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Uh-oh

March 18th, 2015 - 1:56 am

President Obama’s hopes for a grand bargain with Iran took a plunge toward the rocks with the come from behind re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister of Israel.  Breitbart called it somewhat incongruously, the “St Patrick’s day miracle in Israel”.  Obama had counted on teaching Netanyahu not to defy him.  Somewhere along the line the lesson went very wrong.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has apparently defied the mainstream media and the Obama administration with a stunning, come-from-behind victory in Israel’s elections on Tuesday. Netanyahu’s Likud Party had been projected to lose to Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union by a margin of 26-22. Two exit polls released at the close of voting, however, suggested Likud would win, 28-27 (a third poll showed them tied). Netanyahu is now expected to form a new governing coalition.

Netanyahu was under pressure from voter discontent over his handling of the domestic economy.  He might have lost of his own accord until president Obama’s clumsy effort to unseat him allowed Netanyahu to play the national security card and turn the tables. “Netanyahu had three messages: first, that if Israelis wanted him to return to power, they would have to vote for his party; second, that he would not allow a Palestinian state to be created despite earlier commitments; third, that foreign donors and governments were mobilizing Arab voters, including some who oppose Israel’s existence, to turn out.”

And it worked. The New York Times sputtered in barely contained fury. “Israel’s election has done a lot to reveal the challenges facing the country and the intentions of the men who seek to lead it. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s outright rejection of a Palestinian state and his racist rant against Israeli Arab voters on Tuesday showed that he has forfeited any claim to representing all Israelis.”

Mr. Netanyahu showed that he was desperate, and craven, enough to pull out all the stops. On Monday, he promised that if his Likud faction remained in power, he would never allow the creation of a Palestinian state, thus repudiating a position he had taken in 2009.

Obama had struck at the king — and missed. He’s been doing a lot of striking and missing lately. In the weeks previous the president also tried to push Congress out of the deal he was negotiating with Iran and similarly struck out. Politico reports that Democrats are now prepared to buck White House on the Iran nuclear deal.

Even as the White House ramps up pressure on Congress to stay out of its negotiations with Iran on a nuclear agreement, Republicans are on the brink of veto-proof majorities for legislation that could undercut any deal.

And that support has held up even after the uproar last week over the GOP’s letter to Iranian leaders warning against an agreement.

Though several Democratic senators told POLITICO they were offended by the missive authored by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), none of them said it would cause them to drop their support for bills to impose new sanctions on Iran or give Congress review power over a nuclear deal.

That presents another complication for the administration ahead of a rough deadline of March 24 to reach a nuclear agreement with the country.

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March, 2015

March 17th, 2015 - 4:19 am

If the world had a plotline, you would have to guess it.  Just exactly what the series finale will be is a closely held mystery, though the show’s been running for a long time. What we have in place of clear main narrative arc are a succession of subplots, all mixed together. There are cliffhangers episodes:  who will Israel elect as prime minister or why did Putin disappear?  The resolutions to cliffhangers like these are soon known.  Their purpose is to hold our attention intensely for a moment and pass.  Then we are back to the main plot.

In them are woven long running dramas, such as the Hillary Clinton story and the yet unfinished saga of Barack Obama.  These involve characters we love, or hate, as the case may be, whose fates we are interested in.   Just when we think we have them pegged some episodes into the series, producers suddenly reveal an even deeper malice or perhaps a more redemptive side to them and we come back for the next episode to see what happens next.

Yet these characters, with their personal crises are not central to story.  Despite their claim to bestride events, the main characters like us live within a vast, incomprehensible canvas which we often call “history”.  Though they hold lofty titles there is the sense that they, in common with other mortals, are swept along by happenings.  Things occur like meteors falling from the sky.  Burma and China exchange threats and who knew that could happen? Russia rattles its saber in the Ukraine portending war maybe.  The Saudis  warn they will get the Bomb if Iran gets it first.  But such threats occur with such regularity we hardly pay attention.  Yet we know, or sense, that when the time comes the producers will bring one of these background events to fore in the future. In the meantime we forget it until that anticipated episode comes around.

Even the leading characters are just going through the motions of trying to control things. Joshua Muravchik argues in the Washington Post that our leaders have decided that its better to do nothing and just hope for the best.  In the case of Iran the Obama administration apparently decided long ago that inaction was the better part of valor.

National security adviser Susan Rice declared at an American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference before Netanyahu’s speech that “a bad deal is worse than no deal.” So if Iran will accept only a “bad deal,” what is President Obama’s alternative? War?

Obama’s stance implies that we have no choice but to accept Iran’s best offer — whatever is, to use Rice’s term, “achievable” — because the alternative is unthinkable.

But should it be?

Why is the alternative unthinkable? Because history is out of our main character’s league. Like the rulers of ancient cities they climb to their towers and consult the stars.  And then they descend on the morning to look wise.  But to act? That is unthinkable. So they focus instead on controlling backyard barbecue smoke emissions, suspending 11 year olds for bringing leaves that only look like marijuana to school. That is more their speed. When they feel their oats our greater leaders take drastic steps like censoring speech on Facebook or enact speech codes to shut out the world. Andrew McCarthy writes that our civilization is seeking protection from danger in denial. Even though certain immigration trends have manifestly created certain effects, thinking about them has been effectively banned. McCarthy writes:

We need to understand that, contrary to Obama administration suggestions, what is at stake is not just speech that almost all of us would agree is in bad taste and that would not be missed if it were barred. What is at stake is the ability to tell the truth. What is at stake is the ability of a free society to engage in robust discussion in order to develop public policy, particularly security and crime-prevention.

“What is at stake is the ability to tell the truth.” But we can’t handle the truth. And what holds true for Islamic immigration in Europe holds true for many other things. So as ISIS continues to destroy churches and towns across the Middle East, as it expands into Africa as the “strong horse”, we just pretend it isn’t happening, just as politicians make promises and pretend they are going to fulfill them.

The Diplopundit notes that out of a billion emails trafficked through the State Department, only 41,749 were for the record. “The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi had 993 record emails compared to US Embassy Islamabad that only had 121 record emails preserved. The US Consulate General in Guangzhou had 2 record emails while USCG Ho Chi Minh City had 539. It looks like the US Embassy in Singapore with 1,047 record emails had the highest record emails preserved in 2013. The frontline posts like Baghdad had 303, Kabul had 61, Sana’a had 142 and Tripoli had 10 record emails in 2013.” Speaking of Hillary’s record during the Benghazi consulate incident Trey Gowdy noted how sparse were the secretary’s official utterances.

“If you think to that iconic picture of her on a C-17 flying to Libya, she has sunglasses on and she has her hand-held device in her hand,” Gowdy said, referring to a photo of Clinton that became a popular meme. “We have no emails from that day. In fact, we have no emails from that trip. So it strains credibility to believe that if you’re on your way to Libya to discuss Libyan policy, that there’s not a single document that’s been turned over to Congress.”

The main characters in our drama know you’d better not give history an official statement lest it turn it into a knife and shove it in their posterity. So our leaders don’t do change. Hope at the outside. Perhaps they hardly even know where they are in the stream of things.

Which brings us to perhaps the most entertaining elements of the world show: the random ridiculous events and the walk on characters. We learn for example that “ancient relics looted by ISIS in Iraq and Syria are showing up on eBay”. We are reliably informed that the most popular man on Iraqi Youtube sites is Abu Azrael, AKA the “angel of death“, a former university lecturer turned Shi’ite militiaman whose trademark is dealing with ISIS prisoners with an M-4 carbine in one hand and axe in the other. What does he do with the axe? I’m afraid to axe.

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The Judo Master

March 15th, 2015 - 6:25 am

One of the more interesting theories behind Vladimir Putin’s “disappearance” is that the Russian leader has engineered it himself.  After all, he hasn’t officially vanished.  The Associated Press has quoted his spokesman as saying ”there is absolutely no reason for any doubts about the state of his health. His health is really perfect, everything is OK with him, and he’s working in accordance with his traditionally overloaded working schedule.” If after all the excitement he suddenly shows up at ordinary meetings then the next time he drops out of public sight the public will be less excited.

At a recently concluded seminar on disinformation the speakers warned that Russia had developed techniques designed to neutralize the control of the Narrative practiced by Western institutions. The idea was to flood the news agencies with false information.

Since 2008, Pomerantsev argued, the Kremlin and military in Russia have adopted a body of thinking where information can be used as a tool to “confuse, demoralise, divide and conquer” and thus be used as a weapon. This comes from the Kremlin’s recognition that it cannot take on the West in a traditional military fashion and expect to win. Rather, over the years, Putin has talked about needing to be cleverer than the other side.

One of the Kremlin’s main strategies is to destroy people’s faith in journalism and the possibility of debate in media. Michael Weiss noted that this disinformation is most problematic when it is picked up by mainstream media organisations and circulated in the spirit of objectivity. The Putin regime, Weiss claimed, understands that Western institutions valuing transparency and objectivity can be exploited. “Even if you read through and see that a story is nonsense, the headline will still begin to penetrate”, he said.

This is particularly effective when the opponent relies on a synthetic storyline. The Russians well understand that the West uses the media to advance certain themes.  It exploits the Mainstream Media’s tendency to push certain points of view by leaving enough material around to falsify it. Edward Snowden’s revelations, for example, were not only damaging in themselves but allowed the public’s imagination to run riot over the administration’s possible dishonesty. Once the public is convinced that Western news stories are just a bunch of lies then they will believe Putin just as readily as Obama.

Unlike traditional propaganda techniques designed to engage emotional support, disinformation is designed to manipulate the audience at the rational level by either discrediting conflicting information or supporting false conclusions. A common disinformation tactic is to mix some truth and observation with false conclusions and lies, or to reveal part of the truth while presenting it as the whole (a limited hangout).

Another technique of concealing facts, or censorship, is also used if the group can affect such control. When channels of information cannot be completely closed, they can be rendered useless by filling them with disinformation, effectively lowering their signal-to-noise ratio and discrediting the opposition by association with many easily disproved false claims.

The jamming idea isn’t new. During World War 2 the British developed anti-radar chaff (code-named “window”) “in which aircraft or other targets spread a cloud of small, thin pieces of aluminium, metallized glass fibre or plastic, which either appears as a cluster of primary targets on radar screens or swamps the screen with multiple returns.” One can think of disinformation as memetic “chaff”.

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The Men Who Would Be Kings

March 12th, 2015 - 6:11 pm

Rumors that Vladimir Putin is sick or has been deposed, fueled by his recent absence from public events are a reminder of the very real defects of autocracy.  The problem, as Shakespeare noted, is that kings however well guarded, pampered and doctored eventually die.  Age, disease and mischance take their toll and often leave a country, so recently dominated by a single godlike figure, without any process of orderly succession.

For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison’d by their wives: some sleeping kill’d;
All murder’d: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear’d and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable, and humour’d thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!

Should Putin be lying incapacitated all agreements, ground rules, indeed the stability which flowed from his person would be placed in doubt.  Brian Whitmore at Radio Free Europe writes: “in a political system like Russia’s, where formal institutions are weak, court politics are paramount, and personal ties mean everything”. Everything substantial is founded on the will of Putin.   Once the foundation is undermined the entire tower totters.

In functioning democratic societies by contrast, the president or prime minister is merely an agent of “we the people”. If a stroke should take him, as it did Franklin Roosevelt, he would be instantly and seamlessly replaced by a designated successor, who might even be a mere former haberdasher and high school graduate. One moment nobody knew who Harry Truman was and the next he had the authority to drop the Atomic Bomb. A democratic leader does not derive power from himself; rather it derives entirely from strong institutions based on popularly mandated policies.

The advantages of a democracy are so great that Ross Douthat is not a little outraged and greatly mortified by the unabashed admiration of  the Obama administration staffers for ”Caesarism” .

I think what Dan Pfeiffer, the outgoing White House advisor, has to say to Jonathan Chait in this exit interview deserves the scorn of anyone who cares about limits on presidential power. …

you just define “worked” to mean “changed public policy without the opposition being able to stop us,” in which case we’re just dealing with Caesarism justified by consequentialism, and Pfeiffer’s argument is the boasting of a successful machiavel, unmoored both from constitutional norms and his boss’s own once-professed ideals.

Presumably there are still binding limits out there somewhere; even the president’s courtiers would concede that much. But for now, with re-election already accomplished, with a Congress too dysfunctional to effectively fight back, it clearly feels pretty good to be — or serve — the king.

While it is great to serve the monarch and swagger in his shadow once the king is pierced with fate’s “little pin” his former courtiers face an immediate reversal of fortune. They are left wondering — as Putin’s henchmen might now be — what doom must befall them. For once the king is gone the people who formerly prided themselves as “above the rules” find they have no rules to shelter behind. As Whitmore observes  Nemetsov’s murder set a dangerous precedent because it tore up the last remaining unwritten rules in an otherwise lawless society.

the law doesn’t apply to those on the top. This was one of the reasons why the Nemtsov assassination was so shocking. Killing somebody this prominent — and certainly doing the deed blocks from Red Square — was against the rules.

As Ivan Yakovina, a former political correspondent for Lenta.ru, wrote recently in the Ukrainian newspaper Novoye Vremya, “Moscow’s unspoken rules” forbid killing those other top politicians. Even those such as Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister, who had gone into opposition.

The killing, therefore, was “a signal to all representatives of this class,” Yakovina added.

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Don’t Answer the Phone

March 10th, 2015 - 2:40 pm

There’s the right way, the wrong way and the Hillary way. If you want to be a winner, Newsweek tells us how the smartest people on the planet get their email.  You want to be like them.

Hillary Clinton broke her silence Tuesday on the recent criticism over her use of a personal email server while Secretary of State, saying she did so “as a matter of convenience.”

“Looking back, it would have been better to use two separate emails and two separate phones”

The best people have two phones or alternatively — a private email server. Daily Mail headlines how convenient this is. Paraphrasing Hillary the paper summarizes her message at a press conference: I’ve deleted all my personal emails and the server will remain private: Hillary Clinton reveals HALF her inbox has not been handed over and says she used one account for convenience.

That suggests she has thousands more pages of personal emails as yet unrevealed.  And none of them were classified. Reuters  reveals that “former secretary of state Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday she did not email any classified material to anyone while at the State Department.”  How about that?

Why are we obsessing about all this technical minutiae? Vox’s Ezra Klein informs us that all the snarky remarks about Hillary will be forgotten once she starts campaigning against Republicans. “Obvious prediction: Dems will become more excited about Hillary as she begins running against Republicans.”

Laugh if you like, but the select know the tremendous power of mesmeric suggestion. ”From this moment everything I say to you. Every single thing I say, no matter how silly or stupid it seems will instantly become your reality. Everything I say will instantly become your reality.” Look into my eyes, deep into my eyes …

Yes you will forget it.  And people will elect Hillary.  Just like they elected …

No matter. The important thing is that I’ve been getting it wrong all owning this one single lousy cell phone. I am going to rush out now to buy a second cell phone so that I can receive email from more than one account and be a winner. Here’s a question for the commenters. Can I get by with a dual SIM device? How many phones do people normally carry?

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The In-Betweeners

March 10th, 2015 - 12:46 am

In  “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde“, Robert Louis Stevenson describes how the eminent Henry Jekyll wanted to be relieved of his conscience. From time to time Jekyll had indulged in shameful vice.  However his enjoyment was ruined in two ways: first by the fear of discovery and second, by the guilt which he felt afterward.  Thus torn, Jekyll resolved to let it all hang out yet somehow retain his respectability.

I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness … I was radically both … If each, I told myself, could but be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable; the unjust delivered from the aspirations might go his way, and remorse of his more upright twin; and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path, doing the good things in which he found his pleasure, and no longer exposed to disgrace and penitence by the hands of this extraneous evil.

The result was the famous dual personality Jekyll/Hyde. There seem days when politicians,  like Dr. Jekyll, seem weary of maintaining the pretense and tempted to simply drop the mask. James Taranto writing in the Wall Street Journal notes that Hillary Clinton is responding to a request for her official emails in a calculatingly insulting way. She’s turning over the emails as printed pages, almost as if to show her displeasure at being questioned, the way a man might resentfully pay the balance of his home loan with barrels full of pennies.

If you were following the revelations about Hillary Clinton’s private State Department IT operation last week, you probably heard that, as the initial New York Times story put it, “55,000 pages of emails were given to the department” in December after being selected by a private aide to the former secretary. You might have wondered: What does that mean, 55,000 “pages”? Or maybe you just read it, as the crack fact-check team over at PolitiFact did just last night, as 55,000 emails.

It turns out the reference is to literal physical pages. From Friday’s Times: “Finally, in December, dozens of boxes filled with 50,000 pages of printed emails from Mrs. Clinton’s personal account were delivered to the State Department.”

Why did Mrs. Clinton have her staff go through the trouble of printing out, boxing and shipping 50,000 or 55,000 pages instead of just sending a copy of the electronic record? One can only speculate, but there is an obvious advantage: Printed files are less informative and far harder to search than the electronic originals.

Because State has only printouts of emails, department personnel responding to a Freedom of Information Act request have to go through the whole haystack rather than type “needle” into a search engine. At best, that would mean long delays in FOIA compliance.

Likewise, printouts are not subject to electronic discovery in the event of investigation or lawsuit. The Times reports that department lawyers responding to a request from the House Select Committee on Benghazi took two months to find “roughly 900 pages pertaining to the Benghazi attacks.” And printouts do not include electronic “metadata,” which can provide crucial forensic evidence.

It’s not just Hillary either. President Obama told the public with a straight face that he only learned that his Secretary of State used a private email account from the news media. Bill Clinton has responded to reports that his foundation has received large sums of money from Middle Eastern potentates with a breezy ‘why not?’ “We do get money from other countries, and some of them are in the Middle East,” Clinton said. “I think it’s a good thing.”

When the great realize that nothing can actually stop them then the temptation to dispense with the inconvenience of pretense grows too great to resist.  It’s getting hard to be just plain folks for show any more.

Matthew Yglesias, writing in Vox, indirectly captures this desire to give free rein to ambition when he argues that America is doomed because the Constitution is flawed and standing in the way of progress.

America’s constitutional democracy is going to collapse. … In a parliamentary system, deadlocks get resolved. A prime minister who lacks the backing of a parliamentary majority is replaced by a new one who has it. If no such majority can be found, a new election is held and the new parliament picks a leader. It can get a little messy for a period of weeks, but there’s simply no possibility of a years-long spell in which the legislative and executive branches glare at each other unproductively.

But within a presidential system, gridlock leads to a constitutional trainwreck with no resolution. The United States’s recent government shutdowns and executive action on immigration are small examples of the kind of dynamic that’s led to coups and putsches abroad.

Things worked well when politics consisted of backroom deals.  But somewhere along the line politics got polluted with principle and the machine ground to a stop on a whole range of issues.

While Gilded Age members of Congress voted in a highly partisan way, their voting didn’t reflect any polarization of ideas evident in broader American society. As Charles Calhoun, a leading scholar of Gilded Age politics has written, the main concern of actual members of Congress was not policy, but “patronage power, the privilege of placing one’s political friends and supporters in in subordinate offices. …

Today’s partisan polarization, in other words, is not the same as its Gilded Age predecessor. The old polarization was about control over jobs and money — the kind of thing where split-the-difference compromises are easiest. That polarization was eventually undermined by a new politics built around principles. For decades, politicians found themselves cross-pressured between their commitments to a national party network and to various ideological causes. Today, however, politicians are no longer cross-pressured. We have strong Gilded Age-style parties, but organized around questions of principle rather than questions of patronage.

It’s possible that back when culture and religion were widely shared the dominant ideology was simply implicit.  There was an ideology but not many competing ideologies. As  the gangster Eddie Valentine in the Rocketeer said to the man unmasked as a Nazi paymaster who offers him money “I may not make an honest buck, but I’m 100% American. I don’t work for no two-bit Nazi. Let the girl go!” The Golden Age of wheeling and dealing which Yglesias is nostalgic for had many degrees of freedom precisely because it had only one constraint: an American identity.  By contrast today’s gridlocked society has multiple constraints — identity politics, single issues, etc — and no global objective function.

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Hillary and the Mines of Moria

March 8th, 2015 - 4:19 am

President Obama told Bill Plante of CBS News that “he had learned only last week that Hillary Rodham Clinton used a private email system for her official correspondence while she was secretary of state,” according to an article in the New York Times.  Asked when he first heard about the use of a private server, the president said at ”the same time everybody else learned it through news reports,” according to Politico.  But he seemed to give the impression that it was no big deal.

It wasn’t as if Hillary was an infrequent user of her email system.  According to the Washington Post, 55,000 pages of emails are said to have been turned over to the State Department, though there are probably more.

Remember that the State Department doesn’t HAVE all of Clinton’s e-mails. They are held on her own private e-mail server. That’s the problem. The 55,000 pages of e-mails she has turned over to State were selected by either Clinton or someone on her team. … those are the e-mails that Clintonworld decided should be turned over.

Unless these page lengths include voluminous attachments, Hillary’s correspondence represents a fairly large quantity of emails. According to the Atlantic, the average user generates 166 pages worth of email messages per year. Megan Garber wrote:

Here’s one estimate: 41,638 words. That’s per the personal assistant app Cue, which integrates services like contacts, calendars, and especially email — and which recently released data based on a sampling of its users in 2012. While the average number of email messages each user received last year was (a relatively modest) 5,579 — and the average number of those messages each user sent was (an also modest) 879 — the output of words sent was comparatively colossal. To put those 41,638 discrete pieces of communication in perspective, that word count, in the aggregate, is roughly equivalent to a novel that is 166 pages in length. (The industry standard for page length is 250 words per page.) Which makes the average Cue user’s email output slightly greater than The Old Man and the Sea (127 pages long), slightly less than The Great Gatsby (182 pages), and just about equal to The Turn of the Screw (165 pages).

Hillary was exchanging a lot of emails to various someones. One person to whom she was not corresponding, or perhaps she was but he didn’t notice the return email address, was Barack Obama. Nor it would seem was she writing to any official person who might have noticed and thought it odd.

Lauren Harper and Nate Jones of the National Security Archive aren’t buying it.  They believe it is highly improbable  no one noticed Clinton operating her own private document management system. It was simply that either no one had the temerity to confront Hillary Clinton or people were under instructions not to. They sadly conclude that while “the Secretary of State was responsible for all of the Department’s records … she failed to preserve even her own.”

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Payback

March 6th, 2015 - 5:40 pm

The old time Kremlinolgists often parsed the detailed biographies of key personnel, especially those newly appointed, to gauge the direction in which policy was moving.  For the real news was often not in the banner headlines but in the footnotes.  Now those same skills can come in handy in Washington. Today the White House announced the appointment of Robert Malley to replace Phil Gordon as .”Special Assistant to the President and White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf Region.

Today, National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice announced that Philip Gordon, Special Assistant to the President and White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf Region will be stepping down, and will be succeeded by Rob Malley, currently NSC Senior Director for Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Gulf States. Dr. Malley will assume his new position on April 6, 2015.

Who is Robert Malley? Wikipedia gives the public facts. He was born to parents with strong beliefs, made his career in Third World issues, was a classmate of Barack Obama, clerked for the Supreme Court, assisted Sandy Berger and worked in foreign policy for the Clinton administration. He also helped found J Street.  Now he leads the formulation of Middle East policy.

Robert Malley was born in 1963 to Barbara (née Silverstein) Malley, a New Yorker who worked for the United Nations delegation of the Algerian National Liberation Front, and her husband, Simon Malley (1923–2006), an Egyptian-born Jewish journalist who grew up in Egypt and worked as a foreign correspondent for Al Goumhourya, a newspaper linked closely to Gamal Abdul Nasser’s government. … The Washington Post, on August 7, 1980, reported the elder Malley was a founder of the Egyptian Communist Party and at the time was under investigation by French authorities for pro-Soviet activities. …

Robert Malley attended Yale University, and was a 1984 Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, where he earned a Ph.D. in political philosophy. There he wrote his doctoral thesis about Third-worldism and its decline. Malley continued writing about foreign policy, including extended commentary about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He earned a J.D. at Harvard Law School, where he met his future wife, Caroline Brown. Another fellow law school student was Barack Obama. …

According to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, Malley provided informal advice to the campaign in the past without having any formal role in the campaign. On May 9, 2008, the campaign severed ties with Malley when the British Times reported that Malley had been in discussions with the militant Palestinian group Hamas, listed by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization. In response, Malley told The Times he had been in regular contact with Hamas officials as part of his work with the International Crisis Group. …

The New York Times reported on 18 February 2014 that Malley was joining the Obama administration to consult on Persian Gulf policy as senior director of the National Security Council.

Naturally he is considered somewhat suspect by conservative members of the Jewish community. Some sense of his reputation can be gleaned from this screaming headline from Front Page Magazine: “Obama Appoints Man He Fired for Hamas Contacts as Middle East Coordinator”. David Frum calls the appointment “jaw-dropping”.

But the thing to remember is that none of this says anything significant about Robert Malley. It says a great deal however, about Barack Obama. Robert Malley as a private person is entitled to whatever views he chooses to hold. The public policy question is whether Barack Obama should cause those views to ultimately influence the official policy of the United States of America.

If Benjamin Netanyahu were wondering in suspense whether punishment for his lese majeste was forthcoming, he need wait no longer. The answering symphony has opened with a roll of deep drums. Now comes the blaring of the brass and dark crescendo of the horns. If anyone needs to ask what comes next, it’s been reported that the Fat Lady is offstage starting to warm up her tonsils.

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A Holodeck as Big As Washington

March 5th, 2015 - 3:46 pm

“Simulated reality,” according to Wikipedia, “is the hypothesis that reality could be simulated—for example by computer simulation—to a degree indistinguishable from ‘true’ reality.”  What motivated Hillary Clinton to create a private email system, argues James Taranto, is that it gave her the means to simulate her own reality, or as Bloomberg’s journalists put it  “a high level of control over communications, including the ability to erase messages completely, according to security experts who have examined Internet records.”

“You erase it and everything’s gone,” Matt Devost, a security expert who has had his own private e-mail for years. Commercial services like those from Google Inc. and Yahoo! Inc. retain copies even after users erase them from their in-box.

Like many simulations, the illusion was complete only when viewed from within. When seen from outside the system, the simulation artifacts could be readily detected. But that kind of insecurity is acceptable because the system is designed to fool the American public, not the Russian or Chinese intelligence services.  In The World of Lawfare, if the legal system can’t officially see it that is good enough. Gawker notes that legal considerations were exactly what motivated Clinton. “An old ABC 20/20 report from 2001 that’s been on YouTube since 2007 shows Clinton might have avoided email entirely later in her term as first lady because of all investigations the Clinton White House was under.”

Senator CLINTON: (From home video) As much as I’ve been investigated and all of that, you know, why would I—I don’t even want—why would I ever want to do e-mail?

“Why would I ever want to do e-mail?” Indeed.  When you write your own record you can never be guilty of anything.  One newspaper editorial argued that politicians know perfectly well what is legally visible (and therefore acted upon by law enforcement) and what is not; and have created a huge infrastructure of alternative message handlers to circumvent the system. The Washington Examiner notes that while the argument that ‘everybody does it’ is not a legitimate defense, everybody in fact does it.  It cites similar but less extensive circumventions by Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, etc.

Enough people do it to employ an army of political operatives like Hillary’s mysterious Eric Hotham (or Hothem as it sometimes appears in the ghostly records which captures the trace of his existence) at enormous cost to create false trails, brush away tracks and throw everyone off the scent. These operatives are paid to create layers of complexity to obfuscate the facts, construct entire alternative channels of communication and sometimes manufacture a complete fictional record to present for inspection. Sealing records, classifying information, intimdating leakers — it’s all in a day’s work.

And it’s not just exalted personages like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama who are protected by this system.  Democratic inquisitor Lois Lerner’s hard disk was searched by a blind person before being physically destroyed. Not surprisingly, nothing irregular was found on Lerner’s drive that might aid in the investigation against her.  You know you’ve arrived when a cleanup team is assigned to look after you.

Someone like Hillary Clinton has more layers of defense than carrier battle group. David Brock, who heads the Soros-funded Media Matters for America, was out doing the talk show circuit telling anyone who would listen that the Hillary Clinton email scandal was entirely imaginary. You can listen to him in the video below. Not to be outdone, the honorable Representative Elijah Cummings (D) of Maryland’s Seventh District praised Clinton for setting a new standard for transparency — with a straight face.  That’s the truth and nothing but the truth.

“As far as I am aware, no other Cabinet secretary in history has ever called for the release of his or her emails — in their entirety and throughout his or her tenure,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said in a statement on Thursday. “I commend Secretary Clinton’s decision.”

Even if you get past Brock and Cummings, speed past the minders in the mainstream media, find Hotham (or Hothem) if you can,  somehow subpoena the servers you are only past the outer ring of defenses. You still have to run the gauntlet of close-in protection provided by the best lawyers money can buy who  will fight tenaciously, falling back from venue to venue, like a die-hard rear guard filing motion after motion, until you give up.

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The Spitefulness of Little Men

March 4th, 2015 - 3:23 am

Despite Benjamin Netanyahu’s protestations to the contrary, his speech before the joint session of Congress contained an element of obvious defiance to president Obama.  After all, Obama all but forbade him to give the speech and still he gave it.  Yet Netanyahu was the hardly the first western leader to exhibit insubordination.  The old reliables have been falling away for some time.  As the New York Times put it, Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel “split” with Obama over the question of arming the Ukraine.

The pointed exchanges laid bare the divisions within the West’s ranks and did not provide a sense of how the United States and its European allies hoped to fashion a common strategy that might persuade President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to honor an agreement negotiated in Minsk, Belarus, in September.

Prior to that readers may remember how the British House of Commons refused to authorize participation in Obama’s military strike on Syria — actually refused to follow him into combat — in August 2013 by a vote of 285 to 272.  The Washington Post noted it marked the first time since the Suez Crisis “that a British opposition party has rejected a government motion for military intervention.”  The Daily Beast pointed out that “it was the first time a British prime minister had lost a vote on waging war since 1782, when parliament effectively called an end to the War of Independence and conceded that the American rebellion had succeeded.”

It’s no fluke. Recently in Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, the man who might be its next Prime Minister started tongues wagging when he suggested that he might pivot to China.  Turnbull said that ”an Australian government needs to be careful not to allow a doe-eyed fascination with the leader of the free world to distract from the reality that our national interest requires us to truly (and not just rhetorically) maintain both an ally in Washington and a good friend in Beijing.”

And finally, Turnbull recognises that all this means Australia has to rethink its place in Asia from the ground up. We cannot assume, he has said, that “the strategic and diplomatic posture that served us in the past can and will serve us unchanged in the future; or that it doesn’t matter if our strategic and economic messages to our region are somewhat contradictory”.

These words, uttered by a credible candidate for the prime ministership of one of America’s longest-standing allies are astonishing as the Pope musing about the possibility of converting to Islam. But why should Turnbull not consider these options? He knows the cavalry won’t come, any more than it wil for Ukraine, or the Syrian rebels or anyone else who relies on the “leader of the free world”.

In the universe outside the Beltway nations feel actual fear — of China, Russia or Iran  – as the case may be.  Germany, France, the UK, Japan and Australia need to survive and require more than dramatic poses from the lectern. In the absence of something more substantial they tend to make their own arrangements; if need be they conclude a separate peace.

It’s almost as if there were two parallel universes.  The real one in which the rest of the world lives and the fantasy land bounded by the Beltway and the media capitals. Perhaps American allies of long standing are starting to suspect that there is no president in the White House. To be sure there is someone who calls himself ‘president’ and never ceases to remind the public at large of his awesome magnificence.  Yet in actuality there is little concrete evidence of his majesty’s existence. For example after trumpeting an impending assault on Mosul, the Associated Press for example notes that the “US [is] on [the] sidelines of key Iraqi battle against IS”.

Glaringly absent are the U.S.-led coalition forces whose air campaign since last summer has nearly halted the Islamic State rampage across Iraq. Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said this week that the U.S. is not providing air power in the Tikrit operation “simply because the Iraqis haven’t requested us to.” …

However, more of a concern for the U.S.-led coalition is Iran’s prominent role in the fight against the Islamic State militants. Iran has long been influential in Iraq, but never so much so as over the past year, when the Iraqi military collapsed in the face of the Sunni extremists’ onslaught. Iraqi officials have noted Iran’s quick response to their urgent requests for weapons and frontline assistance even as they accuse the coalition of falling short on commitments on the ground.

People notice these things.  They remember that only a few years ago the US had proconsular power in Iraq. Now it doesn’t even get the time of day. The fact the man in charge operations against ISIS in the region appears to be Qassem Suleimani, chief of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, must make even the ordinary man start to have his doubts.

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