Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tornadoes and Global Warming

The reasoning goes like this:

  • Global warming is supposed to cause bad weather events.
  • We have had a series of deadly tornadoes.
  • Global Warming must be the cause.

A recent Washington Post column used exactly this reasoning as did a recent Toles cartoon.

There is one problem with this reasoning - all of the unusual weather this year has been caused by cooling. There is a major La Nina event going on. That is a cool phase in the Pacific. Combined with an unusual jet stream pattern, this is causing an unusually cold and damp year. Last year we had an El Nino event going on. That's a Pacific warming phase and it caused an unusually warm Spring and Summer.

But the global warming alarmists don't want to know what is really influencing the weather. All they care about is pointing to anything unusual and declaring that it is proof of global warming.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Obama and Israel

In his speech last week on the Middle-East President Obama called for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians based on the pre-1967 war boundaries with land-swaps. There was an immediate outcry. Over the weekend the President tried to convince people that this did not represent a change in US policy. Technically the President was correct but there is more to it than that.

President Bush (43) stated it slightly differently but he also called for the pre-1967 boarders plus land-swaps and there was no outcry. The reason is that no one doubted that Bush wanted a strong Israel. Presumably what he meant was that each side would get around the same number of square miles as before the war but they would be in different places.

No one is quite sure if this is President Obama's intention or not. He also called for the new Palestinian state to be contiguous. Since it will almost certainly include the Gaza Strip, there is no way to create a continuous Palestine without dividing Israel in half. This may have been an oversight. He could have been referring to the current patchwork of settlements which requires Palestinians to cross multiple checkpoints. He needs to clarify this position. In fact, he needs to clarify every part of his position.

It doesn't help that the Palestinians are also offended by other parts of his speech. I saw one headline over the weekend that indicated that outrage on both sides over Obama's speech guarantees that no new peace talks will begin.

All of this highlights the main difference between Obama's current Middle-East policies and those of President Bush. Bush was a strong supporter of Israel, possibly the strongest supporter to grace the White House. In contrast, Obama is the weakest and the contrast with Bush makes him seem almost hostile to Israel.

Obama faces problems because of who he is. Even putting aside the rumor that he is a secret Muslim (and, once again, I think that he is a secret atheist) he has a Muslim name and grew up in a Muslim country with a Muslim step-father. Supporters of Israel expect him to favor Arabs over the Israelis because of his background.

Obama brought some of this on himself. He made a point of reaching out to the world's Muslims early in his administration. At the same time he has been deeply critical if Israeli policies. His current speech was given the day before a meeting with the Israeli prime minister and did not include a heads-up of the content of the speech. The whole thing could have been smoothed over by the two country's respective state departments if some advance planning had happened. It didn't and Obama now has to face the fall-out.

A final reason to suspect Obama's motives comes from his political affiliations. He comes from the Progressive wing of the Democratic Party. This group tends to equate modern Israel and Nazi Germany and is often anti-Israel and sometimes anti-Semitic. My wife asked me last week why the political left is so anti-Israel. I did a little poking around over the weekend and realized that they inherited this attitude from the USSR. During the 1967 war, the US and Britain backed Israel and the USSR backed Egypt. Israel is a capitalistic democracy. Egypt in the 1960s was leaning heavily socialist under Nasser. The entire "Israel is as bad as the Nazis" meme came from the USSR ambassador to the UN during the 1967 war. Coming from the Left, Obama is tainted by these attitudes even if he does not share them.

All of this means that Obama may say approximately the same thing as President Bush but people are justified in wondering if he means it the same way.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Trump Campaign

Trump is out of the 2012 race. In fact, he was never really in it but he managed to get a lot of publicity by pretending that he was. There is relief from the Right and anger from the Left. The Washington Posts's Jonathan Capehart says

Nothing in American politics has made me angrier than Donald Trump's faux campaign for the Republican nomination for president.

The Post's E. J. Dionne wonders

Why, exactly, was Trump allowed to revive the nonsensical stories about President Obama's birth certificate? Why did so many media people fall all over themselves (okay, ourselves) to "cover" him?

There was no reason to take Trump seriously. He has flirted with running and backed off twice before. More recently he sounded like a Democrat, praising Obamacare and President Obama in general. So what happened to make anyone take him seriously? I can think of two things.

The first was that he came in at the top of some early polls. It should have been obvious that this had more to do with name recognition than actual support but it was treated as a real indication of his chances. I think that this was caused by the second factor - the media wanted him to run.

Say what you will about him, Trump is interesting. He creates controversy. He sells newspapers. For the media he is the ideal candidate.

Since reporters tend to lean to the left, I suspect that Trump validates their view of the right. He talks without thinking. He blusters, suggesting that he use military force to take foreign oil. He is a birther. They can project every negative quality that Trump has on the Republicans.

That's why the press spends so much time covering marginal Republican and Tea Party candidates. They love to repeat anything questionable those people say. It isn't that conservatives are the only ones who misspeak. But when President Obama makes a misstatement it is only the conservative media that covers it. Capehart, who was so angry over Trump's departure, spends a lot of time obsessing on Sarah Palin even though she is not running. Why do you think that is?

With Trump's departure the Republican candidate pool became more serious and more likely to defeat Obama. And that really angers the Left.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Miscarriage of Justice

Last week John Demjanjuk was found guilty of being an accessory to the deaths of 27,900 jews during the Holocaust. He was railroaded.

Demjanjuk's early life is not in dispute. He was born and raised in the Ukraine during a period when Stalin killed tens of millions of Ukrainians through starvation. Demjanjuk survived and was conscripted into the Soviet Army during WWII. He was eventually captured and placed in a Nazi POW camp.

Details after that are in dispute until he immigrated to Cleveland in the 1950s where he lived a quiet life until investigators declared that he was a notorious war criminal, Ivan the Terrible. He was deported to Israel, put on trial, and sentenced to death. The trouble is that there was a lot of evidence showing that he was innocent. On appeal, the Israeli Supreme Court freed him.

In a fit of pique, the original investigators seem to have decided that he should pay for something so he was sent to Germany to be tried for being a guard at a completely different concentration camp. This was mainly based on an ID card.

It recently turned out that there were doubts about the ID card's authenticity going back years but the FBI never made this information available to Demjanjuk's defense. The Soviet KGB might have wanted to get revenge on someone they saw as a defector to the US and forged the card. So there is reasonable doubt. This should have been presented during his trial.

But, even if you think that the card is genuine, the trial is a miscarriage of justice for many reasons. Germans treated their Russian POWs almost as badly as they treated the Jews. Most of them starved to death. If Demjanjuk did take a job as a guard it was likely to keep from starving.

The prosecution insists that conditions for the POWs had improved by that point and Demjanjuk knew what he would be doing. Even if that was true, he was the lowest level of guard. No one from that level has ever been charged before. They were too powerless to be considered accomplices.

And if all of that wasn't enough, you have to consider the time that he has already served in Germany and on death row in Israel. He has already spent twice as much time in prison as officers who were directly responsible for atrocities.

The truth is that too many Germans involved in the trial are using this old man to make a statement that they have changed and they are not the Germans of the 1930s and 1940s. The fact that the man they are using to make this point isn't even German and was never a Nazi is irrelevant. Most of the real Nazis died a long time ago so Demjanjuk has become a proxy for them.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Gutsy or Expedient?

The initial reaction from supporters of President Obama to the death of Osama bin Laden was to call the President's actions "gutsy". This was the universal description but is it accurate?

The President could have done three things. He could have waited for more information. Apparently the CIA felt that their information was as good as it was going to get in the foreseeable future but he could have waited anyway. Between "kiss and tell" books and Wikileaks, this would have eventually gotten out and Obama's career would have been over. He could have ordered an air strike. This would have eliminated the chances of any American deaths but it would also have made positive identification difficult and eliminated any chance of gaining intelligence information from the building. Given that they were positive that the building was occupied by al Qaida, this would have been the act of a very foolish president.

So Obama ordered an armed attack. The advantages are obvious - a huge jump in the polls and intelligence information. America would have forgiven Obama if there had been American casualties so there were few risks. Afghanistan was insulted but they would have looked just as bad if a missile strike had killed bin Laden.

Obama made the right choice but it was the only one that was really open to him. That makes it expedient instead of gutsy.

There are aspects of the operation that are troubling. Officially the team was sent to kill or capture bin Laden but the rules of engagement made it almost impossible for bin Laden to be captured. There is some validity to bin Laden's son's complaints about his father being shot in the dead of night and his body dumped in the ocean. We have shrugged this off because Osama "needed killing" and bringing him to trial would have been a nightmare. There are also international issues about sending a squad into a friendly country without notifying them first. All of these have been shrugged off as irrelevant since this was a one-time issue. I think that conservatives are justified in asking if Bush would have gotten the same hands-off reaction? Would candidate Obama have approved of the actions of President Obama? Given the unsanctioned assassination attempt on Qaddafi, some discussion needs to take place. To what extent are President Obama's actions driven by expediency rather than policy or legality?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Obama and Immigration

Recently a cache of President Reagan's personal note cards came to light. They included little stories and jokes that he incorporated into his speeches. An example is:

"If you get up earlier in the morning than your neighbor — work harder — scheme more & stick to the job more closer — stay up later planning to get ahead — you'll leave more money when you die & you'll leave it a lot sooner."

Years from now when historians go through the files from President Obama's teleprompter, they will only find a few stories, ones that Obama repeats constantly. One of them would be his bit about the Republicans driving the economy into a ditch then asking for the keys back after the Democrats get it back on the road. He loved this one and kept extending it, talking about how hot and tiring it was down in the ditch and how the Republicans were drinking a Slurpee while watching. After the Republicans took back the House there were calls for a "Slurpee summit".

The President unveiled a new one this week. Talking about immigration reform he took credit for doing more to enforce immigration than any previous president then complained that, in addition to a fence, the Republicans want a moat with an alligator.

As President Bush discovered, there is strong opposition to a new round of amnesty for illegal immigrants. This was tried under President Reagan when the country had 3 million illegals. The deal was supposed to be that we would step up enforcement to prevent a new influx of illegal immigrants while allowing the ones already here to become legal. The promised enforcement never happened and the number of illegals grew to 11 million. Opponents of a new amnesty feel that it encourages people to sneak into the country in the hope of further amnesty programs. At the least, they want to slow the flood of illegal immigrants currently entering the country (the recession slowed this but this trend will reverse when the economy picks up).

So, after telling us how bad the Republicans are on immigration, where does the President stand? We don't know. He has avoided taking any strong stands on the issue. He even abandoned the rather mild Dream Act at a time when he still had Democratic majorities in both houses.

Obama's dilemma is that amnesty is a divisive issue. At the extremes, one side wants to deport all of the illegal immigrants immediately. The other side wants to give them de facto citizenship as soon as they arrive. These extremes do not match party lines, either.

President Bush found out how volatile the issue is. He released a moderate proposal that included a guest worker program. No one liked it. Obama will have the same problem. Any moderate proposals will be rejected by both extremes and neither extreme is workable. That is why Obama has avoided specifics. Currently he is hinting to the Hispanic community that he is pro-amnesty but any actual proposals will probably cost him more votes than he will gain.

Obama got 2/3s of the Hispanic vote in 2008 but a lot of that was based on his skin color and time spent living abroad. For reelection he will be judged on his non-existent record.

His only option it to generate a lot of smoke and hope that no one notices that there is no fire. He held a summit with some Hollywood Hispanics (which Eva Longoria later denied was about immigration) and he criticized the Republicans but he still has not told us where he stands.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Self Censorship

There was a bit of news self-censorship yesterday. The story that most people heard was fairly tame.

A Yemeni man accused of trying to break into the cockpit of an American Airlines flight from Chicago to San Francisco over the weekend was charged on Monday with interfering with a flight crew.

A flight attendant and passengers subdued Rageh Al-Murisi, 28, after he tried to barge into the cockpit of Flight 1561 by ramming the door with his shoulder, according to the criminal complaint filed in District Court filed in San Francisco.

Some important details were left out of the wire service story:

Marty, 35, recalled Monday that she and other passengers on the plane were stunned when they saw Almurisi walking down the aisle. She said a woman in a row across from her who speaks Arabic translated that Almurisi said "God is Great!" in Arabic.

Wai, 27, also remembered on Monday that the wife of one of the men who took Almurisi down later said Almurisi was yelling "Allahu Akbar."

"There was no question in everybody's mind that he was going to do something," Marty said.

A male flight attendant tackled Almurisi, and other crew members and passengers, including a retired Secret Service agent and a retired San Mateo police officer, helped subdue him as he banged on the door, police said.

This account from SFGate has more details.

Al-Murisi, described as a burly man, got up from his seat near the back of the plane and "walked briskly" toward the front, where he began yelling and tried to open the cockpit door by turning the handle, police and witnesses said.

"He was walking very fast all the way up to the front," said Angelina Marty, 35, of San Francisco, a passenger on the plane. "He kept walking faster and faster and faster. He was screaming something, and the lady in the row across from me who had spoken Arabic said, 'That's Arabic,' and she had translated it and said it was roughly, 'God is great.' "

Marty said Al-Murisi had approached the cockpit right after the pilot announced that the flight was within a half hour of arriving in San Francisco.

"It wasn't innocent at all, the way he was screaming and how quickly he was walking," Marty said. "You knew he was going to do something. It was by far the scariest thing I've ever been through."

A flight attendant thought Al-Murisi was looking for the bathroom and told him where it was, but Al-Murisi looked at the attendant and then "lowered his left shoulder and rammed the cockpit door," federal air marshal Paul Howard wrote in a court affidavit. The flight attendant got between the door and Al-Murisi, who "kept yelling and pushing forward in an attempt to open the cockpit door," Howard wrote.

Another flight attendant and several passengers - including a retired Secret Service agent, a retired San Mateo police officer and an off-duty American Airlines pilot - helped wrestle Al-Murisi to the floor, officials said.

So, the facts that the man was yelling "Allah Akbar" and it took more than four passengers to subdue him were not worth mentioning?

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Lingering Questions

President Obama's bin Laden bump will not last until the election. George H. W. Bush won a war and still lost the next election because of a bad economy. The only question is how long will it last? The White House seems to be doing everything it can to neutralize the good will that the nation felt at the news of bin Laden's death.

Exactly what happened? We got several versions. First, bin Laden was killed while using a woman as a human shield. Then we heard that she died on a different floor. Bin Laden may or may not have been resisting. The SEALs may have thought that he was about to resist.

How many helicopters were there? Originally they said two and one went down for mechanical reasons. Then they insisted that they had never said "mechanical". Other reports said that there were additional helicopters. Were these backup copters?

Some reports said that the "armed resistance" was only one man.

How many women were shot? How many were killed?

Originally it was implied that the President and staff were watching the entire thing live through a helmet cam. Later we heard that they could not see the actual 20 minute raid. What were they looking at in the photo?

Obama is reported to have taken 16 hours to decide to make the raid. That's more than just sleeping on it. So much for his decisiveness.

Exactly what were the orders? Was the team supposed to capture or kill bin Laden or outright assassinate him?

Today the White House came up with a simple solution to multiple versions - no new details will be released.

The burial at sea disturbed many people, also. It seems overly sensitive to someone who ordered mass murder. Obama personally ordered that pictures of the body will not be released. He is almost apologizing to the Muslim world for having killed a terrorist.

Personally I think that we should have desecrated his body. Many devout Muslims worry about how their body will be treated. The lead 9/11 hijacker, Mohamed Atta left orders on how his body should be treated.

I think that we should announce that if you kill Americans then we will eventually find you, we will invade your home, we will shoot your wife/wives, we will shoot you in the brain, and we will desecrate your corpse. That might discourage future attacks.

By taking personal credit for every aspect of the operation, Obama set himself up for criticism and made the White House responsible for getting the details straight. The more they withhold information or issue conflicting statements the more they distract from the feel-good buzz that would help Obama.

Monday, May 02, 2011

The Death of Osama and Lingering Questions

Congratulations are in order for the President that Osama bin Laden was killed on his watch. That does leave several questions.

The big one is what happens now in Afghanistan? We invaded that country to eliminate Al-Qaida. The Taliban was only targeted because they protected bin Laden and Al-Qaida. Will we continue nation building in Afghanistan or declare "mission accomplished" and leave?

It was assumed that bin Laden was hiding in a remote village somewhere in the mountains. Instead he turned out to be living just 40 miles from the capital of Pakistan, Islamabad, just 100 yards from a military academy that has been described as Pakistan's version of West Point. How could the most wanted man in the world be living there without official knowledge? Or, more likely, how far up did the knowledge go?

Was it just me or was President Obama taking a little too much credit? ("I directed the CIA.", "I received intelligence.", "I held meetings.", "I gave the order.") He didn't even mention which branchs of the service made the actual strike (Navy SEALs and CIA). He gets to take a victory lap regardless, he can afford to share some of the credit with the people who had boots on the ground. I think that Bush would have been a little more modest.

Bin Laden was located through a courier who had been named by detainees in 2007. Was this information extracted during the Bush administration under conditions that the Obama administration has condemned (water boarding)?