a society. So the business of creating a society is actually taking place in the home and being done by mothers and fathers. The whole economics profession was overlooking that part of life.
What happens if we assume this basic teaching will inevitably happen? Without some basic structure to function in, it becomes every person out for himself. Forget gay marriage: That's a sideshow. The main show is the deinstitutionalization of marriage. By making it so we're free of attachments and obligations and responsibilities, we don't have the ability to cooperate with each other or the structure that allows us to invest together over a long period of time.
No-fault divorce has certainly been freeing for the person who wants to abandon a marriage . . . To be crude and economics-y, when a man and a woman have a child together, you're asking that they invest a long period of time cooperating in order to bring that child up into adulthood. Right now, with no-fault divorce, you have less contractual protection for the activity of bringing up a child than you have to build a house together. You couldn't get out of a mortgage contract as easily as people get out of their marriages. There's less investment in child-raising because there's no basic structure for cooperation over a long period of time.
Are men becoming less willing to take on commitments? Single motherhood is becoming more and more prevalent, because you can't get men to commit. Why can't you get men to commit? Number one, because they don't have to; number two, it's dangerous for them to, because the obligation level ratchets up but the benefits do not. The irony of the whole feminist movement, which started off being something to liberate women, is that now women feel like the only free thing they can do is have a child completely by themselves because there is no way of attaching a child to a father and to the family. The move towards same-sex marriage and artificial reproductive technology are accelerating that trend, and making it more likely that more women are going to end up spending their lives alone and doing their child-bearing completely alone.

So we have many more single moms. So what? Many questions are involved: While mom's attaching to the baby, who's taking care of mom? In the natural family, there is another person taking care of mom, and that's dad. Why is dad doing that? Because that child's as much his as it is hers, physiologically. Could the mom do it by herself? The answer is, not very well. We have a lot of data on that point, that mom by herself does not do nearly so well as mom with dad. There are a number of reasons: First of all, someone has to earn a living. There's a whole body of things that she doesn't have to think about. Even if she does have a job, she doesn't have to face it alone. It's pretty decisive that kids benefit from two parents.
Do mom and dad have to be married? When an unmarried couple tries to do this, the lack of commitment between the two turns out to have ramifications for the child. It turns out that a cohabiting biological couple doesn't do nearly as well as a married biological couple. The commitment has something to do with it, and also their relationship is shaped by the fact that they're not committed to each other. There's more domestic violence and there's more child abuse with cohabiting parents, even when it's the biological child of both.
Other love interests emerge? The mom often gets involved with another guy, and what ends up happening is she's more interested in the new boyfriend than the child. If that turns into a cohabiting situation, statistically that's the most dangerous situation for the child—to live with mom and a cohabiting boyfriend. Some of the problems associated with single parenthood would go away if the moms would never have another boyfriend. But that's not what they typically do.

What are the political implications of this, especially for people who lean libertarian? As marriage disintegrates, are we stuck with a bigger and more oppressive government? Yes. If you have the really extreme case of a child who can't control himself, it's called attachment disorder. A child without a conscience is a permanent problem to society. To say that we're all going to be free without restraints, that's a Rousseau view of freedom. Most libertarians aren't Rousseau people: Most libertarians are John Locke and American founding-type people. Most libertarians get that there's something a little goofy about Rousseau, and his wild people, and so on. But somehow in this area we're becoming Rousseau people.
Those who care more about pocketbooks than people should be concerned? A person who does anything they can get away with is scary to their family members, and they have to be controlled by the state. And they have to be controlled in very expensive ways: The California Youth Authority spends enough on each child in its care to send three people to [the University of California at] Berkeley. The Institute for American Values recently did a study that looked at the taxpayer cost of out-of-wedlock childbearing. They came up with an annual figure of $112 billion per year. That is the GDP of New Zealand—not chump change.

Hat Tip: Justin Taylor

The Return of the Ugly American

A New Unintended American Isolation

President Obama appears to be a true believer in internationalism. The doctrine posits that nation states are inherently dangerous, being susceptible to provincial and narrow interests that inevitably work against the interests of humanity as a whole. True human development can be secured only when human beings transcend narrow sectarian national interests and join hands together across nations. Inevitably this leads to a belief that international agreements are more fundamentally important and righteous than the parochial concerns of one's own nation.

Probably in Obama the world has not seen a such a profoundly internationalist US president since Woodrow Wilson, who, it turns out, was a hopelessly naive idealist. Obama's beliefs have certainly shocked down-home folk in the US. To achieve the internationalist vision (which, when all is said and done, is the ultimate manifestation of secular humanism) the first thing which Obama believed necessary was to put the US on an equal footing with all other nations. Gone would be the big bully in the school yard. Gone would be "special alliances" with select other nations. Hence, almost the first international act was the grand apology tour ("We had done bad things too")  which has so offended Americans. Hence, the State Department's policy of conducting discussions with other nations via a mea culpa voluntary disclosure of US problems in an attempt to establish good faith internationalist cred. All of this has been part of repositioning the US as a genuine protagonist for internationalist solutions to human problems.

Nuclear weapons, Iran's belligerency and its nuclear arms race, global warming, the clash of civilizations, Palestianian-Israeli conflicts, the credit crisis--for Obama the real and ultimate solution to all these issues is a global one--that is, solutions found and forged by nations agreeing together and entering into international compacts.

Internationalism is a utopian dream. It is the preserve of the foolish. Those politicians who pursue internationalism end up doing at least two things: betraying the people who elected them by sacrificing their interests to a nebulous all-human-beings-on-the-planet idealism; secondly, offending the Living God, bringing down His wrath and curse for arrogant hubris and calculated insult to His Son.

International relations will always be a hopeless mess until the governed restrict the competence of their governments to the very narrow set of duties ordained and commanded by God Himself. In the meantime, expect the worst. Expect unintended consequences to flow down like a torrential river.

We see one such consequence in Obama's well-meant but stupid bumbling attempts toward his internationalist utopia. He has offended just about every US ally to the point where the United States now appears to be entering, not a splendid, but an ignoble  isolationist phase. The leaders of Germany and France can no longer stand him, believing themselves to be let down and insulted by him in turn. He is now increasingly disliked in the Muslim world. His insults to Benjamin Netanyahu are offensive to Israelis. His public persona of wagging his head from side to side as he reads from teleprompters has become a metaphor for negative criticism of most of America's allies.

Now even public figures in the UK are expressing uncharacteristic hostility towards the US. Consider the umbrage being taken in the Daily Mail over Obama's hectoring of BP, a British commercial institution.
America's ALWAYS tried to do down Britain

By Geoffrey Wheatcroft
11th June 2010

Has the worm turned at last? As the oil continues to gush in the Gulf of Mexico, angry rhetoric has gushed from President Barack Obama's lips. His rabid denunciations of BP have damaged the interests not only of that company but of most British people, in a way that must make us wonder whether he leads a friendly country.

Vince Cable, the new Business Secretary, calls Obama's rhetoric 'extreme and unhelpful'; London mayor Boris Johnson says it's 'anti-British', adding that 'BP is paying a very, very heavy price indeed'.

Bemusingly, David Cameron says only that he understands the U.S. administration's 'frustration', although he promises to take up the matter with Obama, after the Prime Minister returns from Afghanistan - where British troops are fighting and dying on behalf of the United States, it may be recalled.

'Extreme and unhelpful' is no exaggeration. Obama has played to the gallery by saying that he would like to sack Tony Hayward, head of BP; the president talks in a cheap way about 'kicking ass'. Whether or not the American president can kick our asses, he can certainly hurt our wallets and purses.

As BP's share price has plummeted, it has lost £55billion of its market value, and the company's entire outlook is very bleak, which affects most of us. Every British insurance company, building society and pension fund has large holdings of BP shares in its portfolio.

If you have a pension, at present or in prospect, your income falls with every sour word Obama speaks. It's a fine way for a friend to behave, if indeed we should regard the president as a friend.

His rhetoric is repellently hypocritical as well as demagogic. Quite apart from the fact that Hayward and his colleagues have every interest in plugging the spill, for years past BP has filled Washington's coffers with tax revenue, and fed the American people's unquenchable thirst for cheap petrol.

When Obama continually refers to BP as 'British Petroleum', which is no longer its formal name, he is saying something revealing about himself, and his Anglophobic spite will come as no surprise to those who have followed his career, and read his memoir Dreams From my Father.

He seems to have made up the part about his father being tortured by the British in Kenya, but there's no question that Obama nurses a disdain for and even dislike of this country.

Instead of reciprocating his feelings, we should maybe take the opportunity to look harder at our connection with the United States, and at that ridiculous phrase 'special relationship'. . . . Shortly after he had taken us into the appalling Iraq war, by way of telling a pack of porkies with Alastair Campbell's sordid help, Tony Blair visited Washington to be greeted by President Bush - 'Thank you, friend' - and cheered to the echo by Congress for services rendered. In his smarmy speech, Blair mentioned the burning of Washington by the British in 1814 and obsequiously said: 'I know it's kinda late, but sorry.'

Had he known more history, he might have been aware that this was only one episode in a very fraught story. For most of the 19th century a large part of the British Army had to be stationed in Canada to protect it from its southern neighbour, and at one point Sir Robert Peel warned Parliament about the grave danger of a war with the United States.

In 1895 the two countries nearly went to war again over an incomprehensible border dispute in South America, and bloodshed was avoided only by the forbearance of Lord Salisbury, the prime minister.

A certain kind of fawning Tory likes to talk about the way the Americans have generously rescued us in the past century. This is historical claptrap. When the Great War began in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson worried that he might need to intervene - on the German side.

In 1917, the United States did at last enter the war, after the British had suffered hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded. Even then the Americans sustained very few casualties by European standards, as they did in the next war.

This time they waited from September 1939 until December 1941, and then they went to war only because the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Hitler declared war on the United States (not the other way round). And before that, the supposedly generous Lend-Lease agreement had stripped us of overseas assets and destroyed the British exporting economy for decades to come.

Any idea of a special relationship should have been ended in 1956 when Washington pulled the rug from under the British and French when their troops had gone to Suez. That didn't stop President Johnson from subsequently demanding British troops to serve in Vietnam. Mercifully, Harold Wilson, in his one good deed as prime minister, politely declined.

Since then we have been taken into another terrible war in which we had no reason to fight by Tony Blair, who throughout his career assiduously served the interests of another country. Our rewards from Washington have ranged from a tariff likely to destroy what's left of the British steel industry, to studied American neutrality over the Falklands, to Obama's grandstanding attacks on BP.

A year ago Gordon Brown visited Washington to be publicly humiliated by Obama (remember the exchange of gifts: thoughtful presents for the president and his children, trashy DVDs and toys for the Browns in return).

If a dark cloud of oil can now have a silver lining, then it might at least lead us to reassess our ignoble relationship with Washington. If the American president is going to ignore or even damage British interests, then let him.

But might not our own government stand up for those interests? For a start, some of the money we've all lost through the BP debacle, and presidential venom, could at least be recouped by bringing our troops home from a hopeless American war in Afghanistan.

So there we have it: Obama, the most internationalist US president in a century, is leaving the United States isolated. It has few "friends" left. But this is not splendid isolation--the doctrine which respects the preserves and governments of other nations, refusing entangling political alliances, whilst not prohibiting its citizens from pursuing their private interests internationally. It is an ignoble isolationism, where virtually all other nations detest and despise the United States.

So much for Obama's grand internationalist utopian vision. This is an unintended consequence indeed.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Doug Wilson's Letter From America

European Style Cancer
Political Dualism - Mere Christendom
Written by Douglas Wilson
Saturday, June 12, 2010

A common rallying cry for conservative activists, including Christians, is that we need "to take America back." Okay, sign me up. Take America back where?

Generally the point is that we need to take America back from the liberals and progressives -- the secularists in the academy, the homosexuals in the streets, and the raunchy movie producers in our very own Netflix queue. Okay, sign me up again. Once we have taken America back from those guys, what do we do with it?

The assumption is that the underlying America is just fine the way it is unless some progressive has been messing with it. We need to "save America," the thinking goes, and so the language of salvation is used all the time. But in our heart of hearts, we believe we are saving an innocent kidnapping victim, and not a skid row bum who became a drunk because of his own stupid choices.

In other words, all too often we believe that once the progressives, that alien force, are taken out of the picture, America's native good sense will return, the nation will right itself, common sense will again prevail when it comes to the national budget, we will stop killing the unborn "because we are too good for that," and so on. In short, America gets to be saved without a savior. America gets to be saved without repentance. America gets to be saved without hearing and believing the gospel. In other words, if the terms of the Great Commission were a great tournament, America always gets a bye.

This is not just a trivial error; it is heresy. It is another gospel. It is false, damnable. Further, it is a basic reason why we have so little success in fighting the progressives, whose vision for society really is a lunatic vision. Traditional values can't fight sin, for the same reason that healthy tissue can't fight cancer -- but they are rather the tissues that provides cancer with its scope and its future.

You can tell this assumption is operating when somebody says that progressive socialism is "unAmerican." No, our leftists are homegrown, and every bit as American as, say, an amber wave of grain. To return to the cancer illustration, what good does it do to say that this cancer is not "my cancer"? It shouldn't kill you then, right? To say this cancer in my body is not my cancer, but is rather some kind of "European-style" cancer makes no sense, other than perhaps as an exercise in blame shifting.

If you persist in saying that the healthy tissue is the "real you," and that the moral cancer rotting out your bones is not, then this precludes repentance. And yet, the declaration of the gospel -- that Christians were told to preach to all nations, including ours -- includes preaching repentance and faith. Nations means nations, repentance means repentance for our own sins and not other people's, and faith means faith in Jesus Christ. Baptism means baptism into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Sorry to get into all the deep theology here but the Christian faith means calling everyone to believe in Jesus. The name for not wanting to do that is unbelief.

This is what we must do in order to "take America back." Any attempts to take America back without an explicit call for America to become (again) a Christian nation is an exercise in futility, and far from taking America out of the saloon, it is actually buying her another drink.

I am not calling for America to join a particular denomination. This is by no means sectarian. I am simply saying that our nation -- our leaders, our judges, our poets, our jesters, and our people as a whole -- must confess that Jesus is Lord. They must confess that only Jesus is Lord. Other nations are called do the same and, as they do, they would of course recognize one another. This is what I would call mere Christendom.

Meditation on the Text of the Week


As the deer pants for the waterbrooks,
So my soul pants for Thee, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God;
When shall I come and appear before God?
Psalm 42:1-2

There is no other loss, in all the range of possible losses that is so great as the breaking of our communion with God. There are other losses--losses of friends by alienation or misunderstanding; losses of property, of comforts, of health, of reputation; the shattering of brilliant hopes, but there is not one of these that is such a calamity as the loss of God's fellowship.

Men sigh over those misfortunes which touch only their earthly circumstances, but forget that the worst of all misfortunes is the decay of spirituality in their hearts. We do not know what God is to us until we lose the sense of his presence and the consciousness of His love.

This is true, indeed, of all blessings. We do not know their value to us until they are imperilled or lost. We do not prize health till it is shattered and we begin to realise that we can never have it restored again. . . . We do not appreciate the comforts and blessings of Providence till we have been deprived of them and are driven out of warm homes into the cold paths of a dreary world. . . . We do not know how much are friends are to us till they lie before us silent and cold.

In like manner, we do not know the blessedness of fellowship with God until His face is darkened or he seems to have withdrawn Himself. David never knew what God and God's house were to his soul until he was driven away from his home and could no more enter the sanctuary. All the other bitter griefs and sorrows of the hour were swallowed up in this greatest of all his griefs--separation from the Divine Presence.

Who is there among us all that values highly enough the tender summer of God's love that broods over us with infinite warmth evermore? Our Church privileges, our open Bibles, our religious liberty, our Sabbath teachings and communings, our hours of prayer--do we prize these blessings as we would if we were suddenly torn from them?

The loss of temporal things seems ofttimes to be necessary to empty our hearts that they may receive the things that are unseen and eternal. Into many a life God is never permitted to enter until sorest earthly losses have made room for Him.

Dr J.R. Miller, Weekday Religion, (1897)

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Grisly Thud

Miranda Devine on Australia's Cancer

Grisly Thud of Kneecapped Rudd
Sydney Morning Herald

And we should be thankful for the many failings of the Rudd government over such a short time. They have demonstrated spectacularly, in the home insulation debacle, in the sinful waste of Building the Education Revolution, in the farce of the ETS, in the risky and ill-considered resources tax, how useless and incompetent big, bureaucratic government really is.

We have seen the mindset that drives the central planning and expert bureaucratic interventions of modern progressive-styled government. They make grand promises and spend up big, encouraging all sorts of distortions and rip-offs and rent-seekers, placing naive belief in regulation, showing little concern about mounting debt, and covering up problems with spin and marketing flim-flam.

Then, when it all falls in a heap, and the polls turn sour, instead of mending their ways, they change leaders, with the aim of staying one step ahead of the electorate, a whole party of artful dodgers. It will backfire on them in spades. Even if they win, they lose.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Gone By Lunchtime

The Meteoric Rise and Fall of Kevin Rudd

Former Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd has gone from hero to zero in a matter of months. Riding high in the approval ratings, he suddenly slipped down a long, slippery slope to where he was seen as a liability to his party's re-election. What caused the fall?

Some would point to his spectacular reversal on legislation allegedly to combat global warming. At least this was when the largely fawning media got the huff and started to tear into him. Overnight one started to see public media criticism of the Prime Minister, whereas previously they had reserved most of their scorn for Tony Abbott, leader of the Opposition.

But Rudd was between a rock and a hard place. The Senate had blocked his cap and trade legislation twice. There was little room to manoeuvre--the only solution was to take the issue to the electorate.

It seems as though the way he backed down was material and significant. And here we get closer to the underlying causes of Rudd's political demise. The Prime Minister had promoted the cap and trade bill and the threat of global warming in the most apocalyptic terms. Emotive and extreme language was employed that portrayed global warming as the most dire threat to humankind. It was a position into which the media were sucked, willingly and credulously. They became little cheerleaders. Then, when Rudd reacted to parliamentary defeat, not with the big bang of a dissolution of Parliament and an immediate election, but with the whimper of putting cap and trade on the backburner, the media and the chattering classes felt they had been had.

Suddenly, almost overnight, healthy scepticism returned and now everything which the Prime Minister said was treated with a large dose of Murray River salt.

It began to dawn upon folk that while Rudd talked up a big game (about lots of issues), his execution and delivery was shoddy, to say the least. He suddenly was seen as an empty bloviator, not an executor.

We believe that this is the Achilles heel of most left-wing politicians in the West. They come to power through telling the electorate what it really wants to hear--that the government will make a substantial difference. The majority of voters--not being Christian--long ago began to look to government as their god. The reins of political power are seen as making a difference, offering the prospect of salvation and redemption from what ails us.

Whether it is saving the world from global warming, recession, the extermination of whales, poverty, crime, illegal aliens--whatever the crisis of the day--gummint is the answer, for it holds ultimate power. This is the great secular religion of our day. All left-wing politicians (and most right wing politicians) believe this to be true--so they appeal to the electorate accordingly. "Elect us: we will solve the problems."

Right wing politicians tend to believe cynically that these are things which they need to say in order to get elected.  The difference is that left wing politicians really believe that they can solve problems and redeem mankind. They are more likely to be ideological zealots who believe most stupidly that the sheer attention and involvement of the government will automatically solve the problem--whatever it is. Another way of putting this would be that the Left credulously holds that passing laws and showering tax payer's money upon problems fixes them de jure and de facto. Naturally, focusing upon execution is not high upon the priority list--let alone paying attention to risks and unintended consequences.

Add to this the peculiar weakness of left-wing politicians to believe their own press. Think about Obama, Rudd, and Blair--all have spoken grandiloquently, with hyperbolic rhetorical flourish about what they would do and accomplish. They have come dangerously close to thinking that the rhetoric will call the reality into being. At this point they are very close to thinking themselves semi-divine--having the attribute of Deity to create out of nothing by the power of speaking.

Politically, this is playing with fire. The electorate willingly grants such leaders the benefit of the doubt. After all, they hold the reins of power. We all believe that the state is the ultimate authority and the very nexus of dunamis itself, non? Therefore, if our Prime Minister says it, it will be so. Media rapidly transform themselves into the celestial chorus, for the media also believes almost universally in the omni-competence of government.

But when the rhetorical flourishes prove to be empty vanities, the reaction can be very swift. Empty words and vain hyperbole on the part of government, when the established religion of society is statism, come perilously close to blasphemy. When the gods fail to deliver, the people get angry. Usually they vent their anger upon the priests. And in the post-Christian West, the nearest thing we have to priests is our government leaders.

Both Rudd and Obama have suffered falls from the highest peaks of popularity to the lowest depths of ignominy in a very short space of time. In both cases, the slide began when the perception dawned that the leader was incompetent and would not deliver. As soon as people began to suspect their leader's grand words were empty it was over. Their fall has been very great and very fast.

When politicians tell us how they will solve our problems through conjuring the powers of the state there is both larceny and brimstone in the air. Brimstone will always win out, for God will not be mocked and will not share His glory with another. 

Thursday, 24 June 2010

We are All Doomed I Tell You . . .Not

Six-and-a-half billion reasons to be cheerful

Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist, tells spiked why eco-catastrophists are so wrong about humans and our impact on the planet.

Tim Black

Never has catastrophe seemed so mundane. The end, we are told, is always approaching. No sooner has one super-resilient-flesh-eating-virus been forgotten than an imminent ecological collapse or a new strain of influenza takes it place. All of which makes Matt Ridley – journalist, businessman and author of several books on genetics and biology – such a refreshing person to talk to. ‘Yes, we are too gloomy about the future’, he says, cheerily.

That’s the thing about Ridley: whatever else he is – diffident, humorous, engaging – he is also resolutely optimistic. And it is this, his optimism, which he has sought to justify, to rationalise, in his new book The Rational Optimist. Given today’s readiness to imagine the apocalypse, especially in environmental terms, being an optimist is a very unfashionable position to take.

‘The imagining of imminent catastrophe is a routine habit and it’s been going on all my life’, says Ridley. ‘And to start with, when I was younger, I believed it. I thought people had good reason to raise the possibility of these catastrophes. When I was first becoming an adult it was Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and all this anxiety about DDT and other chemicals, and how they were going to cause an epidemic of cancer. Then it was the population scare. And then it was the oil running out. And then it was acid rain. And then it was the Ebola virus. And then it was global warming. And on and on it goes… I’ve heard enough cries of wolf during my lifetime to become sceptical about imminent environmental catastrophe.’

Ridley’s unwillingness to accept the doom-laden predictions of environmentalists is not just born of his own experience. Wider history, too, is testament to the unreliability of the catastrophic, morbid mindset. Just after the end of the First World War, Britain’s Liberal prime minister David Lloyd George lamented: ‘How can Britain run an A1 empire with a C3 population [medical categories for army recruits]?’ This was no isolated complaint – it was indicative of a wider sense of Britain’s national decline refracted through the prism of biology. ‘If you go back to the turn of the twentieth century’, Ridley says, ‘there was an absolute domination of the book-publishing world by “declinism” literature, particularly about the so-called “degeneration of the race”. In the view of many at the time, this was because “stupid” people were having too many babies, the lower classes were evil, nasty and full of tuberculosis, and didn’t have the requisite physical strength. All this ludicrous stuff was hugely dominant.’

The biological deterioration of the British never came to pass, but catastrophists are nothing if not persistent: they always return with a new scare, or an old one tweaked and updated. ‘You can’t keep banging the same drum, something that environmentalists seem to have learnt’, says Ridley. ‘This is why you get this succession of scares: the GM crops scare comes along in 1998 as the Ebola virus is fading from the news.’

Ridley experienced the life and death of a scare at first hand during the 1980s: ‘For me, acid rain was the most influential one, because I covered it very closely as a science correspondent at The Economist. And at the time, I was a routine alarmist, like everyone else. But gradually worries were forming at the back of my mind. Some of the things that were being said, such as all the trees were dying in Germany, just didn’t seem to be quite true.

‘And now the data’s in, both on the Eastern seaboard of America and in Western Europe, it turns out that forests did not retreat in the 1980s – they actually expanded! There were a few isolated die-offs from some local pollution incidents but none of these were due to acid rain. In fact, because acid rain contains nitrates, it actually proved to be a fertiliser and accelerated forest growth. That isn’t to say acid rain had no effect. It had some effects, particularly on the acidification of some water courses, but not as many as people said, and not as permanently. The acid rain story was a case of huge exaggeration.’

And the aftermath? Is there ever a reckoning with such ‘exaggeration’? ‘When one of these scares doesn’t pan out’, says Ridley, ‘you don’t get a great big, drains-up inquiry into what went wrong, like we’ve had with Iraq. It’s quite the opposite. The issue will simply be allowed to fade away. It will just stop being talked about. Acid rain, for instance, just drops out of the news around 1990, only partly because of the Clean Air Act just then passed, which people presumed was going to solve the problem – despite it largely being a non-problem all along.’

So what of the latest, most dominant form of catastrophism: climate-change alarmism? ‘The thing about global warming is that it’s all about things that are still to happen in the relatively distant future. Hence it is very difficult for people to grow sceptical about it because of the difficulty of falsifying it.’ This is not to suggest that climate change has been falsified by any means, Ridley stresses. ‘I’m not denying that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas – and I never have – but I do think that we are gradually seeing the public wake up to the fact that the empirical and theoretical study of climate supports a small degree of warming and not yet a catastrophic effect from that small degree of warming. A lot of people are wising up to that, particularly over the last year. And you’re seeing that in recent opinion polls.’

While climate change might not seem to be the inexorable disaster it was just a couple of years ago, Ridley has observed another, often related threat looming ever larger. And it’s not a new one. ‘The population bomb is one that still rumbles on, and as spiked’s Brendan O’Neill has pointed out, it is remarkable the number of people who are reviving it, in a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger way. They’ll sidle up to you and say “you know, maybe it’s not climate change that’s the real problem, maybe it’s because there are too many people” as if they were saying something new. One fact of which the population crew are seemingly unaware is that the rate of human population growth has been falling since 1967. It is now half of what it was in the 1960s.’

When it comes to this revival of Malthusianism, Ridley’s anger is clear. ‘There’s a general misanthropy to it’, he says. ‘If you read about the origins of the population movement, particularly in books like Fred Pearce’s Peoplequake, you realise how much of it was tied up with twentieth-century eugenics and concerns about IQ and the over-reproduction of people with low IQ. This had been a worry for many in the first half of the last century and it leaked into the second half, too. But it gradually changed from “there are too many poor people and stupid people having babies” to “there are too many people having babies altogether”. There’s such a misanthropic tone to it, even to this day.’

Listening to Ridley, it is clear that one thing he is not is misanthropic. Rather he seems animated and inspired by human achievements, by our collective, historically evident ability to continue to innovate, to change and improve the conditions under which we live. This is why overpopulation fears seem to Ridley to be such rubbish. ‘If we continue to improve agricultural yields at the rate we have been doing – and we have nearly trebled cereal yields from the same acreage in the last 50 or so years – then by the middle of this century we will not only be able to feed the nine billion people expected to be on the planet with the same acreage, we will actually be able to do so with a noticeably smaller acreage. So for the total farmed area allocated for cereal crops, you’d need roughly three quarters the size of Australia instead of roughly the size of Russia.

‘So, couple the population growth rate with the improvements in things like agricultural yields, and a fall in things like the amount of copper you need to provide a telephone wire or the amount of water you need for irrigation because of efficiencies, and it becomes possible to imagine a future in which more people have less impact on the planet. That’s exactly the opposite of what the environmental movement tends to say.’

The reason for environmentalists’ pessimism, Ridley argues, is that they unthinkingly extrapolate from the present state of society – the current means of production and so on – and project it into the future. In doing so, they fail to imagine the future in any terms apart from those of the present. So, assuming population rises, while the current means of production remain the same, the environmentalist concludes that we cannot go on as we are. ‘But’, Ridley points out, ‘we ain’t going to go on as we are’.

‘For the last 100,000 years at least, we have actually changed how we live on the planet in ways that are surprising and result from innovations that we can’t forecast’, he says. ‘So if you stand in the 1950s and ask “what’s the future going to be like?”, people extrapolate the improvements in transport that they’ve seen in their lifetime and talk about personal gyrocopters and supersonic transport and interstellar travel. Nobody mentions the internet and the mobile telephone. Likewise, you and I standing here will extrapolate into the future that we’re going to have even better mobile phones and even more websites. But I suspect that in 50 years’ time both of those phrases will be laughably old-fashioned. In the twenty-first century it might all be about bio-tech, or it might all be about something else. So while one can extrapolate just to see how much change can occur quantitatively, you’ve always got to bear in mind that qualitative changes will throw off those extrapolations.’

This is not to suggest that Ridley does not himself extrapolate. Indeed, some of his optimism is grounded in extrapolation. ‘I do believe in extrapolating – I already talked about if agricultural yields improve at the same rate as they have in the last 50 years we’ll be able to feed far more with far less. This is a big increase, and a big “if”, and there are times in history when trends don’t continue, so one mustn’t be a naive extrapolator. On the other hand, extrapolation does sometimes open up one’s mind to the possibility of how different the future will be.’

This openness to the future, to the possibility that life will get better, ought not to be confused with blind faith. ‘Rational optimism is not naive, personal and hopeful’, concludes Ridley. ‘It is something one arrives at by studying the facts. Moreover, rational optimism is based on the fact that there is a reason to be optimistic – namely that there is a grand theme in human history called the exchange and spread of specialisation, which, by enabling us to work more and more for each other, does raise living standards. So there is actually a rationale for my optimism. It is not just hopeful.’

Tim Black is senior writer at spiked.

Obama's Inexperience and Political Gamesmanship Slammed

Afghanistan Will Be a Weeping Sore

Obama has replaced General McChrystal as the commander in Afghanistan. Our first reaction when this story first broke was that Rolling Stone magazine, a liberal humanist bullhorn had set McChrystal up and was trying to do its bit to undermine the US war effort.

Michael Hastings, the writer of the damaging piece, has gone on the record explaining some of the background and context. The reality appears more complex than our first impression. Watch the video interview below. Hastings appears quite knowledgeable and sensitive to the military. But what is most damning is his allegation that Obama has never got his head around the counterinsurgency strategy.

In fact, the strategy, as we have consistently argued in this blog, is doomed to fail in Afghanistan. For one thing, it does not have a credible stable local government with which to work. Secondly, Hastings argues that it has never been properly resourced. Thirdly, the time frame allowed for it to work by Obama is ridiculously short.

Probably the Rolling Stone slant would be that counterinsurgency is an OK strategy, but the effort and costs and timeframe required for it to be successful at it in Afghanistan make is politically and economically unrealistic--and therefore it is naive from the start. It should never have been a goer. But Obama got sucked in because he did not understand it. (Probably it involved questions that were higher than his pay grade.) Then, worse, he set it up to fail because he did not resource it properly (too politically costly) and limited the time commitment (again, to keep his political base in line.)

One puzzling this in this whole affair has been the alleged "immaturity" of McChrystal--why would he have exposed himself this way? Obama has slammed it as a serious lapse of judgment. He has publicly implied it reflected on McChrystal's part a poor understanding of the doctrine of civilian control of the military. What Hastings implies is that this whole thing was a carefully calculated move on the part of McChrystal to put more pressure on Obama to back and resource far more rigorously and comprehensively the counterinsurgency strategy--and if not, McChrystal probably calculated it would be better to be out of it.

Watch the vid. It is revealing. The clanger comes at the end.

Further, along these lines, Robert Grenier in Al Jazeera has a different take. He argues that Obama knew from the beginning that the strategy would fail (which suggests that he understood it sufficiently) but implies that he always and ever making a token gesture, to allow a speedy withdrawal commencing next year, with a filigree of honour intact.

If so, this would make Obama nefarious beyond belief: on this account he would be cynically using the military for his own short term political ends--treating them as little more than cannon fodder--yet all the while insisting publicly that he was taking his time making a decision in order to get the strategy right.
Ironically, just as the scandal was beginning to brew and before either of us knew anything about it, a former colleague and I were bemoaning the state of affairs in Afghanistan.

"Do you suppose there's anyone in command at this point," he said, "who doesn't know this strategy can't work?"

With a moment's thought, I replied that my guess - and it was only that - was that the civilian leadership in Washington has known, or at least strongly suspected, that its strategy was unworkable from the time the new policy was announced by the president on December 1, 2009.

Why else would they put it on an impossibly short timeline, and announce a date for its essential abandonment 18 months in advance?

The fault of General McChrystal and the military leadership in Afghanistan, on the other hand, is that they honestly believe they can succeed, and are thinking - and acting - accordingly.

One is put in mind of the press accounts of the first briefing provided by General McChrystal at the start of the latest Afghan policy review. When on the first presentation slide McChrystal indicated that his objective was to "defeat the Taliban," the statement was greeted with shocked silence by the civilians viewing it at the Washington end.

It apparently had not occurred to them that the general, at that late date, might still be pursuing the objective given to him by his president not six months before.

The fact that he might still believe now in what he is doing, and might be a little resentful of those who fail to back the stated policy of their own administration, ought not to come as a great surprise to those who lack McChrystal's forthrightness.

Make no mistake: I believe that the strategy championed by General McChrystal is deeply, indeed fatally, flawed.

Despite my profound personal respect for him, I view his confidence that he can successfully conduct an effective counterinsurgency campaign, on a massive scale, acting as a proxy for a hopelessly compromised and inept government, and do so with conventional military forces ill-suited to the task, as disastrously misplaced.

McChrystal's strategy, however, has been formally accepted by the administration - at least nominally - even if they refuse to grant him the time clearly required to carry it out on its own terms.

If the president and those around him do not have faith in the efficacy of current policy, as they manifestly do not, they should at least have the grace to say so, given the lives, resources, and prestige at stake, and move to an alternative course.

If they do not have a fall-back plan, as it appears they do not, they should develop it.

I have expressed my own views as to what that fall-back plan should look like, and surely will again. But as the administration considers where to go from here, it ought to steal a page from the man whose perhaps naïve candor is about to be punished, and try a little simple honesty.

Robert Grenier was the CIA's chief of station in Islamabad, Pakistan, from 1999 to 2002. He was also the director of the CIA's counter-terrorism centre.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Obama: An Alien President

The Alien in the White House

Dorothy Rabinowitz recently wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal which leveraged off the current controversy over illegal aliens in the US, arguing that President Obama is alien to most Americans. We believe it is an insightful piece.
The Alien in the White House
The distance between the president and the people is beginning to be revealed.


The deepening notes of disenchantment with Barack Obama now issuing from commentators across the political spectrum were predictable. So, too, were the charges from some of the president's earliest enthusiasts about his failure to reflect a powerful sense of urgency about the oil spill.

There should have been nothing puzzling about his response to anyone who has paid even modest critical attention to Mr. Obama's pronouncements. For it was clear from the first that this president—single-minded, ever-visible, confident in his program for a reformed America saved from darkness by his arrival—was wanting in certain qualities citizens have until now taken for granted in their presidents. Namely, a tone and presence that said: This is the Americans' leader, a man of them, for them, the nation's voice and champion. Mr. Obama wasn't lacking in concern about the oil spill. What he lacked was that voice—and for good reason.

Those qualities to be expected in a president were never about rhetoric; Mr. Obama had proved himself a dab hand at that on the campaign trail. They were a matter of identification with the nation and to all that binds its people together in pride and allegiance. These are feelings held deep in American hearts, unvoiced mostly, but unmistakably there and not only on the Fourth of July.

A great part of America now understands that this president's sense of identification lies elsewhere, and is in profound ways unlike theirs. He is hard put to sound convincingly like the leader of the nation, because he is, at heart and by instinct, the voice mainly of his ideological class. He is the alien in the White House, a matter having nothing to do with delusions about his birthplace cherished by the demented fringe.

One of his first reforms was to rid the White House of the bust of Winston Churchill—a gift from Tony Blair—by packing it back off to 10 Downing Street. A cloudlet of mystery has surrounded the subject ever since, but the central fact stands clear. The new administration had apparently found no place in our national house of many rooms for the British leader who lives on so vividly in the American mind. Churchill, face of our shared wartime struggle, dauntless rallier of his nation who continues, so remarkably, to speak to ours. For a president to whom such associations are alien, ridding the White House of Churchill would, of course, have raised no second thoughts.

Far greater strangeness has since flowed steadily from Washington. The president's appointees, transmitters of policy, go forth with singular passion week after week, delivering the latest inversion of reality. Their work is not easy, focused as it is on a current prime preoccupation of this White House—that is, finding ways to avoid any public mention of the indisputable Islamist identity of the enemy at war with us. No small trick that, but their efforts go forward in public spectacles matchless in their absurdity—unnerving in what they confirm about our current guardians of law and national security.

Consider the hapless Eric Holder, America's attorney general, confronting the question put to him by Rep. Lamar Smith (R., Texas) of the House Judiciary Committee on May 13.

Did Mr. Holder think that in the last three terrorist attempts on this soil, one of them successful (Maj. Nidal Hasan's murder of 13 soldiers at Fort Hood, preceded by his shout of "Allahu Akbar!"), that radical Islam might have played any role at all? Mr. Holder seemed puzzled by the question. "People have different reasons" he finally answered—a response he repeated three times. He didn't want "to say anything negative about any religion."

And who can forget the exhortations on jihad by John Brennan, Mr. Obama's chief adviser on counterterrorism? Mr. Brennan has in the past charged that Americans lack sensitivity to the Muslim world, and that we have particularly failed to credit its peace-loving disposition. In a May 26 speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Mr. Brennan held forth fervently, if not quite comprehensibly, on who our enemy was not: "Our enemy is not terrorism because terrorism is just a tactic. Our enemy is not terror because terror is a state of mind, and as Americans we refuse to live in fear."

He went on to announce, sternly, that we do not refer to our enemies as Islamists or jihadists because jihad is a holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam. How then might we be permitted to describe our enemies? One hint comes from another of Mr. Brennan's pronouncements in that speech: That "violent extremists are victims of political, economic and social forces."

Yes, that would work. Consider the news bulletins we could have read: "Police have arrested Faisal Shahzad, victim of political, economic and social forces living in Connecticut, for efforts to set off a car bomb explosion in Times Square." Plotters in Afghanistan and Yemen, preparing for their next attempt at mass murder in America, could only have listened in wonderment. They must have marvelled in particular on learning that this was the chief counterterrorism adviser to the president of the United States.

Long after Mr. Obama leaves office, it will be this parade of explicators, laboring mightily to sell each new piece of official reality revisionism—Janet Napolitano and her immortal "man-caused disasters'' among them—that will stand most memorably as the face of this administration.

It is a White House that has focused consistently on the sensitivities of the world community—as it is euphemistically known—a body of which the president of the United States frequently appears to view himself as a representative at large.

It is what has caused this president and his counterterrorist brain trust to deem it acceptable to insult Americans with nonsensical evasions concerning the enemy we face. It is this focus that caused Mr. Holder to insist on holding the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in lower Manhattan, despite the rage this decision induced in New Yorkers, and later to insist if not there, then elsewhere in New York. This was all to be a dazzling exhibition for that world community—proof of Mr. Obama's moral reclamation program and that America had been delivered from the darkness of the Bush years.

It was why this administration tapped officials like Michael Posner, assistant secretary of state for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Among his better known contributions to political discourse was a 2005 address in which he compared the treatment of Muslim-Americans in the United States after 9/11 with the plight of the Japanese-Americans interned in camps after Pearl Harbor. During a human-rights conference held in China this May, Mr. Posner cited the new Arizona immigration law by way of assuring the Chinese, those exemplary guardians of freedom, that the United States too had its problems with discrimination.

So there we were: America and China, in the same boat on human rights, two buddies struggling for reform. For this view of reality, which brought withering criticism in Congress and calls for his resignation, Mr. Posner has been roundly embraced in the State Department as a superbly effective representative.

It is no surprise that Mr. Posner—like numerous of his kind—has found a natural home in this administration. His is a sensibility and political disposition with which Mr. Obama is at home. The beliefs and attitudes that this president has internalized are to be found everywhere—in the salons of the left the world over—and, above all, in the academic establishment, stuffed with tenured radicals and their political progeny. The places where it is held as revealed truth that the United States is now, and has been throughout its history, the chief engine of injustice and oppression in the world.

They are attitudes to be found everywhere, but never before in a president of the United States. Mr. Obama may not hold all, or the more extreme, of these views. But there can be no doubt by now of the influences that have shaped him. They account for his grand apology tour through the capitals of Europe and to the Muslim world, during which he decried America's moral failures—her arrogance, insensitivity. They were the words of a man to whom reasons for American guilt came naturally. Americans were shocked by this behavior in their newly elected president. But he was telling them something from those lecterns in foreign lands—something about his distant relation to the country he was about to lead.

The truth about that distance is now sinking in, which is all to the good. A country governed by leaders too principled to speak the name of its mortal enemy needs every infusion of reality it can get.

Ms. Rabinowitz is a member of the Journal's editorial board.

The Duty of Christian Schooling, Part IV

Living in the "Real" World

Christian schools are like cotton-wool! How often have we heard this advanced as a reason to avoid Christian schools? One of the most common reasons given by Christian parents to send their children to a secular state school is that their children might be exposed Unbelief as early as possible, so they might learn to be missionaries. They fear that Christian schooling is separating children from the real world and therefore failing to prepare them for what the world is really like. They believe that sending their children to a Christian school closets them in a protective cloister that will do more harm than good, in the long run.

Now the desire that one's children will grow up to be faithful witnesses for Christ amidst an Unbelieving world is biblical and very commendable. This is clearly part of what every Christian parent wants to see emerging in the lives of their children as they grow to maturity. It is part of what it means for our children to grow up to be true servants of Christ. So, the desire of parents to expose their children to Unbelief and to unbelievers so that they may reach out to them as witnesses to Christ is itself laudable and praiseworthy.

The real matter at issue here is whether such Christian parents have thought this through sufficiently. The reality is that we all know that young children need to be protected in their infancy from the full rigours of adult responsibility, which they are not yet ready or able to bear. In the ordinary providence of our Lord, children will grow up to marry, to support themselves in careers, hold down jobs, and bear, raise and support their own children, in their turn. They will assume responsibilities in the Church. They will undertake responsibilities in the community.

All of these are part and parcel of what it means to be an adult. As Christian parents we are concerned to develop and train our children to be able to take up these responsibilities—at the appropriate time. But, we all know that it would be unwise and, indeed, destructive to a child to expect them to bear those responsibilities at five years old. Why, then, would Christian parents believe that sending their child to a secular state school is necessary so that their children can learn to be a missionary for the Gospel at five years old? Do we think the same way about any other adult responsibility that our children will one day assume? Of course not.

And consider what we, as parents, are asking of our children in such a case. We are asking them to go to an institution which exists to teach and reflect an Unbelieving world-view, and to be subject to the authority of a teacher who, even if a Christian, is not allowed to acknowledge or honour our Lord Jesus publicly. One famous theologian once described his experience as an adult attending a secular university as “standing daily under the cold showers of Unbelief”. He found it very difficult to talk to fellow students about the Gospel because daily the teaching authorities presented and proclaimed a world in which God did not exist—anywhere.

If this kind of situation was challenging and difficult for a fervent Christian man in his early twenties, what must it be like for a child? It places our children in an environment where the “deck is stacked” against them completely, as it were. It is asking them to do something which older, more mature Christians find a difficult struggle. Have Christian parents really considered what they are asking of their children when they send them to state secular schools so they can learn to be missionaries on a mission field?

What would we think of a parent who said, “Well, Suzie, one day you are going to have to support yourself, so the earlier you start, the better. I know you are only five, but we are going to start charging you board. You are going to need an income. You need to knock on doors in our neighbourhood to see if you can find some work.” We would find such an idea grotesque, to say the least. But is the decision to send our children to a secular state school in order to train them to be missionaries any different? Is it any less inappropriate?

Yet the concern to train our children to seek to win those who are estranged from God remains a worthy one. And we can think of no better training ground than sending them to a Christian school. In the first place they will be surrounded by an environment which respects and honours our Lord. Secondly, there will be many opportunities to talk naturally about the Lord as they learn and study, since all topics and subjects will be presented by all the teachers as part of God's wonderful world. Thirdly, whilst there will be many children from Christian families at the school there will also be children from families which are not Christian. This gives Christian children a wonderful opportunity to seek out and befriend such children and speak to them about the Lord—in a true Christian environment.

Therefore, we believe that the best and most supportive environment in which to encourage our children to have a love for the lost and a heart to reach out to them is in a Christian school.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Annual Junk Science Awards

Rubber Duckies

The Financial Post has given out its Rubber Duckie awards for the junkiest science in the past year. Junk Science occurs when:
scientific facts are distorted, when risk is exaggerated or discounted, when science is adapted and warped by politics and ideology to serve another agenda.

You can read about the most recent recipients of this shameful award, here.

The Duty of Christian Schooling, Part III

Not to the State, Nor to the Church, But to Parents . . .

When Christian parents are considering their responsibility to educate their children, God requires that we must face and answer three questions from the Scripture: who will educate our children, what are our children to be taught; and how does God require them to be instructed?

In answer to the first question, who will educate our children, the Bible makes it clear that God has given this responsibility neither to the state nor the church, but to parents. They have a duty to instruct them thoroughly in the commandments of God as they bear upon every area and aspect of their lives. In this regard, two passages of Scripture are important.

The first is Deuteronomy 6: 4—9:
Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words which I am commanding you today shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

The confession of every Christian is that the Lord alone is God. He is one, and there is none other. There are no other gods, or loci of authority, in His presence. Therefore He alone is to be loved with all our being. Everything else that exists has been created by Him: therefore, our love for everything else in the creation is to be reflective of, and derived from, our love for Him. The Scriptures teach us that we must not divide our lives into a “God compartment” and an “everything else” compartment. We only see and understand correctly when we see everything as belonging to God and created for His glory. Consequently, we only learn truthfully and correctly when we are being taught in this manner.

Therefore, we are to teach our children in all the activities of their lives and in their every encounter in the Creation to see everything in terms of the commandments of God. Nothing can be known properly and truthfully and rightly unless it is known in terms of God's Word. If we try to learn something apart from the one true and living God—that is, seek to learn it as if it existed independently of God, as if it did not live and move and have its being in God—we are learning a lie. We are not learning truthfully.

Notice that this text does not call us and our children to leave life and the creation, enter into a “spiritual zone”, and learn of God in a monastic way. It requires the very opposite—that we make it our duty to ensure that the Word of God is shaping our understanding of God as we and our children interact with the creation. Moreover, our text makes clear that the duty to instruct our children this way is given to parents.

If parents determine, as many do, that they must delegate a considerable part of the instruction and education of their children to another, the one to whom they delegate must stand in loco parentis—that is, in the place of parents. It is the God-given duty of Christian parents to ensure that their delegatee is in actual fact and in every way standing as their representative, in their place. The teacher must teach as the parents would and must. This requires that Christian parents must ensure that the teachers of their children believe as they believe. How can Unbelievers teach faithfully and truthfully the commandments of God as they bear upon mathematics and science and reading, and writing, and speech and commerce, and music, when they, themselves, do not believe in God, let alone His Word? An Unbelieving teacher cannot stand in the place of a Christian parent to teach in fulfilment of Deuteronomy 6: 4—9.

A second critical passage is found in Proverbs 1. Here we learn that the ground and beginning of knowledge, wisdom, and instruction is the fear of the Lord. (Proverbs 1:7) Moreover, it is both the father and the mother who must instruct and teach their children accordingly. But the fear of the Lord and the knowledge, wisdom and instruction that comes forth from it, is to be found, not in a cloister, but in all of life. In order to learn wisdom and be properly instructed, one must learn about the creation and the “outside” world. Thus: “wisdom shouts in the streets, she lifts her voice in the square; at the head of noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the gates in the city, she utters sayings.” (Proverbs 1: 20—21)

Thus, in the Christian faith there are not two spheres of learning and knowledge—the one related to God and His Word, and the other beyond and apart from God—secular, and non-spiritual or non-religious. There is only One God and all that exists belongs to Him and has its being in Him. Moreover, one can only know God properly if one learns of Him in and through the world He created and sustains. Wisdom does not shout in the cloister, but in the streets!

It is parents, the father and the mother, who have a duty to ensure that their children learn godly wisdom and knowledge from the book of the creation. It is only as they study God's creation—and in particular, those subjects we call the humanities—that they will learn true wisdom and knowledge. All such learning must be infused with the fear of the Lord. Those whom we employ to teach our children must likewise teach accordingly—which means that they, too, must believe as we believe.

These two passages of Scripture tell us that it is parents who are responsible to ensure that their children are taught properly. This implies that if parents are to send their children to a school or to teachers or tutors to enhance and make their education more effective still, (acknowledging that the Holy Spirit has particularly gifted some people to be teachers) those teachers must believe in the same way as the parents. They, too, must be Christians who understand that God is one and all of the creation—all truth, all knowledge, all learning—has its being and existence and truth in God.

These two passages also help us answer the questions of what our children are to be taught and how they are to be instructed. Our children are to be taught according to God's word in every subject; and they are to taught that all of the creation is religious, belonging to God, and is for His glory. Every subject, every branch of learning, therefore, is a religious subject. If reading and writing is not being taught Christianly, for example, it will be taught according to pagan beliefs and principles. It will be taught to promote the glory of man, not the glory of the one true Living God. There can be no middle ground. As our Lord said, “he who does not gather with Me, scatters.”

Monday, 21 June 2010

Meditation on the Text of the Week

Thoughtfulness and Tact

A gentle answer turns away wrath,
But a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable,
But the mouth of fools spouts folly. . . .
A soothing tongue is a tree of life,
But perversion in it crushes the spirit.
Proverbs 15: 1--4

Some people have a wonderful way of always speaking a kind word or doing a kind act at the right time--just when it is most needed and will do the greatest good. . . . Many people with the very best motives and intentions and with truly large capacity for doing good almost utterly fail of usefulness, and throw their lives away because they lack this gift of tact. They perform their kindest deeds in such an inappropriate way as to rob them of nearly all their power to comfort or cheer. . . .

Everyone gives them credit for honesty of intention, and yet their efforts to do good mostly come to naught or, even result in harm. The sad part of it all is that their motives are good and their hearts full of benevolent desires. Their lives are failures because they lack the proper touch and do not know in what manner to do the things they resolve to do.

Others . . . because of their peculiar and gentle tact scatter gladness all about them. Their thoughtfulness seems intuitively to understand just what will be the best word to speak or the kindest and fittest thing to do.

There are some who regard tact as insincerity or hypocrisy. They boast of their own honesty which never tries to disguise a dislike for a person, which bluntly criticises another's faults even at the price of his friendship. They believe in truth in all its bare ruggedness, no matter how much pain they may give. . . . They mistake bluntness for sincerity. In the name of candour they employ sarcasm or sharp and bitter personalities. When others are grieved or hurt, or insulted, they answer, "I am a blunt man; I say what I mean, and you must excuse me."

Frankness is to be honoured, but this is not frankness; it is impertinence, cruel unkindness, the outbreak of bad nature in him who speaks, which, instead of doing good, works only harm.

A true appreciation of . . . the teachings of the Gospel will reveal that our Lord Himself exercised the most thoughtful tact among the people. He was utterly incapable of rudeness. He never needlessly spoke a harsh word. He never gave pain to a sensitive heart. He was most considerate of human weakness. He was most gentle toward all human sorrow. He never suppressed the truth, but He uttered it always in love. Even the terrible woes He pronounced against unbelief and hypocrisy . . . must be read in the light of His tears over the city of His love which had rejected Him. . . .

He never spoke brusquely or made truth cruel. He saw in every man and woman enough of sadness to soften the very tones of His speech, and produce feelings of ineffable tenderness in Him. If we can but realise, even in the feeblest way, the feeling of Christ toward men, our bluntness and rudeness will soon change to gentleness. And this is true tact. It is infinitely removed from cunning. Cunning is insincere. It flatters and practises all the arts of deception. It professes a friendship and interest it does not feel. It seeks only to promote its own ends. It is selfish as the core, and utterly wretched and debasing. . . .

Tact has a wonderful power in smoothing out tangled affairs. A pastor, with it, will harmonise a church composed of most discordant elements and prevent a thousand strifes and quarrels by saying the right word at the right time and by quietly and wisely setting other influences to work to neutralise the discordant tendencies. . . . In the home it is a most indispensable oil. Quiet tact will always have the soft word ready to speak in time to turn away anger. It knows how to avoid unsafe ground. It can put all parties in good humour when there is danger of difference or clashing. It is silent when silence is better than speech.

A man with great gifts and learning accomplishes nothing, while another, with not one-half of his natural powers or accomplishments, far outstrips him in practical life. The difference lies in tact--in knowing the art of doing things. . . . Tact is no doubt largely a natural endowment, but it is also partly an art, and can be cultivated.

Dr J. R. Miller, Weekday Religion (1897)

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Executive Inexperience

A Nation Red-Faced with Embarrassment

During the most recent US Presidential campaign the question of competence was raised repeatedly. Hillary Clinton had the "who would you like to have answering the emergency call to the White House at 3 am?" to contrast her self-claimed years of executive experience with the relative inexperience of the junior senator from Chicago.

But the whole issue of experience really got caustic when John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate on the Republican ticket. Suddenly the credentials and experience of Palin were set off against Obama's resume and the media (and the country generally) were pretty much agreed that Palin was a hick-town rube, whilst Obama was a smart, Ivy League educated, intelligent, cool, calculating, no-drama guy who was born to be an effective CEO of a country, even though he had no previous experience.

When questioned on his very short resume and lack of experience in the real world, Obama argued that he had proved he could run a very good political campaign. He would bring the same set of skills and experience to running the country. This line was devoured by a credulous media. In many ways, Obama spoke the truth, but not according to the way he intended to be understood. Since being elected, he has transformed the office of President of the United States into a permanent political campaign. He is always out campaigning about something.

The problem is that appears not to be able to govern. Bloviating is not the same as doing. His bumbling and fumbling over the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been painful to watch. His attempts to muscle up and talk tough and "prove" that he was in charge (that is, to maintain campaign mode), rather than actually taking charge have been embarrassing.

With respect to this disaster, we need to keep two matters clearly differentiated (something which Obama has failed to do). The first is the oil spill itself on the seabed. The second is the preventative and remedial clean up operation. It is the second matter which requires strong executive leadership. And here, Obama has failed miserably. By letting BP run the clean-up, Obama has eviscerated the federal government's powers and responsibilities. And when the federal government has tried to do something, it has been stymied in bureaucratic boondoggles and turf wars as various federal bureaucracies worked against each other and at cross purposes.

Whilst technologies to shut off a gushing deep sea well might not be all that well developed, methods and techniques of clearing up oil spills in the oceans are very well developed and there is plenty of world-wide experience. Obama and his administration sat on their hands and refused offers of help from around the world. It is the Dutch who are well practised in these matters, and it has taken weeks and weeks for the Administration finally to pay some attention, no doubt prodded by desperation. This from Patterico:
What Obama should have done after the BP Oil Spill:
Three days after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, the Dutch government offered to help. It was willing to provide ships outfitted with oil-skimming booms, and it proposed a plan for building sand barriers to protect sensitive marshlands.

The response from the Obama administration and BP, which are coordinating the cleanup: “The embassy got a nice letter from the administration that said, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’” said Geert Visser, consul general for the Netherlands in Houston.

Now, almost seven weeks later, as the oil spewing from the battered well spreads across the Gulf and soils pristine beaches and coastline, BP and our government have reconsidered.

U.S. ships are being outfitted this week with four pairs of the skimming booms airlifted from the Netherlands and should be deployed within days. Each pair can process 5 million gallons of water a day, removing 20,000 tons of oil and sludge.

At that rate, how much more oil could have been removed from the Gulf during the past month?”
The Obama Administration also turned down Dutch plans and assistance to dredge sand bars to protect fragile coastlines, plans it is now trying to implement. And unlike the American government, the Dutch government actually has a plan:
BP has been inundated with well-intentioned cleanup suggestions, but the Dutch offer was different. It came through official channels, from a government offering to share its demonstrated expertise.

Many in the U.S., including the president, have expressed frustration with the handling of the cleanup. In the Netherlands, the response would have been different, Visser said. There, the government owns the cleanup equipment, including the skimmers now being deployed in the Gulf.

“If there’s a spill in the Netherlands, we give the oil companies 12 hours to react,” he said. If the response is inadequate or the companies are unprepared, the government takes over and sends the companies the bill.”

It has been humiliating for the whole nation to see Obama whine about BP not doing what it was supposed to do. The Rolling Stone--hardly a bastion of conservative thought--has slammed the President's handling of the issue. One cannot help but cringe when we read the following apologia from Obama to explain his tardiness and neglect:
Now, however, the president was suddenly standing up to take command of the cleanup effort. "In case you were wondering who's responsible," Obama told the nation, "I take responsibility." Sounding chastened, he acknowledged that his administration had failed to adequately reform the Minerals Management Service, the scandal-ridden federal agency that for years had essentially allowed the oil industry to self-regulate. "There wasn't sufficient urgency," the president said. "Absolutely I take responsibility for that." He also admitted that he had been too credulous of the oil giants: "I was wrong in my belief that the oil companies had their act together when it came to worst-case scenarios." He unveiled a presidential commission to investigate the disaster, discussed the resignation of the head of MMS, and extended a moratorium on new deepwater drilling. "The buck," he reiterated the next day on the sullied Louisiana coastline, "stops with me."
There is another word for the phrase "too credulous": it is naivety. Obama was an untested tyro when it came to governing anyone, let alone a nation. He is now being tested and is being found severely wanting. How embarrassing for the United States.

Now, just because the allegation of inexperience was hurled repeatedly at Sarah Palin in the recent presidential election, we believe it would be fair to give her the last word. This from her Facebook page:
50 days in, and we’ve just learned another shocking revelation concerning the Obama administration’s response to the Gulf oil spill. In an interview aired this morning, President Obama admitted that he hasn’t met with or spoken directly to BP’s CEO Tony Hayward. His reasoning: “Because my experience is, when you talk to a guy like a BP CEO, he’s gonna say all the right things to me. I’m not interested in words. I’m interested in actions.”

First, to the “informed and enlightened” mainstream media: in all the discussions you’ve had with the White House about the spill, did it not occur to you before today to ask how the CEO-to-CEO level discussions were progressing to remedy this tragedy? You never cease to amaze. (Kind of reminds us of the months on end when you never bothered to ask if the President was meeting with General McChrystal to talk about our strategy in Afghanistan.)

Second, to fellow baffled Americans: this revelation is further proof that it bodes well to have some sort of executive experience before occupying the Oval Office (as if the painfully slow response to the oil spill, confusion of duties, finger-pointing, lack of preparedness, and inability to grant local government simple requests weren’t proof enough). The current administration may be unaware that it’s the President’s duty, meeting on a CEO-to-CEO level with Hayward, to verify what BP reports. In an interview a few weeks ago with Greta Van Susteren, I noted that based on my experience working with oil execs as an oil regulator and then as a Governor, you must verify what the oil companies claim – because their perception of circumstances and situations dealing with public resources and public trust is not necessarily shared by those who own America’s public resources and trust. I was about run out of town in Alaska for what critics decried at the time as my “playing hardball with Big Oil,” and those same adversaries (both shortsighted Repubs and Dems) continue to this day to try to discredit my administration’s efforts in holding Big Oil accountable to operate ethically and responsibly.

Mr. President: with all due respect, you have to get involved, sir. The priorities and timeline of an oil company are not the same as the public’s. You cannot outsource the cleanup and the responsibility and the trust to BP and expect that the legitimate interests of Americans adversely affected by this spill will somehow be met.

White House: have you read this morning’s Washington Post? Not to pile it on BP, but there’s an extensive report chronicling the company’s troubling history:

“BP has had more high-profile accidents than any other company in recent years. And now, with the disaster in the gulf, independent experts say the pervasiveness of the company’s problems, in multiple locales and different types of facilities, is striking.

‘They are a recurring environmental criminal and they do not follow U.S. health safety and environmental policy,’ said Jeanne Pascal, a former EPA lawyer who led its BP investigations.”

And yet just 10 days prior to the explosion, the Obama administration’s regulators gave the oil rig a pass, and last year the Obama administration granted BP a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) exemption for its drilling operation.

These decisions and the resulting spill have shaken the public’s confidence in the ability to safely drill. Unless government appropriately regulates oil developments and holds oil executives accountable, the public will not trust them to drill, baby, drill. And we must! Or we will be even more beholden to, and controlled by, dangerous foreign regimes that supply much of our energy. This has been a constant refrain from me. As Governor of Alaska, I did everything in my power to hold oil companies accountable in order to prove to the federal government and to the nation that Alaska could be trusted to further develop energy rich land like ANWR and NPR-A.

I hired conscientious Democrats and Republicans (because this sure shouldn’t be a partisan issue) to provide me with the best advice on how we could deal with what was a corrupt system of some lawmakers and administrators who were hesitant to play hardball with some in the oil field business. (Remember the Alaska lawmakers, public decision-makers, and business executives who ended up going to jail as a result of the FBI’s investigations of oily corruption.)

As the aforementioned article notes, BP’s operation in Alaska would hurt our state and waste public resources if allowed to continue. That’s why my administration created the Petroleum Systems Integrity Office (PSIO) when we saw proof of improper maintenance of oil infrastructure in our state. We had to verify. And that’s why we instituted new oversight and held BP and other oil companies financially accountable for poor maintenance practices. We knew we could partner with them to develop resources without pussyfooting around with them. As a CEO, it was my job to look out for the interests of Alaskans with the same intensity and action as the oil company CEOs looked out for the interests of their shareholders.

I learned firsthand the way these companies operate when I served as chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (AOGCC). I ended up resigning in protest because my bosses (the Governor and his chief of staff at the time) wouldn’t support efforts to clean up the corruption involving improper conflicts of interest with energy companies that the state was supposed to be watching. (I wrote about this valuable learning experience in my book, “Going Rogue”.) I felt guilty taking home a big paycheck while being reduced to sitting on my thumbs – essentially rendered ineffective as a supervisor of a regulatory agency in charge of nearly 20% of the U.S. domestic supply of energy.

My experience (though, granted, I got the message loud and clear during the campaign that my executive experience managing the fastest growing community in the state, and then running the largest state in the union, was nothing compared to the experiences of a community organizer) showed me how government officials and oil execs could scratch each others’ backs to the detriment of the public, and it made me ill. I ran for Governor to fight such practices. So, as a former chief executive, I humbly offer this advice to the President: you must verify. That means you must meet with Hayward. Demand answers.

In the interview today, the President said: “I don’t sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick.”

Please, sir, for the sake of the Gulf residents, reach out to experts who have experience holding oil companies accountable. I suggested a few weeks ago that you start with Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources, led by Commissioner Tom Irwin. Having worked with Tom and his DNR and AGIA team led by Marty Rutherford, I can vouch for their integrity and expertise in dealing with Big Oil and overseeing its developments. We’ve all lived and worked through the Exxon-Valdez spill. They can help you. Give them a call. Or, what the heck, give me a call.

And, finally, Mr. President, please do not punish the American public with any new energy tax in response to this tragedy. Just because BP and federal regulators screwed up that doesn’t mean the rest of us should get punished with higher taxes at the pump and attached to everything petroleum products touch.

- Sarah Palin

All of a sudden that hick-town rube doesn't sound so bad after all.