Belmont Club

Belmont Club

Hillary at the Charge

August 11th, 2015 - 4:14 pm

When the cad Harry Flashman found himself pursued by wolves and enemies in the fictional book Flashman at the Charge, he did what any self-respecting bounder would do: tossed everything overboard, including his girlfriend, to save his skin.

I’ve seen horror in my time, human, animal, and natural, but I don’t know much worse than that memory-those dim grey shapes bounding behind us, creeping inexorably closer, until I could make out the flat, wicked heads and the snow spurting up under their loping paws. I must have been petrified, for God knows how long I just stared at them-and then my wits came back, and I seized the nearest rug and flung it out to the side, as far as I could. …

I was cursing and scrabbling in the back looking for something else to throw-a bottle, that was no use, but by George, if I smashed one at the bottom it might serve as a weapon when the last moment came and they were ravening over the tailboard-in desperation I seized a loaf (we’d finished the ham) and hurled it at the nearest of them, and I am here to tell you that wolves don’t eat bread-they don’t even bloody well look at it, for that matter. …

“It’s no go … horses are almost played out! Can’t … We’re too heavy! Throw out some weight … the food … anything!” … I groaned and cursed, while the freezing wind whipped at me, casting about for anything else to jettison. The furs? We’d freeze without them, and Valla didn’t have a stitch-Valla! For an instant even I was appalled-but only for an instant. There was eight stone of her if there was an ounce-her loss would lighten us splendidly!

The tradition of saving yourself at all costs has not weakened over the years. The Washington Post reports that Syrian president Bashar Assad has thrown his homicidal cousin to the wolves to preserve his hide.

BEIRUT — Syrian authorities have arrested a cousin of President Bashar al-Assad who is accused of killing a military officer in a road-rage incident that sparked rare protests in a key regime stronghold. …

The arrest of a member of the president’s family is highly unusual, but it comes after rare protests by government supporters in Latakia and amid mounting speculation that Bashar al-Assad’s grip on power is slipping. Rebel forces have recently seized significant territory as the military struggles with manpower losses.

On Saturday, scores of protesters called for the arrest and execution of Suleiman, a militia leader and a cousin once removed of the president. They accuse Suleiman of fatally shooting a colonel during a traffic altercation Thursday.

The Opthalmologist of Damascus is probably staying up nights now that his regime is collapsing and the Russians and Saudis are openly haggling over where to dispose of his carcass. Reuters reports that “Russia and Saudi Arabia failed in talks on Tuesday to overcome their differences on the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad”. The Saudis are determined to get rid of him once and for all.


Self-Inflicted Wounds

August 10th, 2015 - 3:36 am

Reuters reports the deployment of 6 US F-16s and 300 personnel to Incirlik AFB in Turkey. “The ability to fly manned bombing raids out of Incirlik, a major base used by both U.S. and Turkish forces, against targets in nearby Syria could be a big advantage. Such flights have had to fly mainly from the Gulf.” A dramatic example of what these and other aircraft can do is narrated by Rukmini Callimachi of the New York Times.

Green drapes were drawn against the sun, cloaking the room where members of a Syrian Kurdish militia huddled around walkie-talkies, assiduously taking down GPS coordinates.

Talal Raman, a 36-year-old Kurdish fighter, worked on a Samsung tablet, annotating a Google Earth map marked with the positions of the deserted apartment buildings and crumbling villas from where his colleagues were battling Islamic State fighters south of this northern Syrian town. …

“Our comrades can see the enemy moving at the GPS address I just sent you,” he wrote in Arabic to a handler hundreds of miles away in a United States military operations room. …

The strike that ensued soon after blasted a crater at exactly the coordinates provided by the Kurdish fighter. It left a circle of bodies, including one of an Islamic State fighter who died slumped over his AK-47. An urgent message came in from the coalition war room: “Please confirm our comrades are O.K.?”

The tight coordination of American air power with the militia, known as the Y.P.G., from the Kurdish initials for People’s Protection Units, has dealt the Islamic State its most significant setbacks across an enormous strip of northern Syria near the Turkish border in recent months.

But US access to Incirlik comes at a price.  In return for access to the airbase the US must countenance Turkish strikes on the Kurds so that in some other town, a Turkish spotter perhaps concealed behind similar drapes in another observation post is marking a Kurdish position on an a communications device for destruction.

By the looks of it the Turkish forward observers have been busy bees. AFP reports that “nearly 400 members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have been killed and hundreds injured in two weeks of Turkish airstrikes on positions in northern Iraq, the official Anatolia news agency reported on Sunday.” Callimachi describes the absurdity of the arrangement.

The Turkish deal with the United States sets up an “ISIS-free” bombardment zone along a 60-mile strip of the border region that features another exclusion: At Turkey’s request, it is also explicitly a zone free of the Kurdish militia, even though the Kurds had begun advancing toward the area to start battling the Islamic State there….

American officials have always had to step carefully when cooperating with the Kurdish militia in Syria because of its links to the P.K.K., which is widely listed as a terrorist group…. The United States and members of the militia take pains to note that it is not the same group as the outlawed P.K.K. But on the ground in northern Syria, the connective tissue is hard to miss. Framed portraits of Abdullah Ocalan, the founder of the P.K.K. and champion of Kurdish autonomy, can be seen hanging in the offices and headquarters of the Y.P.G. militia. Fighters wear pins bearing his image. In Hasaka, Islamic State fighters who are captured on the battlefield end up on gurneys in a hospital adorned with a wall-size portrait of Mr. Ocalan, who has been imprisoned since 1999.

“It’s a nonsensical situation where you have P.K.K. fighters who are called ‘terrorists’ if they happen to be on the Iraq or Turkey side of the border,” Ms. Salih said. “Yet if the same fighter crosses into Syria, he is now ‘working with the coalition in the battle against the Islamic State.’”


The Eighth Offensive

August 8th, 2015 - 3:54 am

Many things the public considers to be new are actually old things returning under contemporary appearances.  Consider the regular assassination of Bangladeshi bloggers by Islamic militants.  The latest blogger to be hacked to pieces is Niloy Neel, who the BBC describes as “a Bangladeshi blogger known for his atheist views … He is the fourth secularist blogger to have been killed this year by suspected Islamist militants in Bangladesh.”

Ironically Neel may not have even been the target. According to Bangladeshi blogger Ananya Azad, it was him the Islamists were after according to the story in the  Times of India.

“I was their target. Since I came to Germany, they killed Niloy. He was very close to me and always supported me. He was one of the person who was always told me, please go abroad otherwise they will kill you. Now, I am speechless!”

Neel must have thought that innocence or even non-involvement was a defense.  What a silly idea.  As Leon Trotsky observed, innocence means nothing at all. “You may not be interested in war,” he said, “but war is interested in you.”

Armed with a little knowledge of history one can readily understand why the Islamic State is engaged in the mass kidnapping and execution of Christians in Syria or why the Taliban has inaugurated its new leadership by blowing up a hotel patronized by infidels in Kabul. There should be no mystery as to why Islamic militants have attacked a hotel in Mali.

ISIS is doing what ever other aggressor has done for years. Engaging in anti-partisan warfare.  As Trotsky memorably observed “an army cannot be built without reprisals. Masses of men cannot be led to death unless the army command has the death-penalty in its arsenal”.   Like every occupying power before them ISIS has got to put the resistants down.  Their murders are not “senseless violence” — as the State Department so often calls it — but part of a systematic, premeditated campaign.  If you do a search on the keywords “isis execution opponents” Google will return 438,000 results.

That’s not coincidence or happenstance.  It’s enemy action. Successful conquest, as Clausewitz observed, requires  ”anti-Partisan” warfare to pacify the population. Since Islam aims to achieve supremacy in all places and in all times,  the Islamic State must apply suppression on a gigantic scale. ” Niloy Neel might be the latest to die, but he is hardly likely to be the last.  Anti-partisan warfare takes a long time.  The Nazis launched seven offensives against Tito.

The tactics of ISIS will resemble the methods used by the Nazis against the Poles, Yugoslavs and Czechs because they have the same goals. Hostage-taking, ethnic cleansing, reprisal and the wholesale elimination of all possible sources of resistance are methods as old as warfare.


Who Sent You?

August 7th, 2015 - 4:29 am

Nothing conveys the way media outlets view the debate among Republican presidential candidates better than their choice of headlines to describe the proceedings.  If you only had two minutes to form an impression of what the GOP field said by skimming the news, this is what you might see in the lead.

From them the reader might understandably conclude that the debate was a food fight among a random collection of zany, or slightly demented mental midgets.  That the whole thing is a waste of time, like a cartoon feature before the real show featuring titans of progress like Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden.  That’s when the “reality based community” comes out to judge the real horse show.

For now it’s just the jokers. It’s true that a few pundits were apparently impressed by what they heard from the GOP, but most came to their senses before they made the mistake of taking them seriously. Eli Stokols of Politico writes: “Carly Fiorina shines — but will it matter? The former tech exec steals the show at the undercard. So what?”

On a stage filled by several faltering also-rans, Carly Fiorina stood out for her seriousness, fluidity and willingness to attack not just Democrats but her Republican opponents as well. …

But it’s unclear whether outdebating her six struggling rivals on the undercard will do much to elevate her in the sprawling GOP field, especially with the prime-time debate still to come Thursday night certain to dominate Friday’s headlines.

The former Hewlett-Packard CEO has struggled to gain traction, despite her steady campaigning in New Hampshire and ability to impress many in the party’s donor class.

“So what?” It ain’t gonna matter in the scheme of things. The reason why the Republican lineup are clowns and Trump and Fiorina are uber-clowns is because they showed up without anyone “sending them”.  And whoever heard of that?  Ultimately they haven’t got a chance but are too dumb to know it.

The former HP executive might be miles smarter than Hillary Clinton in the conventional sense, yet dumb as a bag of hammers because  she doesn’t know the way the game is played.  The real game.


Asteroid Watching

August 5th, 2015 - 11:20 pm

Liberals in good standing have the ability to make political statements, which if uttered by conservatives, would be deemed offensive.  Exhibit A is Bernie Sanders’ dissatisfaction with Obamacare.  Sanders can hate  the health program, but Ted Cruz can’t say a word against it without being admonished as partisan and extremist.  When in 2011 Vermont unsuccessfully tried to implement a single payer health care system, nobody yelled “nullification” because Vermont’s departure from the Affordable Care Act’s strictures was in the right direction.  The list goes on: sanctuary cities and non-resident public officials.

Julian Zatarain always assumed the doors of City Hall were closed to him because he is here illegally, arriving from Sinaloa in 2007 when he was 13.

The 21-year-old college student found other outlets for service, such as volunteering for the Red Cross and with an organization that helps young people like him get access to educational resources.

Then on Monday, Zatarain proudly accepted an appointment to the Huntington Park parks and recreation commission. Another immigrant here illegally, Francisco Medina, 29, won an appointment to the health and education commission.

The significance of this asymmetry is that liberals have the power to legitimize the existence of problems.  They can alone enter things into evidence, as it were. Max Ehrenfreund, writing in the Washington Post, has a gathered a list of discontents from various publications that are now being talked about even in liberal circles, which means the population at large can talk about them now.  Liberals set the agenda, when they talk about things going down the tubes then it’s on the agenda.   Here are some things it’s now relatively OK to bring up.

Did you know that the Obama boom was largely illusory? That there’s widespread impression of less money to spend?

“The economy of the years between 2011 and 2014 was even more mediocre than previously recognized, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The agency said Thursday it had overstated the rate of economic growth during the period.

The bureau often has to revise its estimates as it gathers new data or makes improvements to its methods for calculating economic growth, and these revisions are minor on the whole. Instead of an average growth rate of 2.3 percent over those years, the economy grew at a rate of onl 2 percent, the bureau said.”

Did you know that Hillary Clinton is seriously unpopular, despite her vast expenditures?  Which suggests that Democratic business-as-usual is no longer possible?

“In the biggest surprise of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, this thoroughly implausible man, Bernie Sanders, is a sensation. He is drawing enormous crowds—11,000 in Phoenix, 8,000 in Dallas, 2,500 in Council Bluffs, Iowa—the largest turnout of any candidate from any party in the first-to-vote primary state. He has raised $15 million in mostly small donations, to Hillary Clinton’s $45 million—and unlike her, he did it without holding a single fundraiser.”

But probably the biggest shock talking point is Robert Reich’s assertion that the US is in a sort of pre-revolutionary stew of discontent, after nearly seven years of Obama. In an article titled The Revolt Against the Ruling Class Reich says that “the biggest political phenomenon in America today is a revolt against the “ruling class” of insiders that have dominated Washington for more than three decades.”


Go Back To Bulgaria

August 4th, 2015 - 5:22 pm

Historians writing the history of US involvement in the Syrian conflict may struggle to describe the role of Division 30, a group of Syrian rebels trained and vetted by American officers, to fight ISIS in the Middle East.  To begin with, they sound like a footnote, being a mere handful of men, not so much a “division” as their name implied, but only half again as big as a platoon.

The United States has only trained approximately 60 Syrian rebel fighters as of July 3, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, saying the number is “much smaller” than the administration hoped to train at this point.
“I said the number 60, and I can look out at your faces and you have the same reaction I do, which is that that’s an awfully small number,” he said.

Carter’s admission highlights the increasing concern over the effectiveness of a program to train a local fighting force to combat ISIS in Syria.

The low numbers are blamed on a strict vetting process that includes ensuring the fighters are committed to combat ISIS, as opposed to the Assad regime, and passing a counter-intelligence screening.

Secondly they were wiped out within days of deployment. Vox, which is normally sympathetic to administration causes, cannot but note their cruel fate.  It headlines: “Obama’s failed plan to train the Syrian rebels, in one brutal timeline”.

President Obama’s big plan to train friendly Syrian rebels has had a really rough few days. The first 60 American-trained Syrian rebels, part of a group called Division 30, finally went onto the battlefield and almost immediately got attacked by al-Qaeda and suffered a humiliating defeat. According to the Guardian, al-Qaeda fighters killed five US-trained rebels, wounded 18, and kidnapped seven, including the unit’s commander. Half of the American-trained fighters were put out of commission within weeks of hitting the ground.

The Pentagon’s rebel training program, announced over a year ago, was supposed to be a key part of Obama’s strategy against ISIS. Clearly, it’s gone poorly. But to see just how poorly, it helps to look at this brief timeline of the Pentagon’s Syrian rebel training program. It’s not pretty ….

Perhaps worst of all, Division 30 was taken out by an enemy which the administration regarded as non-hostile. Ann Barnard and Eric Schmitt of the New York Times write that it “wasn’t supposed to happen like this”.  But it did.

While American military trainers had gone to great lengths to protect the initial group of trainees from attacks by Islamic State or Syrian Army forces, they did not anticipate an assault from the Nusra Front. In fact, officials said on Friday, they expected the Nusra Front to welcome Division 30 as an ally in its fight against the Islamic State.

“This wasn’t supposed to happen like this,” said one former senior American official, who was working closely on Syria issues until recently, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential intelligence assessments.

The Nusra Front said in a statement on Friday that its aim was to eliminate Division 30 before it could gain a deeper foothold in Syria. The Nusra Front did much the same last year when it smashed the main groups that had been trained and equipped in a different American effort, one run covertly by the C.I.A.


Reinforcing Failure

August 3rd, 2015 - 2:03 am

Pop quiz.  Suppose a whole country decides to live off an imaginary inexhaustible stash promised by its president. One day it runs out of other people’s money and begins to starve. Hospitals start to close. Even the beer runs out. What do you do? What do you do?

According to the International Crisis Group that is the problem the world faces in Venezuela. “Some economists predict a sudden collapse in food consumption and widespread hunger, and public health specialists already say that some surveys are showing chronic malnutrition.”  If the Colossus of the North doesn’t save it, then all hell with break loose.  Can’t let that happen can you?

Aside from purely humanitarian concerns, Venezuela’s neighbours and the wider international community have pragmatic reasons for acting. If a solid institutional and social welfare framework can be restored through a negotiated settlement, and economic measures taken to deal with inflation and scarcity, a humanitarian crisis can be averted. If not, the collapse of the health and welfare infrastructure is likely to make political conflict harder to manage and could lead to a further erosion of democracy and an increasing likelihood of violence.

This in turn would have an impact beyond Venezuela’s borders. Potential risks include large-scale migration, the spread of disease and a wider foothold for organised crime. Without a change of economic policy, the country is heading for a chaotic foreign debt default, probably in 2016. An unstable Venezuela unable to meet its international commitments could destabilise other countries in the region, particularly Caribbean nations that have come to rely on subsidised energy from Caracas. It would also have a direct impact in Colombia, along a border already under multiple threats.

Venezuela should have been rich what with being the “12th largest oil producer in the world … and a beneficiary of the most sustained oil price boom in history”.  Instead it is flat broke. It’s currency, the Bolivar is worth 1% of its official rate on the black market and 1/1000th of what it was before Hugo Chavez assumed power.

The country may be on the verge of hyperinflation. Most economists reckon that the inflation rate is already 120% a year (the central bank stopped publishing price data, so no one is sure). Some expect it to reach 200% by the end of 2015.

The Bolivar has essentially stopped working as legal tender and now everything is doled out by the state in an effort to make things “affordable”. “The government uses a labyrinthine system of price and exchange controls to shield Venezuelans from soaring prices. But these make matters worse. Price ceilings have devastated local production; factories are operating at half-capacity and more than two-thirds of food is imported. Affordable goods are in short supply.”

The result has been food riots. Desperate gangs of looters are roaming the streets, forcing the remaining businesses to shut down. “One person was killed and dozens were detained following looting of supermarkets in Venezuela’s southeastern city of Ciudad Guayana on Friday morning, according to Venezuelan authorities. Shoppers seeking scarce consumer staples including milk, rice and flour broke into a supermarket warehouse on Friday morning, leading businesses in the area to shut their doors.”

This has prompted the government to seize the remaining food stocks in the country and parcel out the contents to the population. What else is it going to do?  It has already printed all the money it can crank out so it is essentially looting whatever is left. CNBC says “Venezuelan troops occupied a Caracas warehouse complex used by local food giant Empresas Polar and Nestle to distribute food and beverages …. Workers said dozens of national guard and police took over the building on Wednesday evening. National Guard troops remained within the complex.”

Asked to explain the situation, the Venzuelan government has pointed the finger at the United States. “President Nicolas Maduro said the violence was premeditated and blamed the United States as being behind it.”  Conspicuously absent from the list of those responsible are Hugo Chavez and his socialist “Bolivarian” policies.

The International Crisis Group foresees an eventual collapse. “To forestall the severe consequences of a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela” it urges the regime to  admit its errors and begs the opposition not to exploit the situation  for political advantage. It calls upon “the broader international community”.

  • [to] abandon their reluctance to act, and explicitly press for restoration of the rule of law and of institutional checks and balances, beginning with close oversight of the December parliamentary elections.
  • They should also help alleviate the social costs of the current crisis by offering food and medical aid and helping Venezuela cope with and control existing epidemics and prevent future ones.

The advice amounts to forgiving the guilty, restraining the innocent and billing whoever has any money.  This is the universal solution to all political ills. But as to causes of the plague, there is still some controversy over why things went so wrong in the Caribbean country.   The British public TV Channel 4 reports that things started off well but suddenly things took a turn for the worse.


Dark Planet

August 1st, 2015 - 8:53 pm

The debate over public policy is often distorted by disinformation.   The true facts are hidden or selectively emphasized in order to shape a narrative. One of the many examples is the Iran nuclear deal.  Before you declare yourself for or against it, ask  yourself: what does the public know about it?  That question turns out to be surprisingly hard to answer.

The Wall Street Journal notes that much of what the deal is about is hidden in Closed Covenants.  ”The Obama Administration insists there’s nothing secret about the Iran nuclear deal, even as it claims not to have read two crucial side deals Tehran has struck with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). “Confidential agreements, but no secrets” is the way top U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman describes the deals, which are thought to concern the military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programs.”

Try parsing that distinction. And while you’re at it, consider that there might be additional separate agreements we haven’t heard about. We raise the possibility after speaking with Rep. Mike Pompeo, the Kansas Republican who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, and who more-or-less stumbled on the two side deals when the deputy director of the IAEA disclosed their existence to him and Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) in a meeting in Vienna.

“When you ask [the Administration] if there are other [side deals], you don’t get a yes or no answer,” Mr. Pompeo tells us. The Congressman adds that he and his colleagues have been frustrated by the Administration’s failure to answer their questions even in classified sessions. What does Mr. Pompeo know about the two side deals the Administration does acknowledge? “Nearly nothing,” he says, “and we’ve been briefed four times.”

To the infamous phrase “fake but accurate”, used to describe manufactured news  supposed to prove a “wider truth” has been added “definite but unknown”, otherwise known as “you have to pass it to find out what’s in it”.  Then there’s “unclassified but secret”. Tim Mak of the Daily Beast explains how that works with regard to the Iran deal. (emphasis mine)

The Obama administration delivered 18 documents to Congress on July 19, in accordance with legislation requiring a congressional review of the nuclear deal. Only one of these documents is classified, while the remaining 17 are unclassified. …

Most staffers were hesitant to discuss—let alone share—a number of these documents, even though they’re not classified, because they require security clearances to view. By mixing a classified document with unclassified documents, critics of this arrangement contend, important facts are being kept from the public just as Congress is deciding whether to support or oppose the Iran deal. …

“Many in Congress view the administration’s tactic of co-mingling unclassified documents with classified documents and requiring congressional staffers to have secret clearances just to view certain unclassified documents as an attempt by the administration to limit open debate,” a second senior Republican congressional staffer said.

Similar tactics are being employed to limit the amount of information available in the case of the Planned Parenthood scandal. The abortion organization has obtained an injunction from a California judge prohibiting the release of videos where its employees describe what they do. “StemExpress says the video was recorded illegally; California law prohibits recording “confidential communication” without all parties’ consent. The company filed a lawsuit Monday accusing CMP of invasion of privacy and receiving stolen property, among other claims. It then sought a temporary restraining order, fearing CMP was about to release clips of its meeting with StemExpress.”  The judge has performed the civilian equivalent of classifying the videos.

In the case of the controversy surrounding the propriety of Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email server to conduct official business, secrecy is used both as sword and shield. The discovery of four emails containing what government investigators believe is classified information has raised the possibility that Hillary may have mishandled even more sensitive information and set off a hunt to find the rest of them. Hillary denies using her private account for any secret correspondence.

To resolve the problem, someone tried to find the rest, which turns out to be problematic because they are on a secure thumb drive held by Clinton’s private attorney.

Hillary Clinton’s private lawyer has a thumb drive containing classified information from as many as five U.S. intelligence agencies — but the State Department told POLITICO the law firm is taking “appropriate measures” to secure the files.

The agency declined to detail steps made to protect the sensitive information in attorney David Kendall’s possession, but the issue is raising concern among Republicans on Capitol Hill who’ve criticized Clinton’s handling of the email controversy. The thumb drive has copies of emails Clinton kept on a private server while she served as secretary of state, a trove now known to contain classified documents. …

The agency told POLITICO that Clinton “does have counsel with clearance.” Kendall, a prominent Williams & Connolly attorney who defended former CIA director David Petraeus against charges of mishandling classified information, declined to comment.

Now it’s where the public can’t get at it. All the completely “unclassified” information that went through Hillary’s server has now been transformed into something altogether different. The classification vs declassification business has become so busy that sometimes the players get into head-on collisions. Planned Parenthood for example, had access to the mysterious Hillary email account.

Emails released Friday by the State Department include one that a Planned Parenthood executive sent to then-Sec. of State Hillary Clinton at her private email address,

Laurie Rubiner, the vice president of public policy and advocacy for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, emailed Clinton on July 31, 2009, asking her to discuss abortion during a state trip to Kenya.

“Kenya has one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in Africa — it is illegal unless a woman’s life is at risk and criminalizes both the woman and the provider,” wrote Rubiner, who, before working at Planned Parenthood, served as legislative director on Clinton’s senate staff.

“I went to Kenya last month to work with the coalition that has formed to strategize against the Constitutional amendment and to work toward a less restrictive abortion law,” Rubiner continued in her note to Clinton. “I also visited several of our clinics and providers in Nairobi and in nearby villages where Planned Parenthood has programs to train providers in post abortion care.”…

“I know it is asking a lot, but if there is any way that you could draw attention to this issue when you are in Kenya, you would be even more of my personal hero than you already are,” she said.


Guilt as Power

July 30th, 2015 - 5:35 pm

One of the most common reactions to the Planned Parenthood body parts scandal is along the lines of “I can’t bear to watch the videos of those horrible people laughing and talking about the sale of babies.  It’s just too upsetting to see”.  This exactly captures the reason why the videos are so dangerous: they have forced society at large to watch what many must have always suspected was true, but hoped never to confront directly.

The Center of Medical Progress has over 300 hours of undercover video which has been turned over to investigators.  It looks like society is going to have to watch, whether it wants to or not.

Willful ignorance “is a term used in law to describe a situation in which a Person seeks to avoid civil or criminal liability for a wrongful act by intentionally putting him or herself in a position where he or she will be unaware of facts that would render him or her liable.”  Apart from its legal utility it has a lot of psychological usefulness because it allows society to put certain things where they don’t have to deal with it.

Some historians have argued that a fairly large number of Germans in the 1940s knew, suspected or otherwise strongly guessed that the extermination of the Jews was taking place. But many were happy not to think about it, or refer to it only indirectly and then only in the most beneficial terms like “racial hygiene” or “living space”.

But the knowledge was always there, straining to come out of the background and into focus.  After the fall of the Third Reich there was no use denying it and some Allied Commanders forced the residents of towns around the concentration camps to visit, and sometimes to remove the corpses.  Once it was out in the open, the first impulse was to assert that it must have been some mistake.

According to Peter Wyden, in his book “The Hitler Virus,” a few of the Dachau notables, who were forced to view the corpses, fainted. Some cried and many shook their heads. Most of them turned away, eager to avoid the scene. Afterwards, they were heard to whisper, “Unglaublich!” (Unbelievable.) The Dachauers could not understand how the prisoners could have starved to death since the townspeople had regularly sent food packages to the camp. …

The practice of bringing German civilians from nearby towns to the concentration camps after they were liberated was started by General Walton Walker who ordered the Mayor of the town of Ohrdruf and his wife to visit the Ohrdruf labor camp after it was discovered by American troops on April 4, 1945. After their visit, the Mayor and his wife returned home and killed themselves.

General George S. Patton visited the Ohrdruf camp on April 12th, along with three other generals, one captured German officer and a few of the citizens of Ohrdruf. After his visit, General Patton suggested that all the citizens of Ohrdruf be brought to see the bodies.

And we are as a society, complicit to a greater or lesser extent, by virtue of our membership in the community. Greg Gutfeld hits exactly the right note in his video comments below when he asserts that the guilty party in the Planned Parenthood horrors aren’t a few liberal elitists, but humanity: those of us who guessed, deduced or knew in some way or fashion, but preferred not to look at what we knew was there.

The “secret knowledge” was in fact Planned Parenthood’s best defense, for it bound many to silence out of guilt or shame.  We could not bear to look;  we still cannot bear to look.


An Affair of the Mind

July 28th, 2015 - 7:16 pm

The controversy surrounding the F-35 is fundamentally an extension of the debate over what a future fighter should be.   Recently the aircraft made news when it was officially announced that the airframe couldn’t dogfight worth a damn.   The standard riposte is that dogfighting as a form of aerial combat, stopped being relevant a long time ago.

Perhaps the best advocate for dogfighting-is-dead point of view isn’t a paper for the F-35 but a paper which argues that air combat is fundamentally changing.   Perhaps the F-35 is not the best tool for coming era, but neither is the super-dogfighter many in the public seem to crave. In a PDF article titled Trends in Air-to-air Combat, John Stillion of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments argues that the era of pointing the airframe at moving point in space is over.  It never really existed. Even during the age of gun kills, most victories arose from a dominant situational awareness and the ability to initiate the fight and disengage at will. The dominant importance of getting in first did not change in Vietnam.

detailed analysis of 112 air combat engagements during the Vietnam War conducted by the U.S. Air Force (USAF) in the 1970s concluded that 80 percent of aircrew shot down were unaware of the impending attack. Surprise, the tactical outcome of superior SA, is so important to success in air combat that it is assumed in the modern USAF air combat mantra of “First Look, First Shot, First Kill.” Despite vast changes in aircraft, sensor, communication, and weapon capabilities over the past century, the fundamental goal of air combat has remained constant: leverage superior SA to sneak into firing position, destroy the opposing aircraft, and depart before other enemy aircraft can react

Being seen first is usually a death sentence, especially in an era of high off-boresight, long range missiles.  Stillion notes that since Vietnam it’s been missiles all the way.  The last gun kill by anybody was in 1988.

the use of guns in aerial combat virtually ended after the Yom Kippur War in late 1973. Out of 498 victory claims since that time, 440 (88 percent) have been credited to AAMs and only thirty to guns.39 The last gun kill of one jet combat aircraft by another occurred in May of 1988 when an Iranian F-4E downed an Iraqi Su-22M with 20 mm cannon fire.

Also of note is the near-disappearance of the rear-aspect-only IR missile victories and the reduction in proportion of victories achieved by all-aspect missiles such as the AIM-9L/M. Over the past two decades, the majority of aerial victories have been the result of BVR engagements where the victor almost always possessed advantages in sensor and weapon range and usually superior support from “offboard information sources” such as GCI radar operators or their airborne counterparts in Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) aircraft. This is significant, as it suggests the competition for SA is heavily influenced by the relative capabilities of the opponents’ electronic sensors, electronic countermeasures (ECM), and network links between sensor, command and control (C2), and combat aircraft nodes

In the first Gulf War, all coalition kills were scored via missile, and it’s only air to air loss was an F/A-18 to another BVR missile fired by an Iraqi Mig-25. Interestingly the less air combat depended on individual skill, the greater the American advantage in integrated combat systems proved to be. The US air to air kill ratio in Vietnam was 2:1. By the first Gulf War it was 33:1.  The death of the dogfight, he argued, worked wildly in America’s favor.

Today, with missiles able to shoot directly behind a fighter, maneuver is completely secondary to situational awareness, Stillion argues. The next step is to carry trends to their logical conclusion and let unmanned aircraft carry the weapons leaving the stealthy, manned fighter to control them.  This division of labor is driven by the fact that unmanned aircraft can outperform and out-turn any conceivable manned fighter. Physics guarantees it.

If the future air combat environment consists almost exclusively of BVR missile duels or, eventually, directed-energy weapons engagements, achieving a decisive SA advantage will increasingly depend on the relative ability of the opposing sides to acquire and process longrange sensor data and rapidly integrate it with offboard information provided via data networks.

One way to think about the end of dogfighting is to consider directed energy weapons. You can’t outturn a laser, not even in principle  so you let the unmanned vehicles do the actual shooting. But how do you control what might be called a pilot’s tactical swarm? While artificial intelligence can create increasingly capable unmanned aircraft, keeping a man in the loop requires putting him as near the action as possible. Data lags and latency make it impossible to control an air fight over the Pacific, for example, from an airbase in the US.

Your only chance is to control it from a flying, stealthy computer, like an F-35 positioned to the rear of the swarm. Interestingly enough, this provides another ground for criticizing the F-35. The optimal “mother ship” for a UCAS (Unmanned Combat Air System) is a stealthy, bomber sized platform with dozens of very long ranged air to air missiles controlling its own swarm. From this point of view the real problem with the F-35 isn’t that it can’t dogfight, but it is too small and short legged to do the job right.