Sunday, October 04, 2015

What's Happening in Syria

Back from a long break from blogging. We'll see how often I keep updating but this one is fairly important and I want to go on the record so that I at least have the satisfaction of gloating later.

To many people, President Obama's policy on Syria has been puzzling. He really has no policy except to hope that things turn out better on their own. Part of this is his conviction about "being on the wrong side of history" and is aversion to boots on the ground, especially after he bragged about bringing the troops home.

As I write this, the Russians have entered Syria, promising to aid the fight against ISIS (or ISIL or the Islamic State) but their air strikes seem to be doing more harm to rebels apposing Assad than to ISIS.

So, here in a nutshell is what's been going on:

For most of his presidency, Obama pinned his hopes of a major foreign relations accomplishment on a nuclear proliferation agreement with Iran. He unwisely let Iran know how important this was to him giving them an edge.

Early in the war Obama was advised to help the rebels in order to bring Assad to the bargaining table. He didn't do this because Assad is Iran's client and they threatened to stop the treaty if he moved against Assad.

At the conclusion of the treaty process, Obama stated that he expects Iran to move back into the world as a regional power. Privately, Obama is counting on Iran to fight ISIS for him.

So far Obama's efforts against ISIS have had limited effect. You cannot win a war by limited air strikes alone and Iran has objected to Obama arming any force that might threaten Assad. This left a power vacuum in the Middle East which Putin's Russia has filled.

Obama hoped that Iran didn't mean the daily chants of "Death to America" and that signing a treaty that gives Iran a path to being a nuclear power and releasing billions in cash will make Iran our friend. He is likely mistaken.

Putin is taking advantage of our weakness and providing direct aid to Iran's client. This will help Iran in becoming the regional power that Obama envisioned but it will be a Russian ally not an American one. This has an added benefit because the refugee crisis caused by the civil war in Syria is causing strain on all of Europe. The weaker Europe is, the harder it is for them to oppose Russian expansion.

This should be obvious but Obama has trouble seeing Russia uncritically. He spent years on a reset and he has dismissed their territorial ambitions as being on the wrong side of history. He dismissed Romney's warning about Russia with a one-liner about the 80s wanting their foreign policy back. It never occurred to him that Russia wanted a return to the 80s.

So, my prediction is that when the dust settles, Iran will control Syria and Iraq with Russia's aid and will be threatening the other countries in the region. Europe will be too busy worrying about the refugees from all of this to do anything to stop it and it will probably be too far advanced when a new president is sworn into office for the United States to take any effective action.

And that will be President Obama's real major foreign accomplishment.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Hillary's Launch

Last Friday the Hillary Clinton campaign announced that Hillary would be announcing her candidacy on Sunday with a tween and a video. I'm not quite sure why that wasn't considered the official launch. The fact that she is running is likely to be the smallest surprise in the campaign. We've know that she wants to be President for the last 16 years and this is the second time she has run.

Where other candidates have given speeches, Hillary released a video. It was a very slick video and minimized Hillary's biggest weakness - herself. She didn't appear until after the half-way mark and she said almost nothing except that she is running and that the deck is stacked against the middle class. This was probably a preemptive strike against Elizabeth Warren who uses the exact same words.

While HIllary seems to have the nomination wrapped up months before the first primaries, her chances of actually winning the election are much smaller. In 2008 she was running against an unpopular president and an unpopular war (that was back when Afghanistan was still "the good war" and Iraq was a distraction). She was the heavy favorite to win that election, too, but she made some important mistakes. She assumed that she would have the nomination wrapped up by Super Tuesday and spent her campaign fund accordingly. In contrast, Obama ran a 50 state campaign and was able to come from behind to take the nomination.

This time around, Hillary is from the same party as an unpopular president and is saddled with a foreign policy that has been a disaster on most fronts. Eight years ago McCain was able to run as a maverick because he has opposed his president on some policies. Hillary has never publicly broken with Obama on anything.

Hillary's resume is worse than before. In 2008 she was a prominent senator, if only because of her husband and he expectation that she would run for president. Her stint as Secretary of State was unimpressive and she will have to spend a lot of time defending things that happened during her tenure.

Hillary is trying to put all of that behind her and run as the candidate who will break the glass ceiling. She is a poor role model for that since she only rose to prominence because of her husband. She has not been the first woman to do anything important. Even as Secretary of State, she was the third woman to hold the job.

Hillary running as a champion of the working class is laughable. She is part of the system that stacks the deck. She claims to have been broke when Bill left office but they already had multimillion dollar book deals and speaking tours in their future.

Her past finances are dirty going back to Bill's time as governor. She managed to make a huge sum in the commodities market during her single day of investing. Most people forget that the investigation that led to Bill's impeachment started with a housing project called Whitewater where a number of regulators turned a blind eye to irregularities.

More recently, the Clinton Foundation has accepted hundreds of millions of dollars from questionable governments.

Regardless of all of this, the truism is that Hillary's worse opponent is herself. She is a poor public speaker and a poor decision maker. Time and again, her popularity goes up when she keeps a low profile and drops when people actually see her. That is why she had such a small part in her announcement video and why she is going to small gatherings instead of making speeches before large crowds. Her campaign is trying to sell the idea of Hillary rather than the candidate herself. That may be enough to get her the nomination but it is unlikely to save her from a skilled Republican opponent.

The Republicans are already running anti-Hillary ads. This may be a mistake. If she stumbles at this point then her replacement will have "that new car smell" as President Obama put it and will be harder to beat. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Social Justice and Free Speech

It is no big revelation that the Social Justice movement thinks very little of free speech. To them, free speech is just an excuse for hate speech.

The social justice movement, known as SJWs (Social Justice Warriors) to dissenters, is an offshoot of feminism. It concentrates on the rights of women, gays, transgender, people of color and Muslims. It also embraces multiculturalism, meaning that all cultures are considered equal. They are convinced that we live in a patriarchy maintained by privilege.

Columns calling for an end to hate speech are nothing new but a recently column by someone named Tanya Cohen takes it to a new level.

Like similar columns, Cohen applauds other countries, insisting that the United States is alone in the world in allowing hate speech. Like other columns, Cohen never quite defines hate speech but she does give enough examples for us to be clear what she means when she uses the term. Also, unlike other columns, Cohen goes beyond suppressing hate speech and actually calls for the imprisonment of anyone engaging in hate speech.

She says this of Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty.

In a civilized country with basic human rights, Phil Robertson would have been taken before a government Human Rights Tribunal or Human Rights Commission and given a fine or prison sentence for the hateful and bigoted comments that he made about LGBT people. In the US, however, he was given no legal punishment, even though his comments easily had the potential to incite acts of violence against LGBT people, who already face widespread violence in the deeply homophobic American society – and his comments probably DID incite acts of violence against LGBT people.

So, Robertson should be fined or imprisoned because he might have incited acts of violence. What Robertson actally said was that he didn't understand the attraction of gay sex and that his religion considers it a sin. He did not incite violence which is the standard definition of hate speech.

She continues:
Countries like the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Australia – to name just a few examples – take a much more sensible approach to freedom of expression.  They allow legitimate freedom of expression while banning bigots, hatemongers, conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, pro-pedophile groups, terrorist sympathizers, harmful media, Holocaust deniers, pick-up artists, climate change deniers, and other forms of expression which damage society and social cohesion.

I'm sure I could make a case for a number of prominent figures being included in that list starting with the 911 Truth movement.

While America has always been far behind the rest of the world when it comes to basic human rights – we still have yet to ban firearms, we still have yet to provide free higher education, and we still have yet to implement free universal healthcare, for example – the need to outlaw hate speech is one of the most basic and fundamental human rights obligations.  Not only is it codified in multiple international human rights conventions, but even countries like Russia, India, Turkey, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Jordan – countries that most Americans consider to be "third-world" – have laws against hate speech.  Why is the so-called "third-world" protecting basic human rights better than America is?

What Cohen fails to understand is that repressing speech is a sign of a repressive government. In the course of her column she includes every opinion that she disagrees with as hate speech. That is outright censorship. Free speech allows speaking truth to power. The privileged always get their message out. Free speech is about protecting the rights of those out of power.

Her column gets even more horrifying when she quotes Australian law at us:

Australia's human rights courts have ruled many times that it doesn't matter whether the comments are "true" or "balanced" or not; if the comments may offend minorities or incite hatred, then they are against the law in Australia, as they should be.  Australia has also proposed legislation (the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill) which declares people automatically guilty of offending, insulting, humiliating, or intimidating minorities unless they can prove their innocence beyond any reasonable doubt.
So people can be arrested for saying true statements and the American presumption of innocence has been turned on it's head. No wonder she feels confident that Phil Robertson would be convicted. How could he ever prove beyond any reasonable doubt that he didn't inspire any violence?

So what it freedom of speech in Cohen's world?

Freedom of speech exists so that people can criticize their government, provided that they do so in a civil, polite, and respectful manner.  Freedom of speech does NOT give you the right to offend, to insult, to disrespect, to oppose human rights, to argue against the common good, to voice approval of totalitarian ideologies, to perpetuate toxic systems of privilege and oppression, to promote ideas which have no place in a modern democratic society, to be provocative or incendiary, or to express opinions which are unacceptable to the majority of people.
That last part is telling - free speech can be suppressed if it expresses a minority view.

This next quote shows the contradictions of the SJWs:

Most champions of hate speech are straight, white, Christian males who have never had to experience the devastating consequences of hate speech.  These highly privileged members of society will never understand the harm that hate speech causes to vulnerable minorities.  Hate speech is not "freedom" to the Muslims who face widespread attacks and abuse as a result of hate speech from outlets like Fox News and Bill Maher.

Does she really think that straight, white, Christian males have never had anyone say anything hurtful to them? That qualifies as hate speech to me.

The inclusion of Bill Maher in this list is another contradiction. His "hate speech" is to call for reform of Muslim countries where women are routinely abused and LBGT are regularly executed. Because the SJWs bend over backwards to protect Muslims and because multiculturalism maintains that Muslim countries are equally valid, Cohen wants Maher censored and possibly arrested even though she must be as appalled as he is by things such as judicial rape and female genital mutilation. Here is what she has to say of him:

Likewise, attacks on Muslims always increase when powerful figures like Bill Maher make bigoted statements that incite racial hatred and violence against Muslims (in fact, racist hate speech from Bill Maher recently incited a man in Chapel Hill to shoot three innocent Muslims – in a civilized country, Bill Maher would be held legally accountable for the shooting).

This shows how ignorant Cohen actually is. Police have said that the Chapel Hill shooting was over a parking space, not religion. To specifically attribute this shooting to Bill Maher is an incredible leap, but, under her reasoning, Maher would have to prove that he didn't inspire the killings.

As it turns out, even the countries that Cohen wants us to emulate don't suppress speech as much as she wants. She mentions the rise in racism and antisemitism in Europe on free speech in the US. Somehow, it missed inspiring such sentiments here.

Cohen alone is a crank but her views are all to common among the SJWs. They have no respect for individual rights, only group rights. If you are a member of the wrong group (white, straight, Christian men) then you need to be suppressed. This sort of reasoning is all too common among dictatorships and is anathema to a truly open society.

While free speech means that Cohen is free to spout nonsense like this, it also means that I am free to refute it.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Hillary's Emails

In attempting to justify her use of a private email server for her official emails while Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton claimed that there were no state secrets contained in the emails. The main response was to assume that she was being less than honest about this but what if she was telling the truth?

Consider this, her main qualification for the post of Secretary of State was that she had visited several countries while First Lady. She did not have a background in statecraft nor had she run any organization larger than her failed 2008 presidential campaign. It was widely assumed that she was given that post as a consolation prize for not carrying the election fight to the convention. Most people forget but neither candidate had enough delegates to win the nomination. Obama needed her to release her delegates.

There were rumors during Clinton's tenure that her deputies were actually running the State Department. What if that was true and Clinton's job was mainly to act as a figurehead?

When asked about her achievements in the State Department, the usual one is that she visited a record number of countries. That is consistent with the idea that she was a figurehead. She spent her time in office doing what she had done as First Lady - making good will visits but not engaging in any actual policy.

That squares with her statement that her emails never contained any state secrets and with her consternation at being questioned about the deaths in Libya.

Of course, if this got out it would ruin her chances at the presidency and be a major embarrassment for the Obama administration so we will not get any further clarification on this.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

What Net Neutrality Really Means

Forget all the talk about equal service, freedom and little-startups vs. telecoms. Here's what the decision is really about.

Netflicks is the biggest single user in the Internet. It represents at least 20% or all Internet traffic. The Telecoms had to add a lot of capacity to handle all that traffic and they charge Netflicks for preferred treatment. Those costs are passed on to their customers.

The FCC decision means that Netflicks gets to use 1/5 of the Internet free and the costs for the additional infrastructure will be passed on to all Internet users through higher fees. This is a huge windfall for Netflicks.

It also means that the government can regulate other Internet traffic. This was sold as promoting freedom for all but, as Google and others have pointed out, the next step will be government officials deciding what is and what is not in the public interest.

Under Operation Chokehold, the government has tried to cut off access to banks from legal businesses it disapproves of including gunsmiths. Do you trust these people to regulate the Internet?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Bad news for the Democrats

One of the biggest factors the Democrats had for mobilizing the youth vote was Comedy Central. The Daily Show and Colbert Report were ostensibly comedy news shows but the news they showed was typically one-sided.

I stopped watching the Daily Show during the 1990s when I noticed that Jon Stewart's opening monolog always contained points from the White House message of the day.

Stewart's main bit was to take the news and put it into "perspective." If it was bad news for the left then he would contrast it with something worse the right did. If it was good news for the right then he'd manage to put a negative spin on it. If it was good news for the left or bad news for the right then he'd dance a little jig.

Stewart likes to have things two ways. He insists that he can't be held to standards of fairness or accuracy because he's a comedian who "makes things up" but he also likes to lecture the news media on what the are doing wrong. He gets away with this because he says what hi audience wants to hear.

He has a reputation as a soft interviewer. This is partially deserved. He is good at prompting people to get their message out - as long as he agrees with that message. If he doesn't then the person being interviewed can count on it being cut to make him look bad.

The Colbert Report was slightly different and evolved over time. The original premise was that Stephen Colbert was playing a conservative commentator but was actually a liberal. In fact, during the early years, the joke was often on the left. Colbert went for the joke and gained the reputation as a hard interviewer. He typically began interviews with liberals by asking, "George Bush, great president or greatest president?" It got to the point where Democrats refused to come on his show. During a writer's strike Colbert was (officially) working without writers. During that period he was at his most fair and unbiased.

When the strike ended, the show took a sharp turn to the left. This paid off for Colbert. Not only did the Democrats start coming back on his show, he started getting invited to the White House.

Colbert's attacks were always unfair and sometimes verged into outright mean. During the 2012 campaign he devoted two separate segments on telling us how weird it was that Romney's wife practiced dressage (an intricate form of horseback riding sometimes called horse ballet) and how silly it was that Romney had an Olympic entry in dressage. Keep in mind that this is an Olympic sport that takes years of practice for the horse and rider. Colbert distilled this down to wearing a child's cowboy hat and going "giddy up" while slapping his rear.

A number of polls showed that a large chunk of the youth vote got their "news" from the Daily Show and Colbert Report. With these gone, will the Democrats have a voice left to comfort the youth vote in 2016?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Charlie and Obama

On Sunday the French took to the streets in support of the people murdered at Charlie Hebdo. They were joined by the heads of 40 states including Israel and Palestine. Notably missing was anyone from the United States. The lame duck Attorney General was in Paris but sat out the march. The Secretary of State was in a conference in India. The President and Vice-President were home.

The White House has admitted that this was a mistake but it still remains unexplained. A few lame excuses were offered - foreign trips take months of planning and an American president can't expose himself in public like that. Considering that 40 other heads of state were able to overcome these obstacles, these are either half-hearted or they reflect the belief that the President of the United States is more important than any other head of state (in which case, why not send Biden?).

Most of the President's usual defenders have turned on him over this. Even Jon Stewart on the Daily Show complained.

The best that Dana Milbank, on of the President's few defenders, could come up with was accusing the GOP of an inconsistent attitude toward France. Milbank reminds us that just 12 or 13 years ago we were calling the French Surrender Monkeys. While that is true, the context was that the French were against the war on terror. The march in Paris was in support of the newest victims of that war and the victims being supported were not part of the government, they were satirists (and innocent bystanders). The only inconsistency is in equating the two.

Killing people over cartoons, no matter how offensive, strikes at the heart of a free society. By ignoring the march, the Obama administration signaled that it sees this as a French problem instead of an international one.