Saturday, September 22, 2012
Why was almost nothing the Obama Administration initially said about the Libyan tragedy accurate?
I recommend to you Stephen F. Hayes' timely essay entitled "Permanent Spin." Key bit:
So we are left with this: Four Americans were killed in a premeditated terrorist attack on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, and for more than a week the Obama administration misled the country about what happened.
This isn’t just a problem. It’s a scandal.
By all means, read the whole thing.
At least it wasn't Jimmy Carter's administration who made up the fiction that the terrorists who stormed the American embassy in Tehran and took its staff hostage — a terrorist group whose members included the current president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — were "merely students." Carter just republished that fiction — and indeed, he relied upon it to pretend that Iran hadn't committed what would have been immediately recognized throughout human history as an unequivocal declaration of war through an armed attack. (And should have been so recognized then.)
We can argue about whether this Administration's misinformation was merely incompetent or actively deceptive (i.e., disinformation). Hayes makes, in my judgment, a strong case for the latter, whereas I'd argue it's a combination of both.
But no one can argue that the early information released by the Obama Administration about the Libyan tragedy has been accurate or trustworthy.
I hope that during the foreign policy debate, Gov. Romney spotlights this particularly ugly performance by the Obama Adminstration. That will probably be his best chance to cut through the mainstream media's too-willing fog on these issues.
Tuesday, September 04, 2012
Fixed that for ya, Mr. President
Among the websites controlled by the Obama White House is one intended for ready public access to fiscal matters — www.treasurydirect.gov. It even has a section for kids. There, we find this very educational bar chart showing the national debt:
For whatever reason, no one in the Obama Treasury Department has bothered to update the chart since 2009, which of course was only President Obama's first year in office. I was a liberal arts major, and I've only modest photoshop skills, but I do read the headlines and this bar chart is dirt simple to fix:
Of course, the chart is still slightly misleading because the selected dates aren't proportionately scaled along the X-axis, and of course the national debt history begins well before 1990.
But never let it be said that I wasn't trying to help the Obama Administration in its efforts to "tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times." We surely wouldn't want the kiddos to be confused about what Obama has done, and this bar chart certainly tells a story that gives me a sense of purpose.
Monday, August 27, 2012
Is either Apple or Samsung to be, or not to be?
I'd previously read or heard most of the notions that Rich Karlgaard advances in his Wall Street Journal op-ed titled "Apple's Lawsuit Sent a Message to Google," but he's done a service nonetheless by polishing and distilling them nicely. As he puts it himself, this "techno-Shakespearian story is entertaining," and he makes a reasonable case that it's nevertheless "bad for the phone-buying public."
I agree completely with him that both from a business perspective and a legal one, it was strategic genius — albeit fairly obvious — for Apple to sue a foreign-based company, Samsung, rather than its real target, American-based Google, for pretty much all the reasons he explains.
I think his essay errs, though, in its tacit assumption that foreign companies like Samsung are always and forever going to be nothing more than proxies — pieces to be moved on the global chessboard by American technology leaders like Apple, Google, and yes, Microsoft. Of course, Samsung will appeal this latest American jury verdict, and it has a decent chance of winning on appeal. But that will take many months to play out. Does anyone doubt that in the meantime, Samsung — and many other similarly situated companies — will redouble their efforts, and probably more than redouble their budgets, to develop their own software prowess and capacities to augment their demonstrated manufacturing prowess and capacities?
And Mr. Karlgaard is absolutely right to note that there's a Shakespearian quality to this long-running and ongoing drama. But they're not re-running the same play every night, or even relying upon a static cast of players. Yes, in the 1980s it was already Apple versus Microsoft, and yes, those two still compete fiercely today. But there was no such thing as Google or Amazon then; they parachuted in seemingly from nowhere, but no one today can dispute that they've become formidable competitors who aren't shy about entering new lines of business. And quite a few dominating companies from the 1980s have been swallowed by others (as Google swallowed Motorola and HP swallowed Compaq), or have become competitively and technologically irrelevant (like Xerox and Kodak), or have simply disappeared altogether (like DEC and Wang).
In short, I think both plot and players are even more unpredictable and exciting than Mr. Karlgaard gives them credit for. So bring the house lights back down, and on to the next act!
Saturday, August 25, 2012
Requiescat in pace: Neil Alden Armstrong (1930-2012), American astronaut, hero to the human race
My friend Patterico has a post up honoring a true American hero who passed away today — Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon. Lightly edited and without blockquoting, here's the comment I left on his blog:
I was born in 1957, the year of Sputnik — indeed, during its few weeks of orbit — so I was old enough not just to watch, but to relish, the 1969 Apollo 11 landing. Indeed, although I don’t quite remember Alan Shepard’s flight, I do definitely remember John Glenn’s, and all the rest of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo flights which preceded or followed Apollo 11.
By July 1969, I had several models of each major component spacecraft of the Apollo system, constructed variously of plastic, paper, or balsa wood and with varying levels of detail. Some of them were working model rockets that I’d sent hundreds of feet into the air before they returned to earth on their plastic parachutes. I was almost certainly an insufferable fan. I remember accompanying my father to the barbershop some weeks before the landing; while he got his haircuit, I was explaining to all the grownups present how the Lunar Excursion Module was practically made of aluminum foil, and that the real one was less rugged than some of my models. On the fateful day, while Walter Cronkite narrated, Armstrong was piloting the real LEM over and around the boulders strewn across the Sea of Tranquility, and I was piloting my favorite and most detailed plastic version over and around the sofas, chairs, and other obstacles of the Dyer living room. Neil and I had simultaneous, and equally successful, touchdowns. The whole world celebrated.
Folks are apparently still arguing over whether Armstrong said “One small step for man,” which made no sense, or “One small step for a man,” which made perfect sense. I wish historians could get their acts together and report it the way it makes sense, even if they feel compelled to drop a footnote to suggest that Armstrong might have inadvertently swallowed the “a.” Let’s recognize that Armstrong didn’t have the luxury that Doug MacArthur had to re-film his return to the Philippines and re-shoot his famous “I have returned” line until he was entirely satisfied with it.
Armstrong wasn’t just a lucky guy who was in the right place at the right time to snag a history-making role — although there was some luck involved in his beating out the other Apollo astronaut candidates and astronaut wannabes. Rather, he and his fellows were extraordinary pilots and professionals, patriots who’d seen friends blown apart or burned up while pushing the boundaries of manned flight. They all knew the same could happen to them at almost any moment, but they were all righteously committed to helping make that giant leap for mankind. Can we at least give them all the benefit of a generous standard for quoting what might in fact have been said, and what clearly was meant to be said, instead of a truncated and nonsensical version of that quote?
Thursday, August 23, 2012
Free exercise of religion, cultural relativism, principled distinctions, and foreskins
A German rabbi is facing charges for performing a circumcision, less than two months after a Cologne court outraged Jews and Muslims by outlawing the procedure.
Rabbi David Goldberg has become the first rabbi to face possible legal action for performing the ritual after an unidentified doctor filed a criminal complaint against the spiritual leader, alleging "bodily harm" to the child involved, the Times of Israel reported.
The German equivalent to our Constitution and Bill of Rights — their "Basic Law" — contains sweeping language based upon, and apparently equivalent to, the Free Exercise Clause of our own revered First Amendment. Will it be interpreted to give Rabbi Goldberg a defense? And if not, how much more are we bothered by that specifically because this is happening in Germany?
Because I've been to law school, however, I have voices in my head which insist on complicating this issue even further. "What about so-called 'female circumcision' as practiced in some cultures? If the Free Exercise Clause, or its German counterpart, prevents the state from prosecuting Rabbi Goldberg for performing male circumcision, would it not also protect those engaging in 'female circumcision'?"
"But," my pre-law school ethical self retorts, "what they call 'female circumcision' is really just genital mutilation. It's not comparable."
"Po-TAY-to, po-TAH-to, Beldar," replies my inner law professor. "So say concerned citizens of San Francisco about male circumcision. Can these enlightened people from the City by the Bay be wrong?"
But if I can't eliminate those voices, I can at least hush them for a while: "Enough of the false equivalencies! I am comfortable that I can draw a principled distinction between these two things. I am confident that I am not guilty of hypocrisy in holding one to be a constitutionally protected liberty, and the other a barbaric and cruel practice inflicted to subordinate one gender to the other."
"Sez you," say the voices.
"Yes," I mutter to myself, "sez me, exactly. Yes, there are indeed cultures which promote genital mutilation of children. But mine doesn't, and shouldn't, and in my confident if ultimately somewhat subjective judgment, my culture is, as a consequence of that, better than it otherwise would be. Sez me."
Friday, August 17, 2012
John has a l ...
The title of this post is how far I got just now, in typing into a Google search engine search field, before Google's predictive text algorithm hazarded a ranked set of likely completions to my search terms. First among them:
John has a long mustache.
Friends and neighbors, since junior high school I've been able to type consistently in excess of 100 words per minute with generally good accuracy. Between the time my right ring finger could hop up from the "L" key to the "O" key while typing the word "long," much less than a fraction of one second could have passed. Yet that fractional second, even with internet lag, was long enough for Google: Not only was "John has a long mustache" indeed what I had been in the process of typing (keyboarding?), but Google's first offered search result was also spot-on correct, just exactly what I'd been wanting to look up: It was about the movie I'm watching right now, which contains a scene in which the sentence "John has a long mustache" is very important.
Aren't there many, many other quotes, constructions, passages in English-to-French dictionaries, random works of fiction, or other likely sources of sentences which begin with "John has a," plus just the letter "L"? My fragmentary search term could have turned out to be "John has a leopard," or "John has a luxurious apartment," or "John has a lackadaisical attitude toward his blogging." So how did Google's algorithms rule those possibilities out and rank the correct one (about John's long mustache) as the most likely fit? All I can imagine is that on previous occasions when this same film has been shown on television, some measurable number of other geeks have googled on that same phrase. Still: This mimicking — of human reasoning, of a very perceptive and well-read expert on countless subjects, of mind reading — is very, very uncanny. Indeed, it is slightly disturbing. But damned impressive!
I was seized by an eerie sensation: I remember telling friends to try Google out, back in 1999, during the first dozen months or so after it launched. "They have found some new wrinkles that you can't get with other search engines," I told them. "It seems to be ... smarter, somehow, than the others. It doesn't just index."
Well, now it finishes my sentences for me, just as if Goggle and I are some sort of long-married old couple. It can correctly guess what movie I'm watching — even though there's more than one film that has used that same line, even though the line has independent historical significance in its own right. Of course, in that scenario, I'm already the stroke-impaired, senile numbskull compared to how quickly it intuits my intent from a handful of keystrokes and then leaps ahead of me.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Madame Secretary, please hold — the President says he needs to speak with you urgently
On Sunday, I predicted that Obama will replace Biden with Hillary, and I explained why I think that:
... Paul Ryan's selection just moved Hillary Clinton from "possible" to "probable" as Biden's replacement on the 2012 Dem ticket. Look for Slow Joe to find a sudden yearing to become an elder statesman who has more time to spend with his family. I'll bet Hill & Bill are having champagne tonight. Even most of my Democratic friends will admit, if pressed, that it would be a good thing for the country to get Joe Biden out of the line of presidential succession....
Pawlenty, Portman, or even Rubio would have whipped Biden in the Veep debate and as a campaign surrogate, but not so badly as to make Biden look much worse than Biden does even with no active opponent. If Romney had chosen one of them, then keeping Biden would have been a closer call. But recall that Paul Ryan is the only Republican politician in the last two years to have obviously bested Obama himself in face-to-face argument in a public forum. And whether you credit Obama with modest or supernatural eloquence, he's certainly aware that Biden isn't in his own league, and he surely knows that Ryan will disarticulate Biden, both stylistically and substantively, in the Veep debate.
Biden turns 70 in late November, and his medical history includes two brain aneurysms. The rationale for him being on the ticket in 2008 (that he would offset Obama's foreign policy inexperience) no longer exists. He brings no constituency that Obama doesn't already have on his own now; among young voters, whose participation Obama wants desperately to encourage, Biden is very nearly as much a standing joke as he is among Republicans. There has always been a decent chance that Obama would dump him in 2012, but of course that would never conceivably have happened until Obama first saw who Romney picked, in order that Obama could know who Biden's successor would be up against. Now he knows.
The best chance the Dems have to respond to the Ryan selection would be asymmetric political warfare — which translates quite neatly into replacing Biden with the most ambitious and most popular Democrat in the country, Hillary Clinton. Indeed, that will mesh like clockwork with the coming Obama pivot to foreign policy as the best possible distractraction, and the only substantive distraction, from the economic ruin he's wrought. The rest of the Obama-Clinton campaign would largely consist of heaping calumny on Romney-Ryan and Mediscare — Dems cannot talk about the economy in anything but the most simplistic, jingoistic talking points, because anything else is poison to Obama's campaign — but SecState/Veep nominee Clinton, along with a newly energized Bubba, would surely be employed to highlight the relative lack of traditional foreign policy credentials on the part of both Romney and Ryan.
Since then, though, Biden has, in short order, told the citizens of Danville, Virginia, that "With you, we can win North Carolina again," and that Romney's "gonna put y'all back in chains."
The only thing remarkable about the latest Biden gaffe is how routine these gaffes have become, and what a cosmic double standard everyone in the public eye — the press, both campaigns, everyone but the general public and its snarky bloggers — employs to avoid asking the question, "Just how panicked would we all be if Barack Obama suddenly had chest pains?"
I could well be proved wrong. I'm out alone on my limb, it would seem. But I'll bet you there are back-up provisions in the election laws that, in the event of a convenient "health crisis" involving V.P. Biden,* or perhaps simply a decision by him that he wants to forego the nomination so he can spend more time with his family, would still let Obama pick a replacement even after the Democratic convention. I don't think he'll wait that long because Obama will want to use the convention to squeeze one last sentimental appearance out of Biden as he goes to pasture, and more importantly, to rub some of Hillary's popularity back off onto himself.
And when you say "sure, Ford changed Veeps, and FDR switched Veeps like he changed his underwear, but the Dems couldn't replace a prominent candidate this late in a major federal election these days," I have one name for you: Bob Torricelli.
If you think Hillary would say no: The conventional wisdom is that that's what "everyone" thought LBJ would say when JFK offered him the Veep nomination at the Democratic convention in 1960. Robert Caro's newest volume in his phenomenal biography of LBJ takes a fresh look at that historical surprise and concludes that it made perfect sense from both JFK's and LBJ's points of view. Caro also convincingly debunks the later attempts by the Camelot Crew (led by Bobby) to claim that JFK had only offered Johnson the spot as a "courtesy," and that JFK had been stunned when Johnson accepted, but too polite to withdraw the offer. Instead, Kennedy offered the spot to Johnson not out of any courtesy at all, but because without Johnson on the Democratic ticket, Jack Kennedy thought Nixon would probably win — it was exactly that simple, and Jack knew it whether Bobby could come to grips with it or not. The notion that Jack Kennedy would have taken on a Veep for four years who he didn't really think was the best choice, simply to avoid offending Johnson, is risible.
It will come down to one two-part question: Does Barack Obama think he'll have a better chance to win this election by replacing Biden with someone else — and if so, with whom? And as with JFK's pick of LBJ in 1960, it's exactly that simple.
*(Lest anyone think or suggest otherwise, I stress that I wish the Vice President a long and healthy life, whether in or out of politics, as his wishes and the fates decide. I bear him no personal ill-will. This is simply about him being an anchor dragging back the Obama campaign, and whether it makes political sense for Obama to replace him.)
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
What would Leo think?
Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy — "Leo" to us English-speakers — was a very romantic fellow, and I am among his many fans. But the quality for which he is most widely known is prolixity: If the Family Feud question is "Name a really long novel," then "War and Peace" (1440 pages in paperback, almost 600,000 words) is always going to be the Number One Answer.
It's fascinating to me, then, but also disquieting, to see how Hollywood boils down the 832 pages (in paperback) of another of his epic novels — Anna Karenina — into a movie poster. To genuinely appreciate this one, if your internet connection permits, click on the image below to open a really huge hi-rez image in a new window:
I didn't gag, but I sputtered when I read the tagline: "You can't ask why about love." But then again, taglines are meant to be memorable, and one way to achieve that is by being quite trite. This poster's tagline has the same sort of repulsive attraction as "Love means never having to say you're sorry," a well-remembered tagline from an otherwise forgettable movie made from a quite trite novel. (I watched it again on late-night cable a couple of years ago; it doesn't hold up well, although the pretty actors and actresses still look pretty.) So, if there has to be a tagline for Anna Karenina, "You can't ask why about love" is certainly more romantic than "Look out for that train!"
And once you get past the puffery and oversimplification inherent in the movie poster format, this one is actually very ambitious, very detailed, filled with visual allusions to Tolstoy's plot line, and sumptuously stylish. This poster does its job, which is to trigger my fond memories of a romantic novel to entice me to see a romantic film adaptation. I also don't find it hard to watch Keira Knightley, and this poster reminded me of that too. So I will likely go see this movie in the fall.
Friday, January 13, 2012
Blogger Aaron Worthing's new novel, "Archangel," now available
My blogospheric friend Aaron Worthing, known to me (and perhaps you) as a regular guest-poster at Patterico's Pontifications and author of his own blog, Allergic to Bull, has self-published his own novel — "Archangel: A Novel of Alternate, Recent History" — on Amazon.com, where it's now available for painless and quick download to your Kindle or other e-book reader.
I have today ordered a copy with an eye toward a potential review or note here, but I haven't yet read it, so all I can say for sure yet is that the premise is intriguing. However, Aaron's a good writer and keen observer of our times, well-read and clear-thinking.
I'm a fan of the new self-publishing paradigm; Knowing that my purchase price is going mostly to Aaron as the content-creator (rather than mostly to a big publishing company that thinks it and its fellows should be entitled to decide what we all get to read) pleases me.
And last but not least, Aaron's another lawyer-turned-novelist — a fairly common species that I (like just about every other lawyer I know) have often wistfully contemplated joining, but haven't yet gathered the diligence and creativity to manage.
Accordingly, I'm publishing a link to Aaron's book here. (If I've managed the link properly, it should also rebate a further small portion of the purchase price, at no additional cost to you, to Aaron's blog through the Amazon Associates program.)
If you join me in buying Aaron's book as an impulse purchase, please feel free to leave your considered reactions in the comments to this post, or at Aaron's blog.
Good luck, Aaron!
Monday, January 02, 2012
To Newt Gingrich, on the occasion of his claiming to have been "Romney-boated"
Mr. Gingrich, some of us spent a whole lot of time and effort investigating and, then, publicizing John F. Kerry's true military record — including its blatant lies and exaggerations — in the 2004 election. We are extremely grateful to the men who served with Kerry on the U.S. Navy's "Swift Boats" in the riverways and canals of Vietnam, and who came forward in 2004 to tell what they knew.
We believe these "SwiftVets" were, are, and will always be brave patriots.
Then there are those others who, for whatever reasons, think that these veterans' campaign to put Kerry's military career under a more accurate spotlight was inappropriate, notwithstanding Kerry's own aggressive but dishonest efforts to portray himself as an Audie Murphy or a Sgt. York. Those Kerry allies feel sorry for poor John, and they (including their allies in the reflexively-liberal mainsream media) coined the term "Swift-Boated" to mean something awful, something nasty and dishonest. This cynical linguistic formulation is as neat a 180-degree reversal of the truth as any propaganda machine has ever attempted.
The truth is that the SwiftVets sunk Kerry's campaign by making it widely known that instead of being a hero in the Vietnam War, Kerry bugged out of active combat early, with a chestful of medals he deserved only barely or in some cases not at all; he returned home to provide Congress with his sworn testimony that falsely condemned his own comrades of being war criminals; and that while still a commissioned officer in the Navy Reserve, with his uniform hanging neatly in a Washington closet, John Kerry secretly connived with the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese delegations in Paris to undercut America's position. If there's anything equally perfidious in Gingrich's past, then I certainly hope some other GOP candidate would run advertisements to reveal that! And for those of us who supported the SwiftVets' efforts in 2004, their resulting success is seared — seared! — in our collective memories.
Thus, I'm inclined to spin on my heel and walk rapidly away, disgustedly, from anyone who uses the term "Swift-Boated" the way Kerry and his allies do. I do not want a president who identifies and sympathizes with John Kerry over men who are real heroes.
So when you're complaining about how hot it is in the kitchen you're trying to stay in, Mr. Gingrich, you might think twice, and then three times, about whining that you're being "Romney-boated" by attack ads.
If you want to pretend you haven't attacked other candidates for the GOP nomination, or if you think you can prove that there's something egregiously wrong with other GOP candidates attacking you — and if you think that's a plus for you, something that will give us confidence in your prospective ability to stand up under Obama's attack ads for the rest of 2012 if you're our nominee — then make your best pitch.
But if you make it in this language, you can expect an extremely frosty reception from people like me. Those people are going to tell you, "If that's what you think about the SwiftVets, then you can go straight to hell, Mr. Gingrich!" And then they're going to walk away from you as fast as they can, fists clenched at their sides (lucky for you).
You'd best apologize, Mr. Gingrich. Alas, for those of us who fear you've long since been captured by the Beltway Mentality, for those of us who fear you really do naturally sympathize and empathize with John F'ing Kerry over the men who stayed and fought, apologies don't go very far against evidence like this.
Friday, October 14, 2011
I am an unapologetic hawk when it comes to protecting American interests abroad. And I define those interests broadly.
After Saddam's fall, Mumar Kadafi gave up his WMD program and permitted western inspectors to confirm that; in effect, he negotiated a parole under which he could reasonably hope to avoid a fate like Saddam's so long as he behaved himself. But early this year, when he turned heavy weapons on random city blocks filled with his own countrymen — not just those who were protesting, but those who were convenient to kill — Kadafi violated his parole.
At that point, we were confronted with (a) a genocidal scofflaw no longer even pretending to adhere to basic tenets of civilization, who (b) had a demonstrated history of chasing weapons of mass destruction, who (c) also had a demonstrated history of sponsoring successful international terrorism against America and its allies, and who (d) still had untold billions of petrodollars to spend on that goal, the accomplishment of which (e) had again become his best hope for remaining in power. No, he posed no imminent threat to the United States, but Kadafi had reemerged as the most imminent threat to acquire (or in the case of chemical and biological weapons, reacquire) and then use WMDs against America (or to feed them to terrorist groups who'd do that). The danger he posed was exactly the kind of "grave and gathering danger," even short of imminent threat to the U.S., which America showed itself determined to confront and neutralize when we deposed Saddam.
I've mocked Obama for his ridiculous mangling of the War Powers Resolution's plain terms in an attempt to insist that it was inapplicable, but I think the WPR is unconstitutional anyway, so I was only mildly critical of Obama's commitment of U.S. armed forces, without Congress' consent, to try to force Kadafi out of power. Of course I agreed that our NATO allies, especially France and Italy, ought to bear a disproportionate share of the costs since it was their short- and middle-term oil and gas supplies that were threatened by Libyan instability, and I supported coordinating our armed forces and theirs under NATO's flag. But it was disingenuous and foolish to pretend we weren't doing the most difficult and dangerous missions, or to deny that our military forces were essential prerequisites for even such limited air action as Britain and France have been able to manage. It was cosmically stupid to pretend that we weren't trying to get rid of Kadafi himself, and that we were just "protecting innocent civilians." And I'm clear-eyed about the dangers of Kadafi being replaced by something as bad or worse, but that was no longer an acceptable justification for permitting him to remain in power.
So although I have not been a fan of Obama's ridiculous lies and misrepresentations about our Libyan mission, and although I think he's bungled almost every aspect of its management, I was nevertheless ultimately supportive of that mission. I think that leaves me in a fairly modest minority of Americans, even of Republicans or conservatives.
From out of nowhere — Uganda on a Friday afternoon?
If George W. Bush had purported to commit many dozens of U.S. special forces personnel to Uganda, 99% of all Democrats in America, including 100% of their elected officials, would have been screaming for Dubya's impeachment continuously, very loudly, and in perfect unison. And they would not have had a trivial argument to support impeachment, conviction, and removal from office — in sharp contrast to every other suggestion of impeachable offenses by anyone in that administration throughout its eight years of service.
America has no strategic interests in Uganda. Not even with the broadest possible definition of "strategic interests" do we have them in Uganda. This is a pure humanitarian mission, one in which we've picked winners and losers and are now enforcing that choice at the point of American bayonets. If this mission is critical for the United States, then there is no bully, no despot, whose local crimes against his own people is outside our vital strategic interests. We are indeed to be the world's policeman.
Sen. Inhofe (R-OK) is the chump of the day, having been completely snookered by the Obama Administration into speaking out in favor of this mission. A well-intentioned sucker is ultimately just a sucker, and Inhofe should certainly know better than this.
Obama seems determined to outdo Bill Clinton's foolishness in Somalia — to learn none of the lessons, and to repeat all of Clinton's deadly mistakes.
The United States House of Representatives should vote to de-fund this mission immediately and send that bill to the Senate. The GOP members of the Senate should permit no other business — refuse unanimous consent to everything — until that defunding bill is put to an up-or-down vote. The mushy and muddled support that kept Congress from ever reacting to Obama's mishandling of the Libyan adventure should not, and I think will not, save Obama from a constitutional confrontation this time. We should have it, and Obama should lose it.
Thursday, September 29, 2011
John Kennedy, foreign policy idiot
I've just finished reading "Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth," Frederick Kempe's important new history of events that took place when I was four years old.
It is a gripping, well-written, and immaculately researched explanation of how John Kennedy wrong-footed his relationship with his Soviet counterpart from even before JFK's inauguration, and then proceeded to botch both his own efforts to appear resolute and his own efforts to promote a more peaceful coexistence with the Soviets.
In particular, the book puts the disastrous Vienna Summit between Kennedy and Khrushchev in June 1961 under a magnifying glass. Reading it, one realizes that John Kennedy, his brother Bobby, and their "best and brightest" cadres essentially invited Khrushchev and his East German puppets to seal off West Berlin — an act that brought the superpowers to the brink of war at Checkpoint Charlie later that year. And having signaled, and then proved, that the U.S. would not react strongly so long as Khrushchev was staying within the Soviets' own "sphere of influence," they made inevitable the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later, and the long further subjugation of Eastern Europe that persisted until Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush finished winning the Cold War.
The name "Barack Obama" appears nowhere in the book, and there's not the slightest of hints that this book was intended in any way as a commentary on him or his foreign policy. Nevertheless, by highlighting tendencies and characteristics of John F. Kennedy that Barack Obama surely shares, this book troubled me a great deal. In particular, the overwhelming and utterly unjustifiable arrogance that the Kennedy brothers displayed — with their personal end runs around the NSC, the State Department, the CIA, and the FBI — resonates with Obama's ridiculous confidence that he's his own best foreign policy adviser.
Most of you have read books or watched movies about the "Missiles of October," and for the last half century those have nearly uniformly depicted the Kennedy brothers as smart, calm, and shrewd actors who saved the world from disaster. Well, this book is the other half of that story — how those two brothers were culpably responsible for taking the world to the brink of that disaster, and indeed, how they took the U.S. from a position of overwhelming strength and unquestioned strategic superiority under Eisenhower to a full-scale retreat from American commitments around the globe in less than two years. You will definitely be better informed about world history, and particular about the Cold War, after you finish this book. And you'll probably wince the next time you hear anyone refer to Camelot.
Bismarck said that "God has a special providence for fools, drunks, and the United States of America." I hope that's true, but this book suggests that He certainly had a special providence for a hard-drinking, drug-addled, skirt-chasing young Irish-American fool who managed to become POTUS when he didn't have a clue how to perform that job responsibly. This book further convinces me that it was only by divine grace that the world survived long enough for me to see my fifth birthday.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
On 9/11/01 plus ten
For four and one-half year, including the four football seasons from Fall 1975 through 1979, I had the honor of playing trumpet in the Showband of the Southwest, the University of Texas Longhorn Band. Beginning with a summer band concert in June 1975, and on several other occasions afterwards, I had the thrill of playing the Carmen Dragon arrangement of "America the Beautiful," which is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful versions of that song I've ever heard.
Here's the current LHB, with a re-arrangement of Carmen Dragon's arrangement done for LHB by my good friend and KKY brother Randol Bass, from last night's tribute (at the BYU vs UT halftime) to 9/11's victims and those who've defended our country before and after. It still sends chills up my spine and brings tears to my eyes, and yes, I gave in to the immediate compulsion to get out my trumpet so I could play along at home with the brass triplets at the ending:
I am a man of words. But today I'm going to let this music — played by these college-age men and women, in a tradition of which I am proud to have been a part — say everything I have to say on the subject.
If you don't feel your heart swell with emotion by about 1:20 in this clip — "Thine alabaster cities gleam / Undimm'd by human tears" — then you're not any flavor of American to which I can relate, and you may not be human at all.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Yes, Perry flew "jets" in the U.S. Air Force
In my pedantic and thoroughly annoying way, I've left comments on a couple of other blogs correcting people who have referred to Texas Gov. Rick Perry as having "flown jets" during his service in the United States Air Force. For example, on a post by my friend Allahpundit at Hot Air, I left a trio of comments which read:
This issue should be addressed exactly as it should have been addressed with Bush: THE MILITARY DOES NOT LET STUPID PEOPLE FLY JETS. PERRY FLEW JETS. THEREFORE, PERRY IS NOT A STUPID PERSON.
wordwarp on August 29, 2011 at 7:57 PM
I’m quibbling, but the C-130s that Perry flew — while noble and essential aircraft! — aren't jets. They have propellers, and they go comparatively low, slow, and everywhere very reliably.
The military doesn't let unqualified people fly propeller aircraft either, so your point isn't affected....
There’s probably an essay to be written, or that’s already been written, or that should be written — maybe by Bill [Whittle]? — about the differences between different sorts of pilots who become politicians.
Dubya flew interceptors; his dad flew carrier-based dive [torpedo] bombers; and McCain also flew carrier-based strike aircraft. None of them did any dog-fighting (although Dubya’s mission would have been to use missiles to shoot down invading Soviet bombers). Nevertheless, my guess — as a fan but a non-pilot who hasn’t ever been in the military — is that they’d all still qualify for the rough, tough, and bluff fraternity of combat pilots.
The guys like Perry who flew (and still fly) the C-130s were, comparatively and metaphorically, flying truck drivers. No less essential, and indeed, a marvel and a necessary component of the long logistical train that our military forces require to accomplish their missions. But a lot less glamorous and sexy....
I have it on good authority[, however,] that this particular C-130 Hercules was not piloted by Rick Perry.
I was reminded of this point today by this post by ArthurK at Ace's, which compares and contrasts Perry's USAF work environment with President Obama's.
But looking at the photos in that post made me wonder if I'd erred in thinking only about Perry's duty as a C-130 pilot. And so I asked a very close friend who's a former USAF instructor pilot with lots of time in lots of different kinds of aircraft; and although my friend and I are a few years younger than Perry, my friend's brother is within a year of Perry's age and was also a USAF pilot, so I think their observations are likely to be well-informed.
My friend assures me that based on the pilot training Perry necessarily would have had in route to his ultimate assignment flying C-130 Hercules cargo planes, Perry "would absolutely have trained in the T-37 and T-38 before being assigned to the C-130 (which, for some real trivia, is a turboprop-powered aircraft, which some consider to qualify as flying a jet; certainly, even though there are propellers on the '130, they're turned by jet engines!)."
The T-37 is a relatively slow and uniquely maneuverable training jet in which, among other things, Perry would have been trained in spin entry and recovery techniques that were too dangerous to try to learn in faster, hotter jets. But the T-38 is the real deal — for all practical purposes, it's a supersonic jet fighter used for advanced pilot training before pilots get their post flight-school assignments. Indeed, rebranded and slightly modified as the F-5, these aircraft are still in use as a fighter in the air forces of many American allies, and T-38s are still flying for the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and NASA. Perry's training in the T-38 would have included solo cross-country flights.
And such is the magic of the internet that a search engine query for "Rick Perry T-38" returns this image:
So: I'll no longer be correcting anyone who asserts that Perry "flew jets" in the USAF. He almost certainly did, and did so proficiently, as part of his training before he was assigned to C-130s. And setting aside the "jets versus non-jets" question: Flying big multi-engine aircraft presents a different but no less intimidating set of challenges than flying, say, a T-38 or an F-16. Perry can be justifiably proud of his service flying C-130s, and it is indeed fair to highlight that service as a credential now — not because he would need to pilot aircraft as POTUS, but because he'd need to command their pilots.
UPDATE (Wed Aug 31 @ 8:25 a.m.): Thanks for the link, Prof. Reynolds. There have been many good comments already, one of which has prompted me to make a correction above regarding the sort of plane Bush-41 flew in WW2. Others point out that C-130s are used as amazingly potent gun platforms in the AC-130 "Spooky" variant, and that C-130s also fly direct combat support roles. That's not to say that Gov. Perry in particular did either of those things, but other Air Force C-130 pilots have and continue to do so today.
UPDATE (Wed Aug 31 @ 4:45 p.m.): This post has continued to draw some well-informed and interesting comments. I commend them to your attention.
My pilot friend has now read this post and some of its comments, and he shared these further thoughts with me by email, beginning with this:
One [commenter] stated that the 707 is "not completely stable" because Tex Johnson was able to roll it. [But t]he 707 is quite stable, I can assure you from extensive personal experience (hey, it survived ME!). [After his duty as a T-37 instructor pilot, my friend spent a whole lot of time flying KC-135s, the tanker version of the Boeing 707.] The ability to do a barrel roll or other aerobatic maneuvers does not in any way imply instability in an aircraft, and any "stable" airliner can be rolled (and recovered safely? — that's a different matter). The plane in question was perfectly stable throughout the maneuver. And that IS a very impressive video — I have it on my iPod to show the occasional non-believer when the subject comes up.
On the nature of C-130s, the characteristics of those who end up flying them for the USAF, and what we might infer from the fact that Perry flew them rather than some other aircraft (italics & ellipsis my friend's, PG13-preserving asterisks mine):
I have heard pilots of C-17s, C-141s, C-5s, and even the Shuttle* referred to as "trash haulers," an appellation they embrace with pride, but never have I heard C-130 pilots called that. The Herc did a lot more than just carrying stuff from A to B, it was tasked with a lot of wild and dangerous maneuvering to carry out its mission. It was a true warfighter, at least in the sense that it tended to go where the bullets were flying, unlike most of the other trash haulers and even my beloved Stratotanker! (Sorry, I was channeling Gunny Ermey for a moment.) Anyway, we had the sense to stay outta them dangerous parts of the sky. Plus we were carrying frelling gasoline....
Also, assignments out of UPT weren't automatically based on your class ranking. The ranking got you preference, the top stick getting first choice of available assignments and so on down the list. So the highest-ranked grads tended to get the highly desirable fighter slots, but some preferred other aircraft. I was acquainted with a fellow whose father had flown B-52s, and that's what he wanted to do. High-ranked, fighter-qual, but he wanted a BUF and got it.
(And it's BUF, not BUFF. The cleaned-up version of "Big Ugly Fat Fellow" doesn't fit, as the B-52 is quite slender (try walking through one sometime and see if the word "fat" comes to mind). "Big Ugly F**ker" it is and always was, and its crews are rightly quite proud of that designation.)
There were some variations on the assignment selections, and the process may have been quite different during Vietnam, I don't know. Likewise during the recent and ongoing mid-east dustups.
During my brother's time [as a USAF pilot], he described the process as though the assignments were laid out on a table, and #1 was called and he went up and took his choice. Then #2 went up and chose from what was left, and so on until there was only one pilot and one assignment remaining. Dunno how accurate that is. [But my friend's older brother is almost exactly Perry's same age, whereas my friend and I were a few years younger.]
During my time, we all turned in a form (there's always a form) listing our first five choices of assignment. The oracles at Randolph AFB (ATC HQ) consulted their Ouija boards, Tarot cards, crystal balls and goat entrails, and handed down the assignments from on high, presumably weighted by class ranking and other factors (like notes from flight commanders — in my case, it was specified by that fellow that I was to be assigned to the T-37, which I was). Number One in my class wanted and expected an F-15 assignment, something he made clear from Day One. He got an F-16 (and did not take the news well, comporting himself quite unprofessionally in front of the class, wing brass, and wives and families present at Assignment Night), so that first-position-first-choice thing isn't universal.
Oh, and as I recall, the term First-Assignment Instructor Pilot, referred to by one or two of your commenters, wasn't usually pronounced "FAIP," but by the more common variation, "Goddamned FAIP." Similarly, even though I have lived in Albuquerque for 23 years now, I'm still a Damn Texan.
His footnote about the late, great Shuttle:
(*It was a friend of mine at the lovely and delightful Altus AFB, a C-141 instructor, who said to me (with pride in his voice), "Stands to reason the first reusable spacecraft would be a trash hauler!")
And a final post-script:
PS — I liked that photo of Perry on the T-38. Very unique. Doesn't look a thing like this one of me. For one thing, I knew better than to wear a flight cap on the flight line! Maybe he IS stupid after all.
Accompanying that post-script was this photo of my friend, circa 1981ish I think:
Note that my friend's helmet bears a noble insignia that pilot Perry's helmet emphatically did not. It was my memory of this photo of my friend, and of a very, very similar one of my friend's older brother, that prompted me to expect to find, somewhere on the internet, exactly the photo of Perry with his T-38 that I reprinted earlier in this post.
UPDATE (Wed Aug 31 @ 5:45 p.m.): Further, and much more detailed, analysis of the photo of pilot Perry and his T-38 appears here.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
GOP Sens. Crapo, Coburn & Chambliss are the GOP chumps enabling Obama's "Gang of Six" farce
STOP BEING CHUMPS!
You think you're being public servants who are negotiating in the interests of your constituents. You're not.
You've become pawns for Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign. You're good men operating from good intentions, but by letting yourself be used in this way, you're actively betraying your cause, your party, your constituents, and ultimately your country.
The Democrats — be they the three Dem Senators in your "Gang," or Sen. Reid or Minority Leader Pelosi, or their revered master at 1600 Pennsylvania — are perfectly capable of coming up with spending cuts if they want spending cuts. They've been capable of doing that since their party controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House, beginning in January 2009. It is not a coincidence or an accident or an oversight that we haven't had a federal budget voted out of the U.S. Senate in over 800 days, it's by their design.
If the Dems wanted to negotiate in good faith, they could have before now. They still could now. They will negotiate in good faith now if it suits them, and won't if it doesn't. And it's increasingly clear that they simply don't want to — that, instead, their Messiah's concluded his re-election hopes depend entirely on contriving a government shut-down for which he can blame the GOP.
It's time for the Dems to put definite spending cuts in writing and to commit to them. That hasn't happened yet. No deal can happen until it does. The public expects and demands that the Dems finally, at the eleventh-and-a-half hour, get specific. And yet you chumps are giving them another pass!
You're doing nothing now but helping Obama create the political lie on which he wants to run for re-election. Every bit of your energy will end up serving only one purpose: letting Barack Obama pretend that he's been trying to get a "bipartisan solution," but that he's been blocked from that by "unreasonable Republicans."
You're not only being chumps, you're being suckers. It's not excusable, and everyone in and out of Washington except you can see how you're being used.
Ask Jiang Qing (a/k/a "Mrs. Chairman Mao") and her three friends how well it worked out for them in 1976, having been part of the original Gang of [Small Positive Integer].
If you three don't think there are conservatives all over the United States who will eagerly support a primary challenger to your right over this incipient betrayal, you'd better think again.
If you think being part of this "Gang of Six" is a good thing, or by this juncture even an acceptable thing, with the people who elected you, then you're brain damaged.
UPDATE (Tue Jul 19 @ 11:55pm): This analysis by Dan Mitchell includes a list of the supposed benefits of the Gang of Six quote-unquote plan, and then its "bad" and "ugly" components too. I think he's also presuming good faith on the part of the Dems in their future performance of promises about the "yet-to-be-written" terms; differences in how the anticipated legislation would actually be written will make hundreds of billions of dollars in differences to taxes, spending, and the deficit. I don't think that presumption is justifiable given these same Democrats' demonstrated unwillingness and inability to pass responsible fiscal legislation.
Thursday, June 30, 2011
Why presume that, in Libya, if we break it we've bought it?
Regular readers will know that I'm a huge and consistent fan of former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy. As the successful prosecutor of the Blind Sheikh for the first World Trade Center bombing, McCarthy is perhaps the best qualified and most clear-eyed commentator on the disastrous Democratic strategy of treating the Global War on Terror as a matter of domestic American criminal law, to be addressed as law enforcement (instead of war) and followed up in civilian courts. But he's a perceptive speaker and writer on foreign policy and terrorism issues in general. He's just a very smart and eloquent guy, and I've been gratified to correspond with him from time to time in the past and to link his writings here.
In a post today at NRO's The Corner, Mr. McCarthy makes a number of excellent points about Republicans and Libya. I commend it to your thoughtful attention. But I find myself in reluctant disagreement with some of his conclusions, which prompted me to leave the following comment there (reprinted here with light editing for clarity and without block-quoting):
Mr. McCarthy, you've made a number of fine points here, but with due and genuine respect, you're confusing things that ought be kept straight.
All of what you wrote about Kadafi's history is correct and incredibly pertinent. His history has been to use Libya's vast oil wealth as a state supporter and exporter of international terrorism, of which the U.S. has been the chief target.
You're also right on the mark about the weakness of his "conversion" and "cooperation." That it was insincere and temporary doesn't mean it was unwelcome, just that it was unreliable. But any possibility of his continuing to justify the civilized world's forbearance, however, evaporated when he turned heavy weapons on his own population. Kadafi has violated his parole — not in the sense that word is used in our civilian criminal justice system, but in its original sense of a condition upon which an enemy who's surrendered in war was permitted to go free on continuing condition that he remain peaceful.
It astounds me that you can know, and articulate, all that history so well and yet insist that there are "no vital U.S. interests at stake."
The U.S. doesn't have a vital interest in protecting Libya's civilian population, merely a humanitarian interest; I would agree with you, I think, that such humanitarian interest is insufficient to justify American military intervention.
But we clearly, obviously have a vital interest in ensuring that Kadafi is now removed from power. We simply cannot permit this oil-funded terror-exporting again-out-of-control madman to remain in power, because as soon as the boot is off his neck he will instantly return to using Libya's oil wealth to acquire WMDs (a la the Pakistanis, the Norks, and soon the Iranians) as a guarantee against further American or western intervention.
You seem to think the determination of whether we ought to remove Kadafi from power — to effect regime change — depends in turn upon whether we wish to support the particular "rebel" forces who are, mostly independently, trying to oust Kadafi. Those issues must be analyzed separately.
It's entirely possible as a logical matter — and I believe it is the most sound weighing of competing concerns — to conclude that we have a compelling American interest in changing this regime without necessarily also having a compelling interest in what comes after.
Nothing but our own hypertrophied sense of overarching responsibility, our own sense of ourselves as "good guys," says that we have any responsibility to rescue the Libyan populace from what comes after Kadafi.
Contrary to Colin Powell's famous pronouncement, we can break it without buying it. We can take out Kadafi and walk away. Certainly for all of world history before WW2, that was among the options for conquering nations. We could take out Kadafi without decimating Libya's civilian population or destroying its infrastructure; we've no need, nor appetite, for the earth-salting, mass-executing, and enslaving tactics the Romans used against the Carthaginians on these same North African shores.
What ought to happen is that we use our superior military capability — especially with regard to precision use of force with less collateral damage than our NATO allies can limit themselves to — to take out Kadafi, and then dump the result into the laps of our NATO allies, especially the French and Italians (who have the strongest historical interests in Libya) for such nation-building exercises, if any, as they deem justified by their then-existing vital interests. Their continuing interests are likely to be greater than ours because they are the traditional and logical (logistical) market for Libyan energy production. And proximity, geography, and history all combine to make supervising the birth and infancy of a new regime in Libya a more limited and feasible task for them than the same process in Iraq or, especially, Afghanistan, has been for us.
Now of course, it may turn out that despite our NATO allies' efforts, or because of the lack thereof, Kadafi's successors turn out to be as bad or even worse than he's been. No one should try to sell any scenario for what America should do now as implying any guarantee that we won't have to effect regime change there again in the future.
But frankly, showing that we can (which everyone now knows) and will (which nobody now believes) decapitate a regime and then (mostly) walk away from the results might be a really good and cost-effective way to influence regime leaders not just in Libya but elsewhere.
We should play to our strengths. We are exceedingly good at blowing up bad guys without killing very many of the innocents with whom they surround themselves.
You seem to think this inevitably has to become a sustained, expensive counter-insurgency or counter-terrorism effort of the sort in which we've engaged in Iraq or Afghanistan. That's just not so.
Think of it not as nation-building, but a grand SWAT-team raid, or an exercise in removing a rabid animal from a populated area. Obama may not be capable of that mental flexibility, but you certainly are.
With apologies to Cato the Elder: Kadafi delenda est.
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Beldar faults Kurtz' blind spot on U.S. interests in Libya
I commend to you this Stanley Kurtz post on the Middle East and Libya at The Corner. Mr. Kurtz is thorough-going in his grimness, to the point that I think he's self-blinded to the opportunities that may inhere (even if they don't preponderate) in times of transition. But the scenarios he presents, if tending toward worst-case, are nevertheless entirely plausible and ought be taken seriously.
Mr. Kurtz' premise is in his second paragraph (emphasis mine):
While there is clearly some war fatigue on the right at the moment, the deeper doubts about our war policies are driven by the flux and uncertainty sweeping over the Middle East, as well as a sense of overstretch catalyzed by President Obama’s postmodern interventionism in Libya. Fundamentally, the current moment of uncertainty about our wars in the Middle East is an appropriate response to the tumult reshaping the region. What Republicans need most now is a more accurate assessment of what is happening in the world. Only on the basis of such an assessment can a policy for the future be shaped.
Mr. Kurtz devotes most of the balance of his essay to specific observations that he believes ought to be given weight in such a reassessment. All of his observations are thought-provoking, but one — which I've read him make repeatedly before — I particularly disagree with. He writes, in reference primarily (I think; it's a bit unclear) to the Libyan intervention:
For President Obama to choose this moment of overstretch and crisis to commit us to a supposedly humanitarian intervention in a land with no vital American interests at stake is little short of madness....
The middle of that sentence is a ridiculous overstatement. Of course America has at least some vital interests in Libya. The question is what they are, and how they weigh compared to other places, other conflicts, and other interests.
Thus my comment there, which I reprint here (without blockquoting, and slightly edited for clarity):
Mr. Kurtz, you continue to assert that the U.S. has no vital interests in Libya.
Kadafi has a proven history of exporting international terrorism and pursuing WMDs — aggressively, successfully, and with the U.S. as his favored target. He abandoned WMDs when Saddam was captured, but he will surely return to them now. Libya's oil wealth still gives its ruler the realistic ability to buy WMD technology and materials. And apart from its use to fund world terrorism, Libya's substantial share of the world's oil production gives Libya independent economic power (especially over our traditional European allies) in strategically significant amounts.
So you'd put Libya in what, the same class of strategic importance as the Congo?
Yeah, we need to be realistic. And yeah, there's lots wrong with what Obama is doing and saying (which don't quite match). And yeah, the options are bleak and the long-term prospects daunting.
But pretending that Libya is no big deal for the U.S. is unworthy of your intelligence, sir.
Friday, June 17, 2011
Beldar agrees with Yoo on War Powers Resolution
I don't subscribe to the Wall Street Journal and thus can't get past its pay-wall to read Prof. John Yoo's op-ed today about the Libyan conflict and the War Powers Resolution. But I certainly agree with the summary he's posted at The Corner:
The treatment isn’t to force everyone to obey an unconstitutional law, the War Powers Resolution, that is both untrue to the Framers’ original understanding and unsuited to the exigencies of modern war. The New York Times’s [editorialists'] solution is the equivalent of using leeches on a patient with the common cold. The right constitutional answer (as I explain in this morning’s Wall Street Journal) is to toss the empty symbolism of the Resolution and meaningless lawsuits aside and let them fight it out using their own powers — commander-in-chief versus the purse — in the political process.
That's exactly right. The War Powers Resolution is the equivalent of Congress stamping its feet and shouting, "I'm Congress, dammit!" It's drama without substance.
The Constitution expressly gave Congress ample push-back power against the Executive through the power of the purse. If Congress wants to induce different (and better) behavior from the Executive, it can de-fund what he's doing. But if that imposes costs on Congress, in the form of political capital spent and political risks undertaken if Congress has misread the public, then Congress must bear those costs.
The Constitution is much more clever and much more subtle than the War Powers Resolution. And it's the Constitution, and the structure it creates with the intentional and continuous dynamic interplay inherent in that structure, that ultimately matters.
Saturday, June 04, 2011
Beldar on Emanuel on Obama on Israel's future
If you're Barack Obama, then by the time you've run and won a presidential election campaign, you know better than to defend your disastrous Middle East policies with the old cliché, "Some of my best friends are Jewish!"
Instead, you get your loyal vassal and bannerman — until recently your chief of staff, now returned to your and his hometown cesspool of politics, Chicago — to declare, "Hey, I'm a Jew, and Barack Obama's one of my best friends!"
That's the entire explanation for, and most of what you need to know about, Rahm Emanuel's WaPo op-ed this week. Emanuel would have had the same concluding paragraph no matter what:
As an American and a Jew, however, I am grateful that this president has not given up trying to find a path that would bring the parties back to the negotiating table. I applaud his continued effort to work on and invest himself in this increasingly vexing and dangerous conflict. All who care about a safe and secure Jewish state of Israel should as well.
Emanuel has seen Obama up close, he assures us, and then lists several Obama decisions that can be spun as pro-Israel. Trust me, Emanuel is saying, Obama's really not as anti-Israel as his history and his words and his deeds all indicate.
Uh-huh. But what of the contrary evidence, the calculated undercutting of Israel's negotiating position in Obama's May 19th speech to the State Department?
Emanuel simply pretends that that speech was pro-Israel.
He (or the editorial staff of the WaPo) helpfully included a link to the May 19th speech. And Emanuel quotes what he calls the "one sentence" of Obama's that has "received the most attention," viz — "The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states." He insists that prior American presidents and Israeli governments have dealt with the notion of swapping land for peace, and that Obama wasn't tilting American foreign policy away from Israel, so this is all much ado about nothing.
But he completely ignores what Obama said immediately after that controversial sentence (emphasis mine):
These principles provide a foundation for negotiations. Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met. I’m aware that these steps alone will not resolve the conflict, because two wrenching and emotional issues will remain: the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians.
The policy that Obama announced on May 19th was "Borders first, Jerusalem/right of return later." No other interpretation of Obama's words is possible. And no American president had ever before proposed that.
In responding to Emanuel's op-ed, was Roger L. Simon hyperbolic in this comparison?
[W]hen we are reading Emanuel’s piece, we are doing more than running our eyes rapidly down another dull oped. We are taking a time trip back into the 1930s when Jews made all kinds of rationalizations for all kinds of behavior. We all know the results of that.
Perhaps so. Obama's not rounding up Jewish families and putting them on trains to death camps, so the behavior that Emanuel is rationalizing isn't as noxious as the Nazi's.
But then again, Mr. Simon's implied (and more apt) comparison is not Obama & Emanuel to the Nazis, but Obama & Emanuel to the American leaders (including American Jews) of the 1930s and 1940s — leaders who took a "hands off"/"It's their problem" attitude over what Germany was doing to its Jews for years before war broke out. I don't think Godwin's Law applies when one's talking about the consequences of the actual Holocaust, including the origins of and the continued need for the State of Israel.
I'm willing to grant that Emanuel is a smart guy. How else (*cough*cough*) could he have turned a degree in ballet from Sarah Lawrence College, with no experience in business or finance, into a post-Clinton investment banking job at a branch office of Wasserstein Perella which netted him more than $18 million in just over two years? And I'm in no position to pass any judgment as to whether Emanuel is compromising his faith or his family or his heritage in his unswerving and, apparently, entirely uncritical support of Barack Obama.
But I'm very, very sure that Barack Obama is trying to turn America away from its best ally in the Middle East. And when someone like Rahm Emanuel tries to deny that, or distract attention from it, by saying, "Trust me, I'm a Jew" — I'm not impressed by that argument. I don't trust Rahm Emanuel, nor his liege-lord either.
Ryan on American exceptionalism
Referring to Paul Ryan's detailed and thoughtful speech on Thursday to the Alexander Hamilton Society — in which Ryan used historical parallels to reaffirm the critical importance of American exceptionalism in the modern world — the esteemed Michael Barone asks (rhetorically but pointedly):
By the way, how often do House Budget Committee chairmen give speeches about foreign policy?
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Despite history, a Ryan presidential candidacy from the House makes sense for 2012
I commend to you this thoughtful and articulate post (including its comments) by my blogospheric friend Dafydd ab Hugh of Big Lizards. Dafydd considers my arguments in favor of drafting House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) as the GOP's 2012 presidential nominee, but finds himself unpersuaded.
One of Dafydd's minor points is a better-argued variation on a theme that's been sounded fairly frequently about presidential candidates who are sitting members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including such recent historical footnotes as John Anderson and Dennis Kucinich (Dafydd's boldface & italics omitted here):
Look, I like Paul Ryan, and I love his plan to rescue the budget and economy. But I'm nervous about him being the GOP standard bearer next year — given that the last time anyone went directly from the House to the White House was James Garfield in 1880.
A representative running for president was of course far more common in the nineteenth century, and the House was held in much higher regard than now. Too, Garfield was a nine-term congressman first elected during the Civil War; and he served for five years as Appropriations Committee chairman. But in 2012, Ryan will be a seven-term congressman who will have served as Budget Committee chairman less than two years....
(Dafydd's post continues with a series of other well-made arguments that I think are more specific to Chairman Ryan. I've addressed some of them briefly in comments on his blog, and I may eventually expand on those arguments, or address other points, in future posts here. I intend to confine this post, however, specifically to the argument that Ryan's poorly situated to run from the House.)
For several reasons, I'm less impressed by this "nobody's won from the House in decades" argument in this particular year. For one thing, we don't have a GOP candidate with high federal executive experience this cycle — none of the three theoretically eligible GOP ex-Veeps (Quayle, Cheney, and yes, think about it, Bush-41) are plausible candidates. The two most recent GOP presidential nominees drawn from the Senate, Dole and McCain, ran awful campaigns that made everyone wonder why we couldn't find a better nominee. Rick Santorum is running on the strength of his two terms in the Senate, but he was defeated in 2006. And since John Thune's decision not to run, no sitting GOP senators have been overtly preparing for the race or even generating any buzz — and no one seems to regret that at all this year.
State governors at least have executive experience, but not at the federal level. There are vast differences between governing even a very large state and serving as POTUS, and state governors almost inevitably lack even the foreign policy experience of the lowliest Congressman, who's at least had occasion to consider and vote on foreign policy legislation. But I agree with Dafydd that there are several plausible candidates, existing or rumored, who have as strong credentials as any state governor is likely to ever have, and they're serious candidates. (They'd also nicely balance Ryan's federal legislative experience if one of them were his Veep nominee; or, I concede, vice versa.)
Nevertheless, and more importantly, I believe we are on the cusp of an electoral revolution comparable to that which the Reagan-Bush ticket accomplished in their 1980 defeat of the Carter-Mondale ticket. Certainly several sitting state governors are playing high-profile roles in dealing with their respective states' analogs, at the state level, to the federal problems being hashed out in Washington. But as a direct consequence of the 2010 off-year elections — in which the White House was not in dispute, and the GOP failed to recapture the Senate, but quite dramatically regained control of the House — the House has been where the action's been since January 2011. The Senate, by contrast, continues in near paralysis.
Up through and including the November 2012 election, the House GOP members will continue to apply essentially all of the pressure which will drive (or undo) potential compromises elsewhere. Indeed, conservatives have to depend on the House GOP members to keep the pressure up on not only Senate Dems and Obama, but on Senate Republicans.
For the 2012 election, then, more than most others, I think it makes particularly good sense to consider, and properly appreciate, the leadership Ryan has shown, and continues to show daily, from the House. You find your most effective leaders by going where the conflict is most stark and checking to see who's following whom. For this cycle, the most critical action is in the U.S. House, and in overwhelming numbers the House GOP members are following Paul Ryan's lead.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Watch the media spin hard to stick to their "GOP senators bail out on Ryan" narrative
Democrats and the main pundits of the mainstream media — but I repeat myself — have been saying for weeks that there would be huge GOP defections when, as a symbolic gesture, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) put the House's budget (principally authored by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan) up for a vote in the Senate.
Idiots and the main pundits of the mainstream media — but I repeat myself — might think this vote is somehow meaningful, and they indeed will insist that it is meaningful, whether it is or not, because that is their agreed-upon narrative. To them, facts and events don't matter; only their interpretation.
But here's the undeniable fact about today's events: That the GOP would lose this vote was conclusively determined in November 2010 when the GOP failed to retake the Senate.
When the outcome of a vote is 100% preordained, as the outcome of this one has always been, party leaders will often decide not to "whip the vote," meaning they decide not to twist any arms of their party's legislators, and not to waste political capital. If voting with the party would put a particular legislator at risk of losing reelection, then keeping the seat becomes more important than a symbolic show of unity.
Democrats and the main pundits of the mainstream media all understood this as recently as the House vote on Obamacare, in which then-Speaker Pelosi discreetly "released" several House Democrats to vote against it: No one has ever doubted San Fran Nan's ability to count noses and votes, and she and her crew knew exactly how many of their majority they could cut slack for without it becoming a close result. No one in the press or the punditocracy declared that the Dems had suffered some enormous schism. But now when Senate Minority Leader McConnell does the exact same thing, they manage to forget that rationale entirely. Thus, for example, a WaPo political blog post that treats a one-vote difference between the number of House and Senate GOP defectors as a sudden and ominous development for the GOP:
The budget plan, which was drafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and which passed the House in April with the support of all but four Republicans, was rejected by the Senate Wednesday on a 40-to-57 vote.
As was the case in the House vote, all Democrats present in the Senate voted against the measure; they were joined by five Republicans, a sign of the wariness with which some Republicans have come to view the budget plan, particularly members who may face tough reelection bids in 2012.
The Republicans voting against the plan Wednesday were moderate Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.), Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), as well as conservative freshman Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), who argued that the plan did not go far enough in cutting spending.
Back in November 2010, even when they were flush with the glow from the GOP's landmark victory in re-taking the House, if you had asked most Republican strategists the likelihood that by late May 2011, all but nine of the 288-or-so Republicans in Congress (i.e., more than 96%) would go on record voting for a serious, grown-up, transformative, but therefore politically risky budget — one that actually addresses the explosive growth in entitlements — they'd have laughed at you. "Maybe the young guns and the freshmen Tea Party products might go out on that limb," they'd have said, "but not practically the whole House and Senate GOP." But if you had somehow persuaded them to take you seriously, then they probably also would have been able to predict at least four of the GOP senators who wouldn't go along.
Sens. Snowe and and Collins from Maine and Sen. Brown from Massachusetts have purple constituencies. Their voting with the Senate Dems today surprised absolutely no one in the Senate, and shouldn't surprise you either. Sen. Murkowski, of course, famously couldn't win her home-state GOP primary; her defection is no surprise either.
And the Paul family, father and son, together represent a quarter of the GOP's House defections and a fifth of the Senate's — both of them because they think the Ryan budget doesn't go far enough. They obviously share a bull-headedness gene, and I wish they would figure out that voting with the Democrats is almost never, ever a useful way to demonstrate one's adherence to conservative principles. Obviously, however, if you want an accurate head-count of who wants real budget cuts and spending reforms, you subtract both Paul votes from the anti-Ryan headcount and add each to the enormous majority of GOP senators and representatives (with those two, over 97%) who've gone on record voting for Chairman Ryan's Path to Prosperity.
I'm altogether pleased with this vote. And of course, there was this other event in the Senate today that you will tend not to see emphasized in headlines, that you will instead tend to see downplayed or left entirely unexplained, and that you will probably tend to see mentioned "below the fold" — if at all — by the mainstream media (boldface mine):
Immediately after the vote on the Ryan budget, the Senate unanimously rejected President Obama’s 2012 budget proposal. The Obama budget did not secure the support of a single lawmaker, with all 97 senators present voting “no.”
I humbly submit that any news report which contains that fact ought to be headlined something like, "Lightworker drops to zero-wattage output."
Again, as a matter of substance, this is no surprise: The Obama budget was dead on arrival. But you're lookin' for symbolism? The Senate, under exclusively Democratic leadership and almost exclusively with a Democratic POTUS, has now gone 755 days without approving a budget for a full fiscal year — and before we're done, it will probably have gone longer without approving a budget than the entire Kennedy administration lasted. And now not a single U.S. Senator of either party will cast even a symbolic vote in favor of Obama's budget, and yet there is no Democratic alternative at all.
So indeed, one party, in frantic fear of further electoral backlash in November 2012, is backpedaling furiously from its conduct between 2009-2010 and now. (I expect that any day now, it will be revealed that it was false intelligence from the CIA that lured all those Democrats into voting for the 2009 "stimulus" — undoubtedly false intelligence whose seeds were planted by Dick Cheney, perhaps in collaboration with Osama bin Laden, who's conveniently unable to deny anything anymore.)
The other party is actually hanging pretty tough for the most part, and pretty much on track. Oh, there's a whole lot more to be done: The Dems' fiscal recklessness, and what it's doing to our economy and our future, will be the key issue on Tuesday, November 6, 2012. We need to wrap that issue around Obama's and the Dems' necks on every one of the 531 days until then.
Friday, May 20, 2011
Petty POTUS tilts against Israel
Regarding President Obama's speech at the State Department yesterday regarding the Middle East and North Africa:
Now, already, we’ve done much to shift our foreign policy following a decade defined by two costly conflicts. After years of war in Iraq, we’ve removed 100,000 American troops and ended our combat mission there. In Afghanistan, we’ve broken the Taliban’s momentum, and this July we will begin to bring our troops home and continue a transition to Afghan lead. And after years of war against al Qaeda and its affiliates, we have dealt al Qaeda a huge blow by killing its leader, Osama bin Laden.
I have no problem at all with the final sentence in that paragraph. I have no problem at all with Obama taking fair credit for authorizing the mission to kill bin Laden, and I commend him in particular for accepting the greater risk to our forces and our national interests from sending in the SEALs, instead of doing nothing or relying on a JDAM or cruise missile. (He managed to take advantage of hindsight to avoid repeating Bill Clinton's now-obvious mistakes, in other words, and for that I am glad.) It was certainly an event worth including in any look back at the last ten years. And it's still topical and fresh, so I don't even mind that Obama then goes on for another two paragraphs just about bin Laden.
But only a petulant jerk would ignore the fact that American and British forces defeated Saddam's army and deposed his regime in three weeks. Or the fact that coalition forces continue to come home from Iraq, on a timetable negotiated by Bush-43 and the Iraqis, precisely because they've generally succeeded in their multi-year counter-insurgency/counter-terrorism missions in Iraq. And between 9/11/01 and year-end, American special forces working with Afghan allies deposed the Taliban's regime, driving it from power into an exile (from which it continues to fight, but without the same ability it had to provide safe haven for bin Laden, al Qaeda, and others who'd export international terrorism). Multiple elections have been held in both countries — elections made possible only by the spilled blood of coalition forces fighting alongside natives committed to their countries' freedom too.
Those weren't just George W. Bush's accomplishments, no more than killing bin Laden was solely Barack Obama's accomplishment. They were America's accomplishments. But in his pique, his reflexive spite for his predecessor, Obama simply has to paint the things that America accomplished during Bush's presidency in bleak terms if he mentions them at all. Deposing a monster just as evil and cruel as bin Laden, but who as a head of state killed hundreds of thousands more people than bin Laden did, becomes merely "years of war in Iraq"; the monster's name is not even mentioned.
Isn't Obama's one-sentence write-off of everything done in Iraq before he took office just exactly what a politician might say if Saddam had beaten us, instead of Saddam ending up swinging at the end of a rope?
John Kennedy didn't treat Eisenhower like that. Nixon didn't treat Johnson like that, and Bill Clinton didn't treat Bush-41 like that. But much more importantly, to my knowledge, no American president has been so dismissive of the accomplishments on the field of battle of its armed forces from before he became Commander in Chief. Indeed, a key reason why John Kerry didn't ever occupy that position was precisely because upon his return from Vietnam, he'd done exactly that — disparaging our warriors — even while basking in glory for having been one of them. I concede that ignoring their accomplishments is better than telling lies that paint them as war criminals. But it's still wrong, ungracious, unpresidential.
I cannot like this man. I cannot re-kindle a liking for him. I would not like to have dinner with him or shake his hand. And although I would shake his hand if it were offered, or stand upon his entrance to a room I was in, I'd do that from respect for his office and not for the man who presently holds it.
He is petty, about little things and big things both. Were we ever to meet, I could no longer find it in myself to be magnanimous to him.
Many of the following paragraphs, in which Obama discusses what's been sometimes called "the Arab Spring," are entirely satisfactory to me. As many, many pundits of both the left and right have noted, they read very much like many speeches George W. Bush gave regarding the spread of democracy in the region. But then, suddenly — jarringly — everything once again has to be all about Obama:
But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.
As is said on the prairies of West Texas whence I sprang: "Do whut now?"
What part of deposing the Taliban's or Saddam's national governments, or the aftermaths of those events in Afghanistan and Iraq, was "accepting the world as it is in the region"? What decades is he talking about — 1820-1850?
Why does he have to pretend that he's the first person to have said these same things? Why does he have to pretend that what he's saying in this speech about America encouraging democracy is some big policy change — when actually all that's changed is that he's no longer criticizing Dubya's rhetoric but parroting it?
When he promised an additional $2 billion in loan guarantees and debt forgiveness to Egypt, I wanted to hear Obama also say "if its government doesn't include elements of the Muslim Brotherhood or other organizations with a history of supporting violence and international terrorism."
Nothing like that was said.
But then to Israel and the Palestinians:
For over two years, my administration has worked with the parties and the international community to end this conflict, building on decades of work by previous administrations. Yet expectations have gone unmet. Israeli settlement activity continues. Palestinians have walked away from talks. The world looks at a conflict that has grinded on and on and on, and sees nothing but stalemate. Indeed, there are those who argue that with all the change and uncertainty in the region, it is simply not possible to move forward now.
Since Truman, American presidents, and the diplomats who serve at their pleasure, have displayed this sort of parallelism, this drawing of comparisons in a way that presumes and implies comparability and even equivalence.
It's time to stop that nonsense. The thieves, cut-throats, and thugs who purport to speak for the Palestinians aren't interested in taking "yes" for an answer from the Israelis. Only the Palestinian leaders are at fault for the fact that they do not already have a viable independent state. It was on the table for them to take, and Arafat walked away from it; his successors have never even seriously tried to get back to that point, preferring instead to squabble, snipe (figuratively and literally), and wallow in victimhood and violence. And it's not only dishonest to pretend that they and Israeli leaders are equally to blame for this state of affairs, it's very bad diplomacy. There are indeed disputes in which only one side is at fault, and however this one began, that's what this one has been for a long, long time.
But Obama doubles down:
So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.
So as soon as Israel rolls over completely and throws away all of its most valuable bargaining chips for nothing in return, then we'll all have a "basis for negotiations."
If you think I'm misinterpreting the sequencing here, Obama will correct you:
These principles provide a foundation for negotiations. Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met. I’m aware that these steps alone will not resolve the conflict, because two wrenching and emotional issues will remain: the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians.
Territory is real. Security is flexible and temporary, and depends on the continued good faith of both sides. Why would Israel give up something real for something flexible and temporary? How could Obama possibly think they're that foolish?
This amounts to "1967 borders today, guys, and then we'll all return next week to decide precisely how badly you Israelis will fare on Jerusalem and the 'Palestinian right of return.'" I wonder whether Obama actually ever did any actual negotiation as a lawyer/community organizer. I've never had a negotiation in which I've persuaded one side that it ought agree today to a deal that exposes it to increased depredation by its opponents just so it can come back to the bargaining table later to arrange its further capitulation on its top "hot-button" issues.
Why should we ever think this will ever possibly happen? Obama answers:
I recognize how hard this will be. Suspicion and hostility has been passed on for generations, and at times it has hardened. But I’m convinced that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would rather look to the future than be trapped in the past. We see that spirit in the Israeli father whose son was killed by Hamas, who helped start an organization that brought together Israelis and Palestinians who had lost loved ones. That father said, “I gradually realized that the only hope for progress was to recognize the face of the conflict.” We see it in the actions of a Palestinian who lost three daughters to Israeli shells in Gaza. “I have the right to feel angry,” he said. “So many people were expecting me to hate. My answer to them is I shall not hate. Let us hope,” he said, “for tomorrow.”
More shameful drawing of moral equivalents between things that are not at all morally equivalent.
Israel does not try to target little boys and girls, ever. Its opponents do, always. When Palestinian children are killed in collateral damage from Israeli responses to rockets and bombs, Israelis mourn and resolve to try harder to limit collateral casualties in the future. When Israeli children are killed in intentional damage from Palestinian suicide bombers (or rockets or mortars, both highly indiscriminate), Palestinians celebrate and resolve to kill more innocents the next time.
Yes, hate is caustic, but it's a whole lot more justified when directed toward deliberate murderers. And forgiveness is divine, but forgiveness is not absolution from responsibility. Whether they hate or forgive, both these fathers should hold responsible the Palestinian leaders who perpetuate this system and feed off these deaths.
Why does an American president treat these things as if they're the same? How does that lie advance the peace process?
Obama did not repeat this particular position on sequencing of negotiations, the 1967 borders, or the "right of return" in his joint press conference today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But neither did Obama retract the new position, and indeed its timing was obviously intended to present the Israelis with a fait accompli.
That's our President Gutsy.
Nevertheless, today Bibi politely but firmly responded to what Obama said yesterday, and he categorically rejected the notion of either a return to 1967 borders or the return of Palestinian refugees into Israel (as opposed to a proposed Palestinian state). I accord him high marks for self-restraint and statesmanship, because nowhere in his remarks did Netanyahu slip and use the Hebrew word "meshuga" (or its Yiddish cousin, perhaps better known here in the U.S., "meshugana").
UPDATE (Sat May 21 @ 3:10pm): Reading about Obama's speech at the State Department from Thursday, I've found a very, very wide range of interpretations about what Obama said and what it means. They range from "this is no more than business as usual, consistent with past U.S. policy," to "the sky is falling."
I am taking Obama exactly at his word, and giving him and his administration every benefit of every doubt. I'm not accusing him, for example, of already breaching promises made by the United States to Israel regarding borders. I'm giving Obama full credit for the broadest, and most Israel-friendly interpretation of, the phrase "based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps" in order to keep that consistent with previous proposals that have involved some sort of land-for-peace deal. I'm not assuming that Obama is committing the U.S. to support only a return to precisely the 1948 truce lines; if you read his speech that way, then this is an incredibly perfidious betrayal of Israel, not just a "tilt."
Likewise, I'm not jumping to conclusions from such things as his reference to a "contiguous" Palestinian state, which could be read to mean a corridor between the West Bank and Gaza that bifurcates Israel entirely (in the manner Germany was split by the Danzig Corridor after WW1).
For an example of an extremely critical interpretation, read Caroline Glick's analysis; I respectfully disagree with her in many respects, and with Power Line's Scott Johnson, who characterizes Glick's commentary as "shrewd." I'd say it's frankly alarmist, albeit with some considerable justification, and I fault Ms. Glick in particular for not making exactly clear which parts of her analysis are based on inference rather than actual quotes from the speech.
But there is no possible interpretation of Obama's speech which ignores its commitment to borders now, Jerusalem/return later. And that itself is a significant and extremely unfortunate tilt.
Monday, May 16, 2011
Obama as Grant
This past weekend's "Week in Review" section of the NYT included Peter Baker's essay entitled Comparisons in Chief. Mr. Baker muses over the comparisons, flattering and un-, of Barack Obama, the forty-fourth POTUS, with predecessors such as John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and the Bushes (George H.W. and George W.):
What makes us so eager to find historical parallels for Mr. Obama? Why do we take one president and try to fit him into the mold of another? Maybe it is because more than halfway through his term, we just cannot agree on who Mr. Obama really is. Or maybe it is the same public fascination with historical personalities that lately has filled best-seller lists with presidential biographies. Or maybe it is just a surplus of shallow punditry in an era with endless hours of airtime and Internet space to fill.
“Sometimes I think the only president we haven’t been compared to is Franklin Pierce,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director. “But I am not ruling out the possibility of that comparison sometime in the next couple of years.”
Mr. Pfeiffer said he assumes these comparisons come up because many political writers were history majors. Naturally, he, too, has read many books on presidents. “The key,” he said, “is studying the similarities and differences and understanding that history is informative but not determinative.”
Mark K. Updegrove, director of the Johnson presidential library, points to the proliferation of news media. “In my view,” he said, “pundits often make comparisons to previous presidents because it allows them to sound authoritative without putting forth a great deal of thought.” He added that he has been among those who have made such comparisons.
After Mr. Baker's quotes about pundits who want to sound authoritative or were history majors, however, I could not help but shake my head when I read his concluding lines (emphasis mine):
In the end, said Michael Beschloss, the presidential historian, our views matter less than Mr. Obama’s: “The real key is, in his heart, which historical figures does Obama himself really find himself looking to most often for inspiration and guidance?” Usually, he added, we do not find out until after a president leaves office and historians can read his records or memoirs.
So maybe then, Mr. Obama will actually be another Ulysses S. Grant, who wrote the most celebrated presidential memoir of all time. Remember, you read it here first.
Mr. Baker is correct that U.S. Grant's memoirs have been celebrated, and justly so. I recommend them to anyone interested in U.S. history, and they're available in full-text, free, online.
Anyone who's actually read them, however, would surely recall the careful, disciplined organizational style of Grant's memoirs. His chapter titles, for example, are verbose by modern standards, but they comprehensively summarize the contents of each chapter. The next-to-last one, Chapter 70, was entitled: "The End of the War — The March to Washington — One of Lincoln’s Anecdotes — Grand Review at Washington — Characteristics of Lincoln and Stanton — Estimate of the Different Corps Commanders." Grant's memoirs basically stop at the end of the Civil War. And even in his final chapter, entitled simply "Conclusion," Grant said nothing of his two terms as president.
Grant's memoir, in short, was not a presidential memoir, but a commanding general's. Given the enormous disparity between history's concensus verdict on Grant as a commanding general (top-tier) and as a president (bottom of the barrel), that's a rather significant fact.
Depending on whether you credit his second book as a memoir or just campaign flackery (and I lean toward the latter), Obama's already written either one or two memoirs of his own pre-presidential days. And if Mr. Baker thinks that Barack Obama's accomplishments as a community organizer, part-time lawyer, part-time seminar teacher, and part-time state legislator compare in any respect to Grant winning the Civil War — or even that Obama writes as well as Grant did — then Mr. Baker's punditry is very silly and shallow indeed.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Beldar on "hate crimes"
Prof. Ann Althouse has a post up today entitled Webcam spying on college roommate charged as a hate crime. I left the following comment:
I can't think of anything as detrimental to the cause of civil liberties as the Left's passion for "hate crimes."
Those who promote this notion ought to consider the lines from [Robert Bolt's play, and the subsequent movie,] "A Man for All Seasons":
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
In response, another commenter said, quite reasonably: "I'm really unable to decide which is the devil in all this. Is it the 'hater' or the laws themselves? Especially since many of our laws are starting to be written by haters of one kind to control haters of another."
My reply (slightly edited here for clarity, and not block-quoted because it's fairly long):
@ bagoh20: Your comment confirms that my allusion to Thomas More was unclear.
I conceive of "hate-crime" laws, in general, as an attempt to misuse the existing Rule of Law by loosening its standards, by inserting into the law a wolf in sheeps' clothing.
The secular law of More's day guaranteed individual liberty both against abuse by ecclesiastical law and against mob justice. It was deliberately structured, measured, to be resistant to momentary passions from any source, and it remains so today. (Only "resistant" because it is administered by fallible humans; the law can't be made impervious to passions.)
Consider, for instance, the murder of James Byrd, Jr., a racially motivated crime that occurred, and was prosecuted, in Texas (where I live). George W. Bush's political opponents regularly tried to beat him about the head and shoulders under the theory that because he'd been Texas' governor, it was his fault that Texas had no hate-crimes enhancement to apply to this prosecution. His response was always that the existing Texas laws had functioned absolutely appropriately in the case: All three perpetrators were convicted of capital murder, and the two of those whom the evidence proved most responsible were sentenced to death. Evidence of their racism and associations with white supremist organizations was introduced — not to prove that they are hateful people who are therefore deserving of greater punishment, but rather to establish their motive for killing Byrd. The death-row convicts' appeals are still playing out, but given the evidence and the seriousness Texas displays in carrying out death sentences, those two are likely to be executed. So how much more could Texas have punished them? What's worse than a death sentence?
That people could seriously argue that these sentences needed enhancement illustrates the core truth about hate-crime statutes: They're written to enable the process by which popular passion can affect the criminal justice system. And the cruel irony is that the passion exhibited by those who wanted to further punish the murderers of James Byrd, Jr. is functionally indistinguishable from the passion of racist mobs in past decades who've committed lynchings.
Our "regular" laws — without hate-crime enhancers — are the trees. Start cutting them down — by passing special laws consisting of short-cuts to empower sentiment and passion in sentencing, at the expense of evidence and due process — and you will soon find the kingdom laid too flat for anyone to stand upright against the winds of evil (or even mere chaos).
To change metaphors: The Rule of Law, with the legal process it prescribes as due to each defendant, is the foundation of our civilization and, especially, this America. Hate-crime laws undermine the foundations of the Rule of Law for everyone. History teaches that such foundations are rare and hard to build, and that once sufficiently undermined, they collapse and are hard to re-build.
I hope that makes my allusion more clear.
Saturday, April 02, 2011
What to call what's going on in Libya
I've been arguing since March 2 that no one would ever believe the U.S. wasn't in charge of any coalition military activities in Libya, since "in the Marines' Hymn, there's already this line about the 'shores of Tripoli,' which goes back to this whole 1805 thing when Jefferson was President and he established the first Navy SEALS or something."
Today, a liberal friend of mine argued in the comments to another post that "[h]istorical reference isn't helpful" in the present context. I disagree, of course; history is almost always relevant and usually essential to understand what's happening now.
Calling the 1991-1992 conflict with Saddam for the liberation of Kuwait the "First Gulf War," and the liberation of Iraq itself in 2003 the "Second Gulf War," would be very orderly, but that nomenclature still doesn't seem to have caught on. Quite a bit of both wars were fought in Iraq, and both were fought against Iraq, but I think Bush-41 discouraged calling the earlier one "the Iraq War" because he wanted to keep the focus on liberating Kuwait. But we couldn't call that one "the Kuwait War" because that would have suggested we were making war on Kuwait, which we weren't. It doesn't make much sense to call the liberation of Iraq "the Second Gulf War" because Iraq (in contrast to Kuwait) only has a small (albeit very important) coastline along the Persian Gulf. And then there's the confusion caused by some people already calling the war between Iraq and Iran from 1980-1988 "the Gulf War"; I think that usage has dimished lately.
Nevertheless, I'm much amused by Jonah Goldberg's suggestion that "we should call this [Libyan affair] the Third Barbary War." (Jonah, I would link you, but I don't know how to link your emailed "Goldberg File" work.) Yes, it's (once again) on the Barbary Coast; and yes, it's (once again) to restrain the actions of one or more barbarians!
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Beldar on Welch on "Obama's Doctrine of Preemptive War"
I like Matt Welch, the editor in chief of Reason.com. He's funny and perceptive, and right more often than wrong. He's not someone who I typically find to be guilty of fuzzy, confused writing or speaking. But his essay on Obama's Doctrine of Preemptive War (h/t Instapundit) is, in important respects, an exception.
Suppose in 2003, after seeing us take down Saddam, Kadafi's reaction had instead been to re-double his own WMD program. It's easy to imagine how that might have justified a preemptive war if other means failed to dissuade him from that course. (Of course, it's also easy to imagine how it might have been fumbled: for examples we need look no farther than North Korea, and now Iran.)
But that's not what happened. Instead, after he saw Saddam pried out of his spider hole, Kadafi voluntarily gave up his WMD program and restrained the degree and severity of his export of terrorism. As a consequence, the war in Libya now is by no means the same kind of preemptive war that we waged in Iraq in 2003 — one in which we fired the first shots because we were convinced we were going to be in a fight soon anyway, and a much worse fight than if we hadn't waited. What we're "preempting" now in Libya is not a threat to the United States, but to Libya's citizen population, including but not at all limited to the very substantial fraction of it who were actively demonstrating against Kadafi. Deciding when, and how much, war is justified in those circumstances is also quite controversial and difficult, but it's a different kind of controversy and difficulty than those which attend the question of starting a genuinely preemptive war.
Kadafi broke parole. The forebearance he'd bought by cooperation after his past acts of international terrorism, he forfeited when he started using heavy weapons indiscriminately on his population — but not because that put us at risk in the U.S. in any direct or immediate way.
What makes Libya a country of strategic importance to America — why military intervention to depose Kadafi now is justified strategically, when military intervention to depose many other dictators committing attrocities isn't justified strategically — is indeed a common factual thread with the Iraq situation. In neither country could America afford to see a return to active WMD development and production, active export of international terrorism, or active shelter of international terrorists because those countries' bad acts could be multiplied and magnified by their oil money.
Much of Welch's criticism of the Obama Administration's badly mixed messages is spot on, and similar to what I (and many others) have been saying. (Obama doesn't like to talk about Libya's oil, a naive self-imposed blindfold of political correctness which ends up hampering his explanation of America's genuine strategic interests.) But the mere fact that there is a common strategic thread with the Iraq War — which is that terrorism-exporting WMD-seeking countries with oil money are extra dangerous and therefore extra important to the U.S. — still doesn't turn this intervention in Libya into a "preemptive war."
This isn't a war we started. Kadafi started it, against his own civilians. Given that, strategic interests now have to be considered in deciding upon what we should do, it's true. But the whole debate about whether the grave and gathering dangers are sufficient to wage a preemptive war became moot once Kadafi started the shooting. At that point, the question wasn't war versus peace, but war with or without our involvement. Welch does no one any favors by confusing that point.
And contra Welch, my concern is not that Obama is too committed now to the doctrine of preemptive war. My concern — see, again, Iran — is that he's already effectively ruled it out when we certainly shouldn't.
Beldar admits error on whether there's a constituency that favors Kadafi's survival
In my reactions to Pres. Obama's speech on Libya on Monday night, I disputed — but didn't discuss at much length — the president's assertion that that "[i]f we tried to overthrow Gaddafi by force, our coalition would splinter." My reaction was:
Not if you did your job properly. Not even the Arab League wants to see Kadafi left alive. What's making them nervous is the collateral damage from the airstrikes you're already doing, not concern for Kadafi.
In some lunchtime political debate Tuesday, I pointed out this line to a liberal friend as yet another example of dishonesty in Obama's speech. "There is no constituency for Kadafi's survival anymore, not anywhere," I insisted to my friend, "and there is simply no one who will be sorry to see him killed."
Later, driving away, I mentally footnoted that: "Except, maybe, for the grifters, thugs, mercenaries, sycophants, and (broadly defined, to its dirtiest outer limits) 'service industry' people, somewhere in the world, on whom Kadafi, if he survives, will continue spending those many tens of billions of dollars he's stashed. Those parasites would rather see him in a lengthy and profitable-for-themselves exile."
I now find that I was both wrong and right, at the same time.
Kadafi does indeed still have a constituency, someone willing to go to bat for him — and it consists of Daniel Ortega and the Sandanistas from Nicaragua:
A former Nicaraguan leftist foreign minister who has been a sharp critic of U.S. governments will represent Libya at the United Nations after its delegate was denied a visa, Nicaragua said on Tuesday.
As governments and international bodies agreed to press on with a NATO-led aerial bombardment of Libyan forces, Nicaragua said Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann, who once called former U.S. President Ronald Reagan "the butcher of my people," would replace senior Libyan diplomat Ali Abdussalam Treki.
The government of leftist President Daniel Ortega, a former U.S. Cold War foe who has forged ties with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, said it had sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to inform him of the decision.
The Nicaraguan government said in a statement that D'Escoto has flown to the U.N. headquarters in New York to "support our Libyan brothers in their diplomatic battle to enforce respect for its sovereignty.
Mind you, this D'Escoto is so incredibly steeped in international radicalism that even Reuters found it essential to begin pointing out his background in the lead paragraph of this news report.
As for Ortega, that murderous Fidel Castro wannabe, the last time he was discussed here on the pages of BeldarBlog was during the 2004 election, when I pointed out, as an example of John Kerry's extremely poor judgment, that he had believed, endorsed, and heavily promoted Ortega's false promises to reform his communist government in Nicaragua if only America would stop funding the Contras. Suffice it to say that it was only Ronald Reagan and Nicaragua's lack of massive oil resources that has prevented Ortega from becoming the same kind of tyrant as Kadafi himself.
So that's how I was wrong in my assertion there's no constituency for Kadafi's survival anywhere. How, then, was I simultaneously right? I'm saved by my mental footnote, and this report that "[t]he South American state [i.e., Nicaragua] has been identified as a potential safe haven for Gaddafi should he seek exile from Libya."
Brilliant! Kadafi's political constituency is also his graft constituency! Isn't it great when ideology and commerce work together so closely?
Obviously, however, I still think Obama's assertion — that our coalition would shatter if we committed to taking out Kadafi by force — was completely false. Whatever coalition Obama has managed to assemble, it's never included Daniel Ortega anyway, and it certainly ought not.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
In six weeks, Obama fails miserably at what Bush père did so very well in one
We're entering the sixth week of the Libyan crisis, and someone attempting to defend President Obama's feckless handling of it might point out, correctly, that there was very much an element of unexpected emergency created by Kadafi's decision to start shooting his own citizens when they started protesting on February 15th. So it's only fair to judge President Obama's reaction in that context. Certainly it takes time to consult allies, to nudge into motion giant bureaucratic agencies like the U.N. or even multi-national military ones NATO, and to formulate a clear national and international position with clear goals unequivocally communicated to friend and foe alike.
So let's consider another recent (in historical terms) and unexpected emergency in the Middle East — Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990, which came as an utter surprise to the entire world, and America's response, which was called "Operation Desert Shield."
In less than one week — by August 8, 1990 — Pres. George H.W. Bush had already gotten resolutions from the U.N. and the Arab League comdemning the invasion, along with U.N. Security Council Resolutions establishing economic sanctions and authorizing a blockade of Iraq to enforce them. He had exhausted both formal and back-channel negotiations seeking a voluntary Iraqi pull-back. He had started the deployment of American air and ground forces to defensive positions in Saudi Arabia (which in turn required the most delicate of negotiations to reconcile those troops' presence with the Saudis' keen sensitivities as guardians of Islam's most holy cities). He had consulted with both parties' leaders in Congress to their general satisfaction — even though he wasn't (yet) sending troops or even aircraft into combat. (Eventually he'd come back to them for, and win, a formal Congressional vote authorizing that.)
And in a straight-forward but powerful speech to America and the world on the evening of August 8, he laid out exactly what he had done, was doing, and promised to do about Saddam's invasion of Kuwait.
It was an expanded version of the same message he'd had since his very first public statements on the crisis: "This will not stand." No bluster, nothing grand, and certainly no diplomatic double-speak, but just the kind of grim and absolutely credible determination the American men of his generation were known for.
It was as graceful and swift and deft and brilliant an exercise in international diplomacy as this planet has ever seen. It was a symphonic ballet of practical, urgent diplomacy — with Jim Baker and Bush both working the phones, and Bush jotting hand-written notes to world leaders he'd known and dealt with for decades. It was followed up with sustained performance throughout the fall and into what eventually became Operation Desert Storm in 1991 — a diplomatic accomplishment so total that there were even Syrian and Egyptian tanks helping us and the Brits and the French (and a bunch of other countries) liberate Kuwait.
Throughout, Pres. Bush-41 was gracious and tactful in sharing credit with all of our allies, some of whom were even persuaded to kick in for some of the cost! But never, ever, did he shrink from America's essential role, nor pretend that we could fool the rest of the world into thinking anyone else could replace us in it.
Which is to say:
George H.W. Bush's performance in beginning Desert Shield had almost nothing in common with Barack Obama's performance now. And that's unfortunate for the latter — and the country.
UPDATE (Sat Mar 26 @ 2:10am): Now that he's fresh and well-rested from his South American vacation and he's found an unlocked door to get back into the Oval Office, it appears that The One "will deliver an address to the nation on Monday with an update on the situation in Libya, the White House announced Friday evening."
No sooner because, you know, there are games this weekend. We're talking the Elite Eight here, baby — Butler versus Florida! Virginia Commonwealth versus Kansas! — just so you understand the priorities.
UPDATE (Sat Mar 26 @ wee-smalls): Okay, here's the hold-up. The administration is having a vigorous internal debate over whether to arm the Libyan rebels with sophisticated western technology, although we're apparently not sure whether that should be pepper spray or TOW anti-tank missiles:
Gene Cretz, the recently withdrawn U.S. ambassador to Libya, said administration officials were having "the full gamut" of discussions on "potential assistance we might offer, both on the non-lethal and the lethal side," but that no decisions had been made.
So apparently the Obama Administration is already committed to the notion that Libya needs more weapons with less accountability. But we wouldn't want to rush into any decisions on Stingers versus Tasers until we've actually ruled out the entire line-up of Nerf weapons, some of which, I think you'll agree, are pretty formidable.
I'll tell you who ought to get to answer that question: Somebody at about the major or lieutenant colonel level in, say, the 101st Airborne, who more than likely is going to have some percentage of the weapons we hand out now pointed back at his troopers within days, weeks, or months. So I'm actually going with the Nerf line-up, if I get a vote.
President Barack Obama told congressional leaders there are no plans to use the U.S. military to assassinate Libyan strongman Muammar Qadhafi — despite the administration’s policy of seeking regime change in the North African country — according to sources familiar with a Friday White House Situation Room briefing.
“There was a discussion of how we have other ways of regime change,” Maryland Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee told POLITICO. “It’s not our role to do anything at this point from a kinetic point of view. It is our goal for regime change, but we’re not going to do it from a kinetic point of view.”
So yeah, add that to Adm. Gortney's "guarantee" that Kadafi is "not on the target list" and I think you've pretty much got the picture here. We're going to keep all of our options right out on the table, including holding our breath until we turn blue and we get really dizzy. Except the one option which would really work, right away. That one we've ruled out repeatedly.
Kadafi's possibly the safest person in Libya, at least for tonight. He's got Obama's word on it. Even if Obama could just push the button and Kadafi would magically, instantly, disappear without a hair being harmed on any other Libyan's head, Obama wouldn't do it.
(But I wonder if Kadafi knows Geraghty's Law?)
Further prediction: If it's live and not a re-run tonight, Saturday Night Live will be all over "kinetic."
Further, further prediction: Obama will repeat this utter stupidity about not targeting Kadafi in his national address on Monday night. It will encourage Kadafi and confuse Americans and our main allies, including the Brits, who've quite wisely refused to rule out regime decapitation.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Spectacular displays of naïveté in international affairs
Gentlemen do not read each other's mail.
— U.S. Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson, explaining (in later memoirs) his 1929 decision to close down the "Cypher Bureau," which had been the U.S.' first peacetime cryptanalytic organization, just as fascist governments were seizing or consolidating power in the countries which would plunge us into the Second World War.
Despite a plume of smoke around one of Gaddafi’s compounds in Tripoli, U.S. officials said that they were not targeting the Libyan leader. “At this point I can guarantee he is not on the target list,” Gortney said. “We are not targeting his residence.”
— U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, as quoted in today's Washington Post, as coalition forces go in harm's way to enforce a U.N. resolution calling for the protection of Libya's civilian population from its mad despot, Kadafi. (Boldface mine.)
The probability that Adm. Gortney decided all on his own to implement this policy, or even to describe it using the word "guarantee" when speaking on the record to the WaPo, is zero. Barack Obama scripted this, unless he's completely abdicated all responsibility and oversight and the Joint Chiefs have mounted a secret coup.
Why would the U.S. Commander-in-Chief direct one of his military commanders to tell the world press to tell Kadafi that he's not being targeted? I'm genuinely baffled.
How does this possibly not encourage Kadafi to continue resisting? How does it possibly serve anyone other than Kadafi's interests?
Are we, and the world, supposed to believe that Barack Obama is willing to fade the heat from coalition forces inflicting collateral casualties that inevitably will include completely innocent women and children — and that he's willing to accept potential casualties among the coalition's own warriors — but that if we had a clean chance to decapitate the entire Kadafi regime without mussing the hair of another Libyan's head, we would ignore it?
In what bizarre parallel universe does Kadafi deserve this kind of deference — a "guarantee" which rules out the possibility of the exact same sort of airstrikes that Dubya ordered for Saddam's hide-outs in 2003, or indeed, that Reagan ordered for this self-same Kadafi in 1986 as part of "Operation El Dorado Canyon"? Killing Kadafi would shorten the dispute and save countless lives and treasure. So the reason we should take care now to guarantee to the world that Kadafi's not a target is ... what, exactly?
The naïveté, the incoherence, the inconsistency, and the obvious duplicity of Barack Obama and his administration as they stumble into this Libyan engagement — all in stark contrast to the awesome, deadly competency of our military as it follows whatever orders it receives — is absolutely unnerving even for those of us who think these military steps ought to have been taken weeks ago.
Speaking from an unspecified U.S. military aircraft, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the coalition would be unwise to target the longtime dictator. “It is unwise to set as specific goals things that you may or may not be able to achieve,” he was quoted as saying.
Seriously? In real life, we're reduced to the kind of question Jack Nicholson (as Col. Jessup) asked Tom Cruise (as Lt. Kaffee) — whether there's any other kind of danger besides the "grave" kind?
Are there any other kind of specific goals, Mr. Secretary, besides the ones you may or may not be able to achieve?
More to the point, with less snark: Giving Kadafi a guarantee that he's not targeted is not at all the same thing as making it a public goal to kill him. I'm not arguing that Obama should be shouting trans-Atlantic death threats. Speak softly, carry the big stick. But don't promise not to do something which, if we could do, we should do. Don't promise something that gives comfort to our enemy and dismays his enemies whom we would have as our friends.
Wednesday, March 02, 2011
The latest from Tripoli? From Cairo? Tehran? ... Philadelphia?
When a government has ceased to protect the lives, liberty and property of the people, from whom its legitimate powers are derived, and for the advancement of whose happiness it was instituted, and so far from being a guarantee for the enjoyment of those inestimable and inalienable rights, becomes an instrument in the hands of evil rulers for their oppression.
When the Federal Republican Constitution of their country, which they have sworn to support, no longer has a substantial existence, and the whole nature of their government has been forcibly changed, without their consent, from a restricted federative republic, composed of sovereign states, to a consolidated central military despotism, in which every interest is disregarded but that of the army and the priesthood, both the eternal enemies of civil liberty, the everready minions of power, and the usual instruments of tyrants.
When, long after the spirit of the constitution has departed, moderation is at length so far lost by those in power, that even the semblance of freedom is removed, and the forms themselves of the constitution discontinued, and so far from their petitions and remonstrances being regarded, the agents who bear them are thrown into dungeons, and mercenary armies sent forth to force a new government upon them at the point of the bayonet.
When, in consequence of such acts of malfeasance and abdication on the part of the government, anarchy prevails, and civil society is dissolved into its original elements. In such a crisis, the first law of nature, the right of self-preservation, the inherent and inalienable rights of the people to appeal to first principles, and take their political affairs into their own hands in extreme cases, enjoins it as a right towards themselves, and a sacred obligation to their posterity, to abolish such government, and create another in its stead, calculated to rescue them from impending dangers, and to secure their future welfare and happiness.
Whence sprung these words? And when, and what did they portend?
Wait, wait — is this one of those Tea Party manifestos or somethin'?
These lines weren't penned in Tripoli or Cairo or Tehran, nor even in Philadelphia. Rather, they're from Washington — more specifically, Washington-on-the-Brazos — and their portent, and place in time, is found in the document's title:
The Unanimous Declaration of Independence made by the Delegates of the People of Texas in General Convention at the town of Washington on the 2nd day of March 1836.
But doncha know they could still say, in Egypt of Mubarak, or in Tehran of the Mullahs, or in Tripoli of Kadafi, just what these Texians said of the Mexican government in 1836 — that it "hath been, during the whole time of our connection with it, the contemptible sport and victim of successive military revolutions, and hath continually exhibited every characteristic of a weak, corrupt, and tyrannical government."
Shall it be said of the Egyptians and the Libyans and the Iranians that — as the Texians said of the fellow citizens they were leaving behind in Mexico — "We are, therefore, forced to the melancholy conclusion, that the Mexican people have acquiesced in the destruction of their liberty, and the substitution therfor of a military government; that they are unfit to be free, and incapable of self government."
It remains to be seen — sadly, to some extent, still even in Mexico.
Anyway, apparently someone finally told our esteemed Commander in Chief that in the Marines Hymn, there's already this line about the "shores of Tripoli," which goes back to this whole 1805 thing when Jefferson was President and he established the first Navy SEALS or something. So really, keeping all our carrier groups out of the Mediterranean hasn't really been all low-key and non-hegemonic the way you say you intended, and it hasn't been fooling anybody. It's just been America acting really stupid again, since sending ships to protect American interests in Libya is exactly the kind of thing the C-in-C has been calling on the Navy and Marines to do since decades before they took the wood out of that old ship that they used to make your very old desk, Mr. Obama. And yeah, then there was that more recent dustup involving some F-111s and Mr. Reagan, but that was during Barry O's hazy daze so he'd kind of forgotten them too (even though Kadafi has been using it as his #1 applause line in every rally during the twenty-plus years since the Infidels of that self-same U.S. Navy penetrated the Line of Death in the Gulf of Sidra).
Now you, Mr. Obama, have just given Kadafi's radical Muslim successors the applause line they will use: "Where were America's mighty aircraft carriers when Kadafi was calling in airstrikes on his own people?" Way to vote "present," Barry. I sure wish the Spirit of Independence Days' Past, in the form of Sam Houston, could pay a nighttime visit to Mr. Obama's dreams.
And I'm glad the Texians in 1836 didn't have to rely on support from someone like you in their efforts to break free from a corrupt and counter-constitutional military dictatorship. Happy Texas Independence Day! "[C]onscious of the rectitude of our intentions, we fearlessly and confidently commit the issue to the decision of the Supreme arbiter of the destinies of nations."
Saturday, February 19, 2011
[Beldar] On Wisconsin!
What follows is an edited version of a spirited conversation I had on Facebook yesterday with a smart and principled liberal friend, a fellow lawyer with whom I enjoy arguing politics in absolute good humor. I'll call him "Liberal Friend #2" (to distinguish him from another liberal lawyer friend whom I've referred to as "Friend #1" in our past debates in these pages).
To help make clear who's saying what, I've put the contributions of Friend #2 in blue, I've put the contributions of another liberal friend of his in purple, and I've left my own remarks in basic black):
[Liberal Friend #2]: Join me in supporting the right for collective bargaining! The U.S. has the largest economy and the strongest middle class in the world BECAUSE of unions, NOT despite them! ...
[Snarky Beldar:] Power to the People! I stand in complete solidarity with ... the voting public of Wisconsin, who voted just a few weeks ago for a state government that would stand up to its public employee unions who've been ripping off The People for decades. Zero contribution to either their pension or their health care plans — THAT's what the union is going to the barricades to prevent. And they're doing so through thuggish tactics (e.g., mobbing the houses and implicitly, sometimes explicitly, threatening the families of GOP legislators). I'll grant you, [Friend #2], that in the private sector, unions have sometimes been a useful counterbalance to management/ownership. That's not this at all though....
The rationale for collective bargaining agreements is that they redress an imbalance of bargaining power that favors private management. There is no similar justification for public sector employees because the government (in a democracy) already, by definition, is carrying out employment policies for the benefit of everyone in the state. Public employee strikes are typically illegal, not because the gov't is anti union but because the strikes are used to coerce & intimidate the public (not just private management that's trying to look after private ownership interests).
[Friend #2:] So then you FULLY support private sector unions and would oppose any legislative schemes to dis-empower them as well?
Public employees should have the same rights as private employees, for the VERY reason we see coming to fruition in Wisconsin. When some right wing governor takes office, he should not be able to unilaterally decide "all public employees take a 5/10/20/?? percent pay cut!"
Those employees should ABSOLUTELY be part of the process and have a place at the table where those discussions take place.
There is NO reason to make them sit silently in the corner while their livelihoods are subject to the whims of political expediency. Taking away their collective bargaining rights paints a target on their backs a MILE WIDE for any other politician looking to score points in the future.
[Friend of Friend #2:] ... I don't think you can honestly state that teachers and other public servants have "ripped off" the system, they negotiated for what they could get — that American way thing conservatives always talk up. Or is that only for the rich and powerful?
[Snarky Beldar:] I'm not urging the repeal of the National Labor Relations Act, no. I do oppose efforts by the Dems (so-called "Card Check") to do away with employees' rights to vote for or against unionization via secret ballot — there's history of intimidation by both management and labor when individual employee votes can be tracked. And [Friend #2], this isn't just a "right wing governor." It's a conservative governor backed by a conservative state legislature — DEMOCRACY. Elections have consequences, and if the voters of WI don't like what their most recently elected legislators and governor do with regard to public employee contracts in a near-bankrupt state budget, then by all means they can throw the bums out and put their own bums in, who presumably can restore collective bargaining. I don't see that happening, because the fact is that the public wants accountability. They want results. They want to stop shoveling money into the black maw of public education while test scores continue to drop and even terrible teachers can't be fired. They want public employees to at least make SOME contribution to their own retirement and pension plans, just like the rest of Americans do — not get a gold-plated benefits package that's theirs in perpetuity.
Lest you think I'm anti-teacher or anti-public school: My paternal grandfather and two of my aunts taught in the public schools. My mother was a teacher and eventually became the highest-ranking woman administrator in the Austin ISD's special ed program. My sister taught blind and deaf kids at the Texas State School for the Blind, and then taught elementary school for normal kids for several more years. ... [A]ll four of [my] kids have gone exclusively to public schools[, as did both I and my ex-wife]. And my oldest daughter is an elementary education major at UH right now. I'm pro-teacher and certainly pro-student and pro-public education. None of those stances conflict with being anti-public employee union, though. Unions will start representing the interests of kids as soon as students start paying union dues.
... I concede your point[, Friend of Friend #2,] that the existing contracts were agreed to by the state. I'll concede an implicit point, too, which is that unions not just in the US but throughout the western world have been very clever in focusing on benefits rather than just wages, and in particular that they've been very shrewd negotiators on long-term benefits, taking full advantage of the natural tendency of legislators to fixate on the short term and the simple (often at the expense of the long-term and the profound). The voters of WI have now decided, however, that the legislators and governor they'd previously entrusted to negotiate on the public's behalf with their public employee unions were doing a really bad job — basically, giving away the store — and that that's a big part of why there's such a budgetary crisis facing Wisconsin. So the voters fired those guys. They brought in new guys who promised to make changes. So now, of course, the Party o' Hope-'n-Change is endorsing mob tactics to subvert the legislative process and preserve the status quo (i.e., to continue the state's slide into bankruptcy). The rank and file of PATCO paid the price when their leadership thought they could face down Ronald Reagan. I'd hate to see a similar fate befall Wisconsin's rank-and-file teachers, whose leaders are leading them off the very same cliff.
[S]ome time over a few beers, ask me about the [such-and-such] case. It's my only personal foray into labor law, but it was a really huge one, and it's definitely colored my views on labor relations — and not in a conventionally pro-management fashion, either: After that trial, the guy I ended up going out and getting drunk with was my opposing counsel, the top lawyer for [the] union. (But neither of us wanted to go drinking with the top guy from the Department of Labor — heh.)
[Friend #2:] Are you suggesting that the state employees in WI simply give up ALL rights to collective bargaining without a fight, and just HOPE that someone comes into office willing to give salary increases when times are good? I think the odds of a government official simply volunteering to do so are slim to none, regardless of party affiliation.
And hey, NO ONE likes to drink with federal lawyers, they are all WAY too serious!
[Snarky Beldar:] [Y]ou can't have it both ways. You can't insist that democratic government is good, and then turn around and immediately insist that people need special rights to level the playing field against the big bad democratic government. If government is well run, then it will pay a competitive wage and offer competitive benefits because that is in the public's best interests; and yes, what's "competitive" means it will be set by the market (including market alternatives, e.g., private schools). They have no legitimate NEED for collective bargaining. But to answer your question directly, no, I don't expect them to give up anything voluntarily, I expect them to follow their leaders off the cliff of public opinion because their leaders are greedy and selfish and, frankly, not too bright (see again the PATCO example).
[Friend #2:] I'm not really sure I see the conflict between democracy and collective bargaining.
[Snarky Beldar:] I'll hold my peace (*wild applause*) ... after sharing these words with you: "All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress." The speaker? FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT.
UPDATE (Sat Feb 19 @ 1:30pm): Contrary to the impression one might get from my discussion yesterday, the Wisconsin fight is not about an absolute abolition of collective bargaining for public employee unions generally. While many states already outlaw collective bargaining by public employees either in whole or in part, Gov. Walker is mostly trying to roll back an increase in Wisconsin public employees' collective bargaining rights that was previously granted by a Democratic-controlled state legislature. And the unions have agreed in principle with the notion that their membership ought to share in the costs of pension and health-care plans. According to the Wisconsin State Journal (if you dig down into the nitty gritty details of their report):
Top leaders of two of Wisconsin's largest public employee unions announced they are willing to accept the financial concessions called for in Walker's plan, but will not accept the loss of collective bargaining rights....
Walker's plan calls for nearly all state, local and school employees to pay half the costs of their pensions and at least 12.6 percent of their health care premiums. That would save $30 million by June 30 and $300 million over the next two years, the governor has said.
The measure also would prohibit most unionized public employees, except local police and fire fighters and the State Patrol, from bargaining on issues besides wages. Wage hikes could be negotiated only if they don't exceed the consumer price index.
The reason the unions — and the Democratic Party — are treating this like Armageddon is that it's the health-care and pension benefits where their members have made out like bandits in the past. Legislators have pretended to "hold the line" on wages while giving away the store on benefits that would be paid for by some future state legislature in some future year. That's exactly why so many states are now flat broke, or on the brink of that.
UPDATE (Sat Feb 19 @ 9:30pm): By the way, in Texas and a dozen other states, public employees have never had the right to collective bargaining, even on wages. Keep that in mind when you hear that Gov. Walker's about to make the sky fall.
I'm curious, though, what the explanation is for exempting police unions. If there is one (other than "They're too powerful already for us to mess with"), I can't immediately think of it.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Still more mush from the wimp — this time re the Muslim Brotherhood
I really, really hope that in his campaign for re-election, President Obama will make heavy use of that elder statesman of the Democratic Party, Jimmy Carter. After all, in what he has to say in general, and in what he has to say in particular about the Middle East, Mr. Carter is exactly as credible as Mrs. O'Leary's cow giving a lecture on fire prevention. Here's just the latest proof, as delivered by the old gasbag from the LBJ Library in Austin (bracketed portion mine, parenthetical by the American-Statesman; h/t InstaPundit):
[LBJ Library Director Mark] Updegrove, who characterized Carter as the president most associated with the Middle East, having helped to broker a peace accord between Egypt and Israel in 1978, asked the former president how the United States should view the Muslim Brotherhood, an influential group in Egypt that has ties to Hezbollah and may influence Egypt in the future.
"I think the Muslim Brotherhood is not anything to be afraid of in the upcoming (Egyptian) political situation and the evolution I see as most likely," Carter said. "They will be subsumed in the overwhelming demonstration of desire for freedom and true democracy."
Yes, absolutely! We should no more fear the Muslim Brotherhood than we should fear, say, that a bunch of "students" might "spontaneously" decide to take over an American embassy and hold everyone there hostage for 444 days. Couldn't possibly happen, huh, Mr. Carter?
I know there are a few Democrats who occasionally see my blog. Are any of you willing to "associate yourself," as they say on Capitol Hill, with Mr. Carter's latest remarks? Any of you willing instead to admit that the old goat has become an international embarrassment — not just a bad one-term president, not just the worst president of the 20th Century, but absolutely the worst ex-president ever?
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Thoughts on the death of Edward M. Kennedy (1932-2009)
I extend my condolences to the family and friends and partisans and allies and admirers of Sen. Edward M. ("Ted") Kennedy (D-MA) upon his passing.
Alas, my first two reactions to the news were not flattering to him, and indeed they are likely to annoy many of those to whom I've just extended my condolences.
My first thought (premised on Christian faith) was that Teddy Kennedy's four decades of dodging his proper responsibility for the death of Mary Jo Kopechne — however slight or (as I suspect) culpable that responsibility actually was — are finally over. May justice finally be done, whatever that may be, by Him to whom such final judgments are ultimately reserved.
My second thought involves a comparison with the current occupant of the executive mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue — an address at which brother John famously lived, and to which father Joseph and brothers Joe Jr., Bobby, and Teddy all famously aspired.
Teddy's most serious run at the presidency, against Jimmy Carter in 1980, represented a deliberate and thoughtful rejection by a majority of the Democratic Party of a candidate who was all bi-coastal style and sizzle, a media favorite wrapped in romance and dynasty, but whose actual record was still then pitifully thin and whose character had already been repeatedly proven to be deeply flawed. One line from Teddy's convention speech — "For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die" — is still remembered over anything said by the Democrats' actual nominee from that campaign. And of course said nominee, the Dems' incumbent — who had already, in my judgment, become the worst American President of the 20th Century — went on to a well-deserved crushing defeat by Ronald Reagan.
Although it could still be prompted to go on the occasional drunken bender by that kind of vaguely poetic but ultimately content-free rhetoric from someone like him, however, as of 1980 the Democratic Party still had better sense than to entrust the country's fate to a shallow scoundrel like Teddy Kennedy, no matter how much that went against the media's romantic "Camelot restored" narrative and the fervent desires of the Hard/Angry Left. Yet by 2008 — their decency and sensibilities having been fatally compromised in the meantime by a serial liar and sexual predator who they also rallied to defend — the Dems had become utterly shameless, utterly irresponsible, and utterly besotted with another shallow but romantic scoundrel who had only a fraction of the governmental experience that even Ted Kennedy ca. 1980 could claim.
More than mourning the man who's just passed from the living, then, I mourn the passing of those times. Contrasting the Dems' rejection of Ted Kennedy in 1980 to their embrace of Barack Obama in 2008 makes me mourn the end of the time when the Democratic Party was a party of mostly grown-ups instead of mostly idolaters and haters, the time when as a party the Dems could soberly and seriously reject a glamorous media-hyped figure as its national candidate. I know not when or if we shall ever see the return of such responsible men and women to a position of power in the Democratic Party. (In the meantime, they'll be the few but perhaps vital minority of Democrats who are muttering to themselves, with entirely justified and increasing panic: "But nine trillion in deficits? Seriously?")
Friday, April 10, 2009
The world will little note, nor long remember, the angle of Obama's bow from the waist to King Abdullah; but ...
I'm in a particularly crusty mood at the moment, and this post may draw disagreement from many or maybe even most of those who read it. That's okay. I've just been working up to a rant, and I have to let it out.
In March 1936, my father was a 14-year-old in rural Lamesa, Texas, and he was fairly preoccupied with working toward the rank of Eagle Scout. Thus, he may, or he may not, have paid any attention to the national and international news of that month. The Hoover Dam was completed, and that certainly was a good and noteworthy demonstration of American engineering prowess. On St. Patrick's Day, they had a terrible flood in Pittsburgh. Daytona Beach hosted the first-ever American stock car race. Manhattan's Metropolitan Museum of Art paid an estimated $300,000 — a shocking sum — for Titian's "Venus and the Lute Player." And TIME magazine had already observed with respect to the upcoming presidential election that the incumbent administration of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt was
approach[ing] the November election in a high state of hope. The head of the firm, despite sporadic booing, remains extraordinarily popular with customers who must be resold. His health holds up as well as his glowing confidence. His campaign will be simple: "Things are getting better & better. We planned it that way. Let's have four years more of Democratic Recovery." The Party debt has been cleared away and millions of voters living on government bounty will not be allowed to forget who feeds them. And, above all, the Republicans have no one candidate now in sight who can fire the country with personal enthusiasm.
Across the Atlantic, the Royal Air Force conducted the first test-flight of the Spitfire Type 300. King Edward VIII, having succeeded King George V in January of that year, was deeply in love with Wallis Simpson — a not-quite-yet divorced American — but was still a few months away from his decision to abdicate the throne to marry her. He drew mixed press reviews from his participation on behalf of British and Commonwealth manufacturers at the British Industries Fair outside London: some thought he had compromised his dignity by pulling up his pants leg to display, and roundly endorse, his "ingenious 'Munrospun Sock[,]' into which [was] woven its own garter."
I'm sure if there had been an internet in March 1936, English-language bloggers would have blogged about all of these things. Would my dad have been among them? Not likely, unless there had also been a blogging merit badge available for him to earn.
But with the hindsight available a mere three and a half years later, it would be crystal clear to everyone in the world that the most important event of March 1936 had occurred on the seventh day of that month when — in clear and unambiguous violation of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles — German military forces suddenly reoccupied the Rhineland. Either France or Britain could have immediately and decisively crushed the German forces — not only throwing them out of the Rhineland but almost certainly causing, as a consequence, the toppling of the German government led by Chancellor and Führer Adolf Hitler. Either nation had ample military force to enforce the Treaty at minimal military risk, but neither had the political spine to do so.
There and then, the civilized world forfeited its last clear chance to prevent, at minimal cost and with unquestionable righteousness, the horror that became World War Two. By the time my father enrolled at the University of Texas in September 1941, most of the world was already at war, and he entered an accelerated NROTC program designed to churn out naval officers to fight and, if necessary, to die on the oceans bordering both of America's shores.
Perhaps when we all have the benefit of similar hindsight, you will pardon me, friends and neighbors, that I have not already blogged this week about whether Barack Obama did or did not bow to the King of Saudi Arabia. (He did, which was stupid and beneath the dignity of the POTUS, but at least he's had the minimal sense to brazenly lie about it now.) And maybe you'll forgive me in a few years, gentle readers, for failing to obsess during the past week or so over the outcome of the close special election in New York's 20th Congressional District, or the considerably more distressing probable last gasps of Norm Coleman's efforts to keep (it pains me to even type these words) Al Franken from taking one of Minnesota's seats in the U.S. Senate. In the long run and the big picture, even in a Senate teetering on the edge of a filibuster-proof majority, Al Franken is going to be no more consequential than Edward VIII's socks, either with or without garters.
But in three or four or six years, when a North Korean missile drops a nuke somewhere on Japan, or perhaps in the vicinity of Anchorage — or, even assuming no continued technical progress by the Norks, they simply hand over a very, very dirty bomb to al Qaeda to put into a container bound for the Port of Houston or wherever — then the whole world will know that it was this past ten days in which Barack Obama proved himself as gutless, indecisive, and naïve as the Brits and the French were in March 1936.
Those of you who were alive and aware in 1986 surely remember how Ronald Reagan reacted to Mohamar Khadaffi's "Line of Death" in the Gulf of Sidra. Even John Kennedy reacted forcefully to a threat of nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba in 1962 (although he himself had invited that particular bit of Soviet adventurism by his weak-kneed showing at the 1961 Vienna Summit).
So what did Barack Obama do about North Korea's missile launch, made in defiance of the United Nations and world opinion, made to intimidate and threaten our staunch allies Japan and South Korea, and made to humiliate the United States?
He toured Europe. Where he blamed America first for all the world's problems, winning applause from reflexively anti-American crowds and not a damned thing of value more from our European allies.
Then he came home and cut production of the preeminent air superiority fighter of the first half of the 21st Century.
Yes, in the last 10 days, Obama has answered the only question remaining about his administration: We're now sure beyond any doubt that it will be not just a domestic fiscal catastrophe, but a foreign policy/national security catastrophe as well.
Barack Obama is on track to become the worst president in American history, and I frankly can't see any way that can be avoided any more.