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Monday, May 16, 2011

We had a pleasant dinner with friends at the annual Writers of the Future Awards at the Roosevelt Hotel. I understand it was broadcast live, although I am not precisely sure to whom, and I presume that there will be a podcast. The media necessities made for a different pace and procedures, and pressures, and the show had a somewhat different flavor from previous ones. I'm not at all convinced that awards shows of this kind ought to be broadcast. The model is the Oscars, of course, but even with some of the world's best entertainers working from expensive scripts they have trouble sustaining interest in what is, after all, an event of major interest to something smaller than the general public -- and that's about the movie industry. Awards to new science fiction/fantasy authors and illustrators starts with a smaller interested public to begin with, and what's inherently interesting to SF fans and pro's isn't so much so for everyone else. The people who come to the awards ceremonies have a pretty good idea of what they'll be seeing, and the general energy level in the room stays high, but I suspect I wouldn't have watched this show as a broadcast. Anyway, it was fun for us. I didn't get any pictures, but my guess is that the WOTF people will shortly have more pictures than anyone will want to look at, and of a lot better quality than any I can take.

I had a pleasant conversation with General Pete Worden, at present Director of NASA, Ames. Then Colonel Worden was one of the essential people in implementing Strategic Defense during the Reagan era. SDI was the decisive factor in the Seventy Years War AKA the Cold War. Pete has always been a strong supporter of space technology. When they get the WOTF Awards broadcast up as a podcast, I recommend that you go find it just to listen to General Worden's speech. The dream isn't dead, and everyone at NASA isn't dull. General Worden is a good speaker and he knows his stuff.


A ramble on health care and candidates:

I have a bunch of mail quoting other people quoting Newt Gingrich on health care, but not much quoting him directly. Newt tends to have coherent positions which can be pretty complicated, and don't easily reduce to sound bites. The one direct quote I find is:

"I am for people, individuals -- exactly like automobile insurance -- individuals having health insurance and being required to have health insurance. And I am prepared to vote for a voucher system which will give individuals, on a sliding scale, a government subsidy so we insure that everyone as individuals have health insurance.”

This seems to upset a great many people. Taken in isolation it ought to. The objection seems to be the notion that people ought to be compelled to pay for health care. People ought not be compelled to buy anything. Only that's not true. What I don't see is anyone being upset about everyone else being compelled to pay for health care for people who don't themselves pay.

The analogy to automobile insurance seems to be overlooked. Whether you like it or not, if you drive a car you must have insurance. It's not a choice. In most states you aren't required to insure your own car; if it's wrecked it's gone and that's your problem. But if you damaged or destroyed someone else's car, you have to pay; and the only way we have to be sure that you will pay is to require you to have insurance. Your option is to buy insurance, or opt out of driving.

The same thing could apply to health care. Does that then reduce to the absurdity that you must have health insurance or opt out of life? Not precisely: but in that case we have the absurdity that in order for you to be free of compulsory health insurance, the rest of us must be compelled to pay it for you. Only that's not an absurdity: that's the present situation. It gets worse. What we call health insurance in general isn't working. Most health insurance insulates the cost of care from the person receiving it. That makes health care something like a free good, and the demand for free goods is nearly infinite. Costs rise steeply. The incentives are all wrong.

I can recall having this discussion with Newt in the 1980's.

Newt has for as long as I have known him been an advocate for the kind of health insurance known as "medical savings plans" in which part of your health insurance payments go into a fund. You own your shares in that fund; they are used to pay for your non-catastrophic health care. Over time the fund builds, and you can get some of that money returned to you. The devil is in the details in plans like this, but I recall that several such schemes have worked pretty well. Employers buy the medical savings plan system for employees; if they don't use the money for health care they eventually get it as retirement savings. There are tax problems with this. As I have said, the devil is in the details.

I haven't spoken with Mr. Gingrich on these matters in a decade. I would not have advised him to say some of the things he has been saying, at least not in the way he said them, but I know him well enough that he is not advocating some form of slavery. What he is trying to do is address the problem that the public is compelled to insure everyone else, but no one is compelled to insure himself or his family. This is a nearly implacable problem. It is also a terminology problem: no one seems to get enormously upset when we say that you must pay taxes -- you are compelled to pay taxes -- but if we say that you must pay for health care then suddenly it is tyranny. Somehow the compulsion to pay has been separated from what it is to be paid for. If the money is to be paid for someone else's health care which he gets free, it's an entitlement for the other fellow and a tax for you; if the system is structured so that you are compelled to pay for your own health care but no one else's, it is tyranny.

Now I have no simple solution to this problem, and I'm pretty sure no one else, including Newt, has one. Somehow we must couple the costs of health care to the people receiving it so that there are incentives to conserve that money. We must be able to limit the benefits that we are compelled to pay for -- and the courts continue to expand those benefits without bound. It is astonishing what the courts are granting as health care entitlements -- but note that this is an entitlement to taxpayer money, which is to say that others are being compelled to pay for insurance to grant those various medical treatments, therapies, and treatments.

We can say that we want to be generous, but what responsibility for health care remains with the individual? Example: do you have a right to be grossly obese? Well, yes. We can all agree to that. Do you understand that gross obesity leads to very high probabilities of expensive medical problems? Well, yes. Well, whose job is it to pay for those expenses? I understand that you don't choose to be grossly obese, it happens despite your desire or will and despite your best efforts not to be that way. I understand that it is not your fault. We are not discussing fault. We are discussing the obligation to pay. Let's leave gross obesity and go to diabetic conditions. It wasn't your fault that you developed diabetes. On the other hand, that certainly raises the expected costs of your future health care. Whose obligations are those? You probably can't afford them all without insurance, and the insurance is going to be expensive; but do you have an obligation to pay more than someone who is not diabetic? If you had a diabetic mother the chances that you will develop diabetes are higher than if you did not; therefore the expected value of your future health care is higher than that of someone who didn't have diabetes in the family history. Whose obligation are those increased costs? Do we pool them? What if no one wants to join the pool?

We could continue this discussion all day, all week, all year, and come to no unanimous decisions. What can't happen is that the system of expanding entitlements to health care without any coupling of costs to those receiving the benefits will be sustainable. I had that discussion with Newt more than once when I was often in Washington, back before the question was so acute.

If something cannot go on forever, it will stop. The present system of expanding entitlement to some and expanding obligation to all is unsustainable. The present system of saying that everyone is entitled to health care but is not compelled to pay for his own insurance is impossible. In reality you will pay for that insurance; and you will be compelled to pay. That's called a tax, and you will be paying the equivalent of premiums not only for yourself but for everyone else.

The analogy with automobile insurance it apt: if you drive a car, it is very clear that there will be car accidents. Who should pay for their costs? We have chosen to do that by compulsory automobile insurance. You opt out of the insurance by opting out of driving. But there the analogy breaks down. You can't opt out of life -- and in practice you can't really opt out of getting health care. Meanwhile, we know, absolutely know, that decoupling the costs of health from those who receive it leads to disastrous rises in cost.

One "solution" is "freedom." No one pays for anyone else. If you don't have insurance, take the consequences. Show proof of insurance, or a fat bank account, or some other proof of ability to pay, or die in the admitting room, have your baby in the street, bleed to death in the alley or in the back of the fire truck, cough your lungs out in a cheap hotel...  Well, you get the idea. That would certainly couple costs of care with those who receive it; but it will also never happen. Well, then require that people have some insurance.  How? Well, at the moment we do it with taxes: we require all the taxpayers to insure everyone, taxpayer, pauper, unemployed, welfare beneficiary, those retired with pensions, those retired without pensions, and everyone else except himself. Perhaps that is preferable to a system in which we require all to take out some kind of health insurance (and provide subsidies to those who can't). But surely we can discuss this? Dismissing the entire argument doesn't look like rational discussion to me.

That's always been Newt's problem: he really is willing to discuss most issues. Alas, sometimes he acts more like an academic -- more like me -- than like a politician who is always aware that no public discussion is ever a rational discussion. It's always political, and he needs to remember that, but when I knew him he often got interested in the discussion for its own sake. The one thing I am sure of is that Newt knows more history than anyone else I see in the race for president, and he's worth listening to. He also listens. A political race with him in it will be unable to ignore a number of important questions because he'll keep bringing them up. That's important.

Meanwhile, the political field is thinning. Donald Trump dropped out as expected. Huckabee's decline was less predictable. Others will drop out, and some will come in. The big decision is will be whether the Republicans run someone from the Country Club, a neo-conservative, a tea party anti-taxer, an intellectual, or a governor or former governor with actual executive experience? 

There are a number of important issues. Actual experience at running something is one of them. Intellectual matters are also important. What problems ought to be left to the states? Is there any way to get the economy going again? All right, we know that cheap energy and economic freedom, cheap energy and fewer regulations, is the sure fire way to do that: which candidates understand that? How the steady growth of entitlements is to be dealt with is an important issue. It is not the only issue. It ought to be an interesting campaign season.

And that's a long enough ramble.


There is mail including remarks on this.


The radio clip of Obama's speech to Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis keeps emphasizing that the students are poor and not a single one of them got anything handed to them.

I find that curious. Booker T. was the showcase black school when I was in Memphis (then legally segregated) and was the high school of the black upper and middle classes. Perhaps it has all changed since then. But of course if it has become a typical inner city school full of the children of poverty, then much has indeed been handed to them -- but by taxpayers, not their parents. Either way, I do not know of any school in which not a single person either inherited wealth or received government subsidies. It seems an odd thing to say in a speech, and even odder as the highlight of the speech.


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Tuesday, May 17, 2011   

The Health Care Debates

Obamacare is the law of the land. The implementation will require funding, and that is in the control of the Republicans in the House of Representatives. What the Republicans do in this matter is important. Meanwhile the Republican candidates debate the issue, and the pundits evaluate the debate. This issue has enormous implications for the future of both the Party and the Nation.

 Rush Limbaugh made several interesting points today. First, he was careful to point out that he is not endorsing any candidate, and he is not trying to talk people out of any candidate. He is discussing positions and issues. That's a fair statement of what I am doing.

It is no secret that I while Newt Gingrich was Minority Whip, and in his first term as Speaker, I was one of his advisors, and whenever I was in Washington we always spent considerable time together, even to the point of keeping the Secretary of Defense waiting in the Speaker's outer office while Newt and I finished a conversation on X Projects. Newt and I had a close relati0nship from the time he was first elected to the Congress and, having got my phone number from my editor Jim Baen, called me one morning to discuss my book A Step Farther Out. (Kindle edition) Newt was and remains a good friend, but I am not involved in his campaign.

Now to the issue at hand:

I note that the Wall Street Journal today has a large editorial entitled Gingrich to House GOP: Drop Dead. (Link) The language employed seems chosen more to blackguard Mr. Gingrich than to address the problem of health care. Gingrich. who is not in Congress, is accused of trying to throw Congressman Ryan under the buss. Not that it's about tactics, not principles: the editorial itself says Mr. Ryan's bill has no chance of passing the Senate; it's a tactic, not an actual attempt to undue Obama care. It's not seriously proposed as legislation. As the Journal says in its editorial

Yet surely Mr. Gingrich knows that the Ryan plan has no chance of passing this Congress given opposition in the Senate. Our guess is that a politician as experienced as Mr. Gingrich knew exactly what he was doing and that as he runs for President, he wants to appear to be more moderate than he has sounded over the last, oh, 20 years, by suddenly triangulating against the GOP House he once led.

So what in the world is Gingrich doing? Is it a sudden shift in principle? Rush Limbaugh has seen Newt more recently than I have, and Rush has a theory on Newt's position on health care. Limbaugh's theory -- and he is careful to label it a theory, not information -- is that Newt is not a serious candidate for President. He knows he won't win the nomination, and he is trying to position himself within the ruling class, taking up the leadership of the establishment Republicans:it is his goal to become the McCain candidate in this election. He doesn't expect that to win the nomination; he is looking to the years after the election is over, to a life of speechmaking, positions on boards, possibly an academic appointment, and frequent consultation by the media and appearances on political shows.

I find that hard to believe. It would never have been true in the days I knew Newt. He didn't waste ammunition and political capital, and he didn't make compromises with principle in order to make friends. The Journal article continues:

Mr. Gingrich's charge of radicalism is false in any case. Mr. Ryan is proposing a "premium support" model for Medicare of the kind that already governs health plans for federal workers and public employees in California and other states. The government would pay a set annual fee (starting at $15,000 per senior and rising with inflation) to private Medicare plans that would then compete to attract seniors. With consumers paying the marginal costs of their own care, providers and insurers will begin to compete on price and quality.

The irony is that Mr. Gingrich's own history of political failure on health care has made Mr. Ryan's proposals all the more necessary. In 1995, Mr. Gingrich pushed a "Medicare Plus" reform through Congress that shared many of the same features as Mr. Ryan's. It would have cut $270 billion from Medicare over seven years, while giving seniors a premium-support choice to join HMOs. President Clinton vetoed it, which along with Mr. Gingrich's refusal to compromise helped precipitate the government shutdown.

As Newt keeps pointing out, he has thought about this issue for a long time. I can't imagine him playing a game of this importance with the intention of becoming a member of the establishment. I think he is dead serious about the problem. I tried to outline that problem yesterday.

Whatever the outcome of this, the health care question isn't going away. We had some mail on this yesterday, and the debate will continue today. It is not a simple debate. There are matters of principle: who is entitled to what, and who is obligated to pay for it? There is the question of equality: is everyone entitled to everything, and must the wealthy be forbidden from buying more health care than the poor can afford (or the nation can afford to buy for them)? Which is more important, freedom or equality? And is this a Federal matter, or can it be left to the States?

Beyond the questions of principle there are political realities. The rock bottom principle of America is that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and the purpose of those just powers is to secure fundamental rights. Among those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but that list is not exhaustive. Where among fundamental rights do we place the right to a heart transplant? Does equality demand that if anyone gets a heart transplant, then everyone who needs one should get one? But it is impossible that everyone gets one, and even if hearts were freely available, those capable of transplanting them are not: how are they to be paid? Who sets their salary? How do we prevent the best from leaving public service and going to expensive clinics? Do we forbid the existence of expensive clinics in America? Does that extend to forbidding physicians from leaving the country? Shall we invade Mexico or Thailand or any other place that allows a clinic that does heart transplants on Americans without license from the Federal Government? Exile anyone who receives one? Send a SEAL team to extract the contraband heart from the rich person who received it?

So we have a scarce asset, and we forbid you to obtain it with money. How shall we allocate it? By lottery? By "merit"? Is everyone truly equal, or have those who are grossly obese, or alcoholic disqualified themselves? Who certifies the disqualification? How is this precious asset to be allocated, and by whom, and how do we protect this Life Committee (or Czar) from the terrible temptations sure to come with the job?

And among the questions of political realities we have the question of tactics: is this question to be fought on principle and principle only, or will compromises be needed? Temporarily or permanent?

My point is not that I accept Newt's scheme -- assuming he has one and is not merely raising the question -- but that there is a lot to discuss here, and there is no obvious answer to any of this.

General Principles

Associations before government: if it can be done privately, either for profit or as a charity or a local civic activity, better that way than government.

Transparency: in general, decisions affecting the public should be made public, and financing should be open in both source and dispensation.

Subsidiarity: if it has to be done by government, transparency and subsidiarity should prevail: administration, financing, and control at as local a level as feasible.

Obviously there will be disagreements on possibility and feasibility. There will also be questions of policy vs. control. As an example, some crimes may require national police powers for both investigation and apprehension, but often is it better to have a national policy but local implementation. If the BATF had been required to work with the local sheriff, the Waco disaster would never have happened. I could give other examples.

This discussion will continue.


I have a medical appointment tomorrow. With luck we'll find out what keeps laying me low. I know I am far behind on everything.


There is mail including a good bit on health care,  interesting news on climate debates, and other good stuff.


Your rumor for the day 

Dear Dr. Pournelle,

A fascinating story, if true.


Rumor from Die Welt states that Iran has struck a deal to build IRBM bases in Venezuela. Makes sense. Both Chavez and Iran could do with some deterrence, and neither has the ability to build ICBMs.


Brian P.

Now that is indeed fascinating. Monroe Doctrine anyone?






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Wednesday,  May 18, 2011

I have medical appointments beginning shortly. Mail and my commentary will be delayed until afternoon. With luck I'll find a remedy for the general crud that has kept me from catching up on all my work.

Rush Limbaugh had a good exposition on health care mandates and Newt Gingrich today. I don't know if his opening monologues are recorded and available, but if they are, his first forty minutes or so are worth your attention. As he notes, the origin of the movement to require individual responsibility for health care (with a system of subsidies for those who couldn't afford it) was considered a conservative policy in the 1990's, and much of its philosophical stuffing came from The Heritage Foundation. In those times Newt Gingrich, as Minority Whip, was the very essence of Reagan conservatism during the Bush I era. His speeches with his associates (Bob Walker as an example) to the otherwise empty House chamber in the afternoon, during the Special Orders time in the afternoons, were about the only conservative message the country got. Those were heady days, and they were important, and the conservative movement was largely founded by Newt and his people. They started in the 1980's, during the Cold War, when national survival was at state. They continued after Bush I fired every Reagan man in the White House, and Dan Quayle was the only reliable conservative in the administration. They continued during the framing of the Contract with America. We must not forget those days.

One of the issues in the 1990's was health care. Hillary Clinton had a plan which would have in effect imposed socialized medicine on the United States, and after the 1992 election that was a very real possibility. The health care issue came into play, both as a political matter and a philosophical issue. The conservative community was called on to reconcile principle with political reality, and there was much debate.

The chief question on health care was, how could the important requirement of individual responsibility and close coupling of payment with recipient be preserved? The debate was long, but one position emerged: Mandated insurance or membership in an HMO, with subsidies for those who could not afford any of that, were thought to be an important requirement. There was dissention within the conservative ranks about whether Congress had any authority to mandate the purchase of anything. I certainly held that position. But none of us thought that the States had not the power. Some thought it would not be a wise thing to do; but it was in most states constitutional, or so we believed. The Heritage Foundation agreed on the state issue and was divided on the federal matter. Some of the discussions reminded me of the debates between Jefferson and his Democrats, and Hamilton and his Federalists.

And it's time for me to go to my appointments. I will note that:

Rush then read a communication from Newt Gingrich saying, in effect, that he has been misquoted, he is in favor of the Ryan healthcare plan and would have voted for it. He opposed and opposes cap and trade. He does not appear to be retreating from his conservative heritage.

For the record: I have for most of my life been on record as saying that one qualification for being President of the United States is executive experience, as a Governor, or in the military, or as CEO of a large and vigorous private enterprise. One's first job at running something should not be the toughest executive task in the history of the world.

And it's time for me to go to my appointments.

 My thanks to those who subscribed or renewed subscriptions.


I appear to be in better shape than I feel, meaning that I am pretty well recovered from the flu that hung on for so long. It's well to have that opinion confirmed by the professionals. I should be able to get back to work again.






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Thursday,  May 19, 2011

An Uncertain Trumpet

It is a bit early to react to the President's Middle East speech. I am not sure I heard what he said.

"The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states," the president said. "The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state." http://www.nationaljournal.com/

I do not know what a return to the 1967 borders "with mutually agreed swaps" would mean. Who swaps what? Israel might swap the settlements inside the West Bank for the Golan Heights, but the settlements weren't inside those borders. Who swaps what for what?

That, though, isn't really all that controversial, in that some concept of a Palestinian State built from territories acquired in the original 1948 war is the "basis" for a huge variety of proposals.

What we did not hear, and I can find no one else who heard, was any proposal about the "right of return" for the Palesitinian refugees, their descendents, their relatives, and so forth. Land for peace is controversial, but it is negotiable. Free immigration of Arabs into Israel, based on some kind of ancestral claim, is not. That would be the end of Israel. Since this question was not addressed and was only barely mentioned, the rest of the speech is meaningless in so far as it regards the Palestinian/Israeli question. It changes nothing of importance, although it may be an important signal to Israel about future US policies.

The rest of the speech needs careful analysis. On its face it is a paean to Arab Spring, an announcement that the US accepts that the street fighting in the Arab world represents a desire for reforms that will result in liberal democracy. There did not seem to be any attention to the darker parts of the Arab Spring: the Lara Logan assault, the destruction of Christian churches and neighborhoods, the rise of Moslem Brotherhood influence in the street uprisings, and so forth. There seemed to be nothing said about US support for stability in Egypt, or what is our official view of the Mamelukes in Egypt. We seem to have moved closer to a commitment to intervention in Syria, with Bashar Assad told to support democracy but not quite being ordered to depart: he's left in the position that Qadaffi was in before President Obama ordered him to leave forthwith or else. Repression will not work any longer. Dictators must learn this to their peril. Precisely what will follow is not clear.

It will take more study to understand just what policies this speech commits us to. It appears to move the US closer to the Palestinians and further from Israel, but oddly enough does not lower our commitments to involvement in the Middle East. It doesn't tell us what we will be doing about Pakistan. It says little about US interests. It gives us Jeffersonian rhetoric about the rights of man, but not much about responsibilities.

All of which is disturbing. Apparently our goal in the Middle East is the establishment of liberal democracy and the end of history. This was the intimate goal of the massive Bush invasion of Iraq, and the long term commitment of troops to Afghanistan after the initial success of the special forces in throwing out the Taliban. Is that still our goal? Do we still believe that is achievable? My impression from the speech is that the President believes it can, and we will continue to devote treasure to that end. At the back of his mind the President must understand that this will also involve blood, but so far he has not committed us to pour more blood into the deserts.

There was no word on what happens if the new Arab Spring regimes do not turn out to be liberal democracies, but something else. History shows that liberal democracy is generally not the outcome of revolution. Possibilities include one vote, once; Bonapartism; an endless succession of failing states with coups as the usual means of regime change; Pol Pot and whatever you want to call his regime; Idi Amin Baba the Last King of Scotland; the decades long misery in Zimbabwe ne Rhodesia; the long misery of Liberia; and I could go on.

It was an important speech, but I am not sure what it commits us to?


One commentator has said that "President Obama tells us he loves Israel, then kicks Israel in the groin."


Newt Gingrich did a half hour segment of the Rush Limbaugh show talking about health care. Limbaugh asked him about Ryan and the Ryan Bill. At first it seemed that Newt was evading the questions, but he was not, and he answered directly, but, as usual, he tried to be general before he was specific. As usual, Newt is careful, thoughtful, and consistent. He hasn't been emphatic about the fact that he -- and most of the conservative intelligentsia -- have had a change of view on the matter of compulsory health insurance premiums since the days of the Hillarycare debates, but he said it straight out. He has changed his view since 1993. He has not changed the principle: people ought to be responsible for their own health costs, not be entitled to impose them on other people. His general arguments are similar to what we have discussed here (no surprise). Once again he gets across the general principle: you cannot have universal health care without compulsory payment whether as a compulsory premium or as a compulsory tax. Once that point was made, he specifically said that the quote from him that appeared to be about the Ryan healthcare bill (which inspired the Wall Street Journal editorial Gingrich to House GOP: Drop Dead) were not about that bill at all, and that he has supported the Ryan plan, from the beginning. He also pointed out that he supported and publicized the states attorneys general in their suits against Obamacare. Asked what he apologized to Ryan for, he in essence said for not being clear enough in what he was saying and talking about. Newt made it very clear that he is not running for the "centrist" Republican position, and he remains firmly in the paleo-conservative position he held from the earliest days in the House.

This does not surprise me.

One may be critical of Gingrich for many reasons. He was critical enough of himself that he resigned from the position he ardently sought for most of his life, Speaker of the House. One may debate his policy positions. He doesn't have the kind of executive experience that I would want to see in a President; but he is the clearest and most consistent conservative thinker I know.


According to the radio advertisement I am listening to, most of this won't matter, since May 21 at about 3 PM Pacific Daylight time the world as we know it will end, and the Day of Judgment will come.

Day of wrath and doom impending,
David's word with Sybil's blending!
Heaven and earth in ashes ending!

What shall I frail man be pleading?
Who for me be interceding?
When the just are mercy needing?

 I have always been taught that no man knows or can know the day and the hour, meaning that the Day of Wrath is no more likely to be May 21 as any other day. On the other hand, the Israeli Prime Minister will be in Washington, and will be asked to agree to the principle of the Green Line as the border for a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem.  I suspect Israeli agreement to the President's latest Palestinian policy is about as likely as the Day of Judgment.



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Friday,  May 20, 2011

As I suspected, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not accept President Barrack Hussein Obama's proposed starting point for near eastern peace. In particular, he rejected a return to the 1967 border on the grounds that the border was indefensible and led to endless war. "These were not the boundaries of peace. They were the boundaries of repeated wars."

Obama's proposal, made at Foggy Bottom in a speech to Foreign Service Officers, was clearly a government staged affair made to an audience that was not going to react with any surprises. There were no questions and no discussion. It was a state policy announcement, but significantly it was not made from the Oval Office. There were few pictures and I have seen none of the audience other than one in this morning's LA Times showing two young women in Muslim head scarves with one young man in typical diplomatic suit and tie. No significance was attached to that.

More later. The President and the Prime Minister did not seem to enjoy each others' company. It is clear that Netanyahu feels betrayed.

No Israeli government could impose the 1967 borders on the country. Surely Obama knows that. It is difficult to understand just what President Obama expected this speech to accomplish.

Prime Minister Netanyahu was barely polite when he rejected it.

Meanwhile the Arab Spring continues, but it is difficult to discern what it means. What do the street movements want? In Egypt we have the Lara Logan assault as one indication of what the protestors think is proper in the new society. We also have the burning of Christian Churches. I do not know if that is what drives the protestors into the street in Syria.

And the President of the United States has announced a change in US policy toward Israel. It is not clear what happens next.


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Saturday,  May 21, 2011

On Newt Gingrich

At some point Republicans are going to have to choose a candidate who can win the presidency. Rush Limbaugh famously says that he would vote for Elmer Fudd in preference to President Obama, and doubtless there are others of the same persuasion, but the reality is that the Democrats will have a heavily organized ground game to get the Democratic base to the polls. Republicans will do the same. The election will be decided by voters, who, given the choice between Barrack Obama and Elmer Fudd may just stay home; which would probably mean Obama's reelection. Thus it behooves the Republicans to nominate someone attractive enough to get people to the polls.

All the major Republican branches -- conservative, Tea Party, "mainstream", country club, and frankly liberal -- need to understand this. Obama's presidency has been a disaster, and that will turn off a number of those who voted for him. Some of those will come out in anger to vote against him, and they might even be angry enough to vote for Elmer Fudd; but there will be many others who were looking for Hope and Change, didn't find it, and need to be given some alternative they don't think they will be ashamed of later.

Obama is vulnerable, and this has brought out many people with a variety of motives. The Democratic political operatives obviously are motivated to cripple potential Republican candidates, particularly those who have pulled upsets on them in the past. Newt Gingrich is one of those: the 1994 election which gave the House back to the Republicans after years in the wilderness was led in large part by Newt Gingrich, who became Speaker, and thus was identified to political operatives as a dangerous man. One should not be surprised by attacks from all parts of the Democrat apparatus, including from the party's media sympathizers. Newt ended the Democratic rule in the House in a year in which few thought that could be done. It was widely suspected that the Republicans would prevail in the Senate in 1994, but loss of the House was a genuine shock to Democrat strategists. They have not forgotten.

There have also been strong attacks on Newt from other quarters, some surprising, some not. Some are simply political maneuvering. Becoming President of the United States requires, among other qualities, a very strong "fire in the belly", as the traditional phrase goes; those with insufficient resolve can be eliminated by intimidation or simply worn down. Political campaigns are as stressful as any human experience with the possible exception of military combat, and it generally goes on for a long time. Some of the attacks on Gingrich are clearly from operatives backing some other Republican candidate, and are largely designed to get him into a defensive stance.

None of this is a strong argument for Newt Gingrich as a presidential candidate.  Few Presidents have come to office from the House of Representatives, and the qualities that make for good legislative leaders are in general not the same as those which make a good President. Of course there are exceptions. Abraham Lincoln had no previous executive experience (and not much in either the Federal or Illinois legislatures). Barrack Obama has no previous executive experience. In general, though, America's strong Presidents have come from soldiers and governors, even if this is not the only route.

Peggy Noonan has joined the conversation about Newt in her Wall Street Journal article "A Week of Shocks but Few Surprises", (Link) (WSJ Link).

Everyone knew Newt Gingrich was combustible, that he tended to blow things up, including, periodically, himself. He was impulsive, living proof that people confuse "a good brain" with "good judgment." He had bad judgment, which is why he famously had a hundred ideas a day and only 10 were good. He didn't know the difference and needed first-rate people around to tell him. But the best didn't work with him anymore, because he was unsteady, unreliable, more likely to be taken with insight-seizures than insights.

I wouldn't say that, but she has a point. Newt has always had a very great deal of the Great College Professor in his makeup. The mark of the great teacher is that when a student asks a question the great professor answers not the question that the student asked, but the one that the prof thinks ought to have been asked. That makes for great classes. It does not make for great politics, and Miss Noonan is quite correct in pointing out that being really smart is not the same as having great judgment. Judgment generally comes from practice, particularly from executive experience. Judgment is the ability to deal with problems and crises without committing yourself to a disastrous course of action. Those with great judgment do not always set a great course of action, and often do not know the right course of action: great judgment can let one to get past the problem while still searching for the final solution; to get on with what has to be done without knowing the final answer, but also without closing off the best action. General Eisenhower is an example of that. Of course really great judgment includes the ability to see past the immediate problem, to see the goal and steadfastly move toward it. It's rare. President Reagan had that quality. He was never the smartest man in the room, but he was often capable of discerning who was, or which ideas would lead to the best course of action -- and do that day after day. He made some great mistakes, but he also ended the Cold War without the kind of violent ending most of the Cold Warriors feared. The death throes of the USSR might well have brought back the end of civilization, at least in the northern hemisphere.

I would not say that Newt always tends to blow things up, or that he has bad judgment; but I will agree that he is far better in the role of advisor than as the boss. In the aerospace industry there is the post of "Chief Scientist". The simplest description of the job is that everyone in a project including the Chief Engineer must listen to the Chief Scientist, but they don't have to follow the advice. They do have to consider it. I wish we had a similar post in the White House. Chief Political Philosopher? In any event, I would far rather see Newt in that job than as President. Incidentally, I'd rather have that post than be President. It takes a certain frame of mind to want to sit in the worry seat, and a lot of stamina and endurance to be there day after day for years.

I won't comment on stories about Newt's personal life.

Peggy Noonan concludes that Newt's campaign is ended before it starts. That may well be in the sense that he has any chance of winning the nomination. It doesn't make him irrelevant, and he's generally the smartest guy in the room no matter the size of the room. Think of him as the Chief Political Philosopher of the United States: candidates don't have to take his advice, but they would all do well to listen to him. When he asks questions, they ought to be considered.

On Immigration

From my mail:

more Gingrich!


He's advocating amnesty now.

Time for you to admit you're wrong about him. And no, that does not mean hemming and hawing and talking vaguely about how maybe he has a point. He does not have a point. It is entirely within DC's power to enforce the law and make it unacceptably difficult for them to remain here; that DC does not is plain treason, and anybody enabling and supporting such treason is going to get caught in the crossfire when the shooting starts. Amnesty is the best way to trigger that.

They are invaders and will be treated as such if this country actually has any future at all. They all must go.

I don't know what it is that I am supposed to have been wrong about, and this interview doesn't change it. What Newt said:

Gingrich was asked a question on a different hot-button issue -- immigration -- on Thursday in Iowa, the Midwestern state with a key early contest in the race for his party's presidential nomination.

He preceded his response by acknowledging that he risked sparking another controversy.

Gingrich recounted how World War Two-era U.S. draft boards chose who would serve in the military, saying a similar system might help deal with the millions of immigrants living in the United States illegally.

"Because I think we are going to want to find some way to deal with the people who are here to distinguish between those who have no ties to the United States, and therefore you can deport them at minimum human cost, and those who, in fact, may have earned the right to become legal, but not citizens," Gingrich said.

That is not my definition of amnesty; and it does raise a question that must be answered. There are about 20 million illegal aliens living in the United States. Suppose that Congress and the President decided tomorrow that "they all must go." How would that come about? Merely transporting Twenty Million People is a non-trivial task. Assume that of the 20 million aliens in the US, ten million will require transport of 1,000 km (621 miles). That is ten billion passenger/kilometers. The total annual rail passenger traffic in the US, including commuter travel, is about 17 billion passenger/kilometers. They would have to be fed. Many would have medical needs. While many of them could be transported by rail to the Mexican border -- in boxcars? or must there be at least day coach transport? -- many would have to go elsewhere, some to Latin America, but many to Asia and Africa, and many to places that will refuse to accept them.

A non-trivial task, even assuming that we could identify them all, and assuming there would be no expensive legal actions required: just identify, apprehend, and transport. It would take an enormous budget to accomplish.

Now add political realities. It's all very well to grab some thug with a long criminal record and say "Enough! Out!" to the general applause of a vast majority, but even then there are going to be problems with the ACLU as well as various immigrant rights organizations. Assume that it can be done: what fraction of the 20 million will that account for?

Of course advocates of amnesty or the dream act like to show the example of a teenage girl brought to the US at age five, brought up to speak English and assimilate to American customs, earning a high school diploma with an A- average, and in general an all-American girl who ought to be college bound. Or the young oriental boy with much the same record. We don't have to concede that people with similar stories will be a very great fraction of the 20 million, but it is not zero, and every one of those will be paraded by the media as soon as apprehended. Who is going to throw Marie into the boxcar headed for Tijuana?

Incidentally that is not a trivial question: an operation this large will require a lot of police agents. Do we insist that they all be capable of handcuffing teenagers and putting them on the train to the border? Do we want a lot of people with that attitude to have police power? And what of illegals who have joined the Armed Forces? Veterans? Active duty soldiers? An operation this large may well require action from the Legions: will they pay more attention to the orders of their officers or the appeals of their comrades? Of course that's a silly question, but my correspondent did talk about crossfire and punishing treason, which probably means civil war, and the Legions, both Regulars and various reserves and militias and National Guard are certainly not going to be idle while that happens.

But suppose that all the questions of how to do it are answered, and there is magically a black box with a button: push the button and all 20 million of the illegal immigrants will be magically teleported to their country of origin. If we took a national referendum on whether or not to push that button, what would be the outcome?

It's no good saying that conservatives ought not think about such matters. Of course they must. The problem of the illegals amongst us will not go away simply because we don't think about it.

Note, incidentally, that Newt distinguishes between the right to be a legal resident and citizenship. This is not brought up in most "amnesty" discussions, but it should be. Citizens have rights, including the right to sponsor other immigrants. The Supreme Court has held that illegal immigrants have rights very similar if not identical to citizens, but that is not the plain language of the Constitution. A sane immigration policy will make that distinction -- including entitlements.

I am not going to "solve" the illegal immigrant problem here, but I will say that denouncing as "amnesty" anything other than a policy of 'deport them all and deport them now' is not useful. We aren't going to deport them all, and no Congress or President will do that, nor could even if it were thought desirable. The United States is not going to erect detention camps nor will we herd people into boxcars.  We can't even get the southern border closed. Despite President Obama's mocking speech, we have not built the security fence mandated a long time ago. We probably could get Congress to approve a moat and alligators, although there are likely more effective means. We can and should insist on closing the borders. That we can and must do. It won't be easy or simple, but it's going to be a lot easier than deporting 20 million illegals. Get the borders closed. We can all agree on that.

That leaves the problem of the illegal aliens amongst us. We can and should do more to enforce employment laws; but do we really want police coming around to demand "your papers" from our gardeners and fry cooks and homemakers? For if "your papers, please" becomes common practice, there will be demands for equality; for not profiling; for equal opportunity harassment -- but you get the idea. Think about what goes on in airports.

Every time we bring up immigration policy, someone will bring up Angela and Maria and Alexa and Chanying, charming young ladies illegally  brought to the United States as children, all speaking perfect English and thoroughly assimilated into the American Way of Life, none with a criminal record, and now looking to the future. They will also bring up Felipe and Ramon and Sergei, all young men with flawless records, all brought here illegally when small children, and all willing and eager to join the Armed Forces (and perhaps some of them already have); and it will be demanded that we say what is to be done with them. Those making the demand fully understand that there will be no consensus, but there will certainly not be a majority in favor of putting them on an airplane back to their country of origin.

Of course when that happens we ought to bring up the others, the career criminals with long rap sheets, and insist that the amnesty advocates tell us that they would do with these. And perhaps, perhaps, there will come a time when there is an actual serious discussion of the subject, and we can come up with policies and tactics that have a chance of working and of actually being adopted.

But we will never get there so long as bringing up the subject for discussion makes you a traitor.


Saturday   TOP  Current Mail

This week:


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Sunday,  May 22, 2011

The Middle East

We went out for brunch after church this morning, and as usual I picked up one of the weekly free newspapers always available in most Los Angeles restaurants. The one I chose was the Jewish Weekly. The front page cover was on the Netanyahu/Obama meeting, with a picture of Arab intafada rioters storming a barricade and the headline "When They Say Return, They Mean it." All the articles were written before President Obama's Middle East speech last Thursday. All the writers all looked forward to the coming speech: they expected a reaffirmation of US solidarity with Israel. None even hinted that the President would concede the 1967 border as the starting point for negotiations. It will be interesting to see what next week's issue will have to say.

On Friday, on camera in what ought to have been a photo-op demonstrating US/Israeli solidarity, a tightlipped Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a four minute (well, 3 minutes, 48 second) lecture to the President of the United States. This has been reported with various spins.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to think that America’s role in the Mideast should be to keep quiet while sending huge amounts of aid to Israel and guaranteeing its security no matter what.

The arrogance is breathtaking. And the lack of gratitude for the sacrifices America has made to protect Israel, with money and political capital, is infuriating.

In his speech Thursday on the Mideast, Obama restated a policy that has been a basis of American diplomacy through several administrations, both Democratic and Republican — that a final settlement must establish two secure states with a border that roughly follows the lines that existed before the 1967 war.

After the two men met Friday, Netanyahu responded with a pompous lecture in the Oval Office that distorted Obama’s statement. Israel, Netanyahu said, can never return to the 1967 borders because so many Israelis now live in Jewish settlements on the Palestinian side of the divide.


From Australia

Netanyahu has warned Barack Obama against chasing what he called a Middle East peace "based on illusions" amid a widening rift in US-Israeli ties.

In a dramatic Oval Office appearance, after 90 minutes of talks, Prime Minister Netanyahu emphatically vowed Israel would never return to its 1967 borders and laid down a set of non-negotiable conditions for peace talks.

The exchange, which left hopes for Obama's peace drive more remote than ever, came a day after the US president called on Israel to accept a return to territorial lines in place before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, with mutual land swaps with Palestinians to frame a secure peace.

But Netanyahu seized on the notion that he was being asked to return solely to Israel's 1967 footprint, which he said was nine miles (14 kilometres) wide in places and half the size of the "Beltway" highway surrounding Washington.

"While Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines - because these lines are indefensible," Netanyahu said, looking Obama squarely in the eye.



Normally these Oval Office grip-and-grins begin with a few minutes of blah-blah from the president about America’s enduring bond with the other leader’s country, followed by a minute or so from that leader about the “productive discussion” they just had, and that’s it. Not this time: Netanyahu takes off here for a good seven minutes, parts of which are so cutting — the conclusion about history not giving the Jewish people another chance is simply devastating — that it’s hard to believe it was extemporaneous. In fact, by the end he’s facing Obama and addressing him personally, just to add to the theater. Bibi knew this would be his golden opportunity to pay Obama back for yesterday’s speech, and darned if he didn’t seize it. It’s riveting. O was probably completely blindsided by it too, but no doubt realized quickly that this little history lesson would soon go viral in the media and online. Hopefully no meaningful agreements were reached earlier in their private meeting, because if they were, you can forget about ‘em now.


Israel's position is clear. They are not giving up the bases and fortifications along the Jordan River, and they are certainly not conceding the Golan Heights without getting something important in return. They won that territory at great cost, and they took some serious chances when they stormed the Golan Heights on June 9, 1967. They have paid in blood.


The 1967 Six Day War ended with a decisive Israeli victory: they had taken all of the West Bank territories which had been annexed by Jordan after the 1948 wars.  They had taken the Gaza Strip and the entire Sinai from Egypt. On June 9 they took the Golan Heights from Syria. Later diplomatic measures transferred Sinai back to Egypt in exchange for establishment of diplomatic relations in the 1978 Camp David Accords. Egypt renounced its claims to Gaza, and Jordan, which had laid claim to the West Bank after the 1948 establishment wars, renounced its claims to the West Bank. (The Kingdom of Jordan was established as Trans-Jordan, and renamed itself Jordan after the establishment of Israel and the establishment wars gave it territory on the west bank of the Jordan river; the name was not changed after the renunciation of the West Bank.) Israel has established security zones along the Jordan river. About half a million Jewish Israelis live in settlements within the West Bank. About ten thousand lived in settlements in Gaza until the Israelis voluntarily withdrew from Gaza in 2005. Settlers who did not voluntarily leave were expelled forcibly by the Israeli Army. The experience was more traumatic for the IDF than for the removed settlers, and it is likely that many Israeli troops would refuse the order to evict settlers from Judea and Samaria.  Since that time Israel has conducted punitive actions against Gaza in response to the use of Gaza territory as a base for the launching of several thousand unguided rockets aimed in the general direction of adjacent Israel towns.

No Israeli government could return to the 1967 borders, nor is there much prospect of "mutually agreed swaps"; what would be acceptable to the Israeli voters would not be acceptable to Hamas, or indeed to any conceivable government of the West Bank whether elected or imposed, and for that matter would not be acceptable to most of the Arab world. Borders in that area are imposed, not agreed to; it has been that way for at least three thousand years. Indeed, one of the earliest battles for which we have any record was between the Egyptians and the Hittites over the boundaries of their spheres of influence. Borders aren't agreed to without military force behind them. The Egyptians did not agree to peace with Israel because of a strong desire for peace and harmony. They did that to get Sinai back. Although there are a few who dream of a greater Israel that includes the Sinai, that is not a popular position. Most Israelis had and have no attachment to Sinai, and the vote to return that particular land for peace was essentially unanimous. The West Bank area includes most of what was historically Judea and Samaria, the very essence of the ancient Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The 1967 West Bank lands include all of Old Jerusalem including Temple Mount. Various international proposals to make Old Jerusalem and some of the area around it an international city have not been accepted in Israel.

The "Peace Process" might have worked at one time. The Camp David accords came close. The Wikipedia entry on this is reasonably accurate.  The offer was rejected by Arafat who chose to start a new insurrection, possibly in the hopes of getting a better deal. One result was the Ramallah lynching, which turned many Israelis against any agreement at all.  Whatever Arafat's reasons, there has never been an Israeli government willing -- or even able -- to make a better offer, and Israeli willingness to agree to what was offered at Camp David is gone -- and is now nearly impossible given the expansion of the settlements. Since that time Israel gave up rule in Gaza, and most of the accoutrements of sovereignty in the West Bank. The result was rockets from Gaza. The Ramallah lynching cost the Palestinians much of the sympathy they might have had in the West. There is now far less sentiment in the US for the Camp David Accord offer, and even less in Israel.

Meanwhile, the United States remains involved in three wars in the Middle East. We are past 60 days in our intervention in Libya. The expenses grow. We have done little to develop energy resources in the United States, and while President Obama announces willingness for more domestic drilling and refinery construction, there is a remarkable lack of change in regulations, permits have not been issued, and whatever his intentions they have not only not resulted in action, they do not seem to have filtered into the bureaucracy at all. The only US energy developments tend to be the hopes for green and sustainable energy which so far haven't produced many megajoules.

It should be clear by now that US interventions in the area have been expensive in blood and treasure and have not much advanced US interests. What has been poured into the desert sands would have been more profitably invested in developing US domestic energy sources. Had the money spent on the Iraq adventure been spent on developing US resources and streamlining regulations, the nation would not be so greatly in debt.

Low cost energy and freedom equal prosperity. Interestingly, I find few who will argue against that statement. It's just that nothing is done to implement it. We can hope that someone -- Republican or Democrat -- will realize that. Meanwhile, we continue to sow the wind.

          Continued tomorrow.




Career Death by Powerpoint:








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