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

Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Different Tone

As we come to the end of 2016, I've heard more than a few liberal friends express thanks that this "horrible year" is over. Of course, they're not talking about the true humanitarian disaster that has come to pass in Syria, or the complete and dangerous collapse of Venezuela under still another failed socialist government, or the continuing rise of Iran as a Middle East hegemon, or Islamic terror attacks in the U.S. and many European cities, or the shameful Obama administration complicity in the anti-Israel vote at the U.N. Those things couldn't possibly be "horrible" because they were enabled by the inaction or the actions of Barack Obama and his vaunted Team of 2s—and they only do wonderful things—right?

Nah, the "horrible" year they're alluding to is all about the election of Donald Trump and the trouncing of the Democrats in the 2016 elections. After all, the Russians "hacked" the election or James Comey submarined Clinton or ... by now you know the list. And all of that was horrible.

In my view, 2016 was neither horrible nor wonderful. It was typical. At an individual level, Americans lived their lives, suffered joy and pain, worked hard, paid their rent or mortgage, tried not to overspend, and generally ignored the goings-on in Washington, D.C. They have learned that the mainstream media cannot be trusted to provide accurate news, that the pundit class is as clueless as the guy next door, that social media, for all its faults, allows direct communication between those who attempt to lead and those who follow, without the biased filter of the alphabet soup of media organizations.

So as progressives look backward and wring their hands over 2016, the rest of the country looks forward, hoping the Donald Trump will do some good things while knowing that he'll probably say and do some dumb things as well. If he simply works to 'make American great again' he'll fulfill the expectations of many.

Investor's Business Daily suggests a "wish list" for 2017:
  • Name a new Supreme Court justice. Trump will use former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's "nuclear option" to name a successor to the late Justice Antonin Scalia — and other vacancies as they arise.
  • Repeal ObamaCare. Yes, parts of it will stay. Trump himself has said that popular pre-existing condition coverage and letting parents keep kids on their insurance until age 26 will likely remain. Democrats can block outright repeal. But by using the budget reconciliation process, major parts of ObamaCare can be defunded and replaced with market-based alternatives, such as health care savings accounts.
  • Reform Dodd-Frank. Many economists think this is the most pernicious financial regulation in decades. We agree. Trump and Congress should kill off as much of it as possible — beginning with the laughably misnamed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — and start over.
  • Reform corporate and individual taxes. The current top tax rate of over 35% will be slashed to 15% or so. Trump has advocated a one-time 10% tax on corporate earnings stashed overseas to encourage the estimated $2 trillion overseas to return to the U.S. On individual rates, the lower and flatter the better.
  • Drain that swamp. The federal government should stop subsidizing uncompetitive businesses and industries. But more important, we need civil service reform that will end the bureaucracy's current power to create nonsensical laws that we all have to live by, without any say by voters, Congress or the president. While they're at it, why not kill off the utterly useless Energy and Education Departments, which, respectively, neither make energy nor educate a single student.
  • Tame the regulatory state. Regulations, by one widely used estimate, now cost the U.S. $2 trillion a year. President Obama has added over $100 billion to that total. It's time to reinstate a simple cost-benefit rule: No regulation should be imposed with a cost exceeding its benefits. And all regulations should have a sunset period of, say, five years.
If a Trump administration accomplishes or begins to accomplish even one or two of those goals in 2017, it will have done more in one year than the Obama administration did in eight.

Looking forward to 2017, I'm hopeful that a different tone in Washington will result in different and better results for our country. We'll just have to wait and see what happens.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

John Kerry

John Kerry deserves only one compliment. He has a stentorian speaking voice, making his incoherent and ill-informed "farewell speech" sound impressive and meaningful. It. Was. Neither.

Kerry lectured Israel on the need for a two-state solution. He attacked Bibi Netanyahu, exemplifying the classless manner in which the Obama administration treats the leader of the only liberal democracy in a chaotic Middle East—in large part because of the policies of Obama and Kerry. Let me offer a simile:
Israel being lectured by John Kerry on what's right in the Middle East is like the owner of a pristine car being lectured on safe driving by someone who just drove the car off a cliff.
Kerry had the unmitigated gall to suggest that "Israel can be either a Jewish state or a democracy, but not both." Really? That's odd because Israel is a Jewish state that welcomes all other religions and people and is also a democracy, unlike any other Muslim country in the region.

Kerry argued that the settlements were the primary road block to peace. What dishonest nonsense! In fact, if you think about it for half a second, why do the "settlements" (which are actually apartment complexes and housing) matter at all? The Wall Street Journal writes:
The lesson is that Jewish settlements are not the main obstacle to peace. If they were, Gaza would be on its way to becoming the Costa Rica of the Mediterranean. The obstacle is Palestinian rejection of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state in any borders. A Secretary of State who wishes to resolve the conflict could have started from that premise, while admonishing the Palestinians that they will never get a state so long as its primary purpose is the destruction of its neighbor.
The WSJ is absolutely correct, but Obama and Kerry think that somehow the corrupt, incompetent, and virulently anti-Semitic leadership of the Palestinians will sit down and sing Kumbayah if only the "settlements" stop. That's's B.S.—there's no nice way to say.

But let's assume that a peace settlement is reached and some of the outer construction falls inside the boundaries of a new palestinian state. The jewish residents might decide to live in a peaceful palestine, right.

No. Actually, you'd be wrong, they would be ejected (if they were lucky)or murdered otherwise. At the least, the palestinians want no Jews in their "state." Of course, this is no surprise in that Muslim countries throughout the region are essentially Judenrein.

But in truth, the palestinians don't want any Jewish state at all—they want Israel to disappear. That's not an opinion, it's a hard, cold fact backed by palestinian founding documents, their on-going rhetoric, and their everyday attacks on israel's civilian population. Of course, Obama and Kerry and the rest of the Leftist anti-Israel crowd choose to ignore that reality and lecture Israel on its "obligations."

Like Obama, Kerry will be gone in 22 days. Good riddance to them both.

I rarely include video rants on this blog, but this one is worth a look. By the way, I agree with Every. Single. Word.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Walk Away

In less than 25 days, Barack Obama will walk away from the presidency. After the events of the past week, it can't happen soon enough.

With the exception of hard-left commentators and publications, criticism of Obama's abstention in the face of an anti-Israel resolution has been widespread and strong. The generally Obama-friendly Bloomberg Editorial Board writes:
If the Palestinians want a lasting peace based on a two-state solution, they must accept that Israel, not the UN or the “international community,” is their negotiating partner. That means negotiating in good faith, not embracing empty resolutions that ignore agreements they have already reached to redraw Israel’s borders. It also means ending the “stabbing intifada,” condemning and fighting terrorism, and upholding their security obligations. Netanyahu, in turn, must be willing to uproot settlements that even Israeli law deems illegal, to trade land for peace, as Israel has done in the past, and to meet its security and economic obligations to Palestinians if they meet theirs.

The U.S., as the world's only superpower, has already walked away from its responsibility to save hundreds of thousands of Syrian lives, and it permitted a refugee exodus that is destabilizing Europe and may lead to the end of the European Union. To walk away from an ally critical both to U.S. security and to that of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates is ill-advised. To abandon a friend -- a lawful, stable democracy with a dynamic, innovative, outward-looking economy -- is inconceivable.

Fortunately, the bipartisan uproar sparked by Obama’s UN decision provides an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to rally around a more constructive policy. They should start by agreeing to President-elect Donald Trump’s plans to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem -- a step envisioned but never taken by presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. That would provide a powerful reaffirmation to Israel –- a nation born after the slaughter of six million Jews, and under siege since its birth -- of the U.S.’s enduring commitment, and to the world of Israel’s right to exist. That reaffirmation, in turn, is essential in providing Israel with the confidence to move ahead with a two-state solution.
Our new president, Donald Trump, should act decisively to make a clear statement that the new U.S administration supports Israel and its other allies in the region.

First, he should move our embassy to Jerusalem within 30 days of taking office.

Second, he should work with Congress to reduce U.N. funding and do so immediately. If the U.N. security council insists on focusing its attention on anti-Israel resolutions, there should be consequences, and reducing funding is an excellent start.The U.S. taxpayer need not be generous with a defective international organization.

Third, he should state that any follow-on "BDS" activities (a despicable attempt by the anti-Israel Left to boycott, divest and sanction a liberal democracy) by any nation state will put that state under "economic and trade review." The clear implication is that if a country like, say, England (who, it turns out, was a driver of the U.N. resolution) implements an embargo of Israeli products, we reserve the right to implement a proportional embargo of products from the U.K. And please, spare me the hand-wringing about a trade war! The BDS scum don't seem to be concerned about the implications of their actions, why should we?

Later today, we'll be forced to listen to one of Obama's Team of 2s, John Kerry, outline his warped vision of Middle East peace. It will undoubtedly be cringe-worthy, but far worse, dangerous and counter-productive to any real attempt at peace far down the road. There will be no "peace" until the palestinians accept Israel's right to exist—something they refuse to do.

Bloomberg is right when it states that Obama and Kerry "walked away" from their responsibilities in the Middle East. With political and human wreckage in their wake, it's long past the time when they should walk away—period.


As the Obama Team of 2s prepares to "walk away," Erick Erickson comments on Obama's betrayal of Israel. I fully endorse his opinion and present it without further comment:
Nothing has changed in our relationship with Israel in the past several years. Obama has been increasingly hostile toward Israeli interests, but he has maintained a facade of friendship. Nothing has changed. The only thing that has changed is how much longer Barack Obama has in office and the fact that voters will never again see him on a ballot.

On Wednesday, with less than three weeks to go before they depart, John Kerry intends to give a speech offering a “comprehensive vision” on Middle East peace. He is allegedly expected to recognize a Palestinian state — something no American administration, including this one, has done.

Doing so three weeks before departing office does nothing but create headaches for an incoming administration by an outgoing administration too cowardly to do this before now.

It is not leadership to wait till you have one foot out the door to be bold. It is reckless cowardice and a descent into stereotype of Trumpism this administration believes. Turning nearly a half-century of American foreign policy on its head in the literal final weeks of a presidency is not competent leadership, but childish petulance.

Childish petulance, however, is Barack Obama’s legacy. His childish petulance, though he may never admit it, gave rise to Donald Trump, who is Obama’s ultimate legacy.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


I really had intended to disregard Barack Obama during his final month in office, focusing instead on the new President and national affairs. Obama's has been a failed presidency. My posts over the past eight years have made every attempt to provide a fair appraisal of the man and his policies. Nothing more needed to be said.

But this president's actions at the UN last week were too much—an act of betrayal couched in the typical leftist "quest for peace" language that was not only monstrously hypocritical, not only obviously anti-Israel, but also destructive to any legitimate effort to resolve a conflict that is damn close to irreconcilable. Obama's action was disgusting.

I'm not the only person who feels that way. Bret Stevens comments:
Barack Obama’s decision to abstain from, and therefore allow, last week’s vote to censure Israel at the U.N. Security Council is a fitting capstone for what’s left of his foreign policy. Strategic half-measures, underhanded tactics and moralizing gestures have been the president’s style from the beginning. Israelis aren’t the only people to feel betrayed by the results.

Also betrayed: Iranians, whose 2009 Green Revolution in heroic protest of a stolen election Mr. Obama conspicuously failed to endorse for fear of offending the ruling theocracy.

Iraqis, who were assured of a diplomatic surge to consolidate the gains of the military surge, but who ceased to be of any interest to Mr. Obama the moment U.S. troops were withdrawn, and only concerned him again when ISIS neared the gates of Baghdad.

Syrians, whose initially peaceful uprising against anti-American dictator Bashar Assad Mr. Obama refused to embrace, and whose initially moderate-led uprising Mr. Obama failed to support, and whose sarin- and chlorine-gassed children Mr. Obama refused to rescue, his own red lines notwithstanding.

Ukrainians, who gave up their nuclear weapons in 1994 with formal U.S. assurances that their “existing borders” would be guaranteed, only to see Mr. Obama refuse to supply them with defensive weapons when Vladimir Putin invaded their territory 20 years later.

Pro-American Arab leaders, who expected better than to be given ultimatums from Washington to step down, and who didn’t anticipate the administration’s tilt toward the Muslim Brotherhood as a legitimate political opposition, and toward Tehran as a responsible negotiating partner.

Most betrayed: Americans.
In a way, Obama acted like a spoiled child who was angry at an older brother (Bibi Netanyahu), who is smarter, braver, and a far better leader that he is. The child waited until everyone had taken a seat at the Holiday table, and then threw a tantrum in the vain attempt to show that he was the boss.

Like most tantrums, all this despicable action showed was the kind on man Barack Obama is—a dishonest and duplicitious ("I have Israel's back") empty suit without the character to support an ally that has far more in common with America that half of the security council members who voted in favor of the resolution. Then again, my take is that Obama doesn't like America very much, so the fact that he doesn't like Israel follows rather comfortably.


Today left-wing columnists have circled the wagons in defense of Obama. Here's an example (my fisking is italicized) from Ryan Cooper in The Week:
... Israel has become an abusive drunk of a nation that enforces an apartheid regime over the Palestinian lands of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Ahhh, the left always relies on name-calling when it has no facts and no rational argument. Ryan thinks that slurs like "apartheid" will end the conversation because who likes apartheid? Israel is no more apartheid than Hamas is a peace-loving, gentle organization that would welcome Jews and Christians into their midst with open arms. Since Ryan likes to name-call, let me try—his disgusting slur is flat-out anti-Semitic.

It controls both places absolutely and barely anyone — including Netanyahu himself — even bothers to pretend that permanent control of Palestinian lands, and permanent disenfranchisement of the human beings who live there, is Israeli policy.

Really? I guess that's why Israel gave Gaza back to the Palestinians unilaterally in August 2005. Since that time, the palestinians have elected a terror organization, Hamas, that does control Gaza. Odd, isn't it, that Israel "controls both places absolutely" but somehow missed a beat and allowed free elections that resulted in the election of an Islamic thug government that controls the place to this day?

The West Bank is shot through with ever-growing Israeli settlements, its citizens are subjected to endless harassment from occupying Israeli troops, and its government is totally in thrall to Israel.

The West Bank is NOT palestinian territory. Sure, an anti-Israel UN says otherwise, but it's really odd that they only proclaim this when Israel is involved. There are dozens and dozens of historical precedents for annexation of land won as a consequence of a defensive war. That's the case here but somehow, according to the left, the rules are different.

Gaza is basically an open-air prison camp, its citizens trapped in grueling poverty, its economy and infrastructure shattered by routine Israeli bombardment.

Gosh, I wonder why? Could it be because Hamas does everything possible to kill Israel citizens including tunneling under the border and launching rockets at population centers. And the poverty? The palestinians have received more international aid per capita than just about any other people. Corruption and incompetence have squandered it all, leaving the people to suffer. And that's Israel fault, how?
The thinking espoused by Cooper is nothing if not tedious. It's Obama's mindset, only more honest. Too bad both men are dead wrong offering intellectually feeble arguments that border on the delusional.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Five Things

There has been much commentary in the aftermath of Barack Obama's contemptible U.N. veto abstention. But as the dust begins to settle, five things have become apparent.

First, Barack Obama is anti-Isreal—always has been and always will be. He's a Leftist and is simply following the meme that views a liberal democracy, Israel, as an "oppressor." At the same time, it views a broken society, the palestinians, that revels in anti-Semitism, along with virtually every trait the left condemns, as a "victim.

Second, Barack Obama has no foreign policy ability—none. Virtually everything he has tried and every decision he had made has lead to failure. The Middle East is far more unstable today that it was on the day he took office. He has presided over a true humanitarian disaster in Syria; through his feckless approach, he has been a catalyst for the rise of ISIS, and was behind the descent of Libya into a failed state.

Third, he doesn't have the courage to stand up and be counted—an abstention shows cowardice. If he truly believed that building apartments in Israel is a threat to peace, he should have voted in favor of the U.N resolution, so that all of his supporters would know exactly where he stands. In fact, his cowardice is even more compelling because his administration orchestrated the resolution and the vote. But he favors wiggle room so he can be dishonest when the need arises. He still has the chutzpah to tell us he's pro-Israel.

Fourth, his words leads to nothing meaningful—he accomplishes nothing of importance but pontificates as if his words mattered to the hard men in the region.

Fifth, his actions hurt our allies and help our adversaries—every time. His disastrous Iran "deal" hurt every ally in the Middle East, but helped the Mullahs of Iran immeasurably.

This last minute U.N. episode provides us with a clear look at this president, his anti-Israel predisposition, and the utter failure of his foreign policy decisions. But except for a finger in the eye of Bibi Netanyahu and the muffled cheers of the anti-Israel Left, exactly what has Barack Obama accomplished with his UN action? Walter Russell Mead assesses the situation on the ground when he writes:
Many Palestinians and many of their sympathizers would like to see this vote as a landmark victory for the Palestinian cause in a long campaign to isolate Israel diplomatically and to delegitimize it morally in the eyes of the world. The vote is certainly a propaganda victory for the Palestinian cause, but it does nothing to help the Palestinians in practical terms. Indeed, a sober look at the situation suggests that the Palestinians have not been this weak, this divided or this helpless in many decades. Almost everywhere one looks around the world, the net effect of the policies of the Obama presidency has been to undermine the movements and the values that the President hoped to support; the cause of the Palestinians and the quest for the two state solution are no exceptions to the rule.
It's almost comical to listen to Obama and his apologists talk wistfully about an unachievable "two state solution." Mead breaks this down:
Not only have the Palestinian territories devolved into two micro-states (Gaza and the West Bank, so that instead of a two-state solution one would have to speak of a three state solution barring a Palestinian civil war), but both Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank have become increasingly corrupt, ineffective and exhausted. Both of the major Palestinian political organizations depend on foreign paymasters to cover their expenses; neither has shown much ability to build a real state or to solve the problems of the Palestinian people.
If a diplomatic solution is ever achieved (and that is impossible as long as the palestinians won't recognize Israel's right to exist), it will require a change in geography, not only a change in attitude. In my view, Gaza must be returned to Israel. A contiguous palestinian state must be created in the millions of square miles of territory in Egypt and/or Jordan. Billions could be donated from the European countries who are oh-so worried about "the plight of the palestinians" and maybe a few bucks will come from the Arab states. But eventually, the palestinans will have to get off international welfare and govern themselves, create an economy, and live by the rule of law—not Sharia, mind you—modern law.

It's reasonable to argue that none of that will happen, and you'd almost certainly be right. No one in the Arab world wants the palestinians and few have done anything to help them moderate and govern. The real question is—should they even try?


Michael Ledeen notes that the five things I mention in the body of this post do not go unrecognized by Islamic terror groups. He writes about Christmas week terror plots:
... Berlin, Zurich, Ankara, Moscow, with a very nasty plot uncovered in Melbourne, and yet another involving terrorists in Detroit, Maryland, and Virginia. Not to mention the ongoing slaughter in Syria, and, on Christmas day, Cameroon.

What does the “western world” do in response? Declare the Western Wall “occupied territory.” This is no accident, since the jihadis believe that they have unleashed holy war against infidels. That war will not end, in their view, until we infidels have been crushed and subjected to the will of a caliph. They’ve got plenty of support from the Russians, without whom thousands of Iranians and Iranian proxies would have been killed in Syria and Iraq, and the Assad regime would have been destroyed.

That would have been a better world, but Obama did not want that world. Nor did the feckless Europeans, who act as if profits on Iran trade compensate for the open subversion of public order. Indeed, as Christmas arrived we were treated to the spectacle of the bishop of Rome—aka Pope Francis--blaming material misery for the jihadist assault on the West. Thus the first Jesuit pontiff surrenders the moral high ground to his mortal enemies.

Maybe Obama should convert and run for pope.
Or Secretary General of the UN.

Here are a few comments and cogent diplomatic moves that might help to mitigate the serious damage done by Obama's duplicitous actions at the U.N., suggested by John Bolton:
Once in office, President Trump should act urgently to mitigate or reverse Resolution 2334’s consequences. Mr. Obama has made this significantly harder by rendering America complicit in assaulting Israel. Nonetheless, handled properly, there is an escape from both the current danger zone and the wasteland in which the search for Middle East peace has long wandered.

First, there must be consequences for the adoption of Resolution 2334. The Trump administration should move to repeal the resolution, giving the 14 countries that supported it a chance to correct their error. Nations that affirm their votes should have their relations with Washington adjusted accordingly. In some cases this might involve vigorous diplomatic protests. But the main perpetrators in particular should face more tangible consequences.

As for the United Nations itself, if this mistake is not fixed the U.S. should withhold at least its assessed contributions to the U.N.—which amount to about $3 billion annually or 22%-25% of its total regular and peacekeeping budgets. Meanwhile, Washington should continue funding specialized agencies such as the World Health Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency, if only to dissuade them from entering the Resolution 2334 swamp.

Second, Mr. Trump should unambiguously reject Mr. Obama’s view that Resolution 2334 is justified to save the “two-state solution.” That goal, at best, has been on life-support for years. After Mr. Obama’s provocation, its life expectancy might now be only until Jan. 20. And good riddance. This dead-end vision, by conjuring an imaginary state with zero economic viability, has harmed not only Israel but also the Palestinians, the principal intended beneficiaries.

Far better to essay a “three-state solution,” returning Gaza to Egypt and giving those parts of the West Bank that Israel is prepared to cede to Jordan. By attaching Palestinian lands to real economies (not a make-believe one), average Palestinians (not their political elite), will have a true chance for a better future. Other alternatives to the two-state approach should also be considered.


The limited good works of the United Nations don't outweigh the anti-Western tilt that has occurred over the past 50 years. It's bias, incompetence, corruption, and overall ineffectiveness are the sad results of a reasonable idea that went bad.

The UN will never change. In fact, its advocacy for rogue regimes, its championing of perpetual pseudo-victims (i.e., the palestinians), its hypocritical organizations (e.g., the "Human Right's Council) that allow oppressive regimes (e.g., Libya or Iran) to go without sanction but imply that liberal democracies are international outlaws (e.g., the recent anti-Israel resolution), its bloated bureaucracy populated by do-nothing functionaries on perpetual vacation in The Big Apple, it's obvious corruption and inability to perform its role as "peacekeeper" are all an acknowledged part of its sordid history.

When the U.N does something particularly egregious, I have thoughts of advocating that all U.S. funding should be pulled or of quitting the organization outright. But that would be a mistake—not because the UN is a beacon of hope in a troubled world. It isn't. In fact, more often than not, it's part of the problem, not part of the solution. But it's long past time that the United States change its relationship with the U.N.

Here are a few suggestions:

1. Reduce our financial support to the average of annual dollars committed by each of the five security council members. The U.S currently pays about $3 billion out of a $5.4 billion UN budget. That's more than 185 members countries combined. The taxpayers of the United States have no obligation to fund an organization that generally works against their interests, and to do it generously. Donald Trump—please take note.

2. Ask the United Nations to move its headquarters out of the United States. Here are a few possibilities for the new location that would meet the needs of the current U.N. anti-Western mindset:
  • Tehran, Iran—where female bureaucrats could walk the streets in Burkas, or
  • Moghidishu, Somalia—where armed gangs might help UN bureaucrats to better understand what oppression actually feels like, or
  • Tripoli, Libya—where the UN would have a wonderful opportunity to explore a failed state close up, or 
  • Lagos, Nigeria—where U.N. officials would be close to Boko Haram so that they might better understand "violent extremists" who traffic in child sex slaves, or
  • Gaza City—where the UN security council could pass still more anti-Israel resolutions as they experience the palestinians' inability to govern themselves, or
  • Caracas, Venezuela—where UN officials can study the wonders of the socialist model as they stand in food lines and avoid violent mobs protesting a loss of economic and political freedom, or
  • Pyongyang, North Korea—where UN officials could examine just how ineffective their sanctions really are, or
  • Cali, Mexico where UN officials can experience the wreckage wrought by the international drug cartels up-close and personal.
There are so many wonderful site locations in the emerging world, it should leave U.N. officials breathless with anticipation for the move.

3. Finally, hold the U.N. accountable for its actions and commitments. The U.N. is very good at selectively holding accountable those countries that are out of favor, so why not demand accountability from the U.N? For example, as part of an incentive to stop Israel from crushing the Islamic terrorist organization, Hezballah, UN "peacekeepers" committed to stopping missiles from being smuggled into southern Lebanon. Why not establish a financial penalty, say $100,000 per missile that would be paid to the aggrieved party (i.e., Israel) for each missile that slips through due to the U.N.'s purposeful incompetence? There are thought to be 40,000 Iranian missiles that the U.N. has allowed to be smuggled into Lebanon? That would be ... what? $4 billion dollars in penalties paid to Israel. That's about 3/4 of the U.N.'s annual budget. I suspect it might get the attention of the corrupt, incompetent fools who were supposed to meet their obligation to Israel. Then again, maybe not.

For those who believe that good intentions are far more important than actual results, the U.N. is a true winner. It exemplifies the idealistic notion that there really is "an international community" that will work together against those who want to do ill. Unfortunately, the real bad guys skate while those who do have good intentions and a liberal society under the rule of law tend to be demonized.

It's time we change our relationship with the U.N. Consider my proposal as a starting point.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Not Yet

On this Christmas Day (and the first full day of Hannukah) Christians and Jews celebrate their respective holidays—freely, openly and joyously. Everywhere, that is, except in many Muslim countries. In places like fundamentalist Saudi Arabia, Jews have long since been removed and Christians cannot so much as bring a bible into the country. In Libya or Lebanon, Afghanistan or Yemen, Jews are gone, forced out or murdered over the past century. Christians are under assault in Egypt, Iraq, and Syria where Islamic thugs and terrorists murder them openly and often. Funny that there's no U.N resolution condemning these actions by Muslims. The trained hamsters of the left leaning media tend to look the other way as well. After all, the last thing we need, they'll intone, is a "Clash of Civilizations." There's only one problem. Once side of the civilizational clash has already begun to act.

Just last week in Egypt there was a terror attack at a Coptic Christian Church. Samuel Tadros reports:
During Mass this past Sunday, an Islamic State suicide bomber made his way inside St. Peter and St. Paul’s Coptic Church in Cairo and detonated his bomb, leaving 25 people, mostly women, dead. The bombing, the deadliest since the 2010 New Year’s Eve bombing of the Two Saints Church in Alexandria, drew swift condemnations from governments around the world. But as much as such attacks remind the world of the plight of Copts, it is their daily encounter with discrimination and persecution that poses the greatest threat to their future.
This appears in the left-leaning Atlantic, and I'm sure there was much head-shaking and hand-wringing among its readers. After all, "discrimination and persecution" are anathema to those on the left—they tell us this as if they have a monopoly on that sentiment. But the level of the Left's outrage, say, over Donald Trump seems far, far more pronounced than their outrage over Islam's murderous assault on Christians or their outright policy of Judenrein. Why is that, do you think?

A commenter at The Belmont Club, "Walt Erickson," is harsh in his assessment. He writes:
... [Christian] values and traditions are hard to kill, as the would-be killers will inevitably discover, to their sorrow. Do Muslims kill Christians for no reason other than that they are Christians? Of course they do, but the Left has gone to great pains to see to it that we will not ever see it that way. But some of us do see it that way, and the tipping point will be reached and that will be the end of it. Islam is a killer religion, and throughout history Muslims have killed all they deem as The Other.
One hopes that the "tipping point" is never reached, but by condemning those who would demand that Islam must reform and rid itself of the extremists that represent on non-trivial percentage of all Muslims, Leftists move us ever closer to the tipping point.

On this peaceful day throughout the West, it's nice to think that Islam is a religion of peace. But it isn't, at least not yet.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah.

Saturday, December 24, 2016


Barack Obama's disgraceful abstention from a veto to block an anti-Israel vote by the UN security council is a show of cowardice and duplicity that rivals another anti-Israel president, Jimmy Carter. In 1980, Carter allowed a resolution that rebuked Israel for "settlements" on land claimed by Israel for millenia. Israel  re-captured the land during the six day war.. When faced with the uproar precipitated by his actions, Carter then made excuses and effectively disavowed them.

At the time, Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan suggested that by allowing the resolution to pass, Carter was "joining the jackals" throughout the Middle East and in many European countries. The jackals were perfectly willing to see Israel destroyed. Moynihan—a man of character that makes most of today's Democrats look weak by comparison—understood that the only liberal Democracy in the Middle East needed our help and support; that palestinian claims on Israel's land were based on revisionist history, and that the violence perpetrated by Islam on Israel has more to do with the very existence of the country than any specific "settlements."

Yesterday, Barack Obama joined the jackals. Sure, Obama is a leftist and as such, he has followed the anti-Israel siren song of the Left throughout his presidency. His actions toward Israel and its leaders in word and deed have been contemptible. But that alone makes him a jackal only in the sense that Moynihan used the term.

One of the ironies of Obama's shameful act is that like most things he has "accomplished" as part of his legacy, it will achieve little or nothing in the long term and likely be rejected by the new U.S. administration in the short term. Obama acted, as he almost always does, without the consent of the legislature and against the will of the people. He also acted in a way that bolsters our enemies. The Islamic terror group, Hamas, is the elected representative of the significant percentage of all palestinians, is an Iranian puppet, and advocates the complete destruction of Israel, and just for added interest—is violent, racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, misogynistic—you know, all the things Obama claimed Donald Trump to be. Obama's action yesterday provides a pyrrhic win for Hamas. It's not the first time that he has opted to favor our adversaries (think: Iran—the "Deal" and the green Revolution in 2009) and screw over our friends.

With his actions yesterday, Obama also demonstrated that he is a political jackal and a coward. If, in fact, the Israeli "settlements" were the "impediment to peace" that Obama and Kerry claim, why did Obama wait until 30 days before he left office to act? Could it be that Obama waited so he wouldn't hurt Hillary Clinton during the election and acted in a fit of pique only after Hillary Clinton lost? Sure sounds plausible, doesn't it? In fact, you might argue that had Clinton won, Obama may have vetoed the resolution so that Hillary could continue her cozy political relationship with the majority of American Jews.

Richard Fernandez writes this on Facebook (via Instapundit):
The most instructive thing about Obama’s Security Council abstention is he didn’t have the guts to do it earlier, when he stood to lose something by doing it. Only after he calculated there was nothing more to squeeze from that particular quarter did he run up the Jolly Roger. Had it cost him it would have meant something, even as a gesture.

But even more interesting was his willingness to damage the Democratic party who he’s leaving with political bill, not to mention the fact that the policy his abstention represents makes little sense.

Israel is likely to emerge as a linchpin in the region, after Obama’s power vacuum bomb reduces the nearby countries to waste. If Turkey and Iran fall apart, which is not inconceivable, then Obama will have antagonized the last man standing.

It was bad timing and pointless, like a punch thrown by a fighter lying on the canvas — at the referee. That would leave his legacy a consistently dysfunctional whole: conceived in delusion, executed in incompetence.
Perfectly said.

To their credit, a few Democrats have condemned Obama's contemptible actions and many more seem uneasy when asked. But I notice that Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Keith Ellison are not among them. What a surprise! As Daniel Patrick Moynihan might say, the entire crew—Obama, Kerry, Sanders, Warren, Ellison, et al—has formed their own pack (not PAC). That's the collective term for a group of jackals, and it's entirely appropriate.


The New York Times is sanguine about Obama's actions at the U.N. Two of their trained hamsters write:
UNITED NATIONS — Defying extraordinary pressure from President-elect Donald J. Trump and furious lobbying by Israel, the Obama administration on Friday allowed the United Nations Security Council to adopt a resolution that condemned Israeli settlement construction.

The administration’s decision not to veto the measure reflected its accumulated frustration over Israeli settlements. The American abstention on the vote also broke a longstanding policy of shielding Israel from action at the United Nations that described the settlements as illegal.

While the resolution is not expected to have any practical impact on the ground, it is regarded as a major rebuff to Israel, one that could increase its isolation over the paralyzed peace process with Israel’s Palestinian neighbors, who have sought to establish their own state on territory held by Israel.
Barack Obama shows his mettle by "Defying extraordinary pressure from President-elect Donald J. Trump and furious lobbying by Israel ..." What a man! Gosh, you'd think that the foreign policy decisions Obama has made in the Middle East over the past eight years resulted in a string of amazing successes, rather than a set of abject and dangerous failures.

And besides, the abstention showed "[the administration's] accumulated frustration over Israeli settlements." So ... let me see if I've got this straight. Obama and/or the U.N don't sponsor sanctions when Hamas builds tunnels under the Israeli border to terrorize and murder Israeli citizens ... no sanctions when palestinians stab women and children on Israeli streets ... no sanctions when rockets are launched into Israeli civilian areas. But Israel builds apartments and condo complexes in Israel—the horror!! It's just so "frustrating" for Obama's Team of 2s they need to lash out like the 3-year old children they often emulate.


Elliot Abrams destroys the progressive myth that Barack Obama has been pro-Israel:
Does the resolution matter? It does. The text declares that "the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law." This may turn both settlers—even those in major blocs like Maale Adumim, that everyone knows Israel will keep in any peace deal—and Israeli officials into criminals in some countries, subject to prosecution there or in the International Criminal Court. The text demands "that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem." Now add this wording to the previous line and it means that even construction in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City is "a flagrant violation under international law." The resolution also "calls upon all States, to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967." This is a call to boycott products of the Golan, the West Bank, and parts of Jerusalem, and support for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.

Yet Barack Obama thought this was all fine and refused to veto. Settlements have been an obsession for Obama since the second day of his term in office, January 22, 2009. That day he appointed George Mitchell to be his special peace envoy, and adopted the view that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the key to peace in the entire region and that freezing construction in settlements was the key to Israeli-Palestinian peace. But even if you believe all that—and looking at the Middle East today, no sensible person can—to allow this resolution to pass goes far beyond a flat demand for a settlement freeze. It is a strike against Israel. The inclusion of the usual language calling upon "both parties" to show "calm and restraint" and avoid "provocative actions" and "incitement" is pablum meant to attract European votes—and perhaps to attract Barack Obama. But in fact, there is no possible way that this resolution will advance the cause of peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

Obama has done us one favor, which is to settle the long argument about his attitude toward Israel. No partisan of his, no apologetic Democrat, can henceforth say with a straight face what we've been hearing for years about him. In 2012, for example, Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times: "The only question I have when it comes to President Obama and Israel is whether he is the most pro-Israel president in history or just one of the most."

Sorry, Tom, but statements like that are now simply embarrassing. Obama has done what he could for eight years to undermine Israel's elected government, prevent its action against Iran's nuclear weapons program, and create as much daylight as possible between the United States and Israel. So when the crunch came yesterday, Israelis had to turn to Egypt to postpone a U.N. vote. Think about that: there is more trust between Israel and Egypt today than between either of them and the United States. That's the product of eight years of Obama foreign policy. Israelis can only wish American presidential terms were just four weeks shorter.
Is there a silver lining? No, but Obama will be gone in less than 4 weeks. That's something, I suppose.

Friday, December 23, 2016


I wrote the original post "Abstention" earlier today, when it looked like the vote to condemn Israel would not be taken. It's now about 3:00 EST and apparently, pressure was brought to bear and the vote was called. I suspect, but cannot prove, that Obama pushed for the vote to prove that he, not Donald Trump, is still in control of U.S. foreign policy.

In what House Speaker Paul Ryan has accurately called a "shameful" act, Barack Obama had our U.N ambassador abstain from vetoing the resolution. In the post that follows, I talked about abstention not knowing whether Obama would have carried through with it. Now, his anti-Israel position in full flower, we know that he had indeed accomplished something that is duplicitous, deplorable, and despicable (see below).

It's almost as if Barack Obama wanted to prove that he could somehow expand the wreckage he created in the Middle East with an act so despicable that it would cement his legacy as the worst U.S. President in history. I think he achieved that this afternoon.

Here's the original post ...

When a party abstains from an important vote, it does so for one or more of these reasons: (1) it views the vote as unimportant and simply doesn't care which way the vote goes; (2) it doesn't want to allow its position to be known to others, and/or (3) it knows that the vote will go against a friend or ally without its intercession, also knows that the votes is very important to the friend or ally, but privately wants to screw over the friend or ally. If the third reason is the cause, the action of abstention is at the least, duplicitous, can be easily described a "deplorable," and from the point of view of the friend or ally, is despicable.

With that in mind, let's consider the current attempt to censure Israel for building housing in their capital city of Jerusalem. The New York Times reports:
JERUSALEM — President-elect Donald J. Trump thrust himself into one of the world’s most polarizing debates on Thursday by pressuring President Obama to veto a United Nations resolution critical of Israel, the newly elected leader’s most direct intervention in foreign policy during his transition to power.

Mr. Trump spoke out after Israeli officials contacted his team for help in blocking the draft resolution condemning settlement construction even as they lobbied its sponsor, Egypt. Within a couple of hours, Egypt withdrew the resolution, at least temporarily, and its president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, called Mr. Trump to discuss how “to establish true peace in the Middle East,” according to an aide to the president-elect ...

The Egyptian-sponsored resolution would have condemned Israeli housing construction in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank as a “flagrant violation under international law” that was “dangerously imperiling the viability” of a future peace settlement establishing a Palestinian state. The United States has routinely used its veto at the Security Council to block similar measures, including under Mr. Obama in 2011. But Mr. Obama refused to commit to doing so again this time.

Mr. Trump said flatly that he should. “As the United States has long maintained, peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians will only come through direct negotiations between the parties and not through the imposition of terms by the United Nations,” the president-elect said. “This puts Israel in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely unfair to all Israelis.”
Throughout his disastrous eight year foray in foreign policy, Barack Obama has often chosen to "abstain." It appeared that his administration was prepared to do so in this U.N. vote.

I have on numerous occasions (e.g., here, here, and here) presented compelling evidence that the Obama administration, following the meme long-voiced by the hard left, views Israel as an 'oppressor" and has taken policy positions that are clearly anti-Israel. Obama's antipathy toward Israel's prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, showed a level of political immaturity and a lack of character that came as no surprise to those of us who have criticized Obama's foreign policy decisions in the Middle East. It seems as if Obama has worked hard to mollify our foes and "screw over" our friends and allies.

Now in his last 25 days in office, Obama tried for a coup de grâce. It appears that he wanted to put Israel on the defensive by allowing a U.N. vote that could never be reversed (due to Russian or Chinese vetos), giving the palestinians leverage while demanding nothing of them. Thankfully, it also appears that Donald Trump has learned more about international leadership in 40 days that Obama learned in eight years. As the NYT notes, Trump's pressure on Egypt killed this attempt to screw over the only liberal democracy in the Middle East.

If, in fact, it was Obama's intent to abstain, he cements the notion, supported by eight years of bad decisions and bad policies, that he understands nothing about international leadership and even less about the Middle East. If he intended to abstain in the U.N. vote, his actions were at the least, duplicitous, can be easily described a "deplorable," and from the point of view of Israel and her supporters, were historically despicable.


This from the always Obama-friendly AP:
JERUSALEM (AP) -- An Israeli official on Friday accused President Barack Obama of colluding with the Palestinians in a "shameful move against Israel at the U.N." after learning the White House did not intend to veto a Security Council resolution condemning settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem the day before.

"President Obama and Secretary Kerry are behind this shameful move against Israel at the U.N.," the official said. "The U.S administration secretly cooked up with the Palestinians an extreme anti-Israeli resolution behind Israel's back which would be a tail wind for terror and boycotts and effectively make the Western Wall occupied Palestinian territory," he said calling it "an abandonment of Israel which breaks decades of US policy of protecting Israel at the UN."

Earlier he said Israel's prime minister turned to President-elect Donald Trump to help head off the critical U.N. resolution.
It's funny that those (including the Obama administration) who oppose Trump's suggestion that the U.S. embassy be moved to Israel's capital of Jerusalem, wring their hands about outrage in the Arab world.

At the same time, they seem wholly unconcerned that allowing a reckless U.N. vote via abstention will create "a tail wind for terror and boycotts and effectively make the Western Wall occupied Palestinian territory ..." Then again, intellectual consistency is not a strong characteristic of the left.

Thursday, December 22, 2016


If you were to believe the hype, the State Department is populated by the "best and the brightest" who have chosen to forgo the vagaries of the distasteful private sector and serve their country selflessly. These diplomats (often graduates of elite schools) believe that their approach to foreign policy and interaction is the only one that is acceptable in a civilized world.

I have to wonder how they come to that conclusion. After all, over the past two decades we have seen a parade of State Department diplomats making a real mess of things on the world stage. In fact, it's hard to think of a single significant foreign policy achievement that can be attributed to a Secretary of State. During the Obama years, the failures of the State Department were not only significant, they we dangerous—to our country and our allies.

Given this as background, I find it very interesting that there so much pushback associated with Donald Trump's appointment of Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State, and now, David Friedman as Ambassador to Israel. More on Tillerson is a future post, but for now, let's focus on Friedman.

The elites on the Left, a few anti-Israel politicians on the right, along with many "diplomats," are hyperventilating because Trump and Friedman have expressed their intent to move our embassy to Israel's capital of Jerusalem—a move that in my view is long past due. Vivian Bercovici , the past Canadian ambassador to Israel, comments on this:
Today, Messrs. Trump and Friedman are excoriated for expressing serious intent to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Some argue this would ignite Muslim fury and global mayhem. But it raises the question: How, exactly, does locating the embassy in West Jerusalem—which is not disputed territory—in any way predetermine the outcome of any negotiations regarding East Jerusalem? It doesn’t. This is a fallacy propagated by rejectionists of Israel and accepted unquestioningly by the international diplomatic community.

The effect of political appointments to diplomatic posts is critical. It signals to foreign governments (as well as domestic interests) that the relationship is a priority for the elected leader. It also allows the officeholder to select an envoy that he or she deeply trusts.

Professional diplomats resent the affront that such appointments represent. They reject “outsiders” for leapfrogging the system, for their access to the top, for their perceived impunity, for their utter unsuitability to the exalted foreign service. Mr. Friedman may be many things. But the notion that only those who have passed the foreign-service examination are worthy of an ambassadorship is laughable.
It's about time that a strong United States signal its intent to remove the notion that Jerusalem is somehow "in play" in any future negotiation with palestinians. In fact, its time for the palestinians to recognize that playing the victim will no longer work. After years of perpetrating violence, repeatedly rejecting any reasonable settlement of issues, and sponsoring terror against Israeli civilians, they are largely undeserving of the accommodations they have been given to them by the "international community." Even more important, placing the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem will send a message to the rest of the Arab world that their "outrage" is not the only parameter that defines U.S. policy.

Trump and Friedman are to be congratulated for their intent. I just hope they don't back down.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The "Mind Lock Gambit"

This morning, I was listening to NPR in the car on the way into work when a guest suggested that Hillary Clinton would have won the election if the Russians hadn't provided "significant help" to Donald Trump during the election. I laughed out loud.

After all of the progressive angst, the street protests, the "fake news" accusations, the FBI recriminations, the recounts, the futile and stupid attempt to subvert the Electoral College, and now, calls to abolish the Electoral College, there remain more than a few progressives who simply will not accept the fact that Donald Trump won the election. In every way possible (and in some ways that are impossible) they will continue to work to delegitimize him. That's okay, I suppose, but at the same time is kind of pathetic.

John Kass sees the humor in all of this when he writes about the nightmare that is the never-ending election:
Yet the nightmare continued, on and on, with much wailing and shrieking and whining and crying and screeching and whimpering. It wouldn't die, crawling upon the snow like a relentless, severed hand from some White Walker in "Game of Thrones."

"It's over," said a guy I half-invented to help with an awkward transition. "Hillary Clinton will not be president. Donald Trump will be president."

Now, after all this time, you dare tell me that "it's over"?

I'd like to trust you, but you might be peddling Fake News.

Most Americans hoped to put presidential politics behind us weeks and weeks ago. But the nightmare continued.
Indeed. It seems that the Russian meme has legs—at least on NPR and MSNBC and CNN. Kass makes fun of the meme by calling it the "Vladimir Putin Mind Lock gambit." He writes:
Somehow, through the power of his mind, Putin forced Hillary Clinton to run a terrible campaign and insult millions of voters so much that they couldn't stand her.

Putin also made sure she had no message. He just sucked all her good messaging right out of her and left only the bad messages.

Bad, bad Putin.
Suggesting that the Russians were responsible for Clinton's loss is like suggesting that half of the voting public are "deplorable." Then again, there are more than a few progressives who believe that both are true.


On the subject of the electoral college and the argument that it should be abolished, nothing illustrates the reasons why it should be maintained more than the following Ramirez cartoon:

If the popular vote ruled, the populations of fewer than eight states (most, conveniently Democrat) would decide the election.

Of course, the increasingly far-left NYT is for abolition of the Electoral College. Their argument is dissected by Jay Caruso:
It’s almost as if the New York Times editorial board was taken over by fools from Media Matters, Salon, Slate, and Think Progress. It is the only rational explanation for their unhinged rant against the electoral college in their Monday edition. It is bereft of any facts about the actual creation of the electoral college. Instead, it relies on revisionist history, claiming the electoral college was birthed due to slavery:
The Electoral College, which is written into the Constitution, is more than just a vestige of the founding era; it is a living symbol of America’s original sin. When slavery was the law of the land, a direct popular vote would have disadvantaged the Southern states, with their large disenfranchised populations. Counting those men and women as three-fifths of a white person, as the Constitution originally did, gave the slave states more electoral votes.
This kind of thinking is lazy in that it doesn’t seek to make an argument, but instead, projects on to others the motives the Times editorial can use to shame people into agreeing with them. “The Electoral College exists due to slavery. Why on earth would you continue to defend such a system?” They don’t rely on facts or logic. Their goal is to tug at emotional heartstrings and hope people won’t pay attention to their complete lack of historical coherence.
That's it!! Electoral college = slavery. The debate is over, right?

Another and Another

Another Islamic terrorist drives another large truck into another crowd of innocents celebrating still another festive occasion. In this case, the location was Berlin, Germany and the celebration was the most important Christian Holiday on the calendar—Christmas.

In this case, 12 are dead, dozens are injured, and those who purport to champion flow of immigrants from countries whose religious culture is antithetical to Western values look the other way. The irony is that Germany was the strongest proponent of the unrestricted flow of Middle Eastern immigrants. It appears that Angela Merkel and her followers have now created a nightmare scenario for the citizens of Germany. Crime is up, demands on the German social welfare system are skyrocketing, sexual attacks against women are on the increase, and, of course ... the terror attacks.

Philip Maugham, a leftist who was very much in favor of Germany's original position on the Syrian immigrant flows, writes: "I felt a sickening panic in the aftermath of the attack, not so much because of my proximity to such a violent and upsetting loss of life, but because it meant accepting I’d been wrong."

At least Mr. Maugham had the character to admit his error. Scott Lehigh of the left-leaning Boston Globe writes:
Germans were obviously feeling that same anxiety — even before Monday’s truck attack left at least nine dead at a Christmas fair in Berlin. While we were in Central Europe, news broke that a 12-year-old boy who held dual German and Iraqi citizenship had twice tried to detonate a nail bomb at a Christmas fair in Ludwigshafen, a city near Heidelberg, in southwestern Germany.

A 12-year-old, one cab driver exclaimed in near-disbelief. Twelve! There was now a deep sense of fear and uncertainty in his country, he said. Germany had taken in too many refugees, and though he didn’t doubt most were good people, there were certain to be some bad apples among them. There was just no way of knowing who. And we should know that the fear was much more pronounced in Europe than in far-away America, he added.
In the United States, Donald Trump continues to be demonized by the Left because he recognizes that unvetted immigrant flows from countries with strong Islamist presence is a clear and present danger to any country that allows them. Germany just learned that tragic lesson, once again. But how exactly, do you vet a 12-year old? The answer, of course, is you can't.

We cannot stop Islamic terror, only the Muslim world can do that. Western leader must demand that the Muslim world initiate a reformation. Until it does, a small but non-trivial percentage of its adherents represent a clear and present danger to Western democracies. And if Islam cannot reform and eliminate the cancer in its midst, then innocent Muslims from middle eastern countries must suffer the indignity of restricted immigration flows. It's not fair, but neither are 12 dead on a shopping street in Berlin, or 100 dead in a concert hall in Paris, or 50 dead in a nightclub in Orlando.

And for those who subscribe to the fantasy that restricting Muslim immigration will somehow create more Islamists, I can only say this: If the belief system among "moderate" Muslims is so fragile that its adherents will joint a radical Islamist group the slightest provocation (in this case, an inability to freely emigrate to the West), then that belief system is suspect.

It is our right to grant the privilege of immigration only to those that we are fairly certain mean us no harm, and as important, those who are willing to adapt to the ways of our culture of freedom. Sure, we're also a culture that celebrates religious tolerance, but that doesn't mean we have to tolerate religious fanatics who do not tolerate us and want to do us harm. Making things even more complex, it appears that many Muslim immigrants who appear to be 'safe,' or the children of those immigrants who appear to be safe, become radicalized over time. The leftist narrative would have us believe that it's all our fault. But reality tells a far different story.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Machine Learning

In the tradition of the classic book from another era, The Soul of a New Machine, Gideon Lewis-Kraus presents an outstanding summary of how Google used evolving artificial intelligence (A.I.) techniques to show extraordinary improvements in the Google Translate app. If you're technically minded, it's worth a read. He writes:
A rarefied department within the company, Google Brain, was founded five years ago on this very principle: that artificial “neural networks” that acquaint themselves with the world via trial and error, as toddlers do, might in turn develop something like human flexibility. This notion is not new — a version of it dates to the earliest stages of modern computing, in the 1940s — but for much of its history most computer scientists saw it as vaguely disreputable, even mystical. Since 2011, though, Google Brain has demonstrated that this approach to artificial intelligence could solve many problems that confounded decades of conventional efforts. Speech recognition didn’t work very well until Brain undertook an effort to revamp it; the application of machine learning made its performance on Google’s mobile platform, Android, almost as good as human transcription. The same was true of image recognition. Less than a year ago, Brain for the first time commenced with the gut renovation of an entire consumer product ...

Translate made its debut in 2006 and since then has become one of Google’s most reliable and popular assets; it serves more than 500 million monthly users in need of 140 billion words per day in a different language. It exists not only as its own stand-alone app but also as an integrated feature within Gmail, Chrome and many other Google offerings, where we take it as a push-button given — a frictionless, natural part of our digital commerce.
Lewis-Kraus provides a detailed view of the people, the product, and the technical process that was used to apply multi-layer artificial neural nets to the natural language translation problem. But far more important, he provides insight into how machine learning is no longer a computer science backwater, but may soon become the dominant computing paradigm for the remainder of this century. He writes:
... computers would learn from the ground up (from data) rather than from the top down (from rules). This notion dates to the early 1940s, when it occurred to researchers that the best model for flexible automated intelligence was the brain itself. A brain, after all, is just a bunch of widgets, called neurons, that either pass along an electrical charge to their neighbors or don’t. What’s important are less the individual neurons themselves than the manifold connections among them. This structure, in its simplicity, has afforded the brain a wealth of adaptive advantages. The brain can operate in circumstances in which information is poor or missing; it can withstand significant damage without total loss of control; it can store a huge amount of knowledge in a very efficient way; it can isolate distinct patterns but retain the messiness necessary to handle ambiguity.
Sentient beings have the unique ability to recognize patterns, even when data are fuzzy, or incomplete or skewed in some other way. Machine learning is all about pattern recognition and as such, it may become a major element in what we call artificial general intelligence (AGI). We all profile (using established patterns of data to make judgements/decisions) in almost all things—that's why cries of "profiling" are often misdirected, unless, of course there's bias in the data set we've used to establish the profiling approach. More on A.I. bias in a moment.

Over the years, I have posted a number of comments (e.g., here and here) on the benefits and threats posed by A.I. That's probably because my dissertation used rudimentary A.I. techniques, and I've had an intense interest in the subject for many, many years. I began as a utopian, believing that A.I. would be a wonder-technology. But I've slowly evolved into a distopian, recognizing that A.I. will displace tens, if not hundreds of millions of blue and white-collar workers, not to mention threats to humans for many other reasons. I am not, however, a Luddite, and further recognize that A.I. will be here sooner than we think and will provide enormous benefits. We must put safeguards into place so that it integrates with our society in only moderately disruptive ways.

Because machine intelligence is a learning activity, much of what A.I. is will be based on the massive data sets from which it learns. Kristian Hammond writes:
We tend to think of machines, in particular smart machines, as somehow cold, calculating and unbiased. We believe that self-driving cars will have no preference during life or death decisions between the driver and a random pedestrian. We trust that smart systems performing credit assessments will ignore everything except the genuinely impactful metrics, such as income and FICO scores. And we understand that learning systems will always converge on ground truth because unbiased algorithms drive them.

For some of us, this is a bug: Machines should not be empathetic outside of their rigid point of view. For others, it is a feature: They should be freed of human bias. But in the middle, there is the view they will be objective.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that not only are very few intelligent systems genuinely unbiased, but there are multiple sources for bias. These sources include the data we use to train systems, our interactions with them in the “wild,” emergent bias, similarity bias and the bias of conflicting goals. Most of these sources go unnoticed. But as we build and deploy intelligent systems, it is vital to understand them so we can design with awareness and hopefully avoid potential problems.
It is, of course, nearly impossible to eliminate the subtle bias that creeps into any machine learning system based on the big data it uses. As long as the bias is unintentional, we can use such systems without major difficulty.

What worries me is that some of these A.I. systems will access big data that has an intentional bias. As a consequence, the patterns that the A.I. recognizes will be skewed, the recommendations/judgements that it makes will be slanted for political purposes, and as our reliance on such systems grow (and it surely will grow), the damage that the A.I. does will begin to become dangerous.

It is highly likely that machine learning systems will be used to assess the success and/or failure of many societal systems—healthcare, education, social services, human impact on the environment, the justice system, and many others. It is critically important for these A.I.s to have access to all data, not just the data that is deemed politically correct or data that support the party in power at the moment.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Swarm

The truly crazy behavior that has afflicted the Left post-election has absorbed many of my posts over the last 6 weeks. The reason is that it's fascinating. The seeming inability to graciously accept an election lost, examine the reasons for the loss introspectively, and adapt for the future is troubling for those of us who believe that differing political viewpoints and debate are healthy and that reality on the ground will ultimately sort out the winners.

Today is the day that some progressives have used as a deadline to lobby, or threaten, or otherwise try to intimidate electoral college members to change their vote and "elect" Hillary Clinton, because ... well, she's not Donald Trump. This "stupid and futile gesture" embarrasses almost everyone, except the true believers on the Left. I can only wonder what will happen tomorrow.

Richard Fernandez discusses all of this when he writes:
Progressives do not have the monopoly of systematic error. It's a feature of all dogmatic systems, of every movement ruled by groupthink. Any sufficiently fanatical movement will moronize itself. The ongoing Islamic civil war is a sad example of people literally killing each other because that's what the signal tells them to do.

Imitative thinking afflicts its adherents as Naseem Taleb points out, with a special sort of stupidity one actually has to learn: the art of "how not to find the coconut on Coconut Island". It disables common sense; must disable it so the group signal will dominate.
What we have been seeing worldwide, from India to the UK to the US, is the rebellion against the inner circle of no-skin-in-the-game policymaking “clerks” and journalists-insiders, that class of paternalistic semi-intellectual experts with some Ivy league, Oxford-Cambridge, or similar label-driven education who are telling the rest of us 1) what to do, 2) what to eat, 3) how to speak, 4) how to think… and 5) who to vote for.

But the problem is the one-eyed following the blind: these self-described members of the “intelligentsia” can’t find a coconut in Coconut Island, meaning they aren’t intelligent enough to define intelligence hence fall into circularities — but their main skill is capacity to pass exams written by people like them ... The Intellectual Yet Idiot.
But groupthink has advantages. For one it allows organizations to implement swarming tactics. People are attracted to such organizations because in exchange for submission it offers apparent power. It is no coincidence that Hillary's slogan of "stronger together" sounds like the "democratic centralism" of Lenin's day. It's essentially the same thing. Submit to the group and you will be part of an irresistible movement. Alone you are weak but as part of a swarm directed by a single mind you can overcome anything.
The swarm seems to be changing its narrative on a weekly basis. Today, it's jettison the electoral college because "The Russians Did It!" but before that there were many other excuses. Next week there may something else.

But overall, it's still a swarm. Fernandez continues with a metaphor taken directly from a core software engineering concept:
Freedom has certain strengths that are often overlooked amid its many weaknesses. Programmers know the rationale for loose coupling "an approach to interconnecting the components in a system ... so that those components ... depend on each other to the least extent practicable" is adaptability. It can absorb change because elements are isolated from changes to some other element. Each node has enough individual autonomy to operate on its own even with the network down.

If this architecture resembles the federal system it's because it does. The constitution defined functions which were shared and a common interface. But sufficient freedom was left to the elements to ensure they were viable. Elements were enhanced by the network but they did not need the network to survive. By contrast the swarm can't delegate. The stronger the Left got, the tighter they coupled. It had to control everything until the personal became political, till privacy disappeared and one's very words were policed.

What could go wrong? The signal.

Swarm architecture is vulnerable to an overload condition or the cascading effects of a bug. Putin understood how it worked and consequently how to jam it. The sound you hear among progressives is the sizzle of their neurons fritzing out. They are largely doing it to themselves. To make a system robust you have to design freedom into it . There's a reason why nature evolved men as individuals instead of as ants. Individual choice confers a survival advantage that ants don't have. That's why men are going to Mars while ants are still building holes in the ground.
Thoughtful adherents to leftist thinking should consider Fernandez' comments dispassionately. There is truth in his words, despite what members of the swarm want to believe.


As if on queue with still more excuses, The Hill reports on the opinion of former president Bill Clinton:
Former President Bill Clinton is blaming his wife's loss in the presidential election on FBI Director James Comey.

"James Comey cost her the election," Clinton said, according to an editorial published in the Bedford-Pound Ridge Record Review in New York after its editor ran into Clinton at a local bookstore.

Comey in October sent a letter to lawmakers about the discovery of new emails the FBI said were potentially relevant to the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while secretary of State.

Bill Clinton said Hillary Clinton's campaign was leading in national polls and on a path to win key battleground states prior to Comey's letter, as first reported by Politico.
Hmmm. I wonder ... Was it Comey himself who installed the private server in Hillary's house? Was it Comey who allowed national security violations on that server? Was it Comey who deleted 30,000 emails from the server once its existence was revealed? Was it Comey who repeatedly lied about the server?

But the answers to those questions don't matter much to the swarm.

UPDATE (12/20/16):

Even left-wing VOX notes the swarm's failed, yet ridiculous, attempt to subvert the Electoral College:
When Donald Trump won the presidential election in November, some liberals and activists had a cool-sounding idea. What if, they mused, they could in fact block his win through the Electoral College, which actually casts the ballots that will officially make Trump president?

But when the electors gathered across the country Monday, this plot backfired embarrassingly — more electors defected from Hillary Clinton than from Trump.

Overall, Clinton lost five electors from states she won — three of whom instead cast their votes for former Secretary of State Colin Powell, one of whom voted for Bernie Sanders, and the other of whom voted for Faith Spotted Eagle, an activist involved in protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Meanwhile, three electors in other states Clinton won attempted to defect from her, but two were replaced with Clinton-supporting alternates and the other one changed his mind after a revote.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Art of the Deal

With the exception of a tiny Democratic state, Israel, and a few quasi-stable Arab states (e.g., Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt) that dot the region, the Middle East is a cesspool of violent Islamic terror groups, political chaos, dictatorships, human right abuses, and abject economic failure. Therefore, it's very dangerous to claim, as Donald Trump has done, that he'll implement a fast and effective fix for ISIS or for that matter, any other aspect of the region.

It is unfair to blame any American president, including Barack Obama, for all of the problems in the Middle East. But it is fair to note that the actions of the Obama administration have done absolutely nothing to stabilize the region, have opened the door to Russian and Iranian influence, have alienated our allies and allowed our enemies to prosper. Michael O'Hanlon accurately describes the situation in Syria, a failed country ruled by a brutal dictator and current home of a true humanitarian disaster:
President Obama’s approach—with its focus on defeating Islamic State and displacing Syrian President Bashar Assad simultaneously, while devoting few American resources to the tasks—has failed to stop or even contain this humanitarian disaster. Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, half of the country’s prewar population has been displaced and nearly 500,000 have been killed. The conflict provided a sanctuary for ISIS that it used to take a quarter of Iraq and to catalyze attacks on Western targets. ISIS is losing ground, but it and the country’s al Qaeda affiliate are far from defeated, and the war remains far from over.
There is a famous quote attributed to Niccolò Machiavelli that goes like this:
“... as the physicians say it happens in hectic fever, that in the beginning of the malady it is easy to cure but difficult to detect, but in the course of time, not having been either detected or treated in the beginning, it becomes easy to detect but difficult to cure”
When Barack Obama failed to act early in the genesis of Syria's descent into chaos, the "disease" became virulent, and is now "easy to detect but difficult to cure.” Obama will leave his mess in Syria to Donald Trump.

Trump has stated that he'll quickly defeat ISIS. That is not going to happen, partly because any solution to ISIS requires a rational solution to Syria. Trump has suggested that he will work with Russia, now the dominant player in the region, to make progress where none has been made for eight long years. O'Hanlon proposes a new strategy that has a chance of actually working. He writes:
Collaborating with Russia to defeat terrorist groups can only work if the U.S. has a vision for what comes afterward. This plan must also be acceptable to Sunni Muslims, Kurds and countries like Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq and the Gulf states. The vision needs to be explained publicly at the same time that any new U.S.-Russian military collaboration is announced. Specifically, Sunni Arabs and Kurds must be promised an alternative to living under the murderous Assad regime. Never again should they have to salute a leader who has committed genocidal acts against their families and neighbors.

To achieve peace, Syria will need self-governance within a number of autonomous zones. One option is a confederal system by which the whole country is divided into such zones. A less desirable but minimally acceptable alternative could be several autonomous zones within an otherwise still-centralized state—similar to how Iraqi Kurdistan has functioned for a quarter-century.

Ideally, Mr. Assad would go. But the prospect of his ouster is not realistic now, given recent battlefield trends and Russia’s role. More plausibly, he could rule an autonomous zone in a new confederation. Less desirably, he could remain president of the country for a time, provided that Sunni and Kurd areas did not have to suffer his direct rule or the presence of his security forces again.
There is no reason to maintain borders that were somewhat arbitrarily created a century ago. In fact, the idea of breaking Syria into a number of self-governed autonomous zones might be the only workable solution. If enforced by the U.S. and Russia, it could reduce the chaos, give people like the Kurds and other Sunni groups control of their destiny, isolate Assad and ISIS. It is not a solution—because there are no ready solutions in the Middle East—but it is a worthwhile step to contain the chaos.

O'Hanlon continues:
Foreign assistance for this reconfigured Syrian state should be provided primarily to the autonomous regions themselves. That would enhance the international community’s leverage with the new, regional governments. For Mr. Assad to see any such aid from European, American, and Gulf states flow to the regions that he or his associates controlled, they would not only have to accept autonomy for Sunni Arab and Kurdish zones, but commit to a plan to quickly reduce Mr. Assad’s future role in country’s central governance.

Many Syrians will not like the idea of a confederal nation, or even of a central government controlling half the country with the other half divided into three or four autonomous zones. But such arrangements need not be permanent. The deal could include a provision that calls for a constitutional convention in 10 years to consider whether a stronger central government should be restored.
Some elites on both the left and right have criticized Trump for suggesting that we need a better relationship with Russia and Putin. They forget that Barack Obama has ceded the Middle East to Russia and Iran. Russia is a potential ally in the region. Iran is nothing but an adversary. Our goal should be to work with Russia and isolate and confound Iran at every opportunity.

It's all about the art of the deal. The big question is what we can offer Russia incentives (and/or disincentives) that lead to a result that is in our best interest along with the interests of our few remaining allies in the region.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Mind Palace

Since the election, the Democrats have created a steady stream of excuses for Hillary Clinton's loss. First, it was James Comey, then it was Wikileaks, then Anthony Weiner, then fake news, then "dirty politics," then "the Russians", even Huma Abedin. It turns out that few Democrats want to be introspective—to look at the candidate herself, her ideas and policies, her dishonest, condescending and elitist behavior, or for that matter, the poor results of eight years of Democratic governance under Barack Obama.

John Kass comments:
The Clinton Democratic left has created a vast mind palace, an artificial world where they may craft a safe space, protected from post-traumatic Trump (election) disorder.

In this pleasant mind palace of theirs, where they don't have to address Democratic failings, Hillary Clinton's numerous faults and stupendous strategic blunders, two things stand out:The CIA is now the left's champion of truth and beauty.

And Russia, once the friend of the useful American left, is now its enemy.
My, my. How times have changed. Kass continues:
It might be also useful to remember the uproar of the campaign, when during the last Clinton-Trump debate, the Republican wouldn't immediately say he'd concede if he lost the election.

That was the time when most (not all) analysts had Clinton running away with it, and they repeated again and again there was no path to victory for Trump.

"We are a country based on laws," a horrified Clinton said. "And we've had hot, contested elections going back to the very beginning, but one of our hallmarks has always been that we accept the outcomes of our elections."

Unless, of course, reality doesn't turn out as expected, and a mind palace must be created, a place so lovely that some never leave and lock the gates from the inside.
Ahhh ... fantasy is such a useful mechanism for some progressives. For example, many are now trying to persuade members of the Electoral College to abandon their state's voters, their party, and long-standing precedent, and vote against Trump. James Toronto writes about the Democrat's scheme to subvert the electoral college:
Call it the “Animal House” ploy, after this exchange from the classic 1978 comedy: “I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part!” “We’re just the guys to do it.”

Fantasies like a electoral college revolt allow some Democrats to reside in a "mind palace" where only blue states and blue attitudes exist, where failure can always be blamed on other less evolved people, where morally enlightened progressive leaders of a big intrusive government know best, and where "free" everything is the norm because "the rich' have finally been forced to pay their "fair share."

On second thought—the real question is whether that fantasy is a palace or a prison.


Chris Stirewalt discusses the pre-election antics of Trump and the post-election antics of the Democrats. He recounts (no pun intended) the excuses I noted in the main body of this post and then writes:
... there is damage here beyond the shattered hopes of the true believers.

Worst of all, this bitter-enderism further degrades confidence in our already weakened institutions. Refusing to accept the results of a duly conducted election is straight Banana Republic business. We will all be poorer for the degree to which first Trump and now Team Clinton are diminishing our system of elections itself.

But there’s also the fact that this endeavor, which has the support of Clinton’s former campaign chairman, is ensuring that Democrats will take exactly the wrong lessons from their defeat.

The fast-hardening conventional wisdom on the Blue Team goes something like this: A toxic stew of sexism and white nationalism fueled Trump’s success with blue-collar white voters but Clinton couldn’t rally her own counteroffensive because Russian hackers and FBI Director James Comey kept dropping bombs on her head.

You can certainly preach it that way. And when Clinton gathers with her biggest donors Thursday at a campaign wrap party at the Plaza Hotel in New York, there will be lots of versions of what the campaign’s communication director said at a CNN post-election slugfest between the two staffs: “I would rather lose than win the way you guys did.”

Feeling virtuous about a defeat is nothing new. Many Republicans believed that their party lost four years ago by bribing voters with “free stuff” or that their nominee was too gentlemanly.

But the lesson in these tropes about the cause of Clinton’s defeat could greatly prolong the party’s time in the wilderness.

Rather than nodding knowingly about Russian hacks and Trump’s army of internet toads, Democrats would be better off spending their time reading Edward-Isaac Dovere’s piece on the staggering dysfunction of the Clinton campaign.

It reveals a campaign that became exactly what Democrats had feared: top-heavy, wasteful, musclebound and unable to adapt. The anecdotes would be heartbreaking for any Democrat: the desperate calls from state activists, the wasted money, the irrational data dependency. Simply a disaster.
Hmmm. It's not clear why the Dems feared that. After all, "top-heavy, wasteful, musclebound and unable to adapt" sounds an awful lot like the model for Democrat governance that we all experienced over the past eight years. Maybe that's one reason why Hillary lost—and lost badly.


And this short comment from Mark Hemingway:
If I wanted to discredit an entire political party, I’d do exactly what Democrats, grassroots and party bosses alike, are doing: whining and making excuses at every opportunity, right up to insisting there must be some fantastical way to overturn a decisive electoral drubbing.

The first step here should be to shut up and do some meaningful self-reflection about why Democrats lost. Yet precious few smart and influential Democrats are actually doing this. To paraphrase Mark Twain, it’s better to remain silent and be thought a loser than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

Even worse, the bellyaching about Trump’s victory has become tired and predictable even as it amounts to little more than wishcasting.
"Wishcasting" in the "mind palace." Has a nice ring to it.

It appears that despite Twain's admonition, the Dems are doing everything possible to "remove all doubt."