Edmund Burke, Barack Obama, and cop-killing

To Scott’s lists of recommended books for the Christmas season, I would like to add Yuval Levin’s The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left. Levin, probably my favorite current analyst of politics and policy, describes the philosophical clash between Burke and Paine and explains how it forms the root of the current political divide in America.

Levin’s discussion of Burke also has relevance, I think, to recent events in Ferguson and New York City. Virulent anti-police, anti-order sentiment has reared its head in ways not seen since the early 1970s, when society seemed to be unraveling. And unlike in the 1970s, top level public officials — President Obama, Attorney General Holder, and Mayor de Blasio — have contributed to this sentiment through irresponsible public proclamations.

The French Revolution confirmed for Burke the fragility of public order and the danger that natural passions can release. As he put it, “Leave a man to his passions and you leave a wild beast to a savage and capricious nature.”

Unlike Paine, and indeed most political philosophers of his time (and a great many since), Burke did not believe that pure reason can mitigate our dark sides. Levin describes Burke’s view this way:

We cannot be simply argued out of our vices, but we can be deterred from indulging in them by the trust and love that develops among neighbors, by deeply established habits of order and peace, and by pride in our community or country. And part of the statesman’s difficult charge is keeping this balance together, acting rationally on this understanding of the limits of reason.

During the past 40 years, our leading public figures have mostly managed “to keep this balance together.” Trust and love may not reign and current habits in many precincts are not especially conducive to order and peace.

But pride in country and community is widespread. To cite two small examples, people no longer sit on their hands when the National Anthem is played at sporting events and our troops are not abused in public. We are one country, whatever John Edwards claimed to have believed. The demons unleashed in the late 1960s and early 1970s have been kept largely in check, in part because until recently they were repellent to politicians across the political spectrum.

But this no longer seems to be the case. Obama and Holder look for occasions to pontificate in ways that undermine mutual trust and trust in institutions that maintain order. They seized, for example, on the unfortunate but justified killing of a thug who attacked a police officer in Missouri as the pretext for claims that law enforcement in this country is systematically unjust to African-Americans.

Shortly after this, they seized on what appears to have been an unjustified, but non-racially motivated, killing in Staten Island as the basis for pressing their divisive theme. And the mayor of New York chimed in by announcing that he warns his bi-racial son, in effect, that the police may be out to get him because of his color.

Did these kinds of statements incite the New York mob that chanted its desire for “dead cops now?” Probably not. Did they inspire the assassin of two of New York’s finest? I doubt it.

But the statements were irresponsible nonetheless because of their inherent tendency to destroy the balance that Burke described — the one that keeps the demons from overrunning our society.

To be fair, balance means balance. It’s not the proper task of our leaders to defend indefensible policing practices or systemic injustices, if any, in the grand jury system; quite the contrary. But neither is it their job to infer the widespread existence of injustice in our policing and our courts from particular incidents, especially ones that, on analysis, don’t really illustrate the alleged injustices.

If Eric Holder has a case against officer Wilson, make it court. Don’t talk in inflammatory terms about the matter before you have thoroughly investigated it. Don’t grandstand for the political base.

Clearly shaken by the slaying of the New York police officers, Mayor de Blasio may be having a Burkean moment. He has called for a temporary cessation of the anti-police protests and has asked citizens to report any and all threatening statements against the police.

Unlike Obama, de Blasio has a city to govern on a day-to-day basis. And committed leftist though he is, the mayor does not now strike me as one who cares only about “the masses,” not about actual people.

Unfortunately, President Obama, every bit as left-wing as de Blasio, seems to see people as pure abstractions. And like Thomas Paine, he puts all of his stock in reason — his own, naturally — and has little use for tradition, habits of order and peace, or love of country.

Thus far our president has not roused himself to speak publicly about the assassination of the two police officers. Eventually, I suspect, he will. But even if his speechwriters find the right words, there will be no Burkean moment.

Obama wants to uproot our habits of order and peace which stand in the way of the radical transformation he would like to bring about. He doesn’t fear the demons of the late 1960s and early 1970s, he would like to enlist them.

This weekend in New York, we saw a terrible preview of what this would mean in practice.

Joe Cocker, RIP

Two English rock singers channeled the voice of Ray Charles, each in his own unmistakable style. The first was Stevie Winwood, who has been at it since he was about 15 and is still going strong. The second was Joe Cocker; Cocker died today at the age of 70, well before his time. The New York Times has posted a preliminary notice pending a full obituary here.

The Times posts the video of Cocker singing “With a Little Help From My Friends” at Woodstock in 1969. I’m going with “The Letter,” in which Cocker is backed by the band Leon Russell threw together on a moment’s notice for Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour the following year. I believe that’s the late, great Bobby Keys on sax in the video below; Keyes passed away earlier this month, also at the age of 70. In the video, Leon smokes something that seems to make his eyelids heavy and plays piano at the same time, while Cocker is just plain smokin’. RIP.

UPDATE: A reader adds: “He was one of the great manly voices of our time, and he always sang like he meant it. A real loss!”

97 Percent of All Liberal Claims Are Wrong

Liberal Idiot copyAnd I’m not so sure about the other 3 percent, either. It is amazing to behold how liberals will grab hold of the flimsiest statistic so long as it bolsters The Narrative, no matter how easily and convincingly the figure is debunked. These days, the favorite liberal numbers are 1 in 5, 97 percent, and 77 percent.

If you keep up, you’ll recognize them immediately, of course: 1 in 5 women are raped in college; 97 percent of all scientists agree about human-caused climate doom, and women only earn 77 cents on the dollar compared to men’s earnings.

John has already noted how the “1 in 5” rape claim has been debunked by the Obama Justice Department (the real number is six tenths of one percent). Anthony Watts dispatches the “97 percent” canard with a list of 97 articles (including one of ours) debunking this go-to climatista chant. And the 77 cents on the dollar theme has been debunked so many times that one hardly knows where to start (though here’s Hannah Rosin at Slate, and Mark Perry and Andrew Biggs in the Wall Street Journal). Though I always like to point out that if it was literally true that you could pay a woman 23 percent less than a man for the same job, employers would rush to hire women because of the immediate boost to the profit margin it would confer. Employers must really be stupid to be overlooking this easy opportunity! But then liberals are usually as challenged by economic logic as they are by serious treatment of statistics.

This kind of liberal credulity has a long history, and who can forget this syndicated column from 1993:

IF YOU watch NBC’s Super Bowl broadcast closely, amid the clutter of ads hawking Gillette razors, Nike sneakers and the like, you’ll see one that isn’t selling anything.

It’s a public-service spot, with a simple message, aimed at men: Beating your wife or girlfriend is a crime.

The ad should offer some solace to those who run shelters for battered women. Assuming they’re not too busy to see it. Super Bowl Sunday is, after all, their worst day of the year.

For too many households, the violence of football’s most-watched game spills from the gridiron into the home. The Super Bowl brings together many activities that can “trigger” a man predisposed to battering: intense viewing of sanctioned violence, heavy drinking, betting.

Women’s shelters report big increases in calls for help on Super Bowl day. This year, some shelters may double their staff to prepare for the influx.

Some “women’s advocacy organizations” went as far as to recommend that women absent themselves from watching the Super Bowl with their husbands because they were unsafe.

Only problem was—it wasn’t even remotely true:

The claim at a Pasadena, Calif., press conference ahead of the 1993 Super Bowl was backed by groups such as the California Women’s Law Center and Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, setting off a raftof fearful news headlines and airtime on Good Morning America.

It wasn’t until a Washington Post reporter interviewed experts about the claim that the truth emerged: The claim was bogus. Even the Old Dominion University researchers whose work was cited as support for the connection said it was wrong. [Snopes.com has a good roundup on this debacle as well.]

But guess what? Liberals are still repeating this canard, in 2014, as caught by the Politifact folks:

Mika copy

Way to go Mika; that’s really keeping up with things.

Next, let’s poll the police

From John Fund, I learn that President Obama’s support among members of the military has dropped to 15 percent, according to a survey taken by the Military Times newspaper. The Military Times conducts this survey of approximately 2,300 active-service members every year.

In 2009, Obama’s level of support was a none-too-robust 35 percent. It has fallen steadily since, and now is at less than half of the original level. Meanwhile, Obama’s disapproval rating has risen from 40 percent to 55 percent.

Why the plummeting approval rating? It’s not because of the elimination of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The Military Times’ surveys show that in 2009, 49 percent of troops felt gays, lesbians, and bisexuals should not be allowed to serve. In 2014, such disapproval is just 19 percent.

Nor is the explanation to be found in the decision to end the ban on women serving in combat units by 2016. The decision to open all combat roles to women isn’t popular. However, views about this haven’t changed much in recent years. Presumably, then, they don’t account for the 13 point plunge in Obama’s popularity since 2013, when the decision was announced.

The big change in circumstances since this time last year is, of course, the rise of ISIS. “Ending wars” did not make Obama popular with the military. And the consequences of ending U.S. involvement in Iraq, now that they are in plain view, have helped make him massively unpopular.

With the painfully hard-earned victories of our military under President Bush squandered, it’s not surprising that Obama’s approval rating is so low. What’s surprising is that his disapproval rating isn’t higher than 55 percent.

Given the microscopic approval rating, I suspect that the not-so-terrible disapproval rating is the product of respect for the office and, perhaps, the fact that around 25 percent of active-duty military members belong to minority groups.

In which Keith Ellison finds me of use

Minnesota Fifth District Rep. Keith Ellison has blocked me on Twitter, so I am unable to follow him. Searching Twitter to take a look at his emissions, however, I found that Star Tribune political reporter Rachel Stassen-Berger has posted an Ellison fundraising letter that she received in which Ellison draws on my Star Tribune op-ed column “Rep. Keith Ellison remembers to forget.” Ellison’s letter responds to these two paragraphs of my column summarizing, and quoting from, his book:

Ellison relates that he turned to Islam at age 19 as an undergraduate student at Wayne State University in Detroit. Those who wonder how Ellison reconciles his Muslim faith with the social liberalism of the Democratic Party platform, however, will not find much in the way of illumination here.

“If I were Jewish,” Ellison explains, “I would probably be a Reform Jew. If I were Christian, I would be one of those come-as-you-are nondenominational Christians. … Faith is not about expressing what I believe so that the world can see I’m faithful. I don’t believe in following a strict set of rules to prove my love for God or to prove my faith.” According to Ellison, “In Islam, your religion is what you make of it.” He doesn’t identify any sect that comports with his version of Islam.

Ellison purports to take issue with what I wrote, but he doesn’t really bother to respond or identify what I got wrong. In his memoir, which I explore in greater detail in the article “The Ellison elision,” Ellison actually describes the mystification of fellow Muslims with his social liberalism: “I get Muslims who come up to me and ask, ‘Brother Keith, how can you be in favor of gay marriage?’ ” Brother Keith explains: “I’m in favor of civil rights for all. I’m in favor of freedom.” As I say in the Weekly Standard article, Ellison seems to belong to the Ellison branch of Islam.

Ellison has never responded to my articles about him in the Weekly Standard and I don’t believe he has responded directly to my Star Tribune column. Nevertheless, Ellison has found my Star Tribune column of use in a letter to supporters. I thought some readers might find it of interest; this is how he rolls.

The Cuba appeasement and the latest detainee release — is there a connection?

Our restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba and the accompanying swap of prisoners have overshadowed the release of six terrorists detained at Guantanamo Bay, after the government of Uruguay agreed to accept the six. On the face of things, the two stories seem unrelated. But if we are to believe the president of Uruguay, there is a connection. And the common thread may be President Obama’s laxity (to put it gently) — in one case towards Islamist terrorists; in the other towards Cuban Communists.

Here is what we know:

On December 17, President Obama announced that the U.S. would restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba. In addition, Cuba and the U.S. swapped prisoners. The United States sent back to Cuba three imprisoned spies who were captured in 1998. Cuba released Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, a Cuban who had worked as an agent for American intelligence and had been in a Cuban prison for nearly 20 years.

Finally, Cuba also released Alan Gross, an American whom the Castros arrested in 2009 and sentenced to 15 years in a Cuban prison. The release of Gross was said to be a “humanitarian” act separate from the rest of the deal, but it is difficult to take this claim seriously.

Eleven days earlier, on December 6 six terrorists whom the U.S. had detained at Guantanamo Bay for more than a decade were flown to Uruguay for resettlement. This represented the largest group to be released collectively from Gitmo since 2009.

The deal was the product of negotiations between the U.S. and Uruguay’s outgoing president, Jose Mujica. President Mujica insisted that the six terrorists be free to leave Uruguay on day one, if that’s what they wanted. Normally, for what it’s worth, the host country agrees that freed Gitmo terrorists can’t leave for two years. But Mujica says this arrangement doesn’t apply here, and the U.S. government has not denied it.

This much is known.

Why do I believe there may be a connection between the detainee release to Uruguay and the release of the three Cuban spies? Because Mujica has publicly claimed, and indeed bragged, that at the request of the Castros he offered to receive the six Gitmo detainees if Obama agreed to release the three Cuban spies held in US jails.

Word of Mujica’s claim first came to me from a distinguished reader who learned about it from a friend who formerly held an important position in Uruguay’s government. This article confirms that Mujica is, in fact, bragging that he played a role in securing the release of the three Cuban spies.

The article quotes Mujica as follows:

This is a human rights issue. … I don’t do favors for free, I pass on the bill.

In other words, in exchange for doing Obama the favor of taking six Gitmo detainees (a move reportedly opposed by a majority of Uruguayans), Mujica insisted that U.S. release the Cuban spies. That was his “bill.” And, according to my source, Mujica has said he presented it at the request of the Castros (the article cited above says that Mujica consulted with Raul Castro on matter).

In Mujica’s telling, he was able to pry the Cuban spies loose because Obama desperately wanted Uruguay to take the Gitmo detainees. But it’s not clear how much “prying” was required.

Obama, I believe, wanted to accomplish two important leftist objectives: release terrorists from Gitmo and accommodate the Castros. His deal with Uruguay, as Mujica depicts it, furthers both purposes.

Although no one seems to dispute that Mujica, a former leftist guerrilla, urged that the Cuban spies be released, the U.S. denies that their release was ever part of the negotiations, which have been going on for many months. It would appear, then, that either Mujica or the Obama administration is lying.

However, the truth may be that Mujica asked for the release of the Cuban spies and the administration signaled that this would be taken care of as part of a larger deal with Cuba. In this scenario, the Obama administration could deny that the release of spies ever became part of the give-and-take of negotiations. Again, it seems likely that releasing the Cuban spies is something Obama wanted to do anyway, for purposes of accommodating the Castro regime.

If Obama’s recent transactions with Uruguay and Cuba are viewed collectively, here is the “bill” to the U.S.: (1) the release of six terrorists with no assurance (not even a paper one) that they won’t immediately return to the fight against the U.S., as so many have; (2) the release of three Cuban spies; and (3) the granting to Cuba’s Communist tyrants of as much legitimacy and economic help as Obama has the power to confer.

In exchange, we get the release from the Castros’ hell hole of one Cuban and one American.

That’s the kind of horse-trade you get when an American president’s interests largely align with those of a leftist South American president and a Communist Cuban regime.

NOTE: I initially linked to the wrong article from Mundo. The link has been corrected.

Earth’s Climate Shows 2,000-Year Cooling Trend

People who swallow global warming alarmism almost never know anything about the Earth’s climatic history. Next time one of your friends or relatives starts giving you the global warming routine, ask him or her to graph the temperature history of the last 500,000 years. Or 20,000 years. Or 2,000. Trust me: the supposed climate expert won’t be able to do it. Yet putting the modest temperature increase of the latter half of the 20th century into historical context is the first prerequisite of any intelligent evaluation.

From Watts Up With That? comes a report on a new tree-ring study that covers the last 2,000 years. Are tree-ring analyses valid? I don’t know, but the alarmists use them all the time, and they are certainly more reliable over a relatively reasonable time frame like 2,000 years. The study finds that global temperatures have been gradually declining over that time:

In a paper published in the Journal of Quaternary Science, Esper et al. (2014) write that tree-ring chronologies of maximum latewood density (MXD) “are most suitable to reconstruct annually resolved summer temperature variations of the late Holocene.”

The late Holocene is the geologic era in which we are living.

As the international team of researchers from the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Greece, Sweden and Switzerland describes it, this history depicts “a long-term cooling trend of -0.30°C per 1,000 years over the Common Era in northern Europe” (see figure below). Most important of all, however, they note that their temperature reconstruction “has centennial-scale variations superimposed on this trend,” which indicate that “conditions during Medieval and Roman times were probably warmer than in the late 20th century,” when the previously-rising post-Little Ice Age mean global air temperature hit a ceiling of sorts above which it has yet to penetrate.

This graph shows the long-term cooling trend as well as the relatively wide variations on smaller time scales. Click to enlarge:


This finding is consistent with other studies indicating that the Earth is currently cooler than it has been about 90% of the time since the end of the last Ice Age. So, could it get warmer? Yes, and with any luck, it will.