Saturday, December 05, 2009

A leader of the free world not to be feared

The Orange County Register
2009-12-04 10:15:24

If you happen to live in Kabul or Jalalabad, Ghurian or Kandahar, then a U.S. presidential speech about Afghanistan is, indeed, about Afghanistan. If you live anywhere else on the planet, a U.S. presidential speech about Afghanistan is really about America – about American will, American purpose, American energy. How quickly the bright new dawn fades to the gray morning after. In Europe, the long-awaited unveiling of this most thoughtful of presidents' deliberations got mixed reviews – some bad, some brutal. Der Spiegel called it "half-hearted," The Guardian called it "desperate." And those are his friends.

You could watch the great orator's listless, tentative performance with the sound down and get the basic message: I don't need this in my life right now. If you read the text, it made even less sense. There's something for everyone: A surge! ... and a withdrawal. He's agreed to surge for a bit, but only in preparation for a de-surge in 18 months' time. I said on the radio that the speech reminded me of the English nursery rhyme:

"The Grand Old Duke of York

He had ten thousand men

He marched them up to the top of the hill

And he marched them down again."

The Grand Young Duke of Hope has 30,000 men. He'll march them up the Khyber Pass but he'll march them down again in July 2011. If you're some village headman who's been making nice to the Americans, the Taliban have a whole new pitch for you: In a year and a half, the Yanks are going. But we'll still be here.

"Our goal in war," wrote Basil Liddell Hart, the great strategist of armored warfare, "can only be attained by the subjugation of the opposing will." In other words, the object of war is not to destroy the enemy's tanks but the enemy's will. That goes treble if, like the Taliban and al-Qaida, he hasn't got any tanks in the first place. So what do you think Obama's speech did for the enemy's will? He basically told 'em: We can only stick another 19 months, so all you gotta do is hang in there for 20. And in an astonishingly vulgar line even by the standards of this White House's crass speechwriters, he justified his announcement of an exit date by saying it was "because the nation that I'm most interested in building is our own." Or, as Frank Sinatra once observed, "It's Very Nice To Go Trav'ling/But it's so much nicer ... to come home":

"It's very nice to just wander the camel route to Iraq. ... But it's so much nicer, yes, it's oh so nice to wander back."

As I said, Obama's speech is only about Afghanistan if you're in Afghanistan. If you're in Moscow or Tehran, Pyongyang or Caracas, it's about America. And what it told them is that, if you're a local strongman with regional ambitions, or a rogue state going nuclear, or a mischief-making kleptocracy dusting off old tsarist dreams, this president is not going to be pressing your reset button. Strange how an allegedly compelling speaker is unable to fake even perfunctory determination and resilience.
Strange, too, how all the sophisticated nuances of post-Bush foreign policy "realism" seem so unreal when you're up there trying to sell them as a coherent strategy. Go back half-a-decade, to when the administration was threatening to shove democracy down the throats of every two-bit basket case whether they want it or not. Democratizing the planet is, in a Council of Foreign Relations sense, "unrealistic," but talking it up is a very realistic way of messing with the dictators' heads. A pipsqueak like Boy Assad sleeps far more soundly today than he did back when he thought Bush meant it, and so did the demonstrators threatening his local enforcers in Lebanon.

As for Assad's friends in Tehran, you wonder if they're not now flouting "world opinion" merely to see how ever more watery and qualified the threats from Washington get. The tireless Anne Bayefsky reported this week that the administration's latest response to Iran's nuclear provocations is to "start shifting our focus to the track of pressure." It's a good thing the diplomatic cable is a mostly metaphorical concept these days because, priced per word, Washington's are getting expensive. Starting to shift our focus to the track of pressure isn't the same as "pressure." Nor is it even a first step on "the track of pressure." Nor isit even a commitment to "focus" on "the track of pressure." But it does represent a clear start to shifting the administration's focus from whatever it's focusing on right now to focusing on the possibility of shifting its focus to the track of pressure with the possible goal, once it's focused on shifting to the track of pressure, of eventually applying some. Not now. Not next month. But maybe at some point sometime, once we've figured out what meaningless gestures the Russians and Chinese would agree not to veto.

Like Europe, the Obama administration's "realists" have decided that, if the alternative is summoning up the will to prevent a nuclear Iran, it's easier to live with it. The realpolitik crowd's biggest turn-on among their many peculiar fetishes is "stability," yet they're stringing along with what will be the single biggest destabilizing factor in geopolitics in a generation. Iran's president may be a millennial crackpot but he's thinking more realistically than the "realists." If you can bulldoze your way into the nuclear club without paying a price, why not go for it? Pakistan had to do it quietly, in the shadows. Iran's done it brazenly, daring the world to stop her. We didn't – notwithstanding that the Islamic Republic has a 30-year track record of saying what it means and then doing it. If you were ever going to hold the nuclear line, this is the place to do it. And the fact that we didn't is a huge victory for the mullahs long before the first nukes are ready to fly.

One of the most interesting developments in recent months has been the emerging alliances of convenience between Iran and its clients, on the one hand, and the likes of Russia, North Korea and Venezuela on the other.
Some of this is simple mischief-making, but, in the vacuum of the Hopeychange, a lot of it shows a shrewd strategic calculation. A nuclear Tehran, for example, serves Moscow's interest in promoting itself as a guarantor of Eastern European "security." It's one of the oldest of protection rackets: You need me to protect you from my psycho friend. For their part, the Sunni Arab dictatorships will soon face the choice of accepting de facto Persian regional hegemony or embarking on their own nuclearization. As for Israel, they'll either be living under the ever-present threat of annihilation. Or they'll be dead.

Whatever your view of this scenario, "stability" doesn't seem to cover it. In his speech, the so-called "leader of the free world" all but physically recoiled from the job description. Sorry about that. Not his bag. In the more toxic presidential palaces, you would have to be awfully virtuous not to take advantage of such a man. And soon.


Friday, December 04, 2009

Welcome to Copenhagen to Save the Planet From Global Warming

by Terry Easton

Well, gang, it’s time for Copenhagen, another of those great photo ops for the good and the famous and all the world’s leaders flying in to save the planet from Global Warming -- caused by all that evil Carbon Dioxide being emitted as exhaust fumes of…jet planes!

The parade of planes is led by the Progressive-in-Chief, Barack Obama, in his super-jumbo 747 Air Force One, and backed up by a cadre of additional planes for support personal, secret service, armored Limousine One, and the press. But wait, he’s really doing a two-for-one flight, making the extra effort to pick up his hard-earned Nobel Prize for Peace.

A modest suggestion. Since most jet fuel is used in just taking off, perhaps Obama could simply do a fly-by Stockholm and lower one of those navy tailhooks to snatch up the Nobel Prize from the Committee below. Think of all the drowning baby polar bears that would be saved by reducing the melting ice caps in the process. That action in itself would probably be worthy of another Nobel Prize -- in conservation -- to be issued by the political hacks on the Peace Prize Committee.

Then there’s the fleet of other government jets: 727’s, Airbuses, and baby jets like Gulfstreams which will all be fighting over parking spaces and refueling stations at the Copenhagen International Airport. I sure hope that Exxon and Shell can make some good money out of this. We need their tax payments.

But the most fun is always had by the great and good, the most highly esteemed and wisest members of our society: the Hollywood movie stars! And many will be in Copenhagen too. That’s where all the cameras will be.

It seems like lots of Hollywood Progressives who tell us it is important to save the world by cutting back on our own wasteful carbon dioxide emissions (like, perhaps breathing?) are themselves proud owners of their own big carbon dioxide spewing private jets. And no, it’s not an innocent plant food that helps trees grow. The 0.380% of the Earth’s atmosphere, this trace gas called carbon dioxide, is in fact a deadly human-produced killer, or so these good people tell us.

First there’s Oprah and her Gulfstream IV (it holds 13 people!). And Al Gore. And Paris Hilton. And Bob Geldorf. And Jennifer Aniston. There are hundreds more. Some are even a bit frugal in their ways. They “timeshare” their planes by sharing ownership with other important people or, lower down the food chain, renting time on global fleets totaling over one thousand jets.

Does the word hypocrite come to mind, here?

Perhaps the most interesting specimens of this interesting sub-species of “concerned folk out to save the world” are those superstars who own a fleet of private jets – and fly them themselves all over the world in their quest to help protect humanity from the deadly human-caused global warming catastrophe.

Top on the list are megastars like Tom Cruise, who bought his wife Katie Holmes their fifth plane, a Gulfstream. Tom is a global warming believer.

Then there’s Harrison Ford, close buddy of Bill Clinton who does commercials for EarthShare. He too owns 5 planes including a Cessna Citation jet, and a Bell 407 helicopter to boot. Now Harrison Ford is, in fact, a genuine real-life hero. He uses his planes to help firefighting around his Wyoming home, and he has even rescued a lost boy scout in Yellowstone National Park. So, maybe Ford deserves a pass.

But what about John Travolta and his fleet of 5 private jets, ranging from a 707 downwards? He helps support this hobby by standing in front of them wearing an expensive “up market” watch. The ads are everywhere.

There’s nothing wrong, of course, for talented people who’ve made a lot of money to spend it on their hobbies. Some collect cars. Some collect boats, some collect houses. Some collect all three.

But there is something a bit bizarre in these people having permission to preach to others what they don’t do themselves. Oh wait, many also own Hondas and Toyota Prius hybrid cars. They sometimes drive them to the airports to board their private jets. Question: has the Prius become the hypocrite’s “Get Out of Jail Card”?

Or sometimes they buy “carbon credits”, fictional guilt-payments, sort of like the old
Indulgences that Roman Catholics could pay the Church to assuage their sins during the middle ages. And who can they buy these carbon credits from? Why another Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore and his financier partner David Blood -- yes Blood & Gore -- who are making millions selling their carbon credit schemes out of London through their Generation Investment Management partnership. One goal of GIM is to clearly pass on lots of money - to the next Blood and Gore generations…

So when the “reporters” start gushing all over the TV channels from Copenhagen next week, talking about how everyone has come together to save the world from the impending doom of Global Warming, think about how all the great and good got there. Perhaps they’ll even show you a clip or two of each politician emerging from their private government jets, waiving to the adoring carefully-arranged crowds.

Then remember that these same politicians are now adding “carbon taxes” to the airfares of commercial airlines, so the poor suckers who have to fly in overcrowded coach can help subsidize the elites’ travel habits. Oh, and lots of objective reporters from the main stream media hitch a ride on these private jets whenever they can. “For the story”. Right. Oink. Oink.

Mr. Easton teaches University economics and is passionate about technology and entrepreneurship. He is rosy about the long-term future: The glass isn't half full, it's overflowing!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

This will not end well

By George F. Will
The Washington Post
Thursday, December 3, 2009

A traveler asks a farmer how to get to a particular village. The farmer replies, "If I were you, I wouldn't start from here." Barack Obama, who asked to be president, nevertheless deserves sympathy for having to start where America is in Afghanistan.

But after 11 months of graceless disparagements of the 43rd president, the 44th acts as though he is the first president whose predecessor bequeathed a problematic world. And Obama's second new Afghanistan policy in less than nine months strikingly resembles his predecessor's plan for Iraq, which was: As Iraq's security forces stand up, U.S. forces will stand down.

Having vowed to "finish the job," Obama revealed Tuesday that he thinks the job in Afghanistan is to get out of Afghanistan. This is an unserious policy.

Obama's surge will bring to 51,000 his Afghanistan escalation since March. Supposedly this will buy time for Afghan forces to become adequate. But it is not intended to buy much time: Although the war is in its 98th month, Obama's "Mission Accomplished" banner will be unfurled 19 months from now -- when Afghanistan's security forces supposedly will be self-sufficient. He must know this will not happen.

In a spate of mid-November interviews -- while participating in the president's protracted rethinking of policy -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described America's Afghanistan goal(s) somewhat differently. They are "to defeat al-Qaeda and its extremist allies" because "al-Qaeda and the other extremists are part of a syndicate of terror, with al-Qaeda still being an inspiration, a funder, a trainer, an equipper and director of a lot of what goes on." And: "We want to do everything we can to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda." And: "We want to get the people who attacked us." And: "We want to get al-Qaeda." And: "We are in Afghanistan because we cannot permit the return of a staging platform for terrorists."

But al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan do not number in the tens of thousands, or even thousands. Or perhaps even hundreds. Although "the people who attacked us" were al-Qaeda, the threat that justifies today's escalation is, Clinton says, a "syndicate of terror" of which al-Qaeda is just an important part. But is Afghanistan central to the syndicate?

George W. Bush waged preventive war in Iraq regarding (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction. Obama is waging preventive war in Afghanistan to prevent it from again becoming "a staging platform for terrorists," which Somalia, Yemen or other sovereignty near-vacuums also could become. To prevent the "staging platform" scenario, U.S. forces might have to be engaged in Afghanistan for decades before its government can prevent that by itself.

Before Tuesday, the administration had said (through White House spokesman Robert Gibbs) that U.S. forces will not be there "another eight or nine years." Tuesday, the Taliban heard a distant U.S. trumpet sounding withdrawal beginning in 19 months. Also hearing it were Afghans who must decide whether to bet their lives on the Americans, who will begin striking their tents in July 2011, or on the Taliban, who are not going home, because they are at home.

Many Democrats, who think the $787 billion stimulus was too small and want another one (but by another name), are flinching from the $30 billion one-year cost of the Afghan surge. Considering that the GM and GMAC bailouts ($63 billion) are five times bigger than Afghanistan's gross domestic product ($12 billion), Democrats seem to be selective worriers about deficits. Of course, their real worry is how to wriggle out of their endorsement of the "necessary" war in Afghanistan, which was a merely tactical endorsement intended to disparage the "war of choice" in Iraq.

The president's party will not support his new policy, his budget will not accommodate it, our overstretched and worn-down military will be hard-pressed to execute it, and Americans' patience will not be commensurate with Afghanistan's limitless demands for it. This will not end well.

A case can be made for a serious -- meaning larger and more protracted -- surge. A better case can be made for a radically reduced investment of resources and prestige in that forlorn country. Obama has not made a convincing case for his tentative surgelet.

George Orwell said that the quickest way to end a war is to lose it. But Obama's halfhearted embrace of a half-baked nonstrategy -- briefly feinting toward the Taliban (or al-Qaeda, or a "syndicate of terror") while lunging for the exit ramp -- makes a protracted loss probable.

Groupthink and the Global-Warming Industry

Scientific cliques and journalistic tribalism.

By Jonah Goldberg
December 03, 2009, 0:00 a.m.

By now you might have heard something about the scandal rocking the climate-change industry, though you can be forgiven if you haven’t, since it hasn’t gotten nearly the coverage it should. Computer hackers broke into the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in England and downloaded thousands of e-mails and other documents. The CRU is one of the world’s leading global-warming data hubs, providing much of the number-crunching that global policymakers need on climate change. And, boy, can they crunch numbers.

In a long string of embarrassing e-mail exchanges, CRU scientists discuss with friendly outside colleagues, including Penn State University’s Michael Mann, how to manipulate the data they want to show the world, and how to hide the often-flawed data they don’t. In one exchange, they discuss the “trick” of how to “hide the decline” in global temperatures since the 1960s. Again and again, the researchers don’t object to just inconvenient truths but also inconvenient truth-tellers. They contemplate and orchestrate efforts to purge scientists and journals who won’t sing from the same global-warming hymnal.

In one instance, Phil Jones, the CRU director, says a scientific journal must “rid (itself) of this troublesome editor,” who happened to publish a problematic paper. In another, Jones says we “will keep them out somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”

These documents reveal the trick behind how they hide the dissent. Climate-change activists often dismiss critics by noting that the skeptics haven’t offered their arguments in peer-reviewed literature. Hence why they work so hard to keep dissenters out of the literature! Indeed, whatever the final verdict on the CRU’s shenanigans, two things are already firmly established by even a sympathetic reading of these documents.

First, the climate-change industry is shot through with groupthink (or what climate scientist Judith Curry calls “climate tribalism”). Activists would have us believe that the overwhelming majority of “real” scientists agree with them while the few dissenters are all either crazed or greedy “deniers” akin to flat-earthers and creationists. These e-mails show that what’s really at work is a very large clique of scientists attempting to excommunicate perceived heretics for reasons that have more to do with psychology and sociology than physics or climatology.

Second, the climate industry really is an industry. Climate scientists make their money and careers from government, academia, the United Nations, and foundations. The grantors want the grantees to confirm the global-warming “consensus.” The tenure and peer-review processes likewise hinge on conformity. That doesn’t necessarily mean climate change isn’t happening, but it does mean sloppiness and bias are unavoidable.

How big a scandal this is for the scientific community is being hotly debated on the Internet. But in big newspapers and TV news, the story has gotten less attention. And that’s a scandal, too. The New York Times’s leading climate reporter, Andrew Revkin (whose name appears in some of the e-mails), won’t publish the contents of the e-mail on the grounds it would violate the scientists’ privacy. Can anyone imagine the Times being so prissy if such damning e-mails were from ExxonMobil, never mind Dick Cheney?

Indeed, the closer you look at the scandal, the more you realize it’s all one big outrage. The same journalistic tribalism that allowed Dan Rather to destroy his career over “Memogate” keeps reinforcing itself. Rather picked sources who said what he wanted to hear, then he reported what they said as if it were indisputable. The same thing is happening on climate change. Ideological bias is a major factor in the news media’s work as a transmission belt for the climate industry. But part of the problem is also that the journalists do a bad job when the majority of “respected” experts agree on anything complicated. For instance, it was pretty impossible for reporters to independently investigate whether Saddam Hussein had WMDs, and since the most established authorities agreed he had to have them, the news media reported the consensus, which turned out to be wrong.

Likewise, most journalists aren’t qualified or capable of working through the climate data. So they opt for the consensus. But there are important differences, too. While there’s often reason for governments to hide classified intelligence, there’s no reason for climate data to be classified. If the science is a slam dunk, why are CRU researchers keen on hiding their research? After the WMD fiasco, journalists agonized over their mistakes. Why no soul-searching over the CRU fiasco? Climate change hasn’t been “debunked” by these documents. But the integrity of the “consensus” has been.

Also, keep in mind that the stakes are higher. In Copenhagen this month, the U.S. government will try to join the global bandwagon to spend trillions in fighting climate change. That money will not only enrich corporations, weaken U.S. sovereignty, and hinder global growth, it will come out of funds that could be spent on fighting disease and poverty. Surely that’s worth some journalistic skepticism?

— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and the author of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning.

© 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Ovechkin's No-fear factor

By Thomas Boswell
The Washington Post
Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Alex Ovechkin should slow down and live. If he can.

Athletes in many sports use the same expression for someone who plays with a reckless abandon that borders on self-destruction: "He plays like he's using somebody else's body." It's meant as a compliment to courage, but there's also an overtone of disaster.

Suddenly this season, his fifth in the NHL, two-time MVP Ovechkin is discovering that it really is his own body, not some Cyborg rental unit, that he's using as a blunt instrument to bash everybody in sight. Usually within the rules, but sometimes -- and too often recently -- outside them.

Washington's Alex Ovechkin is helped off the ice after injuring his knee on Monday.

On Tuesday, the news was fairly good. Ovechkin skated briefly at the Capitals' practice rink after a knee-to-knee hit Monday night that, in addition to getting him an ejection and game-misconduct penalty, looked like it could have been a serious injury. On slow-motion replays, his knee clearly buckled sideways. But it held. This time.

So, Ovechkin's knee will get better, just like the shoulder injury that sidelined him six games earlier this season. Are these just warning shots from Mother Nature? What's clear is, at 24, Ovie is no longer indestructible, even if he thinks he is. The time has come for him to evaluate how he will play the rest of his career.

We know his view. After being ejected just three games ago when he ran Patrick Kaleta face-first into the glass, Ovechkin said of his all-aggression, all-the-time style: "I can't do nothing about it. I just play my game. It's not going to change. It's me."

Ovechkin is all of a piece -- a live-on-the-edge outlier. What looks like excessive violence to others may look like a thrill or a challenge to him. His $300,000 Black Series AMG Mercedes -- the one with the AOGR8 license plate -- is a "supercar" with 12 cylinders, two turbo chargers and 700 horsepower. It can go 200 mph. He's had his other cars customized so they can go faster. In an ESPN feature piece, he appeared to take the reporter from zero-to-warp-speed in about four seconds.

"We are a little worried about his driving habits," Caps General Manager George McPhee said at the time.

So, sympathize with the Caps' front office. Fear for Ovechkin himself. But also appreciate that his teammates adore this break-neck style and wouldn't change him for the world. Whether scoring a goal or stalking a foe to blow up at full speed, Mr. Chaos creates space and opportunity for others, inspires teammates and excites the crowd.

Yet everything has its limits. And Ovechkin is at or past the edge. On Tuesday, the NHL suspended him for two games for his knee-to-knee collision with Carolina's Tim Gleason, his second five-minute-major hit within a week.

"He's pretty reckless," Coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters. "It's hard telling a guy that scores 60 goals a year to change the way he plays. At the same time, I don't want to see him getting hurt. Maybe he has to pick his spots a little better."

Would the Caps talk to Ovechkin about toning down a bit? "As a coach, and someone who admires him, I just don't want to see him put himself in harm's way. So, we'll see," Boudreau said. "I don't think anything said is going to change the way he plays."

In all sports, the star that's a compulsive risk-taker is begged to realize, "You are too valuable to take so many chances. Don't stop. Just rein it in." Most can, to a degree. Some can't, or won't.

If Ovechkin is the latter, then we should take a good look at the Great Eight while he's still in one piece and at the peak of his powers. Maybe, like Gordie Howe, Ovechkin will combine goals and big hits for a full career. But in the last few weeks, the opposite outcome has emerged for the first time. If he keeps playing at the edge and in constant pursuit of a hit that tops all his other highlight clips, can Ovechkin still have a 60-goal body by the time the Caps run at a Stanley Cup?

While Washington worries about his health, the events of the last week have refocused discussion on whether Ovechkin is a dirty player. At the extremes, in Pittsburgh, he's called a gifted goon, coddled by the sport's hierarchy. In D.C., he's the pinnacle of toughness. Everybody else is just jealous they don't have him.

If you review the tapes of his most controversial hits -- not just Gleason and Kaleta in the last week but Sergei Gonchar, Dennis Wideman, Rich Peverley, Daniel Briere, Jamie Heward, Dustin Brown, Evgeni Malkin and others -- it does seem that Ovechkin has entered a worrisome gray area. What is most gripping about his hits is that his premise seems to be: Wow, what a chance for an amazing collision! He may get hurt, I won't.

No great athlete in any sport plays more wildly, with less regard for injury, to himself or his foe, than Alex Ovechkin right now.

If he could turn his aggression down just a notch, he would be just as great but have a longer career that is even more admirable.

That doesn't sound like much. And to some it isn't. But to others, it's impossible. The way they play is who they are, right down to the bone.

If Ovechkin, all 700 horsepower, can't find a way to downshift, we'll just have to cross our fingers. Every night, every shift, he's going on all 12 cylinders, running in the red. That's why we love to watch him. From now on, it's also why we'll hold our breath.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Washington, Home of Intellectual Hypocrisy

Believing you can run other peoples’ lives when you can barely run your own.

By Jonah Goldberg
December 02, 2009, 0:00 a.m.

I think I’ve had my fill of moral hypocrisy. We routinely hear stories of evangelical ministers who “mentor” hookers at $500 an hour, “family values” politicians who like the cut of a congressional page’s jib, or senators who love to press the flesh, one bathroom stall at a time. And, given the times, we increasingly hear stories about progressive politicians and columnists who — gasp! — have bigger carbon footprints than they want the rest of us to have: CO2 emissions for me and not for thee! For shame.

The press loves stories of moral hypocrisy. Catching a finger-wagging politician violating his or her own moral code warms the cockles of every reporter’s heart. Indeed, sometimes journalists confuse hypocrisy for the real crime. “If a politician murders his mother,” the late Washington Post editorial page editor Meg Greenfield once said, “the first response of the press . . . will likely be not that it was a terrible thing to do, but rather that in a statement made six years before, he had gone on record as being opposed to matricide.”

The crusade against moral hypocrisy necessarily hits conservatives harder, not because conservatives are more immoral, but because they uphold morality more publicly, making them richer targets. The Left aims much of its moralizing at moralizing itself — “thou shalt not judge.” Meanwhile, the Right focuses on the oldies but goodies — adultery, drug use, etc. I think we’re right to uphold a standard even if we sometimes fail to live up to it.

What I don’t think we hear enough about is intellectual hypocrisy. What’s that? Well, if moral hypocrisy is saying what values people should live by while failing to follow them yourself, intellectual hypocrisy is believing you are smart enough to run other peoples’ lives when you can barely run your own.

I know many smart liberals for whom no idea is too complex, no concept or organizational flow chart too hard to grasp. They want government to take over this, run that, manage some other things, and in all cases put people exactly like them in charge of pretty much everything. Many are geniuses, with SAT scores so high you could get a bloody nose just looking at them.

But you wouldn’t ask one to run a car wash.

The chairman of a small college’s English department thinks it’s obvious intellectuals should take over health care, but he can’t manage the class schedules of three professors or run a meeting without it coming to blows or tears. A pundit defends government intervention in almost every sphere of economic life, but he can’t figure out how to manage the interns or his checking account.

The most famous story of an intellectual hypocrite getting his comeuppance is the tale of George McGovern and his inn. The senator, 1972 presidential nominee and college professor thought he could run a vast, technologically sophisticated nation with a diverse population and an entrepreneurial culture. Then, after leaving Washington, he bought an inn in Connecticut to while away his retirement years. For a guy as smart as him, running an inn should have been child’s play. But it went belly-up before the end of the year, with a contritely befuddled McGovern marveling at how much harder running a business was than he thought.

Or consider Rep. Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.), currently subject of a House ethics investigation. Rangel heads the Ways and Means Committee, which writes the tax code. He backs the imposition of an income-tax surcharge on high earners to pay for health care, calling it “the moral thing to do.” Yet he can’t seem to figure out how to file his own taxes properly or, perhaps, legally.

Now, I also know lots of conservatives who are basket cases at everything other than reading and writing books and articles, giving speeches, and thinking Big Thoughts (likewise, I know liberals who despise conservative moralizing about sex and religion who nonetheless live chaste, pious lives themselves). The point is that conservatives don’t presume to be smart enough to run everything, because conservative dogma takes it as an article of faith that no one can be that smart.

Moral hypocrisy is still worth exposing, I guess. But we are living in a moment when revealing intellectual hypocrisy should take precedence. A J. P. Morgan chart reprinted on the “Enterprise Blog” shows that less than 10 percent of President Obama’s cabinet has private-sector experience, the least of any cabinet in a century. From the stimulus to health-care reform and cap-and-trade, Washington is now run by people who think they know how to run everything, when in reality they can barely run anything.

— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and the author of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning.

© 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Setting up our military to fail

New York Post
December 2, 2009

Just plain nuts: That's the only possible characterization for last night's presidential declaration of surrender in advance of a renewed campaign in Afghanistan.

President Obama will send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan -- but he'll "begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011." Then why send them?

If you're going to tell the Taliban to be patient because we're leaving, what's the point in upping the blood ante? For what will come down to a single year by the time the troops hit the ground?

Does Obama really expect to achieve in one year what we haven't been able to do in more than eight?

Adding to the confusion, Obama qualified his timeline by insisting that "we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground."

If conditions of the ground are key, why announce a pullout date?

And what did this "new strategy" come down to, otherwise? More of the same, but more: More troops, more civilians, more partnership.

Well, the troops will go, the civilians won't -- and the partnerships are a fantasy.

Our president is setting up our military to fail -- but he'll be able to claim that he gave the generals what they wanted. Failure will be their fault.

He's covering his strong-on-security flank, even as he plays to our white-flag wavers. His cynicism's worthy of a Saddam.

Obama's right about one thing, though: The Afghans "will ultimately be responsible for their own country." So why undercut them with an arbitrary timeline that doesn't begin to allow adequate time to expand and train sufficient Afghan forces? Does he really believe that young Afghans are going to line up to join the army and police knowing that we plan to abandon them in mid-2011?

Does the 2012 election ring a bell?

What messages did our president's bait-and-switch speech just send?

To our troops: Risk your lives for a mission I've written off.

To our allies: Race you to the exit ramp.

To the Taliban: Allah is merciful, your prayers will soon be answered.

To Afghan leaders: Get your stolen wealth out of the country.

To Pakistan: Renew your Taliban friendships now (and be nice to al Qaeda).

This isn't just stupid: It's immoral. No American president has ever espoused such a worthless, self-absorbed non-strategy for his own political gratification.

On the other hand, the stage lighting and the camera angles at West Point were terrific. Our president looked good. Jaw jutting high (in his "hope" pose), he decried political partisanship -- but spent more time blaming Bush and Iraq for our Afghan problems than he spent blaming the Taliban (check it with a stop-watch).

Nor did Obama miss a single chance to praise himself, insisting that he's already transformed our relationship with the Middle East (please notify the Iranians, al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas) and that all of his dithering demonstrated wisdom.

This guy loves to hear himself talk. The last quarter of the speech was boiler-plate rhetoric that wandered off into the clouds. And that human-rights stuff? Where was that during his visits to China and Saudi Arabia? Hypocrisy, thy name is Barack.

Above all, where was the strategy? And where are the four-star resignations over a policy designed to squander American lives just to give an administration political cover?

After eight years of failure to create effective Afghan security forces and a responsible government, does anyone believe we can do it in 12 to 18 months?

"Target the insurgency"? Does that mean our soldiers will finally be permitted to go after our enemies and kill them? Nope. Those troops are going to "secure population centers." We'll be passive and let the enemy choose where and when to strike.

When fighting insurgents and terrorists, if you're not slamming them up against the wall and breaking their bones, you're losing. Obama isn't sending more troops -- he's sending more targets.

How do the Marines and soldiers slated to go to Afghanistan feel today, knowing that their commander-in-chief has already declared defeat?

By the time Obama finally got to Pakistan -- the refuge of evil -- he was spouting pure nonsense: "We are committed to a partnership with Pakistan that is built on a foundation of mutual interests, mutual respect and mutual trust." But our interests diverge, we don't respect each other and we certainly don't trust each other.

Sounded good, though.

Mr. President, how can you send our troops to war without backing them all the way? How could you pull the strategic rug out from under them in advance? Why did you reassure the Taliban that we've already fixed a sell-by date? What's the bloody point?

At West Point last night, President Obama's delivery was superb. But what he was delivering was a funeral oration for his promised strategy.

Ralph Peters' latest book is "The War After Armageddon."

Bob Dylan Rocks

By Max Schulz on 12.2.09 @ 6:09AM
The American Spectator

Interviewing Bob Dylan several years ago, Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner kept badgering the legendary artist to admit that the world is going to seed and things look grim. Dylan demurred, asking Wenner just what he was getting at. "We seem to be hell-bent on destruction," said Wenner, who then quizzed Dylan if he worried about global warming.

Bob Dylan, a clever enough fellow that he once attained the amorous affections of Raquel Welch despite looking like a homeless person, refused to take his interlocutor's bait. "Where's the global warming?" he asked Wenner. "It's freezing here."

That exchange came immediately to mind when the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) announced Monday that Dylan's A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall will serve as the theme song for the historic global climate change conference that gets underway next week in Copenhagen.

The UN is putting out a short film called Hard Rain that sets the Dylan classic to a montage of striking photographs meant to highlight the perils of fossil fuel use and global warming: Bangladeshi refugees, barren Haitian forests, the melting Greenland ice sheet, an oil-soaked bird on a Brazilian beach, etc. Accompanying the film is a specially commissioned essay entitled "The Urgency of Now" written by green activist Lloyd Timberlake. UNEP is also distributing a book of the photographs. This is all part of something called the Hard Rain Project, which aims to "reinvent the world so it's compatible with nature and human nature."

The project largely is the, er, brainchild of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The UNEP press release quotes him saying, rather loftily, "If Hard Rain is a photographic elegy, it is also an impassioned cry for change. Forceful, dramatic and disturbing, it is driven by what Martin Luther King called 'the fierce urgency of now' -- and I believe the call for a truly global response to climate change is an idea whose time has finally come."

At first listen A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall would seem to be right up the alley of those invested in warning about the impending eco-apocalypse. The lyrics make reference to dead oceans, sad forests, a child beside a dead pony, a newborn surrounded by wolves, and a woman on fire. One line has the singer describing the depths of a black forest, "where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters."

It is an unsettling song and, frankly, an inscrutable one. But that hasn't stopped the masters of environmental hyperbole at UNEP from deciding that Dylan is speaking the gospel of planetary doom.

"The dark and evocative lyrics of A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall echo the kind of impacts the world faces if climate change continues unchecked," said Achim Steiner, UNEP's Executive Director.

The only problem is that there's no reason to think this interpretation of Dylan's classic is correct. A constant complaint in Dylan's interviews over the years is that people often misinterpret his songs. Originally people thought A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall was about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Nope, he wrote and performed it a month before that 1962 saga. That didn't stop a generation of folks believing the hard rain referred to nuclear fallout.

Dylan tried to put that notion to rest in a famous interview conducted by Studs Terkel: "No, it's not atomic rain, it's just a hard rain. It isn't the fallout rain. I mean some sort of end that's just gotta happen." Whatever that means.

But clearly all that lingo about the despoiled environment is about, well, environmental destruction, right? Maybe not. As Dylan himself explained, "In the last verse, when I say, 'the pellets of poison are flooding their waters', that means all the lies that people get told on their radios and in their newspapers."


A curious thing about Dylan is that he is regarded by many as the embodiment of the spirit of protest and raised consciousness of the 1960s. Yet he has always seemed uncomfortable with that role. In his own eyes he's just a musician. He writes and performs songs. That's what he does.

So the notion of enlisting Dylan to be the voice of a new green generation is a little silly. The guy did a commercial for Cadillac's gargantuan Escalade SUV two years ago, after all. That, like the Rolling Stone interview, is just another clue that Dylan might not be marching in lockstep with fashionable society when it comes to global warming groupthink.

The earnest alarmists at the United Nations are undeterred by the silliness of this campaign. Dylan and his music are iconic, and should be put to use in the furtherance of a noble cause. Or as Mr. Steiner put it, "Bob Dylan had another song. One that reflects a strong and positive Copenhagen outcome that puts the world on a low-carbon path -- The Times They Are A-Changin."

Groan-inducing to be sure. But while we're at it, perhaps Steiner, Gordon Brown, and the rest of the Hard Rain brigade might consider mining the Dylan songbook a bit further. They need to come up with something to describe the virtually nonexistent prospects of getting a landmark international agreement at Copenhagen, despite the labors of PM Brown, President Obama, and other world leaders. May I suggest Blowin' in the Wind?

Max Schulz is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

Film Reviews: Ninja Assassin

Ninjas slash as slash can

New York Post
November 25, 2009

Not to brag, but who is this "Ninja Assassin" fellow compared to me? He: gets sliced to the bone by whirling blades, is blasted unconscious by stun guns and does handstands on a bed of nails. I: sat through "Old Dogs."

Korean pop singer Rain plays Raizo, a child raised in the world's coolest orphanage: Chores include learning to maim and slash the other children, who are being raised to be ninja assassins by their dark master Lord Ozunu. These orphans don't beg, unless it's to say, "Please, sir, I want some more whoop-ass."

Despite all this happy carnage -- the arterial spray throughout is of lawn-sprinkler force, and many a wall exists only to get Jackson Pollocked with bright red viscous goo -- Raizo comes to doubt his brethren. The outfit considers membership to be nonrevocable, though, and sends dedicated field representatives out to explore the possibility of carving Raizo into Raisinets, if possible while inflicting extravagant doses of pain.

The evil ninjas seem to be unaware of exactly who it is they are dealing with: Raizo once spent a year training blindfolded, which is exactly how I wish I had seen "Old Dogs." He also devises an ingenious way to fend off a ninja kill technique disguised as clean laundry.

Meanwhile, in Berlin, a police forensics analyst (Naomie Harris) begins looking into a network of something or other involving a trail of yada yada that leads wherever. Her group, Europol, goes after the ninjas, including Raizo, but one cop makes a big mistake when he brazenly refers to the ninjas as "a few whack jobs wearing pajamas." No, that's conservative bloggers.

Europol becomes a target of the rest of the Ozunus, who can't allow anyone to jump the queue when it comes to torturing Raizo. The forensics expert, though, joins forces with Raizo after receiving a warning letter containing the evil ninjas' trademark black sand.

I can tell her that an invitation to attend a screening of a new Disney movie that stars Robin Williams would have been equally unsettling.

"Ninja Assassin," which is bloodier than peak hour at the abattoir, offers about 2½ films' worth of roaring action -- Raizo is so handy with a chain that surrounding ninjas fall like dandelions against a weed whacker -- played with an earnest B-movie fervor. Despite the pace, though -- pedal, have you met my friend metal? -- "Ninja Assassin" still has some of its best stuff left at the end, when the master returns to demonstrate his extra-special, super-most-deadliest technique. This movie knows exactly what it is: Gonzo silliness about bodies turned into human salsa.

Ninja Assassin -- Film Review

By Ethan Alter, November 11, 2009 05:01 ET
The Hollywood Reporter

Chances are if you're willingly walking into a movie entitled "Ninja Assassin," you're expecting to see three basic things: 1) ninjas, 2) lots of them, 3) fighting each other with all sorts of cool weapons your parents never would let you own.

It's a pleasure to report, then, that this contemporary chopsocky feature, produced by the Wachowski brothers and directed by James McTeigue ("V for Vendetta"), delivers on those essential elements. It is indeed filled with lots of ninjas who are constantly at each other's throats with all manner of sharp implements.

The film is likely to enjoy only a modest run in theaters, but its chances at a successful home entertainment afterlife seem strong.

Made for the relatively modest price tag of $50 million, "Ninja" often appears as if it cost twice that, thanks to its lush visuals (lensed by Karl Walter Lindenlaub) and terrific special effects, pulled off with a combination of practical and digital tricks. In terms of narrative, though, it's a B-picture all the way.

The somewhat jumbled story line centers on Raizo (South Korean pop singer Rain), a skilled warrior raised from an early age to be a foot soldier in a secret army of ninja assassins. But after his brutal master kills the girl he loves, Raizo goes rogue and wages war on his former employers with the help of an Interpol agent (Naomie Harris) investigating this shadowy world of sword-wielding hitmen.

A plot this thin requires charismatic actors to give the proceedings any dramatic weight. Unfortunately, that's the primary area where "Ninja" falls short. Rain might be a superstar in concert, but he's not very interesting onscreen. Granted, the serviceable screenplay by Matthew Sand and J. Michael Straczynski only gives him glum angst to play, but his perpetual blank stare doesn't suggest much range.

It's also a shame to see Harris, who had such a steely, badass presence in her breakthrough role in "28 Days Later," stuck playing the out-of-her-depth sidekick.

Where the movie excels is the action sequences, largely because McTeigue takes full advantage of his R rating to indulge in lots of blood-soaked slicing-and-dicing, while displaying a sense of humor the rest of the film lacks.

In typical Wachowski fashion, these set pieces embrace both comic book and video game aesthetics: The frames are carefully composed and packed with rich colors, but the camera is rarely locked down, toggling around the space as if McTeigue were controlling it with a joystick. This approach might upset old-school kung fu movie fans, but it results in some of the most entertaining and over-the-top martial arts action this side of the "Kill Bill" films.

"Ninja" isn't a great movie, but if you're in the right frame of mind, it is a bloody good time.

Opens: Wednesday, Nov. 25 (Warner Bros.)
Production: Warner Bros. Pictures, Silver Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Dark Castle Entertainment, Anarchos Prods., Studio Babelsberg
Cast: Rain, Naomie Harris, Ben Miles, Rick Yune, Sho Kosugi, Guido Foehrweisser, Stephen Marcus, Wladimir Tarasjanz, Randall Duk Kim, Sung Kang
Director: James McTeigue
Screenwriters: Matthew Sand, J. Michael Straczynski
Story: Matthew Sand
Producers: Joel Silver, Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski, Grant Hill
Executive Producers: Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Steve Richards
Director of Photography: Karl Walter Lindenlaub
Production Designer: Graham Walker
Music by Ilan Eshkeri
Costume Designer: Carlo Poggioli
Edited by Gian Ganziano, Joseph Jett Sally
Rated R, 99 minutes

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

O's Window Dressing

New York Post
December 1, 2009

In the art-auction world, the trick to selling a bad painting is to put it in a terrific frame. That's the logic behind President Obama's West Point speech tonight.

Condemned by his own vacillation to sketching a picture repulsive to multiple constituencies, Obama will use the impressive frame of West Point to lend his remarks an illusion of glorious leadership.

The event will be impressive: The US Military Academy does pomp and circumstance well. The cadets will be immaculate and perfectly behaved, applauding on cue (no Joe Wilson "You lie!" shout-outs from this hyper-disciplined bunch).

Flags, formality and hallowed tradition will be at the service of a policy announcement that, by tomorrow morning, the establishment media will hail as rivaling the Gettysburg Address (to the journalistic herd, every Obama utterance is greater than the last -- from Cairo to Fort Hood to West Point).

So it's clear why Obama's packagers chose West Point: military glamour, a star-struck audience of undergraduates and the subliminal message that anyone who questions the president's wisdom opposes "duty, honor, country."

But the choice also reveals how politically gun shy Obama has become. Above all else, West Point's safe.

A president serious about strategic policy would have given this speech at the National War College, or to the Joint Staff in the Pentagon auditorium, or to a joint session of Congress, or from the Oval Office. He would have addressed his strategy to those charged with overseeing and implementing it.

Instead, he's created an enormous disruption at West Point to speak to apprentice officers whose responsibilities after commissioning will be to lead platoons of 20 to 40 soldiers. These are splendid young Americans, but they're not an appropriate audience for game-changing policy announcements.

To resurrect Marshall McLuhan's phrase from the 1960s, "The medium is the message" for the Obama administration -- the packaging trumps the content. Aware that his strategy's a muddled compromise that won't come to grips with our top security challenges, Obama's staging a media event. But he still won't deliver leadership.

His primary strength remains a hollow charisma to which the media remain embarrassingly susceptible. The president's delivery is superb (when the teleprompter works), but the content of his globe-trotting sermons avoids nasty realities.

Tonight, he'll announce a measured troop surge, justifying it with boilerplate remarks. He won't tell us why holding Afghan dirt matters more than killing America's enemies.

But he'll also seek to soothe his base on the left, hinting at sharp limits on our commitment.

It's the worst of both worlds: As if, during World War II, we'd told the Japanese and Germans that we really meant business, but intended to quit by 1944.

I believe that increasing our commitment to the loathsome Afghan government and occupying worthless Afghan real estate is folly. Yet, given a decision by the president to surge more troops, I want the effort to succeed. It won't have a chance, though, if the Taliban are told that they just have to hang on. Afghans are very good at hanging on.

The key word to listen for in tonight's speech is "Pakistan." Afghanistan's an elusive booby prize -- while, next door, we're supporting (and strategically hostage to) a country that revels in anti-Americanism, harbors terrorists and sponsors terrorism. We have met the enemy -- and written him a big, fat check.

Any strategy that doesn't come to grips with Pakistan -- beyond generalities about enhanced cooperation -- is doomed.

But strategic success isn't Obama's ultimate concern. He wants political cover and is doing all he can to ensure that he's not on the blame-line, no matter what happens.

He wants to appear strong -- but without unleashing our strength. He'll send more troops -- but won't let them do more. Their primary mission will be to protect our enemies.

As you watch and listen to the president tonight, separate what's said from the setting's grandeur. Dig beneath the fancy bow, ribbons and gift wrap to find out if anything's in Obama's box.

You'll find this strategic gift is half bicycle, half pony -- and charged to your account.

Ralph Peters' latest book is "The War After Armageddon."

Their Finest Hour

Books in Review

By Jason Emerson from the December 2009-January 2010 issue of The American Spectator

Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign That Changed America
By Craig Shirley
(ISI Books, 740 pages, $30)

The landslide outcome of the 1980 presidential election now seems a foregone conclusion. With double-digit inflation and interest rates, high taxes, a loss of international prestige, and the indignity of American hostages in Iran, President Jimmy Carter's loss to former California governor Ronald Reagan seems inevitable. The electoral blowout of 489-49 and the popular victory by almost 9 million votes seems as unsurprising in retrospect as Franklin Roosevelt's fourth term. But as Craig Shirley shows in his new book, Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign That Changed America, Reagan's path to the White House -- from the Republican primaries to the general election -- was anything but a smooth journey, and nearly ended in failure.

In truth, Reagan's 1980 victory began with his 1976 sliver-thin loss to then president Gerald R. Ford in the Republican primaries. Reagan's convention speech that year galvanized the Republican Party -- and made many wonder if they had chosen the wrong candidate. Reagan spent the four years from 1976 to 1980 speaking and writing about conservative causes and ideals, and campaigning for GOP candidates across the country. He entered the 1980 Republican primary as the clear front-runner, but by no means the only candidate. It became a race not just for the leading of America, but for the soul of the Republican Party. It was a contest between men of vastly different political ideologies: liberal Republicans such as John Anderson, moderate, country club Republicans like George H. W. Bush, and conservatives such as Ronald Reagan.

Who knows or remembers today how perilously close Reagan came to losing the nomination that year? Shirley reveals the Reagan campaign's strategy and characters in more detail than has ever been accomplished, from the arrogant yet brilliant campaign manager John Sears, to the involvement of Nancy Reagan, to the vagaries of the candidate himself. As Shirley clearly shows, Ronald Reagan was an exceptional visionary, politician, and campaigner, but his great weakness was his penchant for coasting through a campaign if he was not challenged. This, in fact, along with bad advice to avoid campaigning in the all-important first primary in New Hampshire, led to Reagan's shocking loss to George H. W. Bush in the Granite State. After this loss, Reagan was "on the brink of political oblivion," as Shirley states.

From this first loss until his ultimate victory in the primaries, we see Reagan not as a flawless conservative hero, but as the man and the candidate that he honestly was, one with great strengths and also weaknesses. His political acumen, his intelligence and charm, his ability to communicate and connect with voters, all are evident. But while Shirley clearly admires Reagan, the author pulls no punches and makes no excuses for the Gipper's flaws. He shows time and again how Reagan "coasted" through certain areas and aspects of the campaign; how Reagan made mistakes by skipping debates and made misstatements on the trail; that Reagan at times put too much faith in certain of his advisers, and as a consequence even betrayed the loyalty of other friends and advisers, such as the firing of longtime friend and adviser Michael Deaver. Shirley shows Reagan's occasional temper, such as when his argument with campaign manager John Sears nearly ended with Reagan punching the obstinate and arrogant man in the face.

The narrative of Rendezvous with Destiny flows smoothly from campaign to campaign, showing the workings and strategies, the successes and failures of all the candidates: Reagan, Bush, Anderson, John Connally, Bob Dole, Howard Baker, and the waffling indecision of former President Ford. There also is equal study given to the Democratic primary race between President Carter and Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy -- a race that showed Carter's ruthless campaign tactics, and bloodied him up severely for the general election. As the reader is moved through these interweaving stories, the classic events of the campaign are always looming on the horizon, such as the great two-man debate at Nashua High School in New Hampshire where Reagan outflanked his main opponent, George Bush, by bringing the other non-invited candidates to the stage. When the moderator tried to turn off Reagan's microphone, the governor's angry shout of, "I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green!" resounds through the story.

The exhaustive study of both the Republican and Democratic primary races is followed by an equally meticulous recounting of the general election between Reagan and Carter. In this epochal race, the outcome of which ultimately transformed the entire American political landscape and national direction, Shirley reveals many of the criticisms that dogged Reagan throughout his two terms as president, such as his advanced age (which Shirley says Reagan's enemies chewed on "like a mongrel dog on a soup bone"), and his perceived "warmongering" and lack of intelligence. Though all without merit, these attacks were continuous by his Republican opponents, by President Carter, and by the national media, and the repetition of these attacks aggravated Reagan to no end.

As with the description of the GOP primary races, Shirley's narrative of the general election flows liquidly between the two campaigns, examining their highs and lows. Reagan's relentless optimism is as shiningly evident throughout the story as Carter's depressing pessimism. The story is as exhilarating as it is illuminating, as the sense of expectation builds toward the famous lone debate between Reagan and Carter, in which Reagan quips, "There you go again," and then on to election night, when Carter concedes before the polls are even closed and Reagan takes the call while standing in a towel just after a shower.

One of the many interesting subtexts of this book is a full accounting of former president Gerald Ford's place in the 1980 election. Would he run in the primaries or would he not? Would he endorse a candidate or would he not? After Reagan won the nomination, where did Ford stand in relation to his 1976 opponent, whom the former president believed had lost him the election to Jimmy Carter four years previous? Also included is the full story of the nearly-accomplished-but-not-to-be "dream ticket" of Reagan-Ford at the Detroit convention. How did this potential pairing occur? Why would Reagan have considered such an arrangement? And how exactly did the idea fall apart to make way for George Bush as Reagan's running mate? All of these questions are answered, and show the pragmatism as well as the wisdom of candidate Reagan.

Interestingly, it is a chapter that seems to stall the narrative flow that is actually one of the great moments in the book. For nearly 30 years there has been a mystery as to how and by whose hand the Reagan presidential campaign had obtained President Carter's top-secret debate briefing books. There was even a congressional inquiry into the theft in 1983, with no solution reached. Craig Shirley has unearthed the answer, and reveals it to have been unsavory political operative -- in fact a former Communist organizer -- Paul Corbin. Corbin was a friend of the Kennedy family and an earnest supporter of Edward Kennedy's bid to dethrone President Carter in 1980. Yet when Kennedy failed to win the nomination, Corbin's hatred of Carter led him to assist the Reagan campaign.

Shirley shows how Corbin offered to help the campaign with organized labor, and that campaign manager Jim Baker (brought over from the Bush primary campaign) had a hand in bringing him in, despite his dislike of the man. Corbin claimed his position was to produce research reports on Florida, but in reality his intention was not so much to help Reagan as it was to destroy Carter. Shirley shows how Corbin obtained the books, who knew about it in the Reagan campaign, and how the 1983 congressional inquiry failed to name the thief.

This revelation is an impressive bit of historical sleuthing, and a microcosm of the craftsmanship
of the entire book. Shirley's sources are vast and impressive, utilizing not only primary and secondary source books, but dozens of archival collections from across the country; volumes of contemporary news accounts in newspapers, periodicals, and television; and nearly 200 interviews with all the major players throughout the entire 1980 election season. These sources augment the author's clear and complete understanding of his subject matter.

Shirley has proven himself a master of presidential campaign histories -- a true heir to Theodore White, whose histories of the presidential campaigns of 1960, 1964, 1968, and 1972 are benchmarks for political literature and campaign histories. Shirley's first book, Reagan's Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All (Nelson Current, 2005), tackled the history of Reagan's quest to wrest the 1976 Republican presidential nomination away from then president Gerald R. Ford. That book was not merely an applause at near victory; it was an exhaustive study of the entire campaign, the national scene, the state of the political parties, the nature of every candidate and every state primary. It showed Reagan virtuous and flawed, winner and loser, and immaculately set the stage for Shirley's latest offering in Rendezvous with Destiny. Likewise, this book will make readers hungry for a study of the 1984 presidential campaign, which Shirley has already begun, and which promises to be the concluding masterstroke in his triptych of Reagan campaign studies.

Perhaps George Will explains Rendezvous with Destiny best when he writes in his foreword to the book, "This book is both a primer on practical politics and a meditation on the practicality of idealism. It arrives, serendipitously, at a moment when conservatives are much in need of an inspiring examination of their finest hour."

History vindicates truth; that is an axiom of the historical profession. We are now at the beginnings of the dispassionate historical study of Reagan's legacy. It takes decades for contemporary passions to cool, for the memoirs of those who knew and worked with Reagan to be written and digested. Now comes the time of the research historian.

The historiography of all epochal figures runs the same schedule. Abraham Lincoln's legacy was at first clouded by his martyrdom, then by the passions of the Civil War generation. As sociologist Barry Schwartz has so deftly explained his book, Abraham Lincoln and the Forge of National Memory, it took decades for Lincoln to be examined objectively, and it took a new generation of Americans to appreciate Lincoln for his faults as well as his virtues.

The study of Ronald Reagan is following this same path. It is now in the beginning stages of objective inquiry, where Reagan's strengths and his weaknesses, his virtues as well as faults, are all under consideration to give a complete view of this iconic man. It is a crucial period when historical objectivity is coupled with the knowledge and reminiscences of people who knew Reagan. Craig Shirley's Rendezvous with Destiny, just as in his previous book, Reagan's Revolution, is a paradigm of this period of Reagan scholarship. It is an exhaustive study that will be at the very core of the Reagan bibliography for future generations, and will not anytime soon -- if ever -- be surpassed.

- Jason Emerson is the author of Lincoln the Inventor, The Madness of Mary Todd Lincoln, and a forthcoming biography of Robert Todd Lincoln.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Switzerland Says “No” to the Bayonets of Islam

by Baron Bodissey
Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Swiss people went to the polls today in a referendum on the banning of minarets in Switzerland.

By the time they voted, they were well aware of the stakes in the issue. If they voted to approve the minaret ban, they would certify themselves as “racists” and “xenophobes”. They would show that hate and intolerance had won. They would be identified as worthy heirs of the Third Reich.

Yet, despite all of that, despite the pariah status that awaited them, the Swiss people voted overwhelmingly to approve the minaret ban.

So what happens next? What can the “world community” do to teach Switzerland a lesson?

If it were a member of the European Union, the solution would be easy. The example of Austria a few years back shows how the EU handles a member state whose internal politics violate the sensibilities of the bien-pensants in Brussels.

But Switzerland is a tougher nut to crack. Will the OIC call on its member states to boycott cuckoo clocks and watches? Will the jet set give up their skiing holidays in Switzerland? Will the rich and powerful close their numbered Swiss bank accounts and put their money elsewhere?

In any case, the Swiss people have made their opinion clear. According to AFP:

Switzerland votes to ban minarets

GENEVA — Switzerland on Sunday voted to impose a blanket ban on the building of minarets across the country, backing an initiative by far-right politicians.

A clear majority of 57.5 percent of the population and 22 out of 26 cantons voted to ban the towers or turrets attached on mosques from where Muslims are called to prayer.

Far-right politicians celebrated the results, while the government sought to assure the Muslim minority that a ban on minarets was “not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture.”

The Swiss People’s Party (SVP) — Switzerland’s biggest party — had forced a referendum under Swiss regulations on the issue after collecting 100,000 signatures within 18 months from eligible voters.

Having won a double majority — both in terms of cantons and absolute numbers, the initiative will now be inscribed in the country’s constitution.

“The Federal Council (government) respects this decision. Consequently the construction of new minarets in Switzerland is no longer permitted,” said the government, which had firmly opposed the ban, in a statement.

Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said the result “reflects fears among the population of Islamic fundamentalist tendencies.”

“These concerns have to be taken seriously… However, the Federal Council takes the view that a ban on the construction of new minarets is not a feasible means of countering extremist tendencies,” she stressed.

She also sought to reassure the Muslim population, saying: “Today’s popular decision is only directed against the construction of new minarets.

“It is not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture. Of that, the Federal Council gives its assurance.”

But the Muslim community, which makes up 400,000 out of 7.5 million people in Switzerland, was dismayed.

“The most painful for us is not the minaret ban, but the symbol sent by this vote. Muslims do not feel accepted as a religious community,” said Farhad Afshar, who heads the Coordination of Islamic Organisations in Switzerland.

The Christian community also expressed dismay, saying it was “inadmissible that the religious minority now have to subject to unequal treatment.”

For Amnesty International, the minaret ban is a “violation of religious freedom, incompatible with the conventions signed by Switzerland.”

“The initiators (of the referendum) have unfortunately managed to exploit fears towards Islam and stirred up xenophobic sentiments, it’s regrettable,” said Daniel Bolomey, who heads the Swiss chapter of the rights group.

Meanwhile, SVP Vice-President Yvan Perrin cheered the fact that his party had won the vote “without difficulty.”

He told Radio Suisse Romande that Swiss companies should not worry about suffering from a possible backlash from Muslim countries.

“If our companies continue to make good quality products, they have nothing to worry about,” he said.

Noting that the Swiss had made their decision after fervent debate on the issue, he said: “We won respectably.”

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Today's Tune: Southside Johnny - All the Way Home (Live)

(Click on title to play video)

Climate change: this is the worst scientific scandal of our generation

Our hopelessly compromised scientific establishment cannot be allowed to get away with the Climategate whitewash, says Christopher Booker.

By Christopher Booker
The Daily Telegraph
Published: 6:10PM GMT 28 Nov 2009

A week after my colleague James Delingpole, on his Telegraph blog, coined the term "Climategate" to describe the scandal revealed by the leaked emails from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit, Google was showing that the word now appears across the internet more than nine million times. But in all these acres of electronic coverage, one hugely relevant point about these thousands of documents has largely been missed.

The reason why even the Guardian's George Monbiot has expressed total shock and dismay at the picture revealed by the documents is that their authors are not just any old bunch of academics. Their importance cannot be overestimated, What we are looking at here is the small group of scientists who have for years been more influential in driving the worldwide alarm over global warming than any others, not least through the role they play at the heart of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Professor Philip Jones, the CRU's director, is in charge of the two key sets of data used by the IPCC to draw up its reports. Through its link to the Hadley Centre, part of the UK Met Office, which selects most of the IPCC's key scientific contributors, his global temperature record is the most important of the four sets of temperature data on which the IPCC and governments rely – not least for their predictions that the world will warm to catastrophic levels unless trillions of dollars are spent to avert it.

Dr Jones is also a key part of the closely knit group of American and British scientists responsible for promoting that picture of world temperatures conveyed by Michael Mann's "hockey stick" graph which 10 years ago turned climate history on its head by showing that, after 1,000 years of decline, global temperatures have recently shot up to their highest level in recorded history.

Given star billing by the IPCC, not least for the way it appeared to eliminate the long-accepted Mediaeval Warm Period when temperatures were higher they are today, the graph became the central icon of the entire man-made global warming movement.

Since 2003, however, when the statistical methods used to create the "hockey stick" were first exposed as fundamentally flawed by an expert Canadian statistician Steve McIntyre, an increasingly heated battle has been raging between Mann's supporters, calling themselves "the Hockey Team", and McIntyre and his own allies, as they have ever more devastatingly called into question the entire statistical basis on which the IPCC and CRU construct their case.

The senders and recipients of the leaked CRU emails constitute a cast list of the IPCC's scientific elite, including not just the "Hockey Team", such as Dr Mann himself, Dr Jones and his CRU colleague Keith Briffa, but Ben Santer, responsible for a highly controversial rewriting of key passages in the IPCC's 1995 report; Kevin Trenberth, who similarly controversially pushed the IPCC into scaremongering over hurricane activity; and Gavin Schmidt, right-hand man to Al Gore's ally Dr James Hansen, whose own GISS record of surface temperature data is second in importance only to that of the CRU itself.

There are three threads in particular in the leaked documents which have sent a shock wave through informed observers across the world. Perhaps the most obvious, as lucidly put together by Willis Eschenbach (see McIntyre's blog Climate Audit and Anthony Watt's blog Watts Up With That), is the highly disturbing series of emails which show how Dr Jones and his colleagues have for years been discussing the devious tactics whereby they could avoid releasing their data to outsiders under freedom of information laws.

They have come up with every possible excuse for concealing the background data on which their findings and temperature records were based.

This in itself has become a major scandal, not least Dr Jones's refusal to release the basic data from which the CRU derives its hugely influential temperature record, which culminated last summer in his startling claim that much of the data from all over the world had simply got "lost". Most incriminating of all are the emails in which scientists are advised to delete large chunks of data, which, when this is done after receipt of a freedom of information request, is a criminal offence.

But the question which inevitably arises from this systematic refusal to release their data is – what is it that these scientists seem so anxious to hide? The second and most shocking revelation of the leaked documents is how they show the scientists trying to manipulate data through their tortuous computer programmes, always to point in only the one desired direction – to lower past temperatures and to "adjust" recent temperatures upwards, in order to convey the impression of an accelerated warming. This comes up so often (not least in the documents relating to computer data in the Harry Read Me file) that it becomes the most disturbing single element of the entire story. This is what Mr McIntyre caught Dr Hansen doing with his GISS temperature record last year (after which Hansen was forced to revise his record), and two further shocking examples have now come to light from Australia and New Zealand.

In each of these countries it has been possible for local scientists to compare the official temperature record with the original data on which it was supposedly based. In each case it is clear that the same trick has been played – to turn an essentially flat temperature chart into a graph which shows temperatures steadily rising. And in each case this manipulation was carried out under the influence of the CRU.

What is tragically evident from the Harry Read Me file is the picture it gives of the CRU scientists hopelessly at sea with the complex computer programmes they had devised to contort their data in the approved direction, more than once expressing their own desperation at how difficult it was to get the desired results.

The third shocking revelation of these documents is the ruthless way in which these academics have been determined to silence any expert questioning of the findings they have arrived at by such dubious methods – not just by refusing to disclose their basic data but by discrediting and freezing out any scientific journal which dares to publish their critics' work. It seems they are prepared to stop at nothing to stifle scientific debate in this way, not least by ensuring that no dissenting research should find its way into the pages of IPCC reports.

Back in 2006, when the eminent US statistician Professor Edward Wegman produced an expert report for the US Congress vindicating Steve McIntyre's demolition of the "hockey stick", he excoriated the way in which this same "tightly knit group" of academics seemed only too keen to collaborate with each other and to "peer review" each other's papers in order to dominate the findings of those IPCC reports on which much of the future of the US and world economy may hang. In light of the latest revelations, it now seems even more evident that these men have been failing to uphold those principles which lie at the heart of genuine scientific enquiry and debate. Already one respected US climate scientist, Dr Eduardo Zorita, has called for Dr Mann and Dr Jones to be barred from any further participation in the IPCC. Even our own George Monbiot, horrified at finding how he has been betrayed by the supposed experts he has been revering and citing for so long, has called for Dr Jones to step down as head of the CRU.

The former Chancellor Lord (Nigel) Lawson, last week launching his new think tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, rightly called for a proper independent inquiry into the maze of skulduggery revealed by the CRU leaks. But the inquiry mooted on Friday, possibly to be chaired by Lord Rees, President of the Royal Society – itself long a shameless propagandist for the warmist cause – is far from being what Lord Lawson had in mind. Our hopelessly compromised scientific establishment cannot be allowed to get away with a whitewash of what has become the greatest scientific scandal of our age.

Christopher Booker's The Real Global Warming Disaster: Is the Obsession with 'Climate Change' Turning Out to be the Most Costly Scientific Blunder in History? (Continuum, £16.99) is available from Telegraph Books for £14.99 plus £1.25 p & p.

Kill the Bills. Do Health Reform Right.

The bill is irredeemable.

By Charles Krauthammer
November 27, 2009, 0:00 a.m.

The United States has the best health care in the world — but because of its inefficiencies, also the most expensive. The fundamental problem with the 2,074-page Senate health-care bill (as with its 2,014-page House counterpart) is that it wildly compounds the complexity by adding hundreds of new provisions, regulations, mandates, committees, and other arbitrary bureaucratic inventions.

Worse, they are packed into a monstrous package without any regard to each other. The only thing linking these changes — such as the 118 new boards, commissions, and programs — is political expediency. Each must be able to garner just enough votes to pass. There is not even a pretense of a unifying vision or conceptual harmony.

The result is an overregulated, overbureaucratized system of surpassing arbitrariness and inefficiency. Throw a dart at the Senate tome:

You’ll find mandates with financial penalties — the amounts picked out of a hat.

You’ll find insurance companies (who live and die by their actuarial skills) told exactly what weight to give risk factors, such as age. Currently, insurance premiums for 20-somethings are about one-sixth the premiums for 60-somethings. The House bill dictates the young shall now pay at minimum one-half; the Senate bill, one-third — numbers picked out of a hat.

You’ll find sliding scales for health-insurance subsidies — percentages picked out of a hat — that will radically raise marginal income tax rates for middle-class recipients, among other crazy unintended consequences.

The bill is irredeemable. It should not only be defeated. It should be immolated, its ashes scattered over the Senate swimming pool.

Then do health care the right way — one reform at a time, each simple and simplifying, aimed at reducing complexity, arbitrariness, and inefficiency.

First, tort reform. This is money — the low-end estimate is about half a trillion per decade — wasted in two ways. Part is simply hemorrhaged into the legal system to benefit a few jackpot lawsuit winners and an army of extravagantly rich malpractice lawyers such as John Edwards.

The rest is wasted within the medical system in the millions of unnecessary tests, procedures, and referrals undertaken solely to fend off lawsuits — resources wasted on patients who don’t need them and which could be redirected to the uninsured who really do.

In the 4,000-plus pages of the two bills, there is no tort reform. Indeed, the House bill actually penalizes states that dare “limit attorneys’ fees or impose caps on damages.” Why? Because, as Howard Dean has openly admitted, Democrats don’t want “to take on the trial lawyers.” What he didn’t say — he didn’t need to — is that they give millions to the Democrats for precisely this kind of protection.

Second, even more simple and simplifying, abolish the prohibition against buying health insurance across state lines.

Some states have very few health insurers. Rates are high. So why not allow interstate competition? After all, you can buy oranges across state lines. If you couldn’t, oranges would be extremely expensive in Wisconsin, especially in winter.

And the answer to the resulting high Wisconsin orange prices wouldn’t be the establishment of a public option — a federally run orange-growing company in Wisconsin — to introduce “competition.” It would be to allow Wisconsin residents to buy Florida oranges.

But neither bill lifts the prohibition on interstate competition for health insurance. Because this would obviate the need — the excuse — for the public option, which the left wing of the Democratic party sees (correctly) as the royal road to fully socialized medicine.

Third, tax employer-provided health insurance. This is an accrued inefficiency of 65 years, an accident of World War II wage controls. It creates a $250 billion annual loss of federal revenues — the largest tax break for individuals in the entire federal budget.

This reform is the most difficult to enact, for two reasons. The unions oppose it. And the Obama campaign savaged the idea when John McCain proposed it during last year’s election.

Insuring the uninsured is a moral imperative. The problem is that the Democrats have chosen the worst possible method — a $1 trillion new entitlement of stupefying arbitrariness and inefficiency.

The better choice is targeted measures that attack the inefficiencies of the current system one by one — tort reform, interstate purchasing. and taxing employee benefits. It would take 20 pages to write such a bill, not 2,000 — and provide the funds to cover the uninsured without wrecking both U.S. health care and the U.S. Treasury.

— Charles Krauthammer is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2009, The Washington Post Writers Group

Rocky Mountain High

By George F. Will
The Washington Post
Sunday, November 29, 2009

DENVER- Inside the green neon sign, which is shaped like a marijuana leaf, is a red cross. The cross serves the fiction that most transactions in the store -- which is what it really is -- involve medicine.

The Justice Department recently announced that federal laws against marijuana would not be enforced for possession of marijuana that conforms to states' laws. In 2000, Colorado legalized medical marijuana. Since Justice's decision, the average age of the 400 persons a day seeking "prescriptions" at Colorado's multiplying medical marijuana dispensaries has fallen precipitously. Many new customers are college students.

Customers -- this, not patients, is what most really are -- tell doctors at the dispensaries that they suffer from insomnia, anxiety, headaches, premenstrual syndrome, "chronic pain," whatever, and pay nominal fees for "prescriptions." Most really just want to smoke pot.

So says Colorado's attorney general, John Suthers, an honest and thoughtful man trying to save his state from institutionalizing such hypocrisy. His dilemma is becoming commonplace: Thirteen states have, and 15 more are considering, laws permitting medical use of marijuana.
Realizing they could not pass legalization of marijuana, some people who favor that campaigned to amend Colorado's Constitution to legalize sales for medicinal purposes. Marijuana has medical uses -- e.g., to control nausea caused by chemotherapy -- but the helpful ingredients can be conveyed with other medicines. Medical marijuana was legalized but, Suthers says, no serious regime was then developed to regulate who could buy -- or grow -- it. (Caregivers? For how many patients? And in what quantities, and for what "medical uses"?)

Today, Colorado communities can use zoning to restrict dispensaries or can ban them because, even if federal policy regarding medical marijuana is passivity, selling marijuana remains against federal law. But Colorado's probable future has unfolded in California, which in 1996 legalized sales of marijuana to persons with doctors' "prescriptions."

Fifty-six percent of Californians support legalization, and Roger Parloff reports ["How Marijuana Became Legal" in a September issue of Fortune] that they essentially have this. He notes that many California "patients" arrive at dispensaries "on bicycles, roller skates or skateboards." A Los Angeles city councilman estimates that there are about 600 dispensaries in the city. If so, they outnumber the Starbucks stores there.

The councilman wants to close dispensaries whose intent is profit rather than "compassionate" distribution of medicine. Good luck with that: Privacy considerations will shield doctors from investigations of their lucrative 15-minute transactions with "patients."

Colorado's medical marijuana dispensaries have hired lobbyists to seek taxation and regulation, for the same reason Nevada's brothel industry wants to be taxed and regulated by the state: The Nevada Brothel Association regards taxation as legitimation and insurance against prohibition as the booming state's frontier mentality recedes.

State governments, misunderstanding markets and ravenous for revenue, exaggerate the potential windfall from taxing legalized marijuana. California thinks it might reap $1.4 billion. But Rosalie Pacula, a Rand Corp. economist, estimates that prohibition raises marijuana production costs at least 400 percent, so legalization would cause prices to fall much more than the 50 percent assumed by the $1.4 billion estimate.

Furthermore, marijuana is a normal good in that demand for it varies with price. Legalization, by drastically lowering price, will increase marijuana's public health costs, including mental and respiratory problems, and motor vehicle accidents.

States attempting to use high taxes to keep marijuana prices artificially high would leave a large market for much cheaper illegal -- unregulated and untaxed -- marijuana. So revenue (and law enforcement savings) would depend on the price falling close to the cost of production. In the 1990s, a mere $2 per pack difference between U.S. and Canadian cigarette prices created such a smuggling problem that Canada repealed a cigarette tax increase.

Suthers has multiple drug-related worries. Colorado ranks sixth in the nation in identity theft, two-thirds of which is driven by the state's $1.4 billion annual methamphetamine addiction. He is loath to see complete legalization of marijuana at a moment when new methods of cultivation are producing plants in which the active ingredient, THC, is "seven, eight times as concentrated" as it used to be. Furthermore, he was pleasantly surprised when a survey of nonusing young people revealed that health concerns did not explain nonuse. The main explanation was the law: "We underestimate the number of people who care that something is illegal."
But they will care less as law itself loses its dignity. By mocking the idea of lawful behavior, legalization of medical marijuana may be more socially destructive than full legalization.