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Monthly Archives: January 2013

Sine Nomine

January 31st, 2013 - 12:52 am

After news broke that a 15 year old Chicago girl who attended President Obama’s inauguration was shot dead by a gang which opened fire on a group she was with the problem was immediate: who to blame. “Outrage” spread with alarming speed “from City Hall to the White House, the 15-year-old became a symbol Wednesday of escalating violence in Chicago while fueling the national debate over guns and crime.”

Symbols are often vague. And Chicago has had a wide choice of symbols of late. The Hadiya Pendleton tragedy was very similar in its essentials to the death of Heaven Sutton, a 7 year old  “shot dead while selling candy and lemonade at a stand outside her Chicago home … caught in the crossfire of a gang dispute”. Sutton — and now Pendleton — was a symbol of what exactly?

As expected, even before the victim was in the grave the struggle to cast her death into a narrative had already begun.

Hadiya’s slaying also came up in an interview Obama did with Telemundo. The president was asked whether the example of Chicago, with strict gun control laws, gave credence to the National Rifle Association’s position that more gun laws don’t necessary mean less gun violence.

“Well, the problem is that a huge proportion of those guns come in from outside Chicago,” Obama said. The president said it was true that creating a “bunch of pockets of gun laws” without a unified, integrated system of background checks makes it harder for a single community to protect itself from gun violence.

Set against the backdrop of the record breaking homicide rate in Chicago and the Sandy Hook massacre, Hadiya’s death was to put it cruelly tailored made for talking points. Talking heads are almost certainly going to hold forth on whatever abstract thing they think caused her death.

The list is a long one. The Second Amendment? The lack of national gun control? Perhaps the failure of the Blue Model? The heartlessness of the Red Model? The projects? A former CEO of Playboy even argued Climate Change was to blame. Heck, why not?

But if the past is any guide then after the hue and cry of Hadiya dies down and the smoke clears only the victims will have definite names.


The Last Charge

January 30th, 2013 - 11:15 am

The death of Silverio Cuaresma in Nevada at age 100 is a reminder that the World War 2 generation is nearly gone. He accepted a field commission as a guerrilla during the darkest days of the Japanese occupation. “According to a fragile, yellow document that his family keeps in a plastic sheath, Cuaresma was appointed second lieutenant on April 22, 1943, ‘in the field by order of Edwin P. Ramsey, major, U.S. Army commanding.’”

Ramsey was himself a storied figure. He led the last horse cavalry charge in US military history against against a Japanese infantry unit attempting to cut off the retreat to Bataan. The Japanese were pushing a flying column of hard-marching soldiers to seize the town of Morong, through which the men heading for Bataan had to pass to reach their positions.

In December 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and then invaded the Philippines, the regiment was ordered north as part of the North Luzon Force to oppose the Japanese landings in Lingayan Gulf. Additional landings elsewhere forced the withdrawal of the outnumbered American and Filipino forces, whose retreat was covered by the 26th Cavalry into Bataan. Leading a 27-man Platoon, as advance guard for the 1st Regular Division of the Philippine Army, on January 1st, 1942, at the village of Morong, Bataan, Lieutenant Ramsey encountered a Japanese infantry force in the village and immediately ordered a charge. General Wainwright later awarded Ramsey the Silver star for gallantry in action for leading what became the last Horse Cavalry charge in U.S. history.

Escaping after the surrender of Bataan, Lieutenant Ramsey formed the guerrilla forces in Central Luzon. Then came three years of agonizing guerrilla warfare, waged by courageous Americans and Filipinos on Luzon Island, fighting both the imperial Japanese Army and communist Huk guerrillas to prepare the way for the return of General Douglas MacArthur. Ramsey also sent critical intelligence information to General Douglas MacArthur in preparation for the liberation of the Philippines. After his return, General MacArthur personally awarded Ramsey the Distinguished Service Cross for his guerrilla activities.

The Last Charge

A book on Ramsey’s military career, Lieutenant Ramsey’s War: From Horse Soldier to Guerrilla Commander is available on Amazon.


The War On Fluffy

January 29th, 2013 - 3:07 pm

There was no way it could have been a coincidence. I opened the mailbox to find a notice from the Australian government warning me of the terrible peril that cats posed to native wildlife. Just days before there were a spate of reports from New Zealand playing up a recommendation by a prominent Kiwi to ban pet cats. The worst was confirmed by an article in the New York Times proclaiming “that cuddly kitty Is deadlier than you think”. That public relations buildup made it definite. Some environmental lobby group had  a new cause to push.  The war on cats had begun. As the New York Times pointed out they are killing birds! Birds!

In a report that scaled up local surveys and pilot studies to national dimensions, scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that domestic cats in the United States — both the pet Fluffies that spend part of the day outdoors and the unnamed strays and ferals that never leave it — kill a median of 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals a year, most of them native mammals like shrews, chipmunks and voles rather than introduced pests like the Norway rat.

Suddenly reports that President Obama was learning to shoot took on a new significance. He was getting ready to meet the hidden danger. Not far from the chilling NYT report detailing the dangers of cats was an article by Jared Diamond in the same paper explaining the menacing nature of the shower bath.

The other morning, I escaped unscathed from a dangerous situation. No, an armed robber didn’t break into my house, nor did I find myself face to face with a mountain lion during my bird walk. What I survived was my daily shower.

You see, falls are a common cause of death in older people like me. (I’m 75.) Among my wife’s and my circle of close friends over the age of 70, one became crippled for life, one broke a shoulder and one broke a leg in falls on the sidewalk. One fell down the stairs, and another may not survive a recent fall.

Wow, that was a close call. But the danger lurking in the shower was as nothing to the perils you find inside the Capitol. “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while lamenting the partisanship of congressional Republicans who grilled her about the Benghazi attack, encouraged Republicans not to imitate the unwillingness to compromise evinced by terrorists in North Africa.” She compared the GOP lawmakers to terrorists.


Hotfooting it Across History

January 29th, 2013 - 8:21 am

Some Democratic political figures find the most convincing proof of their greatness in a resemblance to a Republican figure. If President Obama can’t prove himself another Lincoln or Reagan, something he already tried, then he can at least pose as the new Donald Rumsfeld. The New Republic says Obama’s “light footprint” strategy to take on America’s enemies was pioneered by Rumsfeld.

The “light footprint” that is Barack Obama’s doctrine in foreign policy originated as Donald Rumsfeld’s doctrine in military policy. Rumsfeld was undone by the contradiction between his ends and his means: in Iraq, he sought to attain big ends with small means, disastrously insisting that after “shock and awe” a light, nimble American force advantaged by technology would suffice for assisting the Iraqis in the political transformation of their country. This was Rumsfeld’s “revolution in military affairs.” Obama has accepted Rumsfeld’s ideal of the American military: the “strategic guidance document” issued by the Pentagon a year ago declares, in italics, that “whenever possible, we will develop innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches to achieve our security objectives.” But Obama modified Rumsfeld’s vision in two ways. The first was that he eliminated the contradiction between the means and the ends by shrinking the ends to fit the means. The second was that he extended the principle of shrinkage from military policy to foreign policy. This is Obama’s revolution in international affairs.

Emblematic of this new approach is the new drone base planned to cover Northwestern Africa. The New York Times reports that “a new drone base in northwest Africa would join a constellation of small airstrips in recent years on the continent, including in Ethiopia, for surveillance missions flown by drones or turboprop planes designed to look like civilian aircraft.”

There’s little money for much else  than things like these. The US Army is facing $17 billion in cuts, part of $45 billion slated for the Pentagon overall.


God Bless This Stress

January 26th, 2013 - 11:44 pm

Leo Linbeck III

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable and a subject of considerable conversation here at the Belmont Club a couple of years back, is back with a new book: Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder.

He recently sat down with Reason’s Nick Gillespie for an interview: Taleb makes an interesting comment at 2:05:

TALEB: The human body needs some stressors, and everything organic and complex communicates with the environment via stressors.

Later, he talks about the importance of having “skin in the game.” He criticizes academics for never being held accountable for their erroneous predictions, and bankers for crashing the system in 2008 and then turning around and paying themselves record bonuses in 2010.

Finally, at 55:50, he shares his definition of “living”:

TALEB: My idea of living is taking risks for causes.

Stressors, “skin in the game,” risks for causes: life for Taleb is a struggle, a battle between man and his environment, man and the systems he creates, and ultimately man and himself.

Contrast this with what we hear out of Washington DC.


The Siege of Merimna

January 26th, 2013 - 4:21 pm

When Halsey’s TF 38 tested the Japanese defenses of the central Philippines in late 1944 the admiral was stunned by the imperial weakness.  “We had found the central Philippines a hollow shell with weak defenses and skimpy facilities. In my opinion, this was the vulnerable belly of the imperial dragon. The time might be ripe not only to strike Manila, but perhaps to mount a far larger offensive. Specifically, I began to wonder whether I dared recommend that MacArthur shift to Leyte the invasion which he had planned for Mindanao, and advance the date well ahead of the scheduled November 15.”

And now in the first months of 2013 the probes are coming the other way.  Too many provocations which once would have drawn a vigorous response from Washington are now completely unanswered. The mighty US government, which once ruled by the power of its reputation alone  seems inert and strangely immobile. Almost as if it were sleeping — or worse.

Hackers have taken over the website of the sentencing commission of the Department of Justice and gleefully distributed confidential material found on it. Now they have posted it to servers and will release the encryption keys unless the administration yields to its demands.

Iran, a third rate power,  contemptuously assuming a tone that once only America could use, has just announced it “would consider any attack on Syria an attack on itself”. It is daring Washington to try to overthrow Syria, daring Obama to take it on almost as if it suspects he will never attempt it.

North Korea, not content with threatening to target the US with its ballistic missiles, is now threatening South Korea. If young Kim fears Obama he is not showing it.

The US government has gone months without catching a single individual linked to the attack on its North African diplomatic installations.  Hillary Clinton lamented that she could not even fire the State Department employees whose incompetence allowed the attacks to happen. The French have been left to largely fend for themselves in Mali, the Western alliance strangely absent from the fray. Algeria did not even bother to consult with the administration when it decided to launch an counterattack al Qaeda at a gas plant that cost dozens of Western lives. They ignored Washington — the once indispensable capital — probably because they could.

President Obama is anxious to negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan, eager to end campaign he once called the war of necessity whether victorious or not. Indeed the word “victory” has been expunged from his lexicon. His aides have already hinted that the war against al-Qaeda is now essentially over whoever won. Lee Smith has summarized the situation cogently as follows: “the Obama administration has left [a vacuum] in the region, from Libya to Syria”.


Cass Sunstein’s Demon

January 26th, 2013 - 3:08 am

Hamilton Nolan of Gawker was recently incensed  at the spectacle of “dozens of county sheriffs publicly declaring that they won’t enforce the Obama administration’s new gun laws, should they pass. ” Nolan writes saracastically:

Because that’s what good sheriffs do: unilaterally decide what is and is not constitutional, based upon their constitutional law degrees close reading of FoxNation.com.

What would Nolan make of this declaration by the NLRB’s Chairman that it will ignore a federal court’s decision finding their commissioners were illegally appointed on the grounds that they have “important work to do”?

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit issued a decision finding that the Jan. 4, 2012 recess appointments of three members to the National Labor Relations Board were invalid. In response, Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce issued the following statement:

“The Board respectfully disagrees with today’s decision and believes that the President’s position in the matter will ultimately be upheld. It should be noted that this order applies to only one specific case, Noel Canning, and that similar questions have been raised in more than a dozen cases pending in other courts of appeals.

In the meantime, the Board has important work to do. The parties who come to us seek and expect careful consideration and resolution of their cases, and for that reason, we will continue to perform our statutory duties and issue decisions.”

If Nolan’s reaction can be predicted by a Gallup survey he’ll probably think that the NLRB’s defiance is just fine but the sheriff’s is plain reprehensible. The Gallup polling organization’s latest survey shows the American public is more polarized than ever before. And that means in plain English, that there are two groups in America living in increasingly separate worlds.

PRINCETON, NJ — During his fourth year in office, an average of 86% of Democrats and 10% of Republicans approved of the job Barack Obama did as president. That 76-percentage-point gap ties George W. Bush’s fourth year as the most polarized years in Gallup records.


The Coming of the Telephone

January 25th, 2013 - 5:14 pm

When Marine Corps Gen. James “Hoss” Cartwright stepped down as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff he was asked what America’s greatest achievement in Afghanistan would be.  He said unhesitatingly that it was providing the cell phone.

“As we leave Afghanistan, the thing that will most affect that culture over the long term is leaving behind that network and those cell phones because they are talking across mountains and social barriers that heretofore have never been crossed by that culture,” said Cartwright today at the Center for Strategic and International Studies during a speech on how information technologies are changing war. “I don’t know where that’s going to take them, but the introduction of that technology is probably far more lasting than anything else that we’re going to do in Afghanistan and far more influential.”

That is not as flippant a reply as it may seem. The cellphone may be the 21st century equivalent of the Roman roads, those ribbons of pavement which once held the Mediterranean civilization together hundreds of years. The roads are still remembered in sayings: mille viae ducunt homines per saecula Romam — all roads lead to Rome. And now the roads are virtual.

But the roads will bear what fortune brings, as General Mattis learned when he was unceremoniously replaced at CENTCOM. For all the fancy phone systems there are today Thomas Ricks wrote “I am told that General Mattis was traveling and in a meeting when an aide passed him a note telling him that the Pentagon had announced his replacement as head of Central Command. It was news to him — he hadn’t received a phone call or a heads-up from anyone at the Pentagon or the White House” .


No mas!

January 24th, 2013 - 10:27 am

A sea change has come over the situation in Syria. “The French foreign minister said on Thursday there was no sign the Syrian crisis was going to be resolved anytime soon, in contrast to his prediction last month that the end was near for President Bashar al-Assad.”

“Things are not moving. The solution that we had hoped for, and by that I mean the fall of Bashar and the arrival of the coalition to power, has not happened,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in his annual New Year’s address to the press.

There are signs that the opthalmologist of the Damascus is off the hook. Abderrahim Foukara, the Washington bureau chief for Al Jazeera International claimed in an NPR interview that President’s inaugural speech signals that Assad can keep his skin. “I should say that if Bashar al-Assad were listening to the speech that President Obama made on Inauguration Day, he would probably have rejoiced in some parts of it. The president said that as far as he’s concerned, the decade of wars is over. And Bashar al-Assad would probably interpret that that the United States is not going to come directly to the rescue of the armed opposition in Syria.”

Foukara gave two reasons for the about face. The first was the steadfast support of Russia and Iran for Assad. They were not backing down. The second was the realization stemming from Benghazi debacle. “The other concern is that the United States has for some weeks now been saying that jihadi groups, as it’s called them, are operating in Syria, having come from Iraq, affiliates of al-Qaida, and giving weapons to the Syrian opposition may end up in the wrong hands. So they will not do that.”


The New Normal

January 23rd, 2013 - 3:29 pm

Insurance premiums to triple. This news report from Forbes.

A California insurance broker, who sells health plans to individuals and small businesses, told me that she’s prepping her clients for a sticker shock. Her local carriers are hinting to her that premiums may triple this fall, when the plans unveil how they’ll billet the full brunt of Obamacare’s new regulations and mandates.

California is hardly alone. Around the country, insurers are fixing to raise rates by double digits. They’re privately briefing politicians in Washington on what’s in store. Those briefings are leaving a lot of folks up and down Pennsylvania Avenue jumpy….

To try and get a handle on rising costs, the Obama Administration will start to go after the healthcare providers. The President seemed to hint about all this when he referenced the need to “lower the cost” of healthcare in his inaugural address.

What difference does it make?