August 2013, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

"Obama Promises Syria Strike Will Have No Objective"   Deep strategic thinker (and satirist) Andy Borowitz summarizes Obama's plan for dealing with Syria.
Attempting to quell criticism of his proposal for a limited military mission in Syria, President Obama floated a more modest strategy today, saying that any U.S. action in Syria would have “no objective whatsoever.”

“Let me be clear,” he said in an interview on CNN.  “Our goal will not be to effect régime change, or alter the balance of power in Syria, or bring the civil war there to an end.  We will simply do something random there for one or two days and then leave.”
It would be even funnier, if it weren't so close to what Obama and his administration have been saying.

(Obama's plan, such as it is, has inspired amateur satirists, too.)
- 9:42 AM, 31 August 2013   [link]

A Plumber — And A Congressman — Decides To Do the right thing.
A congressman and his wife have reunited two-year-old twin girls who were living in separate homes by adopting them into their own family.

Oklahoma congressman Markwayne Mullin told NewsOK that he was hesitant at first to expand his brood of three to five, but his wife convinced him otherwise.
Many of you will like the argument she used to finally convince him.

(Here's his Wikipedia biography, which includes some interesting details:
Mullin is Pentecostal.  He and his wife, Christie, live in Westville, a few miles from the Arkansas border, and have five children.[13][1]  He is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, and is one of two Native Americans in the 113th Congress.  The other Native American is fellow Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole, a member of the Chickasaw Nation.[14]
A Pentecostal Cherokee plumber/congressman.  Now that's an American combination.)
- 8:31 AM, 31 August 2013   [link]

According To Anonymous Intelligence Officers, the gas attack in Syria was a "false flag operation".
An Egyptian intelligence report describes a meeting in Turkey between military intelligence officials from Turkey and Qatar and Syrian rebels.  One of the participants states, “there will be a game changing event on August 21st” that will “bring the U.S. into a bombing campaign” against the Syrian regime.

The chemical weapons strike on Moudhamiya, an area under rebel control, took place on August 21.  “Egyptian military intelligence insists it was a combined Turkish/Qatar/rebel false flag operation,” said a source familiar with the report.
Please note that I am not endorsing this article.  I have no way to check on the truth — or falsity — of the claims made there.

But I did think you might be interested in reading it — with an appropriate amount of skepticism.

(Here's Kenneth Timmerman's Wikipedia biography.)
- 3:40 PM, 30 August 2013   [link]

Best Friends, But Not Forever:  Bashar al-Assad and Nancy Pelosi.
DAMASCUS, Syria — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday for talks criticized by the White House as undermining American efforts to isolate the hard-line Arab country.

Pelosi said Assad assured her of his willingness to engage in peace talks with Israel, and that she and other members of her congressional delegation raised their concern about militants crossing from Syria into Iraq, as well the Israeli soldiers kidnapped by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and the Palestinian group Hamas.
That visit was in 2007.  Since then, Pelosi has changed her mind.  (As, no doubt, she was told a woman has a right to do, when she was growing up.)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pressed top administration officials Thursday night to take military action to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad in response to reports that he used chemical weapons in his nation’s ongoing civil war.
Is there an explanation that fits both Pelosi's 2007 trip, and her current stand?  Well, yes, though I am reluctant to mention it:  Pelosi might have been acting in 2007, and now, to promote the short-term interests of the Democratic Party — without regard to our national interests.

(If those peace talks ever happened, I missed them.  As older readers may recall, Warren Christopher tried, tirelessly, to get Bashar's father to negotiate a peace with Israel.  You can find a list of all his trips as Secretary of State here.  By my quick count, he went to Syria almost thirty times.  I think I would have given up after five or six.  Nancy Pelosi, who was around then, should have noticed that the Syrian regime was often willing to discuss peace with Israel in principle, but never in practice — but never to the extent of actually coming to an agreement.)
- 3:09 PM, 30 August 2013   [link]

Mr. Fur Is Proposing the wrong strategy.
I would approve military aid to both sides [in Syria], enough as is needed to prolong the conflict, forever if need be.  Barring that, I would entertain a role for Canada if the West decided to World War 2 the Middle East, so long as they tossed in Pakistan for good measure.   Unconditional surrender and a de-Nazification of the region would be two of the conditions under which I would accept involvement.  There are no "Hearts & Minds" worth winning among a cult that offers up its own children as suicide bombers.  No rules of engagement, no talk of collateral damage, just complete and total war.  I could not care less for the Khomeinists or the al Qaeda/Muslim Brotherhood/Salafist Jihadi faction.  Let them die, let them kill one another.  I will lose no sleep over it.
But I won't say that I haven't had similar thoughts.

(For the record:  There are more than two sides in Syria, and there are some in that nation that have relatively civilized goals.)
- 8:06 AM, 30 August 2013   [link]

Prime Minister Cameron Lost The War Vote In The House Of Commons:  Which last happened, assuming this Reuters article is correct, in 1782.
Prime Minister David Cameron's plans to join a potential military strike on Syria were thwarted on Thursday night when Britain's parliament narrowly voted against a government motion to authorize such action in principle.

In a humiliating defeat for the British leader likely to damage Cameron's hopes of being re-elected in 2015 and set back traditionally strong U.S.-UK relations, parliament defied Cameron by 285 to 272 votes
In later posts, I 'll have more to say about the effects of this vote, but for the moment I want to raise a smaller question:  How in the world did the prime minister lose a vote he wanted to win in the House of Commons?

Parties in the House of Commons, like parties in the United States Congress (and many other places) have "whips", who are supposed to be able to give the leadership accurate vote counts on any important vote.

In our House, I would expect the Speaker to know what the vote will be, on any important issue, within two or three votes, and I don't know of any reason to think that the whips in the House of Commons would be less accurate — but Cameron lost by 13 votes.
- 7:01 AM, 30 August 2013
More:  Here's the vote by party.   You'll notice that the Labour vote was unanimous, that Cameron's coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats would still have won easily if they had stayed together, and that a suspiciously high number of MPs — 91 — were absent.
- 8:33 AM, 30 August 2013   [link]

Half Of Our GDP Growth Since 2007 Has Come From Health Care:   Robert Samuelson looks at the composition of the growth since the peak of the economy, and finds something sobering.
This sobering insight comes from the Center for Sustainable Health Spending in Ann Arbor, Mich., which compares health spending to the economy's total output, gross domestic product (GDP).  From December 2007 to June 2013, health spending rose a respectable 14.7 percent.  Meanwhile, GDP grew a lowly 4.6 percent.  Exclude health spending from GDP and its growth is only 2.7 percent.

Gasp!  Health spending accounts for almost half the economy's meager overall gain.
Health care is about one-sixth of the economy, for comparison.

If that increase in health care spending had given us a proportionate increase in health, it might have been worth it, but I don't know of any reason to believe that it has.  In fact, there is some reason to think that we could improve our health care by cutting health care spending — in some areas.

iatrogenesis.  There are some depressing numbers there.
- 4:16 PM, 29 August 2013   [link]

If It's Any Help, here's last weekend's New Yorker cartoon.

(We need a chuckle, and that's the best joke I found near the top of my pile.)
- 2:58 PM, 29 August 2013   [link]

They Are Just Asking Everyone to mock them.
One U.S. official who has been briefed on the options on Syria said he believed the White House would seek a level of intensity "just muscular enough not to get mocked" but not so devastating that it would prompt a response from Syrian allies Iran and Russia.

"They are looking at what is just enough to mean something, just enough to be more than symbolic," he said.
As you can see in the comments after this article in The Hill, many took up that invitation, and mocked the Obama administration.
- 8:52 AM, 29 August 2013   [link]

From "Reset" To Exchanging Childish Insults:  President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton were certain that they could manage relations with Russia far better than "Cowboy" Bush had.

They were wrong.

The unilateral concessions they made to Vladimir Putin were not matched by any concessions from Russia.  Their attempt to build up Dimitry Medvedev as a rival to Putin was almost certain to fail — and was certain to annoy Putin greatly.

Now the two greatest nuclear powers in the world are exchanging childish insults.

President Obama described Putin as acting like a slacker.
Suspicion of President Obama in particular only intensified after his decision to scuttle a planned summit meeting next week in Moscow and to describe Mr. Putin in unusually personal terms at a White House news conference, saying his body language often made him look “like the bored kid in the back of the classroom.”
On Tuesday, the Russian Deputy Premier, Dmitry Rogozin, said the West was acting like a "monkey with a hand grenade".

One should not expect useful negotiations between a slacker and a monkey with a hand grenade.

(Was Rogozin making a racial reference to Obama when he said "monkey"?  Maybe.   Racism is not unknown in Russia.)
- 5:13 AM, 29 August 2013   [link]

The Songs Of 1963 — And 2013:  Juan Williams laments the decline.
Now, half a century after the lyrical promise of that inspiring music and poetry, there is the inescapable and heartbreaking contrast with the malignant, self-aggrandizing rap songs that define today's most popular music.

In Jay-Z's current hit, "Holy Grail," he sings about "psycho bitches" and uses the n-word seven times while bragging that he is "Living the life . . . Illest [n-word] alive."  Another top rapper, Lil Wayne, released a song in the spring with an obscenity in the title, using the n-word repeatedly and depicting himself as abusing "hoes" and "bitches."
In 1963, racists often used the "n-word", and described blacks as obsessed with sex and fond of violence and illegal drugs.

Now, some black entertainers do the same things, and make millions, with little criticism from our "civil rights" leaders.
- 4:49 AM, 29 August 2013   [link]

Congratulations To Mayor McGinn And His Predecessors:  They have followed policies that created many jobs over the years.  Granted, not all of the jobs created in auto body shops, wrecking yards, and insurance offices are in the city of Seattle, but that just shows how generous these leaders are.  (With, admittedly, other people's money.)

Seattle has a rep for being full of bad drivers, from left-lane campers to passive-aggressive ragers.  Are we really that awful?

Tuesday’s annual study by insurance company Allstate has some pretty damning evidence.

The study looked at collision rates of Allstate customers in the country’s 200 largest cities.   It found that Seattle drivers get into a car crash every 7.8 years, a rate much higher than the national average of one crash per driver every 10 years.

That made Seattle one of the most dangerous cities for driving, in which we ranked a dismal 160th place on a list of 200 cities for safest drivers.

Unlike Vanessa Ho, I blame the city more than the drivers.  I think that Seattle has invested too little in making its roads safer, and too much in show projects like light rail.

Highway designers have known for decades that there are ways to make roads safer, but I am not sure those lessons have reached Seattle's "progressive" elected leaders.

And I can not imagine any of them taking a trip to, say, Boise, to see what that city is doing right.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(Here's the full Allstate report.)
- 9:01 AM, 28 August 2013   [link]

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Says "Intelligence Will Conclude" That The Assad Regime Used Chemical Weapons Against Their Own People.  So our intelligence analysts haven't yet concluded that the regime is responsible for the attacks?

At the end of this BBC interview, Hagel says that we should "get the facts" before acting, which implies to me that our analysts want more data before coming to a firm conclusion.

Like Jim Geraghty, I think that the Assad regime is "probably" responsible for the attacks.  But also like Geraghty, I am surprised to see that Hagel is not certain who made those attacks.

(I listened to the BBC interview four or five times, but never heard Hagel say "probably", as Geraghty says he does.  The interview may have been edited, my ears may not work as well as they used to, or Geraghty may have made a mistake.  The "probably" is a fair summary of what I did hear from Hagel.

And the rest of the Geraghty post is definitely worth reading.)
- 8:06 AM, 28 August 2013   [link]

Should The United States Pursue Policies That Further Our National Interests?  For many, that question may sound silly or even unpatriotic.  Realists would argue that every nation pursues its national interests, and it would be silly to expect the United States to do otherwise.  Patriots would say that, since they value our nation, of course we should pursue policies that further our national interests.

But there is another way to look at it, a way that is fairly common on the American left, and can be found in some on the American right.  In this view, the United States is a nation with a long record of bad behavior — those on the left would cite the Vietnam war as a prime example — a nation that deserves to be punished.  Or, at the very least, a nation that should not be rewarded by actions that increase our power.

Those with this view of the United States — and polls show that about half of Democrats hold it — would not oppose all interventions, but they would be far more comfortable with interventions in which there were no obvious gains for the United States.   Although few of them would put it this way, the very fact that we would not gain anything from an intervention, would make it easier for them to approve of that intervention.

Does that explain why Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama are now seriously considering intervention in Syria, where we have no national interest in seeing either side win?

I think that's part of it, but I also think, and I am sorry to say this, that personal vanity may be involved, that President Obama, having warned the Assad regime not to use chemical weapons, is personally offended by Assad's ignoring his warning.

(As you may recall, President Obama's former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, made a vivid case for seeing America as a guilty nation that deserved punishment, in some of his sermons.)
- 12:55 PM, 27 August 2013   [link]

"Ford Gets A Lesson In Chicago Muscle"  This Chicago Tribune editorial explains, with a neat example, how Chicago works.

Before Ford could build a new car dealership in the city, they had to pay off Alderman Daniel Solis.
If you wonder why this jobs-hungry city has a reputation as a hard place to do business, read on.  Looks to us like developers of a big Ford dealership planned for the North Side got tutored in Chicago-style political muscle.

It's a familiar story in a city and state where elected officials, in the words of Illinois Chamber of Commerce chief Doug Whitley, treat potential investments as opportunities for "threat, coercion, a union squeeze, a minority holdup, a double-dip, a no-show job, a kickback and a sweetheart deal."
What did Solis want?  A dealership for one of his supporters, Jose Diaz.  (Ford will try to oblige.)

The editorial also gives us an example of how modern "civil rights" leaders run what look like old-fashioned protection rackets.

(In his time as a Chicago politician, did Barack Obama do anything about this common Chicago practice?  Not as far as I know.)
- 9:33 AM, 27 August 2013   [link]

If President Obama Decides We Should Wage War On Syria, he should get authorization from Congress, for constitutional reasons, and for strategic reasons.

(As Reverend Sensing explains, that authorization need not be a formal declaration of war.)

Either set of reasons would be sufficient by itself.

The constitutional argument is, to my mind, irrefutable, and I have no doubt that President Obama violated the Constitution with his campaign against Libya.  He should not repeat that mistake.

Even a brief congressional debate on the strategic arguments for — and against — making war on Syria might be enlightening, might force the Obama administration to actually think about the strategic choices they are making.
- 5:56 AM, 27 August 2013   [link]

Some Sex Changes are easier than others.
Starting tomorrow, The New York Times and The Associated Press will refer to Bradley Manning as Chelsea Manning, "formerly know as Pfc. Bradley Manning," honoring the former soldier's request to be addressed as a female.  Thereafter Manning will be referred to as "she."
And if Mr. Manning next decides that he is really Napoleon, will these "mainstream" news organizations address him as "Emperor"?

Suppose a person has some sympathy for Manning (as I do), would they encourage him in his delusions, or discourage him?

(For the record:  As regular readers will have figured out long ago, I do not think a person can change their sex.  People with one X and one Y chromosome are males; people with two X chromosomes are female, and that's it, no matter how much cosmetic surgery they have, or how many hormones they take.

As you probably know, there are some rare exceptions, men with two Y chromosomes, et cetera.  These differences may affect their lives, but don't give them the ability to change their sex.  There are also a few rare cases in which development in the womb is abnormal, usually, as I understand it, because some hormones don't get turned on when they should be.   These exceptions help us understand how a person's chromosomes build a male or female, but they don't affect my argument.)
- 5:04 AM, 27 August 2013   [link]

Did Bobby Riggs Throw The Match Against Billie Jean King?   That's what Hal Shaw, who claims to have witnessed the Riggs's deal with four mob bosses, says.

It is probably too late to find enough evidence to settle the question, definitively, but Shaw's story is plausible, and supported by some indirect evidence.

(It's been a while, but I remember being mildly surprised that Riggs could beat the top woman's pro, Margaret Court, easily, and then, a few months later, be easily beaten by Billie Jean King.)
- 10:32 AM, 26 August 2013   [link]

Eliot Cohen Says That Cruise Missiles Won't Be Enough To Change The Outcome in Syria.
The temptation here is to follow the Clinton administration’s course — a futile salvo of cruise missiles, followed by self-congratulation and an attempt to change the topic.  It would not work here.  A minority regime fighting for its life, as Bashar al-Assad’s is, can weather a couple of dozen big bangs.  More important, no one — friends, enemies or neutrals — would be fooled.  As weak as the United States now appears in the region and beyond, we would look weaker yet if we chose to act ineffectively.  A bout of therapeutic bombing is an even more feckless course of action than a principled refusal to act altogether.
The Assad regime will, almost certainly, continue to get material support from the Iranian and Russians regimes, so anything we might destroy with cruise missile strikes can be replaced, and probably fairly quickly.

(In theory, a cruise missile strike might be used to decapitate the regime, to kill most of its top leaders, but for that to succeed, we would have to have superb intelligence, and enemy leaders who risk their lives outside fortified bunkers.  Neither seems likely.)
- 10:13 AM, 26 August 2013   [link]

Regime Motive In Syrian Gas Attack?  The Obama administration has "very little doubt" that the Syrian regime was responsible for a gas attack there last week.

So far I have not seen a good description of the evidence that led them to that conclusion.  (And may never see much of it since I assume we have some classified evidence that has not been made public.)

Nor have I seen a good explanation for a regime motive for the attack.

According to most accounts, the Syrian regime has been winning the civil war in recent months.  The attack, assuming the news reports are reasonably accurate, appears to have a pure terror attack, unrelated to any obvious military objective.

So, if the regime is responsible for the attack, we have to wonder why they risked Western intervention, for no obvious military goal.

In contrast, it is easy to see why the rebels might have made such an attack, and blamed it on the regime.  If they are losing, then they would want us to come in on their side, and would hope that a fake attack would provoke that intervention.

Please understand that I am not saying that the rebels staged the attack.  What I am saying is that we need an explanation for the attack — whoever is responsible — that includes a motive.

(If the chemical used was sarin, then we know that it is posssible for terrorists to make it themselves, as the Aum Shinrikyo did in 1995.

The Assad regime is certainly capable of atrocities; for an example, see this description of the destruction of Hama.  But so are many of the rebels fighting to overthrow the regime.)
- 5:55 AM, 26 August 2013   [link]

Worth Reading:  Allysia Finley's column on why colleges cost so much.

She relies on Richard Vedder, who has a good claim to being America's top expert on college costs.  His argument is straightforward:
College costs have continued to explode despite 50 years of ostensibly benevolent government interventions, according to Mr. Vedder, and the president's new plan could exacerbate the trend.  By Mr. Vedder's lights, the cost conundrum started with the Higher Education Act of 1965, a Great Society program that created federal scholarships and low-interest loans aimed at making college more accessible.
. . .
This growth in subsidies, Mr. Vedder argues, has fueled rising prices: "It gives every incentive and every opportunity for colleges to raise their fees."
In short, government subsidies have enabled colleges and universities to raise their tuition and fees.

Vedder, at 72, is not afraid to say the obvious:
Nor is the president addressing what Mr. Vedder believes is a fundamental problem: too many kids going to college.  "Thirty-percent of the adult population has college degrees," he notes.  "The Department of Labor tells us that only 20% or so of jobs require college degrees.  We have 115,520 janitors in the United States with bachelor's degrees or more.  Why are we encouraging more kids to go to college?"
At one time, our local monopoly newspaper would argue that every kid should go to college — which struck me as such an obviously nutty idea that I had trouble writing about it.

You'll want to read the whole thing, if only for some of the startling spending examples.

(Here's Vedder's center, and here's his Wikipedia biography.)
- 8:18 PM, 25 August 2013   [link]

The Seattle Times Ran A Good Series On Al Sharpton:   And I can't decide whether it was a good thing that they ran it in the comics section.  It may get more attention there than it would in the news pages, but some readers may not realize that the Prickly City's criticism of Sharpton is accurate, and, if anything, too soft.

We should be grateful that, this time, our local monopoly newspaper did not censor the strip.

And, if there is anyone at the Seattle Times who could do a frank portrait of Sharpton, I've missed them.

The series starts here.  The last one in the series, so far, is here.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(For a slightly fictionalized portrait of Al Sharpton (or, possibly, Jesse Jackson), read Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities.)
- 4:17 PM, 25 August 2013   [link]

Where Does NYT Executive Editor Jill Abramson Go To Relax And Recover?   Cuba not-at-all-Libre.
But her job is also to manage an anxious newsroom, and that is more difficult.  In February, when the staff held farewell parties for two popular veteran (and, by Times standards, expensive) editors, Jon Landman and Jim Roberts, who had been encouraged to take buyouts, Abramson left on a trip to Cuba with her sister.  “I remember at one point Jill announcing she was leaving on this vacation because she was exhausted by all the tension of the buyout,” says a colleague.  “Oh, I’m sorry, it was even harder for the people who were leaving.”
That is, to say the least, an interesting choice of vacation destinations.

By way of Breitbart.

(There's more in the long article on the ongoing soap opera at our newspaper of record.  You won't be surprised, for instance, to learn that Abramson appears to be discriminating against men.  For example, that's the best explanation for Abramson's choice of Pamela Paul to be editor of the Book Review.  The Review had been declining before Paul took over, but she's made it worse, in my opinion.  (For an example, take a look at this post.)

I'm not the only one who thinks Paul not well suited to that job; so does Michael Wolff, who is not the least bit conservative.)
- 8:09 AM, 25 August 2013   [link]

"The Failed Grand Strategy In The Middle East"  Walter Russell Mead evaluates the Obama administration's Middle East strategy, and comes to this conclusion.
The Obama administration had a grand strategy in the Middle East.  It was well intentioned, carefully crafted and consistently pursued.

Unfortunately, it failed.
It failed, Mead believes, because:
With the advantages of hindsight, it appears that the White House made five big miscalculations about the Middle East.  It misread the political maturity and capability of the Islamist groups it supported; it misread the political situation in Egypt; it misread the impact of its strategy on relations with America's two most important regional allies (Israel and Saudi Arabia); it failed to grasp the new dynamics of terrorist movements in the region; and it underestimated the costs of inaction in Syria.
In short, the Obama administration was out of touch with the realities of the Middle East, and did not think about possible interactions.

Mead, who voted for President Obama in 2008, thinks that Obama still has time to get a "better outcome", by changing his "approach".

Of course it is possible that Obama will respond to the failures of his Middle East strategy by changing his approach, but that's unlikely, in my opinion.  Obama is not a man who regularly practices self criticism, or listens with an open mind to criticisms, even from friendly sources.

Even worse, Obama had no training or experience in strategic thinking before he became president, and has so far shown no signs that he possesses that rare skill.

So he is unlikely to recognize that he has failed, and even more unlikely to devise, or adopt, a plan that has some chance of success.

It is more likely that he and his people will, once again, look for some way to blame their own failures on George W. Bush, or our allies.

(A few days ago, in an email exchange, I said that "I think that an academic could construct a grand strategy out of Obama's actions", and that is exactly what I think Mead has done, that he has constructed a grand strategy out of Obama's actions.  Sometimes those kinds of inferences are correct, but, as any intelligence officer can tell you, often they are not.  It is worth noting that Mead does not mention any Obama speeches, or papers, in which this grand strategy was described.)
- 7:05 AM, 25 August 2013   [link]