Friday, March 14, 2008

We're Fueling Taxation Without Representation

You know what I think would help the American people more than any unoriginal, unimaginative tax rebate checks? A repeal, or at least suspension, of the Federal Government's (and any State Government's) fuel tax. That makes infinitely more sense than just handing out money that, sooner instead of later, will inevitably be spent on gas. As anyone who owns a vehicle knows, that that money will probably end up mostly paying for gas (instead of a new flat-screen TV or Blu-ray player) isn't a matter of choice. It's a consequence of necessity.

I find myself reminiscing quite often these days about how my travel expenses - not counting the PATH train to work in New Jersey - were $76 a month whilst residing in New York City. $76 would get me thirty days of unlimited NYC Subway, NYC Bus, and even Long Island Bus trips. Sure, if I had wanted to take the Long Island Rail Road somewhere, that was an extra expense - but it was an extra expense well worth the price. Money that might otherwise have been spent on gas I was able to spend on books, and when I wasn't reading on the Subway, I was able to take pictures with my phone's camera of funny ads like this:

Okay, truth be told, money that might otherwise be spent on gas today is still spent on books...the only difference being that in Tucson, I have need of a car, and as I mentioned, in the days when I was living in Queens and gallivanting around Manhattan...I didn't. The way I see it, books are an investment while gas is a harassment. I enjoy every minute I spend in Barnes & Noble; as it was in NYC, so it is back in Tucson - you have to drag me out, or kick me out, of such stores. Not so with gas stations - at most, each visit is a very unsatisfying quickie.

Why are tax rebates the only thing Washington can come up with? We're the folks who landed on the Moon, shot down an errant spy satellite from a moving Navy ship, got the A-bomb before the Japanese or Nazis could, and put into practice what European intellectuals in the 18th century could only talk and dream about. We're the leaders of the Free World - whatever the foreign minister of France says. We should be able to come up with better ideas than this. And we - the people - do. It's our government that's unimaginative when it comes to such nonsense.

Okay, so it's not exactly nonsense - a lot of people, a
lot, will be thanking their lucky stars when their rebate checks arrive in the mail. Of course, we can't count on them to do the smart thing, and save, because they've likely listened to the Federal Government's advice and heard Washington's hopes, and intend on spending away whatever money they get as soon as possible. But like I said...that money isn't going to go all that far, if gas prices continue to fluctuate (up and down, but mostly up) as they have. Big Oil - and Big Politics - will be the ultimate benefactors - not Mr. and Mrs. America.

I would love to see millions upon millions of Americans purchase a hearty supply of fuel containers, fill 'em up with a month's - or even a week and a half's - worth of gasoline, and then let the oil companies squirm from lack of continued business. I'd love to see sit-in-car strikes at gas stations, where people fed up with ever-rising prices refuse to move their cars until something significant is done. Refuse to move their cars, and refuse to buy anything - anything at all from the convenience store. I'd love to see such things happen, but it likely won't. And why?

Why? Because as we creep toward the 232nd anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, we're ignorant of the fact - or maybe all too acutely aware - that we haven't the stomach for rebellion that we once did. We're no longer the nation of the Boston Tea Party. Not really. Not anymore. To dress up as Indians would be politically incorrect, and dumping gas would be environmentally damaging. We don't want to offend, and besides - we like driving.

And so, we take what handouts the Government gives us, disbelieve what the Government tells us (yet still listen to it), and pay tax after tax to
our Government for the privilege of being bossed around by unelected Washington bureaucrats. We care more about American Idol, or America Ferrera, than we do about America, the country.

We'll bitch, we'll moan, we'll debate - but we won't do much besides that. We'll vote, but for a slate of candidates that is hardly the best that's ever been presented for our approval. We'll buy into the media's love affair with Barack Obama. And we'll still fill up our cars with gas, fuming the whole time as we smell the fumes and watch the total price of this or that particular fill-up eat away at our savings, our rebate checks, our 401Ks...etc., etc., etc. We'll look at stuff like the blog entry you're now reading, and then forget we ever did.

Unless...well, there are some of us who will do their utmost to spend more on books than they do on gas. Who will go out of their way to spend as little on petrol as is humanly possible, not because they are cheap individuals, but because they know that money can be better spent elsewhere (like, say, on going to see Cloverfield seven times in the month of February). Who will, after spending that money elsewhere, spend it once again on more and more books. And more books.

So long as gas prices head skyward, so long as Washington, Phoenix, Albany, Sacramento, etc. fiddle while our bank accounts burn and implement tax rebates rather than tax cuts, meaningful tax cuts...for all of America's Drivers....this is what we'll do. At least, people like me, people who still like to read.

I know we have our Congress, our President, our Governors, our State Legislatures and Assemblies, but if you ask me, "taxation without representation" in some sense still afflicts us today as it did in Colonial times.

The only difference between the late 18th century and the early 21st century is that instead of an overbearing, power-mad Parliament taxing us from thousands of miles away in England, we have a power-mad, overbearing, interested-more-in-our-vote-than-in-our-well-being Federal Government taxing-us-until-we-die-and-taxing-us-after-we-die from Washington (and our State capitals).

If we truly had
representation, we'd know it. Believe me, we'd know it.

We'd feel it in our wallets. A lot more often than we do.

"To speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government."
- Henry David Thoreau

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Second Amendment: We Keep Arguing Over Bearing Arms

On May 1, 1943, as the Warsaw Ghetto uprising raged, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels observed, "Of course this jest will probably not last long. But it shows what one can expect of the Jews if they have arms."

With that in mind, imagine what the Nazis might
not have gotten away with if they hadn't been so zealously in favor of gun control, or hadn't succeeded in implementing it. Imagine a Kristallnacht in 1938 during which, when faced with massive pogroms, threatened German Jews had the guns and ammo (and gumption) to shoot at those seeking to do their families and their property harm. If you can imagine that, then you can imagine a world in which the Nazis found it very difficult to herd Jews into train cars and gas chambers. Insofar as applicability in the real world goes, it should be sufficient enough to note that Israel is still around nearly sixty years after its founding, despite numerous Arab efforts to destroy it.

Next week, the Supreme Court of the United States will for the first time since the late 1930s wade significantly into the "gun rights vs. gun control" debate in America. At issue is a Washington, D.C. law dating from 1976 (drafted in 1975) which banned residents from owning handguns; the District of Columbia's government instituted the measure in response to alarming levels of gun violence in the Capital of the Republic. Whether the law has been effective is arguable, since D.C. is hardly America's safest city nearly 32 years after the ban passed the D.C. council. I'm sure the ineptitude of the District's leadership has nothing to do with this, even though D.C. has yet to even master the "simple" art of snow removal in the three decades since home rule was instituted.

However the high court decides will obviously shape the course of our national discussion on the Second Amendment far into the future; after all, if Roe v. Wade is still cause for passionate argument "for and against" 35 years after it was decided, it's a good bet that District of Columbia v. Heller won't be any different. Already, several officials in Montana - including the Secretary of State - are beating their chests and threatening to "pull a South Carolina" (my wordsmithing - see this article on the Nullification Crisis for more info) if the Supreme Court decides in favor of the D.C. handgun ban. Don't forget, we're talking about an issue which - unlike abortion - has been discussed and debated since the days when the Articles of Confederation first established that
'The Stile of this Confederacy shall be "The United States of America" '.

There are many people today who say that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution was written for a different time and place, and thus no longer holds any meaning in today's world of rampant inner-city crime and Vice Presidential hunting accidents. I'm not talking about people who support Brady Law-type restrictions on firearm purchases. I'm talking about people who support the ACLU, who like to pick and choose which provisions of the Constitution and Bill of Rights should apply and which should be ignored simply because they don't fit in with their view of the world (which, I must say, is a view of the world not always wholly in touch with reality).

In my honest, humble opinion, the Constitution and Bill of Rights together constitute both a solid, firm set of rules and regulations as well as a flexible blueprint for dealing with future challenges and situations facing the American Republic. The Framers knew what they were doing in the late 1780s. With every oath taken to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," our elected leaders affirm that Constitution's status as a living document which guides us still today. And while Progress necessitates frequent reexaminations of the applicability of certain provisions from time to time, there is nothing "progressive" about attempting to repeal the People's right to keep and bear Arms.

Consider for a moment the fact that in their day, those who wrote the Second Amendment saw themselves as the defenders of a "Novus Ordo Seclorum" - a "New Order of the Ages". With the Constitution they created a new system of Government based on the idea, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, that Governments derive their "just powers from the consent of the governed." Patrick Henry, that Revolutionary Virginian of "Give me liberty or give me death" fame, stated at Virginia's ratification convention for the Constitution that "My great objection to this government is, that it does not leave us the means of defending our rights or of waging war against tyrants."

This, of course, was said before the Bill of Rights came into being.

At the Constitutional Convention, many State delegations refused to vote in favor of the new Constitution unless a Bill of Rights was drafted, a document of amendments which would spell out specific areas in which the new Federal Government would be legally restrained from trampling upon the rights and liberties of both the States and the People. Such worrywarts weren't, of course, against the sort of Government the Constitution spelled out per se. They just knew enough of human nature not to accept any arguments which said the Constitution provided more than enough protection as-is; they knew constitutional ambiguity could be used just as easily for evil ends as for good.

In "The Federalist" No. 51, published on February 8, 1788 in New York, the anonymous author Publius - now known to have been none other than the "Father of the Constitution" himself,
James Madison - wrote, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions." (my emphasis - J.S.)

A recognition of "...the right of the people to keep and bear Arms..." and the affirmation that that right "...shall not be infringed..." was not a throwback to an earlier, more primitive developmental era of human civilization. The Second Amendment represented a break from the past, a break from a world in which a Government could tyrannize, oppress and disenfranchise the citizenry with impunity. In that it put in words and codified - some might even say canonized - a recognition of just how far the People could go to not just "...provide for the common defence...", but also " the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity...", the Second Amendment was progressive in its day.

And it is entirely germane to, and progressive in, our day as well.

For if experience had taught mankind "...
the necessity of auxiliary precautions," then a Second Amendment which recognized that "A well regulated Militia..." was "...necessary to the security of a free State..." (note the word free, and the State which follows) provided such "necessary precautions" in the event competitive elections can't or won't, and Government can't or won't, secure the People their liberties and freedoms. The Second Amendment provides both a means of equipping a well-regulated State Militia (don't forget, those in the Revolutionary era feared standing National armies - for good reason, given their experiences), and clearly, straightforwardly protects "...the right of the people to keep and bear Arms...".

Now, don't read me wrong: The Second Amendment says nothing about the right to keep M-16s in your boudoir, and should not be blindly or ignorantly interpreted as giving to the American people free reign to maintain a fully-equipped arsenal in their garages or storage sheds. Suffice it to say that whereas regulation is concerned, I am of the view that common sense should prevail, and that going overboard in our interpretations of the right to keep and bear Arms is just as bad, and just as dangerous to our liberties and freedoms, as trying to revoke that right.

"Laws that forbid the carrying of arms...disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes."
- Thomas Jefferson

"Where and when did freedom exist when the power of the sword and purse were given up from the people?" - Patrick Henry; June 9, 1788

Friday, March 07, 2008

They Want Israel to Be Proportional? Okay.

"We are proud and happy, and everyone in Jabel Mukaber is proud of him..."

- Family member of terrorist
Alaa Abu Dhein, responsible for shooting 8 at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem on March 6, 2008


Whether we're talking about a war started by Hizballah in 2006 or a terrorist attack in Jerusalem in 2008, the international community's advice to Israel on what sort of response is appropriate generally centers around this word and its many variations:




Earlier this week, a German Foreign Ministry spokesman in Berlin said the Jewish state should
"try to be proportional" in its approach to combating rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. During the Second Lebanon War in July-August 2006, the State of Israel was accused multiple times of using "disproportionate force" in response to Hizballah missile attacks and border violations. Even Israel has latched onto the word: A recent study conducted by the Israeli Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem found that "A survey of international practice suggests that... [Israel's] approach toward proportionality corresponds to, or is more stringent than, that taken by most Western countries confronting similar threats."

At a February 25 "Rally for Sderot" held in Toronto, Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz said, "The world is waiting for one of those rockets to hit a school bus, God forbid, to hit a school room, God forbid, to hit an ambulance, to hit a hospital, to hit a group of children. Then the world will say it's OK for Israel to respond. As long as it's
proportionate, and as long as no civilians are killed, and as long as it's done in a way that will have no impact on preventing it in the future. What other democracy in the world would wait until that horrible disaster occurs?"

This focus on proportionality in response to terror attacks and other acts of war, this request that any Israeli military actions should be proportionate to the threat posed, this requirement - which other countries, and the Palestinians for that matter, aren't obligated to hold to - that Jerusalem engage in proportional uses of force begs the question: What, exactly, do they mean when they use this term?

According to Professor Dershowitz,
"[Hamas] has a culture of death, not a culture of life… We choose life. [But] the international community will not allow Israel to engage in proportional, lawful actions that every other country in the world facing comparable threats would engage in." Dershowitz makes a very good point: the world asks Israel to be proportional, but really would prefer that there be no response from Israel at all. The world, in truth, is afraid of allowing Israel to actually be proportionate in its response, because.....because why?

Because here's the thing:

A truly proportionate response to Palestinian rockets being fired at communities in Israel would be - as I suggested in a previous blog entry - a reciprocal firing of rockets at Palestinian communities in the Gaza Strip. A truly proportionate response by Israel to a barbaric terrorist attack carried out against teenagers studying the Torah at a rabbinical school - such as occurred Thursday evening - would be the targeting of Islamic religious schools in the Gaza Strip or the West Bank, and the shooting of young men studying the Qu'ran. A truly proportionate response to attacks deliberately targeting Israeli civilians carried out by Palestinians would entail the deliberate targeting by Israel of Palestinian civilians.

Of course, there are those who claim that Israel already
does target civilians, and they point to the higher death tolls of Palestinian civilians compared with the civilian casualties on the Israeli side. Israel, though, is not to be blamed for the Palestinian practice of basing rocket-launching sites and terrorist safe-houses in the middle of residential neighborhoods. If anyone, or any group, is primarily responsible for placing Arab civilians in harm's way, it is the Palestinians themselves, and Hamas. Israel certainly doesn't go out of its way to harm Palestinian civilians; if only the same could be said about the attitude of Palestinian "resistance" groups toward Israeli civilians.

There's a part of me which says, "If only Israel targeted their civilians like the Palestinians target ours." It sounds bad, and I know the very idea is on the whole repugnant. However, at the same time I can't help but wonder if the intentional targeting of Palestinian civilians would make a difference.

After all, what is really lacking is not common ground or a willingness to discuss difficult issues; what is lacking is a "balance of terror". Palestinians rely on terrorist groups to attack Israelis in the hopes that Israelis will in turn put pressure on their leaders to make concessions to the Palestinian leadership. Even the Palestinian Authority, whatever its differences with Hamas, has a soft spot for violence directed primarily against Israeli civilians; Fatah terrorists have plenty of Jewish blood to answer for.

Were it not for the "culture of death" and the celebration of "martyrdom" pervading Palestinian society, I would say a balance of terror would be possible for Israel to achieve. The sad truth of the matter is that Palestinians don't care about their kids as much as we do. They don't value the lives of their children as much as they say they do. As evidenced by the quote which started off this entry, you can't create a balance of terror by threatening the lives of those who not only want to die, but wish to take you with them to Allah.

Let's look again at that aforementioned quote which started off this entry:

"We are proud and happy, and everyone in Jabel Mukaber is proud of him..."

It's no secret, and it's nothing new: This is what we're dealing with. This is the mentality the State of Israel is supposed to make peace with. Israel is proud of its soldiers; the Palestinians are proud of their murderers. Israel focuses on "getting" those with guns; Palestinians focus on slaughtering those whose only defense is the volume of the Bible or Talmud in their hands. This is why, when I see those stupid "Coexist" bumper stickers utilizing the Crescent, Star of David, and the Cross as letters, I cringe...

We put those stickers on our cars.

They don't.

Following yesterday's attack in Jerusalem, residents of Gaza City went out into the streets - just like they did after they heard about the 9/11 attacks - and celebrated. They fired their rifles in the air, likely ululated, and demonstrated their solidarity with the murderist (a.k.a. terrorist) cause.

I know bombing such celebrations would be extreme. I know it wouldn't solve anything; mass slaughter on such a scale wouldn't convince the Palestinians of anything other than that they must fight on until the Jewish state is destroyed (which, by the way, they're already committed to doing anyway - even when no Israeli bombs are dropped). Bombing celebrations that honor acts of terrorism against innocents won't help strike a needed balance of terror between Israelis and Palestinians. It would only make angry Arabs angrier.

But it sure as hell would make me feel better. And since Hamas has taken responsibility for the attack, we'd have a pretty good excuse...

See, this atrocity, perpetrated against Jews at a religious school, was an act ordered by the Hamas government against innocent Israeli civilians in Jerusalem. Wouldn't it be proportional for the Israeli government to respond in kind against Palestinian civilians in Gaza? You probably disagree with me, but I say it would be entirely proportionate, entirely acceptable, to do exactly to them what they do to us. Or something similar.

Because that's what it's all about, my friends:


Saturday, March 01, 2008

Sisyphus Speaks Hebrew, Not Greek

Israel has once again - after weeks of deliberation - undertaken operations to stop the rockets being fired from the Gaza Strip at her border communities. As of this writing, 47 Palestinians have lost their lives, and we can bet that if the raids continue, Israel will lose more than just the two soldiers she already did on Saturday evening. Once again, we shouldn't be fooled by there being more Arab than Jewish casualties; as it always does, the world will call for Israeli restraint (despite Israel's obvious restraint - remember we're talking about a nuclear-armed country) and the Palestinian leadership will accuse the Israeli leadership of orchestrating a massacre.

If it wasn't so sad, such predictability would be comical.

Until Hamas decides on its own to put the kibosh on rocket fire from territory it controls, rocket fire meant to scare, maim and slaughter Israelis, and so long as the "Purity of Arms" remains a core principle guiding the generals, commanders and ordinary grunts of the Israel Defense Forces, attempting to stop the rockets will be a Sisyphean task for
the Jewish State. Soldiers will die unnecessarily because the politicians in Zion care more about protecting Palestinian civilians than they do about achieving tangible, meaningful results. The rockets might stop, temporarily - but rest assured, sooner or later they'll start flying toward Sderot and Ashkelon once again.

Cutting off power to the Gaza Strip didn't work. Blockading Gaza hasn't worked. IAF air strikes at launch sites, ex post facto, haven't done the trick. Hamas operatives demolished security barriers on the Egypt-Gaza border; God-only knows how many terrorists and their supplies poured into the Strip thanks to the breach. Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are, once more (big surprise), on the verge of collapsing. Children - whose only crime was being born Jewish and Israeli - are still being wounded and killed in the streets of Sderot.

Personally, I think Jerusalem should risk the ire of Washington and refuse to negotiate with the Palestinian leadership so long as rockets are still being fired from the Gaza Strip and being deliberately aimed at civilian communities in Israel. Granted, the Palestinian Authority has no current say in the affairs or governance of Gaza, but Gazans are still Palestinians - Israel should not negotiate with Palestinians while Palestinians remain committed to war against Israel. It's common sense.

"Peace in '08" be damned; you can't force it and expect it to work.

I also think that Israel should take a page from the Hamas/Palestinian/Gazan playbook, and announce that for every rocket launched from the Gaza Strip at an Israeli town or city, Israel should launch a reciprocal number of rockets/missiles at Gaza City, Khan Younis, Rafah, etc. Since Gazans and Hamas are so fond of "random" acts of violence, I say give them random acts of violence in return. Let rockets beget rockets. Israel doesn't have to aim them at any specific targets; let 'em fly and let God handle the details.

As my good friend Avram has pointed out to me, the world would "shit a brick" if the latter course were to be undertaken; the way I see it, though, the world shits a brick anytime a Jew or Israeli picks up a weapon in self-defense anyway, so why worry over it? Ensure that there is enough mortar and/or toilet paper, cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war.

Unfortunately, we're not likely going to see anything like what I suggest happen anytime soon, if ever at all, because Israel is like Hillary Clinton: She wants you to believe she can stand on her own two feet, but still needs ever-popular hubby Bill around to campaign for her. Israel wants into the clubhouse clique, and thus feels it can no longer afford to be militarily assertive or imaginative out on the course.

Israel's desire for approval on the world stage outweighs its desire for security; this means that unless it changes its tactics (or returns to its old school, black-eye-for-black-eye mentality, since a Six Day War-style KO is difficult to achieve these days) Israel will continue to be a Sisyphus...metaphorically confined to Tartarus for eternity, forced over and over again to push a boulder up a hill and then watch as it rolls back down. Peace will forever be elusive, so long as nothing really changes in Israel's defensive mindset.

This conflict has gone on for too long; it's time to make the enemy as war-weary as we are. Enough should have been enough long ago. If the game is to be played, let it be played for keeps.

Playing for keeps is the only way to win, after all.