August 28, 2014

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Strobe Talbott, who served in the Clinton administration, and now head of the Brookings Institution, penned a long piece for Politico on the rise of Putin. We might ask; if William Safire, in January 2000 could see so clearly what Putin would be like, how come all the bien pensants in DC couldn’t figure it out? What was the president thinking with the Russian reset? And what was SecState Clinton thinking?

In late January 2000, William Safire wrote a column in the New York Times under the headline “Putinism Looms.” Vladimir Putin had been acting president of the Russian Federation for only a month but Safire had already seen that the new Kremlin leader was bent on developing a “cult of personality,” “suppressing the truth” and “the resurgence of Russian power.” For the remaining nine years of his life, Safire often returned to the subject. He expanded the definition of Putinism as its namesake muzzled dissent, cracked down on the media, exiled or imprisoned those who opposed him, courted China as a counterweight to the United States, and did everything he could to lock the countries of “the near abroad” — fellow former Soviet republics – into a Russian sphere of influence.

Ukraine — the cradle of Russian civilization as well as its breadbasket, and a major manufacturing center of the old USSR – has always been the principal object of Russian neuralgia about Western encroachment into the post-Soviet space. Russians often say that they feel the loss of Ukraine as though it were the pain an amputee feels in a phantom limb. Yet it still came as a shock when Putin — outraged by pro-European protesters’ overthrow of a corrupt and repressive pro-Moscow regime in Kyiv — annexed Crimea and fomented a secessionist rebellion in the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine.

Putin’s aggression only makes sense against the backdrop of what has been the defining theme of his presidency: turning back the clock. …

… While Putin has earned the ism that Safire attached to his name more than 14 years ago, the phenomenon he personifies — its content, motivation and rationale, as well as the constituencies behind it — predates the appearance of Putin himself on the scene. A number of students of recent Russian history — including some, like myself, who have dealt with Putin — can, in retrospect, trace the roots of his policies today back more than a quarter century to the battle between Soviet reformers and their reactionary and revanchist foes. …


… it’s worth remembering that the trust between Gorbachev and Reagan survived the Strategic Defense Initiative. Gorbachev and Bush 41 weathered the strains of the first Gulf war, and the Bill-Boris bond held through the first round of NATO enlargement and the Kosovo air war. 

Then, as now, the state-to-state relationship was highly personalized, in large measure because of a deep-seated characteristic of Russian political culture. No matter who’s in the Kremlin — whether czar, general secretary, or president — he wields immense personal power, not just bureaucratic power, over what Richard Pipes called a patrimonial state. Though Putin became famous for saying he intended to restore “the vertical of power,” when he first came to office, in fact, there has always been a vertical of power in Russia. Whoever is at the top is hard to stop, and hard to remove.

Which is why Putin himself, and not just Putinism, matters. The succession of Kremlin leaders over the last quarter century leading to Putin is an extraordinary story itself, packed with melodrama, irony, suspense, farce, and plot twists — and, of course, tragedy, all worthy of a Mussorgsky opera. 

Act I opens in March 1985, when the Politburo convened to choose a successor to the short-timer Konstantin Chernenko. If any of the candidates other than Gorbachev had gotten the job, we might well today, 29 years later, still have a Soviet Union, a Warsaw Pact, and a Cold War. Once Gorbachev was in the Kremlin, he had the power to begin forcing change. He elevated Yeltsin to help him do so, then cast Yeltsin into the political wilderness. 

Act II: Yeltsin fights back and replaces Gorbachev, yet adheres to the key features of Gorbachev’s reforms. Yeltsin, too, has the trump card of inhabiting the Kremlin. Despite his late-blooming democratic instincts, he was also partial to the verb tsarstvovat’ — “to rule as czar,” which he used as he asserted his power, particularly against the opposition. 

But then the opera turns tragic. This democratizing czar plucks a junior operative out of obscurity and anoints him as his heir. Yeltsin does so for an irresponsible, ignoble reason: to protect his family’s physical and financial security.

In Act III, Putin is as good as his word on that personal commitment. But, in just about every other respect, he shreds his mentor’s political legacy. Putin becomes, himself, the anti-Yeltsin and, by extension, the anti-Gorbachev as well, thereby earning the support of those diehards of old regime who had tried, unsuccessfully, to thwart the reforms of the late ’80s and ’90s.

The specter of Putinism that Safire saw looming over Russia almost 15 years ago has now settled in to that point that there is talk of “the Putin era,” a phrase suggesting that it will be with us and our progeny for a long time. There are two reasons to question that prediction.

One is what’s new about Putinism. In place of the internationalist Soviet ideology of Marxism-Leninism, Putin has asserted the ultra-nationalist proposition that Russian statehood should be based on ethnicity. Putin has used it in Ukraine to expand Russian territory. But his brand of ethnic geopolitics, redolent of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, is a double-edged sword: It could shrink Russian territory, since vast parts of that country are populated by non-Russian ethnic groups who are unlikely to welcome or, over the long run, tolerate a Russian chauvinist in the Kremlin who wears a crucifix when he bares his chest. Putin, in other words, may inadvertently be hastening the day when the Caucasus and Central Asia will be vulnerable to jihadists who are already planning to establish a caliphate in part of what is now the Russian Federation. 

The other reason to doubt the staying power of Putinism is what’s old about it. Putinism as a system of governance replicates, in its essence, the regime that failed to modernize the Soviet economy, failed to normalize Soviet society and ultimately failed to rescue the Soviet state from extinction. Besides, Putin’s concept of Russian security, like that of every Soviet leader from Stalin to Chernenko, has a perverse and potentially self-defeating feature: Russia won’t feel absolutely secure unless all its neighbors feel absolutely insecure. As a result, in the putative Putin era, Russia, once again, is a paranoid state that makes its own enemies. That same zero-sum strategy kept the USSR from being accepted by the international community as a trustworthy and constructive major power.

Speculation about the longevity of the system Putin has put in place should take account of the fate of the one he has, in fundamental ways, brought back to life: the Soviet system, and with it the Soviet state, lasted only seven decades — three score and 10 years, the biblical lifespan of a single mortal. Moreover, that system and state were not destroyed by foreign enemies like those Lt. Col. Putin hunted down in Dresden 30 years ago and those he still obsesses about from the Kremlin. Rather, it expired because of its own pathologies. It was unfit for survival in the modern world.

Safire made that connection in his January 2000 column. “The irony is that a ‘Putin era’ would mean an uncompetitive, economically weakened Russia,” he wrote. Rather than fearing a “resurgence of Russian power,” Safire predicted that the result would be “the surly stagnation of what would come to be called Putinism.” In other words, precisely because Putinism is a conscious attempt to bring back a proven failure from the past as model for the future, it’s doomed. 

Still, that’s no excuse for complacency on the part of the West. Under its current leadership, Russia is an immediate threat to its neighbors, a disruptive and divisive force in the evolution of Europe, and a potential threat to world peace. It’s also an impediment to the ability of the international community to manage other perils, including the existential ones of climate change and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

But in designing new strategies for dealing with the Kremlin in the months and years ahead, we should remember, too, that Russia today is not the Soviet Union. It’s not stuck in the mid-20th century, to say nothing of the 19th.  It’s nowhere near as monolithic and isolated as it was in the bad old days. Its people have had more than a taste of what it’s like to live in a normal, modern country. Russia is bigger and more resilient than Putinism; it will outlive the Putinist system just as it survived the one he is trying to resurrect.




And yet another example of how the government always screws up, the NY Times reports on the Workforce Investment Act and the chaos it has left behind for the people who were foolish enough to believe in promises from the state. However, the Times article portrays for-profit schools as the villain of the piece.

When the financial crisis crippled the construction industry seven years ago, Joe DeGrella’s contracting company failed, leaving him looking for what he hoped would be the last job he would ever need.

He took each step in line with the advice of the federal government: He met with an unemployment counselor who provided him with a list of job titles the Labor Department determined to be in high demand, he picked from among colleges that offered government-certified job-training courses, and he received a federal retraining grant.

In 2009, Mr. DeGrella, began a course at Daymar College — a for-profit vocational institute in Louisville — to become a cardiology technician. Daymar officials told him he would have a well-paying job within weeks of graduation.

But after about two years of studying cardiovascular physiology and the mechanics of electrocardiograms, Mr. DeGrella, now 57, found himself jobless and $20,000 in debt. He moved into his sister’s basement and now works at an AutoZone.

Millions of unemployed Americans like Mr. DeGrella have trained for new careers as part of the Workforce Investment Act, a $3.1 billion federal program that, in an unusual act of bipartisanship, was reauthorized by Congress last month with little public discussion about its effectiveness. Like Mr. DeGrella, many have not found the promised new career.

Instead, an extensive analysis of the program by The New York Times shows, many graduates wind up significantly worse off than when they started — mired in unemployment and debt from training for positions that do not exist, and they end up working elsewhere for minimum wage. …


… The Times examination, based on state and federal documents, school and court records, and interviews, shows that some of the retraining institutions advertise graduation and job-placement rates that often do not hold up to scrutiny.

The idea of dividing responsibility between federal and state officials was to give local and state authorities more power in helping the unemployed in their areas. But the unemployed who sign up for training are often left to navigate a bureaucratic maze with almost no guidance. To avoid any appearance of favoritism, federal job counselors are not allowed to recommend schools to job seekers, leaving many of the unemployed to unwittingly select institutions that are expensive, have a history of legal trouble or are academically substandard.

There is, for example, no mechanism for students to check in with counselors to gauge their progress or determine whether the training program is a good match. States say they investigate complaints and audit programs with poor outcomes, but students say they tend not to register formal complaints about a program’s quality. …


… In some states, data and academic studies have suggested that a vast majority of the unemployed may have found work without the help of the Workforce Investment Act.

In South Carolina, for example, 75 percent of dislocated workers found jobs without training, compared with 77 percent who found jobs after entering the program, according to state figures.

A group of for-profit schools frequently at odds with regulators over the quality of their training and their costs charge some of the highest tuitions but place relatively few students in jobs. …

August 27, 2014

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Matthew Kaminski says the West forgets history while Putin repeats it.

Hapless in response to Vladimir Putin‘s wars, successive American leaders are left puzzling over the Russian’s place in time. “Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century,” said President George W. Bush in August 2008, after Russia’s invasion of Georgia. When the Russian force of “little green men” took Ukraine’s Crimea last February, Secretary of State John Kerry exclaimed, “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th-century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.”

Mr. Putin has proved impervious to complaints about his outdated behavior. On Monday morning, Ukraine reported that a column of 10 Russian tanks and a couple of armored vehicles charged over Ukraine’s southeastern border into areas held by Russian rebels. Russian artillery now fire at Ukrainian military positions from inside Ukraine’s territory, NATO said on Friday. Ignoring objections from Kiev, Russia announced its intentions to send a second “humanitarian aid” convoy in a week of military trucks dressed in white, bringing and taking who knows what.

As the military pressure grows on the pro-Western government in Kiev, the Europeans are adding their own. Plainly anxious that these latest escalations risk a replay of 20th century wars, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday turned up in Kiev to push for an accommodation with Moscow. The chancellor pressed the Ukrainians to cease fire and ruled out new EU sanctions against Russia. So Mr. Putin comes into talks Tuesday in Minsk with Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko with fresh leverage.

The crisis in Ukraine revives one of the oldest clashes in the heart of Europe—the “bloodlands,” to use Timothy Snyder’s phrase—between autocracy and liberalism. For centuries this region was shaped by “the Polish Question”—what should happen to the difficult, independent-minded people between Russia and Germany. With the end of communism, and EU and NATO membership, Poland was taken off the chessboard. Ukraine is now on it. …

… Distracted by the Middle East, Washington has outsourced the Ukrainian file to Germany. Whoever thinks that another German-Russian understanding will calm Europe’s bloodlands has a historical tin ear.  …



And Streetwise Professor says Merkel has told Poroshenko to save Putin’s face while Putin moons Merkel by grabbing more of Ukraine.

If you just fell off the cabbage truck, you might be stunned to learn that a couple of days after Merkel visited Ukraine to deliver Poroshenko the message that Ukraine needed to back down from its attack on Russian forces in Donbas in order to save Putin’s face, that Putin opened a new front in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Time and again, the hand-wringers in the west, Obama, Cameron, and especially Merkel, have desperately offered Putin ways out of Donbas. And time and again, Putin has taken these offers as a sign of weakness, and an invitation to escalate. The more aggressive he is, the more assiduously the hand-wringers try to appease him. The equilibrium in this game isn’t hard to figure out. …



Before we get to more of our DC mess, David Bernstein of Volokh posts on Yale’s Episcopal chaplain who thinks the last war is Israel’s fault because they won’t agree to the “two state” solution.

… Next on Rev. Shipman’s bucket list: blaming women who dress provocatively for rape, blaming blacks for racism because of high crime rates, and blaming gays for homophobia for being “flamboyant.”

If Rev. Shipman had made analogous comments about any other “ism,” he’d be out of a job.  And if it were any group but Jews, their student organization would be occupying his office and demanding it.



We get a look at some of the president’s spinners. First from Jennifer Rubin.

Bill Burton, former Obama aide and current spinner for the White House, is miffed that people are upset about President Obama’s vacations. Well, if Burton learned anything from Obama, it is how to make a straw-man argument.

Few people object to the president getting downtime. What they object to is three-fold:

First, Burton should know better than anyone that the visual juxtaposition of commenting (but doing nothing more than issuing empty platitudes) on the savage murder of James Foley and yet another round of golf is jarring. Actually, it’s in poor taste (like Bill Clinton laughing as he exited his longtime friend Ron Brown’s funeral, before realizing he was on camera). In case Burton is genuinely confused (as opposed to faking obliviousness), it demonstrates a lack of real remorse to be seen indulging in fun-loving activities directly after such a grave announcement. It suggests a lack of true empathy and unwillingness to forgo personal pleasures even in somber situations. But surely Burton knows this, right? …



Then from Peter Wehner who says the latest lying spin is that the president was not referring to ISIS as the “jayvee.” 

One of the notable things about the Obama administration isn’t simply that its key figures often make misleading claims, but that they do so in ways that can be so easily disproven.

The latest effort is in the White House’s attempt to have us believe that the president, in his now infamous “jayvee” analogy, didn’t have ISIS in mind. Here’s an exchange between NBC’s Peter Alexander and White House press secretary Josh Earnest that took place on Monday: …


… That claim–“the president was not singling out ISIL”–is simply not true. And it’s demonstrably untrue. To prove this assertion, it’s helpful to cite the relevant portion of the January 27, 2014 story by David Remnick in the New Yorker:

At the core of Obama’s thinking is that American military involvement cannot be the primary instrument to achieve the new equilibrium that the region so desperately needs. And yet thoughts of a pacific equilibrium are far from anyone’s mind in the real, existing Middle East. In the 2012 campaign, Obama spoke not only of killing Osama bin Laden; he also said that Al Qaeda had been “decimated.” I [Remnick] pointed out that the flag of Al Qaeda is now flying in Falluja, in Iraq, and among various rebel factions in Syria; Al Qaeda has asserted a presence in parts of Africa, too.

“The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,” Obama said, resorting to an uncharacteristically flip analogy. “I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.” …



Wehner also covers our success in Libya. 

Think back with me, if you will, to a time not all that long ago when the American intervention in Libya was held up as a model by President Obama.

“Forty-two years of tyranny was ended in six months. From Tripoli to Misurata to Benghazi — today, Libya is free,” Mr. Obama told the United Nations on September 21, 2011. “Yesterday, the leaders of a new Libya took their rightful place beside us, and this week, the United States is reopening our embassy in Tripoli. This is how the international community is supposed to work — nations standing together for the sake of peace and security, and individuals claiming their rights.”

So Libya is how it’s supposed to work, is it? That is the example the president likes to hold up when he referred to “smart diplomacy” and the virtues of America “leading from behind”?

So how are things going in Libya?

For one thing, the United States shut down its embassy in Libya earlier this summer and evacuated its diplomats to neighboring Tunisia under U.S. military escort amid a significant deterioration in security in Tripoli. “Due to the ongoing violence resulting from clashes between Libyan militias in the immediate vicinity of the US embassy in Tripoli, we have temporarily relocated all of our personnel out of Libya,” a State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, said‘ …



Larry Sabato looks at the Senate races.

So where’s the wave? This is President Obama’s sixth-year-itch election. The map of states with contested Senate seats could hardly be better from the Republicans’ vantage point. And the breaks this year—strong candidates, avoidance of damaging gaffes, issues such as Obamacare and immigration that stir the party base—have mainly gone the GOP’s way, very unlike 2012.

Nonetheless, the midterms are far from over. In every single one of the Crystal Ball’s toss-up states, (Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana and North Carolina), the Republican Senate candidate has not yet opened up a real polling lead in any of them. Democratic nominees have been running hard and staying slightly ahead, or close to, their Republican foes.

Earlier this year, we published a “wave chart” giving the range of Senate election outcomes, from ripple to tsunami. Sometimes tidal waves, such as the 2006 Democratic swell that gave the party control of both houses of Congress, develop in late September or October. That’s certainly still a possibility for the GOP in 2014. However, the summer is waning, and as Labor Day approaches our estimate remains a Republican gain of four to eight seats, with the probability greatest for six or seven seats—just enough to put Republicans in charge of Congress’ upper chamber. The lowest GOP advance would fall two seats short of outright control; the largest would produce a 53-47 Republican Senate. …



Here’s a feel good story. It’s a NY Times book review covering the failed attempt to impose the metric system on our country.

In the 1970s, children across America were learning the metric system at school, gas stations were charging by the liter, freeway signs in some states gave distances in kilometers, and American metrication seemed all but inevitable. But Dean Krakel, director of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma, saw things differently: “Metric is definitely Communist,” he solemnly said. “One monetary system, one language, one weight and measurement system, one world — all Communist.” Bob Greene, syndicated columnist and founder of the WAM! (We Ain’t Metric) organization, agreed. It was all an Arab plot “with some Frenchies and Limeys thrown in,” he wrote.

Krakel and Greene might sound to us like forerunners of the Tea Party, but in the 1970s meter-bashing was not limited to right-wing conservatives. Stewart Brand, publisher of the Whole Earth Catalog, advised that the proper response to the meter was to “bitch, boycott and foment,” and New York’s cultural elite danced at the anti-metric “Foot Ball.” Assailed from both right and left, the United States Metric Board gave up the fight and died a quiet death in 1982.

In his entertaining and enormously informative new book, “Whatever Happened to the Metric System?,” John Bemelmans Marciano tells the story of the rise and fall of metric America. …

August 26, 2014

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Charles Krauthammer compliments the president on airstrikes against ISIS.

Baghdad called President Obama’s bluff and he came through. He had refused to provide air support to Iraqi government forces until the Iraqis got rid of their divisive sectarian prime minister.

They did. He responded.

With the support of U.S. airstrikes, Iraqi and Kurdish forces have retaken the Mosul dam. Previous strikes had relieved the siege of MountSinjar and helped the Kurds retake two strategic towns that had opened the road to a possible Islamic State assault on Irbil, the capital of Kurdistan.

In following through, Obama demonstrated three things: the effectiveness of even limited U.S. power, the vulnerability of the Islamic State and, crucially, his own seriousness, however tentative.

The last of these is the most important. Obama had said that there is no American military solution to the conflict. This may be true, but there is a local military solution. (There must be: There is no negotiating with Islamic State barbarism.) And that solution requires U.S. air support.

It can work. The Islamic State is overstretched. It’s a thin force of perhaps 15,000 trying to control a territory four times the size of Israel. Its supply lines, operating in open country, are not just extended but exposed and highly vulnerable to air power.

Stopping the Islamic State’s momentum creates a major shift in psychology. Guerrilla armies thrive on a sense of inevitability. The Islamic State has grown in size, demoralized its enemies and attracted recruits from all over the world because it seemed unstoppable, a real caliphate in the making. …



John Fund starts out a look at Ferguson, Missouri.

America is a land of makeovers, but there should be limits. This week I had to rub my eyes in disbelief when I saw Malik Zulu Shabazz, the former radical head of the New Black Panther Party, on TV amid the rioting in Ferguson, Mo.

Shabazz is now head of something called Black Lawyers for Justice, and he has set himself up as a “peacemaker” in Ferguson. Last weekend, he hijacked the news conference of Missouri Highway Patrol captain Ron Johnson to take credit for keeping things under control: “My group and — thanks to you — my organizers, along with the New Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam, we are the ones who put those men in the streets, and we controlled the flow of traffic.” Johnson agreed that Shabazz and his group had indeed helped out.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be asking a lot of questions about Shabazz’s presence in Ferguson. On the one hand, Shabazz blames “intentional provocateurs” and “outside infiltrators” for the violence in Ferguson. On the other hand, in the past it has been Shabazz and his ilk who have been the “outside infiltrators” creating chaos and stirring up hatred. Jesse Jackson is in Ferguson calling the Brown shooting a “state execution.” The egregious Al Sharpton is speaking at Michael Brown’s funeral. During the Trayvon Martin case, Sharpton called the acquittal of George Zimmerman an “atrocity.” Hashim Nzinga, the New Black Panther Party’s current leader, put a bounty on George Zimmerman’s head. He is now in Ferguson whipping up the crowds against what he calls President Obama’s weak reaction to Brown’s death: “He need to go back to his roots and stop people from killing Africans in the streets.”

In Ferguson, the New Black Panthers are apparently playing a double game. At some points they join with their former leader Shabazz to help direct traffic, but at others they fuel the flames of violence. …



Linda Chavez writes on Eric Holder.

… After visiting Ferguson this week to initiate a federal civil-rights investigation into the shooting, Attorney General Eric Holder declared that he understands the distrust of police that many blacks feel.

‘‘I understand that mistrust. I am the attorney general of the United States. But I am also a black man,” he told an audience in Ferguson.

Holder then met privately with the family of Mike Brown, the man shot, and later held a news conference in which he reiterated racial grievance:

“This shooting incident has brought to the surface underlying tensions that have existed for many years. There is a history to these tensions, and that history simmers in more communities than just Ferguson.”

Such words inflame racial mistrust — and, even more importantly, undermine justice.

Let’s start with the “unarmed black teenager” mantra.

Brown was 18 years old — an adult by all legal standards. He was also 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed nearly 300 pounds.

Surveillance video from a nearby convenience store taken shortly before the shooting shows Brown as a towering muscled male stealing goods and then grabbing and violently shoving a store employee who tried to question him.

The actual images of Brown on the video surely do not bring to mind a harmless teen. …



David Harsanyi on Al Sharpton.

The persistent whitewashing of Al Sharpton’s revolting past will always be a mystery to me. But if we’re to trust Politico’s reporting today, Sharpton has emerged as the go-to civil rights guru for the Obama administration. “If anything,” writes Glenn Thrush, “the Ferguson crisis has underscored Sharpton’s role as the national black leader Obama leans on most, a remarkable personal and political transformation for a man once regarded with suspicion and disdain by many in his own party.”

Draw whatever conclusions you like from this development. But if the point of the piece is to detail the revival of a once-reviled public figure, offering a single purified paragraph detailing the events that first made the man famous seems a bit disingenuous. Perhaps a little more context is necessary for those who didn’t live through his violent circus.

So let’s revisit. …



Ann Coulter sums up the mess.

It’s important to remember that, in police shooting cases like the one in Ferguson, Missouri, the initial facts are often wrong. You don’t want to end up looking like Rich Lowry, National Review editor, whose March 23, 2012, column on the Trayvon Martin shooting was titled, “Al Sharpton Is Right.”

Early accounts are especially unreliable when reporters think they have a white racism story. Stirring up racial hatred is how journalists make up for sending their own kids to lily-white private schools.

As detailed in my book Mugged: Racial Demagoguery from the Seventies to Obama , the old media’s standard for any police shooting of a black person is: “Racist until proved innocent.” We got three-alarm racism stories for the shootings of Jose (Kiko) Garcia, Eleanor Bumpurs, Michael Stewart and Edmund Perry.

And then it turned out Garcia was a drugged-up coke dealer who pulled a gun on the cop, Bumpurs was a psychotic who came at the cops with a machete, Stewart fought the cops so violently he gave himself a heart attack, and Perry mugged an undercover cop.

Witness statements aren’t always 100 percent accurate. In Garcia’s case, innumerable neighbors gave the media florid accounts of Officer Michael O’Keefe beating and kicking Garcia, before repeatedly shooting the unarmed man in the back as he lay facedown on the floor. The Garcia family lawyer assured The New York Times that “this kid never was arrested; he wasn’t a drug dealer.”

It later turned out that Garcia was a convicted felon. He had a gun the night of the shooting. …

August 25, 2014

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Caroline Glick writes on a new dynamic in the Middle East. Since the US is now governed by fools, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have had to look for another ally from the civilized world. They have found it in Israel.

… The Obama administration’s decision to side with the members of the jihadist axis against Israel by adopting their demand to open Gaza’s borders with Israel and Egypt has served as the final nail in the coffin of America’s strategic credibility among its traditional regional allies.

As the US has stood with Hamas, it has also maintained its pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran. The US’s position in these talks is to enable the mullocracy to follow North Korea’s path to a nuclear arsenal. The non-jihadist Sunni states share Israel’s conviction that they cannot survive a nuclear armed Iran.

Finally, President Barack Obama’s refusal to date to take offensive action to destroy Islamic State in Iraq and Syria demonstrates to Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states that under Obama, the US would rather allow Islamic State to expand into their territory and destroy them than return US military forces to Iraq.

In other words, Obama’s pro-Hamas-, pro-Iran- and pro-Muslim Brotherhood-axis policies, along with his refusal to date to take effective action in Iraq and Syria to obliterate Islamic State, have convinced the US’s traditional allies that for the next two-and-a-half years, not only can they not rely on the US, they cannot discount the possibility of the US taking actions that harm them.

It is in the face of the US’s shift of allegiances under Obama that the non-jihadist Sunni regimes have begun to reevaluate their ties to Israel. Until the Obama presidency, the Saudis and Egyptians felt secure in their alliance with the US. Consequently, they never felt it necessary or even desirable to consider Israel as a strategic partner.

Under the US’s strategic protection, the traditional Sunni regimes had the luxury of maintaining their support for Palestinian terrorists and rejecting the notion of strategic cooperation with Israel, whether against Iran, al-Qaida or any other common foe.

So sequestered by the US, Israel became convinced that the only way it could enjoy any benefit from its shared strategic interests with its neighbors was by first bowing to the US’s long-held obsession with strengthening the PLO. This has involved surrendering land, political legitimacy and money to the terror group still committed to Israel’s destruction.

The war with Hamas has changed all of this.

The partnership that has emerged in this war between Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia is a direct consequence of Obama’s abandonment of the US’s traditional allies. Recognizing the threat that Hamas, as a component part of the Sunni jihadist alliance, constitutes for their own regimes, and in the absence of American support for Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have worked with Israel to defeat Hamas and keep Gaza’s borders sealed. …


… Given the stakes, and the complementary capabilities of the various parties, Israel’s primary task today must be to work quietly and diligently with the Saudis and Egyptians to expand on their joint achievements in Gaza.

The Israeli-Egyptian-Saudi alliance can ensure that all members survive the Obama era. And if lasts into the next administration, it will place all of its members on more secure footing with the US, whether or not a new administration decides to rebuild the US alliance structure in the Middle



Maureen Dowd with a faux version of the Gettysburg Address. It only took her six years, but she has finally figured out what we have for a president. 

FORE! Score? And seven trillion rounds ago, our forecaddies brought forth on this continent a new playground, conceived by Robert Trent Jones, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal when it comes to spending as much time on the links as possible — even when it seems totally inappropriate, like moments after making a solemn statement condemning the grisly murder of a 40-year-old American journalist beheaded by ISIL.

I know reporters didn’t get a chance to ask questions, but I had to bounce. I had a 1 p.m. tee time at Vineyard Golf Club with Alonzo Mourning and a part-owner of the Boston Celtics. Hillary and I agreed when we partied with VernonJordan up here, hanging out with celebrities and rich folks is fun.

Now we are engaged in a great civil divide in Ferguson, which does not even have a golf course, and that’s why I had a “logistical” issue with going there. We are testing whether that community, or any community so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure when the nation’s leader wants nothing more than to sink a birdie putt.

We are met on a great field of that battle, not Augusta, not Pebble Beach, not Bethpage Black, not Burning Tree, but Farm Neck Golf Club in Martha’s Vineyard, which we can’t get enough of — me, Alonzo, Ray Allen and Marvin Nicholson, my trip director and favorite golfing partner who has played 134 rounds and counting with me. …



More on golf from Michael Goodwin.

Sometimes a round of golf is just a round of golf. And sometimes it reveals the ­essence of a man.

President Obama’s decision to hit the links and yuk it up with pals immediately after speaking about the beheading of James ­Foley was no ordinary mistake. Nor was it a simple gaffe.

The decision continues to cause an uproar because, like an X-ray, there is no escaping the image. It shows there is no there there.

With even his media praetorian guard appalled, the golf outing is sparking a wider understanding that Obama is hollow, empty of the routine qualities Americans expect from their president.

Simple decency and respect for Foley’s horrified parents should have been enough to sober him. If that didn’t do it, the realization that the Islamic State had declared war on America in the most gruesome fashion imaginable should have sounded a call of duty in his head.

Instead, Obama continued with his vacation and was photographed looking as if he didn’t have a care in the world. Suddenly, that megawatt smile that often charmed voters wasn’t so charming. It was vacuous.

He looked like an empty-headed frat boy, numb to the world.

Maybe that’s not just an appearance. Maybe it’s the truth. Maybe that’s all there is. …



NY Times Wellness Blog posts on the dissing of breakfast.

For years, we’ve heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But scientific support for that idea has been surprisingly meager, and a spate of new research at several different universities — published in multiple articles in the August issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition — could change the way we think about early-hours eating.

The largest and most provocative of the studies focused on whether breakfast plays a role in weight loss. Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and other institutions recruited nearly 300 volunteers who were trying to lose weight. They randomly assigned subjects to either skip breakfast, always eat the meal or continue with their current dietary habits. (Each group contained people who habitually ate or skipped breakfast at the start, so some changed habits, and others did not.)

Sixteen weeks later, the volunteers returned to the lab to be weighed. No one had lost much, only a pound or so per person, with weight in all groups unaffected by whether someone ate breakfast or skipped it.

In another new study — this one of lean volunteers — researchers at the University of Bath determined the resting metabolic rates, cholesterol levels and blood-sugar profiles of 33 participants and randomly assigned them to eat or skip breakfast. Volunteers were then provided with activity monitors. …



More from The Atlantic.

… In one study, 300 people ate or skipped breakfast and showed no subsequent difference in their weight gained or lost. Researcher Emily Dhurandhar said the findings suggest that breakfast “may be just another meal” and admitted to a history Breakfast-Police allegiance, conceding ”I guess I won’t nag my husband to eat breakfast anymore.” 

Another small new study from the University of Bath found that people’s cholesterol levels, resting metabolic rates, and overall blood-sugar levels were unchanged after six weeks of foregoing breakfast. Breakfast skippers ate less over the course of the day than did breakfast-eaters, though they also burned fewer calories.

“I almost never have breakfast,” James Betts, a senior lecturer at University of Bath, told Reynolds. “That was part of my motivation for conducting this research, as everybody was always telling me off and saying I should know better.”

One thing I’ve learned as a health writer is that a wealth of academic research is the product of personal vendettas, some healthier than others. The crux of the breakfast divide is a phenomenon known among nutrition scientists as ”proposed effect of breakfast on obesity,” or the PEBO. It’s the idea people who don’t eat breakfast actually end up eating more and/or worse things over the course of the day because their nightly fast was not properly broken. …

August 24, 2014

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Commentary Magazine opened up the September issue with an essay by Bret Stephens who normally writes on foreign affairs for the WSJ. The title of the piece is The Meltdown. It is about the last six years of our country’s foreign policy failures.

In July, after Germany trounced Brazil 7–1 in the semifinal match of the World Cup—including a first-half stretch in which the Brazilian soccer squad gave up an astonishing five goals in 19 minutes—a sports commentator wrote: “This was not a team losing. It was a dream dying.” These words could equally describe what has become of Barack Obama’s foreign policy since his second inauguration. The president, according to the infatuated view of his political aides and media flatterers, was supposed to be playing o jogo bonito, the beautiful game—ending wars, pressing resets, pursuing pivots, and restoring America’s good name abroad.

Instead, he crumbled.

As I write, the foreign policy of the United States is in a state of unprecedented disarray. In some cases, failed policy has given way to an absence of policy. So it is in Libya, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and, at least until recently, Ukraine. In other cases the president has doubled down on failed policy—extending nuclear negotiations with Iran; announcing the full withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

Sometimes the administration has been the victim of events, such as Edward Snowden’s espionage, it made worse through bureaucratic fumbling and feckless administrative fixes. At other times the wounds have been self-inflicted: the espionage scandal in Germany (when it was learned that the United States had continued to spy on our ally despite prior revelations of the NSA’s eavesdropping on Chancellor Angela Merkel); the repeated declaration that “core al-Qaeda” was “on a path to defeat”; the prisoner swap with the Taliban that obtained Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl’s release.

Often the damage has been vivid, as in the collapse of the Israel–Palestinian talks in April followed by the war in Gaza. More frequently it can be heard in the whispered remarks of our allies. “The Polish-American alliance is worthless, even harmful, as it gives Poland a false sense of security,” Radek Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister and once one of its most reliably pro-American politicians, was overheard saying in June. “It’s bullshit.”

This is far from an exhaustive list. But it’s one that, at last, people have begun to notice. …

… But perhaps the most telling indicator is the collapsing confidence in the president among the Democratic-leaning foreign-policy elite in the United States. “Under Obama, the United States has suffered some real reputational damage,” admitted Washington Post columnist David Ignatius in May, adding: “I say this as someone who sympathizes with many of Obama’s foreign-policy goals.” Hillary Clinton, the president’s once loyal secretary of state, offered in early August that “great nations need organizing principles, and ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.” Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s national-security adviser, warned in July that “we are losing control of our ability at the highest levels of dealing with challenges that, increasingly, many of us recognize as fundamental to our well-being.” The United States, he added, was “increasingly devoid of strategic will and a sense of direction.” …

… every president confronts his share of apparently intractable dilemmas. The test of a successful presidency is whether it can avoid being trapped and defined by them. Did Obama inherit anything worse than what Franklin Roosevelt got from Herbert Hoover (the Great Depression) or Richard Nixon from Lyndon Johnson (the war in Vietnam and the social meltdown of the late ’60s) or Ronald Reagan from Jimmy Carter (stagflation, the ayatollahs, the Soviet Union on the march)?

If anything, the international situation Obama faced when he assumed the presidency was, in many respects, relatively auspicious. Despite the financial crisis and the recession that followed, never since John F. Kennedy has an American president assumed high office with so much global goodwill. The war in Iraq, which had done so much to bedevil Bush’s presidency, had been won thanks to a military strategy Obama had, as a senator, flatly opposed. For the war in Afghanistan, there was broad bipartisan support for large troop increases. Not even six months into his presidency, Obama was handed a potential strategic game changer when a stolen election in Iran led to a massive popular uprising that, had it succeeded, could have simultaneously ended the Islamic Republic and resolved the nuclear crisis. He was handed another would-be game changer in early 2011, when the initially peaceful uprising in Syria offered an opportunity, at relatively little cost to the U.S., to depose an anti-American dictator and sever the main link between Iran and its terrorist proxies in Lebanon and Gaza.

Incredibly, Obama squandered every single one of these opportunities. An early and telling turning point came in 2009, when, as part of the Russian reset, the administration abruptly cancelled plans—laboriously negotiated by the Bush administration, and agreed to at considerable political risk by governments in Warsaw and Prague—to deploy ballistic-missile defenses to Poland and the CzechRepublic. “We heard through the media,” was how Witold Waszczykowski, the deputy head of Poland’s national-security team, described the administration’s consultation process. Adding unwitting insult to gratuitous injury, the announcement came on the 70th anniversary of the Nazi-Soviet pact, a stark reminder that Poland could never entrust its security to the guarantees of great powers.

And this was just the beginning. …


… The myth of Obama’s brilliance paradoxically obscures the fact that he’s no fool. The point is especially important to note because the failure of Obama’s foreign policy is not, ultimately, a reflection of his character or IQ. It is the consequence of an ideology.

That ideology is what now goes by the name of progressivism, which has effectively been the dominant (if often disavowed) view of the Democratic Party since George McGovern ran on a “Come Home, America” platform in 1972—and got 37.5 percent of the popular vote. Progressivism believes that the United States must lead internationally by example (especially when it comes to nuclear-arms control); that the U.S. is as much the sinner as it is the sinned against when it comes to our adversaries (remember Mosaddegh?); and that the American interest is best served when it is merged with, or subsumed by, the global interest (ideally in the form of a UN resolution).

“The truth of the matter is that it’s a big world out there, and that as indispensable as we are to try to lead it, there’s still going to be tragedies out there, and there are going to be conflicts, and our job is to make sure to project what’s right, what’s just, and, you know, that we’re building coalitions of like-minded countries and partners in order to advance not only our core security interests, but also the interests of the world as a whole.” Thus did Obama describe his global outlook in an August 2014 press conference.

Above all, progressivism believes that the United States is a country that, in nearly every respect, treads too heavily on the Earth: environmentally, ideologically, militarily, and geopolitically. The goal, therefore, is to reduce America’s footprint; to “retrench,” as the administration would like to think of it, or to retreat, as it might more accurately be called.

To what end? …


… In a prescient 2004 essay in Foreign Policy, the historian Niall Ferguson warned that “the alternative to [American] unipolarity” would not be some kind of reasonably tolerable world order. It would, he said, “be apolarity—a global vacuum of power.” “If the United States retreats from global hegemony—its fragile self-image dented by minor setbacks on the imperial frontier—its critics at home and abroad must not pretend that they are ushering in a new era of multipolar harmony, or even a return to the good old balance of power. Be careful what you wish for.”

For nearly 250 years it has been America’s great fortune to have always found just the right leadership in the nick of time. Or perhaps that’s not quite accurate: It has, rather, been our way first to sleepwalk toward crisis and catastrophe, then to rouse ourselves when it is almost too late. As things stand now, by 2017 it will be nearly too late. Who sees a Lincoln, or a Truman, or a Reagan on the horizon?

Still, we should not lose hope. We may be foolish, but our enemies, however aggressive and ill-intended, are objectively weak. We may be a nation in deliberate retreat, but at least we are not—at least not yet—in inexorable decline. Two years ago, Obama was considered a foreign-policy success story. Not many people entertain that illusion now; the tide of public opinion, until recently so dull and vociferous in its opposition to “neocons,” is beginning to shift as Americans understand that a policy of inaction also has its price. Americans are once again prepared to hear the case against retreat. What’s needed are the spokesmen, and spokeswomen, who will make it.

Since I am writing these words on the centenary of the First World War, it seems appropriate to close with a line from the era. At the battle of the Marne, with Germany advancing on Paris, General Ferdinand Foch sent the message that would rally the French army to hold its ground. “My center is yielding. My right is retreating. Situation excellent. I am attacking.” Words to remember and live by in this new era of headlong American retreat.



Michael Barone with yet another in the long list of ways to demonstrate the failures of governments. 

The private sector has been making raising children more inexpensive. The public sector has been making raising children more expensive. That’s the lesson I draw from this Bloomberg blog post by the indefatigable and insightful Megan McArdle. She links to U.S. Department of Agriculture data on “expenditures on a child from birth through age 17, total expenses and budgetary component share” for 1960 and 2013, both expressed in 2013 dollars. The pie charts show that the percentages spent on housing and transportation have remained static, while the percentages spent on food and clothing have declined significantly and the percentages for health care and “child care & education” have risen significantly. …

… The bottom line is that the private sector, thanks in significant part to deregulation and free-market competition, has made it substantially less expensive to feed and clothe children over the past half-century. The private sector, aided marginally by government, has made it only marginally more expensive to transport and house them. But the public sector, together with changes in lifestyles, has made it much more expensive to provide them with health care and to educate them. There’s a lesson here, I think.



WSJ article on new understandings of the time modern man spent in concert with Neanderthals. There was a lot of contact for thousands of years and some interbreeding which explains the existence of the Democrat party and the left in general.

… Neanderthals originally emerged from Africa and lived in Europe, Russia and the Middle East at least 200,000 years ago and possibly for tens of thousands of years before that.

Research suggests that modern humans first left Africa roughly 60,000 years ago and first headed eastward. Previous estimates have indicated that modern humans arrived in Neanderthal-dominated Europe about 40,000 years ago, and some Neanderthals continued to persist in parts of the continent until just 32,000 years ago before vanishing, leaving the continent to humans.

The Nature study offers a significant revision of that timeline. It concludes that modern humans arrived considerably earlier—about 45,000 years ago—and the two groups overlapped for anywhere from 2,600 years to 5,400 years before the Neanderthals died out.

Did the overlap mean that two groups in Europe met? Did they breed? Did they exchange or copy tools or other behaviors, a process known as “acculturation”? There is no hard evidence to prove that Neanderthals and modern humans met, interbred, or exchanged tools and behaviors, but there are signs that some contact may have occurred. …


The cartoonists have fun with the golfing president. In spite of the humor, we continue to think the more time he is on the golf course, the better for the country.




August 21, 2014

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Roger Simon knows what caused the mess in Ferguson, MO.

… But, you say, this was a white-on-black crime. An o-fay cop offed a brother. (Never mind that brothers can butcher brothers like it’s going out of style, this pig had white-skin privilege.)  Well, yes, and we don’t yet know the circumstances, but even accepting the narrative of, say, the Huffington Post that the cop was the reincarnation of Bull Connor and that the “youth” was a “gentle giant” on the way to a contract with PBS as the next Mr. Rogers, the event is basically a charade.  Everyone knows we’ve seen it before and everyone knows we’ll see it again.  In fact, many parties don’t want it to go away.  The beat must go on.  It has to go on or their very personalities will disintegrate.  And I will tell you why — what caused it.

The Great Society.  There, I’ve said it.  The Great Society, which I voted for and supported from the bottom of my heart, is the villain behind Ferguson.  Ferguson is the Great Society writ large because the Great Society convinced, and then reassured, black people that they were victims, taught them that being a victim and playing a victim was the way to go always and forever.  And then it repeated the point ad infinitum from its debut in 1964 until now — a conveniently easy to compute fifty years — as it all became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Great Society and similar policies screwed black people to the wall. It was racist to the core without knowing it.  Nobody used the N-word.  In fact, it was forbidden, unless you were Dr. Dre or somebody.  But it did its job without the word and did it better for being in disguise.  Those misbegotten kids running around Ferguson high on reefer and wasting their lives screaming at cops are the product of all this.  Stop it already.  No one has said this better than Jason Riley, author of Please Stop Helping Us.  Listen to Jason if you want to end Fergusons.




Jason Riley who is on the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal has been on fire the past few days. Here’s some videos of his appearances. Find a chance to watch some over the weekend.

Forty five seconds on MSNBC

Five minutes on O’Reilly

Ten minutes on BooK TV

One hour at Heritage Foundation



Jason Riley is often in Pickings, but we never make much of the fact he is black. We like his work. Here is an example as he has some fun with Queen Hillary.

Summer continues, and so do Hillary Clinton’s blunders. This week brings news that the former first lady lives a lot larger than those blue collar Democrats who supported her for president in 2008 might realize.

We already knew about the quarter-million dollar speaking fees, but that’s just for the speech. In addition, Mrs. Clinton “insists on staying in the ‘presidential suite’ of luxury hotels that she chooses anywhere in the world, including Las Vegas,” reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “She usually requires those who pay her six-figure fees for speeches to also provide a private jet for transportation—only a $39 million, 16-passenger Gulfstream G450 or larger will do.”

Through a state public records law, the paper obtained documents related to Mrs. Clinton speech at a University of Nevada, Las Vegas fundraiser last fall. Her speaking contract includes a stipend for her staff and details such as how long she will remain at an event (90 minutes), how many photos she will pose for (50) and how many people she will pose with (100). …



Here’s Kevin Williamson with something thoughtful on the question of how to help blacks.

There are problems that are related to race, and there are problems that are related to economics, and it is difficult to untangle them. Ferguson, Mo., is largely black and relatively low-income; View Park-Windsor Hills, Calif., is largely black and relatively high-income. The median household in Ferguson earns $37,517, or 70 percent of the national median: not well off, but not shockingly poor, either. The median family in View Park-Windsor Hills earns about $160,000 a year, or three times the national average. It will be no surprise that black communities in suburban Los Angeles with six-figure median incomes do not suffer from the same sort of problems experienced by poor black communities such as those in the St. Louis exurbs, Chicago, or Detroit.

There are four occasionally overlapping schools of thought regarding poor black communities. The view most prevalent on the hard left is that the root issue is institutional racism, while one prevalent view on the hard right is that the root issue is genetics. I am not much convinced by the evidence for either one of these claims. The third view is that the main problem is cultural, that black Americans, especially in poor and heavily black communities, are taught to understand themselves as being cast in an adversarial role vis-à-vis institutions such as schools and businesses, with the result that they are less likely to take advantage of such opportunities as are available to them for economic advancement. The fourth view, closest to my own, is that the problem is fundamentally one of economics and economic history: Having been formally shut out of much of the economy until within recent memory, African Americans simply lag behind the average. The relatively fast economic advancement of other minority groups, such as Vietnamese immigrants, does not negate that premise: The history and position of black Americans is fundamentally different from that of immigrant groups. American institutions expended a great deal of effort to help assimilate and advance Vietnamese refugees, while many of those institutions had spent a solid century after the Civil War working to prevent the assimilation and advancement of African Americans.

What might a policy response to that look like? …



Joel Kotkin makes the point that the people designing cities do not care what the vast middle class is looking for.

What is a city for?

It’s a crucial question, but one rarely asked by the pundits and developers who dominate the debate over the future of the American city.

Their current conventional wisdom embraces density, sky-high scrapers, vastly expanded mass transit and ever-smaller apartments. It reflects a desire to create an ideal locale for hipsters and older, sophisticated urban dwellers. It’s city as adult Disneyland or “entertainment machine,” chock-a-block with chic restaurants, shops and festivals.

Overlooked, or even disdained, is what most middle-class residents of the metropolis actually want: home ownership, rapid access to employment throughout the metropolitan area, good schools and “human scale” neighborhoods.

A vast majority of people — roughly 8o percent — prefer a single-family home, whether in the city or surrounding communities. And they may not get “creative” gigs at ad agencies or writers collectives, but look instead for decent-paying opportunities in fields such as construction, manufacturing or logistics. Over the past decade, these jobs have been declining rapidly in “luxury cities” like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

In contrast, such jobs, which pay $60,000 to $100,000 annually, have been growing — particularly as the industrial and energy sectors have recovered — in cities like Houston, Austin, Nashville and Salt Lake City. These locales also feature housing, relative to incomes, that is more affordable.

Of course, few urbanists wax poetic about Dallas or Des Moines. They lack Brooklyn’s hipster charm, and often maintain some of the trappings of the suburbs. But these “opportunity cities” offer what Descartes called “an inventory of the possible” — urbanity as an engine of upward mobility for the middle and working classes. …



Matthew Continetti has a send off for Robin Williams.

… What distinguishes Williams from Pacino and De Niro is the arc of his career. They came to prominence in dramatic roles, but have spent much of the last decade playing for laughs or parodying the mannerisms that made them famous. Williams began in comedy. His standup, a sort of experiment in what would happen if you took Jonathan Winters and injected him with adrenalin, remains a thrilling experience, a rapid-fire verbal cartoon in which Williams plays all of the parts and invents the plot as he goes along. He found a mass audience by playing the lead in a sitcom, Mork & Mindy. When audiences remember Williams, they will recall Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Birdcage, maybe Flubber. All are funny.

The comedies alternated with the tragi-comic dramas for which Williams won an Oscar and critical respect. But it was only in 2002, toward the end of his career, that Williams showed audiences his true range, playing disturbed losers in One Hour Photo, Death to Smoochy, and Insomnia. In 2009, he starred in The Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, a well-reviewed stage production about the legacies of the second Iraq war. At a time when Pacino and De Niro were descending into caricature, Williams was showcasing new aspects of his talent.

The typical Williams character was an outsider. Sometimes, like in Mork & Mindy, he was literally an alien. At other times, like in Moscow on the Hudson, he played an immigrant. He was a mad man (The Fisher King), a grown-up Peter Pan (Hook), a gay man (The Birdcage), a fast-aging child (Jack), and a robot (Bicentennial Man). His specialty was playing characters at the margins of their profession: the DJ in Good Morning Vietnam, the itinerant teacher in Dead Poets Society, the doctor who tends to locked-in cases in Awakenings, the out-of-work voice actor in Mrs. Doubtfire, the MIT-trained psychiatrist who teaches at a community college in Good Will Hunting, the unconventional Patch Adams. …

August 20, 2014

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The president gets some harsh treatment from Jackson Diehl, a former fan at WaPo. 

“What I just find interesting is the degree to which this issue keeps on coming up, as if this was my decision.”

These words, marrying petulance and implausibility, were spoken by President Obama when he was asked, shortly after the beginning of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq, whether he regretted withdrawing all U.S. troops from the country during his first term.“That entire analysis is bogus and is wrong,” was his startling answer.

That Obama is somehow not responsible for the Iraq pullout would be news to anyone who remembers his announcement of it, when he bragged of fulfilling his “promise” to end “America’s war in Iraq”; or his subsequent election campaign, in which he tirelessly proclaimed that “the tide of war is receding.” The sudden disclaimer certainly raised eyebrows among the numerous senior officials who have said, both on and off the record, that Obama resisted leaving behind a stay-on force, slashed its size far below that proposed by military commanders and expressed relief when a legal snag provided him a pretext to pull the plug on Iraq altogether.

What’s most disturbing about Obama’s outburst, however, is what it says about his willingness, with 2 and 1/2 years left in his term, to recognize his foreign policy mistakes and endeavor to correct them. Even as he has been forced to reverse his Iraq decision, the president appears stubbornly determined to reject the conclusion that has become conventional wisdom outside the White House: that his retreat in Iraq and passivity in Syria did much to create the ugly monster the United States now faces in the Islamic State, an organization that is more powerful, more vicious and more ambitious than al-Qaeda prior to Sept, 11, 2001.

The critique extends far beyond familiar Republican or neo-conservative precincts. …



Jonathan Tobin expands on Diehl’s column.

… no one is arguing that the president of the United States is all-powerful and has the capacity to fix everything in the world that is out of order. But the problem is not so much the steep odds against which the administration is currently struggling, as its utter incapacity to look honestly at the mistakes it has made in the past five and half years and to come to the conclusion that sometimes you’ve got to change course in order to avoid catastrophes.

As has been pointed out several times here at COMMENTARY in the last month and is again highlighted by Diehl in his column, Obama’s efforts to absolve himself of all responsibility for the collapse in Iraq is completely disingenuous. The man who spent the last few years bragging about how he “ended the war in Iraq” now professes to have no responsibility for the fact that the U.S. pulled out all of its troops from the conflict.

Nor is he willing to second guess his dithering over intervention in Syria. The administration spent the last week pushing back hard against Hillary Clinton’s correct, if transparently insincere, criticisms of the administration in which she served, for having stood by and watched helplessly there instead of taking the limited actions that might well have prevented much of that country — and much of Iraq — from falling into the hands of ISIS terrorists.

The same lack of honesty characterizes the administration’s approach to the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the nuclear negotiations with Iran, two topics that Diehl chose not to highlight in his piece. …



And Walter Russell Mead with more.

As Nouri al-Maliki agreed to step aside earlier this week, and even though the U.S. doesn’t have a lot of confidence (“muted enthusiasm”) in his replacement, President Obama’s reluctant re-engagement with Iraq continued. It has been agonizingly painful for the man who made opposition to the war in Iraq the cornerstone of his national political appeal and who trumpeted his withdrawal from Iraq as a mission accomplished to recommit U.S. forces to the country, but President Obama has had little choice.

With Maliki gone, his choices get harder. The biggest problem is going to involve the fight against ISIS. So far, the administration’s strategy seems to have three main components: bomb ISIS when it goes on the offensive beyond its current holdings, arm the Kurds, and use the carrot of more aid to persuade the Baghdad government to do a somewhat less awful job of running the country—less discrimination against Sunnis, less politicization of the army.

The trouble is that all these strategies so far are half hearted—and hedged about with the typical hesitations, restrictions and cautionary measures that are the hallmark of this president’s foreign policy style. Bomb ISIS—but not too much. Help the Kurds—a little. Those policies are more likely to produce a stalemate than anything else, and at this point, a stalemate is a huge ISIS win. …



It’s a little thing, but the way AP has violated its Style Guide when referring to the man killed by police in Missouri as a teen, shows how the media always finds a way to push the narrative that advances the cause of statism and government power. Ed Driscoll has the story in Pajamas Media. While a little thing, it helps explain why the left has constructed an alternative reality. 

… The Associated Press Stylebook states that in reports referring to a person’s age, the figure for the age number should be used. It also states that reports should “use man or woman for individuals 18 and older.”

Why, then, are AP reports on the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown solely referring to him as a “teen” and “teenager”?

“Don’t know’ if Missouri teen shot with hands up,” reads one AP headline from Monday. “County autopsy: Unarmed teen shot 6 to 8 times,” reads another.

And an excerpt from yet another AP story, emphasis added: “Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon lifted a curfew but ordered the National Guard to step in to help restore order. Holder over the weekend ordered a federal medical examiner to perform a third autopsy on the teenager, Michael Brown.” …



Real Clear Science reminds us of an infamous wine study.

A Little over a dozen ears ago, “la merde… hit le ventilateur” in the world of wine.

Nobody remembers the 2001 winner of Amorim Academy’s annual competition to crown the greatest contribution to the science of wine (“a study of genetic polymorphism in the cultivated vine Vitis vinifera L. by means of microsatellite markers”), but many do recall the runner-up: a certain dissertation by Frédéric Brochet, then a PhD candidate at the University of Bordeaux II in Talence, France. His big finding lit a fire under the seats of wine snobs everywhere.

In a sneaky study, Brochet dyed a white wine red and gave it to 54 oenology (wine science) students. The supposedly expert panel overwhelmingly described the beverage like they would a red wine. They were completely fooled.

The research, later published in the journal Brain and Language, is now widely used to show why wine tasting is total BS. But more than that, the study says something fascinating about how we perceive the world around us: that visual cues can effectively override our senses of taste and smell (which are, of course, pretty much the same thing.)

WHEN BROCHET BEGAN his study, scientists already knew that the brain processes olfactory (taste and smell) cues approximately ten times slower than sight — 400 milliseconds versus 40 milliseconds. It’s likely that in the interest of evolutionary fitness, i.e. spotting a predator, the brain gradually developed to fast track visual information. Brochet’s research further demonstrated that, in the hierarchy of perception, vision clearly takes precedence. …



Live Science reports on accidental archeological finds from the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay. However, some of this information doesn’t add up. Pickerhead has spent more than a few hours navigating the Bay, and there is no place with depths mentioned in the article.

A 22,000-year-old mastodon skull and tool dredged from the seafloor in the Chesapeake Bay hints of early settlers in North America.

The two relics, which were pulled up together, may come from a place that hasn’t been dry land since 14,000 years ago. If so, the combination of the finds may suggest that people lived in North America, and possibly butchered the mastodon, thousands of years before people from the Clovis culture, who are widely thought to be the first settlers of North America and the ancestors of all living Native Americans.

But that hypothesis is controversial, with one expert saying the finds are too far removed from their original setting to draw any conclusions from them. That’s because the bones were found in a setting that makes it tricky for scientists to say with certainty where they originated and how they are related to one another.

“The bottom line is, there simply is no context for these discoveries,” said Vance Holliday, an archaeologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, who was not involved in the study. …



August snow in Scotland? Daily Mail, UK with that report. This was cut short. Follow the link if you want to read all the details.

… Bitter Arctic winds could plunge parts of Britain into the coldest spell of August weather for almost a century. Thermometers are set to plummet as a stubborn band of low pressure drags air in from the north – with two weeks of wet, windy and cold weather on the horizon. There is even a chance of snow and sleet over the mountains of Scotland as it dips to near freezing overnight. Government figures show the last time it was this cold in August was in 1919 when the mercury rose no higher than 8.9C for four days in Yorkshire and Cumbria. …



Late Night Humor from Andy Malcolm.

Fallon: A new survey finds that 75% of Americans don’t use up all of their vacation days. While the rest apparently loan them to President Obama. He’s on vacation again!

Meyers: The Korean Aerospace Institute says its one and only astronaut resigned for personal reasons. Now all he has to do is get back to Earth.

Conan: The Kardashians’ home has been burglarized three times this year. Still, no arrests. LA police say, “If only there was a video record of what goes on in the Kardashian home.”

August 19, 2014

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Mark Steyn writes on the appalling police of Ferguson, Missouri.

The “narrative” of Ferguson, Missouri changed somewhat today. But, amid the confusion, the blundering stupidity of the city’s police department remains consistent.

This morning the Police Chief, Thomas Jackson, released security-camera shots of the late Michael Brown apparently stealing a five-dollar box of cigarillos from a convenience store. So the 18-year old shot dead by Chief Jackson’s officer was no longer a “gentle giant” en route to college but just another crappy third-rate violent teen n’er-do-well.

This afternoon, the chief gave a second press conference. Why would he do that? Well, he’d somehow managed to create the impression in his first press conference that the officer who killed Mr Brown was responding to the robbery. In fact, that was not the case. The Ferguson policeman was unaware that Brown was a robbery suspect at the time he encountered him and shot him dead. Which is presumably why Chief Jackson was leaned on to give his second press conference and tidy up the mess from the first. So we have an officer who sees two young men, unwanted for any crime, walking down the middle of the street and stops his cruiser. Three minutes later one of them is dead.

On the other hand, Jackson further confused matters by suggesting that he noticed Brown had cigars in his hand and might be the suspect.

It’s important, when something goes wrong, to be clear about what it is that’s at issue. Talking up Michael Brown as this season’s Trayvonesque angel of peace and scholarship was foolish, and looting stores in his saintly memory even worse. But this week’s pictures from Ferguson, such as the one above, ought to be profoundly disquieting to those Americans of a non-looting bent.

The most basic problem is that we will never know for certain what happened. Why? Because the Ferguson cruiser did not have a camera recording the incident. That’s simply not credible. “Law” “enforcement” in Ferguson apparently has at its disposal tear gas, riot gear, armored vehicles and machine guns …but not a dashcam. That’s ridiculous. …

… And, if we have to have federal subsidy programs for municipal police departments, we should scrap the one that gives them the second-hand military hardware from Tikrit and Kandahar and replace it with one that ensures every patrol car has a camera.

As for what’s happened in the days since the shooting, I’ve written a lot in recent months about the appalling militarization of the police in America, and I don’t have much to add. But I did get a mordant chuckle out of this line from Kathy Shaidle on the green-camouflaged officers pictured above:

Shouldn’t a ‘Ferguson’ camo pattern be, like, 7/11 & Kool-Aid logos?

Indeed. To camouflage oneself in the jungles of suburban America, one should be clothed in Dunkin’ Donuts and Taco Bell packaging. A soldier wears green camo in Vietnam to blend in. A policeman wears green camo in Ferguson to stand out – to let you guys know: We’re here, we’re severe, get used to it. This is not a small thing. …



Kevin Williamson on who lost the cities.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson is, to the surprise of all thinking people, right about something: “A spark has exploded,” he said, referring to the protests and violence in Ferguson, Mo. “When you look at what sparked riots in the Sixties, it has always been some combination of poverty, which was the fuel, and then some oppressive police tactic. It was the same in Newark, in Chicago, in Detroit, in Los Angeles. It’s symptomatic of a national crisis of urban abandonment and repression, seen in Chicago.”

A question for the Reverend Jackson: Who has been running the show in Newark, in Chicago, in Detroit, and in Los Angeles for a great long while now? The answer is: People who see the world in much the same way as does the Reverend Jackson, who take the same view of government, who support the same policies, and who suffer from the same biases.

This is not intended to be a cheap partisan shot. The Democratic party institutionally certainly has its defects, the chronicle of which could fill several unreadable volumes, but the more important and more fundamental question here is one of philosophy and policy. Newark, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles — and Philadelphia, Cleveland, and a dozen or more other cities — have a great deal in common: They are the places in which the progressive vision of government has reached its fullest expressions. They are the hopeless reality that results from wishful thinking.

Ferguson was hardly a happy suburban garden spot until the shooting of Michael Brown. Ferguson is about two-thirds black, and 28 percent of those black residents live below the poverty line. The median income is well below the Missouri average, and Missouri is hardly the nation’s runaway leader in economic matters. More than 60 percent of the births in the city of St. Louis (and about 40 percent in St. LouisCounty) are out of wedlock. 

My reporting over the past few years has taken me to Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, St. Louis and the nearby community of East St. Louis, Ill., Philadelphia, Detroit, Stockton, San Francisco, and a great many other cities, and the Reverend Jackson is undoubtedly correct in identifying “a national crisis of urban abandonment and repression.” He neglects to point out that he is an important enabler of it. …



John Fund takes up the Perry indictment.

If you want to know where the abuse-of-power indictment of Texas governor Rick Perry may be headed, look no further than how a similar indictment of then–U.S. senator Kay Bailey Hutchison crashed exactly 20 years ago.

Republican Hutchison was indicted only four months after her landslide win in a special election in 1993. TravisCounty district attorney Ronnie Earle — whose successor, Rosemary Lehmberg, is at the center of the Perry indictment — persuaded a grand jury made up of residents from the liberal Austin area to indict Hutchison on charges of misusing her prior office of state treasurer. (The TravisCounty district attorney’s office runs the Public Integrity Unit, which enforces ethics laws for all state officials, and Austin is the county seat.) Hutchison was accused of using state employees and her state offices to conduct personal and political business and then ordering records of her activities to be destroyed. Among the specific accusations was that she used state employees to plan her Christmas vacation in Colorado and write thank-you notes.

Hutchison pressed for a quick resolution of the case because she was running for reelection in 1994, much as Governor Perry has to worry his indictment will hang over any 2016 presidential race he might run. The case against Hutchison slowly began to fall apart. The first indictment had to be thrown out because one of the grand-jury members who heard the case was ineligible to serve. A defense motion to move the trial from the politically charged climate of liberal Austin to Fort Worth was granted. Then, when the trial began in February of 1994, it ended after only 30 minutes, when Hutchison was found not guilty on all charges. …



More from Phil Klein at The Examiner. 

It didn’t take long for it to become widely accepted — and not just among conservatives — that Friday’s indictment of Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, rests on a razor-thin legal premise. MSNBC host Ari Melber called the case “very weak” while Jonathan Chait of New York magazine declared the indictment “unbelievably ridiculous.” Even former senior advisor to President Obama, David Axelrod, wrote on Twitter that the indictment seemed “pretty sketchy.” But perhaps the weirdest part about the indictment isn’t just that it’s without merit, but that the underlying dispute it highlights actually makes Perry look good.

Typically, in politically motivated prosecutions, even if there isn’t enough evidence to convict a politician, the case may highlight behavior that, while not illegal, is politically embarrassing.

For instance, the case that’s been most compared to the Perry indictment is the prosecution of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, because both cases originated from Travis County and targeted prominent Republicans. DeLay’s conviction was overturned last fall for lack of sufficient evidence — eight years after he was initially indicted. But the long ordeal of the case did embarrass DeLay by bringing attention to the often ugly world of campaign finance.

Yet in an attempt to portray Perry as abusing his power, prosecutors went after an example that’s likely to make most Texans sympathize with his position.

August 18, 2014

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Charles Krauthammer says the Hillary foreign policy critique is spot on. 

Leave it to Barack Obama’s own former secretary of state to acknowledge the fatal flaw of his foreign policy: a total absence of strategic thinking.

Yes, of course everything Hillary Clinton says is positioning. The last time she sought the nomination (2008), as she admitted before Defense Secretary Bob Gates, she opposed the Iraq surge for political reasons because she was facing antiwar Sen. Barack Obama in Iowa. Now, as she prepares for her next run (2016), she’s positioning herself to the right because, with no prospect of being denied the Democratic nomination, she has the luxury of running toward the center two years before Election Day.

All true, but sincere or not — with the Clintons how can you ever tell? — it doesn’t matter. She’s right.

Mind you, Obama does deploy grand words proclaiming grand ideas: the “new beginning” with Islam declared in Cairo, the reset with Russia announced in Geneva, global nuclear disarmament proclaimed in Prague (and playacted in a Washington summit). But, untethered from reality, they all disappeared without a trace.

When carrying out policies in the real world, however, it’s nothing but tactics and reactive improvisation. The only consistency is the president’s inability (unwillingness?) to see the big picture. Consider: …



Mark Steyn gives on update on his lawsuit with Michael Mann. Turns out he has lots of new allies in the ACLU, WaPo, and other media outlets as they all have come to see the danger to them should Mann prevail. As always, Steyn leaves no prisoners.

I can’t claim to know what’s inside Mann’s overheated head. Perhaps he genuinely believes he’s a Nobel Laureate who’s been exonerated by Sir Muir Russell and Lord Oxburgh and NOAA and the British Government and everybody else. But his lawyers – even the ideologues, like Peter Fontaine – can’t plead self-delusion. As officers of the court, they’re obliged to do what Steve calls “due diligence”. Mann has played fast and loose with the facts all his adult life. If I were his counsel, I would be double-checking everything he tells me.

Given the procedural bollocks the disgraceful Judge Combs Greene made of this case, my preference since December has been to go to trial as soon as possible. I’ve responded to Mann’s discovery requests on me, and I’d like him to reciprocate and undergo deposition. I think it would be better, both for my own case and the law in general, for him to lose at trial, and I’d like to get there sooner rather than later. All that said, I am modestly heartened by how this case is going, and by the way Mann’s behavior is being seen for what it is. I would especially like to thank SteynOnline readers from around the world who’ve supported this pushback against a vexatious litigant and prodigious liar by buying my books, gift certificates, exclusive trial merchandise, and even my Christmas disco CD over at the Steyn store. You kept us in the game at a very difficult time when the conventional wisdom was that Mann was cruising to victory, and you enabled me to hire a first-rate free-speech legal team that, like me, is itching to get on with deposition and discovery.

He might still win, of course. Given the ghastly misapplication of the law by Judge Combs Greene, one would be foolish to rule out any possibility in this so-called justice system. My plan in such an eventuality was to put a false beard over my real beard, flee jurisdiction, and undergo reconstructive surgery somewhere where they do a nice job, like Switzerland. However, as I said to Hugh Hewitt on the radio today, it’s clear that what’s changed is that the major media and human-rights groups now recognize that Mann’s suit is a serious threat to their freedom. As the ACLU/Big Media brief puts it:

“While Mann essentially claims that he can silence critics because he is “right,” the judicial system should not be the arbiter of either scientific truth or correct public policy. While a mici may not necessarily agree with the con tent of defendants ‘ speech, they believe that, if left to stand , the decision below will chill the expression of opinion on a wide range of important scientific and public policy issues, and therefore urge that it be reversed.”

So, even if he did win in DC court, we’d be pushing on, if necessary all the way to the Supreme Court. And in the end he will lose, and lose big – because the alternative would be the worst setback for the First Amendment in half-a-century.



Kevin Williamson says thanks to Mayor de Blasio, New York City’s squeegee men are making a comeback.

The Squeegee Man was the personification of old, dysfunctional, pre-Giuliani New York City. These guys were extortion artists, who would “help” motorists stuck in clogged automotive arteries, such as those leading to the Lincoln Tunnel, by forcing their unsolicited windshield-cleaning services on them and then demanding payment, the demand generally being accompanied by verbal abuse or the threat of violence — and, occasionally, with actual violence. Squeegee Man symbolized the disorder and lawlessness of New York life — not a murderer or a rapist, just one of the many lower-level hassles and terrors that made the city so unbearable back in what some insist on remembering as the good ol’ days of crack addicts and hookers on Times Square.

Squeegee Man is making a comeback, both in his traditional form — as documented by the New York Post — and in a new, mutant form: Sunday Hijacker. Sunday Hijacker is cleverer and more cynical than his predecessor, and his modus operandi is to make a scene inside a church during worship until somebody pays him to go away. Screaming, knocking over furnishings, and threatening violence are his shtick.

On Sunday, I was at Mass at a congregation with whom I sometimes worship (Catholic liturgy on Park Avenue — that’s a National Review Sunday, missing only the tying of a soft-shackle Edwards), and was intrigued by one of the announcements at the end of the service: Parishioners were asked to call 9-1-1 if they were threatened inside the church or on the church grounds by people demanding money. We were implored to make a donation to one of the many Catholic charities caring for the homeless instead of complying with vagrants’ demands for cash. The police, parishioners were assured, had been contacted, and they had promised to pay extra attention to the church. …



And, a Wall Street Journal OpEd says recommended salt levels may do more harm than good.

A long-running debate over the merits of eating less salt escalated Wednesday when one of the most comprehensive studies yet suggested cutting back on sodium too much actually poses health hazards.

Current guidelines from U.S. government agencies, the World Health Organization, the American Heart Association and other groups set daily dietary sodium targets between 1,500 and 2,300 milligrams or lower, well below the average U.S. daily consumption of about 3,400 milligrams.

The new study, which tracked more than 100,000 people from 17 countries over an average of more than three years, found that those who consumed fewer than 3,000 milligrams of sodium a day had a 27% higher risk of death or a serious event such as a heart attack or stroke in that period than those whose intake was estimated at 3,000 to 6,000 milligrams. Risk of death or other major events increased with intake above 6,000 milligrams.

The findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, are the latest to challenge the benefit of aggressively low sodium targets—especially for generally healthy people. Last year, a report from the Institute of Medicine, which advises Congress on health issues, didn’t find evidence that cutting sodium intake below 2,300 milligrams reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

The new report has shortcomings, and as an observational study it found only an association, not a causative effect, between very low sodium and cardiovascular risk. Still, it spurred calls to reconsider the targets. This “adds a pretty big weight on the side that low salt intake is associated with harm,” said Suzanne Oparil, professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and an expert on high blood pressure. Without evidence from randomized trials to back them up, the low-sodium targets are “questionable health policy,” she said. Dr. Oparil was author of an editorial that accompanied the findings.

“It’s about time that major groups who are making recommendations on sodium take a more measured approach,” said Salim Yusuf of the Population Health Research Institute, or PHRI, at McMasters University in Ontario and senior author of two papers on the new study.

The American Heart Association, a strong proponent of the low-sodium targets, isn’t persuaded. …

August 17, 2014

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John Podhoretz posts on a WSJ article about the administration’s interference in weapons purchases by Israel. Now the Pentagon can no longer proceed with transfers without white house and state department approval thus allowing more passive/aggressive behavior towards Netanyahu. 

What on earth? In the middle of a war this country’s president (That would be barry obama) publicly says is  justified owing to the relentlessness of the rocket fire against civilian populations, U.S. officials proudly tell the Wall Street Journal, they are holding up weapons transfers to Israel:

They decided to require White House and State Department approval for even routine munitions requests by Israel, officials say.

Instead of being handled as a military-to-military matter, each case is now subject to review—slowing the approval process and signaling to Israel that military assistance once taken for granted is now under closer scrutiny.

These transfers were taking place through entirely traditional, legal, and uncontroversial means. Israel is an ally. It’s at war. War depletes stocks. So why is this happening?

Simply put: It’s a gigantic hissy fit, an expression of rage against Bibi Netanyahu, by whom the administration feels dissed. The  quotes in this article are almost beyond belief. In the annals of American foreign policy, no ally has ever been talked about in this way. …



Here is the Wall Street Journal article mentioned above by Podhoretz.

White House and State Department officials who were leading U.S. efforts to rein in Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip were caught off guard last month when they learned that the Israeli military had been quietly securing supplies of ammunition from the Pentagon without their approval.

Since then the Obama administration has tightened its control on arms transfers to Israel. But Israeli and U.S. officials say that the adroit bureaucratic maneuvering made it plain how little influence the White House and State Department have with the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu —and that both sides know it.

The munitions surprise and previously unreported U.S. response added to a string of slights and arguments that have bubbled behind the scenes during the Gaza conflict, according to events related by senior American, Palestinian and Israeli officials involved. (See photos and maps surveying the destruction in Gaza.)

In addition, current and former American officials say, U.S.-Israel ties have been hurt by leaks that they believe were meant to undercut the administration’s standing by mischaracterizing its position and delay a cease-fire. The battles have driven U.S.-Israeli relations to the lowest point since President Barack Obama took office.

Now, as Egyptian officials shuttle between representatives of Israel and Hamas seeking a long-term deal to end the fighting, U.S. officials are bystanders instead of in their historic role as mediators. The White House finds itself largely on the outside looking in.

U.S. officials said Mr. Obama had a particularly combative phone call on Wednesday with Mr. Netanyahu, who they say has pushed the administration aside but wants it to provide Israel with security assurances in exchange for signing onto a long-term deal. …

… Today, many administration officials say the Gaza conflict—the third between Israel and Hamas in under six years—has persuaded them that Mr. Netanyahu and his national security team are both reckless and untrustworthy.

Israeli officials, in turn, describe the Obama administration as weak and naive, and are doing as much as they can to bypass the White House in favor of allies in Congress and elsewhere in the administration. …

… Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said Congress’s goal in approving the money quickly on Aug. 1 was to send a message to the administration to stop calling Israel out about civilian casualties.

A senior Republican congressional aide said Israeli officials told senators they wanted the money sooner rather than later. He said Israel’s main purpose in accelerating the vote in Congress to before legislators’ August recess was to provide an overwhelming “show of support” for the military operation. …



Jonathan Tobin says Israel should ignore the tantrum from the petulant president. 

Last month as the fighting raged in Gaza, news about the United States resupplying the ammunition stocks of the Israel Defense Forces balanced other, more troubling stories about arguments between the two countries over diplomacy. But it turns out the arguments between the Obama administration and the Israelis were even angrier than we thought. As the Wall Street Journal reports today, the White House has been having a full-fledged temper tantrum over Israel’s unwillingness to take orders from Washington and doesn’t care who knows it. But the best advice friends of Israel can give Prime Minister Netanyahu is to stick to his positions despite the insults being flung in his direction.

The article, which appears to be based on leaks from high-ranking U.S. officials, revolves around the notion that the administration is furious with Israel. The anger emanating from the White House is, at its core, the function of policy differences about the peace process. It also revolves around Israel’s decision to attempt to reduce Hamas’s arsenal rather than merely shoot down the rockets aimed at its cities. But what really seems to have gotten the president’s goat is the ease with which Jerusalem has been able to circumvent his desire to pressure it to make concessions via the strong support of Congress and the close ties that have been established between Israel’s defense establishment and the Pentagon. …



Pickerhead has been on the case of the public safety goobbers running wild with military gear. Here’s Kevin Williamson with comments on the equipment used by police in Ferguson, MO.

… The old-style police uniform, whether that of the English bobby or his American counterpart, communicated a specific civic ethic. Both “bobby” and “peeler” are slang based on the name of Sir Robert Peel, who in 1829 organized the first modern police force, in London. (As prime minister, Peel would make history, and end his career, by repealing the Corn Laws, a red-letter event in the history of free trade.) Peel spelled out his famous Nine Principles of Policing, which are still in effect and still very wise.

The first order of police work is, according to Peel, “to prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.” The second principle is “to recognize always that the power of the police to fulfill their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions, and behavior, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.” He called this “policing by consent.” The policeman, in Peel’s view, was a citizen: “The police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”

In that context, the function of the police uniform is simply that of an imprimatur — of the municipal government of London or of New York or Mayberry. It tells little Peter Pat whom he can trust.

Our contemporary and increasingly militarized police uniforms are designed for a different purpose: the projection of force. Peel organized the Metropolitan Police as an alternative to “military repression,” but we, in turn, have turned our police into quasi-military organizations: Armored vehicles roam the mean streets of Pulaski County, Ind. Why? “It’s more intimidating,” the sheriff says. In New York City on Monday, I noted four police officers in battle helmets, carrying carbines, standing in front of Le Pain Quotidien on Park Avenue, perhaps expecting some particularly nasty muffin burglar. My subway stop, which is between City Hall and 1 Police Plaza, often resembles a military parade ground. (Not that they do anything about the vagrants camped out there.) Police in my hometown of Lubbock, Texas, occasionally go about their business in army-green armored vehicles and uniforms with woodland camouflage patterns, in spite of the fact that God never saw fit to put a tree within a hundred miles of there.

The different uniforms are meant for different kinds of policing: The traditional blue coat is for the policeman who walks a beat, and the ridiculous stormtrooper suits are for those who roll through in an MRAP.

Which sort of policing would you prefer? …



Popular Science posts on spotting military gear used by police. The formatting of this article so hard to manage so follow the link if you want the complete story. You’ll like the picture of VA Beach storm troopers riding into battle.

Following the fatal police shooting of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri last Saturday, a protest movement broke out in the small town. Police from St. LouisCounty responded, showing up with body armor, gas masks, rifles, camouflage uniforms, armored cars, and tear gas. This excessive show of force, combined with gear that looks very military, has lead to widespread outcry against police militarization, including some objections from veterans themselves. Here’s a look at some of the gear on the ground in Ferguson and how it made its way from military service to police armories. …



John Steele Gordon writes on 100 years of the Panama Canal.

On August 15, 1914, the world was fixated on the dramatic first month of World War I, as the German army raced towards Paris and the fate of Europe hung in the balance. But on that day, half a world away, a ship named the SS Ancon became the first vessel to officially transit the Panama Canal — and the canal was opened for business.

It had been 401 years since Balboa had first crossed the Isthmus in 1513 and “stared at the Pacific … Silent, upon a peak in Darien.” For most of that time, a water route across Panama had been a dream. Thanks to one of the supreme engineering feats of the early 20th century, that dream had now been realized.

Until the advent of the railroad in the 1830s, bulk cargo moved by water or it did not move. To shorten these water routes, canals had been constructed since ancient times. In the 17th century, France built the Canal du Midi, fully 150 miles long. It connected the GaronneRiver, which flowed into the Atlantic, with the Mediterranean Sea, eliminating the need for cargo to sail around the Iberian Peninsula.

The Erie Canal, which connected the Great Lakes with the Hudson River, opened in 1825, greatly shortening the distance between the burgeoning Middle West and the east coast. It quickly made New York City, “that tongue that is licking up the cream of commerce of a continent,” and the greatest boom town in world history.

In the mid-19th century, the Suez Canal, originally 102 miles long, shortened the sea route between Europe and India by thousands of miles.

The Panama Canal route was much shorter than these three great canals, a mere 48 miles. But Suez was built in a level, low-lying desert. Building Suez was, therefore, essentially a matter of shoveling sand, although, to be sure, there was a lot of sand to be shoveled.

Panama, in contrast, was another matter altogether. …