Monday, May 31, 2010

One if by land, two if by sea

By Daniel Jackson

Or is it the other way around?

Regardless, Israel blew this opening round in the summer games--they should have embedded the press and had live streaming video coverage as they went in. The fact is that this entire event was a media set up. Turkey is spoiling for a fight and eager to jump into the hole left by US incompetence.

Having set up the charade to run the blockade Hamas-style (capture some soldiers coming aboard in the first wave and hold them hostage in the hold), they are now demanding blood. In fact, they have promised to send another flotilla--but this one will probably be backed by a navy flotilla of their own.

One of the uncertainties about the coming summer festivities has been how the Turks will play their hand. The flotilla farce is nothing more than their Trojan Horse (after all, Troy IS one of their national treasures). Now, it would appear to be the first round of the next war.

Israel has a strong army, a strong air force, but a very weak navy. The maritime enterprise, as a whole, is basically an after thought. Now, they may be facing an entirely new front with a potentially serous combatant. For all intents and purposes, the entire coast of Israel is unprotected by a NATO class navy to shore bombardment. It is an empirical question how well the IAF would do against the Turkish navy. Not well, thinks the Turk.

It is fascinating to watch the weight of world opinion (in places like Germany that has an interesting record of liberating captured Olympic hostages to terror) react to the Turkish Trojan Horse. My favorite is from the Atlantic online blogger:

A simple point. The violence by the activists is pretty abhorrent. These are not followers of Gandhi or MLK Jr. But the violence is not fatal to anyone and it is in response to a dawn commando raid by armed soldiers. They are engaging in self-defense. More to the point: theya r (sic) civilians confronting one of the best militaries in the world.

Does this guy read this stuff? Well, dah! The violence was not fatal to anyone YET because the entire charade was STOPPED after the IDF personnel, armed with PAINT BALL weapons of mass destruction, got serious, drew their weapons, and STOPPED IT. To STOP the violence intent on killing and maiming soldiers required FORCE. THAT stopped the violence from spreading. And how do we know they are not Turkish professionals dressed as civilians? Other than a set up, what do we REALLY know?

It is very clear that the Turks intended to break the blockade one way or another. Now, they are turning up the heat and they have the tactical advantage. The next flotilla could involve a naval engagement and the opening round in the next regional war. Very interesting. Maybe Israel needs to redeploy its missile subs (if they can). The fact is that the region is heating up at an increasing rate. Not good.

This is good news, however, for Obama--this will be his FIRST disaster that will be clearly his own fault. Way to go, Dude.

Of course, the O-Man can make points if he sends a flotilla to cover Israel's flank and tells the Turks that the US and NATO will not tolerate war talk on an allied state.

But, he won't. He wants the fireworks for the Fourth of July.

Bookmark and Share

What if they were Armenians running a Turkish blockade

By Daniel Jackson

Ironic, isn't it, that His Nibs demands Netanyahu account for what happened this morning when HE waits 40 days and 40 nights to bestir Himself over the largest oil spill in history. Meanwhile, the rest of us must wait for the IDF footage of the events this morning.

Here are three snippets. The obvious first impression is that the IDF did not take 'em like Janet Reno's minions at WACO.

The aerial view:



The side view from the sea:



The aftermath view:



So, I ask you: just exactly HOW would the Turks, Syrians, Iranians, Russians, North Koreans, or the Chinese have handled this situation? Just how many would be left standing? Well, with the Turks, the answer historically is obvious.

After spending a day with Israelis in Jerusalem, of ALL political stripes, the message for His Nibs is that if he cannot say, "How did you accomplish this with so little collateral damge," he might just want to hold his tongue. Save it for the folks at BP.

Bookmark and Share

Courage, an essay for Memorial Day

By Donald Sensing

On Memorial Day we remember the men and women who gave their lives in the service of our country or who have died since their time of service. We should be careful to distinguish between this day and Veterans Day, a day set aside to pay tribute to those serving now or who have served and are still living.

While giving honor to e more than one million, one hundred thousand American men and women who died in battle, we draw up short of honoring war itself or glorifying it. General William Tecumseh Sherman, the Union commander who devastated vast swaths of Georgia and both Carolinas during the Civil War, wrote to his wife at war’s end,

I confess, without shame, that I am sick and tired of fighting — its glory is all moonshine; even the most brilliant success is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families ... it is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated ... that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.
Yet while the dead whom we honor today would almost certainly agree with General Sherman's sentiments, they also knew that it is untrue that nothing is worth fighting for. Teddy Roosevelt earned wartime honors in the Spanish-American war and then received the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering the end of the Russo-Japanese war. Roosevelt put the tension between our desire for peace and the sometime necessity of war this way:
[M]y disagreement with the peace-at-any-price men, the ultra-pacifists, is not in the least because they favor peace. I object to them, first, because they have proved themselves futile and impotent in working for peace, and second, because they commit ... the crime against morality of failing to uphold righteousness as the all-important end toward which we should strive ... To condemn equally might which backs right and might which overthrows right is to render positive service to wrong-doers. . . . To denounce the nation that wages war in self-defense, or from a generous desire to relieve the oppressed, in the same terms in which we denounce war waged in a spirit of greed or wanton folly stands on a par with denouncing equally a murderer and the policeman who, at peril of his life and by force of arms, arrests the murderer. In each case the denunciation denotes not loftiness of soul but weakness both of mind and morals. – America and the World War
But I am not exploring today the topic of just or unjust wars. This post is about courage.

Every member of the service who faces battle knows about fear. But there are ample opportunities in the military to be in fear in either peace or war.

One fearful day for me was on Sicily drop zone at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on July 1, 1987. A C-130 approached to drop off a Sheridan tank, flying about five feet above the ground. The chutes deployed but the C-130 hit the ground flat on its underside. It was about 75 feet away from me. The pilot gave the engines full throttle, trying to get back into the air, but the landing gear was buried in the sand. The plane ran into a wooded ravine where it blew up.

My friend, Major Baxter Ennis, was with me. Like many of the other soldiers present, we ran into the flames because in the military you never abandon your comrades. There was fire and smoke everywhere, not only from the burning jet fuel; the forest was on fire, too. The heat was intense. We finally left, having accomplished nothing. This is that crash:



Four crewmen and a soldier were killed. I had never met them. I didn’t even know their names until the news media broadcast them. But I don’t think two weeks at a time has gone by since then that I don’t think of them, and think of that day.

The pilot’s name was Captain Garry Bardo, Junior.
The navigator’s name was First Lieutenant John B. Keiser, III.
The loadmaster’s name was Technical Sergeant Timothy J. Matar.
The assistant loadmaster’s name was Airman First Class Albert G. Dunse.
The soldier’s name was Staff Sergeant Douglas Hunter.

These are some names I am remembering today, for Memorial Day.

William Manchester won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of John. F. Kennedy. Manchester fought on Okinawa as a Marine sergeant. He wrote of single-handedly entering a building to take out an enemy sniper: “There was a door which meant there was another room and the sniper was in that—and I just broke down. I was absolutely gripped by fear that this man would expect me and would shoot me.”

Fear in danger hardly needs justification. It is not fear that needs explanation, but courage. As one veteran wrote, the reasonable thing in battle would be to run away. Whence comes the courage to stay, much less courage to heroics? Were they truly willing to die for their country? I don't think so. There's an old story that goes back probably to the Civil War of the young soldier whose commander asked him, "Are you willing to die for your country?" The young man answered, "Certainly not. But I am ready to die, unwilling."

What is courage? Courage is not simply the absence of fear. Indeed, many men who have been awarded the highest decorations for bravery in battle admit they were frightened the entire time.

No, courage is not the lack of fear. One facing real danger without fear is either a fool or ignorant. As someone once wisecracked, "When everyone around you is losing their head and you’ve kept yours, then you don’t understand the situation."

So, then, is courage the mastery of fear? The will to act despite danger and the fear of it is necessary for courage to come forth. But even that falls short as a workable definition. Courage, like fear, is mostly an emotional response to the danger. Courage is not unthinking, but it is usually uncritical. Courage is an act of will but more than that. Courage is an act of being.

Many soldiers have done heroic acts and later said they were hardly in control of themselves. The ancient Greeks called this state katalepsis, "possession," and even the Spartans tried to train their soldiers never to fall under this condition. Audie Murphy was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for action in this condition after his best friend was killed. In this state there is no conscious fear and heroic deeds seem reckless more than courageous.

Without fear there is no courage, but fear and courage are not opposites. Courage is the opposite of cowardice, not of fear. Courage and cowardice are opposite sides of the same coin, but what is the obverse side of the coin of fear?

Again we consult ones who have seen both sides of the coin. William Manchester suffered a non-life-threatening wound on Okinawa that sent him to the honorable safety of a field hospital. There he learned that his unit would make an amphibious assault further up the island. Manchester explained in his book, Goodbye, Darkness, that the thought of his friends facing danger without him to help them “was just intolerable.”
Those men on the line were my family, my home. They were closer to me than I can say. I had to be with them, rather than let them die and me live with the knowledge that I might have saved them.
He went AWOL from the hospital, joined his unit was blown nearly to bits by Japanese artillery in the ensuing battle.

Military service, especially in battle, is steeped with the convictions of deepest emotion. In battle there is fear and courage, anger and compassion. There is resignation and determination. There is hope and despair. The chief emotion of the battlefield, unlikely as it may be, is love. When patrolling deserts of Iraq or the mountains of Afghanistan, soldiers stay where flies the angry iron not for country or flag or other abstractions. In the final sense they fight for their friends. One Iraq veteran wrote,
I've found the hard way that war is not glamorous. You quickly lose the idea of being a man fighting for his country when you have to carry your comrade who has been wounded in a gun fight. That nobility is lost quickly. ... It's not about fighting for the flag, it's about fighting for my life and fighting for my buddies' lives. These men I am lucky enough to serve with, I have become so attached to it's like they are my brothers.
The opposite of fear is not courage. It is love. "Perfect love," says the New Testament, "drives out fear." Love displaces fear just as oil displaces water. Yet there is a paradox here. If love drives out fear, then is love the only source of courage? “Among men who fight together there is an intense love,” Manchester explained. His story of leaving the field hospital is a love story. Yet it was a fear story, too. His fear, as he also admitted, was that his friends would be in danger and unless he was with them he would not be able to do anything about it. Here his fear for his friends’ safety was not driven out by his love for them, his fear for them and love for them combined to evoke courage. Love and fear, two sides of the same coin. Manchester’s courage was born of both fear and love to place himself in danger to protect his comrades.

Former Marine and author Steven Pressfield put it this way in Gates of Fire:
What can be more noble than to slay oneself? Not literally. ... But to extinguish the selfish self within, that part which looks only to its own preservation, to save its own skin. ...

When a warrior fights not for himself, but for his brothers, when his most passionately sought goal is neither glory nor his own life’s preservation, but to spend his substance for them, his comrades, not to abandon them, not to prove unworthy of them, then his heart truly has achieved contempt for death, and with that he transcends himself and his actions touch the sublime. That is why the true warrior cannot speak of battle save to his brothers who have been there with him. The truth is too holy, too sacred for words.
Anita Dixon, of Wichita, Kan., whose son Army Sgt. Evan Parker was killed while serving in Iraq in 2005, kisses the graves in section 60, where many of the casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan are buried, among flags placed in preparation of Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. on Thursday May 27, 2010. 'I'm putting a kiss on the graves because they're all brothers,' says Dixon, ' the military is a family.' says Dixon. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Whether they served in peace or war, the men and women we memorialize today were not so impoverished of spirit that they were unable to surrender the pleasures of life. They deemed that their love of country and duty to freedom were of greater value and more important imperative, so they reckoned that if dangers must be faced, they would face them in the most desirable way, by placing their own mortal bodies "between their loved homes and the war's desolation."

Because of their sacrifice we go safely to our homes. Henceforth we should stand in humility when their names are read. This date should never go by but that on it our fallen shall be remembered.

The prophet Micah wrote that the time will come when God will judge between all the peoples and will settle disputes between strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. All people will be at peace, and no one will make them afraid (Micah 4:3-4).

Let us pray that day comes quickly. Until then may the Lord watch over those who serve today, to make them instruments of justice, enablers of peace, and finally to see them safely home.

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, May 30, 2010

God in your own image

By Donald Sensing

Quote of the day, courtesy of The Anchoress: "“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do" -- Anne LaMott.

To which The Anchoress adds,

You can also safely assume that you’ve created a “spirituality” based on your own conscience (or your subconscious self) when it turns out that all God really wants of you is for you to do what makes you happy. Oh, and “love and forgive and stuff.”

I wonder what Romero would say about the current (and, frankly, cowardly) trend among the sophisticates to exempt themselves from messy, judgmental and possibly-offensive religious identifications in favor of being “spiritual,” which happily offends no one and challenges nothing.
I wrote about this back in February.
Glenn Reynolds commented on the goal of "spirituality" rather than religion, "Well, that’s because religion often tells you to do things you don’t want to do, or to refrain from doing things you want to do, while spirituality is usually more . . . flexible."

Well, yeah. "Spirituality" is religious Calvinball, a game featured in comic strip, "Calvin and Hobbes." The rules of Calvinball are simple: there are no rules. Players make them up as they go along and any player may change any rule for any reason. That's what "spirituality" is.
The Anchoress recommends David Mills' "awfully good essay," which she excerpts thus:
So we find Lady Gaga, the pornographic songstress, telling a reporter for The Times that she has a new spirituality just before taking her out for a night at a Berlin sex club. Asked by the reporter, “You were raised a Catholic — so when you say ‘God,’ do you mean the Catholic God, or a different, perhaps more spiritual sense of God?”, she responded, “More spiritual. . . . There’s really no religion that doesn’t hate or condemn a certain kind of people, and I totally believe in all love and forgiveness, and excluding no one.” [. . .]

Even academics don’t see the problem. A few years ago a much-reported study of college students’ religious practice found that they become more “spiritual” as their observance of their childhood faith declined. The researchers defined “spiritual” as “growth in self-understanding, caring about others, becoming more of a global citizen and accepting others of different faiths.” They simply dressed up their favored attitudes by calling them “spiritual.” That kind of spirituality, detached from anything specifically religious, is just materialism in a tuxedo.
Bookmark and Share

Prayer for Memorial Day

By Donald Sensing

Lord God, grant us the faith that will truly honor those we remember this day.

They died for their country; give us the faith to live for our country.

They died to bring peace; give us the faith to live for peace.

They died believing in us, their fellow Americans; give us the faith to believe in one another and in our future.

Grant us the same sense of commitment to people and their right to justice and peace as those we remember.

Teach us to honor all our relationships, from those dearest to us to those whom we will never meet but with whom we share this common planet.

Grant us wisdom, give us hope, grant us dreams and visions like those that inspired people to give their lives, believing that through adversity and conflict would come peace and justice.

Lord, save us from complacency and prejudice – those very things that create conflict and cause young lives to be lost in battle or in despair. Make us instruments of your peace:

where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, unity;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, love;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Lord, hear our prayer, and let our cry come unto you. Amen.

Adapted from the prayer for the Anzac Day Dawn Service, Sydney, Australia, 1987.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

On the Gulf Course

By Donald Sensing

Headlines:


One day in the timeline:
April 26: A remote sub fails to stop the leak. Just four days after the explosion, the spill covers an area the size of Rhode Island. After hosting a ceremony for the New York Yankees, Obama travels to Andrews Air Force Base for a game of golf.
Mary Landrieu: President Obama will pay politically for spill
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said Thursday that President Barack Obama will pay a political price for his lack of visibility in the Gulf region during the catastrophic BP oil spill.

“The president has not been as visible as he should have been on this, and he’s going to pay a political price for it, unfortunately,” Landrieu told POLITICO.
Peggy Noonan explains why this is not a good thing, no matter whether you support or oppose the president.
The disaster in the Gulf may well spell the political end of the president and his administration, and that is no cause for joy. It's not good to have a president in this position—weakened, polarizing and lacking broad public support—less than halfway through his term. That it is his fault is no comfort. It is not good for the stability of the world, or its safety, that the leader of "the indispensable nation" be so weakened. I never until the past 10 years understood the almost moral imperative that an American president maintain a high standing in the eyes of his countrymen.
Iran. North Korea. China. Russia. Turkey. Pakistan. Trust works two ways - both with allies and enemies or potential enemies. Analysts and leaders of both sets are watching Obama and wondering the same thing: as a management problem,  the oil spill is relatively straightforward and he could not manage it. So is he competent to lead during a immeasurably more complex and pressing crisis involving one or more of them? After all, there is no "other side" in the spill. The well has no will of its own and does not react to BP's or the government' actions. It just leaks.

But, as Clausewitz emphasized 185 years ago, one's enemy does not merely act, it reacts also. Or as we used to put it when I was still on active duty, "The enemy gets a vote." Or more accurately, a veto or its attempt. Around the globe, this administration has been vetoed at almost every turn. Iran? Vetoed there and at the UN. Vetoed by Russia and China. Vetoed, for that matter, by England and other European countries, whose support for American initiatives have been tepid at best.

Our allies' leaders seem to see little reason to stake their governments, their treasuries and their domestic standing on this president's competence or, for that matter, on his will to fight a long fight and overcome blockades and obstacles. Obama did not demonstrate any such thing in his campaign's signature issue, health care reform. He was absent from the framing of the legislation, outsourcing it to Pelosi and Reid. He crossed no aisles, incorporated no Republican ideas and got no Republican votes.

In fact, when the president went to the Hill to meet with Senate Republicans, he apparently went with not to build bridges with them but to tear down what little abutments there were left.
President Obama went to Capitol Hill on Tuesday for a rare meeting with Senate Republicans, but the 75-minute session yielded little progress on hot-button topics and left some senators with bruised feelings. ...

"He needs to take a Valium before he comes in and talks to Republicans," Sen. Pat Roberts (Kan.) told reporters. "He's pretty thin-skinned."

Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.) described the meeting as "testy," and Sen. John Thune (S.D.) called it a "lively discussion." Others questioned whether the "symbolism" of Obama's approach matched the actions of his Democratic congressional allies. ...

But his spokesman Robert Gibbs acknowledged that little agreement was reached.
"Bipartisan" to Obama means that the Republicans vote the way he wants. What does this say to Britain, France, Japan, Germany, or for that matter to Iran, Russia or China? It says political ineptitude and inability or lack of desire either to form or to work with a coalition. They are likely concluding the same thing as Sen. John McCain did after the Senate meeting, "There are legitimate questions as to whether he’s out of his depth or not."

Of course, Republicans who come to this conclusion are free to say so. A lot of Democrats will (or have) come to the same conclusion but cannot say so. Either way, the thought is more important than its utterance. Increasingly, the president will find it harder to gain rock-solid support on the Hill for his programs. Not even his own party's members will have his back. In fact, many Democrat members are starting to run against him as much as their Republican opponent. Even in an overseas crisis, the president will discover that the well of trust and confidence in him has already run pretty dry among Democrats. And as Noonan explains, this is not a good thing.

The oil spill is important not just ecologically but because it illuminates the Obama syndrome: the physical and emotional and managerial absence of the president. There is nothing in Obama's resume that shows he ever made highly difficult decisions that depended, at the end, on his own personal reservoir of wisdom and experience. So he does not tackle the inbox because its contents are above his competence. (One is reminded of Obama telling Rick Warren that when an unborn child gets human rights is "above my pay grade.") He tends instead to lesser matters that match his lower level of competence and protect his ego. Noonan again:
The president, in my view, continues to govern in a way that suggests he is chronically detached from the central and immediate concerns of his countrymen. ...

The original sin in my view is that as soon as the oil rig accident happened the president tried to maintain distance between the gusher and his presidency. He wanted people to associate the disaster with BP and not him. When your most creative thoughts in the middle of a disaster revolve around protecting your position, you are summoning trouble.
As Glenn Reynolds observed during an earlier administration failure, when its PR effort "is to change which of your failures is the subject of conversation, it’s not a great sign."

So if North and South Korea come to open combat will that be Obama's first impulse, to maintain distance between the crisis and him personally? Shall we be admonished, as we have on so many other issues, that the previous administration left him a mess of things?

Besides allies and opponents, there are fence sitters. They are watching, too, to determine whether the United States shall be the strong horse in world affairs. So far, every sign is that this administration it simply is not interested. Charles Krauthammer sees something even more ominous than disinterest: actual intention. Iran's new alignment with Turkey and Brazil is,
... a crushing verdict on the Obama foreign policy. It demonstrates how rising powers, traditional American allies, having watched this administration in action, have decided that there's no cost in lining up with America's enemies and no profit in lining up with a U.S. president given to apologies and appeasement. ...

This is not just an America in decline. This is an America in retreat -- accepting, ratifying and declaring its decline, and inviting rising powers to fill the vacuum.

Nor is this retreat by inadvertence. This is retreat by design and, indeed, on principle. It's the perfect fulfillment of Obama's adopted Third World narrative of American misdeeds, disrespect and domination from which he has come to redeem us and the world. Hence his foundational declaration at the U.N. General Assembly last September that "No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation" (guess who's been the dominant nation for the last two decades?) and his dismissal of any "world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another." (NATO? The West?).
Richard Cohen wrote last fall that "Obama Doesn't Seem Ready to Lead."
This is the president we now have: He inspires lots of affection but not a lot of awe. It is the latter, though, that matters most in international affairs, where the greatest and most gut-wrenching tests await Obama.
The world is becoming more dangerous because of this administration, not less. But don't worry, just play another round of golf and everything will be all right.

Updates: Peter Wehner:
The president's instincts are by now obvious to all: deflect blame, point fingers, and lash out at others, most especially his predecessor. We know from press reports (see here and here) that the strategy for the Democrats in 2010, two years after Obama was elected president, is to – you guessed it – blame George W. Bush.
I guess this was inevitable: Pelosi blames Bush for the oil spill. People, read this - you just can't make stuff like this up.

Bookmark and Share

Friday, May 28, 2010

Here we hurricane again

By Donald Sensing

Every year the government forecasts what the upcoming hurricane season will be like, and every year emergency-planning and response agencies from Texas to Maine hardly notice. According to the NOAA,
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Atlantic storm season could produce as many as 14 hurricanes this year, the U.S. government's top climate agency predicted on Thursday, setting the scene for potentially the most intense season since 2005.

In its first forecast for the storm season that begins next Tuesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecast 14 to 23 named storms, with 8 to 14 developing into hurricanes, making it one of the most active ever.
The thing is that these forecasts are of no use at all. One good reason is that the number of hurricanes per year is random. Click the link for charts and such.

Bookmark and Share

Strike Eagles

By Donald Sensing

ABC News reporter Martha Raddatz flew in the backseat of an F-15 Strike Eagle on a combat patrol in Afghanistan and rolled in for a strafing run. Pretty good report.



Update: The big issue on this sortie was how the F-15 pilots denied ground troops' demand for a GBU-38 bomb, 500 pounds worth of explosive destruction. Because a school was near the designated target, the pilots said no bombs, they'd strafe instead. For illumination of why protecting the people takes priority over killing the enemy (though the strafing wasn't exactly a kiss on the cheek), read Steven Pressfield's post about his trip to Afghanistan with Marine Gen. James Mattis.

Bookmark and Share

Stratagems and Spoils--Part II

By Daniel Jackson

Just before last Shabbat, my son Shmuel came to me to ask a favor--could I drive him to Jerusalem at 5 am on Sunday morning. When asked why, he told me that the Shomer Chadash was gathering to help a farmer put up a kiosk next to a state park to sell produce and food to campers, hikers, and tourists. The farmer had tried in the past but whenever construction started, local toughs would knock it down. The Shomer Chadash was gathering to help him build the whole thing in a day.

My son has been active with the Shomer Chadash for a few years now. He regularly goes up to Har Turan in the Lower Galilee to sit as a watchman watching cows, fences, and buildings that are the favorite targets of known but unnamed individuals from Israeli Arab communities. When it turned out that his 5am Jerusalem ride to the north opted out, I agreed to take Shmuel all the way. Reasoned I, this would be a good chance to see what's doing in the north and check out the Shomer Chadash in action.

Our destination was state park parking lot at the top of Nachal Chazur, just up the road from Nimrod's Fortress in the Golan. There's a wonderful hiking trail that runs from the parking lot down the mountain ending at Banias State Park.

We left Efrat at 0410 Sunday morning and were at the site at 0726. Even with the early departure, the trip was an incredible demonstration as to the level of preparedness Israel has achieved since the 2006 war. Highways have been expanded to at least the US Highway system level. There are a few choke points where the roads are being expanded to four lanes--but these will be completed by the summer.

Arriving at the parking lot, we found it deserted except for a knot of men standing over against a large green fence surrounding a series of buildings and what looks like a glitzy new shrine. On the other side of the lot, a few guys in their car talking to another in a pickup truck--over by a concrete foundation spiked by re-bar surrounded by a storm fence. Shmuel and I have been here before; we are immediately surprised by the size and scope of what used to be a deserted shrine now way built up. What's going on here, thought I.

Struck by the total lack of Shomer Chadash turnout, Shmuel walked over to the guy in the truck to ask what was going on. After a short conference, Shmuel returned and said we were to follow the guy in the truck. Adventure calls. So, we follow the pick up truck up the hill to the town of Neve Ativ, a sky resort Moshav high on the slopes of Mount Harmon.


Neve Ativ is one of the prettiest Swisse towns I've ever seen. Ski lodges and inns are everywhere surrounded by gardens, trees, flowers, and secluded walkways. It's quite the scene--very different than the neighbors especially with its orderly platted streets, street lights, side walks--all the signs of a planned community. These are the hallmarks of Israeli normative culture and rules.

The truck pulls next to me and I receive orders to park here and wait. The driver is a large man to whom giving orders comes easily. Following them appears equally at ease. A woman appears through a gate in a very large and green hedge and beckons us inside. Like her husband, her requests merit compliance. She ushers us inside an inn to the cafe where she prepares coffee for me, a large bottle of Coke for Shmuel, and lots of cookies and cakes, which she sets out on several tables--sit and eat.

Over the next twenty minutes, we are joined by more people. The man in the truck reappears followed by the young men from the parking lot. Shmuel explains that the man in the truck is Ilan Miles, the woman is Mrs Miles. Mr. Miles is the reason Shmuel came up. It is his concession stand that the Shomer Chadash are helping to build. However, something's come up.


Ilan has been working to develope the parking lot site for over 10 years. During this time, he's worked his way through every Agency, Board, Committee, and Documentation process possible. He's followed proceedure all the way. He's submitted plans, profiles, projections, and petitions to get permission to build on the site. He's even worked with the Druze headmen for the neighboring Druze town on use rights meeting all of their objections and hesitations. He even designed an additional set of buildings for Druze merchants to set up their own stalls in the complex. He even laid the foundation and set the rebar for the buildings, which given the levels of building and tax regulations (normative rules) is quite an accomplishment.

Everything is documented for all to see; and they do.



Recently, he says, he's been getting threats and there have been incidents over at the site. So, he called the Shomer Chadash to help him out getting the buildings up and watching over the site. He had arranged to deliver the container holding materials and equipment to build the site by truck. Everything was good to go.

Just after Shabbat, he received a phone call from his buddy, the District Police Offical saying that he, the DPO, was stopping the project--for now. He said he learned there was a threat of violence and that there was not enough police resources to provide proper protection. Ilan was furious and demanded to see "paper", which the DPO kindly sent Ilan by FAX. Ilan has his attorneys scheduled to go before the Israeli Supreme Court later this morning but he clearly wants some action NOW.

As each group of Shomer Chadash members arrived, Ilan repeats the story. More cookies, coffee, and cakes were served as the room filled up with concerned supporters--everyone ready to do SOMETHING. Even the Truck Driver is ready to do something.

Miriam Bar Yosef, a member of the Shomer Chadash Board, shows up about the time Yoel Zilberman, one of the founders of the Shomer Chadash. Ilan repeats the story, showing the stop work order along with copies of all the approval certificates giving him the legal go-ahead with the project.



Apparently, the local Druze suddenly claim Ilan is going to build a large disco on his site, alcohol will be served, there will be cigarettes smoked, indecent behavior all on a Holy Druze site. This is outrageous. The local Druze are upset and are ready to act, with violence, to stop the construction. This is despite the fact that the Druze headmen have already signed off on the project and that they know perfectly well what's in the filed use plan.

Ilan and the Shomer Chadash are ready to go down to the site with the truck. They assemble in the parking lot in front of the inn. Shmuel asks if I want to go.

"You don't have to stay, Abba. I don't think anything is going to happen and I can get a ride back with the others."

"Are you kidding," I respond. "I've waited a long time to see F.G. Bailey's Stratagems and Spoils in action. This is timeless."

Just then, Ilan's buddy, DPO, drives up. While he and Ilan are having words, I wander over to a section of the parking lot where I can see the building site and the gated entrance to Neve Ativ clearly. Both points are covered by lots of police cars. While they may not have the resources to stop the Druze, they can easily stop Ilan.

The DPO retreats with words to the effect, I won't let you do this, buddy. Ilan gives the order to saddle up--they're going through. Shmueli says the Shomer Chadash want to go in only two cars. I tell them I'm taking my car and will follow. Looks are exchanged and Shmuel rides with me.

The convoy heads out of Neve Ativ towards the building site: Ilan, the two Shomer Chadash vehicles, the truck, and us. The first three vehicles head out of the gate passed the police cruiser stationed there; however, as the truck hauling the container approaches, the officers jump out. Road Check: the driver is ordered outside with his manifest and they all head to the back of the truck to inspect visually the contents.

We drive by without causing a stir.

By the time we arrive at the building site, the Druze shrine, and the state park, the scene has escalated. Media representatives are everywhere, photographers, video cameras are held back by the police. Over against the gate to the Druze shrine and the shrine's restaurant cafe, are a know of 12 toughs, two Druze headmen, and a few more figures moving about the shrine's large fence.


I meander off to find a vista of Nimrod's Fortress explaining to a local policeman that I am not a member of the Shomer Chadash, I do not speak Hebrew, and that I am an American Rabbi with a camera. Shmuel goes over to stand with his buddies.

Looking at the old fortress, I am reminded about how such positions are taken--the seige army needs a lot more men and equipment than the defending army has inside the walls.



From this model alone, the Shomer Chadash is out gunned--even though the sides are equal, the defenders have position.



They also have their cell phones in their hands and their friends and relatives live in the town a stone's throw away.

In the end, the DPO gets Ilan to retreat. The Shomer Chadash pack up and go.



But the Druze faction sticks around. They'll stay until the other side has completely gone. Plenty of time to grab a smoke under the "Holy Place--no smoking" sign.



Plenty of time to jeer at the suckers and the sucker who built the foundation they intend to use for themselves.


What galls Ilan and the others is that the Druze did not file any permits to put in the fence or any of the other renovations to the site, all of which are recent. The shrine, the site of an old grave, sits on a small hill where the Druze have been steadily planting trees and developing the sight--obstensibly for religious reasons.



Inside the gates, a new building by the entrance houses a cafe and store. Just down the road, below the Nimrod Fortress state park is another Druze cluster of buildings--a restaurant, a farmer's market, and a store for Israeli tourists to stop and buy supplies. The Druze town is just down the road.



Everyone admits that the issue is not about a Druze holy site. It's about controlling the economic development of the stretch of road between the lower Druze run concession stands and the state park parking lot--those are the spoils. The strategy is to let the investor go through all of the paper work to build the stop and then prevent him from building--ever. The normative rules of Holiness becomes a rallying cry to bring out the Druze support--the overt threat of violence forces the DPO to act in a predictable fashion. The Shomer Chadash, like Ilan, can cry foil, and "it's not fair" but their just sore losers.

This round belongs to the Druze. They have managed to use the normative rules to expand their religious hegemony over the entire parking ground. Today Ilan, tomorrow the state park picnic and camp sites. They jeer and taunt the losing team.

The next round will be about whether or not the Druze can force Ilan to give up his plans altogether. Unless the Shomer Chadash and turn out large numbers in support, Bailey predicts Ilan has not a prayer.

"Hey, Abba. Thanks for sticking around." Hey, that's what fathers are for.

This short two act play is paradigmatic of regional politics at all levels, except at the national level, there is no DPO to keep the peace. In recent months, as such incidents have become more common across the northern part of Israel, the changing winds of war cannot be ruled out from playing a hand here--representing the larger arena and audience. Syria is just over the ridge and it is not very clear who will prevail in controlling the Golan; that is from a Druze perspective. Even though the chances are slim, at best, that Syria would retake the Golan, to the Druze who live here, those odds are too high. It would be prudent, from the pragmatic rule book alone, not to be too cooperative with Israelis--no matter how beneficial or normative the case actually is.

For Ilan, it's not so simple. He's a good man by anyone's standards. He plays by the rules and can be counted on to "do the right thing". That is a clear handicap against pragmatic players.

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sail Away

By Daniel Jackson

You know, I can only look for so long at this,


before I have to do this:




How to get one to cover the other?

Bookmark and Share

Stratagems and Spoils--Part I

By Daniel Jackson

Back in 1976, when I entered the Jackson School of International Studies, I had the great good fortune to study with Professor Paul Hiebert, an anthropologist specializing in South Asia and an all round good guy.

"If you want to understand how the Asian village works," sez he, "you have to read this book," and he gave me one of his extra copies of Stratagems and Spoils by F.G. Bailey. You need a playbook to recognize the players and how the game is played, he explained.

Although not a game theorist, Bailey's analysis of political culture uses the language and imagery of competitive games--games like polo (played by the Swat Pathans), or cricket (played by British Raj personnel), or football (played by the hoi polloi). All such games involve players and their teams, a playing field, goals, grandstands for the audience, rules, and referees. Most importantly, while players may have talent or skill, games are won by tactics.

Perhaps one of the most important lessons of Bailey's work is the distinction between normative rules and practical rules.

"Normative rules are very general guides to conduct; they are used to judge particular actions ethically right or wrong; and within a particular political structure to justify publicly a course of conduct. Use(d) in this way is probably the readiest test of whether or not a particular rule is to be given normative status. For example, I can think of no part of our own society where a leader can say 'I did this because I enjoy ordering people about and I like to be famous': but he can say 'I did this for the common good.'" [All quotes here are from The Anthropology of Politics: a reader in ethnography, theory, and critique, by Joan Vincent and online here.]

"Pragmatic rules are statements not about whether a particular line of conduct is just or unjust, but about whether or not it will be effective. They are normatively neutral. They may operate within the limits set by the rules of the game; or they may not. They range from rules of 'gamesmanship' (how to win without actually cheating) to rules which advise on how to win by cheating without being disqualified (what may be done, for example, on the 'blind' side of the referee in the boxing ring)."

Using ethnographic studies, Bailey explains how these two sets of rules combine for effective action--pragmatic rules are to move the ball to the goal; normative rules are to play to the grandstand. More to the point, these games are won by factional politics--how to mobilize your supporters from the audience to step into the field and join in, too. To do that, you need to work and know the normative system.

"There are hundreds of other examples of how people try to win their way in political competition, displaying a private wisdom which lies behind the the public face of politics. Each culture--English policians, academics, villagers in Wales, villagers in India, villagers anywhere, a Vatican Council, the racketeers of the American cities as revealed in [William F.] Whyte's book or in the 1963 Senate hearings, when Vallachi took the lid off the cosa nostra--each culture has its own set of rules for political manipulation, its own language of politcal wisdom and political action."

Since I have lived in Israel, I have been amazed at how apt Bailey's work is and just how sage the advice of Professor Hiebert has been. Everywhere I turn, I see the tension between these two sets of rules and the centrality of factional politics in virtually every part of Israeli society. The isolated individual, without party or factional allegence is lost at sea. Pragmatic rules are how things are done and are essential to know--the cab driver who tries to run you off the road so he can squeeze in front of you, will overtake you down the road, come along side of you in the lane belonging to the oncoming traffic to quote to you words of Torah on why you SHOULD have let him run you off the road. As my buddy Arik says, that's how you know he respects you.

In Israel, there is a rich matrix of normative rules. There are religious rules, and we have a lot of rule books from which to choose--a gazillion shades of Jewish, Islamic, Christian, Druze, and who knows what else. There are the secular rules and the endless rules of the Kibbutz cultures and Kibbutz wannabe cultures. Then, there are the endless committee rules and procedures. Each government bureau has its own forms and processes. Village councils are another set of rules that require negotiation. And everyone, like the samurai cab drivers have an opinion about how YOUR culture works.

There is, however, only one set of pragmatic rules--whatever wins the goal works. Since life in Israel is like a professional sports game that has NO TIME LIMIT, the best any player or team can hope for is to win THIS round with the certainty that no round is final and there will always be another inning/quarter/leg to be played. It takes years (literally) to get an idea through all the normative layers UNLESS you have the factional support (protexia, as it is called), to play the pragmatic trump card.

This is true on the national level as it is in fights over rights to parking spaces. In this part of the world, ANY contest involves not just the players, but the relevant audience and each player's faction. I have been repeatedly told that whenever someone says this can't be done, an attorney must be consulted. Sometimes, the mere threat to talk with an attorney is sufficient; but, you always need to be prepared to increase the scope of the conflict at any point. After all, that is how things get done--pragmatic rules.

Bailey tells us that in village conflicts, it is how each contestant appears to the audience that is the most telling. This is not merely a question of "face" or "honor". Like those judges with the cards who rate the spins and twirls of ice skatters, the audience in these conflicts evaluates how each side is making its case and how each side utilizes the pragmatic rules while working the normative rules to advantage. It is ballet. Those who rely on either one set of rules too much lose major points. Too much pragmatic turns the crowd against the player; but, too much normative brands the contestant as a sucker, or a freier as it is called in Israel.

Now, Professor Hiebert had one problem with Bailey's book, and it was a lesson he constantly hammered me with: auto-correlation. In almost all of the cases Bailey discussed (Wales, Ireland, India, Pakistan), Hiebert said were, or had been, part of the British Colonial Office. Justice in the old Mandate system, was based on keeping the peace. While the office of Judge was separate, the District Police Officer was/is the prosecutor. When a person appears in court, the District Officer appears in court and tells the Judge, this person is guilty--the case proceeds from there. The pragmatic rules. Why? Because the job of the District Police Officer is to maintain the peace--no conflict. This is the hallmark of the British system--in Jamaica, in India, in Ireland, and in Israel.

In village life, then, the role of the police officer simplifies the game's equations significantly. In the old days, the ultimate resolution of conflict was just that--conflict as in violence as in bloodshed. This is still how things work at a national level in my neck of the woods. At the local level, however, the contestant/team/faction that can present the best case, appearance really, of bringing things to a full conflict will not only win the goal, but the support of the police, if two conditions can be satisfied. First, that the normative rules will support that team's claim; second, if a significant number of factional members can be mobilized in a show of force (and the threat of violence).

At that point, the Police will intervene on the side of the stronger party. Even if the weaker party is the one with the legal right to do whatever it is they want to do. If those who oppose them can mobilize a substantial threat of violence, the District Officer will do what is expected--keep the peace, not the law. Normative rules have nothing to do with it.

Regionally, this post-colonial system fuels much of the factional intercommunity politics in Israel, especially in the north. I am repeatedly struck by the similarity of community factionalism in the Galilee with communal rivalries in South Asia. Bailey's manual works equally well in both ends of Asia--the west as well as the south.

In the Galilee region, there is a low level violence taking place between Jewish (from both European and Arab extractions) and Muslim dominated communities. Jewish landholders and businesses have been facing a constant level of "noise" in terms of thefts, arsons, poaching, assaults, and other forms of nuisance. In most of the cases, the individuals are known to the victims. The response to these predations are almost unitary--the District Officer will do nothing because they are powerless and must maintain the peace.

The Israelis follow the normative rules; the Arab communities follow the pragmatic rules; the District Officers make sure that the two groups stick to their ascribed roles. Complaining about the lack of normative process means using the other "f" word--"it isn't FAIR", which goes nowhere. In fact, the result of such recourse merely subjects the claimant to complete defeat and the well earned jeers and derision of the opposing team.

Recently, young pre and post IDF idealists from the Israeli communities in the Galilee region have organized a group to support Israeli farmers, businesses, and communities against such predatory behavior. Modelling their group on the old watchmen from the 19th century who protected small Jewish communities from Muslim violence, they call themselves the Irgun Shomer Chadash--the New Guardians.

HaShomer HaChadash was established as a result of the inability of farmers and cattlemen in Israel to deal with the recurring problem of seizure of land.

Incidents of imposed protection money, crop theft, animal theft, threats and physical violence, destruction of property with the purpose of causing financial damage are only some of the examples of the attempts to exhaust and weaken the farmers and cattlemen and cause them to surrender their land.

The authorities responsible for providing protection are unable to prevent such occurrences and thus it was decided to establish HaShomer HaChadash in order to return the courage to farmers and cattlemen or any person who does not feel safe in Israel in their own country on their own land.

They are young and idealistic and not always the favorites of the District Officers since each group has very different goals. However, the Shomer Chadash has accomplished something that the general Israeli normative system and rules have not done--they have provided the means for the Israeli individual to have FACTIONAL support against the pragramtic groups of the opposition. They are limited because, being Israelis, they must adhere to the normative system--that is their handicap. Israelis MUST play by the normative rules of their religious group, their residential affiliation, and by a host of civic and governmental players each with their own pragmatic process and normative labels.

The results, however, are mixed as I shall explore in Stratagems and Spoils--Part II, which is a field work illustration of Bailey's guidebook in action. Pictures, even.

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Gulf oil leak stopped!

By Donald Sensing

This is a live feed of the oil well leaking in the Gulf that BP and other agencies have been trying to cap for six weeks.



Reuters reports:
HOUSTON, May 26 (Reuters) - BP Plc (BP.L) (BP.N) Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said on Wednesday it appears drilling mud, not oil, was gushing from a ruptured undersea well six hours into an effort to halt a growing oil spill.

"What you've been observing coming out of the top of that riser is most likely mud," Suttles said at a news conference broadcast from a Louisiana command center. "We can't fully confirm that because we can't sample it. And the way we know we've been successful is it stops flowing."
The company began on Wednesday to pump drilling mud into the well head to displace the oil, then once only mud was erupting from the break, pump in concrete until the well was capped. There is concrete that will cure underwater, in fact, the ancient Romans invented it to build harbors.

Anyway, analysts say that this feed shows only mud gushing out, not oil. BP had announced at the outset of this effort that displacing the oil might take several days. Let's pray it has actually been displaced already.

Update, 11 a.m. CDT: "'Top kill' halts flow of oil and gas, admiral says."
Reporting from Houma, La. Engineers have succeeded in stopping the flow of oil and gas into the Gulf of Mexico from a gushing BP well, the federal government's top oil spill commander, Adm. Thad Allen, said Thursday morning.

The so-called "top kill" effort, launched Wednesday afternoon by industry and government engineers in Houston, has pumped enough drilling fluid to block all oil and gas from the well, Allen said. The pressure from the well is very low, but persistent, he said.

Once engineers have reduced the well pressure to zero, they will begin to pump cement into the hole to entomb the well. To help that effort, he said, engineers are also pumping some debris into the blowout preventer at the top of the well.
Bookmark and Share

"Faster please"? Well, don't wish to live too long

By Donald Sensing

Someone emailed Glenn Reynolds a shopped photo of a tombstone with his name and the years 1960-2052 in parody of Glenn's habit of mentioning some research breakthrough, usually related to human longevity or medical treatments, upon which Glenn adds, "Faster, please."

Two examples out of dozens or more:

A “VACCINE” to treat prostate cancer. Faster, please.
Posted at by Glenn Reynolds on Apr 30, 2010 at 10:28 am Link


BRAIN REPAIR with cell therapy. Faster, please.
Posted at by Glenn Reynolds on Mar 28, 2010 at 1:00 pm Link

Be careful what you wish for, Glenn! If they do indeed go faster, we may live long enough to be the ones who have to pay off the national debt. Bummer there, huh? So have a cigarette.

Bookmark and Share

If they had a different God, they would be a different people

By Donald Sensing

James Michener’s novel The Source tells of a village called Makor in Cannan, 2,200 years before Christ. The leading farmer of Makor is a prosperous farmer named Urbaal. He has two wives. The younger wife, Timna, has borne Urbaal a six-month-old boy. Urbaal is a religious man, who has clay idols of the pagan deities Baal and Astarte. He is very keen to be chosen by the local priests as a model citizen because the reward will be a week of carnal delights with a slave girl of sixteen who belongs to the village priests. The priests choose Timna’s baby to be sacrificed in fire to the god Melak. Timna is forced to watch in horror as her son is consumed in the flames.

At the harvest festival Urbaal is indeed selected to spend the week with the temple girl. They are ceremonially stripped of their clothing by the priests. Urbaal scoops her into his arms and disappears with her into the temple.

As for Timna, she goes home and takes Urbaal’s clay idols outside and smashes them. She sees life “in a new and painful clarity: with different gods her husband would have been a different man.”

Now these words from Mosab Hassan Yousef, "son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a founder and leader of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. Throughout the last decade, from the second Intifada to the current stalemate, he worked alongside his father in the West Bank. During that time the younger Mr. Yousef also secretly embraced Christianity."

As the son of a Muslim cleric, he says he had reached the conclusion that terrorism can't be defeated without a new understanding of Islam. Here he echoes other defectors from Islam such as the former Dutch parliamentarian and writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Do you consider your father a fanatic? "He's not a fanatic," says Mr. Yousef. "He's a very moderate, logical person. What matters is not whether my father is a fanatic or not, he's doing the will of a fanatic God. It doesn't matter if he's a terrorist or a traditional Muslim. At the end of the day a traditional Muslim is doing the will of a fanatic, fundamentalist, terrorist God. I know this is harsh to say. Most governments avoid this subject. They don't want to admit this is an ideological war.

"The problem is not in Muslims," he continues. "The problem is with their God. They need to be liberated from their God. He is their biggest enemy. It has been 1,400 years they have been lied to."
Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Follow the money

By Donald Sensing

I wrote in May 2003,

Somewhat cynically, I might observe that the federal government really is a money-distribution organization. We govern ourselves by the way we spend each others' money. How much gets spent and for what is determined by how much agreement can be reached by a majority. But whether Left or Right, whether Democrat or Republican, the only real questions of American government and governance are, "Who will be be the beneficiaries of government spending? How much shall we exact from the public for it, and by what means?"

All matters of governance come down to that, no matter where they start.
Now comes Doctor Zero to explain why this problem has reached an level of looming catastrophe in "The feral vanguard:"
Remember Barack Obama’s infamous conversation with Joe the Plumber, in which he said, “It’s not that I want to punish your success; I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you that they’ve got a chance to success, too. I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody?” This was not merely a watery expression of Marxist principles. It was a lie. Obama has no intention of spreading wealth around for the good of everybody. His objective is to transfer your wealth to the SEIU and other powerful collective organizations, to fund their lavish benefits. He even bought a car company as a gift to the United Auto Workers. The American taxpayer has pumped over $17 billion into GMAC, so it can continue to provide the UAW with wages and benefits far beyond anything those taxpayers enjoy… a wealth transfer hidden behind shell games and media manipulation.

This system has nothing to do with the people “behind you.” It’s all about satisfying people who already have gold-plated retirement plans and Cadillac health care, in exchange for their political support. Some of the most ridiculous benefit plans belong to government employee unions, which means the government is taxing the private sector to pay itself to vote for itself. Vast sums are also plowed into subsidies for well-connected businesses, and welfare programs which have dangerously eroded the human capital we prize as our most precious esource.
In keeping with my "no profanity" policy, I have snipped the occasional cuss word out. Read the whole thing, it's dead on target.

Related:

Trumping legality:
If we cleave to the Constitution and law to order the powers of our government, we will never achieve a perfectly just ordering of the goods of society. Rough justice, in Reinhold Niebuhr's phrase, will be the best we will ever do. But human freedom and flourishing will be protected as much as they can be, as long as the laws are just.

If we decide now to have a government of wants, not laws, the end will be anarchy and gross inequalities among classes of the people based on power and political influence. The poor's plight will not be relieved, just shifted to a new set of "outs." Cronyism and demagoguery will become the routine ordering of political life after immutable principles are discarded.
We're there now.

The government has no money of its own

Government's new motto: It's good to be king!

"The end of entitlements"

"American reliance on government at all-time high."

"California is a greater risk than Greece, warns JP Morgan chief"

"The entitlement mentality knows no boundaries"


"How democracies perish"


Bookmark and Share

The Soviet System Writ Large

By Donald Sensing

The Anchoress hits dead center on the Left's longing for dictatorship with their chosen ones in charge, "The Privileged Call for Limited Dictatorships."

Let’s allow Obama to be dictator "for a couple of years," because that preening narcissist will certainly give up his dictatorship once the nowhere-utopia of which the left dreams is achieved. Right? Of course. ...

They propose dictatorship because they know their lives would be completely unaffected by such a thing. They will still have access to their Park Avenue doctors; they will be exempt from the rationing of medical treatment that the Obama administration now admits will take place. They will continue to be the privileged useful-idiot voices of the politburo. They will still have their limos and their lunches, where they will sit together and bloviate about what must be done for the commoners who cannot be trusted with their own lives.
Read the whole thing, but I'd like to point out that there has never been any such thing as a "limited" dictatorship.

I've said it until I'm blue in the face: the Left is inherently dictatorial. They neither know how to govern truly democratically nor do they see why they should. The curtain was peeled back clearly on this last December with the thankfully-abortive efforts to ram through the Copenhagen climate treaty.
... the aim [was] literally to set up a world government, which is made explicit in the language of the treaty. As Britain's Lord Monckton, former chancellor of the Exchequer, explains, the Copenhagen treaty is designed to eliminate true national sovereignty altogether, especially that of the United States.

Understand: "saving the planet" is not the point of Copenhagen. The point is to compel wealth transfers from rich nations to everyone else and to institute a new class of global elites who get to tell everyone else how to live. Global warmism is a political movement joined at the hip to the two things that lubricate political movement everywhere: money and power. In the US alone, "The Global Warming Science Machine: $79 Billion and Counting," for example. And as Lord Monckton pointed out, the new global government desired by the treaty's backers will definitely not be a democratic one. You and I do not get to choose who represents us nor will we have any say in how they will dictate our lives.

What the Copenhagen treaty will do is set up a new nomenklatura of bureaucracies and factotums and commissioners, providing them with near-unlimited political power, a luxurious lifestyle and upward mobility for their children and political allies. If you think this sounds like the old Soviet system writ global, you're right.
The Left has by no means given up this goal.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sedition to oppose Obama, again

By Donald Sensing

Back in April it was Time mag's Joe Klein who insisted that people who exercised their First Amendment rights to speak out against Congressional enactments of Obama administration policies were guilty of sedition, which "has been declared a felony in Supreme Court opinions."

This was such a ridiculous charge that even a Methodist minister could easily rebut it - and easily did. But the Left is so inherently oppressive, desiring to crush even lawful, principled opposition to this administration's policies that Mass. Governor Deval Patrick, "says Obama critics are 'almost at the level of sedition'."

Governor Deval Patrick, even as he decried partisanship in Washington, said today that Republican opposition to President Obama’s agenda has become so obstinate that it “is almost at the level of sedition.”
Here we go again. Reporter Michael Levenson, the BoGlo staff writer, can't resist reaching for the easy, but incorrect, cite:
Merriam-Webster.com, the dictionary site, defines sedition as "incitement of resistance to or insurrection against lawful authority.''
Except, as in the case of Joe Klein's scrawls on literally a napkin, the dictionary's definition is utterly irrelevant.

Sedition is in fact illegal under Title 18, US Code, which Levenson could have found online as easily as I did if only Levenson was as interested in accuracy as I am. Here's the title's main page. Drilling down, we read how US law, rather than Michael Levenson, defines sedition. First, "§ 2384. Seditious conspiracy, in its entirety (my italics) is this:
If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.
The legal, as opposed to the dictionary, requirement for sedition requires overthrowing or destroying by force the US government. And the seditious acts must be directed at the government itself, not just a selection of enactments of the Congress or policies of the administration.
After the forum, Patrick explained his remarks.

“I think that the number of people in the Grand Old Party who seem to be absolutely committed to saying ‘no,' whenever he says ‘yes,’ no matter what it is, even if it’s an idea that they came up with, is just extraordinary,” the governor told reporters after the forum.

But did the opposition really border on sedition?

“That was a rhetorical flourish,” Patrick said.
Ah, yes, there's always an out: "almost" and "rhetorical flourish." But his sentiment is abundantly clear: he wishes that people who oppose this administration could be prosecuted for it. Don't you just love the tolerance of the Left?

Hat tip: Daniel Foster

Is a Depression Looming?

By Donald Sensing

The present recession is by far the longest since World War II. Now it seems indicators are pointing toward a worsening. Is a true depression around the corner? Franklin Roosevelt's 1932 campaign song was, "Happy Days Are Here Again," but in only a year that hope had evaporated, as this 1933 cartoon shows (which seems strikingly similar to Obama's recovery plan).

There is nothing easier than alarmism in economic forecasting. Take for example Howard Ruff's sky-is-falling 1999 book, How to Prosper During the Hard Times Ahead: A Crash Course for the American Family in the Troubled New Millennium. One thing about predicting an economuc downturn is that sooner or later you will be right. But even though a recession did begin the next year, it was very mild, intensifying only after the 9/11 attacks. But Ruff certainly did not foresee that tragic day, nor, obviously, did he foresee the amazing comeback of the American economy shortly afterward. Bad times? Well, yes, but not mainly for economic reasons. Besides, as one reviewer pointed out, "Ruff's been preparing for economic catastrophe for 30 years." But Ruff has not quit. His latest book is "How to Prosper in the Age of Obamanomics: A Ruff Plan for Hard Times Ahead." Seems he loves to include, "hard times ahead" in his titles.

As they say, even a stopped clock is right twice per day. And permanent Cassandras are bound to be right eventually. Is now that time?

Consider this graph:

Why are copper prices important? Copper is one of the most widely used industrial metals. Because it is found in such a huge array of industrial and consumer products, when manufacturers' demand for the metal decreases it's a clear signal that they expect a lower demand for their products. A few producers ordering less copper means nothing much, but when overall demand falls, it's probably not good news.

But prices of raw copper do not directly correspond to demand except over long time periods. Copper is a commodity. Large industrial consumers play the commodities market seeking lower prices. So as prices fall, demand may actually be rising and some time may pass before prices rise to reflect higher demand. In fact, SeekingAlpha says that

...our commodities markets seem to have very little to do with supply and demand anymore. It's all about financial innovation and making sure traders on a few desks can game the system. ...

Pricing in markets - commodities or stocks - is not about old fashioned supply and demand anymore. It's about central banks and governments force feeding liquidity into the system and driving up asset prices via easy money speculation.
Chile is one of the world's major copper suppliers. The massive earthquake there in February shut down the major mines for about two days, but speculators rushed to buy copper futures, driving the price much higher. The decline in prices that Business Insider's graph shows may reflect nothing more than some sanity still returning to the market.

Demand is slowing, though, primarily because China, the world's largest consumer, is using less, mainly because its power industry is using less. So China's stockpiles are rising and their buying is falling.

Does all this indicate a big collapse of the American economy. I think not. But that does not mean our economic future will be all unicorns and rainbows. There are other indicators than copper.

One is that despite the government's claim that economic output is growing, unemployment is, too, although every increase in jobless-benefits claims is always unexpected.

Housing prices continue to tumble, down by just under 50 percent in Orlando, Fla., for example, which the recession has hit hard because fewer people have or are willing to spend the money to go to Disney World or the other parks there; unemployment is 15 percent in the town. A lot of those jobs will never come back. But not only there - the "rust belt" is rustier now than ever. California, say some economists, is in worse shape than Greece (hard to believe, though).

So when some voices raise the alarm that prosperity is not just around the corner, but "hard times," there are objective reasons to withhold the customary sigh of, "there you go again." In fact, it would be hard to argue cogently that the doomsayers are wrong again this time.

Take, for example, "Dow Theorist Richard Russell," who says, "Sell Everything, You Won't Recognize America By The End Of The Year."
Just as for years I asked, cajoled, insisted, threatened, demanded,that my subscribers buy gold, I am now insisting, demanding, begging my subscribers to get OUT of stocks (including C and BYD, but not including golds) and get into cash or gold (bullion if possible). If the two Averages violate their May 7 lows, I see a major crash as the outcome.
Then there is the NY Fed's President William Dudley's commencement speech at New College of Florida:
[T]he recovery is not likely to be as robust as we would like for several reasons.

First, households are still in the process of deleveraging. ...

Second, the banking system is still under significant stress. ...

Third, some of the sources that have supported the nascent recovery are temporary. ...
I don't understand how Dudley can say the job market is improving when we keep getting "unexpected" rises in unemployment. But his three points are well taken. These are all significant negative indicators.

I am leery of the advice you hear from almost everywhere to buy gold. The gold bug advocates say that gold will hit $2,000 an ounce, well, some time, some when. If you track the price performance of GLD, a major gold fund, it's almost doubled in the last five years but in the last six months has yo-yo'd a lot.

Better to have invested in silver, which is a crossover precious metal that many traders think should be reclassified as an industrial metal. If you had 100 shares on July 23, 2008, it was worth ~$1,730. On July 25 your shares were worth $17,300 because on July 24 there was a 10:1 split. The price dropped promptly to just over $9 per share, but has rebounded since to $17.29. Of course, who knows when it might split again. When it did split, silver's spot price was $17.40.

I'd like to be cheery about the financial future but this time I'm swinging to the negative analysis. Will there be a crash as Russell says? I won't say no. There are too many national economies in deep trouble, ours included. The light the administration says is at the end of the tunnel is probably the proverbial onrushing train.

Comments on


Update: "Dr. Doom," Nouriel Roubini, is not offering cheery thoughts.
Reform, Roubini insists, is necessary, recovery or not. "We are still in the middle of this crisis and there is more trouble ahead of us, even if there is a recovery. During the great depression the economy contracted between 1929 and 1933, there was the beginning of a recovery, but then a second recession from 1937 to 1939. If you don't address the issues, you risk having a double-dip recession and one which is at least as severe as the first one."
So: do you go all cash now, wait, or continue cheerily on?

Bookmark and Share