May 10, 2013
In congressional testimony in January Secretary Clinton rhetorically asked "What difference does it make?", referring to whether the administration had initially attributed the Benghazi attack to terrorism or to the Muslim street's reaction to a virulently anti-Islam video. It's a strong rhetorical question that should be thrown back at her. What difference does it make whether a rescue of Americans in Benghazi was ever attempted? In retrospect, given the events that we are presently aware of (and what we are aware of may yet change), the administration argues that any rescue attempt would have been too late to arrive and that therefore they made the correct decision about not sending an emergency team. But that sneakily misses the point. Although in retrospect we may "know" that a rescue attempt would have been too late, at that moment in time no such knowledge was available. The actual decision was binary: 'Will we try to rescue the Americans in Benghazi, or won't we?' We're now learning that not only was no attempt made but that an actual attempt was quashed by political higher ups. The always puzzling fact that no assets whatsoever were deployed thus needs further explanation. Although still circumstantial, this week's insider testimony suggests the Administration made a very political decision along the lines of 'we don't want terrorism distracting the public from the 2012 campaign so, all things considered, our Americans in Benghazi must die quietly.' If this can be proved it's game over for Mr. Obama.
Continue reading "What Difference Does It Make?"...
May 6, 2013
Making allowance for the possibility of an inept, politically addled, somewhat long in the tooth and not, shall we say, highly promoted career foreign service officer, nevertheless, what Greg Hicks is now finally getting around to making public seems potentially quite serious. If it is, in fact, true that the Pentagon called off a rescue mission to the Americans under siege in Benghazi then (1) someone really screwed up, and (2) Susan Rice's Sunday talking points do appear suspect, just as Republicans have been alleging all along. Further investigation should be relatively straightforward. If there's any danger from further facts becoming known it could only be to Mr. Obama's reputation and one has difficulty imagining anybody in Congress, Democrat or Republican, leaping to defend him. On the other hand, if there was a rapid response flameout then it behooves us to fix the process.
Continue reading "Unfinished Business re Benghazi"...
When she started out as prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Carla Del Ponte didn't do so well. Over time, however, she gradually rehabilitated herself — but that's another story. Suffice to say I believe she's become a reliable investigator. Currently, she's a UN commission member looking into reports of the use of Sarin gas in Syria. And she says that from what the commission has found it's the rebels using Sarin, not the government. Which makes perfect sense. The rebels have reason to leave traces of Sarin gas here and there in hopes of outside (e.g., US) intervention. One wonders, also, whether all the reports of Sarin use may have emboldened the Israelis to start blowing things up in Syria? Whatever, the Israelis really should stay out. They may not understand this but it's not in their interest to have a wider Middle East war. Maybe later. Not now. Probably never.
May 2, 2013
No rest here for the weary. But I'm very pleased at how much I'm getting done. Phase one of Spring Cleaning took care of the kitchen, breakfast room, dining room, living room, and TV/dog kennel space. Plus assorted closets and hallways. Deep cleaning. Whew! But it's not just cleaning, it's sorting for stuff to be thrown out, to be set aside for a yard sale, to be sent to the attic awaiting further decision, etc. Books to rearrange, books to store in the attic, books to give to the annual State Department book fair. Amazing how stuff accumulates. Phase two will be a direct assault on the aforementioned attic. It's a relatively large maze that hasn't been cleaned/cleared for a very long time. A dumpster rental will be required. Phase two, however, is somewhat contingent on what happens next week when I'm called to DC jury duty. If I'm chosen for a jury and the trial goes on for several days then I may have to put off the attic — either that or delay the podcast schedule by a short while. Planning being complicated.
Continue reading "Vacation Update"...
April 30, 2013
Maureen Dowd's April 20 NYT column, "No Bully in the Pulpit," castigated Mr. Obama for his weak leadership. Obama hyper-partisan Elizabeth Drew wasted no time responding in her April 28 blog at the New York Review of Books, "Obama and the Myth of Arm-Twisting." To paraphrase Drew, 'it's a waste of time to try leading Congress.' To paraphrase Dowd, 'the only way any President has ever accomplished anything of significance was by pushing it through Congress.' Drew, having written thirteen books on various political subjects, has the reputation of being a serious, respected thinker. Dowd is known mainly for being a satirical columnist. (Dowd, however, has won a Pulitzer while Drew has not.) So who's right, and why does it matter?
Continue reading "Cat Fight"...
April 20, 2013
Unsurprisingly, the administration's decision not to Mirandize Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (at least temporarily) has raised more than a few liberal hackles. Notably, and quite predictably, Glenn Greenwald has weighed in with a typical legalistic screed. Greenwald's outrage is worth noting as an example, and reference point, for what's wrong with a lot of liberal opinion: a confusion between ends and means.
Continue reading "Miranda Who?"...
April 19, 2013
Well, technically, one is still on the run but he'll be caught soon, dead or alive — hopefully alive so that he can talk. Looks like a couple of Chechens. Muslims, I suppose. Who'd have thought? There's a lot we need to find out, especially whether they came here purposefully to commit an act of terrorism. And brace yourselves for another round of good old-fashioned American xenophobia...
April 17, 2013
One of Sharon's daughters works for New York Road Runners, otherwise known as the New York Marathon. As it happens, she was in Boston on the 15th, to see how Boston runs its Marathon, and she was hanging around the finish line until about an hour before the bombs went off. Luckily, she left to get a train back to New York — but her knees are still a bit wobbly. Sharon, of course, refuses to imagine the possibility that her daughter could have been injured or killed. What kind of society do we live in, anyway?
My guess is that the perpetrator is a white, twenty-something military veteran, who served in Afghanistan within the last five years, who sustained combat injuries there, who now lives in the Boston area (or maybe Connecticut), and who is a Libertarian, Second Amendment "gun rights" fanatic. We'll see... Anyhow, I'm sure he'll be caught.
April 15, 2013
I'm now officially taking a break. I really need a rest, maybe a reset. Time for some woolgathering. More walks in the park (Casey likes the trails near the stables in Rock Creek). And spring cleaning! I'll be gone for at least six weeks, possibly a bit longer. When I've got the summer schedule set, even if it's preliminary, I'll post a notice here. Meanwhile I'm sure I'll blog a bit too. Keep the faith, enjoy the season!
March 27, 2013
After what the Germans have done to Cyprus — and make no mistake, it's the bloodthirsty German bullies with their Quisling under-thugs who perpetrated the deed — it's difficult to see how Cyprus might protect itself. I think Paul Krugman and Robert Kuttner are partly right: Cyprus should leave the Euro, but I would add a practical twist.
First, just take a look at what the Eurocrats have done: They say they will loan Cyprus €10 billion provided that the Cypriot government seizes billions in deposits from two private banks. Set aside the ethics of seizing deposits. How can Cyprus repay the loan? According to the CIA factbook Cyprus' estimated 2012 GDP, at the official Euro exchange rate, is 22.45 billion dollars. At 1.28 dollars to the Euro, €10 billion equals $12.8 billion, or 57% of GDP. In comparison, the U.S. GDP in 2012 was about $15.65 trillion; 57% of that is about $8.95 trillion; even for the U.S., the incurring of an unexpected, instantaneous debt of $8.95 trillion would pose severe difficulties regarding repayment.
Continue reading "Forking Cyprus"...
March 3, 2013
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is entirely correct: it is pretty damn difficult to get rid of racial entitlements. Too bad for him, though, that the real racial entitlements Americans should worry about are the exact opposite of what he meant. Whites — not blacks — enjoy racial entitlements, have enjoyed racial entitlements since the founding, and find the guarantee to being entitled forged irrevocably into the Constitution, albeit in passably neutral language. This problem is much, much worse than you might imagine. For an explanation, see Juan F. Perea, "Race and Constitutional Law Casebooks: Recognizing the Proslavery Constitution," Michigan Law Review [Vol. 110,1123 April 2012]. Ostensibly a book review, Perea's essay does an admirable job probing both the extent of our institutional racism and our deficiencies in recognizing it. Scalia, indeed, should be ashamed of himself... If not for his moral cowardice, for his public display of ignorance.
February 25, 2013
Kudos to Argo, and to Ben Affleck. It's a terrific movie and I'm delighted that it won Best Picture. For those who think it unfairly depicts Iranians, I simply refer you to the fact that in Iran the film is the biggest bootleg hit in years. Besides, the prefatory material in Argo regarding the CIA's role in deposing Mosaddegh, while containing some inaccuracies, is properly skeptical of U.S. policy. Some have criticized Argo for not giving enough credit to the several western governments who offered various kinds of aid in exfiltrating the six. In particular, some Canadians are bent out of shape, and there's grumbling from other quarters. Get over it! This is a film 'based on' true events, not a docudrama of true events. And while I realize that it's difficult these days to want to give the CIA credit for anything, in this case they deserve it, for getting six Americans home — without blowing anything up or killing anybody. Setting those and similar questions aside, Argo is a ripping good yarn.
Continue reading "Kudos to Argo!"...
February 15, 2013
It's not entirely clear why Mr. Obama is so enamored of drones. To give the benefit of the doubt where none is due it's possible he's convinced himself that they are effective in our struggle against people we don't happen to like at any given time. More cynically, he's noticed that drones are very popular among the public, from the great unwashed right through to liberal intellectuals, and so he's calculated that it will be politically easier for him to carry on an expensive war (for Washington, expense being a good thing) with drones than without them. A typical middle-brow Obama masquerade. Drones, nevertheless, pose huge problems — but not for the reasons people think.
Continue reading "The Forever Drone"...
February 9, 2013
When no other data is available economic historians look to records of human height as a proxy for economic wealth, since with more wealth people eat better and with better nutrition people grow taller. This research method makes sense and it works. With that in mind I'd suspected Casey might grow to be slightly larger than his dad, Sam, since from the beginning I've been feeding Casey ultra-premium dog food whereas the breeder where I got him just uses one of the higher quality commercial grades. With all the dogs she has, the cost of ultra-premium probably would be prohibitive. Anyhow, Casey also gets a lot of fancy table scraps, like steak, whereas Sam — as near as I can tell — mainly lives in a kennel with other dogs. On the other hand, we'd wanted a black male and of the three black males in Casey's litter he was the smallest. I picked him because, at six weeks, he was the most responsive to me. The largest of the pups just ignored us and slept. The middle sized one was an alpha male who kept trying to push the other two around. Only Casey listened to me and followed me back and forth around the pen enclosure they were in. When we picked him up at eight weeks we didn't see the other two — one of them, indeed, had already been flown out to a buyer in Montana — so I don't know whether their size differences had begun to even out, but I doubt it, because Casey was really the runt.
Continue reading "In Praise of Casey Dog"...
For as long as anyone can remember, whenever liberals try to regulate guns conservatives whinge that the government secretly wants to confiscate them. Invariably, liberals respond by bending over backward to show that they respect an American constitutional right to own guns and then, just as surely as day follows night, somewhere between that right and reasonable regulation no major solutions get enacted. Gun deaths — and gun massacres — continue unabated. Liberals point fingers, grouse about interest group politics, and worry whether they have yet to present enough sufficiently strong arguments to make their case but, paradoxically, at the same time liberals shy away from identifying the crux of the problem. Conservatives, however, correctly understand what's at stake: the choice is, in fact, about whether to confiscate guns because — conservatives realize this intuitively — the only way to control American gun culture is to stamp it out.
Continue reading "On Demythologizing Guns"...
January 14, 2013
It's not unusual for me to disagree or think of some correction to Paul Krugman's analysis but the guy has a Nobel Prize in Economics and I don't so I tend to keep my mouth shut. When he misses a key fact, though, I think it's worth noting as a sort of reminder that it's always dangerous to apply generalizations to specific contexts one doesn't know much about. Easier said, though, than done.
In his column today Krugman praises Japan for cranking up government spending, contrasting that spending with recent Japanese history and, of course, with the austerity-philia of western governments across the board. In a throw-away line he ascribes current Japanese policy to tofu barrel spending or some such, as if the Japanese couldn't possibly know what they're doing. Perhaps, however, this is unfair. There is a very good example in Japan's less recent economic past that tracks with today's shift and may help explain it in more purposeful terms. Indeed, I'm sufficiently interested in this question that I may contact the press office of the Japanese Embassy, identify myself as a "blogger", and ask whether they can confirm my supposition.
Continue reading "A Note Re Krugman"...
January 11, 2013
A long, long time ago, in a cave in a hilly area in what's today called South Africa, on a frozen night, a small group of cavemen were huddled together trying to stay warm. Late that night a big storm swept over the cave, hammering it with lightning. Near the entrance to the cave lightning struck a giant, dried out tree trunk, setting it ablaze. The cavemen were very scared but one of the braver ones, named Ugh, ran out to look. The flames excited him and they didn't look at all dangerous. So Ugh grabbed a burning branch and ran back inside to show the others. One of them, named Ba, got too close and burned his fingers but the rest of them quickly figured out how close they could get without getting too close and they all gathered around to watch the flames. As they sat there they also figured out something else: the flames were warm!
Continue reading "A Trillion Dollar Coin"...
April 12, 2013
It would be stupid for China and Japan to again go to war. Stupid, but not impossible. Both claim a small set of islets in the East China Sea — about seven square kilometers of rock — called the Diaoyu by China and the Senkaku by Japan. Recently Japan, which has possession, fiddled with the islets' unresolved status, thereby angering China. While China wants to negotiate Japan innocently says that there is no dispute and nothing to talk about. Absent any diplomatic partner China is aggressively deploying military assets in local waters. Worse, both Tokyo and Washington (notwithstanding Washington's simultaneous, quite contradictory claim that the U.S. is neutral), say the "Senkaku" are covered by a US-Japan security treaty. That puts the U.S. on the hook if there were a military clash. Last October Secretary Clinton's State Department was sufficiently anxious about the possibilities that it sent a high level group to the region to bring order. With no luck. To get a sense of the stakes involved I turned to a British expert, Rod Wye, a 37 year veteran of government service who in his last assignment was head of the Asia Research Group in the Foreign Office, roughly analogous to the top Asia person in State's INR. An extremely judicious, seasoned professional. Total runtime forty two minutes. Lēx tāliōnis.
April 5, 2013
'The internet is anti-democratic.' 'The computer never should have been invented.' 'The solution is for government to subsidize the news.' No, wait, that's all wrong... The fact is, if you want to learn something about the convergence of the media, the internet, and democracy, you should forget the ivory tower and look to a journalist for working insights. Rory O'Connor is an award winning journalist, author and filmmaker who has thought a lot about the meaning of our relatively new, rapidly evolving internet revolution. He believes the internet disrupts old political practices and makes new democratic ones possible. I'm certain he's right (although I still have some trouble imagining all the details). Thanks, Rory! What a nice guy. Total runtime fifty two minutes. Fēlīx quī potuit rērum cognōscere causās.
March 29, 2013
Cyprus really didn't have a choice about acceding to the Troika's demands: the costs of a precipitous, unplanned flight from the Eurozone were too great. Now, having signed up for indefinite indentured servitude, the Cypriots should take advantage of a small amount of breathing room to plan for an orderly exit. If they don't their future is guaranteed to be miserable for as far as the eye can see. As for the Germans, they seem to have forgotten that after World War II they were the beneficiaries of substantial debt forgiveness. Next time they may not be so lucky... Total runtime thirty one minutes. Inest clēmentia fortī.
March 22, 2013
Nobody has been more correct about Iran than Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett. Their latest, Going To Tehran (Metropolitan Books, 2013), lays out the logic of successful U.S. engagement. Also the perils of failure. I may be slightly more neutral than the Leveretts as I think that absent a diplomatic breakthrough Iran could out-wait the U.S., thus avoiding a military confrontation, but I may be wrong. In any case, it was a great pleasure to talk with Flynt and I only wish he could become Secretary of State. Total runtime forty eight minutes. Fās est et ab hoste docērī.
March 15, 2013
What we forget about our political history is perhaps a better indicator of who we are, or what we are, than what we remember. In some cases, moreover, forgetting can be catastrophic. The Congo, for example, cannot address its colonial past and consequently — though I admit this is arguable, being somewhat indirect — cannot function as a modern state. To discuss whether the Congo is, in fact, a state and to speculate about remedies for its ersatz sovereignty, I turned to Dr. Théodore Trefon, a real Congo expert, who was very kind to indulge my skeptical point of view. Total runtime fifty one minutes. Dē asinī umbrā disceptāre.
March 8, 2013
Delegates from the Northern and Southern States didn't do any simple deal over slavery in order to devise a Constitution. No: they consciously created a complex, interlocking system of iron-clad guarantees so that within the Union the institution of slavery would exist forever. These men truly intended for slavery to endure beyond the scope of their imaginations. Taking a giant step, they put both North and South on the wrong side of history. To be honest, as Dr. Paul Finkelman suggested recently in the New York Times, the deal wasn't worth having. The North, Dr. Finkelman says, could have been better off on its own. I agree but, be that as it may, there's no doubt the trauma of slavery always has been, and still is, inordinately difficult to overcome. And our trauma is especially troublesome when one wants an accurate assessment of slavery's noxious effects. Why, for instance, does Article Five make amending the Constitution such a quixotic enterprise? Astonishingly, only in the last few decades have historians begun to piece together the real — that is, slave-based — cornerstones of our system of government. We would, I believe, be wise to remain mindful of the Constitution's permanent deficiencies if we wish to heal ourselves. Total runtime forty two minutes. Tantaene animīs caelestibus īrae?
March 1, 2013
Every American has a basic human right to live without the threat of gun violence. And that right exists prior to all the legal or political barriers that get thrown at sane gun control measures. Paradoxically, perhaps, if the gun culture wants to deny us our human right to live in safety their only chance is by working with undemocratic methods. But strong-arm politics is losing its hold on the modern world. To talk about America's problem with guns I turned to the German-American sociologist Dr. Joachim Savelsberg, not a gun expert, per se, but a thoughtful observer of the American condition. Total runtime thirty eight minutes. Cēdant arma togae.
February 22, 2013
High School civics does not provide a sufficient basis for understanding the Constitution. "Exhibit A" being the Second Amendment. Whereas modern American myth treats the Second Amendment as if it were written to guarantee the right of freedom loving men to defend their homes and sacred honor, in reality it was meant to guarantee slave-holders their use of "slave patrols," e.g., the "militia," to keep down those debased by servitude so as to be divested of two fifths of their humanity. Carl T. Bogus explores the contradiction in a must-read, seminal article, "The Hidden History of the Second Amendment" (U.C. Davis Law Review, 1998), which, like so much else to do with convergences between slavery and the founding, has not gotten quite the attention it deserves. Here, Carl graciously revisited his article with me in light of our current debates over gun control. Total runtime thirty two minutes. Ālea iacta est.
February 15, 2013
It's not that Brigitte Bardot brings life to the meaning of the word pulchritude, although of course she does, it's that somehow she forces us to cherish our ignorance of her. A truly rare (and great) gift. And if in the superposition of a spacetime vortex she fundamentally altered the history of the civilized world... well, probably that's best left unproved. To consider Le Phénomène Bardot I turned to British academic and author Andy Martin. Many thanks, Andy! Total runtime one hour and one minute. Amāre et sapēre vix deō concēditur. ♥
February 8, 2013
From the earliest times diplomacy has been a balance between honest interlocution and soothing ephemera. The art, some say, of allowing another person to have things your way. And always — always — with an iron requirement for accurate factual appraisal. Ambassador Dan Simpson is one of the few who have transferred that skill set to the art of editorial writing and of being a columnist, for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Here, we talk about the Congo, about gun control in America, about our feckless political leaders, and a few other subjects. Total runtime forty eight minutes. Dabit deus hīs quoque fīnem.
February 1, 2013
The Europeans required over a thousand years to come up with the European Union (and the EU still doesn't work right). The Congo, approximately the same size as Europe, has never had any history of legitimate, national self-governance. When Europeans started exploring the region in the late 1800s they found countless tribes of naked, cannibalistic savages: No wonder European consciences remained unperturbed when they claimed that land for their own. But the lines drawn on a map by King Leopold of Belgium no more represent a coherent political entity today than then. So what's the right thing to do with, for, or to the Congo? Should it be accorded consideration as if it were a real country, or what? I ask because I don't know the answer. And I'm pretty sure most people don't even think this is an important question, but they're mistaken. To get one perspective from a well informed practitioner I turned to former UN Under Secretary General Alan Doss, who from 2007 to 2010 headed MONUC (now called MONUSCO), the UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo. It was very kind of Alan to talk with me and whatever errors of interpretation I may make in understanding his remarks are my fault alone. Total runtime forty three minutes. Quālis rēx, tālis grex.
January 25, 2013
Secure in the ignorance of our traditions we treat war as if it were a game, as if we should try to win when we play. Oorah! But if we think like a human being war assumes a great deal more complexity, indeed, a necessary ambiguity. Dr. David Keen challenges conventional wisdom in a great book, Useful Enemies: When Waging Wars Is More Important Than Winning Them (Yale University Press, 2012). Unless and until we recognize the realities that David describes we'll continue to be our own worst enemy. Total runtime forty two minutes. Audē Sapēre.