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Monthly Archives: February 2009

Is it Jimmy Obama?

February 26th, 2009 - 1:51 pm

We came to Washington in 1977, and Jimmy Carter had just been inaugurated.  So I well remember the years of malaise and humiliation, the stagflation, chilly offices in the winter, the rapidly expanding power of the Soviet Union, the appeasement campaign from Europe and from a clear majority of American intellectuals, the hostage seizure in Tehran, the awful realization that we might lose the Cold War after all.  And in the midst of it all, the emergence of Ronald Reagan, his surprising electoral victory, and the amazing recovery of American will and American energy.

There was a lot to worry about, as there is today.  But I haven’t seen anyone openly worrying about my greatest concern, which tormented me in Carter’s last two years, and has returned to torment me again now.  He was so devoted to peace, that he risked a big war.

Carter’s paralysis as Soviet power expanded from Somalia to Ethiopia, and then to Afghanistan, his feckless make-nice attempt to cajole the West Europeans to respond to Soviet missile deployments, his abandonment of the shah and subsequent appeasement of Khomeini (his ambassador to the UN, Andrew Young, described the Iranian fascist leader as “some kind of saint”), greatly encouraged our enemies, all over the world. After a while, public opinion began to turn against Carter, who responded by expanding the defense budget (for which Reagan would be most grateful), but nothing “on the ground.”

As we got into the election season, I began to worry that Carter would be so concerned about his “wimp” image that he would overreact to some crisis or other, in order to demonstrate his virility.  As a former defense secretary remarked a few years ago, weakness is tempting.  The more our enemies believe we are feckless, the more likely they are to come after us.  I think that al Qaeda and its many sponsors thought that 9/11 would take us down, at least for a long count, and perhaps for good.  And I worry that the current rampage of appeasement of our enemies will produce the same result.

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We Are All Cowards Now

February 19th, 2009 - 4:23 pm

So the Attorney General thinks we’re cowards because we don’t talk about race as much as he would like.  Apparently he wants us to talk about it a lot.  Maybe he does, although that is not his reputation here in Washington (he’s considered a consummate professional and a true expert on jurisprudence by his peers, including many who are Republicans).

I was offended by Holder’s remarks.  I think they’re obnoxious, ignorant, unhelpful and inappropriate.  An awful lot of Americans fought very hard for many years to defeat those who wanted to talk about race a lot.  The whole point of that fight was, as Dr. King put it, to ensure that Americans would be judged by their character and accomplishments, and not by their “race.”  That cause was considerably advanced, and embraced by most Americans.  But that advance has been subverted, in large part by elite lawyers and intellectuals, in the (Orwellian) name of “multiculturalism.”

Instead of insisting on a colorblind society, these people insisted on a divided one.  The classic example is the university.  Holder complains that, while the workplace is integrated, once people are left to their own devices, they tend to associate with “their own kind,” by which he means that whites congregate with whites, blacks with blacks, latinos with one another, and so forth.  Nowhere is that so true as on university campuses, where authorities have permitted, and in many cases required, separate housing, separate departments, and even separate eating facilities for those racial and ethnic groups, in total defiance of the whole civil rights movement.  Those separate facilities are utterly intolerable as social institutions, and it is even worse than that;  “separate but equal,” the racist policy against which we all fought in the sixties, now has high intellectual standing.  Blacks are held to be the only legitimate professors of “black history,” Jews the only proper teachers of “Jewish history,” and so on down the line.  The case that demonstrated this most clearly to me was when Harvard students protested against Professor Steve Thernstrom, arguably the most brilliant social historian in America, because, being white, he could not possibly be permitted to teach American social history insofar as it dealt with slavery and white racism.  Receiving only token support from Harvard’s profs and deans, he stopped teaching it, to the detriment of a generation of students.

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We’re All Fascists Now II: American Tyranny

February 14th, 2009 - 12:21 pm

Most Americans no longer read Alexis de Tocqueville’s masterpiece, Democracy in America, about which I wrote a book (Tocqueville on American Character; from which most of the following is taken) a few years ago.  What a pity!  No one understood us so well, no one described our current crisis with such brutal accuracy, as Tocqueville.

The economics of the current expansion of state power in America are, as I said, “fascist,” but the politics are not.  We are not witnessing “American Fascism on the march.”  Fascism was a war ideology and grew out of the terrible slaughter of the First World War.  Fascism hailed the men who fought and prevailed on the battlefield, and wrapped itself in the well-established rhetoric of European nationalism, which does not exist in America and never has.  Our liberties are indeed threatened, but by a tyranny of a very different sort.

Most of us imagine the transformation of a free society to a tyrannical state in Hollywood terms, as  a melodramatic act of violence like a military coup or an armed insurrection.  Tocqueville knows better.  He foresees a slow death of freedom.  The power of the centralized government will gradually expand, meddling in every area of our lives until, like a lobster in a slowly heated pot, we are cooked without ever realizing what has happened.  The ultimate horror of Tocqueville’s vision is that we will welcome it, and even convince ourselves that we control it.

There is no single dramatic event in Tocqueville’s scenario, no storming of the Bastille, no assault on the Winter Palace, no March on Rome, no Kristallnacht.  We are to be immobilized, Gulliver-like, by myriad rules and regulations, annoying little restrictions that become more and more binding until they eventually paralyze us.

Subjection in minor affairs breaks out every day and is felt by the whole community indiscriminately.  It does not drive men to resistance, but it crosses them at every turn, till they are led to surrender the exercise of their own will.  Thus their spirit is gradually broken and their character enervated…

The tyranny he foresees for us does not have much in common with the vicious dictatorships of the last century, or with contemporary North Korea, Iran, or Saudi Arabia.  He apologizes for lacking the proper words with which to define it.  He hesitates to call it either tyranny or despotism, because it does not rule by terror or oppression.  There are no secret police, no concentration camps, and no torture.  “The nature of despotic power in democratic ages is not to be fierce or cruel, but minute and meddling.”  The vision and even the language anticipate Orwell’s 1984, or Huxley’s Brave New World. Tocqueville describes the new tyranny as “an immense and tutelary power,” and its task is to watch over us all, and regulate every aspect of our lives.

It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd.

We will not be bludgeoned into submission; we will be seduced.  He foresees the collapse of American democracy as the end result of two parallel developments that ultimately render us meekly subservient to an enlarged bureaucratic power: the corruption of our character, and the emergence of a vast welfare state that manages all the details of our lives.  His words are precisely the ones that best describe out current crisis:

That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident and mild.  It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing.  For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

The metaphor of a parent maintaining perpetual control over his child is the language of contemporary American politics.  All manner of new governmental powers are justified in the name of “the children,” from enhanced regulation of communications to special punishments for “hate speech;” from the empowerment of social service institutions to crack down on parents who try to discipline their children, to the mammoth expansion of sexual quotas from university athletic programs to private businesses.   Tocqueville particularly abhors such new governmental powers because they are Federal, emanating from Washington, not from local governments.  He reminds us that when the central government asserts its authority over states and communities, a tyrannical shadow lurks just behind.  So long as local governments are strong, he says, even tyrannical laws can be mitigated by moderate  enforcement at the local level, but once the central government takes control of the entire structure, our liberties are at grave risk.

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We Are All Fascists Now

February 12th, 2009 - 1:38 pm

Newsweek magazine, which has given us many of the most damaging deceptions about America in recent years (remember the “Koran-Down-the-Toilet” hoax?), now weighs in with a pretentious and embarrassingly ignorant cover story, “We Are All Socialists Now.”  To be sure, the basic theme–that the huge “stimulus” and the big big big TARP is leading once-capitalist America down the dangerous road to socialism–is not limited to the skinny weekly.  You hear it all over the place, from Right to Left, from talk radio to the evening news (or so I am told;  personally, I haven’t watched an evening news broadcast since 1987).

There’s a element of truth to the basic theme (although not to the headline):  the state is getting more and more deeply involved in business, even taking controlling interests in some private companies.  And the state is even trying to “make policy” for private companies they do not control, but merely “help” with “infusions of capital,” as in the recent call for salary caps for certain CEOs.  So state power is growing at the expense of corporations.

But that’s not socialism.  Socialism rests on a firm theoretical bedrock:  the abolition of private property.  I haven’t heard anyone this side of Barney Frank calling for any such thing.  What is happening now–and Newsweek is honest enough to say so down in the body of the article–is an expansion of the state’s role, an increase in public/private joint ventures and partnerships, and much more state regulation of business.  Yes, it’s very “European,” and some of the Europeans even call it “social democracy,” but it isn’t.

It’s fascism.  Nobody calls it by its proper name, for two basic reasons:  first, because “fascism” has long since lost its actual, historical, content;  it’s been a pure epithet for many decades.  Lots of the people writing about current events like what Obama et. al. are doing, and wouldn’t want to stigmatize it with that “f” epithet.

Second, not one person in a thousand knows what fascist political economy was.  Yet during the great economic crisis of the 1930s, fascism was widely regarded as a possible solution, indeed as the only acceptable solution to a spasm that had shaken the entire First World, and beyond.  It was hailed as a “third way” between two failed systems (communism and capitalism), retaining the best of each.  Private property was preserved, as the role of the state was expanded.  This was necessary because the Great Depression was defined as a crisis “of the system,” not just a glitch “in the system.”  And so Mussolini created the “Corporate State,” in which, in theory at least, the big national enterprises were entrusted to state ownership (or substantial state ownership) and of course state management.  Some of the big “Corporations” lasted a very long time;  indeed some have only very recently been privatized, and the state still holds important chunks–so-called “golden shares”–in some of them.

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Prejudice

February 10th, 2009 - 9:47 pm

Have a look at this.  (h/t Instapundit).  It’s the story of an ignorant college student who dresses up like a muslim and goes to small-town Amerika sure of finding redneck bigots.  But she didn’t.

What gets me about this is the incorrigible ignorance of so many leftists.  It really doesn’t matter how many times their stereotypes are shown to be false, they stick with them regardless.

Every time the “redneck” stereotype comes up in conversation I try to remind the fools who believe it that most of the great America literature in the last century came from redneck country, above all from Mississippi.  Faulkner, Welty, Morris, Tennessee Williams, Grisham…certainly in terms of the size of the population, there is no state that can match Mississippi for talent.  New York doesn’t come close, nor does California or Massachusetts, which the elite think of as the sainted islands reserved for deep thinking.

We sent two children to college in Texas, and for many years we have driven back and forth between Washington DC and Houston.  To our enormous benefit we have gotten to known Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.  People who don’t get to know the South are, like that girl, culturally deprived.

CIA Genius Tells Us Not to Worry About Iran

February 7th, 2009 - 5:16 pm

Ever wonder where CIA gets its nutty ideas about the world?  This story helps, maybe.  There’s a genius with the colorful name of Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, described by AFP (French reportage alert!) as an “advisor” to CIA and DoD, who boasts a 90 percent accuracy rate on predictions based on his “gaming and computer model.”  Maybe AFP means “computerized gaming model,” but hey, I’m just telling you what they say.

So Monsieur Bueno de Mesquita assures us that Iran won’t actually build any bombs, that religion (and therefore religious leaders) are on the decline, and that if you just wait a while, everything will be cool

By the start of next year, Iran will stabilize its nuclear program at a point where it makes enough weapons-grade fuel to build national pride by showing it can, but not enough to actually produce a bomb, the model predicts.

The influence of religious leaders is projected to slide while that of “moneyed interests” such as bankers and oil producers rises.

“Ahmadinejad is on the way down,” Bueno de Mesquita told a Technology, Entertainment, Design Conference audience while describing how the outcomes of complex negotiations are predictable. “His clout is dropping.”

Well that’s a relief.  I’m sure Langley’s told Obama that we can stop worrying about the Iranian bomb, and get ready for a new era.  No doubt Hillary is looking down the list of Democratic donors from banks and oil companies so she can send some special envoys to negotiate with Iran’s new rulers.

Hey, don’t laugh.  Ninety per cent is a hell of a number.  I’m sure that Mr. Bueno de Mesquita has put his money where his computer model is, and is now one of the richest men in America.  I wish AFP had told us…

AFP doesn’t, but here’s a story that does indeed verify that he’s made some accurate predictions, and has charged (and collected) some impressive fees.  And it tells us that he’s at the Hoover Institution and at NYU’s Political Science Department.

It also claims that Bueno de Mesquita predicted the rise of Rafsanjani at a time when nobody had heard of him.  That’s not quite right;  Rafsanjani was Speaker of Parliament, and one of Khomeini’s closest advisers.  And if I remember correctly, Khamenei (who, according to the article, was equally unknown and who Bueno de Mesquita forecast would rise to power) was president.

However, I’m willing to take a big risk and bet that Iran will build or acquire an atomic bomb.  Call me crazy.

You Can Just Print Your Own Money

February 7th, 2009 - 4:59 pm

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard used to be the Telegraph‘s man in Washington, and he was always great fun.  Now he’s roaming around Europe looking for signs of life, and he has found it in the form of regional currencies that people use instead of euros.  It’s a great story.  Locals–Ambrose tells of currencies in Austria, Germany and Italy, with many more en route–who for one reason or another don’t like the euro have just issued their own money, with a fixed depreciation rate.  In essence, it’s like having a credit card, because merchants who redeem this scrip are charged a fee roughly equal to that charged by the credit card companies.

Ambrose quotes some authorities who say this is the first time wildcat currencies have been seen in Europe since the Great Depression, but that’s not quite right.  We used some in Rome, back in the 1970s, as part of the “exact change crisis” that hit Italy at the time.

In those medieval times, you couldn’t pay for anything with a check or a credit card, you had to pay cash, and you paid your rent and utilities at the Post Office.  Long lines, lousy service, etc. etc.  And it got even worse when the lira devalued to the point where small coins, for fifty or a hundred lire, got to be worth less than blazer buttons.  At which point the coins vanished.  Everybody believed that the Japanese had gobbled them all up to use them on blazers (I have no idea if that was true;  I could never get it verified), but wherever they went they weren’t in circulation.  Which made it difficult to shop, because nobody could make small change.  For a while, merchants gave you some hard candies instead of fifty lire, and we all went for that, but it didn’t last, because the Post Office didn’t take candy.

And then the Post Office demanded ‘exact change.’

This was a big problem, because you ended up overpaying, and ‘forgetting about’ the change.  But that was obviously unfair, people complained, and the upshot was that if you didn’t have exact change you just couldn’t pay your bills.  Obviously unacceptable.

So local banks starting printing fifty- and one hundred-lire banknotes on paper just this side of toilet paper quality.  And since the Post Office accepted them, they spread like topsy.  The banks did very well, because in relatively short order the banknotes dissolved (and of course the banks wouldn’t convert ten tattered 100-lire notes into a shiny new 1000-lire note).  After a while, as mysteriously as they had disappeared, the small coins reappeared, and everything went back to ‘normal.’

If it had happened in Naples–and no doubt it has–everyone would have ‘known’ that the local mafia, the very entrepreneurial Camorra was behind it.  But in Rome, in those days, this explanation wasn’t offered.  At least I never heard it.

Just to say, local currencies are probably more common than we imagine, and I’m indebted to Ambrose for this excellent report.  Bottom line?  Money is worth whatever you think it is.

Who Are the Suicide Bombers?

February 3rd, 2009 - 8:50 pm

This showed up in an Aussie newspaper (h/t Free Republic).  It recounts the grisly story of a 51-year old Iraqi woman, known by her monicker “The Mother of the Believers,” who not only recruited female suicide terrorists, but led them to their final destination.

So what’s new?  Her method of recruitment, on behalf of Ansar al-Sunnah, an Iranian-supported terrorist group operating in Diyala province.

A WOMAN suspected of recruiting more than 80 female suicide bombers has confessed to organising their rapes so she could later convince them that martyrdom was the only way to escape the shame.

She was arrested in late January, and her confession was videotaped.

This provides us with a particularly ugly picture of the recruitment of the faithful, which did not take place purely as the result of religious indoctrination, and the well-known dehumanization of the targets of the suicide attacks.  In this case, the victims are the women themselves, who are first deliberately stripped of their worthiness, humiliated in their own eyes and those of their families, and then offered a bloody “redemption” by the terrorists.

We have known for some time about the seedy side of Islamic terrorism, ranging from the widespread use of drugs to the manipulation of psychologically damaged children.  But, for me at least, this is the first account of systematic rape as a recruiting method.  It ought to disgust everyone, but it should be especially repulsive to Muslims, for their religion is being cynically used in conjunction with sexist brutality in order to kill their own women as well as their (mostly Muslim) victims.

This story also suggests that the appeal of “martyrdom” is either not all it has been cracked up to be, or is losing its appeal in Iraqi society.  Either way, it gives us hope that the terrorists are losing, which is abundantly confirmed by the relentless drop in “martyrdom operations.”  But what terrible damage they have inflicted on their own people.

UPDATE:  Welcome, Instapunditeers!

UPDATE 2:  The videotaped confession is being broadcast on al Arabiyah.

UPDATE 3:  Thanks to Dan Blatt, who pointed out this post by Ace, about similar practices directed against gays.  They were raped, then recruited to draw the terrible sting of humiliation.

UPDATE 4:  Gay Patriot is working on it, too.

How Not to Organize a Government

February 3rd, 2009 - 1:15 pm

The election of Barack Obama was an historic event in several ways, one of which was infrequently noted:  his purely legislative experience.  For the most part, we have elected presidents who had either been state governors or successful generals, and this reflected the common sense of the American electorate:  it’s not easy to run a large organization, and the United States is an enormous and very fractious one.

Prior to Inauguration Day, the only large organization Obama had run was his campaign staff, and most of his political life was spent giving speeches, not making decisions.  Yet a president must make decisions all the time, and very few of them are easy or pleasant.  These decisions are quite different from those laregely rhetorical ones made by a legislator or a candidate.  Senators and candidates have the luxury of tailoring their speeches and their decisions to the audience of the moment, and they can always adjust their rhetoric to changing circumstances.  But every presidential decision creates enemies, and is much more difficult to change or adjust if it turns out badly.

Paradoxically, the most important early presidential decisions have to do with personnel, not policy per se, and many presidents have learned–too late–that personnel IS policy.  Good managers know this;  poor ones figure it out later. Governing well requires internal coherence, and while it is fine and dandy to invoke Lincoln’s team as an example of successful management of internal conflict,  Lincoln paid an enormous political and emotional cost, and success came only when the president himself made the hard decisions and then imposed his will on his associates.  Few presidents suffered so much, and suffering is not something we wish our presidents to endure.

So far, Obama’s personnel decisions unfortunately seem to guarantee maximum internal conflict.  Internecine conflict between various agencies and personalities has raged for years, decades even, and it’s tough enough to manage them.  But Obama has gone a step further, by creating “special envoys” and “czars” who threaten the turf of the traditional bureaucracies.

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How To Talk To A Mullah (Not)

February 1st, 2009 - 9:40 pm

Last fall, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates–a man well known for his prudence as well as thoughtfulness–remarked on the many failed efforts by the United States to reach some sort of modus vivendi with the Iranian regime.

Every administration since 1979 has reached out to the Iranians in one way or another and all have failed. Some have gotten into deep trouble associated with their failures, but the reality is the Iranian leadership has been consistently unyielding over a very long period of time in response to repeated overtures from the United States about having a different and better kind of relationship.

Leave aside the fact that, before becoming SecDef, Gates was one of many who recommended “engaging” the Iranian regime in talks; things look different from inside the Pentagon, when daily reports document the extent of Iranian evil doing to our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the murderous activities of their proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah.   “Consistently unyielding” is a significant understatement.  The “reality,” as he puts it, is that there is no reason to believe that the Iranians are interested in anything other than our destruction or domination.  They are our enemies, as they have proven over the past thirty years.

Which is not to say they won’t talk.  They love to talk, and they excel at talking, which they view quite differently from the way we look at “engagement” or “negotiations.”  We seek durable agreements to resolve fundamental problems;   The Iranians are quite capable of striking temporary deals with their worst enemies, fully intending to resume hostilities when circumstances are more favorable.

I saw their methods at first hand.  For a few months in the summer and early autumn of 1985, I was the only American official in the room during talks with various Iranians, including some very high-ranking ayatollahs, and I was privy to telephone conversations with Iranian officials in the office of President Mir Hussein Moussavi.

The circumstances certainly favored a positive result, much more so than today’s situation (even though there are some important similarities).  The Iranians were then at war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and they were having a rough go of it.  Iraq had the upper hand on the battlefield, and was attacking inside Iran.   Iran had hardly any night radar, and once the sun set,  the Iraqis routinely bombed Iranian targets, including the cities, which saw a nightly exodus of tens of thousands of people swarming to the safer darkness of the countryside.  The regime was becoming more unpopular by the day, as citizens attacked government and religious leaders in the streets.  There was even open conflict between different factions of the Revolution Guards, and there were reports of workers walking off the oil fields.

Under the circumstances, it was not surprising that the mullahs were prepared to deal, even with the satanic forces of Israel and the United States.  The Ayatollah Khomeini, the country’s unchallenged tyrant, had to wonder if destiny had turned against him.  Iran desperately needed help.  And the Iranians had cards to play with us, in the form of several American hostages held by Hezbollah.  One of these was particularly important, both to President Reagan and to CIA chief William Casey: William Buckley, the station chief in Beirut.  While never admitting they controlled Buckley’s fate, the Iranians said that if the relationship between the two countries improved, they would be as helpful as possible in obtaining the release of the American hostages.  The Americans replied that the relationship was the central issue, but that Iran would have to call a halt to all terrorist attacks against American targets, and moderate its rhetoric (“Death to America!”, then, as now, was loudly chanted in the streets).  If that happened, and if Iran helped with the hostages, the United States was prepared to sell weapons to the mullahs as a sign of good faith.

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