Thursday, July 31, 2014

WORLD WAR III COMING?

From Roger Cohen at the Atlantic.  "Yes, It Could Happen Again."

Then, as now, Europe had lived through a long period of relative peace, after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Then, too, rapid progress in science, technology, and communications had given humanity a sense of shared interests that precluded war, despite the ominous naval competition between Britain and Germany. Then, too, wealthy individuals devoted their fortunes to conciliation and greater human understanding. Rival powers fumed over provocative annexations, like Austria-Hungary’s of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908, but world leaders scarcely believed a global conflagration was possible, let alone that one would begin just six years later. The very monarchs who would consign tens of millions to a murderous morass from 1914 to 1918 and bury four empires believed they were clever enough to finesse the worst.

The unimaginable can occur. That is a notion at once banal and perennially useful to recall. Indeed, it has just happened in Crimea, where a major power has forcefully changed a European border for the first time since 1945. Russia’s act of annexation and its evident designs on eastern Ukraine constitute a reminder thatNATO was created to protect Europe after its pair of 20th-century self-immolations. NATO’s core precept, as the Poles and other former vassals of the Soviet empire like to remind blithe western Europeans, is Article 5, by which the Allies agreed that “an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all,” triggering a joint military response. This has proved a powerful deterrent against potential adversaries. Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has been most aggressive in the no-man’s-lands of Georgia and Ukraine, nations suspended between East and West, neither one a member of NATO. Had Ukraine been a member ofNATO, the annexation of Crimea would have come only at the (presumably unacceptable) price of war. Article 5, until demonstrated otherwise, is an ironclad commitment.


"The unimaginable" can indeed occur.  There is a lot of instability in the world today.

HAMAS STORES WEAPONS IN CIVILIAN FACILITIES

From Terrence McCoy at WAPO.  "Why Hamas stores its weapons inside hospitals, mosques and schools?"  A good summary of what the UN has found in its facilities but the media does not seem to focus on.

OBAMACARE WEBSITE

It is hard to believe that it has already cost taxpayers $840 million to develop a website that doesn't work well!

The Government Accountability Office says cost overruns went hand-in-hand with the management failures that led to the disastrous launch of HealthCare.gov and the 36 state insurance exchanges it serves.

GAO's report, prepared for a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing Thursday, details a long series of management, oversight, and contracting problems that plagued the entire process, from risky contracting practices in 2011 through the botched launch last October.

DO SANCTIONS WORK?

Elena Servettaz discusses the impact of sanctions on Russia in World Affairs.  While sanctions can have an impact she shows how they sometimes hurt the wrong people and also how some people who are on the sanctions list can work around being sanctioned.

A highly placed European diplomat confided that a number of Russian officials are worried about a new package of sanctions and are calling European embassies to find out if their name will be added to the list. The official claim until now, that it is a badge of honor to be on that list, is starting to crumble—and fast. Even Vladimir Putin, during a three-and-a-half-hour appearance on Russian television, said the sanctions were a “human rights violation.” The Russian president was talking about people added to the sanctions list after the annexation of Crimea—people like his friend Gennady Timchenko, whose wife, after the sanctions, he said plaintively, “could not pay for her operation because her credit card was frozen.”

Putin should also be concerned about himself. According to the Times of London, the US government is contemplating adding his name to the list of targeted individuals and freezing his own fortune, often estimated at $40 billion, in Swiss banks, if he decides to invade eastern Ukraine. But Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitri Peskov, said that his boss had complete peace of mind about this possibility.

IMPEACHMENT

The Democrat congresswoman who co-sponsored a bill to impeach George W. Bush now says, "we never tried to impeach Bush."  A lie or a very short memory?  I would hope for a higher level of representative in Washington, but this is probably typical.

LEAKED DEMOCRAT PLANS

Every candidate has a campaign plan, but these are seldom known in there entirety.  A Democrat candidate running for the U.S. Senate in Georgia, Michelle Nunn, has had her plan leaked and it is not pretty.  It would be interesting to know who leaked it and is there some kind of internal power struggle going on.

Anyway, her entire blueprint for faux authenticity has been published, and it contains all of the usual and contrived political maneuvering that voters find so disgusting. The plan involves trying to create a fake, gun-toting, rural-friendly image for the wannabe Georgian senator supplied by a Democratic PR firm based in San Francisco, and exposes her positions on issues as basic as her commitment to Israel as contrived to drive her fundraising efforts.
The issue of Democrat candidates hiding their real positions is raised in the column.

Monday, July 28, 2014

MEDIA REPORTING IN GAZA

From The Gatestone Institute:  "How the Media is Helping Hamas."

What is disturbing is that foreign journalists did not bother (or dare) to ask any of the Hamas leaders and self-proclaimed spokesmen whether they were hiding inside the hospital, regardless of what the answer would doubtless be. They apparently did not even ask themselves this question. .

One foreign journalist explained that asking such a question would have "endangered my life." Another admitted over coffee that he and his colleagues were too scared to report news that would anger Hamas and other radical groups.

"We know that Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields," the reporter, who asked not to be identified, said. "But why would you report this when you are sitting in the middle of the Gaza Strip, surrounded by Hamas gunmen?"

Hamas has also been successful in stopping the international media from reporting on Hamas casualties. The only victims the journalists are allowed to report about from the Gaza Strip are the civilians. Have you seen any photos or reports in the international media about any Hamas gunmen? Of course not, no one has. The official story is that they do not exist.

Foreign journalists working in the Gaza Strip have complied with Hamas's demands and continue to avoid stories or photos that expose the Islamist movement's cynical exploitation of innocent civilians during the war. The media has once again taken sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this one, it is the media that is helping Hamas get away with war crimes.

It gets worse, but clearly reporters are worried about their lives if they report something that Hamas might not take kindly to.

THE PROBLEM WITH BUREAUCRACIES AND CRONY CAPITALISM

Michael Barone goes back into the 17th century (using an historical work of Hugh Trevor-Roper) to show what happens when we have "parasitic bureaucracies and crony capitalism.  The point is that the U.S. is acting like the no-growth states of the 17th century.

“Pare down the parasitic fringe” of government. “Favor a gospel of work” instead of aristocratic entitlement. “Rationalize finance” and “reverse the Parkinson’s law of bureaucracy.”

All that sounds like rhetoric from the Tea Party or reform conservatives who assail what they call crony capitalism.

But it's not a contemporary criticism. Those are phrases from a long essay, written more than half a century ago, by the British historian H. R. Trevor-Roper, entitled “The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century.”

After 1660 the nation-states that pared back bureaucracies and allowed room for such trading cities to operate -- England, Holland and, for a while, France -- flourished, while Spain, Italy and Germany mostly languished.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

AVOIDING WORLD WAR I

From WAPO.  A short discussion of how World War I might not have happened.  Miscommunication and foreign policy officials who lied or at best manipulated the flow of information between the Russian Tsar and the German Kaiser.

The exchange began in the very early morning of July 29, just hours after Austria-Hungary (an ally of Germany) declared war on Serbia (an ally of Russia) in retaliation for the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. Time was short to find a diplomatic solution that would prevent a regional war from becoming a world war.

Tsar Nicholas wrote: “In this serious moment, I appeal to you to help me. An ignoble war has been declared to a weak country. The indignation in Russia shared fully by me is enormous. I foresee that very soon I shall be overwhelmed by the pressure forced upon me and be forced to take extreme measures which will lead to war. To try and avoid such a calamity as a European war I beg you in the name of our old friendship to do what you can to stop your allies from going too far. Nicky.”

OBAMA'S SMART DIPLOMACY "IMPLODING"

First, Madeline Albright, Clinton's Secretary of State, says the "world is a mess."  So what made the world such a mess.  Bush has been out of office for almost 6 years.

Russell Mead takes the Obama administration to task for the failure of "smart diplomacy."  Everything seems to be exploding.

Luckily for America’s self-esteem, it was liberal Democrats that produced this particular shambles. If Republicans had done this, the media would be on the administration non-stop, perhaps comparing Samantha Power to Paul Wolfowitz—a well-meaning humanitarian way over her head who wrecked a country out of misguided ideology. There might also be some pointed questions for future presidential candidates who supported this fiasco. But since both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have their fingerprints all over Libya, there isn’t a lot of press hunger for a detailed, unsparing autopsy into this stinking corpse of policy flub.

If Obama were a Republican, the press and the weekly news shows would be ringing with hyperbolic, apocalyptic denunciations of the clueless incumbent who had failed to learn the most basic lessons of Iraq. Indeed, the MSM right now would be howling that Obama was stupider than Bush. Bush, our Journolist friends would now be saying ad nauseam, at least had the excuse that he didn’t know what happens when you overthrow a paranoid, genocidal, economically incompetent Arab tyrant in an artificial post-colonial state. But Obama did—or, the press would nastily say, he would have done if he’d been doing his job instead of hitting the golf course or yakking it up with his glitzy pals at late night bull sessions. The ad hominem attacks would never stop, and all the tangled threads of incompetence and failure would be endlessly and expertly picked at in long New Yorker articles, NYT thumbsuckers, and chin-strokings on all the Sabbath gasbag shows.

But luckily for Team Obama, the mainstream press would rather die than subject liberal Democrats to the critiques it reserves for the GOP.

RUSSIAN INFLUENCE IN THE UKRAINE

Yahoo News.  Russians are pushing Ukrainians out of leadership roles in Eastern Ukraine uprising.  And the Russian taking over, Vladimir Anttufeyev, sounds like a person left over from Stalinist times.

He earned a fearsome reputation when he served in Transdniestria, which split from Moldova in 1990, as the head of security operations for 20 years.

Dismissed in 2012 when his ally was replaced as leader of the tiny sliver of land, he barricaded himself for three days in his study and refused to leave.

The EU first blacklisted Antyufeyev over his role in Transdniestria in 2004. Though it later suspended that decision, it has now blacklisted him again over Ukraine, imposing assets freezes and a travel ban on him.

One person who had been questioned by Antyufeyev in Transdniestria on suspicion of spying for Moldova said he was a tenacious interrogator. Speaking on condition of anonymity, for fear of reprisal, the person said Antyufeyev was "a professional", capable of being sociable and polite, always rigidly following the chosen line. With a smile on his face, Antyufeyev would exert moral pressure, the person said.


And Slate has published an interesting article calling an ageing liberal Soviet specialist, Stephen Cohen, a pal of Putin for defending Russian actions in the Ukraine.  Cohen has published an article in the leftist Nation supporting Putin.  Cohen seems to ignore Russian atrocities.

In a downright surreal passage, Cohen argues that Putin has shown “remarkable restraint” so far but faces mounting public pressure due to “vivid accounts” in the Russian state-run media of Kiev’s barbarities against ethnic Russians. Can he really be unaware that the hysteria is being whipped up by lurid fictions, such as therecent TV1 story about a 3-year-old boy crucified in Slovyansk’s main square in front of a large crowd and his own mother? Does Cohen not know that Russian disinformation and fakery, including old footage from Dagestan or Syria passed off as evidence of horrors in Ukraine, has been extensively documented? Is he unaware that top Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Putin himself, have publicly repeated allegations of war crimes that were quickly exposed as false, such as white phosphorus use by Ukrainian troops or a slaughter of the wounded in a hospital? But Cohen manages to take the surrealism a notch higher, earnestly citing the unnamed “dean of Moscow State University’s School of Television” (that’s Vitaly Tretyakov, inter alia a 9/11 “truther”) who thinks the Kremlin may be colluding with the West to hush up the extent of carnage in Ukraine.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

LEFT FANTASIES ABOUT ASSASSINATING BUSH

Michelle Malkin lists the various scenarios by leftists regarding the assassination of George W. Bush.  Most people forget the venom the Left spewed out about the president.

OBAMA'S ELECTION VICTORIES

Time discusses how the Obama team successfully used data mining to bring in money and also to get out the vote and influence those most likely to vote for him.

But from the beginning, campaign manager Jim Messina had promised a totally different, metric-driven kind of campaign in which politics was the goal but political instincts might not be the means. “We are going to measure every single thing in this campaign,” he said after taking the job. He hired an analytics department five times as large as that of the 2008 operation, with an official “chief scientist” for the Chicago headquarters named Rayid Ghani, who in a previous life crunched huge data sets to, among other things, maximize the efficiency of supermarket sales promotions.

Exactly what that team of dozens of data crunchers was doing, however, was a closely held secret. “They are our nuclear codes,” campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt would say when asked about the efforts. Around the office, data-mining experiments were given mysterious code names such as Narwhal and Dreamcatcher. The team even worked at a remove from the rest of the campaign staff, setting up shop in a windowless room at the north end of the vast headquarters office. The “scientists” created regular briefings on their work for the President and top aides in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, but public details were in short supply as the campaign guarded what it believed to be its biggest institutional advantage over Mitt Romney’s campaign: its data.

Friday, July 25, 2014

OBAMA'S MIDDLE EAST POLICY

The Obama administration knew ISIS was forming as early as 2012 but they did nothing to prevent its rise. There was no intelligence failure, just a failure to develop policies to counteract the rise of Islamic terrorists.

In congressional testimony as far back as November, U.S. diplomats and intelligence officials made clear that the United States had been closely tracking the al Qaida spinoff since 2012, when it enlarged its operations from Iraq to civil war-torn Syria, seized an oil-rich province there and signed up thousands of foreign fighters who’d infiltrated Syria through NATO ally Turkey.


But the big question is:

The testimony raises an obvious question: If the Obama administration had such early warning of the Islamic State’s ambitions, why, nearly two months after the fall of Mosul, is it still assessing what steps, if any, to take to halt the advance of Islamist extremists who threaten U.S. allies in the region and have vowed to attack Americans?

Read more here: http://www.mercedsunstar.com/2014/07/24/3763979/us-and-islamic-state-we-did-see.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.mercedsunstar.com/2014/07/24/3763979/us-and-islamic-state-we-did-see.html#storylink=cpy

THE LEFT TAKES OVER THE DEMOCRAT PARTY

From Politico.  The article is written by a Democrat strategist.  I would expect the Democrats to field a well-funded, very left-wing candidate in 2016.

These progressive forces are coalescing around a populist-inspired desire to combat income inequality and rein in large financial institutions, as well as an interest in focusing on priorities at home rather than abroad. It’s difficult, in this environment, to imagine a viable Democratic presidential candidate who isn’t willing to take clear positions on issues like increasing the minimum wage, securing comprehensive immigration reform, supporting women’s health and their reproductive rights, addressing climate change and eliminating or at least curtailing fracking.

The left’s rise is aided by the fact that it is more organized than ever before. Following George W. Bush’s defeat of John Kerry in 2004, a coalition of progressives from politics, philanthropy and business came together to build a long-term infrastructure—independent of the Democratic Party—to advance their progressive agenda and beat back the influence of the right wing. The Democracy Alliance was officially launched in 2005 as a forum where partners who shared core progressive values could coordinate their resources more efficiently to advance their common goals. Politico estimates that the Democracy Alliance plans to spend $374 million this election cycle.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF PUTIN

A description of the average day of Vladimir Putin.

The President wakes late and eats shortly after noon. He begins with the simplest of breakfasts. There is always cottage cheese. His cooked portion is always substantial; omelette or occasionally porridge. He likes quails’ eggs. He drinks fruit juice. The food is forever fresh: baskets of his favourites dispatched regularly from the farmland estates of the Patriarch Kirill, Russia’s religious leader.

It goes on from there.  I wonder if someone has done the average day of President Obama?

PAUL RYAN ON HELPING PEOPLE IN POVERTY

Representative Paul Ryan (R, WI) has an interesting proposal to help people in poverty. . .give them what they need based on individual needs.

He described the case of a 24-year-old single mother of two with a high school education, two years of retail work experience and dreams of one day being a teacher. Instead of relying on food stamps, housing vouchers and welfare checks, she could go to a social services provider, sit down with a case manager to develop an "opportunity plan" to meet her goals, targeting money where it is needed most.

Makes a lot of sense to me.

DISAPPEARANCE OF HYMNALS IN EVANGELICAL CHURCHES

15 Reasons Why We Should Still Be Using Hymnals.

Monday, July 21, 2014

FAILURE OF "RESET DIPLOMACY"

From Michael Rubin at World Affairs.  Maybe Obama and Hillary spent too much time blaming Bush and Cheney than trying to understand Putin.  The issue is how to negotiate with one's enemies or rivals.  In addition the Russians (Soviets) have been excellent at diplomatic deceit (and I might add the Iranians, North Koreans, and others are just as good).  Americans diplomat seem to believe whatever they are being told at the bargaining table.

The idea that diplomacy with rogue regimes is cost-free is a relatively new idea, one that may sound good in the abstract but is less durable in reality. Policymakers often advocate diplomacy with rogue rulers and even terrorist groups because other options seem unattractive. As our recent experience in Afghanistan and Iraq shows, war extracts a tremendous price not only in terms of blood and treasure but in terms of national morale as well. The American public is exhausted by these conflicts and wondering if their price was worth paying.

Sanctions don't work because dictators don't care about their people.

Obama sought Russian cooperation in Syria, for example, to resolve a horrendous human rights tragedy, but for Putin, the only question was how to achieve an outcome that diminished American influence.

Putin is a modern-day Machiavelli, unapologetic about saying and doing whatever is necessary to regain the glory and respect he believes the Soviet Union enjoyed. With his tireless efforts to engage and pour emollients on fundamental disagreements, Obama has acted as a modern-day Chamberlain. Simply declaring the Cold War over does not make it so unless both parties seek a new beginning. Obama sincerely wants peace, but so long as Putin seeks the restoration of an imperial Russian past, peace will never occur. Hitting the reset button should not mean allowing an opponent to use diplomacy to wage war by other means.

This is the first author to link Obama and Chamberlain that I have come across.

MILLENNIALISM

An historical overview and analysis of millennial thinking. The author examines millennial thinking, especially in the context of Christian thinking, from an historical perspective.  But even secular writers have toyed with this them.