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Monthly Archives: December 2008

“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce,” wrote Karl Marx — who’s making a big comeback these days, with his nutcase notions rebranded as the Value Theory of Bailouts.

In that spirit, we now have history repeating itself, first as parody, then as subsidy. A few weeks ago, the marvelous P.J. O’Rourke wrote an article suggesting that as long as everyone’s getting state money, print newspapers could use a bailout. That was a spoof. Now comes a proposal to actually do it.

I’m thinking that if they’re going to bail out even the press, then at the very least they (“they” is actually us, but never mind) ought to also have bailouts available for people who want to knock off and celebrate New Year’s eve. And in that spirit, let’s counter Marx with one of William Blake’s Proverbs of Hell: “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” I sure hope so. Very best wishes for a Happy New Year!

Iran’s “Disproportionate” Use of Farce

December 30th, 2008 - 3:40 am

If there’s anything “disproportionate” about violence in the Middle East these days, it’s the extent to which Iran’s regime stirs up big trouble and not only gets away with it, but casts itself as an aggrieved party. We saw it when Iranian-backed Hezbollah launched a war out of Lebanon against Israel in 2006 — and Iran blamed the conflict on Israel. We’ve seen it in recent years with Iranian-backed terrorism in Iraq — where Iran blamed America.

We’re seeing it again right now, in the fighting between Israel and Gaza. Iran abets the Hamas terrorists who rule Gaza, and who have been firing rockets by the thousands into Israel. Now that Israel is defending itself by fighting back against Hamas, Iran’s Fars News Agency reports that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants Israeli leaders hauled before the International Criminal Court. According to the Fars article, “leading Iranian lawyers” are to be enlisted in this effort, and “a special message” is to be sent to heads of “other countries” (presumably other countries inclined to cater to Iran’s mullocracy, such as Venezuela — currently one of the 18 members of the International Criminal Court bureau “elected” by the ICC’s assembly of member states). 

Where did Ahmadinejad get the idea that such a stunt, proposed by his rogue, terrorist-sponsoring regime, might pay off?

Maybe he got it from the UN (progenitor of the ICC), where Iran is in violation of five Security Council resolutions meant to stop its nuclear bomb program, but is nonetheless allowed to sit on the governing boards of a slew of major UN agencies including the WFP, the FAO, UNEP, UNICEF and the flagship UN Development Program (more on this in my Forbes.com column earlier this month on “Iran’s Power at the United Nations“). Maybe Ahmadinejad was encouraged in his notions by the dingbat utterances of Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who on matters such as Gaza and Israel is promoting a global order in which terrorist enclaves deserve more rights than their democratic prey. Such are the realms of genuine “disproportion.”

Last week, we saw Ahmadinejad popping up on British TV with an “alternative Christmas message” to the Queen’s. Now we have Ahmadinejad as the ambulance-chasing international legal eagle for the terrorists of Hamas. When do we see the Iranian regime held to account for its leading role in the murderous realities behind the stage sets?

Having served another round as a target range for Hamas, Israel finally attacks the rocket-firing terrorists in Gaza. Does the democratic world say “Thank You” to Israel for taking on the overlords of this nest of terror and repression? Not a chance.

Instead, here comes the usual Western group wallow in Palestinian terrorist propaganda.

We all know the script: Palestinian terrorists attack Israel, again and again and again — as in, Hamas firing some 3,000 mortars and rockets from Gaza into Israel over the past year, some 200 of these since the expiration last week of a six-month “ceasefire.” Finally, Israel strikes back, targeting the terrorists.

And the cogs of the middle-eastern cuckoo clock grind into action. Arab states issue denunciations of Israel. Diplomats lament the imperiling of the “peace process.” The despot-heavy UN takes time out from its day-to-day trashing of Israel to issue calls for “all parties” to end the violence. The U.S. officially backs Israel, but simultaneously undercuts Israel by issuing calls to rush humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, and then joins the gang of appeaseniks pressuring Israel into another “ceasefire” –which gives the terrorists a chance to regroup and attack again. From the media, out roll the articles and broadcasts lambasting Israel for use of ”disproportionate force”; out come the photos and the fauxtography; and the further vilification of Israel proceeds under headlines such as this gem from the Washington Post: “Israeli Airstrikes on Gaza Strip Imperil Obama’s Peace Chances.”

What a heap of hooey. What’s actually imperiling Obama’s “peace chances” in this sorry landscape is the presence of a terrorist haven operating in broad daylight right next door to Israel, in the form of the Hamas-run Gaza strip. And the continuing exaltation of terrorism by the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank. And another terrorist haven in the form of Hezbollah-infested Lebanon to the north. And yet more terrorist havens right nearby in the form of Syria and Iran, which harbor and help both Hamas and Hezbollah. And terrorist funders such as – according to the U.S. State Department – ”private benefactors in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states” (“benefactors” being a strange choice of word, though unfortunately a good indicator of the State Department mindset).

In this configuration, it’s not the Gaza Strip that is the “besieged enclave” (as press reports like to describe it). It’s Israel — a democratic state beset by terrorists, terrorist havens, terrorist supporters and terrorist funders.

These terrorist havens threaten not only Israel, but Europe and America. They threaten any state in which democratic freedoms are inimical to the kind of political thuggery that for decades has beggared and poisoned the Palestinians themselves (who just last year took time out from killing Israelis to make headlines for a while by mudering each other in a manner too public for even the press to ignore).

Israel is not the cause of this terrorism; but it does sit on the frontlines. As Sept. 11 should have made clear, in today’s globalized world these things don’t stay local. And as year after year of “peace process” should have taught the world by now, there are some killers — and the leaders of Hamas richly fit the bill — who are not going to be “talked” into peace. They pocket any gains from the “process,” and attack again.

One might well wonder: If Hamas or its terrorist brethren were to set up enclaves next to Paris, Vienna, Berlin, London, New York and Washington, and fire 3,000 rockets and mortars at such democratic neighbors — what, exactly, would the inhabitants of Paris, Vienna, Berlin, London, New York and Washington judge to be the appropriate response?

It’s no spoof. In Britain, where the Queen every year delivers a televised Christmas message, the UK’s Channel 4 is planning to air an “Alternative Christmas Message“– from Iran’s Chief Executive Terrorist-Sponsoring Totalitarian Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

If Britons wish to spend part of their Christmas tuning in to Ahmadinejad’s oily talk of a “joyful, shining and wonderful age,” so be it — though one might have hoped they’d learned their lesson about this sort of thing back in the late 1930s. But broadcasting this kind of performance inflicts its worst damage in places like Iran itself, where the problem is not Ahmadinejad’s message to people of Britain, but Britain’s message to the people of Iran: For those in Iran who aspire to freedom, it can hardly be encouraging that in Britain a free people would so demean themselves as to give this preening thug his own special slot on the air — let alone as an alternative, in any capacity whatsoever, to their Queen. This is not an issue of free speech, but of fools at Channel 4 indulging in a stunt that ought to earn them not higher ratings, but a one-way ticket to Iran.

On a brighter note, some things are right with the world this Christmas Eve. The AP reports that in keeping with American tradition, NORAD is watching over Santa Claus. Merry Christmas!

If…Kipling Had Met Blagojevich

December 19th, 2008 - 11:32 pm

We’ve just heard Rod Blagojevich quoting Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem, “If.” With apologies to Kipling, here’s a version revised for the current circumstances:

 

If …. Kipling Only Knew

If you can keep your job while all about you
Are fielding bribes and blaming it on you,
If you can duck the Feds while all men doubt you,
And bleep-ing show the charges are untrue,
If you can fight and not be tired by fighting,
Or, being wiretapped, profess surprise,
Or argue that there will be no indicting
Because it’s all a bleep-ing pack of lies.

If you can scheme – but never scheme in writing,
If you can talk – but not from your home phone,
If you can face the press and keep reciting
That truth is on your side, though you’re alone;
If you can bear to hear the bleeps you’ve spoken
Quoted on Fox TV and “Meet the Press”
Or watch that Senate seat become a token
Of all the things they’d like you to confess

If you can just accuse them all of spinning
And quote a bit of Kipling on the way
And comb your hair and somehow keep on grinning
And tell them no one ever paid to play;
If you can force them to accept your own rights
To publicly refuse this bitter cup,
And fight them till you’ve drained yourself of sound bites,
Except the Will to say to them: “Shut up!”

If you once walked with Rezko and Obama
Or spoke with Jesse Junior and with Rahm
If you can overcome this legal drama,
If you can show that no one greased your palm
If you can take that Senate seat and fill it
With someone who will swear you’re not a knave
Yours is the Land of Lincoln, and yet still it
Will have Kipling rolling over in his grave.

The Banana Republic of New York

December 16th, 2008 - 12:05 am

When you’re done reading the Blagojevich complaint, with its attendant insights into Illinois politics, spare a thought for New York — where Caroline Kennedy wants a sit-down with Governor David Paterson, with the aim of claiming Hillary Clinton’s soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat.

Is there anything wrong with that picture?

Well, let’s imagine for a moment that it’s not New York State we’re talking about, but some province – call it the State of Banana — in some nameless republic rife with dynastic politics.

Here’s a sample of the politics:

Eight years ago, a Senate seat from the Banana State was won by the wife of a sitting president of the republic. That wife had never before resided in Banana State, but she bought a house there, campaigned with the aura and entourage accorded to a presidential spouse, and with one leap, winning her first elected office ever, she became a senator.

Riding a national political machine to re-election for a second term, that former first lady swiftly turned her Senate seat into a springboard for her own campaign for the presidency. She lost, but took a job in the new administration, leaving the governor of Banana State to appoint a replacement senator.

That governor was himself a replacement, due to the resignation of the elected governor, a crusading moralist caught in a prostitution scandal. As the replacement governor prepared to name a replacement senator, a former president’s daughter declared her interest in the Senate seat — which one of her uncles had won some 44 years earlier, and was using as a springboard for his own presidential run, after serving as attorney-general in his brother’s presidential administration. This former first daughter had recently worked on the campaign of the President-elect — an experience that awakened in her an appetite for politics –  but she had reached the age of 51 with no direct experience of her own in public office. Nonetheless, another of her uncles, also a senator, was ready to endorse her for this leap to the Senate. So was the mayor of Big Plum (the biggest city in Banana State), who on his own turf had just succeeded in scrapping a two-term limit so he could run for a third term — which he justified as a way of offering people a broader choice (namely, himself).

That’s how it works in Banana Republics. Whatever Caroline Kennedy’s native abilities, celebrity mantle and political connections, if she thinks this is a good way for things to work in New York State, that alone is reason to worry about her qualifications for the job.

Graft in Illinois Politics! Who Knew?

December 9th, 2008 - 1:26 pm

“If it wasn’t for graft, you’d get a very low type of people in politics, men without ambition, jellyfish!”

 - The Great McGinty, 1940, One of the best movies ever made about politics

The layers are endless. This morning I was sifting through reports on UN “misconduct,” with a Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac congressional hearing playing on C-Span in the background, and in comes a news flash that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and one of his aides have been arrested on federal corruption charges, including allegations that in a profanity-laden spree of criminal wheeling-and-dealing they bleep-ing tried to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat.

This is way beyond a three-ring circus. The AP offers a handy rundown of governors who have run foul of the law over the decades, including three previous Illinois governors who over the past 35 years have done jailtime.

Politics is a constant carnival, in which just a few of the recent acrobatics include –please note that all should be considered innocent unless actually convicted of something – Sen. Ted Stevens with his home renovations, Rep. William Jefferson with his cash in the freezer, Rep. Charlie Rangel under an ethics investigation by the House, former New York governor Eliot Spitzer with his furtive recreational interests, and that timeline of Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac executives who collectively raked in hundreds of millions in pay, and are still collecting millions every year in pensions, for steering implied taxpayer mortgage guarantees — and the financial markets — right off a cliff.

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Like that hapless garbage barge which in 1987 sailed up and down the coast for months, reeking, rejected and ever-present, the bailout saga of the Big Three just won’t quit.

By now, I’m not sure the billions the car makers are after should still be called a “bailout.” We’re witnessing something much bigger than that — something more like a metamorphosis. The main argument we’ve been hearing for keeping the Big Three on wheels (or, let’s spare the more functional Ford, and call it the Big Two) is that the country cannot afford to have all those auto workers lose their jobs. In other words, the prime business of GM and Chrysler is no longer to make cars, but to serve as conduits for taking money from some Americans, and using it to support others. This is a process in which the cars themselves are starting to look like mere by-products (or maybe loss leaders).

In an America that once celebrated the deeds of daring individuals — Paul Revere on his midnight ride, the settlers of the West, the heroes of Horatio Alger – we now have new-age pilgrims rolling into Washington to plead for public money.

Will this really help save the American Dream? I have been trying to imagine how these recent events might someday be transmogrified into an American legend of corporate titans who, in an hour of need, saved the nation … by a determined assault on the public purse. First they flew in their corporate jets. Then they motored to the Beltway in their hybrids. Undaunted, they defied public opinion and haggled on until the politicians of Washington rose to meet them — designing a money-guzzling state vehicle that would come accessorized with a Car Czar, or, as the White House is now suggesting, a “Financial Viability Adviser.”

Financial Viability Adviser? What does that phrase even mean? Hard to say — but I’m sure of this: If America’s Founding Fathers had saddled this country with the idea that all men are endowed by their Creator with such inalienable rights as “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of a Financial Viability Adviser,” we wouldn’t be having all these problems with the car industry today. We’d still be riding around in horse-drawn buggies.

Too rich. Less than a month after the UN threw a big party to celebrate the completion of a $23 million ceiling for a single meeting chamber in Geneva, that ceiling “artwork” is peeling away from its moorings. Jose Guardia at Barcepundit has the story, with photos.

Whether this is life imitating art, or vice versa, I’m not sure. But that ceiling of mulitcolored “melting” stalactites, with its over-the-top tab, 100 tons of paint, and dysfuntional design, is a superb metaphor for the UN itself. For this I can quote as an authority none other than Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who came to the ceiling’s inaugural party in Geneva, and said: “The design itself might be thought of as a metaphor for our work.”

In that same statement, Ban said a great deal more — in a most ironically apt summary of the moral relativism that is the oily underpinning of today’s UN:

The colours look different depending on where you are seated. That reminds me of the old saying about politics, “where you stand depends on where you sit”.

The correlation to multilateralism is clear. Countries and people have different perspectives on the challenges we face. As they discuss these matters, they can come to appreciate the different dimensions of a problem. And just as we might need to spend some time in this room, and look at the design from different angles in order to see it completely, so must we have a full range of views if we are to properly address global challenges.

Ban was lauding a UN universe in which right and wrong are slathered so thick with diplo-speak that they stop meaning anything; a world in which democratic values are just one more slant to be pondered alongside the “angle” of the Iranian mullahs, or the Syrian Baathists, or the despotic interests of regimes such as those of Cuba, Libya, China or Vietnam.

Usually, when reality intrudes on this universe, it is in the form of polysyllabic reports about such matters as genocide, peacekeeper rape, corruption, incompetence – in which the real victims dwell outside the lavishly furnished chambers of the UN. There’s a certain poetic justice, then, that the delegates to the UN “Human Rights” Council, having applauded the $23 million ceiling for their own meeting chamber, must now worry that chunks of it might fall on their own heads.

It’s Big, It’s Ugly, It’s Expensive…

December 3rd, 2008 - 11:42 pm

And it’s racist: The UN’s racist conference on racism, officially known as the Durban Review Conference. More in my column this week for Forbes.com , though it is impossible to describe within the length of any one column the astounding variations on perversity, duplicity, hypocrisy and abuse of the UN’s charter ideals — all embodied in this multi-million-dollar conference scheduled for April, 2009 in Geneva.

With the 20-member preparatory committee chaired by Libya, and including such vice-chairs as Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Cuba and Cameroon, it’s been clear for some time that’s there a problem with this gathering. Which is not in fact just one big meeting, but has already entailed over the past 16 months a series of meetings, in Switzerland, Ghana and Brazil — all to be consummated with a grand pow-wow in Geneva, under that $23 million ceiling that now decorates the chamber in which the erstwhile UN Human Rights Council carries out its regularly scheduled and almost single-minded attacks on the democratic state of Israel, and assorted other democracies, such as the U.S.

You’d think there would be some way to stop this, but it just keeps rolling along, and getting bigger. I’m wondering if instead of trying another round of UN “reforms,” we should just take away the UN portfolio from the State Department, and give it to GM and Chrysler. With a little luck, the UN would be out of business in no time.