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July 30, 2007

Never Again! vs. not My Problem!

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Jay B. Gaskill



Monday, July 30, 2007


A correspondent, Dr. Lawrence White, recently sent me a thought provoking piece of his, from which I quote an important excerpt as follows:


Are We Our Brother’s Keeper? Revisiting “It’s Not My Problem”
 Editorial by Lawrence W. White MD   
"In the time leading up to Pearl Harbor, the large and influential America First movement, led by Charles Lindberg, and an assortment of anti-Jewish figures, isolationist Republicans, and figures from both the right and the left, including Norman Thomas, Gore Vidal, Potter Stewart and Walt Disney, declared that hostilities in some far-off place were none of our business, and certainly not worth the loss of American life. The underlying assumption, never stated, was that American lives were worth more than the lives of those affected by the onslaught of aggressive war by the Axis powers. Thus the lives of the Chinese in Nanking, the Poles in Warsaw , the Dutch in Rotterdam , the Brits in London , and of course the Jews all over Europe , were not worth risking American lives to save. The movement ended less than two years after it started with the Japanese attack on Hawaii .
"What have we learned since then? The expression "Never Again" has a worthy pedigree. It was coined by Rabbi Meir Kahane and referred to the Shoah. It has also been used to refer to the Armenian Genocide and to the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And of course, many Israelis quote this expression in their determination to avoid reliance for their security on any other power
"Yet we have really learned nothing. Since the time of "America First", we have avoided intervening against the most egregious instances of genocide. Are American lives really more important than those of Bosnian Muslims, or the Tutsis of Rwanda, or the Czechs or Hungarians revolting against tyranny during the Cold War, or those we abandoned in Viet Nam
in 1975, or the Cambodians murdered on the killing fields, or the Shiites who rebelled against Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War?
"With all these other instances, it may be comforting to know that the abandonment of the Jews during the Nazi period was not personal. As they say in the Mafia, it was just business. It was simply part of the general approach to "realpolitik" foreign policy, in which our involvement is dictated by (and only by) our own narrow interest, without regard to morality or legality. Yet, as Jews, we are acutely aware of what it means to be on the wrong side of “It’s not my problem”.


Copyright © 2007 by Lawrence White


I believe that Israel’s survival manifestly is our problem.  Why isn’t that always as clear as it should be?


Here’s the deal:


It’s not really about Israel as such; it’s about averting the next Dark Age.  Western civilization is at risk; our future is at stake and little Israel is the moral fulcrum on which the outcome will depend. 


US foreign policy, from its very inception, has been driven by a moral component but also by an equally important amoral one.  This is why our moral large scale military engagements tend to be couched in moralistic self interest.  The inherent tension between these components is reflected in various competing political camps and their ideologies of convenience.  


As a nation, we love to rescue the innocent, we love being appreciated by those we choose to help and – above all - we Americans love winning.


Therefore our most popular military engagements tend to be shaped by two interconnected principles:

  • Double bull’s-eye marketing;
  • The action movie narrative arc.


Foreign policy adventures are best sold when the moral crusade bull’s eye and the national security bull’s eye overlap.  Popular support tends to fall apart when events drag out to the point that reality no longer resembles the neat and satisfying narrative of the thriller.


Overshadowing this practical psychological reality looms a meta-reality:


Any civilization that lacks an understanding of evil on the “Burkian level” (and the concomitant obligation of all civilized peoples to defeat it) will prove incapable of defending itself.


I don’t intend to use this limited space launch into a peroration about the reality of evil as a force in the modern world.  For that you can go to three of my articles: “The moral Challenge of Radical Islam” http://www.jaygaskill.com/beast.htm , “How do we Explain Evil?” http://www.jaygaskill.com/explainingevil.htm , and “Reflections on Evil and the Modern Mind” http://www.jaygaskill.com/evil2l.htm . 


Suffice it to say that, until Western civilization recovers our deep, ancient knowledge about evil, we are at risk of immolation.


I believe that moral ambiguity is an “evil enabler”.


Please indulge an extended self-quotation from one of my earliest discussions of the nature of evil on the “Burkian” scale:


In economics, “Gresham’s Law” is the tendency of bad money to drive out the good.  A form of Gresham’s law applies when we bicker about evil in the marketplace of ideas.  When we use the epithet “evil” like a schoolyard taunt, when we indulge the impulse to demonize our opponents, we debase the currency of our discourse.  The real thing tends to be forgotten or marginalized.


I recall the stories about British civilian plane spotters in WW2 who were trained to identify bomber silhouettes. Clearly, intelligent identification is essential. So what are the parameters.  What is the shape of real evil?  I see three parameters.


First. Purpose matters. 


As Oliver Wendell Homes said, “Even a dog knows the difference between being stumbled over and being kicked.”


Second. Scale matters. 


I don’t mean to trivialize smaller scale wrongdoing, say on the level of ordinary crime, because it is so obviously worthy of our ongoing attention.

But the scale that most concerns me is that of the events and trends that alter life generally.  I believe this was the scale of evil that Edmund Burke had in mind when he said “all that is needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”


Third.  The core nature of the threat matters.


Think of an earthquake or tornado, and contrast an example of large scale, human directed malevolence, like the Nazi death camps or the Pol Pot massacres. In common natural disasters, structures and the physical basis for life are imperiled.  Our response is calibrated accordingly.  When purposeful human malevolence looms, we are threatened on the immediate physical level, but we are also attacked on the level of our deepest values.


This is why true evil draws us back to our core values. 


We Americans can endlessly argue with each other about our military actions - past and proposed in Iraq and Iran; we can bicker about what is or is not in the immediate national self interest; and we can quibble about what is, was or will be a prudent course of action in light or our limited military and political resources. 


But surely it is insanity to argue endlessly about the moral and practical imperative to defeat the looming Islamist extremist threat to civilization.


Hitler’s brutal hegemony was the apotheosis of evil on the Burkean scale. The shoa was the result of an ambivalent and tardy response of Western civilization in the face of an outbreak of existential and essential evil on the Burkean scale. 


The Islamist extremist threat is this century’s latest and most virulent form of Burkean-scale evil.  If the West permits another holocaust in the form of a depopulated Israel at the hands of Islamic fanatics, a new Dark Age will follow like the Arctic night follows the summer.  No one will be safe.



July 19, 2007



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Why pick March 2008 as the date for an American reversal of fortune in Iraq?


The anti-war democrats who – for the moment – control their party’s debate on the Iraq War seemed to have settled on March of next year as the drop dead, drop out date for:

(a) The absolute end of the surge;

(b) The decisive end of our active engagement with the insurgency there;

(c) The beginning of a clear reversal of our commitment to defend the elected government there; or all three.  


I think we are entitled to ask: Why that? Why then?


Here is the game.  The democrats-in-charge have decided that their best option is to force the president, and by extension - his party, to own defeat in Iraq but for the democrats to be in the optimum position to rescue America from W’s mistakes and even to own victory should the defeatists have miscalculated.


Because of the president’s veto power and the danger of utter chaos surrounding any politically forced American stand down in Iraq, I believe that the democratic leaders (who are in close consultation with Senator Clinton, their front runner) want a symbolic demonstration here, but not (God forbid) actual consequences.


This is an unusual election year in that, by “Super Tuesday”, it is in almost every candidate’s interest to have successfully fudged on the Iraq Project’s ultimate prospects so that they can have it both ways as the exigencies of events and the campaigns dictate.


Good luck with that.


Super Tuesday is February 5th of next year. On that single day, caucuses in Colorado (9 Electoral College votes) & North Dakota (3 EV), and primary elections in eighteen other states will allocate party preferences among the candidates in states that control 266 Electoral College votes (recalling that 270 will be needed to elect).


Those Super Tuesday primaries and EC votes are as follows:


Alabama (9), Arkansas (6), California (55), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), Georgia (15), Illinois (21), Michigan (17), Missouri (11), New Jersey (15), New Mexico (5), New York (31), North Carolina (15), Oklahoma (7), Oregon (7), Pennsylvania (21), Rhode Island (4) and Utah (5)

On March 4th, Primaries in Massachusetts (12), Minnesota (10), Ohio (20), Pennsylvania (21), Texas (34) and Vermont (3) will take place.  The Electoral College total for that single day is 100.

[Readers are invited to check my math.]

So by the first Tuesday in March, the overall trend in what democrats hope (or fear) of the Hillary juggernaut will be evident.  Party contests affecting the allocation 370 Electoral College votes will have been allocated, most of them pro rata. 

Senator Clinton will have been established as the first ballot pick - or as very close to that goal.  Failing that, she will be perceived to be in trouble.

No US Senator running for president could rationally want any additional “war drama” in the US Senate between that date and the Democratic Party convention in Denver, August 25-28. [The GOP convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul is September 1-4.]  This is because the next president will actually have to deal with Iraq and the larger jihad for four very challenging years 2009, 10, 11 and 2012.

Whatever happens in the US Senate between now and the new president’s inauguration in January 2009, you can be sure of at least three things:

(1) The jihadists will have killed thousands more people.

(2) Iraq will be a terrorist storm center.

(3) Iran will be the linchpin of the entire struggle.

Stay tuned…


Appendix I:

The Electoral College

Alabama  *  9
Alaska  *  3
Arizona  *  10
Arkansas  *  6
California  *  55
Colorado  *  9
Connecticut  *  7
Delaware  *  3
District Of Columbia  *  3
Florida  *  27
Georgia  *  15
Hawaii  *  4
Idaho  *  4
Illinois  *  21
Indiana  *  11
Iowa  *  7
Kansas  *  6
Kentucky  *  8
Louisiana  *  9
Maine  *  4
Maryland  *  10
Massachusetts  *  12
Michigan  *  17
Minnesota  *  10
Mississippi  *  6
Missouri  *  11
Montana  *  3
Nebraska  *  5
Nevada  *  5
New Hampshire  *  4
New Jersey  *  15
New Mexico  *  5
New York  *  31
North Carolina  *  15
North Dakota  *  3
Ohio  *  20
Oklahoma  *  7
Oregon  *  7
Pennsylvania  *  21
Rhode Island  *  4
South Carolina  *  8
South Dakota  *  3
Tennessee  *  11
Texas  *  34
Utah  *  5
Vermont  *  3
Virginia  *  13
Washington  *  11
West Virginia  *  5
Wisconsin  *  10
Wyoming  *  3


Appendix II:


Primaries & Caucuses


January 8: District of Columbia
January 14: Iowa (caucuses) – date under review
January 19: Nevada (caucuses)
January 22: New Hampshire (primary) - date under review, Wyoming (GOP caucuses)
January 29: South Carolina (Dem primary)
February 2: South Carolina (GOP primary) - date under review
February 5:
Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado (caucuses), Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota (caucuses), Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah
February 9: Louisiana
February 10: Maine (Dem caucuses)
February 12: Maryland, Virginia - date under review
February 19: Wisconsin
February 26: Hawaii (Dem caucuses), Idaho (Dem caucuses)
March 2: Hawaii (GOP caucuses)
March 4:
Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont
March 11: Mississippi
March 21: Maine (GOP caucuses)
Alaska - date under review
May 6: Indiana
May 10: Wyoming (Dem caucuses)
May 13: Nebraska (primary), West Virginia
May 20: Kentucky
May 27: Idaho (primary), Washington
June 3: Montana, South Dakota


  Alabama * 9 Alaska * 3 Arizona * 10Arkansas * 6California * 55Colorado * 9Connecticut * 7Delaware * 3District Of Columbia * 3Florida * 27Georgia * 15Hawaii * 4Idaho * 4Illinois * 21Indiana * 11Iowa * 7Kansas * 6Kentucky * 8Louisiana * 9Maine * 4Maryland * 10Massachusetts * 12Michigan * 17Minnesota * 10Mississippi * 6Missouri * 11 Montana * 3 Nebraska * 5Nevada * 5New Hampshire * 4New Jersey * 15New Mexico * 5New York * 31North Carolina * 15North Dakota * 3Ohio * 20Oklahoma * 7Oregon * 7Pennsylvania * 21Rhode Island * 4South Carolina * 8South Dakota * 3Tennessee * 11Texas * 34Utah * 5Vermont * 3Virginia * 13Washington * 11West Virginia * 5Wisconsin * 10Wyoming * 3
  Alabama * 9 Alaska * 3 Arizona * 10Arkansas * 6California * 55Colorado * 9Connecticut * 7Delaware * 3District Of Columbia * 3Florida * 27Georgia * 15Hawaii * 4Idaho * 4Illinois * 21Indiana * 11Iowa * 7Kansas * 6Kentucky * 8Louisiana * 9Maine * 4Maryland * 10Massachusetts * 12Michigan * 17Minnesota * 10Mississippi * 6Missouri * 11 Montana * 3 Nebraska * 5Nevada * 5New Hampshire * 4New Jersey * 15New Mexico * 5New York * 31North Carolina * 15North Dakota * 3Ohio * 20Oklahoma * 7Oregon * 7Pennsylvania * 21Rhode Island * 4South Carolina * 8South Dakota * 3Tennessee * 11Texas * 34Utah * 5Vermont * 3Virginia * 13Washington * 11West Virginia * 5Wisconsin * 10Wyoming * 3

July 16, 2007

The New Administration's Moment of Truth

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Copyright © 2005, 2006 and 2007 by Jay B. Gaskill

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The New Administration’s Moment of Truth


Only a truly great, but self-indulgent country can afford to be merely annoyed and cranky when its soldiers quickly and with surgical precision take down a major Middle Eastern tyrant, scour his defeated country from corner to corner in a search for banned weapons, just because the ensuing occupation doesn’t go as well as the original invasion.


Spare me from the faux-moral arguments against the Iraq Project.  Taking down a brutal, murderous tyrant of the ilk of Saddam is inherently a good deed.  Though the arguments are camouflaged in the language of sanctimoniousness and moral superiority, the real question about the Iraq Project has been and remains how much of this effort was in /still is in our nation’s, separate and – let’s not put too fine a point on it - selfish - interests?


The answer to that question seems to be entangled with three sets of worries and unanswered follow-on questions: (1) If the Iraq Project was all about oil, why didn’t we just appropriate Iraq’s post-liberation oil supplies for ourselves? (2) If the Project was all about destroying a key threatening regime in a sensitive part of the world, why didn’t we just leave a few large craters behind and wash our hands of the whole dirty business? (3) If life is so simple, why is it that we still honor Murphy’s Law? Or the Law or Unintended Consequences?


There is one major moral dimension to the practical, self interest calculation. But it complicates things only if we fail to see that we face one of those messy real life situations in which the moral and the practical lead us to pretty much the same conclusion.  Here it is: It will neither be moral nor in our national self interest to allow Iraq to go down the toilet into full-on chaos.  That would be a human disaster with such ripple effects that our own security interests would be gravely threatened. Somehow Iraq needs to be stabilized and made friendly to our side of the jihad while we persuade Iran to back off, while at the same time holding a metaphorical pistol to the head of Iran’s jihad-friendly regime, loaded, cocked and safety off.  The metaphorical pistol is our declared willingness and evident ability to do “whatever is necessary” to avert the prospect of the emergence of yet one more nuclear power in the Middle East.  And, yes, we know about Israel and Pakistan.


What this all means is that even a liberal democratic administration would be faced with the above described Reality in January 2009.  Truth be told: Every new administration makes a fresh start with the situation it has been handed by history.  Past mistakes are assumed.  They are just part of the inherited situation.  In W’s case for example, it was the sudden arrival on our very doorstep of an unwanted jihad against Western civilization at a time when the pursuit of the post-Berlin Wall “peace dividend” had dangerously hollowed out our military forces. 


No new administration will have a grace period before it must face the Reality of the Jihad. Recriminating about past “mistakes” will not be on the agenda.


Instead, a President Clinton, Edwards, Giuliani, McCain, Obama, Romney or Thompson would begin with a meeting with key national security experts – not the political friends that are typically brought on board, but the apolitical DIA and CIA specialists that actually tell it “as it is”. 


Imagine being a fly on the wall at such a first briefing.  The picture that will be presented to the next president will be complicated and difficult, but several things will emerge with clarity: (1) The U.S. can no longer hope to retreat into isolation, secure in the delusion of an unreachable “fortress America.” (2) The jihad is real. A serious effort is underway to destabilize all friendly regimes in the Middle East and to replace them with Islamist extremist ones that can continue to make trouble behind a nuclear shield.  (3) We will be unable to do take (or credibly threaten) the effective measures that will be needed to counter this growing and grave threat until we rebuild our military capability to the pre Gulf War I force levels. (4)  Iran is run by a duplicitous and dangerous regime that is bent on leading the Islamist resurgence and will acquire a nuclear weapons capability unless, through a combination of imposed duress, incentives and – if needed –active military force it is compelled to curtail its ambitions.  This requires that the US set up a credible and effective deterrence-response to the Iranian nuclear effort. (5) The American people have not yet adequately been prepared for the struggle that is coming.


I am willing not to prejudge how such a meeting would go with any of the list of seven candidates above.  I can only hope and pray that the next president is less like a Jimmy Carter and more like a Harry Truman.



July 11, 2007

The American Zoo: Liberals, Conservatives, Fundamentalists and Neocons

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As a “paleolib” (read old fashioned liberal), I share many of the “liberal” complaints about the reflexive “religious” mind.  But I have even stronger complaints about the reflexive mind of the anti-religious left, especially as some of its adherents attack religion as both brain-dead and retrograde.
I grant that the use of religious rhetoric and images in politics, both benign (Martin Luther King) and less than benign, is a venerable tradition in US history. But the specter of a theocratic state (the boogyman of the secular left), has been confined to science fiction. 
Robert Heinlein wrote a novelette about an ultra oppressive religious regime taking over in the US. It’s in a paperback called, “Revolt in 2100” and the story is “If This Goes On”.
Heinlein, a secular libertarian, was not hostile to all the so-called fundamentalist faiths.  In his book, the Mormons – who were on the outs with the administration in the story - were among the resistance.
When I talk about the reflexive religious mind, I’m not singling out the so called “religious right” and not the evangelists – an often admirable group who constitute an entirely separate and sometimes overlapping sub set of the authentically religious.  I’m really talking about the passionate parrots. These are the narrow minds who talk too much and think too little and who inhabit the theological fringes but all too often dominate the media.  I refuse to give cede the title “fundamentalists” to these talking heads.
In my universe, the term fundamentalist is reserved to all thoughtful religious and non-religious people who reason from fundamental first principles. These principle-driven reasonable minds should hold the title because they are the authentic fundamentalists. The cramped minds and often fevered souls who have swapped memorization for thinking and who have taken out-of-context passages from poorly understood “scripture” for fundamental principles of life are the faux fundamentalists.
By contrast, authentic fundamentalists might locate a passage in Vedantic scripture, another in general literature, still another in Confucianism, another in the Torah and a similar passage in a Gospel text, and be able to identify the same essential ethical principle operating in all four. 
This kind of approach is demonstrated in a brilliant summary of world ethical and religious traditions, the lectures of C. S Lewis in “The Abolition of Man”.  I also highly recommend the just-released masterpiece by the San Francisco philosopher, Jacob Needleman, “Why Can’t We Be Good”. Dr. Needleman is one of those old fashioned philosophers who are equally comfortable quoting Socrates, St, Paul, and Hillel the Elder. His 2007 book demonstrates a language and approach that can guide both the secular and religious minded among us to rediscover conscience in ourselves.
This capacity to spot those significant underlying principles, the hidden “bones of the universe”, defines the authentic fundamentalists. They recognize the deep principles as the fundamentals, while seeing their expressions in various documents as only the derived versions. What about all those pesky, real-world application problems?  “Rubber meets road” problems tend to be very messy; they almost always set up issues where reasonable minds can differ. Which is why these are issues that call for honest, careful dialogue, starting with agreed fundamental principles. 
So I would have us rescue fundamentalism from the fundamentalists, and liberate ethical and policy discussions from rote appeals to secular and religious dogma.
For example, we are too often presented with a laundry list of so called “religious right” positions vs. “morally progressive” positions as if no thoughtful person could possibly agree with one of the other side.  When I hear this, I’m often left with the feeling of being read a catechism - not one by an altar boy in the 19th century RC Church, but by an altar child of the unthinking anti-religious left or the literalist right.
Consider just these four issue sets:
·        Stem cell research: Must we always be for it or against it?
·        Human cloning: Can this never generate a problem? ‘
·        Physician assisted suicide: Must we trust this model always? Never?
·        In-vitro fertilization: Always and everywhere a good or a bad thing?
To any ethical realist concerned with achieving wise and ethical public policy, all four issues are ripe for a searching, intelligent dialogue, a discussion that is informed by both religious and secular ethical insights.  All these issues present messy, real world application problems.
Yet reasonable minds, coming from entirely different political and theological perspectives, can actually have a two way conversation, talking in realistic, non lunatic terms about these four issues, agreeing and disagreeing.  No one need lapse into an appeal to the infallible authority of Dogma or Fatwa. How refreshing would that be?




A Note to my readers: This and the following sketch are profiles of American political conservatism and political liberalism. The general conservatism that represents a preference of rational incrementalism and a deep respect for tradition, and the general liberalism that represents a generosity of spirit and a tendency to challenge arbitrary boundaries are both enduring and valuable features of the Human Condition.
We need them both.  




Conservatism has undergone a renaissance mostly because of the excesses of the left.  The so called neo-conservatives are considered a threat by liberals precisely because, as a group, neo-cons are recovering lefties.  This renaissance masks a growing problem for the right: As a coherent belief system, conservatism is in trouble. 
The challenge of the 9-11 attacks and the consequent unity-in-the-ranks gave modern conservatism (always mutable) a unified shape. Absent that development, the movement was at risk of losing traction in the U.S. political culture.  In the early months of the 911 crisis, almost all Americans felt united against a concerted terrorist assault specifically aimed at our vital institutions.  In this context, “conservatives” became the entire group of like-thinking individuals united in opposition to the liberal/left forces that had stripped away our defenses.
Given the left’s role in our nation’s continuing cultural disintegration, and the pathological denial about the advance of Islamo-fascism in the world by many of its leaders, the far left might well have been discredited for good — at least on national security issues. Think about it: By now, we Americans might have created a new bipartisan national security consensus. Why didn’t that happen?  Though the prospect of one’s own execution wonderfully concentrates the mind, the effect works for a very short time. The war for the survival of Western civilization as we once knew it is not like an action movie; the narrative arc is more like that of the cold war. The atavistic jihad against the West will be a very long struggle indeed. People tend to tire, and they revert to the comfortable. Denial is the real opiate of the people.  
 So the cracks in the conservative movement have begun to surface.  [Yes, there are and were similar cracks within the left, but these have been temporarily masked by the sense of unity-in-opposition.] Revulsion at the excesses of the left no longer fully defines “conservative”.
Some of the fractures in the conservative movement flow from core principles, others from practical considerations. 
Is conservatism just a coalition? 
Is there a viable universal definition of conservatism?
Can the term conservative ever describe an international movement?    
Here is my short list of the conflicts and overlapping sub-movements within this loosely defined conservative alliance:
(1)The religious vs. secular conservatives (the latter unconcerned about God in the pledge or the Decalogue in the public square); 
(2)The “social” conservatives vs. the “socially tolerant” ones (generating issues like abortion vs. free choice and traditional marriage vs. “new paradigm”); 
(3)The libertarian conservatives vs. the public order conservatives (this fuels the drug legalization conflict, among others); (4)   The isolationists vs. interventionists (isolationists went silent when the Trade Towers fell, but returned as the “Why is Israel so important, anyway?” crowd);  
(4)Between the nationalists and internationalists (of which the free trade vs. American protectionism is but one example).
Liberalism and all the left-ideologies seem to easily attract international allies.  Even libertarians are doing it.  But an American conservative does not connect with a French “conservative” or a British conservative in the same way an American of the left or the libertarian fringe connects to the counterpart European co-ideologist.
The call to return to American values (and the deeper traditions of the West) captures something that every thinking American readily grasps.  But these themes make sense only to a small and sharply shrinking number of classically trained, traditionally minded Europeans. 
Specifically American conservative issues (and the policy stances they imply) often don’t fit with the old world mindset.  This is because — from a post-Royalist, class dominated European perspective — we (especially America’s historically aware conservatives) are inherently scary.
‘Why”, you ask? We Americans are still the world’s most radical cultural individualists.


Many of the contradictions and fractures within the American conservative moment are mirrored among American liberals.
The fractures-in-common include:
·        The libertarian liberals vs. the public order liberals (drug legalization is a pivot issue here);
·        The isolationists vs. interventionist liberals (but liberal interventionists tend to support much smaller and more politically correct interventions, like sending a rescue contingent to Haiti); and
·        The nationalists vs. internationalists (free trade vs. protectionism is a sharp fracture among liberals and conservative alike).
The original animating principle of the liberal project is that government should devote its resources primarily to the improvement of the human condition, and its deep underlying egalitarian premise. 
That premise is the key to the liberal mindset.  Liberals are almost perfectly defined by the post-Marxist premise that the problems in the human condition stem primarily from inequities in the distribution of material wealth, a condition that is the result of the abuse of power and privilege of the wealthy.
In a historical development rich with irony, most authentic American liberals are so well off financially that, in a prior era, they might have been labeled by their Marxist cousins as the dominant class, in an archaic phrase, as the “enemies of the people”. I suspect this is why, on a deep psychological level, modern liberals feel it necessary to demonize their conservative opponents, in order to create and maintain a distracting vision of the true “enemies of the people”.
In a second irony of history, contemporary liberals fear the neo-cons most of all because they have adopted the original animating principle of the liberal project. 
Neo-cons can be defined as the political thinkers who accept that government should devote its resources primarily to the improvement of the human condition but reject all or part of the post-Marxist premise that humanity’s problems stem mostly from inequities in the distribution of material wealth, a condition that is the result of the abuse of power and privilege of the wealthy.


This is why the most significant fractures and contradictions with liberalism are within liberal mindset itself. Well before the publication of Ann Coulter’s latest book, “Godless: the Church of liberalism”), I had identified political liberalism as a “Secular Religion” (see http://www.jaygaskill.com/liberalismasreligion.htm ).


As I wrote in that 2004 piece:
“It is no coincidence that political liberals thickly populate some of the wealthiest and best educated coastal and urban communities in America.  They are bound together, not only by a political religion, but by shared experiences. For the most part, they constitute social cohorts that enjoy six linked sets of shared assumptions and attitudes:
(1)A comfortable hedonism enjoyed by predominantly well educated post-religious middle class and upper class sub-populations;
(2)A “hip” social outlook that tends to mask or anesthetize moral qualms about the enjoyment of their position; effect this is a shared social milieu in which “style” and social “sophistication” operate to confer on their life styles a sort of gentile veneer of social virtue, one characterized by “tolerance”;
(3)Compartmentalized morality, especially in the arts, an attitude that holds that the arts are generally to be free of all traditional moral stances and constraints, except for a small sub-component (honored more by gesture than actually patronized) in which the condemnation of oppression and the celebration of the oppressed are featured elements;
(4)Non judgmental attitudes about “sins” of the educated and tolerant, overlooking drug abuse, “life-style” motivated abortions, serial divorces and a whole range sexual behavior typically condemned in less “sophisticated” cultures;
(5)The tendency to see morality as the avoidance of social criticism, resulting in a cinematic definition of the moral “stand”, where morality is understood primarily in terms of appearances;
(6)The notion that morality is properly and even sufficiently manifested by moral gestures. As a result, “correct” positions and stances trump all gritty engagement with the world, even at the expense of practical results.
How do we explain the fierce grip maintained by the religion of political liberalism over its adherents?
Liberalism’s tendency to elevate “correct” stances and gestures creates an extraordinary ability to shield the comfortable hedonist life styles of its main adherents from moral criticism.  Thus the religion of liberalism represents a form of social détente and clever camouflage.
‘The religion of political liberalism has three principal canons:
A.      Nationalization of charity.  Humanitarian endeavors cannot be effectively performed, nor equitably supported unless they are done by government agencies.  This has the virtue of insulating its adherents from real moral claims on their personal resources.  In effect, the political-moral stance that begins with the phrase– “I support….(you can fill in the blanks with a liberal cause here)” becomes the equivalent of “I gave at the office.”
B.      Social Marxism. This stance (going by various other names of course) dictates that a doctrine of (pretended) social equality substitutes for the now discredited ruthless redistribution of all wealth.  This stance (which was really the ur-source of political correctness) allows its adherents to accomplish (or at least favor) the humiliation and social repression of those whom its shifting fashions might choose to label oppressors. This is a low cost approach to egalitarianism and protects those whose sophisticated hedonism would otherwise be criticized. The appropriately expressed politically correct bromides are the camouflage of “undeserved” well off.
C.      Collective Expiation of guilt. Social survivor guilt, the inevitable result of a sense of “unearned” well being, is expiated by this religion’s ritual practices.  These rituals, for the most part, consist of bumper stickers, public gestures, cocktail party banter, and occasional political activity in support of liberal causes.”
I suspect that the truths captured in this kind of analysis explain why Lenin and other authoritarian Marxists hated and distrusted liberals. History would have worked out differently– and undoubtedly for the better-  if the liberals had equally hated and distrusted the Marxist-Leninists.  My other suspicion is that contemporary liberals detest and fear the neocons (and attribute to them vast conspiratorial powers they do not possess) because they recognize in the neocons their own suppressed moral instincts.


General political observers seem both fascinated and confused by the term “neo-conservative” or “neo-con”, and are curious about the movers and shakers who make up this influential strain in American politics.  Neocons are occasionally demonized as the puppets of the recovered Marxist intellectual Leo Strauss (1899-1973) who taught at the University of Chicago.  This is overreaching on several levels, principally because the “neocon” perspective has independently emerged among a number of intellectuals who first flirted with Marxism then vehemently rejected it.  Like many political scientists, Strauss taught theory, was critical of “relativism”, and believed the ideas matter.
On the latter point, we can all agree.  Bad ideas drive bad decisions leading to bad outcomes. 
Contemporary neocons share two overriding perspectives: A rejection of the Marxist left coupled with an insider’s understanding of Marxist’s arguments, political stratagems and deceptions.
Like the term “political correctness”, the label “neo-con” was pasted on by others. Unlike the PC crowd, the intellectuals and pundits who have been identified as neo-cons don’t seem to mind the brand at all.
Some points of clarification:
There really is no fully accepted definition of neo-con, no neo-con movement as such, no membership card, no secret handshake and no catechism.
My suggested working definition:
The term neo-conservative means newly emerged conservative. It loosely identifies those American political intellectuals who have rejected the main tenets of left wing politics (especially, Marxism in all its forms), having once been card carrying lefties themselves. It is primarily, but no longer exclusively, an intellectual movement. It represents, along with libertarianism, one of several significant threads in the conservative intellectual resurgence that has begun to reshape American politics since the mid 1980’s.
 I haven’t particularly discussed the neo-cons in my writing until now, although several of their number (Norman Podoretz and Fr. John Neuhaus, among them) have certainly influenced my thinking.


There are “liberal” neo-cons as well, thinkers like the New Republic’s Martin Peretz who have retained much of their earlier liberal positions on a range of issues. See MP’s Lieberman piece in the Wall Street Journal archived at: http://www.jaygaskill.com/Peretzanddemocraticfuture.htm
For my own part, I still count myself a political independent (nominally a “Truman Democrat”) for whom the current war between atavistic jihadists and modern, liberal civilization is the overriding concern of our time.


 http://www.csmonitor.com/specials/neocon/index.html and
Norman Podhoretz (“grandfather” of the neo-cons)


Fr. Richard John Neuhaus (the neo-con’s “Godfather”)


William Kristol (the “dutiful nephew”)


David Brooks (the “cherubic grandson”) 


David Horowitz (the “angry uncle”)


Tammy Bruce (the “lesbian cousin”)


Fred Barnes (the “old friend”) http://www.weeklystandard.com/aboutus/bio_barnes.asp  


Victor Davis Hanson (the “new friend”)


Those who attribute some kind of conspiratorial malevolence to the neocon group evidence the paranoid fantasy ideation that the screenwriters of horror movies like to exploit.  The “neocon threat” belongs in the same category as
Coming soon to a theater near you”.






The most important divide in American politics is between the populists in both parties and in both main ideological movements dividing them from their respective elites.  This was nowhere apparent in the dynamic of the recent immigration reform blowup.  


The populists have the virtue and the curse of unenlightened common sense.  Whatever they lack in “moral refinement”, you can be assured they haven’t forgotten the survival imperative or its popular corollary: “Make damn sure that your enemy loses before you do”.


History, at least in its unfolding political and economic narratives, represents the drama of the ongoing competition between different systems of social order. 


Liberal democratic capitalism has defeated totalitarian Marxism. It is enjoying a new post victory dysfunctional phase: Bickering complacency in the face of a neo-Nazi attempt to exterminate it. 


Will atavistic 12th century jihadists buying 21st century weaponry with petro-dollars? Will the actually succeed in making the West irrelevant? 


This is one of those Darwinian moments in history. When the “Darwin Awards” are issued to “The most Spectacularly Failed Civilization of the 21st Century”, we can all hope that our detractors won’t be the ones cheering.




July 09, 2007

Immigration Reform: The Latest Utopian Failure

Welcome to The Human Conspiracy Blog


Copyright © 2006/2007 by Jay B. Gaskill
First published on
The Policy Think Site    http://www.jaygaskill.com/
The Human Conspiracy Blog     http://www.jaygaskill.com/blog1
Permission to copy, publish, distribute or print all or part of this piece is needed.
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Please Note:


All the Prior “Human Conspiracy” Posts, from June, 2006, though June 6, 2007, are now archived in chronological order.  You can visit (and search them) only by going to the following link: http://www.jaygaskill.com/BLOGARCHIVE.htm .


Immigration Reform: The Latest Utopian Failure
Jay B. Gaskill


Immigration reform failed this time for many of the same structural reasons that “Hillary-care” failed in 1993-94.


In both instances, key political elites misread public opinion, hoped to push something through the legislative process “in the general interest”, but were careless about critical details and contemptuous of public scrutiny. 


There is a persistent illusion that there exist neglected global solutions to intractable social and economic problems whose implementation would magically generate wide public support.  This tempts the true believers to do an end run around the “short term” public opposition, sometimes “by any means necessary”, in the deluded expectation that the glorious outcome will have justified all the democratic short cuts made to get there. 


This is a more benign form of the utopian illusion that drove anti-democratic Marxism.


Hillary-care had at least two “Achilles heels”:  (1) It would have created a huge restriction of access to private physician care. (2) It would have caused a dramatic escalation of public cost.  Both of these elements were being pushed without any empirical evidence that the end result would be an overall improvement in American health care for most people most of the time.


The immigration “package” failed for a host of reasons, but these three were critical flaws:  (1) National security concerns were negligently addressed, at best. (2) The rush to accommodate the deportation concerns of the 12-20 million illegal foreign nationals in the US ran ahead of measures to dramatically slow the influx of new arrivals (legal and illegal). (3) No one but the measure’s key supporters actually trusted the federal government to keep any of its promises or meet any of its announced goals.


There are solid reasons for the widespread public skepticism and distrust of large scale government domestic programs.  We all experience Murphy’s Law at the level of our business lives and we all know that the larger and more untested an effort the greater the mischief to be expected from Murphy’s little demons.  The momentary suspension of disbelief about the immigration package popped like a “there is no Santa Clause?” bubble the moment that its early revealed flaws became a cascade of bad news.


The answer is to adopt a policy of incremental empiricism.


This is how an incremental, empirical approach would work as applied to the immigration problem. 


There were several untested assumptions driving the failed immigration reform package, among which these three seem amenable to real world verification:

(1) That the illegal occupants already here are not enough to supply our unskilled labor needs;

(2) That increases in border patrol forces (mostly in the south) coupled with a partial physical wall will be sufficient to dramatically decrease the influx of illegal entrants;

(3) That we can adequately deter employers from employing illegal workers by just increasing penalties without inaugurating a large scale biometric identity verification system.


The way that our needs can be met by drawing from the pool of existing illegals (1) can be tested is by first testing (2) and (3). 


But border security (2) can’t be tested until we actually implement the increased security measures and work out methods for determining how many people are evading them. 


The third test is simple: We increase the penalties for hiring non legal workers and perform and document spot check enforcement. 


A necessary caveat:  Since we’re also trying to empirically determine whether the existing pool of illegals is sufficient, we need to refrain from immediately deporting the not-legal workers who prove the following: (a) Productive employed presence in the US without any criminal activity going back at least two years; (b) Good health; (c) Submission to an ongoing security check subject to instant deportation without cause if homeland Security turns up a concern.  There would be no opportunity to enjoy "in and out privileges" to & from the country of origin (typically Mexico). Only citizens and lawful permanent residents can come and go.


 We’ll quickly learn whether the penalties alone are enough.


And there are several other pieces to any reform package that should be taken up, debated and adopted, if possible, one by one.  Among them, these three are the most important:


(a)    Much stiffer testing.  Assimilation is occurring far too slowly because the test for citizenship has become dumbed down so much that any recent arrival with rudimentary English skills can be coached into passing.  This should be the test for anyone who seeks admission for a work via or permanent resident status.  Citizenship should require the rough equivalent of a B in a high school government class.  English fluency must be demonstrated.


(b)   A much stronger emphasis on skill related immigration with greatly restricted family immigration.  Spouses and children only, not aging parents, uncles, aunts and cousins. The transition to a more restrictive family policy (essentially nuclear family admitted, extended family excluded) would take time because of the "pipeline" issue but there would be an immediate benfit from cutting off the new applicants.


(c)    No more “anchor babies”. A complete end to automatic citizenship as applied to the children of illegals who are born here.


For a thoughtful, non-polemic article on this topic see Fixing Immigration by Yuval Levin in the May 2007 issue of Commentary Magazine at http://www.commentarymagazine.com/cm/main/viewArticle.html?id=10872 .


A sample:


But by far the largest share of new legal permanent residents—about 60 percent in 2005—are relatives of naturalized American citizens or (in far fewer cases) of other legal permanent residents. Indeed, “family unification” is easily the foremost organizing principle of American immigration policy today.”


The Red Blue divide: A Demographic Footnote

Any grand legislative compromise at the federal level is much more difficult to achieve today, than, say, twenty years ago for a good reason. 

Liberals seem to be migrating to live among the like minded and conservatives are dong the same.  There are far more jurisdictions now than ever before, it seems, in which the voting, politically aware population is so tilted in one direction or the other that there is no political benefit for compromise.  This is the good governance penalty of having a number of separate, balkanized, one-party jurisdictions.  Think of it from the point of view of Senator Wonderboy from the state of X, 77% of  whose voters are absolutely opposed to a border fence, and Senator Wondergirl from the state of Z , 79% of whom won’t support any immigration reform without a fence, guards and internal penalties.  The local votes to be earned from compromising against an overwhelming majority of your supporters are too small to matter.  Think how the equation changes in an authentic two party jurisdiction, where 45% and 45% are opposed on several key issues.  The penalty and benefit calculations tend to favor ongoing compromise relationships.


Progress on the immigration issue will depend on the ability of the elites to isolate discrete issues about which opinion is lukewarm and/or is approximately evenly divided, not just in the country as an aggregate, but more uniformly from state to state, district to district.


What’s next?


Stay tuned….



July 05, 2007

The Presidential Race in 08 - Hillary vs. X

Welcome to “The Human Conspiracy Blog”


Copyright © 2006/2007 by Jay B. Gaskill
First published on
The Policy Think Site    http://www.jaygaskill.com/
The Human Conspiracy Blog     http://www.jaygaskill.com/blog1
Permission to copy, publish, distribute or print all or part of this piece is needed.
Please contact: Jay B. Gaskill, attorney at law, via e mail:




Please Note:


All the Prior “Human Conspiracy” Posts, from June, 2006, though June 6, 2007, are now archived in chronological order.  You can visit (and search them) only by going to the following link: http://www.jaygaskill.com/BLOGARCHIVE.htm .


Jay B. Gaskill
July, 5, 2007
The Presidency 08
It's the Republican's to Take, Hillary's to Lose


Here's how it looks to me right now. 


Senator Hillary Clinton is succeeding against Barack Obama without having to go negative. This is the triumph of organization and yes, a bit of ruthlessness, over charisma and idealism.  The polls continue to show Mrs. Clinton's negatives as the highest of any candidate in the race from either party, always in the high 40's, always close to her equally strong positives.  This is why the mainline democrats, the ones who prefer winning to ideological purity, remain worried about her candidacy.


If the Republicans had a clear winner, a charismatic, experienced candidate untainted by Mr. Bush, the race would be theirs to lose.


Is that person America's mayor, Rudy Giuliani?  The same pollsters give Mr. Giuliani strong positives and weak negatives among general voters, but disclose a certain dyspeptic unease among traditional republicans who have trouble relating to his socially liberal, urban roots.


How about Mitt Romney? Republicans, for the most part are ideologically reassured, in spite of the former Massachusetts governor's epiphany (or flip – take your choice) on the abortion/right to life issues.  But he seems to be slipping in the polls, though not as badly as is Senator (“Don't call me charismatic, damnit”) John McCain.


Fred Thompson, lawyer, former senator, actor, is on the rise largely because he is an attractive blank slate to most potential voters, just as John Edwards was in the early days. We voters love to project all our hopes on the new, emerging, attractive figure. We tend to like them better the less details we have.

Here is my prediction:


Clinton will be the democratic nominee, unless there is a campaign gaffe that her team is so far too professional to commit.


The republicans can win the general election only with a candidate that earns the enthusiastic support of the “base” but isn't so ideologically out of the center that swing voters are put off.


As of today, Mr. Giuliani runs well against Mrs. Clinton in several polls (one point ahead in the June Gallup and Rasmussen polls) but several points behind in the Newsweek and CNN polls. 


It would be a very close race, and republicans are worried because, even in New York, several polls show Hillary defeating Rudy. [This is particularly bad news for America’s mayor, because California belongs to Clinton.]


And the trend would be troubling to them as well.  An earlier Rasmussen poll (March) showed Sen. Hillary Clinton running behind Rudy 49% to 41%.


In the very latest result, Rasmussen’s national telephone has Hillary tied with Fred Thompson 45% each.


This is one of those rare races in which the republican political convention could be a decisive, election determining event.


Stay tuned...



July 04, 2007

A Certain Ladder Company recalled...

It was 9-12-02 when I took this photo in Manhattan.  Patriotism, in that context, captured a universal longing.... and for many of us, it still does.

For me, behind the parades and fireworks, this image, essentially of existential holiness, loomed larger than all the rest....



July 02, 2007


Welcome to The Human Conspiracy Blog


Copyright © 2006/2007 by Jay B. Gaskill


First published on

The Policy Think Site    http://www.jaygaskill.com/

The Human Conspiracy Blog     http://www.jaygaskill.com/blog1

Permission to copy, publish, distribute or print all or part of this piece is needed.

Please contact: Jay B. Gaskill, attorney at law, via e mail:





July 2, 2007


Please Note:


All the Prior “Human Conspiracy” Posts, from June, 2006, though June 6, 2007, are now archived in chronological order.  You can visit (and search them) only by going to the following link: http://www.jaygaskill.com/BLOGARCHIVE.htm .


Jay B. Gaskill





AP today

WASHINGTON - President Bush commuted the sentence of former White House aide I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby on Monday, sparing him from a 2 1/2-year prison term that Bush said was excessive. Bush's move came hours after a federal appeals panel ruled Libby could not delay his prison term in the CIA leak case.

“The reputation he gained through his years of public service and professional work in the legal community is forever damaged. His wife and young children have also suffered immensely. He will remain on probation. The significant fines imposed by the judge will remain in effect. The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant and private citizen will be long-lasting.”

I talked briefly about the Libby case in March, noting that Senator Clinton, among others who seek the President’s chair will be relieved when Mr. Libby no longer faces prison.


Here is that earlier piece as it was posted:




March 8, 2007


Lewis “Scooter” Libby, aide de camp to vice President Cheney, has done what is expected of the Secret Service agents surrounding POTUS: He took a bullet for the “good of the order”.  By every account, though now a convicted perjurer, Mr. Libby was and is a “good man”.  I was particularly moved by Davis Brooks’ column in today’s NYT.


 And so, like everybody who knows him, I greet his conviction with a profound sense of sadness. You can convince me that Libby is guilty, but I’ll always believe he’s a good man.”


Naturally everything looks different in hindsight: “Scooter” could have prevented this sad outcome by keeping better notes and exercising much more care when he talked to reporters.  But who would have thought that his many “background” and “off the record” conversations with these journalists would end up used against him in a federal criminal prosecution?


Lewis Libby’s travails resulted when a special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, initially retained to investigate the leaks surrounding “Plamegate”, failed to implicate Cheney with the impropriety of leaking Ms. Plame’s CIA employment status to the press.  The main case collapsed completely when it out turned out that the leaker-in-chief was the State Department’s Richard Armitage, an embedded liberal, and that Ms. Plame was not a covert operative at the time.  The case should have been shut down right then.  This is like one of those movies where the heat seeking missile is launched; misses its primary target; then heads down the smokestack of the nearby kindergarten, killing the night watchman.


Every heavy hitter in politics needs a “scooter”.  Ask Hillary.  This is why even the most partisan opponents of the administration will breathe a sigh of relief if Libby prevails on appeal or --in the waning days of the administration -- POTUS issues a pardon or commutation of sentence.


I agree with the special prosecutor that perjury cannot be countenanced in the judicial system.  But I find it beyond irony that in Libby’s case, a juror wanted to know whether perjury could be committed by telling a lie to a Time reporter.


Oy vey.


The impulse to talk, to say something, is as deeply ingrained in the DNA of the political animal as is the thirst for gossip among media hounds. 


Think how differently history might have played out if POTUS’ predecessor had chosen non disclosure over dissimulation: Instead of “I did not have sex with that woman” suppose President WC had said: “I feel for your curiosity but I cannot tell a lie.  You can take these inquiries and shove them into that unlit crevice where they belong. I have some work to do.”




* POTUS – President Of The United States


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