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Naomi Klein: Hack

I have written in the past about Naomi Klein’s seemingly pathological need to commit massive amounts of intellectual fraud. I see that nothing has changed:

Naomi Klein keeps coming up with fresh new ideas about how to spark an elusive mass social movement against capitalism and corporations. In her 2000 bestseller No Logo, the progressive journalist attempted to harness the nascent anti-globalization movement to unleash “a vast wave of opposition squarely targeting transnational corporations.” In 2007, her book The Shock Doctrine bogusly asserted that free market institutions spread only by taking advantage of coups, wars, and natural calamities. The book debuted at the beginning of a massive recession and featured economist Milton Friedman as its chief villain. But still no dice.

Now comes Klein’s newest screed, This Changes Everything. “Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war,” she asserts. Climate science, Klein claims, has given progressives “the most powerful argument against unfettered capitalism” ever. If the stresses of globalization and a massive financial crisis cannot mobilize the masses, then the prospect of catastrophic climate change must.

[. . .]

. . . a 2011 Reason Foundation report found that deaths from all “extreme weather events globally has declined by more than 90 percent since the 1920s, in spite of a four-fold rise in population and much more complete reporting of such events.” This is mostly good news, despite This Changes Everything‘s scaremongering.

Klein’s list of remedies is more alarming than her exaggerations of climate change’s present-day effects. She wants to ban fracking, nuclear power, genetically modified crops, geoengineering, carbon sequestration, and carbon markets, thus turning her back on some of the climate-friendliest solutions currently on offer. She wants to block the Keystone pipeline, which would transport petroleum from Canadian oil sands to U.S. refineries; she would pressure pension funds and endowments to divest from fossil fuel companies; and she thinks we should transfer trillions of dollars to poor countries to pay off the rich countries’ debt for dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

“We need a Marshall Plan for the Earth,” Klein declares, updating one of the most tired historical metaphors for her purposes. “It is entirely possible to rapidly switch our energy systems to 100 percent renewables,” she asserts. As an example of “one of several credible studies” showing how such a vast energy transformation could be achieved, she breezily cites a 2009 Energy Policy paper by two researchers, Mark Jacobson of Stanford and Mark Delucchi of the University of California, Davis. Jacobson and Delucchi think we can replace all coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power by 2030 with wind, solar, and hydropower while fueling a fleet of electric cars. How? By deploying 3.8 million 5-megawatt wind turbines, 5,350 100-megawatt geothermal plants, 500,000 1-megawatt tidal turbines, 720,000 0.75-megawatt wave power generators, 1.7 billion 3-kilowatt rooftop solar panels, 40,000 300-megawatt solar panel farms, and 49,000 300-megawatt concentrated solar power plants.

Sound easy? Well, if the world were to begin deploying these renewable energy technologies next year that would mean erecting approximately 250,000 wind turbines each year for the next 15 years. As of the end of 2012, there were a total of 225,000 wind turbines operating around the world.

Similarly, the world would have to install 113 million rooftop solar panel systems per year in order to meet the 2030 goal of 1.7 billion. In 2013, the U.S. installed a record 4,751 megawatts of solar panels, which would be roughly equivalent to 1.6 million 3-kilowatt rooftop solar panels. As of 2013, the entire world had installed 100 gigawatts (100 million kilowatts) of solar photovoltaic panels. Combining the rooftop and solar panel proposals, this hyper-solarization would mean deploying more than 10 times the current installed capacity of photovoltaic panels, not just once but every year for the next 15 years. And never mind that there are virtually no commercial wave or tidal energy production systems currently operating.

Klein never ever discusses how much her solutions to the climate crisis will cost. But Delucchi and Jacobson estimate a price tag of about $100 trillion for their program. That entails spending about $6.6 trillion per year from now until 2030, more than 11 percent of the entire world’s 2013 output of $75 trillion. Such a crash plan for global energy transformation might be possible, but it would be a massive shift from our current course. Bloomberg New Energy Finance projected in July 2014 that $7.7 trillion total will be invested in building new power plants between now and 2030, of which renewables will get around two-thirds. And Klein accuses the proponents of free markets of “magical thinking”?

Read the whole thing, which is devastating, and which reveals Klein as–surprise!–a seller of snake oil. Of course, if Klein were truly interested in doing right by the environment, she would embrace capitalism as her ally. But that would require a predilection to be honest, wouldn’t it?

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Another Reason to Root for a “No” Vote in Scotland

A “Yes” vote could wreck the scotch industry:

The liquor and its marketing have resulted in a booming business. When I toured more than a dozen Scotch whisky facilities in June, meeting with distillers and other industry folk, they were effervescent and confident. Scotch whisky sales have been soaring around the world, almost doubling in the past decade to $7 billion — a huge sum for a country of just 5.3 million people. In fact, Scotch is Scotland’s second-biggest export after oil.

Which explains why so many people I spoke to didn’t just think independence, which Scotland will vote on this week, was risky; they thought, in the words of one distiller as we sipped his whiskey drawn straight from the barrel, that it’s “baloney.” (More than two dozen Scotch industry workers — from executives to coopers who make the barrels — didn’t want to weigh in by name because their companies are playing neutral in the political battle.) Everyone I chatted with had a sophisticated sense of currency issues and trade policy, and most thought it crazy to risk killing their profit machine. Rather than join the chaotic Eurozone, independence supporters, despite their break-from-Britain rhetoric, still want a currency union with the mother ship. But it’s not at all clear that Scotland could remain part of the pound sterling.

And then there’s the problem of exporting their Scotch. A new Scotland would probably have to reapply to the European Union to get coveted, duty-free membership access to 27 countries. Scotch whisky’s status under British bilateral trade accords would be uncertain at best. Plus, whisky makers import barrels that have been used by bourbon distillers in the United States and sherry producers in Spain. Would they still get access to those as easily? The cooperages I visited are machine-assisted, but they still forge barrels much as they would have done 200 years ago. Like automotive manufacturing, it’s a delicate symphony of global suppliers and markets

What’s more, distilleries are part of multinational enterprises that crave a free flow of goods and predictable laws. Dewar’s is part of Bacardi. Glenmorangie is part of the Louis Vuitton-Moet-Hennessy empire. Johnny [sic] Walker is part of Diageo.

Earlier coverage of this issue can be found here. Along with others, I worry that even if the “No” side prevails, the damage to the United Kingdom will have been done by a spirited “Yes” campaign that is entirely ignorant of the deleterious economic consequences of secession, but also has been entirely masterful in campaigning for Scottish independence.

Remember How the President Promised that We Won’t Be Involved in a Ground War in Iraq?

If not, let me remind you what he said:

Second, we will increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground.  In June, I deployed several hundred American servicemembers to Iraq to assess how we can best support Iraqi security forces.  Now that those teams have completed their work –- and Iraq has formed a government –- we will send an additional 475 servicemembers to Iraq.  As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission –- we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.  But they are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment.  We’ll also support Iraq’s efforts to stand up National Guard Units to help Sunni communities secure their own freedom from ISIL’s control.

(Emphasis mine.) So, we’ll just send 475 servicemembers, and their sole purposes will be “to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment.” But no ground war for American forces, and surely, we won’t send any more servicemembers, right?

Right?

Ahem:

President Obama’s top military adviser said Tuesday that he would recommend deploying United States forces in ground operations against Islamic extremists in Iraq if airstrikes prove insufficient, opening the door to a riskier, more expansive American combat role than the president has publicly outlined.

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that while he was confident that an American-led coalition would defeat the Islamic State, he would not foreclose the possibility of asking Mr. Obama to send American troops to fight the militants on the ground — something Mr. Obama has ruled out.

“My view at this point is that this coalition is the appropriate way forward. I believe that will prove true,” General Dempsey said. “But if it fails to be true, and if there are threats to the United States, then I, of course, would go back to the president and make a recommendation that may include the use of U.S. military ground forces.”

General Dempsey acknowledged that this would run counter to the president’s policy, but he said, “He has told me as well to come back to him on a case-by-case basis.”

Now, to be sure, regular readers of my blog won’t be surprised to find out that the administration may be considering putting in additional ground troops in Iraq, and getting them involved in combat operations. I wrote in my initial post that “[t]here is no way on this or any other planet that we are going to achieve a decisive victory over ISIL via airpower alone,” and evidently, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff feels the same way. But if all one had to go on was the president’s speech, one would be shocked by this latest revelation. And although the president owed it to the American people to prepare them for the possibility that additional American ground troops would be needed for combat operations in Iraq, not one bit of General Dempsey’s message found its way into the text of the president’s address to the nation.

Imagine that.

Recall that the Bush administration has been accused by many a demagogue of lying the nation into a war in Iraq. The claims were always bogus, but for those who are interested in keeping score, the Obama administration is actually doing just about everything that the Bush administration was charged with doing by its critics.

The Bill Clinton of 2014-2016 Will Not Be the Bill Clinton of 1992

Everyone who is familiar with the 1992 presidential campaign knows that Bill Clinton ran as a “new kind of Democrat,” one who would “end welfare as we know it,” one who would help craft a society that would reward those who “work hard and play by the rules.” When he ran for president in 1992, Clinton knew that he would not win if he adopted a traditional liberal stance, so he crafted the now-famous “Third Way” approach and campaigned and governed under a Third Way banner. Of course, the Third Way approach to politics and government was reinforced by the advent of “triangulation,” which came after the disastrous (from the Democrats’ perspective) 1994 midterm elections. Pursuant to the Third Way approach, Clinton accepted–after two vetoes–a Republican welfare reform bill, balanced the budget (after much Republican prodding) and expanded free trade, while at the same time initiating micro-governmental reforms that won bipartisan approval, in part because they were cleverly crafted so that Republicans could not vote against them. Partly by circumstance and accident, and partly by design, Clinton did indeed become a new kind of Democrat during the course of his presidency.

One might naturally expect him to work with Hillary Clinton in order to revive the Third Way approach to politics once the latter finally announces that she is indeed running for president. But as Ira Stoll writes, based on the Clintons’ recent appearance at the Harkin Steak Fry in Iowa, we shouldn’t count on the Third Way making any kind of comeback during a new Clinton campaign, or during a new Clinton presidency:

One of Bill Clinton’s great achievements as president was to win passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, a tariff reduction treaty that Clinton’s Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers has described, together with other tariff reductions through GATT/WTO, as “the largest tax cut in the history of the world.” Yet at the Iowa Steak Fry, Clinton danced away from that accomplishment, emphasizing what he called “fair trade and not just free trade.”

[. . .]

Clinton’s great domestic policy achievement other than free trade, welfare reform, was not mentioned by him at the Iowa Steak Fry or in the DSCC letter.

To be sure, Stoll writes that “Bill Clinton will surely find a way, once the midterm elections and the Democratic primary is over, to tone down the partisan leftism and reach out to more centrist and independent voters.” But for now, Team Clinton is veering heavily left, which may make veering back to the middle especially difficult if and when Hillary Clinton locks up the Democratic presidential nomination. It is important to emphasize that during the 1992 contest for the Democratic nomination–not just during the general election, when he had to appeal to moderates, independents and disaffected Republicans–Bill Clinton pushed a Third Way approach to politics (as did his wife). But in the upcoming campaign, any and all thoughts about being new kinds of Democrats will be banished from the mindscape of Team Clinton–at least during the primaries and caucuses, and quite possibly, even through the general election.

So for those of you who think that voting for Hillary Clinton will be a great way to bring back the 1990s and new kinds of Democrats, think again. The Clintons aren’t interested in creating some kind of permanent philosophical shift in the Democratic party. They are only interested in winning, and if winning means repudiating Bill Clinton’s political and governmental legacy, well, Bill Clinton will be the first person to advocate that they do so. That’s how devoted he and the rest of the Clinton machine are to ideas and principles.

God Help Me . . .

Once again, I am in the position of actually–gasp!–agreeing with Maureen Dowd:

CHELSEA CLINTON never acted out during the eight years she came of age as America’s first daughter.

No ditching of her Secret Service detail. No fake IDs for underage tippling. No drug scandal. No court appearance in tank top and toe ring. Not even any dirty dancing.

Despite a tough role as the go-between in the highly public and embarrassing marital contretemps of her parents, Chelsea stayed classy.

So it’s strange to see her acting out in a sense now, joining her parents in cashing in to help feed the rapacious, gaping maw of Clinton Inc.

With her 1 percenter mother under fire for disingenuously calling herself “dead broke” when she left the White House, why would Chelsea want to open herself up to criticism that she is gobbling whopping paychecks not commensurate with her skills, experience or role in life?

As the 34-year-old tries to wean some of the cronies from the Clinton Foundation — which is, like the Clintons themselves, well-intended, wasteful and disorganized — Chelsea is making speeches that go into foundation coffers. She is commanding, as The Times’s Amy Chozick reported, up to $75,000 per appearance.

Chozick wrote: “Ms. Clinton’s speeches focus on causes like eradicating waterborne diseases. (‘I’m obsessed with diarrhea’ is a favorite line.)”

There’s something unseemly about it, making one wonder: Why on earth is she worth that much money? Why, given her dabbling in management consulting, hedge-funding and coattail-riding, is an hour of her time valued at an amount that most Americans her age don’t make in a year? (Median household income in the United States is $53,046.)

Because she is the only child of the 42nd, and possibly, the 45th presidents of the United States. Not that this morally justifies the gobs of money being thrown at Chelsea Clinton, of course, but the fact of the matter is that if her name were “Jones” or “Smith,” there is no way on Earth that Clinton would get the professional opportunities that she has gotten. I am prepared to believe that Chelsea Clinton has smarts and talent, but smarts and talent are not the keys to her career and financial success. The only reason why she is raking in the dough and moving up the ladder in terms of power and influence is that she was born to the right set of parents.

Her parents don’t appear to have any problems with this particular arrangement, which, given Hillary Clinton’s likely campaign for the presidency, makes one wonder how the putative next president of the United States can talk or relate to regular Americans who believe (not without reason) that their own income and career mobility and potential may be limited. How precisely does Hillary Clinton assure such people that the American dream is alive and well, and can work for them? By telling them “look at what my daughter, the Clinton, the child of a once president and a future president is accomplishing! You can do it too!”? Can Hillary Clinton credibly denounce a culture of favoritism that helps out her own daughter (not to mention herself and her husband)? More importantly, can she credibly claim that she will work to transform that culture into one that will actually reward talent, merit, honesty and hard work, given all of the advantages and benefits that she and hers have reaped from the status quo?

If you believe that the answer to those last two questions is “yes,” then (a) by all means, vote for Hillary Clinton as our next president; and (b) come talk to me about some great subprime mortgages that I have to sell you. I’m not in favor of having anyone take any cheap shots at Chelsea Clinton, but the favoritism and unfair advantages that have been showered upon her should be part and parcel of any policy discussion about income inequality, income mobility, the American dream in general, and the many unfair advantages the privileged political classes hold over Americans without access to power or influence.

Oh, and let’s not let this blog post come to an end without a reminder from Dowd about just how vapid our putative next president can be:

Hillary’s book — which feels like something she got at Ikea and had someone put together — is drooping because it was more about the estimated $13 million advance and the campaign ramp-up than the sort of intriguing self-examination and political excavations found in the memoirs of Timothy Geithner and Bob Gates. If she had had something to say, the book might have been shorter.

Quite so.

Why I Think Highly of Paul Ryan

And why you should too:

To take the measure of this uncommonly interesting public man, begin with two related facts about him. Paul Ryan has at least 67 cousins in his Wisconsin hometown of Janesville , where there are six Ryan households within eight blocks of his home. And in his new book, “The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea,” he says something few politicians say, which is why so many are neither trusted nor respected. Ryan says he was wrong.

At a Wisconsin 4-H fair in 2012, Ryan encountered a Democrat who objected to what then was one of Ryan’s signature rhetorical tropes — his distinction between “makers” and “takers,” the latter being persons who receive more in government spending than they pay in taxes. He had been struck by a report that 60 percent of Americans were already — this was before Obamacare — “net receivers.” But his encounter at the fair reminded him that, for a while, he and many people he cared about had been takers, too.

The morning after a night “working the Quarter Pounder grill at McDonald’s,” Ryan, 16, found his father, who had been troubled by alcohol, dead in bed. Janesville’s strong sinews of community sustained Ryan and his mother; so did Social Security survivor benefits. When GM’s Janesville assembly plant closed, draining about $220 million of annual payroll from a town of 60,000, many relatives, friends and constituents needed the social safety net — unemployment compensation, job training, etc.

“At the fair that day, I realized I’d been careless with my language,” he writes. “The phrase gave insult where none was intended.” He has changed his language and his mind somewhat but thinks the fundamental things still apply.

Contrast this display of intellectual honesty, humility and openness to the characteristics displayed by another prominent politician:

Since 1999, when he became its second-youngest member, Ryan has been an intellectual ornament to the House of Representatives — and a headache for risk-averse Republican Party operatives. They pay lip service to electing conservatives who will make the choices necessary to stabilize the architecture of the entitlement system and unleash the economic growth that must finance the system’s promises. But they want to let voters remain oblivious about the choices required by that architecture’s rickety condition.

Such Republicans are complicit with Obama, who demonstrated the self­ destructive nature of his now-evaporating presidency by his contemptuous, and contemptible, treatment of Ryan on April 13, 2011. After he loftily aspired to teach Washington civility, the White House invited Ryan to sit in the front row at a speech in which Obama gave an implacably hostile and mendacious depiction of Ryan’s suggestions for entitlement reforms. Obama thereby repeated his tawdry performance in his 2010 State of the Union address, when, with Supreme Court justices in the front row of the House chamber, he castigated them for the Citizens United decision, which he misrepresented.

Both times, Obama’s behavior bespoke the insecurity of someone who, surrounded by sycophants, shuns disputations with people who can reply. Ryan, however, has replied with a book that demonstrates Obama’s wisdom in not arguing with a man who has a better mind and better manners.

Some people like to claim that epistemic closure is solely a problem on the starboard side of the political divide. This blog post suggests otherwise.

Stop Me If this Sounds Familiar

Link:

This week vandals sprayed the words “Jews” and the Nazi slogan “Sieg Heil” on the office windows of the Lausitzer Rundschau, a newspaper known for its coverage of far-right groups.

The week before four swastikas were daubed on other offices of the paper as well as “Jews, kill them” and “We’ll get you all”. There were similar incidents against the daily in 2012.

“These threats and acts of vandalism must be stopped and I am confident that the authorities will take the necessary precautions to ensure journalists’ safety,” the OSCE’s media representative Dunja Mijatovic said.

“I welcome the condemnation of these attacks from the highest level of the German authorities in Brandenburg state and trust that these incidents will be swiftly and thoroughly investigated,” she said in a statement.

Note this story as well:

Chancellor Angela Merkel led a rally against anti-Semitism in Berlin on Sunday, telling several thousand people that Jewish life is part of Germany’s identity and she wants to ensure that Jews feel safe here.

Germany’s Jewish community organized the rally at the capital’s Brandenburg Gate after tensions over the Gaza conflict spilled over into demonstrations in Europe that saw anti-Jewish slogans and violence.

Germany’s Jewish community organized the rally at the capital’s Brandenburg Gate after tensions over the Gaza conflict spilled over into demonstrations in Europe that saw anti-Jewish slogans and violence.

President Joachim Gauck joined ministers and Germany’s top Protestant and Catholic clerics at the event along with Muslim community leaders.

Jewish leader Dieter Graumann said the summer saw “the worst anti-Semitic slogans on German streets for many, many decades.”

“We won’t let ourselves be intimidated,” he said. “But we would have liked a bit more empathy in the last few weeks. Many of us still come from Holocaust families … how do you think we feel when we hear on German streets today, `Jews to the gas?'”

Merkel said it is “verging on a miracle that well above 100,000 Jews live in Germany today,” seven decades after the Nazi Holocaust. After the end of World War II, only around 15,000 remained in Germany.

“It is a monstrous scandal that people in Germany today are being abused if they are somehow recognizable as Jews or if they stand up for the state of Israel,” she said. “I will not accept that and we will not accept that.”

Of course, I can’t possibly understand why such a fuss is being made over this issue in Germany–or elsewhere, for that matter. After all, I was of the understanding that “anti-Semitism scarcely exists in the West.”

Let’s Please Stop Bragging about Our “Achievements” in Syria

During President Obama’s address to the nation this past Wednesday, he said the following:

Abroad, American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world.  It is America that has the capacity and the will to mobilize the world against terrorists.  It is America that has rallied the world against Russian aggression, and in support of the Ukrainian peoples’ right to determine their own destiny.  It is America –- our scientists, our doctors, our know-how –- that can help contain and cure the outbreak of Ebola.  It is America that helped remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons so that they can’t pose a threat to the Syrian people or the world again.  And it is America that is helping Muslim communities around the world not just in the fight against terrorism, but in the fight for opportunity, and tolerance, and a more hopeful future.

(Emphasis mine.) Ahem:

A toxic chemical, probably chlorine, was used as a weapon to attack Syrian villages in April, an international watchdog agency confirmed on Wednesday.

The conclusion, based on months of investigation by a fact-finding team, appeared to indicate that the Syrian government was continuing to use chemical weapons in the country’s civil war, despite having agreed to forswear the weapons, surrender its arsenal and tear down its manufacturing plants.

The agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said in a statement from its headquarters in The Hague that the information its team had collected provided “compelling evidence” that the toxic chemical was used “systematically and repeatedly” in Talmanes, Al Tamanah and Kafr Zet, three villages in northern Syria.

It said it had “a high degree of confidence that chlorine, pure or in mixture, is the toxic chemical in question,” based on the descriptions, physical properties, behavior of the gas, and signs and symptoms resulting from exposure, as well as the way victims responded to treatment.

The fact finders did not specify who had conducted the chlorine attacks. But its full report, which has been shown so far only to governments, is understood to leave little doubt that the Syrian government was responsible.

Michael Luhan, a spokesman for the organization, said in a telephone interview that witnesses cited in the report saw bombs dropped from high-flying helicopters that released the gas on impact. Of all the combatants in the civil war, only the Syrian government is known to have the ability to conduct such an aerial attack.

The fact-finding team said it was continuing to investigate reports of subsequent chlorine attacks, including a spate of new allegations in August.

(Emphasis mine.) I suppose this is why the president was careful to say that the United States helped get rid of Syria’s declared chemical weapons. The undeclared ones are continuing to be quite the irritant, aren’t they? And their continued presence makes it abundantly clear that this administration has not come close to achieving its objectives in Syria.

Barack Obama Is Not George W. Bush

As Bruce Ackerman–who is no one’s idea of a right-wing legal theorist–points out, George W. Bush never came close to running the type of imperial presidency that his successor is running:

PRESIDENT OBAMA’s declaration of war against the terrorist group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria marks a decisive break in the American constitutional tradition. Nothing attempted by his predecessor, George W. Bush, remotely compares in imperial hubris.

Mr. Bush gained explicit congressional consent for his invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In contrast, the Obama administration has not even published a legal opinion attempting to justify the president’s assertion of unilateral war-making authority. This is because no serious opinion can be written.

This became clear when White House officials briefed reporters before Mr. Obama’s speech to the nation on Wednesday evening. They said a war against ISIS was justified by Congress’s authorization of force against Al Qaeda after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and that no new approval was needed.

But the 2001 authorization for the use of military force does not apply here. That resolution — scaled back from what Mr. Bush initially wanted — extended only to nations and organizations that “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks.

Mr. Obama is rightly proud of his success in killing Osama bin Laden in 2011 and dismantling the Qaeda network he built up. But it’s preposterous to suggest that a congressional vote 13 years ago can be used to legalize new bombings in Syria and additional (noncombat) forces in Iraq. In justifying earlier bombing campaigns in Yemen and Somalia, the administration’s lawyers claimed that the 2001 authorization covered terrorist groups that did not even exist back then. They said it sufficed to show that these groups were “affiliated” with Al Qaeda.

Even this was a big stretch, and it is not big enough to encompass the war on ISIS. Not only was ISIS created long after 2001, but Al Qaeda publicly disavowed it earlier this year. It is Al Qaeda’s competitor, not its affiliate.

Mr. Obama may rightly be frustrated by gridlock in Washington, but his assault on the rule of law is a devastating setback for our constitutional order. His refusal even to ask the Justice Department to provide a formal legal pretext for the war on ISIS is astonishing.

I cannot agree more, and of course, it should come as no surprise that the anti-war crowd–which protested George W. Bush’s policies at the drop of a hat and which made him out to be some kind of dictator–has been largely silent in the face of the Obama administration’s consistent efforts to undermine constitutional principles.

Quote of the Day

In January, 2012, Michael McFaul, a tenured political scientist from Stanford and President Obama’s chief adviser on Russia through the first term, arrived in Moscow with his wife and two sons to begin work as the United States Ambassador. In Palo Alto and Washington, D.C., the McFauls had lived in modest houses. In Moscow they took up residence at Spaso House, a vast neoclassical mansion that was built by one of the wealthiest industrialists in imperial Russia. Spaso features a vaulted formal dining room and a chandeliered ballroom, where William C. Bullitt, the U.S. Ambassador in the thirties, used to throw parties complete with trained seals serving trays of champagne and, on one memorable occasion, a menagerie of white roosters, free-flying finches, grumpy mountain goats, and a rambunctious bear. One guest, Mikhail Bulgakov, wrote about the bash in his novel “The Master and Margarita.” Another, Karl Radek, a co-author of the 1936 Soviet constitution, got the bear drunk. The bear might have survived the decade. Radek, who fell out with Stalin, did not.

David Remnick, who paints a fascinating picture of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and the failure of former U.S. ambassador Michael McFaul to fit in there, and represent American interests properly and effectively. No offense to McFaul, who was–and I am sure continues to be–filled in with the best of intentions, and whose tenure was filled with attempts by the Putin regime to undermine him as a way of getting at the United States, but can future American ambassadors to Russia be professional diplomats/politicians who are realists and are fluent in Russian? It would help in the effort to push back against Putin’s anti-Americanism, and his attempts to advance the Novorossiya myth.

In Which I Have a Very Bad Feeling about Our Newest Intervention in Iraq

Back when George W. Bush was president and launched the war against Iraq, he got accused by everyone under the sun of having failed to listen to the advice of his generals. Implicit in the criticisms, of course, was the suggestion that after the Bushian Era of Darkness, no Democratic president–and especially no president who was a prominent critic of George W. Bush and his administration–would make the same mistake.

With that basic history in mind, read this:

. . Responding to a White House request for options to confront the Islamic State, Gen. Lloyd Austin, the top commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, said that his best military advice was to send a modest contingent of American troops, principally Special Operations forces, to advise and assist Iraqi army units in fighting the militants, according to two U.S. military officials. The recommendation, conveyed to the White House by Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was cast aside in favor of options that did not involve U.S. ground forces in a front-line role, a step adamantly opposed by the White House. Instead, Obama had decided to send an additional 475 U.S. troops to assist Iraqi and ethnic Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment.Recommitting ground combat forces to Iraq would have been highly controversial, and most likely would have been opposed by a substantial majority of Americans. But Austin’s predecessor, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, said the decision not to send ground troops poses serious risks to the mission.

Of course, it ought to go without saying that the people who would have excoriated George W. Bush for failing to listen to his generals will say nothing whatsoever about this little episode. And of course, we ought to be more than a little concerned about the White House’s belief that air power, and 475 troops will constitute a sufficient counterinsurgency force capable of defeating ISIL. We are entering a war while pretending that it isn’t a war, and we are claiming to focus on achieving victory while taking actions that will only serve to tie our hands militarily and undermine us. The Obama administration had better thank its lucky stars that this is not a parliamentary democracy; if it were, a vote of no confidence would surely be in the offing.

Reflections on 9/11

It is getting more and more difficult to write about 9/11. There is relatively little to say or write that has not already been said or written by others. Memories are somewhat jumbled among certain people. A great deal of time has certainly passed, and we have learned how to live with the hurt and the pain and the anger that stemmed from that awful day. The geopolitical consequences of the terrorist attacks continue to live with us, and we discuss those consequences just about every single day of the year. What else is there to write or talk about?

Love. That’s what.

The anger, the hurt, the pain will never fully recede. But when it recedes some more, I am convinced that it will be replaced by love. Love for those whom we lost. Love for those who were saved. Love for those who risked and gave their lives so that others may live. Love for all those who sought to unite a nation after lunatics sought to frighten and divide it.

As human beings, we are fallen creatures, which means–among other things–that we can be amazingly petty in so many of our dealings with others, and with the world in general. But despite the pure awfulness of the September 11 terrorist attacks, what we ought to remember are the many acts of love–great and small–that helped bring some semblance of healing to a wounded nation. We are not fully healed yet, to be sure. But we would be in much worse shape today without the love, caring and devotion showed by so many Americans–and so many around the world–to those in need and in pain.

As human beings, we can be petty. But we can also be noble. The response to September 11 proved as much. Let that be remembered long after we are gone.

The New, New Iraq War

Yesterday was September 10, 2014, and to mark the occasion, the president of the United States decided to give a speech that had a September 10, 2001 mindset about it. I suppose that I could take the time to fisk it (hey, remember fisking?), but I’m rather lazy this evening, and frankly, what is the point? If you want to see my realtime reaction, check my Twitter feed (start with this tweet, and end with this one). Basically, my concerns boil down to the following:

  • There is no definition of “victory.”
  • There is no way on this or any other planet that we are going to achieve a decisive victory over ISIL via airpower alone.
  • It is utterly foolish to announce to the enemy that he doesn’t have to worry about us putting boots on the ground.
  • We are in this war because we pulled out of Iraq too soon, a pullout we pretended constituted a victory.

Oh, and by the way, I guess this means that Barack Obama is officially a neoconservative now. There is nothing about his speech that would sound strange coming out of the mouths of people like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz or anyone else commonly known as a neoconservative.1 Is this what Obama voters expected when they cast their ballots in 2008 and 2012? I suspect not, so if Obama voters aren’t outraged by recent developments, they aren’t paying attention. Their man wasn’t supposed to turn into George W. Bush, after all. Please, oh please, oh please let us never again claim that this administration is filled with realists, or that this president has a healthy appreciation for the virtues of realpolitik.

David Frum:

Qua speech, Barack Obama’s address Wednesday on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria was surprisingly terrible: a disorganized mess, insincere and unconvincing. To appreciate just how bad and bizarre it was, compare the president’s speech announcing a new air campaign in Iraq and Syria to Dwight Eisenhower’s 1958 statement on his decision to intervene in Lebanon with 14,000—14,000!—troops. The statement contains no chest-thumping about America’s leadership in science and medicine. No pivot to the auto industry and medical research. Eisenhower simply explained what had been done, and why.

There was no such declarative clarity in Obama’s speech last night. Has any past president announced military action with such ambivalence and unease? “Mr. President,” one imagines a reporter shouting, “how sure are you that you’re doing the right thing?” “On a scale of 1 to 10?” Obama replies. “About a 6.”

The real fault in the address, however, was not its delivery or its writing, but rather its content. The president spoke to the nation without answering the most important questions that such a speech raises.

[. . .]

In plain English: We don’t really have a plan. We don’t have a definition of success. We see some evildoers and we’re going to whack them. They deserve it, don’t they?

And sure, ISIS does deserve it. The group is a nasty collection of slavers, rapists, thieves, throat-slitters, and all-around psychopaths. The trouble is: so are the people fighting ISIS, the regimes in Tehran and Damascus that will reap the benefits of the war the president just announced. They may be less irrational and unpredictable than ISIS. But if anything, America’s new unspoken allies in the anti-ISIS war actually represent a greater “challenge to international order” and a more significant “threat to America’s core interests” than the vicious characters the United States will soon drop bombs on.

The question before the nation is, “What is the benefit of this war to America and to Americans?”

That was the question the speech left unanswered. And the ominous suspicion left behind is that the question was unanswered because it is unanswerable—at least, not answerable in any terms likely to be acceptable to the people watching the speech and paying the taxes to finance the fight ahead.

Oh, and according to the secretary of state, despite the fact that we are out “to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL” (the president’s words from last night’s speech), we aren’t actually in a war with ISIL. Rather,

“What we are doing is engaging in a very significant counterterrorism operation,” Kerry told CNN’s Elise Labott in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. “It’s going to go on for some period of time. If somebody wants to think about it as being a war with ISIL, they can do so, but the fact is it’s a major counterterrorism operation that will have many different moving parts.”

Words matter. Of course we are in a war with ISIL, the cluelessness with which we are fighting this war notwithstanding. Pretending otherwise (a) fools no one who is actually paying attention to what is going on; and (b) only serves to foster a policy of delusion amongst policymakers responsible for the prosecution of this war. And yes, that last should scare you.

1. Ignore for the moment the fact that there are a lot of people out there who are unfairly tagged with the label “neoconservative,” including Cheney and Rumsfeld.

How Did Steven Salaita Ever Get an Offer from the University of Illinois in the First Place?

As I have written before, Steven Salaita likely has both a breach of contract claim and a First Amendment claim against the University of Illinois for revoking his job offer. But that doesn’t mean that he should have been offered a job in the first place, and one would hope that the University of Illinois–and other universities–will vet candidates more thoroughly in the future, before offering them tenured or tenure-track positions teaching students and conducting research. (And yes, this includes checking to see what candidates have written on social media.)

I mean, how does someone with Salaita’s poor scholarship record actually convince any university that s/he would make a fine addition to that university’s faculty?

The first thing one learns about Salaita is that very little of what he has written seems to have anything to do with the field of study in which he claims expertise and in which he was offered a job, American Indian Studies. Look at the shelf of works authored by Salaita and you’ll see Arab American Literary Fictions, Cultures and Politics; Anti-Arab Racism in the USA: Where it Comes from and What it Means for Politics Today; Modern Arab American Fiction: A Reader’s Guide; a review of a book about Hamas, in which Salaita refers to the terrorist group as “an often contradictory and always compelling social movement”; and other titles that have absolutely nothing to do with the Sioux or the Seminoles. Salaita’s most notable work about Native Americans, The Holy Land in Transit, compares them to the Palestinians. One could argue that such a dearth of publications in a scholar’s stated area of scholarship is telling; but for the sake of grace, let us ignore Salaita’s singular dedication to Palestinian and Arab political causes—an approach more befitting of an activist’s dogmatic and narrow focus than of a scholar’s commitment to curiosity and open-mindedness—and assume that his work transcends the boundaries of discipline and is somehow instructive even if not on topic.

Sadly, reading Salaita’s work does not reward such generosity of spirit. Take, for example, the title of his latest book: Israel’s Dead Soul. Given that the book was published by a serious university press and is therefore bound by more stringent expectations than the ones that govern Twitter, why the inflammatory title?

Salaita’s attempts at an explanation are telling. He begins the book by citing a slew of articles concerned, however tangentially, with Israel’s soul, whatever that might be, everything from Daniel Gordis extolling the Jewish state’s decision to trade Palestinian prisoners for the bodies of two abducted Israelis to a harangue by Richard Silverstein about the violence the IDF commits against animals (in a display of dispassionate adherence to the facts, Salaita refers to the Israeli army not by its proper name but as the IOF, or the Israeli Occupation Forces). Such diversity of opinion would suggest that Israel’s soul is subject of a lively and robust discussion; Salaita, however, has other conclusions in mind.

First of all, he informs his readers that an obsession with a national soul is a quality unique to Israel. A brief Google search would have informed Salaita that Americans seem just as concerned with the national soul as their Israeli counterparts: The History Channel, for example, posted an online curriculum concerning the Scopes Trial titled “The Battle Over America’s Soul,” and the formulation made its way into the subtitle of a 2008 book about the battle between evolution and intelligent design. Reclaiming America’s soul was the subject of a widely circulated column by Paul Krugman, and no less Olympian a chronicler of America than Ken Burns declared that  “our national parks feed America’s soul.” This, naturally, is a careless selection of random examples that tells us nothing about America or its soul. Salaita, sadly, never offers anything more profound to support his substantial claims about Israel.

What he does offer are more wild generalities. “Those who chatter about Israel’s declining soul long ago killed it by agonizing it to death,” he writes. The notion that soul-searching leads to soullessness is preposterous, of course—a soul, like good soil, is more fertile the more it is tilled—so Salaita proceeds immediately into a strange disclaimer, arguing that he does not even believe states have souls, “metaphysically or metaphorically.” Again, it’s a statement that raises more questions than it answers—if states haven’t souls, how might Israel’s be dead? And again, Salaita is quick with another rhetorical and baseless escalation: “Israel,” he writes directly after having rejected the possibility of the concept of a national soul, “is the least likely of nations to have a soul, given its creation through ethnic cleansing.” It doesn’t take a scholar of Native American studies to think of another nation that rose into being by means of a bloody conflict with an indigenous population; Salaita mentions none of it. To him, Israel stands alone, an unparalleled and monstrous offender like no other, logical and historical demands be damned.

Such monomaniacal focus is hard to explain away, and Salaita, to his credit, knows that he ought to at least try. “I am not singling out Israel in this book,” he writes, “I am focusing on it with ardent determination and have no interest in absolving Israel or any other state either voluntarily or involuntarily. My analysis arises from a careful exploration of multitudinous sources.” This defense is laughable. First, Salaita never explains why, if he is not singling out Israel, did he choose not only to devote an entire book to its failings, some real and most imagined, but also to forgo any attempt at placing its struggles in context. If you believe, as Salaita does, that Israel is an ethnonationalist monolith engaged in systemic oppression of its neighbors in order to sustain its mythological view of itself and feed its territorial hunger, you might be interested in Russia, say, which is doing precisely the same thing in its corner of the world, with far more devastating results than anything even Israel’s harshest critics could reasonably claim. Salaita’s “careful exploration of multitudinous sources” is just as bogus: Israel, he tells us in one representative paragraph, can accurately be described an apartheid state responsible for ethnic cleansing because Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter have so decreed.

More evidence that Salaita is not a serious thinker is offered by David Bernstein. Consider Salaita’s reviews of books on Goodreads–note that at the top, Professor Bernstein informs us that Salaita’s Goodreads page was wiped clean “within and hour and half of [the Bernstein post] going up”:

Two things become pretty obvious if you start reading some reviews (there are over 1,000 of them, so I admittedly only looked at a fraction.) The first is that you can predict how much he will like any book relating to Israel and the Middle East based on whether the book comports with his political views.  He apparently rarely if ever learns anything useful from books that don’t–including books by far leftists like Michael Lerner, if they purport to be Zionists.  The second is that he can be just as intemperate in other contexts as in his controversial tweets.

Here are a few examples.

A review of What Israel Means to Me: “I don’t need to hear from the sanctimonious pricks in this book.” If you read the whole brief review, it certainly calls into question the degree to which Salaita can be tolerant of students or colleagues who express pro-Israel views, as he seems to think that anyone who has warm feelings for Israel is inherently a “sanctimonious prick”–surely all eighty essayists in the book don’t have anything else in common. (Here’s a wayback machine link.)

A review of  Israeli leftist Amos Oz, In the Land of Israel: “Amos Oz is to incisive political writing what Leni Riefenstahl was to socially conscious filmmaking.”   That’s the entire review. (Here’s a Google cache link).

A review of Narnie Darwish’s They Call Me Infidel, which he acknowledges he never read: “Given Darwish’s annoying propensity to confuse reality with her well-timed con artistry, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s disingenuously substituting ‘infidel’ for ‘idiot,’ ‘imbecile,’ ‘ignoramus,’ or ‘impostor.’” (Here’s a Google cache link.)

[. . .]

And while Salaita’s advocates have ably (and reasonably persuasively, I think, though I haven’t followed the controversy extremely closely) defended him from the charge that his controversial  tweets endorsed anti-Semitism (I’d say some of them were more anti-anti-anti-Semitism), I’m not sure it would be as easy to defend this review of Abe Foxman’s The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control from the charge of anti-Semitism:This is sheer accidental brilliance. It has to be one of the few books ever published in which the author’s body of work so adeptly undermines his thesis.” It’s hard to understand this as something other than Salaita endorsing the “myth” that Jews do control things. (Here’s how Publisher’s Weekly sums up the book’s thesis: “a rebuttal of a pernicious theory about a mythically powerful Jewish lobby.” So there is a mythically powerful Jewish lobby, and Foxman’s career proves it?) (Here’s a Google cache link.)

So, Salaita is a bad writer and a bad thinker who criticizes books that he hasn’t even read, and who reflexively allows an anti-Israel–and yes, an anti-Semitic–bias to color his writings. And when he is taken apart by the likes of Professor Bernstein, Salaita doesn’t even possess the intellectual courage to leave his reviews up and let others read them in order to make up their own minds as to whether or not Salaita’s reviews have any merit. No, instead, Salaita scrubs his site clean, hoping that this will make it impossible for others to see what he has written. I don’t know what is more ridiculous; the lousy reviews, the intellectual cowardice that causes Salaita to take the reviews down instead of owning them and standing by them, or the utterly naïve belief that a cached website can be erased and that others won’t be able to find archived versions of the website on the Internet.

More from Professor Bernstein, who read the Tablet piece quoted above, and who starts off the following excerpt by quoting from it:

“Hillel and other Jewish civic organizations render themselves distinctly responsible for Israel’s violence by proclaiming themselves guardians of the state’s consciousness,” he writes. “Moreover, they perform a nonconsensual appropriation of all Jewish people into the service of state policies that render the culture indefensible along with the state policies that are said to arise from the culture. It is never a good idea, even through the trope of strategic essentialism, to link an ethnic group to a military apparatus. Such a move automatically justifies discourses—in this case anti-Semitic ones—that should never be justifiable.”

But don’t worry, I’ve discovered that earlier in the same book,  he tell us that “I want to be clear that I am not blaming anti-Semitism on Jews.”  That’s a relief, because I thought if Jewish culture had rendered itself indefensible because of Jewish organizations’ ties to Israel, and that justifies anti-Semitic discourse, he might actually be blaming Jews for he anti-Semitism. So I’m glad he cleared that up in advance.

Despite the academic gobbleygook, Salaita has nevertheless persuaded me of the underlying logic of his position. As a result, because he is a Palestinian-American who has defended Hamas, I hereby, among other things, hold Salaita distinctly responsible for Hamas’s terrorist violence, violence against gays, suppression of women, execution of suspects without due process, corruption, use of human shields, and so on and so forth by proclaiming himself guardian of Hamas’s consciousness. Or  at least I would if I had any idea of what being guardian of a non-sentinent organization’s consciousness could possibly mean. Moreover, Salaita’s identification with Palestinian nationalism justifies discourses that should never be justified. Not that I’m blaming Salaita for those discourses, of course.

As the kids say, “ooh, burn!” Be sure to read all the way to the end of Professor Bernstein’s post, where he notes that Salaita identifies the “oppressors” of Palestinians as “the Jews.”

Not “the Israelis.” Not “the Zionists.” Not “the Netanyahu government.” “[T]he Jews.” And they say that Steven Salaita isn’t an anti-Semite.

Bruce Shipman Has Resigned

I know that I am late in reporting it, but here is the story; my original post on the matter can be found here, with a follow-up here. Amazingly enough, there are people who bemoan the fact that Shipman has been criticized for claiming that anti-Semitism is on the rise because of Israel’s actions in defending itself against Hamas’s aggression, and for stating that the only way for anti-Semitism to recede would be for Jewish people “Israel’s patrons” to pressure the Netanyahu government to act in a way that Bruce Shipman would find pleasing. Intellectually, I understand that there are any number of people out there who will come up with whatever excuse they need to in order to justify, excuse, explain away or sweep under the rug blatant displays of prejudice and bigotry against Jews. But running across new examples of anti-Semitism–not to mention enablers of anti-Semitic sentiments–never fails to appall and disgust.

Fortunately, sanity is not out of style. The Tablet story reporting the Shipman resignation links to Walter Russell Mead, who eviscerates Shipman:

No, the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be a realization among cretins that “the Jews” are a group of people with very different opinions and desires, that they do not act in concert, and that individual Yale students, for example, of Jewish descent who are American citizens have zero responsibility for any policies of the government of Israel. Anti-Semitism is like racism: most racists don’t think of themselves as racists and most anti-Semites similarly don’t recognize their own twisted prejudice. Perhaps the chaplain at Yale should reflect on the passage in which a well known first century Jewish rabbi urged his followers to take the log out of their own eye before trying to take the splinter out of someone else’s.

We hope the chaplain is as eager to explain to BDS activists and other misguided young people that it is anti-Semitic to claim that the Jewish people, alone among the peoples of the world, have no right to self-determination and that Israel is therefore illegitimate—and that it is anti-Semitic for non-Jews to hold Israel to a higher standard of morality than they hold other countries around the world. It is also a symptom of anti-Semitic hatred to wax disproportionately wroth about Israeli violations of Palestinian rights. We hope the chaplain has written many letters to the New York Times denouncing the much graver abuses of human rights that are so frequently committed in our sad and fallen world. We hope his emotions run just as hot and heavy when he reflects on the treatment of Christians in the Arab world and the wretchedly misnamed “Islamic Republic” of Pakistan, of Rohingyas in Burma, of Tamils in Sri Lanka and on and on and on.

Mead shouldn’t hold his breath, but his pushback against Shipman’s “thoughts” is as refreshing as it is bracing.

Scottish Independence is a Terrible Idea

As this editorial makes clear. No excerpts; read the whole thing. It is astonishing to see that people like Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party (which is the chief force behind Scottish independence), are willing to tear apart a perfectly good and successful union in Great Britain in order to make Scotland independent and cause it to be impoverished in the process. But this is the absurd situation in which Scotland and Britain find themselves. One can only hope that reason and sanity prevail in Scotland, but given the sudden momentum behind independence, if I had to bet, I would wager that Scotland will in fact break apart from Britain, thus rendering both Scotland and Britain less consequential, prosperous and powerful in the process.

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