Quotulatiousness

August 23, 2014

Immutable human nature will not be wished away

Filed under: History, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:07

Charles C. W. Cooke on the evergreen notion that “this time, it’ll be different”:

H. G. Wells’s famous prediction that the First World War would be the “war to end all wars” was met with skepticism by the British prime minister. “This war, like the next war,” David Lloyd George quipped in the summer of 1916, “is a war to end war.” History, he sighed, is not shaped by wishful thinking.

Two decades later, Lloyd George would be proven right. And yet, in the intervening period, it was Wells’s sentiment that prevailed. The horrors of the trenches having made rationalization imperative, a popular and holistic narrative was developed. The Great War, Woodrow Wilson quixotically argued, had finally managed to “make the world safe for democracy” and, in doing so, had served an invaluable purpose. Henceforth, human beings would remember the valuable lesson that had been written in so much blood, coming together in mutual understanding to, as Wells rather dramatically put it, “exorcise a world-madness and end an age.” And that, it was thought, would be that.

In hindsight, it is easy to criticize the idealists. But, historically, their instincts were by no means anomalous. The most successful politicians today remain those who are dispositionally Whiggish, and who possess in abundance the much coveted ability to sell the future as the cure for all ills. Come election time, candidates from both sides of the aisle promise Americans that their country’s “best days are ahead of her” and that it is now “time to move forward.” Customarily, these promises are paired with a series of less optimistic corollaries, most often with the simplistic insistence that we must never, ever “go backwards,” and with the naïve — sometimes spluttering — disbelief that anything bad or primitive could exhibit the temerity to occur in these our enlightened times. “It is amazing,” our jejune political class will say of a current event, “that this could be happening in 2014!” And the audience will nod, sagaciously.

This week, responding to the news that an American journalist had been executed in Syria by the Islamic State, President Obama contended that the group “has no place in the 21st century.” One wonders: What can this mean? Is this a statement of intent, or is it a historical judgment? Certainly, insofar as Obama’s words indicate a willingness to extirpate the outfit from the face of the Earth, they are useful. If, however, they are merely an attempt to shame the group by explaining that in 2014 the good guys no longer behave in this manner, it is abject and it is fruitless. As a matter of regrettable fact, IS does indeed have a place in the 21st century — and, like the barbarians who hypothetically had “no place” in the Roman Empire, it is presently utilizing that place to spread darkness and despair. Assurances that “our best days are ahead of us,” I’d venture, are probably not going to cut it with the mujahideen.

August 19, 2014

Barack Obama’s clemency deficit

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:31

I’ve posted items like this before, showing that President Obama is the least merciful president of modern times (and the only presidents less clement were Washington, Harrison, and Garfield). Now the New York Times editorial board joins the chorus:

On Jan. 20, 2009, in his last moments as president, George W. Bush gave Barack Obama a hard-earned bit of wisdom: whatever you do, he said, pick a pardon policy and stick with it.

It was sage advice, yet, more than five years later, President Obama has not heeded it. As a result, as one former pardon attorney has said, the clemency power is “the least respected and most misunderstood” power a president has. Yet it is granted explicitly by the Constitution as a crucial backstop to undo an unjust conviction or to temper unreasonably harsh punishments approved by lawmakers. It also can restore basic rights, like the right to vote, that many people lose upon being convicted.

In the past, presidents made good use of it, but as tough-on-crime policies became more popular, the number of grants fell dramatically. Judging by the numbers, Mr. Obama, who has, so far, granted just 62 clemency petitions, is the least merciful president in modern history.

[...]

Mr. Obama’s failure to wield the pardon power more forcefully is all the more frustrating when considered against the backdrop of endless accusations that he is exercising too much executive authority, sometimes — his critics say — arbitrarily if not illegally. In this case, he should take advantage of a crucial power that the Constitution unreservedly grants him.

As Jacob Sullum said, “Obama deserves credit for this amazing accomplishment: He has made Richard Nixon look like a softie.”

August 12, 2014

Obamacare and the Tea Party

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:33

Megan McArdle on the direct relationship between the implementation of Obamacare and the rise of the Tea Party:

I think liberals really do not understand emotionally the extent to which the Tea Party was created by the Affordable Care Act and the feeling that its government was simply steamrolling it. From the Tea Party’s perspective, you had an unpopular program that should have died in the same way, and for the same reasons, that Social Security privatization did: because sensible politicians saw that, no matter how ardently they and their base might desire it, this was out of step with what the majority of the country wanted (and no, you cannot rescue the polls by claiming that the only problem with the law was that it wasn’t liberal enough; when you dig down into what people mean when they say that, the idea that there was ever a majority or a plurality that was secretly in favor of Obamacare collapses).

The rage was similar to what progressives felt as they watched George W. Bush push the country into a war in Iraq. That defined and animated the anti-war movement (which is why said movement collapsed when Bush left office, and not, say, when Bush agreed to a staged withdrawal of our forces). Yes, those people would still have hated Republicans, even if there had been no Iraq War. But they would not have been as passionate, as organized or as powerful without it.

Liberals tend to write off this anger as racism, as irrational hatred of Barack Obama, or as perverse joy in denying health care to the poor, but at its root, it’s the simpler feeling that your country is making a mistake and you can’t stop it because the people in charge are ignoring the obvious. Yes, a lot of money and energy was poured into the Tea Party by rich backers, but rich backers cannot create a grassroots campaign unless the underlying passion is there in the voters (paging Karl Rove and Crossroads). The Obama administration created that passion with Obamacare.

[...] I’ve written before about how my Twitter feed filled up with comparisons to 1932 the night that Obama took the presidency, and it’s quite clear to me that the Obama administration shared what you might call delusions of FDR. It thought that it was in a transformative, historical moment where the normal rules of political caution didn’t apply. The administration was wrong, and the country paid for that.

July 17, 2014

Mussolini would recognize (and approve of) “economic patriotism”

Filed under: Economics, Government, History, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:58

Kevin Williamson isn’t a fan of the recent upsurge in usage of the term “economic patriotism”, both for practical and historical reasons:

“Economic patriotism” and its kissing cousin, economic nationalism, are ideas with a fairly stinky history, having been a mainstay of fascist rhetoric during the heyday of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s favorite “admirable Italian gentleman.” My colleague Jonah Goldberg has labored mightily in the task of illustrating the similarities between old-school fascist thinking and modern progressive thinking on matters political and social, but it is on economic questions that contemporary Democrats and vintage fascists are remarkably alike. In fact, their approaches are for all intents and purposes identical: As most economic historians agree, neither the Italian fascists nor the German national-socialists nor any similar movement of great significance had anything that could be described as a coherent economic philosophy. The Italian fascists put forward a number of different and incompatible economic theories during their reign, and the Third Reich, under the influence of Adolf Hitler’s heroic conception of history, mostly subordinated economic questions as such to purportedly grander concerns involving destiny and other abstractions.

Which is to say, what the economic nationalism of Benito Mussolini most has in common with the prattling and blockheaded talk of “economic patriotism” coming out of the mealy mouths of 21st-century Democrats is the habit of subordinating everything to immediate political concerns. In this context, “patriotism” doesn’t mean doing what’s best for your country — it means doing what is best for the Obama administration and its congressional allies. This is where my fellow conservatives who write off Barack Obama as a Marxist really get it wrong: He has no meaningful economic philosophy whatsoever. Marxism might be a moral step backward for Barack Obama, but it would be an intellectual step up in the sense that it at least represents a coherent worldview. (“At least it’s an ethos.”) In years of listening to Barack Obama’s speeches, I’ve never detected any evidence that he understands, or even has any interest in, economic questions as such. He is simply a keen political calculator. The conflation of the national interest — “patriotism” — with the interest of the party or the supreme leader is too familiar a demagogic technique to require much explication.

That’s the Washington way: Create stupid financial incentives, complain when people respond to them — and then declare that conformity with your political agenda is identical to patriotism. The production values may be Hollywood slick, but this is just another third-rate sequel: Banana Republic: The Tax Code Strikes Back.

Except the tax code is not striking back. Democrats complain about it, but they rarely if ever try to do anything about the industry handouts and sweetheart deals enshrined therein — given that they wrote so many of them, why would they?

July 16, 2014

Consistency in US foreign policy

Filed under: Government, Middle East, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:53

Nick Gillespie on why the shift from Bush-era policies in the Middle East and elsewhere to Obama-era policies wasn’t so much a shift as a continuation:

Obama’s foreign policy certainly hasn’t lacked for the use of force. It has, however, lacked for successes, as became clear during an unintentionally hilarious yet telling State Department press conference in May. State’s Jen Psaki said that, in her view, “the president doesn’t give himself enough credit for what he’s done around the world.”

“Credit for what?” one reporter interrupted. “I’m sorry, credit for what?” The others in the room started laughing.

Around the same time, NBC’s Richard Engel, who is not known as a staunch critic for the administration, was asked to name a few countries with which relations have improved under Obama. His reply? “I think you would be hard pressed to find that…I think the reason is our allies have become confused.”

First under Bush and now under Obama, the one constant in American foreign policy is a lack of any conceivable constraint on whatever the president deems expedient at any moment in time. This is disastrous, especially when it comes to military and covert actions, because it precludes any serious public discussion and prioritization.

That’s not just bad for the U.S. It’s also bad for our allies, who have no framework by which to structure their own actions and expectations. The president is allowed to both declare red lines and then to ignore them when they are crossed, to dispatch troops or planes or supplies according to whim. In all of this, Obama in no way represents a break from Bush, but perfect continuity.

As The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake wrote for Reason back in 2010, the roots of this particularly strident new sense of imperial power can be traced back to the authorization of use of military force (AUMF) signed into law just a few days after the 9/11 attacks.

“Just as President Bush said the 9/14 resolution gave him the wartime powers to detain, interrogate, capture, and kill terrorists all over the world,” wrote Lake, “so too does President Obama.” Until recently — and because of pushback from characters such as Rand Paul, his fellow Republican Sen. Mike Lee, and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden — Congress has been especially deferential to all aspects of executive power when it comes to foreign policy and war-making.

The results are plain to see in the still-smoldering battlefields across the globe and the rapidly deteriorating situations in places as different as Ukraine, Egypt, and even the U.S. border with Mexico. When the executive branch has carte blanche to act however it wants, it can’t act effectively.

July 13, 2014

A handy rule of thumb when Obama speaks

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:03

From this week’s Goldberg File email from Jonah Goldberg:

I think I’ve stumbled onto a handy heuristic — or, if that word makes you want to smash my guitar on the Delta House wall, rule of thumb — for listening to Obama. Whenever he talks about himself, immediately flip it around so he’s saying the opposite. Think about it. “I’m not interested in photo-ops.” Boom. Translation: “I think photo-ops are really, really important. And that’s why I’m not going to have my picture taken with a bunch kids at the border.”

Now, sometimes, a literal reversal of meaning doesn’t work. But the key is to look at any statement he offers about others as an insight into his own mental state.

When Obama denounces cynicism, he’s actually being cynical. What he’s doing is expressing his frustration with people who are justifiably cynical about him. Why can’t you people fall for what I am saying!?

When he says he doesn’t care about “politics,” just problem-solving, what he’s really saying is he wants his political agenda to go unchallenged by other political agendas.

[...] whenever he says ideology and ideologues are a problem, what he’s actually saying is that competing ideologues and ideologies are the problem. That is, unless, you’re the sort of person who actually thinks Obama isn’t an ideologue, which is just adorable.

It’s not so much that he’s lying. Though if he were a Game of Thrones character, “Obama the Deceiver, First of His Name” would be a pretty apt formal title. No, he’s projecting. It’s an ego thing. I am fond of pointing out Obama’s insufficiently famous confession, “I actually believe my own bullsh*t.” What I like about it is that’s it’s like a verbal Escher drawing. He believes his own b.s. but by calling it b.s. he acknowledges it’s not believable. It’s like sarcastically insisting that you’re being serious. It’s earnest irony or ironic earnestness. If you take the statement too seriously, you could end up like android #1 in “I, Mudd.”

[...]

Anyway, I don’t take psychoanalysis, too seriously (“If you did, what would happen to me?” — The Couch). But I think Obama’s penchant for deriding his opponents as cynics and opportunists stems from the fact that he sees the world through precisely those sorts of prisms. But he tells himself he’s different because he does it for good purposes and besides, he’s so awesome his b.s. is true. No one knows if God can make a rock so heavy He can’t lift it, but Obama can sling such exquisite b.s. even he can believe. And because he believes it, he can’t tolerate the idea that others don’t.

Every President’s public image fades as his term of office runs down. It’s like the law of gravity … yet most of the media are still in love with the glamour of early-term Obama and keep hoping that somehow everyone else will believe hard enough with them that it will come back.

July 7, 2014

“The Obama administration has done a stunning job in making the United States look like an inept ditherer”

Filed under: Europe, Middle East — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:45

Mark Collins linked to this interesting blog post by Charles Crawford, retired British diplomat:

… the key feature of the global scene now is the decline and fall of authority. The Obama administration has done a stunning job in making the United States look like an inept ditherer. Vladimir Putin, ISIS and all sorts of unpredictable phenomena are moving to assert themselves. For most of our lifetimes the default position has been to respect certain basic global rules: the benefits of grabbing something have looked a lot less than the risks associated with the consequences of doing so.

That abruptly has been turned on its head. The default position for Putin and ISIS instead is: “Look what we are doing! Breaking your rules, right under your noses! So … what precisely are you going to do about THAT?”

It is staggering to see the loss of ‘Western’ nerve in the face of Islamist the-worse-the-better insanity. These ISIS people not only commit war crimes. They race to post them on YouTube, gloating and sniggering at the world’s indecision. While they are doing that they threaten to collapse sundry key borders across the Middle East. What does it take for the UN Security Council to call emergency meetings and name specific ISIS leaders as leading global wanted war crimes suspects representing a clear immediate threat to international peace and security, ‘framing’ the issues in a way that pushes back against the confident ISIS/AQ message of Islamist extremist inevitability?

It has been depressing to see the Foreign Office doing so much to champion the issue of Sexual Violence in Conflict, while being meticulous in its language of avoiding getting dragged in to the carnage in Iraq. It’s not so much the actual policy – it is hard to know what to do for the best against these lunatics. But whereas sexual violence against women in conflict is a theme that now prompts a torrent if not a tsunami of FCO moral urgency, YouTube videos of men being murdered in cold blood is all just a bit too … complicated. Why should our UN diplomats take a firm leadership position on anything as morbid as that, when it’s so much more FUN to have a Gay Pride bus-ride in New York?

In other words, at least our feeble leaders do (for now) have to pay some attention to the international treaties they have signed. And in the case of NATO, the fact that NATO exists does give V Putin pause for thought when he mulls over options for stirring up the Russian-speaking communities in Estonia and Latvia as part of his schemes to redefine the post-Cold War deal in ways more favourable to an overtly nationalistic, greedy Russia.

July 4, 2014

Reason.tv – Presidential Power and the Rise of American Monarchy

Filed under: Government, History, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:37

Published on 3 Jul 2014

“America is dropping like a stone in rankings of freedom. As power accumulates in one person, expect that to continue,” says Frank Buckley, George Mason University law professor and author of the new book, The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America.

Buckley sat down with Reason TV‘s Tracy Oppenheimer to discuss how the U.S. presidency has evolved into what he calls “something like an elective monarch.” He says that this is not what the framers of the Constitution had intended, nor did they conceive of the modern version of the separation of powers.

“A parliamentary regime was more or less what the framers wanted…as far as the separation of powers is concerned,” says Buckley “instead of a device to constrain a president, it’s one which immunizes him from criticism by Congress.”

Is this the end of Obama’s cult of personality?

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

Ace, at Ace of Spades H.Q., says the latest Quinnipiac poll shows that Barack Obama’s cult of personality is over:

It is cathartic and reassuring for We, The Gaslighted, to finally have the majority of the public agreeing that we were essentially right all along.

That shouldn’t matter — ideally, a man possessed of the truth should not care if his truth is popular or not — but as a practical matter it does.

It is an altogether unpleasant experience to be separated from one’s fellows and the greater culture by knowing a truth the masses consider unspeakable. And so then it is pleasant to see the mass of humanity regain its senses.

It is good to no longer be called “crazy” by people who are themselves overtaken by madness.

So the Cult of Personality is well and truly dead. Never again will we hear hoseannas about our Great Leader’s supple mind, erotically throbbing pectoral muscles, or literary genius, except perhaps from our Great Leader himself or his whispering sycophant Valerie Jarrett.

This is good for America, as well: It is a stupid and frightening and shameful thing for a people to fall so hard for a ridiculous, false-on-its-face fairy tale about a Crusading Hero Who Will Deliver Us All. This is how nations die.

Perhaps America has learned some hard-won wisdom from its folly. Perhaps there will not be a Next Charismatic Cult of Personality Hero on a White Horse, at least for a generation.

Perhaps Obama will become a shorthand for a dreadful folly, like “Ozymandias” or “Icarus.”

I could scarcely imagine a man more deserving of such a fate as the Failed God Obama.

But perhaps the American public is every bit as stupid as I think they are, and will fall for the next Man on a White Horse just as easily as it did for this one.

June 14, 2014

George Will confesses to using dodgy statistics in last week’s column

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:39

In the Washington Post last week, columnist George Will wrote about sexual assault on college campuses. The piece was widely criticized, and even drew a formal complaint from U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Robert Casey (D-Pa.), which was published yesterday [PDF]. Today, he admits that he used a totally unreliable source for the statistics in the original article: President Barack Obama’s staff at the White House.

I have received your letter of June 12, and I am puzzled. You say my statistics “fly in the face of everything we know about this issue.” You do not mention which statistics, but those I used come from the Obama administration, and from simple arithmetic involving publicly available reports on campus sexual assaults.

The administration asserts that only 12 percent of college sexual assaults are reported. Note well: I did not question this statistic. Rather, I used it.

I cited one of the calculations based on it that Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute has performed {link}. So, I think your complaint is with the conclusion that arithmetic dictates, based on the administration’s statistic. The inescapable conclusion is that another administration statistic that one in five women is sexually assaulted while in college is insupportable and might call for tempering your rhetoric about “the scourge of sexual assault.”

June 12, 2014

Step aside, Andrew Jackson

Filed under: History, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:21

In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf makes an argument that it’s time the United States put Martin Luther King on the $20 bill:

During the 2008 election, Thomas Chatterton Williams wrote an article for Culture11 about the significance of a Barack Obama victory. “On television screens from Bedford Stuyvesant to South Central Los Angeles, images will be broadcast of a black family — a father, a mother, and two little girls — moving into the White House,” he wrote. “Whatever you think of policy, the mere fact of electing a black man president, sending him to live in the nation’s most iconic, so far whites only house, would puncture holes through the myth of black inferiority, violating America’s racial narrative so fundamentally as to forever change the way this country thinks of blacks, and the way blacks think of this country — and themselves.”

I still think Williams had a point. Today’s six, seven, and eight-year-olds have no memory of an America with anything other than a black president. What seemed improbable to us as recently as 2007 is, for them, a reality so normal that they don’t even think about it. Yet these same kids are still growing up in a country where the faces celebrated on the paper currency are all white. I don’t want to overstate the importance of that. There is a long list of suboptimal policies that are vastly more urgent to remedy. Still, the lack of diversity in this highly symbolic realm is objectionable, and improving matters would seem to be very easy.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is a universally beloved icon who led one of the most important struggles for justice in American history. When Gallup asked what figure from the 20th Century was most admired, MLK beat out every single American, and was second overall in the rankings, placing behind only Mother Theresa. Putting him on money would not be a case of elevating a man simply for the sake of diversity. Yet it would address the fact that, but for racism, our money would’ve long been more diverse. The only loser here would be the historic figure kicked off of a bill.

[...]

MLK is the best symbol of the civil rights movement, but many preceded him in that long struggle. They ought to be featured on $20′s flip side. Perhaps it could include a timeline stretching from Harriet Tubman to Rosa Parks, putting them in the company of Susan B. Anthony and Sacajawea, the women featured on U.S. coins. I suppose Jackson might be upset at my judgment that he is less deserving of our esteem than those figures. Then again, he might well support my plan. After all, few men in American history were as adamant about their hatred of paper money.

June 9, 2014

The not-so-hidden racism in the Bergdahl release

Filed under: Humour, Military, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:22

Nicole Mullen explains why you’re an awful racist if you don’t see the awful racism in the swap of five Taliban prisoners for US Army hero/deserter Bowe Bergdahl:

Treating politics like professional wrestling rivalries comes with its fair share of downfalls though, and this Bergdahl case is a perfect example of such shortcomings. As a leftist myself, I was quick to dismiss any notion of Bergdahl’s traitorous behavior, nor did I take exception to Obama’s decision to circumvent congressional approval when he released five terrorists from Gitmo. I simply read that a trade occurred, googled to find out how the right felt about it, and then blindly argued against every single point that they made. Is Bergdahl a deserter? Of course not, he’s a hero. What evidence do I have of that? None. Who cares? I’m right and you’re wrong.

But, this is where the breakdown occurs, because there’s something my fellow liberals are missing in all of this, and only part of it is to blame on fervent, unquestioning support of the president. It’s odd to me that in a whole industry of race obsessed blowhards collecting freelancing checks, I’m the only one who noticed how racist the Bergdahl trade was.

I want to make it clear that I’m not criticizing the president for his decision to rescue Bergdahl, but there’s something that the white left is afraid to talk about here. When Obama traded five men of color for one white man – he made a very clear statement about race. He let the entire world know that one white life is worth at least five brown ones, and that is incredibly fucked up and gross and problematic.

Think for a second – if Bush had made that trade, is there any doubt that we would be calling him out for how outrageously racist it was? If a white man had traded five brown men for one white man, we would be quick to see it for what it was – an affirmation of white privilege and power. But, because Obama is a man of color himself, it seems as if no one noticed.

I can only imagine the struggle Obama, a man of people of color, must have felt as he authorized that trade. He was betraying himself – the black part of himself – while simultaneously affirming the privilege and power structures inherent in the white part of himself. The courage it took to make that decision is remarkable, and again, I feel like he made the right choice, but we should really look at this situation and use it as a way to reflect on our cultural attitudes to the devaluation and reductive characterization of colorful men that we objectify through cisrace projections of cultural self-worth.

May 24, 2014

European defence and Russia’s renewed military adventurist spirit

Filed under: Europe, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:51

In Forbes, Roger Scruton provides a few reasons why Europe — especially Eastern Europe — is much tougher to defend now than it was in the post-Cold War years:

Three factors are principally responsible for this. The first is the growth of the European Union, and its policy of dissolving national borders. The EU has set out to delegitimize the nation state, to make it irrelevant to the ‘citizens’ of the Union whether they be French, British, Polish or Italian, and to abolish the national customs and beliefs that make long-term patriotic loyalty seriously believable. The EU’s attempt to replace national with European identity has, however failed, and is widely regarded with ridicule. Moreover the EU’s inability to think coherently about defense, and its policy of ‘soft power’ which makes defense in any case more or less inconceivable, means that the motive which leads ordinary people to defend their country in its time of need has been substantially weakened. Patriotism is seen as a heresy, second only to fascism on the list of political sins, and the idea that the people of Europe might be called upon to defend their borders looks increasingly absurd in the light of the official doctrine that there are no borders anyway.

The second reason for European weakness is connected. I refer to the guarantee, under the European Treaties, of the right to work and settle in any part of the Union. This has led to a massive migration from the former communist countries to the West. The people who migrate are the skilled, the entrepreneurial, the educated – in short, the elite on whom the resolution and identity of a country most directly depends. Very soon countries like Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania, all of which are directly threatened by a militant Russia, will be without a committed and resident class of leaders. No doubt, should the tanks start to roll, the émigré populations of those countries will protest. But will they return home to fight a pointless war, leaving their newly-won security and prosperity behind? I doubt it.

The third factor tending to the indefensibility of Europe is the dwindling American commitment to the Western alliance. President G.W. Bush was prescient enough to revive the idea of anti-missile defenses in Eastern Europe, and the military in both Poland and the Czech Republic were prepared to go along with it. Putin displayed his KGB training immediately, by declaring that these purely defensive installations would be an ‘act of aggression’. All the old Newspeak was trotted out in the effort to influence the incoming administration of President Obama against his predecessor’s policy. And the effort was successful. Obama weakly conceded the point, and the anti-missile defenses were not installed. Since then the Obama administration has continued to divert resources and attention elsewhere, creating the distinct impression in Europe that America is no longer wholeheartedly committed to its defense.

May 23, 2014

He was for the Veterans Health Administration before he was against it

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Health, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:33

The Wall Street Journal‘s James Taranto rounds up some amusing-in-hindsight bloviations by Paul Krugman about the efficiencies of the Veterans Health Administration:

There was no ObamaCare in January 2006, when former Enron adviser Paul Krugman wrote this:

    I know about a health care system that has been highly successful in containing costs, yet provides excellent care. And the story of this system’s success provides a helpful corrective to anti-government ideology. For the government doesn’t just pay the bills in this system — it runs the hospitals and clinics.

    No, I’m not talking about some faraway country. The system in question is our very own Veterans Health Administration, whose success story is one of the best-kept secrets in the American policy debate.

The “secret” of the VA’s “success,” Krugman argued, “is the fact that it’s a universal, integrated system.” That saves on administrative costs and allows for efficient record-keeping. Krugman acknowledged that the VA had a history of mismanagement and mediocre care, until “reforms beginning in the mid-1990′s transformed the system.” But wait. Hasn’t it been a universal, integrated system all along? Maybe the secret is something else. At any rate, the Phoenix revelations suggest it’s the system’s failures that are being kept secret.

Krugman lamented that his argument “runs completely counter to the pro-privatization, anti-government conventional wisdom that dominates today’s Washington.” That was 2006, remember, when Republicans had the White House and both houses of Congress. If Krugman is to be believed — a big “if,” to be sure — the Bush administration did a far better job running the VA than the Obama administration is doing now. Which reminds us of something Waldman wrote: “There’s an old saying that when they’re out of office, Republicans argue that government is inefficient and incompetent, and when they get in office, they set about to prove it.”

Krugman concluded that 2006 column as follows:

    Ideology can’t hold out against reality forever. Cries of “socialized medicine” didn’t, in the end, succeed in blocking the creation of Medicare. And farsighted thinkers are already suggesting that the Veterans Health Administration, not President Bush’s unrealistic vision of a system in which people go “comparative shopping” for medical care the way they do when buying tile (his example, not mine), represents the true future of American health care.

Good Glitches,” anyone?

Krugman managed to get two more columns out of the glorious VA. One, in September 2006, also damned Medicare Advantage and complained that the administration opposed the idea of letting elderly vets use Medicare benefits at VA hospitals:

    “Conservatives,” writes Time, “fear such an arrangement would be a Trojan horse, setting up an even larger national health-care program and taking more business from the private sector.”

    Think about that: they won’t let vets on Medicare buy into the V.A. system, not because they believe this policy initiative would fail, but because they’re afraid it would succeed.

OK, but think about this: According to The-Military-Guide.com, “if you’re eligible for any level of VA care, whether it’s high-priority or low-priority, you’re no longer eligible for ACA exchange subsidies.” (ACA is an abbreviation for PPACA, in turn an abbreviation for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, ObamaCare’s official title.) There are worse things than being excluded from ObamaCare, of course — but the VA may be one of them.

April 30, 2014

American foreign policy in the Obama era

Filed under: Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:49

Victor Davis Hanson sketches out the way US foreign policy changed when Barack Obama was elected:

The first-term foreign policy’s assumptions went something like this. Obama was to assure the world that he was not George W. Bush. Whatever the latter was for, Obama was mostly against. Given that Bush had left office with polls similar to Harry Truman’s final numbers, this seemed to Obama a wise political approach.

[...]

Second, policy per se would be secondary to Obama’s personal narrative and iconic status. Obama, by virtue of his nontraditional name, his mixed-race ancestry, and his unmistakably leftist politics, would win over America’s critics to the point where most disagreements — themselves largely provoked by prior traditional and blinkered administrations — would dissipate. Rhetoric and symbolism would trump Obama’s complete absence of foreign-policy experience.

[...]

Third, Obama had a clever recipe for concocting a new disengagement. He would mesh the increasing American weariness with intervention abroad and fears over a shaky economy with his own worldview about the dubious past role of the United States. The result might be that both libertarians and liberals, for differing reasons, would agree that we should stay out of problems abroad, that a struggling lower class and middle class would agree that money spent overseas was money that could be better spent at home, and that critiques of America’s past would seem not so much effusions of leftist ideology as practical reasons why the United States should disengage abroad.

Finally, to the degree that any problems still persisted, Obama could either contextualize them (given his legal training and community-organizing experience), or talk loudly and threaten. For example, by referencing past American sins, by an occasional ceremonial bow or apology, by a bit of psychoanalysis about “macho shtick” or the schoolboy Putin cutting up in the back of the room, an exalted Obama would show the world that he understood anti-social behavior and could ameliorate it as a counselor does with his emotional client. The world in turn would appreciate his patience and understanding with lesser folk, and react accordingly. Again, in place of policy would be the towering personality of Barack Obama. And if all that did not work, a peeved Obama could issue deadlines, red lines, and step-over lines to aggressors — and reissue them when they were ignored.

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