Belmont Club

Belmont Club

The Saudi Blockade

April 24th, 2015 - 8:47 pm

Is there a blockade around Yemen?  Who is blockading whom?  Where will it lead?

Helene Cooper of the New York Times says the administration is claiming credit for turning back a flotilla of Iranian ships which may have been carrying arms for Tehran-backed rebels. “Pentagon officials on Friday credited the deployment of an American aircraft carrier group in waters off the coast of Yemen for a decision by Iran to turn back a naval convoy suspected of carrying weapons bound for Shiite rebels.”  From this one might get the impression it is the Obama administration that is preventing the Iranians from using the sea to resupply its allies.

But a closer reading of the story suggests that USN’s true purpose was to keep the Iranians from challenging the Saudi blockade, which was already in place.  ”Although it was unusual to dispatch such a large American naval force to the Arabian Sea on an interdiction and deterrence mission, Pentagon officials said the deployment — and Iran’s apparent response — had lowered tensions in the continuing regional proxy war between Tehran and Saudi Arabia.”

Far from delivering an ultimatum to the Iranians,  the administration claims it never even tried to communicate with the Iranian flotilla.

Defense Department officials said there were no communications between the American and Iranian ships, and they could not say what type of cargo was being transported, although an arms shipment was suspected.

It was unclear whether the United States would have tried to board or stop the Iranian convoy if it had continued toward Yemen; such a move would have risked escalating the conflict in Yemen, and could have stymied fragile negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program.

The Saudis themselves have claimed responsibility for blockading Yemen’s ports. But perhaps “blockade” is not entirely the right word for the situation.  The Saudis are hanging onto the ports, defending against a Houthi advance from the interior.

The Saudi-led coalition that’s fighting against Shiite rebels in Yemen said it completed a blockade of the country’s ports and is ready to step up airstrikes. Bombing missions are seeking to stop the Shiite Houthis from moving forces between Yemen’s cities, Ahmed Asseri, a Saudi military officer, told reporters in Riyadh on Monday. Coalition aircraft and warships targeted the rebels as they advanced toward Aden, the southern port that’s the last stronghold of Saudi Arabia’s ally in Yemen, President Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi. Shipping routes to and from the ports are under the coalition’s control, Asseri said.

The Wall Street Journal emphasized this, saying “Saudi officials warned Iran that its sailors would try to search any ship that tried to dock in Yemen.” The American concerns were not quite coincident with the Saudis. While the Saudis were probably trying to prevent the Houthis from being resupplied, the principal American concern was that the Iranian ships were loaded with threats to ‘navigation’, that is to say, anti-ship weapons.

“What we’ve said to them is that if there are weapons delivered to factions within Yemen that could threaten navigation, that’s a problem,” Mr. Obama said on MSNBC this week. “And we’re not sending them obscure messages. We send them very direct messages about it.”

‘Threats to navigation’ is probably a code word for anti-ship missiles and mines that could be deployed in the Bab-el-Mandeb, “a strait located between Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula, and Djibouti and Eritrea in the Horn of Africa. It connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.” The strait is exceedingly narrow and vulnerable to interdiction.

The Bab-el-Mandeb acts as a strategic link between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, via the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. In 2006, an estimated 3.3 million barrels (520,000 m3) of oil passed through the strait per day, out of a world total of about 43 million barrels per day (6,800,000 m3/d) moved by tankers.

The distance across is about 20 miles (30 km) from Ras Menheli in Yemen to Ras Siyyan in Djibouti. The island of Perim divides the strait into two channels, of which the eastern, known as the Bab Iskender (Alexander’s Strait), is 2 miles (3 km) wide and 16 fathoms (30 m) deep, while the western, or Dact-el-Mayun, has a width of about 16 miles (25 km) and a depth of 170 fathoms (310 m). Near the coast of Djibouti lies a group of smaller islands known as the “Seven Brothers”.

While Washington wants credit for turning back the Iranians, one of the things the administration does not want to take responsibility for is starving Yemen. Yet that is also an outcome of the Saudi control of the ports. An editorial from the same New York Times, places the blame for a blockade squarely on Saudi Arabia. “Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen’s civil war was always a risky gamble. Now there’s evidence showing just how damaging four weeks of airstrikes have been: more than 1,000 civilians killed, more than 4,000 wounded, and 150,000 displaced. Meanwhile, the fighting and a Saudi-led blockade have deprived Yemenis of food, fuel, water and medicines, causing what a Red Cross official called a humanitarian catastrophe. Yemen has long been a weak state, and with each day it draws closer to collapse.”

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Live and Let Live

April 23rd, 2015 - 2:00 am

Adam Taylor of the Washington Post says there are 250,000 people eager to migrate to a country which may not exist, at least not in the conventional sense. The country, called Liberland,  is based on territory nobody wants. Disputes in the Balkans left a kind of no-man’s-land there for the taking.  ”Since the Yugoslav Wars … a few other territories went unclaimed by either side.” One of those unclaimed territories is a 3 square mile patch by the Danube River.

This created an opening for  Vít Jedlička, a 30 something Czech Euroskeptic who believes “socialism is the false belief that the state will spend your money better than you would”. He decided to establish a country based on the contrary principle.  Liberland consists of a woody area with no known residents and but a single old shack in evidence.  The Washington Post says that Jedlička, ”realizing that the land was claimed by no one … claimed the approximately 3 square miles by the Danube river … set up a Web site, created a flag, a coat of arms, a motto (“To live and let live”) and drew up laws and a constitution.”  According to Wikipedia, “there are plans for an official cryptocurrency system, although all other currencies will be allowed … politicians will be constitutionally forbidden from indebting the nation … an electronic voting system will be used to elect members.”

Territory, a quarter million immigrants, investors.  What more do you need? Apparently much more. Adam Taylor says that “with most of these self-proclaimed states, there’s an element of the absurd. Often, the states seem less of an attempt to make a functioning state than just an attempt at a provocative statement.” In the conventional view Liberland is not a serious country because of its dissimilarity to ‘real’ states, which have capital cities, bureaucracies, presidents who travel in vehicle convoys and the other trappings of statehood.

But why can’t Liberland — or something like it — be a state? There are probably millions of people literally roaming the planet as ‘rootless cosmopolitans’ whose only relationship to their country is a passport and a tax return.  To them Liberland might be as good or better than, say, Uganda. One could imagine a state whose primary existence is virtual yet which can perform all its function by contracting individuals. It would never need more than 3 square miles of woods and a shack.

The objection can’t be size or population.  After all, the Vatican is nearly 18 times smaller than Liberland and has a population 300 times smaller than the 250,000 applicants for citizenship in Liberland.  If the problem is lack of diplomatic recognition then why is ISIS, to all intents and purposes, something like a state?  Wikipedia says ISIS (or ISIL if you prefer) is “an unrecognized state  that seeks the establishment of a transnational Islamic caliphate. The group controls territory in four countries, including Iraq, Syria, Libya, Nigeria, with operations or affiliates in Lebanon, Egypt, and other areas of the Middle East,  North and West Africa,  South,  and Southeast Asia.”

While nobody formally recognizes ISIS over 60 countries are directly or indirectly waging war against it, including NATO and the EU.  That is a kind of recognition by negation. Why is it absurd to apply for citizenship in Liberland while Nidal Hassan, the Fort Hood shooter and countless others can apply to ISIS for citizenship with a straight face.  ”I formally and humbly request to be made a citizen of the Islamic State,”Hasan says in a document addressed to “Ameer, Mujahid Dr. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.  It would be an honor for any believer to be an obedient citizen soldier to a people and its leader who don’t compromise the religion of All-Mighty Allah to get along with the disbelievers.”

People might regard ISIS as unspeakable, but most would regard it as real. The mechanism for joining ISIS is pledging allegiance through what is known as the bayat.  If you make your bayat and are accepted, you’re in.  Then you have to conform to policy and fork over a percentage of whatever loot you take. Dr. Theodore Karasik describing how the Islamic State views itself and the process of expansion, emphasizes that ISIS is not strictly based on territory.  Individuals from discontiguous places can apply for inclusion by pledging allegiance to one of the vilayat or administrative subdivisions.    Karasik writes:

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Europe Migrants Photo Gallery

Yesterday, survivors of the smuggler’s boat that overturned off the coast of Libya rest on the deck of an  Italian Coast Guard ship in Valletta’s Grand Harbour. The UN estimates more than 800 people were believed to have drowned in the weekend sinking of a boat packed with migrants trying to reach Europe, making it the deadliest such disaster in the Mediterranean. (AP Photo/Lino Azzopardi, File)

According to EU’s border chief, up to one million refugees are waiting on the Libyan beach to board ship for Europe. “Up to one million migrants could reach Europe from Libya amid collapsing security in the northern African country, the European Union’s border agency chief has warned.”

Frontex executive director Fabrice Leggeri said he expects asylum seekers’ crossings to skyrocket in 2015 and urged EU governments to ready themselves to “face a way more difficult situation than last year”.

“We are told there are between 500,000 and one million migrants ready to leave from Libya,” Leggeri told Italian news agency Ansa. “We have to be aware of the risks”.

One of the more interesting aspects of this flood of human misery is that it is not entirely spontaneous.  Jihadi groups are doing their best to encourage it.

With the country now locked in a three-way power-struggle pitting government troops against different Islamist groups including Islamic State (Isis) affiliates, fears have been raised that extremists could mingle with the hundreds of migrants crossing by boat every week or drastically increase the number of crossings to strain EU border forces.

“We have evidence that migrants have been forcibly boarded on vessels at gunpoint,” Leggeri said. “I do not have elements to say they were terrorists but there are worries among states.”

That would not be surprising. In 2004 Europe agreed to pay Muhammar Gaddafi four billion pounds a year in exchange for a promise to halt people smuggling to Europe.

Experts have also drawn links between the massive rise in would-be migrants and a so-called ‘deal in the desert’ struck by Tony Blair in 2004 – which saw the late Muammar Gaddafi agree to crack down on human traffickers as well as renouncing Libya’s possession of WMDs and decommissioning the country’s chemical and nuclear weapons programs.

In 2008 Gaddafi sought to stiff the European Union for £4.1 billion a year in return for halting the flows of migrants in and out of Libya. …

As Blair’s much touted ‘deal in the desert’ turned sour, Gaddafi gave people smugglers in Zuwara the green light to resume their trade and the migrant routes have flourished ever since.

The people-smuggling networks once controlled by the Duck of Death have almost certainly been taken over by the Jihadis, who have turned them to their own purposes. This view is not yet widely shared. The general perception is that the refugee flood is a “humanitarian crisis.” The Washington Post, for example, exhorts the Europeans to take more migrants to solve the problem. “Europe needs to take a lead role in solving the African migrant crisis.”

Only the European Union can help these migrants, especially once they take to the sea. Shamefully, however, governments under pressure from domestic anti-immigrant parties have shrunk from the task. Last year Italy undertook its own, much-praised operation to rescue people from boats, saving many; but it was scaled back in October after other governments declined to join in and some complained, wrongheadedly, that the effort itself might be attracting migrants. In recent months a much smaller E.U. search-and-rescue mission has been limited to Italy’s territorial waters, making it far more likely that sinkings and other accidents will lead to mass deaths.

Thankfully, the weekend disaster appears to have galvanized — or maybe shamed — E.U. governments, who agreed to hold a summit meeting Thursday to consider solutions. The starting point should be obvious: the resumption of a large-scale search-and-rescue operation like that abandoned by Italy. But European leaders should also consider providing more legal ways for African refugees to seek refuge in their countries, without having to board smuggling boats; and they should consider more forceful steps to combat the smugglers and to help restore order in Libya. What shouldn’t be an option is continuing to ignore the humanitarian crisis spilling into the Mediterranean.

While the refugee flood is most certainly a humanitarian tragedy, it is very probably a deliberate component of the rapid advance of Islamist forces through North Africa, Arabia and the Levant.  The probable reason why the establishment can’t see this is because they’ve willed themselves not to see the war.  The constant mantra is that there is no war on terror; that the enemy is nothing to do with Islam.  See the war and you can see the tactic. In fact, it is reminiscent of the old Nazi 1940 method of driving refugees onto the roads before them to tie up the French while the Panzers advanced behind them.

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Escape From Humanity

April 20th, 2015 - 5:28 am

Drownings in the Mediterranean now account for 75% of all illegal immigrant deaths worldwide, the waterways filled with a constant stream of people from Africa and the Middle East fleeing their culture in the hope of re-establishing it again on the European shore.  In 2014 the number topped 200,000, twenty times greater than number than four years before.  The numbers for 2015 are on track to equal 2014.

The overwhelming majority now come from Syria, which is largely destroyed.  ”The civil war, which began in 2011, has left over 220,000 dead so far. Over half the 22 million people of Syria have fled their homes since 2011. … Even many Assad supporters, living in the parts of the country largely untouched by the war, are fleeing.”

Under this enormous weight, the normal mechanisms of relief and compassion are breaking down. “Foreign donors are spending over $8 billion a year to keep these refugees outside Syria alive. Turkey and Lebanon have taken most of the refugees and Turkey is spending nearly $4 billion a year to support their portion.” As in wars past, people smugglers are profiting from the desperation and shipping boatloads packed like sardines to Europe, many of whom drown at sea.  The Mediterranean, says Time, is becoming a “mass grave”.

Italy is constantly pulling people out of the water or from foundering vessels, dumped by people smugglers who are sure the Europeans will rescue them. Over 13,500 have been rescued in the last 7 days. Italian PM Matteo Renzi, whose coastguard is overstretched, has denounced the tide as “21st Century slavery” and “singled out Libya as the key problem, saying it was the starting point for about 90% of the migrants reaching Italy by sea.”  There is a sense of hopelessness in the task, because the more rescued, the more come. “Some Italian politicians had called for a naval blockade but Mr Renzi said this would only help the smugglers as there would be more ships to rescue migrants.”

Blockades only attract refugee boats. The Telegraph says the smugglers actually make for the European navy and then sink the ship when close enough.  They know the Europeans have orders to save them.

Trafficking gangs dispatching migrants on perilous journeys across the Mediterranean are tipping off Italian officials in advance so that their boats can be picked up by coastguard and naval vessels.

The gangs have become so confident that their boats will be picked up that they even reduce the amount of fuel each vessel has before it sets out from north Africa, a former manager in the UK Immigration Service has revealed.

The disclosure from Graham Leese, who was also a special advisor to Frontex, the European Union’s border control force, will add to concerns that “search and rescue” operations in the Mediterranean are encouraging traffickers by making their deadly trade easier. …

The EU-funded Operation Mare Nostrum was launched in October 2013, in response to a previous tragedy in which 350 migrants drowned within sight of the Italian island of Lampedusa. It rescued more than 100,000 refugees from the sea, but was discontinued last September amid concerns about the £6m-a-month cost, and fears that it was simply encouraging illegal immigration into Europe. The replacement service, Operation Triton, has fewer vessels and limits itself to European territorial waters rather than ranging out to near the Libyan coast.

Efforts by the Italians to stay away are falling to a new tactic by people-smugglers who are locking hundreds down below decks, thus guaranteeing gigantic death tolls if naval units are not around to effect a rescue. Some 950 people are believed to have drowned in the latest sinking where “hundreds of terrified migrants including women and children drowned ‘like rats in a cage’ on a smuggler boat because they were locked in the hold .”

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The Thirty One Years

April 19th, 2015 - 2:08 am

George Friedman’s book, Flashpoints: the emerging crisis in Europe is tour d’horizon of European civilization. The main question it tries to answer is whether European history, with its tragedy and glory, has fundamentally changed.  He begins his inquiry by describing the incredible arc of European achievement and disaster. It was on Europe that the Enlightenment was born. It was from the shores of Portugal that the world first became aware of itself; when separate isolated civilizations were drawn together by sailing ships into one globe. Here modern science and technology was born. And here it all came crashing down in the most destructive”thirty one years” (1914-1945) in human history.

It was as if some Faustian fire took Europe in one fell swoop from barbarism, “a time when people believe the laws of their own village are the laws of nature”, to civilization “where people continue to believe in the justice of their ways but harbor openness to the idea they might be in error”, straight to final and fatal phase: decadence “in which people come to believe there is no truth, or that all lies are equally true.”

For Friedman the question of Europe’s fate is personal. His own birth came at the end of the European catastrophe and so he wants to know how it will turn out. His father survived Hitler, then Stalin.  We read about the elder Friedman bringing the infant author and the rest of the family with him to America. The Europe from which they escaped was the incredible cauldron described by Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands, a vast killing field of unimaginable proportions. Or if you prefer, it was a flight from the universe of Alan Furst, whose evocative novels of Europe in convulsion can be read almost as fantasy by moderns who cannot believe that such a place ever existed or could ever exist.

What the refugee Friedman family sought as it made its way by rubber boat across the Danube was ordinary life: a place without “lists”, the land without the knock on the door and streets empty of marching armies of idealists. His father had lost faith in politics, causes, civilization, perhaps even in humanity itself.  All he wanted was somewhere to hide and America looked like a good place to start.

My father never forgave the Russians for perpetuating the terror the Nazis had begun. He never forgave the French for being weak and corrupt and losing a war in six weeks. He never forgave the Poles for counting on the French instead of themselves. And above all he never forgave the Germans. My father never forgave Europe for being monstrous, and he never forgave Europeans for how easily they forgave themselves. For him, Europe was a place of monsters, collaborators, and victims. He never returned to Hungary, or to Europe. He had no interest in going there. When I was in college I asked him why he refused to recognize that Europe had changed. His answer was simple: Europe will never change. It will just act as if nothing happened.

When I look at the European Union now, I think of my father’s words. It is an institution that acts as if nothing happened. I don’t mean by this that it doesn’t know what happened or isn’t revolted by it. I mean that the European Union — as an institution and an idea — is utterly certain that all is behind it, that it has willed its demons to depart and they have listened.

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Creative Workspaces

April 16th, 2015 - 9:22 pm

If you could pick your own workspace, what would it look like?  A friend of mine, a  writer by occupation, works from a tower in southern European village and recently shared a picture of his study. It’s quiet, with inspiring views on every side, without obvious distractions but with every necessity near to hand. It is exactly the kind of place that comes to mind when one thinks of a place to write. However, what constitutes a “perfect” work environment appears to vary widely.

Buzzfeed has a photo collection of the studies used by famous writers and designers from the 19th and 20th centuries.  Mark Twain’s had a pool table. Some, like EB White’s are monastic in their austereness, as if White deliberately chose to remove anything that might get between him and his typewriter.  Others, like Bill Buckley’s, look like a bomb had detonated in it.  They are strewn with a profusion of papers and devices. There was probably a hidden order to the apparent disorder but only Buckley’s mind held the key.

Software developers are a somewhat newer type of intellectual and the Business Insider has a collection of pictures posted by people who work in Silicon Valley.  What is instantly evident is the almost universal minimalism of their environments.  One person works from a laptop while apparently lying on a crummy mattress. Another works out of a shed.  A few choose what one might rationally predict a developer’s workspace to look like, a quiet room with a wrap around desk and multiple monitors linked to host a single virtual screen, or perhaps to split up to provide separate portals into distant machines located who knows where.

Many developers have a highly developed awareness of being at once disembodied and central; and so would feel that one really haven’t arrived as a serious developer if you have actually be somewhere physical, as in punching a card to go into a building.  They might regard with horror people who are actually required to put on a suit to program. Thus, many work out of laptops despite the limitations of a cramped screen and rotten keyboard because that’s the badge of freedom.  An example of status is one featured workspace consisting of a laptop on table somewhere in Mexico implying that next week its owner will be in some other town, in some other country.

Clearly the programmer’s universe is in some internal space, either in the virtual world or in his own mind to which the workspace is incidental.  But that was true even of writers in the past. Emily Dickson almost never left Amherst, Massachusetts and was bedridden in her later years.  Yet she wrote of her ability to roam the wide spaces of the universe from the confines of her room:

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Avoiding the Unthinkable

April 14th, 2015 - 11:48 pm

Rarely has there been such a mismatch in raw talent, creativity and energy as between the opposing sides going into the 2016 election.  The Republican side — whether one approves of them or not — has a new generation of leaders: Jindal, Paul, Fiorina, Rubio, Cruz, Walker to name some.  Even their supporting cast can boast of the likes of Paul Ryan and Tom Cotton.  By contrast the Democratic Party only has tired old Hillary Clinton and perhaps Elizabeth Warren.

Yet Jamelle Bouie of Slate believes Clinton is the Democrat’s “indispensable candidate” — “more vital to the future of the Democratic Party than even Democrats realize”.  They need her and they need her bad. He advances two reasons in support of this conclusion.  Hillary alone has a chance of winning and she must win in order to preserve the gains of the Obama era and second, only Hillary the figurehead can hold together a Democratic party seriously split by Obama’s shift to the Left.

while his legislative agenda has long since stalled, he’s made ample use of executive authority to protect his core accomplishment—the Affordable Care Act—and advance priorities in immigration, climate change, and civil rights. But none of that will stand if Democratic Party can’t win in 2016. … their national strength could collapse as the country swings to the Republican Party. …

the president [Obama] presides over a divided party. One wing, personified by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, is furious with Obama’s relationship to Wall Street, his penchant for compromise, and his willingness to always take a half loaf—to rarely take a stand against his ideological opponents.

The other wing is the mainstream of the Democratic Party. It’s content with the progress of the Obama administration and more interested in protecting its gains from a radical-minded Republican Party than expanding the possible of liberal politics.

They wanted a president who would speak to their concerns, who would reverse the Bush years and usher in a new progressive era. …

Clinton’s strength—her influence across the breadth of the Democratic Party—is a unifying force. Polls make it clear that almost every constituency in the party, from liberals and blue dogs to black Americans and working-class whites, is ready for her candidacy. The ideological divide in the Democratic coalition—the fight between Wall Street–friendly Democrats in the center and populist Democrats on the left—is dampened by her presence, not because of any sudden love or affection, but because the various factions see Clinton as the key to keeping the White House and saving the gains of the Obama administration from a far right—and come 2016, restless—Republican Party. It’s no surprise that the bulk of the Democratic Party machinery has fallen behind Clinton. Given the stakes, no one wants open warfare.

I will add a third reason for the necessity of a Clinton victory, which Bouie diplomatically fails to mention. Hillary must win the Oval Office to sign the pardons which will be required and stall the investigations that are sure to crop up if a Republican wave engulfs both the White House and Capitol Hill.

But in any case Hillary has become the last remaining hope that Humpty Dumpty can be put back together again. The degree to which her healing presence is required is underscored by a Haaretz article, which argues that Hillary is needed to bring Jewish voters back into the Democratic fold.   She must haul back Jewish voters who have been tossed overboard by the incumbent. “American Jews overwhelmingly vote Democrat, except when the presidential candidate is viewed as unsympathetic to Israel.”  That means a face from the good old Clinton years.

She must function like a monarch, a unifying figurehead who will keep all the Big Tent’s identity groups from ripping each other’s guts out over the last remaining piles of other people’s money. The Slate article concludes, “to underscore the Democrats’ plight, as a thought experiment, imagine if Clinton didn’t run.” Bouie then describes a scene of apocalyptic desolation, concluding in the critical observation that for some unaccountable reason the party “has a shocking lack of new talent”, making Hillary the last hope.

Then the Democrats would have a problem. Well, two problems. First, as previously mentioned, the ideological fights in the party would spill out into the open. The unity created by Clinton would fall apart, as centrist Democrats fought to retain their influence and liberal Democrats fought to displace it. In this world, you might see a Warren candidacy, and you’d certainly see efforts from the handful of Democratic politicians with ambitions in 2016….

One of the real problems of the Democratic Party, both for 2016 and looking forward, is the extent to which it lacks a bench of nationally viable leaders. It’s not just that, if Clinton didn’t run, Democrats would have to choose from a group of unknown and unfamiliar faces. It’s also that—across all offices—the party has a shocking lack of new talent.

Bouie is exactly right except for the modifier “new”. The Democratic Party has a shocking lack of any talent period. And that includes the incumbent president, most of his principal officers and Hillary herself. As Carly Fiorina has repeatedly asked, what has Hillary Clinton ever accomplished? It’s a question to which no satisfactory answer can be found. It is as elusive as the president’s school transcripts. The depth of Hillary’s ineptitude was underscored in a book by former British diplomat Emma Sky.

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The Future of Identity Politics

April 13th, 2015 - 8:11 pm

As a child I saw an ad for movie — which I never watched — titled “Japanese Tank Versus American Armored Car”.  All these years I’ve wondered what I missed by not viewing that extraordinary confrontation. But there was no need to worry as more bizarre spectacles awaited. Decades later Twitter is alive with matchups for the next presidential like “Two White Histpanics Versus One Elderly Woman” or “Elderly White Woman Versus White-Looking Native American”.

If it sounds weirder than Nipponese Tank vs Detroit Armored Car it is because identity politics is being driven by the American kaleidoscope of identities into a kind of reductio ad absurdum. One Tweet captures how strange things look through the traditional liberal identity politics viewport now that Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have declared their candidacy for president.

Really The GOP is just “old men”hmmm two Republican hopefuls are in their early 40s still while #Hillary is almost 70.

Who’s a minority? In 2003 the New York Times noted that “Hispanics have edged past blacks as the nation’s largest minority group”.   Pew Research notes that in California whites are now minority in California because Hispanics are in the majority.  NBC reports that by 2043, whites will no longer be the majority overall. So are Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio “minorities” (being Hispanic) or in the majority?  Or are they in either category only sometimes?

Matt Walsh says its time to call identity politics off.  ”No, it isn’t ‘time for a woman to be president.’”, he says. “It’s time for a competent adult of either gender to be president.”  But describing the possibility of a world without identity politics to the Left, a world in which only individuals matter, is like suggesting life after death. The “progressive” site South Lawn looks at one proposal to save identity politics by redefining “whiteness” as an ideology.  It is “a specific and foundational origin of violence … an intentional and specifically curated identity, culture institution and strategy of domination created by white people themselves to keep Black, indigenous and other racialized pepole down”. In that world, anyone can be “white” as long as they think the wrong thoughts.  But South Lawn’s authors object, if skin color is invisible how will we recognize it?  After all, Thomas Sowell is “white”, appearances to the contrary, but how can anyone tell this up front?

There is nothing in this critique that one can use to organize or build community around; rather it is simply one more scold in an atmosphere full of them. I challenged the person who posted it to find me something similar on how you can build bridges or educate the mass of people that we will actually need in order to build a coalition for change. She replied that she was not necessarily using it to exclude folks from spaces; fine, I said. I do not understand how one can post something like that and say with a straight face that they “are not trying to exclude”, but I was ready to let it go.

In a situation where “identity” is no longer physically evident, the only solution to the problem of identity assignment is credentialing.  After the Left decided to add the sexual identity product line to their traditional list of offerings they were faced with the nettlesome problem of transgenders. Recently a woman walked into a change room in Fitness Planet gym to find a biological male in it.  The biological woman complained and was thrown out of the club.

Imagine walking into a women’s locker room at your local gym and you see someone disrobing only to reveal they have male private parts. According to Planet Fitness, that’s no problem at all, if the male sincerely thinks he is a female with male parts.

McCall Gosselin, director of public relations at Planet Fitness Corporate, provided this statement to Health in an email: ‘Planet Fitness is committed to creating a non-intimidating, welcoming environment for our members. Our gender identity non-discrimination policy states that members and guests may use all gym facilities based on their sincere self-reported gender identity. The manner in which this member expressed her concerns about the policy exhibited behavior that management at the Midland club deemed inappropriate and disruptive to other members, which is a violation of the membership agreement and as a result her membership was cancelled.

You can sympathize with the club. If they had thrown the biological man out of the biological ladies’ room the lawyers of the Left would have descended on it.  When it is no longer possible to determine identity by inspection it will have to be defined by assignment. Some bureaucrat or certificate authority has to issue a token of Hispanic-ness or female-ness, otherwise identity is indefinite.

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The Game of Drones

April 12th, 2015 - 7:03 pm

One sign that Democracy is struggling in the world is the runaway success of the HBO series The Game of Thrones. No longer do the public see the world as led by reverend statesmen, but on the contrary as being manipulated by amoral, bloodthirsty and power-mad conspirators. The Independent writes “the Game of Thrones universe is so rich with metaphors that it’s already been used to explain everything from American presidential candidates to English soccer teams”.

The newspaper then proceeds to analyze the Middle East in terms of the TV show. The House of Lannister is Saudi Arabia. House Stark represents the crushed liberals and democrats. House Baratheon is Arab autocrats. House Targaryan the United States. The White Walkers are ISIS. The Night’s Watch are the Kurds. You can make up your own correlatives. Why not?

The Washington Post naturally attempts a comparison with the District, “ever wonder what ‘Game of Thrones’ would look like if it were set in our own nation’s capital?”. Unfortunately the Washington Post comparison only goes as far as simulating the opening credits. It never tells us for example, who in the current roster of politicians ought to stand in for the loathesome King Joffrey, Cersei Lannister or that marvelous dwarf Tyrion, though some obvious candidates come to mind.

While our formal model of governance is still representative democracy, our mental cultural models have migrated to authoritarian elitism.  The world really does believe their betters run affairs along the lines portrayed in the series. Obama was eager to meet the Castros.  Netanyahu not so much. Putin is widely admired throughout the world, as is the dictator of China.  Even in America the wannabe dynasts are trying their luck.

Robert Tracinski, writing in the Federalist, says the fascination with the series is rooted in modern cynicism. “Which is disturbing, because the story line and view of life in “Game of Thrones” is unbelievably grim.”

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Malice vs Incompetence

April 10th, 2015 - 5:58 pm

One of today’s man-bites-dog stories is that America cannot evacuate its nationals from war torn Yemen. Rather it hopes countries like India can do it for them. A State Department official said the U.S. government, which is providing logistical support for the Saudi campaign, believes it is too dangerous to risk a military operation to rescue Americans. “There are no current U.S. government-sponsored plans to evacuate private U.S. citizens from Yemen,” the official said. “We encourage all U.S. citizens to shelter in a secure location until they are able to depart safely.”

Fortunately New Delhi will ride to the rescue of Uncle Sam. “India has won many friends by evacuating nearly 1,000 nationals of 41 countries from warring Yemen. … Along with some 4,600 Indians, Singh’s mission rescued citizens of Britain, France and the United States.”  The days of “exceptionalism” are over.  Americans being left on the beach alongside wretched 3rd World nationals is part of the march toward making it a normal country occupying a status considerably below India and perhaps above Nepal.

There was a time of course when claiming American citizenship carried the same weight as the ancient civis romanus sum.  ”I am a Roman citizen.” It conjured images of  grey warships offshore and grim faced Marines poised behind the ramps of landing craft. It implied diplomats who could pound the table as the local warlords quivered.  And even if it didn’t always quiver they sometimes did, for the despots could never be sure the Navy was not actually there.

But today even diplomats have no expectation of being saved from the tender mercies of knife-clattering Jihadis. If local secret agents who risked their lives for America can be left to their grueseome fates then ordinary citizens will have to make their own arrangements. At a State Department press briefing  one journalist actually asked Marie Harf if Americans should swim out of the country.

Swimming might be a better idea than taking the land route, given that Saudi Arabia has bombed refugee camps.  CNN reports that “Bab al-Mandab is one of the busiest waterways in the world, a thoroughfare for oil tankers and cargo ships. It’s now being crossed by desperate Yemenis in rickety fishing boats seeking refuge from the conflict threatening to engulf their country.”

For the other surprise story of the day is that Pakistan is not riding to the rescue of the Kingdom. In a rather shocking vote, Pakistan has refused to send troops to Saudi Arabia’s aid. “ADEN (Reuters) – Pakistan’s parliament voted on Friday not to join the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, dashing Riyadh’s hopes for powerful support from outside of the region in its fight to halt Iranian-allied Houthi rebels.”

The Washington Post asks in story redolent with mixed metaphors whether Yemen going to become Saudi Arabia’s Vietnam.  Or — perhaps we can coin the phrase now —  Iraq going to become Iran’s South Korea. Perhaps the phrase the Washington Post was looking for to express its geopolitical perplexity can’t be found in Apocalypse Now but in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy tells Toto ”we’re not in Kansas any more”.

We’re in world where Indians rescue Americans. The Saudis may be in a fight for their lives.  The landscape has turned upside down. One person whose world view changed from black and white to technicolor in an instant is Times of Israel military correspondent Mitch Ginsburg who charts his journey from being an admirer of Barack Obama to being absolutely terrified of what new catastrophe he will cause now.

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