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Richard Fernandez

Richard Fernandez’s portal is at Wretchard.com.

Retreat Hell Yeah

Don’t write a check your a** can’t cash. Never draw a Red Line that you’re not prepared to enforce. Don’t threaten consequences you’re not prepared to impose.  Never make as if you’re drawing a weapon against an armed man and come up pointing your finger. Some people learn life’s lessons after a while.

Some people never learn. Time magazine  reports that the White House has backed the Ukrainian government’s efforts to suppress separatism on its eastern border with an expression of support. As for tangible help, nada.

White House Backs Ukraine’s Eastern Offensive.

The White House says it supports the offensive against separatists in the country’s eastern provinces, which began Tuesday 25 miles north of Slovyansk and could expand to 10 cities throughout the region

The White House said Tuesday it supports military action taken on Tuesday by the interim government of Ukraine against separatist militants across the eastern part of the country. …

U.S. officials say there are no current plans to provide weapons to Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal reports. Officials estimate there are roughly 50,000 Russian forces deployed to the country’s border with eastern Ukraine.

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Posted at 9:16 pm on April 15th, 2014 by Richard Fernandez

Sadist Versus Narcissist

The danger in the Ukraine crisis was always that the Ukrainians — or some faction therein — would fight the Russians, escalating the crisis.  Resistance from Obama was not in the cards. CNN quoted David Frum as saying that Obama had in effect gave Putin the “green light” to carve up Ukraine.

Obama’s admirers think so too, though they put it differently. Ronan Farrow has advised the president to do nothing as Russia advances. “So, President Obama waiting and exercising caution isn’t necessarily sitting on his hands. It may be the caution that we need right now.”

Farrow’s right. Obama’s not sitting on his hands. He’s waving Putin through. The effect is the same.

Even Obama’s former diplomatic appointees can see what’s happening. James Jeffrey, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq in the Obama administration, implored NATO to send troops to the Ukraine because nothing else would be believed. He said, “The best way to send Putin a tough message and possibly deflect a Russian campaign against more vulnerable NATO states is to back up our commitment to the sanctity of NATO territory with ground troops, the only military deployment that can make such commitments unequivocal.”

Interestingly Jeffrey doesn’t see Ukraine as an end-point of Putin’s plots but a way station to other “more vulnerable NATO states”. And he is anxious to prevent the action from shifting Westwards, may because he knows the stuff Brussels is made of.

The “fragile” EU, having expanded its remit East, now claims it is too fragile to resist Putin now that he’s on the counteroffensive. An article in Bloomberg says, “the U.S. readiness to impose new economic sanctions on Russia over Ukraine is offset by the European Union’s reluctance to introduce stronger measures that could threaten its already fragile economic recovery.”

Translation. They won’t even back serious sanctions. The soft-power superpower that is the EU has looked into its arsenal of diplomatic demarches and human rights declarations and found — nothing. So now they want Obama to ante up the lead in stopping Vlad.  They’ll bring up the rear, maybe tomorrow. But Obama needs the EU in the van, with its greater market share of Russian goods.  We have the classic tableau.

Alphonse: After you monsieur.

Gaston: No, no. After you.

Alphonse: But I insist. After you.

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Posted at 3:16 pm on April 15th, 2014 by Richard Fernandez

The Book of Numbers

George Will calls them the Fivers. “From the Goldwater Institute, the fertile frontal lobe of the conservative movement’s brain, comes an innovative idea that is gaining traction in Alaska, Arizona and Georgia, and its advocates may bring it to at least 35 other state legislatures. It would use the Constitution’s Article V to move the nation back toward the limited government the Constitution’s Framers thought their document guaranteed.” “Members of this nascent movement to use Article V have a name: Fivers.”

Then there’s Rand Paul’s Four-men.  The Senator is actually going “to file a class action lawsuit Wednesday against President Obama, the National Security Agency and a host of others involved in a U.S. surveillance program that collections information on millions of U.S citizens.”

“I am filing a lawsuit against President Barack Obama because he has publicly refused to stop a clear and continuing violation of the 4th Amendment,” Paul said in a statement from his political action committee. “The Bill of Rights protects all citizens from general warrants.”

Let’s not forget the Firsters. A First Amendment Zone declared by the Bureau of Land Management in order to channel objections by the Bundy Ranch supporters after the agency deployed 200 agents to push ranchers off the disputed area.  The incident also featured the Seconders, as many ranchers were seen with their Second Amendment firearms on display.

And spare a thought for the One Tenners:

Representative James Lankford (R-OK), Chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, today introduced the House Joint Resolution legislative proposal for the Health Care Compact, a breakthrough governance reform that allows states to clean up the health care mess created by the federal government….

To date, eight states have joined the Health Care Compact (Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah), [perhaps 9 now as Kansas has passed it in both houses] and legislation has either passed the state legislature or is being considered in 12 additional states.

Interstate compacts are governing tools that have been used on more than 200 occasions to establish agreements between and among states. Mentioned in Article 1, Section 10 of the Constitution, compacts are constitutional instruments that provide authority and flexibility to the states for administering government programs without federal interference. Congressional consent is required for states to enter into a legally binding compact.

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Posted at 1:56 pm on April 14th, 2014 by Richard Fernandez

Beyond Reproach

Manuel Roig-Franzia at the Washington Post described the perils facing Samantha Power: dictators, third world warlords, terrorist. None of them inspired in her the slightest fear.  There was only one thing on earth that gave her pause.  Hillary.

Power’s ascent was interrupted when she resigned as a senior foreign policy adviser on Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign after calling his opponent, Hillary Clinton, “a monster” during an interview with the Scotsman newspaper. Power, who thought her comment was off the record, was referring to Clinton’s campaign tactics. …

If Power had not said that single word — “monster” — she might have started in a much more public role in the first Obama administration. Instead, she was tucked away for four years on the National Security Council staff. She learned the rites of silence.

Silence is golden. Especially in the rarefied air of polite society. Polite society — now there’s a phrase.

Recently the British press has been rocked by a series of revelations that beloved Leftist leaders  were actually pedophiles whose crimes were covered up, time and again by instructions from on high.  The secret lives of the famous were shrouded in decorous silence: those of  ’pop stars, a bishop and top politicians’ was how one publication put it.

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Posted at 5:07 pm on April 12th, 2014 by Richard Fernandez

Father Knows Best

When the US spotted signs of a Russian buildup on the Ukraine border, the Obama administration decided not to share the information with Kiev. Rep. Michael Turner, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee confessed himself nonplussed. “This is not an issue of means and methods and techniques. This is straight up, almost Google Earth-type analysis. Even giving Ukraine (intelligence) about how best to utilize its forces against Russia would be beneficial.”

It wouldn’t be the first time someone decided it was best for others not to know. “Senate insiders say that senior Treasury Department officials have been lying for years about their backroom efforts to oppose and dismantle Iran sanctions legislation that ultimately forced Tehran to the bargaining table over its illicit nuclear program.”  Because if they admitted the goal was to surrender to the Ayatollahs then how could they pretend they were containing them?

Bad news has a way of forcing politicians to face up to it. In order to avoid this problem the solution is to shoot the messenger. Foreign Affairs notes that Russia is probably cheating on arms controls agreements. If this knowledge became general, then it would undermine the goal of reaching more such beneficial agreements.

At the moment, Russia’s march on Crimea tops the United States’ list of issues with its onetime foe. But it is hardly the whole list. Rather, as The New York Times reported in January, Washington apparently believes that Moscow has also been busy violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a pact between the two banning the use of both nuclear and conventionally armed ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles within a certain range. This is no minor matter. When the treaty was signed in 1987, it was taken as a signal that the Cold War was finally thawing and, since then, it has been a been a defining element in U.S.-Russian relations, the United States and NATO’s deterrent posture, and the broader architecture of global arms control.

Wouldn’t it be better to lie for the sake up peace? Admitting Russia is dishonest would also make it politically difficult to cut defense spending. So the pretense agreements are in effect continues, so that at least half of the parties can live up to them, because admit it, a partial disarmament is better than none at all. “The Pentagon will shrink the number of its nuclear weapon-carrying bomber aircraft and reduce the number of submarine ballistic missile launch tubes as it modifies its force posture to meet the limits of the New START treaty with Russia, the US Defense Department announced Tuesday.”

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Posted at 7:38 pm on April 11th, 2014 by Richard Fernandez

The Indefinite Man

The first time I saw Hirsi Ali it brought back memories of Oriana Fallaci speaking in a small room at Harvard 30 years before. Fallaci had the habit of leaning forward and jabbing at the air with a lighted cigarette to make points.  The ash of her cigarette end once grew so alarmingly long I suppressed an urge to rush up and catch it before it broke off and hit the carpet.  A half dozen others in the audience would have probably tried the same thing.  She had that effect — on me at least.  Hirsi Ali never smoked on the Sydney stage but she had the same kind of compulsive attractiveness, a quality which conjured up a line of men stretching to the back of the Sydney auditorium waiting for her autograph.

The real attractiveness of both women always lay in the projection of a kind of desperate bravery; the sort which made Fallaci a teenage guerilla in World War 2 and compelled Ali into becoming perhaps the most hated Muslim apostate in the world.  And nothing attracts so much as a damsel in danger. They both had the kind of unreasonable stubbornness, the sort of uncompromising character that in the end, proved too much for Brandeis University, at least as far as Ali was concerned. The university withdrew the honorary degree it had prepared to grant her, citing “past statements”.

Facing growing criticism, Brandeis University said Tuesday that it had reversed course and would not award an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a campaigner for women’s rights and a fierce critic of Islam, who has called the religion “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death.”

“We cannot overlook that certain of her past statements are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values,” the university said in a statement released eight days after it had announced that Ms. Hirsi Ali and four other people would be honored at its commencement on May 18.

One such “past statement” was an interview she gave with Reason Magazine in 2007 stating her views on Islam. She said of it: “once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now. They’re not interested in peace”.  In it there was no nuance, no hedging or ambiguity. Just an uncompromising awareness of being at war with an entity that also regarded her as a foe.

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Posted at 4:22 pm on April 9th, 2014 by Richard Fernandez

Deterrence and Bouncing Checks

James Perkovich writes in the National Interest that president Obama’s plan for a Nuclear Zero may even be more attractive after the Crimea.  While conventional wisdom holds that America’s retreat in the Crimea may induce other countries to arm themselves with nuclear weapons out of doubt for the American deterrent, Perkovich says that the crisis shows how subtly prescient Obama’s policy is. Aren’t we glad there are no sabers to rattle? he asks. For saber rattling must eventually mean the sabers will be crossed; just because deterrence worked in the past doesn’t mean it will work in the future. He writes:

unlike many of his opponents, the president and his supporters remember that deterrence is not fail-proof—otherwise it would not work. The weapons deter because they could be used, and any use could escalate to mass destruction. Even if deterrence is stable between the U.S. and Russia, it may have a higher probability of failure between less experienced pairs or, more ominously, groups of nuclear-armed states. As the eminent nuclear strategist Sir Lawrence Freedman put it several years ago: “The case for abolition…is that it is hard to believe that the past 60 years of self-restraint can continue for the next 60 years.”

But at least one group of allies may disagree with the case for abolition. The New York Times writes that Japanese are worried about the US response in Crimea.

When President Bill Clinton signed a 1994 agreement promising to “respect” the territorial integrity of Ukraine if it gave up its nuclear weapons, there was little thought then of how that obscure diplomatic pact – called the Budapest Memorandum – might affect the long-running defense partnership between the United States and Japan.

But now, as American officials have distanced themselves from the Budapest Memorandum in light of Russia’s takeover of Crimea, calling promises made in Budapest “nonbinding,” the United States is being forced at the same time to make reassurances in Asia. Japanese officials, a senior American military official said, “keep asking, ‘Are you going to do the same thing to us when something happens?’

The other group of people who seem to disagree with Perkovich are the Russians. The Washington Free Beacon reports that the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (Stratcom) warned Congress that Russia has been engaged in a nuclear buildup for more than a decade.  If the nukes are so useless then why is Putin building more of them even as Obama builds down?

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Posted at 2:36 pm on April 8th, 2014 by Richard Fernandez

Vanishing Point

There was an interesting postscript to the Eich saga in the bizarre protest held against Internet entreprenuer Kevin Rose.  The San Francisco Chronicle reports that protesters stood with signs and flyers outside of the Google Ventures partner and entrepreneur’s home in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood Sunday, calling him a ‘parasite’ and a ‘leech.’  Techcrunch has a copy of the flyer:

‘As a partner venture capitalist at Google Ventures, Kevin directs the flow of capital from Google into the tech startup bubble that is destroying San Francisco. The start-ups that he funds bring the swarms of young entrepreneurs that have ravaged the landscapes of San Francisco and Oakland.’

The flyer claims to speak for the service workers who “serve them coffee, deliver them food, suck their c***s [?], watch their kids, and mop their floors” and goes on to complain that most techies are “just like Kevin Rose,” though again, it’s short on specific criticisms, aside from pointing out that techies make a lot of money.

A supposed manifesto from an organization called “The Counterforce” makes demands believed to be related to the protest.

To this end, we now make our first clear demand of Google. We demand that Google give three billion dollars to an anarchist organization of our choosing. This money will then be used to create autonomous, anti-capitalist, and anti-racist communities throughout the Bay Area and Northern California. In these communities, whether in San Francisco or in the woods, no one will ever have to pay rent and housing will be free. With this three billion from Google, we will solve the housing crisis in the Bay Area and prove to the world that an anarchist world is not only possible but in fact irrepressible. If given the chance, most humans will pursue a course towards increased freedom and greater liberty. As it stands, only people like Kevin Rose are given the opportunity to reshape their world, and look at what they do with those opportunities.

There is no direct relationship between the Eich and Rose incidents, besides the sheer outré character of the events, but one can’t help get the feeling that they emanate from the same strange universe, whatever universe that might be.  But it’s all shadows with nothing besides fantastic flashbacks of “Scorpio” from Dirty Harry and the People’s Temple crowds bellowing for an airlift to Russia to lend it shape.

Business Insider suggests the protests were something more prosaic. It’s social unrest. It’s poor people fighting for their share of the hipster pie outraged at the high rents in the Bay Area and the outrageous pricing of goodies beyond their reach. It’s the rebellion of “social equals” who find they are financial inferiors. It’s the outcry of people who thought they were part of a great movement who discover they are, after all, only menials. That makes it all the more pathetic.  Business Insider says:

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Posted at 9:56 pm on April 6th, 2014 by Richard Fernandez

The Market For Common Sense

In September 2013 the Guardian wrestled with a mystery. “‘No one can explain why a rich country has no food’ Toilet paper, rice and coffee have long been missing from stores, as Venezuelan president blames CIA plot for chronic shortages.”

Actually, an economist named Brad Schiller tried to explain it in March of the same year. He said the shortages were the result of Hugo Chavez’s war against the Law of Supply and Demand. Writing in the Los Angeles Times Schiller wrote: “two years before his death, Hugo Chavez tried to repeal the law of supply and demand … Chavez despised the law because he believed it robbed the poor and unjustly profited producers.”

In its place, he persuaded the Venezuelan legislature to enact the 2011 Law on Fair Costs and Prices, a price-setting mechanism to ensure greater social justice. A newly created National Superintendency of Fair Costs and Prices was empowered to establish fair prices at both the wholesale and retail levels. More than 500,000 price edicts have been issued. Companies that violate these price controls are subject to fines, seizures and expropriation.

Not that he had any good experience with price controls. Chavez had been draining the state-owned Venezuelan oil industry for years using the same methods of price controls. “The most flagrant subsidy is for gasoline. Venezuelans pay only 4 to 6 cents per gallon for gasoline, the cheapest in the world. But it costs Petroleos de Venezuela, the government-owned oil company, close to $2 a gallon to extract, refine and distribute it. With domestic consumption now running about 600,000 barrels a day, the financial loss on subsidized oil is roughly $20 billion a year.”

The result was the ruin of the Venezuelan oil industry and the flight of its petroleum engineers to Canada. But undaunted by this sad experience the Chavistas waged an ever more relentless war on Supply and Demand everywhere they could find it.

The sheer destructiveness of these measures can be told in the story of coffee. Venezuela was once the largest coffee producer in the world but in 2004 it imported coffee for the first time from Brazil. By 2012 Venezuela was importing 43,000 metric tons from abroad. Today the movement of coffee beans is attended with the care accorded to shipments of gold bullion, under the watchful eye of SADA. “With SADA, any significant transport of food items anywhere in Venezuela must be declared. The truck, the merchandise, the driver, the dates of delivery, everything must be recorded previously if you want to make a delivery.”

With this fund of experience under their belts, the Chavista government is now convinced that the key to controlling prices lies in regulating consumption even more closely. As the Guardian explains: “battling food shortages, the Venezuelan government is rolling out a new ID system that is either a grocery loyalty card with extra muscle or the most dramatic step yet towards rationing in Venezuela, depending on who is describing it.”

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Posted at 2:23 am on April 6th, 2014 by Richard Fernandez

Eich

Much of the shock following the removal of Brendan Eich from the position of Mozilla CEO came from the realization that, in a manner of speaking, America was now at war. True it’s a culture war, not a physical conflict. But if you were waiting for the moment when the Cold Civil War actually begins, this might be it.

Not that anyone should have been taken aback. After all, Larry Summers was sacked as president of Harvard following his criticism of Cornell West’s rap album and as a result of a 2005 speech in which he suggested that the under-representation of women in science and engineering could be due to a “different availability of aptitude at the high end”.

Mark Steyn, National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute are being sued for defamation by Michael “Hockey Stick” Mann for criticizing the theory of Global Warming.  The Gannet newspapers declared open season on gun-owners by publishing a map showing the names and addresses of registered New York gun owners, as a kind of dinner bell for burglars. “Come and rob … me”.

In fact, the Wall Street Journal points out that a similar database was used to ferret out Eich. “Eich’s support for Proposition 8 became public knowledge because of a California law requiring disclosure of personal information–name, address, occupation and employer’s name — of anybody who gives $100 or more to a campaign for or against a ballot initiative. The secretary of state’s office is required to post this information online, and, as HotAir.com’s “AllahPundit” notes, the Los Angeles Times made it available on its site as an easily searchable database.”

To continue: in 2012, “American fast-food chain Chick-fil-A was the focus of controversy following a series of public comments made in June 2012 by chief operating officer Dan Cathy opposing same-sex marriage”. For those who still remember it (along with the forgotten episode of the Benghazi consulate), the 2013 IRS scandal was all about investigating people who held the wrong political views.

It might be mentioned, though it hardly seems relevant, that Proposition 8 actually won by 52.24% to 47.76. Irrelevant because unacceptable, as James Surowiecki of the New Yorker explains:

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Posted at 8:16 am on April 5th, 2014 by Richard Fernandez