January 14, 2010

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WSJ Editors on the Google/China clash.

The uneasy truce between Google and China broke down yesterday when the company announced it would no longer censor search results on its domestic search engine, Google.cn. So far everyone seems fixated on the decision-making in the Googleplex headquarters, but ultimately this episode tells us more about Beijing than it does about Google.

Within minutes of the announcement, mainland users were calling up page listings on Tibet, Falun Gong and the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre that had been hidden for the last three years. The company said it was pushed into this decision by a sophisticated hacking attack that threatened the privacy of its email users, but there’s more to this story.

Google deserves praise for having a bottom line, but it’s worth remembering that this is a lose-lose-lose scenario. The most likely outcome is that Google loses access to an important market, Chinese customers lose access to its services, and the government loses face. Google’s decision in 2006 that entering the mainland market was a net positive for information flows was well reasoned. The tragedy is that the Chinese government became so aggressive in its repression that this is no longer the case. …

Politico gives us another view of the Mass. senate race by looking at the Dem candidate, Martha Coakley.

Though polls show the race tightening, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley still seems the likely heir to the seat of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. Coakley is commonly described as a traditional liberal, but in one policy area she’s far to the right of her predecessor. It also happens to be the policy area in which Coakley has built her career: criminal justice.

Last year, Coakley chose to personally argue her state’s case before the Supreme Court in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts. Despite the recent headlines detailing forensic mishaps, fraudulent testimony and crime lab incompetence, Coakley argued that requiring crime lab technicians to be present at trial for questioning by defense attorneys would place too large a burden on prosecutors. The Supreme Court found otherwise, in a decision that had Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia coming down on Coakley’s left.

The Melendez-Diaz case wasn’t an anomaly. Coakley has made her reputation as a law-and-order prosecutor. More troubling, she’s shown a tendency to aggressively push the limits of the law in high-profile cases and an unwillingness to cop to mistakes — be they her own or those of other prosecutors. Coakley’s most recent high-profile case was the “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” hoax, in which she defended Boston authorities’ massive overreaction to harmless light-emitting-diode devices left around the city as a promotional gimmick. …

Jan Crawford reminds us of the time when Harry Reid said some really ugly things about Justice Thomas.

… Reid has waded into the minefield of prejudice and stereotyping before. I can’t help but think of his outrageous statements about Clarence Thomas back in 2005, when some were urging President Bush to make Thomas the first African American chief justice.

We all know Thomas’s compelling life story: growing in the harrowing days of Jim Crow in the segregated South, struggling to break free from poverty and racism, becoming the first black child to integrate all-white schools, graduating with honors from the seminary and Holy Cross before Yale Law School. Thomas succeeded on his unquestioned intellect and his determination and hard work.

Thomas is one of the Court’s most original and compelling thinkers, and his opinions are praised by scholars on the Left and the Right as important contributions. You may not agree with a single word Clarence Thomas says, and it may drive you crazy that he took Thurgood Marshall’s seat on the Supreme Court, but you can’t call him stupid or deny he’s an important intellectual force.

Unless you’re Harry Reid. …

The Streetwise Professor writes that Afghanistan is causing conflict between the Obami and the Pentagon.

The NYT reports that “senior administration officials” are angry at the military for its alleged slowness in deploying for the Afghanistan “surge”:

…One administration official said that the White House believed that top Pentagon and military officials misled them by promising to deploy the 30,000 additional troops by the summer. General McChrystal and some of his top aides have privately expressed anger at that accusation, saying that they are being held responsible for a pace of deployments they never thought was realistic, the official said. …

…The military seems to be playing it cynically.  McChyrstal and Petraeus are aggressive commanders, and there is no reason to believe that they were taking an unnecessarily leisurely course when they planned for an 18 month deployment period.  Instead, it is highly likely that they chose that schedule based on a professional, realistic understanding of the logistical constraints.  Faced with the stark choice of Obama pulling the plug on Afghanistan altogether if they stuck to their timeline, or getting his (grudging) acquiescence to an accelerated deployment, they chose the latter.  They probably figured that the iron laws of logistics would eventually rule, and that the “bell curve” would be pushed back beyond what Obama desired, but that since the president had committed, he could not bail.

This cannot end well.  There was never much chance that the Pentagon and Obama and his minions would ever be comfortable with one another.  They inhabit different mental universes.  But a military convinced that the president is a military neophyte who lets domestic political needs override fundamental military considerations, and a president and administration who are convinced that the military is defying the president’s will is an extremely poisonous combination.

In Contentions, David Hazony blogs about George Mitchell’s reported suggestion to use US aid as leverage with the Israelis to get concessions in the peace process. Without discussing the diplomatic implications of such a suggestion, Hazony explains that the amount of money is small.

While everyone over here in Israel is tittering over the question of whether George Mitchell did or did not threaten to cut back on American aid to Israel if there is no progress in peace talks, it might be worth getting a little perspective on what those numbers actually look like, both for Israelis and for Americans.

…In 2008, U.S. aid was down to about $2.4 billion, while Israel’s GDP was up to $199 billion. We’re talking about 1.2 percent of Israel’s GDP.

So whereas nobody would consider $2.4 billion a trivial amount of money, the economic significance of that aid has dropped dramatically, as far as Israelis are concerned. Israel’s “dependence” on American aid is not zero, but it’s heading there. …

Charles Levinson, in the WSJ, reports on increasing use of robots in warfare.

…Israel is developing an army of robotic fighting machines that offers a window onto the potential future of warfare.

Sixty years of near-constant war, a low tolerance for enduring casualties in conflict, and its high-tech industry have long made Israel one of the world’s leading innovators of military robotics. …

…In 10 to 15 years, one-third of Israel’s military machines will be unmanned, predicts Giora Katz, vice president of Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., one of Israel’s leading weapons manufacturers.

“We are moving into the robotic era,” says Mr. Katz.

Over 40 countries have military-robotics programs today. The U.S. and much of the rest of the world is betting big on the role of aerial drones: Even Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite guerrilla force in Lebanon, flew four Iranian-made drones against Israel during the 2006 Lebanon War. …

Newsbusters has an amazing story. A bunch of Congressmen and their spouses went on an all-expenses-paid-by-the-taxpayers trip to the Copenhagen Summit. That congresspeople steal our money isn’t the amazing part. Would you believe that CBS reported the story?

It must really be cold outside, for the CBS “Evening News” Monday actually did a segment exposing how members of Congress wasted a huge amount of money at the United Nations’ climate summit in Copenhagen last month.

Even more surprising, CBS’s Sharyl Attkisson pointed fingers at prominent Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), and Charles Rangel (N.Y.).

Readers are encouraged to strap themselves in tightly, for this report coming from the global warming-obsessed media seems as likely as freezing temperatures in Miami (video embedded below the fold with partial transcript): Click on the link to see the video.

David Harsanyi comments on the Obami plans to throw stimulus money at green jobs.

…The uncalculated part of the above equation is this: Bogus jobs kill real jobs. At Madrid’s King Juan Carlos University, for instance, a study found that in Spain — the very country Obama has held out as the exemplar of greening (and with only a 19-plus percent unemployment rate!) — every green job created had destroyed 2.2 jobs in other sectors of the economy. …

…In the meantime, utilizing unemployment fears, this administration continues to pursue social policy through faux stimulus plans, funneling money into acceptable sectors, no matter how inefficient, no matter how unviable, no matter how unsustainable.

What we’ve learned is that the Obama administration will do anything humanly possible to rescue the economy, as long as it doesn’t relieve the pressure on the private sector. After all, this president explained last year that he believes “only government” can get us out of our troubles.

And that’s our biggest problem now.

John Stossel explains that we do not have true capitalism in the US.

…The truth is that we don’t have a free market — government regulation and management are pervasive — so it’s misleading to say that “capitalism” caused today’s problems. The free market is innocent.

But it’s fair to say that crony capitalism created the economic mess.

Crony capitalism, by the way, will be the subject of my TV show this week on the Fox Business Network (Thursday at 8 p.m. Eastern; Friday at 10).

What is crony capitalism? It’s the economic system in which the marketplace is substantially shaped by a cozy relationship among government, big business and big labor. Under crony capitalism, government bestows a variety of privileges that are simply unattainable in the free market, including import restrictions, bailouts, subsidies and loan guarantees.

…We don’t have to look far to see how crony-dominated American capitalism is today. The politically connected tire and steel industries get government relief from a “surge” of imports from China. (Who cares if American consumers want to pay less for Chinese steel and tires?) … Banks and insurance companies (like AIG) are bailed out because they are deemed too big to fail. Favored farmers get crop subsidies. …

Richard Epstein discusses the referendums initiated in California, and the issues underlying these impulses.

…The theoretical mistake in these reforms needs emphasis. Structural remedies have one vital function: The diffusion of power in different branches of government is a key bulwark against tyranny, even at the cost of gridlock and paralysis. On balance that trade-off is worth making.

Yet tinkering with this balance will do little to cure today’s entitlement malaise. Whatever the importance of some division of power among political actors, no theory tells which division of power is likely to work better than the others. Look around the world and ask whether presidential systems of government, like that in the United States, work better than parliamentary systems of government, like that in Great Britain. We can’t be sure. Nations under stress often oscillate between the two, without any clear direction.

On the other hand, getting the basic set of substantive entitlements right does make a huge difference in the success or failure of government. It is only by taking on that unfashionable issue that real progress can be made in places like California. The first order of business should be to rationalize the tax structure. Low, flat taxes on income will draw in capital, not drive it away.

More to the point, none of these proposals take dead aim at entitlements. The impulse is to find out ways to add back dental benefits to Medicaid, often by asking the federal government (i.e., citizens in other states) to foot the bill. It’s a mug’s game that forces sensible states to subsidize the follies of profligate ones. We need to find a way to shrink the program nationwide. …

A Japanese man had the bad luck to be on a business trip in Hiroshima when we dropped a bomb. Two days later he finally got home to Nagasaki. Christopher Hitchens does an obit of sorts for Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who we chased around Japan with atomic bombs. He just died at 93.

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