Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Hutaree Jihadis

The news outlets are telling us that authorities have arrested nine members of a midwestern group that was planning on murdering policemen.

We can all be glad that these reprehensible people are securely behind bars, but I have a bit of a quibble with the characterization of these criminals. Their organization is frequently referred to as a "right-wing Christian militia." Perhaps this is how they imagine themselves, but for the sake of accuracy it should be noted that it's not clear that they are "right-wing," they are certainly not "Christian," and the proper designation of the group is not "militia," but "terrorist organization."

I hesitate to call them "right-wing," although they may be, because their political views have not yet been brought to light. What we do know of them, however, makes them sound more like fascists. Fascism is an ideology of the left, not the right, and fascists have always been prone toward the trappings of militarism and a lust for violence. Moreover, violence directed toward police has always been characteristic in this country of extremist groups on the left. The "Hutaree" seem, in fact, to be a white version of the fascist, leftist black panthers or black Muslims of the 1960s.

Whatever their political linkages may be, though, they are not Christians religiously. Just because they recite a couple of Bible verses and believe a few dogmas that may be faintly Christian does not make them Christian any more than the Muslim belief in God and an afterlife makes them Christian. Jesus said that not everyone who speaks in his name is a disciple of his but rather it's he who does the will of his Father. Murdering innocent people is not the will of the Father of Jesus Christ. These people may call themselves Christian but, if so, they are CINOs (Christian In Name Only). They are no more Christian than Stalin was a humanitarian. They're even less Christian, as difficult as it is to imagine, than is the Westboro Baptist crowd.

Nor should their organization be called a "militia." To do so is to smear the name of an honorable tradition in American history. These people are not militia men, they're terrorists. Their machinations are indistinguishable from those of any al Qaeda cell and, indeed, they serve much the same purpose. But for the fact that they're United States citizens they should not be tried as criminals in civilian court but rather sent to Guantanamo to be tried by a military tribunal as enemy combatants.

I sympathize with those who are alarmed by our current government, and I agree with Thomas Jefferson and the rest of the founding fathers that a long chain of abuses may at some point prove unendurable, but we are right now very far from that point. We still have the right to vote, we still have the right to speak out against encroachments upon our freedom, we still have the right to undo through peaceful means whatever damage is done to our country through misguided political policies. To decide that there is no other recourse at this juncture than killing, to plan to murder the men and women who are working to protect us every day, as well as their families, is absolutely despicable.

Send them to Guantanamo and let them cohabit with the jihadis there. They have much in common.


A Serious Man

Imagine a movie made by Woody Allen whose script was written by Franz Kafka based on Albert Camus' Myth of Sisyphus and you have the Coen brothers' latest film, a dark comedy titled A Serious Man. The protaganist of the story is a Kafkaesque character (think of Joseph K. in The Trial) living in a world that seems completely inscrutable.

Aside from being a physics professor, Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a very ordinary man, but his life is falling apart by the hour. His wife is in love with Gopnik's colleague and wants a divorce, his kids are incessant whiners, his socially inept brother has moved in and won't move out, a student tries to bribe and then sue him for a higher grade, and, as with Job whose enquiries among his friends for an explanation for his miseries were ultimately futile, no one Larry goes to for help has any answers. The more deeply we enter Gopnik's life the more surreal it all becomes. One can't help think that Larry's 1967 midwestern neighborhood is a concoction of the mind of Lewis Carroll, author of the logically bizarre world in Through the Looking Glass.

Larry Gopnik tries valiantly to make sense of it all, he strives to find the meaning in the trials he faces, but he never succeeds. The insanity of his life is invincible. None of the situations which plague him ever gets resolved. His life is absurd, and this seems to be what the Coen brothers' wanted to say in this film. This is the existential burden borne by modern man. His life seems meaningless, nothing is certain (the film makes a point of exploiting the weirdness of the principles of quantum physics), nothing makes sense, nothing is ever resolved. Even the structure of the film bears the stamp of this absurdity. The prologue of the film has nothing at all to do with the main story.

Even so, the movie is very well done and, for the philosophically-minded, very much worth watching (caution: it's R-rated for language, which is as irksome as it is jejunne, and one scene of sexuality). Some scenes are genuinely funny, there are multiple layers of symbolism to contemplate in the film, and those who ponder the point and purpose of human existence will find Larry Gopnik's life an excellent stimulus for reflection.


Obamacare's Shackles

There's a scene in the movie Amistad in which the captain of an illegal slave ship orders the crew to push the slaves, all chained together, overboard. The camera filming the slaves falling into the ocean looks up from about thirty feet below the surface, giving the viewer a horrifying underwater perspective of the slaves being drowned by the weight of their shackles.

That searing scene is a metaphor, perhaps, for what's already happening to our economy because of Obamacare. Captain Obama has given the order, first-mate Pelosi has carried it out and already the chains of government control are pulling American corporations underwater.

Here's the Wall Street Journal:

The Democratic political calculation with ObamaCare is the proverbial boiling frog: Gradually introduce a health-care entitlement by hiding the true costs, hook the middle class on new subsidies until they become unrepealable, but try to delay the adverse consequences and major new tax hikes so voters don't make the connection between their policy and the economic wreckage. But their bill was such a shoddy, jerry-rigged piece of work that the damage is coming sooner than even some critics expected.

What is that damage? As part of the bill Democrats decided to eliminate tax breaks given to companies that offer prescription drug benefits to their retirees instead of dumping them into Medicare. As a result AT&T announced yesterday that its profits will be reduced by $1 billion this year due solely to the health bill. Other corporations reporting massive losses include Deere & Co., $150 million; Caterpillar, $100 million; AK Steel, $31 million; 3M, $90 million; and Valero Energy, up to $20 million. Verizon has also warned its employees about its new higher health-care costs, and there will be many more in the coming days and weeks, according to the WSJ article.

Nancy Pelosi told us that we'd have to pass the bill to see what's in it, but that once we did the American people would love it. Maybe, but it's hard to love a bill that puts you out of work or keeps you from getting a job, and any policy which imposes huge costs on employers will have just that result.

When employers are losing money their employees suffer. Either they get laid off or they lose benefits. In either case Obamacare looks more and more like a heavy chain around the ankles of the nation's businesses. Given this burden, it's hard to see how there could be much improvement in the job market anytime soon.

My heart goes out to all the students graduating from college this spring who'll be trying to find a job to pay off their student loans. I wish them well, and I hope that next time they vote they'll attend more carefully to what the candidate will actually do once in office rather than, as so many students were in 2008, being seduced by the color of his skin and the eloquence of his words.