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Monthly Archives: December 2008

All of Hoover’s Men

December 23rd, 2008 - 3:23 pm

Stratfor has a long essay about how Woodward and Bernstein — and Deep Throat, now identified as then FBI Deputy Director Mark Felt — may have brought down not just Richard Nixon, but, over the longer term, journalism itself. Stratfor maintains that Felt, part of the closed J. Edgar Hoover FBI network, saw himself as heir apparent to J Edgar. However Richard Nixon regarded Hoover’s recent death as an opportunity to purge the Bureau of Hoover’s nefarious influence once and for all, something both Kennedy and Johnson had tried to do, but without success. Nixon therefore nominated an outsider, L. Patrick Gray, as part of the purge process. But while Hoover himself was dead, his old boy network lived on. And it would defend itself through Watergate.

Felt expected to be named Hoover’s successor, but Nixon passed him over, appointing L. Patrick Gray instead. In selecting Gray, Nixon was reaching outside the FBI for the first time in the 48 years since Hoover had taken over. But while Gray was formally acting director, the Senate never confirmed him, and as an outsider, he never really took effective control of the FBI. In a practical sense, Felt was in operational control of the FBI from the break-in at the Watergate in August 1972 until June 1973.

But Stratfor argues that Felt had learned well at his master’s knee about how to defend the Bureau against outsiders and those who would seek to destroy its inner ruling circles. And the best tool was to use secrets to destroy its enemies, and the best conduit in this case, maintains Stratfor, was the Washington Post.


Going forward

December 22nd, 2008 - 6:46 pm

James Howard Kunstler argues that the current Crisis — for want of a better word — has undermined trust and therefore legtimacy in American institutions. It isn’t that people don’t see the problems, it is that they don’t see the solutions.

The tipping point seems to be the Bernie Madoff $50 billion Ponzi scandal, which represents the grossest failure of authority and hence legitimacy in finance to date in as much as Mr. Madoff was a former chairman of the NASDAQ, for godsake. It’s like discovering that Ben Bernanke is running a meth lab inside the Federal Reserve. And out in the heartland, of course, there is the spectacle of Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich trying to desperately dodge a racketeering rap behind an implausible hairdo.

What seems to spook people now is the possibility that everybody in charge of everything is a fraud or a crook. Legitimacy has left the system. Not even the the legions of Obama are immune as his reliance on Wall Street capos Robert Rubin, Tim Geithner, and Larry Summers seem tainted by the same reckless thinking that brought on the fiasco.

I had the same feeling back in September, which motivated me to actually post a screed on YouTube. Kunstler goes further, arguing that losses in legitimacy have historically led to huge changes, when the distrusted Ancien Regime is changed with something else. While I don’t know the situation is as bad as he describes it, here’s what someone the Kunstler site says (thanks to the commenters for the correction):


Pumping money

December 20th, 2008 - 3:44 pm

The President Elect has “expanded his goals for a massive federal stimulus package”, according to the Washington Post. The incoming administration is not only seeking ways to increase spending, but to focus it on certain types of controlled spending. The WaPo says, “Democratic lawmakers have also agreed to ban earmarks, which direct funds to individual lawmakers’ favored projects. ”

Because they are intended to pump cash quickly into the economy, stimulus measures are released from the usual budgetary constraints that require the cost of new programs and tax cuts to be covered by cutting spending or raising taxes elsewhere. Given a free pass to spend more than the nation spends on the Pentagon each year, the temptation to tack on favorite projects could be high.

Summers and other Obama advisers said they are keenly aware of the problem, and are already working to persuade lawmakers of the wisdom of limiting the package only to projects likely to create a large number of jobs quickly for as little money as possible. Obama’s team is already at work “scrubbing” various spending proposals for “basic soundness and for the speed with which they are able to be paid out,” Summers said.


The March of Folly

December 20th, 2008 - 2:35 pm

A long time Belmont Club commenter sends this link to a report by the Independent Institute called the Anatomy of a Train Wreck: Causes of a Mortgage Meltdown. He writes: “It is one of the best pieces that I’ve seen on the mortgage meltdown. It is especially interesting in that it uses foreclosure data to show that the problem was not a subprime mortgage problem, but a mortgage problem full stop, resulting from relaxed underwriting driven by political agendas.”

This report concludes that, in an attempt to increase home ownership, particularly by minorities and the less affluent, virtually every branch of the government undertook an attack on underwriting standards starting in the early 1990s. Regulators, academic specialists, GSEs, and housing activists universally praised the decline in mortgage-underwriting standards as an “innovation” in mortgage lending. This weakening of underwriting standards succeeded in increasing home ownership and also the price of housing, helping to lead to a housing price bubble. The price bubble, along with relaxed lending standards, allowed speculators to purchase homes without putting their own money at risk.


The Boots of the Fisherman

December 20th, 2008 - 2:28 pm

Someone back from Afghanistan has sent a link to this forum discussing, in fascinating detail, what Pope Benedict XVI’s approach toward Islam is. It clarified many of the questions that have been poorly reported in the press, among which are: does Benedict see Islam as a “religion of peace”; is Islam perceived as a strategic enemy or competitor with Christianity; and lastly, does the Pope advocate co-existence with Islam. Unfortunately, the format means the reader will have to put together many of the relevant paragraphs himself. Here are some of the highlights as I see them.

  1. Benedict doesn’t see much scope for a ‘theological’ debate between Christianity and Islam, which is of interest to only a specialist few. Instead, the Pope sees the real debate taking place at a cultural/civilizational level in which the subject of sharia will be a key item.
  2. The debate is inevitable, because Islam at its roots is profoundly different from Christianity. Those who wish to bury the differences under relativism and a glib multiculturalism will fail.
  3. Islam’s desire for supremacy is not directed primarily at Christianity, rather it is directed at any competitor.
  4. The Pope believes that fighting terrorism means working with Muslims. It can’t be purged from from the outside; it has to be tackled from the inside from the inside. “Terrorism of any kind is a perverse and cruel [a word that he repeats 3 times] choice which shows contempt for the sacred right to life and undermines the very foundations of all civil coexistence. If together we can succeed in eliminating from hearts any trace of rancour, in resisting every form of intolerance and in opposing every manifestation of violence, we will turn back the wave of cruel fanaticism that endangers the lives of so many people and hinders progress towards world peace. The task is difficult but not impossible and the believer can accomplish this.”
  5. Benedict is also aware of what I would call the third man in the room; both traditional Christianity and Islam are also in competition with secular materialism. The structure of the debate implies that just as secular materialism can make alliances with radical Islam against Christianity,  there is scope for alliance with religious Muslims against secular materialism. “It has been said that we must not speak of God in the European constitution, because we must not offend Muslims and the faithful of other religions. The opposite is true: what offends Muslims and the faithful of other religions is not talking about God or our Christian roots, but rather the disdain for God and the sacred, that separates us from other cultures and does not create the opportunity for encounter, but expresses the arrogance of diminished, reduced reason, which provokes fundamentalist reactions.”

There is more, but I leave that to the readers. I may have misunderstood some of Benedict’s points and I hope the readers will correct me if I misapprehended them.

The flight of the Phoenix

December 19th, 2008 - 11:06 pm

Belmont Club commenter Fat Man sends a link to a new Navy UAV which is apparently designed to operate in a much more hostile environment than vehicles currently employed against opponents with little or no air capability. The Northrop X-47B.

The manufacturer describes it as “a transformational, carrier-capable, multi-mission, unmanned combat air vehicle. Strike fighter-sized, it is a survivable, long range, high endurance and persistent platform capable of a variety of missions including Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, and Time Sensitive Targeting/Strike” which, to my layman’s ears sounds like it is a combination between an attack aircraft and a spy plane. The X-47B is designed to demonstrate certain concepts, presumably for a future production platform. The vehicle operates in the high subsonic range and has an ISR combat radius of 1,500 NM.

The interesting question is what requirements this concept is intended to fulfill. The design of aircraft like the X-47 B indicates what kinds of threats and missions the military will be challenged with in the coming decades. Wired wrote a year ago that “the Air Force has produced enough future bomber studies to fill a decent-sized library … after years of killing innocent trees with bomber studies , the Air Force decided that it would pursue a sort of modified “off the shelf” strategy for a replacement bomber; meaning it would use available technologies to build a new bomber by 2018, while saving future technologies (like supersonic speed, death beam weapons, and unmanned flight) for the quasi-mythical 2037 bomber.”

The 700 Euro Club

December 19th, 2008 - 9:44 pm

Wilfred Owen died nearly a hundred years ago, but one of his most famous poems may be oddly appropriate to characterize the unrest sweeping Europe youth. Owen’s poem, Anthem for Doomed Youth described a generation sacrificed to the fantasies of their elders in the Great War, following the prescribed path to the last drawing the blinds — a reference to a custom widely used to indicate bereavement in the family.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

The Baltimore Sun ascribes the persistence and spread of youth riots which began in Greece to a sense of hopelessness in the rising European generation. Crammed into substandard schools, facing bleak employment opportunities, stuck in an economic structure where many opportunities do not become available until the old fall off their perch — retire or die — the younger Europeans possess a fund of anger which is now in the process of being tapped.


Under the Sea

December 19th, 2008 - 2:31 pm

Beta News reports that 3 undersea cables carrying a huge amount of Internet traffic for the Middle East and South Asia were cut within 40 minutes of each other, resulting in large outages in several countries. The outage underscores the immense strategic value of fiber optic cables in the information age. It incidentally highlights the degree to which the economic system of the world is dependent on a hegemon simply for existence. First, to the news:

Internet and voice traffic to much of the Middle East and south Asia has been disrupted by the loss overnight of three major cables spanning the Mediterranean.

According to a notice from France Telecom, the three provisioning cables linking Sicily to Egypt were lost within about 40 minutes of one another Friday morning (local time). A France Telecom-owned maintenance ship will be dispatched to inspect the site within a few hours. Until then, it’s not known what might have caused the cuts. … the hardest-hit countries so far are Maldives (100% out of service), India (82% out of service), Qatar (73%), Djibouti (71%), and United Arab Emirates (68%). Anecdotal reports also suggest that Egypt’s widely affected as well.

notes the pivotal role that the undersea cable network plays in the global system and the particularly vulnerability of Middle Eastern and South Asian cables to disruption. Nearly a year ago today three cables were cut in almost the same place.


The horror. The horror.

December 18th, 2008 - 6:25 am

Bill Roggio describes classic insurgent political theater. After defeating a tribal group opposed to them in Pakistan, Taliban executed its leaders and desecrated their bodies.

Pir Samiullah, a rival tribal and religious leader opposing Mullah Fazlullah’s forces in the Matta region of Swat, and eight of his followers were killed in a Taliban assault on Dec. 16. Two of his aides were subsequently beheaded in public, while an estimated 40 of his followers have been captured. “The Taliban also torched the houses of Samiullah and 15 elders of his group,” Daily Times reported.

After Samiullah was buried, the Taliban returned, dug up his body and hanged it in public. The Taliban made an example of Samiullah and those who oppose Fazlullah’s rule.

Samiullah was the first tribal leader in Swat to raise a lashkar, or tribal army, to oppose the Taliban. He claimed to have organized more than 10,000 tribesmen to oppose the Taliban and protect 20 villages. Samiullah and his followers are members of the Gujjar community, which is a group distinct from the dominant Pashtun tribal confederations that support the Taliban.


Standing in the way of the future

December 17th, 2008 - 8:14 am

I haven’t been following events Europe as closely as I should, but the controversy over the Czech President’s refusal to hang the EU flag from Prague Castle seems to encapsulate what may be the biggest political conflict of the 21st century: the division between those who see themselves as the vanguard of their self-apprehended future and the custodians of an actual heritage. The Telegraph reports:

The French president sided with federalist Euro-MPs who are engaged in a bitter feud with Vaclav Klaus, the Czech president and a Eurosceptic. Senior MEPs, including the president of the European Parliament, Hans Gert Poettering, caused a diplomatic incident ten days ago after demanding that Mr Klaus hoist the European flag over his residence during bad tempered talks in Prague.

Some rose to the defense of the Czech President.

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