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Works and Days

Obama’s Tranquility

July 20th, 2014 - 1:34 pm
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Smooth landing not guaranteed.

Barack Obama’s team recently took credit for improving the “tranquility of the global community,” and the president made it clear just what a calm place the world has become during his tenure.

But this summer Obama’s tranquil world has descended into medieval barbarism in a way scarcely seen in decades. In Gaza, Hamas is banking its missile arsenal in mosques, schools and private homes; even Hitler did not do that with his V2s. Hamas terrorists resort to trying to wire up animals to serve as suicide bombers. Aztec-style, they seek to capture Israeli soldiers to  torture or trade — a sort of updated version of parading captive soldiers up the Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan.

Hamas cannot build a hotel, but instead applies its premodern cunning to tunneling and killing in ever more insidious ways. Yet it proves incompetent in doing what it wishes to do best — kill Jewish civilians. Its efforts to kill Jews while getting killed in the process earn it sympathy from the morally obtuse of the contemporary world who would have applauded Hitler in 1945 as an underdog who suffered greatly as he was overwhelmed by the Allies that he once tried to destroy.

In Paris, just seventy years after the Holocaust, sympathetic rioters hit the streets to cheer on Hamas’s efforts to kill more Jews with their crude versions of Vergeltungswaffen. The passive French solution apparently is once again to encourage Jews to leave the country, given the growing number of new Nazis in their midst. Whether Hamas or Putin, the European response is always the same: why cannot they just go away to bother to some Jews or Americans, and leave us alone?

Russian operatives, role-playing as Ukrainian separatists, shot down a civilian airliner, then tried to doctor the debris field, then let the bodies decay, and now are looting the wallets of the dead. You cannot get much less tranquil than that.

In Iraq, ISIS, not content with the usual Middle East savagery, resorts to warring on religious  icons, as if torture and murder of the living do not offer enough outlet for their barbarity. They blow up mosques, shatter tombs, and deface graveyards, in their eagerness to restore the 7th century. All that seems more Dark Age than merely medieval.

Iran just missed our “deadline” that was supposed to result in fewer centrifuges in exchange for suspending the sanctions. No sane person now believes that the Iranians will stop nuclear enrichment, or will not get a bomb, or will not threaten to use it when they get one. What will Secretary Kerry do, now that the currency of “red lines,” “deadlines” and “step-over lines” has been all used up?

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All Clintoned Out

July 13th, 2014 - 7:41 pm

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Barack Obama did not blow apart Hillary Clinton’s huge lead during the 2008 Democratic primaries just because he was a landmark African-American candidate, new to the scene, and a skilled campaigner. Even Democrats were all Clintoned out.

By such weariness, I don’t suggest that either of the Clintons is unpopular. Indeed, Americans apparently look fondly back on the high-growth 1990s as the continuation of the Reagan-Bush boom years, and a time when Democrats and Republicans finally fixed budget deficits. (Note well that when Obama went back to the Clinton-era tax rates for the more affluent, the deficit dipped, but certainly did not approach the balanced budget that was once achieved by spending discipline under the Clinton-Gingrich compromise.)

The problem instead is Hillary Clinton herself. She is not a very good speaker, and is prone to shrill outbursts and occasional chortling. She has a bad habit of committing serial gaffes (e.g., speaking too candidly), and what she says on Monday is often contradicted by her rantings on Tuesday. She seems cheap and obsessed with raking in free stuff. When Bill steps in to correct her mistakes, either sloppily or out of some strange psychological spite, he usually makes things even worse. We saw that often in 2008 and are seeing it again now. But aside from the cosmetics of her political style, the Clintons are faced with two fundamental obstacles in 2016.

One, Hillary Clinton seems to be interested in running on the elite progressive themes of equality and fairness. The problem here is obvious. Few Americans have more enriched themselves by trading on their public service than have she and her husband. A George Marshall in retirement Hillary is not.

With the Clintons there is always a catch to the apologies for their progressive graspingness. At a time of record student debt, sky-rocketing tuition, and scandalous university perks, Hillary Clinton is now charging over $200,000 for a brief run-of-the-mill “I am Hillary” speech — no landmark political announcements, no insights into foreign policy, nothing much other than standard liberal therapeutic boilerplate trading on her increased market value due to her recent tenure as chief foreign affairs officer of the United States.

When these exorbitant fees were questioned by the liberal media, she seemed stunned that any would doubt her progressive fides, and cited her past caring for the poorer off. Then she backed off and assured us that the money went to “charity.” Of course, with the Clintons, we know there is always a nuance and tweak to follow. So next, the “charity” turned out to be the Clinton Foundation, which tends to fund the extravagant private jet travel of mostly Bill and Hillary and their appendages.

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California’s Hydromania

July 6th, 2014 - 7:40 pm

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Two events now characterize the California agrarian heartland, the richest and most productive farm belt in the world.

One, of course, is the third year of drought. I refer here to nature’s lack of rain and snow. But also factor in the state’s additional man-made drought, through diversions of precious stored reservoir water from agriculture and community use to environmental causes that demand more river water must flow out to the sea.

The state’s environmental fanatics over thirty years ago cancelled the critical tertiary phases of the California Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project. I guess those in the Bay Area whose lives rest on Hetch Hetchy delivered reservoir water deemed reservoirs for all others passé and so 19th century.

The result is that a brilliantly engineered water transfer system — 80% of Californians live where 20% of the state’s rain and snow fall — designed to incrementally expand as population grew, became frozen in amber. We had a wonderful water storage system for 23 million people in 1980. But it proved completely inadequate for the 40 million plus of 2014, who assumed household and drinking water, irrigation supplies, and clean hydroelectric power came out of thin air.

The other facet of this disaster is a surreal, counterintuitive mad land rush in the Central Valley. The focus is on any farmland in a strip from the Sierra foothills to five miles west of the 99 Highway. Open land that just five years ago went for $5,000 to $6,000 per acre is now selling at $20,000 and more. Nut orchards and prime vineyard land that were priced at $15,000 in 2009 now are haggled over at $30,000 to $40,000. The price seems to escalate monthly in direct proportion to the fall of the water table.

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In Search of What You Resent

June 29th, 2014 - 9:30 pm

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The Maliki government in Iraq fueled anti-Americanism as it systematically destroyed the coalition government that the Americans had created and protected by the surge. Maliki, who had once been hunted by the genocidal Saddam Hussein, in a sense was a creation of the United States and its commitment to consensual government in Iraq. So was the pluralistic idea of a Shiite majority for the first time gaining ascendency on the principle of one person, one vote — and through the blood and treasure of American soldiers during the surge. No foreign leader in recent memory has been so lucky to have an American patron.

By 2011, Maliki thought he could pose to Iraqis with cheap anti-Americanism while bluffing the Obama administration into agreeing to a status of forces renewal agreement that both sides knew was in their mutual interest. But the fool Maliki did not realize that politics for the Obama administration (“ending one war, winding down another”) was even more a first principle than it was for Maliki. The result is Obama pulled every American out of the hard-won and stable Iraq (“stable” is Obama’s characterization, not mine alone), found his reelection narrative, and now Maliki is close to losing his country.

Maliki failed to grasp that Obama had even less trust in the influence of America to do good things abroad than did Maliki himself. But the larger irony is that now Maliki is begging for a return of American hard power to save his government from those killers that his policies helped create. In extremis, he understands that no other country would depose an oil-rich tyrant, stay on to foster democracy, leave the oil to its owners, and then leave when asked — and finally consider coming back to the rescue of an abject ingrate.

The Latin America narrative in the age of Obama — often best characterized in Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Peru, or Venezuela — is little empathy south of the border for the Yanqui paradigm of free-market democratic capitalism. The stale 1960s rhetoric of colonialist, imperialist, racist, etc. is back in vogue in much of Latin America, and Mexico as well, encouraged by an administration that itself is unlikely to defend present or past U.S. conduct.

Likewise the themes of most Chicano-Latino studies programs in the U.S. are American culpability, racism, and colonialism — the same old, same old whine of the myriad faults of the U.S. In my community, the time it takes a first-generation foreign national to cross the border illegally, and then to develop a sort of resentment toward the U.S. and a romance about the birthplace he abandoned, seems about five years.

Why then are tens of thousands of Latin Americans willingly flooding into a supposedly racist country where cutthroat capitalism ignores the poor and the oppressed such as themselves? In most past polls of Mexican citizens, two general themes often show up: the majority of Mexican nationals believe that the American Southwest still should belong to Mexico, and a sizable minority would like to leave Mexico for the U.S. You figure out the mentality. I cannot but I do detect the vague paradox: Mexico wants Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California back so that it resembles Mexico, which many Mexican citizens would then leave because it had become, well, Mexico. What is this strange attraction toward a country that, in so many formal announcements both south of the border and among open-borders advocates north of it, is supposedly suspect?

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Every once in a while, a criminal case — consider the O.J. trial — reflects the immoral course of our current trajectory. Here is an ongoing local criminal case that pretty much sums up what is happening to our culture, laws, and society at large.

Perla Ibeth Vazquez, 27, is now on trial in these parts. On Oct. 21, 2011 (a mere two-and-a-half-years ago?), she was drunk, drove, and killed, according to the Fresno Bee, one “Frank Winslow, 54, a family man and truck driver for Foster Farms who was only a few miles from home when he was killed on Highway 168 near Ashlan Avenue.”

The Bee added that the local prosecutor, Steven Wright:

[L]aid the groundwork by telling the jury that Vazquez had pleaded guilty to drunken driving in Tulare County in 2006 and again in Fresno County in 2010. Each time, a judge warned her that if she got drunk and killed someone, she could be charged with murder, Wright said.

Should we laugh or cry at those long-ago judicial “each time” warnings — given that they assumed that two felony drunk driving convictions were not necessarily reason to think there would be a fated third or fourth? A judge warns her about her own murdering to come? Might he have warned all of us about being her murdered victims to come? He is warning her of consequences, but not us of our shared danger of having her on the streets? Can we not have an Amber Alert when serial drunk drivers are cut loose?

Some of you are wondering how someone, who in the last eight years has been convicted of two DUIs, can still be on the road. Brace yourself. The truth gets worse in our current lawless society that has become a veritable Road Warrior apocalyptic nightmare.

The Bee account continues:

Wright also told the jury about another incident. In August 2010, just 11 days after she pleaded guilty to her second DUI, the California Highway Patrol caught Vazquez driving 120 mph on a local highway. Her breath smelled of alcohol, her speech was slurred, and she did poorly on a sobriety test, so the officer arrested her, Wright said. But she was never charged.

At this point,  I pose the following questions to readers. What would happen to any of you if you were pulled over going 120 mph, following two prior DUI convictions? And what would happen if you “did poorly on a sobriety test”? And what does that mush-mouth word “poorly” mean? Flunked? Sort of flunked? Kinda flunked? Jails are too crowded for those who don’t pass out?

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War Was Interested in Obama

June 15th, 2014 - 1:35 pm

 

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Leon Trotsky probably did not quite write the legendary aphorism that “you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” But whoever did, you get the point that no nation can always pick and choose when it wishes to be left alone.

Barack Obama, however, never quite realized that truth, and so just declared that “the world is less violent than it has ever been.” He must have meant less violent in the sense that the bad guys are winning and as they do, the violence wanes — sort of like Europe around March 1941, when all was relatively quiet under the new continental Reich.

One of Obama’s talking points in the 2012 campaign included a boast that he had “ended” the war in Iraq by bringing home every U.S. soldier that had been left to ensure the relative quiet and stability after the successful Petraeus surge. In the world of Obama, a war can be declared ended because he said so, given that no Americans were any longer directly involved. (Remind the ghosts of the recently beheaded in now al Qaeda-held Mosul that the war ended there in 2011.)

Iraq is in flames, as is “lead from behind” Libya, as is “red line” Syria, and as are those places where an al Qaeda “on the run” has migrated. Had Obama been commander in chief in 1940, he would have assured us that the wars in Czechoslovakia, Poland, and France were “over” — as they were in a sense for those who lost them, but as they were not for those next in line.

Of course, the Maliki government owns most of the blame for the spreading destruction of Iraq. Its retrograde exclusion of Sunnis from meaningful government helped to offer a fertile landscape to a resurgent al Qaeda. Now in extremis he seeks U.S. help. But Maliki’s pathetic past chauvinistic posturing over the status of forces agreement made it easy for Obama to pull out. (Hint to former U.S. clients: never horse-trade with Barack Obama over a needed U.S. military presence by threatening to eject all Americans; he will gladly call your bluff and leave every time.)

What, then, happened to Joe Biden’s boast that Iraq “could be one of the great achievements of this administration”? Biden said this after the successful Bush-Petraeus surge (that he had opposed and declared a failure) had ensured a relatively quiet country when Obama assumed office.

We know the predictable Obama script for Afghanistan. He “ended” that conflict too, or at least he will have by 2016. His habit in that accordion war was to contextualize every surge, escalation, or new operation in Afghanistan by promising a date when we would leave or deescalate. Behind the recent quietude in drone missions and the Bergdahl swap, we see Obama at work “ending” the war in the following actions: We talk with the Taliban; we deliver to them their bloodiest cutthroats (captured at a cost in American blood and treasure); and we wink that we will not be so offensive-minded as in the past.

In exchange, the Taliban promise to behave and dial down their barbarism until we “end” the war and are gone. Then, like Saigon in 1975, all hell breaks lose and the executions begin. How odd: we went into a chaotic Libya to stop the killing and were about to go into bloody Syria to stop the killing — and left a quiet Iraq to ensure it.

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Fictions as Truth

June 8th, 2014 - 10:37 pm

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For the Obama administration narrative to be accurate about the swap of five Taliban/al-Qaeda-related kingpins for Sgt. Bergdahl, we are asked to believe the following:

1. Sgt. Bergdahl was in ill health; thus the need for alacrity. Surely we will expect to see him in an enfeebled state on his return to the U.S.

2. Sgt. Bergdahl was in grave and sudden danger from his captors; thus the need for alacrity. We expect to see proof of that on his return to the U.S.

3. The five Taliban detainees will be under guard in Qatar for a year. We expect in June 2015 to know that they are still there in Qatar.

4. The five Taliban detainees don’t really pose a grave threat to U.S. troops, given that we will be gone from Afghanistan in 2016. We expect not to hear that any of the five are reengaged in the war effort to kill Americans between 2015-16.

5. Sgt. Bergdahl served with “honor and distinction.” We expect to have confirmation of that fact once his intelligence file is released and more evidence is adduced that all of his platoon-mates were wrong (or perhaps vindictive and partisan) in stating that he voluntarily left their unit — deserted — to meet up with the Taliban.

6. Sgt. Bergdahl was captured on the “field of battle”; we expect to have confirmation that he was taken unwillingly by the enemy amid a clash of arms.

7. Sgt. Bergdahl was not a collaborator. We expect to learn confirmation of the fact that he did not disclose information to his captors.

8. Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers in his platoon are either partisan operatives or sorely misinformed, and we will shortly learn that their accounts of Bergdahl’s disappearance were erroneous.

9. The U.S. has traditionally negotiated to bring home even deserters, and did so frequently, for example, both during and after the Korean War when GIs crossed into North Korea.

10. The timing of the swap amid the VA scandal and the press conference with the Bergdahl family were not predicated on political considerations.

11. There is no law stopping the president from releasing terrorists from Guantanamo, only legal fictions promulgated by right-wing critics of the president.

12. The five Taliban terrorists are now old outliers, rusty, and mostly irrelevant to the war in Afghanistan.

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The New Regressives

June 2nd, 2014 - 9:19 pm

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Today’s liberalism is about as liberal as the Hellenistic world was Hellenic — a glossy veneer over a rotten core.

In the old days, liberalism was about the means to an end, not the end itself. Since the days of Socrates, liberalism enshrined free inquiry, guided by inductive thinking and empirical use of data. Its enemies were not necessary organized religion — some of the Church fathers sought to find their salvation through the means of neo-Platonic cosmology and Aristotelian logic — or government or traditional custom and practice, but rather deductive thinking anywhere it was found.

Yet today liberalism itself is deductive. It has descended into a constructed end that requires any means necessary to achieve it. Take any hot-button liberal issue: censorship, abortion, global warming, affirmative action, or illegal immigration. Note the liberal reaction.

I don’t like most of the assigned readings that now pass for the university’s seminal texts of the liberal arts. But on the other hand, I don’t believe in triggers to warn students of what is inside a book. Otherwise, I might insist that universities put a warning on Rigoberta Menchú’s or Barack Obama’s autobiographies:Trigger Warning: these are fictive accounts that rely on occasional invention and adaption and so do not, as the authors have claimed, reflect actual events.” Nor would I want a written trigger for the book flap of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, along the following lines: “Trigger Warning: Ms. Goodwin has admitted past plagiarism in her works, a fact that may be necessary to weigh when evaluating her present history.” Readers can determine for themselves to what degree past confessions of plagiarism should guide their own studies.

Nor do I favor yanking Bill Maher off television — in Paula Deen or Duck Dynasty fashion — for his serial profane and misogynist attacks on Sarah Palin and other conservative women. Nor do I want a running Trigger Warning on the bottom of the screen, as Maher talks: “Trigger Warning: We do not endorse Mr. Maher’s sometime misogynistic and reactionary use of slurs against prominent women with whom he disagrees.”

Nor do I think MSNBC must dump Al Sharpton for his past homophobic, anti-Semitic, and racist rants that have on occasion contributed to fatal violence. If they wish to put a buffoon who cannot read a teleprompted script on the air, then it is their market decision to do so, and we are adult enough to make the necessary channel selections. Nor do I think Chris Rock should apologize for calling the 4th of July “white people’s day,” or for that matter Jamie Foxx making a crude joke about the joy of killing white people as an actor in the latest Tarantino film. Free speech assumes that much of free speech is crude and vulgar.

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Lord Obama

May 26th, 2014 - 5:04 pm

If we were living in normal times, the following scandals and failures — without going into foreign policy — would have ruined a presidency to the point of reducing it to Nixon, Bush, or Truman poll ratings.

Think of the following: the Fast and Furious scandal, the VA mess, the tapping of the communications of the Associated Press reporters, the NSA monitoring, Benghazi in all of its manifestations, the serial lies about Obamacare, the failed stimuli, the chronic zero interest/print money policies, the serial high unemployment, the borrowing of $7 trillion to no stimulatory effect, the spiraling national debt, the customary violations of the Hatch Act by Obama cabinet officials, the alter ego/fake identity of EPA head Lisa Jackson, the sudden departure of Hilda Solis after receiving union freebies, the mendacity of Kathleen Sebelius, the strange atmospherics surrounding the Petraeus resignation, the customary presidential neglect of enforcing the laws from immigration statutes to his own health care rules, the presidential divisiveness (“punish our enemies,” “you didn’t build that,” Trayvon as the son that Obama never had, etc.), and on and on.

So why is there not much public reaction or media investigatory outrage?

In one sense there is: an iconic, landmark president was ushered into office with a supermajority in the Senate and a solidly Democratic House, at a time the public felt angry over the Iraq war and the 2008 financial meltdown. Six years later, Obama’s poll ratings bottomed out at about 43%. He lost the House in 2010, and he probably will see the Senate gone in 2014. But that said, amid such failure Obama will never descend to 30% approval ratings, and that again bring to mind the question: why?

Obvious answers:

1) His record support among minorities will not change since 70-90% of various hyphenated groups see the Obama tenure as long-overdue representation of their own interests — economic, ethnic, and symbolic. It does no good to cite rising unemployment rates among African-Americans or a deterioration in household income among Latinos. The point is that Obama feels their pain, even if his policies helped cause it. In this view, expecting blacks, to take one example, to defect from Obama would be as if right-wing rural Texans would have abandoned Bush in 2006, or the Malibu set would have given up on Clinton during Monicagate. In short — unlikely.

2) The media is not just overwhelmingly hard left, but hard left with a chip on its shoulder that its own views are neither accepted by the majority nor usually implemented by government.

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The Unforgiving Moment

May 18th, 2014 - 10:50 pm
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Stock photo of mountain bike crash by Shutterstock.com.

Life is turned upside down in a nanosecond.

This weekend I missed my first posting at PJ Media since beginning in 2006.

Why? Let me briefly explain the lapse — if I can be forgiven for comparing a bike accident with what I have seen on the farm the last 50 years (sliced off fingers, crushed legs, herbicide poisonings, manifold burns, etc.).

I was going on a usual morning bike ride — safe stuff with like-minded older folks. I’m 60; so is my biking partner and fellow Hoover Institution associate Bruce Thornton. We are hardly reckless. (Not like sulfuring at midnight recklessly in one’s 20s in the old days without goggles or mask.)

We usually go deliberately during off-traffic hours when cars are rare, on little-traveled roads and bike paths. We always follow the same direction over the same 32-mile route. After nine years we have memorized every bump, cracked bit of pavement, bad stop light, etc. We bike slowly, about 14-15 mph, always in single file.  We are, after all, 60 and hear daily horrific stories of injured and dead bikers.

In nearly ten years of rides, I have had some scrapes but only two bad spills (a homeless person once jumped out from the bushes on a Santa Rosa bike path; I swerved to miss him and ended up going over the handlebars: slight concussion; broken shoulder, three ribs, and collar bone. I was also attacked and knocked flat once by a pack of dogs with no licenses, shots, or English-speaking owners).  So we must be doing something carefully, for our sixtyish group of three or four to usually avoid problems.

I lead a yearly tour on May 17th, so usually quit riding one week ahead, just in case. Friday morning was to be last ride until I came back on May 30.

About four-fifths of the way home, suddenly the front wheel locked and I woke up about 15 seconds later with my face on the pavement. Four hours later at the emergency room I discovered that I had four ruined teeth (three shaved off, one split down the middle into the root), a concussion, a broken nose, 65 stitches for facial and gum lacerations, and a sliced-apart lower lip (with broken teeth shards sticking into my upper lip).

What happened? Apparently a hairline fissure around the carbon bike fork failed, and the fork bent and locked up the front wheel without warning. (Yes, I know I should inspect the bike thoroughly each time I get on, but the crack was invisible.)

Seven days after falling, I am leaving for Europe and the tour this week, a bit dizzy, fearful that my ogre-like appearance will turn off audiences. I’ve been getting out of bed to rush off to various doctors to extract a split abscessing tooth, do a bone graft, grind off jagged teeth points that have lacerated my tongue, have stitches removed, etc. — and feel both foolish and very lucky.  I had a jammed neck and was a bit disorientated, suggesting to the ER staff a fracture and perhaps serious neck problems. But the CT scan came back normal. After sitting under bags of ice and gobs of Neosporin ointment the last five days, I have reflected on the unforgiving moment that changes everything.

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