Monday, March 31, 2008

We continue to refuse to win

The Long War Journal reports on the situation in Iraq that after taking heavy casualties Sadr has ordered his followers to "end all armed activities." I'm not clear yet on the response of US and Iraqi forces but I strongly suspect that, much like the recent war Israel fought with Hezbollah in Lebanon, this will leave Sadr free to recover and to fight another day. The casualties are in the hundreds, yet the Mahdi Army numbers in the tens of thousands. Also, Iran remains heavily involved.

Similarly, Douglas Farah has a post on the Counterterrorism Blog describing the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan:
The Taliban, in a move the seemed inconceivable in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, is back, moving easily through the tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, with secure supply lines, money from heroin and other criminal activities (ransoms paid for foreigners included), and a will to win.

On the other side is a weak and ineffective government help in place by a foreign force, protecting ever-small swaths of territory, while Taliban areas of mobility and access increase.

It is not necessary for the Taliban to control vast swaths of territory, they simply need to be able to establish their presence, execute a few of their enemies with impunity, and create a general climate of fear and terror.
The most frustrating thing about both of these conflicts is the fact that the main enemy, Iran, is still only being confronted diplomatically, even though there is plenty of evidence that it does not hesitate to confront us militarily.

Nevertheless, if one wanted an example of how to definitively deal with small irregular, terroristic forces, one could look to the post-WWII reaction of the allies to the Nazi Werwolf organization as detailed here. Here are some excerpts of what the Americans did:
While American troops generally avoided the excesses of the Soviets and French, they were sharply criticized by the British for using excessive brutality and force in suppressing the Werwolf. General Eisenhower ordered the execution of all Werwolf fighters captured in civilian garb.

It was understood among U.S. troops that they had a green light for applying frontier justice to terrorists, with no lawyers or trials. The counterinsurgency manual issued by the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expedition Force (SHAEF) recommended that troops simply ignore Geneva Convention rules when dealing with the Werwolf.

SHAEF instructions allowed using captive Germans in forced labor; seizure of German civilians as hostages; collective punishment; shooting of hostages; and massive bombings of civilian areas containing terrorists. Threats to shoot all curfew violators were commonly made. At Lutzkampen, Allied troops threatened to burn down the village if there were any violations of curfew.

When U.S. troops were attacked at Aschaffenburg in Lower Franconia, the entire town was annihilated by Seventh Army artillery. In the fall of 1945, well after the surrender, U.S. forces still regarded Werwolf bands as “one of the biggest potential threats to security in both the American and Allied Zones of Occupation.”
The only way such policies could be implemented is if the US abandons its neoconservative altruism in foreign policy and starts to concern itself once again with its own interests.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Bush, McCain, and why Republicans are not worth voting for

John McCain recently gave a major foreign policy speech. Here are some instructive excerpts:
President Harry Truman once said of America, "God has created us and brought us to our present position of power and strength for some great purpose." In his time, that purpose was to contain Communism and build the structures of peace and prosperity that could provide safe passage through the Cold War. Now it is our turn.
In such a world, where power of all kinds is more widely and evenly distributed, the United States cannot lead by virtue of its power alone. We must be strong politically, economically, and militarily. But we must also lead by attracting others to our cause, by demonstrating once again the virtues of freedom and democracy, by defending the rules of international civilized society and by creating the new international institutions necessary to advance the peace and freedoms we cherish. Perhaps above all, leadership in today's world means accepting and fulfilling our responsibilities as a great nation.

One of those responsibilities is to be a good and reliable ally to our fellow democracies. We cannot build an enduring peace based on freedom by ourselves, and we do not want to. We have to strengthen our global alliances as the core of a new global compact -- a League of Democracies -- that can harness the vast influence of the more than one hundred democratic nations around the world to advance our values and defend our shared interests.

At the heart of this new compact must be mutual respect and trust. Recall the words of our founders in the Declaration of Independence, that we pay "decent respect to the opinions of mankind." Our great power does not mean we can do whatever we want whenever we want, nor should we assume we have all the wisdom and knowledge necessary to succeed. We need to listen to the views and respect the collective will of our democratic allies. When we believe international action is necessary, whether military, economic, or diplomatic, we will try to persuade our friends that we are right. But we, in return, must be willing to be persuaded by them.

America must be a model citizen if we want others to look to us as a model. How we behave at home affects how we are perceived abroad. We must fight the terrorists and at the same time defend the rights that are the foundation of our society. We can't torture or treat inhumanely suspected terrorists we have captured. I believe we should close Guantanamo and work with our allies to forge a new international understanding on the disposition of dangerous detainees under our control.

There is such a thing as international good citizenship. We need to be good stewards of our planet and join with other nations to help preserve our common home. The risks of global warming have no borders. We and the other nations of the world must get serious about substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years or we will hand off a much-diminished world to our grandchildren. We need a successor to the Kyoto Treaty, a cap-and-trade system that delivers the necessary environmental impact in an economically responsible manner. We Americans must lead by example and encourage the participation of the rest of the world, including most importantly, the developing economic powerhouses of China and India.

Notable is the mention of the Truman doctrine above, which, as Scott mentioned in his highly recommended Islamist Entanglement lecture series, committed us to unlimited assistance to anybody fighting communism. I'm afraid this is quite far from a foreign policy of self-interest and it follows on the footsteps of a Bush foreign policy that, far from being as unilateralist as left-wing critics have claimed, has in fact gone out of its way to be multilateral, as today's Wall Street Journal editorial clearly shows:
Iraq is where the unilateral myth settled into media concrete. But in fact, in 2002 President Bush bucked the advice of his more hawkish advisers and agreed to take Tony Blair's advice and seek another U.N. Resolution -- was it the 16th or 17th? -- against Saddam Hussein.
...the "coalition of the willing" that liberated Iraq included, besides the U.S. contingent, some 60,000 troops from 39 countries, who have operated under a U.N. resolution blessing their presence.

The Bush Administration has since become all too multilateralist, even -- or especially -- regarding the "axis of evil." On North Korea, the Administration adhered strictly to the six party formula.
As for Iran, following revelations in 2002 that Iran had secretly pursued an illegal nuclear program for 15 years, Mr. Bush agreed to hand over the diplomacy to Germany, Britain and France, the so-called E3.
Next the Administration succeeded in turning the matter over to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has been seeking answers about Tehran's nuclear file for five years.
For the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Administration arranged the so-called "road map," which is overseen by the "Quartet" of the U.S., Russia, the U.N., and the European Union. In Lebanon, the Administration worked closely with none other than France's Jacques Chirac to force the withdrawal of Syrian troops in 2005. With Russia, Mr. Bush welcomed its bid to join the World Trade Organization and has rebuffed suggestions -- including from Mr. McCain in his speech Wednesday -- that it be expelled from the G-8.

It is simply a myth that the Republican Party represents any kind of assertive foreign policy of self-interest. If a Democrat had done or suggested all the above policies this would be obvious. Since Republicans are doing it and couch it, at times at least, in somewhat more self-assertive language, it sounds better to many people. I certainly fell for it during the last election when I voted for Bush over Kerry but no more. Under no circumstances will I vote for John McCain. The only question now is whether it is in any way worthwhile to vote for the Democratic nominee. On that question I remain undecided. I have previously leaned toward abstaining but lately I've been thinking that it may be necessary to actively support a Democratic candidate by voting for him so as to ensure McCain's defeat. Then we can unite in opposing the Democrats policies. However, I'm not yet completely convinced by this line of reasoning.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

California Homeschooling Case to be Re-heard

According to the Home School Legal Defense Association, the Court of Appeals has agreed to re-hear the recent court case threatening homeschooling in California:
On March 25, the California Court of Appeal granted a motion for rehearing in the In re Rachel L. case—the controversial decision which purported to ban all homeschooling in that state unless the parents held a teaching license qualifying them to teach in public schools.

The automatic effect of granting this motion is that the prior opinion is vacated and is no longer binding on any one, including the parties in the case.
This is good news: At minimum, parents without teaching credentials are no longer considered criminals for doing what's in the best interests of their children. And hopefully, the Court will rule permanently in favor of the right of parents to homeschool their children.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Around the Web

Monday, March 24, 2008

From Ottoman Empire to Modern Turkey

Last Wednesday Scott Powell continued his stimulating Islamist Entanglement lecture series with a fascinating lecture on the history of the Ottoman Empire and Turkey. It is not too late to join -- all lectures are digitally recorded and with lectures only once every two weeks it should be easy to catch up -- there have only been three so far. Be sure to mention me if you do decide to sign up. I had a chance to listen to the recording last night and here is my review.

The story begins with the first milestone, the Ottoman's failed siege of Vienna in 1683. This milestone marks the end of the Islamic threat to Europe and the beginning of Western Ascendancy. Just as there was an Eastern question for the West -- what do we do with this declining empire? So there was beginning to be some equivalent thinking in the East: The West is getting stronger -- what do we do about it? The history of Turkey provides one answer to the question -- what Scott argues is something of a best case scenario.

After some false starts and further "encouragement" from the West (encouragement via encroachment), Turkey adopts Westernizing reforms (the so-called Tanzimat reforms of 1839 -- another important milestone). Subsequently, skipping ahead a little bit, Turkey adopts, under the leadership of Kemal, the hero of World War I, a "benevolent, secularist, dictatorship" -- one that replaces the structure of the Islamic Ottoman Empire with a new system based on the "primacy of the state over religion."

In this system the military, the most Western institution in the country, actually tries to guarantee that the state does not slide back into Islamic law by forcefully replacing any government that it decides harbors such dangerous sympathies. For much of the 20th century it has been successful; however, given that the majority of the populace is not in fact supportive of anything but Islam, Scott suggests the Turkish military is fighting a losing battle. Recent events, including the election of an Islamist (Erdogan) as Prime Minister do not bode well for the future.

The next lecture, scheduled for April 2 will be on Egypt's history. I can't wait!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Yaron Brook in Forbes

Once again the Ayn Rand Institute's Yaron Brook has published an important article in Forbes Magazine. Dr. Brook attacks the notion of campaign finance laws as a "War On Free Political Speech".

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Al-Qaeda and Iraq: Reality vs. the Media

Hat-tip: The Weekly Standard.

The New York Times reported on March 14 that Study Finds No Qaeda-Hussein Tie.

From the actual report:
Saddam's interest in, and support for, non-Iraqi non-state actors was spread across a wide variety of revolutionary, liberation, nationalist, and Islamic terrorist organizations. For years, Saddam maintained training camps for foreign "fighters" drawn from these diverse groups. In some cases, particularly for Palestinians, Saddam was also a strong financial supporter. Saddam supported groups that either associated directly with al Qaeda (such as the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, led at one time by bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri) or that generally shared al Qaeda's stated goals and objectives. [p. 42 in print, 62 in pdf, emphasis added.]
But what is one to think about an administration that does not publicize one of the proper justifications for going to war against Iraq. One thinks that, contrary to some of the rhetoric before the war, the appropriately titled operation Iraqi Freedom was not about our national self-interest but about a broader, more altruistic goal of making the Middle East "safe for democracy". It was precisely about the kinds of operation that President Bush insisted during his election campaign we should not engage in: Nation Building.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Tentative Recommendation

Thanks to Netflix, I've watched the first two epidodes of the 1972 documentary series Ascent of Man. I have to say I'm much impressed with the tone of reverence the creator of the series, Dr. Jacob Bronowski expresses for man's mind and his achievements. I expect I will encounter some philosophical points of disagreement with Dr. Bronowski but so far his approach to the subject matter is very inspiring. I have read the companion book to the series a while back but Dr. Bronowski's presentation makes the series far superior. I will continue to watch episodes in the series and comment on them as appropriate.
Unpublished (see below) Letter to the L.A. Times on Homeschooling

In response to the a rather nasty op-ed on 3/13 in the Los Angeles Times, I wrote the following letter to the editor. Today, letters in response to the op-ed were published and mine was not among them.

Re: Coombs & Shaffer Regulating Homeschoolers 3/13/2008

As a secular homeschooler I strongly resent Professors Coombs & Shafffer's attempt to pigeonhole all homeschoolers as some kind of religious nut cases who leave the education of their children to television. My six year-old daughter is studying American history, geography, grammar, spelling, vocabulary, cursive handwriting, literature, mathematics, and science. In addition she takes ballet and art lessons and has more friends than I am able to keep track of. A child's education, like a child's upbringing ought to be a parent's responsibility and prerogative. In the absence of specific evidence of abuse or neglect the state has no right to interfere.

Update 3/18: The letter was featured as the last of five in the L.A. Times Blog.
Scott Powell on the Truman Doctrine and the Cold War

Scott Powell, author of the highly recommended Islamist Entanglement series, reviews some points from the most recent lecture in the aforementioned series, in which he covered the actions and goals of the U.S. in the Middle East. Scott makes some points sure to be controversial in some circles:
The Truman Doctrine was a blanket commitment to combat communism, wherever and whenever it might arise. In philosophical terms it was a “moral imperative,” or context-less absolute, not unlike a religious commandment. Acting according to it, in much the same manner as one might try to adhere to a religious code, every subsequent president failed to properly perceive where America’s self-interest really lay and directed the country’s resources in ways that while opposing communism actually harmed America both in the short and long term.
Be sure to read the whole essay in which Scott gives his detailed reasons for the above claim.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The latest on the Middle East

To get a deeper understanding of the Middle East and its relationship to the West, sign up for Scott Powell's Islamist Entanglement lecture series. But in the meanwhile there's the inimitable Caroline Glick. Her latest column is up on her website. Here's a long excerpt:
In a radio interview this week, Michael Leiter, the director of the US National Counter-Terrorism Center, noted that al-Qaida today is stronger than it was two years ago. This development, he explained, is a consequence of Musharraf's decision to sign peace accords with the Taliban in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghan border.

The first agreements in North and South Waziristan were signed in September 2006. They involved the removal of Pakistani military forces from the areas, and the release of 2,500 Taliban and al-Qaida prisoners from Pakistani prisons.

The Waziristan accords made the area the Taliban's and al-Qaida's first safe haven since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. Freed from the need to defend themselves against the Pakistani army, al-Qaida and the Taliban immediately turned their attention to Afghanistan. Within weeks of the signing ceremony, cross-border raids from Pakistan tripled.

And so began a devastating calculus. Systematic breaches of the accords by the Taliban were ignored. But any anti-Taliban operations launched by Pakistan or US forces in Waziristan or anywhere else in Pakistan were met with massive brutality.

Speaking to CNN recently, Michael McConnell, the Director of US National Intelligence, concurred with Leiter's dim assessment. McConnell noted that from its safe havens in Pakistan, al-Qaida has reconstituted itself as the central command post for global jihad. "They have the leadership that they had before. They've rebuilt the middle-management and the trainers. And they're recruiting very vigorously," he said.

These American acknowledgments of the consequences of Musharraf's "peace process" with the Taliban come rather late in the game. When he first signed the accords, Musharraf pretended that the Taliban were not involved, claiming that the accords were with "tribal leaders."

Musharraf's statements were obvious lies, and yet the US decided to pretend along with him. In September 2006, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, "The [Waziristan] agreement really has potential to work... Talibanization will not be allowed in the area of or in the cities near the tribal region."

The State Department had no excuse for believing Musharraf because by the time Boucher made the statement, Musharraf had already released the 2,500 al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners.

But American praise for the agreement didn't end with Boucher. President George W. Bush also endorsed it.
Well, at least it's nice to know our President knows what side to be on. I suppose as long as we stand by our "allies" nothing can go wrong. Read the whole thing.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

What I'm reading these days

I am presently working my way through 6 books.
  1. Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics by George Reisman. I have tried a couple of times in the past to get through this gigantic book. I'm now about a quarter in and am hopeful I will finish it this time. All the other books are second priority to this one.
  2. The History of the Middle Ages by Victor Duruy. A nineteenth century history of the period. I started it last year but have gotten interested in other things. I will probably pick it up again when I finish one of the others.
  3. Essays on Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead by Robert Mayhew (Ed.). Mostly done with it. Especially liked the essay by Onkar Ghate. I think I have only one or two more essays to read.
  4. Standrechtlich Gekreuzigt, by Weddig Fricke. German book that tries to determine the truth about Jesus and his trial. Interesting read so far.
  5. Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal by Ayn Rand. Rereading this and almost done. Amazing how relevant even the more political essays are, even though they were written mostly in the 1960s.
  6. Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Leonard Peikoff. I formed a local study group that meets weekly to work through the book, in conjunction with Gary Hull's excellent Study Guide. We're still on the first chapter.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Around the web...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

California Resolution on Homeschooling

A resolution has been introduced in the California legislature by Assemblyman Joel Anderson to express support for homeschooling and call on the California Supreme Court to overturn the recent decision that implied that state-approved teaching credentials were required for parents who wish to homeschool their children. Here are some excerpts:
WHEREAS, Home schooling by California families with diverse
backgrounds has historically given children a quality education
through proven, independent approaches that nurture valuable
family bonds and support successful pupil development...
Resolved by the Assembly of the State of California, the Senate
thereof concurring, That the Legislature hereby calls upon the
California Supreme Court to reverse the opinion of the California
Court of Appeal for the second Appellate District in the case of
In re Rachel L., that home schooling without a teaching credential
is not legal...
My wife and I intend to write my Assemblyman to encourage him to support this resolution. California residents reading this are encouraged to do the same.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ahmadinajad's visit to Iraq -- a different view

Writing in Frontpage Magazine, Amir Taheri presents a rather different view of Ahmadinajad's visit to Iraq, than Robert Scheer of The Nation described.
Weeks of hard work by Iranian emissaries and pro-Iran elements in Iraq were supposed to ensure massive crowds thronging the streets of Baghdad and throwing flowers on the path of the visiting Iranian leader. Instead, no more than a handful of Iraqis turned up for the occasion. The numbers were so low that the state-owned TV channels in Iran decided not to use the footage at all.

Instead, much larger crowds gathered to protest Ahmadinejad's visit. In the Adhamiya district of Baghdad, several thousand poured into the streets with cries of "Iranian aggressor, go home!"
There may have been protests but it seems that unlike American officials visiting Iraq, Ahmadinejad was still somewhat more secure. Taheri also wrote that:
Ahmadinejad had come to Iraq to show it was an Iranian playground. He ended up by showing that Iran's influence in Iraq is widely exaggerated.
Admittedly, perhaps Iran does not have outright control of Iraq. However, Taheri admits that:
To be sure, Tehran exerts influence through a number of Shiite militias it has recruited, trained and financed for years. And some insurgent groups depend on Iran as their main source of weapons, especially sophisticated explosive devices. Iran also remains Iraq's biggest trading partner and the second-biggest investor in the Iraqi economy. Iranian pilgrims account for more than 90 percent of all foreign visitors in Iraq.
I supported the overthrow of Saddam Hussein as his apparent weapons of mass destruction combined with his links to terrorists appeared to pose an rather ominous threat in the aftermath of 9/11. However, Iran remains the number one state sponsor of terrorism and it seems to me that the fact that Iraq is willing to be friendly to Iran while Iran is actively killing both our people and Iraqis still seems to me rather bizarre. The fundamental problem, I think, remains the fact that despite 30 years of provocations, we are unwilling to confront Iran directly, which leaves it free to continue to challenge us.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

America and the Islamist Entanglement

There's still time to sign up for Scott Powell's excellent Islamist Entanglement lecture series. The second lecture was presented live this past Wednesday but all lectures are digitally recorded and can be listened to after the fact on the internet. Also, there are still eight live lectures remaining. Be sure to mention this website to Scott if I had a role in getting you to sign up.

Last night I had a chance to listen to Scott's second lecture in the series on the American involvement in the Middle East. Scott focused on the essentials and managed to cover the activities of five Presidents over a period of about 60 years in an hour and half lecture. He did not simply recount a lot of facts about what the various Presidents did but also, and more importantly, explained the motivations and goals behind their actions. As I mentioned in my review of the first lecture, Scott's approach involves the use certain crucial events or milestones that anchor the story of the Middle East and the Western involvement with it. The milestones serve as helpful signposts for the major trends of this story. I previously mentioned that one of the milestones is the 1683 failure of the Ottoman Turks's siege of Vienna. I'll mention another milestone -- the 1956 Suez Canal crisis. This milestone ties in the first lecture on Britain's role in the Middle East to the American role. For details, you'll have to listen to the lectures. I'm already looking forward to the next lecture which will focus on the history of the Ottoman Turkish Empire. Check it out -- it will be worth your while.
Israel, Gaza, and all that...

I haven't written about Gaza for some time. However, an interesting recent column was brought to my attention via Daniel Pipes's blog. In the column a liberal Israeli commentator, Yossi Klein Halevi, admits that he and others who supported the "disengagement" were wrong on the Gaza withdrawal. He writes:
...Israelis still felt so desperate to end the occupation that they withdrew their army and uprooted their settlements from Gaza in 2006. Had Gazans begun at this point to create a peaceful state from their new, self-governing territory, the Israeli public almost certainly would have endorsed substantive negotiations over a West Bank withdrawal. Instead, they elected a government led by Hamas, whose theology calls for the destruction of Israel and war against Jews around the world, and whose terror attacks are small pre-enactments of its genocidal ambitions. Palestinian rocket attacks that had previously been aimed at settlements were simply redirected toward towns and villages within Israel.a
Halevi thinks that "even guilty Israelis realize that, until our neighbors care more about building their state than undermining ours, the misery of Gaza will persist." I wonder, it seems to me there are still plenty of "guilty" Israelis, as he puts it, that are perfectly willing to put the "plight" of the "Palestinians" above their own interests. But it's certainly difficult to tell given the chaotic political situation in Israel.

He also thinks that "[w]ithin the coming weeks, the Israeli army may re-invade the Gaza Strip in an attempt to stop the rocket attacks on Israeli towns and, perhaps, topple its Islamist Hamas government." I certainly hope so -- such an action would be overdue.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Requiring Parents to Provide an Education for their Child

In a comment on my previous post on homeschooling, Burgess Laughlin issued a friendly challenge:
Should the state require parents to provide any education? If so, what is the justification?
Here is my answer to this challenge.

The parents have the obligation to provide for the child. What does this mean? Well, the child is born helpless. It did not ask to be born. The parents, having chosen the bring the child into existence, take upon them the responsibilities of its development from a helpless infant into a self-sufficient adult.

What are these responsibilities? Since man (including a child) is an integrated being of mind and body, the responsibilities divide into physical and mental. The physical include such things as food, clothing and shelter. The mental include such things as teaching the child how to speak.

Furthermore, as part of bringing the child to the point where he is self-sufficient, he must be provided with at least the rudiments of knowledge necessary for such independence. This is culturally contextual. As Branden pointed out in The Objectivist Newsletter, in a more primitive society that might mean teaching your child how to hunt. In our more advanced, knowledge-based society, it means teaching him reading, writing and arithmetic. Of course, parents should and typically will teach their child much more (history, science, literature, etc). However, with the 3R essentials the child can complete the process on his own, whereas without that basic knowledge he is left without even the means to develop his knowledge further.

Thus it is proper, as part of the parent's obligation to provide for the child's transition to independence, for the state to require that the parent arrange for the teaching of at least these fundamentals so that an essential part of the child's independence is achieved. However, absent specific evidence to the contrary, the state should assume that the parents are fulfilling their obligation. Parents, just like everybody else, are innocent until proven guilty. It also remains a difficult question as to the exact time frame by which the state can require this obligation to be fulfilled. For example if a child has not learned to read by age 9, should the state intervene? How about age 14? I support early education but have not yet thought this aspect of the issue clearly through. However, the requirement itself derives from the parent's obligation to provide for the child's transition to independence.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Thoughts on homeschooling

The aforementioned California court case is now getting a lot of press. I think it is important to review the basic moral issues of homeschooling before one tackles the legal issues. This is my attempt to formulate the moral case for the right of parents to homeschool their children.

Let's begin with the idea that parents as human beings have a right to life, liberty and property. Ayn Rand stated it best when she wrote:
A "right" is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man's right to his own life. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action—which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life. (Such is the meaning of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.)
The issue becomes a little more complicated when a couple decides to have children but they do not lose their rights in the process. Instead, the issue of responsibility for one's actions comes into play:
A child is the responsibility of his parents, because (a) they brought him into existence, and (b) a child, by nature, cannot survive independently. ...
The essence of parental responsibility is: to equip the child from independent survival as an adult. This means, to provide for the child's physical and mental development and well-being: to feed, clothe and protect him; to raise him in a stable, intelligible, rational home environment, to equip him intellectually, training him to live as a rational being; to educate him to earn his livelihood
(from The Objectivist Newsletter, Vol.1, No.12, December 1962, Intellectual Ammunition Department, Nathaniel Branden)
Thus just like food, clothing and shelter, the responsibility of education logically falls on the shoulders of the people bringing the child into this world. At this point, one wonders where the idea that the government should be involved in a child's education comes from. Properly, the government's role ought be limited to its proper functions, namely the protection of individual rights:
The only proper purpose of a government is to protect man's rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence. A proper government is only a policeman, acting as an agent of man's self-defense, and, as such, may resort to force only against those who start the use of force. The only proper functions of a government are: the police, to protect you from criminals; the army, to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to protect your property and contracts from breach or fraud by others, to settle disputes by rational rules, according to objective law.
(from the entry Government, Ayn Rand Lexicon)
By bringing a child into the world, the parents have incurred certain obligations toward the child. Thus it is correct to say that the government should enforce these obligations as part of its protection of the rights of all individuals, including children. The government should step in if the child is unjustly abused and protect the child's right to life, or if it is neglected to the point where its physical and mental health are seriously threatened. This would require objective legal definitions of harm or abuse that would trigger a police visit.

However, as long as the parents make a reasonable effort to provide the basic necessities listed in the above quote, the government ought to protect the parent in their right to fulfill their responsibilities as they see fit. It is not for the government to decide the specific means by which the obligations are fulfilled. Just as the government does not legally require children to attend specially formulated communal meals or require parents to be credentialed nutritionists, but instead wisely leaves the issue of food for parents to decide, as long as they don't starve the child. Similarly, when it comes to education, as long as the parent provides the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic, the state ought not to interfere. The parent can choose (as we are) to provide quite a bit more at home, or have the children privately tutored or send the children to a school of the parent's choosing. However, I see no reason for government involvement in schooling outside of the aforementioned minimal check. I would also want the government to treat all parents as innocent until proven guilty. There always needs to be some cause, some evidence for government involvement. Comments welcome.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Agreeing with The Nation

I find myself in the uncomfortable position of finding more and more articles on the left quite reasonable, at least in some of the major points they raise with respect to Iraq. In a column entitled Iraq's Iranian Lovefest, Robert Scheer points out the obvious that many seem to have missed:
Are the media dumb or just out to lunch? Sorry to be intemperate, but how else can one explain the meager attention paid to the truly historic visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Iraq? Not only is he the first Mideast head of state to visit the country since its alleged liberation, but the very warm official welcome offered by the Iraqi government to the most vociferous critic of the United States speaks volumes to the abject failure of the Bush doctrine.
He is of course quite right. He asks "...what leverage does the United States have over Iran when, as the image of Ahmadinejad holding hands with the top leaders of Iraq demonstrated to the world, we have put the disciples of the Iranian ayatollahs in power in Baghdad?" A reasonable question. This goes back to the Bush administration's pushing for democratic elections which given the nature of the Iraqi people brought to power precisely the kinds of people we ought to be opposing.

Scheer's next point is particularly instructive:
How interesting that Ahmadinejad, unlike a US President who has to be airlifted unannounced into ultra-secure bases, was able to convoy in from the airport in broad daylight on a road that US dignitaries fear to travel. His love fest with Iraq President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd who fought on Iran's side against Iraq and who speaks Farsi, even took place outside of the safety of the Green Zone, adding emphasis to Ahmadinejad's claim that while he is welcome in Iraq, the Americans are not.
Ahmadinejad's confidence in his safety could mean one of two things: Either he assumes his enemies are too afraid of the consequences of an attempt on his life, or he doesn't really have any enemies among the various insurgent groups since, as has been documented, Iran has helped them with supplies and training. I suspect these are non-exclusive alternatives, i.e., both are true. Much like the Soviets during the Cold War, very few incidents of terrorism occurred which involved Russian or Soviet personnel as victims both because most terrorists were Soviet sponsored and in the few exceptional cases in which Russians were the victims of terrorists, the Soviet response was immediate and harsh so that there was no mistake as who would terrorize whom.

Scheer continues:
Saddam Hussein went to war with Iran, but George W. Bush has given his Iranian foes a Shiite-run ally. Iran is now a major trading partner of Iraq that has offered a $1 billion loan, the border is increasingly porous as religious pilgrimages have become the norm, and many investment projects supervised by Iranians are in the works. Instead of isolating the "rogue regime" of Iran, the Bush Administration has catapulted the theocrats of Tehran into the center of Mideast political power.
Well put. Of course, I do disagree with Scheer about one thing. He argues that as a result of the Bush administration incompetence, "peace" requires the "cooperation of the ayatollahs of Iran," I would say we should first and foremost be interested in victory, and only subsequently a real peace.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Homeschooling under attack

As some of my readers know, my wife and I decided some time ago to homeschool our kids and are quite happy with the results. Unfortunately, as a homeschooler, depending on where one lives, one is constantly worried about the government taking away your right to teach your kids as you see fit. A recent court case in California, which asserts that children have to be sent to a brick and mortal school or taught by a "credentialled" teacher is particularly worrisome. It seems that the case began with allegations of abuse but when, upon investigation, it was discovered that the family had homeschooled its children, authorities attempted to force the family to send the kids to a regular school. The first court case supported the parent's right to home school, but this latest case overturned the initial decision. Here's an excerpt from the latest decision:
The trial court’s reason for declining to order public or private schooling for the children was its belief that parents have a constitutional right to school their children in their own home. However, California courts have held that under provisions in the Education Code, parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children. Thus, while the petition for extraordinary writ asserts that the trial court’s refusal to order attendance in a public or private school was an abuse of discretion, we find the refusal was actually an error of law. It is clear to us that enrollment andattendance in a public full-time day school is required by California law for minor children unless (1) the child is enrolled in a private full-time day school and actually attends that private school, (2) the child is tutored by a person holding a valid state teaching credential for the grade being taught, or (3) one of the other few statutory exemptions to compulsory public school attendance (Ed. Code, § 48220 et seq.) applies to the child. Because the parents in this case have not demonstrated that any of these exemptions apply to their children, we will grant the petition for extraordinary writ.[emphasis added]
Regardless of the particular ideas and standing of these particular parents, it is important to support the right of all parents to control the education of their children as a basic right. I was under the impression that California by and large supported this right. It seems I might have been mistaken.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Preview of new Islamist Entaglement Lecture

Scott Powell has posted a preview of Wednesday night's lecture in his Islamist Entaglement series.
The lecture will focus on the history of the United States as it relates to the Middle East and comes on the heels of his previous lecture, the first in the series, on Great Britain which I blogged about here. I am very much looking forward to his upcoming lecture. I will blog on the new lecture shortly after I hear it (which likely won't be until the weekend). Feel free to sign up as lectures are recorded digititally and are available after the fact and be sure to mention that you heard about it here.
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