Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bits and Pieces of Good News

The news from home and abroad is almost uniformly bad. The damage wrought by the Obama misadministration is now in the incalculable range. As I have mentioned before some of the damage this horrid president has inflicted on us and the Western world might well be permanent.  I, however, don't want this post to be yet another recitation of the Obama catalog of destruction. For one of very few times, I am going to write a relatively optimistic piece.  Please note the word relatively.

While as noted the picture is bleak, there are glimmers of light that give some hope. Let me rattle off a few, starting overseas.

In Australia, of course, we see a conservative government in charge and, one hopes, on the way to undoing the progressive damage to that great country's economy, image, culture, and soul. We hope, at a minimum, that the new PM will be able to reverse the destructive "green" and immigration policies that threaten Australia and the rest of the West. Lead the way Australia!

In other good news, this time in Latin America, the Nobel-prize winning novelist Gabriel García Márquez is dead.

One of the great phonies and bootlickers of leftist dictators has passed from the scene. Those who love freedom can only be grateful.

I will speak ill of the dead. It is hard to exaggerate the damage that GGM has done to the image of Latin America and Latin Americans, portraying the region and the people as some sort of quasi-magical place, a place filled with ethereal, mystical beings without logic, common sense, and ordinary human emotions and foibles. For all his "magical realist" vision, he could not or would not see, for example, the horrors brought to Cuba and Cubans by the Castro brothers. On the contrary, he had an enormous house in Havana provided by the regime, with servants and cars at his beck-and-call, and a ready chummy access to the bloodstained brothers and their rule of terror. He convinced generations of gringo academic Latin American "specialists" that the region could not be understood in conventional terms; that supply-and-demand economics did not work there; and that ordinary people did not want individual liberty and political democracy. He helped perpetrate and perpetuate a horrid stereotype of Latin America, one in which the atrocities of leftist regimes could be ignored because the region operated on another level of consciousness, one beyond our poor powers to comprehend. Good riddance to this poseur and his unreadable sentences! An enemy of freedom is gone.

In Venezuela, the revolt against dictatorship continues.

Ignored, when not maligned by the rest of the Americas, the Venezuelan protestors have revealed the Chavez-Maduro regime for what it truly is: an economic, political, humanitarian, and moral disaster. It is a rotten regime that now survives only by eating its foreign reserves, using the full power of the state to try to crush dissent, and by lying non-stop. Despite the lack of international support, the sort of support that would have been shown students, for example, revolting against a right-wing regime, the protests continue on a daily basis. The Maduro regime is in a death spiral, and that is all to the good. The passing of this hideous regime will be due to the people of Venezuela, who abandoned by their alleged friends, took matters into their own hands.  

Here in our own beloved but sorely distressed and bedraggled USA, we also see some signs of hope that the fog of leftism is not impenetrable.

I have written before of the defeat handed the bloated, corrupt, and politicized United Auto Workers (UAW) in Tennessee.  We have more good news on that front. The press is reporting that,
The United Auto Workers has dropped its challenge of a vote to organize workers at Volkswagen's only U.S. plant that went against the union. 
The National Labor Relations Board was set to start a hearing Monday on the UAW's complaint that Republican politicians improperly interfered before the Feb. 14 vote at the Chattanooga, Tenn. plant, which the union lost 712 to 626.
But the union issued a statement Monday saying it was dropping its appeal because fighting the election through the NLRB could have dragged on for years. 
"The UAW is ready to put February's tainted election in the rear-view mirror," said UAW President Bob King in a statement. 
The union said even if the NLRB ordered a new election -- the board's only available remedy under current law -- nothing would stop politicians and anti-union organizations from again interfering. 
But some experts had suggested that the union stood little chance of winning a new vote, even if the NRLB ruled in its favor. 
"Most people thought they'd win the first time around," said Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at Clark University. "I think the chances of winning a second vote will be more difficult than winning the first vote."
They will just have to go home to Detroit and rest on their laurels . . .

Gun ownership has won some significant battles. We see the idea of concealed carry by law abiding citizens gaining currency throughout the country. Come on folks! How many of you thought you would see concealed carry in Illinois in your lifetimes? The anti-gun hysterics are losing and losing badly. Oh, and guess what? As gun ownership and concealed carry have expanded, crime rates, including gun crime, have declined.

Sherryl Attkisson, the former CBS reporter and one of the very few MSM reporters outside of FOX who tried to report the truth on Benghazi, has now reported that (Surprise!) the folks at CBS were ideologically reluctant to criticize the government, and that reporters who do not toe the lib line will come under attack. You mean the media has a leftist bias? Wow! That's a scoop!

The Bundy Ranch standoff I have covered before. It still remains a remarkable event, and I think one that is going to force the government to rethink its heavy-handed SWAT tactics in the future. American citizens stood up to armed agents of the Federal government and forced them to back down. That is a major development.

Despite its best efforts, the Obama misadministration has been unable to stifle US oil production. The US, by some calculations, is now the world's top energy producer, and we're only getting started. Making the US energy independent is the best way to increase our foreign policy options, and provide a steady stream of good paying jobs here at home.

These are just a few of my favorite things. I am sure readers can come up with more. Look, I realize that the overall trend line is not promising, but that should not blind us to the occasional bits of good news which come to us thanks to the actions of some brave and dedicated people.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Hope to have something up soon . . .

Sorry.

My life keeps getting in the way of my Diplomad obligations.

Big crisis. Had to take the Vette in for service to the dealer. The idiots at a "major electronics chain" incorrectly installed the radio/navigation system and had produced a short that was draining my battery.  Any Vette owners out there know that anything that affects the Vette is a major life event. Stopped eating. Ignored the wife and dogs. Blogging fell off . . .

Am working on something for this humble blog. Hope to have it up soon now that the Vette is back on the road.

Did I mention that my Vette had to go in for service? You see, it . . .


Thursday, April 17, 2014

The State Department Responds to Benghazi

The Diplomad underground at State continues to function. It is a small group of FSOs and Civil Servants, ranging in ideology from libertarian to moderate liberal, horrified by the political correctness and Cloud La-la-land thinking that have overtaken State and the USG, and the horrid subsequent effects on America's interests around the world.

One dedicated Diplomadista provided an unclassified memo sent to the Secretary, dated April 17, 2014, from the Director of the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) with the subject line, "FSI’s Near Term Objectives – What Could Be Accomplished in 2014."

One key proposal is as follows, and I quote verbatim, in fact I "cut and paste" verbatim. (Note ARB refers to the Accountability Review Board, about which I wrote on December 27, 2012, convened in the wake of the Bengahzi fiasco. The ARB, of course, was a total whitewash, and left no senior official holding the bag.)
§ “ALERT” Language Training: The Benghazi ARB criticized the lack of language skills and situational awareness of personnel deployed to Benghazi. In response, FSI and DS implemented Arabic “ALERT” (Awareness, Language and Emergency Response Training) for DS staff assigned to High Threat Posts (HTPs) in the Arabic-speaking world. This 10-12 week course uses an innovative, task-based experiential approach to learning the Arabic they need on the job. ALERT’s active, realistic, and culturally engaging training format has been an effective training approach for this audience. Based on its success, FSI has developed Urdu ALERT – and is creating a French ALERT course (for HTPs in Francophone Africa) to begin this summer.
Have at it, folks!

There is so much to ridicule in this I don't know where to begin. Let me say, at least, that it shows how the bureaucrats running the FSI are out of touch with the wider reality, and have been captured by their little reality. They see the disaster in Benghazi as a means to advance some little bureaucratic agenda, in this case to get some funding and high-level attention for a silly language program.

The authors of this memo gem seem to assume that our people in Benghazi died because they did not speak Arabic well-enough . . . please heap your scornful comments here . . . I just do not have the energy . . .


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Reflections on Graduation and our Mess

There come times when I get too sick of the news to comment, give my use of the internet a rest, and focus on things that might have no great importance to the outside world, but which provide the humble Diplomad some peace of mind, an escape . . . sort of.

I attended the graduation ceremony for my dog, Hartza, at the local obedience school. This happy occasion--that's his picture down there, the cap making him looking a bit like an inebriated Soviet sailor--was joyfully marked by not having to sit through a Valedictorian speech, and not having Joe Biden as the keynote speaker. Hartza got a very nice diploma, an official picture, and a treat. The ceremony for me was marred, however, because I knew Hartza did not deserve that diploma. He, in essence, knows nothing. He could barely execute the "sit" command while other dogs were auditioning for gigs with Cirque du Soleil, doing high-wire acts, juggling three burning soccer balls, jumping backwards through blazing rings, pulling children from sinking boats, and . . . OK, I might have exaggerated a bit . . ..




When I told her that my dog seemed, ahem, not quite up to standards, the very nice trainer told me, "I never fail any dog!" This, of course, led me to think about our abysmal universities, in particular, and our abysmal education system, in general.

Everywhere I seem to see the recent products of our universities. Many of them have jobs as "baristas"--used to call them waiters--at Starbucks, Panera, Peet's, etc. My son has a friend who works serving bitter, burned, overpriced coffee to pompous Prius drivers in Southern California. She feels bitter and burned because on graduating from an overpriced university she found herself with bazillions in student debt (FAFSA Loan, Killer of the Dream) and only can land a close to minimum wage job, serving bitter, burned, overpriced coffee to pompous Prius drivers in Southern California. Her degree? Sounds made-up but . . . "gender studies with a specialization in feminist literature." As I told my son, his friend should feel fortunate that somebody, Starbucks in this case, would hire a person with zero qualifications for anything real, train her, entrust expensive expresso machines to her, AND pay her. She complains, and moans about her lot, but will she consider moving somewhere other than Southern California, somewhere cheaper with more job openings for the unskilled? No. Not clear what she thought she was getting with her degree, and is very vague about the job she would want other than, well, you guessed it, teaching gender studies with a specialization in feminist literature.

Like Hartza whom the trainer did not have the heart to fail, millions of kids emerge from universities all over the West, not just in the US, armed with a sense of superiority and entitlement, and prepared for nothing. One wonders how different things would be if many of those youths had resisted the progressive Siren song on the need to go to university, and taken the advice of one of my favorite public personalities, Mike Rowe, who has tried for years to get kids interested in real work, in learning skilled trades, in doing something that makes something. We, instead, have millions of children aspiring for the life and the status of the intellectual, but finding that universities cannot deliver those anymore. Universities have suffered the fate that all institutions suffer when they surrender to the progressives: quality declines precipitously, and the original mission becomes corrupted into something else.

Back to Hartza. I want to train him to operate a backhoe.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

One More Thing to Blame on England: the Nevada Ranch Stand-off

I have been fascinated by the ongoing stand-off in Nevada between the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and a Nevada rancher, Cliven Bundy. As I write this, reports are coming in that the Feds are in retreat, and are abandoning their effort to round up the evil Bundy cows.

I thought of titling this post, "Is it April 19, 1775, yet?" or, "Will Cattle Lead Stampede for Liberty?" but decided to go with one blaming England.

Ostensibly at issue in this stand-off are some $1.3 million in fees the Feds say Bundy owes the BLM for grazing his cattle on Federal land since 1993, when Bundy stopped paying. Bundy replies that he and his family have grazed that land since just after the Civil War, have ancestral rights to it, and that the Feds arbitrarily changed the rules on him when they put 100,000's of acres off limits beginning in 1993 to protect a rare desert tortoise.

The Feds, who for this operation must have had their PR designed and executed by the same idiots who decided that a low-level flyover of Manhattan in 2009 by Air Force One was a good idea, sent in armed agents in a stream of SUV's, bulldozers, and backhoes, with helicopters buzzing overhead, and began rounding up hundreds of cattle, and, reportedly, euthanizing at least some of them. In addition, some genius decided that for crowd control reasons, the Feds would set up an officially sanctioned and fenced in "First Amendment Area," where people who didn't like the BLM's actions could express their opposition--there but nowhere else, since the Feds apparently have determined the where and when of the First Amendment. The tone-deaf Feds also have been highlighting environmentalist "concerns" for a species of desert tortoise, as though that makes them appear on the side of goodness and light. Note to the leftards running our government: the American people are fed up with and do not trust "environmentalists," and the image of agents with guns, tasers, helicopters, and police dogs does not convey a warm and cuddly green enviro-message.

I don't know all the legal ins-and-outs of the case and the media have not (Surprise!) done a good job of presenting the case for both sides: I wait for Legal Insurrection (the best blog on the net) to do that. That aside, I am struck by the arrogance and high-handedness of the Feds. We see a genuinely totalitarian atmosphere, an air of living and operating removed from everyday reality in the way our government now works. We have seen this before, generally under Democratic administrations, e.g., the Clinton-Reno handling of Waco, but not exclusively so, e.g., the 1992 Bush (41) handling of Ruby Ridge, but under this administration that totalitarian impulse has gone on steroids, e.g., the use of the IRS and EPA to suppress dissent; the use of the ATF to build a bogus case against gun ownership with "Fast and Furious"; the ramming through of Obamacare ready or not, wanted or not; the use of the auto bailout to close pro-Repubilican car dealers, etc. Did the Bundy case really rise to this level of Federal action? A dispute over a million dollars in land use fees? Really? What has this operation cost the taxpayers? More important, what has this operation cost the government in the one resource it no longer has in great stock, the public trust?

The popular reaction, as one can see by going to Drudge, has been strong with protestors clashing with BLM and National Park Service agents. Bundy supporters have been driving in from across the country to confront the Feds, and help Bundy retrieve his cattle. The BLM, apparently, has announced that it will abandon its cattle round up, and, as noted above, the Feds seem in retreat, something that could have great significance for the future.

What we have on display is the perennial clash between two English traditions or tenets: the first, respect for the "Crown" and the law; the second, a demand for individual liberty. Where those two rub up against each other the resulting friction produces a lot of heat and, at times, even flame. On another April, this one in 1775, we saw those two English principles also come into conflict when Royal troops went into the Massachusetts countryside to retrieve guns and some powder defiantly stored by English farmers. The resulting clash, which began on April 19, 1775, saw the Royal troops retreat in the face of an armed countryside, and served as the spark for the American Revolution. Angry and armed English farmers should not be your enemy of first choice. That Revolution was a continuation of a great theme in the English Civil War, the battle over the nature of the individual's relationship to the Leviathan. The victors in the American Revolution were those Englishmen who held liberty above loyalty to the crown.

The cow "war" in the Nevada desert, perhaps, could provide the spark that lights a more widespread resistance to the increasing arrogance and stupidity of those who now operate in the name of our "Crown," His Royal Majesty Barack I. If it is true that the Feds have had to back down, this event could well be the watershed in a new struggle to preserve our English liberties.

Blame it on England. I do.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Never-Ending Romance of Nationalism

I am so sick of the daily news that I could give up blogging and become an Xtreme stuntman . . . and except for the fact that pain hurts, I would do it.

But, really, the news? It seems dominated by absurd CNN reporting on MH370, an endless succession of false statistics from the White House (e.g., unemployment, Obamacare, gender pay inequality) and a host of trivial matters of no consequence (e.g., John Kerry's latest MidEast proposal). There is no real MSM coverage about the stagnant economy; Russia's drive for dominance in eastern Europe; China's drive for dominance in Asia; the Iranian drive for a nuclear weapon; the Syrian civil war which went from an imminent threat" to something relegated to the back pages; the involvement of a major San Francisco anti-gun Democrat in gun running; or the melt-down of the Argentine and Venezuelan regimes.

Anyhow, my mind was in a wandering mood, so I began reading up on the Scottish independence referendum due next September. People in Scotland will vote whether Scotland should become an independent nation. It is none of my business, and the British, especially those in Scotland, can tell me to get stuffed and go worry about Detroit and Obama. Since, however, this is a blog of opinion, opine I must, opine I will. Hate me if you must . . . . sniff, sniff . . .

Let me state my bias upfront. I am a huge admirer of England. If I had to pick the one country of greatest consequence to the modern history of mankind, it would be England. No other chunk of real estate in the world comes close to the contribution England has made to the development of the modern world and to our ideas of freedom, liberty, and democracy. It never ceases to amaze how this small country, possessed of relatively few natural resources and living with some of the worst weather in the world, has so influenced the globe's intellectual advancement, be it in science, engineering, exploration, philosophy, politics, literature, theater, or economics. It is a stunning achievement.

OK, back to today's topic. I won't get into the issues involved in the drive for and against Scottish independence. I will note, however, that some of my English friends would vote "yes," seeing it as a step in England's independence from Scotland. Suffice it to say that for some on either side of the border the three hundred-plus-year union of England and Scotland has not been a uniformly happy one. That's too bad. As an outsider and, as noted above, a long-time admirer of things British (pace warm beer, English toast racks, and Benny Hill) I have a nostalgia-tinged view of Albion. Scotland, homeland of the father of the US Navy, was part of that; British troops advancing under fire with bagpipes playing was a staple of my childhood movie-watching, and I would recreate it with my Airfix soldiers. I will get back to the nostalgia part in a second.

Independence? I can't see the big advantage, but that is not my call. I have seen proposals, for example, re whom an independent Scotland would consider Scottish, and those would seem to present problems. Lots of people who don't live in Scotland, and have not been born there could get citizenship if they have one Scottish grandparent or some other vague connection to Scotland. That would mean that if those folks got the vote, Scotland's elections could get decided in Canada, Australia, and the US--some Hollywood types, too, no less. Maybe I am out to lunch on that, I don't know.

I assume the Scots are practical sorts and will make their decision on independence in accord with what's best for them. English and Scots seem handling the matter in a very civilized, even civilised way. No car bombs; no assassinations; no riots; no massacres. Not something to sneeze at in today's world of violent extremists.

Back to what I really wanted to talk about: nostalgia and romance when discussing certain nationalisms. Ireland comes to mind immediately. As a student in the Boston area in the mid-1970s, I was acutely aware of Irish nationalism, and the support for the IRA that came from Boston. I remember going on Friday or Saturday nights to Irish pubs--they always seemed to have a James Joycean sort of name, "The Plough and Stars," "Finnegan's"--where at the last call, the bucket would get passed around for the "widows and orphans" in Northern Ireland. Woe to he who did not kick in a couple of bucks! There would then be some song about green Ireland, belted out with streaming tears by youngsters and fat middle aged men who had never been there, and who at the end of the evening would scream "Down with the British!" For them, it would always be 1916.

I found it weird and off-putting, but the fish and chips were good. In the end, all the death and destruction, some of it facilitated by those passed buckets in Boston, that rained down on Northern Ireland and spilled over to England, what was it all about? Did it bring about some good that was worth the price? Not in my calculus.

Basque nationalism also left me cold. Unlike Ireland and Scotland, the Basque region of Iberia did not have hundreds of years of history as an independent nation. As with any good nationalist movement, there was a lot of chicanery, fraud, and charlatanry: lots of made up history. Basque nationalism, much more so than Catalan or Gallego nationalism, always seemed to have an air of desperation, of time running out. The demographics, after all, were shifting against the Basques, as people from all over Spain moved into the region; the nationalists blatantly racist definition of who was a "real" Basque seemed rather repellent in a eugenics sort of way. They would refer to non-Basques as "coreanos," Koreans. I was also troubled by the fact that some of the most fanatic supporters of ETA, the Basque copy of the IRA, were from places such as Mexico, Cuba, and, alas, Idaho. As with the IRA, the ETA took up partnership with the PLO, as well as the Cuban, East German, and Soviet intel services. Basque nationalism was violent and racist, and founded on a romanticized notion of a Basque land that had never existed. The violence and bullying in the Basque areas succeeded in driving many people out of the region, and led to a fearful political ambiance which exists even to this day. It is the least democratic part of Spain; it is marked by a pronounced intolerance for the rest of Spain, a highly anti-Israeli and even anti-semitic political culture, whacky environmentalism in the extreme, and a strong support for the EU as the power broker rather than Madrid. None of that, however, can hide the fact that they have the best food in the world.

I have seen some other odd little nationalisms that turned into big disasters. The worst I have experienced was the Tamil-Sinhalese warfare in Sri Lanka. Both sides were insane, and fought an exceptionally bloody war aimed largely at non-combatants that in the end was about nothing except the war. That very nasty war eventually came to an end, and, again, one was left wondering what was it all about? Tamil nationalism received lots of support from Tamils in the UK, Canada, Australia, India, and the US; in other words from people who had no intention of living there, and who did not have to put up with the daily horrors of what their money bought.

One wonders about the Muslims in India and the creation of Pakistan (and later Bangladesh). Was all that blood and gore worth it? Are the Muslims who stayed in India living less well than those in Pakistan and Bangladesh? Doubt it very much or they would leave. It can be argued that Muslims in the subcontinent would have been better off staying in democratic India than living in authoritarian Pakistan.

Finished. No more. Just some thoughts. No real conclusion. Just wondering about the different types of nationalisms running fee in the world. Some good; some bad.

Must get back to the dogs.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Sorry for the Delay

Sorry I haven't put anything up in a while. Life keeps getting in the way. I'll try to have something interesting up soon . . . or, at least, something up soon.