Sunday, February 18, 2018

Failing to Prevent a Preventable Massacre

Today, Kevin Williamson weighs in on the FBI and the Lakeland Sheriff’s office. He wants to know how they failed to prevent an eminently preventable massacre.

The FBI and local law enforcement bear considerable responsibility for the Nikolas Cruz rampage. Right now, like the good little bureaucrats they are, they are covering up their dereliction.

Williamson’s style is inimitable, often copied, rarely equaled:

As was reported on Friday, the FBI had been alerted that a particular pasty-faced virgin down in Florida was probably going to shoot up his old school. He had put up social-media posts to that effect, cleverly shielding his identity from the steely-eyed G-men by signing his legal name to those public threats. The epigones of J. Edgar Hoover may not be Sherlock Holmes, but presumably they can read, and some public-minded citizen took some screen shots and sent them to the FBI.

The FBI of course did what the relevant authorities did in the case of Omar Mateen, the case of Nidal Hasan, the case of Adam Lanza: nothing.

We could replace these guys with trained monkeys, if we could train monkeys to be self-important.

How did the bureau explain its dereliction? It declared that it was following protocols. Just in case you do not understand protocols, Williamson explains:

The FBI has “protocols” for handling specific credible threats of that sort, “protocol” here being a way of saying, “Pick up the phone and call the local field office or, if we really want to get wild, the local police.” “The protocol was not followed,” the FBI bureaucrats explained. Well, no kidding. Why not? No answer — the question wasn’t even asked aloud. Did law enforcement’s ball-dropping mean that a preventable massacre went unprevented because of bureaucratic failure? “I don’t think anybody could say that,” says Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, who is leading the investigation. His department had over the years received no fewer than 20 calls related to the shooter. What about that? “Make no mistake about it, America, the only one to blame for this incident is the killer himself,” which is exactly the sort of thing a sanctimonious schmuck says when he doesn’t want to consider the institutional failures right in front of his taxpayer-subsidized nose and the culpable negligence — to say nothing of the sand-pounding stupidity — of his own agency.

For those of us who repair to facts when we are looking for perspective, Williamson puts it all in context. How many agents does the FBI have?

The FBI has a budget of $3.5 billion, almost all of which goes to salaries, benefits, and other personnel costs. Do you know how many employees the FBI field office in South Florida has? It has more than 1,000. Do you know how many employees the FBI has in total? It has 35,158 employees. It has 13,084 agents and 3,100 intelligence analysts.

And not one of them could pick up the phone to forward vital intelligence gathered by the grueling investigative work of picking up the phone and taking a tip from a tipster. Would the sheriff have taken that call more seriously than his department took the 20 other calls relating to the killer? Impossible to say.

Since Christopher Wray does not have the strength of character to resign and since he seems clearly to be incompetent, Williamson recommends that he be fired. If that doesn’t work, he adds, a good whipping might be in order.

More Notes on Russian Election Meddling

Some of us never believed that the hue and cry over “facts” was anything but psy-ops… a fraudulent attempt to marry the liberal progressive idealistic cause to empirical reality. Since that cause has never really had anything to do with reality—it prefers appearances—it was always going to be a tough sell.

For now, for those who care about facts, here are a couple, from different sources. The first from The Daily Caller’s Amber Athey compares Russian election meddling with the Clinton communications machine.

According to reports, the monthly Russian budget for the operation to meddle in the election was $1.2 million. As Peter Hamby pointed out on Twitter, Clinton and supporting PAC Priorities USA spent approximately $800 million in 2016.

That means Clinton and her PAC spent about $66 million a month in 2016, a whopping 53 times more money than Russia’s $1.25 million monthly budget.

And this does not even count the massive media assault against Trump and the massive propaganda effort in favor of Clinton.

And then there is Facebook. The company vice president of advertising, Robert Goldman tweeted a salient fact: namely, that most Russian spending on Facebook advertising happened after the election. Duh? Not a minor detail, don’t you think? And yet, as Goldman suggests, Facebook has always reported this. The media has consistently ignored it.

This from the Zero Hedge blog:

Notably, Goldman points out that the majority of advertising purchased by Russians on Facebook occurred after the election - and was designed to "sow discord and divide Americans", something which Americans have been quite adept at doing on their own ever since the Fed decided to unleash a record class, wealth, income divide by keeping capital markets artificially afloat at any cost.

Here are the texts of some of the tweets:

The majority of the Russian ad spend happened AFTER the election. We shared that fact, but very few outlets have covered it because it doesn’t align with the main media narrative of Tump and the election.

The main goal of the Russian propaganda and misinformation effort is to divide America by using our institutions, like free speech and social media, against us. It has stoked fear and hatred amongst Americans. It is working incredibly well. We are quite divided as a nation.

Have a nice day!

Election Meddling and the Future of Democracy

Americans are in something of an uproar about Russian meddling in the last presidential election. You would think that the Russian bear had violated the vestal virgin of American democracy. An unthinkable inexcusable horror, don’t you think?

If you believe that all American elections since the beginning of the Republic have been completely fair and never subjected to meddling, you are suffering from terminal naïveté. One does know that the results of the Illinois vote in the 1960 presidential election were rigged, by organized crime and local labor unions. Richard Nixon chose not to contest the results, but the people who are crying most loudly now, would never have uttered a peep in 1960.

To their mind, the issue was not really meddling, or even the purity of American democracy, but who won. It’s not the same issue.

Of course, the people who are bowing down to the goddess of democracy are the first to run to the courts when a referendum—nothing is quite as democratic as a referendum—yields a result that they do not like. Think, referenda on same-sex marriage.

The rule of law, the virtue of democracy, has been yielding to the rule of lawyers and the rule of judges. Executive orders by one president are strokes of brilliance advancing the cause of justice. Executive orders by another duly elected president are unconstitutional and must be overturned by a court somewhere.

At the least, we know that ours is not a pure democracy. We do not vote directly for policies or for legislation. We vote for people to represent us. These people exercise discretion. They feel bound to advance a political philosophy, but they are not forced to do so. They can always be replaced at the next election. And yet, outside of the referenda that so many people disparage, ours is not exactly a direct democracy.

And yet, we love our democracy. It warms our hearts. We imagine that if votes are cast fairly the results will be wondrous to behold. We believe that we must export democracy, make the world safe for democracy, allow everyone a vote… regardless of the results.

This simply says that we think like naïve young idealists. Because if you look around the world today, as I have mentioned, whatever America is selling, the world is not buying. One needs to emphasize the point. Many major nations in the world are moving toward authoritarian rule, toward undemocratic rule, way from contested elections. Whether in China or Egypt or Saudi Arabia or even Turkey… the world’s nations are turning away from liberal democracy, away from human rights, away from free expression.

Egypt had an election and empowered the Muslim Brotherhood. It took a military coup to return that nation to a better path. And, lest we forget, the people of China are perfectly happy with the leaders of China, not one of whom won an election. All of China’s leaders are experienced and highly competent. The same applies in Russia… among other nations. These leaders are doing what they believe is best for their countries… to make them great again.

Authoritarian nations do not elect celebrities. And they do not elect presidents who look good on television. They do not elect presidents who have a demagogic facility with glib soundbites. They elect people who have worked their way up the ranks, who know how their governments work and who can make them work.

No one is going to buy American democracy if we cannot find leaders who have unimpeachable competence and if our leaders cannot make the government work. America’s Congress looks increasing like a ship of fools. Other nations are watching, and are saying that they do not want that.

In the news today we remark that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Bieber, a man who owes his office to his pedigree and his looks, just landed in India to promote trade and good diplomatic relations. When leaders from other nations come to India, whether they be from America or even Israel, the prime minister Narendra Modi greets them at the airport. When Justin Bieber arrived, the Indian government sent a junior agriculture minister.

Were they signaling disrespect? Of course, they were. It was not as disrespectful as the time when the government of China not only did not send anyone to greet President Obama on his last trip to Beijing. It refused even to send out a rolling staircase which would have allowed Obama to descend the plane in a dignified posture.

Western European democracies are being destroyed by an invasion of refugees who have no interest in assimilating, but are happy to import a new culture, to live off the dole and to initiate a crime wave. Eastern Europe, through elections, it is fair to say, has been moving in a more authoritarian direction, building walls to keep the marauding invading armies out of their countries. The West is practicing open borders. The East is moving away from it. We might love our democracy, but if we cannot make it work any better than it has, its days are numbered.

America’s greatest political problem is not election meddling. It’s the inability to make the system function. America’s government is too entertaining, too dramatic, to get very much of anything done.

Except, as it happens, meddling in the elections of other countries. The New York Times has the story this morning. America has long meddled in the elections of other people, though, apparently, experts in these matters insist that we are doing it for a noble cause—to advance democracy—while Russia, among others, does it to undermine democracy.

As it happens, the Times story, by Scott Shane, fails to mention the Obama administration effort to meddle with elections in Israel. The goal was not to enhance democracy but to remove a prime minister who opposed the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear deal, a deal that, as U. N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said yesterday in a New York Times op-ed, is failing:

Last week, the United Nations published a report with news a lot of people don’t want to hear. A panel of experts found that Iran is violating a United Nations weapons embargo — specifically, that missiles fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebels into Saudi Arabia last year were made in Iran.

The mullahs in Iran don’t want to hear this news, because it proves Iran is violating its international agreement. Die-hard defenders of the Iran nuclear deal don’t want to hear it because it proves, once again, that the Iranian regime can’t be trusted. And some members of the United Nations don’t want to hear it because it is further proof that Iran is defying Security Council resolutions, and the pressure will be on the U.N. to do something about it.

Thus, in some cases American governments have meddled in elections to advance democracy. In other cases it has done so to advance its own political agenda and to undermine allies.

In the meantime, Scott Shane explains American meddling: 

Loch K. Johnson, the dean of American intelligence scholars, who began his career in the 1970s investigating the C.I.A. as a staff member of the Senate’s Church Committee, says Russia’s 2016 operation was simply the cyber-age version of standard United States practice for decades, whenever American officials were worried about a foreign vote.

“We’ve been doing this kind of thing since the C.I.A. was created in 1947,” said Mr. Johnson, now at the University of Georgia. “We’ve used posters, pamphlets, mailers, banners — you name it. We’ve planted false information in foreign newspapers. We’ve used what the British call ‘King George’s cavalry’: suitcases of cash.”

The United States’ departure from democratic ideals sometimes went much further. The C.I.A. helped overthrow elected leaders in Iran and Guatemala in the 1950s and backed violent coups in several other countries in the 1960s. It plotted assassinations and supported brutal anti-Communist governments in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

He continues that all meddling is not created equal:

But in recent decades, both Mr. Hall and Mr. Johnson argued, Russian and American interferences in elections have not been morally equivalent. American interventions have generally been aimed at helping non-authoritarian candidates challenge dictators or otherwise promoting democracy. Russia has more often intervened to disrupt democracy or promote authoritarian rule, they said.

It ought to be clear, but Russian election meddling has a single goal: to enhance Russian importance on the world stage, to keep Russia in the game, as a major player. We are wrong if we consider this to be ideological warfare over different forms of government. True enough, civilizations are clashing. They are competing for influence and dominance. And yet, if democracies cannot compete against better-run, better-managed authoritarian governments, they will become historical also-rans.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

What Happened to the FBI?

Yet again, the FBI failed. It failed to follow up on an explicit warning about Nikolas Cruz. It failed to protect the children of Parkland, Florida.

While  our intellectual elites are pounding the pavement demanding that we repeal the Second Amendment, one point should be clear: a competent FBI would have been far more likely to stop Nikolas Cruz than would new gun control laws. While people complain about how Cruz was able to buy an AR-15, not an unimportant question, the more salient point is: why was he walking the streets at all. Why was he not cooling out in a psychiatric facility… and I do not mean spending a weekend there. I mean, spending a few months there. Besides, do you really believe that if he could not buy a semi-automatic assault weapon legally, he would not have been able to find one anyway. Or, that if he couldn't he would not have been able to find another weapon.

One understands that civil libertarians have gutted psychiatric institutions and made it nearly impossible to hold people against their will. And one must add that insurance companies often refuse to pay for long term commitments. Which leaves us with the FBI.

Roger Simon calls it biased and incompetent. He reminds us that ace FBI agents also failed to detain or even to care about other mass murderers over the past few years:

But the latter seems to be an apt characterization of our Federal Bureau of Investigation in the wake of the killings in Parkland, Florida, where, by their own admission, the organization overlooked warnings about the killer that could have saved seventeen students and teachers from mass murder. This is no mere bureaucratic slip-up and the demand by Governor Scott for the resignation of FBI Director Wray is understandable considering the number of dead children in his state.

The incompetence, moreover, is not just restricted to Parkland. It pervades an institution that—frequently blinded by the most rote political correctness—interviewed and then released terrorists who ultimately perpetrated horrific attacks from the Boston Marathon to the Orlando nightclub massacre. (There are several more.)

I am far from well-enough informed to say whether political correctness killed people at the Boston Marathon or the Orlando nightclub, but I would not be surprised to hear that the transformational Obama presidency produced a biased and incompetent organization.

And yet, the FBI was perfectly capable of doing a job when that job involved slandering Republicans. consider the Steele dossier:

For the last few weeks we have been digesting the nauseating probability that the FBI used a dossier paid for by the Clinton campaign and ginned up by an assembly of creepy political hatchet men and women (Blumenthal, Shearer, Steele, two Ohrs, etc.) with input from various "friends of the Kremlin" in order to spy on an American citizen and, undoubtedly, Donald Trump, before and after he became president.

Where was the FBI? Why did it take them so long to unmask a fairly paltry one million dollar Internet campaign using the most old-style Soviet front groups, although throwing them up online this time? Could it be because this all got started under Obama and he was the one who famously excoriated Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential debates for daring to point out that Russia was still a serious threat? Obama (busy cozying up to and ultimately enriching Iran) accused Mitt of being back in the eighties. The Cold War had been over for twenty years. No wonder the FBI wasn't paying much attention to Putin & Co.

Who knows the reason for this dereliction? Evidently, the FBI was fighting the good fight against racism, sexism and Islamophobia. When it came to psychotic serial killers and terrorist mass murderers, it was blinded by its bias. Whatever is wrong with the FBI, we now know that Christopher Wray is not the right man to clean it up.

Apple Employees Keep Walking Into Walls

The Masters of the Tech Universe are better than you and I. They hold to the most correct political opinions. If they are multibillionaires they also consider themselves to be great philosophers, serious thinkers.

The Masters of the Tech Universe also possess a far more sophisticated aesthetic. They show off their aesthetic in their products, as Apple does, and they also do it in constructing office spaces, as Apple also did. The new Apple headquarters brings the vision of Steve Jobs to life.

Keep in mind, the new complex is called a campus. It means that Applers do not just want to see themselves as vulgar manufacturers selling a product. No, my friends, they want to see themselves as serious thinkers, as members of the intellectual elite, the guardian class that will run our lives for us. 

Do any of them understand that today’s American universities are mired in terminal dysfunction… that, with the exception of STEM fields,  they have become indoctrination mills that force students to think the most politically correct thoughts? Why would anyone want to emulate the example of American universities?

The new Apple Campus is, if nothing else, transparent. It is all glass all the time, inside and out.  What could possible go wrong?

Well, members of the super sophisticated Apple team keep walking into the glass. Bam. Bang. Yikes. Tell me that you don’t find this amusing.

Time Magazine has the story.

The centerpiece of Apple Inc.’s new headquarters is a massive, ring-shaped office overflowing with panes of glass, a testament to the company’s famed design-obsessed aesthetic.

There’s been one hiccup since it opened last year: Apple employees keep smacking into the glass.

Surrounding the Cupertino, California-based building are 45-foot tall curved panels of safety glass. Inside are work spaces, dubbed “pods,” also made with a lot of glass. Apple staff are often glued to the iPhones they helped popularize. That’s resulted in repeated cases of distracted employees walking into the panes, according to people familiar with the incidents.

Why do they keep walking into glass walls? Their eyes are glued to their iPhones. If you don’t find this amusing, you have no sense of humor.

Some staff members have tried a low tech solution… it was rejected for ruining the aesthetic:

Some staff started to stick Post-It notes on the glass doors to mark their presence. However, the notes were removed because they detracted from the building’s design, the people said. They asked not to be identified discussing anything related to Apple. Another person familiar with the situation said there are other markings to identify the glass.

Apple’s latest campus has been lauded as an architectural marvel. The building, crafted by famed architect Norman Foster, immortalized a vision that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs had years earlier. In 2011, Jobs reportedly described the building “a little like a spaceship landed.” Jobs has been credited for coming up with the glass pods, designed to mix solo office areas with more social spaces.

Remember the old saw about the best laid plans? Remember the old adage about how pride goeth before destruction? Is this all a sign that the Applers have overreached? Does it mean that they believe so fervently in their own genius that they have detached from practical considerations? Does it mean anything that they keep walking into glass walls? Time will tell.

The Collusion Narrative Collapses

As everyone expected, the Russian collusion narrative definitively collapsed yesterday. When the Justice Department indicted thirteen Russian trolls and three Russian companies for attempting to influence the presidential election it added that no Americans had been part of the plot. We had already had it on excellent authority that collusion is not a crime, but no one much cared about that.

Democrats who cannot accept that they lost to Donald Trump have been trying to undo the election results in the name of… you guessed it… democracy. They have been on television baying at the moon, accusing Trump of treason, mass murder, dementia and bad sex… all of which are supposed to be grounds for impeachment… or worse. 

You recall the mini-frenzy over Trump’s health, both mental and physical. You recall that the dementia narrative collapsed when Trump’s physician spend an hour answering idiotic questions from reporters who knew nothing of medicine. Anyway, it ended the dementia narrative. Puff… up in smoke.

Time to move on to another narrative, another way to undermine and delegitimize a president who won a fair election. All in the name of democracy… which depends, in very large part, on the ability to accept when one had has lost and to extend a gracious hand to the winner. Who’s undermining democracy now?

Anyway, the Wall Street Journal editorializes this morning that we ought perhaps not throw ourselves into the highest dudgeon over yet another media machine doing opposition research and trying to influence hearts and minds. Compared to the Republican and Democrat influence machines, to say nothing of the mainstream media, this Russian trolls were small change:

The indictment also contains no evidence that Russia’s meddling changed the electoral results. A U.S. presidential campaign is a maelstrom of information, charges and counter-charges, media reports and social-media chatter. The Russian Twitter bursts became part of this din and sought to reinforce existing biases more than they sought to change minds. Their Twitter hashtags included “#Hillary4Prison,” for example, which you could find at the souvenir desk at the GOP convention.

Of course, while this was all happening, the man in charge was Barack Obama. It is  useful to remind ourselves of this, being as the hatred of Donald Trump, hatred that is positively dripping off the lips of his media detractors, is really an expression of mad love for Obama… the Messiah, sent by God to save America, the man who could do no wrong. It counts as one of the greatest cover-ups in American history, this effort to excuse all of Obama’s errors:

The indictment also makes us wonder what the Obama Administration was doing amid all of this. Where were top Obama spooks James Clapper and John Brennan ? Their outrage became public only after their candidate lost the election. If they didn’t know what was going on, why not? And if they did, why didn’t they let Americans in on the secret? President Obama sanctioned Russia for its meddling only after the election.

Fair enough, the Journal explains that we need to hear more from the White House:

All of which makes the White House reaction on Friday strangely muted. Its statement understandably focused on the lack of collusion evidence and made one reference to “the agendas of bad actors, like Russia.” But given how much Russia’s meddling has damaged his first year in office, Mr. Trump should publicly declare his outrage at Russia on behalf of the American people. The Kremlin has weakened his Presidency. He should make Russia pay a price that Mr. Obama never did.

As for those who are cheering the Mueller exoneration of Trump, we should all keep in mind that the investigation is not over and that, for all we know, the next round will not be so favorable to the president.

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Problem with Identity Politics

When reading Steven Pinker’s interview at the Weekly Standard I was struck by this passage:

Identity politics is the syndrome in which people’s beliefs and interests are assumed to be determined by their membership in groups, particularly their sex, race, sexual orientation, and disability status. Its signature is the tic of preceding a statement with “As a,” as if that bore on the cogency of what was to follow.

It recalled a remark Andrew Sullivan made last week in New York Magazine:

If elites believe that the core truth of our society is a system of interlocking and oppressive power structures based around immutable characteristics like race or sex or sexual orientation, then sooner rather than later, this will be reflected in our culture at large. What matters most of all in these colleges — your membership in a group that is embedded in a hierarchy of oppression — will soon enough be what matters in the society as a whole.

And, sure enough, the whole concept of an individual who exists apart from group identity is slipping from the discourse. 

Both authors are leading the fight against identity politics, so I do not wish to make too much of what is going to appear to you to be a pedantic triviality. 

Perhaps you have guessed what struck me in these passages. Perhaps you have not. My epiphany was quite simple: most of the “groups” in question are not really groups, in the strict sense of the word. To believe that the world is divided between those who support individual freedom and those who support group identities is simply wrong. It is a false dichotomy.

Yes, I know that these terms are used very loosely and a group can easily be taken to be a grouping. Of course, there are also arithmetic groups that have nothing to do with social organizations or communities.

If we are talking about race, gender, sexual orientation and the like, we are talking about collections of individuals who have a specific trait in common. In some philosophies, they would have been considered to be classes, like the class of four-legged carnivores or the class of wingless bipeds. 

Most importantly, these so-called groups do not involve a social organization. The class of all females does not and never has constituted a community. It does not have a social organization. It does not require people to get along with each other, to work together, to cooperate and collaborate. It does not reproduce itself. You belong to the class of females or Caucasians by your biological nature, not because you participate in a social organization.

Groups are human communities, whether religious or secular. They run the gamut from religious congregations to nation states to armies to corporations and even to communities. In some nations you are required to be of the same race—like Japan—but being of the Japanese race does not automatically make you a citizen of Japan.

When we arrive at the class of beings known as wingless bipeds, that is members of the human species-- or, as the bien pensant left would have it—Humanity, we discover that, since this is nothing more than a class of beings sharing a common characteristic. It is not a social organization,. Defining yourself as a member of the species of wingless bipeds shares with the practitioners of identity polities one simple fact: it does not matter what you do or do not do, it does not matter how you function within a group. Your membership cannot be enhanced or revoked as you behave or misbehave. So, identity politics is a subspecies of humanism.

The issue is not the conflict between the individual and the group. The issue involves your loyalty to the nation or your loyalty to a class of individuals that is held together only by the fact that they share certain specific characteristics, like XX chromosomes, certain racial traits, or a yearning for members of the same sex.

It’s about patriotism or not, ethical behavior or not. It's not about the conflict between individual identity and group identity.