Filed under: Capitalism, History, National Security, Politics, Russia, The United States | Tags: The Holodomor 1932-33, The Soviet Story, Who Was Worse?
A question that occasionally comes up in conversation: “How come the villains are always Nazis? We hear constantly about the Nazi concentration camps, but never about the Gulag. Stéphane Courtois’ The Black Book of Communism and Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror alone should make it clear that Russia is not exactly going to respond cordially to ‘reset buttons’ or pleas for conversation, even when we have more ‘flexibility.’ Or perhaps Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands, Anne Applebaum’s Gulag: A History, Or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’ s The Gulag Archipelago. Why do we choose not to know, when the information is right there? How can our administration be “astonished” when the Russians choose not to risk losing their Black Sea port and access to the Mediterranean? This is the country that planned and carried out the Holodomor — The Great Terror, on the Ukraine.
This is long, an hour and a half film from 2008, that probably most people never saw. If you can’t spare that much time now, make time to watch it later.
Filed under: Capitalism, Foreign Policy, Freedom, History, Politics, The United States | Tags: Claremont Review of Books, Hidden Freight Behind Words, The Misuse of Language
In the current Claremont Review of Books, Wilfred M. McClay, Chair in the History of Liberty at the University of Oklahoma, reviews Fred Siegel’s Revolt Against the Masses. This excerpt is his introduction to his subject, but I found it fascinating in itself. I’m familiar, of course, with the term “the narrative,” but there is so much obfuscation going on with our language that I was just inclined to put it aside. Mistake. Very worth pondering this development, aided by focus-group testing of words for their persuasive value. Minds must be subverted.
We have this term now in circulation: “the narrative.” It is one of those somewhat pretentious academic terms that has wormed its way into common speech, like “gender” or “significant other,” bringing hidden freight along with it. Everywhere you look, you find it being used, and by all kinds of people. Elite journalists, who are likely to be products of university life rather than years of shoe-leather reporting, are perhaps the most likely to employ it, as a way of indicating their intellectual sophistication. But conservative populists like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are just as likely to use it too. Why is that so? What does this development mean?
I think the answer is clear. The ever more common use of “narrative” signifies the widespread and growing skepticism about any and all of the general accounts of events that have been, and are being, provided to us. We are living in an era of pervasive genteel disbelief—nothing so robust as relativism, but instead something more like a sustained “whatever”—and the word “narrative” provides a way of talking neutrally about such accounts while distancing ourselves from a consideration of their truth. Narratives are understood to be “constructed,” and it is assumed that their construction involves conscious or unconscious elements of selectivity—acts of suppression, inflation, and substitution, all meant to fashion the sequencing and coloration of events into an instrument that conveys what the narrator wants us to see and believe. These days, even your garage mechanic is likely to speak of the White House narrative, the mainstream-media narrative, and indicate an awareness that political leaders try to influence the interpretation of events at a given time, or seek to “change the narrative” when things are not turning out so well for them and there is a strongly felt need to change the subject. The language of “narrative” has become a common way of talking about such things.
One can regret the corrosive side effects of such skepticism, but there are good reasons for it. Halfway through the first quarter of the 21st century, we find ourselves saddled with accounts of our nation’s past, and of the trajectory of American history, that are demonstrably suspect, and disabling in their effects. There is a view of America as an exceptionally guilty nation, the product of a poisonous mixture of territorial rapacity emboldened by racism, violence, and chauvinistic religious conviction, an exploiter of natural resources and despoiler of natural beauty and order such as the planet has never seen. Coexisting with that dire view is a similarly exaggerated Whiggish progressivism, in which all of history is seen as a struggle toward the greater and greater liberation of the individual, and the greater and greater integration of all governance in larger and larger units, administered by cadres of experts actuated by the public interest and by a highly developed sense of justice. The arc of history bends toward the latter view, although its progress is impeded by the malign effects of the former one.
The review is interesting as well. The Claremont Review of Books, a quarterly, is one of my favorite publications. A great bargain. You can subscribe at the link, but there’s lots of good stuff there.
Filed under: Africa, Capitalism, Developing Nations, Domestic Policy, Economy, Energy, Environment, Junk Science, National Security | Tags: Anti-Chemical Activists, Genetically Modified Food, Organic Food Fables
Food prices are up, and manufacturers are trying hard to keep you from noticing. Cereal boxes remain the same height, but they are thinner. Baker’s chocolate, formerly in 8 oz. boxes, now comes in boxes that are about ¼” smaller in every direction, contains half as much chocolate “NEW! 4 oz. Easy Break Bar, Same great chocolate. ” Still the same great price, for half as much. Sugar packages have lost a pound of content. I don’t like seeing food prices climb, but I object even more to manufacturers’ attempts to fool me.
If we insist, as a nation, on putting most of our corn crop into our gas tanks — the result is food price inflation. Food prices are rising faster than overall inflation. Core inflation is running around 2%, but the USDA said food prices would be up 3% to 4% last year. Corn ethanol does nothing for the climate, and it contains less energy than gasoline. You’re just paying farmers to grow fuel instead of food. A rise in the price of corn affects the price of other farm commodities such as meat, poultry, dairy and soy products. Congress ended the direct ethanol subsidies in 2011, but the renewables standard remains, and it is the biggest factor. Food prices hit the poor the hardest, and the ethanol mandate is essentially a tax on the poor.
“Organic” foods have been heavily promoted. They cost about 30% more than non-organic foods, but the label “organic” means only that growers used “natural” fertilizers and “natural” pesticides, but pesticide residue does not cross the conservative safety thresholds set by regulators. Natural fertilizer refers to animal manure —pathogen-laden animal excreta. “Organic” is supposed to be better for the natural environment, but it isn’t so, it just uses more land. The term “organic” refers to the practices and procedures a farmer intends to use. It does not indicate superior nutrition, flavor, or healthful qualities. It’s not better for you, just more expensive.
And for sheer silliness, consider the locavores. Now that with modern transportation we can have summer foods in the winter, plentiful vegetables when it’s snowing out, and strawberries all year around, the purists insist on locally grown food, with the suggestion that it is much fresher. But there’s not much local in the winter, and it may be flown in faster anyway.
Environmentalists are the loons who care more about the environment than about people. Fringe anti-biotechnology activists are hell-bent on banning anything containing a chemical. Chemicals are bad. A current interest is genetically modified food. Modify people’s genes as much as you want, select the desired sex and attributes of your potential baby, but don’t modify plants to be more resistant to disease, or insert a gene for Vitamin A to prevent blindness, as in “golden rice,”— an incalculable benefit to parts of the world dependent on rice, yet lacking the essential vitamin in their food supply. Better to have blind kids than mess with their food. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) are not GMO skeptics, as they like to portray themselves, but fringe anti-chemical activists operating on the “precautionary principle” or the theory that if something is ‘suspected’ of potentially causing harm, you have to prove that it will not.
We are growing more food on less land, the green revolution, that will help to feed a hungry world. Food for the Poor is asking for help to feed starving Guatemalan children. Egypt is having trouble feeding their own people. We have over 17 years of successful GMO cultivation, millions of acres, hundreds of millions of servings and not one instance of adverse health or environmental effects. It is a remarkable achievement, and there are far more achievements in the pipeline.
Biotechnology offers an unparalleled safety record and demonstrated commercial success. Remarkably, however, biotechnology might not reach its full potential. In part, that’s because outspoken opponents of GM crops in the U.S. have spearheaded a “labeling” movement that would distinguish modified food from other food on grocery store shelves. Never mind that 60%-70% of processed food on the market contains genetically modified ingredients. In much of Europe, farmers are barred from growing genetically modified crops. Even in Africa, anti-biotechnology sentiment has blocked its application. In Zambia, for example, the government refused donations of GM corn in 2002, even as its people starved.
Opponents of GM crops have been extremely effective at spreading misinformation. GM crops don’t, as one discredited study claimed recently, cause cancer or other diseases. GM cotton isn’t responsible for suicides among Indian farmers—a 2008 study by an alliance of 64 governments and nongovernmental organizations debunked that myth completely. And GM crops don’t harm bees or monarch butterflies.
Anyone who cares about alleviating hunger and protecting the environment should work quickly to remove the bias against GM crops. A good first step is for educated, scientifically literate people to avoid being taken in by the myths about genetically modified food. These innovations have too much potential to empower individuals and feed the world to be thwarted by falsehoods and fear-mongering.
Filed under: Democrat Corruption, Foreign Policy, Freedom, National Security, Politics, Progressivism, The United States
Elizabeth Scalia, the Anchoress, came up with the best single sentence observation of the day:
“The man’s sense of himself has been over-indulged to a reckless point.”
Her article is excellent, and here. Elliott Abrams article on the interview President Obama gave to Jeffrey Goldberg which shows a chief executive who has learned nothing about the world in his five years in office. Must reading.
Filed under: Europe, Foreign Policy, National Security, Politics, Progressivism, Russia, The United States | Tags: Foreign Policy Failure, Putin Is Not Our Friend, Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin just pitched the post Cold War rule-book out the window, and the European countries are understandably nervous. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s announcement that he wants to downsize the military to the size it was before World War II, may go down in history as the most inappropriate announcement ever made by a cabinet member.
The White House spin machine is telling friendly reporters that Vladimir Putin has fallen into a trap, which may be carrying the idea of “spin” a little too far. Walter Russell Mead said “Putin is increasingly likely to go down in history as a failed state builder, a man who took Russia down the wrong path and who added to the burden of Russian history.”
But those are long term considerations that, unfortunately for the diligent White House staffers working to spin the next news cycle, won’t help the President now. In the short term President Putin has put President Obama in an ugly spot. President Obama’s foreign policy depends on three big ideas: that a working relationship with Russia can help the United States stabilize the Middle East, that a number of American adversaries are willing to settle their differences with us on the basis of compromises that we can accept, and that President Obama has the smarts to know who we can trust.
Putin’s attack on Ukraine calls all three propositions into question. What Obama’s belief in the possibility of deals with countries like Russia and Iran leaves out is that some countries around the world may count the reduction of American power and prestige among their vital interests. They may not be hampering and thwarting us because we are unnecessarily and arbitrarily blocking their path toward a reasonable goal; they may be hampering and frustrating us because curbing our power is one of their central objectives. This is not necessarily irrational behavior from their point of view; American power is not a good thing if you hate the post-Cold War status quo, and it can make sense to sacrifice the advantages of a particular compromise with the United States if as a result you can reduce America’s ability to interfere with your broader goals.
Washington’s flat-footed, deer-in-the-headlights incomprehension about Russia’s Crimean adventure undermines President Obama’s broader credibility in a deeply damaging way. If he could be this blind and misguided about Vladimir Putin, how smart is he about the Ayatollah Khameni, a much more difficult figure to read? President Obama is about to have a difficult meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu in which he will tell Netanyahu essentially that Israel should ground its national security policy on the wisdom of President Obama and his profound grasp of the forces of history. The effect will be somewhat undermined by President Obama’s failure to understand the most elementary things about Vladimir Putin.
Foreign policy is harder than it looks, and Mr. Obama’s foreign policy team is not an impressive bunch. Will the American public see this as just another case of difficult foreigners doing bad things in some little-known country, or will they see this as clear evidence that this president is too naive and too passive and he is endangering the country?
Secretary Kerry said huffily on Face the Nation: “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country. That’s not the act of somebody who’s strong, Putin is acting out of “weakness” and “desperation.”
It’s easier to threaten friends. They probably won’t do anything. Obama said essentially that if Israel wouldn’t agree to the U.S. idea of a peace deal with the Palestinians, then the U.S. won’t be able to defend Israel if the peace talks fail. Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which began last July, have made no visible progress. Palestine refuses to recognize the right of the Israeli state to exist, won’t stop shooting rockets into Israel, continues to teach its small children that martyrdom in the interest of killing Jews is a holy aim, and insists of the ‘right of return.’ Obama’s ideas about Israel were likely formed by his friendship with the radical Palestinian professor Rashid Khalidi. He does not change his mind.
Filed under: Capitalism, Economy, Foreign Policy, Iran, Progressivism, Regulation, Russia | Tags: Crisis in Ukraine, Obama Campaigns, Russia Moves In
President Obama, focused like a laser beam on the crisis in the Ukraine, hits the campaign trail to pitch an increase in the minimum wage. He will appear with four Democrat governors from New England on Wednesday in Connecticut to boost his uphill fight to get Congress to approve an increase in the federal minimum wage.
His 2015 budget proposal will be released on Tuesday, calling for increased spending on manufacturing and early childhood education as well as hiking the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10, theoretically redistributing income, but mostly destroying more jobs — in this case an estimated 2,500,000 jobs. We already have 7.8 million people working part-time who want full time jobs. Raising the minimum wage will put a lot more on part-time (ObamaCare regulations) and fulfill only the president’s fantasy of redistributing income.
The Democrats aren’t going to be able to run on the economy this fall. They won’t be able to run on increasing employment opportunities, nor on foreign policy, but by golly, there’s always the minimum wage. That’s the only thing they have to campaign on. If employers don’t just say the hell with it and purchase robots, tablet menus, or automated check out machines, they can always move to a state where business is more welcome.
You can trust Obama to always inadvertently come up with another way to kill jobs.
Filed under: Afghanistan, Foreign Policy, Intelligence, Iran, Iraq, Middle East, National Security, Politics, Russia, Terrorism, The United States | Tags: An Ill-Informed Media, Anticipating Events, Russian History
A Politico report called it “a crisis no one anticipated.” The Daily Beast, reporting on Friday’s US intelligence assessment that “Vladimir Putin’s military would not invade Ukraine,” and quotes a Senate aide claiming that “no one really saw this kind of thing coming.” The American Interest noted that the mainstream media remains deeply convinced that President Obama and his dovish team are “the masters of foreign relations, nothing poor Putin did could possibly derail the stately progress of our genius president. There were, we were told lots of reasons not to worry about Ukraine. War is too costly for Russia’s weak economy. Trade would suffer, the ruble would take a hit. The 2008 war with Georgia is a bad historical comparison, Putin doesn’t want to spoil his upcoming G8 summit, or his good press from Sochi.”
How many times did foolishly confident American experts and officials come out with some variant of the phrase “We all share a common interest in a stable and prosperous Ukraine.” We may think that’s true, but Putin doesn’t.
We blame this in part on the absence of true intellectual and ideological diversity in so much of the academy, the policy world and the mainstream media. Most college kids at good schools today know many more people from different races and cultural groups than their grandparents did, but they are much less exposed to people who think outside the left-liberal box. How many faithful New York Times readers have no idea what American conservatives think, much less how Russian oligarchs do? Well bred and well read Americans live in an ideological and cultural cocoon and this makes them fatally slow to understand the very different motivations that animate actors ranging from the Tea Party to the Kremlin to, dare we say it, the Supreme Leader and Guide of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
As far as we can tell, the default assumption guiding our political leadership these days is that the people on the other side of the bargaining table (unless they are mindless Tea Party Republicans) are fundamentally reasonable people who see the world as we do, and are motivated by the same things that motivate us. Many people are, of course, guided by an outlook not all that dissimilar from the standard upper middle class gentry American set of progressive ideas. But some aren’t, and when worlds collide, trouble comes.
Canada has promptly recalled its ambassador to Russia, and cancelled their attendance at the G8 conference. The G7 are suspending their participation in any international summit in Russia. I think that The American Interest has it exactly right. The White House operates on the assumption that the people with whom we negotiate are really reasonable people who basically want the same things that we do. Well, no they’re not. Has no one noticed that Putin has allied himself with Syria, Iran, North Korea. Moscow denounced the overthrow of Moscow’s man in Kiev, Viktor Yanukovych as the illegal work of fascist bandits.
Obama wants stability. He sees Ukraine as a crisis to be managed. Democracy must come organically from international developments, not imposed by outside intervention. What he does not understand is that American inaction creates a vacuum. Obama’s meaningless “red line” in Syria invited in Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. Obama’s failure to get a status of forces agreement with Iraq invited in Iran and al Qaeda. And he is apparently ready to turn Afghanistan over to the Taliban. Obama’s lifting of the sanctions against Iran has allowed them the freedom to finish developing their nuclear weapons.
These are not reasonable people who want the same things we do.The citizens of these countries may be reasonable people, but their governments are a different bunch. The people of Iran were once quite cosmopolitan, but the Mullahs await the return of the Mahdi and expect nuclear weapons to hasten the reestablishment of the Caliphate.
The Saudis and the leaders of the Gulf States are deeply worried about Iran. One might assume that they are more familiar with their neighbors than we are. We should perhaps pay attention.
Putin has told us over and over that the fall of Soviet Russia was the world’s greatest catastrophe, and he clearly regrets the loss of superpower status. Part of restoring the Soviet Union would seem to be recapturing its former satellite states. If we paid attention, and knew our history, we might anticipate such crises. That seems a worthy goal.
Filed under: Capitalism, Democrat Corruption, Foreign Policy, History, National Security, Russia, The United States | Tags: Formal Approval From Parliament, Obama Speaks Out, Russian Troops Invade Crimea
The situation in the Ukraine continues to deteriorate. Putin has invaded the Crimea, as expected. President Obama skipped the National Security Meeting on the Russian invasion of the Ukraine.
A Ukrainian official at the U.N. said an additional 15,000 Russian troops were streaming into Crimea after President Vladimir Putin received formal approval from the upper chamber of parliament to send forces into his neighboring country.
Ukrainian officials said two Russian anti-submarine warships had approached the coastline near Sevastopol, violating the two countries’ agreement on the Russian naval base there.
These moves came shortly after Obama said in the White House press briefing that “the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.” There’s a statement designed to send chills down the backbone of any Russian czar, or not.
“Russian troops will remain deployed until the “political-social situation in the country is normalized,” the Kremlin said.
President Obama skipped the National Security Meeting on the Russian invasion of the Ukraine., but I repeat myself.
He told us so back when he was running for office, but you didn’t pay attention. Richard Fernandez notes:
During the height of the Cold War it was believed that having to emphasize the obvious represented a failure of policy. Deterrence had to be self-evident; a daily thing. You didn’t go on the air to issue bloodcurdling warnings. You didn’t have to because stability was there, part of the normal like the air or the earth. The Russian president only had to look at the his daily briefing to know that the USAF was flying and hence that the day could begin as peacefully as the previous one.
Well, when the world heats up, just issue a firm statement — “there will be costs.” That should do it.
Filed under: Foreign Policy, History, Media Bias, Politics, Progressivism, Regulation, Statism, The United States | Tags: No Longer a Free Press, No Longer a Government Watchdog, Shallow Superficial Work
I have not been unduly impressed with our journalists in general for a number of years. I got curious a while back and looked up Columbia University’s graduate school of journalism and Northwestern’s as well, and learned that the coursework offered concerned how to write a lede and writing about foreign policy or fashion, that sort of thing. This was some time ago, so I may have forgotten the particulars, but I had been looking for requirements in history or law, and international relations. In my quick perusal, it seemed to all be about how to write one kind or another of piece.
My investigation was superficial at best, and I sort of assumed that perhaps the study of history and foreign affairs and important things were requirements to get in to journalism school, and left it at that. But I kept noticing that journalists simply parroted what other journalists were saying, and didn’t seem to know what they were talking about. They did seem to be reliably of the leftist persuasion, however. But I already knew that.
Then this week, Governor Brewer of Arizona vetoed a law sent up by the legislature, the origin of which seemed to be a case in another state in which a baker refused to make a wedding cake for a gay wedding because gay marriage was against his religious convictions. That case seemed to be a set-up when the gay couple sued, rather than go to any one of innumerable other bakeries available.
The national press, inspired by what American universities actually do teach — Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Disability and Sexuality Studies, Imperial, Transnational and Postcolonial Studies, critical theory or creative writing, spoke in one voice. “Arizona Governor Brewer vetoes controversial anti-gay bill,” Arizona Governor Jan Brewer Vetoes Anti-Gay Bill,” and other slight variations. Every radio announcer repeated the same thing.
The words “gay” or “homosexual” do not appear in the bill at all, nor was the bill directed at any criticism of gay people. There was no “anti-gay” in the bill. The bill was a simple effort to protect the Constitutional right to the free exercise of religion. Very obviously, the journalistic profession had not read the bill, but were off on a religious jihad. The text of the bill is here.
Governor Brewer vetoed the bill because, as she said, “Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific and present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona. I have not heard of one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated.
Ed Whelan, at National Review wrote:
There has been a blizzard of hysterical misinformation about Arizona’s SB 1062. As anyone who takes the trouble to consult the text of the legislation will readily discover, SB 1062 does not mention, much less single out, gays or same-sex ceremonies.
As Douglas Laycock (who supports redefining marriage to include same-sex couples) and other leading religious-liberty scholars explain in a letter to Arizona governor Jan Brewer, SB 1062 “has been egregiously misrepresented by many of its critics.”
This is an absolutely pure example of media bias, which is real and pervasive. You just have to question what you are reading and hearing if you want to know the truth. Requires a little more work, but you avoid feeling sleazy when you find out that you’ve been had. Studies show that the media is much more liberal than the American people, and more likely to agree with the liberal position on policy matters than members of the general public. The public, according to public opinion polls sees the media as politically biased, inaccurate, intrusive and a tool of powerful interests. Huh. Wonder why.