Featured Post

The Right of National Defense

Writing this post on Memorial Day, my thoughts, of course, turned to those who fought and died to preserve our country. My thoughts also tur...

Monday, December 30, 2013

Things that Make You Laugh: Off to Antarctica to Freeze in the Warmth

Ah, politics. Politically correct politics, in particular. Is nothing safe from their grasp? Guess not. 

We all know how politics, especially the politically correct kind that denies reality in the name of some cultish belief, can ruin an economy, and a society. They incite violence and start wars all over the world. They also ruin science. Science defined as the "observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena." If anybody is supposed to pursue The Truth it is the scientist, or so we have all been taught to believe. Not true, not true.

The readers of this little blog don't need me to come up with examples of science bending to politics either because of persecution, e.g., Galileo, or playing to the dictator, e.g., Lysenko. History is full of other morsels of scientific "unscientificness," e.g., the various "epidemics" that are supposed to have wiped us all out by now. The greatest ongoing one, however, must remain the global warming/change hoax.

I have written so much about this hoax, both on this blog and on an earlier one of some years ago, that I bore myself writing about it. Suffice it to say that a real scientific theory summarizes a hypothesis or group of hypotheses that have been supported with repeated testing. In other words, different experimenters can do the same test, and get the same results. If I remember my two years of chemistry, biology and physics at UCLA, a theory remains valid only as long as there is no evidence to dispute it, or better said, disprove it. Above all else a scientific theory must be falsifiable. The various models of climate change have paraded around for years as theory; the popular press, and the politicians have accepted the "theory" and begun to pump money into the "study" of climate change or global warming or whatever it is called at any particular time. Some scientists, not being fools, have seen there is money in "studying" alleged climate change. Well, not really in studying it but in rigging data to conform with the politically convenient and expected results, to wit, that the earth is warming, that it is doing so because of human activity, and "something" must be done--e.g., taxation, regulation--to "combat" it.

The fact that the "theory" has failed to predict anything or to explain past climate events is irrelevant to its promoters. The failure, however, has become so blatant, leading to growing public skepticism, that the "theory" has been gradually modified from "predicting" warming to just predicting "change." Any change, therefore, which takes place in the weather or the climate--and the proponents use those words interchangeably when convenient--has been "predicted!" Wow! These "accurate predictions," however, invariably are ex post facto. The warming "theory," for example, initially predicted more and stronger hurricanes these past few years because of warming; it turns out, of course, that we have had fewer and weaker ones. As noted, the warming "theorists" changed the theory to one predicting "change," and reply, "See, that's change! We predicted it!" And on and on. They, of course, cannot tell us what the temperature of the earth should be, or why the earth has been both warmer and colder than now, or why there "has been a seventeen year pause" in warming despite the increase in CO2. In other words, not only can it not predict, it cannot explain. The "warmists" are now reduced merely to saying there will be "change," an unfalsifiable prediction since there is and always has been "change." No matter what happens, there is "change." You can think of dozens more holes in the thing, I won't bore you (or me) with it all, again.

Sorry for the tangent. Where was I? Oh, yes, in Antarctica. I am sure that by now all of you have read about a "research" vessel trapped in the ice in Antarctica and how various rescue efforts have run afoul of "bad weather" and ice. At least two ice breakers have had to give up efforts to rescue the trapped ship because of the thick ice. The media, of course, is downplaying the real nature of the trip by the "research" vessel, the Russian flagged MV Akademik Shokalskiy. Aboard this ship is an expedition led by well-known Australian global warmist "scientist," Chris Turney. Who is he? Just so happens he has a website where he lays out his views on climate change. He also happens to be a founder of Carbonscape, a company which helps "fix" carbon, and bills itself as "carbon negative" and all sorts of other greenie mumbo-jumbo (read it for yourselves). So he, like Al Gore, has a vested interest, a vested financial interest in promoting the global warming hoax. Do you expect balanced scientific research from Professor Turney? Hmmm . . ..

Anyhow, he got funding from the UK's BBC and Australia's ABC to charter a ship and head for the Antarctic where he would report on the declining sea ice. Just as the warmists make assumptions, I think we can make some, too. He intended to provide all sorts of moving testimony of how manmade global warming is ruining Antarctica--conveniently skipping over that it is summer in Antarctica. He would have given us some touching film of a baby penguin drifting off to sea on a melting chunk of ice, crying for his parents as the poor chick broils in the merciless heat caused by my Chevy Tahoe.  He, however, found something else. He found what even the Washington Post  had to acknowledge, to wit, that Antarctic sea ice has reached a record level.

Now the warmists are busy trying to explain it all away, and you can read in the cited Post piece various convoluted explanations of why warming means more ice because there is less ice and the winds are doing things they should not be doing and, and, and . . . Give it up guys, and realize that we "deniers" are right and that we are going to gloat over Turney's predicament.

Progressives, if they weren't so destructive they'd be funny . . .

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Japan Stirs the Pot on the Second World War

I am not one for constant apologies. We have become a society of "OUTRAGE!" when it comes to slights real and imagined, big and small. We should be grateful we do not have duels at dawn whenever somebody feels offended by something a comedian has said, a silly celebrity has Tweeted, or some politician has joked. The sound and smell of gunfire and the clash of rapiers would have us all waking up very early.

I, for example, did not like, when President Clinton, President Obama, and Prime Minister Rudd went on their respective apology tours. I, furthermore, think that Germany has apologized sufficiently and made amends for its Nazi past. We should move on, and stop with the Nazi references, such as we see in Greece, when discussing Germany. Some years ago, I ran into a Mexican diplomat who wanted the US to apologize and compensate Mexico for having taken California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Texas from Mexico. I noted to him that my Spanish wife wanted compensation from Mexico and Latin America for having taken all those territories and more from Spain. There surely is some Aztec descendent who wants compensation from Spain for Cortez, and some Tlaxcala descendent who wants it from the Aztecs, and on and on. Perhaps British or Canadian readers still seek compensation for the brutal death of Charles Griffin's pig at the hands of Lyman Cutler in the earth-shaking and infamous "Pig War" of 1859. In my career, I encountered Germans who wanted the RAF's Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris declared a war criminal and an apology from Britain for its bombing campaign against Germany. Enough! History bursts with grievances. Depending on how far back one goes, one finds that every people on the planet has had experience as the victim of some other people. It's the nature of the human condition.

That said, however, Japan's attitude re its many, vast, and well-documented crimes during World War II seems particularly galling. As an outsider, and as a person who sees Japan as an extremely important ally and friend, I find troubling the insistence by Japanese politicians, including current Prime Minister Abe, on visiting the Yasukuni war shrine.  I know the Japanese position that the visits merely serve to honor and keep alive the memory of the millions of Japanese who died in the Second World War. I appreciate that most of those people had no real choice in the matter; their rulers sent them off to do horrible things and paid the price, or were sitting in their houses when retribution came in the form of a B-29 raid for the horrible things done by their rulers. Yes, yes. The problem remains that Japan has never come clean on what it did during the war--and, of course, the shrine also honors despicable characters such as General Tojo. Unlike with the Nazi Holocaust, there never has been the sort of condemnation and exploration of the atrocities committed by the Japanese in, for example, China, on the Pacific Islands, or against POWs. Japanese history books, unlike their German counterparts, essentially skip World War II, except for the atomic bombings. When I worked at the UN for the 40th Anniversary of the end of WWII, for example, Japanese speakers essentially made Japan a victim in the war, to wit, "Suddenly, an atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima." (In fairness, the Austrians did the same thing--and the Turks, of course, never have acknowledged the Armenian genocide.) Younger Japanese know essentially nothing about the Second World War.

It is one thing to demand an end to harping on past grievances over atrocities, it is another not even to acknowledge that those atrocities happened, or to engage in behavior that insults the memory of those who suffered.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas to One and All!

As I have said before, I like the Christmas season, yes, despite the commercialization, and the tackiness, and the overuse of phrases such as, well, the one I used above, "Merry Christmas!" This season always leads me to believe that perhaps, perhaps better times are around the corner. And we need them now more than ever before in my experience.

On the positive side, the American people appear to have turned against Obama--at least that's what the polls show. This "thumbs down" has come despite the main media's consistent effort to whitewash his record and try whenever possible to put a positive spin on his "achievements." Here we have, for example, CNN going to bat for the President while reporting on his declining popularity.
How bad of a year was 2013 for President Barack Obama? The economy is strengthening as he starts to wind down America's longest war, but his poll numbers are the lowest since he took office almost five years ago. 
Usually, a growing economy and bringing the troops home mean public love for the commander in chief, but not this time. 
The flush of success from Obama's re-election last year faded quickly as his administration faced a series of controversies -- some unavoidable and some self-inflicted -- that eroded Obama's credibility along with the belief that he can bring about the kind of change he called for in running for president. 
"People don't think he's as competent as they used to think," said CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger. "They don't think he's as trustworthy as they used to think."
CNN cannot acknowledge that it was a serious mistake to put this man in the White House; they seem almost befuddled by his low polling numbers. Gee? What could be the reasons?

Anyhow, I hope and pray that next year will see a brighter time for our country and the forces of individual freedom and responsibility.

In the meanwhile, a Merry Christmas to one and all. I am off to hit the kosher Christmas cookies . . .

Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday Rant: The Progressive Quack Up

I am in a rant mood. Hope this makes sense especially to non-American readers who might not be familiar with Duck Dynasty.

Wow! It has been a rough week for America's socialists cum cultural "reformers." Not only is their Messiah--to use foolish Barbara Walters' foolish word--unable to make the lame to walk, the blind to see, and the mute to speak, he can't even get the lame to see, the blind to hear, and the mute to walk. He even got himself labeled "liar" of the year by a liberal political rag that has spent the last six plus years breathlessly repeating his lies and covering for him. To make things worse, the progressives got their feathers ruffled by a blast from the Louisiana bayou. In answer to a question in an interview by liberal GQ magazine, Ol' Duck Dynasty Phil, using, shall we say, blunt and graphic language, made known his and most Americans' problem with the current cultural obsession with gays. He put it in terms of where do we draw the line--a question raised here before. Once we say, legally, that marriage is not defined as between a man and a woman, all bets are off on what arrangements are acceptable--and the courts, as predicted, have begun to reflect that.

Louisiana Phil also contested the standard version of race relations in the South, noting that he, I repeat, he had not seen any lynchings or violence, but he had seen poor whites and poor blacks working together. This drove the libs mad, as you can tell from the attacks on him. His mistake was not making up an imaginary friend or victim which is what liberals would do, e.g., Obama and Booker. Honesty is the conservatives' strength and what drives progs bonkers.

Much like groundhog Punxsutawney Phil predicts winter, it appears that Louisiana Phil has predicted rough weather for "liberalism" in America. The progressives who rule us are amazing creatures. They control our government; our cultural and educational institutions; our education system; and, of course, the bulk of the old line mass media. On paper they have all the power they could ever need or want. That, however, turns out not to be enough. They also want silence, or, if you are going to disagree with the established orthodoxy, you must do it only in a fawning, apologetic manner, for example, "Of course, I think the gay lifestyle is absolutely fine even though my upbringing makes it difficult for me to accept." Then, they will "cluck, cluck," demand and usually get a big apology, and then they will express pity for you and hope that with time you will see the TRUTH.

Question: Who has used guns to kill people? Phil Robertson or Eric Holder
Judging from the reaction to the heavy handed attacks on Phil, it seems the liberals-progressives-socialists have overplayed their hand. The support from ordinary Americans is pouring in for Phil and his kin with even commercial sponsors of the weird reality show in which Phil stars sticking by him. The classic liberal Mau-Mau tactics might not work this time.

While conservatives have Louisiana Phil, Texas Ted Cruz, and Alaska Sarah Palin, the liberals have bizarre British import Piers Morgan--who seems to know zip about his new home--flailing Kenya Obama, and, of course, their secret weapon . . . no, not the Navy Seals.


No, the liberal cultural commissars have PAJAMA BOY!


Pajama boy! He is almost as manly as Julia, the previous effort by Team Obama to connect with America. Who does the publicity for these folks? In what bubble do they live? Do they think that Navy SEALS after a hard day of whacking America's enemies, or Louisiana Phil after a hard day of hunting ducks and running a business put on their pajamas, grab a cup of hot chocolate, and talk about the glories of Obamacare?

Ah, progressives, if they weren't so destructive, they'd be funny . . .

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Marxism Mutates

An earlier version of this was posted on March 21, 2011, at the now quasi-defunct BonfireJournal.Com

With the demise of the Soviet Union, international Marxism died--or, so many thought. Unfortunately, the emotions that nurture Marxism did not die with the Soviet empire: envy, resentment, and fear of competition and failure remained and remain alive and well.

The envious, resentful, and fearful of the world found in Marxism’s pseudo-scientific analysis and language an “explanation” for any event. Marxism “explained” why nothing was the fault of the envious, resentful, and fearful: the rich were rich, because they made the poor, poor; the successful succeeded because they made the failed, fail. Old Marxism also fed the egos and provided a way for otherwise frustrated “intellectuals” to pursue Napoleonic dreams. Vast conspiratorial forces oppressed mankind; these forces could be exposed and defeated only by and with the leadership of an enlightened Marxist vanguard elite who would lead the wretched of the earth to the socialist promised land.

The USSR’s end forced the envious, resentful, and fearful and their leaders to adapt a belief system that had “explained” everything into less-satisfying sub-sets, each focused on a particular topic, e.g., feminism, environmentalism–especially the global warming hoax–and “international human rights law,” especially rights of the indigenous. Despite their seemingly different concerns, all these sub-sets shared much in common. At their core lay anti-capitalist, anti-American and increasingly anti-Semitic emotions disguised as analytical constructs. Over the past twenty or so years, these different strands rewove themselves into an umbrella movement we can call the Anti-Globalization Movement (AGM).

While the AGM doesn’t have the military force behind it of the old Marxism, nor yet have a clear vision of the world with which it seeks to replace the current one, it shares with old-time Marxism a reliance on pseudo-science and a vanguard elite. Also from old Marxism come much of its language and tactics, as well as the goals of disrupting capitalist economic development and liberal democracy and bringing down the United States.

Today, I want refer to “movements” for the “rights of the indigenous.” Having served and visited extensively in Central and South American countries with large “indigenous” populations, I can freely state that the region’s “indigenous” cultures largely ceased to exist hundreds of years ago thanks largely to European brutality and diseases. “Indigenous” culture now means rural poverty. Calling to protect “indigenous culture” really means seeking to preserve rural poverty; to keep people poor, sick, illiterate, and isolated from the great and small wonders of our age. It means helping condemn them to half lives consumed with superstition, disease, and watching their puny children struggle to live past the age of five. It’s a call to keep certain people as either an ethnic curio on the shelf for the enjoyment of European and North American anthropologists or, equally vile, as exploitable pawns for the use of political activists, such as the reprehensible pseudo-indigenous President of Bolivia, the old drug trafficker, and Chavez toady, Evo Morales.

When I hear these calls, I think, “We don’t protect rural poverty in the USA. Western man no longer lives in caves or trees, terrorized by solar eclipses and at the mercy of an unforgiving environment. Why should these people? Why should humans live little better than animals in disease-infested jungles, or exposed on wind-swept plains?” I am struck, for example, by how much effort “pro-indigenous activists,” often themselves urban upper-class types or foreigners, expend on “land reform.” Instead of working to develop an economy where land ownership does not determine whether one lives or dies, the activists seek to chain the “indigenous” to, at best, a brutal life of scratching out a living on postage stamp-size lots of land. Often land reform involves “giving” the rural poor these plots but without the right to sell or to use them to secure loans from banks. The poverty and hopelessness increase.

This segues to one of the great evil myths promulgated by activists, i.e., the Native Americans’ love for the land. As one activist told me in Central America, “They would rather die than give up their contact with Mother Earth.” Really? You can believe that if you want to, but everywhere I went in Latin America, rural people head for the city, or, even better, Canada, Spain, or top prize, the USA. They want medicine, Coca-Cola, TVs, cars, motorcycles, corn flakes, and indoor plumbing — they want to live like the activists do in Vancouver, San Francisco, and Madrid. Those who stay on the land, in particular the men, do not radiate any particular love for the land, the flora, the fauna, or for each other. They fish with dynamite and mercury; burn or cut huge tracts of forest; treat their “sacred lakes” as sewers; drink themselves stupid; and engage in often lethal fights with each other and commit horrendous acts of cruelty on women, children, and animals. In other words, they behave as uneducated, oppressed, poor people have throughout all history and in all cultures. Note to activists: the “indigenous” are human. A shocking revelation for many.

These foreign activists invent and distort history, introducing distinctly 20th and 21st century concepts into the study of pre-Colombian cultures and their remnants. Worse, these activists seek to manipulate poor people for their own political agenda, and often get them killed in pursuit of “liberation theology” or some other fashionable cliche. They overwhelm and corrupt legitimate “indigenous” activists with money, trips, attention, and promises of fame. In exchange, the once-legitimate local activist becomes a servant of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, etc, required to produce ever more dire stories and accusations. Or they merely make up a leader for the “indigenous” as well as a bogus history, including the fantasy of the noble savage, and then the kicker: opposition to foreign investment, free trade, and modern agriculture; and the call to support well-known “indigenous” rights champions, such as the late Hugo Chavez and the execrable Fidel Castro.

A prime example of an “indigenous leader,” one whom I met several times, is Guatemala’s Rigoberta Menchu virtually unknown inside Guatemala (having lived most of her life abroad); a creation of European Marxists; a tool of Guatemala’s old Communist URNG insurgency; a pro-Castro hater of the USA; an author of a major autobiographical hoax; and, as you would expect, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. The foreign activists appear like a modern version of the ancient Jewish legend of the Golem called up to save the people, and who ends up creating havoc. When it all comes crashing down, they run to their Embassies flashing US or European passports, gaining safety and fame leaving the “indigenous” to take the hit. As a friend and fellow skeptical diplomat once told me, the call of rights for the indigenous, “all comes down to the right to wear funny clothes.”


Sunday, December 15, 2013

The War on Joy

This post started off as a little discourse on the Christmas season and the sort of politically correct nonsense we see emerge at this time. I have previously written about how as a Jewish American diplomat I dealt with Christmas in the Far Abroad, and had my own mini run-in with the political correctness commissars. I like Christmas; I like Christmas music and cookies; I like the whole season; I like how happy it makes kids. Reflecting on happiness, however, got me in a foul mood, as you will see below.

The old irascible, politically incorrect, and acerbic sage of Baltimore, H.L. Mencken, once famously defined Puritanism as, "The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy." Mencken today likely would want to revise his definition; Puritans and their ethos have long departed the American political and cultural scene. Today's warriors against happiness, those haunted by the "fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy" are the leftist ideologues in charge of most of our social, political, educational, and cultural institutions. Yes, of course, they have an insatiable drive for power; yes, of course, they want control over all aspects of our lives. I, however, have come to the conclusion that what really fuels them, or put it another way, the hidden turbocharge in their engine, is their hatred of joy, of happiness, and most notably of the special joy and happiness that comes with an individual expressing and exercising independence.

The manifestations of this war are everywhere in small details and in large panoramas. The war on Christmas, for example, is real. The MSNBC crowd might laugh, but the war is there for all to see. We see it, for example, in the mock outrage over Fox newscaster Megyn Kelly's comment that Jesus was white and so is Santa. Who with any amount of brains would think that the historical Jesus was black? That is utter Farrakhan nonsense. What difference, at this point, to paraphrase Hillary, does his race make if you believe he was the Messiah? Presumably we are all creatures of God regardless of race or color. The historical Jesus was a semite, a Jew. As far as I know, Arabs and Jews are considered white. Let's put it this way, he was more white than George Zimmerman whom the press had no trouble labeling as such despite his Afro-Peruvian grandmother. And Santa? Why should he be black? Should Uncle Remus be declared white? If you want you can go with the Three Wisemen, one of whom, Balthazar, in Spanish culture is black. Why ruin the holiday for the kids with this debate? Why try to ruin their joy and wonder? Why does even this issue need to be politicized? This, of course, all forms part of a broader war on the Judeo-Christian fundaments of our society. We don't need to review all that but we all can hear that "dog whistle" loud and clear.

The war on happiness and joy, of course, goes well beyond the assault on Christmas traditions. The left cannot stand the thought of individuals doing things that bring them joy and happiness. Automobiles. Yes, automobiles form a major target of this assault. Driving an automobile can bring joy, excitement, and independence into a person's life. Driving an "impractical" automobile such as a Porsche, a Corvette, a Nissan GTR, a Cadillac CTS-V, a Ferrari, or a 700Hp modified Shelby GT-500 is fun and brings joy. The leftists would have us all in grey buses, trains, and, at best, in subsidized pokey Priuses and Volts, stifling our joy and happiness in the name of protecting Gaia against a fake warming threat. They will use taxes, and EPA and safety regulations, and absurd speed limits to ruin our joy. The same with gun ownership. Guns are fun; they bring joy to the owner, and assert an individual's right to independence and self-defense. Gun ownership, of course, also limits the power of the state, and the ability of the leftists running the state to dictate the arc of our lives. We see the same in the assault on drinking, smoking, eating meat, homeschooling, and on individual choice in medical care. The state will decide which schools our children can attend, what they will learn; the state will decide our medical choices. They wage war on small businesses, which bring joy to the owners and, again assert independence, because after all, "you didn't build that."

My favorite philosopher, William James, argued that "truth" is whatever makes you happy,
“No concrete test of what is really true has ever been agreed upon. . . . If a man chooses to turn his back altogether on God and the future, no one can prevent him; no one can show beyond reasonable doubt that he is mistaken. If a man thinks otherwise and acts as he thinks, I do not see that any one can prove that he is mistaken. Each must act as he thinks best; and if he is wrong, so much the worse for him. . . . In all important transactions of life we have to take a leap in the dark.”
Our lefty overlords cannot accept that. They will define happiness and truth and success. There will be no "leap in the dark." At all times we must remember that our success and happiness come at the expense of someone else's. You are well-off, only because somebody else is poorly-off. We must all live in fear of AIDS, SARS, Mad Cow Disease, Global Warming; all huddle together and let the state protect us. 

Well, I will stop here before getting myself too worked up. In sum, it is best not to show that you are happy and joyful. The nannies will not like it, and whatever you're doing to make yourself happy will get taxed, regulated, or banned. So, my advice for the season: wear a dour game face. Don't let "them" know you are happy.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Thinking Economics

As the Obamacare disaster continues to unfold in all its highly predictable "glory," I can't help but think about one little stubborn fact. You can repeal prohibition; make drugs illegal; establish speed limits; reroute rivers; blast off from the face of the earth for the distant stars. You cannot, however, repeal the grim laws of economics. Those intersecting supply and demand lines, and the golden rule of economics that "there is no free lunch" will get you every time you try to monkey with the economy.

Thanks to Smith, Ricardo, Bastiat, Hayek, Friedman, etc., the West has a long history of uncovering and describing the brutal, but elegantly simple truths that guide economics. Lately, however, we have put in power people who not only have no knowledge of those "simple truths," but have grown and developed professionally far removed from the "real economy." Community organizers, professional politicians and bureaucrats, and life-long academics live in a sheltered nook in which they do not see the economic machinery at work that provides them their incomes and lifestyles. They are like a city dweller who thinks that meat and vegetables come from the supermarket.

We have people running our institutions who believe that by sheer force of their rhetoric, the fact that they have degrees from "prestigious" universities, and that they know what is best for the downtrodden, in fact, for all of us, they do not have to learn the laws of economics, that those don't apply, anyhow. They, therefore, pass minimum wage laws to help the poor that create unemployment for the poor. They assume that a nation's wealth belongs to the government and that they, as custodians of the government, can do as they wish with that wealth: Solyndra, bail-outs to corrupt unions, subsidies to abortionists, and, of course, a complete redo of our health system to help the uninsured that will increase the number of uninsured.

So, I thought it appropriate to re-post this little piece I wrote last year, March 12, 2012.

The End of Economics?

Some years ago it was all the rage to go on about the "end of politics as we know them," the "end of history as we know it," or the "end of big government as we know it." That all seems so long ago, and so wrong. Not one to be deterred by prologue, and firmly believing in Dr. Johnson's bromide about "the triumph of hope over experience," I have a new one to add to this list of pithy, but wrong, observations. I think this one, however, might have longer legs, at least when it comes to the situation we see in Europe, and to the one, unfortunately, developing at home.

Let me first toot The Diplomad horn, mind you just a bit. This humble blog has some hits on the foresight chart: a recent one was the observation about modern democratic politics being increasingly about the battle between voters and taxpayers (here and there are others). We got on that theme well before it became a topic of widespread political discourse, and we have had some others on the importance of manufacturing to our economy, and other topics now debated in the electoral period we have entered.

That said, please let The Diplomad opine that we might be seeing the "end of economics." It's a bit of an exaggeration, but for now go along with it before, like Homer's boss Mr. Burns, you unleash the hounds. As you will see, I eventually will back off a bit.

I have written a great deal about the economic situation in Greece, Spain, Portugal, etc, not JUST to beat up on the Europeans and their silly pretensions, but also because we have a President who wants us to emulate the Europeans. We are not there yet, and our beloved Grand Republic still has time to avoid the Obama Grecian Formula that leads inexorably to the Grecian Urn, but time grows short.

Greece: The birthplace (sort of) of democracy and perhaps the model for its death. I won't go over it all again, but suffice to say that the Greeks developed the ultimate entitlement culture. The whole country was on the dole, from top to bottom. With the Euro as their currency--and let's be honest, the Euro is just a new version of the German Mark--the Greeks thought themselves fabulously wealthy and in no need to engage in work, real work, the kind that produces national wealth and allows the state to take its taste. The Greeks lived well beyond their means. The average Greek sought to live like a German without working or saving like a German. The Greeks managed to do this for about a decade thanks to the Euro, phony book keeping by the Greek government, and EU willingness to turn a blind eye to the chicanery in pursuit of the obsessive, even mad Imperial Dream to challenge the United States.

When a nation "lives beyond its means" the government has an open invitation to insert itself more and more into daily life: the Greek government accepted the invitation. With its guaranteed employment, high wages, generous and early pensions, and powerful public sector unions the government became the preferred employer. The private sector shrank under the impact of the government's subsidized competition and expansion; increasing regulation; a crushing tax burden to be avoided by all means fair and foul; and the overvalued Euro which made Greece as expensive as Germany but not as productive. For Greeks, it simply was not worthwhile to work. Their country developed generous public assistance programs and "pro-worker" legislation that made hiring someone more binding than marriage--you could get divorced easier than you could fire a redundant or incompetent worker. All this was made possible, as I noted above, by lying Greek politicians, an electorate willing to vote itself ever increasing benefits and to believe that money just comes from "out there," and a politically driven and pampered EU bureaucracy committed to seeing the "European Project" succeed above all else. We also must lay a share of the blame at the door of German politicians; they were being taken to the cleaners by the Greeks (and the Spaniards, the Portuguese and . . .) but would not say "Nien." Maybe it was WWII guilt. Maybe they saw Germany achieving what neither the Kaiser nor theFuehrer could, i.e., dominance from Moscow to Lisbon. Maybe it simply results from the low quality of German political leadership which has left the Germans playing second fiddle to the French, and their pan-European aspirations. Whatever the explanation, the Germans paid and still pay to give unproductive southern Europe a living standard worthy of productive northern Europe--and the beaches are better.

Bottom line: in Greece the government is the economy. That presents a problem for economics. Shades of the USSR.

The formulas being offered for Greece's salvation will not work. I won't bother linking to them but there are seemingly endless articles in the international press every day announcing that a deal has been reached. The Euro is safe! The European project lives! Stock markets rally! Everybody breathes a sigh of relief. I defy anybody to decipher the different deals being announced and to figure out which if any of them has a chance to be approved by Greece. All these deals, however, share one thing in common: they all claim that "default" has been averted. Ooops! Sorry. They also share one other thing in common: they are lies. Default is not being averted; it is being defined away in a blizzard of verbiage, e.g., "hair cut," or "credit event." You can look up more "neat-o" new words the EUrocrats employ. Baghdad Bob would be right at home.

The typical "deal" involves bond holders, private ones that is as the European Central Bank (ECB) has exempted itself (as Tom Petty says, "It's good to be King") taking a "haircut" of between 50-75%, maybe even more. That is a default in anybody's book. It looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and craps like a duck. In exchange the Greeks will get more money from the Germans and PROMISE to make significant public sector spending cuts. Wouldn't you like a deal like that from your banker? The Greeks, however, most likely will not agree to such a deal or will say they do, and then lie about complying with it, and the Eurocrats will go along. That is the European bureaucratic way. Their bureaucrats are even more unaccountable than ours.

There is no clean solution to the Greek mess and to the mess that is about to befall much of the rest of Europe and which is beginning to knock on our doors. The Greek situation defies both traditional conservative and left-wing economics, at least in the short to medium term. A conservative solution is to cut taxes and cut spending. Makes sense except for what I noted above. The government essentially has absorbed the Greek economy: the economy is the government and the government is the economy. If you cut one, you cut the other. The leftist (and ECB) prescription runs afoul of Maggie's old dictum about "running out of other people's money." We are reaching that point. It is now in the political sphere, to wit, can or will Germany keep paying to save an unnecessary political project, the EU, and its golden amulet, the Euro?

What would be the effect of the Germans saying no? My opinion is that we would see a situation not too dissimilar to what we saw happen in the USSR when the rules of economics could no longer be defied. The Greek system would collapse. If the Germans keep paying, however, they will see Spain, Portugal, Italy, and who knows whom else lining up for their dole. The EU, after all, is all about doles. Could even the mighty German ATM generate that much cash?

Decades of insane leftist economics, of trying to repeal the laws of economics have created disaster for the people of Greece, and of Europe. These decades saw the destruction of private enterprise, and private incentive. The problem that has resulted is immense. In the end, the "solution" is a highly messy and painful one, and easy to prescribe from thousands of miles away but not so easy to live. Greece (probably Spain, Italy, and Portugal as well) must "default," real default not the fake "default" being conjured up by the Eurocrats. It must give up the Euro, and return to its own currency which will float in the international markets to its "true" value, and make Greece, in the long run, admittedly, a more attractive and affordable place to invest. This is not going to be simple or pretty. It is going to be horrendous, and might even need for Greece, much like Haiti in the interwar years, to come under international tutelage, maybe as a protectorate of Germany--something really unpalatable--to redo completely the Greek state. Fantasies. I doubt these things will happen.

What we see are the consequences of defying the age old rules of economics. Like gravity, you can for a bit, but, as that CW song wisely says, "falling feels like flying, for a little while." The Obama mis-administration might want to learn something from what is happening in Europe. They won't. They continue to insist on defying the laws of economics, and for a time "falling will feel like flying." And I am not speaking just about spending. They try to do it in the classic totalitarian way: they will reform us, literally, reform us to be perfect moral creatures who act only for the public good without thought for ourselves. They will decide how much medical care we need. They will decide if our salaries are excessive. They will control the horizontal and the vertical. Greed is bad! Advancement for you and your family is bad, unless it is with the sanction of a government program that insures we all "advance" together. These models of perfect people are exactly the ones our Founding Fathers rejected.

I end this overly long piece by leaving you with the closing lines of the Fable of the Bees by Mandeville. Those who would try to defy the rules of economics by shaping a new man, would do well to read his words.

THEN leave Complaints: Fools only strive
To make a Great an honest Hive.
T'enjoy the World's Conveniencies,
Be famed in War, yet live in Ease
Without great Vices, is a vain
Eutopia seated in the Brain.
Fraud, Luxury, and Pride must live;
We the Benefits receive.
Hunger's a dreadful Plague no doubt,
Yet who digests or thrives without?
Do we not owe the Growth of Wine
To the dry, crooked, shabby Vine?
Which, whist its neglected flood,
Choak'd other Plants, and ran to Wood;
But blest us with his Noble Fruit;
As soon as it was tied, and cut:
So Vice is beneficial found,
When it's by Justice, and bound;
Nay, where the People would be great,
As necessary to the State,
At Hunger is to make 'em eat.
Bare Vertue can't make Nations live
In Splendour; they, that would revive
A Golden Age, must be as free,
For Acorns, as for Honesty.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Was it 7 or 8? A Little Miscommunication Among Friends.

I served in Guatemala in the 1980s. While there, of course, I attended countless, absolutely countless diplomatic receptions and functions. Most have long slipped from my memory. One, however, I always remember when December 7 rolls around.

Among others in the U.S. Embassy I got invited to an event at the Japanese Embassy in honor of the Emperor. You guessed it, the reception was on December 7. A couple of us joked about it, but, off we went. Japanese receptions were always among the best: superb food and drink; everything artfully and tastefully done; and their diplomats were nice, well informed, and seemed to like Americans. As the party was winding down, I slid over to one of my Japanese contacts and kidded him about the date, "You have guts throwing this event December 7."

He seemed perplexed, "We decided to hold it today instead of tomorrow, because of American sensitivities about that day."

Now I became the perplexed one, "What's so sensitive for us about December 8?"

My Japanese friend looked at me as though I were the biggest ignoramus on the planet, "You know, Pearl Harbor attack day."

I couldn't help but laugh at this bit of international miscommunication. I told him, "On this side of the international date line, the attack took place on December 7."

He, however, did not laugh. Mortified, he turned bright red. I thought he would order the entire staff to commit seppuku on the lawn. He was so embarrassed I got embarrassed. He could not stop apologizing for the error; I started apologizing for having brought up the matter. For weeks afterward, whenever he saw me he would apologize; I would apologize, too.

A day after the reception, the Japanese Ambassador sent our Ambassador a bottle of very expensive sake with a long note. Our Ambassador, a wonderful, rough, tough oil man--and a Marine in the Pacific during WWII--called on me in a staff meeting, "What the hell is this about? Why is the Japanese Ambassador apologizing to me?"

I explained.

He smiled and said, "Ah! Well, then this is yours." He handed me the sake.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Remembering December 7

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, is one of those events that proves so consequential it is hard to describe. When confronting such a situation, it is always best to turn to Winston Churchill. In The Grand Alliance he eloquently describes his reaction on hearing about the admittedly very skillful and destructive Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the entry of America into WWII:
“No American will think it wrong of me if I proclaim that to have the United States at our side was to me the greatest joy. {. . .} So we had won after all! {. . . } Silly people, and there were many, not only in enemy countries, might discount the force of the United States. Some said they were soft, others that they would never be united. They would fool around at a distance. They would never come to grips. They would never stand blood-letting. Their democracy and system of recurrent elections would paralyse their war effort. They would be just a vague blur on the horizon to friend or foe. Now we should see the weakness of this numerous but remote, wealthy, and talkative people. But I had studied the American Civil War, fought out to the last desperate inch. American blood flowed in my veins. I thought of a remark which Edward Grey had made to me more than thirty years before – that the United States is like ‘a gigantic boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it there is no limit to the power it can generate.’ Being saturated and satiated with emotion and sensation, I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful.”
Indeed, the boiler was "lighted." In the most amazing performance by a nation in history, the United Staes went in just over three years from a Depression-wracked, barely armed, confused, and all but defeated nation to the most powerful one on earth. Its military, a largely sleepy peacetime force, became the masters of huge, technically complex operations on a scale never before or since seen, using weapons and tactics that had not even existed before the war began. American industry poured out a dazzling array of weaponry and equipment unmatched before or since. Above all, the United States proved to possess an understanding of modern warfare that, with the notable exceptions of Churchill and Yamamoto, observers would not have suspected it to have. We tend to forget that within five months of Pearl Harbor, a US-Australian naval force stopped Japanese expansion southward, and that the stunning American naval victory of Midway came just six months after Pearl Harbor. Within nine months, an American-led offensive was underway in the Solomon Islands, most notably on Guadalcanal. As, furthermore, Churchill notes in his passage above, the Americans took and put up with casualties, some 400,000 dead and missing.

The magnitude and the global reach of the American war effort remain awe inspiring. During my tours in Latin America, for example, I found it striking how many airfields and harbors the USA built in Central and South America and throughout the Caribbean during the war. Old timers in Guatemala told me of how quickly the FBI showed up getting the Guatemalans to round up German and Italian nationals. This was an area that was certainly a backwater compared to Europe and the Pacific, but still American industrial might and organizational skill were readily evident and effective.

Compare that performance to the current misadministration's inability to set up a website in roughly the time it took to go from Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela has died, and with him, one hopes, so have a lot of illusions and delusions of both opponents and supporters. I was always conflicted about Mandela, admiring his courage but highly doubtful about his politics and of what he and the ANC would bring to South Africa. I never met him, but did meet several ANC representatives at the UN and elsewhere, and, to say the obvious, had serious problems with their anti-USA and pro-USSR proclivities. While I worked at the UN, Mandela was the cause célèbre of all right thinking people and, naturally, of UN diplomats. The UN passed countless resolutions condemning apartheid, demanding freedom for Mandela, and, of course, condemning the Reagan administration's approach to dealing with South Africa.

I took part in informal "off the record" meetings with ANC reps while in Geneva and Vienna. As mentioned before, I worked for Maureen Reagan while she was the US representative to the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Despite being the President's daughter, she did not support the administration's stance on dealing with South Africa, including not meeting the ANC. She insisted on talking to them to the horror of the State Department. I did my duty and warned Ms. Reagan that it was not US policy to meet the ANC, but, if she insisted, well, I would be there, too. The meetings proved inconsequential, but showed the intense hostility of the ANC towards the USA, capitalism, and Western democracy. Some of the ANC had a very hard pro-Soviet, pro-Castro line, and there was no reasoning with them. These meetings, frankly, shaped my view of Mandela, making me suspicious of him and what he would bring to South Africa were he freed and in power at the head of the ANC.

As it turns out, I was right and wrong. The ANC was a lost cause; they did not believe in democracy, and had a large element of thuggery in their ranks. Many were terrorists who had received training in Libya, and were out for revenge and blood. Mandela, however, was more complicated than I had thought. He had had his violent phase, but only after trying peaceful opposition to apartheid. Both in and after coming out of prison, he proved an extremely intelligent negotiator and compromiser, reaching understandings with Botha and De Klerk, and turning down the volume of the anti-white message of the ANC. He seemed to have an understanding that whites and other non-blacks were essential for a peaceful and prosperous South Africa. He also, surprise, did not go full Mugabe. He won election--although the vote counting was suspicious--served his term, trying to unite blacks, whites, Asians, and others into accepting the new post-apartheid South Africa. He did not try to drive the whites out, and did not go around confiscating farms and businesses. He did not encourage revenge against whites and sought a reconciliation of the races. A practical politician, he turned a blind eye to the rampant corruption among the ANC, finding it better to let the party members expend their revolutionary fervor making money. At the end of his term, he stepped down. Yes, he stepped down. That is an amazing thing in Africa; he stepped down on completing his term of office. It does not happen much on that continent. He, however, never got over his deep mistrust of the USA, and despite his credentials as a victim of human rights abuse, refused to criticize Qaddafy, never gave up his fervent admiration for Castro--who, ironically, runs a racist regime in Cuba--and remained very anti-Israel.

Was he a great man? I think the answer is yes. He had great flaws, but great courage, drive, and commitment to his cause. He showed that a determined person can make a difference. He also showed that an African president can play by the rules and try to be president for all the people of his country. For that he deserves kudos and respect. He, nevertheless, did not establish a viable democratic political system in South Africa, and proved unable to stop the escalating criminal violence that has turned Johannesburg into one of the world's rape and murder capitals. His successors have proven notably less "great" than Mandela, and ANC corruption has gone into the stratosphere--including by Mandela's gangster ex-wife, Winnie. The white and other middle class flight he wanted to avoid proceeded and has grown. I think the jury remains out on whether South Africa can avoid the fate of Zimbabwe in the medium to long run. If I had to place a bet it would be that South Africa will not avoid that fate. Mandela's time in office, unfortunately, likely will prove a brief glorious moment of "what could have been but was not."

Nelson Mandela, RIP.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The New USSRists

I was watching White House spokesman Jay Carney on the tube today. He was "responding" to questions about the disastrous Obamacare roll-out in his usual way, to wit, a mix of aggression, dismissal, insult, and obfuscation, and that's when he bothers to address the questions asked. It was depressing seeing, yet again, the misadministration put out its lying and contradictory statements on Obamacare starting, of course, with you can keep your doctor and current insurance except when we say you can't; the website is working and we have hired all sorts of braniacs to fix it; and on and on and on. It is depressing but educational. After not too long, you become aware that Obamacare's promoters don't care if the website works or doesn't; if there are more uninsured now than before; or if your insurance deductibles and premiums go up or down. That's not the point of Obamacare. Putting us on the path to the USSR is the point. Let me explain.

Back in the old days at university, I had endless debates with self-proclaimed Marxists. I guess I was never young since I never went through a Marxist phase in my life, and just couldn't understand why anybody took Marxism seriously. That said, a lot of my colleagues were going through Marxist phases and would argue passionately the benefits of the Marxist lifestyle. These friends would inevitably reply to the obvious and serious moral and practical shortcomings of Marxist states such as the USSR or the GDR with the well worn phrase, "Those aren't real Marxist countries." The true Marxist believers--and it was and is a religion more than anything else--would argue that the USSR, GDR, Poland, etc., had deviated from the path of Marxism and become something else; that one could not criticize Marxism by pointing to those countries as examples of putative Marxist paradises. OK, crazy college kids looking for utopias and getting frustrated by the fact that reality always seems to mug travelers on the road to utopia, forcing them to stop somewhere else. That doesn't mean utopia is not there right, man? Fine. Hey, if you can't be stupid and frustrated when you're young, when can you be?

The problem we now face is different. The people we have running and ruining our country are not really Marxists. They have taken bits and pieces of Marxism such as the hatred of capitalism, the belief that the history of the West is an unending saga of greed, corruption, exploitation, and death, and, above all, that there is a need for a vanguard that will transform society. Yes, you guessed it, they are the vanguard who will transform society. Unlike some modern day Marxist philosophes, however, they are not really concerned about educating the rest of us in seeing the wisdom of their vision, of their transformative work. Not at all. They are much more practical than that. They want to control the state and the coercive power of the state to force, yes, force, the rest of us into living life as they want it lived.  They want and will use the many coercive agencies of the modern state in furtherance of their objectives. The IRS, for example, will crush political opponents; agencies such as the EPA will silence pesky business owners, etcetera.

And what is the vision that drives these new mandarins, these elites? Government. That's all. They want a society in which government forms the center of our lives. Government will decide. Even and especially our most personal decisions must be tempered by taking into account the government. Can and may we have a gun for home defense? What kind of health insurance and health care can and may we have? Can and may we have a car? What type? What salaries can and may we earn? What speech can and may we utter so as not to be considered hate-mongers? You get it.

The bottom line is that new leftists are not embarrassed by the bureaucratic nightmare of the USSR and the GDR. Not at all. That is their goal. They want a society defined and built around government, and they, of course, will control it.

Forward! Back to the USSR!



Monday, December 2, 2013

Back!

Long gruesome drive. Got back much later than I thought from Vegas. I will try to have something up that is interesting, enlightening, nonfattening, brilliant . . . nah . . . I'll just try to have something up soon, no reason to change now.    

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Thanksgiving Repost: Feathers

Originally posted on June 30, 2013. Strikes me as more appropriate now. The Diplofamily will be heading off to Vegas for Thanksgiving--like the Pilgrims we are taking a gamble. The kids are flying in from California and Florida and we will be hitting the buffet line! Posting might be a little light for a couple of days.

Feathers

Yes, feathers. Not the figurative kind that fill leftoid heads, but the real kind that cover birds. We are going light today. Our topic is feathers and how they nearly produced a civil war in the Diplomad clan, and how echoes of that strife apparently will reverberate on the 4th of July.

As the six regular readers of this blog are painfully aware, during the Reagan years I served for a time at the UN in New York. We loved New York City, even with all its inconveniences especially with two rambunctious boys. Schooling was a problem as the local PS was, well, pretty bad. When two of the vastly overpaid teachers at the school told us that they would never send their own kids there, we decided to yank our boys out and send them--at considerable cost to the Diplomad bottom line--to private schools. One went to a school run by Irish Catholic nuns, who wanted no parental involvement, "Thank you very much, but we know how to do this." The older son went to one run by strangely liberal, yet oddly conservative Jews who wanted lots of parental involvement in the school as long as the parents did what the school wanted. Hey, it's New York. Live with it.

Well, as it does every year, the Thanksgiving holiday rolled around. You must understand, we had spent most of our lives overseas. The boys had been born in Spain, and hardly had been in the US. Educated abroad, they--God help me--had grown to love soccer/football with both of them becoming (and remaining to this day) rabid fans of Spain's La Furia Roja. Their grip on Americana was a bit weak. Please, remember that as this saga proceeds.

Another piece of background which you will need. My Spanish wife hates, detests, abhors, loathes, etc, feathers and any creature which sports them. She has a special wrath for chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese. She cannot stand the thought of fowl on the meal plate. I have seen her blanche and break out into a cold sweat at fancy diplo dinners when served quail, duck or some other feather-bearing beast. It is not funny; better said, she has no sense of humor about this matter. My efforts to convince her that chicken tastes just like iguana have had no positive effect. Whenever we go to a restaurant, regardless of what she orders, she insists on, ahem, grilling the waiter on whether any foul fowl was involved in the making of her pending meal, "Uh, no ma'am, our salmon is, uh, salmon. It's a fish, not a bird." "Yes, yes, but the rice and the vegetables, were they cooked with chicken?" I am used to it by now.

Thanksgiving Day in New York, 1986. My older son, then about six was in a bad mood. I asked what was wrong, "You have no school today. Mom is making a nice Thanksgiving meal. What's wrong?" He glared at me, "The Pilgrims did not eat paella! They ate turkey!"

Explanation. Given the Diplowife's aversion to feathery creatures, our overseas Thanksgiving Day meals consisted of seafood paella. My wife had, ahem, implied in some way . . . oh, heck, she flat out told the kids that the Pilgrims ate paella with the Indians. Maybe she was thinking about Cortez and Pizarro, I don't know, but anyhow the kids had gotten into their heads that paella was the meal on Thanksgiving. Now in NY, the older boy had been asked the previous day to make a presentation at school on Thanksgiving. He, of course, reported that the English Pilgrims sat down and shared paella with the Native Americans. This caused a bit of a commotion and, I guess, led to some considerable ridicule, or what the politically correct nanny-staters now would label "bullying."

He was furious with us. He was refusing to eat paella and demanded a turkey. Even my wife was shocked into submission by the uncompromising fury coming from the tyke. It was Thanksgiving Day. I had to find a turkey in Manhattan. I dashed out of our building on the upper east side. All of the supermarkets were closed. A turkey! My kingdom for a turkey! I wandered the cold, darkening desolate concrete canyons, my despair growing, and threatening to overwhelm me. I had let down my kids! The wages of sin, the consequences of falsehoods, God give me a sign that You will allow me to redeem myself . . . wait! A deli! Still open but about to close! I ran in! Turkey sandwiches! They must have a turkey somewhere! A bizarre negotiation followed in which I finally convinced the suspicious Pakistani owner of the "Jewish" deli to sell me a whole kosher turkey at the price per pound of the sliced sandwich meat. I paid him a fortune--in cash--for a small bird about the size of a Chihuahua and ran like the Grinch with my turkey under my arm.

My kids had turkey that day, and every other Thanksgiving since then has featured a big bird on the table. My wife refuses to sit anywhere near it, and has her own separate fish-based meal.

This will be an issue on the Fourth of July. The Thanksgiving paella got moved to Independence Day. The kids, now grown, of course, alas, are starting to make noises of impending rebellion against paella and in favor of hot dogs and other beast meat. The Diplowife mistrusts hotdogs, even the kosher all-beef ones, as stealth chicken missiles. She does not want anything with the potential of bearing fowl touching our BBQ grill or being anywhere near anything else that might be cooking. It appears that we might have a split Fourth meal. One side of the family eating chicken wings and hotdogs, and the other with the paella. Now that I think about it, this seems an appropriate metaphor for what is happening to our country.

WLA

Monday, November 25, 2013

Obama, Kerry & Iran: Having A Kellogg-Briand Moment?

"Obama: "If you like a nuke-free Iran, you can keep a nuke-free Iran."
Time to invest in fall-out shelters. Diplomad tweet, November 24, 2013

The last hundred years have seen a large number of absurd international treaties and agreements that achieved the exact opposite of their stated intent. I am sure readers can come up with more from around the world, but off the top of my head I can think of Versailles, the creation of the League of Nations, the Washington and London naval conferences, Munich, Yalta, and the Paris agreement "ending" the Vietnam war. To that list we can now add the "deal" reached this weekend in Geneva on Iran's nuclear program.

I wrote before about having an Edouard Daladier moment when hearing of Obama's election to the presidency. Readers will recall that Daladier was the French prime minister at the time of the Munich conference and that,
Daladier desperately tried to convince Britain's Neville Chamberlain to take a firmer stance against Hitler. Chamberlain would have none of it, and France's parlous military state prevented Daladier from striking out on his own. Chamberlain had decided to yield to Hitler's demand for the Sudetenland, and to the effective dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. Daladier argued against this, but found himself helpless to do anything but go along. To his life-long shame, Daladier became a signer of the September 1938 Munich Agreement, the now universally recognized monument to appeasement. Heading back home from Munich, Daladier assumed angry French patriots would rip him to shreds. He, instead, got a hero's welcome. Enthusiastic crowds sang his praises, prompting him to turn to an aide, and utter the famous, bitter, and prophetic words, "Ah, the fools! Why are they cheering?"
The French, who had formed the bulwark against Kerry's crazy deal--one apparently worked out secretly by the US and Iran and then presented as a fait accompli to our allies--caved in at the end, much as Daladier did when he got the rug pulled out from under him by Chamberlain. Without the backing of the United States, Europe can do essentially nothing about the Iranian threat. 

What, in effect, we have done is acknowledge Iran's nuclear program, give it legitimacy, not cripple it in any significant way, and begin to release billions of dollars in frozen funds, all in exchange for Iranian promises of good behavior over the next six months and a commitment to negotiating a new deal by the end of that period. They keep their thousands of centrifuges, have the right to repair any broken ones, and can enrich up to 5%, and we have no reliable way of knowing if they go beyond that.

As noted in the excellent analysis in The Tower,
The U.S. has long rejected Iran’s claim that it has a “right” to enrich, and last October lead U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman told Congress that “the President has circumscribed what he means by the Iranian people having access… access, not right, but access to peaceful nuclear energy in the context of meeting its obligations.” The interim language, however, describes a future comprehensive solution as involving “a mutually defined enrichment program with practical limits and transparency measures to ensure the peaceful nature of the program.” Iranian state media carried boasts by among others Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif that the U.S. had caved on its long-standing position. The U.S. and Britain both flatly denied Iran’s interpretation of the interim language with Secretary of State John Kerry saying as much and the White House further denying it on a late-night background call. 
The Washington Post‘s Jackson Diehl this morning noted that the plain text of the agreement favors the Iranian interpretation.
Of course the text favors the Iranian interpretation. If, furthermore, it didn't, who believes we would do anything about it? This is smoke and mirrors. Given this pathetic misadministration's track record of deception, outright lies, grotesque incompetence, and a default setting to favor our enemies, who believes anything the White House says? Well, anybody beyond those hopelessly addicted to the Obama Kool-Aid we saw dispensed during Fast and Furious, "Arab Spring," Benghazi, IRS targeting, Solyndra, unemployment figures debacle, NSA scandal, the Obamacare disaster, and on and on. The misadministration is lying, yes, lying. The United States has acquiesced to an Iranian nuclear program which can be weaponized very quickly. As implied above, we are left relying on Iranian good intentions for that not to occur.

This deal is the logical consequence of Obama's foreign policy (see here, here, and here, for example): his apology tour in the early days of the misadministration, his selling out of allies, the shrinking of the US military, and the clear lack of genuine interest in protecting and promoting US interests. It all came out very clearly in the Syrian fiasco, and the "red lines" that appeared and disappeared as needed for Obama's domestic political interests. The Iranians then knew, for certain, that there was no American "red line" on anything, and that they need not fear or respect Obama. He was no strong horse, and more of a frilly skittish pony.

This Geneva accord will draw comparisons with Munich, of course. It is appeasement and a sell-out of our allies and of our long-standing role as guarantor of security in the Middle East. Except that in this case neither Israel, Saudi Arabia nor any Gulf State is ready to play Czechoslovakia, and roll over for Tehran. Israelis and Saudis have options not available to the Czechs in 1938. One, of course, I mentioned before in connection with the misadministration's bungling of Syria,
The irony is that the Saudis will find that their best "friend" in the region is none other than--surprise!--Israel, another US ally feeling very alone and vulnerable now thanks to the madness in the White House. Don't be shocked to hear of an increasing rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, with the US left on the sidelines prattling on about the Palestinians (Note to Obama and other fretting liberals: The Saudis don't give a camel's behind about the Palestinians; they know it's all for show and all a fraud).
Press reports indicate that the Saudis and Israelis are, in fact, in touch and exploring possibilities. In short, therefore, this deal will lead to greater instability and increased rather than lessened chances of a war in the region.

The deal also reminds me of the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928. The Pact, signed in Paris, began as a bilateral deal between the USA and France to "outlaw" war, and is named after the American Secretary of State and the French Foreign Minister. The Pact, however, at US insistence, grew in scope, and on August 27, 1928, fifteen nations signed with another forty-seven subsequently joining over the following year. Among the adherents, naturally, were Germany, Japan, and Italy. The Pact had two clauses: the first, outlawed war as a tool of policy; the second, called upon signatories to settle disputes via peaceful means. The Senate ratified the treaty by an overwhelming vote, 87-1 (only John Blaine of Wisconsin, a fascinating and weird character, voted "No.") It is perverse fun to go back and read the press hoopla-la over the Pact, and see how many people actually thought it would outlaw and end war. I could see the pompous John Kerry selling that vial of snake oil just as he will soon be selling the vial he has brought back from Geneva.

The Geneva deal on Iran is bad for Israel, for the region, for peace and for America. So, of course, Obama and Kerry are for it.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Venezuela: Bozo as Al Capone, or is it Vice-Versa? [[UPDATE]]

One of the world's biggest clowns-cum-thugs/thugs-cum-clowns is Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro. He has filled that high office since he took over for the dead Hugo Chavez in March 2013, and "won" election on his "own merits" (Cough!) the following month.

In a world full of political clowns and thugs, Maduro belongs to a select club that admits only those adept at both professions. Other recent members of the club, in no particular order, have been Noriega of Panama, Ceausescu of Romania, the Kim family of despots of the DPRK, Burnham of Guyana, Amin of Uganda, Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Mobutu of Zaire, Zelaya of Honduras, Gairy of Grenada, Bokassa of the Central African Republic/Empire, and perhaps a tiny handful of others. Maduro has that je ne sais quoi quality that ensures his entry into the ranks of the clown-thugs. Bozo with a truncheon. Capone with big floppy shoes. You get the idea.

I met Maduro twice: once in Washington DC, and once in Lima, Peru. Both times at events of the OAS (Organization of American States). He was then Venezuela's Foreign Minister. I found the former bus driver to be a big  (6'3" - 6' 4") charmless, rude, crude, loud-mouthed slob, who resorted to insults and yelling to try to make his silly points. The Ralph Kramden of the diplomat set. I doubted then, and do so today, that he ever read a book, at least not one that did not require the accompaniment of a crayon. His "E-ticket" to the stratosphere of Venezuelan politics was a slavish and very public slobbering devotion to Hugo Chavez. He is Frank Nitti in a bad suit. Even after the death of his mentor Chavez, he must constantly refer to the late comandante and try to hitch himself ever more closely to the dead man's coat-tails--often in some truly bizarre ways.

Venezuela, one of the world's biggest oil producers and exporters, is in an economically and socially disastrous state. Margaret Thatcher once famously said that socialists eventually run out of other people's money. Venezuela has not yet run out of money, but due to horrid mismanagement, corruption of the highest order, and constant political interference in the workings of the marketplace it might as well have run out. The money, still pouring in although not at the same rate as in the past (we will discuss this below), should prove more than enough to ensure a good future for Venezuela and its people. Instead, it is used to crush liberty and democracy, buy or, better said, rent influence overseas, enrich an inner cabal, and run short-term cons to keep the restive underclass expecting more and more hand-outs. Lots of "free" stuff for regime supporters. Confiscations, jail, exile, and public abuse for opponents.

In an excellent article, Steve Hanke from CATO tells us, that since Chavez's death, Venezuela's currency, the bolivar, "has lost 62.36% of its value on the black market." Venezuela's official inflation rate now exceeds 54% while, "The implied annual inflation rate in Venezuela is actually now in the triple digits, coming in at a whopping 283%." That puts Venezuela in some very bad historical company as the country nears a hyperinflationary rate. Maduro and his backers have decided to make the situation even worse by continuing and even "doubling down" on the policies that got the country into this mess.

Some (pre-fracking) estimates have put Venezuelan oil reserves as the world's largest. Due, however, to corruption, nepotism, and mismanagement, all of which have stifled investment and driven out high quality technicians, Venezuela's nationalized oil production has gone into a slump. The Venezuelan regime, naturally, has resorted to what leftist governments do all over the world when the economic data does not correspond to their fantasy world. Reminiscent of the fake jobs data put out by the Obama misadministration just prior to the 2012 elections, the Venezuelan government lies, overstating oil production by over 420,000 barrels/day. The money from oil sales goes into unaccountable funds, and gets used for a variety of things many of which have nothing to do with reinvestment, and, as noted above, have everything to do with enriching the inner cabal and promoting lunatic economic schemes to keep that cabal in power.

Venezuela faces critical shortages of even basic consumer goods, such as toilet paper. Its retail sector is adopting the look I saw long ago in Guyana as a result of similar economic policies: stores look like they sell shelves. For political reasons, the government insists on maintaining an artificially low bolviar-dollar exchange rate of about 6.2 bolivars to the US dollar. The black market rate, in other words, the real exchange rate, is easily ten times that. The government strictly controls who can buy dollars at the cheap rate, forcing most businesses onto the black market. Combine that with government price controls, out of control government spending, and the fact that Venezuela depends on imported consumer and other manufactured goods, and, well, you don't need a PhD in economics to see what will result: shortages and inflation. Even big multinationals have had to suspend operations in Venezuela because they cannot get dollars to buy critical components.

The response of Maduro to the mess he inherited from Chavez and to the declining economic fortunes of Venezuela? More of the same but on steroids. Municipal elections next month pose a problem for the regime. Although elections in Venezuela are far from free and open, they still do have some ability to show dissatisfaction. The uncharismatic Maduro, himself, almost certainly lost the April elections, but managed to jigger the results just enough to eke out a win. Maduro simply does not have the pull that his predecessor had, and does not inspire the same sort of fanatical loyalty. He needs to show the Chavez base that he can deliver the goods--literally. He, therefore, has taken Chavez's war against free enterprise, liberty and democracy to another level. As you can read here, he has begun ordering troops into popular electronic stores and forcing the owners, often opponents of the regime, to sell their imported goods at cut-rate prices, in other words, at the prices the goods would have if the merchants could buy dollars at the official rate. Maduro has gotten the Chavista dominated legislature to give him economic dictatorial powers. He will govern for the next year by decree,
Maduro, 50, who is staking his rule on preserving Chavez's leftist legacy, says he has already planned the first two laws he will decree - maybe as soon as Wednesday. 
One is intended to limit businesses' profit margins to 15 percent to 30 percent as part of an "economic offensive" against price-gouging. Another would create a new state body to oversee dollar sales by Venezuela's currency control board. 
Diosdado Cabello, the head of the National Assembly and a staunch supporter of the president, said lawmakers had fulfilled an order by the late Chavez when they backed the legislation. 
"He told us to pass all the laws necessary to wring the necks of the speculators and money launderers," Cabello said.
Maduro will decide what can be sold, by whom, and at what price. Again, no PhD or Nobel prize is needed to see how this will end. Businesses will close, shortages will increase, prices will go up, and the people's dependency on the government will grow.

In short, Chavez ran Venezuela with the "long-con." Maduro does not have the skills for that, and came to power as the long-con was coming to an end. He has to go for the "Winner! Winner! Chicken dinner!" short-con approach. Constantly pulling rabbits out of his hat. Accuse the capitalists! Accuse the gringos! Accuse the political opposition! The end result, of course, is the destruction of liberty and the growing chaos, lawlessness, and violence we see in Venezuela.

The left has its way.

UPDATE: I got the text below from a friend who is an expert on and long-time observer of Venezuela. Thought you all might find it interesting to see his reaction to my piece and his perspective.
You are quite right that Maduro doesn't have Chavez's charisma -- and for the Venezuelan poor Chavez really did have charisma. My own observation of Maduro has led me to conclude that -- as with Chavez - the over-the-top posturing is to some extent theatrical and directed mostly at his domestic audience. 
But I think the Bolivarian antipathy toward the U.S. is real --as well as rhetorical. I also think there is an element of real desperation in Maduro's recent speeches. He may not be as gifted a leader but he is smart enough to see that the economy is spinning out of control. On some level I think he and the Chavista holdovers in his cabinet know they are not going to be able to evade responsibility for eviscerating the productive sector forever unless/unless they can somehow plausibly attach blame to sinister forces of the "right" (both foreign and domestic). 
The economy is a mess and a mess to an extent most folks can't quite grasp. The Maduro government, however, as you suggest, seems intent on doubling down on the same policies they have followed over the last few years. If oil dips, things could deteriorate further quickly. If it doesn't, of course, they could play this out for a long time.  

Soon, Soon

I wrote something on Venezuela and lost it. I would have been good designing the Obamacare website.

I will rewrite and post it ASAP.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Day the President was Shot

On November 22, we mark the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas. Hard to believe that fifty years have passed since that day. For my generation, that date and, of course, September 11, 2001, resonate in the way that December 7, 1941, did to an earlier one.

I attended elementary school in what was a fairly liberal town, Palo Alto, California. Well, better stated, the cultural and educational elite were "liberal," the town itself, before the dot com revolution in which Palo Alto played such a central role, was a middle class town full of war vets, largely apolitical and decidedly old fashion social conservative sorts. Except at election time, politics did not play a big role in most people's lives. The federal government was seen as a benign but remote presence. We generally had no idea who was a Republican and who a Democrat.

Our family had a huge three-level house that dated from the beginning of the twentieth century, and which my immigrant parents had bought in 1957 for the shocking amount of $12,000 (note: according to Zillow, the current value of that house exceeds five million dollars--alas!) Our immediate neighbor, a burly, gruff Marine veteran, severely injured on Iwo Jima, walked with a pronounced limp and harbored an intense hatred for all things Japanese. Across the street, we had a rarity, a family who had fled from Communist China by way of Hong Kong. A little further down the street, my best friend lived. His dad worked as an engineer at an aerospace firm; his English mother, a wonderful and kind lady, had suffered polio as a child, also had a limp, and cheerfully drove a small odd-looking British-made Ford Anglia. I liked going to his house when his British grandfather would visit. He came straight out of central casting complete with an elaborate white handlebar mustache, proper manners, hearty laugh, and an accent that recalled the valiant stoic Brits in those war movies to which I had become addicted. My own English was mediocre, and he, unfortunately, could not understand anything I said. My friend had to play interpreter.

The school, fairly rare for those days, was racially integrated and even had a black principal. One of my teachers was married to Felix Greene, British journalist, Communist "fellow traveler," and cousin of Graham Greene. Felix worked at that time for the San Francisco Chronicle, was a big fan of and apologist for Mao, Ho Chi Minh, and, later, Castro, and had some sort of visiting gig at Stanford. In the 1960 elections, the teachers came out for JFK in almost total unanimity, and made no secret of it. They were enthralled by his youth, status as a "war hero," speeches, accent, James Dean/Steve McQueen coolness, and his emphasis on education. In contrast, Nixon seemed dour and unexciting. Looking back, I can see that many of those teachers we now would call "liberals," or "progressives," or more accurately "socialists." Readers might have some other labels, as well.

As noted above, my English was not very good. With my bizarre accent, the occasionally odd word that I would utter that provoked gales of laughter, and the weird food my mother put in my Wagon Train lunchbox, I was self-conscious about being somewhat of an outsider. I generally did not participate in schoolyard discussions of the elections in which my colleagues repeated what they had heard at the previous night's dinner table. Our family's dinner table discussions, by contrast, tended to revolve around the Spanish Civil War, which I confused with the American Civil War: I couldn't get straight whether Franco had fought for the Union or the Confederacy.

On November 22, 1963, in Miss Sarzin's fifth grade class we had just finished watching a documentary film about the islands of the South Pacific. Miss Sarzin was packing up the 16mm projector when two older kids ran into the room. They dashed up to Miss Sarzin and whispered to her. I remember her gasping, and saying, "No!" She froze with the projector cord in her hand. In walked the vice-principal, another of those tough no-nonsense WWII vets who announced, "Children, the President has been shot." He went to the front of the room, turned on a large radio, and left. We could hear the announcer, growing ever louder as the set warmed up, saying over and over, "The President is dead. The President is dead." Behind me, my friend Charlie tearfully said, "I wish he'd stop that!" We sat stunned. For once, there was not a sound in the room. We were sent home where we watched hour after hour of television coverage of the unfolding story in Dallas. Convinced WWIII would commence presently, my mother frantically and unsuccessfully sought to call her mother in Spain to "warn" her--placing an international call was a major undertaking back then, especially on the eve of WWIII.

JFK's assassination, understandably, left a deep impression on Americans alive at the time. Television, if nothing else, ensured that. One would think, however, that getting assassinated would not guarantee one getting idolized. I remain intrigued and puzzled by the generally high regard Americans continue to have for JFK (here, for example.) He, after all, was an incompetent. Even his war record was marked by incompetence and dereliction of duty. His affair with a known German spy in Washington DC, and his inept handling of his PT boat, which resulted in it getting rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer, should have meant a court martial. His father's political connections, however, and JFK's, admittedly, brave leadership of his shipwrecked crew, avoided that fate and got him a medal for "Life Saving," not, however, one for valor as his father wanted--the Navy would not go that far. He had an undistinguished career in Congress and, eventually, became a Chauncey Gardiner President.

He made a hash of the anti-Castro policy inherited from Eisenhower; got outplayed by Khrushchev at his first summit meeting; nearly got us into WWIII, for real, with his bungling of the October Missile Crisis which ensured Castro's survival, again; made a mess of our Vietnam policy, arrogantly having the leader of South Vietnam assassinated; and began a reform of our immigration laws which resulted in the disastrous 1965 Immigration Act that turned our focus from Europe to the Third World. He was regularly consorting with all sorts of questionable women which left him open to blackmail; used powerful pain-killing drugs; and kept the parlous state of his health a secret.

JFK, however, was the first modern "liberal" president. He was the father of the "liberalism" that now runs and ruins our country. His administration saw the melding of Hollywood and Washington, from the dishonest hack hagiographic PT 109 movie to the mixing it up with Sinatra, Lawford, and, of course, Monroe. It was the new liberal royalty. They had the pretty wives dressed by French designers. They had gone to the fancy schools, and earned the fancy degrees. They were true sophisticates who knew the world, and had a vision of a better one and a plan to lead us there. They looked so good, so smart, so educated, so photogenic, so, so . . . well, so unlike the stodgy, grey, and serious Eisenhower, Nixon, Dulles, etc.  The journalists ate it up, protecting him and covering for his lies and deceptions. They, too, wanted to play with and be like the cool kids.

The current disaster we have in the White House is the child of the Kennedy era. He represents the rebirth of the demand for coolness and hipness as the primary qualifications for the most important job in the world. As was discovered by the abandoned Cuban freedom fighters on Playa Giron; by our veterans of Vietnam as well as by the people of South Vietnam; by our people in Benghazi; by our friends and allies around the world; and now by millions of ordinary Americans watching as their health insurance plans collapse and their jobs go away, there is a real world price to be paid for making hipness and coolness the requirements for the presidency. That is the legacy of JFK and the modern day liberals who so admire him.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Obama "fixes" Obamacare

I was at the gym when HE came on the tube to announce to us peasants how HE identified with our problems, and, of course, HE never meant "intentionally" to mislead us on the effects of Obamacare. Then HE launched into some rambling, responsibility evading jumble to announce that HE will direct the insurance companies to extend people's insurance policies for another year so that we don't lose them right now--translation: So that we don't lose them prior to the mid-term elections.

Well, well, well. Wasn't the Obamista talking point during the recent GOP struggle against Obamacare that the "Affordable Care Act is SETTLED law"?

I guess law is only SETTLED until the Emperor decides it's not.

The Emperor has declared the Constitution a nuisance and "temporarily" suspended it--all for our own good, of course.

Ah, such joy to be living under the reincarnation of Louis XIV . . . l'état, c'est moi

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

On Responsibility and Obama

It's tough to write the words "responsibility" and "Obama" in the same sentence.  We have as President a man who never took to heart Mitt Romney's wise observation that "leadership is about taking responsibility, not making excuses."

Obama is a case study of what in Spanish is known as the "se me cayo" phenomenon. In Spanish, when you drop something, you didn't. It dropped itself from you. For Obama anything that turns out crooked, wrong, or manifestly stoooopid is somebody else's fault. He just read about it in the papers this morning, and, by golly, "there's nobody madder than me about it." We have seen this stunt over and over these past five-plus years.

On "Fast and Furious," an operation begun and launched by Obama's DOJ as a way to sabotage the second amendment and promote international gun control, the President "read" about it and ordered it stopped, and, of course, it was a policy actually launched by George Bush, and, oh by the way, although the facts don't support it, the guns in Mexico come from US gun shows and stores. The idiot media gave him a pass even when it was shown that the guns slipped into Mexico by Obama's team killed hundreds of Mexicans and at least two US federal agents. The media instead focussed its attacks on Republicans who sought to get the documents that showed what the White House knew about this insane operation.

We saw this nonsense play out again in the course of the IRS scandal. The President was "furious" when he found out that his IRS had been targeting conservative groups and donors for "special" attention. Again the media gave Obama a pass and bemoaned how this scandal, labelled "phony" by the President, gave Republicans political ammunition.

We saw this scenario play out again on the Benghazi murders, and on the Syrian "red lines" nonsense. It was all somebody else's fault, a video caused the attack in Benghazi, the world made Obama draw a red line on Syrian chemical weapons. On Syria, of course, the "solution," a clever stunt by Putin who outfoxed Obama every step of the way, that Obama tried to claim for himself.  By this time, even the brain-numb media had a hard time buying the story.

Now we see the granddaddy of domestic political, social and economic disasters. Yes, the horror known as Obamacare. It's cutting a swathe of destruction through the American health system and wreaking havoc on millions of Americans--many of whom fell for Obama's outright lie that, "if like your plan you can keep your plan." They couldn't, of course, because despite the President's typical attempt to blame the insurers, the Republicans, anybody but the man in the mirror for these cancelled policies, he couldn't run from the fact that his "signature" legislative achievement made millions of Americans' insurance policies illegal. Yes, illegal. Fewer people now have medical insurance than before the passage of Obamacare.

Now we see even Democrats waking up from the snake charmer's spell. CNN runs headlines telling us that "Democrats are losing patience" with the President and his prevarication on Obamacare. They have learned their lessons from him and are now seeking to blame somebody, anybody for the disaster.  A couple of simple humble questions. Who voted for this thing? Anybody read it first? Anybody? Anybody? Bueller? All these Democrat Congressmen now complaining about the Obamacare beast might want to remember the answers to those questions.

Just another attempt to evade responsibility.