My politicians are crazier than yours.

It started with a post on Aardvarchaeology which was then linked by Pharyngula and responded to with a post on Uncertain Principles. Martin Rundkvist, of Aardvarchaeology, declares that US Politics Have No Left Wing which was quickly responded to by Chad Orzel, of Uncertain Prinicples, who retorted that it could just as easily said that European Politics Have No Right Wing. I agree with their base statements: Europe is left of America which is right of Europe, Europeans and Americans both got where they are through trial and error, and that many American politicians are very right-wing, but…To argue that higher taxes are fundamentally better than lower ones, and that certain political positions are better than others, and that religious politicians — regardless of how they publicly use their religion — are inherently inferior to their counterparts is a little too broad for my tastes.

Martin says that mentioning ones religious beliefs in public are part of the evidence for American politician’s extremist views, but I disagree. The way a politician follows their religion is extremely important, and before making any decisions, it is better to know for sure that a politician is going to follow all 10 commandments and most of Leviticus than have them ignore the issue whilst they campaign, and eventually force their secret beliefs on their constituents who didn’t have the chance to hear them. European politicians are more private in their beliefs, but all of one’s beliefs — either in the open or in private — affect their decisions. He mentions the Christian Democrat party in Sweden as evidence of private beliefs, but their beliefs are literally the banner under which they run; they may not mention them, but they are there, and they do affect the decision-making process.

Beyond this point, the issue devolves into Socialism vs. Liberalism vs. Conservatism — for simplicity I’ll define liberalism as the half-way mark between socialism and conservatism even though, as Martin notes, it isn’t. The American and European countries have always had one humongous difference: the European countries have a lineage and a population who is often part of the same country for generations, America doesn’t. America is quote unquote a “melting pot” where diverse groups come together to work and play, but often keep to themselves. There is an overreaching American culture through which people are united, but on a deeper more social level, many Americans couldn’t care less about the rest of America: more people vote for American Idol than the next president, and relatively few people vote in local elections. It can often seem that the way America is run only matters for a few short weeks and it is back to focusing on one’s own life with a few “bursts” of charity and caring, so one feels good about themselves. It seems that Americans tend to not have a good reason to care about all the other Americans, so in the American mindset there is no reason to take from oneself to ensure everyone is happy.

However, the issue is deeper than perceptions of a people. American politics are heavily based on Equality of Opportunity while European politics are based on Equality of Outcome. In America, the individual overrules the group, but in Europe, the group overrules the individual. America favours the hard-luck cases where someone drags themselves out from a lowly start into positions of wealth and influence — before tearing them down for daring to overreach the rest — because this is the ideal on which America was founded. So, yes, America has lower taxes, and Europeans have free health care or all, but it is the philosophical foundations of a society that dictates how it is run, not any egotistical desire or innate “betterness.” It is only time that can say which one is preferable.

The Myanmar Junta needs to learn that it isn’t 1988 still.

You have no doubt heard about the pro-democracy protests in Myanmar over the past week or so and the resulting government crackdown on the protests.

The flood of information out of the country was staggering in the beginning, and the government was faced with enormous amounts of information flowing out of the country. They tried to stop it by releasing their own propaganda and attempting to slow the spread of information from the country, but protesters weren’t so easily dissuaded and information continued to leak out.

In response the Junta cut off all internet access, cutting landlines and blocking cell phone access to the country, but still people are able to get information out—only a trickle, but far more than repressed peoples have been able to do in the past.

The Junta is full of old men, and their methods are showing their age. It isn’t 1988: you can’t just sweep aside problems “privately” anymore. One of the biggest benefits of the modern world is that even the repressed can’t be repressed.

Osama bin Laden’s new video with full video and transcript.

Friday, Osama bin Laden released his first video in three years, and it has been posted, in full, online. Unlike his fire and brimstone videos in the past, this one is more relaxed and he talks in a calm, definite manner as if he was trying to teach people his beliefs rather than indoctrinate them by force. Bin Laden doesn’t directly attack America as a whole—as he is prone to do—but instead attacks certain aspects of American culture and history that he disagrees with and which demonstrate the faults he believes America has.

( At the end of the post there are two videos: the first video is of a newscast from Al Jazeera English and the second is the actual full 26 minute speech which is rather hard to find and isn’t being distributed by the major video networks. Also, you can read the full text translation, download the the original PDF scan of the NBC transcript or view a up version here)

The odd thing is that most of his complaints are reasonable: for example he blames global warming on large corporations:

The life of all mankind is in danger because of the global warming resulting to a large degree from the emissions of the factories the major corporations…and despite this brazen attack on the people [referring to global warming], the leaders of the West — especially Bush, Blair, Sarkozy and Brown — still talk about freedom and human rights with a flagrant disregard for the intellects of humans?

The sad thing is if he had started this way 6 years ago rather than killing thousands, people would have been more likely to listen, but since he decided to start with violence like a psychopath rather than act civilized, this message is far too little too late and just screams propaganda.

What major News organizations are saying

From CNN:

“We continue to see a very determined enemy who wants to plot, plan and kill Americans and act against American interests,” White House homeland security adviser Fran Townsend told CNN.

“But I’d encourage Americans to keep in mind whenever we see these sorts of statements, they’re propaganda. And they’re the enemy’s propaganda. They’re meant to manipulate the American people and to frighten them,” she said.

From BBC News:

Gone is the straggly, unkempt beard that was heavily flecked with grey.

Instead, his beard appears dark, thick and trimmed, although analysts have suggested that rather than being dyed, it may be actually false, and that to help avoid detection he is clean-shaven these days.

The al-Qaeda leader’s face still looks tired and lined, as befits a fugitive who may well have to sleep in different locations almost every night, but it is not quite as gaunt or exhausted looking as it was three years ago.

Unlike some of the more psychopathic adherents of al-Qaeda, Bin Laden has often tried to sway the opinions of the Western public in the hopes of driving a wedge between them and their leaders, and between European countries and his most hated enemy, the US government.

From ABC

The Homeland Security Department was continuing to analyze the video to see if it includes any coded messages, department spokesman Russ Knocke said. But the department has found no credible information of an imminent threat to the homeland.

Also from ABC

Osama bin Laden’s latest message is a hodgepodge of anti-capitalist vitriol, impassioned Islamic evangelism and what can best be described as a twisted attempt at reconciliation: Join us, or we’ll kill you.

Whether the video will resonate on the Arab or Muslim street is not at all clear. In Iraq, where disillusionment with the United States runs high, most people voiced disgust with bin Laden’s latest message.

Al Jazeera English

The Speach

Cleaned up transcript images

(Click to see full images.)

The Economist on Turkey’s Political History.

Simplifying mightily, its bumpy path to democratization goes roughly as follows: set up an empire; inherit a caliphate; fight on the losing side in a world war; in desperation dissolve the caliphate and submit to the autocratic rule of a modernizer who pushes Islam ruthlessly to the margins; the wait the better half of a century for the emergence of an Islamist party that looks mild and moderate enough to be trusted with the reins of government. In short, squeeze Islam out of political life for decades before gingerly allowing a tamed version back in. — The Economist

The two party system: just because you don’t lose doesn’t mean you win.

Yet again I break my own rules and get into current American politics.

America is often considered the pinnacle of democracy, or at least that is how Americans see themselves, but as with almost all other representative governments power just flows from one party to another. The 2006 elections were seen by many as the return of the Democratic party to power after the supposed failure of the Republicans to lead and protect the country. While many view this triumph as a feather in the hats of the Democrats and a victory for their way of thinking, it seems too obvious that it was not a vote for the Democrats, but instead it was just a vote against the Republicans.

This is not the first time that the United States voted not for someone but against “that” guy. John Kerry during the 2004 presidential race did not run on a platform that he was a better qualified candidate, nor did he run on the platform that he he had strong convictions and knew how to lead the country. Instead he ran on the platform that he was not George W. Bush. Kerry failed in his bid for election not because George Bush was necessarily a better candidate, but because Kerry’s entire campaign was based on the idea that he was not Bush. For the most part the voting public can see through these one issue candidates; however, this did not stop a similar race from developing once again this year in Connecticut where the Democratic party voted not to have Joe Lieberman run for re-election, but instead to bring in a new face (Ned Lamont) who based his entire campaign on the fact the he was not Joe Lieberman. The results? In Connecticut 40% voted to elect Lamont, 48% voted for Lieberman and 10% voted for the random Republican candidate whose name no-one heard of. Once again the American voters saw through a transparent one-issue candidate and picked the candidate they thought was best of the choices they were provided. Now you may be wondering what this has to do with the two party system in general.

Right now the Democrats are patting themselves on the back and are making plans to take as much power as possible. However, they were elected for the most part not as a mandate for democratic (as in the party) values, but because they are not Republicans. The only reason that the Democrats were elected was because since 1867 there have been no other viable national parties except for the Republicans. These two parties have evolved and re-evolved over the years even to the point of frequently switching sides in issues (the earliest environmentalists and proponents of equality were republicans), but consistently they have held power effectively choking out any other political parties. Today the only other American party really capable of a real national leadership is the Green party, and they are often seen as the “wasted” or “safe” vote. The party you vote for when you don’t vote Democrat or Republican. So while the Democrats laud their victory history shows us that they didn’t necessarily win; they may have just not lost. They have just two years to show the American voters that they can be more than “not Republicans.”

Is the US Winning The War On Terrorism?

It seems obvious to me that the USA is losing the war on terrorism because, as much as governments may like to think so, you can’t wage a winning war on ideas that spread like a disease. Conducting a shooting war on terrorism is about absurd as randomly chopping off limbs to cure a tooth ache or carpet bombing the north pole to kill Santa Claus. As an aside even more amusing is when people talk about a “War on Terror”. It makes me wonder what the bogeyman and Alfred Hitchcock ever did that was so bad.

Being serious now. Although many people will argue that the USA is fighting terrorism and has hamstrung the terrorist groups by destroying training camps and killing or arresting its members, the United States is not fighting terrorism or terrorists. The USA is just fighting the terrorist’s money supply. Every time the USA destroys a weapons cache or shuts down a fake charity they make it a little harder for terrorists to kill and destroy, but it does not remove the root causes of terrorism nor does it stop their ideas from spreading like smallpox. There is one very important thing to remember, it is far easier to buy bleach and fertilizer than it is to find someone who is willing to use it on civilians. The United States can imprison terrorists, force them into hiding, or kill them, but the ideas and injustices that spawn terrorism continues to spread. All killing them does is turn them into martyrs which just encourages others to hate the USA even more and creating cycles within cycles of violence. So while the USA is making it a little harder for terrorists to terrorize, it is not stopping the terrorists nor their ideas.

A real war on terrorism can not be fought with guns and bombs. It must be fought entirely in the marketplace of ideas. To borrow a well-worn slogan, the USA must win the hearts and minds of those whom terrorists rely on for support. If the USA can convince the poor and downtrodden, who make up the majority of terrorist fodder, that the USA is not the “great evil” and is not the master of their repression, then there will be no need for a War on Terrorism by any name.

However, this leads us back to the original question. Is the USA winning the War on Terrorism as the majority of people define it? Yes and No. If we neglect the difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan as parts of other wars than it is a resounding Yes. Since the so called War on Terror was declared there have been no major terrorist attacks on an USA holding, the majority of the Al-Qa’ida leadership has been captured or killed, and many terrorist groups are losing support.

But this is only half the battle. While there have been many improvements the real causes of terrorism have never been scrutinized — let alone remedied. For example, many people don’t understand how Saudi Arabians can hate us when we pour so much oil money into their country; however, what they don’t realize is that the Saudi government is a totalitarian regime which brutally oppresses its people. So while the American government has for generations backed the oppressive and backward Saudi government, the hate the Saudi people have for the USA has continued to grow. The American habit of propping up governments that are friendly to the US has caused the USA more problems than anything else in the middle east.

So how would we win a real war on terrorism? Simple the USA needs to stop helping governments and groups paint us as a great evil, they need to stop propping up totalitarian regimes because they benefit the USA, and the USA needs to stop trying to be the world’s disciplinarian punishing the people in countries where the government opposes the USA and instead, if anything, be the world’s kindly Uncle who rewards people for the good they do rather than punishing them for the bad.