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Belmont Club


July 9th, 2014 - 5:19 pm

Walter Russell Mead wonders if we are living in the shadow of another great war. In his piece “Have We Gone From a Post-War to a Pre-War World?” he concludes our comforting margins of peace are evaporating at an alarming rate. Could we run out?

Only a few years ago, most western observers believed that the age of geopolitical rivalry and great power war was over. Today, with Russian forces in Ukraine, religious wars exploding across the Middle East, and territorial disputes leading to one crisis after another in the East and South China seas, the outlook is darker. Serious people now ask whether we have moved from a post-war into a pre-war world. Could some incident somewhere in the world spark another global war?

But Andrew Klavan is convinced of one thing: if some great conflict breaks out, it won’t result from some dark plot hatched in Washington.  They’re too incompetent to author tragedy, though they can manage farce.

Many people on the right think Obama is an Evil Leftist Genius. Not me. I think he is a hapless putz. I think his ideas are all wrong, his application of his ideas is incompetent, and the chaos that he causes with his wrongness and incompetence will not lead in the direction he thinks it will.

I think when the history of the 21st century is written, Obama will not merit more than a single line. Even the fact that he was the first black president may come to seem irrelevant in a couple of decades. In which case, he will not merit any line at all.

If the tragedy of 1914-1918 is remembered as the Great War, the name for any next conflict will the Whoops War. People often — perhaps mostly — get themselves into trouble by thoughtless accident. Gavrilo Princip himself probably never intended to start World War 1. Put someone clueless in the White House and you could get something interesting.


Buyer’s Remorse

July 8th, 2014 - 4:28 pm

The sad thing about many high school English literature readings is they are assigned too early in life for many students to fully appreciate. Works like Crime and Punishment, Lord Jim and especially The Rime of the Ancient Mariner are all about sin and expiation, themes perhaps imperfectly grasped by teenagers whose consciences are still developing. For examples, why the heck should an old sailor barge into a wedding party and harass the guests with his shipboard stories?

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

He holds him with his glittering eye—
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years’ child:
The Mariner hath his will.

High school kids aren’t old enough to be the Ancient Mariner. But pundits are. Peggy Noonan’s recent piece The Daydream and the Nighmare comes closest in spirit to the Rime in any article of late.  She seizes the reader by the hand and regales him with a tale of albatross, possession and a ship driven by ghosts.  The albatross in her tale is president Obama and the vessel is the Ship of State.

I don’t know if we sufficiently understand how weird and strange, how historically unparalleled, this presidency has become. We’ve got a sitting president who was just judged in a major poll to be the worst since World War II. The worst president in 70 years! Quinnipiac University’s respondents also said, by 54% to 44%, that the Obama administration is not competent to run the government.

Like the derelict in Coleridge’s poem the Ship of State careens around, never making port, as if on some three hour cruise destined run for 98 actual weeks on TV. Yet the weird thing, Noonan says, is that even as Obama’s ship draves on, there is no apparent object to its wanderings.  It seems driven by some malignant compulsion:

But I’m not sure people are noticing the sheer strangeness of how the president is responding to the lack of success around him. He once seemed a serious man. He wrote books, lectured on the Constitution. Now he seems unserious, frivolous, shallow. He hangs with celebrities, plays golf. His references to Congress are merely sarcastic: “So sue me.” “They don’t do anything except block me. And call me names. It can’t be that much fun.”

In a truly stunning piece in early June, Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown and Jennifer Epstein interviewed many around the president and reported a general feeling that events have left him—well, changed. He is “taking fuller advantage of the perquisites of office,” such as hosting “star-studded dinners that sometimes go on well past midnight.” He travels, leaving the White House more in the first half of 2014 than any other time of his presidency except his re-election year. He enjoys talking to athletes and celebrities, not grubby politicians, even members of his own party. He is above it all.


Putin As Goldilocks

July 7th, 2014 - 4:01 pm

In the story of the Three Bears, Goldilocks samples 3 bowls of porridge left on the breakfast table by perambulatory bruins.   One bowl was too hot; the other too cold; but one was just right.  The Russian bear, according to the Economist, was in the same position in relation to the conflict in Ukraine.  Until recently it was just right.

What Mr Putin would really like is a conflict of just the right size: big enough to force Mr Poroshenko into concessions but not so large it drags Russia in directly or forces it to subsidise Ukraine’s eastern regions. As Mr Gorenburg explains, Mr Putin will facilitate the transfer of Russian arms, fighters and money so as to ensure that “the insurgency isn’t defeated, but while doing the minimum possible”.

The current instability was sized to fit Putin’s scenario: half-war, half-peace, all aggression. “Today’s Russia thinks of itself as a mobilisation state, ready to deploy a full array of instruments in a crisis.” In Putin’s strategic conception actions are not neatly divided into War and Peace but into a continuum of coercive instruments.

In Ukraine this means a policy that combines covert arms transfers, volunteer fighters called up by patriotic organisations, oligarchs and others, propaganda produced by state-run media, punitive arm-twisting over gas prices and a worsening of political repression at home. Officials in Moscow, who have taken to praising non-linear war even if they do not use the precise term, say they are wielding the same tools the Americans use all the time: first engineer protests, and if that doesn’t work, back them up by force.

Which is why Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko’s decision to escalate the fight caught Putin off-guard, according to the Jamestown Foundation. ‘Just right’ got a little too hot. Pavel K. Baev of Jamestown writes, ”the most dramatic turn in the protracted Ukrainian calamity last week was the decision of President Petro Poroshenko to end the ceasefire and resume the offensive against separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Poroshenko had every reason to conclude that the cessation of combat operations plays into rebel hands, since Ukraine’s control over the border with Russia was not restored and reinforcements from Russia were pouring into the motley gangs of pretentious warlords”. Having concluded that a demi-conflict was working in Russia’s favor, Poroshenko doubled down, scalding  Putin’s tongue.

This determined offensive has caught Moscow by surprise, since its working assumption was that Poroshenko would keep extending the truce, thus allowing the conflict to “freeze” and making possible the establishment of a de-facto independent “Novorossiya” in eastern Ukraine.


The Right to Be Forgotten

July 6th, 2014 - 4:48 pm

The “right to be forgotten” in European law has now taken the place of what people in the past used to call “the forgiveness of sins”.  Formerly it was believed that old offenses, especially when these did not result in prosecution or suit, were somehow effaced by the passage of time. “Long dormant claims have often more of cruelty than of justice in them”, says Halsbury’s Laws of England.

But the passage of time has no effect on search engines. Have you ever quoted a news article only to discover it was 5 years old? Some people want to change that by making the record forget in certain instances. ZDnet reports, that “last month, the right to be forgotten was enshrined in European law, thanks to a ruling by the European Court of Justice. Except it wasn’t a right, you weren’t forgotten, and it hasn’t really been enshrined anywhere. Confused? You’re not the only one.”

In May, the ECJ ruled on the case of a Spanish national who had, over a decade ago, been involved in an auction of property to settle social security debts. When people Googled his name, newspaper stories about the auction appeared prominently in search results. The man thought that the information about him was outdated, and the court found in his favour, ruling that Google must no longer return links to those newspaper stories when his name is searched for. The newspaper articles remain online, and can be found through Google when other search terms are used.

The Clintons, for their part, don’t even need legislation to delete the unflattering. The Boston Globe reports that the University of Arkansas suspended access to a news organization which found records showing Hillary had defended a client accused of child rape in 1975.

The Washington Free Beacon was informed this week that it has been banned from the University of Arkansas’ special collections archive, a sharp and somewhat unexpected response to the news group’s recent reporting on Hillary Clinton’s 1975 defense of an accused child rapist. …

“I am writing you to direct you and the Washington Beacon Press to cease and desist your ongoing violation of the intellectual property rights of the University of Arkansas with regard to your unauthorized publication of audio recordings obtained from the Roy Reed Collection,” wrote University of Arkansas Libraries dean Carolyn Henderson Allen.


The Problem of the Dead

July 3rd, 2014 - 6:59 pm

In his famous short story The Sound of Thunder, Ray Bradbury argued the present stood perched on the past. At birth, our parents, the hospital delivery room, the light bulb screwed into the ceiling — the crib itself — all had to precede our arrival there. Someone or something had to set them out beforehand — or they wouldn’t be there. In his famous story time-traveling fictional dinosaur hunters are admonished to stay on the anti-gravity path and disturb nothing, save only the beast who was already known to have died in the next minute by the agency falling of a gigantic tree branch. They are strictly warned against changing anything in the past, lest they alter the future unpredictably.

“We don’t want to change the Future. We don’t belong here in the Past. The government doesn’t like us here. We have to pay big graft to keep our franchise. A Time Machine is finicky business. Not knowing it, we might kill an important animal, a small bird, a roach, a flower even, thus destroying an important link in a growing species.”

“That’s not clear,” said Eckels.

“All right,” Travis continued, “say we accidentally kill one mouse here. That means all the future families of this one particular mouse are destroyed, right? … And all the families of the families of the families of that one mouse! With a stamp of your foot, you annihilate first one, then a dozen, then a thousand, a million, a billion possible mice!”

“So they’re dead,” said Eckels. “So what?”

“So what?” Travis snorted quietly. “Well, what about the foxes that’ll need those mice to survive? For want of ten mice, a fox dies. For want of ten foxes a lion starves. For want of a lion, all manner of insects, vultures, infinite billions of life forms are thrown into chaos and destruction. Eventually it all boils down to this: fifty-nine million years later, a caveman, one of a dozen on the entire world, goes hunting wild boar or saber-toothed tiger for food. But you, friend, have stepped on all the tigers in that region. By stepping on one single mouse. So the caveman starves. And the caveman, please note, is not just any expendable man … with the death of that one caveman, a billion others yet unborn are throttled in the womb. Perhaps Rome never rises on its seven hills. Perhaps Europe is forever a dark forest, and only Asia waxes healthy and teeming. Step on a mouse and you crush the Pyramids. Step on a mouse and you leave your print, like a Grand Canyon, across Eternity. Queen Elizabeth might never be born, Washington might not cross the Delaware, there might never be a United States at all. So be careful. Stay on the Path. Never step off!”


The Danger of Symmetry

July 2nd, 2014 - 8:28 pm

News that Quinnipiac poll finds president Obama is the “worst president since World War II” was greeted with amusement. New York Magazine counseled its readers not to take the poll too seriously, saying it’s all explained by the ‘availability heuristic’. That’s a complicated term for asserting that people are too silly to know what’s bad for them, so sophisticates can still continue to think Obama is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

That sounds fancy, but it simply means that we are biased by how easy it is to summon an example of something in our heads. So when a right-leaning person is asked to think of a bad president, the shadow of Obama looms large over them. To a certain extent, many people who picked Obama weren’t carefully weighing how they viewed him versus other presidents — do you remember how crazy Bill Clinton drove conservatives? — but were swayed by how quickly and loudly Barry O seized their brains once the question was asked.

One of the former prerogatives of the liberal press was its ability to frame the narrative. In the past they could — and did — tell the public what to take seriously and who to laugh at.  We were routinely told not to take the warning from Hamas that it will “open the gates of hell” seriously. Such threats — like the vow of ISIS to expand the Caliphate to include parts of Europe, or vows to behead infidels — were dismissed out of hand as either the posturing of simpletons or the justifiable wrath of the Poor and Downtrodden.

What was taken seriously in every case, however, was any sign of lawlessness by the White Man, including the Jews. Now reports suggest that someone may have broken the law; engaged in a revenge killing for the Hamas-ordered execution of three teenagers on the West Bank is front-page news. The New York Times reports, “Secretary of State John Kerry, in a statement, strongly condemned what he called “the despicable and senseless abduction and murder” of Muhammad [an Arab teenager]. He added, ‘Those who undertake acts of vengeance only destabilize an already explosive and emotional situation.’”

The Times of London writes:

Israeli leaders and rabbis were told yesterday that inflammatory rhetoric risked inciting revenge killings and public disorder after a Palestinian boy was lynched following the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers.

And it’s not just the Israelis.  The arrival of thousands of aliens at the US southern border has heretofore been depicted, not as an act of invasion, but somehow America’s fault. But to the Californians blocking the movement of these people into their state these arrivals are simply trespassers. Surely if Californians were descending on Mexico they would be so regarded by the Mexicans. Their crime is to think and act as the Mexicans would think. A CNN story shows what the narrative was meant to be.

“It is deplorable that people espousing anti-immigrant hate language created unnecessary tension and fear for immigrant mothers and their children,” Pedro Rios, a community representative of the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium, said in a statement. “Even more concerning is that elected officials in the City of Murrieta instigated this tension. Mothers and their children on these buses have suffered through enough trauma.”


Ex Oriente

July 1st, 2014 - 4:57 am

The most interesting overnight news is that former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been “held for questioning” by police investigating allegations that he tried to influence a judge investigating a illegal contributions to his campaign. Under French law a person can be “held” for up to 48 hours without being charged. “This is thought to be the first time a French former head of state has been held in police custody.”  It’s not the first time a French president has been in legal trouble. Jacques Chirac was actually convicted of embezzlement, but they suspended the sentence and let the grand lad go free.

The judges were looking into alleged illegal campaign contributions from Muhammar Khadaffy – the former Duck of Death. In order to obtain possible proof that Sarkozy was trying to pull strings investigators resorted to the tried and tested method of wiretapping.

Mr Sarkozy is alleged to have been helped to victory in 2007 with up to €50 million provided by Colonel Gaddafi and envelopes stuffed with cash from France’s richest woman, L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt. …

It was in connection with [the Khadaffy investigation] that the judges last year obtained the unprecedented authorization to tap the phones of a former president. After four fruitless months they discovered that Mr Sarkozy had a secret phone registered under an assumed name and it was conversations with Mr Herzog recorded on that device that triggered the investigation.

Leaked excerpts suggest Mr Sarkozy got a friendly judge to try to influence the outcome of confidential legal deliberations related to the Bettencourt case in return for support in securing a lucrative post in Monaco.

Now they are questioning Sarkozy to determine whether what he said on his secret phone. Alas, the Duck is not available for comment. Khadaffy was toppled in NATO operation led by Barack Obama, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy. He was caught in an attempt to escape and was killed in still mysterious circumstances. The known account of his demise is found in Wikipedia.


When Gerald Ford remarked that “a government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have,” he might have been commenting on the Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision which ruled 5-4, as the Washington Post reports: “(T)he arts-and-crafts chain does not have to offer insurance for four types of birth control that conflict with company owners’ religious beliefs.”

Walter Russell Mead gets what is at issue. Beyond the narrow facts of the decision, the case itself underlines the unpleasantly large scope that government regulation now covers. Government, to which everything has been referred, has enrolled one and all in a zero-sum game. Now everything A does affects B; and everything B does affects A. In so doing the giant state has become the mortal foe of diversity. Writing in the American Interest, professor Mead says:

As the United States becomes more and more culturally pluralistic we will see more disagreement in all areas of society — including over what the federal government deems “essential health benefits.” Here, as elsewhere, promoting decentralized and individualized decision-making can tamp down conflict and respect everyone’s freedom to live according to their principles. An employer-provided system can pit employers and employees against each other; a fully nationalized system can likewise ignite culture wars over taxpayer funding for this or that objectionable health care benefit.

“Why,” liberals well ask, “is government deciding what a woman can or can’t do with her body?” The answer unfortunately is “because government previously decided to make someone else pay for it.”  The “personal has become political” and wow, is that what it means?

Eugene Volokh, summarizing the decision for the layman in plain English at the Washington Post, notes that the whole legal dispute is rooted in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which ironically was enacted by a Democratically controlled Congress (Robert Byrd heading the Senate and Tom Foley the House). The bill was actually introduced by Chuck Schumer. RFRA was as blue as could be.

The premise seemed harmless enough. It provided, as Eugene Volokh notes, that “that religious objectors may go to court to demand religious exemptions from federal laws.” But Murphy entered the picture in a classic case of the Law of Unintended Consequences. Now liberals find that having put government in charge of a private space, they will find things sometimes go against them, which was not how it was supposed to work.

The phrase “the personal is political” sounded good, until it backfired.

The unrelenting liberal drive to expand the powers of the state unintentionally leads to “winner take all” effect. The more power liberals get the more they must keep control, not just of that individual power but of the whole system of powers.

Every power grab represents at least as much danger to the grabber as to the grabbee. Obama, who attempted to seize control of one-sixth of the U.S. economy via Obamacare, finds he must retain control of health decisions for his political life. Anyone who creates Deep State instruments of political power cannot relinquish what he’s created lest it be turned against him. Having conjured up state demons from the vasty deep, they must on no account be ceded to Republican sorcerers.

Thus he becomes the slave, not the master of his own creation. Liberty is practical only while government remains powerless in some things. Once government becomes powerful in all things then it becomes just as much a menace to Sandra Fluke as to Hobby Lobby — though she hasn’t realized that yet.

Every student of military history will recall that if you try to take Moscow you risk Berlin. Hitler forgot that. So alas, have liberals. Obama assumed he could stay in charge of Obamacare; amend or delay it as he would. But he never anticipated he would be paid back in his own coin. He was all for steering wheels until he got handed the plastic steering wheel.

Naturally his response has been volcanic. In a measure of his rage, Time reports that Obama has decided to give Congress the chance of working with him to upend the Supreme Court decision:

The White House denounced the Supreme Court’s decision Monday to allow for-profit companies to refuse payment for certain employee birth control insurance coverage because of religious objections. “Today’s decision jeopardizes the health of women that are employed by these companies,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

But Earnest quickly added that President Obama, who has been touring the country promoting his ability to work around Congress, plans no immediate executive actions to remedy the situation created by the Hobby Lobby ruling. “The Supreme Court was ruling on the application of a specific law that was passed by Congress,” Earnest said. “So what we’d like is for Congress to take action to pass another law that would address this problem.”

It is a boon Obama does not grant lightly. In other matters he has lost patience. Reuters reports that in the matter of immigration, he’ll act without Congress. “President Barack Obama said on Monday he would take executive action to reform the U.S. immigration system after hopes of passing legislation in Congress officially died.”

What could go wrong? 

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The Raven

June 29th, 2014 - 7:56 pm

The New York Times reports that Russian advisers and jets have arrived in Iraq to help the Maliki government stave off the advances of ISIS.

BAGHDAD — Iraqi government officials said Sunday that Russian experts had arrived in Iraq to help the army get 12 new Russian warplanes into the fight against Sunni extremists, while the extremists declared their leader the caliph, or absolute ruler, of all jihadi organizations worldwide.

The Russian move was at least an implicit rebuke to the United States, which the Iraqis believe has been too slow to supply American F-16s and attack helicopters — although the United States is now in the process of providing both.

They will find American and Iranian special forces there to keep them company — a bizarre gathering, like a sort of Mos Eisely cantina along the Euphrates. “Last week, President Obama ordered 300 American military advisers into the country, and the Iranians have reportedly sent advisers from their Republican Guards’ Quds Force.”  The Business Insider called it a “bizarre alliance”.

But nothing is now too strange for the Administration’s foreign policy. Like Yogi Berra it has come to a crossroads and taken it, going both ways at once. Haaretz says that the “Iraq crisis pushing Obama toward alliance with Syria and Iran”.  But at the same time Obama has not neglected his alliance with their arch-enemy, Saudi Arabia.

Two days ago John Kerry met with Saudi Arabia “to help roll back the Islamic State of Iraq and al- Sham, an extremist group that controls wide swaths of territory in Syria and this month seized cities and towns across northern Iraq.” Saudi Arabia has a kind of schizophrenic relationship with ISIS.  On the one hand they are its principal target. But on the other, they are its principal enablers. You might almost say the same about the Obama administration.


Waiting for America

June 29th, 2014 - 1:32 am

Robert Zubrin writes, in a National Review article, about a secret meeting between Western national socialist parties and the agent of Vladimir Putin. The venue is what you would expect: a James Bond like setting with mysterious billionaires in attendance.

The chairman and financier of the meeting was Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, the multibillionaire owner of the Moscow-based Marshall Capital. Malofeev, who has direct access to the Russian dictator, is known as “Putin’s Soros” for his role in financing movements and initiatives supporting the Russian fascist cause….

Malofeev was the producer and director of the event, but the star of the show was Aleksandr Dugin, the prime author of the “Eurasianist” totalitarian doctrine, which is serving its intended purpose as the ideological basis for the Putin regime’s transformation of Russia into an expansionist fascist state, as well as for its creation of a Moscow-controlled fascist international for the purpose of subverting other countries on behalf of the new empire.

Gathered to receive tutelage from Dugin and instructions from Malofeev in preparation for their potential supporting roles as the Pétains and Quislings of the Eurasian Reich was an impressive array of leaders of nominally “conservative” but actually radical national-socialist European parties.

This bunch is squaring off against a transnational Europe, with its informal presence in the Ukraine in the person of the real George Soros through his various foundations and advocacy groups. The EU has signed the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) with the Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova as part of the drive East. “The DCFTA will be part of a future Association Agreement, which will replace the present Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and Ukraine (which dates from 1998).”

Events in Eastern Europe have assumed something of the character of attack and counterattack. Radio Free Europe explains that “Brussels had originally planned to sign the political and trade accords with Kyiv in November at a summit in Vilnius but was jilted by Viktor Yanukovych, then Ukraine’s president, when he came under heavy Russian opposition to the deal.”