Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Obama's Bad Trade

Contrary to the demagoguery of some irresponsible commentators on the right, I don't think Bergdahl's release has anything to do with Obama's relationship with Islam. I think the primary motivations for the exchange were, in order:

1. It is an election year and he needs some good news to help the country forget about the Benghazi and Obamacare fiascos. Everything I have seen indicates that Obama believed that the country would be thrilled that we were releasing the last POW from Afghanistan, and he evidently thought no one would dig too deeply into the background of Bergdahl. If they did, he could always blame it on right-wing political rhetoric. This is actually a reasonable expectation given the normal tendency of the press to ignore anything that would embarrass a Democratic politician.
2. He has been under pressure from the Left to close Guantanamo as he promised to do in his 2008 campaign. We don't normally follow the far-left and of course the press will not cover their criticisms, but they have been furious with Obama for five years over this. Since it is a really bad idea on several levels, the country would never go for it, but he seems to think that he can appease both sides with a prisoner exchange. He gets to look like a patriot for bringing back our soldier and he gets to look like a champion of justice for closing down Bushitler's torture chamber. Win, win.
3. If you don't look too closely, he gets to prove that negotiation with the Taliban can work. His whole foreign policy is based on the idea that we don't need a strong military if we take the time to understand foreign cultures and show them that we can be reasonable. This is important because he just got completely outclassed by Putin over the Ukraine, and also because of his failures with Syria and the whole Arab Spring fiasco. So he needs to look like a shrewd negotiator, even if the deal wasn't a very good one. Again he is relying on the press to paint everything he does in the best possible light.

Here is a good analysis by Allahpundit from HotAir which largely agrees with me, though he puts some of the factors in a different order. Look especially at the last paragraph:

The media’s assuming that the White House wanted an American POW back so badly that they’d reluctantly agree to release five very dangerous Taliban to make it happen. In reality, maybe the reasoning went the other way. Maybe, in the name of finally closing Gitmo, they were eager to get rid of the five Taliban but realized that they couldn’t free them without paying a heavy political price. If, however, they could get the last American prisoner in Afghanistan back as part of a trade, that might give them enough cover to make it happen. It wasn’t Bergdahl who drove the deal, in other words, it was springing these guys from Gitmo. Bergdahl was just a bit of political sugar for the White House that’s now suddenly turned sour on them.

The rest of the article has some good analysis of how and why this all went wrong for Obama.

For some further relevant information look at these stories:

Desertion note

Feinstein's reaction

Here is an early report from CNN before the trouble started. This is how the story was supposed to play out. Note that there is no suggestion that Bergdahl deserted (even though he was publicly investigated in 2010):
Bergdahl was deployed to Afghanistan in May 2009. He was 23 when he was captured by the Taliban after finishing a guard shift at a combat outpost on June 30, 2009, in Paktika province.

Note also, this paragraph (near the end of the article):
A senior administration official told CNN, "With regard to whether or not we're negotiating with terrorists: Sergeant Bergdahl is a member of the military who was detained during the course of an armed conflict. The transfer of these individuals is not a concession -- it is fully in line with the President's goal of closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay."

Thursday, May 08, 2014

One of These Things is Not Like the Others

I just stumbled across this while looking up the history of the CIA in Wikipedia.  According to the 2013 budget, one of the top goals of the Agency is Counterintelligence, which they define thus:

Counterintelligence (CI). To further safeguard our classified networks, we continue to strengthen insider threat detection capabilities across the Community. In addition, we are investing in target surveillance and offensive CI against key targets, such as China, Russia, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, and Cuba.

I recognize that the Israelis spy on us just as we spy on them. That is just the way the world works. And I also recognize that one of the jobs of the CIA is to try to minimize the leakage as much as possible, no matter who is doing the spying. But is Israel really a "Key Target"? Lumping Israel in with that rogue's gallery of bad players just doesn't sound like a properly ordered set of priorities.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Trampling on the Grapes of Wrath

Charlotte Allen, guest blogging at the LA Times claims Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath is "bad fiction and bad history".  Here is her case, in a nutshell:

Bad Fiction:

...the insufferable Ma Joad (she's symbolic, so she doesn't have a first name) -- who oscillates between threatening to bash her menfolk with blunt instruments ("knock you belly-up with a bucket," "slap ya with a stick a stove wood") when they don't do what she wants and serving as a mouthpiece for Steinbeck's hick-collectivist platitudes: "Maybe if we was all mad in the same way."

[...]

The nearly nonexistent story line is a chronicle of lugubrious misery, as the massive Joad family in its overloaded, "Beverly Hillbillies"-style car lurches from one tragic mishap to another on a trek to California that reads as though it takes weeks, if not months -- even though Route 66 was a state-of-the-art highway for its time and the journey could be easily accomplished in from three to six days. 

The main reason people think that "The Grapes of Wrath" is a good novel is that in 1940, director John Ford managed to turn it into a first-rate movie, with the help of stellar acting (Henry Fonda as Tom Joad, Steinbeck's jailbird hero-on-the-lam), haunting chiaroscuro cinematography and the ditching of the novel's bizarre ending, which features "Rosasharn" breastfeeding a starving man in the spirit of proletarian solidarity.
Bad History:
Furthermore, Steinbeck got the Okies historically wrong, probably because he himself hailed from an upper-middle-class family in Salinas and his experience with Okies consisted of interviewing a few of them for some newspaper articles. Just for starters, he had the Joads hailing from Sallisaw, in the far eastern part of Oklahoma, even though the Dust Bowl was confined to the state's western panhandle.

Second, as University of Washington historian James N. Gregory pointed out in "American Exodus," his magisterial 1989 book about Okie culture in California, many Okies were far from the barely literate rural victims that Steinbeck made them out to be. They were actually part of the huge demographic migration of people from the Southwestern United States to California during the first half of the 20th century in search of better jobs and a better life. Only about half of the Depression-era Okies hailed from rural areas, Gregory pointed out, with the rest coming from towns and cities. Many were white-collar and industrial workers. About half of the Okies, "Arkies" and other Southwesterners settled in Los Angeles, the Bay Area and San Diego and never picked a single crop.

And although there was genuine misery in some of the migrant camps, conditions "were not uniformly horrible," Gregory wrote. Most Okies found a better standard of living. Many of them also quickly moved out of farm work into better-paying jobs in the oil industry and, when World War II broke out, in the burgeoning Southern California defense plants. By 1950, most Okies had secured comfortable working-class and lower-middle-class lifestyles, and some had downright prospered.

Furthermore -- and here the last laugh is on Steinbeck -- the Okies turned out to be the exact opposite of progressive collectivists, becoming the backbone of California's political and social conservatism. Instead of fomenting a workers revolution, they led the Reagan Revolution. In "The Grapes of Wrath," Steinbeck relentlessly mocks the Okies' Pentecostal Christianity. In fact, their Pentecostal and Baptist churches were a source of moral cohesion. Gregory counted more churches in Bakersfield, where Okie culture influenced everything from spirituality to music, than in San Francisco. To this day, the Okie culture-saturated San Joaquin Valley remains California's only red-state region.
 
I only vaguely remember reading Grapes of Wrath, which, while I was in High School, shared the distinction with Moby Dick of being one of only two books that I started but never finished. I have sadly since learned that some books are not worthy of my time, but then I considered it a stain on my honor as an avid reader. So I feel somewhat vindicated to learn that the sense of hopelessness that Grapes conveyed was unjustified by the facts.

Still, while I will never be a Steinbeck fan, I feel the need to cut him a little slack for his touching and eminently chivalrous dedication to The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights:
When I was nine, I took siege with King Arthur's fellowship of knights most proud and worshipful as any alive.  

In those days there was a great lack of hardy and noble-hearted squires to bear shield and sword, to buckle harness, and to succor wounded knights.  

Then it chanced that squire-like duties fell to my sister of six years, who for gentle prowess had no peer living.  

It sometimes happens in sadness and pity that faithful service is not appreciated, so my fair and loyal sister remained unrecognized as squire.

Wherefore this day I make amends within my power and raise her to knighthood and give her praise.  And from this hour she shall be called Sir Marie Steinbeck of Salinas Valley  

God give her worship without peril.

John Steinbeck of Monterey 
Knight

Friday, November 22, 2013

Imigration Sanity 2: Scott Walker

Scott Walker is still talking sensibly about immigration:

“See now that’s where they take it out of context,” Walker said in response. “I’ve not said there should be amnesty in this country. I don’t believe that. I don’t support the legislation being kicked around. What I’ve said repeatedly is we need to fix the immigration system, but fix the legal system. So if people want to come in this country we should have a legal immigration system.”
Allahpundit is skeptical but he acknowledges that walker has been consistent on this point:
I haven’t seen him comment on this subject at length (why would any Republican governor want to handle this grenade when he doesn’t have to?), but twice already this year he’s made remarks that make it sound like he’s more interested in the legalization side of the equation than the security part. Ed wrote about it back in February and I noted it when it came up again in July. In both cases, but especially in the latter (watch the video below), he emphasized that a more permissive legal immigration process would solve, in some large part, America’s illegal immigration process. I … suppose that’s true. If you line up the Border Patrol at the border to hand out visas to people as they stream across, that would indeed technically reduce illegal immigration to zero. 
I don't think Allah is being fair here.  Is the problem simply that we want to punish people for breaking the immigration laws? That may satisfy our sense of fairness, but how does anyone profit by such a scheme?. We need to do three things to solve the illegal immigration problem:
  1. Protect the country from hostile invasion by improving border security. 
  2. Reduce the incentive for malfeasance by eliminating the welfare state.
  3. Encourage productivity and competition by allowing anyone who wants to work to do so.
Walker doesn't talk much about point 2 but both 1 & 2 are aided by point 3.  This is the same principle that makes us support right to work against union activists.  I don't see why more conservatives don't see that parallel.


Friday, October 04, 2013

Ben Carson for President?

I just got an email forwarded by a friend from a Draft Ben Carson for President campaign. For those who don't know, Ben Carson was propelled into the political limelight by a keynot speech he gave at the National Prayer Breakfast. (He may have also become a victim of the ongoing IRS scandal as a result.) Here is my response to the email:

He seems like a great guy. I appreciate a plain-spoken man and he clearly has a grip on the conservative talking points. But it takes a bit more than talk to qualify for the Presidency, and there is no way to know much about how he would go about implementing his ideas. I don't, in principle, object to people running for office with no prior political experience, but President is a pretty big deal and we need to have some grasp of how he would design his reforms and how he would manage to get them through Congress. It may be too early to ask that question, but his lack of executive or legislative history is a big question that needs to be answered.

Also, I realize the original email is not coming directly from Carson, but things like this make me nervous:

Dr. Carson is the only man who can heal and unite Americans - black, white, Hispanic; men, women; employer, employee; young, old.

Nonsense! There are plenty of black conservatives who would be good candidates, and there are plenty of non-blacks who have the political skill to unite different ethnic and socio-economic groups. I like what I see of Carson and would vote for him if he were the Republican candidate, but lets leave the Messianic language to the Democrats.

National Debt. Cut government spending by 10% each year, across the board, until the budget is balanced!

Sounds good, but I need to see the plan.

Obamacare. Repeal it! Replace it with a free market health savings account.

Just about every Rebulican will be saying something like this. Again, need to see the plan.

Taxes. Make it flat and make sure that everyone has skin in the game. Everyone pays.

Fair enough. There are other viable options, but this could work if done right. The "everyone pays" part is going to be a tough sell. Even a black guy is going to get skewered by the NAACP and other such groups. If anything, he might get more heat from them as a "race traitor" or the various other kind expressions that left-leaning blacks use against conservatives. Not that that should stop him, but we are kidding ourselves if we think that he will get a pass just because he is black.

Abortion. End it now! It is barbaric.

As I have said in lots of other places, this isn't the President's job. I realize conservative politicians have to say this sort of thing to prove their cred, but I am always a little uneasy when politicians gloss over the constitutional obstacles to doing this on the Federal level.

Illegal Immigration. Listen to the American people, secure our borders. End it.
Redistribution of Income. Stop it. It’s un-American.
Welfare. It not only encourages self-destructive behavior, it is a trap. Replace it with a truly compassionate, free market approach that enables those on welfare to gain prosperity through employment and entrepreneurship.

Again, with all these issues, we need to see the details. These are some of the thorniest issues in current politics and no president is going to be successful at dealing with them if he doesn't acknowledge the great difficulty of the problems.

Judges. Appoint judges committed to the US Constitution.

This is what I would have liked to hear on the abortion point above. Also, as with everything else, we need more details.

Political Correctness. It is dangerous. It hinders progress and divides our nation.

Whoa! I totally agree, of course, but why is this in a presidential campaign? He needs to be very careful talking about this. If he means he isn't going to base his policies on politically correct considerations, fine. But if he means he is going to try to weed political correctness out of the system, that will quickly get involved in 1st Amendment issues. Maybe this is just more base-rallying rhetoric, but careless words can kill a campaign.

Right to Keep & Bear Arms. It's a vital part of the our Bill of Rights! End of story! 

Fair enough, but his comments to Glen Beck were a little more ... nuanced. Not necessarily a deal killer, but he is going to have to think this through a bit more.

Democrats and Republicans. Both have been part of the problem. America first!

This is probably just more rhetoric, but his Wikipedia page notes that he doesn't actually affiliate with any party. That is going to have to change if he runs for the Republican ticket. If he runs as an independent, then no deal as far as I am concerned.

One last point: Dr. Carson has done a great deal of good with his Carson Scholars Fund. It woud be even better if he expanded it to include scholarships for private High Schools, but that is another subject. I actually think he could do a lot more political good by concentrating on this sort of thing than by running for president. One of the problems with a lot of conservative thinking is that we tend to think that the only important thing in politics is to hold office. But that betrays the very principle of limited government that we are supposedly advocating. Giving young minds the opportunity to learn to think clearly is a much longer-term benefit to the political process than anything a politician can do, especially at the Federal level.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Immigration Sanity

Emily McClintock Ekins at Cato has one of the few intelligent analyses of the immigration issue. Unfotunately it is in podcast form, and there doesn't appear to be a transcript:

Really the debate should not just be on unauthorized immigration and how we deal with those who are currently in the country without authorization, but how to deal with future immigration; to make it easier to come to this country; to help businesses grow and thrive; and just have a saner immigration system. And that, people aren't getting behind that yet, because we are not talking about it. 4:22

I wholeheartedly agree. If we made it easier for people of good will to immigrate or at least to obtain work visas, there would be two immediate benefits. One, it would drastically reduce the amount of illegal border crossing and free up police resources that are currently tied up chasing people who are basically harmless. And, two, it would virtually guarantee that everyone who did cross illegally was up to no good, and so would justify more severe enforcement. Clarity is a great benefit to justice.

Update (7/3/13): Evidently Scott Walker has similar thoughts (via Hot Air).

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

IRS Whistleblower Site

In contrast the many conspiracy theories surrounding the Obama administration, this story is actually based on solid research and documentation. But there are still many facts to be uncovered. The House Ways and Means Committee has established an anonymous, secure website for victims of IRS discrimination to add to the growing body of evidence:

Following repeated congressional inquiries, [...] a senior IRS official acknowledged that the agency had been targeting conservative-leaning political organizations. On May 14, the Treasury Inspector General for Taxpayer Administration (TIGTA) released a report detailing a TIGTA audit of IRS activities and confirmed that, “the IRS used inappropriate criteria to identify organizations applying for tax-exempt status.” The TIGTA audit confirms that targeting of conservative groups began in 2010. The report also confirms that, despite repeated denials to the contrary, IRS officials had knowledge of such activities as early as 2011. During a hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee the TIGTA Inspector General testified that U.S. Treasury officials were notified of the audit in 2012.

Those are the facts, but many more questions remain, including how individuals and organizations were affected by the actions of the IRS. As the Committee continues to pursue this investigation, this website allows those affected by the IRS scandal to share their story. Your story is critical to moving the investigation forward. Taking a few minutes to fill out the form below and share your story will allow the Committee to identify key facts and take action to deal with the failures of the IRS.
The IRS Political Discrimination Investigation


CORRECTION: The site is not anonymous, since you have to leave a name, but the option exists to allow disclosure or not.