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2010 May 31 Monday
America's Military Too Powerful

I hold this truth to be self evident: America's military is too powerful for America's ruling class to handle responsibly. America's ruling class is just not up to the task of handling such a powerful instrument of force.

I wish the truth were otherwise. But I write this blog to examine ugly truths. The shortcomings of America's elites, evident in their use of the US military since the Soviet Union collapsed, have become too glaring to ignore.

By Randall Parker    2010 May 31 11:10 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2010 May 30 Sunday
2 Australians Look At European Economic Crisis

John Clarke gets interviewed by Brian Dawe on Australia's ABC News on the hot political and economic topics of the day. Clarke and Dawe discuss the large amounts of money which European countries owe each other. Since the building financial disaster seems unavoidable at this point it should at least be funny.

Since Peak Oil is going to cause plunging tax revenues these European nations who hold each others' debt are going to fall down like so many dominoes. Might as well laugh about it since there's nothing you can do to stop it.

Back in October 2008 Clarke and Dawes explained how credit and banking work.

Still timely today, back in November 2008 Clarke and Dawe presented a practical guide for riding out the economic storm.

They take on the worthless credit ratings agencies.

By Randall Parker    2010 May 30 10:40 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2010 February 21 Sunday
David Brooks On Poor Performance By Elites

Writing in the New York Times former neocon David Brooks points out that the replacement of the WASP establishment with a much more meritocratic and smarter elite doesn't appear to have made American society run better.

Yet here’s the funny thing. As we’ve made our institutions more meritocratic, their public standing has plummeted. We’ve increased the diversity and talent level of people at the top of society, yet trust in elites has never been lower.

It’s not even clear that society is better led. Fifty years ago, the financial world was dominated by well-connected blue bloods who drank at lunch and played golf in the afternoons. Now financial firms recruit from the cream of the Ivy League. In 2007, 47 percent of Harvard grads went into finance or consulting. Yet would we say that banks are performing more ably than they were a half-century ago?

Government used to be staffed by party hacks. Today, it is staffed by people from public policy schools. But does government work better than it did before?

Among the reasons he cites for the poor performance of our meritocracy: It is less inbred. There are fewer loyalties among the elites. This reminds me of Robert Putnam's research on diversity leading to lower social capital and lower trust. We are well on our way toward a lower trust society with an elite that has fewer connections and loyalties to the rest of the population.

By Randall Parker    2010 February 21 03:42 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2009 November 01 Sunday
Why No RICO Charges For Wall Street Executives?

Okay, my subject title is rhetorical. Both the Democratic and Republican Parties are pretty much owned by special interests. But the question needs asking repeatedly.The McClatchy Newspapers chain is doing a series on illegal wrong-doings of Goldman and other Wall Street firms with the claim that these firms knew they were peddling junk as AAA securities. Goldman knew the crash was coming 2 years before it happened but misrepresented the quality of the mortgage-backed securities it was selling. Isn't this felonious behavior?

WASHINGTON — In 2006 and 2007, Goldman Sachs Group peddled more than $40 billion in securities backed by at least 200,000 risky home mortgages, but never told the buyers it was secretly betting that a sharp drop in U.S. housing prices would send the value of those securities plummeting.

Goldman's sales and its clandestine wagers, completed at the brink of the housing market meltdown, enabled the nation's premier investment bank to pass most of its potential losses to others before a flood of mortgage defaults staggered the U.S. and global economies.

So basically some Wall Street firms brought on the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression just to make big bucks for themselves. Then some of them get saved by massive government injections because they are too big to fail, they make billions off of these injections, and then they reward themselves huge bonuses. The American people are too stupid to demand that Wall Street be prosecuted like the Mafia.

Why aren't all the pensions, insurance companies, and other institutional buyers calling for jail time for the Goldman bond salesmen and their bosses?

Only later did investors discover that what Goldman had promoted as triple-A rated investments were closer to junk.

McClatchy thinks Goldman Sachs violated securities laws.

Now, pension funds, insurance companies, labor unions and foreign financial institutions that bought those dicey mortgage securities are facing large losses, and a five-month McClatchy investigation has found that Goldman's failure to disclose that it made secret, exotic bets on an imminent housing crash may have violated securities laws.

A former Goldman investment banker describes Goldman's activities as totally criminal.

John Talbott, a former Goldman investment banker and the author of a new book, "The 88 Biggest Lies on Wall Street," said "it wasn't a mistake" when illegal immigrants got home mortgages.

The lenders, he said, "just wanted somebody, anybody to sign a note" so they could sell it to Wall Street, where ratings agencies that were paid hefty fees by the investment banks bestowed triple-A grades or their equivalent on most subprime bonds.

"It's not just unethical," Talbott said of the chain of profiting subprime players extending from real estate appraisers to Wall Street. "It's totally criminal."

McClatchy also finds that Moody's purged ratings analysts who tried to do an honest job. Isn't this also illegal? Why isn't the Obama Administration charging thousands of Wall Street executives and salesmen on RICO charges? Isn't this a massive conspiracy to commit fraud?

WASHINGTON -- As the housing market collapsed in late 2007, Moody's Investors Service, whose investment ratings were widely trusted, responded by purging analysts and executives who warned of trouble and promoting those who helped Wall Street plunge the country into its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

A McClatchy investigation has found that Moody's punished executives who questioned why the company was risking its reputation by putting its profits ahead of providing trustworthy ratings for investment offerings.

You can follow McClatchy's investigation here.

What I want to know: Did Lehman Brothers and Bear Sterns go down because they were too stupid to know that they were dealing in junk? Or did they just wait too long to get off the carousel when the game came crashing down?

By Randall Parker    2009 November 01 10:48 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (11)
2009 April 16 Thursday
Right Wing Extremists Seen As Threat

The US Department of Homeland Security has released a report entitled "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment" which has got me examining myself looking for evidence that I'm plotting terrorist activity. Maybe I'm not sufficiently self-aware to see the evidence in front of my eyes. Maybe all the people on the Right have got to take turns examining each other looking for the danger signs. I am as suspicious of my many immigration restrictionist readers as I am of myself. The report draws attention to our potential for violence.

Over the past five years, various rightwing extremists, including militias and white supremacists, have adopted the immigration issue as a call to action, rallying point, and recruiting tool. Debates over appropriate immigration levels and enforcement policy generally fall within the realm of protected political speech under the First Amendment, but in some cases, anti-immigration or strident pro-enforcement fervor has been directed against specific groups and has the potential to turn violent.

Maybe we should be deported to make America safe for illegal immigrants? I'm thinking a country could be set up just for us dangerous right-wingers. Maybe evacuate Argentina and let all the Argentinians come to America. Then all the American right-wingers could go to Argentina to place us far from high left-liberal civilization. Work for you?

Since veterans returning from the Iraq war are dangerous they too should be transferred to Argentina. In fact, anyone sent out to defend the empire should be given a land grant in some area of the empire instead of being allowed home again.

DHS/I&A assesses that rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat. These skills and knowledge have the potential to boost the capabilities of extremists—including lone wolves or small terrorist cells—to carry out violence. The willingness of a small percentage of military personnel to join extremist groups during the 1990s because they were disgruntled, disillusioned, or suffering from the psychological effects of war is being replicated today.

As a recent Pew Research Center poll shows the Right is so dangerous that it fails to recognize Barack Obama as an absolutely great and glorious President. A full 73% of Republicans reject the Messiah.

For all of his hopes about bipartisanship, Barack Obama has the most polarized early job approval ratings of any president in the past four decades. The 61-point partisan gap in opinions about Obama's job performance is the result of a combination of high Democratic ratings for the president -- 88% job approval among Democrats -- and relatively low approval ratings among Republicans (27%).

People who aren't infatuated with our maximal leader could be dangerous.

My worry is that more than just the Republicans are dangerous immigration extremists.

Sixty-six percent (66%) of likely voters nationwide say it is Very Important for the government to improve its enforcement of the borders and reduce illegal immigration. However, the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that just 32% of America’s Political Class agrees.

We might need to deport two thirds of the existing American citizens to make America safe for illegal immigrants.

People who get involved in politics are suspect too. Peope who get involved in order to protect themselves from government are therefore today trying to protect themselves from Barack Obama. What a suspect motivation.

Forty-five percent (45%) of Americans adults say most people get involved in politics to protect themselves from what the government might do, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.

Forty-four percent (44%) believe most get involved in politics to help make the country better.

By Randall Parker    2009 April 16 06:05 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (18)
2009 April 06 Monday
Razib Sees More Skepticism In Wake Of Financial Crisis

Razib Khan thinks that while America has shifted Left in terms of many policies that a conservative skepticism toward social and financial engineers is growing. I agree. We have incompetent elites and the public is starting to notice.

Despite the fact that here in the United States we are on the precipice of verging to the Left, I can’t but help wonder if the ultimate results of the current crisis will be conservative. Not conservative in specific ways such as the election of conservative governments or greater faith in modern capitalism, but a deep conservatism of disposition which is nourished by the jaundiced skepticism which is in the air. Skepticism of the efficacy of government in the face of corrupt capitalism. Skepticism as to the virtue of the free market. Skepticism of engineering, financial and social. Skepticism of the goodness of one’s fellow man and the inevitable ascent toward the pinnacle of progress.

Though prehaps you’ll find it ironic that my pessimism about the current state of affairs makes me optimistic, so to speak, about conservatism.

I come across indicators from unexpected places that our elites are making wrong decisions. Nobel-winning economist and New York Times "Conscience of a Liberal" columnist Paul Krugman - not exactly a poster child of conservative thinking - argues that Obama's economic team are pursuing the wrong policies to the banking crisis.

After all, we’ve just been through the firestorm over the A.I.G. bonuses, during which administration officials claimed that they knew nothing, couldn’t do anything, and anyway it was someone else’s fault. Meanwhile, the administration has failed to quell the public’s doubts about what banks are doing with taxpayer money.

And now Mr. Obama has apparently settled on a financial plan that, in essence, assumes that banks are fundamentally sound and that bankers know what they’re doing.

It’s as if the president were determined to confirm the growing perception that he and his economic team are out of touch, that their economic vision is clouded by excessively close ties to Wall Street. And by the time Mr. Obama realizes that he needs to change course, his political capital may be gone.

Wall Street isn't competently led. Washington DC isn't competently led. I hope this does not matter too much. I hope that lots of people and companies can work out how to make their industries work better in spite of the mistakes getting made in America's twin centers of power in NYC and DC.

By Randall Parker    2009 April 06 10:42 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2009 April 05 Sunday
Obama Wants Turkey In European Union

Obama says putting Turkey in Europe would send a signal. Yes, but would this signal help us or hurt us?

US President Barack Obama has arrived in Turkey on a two-day visit, after giving his support to Ankara's efforts to join the European Union.

He said Turkey's accession to the EU would send an important signal to the Muslim world and firmly anchor the country in Europe.

What signal I think it would send: Muslims can overwhelm Europe demographically. The biggest country in the EU would be Muslim. That's a stupid thing to do. Obama is supposed to be smart. So why does he advocate a stupid policy?

By Randall Parker    2009 April 05 06:59 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2008 May 21 Wednesday
Diana West: Israel Not Replicable Freedom Franchise

A friend of mine has a saying that comes to mind "There's no stopping the invincibly ignorant". Diana West tries to take on the latest foolish natterings of the most powerful person in the world.

Don't know why I bother. The man is leaving office in eight months; his presidency noticeably marked by the uneven tread of the lame duck. But so long as George W. Bush is commander in chief, there remains something mesmerizing about the way he seems to experience his momentous tenure virtually unscratched, even ungrazed, by his many brushes (collisions) with history.

I'm not suggesting callousness on his part regarding American casualties in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; or regarding American civilian casualties due to Islamic terrorism. I think he feels such losses very deeply. In fact, I think he feels everything very deeply. Whether the subject is his feelings about Mexican illegal aliens, the war in Iraq or on-off Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, I think Bush's presidency, at its base, has been an emotional presidency, more gut-driven and temporal than attuned to anything like that sweep of history you hear about.

I point this out on reading the president's remarks in Israel to mark the 60th anniversary of the nation's statehood.

"I suspect," Bush said, "if you looked back 60 years ago and tried to guess where Israel would be at that time, it would be hard to be able to project such a prosperous, hopeful land. No question people would have said, well, we'd be surrounded by hostile forces -- but I doubt people would have been able to see the modern Israel, which is one reason I bring such optimism to the Middle East, because what happened here is possible everywhere."

How to even respond to this? Yes, Israel proved that the rock formations (or, if you prefer, Bedu dogs or carpets) in the Middle East didn't prevent democracy from developing there. But Israel doesn't have a lot of oil underneath it. What we need is for the Israelis to invade the oil provinces of Saudi Arabia, drive out most of the Saudi Arabians (if only Menachem Begin were still around to help), and then establish a democracy there too. Then we could find out whether oil reserves do not prevent formation of a democracy either.

It is really hard to know how to react to such blatant foolishness spoken by the most powerful guy on the planet. Maybe Dubya wants us to come up with ways to translate his vision into reality. After all, he's a big picture man. Well, okay, I think I have an idea: Raise Ashkenazi Jewish fertility rate so that the number of smart Ashkenazi Jews becomes so large that they can colonize the entire Middle East. They will bring their optimistic support for democracy into every country they conquer. Already today Israeli Arabs live in a democracy with a free press because they live under the rule of Israeli Jews. Mind you, those Israeli Arabs deeply resent being ruled by Jews. But they have democracy in spite of those resentments. Of course, it is a democracy that doesn't respect their wishes and they are pretty powerless in the Israeli political process. But to big picture man Bush that democracy is all that matters.

Diana West says Bush wants to believe that Israel has created an easily replicable democracy franchise.

To President Bush, though, the un-Islamic conditions culminating in an anti-Islamic event -- 60 years of infidel liberty -- constitute a pre-fab democracy franchise that might just as easily have opened up in Riyadh or Baghdad as in Tel Aviv. I think he sees it this way because, emotionally, he wants to see it this way.

This nonsense from a sitting President of the United States is one of the consequences of the big American taboo on realistic discussion about human genetic differences in cognitive function. That taboo has gradually stretched out to quash rational discussion of genetic, cultural, and religious differences between the peoples of the world. So we are left with a US President mouthing delusions about how democracy in Israel represents a model for the rest of the world.

By Randall Parker    2008 May 21 01:47 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2007 September 17 Monday
Greenspan Deluded On Saddam Threat To Strait Of Hormuz

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan is in the news with quotes coming from his new book The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World. Mostly the quotes are about how the Bush Administration is fiscally irresponsible and Dick Cheney has fallen away from his past support for fiscal restraint. But Greenspan's comments about how the Iraq war is about oil have generated even more controversy.

Greenspan, who was the country's top voice on monetary policy at the time Bush decided to go to war in Iraq, has refrained from extensive public comment on it until now, but he made the striking comment in a new memoir out today that "the Iraq War is largely about oil." In the interview, he clarified that sentence in his 531-page book, saying that while securing global oil supplies was "not the administration's motive," he had presented the White House with the case for why removing Hussein was important for the global economy.

"I was not saying that that's the administration's motive," Greenspan said in an interview Saturday, "I'm just saying that if somebody asked me, 'Are we fortunate in taking out Saddam?' I would say it was essential."

He said that in his discussions with President Bush and Vice President Cheney, "I have never heard them basically say, 'We've got to protect the oil supplies of the world,' but that would have been my motive." Greenspan said that he made his economic argument to White House officials and that one lower-level official, whom he declined to identify, told him, "Well, unfortunately, we can't talk about oil."

Greenspan, that man who gets such enormous amounts of praise and respect as supposed central bank wizard, is saying that it was essential to take out Saddam in order to protect the oil supplies of the world. Think about that for a second. Saddam tried to invade Iran and take over Iran's oil fields. He failed. He tried to take over Kuwait and we booted him out. If George H. W. Bush's administration had been more awake they could have prevented that invasion with a well worded threat and they could have destroyed Saddam's invading forces with air power if they'd gotten ready for the invasion when Saddam started dropping hints.

As for Saddam taking over Saudi Arabia: Wasn't going to happen. The US Air Force and US Navy fliers could have used the opportunity for target practice by taking out Saddam's tanks as Iraqis tried to roll over the desert of Saudi Arabia. In a nutshell: Saddam lacked the means to take over the Gulf oil countries. First his military was damaged against Iran and then much more severely in the war over Kuwait. Then his military decayed even further under an embargo that included occasional air strikes by US and British aircraft. By the time George W. Bush took office Saddam had been defanged and he knew it.

Aside: The Middle Eastern governments have inflated their official reserves and they have far less reserves than they claim to have. So there's less oil in the Middle East to protect and less US economic interests at stake in the Middle East than you'll hear commonly claimed.

Lest you think that Greenspan really meant something else he has been kind enough to tell the Wall Street Journal about his delusion that Saddam posed some sort of threat to the Strait of Hormuz.

Tell me about your views on the importance of deposing Saddam.
My view of the second Gulf War was that getting Saddam out of there was very important, but had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction, it had to do with oil. My view of Saddam over the 20 years … was that he was very critically moving towards control of the Strait of Hormuz and as a consequence of that, control of the oil market. His purpose would be very much similar to [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez’s actions and I think it would be very dangerous for us. So getting him out to me seemed a very important priority.

I try to be polite about individuals. But the invasion of Iraq was a huge mistake and any prominent figure who makes lame arguments about the invasion must not go unchallenged. Saddam was moving towards control of the Strait of Hormuz? I'd be embarrassed to say something so obviously wrong. One doesn't need to do fancy calculations or read tons of history books or follow complex theories to know that Saddam was not moving toward control of the Strait of Hormuz. That's nuts. But where is this coming from? If Greenspan had this view 20 years ago then one can't blame it on senility. So what is going on? Can someone explain this? Is Greenspan overrated in general? Or is he only good at some narrow specialty and foolish about much else?

Greenspan is another example of a general problem we face: We are poorly led. We give our elites - especially our political elites - far too much respect and deference. These people are nowhere near as competent as they make themselves out to be. The really talented people in America are in investment banks and Silicon Valley start-ups. They aren't in Washington DC in high government positions. Though I bet there are some smart people on K Street manipulating the yahoos in government.

We mostly are better off if the sharpest people are in venture capital-funded start-ups and investment banks. The private sector generates the wealth. But we need some small handful of sharpies in key positions of power who can recognize when nonsense is being spoken and say no to stupid policies.

By Randall Parker    2007 September 17 11:15 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2007 September 10 Monday
Greg Cochran Explains The Incompetence Of Our Leaders

Some observers figure that people who scramble to the top of the heap in Washington DC must be smart, must be well educated, must not be fools. Others say that the leaders of their own party are competent but that the leaders of the other party are the idiots. Well, the Iraq Debacle has shown so many people of both parties to be sustained ignorant fools for so many years that I find both those viewpoints hard to credit. Really talented people for the most part do not work for the US government either in the White House or the CIA or on Capital Hill or in the upper reaches of the officers corps. In a highly excellent interview Greg Cochran tells Michael Blowhard of 2Blowhards about just how incompetent and ignorant our leaders really are.

2Blowhards: How'd you get interested in the mideast in the first place?

Gregory Cochran: I'm not, really. I have lived through a fair chunk of relevant history. Since I'm a near-grognard, I've looked fairly closely at some of the wars, particularly the '67 and '73 Arab-Israeli wars and the Gulf War. I also followed the Iran-Iraq war pretty closely, and the Russians in Afghanistan. Naturally I know the role the Middle East played in World War I and II. I read the papers and I remember most of what I read. And I've read two or three general histories about the Arabs and the Ottoman Empire, but there are areas and eras that interest me a lot more.

This means that I know a lot more than the average political player, certainly. Some naughty reporter was asking various high muckety-mucks if they knew the difference between a Sunni and a Shi'ite, not the deepest piece of information. Gary Bald, the FBI's counterterrorism chief, didn't. Willie Hulon, chief of the bureau's new national security branch, didn't.

Representative Terry Everett, a seven-term Alabama Republican who was vice chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence, didn't. Representative Jo Ann Davis, a Virginia Republican who headed a House intelligence subcommittee charged with overseeing the C.I.A.'s performance in recruiting Islamic spies and analyzing information, didn't. Incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Sgt. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, didn't. I'm pretty sure that George Bush didn't.

2B:What do you make of the other administration higher-ups who are involved in the mideast?

Cochran: Judging from Wolfowitz's Congressional testimony about Iraq being secular, highly educated, and free of holy cities, he knew nothing. I think that Condi Rice started out not knowing a damn thing about the Middle East and I doubt if she knows much more today: I remember her (back in 2000) suggesting that Iran was backing the Taliban, which was just ridiculous -- they'd come within an inch of war back in 1998. Which I had followed at the time, since I read the papers.

Judging from other issues, I'd say that neither Condi nor Rumsfeld know any history at all. Some might suggest that all the crap they spouted about guerrilla warfare in postwar Germany was a talking point, but I think they were sincere -- i.e. utterly clueless.

Condi was supposed to be an expert on the Soviet Union, once upon a time, but I doubt if she knew much about that, either. I knew quite a bit -- Russia was interesting and a real rival -- enough that I was impatiently predicting the end of the Soviet Union by 1990, to the point of boring all my friends. I was trying to predict the order in which the SSRs would secede -- I got it mostly right, too.

From everything I read and hear, none of the people running for President are any better. They know nothing about Iraq or the Middle East. Mind you, I sympathize, since it's a boring subject, but they really should know what they're doing.

When Condi claimed that the US faced a serious insurgency after conquering Germany in WWII I was dumbfounded. Is she monumentally ignorant or lying? Greg thinks ignorance and stupidity explain most of what we hear from the Bush Administration. He also thinks that we shouldn't be distracted by their compulsive lying. Yes, they lie a lot. But, no, that does not mean that most of the nonsense we hear them speak is a lie or that the lying covers up some Machiavellian craftiness toward some achievable goal. They are stumbling along clueless. Their seeming ignorance about history and of crucial aspects of current conditions is real.

A lot of people want the world to make sense and want to think that the world is well managed - even if not toward ends that they approve of. They want to believe that there was some clever gain to be had by invading Iraq such as gaining oil wealth. But no, the truth is so much worse than that. The deaths, maimings, and money expended yield no significant gain. The promoters of this debacle are just ignorant and so are their cheerleaders.

I think one reason people can't grasp the scale of the mistake the United States made in Iraq is that it is not in their mental model that such a powerful government as the one in Washington DC can be as ignorant and foolish as it is. The self-image of many war supporters precludes them seeing themselves as so vulnerable to making mistakes on that scale. Also, they don't want to see their own government as that inept. To believe that requires giving up a certain feeling of security and of order in the world. Well, give it up.

In the second part of the interview Greg says our Establishment is keeping the Iraq war going in order to save face.

2B: Back to the Iraq war. At this point, what would be an acceptable end-game for Bush? What exactly are we even fighting for at this point?

Cochran: I doubt if Bush will get any offer he'd consider, not in the time he's got left. I doubt if we'll ever get any such offer. We're certainly not fighting for anything that would be worth the current ~100 billion a year cost. I'd say we were fighting so that various people won't have to admit they were wrong. We're saving Establishment face.

2B: What would be the consequences of a rapid USA exit from Iraq?

Cochran: Someone would win the civil war and then they'd sell oil.

I say we should pull out the troops.

Update: Michael's blogging partner Friedrich von Blowhard points out that General Petraeus does not explain why the US should care about the outcome of the Iraq war.

By Randall Parker    2007 September 10 10:40 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
2007 July 26 Thursday
Daniel Larison On Lessons Learned About American Politics

Daniel Larison looks back over lessons he's learned watching the American political scene.

On conservatism and American politics:

1) First among these was my assumption that most Americans who called themselves conservatives distrusted government and feared the expansion of government power. That was the conservatism I had been raised with, and it seemed to be the one that had a visceral appeal to a large number of conservatives during the ’90s. Obviously, this conservatism is held by only a fairly small number of conservatives, and, as wiser people than I have known all along, the popularity of a “roll back the state” message is extremely superficial.

2) One of my other false beliefs connected to this was that most conservatives were conservatives first and GOP partisans second (if at all), and would therefore be just as outraged by GOP government activism and overreach as they had been in the 1990s. This was the worst sort of naivete on my part, and it was repeatedly shown to be false. To point out that some of the same people who wanted to attack Iraq opposed aggression against Yugoslavia was almost useless–partisans are well aware that they use a double standard, and they have no problem with it. Again, I mistook the attitudes of conservatives whom I knew for what was true for “conservatives” generally–this was just sloppy analysis.

3) Another false belief that I held was that most conservatives were conservative as a result of custom and reflection, with rather more emphasis on the latter, and to discover that most conservatives were such on the basis of little more than visceral dislike of various hate figures was something that took some time to accept.

Larison makes still more excellent observations in the full post.

I'd add another: The big name supposedly conservative commentators, like most of their liberal counterparts, aren't terribly empirical. Their analyses aren't weighted down by well vetted evidence. But the commentators are a reflection of the population that listens to them.

It occurs to me that the reason why antiwar activists are so strongly attached to the mantra of “Bush lied” (besides the reality that he and his officials did lie on numerous occasions) is that they are attempting to square a nation that embraced a manifestly unjust, unnecessary war with their confidence in the functioning of our system of government.  In this view, if people will so easily embrace such an obviously wrongheaded policy, sane foreign policy will not be possible in a democratic system.  The government’s deceptions (which absolutely did occur) help to bear a lot of this burden, since they allow the majority of people to use the old “he tricked us” excuse to cover up for their own failures.  Absent those failures, however, no deceit would have been sufficient to propel a country entirely against its will into such a war. 

I've had to lower my expectations about what we can expect in terms of quality of elected officials, quality of pundits, and quality of thought in the general public. The continued defense of the Iraq war by too many commentators demonstrates the tribalism and poor quality of thought which characterizes major US political factions.

By Randall Parker    2007 July 26 11:17 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2006 November 28 Tuesday
Pope Benedict Backs Turkey EU Bid

If this is true then Pope Benedict disgusts me.

Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told reporters after a brief meeting with Benedict at the airport here that he had asked the pope to support Turkey in its attempts to become a member of the European Union.

“He said, ‘You know we don’t have a political role, but we wish for Turkey’s entry into the E.U.,’ ” Mr. Erdogan said the pope told him. “His wish is a positive recommendation for us.”

This sounds like it is coming from Erdogan's camp.

"I really wanted to come to Turkey because Turkey has become a bridge ... between the religions," Benedict reportedly told the Prime Minister through an interpreter.

"It is a democratic, Islamic country and a bridge," the Pope said. "I wanted to come to Turkey since becoming pope because I love this culture."

"I want to reiterate the solidarity between the cultures," Benedict said. "This is our duty."

Although while still a Cardinal, Pope Benedict had argued that Turkey's Muslim majority religion meant that the nation did not belong in the European Union, Mr Erdogan said the Pope told him that he supported Turkey's push to join the European Union.

The Pope's spokesman delivers a slightly watered down version of what the Pope said.

A Vatican spokesman later issued a statement that offered a more nuanced interpretation of what the Pope may have told Mr Erdogan. The Holy See had no power to influence political decisions, the statement said, but the Pope supported “Turkey’s integration into Europe.”

Integration? What does that mean? Sounds like some form of EU membership to me.

By contrast, here's what Pope Benedict had to say about Islam in 1997 while he was still a cardinal.

"Islam has a total organization of life that is completely different from ours; it embraces simply everything," he said. "There is a very marked subordination of woman to man; there is a very tightly knit criminal law, indeed, a law regulating all areas of life, that is opposed to our modern ideas about society. One has to have a clear understanding that it is not simply a denomination that can be included in the free realm of a pluralistic society."

...

An important point, however, is ... that the interplay of society, politics and religion has a completely different structure in Islam as a whole. Today's discussion in the West about the possibility of Islamic theological faculties, or about the idea of Islam as a legal entity, resupposes that all religions have basically the same structure, that they all fit into a democratic system with its regulations and the possibilities provided by these regulations. In itself, however, this necessarily contradicts the essence of Islam, which simply does not have the separation of the political and religious sphere, which Christianity has had from the beginning. The Quran is a total religious law, which regulates the whole of political and social life and insists that the whole order of life be Islamic....

Popes sound like politicians. I trust them about as much (very little). Benedict clearly knows the score with Muslims. But now as Pope he's not willing to honestly tell Christians what they need to hear from their religious leaders about Islam. Still, you can read what he said when he held a lower level position and felt less constrained.

Update: The Pope swung in support of Turkey's admission to the EU, like a good dhimmi, because he didn't want the Muslims to be so angry with him.

But the 79-year-old pope’s concession on Tuesday, at the start of a four-day trip here, seemed to make good on his pledge to heal the wounds between East and West. It may also have the practical effect of tamping down anger here. Security for the pope’s visit was extensive, with helicopters hovering at the airport, commandos guarding the pope’s plane and sharpshooters on the roofs of buildings.

How pathetic. He didn't want the Turks angry at him and Catholics so he would prefer to sell out Europe.

As a cardinal the Pope was right in 2004 and in 1997 and he is wrong now.

Over the weekend, the Vatican began signaling that it was warming to the idea of Turkey’s membership in the European Union. The Vatican has never issued a formal position on Turkish membership. In 2004, when the pope was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he said it would be a “grave error,” both he and other church officials described the remarks as his personal opinion.

Islam is incompatible with the West. Ratzinger clearly stated why. But politicians make decisions based on considerations other than what is best for their people.

By Randall Parker    2006 November 28 08:55 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (18)
2006 April 10 Monday
Afghan Base Workers Steal US Computers With Secrets

It is amazing that the US military is letting this happen.

BAGRAM, Afghanistan — No more than 200 yards from the main gate of the sprawling U.S. base here, stolen computer drives containing classified military assessments of enemy targets, names of corrupt Afghan officials and descriptions of American defenses are on sale in the local bazaar.

Shop owners at the bazaar say Afghan cleaners, garbage collectors and other workers from the base arrive each day offering purloined goods, including knives, watches, refrigerators, packets of Viagra and flash memory drives taken from military laptops. The drives, smaller than a pack of chewing gum, are sold as used equipment.

This is like the free market bazaar version of the Pentagon Papers.

A reporter recently obtained several drives at the bazaar that contained documents marked "Secret." The contents included documents that were potentially embarrassing to Pakistan, a U.S. ally, presentations that named suspected militants targeted for "kill or capture" and discussions of U.S. efforts to "remove" or "marginalize" Afghan government officials whom the military considered "problem makers."

Anyone home at the Pentagon? Hello?

I saw reporter Christian Parenti of The Nation (which is far to the left of ParaPundit) interviewed and he said that US troops in Afghanistan now suffer as much casualties as US troops in Iraq proportionate to the number of soldiers in each place. He also said that elements of the Pakistani government still support the Taliban and that Afghanistan is getting worse.

I'm also coming across an increasing number of stories about Middle Eastern governments deciding that the Bush Administration has run out of steam and the US demands for democratization can be ignored.

Analysts and officials say the political rise of Islamists, the chaos in Iraq, the newfound Shiite power in Iraq with its implication for growing Iranian influence, and the sense among some rulers that they can wait out the end of the Bush administration have put the brakes on democratization.

"It feels like everything is going back to the bad old days, as if we never went through any changes at all," said Sulaiman al-Hattlan, editor in chief of Forbes Arabia and a prominent Saudi columnist and advocate. "Everyone is convinced now that there was no serious or genuine belief in change from the governments. It was just a reaction to pressure by the international media and the U.S."

Bush shot his wad in Iraq and over-extended the US. He put us in a position that made us look less powerful. If he had just overthrown the Taliban and then just threatened other governments the threat would be more terrifying than the actuality of seeing the limits of US power in Iraq.

Amir Taheri captures this mood in his "Last Helicopter" essay about the US in the Middle East and the US helicopters evacuating the US embassy as Saigon fell in Vietnam.

According to this theory, President George W. Bush is an "aberration," a leader out of sync with his nation's character and no more than a brief nightmare for those who oppose the creation of an "American Middle East." Messrs. Abbasi and Ahmadinejad have concluded that there will be no helicopter as long as George W. Bush is in the White House. But they believe that whoever succeeds him, Democrat or Republican, will revive the helicopter image to extricate the U.S. from a complex situation that few Americans appear to understand.

Mr. Ahmadinejad's defiant rhetoric is based on a strategy known in Middle Eastern capitals as "waiting Bush out." "We are sure the U.S. will return to saner policies," says Manuchehr Motakki, Iran's new Foreign Minister.

Some hawks argue this is a reason to stay the course and keep fighting in Iraq. They think a US withdrawal will only embolden terrorists and Islamists. Bush has put us in a position where the insurgency fights mostly because we are there. So the United States fight just to prove that we won't leave and won't give up.

The argument is plausible because Bin Laden saw the US withdrawals from Beirut and Mogadishu as signs the US won't take many casualties before giving up and that the US is decadent and on the decline. Well, we are on the decline, though not due to decadence. We are on the decline for demographic reasons (dumb immigrants, smart people having too few children). But the political debates in the Middle East among Islamists and among America's elite in Washington DC has become too untethered from reality for such observations to carry much weight.

I keep coming back to a basic idea: If the Muslims are so dangerous that we should be extremely concerned at what they think of us then keep them out of the West. If their oil cash makes them even more dangerous then launch a huge effort to obsolesce oil. The Iraq war seems an extremely costly, inefficient, and counter-productive way to prove to the Muslims that they shouldn't try to kill us.

By Randall Parker    2006 April 10 09:50 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2006 January 24 Tuesday
Larry Franklin Gets 12 Years For Spying For Israel

Jail time for a neocon.

A veteran Pentagon analyst who admitted using his Defense Department position to illegally disclose classified information to officials of an influential pro-Israeli lobbying group was sentenced yesterday in federal court to 121/2 years in prison.

Lawrence A. Franklin, 59, was named in a six-count grand jury indictment handed up in May in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. He was accused of disclosing the information to two officials at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). He pleaded guilty to the charges in October.

Franklin is going to get a chance to reduce his sentence by tattling big time on accused co-conspirators and former AIPAC employees Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman. Franklin is smaller fish compared to Rosen and Weissman.

Plato Cacheris, a lawyer for Mr. Franklin, said, "Mr. Franklin will not have to commence his sentence until after he completes his cooperation, at which time the court will entertain a motion to reduce his sentence."

The US grand jury indictment of Franklin, Rosen, and Weissman makes for interesting reading. Note the US government officials who were passing along classified information as far back as 1999 when the FBI started watching them.

In furtherance of the conspiracy and to effect the object thereof, defendants FRANKLIN, ROSEN, and WEISSMAN did commit overt acts in the; Eastern District of Virginia and elsewhere, including but not limited to the following:

1. On or about April 13, 1999, ROSEN had a conversation with Foreign Official 1 (FO-1) and told FO-1 that he (ROSEN) had "picked up alt extremely sensitive piece of intelligence" which ROSEN described as codeword protected intelligence. ROSEN then disclosed to FO-1 national defense information concerning terrorist activities in Central Asia.

2. On or about May 12, 1999, ROSEN and FO-1 met for lunch and further discussed the disclosure ROSEN made on April 13, 1999.

3. On or about June 11, 1999, WEISSMAN had a conversation with FO-1 and told FO-1 that a "Secret FBI, classified FBI report" on the Khobar Towers bombing had been prepared and that he (WEISSMAN) had gotten this information from three different sources, including United States government officials.

4. On or about June 11, 1999 , WEISSMAN had another conversation with FO-1 and told FO-1 that he (WEISSMAN) had gotten a member of the media interested in the abovereferenced classified FBI report on the Khobar Towers bombing

5. On or about December 12, 2000, ROSEN and WEISSMAN met with a United States government official (USGO‑1). Following the meeting, ROSEN had a conversation with a member of the media to whom he gave information about classified United States strategy options against a Middle Eastern country and the internal United Stales government deliberations on those options. USGO‑1, with whom ROSEN and WEISSMAN met, had access to the classified information ROSEN disclosed.

6. On or about January 18, 2002, ROSEN met with another United States government official (USGO‑2). After the meeting and on that same day, a memorandum containing information ROSEN had obtained from USGO‑2 was sent to fellow AIPAC employees. The memorandum contained classified information provided by USGO‑2.

7. On or about January 23, 2002, ROSEN had a conversation with a foreign national and disclosed classified information provided to ROSEN by USGO‑2 during their January 18, 2042 meeting.

If Rosen and Weissman get convicted and face long sentences will either of them be willing to turn on some of their informants in the US government?

Rosen and Weissman go on trial in April 2006.

The two former AIPAC lobbyists, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, are scheduled to go to trial in April.

Their lawyers have argued that they were engaged in routine lobbying work and were not trafficking in classified information.

I hope these prosecutions eventually lead back into the US government but at higher levels than the level Franklin worked.

By Randall Parker    2006 January 24 07:27 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2005 December 04 Sunday
Kathleen Blanco Releases Hurricane Katrina Documents

Blanco's staff worried she didn't look like the Duke.

As thousands waited to be rescued after Hurricane Katrina, the governor's top aides brainstormed on ways to make an embattled Gov. Kathleen Blanco look more "John Wayne" than "first lady."

Thrust into the national limelight by the storm, Blanco was the target of much criticism for the breakdowns in getting flood victims to safe ground.

E-mails, memos and other records released Friday show how Blanco and her staff juggled thousands of inquiries and emergencies. But as the historic natural catastrophe spiraled into a public-relations nightmare, her aides spent more and more time polishing her image.

Do you think those aides might have served their state better by spending more time organizing relief efforts?

Blanco wanted to air drop copies of a press release into New Orleans.

On Sept. 1, the same night that Nagin snapped at Blanco and President George W. Bush to stop holding "goddamn press conferences" until resources were delivered to his ruined city, the governor suggested dropping a prepared statement into New Orleans from the air.

Blanco's press secretary, Denise Bottcher, considered that a bad idea.

"I don't believe it's appropriate given the urgent nature and need to drop water and food," Bottcher wrote in an e-mail.

This sounds like an episode of Spin City.

Hard to say whether Bush's or Blanco's staff comes out worse on a lost letter.

Three days after the storm, Blanco complained to the White House that FEMA had still failed to fulfill its promises of aid. While cloaked in customary political courtesies, Blanco noted that she had already requested 40,000 more troops; ice, water and food; buses, base camps, staging areas, amphibious vehicles, mobile morgues, rescue teams, housing, airlift and communications systems, according to a press office e-mail of the text of her letter to Bush.

"Even if these initial requests had been fully honored, these assets would not be sufficient," Blanco said. She also asked for the return of the Louisiana Army National Guard's 256th Brigade Combat Team, then deployed to Iraq.

Five days later, Bush assistant Maggie Grant e-mailed Blanco aide Paine Gowen to say the White House did not receive the letter.

"We found it on the governor's Web site but we need 'an original,' for our staff secretary to formally process the requests she is making," Grant wrote.

The governor of Puerto Rico spent days trying to get Blanco's administration to approve Puerto Rico's sending 1100 National Guard skilled at hurricane disasters. I wonder how many states encountered similar frustrations. Surely it is pretty easy to simply say "yes".

Then there were the celebrity parasites trying to get in on the disaster.

Other documents show how Blanco's aides were inundated with requests from celebrities and dignitaries wanting to visit the city.

Blanco was advised by her aides to get out in the field and generate favorable photo-ops.

"Bush's numbers are low, and they are getting pummeled by the media for their inept response to Katrina and are actively working to make us the scapegoats," Bob Mann, Ms. Blanco's communications director, wrote in an e-mail message that afternoon, outlining plans by Washington Democrats to help turn the blame back onto President Bush.

With so much criticism being directed toward the governor, the time had come, her aides told her, to rework her performance. She had to figure out a way not only to lead the state through the most costly natural disaster in United States history, but also to emerge on top somehow in the nasty public relations war.

Drop the emotion, the anger and all those detail-oriented briefings, Ms. Blanco's aides told her. Get out to the disaster zone to visit emergency shelters, and repeat again and again: help is on the way.

Um, actually making the help arrive would have been more helpful than generating photo ops.

The most important screw-ups occurred in the decaded leading up to Hurricane Katrina as Louisiana's political class failed to prepare for the inevitable. Louisiana gets more Army Corps of Engineers money ($1.9 billion per year) than any other state (California is in second place at $1.4 billion). So money was not the problem. Pork and corruption were at the root of why adequate preparations were not made to prevent disaster on such a scale.

By Randall Parker    2005 December 04 07:00 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2004 August 29 Sunday
On The Latest Pentagon Israel Spy Scandal

If you haven't been following the breaking scandal possibly involving neoconservative Department of Defense civilian officials, the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Israel, and intelligence on Iran then it is time to start. CBS News first broke the story that there is an Israeli spy in the Pentagon being targeted by an FBI investigation.

With ties to top Pentagon officials Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, the analyst was assigned to a unit within the Defense Department tasked with helping develop the Pentagon's Iraq policy.

The first suspected spy identified as a target of this investigation is DIA analyst Larry Franklin.

At the center of the investigation, sources said, is Lawrence A. Franklin, a career analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency who specializes in Iran and has served in the Air Force Reserve, rising to colonel. Early in the Bush administration, Franklin moved from the DIA to the Pentagon's policy branch headed by Undersecretary Douglas J. Feith, where he continued his work on Iranian affairs.

Franklin works under William J. Luti in the heavily criticised Office of Special Plans (OSP). As head of OSP Luti, in turn, is under neoconservative Douglas Feith.

Since many of the neoconservatives are Jewish it helps to keep clear that Franklin is not Jewish.

Franklin is not Jewish, but he works alongside several Jewish officials, including Harold Rhode and Mike Rubin. Doug Feith is Jewish.

The most notable Jewish neoconservatives in the Pentagon are Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and David Wurmser.

Perle, Feith, Wurmser, Shulsky, and Wolfowitz are Jews, while Luti, Hadley, Armitage, Rice, Rove, Card, Scowcroft, Fairbanks, and Powell are not.

Laura Rozen reported the spin on Franklin that Franklin thought he was just passing information to AIPAC to be passed on to the White House. However, that lame spin is seems exceedingly unlikely since the FBI first got interested in Franklin when they spotted him joining a lunch between an AIPAC lobbyist and an Israeli embassy official.

Sept. 6 issue - It was just a Washington lunch—one that the FBI happened to be monitoring. Nearly a year and a half ago, agents were monitoring a conversation between an Israeli Embassy official and a lobbyist for American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, as part of a probe into possible Israeli spying. Suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, in the description of one intelligence official, another American "walked in" to the lunch out of the blue. Agents at first didn't know who the man was. They were stunned to discover he was Larry Franklin, a desk officer with the Near East and South Asia office at the Pentagon.

It seems highly likely that Franklin knew who he was dealing with.

One government official says they have a "slam dunk case" against Franklin.

Multiple sources have told CNN that the investigation is well along, and one government official described the evidence against the suspect as a "slam dunk case."

The primary motive Israel has for spying on the United States government at this point is to assess and attempt to change US policy toward Iran and toward Israel's potential actions toward Iran.

Understanding details of the U.S. assessment of Iran's nuclear program or gaining inside knowledge of how America might react to a possible Israeli preemptive military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities would be extremely valuable for the Jewish state, regional experts say.

This investigation is in addition to the investigation of Feith's office for possible passing of US secrets to Chalabi which may have ended up in Iranian hands.

The investigation is the latest embarrassing incident involving Pentagon employees. In June, federal investigators began administering polygraph examinations to civilian Pentagon employees to determine who may have disclosed classified information to Ahmad Chalabi, the former Iraqi exile leader who was once a close ally of the Pentagon.

The Chalabi investigation is also centered around the organization that Feith controls in the Pentagon.

The linkage, if any, between the two leak investigations, remains unclear. But they both center on the office of Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, the Pentagon's No. 3 official.

The investigation of Franklin is part of a larger investigation that has supposedly been on-going for two years.

Investigators are trying to establish Whether anyone in the Pentagon knew what Franklin was up to.

The probe also reaches beyond Franklin, including an investigation of whether more senior officials knew of the alleged document transfers, a law enforcement official said.

...

Franklin also was a key link between the Defense Department and Iraqi National Congress Leader Ahmed Chalabi, according to the officials and Chalabi aides.

Consider the irony here. In dealing with AIPAC and Israeli embassy personnel Franklin may have been motivated in part by his feelings of hostility toward the Iranian government. Yet Franklin also had dealings with the INC and Chalabi and Chalabi or other INC officials may have been passing US secrets on to Iran. What a mess.

Also, if Franklin has been a key link to Chalabi's organization then he was more important in the OSP than some reports are making him out to be.

On a separate but related note Laura Rozen also reports on how well connected Douglas Feith is and how a little knowledge of the history of the Ottoman Empire and of Iraq in the 1920s shows that the neoconservatives were naive to hope for a Hashemite restoration in Iraq. I've previously discussed the delusions of the neoconservative "Clean Break" plan for the Middle East.

Also check out Steve Sailer's coverage on the spy investigation and Laura Rozen's coverage as well.

By Randall Parker    2004 August 29 03:22 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
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