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Monthly Archives: January 2009

The lost squadron

January 31st, 2009 - 7:41 pm

The Battle of Midway is often remembered as triumph of codebreaking; and it was. But victory on that June 4 was not automatic. It still required the the Navy’s squadrons to go in.  One of them, Torpedo 8, was annihilated down to the last airplane. Wikipedia has the bare details.

Torpedo Squadron 8 (VT-8) was a United States Navy squadron of torpedo bombers assigned to the Air Group operating from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8).  …  VT-8′s first and best-known combat mission came during the Battle of Midway on 4 June 1942. Flying the vulnerable Douglas TBD Devastators, Commander John C. Waldron‘s 15 planes were all shot down during their unescorted torpedo attack on four Japanese aircraft carriers. The squadron did not destroy any enemy aircraft with their rear .30-caliber machine guns, nor did they damage any of the Japanese carriers.

All members of Torpedo Squadron 8 who flew from the Hornet on that day perished in the action, with the exception of Ensign George Gay. Torpedo 8 was afterwards awarded the American Presidential Unit Citation. … However, it is possible that the act of drawing away the Japanese Zero fighters during the doomed attack allowed a subsequent wave of American dive bombers to later sink three of the four Japanese carriers.

The Hollywood director John Ford, who was taking movie footage for the Navy (Ford was wounded on Midway Island itself) during the naval engagement, subsequently produced a short film memorializing the men of Torpedo 8 for their families. It is after the “Read More”.


Messages from Byzantium

January 30th, 2009 - 2:30 pm

The NYT describes how the man in charge of fighting AIDs was fired in unknown circumstances and how his replacement is being named in an even less transparent manner.

On Jan. 9, Dr. Dybul circulated a memo saying he had been asked by President Obama’s transition team to stay on the job temporarily. But on Jan. 22, one day after Hillary Clinton was confirmed as secretary of state, her staff announced that Dr. Dybul had resigned.

No reason was given, but he was reported to have packed up his office and said an emotional goodbye to his staff that afternoon. Dr. Dybul did not return phone messages, but he has told friends that he does not even know on whose orders he was dismissed.


The Powers that Be

January 30th, 2009 - 3:35 am

The Associated Press says that Samantha Power, a top Obama foreign policy advisor who was dismissed during the campaign for making remarks about Hillary Clinton is back in a foreign policy job. She expected to play a major role in diplomacy and will probably interact with Hillary, a woman she called a “monster”.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Samantha Power, the Harvard University professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author who earned notoriety for calling Hillary Rodham Clinton a “monster” while working to elect Barack Obama president, will take a senior foreign policy job at the White House, The Associated Press has learned.

Officials familiar with the decision say Obama has tapped Power to be senior director for multilateral affairs at the National Security Council, a job that will require close contact and potential travel with Clinton, who is now secretary of state. NSC staffers often accompany the secretary of state on foreign trips.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Power’s position, as well as that of other senior NSC positions, have not yet been announced. One official said the announcements would be made in the near future.

White House officials would not provide details of Power’s new role.

The rehabilitation of Samantha Power now that it is no longer necessary to maintain appearances was an inevitability waiting to happen. The President’s qualms about her suitability for a responsible position, if ever he had them, lasted only as long as it might cost him votes. They do not seem to be rooted in any reservations about Power’s character or competence, since neither have changed materially in the last few months. Power was acceptable before her remarks about Clinton; she became unacceptable for a brief period, and is now eminently qualified again to bring Hope and Change into the world.

There is almost no one to feel sorry in this affair for except for those who genuinely believed that the expressions of regret, outrage and banishment were anything but feigned. Hillary Clinton might well be what Samantha Power described her as; and Power ought to know. Barack Obama for his part, has managed to out Hillary Hillary and out Power Power. They deserve each other. The only question is whether the voters deserve them.

The train is leaving the station

January 29th, 2009 - 10:41 pm

The NYT reports how Republican Senators who refuse to get with the Obama stimulus package will be targeted on television.

WASHINGTON — Senator Judd Gregg awoke to the bad news on Thursday morning that a coalition of Democratic groups had planned to run television advertisements in his state to pressure him to support President Obama’s economic recovery plan. …

It isn’t that President Obama needs the votes. He just aims to fulfill his promise that he will get bipartisan support. If television attack ads are necessary to make everyone a big happy family, then so be it.

Given Democrats’ majority margins in the House and Senate, Mr. Obama is expected to get the stimulus measure he wants. But he also wants some Republican support in keeping with his separate campaign promise to change Washington’s polarized ways. In his latest overture, Mr. Obama invited senators from both parties to the White House to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday, the eve of the Senate debate. …

Mr. Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe, said both Senate and House Republicans should be worried about appearing as obstructionists. Mr. Plouffe said of Republican opposition, “It’s almost as if the election didn’t happen and that the message wasn’t received: that people in Washington need to cooperate a lot more than they have in the past.”

Is life is like football, a game of inches? Or is the vote on the stimulus package really like another kind of train, where guilt must be shared?


We are legend

January 29th, 2009 - 9:44 pm

The forests are coming back. Why? Jobs. The New York Times describes what’s happening in South America. Abandoned farms are reverting to forest.

CHILIBRE, Panama — The land where Marta Ortega de Wing raised hundreds of pigs until 10 years ago is being overtaken by galloping jungle — palms, lizards and ants. Instead of farming, she now shops at the supermarket and her grown children and grandchildren live in places like Panama City and New York.

Here, and in other tropical countries around the world, small holdings like Ms. Ortega de Wing’s — and much larger swaths of farmland — are reverting back to nature, as people abandon their land and move to the cities in search of better livings.

I’ve argued in previous posts that “carbon caps” may actually destroy forests based upon my observation that when jobs become scarce, Third World populations often return to the land, frequently clearing forests with slash-and-burn techniques. By discouraging job creation, so-called environmental policies may inadvertently push people in subsistence economies back onto the land where they must resort to unsustainable, short-term activities to survive. It will be interesting to see whether the current economic downturn will actually cause a significant number of farms to re-open.

But the NYT article is also a reminder of how human civilization is both a fragile and an everlasting thing. If radical environmentalists succeed in convincing humanity to exterminate itself, within a hundred years even the largest cities will have become overtaken by vegetation again. But human extinction is futile. Over the longer haul, in deep time, nature will evolve intelligent and technological life again, until it eventually succeeds in spawning a culture which is humble enough to understand that it is part of a plan and has enough faith and wonder to see what lies over the next hill.

For you are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

The Left Wing

January 29th, 2009 - 9:05 pm

Karl Rove describes what the new White House looks like compared to the old in a WSJ article. Nearly three times the number of staff. More power. More infighting. Less space. Senior staff will be required to meet at 07:30. Knock off time is midnight. Obama is confident his organization can keep up the frenetic pace of the campaign. Rove describes the hive-like conditions that have now been created.

It is rumored that as many as 160 people will be in the West Wing under Mr. Obama. Under President George W. Bush there were about 60. My old, modest-seized office has been carved into four cubicles. … There is a chief of staff, of course, but also two deputy chiefs, and three senior advisers. Some senior aides now have chiefs of staff of their own. That is new.

Rove also argues that what is also new is the way power will be wielded from behind the scenes. Cabinet officers will still be the front-men, but some of the real wires will be pulled by operators in the West Wing. Rove describes a kind of reality TV setup where the survivors rise at the expense of those who fall by the wayside.

Aides say Mr. Obama believes the cabinet structure is “outdated.” His appointment of czars to oversee technology, automotive and environmental policies underscores this belief because each new czar weakens cabinet and agency involvement in policy decisions. The White House has always had overlapping lines of authority, which creates a certain amount of conflict while everyone figures out who really has clout. But Mr. Obama has added to the confusion by making declarations that multiple people in his cabinet or on his staff have more authority and responsibility than their predecessors. In addition to creating a protracted power struggle within the West Wing, Mr. Obama’s management decisions may lead to more intrusive, larger government policies gaining traction. Why? Because left-leaning aides will be unimpeded by the White House’s budget director or cabinet secretaries as they push new policies.

Rove ends by observing that “as power that was once diffused to cabinet officers is centralized in the White House, Mr. Emanuel will have to make more decisions and referee more turf wars than his predecessors.” But this perpetual insecurity will ensure a state of permanent dependence on Emmanuel. And the Oval Office.

Real money for some

January 29th, 2009 - 7:34 pm

Some games are played for keeps.  A ceasefire between Israel and Egypt may be notionally in force, such as it is, for whatever it is worth. But the internal security war by Hamas against its rivals in Gaza has only just begun. The Guardian reports:

Evidence is emerging of a wave of reprisal attacks and killings inside Gaza that have left dozens dead and more wounded in the wake of Israel’s war. Among the dead are Palestinians suspected of collaborating with the Israeli military. Others include criminals who were among the 600 prisoners to escape from Gaza City’s main jail when it was bombed as the war began. Their attackers are thought to be their victims’ relatives.

Notice the phrasing: ‘Israel’s war’. Never Hamas’ war. The Hamas rockets fired over the border don’t count. Only the counterbattery does. Neither do the Palestinians who are now being executed by Hamas.

Palestinians in human rights organisations are reluctant to speak publicly about what is a sensitive issue, but one respected human rights worker in Gaza said he believed between 40 and 50 people had been killed in reprisal attacks since the start of the war. But there was not yet enough evidence to suggest this was an organised campaign by Hamas, he said.

“We don’t know who’s doing the killing,” the worker said. “Some are individuals, some might be from Hamas. It’s been happening over several days, all across Gaza. It’s not all necessarily Hamas actions against Fatah.” Another human rights worker put the figure at between 25 and 30 documented cases of reprisal. …

Separately, Hamas is believed to have stopped Palestinians reaching an Israeli field hospital on Israel’s side of the border at Erez. “We don’t care about it,” said Hassan Khalaf, Hamas’s deputy health minister. “They are just claiming they care about human beings but they don’t.”


Us versus Us

January 29th, 2009 - 4:40 pm

The Washington Post reports that a military commission judge has refused to suspend hearings despite President Obama’s instructions to do so for a period of 120 days. The Pentagon, which is determined to be in “full compliance” with the President’s order is considering withdrawing the charges so that the hearings cannot go forward, now that the judge’s refusal has thrown a wrench into the works.

A military judge in Guantanamo Bay today denied the Obama administration’s request to delay proceedings for 120 days in the case of a detainee accused of planning the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole warship, an al-Qaeda strike that killed 17 service members and injured 50 others.

The decision throws into some disarray the administration’s efforts to buy time to review individual detainee cases as part of its plan to close the U.S. military prison at the Guantanamo naval base in Cuba. The Pentagon may now be forced to temporarily withdraw the charges against Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi citizen of Yemeni descent. …

The government, Pohl wrote, sought a delay because if cases went ahead, the administration’s review could “render moot any proceedings conducted during the review”; “necessitate re-litigation of issues”; or “produce legal consequences affecting options available to the Administration after completion of the review.”

“The Commission is unaware of how conducting an arraignment would preclude any option by the administration,” said Pohl in a written opinion, which was obtained by The Post. “Congress passed the military commissions act, which remains in effect. The Commission is bound by the law as it currently exists, not as it may change in the future.”


The wrangle rule

January 29th, 2009 - 1:52 pm

Fox News reports:

Americans may be able to rest a little easier this April if Congressman John Carter, R-Texas gets his way.

Rep. Carter introduced a bill Wednesday to eliminate all IRS penalties and interest for paying taxes past due. The legislation calls for the creation of what he calls the, “Rangel Rule,” — drawing attention to the recent legal issues of House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., enabling citizens who fail to pay taxes on time to do so later with no additional fees. Rangel, who writes the country’s tax policies, acknowledged last fall that he failed to pay thousands in real estate taxes for rental income he earned from a property in the Dominican Republic.

As of September 2008 the Harlem Democrat reportedly paid back more than $10,000 in taxes but that did not include any IRS penalties. “Your citizens back home should have the same rights and benefits that come to you as a member of congress. You shouldn’t be treated any differently under the law than your citizens back home,” Carter said.

Carter doesn’t understand. That’s the point; otherwise what would be the benefit to being Charlie Rangel?

Visions of glory

January 29th, 2009 - 11:48 am

Joel Kotkin writes in the Washington Post that DC has finally become the capital of the world; that the “imperial Presidency” has stopped becoming a figure of speech and has now become literal reality. The current economic crisis has given DC the excuse to call the shots, not only in rival domestic centers of power, but in foreign capitals now beset by collapse. It’s growth in power has been evergreen: the one place on earth that prospers both in good times and in bad. But especially in bad.