The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


Gail Colins of the New York Times suggests that it “just feels wrong” to move the trial of 9/11 terrorist and mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) out of Manhattan. Actually, it seems to me that she’s generally depressed about the broad electorate pushing back against her beloved Obama administration on a variety of poorly thought-out and counter-productive ideas and actions. She writes:
As I was saying, last November, the Justice Department announced that the terror trial of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed would be held in Manhattan. Almost everyone in New York rallied around. This was seen as standing up to terrorism.

It may very well be that “almost everyone” who Gail Collins knows thinks that an unnecessary civilian trial is “standing up” to terrorism. But I’d venture to guess that there are a few New Yorkers (readers of papers other than the NYT) who understand that “fighting terrorism” is NOT merandizing terrorists, granting them the right of evidentiary discovery, allowing them a public platform to condemn our country, providing al Qaeda with a propaganda victory, and creating a show trial that is both unnecessary and dangerous.

But Collins then goes further. In discussing Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s objection to the cost (estimated at $200 million per year), the security problems, and general upheaval of such a trial, she suggests that:
The Bloomberg rebellion fits right into the sour, us-first mood that’s settled over the country … It’s all part of a cult of selfishness that decrees it’s fine to throw your body in front of any initiative, no matter how important, if resistance looks more profitable.

So … let me see. Gail Collins thinks that those of us who object to a civilian trial for KSM are being selfish? How selfish that we object to an administration and its supporters who hold to the delusional theory that (1) Islamic fanatics will somehow think better of us if we try their compatriots in a civilian courtroom and (2) that closing Guantanimo and spending $1 billion to build a new prison within our borders will somehow cause fewer islamic fanatics to join al Qaeda?

Collins reminds us that:
Safety is always a concern, but Al Qaeda doesn’t operate like a season of “24.” Terrorists don’t generally strike when it’s most symbolic or best serves a story line. They do the things that happen to work out. So Barack Obama is inaugurated and the 9/11 anniversary passes in peace and quiet. Then a guy tries to explode his underwear while heading for the Detroit airport.

No symbolism, huh? Seems that Ms. Collins failed to notice that the underwear bomber attacked on Christmas Day. If that’s not symbolic, I’m not sure what is.

Gail Collins plays her trump card when she writes:
Democrats are starting to join the Republicans’ call to toss out the Constitution and try suspected terrorists in military courts. Some of the same senators who gave you the endless health care bill obstructions have already signed on, saying federal trials are too expensive and too dangerous.

Ms. Collins is worried that enemy combatants, not an American citizen among them, captured in a foreign war, and held outside the United States cannot benefit from the protections of our constitution. That we're about to "toss out the Constitution" if we don't give KSM his day in court. Oh my.

Unlike Ms. Collins, the vast majority of Americans realize that failure to grant constitutional protections to foreign nationals who want to kill us is not an erosion of our values. It’s common sense. Sadly, that commodity seems in very short supply within the walls of the White House and among its many supporters in the media.

Friday, January 29, 2010

A True Believer

As millions of thinking people begin to question the religious orthodoxy that pervades any discussion of anthropogenic global warming, there’s a new convert to the cause. USA News reports
Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has called in a new audiotape for the world to boycott American goods and the U.S. dollar, blaming the United States and other industrialized countries for global warming.

In the tape, aired in part on Al-Jazeera television Friday, bin Laden warns of the dangers of climate change and says that the way to stop it is to bring "the wheels of the American economy" to a halt.

He says the world should "stop consuming American products" and "refrain from using the dollar," according to a transcript on Al-Jazeera's website.

Gosh, that sounds an awful lot like the demands of Leftists and Greenies in Western Europe and even in our own country. And here I thought that OBL was a dedicated Islamist, when in fact, he’s really an AGW true believer.

On a related matter, I couldn’t help but note the smirk that accompanied our AGW true believer-in-chief's brief discussion of the “climate bill” (cap and trade renamed to further obfuscate its meaning and impact) during the State of the Union address:
I know there have been questions about whether we can afford such changes [cap and trade] in a tough economy. I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence [emphasis mine] on climate change.

Of course, I’m not suggesting the OBL and President Obama have anything in common. I know that the president only wants what’s best for the United States (in his view) and would like nothing more than to end OBL’s communiqués permanently.

But it is troubling that he refuses to recognize the growing scientific skepticism about this “settled science.”

Those of us in the Center applaud his efforts on alternative energy, green jobs, and clean energy, but a nightmarish carbon tax will do far more harm than good to the economy and will enrich some (can you say: Al Gore) and force many more to struggle. The President should re-examine his true believer status and drop cap and trade (the “energy bill”) for good.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

State of Denial

As I expected, President Obama said some of the right things in his State of the Union address last night. For example:
And what the American people hope – what they deserve – is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences; to overcome the numbing weight of our politics.

Few Americans in the Center would disagree, but Barack Obama has never sponsored or championed any truly bipartisan legislation in his brief time in the Senate or his first year as President. He said the words (with a degree of combativeness that belied their meaning), but offered no assurance that he’d do anything about them.
Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it’s time for something new. Let’s try common sense. Let’s invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt. Let’s meet our responsibility to the people who sent us here.

Hear, hear. But the President talked about “a mountain of debt” while earlier in the speech, he suggested that he “will not walk away” from his 800 billion dollar health care proposals which he claims will reduce the deficit. Common sense belies that claim.

The President argues that
It’s time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my Administration or Congress. And it’s time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office.

Sure. But this comes from a man who has been in bed with lobbyists (think: big Labor, big Pharma) since his first day in office, a man who shunned public funding of his election campaign and chose instead to opt for unlimited private (and often quite dubious) campaign donations.

I’m also calling on Congress to continue down the path of earmark reform.

Hurray! Yet he signed a pork laden stimulus bill that has done little to create the private sector jobs he so eloquently desires.

There are many more examples, but I hope you get the point. Words are cheap, it’s actions that matter.

As I watched the President, it became increasingly apparent that he and his administration continue to believe that their plummeting poll numbers and electoral defeat in Massachusetts are nothing more than a failure to communicate—a failure of words. That a Center-Right country can be pushed way to the Left, if only the President succeeds in his rhetorical magic. That us bumpkins in the Center, you know, the electoral segment that sorta ruined the President’s super majority in the Senate, will pivot and follow the smartest guys in the room as soon as it's all explained to us. Words.

In fact it appears that the smartest guys in the room refuse to accept that they messed up, even if a considerable number of centrist Democrats, the vast majority of Independents, and every Republican thinks they have. Jennifer Rubin discusses what she calls “the newest Beltway parlor game — ‘How could Obama have messed up this badly?’”
It’s remarkable we don’t have a better answer given the length of the 2008 campaign and the 24/7 coverage. Yet, in all the cooing and leg-tingling, the media’s infatuation with Obama left little time to consider the substance (or lack thereof) in his soaring oratory. And virtually no time was spent considering how it came to be that a man so celebrated for his intellect had left such a light footprint in his brief career. Why were there no major legislative initiatives or interesting deviations from liberal orthodoxy? Well, certainly the perpetual fixation with running for higher office didn’t leave much time for accomplishing anything. But perhaps he had little interest in real policy debates and even less in the nitty-gritty of putting together actual legislation.

Less rigorous in his thinking than Ronald Reagan (who, contrary to the dunce image cultivated by liberals, for decades wrote, thought hard about, and spoke on the issues of the day) and less intellectually creative than Bill Clinton (who’d been forced as governor to navigate in a conservative state), Obama got to the presidency not through the appeal of his ideas but by the idea of Him. To be blunt, maybe the reason why the administration [quoting Michael Gerson in RealClearPolitics] ”has not contributed a single innovative, bipartisan idea on a major issue” is that Obama doesn’t have any and isn’t interested in any.

Toby Harden of the U.K’s daily telegraph seems to understand the President’s problems more clearly than the smartest guys in the room:
Democrats who (unlike Obama) face re-election in November are noting that the President campaigned for candidates in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts – all of which he won comfortably in 2008 – but they still bombed.

The Obama line that Massachusetts is about disgust with “process” not policy and the Jarrett line that it is about some vague unfocused frustration lead to the inevitable conclusion that this White House just doesn’t get it.

As William McGurn in the WSJ points out, the central problem is that Americans – only 20 per cent of whom view themselves as liberal – view the Obama agenda as too far Left. “There’s no sign that Obama buys any of this,” writes McGurn. “His team argues, apparently oblivious to the inherent condescension, that no intelligent American could possibly oppose his health-care agenda on substance.”

Yep, the mindset is one of: sooner or later these dumb Americans will realise that we know what’s best for them.

If our President isn’t careful and continues his current trajectory, there’s only one state that we can be sure he’ll hold—and that’s a state of denial. Scary.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Bed Wetters

There’s a significant difference between modest self-confidence and hubris. Those with modest self-confidence recognize their strengths—parleying them to craft a pragmatic agenda that they implement by achieving consensus among the players who must make the agenda happen. But they also recognize their weaknesses—be they ideological, experiential or intellectual—and bolster them with advisors who are not their ideological, experiential, and intellectual clones. Those with hubris think (incorrectly) that they are the center of the universe, that all people are awed by their (often weak) ideological, experiential, or intellectual powers, and they and they alone can implement their agenda through sheer force of will.

During the past week, we’ve observed Barack Obama suffer still another defeat at the hands of still another segment of the American public. Yet, he remains combative, suggesting the he’ll “fight” to pursue a political path that has become less than attractive to the majority of Americans.

His supporters suggest that he must become less cool and detached—transforming himself into a man of the people. His efforts of the past week to pivot and do just that now seem contrived.

Bret Stevens (no friend of the President) writes:
Mr. Obama's real problems are of a different stripe. It's not as if he lacks for charisma. It's that he believes too much in the power of charisma itself and specifically too much in his own.

He seems to have come to office believing that America's problems abroad could mainly be put down to the rough-edged persona of his predecessor. Change the president, change the tone, give magnificent speeches, tinker with the policy, and the world would revert to some default mode of liking America and wanting to work with it. It doesn't work that way. Nor does it work in domestic policy, where personal salesmanship has failed to overcome the defects of legislation. Americans still generally like Mr. Obama, or at least they'd like to like him. It's the $12 trillion deficit and Rube Goldberg health schemes that rub them wrong.

Today we hear that the President has brought back his campaign advisor, David Plouff, who suggests that Democrats avoid being “bed-wetters” and fight to maintain the Obama agenda. In essence, it appears that Obama has decided to conduct a perpetual campaign, rather than lead a nation that desparately needs intelligent, pragmatic leadership. In doing so, he exhibits hubris, not self-confidence. There is a difference.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Dead Last

Those of us who have questioned the accuracy and veracity of climate change science over the past five years weren’t at all surprised when the ClimateGate scandal broke. It demonstrated that vested interests in the AGW (human-caused [anthropogenic] global warming) community were more than willing to corrupt the data, bastardize the “models,” and silence critics. Over the past week, we sighed as reports of falsified data on glaciers surfaced. The U.K. Mail Online reports:
The scientist behind the bogus claim in a Nobel Prize-winning UN report that Himalayan glaciers will have melted by 2035 last night admitted it was included purely to put political pressure on world leaders.

Dr Murari Lal also said he was well aware the statement, in the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), did not rest on peer-reviewed scientific research.

In an interview with The Mail on Sunday, Dr Lal, the co-ordinating lead author of the report’s chapter on Asia, said: ‘It related to several countries in this region and their water sources. We thought that if we can highlight it, it will impact policy-makers and politicians and encourage them to take some concrete action.

So, the UN IPCC used purely political data and allows it to be quoted by climate change alarmists as scientific fact. No surprise, really.

And a few days ago, the Vancouver Sun reports:
Two American researchers allege that U.S. government scientists have skewed global temperature trends by ignoring readings from thousands of local weather stations around the world, particularly those in colder altitudes and more northerly latitudes, such as Canada.

In the 1970s, nearly 600 Canadian weather stations fed surface temperature readings into a global database assembled by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Today, NOAA only collects data from 35 stations across Canada.

Worse, only one station -- at Eureka on Ellesmere Island -- is now used by NOAA as a temperature gauge for all Canadian territory above the Arctic Circle.
The Canadian government, meanwhile, operates 1,400 surface weather stations across the country, and more than 100 above the Arctic Circle, according to Environment Canada.

Yet as American researchers Joseph D’Aleo, a meteorologist, and E. Michael Smith, a computer programmer, point out in a study published on the website of the Science and Public Policy Institute, NOAA uses “just one thermometer [for measuring] everything north of latitude 65 degrees.”

It appears that NOAA has become politicized to the extent that they’re eliminating high latitude (northern) and high altitude (mountainous) temperature readings but (and this is an important but) comparing data collected without those readings to past data collected with them. It’s apples and oranges, designed to make the case for AGW.

AGW true believers will, of course act like the three monkeys—hearing, seeing and speaking nothing that might threaten their religious zeal.

But those of us who demanded scientific proof before becoming believers wonder how long it will take for our government leaders to recognize that AGW is merely an unproven hypothesis that may be completely unimportant in the broader span of the world’s climate. At the risk of contradicted the great Nobel prize winning scientist, Al Gore, the science is NOT settled—not even close to settled. In fact, the AGW hypothesis, along with its emphasis on CO2 as a driver gas, may be completely wrong.

I’ll be interested to see whether President Obama continues to emphasize cap and trade legislation in his upcoming State of the Union address. Since climate change now ranks dead last (Pew Research poll) among issues that concern Americans, it might be wise for our rebooted “man of the people” to focus his attention elsewhere.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Walking to the Fridge

When I began writing this blog in November of 2005, I named it OnCenter for a reason. I’ve always believed that there are more Centrists (“independents” if you prefer) in the body politic of this nation that either left-wing Democrats or right-wing Republicans. The problem over the intervening five years is that national politics has become so polarized that the extreme fringes of both national parties dictate the rules of engagement. Hence, when the Left is out of power (2000 – 2006) they become obstructionists whose only true position is to ensure that the majority party and its president fails. When the Right is out of power (2006 to the present) they take the same obstructionist stance. Bipartisanship? You gotta be kidding.

In reality, I think the astonishing results of the Massachusetts election are a repudiation of partisan politics and the corrupt power structure in Washington that is no better under Democrats than it was under Republicans. It’s also a repudiation of the arrogance that has been exhibited by the Democratic super majority over the past year.

It is, in essence, the revenge of the Centrists. I suspect that our “leaders” in Washington may have woken the largest of all voting blocks, those of us in the Center, and we’ll demand adult supervision over the callous children who currently dictate the national political agenda.

I predict that President Obama as well as the Democratic leadership will say all of the right things over the coming months. They’ll tell us they understand our anger, that they'll focus "like a laser" on jobs, that they’ll reign in the budget, that they were never in favor of big government, that … well, actually, that they’ll do a quick 180 and all will be right with the world. The Republicans will promise that if we return them to power, they’ll provide the adult supervision, despite that fact that they were unable to do so during the Bush years.

Richard Fernandez (as always) diagnoses the problem aptly:
The problem each party faces is that fitting into a new set of policy clothes requires a draconian change of lifestyle of which they may not be capable of. A fat man can fit into any set of clothes he wants. The only obstacle to effective dieting is infirmity of will. But as many readers — alas — know, the will is a pretty infirm thing: it is a shorter distance to the refrigerator than it is to the jogging track in the park. So while it is likely that Washington has been given a shock, it’s more than likely that they will cast around for a diet plan consistent with their appetites. Most people have nothing against diets except it means eating less. Politicians may give up pork; and give up perks, but it’s safe bet they will do so only with a heartrending reluctance; each night they pray on their hands and knees to give up these things if that is the price of staying in power, but “not yet, Lord, not yet.”

So when you hear Barack Obama talk the talk, take a step back and wait for him, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to walk the walk. My guess is that the only place any of them will walk is back to the fridge for yet another big government snack.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Second Chance

The Obama administration (a.k.a. the smartest guys in the room) received a clear message yesterday at about 10:00pm. The voters of the bluest of blue states elected a unknown Republican politician who ran his senate campaign explicitly against the Obama administration’s policies.

Jeff Jacoby of The Boston Globe suggests that it may be a blessing is disguise for the President:
But Brown and the voters of Massachusetts have killed ObamaCare. In so doing they have provided the president a priceless second chance to adjust his political course, move toward the center, and deliver at least some of the bipartisan cooperation that was at the heart of his once-enormous appeal. If Obama seizes the opportunity that Massachusetts and its senator-elect have given him, the brightest days of his presidency may be still to come.
Jay Cost addresses President Obama’s response when he writes:
Barack Obama is going to hold his office for the next three years regardless of whatever happens in congressional elections in November, regardless of how well he governs, regardless of where his job approval numbers go. Let's hope that this untested, young, inexperienced fellow the country elevated to the highest office in the land has the good sense to recognize the message the Bay State sent last night, to understand that messages of similar intensity will be sent in November, and to direct his staff to make necessary changes.

The question is – will the smartest guys in the room take advantage of this opportunity and make the necessary changes? Will they abandon extreme leftist ideology and govern from the center? Will they recognize that big government programs, although widespread already, are anathema to most of us in the Center? Will they stop trying for a big win, and try instead to solve problems incrementally with bipartisan input?

That’s what those of us in the Center want, and we’re the ones who decide who wins or loses elections.

Don’t believe me? Ask Martha Coakley.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Damned if we do ...

As we watch, horrified, at the humanitarian disaster that has followed the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, one can’t help but feel proud of the efforts of our President, our military, our emergency responders, and the generosity of the American people as we try our best to respond to this calamitous event.

And yet, at the same time, we can’t help but feel chagrined at how even our best efforts lead to anti-Americanism among some members of the “international community.”

Paul Goodman provides a well-worn recipe for what we’re seeing:
  • Calamitous events take place in a chaotic place (think Bosnia, think Somalia, think Iraq in 1991).

  • The U.N and the U.S intervene.

  • The civil government proves to be useless or malign, or both. The U.N isn’t up to the job. The only effective force in sight is the U.S. According to today’s Guardian, John O’Shea, the head of Goal, a medical charity, has called on the U.S to take charge of the whole operation. So has a major U.S aid agency (“which declined to be named for political reasons”).There are only two possible outcomes.

  • The U.S takes over. If this happens, it will be accused of “creating a military occupation under the guise of humanitarian aid” and “occupying” the country outright. (Apologies, my memory’s failing me. These criticisms have been aired already. The first quote’s from President Chavez of Venezuela. The second’s from Alain Joyandet, France’s “Co-operation Minister”.)

  • The U.S doesn’t take over. If this happens, it will be criticised for “not doing enough” - and isolationism.

  • So either way, the U.S loses.

When President Obama was elected, his ardent supporters suggested that his efforts would lead to a reduction in anti-Americanism around the world. Maybe they have, but it’s readily apparent that some governments ("friends" and foes) won’t like us, regardless of what we do.


As the mainstream media and left-leaning Washington pundits tell us repeatedly, our President is a hyper-intelligent, deliberative leader who understands nuance and acts in a manner that leads to solid decisions.

It’s surprising therefore, that the special election in Massachusetts hasn’t caused a bit more deliberation at the White House and forced just a tad less hubris.

Politico reports:
President Barack Obama plans a combative response if, as White House aides fear, Democrats lose Tuesday’s special Senate election in Massachusetts, close advisers say.

“This is not a moment that causes the president or anybody who works for him to express any doubt,” a senior administration official said. “It more reinforces the conviction to fight hard.”

You’d think that the guy who spent months studying strategy for Afghanistan might be just a bit more deliberative, regardless of the election outcome in MA. After all, one of the bluest states in the country, a state that gave Obama its electoral votes by a 26 percent majority, is now poised to either (a) elect Scott Brown—a heretofore unknown Republican who is campaigning directly against the President’s agenda, or (b) elect Martha Coakley by a slim margin when she possessed a 30 percentage point lead a few months ago.

One of the key factors in assessing intelligence is to assess one’s ability to discern patterns or trends from a variety of disparate data points. It’s pretty difficult to argue that regardless of the MA election outcome, there’s a fairly obvious trend that is developing. The public, with those in the Center leading the charge, is increasingly opposed to the legislation that the Obama administration has proposed or enacted.

And yet, members of the president’s inner circle are quoted as saying:
“The response will not be to do incremental things and try to salvage a few seats in the fall,” a presidential adviser said. “The best political route also happens to be the boldest rhetorical route, which is to go out and fight and let the chips fall where they may. We can say, ‘At least we fought for these things, and the Republicans said no.’”

Ahhh, the smartest guys in the room always seem to know best. After all, most of the MA electorate and the U.S. public in general isn’t part of the “educated class.” They’ll learn to love ineffective stimulus plans, auto bailouts, union special deals, and a deficit busting healthcare plan, it’ll just take ‘em some time, because, you know, they’re just a bit dumber than the Washington elite.

You’d think that a smart guy like President Obama would learn from the history of the 1990s by examining how Bill Clinton salvaged his presidency after early missteps. Clinton did it by moving to the center. I wonder if Obama is smart enough to follow.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Gordon Gekko—Redux

I just read that Oliver Stone, the iconoclastic director of many controversial movies, is working on Wall Street – II, no doubt a continuation of his 1980s epic about greed on Wall Street and the utter corruption of the masters of the universe who are denizens of the financial community.

Alan Blinder comments on Wall Street’s lead character and draws parallels to our recent economic debacle:
When economists first heard Gekko's now-famous dictum, "Greed is good," they thought it a crude expression of Adam Smith's "Invisible Hand"—which is one of history's great ideas. But in Smith's vision, greed is socially beneficial only when properly harnessed and channeled. The necessary conditions include, among other things: appropriate incentives (for risk taking, etc.), effective competition, safeguards against exploitation of what economists call "asymmetric information" (as when a deceitful seller unloads junk on an unsuspecting buyer), regulators to enforce the rules and keep participants honest, and—when relevant—protection of taxpayers against pilferage or malfeasance by others. When these conditions fail to hold, greed is not good.

Plainly, they all failed in the financial crisis. Compensation and other types of incentives for risk taking were badly skewed. Corporate boards were asleep at the switch. Opacity reduced effective competition. Financial regulation was shamefully lax. Predators roamed the financial landscape, looting both legally and illegally. And when the Treasury and Federal Reserve rushed in to contain the damage, taxpayers were forced to pay dearly for the mistakes and avarice of others. If you want to know why the public is enraged, that, in a nutshell, is why.

In the run up to the economic crash, the media representation of George W. Bush was that of a dummy—too foolish, lazy, and disconnected to make good decisions, too gullible to notice that he was being lead astray by evil fascists like Dick Cheney. In the aftermath of the economic crash, the media representation of Barack Obama is that of the smartest guy in the room—brilliant, very focused, and so perceptive that he can sort through the good advice being provided by his advisors, who are also the smartest guys in the room.

It’s interesting, therefore, to note that after a year in office, the administration has done virtually nothing to reign in the Gordon Gekkos who still inhabit Wall Street. Regulations to control the types of financial instruments that lead to the crash have no teeth. Major banks and investments houses that were saved by TARP money (our money) are paying obscene bonuses as I write this. The same Democratic leaders who presided over the Senate banking committee prior to the crash are still in their positions after the crash.

Stated more generally, Barack Obama got so focused on healthcare, a reasonably viable system that needed only incremental reform, and forgot about the financial markets, a system that is in need of significant reform. The result—nightmarish healthcare legislation and no real regulation of our financial markets.

Defenders of the President might argue that he has a lot on his plate. All true. But the smartest guy in the room is supposed to be good multi-tasker, who can prioritize actions based on immediate need. After spending 1.5 trillion dollars of our money (well, actually it’s the Chinese’s money, to be paid back by our children and grandchildren) and watching unemployment top 10 percent, you’d think Wall Street reform might have a bit higher priority for our President

Instead, Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi wasted six months worrying about a “public option.” The true public option is that close to 55 percent of the public doesn’t want what they’ve crafted. But I’ll bet that 80 percent wants controls that will limit the damage when the next generation of Gordon Gekkos gets crazy.

I know, I know. The smartest guy in the room has it all under control. Those of us who are not members of the educated class just don’t see the big picture. Or do we?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Down from the Mountaintop

When Barack Obama loses the support of Maureen Dowd, you know that he and his administration are in trouble. Yesterday, Dowd, a Left-wing columnist for The New York Times, wrote:
Our president came down from the mountaintop.

He had applied the freshness of his independent thought to the critical matters at hand. He had convened his seminar, reviewed the reviews, analyzed the intelligence every which way, thought anew about everything, and lo and behold, he finally emerged to tell us some stuff we already knew.

We are under attack.

There is evil in the world.

Yemen is a dangerous place that breeds people who want to kill us.

Al Qaeda is determined to attack inside the United States.

Al Qaeda is casting a wide recruiting net for vulnerable young men.

Aspirational terrorists eventually become operational terrorists.

Our airports are not safe.

Metal detectors can’t detect nonmetal explosives sewn into underwear.

Our incomplete no-fly lists are more like “Welcome aboard” lists.

We still can’t connect the dots, even when the dots are flying at us like 3-D asteroids.

Wow! I don’t often agree with Ms. Dowd, but on this matter, she’s spot on. The President need not lecture us on the obvious, he needs to do three things:

First, he needs to clearly identify who it is that we’re dealing with, not with euphemisms or equivocation, but with specificity (by the way … who we’re dealing with is not only al Qaida)

Second, he needs to suggest concrete actions (not tweaks to an already convoluted security process) that will fight the “war” that he appears only recently to have come to recognize (by the way … the war is not solely in Afghanistan, or Yemen for that matter).

Third, he needs to act.

Mark Steyn is the polar opposite of Ms. Dowd, a right wing writer who is certainly no friend of Barack Obama. But on this matter, he and Ms. Dowd tend to agree.
Not long after the Ayatollah Khomeini announced his fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the British novelist suddenly turned up on a Muslim radio station in West London late one night and told his interviewer he'd converted to Islam. Marvelous religion, couldn't be happier, Allahu Akbar and all that.

And the Ayatollah said hey, that's terrific news, glad to hear it. But we're still gonna kill you.

Well, even a leftie novelist wises up under those circumstances.

Evidently, the president of the United States takes a little longer.

Barack Obama has spent the past year doing big-time Islamoschmoozing, from his announcement of Gitmo's closure and his investigation of Bush officials, to his bow before the Saudi king and a speech in Cairo to "the Muslim world" with far too many rhetorical concessions and equivocations. And at the end of it the jihad sent America a thank-you note by way of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's underwear: Hey, thanks for all the outreach! But we're still gonna kill you.

And therein lies the problem—one that I have addressed many times within this blog. Assuming that concessions, or worse, appeasement, will somehow convert fanatic Islamists into people who no longer wish us ill is dangerously naïve. Our president took that road and accomplished exactly … nothing. They still want to kill us and sadly, I’m afraid they always will.

Earlier, I mentioned that the Presdient needs to identify whom we’re at war with. Steyn addresses the question:
On the other hand, if we are now at war, as Obama belatedly concedes, against whom are we warring? "We are at war against al-Qaida," says the president.

Really? But what does that mean? Was the previous month's "isolated extremist," the Fort Hood killer, part of al-Qaida? When it came to spiritual advice, he turned to the same Yemeni-based American-born imam as the Pantybomber, but he didn't have a fully paid-up membership card.

Nor did young Umar Farouk, come to that. Granted the general overcredentialization of American life, the notion that it doesn't count as terrorism unless you're a member of Local 437 of the Amalgamated Union of Isolated Extremists seems perverse and reductive.

We are at war with a fanatic fringe of Islam, one that manifests itself as al Qaida in some instances, but also as “isolated extremists” like Major Hassan in others. To fight this war, we must enlist mainstream Islam, but many are getting the uneasy feeling that mainstream Islam doesn’t really want to fight against the fringe fanatics. In fact, there are some who believe that young Moslems are radicalized in some of the very mosques that are also frequented by “mainstream Islam.”

It’s time for the President of the United States to speak bluntly to the Moslem world, but it’s unlikely that he will do so. Again from Steyn:
But the president of the United States cannot say that because he is overinvested in a fantasy – that, if only that Texan moron Bush had read Khalid Sheikh Mohammed his Miranda rights and bowed as low as Obama did to the Saudi king, we wouldn't have all these problems. So now Obama says, "We are at war."

But he cannot articulate any war aims or strategy because they would conflict with his illusions. And so we will stagger on, playing defense, pulling more and more items out of our luggage – tweezers, shoes, shampoo, snow globes, suppositories – and reacting to every new provocation with greater impositions upon the citizenry.

You can't win by putting octogenarian nuns through full-body scanners.

All you can do is lose slowly. After all, if you can't even address what you're up against with any honesty, you can't blame the other side for drawing entirely reasonable conclusions about your faintheartedness in taking them on.

In a way, that’s what Maureen Dowd was alluding to. It’s just that Steyn says it with an honestly that shatters the illusions of those who think it’s all our fault.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Complex Adaptive Systems

In what I believe to have been a prophetic book, The Death of Common Sense, Philip Howard writes about government’s increasing emphasis on “process” to the exclusion of accomplishment. As long as the process is in place, everything’s okay. It matters little whether the process actually accomplishes anything, only that we have a defined, repeatable, legally defensible, bureaucratic approach for addressing something.

I flashed on Howard’s writings as I listened yesterday to President Obama address the failures within our intelligence community. In a nutshell, he perceived the problem to be one of process. If we fix the process, then we’ll solve the problem. Obama is a liberal lawyer and his life is dedicated to process, so it’s not surprising that he, as well as the vast majority of the David Brook’s “educated classes” (see my recent post) rely on process. As a consequence, we’re watching the death of common sense.

In a fascinating post at the blog, Armed and Dangerous, Eric Raymond comments on the failures of Brook’s “educated classes” to control or even understand rapidly changing domestic and international events:
Our “educated classes” cannot bring themselves to come to grips with the fact that fundamentalist Islam has proclaimed war on us. They [the educated classes] have run the economy onto recessionary rocks with overly-clever financial speculation and ham-handed political interventions, and run up a government deficit of a magnitude that has never historically resulted in consequences less disastrous than hyperinflation. And I’m not taking conventional political sides when I say these things; Republicans have been scarcely less guilty than Democrats.

In the first month of a new decade, unemployment among young Americans has cracked 52% and we’re being officially urged to believe that an Islamic suicide bomber trained by Al-Qaeda in Yemen was an “isolated extremist”.

One shakes one’s head in disbelief. Is there anything our “educated classes” can’t fuck up, any reality they won’t deny? Will Collier fails, however to ask the next question: why did they fail?

The obvious and most tempting hypothesis for a libertarian student of history like myself is that the Gramscian damage caught up with them. And I think there’s something to that argument, especially when the President of the U.S. more beloved of those “educated classes” than any other in my lifetime routinely behaves exactly as though he’d been successfully conditioned to believe the hoariest old anti-American tropes in the Soviet propaganda arsenal. And is praised for this by his adoring fans!

I think there’s much more to it than that, though. When I look at the pattern of failures, I am reminded of something I learned from software engineering: planning fails when the complexity of the problem exceeds the capacity of the planners to reason about it. And the complexity of real-world planning problems almost never rises linearly; it tends to go up at least quadratically in the number of independent variables or problem elements.

I think the complexifying financial and political environment of the last few decades has simply outstripped the capacity of our “educated classes”, our cognitive elite, to cope with it. The “wizards” in our financial system couldn’t reason effectively about derivatives risk and oversimplified their way into meltdown; regulators failed to foresee the consequences of requiring a quota of mortgage loans to insolvent minority customers; and politico-military strategists weaned on the relative simplicity of confronting nation-state adversaries thrashed pitifully when required to game against fuzzy coalitions of state and non-state actors.

One of the problems with the educated classes is that they typically have little background in mathematics. They perceive complexity as a linear thing, in which adding one or two additional variables doesn’t much matter. They fail to recognize that where complexity is concerned, we live in a non-linear environment. Each added variable increases complexity exponentially, and as complexity increases, simple bureaucratic “process” solutions will fail to accomplish anything. In fact, they may make matters worse.

Richard Fernandez comments on Raymond’s thesis:
Eric Raymond is very persuasive on the point. The problem is that what is required is agile networks but the bureaucrats are still building pyramids. If he’s right, then the “review” and guidelines issued by President Obama will have only a very small impact on the quality of US intelligence analysis, because if there’s anything the bureaucracy can’t stand, it is a complex adaptive system that can “try lots of adaptive strategies and [let] the successful ones propagate”. The lawyers won’t let them do it. It is anathema to the layers and layers of bureaucracy that have accreted over the years. One of the problems with US intelligence reform has been the tendency to fix intelligence failures by layering yet another process over it.

President Obama is supposed to be a smart guy, so instead of adding still more bureaucratic layers to our intelligence apparatus, he should be able to recognize that to combat new, networked threats, we need a complex adaptive system (CAS), not the old bureaucratic model.

But what is a CAS? Wikipedia provides a definition attributed to John Holland:
A Complex Adaptive System (CAS) is a dynamic network of many agents (which may represent cells, species, individuals, firms, nations) acting in parallel, constantly acting and reacting to what the other agents are doing. The control of a CAS tends to be highly dispersed and decentralized. If there is to be any coherent behavior in the system, it has to arise from competition and cooperation among the agents themselves. The overall behavior of the system is the result of a huge number of decisions made every moment by many individual.

Decisions are decentralized; decisions are made low in any hierarchy that does exist; information is networked, and actions emerge and adapt continuously. A commenter ("wws") at The Belmont Club puts it this way:
The two greatest impediments to the initiation of CAS systems are probably also their two greatest strengths: they defy ideology of any kind, and they defy heirarchy.

Ideology on any level seeks to direct actions towards some wished for outcome in order to achieve some other, ulterior ends, which is what Rahm Emmanuel was talking about when he noted that one should “never let a good crisis go to waste.” But a CAS system searches for any possible solution and pursues it without regard to any overarching ideology. As Al Davis became famous for saying, “Just win, baby!”

And the same thing goes for hierarchy – all the higher levels of a hierarchy have the need to stamp their imprimatur on a course of action just to prove that they are still vital to the effort, and as such a true CAS system is an affront to their existence. For an effective CAS system to be implemented, any hieirarchical command structure over it must be eliminated completely. It must be completely autonomous, and every current stakeholder in the US Federal system will fight that tooth and nail.

Barack Obama wants to be an agent of change. So be it. Instead of adding still more (ineffective and counterproductive) process layers to things like healthcare or intelligence gathering and analysis, he might consider a different approach. Create a competitive shadow CAS environment in which these important issues are addressed outside the conventional process meme. The results might be surprising.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Sheer Imbecility

While most of the MSM is obsessing about the underwear bomber, ABC News provides us with a troubling report on another terrorist that the Obama administration insists on treating like an everyday criminal:
New York City projects it will cost more than $400 million to provide security if the pre-trial preparation and trial of the suspects in the Sept. 11 terror attacks [headlined by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] takes two years, which insiders say is virtually certain, according to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The cost of the upcoming terror trials in this New York City courthouse for Guantanamo Bay detainees charged as 9/11 co-conspirators, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, will likely be more than $400 million and could go as high as $600 million. It will cost another $206 million annually if the trial runs beyond two years, which some fear is possible, the mayor's office estimates.

$400 million dollars for what? Both the President and his Attorney General have all but stated that KSM is guilty, that he will be convicted and imprisoned for life. So why conduct a show trial?

Richard Fernandez (Wretchard) of The Belmont Club tries to answer 'For what?' when he comments:
Well, the ostensible point of this circus is to impress upon the world the law-abiding, civilized and enlightened nature of the current administration. It was supposed to move, inspire and thrill onlookers while it establishes in a very public way that there is no longer a War on Terror. There is only law enforcement.

It is certain that it will impress the world, but not in the way it was designed to. The sheer imbecility, wastefulness and self-destructiveness of this carnival will simply beggar description. It’s possible that even the most rabid anti-American will actually be dumbfounded. At an actual loss for words. The spectacle may unintentionally succeed in deflecting any further attacks from al-Qaeda either because it will paralyze them with either uncontrollable laughter or convince them that the pitiful slobs Americans have become are not even worth striking. So in a way it may all work out.

It may seem harsh to characterize Eric Holder’s decision (and Obama’s acquiescence to that decision) as “sheer imbecility, wastefulness and self-destructiveness,” but in reality, it gives us rather considerable insight into the mindset of the smartest guys in the room.

The President and his administration are convinced that they can manage our country’s image by demonstrating that we live under the rule of law. They seem to forget that we’ve lived under the rule of law for 230-plus years. They seem to believe that public relations can somehow change hearts and minds at the fringes of the Moslem world. That moral preening will influence religious fanatics and make them see that we’re really not so bad after all.

Could the smartest guys in the room really be that naïve? Do they honestly believe that “poverty and hopelessness” or “grievances” are the primary driver that causes people like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the son of a wealthy banker) to attempt to blow up an airplane and murder almost 300 innocent people? Do they think that by avoiding phrases like “terrorist” or “war on terror” they will somehow magically make the threat go away? It can’t be, and yet, it seems as if they believe it.

So the Obama administration is willing to spend hundreds of millions prosecuting a murderous terrorist all in the name of what … exactly?

It's a troubling question that leads one to think of darker motives. A commenter at The Belmont Club suggests:
The only reason that I can see for going through with these trials is to give Islam a very public platform to make its case against the USA and the West. That NYC is the media capital of the world was obviously a reason for this decision. Nothing else makes sense. This is very disturbing.

Still another suggests:
... this administration benefits from a Foley Square circus because it serves as (1) an MSM stimulus skillfully applied at the nation’s media center, and (2) the coverage will mask all other conduct by the administration for months. Transparency nothing, the public won’t be able to see anything important for a year not because it is hidden, but because it will be overwhelmed by flashy distractions.

Generally, I would dismiss these comments as borderline paranoia, but the “sheer imbecility, wastefulness and self-destructiveness” of the administration's decision forces one to consider a darker subtext.

The smartest guys in the room can demonstrate that there is no dark subtext by rescinding their decision. It would be the right thing to do. I won't hold my breath.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The “Educated Class”

In yesterday’s NYT column, David Brooks tries to explain the “sour mood” that has led to President Obama’s plummeting poll numbers and to the negative public feelings about everything from the Congress, to Healthcare legislation, to anthropogenic global warming. Brooks asserts that “Americans have lost faith in their institutions. During the great moments of social reform, at least 60 percent of Americans trusted government to do the right thing most of the time. Now, only a quarter have that kind of trust.” But he then goes off the rails when he states:
The public is not only shifting from left to right. Every single idea associated with the educated class has grown more unpopular over the past year.

The educated class believes in global warming, so public skepticism about global warming is on the rise. The educated class supports abortion rights, so public opinion is shifting against them. The educated class supports gun control, so opposition to gun control is mounting.

The story is the same in foreign affairs. The educated class is internationalist, so isolationist sentiment is now at an all-time high, according to a Pew Research Center survey. The educated class believes in multilateral action, so the number of Americans who believe we should “go our own way” has risen sharply.

The “educated class?” Let me be sure I understand this … Does he assert that to be “educated” means that one must toe the progressive line on all things? For those of us in the Center who’d like to think we’re educated, his comments are, well, offensive. But more importantly, they’re indicative of the Left’s view that any disagreement on doctrine, whether its AGW or deficit spending, makes the person asking hard questions uneducated.

I would submit that one of the reasons that Barack Obama (unlike, say, Bill Clinton) is having trouble connecting with the “uneducated” masses is that he believes his own clippings—that he and his cohorts are the smartest guys in the room. No so much.

Will Collier has a few edgy comments in response to Brooks:
First, David, until you can explain--without consulting Google--say, Bernoulli's theorem and how it relates to flight, don't bother passing yourself and your like-minded NYDC pals off as the country's sole "educated class." Out here in the hinterlands, we're well aware that you and your Ivy League buddies believe that you are the only actual educated people on the planet, but you ought to have learned somewhere along the way that belief in an idea does turn that idea into reality. Asserting as much, to borrow a line from the late John Hughes, just makes you look like an ass.

What Brooks, with his touching faith in "pragmatic federal leaders with professional expertise" doesn't want to talk about, of course, is just how badly the Ivy League class has failed over the past couple of decades. All those rows of degrees from Harvard didn't keep a pack of Brooksian elites--mostly members of the Democratic Party--from running Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac straight into the toilet, and taking the private economy with them. Hiring out of the Ivies also didn't save Lehman Brothers or AIG from doing remarkably stupid things with other people's money. And as for "professional expertise…" just what profession does the Obama cabinet posses expertise in, other than hardball politics?

This president and his government are not only largely inexperienced when it comes to the private sector or even practical knowledge of middle America, they tend to view both in outright contempt. Recall Obama's famous "bitter clingers" speech and autobiographical aversion to "the suburbs," or his wife's admonitions against "joining corporate America." One with an overweening faith in "pragmatic federal leaders" probably hasn't been paying much attention to Ivy-accredited politicians like alleged geniuses (and TARP/Fannie Mae culprits) Barney Frank or Chris Dodd.

It’s interesting to note that members of Obama’s cabinet have painfully little non-governmental experience (only 10 percent of current cabinet members). In fact, less real world (private sector) experience than any other cabinet in the past 100 years. Actually, that’s not surprising. The President himself had absolutely no private sector or executive experience when he was elected leader of the free world.

The problem is that Preident Obama seems to heed advice only from Brook’s “educated class” and as a consequence, common sense and hard nosed realism, a clear regard for real-world economic policy, and hard nosed geopolitical interaction sometimes seem to be missing. But not to worry—they’re all Ivy Leaguers. We’re in really good, “educated” hands.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Four Worldviews

Walter Russell Mead presents a wonderfully detailed examination of the four major visions or worldviews that define every U.S. president.
In general, U.S. presidents see the world through the eyes of four giants: Alexander Hamilton, Woodrow Wilson, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson. Hamiltonians share the first Treasury secretary's belief that a strong national government and a strong military should pursue a realist global policy and that the government can and should promote economic development and the interests of American business at home and abroad. Wilsonians agree with Hamiltonians on the need for a global foreign policy, but see the promotion of democracy and human rights as the core elements of American grand strategy. Jeffersonians dissent from this globalist consensus; they want the United States to minimize its commitments and, as much as possible, dismantle the national-security state. Jacksonians are today's Fox News watchers. They are populists suspicious of Hamiltonian business links, Wilsonian do-gooding, and Jeffersonian weakness.

In a detailed analysis of these worldviews which is well worth reading in its entirety, Mead suggests that presidents always begin by adopting the world view that is closest to their personal ideology, but are swayed by events into considering worldviews that may be antithetical to their core beliefs.

Mead examines President Obama’s world view:
Like Carter in the 1970s, Obama comes from the old-fashioned Jeffersonian wing of the Democratic Party, and the strategic goal of his foreign policy is to reduce America's costs and risks overseas by limiting U.S. commitments wherever possible. He's a believer in the notion that the United States can best spread democracy and support peace by becoming an example of democracy at home and moderation abroad. More than this, Jeffersonians such as Obama think oversize commitments abroad undermine American democracy at home. Large military budgets divert resources from pressing domestic needs; close association with corrupt and tyrannical foreign regimes involves the United States in dirty and cynical alliances; the swelling national-security state threatens civil liberties and leads to powerful pro-war, pro-engagement lobbies among corporations nourished on grossly swollen federal defense budgets.

But as recent events aptly demonstrate, even a rigid Jeffersonian will be forced to moderate his views by a world that, to be blunt, doesn’t give a damn about any ideology except the one that is closest to home:
Obama may well believe what he said in his inaugural speech -- "we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals" -- but as any president must he is already making exactly those tradeoffs. Why else refuse to meet the Dalai Lama? Why else pledge support to the corrupt regime of President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan or aid Pakistan despite the dismal track record of both the civil and military arms of the Pakistani government when it comes to transparent use of U.S. resources? Did the administration not renew its efforts to build a relationship with the regime in Tehran even as peaceful democratic protesters were being tortured and raped in its jails? Is Obama not taking "incentives" to Khartoum, a regime that has for more than a decade pursued a policy in Darfur that the U.S. government has labeled genocidal?

As time passes Barack Obama will learn that there are no “false choices” only choices. His job as President of the United States is not to implement transformative change. Rather it is to make choices that ensure that our nation’s domestic policies and geopolitical relationships foster our economic well-being and collective safety. If he does that, and nothing more, it doesn’t much matter whether he’s a Jeffersonian or a Jacksonian. In fact, a little bit of each is not an altogether bad thing to be.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Two Narratives

In the aftermath of the attempted bombing of NorthWest # 253 on its approach to Detroit, a debate rages over the seriousness of the Obama administration’s view of terror in general and those who perpetrate it in particular. The President, his polling numbers dropping, has begun to move slightly right of his recurring soft power statements, now emphasizing that we are “at war” but at the same time suggesting that must maintain “our values” in any dealings with the “extremists” who want to kill us. Hence, we must close Guantanamo and repatriate Yemeni terrorists housed there, even as we learn that Yemen is still another front in our battle with Al Qaida.

Matthew d’Ancona’s comments on the conflicting western views of the Islamist threat provide insight into the administration’s conundrum:
More than eight years after the destruction of the World Trade Centre, there are two competing narratives in the West. The first is frightening, difficult and poses a host of deeply unwelcome questions. According to this version of events, we face a global struggle against a new mutation of militant Islamism ready to use all and any means at its disposal, bonded by anti-semitism, hatred of America and a desire to enforce sharia law and to restore the Caliphate. This network plots globally and kills locally. The merit of this is that it happens to be true.

The second narrative dismisses the whole notion of the "war on terror" as an aberration of the Bush-Blair era. According to this version of events, Islamist terror is mostly the consequence of "Western foreign policy" (for example, the Iraq War was directly responsible for 7/7). With Bush and Blair gone, and al-Qaeda supposedly scattered to the winds, it follows that the winding up of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will bring the whole sorry chapter to an end, and we can all get on with life as normal. The only flaw in this comforting narrative is that it happens to be complete nonsense.

On balance, it appears that the major players in the Obama administration subscribe to the second view. For example, John Brennan, President Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor, has been quoted as saying that Guantanamo must be closed and terrorists must be tried as criminals in civilian courts to negate “propaganda” that Jihadists might use if we did otherwise.

Stated a different way, unless we’re really, really, nice to Islamists who have been captured trying to kill us, our treatment of them will result in propaganda that will lead to the recruitment of more Jihadists.

Odd, then, that the President and his senior people want to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City federal court and provide a propaganda platform for the ringleader of 9/11.

I can see it now … young fanatics throughout the Arab Middle East will watch the New York criminal proceeding as they drag on for month after month and say, “You know what, those Americans sure do have good values … I’m dropping out of my Yemeni terror school and joining the Peace Corps.


In writing about the recent axe-attack (all but disregarded by MSM) by a Somali Moslem against Kurt Westergaard, the author of one of the Mohammad cartoons, Richard Fernandez of The Belmont Club suggests that European intellectuals are being cowed into silence when Islamists use murderous attacks against writers and cartoonists who have committed “blasphemy.” He suggests that these attacks are part of a larger strategy.
The attack on Westergaard is a textbook application of terror. Even the weapons chosen — an axe for example — contributed to instilling fear. Although Westergaard himself escaped unharmed, every European writer knows that the next victim may not be so lucky. And that next writer may be himself. The Somali also demonstrated the second object lesson of terrorist pedagogy. They reminded the world that they never forget. Salman Rushdie is still on the run. Westergaard will have to be guarded until the day that he dies. There is no statute of limitations on al-Qaeda’s anger. Blasphemy is forever.

And it works. By slow degrees the intellectuals are being cowed into silence. John Brennan, the President’s counterterrorism adviser, thinks that closing Guantanamo prison is necessary to avoid giving al-Qaeda “a propaganda victory”, when from al-Qaeda’s point of view the closure itself is probably regarded as the victory. In denying al-Qaeda one sort of victory, Obama is giving them another and more valuable one: it is subconsciously indoctrinating into the public an almost subconscious fear of “giving offense” to Islam that is more powerful for the fact that it may eventually be instinctive. Which is the point.

And so, we avoid anything that might offend, even when our avoidance could put hundreds or potentially thousands of lives at grave risk. There will be a price to pay.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Smoking Gun

Just for once, it would be nice to hear the Obama administration (or for that matter, any recent administration) say, “We screwed up. We’re going to find out how to do it better, and then execute accordingly.” I guess that’s just too much to ask.

In the aftermath of the attempted terrorist attack on a Detroit-bound aircraft foiled not be the competence of our intelligence services or our TSA, but rather by sheer luck (the explosives failed to detonate), we hear John Brennan, President Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor, state:
"There is no smoking gun. There was no single piece of intelligence that said, 'this guy is going to get on a plane.'"

Really? In the narrowest sense (typical of the lawyerly attitude that permeates this administration) he may be correct. They had no actionable intelligence that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab would board an aircraft with 80 grams of Pentrite hidden in his underwear. But … really?

Forget the fact that this guy’s own father tried to turn him in to a US embassy. Forget that he was on a terrorism watch list. Let’s focus on the real-time indicators: he bought a one-way ticket and he had only hand luggage. He was young, the native of a Moslem country, and was traveling alone, or so it seemed. That alone would set off alarm bells in any rational security officer’s mind, except for one thing. That’s a profile, and we can’t profile. Wouldn’t be fair, would it? Might anger the people being profiled, and then they'd hate us. In the words of Janet Napolitano, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, “The system worked.” Indeed, it did.

Nolan Finley comments on why "the system worked" and why we don’t profile:
We're paranoid of profiling. Remember the six Muslim imams who were yanked off a U.S. Airways flight three years ago after passengers became concerned about their bizarre behavior? Only one of the six had luggage, all were on one-way tickets, and they seemed intentionally provocative.

U.S. Airways responded, and was thanked with a federal discrimination complaint. Other airlines have faced similar discipline. Don't underestimate how that dampens their enthusiasm for dealing with suspicious passengers.

Could it be that the flying Imams were a set up, designed to make us skittish about singling out Moslem passengers. Nah, couldn’t be. After all, in the words of Mr. Brennan, this was simply an “isolated incident,” not to be confused with anything as distasteful as a repeated attempt by a known terrorist organization in its long term war against us. If you believe the current administration, we’re certainly not at war with them, so how could they be at war with us?

Update (1/3/10):

Politico reports:
All travelers flying into the U.S. from foreign countries will receive tightened random screening, and 100 percent of passengers from 14 terrorism-prone countries will be patted down and have their carry-ons searched, the Obama administration was notifying airlines on Sunday.

The more stringent Transportation Security Administration rules, to take effect at midnight, follow the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner headed into Detroit from Amsterdam.

Hmmm. Looks like profiling isn't such a bad idea after all.