The Barons of England warn us not to throw away what they gained in Magna Carta

Summary: 800 years ago on a field at Runnymede the Barons of England took a large step for humanity. The consequences of their actions still echo today. Now we’re losing what they won for us. On this anniversary recognition of that sad fact can alarm and inspire us.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

“Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
— Written by Benjamin Franklin for the Pennsylvania Assembly in its “Reply to the Governor” (11 November 1755).

King John signing Magna Carta

If only we were so bold and strong.

Our elites greet the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta (the Great Charter) with “no big deal; move along.” A New York Times op-ed by Tom Ginsburg tells us to “Stop Revering Magna Carta“,, He’s a professor of international law & political science at U Chicago. Law professors are often among the leaders of the movement against our liberty.

The Wall Street Journal of course bats for the anti-liberty teams, with the news headline “Magna Carta Celebrations Reignite Legacy Debate: some question the importance of the document“. Its editors live for the day they can run that headline for the Bill of Rights.

The Economist misleadingly says “The great majority of its provisions have been repealed: of the original charter’s 63 chapters only three — one confirming the freedom of the church, one confirming the liberties of the City of London and the crucial chapter 39 — remain on Britain’s statute book” (except that many of the other provisions remain codified in laws expanding and deepening MC’s provisions).

These blasé sophisticates misunderstand the significance of Magna Carta. It matters little that many of its provisions are meaningless or repugnant to us, that King John repudiated it, or that it was often forgotten for generations (then rediscovered).  Runnymede on 15 June 1215 was a milestone on the long road paved with “blood, sweat, and tears”. The meeting at Philadelphia in 1787 laid another milestone, one now being lost.

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Obama rolls the dice in Iraq, as we hope for victory thru folly

Summary: The most fascinating aspect of our new round of wars in the Middle East is their endorsement by people who were wrong about the first round, and condemnation by those who were correct. Here’s a keen analysis by Michael Brenner about the folly of our new adventure in Iraq. Our strategy is little but a FAILure to learn. It will not end well for us. But we cannot say that we were not warned.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Obama dice

Obama rolls the dice in Iraq

By Michael Brenner
Reposted with his generous permission.

Introduction

Admittedly, it is difficult to visualize Barack Obama shooting craps in his impeccable $1,000 custom tailored suit. His debonair figure is better suited to an ultra chic Bavarian resort with hints of Casino Royale – although Angelo Merkel is an improbable femme fatale. Moreover, gambling is alien to an instinctively cautious man who naturally defers to established wisdom and established personages. Obama studiously avoids decisive action that leaves him vulnerable and whose unpredictable results are not susceptible to finesse. That explains the “kind of” in the title of this commentary.

Our newest war

Obama’s decision to launch a major new training cum advising project in Iraq to be augmented by up to 1,000 more American troops is revealing of how his administration’s thinking about Iraq/ISIL/Syria is oriented. Clearly, there remains no coherent strategy; clearly, the incongruities and contradictions among of the various bits and pieces of policy also remain unresolved. There are a few valuable insights to be garnered from this latest move, nonetheless.

Washington still is wedded to the idea that it can push back ISIL in Iraq without the cooperation of the Shi’ite militias. They receive no mention in the new-old plan. All the stress is placed on expanded recruiting and training for the Iraqi National Army and the arming of those Sunni tribal militias ready to fight ISIL. There are hints that Washington is considering by-passing the Iraqi government to arm the tribes directly although it publicly pledges not to. In addition, it intends to build a new base for operations in Anbar province despite the current low utilization rate for existing bases. Due emphasis is placed on airpower but no explanation is given for the minimal use of airstrikes to date.

By implication, Obama et al see the objective of containing Iranian influence in Iraq as on a par with the aim of stymying ISIL. This interlocks with its fostering of the Saudi-Israeli conception of the Middle East’s big strategic picture and corresponds with blanket support for the bombing of the Houthis in Yemen. In other words, the increase in influence of any Shi’ite group anywhere in the region is to be resisted. Whether Washington shares this view wholly, or is caught in the mind warp of giving precedence to placating Riyadh and Jerusalem on expedient grounds (themselves not clear), makes little practical difference since either interpretation leads to the same policy outcomes.

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What happened to NASA’s missing weather satellites & their vital data about global warming?

Summary: The world has a new and serious mystery, right up there with “Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?” and “The President’s plane is missing!” What happened to NASA’s satellites that measure global temperatures? They appear to have disappeared from the nation’s major newspapers, their valuable information about global warming lost from view. Today’s post retrieves it to help you understand one of the top public policy issues of our time.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

GOES-13

Contents

  1. Where are NASA’s satellites?
  2. How warm was May?
  3. Watch the trend in temperatures!
  4. Climate models predict too much heat.
  5. Who measures the world’s temperature?
  6. For More Information.
  7. Another view of the satellites.
  8. Giving the IPCC the last word.

(1)  Where are NASA’s satellites?

NASA has launched a fleet of satellites which (among other things) since 1979 have measured Earth’s temperature in the lower troposphere, with better coverage and consistency than the surface temperature networks — with their spotty coverage of the world’s seas and scores of national weather bureaus (many poorly funded) that the collect land temperatures. Being careful and thorough, NASA pays two teams to analyze the data:  Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) and the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).

Here are the satellites whose sensors — at vast cost — have driven the RSS dataset since 1979, among the most valuable results from the space program (see the end of the post for a more detailed chart).

Oddly, the results of the satellites’ temperature measurements have almost disappeared from much of the news. As a crude measure, there are 2,970 Google News stories in the past year mentioning “hottest year”, but only 637 (21%) include the word “satellite” — and few of those are in the mainstream news. For example, per Google News only 1 of the many “hottest year” stories in the New York Times include both terms, 2 of the 49 science articles in the Washington Post (here and here), and 6 of the 17 in the Wall Street Journal.

The eclipse of this data is mysterious since it would provides a contrary perspective to the “hottest year” stories, since neither RSS nor UAH shows 2014 as a record (details here). But whatever the reason, we need not rely on journalists to tell us the expensive findings of this NASA research.

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The philosophy behind the legend of Batman

Summary: Like all myths, the Batman saga about the dystopia of Gotham City has a philosophy. Of course, it’s quite dark. The popularity of these stories proves that they’re a dark mirror showing that we sense the decay of our society as it drifts away from its roots. Here we turn for analysis of these things to the late Allan Bloom.  This post heavily revises one written in 2008.

Batman logo

Contents

  1. A new era of chaos.
  2. The Joker, the ambassador of Chaos.
  3. Bruce Wayne decides to be Batman.
  4. What is Bruce Wayne fighting for?
  5. For More Information.

(1)  A new era of chaos

We live in a time when the forces of chaos again threaten to break loose.  Madmen like those of the past — Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot — again gain control of nations and kill in pursuit of irrational ends. Violence breaks out in the name of the Hindu and Muslim gods.  Our once poor but culturally rich inner cities — such as New York and New Orleans — have rotted into ghettos, almost ungoverned zones with cultures alien to the rest of America.

Under stress people turn to fantasy not just for encouragement but also to help process these trends. Most such stories tell of transcendental saviors (an alien Jesus) and regular people given magic powers to right wrong. The Batman saga is different. Bruce Wayne has everything — intelligence, looks, wealth — but gives up a life of ease, instead honing his physical and mental skills in order to personally — and painfully — wage war on the forces of disorder that have engulfed his city.

Why does this story have such appeal during the past 70 years both to adults and children?  I believe it evokes our fears about the weak foundations of our society, as it totters against threats both foreign and domestic. Allan Bloom helps us to better understand this in his Closing of the American Mind, as shown in these excerpts — which have been paraphrased and re-combined.

(2)  From where comes the Joker, an ambassador of Chaos?

Rousseau and Nietzsche destroyed the intellectual basis of the Enlightenment, and the West’s self-confidence in itself.  Replacing that in the minds of the intelligentsia is contempt for the bourgeoisie — that is, the self-satisfied, morally blind, materialist middle class — and beneath that fears that our values (their Christian roots discredited) have no foundation. It leaves few grounds for hope.

So a darkness on top of a void is the condition of life, no longer illuminated by rational analysis.  The rise of the bourgeoisie results in a spiritual entropy or an evaporation of the soul, which weakens us in face of the unlimited choices made possible by the death of God in our souls — and the disappearance of His rules.

{Read the rest of this post here.}

Martin van Creveld explains why our actions in the Syrian civil war will fail

Summary:  Today Martin van Creveld, one of our generation’s most acute geopolitical analysts, gives a brilliant brief on the Syrian civil war, putting it in the larger context of America’s mad Middle Eastern policy. I recommend reading, especially his conclusions.   (2nd of 2 posts today.}

“Any wise enemy is better than an ignorant friend.”
— Arab proverb.

Bashar al Assad. Photo by Reuters.

Bashar al Assad. Photo by Reuters.

For Whom the Bells Toll

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 11 June 2015

For Bashir Assad, the bells have been tolling. If one believes the media, he and the regime he represents are on their last legs. Whether or not that is true is not at issue here — similar predictions have been heard ever since civil war broke out in Syria four years ago. What I do want to do is take a look at the origins of the war, the way it has been going, and what the future may look like in case the predictions come true.

The decisive fact about the Assad — meaning, in Arabic, “Lion” — family is that they are Alawites. The Alawites are a section within the Sunni Shia tradition. They do not, however, form part of the mainstream. Some Islamic scholars do not even regard them as Muslims; claiming that they are basically pagans who worship the moon and the stars. The community is scattered among Syria, Turkey and Lebanon. It is, however, only in Syria that they form a significant minority, counting perhaps one seventh of the population. That explains why Bashir’s paternal grandfather, Ali Suleiman al Assad (1875-1963), supported French colonial rule. He and his fellow Alawites knew well enough how majority Muslims deal with minority ones.

Suleiman’s son Hafez made his career as an air force officer. In 1963 he took part in a coup that brought the Ba’ath, a party that professed a curious mixture of secularism, nationalism, and socialism, to power. In 1966 he co-authored another coup, this time one that took place inside the Ba’ath leadership; in 1970, following a third coup, he assumed power as a military dictator. He did not, however, do much to change the nature of the regime. The latter remained what it had been. An amalgam of secularism, nationalism, “Arab” socialism; and of course the kind of brutal police state which seems to be more or less the only kind most Arabs understand and can live under.

{Read the rest at Martin van Creveld’s website}

Martin van Creveld asks: why do American kids kill?

Summary:  Today Martin van Creveld looks at an aspect of America that amazes foreigners — not just our stratospheric murder rate, but the incredible rate of murders by children. We feel righteous superiority about Arabs sending their children as suicide bombers, but prefer not to think about the greater number of American children killing on their own initiative. We are exceptional.   (1st of 2 posts today.}

Killer kids

Why American Kids Kill

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 2 July 2014
Posted here with his generous permission.

American kids keep killing each other, their teachers, and any other adults who happen to be present when they go berserk. Since December 2012 alone there have been some 74 school shootings, more than two a month on the average. Each time something of the kind happens the media go even more berserk than the children themselves. So far neither metal detectors at the gates nor armed guards in the corridors seem to have made much of a difference. Proposals for dealing with the problem have ranged from providing teachers with handguns to covering students with bullet-proof blankets.

As a foreigner who has spent some years in the U.S while his children went to school there, and who has written a book (in Russian) about the U.S, I may be in a better position than many others to shed some light on this question. Here, then, are my observations.

Healthcare for children

Owing to the way the healthcare system is constructed, American infants are more likely than some others to die during their early months or years. For many years now, even the States that do best in this respect tend to lag behind many other developed countries, including some that are much poorer. Though America’s fertility rate may be the highest among developed countries, its kids are skimped on before they are born as well as immediately after birth. Arguably the fact that the problem affects lower-class socio-economic families much more than it does those above them only makes things worse.

Child care spending

Compared to many other developed countries, America spends relatively little of its public wealth on raising its children. Family payments, measured in absolute numbers, are lower than in Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and the U.K. They are also much lower than the OECD average. Relative to the earned incomes of employed single mothers, the overall value of cash transfers per family is low and declining. As a result, the percentage of children who live in poverty is higher than in most other developed countries.

Parental tyranny: Over-parenting

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Update on 3 battles in the war for control of America: TPP, NSA, & police

Summary:  We’re in the endgame — the pursuit phase of battle — where the 1% employ the power gathered through years of careful planning and work. Hence the number of important conflicts splashing over the front pages. Much depends on their outcomes. I’ve predicted wins for the 1%, as their well-organized and funded political machine defeats our apathy. Here’s the action on 3 of these clashes as of today.

Crystal Ball

Contents

  1. The Trans Pacific Partnership.
  2. Our out-of-control police.
  3. Government surveillance of Americans.
  4. For More Information.

(1)  The Trans Pacific Partnership

Under the cloak of “free trade”, a large secret plan to screw us. Three weeks ago I forecast that it would pass. Today’s vote suggests that I might be wrong, as a bipartisan alliance in the House voted against Obama on a key step in the legislative dance. The vote among Democrats was 40-144 against, among Republicans 86-158 against.

House Democrats delivered a stinging defeat to President Obama’s trade agenda when a vast majority voted to derail legislation designed to help him advance a sweeping deal with 11 Pacific-rim nations.

The House voted 302 to 126 to sink a measure to grant financial aid to displaced workers, fracturing hopes at the White House that the package would smooth the path for Congress to approve a separate bill to grant Obama fast-track authority to complete an accord with 11 other Pacific Rim nations.

“I don’t think you ever nail anything down around here,” Obama told reporters on his way out of the Capitol. “It’s always moving.”

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