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Belmont Club

Monthly Archives: October 2008

No way out

October 25th, 2008 - 4:21 am

The Claremont Institute has a long and informative history of the central issue of in American politics: the size and scope of government. The dry recitation of facts is inexorable. Although it is fashionable to depict politics as a war between welfare state liberals and small government conservatives “the welfare state battle between liberals and conservatives has been as evenly matched as the one at Little Big Horn between Sitting Bull and Custer. Real, per capita federal spending on Human Resources was 15 times greater in 2007 than in 1940.” Human Resources spending is an OMB term for

  • Education, Training, Employment, and Social Services
  • Health (excluding Medicare)
  • Medicare
  • Income Security (excluding Social Security)
  • Social Security
  • Veterans’ Benefits and Services

Author William Voegeli’s tables should hammer the final nails into the coffin of the charge that ‘the War in Iraq bankrupted America’.  Human Resources, not National Defense, has been top dog by a long chalk for decades. And it will get bigger still. Consider this chart.

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Dense pack

October 24th, 2008 - 3:30 am

Back in the early 1980s, designers seeking to protect land-based ICBMs from a Soviet first strike developed the “dense pack” defense system. “This “dense pack” idea involved building super-hardened silos that would withstand more than 10,000 psi (70 MPa) of overpressure and spacing them only 1,800 feet (550 m) apart. The reasoning behind this idea was that a nearby nuclear explosion would damage other incoming warheads in the same wave of attack and would allow a substantial portion of the missiles to survive. This ‘fratricide theory’ was fundamentally flawed due to the relative ease with which the Soviets could modify their warheads and circumvent this design. Congress again rejected the silo-based system.”

Although a “fratricide” may not protect silos against individually targetable and schedulable Soviet MIRVs,  politicians know that if shennanigans can be committed rapidly enough the public soon loses track of all of them.  The voter’s capacity for outrage becomes saturated. Public attention can at most be focused on one or two items at a time.  Make two changes in a document and both will be run through a fine toothed comb.  Make a thousand changes and 998 will slip through. This is the rationale behind attaching “riders” to things like the bailout bill.  The public can be expected to read through legislation written in one or two pages. Give them a bill as thick as the phone book and most of it will go unscrutinized. Barack Obama is so different in so many ways from the centrist Presidential candidate that it is difficult to take in all the changes he portends. Dense pack.

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Magna cum laundry

October 22nd, 2008 - 9:19 pm

Undercover agent Larry Grathwohl discusses the Weather Underground’s post-revolution governing plans for the United States on a YouTube video. The video is taken from the 1982 documentary “No Place to Hide”. The Weathermen’s plans included putting parts of United States under the administration of Cuba, North Vietnam, China and Russia and re-educating the uncooperative in camps in located in the Southwest. Since there would be holdouts, plans were made for liquidating the estimated 25 million unreconstructable die-hards.

The most interesting moment of the video comes when Grathwohl asks the viewer to imagine what it’s like to be in a room with 25 people, all of whom have master’s degrees or higher from elite institutions of higher learning like Columbia, listening to them discuss the logistics of killing 25 million Americans.

Actually, it’s easy. What’s hard to imagine is sitting in a room full of plumbers discussing the same thing. The longer I live the less I believe that humanity is able to live without submitting itself to some kind of belief system. Western Civilization decided to liberate itself from a belief in Christ — whose Kingdom was not of this world — and went straight to the altars of Nazism and Communism, whose kingdom was in the camps.  People like Ayers aren’t atheists, they’re true believers. GK Chesterton was right when he said that a man who declares he has stopped believing in God often doesn’t mean he believes in nothing. It only means he’s willing to believe in anything.

Jean Paul Sarte believed Che Guevara was “not only an intellectual but also the most complete human being of our age … [the] era’s most perfect man”, which just goes to show you can get a fancy diploma from the École Normale Supérieure and still graduate with not an iota of common sense. Unclogging a drain with a snake is something anyone with a little intelligence and persistence can do. Planning the death of millions of Americans takes an education.

The philosopher kings

October 22nd, 2008 - 3:02 pm

Michael Gerson at the Washington Post looks at the probability of disastrous Obama administration and the possibility of philosophical miracle. He’s smart enough to understand that the doom is more likely but consoles himself with the philosophy.

Less than two weeks away from his likely election as president, the debate continues about the nature of Barack Obama’s deepest political beliefs. Is he — as some liberals quietly hope and many conservatives loudly accuse — a closet radical? Or is he a more subtle and moderate political figure who embraced, then discarded, the leftism of south Chicago in pursuit of a restless ambition? There is evidence for both views.

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Democracy all over the world

October 22nd, 2008 - 2:20 am

Johnathan Adler of the Volkh Conspiracy looks at voter fraud — abstractly and from real life experience.  “Why am I so interested in voter fraud allegations? Perhaps because the first time I looked into voter fraud allegations, they turned out to be real — ballots had been forged and an election was stolen. … Is the Stinson-Marks case an aberration? Ancient history? I certainly hope so, but it is difficult to know for sure. The temptation to manipulate elections is real, and there are activists on both sides of the aisle that would steal an election if they thought they could get away with it, and local election administration often leaves much to be desired.”
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Operation Grand Slam

October 21st, 2008 - 3:55 pm

In the movie Goldfinger,  James Bond, about to be split in half by a laser beam, asks the villain, “do you expect me to talk?” He answers, “no Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.”  Roger Kimball exclaims, “is Obama a ‘transformational figure’? You don’t know the half of it!” Michael Medved believes that “for Conservatives, Obama’s changes would be permanent and devastating”. That, my dear Mr. Bond, is the point.

Intensity of commitment has long been a decisive component of historical military strategy.  It is possible to defeat a superior enemy if you can ‘outcommit’ him: take things to a level where he is afraid to follow. Napoleon did not anticipate that the Russians would burn Moscow rather than let him have it.  Napoleon was defeated.  Late in the Second World War the Japanese adopted the method of suicide attack, which became famous as the kamikaze. The Japanese still lost, but only because the US was many times more powerful and had the Atomic Bomb to boot. If the match were nearly equal things would have been much harder.  Clausewitz observed that war is an act of force to compel the enemy to do its opponent’s will. In that equation, it is not just the quality of the force, but the quality of the will that matters.  In politics, to a lesser extent, things are much the same.

If conservatives now realize that their political enemies are not simply out to win an election cycle but to effectively destroy them, the only surprising thing is that they were surprised.

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Below the horizon

October 21st, 2008 - 2:08 pm

The New York Times reports on training camps inside Iran teaching people to kill Americans:

WASHINGTON — They wake before dawn, with time to exercise, eat and pray before the day’s first class in firing Kalashnikov rifles. Over the next eight hours, they practice using bazookas or laying roadside bombs, with a break for lunch and mandatory religious instruction. There is free time in the evening to watch television or play Ping-Pong.Lights out at 11 p.m.

Such is a typical day at a dusty military base outside Tehran, where for the past several years members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds Force and Lebanese Hezbollah operatives have trained Iraqi Shiites to launch attacks against American forces in Iraq, according to accounts given to American interrogators by captured Iraqi fighters. American officials have long cited Iranian training and weapons as reasons for the lethality of attacks by Shiite fighters in Iraq. Iranian officials deny that such training takes place.

Now, more than 80 pages of newly declassified intelligence documents for the first time describe in detail an elaborate network used by Iraqis to gain entry into Iran and train under Iranian supervision.

Well not quite just now and not quite just for the first time. Bill Roggio has been describing the process for nearly a year. In December 2007 he wrote: “The Long War Journal has spoken to several mid-level and senior US military and intelligence officers, all of whom have declined to go on the record due to the sensitive nature of the Iranian issue. Based on these conversations as well as other information, The Long War Journal has learned the nature of the Qods Force operations in Iraq and how they move resources into the country.” The article is accompanied by a diagram showing the Iranian ratlines into Iraq.

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Interlude

October 20th, 2008 - 12:56 am

Now for something completely different. Here are YouTube videos of two Australian groups from the past, one singing about “the afternoon or evening arrival of a cold front” on the southeast coast, which is called the cool change. And another group, which came on the scene so long ago that maybe only a few readers will remember them, who sing about a popular subject of those days, the promised land of love which we all reach and pass before we know it.

God’s green earth

October 19th, 2008 - 9:27 pm

Readers will recall that in the post Who will Colin Powell endorse for President? I mentioned his connection to the environmental industry:

Powell is McCain’s friend, but his professional interests suggest that his choice may be a tough one. A reader notes that Colin Powell is a “Strategic Limited Partner” at Kleiner Perkins Caulfield and Byers, one of the best performing venture capital firms in history, having sponsored Google, and Apple, among others. Kleiner has made huge pushes into ‘clean technology’ of late — over the past 3-4 years. They have even raised an all clean-tech fund. Al Gore is also a special partner.” An Obama victory would put Kleiner in a strong commercial position. But on the other hand, John McCain himself has often talked about the need to stop climate change. So it is not at all clear that Kleiner wouldn’t benefit under a McCain administration as well.

So with Colin torn — or perhaps not so torn — I will leave the crystal ball in the good hands of the readers, observing only that nothing is as simple as it seems in Washington. Neither Colin Powell’s allegiances nor John McCain’s beliefs can be completely separated from the interests which are swarming through the capital. At this point in history Green also means greenbacks. It’s sad to think that maybe everything in this world, even environmentalism, could come down to money. Perhaps it is too much to ask politicians to disregard the pressures in Washington altogether; and hope that in satisfying every need, the interests of Joe the Man on the Street might occasionally be remembered.

Colin Powell has now endorsed Barack Obama for President. And right on cue, the WSJ reports on Obama’s Carbon Ultimatum: The coming offer you won’t be able to refuse. Can’t hurt the greenhouse gas business can it? Like I said, nothing in Washington is simple.

Jason Grumet is currently executive director of an outfit called the National Commission on Energy Policy and one of Mr. Obama’s key policy aides. In an interview last week with Bloomberg, Mr. Grumet said that come January the Environmental Protection Agency “would initiate those rulemakings” that classify carbon as a dangerous pollutant under current clean air laws. That move would impose new regulation and taxes across the entire economy, something that is usually the purview of Congress. Mr. Grumet warned that “in the absence of Congressional action” 18 months after Mr. Obama’s inauguration, the EPA would move ahead with its own unilateral carbon crackdown anyway. …

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A blast from the past

October 18th, 2008 - 7:49 am

Niall Ferguson imagined what a repeat of the sequence of events which led to the collapse of the first era of globalization would look like if updated to the 21st century at a lecture in July, 2007.   The hypothetical situation was disconcertingly closer to actual events than he might have imagined, had he imagined it was actually going to happen. More than a year before the current financial meltdown, Ferguson followed the events which, 90 years ago, led to the First World War. First there was cascade of events around the time zones.

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the crisis of 1914 was the closure of the world’s major stock markets for up to five months. The Vienna market was the first to close, on July 27. By July 30 all the continental European exchanges had shut their doors. The next day, London and New York felt compelled to follow suit. Although a belated settlement day went smoothly on November 18, the London Stock Exchange did not reopen until January 4. Nothing like this had happened since its foundation in 1773. The New York market reopened for limited trading (bonds for cash only) on November 28, but unrestricted trading did not resume until April 1, 1915. Nor were stock markets the only ones to close in the crisis. Most U.S. commodity markets had to suspend trading, as did most European foreign-exchange markets. The London Royal Exchange, for example, remained closed until September 17. It seems likely that, had the markets not closed, the collapse in prices would have been as extreme as it would be in 1929, if not worse.

And for those who think that fiat money is at the root of all evil, there’s this:

There are many differences between our world and the world of 1914. Most currencies then were pegged to gold. That inclined some central banks (notably the Bank of England) to raise rates in the initial phase in the crisis, in a vain attempt to deter foreigners from repatriating their capital and thereby draining gold reserves. The adequacy of gold reserves in the event of an emergency had been hotly debated before the war; indeed, these debates are almost the only sign that the financial world foresaw trouble. The gold standard, however, was no more rigidly binding than today’s informal dollar pegs in Asia and Latin America; in the case of war, a number of countries, beginning with Russia, simply suspended the gold convertibility of their currencies. In both Britain and the United States formal convertibility was maintained, but it could have been suspended had it been thought necessary. (The Bank of England did request, and was granted, a suspension of the 1844 Bank Act, but this was not the same as suspending specie payments.) In each case, the crisis prompted the issue of emergency paper money by the Treasury: in Britain, £1 and 10 shilling Treasury notes, in the United States, the emergency notes that banks were authorized to issue under the Aldrich- Vreeland Act of 1908.

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