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Monday, 19 September 2016
Tolerance in Jackboots
Topic: Liberal Fascism

For decades—since the Sixties, in fact—American progressivism has been moving away from classical liberal doctrines regarding freedom of speech and thought, liberty of conscience, and intellectual diversity. The results are seen in their most extreme form on college campuses with their safe spaces, lists of banned words, shouting down of unpopular opinions and a more or less explicit rejection of the First Amendment.

Progressives painted themselves into this ideological corner by embracing a concept of group rights that supposedly trump individual rights. And they have come to believe (if I may adapt a line of George Orwell’s) that “All groups are equal, but some groups are more equal than others.” That is, certain groups are deemed to be oppressed, with an unlimited claim on society’s approval and indulgence, while others are reviled as oppressors, bigots, etc. and so forth. Thanks to the color of his skin a white coal miner is a member of that arch-oppressor class, white males. But a black physician, attorney, member of congress, football player or actress is oppressed. Even if the white coal miner loses his job due to the energy policies of a black president, the former remains an oppressor and the latter remains oppressed.

Such perversions of thought being in the strict sense of the word indefensible, progressives have grown fearful of free intellectual discourse. Open debate and critical analysis would inevitably expose the contradictions that abound in progressive dogma. How can a white coal miner oppress a black president? Well, you’re not permitted to ask that question. Or take homosexuality and “gender identity.” It is claimed that the former is an inherent trait, probably genetic. If you’re gay you were, as Lady Gaga put it, born that way. But on the other hand it is claimed that there exists something called gender identity: a pure social construct. In principle, therefore, people can change their gender (“identify” as this, that or the other) as easily as they change their clothes. Progressives really can’t justify such absurdities but they can and do strive to shut up the people who point out that they are absurd.

As noted above this ideology—I call it postmodern progressivism—flourishes most malignantly on college campuses. So it might be objected that what happens on campus is anomalous, not reflective of mainstream progressivism. But consider. Just recently Hillary Clinton reviled half of Donald Trump’s supporters as a “basket of deplorables”: racist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, etc.—the usual progressive chant in response to opposition. But Clinton went further, declaring that the deplorables—numbering roughly 35 million people—are “irredeemable,” not genuine Americans. This was a remarkably awful thing for a presidential candidate to say— worse even than Mitt Romney’s 47% gaffe, for which he was viciously reviled by progressives. They had no problem with Clinton’s slur, though, and many have even defended it, e.g. Dana Milbank in the Washington Post, who argued that Clinton was absolutely right.

Postmodern progressivism corrupts everything it touches. Though progressives congratulate themselves for being the reality-based party, in practice they respect science precisely to the extent that it appears to validate progressive pieties, and not an inch farther. Very often, indeed, they embrace junk science; vide the anti-vaccination movement and the jihad against genetically modified food crops. Here again opposition is shouted down. And progressives have a bad habit of enlisting the prestige of science in causes of which science has nothing to say. Take global warming or, if you prefer, climate change. Whatever the scientific merits of the climate change postulate, it cannot tell us how human beings can possibly reverse the process that is claimed to be underway. The remedies proposed, e.g. the complete decarbonization of energy production in the short space of ten or twenty years, are a study in impossibility. Yet we are told in effect that since climate change is “settled science,” the impossible must be done. Step one, presumably, would be the arrest, trial and imprisonment of “climate deniers.”

On the other hand, progressives are prepared to be tolerant of such things as arranged marriages, honor killings and female gentile mutilation. A good case could be made that the number-one human rights issue in the world today is the oppression of women. So shouldn’t progressives with their concept of group rights be in there fighting for the rights of this very large group. Well, no. It so happens that the oppression of women around the world is being perpetrated by other oppressed groups, e.g. Muslims. This is problematical for progressives, who routinely smear conservatives as Islamophobic. How, therefore, can they themselves condemn the oppression of women in the Islamic world? So a courageous women like Hirsi Ali who bears witness to this evil—carries its scars on her body, in fact— is shouted down, prevented from speaking on college campuses, even reviled as a bigot and hater. To “blame the victim” is, supposedly, a heinous ideological transgression. But when it comes to Islam this rule is suspended. Such things as arranged marriages, honor killings, female genital mutilation, are simply not to be discussed in student unions, faculty lounges or at the Democratic National Convention.

Inescapable conclusion: The main currents of progressive thought now bend toward authoritarianism. Progressives champion the administrative/bureaucratic state precisely because it is authoritarian, promulgating and enforcing its rules with no democratic oversight. They champion the concept of group rights precisely because it undermines classical liberal principles of individual liberty. They embrace the pernicious doctrines of postmodernism precisely because they undermine traditional institutions. The result is a kind of social fascism—ironically promoted in the name of equality, tolerance, social justice and all that good stuff. And having pretty much destroyed American higher education, it’ll soon be coming for the rest of us.

Posted by tmg110 at 11:10 AM EDT
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Thursday, 1 September 2016
Obamacare: The Anatomy of an Epic Fail
Topic: Decline of the West

The failure of Obamacare: It’s a story that should figure prominently in media retrospectives of the soon-to-be-history Obama administration. But the media are too solicitous of the President’s legacy to shine the spotlight on this debacle. Anyhow, after her inevitable election Hillary Clinton will fix the Affordable Care Act. So that’s all right. 

Except that she can’t fix it—no one can fix it. The assumptions, fiscal, political and sociological, that underpin the ACA consist of wishful thinking leavened by bad judgment. Let us count the ways in which Obamacare defies logic and reality. 

There was, first, the assumption that the key component of Obamacare, the Web-based federal and state healthcare exchanges, would revolutionize the individual insurance market. Health insurance plans could be compared and purchased with a few mouse clicks. If Amazon can do it, the thinking went, then surely government can! But the federal exchange website’s launch was a costly fiasco that laid bare the utter incompetence of the federal bureaucracy. Many state exchanges, such as Maryland’s, crashed and burned as well, and for much the same reason. Thus early on we learned that the self-nominated smartest people in the room—Obama, his senior aides and advisors, bureaucrats and regulators, healthcare experts in and out of government—didn’t actually know what they were doing. And the blundering debut of the ACA was merely a harbinger of many more bad things to come. 

Then there was the assumption that via law and regulation, the government could reconfigure the health insurance market, taking power out of the hands of greedy insurance companies and turning them into a kind of regulated public utility. Banished were such nefarious practices as denial of coverage due to preexisting conditions. In return the insurance companies were promised a captive market, for the individual mandate would force everybody to carry health insurance. Young, healthy people would purchase insurance on the exchanges, balancing the risk pool by paying premiums but not making heavy demands on service. It was believed that after two or three years the Obamacare exchanges would become profitable for insurance companies. In the meantime, the federal government proposed to cover their losses. 

But all the components of this assumption proved false as well. Once denial of coverage due to preexisting conditions was eliminated, people discovered that they could game the system, buying insurance only when they got sick and dropping it again when they no longer needed healthcare. True, the individual mandate was supposed to prevent this from happening. But there is no less popular feature of Obamacare than the individual mandate and in practice the Obama Administration has not enforced it with vigor for fear of a public backlash. The fine that people are supposed to pay if they don’t get covered is easy to evade and only a fraction of the money that the government expected to rake in by this means is actually being collected. Thus the exchange risk pools consist of fewer and sicker people than the creators of Obamacare so blithely forecast. The premiums being collected do not even begin to cover the benefits being paid out and no turnaround is in sight. And Congress nixed the proposed insurance company bailout. 

Insurance companies are coping with Obamacare’s faulty financial design in two ways: (1) increase premiums, deductibles and copays; (2) exit the exchanges. Aetna, having lost $400 million last year, recently chose the latter option. As for exchange customers, they face the prospect of escalating costs, less choice and declining quality. Yes, lower-income customers are subsidized by the government. But that merely puts taxpayers on the hook for the inevitable subsidy increases that will be necessary to keep pace with rising premiums. With Obamacare, everybody loses. 

Of the rosy scenarios that bloomed in the early days of the ACA, none has proved more fanciful than the expectation that young people would get covered in droves. Pajama Boy would put down his cocoa and rush to his laptop for a visit to the exchange. The young love Obama, after all, so why wouldn’t they love Obamacare? Well, it turns out that the young’s adoration of Obama and their starry-eyed idealism stop well short of their wallets. Of the many dumb claims made on behalf of the ACA none seemed to me more fanciful than one pundit’s prediction that for young people, health insurance would become a kind of fashion accessory, something you had to have to be to be cool. Yes, that’s right, the sheer force of peer pressure would drive young people into the arms of Obamacare. But in reality—not so much. Paying a substantial amount of money for something they think they don’t really need looks to young people, as it would to anyone, like a bad deal. So no, they’re not signing up in droves. And the Obama Administration fears to use the big stick of the individual mandate to force them onto the exchanges. 

Oh, and by the way: Six years after the ACA began operating, 11% of Americans still have no health insurance coverage. 

How Hillary Clinton—or anyone—can possibly fix this mess is an excellent question with a simple answer: Obamacare is unfixable. And I haven’t even mentioned all its problems, e.g. the collapse of the nonprofit healthcare co-ops that were supposed to enhance choice and competition in the exchange markets. Clinton’s probable solution will be the public option, i.e. the federal government as a health insurance company. And from there it would be just a short step to that much-beloved nostrum of the Left, single-payer. To put it another way, Clinton’s probable solution would be a tacit admission that Obamacare’s a bust. Heck of a job, there, Barry… 

Nor am I anticipating blue skies ahead. Given the demonstrated incompetence of our political/bureaucratic lords and masters, it’s very likely that any Obamacare replacement would be just as bad if not worse. The idea that Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and the rest of them have some magic solution at their fingertips is simply too ludicrous for words. They haven’t got a clue, and their tinkering will simply make things worse. So take my advice, America: Don’t get sick. It’s your only defense against that ravening beast, healthcare reform.

Posted by tmg110 at 1:21 PM EDT
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Thursday, 25 August 2016
Here Come the Pronoun Police
Topic: Liberal Fascism


Perhaps the most insidious form of tyranny is that which compels us to pretend we believe in things that just aren’t so.


If I were to claim that I’m King Richard III you’d refer me for psychiatric treatment, right? But if I were to claim that I’m a woman in a man’s body, i.e. that I’m “transgender,” you’d be expected to nod understandingly and praise me for my bravery, wouldn’t you? That there’s really no discernable difference between the two claims matters not at all. Transgenderism (if that’s a word) has become an article of progressive orthodoxy. Unless you’re prepared to be reviled as a bigot, you must accept not only its reality but its goodness and virtue.


Now don’t get me wrong. It’s a matter of profound indifference to me if Harry wants to rebrand himself as Harriet or if Stephanie wants to transform herself into Stephen. Such people have been around for a long time: Check out the bio of the Emperor Elagabalus in The Augustan History. I do, however, object most strenuously to the demand that I accept as reality something that is quite obviously a mental disorder.


To be sure, human sexuality is a complex phenomenon. We’re still not sure why it is that a minority of men and a smaller minority of women are homosexual. Back in the day homosexuality sometimes went by the name of sexual preference. Later on it became politically convenient to claim that gay people are born that way. But there’s no hard evidence on way or the other and very likely there’s no single explanation. Nature, nurture, whatever…


Still, a gay male remains male regardless of his sexual orientation. But what are we to make of a biological male who insists that he is, in reality, a woman?


According to our progressive elites, we’re supposed to take his claim—or her claim—at face value. This includes permitting such people to use the public restroom of their choice, i.e. to let a male use the female facilities. You may say that’s no big deal—it probably happens all the time. A transgender male may present so convincingly as a female that no one would ever remark on her use of the ladies’. True enough. But now that we’ve made transgenderism a civil rights issue profound questions arise. In public schools is a transgender male identifying as female to be allowed to use the girl’s shower, locker room and rest room? Is she to be allowed to play on girls’ sports teams? Think about that last one. Most transgender males never surgically transform themselves into females. Biologically they remain male with all the physical advantages over women thereunto appertaining. So would it be fair, for example, to permit a transgender male identifying as female to participate in the LPGA Tour?


As the pronoun difficulties in the above paragraph attest, just thinking about this transgender business is exhausting. And, of course, using the wrong pronoun (the list seems to get longer every day) is an unforgivable offense. You find yourself pitched headlong into the world imagined by George Orwell, where two plus two sometimes make four, sometimes three, sometimes five and sometimes all of them together. Doublethink might have been invented to deal with transgenderism.


If this smoggy cloud of soft tyranny possesses anything in the way of a silver lining, it is this: Over the years the charge of bigotry has been so often hurled by progressives that it has largely lost its sting. I got into an online discussion of transgenderism with one such progressive and when, inevitably, he defaulted to the charge of bigotry I found myself unmoved. The predictability of his sally combined with the absurdity of his position—one moment transgenderism was an inborn trait, then suddenly it was a personal preference—provoked from me no more than a mocking smile that it was just as well he didn’t see.


The downside of the progressive promotion of transgender rights is that it will inevitably increase the pain and misery of people who need real help, not phony and self-serving expressions of approval. The statistics regarding personality dysfunction, substance abuse and suicide among transgender people makes sobering reading. And as ever, our enlightened progressive elites are out to make a bad situation worse.


Posted by tmg110 at 12:34 PM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 25 August 2016 12:40 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 23 August 2016
Could Lightning Strike?
Topic: Politics & Elections

As Election Day 2016 approaches, here’s the big question: Can Donald J. Trump win? Well, yes and no. 

Trump is so far behind in key battleground states that it’s hard to see how he can close the gap between now and November 8. Even assuming that he can stay on message, stay off Twitter and discipline his wayward tongue, the notion that he can flip Michigan, New Hampshire or Pennsylvania seems frivolous. No doubt the race will tighten. But Trump so seriously damaged himself in the early going that his own unaided efforts will never flip this race. 


But it could flip nonetheless. Hillary Clinton is a deeply unpopular figure, regarded with dislike and suspicion even by many members of her own party. So far, Trump’s bizarre behavior and his parade of gaffes have shielded Clinton from the consequences of her unlikability. Suppose though, that one of the numerous scandals that snap at her heels reaches crisis proportions? Despite all the pooh-poohing from the Clinton-friendly mainstream media her email controversy still smolders. Even more ominously, questions about the activities of the Clinton Foundation are beginning to multiply. That the foundation is a pay-for-play operation, peddling the influence of America’s most notorious power couple in exchange for cash, much of it of questionable foreign origin, is all but an open secret. True, as long as no hard evidence of a quid pro quo comes to light Hillary can talk past the questions. Suppose, though, that such evidence does bubble up to the surface? Or suppose that the plentitude of questions about the foundation’s shady dealings simply reaches critical mass?


These dangers could sharpen to a point on the occasion of the presidential debates. Up to now Hillary has managed her scandals by the simple expedient of ignoring them, being aided in this by media that have more or less openly taken her side against Trump. On the debate stage, though, she’s likely to be peppered with some hard questions about the Clinton Foundation—and on that stage she cannot shelter behind the aegis of the New York Times, CBS, et al.


Assuming that the race tightens between now and the debates—the first of them will be held on September 26—Donald Trump may be handed the opportunity to deliver a knockout blow, backing his opponent into a rhetorical corner and forcing her into some disastrous gaffe. If Clinton were better liked this might not be so dangerous for her. But people don’t like her, nor do they particularly trust her, nor are they particularly satisfied with the status quo that her candidacy represents. In short, if she gives people an excuse to ditch her, they’re likely to seize on it.


But is Trump smart enough and disciplined enough to take advantage of such an opportunity if it presents itself? That remains to be seen. He seems to have settled down somewhat in the past week or so, staying on message and avoiding outrageous statements. He rather shrewdly exploited President Obama’s disconnection from events by visiting flood-ravaged Louisiana, shining the spotlight on a big story that the media have largely ignored. His campaign has been purged of some dubious characters and their replacements are seasoned political pros like Kellyanne Conway, his new campaign manager. So if the stars fall into alignment it’s possible that things could still break Trump’s way.


All this is a painful reminder of the opportunity that the Republican Party blew by nominating a dubious character like Trump. Any decent GOP presidential contender would be beating the pantsuit off Hillary Clinton by now. Trump’s nomination was, for her, a gift from on high. Even so, her ham-fisted political style, creepy public persona and trailing cloud of scandal could blow up her campaign. And perhaps the authorities on high also have a gift for Donald J. Trump…

Posted by tmg110 at 9:12 AM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 23 August 2016 9:14 AM EDT
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Wednesday, 3 August 2016
Trump v. Khan: Everybody Lost
Topic: Decline of the West
Let it be stipulated (1) that members of the US armed forces who give their lives, and the families thereof, are entitled to the thanks and respect of a grateful nation and (2) that Donald Trump’s attack on the family of the late Captain Humayun Khan was, in a word, vile.
Having said that I must add, however, that in my view the speech given at the Democratic National Convention by the Captain’s father, Khizr Khan, was a distasteful spectacle. For the father of a fallen soldier to use his son’s death as cover for a partisan political attack was emotional blackmail in its worst form. (And yes, I feel the same about the similar performance by Patricia Smith at the Republican National Convention.)
It may be argued that families of fallen heroes have a right to place their views on record and this is true enough. Nor do I blame Captain Khan’s parents for their animus against the Republican presidential nominee. That Donald Trump’s Muslim-bashing has infuriated the family of a Muslim-American soldier who gave his life for our country is understandable. No, those to blame for the base practice of exploiting personal and family tragedies in this manner are the members of our political class: campaign strategists, pollsters, PR flacks, the candidates themselves. One thinks of them meeting around the table, going through the list of military families whose pain might motivate them to speak out against the other party’s standard bearer. And the last thing on the minds of the pols and their minions would be the honor due to fallen soldiers and their loved ones.
Mr. Khan’s speech was a sad and ugly performance that in no way honored the Captain's memory. In its aftermath everybody was bloviating about the late Captain Kahn—appropriating his record of service and his heroic death for their own political purposes—but the deceased himself was perforce silent. This would remain true even if the abominable Trump hadn't covered himself with shame and ignominy by his lowlife reaction to Mr. Kahn's attack. With his idiocy and malice, Trump merely doubled down on an already sorry situation.
Trump’s characteristically bad behavior has, no doubt, seriously damaged his campaign, so Mr. Khan’s speech may be said to have served its purpose. But let’s not kid ourselves: That speech did nothing to honor the memory of an American hero. On the contrary it made Captain Humayun Khan’s story grist for that base and dishonorable engine, the American political mill. As an old soldier myself and the father of an Afghanistan veteran I was sorry to witness it.

Posted by tmg110 at 7:47 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 3 August 2016 7:50 AM EDT
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Saturday, 9 July 2016
A Murderous Lie
Topic: Decline of the West

Dostoevsky wrote that every great evil begins with a lie. I was reminded of his words as I perused the online reactions to the shooting of twelve police officers in Dallas by a black radical whose name I disdain to mention. He proclaimed that he was out to kill white people, particularly cops, and in fact he murdered five white police officers before being put down. 

By and large the Internet reaction to his atrocity illustrated the principle of polarity: supporters of the cops versus supporters of the Black Lives Matter narrative. The middle ground was sparsely occupied. Nor was the atmosphere improved by tweets and blog posts from the anti-cop movement that approved of and celebrated five dead cops. “Now they’re getting a taste of it” was the tenor of such commentary. On the other hand, the pro-police commentary often characterized Black Lives Matter, the core of the anti-cop movement, as a terrorist organization. 

Now it’s true of course that as an organization BLM isn’t calling for the murder of police officers. But BLM is pushing a narrative in which cops are racist, militarized thugs, waging war on black America. This happens not to be true; almost all police shootings of blacks turn out to be justified. It is true blacks are disproportionately represented in the total police-shootings body count but what is usually omitted here is the fact that the black crime rate is many times higher than the white crime rate. And the cops have to go where the crime is. 

So the BLM narrative is deceptive in many particulars, whereas on the other side supporters of the police freely acknowledge that there are bad cops out there who do abuse their authority. But it’s worse than that for BLM—because the organization’s very existence is based on an egregious, very particular lie. 

“Hand up, don’t shoot!” the proto-BLM protesters yelled on the streets of Ferguson Missouri in the days following the shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer. Various eyewitnesses claimed that Brown had been standing with his hands in the air when the cop wantonly shot him to death. But the subsequent investigation revealed that it hadn’t happened that way. Brown had first tried to disarm the officer while the latter was still in his cruiser, then fled with the officer in pursuit. When ordered to halt he turned and charged, whereupon the officer shot and killed him. 

But “Hands up, don’t shoot!” remains the mantra of BLM and there has never been the slightest acknowledgement that the movement is built on a lie. On the contrary, BLM continues to behave as if every death of a black person at the hands of a police officer is a case of cop racism. In Baltimore the death of Freddie Gray in police custody was spun into such an outrage, prompting an ambitious state prosecutor to indict six police officers for crimes including “depraved heart murder.” Though it soon became clear that there was not a speck of evidence to support such charges the charade went on. The score so far: one hung jury and two acquittals. 

There’s no doubt in my mind that the BLM narrative—racist cops assassinating innocent blacks—has contributed to the poisonous atmosphere in which violent attacks on police officers are escalating. Those who promote the lie bear moral responsibility for its results. BLM, therefore, has blood on its hands. Nor do I expect the movement to reform itself by acknowledging the lie behind “Hands up, don’t shoot!” They’re as wedded to it as National Socialism was to anti-Semitism. So there’s no point in pandering to BLM or trying to see its point of view. Every great evil begins with a lie. Many of those who belong to Black Lives Matter may be well-meaning and sincere. But the organization itself is evil and its activities spread nothing but hatred and bloodlust.

Posted by tmg110 at 1:16 PM EDT
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Thursday, 30 June 2016
The Agony of the Elites
Topic: Liberal Fascism

British voters did the unthinkable last week: they disregarded President Barack Obama’s sage advice. Incredibly, inexplicably, undeterred by his threat to send Britain “to the back of the queue,” these ingrates ignored the Philosopher King-in-Chief’s demand that they vote to keep their country in the European Union. He lost little time in claiming that the Brexit vote, like the campaign of Donald J. Trump, was fueled by “xenophobia” and a fear of “funny-looking people”—a comment that neatly encapsulated the reasons why Trump arose and Leave won. 

“Out-of-touch elites” ought, I think, to be classed as a redundancy, since on the available evidence to be a card-carrying elitist is to be utterly clueless. I don’t mean that political, economic, intellectual and cultural elites are stupid as a class. Like all human groupings our various elites exhibit a range of intelligence, from mouth-breather (most Hollywood celebs) to really, really smart (B.H. Obama). But whatever their IQs members of the elites share a common characteristic: ignorance of, and contempt for, ordinary people. 

In the collective consciousness of the elites, these feelings are justified by their superior insight and wisdom. The benighted proles simply don’t understand the complexity of the world: its nuances and shades of gray and ambiguities! And how could they, lacking such credentials as a master’s in peace studies or a law degree? In times past our elites were a trifle reticent about voicing such opinions but nowadays they’re not so shy. To hear Michael Moore tell it, Americans are the stupidest people on the planet, bar none—except now, perhaps, for the British people. 

All this, of course, is self-serving rubbish. Despite their blather about the complexities of the world the elites didn’t lack for a simplistic solution after the recent terrorist massacre in Orlando. Gun control! Ban “assault weapons” and all will be well! Think about it: Confronted with Islamofascist terror, they demanded action against—white guys living in Flyover Country square states who hug their Bibles and AR-15s in defiance of all that is progressive and enlightened. Banning so-called assault weapons would do nothing to deter terrorists or reduce violent crime, but it would strike a blow against a class of people whom the elites despise. And that was the point. Gun control, Obamacare, the Iran nuclear deal, gender-neutral bathrooms, the European Union, peace studies, electric cars, the school lunch program—all of it is really just a middle finger flourished in the faces of ordinary people for whom the obsessions of the elites are incomprehensible and offensive. 

But when it comes to effective action, e.g. measures that actually do decrease “gun violence” such as the NYPD’s late, lamented stop-and-frisk program, the elites are not so enthusiastic. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, a progressive elitist in good standing, made it his business on assuming office to abolish stop-and-frisk—and to wage broad-scale ideological war on the police, crying that their tactics had a disparate impact on “minorities.” Not surprisingly, this discouraged the police from doing their job, which resulted in a spike in violent crime, particularly murder. And speaking of disparate impact, the principal victims of this crime wave in New York and other big cities are—you guessed it—members of minority groups. Nor will you be surprised to learn that the results of his assault on the police has not at all deterred de Blasio and people like him from pressing it with redoubled fanaticism. 

But every once in a while the elites find themselves crossed and when that happens, as it has with the ascent of Trump and the Brexit vote, the petulance and venom of the elites provides an amusing spectacle. The latter in particular touched off a broad-scale meltdown, with cries of doom and Armageddon resounding in the media. Barack Obama’s whining and crying about Trump and Brexit is of a piece with the panic of the elites, and I for one am finding it a treat to watch.

Posted by tmg110 at 9:45 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 1 July 2016 11:46 AM EDT
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Friday, 24 June 2016
John Bull Hits the Door
Topic: Decline of the West

Last night I went to bed with the opinion that though it would be close, British voters would opt to keep their country in the European Union. I woke up this morning to the news that the vote, though fairly close, had gone the other way. Despite a tsunami of pro-EU propaganda, dire predictions of economic disaster, charges of racism and xenophobia, etc.,the British people voted to exit the EU by a 52%-48% margin. 

It was entirely plausible to suppose as I did that fear of the unknown would be enough to tip the scales for Remain. Most people are risk-averse, after all. Usually they can be relied upon to prefer the status quo with all its shortcomings and inconveniences to a leap in the dark. Suppose, though, that the status quo becomes not just inconvenient but intolerably irksome and blatantly authoritarian—what then? People in Britain apparently judged the EU in that light and decided that a leap in the dark was preferable to the soft tyranny of Brussels. 

Since many people who dislike the EU probably voted for Remain out of fear, the actual margin of victory for Leave—the psychological and emotional margin, so to speak—was probably higher than 52%. Perhaps that’s what induced Prime Minister David Cameron, strong for Remain, to throw up the sponge with such promptitude: He knows that the balance of opinion against the EU is solid. This, incidentally, illustrates one feature of the British political system that’s superior to ours in the United States. A prime minister who fails as Cameron did feels duty-bound to resign; a president who screws up remains in office, perhaps to screw up again… 

So why did Britain opt for Brexit? Many people have pointed to the immigration issue, which undoubtedly played a role, but I think it goes deeper than that. Britain has always had an uneasy relationship—politically, culturally, economically—with continental Europe. Today, despite decades of EU-driven integration, this remains true. There’s a limit beyond which British participation in a pan-European project could never go. Economic cooperation—yes. Political and diplomatic cooperation—certainly. But the progressive loss of basic national sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable, transnational bureaucracy based in Brussels of all places turned out to be intolerable to a majority of the British people. The elites—in Britain, on the Continent, here in the US—couldn’t see that ordinary people were becoming increasingly fed up with an arbitrary and pettifogging regulatory regime that was being imposed on their country by a cabal of faceless foreigners. Elsewhere in Europe discontent with the EU is, I think, largely driven by the immigration issue but in Britain that discontent has deeper sources. 

Already there’s been speculation whether the outcome of the EU referendum in Britain has implications for the United States. It was certainly a slap upside President Obama’s head. With his trademark superciliousness he lectured the British people on the inadvisability of leaving the EU and promised that if they dared to do such a silly thing, their country would go to the back of the queue as far as America was concerned. Well, the British branch of the bitter clingers apparently disregarded his advice and it only remains to be seen if he’ll respond with the type of petulant outburst that’s so characteristic of him when he’s crossed. 

Speaking in Scotland, Donald Trump claimed a clear connection between the Brexit vote and his own insurgent presidential bid, and there are some in the media who agree with him. I myself think that he and they are correct but exaggerating. Certainly there are parallels between the grievances of Leave voters in the UK and Trump supporters in the US. But the former were voting for a proposition, not a person. Trump’s fate, on the other hand, largely depends on people’s judgment of his fitness to serve as president. Unless he can severely discipline himself, avoid catastrophic gaffes and formulate a succinct, compelling message, the voters will turn thumbs down on him in November. Can he do all that? Color me dubious. 

The Brexit vote certainly was, as everybody has been saying today, historic. But historic in what sense is, at the moment, an unanswerable question. I’m inclined to think that anything that shocks and dismays the elites is a good thing—imagine how grumpy Hillary Clinton must be feeling right now! Still, by opting to exit the EU Britain has rolled the dice. And as I contemplate what has happened across the pond I’m reminded of that ancient Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times…

Posted by tmg110 at 1:19 PM EDT
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Saturday, 11 June 2016
'Tis a Vile Thing...
Topic: Decline of the West

On the high side of sixty intimations of mortality come upon you thick and fast. Parents, uncles, aunts and those of their generation begin to pass from this world. On your Internet home page the death notices of public figures and celebrities who cast long shadows over your twenties and thirties begin to appear with depressing frequency. You remember people from your past—a fellow student, a soldier with whom you served, an old girlfriend—and the thought occurs that they may no longer be alive. As you age—as you live—your past is progressively erased by implacable death. And in the end death will erase you also. 

Sounds depressing, doesn’t it? But human beings, it seems, have been spiritually conditioned to live with these increasingly clamorous intimations of mortality. Mostly, when death strikes down a parent or an old friend, we grieve but go on. The very inevitability of death is a kind of balm. That a beloved mother should die at the age of ninety-three is a sorrowful thing for her children but not really a cause for regret. Our anger, as opposed to our grief, is reserved for those occasions when death jumps the line. 

“Tis a vile thing to die, my gracious lord, when men are unprepared and look not for it,” Catesby tells Lord Hastings (with sly foreknowledge) in Shakespeare’s Richard III—a vile thing indeed and not only for the deceased. Mothers and fathers who’ve lost sons and daughters to disease, accident, war, are conscious above all of a seeming reversal of the natural order: Parents are supposed to die before their children. To their grief, therefore, are added profound feelings of unfairness and anger. A cancer diagnosis is bad news at any age but the earlier it comes the more it seems like a cosmic con job. If one were handed to me today I wouldn’t be thrilled about it but at least I’ve seen my children into adulthood, become a grandparent, enjoyed the blessings of an exceptionally happy marriage of thirty years and, on the whole, have had a good life. 

Last year a young lady of my acquaintance—we used to work together—was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ve followed her fortunes via Facebook and am glad to report that she successfully completed treatment (surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy) and was recently pronounced cancer free. But imagine getting news like that in one’s early forties! Looking back she recalls being “terrified and overwhelmed” by her diagnosis. I have no doubt that she was angry too. Angry at whom, though? At what? In a short story I wrote a couple of years ago I imagined that a dying young woman’s anger would come to focus on the living, who would still be here after she was gone. Her rage eventually turned her into a monster. I thought then and still believe that we romanticize those felled by an untimely death, endowing them with a possibly unmerited nobility. Not everybody dies well. But on the other hand our expectations may supply the courage a dying person needs to meet the end calmly. Such are the labyrinthine mysteries of human nature. 

Personally I hope to be felled by some bolt from the blue—no hurry, though. I may owe God a death but “Tis not due yet; I would be loath to pay him before his day. What need I be so forward with him that calls not on me?” Thus Falstaff according to Master Will and I echo the former's cry: “Give me life!”

Posted by tmg110 at 10:15 AM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 11 June 2016 10:17 AM EDT
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Wednesday, 4 May 2016
The Great War: Opening Round in the East (Four)
Topic: Military History

(For clarity German units are rendered in italics.) 

Legends cluster around the famous Battle of Tannenberg. It has been said, for instance, that in the years before the war General von Hindenburg had studied the problem of defending East Prussia and developed the plan that produced victory. But there was not much to such tales. As noted earlier the Eighth Army more or less had its course of action laid out for it by the military geography of the region and the configuration of the rail net. By the time that Hindenburg and Ludendorff arrived at the Eighth Army’s headquarters staff officers, a certain Colonel Max Hoffman prominent among them, had produced a plan by which Rennenkampf’s First Army in the north would he held off by a thin screen of cavalry and Landwehr brigades while the bulk of the German forces hurried south to confront Samsonov’s Second Army. 

On the other side the actions of the two invading armies were becoming more and more disjointed. Their higher headquarters, Northwest Front (General Yakov Grigorevich Zhilinskiy) was some distance away in Warsaw and Zhilinskiy himself provided little in the way of leadership beyond exhortations to speed up the advance. Despite having won a tactical victory at Gumbinnen Rennenkampf was convinced that he faced the bulk of Eighth Army and could not resume the offensive until his supply situation was put to rights. Samsonov was more receptive to Zhilinskiy’s prodding. His troops had first met the Germans (XX Corps) on 22 August and pushed them back in several places. This encouraged Samsonov to press on despite his own supply problems. Zhilinskiy demanded that First Army should get going so as to support Second Army’s attack. But Rennenkampf was not short of excuses for doing nothing: German opposition, his own army’s exhaustion, lack of food, fodder and ammunition. 

As Zhilinskiy nagged, Rennenkampf dithered and Samsonov marched into East Prussia, the German plan was being put into execution. By 25 August I Corps had been transported from the Konigsberg area and occupied a strong position opposite Second Army’s left flank. I Reserve Corps and XVII Corps had similarly been moved to positions opposite Second Army’s right flank. Of all this Samsonov had no inkling. He thought that only his center faced a major concentration of troops in the form of XX Corps. Thus a great opportunity seemed to beckon. Second Army’s center in the strength of three corps would attack XX Corps, nailing it in place. Meanwhile the army’s flank corps would advance to complete the enemy’s destruction. 

In reality, Second Army was inserting its head into a noose. On 26 August, after an intemperate argument with Ludendorff over his supply situation, General von François launched I Corps into an attack on the Russian right flank. His corps artillery had not all arrived, however, and François did not press the attack that day. On the front of XX Corps there was heavier fighting, one Russian infantry division being largely destroyed. But Second Army was still advancing against the thinly manned German center and at Eighth Army headquarters nerves began to fray. A report that Rennenkampf had resumed his advance in full strength moved Ludendorff to say that the battle should be broken off. But Hindenburg steadied his Chief of Staff’s nerves and the report was soon found to be exaggerated. 

Also on 26 August Eighth Army was notified by OHL that three corps and a cavalry division from the western armies were being dispatched to East Prussia. Still confident of victory in the West but concerned about the situation in the East, Moltke thought that he could spare the troops. Ludendorff replied that the battle would be decided before the reinforcements could arrive; however, he added, they’d certainly be welcome. 

But there was no real reason for worry. On 27 August, with his artillery concentrated and his troops resupplied, François launched a heavy attack that drove the Russian left flank (I Corps) back in confusion. The same thing happened on the Russian right, where the XVII Corps and I Reserve Corps, now fully concentrated, attacked and drove back VI Corps on 27-28 August. This left Samsonov’s center group—three corps strong—in a perilous position, with German forces advancing past both flanks. By the time the Russian commander fully grasped the situation it was too late. I Corps and XVII Corps gained contact on the evening of 28 August. The bulk of Second Army was now encircled. Samsonov ordered a retreat but the German cordon prevented all but isolated groups from slipping away. Throughout the day on 29 August the Russians launched desperate attacks in an effort to break out, thousands dying in the attempt. By 30 August the surrounded troops had lost all cohesion and mass surrenders began. But General Samsonov was not among the prisoners. He chose instead to commit suicide, lamenting to his staff that “The Tsar trusted me. How can I face him after this disaster?” 

In all, the casualties of Second Army amounted to 78,000 killed or wounded and 92,000 made prisoner. Three corps were completely annihilated and two more were chased out of East Prussia in disorder. At the end of August the remains of Second Army amounted to the strength of a division: perhaps 12,000 troops in all. 

And through it all First Army had scarcely budged. The aggressive behavior of the German screening force—cavalry supplemented by Landwehr troops drawn from the garrison of Konigsberg—continued to convince Rennenkampf that he was facing much stronger opposition. He resumed his advance on 26 August, moving very slowly. On the day of crisis, 28 August, his leading troops were still fifty miles short of Second Army’s right flank. A week later, in the First Battle of the Masurian Lakes, First Army was driven out of East Prussia. With the lesson of Tannenberg before his eyes, Rennenkampf made sure to retreat in good time and his army, though badly battered, regained Russian soil in one piece. 

Though Tannenberg was certainly a major victory that gave a tremendous boost to German morale, it was far from decisive. Even as Samsonov’s army was being destroyed fresh Russian forces were reaching the front in ever-greater numbers. In Galicia, as we shall see, the Austro-Hungarian Army had met disaster. And far away in France, the German offensive was beginning to falter. The Germans had gained a breathing space but it was clear that the war would continue for a long time. 

Tannenberg did show that the German Army was a military instrument of considerable efficiency. As has been noted the correct line of operations in East Prussia was obvious from a glance at the map. It was in the execution of that operation that the German superiority was revealed: the handling of reserves, the management of the rail net, the quality of the staff work. The Russian Army did not lack for brave soldiers or capable commanders. In 1914 it was reasonably well armed and equipped. But there was nothing on the Russian side to compare to the German Army’s Großgeneralstab (Great General Staff) or even to its NCO corps, whose excellence explains why even second-line reserve formations fought so effectively. That the Germans did not hesitate to strip fortified areas of their garrisons and send such relatively elderly reservists into the field demonstrated a level of confidence in NCO leadership that other armies did not share. 

Finally, a word about personalities. Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff were hailed as the saviors of East Prussia and the prestige they gained thereby was destined to elevate them to the summit of power. But the famous partnership was not as smooth as legend had it. Hindenburg was quite well aware that his Chief of Staff regarded himself as the brains of the operation, with the former serving largely as a figurehead. For his part Ludendorff resented the share of credit that went to Hindenburg for victories that he, Ludendorff, believed were due to his own genius. In truth the two men complimented one another, albeit not without friction. Stolid, phlegmatic, unimaginative but decisive, Hindenburg (usually) provided the steadying hand that Ludendorff, intelligent, driven, highly professional but nervy and high-strung, so greatly needed. 

As for Colonel Max von Hoffman, who was deputy chief of operations at Eighth Army headquarters during Tannenberg, it is to his diary that we owe much of our knowledge of what went on during those days of crisis. An extremely intelligent man with a sardonic streak, he was known to say that the famous Duo had received the plan of battle ready made on the day of their arrival in East Prussia. And as we have seen there is much truth in that claim. Hoffman remained on the Eastern Front throughout the war, playing a notable role in events yet to be related. 

The German victory in East Prussia and the Russian victory in Galicia set up the pattern of the Great War on the Eastern Front. It remains to tell how the latter came about.

Posted by tmg110 at 1:01 PM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 5 May 2016 10:47 AM EDT
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