Day By Day

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Why I Don't Like McCain

I am beginning to get really, really fed up with John McCain. Forget all the lies and underhanded maneuvers that this supposed "man of honor" has unleashed against his opponents -- that's standard for a political campaign. Forget his past willingness to trample basic constitutional liberties and his willingness to do favors for shady characters -- that, too, has become pretty much standard operating procedure for today's political elites. And there are some very good points to be made in his favor. He has a dramatic personal history and is very strong on the war, and..., well..., he is very strong on the war. Other than that he is a disaster, especially on environmental matters.

Forget all that! What bothers me most about McCain is what makes him so attractive to media elites -- that is his authoritarianism [masked as "straight talk" and the "politics of principle"] and his profound distaste for capitalism. McCain likes to wield authority. That is appropriate in a military setting, but dangerous in the political realm. He likes things to be neat and orderly and he is uncomfortable with the messiness of democratic mechanisms. His stance with regard to opponents is arrogant and disdainful -- even contemptuous. His "straight talk" consists of him laying down the rules to others, not entering into negotiations with them. He portrays himself as a "leader", not a mere politician. That bothers me a lot. This shows up in his decision making process. He tends to think with his heart, not his head [I get the sense that he really isn't very bright]. Push his buttons (especially appeal to his sense of honor) and you can get him to sign onto all sorts of lunatic things. And, once he has made his choice, he stands by it come Hell or high water. Emotionalism and inflexibility might be admirable qualities in a military commander -- I don't want to see them in the man who inhabits the Oval Office.

The other disturbing aspect of McCain's personality is his disdain for capitalism. Mark Steyn writes about this today in NRO's Corner:

I'm getting a bit tired of Senator McCain's anti-business shtick. The line about serving "for patriotism, not for profit" is pathetic. America spends more on its military than the next 35-40 biggest military spenders on the planet combined: Where does he think the money for that comes from?

As for his line about "some greedy people on Wall Street who need to be punished", aside from being almost entirely irrelevant to the subject under discussion (the subprime "crisis"), it reveals, I think, one of the most unpleasant aspects of McCain. For a so-called "maverick", he's very comfortable with the application of Big Government power, and the assumption of Big Government virtue. Undoubtedly there are "greedy people on Wall Street". Why should he and his chums be the ones who decide whether they need to be "punished"? If greed is to be punishable, why doesn't he start with a pilot program applied to, say, the United States Senate and report back to us in five years how that's going?

Read it here. [emphasis mine]

The common aspect of both democracy and capitalism, what offends McCain the most, is their messy contentiousness. His desire to impose order on these inherently disorderly processes strikes a resonant chord in the political and economic elites [of both parties]. But ultimately, as Jonah Goldberg reminds us in his excellent book, that desire for orderly application of authority tends toward "fascism".

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Real State Of the Union [And Of the World]

Excellent piece by Michael Lind over at Prospect. An excerpt:
Anyone who reads the serious press about the condition of the US might be excused for believing that the country is headed towards a series of deep crises. This impression is exacerbated by economic slowdown and by the presidential primaries, in which candidates announce bold plans to rescue the country from disaster. But even in more normal times there are three ubiquitous myths about America that make the country seem weaker and more chaotic than it really is. The first myth, which is mainly a conservative one, is that racial and ethnic rivalries are tearing America apart. The second myth, which is mainly a liberal one, is that America will soon be overwhelmed by religious fundamentalists. The third myth, an economic one beloved of centrists, is that the retirement of the baby boomers will bankrupt the country because of runaway social security entitlement costs.

America does, of course, have many problems, such as spiralling healthcare costs and a decline in social mobility. Yet the truth is that apart from the temporary frictions caused by current immigration from Latin America, the US is more integrated than ever. Racial and cultural diversity is in long-term decline, as a result of the success of the melting pot in merging groups through assimilation and intermarriage—and many of the country's infamous social pathologies, from violent crime to teenage drug use, are also seeing improvements. Americans are far more religious than Europeans, but the "religious right" is concentrated among white southern Protestants. And there is no genuine long-term entitlement problem in the US. The US suffers from healthcare cost inflation, a problem that will be solved one way or another in the near future, long before it cripples the economy as a whole. And the long-term costs of social security, America's public pension programme, could be met by moderate benefit cuts or a moderate growth in the US government share of GDP. With a linguistically united, increasingly racially mixed supermajority and a solvent system of middle-class entitlements, the US will remain first among equals for generations to come, even in a multipolar world with several great powers.
Read the whole thing here.

Lind is absolutely right about the stunning improvement in the human condition in the past two decades. My only disagreement with him comes when he identifies what he considers to be the remaining problems facing American society -- intractable inequality, the rising cost of health care, and imperial overstretch. None of these, I would argue, is nearly as problematic as Lind seems to think. Rather, they are simply perennial left-wing peeves.

Lind is a "Progressive" writing for a liberal readership, but his general argument is mirrored in this article by conservatives, Peter Wehner and Yuval Levin, writing in Commentary. [here] They too see a dramatic improvement in the human condition since the early 1990's and they, too, have concerns about problems not solved -- the violence and insensitivity of popular culture, the continuing decline of the family. But these, like Lind's concerns, are more a matter of ideological pique than a description of real threats. This essential agreement among scholars approaching American society from radically different perspectives is impressive and accords well with other studies by international organizations. [here], [here], [here], [here], [here], [here]....

The evidence is incontrovertible. We are blessed to be living in the best of times ever in the history of the world and all the major trend lines are positive. But most people are convinced that we are in a period of steep or imminent decline. So broad is this perception that politicians can campaign on nothing more than a vacuous promise of "change".

The stubborn determination of many educated people to interpret everything as evidence of impending doom is a constant amazement to me, as it is to any serious student of American history. Things have never, ever been as good as they are now, both domestically and internationally. Yet many educated people persist in believing that we are living on the edge of catastrophe.

Somewhere around 1990 the world changed for the better. Unprecedented levels of peace and prosperity broke out. Analysts disagree as to the causes, but two major factors stand out. With regard to peace the most important factor would seem to be the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet empire. With regard to prosperity the major factor would seem to be the collapse of protectionist regimes and a consequent rapid globalization. These positive trends have been sustained through both Republican and Democrat regimes in the United States, and through both center left and center right regimes in Europe. There is no compelling reason to wish for radical or even substantive political change. But the Henny Pennys continue to run around screaming that the sky is falling.

Ignore them, and give thanks that you are living in this, the best of all times.



Bush's New World Order

Tigerhawk quotes an interesting assessment by Stratfor of the emerging alignment of powers in the Middle East and President Bush's goals there.

The president’s primary goal in 2008 is simple: reaching an arrangement with Iran. Ideally, this would be a mutually agreed upon deal that splits influence in Iraq, but we have already moved past the point where that is critical. Al Qaeda, the reason for being involved in the region in the first place, is essentially dead. The various Sunni Arab powers that made al Qaeda possible have lined up behind Washington. Iran and the United States may still wish to quibble over details, but the strategic picture is clearing: a U.S.-led coalition is going to shape the Middle East, and it is up to Iran whether it wants to play the role of that coalition’s spear or its target. And the Bush administration has the full power of the United States — and one long year — to drive that point home.

This is a fascinating perspective. What seems to be emerging in West Asia is something similar to what the US constructed in Europe in the 1940's -- a defensive strategic alliance (NATO), led by the United States, that ensured American dominance in the region for decades to come.

We should also note that the Bush administration has also been forging similar strategic alliances in East Asia. There the United States, Australia, India, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have established a series of agreements on military, environmental, and economic affairs aimed at creating a "strategic partnership" to counter China's growing influence. [here] and [here]

Finally, we should note the resurgence of NATO. Responding to Russian and Iranian provocations several senior European military officials have proposed a radical reorganization of the alliance. Wretchard at the Belmont Club explains:

The gist of the proposal is that the West should stand ready to conduct a pre-emptive nuclear strike against "key threats" like "political fanaticism and religious fundamentalism" and "international terrorism, organised crime" which are on the brink of acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

But that is not all they propose.

[T]he generals call for an overhaul of Nato decision-taking methods, a new "directorate" of US, European and Nato leaders to respond rapidly to crises, and an end to EU "obstruction" of and rivalry with Nato. Among the most radical changes demanded are:

A shift from consensus decision-taking in Nato bodies to majority voting, meaning faster action through an end to national vetoes.

The abolition of national caveats in Nato operations of the kind that plague the Afghan campaign.

Read the report here.

Essentially this would decouple NATO's decision-making apparatus from the EU's political leadership and integrate it far more closely into the American strategic complex. It is interesting that the authors of the report cite Bush's Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates' criticism of the EU and its constraints on effective action. [Gates comments and the reaction to them are discussed here]

What Bush is attempting to build is a globe-spanning set of mutual security arrangements, not unlike those of the Cold War, aimed at containing the major anti-western powers of Russia, China, and Iran as well as preventing the spread of nuclear technology. He is attempting to establish a framework for future American global involvement that will serve as an alternative to the largely dysfunctional UN and the EU. It is a bold vision, as are most of his initiatives, and it guarantees US global involvement for some time to come, regardless of who occupies the Oval Office.

UPDATE:

Victoria Nuland, US Ambassador to NATO, discusses some of the changes that are taking place in the treaty organization here.

She writes:
The alliance that never fired a shot in the Cold War is learning on the job. Just as the Iraq war forced adaptation in American military and development tactics and strategy, the Afghanistan mission is forcing changes in NATO. With each passing month, Canadians, Germans, Poles, Spaniards, Latvians and our other allies learn more about what it takes to wage a 21st-century counterinsurgency -- a combined civil-military effort that puts warriors side by side with development workers, diplomats and police trainers. Whether flying helicopters across the desert, embedding trainers with the Afghans, conducting tribal shuras with village elders or running joint civilian-military Provincial Reconstruction Teams, most of our allies are reinventing the way they do business.
Indeed they are!




Out of the Past

One of my Pennsylvania correspondents wrote to express his amusement that the "Party of Change" was embracing half-century old Camelot images and ideals. Here's my response:

For what it's worth, here's my take on the Florida results.

Both parties have their iconic figures from the not so recent past. For Republicans, it is Reagan -- for Democrats, it is Kennedy. Both men, as they are currently portrayed are fantasies -- idealized, larger than life images rather than the complex, fallible human beings they really were. Both images have a powerful emotional hold on the imaginations of the core partisans who yearn for a return to the glory days of yesteryear. In that sense the activist elements of both parties are reactionary, no matter how much they might prattle on about "change".

But history keeps on keeping on, and neither Kennedy nor Reagan really fits today's world very well. In Florida we saw voters in both parties decisively reject the images of the past to embrace a new vision of the world. Democrats rejected Kennedy-style naive idealism for Clintonian amoral pragmatism while Republicans rejected the Reaganite ideal of limited government for a guy who will expend a lot of loot on the military and will not object to liberal proposals for massive social spending. They rejected Huckabee's evangelical populism and Rudy's urban weirdness decisively, and as for Paul's radical libertarianism, it didn't even register a blip on the radar screen. The big loser all around on all sides was the ideologically driven, "politics of principle".

What struck me most is that the ghost of Tom Tancredo is beginning to take its toll on the Republican candidates. Latinos turned out in large numbers to vote for McCain, whom they saw as an opponent to immigration reform. That was probably decisive. It was certainly a big factor in Gov. Crist's decision to endorse McCain and Jeb's refusal to endorse anyone.

Exit polls also showed that the Republican "base" turned out for Romney, but that wasn't enough to beat McCain, or even to make the election very close. Another poll, shown on MSNBC, affirmed that better than two-thirds of the voters were "satisfied with" or "enthusiastic" about President Bush. He is by no means the pariah the MSM has made him out to be.

I have said it before, and I say it again -- the Republicans should quit looking for the next Reagan, and instead start looking for the next Dubya.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Middle East Situation Shapes Up

From Stratfor, via Tigerhawk:

The president’s primary goal in 2008 is simple: reaching an arrangement with Iran. Ideally, this would be a mutually agreed upon deal that splits influence in Iraq, but we have already moved past the point where that is critical. Al Qaeda, the reason for being involved in the region in the first place, is essentially dead. The various Sunni Arab powers that made al Qaeda possible have lined up behind Washington. Iran and the United States may still wish to quibble over details, but the strategic picture is clearing: a U.S.-led coalition is going to shape the Middle East, and it is up to Iran whether it wants to play the role of that coalition’s spear or its target. And the Bush administration has the full power of the United States — and one long year — to drive that point home.
Read it here.

And there is this -- Michael Yon writes [hat tip Instapundit].
"Major offensive has begun in Mosul. This is likely Al Qaeda's last real stand in Iraq. Surely they will continue to murder people for a long time, but they are running out of places to hide."
Read it here.

Excellent news, and more evidence that Bush knows what he is doing in foreign affairs. He is marginalizing radical elements in the region, neutralizing their sponsors, and constructing a defensive alliance, not unlike NATO, that will ensure America's dominant role in regional development for decades to come. Like it or not, we will be living for a long time in the world that Bush made.

The evidence is mounting -- Dubya is the most consequential president since FDR.

More later.

What a Day!


For political junkies, that is.

First the Clintons got kneecapped by the Kennedy clan [here]. It was a remarkable event that for the first time gives the American people some small hope that we might at long last be able to kick the horrible Democrat families off the national stage [here]. To the aging radicals in the Democrat fold it brought back memories of the "Sixties" when they were young and even more feckless than today. Over at MSNBC Chris Matthews was positively orgasmic. I have a much less happy memory of the sixties. When Chris was in the Peace Core I was in the Army -- we remember things quite differently.



It was Barak's big day -- too bad it was overshadowed this evening by the President's State of the Union address [here is the full text]. It was a good speech, one that wrapped up a number of issues with which the President has been wrestling for years -- Iraq, taxes, intelligence matters, etc. -- and it dealt with a number of campaign themes -- earmarks, health care, the economy, etc. -- in terms that Republicans will find congenial. All in all, a nice job and, considering the response from Frank Luntz's focus group, one that was well received.

And of course there is also the upcoming Republican battle for Florida pitting Mitt against Mac in a struggle for the party's soul. The latest polls have them running even and the whole thing might be settled by absentee ballots from New York. What is clear is that at long last the Republican race, like the Democrats', is now a two person affair offering a clear choice between very different candidates.

Hillary was not the only casualty of the day. Toni Morrison officially deposed Bill from his title as "First Black President" [here]. And of course there was Rudy!, the other New York hopeful, whose campaign is rapidly collapsing [here]. If both Rudy! and Hillary! fail that would leave Mike Bloomburg as Gotham's best hope at capturing the country.

Hardly anybody has noticed that Mike Huckabee has been dropping nearly as fast as Rudy. Shows how much he matters.

Of course, all this could change rapidly. If Hillary! makes a big comeback on Super Duper Tuesday the whole Kennedy thing will be forgotten and black leaders will scramble to make nice with the horribles again. I don't really care much -- I'm rooting for Romney -- but it sure has been fun seeing the Democrat contest degenerate into a gang war, and to see the entirely admirable President Bush at the top of his game standing tall above the pitiful spectacle of the wannabe mud wrestling and squabbling that is going on in both parties.

Makes me long for four more years.

The whole thing boils down to whether anyone outside the lunatic precincts of NBC and the NYT still cares about the Kennedys. I never cared much for any of them. JFK was just another hack and a mediocre president, Bobby scared me, and Teddy..., well, he is just disgusting. Young Patrick is a loon. Kathleen is a third rater. I know nothing about Caroline, she seems innocuous enough. John John seemed like a nice, vacuous young man. None of them really matters much any more. But then, I'm not a "Progressive".

Monday, January 28, 2008

Revisiting Jena

Amy Waldman has a nice piece in the Atlantic on the Jena Six incident. Not surprisingly the initial accounts in the MSM seriously distorted what went on there.

Read it here.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Rambo Is Back


Yep, John Rambo is back and this time he's loose in Burma. Most of the mainstream critics are appalled [a welcome exception is A. O. Scott in the NYT]. I am not much of a fan of carnage films but I intend to see this one. Harry Knowles explains the appeal:
When Rambo gets started - he makes the nightmare monsters of horror films seem like the cuddly things you hang on a mobile above your baby's crib. He's not just death... he's really bad death. He's the closed casket version of death. No amount of mortician's wax is gonna fix the wreckage that he's going to do to the bodies he comes across... especially when the third act hits.

….

RAMBO would kick Jason Bourne's pansy ass!

And that, my friends, is something worth seeing.

How is it different, you ask, from the over the top carnage of "Shoot 'Em Up" which I panned? That film undercut itself by trying to wink at the audience saying, we don't take this stuff seriously and you are a fool if you do. But Stallone does take it seriously and, as Scott points out, raises the violence unleashed by his character to mythic levels in the process. It will be good to simply see John Rambo do his thing.

Read Harry's review here.

The Scales Fall From Their Eyes

Lefty journalist Jonathan Chait has had a revelation:

Something strange happened the other day. All these different people -- friends, co-workers, relatives, people on a liberal e-mail list I read -- kept saying the same thing: They've suddenly developed a disdain for Bill and Hillary Clinton. Maybe this is just a coincidence, but I think we've reached an irrevocable turning point in liberal opinion of the Clintons.

The sentiment seems to be concentrated among Barack Obama supporters. Going into the campaign, most of us liked Hillary Clinton just fine, but the fact that tens of millions of Americans are seized with irrational loathing for her suggested that she might not be a good Democratic nominee. But now that loathing seems a lot less irrational. We're not frothing Clinton haters like ... well, name pretty much any conservative. We just really wish they'd go away.
Read it here.

So let me get this straight -- when liberals want the Clintons to go away it's a rational decision based upon the horrible couple's disgusting behavior, but when conservatives want the same thing, it's "irrational loathing".

Chait is an idiot, but for years the Clintons have found him to be a useful idiot. It is good to see that the horribles have finally become so obstreperous that even Chait can now appreciate them for what they are. It's a first step toward maturity and I am glad to see Jonathan taking it. Now if he could just get over his irrational loathing of Bush.

UPDATE:

Even Garry Wills, who long ago left planet Earth for the outer precincts of cloud cuckoo land has finally had enough with the horribles. He urges that voters reject their bid to install a dual presidency here.

I don't expect Hill and Bill to lose -- far too many Democrats are willing to march in lockstep behind them -- but at least the exercise of running against the horribles seems to have some chance of instilling a modicum of sanity into some elements of the left, and that is a welcome development.

The Double Kiss of Death

The hits just keep on coming. First the New York Times endorses John McCain, then Bill Clinton opens his yap again. Here's what he said:

(CNN) — If Hillary Clinton and John McCain become their party's presidential nominees, the general election race is likely to be a love-fest.

At least according to Bill Clinton.

Campaigning in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Friday, the former president brushed aside suggestions his wife would prove to be a divisive nominee for the Democratic Party, pointing out how she has successfully worked with Republicans in the Senate — including one of the current GOP presidential candidates.

"She and John McCain are very close," Clinton said. "They always laugh that if they wound up being the nominees of their party, it would be the most civilized election in American history, and they're afraid they'd put the voters to sleep because they like and respect each other."

Read it here.

Oh my! How can John ever recover from this?


Happy Anniversary Bill and Monica


Ten years ago today President William Jefferson Clinton stared at the camera, raised his eyebrows, wagged his finger, and proclaimed "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." Gateway Pundit has the video here.

Check out the Monica and Bill Page here.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Grownups

Last night's debate illustrated the essential difference between the Republicans and the Democrats. Don Surber explains:

The latest debates proved my theory that Democrats are selecting a nominee; Republicans are choosing a president.

Bluntly, the Democrats wonder whether to go with the girl or the black — or the white boy.

That’s the only difference in experience among the 3 Democratic candidates. All are millionaire lawyers who spent some time in the Senate.

Republicans have the more difficult choice. Their choices:

The guy who turned around NYC when most people gave up on the city.

The guy who turned around the winter Olympics and then governed Massachusetts.

The ex-POW who has been in the Senate since the 1980s.

The guy who cleaned up the mess left when Clinton’s hand-picked successor went to jail for — Surprise! Surprise! — a Clinton-related scandal.

Tough candidates. Tough choices.

In the Boca Raton debate, they looked presidential. They were calm, cool and collected. They gave good explanations.
Read it here.

Unfortunately, for the self-appointed arbiters of the MSM and even for some of the conservative bloggers serious, adult behavior just isn't enough. They are bored with serious adults. They want schoolyard antics. I have often expressed my preference for Mitt, but any of the top three Republicans [Romney, Rudy and McCain] would be a better leader than any of the remaining Democrats. Hell, for that matter, so would Huck.

Kim Collapsing?

Fascinating piece in Janes on North Korea.

Kim Jong-Il's regime could collapse within six months, bringing chaos to North Korea, observers and intelligence sources in Asia have told Jane's.

A joint United States report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the US Institute for Peace has also revealed that China has "contingency plans" in the event of North Korea's implosion. The report, entitled 'Keeping an Eye on an Unruly Neighbor', said that China was prepared to "take the initiative" and had a military strategy for securing North Korea's "loose nukes" should Kim Jong-Il's rule fail.

Read it here.

Of course, as the article notes, this is not the first time that we have heard predictions of the regime's imminent collapse. Back in 1997 the delusional loons at the CIA predicted that Kim would be gone within five years. Ten years out and we're still waiting.

Still there might be something to the new rumor. Supposedly Kim and his cronies have been quietly moving lots of their wealth out of the country in case they have to make a sudden exit. Of course this last piece of information comes from the CIA so take it with a heaping teaspoon of salt.

This information, of course, raises the question of just how much of our policy toward Korea has been based on expectations of regime collapse? That could explain a lot -- especially our locking China into the six-power talks regarding Korea.



The Republican Debate

It was a good night for Romney. He came across as competent, informed, and in control. I don't know if he got more air time than the other candidates, but he seemed to. He also got off the best sound bite -- about Bill Clinton being in the White House with nothing to do. That will be played over and over. His unrelenting focus on Hillary helped too. It was something all Republicans can agree on. The guy looked like, sounded like, and acted like a leader.

Rudy's best moment came when Brian Williams pointed out that the New York Times hated him His worst moments came when he repeatedly lapsed into New York trivia. I can't avoid thinking that he's toast.

McCain's worst moments came when Williams pointed out that the New York Times had endorsed him. His best moments were when he talked passionately about the war. Other than that he seemed weak and a bit confused and made some obvious mis-statements. His frequent references to bipartianship also hurt him with Republican voters. Despite the MSM's attempts to boost him into the lead, he's starting to look like a loser.

Huckabee just can't be taken seriously. He's funny and seems sincere, and he can smash the Clintons as nobody else can, but he just doesn't seem prepared to govern at the national level.

All in all -- it was a good night for Mitt and it came at just the right time, just as he and McCain are fighting over Florida's votes. The most recent polls show him closing on McCain and tonight's debate might well put him ahead.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Mankiew on the Stimulus Package

Greg Mankiew weighs in on the fiscal stimulus package [here]. His points:

The economy is not weak enough to justify this level of intervention.

A monetary approach would have been preferable.

The key quote:
[G]iven where the economy is right now and the best forecasts of where it is heading, the fiscal package seems unnecessary as a short-run measure, while in the long run adding to the debt burden without doing anything to improve incentives for economic growth.
He also points out that the way the payouts are structured, targeted toward lower income families, it stimulates demand while depressing aggregate supply. Hmmm. Boost demand while restricting supply -- can you say "inflation"?

It's Baaaack

Now that it has been nominated for several academy awards George Clooney's "Michael Clayton" has been re-released. Don't be fooled -- its the same left-wing anti-capitalist rant that the public rejected several months ago. The Academy only nominated it for ideological reasons. Stay away from this stinker.

Another "Never Mind"

Michael Ledeen notes that the Iraq conflict is not now, and may never have been, a civil war.

Read it here.

Scary If True

A former CIA agent, writing in The American Conservative reports:
Most Americans have never heard of Sibel Edmonds, and if the U.S. government has its way, they never will. The former FBI translator turned whistleblower tells a chilling story of corruption at Washington’s highest levels—sale of nuclear secrets, shielding of terrorist suspects, illegal arms transfers, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, espionage. She may be a first-rate fabulist, but Edmonds’s account is full of dates, places, and names. And if she is to be believed, a treasonous plot to embed moles in American military and nuclear installations and pass sensitive intelligence to Israeli, Pakistani, and Turkish sources was facilitated by figures in the upper echelons of the State and Defense Departments. Her charges could be easily confirmed or dismissed if classified government documents were made available to investigators.

But Congress has refused to act, and the Justice Department has shrouded Edmonds’s case in the state-secrets privilege, a rarely used measure so sweeping that it precludes even a closed hearing attended only by officials with top-secret security clearances.

Read the whole thing here.

Another former CIA agent notes that the charges are:
jaw-dropping, and (if confirmed) could shakes the highest reaches of our diplomatic and security establishments.
Read it here.

Wretchard, over at the Belmont Club, notes that the author of the article is not a particularly reliable source, having predicted a U.S. nuclear attack on Iran in 2005 [here]. Still, the allegations are striking and should be fully investigated.

More Movies


Well, the Oscar list is out and I have a favorite -- "No Country For Old Men" by the Coens. It is a nasty piece of work, but the best suspense flick I've seen since Hitchcock was at his peak. Its only credible competition seems to be "There Will Be Blood" which I have not yet seen, but intend to.

"She Who Must Not Be Named" and I recently saw another nominated film -- "Juno" which has turned out to be a cultural marker of some significance. It is the third major film this year in which a woman, faced with an unwanted pregnancy, decides against having an abortion and this has generated a lot of attention from the ideologues on all sides.

"Juno" is actually a very nice little film with an outstanding lead actress (Ellen Page, who has been nominated for best actress). There is also some wonderful work done by J. K. Simmons and Allison Janney, two of our best character actors, in supporting roles.

Much has been made by critics by the zingy, ironic, cynical, mocking dialogue voiced by the main character and her friends. Most of them loved it -- I found it annoying. I'm not into quirky or sassy and halfway through the film I was ready to leave, but then something happened. "Juno" grew up.

"Juno" is a coming of age film like so many produced by Hollywood's overgrown adolescents in recent years and for a while it seemed to be following in that shallow groove. At first the characters, particularly the adults, were stereotypical and for the most part unsympathetic, the dialog inane, the plot situations insensitively portrayed -- in short a typical teen-themed film. But over time the characters began to grow and deepen. Seemingly attractive characters revealed their dark side, unsympathetic ones developed admirable qualities -- the boring stereotypes evolved into complex and fascinating people.

And this is the triumph of "Juno". The film matured along with the title character. The slick superficiality of the early scenes, upon which so many critics fixated, reflected the shallow adolescent perceptions of Ellen Page's character at that point in the film and the gradual emergence of complex adult personalities in the supporting characters reflects her growing understanding of adulthood with all its complexities and contradictions. There is far more to "Juno" than snappy dialogue and a provocative political stance. It's not the best film of the year, but it is far better than most critical reviewers realized. It fully deserves a nomination if not the Oscar.

We also saw "Cloverfield". Here the critical reviews are spot on. It is nothing more than the Blair Witch meets Godzilla. The characters are shallow but pretty, the acting mediocre, the narrative primitive, the FX silly, and the queasy-cam technique..., well..., quease inducing. All that being said, it is an exciting, kinetic, immersive film experience. In part this is the triumph of the run and gun camera technique which imparts high energy to a film while covering up a wide range of weaknesses, but I would also note the excellent sound engineering on display in "Cloverfield." The diegetic sound is brilliant, adding depth and resonance to confusing images. It, more than our visual senses, tells us what is happening. I should note, though, that the non-diegetic sound track (the songs playing in the background) are atrocious, especially the horrid percussive score that plays behind the closing credits.

This is a film to be seen in theaters. It is an exercise in total immersion that will not translate well to the small screen. It's not a good film, but it is worth trundling down to the cineplex to see. Check it out.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

More Global Warming Nonsense

Those wacky climate scientists, they just keep topping themselves!

Remember Al Gore? He assured us that the scientific "consensus" was that global warming was increasing the size and frequency of hurricanes. He blamed Bush, of course, for Katrina, saying that failure to ratify the Kyoto accords was the reason that New Orleans was devastated. "Scientists" backed him up.

But then a funny thing happened. The hurricanes stopped coming. With each succeeding year there were fewer major storms.

Of course, the climate "scientists" didn't miss a beat. Now they tell us that global warming prevents hurricanes.

Following in the footsteps of an earlier study, government scientists on Tuesday said warmer oceans should translate to fewer Atlantic hurricanes striking the United States.

The reason: As sea surface temperatures warm globally, sustained vertical wind shear increases. Wind shear makes it difficult for storms to form and grow.

"Using data extending back to the middle 19th century, we found a gentle decrease in the trend of U.S. landfalling hurricanes when the global ocean is warmed up," Chunzai Wang, a physical oceanographer and climate scientist with NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory in Miami, said in a prepared statement.
Riiiiiiiiight!

Read it here.

Why should we pay any attention to these guys? I'll tell you why! Because well-intentioned fools like Sen. McCain believe what they say and have endorsed Al Gore's hysterical claptrap. One more very, very good reason to oppose McCain's candidacy.

The Second Bank


Recently "She Who Must Not Be Named" and I spent a couple of days in Philadelphia's historical district. The room where we stayed was right across the street from this building. Looking out the window I was reminded that back in 1842 Charles Dickens had enjoyed the same view I did. He recorded his impressions in his American Notes:

Looking out of my chamber-window, before going to bed, I saw, on the opposite side of the way, a handsome building of white marble, which had a mournful ghost-like aspect, dreary to behold. I attributed this to the sombre influence of the night, and on rising in the morning looked out again, expecting to see its steps and portico thronged with groups of people passing in and out. The door was still tight shut, however; the same cold cheerless air prevailed: and the building looked as if the marble statue of Don Guzman could alone have any business to transact within its gloomy walls. I hastened to inquire its name and purpose, and then my surprise vanished. It was the Tomb of many fortunes; the Great Catacomb of investment; the memorable United States Bank.

The stoppage of this bank, with all its ruinous consequences, had cast (as I was told on every side) a gloom on Philadelphia, under the depressing effect of which it yet laboured. It certainly did seem rather dull and out of spirits.

The collapse of the Second Bank of the United States, or "Biddle's Bank" as it was popularly known, was one of the great financial disasters to afflict the early republic. It was caused by the actions of President Andrew Jackson. Historians today still argue as to whether Jackson's "War On the Bank" was justified and what its effects were. As I gazed out on the building I was struck by the similarities between Jackson's justifications for destroying the Bank and the rhetoric issuing from some of today's presidential candidates.

For a left-wing, pro-Jackson treatment of the Bank controversy see Sean Wilentz' The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (2005).

For a more moderate and balanced view that is critical of Jackson check out Dan Howe's What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (2007).


Global Warming Update

Global warming crisis mongers like to point to Greenland and Antarctica as places where warming is clearly demonstrable. The ice packs are melting, they say, and that is proof of warming. That kind of evidence seems to be what convinced Sen. McCain to jump on the loony tunes express, at least he makes frequent reference to having seen ice sheet melting in person.

Well, interesting new information has been coming to light suggesting that geothermal processes are at least partially responsible for the dramatic melting Sen. McCain saw.

First there is this from 1997:

Researchers on a cruise have confirmed that a hot mud volcano on the sea floor between Greenland and Norway is oozing mud, seeping gas and spewing a gas-laden plume of warm water into the North Atlantic. Frozen methane hydrate caps the volcano, whose slopes are inhabited by a new species of tube worm most closely related to a group found in Antarctica.
Read it here.

Not important in itself except to show that geothermal action is taking place in the region. Now consider this:

Scientists have discovered what they think may be another reason why Greenland 's ice is melting: a thin spot in Earth's crust is enabling underground magma to heat the ice.
They have found at least one “hotspot” in the northeast corner of Greenland -- just below a site where an ice stream was recently discovered.

The researchers don't yet know how warm the hotspot is. But if it is warm enough to melt the ice above it even a little, it could be lubricating the base of the ice sheet and enabling the ice to slide more rapidly out to sea.
Read it here.

And this:

Another factor might be contributing to the thinning of some of the Antarctica's glaciers: volcanoes.

In an article published Sunday on the Web site of the journal Nature Geoscience, Hugh Corr and David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey report the identification of a layer of volcanic ash and glass shards frozen within an ice sheet in western Antarctica.

"This is the first time we have seen a volcano beneath the ice sheet punch a hole through the ice sheet" in Antarctica, Vaughan said.

Read it here.

Aha! Yet another potentially huge factor that the climate researchers neglected to include in those computer models on which the climate change hysteria has been based. Maybe those projections are not as accurate as they thought.

Back to the drawing boards?

We can hope.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Competitive Victimization

The big news today is Obama's criticism of Bill Clinton. All over the airways pundits are twittering away about the clash of the Democrat icons, wondering if it is good for Obama, whether Hill can control Bill, etc.

Well, here's what it is all about.

Ever since Obama began to close in on her Hillary has been using Bill as a hit man. This has been a great advantage to her. She can get all the dirty work done while remaining above it all. At first Obama was stymied. When he tried to hit back at the Clinton lies he came off as a man attacking a woman and Hillary morphed into victim mode. Sympathies of feminists in newsrooms across the country swung into line behind their gal Hill and Obama took a double hit in the coverage. But then he found a way out of the trap.

He started to specifically attack Bill and ignore Hill. This changed the victimization calculus. The conflict was no longer along the man/woman axis; now it was racial, a black man standing up to a white bully [on the eve of MLK day too]. Suddenly the coverage changed. The stories were all about out of control Bill and sympathies shifted back to Obama. And there was a second advantage in this. Focusing on Bill began to make Hill look weak.

This is by no means the end of the story. The Clintons will be back on attack soon -- it's the only place they really feel comfortable. What form the attack will take we don't know, but for now Barak has outmaneuvered them.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Schwartz Disses Greenspan

Anna Schwartz, one of the most important economic thinkers of the Twentieth Century, explains the current credit crunch and lays the blame squarely at Alan Greenspan's feet. She also takes a swipe at current Fed Head Bernanke, arguing that his response to the developing crisis has been dilatory and inadequate.
According to Schwartz the original sin of the Bernanke-Greenspan Fed was to hold rates at 1 per cent from 2003 to June 2004, long after the dotcom bubble was over. "It is clear that monetary policy was too accommodative. Rates of 1 per cent were bound to encourage all kinds of risky behaviour," says Schwartz.

She is scornful of Greenspan's campaign to clear his name by blaming the bubble on an Asian saving glut, which purportedly created stimulus beyond the control of the Fed by driving down global bond rates. "This attempt to exculpate himself is not convincing. The Fed failed to confront something that was evident. It can't be blamed on global events," she says.

That mistake is behind us now. The lesson of the 1930s is that swift action is needed once the credit system starts to implode: when banks hoard money, refusing to pass on funds. The Fed must tear up the rule-book. Yet it has been hesitant for three months, relying on lubricants - not shock therapy.

"Liquidity doesn't do anything in this situation. It cannot deal with the underlying fear that lots of firms are going bankrupt," she says. Her view is fast spreading. Goldman Sachs issued a full-recession alert on Wednesday, predicting rates of 2.5 per cent by the third quarter. "Ben Bernanke should be making stronger statements and then backing them up with decisive easing," says Jan Hatzius, the bank's US economist.

Bernanke did indeed switch tack on Thursday. "We stand ready to take substantive additional action as needed," he says, warning of a "fragile situation". It follows a surge in December unemployment from 4.7 per cent to 5 per cent, the sharpest spike in a quarter century. Inflation fears are subsiding fast.

Read it here.

Anna is a super-heavyweight; she literally wrote the book on monetary policy. If she says Alan Greenspan screwed up, I believe her.

Stating the Obvious

Democrats like to throw the term "liar" around whether deserved or not. There is a reason for this. Ever since the emergence of the Clinton's, the people at the top of their party have displayed a conspicuous disregard, even a deep contempt for the truth. To put it bluntly -- the Clintons and their cohorts are habitual liars. Since the Clintons are incorrigible liars, and their blatant dishonesty has broadly infected the party leadership, Democrats have to somehow counteract the perception that they cannot be trusted on anything. Their solution? Lie, of course!

The great lie is to repeatedly charge your opponents with being liars, thus creating a perception of moral equivalence. Hence the ubiquitous, and unfair, assertions that "Bush Lied!!!!" The MSM helps out by mindlessly treating any inconsistency, no matter how trivial or explicable, as evidence of deep dishonesty. Witness the recent contretemps between Mitt Romney and a hypercritical reporter over the question of whether lobbyists "ran" his campaign. [here] One could not ask for a better example of unbridled and distorting cynicism on the part of the MSM.

Of course, moral equivalence is not enough, Democrats want to be able to claim moral superiority. This, however, requires maintaining a code of silence with regard to the incessant prevarications being issued by their leaders. By ignoring the beam in their own eye, and focusing relentlessly on Republican motes, Democrats have been able to create the perception in many people that they, not the Republicans, are the party of rectitude.

Until now, that is. In the current contest for the nomination the wall of silence has been broached. In some cases the insincerity and dishonesty of the Clintons has been so blatant that it could not be ignored. in other cases the Clintons themselves have inadvertently exposed the dark underside of Democrat dirty tricks, as when Bill claimed that union thugs in Las Vegas were trying to fix last week's primary. What next? Charges of ballot stuffing?

Today another crack appeared in the Democrats' wall of silence. Drudge reports that in an interview with Robin Roberts, Barak Obama stated
Bill [Clinton] has taken his advocacy on behalf of his wife to a level that I think is pretty troubling. He continues to make statements that are not supported by the facts. Whether it's about my record of opposition to the war in Iraq or our approach to organizing in Las Vegas. This has become a habit and one of the things that we're gonnna have to do is to directly confront Bill Clinton when he's making statements that are not factually accurate'
So, at last a prominent Democrat has admitted that Bill Clinton is a serial liar. Amazing! What other revelations might be in the offing?

This is a serious problem. The Clintons with their "anything to win" approach to politics have degraded our political culture and bred widespread cynicism in the public. This is not healthy. The sooner they and their merry band of prevaricators leave the national scene, the better.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Anchoress notes a story that hasn't been told in the MSM. The Bush twins attracted plenty of attention when they were acting like irresponsible college students, but what has happened since then?
Jenna Bush is now a mild-mannered non-meat-eating teacher in the Washington DC public schools. That means she’s working in less-than-prime conditions with kids who are at tremendous disadvantage (the unrepresented people of DC have no one pandering to them, so they get short shrift). Her sister Barbara spent 9 months working at an African AIDS hospital, and lives discreetly. Jenna has written a book about a mother with AIDS, and now she is visiting UNICEF projects, and apparently she flying commercial when she does it.

This is good, admirable stuff, but the reportage is almost nil.

Read it here.

I have been enormously impressed by the Bush family's decision to have Jenna's wedding in Texas, rather than in the White House. The Bush's are classy people, something I cannot say for their critics.


Minor Characters

In most films minor characters exist only to serve as foils for the stars. Nobody cares about the people blown away by an action hero, the victims of Borat's sadistic humor, the unsympathetic stock characters who interact with the hero only to show us how cool the star is, etc.

Recently, however, some film-makers have begun to take a different approach to "fringe characters." Craig, the "man from Porlock" [I thought Coleridge's original reference was to a "person" from Porlock] takes notice of this trend and has some interesting things to say about it. He makes the argument that you can gauge the humanity of the film-makers by noting the way fringe characters are treated.

Read his little essay here.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Voting For the Worst

In 2004 a website titled "Vote For the Worst" was founded.

At the time the Fox TV talent competition, "American Idol", was an immensely successful show. That is because its producers were providing the viewing public with something they enjoyed. "Vote For the Worst" was a typical adolescent response to prominent success -- supercilious disparagement and subversion.

The website urged people across the nation to call in to the show and cast votes for the worst performers in the contest. The object was to ridicule and invalidate the show's procedures, which the website's founders perceived to be inauthentic and unfair.

Why do we do it? During the initial auditions, the producers only let a fraction of the people who audition advance. Many good people are turned away and many bad singers are kept around to see Simon, Paula, and Randy so that the audience will be entertained.

Now why do the producers do this? It's simple: a show like American Idol is not about singing at all, it's about making good reality TV and enjoying a guilty pleasure. At Vote for the Worst, we get that. The producers purposely cast the show with contestants who they know will never become the next big singing sensation. We think that these contestants are more entertaining than the producer favorites, and we want to acknowledge this fact by encouraging people to help vote for the amusing antagonists that annoy the judges.
There you have it folks. Adolescent contempt for authority, professionalism and competence, a perverse will to destroy simply for the "fun" of it, and smug disparagement of the judgment of the viewing audience -- people too dumb, in the pranksters' opinion, to understand the "suckiness" of the show they enjoy.

Of course there is nothing new in this. Anyone who lived through the "Sixties" or who has endured what is laughingly called a "liberal arts education" is familiar with all this nonsense. Subversion has become a major cultural imperative in post-modern America. Taking things seriously just isn't "cool".

And that would seem to apply to the nation's electoral process too. How else are we to explain the fact that right now voters in both major political parties seem determined to promote the least able and least qualified candidates?

Consider the Democrats, who simply ignored people who actually had some serious credentials -- Gov. Richardson and Sens. Dodd and Biden -- to focus on spectacularly unqualified people like the former First Lady, that well-spoken young man from Illinois about whom nobody knows very much, and that smooth-talking lawyer from one of the Carolinas. Taken together these three Democrat stars have approximately three mediocre terms of Senate experience to their credit. And the current popular choice, Sen. Obama, has the least of the bunch.

And the Republicans aren't much better. Extremely well-qualified candidates like Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani are languishing in the polls while all the enthusiasm focuses on the loose-lipped second man from Hope, the "Maverick" senator from the southwest, and a TV actor/former Senator.

In both parties successful candidates are running as "outsiders", declaring the "system" to be "broken", and promising to bring about radical but undefined "change". Most disturbing, major candidates in both parties are subtly urging voters to choose them, not on the basis of their qualifications, but on the basis of their membership in some, purportedly aggrieved group.

This, I would argue, is spectacularly unserious adolescent subversiveness, analogous to TV's "Vote for the Worst Campaign". In each election many people, mostly young voters and independents, but this year including a disturbingly large number of adults, eagerly cast their votes, not to choose a qualified and able leader, but to make a "statement". And the statement is always the same, "things suck".

Statement voting is little more than a childish tantrum informed by utter contempt for the mechanisms of the democratic process. And, like the founders of "Vote For the Worst", statement voters dress up their silliness with high sounding pronouncements about the inauthenticity of the system, the suckiness of the candidates, and the need to stand up against the powers that be. And they mask the tawdriness and self-indulgence of their position with the inane observation that the objects of their scorn fall short of perfection.

In the case of a popular TV show such perverse nonsense is of little consequence. In a national election to choose a figure who will be invested with sufficient power to have enormous impact on the lives of people around the globe it is a prescription for disaster.

Grow up!

Recession?

Brad DeLong asks, "Are We In a Recession?" So far the answer seems to be, "Nobody knows!"

Check out his post here.

Racing Against the Mullahs


Meet Laleh Seddigh, Iranian race car driver. Der Spiegel explains why she is important.

She is a pioneer in Iran, the first female athlete to have competed against a man in the 25 years since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini established the theocracy. It was in 2004, during a long-distance race in Tehran. "I broke a taboo. I'm proud of it. Why should Iranian women be weak? I don't know," she says in fluent English. "Our Prophet Mohammed never claimed that women should be locked up at home and doomed to watch the children while the man enjoys himself outside. On the contrary: He wanted men to encourage their wives and daughters to develop their personalities to the fullest. To be a successful country, we need strong women."

A wrong sentence can mean prison or a whipping in Iran, and yet Seddigh is not afraid to speak her mind. She is clearly fond of pushing the envelope.

Read the whole thing here.

We Won't Be Back Till It's Over Over There

The administration has announced plans for a gradual reduction of forces in Iraq.

AP reports:

WASHINGTON — As security conditions improve in Iraq, the U.S. should be able to reduce forces at a slow but consistent pace beyond this summer, but air support and ground troops likely will be needed for five to 10 years, a top military commander said Thursday.

Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the No. 2 commander in Iraq, also said he believes Iraqi forces will be able to take over security in their country much quicker than they have suggested.

"What we don't want to do is suddenly pull out a whole bunch of U.S. forces and suddenly turn things over to ... the Iraqi security forces," said Odierno, who will finish his tour in Iraq next month and return to Fort Hood, Texas.

"I would like to see it done very slowly over time. And I think if we do that, we'll find ourselves being more successful and we'll be able to have a consistent reduction of our forces over time."

Read the whole thing here.

Don Surber notes that there won't be any victory parades and writes:

The sad thing is, few people in the United States care anymore.

We sent the troops in with 80%-plus approval of the war. Then things didn’t go perfect. People abandoned the war and the troops.

Pretty sad showing for the American people.

Read him here.

The Divine Barometer

Victor Davis Hanson notes a regrettable tendency on the right:

[I]n ahistorical fashion, Reagan has become a sort of divine barometer that is unfair both to Reagan the man and the candidates themselves.

So there is a sort of Orwellian group-think going on where a candidate starts in on a ranting exaggerated indictment such as-" [my opponent] has raised taxes, shown himself to be naive on foreign policy, appointed less than genuine conservative judges, and supported the biggest amnesty bill in history-and what we need to do is to go back and follow Ronald Reagan."

Contrast this with the relative silence about the remarkable, indeed historic ongoing turn-around in Iraq, and the brilliant Sherman-like role of David Petraeus, and the credit due George Bush for finding the right general and not bailing on Iraq when in many in his party were suggesting just that.
Read it here.

It is unfortunate that the imperatives of political discourse in this day and age have created a situation in which a realistic assessment of the achievements of the current administration is impossible. One thing is certain -- Dubya has been the most consequential president since FDR [yes, even more than Reagan] and the full extent of his contribution will not be appreciated for many years to come.


Racism and Sexism in National Politics

Christopher Hitchens has some pithy things to say about the practitioners of identity politics -- "people who think with their epidermis or their genitalia or their clan...."

Contemplating Hillary's horridness he writes:

Those of us who follow politics seriously rather than view it as a game show do not look at Hillary Clinton and simply think "first woman president." We think -- for example -- "first ex-co-president" or "first wife of a disbarred lawyer and impeached former incumbent" or "first person to use her daughter as photo-op protection during her husband's perjury rap."

Ooooh, delicious!

But there is a serious point to make:
[S]he is a known quantity who has already been in the White House purely as the result of a relationship with a man, and not at all a quixotic outsider who represents the aspirations of an "out" group, let alone a whole sex or gender.
And regarding that well-spoken young man who has the impertinence to challenge her horridness for the Democratic nomination he writes.

[T]he problem is that Sen. Obama wants us to transcend something at the same time he implicitly asks us to give that same something as a reason to vote for him. I must say that the lyricism with which he does this has double and triple the charm of Mrs. Clinton's heavily-scripted trudge through the landscape, but the irony is still the same.

What are we trying to "get over" here? We are trying to get over the hideous legacy of slavery and segregation. But Mr. Obama is not a part of this legacy. His father was a citizen of Kenya, an independent African country, and his mother was a "white" American. He is as distant from the real "plantation" as I am. How -- unless one thinks obsessively about color while affecting not to do so -- does this make him "black"?

Good question -- one that several older Black spokesmen have raised -- but to the naifs of all ages who hear only Barak's lyrical vagaries it is completely beside the point. They want to be part of an historical moment and nothing else matters.

And that is what Hitchens rails against -- the insane idea that nothing matters but a person's gender or the color of his skin. Martin Luther King warned against such essentialist thought and today we should remember his words. Hitchens concludes:
I shall not vote for Sen. Obama and it will not be because he -- like me and like all of us -- carries African genes. And I shall not be voting for Mrs. Clinton, who has the gall to inform me after a career of overweening entitlement that there is "a double standard" at work for women in politics; and I assure you now that this decision of mine has only to do with the content of her character.
Read the whole thing here.

Hitchens identifies precisely what makes this election important. Neither Hillary nor Obama has ever accomplished anything of significance on their own. They are simply representatives of aggrieved groups and their claims to the presidency are based on little more than their physical attributes. By contrast the Republicans boast a wealth of experienced and accomplished candidates -- but they are all white men. And that is the great test our nation faces in the coming year. Will competence and achievement be deemed sufficient credentials for high office, or will they be trumped by gender and race? Are Americans mature enough to put the insanity of identity politics behind us?

We shall see.

It lives..., it LIVES!!!!!!


For you Lovecraft fans out there.

Fed up with the endless squabbling and bickering among the candidates? Frustrated with the messiness and inefficiency of democracy? Upset with the manifest flaws of our elected leaders? Well, here's a chance to vote for a candidate who stands on principle, who is utterly sincere in his beliefs, and who will act decisively.

You can bring unity and peace to mankind now.

Get out there and vote!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Vampira


Sad news: You may not have heard about it, I didn't, actress Maila Nurmi died last week. Half a century ago she was a horror film icon -- Vampira -- the original "Queen of Horror" upon whose character all those subsequent late night horror film hosts were modeled. She is probably most noted for her appearance in the worst movie ever -- Ed Wood's "Plan Nine from Outer Space".

Interesting piece of trivia: Her uncle, Paavo Nurmi, was one of the greatest athletes of all time.

Read about her here. AP story here.

Louisiana Gets Good Government

Bobby Jindal was sworn in today as Governor of Louisiana. Congratulations are in order and best wishes for his promise to clean up the open sewer of that State's political culture.

Read about it here.

Hitch on Hill

Christopher Hitchens passes judgment on Hillary Clinton and finds her..., let us say, lacking.

Indifferent to truth, willing to use police-state tactics and vulgar libels against inconvenient witnesses, hopeless on health care, and flippant and fast and loose with national security: The case against Hillary Clinton for president is open-and-shut. Of course, against all these considerations you might prefer the newly fashionable and more media-weighty notion that if you don't show her enough appreciation, and after all she's done for us, she may cry.
Read the whole thing here.

I agree heartily! I am not at all impressed by Obama, and think he would be a disaster as President. Moreover, I find myself more in agreement with Clinton than him on many issues. But, I am rooting for anyone who promises to rid our political culture of this horrid harridan and her contemptible spouse.

So, with regard to the Democrat primaries I am issuing a loud shout-out to my man, Barak. Go O!

By the way, there is absolutely no truth to the allegation that O'Bama is really Irish.

UPDATE:

Don Surber asks: "I am curious: Just what is Mrs. Clinton’s civil rights record?" [here]

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Continuing Collapse of Scientific Authority -- Bird Flu

Remember all those scare stories about a global bird flu pandemic in which millions would die? Of course you do! It was all over the news, pushed by top epidemiological authorities and international organizations.

Well..., never mind.

From the Seattle Times:

Fears of a flu pandemic originating from the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus were overblown, the head of the World Organization for Animal Health said Thursday.

The Paris-based body _ an intergovernmental organization responsible for improving animal health worldwide _ has been at the forefront of global efforts to monitor and fight H5N1, which scientists have tracked because they fear it may mutate into a human flu virus that starts a pandemic.

But "the risk was overestimated," said Bernard Vallat, director general of the animal health organization, also known as the OIE.

Vallat said the H5N1 virus has proved extremely stable, despite concerns that it could mutate into a form that could spread easily among humans.

"We have never seen such a stable strain," Vallat said.

He said concerns a few years ago that a flu pandemic from H5N1 might be imminent lacked scientific proof.

"It was just nonscientific supposition," he told reporters.

Oh, really? Then why did so many "scientists" issue warnings? Why did so many inter- governmental agencies push the story? You can't just blame this on excitable journalists. There is complicity among corrupt bureaucrats, ambitious scientists and naive journalists that drives these kinds of frauds. And they are becoming commonplace. And each time they occur scientific authority take yet another hit.

Read the story here.


A Deeply Unserious Election

Mark Steyn is in top form today, explaining why the "candidates of change" are actually candidates of stasis, and why John McCain and Huck are bad choices.

[T]he more capitalist your economy, the more dynamic it is. Every great success story is vulnerable to the next great success story — which is why teenagers aren’t picking their CDs from the Sears-Roebuck catalog. There’s a word for this. Now let me see. What was it again?

Oh, yeah: “change.” Innovation drives change, the market drives change. Government “change” just drives things away....

[I]t’s capitalism that’s the real “agent of change.” Politicians, on the whole, prefer stasis, at least on everything for which they already have responsibility. That’s the lesson King Canute was trying to teach his courtiers when he took them down to the beach and let the tide roll in: Government has its limits. In most of the Western world, the tide is rolling in on demographically and economically unsustainable entitlements, but that doesn’t stop politicians getting out their beach chairs and promising to create even more. That’s government “change.”

....

John McCain demonizes Big Pharma — i.e., the private pharmaceutical companies that create, develop, and manufacture the drugs that all these socialized health-care systems in every corner of the planet are utterly dependent on. He voted for Sarbanes-Oxley, a quintessential congressional overreaction (to Enron) that buries American companies in wasteful paperwork and hands huge advantages to stock exchanges in London, Hong Kong, and elsewhere.

But why stop there? McCain is also gung ho for all the most economically disruptive Big Government solutions to “climate change.” Apparently, that’s the only change these candidates aren’t in favor of. When it comes to the climate, McCain and Hillary are agents of nonchange. McCain has an almost Edwardsian contempt for capitalism, for the people whose wit and innovation generate the revenue that pay for your average small-state senator’s retinue of staffers worthy of a Persian Gulf emir.

As for Mike Huckabee, last seen comparing his success in Iowa to the miracle of the loaves and fishes (New Hampshire, alas, was loaves-and-fishes in reverse: he took his Iowa catch and turned it into one rotting fish head in Lake Winnipesaukee), in Thursday night’s debate he was attacked for raising taxes in Arkansas. “What I raised,” riposted the Huckster, “was hope.”

Terrific. In a Huckabee administration, nothing is certain but hope and taxes.
Read it here.

There is a perverse quality to this election season. As Michael Barone points out no candidate in either party has been able to win more than one contest to date. On the Republican side Romney, McCain, and Huckabee have each won one state. For the Democrats Hillary and Barak each have one. Still, a couple of patterns have emerged.

For the Democrats, experience and competence are meaningless. Of the candidates Richardson, Biden and Dodd clearly had the best credentials based on their experience, but all three are now out of the race, which now features two one term Senators and a newcomer on the national stage. This is not an election for serious people -- it runs on sizzle and style and substance is completely forgotten. It doesn't matter how absurd or vaporous the statements made by Hillary or Edwards or Obama, they resonate with a party that long ago left the real world to take up residence in Cloud Cuckoo Land.

The Republicans, too, have shown a marked tendency -- toward a rejection of conservatism. So far the two favored candidates have been Huckabee and McCain, both of whom have rejected just about everything that conservatives have stood for. Romney is also doing fairly well, but is not trusted by conservatives because of his liberal past. For most of the primary season Giuliani was the favorite in national polls. Conservatives lag far behind.

What seems to be afflicting both parties is the presence, so far, of large numbers of independents interfering with the selection process. It has been independents who have driven the campaign of that nice young man from Illinois who has been giving Hillary so much trouble, and it is independents who keep McCain afloat. Huck has his own special constituency, evangelicals, who have long had a troubled relationship with the Republican mainstream.

Such is the state of the political parties today that neither can win an election depending on its core constituencies, yet neither can attract independents without abandoning its fundamental principles. And unfortunately most independents, at least on current evidence, are deeply unserious people who view elections as simply a way to make a statement, rather than to choose qualified individuals to preside over the mechanisms of government. And if all you want to do is make a statement, then why not vote for the chick, or the black guy, or the preacher man, or the libertarian loon, or the UFO freak?

Faugh!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Capitalism's Critics

The Financial Times has a disturbing article on the ideological bias of European educational institutions.
In France and Germany, schools have helped ingrain a serious aversion to the market economy. In a 2005 poll, just 36 per cent of French citizens said they supported the free enterprise system. In Germany, support for socialist ideals is running at all-time highs: 47 per cent in 2007 versus 36 per cent in 1991. In both countries, attempts at economic reform have been routinely blocked by a consensus against policies considered “pro-market”.

....

German textbooks emphasise corporatist and collectivist traditions and the minutiae of employer-employee relations – a zero-sum world where one loses what the other gains. People who run companies are caricatured as idle, cigar-smoking plutocrats. They are linked to child labour, internet fraud, mobile phone addiction, alcoholism and redundancies. Germany’s rich entrepreneurial history is all but ignored.

....

It is no surprise that the continent’s schools teach through a left-of-centre lens. The surprise is the intensity of the anti-market bias. Students learn that companies destroy jobs, while government policy creates them. Globalisation is destructive, if not catastrophic. Business is a zero-sum game. If this is the belief system within which most students develop intellectually, is it any wonder French and German reformers are so easily shouted down?
Read the whole thing here.

Actually, the anti-capitalist bias is not unique to European education. It permeates most American higher education programs too.

The question arises, why do educators and intellectuals persist in promoting ideas and programs that have failed so conspicuously in the real world? Peter Saunders has some ideas.

[T]he devil has always had the best tunes to play. Capitalism lacks romantic appeal. It does not set the pulse racing in the way that opposing ideologies like socialism, fascism, or environmentalism can. It does not stir the blood, for it identifies no dragons to slay. It offers no grand vision for the future, for in an open market system the future is shaped not by the imposition of utopian blueprints, but by billions of individuals pursuing their own preferences. Capitalism can justifiably boast that it is excellent at delivering the goods, but this fails to impress....

It is quite the opposite with socialism. Where capitalism delivers but cannot inspire, socialism inspires despite never having delivered. Socialism’s history is littered with repeated failures and with human misery on a massive scale, yet it still attracts smiles rather than curses from people who never had to live under it....

Environmentalism, too, has the happy knack of inspiring the young and firing the imagination of idealists. This is because the radical green movement shares many features with old-style revolutionary socialism. Both are oppositional, defining themselves as alternatives to the existing capitalist system. Both are moralistic, seeking to purify humanity of its tawdry materialism and selfishness, and appealing to our ‘higher instincts.’ Both are apocalyptic, claiming to be able to read the future and warning, like Old Testament prophets, of looming catastrophe if we do not change our ways. And both are utopian, holding out the promise of redemption through a new social order based on a more enlightened humanity. All of this is irresistibly appealing to romantics.



Both socialism and environmentalism also share an unshakeable belief in their own infallibility, which further ramps up their attractiveness. Both dismiss their opponents as either ignorant (‘falsely conscious’) or in bad faith, and they are both reluctant to allow counter-arguments, evidence, or logic to deflect them from the urgent pursuit of their proffered solutions. Although they both ground their claims in ‘science,’ their appeal is as much emotional as rational, and both take themselves so seriously that they lose any sense of irony.

....

Boring capitalism cannot hope to compete with all this moral certainty, self-righteous anger, and sheer bloody excitement. Where is the adrenalin in getting up every day, earning a living, raising a family, creating a home, and saving for the future? Where is the moral crusade in buying and selling, borrowing and lending, producing and consuming? The Encyclop√¶dia Britannica describes ‘soul music’ as ‘characterised by intensity of feeling and earthiness.’ It is in this sense that capitalism is soulless, for although it fills people’s bellies, it struggles to engage their emotions.
It's a nice essay. Read the whole thing here.


Big news Out of Taiwan

Another story the MSM isn't interested in.

The WSJ reports:

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Taiwan's opposition Kuomintang won a decisive victory in legislative elections Saturday, raising expectations it can reclaim the presidency in March and improve ties with China.

The Kuomintang won 81 of the 113 seats, beating predictions from analysts that it would win about 75 seats and providing powerful momentum to Kuomintang presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou heading into the March 22 election.

Read it here (subscription required)

The significance of this is that the Kuomintang is likely to move strongly to repair ties to the mainland. The WSJ, being what it is, of course emphasizes that this will open the way to greater Taiwanese investment in China, but the political ramifications are far larger and the new policy is likely to reduce tensions throughout the region.