May 26th, 2015

Kuwaiti secret

Speaking of change, here’s a guy who underwent a rather large one:

May 26th, 2015

Prager on the differences between left and right

[Hat tip: commenter "Artfldgr."]

Columnist Dennis Prager is a changer, although his change happened many moons ago—he says that Carter is the last Democrat he voted for:

Obviously, I underwent an intellectual change. And it wasn’t easy. Becoming a Republican was emotionally and psychologically like converting to another religion.

In fact, when I first voted Republican I felt as if I had abandoned the Jewish people. To be a Jew meant being a Democrat. It was that simple. It was — and remains — that fundamental to many American Jews’ identity.

Therefore, it took a lot of thought to undergo this conversion. I had to understand both liberalism and conservatism. Indeed, I have spent a lifetime in a quest to do so.

Changers have the advantage of having looked at life (and politics, and history) from both sides now, as in the Joni Mitchell song. Prager is planning a series of columns explaining some of the fundamental differences between left and right as he sees them.

Should be worth reading.

May 26th, 2015

Is support of ISIS on social media protected speech?

I don’t have a definitive answer to the question posed by the title of this post. But I know that it’s an important question.

ISIS is a modern phenomenon. Violence and terrorism is an old, old one, but the internet has exponentially enhanced the ability of such evil to reach a huge number of people around the entire globe. Geography is no longer any barrier, and ISIS has been able to unite the most barbaric bloodthirstiness of times gone by with an up-to-date ability to excite and recruit people with it, to organize and spread the word, and to do it in ways that often protect the identity of the perpetrators. If the government wants to use its own ability to spy on ISIS supporters, it has to activate methods of surveillance that offend the sensibilities of a free people.

ISIS thus can use our own dedication to liberty to undermine that liberty. I suppose ’twas ever thus for groups that seek to undermine the US, but never before has there been such a combination of primitive blood lust, religious fanaticism, and sophisticated use of the most modern methods of reaching the public from which to draw supporters. “Worrisome” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

This Fox article [hat tip: Amy Miller at Legal Insurrection] indicates that there has been so much internet chatter from supporters of ISIS as well as actual members planning violence that US intelligence is having trouble separating out the more serious from the mere talkers:

“The large number of social media postings by US-based ISIL supporters is challenging for investigators in differentiating those supporters focused only on promoting pro-ISIL rhetoric, which may be protected speech, vice [versus] detecting those prepared to engage in violence on the group’s behalf,” the bulletin said.

The bulletin warned the “reach and popularity” of social media platforms has made it easier for U.S.-based extremists to “identify and connect” with foreign terrorist organizations, which can “potentially direct” them. It said the FBI estimates there are “hundreds, possibly thousands” of people in the U.S. getting “recruitment overtures or directives to attack the United States,” and ISIS is using social media in “unprecedented ways” to send messages advocating attacks in the U.S.

ISIS is not a group that is benign in any of its manifestations. It has no redeeming social importance, not even any social service front like many other terrorist organizations use to justify themselves to the naive. It doesn’t hide its intention to wreak havoc on the Middle Eastern countries in which it is most active, and in the west and this country too. It does not make a secret of the fact that it is marshaling its forces to do so through terrorist attacks of a greater ferocity than has been previously known.

So, what are the limits of protected speech? Is supporting an organization like ISIS okay as long as the government can’t find a smoking gun? When does speech cross over into what’s called a “true threat” or sedition, or giving “material support” to a terrorist group, none of which are protected speech?

John Carlin, assistant AG for national security, seems to think it would be a good idea to try ISIS supporters as terrorists:

He suggested the Justice Department could bring prosecutions under the law against providing material support to a terrorist organization. His remarks were believed to be the first time a U.S. official has ever said that people who assist ISIS with online media could face criminal prosecution.

Carlin was asked at the conference whether he would “consider criminal charges” against people who are “proliferating ISIS social media.”

His answer: “Yes. You need to look at the particular facts and evidence.” But Carlin noted that the United States could use the material support law to prosecute “technical expertise” to a designated terrorist organization. And spreading the word for ISIS online could count as such expertise.

That does seem to be a bit of a stretch. On the other hand, ISIS has such special and extreme characteristics that supporting that group is worse than supporting other terrorist groups—even Islamic terrorists such as Hamas, for example—because of ISIS’s extreme barbarity and global ambitions, including an imminent plan to attack the population of the US. Ignoring the fact that they are recruiting in this country would seem to be a good example of the Constitution as a suicide pact.

Of course, the most effective thing to do to blunt the appeal of ISIS would be to defeat and humiliate them in Syria and Iraq. But the Obama administration doesn’t seem to have the will to mount a serious attempt to do that now, before the “JV” has metastasized even further.

May 25th, 2015

By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful…

Here’s a photo I took yesterday with my cellphone, as the day was fading.

BlueBlackandBoat.May 2015

May 25th, 2015

Thoughts on Memorial Day 2015

I have a few Memorial Day posts that I tend to put up every year. It’s the easy way out, and saves me some work, although I always look at them and revise them if necessary. It’s often necessary, because events and time move on.

But this year I wanted to add something new. This Memorial Day I can’t help but reflect on the family and friends of those who gave their lives in Iraq and how they must feel about what is happening there now, and the domination of ISIS in areas that were so hard-fought and hard-won by Allied forces.

Obama abandoned that country, and by doing so he abandoned not just the Iraqis who trusted us but the Americans who fought and died there. Some blame Bush for getting us in and argue about whether he was right or wrong to do so, and focus on all the errors made along the way—errors that are virtually inevitable in war. But those errors were mostly overcome by the time Obama “inherited” the war, and certainly by the time he pulled out entirely, declaring it a stable success.

It probably could have remained so with a relatively small amount of continuing presence, but he was not willing to make that investment, despite the fact that all his military advisers suggested it and said that not that big a presence would be necessary to continue to secure the peace. Obama—the smartest person in any room—knew better. And now we face the collapse of not just that country but the region.

If you go back and read many of my early posts about Iraq and the effort there, I always had imagined that in order to succeed we needed to be willing to stay for the long haul at some level, somewhat as in other countries such as South Korea. I was continually concerned that the propaganda of the left and the press would make that impossible—and it has, with Obama as one of the main proponents of our ultimate abandonment and thereby defeat. If I, a mere blogger, feel this way, how bad must it be for the families and friends of those who fought and died in Iraq?

May 25th, 2015

For Memorial Day: on nationalism and patriotism

The story “The Man Without a Country” used to be standard reading matter for seventh graders. In fact, it was the first “real” book—as opposed to those tedious Dick and Jane readers—that I was assigned in school.

It was exciting compared to Dick and Jane and the rest, since it dealt with an actual story with some actual drama to it. It struck me as terribly sad—and unfair, too—that Philip Nolan was forced to wander the world, exiled, for one moment of cursing the United States. “The Man Without a Country” was the sort of paean to patriotism that I would guess is rarely or never assigned nowadays to students.

Patriotism has gotten a bad name during the last few decades. I think part of this feeling began (at least in this country) with the Vietnam era and the influence of the left. But patriotism and nationalism seem to have been rejected by a large segment of Europeans even earlier, as a result of the devastation both sentiments were seen to have wrought on that continent during WWI and WWII. Of course, WWII in Europe was a result mainly of German nationalism run amok, but it seemed to have given nationalism as a whole a very bad name.

Here’s author Thomas Mann on the subject, writing in 1947 in the introduction to the American edition of Herman Hesse’s Demian:

If today, when national individualism lies dying, when no single problem can any longer be solved from a purely national point of view, when everything connected with the “fatherland” has become stifling provincialism and no spirit that does not represent the European tradition as a whole any longer merits consideration…

A strong statement of the post-WWII idea of nationalism as a dangerous force, mercifully dead or dying, to be replaced (hopefully) by a pan-national (or, rather, anational) Europeanism. Mann was a German exile from his own country who had learned to his bitter regret the excesses to which unbridled and amoral nationalism can lead. His was an understandable and common response at the time, one that many decades later helped lead to the formation of the EU. The waning but still relatively strong nationalism of the US is seen by those who agree with him as a relic of those dangerous days of nationalism gone mad without any curb of morality or consideration for others.

But the US is not Nazi Germany or anything like it, however much the far left may try to make that analogy. There’s a place for nationalism, and for love of country. Not a nationalism that ignores or tramples on human rights (like that of the Nazis), but one that embraces and strives for and tries to preserve them here and abroad, keeping in mind that—human nature being what it is—no nation on earth can be perfect or anywhere near perfect. The US is far from perfect, but it is a very good country nevertheless, always working to be better, with a nationalism that recognizes that sometimes liberty must be fought for, and that the struggle involves some sacrifice.

So, I’ll echo the verse that figured so prominently in “The Man Without a Country,” and say (corny, but true): …this is my own, my native land. And I’ll also echo Francis Scott Key and add: …the star-spangled banner, O long may it wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.


[NOTE: This is a slightly edited version of an older post.]

May 25th, 2015

Memorial Day: if you’re reading this…

I’ve posted this song before, but I think it bears repeating, especially on Memorial Day.

It’s Tim McGraw’s extraordinarily moving song “If You’re Reading This:”

If you’re readin’ this
My momma’s sittin’ there
Looks like I only got a one way ticket over here.
I sure wish I could give you one more kiss
War was just a game we played when we were kids
Well I’m layin’ down my gun
I’m hanging up my boots
I’m up here with God and we’re both watchin’ over you

So lay me down
In that open field out on the edge of town
And know my soul
Is where my momma always prayed that it would go.
If you’re readin’ this I’m already home.

If you’re readin’ this
Half way around the world
I won’t be there to see the birth of our little girl
I hope she looks like you
I hope she fights like me
And stands up for the innocent and the weak
I’m layin’ down my gun,
I’m hanging up my boots
Tell dad I don’t regret that I followed in his shoes…

The first time I ever heard the song I got the chills as the lyrics unfolded and I realized what it was about, and then again and again as the heartstrings were jerked more and more as the song went on.

I say “the heartstrings were jerked,” which sounds as though I’m being critical and the song is manipulative. Well, it’s manipulative in the sense that it means to affect the listener emotionally, and it means to sell songs. But I see nothing wrong with that, if the emotion is sincere and deep. Most of us do, or should, feel a very strong gratitude to the young men and women who sacrificed their lives to defend liberty here and abroad, and a very strong sorrow that it was necessary. On Memorial Day, we thank them.

May 25th, 2015

What George said to Art , according to Art

In an interview with Nigel Farndale of the Telegraph [hat tip: Maggie’s Farm], Art Garfunkle relates a story about George Harrison:

…I [Farndale] ask about the Beatles, specifically George, who felt his talents were overshadowed.

“George came up to me at a party once and said ‘my Paul is to me what your Paul is to you.’”

Indeed. The Pauls are pop music giants, the Georges and Arts pretty big but not quite the same.

Did I speak of size? Art Garfunkle speaks of size, as well:

Actually, another question strikes me [Farndale]. I speculate about whether Paul Simon might have a Napoleon complex. Is there a height thing there, between them?

“I think you’re on to something. I would say so, yes.”

He adds that at school he felt sorry for Paul because of his height, and he offered him love and friendship as a compensation. “And that compensation gesture has created a monster. End of interview.”

Why “monster”? Garfunkel—who also says of himself that “I’m not always kind. I’m judgemental and picky”—seems upset that Simon broke up with him when he’s been willing to reconcile for decades. They have gotten together on quite a few occasions over the years, though.

May 23rd, 2015

Here’s an amazing young woman

She has a host of other videos dedicated to explaining blindness and how she copes (including some that show her applying makeup with an expert touch). I haven’t watched most of them, but her attitude and ability to articulate her thoughts is impressive. She’s nineteen years old, and lost her sight at seventeen.

May 23rd, 2015

Déjà vu and other mind states

Déjà vu isn’t the only one, although it’s the one most of us have heard about.

But then there’s déjà vécu, déjà visité, and a host of others.

Sound familiar?

May 23rd, 2015

Obama on the Iran deal: it will have my name on it, therefore you should trust me

If you were looking for a monument to supreme egotism, you would have to go far to beat Obama’s statement in this interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg:

“Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing. If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this,” he said, referring to the apparently almost-finished nuclear agreement between Iran and a group of world powers led by the United States. “I think it’s fair to say that in addition to our profound national-security interests, I have a personal interest in locking this down.”

I rack my brain to think of another president in our history—or another statesman or even another prominent politician—who would think to say “trust me, because my ego is riding on this.” What on earth does ego have to do with judgment?

In the calculus of what are the most important considerations about any Iran deal, the most important would be “our profound national-security interests” and those of the entire world. That’s what’s riding on it, that’s the reason to “lock it down” (odd phrase for negotiations). The state of Obama’s personal reputation ought to be so low on the list of things to think about that it shouldn’t even be on his radar screen at this point, much less ours.

And yet Obama features it quite prominently, and this is supposed to reassure us? That he would think that way is bad enough, but if he does, he should at least have the good judgment to keep quiet about it. Instead, Obama talks to us about it. His “me, me, me-ism” appears to be something so basic to his thought process that he doesn’t even realize how inappropriately egocentric it sounds.

Obama says he’s got a special personal interest in “locking this down.” But an agreement on nuclear weapons with Iran is not merely a question of applying oneself. Obama may think there’s no limits to his powers, but sizing up Iran and negotiating with a country which is essentially an aggressive, repressive, fanatical enemy isn’t just a matter of trying hard enough and thinking you’re the smartest guy in the room. Even if it were true that Obama wanted and even needed to negotiate a good deal for the US in order to protect his precious reputation, that doesn’t mean he has a clue how to get there from here, or that it’s even possible to do so.

More is revealed in the following passage from Goldberg’s article on his interview with Obama [emphasis mine]:

In the wake of what seemed to have been a near-meltdown in the relationship between the United States and Israel, Obama talked about what he called his love for the Jewish state; his frustrations with it when it fails to live up to both Jewish and universal values; and his hope that, one day soon, its leaders, including and especially its prime minister, will come to understand Israel’s stark choices as he understands Israel’s stark choices. And, just as he did with Saudi Arabia, Obama issued a warning to Israel: If it proves unwilling to live up to its values—in this case, he made specific mention of Netanyahu’s seemingly flawed understanding of the role Israel’s Arab citizens play in its democratic order—the consequences could be profound.

Does anyone on earth believe that Obama “loves” “the Jewish state”? If so, he certainly has a funny way of showing it (“you always hurt the one you love”). But the telling part is that he thinks he is an expert not just on what the US wants from Israel (that, at least, would make a certain amount of sense, since he is the US president and is supposed to represent us) but that he is an expert on Israel’s “stark choices.” He seems to think that he sees those choices more clearly than the Israeli leaders do, and that it is they who should come over to his way of thinking about their own country.

In addition, Obama says that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s understanding of “the role Israel’s Arab citizens play in its democratic order” is “flawed” (unlike Obama’s). Of course, this being Obama, he’s misstating what Netanyahu actually said. Here’s Obama [emphasis mine]:

…[G]oing into [the Israeli] election…there [was] discussion in which it appeared that Arab-Israeli citizens were somehow portrayed [by Netanyahu] as an invading force that might vote, and that this should be guarded against—this is contrary to the very language of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which explicitly states that all people regardless of race or religion are full participants in the democracy. When something like that happens, that has foreign-policy consequences, and precisely because we’re so close to Israel, for us to simply stand there and say nothing would have meant that this office, the Oval Office, lost credibility when it came to speaking out on these issues.

Here’s what Netanyahu actually said. The context was a discussion of turnout and who was behind left-wing “get out the vote” efforts [emphasis mine]:

Funding from foreign governments to get more Israeli Arabs to vote worked, which means all right-wing voters must make sure to go to the polls, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Tuesday.

“The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are going en masse to the polls. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them on buses,” he said…

“We only have you,” a visibly tired Netanyahu pleaded. “Go to the polls, bring your friends and family, vote Mahal [Likud] to close the gap between us and Labor [Zionist Union].”

Netanyahu later clarified that “what’s wrong is not that Arab citizens are voting, but that massive funds from abroad from left-wing NGOs and foreign governments are bringing them en masse to the polls in an organized way, thus twisting the true will of all Israeli citizens who are voting, for the good of the Left.”

Left-wing Americans were instrumental in funding and organizing that get-out-the-vote effort, and some of the people helping the campaign against Netanyahu were people who had previously worked for Obama:

A coalition of U.S.-funded progressive groups has planned a massive get-out-the-vote effort to influence the Israeli elections, targeting communities that are most likely to vote against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-leaning Likud Party, according to a confidential strategy memo obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

The U.S.-based 501(c)(3) group Ameinu sent out the fundraising proposal for the campaign to American donors on Dec. 17, 2014.

The $3 million initiative is described in the document as “a massive, non-partisan Get Out The Vote (GOTV) campaign targeting selected demographic and geographic segments of Israeli society.”

The targeted groups listed in the memo—young secular Israelis, low-income secular Jews, and Arab Israelis—are communities that traditionally oppose right-leaning parties such as Likud.

So Netanyahu was asking Likud voters to energize themselves and get their vote out in order to win despite the high turnout of Arab voters orchestrated by the left (including the American left) in order to defeat him. Obama knew that or should have known it, but he’s demagoguing in order to brand Netanyahu with his favorite charge, racism.

There’s more—much more—in the interview with which to disagree. Basic to Obama’s argument for his Iran deal is the idea that despite everything, Iran is a rational actor. I see no evidence, in either word or deed, that it is true. Obama argues that it is, however:

They [antisemitic European nations throughout history] may make irrational decisions with respect to discrimination, with respect to trying to use anti-Semitic rhetoric as an organizing tool. At the margins, where the costs are low, they may pursue policies based on hatred as opposed to self-interest. But the costs here [in the Iran negotiations] are not low, and what we’ve been very clear [about] to the Iranian regime over the past six years is that we will continue to ratchet up the costs, not simply for their anti-Semitism, but also for whatever expansionist ambitions they may have. That’s what the sanctions represent. That’s what the military option I’ve made clear I preserve represents. And so I think it is not at all contradictory to say that there are deep strains of anti-Semitism in the core regime, but that they also are interested in maintaining power, having some semblance of legitimacy inside their own country, which requires that they get themselves out of what is a deep economic rut that we’ve put them in, and on that basis they are then willing and prepared potentially to strike an agreement on their nuclear program.

Let’s go through these ideas in order:

(1) Antisemitic European nations such as Nazi Germany not only made “irrational decisions with respect to discrimination” of Jews, but they did not do so only “at the margins, where the costs are low.” The costs were high. An enormous amount of the energy and resources that could have been directed towards the war effort itself were directed by the Nazis towards killing the Jews, even towards the end of the war when Germany faced severe shortages of resources of all kinds (including manpower).

(2) In order for Obama’s threats of sanctions or the military option to work to intimidate the Iranian leaders into compliance, the Iranian leaders would have to believe he actually meant it. They are smart people, and they are well aware that his record indicates that he is a paper tiger.

(3) Yes, the Iranian leaders are very interested in retaining power and in getting out of their economic rut. This does motivate them to agree with the US on a nuclear deal, just as Obama says it would. But it does not motivate them to comply with such a deal. It makes sense for them to agree with it, get sanctions lifted, improve economically as a result, and fail to cooperate either through deceit and/or defiance, saying to the west: So, what are you going to do about it? The answer would almost certainly be “nothing,” as has been revealed by the last few years.

(4) I didn’t read the entire interview, but I don’t think that Obama even addressed the fact that Iran’s anti-semitism is embedded in a larger apocalyptic religious vision of theirs that does not shrink from massive destruction and death. This is the basis for the reasoning of those who argue that Iran is not a rational actor like most countries. Obama cannot counter that argument, except as an article of faith—his own—that it is simply not so.

May 22nd, 2015

I’ve developed even more respect for Kirsten Powers

Much of the time I disagree with Kirsten Powers. But she’s become extremely hard-hitting on the subject of media bias, and in that particular cause she’s becoming a real Joan of Arc. Make no mistake, views such as hers are going to make her persona non grata among her fellow liberals. She may have already burned some of her bridges when she signed on with Fox News, but comments such as this are probably unforgivable, although extremely well-stated:

While Stephanopoulos might be the piñata of the week, singling him out misses the point. Simpson is harkening back to an era of journalism that sadly no longer exists. After all, we have a mainstream news media that took a Democratic Party talking point — “the war on women” — and reported it as if it’s breaking news.

Presuming guilt among Republicans and goodness among Democrats is so reflexive and rewarded in today’s mainstream media culture, it’s not that hard to see how Stephanopoulos truly would not have understood he had an egregious conflict of interest as he faced down Schweizer. Like a fish doesn’t notice the water, today’s mainstream journalists are impervious to their bias in favor of Democratic candidates or liberal issues. They believe they are being objective because they have mistaken their ideological belief system for truth. As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has noted repeatedly, “The facts have a liberal bias.”

This view has fertile ground in which to flourish, as the ideological and intellectual diversity of the nation’s newsrooms decreases.

Powers thinks Stephanopoulos was wrong to do a piece on the Clinton Foundation without reporting his own involvement. But she asks an excellent question: “…[D]oes anyone actually believe that had he not made the donations, the interview would have gone differently?”

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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