Jews Told to Register In Eastern Ukraine

More evidence that we are living through a reprise of the 1930s:

Jews in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk where pro-Russian militants have taken over government buildings were told they have to “register” with the Ukrainians who are trying to make the city become part of Russia, according to Israeli media.

Jews emerging from a synagogue say they were handed leaflets that ordered the city’s Jews to provide a list of property they own and pay a registration fee “or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportation and see their assets confiscated,” reported Ynet News, Israel’s largest news website.

The leaflets were issued in the name of Denis Pushilin, as chairman of “Donetsk’s temporary government.” Pushilin reportedly has denied responsibility for them. The leaflets obviously don’t constitute any sort of official order, but they aren’t just something somebody scrawled on a sign, either. This is a picture of one of them:

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It is possible that this might be a false flag operation, although no suspicions of that nature have been reported. In any event, it is chilling that when cracks begin to appear in the West’s hold on this part of the world, signs of vicious anti-Semitism immediately appear.

Al Qaeda’s day out

Americans may have lost interest in terrorism, but terrorism remains interested in us. For example, the Washington Post reports on a video that surfaced on Islamist websites showing a large group of al Qaeda terrorists, including high ranking ones, taking part in an open-air gathering in Yemen. Describing the outing as “brazen,” the Post notes that the terrorists make no apparent effort to avoid detection by U.S. drones.

The terrorists know what they are doing. According to the Post, the Obama administration has suspended drone flights this year following a deadly drone strike on members of a wedding party in December.

Al Qaeda, though, isn’t suspending activity, and the U.S. remains a prime target. Indeed, during the video, al Qaeda’s leader in Yemen affirms its commitment to attacking us. “We must eliminate the cross,” he declares, and “the bearer of the cross is America.”

Al Qaeda’s rhetoric may be 11th century, but its capabilities are 21st.

Our capabilities are even greater, but our willing to deploy them is flagging. As noted, Obama has suspended drone flights in Yemen. In addition, in the aftermath of the Snowden disclosures, he proposes measures that will make life more difficult for the NSA and other agencies charged with gathering the information needed to determine how Al Qaeda intends to strike “the bearer of the cross.”

Meanwhile our elites celebrate the work of institutions like the Washington Post that reduces the capabilities of our intelligence agencies. And some conservatives join with the likes of John Conyers in efforts to handcuff the NSA and the CIA.

We have taken our eye off of the ball, but the ball hasn’t taken its eye off of us.

Decrying “Extreme” Behavior at Dartmouth

The Washington Post reports today that the president of Dartmouth, Philip Hanlon, is decrying “extreme behavior” on the campus.  Is he taking proper note of the students who occupied his office with their extreme demands for preposterous things?  That would be a “No.”  Instead:

Dartmouth College’s president lamented Wednesday that the Ivy League school’s promising future “is being hijacked by extreme behavior,” including sex assaults, parties with “racist and sexist undertones,” and a campus culture in which “dangerous drinking has become the rule and not the exception.”

I’ll leave it to the Dartmouth alums on Power Line’s higher education desk to parse out the whole thing, but there’s one aspect of the wider story here that deserves note.  Hanlon is implicitly siding with the current rage about “rape culture” on campus.  Some conservatives have questioned the general statistic that even President Obama has cited that one out of five women experiences rape in their college years.  Leaving aside this quarrel, allow me to suggest that Hanlon and the feminists are actually right about a larger point: college campuses currently tolerate—indeed actually encourage—a predatory climate toward women in which there is enormous social pressure to have sex, and are permissive about massive alcohol use by undergraduates whose chief purpose is to undermine inhibitions.

Step back and note something obviously out of whack with this whole controversy.  It is said that college campuses are the prime venue of “rape culture.”  But most college campuses are run by liberals, and liberalism and its correlates—maximum individual liberation in all things sexual—is the dominant orthodoxy.  Why is this problem ostensibly most severe where liberalism reigns?  Perhaps for the same reason that poverty and social dysfunction are worst where liberalism reigns supreme (Detroit).  Hanlon notes a rising number of reported rapes at Dartmouth.  He should be embarrassed by this.  But he ought to ponder this question: is sexual assault a problem at conservative colleges like Hillsdale, Patrick Henry, Liberty University, or Regent University?  I wonder why not.  Actually I don’t.  Hillsdale and other conservative colleges actually take seriously their role as moral instructors of young adults, and extend this responsibility to enforcing the alcohol laws, basic behavior and manners, and even dress codes.  Liberal universities like Dartmouth might want to borrow a clue, but don’t hold your breath.

Maybe the next group of students that occupies Hanlon’s office will bring this up.

When Turner was right

Celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Turner Classic Movies cable channel earlier this week, I noted that I was a little vague on how Ted Turner came to own the rights to nearly every worthwhile movie ever made. A reader wrote to offer a look back at the ancient history that provides the answer:

Back in 1985 I was working as a senior consultant for the entertainment division of a large, prominent accounting firm in Los Angeles. This firm happened to be the auditing and tax firm engaged by Turner Broadcasting System. Ted Turner had just completed a complex stock purchase and merger agreement to acquire MGM/UA Entertainment Co. from Kirk Kerkorian in which Turner paid about $1.5 billion but simultaneously got back $470 million by selling the United Artists subsidiary back to Kerkorian.

Turner was being widely mocked in the Hollywood party circuit for being played for a sucker by Kerkorian. The press was also reporting that Turner had paid a sum far in excess of MGM’s business worth and would have trouble financing the deal – he needed to raise about $1 billion. The difficult financing and subsequent poor performance of MGM’s new film releases slowed down the completion of the deal for several months. Ultimately, Turner’s dream of owning a film studio fell through and he ended selling off most of MGM’s assets (including the venerable MGM studio lot in Culver City) back to Kerkorian (and other entities) for about $300 million.

However, Ted Turner had confided to his accounting and tax advisors that what he really wanted out of the deal was the film library which consisted of the MGM classics such as The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind (Ted’s two favorite movies) and also the good parts of the Warner Brothers and RKO libraries as well.

Turner went to great lengths to preserve his ownership of the film library. In order to complete the transaction and take advantage of certain tax benefits (the tax accounting part of the transaction was complex and way over my head), he engaged his accounting firm to conduct a valuation of the film library. I was assigned to the project because of my particular expertise in designing and programming computer software for entertainment asset valuation.

I worked closely with the accountants to ensure that all possible revenue streams including foreign, domestic, TV syndication, new media (videocassettes, pay cable, etc.) were assessed and calculated by the software. The program ended up being extremely complex and, because it was valuing over 2,000 films, it strained the computer resources available at that time.

I remember working all night to deliver the final valuation number (and about 2,000 pages of worksheet calculations as backup). The number for the entire library, as I recall, was around $90 million (Net Present Value) which was a lot of money in 1986, but far lower than Turner had effectively paid for the rights.

Since I was just a young tech guy, I wasn’t in the meeting in the board room when the accounting firm partners delivered the news to Ted Turner. I was waiting in the adjacent room and I could hear through the walls Turner screaming his objections. He called the partners “bean counters” with no imagination and concept of entertainment. He said something like, “You have no idea what these films are worth, they’re priceless. I am creating new channels and new technologies to exploit these films. This library is easily worth over a $1 billion.”

After the meeting was over, the partners asked me to make some adjustments to the software to account for new distribution and technologies. I remember them telling me to create a “colorization” parameter and apply it to certain classic films in the library. I asked what this was and they told me that Turner has the crazy idea to use new computer software to turn black and white films into color films.

The tweaks to the various parameters added a few million dollars to the value of the library which I was told by the partners would not satisfy Turner. He was not only concerned about the tax consequences of the lower valuation, but also of his image as a mogul – i.e., reinforcing the impression that he was taken advantage of by Kerkorian. Ultimately, the conservative accounting firm could not risk its business reputation by increasing the valuation to match Ted Turner’s grand vision.

As the years went by, I watched (and often was involved in the valuations) as Turner launched TNT and TMC to exploit the library. He also purchased Hanna-Barbera, which allowed him to launch the Cartoon Channel.

Ted Turner got in over his head in the mega corporate entertainment world and ultimately had to sell out to Time Warner. I never liked his left wing politics and he fell short as a solid business leader, but Ted Turner definitely understood the value of entertainment content and was brilliant in finding new ways to exploit it. Bottom line: His acquisition of the “rights to just about every worthwhile movie ever made” was a deliberate and savvy business strategy that paid off. In the end, the MGM film library really was worth over a $1 billion.

STEVE adds: I got to meet Ted Turner once, at his enormous Montana buffalo ranch, which is an interesting story all by itself.  I wrote up the encounter on the old NoLeftTurns site in 2005, and it is still archived here.  Of course he is a barking loon politically, but he’s also funny as hell, and can be charming after a fashion even with his political opposites.  Here and there it was possible to appreciate his business genius, including what a total disaster the AOL-Time Warner merger was, as it cost him much of the equity value of his fortune.

Essence of the Constitution

In his column today, George Will lauds a short new book by Timothy Sandefur, The Conscience of the Constitution: The Declaration of Independence and the Right to Liberty. Will provides a short course in the original understanding of the Constitution and the Progressives’ effort to remake it in the name of “democracy.” Please check out his column.

The column presents a useful reminder of the difference between modern liberals and modern conservatives. They go to the roots. The differences are wide and deep.

Drawing on what Publius referred to as discoveries and improvements in “the new science of politics,” the Founders created a frame of government designed to limit the powers of the government by the system of checks and balances with which we are all familiar, at least by reputation. The powers of the government were limited in the interest of liberty.

To limit the powers of government necessarily meant to limit the power of a democratic majority. The Founders meant to restrain the power of a democratic majority; they feared the tyranny of the majority. They viewed unconstrained majorities as the bane of liberty. Up through their time, history had shown all known democracies to be “incompatible with personal security or the rights of property.” They formulated the Constitution to protect the rights of citizens against the tyranny of the majority. Publius put it this way in Federalist 10:

The instability, injustice, and confusion introduced into the public councils, have, in truth, been the mortal diseases under which popular [i.e., democratic] governments have everywhere perished; as they continue to be the favorite and fruitful topics from which the adversaries to liberty derive their most specious declamations.

The Founders had in mind the kind of man who presents himself as a tribune of the people — somebody who talks this way to impressionable young men and women graduating from college. Someone, i.e., like Barack Obama.

Given the limited scope of his column, Will does not intimate the success of the Progressives in overcoming the structural constraints on tyrannical action. The Progressive project has made great strides in removing the constitutional barriers protecting our rights to life, liberty and property against against the tyranny of the majority and the administrative state. We need to deepen our understanding of the task of restoration before us.

NOTE: I infer from reading Will’s column that Sandefur is a student of the students of Harry Jaffa at Claremont or Hillsdale. It turns out that he is a Hillsdale and Chapman Law School alum and now working at the the Pacific Legal Foundation. His book is published by Cato; he credits the book in part to the more than a decade he has spent working for the PLF.

Today’s IRS Documents: What Do They Show?

Earlier today, Judicial Watch made public a batch of documents that it received from the IRS in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The documents consist of a series of emails relating to the IRS’s treatment of applications for 501(c)(4) status from “Tea Party” or otherwise conservative organizations.

I am still working my way through the emails, but have a few preliminary observations. First, the most significant ones I have seen so far have already been widely discussed. The email below documents a call from the Department of Justice about whether non-profits that “lied” about doing political activity can be criminally prosecuted. This was an idea that Senator Sheldon Whitehouse raised at a committee hearing. It was picked up on by DOJ, and there was some coordination among DOJ, the IRS and the FEC. Click to enlarge:

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This one is obviously significant. Lois Lerner says, in effect, to disregard administration spin: the effort is “ALL about 501(c)(4) orgs and political activity.” Click to enlarge:

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This one is my favorite. It was sent by Cindy Thomas to Lerner just after Lerner disclosed the targeting of conservative groups at an American Bar Association conference, and blamed it on “low level workers” in the IRS’s Cincinnati office. That was obviously a total lie, and Ms. Thomas, who was in charge of exempt organizations at the Cincinnati branch at the time, rubs it in. This email was actually made public last November, but if you haven’t yet seen it (I hadn’t), you should. Click to enlarge:

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My only other comment is that the emails are heavily redacted. Almost all of the redactions cite exemption b5, which is very general; it covers any document or portion of a document that would not have to be produced in a civil action. Actually, if documents fall within the scope of a Rule 34 request, the circumstances under which they do not need to be produced are quite narrow. While it is impossible to judge the appropriateness of a redaction without knowing what has been blacked out, there are a number of instances where it is hard to believe that any normally recognized privilege would apply.

When it comes to spying, secrecy and accountability are not mutually exclusive

Barton Gellman, who led a Washington Post team that revealed NSA surveillance measures, has argued that our interest in “self-government” requires that the public know “the secret policy decisions the government is making for us.” I have responded that our interest in self-government is sufficiently vindicated in cases like spying that require secrecy as long as the political process determines who makes the secret decisions and provides for checks against abuse.

The work of the NSA meets this test because it is conducted under the direction of our elected president and is subject to review by our elected legislative branch. It is also subject to judicial review.

I don’t mean to suggest that this system is ideal. Ideally, the public would know what decisions the executive is making and Congress and the judiciary are countenancing. The public could then punish elected officials with whose balancing of national security and privacy interests it disagrees. That’s self-government at its best.

The problem, of course, is that if the public knows what secret surveillance measures the NSA is taking, the measures will no longer be secret. They will then become less effective, if effective at all.

Moreover, although less than ideal from the standpoint of self-government, secret decisions that balance national security and privacy interests are not entirely insulated from public scrutiny. The public can’t review the decisions when they are made, but it can observe the consequences and punish elected officials for bad ones.

If the government errs on the side of privacy interests, fails as a result to connects dots, and therefore fails to learn about a deadly attacks, the public will learn about the failure, as it did following 9/11. It probably will become irate.

If, on the other hand, the government engages in abuses such as using information obtained from secret surveillance against Americans for reasons unrelated, or insufficiently related, to fighting terrorism, the victims can be expected to scream. The public probably will become irate.

From all that appears, NSA has not used information obtained through its surveillance programs against Americans for reasons insufficiently related to fighting terrorism. But if it did, the political process provides a potential remedy, even if the Washington Post and others do not disclose the NSA’s secret programs.

But there is no remedy for the Post’s disclosure. Once it decides to tell the world about a given NSA surveillance technique, the NSA typically can no longer use that technique effectively. And the public cannot “unelect” the reporters, editors, and managers of the Washington Post.

All that remains for those who worry about protecting this country from terrorist attacks is to take what solace we can from Bart Gellman’s self-serving claim that he and his colleagues have “been as careful as we could be to balance the public interests in self-government and self-defense.” I take none.