Archive for April, 2013

Obama confronts a bleak second term

April 30, 2013

Barack Obama ran a carefully orchestrated 2012 re-election campaign. For any one who bothered to read or to listen carefully, however, Obama had remarkably little to say on what he would do during his second term, should he be re-elected.

So it comes as no surprise to discover that Obama has only one policy initiative – immigration reform – that stands even a remote chance of passing into law, unless the House of Representatives falls into Democratic Party hands in November 2014. The optimism about immigration reform stems not from any leadership from Obama, but from concern within the Republican Party about losing Hispanic voters, many of whom should find a natural position within the GOP.

After winning a marginal tax rate increase on individuals earning in excess of $400,000 per annum, Obama’s economic policies are in disarray. The sequester, that he had signed into law was allowed to take place, so far with minimal harm to the economy. His attempt to use his presidential powers to impose maximum harm on U.S.citizens – a strange presidential tactic do you not think – failed when a vote-conscious Congress moved to protect the flying public and Obama had to confirm their intervention. He has no chance whatsoever of imposing any additional taxes on Americans – rich or poor – unless he accepts major tax reforms designed to bring down rates while eliminating exemptions. And that he will not do.

His ineffectual attempt to tighten gun laws, even following the gift-horse of the Newtown massacre, has ended in ignominious defeat in no small part at the hands of Democratic members of the Senate. That policy will not be revived certainly prior to 2015.

His parody of a foreign policy is collapsing before his eyes as Bashar Al-Assad openly flaunts the use of chemical weapons jeering at Obama’s non-existent red-line. His shift of emphasis away from the Middle East to Asia is stymied as long as the Syrian civil war results in cataclysmic death rates and as al-Qaeda watches hopefully for chemical and biological weapons’ pickings from the disintegration of what once could be called a country.

Sadly for the United States, President Obama looks increasingly like a man in an empty suit, bereft of ideas, unwilling to take time out from fund-raising to do the heavy lifting of policy formation is a divided government. The President, in short, has decided to coast through his second term.

Bring on the clowns!

Hat Tip: Edward Luce, ‘All Obama’s manoeuvres lead back to impasse’, Financial Times, April 29, 2013

The closing of the Yale University mind

April 28, 2013

On Thursday April 25, 2013, Donald Kagan made his farewell address to Yale University. The 80-year old scholar of Ancient Greece provided a biting critique of American higher education in general and of Yale University in particular. He was too civilized to call his farewell address by its correct name: ‘The closing of the Yale University mind’, though his in-office comment prior to the address tells it all:

“You can’t have a fight because you don’t have two sides. The other side won.”

Universities, he proposed in his address, are failing students and hurting American democracy:

“On campus, I find a kind of cultural void, an ignorance of the past, a sense of rootlessness and aimlessness. Rare are faculty with atypical views. Still rarer is an informed understanding of the traditions and institutions of our Western civilization and of our country and an appreciation of their special qualities and values.”

Mr Kagan courted hostility many times during his stint at Yale University. In 1990, as Dean of Yale College, he argued for the centrality of the study of Western civilization in an ‘infamous’ address to incoming freshmen. A storm followed on a campus that was dominated by Marxist-Leninist and Maoist ideology. He was called a racist – or as the campus daily more politely editorialized – as a peddler of European cultural arrogance.

In April 1992, Mr. Kagan resigned the deanship, lobbing a bomb at the faculty that had bucked his administration. His plan to create a special Western Civilization course at Yale – funded with a $20 million gift from philanthropist and alumnus, Lee Bass – blew up three years later amidst a political backlash. ‘I still cry when I think about it’, says Mr. Kagan.

As he looks at his Yale colleagues today, he says: ‘You can’t find members of the faculty who have different opinions.’

The tussles over course offerings and campus speech at Yale speak to something much larger. Democracy, wrote Mr. Kagan in Pericles of Athens is one of the rarest, most delicate and fragile flowers in the jungle of human experience. It relies on free, autonomous and self-reliant citizens and extraordinary leadership to flourish, even survive. These kinds of citizens are not born – they need to be educated. the essence of liberty, which is at the root of a liberal education, is that meaningful freedom means that you have choices to make. If you don’t have that, it’s not only that you are deprived of knowing some of the things you might know. It’s that you are deprived of testing the things that you do know, or do think you know, or believe in, so that your knowledge is superficial.

Evidently, the mold from which Mr. Kagan emerged has now been crushed across the Yale University campus – and many many more across the United States. However, there remains a sliver of hope for the future. Mr. Kagan’s farewell address received a standing ovation from students and alumni in the packed auditorium. The faculty for the most part either boycotted his address or remained sullenly on their seats, resistant to the last to atypical ideas that challenge the hegemony of the closed Yale faculty mind. Let us hope that the current Yale faculty is a dying breed, to be eviscerated by the free-flowing ideas that pulse across the Internet and cannot so easily be shut down.

Hat Tip: Matthew Kaminski, ‘Democracy May Have Had Its Day’, The Wall Street Journal, April 27, 2013

Francois Hollande and the French economy both down the drain

April 27, 2013

Francois Hollande is down and out in Paris, his popularity rating as President having fallen faster and further than that of any other president since the Fifth Republic began in 1958.

The reason for his decline and fall is the progressive socialist agenda that he touted during the election campaign and that he has attempted clumsily to pursue since gaining office. The French economy has seized up in response to his anti-business rhetoric, unemployment now stands at 11 per cent, and the targeted reduction in the budget deficit to 3 per cent of gross domestic product by the end of 2013 has already been abandoned. That target will not be achieved during a progressive’s presidency.

The 75 percent top marginal income tax rate that he imposed immediately upon accessing the Elysee Palace succeeded in driving a number of top companies and a number of top celebrities into exile in other grateful European Union countries. The increased tax rate failed to generate any net revenue as tax avoidance and tax exile escalated in response to what is widely considered to be government theft.

In December 2012, France’s constitutional council provided Francois Hollande with a second chance when it ruled that the 75 per cent tax rate was unconstitutional and noted that no individual tax should exceed 66.6 per cent. Alas! progressives are not to be deterred by such rulings. Caught between political betrayal and folly, Mr. Hollande naturally chose folly.

On March 28, 2013, Hollande announced that the 75 per cent tax rate would still be imposed on incomes in excess of E1 million, but that they would be paid for by firms rather than their employees. Clearly this stupid man has no understanding of the nature of tax incidence, in particular of the conditions required for an income tax increase imposed on an employer not to be passed on in a salary reduction to an employee.

Why are progressives always so ignorant of basic economics? My former colleague Gordon Tullock explained the lacuna by noting that no good economist could ever be a progressive.

Syria violates Obama red-line, without observable Obama response

April 26, 2013

Weak individuals should never lay down red-lines that define harsh consequences for stronger men who cross such lines. Barack Obama – surely the weakest and most cowardly U.S. president in the history of the Republic – drew just such a red-line for Syria in August 2012, when he threatened U.S. military action against the Assad regime were it to deploy chemical or biological weapons against its own people.

U.S. intelligence agencies – belatedly responding to determinations by British, French and Israeli intelligence – now believe, from soil analysis, that the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons in the form of Sarin gas on March 9, 2013 in the town of Khan al-Asai on the outskirts of the northern city of Aleppo, and subsequently on at least three other occasions. Syrian rebels claim that the regime first used such a weapon in the central city of Homs in December 2012, and in the Damascus suburbs also in March 2013.

The Obama response to such evidence is typical of the response of any coward confronted by a bully willing to test his resolve. ‘The amounts used are small’, he weakly bleats. ‘The evidence is not 100 per cent’ he mumbles, crawling into his Pennsylvania Avenue funk hole. More courageous souls, who have actually served their country on the front line, offer a significantly different response:

“The president of the United States said that if Mr. Assad used chemical weapons, it would be a game changer – that is it would cross a red line – and it’s pretty obvious that red line has been crossed’ Mr. McCain said.

But then Senator McCain denied his Asian enemy captors any information for several long years in captivity, despite exposure to excruciating torture. How long do you think that Barack Obama would hold out in similar circumstances before spilling the beans?

President and Attorney General subvert FBI interrogation of Chechen terrorist

April 25, 2013

The Obama administration was provided with two alternative routes to grilling the Boston Marathon terrorist, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, without reading him his Miranda rights. The first route, rejected outright by Barack Obama and Eric Holder, was to treat the suspect as an enemy combatant and to interrogate him and try him by military tribunal. The second route was to rely on the public safety exception clause to allow the FBI to interrogate him for up to 48 hours prior to issuing a Miranda warning.

The FBI secured the hospital ward and began its interrogation of Tsarnaev with spectacular early results during the first 16 hours. No doubt panicking lest the FBI completely wrapped up the case, and identified a wider network of U.S. Islamic cells, Obama and Holder then authorized a federal magistrate to pierce the FBI shield and to issue the Miranda warning after only 16 hours of interrogation.

Not surprisingly, the suspect immediately clammed up, and the opportunity evaporated. Such a political intervention can be explained only in terms of extreme incompetence on the part of President and Attorney General or in terms of their covert desire to protect Islamic terrorist cells within the United States from exposure and eradication.

Take your pick!

Korean Roulette versus Tit-For-Tat

April 24, 2013

President Obama is playing Korean roulette with the Fat Fool of North Korea, Kim Jong Eun. It is a dangerous game, played by two neophites, each naive about the consequences for Asia if either party miscalculates the odds.

“Even by his own aggressive standards, North Korea’s actions over the past couple of weeks have been extraordinary. Kim Jong Un, the country’s dictator, has threatened the United States with nuclear Armageddon, promising to rain missiles on mainland America and military bases in Hawaii and Guam; declared a ‘state of war’ with South Korea; announced that he would restart a plutonium producing reactor at its Yongbyon nuclear site, while enriching uranium to build more nuclear weapons; and barred South Korean managers from entering the Kaesong industrial complex, almost the only instance of North-South co-operation” ‘Korean roulette’, The Economist, April 6, 2013

Obama is pussy-footing around these virulent threats, while his Secretary of State wastes time traveling the Far East carrying messages of appeasement of the kind that Neville Chamberlain floated at the 1938 Munich conference. The risks of appeasement are very high, should the Fat Fool miscalculate the odds of victory:

“even without nuclear missiles, conflict on the crowded Korean peninsula would be savage. Decrepit North Korea would certainly be outgunned by South Korea and America. But nobdy should doubt the cult-like commitment of the North’s armed forces. The human cost of war would be huge: 1.7 million men serve in uniform on the peninsula, and North Korean artillery batteries are trained on the megalopolis of Seoul. American generals guess that a conflict could kill at least 1 million, including thousands of Americans. Oh, and it would also be curtains for Asia’s thriving economy.” ibid.

So instead of playing the roulette table, President Obama, should acknowledge his ignorance and talk to some of President Reagan’s top military advisers. For President Reagan used his brains to determine a highly successful game-theoretic strategy to deal with a dangerous and turbulent world.

The game he and the Pentagon utilized is known as Tit-For-Tatand it works like this. Signal to all potential warmongers the following strategy that you will deploy. The first move by the US is always nice. Moves continue as nice until anyone plays nasty. The immediate US response to nasty is nasty, calibrated exactly at the level of the initial infringement.The US continues with nasty until the opponent plays nice. If the opponent moves to nice, the US immediately responds with nice and continues with nice until the next infringement. If the opponent increases the severity of nasty, the US responds immediately in kind and continues at this level until the opponent once again returns to nice.

Tit-fot-tat is a game that outperforms all other games in simulated contests, even when its nature is announced in advance. Tit-for-tat can never win in an individual contest. But it always wins across a cascade of contests.Ronald Reagan used it to curb Gaddafi in Libya, to curb Iraq under Saddam Hussein and to deal with small uprisings like Granada. If the Fat Fool in North Korea fails to understand the message, then his generals surely will. And if they fail to do so, then the final solution always remains: the use of tactical nuclear weapons to destroy the infra-structure of the Fat Fool’s domain, and to eliminate the Fat Fool himself from his earthly dominion.

The net benefits of surveillance cameras

April 22, 2013

The People’s Republic of Massachusetts was a perfect venue for the Chechen terrorist attack implemented on Monday April 15, 2013. The State is the Jewel in the Crown for the American Civil Liberties Union, the State that denies itself both the means to identify terrorist attacks and the death penalty that might conceivably discourage such actions. Like the prey that lies down and bares its throat to the predator, the people of Massachusetts signal that their state is least prepared of all to protect itself against mayhem and terror. ‘Come and take us down’ is the implicit message that rings out across the globe.

So it was good fortune indeed for the minority population of that State that desires to identify and apprehend those who terrorize their people, that private companies are prepared to defy the ACLU and to install surveillance cameras on their premises. Specifically, praise to the Lord and Taylor department store that it ignored the Governor of Massachusetts, the Mayor of Boston and the City Council of Cambridge, and provided the surveillance cameras that identified the Brothers Tsarnaev, who murdered and dismembered innocents who were celebrating Patriot’s Day and honoring those predecessors who had first defied the might of the British Empire. Otherwise, Boston would have suffered the same fate as Wall Street on September 16, 1920 when anarchists set off a bomb that killed 38 people directly across from the New York stock exchange, and were never identified.

New York in 1920 did not enjoy the technology now available to Boston in 2013. Boston and Cambridge, however, have little taste for implementing that technology. Boston and surrounding towns have only 150 police surveillance cameras, plus 400 in the subway. This compares with more than 3,000 government and networked private cameras in New York’s financial district alone, and some 400,000 cameras in London. The City Council of Cambridge advances yet further into the ACLU Hall of Fame. Reluctantly, it has installed 8 cameras. Defiantly, it has refused to activate any camera at all. It will be remembered that the Brothers Tsarnaev murdered a police officer in that town, following their successful attack on Boston itself. Those blood-thirsty brothers knew well where to strike, except that they ignored the wisdom of the private sector.

The cameras are getting smarter as new software goes beyond passive recording to alerting law enforcement about suspicious activity in real time. Video analytics enable what is called ‘activity forecasting’. By applying artificial intelligence to video, these services issue alerts of what researchers call ‘anomalous behavior – such as when the cameras detect people leaving bags behind in public places! How much mayhem would have been averted if Boston had deployed such surveillance? Do not expect the Governor of the State or the Mayor of Boston to apologize to those who suffered through such political correctness. That only happens in the private sector.

Inevitably, there is a tension between civil liberties and security in the use of sophisticated surveillance equipment. However, we live in dangerous times, and I have no doubt that those who died and were dismembered just one week ago would have welcomed more security at the price of a little less civil liberty.

If you doubt that judgment, just place yourselves in the shoes of the Brothers Tsarnaev and ask where you would prefer to strike in an act of terror: London. New York or Boston,in the latter case, with the advantage of hindsight, out of the vision of major department stores.

Hat Tip: L. Gordon Crovitz, ‘In Praise of Surveillance Cameras’, The Wall Street Journal, April 22, 2013

In policing against domestic terrorism, probabilities matter

April 21, 2013

The United States is committed in principle to the rule of law. The rule of law rests in part on the principle that justice is blind to the color, ethnicity and religion of the individual. All individuals are presumed to be equal under the law. I am a supporter of the rule of law, most assuredly as it reaches out to conviction and punishment of those who trasngress before the law.

However, with respect to apprehension of potential criminals, I am much more equivocal, as in practice are a large number of Americans. Although, for sure, the future is uncertain, and some events may not easily be categorized in terms of probabilities, most individuals do form subjective Bayesian probabilities over important potential events. It is human nature so to do, especially when’s own safety is at stake.

Suppose, for example, a young white woman is walking down a street in Washington, DC, and she spots a group of individuals idling together on one side of the street. Would she be more confident of proceeding if that group consisted of well-dressed middle-aged white women, or of roughly dressed young black males, or of pony-tailed young Hispanics? Unless the woman was witless, of course it would matter, matter indeed a great deal. Why? Because past history signals to that young woman very different probabilities in walking closely past such variant groups. Should the police be more vigorous in patrolling in areas where middle aged white women tend to congregate? Or should they conserve their resources for the other groups? Common-sense offers a clear-cut answer to those questions.

The same issues arise with regard to policing against prospective terrorist attacks in affluent Western nations, including the United States. The radicalization of young Muslims in the West, in particular, but not exclusive to the children of the relatively well-off, is by now a familiar story.The London bombers of 2005 were middle-class Pakistani immigrants from Birmingham. Faisal Shahzad, the failed Times Square bomber was a naturalized citizen from Pakistan. The numbers are not large, and statisticians may claim that probabilities cannot be effectively drawn from such few instances. Instinct, however, advises differently.

Subjective Bayesian priors advise thoughtful people that authorities concerned to minimize future terrorist attacks within the United States are well-advised to concentrate their limited resources on monitoring foreign Muslim groups in the United States, to monitoring specific immigrant communities that have produced jihadists in the past, and to infiltrating mosques and other Muslim venues where fiery Imams are known to preach and rant. Such focused monitoring does not infringe the rule of law as long as due process is maintained in determining whether those apprehended indeed constitute a threat to society.

Some civil libertarians may beat their chests in rage at such a policy. If so, perhaps they should locate their own families in the middle of such communities and expose their own loved ones to limb dismemberment and violent death when a preventable act of terrorism eventually occurs, as occur it assuredly will in the absence of vigorous surveillance.

Hat Tip: ‘The Brothers Tsarnaev’, The Wall Street Journal’, April 20, 2013

BBC displayed left-wing prejudice during Thatcher funeral

April 20, 2013

The British Broadcasting Corporation was originally established in order to provide unbiased accurate coverage of the news. It remains today as a subsidized government agency. All households with television sets must pay an annual fee to the Corporation.

From the outset, the BBC violated its mission of independence, denying Winston Churchill access to its radio transmissions during the 1930s, and thereby preventing the nation from understanding the nature of the national socialist and fascist atrocities that were consolidating themselves in Germany and Italy.This mission failure was a direct response of the BBC to pressure exerted by the Conservative government at that time as it pursued appeasement and set the scene for the Nazi domination of continental Europe.

Since the end of World War II, the BBC has stuffed its payroll with left-leaning employees, instinctively hostile to competitive free markets, and favorably inclined to big government. This bias showed itself during the London Olympic Games, when the introductory program focused attention on the so-called ‘Satanic mills’ of the industrial revolution and the caring service provided by the National Health Service.

So, I watched the BBC coverage of Margaret Thatcher’s ceremonial funeral on April 17, 2013 carefully, in order to determine whether BBC personnel would display such prejudice during the funeral of Britain’s most effective pro-free market politician/ stateswoman. And surely enough, bias was observable. I am not alone in that judgment. Ronald Reagan’s speech-writer, Peggy Noonan watched the funeral and confirms my own judgment:

“It mattered that the funeral was in august and splendid St. Paul’s, mattered that Thatcher’s coffin, placed under the great dome, stood directly over the tombs of Nelson and Wellington, in the crypts below.. This placing of Thatcher with the greats of the past, and the fact that the queen and Prince Philip came to her funeral, as they have for no prime minister since Churchill in 1965, served as an antidote to British television coverage surrounding her death.

It was terrible. They could not in any sustained way mark her achievements or even show any particular respect. All they could say was that she was ‘divisive and controversial,’ although sometimes they said ‘divisive and – well really divisive.’ Anchors reported everything as if from a great distance, with no warmth; they all adopted the cool, analytical look they use when they mean to project distance…All this – the media, the left – had the effect of telling people: You’ll look stupid if you speak in support of Thatcher, you’ll look sentimental, old. And it may be dangerous to attend to funeral – there could be riots.

So then, the surprise that was a metaphor. At the end of the funeral, they all marched down the aisle in great procession – the family, the queen, the military pallbearers, carrying the casket bearing the Union Jack. The great doors flung open, the pallbearers marched forward, and suddenly from the crowd a great roar. We looked at each other. demonstrators? No. Listen. They were cheering. They were calling out three great hurrahs as the pallbearers went down the steps. Then long cheers and applause. It was electric.

England came. The people came. Later we would learn they’d stood 30 deep on the sidewalk, that quiet crowds had massed on the Strand and Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill.

When they died, Ronald Reagan, John Paul II, and Margaret Thatcher were old and long past their height of power. Everyone was surprised when Reagan died that crowds engulfed the Capitol; people slept on sidewalks to view him in state. When John Paul died the Vatican was astonished to see millions converge. ‘Santa Subito’.

And now at the end some came for Thatcher, too. What all three had in common: No one was with them but the people.

Margaret Hilda Thatcher, rest in peace.’ Peggy Noonan, ‘Britain Remembers a Great Briton’, The Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2013

You would never find such words reported out by the BBC. But Peggy Noonan, superb writer that she is, put into elegant words thoughts that crossed my mine also during the early hours of that morning (for me in Virginia) as Britain’s greatest ever peacetime prime minister was laid to rest.

Who allowed Chechen vermin to immigrate into the United States?

April 19, 2013

Some populations are so evil that they should be cordoned off from the rest of mankind. Chechens arguably rank high among such vermin. History, genes and culture have all contributed to such an evolution.

In October 2003, fifty Chechen terrorists seized a Moscow theater during the performance of the musical Nord Ost, and 120 out of the 800 people taken hostage died. This event first brought the attention of the outside world to Chechnya and its problems. The Chechen dysfunction, however, had its roots in the Second World War.

Accused by Josef Stalin of welcoming the German invaders during World War II, the entire Chechen nation of 489,000 people was deported to Soviet Central Asia in 1944, An estimated 200,000 died of hunger and disease. Nikita Krustchev allowed the remaining Chechens to return to their motherland in 1956. In November 1961, Chechnya’s newly elected president, Dzhokhar Dudaev, declared independence. This declaration was rejected not only by the USSR, but by the rest of the world.

In the spring of 1963, Dudaev dissolved his parliament and ordered the killing of scores of protesters in Chechnya’s capital, Grozny. Thereafter, he ruled as a brutal erratic, paranoid dictator, with an army of bodyguards that murdered all his enemies, real or imagined. Soon Chechnya became a lawless enclave, bristling with weapons purchased from corrupt Russian generals and paid for with the profits from the oil field close to Grozny. Trains passing through Chechnya were routinely robbed, and wanted criminals from Russia flocked to the mountain republic. An illicit drug and arms trade flourished, as did the counterfeiting of rubles.The Chechnya Mafia became one of the largest and most violent segments of the all-Russian criminal underworld.

Between 1994 and 1996, the Soviet Union invaded Chechnya in a bloody war designed to reclaim what was considered to be Russian territory. Despite indiscriminate air bombing and widespread slaughter, the remaining Chechens, now severely brutalized, regrouped and imposed severe losses on poorly-trained Russian infantry. In 1996, confronting war-weariness of the Russian nation, Boris Yeltzin signed a ceasefire agreement. Chechnya became de facto independent.

However, Chechnya quickly collapsed into anarchy as clan-based loyalties overwhelmed allegiance to the central authorities in Grozny.Warlords and heavily armed gangs turned the country into a Somalia of the Caucasus, using kidnappings for ransom as a major source of income.Slavery became widespread, and mutilation of victims commonplace. Only Taliban-controlled Afghanistan recognized Chechnya as an independent nation. Chechnya became yet another branch of Muslim fundamentalism.

All this was well-known to the United States government by 2003 as a result of the Nord Ost outrage.

So just why did U.S. immigration officials grant the families of the two vermin who promoted the Boston massacre, immigration status into the United States? Those individuals should be identified and their names made public across the Republic. It is high time that such terrorist-loving government officials were fired for malfeasance. It is high time that all potential immigrants from known sources of terrorism should be denied access to the Land of the Free. Vermin unwelcome, should be a codicil attached to the Statue of Liberty.