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Monthly Archives: October 2009

Best commenter results

October 31st, 2009 - 10:19 am

Here is the final poll for the Best Commenter on the Belmont Club. I’ve tabulated the data from the nominations in a table shown below the Read More. Some of the nominations were ambiguously stated, but I did my best to decipher them.


The Lordlings

October 30th, 2009 - 12:43 pm

Peggy Noonan adopts a meme that has been sweeping the blogs of late, the idea that America’s elite is broken; so broken she says, that it doesn’t know it’s broken. In a WSJ article, she describes the current and disastrous reign of “callous children”; people who have “never seen things go dark” and are leading their nation into the abyss.  For the first time, she says, the national mood is one of despondency. There are no solutions because the problems come from within. The heirs have grown strange and wayward. They have gone off into the dark to return at whiles speaking in odd voices.  Noonan describes the sense of loss she feels in the current economic and political crisis.

Everyone had a path through.

Now they don’t. The most sophisticated Americans, experienced in how the country works on the ground, can’t figure a way out. Have you heard, “If only we follow Obama and the Democrats, it will all get better”? Or, “If only we follow the Republicans, they’ll make it all work again”? I bet you haven’t, or not much.

This is historic. This is something new in modern political history, and I’m not sure we’re fully noticing it. Americans are starting to think the problems we are facing cannot be solved … from the White House through Congress, and so many state and local governments … they are not offering a new path, they are only offering old paths—spend more, regulate more, tax more in an attempt to make us more healthy locally and nationally. …

Rep. Barney Frank had just said on some cable show that the Democrats of the White House and Congress “are trying on every front to increase the role of government in the regulatory area.” The executive [Noonan spoke to] said of Washington: “They don’t understand that people can just stop, get out. I have friends and colleagues who’ve said to me ‘I’m done.’ ” He spoke of his own increasing tax burden and said, “They don’t understand that if they start to tax me so that I’m paying 60%, 55%, I’ll stop.”

The bipartisan urge to tax and spend has become an addiction. And amazingly enough, the addicted think the music will never stop. Those words: “I’ll stop” are a phrase that the people in power — “the children” in Noonan’s words — never thought to hear. What? Stop? How can you stop? How can you say there’s no more money? Where have you hidden the money? Those in power think there’ll always be more money, Noonan believes, because there’s always been money. All they had to do was cry louder to make it come.  They’ve come to imagine they’ve come into possession of a magic orange. All you have to do is squeeze harder and the juice keeps flowing out.  She continues: (more…)

Another turn of the wheel

October 29th, 2009 - 2:01 pm

“They want to keep all the gains, and give nothing away themselves”: this from an article in the Guardian describing the dwindling hopes of Barack Obama’s engagement policy with Iran.

Hopes of a diplomatic breakthrough over Iran’s nuclear programme were dwindling tonight after Tehran demanded changes to a uranium exchange deal that European diplomats described as “unacceptable”.

If the deal collapses, as seemed likely, the apparent progress made over Tehran’s nuclear programme in recent weeks would evaporate, the diplomats said. It would deliver another critical blow to the Obama administration’s policy of engagement, and put international sanctions and Israeli military action back on the table. …

Hopes of a diplomatic breakthrough over Iran’s nuclear programme were dwindling tonight after Tehran demanded changes to a uranium exchange deal that European diplomats described as “unacceptable”.

If the deal collapses, as seemed likely, the apparent progress made over Tehran’s nuclear programme in recent weeks would evaporate, the diplomats said. It would deliver another critical blow to the Obama administration’s policy of engagement, and put international sanctions and Israeli military action back on the table.

The uranium deal, agreed in principle in Geneva at the beginning of the month, involved Iran shipping out most of its enriched uranium and, in return, being provided about a year later with fuel rods for its research reactor in Tehran.

Iran’s response, delivered after a week’s delay to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was not made public, but according to diplomats familiar with the details, Tehran demanded two big changes. They would only ship their uranium out in batches, and only hand it over at the same time the French-made fuel rods were delivered.

That would remove the element of the deal that made it attractive to the west: the temporary removal of most of Iran’s enriched uranium, which is currently enough to make a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear programme is peaceful.

“This is completely unacceptable,” said a European diplomat, who said discussions were under way in Brussels tonight to formulate a common response.

“They want to keep all the gains, and give nothing away themselves,” another diplomat said.

Gee, you would have thought they would have guessed. Meanwhile, in other news, Daniel Ortega is re-establishing himself as the dictator of Nicaragua.  The wolves are howling everywhere, even in the backyard.  Investors.com reports:


Pick a number

October 29th, 2009 - 9:46 am

The German magazine Spiegel writes pleadingly of the need for President Obama to provide more “leadership” on Afghanistan. It is one of several European newspapers that are wondering: what’s up?

Afghanistan and Pakistan are being shaken by attacks, and the Taliban is dictating the course of the war. US President Obama has been silent about the situation for far too long and European countries like Germany and France are correct to demand better American leadership on the issue of Afghanistan.

The most important piece of news from the most recent meeting of NATO defense ministers was that there was no news. …

For once, this hesitation cannot be attributed to widespread war fatigue in Europe. The mission in Afghanistan is seen as a toxic issue in all Western nations, and every government that has provided troops has come under sharp criticism at home. What the US’s NATO allies now find far more irritating is US President Barack Obama’s silence on the issue.

The world has been waiting for clear words from the White House for months. Obama has had government and military analysts studying the military and political situation in the embattled Hindu Kush region since early January. He appointed Richard Holbrooke, probably the US’s most effective diplomat in crisis situations, to be his special envoy to the “AfPak” region, he has replaced generals and he has deployed more troops. The answers Obama asked his experts to provide after taking office have been sitting on his desk for a long time. But the conclusions vary. Obama will have to make his own decision, one that will shape his political fate.


Best comments nominations

October 27th, 2009 - 5:27 pm

I would like to open nominations for the best reader comment on the Belmont Club.  The rules are:

  • It should have been submitted by someone other than myself in this version of the Belmont Club or in any of the archives.
  • The comment should make sense on its own and not require the context of the main post in order to be comprehensible.
  • Supply a link to the comment in your nominations by obtaining the link location of the comment. For example, the first comment in the previous post by Life of the Mind has the link value http://pjmedia.com/richardfernandez/2009/10/27/code-review/#comment-1
  • After the nominations close, I’ll tabulate the most frequently suggested comments and conduct a small poll. The prize is a modest gift certificate from Amazon which I will pay for.  Many people have generously donated to the Belmont Club. I think it’s only fair to give the commenters a small prize back.

Code review

October 27th, 2009 - 9:47 am

Two contrasting reports have recently appeared in the news. The Washington Post describes how a British local government authorized itself to conduct comms checks, covert surveillance and an undercover operation to discover whether or not a mother had improperly filled out an elementary school enrolment form. They gave a mother the mafia treatment over what was essentially a primary school issue. Critics have drawn attention to its lack of proportionality, like a case of using a pile-driver to crack a nut. In the meantime retired General Wesley Clark argues that America has been taking the opposite approach: taking a pop-gun to a T-rex by deciding to treat grave threats to its information infrastructure as if they were trivial.  The story of the British local government’s valiant detection efforts need to be told first.



October 26th, 2009 - 10:23 am

Shannon Love at Chicago Boyz surveys the British political scene and muses on whether the recent rise of the British National Party tells us anything about how a European society can be infatuated with the Left one year and switch over to fascism in a relatively short period.

Via Instapundit comes a disturbing report that one-fifth of the British electorate would consider voting for the British Nationalist Party (BNP), which is considered by almost everyone left or right to be a genuine fascist party.

How did Britain come to this state?

Simple, the current liberal order has proven itself ineffective in addressing many of the major problems that Britain faces. As I wrote three years ago, liberal orders don’t slowly evolve into authoritarian ones. Instead, they become less and less effective until they suddenly collapse into an authoritarian order. People simply lose faith that the liberal order can function and they throw their support behind an authoritarian order just to survive.

If fascism and Left wing socialism share most of their political DNA then this process is easy to understand. When the vital 5% — or whatever crucially differentiates them — flips then one becomes the other. The BNP is not a ‘conservative party’ in the American mold. It is essentially a racist but economically Left wing organization which accepts a large state role in managing the economy. Where it differs with the Left is for whose benefit the economy should be managed. For the Left the answer is: for the benefit of what it defines to be the historical victim — Muslims, immigrants from former colonies and people with special sexual needs. For the BNP the answer to the question is: for the benefit of the poor white; the indigene; the people who have lived in the British isles. The Left correctly accuses the BNP of dividing the nation. What it fails to recognize is that the BNP is simply paying them back in their own coin. This exchange of toxic currency has set up a zero sum game. It has cast the Left as the champions of one side and the BNP is happily casting itself as the champions of the other.


Cracked Crystal Ball

October 25th, 2009 - 6:18 am

Only two years ago the public was reliably informed that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the only threat it represented existed in the fevered brain of the vast right wing conspiracy. Today we are told by equally reliable sources the administration is negotiating to delay the country’s ability to build a nuclear weapon for about a year, “buying more time for President Obama to search for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear standoff.” Not a bad comeback for a program that stopped a long time ago.  David Sanger of the NYT describes the administration’s latest diplomatic initiative with Iran.

VIENNA — Iranian negotiators have agreed to a draft deal that would delay the country’s ability to build a nuclear weapon for about a year, buying more time for President Obama to search for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear standoff. …

If Tehran’s divided leadership agrees to the accord, which Iran’s negotiators indicated was not assured, it will remove enough nuclear fuel from Iran to delay any work on a nuclear weapon until the country can replenish its stockpile of fuel, estimated to require about one year. As such, it would buy more time for Mr. Obama to try to negotiate a more comprehensive and more difficult agreement to end Iran’s production of new nuclear material.

In 2007 ABC News reported:

In a stunning reversal of Bush administration conventional wisdom, a new assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies concludes Iran shelved its nuclear weapons program over four years ago.

“We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program,” reads a declassified version of the National Intelligence Estimate key findings. We judge with moderate confidence that the earliest possible date Iran would be technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) for a weapon is late 2009.”



October 24th, 2009 - 9:24 pm

Whenever a proposal is advanced to expand government oversight over activities such as child rearing, education and health care — and this includes subjects like euthanasia or family abuse — those who want to leave major choices to individuals or families, despite the fact they may sometimes or often do the wrong thing are described as uncaring, and ‘regressive’. In contrast, those who wish to shift the power of decision to government are characterized as “compassionate”, “enlightened” or “progressive”. And since there are often cases when government does better than individuals the substance of the decision can be argued back and forth.

One of the arguments for centralizing power in government is that it reduces variance. People get ‘standard’ care, which is ‘equitable’ and predictable. This is contrasted with the wider distribution of outcomes when the same decisions are left to individuals. In the health care debate for example, there are people who obviously get great health care and others who get relatively bad insurance. Wouldn’t it be better if the variance were reduced by a government program?

Left out of this argument is the idea of systemic risk. Leaving decisions to individuals makes it unlikely that they will all get it right but it equally implies they almost never get it all wrong. Society based on individual choices has a diversified portfolio of outcomes. In contrast if a government gets it wrong, it goes spectacularly wrong. Let’s forget about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for a moment; turn our eyes away from Barney Frank and look across the Atlantic to the UK’s ironically named Office of the Public Guardian.


Online tools

October 24th, 2009 - 7:30 am

Forbes says that more than half a million new claims for unemployment insurance were filed in the week ending October 17. Many will be looking for new jobs or contracts and trying to seek them as cheaply as possible.  What is the minimum amount that a person can spend to build an effective online platform to find piece work and jobs? People who’ve worked in the software development field probably know the answers to those questions already.  But for a person who’s spent his life on a factory floor, driving a truck or working largely on an office-supplied computer a simple set of suggestions might help. Here are some tips for a person who already has a computer and broadband access to the Internet. They might not be the best, but they are probably a useful starting point for someone standing on the edge of the Great Digital Ocean.