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Belmont Club

Paradigms Lost

August 23rd, 2014 - 2:03 pm

The administration’s abrupt transition from complacency to near panic on the rise of ISIS recalls Donald Rumsfeld’s famous dictum. But before the dictum, first the panic. The New York Times captures the sudden shift in attitude in its opening paragraphs of an article by Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper:

Earlier this year, President Obama likened the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to a junior varsity basketball squad, a group that posed little of the threat once presented by Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

But on Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called ISIS an “imminent threat to every interest we have,” adding, “This is beyond anything that we’ve seen.”

Now there was no more talk of amateur opponents. Indeed the media outlets were playing up ISIS threats to the president’s hometown of Chicago.  The rest of the NYT Mazzetti-Cooper article examined the debate over the seriousness of the threat without reaching a conclusion.  Donald Rumsfeld warned there would be days like this: a man must always expect the unexpected.

Reports that say there’s — that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

There are things we do not know and NPR said the failed rescue of James Foley “reveals the challenges faced by US intelligence”. Yet at least it was, to the intelligence community at least, a known unknown.

The U.S. doesn’t really have much in the way of assets on the ground there. The U.S. is allied with the Free Syrian Army. That’s the group that’s fighting the Assad government. But they apparently provide very little in the way of really good intelligence. So instead, and the secretary of defense alluded to this, the intelligence community has to figure out what’s going on by cobbling together information from cell phone calls, Internet traffic and the surveillance from overhead drones.

President Obama’s earlier dismissal of ISIS in January falls into a  much more serious category. In an interview with David Remnick of the New Yorker, he boasted that there were now no significant threats worth considering. Al Qaeda had been “decimated.” When Remnick challenged that claim,  pointing  out that the Black Flag was flying over Fallujah, the president famously waved it off. He characterized ISIS as a “jayvee” or junior varsity team, not even to be taken seriously.

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It’s Alive

August 21st, 2014 - 3:03 pm

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told reporters that ISIS “is beyond anything we have seen … They marry ideology and a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They are tremendously well funded.”

Hagel’s realization that it’s beyond Obama’s ken is understandable. You really can’t see much from the 18th hole.

ISIS and the riots in Ferguson are examples of emergent events, which happens when big things suddenly constitute themselves out of a myriad of seemingly harmless little things and become something much larger than the original. It is the result of “a process whereby larger entities, patterns, and regularities arise through interactions among smaller or simpler entities that themselves do not exhibit such properties”.

President Obama’s whole approach to the world has been predicated on the idea that you can make deals with enemies of the United States in specific circumstances because each deal can be isolated from the others. Thus, he could engage in a ‘prisoner swap’ for Bowe Berghdahl or otherwise talk to the Taliban while still remaining in actual combat with them. Likewise it was possible to make a deal with Iran while remaining an ally of Israel.

It is well known for example that Qatar is a supporter of ISIS. “German Development Minister Gerd Mueller accused Qatar on Wednesday of financing Islamic State militants who have seized wide areas of northern Iraq and have posted a video of a captive American journalist being beheaded.”

“You have to ask who is arming, who is financing ISIS troops. The keyword there is Qatar – and how do we deal with these people and states politically?” said Mueller, a member of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the center-right Bavarian sister party of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

In Obama’s world the observation that Qatar was a source of support for ISIS would not be germane. The relationship with Qatar was separable from the problem of ISIS. The “axis of evil” stuff was for limited minds. The president prided himself on being able to straddle all sides of an issue at once as the “only adult in the room”. He could take the big view of things and therefore hated the idea of “war” because it was so limiting, implying that one had to take just one side in a quarrel.

Why, with his great mind, Obama figured he could take all sides. Early in his presidency, deputy press secretary Bill Burton boasted that “when you’re President of the United States you’ve got to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time”.

This is how to ring a motel front desk bell the Barack Obama way.

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Game Over. Play Again?

August 20th, 2014 - 3:46 pm

Liz Peek at the Fiscal Times explains why the Republicans might fail to get voters interested in repealing Obamacare, despite its unpopularity. “What ever happened to Obamacare — the unpopular healthcare bill that was to be the Republicans big weapon as they battled for control of the Senate this fall? For sure, the Affordable Care Act has been pushed to the sidelines by the chaos in Iraq, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the surge in Central American minors across our border, the Veterans Administration scandal, the pestilential virus rampaging across the computers of the federal government, and so much more…”

What happened to it was it got buried by Snowden, ISIS, the IRS, Benghazi, Ebola, Syria, Libya, Ferguson, Bergdahl, etc … who can spare a thought for Obamacare? The Obama administration is living proof that the Dense Pack strategy works.  If your problems come fast enough, you start living hour to hour and the newest crisis drives out all thoughts of the last.

According to the Dense Pack strategy, a series of ten to twelve hardened silos would be grouped closely together in a line. This line of silos would generally run north-to-south, as the primary flight path for Soviet inbound nuclear missiles would be expected to come from the north over the North Pole. The rationale for this thinking went like this: As the first inbound warhead detonates over its target silo, it would throw a large cloud of debris over the entire missile field. Every other warhead targeted on that missile field would have to travel through that debris cloud to reach its target, and it was theorized that the act of traveling through that debris cloud would “trash” the warhead before it could detonate. Every successful explosion over the missile field would throw more debris up into the air, increasing the chances that each successive warhead would be destroyed before it could trigger.

A suit shows up raindrops only when some of it is dry. But a soaking wet suit is uniformly changed in color.

The price for Dense Pack is letting it happen. The problems are coming too quickly for Obama to even perfunctorily address them. You may recall the Space Invaders video game. Once the bad guys get the jump on you, there’s no catching up. Like Space Invaders, the problems are now all over Barack Obama. He’s been criticized for hunkering down in Martha’s Vineyard but consider:  what difference does it make if he stays in Martha’s Vineyard to play golf or attempts to engage the crisis du jour.  There’ll be another along tomorrow of equal or worse importance.

Should Obama go to Ferguson? What good would that do?  The decapitation of American journalist Jim Foley by ISIS is a case in point.  Obama “called and spoke with the parents on Wednesday, the same day he held a news conference in which he vowed a ‘relentless’ effort to stop ISIS.”

You mean like the way he vowed to bring justice to the perpetrators of Benghazi or the wrath that would descend on Assad? Or maybe he meant his efforts to #bringbackourgirls — the hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped by the Boko Haram?  He means his vow as much as he meant the others. They got dense packed too.

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The Upper and Nether Millstones

August 19th, 2014 - 2:22 pm

Yesterday’s post about the inexorable expansion of government can be read in conjunction with Roger Simon’s current piece about how the Great Society laid the foundations for the riots in Ferguson.

Ironically, Michael Brown and the paramilitarized Ferguson Police Department are two sides of the same coin. They are the joint product of the politics of grievance and the growing expansion of government. The taxes that made the mobs dependent also armed the paramilitary police that contain them.   You have one government department handing out Obamaphones and another handing out MRAPs to the cops. HHS gives out Obamacare and the IRS enforces it.

A giant bureaucracy tasked with providing all “positive rights” rumbles on, even as progressive politics unleashes more “community organizers” while erecting a giant political machine to meet those same growing expectations.  It calls to and answers itself. The result on a community scale is Ferguson. The result on a national scale is Barack Obama.

Dependence is met with welfare; crime countered by replacing the family — after destroying it first — with state adoption and child protection agencies.  Two monstrous excrescences grow from the soil to dizzying heights. It was supposed to be a win-win: the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth (represented by the youths) would be governed and fed by the All-Seeing Eye of Agamotto. In charge of it all would be our very own Dr. Barack Strange Obama, who would preside over both the youths and their keepers.

And it continues apace. Soon Eric Holder will tell us whom to blame. And as Foxtrot Alpha explains, maybe systems like the “Wide Area Aerial Surveillance, the all-seeing eye in the sky that will change our lives forever” will tell us whom to find. Yet both, as Roger Simon notes, will utterly fail to spot the real culprit: the system that created this dynamic in the first place.

The only people who don’t belong in this tableau are people who work for a living. In Ferguson, schools have been closed, stores shuttered and businesses shut. Does anybody remember — or care — about the convenience store owner whose robbery was the proximate cause of this dust-up? No, because he was only the victim of a “prank” who has no spoken lines in this grand production.  He is no more than a bit player, a prop even,  in the inexorable drama of progressive history.

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Shrinking Government and Seeing a Shrink

August 18th, 2014 - 3:38 pm

The National Treasury Employees Union has a PDF document on its website which shows why any attempt to shrink the government is foredoomed.  ”The National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) is an independent labor union representing approximately 150,000 employees of 30 agencies of the United States government. The union specializes in representation of non-supervisory federal employees in every classification and pay level in civilian agencies.”

The document urges NTEU members to oppose a list of “bad bills” now before congress. Here is the list of “bad bills” verbatim.

LEGISLATION PROPOSING REDUCTIONS IN PAY, BENEFITS AND THE SIZE OF THE WORKFORCE

  • H.R. 243 (Ross, R-Fla.) would extend the freeze on federal employee pay through the end of calendar year 2015 and  would require deep cuts in the federal workforce.
  • H.Con. Res. 96 (Ryan, R-Wis.) The House Budget Resolution for Fiscal Year 2015 contains $125 billion in cuts to federal retirement programs. It would require federal employees to contribute close to 6% more toward their retirement, would limit agencies to hiring only one employee for every three that leave, end the FERS supplement and phase out the defined benefit annuity portion of the federal retirement system, leaving only TSP. Would eliminate repayment by government of student loans for federal employees.
  • H.R. 1780 (Camp, R-Mich.) would require most federal employees to leave the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) and instead join health plans established under the Affordable Care Act.
  • H.R. 237 (Marino, R-Pa.) would impose a hiring freeze on the federal government until the budget deficit has been eliminated.
  • H.R. 824 (Lummis, R-Wyo.) would require that the total number of federal employees does not exceed a maximum number spelled out in the legislation for each quarter of each calendar year. Reductions in the number of federal employees, if required, would be made through attrition and a freeze on hiring.
  • H.R. 1541 (Meadows, R-N.C.) would place limitations on the amount of awards or other discretionary monetary payments that can be paid to federal employees.

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Dover Beach

August 17th, 2014 - 4:22 pm

It is said that in the dungeons of Dzerzhinsky square, where many an Old Bolshevik languished before execution, the walls contain this scrawled inscription: “why?”

Disillusion for James Risen of the New York Times has come early. Risen, who is about to go to jail for revealing how Iran gained vital intelligence called president Obama “the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation.”

Risen faces jail over his reporting of a botched intelligence operation that ended up spilling nuclear secrets to Iran. The Justice Department has long been seeking to force him to testify and name the confidential source of the account, which is contained in his 2006 book State of War.

Risen recently failed in an attempt to have the supreme court review an order for him to testify, and acknowledges that he has exhausted all his legal options against the Justice Department’s pursuit of him under the controversial Espionage Act. In the face of incarceration that could come as early as this autumn, he is resorting instead to journalistic defiance.

But it’s not just Risen who’s feeling cynical. Edmund Wright of the American Thinker says that for the first time in his memory, conservatives have stopped reflexively supporting law and order.

One of the fascinating layers of the Ferguson riot story is how this tragedy has exposed what is a rapidly changing attitudinal climate towards law enforcement officers (LEOs). What was for years a stable predicate — conservatives being reflexively ‘law and order’ and inherently giving cops the benefit of the doubt — while liberals with the built in ACLU type disdain for cops tending to always assume the worst of those in power – is now a vortex of confusion, cross currents,and contradictions.

It’s not a total flip-flop of the convention, but it’s moving in that direction. After all, we’ve seen Rand Paul and Eric Holder agree on this in the past week. Did I mention confusing and contradictory?

Consider: many young liberals have of course discovered a love for big government, and take to Twitter and Facebook to support cops harassing Tea Party types and Nevada ranchers just as they cheer the IRS and Lois Lerner persecuting conservative business people and political groups. Meanwhile, liberal voters in Boston cheered their ‘Boston Strong’ reaction to the Marathon bombers, which to me looked a lot like an entire city cowering from a wounded young teen — while LEOs with Seal Team Six fantasies trampled on every liberty they could for 48 hours — brandishing Kevlar, automatic weapons, neo-Nazi style helmets and riding around neighborhoods in hummers and kicking down doors.

The media, long willing to challenge the cops and take the victim’s point of view, have been silent, or even dismissive, of recent fears by the right of militarized police departments and massive ammo buys by the Feds. Worship of Obama and support for public sector unions has trumped their former concerns apparently.

Somewhere the counterculture of the 1960s crossed paths in the night with Barack Obama. The phrase “we are the people our parents warned us against” has been replaced by “we are the people we’ve been waiting for.”

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Man Without a Country

August 16th, 2014 - 3:59 pm

The statement of the convenience store owner allegedly robbed by Michael Brown seemed almost straight out of a 1950s TV show. The owner, of subcontinental or Middle Eastern appearance on the robbery surveillance tape,  issued a statement to the public through his lawyers. Leave me out of it.

The store’s owners, through their attorney, sent the message that they want to stay as far away from the situation as possible. In fact, he said, even after the initial alleged theft, it was a customer who called police.

“It’s not about them. They didn’t call the police, they didn’t ask the police to come and take the video,” said attorney Jay Kanzler….

Now, the Ferguson Market owners are hoping the video won’t make them a target.

“They would hope that the people of this community, who have consistently supported them, would continue to support them, and realize that whatever the police are looking at on the surveillance tapes has nothing to with what went on in the streets,” said Kanzler.

Target of whom? And won’t the cops protect him? Think of Robert Stack playing Eliot Ness uttering standard Golden Age lines about the melting pot based on truth and justice.  In the early part of the 20th century people saw the future as countries.

Ness: “Now Salvatore, tell us what you saw.”
Salvatore: “No  Mr. Ness. I no a-talk to the the police. In the old-ah country I learn that it’s-a better to mind your own business.”
Ness: “Salvatore, this is America. The police protect you here. We have courts. We have justice.”
Salvatore: “I prefer the old a-ways Mr Ness.”

The Ebola epidemic showed that most people don’t trust authority in West Africa. And perhaps that’s true in most places. In only a few countries would people say, “help police”. Most places they say, “help, it’s the police!” The national myth of the 1950s was that America could be different from the old country. But by the looks of it the convenience store operator doesn’t trust either the police, Al Sharpton or Eric Holder.

Shop owners appeared later in the day armed to the teeth.  Further photos of this shop owner depict him being reinforced by people who look like his cousin, brother or near relation similarly equipped.

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Looking for the Attractor

August 15th, 2014 - 3:55 pm

There’s a crisis in punditry. Disasters have become altogether too predictable. Almost everyone saw the costs of instability in Eastern Europe coming. The bill is now due, as Ukrainian artillery destroyed a “significant” part of a Russian armored column alleged to have entered Ukraine. Russia denied this occurred, but the tumbril of disaster jolts along yet another rut and the State Department has accused the Russians of violating an arms control agreement, too late to make a difference. Just another opportunity missed.

“Vladimir Putin does not take his obligations seriously, whether they be arms control or respect for the integrity of Ukraine and Georgia,” [Mike Rogers (R., Ala.), chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces] Rogers said in a statement announcing the legislation

“He doesn’t believe he has anything to fear from President Obama,” he added.

True Mike, but tell us something we don’t know. The West African Ebola outbreak continues to spread as WHO admits the “the magnitude of the Ebola outbreak had been ‘vastly’ underestimated.” “WHO officials also said in a Thursday statement that they share concerns that current numbers do not reflect the true gravity of the situation.”

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Bureaucracy Versus the Germs

August 13th, 2014 - 6:26 pm

In general we believe that really important things, like epidemics, are above politics. The reverse appears to be true. The more important a thing, the more it attracts political interference. It now transpires that the experimental serum ZMapp was offered to a sick African doctor first; before Dr. Kent Brantly, the medical missionary from Samaritan’s Purse received the treatment. The New York Times describes the agonizing decision of Medecins Sans Frontieres over whether to accept the offer of the serum to treat an African doctor. The problem: politics.

The doctor who had been leading Sierra Leone’s battle against the Ebola outbreak was now fighting for his own life, and his international colleagues faced a fateful decision: whether to give him a drug that had never before been tested on people.

Would the drug, known as ZMapp, help the stricken doctor? Or would it perhaps harm or even kill one of the country’s most prominent physicians, a man considered a national hero, shattering the already fragile public trust in international efforts to contain the world’s worst Ebola outbreak?

The treatment team, from Doctors Without Borders and the World Health Organization, agonized through the night and ultimately decided not to try the drug. The doctor, Sheik Umar Khan, died a few days later, on July 29…

The previously untold story of Dr. Khan, recounted by two doctors involved in discussions about whether to use ZMapp, offered an unusual glimpse into the wrenching ethical dilemma of when and how experimental drugs should be used to combat the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Had the treatment team decided differently in his case, the first person treated with the drug would have been African.

The problem MSF faced was simple. If they unsuccessfully administered ZMapp to Dr. Khan they might be accused of turning black Africans into lab rats.  And they couldn’t risk that. One MSF clinic had already been attacked by crowds who believed they had brought the virus from outside in the first place.

“What they really didn’t want to do was kill Dr. Khan with their attempt at therapy,” said Dr. Armand Sprecher, a public health specialist at Doctors Without Borders. “If word got out that M.S.F. killed Dr. Khan, that would have implications for outbreak control,” he added, using the initials for the French name of the relief group…. doctors feared stoking the considerable suspicion of Western medical institutions in the country, which was already making it harder to contain the outbreak.

So they didn’t give him the medicine. As I wrote a week ago before the case of Dr. Khan came to light, “the sad fact is that if they tested Zmapp on black Africans during this Ebola outbreak the media would claim they were being used as lab rats. The only acceptable way to test the new uncertified medication in Liberia was on two white Americans. That way if the serum failed the UN wouldn’t sue.” And so it proved. The success of the serum on Dr. Brantly and Nancy Writebol has reversed the situation. Now there indications it works, charges of racism are being made just the same, as in why were only white people being treated?

It’s ridiculous, but politics makes the world go round.

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Prisoner’s Dilemma

August 12th, 2014 - 6:49 pm

After a week spent sniping at each other, the Time says “Hillary Clinton will attend a birthday party Wednesday evening in Martha’s Vineyard, just as their relationship is hitting its lowest point since the 2008 Democratic presidential primary. But Clinton hopes to use the occasion to put a fresh controversy over their foreign policy disagreements behind them, with a spokesman saying ‘she looks forward to hugging it out’ with the commander-in-chief.

Clinton called Obama on Tuesday in an attempt to clear the air before their meeting, Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said. The flareup highlighted the challenge facing Clinton as she seeks to differentiate herself from a president of her own party, and the limits to which she can break with him without alienating Democratic supporters of Obama.

The problem for Hillary is that at the rate President Obama is messing things up, her chances of being elected president in 2016 are going from slim to none. The problem for Obama is different: he needs to find someone he can blame for the catastrophe unfolding overseas. The most obvious candidate to take the rap is Hillary.  So Obama’s opening line is probably to promise he’s not going to set her up.

Back in 2012 author Ed Klein told Glenn Beck that Bill Clinton’s first reaction upon learning of the attack on the Benghazi consulate was how to get Hillary out from under.  Say what you like about Bill Clinton, but that man knew how to see a punch coming.

KLEIN: Two separate sources on this. And Hillary claims, and I tend to believe her, that she ordered beefed‑up security in Benghazi because it had been requested and that this order was never carried out and that furthermore when and if she is subpoenaed, along with her internal memoranda and the cable traffic from the State Department by the House committee, it will prove that she did just that.

Now, if it doesn’t prove that she did just that, then they’re lying to me, and the sources are ‑‑ you know, I’m not suggesting that that’s impossible, but I seriously doubt it since I’m talking to legal counsel to Hillary Clinton. Legal counsel. These people don’t generally lie.

PAT: Ed, if that happened, why did she then later accept full responsibility for what took place? Why would she do that?

KLEIN: This was a big debate within the Clinton camp itself, between Hillary and Bill. Bill did not want her to take full responsibility. He wanted her to, in fact, consider the possibility of even resigning if the White House continued to try to make her the scapegoat in this. Hillary and her legal team decided she should look presidential, above ‑‑ she should look moderate, she should come forward and say, “Look, I take responsibility. I’m the Secretary of State” and by comparison making the president look a hell of a lot smaller because he was ducking all responsibility and knowing full well that when the full story came out, she would be, in her words, or at least the words of her legal counsel, exonerated.

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