American Elephants


A Secretive Government Trying to Avoid Blame. by The Elephant's Child

I wrote just recently about the backlog of disability claims, the backlog of requests for medical exams that was rolling over and over, month after month, and how they dealt with this by just destroying veterans medical records or requests—in a program called “System Redesign.” They didn’t have the resources to do all those exams. They were getting around 3,000 requests a month and only had the resources to do about 800, so they just cancelled the backlog. They figured that a lot of those patients either had their studies somewhere else, had their surgery or—died.

Now it appears that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) blocked the release of the names of hospitals where 19 veterans died because of delays in medical screenings. CNN reported in January that 19 veterans died as a result of delayed gastrointestinal cancer screenings, while another 63 were seriously injured. CNN obtained internal documents from the VA listing the number of “institutional disclosures of adverse events,” bureaucracy-speak for a mistake that gravely harms or kills a patient.

The documents did not list the hospitals or clinics where the “adverse events” took place. A Tampa Tribune reporter asked the VA for the names of the hospitals and was told that he would have to file a FOIA request. His FOIA request was denied.

The House Committee on Veterans Affairs launched a website this week highlighting the VA’s habit of failing to respond to press requests. Yes, press exposure of your failings can be embarrassing or worse, but that’s why the FOIA law requires agencies to respond within 20 days. I wrote about that recently too. No federal agency wants to expose their misdoings or shortcomings to public scrutiny, or press scrutiny— though the press, is for the most part, such a slobbering lapdog for the administration—because people could get fired, the agency could lose funding.

And now there’s another shooting at Fort Hood, with at least 4 dead and many wounded. Will this be another case of “workplace violence” where those injured do not get the benefits to which they are entitled? I just wrote about that too. I take no pleasure in writing about these things, I write because I worry. Our government is increasingly attempting to avoid any possible blame. That may be a natural failing, but it is unacceptable. Americans rely on an open and transparent government in which officials appreciate the honor of being entrusted with high office—and strive mightily to live up to the office. It’s a matter of character.



Forecasting the Climate: Maybe Not So Bad After All. by The Elephant's Child

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will soon publish the second part of its latest report on the likely impact of climate change. It will reportedly be less frightening than last time around in 2007.

Contrary to media opinion, the real debate has never been between “deniers” and the rest, but between those who think warming is fairly harmless and those who think the future is alarming.

Matt Ridley writes in the Wall Street Journal that a small amount of warming over a long period will probably be a good thing. People can adapt. Satellites have recorded roughly a 14% increase in greenery on the planet over the past 30 years, in all ecosystems.

And if renewable energy had proved by now to be cheap, clean and thrifty in its use of land, then we would be right to address that small risk of a large catastrophe by rushing to replace fossil fuels with first-generation wind, solar and bioenergy. But since these forms of energy have proved expensive, environmentally damaging and land-hungry, it appears that in our efforts to combat warming we may have been taking the economic equivalent of chemotherapy for a cold.

Almost every global environmental scare of the past half century proved exaggerated including the population “bomb,” pesticides, acid rain, the ozone hole, falling sperm counts, genetically engineered crops and killer bees. In every case, institutional scientists gained a lot of funding from the scare and then quietly converged on the view that the problem was much more moderate than the extreme voices had argued. Global warming is no different.

 



Walter Russell Mead on Public Pensions and Municipal Bankruptcies by The Elephant's Child

As long as we’re talking about Puerto Rico, I should include a link to this informative article about a conversation with Walter Russell Mead on public pensions, a problem coming close in Puerto Rico, all over California, in Detroit.

People say: ‘A defined benefit pension from my employer, there’s no risk.’ A big risk is that your employer will go broke.

Adam Shapiro: Well, in the case of public pensions, we’re seeing that happen. And yet, there’s a resistance to reform the process by which we fund these pensions, by which we set the actuarial standards for these pensions, and to have an honest discussion with taxpayers about these pensions, why?

Walter Mead: It is interesting, normally you think of liberals and Democrats as being people who really want to regulate, and particularly they want to regulate the financial markets, in order, as they say, to protect the “little guy.” Well here’s a case in which cities and states are not held to the same standards for their pension funds that any private employer is held to. If in fact, employers did what routinely a lot of cities and states do, they would go to jail.

Shapiro: So why is there no public outcry over this?

Mead: There’s some public outcry. But, unfortunately there’s a kind of a conspiracy between government officials, politicians, and union leaders often. The deal is this: Union leader wants to show the union members, hey belonging to the union is a good thing, I get you benefits. You get more with me than you’d get on your own. So I go into the negotiations with management of the city or the state government and I come back so you’ll say, “wow he’s a great union leader, I don’t begrudge him a penny of his salary because this union is working for me.” Well here’s the problem: If you’re asking for a big raise for members this year, the politicians have to pay it this year. And that means they have to tax the voters, voters don’t like to be taxed to pay for your raise, or they got to cut spending on something else to get the money, well voters don’t like it when politicians cut spending on their favorite programs.

It’s a very interesting conversation, and a video. Walter Russell Mead is a most interesting man of the left.  Do Read or watch the whole thing, or both. There’s a lot more to the video, you may be surprised.

 



March Afternoon, Unbearable Ennui by The Elephant's Child

Parliament Authorized Putin to Restore “Social and Political Normality.” by The Elephant's Child

So much for “liberal internationalism.” Fantasies are pleasant, but President Obama threatens consequences. He does not do consequences. President Obama’s National Security team convened this weekend to discuss the Ukraine crisis, after a last-ditch effort to find a diplomatic solution to Putin’s Cold War-style standoff. Secretary of State John Kerry was back from a London meeting with his Russian counterpart and was at the White House meeting along with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. President Obama did not attend the meeting but was briefed about it separately.

60,000 Russian troops, according to Bloomberg News, are massed along the Eastern Ukrainian border. They are apparently waiting to enforce the will of the people, which is either vote to join Russia now or vote to join Russia shortly. Vice President Joe Biden will leave Monday on a visit to NATO allies Poland and Lithuania to show support for our key partners in the region. In Vilnius he will meet with the presidents of all three Baltic nations, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. The Wall Street Journal said:

And what is to stop Mr. Putin? In the two weeks since Russian troops occupied Crimea, President Obama and Europe have done little but threaten “consequences” that Mr. Putin has little reason to take seriously.

The U.S. has refused Ukraine’s request for urgent military aid, and it has merely sent a few NATO planes to the Baltic states and Poland. The Russian strongman might figure he’s better off seizing more territory now and forcing the West to accept his facts on the ground. All the more so given that his domestic popularity is soaring as he seeks to revive the 19th-century Russian empire.

Left in shambles are the illusions of Mr. Obama and his fellow liberal internationalists. They arrived at the White House proclaiming that the days of U.S. leadership had to yield to a new collective security enforced by “the international community.” The U.N. would be the vanguard of this new 21st-century order, and “international law” and arms-control treaties would define its rules. …

The 19th-century men understand that what defines international order is the cold logic of political will and military power. With American power in retreat, the revanchists have moved to fill the vacuum with a new world disorder.

We could do broad economic and financial sanctions against Russia and its elites. If Europe does not go along, it’s another failure of U.S. diplomacy. The world’s banks can be made to face a choice between doing business with America and doing business with Russia. NATO could move quickly to deploy forces to Poland and the Baltic states. We could update the Bush-promised missile defense installation in Eastern Europe. Europe needs wake up to reality. Mr. Obama needs to learn that America’s adversaries aren’t impressed by his fanciful 21st century rules.

We’ll see. This national security team is not an impressive bunch.



Could We Possibly Get to A Point Where We Are Not “Astonished” by Events? by The Elephant's Child

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.

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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.



Obama May Be Uninterested in Geopolitics, But The World Won’t Wait. by The Elephant's Child

A pro-European protester wears a gas mask during street violence in Kiev

The Ukrainian government’s assault on protesters in Kiev’s Independence Square has shocked the world. The European Union is being forced to reexamine some of their assumptions about foreign policy. After the horrendous killings of protesters, President Obama, backed by his sterling foreign policy team, Chuck Hagel, Susan Rice and Joe Biden, said “There will be consequences if people step over the line.”

No one took that warning seriously. There is a fundamental shift we are witnessing in the national-security strategy of the United States, and this one means big repercussions for the world. Government snipers kept right on shooting protesters, and Obama’s passive statement merely reminded the world of all his previous red lines.

Talks mediated by three EU foreign ministers and a Russian envoy, got Viktor Yanukovych to agree to stop the violence, share power and hold early elections. Later on Friday, the Ukrainian parliament unanimously restored the 2004 constitution which curtails presidential powers. Mr. Yanukovych has lost control over the chamber, which also voted to release his predecessor, Yulia Tymoshenko, who was jailed on trumped-up charges in 2011. Government riot police which had used live ammunition against civilians, withdrew from the capital’s center.

A new “national unity” government is to be created within 10 days to work out other constitutional changes to strengthen Ukraine’s democracy. Presidential elections will be held before the end of the year.

Yanukovych has fled Kiev for the city of Kharkiv. The protesters want Yanukovych to resign. He says he is not resigning, and may just be attempting to shore up support. Russia is reportedly prepared to fight a war over the Ukrainian territory of Crimea to protect the ethnic Russian population and the military base there. Russian officials say in private that Ukraine falls inside Russia’s sphere of influence.

“We will not allow Europe and the US to take Ukraine from us. The states of the former Soviet Union, we are one family,” said a foreign policy official. “They think Russia is still as weak as in the early 1990s but we are not.”

There is no scenario where Yanukovych resigns and the opposition takes over. Putin does not intend to lose the Ukraine. Yanukovych has enriched himself and his family  since taking power in 2010, but his popularity has declined as the corruption has gone up. The people want a clear path into the EU and NATO, the clubs of a free Europe. They have experienced Russian domination, and don’t like it. And the Holodomor may have been long ago, but it is not forgotten. For Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, the possibility that a united Ukraine might desert Russia and join Europe is completely unacceptable. The situation is — fluid.



Fickle Foreign Policy, Increased Risk. by The Elephant's Child

I rely a good deal on Richard Epstein’s take on President Obama. Epstein knew Obama at the University of Chicago, and through Epstein’s next-door neighbor, who is one of Obama’s best friends. Epstein’s description of Obama was simply a clear-eyed assessment of the man, but not pejorative. It was a fair assessment. One particular thing he said has stuck with me. He says that Obama does not change his mind. If he once believed something, he still believes it today.

Early on, Obama expressed his idea that the crisis and trouble in the Middle East was entirely due to Israel’s refusal to make peace with the Palestinians, and if the Israelis are forced to make peace, return land to Palestine, and give Palestinians the “right of return” then there would be peace in the entire Middle East — Obama’s great accomplishment.

This seems a remarkably strange take on a group who teach their little children to hate Israel, bomb Israeli cities and houses, and grow up to be suicide bombers. But that is clearly the marching orders Obama has given to Kerry.  “In a short time, John Kerry has managed to make the Israelis and the Arabs hate him almost as much as American do. And he did it in the traditional way by saying stupid and ugly things.”

The State Department hastened to say that Kerry didn’t really mean that, “Today’s status quo absolutely to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained. It’s not sustainable. It’s illusionary.” That’s what he said at the Munich Security Conference. But that same status quo has been maintained for two decades.

How odd that you seldom see mention in the press of the Palestinian children needing complicated heart surgery or other advanced medical treatment, and the Israelis step in and save lives. Syrians bring their badly wounded people to the Israeli border in hopes that the Israelis will save them. Obama clearly has no interest in foreign policy, and wants America to pull back and let others cope with it. He has no understanding of the nature of the world.

Angelo M. Codevilla is professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University and a fellow of the Claremont Institute.  He is the author of To Make and Keep Peace Among Ourselves And With All Nations to be published by the Hoover Institution Press. His article for The Federalist: “Obama’s Unserious Foreign Policy And America’s Permanent War Footing,” is really worth your time. The subtitle”Fickle foreign policy, increased risk”sums it up.

He ended the war in Iraq, and is ending the war in Afghanistan. In Syria, he is supporting the good guys. He has put al Qaeda “on the path to defeat, and is doing the same to all similar folk. He is ridding Syria of Chemical weapons, while American diplomacy is at work settling the Arab-Israeli war – the key to a larger peace. He asked Americans to believe that Obama is moving the country “off a permanent war footing.” How, he gave no hint. It is difficult to imagine foreign nations, friend and foe alike, taking any of this seriously. Or Americans for that matter.

In fact, foreigners ceased taking Obama seriously long ago. That is one reason why so much of the world is moving in directions that do not augur well for America.

Do read the whole thing.



France Warns Hundreds of Jihadis Returning From Syria Could Overwhelm Europe by The Elephant's Child

President Francois Hollande has asked Manuel Valls, the interior minister to draw up plans to crack down on the “jihadist exodus.” The warning came after it emerged that two 15 year-old French boys had left this month to fight in Syria. They are believed to be among the youngest Westerners to travel there since the Arab Spring revolt against Bashar al-Assad turned into a full blown civil war.

The prospect of hundreds of battle-hardened extremists returning to Europe with training in bomb-making and weaponry has become a major cause of concern in recent months. Mr Valls said the numbers going there had “accelerated” in recent weeks.

He said French intelligence services believe around 700 French nationals or persons living in France were either currently fighting there, had already returned or were planning to become jihadists.

Twenty-one French nationals had been killed in fighting in the Arab state.

The threat is not confined to Europe, Radicalized young Muslims from the US, Canada and Australia as well as from other Muslim countries have traveled to Syria to fight.



Al Qaeda Training British and U.S. ‘Jihadists’ In Syria To Set Up Terror Cells At Home by The Elephant's Child

You are aware, of course, that al Qaeda has been “decimated and is “on the way to defeat.” Since the Benghazi attack, President Barack Obama has touted al Qaeda’s demise at least 32 times, even though  Libyan President Mohamed Yousef El-Magarief, members of Congress, an administration spokesman and several press reports said that al Qaeda played a role in the attack. In Green Bay, Wisconsin, on November 1, Obama said “Thanks to sacrifice and service of our brave men and women in uniform, the war in Iraq is over, the war in Afghanistan is winding down, al Qaeda has been decimated, Osama bin Laden is dead.

But nobody told the British newspapers. The Telegraph today says that Al Qaeda is training hundreds of British and European jihadis in Syria — and telling them to return home to set up terror cells.

British people fighting in Syria are being trained as “jihadists” and then encouraged to return to the UK to launch attacks on home soil, an al-Qaeda defector and western security sources have told the Telegraph.

In a rare interview on Turkey’s border with Syria, the defector from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) said that recruits from Britain, Europe and the US were being indoctrinated in extremist anti-Western ideology, trained in how to make and detonate car bombs and suicide vests and sent home to start new terror cells.

British security and intelligence agencies believe the threat of would-be terrorists being indoctrinated and directed back to the UK by al Qaeda organizers in Syria is growing. Foreign fighters are proud of 9/11 and the London bombings. A defector from ISIS said of the foreign fighters he met in Syria: “They talked often about terrorist attacks. The British, French and American mujahideen [holy warriors] in the room started talking about places that they wanted to bomb or explode themselves in Europe and the United States. Everyone named a target. The American said he dreamed of blowing up the White House.”

Up to 500 fighters from Britain have joined the struggle against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, many already known to MI5 for their radical sympathies. Some have gone with the intent of fighting the regime but are brainwashed by al Qaeda and urged to return home and launch attacks there instead.

The French interior minister, Manuel Valls, said the possibility of French citizens  returning from Syria as hardened jihadists was “the biggest threat that the country faces in the coming years.” France and Europe risk being “overwhelmed” by the phenomenon.

Shiraz Maher, a senior research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London, estimated last week that up to 50 British fighters have already returned home.

I don’t suppose that anyone here is apt to think of this as a warning about open borders, uncontrolled illegal immigration, amnesty, and the declining rate of real assimilation among new immigrants. Europe may have a rude awakening over their rush to encourage immigration to relieve declining birthrates in Europe, and their inability to assimilate their immigrants. We may have a rude awakening over our administration’s insistence that al Qaeda has been defeated, and is no longer a concern.



Al Qaeda Takes Fallujah, While Obama Plays Golf, Unconcerned. by The Elephant's Child

“A rejuvenated, al Qaeda-affiliated force has asserted control over the western Iraqi city of Fallujah on Friday, raising the black al Qaeda flag over government buildings and declaring an Islamic state in one of the most crucial areas that U.S. troops  fought to pacify before withdrawing from Iraq two years ago.”

Following his inauguration, President Obama withdrew troops from Iraq on the timetable agreed upon by President Bush. As the draw-down proceeded, it became clear that security would worsen  dangerously in the absence of American power. He refused to consider leaving even a small contingent of troops to help the young Iraqi government resist terrorist forces. The result has been an escalation of violence. Local tribes, Iraqi security forces and al Qaeda-affiliated militants have been fighting for days in a confused and chaotic three-way war.

 “At the moment there is no presence of the Iraqi state in Fallujah,” a local journalist who asked not to be named because e fears for his safety. “The police and the army have abandoned the city, al Qaeda has taken down all the Iraqi flags and burned them, and it has raised its own flag on all the buildings.” The fighting has now spread to Ramadi.

Iraqi troops trying to retake Anbar province from a mixture of Islamist and tribal foes battled al Qaeda fighters in Ramadi on Saturday after shelling the western region’s other main city, Fallujah, overnight, tribal leaders and official said.

President Obama failed to secure a status of forces agreement in Iraq, and has expressed no interest in helping the beleaguered country. His original idea on coming into office seemed to be that all the problems in the Middle East were the result of the problems between Israel and Palestine. He would force an agreement between Israel and her neighbor, and that would end the problems of the entire region. Which seems to be what Secretary Kerry is up to. This is such a dimwitted supposition that it beggars belief, and shows no understanding at all of the entire region, but that’s what they seem to believe, and American foreign policy is the evidence.

Be nice if a few reporters asked some hard questions about the utter failure of his foreign policy, but that’s not what reporters do these days anyway. Perhaps the British press will ask the hard questions. They do a better job of it.

Disgraceful. Simply disgraceful.

 



And the Award for Dumbest Quote of The Year Goes To: by The Elephant's Child

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times

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(Click to enlarge)
What could he possibly have been thinking? Or was this simply the absence of all thought?

(h/t: American Digest)




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