I spent this week at work in training. People from around the globe attended the training courses. One of them was Joe, a self-professed socialist from Massachusetts. While he was a fun guy, and we chatted about a number of wide-ranging subjects, our political ideologies were almost diametrically opposed. Yet we still got along fine. America is nice that way.

At one point, Joe mentioned some information he’d read about the yearly complaints received by the Federal Communications Commission. In 2000 and 2001 there were fewer than 350 complaints each year. In 2002 the number rose to about 14,000, and in 2003 it soared to more than 240,000 complaints. The stinger of this article was that 99.8% of the complaints in 2003 came from a single group: the Parents Television Council. Joe was incensed that this Christian group would spend its time and effort trying to change what was shown on TV, and he was shocked that they would be allowed such access to the FCC.

I try to avoid politics when in training, but at this point I had to chime in with a sarcastic comment: “Damn those Christians for exercising their freedom of speech!” This comment promptly shut Joe up; whether he suddenly recognized the hypocrisy of his comments or was simply irritated by my statement, I’m not sure. Perhaps it would be better for Joe to gather like-minded friends and make use of his own freedom of speech, rather than fuming over others using their freedom to express their opinions to the government. It is always a better idea to speak for yourself, rather than reflexively trying to stifle others.

Incidentally, complaints to the FCC rose to over one million in 2004. While the Parents Television Council was extremely active during that year, half of the complaints came from individuals angered over Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl halftime show. Perhaps if Joe had read the entire article, he might have noticed his fellow Americans individually exercising their freedom of speech.

Exercising his own freedom of speech, Senator Byrd (D-WV) recently spoke out against the nomination of Dr. Condoleezza Rice for the position of Secretary of State. During his long rant against Dr. Rice, Senator Byrd missed the point multiple times:

Dr. Rice is responsible for some of the most overblown rhetoric that the Administration used to scare the American people into believing that there was an imminent threat from Iraq. On September 8, 2002, Dr. Rice conjured visions of American cities being consumed by mushroom clouds. On an appearance on CNN, she warned: “The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he [Saddam] can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

May I politely remind the Senator from the State of West Virginia that President Bush never claimed that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat? I may? Spiffy! Here’s the salient bit from the State of the Union address in 2003:

Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.

Senator Byrd’s long oration before the Senate continued in the same vein. Numerous times he made inaccurate statements, or mischaracterized the statements or actions of others. I find it highly ironic that one of the loudest voices of dissent against the nomination of America’s first black female Secretary of State was raised by a former Grand Kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan. But Senator Byrd was most certainly free to voice his objections to the now confirmed and sworn in Secretary Rice. He was simply exercising one of many freedoms we enjoy in this country.

Another freedom U.S. citizens enjoy is the freedom to vote for our government leaders. Iraqis around the world are also enjoying this freedom today; while the actual election day in Iraq is set for January 30, Iraqis living in other nations have already gathered to cast their vote in a three-day window. It has been many decades since the Iraqi people had a free election. Though there were elections under Saddam Hussein, they were far from free. To quote a classic video game, “When there’s only one candidate, there’s only one choice.”

Exercising his freedom of speech, Senator Kennedy (D-MA) stated yesterday that the U.S. should pull its troops out of Iraq. “It will not be easy to extricate ourselves from Iraq, but we must begin.” Since I have already reminded one Senator of the facts, here’s a historical reminder for you, Senator Kennedy: U.S. troops never left Germany after it was defeated in World War II. Here we are, 60 years after the end of World War II, and we still have American soldiers stationed in Germany. But they are not seen as “part of the problem,” as Senator Kennedy views the troops in Iraq.

Why is it that the senior Senator from Massachusetts feels such a pressing need to compare Iraq to Vietnam? “We lost our national purpose in Vietnam. We abandoned the truth. We failed our ideals. The words of our leaders could no longer be trusted,” he said. Well, there is a real similarity between the two wars. The Vietnam War was lost largely because Leftists in the United States turned public opinion against the war, and they are attempting to do exactly the same thing with the war in Iraq.

In fact, the Central Intelligence Agency’s top official in Baghdad warned recently that the security situation is deteriorating and is likely to worsen, with escalating violence and more sectarian clashes. How could any President have let this happen?

It’s quite simple, Senator. When you bloviate about how the war in Iraq was a fraud made up in Texas, you undermine our soldiers and their jobs. When you criticize everything the President says and does, you are giving aid and comfort to the enemy. And when you call for a quick withdrawal, you spread the word to the murderous thugs converging on Iraq that they need only to wait us out, and they’ll be back in power.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has announced that he will fight against the coming elections: “We have declared a fierce war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology.” Congratulations, Senator Kennedy; you have just aligned yourself with a head-chopping murderer who wants Americans dead. Not just out of Iraq, but dead.

Regardless of his political stance, however, Senator Kennedy is free to speak out as he sees fit. That is a blessing of living in this great nation. President Bush has explained our national goal further: “So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.” In a few days, Iraq will join Afghanistan in casting free elections.

Fifty million people to date have escaped the oppressive control of tyrants because of President Bush’s vision. Let freedom ring!

Have you followed the liberal circus leading up to President Bush’s second inauguration? As Rush Limbaugh has said, when the liberals are out of power, they become really funny.

Knowing that President Bush is a Christian, and knowing that his faith is more than just a Bible-toting Sunday photo op, you could easily guess the next action of the Marxist Left: people trying to stop any mention of God during the inauguration. Let’s focus on one specific atheist: Michael Newdow. I’m loath to focus on him since I feel his constant anti-God lawsuits are mainly driven by a desire to gain notoriety. But since he is making himself the godless poster boy for the nation, I must at least acknowledge him. Erg.

Well, apparently Newdow believes that God died and made him Madalyn Murray O’Hair. A bit about Newdow from a recent CNN article: “Newdow won widespread publicity two years ago when he persuaded the 9th Circuit to rule that the separation of church and state was violated when public school students pledged to God.” I’m not sure whether the nameless AP writer who penned this will ever have this error pointed out, but students don’t pledge “to God.” They “pledge allegiance to the flag … and to the Republic for which it stands.” (emphasis mine) The Pledge of Allegiance then goes on to describe the Republic, and whether the atheists like it or not, this is a nation under God. The nation has religious roots, and a majority of its people are religious. But that doesn’t matter to the professionally offended, like Newdow. I am glad the Supreme Court tossed out the 9th Court’s ruling.

Not allowing this setback to set him back, Newdow sued to stop President Bush from having any Christian prayers during the inauguration. In the same article, CNN wrote the gist of Newdow’s argument was that prayer would “would violate the Constitution by forcing him to accept unwanted religious beliefs.” I’m not really sure how listening to a prayer forces anyone to accept any religious belief, but the suit is remarkably similar to one he lost before President Bush’s first inauguration. The same 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against him in 2003, ruling that Newdow didn’t suffer “a sufficiently concrete and specific injury” from a prayer. This decision was cited by U.S. District Judge John Bates in his ruling against Newdow this month.

Newdow claimed that this time it was different, because he actually had a ticket to go to Washington D.C. for the inauguration rather than watching it on TV as he did with the last one. I assume he actually attended, and I have a mental picture of him rolling on the ground, kicking his heels and whining, “He said ‘God!’ Whaaa! He said ‘God!’” Yes, I know my view of Newdow is pretty childish, but his lawsuits are pretty childish, too.

I have a problem with Newdow because he is part of the perpetually offended and whiny minority. By virtue of his offensensitivity, he wants to be able to overthrow others’ freedom of speech. And make no mistake, denying the freedom of speech of those who pray at inaugurations is precisely what Newdow wants to do.

If I were the judge presiding over a case like the one Newdow filed, I would ask his legal counsel a single question: Since the First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” what law is Congress making–or even allowed to make–when the Chief Executive is sworn in by the Chief Justice?

Rather than answering with the only valid answer of “none,” the counsel would start spouting something about precedents and intents, and I’d rule him in contempt of court and toss him and Newdow into jail–thus proving that power corrupts, and absolute power is pretty neat!

In all seriousness, the Constitution says that Congress is prohibited from making any laws either for or against religion. But there is nothing in the Constitution that puts any similar restriction on the other two bodies of the government, the Executive and Judiciary, so there is no restriction on them. When Chief Justice Rehnquist administered the oath of office to President Bush, that was an action of the judiciary. And the pomp and ceremony surrounding the inauguration was the choice of the executive. In either case, Congress has no jurisdiction over the ceremonies of the inauguration, so Newdow’s point is entirely moot.

Not only does Michael Newdow not have a prayer of getting the inauguration changed, he also doesn’t have a clue.

January 17, 2005 was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Many Americans spent the day remembering how Dr. King worked for equality, and how he cried out on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Oddly enough, on the opposite side of the nation, a very different goal is being planned.

Spokane is a city on the eastern side of the state of Washington, and it is notparticularly recognized for its diverse culture. But some residents want that to change. Local business owner Marvin Reguindin envisions a gay district in Spokane, similar to gay districts in San Francisco, or in Seattle on the other side of the state. “We’re talking about an actual physical part of town we would like to establish as a gay district,” Reguindin explained. “It would help youth struggling with their sexuality to realize they don’t have to go away to a big city to be gay. You can be gay right here in Spokane.” This city of 200,000 people already has businesses that cater to gays, an openly gay City Council member, and the Stonewall News Northwest, a gay newspaper. But what Reguindin and others want is a physical neighborhood for gays to congregate.

In any newspaper story worth its salt, there has to be some sort of conflict, and the OregonLive.com article from which I have quoted does not disappoint. Several citizens have voiced their opposition to this idea. Most of the people who disagree do so because of religious reasons. “A gay Mecca is not what we’d like to see Spokane marketed as,” said Penny Lancaster, director of the Community Impact Spokane, a network of evangelical Christians. “I’d rather see us promoted as a conservative, family-oriented community without any reference to sexual orientation.” Bishop Walter Mize of the Christ Holy Sanctified Church worries about the sexual predators and other social ills that tend to plague homosexual areas in the U.S. “Most people don’t know about the underbelly of it,” Mize said. “It’s a culture based upon sex.” Whether you think a gay neighborhood would be a good or bad idea, it’s hard to disagree with Mize’s final statement: gay culture is based upon and almost wholly defined by sexuality.

Personally, I take a pretty libertarian view on this issue. I frankly don’t care what people do in private. I don’t parade my sexuality in public, and I expect others to be similarly circumspect. But I do find the idea of founding a gay neighborhood distressing in the sense that it appears to be a step backward, toward the segregated society of our past. Dr. King struggled peacefully for a tearing down of the barriers that separated black and white people from each other. No longer do people have to sit in the colored section of a bus or restaurant. No more do we need white-only and colored-only drinking fountains. No more do black families, traveling cross-country, have to sleep in their cars because they cannot find a motel that will take them in. We are all Americans, and we should see past the limiting factor of the color of one’s skin and look instead to the content of one’s character. At least that was Dr. King’s vision.

But this vision isn’t shared by the people who, I believe with good intentions, want to foster a gay neighborhood. They are certainly free to establish one, and they are not trying to do it through the ham-fisted force of government; for that I applaud them. “It is our desire to create an environment where diversity and different interests and lifestyles of all types can flourish,” said Tom Reese, an economic development officer for the city of Spokane. He explained that the city government was neither promoting the idea nor standing in opposition to it. The development of such a neighborhood is dependent on independent contractors and developers, and at this point there isn’t a firm idea whether the neighborhood should spring up in an existing part of the city or be created new. This is an issue the developers and the people of Spokane will have to determine.

However, there is one aspect of the story that deeply disturbs me. In an attempt to reveal the economic might of Spokane’s gay populace, the Inland Northwest Business Alliance, an association of gay and gay-friendly businesses, is planning on launching a “visibility campaign.” This campaign is aimed at all city businesses. Business owners will be asked to mount publicly visible signs describing their support for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered populace of Spokane. In return, members of the GLBT community will drop off special cards at such businesses, letting the owners know just how much of their business is due to patronage by the gay community. I object to this campaign because it smacks of financial blackmail. If you, as a business owner, don’t go out of your way to put out the welcome mat for the GLBT community, you must obviously be a bigot and the GLBT crowd will stay away from your shop. But answer me this: if I am a fast-food restaurant owner and you visit my restaurant, what does your sexuality have to do with the burger and fries you just ordered? How does a rainbow sticker on my window make the super-sized Diet Coke you are drinking taste any better?

Spokane business owners will thus be forced to make a decision: should they run the risk of alienating their non-GLBT patrons by putting up the signs, or losing their GLBT visitors if they choose not to display them? This campaign is a passive-aggressive way for the Inland Northwest Business Alliance to demand of all business owners, “We expect you to make a visible choice: us or them. And we will be watching.” In a relatively small city like Spokane, an act of this nature can cause a fairly deep divide–not just between the gay and straight communities, but between those who approve and disapprove of the signs. While this campaign is intended as a way of showing support for the gay community, it will tend to divide more than to unite Spokane’s residents. Quinn’s First Law is in full force.

For centuries, people have gathered into communities based on their similarities. Sometimes these gatherings were forced on people, as with the Jewish ghettos of Europe, but more often than not people will gather of their own free will. Most large cities have sub-communities which spring up this way. San Francisco is known for its gay districts, as well as for Chinatown and other ethnic enclaves. When The Pirate King and I visited San Francisco in October, we drove through areas where the signs were written almost exclusively in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Russian or Spanish. Each was an area where people of similar language and background gathered. Celebrate diversity, right? But diversity for diversity’s sake isn’t automatically a good thing. A metal bar comprised of different layers of metal isn’t very strong, because the different layers can be split off from each other with a well-focused force. But if you mix the metals into an alloy, the bar will be far stronger and harder to break.

It is not our Chinatowns that make America great. America is great because of the second and third generations of Americans who don’t see the need to stay bound to an ethnic enclave forever. America is not great because of its diversity, it is great because of its unity. Thence comes the motto E Pluribus Unum. Out of many, one.

Just recently I found my copy of 1984 by George Orwell, and decided to reread it for fun. Orwell’s bleak vision takes a number of sly pokes at the use of propaganda in a totalitarian state, including the names of ministries which represent the polar opposite of their true functions. The Ministry of Peace is the war department. The Ministry of Love wakes you in the night and drags you away for interrogation and death. The Ministry of Plenty manages the rationing of goods. The Ministry of Truth is charged with altering books and newspapers to make them agree with the current facts.

At the end of Hate Week, an Inner Party member is denouncing Eurasia and the horrible crimes it has committed during its protracted war with Oceania. Right in the middle of his harangue, he is handed a slip of paper, and his words immediately change to show that Oceania is no longer at war with Eurasia: “Oceania was at war with Eastasia: Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.” For the next week, protagonist Winston Smith works overtime with his co-workers in the Ministry of Truth to rewrite all newspapers, magazines, and books to show that Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia. This rewriting of history is eerily successful with the people. Winston encounters 26-year-old Julia who does not remember that only four years earlier, Oceania switched from fighting Eastasia to Eurasia. He realizes that they have been successful in rewriting history and changing the way people think.

You might think that this doesn’t happen today, but the recently elected Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has been a long-time Holocaust denier. He and others like him have so often made the claim that six million Jews didn’t really die in Hitler’s concentration camps, that many Palestinians now believe it to be the unvarnished truth.

Then, of course, there’s the Western media. Before the rise of Winston Smith-style journalism, where reporters rewrite history and work at molding and shaping the people’s attitudes, the media were once in the business of reporting the facts. Harold Ross, founder of The New Yorker magazine and its editor until his death, was a stickler for the facts. To this day, the magazine employs a group of fact checkers on the staff. James Thurber famously stated, “The New Yorker has a demon checking department and wouldn’t think of writing about the Empire State Building without phoning to see if it is still there.” You could look at Ross’ attitude as a forerunner of Joe Friday’s catch-phrase: “All we want are the facts, ma’am.”

But things are different now. On multiple occasions, I have heard college students state that they picked journalism as their major because they longed to “make a difference” or to “change the world.” I find this attitude both strange and telling, since it has radically departed from the mindset of just the facts and entered the realm of advocacy journalism.

Armstrong Williams’ career now lies in tatters because he received money from the government to promote the Department of Education’s “No Child Left Behind Act” without mentioning it to his readers. Had he disclosed that information, he would still be a syndicated writer. His fall from grace came not from taking the money, but from his failure to announce the conflict of interest that arose from his taking the money. Now whenever someone writes an article or opinion piece, an idea will lurk in the reader’s mind: “I wonder if the author was paid to give this viewpoint.” This has made it necessary for me to state that I have never received any money for writing on this site.

I do not hide the fact that I write from a conservative viewpoint, and that these articles are my opinions. I do not try to offer a balanced or unbiased discussion, nor do I even attempt to play an impartial role. I am not a reporter, whose job is to give the facts without bias. Sadly, too many journalists have left the role of fact checker and entered into the realm of commentator without ever disclosing their own conflicts of interest.

When I started writing this article, CBS was still investigating the Memogate or Rathergate scandal. As of this posting, several days have passed since the final report was released, but the stink of the whole “fake but accurate” scandal just isn’t going away. The Thornburgh report’s bottom line is that there was no political bias in the use of fake documents to create a scandal story less than two months from a presidential election in an attempt to tar a sitting President. That’s what they claim, and that must be the truth. Editorial cartoonists Cox and Forkum do a grand job of summing up the report as a Hear No Evil – See No Evil – Speak No Evil parody.

So Dan Rather strikes out at calling President Bush’s Texas Air National Guard service into question, and the memos he uses are almost instantly scrutinized and shown to be fakes — and not very believable fakes at that. Rather and CBS spent almost two weeks completely stonewalling and sticking to their story. Rather went so far as to say that the memos were vetted and deemed to be authentic, that the people attacking the story were mere political hacks, and that he had solid sources. His “solid sources” have since been revealed to be Bill Burkett, a man with a long-time Bush family hatred, who continues to change the story of how he obtained the memos. Writers on both the right and the left have revealed the memos as fakes; CBS’s own experts said that the memos were generated on a modern computer, not on a typewriter. The investigation gets away with discounting its own expert in a >weaselly footnote. And despite the years of anti-Bush feelings on the part of Dan Rather, Mary Mapes and Bill Burkett, the investigation finds that there was “no political bias.”

Oh, and by the way, Oceania is at war with Eastasia. Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia. Film at 11.

 

Addendum (1/15/2005): Got permission to use the Cox & Forkum editorial cartoon and not just link to it.

Addendum (1/17/2005): Dadgum! The Big Trunk over at Power Line shows the many parallels between Dan Rather and Rathergate and President Nixon and Watergate (the mother of all gates).

Comedian Eddie Izzard does a fun bit about how the Church of England just isn’t as nasty as the Roman Catholic Church was back in the Inquisition days. Instead of threatening people with “confess or die” all the time, it would be more like “Tea and cake, or death?” and the people would get to choose.

“Cake or death?” That’s a pretty easy question. Anyone could answer that.

“Cake or death?”

“Eh, cake please.”

“Very well! Give him cake!”

“Oh, thanks very much. It’s very nice.”

“You! Cake or death?”

“Uh, cake for me, too, please.”

“Very well! Give him cake, too! We’re gonna run out of cake at this rate. You! Cake or death?”

“Uh, death, please. No, cake! Cake! Cake, sorry. Sorry…”

“You said death first, uh-uh, death first!”

“Well, I meant cake!”

“Oh, all right.”

You don’t have to be all that bright to figure out which would be better. Even if they are serving carrot cake, and it makes you break out in hives–is death preferable to hives?

Speaking of things that irritate, Alberto Gonzales is currently under the Senate’s microscope. Since the announced stepping down of John Ashcroft, Gonzales is President Bush’s nominee for the position of Attorney General. You would think that Senate Democrats, as the self-proclaimed champions of minorities everywhere, would be climbing all over themselves to praise Gonzales and support his nomination for this position. After all, he would be the first Hispanic to become Attorney General, and the Hispanic with the highest-level position in the executive branch of U.S. government. You would think the Democrats would be singing his praises, but you’d be wrong.

The Democrats dislike Gonzales because he isn’t one of their Hispanics. The dirty truth about Democrats is that they only love the minorities who follow Democrats and kowtow to their ideas. But once you leave the liberal plantation, you are a race-traitor and no longer considered a real minority. Look at Justice Clarence Thomas and Secretary of State nominee Condoleezza Rice. Neither one is considered by Democrats to be part of the black community because they are *gasp* Republicans. When President Bush nominated Miguel Estrada as the first Hispanic to sit on the Washington D.C. circuit court, the Democrats in the Senate never allowed Estrada’s nomination to be confirmed by vote. Why? Because he “wasn’t Latino enough” for them. Feel free to read that as “too conservative,” because that was exactly what they meant. Essentially, people are part of a cherished liberal minority if, and only if, those people also bow the knee to Democrat ideas. If they choose to think outside the liberal box, they are no longer part of the minority group. That is why people like Thomas and Rice are derogatorily referred to as “Oreos,” because Democrats think of them as black on the outside, but white on the inside. These Democrats think that being black, Hispanic, or any other minority means you must think, act, and vote with the group.

If that isn’t racism, what is?

So the Democrats will have a field day pointing their fingers at Gonzales, jumping on their high horses about the torture of al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. You will hear just how shocked and awed the senators are that Gonzales inquired of the Justice Department just what constituted the torture of detainees. The Democrat senators are shocked, shocked that he would even ask such a question. Doesn’t it make sense that this is precisely the type of question that should have been asked regarding al-Qaeda and Taliban thugs? Well, not if you are a liberal. Expect to hear much about the Abu Ghraib excesses, and marvel as the Democrats try to lay the blame for these soldiers’ actions at Gonzales’ feet because he dared to ask the Justice Department, “So, what’s that law?”

Expect to hear much discussion about the Geneva Conventions regarding the treatment of prisoners of war. Mainly you will see the Democrat senators and their liberal allies in the mass media bemoaning the fact that we aren’t treating Islamist fanatics according to the rules of the Geneva Convention. It will make for a great sound bite, because the senators can sound so very concerned about the terrible treatment of the prisoners. These same prisoners, incidentally, would love to see these senators dead, but that probably won’t make the evening news. I find it interesting that the Democrat senators are choosing to stand in defense of al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners. I guess their sworn oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” takes a back seat to their desire to stick it to President Bush and his nominee.

Incidentally, does the Geneva Convention cover these prisoners? Here’s the Cliff Notes version for the slow reader: no. First, to be bound by the Geneva Convention, both nation-states must be signatories to the treaties. When did al-Qaeda and the Taliban sign them? Why, bless my soul, they never did! Second, if a signatory violates the terms of the Geneva Convention–say, by using banned poisonous gases or hiding behind civilians–all constraints are off. The Islamist fanatics who have been fighting coalition forces are guilty of both these violations. Finally, to be viewed as a lawful soldier and merit the protections of same, the soldier must be dressed in uniform or bear some recognizable insignia. These fanatics do neither. Therefore they are not soldiers, but are considered unlawful combatants. If the U.S. wanted to do so, we could choose to execute on the spot any Islamist fighter captured by our soldiers; under the terms of the Geneva Convention, this execution would not be considered a war crime at all.

Most senators are lawyers, so none of this information should be news to them. Why, then, do they maintain this fiction? Quite simply, they would rather use the Gonzales nomination to bury a political hatchet in President Bush’s back than “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

So the Democrat senators are going to bring up the *gasp* torture *shock* that went on at Abu Ghraib and try to pin it on Gonzales (and, by implication, President Bush). But I wish that every time someone tried to bring up the “torture” of being leashed like a dog, forced to participate in a naked dog pile, or having panties placed on one’s head, a Republican senator would show the video clip of Nick Berg having his head sawn off with a large knife, to the accompaniment of the “Allahu Akbar” chorus. I cannot see how the two compare. When you get down to it, the stuff that went on in Abu Ghraib–while completely unacceptable–is about as disturbing as a standard frat hazing. When some fanatic does the Ginsu action on your neck, it is going to leave a more permanent mark.

If the Democrat senators cannot see the magnitude of difference between these two actions, either there is something seriously wrong with their judgment, or they are attempting to make political hay. Either way, it doesn’t reflect well on them. It’s pretty hard to miss the difference when offered a choice of “Cake or Death?”

In the fall of 2004, Austin Miller slept on the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, along with several others nestled in cardboard boxes and sleeping bags. Is Miller one of the Minneapolis homeless? Hardly. Miller is a senior at the University of Minnesota, and he was only one of many who took part in a sleep-over to raise awareness about the plight of the homeless. This is far from the only time this kind of stunt has happened. In each case, the goal was to “raise awareness” of the problem; in some cases there was an additional goal to raise money.

When you get down to it, isn’t this continuing quest to “raise awareness” really a sort of slap in the face to others? After all, what is the assumption these students are making? If the American people weren’t so stupid, they’d be fully aware of the problem, the way we enlightened college students are. But putting that aside, let’s cut right to the chase: how much did these students do to actually improve the plight of the homeless in Minneapolis? Austin Miller and his fellow University of Minnesota students didn’t actually feed or assist anyone; they were only successful in raising their own awareness that October nights in Minneapolis are cold. Nowhere in the article is there any explanation of how they improved the life or situation of even a single homeless person. But they did succeed in pointing the finger of accusation at benighted Americans. “What have you done for these poor people, America? Huh? HUH?”

Which brings us to the item which actually started this idea bouncing around in my head: I was listening to my Christmas music (in this case, The California Guitar Trio) and the John Lennon song Happy Xmas (War is Over) started playing. While the CGT version is all instrumental, the song lyrics start with “So this is Xmas / And what have you done.” Notice the focus? It’s not introspective, as in “what have I done?” Rather, this is again the finger of accusation: “What have you done, America? Huh? HUH?”

On December 26th, a magnitude 9 earthquake rocked Asia. Hours later, massive tsunamis struck the shores of Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, and Indonesia. The death toll rose from 10,000 to 150,000 in the days that followed, and this number could rise even further. People the world over rushed to aid the stricken countries. President Bush joined with Australia, Japan and India in mobilizing money and aid packets, and distributing them. Within 48 hours of the earthquake, the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln was ordered to leave her dock at Hong Kong and participate in aid efforts. By January 1st, the Abraham Lincoln was anchored off the coast of Sumatra. But this is the wrong way to go about saving people–or so you would think if you listened only to people infatuated with the United Nations.

“I think this initiative from America to set up four countries claiming to coordinate sounds like yet another attempt to undermine the UN when it is the best system we have got and the one that needs building up,” said former British International Development Secretary, Clare Short. “Only really the UN can do that job. It is the only body that has the moral authority.” [emphasis mine] Ms. Short is basically pointing the finger of accusation at America and saying, “Hey! Stop doing our job better than we can!”

I have six words for Ms. Short and the “moral authority” of the UN: Oil for Food / Sex for Food.

It is obvious from his actions that President Bush doesn’t see this tragedy as a vehicle for his political agenda. This is why there was no mad dash to make grandiose speeches from the White House about our nation mourning with Asia, blah, blah, blah. This is why President Bush invited both his father and President Clinton to take part in the fundraising efforts; these two former presidents have proven themselves quite capable of raising money, and at the moment, that is what is most important. President Bush even took some partisan hits from Democrats who have accused him of not caring enough to cut short his vacation. Clue to the clueless: the President is never on vacation. Even outside the White House, his staff keeps him updated and in touch, and his staff works 24-7. Did Bush need to be in Washington to get the Abraham Lincoln moving? All that required was a phone call and an order to the top brass. But because the President didn’t rush to emote for the cameras and shed crocodile tears on national TV, he is insensitive and freaky.

Jan Egeland, the U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, added his whiney voice to the finger-pointing naysayers: “It is beyond me why are we so stingy, really.” He also spoke for over 600 million people when he said that “[Western governments] believe that they are really burdening the taxpayers too much, and the taxpayers want to give less. It’s not true. They want to give more.” Do you see the finger of accusation? “Hey, America and Europe! Stop complaining about high taxes and cough up more!”

I wonder how much, if any, this Norwegian-born bureaucrat has personally contributed to the relief agencies. Or perhaps he feels he has done his share when he pays his taxes, considering that the government of Norway contributes 0.8% of its national income to aid.

What Egeland fails to mention is that Americans contribute vast amounts of charitable donations, but they do so privately, out of their own pockets. This is anathema to a big-government wonk like Egeland, but it is much more efficient for Americans (and everyone else) to make private contributions to charity than to do so through government taxation. In the U.S., over 75 cents out of every dollar taxed for welfare is consumed by the bureaucracy of the Welfare Department, leaving less than 25 cents per dollar for each intended recipient. That’s a pretty poor example of efficiency, but Egeland wants more of this type of spending. What does that say about his real concerns for the downtrodden?

Compare wasteful government spending with the way most charitable organizations use their donations. Charities are required to disclose how much of their donation money goes to help the poor and needy, and how much goes to the charity’s infrastructure. The more efficient a charity is with monies, the more people it can help. The LDS Humanitarian Services agency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uses 100% of its donations to help those in need. That’s an excellent track record, and it is why I will continue to trust LDS Humanitarian Services with charitable donations.

It is easy for people to point the finger of accusation at others and demand accountability from them. But it is a more Christian idea to direct that inquiry inwardly: “what am I doing?” At the Last Supper, Christ told His disciples that one of them would betray Him. Did they mutter to one another, “I bet it’s Judas. He’s been acting pretty squirrelly lately”? No. Each of them looked inwardly, asking humbly, “Lord, is it I?” In times of need such as now, I believe it is most useful for me to take action, not to waste time pointing at other people and demanding that they act. That is why I don’t ask, “What have you done?” I cannot make anyone else do anything. Recognizing that I am only accountable for my own actions, I must instead ask myself, “What have I done?” All I can hope to do here is influence your thoughts. In the end, the only person I can change is myself.