Archive for February, 2011

The Battle for Egypt Begins

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

There has been much jubilation over the ouster of President Mubarak and much ridicule at the idea that the Muslim Brotherhood would take over. Well, the Egyptian Revolution ended a week ago with Mubarak’s resignation. Yesterday, the second revolution began with the return from exile of a radical Imam. Sound familiar ?

As I posted yesterday, over a million Egyptians turned out in Tahrir Square last Friday to cheer the vile anti-Semitic Sunni cleric Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who had been exiled by Mubarek, and who espouses the fundamentalist Islamic view that Jews must live as Dhimmis under Islamic control. Instead of accurately reporting the significance of this event, The New York Times whitewashed the cleric as someone who supports a “a pluralistic, multiparty, civil democracy.”

His version ?

Based in Qatar, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi is one of the most influential clerics in Sunni Islam. He currently serves as president of the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFW), and is a highly influential spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Qaradawi has twice (in 1976 and 2004) turned down opportunities to serve as the Brotherhood’s highest-ranking leader. His preference, he explains, is to avoid tying himself to “any movement which might constrain my actions, even if this is the Muslim Brotherhood under whose umbrella I grew and which I so defended.

It’s OK, though, because they are secular.

Here is the video of the rally (in Arabic, via Israel Matzav) with the crowd chanting:

“To Jerusalem We go, for us to be the Martyrs? of the Millions.”

Here is the transcript.

We demand that the Egyptian army liberate us from the government, which was formed by Mubarak in the days of his soon-to-be-erased rule. We want a new government, without a single one of the faces that people cannot tolerate anymore. Whenever people see these faces, they remember the injustice, the killing, they remember the invasion of the camels, mules, and horses, as well as the snipers who killed the people.


A message to our brothers in Palestine: I harbor the hope that just like Allah allowed me to witness the triumph of Egypt, He will allow me to witness the conquest of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and will enable me to preach in the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Oh Allah, allow us to preach in the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

There is a peaceful sentiment. The Al Aqsa Mosque sits atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Another helpful statement:

Sheik Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: The Rafah border crossing will be opened for you. This is what I demand from the Egyptian army and from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

That will open the border to Gaza. Frankly, that makes sense as Gaza was part of Egypt before the 1967 war. It has nothing to do with Palestine. The only problem is with the Hamas terrorists who rule Gaza. This may well be Obama’s Khomeini moment.

One of the most publicized figures outside Egypt in this story the last few weeks is a Google executive who is Egyptian.

One of the western media’s favorite Egyptian rebels is Google executive Wael Ghonim. No surprise there: if you had to choose among radical clerics like al-Qaradawi, hooligans like those who assaulted Lara Logan, and a suave, Westernized Google exec, whom would you want to interview? Ghonim was present on Friday and intended to address the crowd, but he was barred from the platform by al-Qaradawi’s security. He left the stage in distress, “his face hidden by an Egyptian flag.” Is Ghonim Egypt’s Kerensky? Well, at least Kerensky got to rule for a while.

Ghonim is one more proof, as if we needed any more, that brilliance in another field is no guarantee of common sense in politics, especially revolutionary politics. We are now about to move to the next stage, which in the French Revolution ended with the Terror. In Iran, it still goes on.

UPDATE: Here is a more optimistic view.

The Stand at Madison

Friday, February 18th, 2011

This week has seen the most amazing events unfold in Madison Wisconsin. Most of us have considered Wisconsin sort of a lost cause. The Progressive Party began there with the La Follette family and Robert La Follette who broke with Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 and later ran for president on a Progressive ticket in 1924. His family dominated Wisconsin politics, although Senator Joe McCarthy showed the odd character of their politics, too. The German socialism that influenced the Progressives has waned but the shock of the first real stand against the public employee unions has highlighted the recent changes in Wisconsin.

The Republicans swept the state as part of the 2010 electoral route of Democrats and the political left. Governor Scott Walker is not well known but his stand against the unions will make him a national figure by this weekend. The legislation he has introduced will limit the unions to bargaining for salary only. Benefits will not be subject to collective bargaining. In addition, teachers and other state employees, except those in police or firefighter unions, will be required to contribute small amounts to their pension and health care plans. My brother-in-law is a retired policeman in Chicago. My sister tells me that they have always had to contribute to his pension and the health plan. In Wisconsin, up to date, none of these employees have been required to contribute anything. Zip ! Zero !

The Republicans took over the majority in the state Senate 19 to 14. Apparently, Wisconsin law requires a super quorum including at least one member of each party to vote on legislation affecting the budget or funding state programs. As a result, the Wisconsin Senate Democrats, all 14 of them, fled the state. It turns out their hideaway was spectacular and they have announced that they may stay away for weeks.

President Obama has intervened by saying “Wisconsin is conducting an assault on unions.” In addition, his “Organizing for America” group, which has become part of the DNC, is now helping organize the demonstrations in Madison.

The state Capitol is occupied by union demonstrators who apparently plan to shut down the government. They are carrying outrageous signs and there may be violence not far below the surface. Where will this lead ?

Here is an estimate of what is at stake and the stakes are high.

It has long been understood that the 2010 elections were just the beginning of the struggle to reverse America’s current decline. It will take at least two or three election cycles to correct decades of bad policy choices. We aren’t staring into the fiscal abyss because of any single policy or event, but rather the cumulative effect of dozens, if not hundreds, of flawed decisions made by fickle politicians who capitalized on the fact that the American public was largely disengaged. In the end, these decisions created a vast political class who live off the fruits of others’ labors.

When a business wants to increase its future earnings, it has to find new markets and sell more of its product. For the political class its the same, only their markets and products are government services. As a result, every year, public sector unions spend tens of millions of dollars lobbying for bigger government and filling the campaign coffers of the politicians who acquiesce to their demands. In addition to bigger government, they’ve won pay packages higher than the private sector, almost 100% job security and the ability to retire in their fifties with lifetime retirement income and health benefits. All paid for by us. Unlike private sector unions, every dollar funding government employees’ pay, pension and benefits comes out of our paychecks.

The moral hazard of public employee unions was known to Franklin Roosevelt who opposed them. John Kennedy permitted government workers to unionize by executive order. Ironically, Wisconsin, in its Progressive era, was the origin of the largest public employee union.

If there is any doubt how important the fight in Wisconsin is, look no further than the left’s reaction to it. Governor Walker’s proposal calls on public employees to pay more into their retirement fund and pay around 12% of their health insurance premiums. It also ends collective bargaining for most public employees, which mostly affects union bosses rather than rank and file members and is an important measure to forestall a future fiscal crisis.

Actually, as I understand it, the collective bargaining is still permitted for salary but not benefits.

For this, tens of thousands of public school teachers called in ’sick.’ So many, in fact, that hundreds of schools across Wisconsin have been closed for days. They pressed school children into service as fellow protesters, most not understanding the issue at hand. They drew up signs comparing the governor to Hitler and called the GOP Nazis. Several GOP Senators have faced multiple death threats. When all of this wasn’t enough to stop the proposal, their allies in the Senate simply fled the state to prevent a vote from happening.

The rest of the nation is starting to notice.

Among key provisions of Mr. Walker’s plan: limiting collective bargaining for most state and local government employees to the issue of wages (instead of an array of issues, like health coverage or vacations); requiring government workers to contribute 5.8 percent of their pay to their pensions, much more than now; and requiring state employees to pay at least 12.6 percent of health care premiums (most pay about 6 percent now) …

In an unusual move, he would require secret-ballot votes each year at every public-sector union to determine whether a majority of workers still want to be unionized. He would require public-employee unions to negotiate new contracts every year, an often lengthy process.

The result has resembled Cairo and the demonstrations seem to be building up into a national showdown with public employee unions. Scott Walker is under enormous pressure but a large part of the nation is behind him. The union tactics may well alienate an even larger share of the public.

The Hitler meme is as common as it was with George W Bush. Democrats seem to have limited imagination.

The Wall Street Journal sees the riots as a European phenomenon brought here.

For Americans who don’t think the welfare state riots of France or Greece can happen here, we recommend a look at the union and Democratic Party spectacle now unfolding in Wisconsin. Over the past few days, thousands have swarmed the state capital and airwaves to intimidate lawmakers and disrupt Governor Scott Walker’s plan to level the playing field between taxpayers and government unions.

Mr. Walker’s very modest proposal would take away the ability of most government employees to collectively bargain for benefits. They could still bargain for higher wages, but future wage increases would be capped at the federal Consumer Price Index, unless otherwise specified by a voter referendum. The bill would also require union members to contribute 5.8% of salary toward their pensions and chip in 12.6% of the cost of their health insurance premiums.

If those numbers don’t sound outrageous, you probably work in the private economy.

This looks to be building up to a national showdown with public employee unions. I hope Scott Walker is safe and keeps his courage in spite of demonstrations on the front lawn of his and other legislators homes. He looks like he is not weakening.

More to come.


1. John Fund adds some background to the story with an explanation of the issues behind the furious union response.

2. Here is a rebuttal to a false story the Democrats are circulating to the effect there was no deficit until Walker “ginned one up.”

We re-read the fiscal bureau memo, talked to Lang, consulted reporter Jason Stein of the Journal Sentinel’s Madison Bureau, read various news accounts and examined the issue in detail.

Our conclusion: Maddow and the others are wrong.

There is, indeed, a projected deficit that required attention, and Walker and GOP lawmakers did not create it.

More on that second point in a bit.

The confusion, it appears, stems from a section in Lang’s memo that — read on its own — does project a $121 million surplus in the state’s general fund as of June 30, 2011.

But the remainder of the routine memo — consider it the fine print — outlines $258 million in unpaid bills or expected shortfalls in programs such as Medicaid services for the needy ($174 million alone), the public defender’s office and corrections. Additionally, the state owes Minnesota $58.7 million under a discontinued tax reciprocity deal.

The result, by our math and Lang’s, is the $137 million shortfall.

Sorry folks, the head-in-the-sand version is not true. The only state with a surplus is North Dakota.

3. Now, we have a doctor (or a fake) handing out excuse slips for the teachers that called in sick. This is illegal and apparently there are multiple folks in white coats handing out these slips with his name. This is practice of medicine without a license and treating (for him) patients without a good faith exam. How does he know they are or were sick ? Digging deeper and violating the first rule of holes.

4. Here is a new blog reporting on the antics of the runaway Democrat Senators.

5. Here is a video of one of the physicians committing fraud.

She doesn’t seem concerned. I sure hope Walker sets the medical board on them.

6. Here are more local accounts of the standoff. I like this sentence.

The Governor stands firm. I understand that there are strategies in place for next steps which will shake up the stalemate….I have known him for at least 15 years, but he is different now. He is a man who has met his time and his place, and he seems to know it.

Here is a very important comment from a Newsbusters thread on the Wisconsin situation.

Would someone please note that Unions make the great lion’s share of their $ from negotiating “benefits”, not salaries… or collection of dues.

This is why the decoupling of the Salaries and Benefits so important to Unions in Wisconsin. And why the Union’s have countered the way they have. They’ll give up Salary and Jobs for Teachers in a second, but they will fight to death for Benefit negotiation position. In another life as an executive in CA, I used to do administration for two Teamster’s “Health and Welfare” benefit packages. Do your research, but you’ll find I’m correct about motivation of Unions. I also believe that the amount of money kept by Unions will be very interesting to both your viewers, and the tax payers of the US of A. The way it works is that the Unions negotiate with the “Employer” regarding how much money per member/per month they will need to support the benefit options required in Union contract. In the case of WI, they negotiate with each of the 77 counties. Then the Unions negotiate the terms of benefits with “providers”/Ins Co’s, etc. They make the lion’s share of their money off of what is called the “breakage” created by Employees choosing between plan options, and the administration of the programs.

Let me explain with an example: A Union begins by negotiating with the Employer/State. They’ll claim their buying leverage will afford Employer significant savings. They’ll end up with a 3-tiered cost structure which allows the Union a profit even with the highest benefit option available as Union already has a very good idea about what Providers will be charging. But it gets even more lucrative for Unions at this point. Let’s say high-end Blue Cross PPO coverage costs $400 for the Family tier. What a Union will do is require $425 from Employer, plus a loaded in admin fee, as a charge for all Families in the employer group. So far, so fair? But, the Union will also offer a few other plans for Employees to choose from. The Union will also have developed relationships with a few cheaper HMO plans, and lesser PPO benefit structure plans that charge, as an example, $325 and $375, respectively.

At an Open House, employees will choose what fits their needs and the Union is in line for the “breakage“. The left over breakage is then, to my experience, placed in a fund where only the Union has the checkbook. Cars, Vacations and Condo’s, oh my. The Union also makes a “commission” off of things like Pre Legal, Dental and Term Life. As another profit source, the Union also leans on the Administrator for favors I’d rather not list, but usually involving idiocy like buying thousands of dollars of “raffle tickets” and leasing cars for the Union’s Business Agents, not entirely above board. Of course I am relating my experience, and what little I know of others who also did Union administration. I’d expect any simple research by an actual reporter would open up a Pandora’s box of Slush in the Badger State.

Very revealing comment. This is why “benefits” is such a life and death issue for the unions.

Here is more on the lefty physicians writing fake “sick leave” notes for demonstrating teachers. The comments are very interesting and have more on applicable Wisconsin laws.

Multiculturalism, the Middle East and Obama

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Here is another excellent piece by Victor David Hansen. This is the lazy man’s way to blog; posting other people’s work, but it is Super Bowl Sunday and I don’t usually do it this way.

The best part:

multiculturalism is a form of political and historical ignorance. The multiculturalist is an ahistorical fool, who confuses the cultural periphery with the core. Thus the United States is enriched by “multicultural” music, food, fashion, art, and literature from a Mexico or Kenya or Egypt. Fine, wonderful, all the better. But one, in the spirit of “diversity,” does not wish to embrace the Mexican judiciary, the Kenyan economic system, or the Arab attitude to women. Multiculturalism is a fraud of sorts, as the activist who wears the serape to campus never quite agitates for adopting the protocols of the Mexican police or the Mexico City elite’s approach to Indian peoples. We do not see signs blaring out: “We want Nigerian speech codes,” “Treat women as they do in Saudi Arabia,” “Look to the Iranians for gay rights,” “Arabs had the right idea about slavery,” etc. When I do radio talk show interviews, usually the harshest U.S. critics are transplanted Middle Easterners who in their furor at American foreign policy never quite explain why they left and do not go back to places that they now idolize — as if the economic, political, and cultural protocols they enjoy here would appear in Gaza or Yemen like dandelions after a rain if it were not for U.S. imperialism.

I think that pretty much sums it up. In Britain, the same rules apply except that the Dole figures largely, as well. I would like to know how many of the Muslims in Britain are paying their own way.

It is going to be a long two years. You see, the world has figured Obama out, and the wages of our version of 1979-80 are coming due.

Yes, and I am very worried. More so than my children who will have to live with it as I have lived with the consequences of Jimmy Carter since 1980.

A very good discussion of Egypt

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Ruel Marc Gerecht has an excellent piece on Egypt on the Weekly Standard web page. He is a former CIA agent and expert on the Middle East. He speaks Farsi and, probably, Arabic. I read his book on Iran when he was still anonymous. He reminds me of an important fact. Democracy in Egypt may have a better chance because Sunni Islam does not have a hierarchy of clerics. A book on Iran that I read recently made the comparison that Shia Islam is like the Catholic Church with a strongly hierarchical structure, while Sunni Islam is more like the Protestant churches, in which the individual is encouraged to read the Bible and draw his own conclusions. Few recognize the difference. The Sunni structure may be more amenable to democracy, especially in a more modernized country like Egypt with a 6% growth rate in GDP.

Read the article as it is excellent and written by someone who knows what he is talking about.

What weak foreign policy produces

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

There is an excellent article on the origins of the Egyptian situation in The Weekly Standard this week. The author has also written Strong Horse on Arab culture and the Middle East. His subject is the consequences of Obama’s “reaching out” to enemies and despots.

It was the June 2009 uprising following the Iranian elections that first showed Obama’s mettle. While millions of Iranians took to the streets to demonstrate, the administration dithered for two weeks before taking a stand. That alone showed the sort of weakness and passivity that emboldens bad actors. But the rationale for the White House’s silence only made it worse.

Obama did not want to antagonize the Iranian government because he wanted to engage them over their nuclear program. Every regional ally—from Jerusalem to Riyadh—told him that this was a fool’s errand, but the president was not to be deterred, even as the Iranian rulers thumbed their nose at the American president and told him they did not want to negotiate.

The administration also wanted to engage Iran’s ally, Syria, even as Damascus was supporting foreign fighters making their way into Iraq to kill American troops and our Iraqi allies. Furthermore, the Assad regime continued to back both Hamas and Hezbollah, who had laid siege to American allies in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, and Israel. Instead of bringing Damascus into the American column, Obama’s outreach pushed an ally, Saudi Arabia, into the Syrians’ arms.

Because the Saudis interpreted U.S. engagement with Syria and Iran as a retreat from Lebanon, they believed it was the better part of valor to court the Syrians, in hopes they might help attenuate Iran’s influence in Lebanon. Moreover, the House of Saud and Syria struck a deal over Iraq, where they would coordinate efforts to weaken, if not topple, an American ally, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. A series of massive car bombings in Baghdad did precisely that, and again the administration did nothing to protect its friends or punish its enemies.

I have previously commented on Obama’s foolish policies. He seems to think that talk will induce enemies to change to friends. His own career does not support this idea as he was first elected to office by disqualifying every opponent. His US Senate campaign succeeded by convincing a judge to unseal divorce records of his opponent. In none of these instances did talk accomplish anything. Thuggery was his method.

We are now in a situation that would not have occurred with another president, say John McCain. How it will end is not a pleasant prospect. The author, Lee Smith, has added some comments at Powerline.

Maybe it’s worth recalling the Peter Rodman essay where he noted that Eisenhower called the 1956 Suez Crisis his greatest foreign policy mistake. After getting our British, French and Israeli allies to stand down and handing Nasser the Egyptian president’s only foreign policy victory in a career marked by disastrous adventurism, Eisenhower couldn’t understand why the Egyptians still hated the US.

So no matter what Obama thinks he can get from Mubarak, the American president is not going to win the affection of the Arab masses. The administration’s concern is appropriate insofar as Americans do not like to see people crushed in their own streets by their rulers, especially when those rulers are US allies and get American aid money.

That said, whatever Obama wanted from Mubarak should have been conducted in private–not just because that is how you treat allies, no matter how mad you are at them, but also because to do otherwise, to make public demands, sets up the likely possibility that you will be rebuffed in public.

Obama tried to take Mubarak out to the woodshed, but the Egyptian knows he doesn’t have to take the US commander-in-chief seriously, because of his actions in the Middle East the last two years. Whether or not you think that Obama is right to deal with a US ally the way he has treated Mubarak, or whether Mubarak should step down immediately, the fact is that Mubarak knows Obama does not need to be taken seriously.

As I say in the piece, the US president did not project power in the region because he failed to observe the cardinal rule of Middle East politics–reward your friends and punish your enemies.

That rule goes back beyond Nicholas Machiavelli. Harry Truman once stated his political philosophy by recounting an aphorism about a Roman Senator. “His downfall began when he took his friends for granted and tried to bribe his enemies.”