State of the Union

Obama’s National Security State

Now that he’s in power, he’s a lot more amenable to keeping all the powers that George W. Bush accumulated. Today the Justice Department revealed that the administration will seek to extend Patriot Act provisions for roving wiretaps, monitoring “lone wolf terrorists,” and snooping on your business and library records. That a Democratic administration is doing this should not come as a surprise, of course, since the original Patriot Act was cobbled together from a leftover wish-list of powers that the Clinton Justice Department wanted. The national-security state is nothing if not bipartisan.

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Joe Wilson’s biggest allies

It’s as unfair as anything that happens in politics,  but there it is.   There’s a kind of perfect internet storm now, between the Serena Williams outburst, the Kanye West outburst, and the wilding episode posted on the top of Drudge today.    Just as Obama surely benefited from the desire of  many whites to elect a black president, so he will be harmed by widely circulated media images of blacks that reinforce negative stereotypes.  Serena and West are of course very rich and talented—but gentlemanly or ladylike or gracious  they surely are not.  The wilding image is what every white parent who sends his child to an integrated school or lives in an integrated neighborhood most fears. It is the precisely the kind of thing that doomed David Dinkins’ mayoralty in 1993, though no New York politician was a greater gentleman.

Obama is obviously not anything like Serena, or  Kanye West, or the thugs on the bus.  But they have more power to bring down his presidency than all the Joe Wilsons and Glenn Becks and teabaggers in the world.   For those who (I count myself) supported Obama and have hopes that he will be able to carry out at least part  of his agenda, it’s a bitter recognition.  But I’d be very surprised if the stories linked above didn’t have a negative impact on our president’s popularity.

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Globalism vs. Americanism

Down at the Chinese outlet store in Albany known as Wal-Mart, Chinese tires have so successfully undercut U.S.-made tires that the Cooper Tire factory in that south Georgia town had to shut down.

Twenty-one hundred Georgians lost their jobs.

The tale of Cooper Tire and what it portends is told in last week’s Washington Post by Peter Whoriskey.

How could tires made on the other side of the world, then shipped to Albany, be sold for less than tires made in Albany?

Here’s how.

At Cooper Tire, the wages were $18 to $21 per hour. In China, they are a fraction of that. The Albany factory is subject to U.S. health-and-safety, wage-and-hour and civil rights laws from which Chinese plants are exempt. Environmental standards had to be met at Cooper Tire or the plant would have been closed. Chinese factories are notorious polluters.

China won the competition because the 14th Amendment’s “equal protection of the laws” does not apply to the People’s Republic. While free trade laws grant China free and equal access to the U.S. market, China can pay workers wages and force them to work hours that would violate U.S. law, and China can operate plants whose health, safety and environmental standards would have their U.S. competitors shut down as public nuisances. Read More…

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The Taliban’s Air Force

The Taliban’s air force recently delivered another devastating strike, hitting two fuel tanker trucks that had been captured by local Taliban-affiliated forces in northern Afghanistan. As usual, many civilians were killed, inflaming the local population against NATO forces in an area that had been relatively quiet. The air strike was thus not merely tactical but operational in its effects.

As is always the case with the Taliban’s air force, the air strike was a “pseudo-op.” A pseudo-op is where one side dresses up in the other side’s uniforms or otherwise duplicates his signatures, then does something that works against the goals of the simulated party.

You say you did not know the Taliban had an air force? It has a very powerful air force, not restricted to traditional flying carpets but employing all the latest combat aircraft: F-15s, F-16s, F-18s, Harriers, Tornados, the works. That air force has been one of the main factors in the Taliban’s resurgence. Many of the strike missions it has carried out have had positive results (for the Talibs) at the operational and moral levels, if not always at the tactical and physical levels of war. Read More…

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Black Hawk Redux

President Obama has sent U.S. helicopters and commandos into Somalia.

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An Illusion About Illusion

The indefatigable Kagans, Fred and Kimberly, have again been given a bully pulpit to sell their particular brand of snake oil regarding Afghanistan.  Today’s Washington Post op ed page featured a piece called “The Afghan Illusion,” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/11/AR2009091103625.html.  Not surprisingly, the article advocates more US soldiers.  I have no time for the Kagans and their nonsense and am astonished that they still pop us as frequently as they do given the fact that they have been wrong almost as many times as Bill Kristol.  One might argue that their contention that more American soldiers will serve as a shield for the build-up of Afghan security forces only works if the Afghans really want to fight and can afford such a commitment, both highly unlikely.  If it doesn’t work it will only mean more dead Americans (and Afghans).  But what really bothers me is their underlying assumption of why we are there at all, that if we leave Afghanistan it will become a “haven for terrorists.”  They throw out their assumption without any evidence or explanation as if it is an eternal truth.  I wonder who exactly those terrorists would be since al-Qaeda has apparently been reduced to a shadow presence in Pakistan and what kind of threat they would pose against the United States?  If we are not directly and seriously threatened we should not be in Afghanistan at all.  Or Iraq. 

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Oppose the Iraq War? You Must Be a Racist

Rick Brookhiser is one of the better writers left at National Review. But he’s no less a neoconservative camp follower than, say, Rich Lowry. On his blog (and in his new book), Brookhiser says that Bill Buckley’s opposition to the Iraq War must be ascribed to a touch of racism:

Bill spent much of 2005 and 2006 writing that the Iraq War was lost, over, a bad job. I give instances on p. 232 of Right Time, Right Place, and I could easily have given more. The fact is indisputable. What do we make of it? What I make of it is that it was a major failure of Bill’s judgment, as great as his support for segregation in the 1950s (see pp. 12, 33). I believe the two failures are linked by an indifference, inherited in the first instance, atavistic in the second, to the rights and well being of dark people. 1950s Bill did not care that white people oppressed black people, 2000s Bill did not care that brown people tormented brown people.

How is Brookhiser’s claim here any different from the conventional liberal line that you’re a racist if you oppose affirmative action (for example)? Brookhiser elides the difference between someone who may wish to see a dictator like Saddam toppled but does not believe it is the mission of the United States to go around destroying monsters and someone who doesn’t care at all. This is indistinguishable from the liberal canard that if you don’t support affirmative action, you don’t care about the advancement of blacks. I doubt that Brookhiser accepts that line of argument when it’s applied to quotas, but he’s happy to deploy the same bad reasoning against conservative critics of nation-building abroad. The argument is identical in form to the charges that liberal levy against all opponents of big government: do you not care about the poor if you oppose federal welfare? Do you want the uninsured to die miserably if you don’t support Obamacare?

(Of course, you could also oppose the federalization of civil rights, as Goldwater did, without being a racist, contrary to what Brookhiser and the P.C. left think. Perhaps I give Brookhiser too much credit — he may be less a neocon, even, than a plain-vanilla New York liberal.)

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America’s Cultural Crackup

Flying home from London, where the subject of formal debate on the 70th anniversary of World War II had been whether Winston Churchill was a liability or asset to the Free World, one arrives in the middle of a far more acrimonious national debate right here in the United States.

At issue: Should Barack Obama be allowed to address tens of millions of American children, inside their classrooms, during school hours?

Conservative talk-show hosts saw a White House scheme to turn public schools into indoctrination centers where the socialist ideology of Obama would be spoon-fed to captive audiences of children forced to listen to Big Brother — and then do assignments on his sermon.

The liberal commentariat raged about right-wing paranoia.

Yet Byron York of The Washington Examiner dug back to 1991 to discover that, when George H.W. Bush went to Alice Deal Junior High to speak to America’s school kids, the left lost it.

“The White House turned a Northwest Washington junior high classroom into a television studio and its students into props,” railed The Washington Post. Education Secretary Lamar Alexander was called before a House committee. The National Education Association denounced Bush. And Congress ordered the General Accounting Office to investigate.

Obama’s actual speech proved about as controversial as a Nancy Reagan appeal to eighth-graders to “Just say no!” to drugs.

Yet, the episode reveals the poisoned character of our politics. Read More…

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Putting “Defense” Back in “Defense Department”

An article in the August 28 New York Times described a recent epiphany on the part of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen. It seems that Admiral Mullen now “gets” a point Fourth Generation war theorists have made for years, namely that Information Operations are less what you say that what you do. The Times reported that

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has written a searing critique of government efforts at “strategic communications” with the Muslim world, saying that no amount of public relations will establish credibility if American behavior overseas is perceived as arrogant, uncaring or insulting…

“To put it simply, we need to worry a lot less about how to communicate our actions and much more about what our actions communicate,” Admiral Mullen wrote in the critique…

“I would argue that most strategic communication problems are not communication problems at all,” he wrote. “They are policy and execution problems…”

Right on. Given Admiral Mullen’s position, this could represent important progress – or not. Its significance depends on whether the JCS Chairman can think big, as should be the case at his level of command. Will the Admiral restrict his thinking to execution problems, or will he have the wisdom and the moral courage to tackle policy problems?

Execution problems are what the current American commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, is focused on. He recognizes that American troops in Afghanistan must protect the population, not “kill bad guys.” We need to be in the village instead of attacking the village. Fourth Generation doctrine suggests that the key to success (where it is possible at all) is de-escalation. I have not seen General McChrystal use that term, but it seems to be his intent.

However, if execution at the battalion and company level becomes the focus for Admiral Mullen, he will have missed his chance to make a difference. As JCS Chairman, his focus should be grand strategy. For future American success in a Fourth Generation world, it is at that level that his new understanding of “strategic communications” needs to be applied. Read More…

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One Drink Too Many on the New Jersey Turnpike

As an ex-Jersey Boy I sometimes get a fix by perusing the Garden State media.  Today’s Star-Ledger is reporting a conference taking place at a hotel in Jersey City dealing with Homeland Security, most particularly the cybersecurity threat.  I’m not too sure about the “threat” and what cybersecurity might mean.  There are definitely a lot of people doing a lot of things on the internet, but I’m not really sure I want the government getting involved in policing it.  The article noted that “The state also is working toward creating a network of electronic license-plate readers that would allow better tracking of suspicious vehicles.”  Blogger “baligirl” commented “Will this apply to governors speeding at 90+ mph? Or attorney generals driving in unlicensed and unregistered cars? Or will they only track people driving 5 miles over the speed limit to get to work on time?”  Or, I might add, will they come up with a definition of “suspicious” that makes any sense at all?  Unlikely.

Over at antiwar blogger DrFix is reporting that the British Parliament is considering a law that will require cctv cameras in every pub to “control crime.”  Pubs that refuse to comply will lose their licenses.  I have been unable to confirm the pending legislation, but anyone who doubts that a total surveillance police state is right around the corner will only have to look around when next in a British pub or while driving down the NJ Turnpike. 

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