Sorry, Hillary

Please understand that I am a staunch Hillary Clinton supporter. I think she is a bright and very capable woman and I would dearly love to see her take a run at the Presidency in 2016. At the same time, as a teacher of logic for 42 years and a responsible blogger who tries hard to see both sides of complex issues, I must point out that Hillary wasn’t thinking clearly earlier this week when she testified to a Senate committee about the killings in Benghazi last September. Facing an angry Republican Senator Ron Johnson from Wisconsin, Hillary apparently lost her cool and pounded the table as she said:

“With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” Clinton responded, suggesting that Johnson was focused on unimportant semantics. “Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk last night who decided to go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.”

Now think about it: if we want to “figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again,” don’t we have to think about the possible causes? It does matter whether the cause was a planned attack or a simple, spontaneous outburst over a low-budget film on U-tube that angered Muslims all over the world. That is, it does matter whether it was a “protest or…because of guys out for a walk last night who decided to kill some Americans.” What matters is why this happened, and Johnson was right to pursue this line of questioning and Hillary seems to have lost her presence of mind (and her cool) in the heat of the moment. I don’t judge her in this case because I can only imagine the pressure she was under, but I do point out that her response makes no sense. Figuring out why it happened requires an examination of possible causes. It’s simple logic.

What happened in Benghazi was terrible and it does demand answers to the question why. This is especially so given the current unrest in that part of the world — and the attitude of the radicals in Libya toward all Westerners. And if that answer suggests that the State Department was remiss in not responding to requests for increased security, or if perhaps it was indeed a spontaneous outburst over a  hateful movie, we need to know. The Republicans typically tend to make hay even when the fields are wet  (it’s hard not to look for hidden agendas), and during the campaign when this story broke I thought it was just another political ploy designed to garner votes for candidate Romney. But in this case they are right to seek answers so that, as Hillary correctly points out, this sort of thing doesn’t happen again.

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Hooray For Canada!

Ya gotta love it! The border guards between Canada and Michigan refused admission into Canada of pastor Terry Jones and his fellow passengers. The story begins with a couple of tasty paragraphs:

Stephanie Sapp said fellow pastor and her husband Wayne Sapp, along with Jones, were turned back at the Michigan-Ontario border after being detained for several hours. Jones, who leads Florida’s tiny Dove World Outreach Center, and Wayne Sapp, were scheduled to attend Freedom Showdown, an inter-faith debate Thursday evening outside the Ontario Legislature.

Stephanie Sapp said Jones was denied entry because of a fine he got in Germany almost 20 years ago for using the title “doctor” there (he had received an honorary doctorate in theology from a Californian university in 1993). Also, both men had been charged with breaching the peace at a planned rally in Detroit last year.

I’ll overlook the fascinating question of why the man wanted to be addressed as “doctor” after holding an honorary doctoral degree from “a California university.” (But I do wonder what on earth they were thinking??) The Germans had it right: they should have fined him for impersonating a respectable person. And I would defend anyone’s right to “breach the peace” in the name of conscience. But bear in mind that this is the man of God who ordered the burning of the Quran not long ago precipitating a riot in the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan. He is apparently not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

But I love to think the Canadians have it right to refuse admission of this man into their country. I’m all for freedom of speech (which he claims he is being denied), but there are certain people who simply shouldn’t be allowed to open their mouths in public. Defending a person’s right to spread hatred is pushing the first amendment to its limits. Hate speech is designed to drive people apart and start riots; that sort of thing coming from a professed man of the cloth is doubly reprehensible. However, we cannot pick and choose what a person is allowed to say, though (speaking for myself) there are times when I would like to!!

In this regard, one can sympathize with those in the Middle East who wondered why this country doesn’t refuse to allow films such as “The Innocence of Muslims” that promote racial hatred and which has recently led al-Qaida to declare a “holy war” against the United States and Israel. One can understand, if not sympathize with, those who were outraged at the insults heaped on the founder of Islam. Our notion that free speech is a basic human right is not one that is shared by every other culture. But our defense of free speech is vital to what this country means and we were right to allow the film to be shown in spite of the fact that it stirred up hatred and violence in the Middle East.

We must protect any person’s right to say anything as long as it doesn’t directly result in harm to another person. Determining just what this might be before the person speaks or writes is a problem. One must try to determine the person’s intent, which is not always clear. And the intention of the film-maker in this case was to increase sympathy for the Christians living in Egypt, not to spread hatred — or so he says. Whenever speech is prohibited there is always the danger of censorship which, like any form of repression, is anathema to a free country. Thus, while I may applaud the Canadians for doing what I would love to do myself — namely, refuse to allow Terry Jones entry into the United States — I must admit that he has a right to his opinions no matter how hateful and stupid they might be. It’s the price we pay I suppose.

Calm In A Storm

The documentary singling out  Egyptian Muslims for their alleged bias against Christians coupled with a blatant attack on the Prophet Muhammad as a womanizer and a fake led to a series of terrifying events in the Middle East recently. I have already written about the inappropriate response of candidate Romney to the attack and killing of the Ambassador and three diplomats in Libya, and especially for turning the terrible event into a political football. But the aftermath of that response tells us even more about the character of the man who would be our next President.

A recent story by John Hellemann in New York Magazine includes this interesting paragraph:

That the left heaped scorn on Romney’s gambit came as no surprise. But the right reacted almost as harshly—with former aides to John McCain, George W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan creating an on-the-record chorus of disapproval, while countless other Republican officials and operatives chimed in anonymously. “This is worse than a Lehman moment,” says a senior GOP operative. “­McCain made mistakes of impulsiveness, but this was a deliberate and premeditated move, and it totally revealed Romney’s character; it revealed him as completely craven and his candidacy as serving no higher purpose than his ambition.”

Initially I gave Romney high political (but not moral) grades for attempting to turn his gaffe into a plus by assuming the offensive. I have noted in the past the Republicans are very good at this sort of thing: taking an event that results in mud in their own face and insisting it is chocolate. Instead of apologizing to the President and the country for criticizing the President at a moment when the country needed calm reassurance, he insisted his response was appropriate as he was “defending American values,” and such a defense, he insisted, is always appropriate. I knew this was B.S. but I thought it a clever attempt to attract the voters who still sit on the fences of this political contest and bring them into his camp. I wasn’t excusing the man, mind you, just noting his guile. I suspect he thought he would appear the stronger man while the President was adopting a conciliatory and meek posture. Clearly, it was a ploy designed to garner votes. I figured it might indeed work with voters who hear only what they want to hear.

But my son has convinced me (with articles like the one above from the New York Magazine) that this will likely not happen. He thinks, and I now agree, that Romney’s gaffe will hurt him the way McCain’s gaffe over the financial panic following the collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank hurt his candidacy. The fence-sitters will see him as a self-absorbed political animal grasping at straws. No one left of the far right will see his attempts to attack a President in the midst of a crisis of major proportions as anything but a blunder of the first order.

I hope this is the case. John Hellemann certainly thinks so. He thinks it shows “. . .that Romney is losing, knows he is losing, and is starting to panic.” We do not need a President who panics in the face of calamity. Heaven knows terrible things happen and they seem to happen more and more frequently these days. We need a person in charge who exhibits confidence and calm in the face of chaos. That man is clearly not Mitt Romney. And judging by his past behavior in the Lehman Brothers crisis and his handling of the current situation in the Middle East it is Obama.  We will see if this episode hurts candidate Romney the way McCain was hurt by his panic in the face of the Lehman Brothers debacle. Time will tell. It usually does.

Conflicting Beliefs

I wonder of there is any hatred and distrust as deep and pervasive as that between or among various religious sects. It has been said that human history is the history of wars and a great many of them — far too many — are religious wars. The Christians hate the Muslims and the Muslims hate the Christians and — as Tom Lehrer so cleverly pointed out — everyone hates the Jews.

The latest story out of the Middle East is disquieting, to say the least. Religious extremists have attacked the American embassy in Cairo and In Libya the American Ambassador and three diplomats were killed by extremists — all over a movie funded by Morris Sadek, an American Christian, that seeks to show the depth of prejudice in Egypt toward the Christians by the Muslims who dominate the culture in that region of the world. As a recent Yahoo News article points out

 “Protesters in Egypt chanted Sadek’s name because of his support for the film, which presented the Prophet as a bloodthirsty womanizer and religious fake, among other characterizations that deeply offended many Muslims who consider any depiction of the Prophet as blasphemous.

Now I am not an expert in foreign policy, but common sense tells me that a movie depicting the leader of one of the world’s major religions as a “bloodthirsty womanizer and religious fake” is certain to stir up anger and hatred — especially in a region of the world where “America” is something of a dirty word. Of course, that is hard for us to fathom, because we are blinded by our pride and don’t see this country from the perspective of the rest of the world. But it is certainly the case that in the Middle East, at the very least, this country is the embodiment of evil. Obama’s presidency has helped, but as one wag recently pointed out, it will take more than a few speeches to mend the broken fences between this country and the Muslim countries. And Michele Bachmann’s recent crusade against the Muslim Brotherhood certainly won’t help matters a bit.

In any event, the incident in Libya has become a political football as Mitt Romney has leveled untimely criticism at Obama’s foreign policy in the region and the Democrats point out that Romney has a tendency to put his foreign policy foot in his mouth and is not the man to deal with such a volatile situation. Neither side wants to yield as each points fingers and accuses the other of incompetence and inexperience. And while the bodies in Libya are still warm newsmen debate in public which political candidate most “benefits” from the upheaval in the Middle East. Does anyone wonder why this country is held in low esteem by so many people around the world?

In any event, whether it is a political football or merely another chapter in the history of humankind that exhibits our inability to get along with one another, much less to tolerate religious differences, recent events in the Middle East raise red flags and should make us all aware that whichever man is elected to the Presidency in this country, he had better be able to present a formidable front while at the same time showing that he can mend fences and admit that while we don’t do things the way other people do things, they may be right and we may be wrong. That’s something it is difficult for Americans to admit.