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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2015: The World is a Safer Place

Certainly we've seen some disturbing events in 2014: Russia's takeover of Crimea and its muscling of Ukraine, the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and the continued scorched-earth terror of Boko Haram in Nigeria.  China's menacing attitude toward disputed islands in east Asia can't be overlooked, either.  But on the whole, we live in peaceful times.  Major destructive wars are become rarer.  Violent crime is on the downturn.   Steven Pinker examines the evidence here: The trend line is less violence

He's right: those who are constantly saying the world is becoming more dangerous need to prove it, empirically.

Happy New Year!   Have a safe--and great--2015.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Support Our Troops--But Don't Worship Them

James Fallows the "Atlantic" reporter and longtime observer of things military, posts this lengthy but worthwhile article on why we need to be less reverent, and more critical, about our military and military affairs: the-tragedy-of-the-american-military  Fallows argues that lack of public attention and engagement with our military just conditions us to endorse wasteful spending and futile wars.  It should be a huge scandal about how costly the flawed F-35 fighter has been, but hardly anyone even knows about it. 

He thinks we have a "chickenhawk" culture that encourages people to say "thank you for your service" to the troops, but would never dream of making such a sacrifice themselves.

Lots of points in his essay are debatable, and some are just wrong.  For one, he thinks General Shinseki was some kind of whistleblower when, as Chief of Staff, he said he thought the Iraq war would take hundreds of thousands of troops.  Shinseki wasn't involved in the planning, which he wouldn't have been, and he admitted that.  And he hardly was sidelined; he retired at the end of his term in 2003.  As for another: SecDef Rumsfeld, in fact, fought the Pentagon to cut a lot of wasteful programs, like the Crusader.  Also generals have been relieved for cause:  General Casey pretty much was in Iraq, as was McKiernan in Afghanistan.  Others less knowns have too:  see Robert Gates's memoir for examples.

Likewise, the public attitude toward the military now is a heck of a lot healthier than it was after Vietnam.  We treat our veterans with much more respect, as they deserve. 

Also, Mr. Fallows, the military did not lose the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  It achieved what it could achieve with the political constraints on it.  It won all the battles.  Unfortunately the goals were always vague and open-ended, if not outright utopian.

Nevertheless, it is a piece worth reading and debating.  Anyone who has served in the military as I have knows that there is a lot of waste and timeserving officers.  He's right that we should pay more attention to bloated programs like the F-35.  And his point about the "political engineering" used to keep these programs going is right on the mark.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Cuba Common Sense

A lot of people see normalization with Cuba as making sense.  Establishing formal diplomatic relations would improve communications and would give us more visibility into island affairs.  It will be interesting to see how long this process will take.  The Cubans severely restrict US government visas and they don't permit diplomats to travel outside Havana very far. 

The Cubans will have a much harder time shrouding their human rights practices if we have more of a presence on the island.

Another added benefit might be the ending of the weird and unfair "wet foot, dry foot" emigration policy that has been in place for 20 plus years.  (If a Cuban immigrant makes it to US territory, we accept him.  If we find him coming to the US, we send him back.  We do this for no one else.)  This policy was a compromise after the second big boat lift in 1994.  The sad Elian Gonzalez case of 2000 was the consequence of this jerry-rigged policy.

George Will, in this column, puts his finger on the problems for both sides in discussing Cuba: cuba-derangement-syndrome-strikes-again  Yes, we have to be open to change, and yes, we have to realize that establishing freer trade won't open up the political system anytime soon.  (If ever.  Look at Vietnam and China.)  But we need to get something out of Havana for this.  Right now, it seems like our initiative is unilateral: we are asking Raul Castro to do a thing.

Many commentators don't understand that our Cuba policy's goal has been stability, not regime change.  We don't want thousands of boat people, punto final!  We are throwing the dice now.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Moral Preening about CIA "Torture"

The media insists on inaccurately calling the CIA harsh interrogation program torture.  Fine.  But that loaded word obfuscates the story.  Most of the reporting on this program has been shoddy enough to make Rolling Stone blush.  CIA sought authorization for harsh interrogation because it wanted to comply with the law against torture.  It was trying NOT TO torture anyone! The Justice Department ruled that some forms of harsh interrogation were not torture.  If you believe all forms of harsh interrogation are torture, that's your right.  But I wouldn't want you defending our country. 

All easy to criticize this now, ten years after the fact with the threat receded.

Personally I think the harsh interrogation program probably achieved what it could achieve.  It was shut down when it wasn't going to produce any more results.  We didn't slide down a slippery slope. The extreme stuff--waterboarding--was reserved for three hard cases, one of whom was Khalid Sheik Muhammad,  the 9/11 mastermind.  Some Hollywood actors and journalists have voluntarily submitted to waterboarding.  Our special forces operatives undergo it as part of their training.

But they don't submit themselves to electric shocks with car batteries.  That's torture.

If you want to read about a real torture policy, check out "The Battle of the Casbah."  No one wanted to go down that road. 

The fact is, we were at war.  Sometimes harsh measures are required.  The effects of a Hellfire missile fired from a drone at a terrorist target aren't too pretty, either.  Neither, I bet, are the post mortem photos of Osama Bin Laden.  I've posted a few good articles rebutting the general press view below:

Here's a good rebuttal by Jonathan Tobin moral clarity in wartime

Former attorney general cites the laws, here: mukasey-the-cia-interrogations-followed-the-law-

For CIA's intell successes related to the interrogation program, see here: senate-interrogation-report-distorts-the-cias-success-foiling-terrorist-plots/2014/12/09/de5b72ca-7e1f-11e4-9f38-95a187e4c1f7_story.html

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Phony Gang Rape Story at UVA?

Like you, the Mighty Whig is busy.  He can't follow closely every news story.  So, when he saw a few weeks ago that an article had been published about an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity, and that the university had acted swiftly to investigate and to suspend the fraternity, he thought, sounds like I can move along from this one: nothing more to see here.

Not so fast!  It seems now that some journalists are starting to dig into this story, suspecting another media "feeding frenzy" driven by false, or potentially false information.  Hmmm, time to read the original source of the frenzy and figure this out.

Here's the Rolling Stone article: Rape on Campus   I read it, and now suspect it is a hatchet job against a great university.  The relevant facts:
  • The heart of it is about a girl "Jackie" who allegedly was gang raped by several men (boys?) at a frat party in September 2012. She supposedly is still trying to pursue justice, but she never went to the police and didn't approach the administration about the incident for months.
  • She was beaten up, cut with glass, and raped, but her female friends urged her not to complain. 
  • A dean in charge of investigating such complaints apparently slow-rolled the case.  The author of the piece suggests she part of a conspiracy of silence.
  • Throughout the piece we learn that the University of Virgina (UVA) is a place of privelege where frats rule, with lots of permissive drinking and exploitative sex, and with an antiquated honor code that urges students to snitch.
  • The piece brings up a lot of stories not necessarily relevant to this case, but meant to portray UVA in a negative light: like the lacrosse player who killed his girl friend and the medical worker who apparently killed a UVA student a few months ago.
Okay, a few of my objections:
  • The main case seems implausible.  A freshman girl raped at a party for three hours by numerous young men.  Nine of them, all of whom have no moral compass whatsoever.  None of whom has gone to the police and confessed.  No one heard anything.  There was no light in the room so she can't identify anyone.  The one person she can identify the author never interviews.  Supposedly this was an initiation ritual. In September?
  • She didn't report this for months.  Okay, I understand many women don't do that out of shame, or other reasons.  But many do report:  in fact tens of thousands do every year.  And the conviction rate is pretty high.  And why wouldn't any of her friends have reported it for her?  This was allegedly a horrible crime!
  • She didn't even go to the hospital afterwards.  Why not? 
  • No evidence that she told her parents.  (Didn't the author try to interview them?)  And she is still attending the university. Why on earth for?    Wouldn't a normal person want to leave, especially since her violators are still at large there?  Wouldn't her parents pull her out of there?  Wouldn't you??
  • Why didn't the author try to interview anyone besides the victim?  Why not anyone from the fraternity?
  • UVA is quite sensitive to sexual assault charges.   In 1993 or so, when I was enrolled there, I attended a town meeting on one that had allegedly occurred at a frat house back.  A young woman was accosed at a party and screamed.  That was enough to bring help to her.  The perpetrator (not a frat member) fled.  We had a big town hall over this event, with lots of hand wringing and accusations thrown around.  This was over a non-rape, by the way.
  • The author of the piece really lays it on thick against the culture of the university.  Well, here's a news flash for her:  lots of universities "party hardy."  Check out the Princeton guide for the top ones: UVA isn't one of them.  Lots have a fraternity system.  Usually the university administration looks for ways to punish them.  (Except in this case, it would seem.)  Lots of universities have honor codes.   And lots of young people are outside the frat system and don't think they are the "be all and end all."   Lots of universities have rich kids.  UVA isn't even closed to being a rich kid haven like some Virginia universities are. 
I have sympathy for the young woman.  Something tramatic may have happened to her. I hope she finds justice and healing.  I hope we learn the truth about this case.  And I truly hope this all hasn't been a giant smear campaign by another Rolling Stone journalist on the make.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The concept of "face" among the Arabs

Arabs in large degree are motivated by preserving their public dignity and "face;" truth, or admittance of guilt, often is subordinate to this cultural imperative.   So argues an article from the CIA's Studies in Intelligence, published in 1964 and recently declassified.  Here's the full piece: face-among-the-arabs.pdf   This is the type of piece modern Arabists hate.  As with all articles that make a serious attempt at understanding culture as a driver, it probably relies too much on generalization.  And yet, we do notice significant cultural differences, don't we?  Keep in mind that we are dealing with ideal types here.  The Parson Weems story about George Washington is meant to express a cultural ideal about character that we may fail to live up to, but we Americans "get" the story.  The author maintains that's not a parable likely to resonate in Arab Muslim culture that defines personal dignity differently.  

I took this from the War-on-the-Rocks website, which often posts interesting stuff. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Power Doctor: James Burnham

Dan McCarthy in the American Conservative offers a nice write up on the work and overlooked ideas of James Burnham here:  American Machiavelli  At least three of Burnham's books stand up well adn are worth reading today:  "The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom,"  "The Suicide of the West" and "The Managerial Revolution."   "The Machiavellians" is the best introduction to elite theory I've ever read, and the best way to navigate through Pareto's social thought.   I re-read it every few years.  Dan is right in pointing out that China today demonstrates the relevance of Burnham's insights on how "management" overrides other governing forms.  But I think he's wrong to dismiss "Suicide" as just a Cold War tome; it offers a brutal dissection of liberalism's soppy rhetoric and logic.  The threat of a free society being pulled down by liberalism's soft-headedness is still alive.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Our Media Obeys the Government

Yet another story of how the media is losing its credibility in the United States: an award-winning reporter silenced by her editors for running stories critical of the Obama administration. See  Liberal media protects Obama  I like the description about how the news editors really control journalism and how their personal biases determine which stories run.  Note, for example, how the media has played up marginal successes of the already-struggling Obamacare program.  Hard to believe that no one in the administration lost their job over "Fast and Furious" or the Benghazi Debacle, but, sad to say, the mainstream media thought these stories were the domain of right-wing loonies.   Anyway, read the link.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fight Ebola by Restricting Travel

Washington and the head of the World Bank have been pressing the argument on NOT restricting travel from West African countries impacted by Ebola.  But closing the border and flight bans work.  Note how many countries in Africa still have bans in effect.  Travel Bans in Africa    Ivory Coast has had no reported cases and borders Liberia.  Why?  It shut down flights and border crossings.   Nigeria initially shut down flights, until the airlines go up to speed on prescreening passengers for Ebola symptoms.  We need to prohibit travel from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea until this virus burns itself out. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Is the Next Economic Crisis Coming?

We get an economic crisis every six or seven years.  The last one was in 2008, so that means....

The mistake is to think this happen naturally, like meteorological events.  These crises are a result of policy. This summer the Fed started slowing down its inflationary "quantitative easing" policy, and now we are seeing the end of the bull market.  Market down, world growth slowing, oil prices headed south.  The Saudis will not ease back on production in order to capture more market share.  This will really hurt our unconventional oil production in North Dakota and Texas.

Jim Rickards, the Wall Street guru who wrote "Currency Wars" explains the current dynamic here: The Death of Money   Sooner or later, we will have to stabilize our money supply to preserve the dollar's status as the international reserve currency.  I'll vote for any politician who forces attention on this matter.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Common Sense Strategy on ISIS

Should the US commit "ground troops" to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS)?  Or should we continue the current, limited policy of backing up the Kurds, conducting air strikes, and advising the Iraqi security forces? 

ISIS is entrenched in Iraq, and still carrying on an agressive fight against the Iraqi state.  It overran an Iraqi Army base in Anbar this week.   Iraq has three divisions in that province, but it continues to lose ground.

So, we are reaching a decision point.  Only a stronger commitment will be decisive.  Only the US can do this.  So, should we?

If we look at ISIS as a terrorist group bent on attacking the West, perhaps we should.  If ISIS consolidates, it could launch attacks against western cities.  That wouldn't be good.

But if we look at ISIS as a manifestation of the Sunni/Shia regional war, then maybe we shouldn't.  ISIS wants to kill Iraqi Shia.   It has the support of Sunni Arabs in the areas it controls, or it never would have gotten this far.  The only other regional power commiting ground troops to stoping ISIS is Iran.   Turkey won't.  Saudi Arabia won't.   That's telling.

Last week VP Joe Biden told an audience that Turkey and the United Arab Emirates had been supporting ISIS against Bashar Assad in Syria.  Just so.  He had to apologize for saying what everyone believes is true. 

To destroy ISIS, we have to side with Iran, Shia-controlled Iraq, and implicitly, Assad-controlled Syria.  Do we want to do that?  

Senators McCain and Graham want to square this circle.   Destroy ISIS by overthrowing Assad, they say.   Does this argument make sense to anyone?

Here's what we should do:  As long as ISIS remains committed to holding territory and fighting all enemies--Alawites, Kurds, Shia Arab, Persians, etc--it poses no direct threat to the West.  We should provide the limited support we currently are, mindful that only the Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish peshmerga have a real interest in eliminating this problem.  Go get' em boys!  Commiting ground forces will put us in another bloody fight with Iraqi Sunni Arabs, for no good reason.

Buchanan probably is right: this is another thirty years war we need to stay out of.  See his strong column here: can_america_fight_a_thirty_years_war

We need to think strategically about this problem.  It really isn't about terrorism.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The World is NOT Getting More Dangerous!

Sure, we have Ebola, ISIS, and Russia to worry about.  But Christopher Preble at the Cato Institute is right to challenge those saying these are especially dangerous times. Most dangerous world ever? We are still in a stable, unipolar global system.  The US has no significant military rivals.  Russia barely qualifies as a minor power.  Nonstate actors like ISIS are nasty cannot seriously hurt us.  Global terrorism is really a Middle East/Central Asia problem.  Ebola is scary--the WHO just said it will infect 2 million people--but the history of this disease is that it burns itself out.  It is still impacting only three countries. 

Now, I'm not sure, as Preble argues, that mankind is rejecting violence, as Steven Pinker in "Better Angels of Our Nature" maintains.  In the US, homicides may be down, but I've been told by some policemen that intentional homicides are up.  Improvements in trauma care (all these wars have some benefit, after all) has greatly increased survival rates.  We're still violent, but perhaps we are just getting better at mitigating its effects. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

ISIS Kills Iraq Soldiers in Droves

This week ISIS overran an Iraqi Army base in Anbar province.  At least 300 Iraqi soldiers (jundi) are dead or missing.  According to a survivor, they had no food or medicine, and they ran out of ammunition. Aid from Baghdad never came.  See this article Overran by ISIS

One of the bitterest ironies of the Iraq war is that this army, which we spent billions to train and equip, is completely useless.  ISIS has consistently shown itself to have better tactics, training, and morale.

The current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, once oversaw the training effort.  Were we honest with ourselves about the results?  The lack of logistics and command and control capability was a longstanding problem that we had known about.

Still remains to be seen how we are going crush ISIS by relying on Iraqi ground forces to clear the areas we bomb. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

NFL "Scandal" Exposes Sports Media Corruption

The NFL is the "biggest" sport in America--although not the best--and its commissioner Roger Goodell a major public figure.  The sport is so overhyped by the media that any "scandal" gets blown out of proportion. 

The latest "issue" is violence in the NFL.  Think about this.  An extremely violent sport played by testosterone-charged, hyperviolent men.  Why would it shock us that they sometimes take this off the field? 

Goodell, who, it is true, earns millions to make the right decisions, decided to suspend one player two games for punching his wife in a casino.  Normally, he would have earned a six-game suspension, but Goodell decided to be lenient because the player was cooperative, the law had already enacted its penalty (pre-trial intervention for a year; he was a first-offender, and that's not uncommon.) and the player's wife begged for clemency.  The facts in the case were never in doubt.  He walloped her. 

Only two games raised some eyebrows, especially when one player was suspended a year for being a three-time offender of the NFL's illegal-drug use policy.   But the media moved on...

Until  a celebrity website leaked the video of the actual punch, recorded on the casino's security system.  Then all hell broke loose.  Goodell was obviously covering it up (Why? Never explained.)  He then suspended the player indefinitely.  (Even though the facts of the case were never in doubt.)

This was an ugly incident.  But not even the worst we heard about in the last week!  Law enforcement has been busy.

Now the media want Goodell to resign--because he made a mistake.  Three reasons for this: 1) the sports media always feels inferior to actual journalism, so when it has an opportunity to squawk about a Big Issue, it does so for all it's worth 2) it feels subliminally guilty about ignoring issues like off-field violence for so long, especially of famous stars; and 3) it has Watergate Envy:  It wants to show that, by itself, it can take down a major figure, like the Washington Post supposedly did to Richard Nixon.  

Note well, this has nothing to do with the welfare of the offending player's family; his wife blasted the media for dredging all this up again.  Now they have no income to boot. 

The fact is the NFL has done more in recent years to clean up these off-the-field offenses than  in all its past decades combined.  See this perceptive article by Samuel Chi: Give Goodell a Raise  The league is way cleaner than it used to be.

Maybe some good will come out of all this, such as getting people to start realizing that they worship organized violence, which might have some unintended consequences.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Scottish Independence and the Rise of "Micro-Nationalism"

Scotland votes tomorrow on independence.  If the yes vote wins, it will peacefully break up the most successful nations in the last 300 years.  Why might Scots do this?

It isn't for economic reasons.  The Scots gain more from the union than they put into it.  This seems purely an act of nationalist pride. 

But Peter Hitchens here might be right: if you have Shell Oil, David Cameron, and the Queen all urging you to vote no, you might be inclined to vote yes just out of spite: Threatening the Scots

Americans also can understand this.  You remember that in the story of Rip Van Winkle, the hero falls asleep when the colonies were under the king's rule, and wakes up when the United States is independent.  Nothing appears as prosperous as it once was.   But the people were at least free.

It's possible the referendum loses and the independence movement loses steam over time.  This is what happened in Quebec.  In 1995 the sovereignty movement there only lost by one percent.  But that was the high water mark of the movement.

The implications of the vote might be far reaching.  What about all the other smaller nationalist entities in Europe and the world?  Catalan, the Walloons and Flemings, the Kurds--the list is practically endless. It is hard to believe the results will be better security and more prosperity.  As George Friedman suggests here, the cat is out of the bag:  Implications of the vote

Monday, September 15, 2014

Confessions of a Monopolist

Peter Thiel of Paypay offers this in the WSJ:  good businesses have to be monopolies and escape competition.  Competition is for Losers  No doubt this is good for business!  But what about for the rest of us?  He uses Google as an example: but what does Google do for me that other search engines don't?  I going to start using Bing now, just out of spite. 

The muckraking book from 100 years ago that revealed the monopolist mentality was Frederick Howe's Confessions of a Monopolist. See this piece Confessions .  I remember one of Howe's key points: monopolists get the society to work for them.   That is, the public needs to accept and embrace the essential goodness of the monopolists having no competition! 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Mr. Obama Goes to War

The other night, President Obama pledged to root out the "cancer" of ISIS.  This apparently will be accomplished by more air strikes and US special forces advisers.  The Kurds and the Iraqi Army (the same guys who fled before ISIS in June and August) will do the heavy lifting on the ground. 

The irony of this speech on the eve of the anniversary of 9/11 was lost on no one.  We're back in the fight again. 

The other irony is that Obama has just signed on publicly to Bush's open-ended and endless Global War against Terrorism.  He has scaled way back on the drone strikes when faced with public criticism, but he had been quietly practicing Bush's policy.  Now he's back in.

But rooting out the ISIS cancer will be really hard to do. Check out this map from the Institute for the Study of War:  ISIS map  They are embedded with all the Sunni communities in Iraq.  This cancer is going to take massive amounts of chemo and radiation, and may end up killing the patient anyway. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

ISIS as "Fight Club"

If you remember the movie, or read the book, "Fight Club" was about men emasculated by modern society who first took to fighting themselves, but who then evolved into committing acts of terrorism against modern society itself.  The main characters, life's losers, found meaning and purpose, finally, in violence.  To see what I mean, see this piece about a former Catholic from North Carolina who tried to join ISIS: Ex-cop tries to join ISIS

For another confirmation of this, read this one by the excellent journalist Dexter Filkins, who points out that ISIS has no grand strategy to all this: its members just get off on killing:  The Murder of Sotloff 

Modern terrorism essentially is a masculine revolt against modernity. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

No Islamic terrorism threat in U.S.A.?

Several news sites have decried a report that omits Muslim extremism as a main source of domestic terrorist threats. See Bill Gertz's piece for example:  Domestic threat assessment omits islamist terrorism/   The subtext on this is that many on the right believe the Obama administration has whitewashed the story of Islamic-motivated terrorism in this country.  I haven't gotten my hands on this report yet, but I'll suggest a few ways to think about this problem.
  • The FBI does not deny the problem of Islamic terror.  Check out the Most Wanted List and see if you can detect a pattern:  FBI's Most Wanted
  • The Feds are reluctant to call something Islamic terrorism if the motive is unclear.  Perhaps that's why the report doesn't finger the Tsarnaev brothers as "Islamic" terrorists.  As far as I know, they have not been credibly linked to Al Qaeda or any other organized movement.  By the FBI's definition, domestic terrorists "lack foreign direction." 
  • One of the problems is the issue of the lone operator,  or "leaderless resistance," which has become an Al Qaeda strategy now.  This, as far as I know,  originated in the American White Supremist movement with "The Turner Diaries."  Are they really politically motivated terrorists, or just dangerous psychotics?
  • For a great read that makes sense of the whole issue, and notes the ambiguity of the FBI's definition, see the Congressional Research Service's report on Domestic Terrorrism  The CRS is one of the best-kept secrets in the federal government. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Spy is Dead

John Walker who led the greatest espionage penetration in US Navy history, died yesterday in federal prison.  Your room is ready now, Ed Snowden! 

Walker did a lot of damage.  Just one example: After he started spying for the Russians, in 1968, the North Koreans seized the USS Pueblo, an intelligence gathering ship.  The NKs killed at least one crew member and imprisoned and tortured the rest.  They wanted Pueblo so they could take advantage of the secrets Walker provided for them. 

No ideological reasons for Walker's treason, just money.  For years, we've assumed that Americans just committed treason for pecuniary reasons, but lately our spies, like Ana Montes and Snowden, seem more ideological. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Home-grown Jihadists

Americans are joining Jihad, Inc.  I thought this article offered a telling portrait of two of them. Americans die fighting .  Notice the neck tattoos, and the different last names between mother and son.  (I love the name of one of them Douglas McAurthur ! McCain.)  Looking for some kind of certainty in their meaningless lives? 

Well, better they do it over there than over here, right? 

So many young men today with no fathers in their lives to provide guidance and moral stability.  But you'll hear nothing from our sage commentators about that! 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

ISIS Just Gave Us a Reason

James Foley, the American photojournalist brutally executed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham (ISIS), did not die in vain.  His death finally caused Washington to wake up and realize ISIS cannot be dealt with by half measures.  SecDef Hagel (who hated the Iraq War) has pledged more airstrikes.  CJCS Martin Dempsey publicly suggested the fight needs to extend into Syria to attack the ISIS base.  These are welcome developments.  ISIS, you just gave us a cause to believe in.

David Ignatius gives a good account of the change in thinking here: The Fight against Evil

Even the Brits are getting it.  Recent news about how many of British citizens are participating in ISIS (hundreds) shook them up.  Some ISIS members will be returning to the UK.  Kill them over there, before they kill over here.

ISIS may be well financed and well organized.  But they cannot hold the territory they grabbed in a power vacuum.  They have no realistic political program that can inspire mass loyalty.  Their objective to form a state is self-contradictory.  In the end, they are a mafia of nihilistic killers.  And strategically, they made a mistake by trying to fight a conventional war. Best estimate is that they number 15,000 fighters.  In the desert, they have few places to hide. Although highly mobile, they can be denied the use of roads by constant aircraft and drone sorties.  

Strick isolationists who fear another "mission creep" and return to Iraq scenario are misguided. This anti-ISIS mission can be accomplished with air power, special forces, and military advisers.  Aircraft are being launched from the USS George H.W. Bush and from Incilik Air Base in Turkey.  Best estimate is that ISIS numbers 15,000 fighters.  The Kurdish peshmerga and decent units in the Iraqi Army (they have M-1 tanks) will do the ground fighting.

Already the US has conducted nearly 60 air missions against ISIS target.  Watch that increase by an order of magnitude.  The Kurds have taken back all the territory lost to ISIS two weeks ago, and are said to be massing for another push into Ninawa province.   The Iraqi Army, very slow to get moving, is starting to pound ISIS around Tikrit. 

As for Iraq: Will the congentially stupid Shia leaders in Baghdad now realize they must make a permanent alliance with Iraq's Sunni tribes and moderate leaders?  Will they stop pointlessly antagonizing the Kurds?  Our military aid should be leveraged to force them to make a deal.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Crossing the Political Divide

Part of our mission here is to discuss new thinking on inequality and the plight of the middle class.  Republicans have just ceded these issues to the Democrats.   In my opinion, the Republican party fails to understand that a lot of "traditional" America is just not making it.  They are doing all the right things--working and trying to raise their families--but they just can't get by.   A piece worth reading by Arthur Brooks of American Enterprise Institute: Thinking out of the box on poverty  Good for Cong. Ryan and Sen. Rubio for at least trying to address the issues.

In contrast, I heard a political talk by our local Tea Party congressman this week.  At least as phrased by this distinguished gentleman, it really is an "I've-got-mine-Jack" ideology.

The only Republican plan seems to be that if it wins back the Senate, it will repeal Obamacare.  Then what? 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Our Latin Americanized Legal System

There is an old political adage in Latin America:  For my friends, everything; for my enemies, the law!

The latest news from Texas is that Governor Rick Perry has been indicted by a grand jury for abuse of office.  His crime?  Using his constitutional veto power to deny funds to a district attorney's office whose head had refused to step down after being convicted of--and jailed for--drunk driving.  The liberal writer Jon Chait describes the case here:  Unbelievably Ridiculous  The motive: to torpedo Perry's presidential bid.  This seems obvious enough; it doesn't really matter if the charge is ridiculous.  Some people will buy into it.

Some years back, a Venezuelan friend described to me how the Carlos Andres Perez (CAP) administration had indicted his father on a phony drug charge.  The whole point was not to get a conviction, but to the keep his father under a legal cloud and to tie him up with lawyer fees for years.  It was just how the political game was played. 

(Later, this tactic would come back to haunt Venezuela.  Spurred by opposition forces within his own party, CAP was impeached on charges that in 1990 he used funds illegally to aid Violeta Chamorro's movement to unseat the Sandanistas.  Helping Violeta wasn't the problem; they just wanted to oust CAP on some charge because they hated his privatization policy.  (CAP was corrupt too, but never mind.)  In the end, this gravely weakened the political system when the wolf, Lt. Col. Hugo Chavez was right at the door.) 

In the US we've been seeing this more and more.  Perhaps the best recent case was how a special prosecutor went after Vice President Cheney's chief of staff Scooter Libby, ostensibly for revealing the identity of an undercover agent.  Libby was convicted, but not for the original charge, which was baseless.  The prosecutor kept going even after it was clear another individual in the adminstration, who was never charged, had in fact uncovered the agent.  But, the prosecutor had to convict Libby on something! 

General Rule:  if it isn't obvious what the crime is, it is purely a political charge.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Ferguson Fracas and the Militarization of the Police

For years to come, the urban rioting in Ferguson, MO and the local police's handling of the event will stand as a case study on how NOT to do public relations.  Everything the local police leadership has done has made the situation worse.  The cop shooting a jaywalker--presumably after a physical encounter--deserves a thorough investigation and a reappraisal of policies nationwide.  You don't have to be a crazy civil libertarian to wonder, "why did this incident lead to bullets flying in the first place?"

The local police's decision to release a store video showing a huge guy intimidating a shop owner and stealing some stuff, only antagonized the rioters. What were they going to say, oh you're right, Michael Brown really had it coming?

Mark Steyn writes here about the militarization of the police nationwide and how this probably hasn't made us safer.  See Cigars, But Not Close  Steyn is right that there should have been a dashcam on the patrol car that recorded the incident. The Ferguson PO must be the only one in the country that doesn't have dashcams. 

The militarization of the police has been going on for a long time, but it got a lot of wind in its sails after 9/11, when new equipment was justified on anti-terrorism grounds.  All police departments seem to have SWAT teams, which they call out at the drop of a hat.  I attended a local Crimestoppers banquet last year in which one of the speakers discussed her role in making sure all community police had K-9 units.  No one asked, why do they need them?  At the same event, one cop was getting an award for shooting down a guy for robbing an cell phone store in a mall.  He fired about six bullets.  In a mall.

As the philosopher Bertrand de Jouvenel wrote years ago in On Power, the decline in authority has led inevitably to the rise in police.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Wired Embellishes the Snowden Story

One would expect Wired magazine would run a puff piece on traitor Edward Snowden.  See Most Wanted Man here.  But maybe we can expect more of NSA "expert" James Bamford, who comes off like a useful idiot as his interviewer.  Snowden has simply abandoned the Americans to work for the Russians.  Anyway, Bamford wants to get to the bottom of it all:  Why did Snowden steal top secret intelligence from NSA?  The answer: 
On March 13, 2013, sitting at his desk in the “tunnel” surrounded by computer screens, Snowden read a news story that convinced him that the time had come to act. It was an account of director of national intelligence James Clapper telling a Senate committee that the NSA does “not wittingly” collect information on millions of Americans. “I think I was reading it in the paper the next day, talking to coworkers, saying, can you believe this shit?” 
Snowden and his colleagues had discussed the routine deception around the breadth of the NSA’s spying many times, so it wasn’t surprising to him when they had little reaction to Clapper’s testimony. “It was more of just acceptance,” he says, calling it “the banality of evil”—a reference to Hannah Arendt’s study of bureaucrats in Nazi Germany.
I guess Ed thinks none of us can read, or have a functioning memory. Snowden started downloading NSA secrets when he worked at Dell in 2012.  See Reuters:  Snowden at Dell

But this all works with some people.   Saw this blog string on The American Conservative yesterday, which offered more proof that some folks will believe anything that disparages the US government. Snowden hero or traitor  [Warning: Reading might result in lose of IQ points.]

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The "War for Oil" Canard

Back in the Gulf War in 1991, we heard how oil motivated US intervention.  Certainly it was part of it; we didn't want Saddam Hussein to dominate Kuwait and intimidate Saud Arabia.  But US policymakers care less about oil supplies than the press and regular folks seem to think they do. 

Columnist Holman Jenkins response here to those, like the New Yorker's Steven Coll, that we are currently intervening to defend the Kurds to protect their oil production.  In fact, the State Department has discouraged US oil producers from making deals with the Kurds, and greatly prefers they do it though Baghdad. 

Whether the Kurds produce oil or not is of little concern to Washington.  Keeping Iraq together, and avoiding a Middle East conflagration, is the principal motivation.  (Although that horse is out of the barn now!)

We fought several years in Iraq, only to see oil concessions go to Chinese, Brazilian, Malaysian, and other state firms.  And we're totally okay with that, because they produce for a world oil market. 

A telling anecdote:  before our 2003 intervention in Iraq, Venezuelan oil production was totally shut down.  An opposition-led general strike succeeded in stopping all oil production for two months.  At the time, Venezuela supplied the US with about 14 percent of its oil.  Meanwhile, in early 2003, the WH was planning a Middle East invasion.  Think it was concerned about futher disruptions to oil supplies?  Think again.  There is no evidence US policymakers saw the Venezuelan crisis as a strategic threat that needed to be resolved.  But the logic of the "war for oil" crowd, Venezuela should have been a priority, but it wasn't. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Take that, ISIS

This week Obama authorized attacks on the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS), which is threatening Iraqi Kurdistan and ethnic minorities. Navy jets from the carrier USS George H.W. Bush CVN-77 website in the Persion Gulf are now battering ISIS targets.

No surprise that the Navy is first on the scene, ready to go.  Carriers are still our best means of power projection.

ISIS has already lost some heavy equipment captured from the Iraqi Army.   If it continues trying to wage conventional war, it will find its deployments both exciting, and brief.

Here's what a F/A 18 Super Hornet brings to the table:
The F/A-18's armaments

Friday, August 8, 2014

Will Putin Invade the Ukraine?

Ukraine seems like so three weeks ago. (Remember MH-17?) First came Gaza, then Iraq, and we stopped paying attention to it.   But, steadily, the Ukranian military has made gains against the overmatched separatists backed by the Russian intelligence services.  Kiev is winning the war.  Now Moscow apparently has 20,000 troops nearby, poised to invade to bail them out.

Will Putin play this last card?  It would be the final, brutal, miscalculation after a series of blunders on his part.  Evans-Pritchard in the Telegraph argues that Putin acted out of an obsolete Cold War mentality and had no chance of standing up to the West's financial power. See Russia's misplayed gambit.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

US foreign policy losses like "a bank run."

Check out this piece by Jackson Diehl in WaPo:   Diehl often criticizes the administration for soft-peddling democracy and human rights.  But this piece has deeper meaning: we don't even have influence over Bahrain (home of  US Naval Forces Central Command) and Aruba.

Eyeless in Gaza

Only with great effort have I forced myself to think about the current conflict in Gaza.  (Here's a useful backgrounder on the conflict since 1948 by WaPo:  Gaza conflict )

Do you even remember why it started four weeks ago?  In June, three Israeli hitchhikers were kidnapped on the West Bank.  PM Bibi Netanyahu blamed Hamas; Hamas denied it.  Israel then launched its current punitive war against Hamas positions in Gaza. (Not the West Bank.)

Was this punitive invasion Bibi's only option?   Was the threat from Gaza growing?  Seems hard to believe.

Some have speculated Bibi wanted to block a unity Palestinian government between Hamas and Fatah.  No way to know if this is true.

In retaliation, Hamas fired its useless missiles at Israel.  They didn't kill anyone.  Probably because many of them are homemade, and because Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile defense system works pretty well.  Why do they still do this?  Just an act of defiance, probably .

But the Israeli Defense Force has killed 1,800 Palestinian civilians so far.  So much for just war theory's condition of proportionality!   The American public (and Congress) doesn't seem too moved by this, certainly not as much as it was by the accidental shootdown of the Malaysian Airliner over Ukraine.

Much of the bombing campaign has destroyed civil infrastructure in Gaza, from what little I have read.  (That was how Israel waged the 2006 war against Hizballah too, but destroying Lebanese infrastructure to punish Lebanon as a whole.)

Many Hamas tunnels have been destroyed.  (Egypt destroys these too.) These are used for smuggling since the Israeli blockade has been in effect.  I think these are mostly to circumvent the blockade, although some say they are used to infiltrate Hamas terrorists into Israel.  (Does Israel have a domestic terrorism problem?  I haven't heard of much lately.  Checked ADL website: last incident mentioned was in 2011.

If I were an Israeli, I'd back the government's crackdown on Hamas.  Sure.  But do these heavy handed tactics lead to better security in the long run?  Israelis are asking these questions, too, if their media is any guide.

Since the 1983 invasion of Lebanon, might we say that Israel's security problem have been exacerbated by its own policies?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

One Reason to Buy American

Last year Consumer Reports shocked the world by rating the 2014  Chevy Impala its best-tested sedan. Impala Number One

It is a great looking car, and I'll definitely look to buy one when I'm on the market again. Proof that GM can do something right, despite the Chevy Cobalt ignition recall scandal.  Americans want to buy American--just give us a reason!

The Mighty Whig always looks at American vehicles first when looking to buy.  It just so happens I own three Japanese vehicles right now, because I liked them a little better and they fit my price range. 

Memo to Harley Davidson: build me an affordable bike! 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Terrorist Threat at Our Southern Border

Since 9/11, we've heard periodic rumours about terrorists entering our country via the porous southern border. So far, this has never happened.  To my knowledge, authorities have uncovered no known plot to infiltrate terrorists into the U.S. via Mexico.  Why? 
  • Just flying into the country had been easy enough.  (Not so now, though.)
  • Mexican gangs have no good reason to cooperate with terrorists.  They are in the money-making business.
  • Mexico is not a good place for Islamic terrorists to blend in.
  • Too much could go wrong: being exploited by smugglers, being captured by US law enforcement, etc.
In recent years, we've heard of one crazy plot by an Iranian-American used car salesman to kill the Saudi Ambassador in DC by contracting the Mexican Zetas. He traveled to Mexico to do this, but only made contact with a DEA informant, who set him up for a sting.  Would the Zetas have actually tried to do this?  I doubt it.  They are under enough pressure as it is.

Hard to believe from the news coverage, but it is actually MUCH harder to cross the southern border illegally than it used to be.  Before 9/11, apprehensions were one million a year.   Recently it has been in the low 100,000s.  This year there's been a spike that might bring us closer to 500,000.  Most of the surge has been in Texas's Rio Grande valley, which didn't used to be that heavy.  (The Tuscon area had been the worst.)
U.S. Border Patrol Apprehensions, Fiscal Years 1976-2013

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Slamming Russia with Sanctions

Russia may have overplayed his hand.  The Malaysian Airline MH17 shootdown has brought the EU and America together on imposing harder sanctions.  Ambrose Evans-Pritchard argues here in Russia outgunned in economic showdown that Moscow can no longer rely on natural gas blackmail to get its way.  Its major energy firms need access to international credit, and Washington is poised to shut that down. 

We'll see if the WH pulls the trigger. 

It is hard to believe that MH17 was shot down intentionally, but Russia bears much of the blame in letting this crisis get out of hand.  For no good reason, either: if Putin had played the long game, the Ukraine would in time have been back in his camp, just like it had after the failed Orange Revolution in 2004.  The country is just too tied to Russia economically and culturally, and besides, the EU has its own problems to deal with, and can't afford another welfare case.

Putin may have miscalculated so badly as to sacrefice his hold on power.  Stratfor's George Friedman compares his actions to the "harebrained schemes" of a certain premier in the 1960: Can Putin Survive?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Restore the Gold Standard! (Part I)

This morning we at Mighty Whig will begin an occasional series advocating the restoration of sound money through some version of the venerable gold standard.  The Federal Reserve's monetary policy under Greenspan and Bernanke has been disastrous.  Yellen, too, is said to be a weak dollar woman.  Fed policy created the real estate bubble, has inflated commodity prices, and has failed to stimulate the economy.  But the real problem is our fiat money system. We now are so used to its instability that people just assume another crash is around the corner! (See Jamie Dimon's of J.P. Morgan's comments not too long ago.)

Amazingly, in the last presidential election, no candidate criticized publicly the Fed's absurd "quantitative easing" policy (buying bonds to put more dollars in circulation), which did nothing to stimulate the economy or cut unemployment.   We just assume weakening the dollar is normal behavior now.

The Fed has lost the confidence of so many Americans because it now tries to run the economy.  (Never successfully.)  Perhaps realizing this, Yellen pledges to "taper" quantitative easing, i.e., bringing us slowly off the heroin needle.  

I'm posting a long piece from 2009 by James Grant lamenting the damage done by money with no bounds. Requiem for the Dollar  Worth reading to begin the discussion.

Upcoming:   My review of Steve Forbes's new book "Money," which makes a strong case for a new gold standard. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Central American Immigration Machine

Illegal immigration from Central America begets more immigration.  Anthopologist David Stoll explains this in a recent WSJ op-ed: Behind the Border Pile Up.   Remittances sent back by U.S. immigrants--about $12 billion a year to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, or about 10-15 percent of their national incomes--distort the local economies by making land prices higher.   So more young men have to travel to the US to find work to afford the rising prices, and the cycle continues.  Stoll:
But migration itself produces victims, such as wives hoping for the deportation of their husbands, and they are far from the only ones. Where I work in Guatemala, remittances have inflated the price of land to astounding levels; most families are unable to buy property unless they can place at least one wage-earner in the U.S. So every family is under pressure to send someone north. Migrants must borrow at least $5,000 to pay human smugglers. Many pay 10% monthly interest and put up family land as collateral. So they're betting the farm. When something goes wrong, they lose it.
Certainly the remittances help improve the local standards of living in these poor countries.  But they come at a human cost: family break-up, etc.  Reuniting the family in the US often leads to more problems:
One way to hold the original family together is for the mother and children to come north. But family reunification is no panacea even when it can be done legally. When an earner remits to his wife and children in Central America, the money goes much further than it does in the U.S. Once everyone reaches El Norte, even two parents working for the minimum wage may not be able to support a family. So their children get an education in downward mobility and relative deprivation, which is one reason immigrants brought here as boys run a high risk of being sucked into gangs. [My emphasis.]

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Border Crisis Destroys Amnesty Bill

Poor border enforcement and Obama's 2012 decision to not deport some illegal immigrants has killed the Senate's amnesty bill and the so-called "Dream" Act.  The Democratic party has suffered heavily from a big influx of illegal immigrants in the past.  Two flotillas of boat people from Cuba in 1980 and 1994 hurt President Carter and then-Arkansas governor Bill Clinton.  In the following article,  Michael Barone explains how the fallout of the illegals is extending to other states; governors are refusing refuge:  Political Fallout from Illegals

At least some politicians are rediscovering that the United States is a sovereign nation with a responsibility to its citizens.  That's one happy consequence of this sad episode.

Maybe another happy consequence is that the open border crowd has been silenced, for a while. 

Don't believe the reports that all of the sudden Central Americans are fleeing gangs, poverty, and crime.  Those have been constant factors for years.  So, what has changed?  The decision to not deport and the promise of amnesty.

Something to consider:  our country is not growing full-time jobs anymore. See this piece by Mort Zuckerman last week: The Scandal of Part-Time America We can't guarantee the American dream even for longtime citizens, let alone unskilled immigrants.  That's the dispiriting reality of the post-industrial US economy.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Cheap Money Bad for the Poor, Good for the Rich

Rich Karlgaard argues here that only the superrich are really benefiting from the global boom in cheap money.  (Not just a boon for the rich, but for overleveraged governments too.) If you aren't in a position to ride the stock market wave, you're out of luck.  Here, he uses columnist Paul Krugman as a punching bag.  Why aren't people on fixed incomes getting up in arms about this?  Perhaps they will with the next bust. 

Paul Krugman Is Dumber Than We Thought

Krugman’s July 11th NYT laugher provides yet more evidence the Nobel Prize winner … just … makes … stuff … up.

Consider this Krugman assertion:
The really big losers from low interest rates are the truly wealthy — not even the 1 percent, but the 0.1 percent or even the 0.01 percent.
Krugman says the rich sock their money in low-yield bonds. But he fails to consider the obvious. Stocks have almost tripled since March 2009. Urban real estate is in a boom. Art is in a boom. If you believe Krugman, it must be the poor folks who are feeding these asset bubbles. Because the rich, Krugman says, are stuck in low-yield bonds.

This is utter nonsense. The excess liquidity created by U.S. monetary policy does not wind up in the hands of the poor. It winds up in the hands of the rich. The rich then put it into stocks, real estate, hedge funds, and art.

It’s actually the poor and lower middle classes whose wealth — such as it is –lies fallow in no-interest bank accounts (or wealth-eroding cash if they have no bank account at all). It’s not the rich, but middle-class retirees that try to eke out a living on low-yield interest rates.

Krugman has it exactly, 180-degrees wrong. Cheap money is a transfer payment to the rich. It is a tax on the poor. The rich-poor divide grew vast under the cheap money policies of Ben Bernanke. This trend will surely accelerate under Janet Yellen.

I recently spoke at a global real estate conference in Singapore. Around the world, large cities are seeing inflated prices. The investment bankers who attended the conference, and who represent the interests of the global rich, didn’t know whether to pinch themselves in glee or dig a shelter for the coming bust. But for now, cheap money has fueled a boom.
How many poor people invest in REITs, Dr. Krugman?

Krugman has so twisted himself in defending the Obama Administration’s fiscal and monetary policies that he is now 180-degrees opposite of truth. He looks to Antarctica and sees the North Pole.
Cheap money has been terrible for the poor. It has been God’s gift to rich asset holders. Just the opposite of what Krugman says it is.

Takes your breath away, doesn’t it?

Monday, July 7, 2014

NSA Vacuums Up Info on Average Folks

The Washington Post analyzes the information Snowden stole about how the NSA's PRISM program--which targets terrorists--also captures communications from private citizens guys:  Ordinary Americans Targeted.  To its credit, the article mentions how some terrorist networks were uncovered by this method. A few comments:

--Anyone using the internet should proceed with the understanding that his information is being used, constantly.  When I use my email in a foreign country, I always expect that the local intell service can look at it whenever it wants to. 

--I don't care that the NSA finds out information about innocent foreigners.  No one is targeting them, accusing them of anything, or using this info against them.    But they don't have a "right" to privacy based on our laws.

--I am not particularly concerned about the NSA incidentally looking at my email communications.  I know what my rights are, and what legal barriers it operates under.

--I am much more concerned about what Google does with the information it stores on me.  But in the US, we give private companies at lot more leeway than we do the government.  

No one in the US wants the NSA to stop targeting terrorists' networks.  But we haven't figured out a way yet to order this important function and ensure Americans' liberties are being respected.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Does Moscow Control the Anti-Fracking Movement?

Hydraulic fracturing has been a game changer for the oil and gas industry.  It has been a huge boom to the gas industry, which has led to significantly lower carbon emissions.  But it is a major industrial operation, and it arouses criticism.   A propaganda film from 2010 "Gasland" caused many people to equate fracking with drinking water igniting into flames.

Russia wants to preserve its monopoly on supplying gas to Europe. A few weeks ago the Secretary General of Nato Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Russia is secretly working with Green NGOs to spread disinformation about fracking in order to stop European domestic production:  NATO Chief Says Russia Teaming with NGOs.  The excellent Bjorn Lomberg, author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist," lays out the geopolitical stakes here: Break Putin's Gas Monopoly

Glad someone finally said it.  Why else would Romania of all places have one of the most activist anti-fracking movements in Europe?   Russia must be reviving its old networks.  Of course, ideologically, the Marxist left intellectually emigrated to the green movement a long time ago.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Marijuana: Really a Wonder Drug?

Marijuana has undergone a remarkable image makeover: from dangerous drug to miracle cure. States are now legalizing it without any regard for the harm it causes, which have long been known.  Here's a good article from the New England Journal of Medicine that reviews what we know about its health effect, what we might suspect but can't prove, and what might be beneficial about the drug.  Marijuana's Adverse Health Effects 

One thing that has stood out to me: marijuana today is responsible for lots of emergency room visits, and is far more powerful (higher THC content) than it used to be. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Snowden Aided by Russia From the Start?

Edward Jay Epstein is hard on the Snowden trail, destroying the myth of the lone, improvising whistleblower.  More and more, it appears he had help from a foreign power, probably Russia, to facilitate his trip to Hong Kong.  (This is the thesis of British intelligence reporter, Edward Lucas, too.) Publicly, Putin has admitted Snowden got in touch with Russian diplomats when he came to Hong Kong in May last year.

Snowden's work for the NSA probably from the start was intended as a penetration operation.  Here's a lengthy quote from Epstein's latest piece:
While important details about Edward Snowden's activities in Hong Kong remain shrouded in secrecy, the conventional portrait of his stay there and in Russia as one of improvisation and serendipity is at odds with the precision of his well-planned thefts. 
Until March 15, 2013, Mr. Snowden worked at the NSA base in Honolulu for Dell, the outside contractor which supplied technicians to work on the NSA's backup system. From this vantage point, he had access to the NSA Net, from which he pilfered most of the documents he later gave to journalists including the ones about NSA domestic operations that have preoccupied the world's media. 
But he quit Dell and moved to Booz Allen Hamilton, the outside contractor that ran the computer systems in the NSA's Threat Operations Center. Here he could get access to the crown jewels, the lists of computers in four adversary nations—Russia, China, North Korea and Iran—that the agency had penetrated. He later told the South China Morning Post that his whole reason for making the job switch was to get "access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked."  
He carried out that theft, which included stealing passwords that gave him access to secret files, with great precision. There is no reason to assume that his getaway was any less deliberately planned.
Read the whole piece here:Snowden's Hong Kong Getaway

Monday, June 30, 2014

Our Terrorist "Bug-Zapping" Strategy

The Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham (ISIS) seeks to establish a new caliphate in the Middle East.  This group of illusionists are leading the Sunni insurrection, but they are joined by the ex-Iraqi military and Baath party. Their immediate goal is to overthrow the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad, which is hated by all the Sunni governments surrounding it.  

This is a Sunni-Shia war, and it will take years to burn itself out. 

Iraq and Syria have become highly effective terrorist bug-zappers.  Both the Al Qaeda-aligned groups and Hezbollah are losing valuable manpower in this fight.  That's a double win for us. Maybe Iran's Republican Guard Corps will also suffer losses; that would be a bonus.  From what I read, jihadists from Europe and the U.S. have joined these forces to fight for the new caliphate.

The administration has sent over 300 military advisers to enhance Baghdad's bug zapping effectiveness.  It won't win the war, but it will help keep it going. 

We are also pledging to give more aid to the Free Syrian Army.   But will it be directed at ISIS, or Assad?  Either way, it will not be decisive, but will keep the killing going.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Got GMOs? (That's genetically modified food, to you.)

Human beings have been genetically modifying food since Gregor Mendel.   It is human innovation at its best. It is defeating world hunger.  It is good for you.  Get over it.  But apparently the State of Vermont,  run by Sixties hippies who got lost on their way to Canada, wants GMO product identification on all food sold in the state.  Read this for a taste of sanity:  how-scare-tactics-on-gmo-foods-hurt-everybody

Thanks for the post, MB!

Worst Security Detail, Ever

Today is the hundredth anniversary of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand's assassination, along with his wife Sophia, in Sarajevo.   Gavrilo Princip shot him with a .38 from five feet away.  He said he did not intend to kill the archduchess.   Both died on that day on their way to the hospital. 

Forget how this guy was allowed to be so close to his car.  Earlier that day, one of the Serbian Black Hand assassins threw a bomb at the car, which bounced off the trunk and exploded behind the car, causing a significant number of casualties.  See the wiki entry: Killing the Archduke   But FF made his scheduled appearance anyway!  What was his security detail thinking?

Princip shot him on the return trip. 

Maybe this was just stoicism in the face of the extremist threat, which was claiming European and American leaders left and right since 1900.  

Or perhaps he was motivated by Theodore Roosevelt, who took a bullet in the chest in 1912 and then went ahead with a stump speech anyway. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Inequality in the U.S.A

We should fight income inequality by improving the life chances for the poorest Americans.  Normally the Wall Street Journal denies that inequality is a problem, so it is nice to see it publishing a good article addressing the problem: Inequality in the U.S.   The author is a liberal but he's at least focusing on the right side of the problem. 

Conservatives in America need to come to grips with inequality.  It will skew the democracy permanently in favor of the very rich and the government dependent. 

One of the main reasons to fight the illegal immigration problem is that it continues to exacerbate income inequality.  We keep importing poor people, and then can do little for them once they are here.  Why the Democrats don't see this as impacting some of their traditional constituencies I have no idea.

Monday, June 23, 2014

How Scientists Manipulate Climate Data

Sometime in the future, historians will have a field day examining the Great Climate Scare and will use it as an example of mass psychology run amuck.  Recently I discovered Steven Goddard's blog Real Science that examines how the data has been fudged by NOAA and other agencies to make past decades seem cooler.  Fun to read about how NASA's James Hansen has actually reversed his views from the 1990s.   What say you, Hansen? 

For the average citizen like me, it is almost impossible to discern the truth on this issue.  Still, I enjoy seeing how easily some ambitious naysayers can poke holes in official wisdom. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Our Manufactured Immigration Crisis

The promise of amnesty has caused many Central American families to send their children, unaccompanied, to the US southern border.  Ross Douthat, the New York Times's only conservative columnist, at least gives a nod to those who have seen the so-called crisis of the status of illegals as one in our own mind. See his Open Invitation

Our punitive policy against Honduras a few years ago probably contributed to this mess.  When  the entire Honduran political class turned against President Manuel Zelaya and removed him from office, we hammered Honduras, cutting off trade and aid.  We drove the poorest country in the hemisphere even further into the ground. 

Many have noted the terrible gang problem in Central America and how this has spurred immigration. This was caused in large degree by immigrants to the US who became gang members in American prisons.  These gang members came north legally through our temporary refugee policies.   MS-13 and other notorious gangs were born in the U.S.A. 

We discount how difficult it is for a deracinated immigrant to make a new life for himself in the U.S.  Based on our national mythology, we think it all ends happily ever after.  But sometimes it goes the path of the Mara Salvatrucha. 


Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Children's Crusade to the Border

Check out this good report from Arizona Central on how unaccompanied children are traveling through Mexico to cross our southern border.  Both Republicans and Democratic politicians are starting to realize this is a disaster, and it will destroy their hopes for an Amnesty bill.  Kids at the Border

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Libya: Dear Terrorists, We Never Forget

Some years back a DEA agent told me that when his outfit had nailed a suspect they had been tracking for years, the prep exclaimed to them, "I thought you had forgotten about me."   The agent said no,  "We never forget."

In all the discussion lately about government inefficiency, this story warms the heart:  the neat and clean capture of Benghazi embassy facility attack suspect Ahmed Abu Khatalla: See  Benghazi Raid.   We suspect he masterminded the attack that killed Ambassador Stevens.  

In this A Deadly Mix in Benghazi piece in the New York Times last fall, (worth reading) Khatalla figures prominently.  From reading this, you wouldn't conclude he was a man worried about being captured anytime soon.  

Last October, we arrested the engineer of the 1998 Nairobi and Dar al Salaam bombings, Abu Anas al-Libi, in Tripoli.  I wonder if he said, "I thought you had forgotten about me"? 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Why are More Illegal Immigrants Pouring over the Border?

One of the drivers for the recent surge in illegal immigrants is the hope of an amnesty bill.  But what about our own policy in the Central America?   In this article Border Chaos, one woman mentions how gang violence in her Honduran town encouraged her to move north.  Honduras has had a bad time since 2009, when a coup overthrew the government of Manuel Zelaya. Many in the liberal press believe it was the coup that caused this problem.

In fact, the international overreaction to the coup destablized Honduras.  The US and the rest of the region ostracized Honduras, cutting it off from the economic aid this poor country desperately needs.  All of this was unnecessary.  The Hondurans just wanted to get rid of Zelaya, not overthrow democratic government.  The coup was prompted by his own illegal actions against the Honduran constitution and his own close association with Cuba and Venezuela.  (No one denies this) But with our support withdrawn while Honduras was being punished, drug traffickers set up house there. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Our Legacy in Iraq: Will Statebuilding Ever Recover?

George Packer, author of "Assassins Gate" and the excellent "The Unwinding" (see my review post below) thinks we might have had a chance under Obama to keep a stabilizing force in Iraq.  But in the end neither Washington nor Baghdad were too interested.  The concept of statebuilding might never recover from this debacle.

Yesterday the Iraqi Security Forces were shaking off their daze and holding the line around Samarra, north of Baghdad.  Air strikes nailed ISIS positions around Mosul.   Several reports of Iranian troops coming in to help. 

If this is the Arab Spring, I'd hate to see what their winters look like.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Iraq: The Endgame for a Nation State?

Since we withdrew our forces in December 2011, the security situation in Iraq has gone downhill.  The government of Shia-dominated Nouri al Maliki would not approve a status of forces agreement (SOFA) with Washington that we could live with, so we left. Some have criticized the Obama administration for not pushing harder for a remaining military presence.  But few in Washington really had much interest in staying in Iraq. 

So, on June 9, we were greeted with the news that at least half the city of Mosul--Iraq's second or third largest city, it is hard to say--has been overrun by forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS), an Al Qaeda-inspired insurgent army.  Led by the charismatic Abu Bakr al Baghdadi (his nom de guerre), ISIS had already carved out control of much of western Syria and no sustains itself off the local economy.  In the attack on Mosul, ISIS captured substantial military equipment and looted at least one bank for $400 million. 

This was no raid, but a major military assault.  Perhaps the worse news, though, was the performance of the Iraqi Army.  According to most news accounts, troops of the 2nd Division simply fled.  The US spent billions training this army to sustain security after we left.  Iraqi officials now say that two divisions dissolved in the face of the attack. 

Yesterday the ISIS continued its push down the Tigris, capturing Tikrit (Saddam's home town) and the refinery town of Baiji.  Maliki has asked the National Assembly for a state of emergency, and has reached out to the US for help.

Lot of moving parts to this story.  Iraq may be facing an existential threat.  A few conclusions from all this:
  • This is more than just ISIS, but a major Sunni revolt.  I suspect the former Baathist insurgents have joined up, as have the Sunni tribes of Anbar. 
  • If Abu Bakr managed to pull the Sunnis together to support him in this, he's the greatest guerrilla commander since Mao Tse Tung.  Certainly his ISIS is now the lead franchise of Al Qaeda, Inc.  He may indeed be the caliph they've been looking for.
  • Baghdad will struggle to contain this.  Obviously corruption and lack of commitment to the Iraq state led to the collapse in Mosul.  On paper, Baghdad should have been able to manage ISIS. But Maliik's divisive policies have alienated the Sunni population.  
  • The Army failed to retake Fallujah and Ramadi from ISIS back in December, a bad omen. (But Maliki never cared for what was happening in Anbar.  Mistake!)  If Balad falls to ISIS, watch out Baghdad.  Watch for Shia militia and Iranian IRCG troops getting into the fight. 
  • The end of Iraqi democracy might be near.  I could see Malik falling and being replaced by a Shia Army officers.   In a real parliamentary system, he'd be done by now. 
  • The Kurds might be on their way out of Iraq.  Or at least, this new conflict will start the ball in motion. They are under attack too near Kirkuk.  Baghdad can't contest Kurdish territorial gains.  The Kurds stay in Iraq largely because their territorial ambitions haven't yet been realized.  This crisis could enable them to consolidate and finally declare independence.
  • Washington is fighting the last war.  This weekend the White House touted its plan for more aid to the Free Syria Army to fight Assad and the ISIS.  Forget Assad; can't you see that's over?
President Obama, you've been lucky in foreign affairs up to now.  

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Shooting in Las Vegas: "This is the Start of a Revolution"

We Americans are inured to mass shooting incidents.  But this one in Las Vegas yesterday is more disturbing than most.  The chilling phrase of the gunman: "this is the start of a revolution" puts a potential political twist on it.

Here's a survey of the mass shooting incidents over the last several years:  We value our freedom, and pay a stiff price for it.  Take a look at t his list; can you detect any pattern in the perpetrators.

The left says guns are the problem; the right says its crazy people.   Crazy?  Or alienated, and unable to cope with the relentless exigencies of modern life? 

Joseph Conrad in "The Secret Agent" suggests this kind of random violence is just something we have to live with.  And we do.  The Vegas shooting story lasted one news day.

The Times Will Be Cruel

America remains an "attractive nuisance."  Despite all the effort dedicated to border enforcement--we've more than double the amount of Border Patrol officers in recent years--we continue to be overwhelmed by illegal immigrants.  The press attributes so-called amnesty bill as creating the incentive for new waves to enter the country through the southern border.  Many are children. We were deporting in large numbers, but since the 2012 election, that has stopped. 

If we want to maintain a measure of prosperity for the working and middle class, we must control the immigration flow.  The constant downward pressure on wages is what the bill supporters want. But a ray of hope: the Republican majority leader ric Cantor just lost his primary to an outsider pledging to defeat the bill.   Maybe the GOP is starting to wake up from its suicide pact.

For a piece on Europe's problem, see this post by the Mail's Peter Hitchens: 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Questions for Snowden

Here's a piece by former CIA and NSA director Mike Hayden on some of the unanswered questions in the Snowden case.  It is a must read if you are following this drama.

It is about time the media--which includes "useful idiots of the right"--stop publishing Snowden and Greenwald's version of the events.  These two seek to weaken U.S. power and level the playing field for our adversaries. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Afghanistan: Obama's Good War

Obama ran in 2008 on the message that Afghanistan was the war to fight.  He agreed to a troop surge shortly after taking office.  Most of our casualties there have occurred on his watch.  And he has announced a nearly 10,000-troop presence (which usually means a lot more support elements) through all of 2015.   Good column here by Harsanyi gives the details:

Note that in Bob Gates's book, Obama never seemed to believe in this war commitment, but he did it anyway.  (Remember his ideological roots.)

Remarkable how the "pitiless crowbar of events" turned Obama into a foreign policy realist, by necessity, not choice.

The Afghanistan war deserves a longer post. It started in 2011 as a punitive action, supported by international law, because the Mullah Omar's Taliban regime refused to give up Osama Bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks. After easily overthrowing him, we stuck around, on the theory that we needed to deny terrorists "safe havens" and we needed to restore the country to some semblance of good governance.

We should have treated Afghanistan like we did Mexico in 1916, sending in a punitive expedition to teach them a lesson and then getting out to fry bigger fish (in that case, an impeding war in Europe.)
General Pershing, with Pancho Villa and General Obregon, in 1914.  Two years later, Pershing was chasing Villa. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Release the Taliban!

The administration released five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (GTMO) in exchange for a soldier who was captured five years ago.  The five beards reportedly have been in GTMO for twelve years.  Qatar has agreed to keep them for a year, probably in a work release program as interns for Al Jazeera.  The Taliban appears pretty jacked about it:

The Mighty Whig himself spent a month in GTMO in 1987.  It almost makes one sympathetic.

The Obama team is treating this like a big win for us.  After all, closing down the GTMO detention facility has been one of the first things on Obama's "to do" list since 2008.  But they must have realized the optic is bad: We release five hardcore terrorists in exchange for a Sgt who, at least some believe, deserted.  Who could possibly find fault in that?

Admittedly, the circumstances of his capture seemed odd.  He might have deserted, and then had second thoughts about it.  It happens.  American soldiers have even deserted to North Korea.  Seemed like a good idea at the time.  But a lot of folks have been working for his release, and his parents obviously have suffered.  I'm glad he's rejoined them.

(We just haven't heard that much about desertions in the Iraq and Afghanistan war.  I wonder how many troops have gone "over the hill" and have never come back?)

Nearly 150 prisoners are still in GTMO.  One thing for sure: they will all be released eventually, and probably some of them will go back to their terrorist ways.   But we'll be out of Afghanistan by then. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

The World Tilts Right

Columnist Michael Barone puts together all the recent victories by right-leaning parties here, and sees a pattern: voters care little about growing inequality and are rejecting distributist policies.  That's the economic explanation, anyway.  In a larger sense, voters are turning away from the intellectual straightjacket the international nomenclature wants to impose on them--on issues like bureaucratic centralization, austerity policies, climate change extremism, etc. 

We'll see.  Do a few swallows make a summer?   I'd like to see UKIP and National Front actually win a general election in their home countries first.  

Saturday, May 31, 2014

America the Caring and Collaborative: Obama's Foreign Policy Speech

Imagine a foreign policy address written by a human resources officer and you have the essence of Obama's West Point speech.  Be more collaborative and cooperative (with our allies)  Operate with transparency (drone strikes). Work within the established bureaucratic framework. (World Bank, IMF.)  Do more with less. (Huge military cuts; smaller Army.) 

Little to inspire here. But it really is a foreign policy for our current mood.  Americans want all the benefits of being the "Last Remaining Super Power," but are balking at the costs.  Christopher Caldwell sums this up as us wanting to have our cake and eat it too:

Obama likes to present himself as the "anti-Bush," but this is only a head fake.  In essence, he has continued the Bush foreign policy on counterterrorsm, and is even more aggressive on drone strikes.  He doubled down on Afghanistan, agreeing to a troop surge.  He continued the withdrawal from Iraq, which was already happening.   (Obama's policy on Latin America also is identical with Bush's.)

In sentiment, however, Obama embodies the old Henry Wallace-George McGovern wing of the Democratic Party, which deeply distrusts America's power and intentions.

Consider how fortunate he is--we all are--that no major challenge to American power has occurred on his watch.  Yet, anyway.  Still two and a half years to go.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The "Patriot" Snowden's Interview

Snowden gives a long and dissembling interview with Brian Williams of NBC.   The press is slowly waking up out of its naive stupor about this guy, realizing that his NSA revelations have just benefited Russia and China. 

We should make a deal with Moscow:  give him to us and we'll hand over convicted spies Ames and Hansen to you. 


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Freemasons and the Hidden Hand of History

Americans shy from talking about, or even thinking about, the role secret societies sometimes play in shaping our world.  I think this is because Americans tend to believe what they read, and tend to think history is largely transparent.  Latins, in contrast, tend to distrust what they read, and believe history is shaped by conspiratorial forces.  (Or else, why would a book like Galeano's "The Open Veins" be so popular?) 

Here's an entertaining and knowledgable piece on freemasonry by an accomplished historian of religion. I post it in large part because it is so unusual to see anything posted on it in a mainstream website. 

In France and Latin America you can read about the masons from time to time.  Knowledgable Africanists like to point to the still-important role freemasonry plays in cementing West African elites to the political class in France.

Freemasonry probably motivated at least some of the Sons of Liberty before the revolution.  Many of the founders, like George Washington, were Masons in "blue" lodges. (They didn't have the 33 degrees of the Scottish Rite.)  In the fun movie "National Treasure," the Declaration signer Charles Carroll was incorrectly described as being a mason. (He was a Jesuit-educated Catholic.)

The strong mason influence in the early Republic provoked the founding in New York of the Anti-Masonic Party, the first "third party" movement in the United States.  Some Anti-Masonic members later helped found the Whig Party in the 1830s.  (The Mighty Whig himself bears no grudge against freemasons.)

Joseph Smith was a freemason in NY before founding his church. 

Masons founded the Texas Republic.  An obelisk near the San Jacinto battlefield commemorates all the masons responsible in the founding, a who's who of early Texas history.  Santa Ana's freemasonry may have spared him his life after being captured in that battle. 

My guess is the 1830s represented the peak of masonic influence in the U.S.  But on the darker side of things, don't ignore the role masonry played in founding the Ku Klux Klan, especially during its great revivial in the 1920s.  (Driven to a large degree by the rise of Catholic influence in the Democratic Party and the candidacy of Al Smith in 1928.)

In 1995 Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan launched his "Millon Man March" on Washington DC.  During his speech, Farrakhan alluded many times to the Masonic founding of the Republic.  (Nation of Islam has unmistakable masonic influences; its founder Wallace Fard Muhammad was a Prince Hall mason.)

Supposedly, the Republican presidential ticket in 1996 featured two masons, Bob Dole and Jake Kemp.  The hidden hand didn't help them.

Anyway, I could go on...