Posts Tagged ‘Bush’

The Coming Election

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

I don’t think that a more important election has occurred in 75 years than the one later this year. I am not all that enthusiastic about any of the current candidate in the primary. Mitt Romney will probably win but he has been wounded seriously by attacks from other Republican candidates which alleged that his career as a venture capitalist and management consultant was an ethical issue. One expects this sort of thing from Democrats, about 53% of whom prefer Socialism.

53% of Democrats feel positively towards it.

Romney has defended himself with some vigor, which is a positive development. Others have defended him with a more effective argument.

We are now in an election campaign that may well be centered on our country’s economic system. Is capitalism (or free market economics as preferred by some) the best way for our economy to work? History has been written by people who are not positive about capitalism. Recently, revisionist history has appeared that tries to balance the story. Academic studies have been published that suggest that the Depression was a result of Roosevelt’s policies.

The writings of John Maynard Keynes have been quoted in support of leftist economic policies. The problem is that his policies have never been tried. He advocated countercyclical programs which ran deficits in times of economic slowdowns and recessions but surpluses in good economic time. The net result was zero deficits, a marked contrast with policies followed since 1960.

In fact, politicians of both parties have never been willing to run the surpluses that Keynes advocated. In good times, spending rose whether taxes were raised or not. Jimmy Carter said he would balance the budget with higher taxes. Instead, his compatriots (not allies) in Congress spent even more, leading to an inflation and stagnation crisis.

Ronald Reagan reinvigorated the economy with a large tax cut in 1980. The beneficial effect was delayed to 1982 when Bob Dole, the Senate Majority Leader, succeed in delaying the tax cut. The result was a predictable delay in economic activity as taxpayers waited for the lower rates, and the loss of the Senate majority in 1982.

Bill Clinton raised taxes in 1994 (His wife, Hillary, avoided the higher tax rates by taking her bonus prior to January 1, 1993, when the higher rates took effect. The result showed her prudence but also suggested hypocrisy in the Democrats’ enthusiasm for higher taxes.

George Bush I raised taxes in 1992 in spite of a promise not to do so. He lost the 1992 election, mainly because of Ross Perot’s candidacy splitting natural Republican voters. I was interested in Perot at the time but he started acting strangely before the election and I voted for Bush with reservations. Had he not raised taxes, I think he would have been re-elected. I have had some suspicion in spite of denials, ever since that the Democrats extracted a promise to raise taxes in return for voting for the first Gulf War. It is well known that All Gore required concessions in return for his vote for the war.

Why I liked Coolidge and why we are not recovering

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

I spent the past six months reading about Calvin Coolidge. I was interested in why the 1920s were a period of great prosperity and why the severe recession/ depression of 1920-1921 was so short. At its peak, there was 25% unemployment. Gross domestic product dropped by 6.9% in one report.

The recession of 1920–21 was characterized by extreme deflation — the largest one-year percentage decline in around 140 years of data.[2] The Department of Commerce estimates 18% deflation, Balke and Gordon estimate 13% deflation, and Romer estimates 14.8% deflation. The drop in wholesale prices was even more severe, falling by 36.8%, the most severe drop since the American Revolutionary War. This is worse than any year during the Great Depression (adding all the years of the Great Depression together, however, yields more severe deflation). The deflation of 1920–21 was extreme in absolute terms, and also unusually extreme given the relatively small decline in gross domestic product.[2]

The Harding-Coolidge administration took office in March 1921 and the recession was over in months. Why ? Governments were smaller then and had less influence on the economy. The Wilson Administration has been widely described as the equivalent of a fascist regime with its war time controls and economic meddling. Again from the Wikipedia article:

Interpretations of the end

Austrian School economists and historians argue that the 1921 recession was a necessary market correction, required to engineer the massive realignments required of private business and industry following the end of the War. Libertarian Austrian School historian Thomas Woods argues that President Harding’s laissez-faire economic policies during the 1920-21 recession, combined with a coordinated aggressive policy of rapid government downsizing, had a direct influence (mostly through intentional non-influence) on the rapid and widespread private-sector recovery.[12] Woods argued that, as there existed massive distortions in private markets due to government economic influence related to World War I, an equally massive “correction” to the distortions needed to occur as quickly as possible to realign investment and consumption with the new peace-time economic environment.

Daniel Kuehn’s recent research demonstrates that Woods gets many of the facts of the 1920-21 recession wrong.[13] The most substantial downsizing of government was attributable to the Wilson administration, and occurred well before the onset of the 1920-21 recession. The Harding administration raised taxes in 1921 by expanding the tax base considerably at the same time that it lowered rates. Kuehn also points out that Woods underemphasizes the role the monetary stimulus played in reviving the depressed economy. Since the 1920-21 recession was not characterized by any aggregate demand deficiency, fiscal stimulus was entirely unwarranted.
[edit]

I would tend to doubt the “recent research” that tries to include Keynes’ theories in the explanation. The issue of Fascism is more interesting. The National Recovery Administration was probably the most openly fascist bureaucratic organization that the US government ever instituted. It was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court, prompting Roosevelt’s “court packing” scheme. (A very sympathetic version by PBS).

What then, led to the Depression and what is leading to the present frightening echo of 1933? Here is a very frightening chart.

Here is a chart showing the price/earnings ratios of cyclical stocks vs “defensive stocks.” What it shows is that cyclical stocks, that can be expected to respond to economic conditions, are very, very cheap. That looks like most people do not expect recovery any time soon. Why ?

This is a very frightening chart. It has been for months as no prior recession has shown this deep a fall in employment and this slow a recovery. Now, if you look at the end of the red line, you see that employment is not recovering at all. The line is flat.

Calvin Coolidge has been criticized in history for his pro-business sentiments expressed in words. He is alleged to have said, “The business of America is business.” In fact, that is not an accurate quote but the sentiment he expressed was similar. He was also quoted as saying something like “A man who builds a factory, builds a temple and those who work there, worship there.” He has been widely criticized for those statements, as if praising business was immoral.

What we have now is a president who makes statements like, “So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”

We have a president who tells would-be entrepreneurs that “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.”

Does anyone still wonder why the economy under a president who seems hostile to business is failing while the economy under a president who supported it and wasn’t ashamed to say so, boomed.

Some have blamed Coolidge for the 1929 crash but it is pretty clear that the problem was similar to the problem of the real estate bubble in 2005. The Federal Reserve kept interest rates too low for too long. In 1928, Coolidge did not feel he had the right to intervene with the Fed and Benjamin Strong who was the president of the New York Fed died in October of that year. The Dow doubled in 1929. That was the speculative blow-off that ended in the crash. In 2005, Alan Greenspan still believed that a real estate bubble was preferable to a correction from the 1990 internet bubble. George Bush may have had more ability to intervene but all the safety mechanisms, which had not existed in 1929, still failed.

We are on the path to another Depression. One small indication. I do reviews of workers compensation claims. One would expect that, early in a severe recession, claims would go up as workers anticipate layoffs and try to file claims. There was a bit of that but it is over. Employment in California is down so far that the State Compensation Insurance Fund is laying off doctors and closing offices. Claims are way down because employment is falling rapidly. Workers may be afraid to file claims now.

I am worried about the next political killing. Not that Tucson was political.

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

The shooter in Tucson is an obvious paranoid schizophrenic, uninterested in and ignorant of political rhetoric.

Ashleigh Banfield said that Loughner “disliked the news. He didn’t listen to political radio. He didn’t take sides. He wasn’t on the left. He wasn’t on the right,” according to an interview on “Good Morning America.” Loughner wasn’t shooting at people, “he was shooting at the world,” Banfield said, according to the report.

The next shooter will probably be very interested in the hate-filled rhetoric coming from the left and directed at talk radio and Fox New, plus of course, Sarah Palin.

I fear that the torrent of hate and slander that has poured from the left, including the “paper of record” the New York Times, will agitate some leftist radical and we will have an ugly incident. Libertarian (and gay) Dutch politician (and professor), Pim Fortuyn was assassinated three weeks before the next election by a Green and “animal rights” activist.

However, words have power and if someone is called a racist often enough, an impressionable mind may decide that saving the world from the latest Hitler will require that person’s murder.

Some version of that scenario appears to have taken place in the Netherlands on May 6, 2002, with the political assassination of Pim Fortuyn, a rising star in Dutch politics who could possibly have become the next Prime Minister. A man identified only as an “animal rights activist” shot him down in the street near a radio station.

Certainly Professor Fortuyn’s notoriety played a part in his being targeted. Both the media and Dutch politicians in the ruling party attacked him mercilessly in the most disparaging language. Prime Minister Wim Kok called him a fascist, as did the European press. Anyone who objects to massive Muslim immigration is branded automatically as a racist, xenophobe and fascist. Mr. Fortuyn was regularly compared with real right-winger Jean Le Pen, although aside from the immigration issue, the men had nothing in common.

The assassin was a typical leftist activist.

A vegan animal rights activist accused of the murder of the controversial Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn has confessed, public prosecutors said on Saturday.
Volkert van der Graaf is reported as saying he saw Mr Fortuyn’s far-right views as a threat to vulnerable sections of society.

Note that Fortuyn’s speeches were principally concerned about Muslim immigration. For that position, he was called “far right” and a fascist. This person who did the killing that was obviously being called for by leftist politicians and the media, had nothing to do with Muslims. He was responding to the rhetoric from the political left.

I fear we may see a similar attempt this year as the next election begins to raise the temperature of political speech. I hope Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin have good security. She is probably the most vulnerable and I really worry about her safety.

The myth of Scooter Libby

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

UPDATE: Even the Washington Post complains about the lies and distortions in the movie. Given the Post’s history, that is severe criticism of the movie’s writers.

The Hollywood left has now released their version of the Valerie Plame affair. It is a movie called “Fair Game” and it perpetuates the myth that Vice-President Cheney’s chief of staff Scooter Libby told columnist Robert Novak that Joseph Wilson’s wife was a CIA agent. In fact, Novak got his information, and so testified before a grand jury, from Richard Armitage, a State Department assistant secretary and no ally of Bush and the White House. Armitage, typically, does not appear in the movie. This article in World Affairs Journal reviews the movie and provides a succinct account of the story.

Joe Wilson had gone to Niger in 2002 at the request of the CIA after Cheney had asked the agency about reports that Iraq bought yellowcake from Niger. According to a declassified CIA memo, Wilson found that Iraq had sent a commercial delegation to Niger to expand trade and that the only Niger export Iraq would care about was yellowcake. So there was an attempt, but it proved fruitless. In his 2003 State of Union address, Bush said the British had reported an effort by Iraq to buy “significant quantities of uranium” in Africa. In his July 6, 2003, Times op-ed, Wilson suggested that that statement was evidence the administration was manipulating intelligence to push the war. But Bush said only that the British reported that Iraq “sought” to purchase yellowcake, which was precisely what Wilson had found and reported, according to the CIA. Still, the op-ed caused a furor, and the White House quickly backed off the statements about Iraqi efforts.

My opinion is that the Bush White House made a catastrophic error in not defending the “sixteen words” in the State of the Union address. They were later shown to be correct as he did not assert that Saddam obtained the yellowcake but did make an unsuccessful attempt. The failure to defend those words began the myth that “Bush lied us into war.” It was a disastrous mistake.

Valerie Plame says in her memoir that she read the report that the CIA wrote immediately after debriefing Wilson on his trip and also read his column before it was published. She added that she thought the column was accurate. She said the report was only a few pages long. No one, let alone a professional intelligence officer, could have missed the part about Iraq trying to buy yellowcake. She had to know the column was wrong, but evidently said nothing. So she was anything but an innocent bystander as her husband created a political firestorm.

The book “Shaddow Warriors” makes the assertion that Wilson and Plame were actually working for French intelligence. France, of course, opposed the Iraq invasion and France, under Jacques Chirac, was deeply invested in Iraq and in the “oil for food” scam that corrupted the UN and a number of other organizations that helped Saddam evade the sanctions.

The other interesting story in the article concerns Libby’s attempt to obtain a pardon from Bush before he left office. It is to Bush’s discredit that he did not pardon Libby.

Even at the end of the long ordeal, poor memory — and irony — continued to played a role. Libby called White House counsel Fred Fielding as the clock was winding down on Bush’s term to ask if he could meet with the president to make his case for a pardon. Fielding mentioned he had received a call from a senator who had defended Libby. That surprised Libby, who knew the senator but had not considered him an ardent supporter. And Libby suggested it might have been another senator who Libby knew had spoken to Fielding.
Libby, who answered questions for this article, asked Fielding three times if he was sure it was the senator Fielding mentioned, and Fielding insisted that it was. But a little later, Fielding realized that he had made a mistake and that the senator Libby had mentioned was the one who had called. “Fred,” Libby said wryly, “you could be indicted.” The incident evidently didn’t convince Fielding that Libby may have made a similar memory error. Fielding didn’t return calls seeking comment.

Shame on Bush and Fielding for refusing to help an innocent man who had been wronged. The evidence against Libby was weak and the prosecutor knew throughout the entire process that Armitage had been the source for Novak.

Republicans and immigration.

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

The recent election said little about illegal immigration. Sharon Angle, according to this LA Times piece, may have come off too harsh on illegal immigration. Nevada has a large Hispanic population and elected a Republican governor who is Hispanic. Ken Buck may have gotten some backlash from a reputation as an enforcer of laws against employing illegals. However, the Republicans won Arizona where illegal immigration is an issue and Hispanics are a large sector of the population. What does this mean ?

Republicans are in favor of legal immigration. Democrats try to mix the legal and illegal sides of this issue to confuse voters. Many Hispanic voters oppose illegal immigration but may worry about harassment of legal residents. There is no question that California has been devastated by the demands of the illegal population. Texas has escaped some of the negative effects because its state government is funded by sales tax, not income tax which may be avoided by illegals.

What is the solution ?

One is to build the fence and control the border. So far, 600 miles have been constructed and the “virtual fence” advocated by George Bush has been shown to be useless.

The Obama administration is preparing to scrap plans to extend the high-tech “virtual” border fence along vast stretches of the 1,969-mile U.S.-Mexico border, ending a troubled and politically contentious security measure inaugurated in 2006 by then-President George W. Bush, the Houston Chronicle learned Friday.

The decision, expected to be announced shortly by the Department of Homeland Security, comes after federal authorities poured nearly $1 billion into a four-year, post-9/11 demonstration project to show that state-of-the-art remote cameras and ground sensors could help U.S. Border Patrol agents intercept undocumented immigrants, drug smugglers or potential terrorists surreptitiously crossing the border.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, a former governor of Arizona keenly familiar with the technical problems afflicting the project, first signaled plans to scrub the “invisible fence” with a series of internal decisions in recent weeks that shifted the year-to-year contract with the prime contractor to a month-to-month contract due to expire on Nov. 21.

It was a waste of money and time. The real fence, however, has been effective where built. That is why most illegals are coming through Arizona now. There is a fence in California.

Once the fence is built, then what ?

Many of the workers compensation claims I review, about 70%, are for workers with Spanish surnames. Of these, about half are Spanish speaking only. When reviewing these cases, I note that the vast majority claim two years of education. Two years ! They are illiterate in Spanish, let alone English. They have no skills and can work at manual labor only. They tend to become injured and disabled by age 40. Then, they are a drag on the economy as they live on disability.

Legal immigrants bring education and skills. Canada requires that immigrants have assets and education. Very few countries permit illegal immigration as we do. Certainly Mexico does not permit immigration. There is no naturalized citizenship in Mexico.

What about illegals who have been here for years and have families who are citizens ? We can develop a policy toward these people once the border is secure. Right now, we have the significant possibility of a violent failed state on our southern border. That will accelerate migration and may well lead to violent confrontations between criminal gangs, who are learning tactics from Islamist groups, and US authorities.

Close the border and then worry about the illegals residing in the US with significant ties here.

Experience vs theory

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

This post from Assistant Village Idiot is an important discussion of theory vs real life experience and the role of academics in business. We see a situation in the Obama administration where people with Ivy League degrees are trying to run a national economy. The whole thing is worth reading but I will post a couple of excerpts.

I have had the pleasure and frustration of working with extremely bright people over the years, both at AT&T and at Imagem- my partner and fellow founder, inventor of the technology, is a retired professor with 5 degrees. Through the years a couple of things have struck me. That not only do academics get angry that they aren’t running things, this includes a lot of the Bell Labs guys, but that a lot of the problem lies in definitions. As a recovering operations research junkie, one of the most important lessons I ever learned was problem definition. In many ways, it has been critical to my success. How to correctly define the problem, in most cases when it presents itself as something else, is key to a successful outcome.

This applies to the Atul Gawande post above. A Harvard professor assumes that physicians in private practice are “wolves” and patients are “sheep.”

they lack a couple of key concepts- the first is that simple understanding of a concept does not mean that you can do it. While this is clear and obvious in the realm of sports and entertainment, it is not obvious in business. And that leads me to the other point. Really successful business executives are rarely, if ever, one trick ponies. They must not only be successful in whatever their entry level occupation is, otherwise they could never be promoted, but eventually, they must shed whatever self styled profession they had and embrace ‘business”. In many cases, the person we promoted was not the “best” in their group, but probably in the top 5. What they had was an ability to not only learn a new skill, but to fully embrace it. Somewhere in middle management, you lose your origin. You begin to hear things like, I started out as an accountant, or I came up through sales. But to be really successful, you have to be able to become a generalist at a minimum, and still be able to master new skills, especially political ones. The others are somewhat obvious, they include finance, legal, HR, etc. You never have to be the best, but, at any one time, one of these areas becomes critical to successful outcome.

I won’t reproduce the whole post here but will post one last excerpt.

I’m sure you know who Lanny Davis is, he was one of the top white house lawyers in the Clinton admin. In any event, he was at Yale with Bush. He was one of the only ones on the left who warned everyone about Bush. He had seen him in action. Apparently Bush was the head cheerleader at Yale. According to Davis, he made the post more important than student council president. The story also goes that Bush was able to perform some very unusual feats of memory at his fraternity( ie, memorizing 40 some odd new recruits, name, home town, etc. after hearing them only once, and in order). While everyone on the left was saying how stupid he was, Davis was telling them he wasn’t. He had made a career out of having people underestimate him- and it apparently worked pretty well.

That’s an interesting observation. Here is another.

As for Palin, I agree, she has a much better operational resume than any of them. I don’t know if she has the “persona” that is required. It would have been far better for Bush to have been elected before television or radio, he reads much better than he sounds(ie, his speeches, when read, are actually not bad- he’s no Churchill, but then neither is Obama). And to that point, Obama is so obvious in his “speechifying”- I am reminded again, of that line in Blazing Saddles uttered by Slim Pickens to Harvey Korman about the $10 dollar whore and his tongue.

The generalist with a modest education but more experience may be far more effective than the theorist who has never run anything.

Where have I heard that before ?

Afghanistan may be lost

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

UPDATE: We can all relax. John Kerry is going to Afghanistan to see what needs to be done. I guess he must know a lot about these things from his friends, the North Vietnamese.

Watching the last two weeks or so in the White House, gives me the sense that the decision is going to be the wrong one. There are three possible choices that Obama has; one is to take his hand-picked general’s advice and send 40,000 more troops. It will stress our military and the logistical challenges are serious. Afghanistan is land-locked and the neighbors are not friendly. Russia will try to create problems, as they already have in Kyrgyzstan. They do not want us to succeed yet they may fear total failure. In the meantime, they are making serious trouble.

Another option for Obama is to abandon Afghanistan to the Taliban and withdraw the troops. That goes against all of his, and the Democrats’ rhetoric during the campaign about how Iraq was a “war of choice” but Afghanistan was the “necessary war.”

The third option, and the one I fear is coming, is to muddle through much in the fashion of Lyndon Johnson after his advisors lost confidence in Vietnam and the mission there. That will sacrifice our all volunteer military for political purposes and it is already becoming apparent to the troops that they are not being supported. Morale is plummeting.

American soldiers serving in Afghanistan are depressed and deeply disillusioned, according to the chaplains of two US battalions that have spent nine months on the front line in the war against the Taleban.

Many feel that they are risking their lives — and that colleagues have died — for a futile mission and an Afghan population that does nothing to help them, the chaplains told The Times in their makeshift chapel on this fortress-like base in a dusty, brown valley southwest of Kabul.

“The many soldiers who come to see us have a sense of futility and anger about being here. They are really in a state of depression and despair and just want to get back to their families,” said Captain Jeff Masengale, of the 10th Mountain Division’s 2-87 Infantry Battalion.

Remember, these are not draftees and most have families. I should add to rebut a comment, that the soldiers have very high morale among themselves. This is typical in combat where they rely on others in the unit. Even in the Second World War, where the US Army was no match for the German Army man-for-man, soldiers would do almost anything to avoid letting down their friends and “team.” They are losing faith in the leadership, just as the Army did in Vietnam. Those are two different things. Forty years later, a penis is still referred to as a “Johnson” in the military.

More important than whether or not Obama will send in the 40,000 troops the generals are asking for is what constraints the troops on the ground will be asked to follow. Dropping leaflets on a population is futile when the population is illiterate. Explaining democracy to a people that have no conceptual understanding of liberty is equally difficult. Many Americans today view counterinsurgency operations chiefly as “hearts and minds” operations involving the handing out of teddy bears and candy bars. But the first step in isolating the enemy from the people is protecting the population from those who wish to destroy it. If you keep people safe, you gain their trust. McChrystal is not a man who will shy away from a fight. The surge in Iraq killed hundreds of insurgents using special operatives and regular infantry.

But the current rules of engagement (ROE) in Afghanistan are simply far too constrictive to eliminate large pockets of threat. The people of Afghanistan don’t trust their government and their police forces. We are years away from relying on them as we have with their Iraqi counterparts. The ROE are a direct reflection of that: We are forced to be gentle because of the barbaric manner in which the Afghanis treat their own people. This may make us feel good, but we choose this tactic at the risk of our young men and women.

The chief problem with our Afghanistan strategy is the craven politicians who want to micromanage the war. Moveon.org opposed the escalation of force in Afghanistan eight years ago. Since 2004, however, the Left has turned about-face, bellowing that we “took our eye off the ball” in Afghanistan by fighting the war in Iraq.

I think we are about to see a craven and mistaken decision to let the troops hang out there rather than accept the responsibility for losing the war. This seems to be the patterns of Democrats at war since the New Left took over in 1972. Bill Clinton avoided this in Serbia and Kosovo by bombing from 20,000 feet. It didn’t accomplish much but it did avoid the fate of Johnson and, I fear, Obama.

If the decision is to abandon the commitment to Afghanistan, do it openly and bring the troops home. No one will be fooled by anything else. The rest of the Army officers certainly aren’t fooled.

The hallways at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center buzzed with sympathy for McChrystal, who has said the U.S.-led effort in Afghanistan risks failure without a rapid infusion of additional forces. Obama and his advisers are now debating strategy in Afghanistan, with some officials arguing against additional deployments.

“It was definitely a hand slap,” one Army officer said of the statement last weekend by national security adviser James L. Jones, a retired Marine general, that military officials should pass advice to President Obama through their chain of command. The Army officer, like others attending the annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army, spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the politically sensitive issue.

A number of senior Army officers compared McChrystal to Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army chief of staff who warned before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 that it would take several hundred thousand troops to secure the country — advice that was dismissed as “wildly off the mark” by then Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz.

Yes, but that was Bush and his administration. It now looks as though the Obama pullout will be called Pakistan first.

One of the ideas the Obama administration is considering in response to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan reportedly is called “Pakistan First.” Championed by Vice President Biden, the idea is to focus U.S. efforts on attacking al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan’s tribal areas with drones or Special Forces, while backing the government’s efforts to pacify and develop the lawless areas where al-Qaeda and the Taliban are based. The battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan, meanwhile, would be put on the back burner.

“Pakistan First” would excuse President Obama from having to anger his political base by dispatching the additional U.S. troops that his military commanders say are needed to stop the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan. It would nominally focus U.S. efforts on a nuclear-armed country that is of far greater strategic importance.

Yes, it would be a lie, of course, but a useful lie. One that keeps him from “angering his base.” Pakistan, however, isn’t fooled.

If the likes of Mullah Omar take over in Afghanistan, it will have serious implications for Pakistan,” Mr. Qureshi said. “They have a larger agenda, and the first to be impacted by that agenda is Pakistan. . . . Whether they do it in Pakistan or whether they do it in Afghanistan, it will have implications on Pakistan and it will have implications on the region.”

Well, you can’t please everyone.

Tortured logic

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

UPDATE #2: Well, maybe not. With Obama, one never knows for sure.

UPDATE: Obama seems to be backing away from the issue but that’s nothing new.

We now have a debate going on in this country over whether some of the detainees at Guantanamo and prisoners of our war with radical Islam were tortured. There has been a lot of speculation before this based on International Red Cross statements and books by radical leftist writers like Jane Mayer of The New Yorker. This week, Hugh Hewitt had a valuable debate on his radio show between two law professors, one a leftist and the other conservative. The debate was stimulated by several developments in the controversy, one release of previously classified memos from the Justice Department on whether the techniques used by the CIA constituted torture. These memos concluded that such techniques as waterboarding were not torture.

Many on the right think release of these memos will harm the country. Obama visited the CIA to try to reassure the Agency that he does not want to harm its ability to defend us. He has also promised that no CIA employee will be prosecuted for following the advice given in the memos. He initially made the same promise about the lawyers who provided the opinions of legality of the techniques, now called torture by the left. Since then, he has reversed course, leaving the question of prosecution open.

Let’s read a bit of the debate from Hugh Hewitt’s guests to get the tone. First, professor Chemerinsky, the new Dean of UCI Law School:

EC: I am pronouncing no judgment on anyone. I am saying, though, based on the Jane Mayer book The Dark Side, the Red Cross report and these torture memos, that there is evidence that international law and domestic law was violated. The law…

HH: Erwin, stop right there. What evidence have you got, not Jane Mayer, she’s not credible, she has been discredited many, many times. But what evidence do you point to that’s not contested that says these, Jay Bybee, Judge Bybee broke any law?

EC: First, I strongly disagree about your attack on Jane Mayer. I think her book describes in detail torture that occurred. The Red Cross report describes it. And these torture memos describe things that are clearly cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. Now the question is what caused such torture to occur, assuming that it did? If it could be shown that the actions of Dick Cheney, David Addington, Jay Bybee, and John Yoo among others, led to individuals being tortured, then I think that’s war crimes and they ought to be prosecuted.

So, Professor Chemerinsky relies on a book by a controversial writer to decide what is torture. There is more detail further on.

I think there’s two questions here. First, were individuals tortured by those under American command? I think if you read the Jane Mayer book, you read the Red Cross report, there’s no doubt that individuals were tortured. Waterboarding has been regarded as torture since the early 20th Century. Forcing men to be nude except for diapers is degrading treatment. Physical pain by prolonged staying in the same position is torture. Jane Mayer describes individuals who literally died as a result of torture by American officials. So the first question is did torture occur? We have to investigate. The second question is if so, why did it occur? If the memos that were written led to the torture occurring, then I think they’re responsible. I don’t think they can hide behind being part of Office of Legal Counsel. I don’t think they can hide by saying it was just memos. If their memos led to torture, then they’re responsible just as memos that might have led to Nazi gas chambers are responsible for that resulting. And I do intentionally liken it, torture, to what the Nazis did.

So, we don’t see much doubt there. It looks to me like we are about to disarm the country in a war that is chiefly being fought with intelligence techniques. Why would Obama go after Bush Administration people like this when it has never been done before ?

Well, there is a precedent. In the Reagan Administration, there was a political witch hunt called “Iran Contra.” Some detail is here. Almost all the literature on this affair is deeply colored by politics. At the bottom, it was a political difference- whether to fund the Contras, a rebel group trying to overthrow the Sandanistas, a communist dictatorship installed by the Soviets when Jimmy Carter refused to support the Somoza Regime in Nicaragua. Reagan was banned by Congress from funding them so he turned to private individuals to fill the gap until Congress changed its mind. A Special Prosecutor named Lawrence Walsh indicted a number of Reagan officials, including Cap Weinberger, Secretary of Defense who had had nothing to do with the scandal. Weinberger was pardoned eventually by George Bush.

In essence, the Democrats have been successful in criminalizing policy differences. Ray Donovan, Secretary of labor in Reagan’s Adminstration, was such a case and after he was exonerated by a jury, he asked Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?” Often, the process alone can bankrupt the targeted official, even forcing him to settle rather than go bankrupt with legal fees. Something like that was done with Michael Milken, who pleaded guilty to avoid having his brother indicted. The technique, in the hands of an unscrupulous prosecutor, can be devastating. Why would Obama do this ? Maybe the New York Times has the answer.

Mr. Obama and his allies need to discredit the techniques he has banned. Otherwise, in the event of a future terrorist attack, critics may blame his decision to rein in C.I.A. interrogators.

There, I believe, is the motive for this shameful decision. He is already anticipating that his actions may result in another attack. He wants to avoid responsibility. Harry Truman said “The buck stops here” but that was a long time ago and the Democratic party was a very different organization.

Bush haters move on to history

Monday, June 30th, 2008

The author of a novel advocating the assassination of George Bush, has moved on to Churchill and Roosevelt. The book is Human Smoke and is an indictment of the Allies in World War II because they stood up to Hitler at last and refused to accept that final aggression. The author, apparently a pacifist, sets out to attack Churchill and Roosevelt but does it in a dishonest way. His novel, Checkpoint seems to have outraged even the New York Times, rather tolerant of most Bush-haters. The Booklist review gives a bit of the plot:

Jay and Ben are old friends who haven’t seen each other in a few years. A former teacher who has fallen on hard times, Jay is very, very upset about the war in Iraq. He has expressed his objections by marching in an antiwar demonstration in the nation’s capital, but the protest has had no effect. Now Jay has asked Ben, a writer currently working on a book about the cold war, to bring a tape recorder to a Washington, D.C., hotel room because Jay wants to talk about his decision to assassinate the president.

A columnist in The Independent has picked up on this pacifist nihilism and brought more light on this mindset.

Winston Churchill? Today we only remember his heroic opposition to Nazism. But while he was against gassing and tyranny in Europe, he was passionately in favour of it for “uncivilised” human beings whose riches he wanted to seize. In the 1920s, Iraqis rose up against British imperial rule, and Churchill as Colonial Secretary thought of a good solution: gas them. He wrote: “I do not understand this squeamishness… I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes.” It would “spread a lively terror”.

He does not mention, and may not even be aware of the fact that Churchill goes on to confirm that by “poisoned” he meant tear gas. He may not know it because he took the lines from Baker’s book above.

The correction (unacknowledged by the writers) is here.

“I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes,” Baker quotes, but if one returns to the original memorandum, found in the Churchill Papers in Cambridge, it goes on to make it clear that the idea was not to use “deadly gasses” against the enemy, but rather ones aimed at “making his eyes water by means of lachrymatory [i.e., tear] gas.” Churchill goes on to write: “The moral effect should be so good as to keep loss of life reduced to a minimum” and “Gasses can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror yet would leave no serious permanent effect on most of those affected.”

I am belaboring this point because we have begun to see a similar pacifist nihilism in the presidential campaign. The attacks on John McCain’s military record, the refusal to see progress in Iraq, attempts to undercut the war on radical Islam (perhaps because some would rather lose than see Bush win anything), all seem to suggest that some have gone beyond politics to some sort of lunatic antipathy to American civil discourse. I think we have seen only the beginning of this.

Someone finally understands George Bush

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

Spengler is a pseudonym for a writer in the Asia Times who is often a source of wise counsel in complex matters. His recent column on George Bush and Pope Benedict provides considerable insight into the relationship between these two men. A similar relationship between the preceding Pope, John Paul II, and President Reagan had a great deal to do with the fall of the Soviet Union. Spengler writes,

Despite his position on Iraq, Benedict’s critics within the church regard him as a civilizational warrior as dangerous as the US president. Bush might denounce “Islamo-facism”, but continues to believe that Islam is a “religion of peace”. Muslims suspect that the pope wants to convert them, a threat they never have had to confront in Islam’s 1,500-year history.

Finally, someone has understood the dilemma that George Bush faced in 2001:

After the September 11, 2001, attacks, American intelligence had no means to determine which Muslim governments were in league with terrorists. Middle Eastern governments do not resemble Western nation-states so much as they do hotels at which diverse political factions can rent accommodations, including factions who provide weapons, passports, training and intelligence to the sort of men who flew planes into the World Trade Center. Elements within the governments of Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, among others, supported terrorists, besides Saddam.

The only way to resolve the matter quickly was to make a horrible example out of one of these regimes. That got the undivided attention of the others. “Kill the chicken, and let the monkey watch,” say the Chinese.

This is exactly why we invaded Iraq and it is tragic that the Bush people did not make a better attempt to explain this. Spengler is no latecomer to this view, as he explained at the time.

The West should be thankful that it has in US President George W Bush a warrior who shoots first and tells the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to ask questions later. Rarely in its long history has the West suffered by going to war too soon. On the contrary: among the wars of Western history, the bloodiest were those that started too late. Why should that be the case? The answer, I believe, is that keeping the peace requires prospective combatants to maintain the balance of power, for example between Athens and Sparta in the 5th century BC, between Catholic and Protestant states in the 17th century AD, and between the Central Powers and the Allies at the turn of the 20th century. Once powers truly are balanced, however, neither side can win, except by a devastating war of attrition. Postponing war therefore creates equally matched opposing blocs who eventually will annihilate each other.

Spengler explains why he opposed the attempt to turn Iraq into a modern nation, the first in the Arab world. I believe he is wrong here but the attempt was certainly costly and teetered on the brink 18 months ago. Only a REAL change agent in the Army, General Petraeus, was able to bring it off.

The future is still in doubt but the cooperation of George Bush and Pope Benedict may have significant influence on how that turns out.