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Belmont Club

The Upper and Nether Millstones

August 19th, 2014 - 2:22 pm

Yesterday’s post about the inexorable expansion of government can be read in conjunction with Roger Simon’s current piece about how the Great Society laid the foundations for the riots in Ferguson.

Ironically, Michael Brown and the paramilitarized Ferguson Police Department are two sides of the same coin. They are the joint product of the politics of grievance and the growing expansion of government. The taxes that made the mobs dependent also armed the paramilitary police that contain them.   You have one government department handing out Obamaphones and another handing out MRAPs to the cops. HHS gives out Obamacare and the IRS enforces it.

A giant bureaucracy tasked with providing all “positive rights” rumbles on, even as progressive politics unleashes more “community organizers” while erecting a giant political machine to meet those same growing expectations.  It calls to and answers itself. The result on a community scale is Ferguson. The result on a national scale is Barack Obama.

Dependence is met with welfare; crime countered by replacing the family — after destroying it first — with state adoption and child protection agencies.  Two monstrous excrescences grow from the soil to dizzying heights. It was supposed to be a win-win: the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth (represented by the youths) would be governed and fed by the All-Seeing Eye of Agamotto. In charge of it all would be our very own Dr. Barack Strange Obama, who would preside over both the youths and their keepers.

And it continues apace. Soon Eric Holder will tell us whom to blame. And as Foxtrot Alpha explains, maybe systems like the “Wide Area Aerial Surveillance, the all-seeing eye in the sky that will change our lives forever” will tell us whom to find. Yet both, as Roger Simon notes, will utterly fail to spot the real culprit: the system that created this dynamic in the first place.

The only people who don’t belong in this tableau are people who work for a living. In Ferguson, schools have been closed, stores shuttered and businesses shut. Does anybody remember — or care — about the convenience store owner whose robbery was the proximate cause of this dust-up? No, because he was only the victim of a “prank” who has no spoken lines in this grand production.  He is no more than a bit player, a prop even,  in the inexorable drama of progressive history.

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Shrinking Government and Seeing a Shrink

August 18th, 2014 - 3:38 pm

The National Treasury Employees Union has a PDF document on its website which shows why any attempt to shrink the government is foredoomed.  ”The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) is an independent labor union representing approximately 150,000 employees of 30 agencies of the United States government. The union specializes in representation of non-supervisory federal employees in every classification and pay level in civilian agencies.”

The document urges NTEU members to oppose a list of “bad bills” now before congress. Here is the list of “bad bills” verbatim.

LEGISLATION PROPOSING REDUCTIONS IN PAY, BENEFITS AND THE SIZE OF THE WORKFORCE

  • H.R. 243 (Ross, R-Fla.) would extend the freeze on federal employee pay through the end of calendar year 2015 and  would require deep cuts in the federal workforce.
  • H.Con. Res. 96 (Ryan, R-Wis.) The House Budget Resolution for Fiscal Year 2015 contains $125 billion in cuts to federal retirement programs. It would require federal employees to contribute close to 6% more toward their retirement, would limit agencies to hiring only one employee for every three that leave, end the FERS supplement and phase out the defined benefit annuity portion of the federal retirement system, leaving only TSP. Would eliminate repayment by government of student loans for federal employees.
  • H.R. 1780 (Camp, R-Mich.) would require most federal employees to leave the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) and instead join health plans established under the Affordable Care Act.
  • H.R. 237 (Marino, R-Pa.) would impose a hiring freeze on the federal government until the budget deficit has been eliminated.
  • H.R. 824 (Lummis, R-Wyo.) would require that the total number of federal employees does not exceed a maximum number spelled out in the legislation for each quarter of each calendar year. Reductions in the number of federal employees, if required, would be made through attrition and a freeze on hiring.
  • H.R. 1541 (Meadows, R-N.C.) would place limitations on the amount of awards or other discretionary monetary payments that can be paid to federal employees.

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Dover Beach

August 17th, 2014 - 4:22 pm

It is said that in the dungeons of Dzerzhinsky square, where many an Old Bolshevik languished before execution, the walls contain this scrawled inscription: “why?”

Disillusion for James Risen of the New York Times has come early. Risen, who is about to go to jail for revealing how Iran gained vital intelligence called president Obama “the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation.”

Risen faces jail over his reporting of a botched intelligence operation that ended up spilling nuclear secrets to Iran. The Justice Department has long been seeking to force him to testify and name the confidential source of the account, which is contained in his 2006 book State of War.

Risen recently failed in an attempt to have the supreme court review an order for him to testify, and acknowledges that he has exhausted all his legal options against the Justice Department’s pursuit of him under the controversial Espionage Act. In the face of incarceration that could come as early as this autumn, he is resorting instead to journalistic defiance.

But it’s not just Risen who’s feeling cynical. Edmund Wright of the American Thinker says that for the first time in his memory, conservatives have stopped reflexively supporting law and order.

One of the fascinating layers of the Ferguson riot story is how this tragedy has exposed what is a rapidly changing attitudinal climate towards law enforcement officers (LEOs). What was for years a stable predicate — conservatives being reflexively ‘law and order’ and inherently giving cops the benefit of the doubt — while liberals with the built in ACLU type disdain for cops tending to always assume the worst of those in power – is now a vortex of confusion, cross currents,and contradictions.

It’s not a total flip-flop of the convention, but it’s moving in that direction. After all, we’ve seen Rand Paul and Eric Holder agree on this in the past week. Did I mention confusing and contradictory?

Consider: many young liberals have of course discovered a love for big government, and take to Twitter and Facebook to support cops harassing Tea Party types and Nevada ranchers just as they cheer the IRS and Lois Lerner persecuting conservative business people and political groups. Meanwhile, liberal voters in Boston cheered their ‘Boston Strong’ reaction to the Marathon bombers, which to me looked a lot like an entire city cowering from a wounded young teen — while LEOs with Seal Team Six fantasies trampled on every liberty they could for 48 hours — brandishing Kevlar, automatic weapons, neo-Nazi style helmets and riding around neighborhoods in hummers and kicking down doors.

The media, long willing to challenge the cops and take the victim’s point of view, have been silent, or even dismissive, of recent fears by the right of militarized police departments and massive ammo buys by the Feds. Worship of Obama and support for public sector unions has trumped their former concerns apparently.

Somewhere the counterculture of the 1960s crossed paths in the night with Barack Obama. The phrase “we are the people our parents warned us against” has been replaced by “we are the people we’ve been waiting for.”

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Man Without a Country

August 16th, 2014 - 3:59 pm

The statement of the convenience store owner allegedly robbed by Michael Brown seemed almost straight out of a 1950s TV show. The owner, of subcontinental or Middle Eastern appearance on the robbery surveillance tape,  issued a statement to the public through his lawyers. Leave me out of it.

The store’s owners, through their attorney, sent the message that they want to stay as far away from the situation as possible. In fact, he said, even after the initial alleged theft, it was a customer who called police.

“It’s not about them. They didn’t call the police, they didn’t ask the police to come and take the video,” said attorney Jay Kanzler….

Now, the Ferguson Market owners are hoping the video won’t make them a target.

“They would hope that the people of this community, who have consistently supported them, would continue to support them, and realize that whatever the police are looking at on the surveillance tapes has nothing to with what went on in the streets,” said Kanzler.

Target of whom? And won’t the cops protect him? Think of Robert Stack playing Eliot Ness uttering standard Golden Age lines about the melting pot based on truth and justice.  In the early part of the 20th century people saw the future as countries.

Ness: “Now Salvatore, tell us what you saw.”
Salvatore: “No  Mr. Ness. I no a-talk to the the police. In the old-ah country I learn that it’s-a better to mind your own business.”
Ness: “Salvatore, this is America. The police protect you here. We have courts. We have justice.”
Salvatore: “I prefer the old a-ways Mr Ness.”

The Ebola epidemic showed that most people don’t trust authority in West Africa. And perhaps that’s true in most places. In only a few countries would people say, “help police”. Most places they say, “help, it’s the police!” The national myth of the 1950s was that America could be different from the old country. But by the looks of it the convenience store operator doesn’t trust either the police, Al Sharpton or Eric Holder.

Shop owners appeared later in the day armed to the teeth.  Further photos of this shop owner depict him being reinforced by people who look like his cousin, brother or near relation similarly equipped.

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Looking for the Attractor

August 15th, 2014 - 3:55 pm

There’s a crisis in punditry. Disasters have become altogether too predictable. Almost everyone saw the costs of instability in Eastern Europe coming. The bill is now due, as Ukrainian artillery destroyed a “significant” part of a Russian armored column alleged to have entered Ukraine. Russia denied this occurred, but the tumbril of disaster jolts along yet another rut and the State Department has accused the Russians of violating an arms control agreement, too late to make a difference. Just another opportunity missed.

“Vladimir Putin does not take his obligations seriously, whether they be arms control or respect for the integrity of Ukraine and Georgia,” [Mike Rogers (R., Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces] Rogers said in a statement announcing the legislation

“He doesn’t believe he has anything to fear from President Obama,” he added.

True Mike, but tell us something we don’t know. The West African Ebola outbreak continues to spread as WHO admits the “the magnitude of the Ebola outbreak had been ‘vastly’ underestimated.” “WHO officials also said in a Thursday statement that they share concerns that current numbers do not reflect the true gravity of the situation.”

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Bureaucracy Versus the Germs

August 13th, 2014 - 6:26 pm

In general we believe that really important things, like epidemics, are above politics. The reverse appears to be true. The more important a thing, the more it attracts political interference. It now transpires that the experimental serum ZMapp was offered to a sick African doctor first; before Dr. Kent Brantly, the medical missionary from Samaritan’s Purse received the treatment. The New York Times describes the agonizing decision of Medecins Sans Frontieres over whether to accept the offer of the serum to treat an African doctor. The problem: politics.

The doctor who had been leading Sierra Leone’s battle against the Ebola outbreak was now fighting for his own life, and his international colleagues faced a fateful decision: whether to give him a drug that had never before been tested on people.

Would the drug, known as ZMapp, help the stricken doctor? Or would it perhaps harm or even kill one of the country’s most prominent physicians, a man considered a national hero, shattering the already fragile public trust in international efforts to contain the world’s worst Ebola outbreak?

The treatment team, from Doctors Without Borders and the World Health Organization, agonized through the night and ultimately decided not to try the drug. The doctor, Sheik Umar Khan, died a few days later, on July 29…

The previously untold story of Dr. Khan, recounted by two doctors involved in discussions about whether to use ZMapp, offered an unusual glimpse into the wrenching ethical dilemma of when and how experimental drugs should be used to combat the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Had the treatment team decided differently in his case, the first person treated with the drug would have been African.

The problem MSF faced was simple. If they unsuccessfully administered ZMapp to Dr. Khan they might be accused of turning black Africans into lab rats.  And they couldn’t risk that. One MSF clinic had already been attacked by crowds who believed they had brought the virus from outside in the first place.

“What they really didn’t want to do was kill Dr. Khan with their attempt at therapy,” said Dr. Armand Sprecher, a public health specialist at Doctors Without Borders. “If word got out that M.S.F. killed Dr. Khan, that would have implications for outbreak control,” he added, using the initials for the French name of the relief group…. doctors feared stoking the considerable suspicion of Western medical institutions in the country, which was already making it harder to contain the outbreak.

So they didn’t give him the medicine. As I wrote a week ago before the case of Dr. Khan came to light, “the sad fact is that if they tested Zmapp on black Africans during this Ebola outbreak the media would claim they were being used as lab rats. The only acceptable way to test the new uncertified medication in Liberia was on two white Americans. That way if the serum failed the UN wouldn’t sue.” And so it proved. The success of the serum on Dr. Brantly and Nancy Writebol has reversed the situation. Now there indications it works, charges of racism are being made just the same, as in why were only white people being treated?

It’s ridiculous, but politics makes the world go round.

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Prisoner’s Dilemma

August 12th, 2014 - 6:49 pm

After a week spent sniping at each other, the Time says “Hillary Clinton will attend a birthday party Wednesday evening in Martha’s Vineyard, just as their relationship is hitting its lowest point since the 2008 Democratic presidential primary. But Clinton hopes to use the occasion to put a fresh controversy over their foreign policy disagreements behind them, with a spokesman saying ‘she looks forward to hugging it out’ with the commander-in-chief.

Clinton called Obama on Tuesday in an attempt to clear the air before their meeting, Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said. The flareup highlighted the challenge facing Clinton as she seeks to differentiate herself from a president of her own party, and the limits to which she can break with him without alienating Democratic supporters of Obama.

The problem for Hillary is that at the rate President Obama is messing things up, her chances of being elected president in 2016 are going from slim to none. The problem for Obama is different: he needs to find someone he can blame for the catastrophe unfolding overseas. The most obvious candidate to take the rap is Hillary.  So Obama’s opening line is probably to promise he’s not going to set her up.

Back in 2012 author Ed Klein told Glenn Beck that Bill Clinton’s first reaction upon learning of the attack on the Benghazi consulate was how to get Hillary out from under.  Say what you like about Bill Clinton, but that man knew how to see a punch coming.

KLEIN: Two separate sources on this. And Hillary claims, and I tend to believe her, that she ordered beefed‑up security in Benghazi because it had been requested and that this order was never carried out and that furthermore when and if she is subpoenaed, along with her internal memoranda and the cable traffic from the State Department by the House committee, it will prove that she did just that.

Now, if it doesn’t prove that she did just that, then they’re lying to me, and the sources are ‑‑ you know, I’m not suggesting that that’s impossible, but I seriously doubt it since I’m talking to legal counsel to Hillary Clinton. Legal counsel. These people don’t generally lie.

PAT: Ed, if that happened, why did she then later accept full responsibility for what took place? Why would she do that?

KLEIN: This was a big debate within the Clinton camp itself, between Hillary and Bill. Bill did not want her to take full responsibility. He wanted her to, in fact, consider the possibility of even resigning if the White House continued to try to make her the scapegoat in this. Hillary and her legal team decided she should look presidential, above ‑‑ she should look moderate, she should come forward and say, “Look, I take responsibility. I’m the Secretary of State” and by comparison making the president look a hell of a lot smaller because he was ducking all responsibility and knowing full well that when the full story came out, she would be, in her words, or at least the words of her legal counsel, exonerated.

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Fore, Three, Two, One …

August 11th, 2014 - 4:24 pm

As a Russian “humanitarian” convoy readies to launch itself at the Ukraine under Moscow’s version of the “responsibility to protect”, the Washington Post describes how Obama decided to help the Kurds after he was assured ISIS was meeting the legal requirements for genocide.

(Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Monday Russia is sending an aid convoy to eastern Ukraine despite urgent Western warnings against using humanitarian help as a pretext for an invasion.

With Ukraine reporting Russia has massed 45,000 troops on its border, NATO said there was a “high probability” that Moscow could intervene militarily in the country’s east, where Kiev’s forces are closing in on pro-Russian separatists.

I used to think that either of two events might trigger a serious effort to impeach the president: an invasion of Ukraine or an invasion of Taiwan. But now I doubt that even both together would pull him off the golf links. What might coax him from his pastoral settings is a legal document. The president seems to be one of those individuals who regard words on paper as the ultimate reality.

Just after 10 a.m., Obama met with advisers for 90 minutes in the White House Situation Room.

What was happening to the Yazidis, they concluded, was potential genocide under the legal definition of targeting an entire ethnic or religious group for extinction. In briefings from intelligence and State Department officials, “there were stories of mass executions, reports from the mountain of people dying potentially of thirst,” the official said. “Women being essentially enslaved.”

Ding. Ding. There was apparently a winner.  The joint power of those pushbutton words, “ethnic”, “women” and especially “enslaved” was hard to resist.

By the end of the session, Obama had made his airstrike decision, and discussion turned to how it would be shared with Congress and announced to the American people. “The president was very clear that he wanted to continue to have limiting principles on our engagement,” the official said. “He would not be putting U.S. combat forces back on the ground. . . . He did not want to create a slippery slope. He wanted to identify clear objectives that are in our national interest, in support of our strategy in Iraq, but don’t lead us in a direction that we don’t want to go.”

It is not that humanitarian considerations are trivial or not good enough. But strategy can be important too. The president can read a legal document, but ISIS can read a map.

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A Ringside Seat To Our Own Destruction

August 10th, 2014 - 3:19 pm

Headlines have focused on the atrocities committed by ISIS on the northern Iraqi front. The leading stories seem almost expressly written by the Onion to make fun of political correctness. Crucified by the Caliphate monsters: Iraq descends into apocalypse as Islamic State fanatics seize towns and tell terrified Yazidi ‘Become Muslims by noon today… or we kill all of you’. Then there’s Islamic militants ‘buried alive Yazidi women and children in attack that killed 500′. Try topping: Anglican Vicar of Baghdad: ‘Child I baptized cut in half by ISIS’.

How about this lead paragraph? “BAGHDAD (AP) — Hundreds of women from the Yazidi religious minority have been taken captive by Sunni militants with “vicious plans,” an Iraqi official said Friday, further underscoring the dire plight of Iraq’s minorities at the hands of the Islamic State group.” Vicious plans is the 21st century journalistic equivalent of the Victorian phrase, “a fate worse than death”.

This eyewitness account is pretty close to the best reportage, however. “On board Iraqi army helicopter delivering aid to the trapped Yazidis, Jonathan Krohn sees a hellish sight”.

Mount Sinjar stinks of death. The few Yazidis who have managed to escape its clutches can tell you why. “Dogs were eating the bodies of the dead,” said Haji Khedev Haydev, 65, who ran through the lines of Islamic State jihadists surrounding it.

On Sunday night, I became the first western journalist to reach the mountains where tens of thousands of Yazidis, a previously obscure Middle Eastern sect, have been taking refuge from the Islamic State forces that seized their largest town, Sinjar.

I was on board an Iraqi Army helicopter, and watched as hundreds of refugees ran towards it to receive one of the few deliveries of aid to make it to the mountain. The helicopter dropped water and food from its open gun bays to them as they waited below. General Ahmed Ithwany, who led the mission, told me: “It is death valley. Up to 70 per cent of them are dead.”

The story adds, almost superfluously, that ISIS is attempting to shoot down aid deliveries. They would do that, wouldn’t they? Yet all this time the world was assured there was nothing to worry about in the hundreds of radical mosques, the thousands of militants eagerly received into the West and creeping sharia law in its institutions.  The dangers, they were told, all lay in the Tea Party and elusive militia groups holed up in a cabin in the Ozarks.

But if the calamities in Kurdistan were all it would be a good week for the Obama administration. Now tanks are reported in the streets of Baghdad. “Security forces have encircled the residence of the Iraqi President – Sharqiah News”. Other reports allege its a coup being staged by Maliki to establish himself as dictator.  It now appears that Maliki is suing the Kurds for not supporting him in office.

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Minority Report

August 9th, 2014 - 4:10 pm

Most public facts fall into the “maybe” category. Let’s review the maybes in three categories of recent headlines.

  1. the conflict with Russia;
  2. the situation in Iraq;
  3. the transmissibility of Ebola.

The conventional wisdom is that “Putin is on the run” and “Edward Snowden was a patriotic whistleblower.”  Ed Epstein has recorded a YouTube video that might make you rethink the proposition that Snowden acted with good intentions.  Epstein argues that the vast majority of documents Snowden stole pertained to U.S. penetrations of Chinese and Russian systems. Only a very small portion of his take bore upon NSA domestic surveillance, and that has been selectively released to people like Glenn Greenwald.  Epstein makes a thoughtful case for the possibility that Snowden was — objectively at least — a Russian intelligence op.

Timothy Ash disputes the idea that Putin is on the run. In a closely reasoned article he asserts that Putin is far more likely to escalate the crisis in Ukraine, probably via some sort of invasion carried on under the cover of restoring peace to that troubled land.  Michael Weiss at Foreign Policy writes, “Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine won’t be an armored blitzkrieg. It’s a slow, seditious drip — and it’s already underway.”

For those living the reality of having a portion of their country occupied by Russian intelligence agents and insurgents — all armed with Moscow-dispatched weapons, of course — the question isn’t whether Vladimir Putin will launch a full-scale assault on his neighbor, but when he’ll do it. This week, U.S., NATO, and European officials all seemed to agree that the prospect of that event occurring has risen precipitously.

Is Putin on the run before a triumphantly advancing Obama?  The situation in Iraq is rather interesting. The conventional wisdom is that the Obama has finally arrived to save the day. The best place to begin examining the alternatives is the map provided by the Institute for the Study of War Iraq Updates site.

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