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Belmont Club

Among All the Best People

February 25th, 2015 - 5:31 pm

The flip side of fame is often fear. Take the fate of Jonathan Gruber. In 2006 president Obama told an audience that he had “stolen ideas liberally” from Gruber, “one of the brightest minds from academia and policy circles”.  Gruber once had multiple contracts worth millions to supply economic modeling to the president’s signature healthcare program.  He was riding high.

Then Rich Weinstein an investment adviser from Philadelphia found a series of videos taken at small forums in which Gruber confided to audiences the less than flattering inside dope on Obamacare.  It portrayed an administration laughing at ignorant voters for believing in the promises of the program.  After the videos were publicized Gruber’s world began to fall apart.

First Gruber’s $400,000 a year contract was terminated by Vermont. “Embattled former ObamaCare adviser Jonathan Gruber has been booted from his healthcare consulting gig in Vermont, according to reports on Wednesday. Gruber had a $400,000 contract with the state, where he was charged with helping to create a single-payer system. ”  Then Vermont put an auditor on all his old paperwork and alleged that he had padded his billing.

The Vermont audit, which cites Gruber’s “inconsistencies and questionable billing practices,” also faults state officials for failing to exercise sufficient oversight over the MIT economist’s invoices. The audit has been referred to Vermont’s Democratic attorney general, William Sorrell, who reportedly said it raises “serious questions.”…

“The evidence suggests that Dr. Gruber overstated the hours worked by the RA and that the Agency of the Administration ignored the obvious signs that something was amiss,” Hoffer wrote.

Now comes news Massachusetts has fired Gruber from the Bay State’s Obamacare exchange. The word is out on Gruber.  ”You’ll never work in this town again.”  It’s the oldest of punishments. A fall from grace can be as brief as a rise to the top was long.  Eartha Kitt was blacklisted from working in America by Lyndon Johnson after she was asked her opinion about the war in Vietnam at a White luncheon and Kitt said she was against it.  The doors to high society were flung open to Truman Capote and in consequence he was a regular guest on talk shows until he made the mistake of writing about the unflattering side of cultural elite.  And then the doors were shut in his face.

Mother Jones describes the implicit quid pro quo of being a high roller.  Never forget who you are working for.  Mother Jones asks: “Why Is Big Pharma Financing a Conservative Group Trying to Destroy Obamacare” when they’ve been paid off?

During the contentious battle to pass the Affordable Care Act, the pharmaceutical industry was a crucial partner of President Barack Obama. Big Pharma sank $150 million into an ad blitz promoting the Obamacare bill and spent millions lobbying for its passage. Backing health care reform was a no-brainer for the drug manufacturers; they stood to reap billions in revenues as a result of expanded health care coverage. Yet all of this makes one of Big Pharma’s alliances highly curious: It has bankrolled the libertarian think tank trying to demolish Obamacare.

The Washington-based Competitive Enterprise Institute has been the driving force behind two high-profile anti-Obamacare lawsuits, including King v. Burwell, which will be heard by the Supreme Court in early March. …

This was the deal Big Pharma cut during the legislative battle over Obamacare: The pharmaceutical companies agreed to support the law and accept about $80 billion in cost-cutting measures over the next decade, and the White House granted the industry lucrative concessions to protect its profit margins. These industry-favoring measures include provisions preventing the government from negotiating lower drug prices for Medicare and Medicaid and blocking Americans from importing cheaper prescription drugs from abroad. Those concessions were costly to taxpayers and consumers, but they were part of the grand bargain hammered out between the White House and Big Pharma. This accord ensured the industry would use its formidable lobbying clout to pass Obamacare—not destroy it.

And you thought Obamacare was about curing the sick?

If you really want to understand what holds the liberal establishment together the one-word answer is fear. Fear among the rich has a different flavor from fear among the poor. The poor are often so used to deprivation and insecurity that it holds no special terrors for them. When you’re already a bum and a good day is when you can eat the whole box of macaroni and cheese; when you’ve been unemployed for longer than you can remember, then “you’ll never work in this town again” can be answered by “so what?”

High flyers on the other hand, have an awful long way to fall. Nobody wants to finish up like the fictional Stanton Carlisle, who descends from the heights of the entertainment industry, fleeing police trouble and winds up working in a carnival freak show, eating live chickens for a living. And therefore media will be paying very close attention to the fate of Jonathan Gruber, formerly “one of the brightest minds from academia and policy circles”.  If there’s one thing you don’t want, it’s to wind up like Gruber.

The chains of patronage are hard to avoid in exalted circles. According to Elias Groll writing in Foreign Policy, Rudy Giuliani is a consultant for Qatar. That’s nothing. The Clintons have collected over two billion dollars from foreign governments and lobby groups through their foundation.

she, her husband and their daughter, Chelsea, built a global foundation that has attracted $2 billion in contributions, including many from foreign governments and business entities.

Once Hillary Clinton left office, the newly renamed Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation resumed fundraising from foreign governments that had been off-limits during her government service.

Donations in the past two years have come from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Australia and Germany. The foreign gifts — disclosed voluntarily on the Clinton Foundation website — have led to calls from activists and ethics watchdogs for the foundation to cease such fundraising as Clinton ramps up her expected campaign drive.

You haven’t arrived until everyone is offering you job; and once hired you don’t make waves with money like that at stake. The great and the good are bound together by chains of gold.  Some will argue this is a good thing. The Clintons were perhaps the first prominent American politicians to understand that Globalization made it possible for an international elite to settle all disputes by means of cash payments or penalties.  Once the top men had reached an understanding, the elites could jointly rule over the international taxpayer, thus abolishing conflict forever.  In today’s world no longer are patronage relationships limited to national borders, as was formerly the case.  Today, political deal-making is global.

What the international elite is really afraid of are people determined to settle disputes in the traditional way.  The basic problem with Vladimir Putin  is that he still believes in outdated concepts like national boundaries, Slavic culture, Great Russian glory, etc.  He hasn’t yet grasped that in polite circles, nationality is now an illusion.  If only he would fall in line and take his share.

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Losing the Internet

February 23rd, 2015 - 7:36 pm

The administration’s plan to create a “free and open Internet” means, as usual, the opposite of what it says.  As Gordon Crovitz explains in the Wall Street Journal, it is really a monumental, bare-faced power grab.

The permissionless Internet, which allows anyone to introduce a website, app or device without government review, ends this week. On Thursday the three Democrats among the five commissioners on the Federal Communications Commission will vote to regulate the Internet under rules written for monopoly utilities.

No one, including the bullied FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, thought the agency would go this far. The big politicization came when President Obama in November demanded that the supposedly independent FCC apply the agency’s most extreme regulation to the Internet. A recent page-one Wall Street Journal story headlined “Net Neutrality: How White House Thwarted FCC Chief” documented “an unusual, secretive effort inside the White House . . . acting as a parallel version of the FCC itself.”…

The more than 300 pages of new regulations are secret, but Mr. Wheeler says they will subject the Internet to the key provisions of Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, under which the FCC oversaw Ma Bell.

The specifics of the grab don’t matter as much as the direction in which things must inevitably move. Regulation is an absorbing state  like the Hotel California.  You can try to check out any time you like, but once inside you can never really leave.  Three hundred pages of regulation will become 301 … 302 … A new administration might slow down the rate of growth, but it can never reverse it.

The very success of the Internet doomed its independence.  Like any rich, glittering center of wealth that springs up in the desert sands, it would inevitably be coveted by nearby chieftains.  And if there’s anything this administration — and to a lesser extent any administration — hankers after it is power.  So a-raiding they will go.  So here is prince Barack, at the tech city gates, demanding the keys. Not that he will know what to do with it after obtaining them.  But possession of the bauble is in the first instance enough.

There is the notion, often reticiently expressed but frequently glimpsed in news stories, that the key to the future World Order is information.  Lawfare, the use of sanctions — in fact every application of  ”smart” policy — implicitly depends on information dominance.  Information is the key to the Western elite’s power. It is probably the administration’s idea that possession of tech will open the gates to this new World Order.

The “other side” — whatever you want to call them since they cannot be referred to as the ‘enemy’ know this too. They understand or guess that the world is dividing into wired and unwired spaces. Their basic strategy is to base themselves and expand in the ungoverned – and coincidentally the unwired — spaces of the world where they operate in conventional ways; with armies, trucks and outlandishly uniformed men.  But in the wired West, their strategy is totally different to suit the conditions.

There Lawfare is waiting to defend the West with surveillance.  Homeland Defense doesn’t really rely on screeners at airports or border crossings who are there only to impress the rubes. The real defense of the realm depends on ever increasing amounts of domestic monitoring.  The cracked encryption on your SIM; the data retained on your ISP, the real-time machine monitoring of conversations, the proposed sharing of data collected by Silicon Valley these are all bricks in the wall that keep the Jihadis out. They are also bricks in the invisible prison that surrounds you. But a brick is a brick and the information sharing the president proposes will naturally enough be put under Homeland Security rather than the NSA.

The “other side” understands this and therefore employs “lone wolf” tactics against the West for two reasons.  First, singletons are difficult even for the wired world to detect; and second, they encourage the metastatic growth of more wires to prevent the next attack.  The  joint product of political correctness, lawfare, surveillance and lone wolves is to essentially create fascism and discontent in the West.  The president’s response to the lone wolf problem will essentially be to watch everybody. In that way nobody is profiled.  Everyone is suspected equally. This suits the every players’ book.  The El-Shabab threatens to attack the malls and Jeh Johnson gets a billion dollars more.  What’s not to like?

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A Question of Personality

February 22nd, 2015 - 4:17 am

One of the minor casualties of the Obama administration has been the reputation of genuine “community organizers”.  Before going any further, might the reader please try this test.  Please name one other “community organizer”  besides Barack Obama.

Most people will not be able to name a single one and for  good reason.  The overarching ethos of a “community organizer”, especially one trained in the Alinsky method, is to plant ideas in people’s minds, let them run with it and  fade away.  But as the New York Times recalled, the young Obama did not want to toil in obscurity and finish up like all those community organizers whose names you can’t remember — the kind who live out their old age with a cupful of money and barrel full of war stories.  He wanted fame; position, to be on center stage.

Mr. Obama had risen to executive director of the Developing Communities group, but the demanding hours, small victories and low pay took a toll on him, and he decided to leave.

“‘We are not making large-scale change, and I want to be involved in doing that,’ ” Mr. Kellman said Mr. Obama had told him. …
Mr. Obama had mused to friends in Chicago about one day working for unions or becoming a preacher, a journalist or even a fiction writer. While there, he wrote short stories based on people he had encountered. “The stories were beautifully crafted and evocative,” said Mr. Kruglik.

But Mr. Obama decided on law school instead. Shortly before Mr. Obama left for Harvard, about 60 people attended a farewell reception for him at Altgeld Gardens. He told associates that he intended to return to Chicago once he earned his law degree to pursue a career “in public life.”

This was the moment of clear departure from the community organizing road.  But let us pause for a moment and fix in our mind the existence of these beautiful, evocative short stories  which Kellman describes for we will return to it later. The purpose of this digression into Obama’s “community organizing” past is to identify the leadership model he chose which was  the complete the opposite of the anonymous behind the scenes community organizer.  Obama’s chosen model for greatness was to become a charismatic leader.

A charismatic leader derives authority from himself;  from an astounding life story, from attributes possessed by no other man. The approach has become common and we know the sort; the Native American who became a law professor and then Senator; the single mother who wanted to be a governor.  The life-story is now standard, but Obama was clearly special. From the very beginning of his career Obama argued that his unique biography — his bi-racial parentage, foreign upbringing, his literary skills etc — made him a special person.  By virtue of these gifts he could heal racial divisions; reach out to the Muslim world; bridge the gap between rich and poor and serve as a link between the generations.

By contrast most American presidents derived their greatness from the position, many simply political hacks who we remember today simply because they occupied the Oval Office. Obama marks the first time in recent memory when the office is deemed uplifted by the man and not the other way round.  Charismatic leadership has its advantages, which is why it occurs repeatedly in history. It permits the charismatic person to “be bigger than the job” and do great things.  Men with this attribute, like Alexander, Caesar or Napoleon seem to rise above the rules and constraints that bind mere human beings.  It’s natural that Obama would prefer to be a ‘special’ president rather than an ordinary one.

Yet as someone said to a student who aspired to drop out of college “like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs”, you have to first be sure you can walk that walk before casting your academic career to the winds. Because charismatic leadership has some drawbacks.  The most obvious being that since power flows from the person himself then when Rudy Giuliani publicly questioned Obama’s patriotism he was attacking the wellsprings of the administration.

When Giuliani told an audience ”I do not believe – and I know this is a horrible thing to say – but I do not believe that the President loves America,” he was inadvertently doing more than criticizing a president; he was in a manner of speaking, committing treason. The unprecedented firestorm of opprobrium that greeted Giuliani suggested that he had somehow hit a switch.  It was like pushing an ordinary button in the wall and watching the skyscrapers out the window suddenly crumble in dust down into the ground.

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The Faithless Men

February 21st, 2015 - 4:19 am

Hundreds of people attended the funeral of Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, the man who attacked a cafe and a synagogue in Copenhagen. Estimates put the crowd attending his funeral at from 600-700 — this, in Denmark. Many wore masks and flashed the ISIS salute.  The article says, “up to half of the attendees, who were all men, had masked their faces with jackets or scarves. More directed their index fingers toward the sky, while others beat their chests with a clenched fist.”

It is hard to square the sight of that funeral, with its open defiance, symbolism and militancy, with the media narrative — a line which the president has sought to advance – that people like the Denmark shooter are crazy: “Lone Wolves”, disturbed individuals and  marginalized persons who belong to no larger community of belief.

They cannot bring themselves to admit that Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein was in his own way a sincere adherent of a cause because they would have to admit the cause. Instead the public is encouraged to denigrate him and those like him as lunatics. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Denmark shooter fought against overwhelming odds and tied up a European capital city for hours.

Men like him are patriots of a sort, the key distinction being that they are patriots for the other side. The shooter loved “his country” as much or more than persons who haughtily hold their own as above reproach, even though they’ve spent their entire careers reviling the land they profess to love.  But make no mistake: the Cophenhagen shooter’s country was not Denmark.  His heart lay somewhere else. Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein was not crazy, he was just the enemy.

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Sleepwalking to Disaster

February 20th, 2015 - 2:46 am

A British inquiry into how Her Majesty’s Government had stumbled into the Ukraine morass found they had reached the point by slowly getting rid of anyone who knew anything about Russia.  Over the years the system ousted anyone with a grasp of the facts and replaced them with people who would utter fatuous nonsense. The result was that the British government “sleepwalked” into the Ukraine crisis.  Nobody had anticipated that Moscow would fight — though they should have.

The EU Committee of the House of Lords found there had been a “catastrophic misreading” of mood by European diplomats in the run-up to the stand-off between Russia and the West. …

In a damning indictment of EU diplomacy, the committee said a decline in expertise on Russia in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and other EU foreign ministries had left them ill-equipped to formulate an “authoritative response”.

It said for too long the EU’s relationship with Moscow had been based on the “optimistic premise” that Russia was on a trajectory to becoming a democratic country.

The result was a failure to appreciate the depth of Russian hostility when the EU opened talks which aimed at establishing an “association agreement” with Ukraine in 2013.

In a word, the Europeans drank their own Kool-Aid. The dangers of replacing reality with an artificial Narrative should be obvious by now, but they appear not to have occurred to the Obama administration.  It has recently concluded a “three-day White House conference on violent extremism” by declaring their enemies to be religious schismatics or perverts, who aren’t really even religious. “We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”

And they have perverted Islam because they lack jobs.  And with this incisive conclusion, the summit paves the way for Obama to seek “authorization from Congress to use military force against Isis fighters in Iraq and Syria … Some have condemned him for refusing to describe Isis as Islamic extremists.”  This leaves Congress with the problem of declaring war against a nebulous somebody, though just who is not clear.

The president’s call to understand the grievances of extremists may have led former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani to blurt out to an audience, “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”

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A Lying in Winter

February 18th, 2015 - 8:06 pm

There’s really only one political game president Obama knows how to play.  That is to buy off both enemies and friends with the taxpayer’s money.   He’s a man with a hammer who only sees nails. When State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf suggested to Chris Matthews that “jobs” were the answer to ISIS, she was not mis-speaking but anticipating a policy whose outlines will emerge over the coming days.  A kind of Marshall Plan for the Islamic world seems in the offing.  Harf told Matthews how the administration was going to handle ISIS.

“We’re killing a lot of them, and we’re going to keep killing more of them. … But we cannot win this war by killing them,” department spokeswoman Marie Harf said on MSNBC’s “Hardball.” “We need … to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups, whether it’s lack of opportunity for jobs, whether –”

At that point, Harf was interrupted by host Chris Matthews, who pointed out, “There’s always going to be poor people. There’s always going to be poor Muslims.”

Harf continued to argue that the U.S. should work with other countries to “help improve their governance” and “help them build their economies so they can have job opportunities for these people.”

Once is happenstance. Twice might be coincidence, because president Obama himself has said the same thing as Harf. He thinks the present trouble in the Middle East is the result of people being driven by lack of opportunity, bigotry and racism, to the desperate sorts of behavior exhibited by ISIS.  ”Speaking Wednesday at his White House summit on ‘combating violent extremism’,” the president said:

“We do have to address the grievances that terrorists exploit,” he said. While poverty alone doesn’t turn people into terrorists, “resentments fester” when young people in corrupt countries have no education or opportunity.

The U.S. is at war with “people who have perverted Islam,” not the religion itself, he said. Dismissing the critics who have blasted him in recent weeks for his reluctance to explicitly link the terror threat to Muslim extremists — “Say it, Obama: ‘Islamic,’ ” read one New York Post headline— he said he refuses to “grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek.”

“They no more represent Islam than any madman who kills innocents in the name of God represents Christianity, or Judaism, or Buddhism, or Hinduism,” Obama said.

He called for an end to the stigmatization and profiling of Muslims. Before he mentioned the Islamic State, he expressed support for Muslim-Americans “worried and afraid” in the aftermath of the slaying last week of three young people in Chapel Hill, N.C.

It’s another teaching moment where we’re told it’s really our fault we have enemies and he’s getting ready to buy them off. That’s not how he’ll put it, but that’s what it will amount to.  He will reason that since Harry Truman got such excellent results by handing out money to white and sort of white people at the end of World War 2, it only makes sense to repeat the winning move in Libya, Yemen, Syria and Saudi Arabia? Did I say Saudi Arabia, a country awash with trillions of dollars? Well maybe they’re a few billion dollars and a little self-esteem short of making into the the “rule based” world.

And there’s no time to lose. CNN reports that Libya, once a pipeline so useful in moving weapons from the outside world to the armies of the Arab Spring is threatening to backflow into Europe. “Libya could become a terror pipeline to Europe,” is how CNN puts it. To be perfectly fair there was a time when president Obama tried kinetic military action, under the rubric of “responsibility to protect”.  But he only succeeded in having Libya wrested from his grasp and the barrels curved back on him so that it blew back on his face.

So he’s learned his lesson and resorted to dollar diplomacy. One of the agencies at the center of this new and enlightened approach is State’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications. “The Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) was established at the direction of the President and the Secretary of State to coordinate, orient, and inform government-wide foreign communications activities targeted against terrorism and violent extremism, particularly al-Qaida and its affiliates and adherents. Executive Order 13584, signed by President Obama on September 9, 2011, provides policy background and assigns interagency responsibilities to CSCC.” Just to show he means business, State was:

pleased to announce the appointment of Rashad Hussain as United States Special Envoy and Coordinator for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications. Special Envoy Hussain will lead a staff drawn from a number of U.S. departments and agencies to expand international engagement and partnerships to counter violent extremism and to develop strategic counterterrorism communications around the world. As part of this role, Special Envoy Hussain will also serve as Coordinator of the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, which was established at the direction of the President and former Secretary of State Clinton in 2010 and codified by President Obama’s Executive Order 13584 to coordinate, orient, and inform government-wide strategic communications focused on violent extremists and terrorist organizations.

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The Trail of Lies

February 17th, 2015 - 1:02 am

Imagine a ceasefire in First Indochinese War where the battle of Dien Bien Phu was allowed to continue.  Could it still be called a ceasefire? Could you call the suspension of hostilities between Ukraine and Russian a truce except for the continued reduction of the Debaltseve pocket? The New York Times’ Andrew Kramer reports that a force of 8,000 Ukrainian troops, three fourths as large as the doomed French garrison, is surrounded and being ground down.  He speaks of the last road into the garrison.

The status of this stretch of potholed asphalt has become a sticking point in the cease-fire and threatens to unravel the deal. The separatists say their control of the road means they have the Ukrainians surrounded. President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine has denied their claim, because conceding the point would force him either to negotiate for the release of the trapped soldiers or resume fighting to extricate them.

A dozen or so soldiers escaped on Sunday, and on Friday a small group reportedly managed to walk out through the fields. Otherwise, nobody has left the town since Thursday. …

Ilkka Kanerva, the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, issued a statement welcoming the general success of the cease-fire but deploring “the illegal separatists’ false and counterproductive insistence that the deal does not apply to Debaltseve, a government-held town.”

Still it’s a “ceasefire”. Words don’t change facts, except in politics. The facts are that Putin is winning the round and not about to stop punching simply because the Europeans have rung the bell. The physical reality is that he’s going for a knockout, stomping on his foe lying on the canvas.  The political problem for the West is how to keep calling it a truce.

Having apparently lost on the battlefield, Ukraine now will appeal for diplomatic pressure on Russia to prevail upon the separatists to open the road. But European leaders and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia were unable to solve the Debaltseve riddle during intense negotiations in Minsk last week, and it remains an open question whether they can now.

The Europeans have protested the military operations but the Russian forces have been unyielding. According to Reuters the “rebels” have turned back European monitors trying to reach the pocket. Why are the Europeans desperately clinging to an empty phrase? Because words are important and nowhere more than in politics. Charles Krauthammer observed that the Obama administration was similarly performing rhetorical somersaults in an effort to avoid describing ISIS as an ideologically — or if you prefer, religiously — motivated group.  Call them just folks; call them random guys.  Call them anything but who they are.

“The ideology of ISIS is clearly supremacist,” said Krauthammer on Monday’s Special Report, “in the sense that anybody who is not Islamic in their understanding is to be either enslaved or eradicated. This is a genocidal movement. You kill Christians, you kill Jews, you kill Yazidis (but you may in certain circumstances enslave them). That’s what we’re up against, and we have an administration that will not even admit that there’s a religious basis underlying what’s going on.”

That refusal is alarming, said Krauthammer: “Churchill saved England and civilization because in 1940 he was able to enlist the English language, and he put it to work on behalf of civilization. What this administration is doing is precisely the opposite. It’s sort of deconstructing any resistance with its refusal to acknowledge the obvious.”

But in fairness to both the Obama administration and the Franco-Germans, their spokesmen are torturing the language for a reason.  They are doing it to maintain a facade as long as they are able; to avoid the use of certain terms, which once uttered, would imply the need for action. Words like “war” or “invasion” for instance, must be eschewed at all costs.  For these dread phrases, once officially spoken, would make even the dumbest voter sit up and realize that something was wrong. Using the right words would force the politicians to admit to the actual situation and compel them to act — which is precisely what they don’t to do.

Both Obama and Merkel are in the position of a cuckolded husband who pauses at a bedroom door, knowing what he will find on the other side and yet reluctant to cross the threshold for fear of having to do something once the situation becomes undeniable. To avoid conflict he pauses at the doorway to give himself the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately the sounds emanating from within grow ever more unmistakable and the only question is not if, but when the truth must be faced.

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The Odds Against

February 16th, 2015 - 4:40 am

Max Fisher tweeted, “people who think Christian sectarian militias are the solution to Iraq’s problems could stand to read a history of the Lebanese civil war.”  I did, and the history of the Lebanese civil war reports that the Christian communities survived. That’s probably not what Fisher meant with the phrase “solution to Iraq’s problems” but survival is no mean feat.  Militias aren’t usually formed to do good or noble things.  They largely exist to maximize the chances that their members will wake to see tomorrow.

Most people in the West are accustomed to the idea that survival is a given, that the continuation of our civilization is a given and the sole remaining problems are ones of refinement.  Francis Fukuyama even spoke of the End of History, but in fact extinction is the normal fate of a species.  “Ninety-nine percent of all species that ever lived on the planet are estimated to be extinct”.  Cultures within a species are even shorter lived. Egyptian hieroglyphics, Mayan script and classical Latin — once the tongues of mighty empires of the human species — are now all dead languages.  Who knows but NBC might even stop broadcasting someday.  Look what happened to Newsweek.

Survival may look easy, but ask yourself if you’ve seen any Roman Legions lately? If Christians — or anyone — don’t fight to survive in the Middle East the likely result is no more of them. One of the virtues of the Cold War was it made people sit up and realize that survival was by no means assured.  In those days presidents and premiers were serious and careful when they talked about nuclear weapons.  For 13 days in 1962 it actually seemed like there might not be a human species if things took the wrong turn.

Since the Wall fell we’ve hardly given it a thought.  You might think our only remaining problems are where to buy a selfie-stick.  But the press today is full of the man-bites-dog story that Christians in Iraq are forming militias to fight ISIS. It has the same novelty value as accounts of extremist Buddhist monks in Burma.  People in their twenties probably think there is something unnatural about having to fight for one’s existence, like living in a world before computers. But except for the short and rapidly dwindling period of the Pax Americana, staying alive was a perfectly normal occupation.

What’s old is new again.  Lately we get a new snuff film for each day of the week from a bunch of masked guys we don’t even want to name. The subliminal message of each Islamist atrocity, whether it is burning people alive in cages or beheading them by the beach; the essential content of attacking schoolchildren in Peshawar or flying airliners into buildings in New York City; the inner punch line of “lone wolf” gunmen showing up at newspaper offices, cafes or synagogues is that the Great Father in Washington can’t protect you.  It’s every man for himself.

That’s the most subversive message in the world. The Emperor has no clothes.  The edicts of Brussels can be ignored. Gasp. Say this and Chris Matthews may think you’re an ignoramus. Yet each ISIS atrocity is designed to de-legitimize the current international order and spread the rumor that the emperor is dead, or at least, out to lunch. Ironically, each militia that forms to fill the power vacuum broadcasts the same message.  For both declare in their respective way that the writ of the West has come to an end; that the only security left is that provided by your own hand. Each time the Great Father refuses to restore order; each time he is reduced to crafting a hashtag in impotence or farming out the effort to a proxy power, he reaffirms the message of the men in the mask: the emperor is afraid of us.

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Rotten in Denmark

February 15th, 2015 - 2:51 am

Although the news cycle today will be dominated by accounts of the “lone wolf” attacks on a cafe and a synagogue in Copenhagen, it’s at least worth noting similar events happening all over the world.  For example, elements of the “bad Taliban” recently attacked a Shi’ite mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan, killing at least 22 people.

“The same Umar Mansoor group had also carried out the massacre at the Army Public School in Peshawar.” … The official said three police and four private guards were deployed at the mosque at the time of the attack, but the terrorists scaled the wall of an adjacent under-construction building to enter the mosque. The terrorists first entered the house of the prayer leader on the mosque premises and killed his son and nephew before heading for the main prayer hall.

In magnitude the the attacks were far worse than Copenhagen, and were duly denounced by Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations. The United Nations has been doing a lot of denouncing lately. Just today the UN Security Council “condemned ‘in the strongest terms’ the continued escalation of attacks perpetrated by Boko Haram terrorists. In a press statement, the Security Council noted the attacks in Chad, Cameroon and Niger in recent days were ‘heinous.’ The actions of Boko Haram constituted one of the most serious threats to international peace and security, it said.”

Statements of regret in the wake of attacks have become so routine it seems like they’ve delegated the task to an NSC functionary.

Statement by NSC Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan on the Shooting in Copenhagen

The United States condemns today’s deplorable shooting in Copenhagen. We offer our condolences to the loved ones of the deceased victim, and our thoughts are with those wounded in this attack. We have been in close contact with our Danish counterparts and stand ready to lend any assistance necessary to the investigation.

People on the ground, however, have long known that statements, resolutions, hashtags and candlelight vigils are mostly a waste of time. The Voice of America reports that local tribesmen beset by the Boko Haram have more or less taken matters into their own hands and formed militias, often armed with makeshift weapons. “Vigilantes have long provided security in Gombi. But when Boko Haram overran the town last November, they turned their guns, bows and knives against the insurgents, said Babuka Jimeta, a vigilante commander.”

“Boko Haram is a new group,” he said. “Before, we didn’t know them. But we usually heard that they would attack this village, sack that village, do this, do that. We didn’t know what they wanted. We didn’t know that they attack any religion. We cannot sit down at home and hold down our arms and leave them to do their atrocities.”

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A World Without Dragons

February 14th, 2015 - 5:09 am

Sharon Waxman of the Wrap leads her story about the dire events in the American media with the heading: “David Carr, Jon Stewart, Brian Williams and Journalism’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week”.  The question is why what happens to journalists should be important to us is interesting to consider. The death of Carr, the retirement of Stewart and the disgrace of Brian Williams no doubt had a profound effect on persons close to them.  But why should they affect us?

Perhaps the ancient Babylonians had the answer. They had a clay map called the “image of the world” or the imago mundi. “The map as reconstructed by Eckhard Unger shows Babylon on the Euphrates, surrounded by a circular landmass showing Assyria, Urartu and several cities, in turn surrounded by a ‘bitter river’ (Oceanus), with seven islands arranged around it so as to form a seven-pointed star. The accompanying text mentions seven outer regions beyond the encircling ocean.”

The people who lived on the banks of the Euphrates were farmers and most probably never traveled more than a few miles from home.  Few could hope to get as far as the First Island.  The best they could do is consult their Image of the World and travel in their mind.

Like the ancient Babylonians, we don’t know our world.  It’s too big.  We have in its place an imago mundi of our own, the media,  to represent it.  Though no longer made of clay it serves the same purpose. Through it we see into distant lands, peer into the decision making processes of politicans and peep into the private lives of celebrities.  We go where we could otherwise never go. That is how we get to our seventh island. We see the imago and believe we see the mundi.

But for any image to be useful it must incorporate an element of simplification or reduction.  Maps, for example, are rarely faithful to scale, since a map as big as the world would be too unwieldy to use. Jose Luis Borges wrote a story titled On Exactitude in Science about a fictional empire making this very point .

in that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.

Any image in one to one correspondence with the world would be superfluous because we may as well consult the original rather than the copy. Only an unfaithful representation is of any use. The same must be true of the media.  In order to fulfill their function they have to simplify — though we hope not to distort.  Their viewers rely on those simplifications.

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