NATO: is the glass bat already broken?

Byline: | Category: Uncategorized | Posted at: Tuesday, 25 March 2014

PJMedia picked up a piece I wrote the other day.  Go there and read the whole thing.  [Edited:  Below is an excerpt from the pre-edited version I wrote.  I think that it is a little more clear on a few points.]

The irony of NATO’s past quarter-century is that its most recent entrants are its most enthusiastically pro-NATO, and yet they offer the least reason to the other members to justify a united response in their defense.  They know the danger of Russian expansion.  They’ve lived it.  But the further east NATO expands, the less immediate the danger that the fall of those regions represents to the more western members.   More simply put:  Is there anybody who really thinks that Californians want to risk a nuclear war with Russia in order to save the likes of Albania?

For twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, until the Russian invasion of Georgia reminded them of what a mutual defense treaty really means, Americans forgot that NATO wasn’t a clubhouse; it was an actual club—the kind with which you beat an opponent to death.  And by admitting new members you agreed to swing that club if any one of the members was attacked.

Today, NATO is not a club; it’s a glass bat.  The power of a glass bat is in the threat of its swinging.  But once it makes contact it shatters into 28 pieces and loses all its power.  This is true of any large coalition, but especially one so culturally and geographically far-flung that it can’t seem to agree that Russia even is an enemy. 

Arguably, NATO is already shattered, the fault of which lies at the feet of America’s last President, who short-sightedly used its one-time-use power against a non-existential threat in Afghanistan.  (The truth is that President Bush could have received the help of most NATO nations in Afghanistan even without the NATO imprimatur and without swinging the glass bat.  After all, he did so in Iraq.)  Most of the 28 NATO nations gave all that they could give over the last 13 years in Afghanistan.  There is no more that they can reasonably expect to extract from their populaces.

Knowing all too well the real costs of warfare makes countries less inclined to intercede when there appears to be no real immediate importance to the threat.  It was because the memory of World War One was so fresh in the minds of the Allies, that Hitler was allowed to re-arm Germany, march into the Palatinate, annex Austria, and forcibly annex a portion of sovereign Czechoslovakia, all without Western Europeans lifting a finger to stop him.  And that was two decades after a war that the Allies won.  Immediately on the heels of the thirteen-year muddle of Afghanistan, there is even less likelihood that all 28 nations are going to sign on to the task of poking a Russian bear unless they really see that the bear is bearing down on them.

So when un-uniformed Russians appear in military formations in tiny Narva and say that they are there to protect Russian lives from Estonian transgressions (and there will be just enough merit to the claim to cloud the argument), how will NATO react?  Will it rush headlong into war, obeying its mutual defense obligations just as the Central Powers did after the assassination of a minor royalty in 1914?  Or will NATO react with a shrug, just as war-weary Europeans did when Hitler marched unopposed into Vienna?

I’m guessing that Russia thinks that NATO is an already-shattered glass bat and that it will pursue the latter course.  And if he’s right, Vladimir Putin can finally record the hour of NATO’s death.  Then Europe’s only Emperor will go about exercising greater authority over European affairs without American interference.

But if Putin is wrong in his calculation of NATO resolve . . .

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Boehner blinks

Byline: | Category: Uncategorized | Posted at: Thursday, 17 October 2013

I told you so:

“In the immediate weeks ahead, Democrats can’t cave for fear of losing votes.  Meanwhile, because it would be a violation of principles that gains them no tactical, operational, or strategic advantage, Tea Party Republicans will not cave.  If I had to guess, I would wager that Speaker Boehner will blink and negotiate a deal in order to preserve Republican-leaning big business groups under the GOP banner.”

It remains to be seen if the second half of my prediction comes true:

“But that in 2014 and 2016 Republicans will get crushed as the Tea Party goes rogue and that by 2020 the GOP will cease to exist.”

It’s 2,000 words, but read the whole thing.

The way the debt ceiling fight was so chronologically close to the Obamacare shutdown put the GOP at a disadvantage.  Republicans got snookered by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who used “extraordinary measures” to extend the date of the debt ceiling debate to where it would be conflated with the Obamacare rollout.  Republicans aren’t known as the “stupid party” for nothing.

Now Tea Partiers are super pissed at the GOP.  GOP Elite are pissed at the Tea Party base of the party.  And Obama Democrats got everything they wanted.  If there was a scenario that gave Democrats any hope of taking over the House in 2014 in the face of a big Republican structural advantage, this was it.

RELATED:

Stu Rothenberg:

“The political fallout from the confrontation is very real. Republicans got almost nothing out of the deal to re-open the government and raise the debt ceiling except, of course, that they lost another 10 percentage points in their favorable rating and looked less like an organized political party and more like a disorganized, confused rabble.

. . . Small donors will be disenchanted that Republican officeholders caved on both the shutdown and debt ceiling, while the larger donors, who tend to be more pragmatic, are likely to sit on their cash for fear that the GOP will do something else crazy to threaten the economy and the party’s electoral prospects.”

Louis Woodhill:

“Congressional Republicans will be very, very lucky if they manage to come out of the current government shutdown/debt ceiling fight with nothing. It’s more likely that, having gone to battle over the wrong issues with the wrong strategy, the Republicans will have actually lost ground, both politically and in terms of their policy objectives.”

The Nation offers an alternative view:

“Because the deal only includes minor concessions, the Beltway consensus is that it represents a resounding defeat for Republicans, who “surrendered” their original demands to defund or delay Obamacare. In the skirmish of opinion polls, that may be true, for now. But in the war of ideas, the Senate deal is but a stalemate, one made almost entirely on conservative terms. The GOP now goes into budget talks with sequestration as the new baseline, primed to demand longer-term cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. And they still hold the gun of a US default to the nation’s head in the next debt ceiling showdown.

Surrender? Any more “victories” like this and Democrats will end up paying tribute into the GOP’s coffers.”

So too does Peter Beinart who complains that the deal locks in the sequestration cuts as the new baseline:  ”If this is Republican surrender, I hope I never see Republican victory.”

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Peggy Noonan gets it almost right

Byline: | Category: Uncategorized | Posted at: Thursday, 23 May 2013

The WSJ’s Peggy Noonan lays out the known facts of the IRS case and concludes that it requires a special prosecutor.  She’s right, and frankly, it’s amazing how in a week, the American media has pretty much come around from the question of if a special prosecutor is needed for the IRS investigation, to how broad should be the limits of the special prosecutor’s investigation?

But here’s where Noonan gets it wrong.  Right in the last paragraph:

“Again, if what happened at the IRS is not stopped now—if the internal corruption within it is not broken—it will never stop, and never be broken. The American people will never again be able to have the slightest confidence in the revenue-gathering arm of their government. And that, actually, would be tragic.”

Actually it wouldn’t be “tragic” if the American people were not to have confidence in this or any arm of their government.  It would be exactly what the Founders called for.

My favorite quotation from the entire 85 editions of the Federalist Papers is this one from Federalist 25 by Alexander Hamilton:

“The people are always most in danger when the means of injuring their rights are in the possession of those of whom they entertain the least suspicion.”

In fact, you could almost sum up the gist of the entire Constitution with that single statement, as the Constitution attempted to set up a system where no branch of government was in sole possession of the means of injuring our rights.  How far we have strayed, however, when the wing of the government that determines how much of our labors are to be taken into the Federal trough also inquires about our associations,  our religious practices, and soon, our medical care.

Peggy, you are right to call for a special investigator.  But you are wrong to assert that it is a tragedy if, as a result of this scandal, we no longer have  confidence in the IRS.  The real tragedies would occur as a result of believing that any branch of government was deserving of our unsuspicious confidence.

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A reading list for the next four years

Byline: | Category: Uncategorized | Posted at: Friday, 9 November 2012

One of the things that I did in November 2008 was to begin writing a novel.  If I had to describe it in one sentence:  Frances Mayes meets Ayn Rand.

It’s the story of a young man in the early 1970s who wants nothing more than to make great wine.  So, not unlike the prospectors who travelled west a century before him, he went to California to find bottled gold.  He succeeds.  But that is when his troubles start.  Success breeds envy and contempt from others and he finds himself engaged in political battles to try and maintain what he has built.  That is when his political outlook begins to change.  Oh, and I should mention that the protagonist is gay.

I’m only about half done.  Life has a way of getting in the way.  Plus, I’ve never written one of these novel thingies, so it’s entirely new to me. 

One of the things I’ve done to help me research (beside the couple trips to California to meet with some legendary winemakers from that era) is to read more political philosophy.  It helps me to understand my message better so that I can then distill it into ideas that I can put into the novel. 

I say all this to say that Alert Reader Snorri Godhi commented on a recent post that she thought that in light of this week’s events that it might be a good idea for people to re-read a little Hayek.  Snorri’s comment has inspired me to start this post.

What books can help people, first, to understand our current political/social/economic environment, and then, second, to help them to refute contrary arguments and win over undecideds?

Below is my first stab at a reading list that I pulled from my Kindle.  What would you suggest to add/delete?

Bastiat, Frederic.  Economic Sophisms

Bastiat, Frederic.  Essays on Political Economy 

Bastiat, Frederic.  The Law

Friedman, Milton.  Capitalism and Freedom

Goldberg, Jonah.  Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left

Hamilton, Alexander, et al.  The Federalist Papers

Hayek, F.A.  The Road to Serfdom

Hobbes, Thomas.  Leviathon

Mackay, Charles.  Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (first three chapters)

Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty

von Mises, Ludwig.  The Theory of Money and Credit

Okrent, Daniel.  Last Call: the Rise and Fall of Prohibition 

O’Rourke, P.J.  On the Wealth of Nations

O’Rourke, P.J.  Parliament of Whores

Payne, Thomas.  Common Sense

Shlaes, Amity. The Forgotten Man

de Tocquevill, Alexis.  Democracy in America

Wolfe, Thomas.  The Bonfire of the Vanities

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vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina . . .

Byline: | Category: Uncategorized | Posted at: Sunday, 4 November 2012

And now for some comic relief.  
This is the worst political endorsement ever.  Brought to you by your lady parts.

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Milwaukee J-S Poll

Byline: | Category: Uncategorized | Posted at: Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has a poll of Wisconsin out this afternoon.  The top line has the race going from an Obama 1-point lead two weeks ago to an 8-point lead today.  That’s a shift that defies common sense. 

However, that doesn’t mean that they did the poll wrong.  Let me explain.

A poll of about a 1,200 respondents in its sample will have a margin of error of about 3% at the 90% confidence interval.  If the actual race is Obama 45 – Romney 45, and you select a hundred different random samples from the population, you would expect that 90% of those samples to give you a result of somewhere between Romney 42 and Romney 48.  The other ten polls will be outliers of more than the margin of error of 3 percentage points.

I don’t see anything necessarily wrong in the demographices of sample polled.  Nor did I observe anything done differently from the poll the J-S did two weeks ago.  However, with little reason to believe that the race moved 8-points in Barack Obama’s direction, it is likely that either the earlier poll or this one is an outlier.  Given where everyone else is showing the state of the race in Wisconsin, it is probably this most recent poll that is the outlier. 

But my standard state poll caution applies:  Be very wary of media and university polls of states that are not routinely performed time and time again.  Polling at the state level can be very screwy and there are a lot of one-off polls performed with shady methodologies.

Finally, there is one odd thing about this poll.  It shows a 100% likelihood of voting even as there are 51 respondents who report being unregistered.  Now I believe that Wisconsin has same-day registration, so that might explain the unregistered but likely respondents.  However, that wouldn’t explain the other issue.  See the table below:

marquette_poll.jpg

Either the J-S includes only those who say that they are absolutely certain to vote plus those who report that they have early voted in their likely voter sample, or some segment of this likely voter sample is lying about their intent to vote.  Anyone know?

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2008 called; they want their Obama groupies back

Byline: | Category: Uncategorized | Posted at: Friday, 26 October 2012

Obama Girl was cute.  Sorta.  But that was SO four years ago.  This?  This is just pathetic.  Really pathetic.  OMG I can’t believe how pathetic it is–it’s that pathetic.  See for yourself.

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He’s toast–and that ain’t BS-ing

Byline: | Category: Uncategorized | Posted at: Thursday, 25 October 2012

There are five new national level polls out today.  The top line on them is R+3, R+3, R+3, R+2, and O+2.  The lone outlier is the IBD/TIPP with its poll of 948 ”likely” voters from a pool of 1,091 registered, giving it a sample turnout of 87 percent.  Of course that’s down from yesterday’s IBD/TIPP poll where the presumed turnout was 93%, which might explain why Romney gained a point since then.

But ignore the top line.  As I’ve said before, the number to track is the President’s level of support.  In those five polls Barack Obama sits at 45, 47, 47, 47, and 47.  Even the poll showing him with a two point lead has him stuck at 47%.  With ten days left in the 2004 race George W. Bush was fluctuating between 48 and 50 percent in most polls.  Barack Obama isn’t that high in a single one of today’s results.  Meanwhile Mitt Romney is tracking two points higher than John Kerry at this point in the race.  And the trends aren’t working in Obama’s favor.  The Gallup poll gave back some ground, but three of the others show Romney climbing–not to mention, three of them have the challenger sitting at 50%.

Something else you can also ignore:  state polls.  They are conducted less frequently and most are conducted less reputably.  Small sample sizes with loose voter screens give unreliable results.  (Less reliable than even the porous national level likely voter screens.)  That’s why you see two and three point shifts in the national polls, but occasional shifts as large as ten points at the state level.  If the margin of this race is greater than two points, it doesn’t matter what the polls in Ohio and Wisconsin indicate; the winner of the national popular vote will win the electoral vote too. 

And that’s the danger for Barack Obama.  47% is disaster territory for an incumbent.  After four years of introducing himself to the electorate, an incumbent doesn’t usually gain last minute support.  His best chance now is that he can hold Romney’s vote down.  But when you’re an incumbent starting with 53% of the electorate against you that means that you have to hamstring the challenger by at least four points just so that you can get the race close enough to eke out an electoral college win.  Expect a lot of nastiness from the Obama camp the next ten days.  But unless he can make something stick, it can easily backfire and lead to an erosion of his already anemic support.

There is still a little time for trends to reverse, but now that the conventions and the debates are over, there is less opportunity for an incumbent to control remaining events.  For Obama, this is “hope time.”  As in, I hope that Gloria Alred can produce a Romney scandal.  Or I hope that next Friday’s BLS report comes out with a 6.5% unemployment rate.  Or I hope that Mahmoud Ahmadenijad falls into a nuclear reactor and sets of an uncontrolled chain reaction in the core.

Failing that, he’s toast.

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Ships that go underwater

Byline: | Category: Uncategorized | Posted at: Monday, 22 October 2012

They’re called submarines . . . or another synonym: Barack Obama’s popularity ratings.

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How Democrats can win the White House – Guaranteed

Byline: | Category: Uncategorized | Posted at: Friday, 27 April 2012

It’s getting bad for President Obama.  His poll numbers are anemic–well under the magic 50% mark an incumbent needs.  Swing voters have deserted him and don’t seem to be inclined to come back.  Youth, Hispanics, and white women–demographics that strongly favored him in 2008 have fallen away, if not in the percentage that support him, in the percentage that is excited about actually voting.  His fundraising is way down, his biggest backers are silent, his party’s elected officials increasingly are against him on his two biggest achievements:  Obamacare and stopping domestic energy production.  Even support from the media, his last holdout, is crumbling.  Sure, there is a lot of time left, but the trends are not in his favor.  Obama is in big trouble.  He knows it and it shows.

Democrats, both behind the scenes, and in down-ticket races are scared.  Sen. Manchin, who is up for re-election in a dark red state, has openly broken with him.  He won’t be the last, as most of the swing states where the President will spend most of the next 200 days are represented by incumbent Democratic senators running for re-election.  If they sense that Obama is a drag on them, they will throw him under the bus.  A few more bad weeks is all that it will take for the open revolt to be apparent to all.

So how do Democrats save themselves?  In 1980, they put Ted Kennedy up against Carter in the primary.  Conventional Wisdom is that the intra-party contest hurt Carter.  It didn’t.  Carter was already mortally wounded when Kennedy struck his blows.  His loss was pre-ordained by the economy and abroad, just as Obama’s loss is a fait accompli absent some remarkable and unforeseen outside force.  But Democrats don’t have another option this year.  Or do they?

Hillary Clinton is the logical choice, and I suspect that in quiet introspective moments when the lights are off and they’re along with their thoughts, that most Democrats wish that she were president now.  They know that she would not have made Obama’s mistakes of incompetence. 

So how do they pull it off?  How do they make her the nominee without losing the almost one-quarter of the party that is black and will revolt at the attempted coup?

First, they have to plant the idea that President Obama is sick.  Drudge helped them out a few weeks ago when he posted a series of photos showing the President looking unhealthy and gaunt.  Then they have to let it be known that Hillary Clinton is done with politics.  She has to be seen as Cincinnatus, and not as a usurper.  Then, there has to be an announcement:  something serious is wrong with the president; sympathy is the goal.  Then there has to be the ask by the President himself, followed by reluctant acceptance and outreach, and the best way to achieve that is for Hillary Clinton to put Michelle Obama on the ticket with her.  Blacks, women, and progressives.  It’s an unbeatable combination that Mitt Romney could not overcome. 

Is it a crazy plan?  Yes.  But it would work.  And you know what they say: if it sounds crazy and it works, it isn’t crazy.  After a few more bad weeks for the President, it won’t even sound crazy.

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