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December 2017

Conor Cruise O’Brien and an African tragedy R.W. Johnson see note please

This is a wonderful column on the clarity of vision of the late Conor Cruise O’Brien who wrote “The Siege” a superb book on Israel’s history and mandate. rsk

It might be best to begin by saying how I came to be interested in the 1986 visit to South Africa of Conor Cruise O’Brien, the great Irish statesman, diplomat, writer and public intellectual. I was born on Merseyside but my father was later transferred to Durban by his employers, so I finished my schooling there and then attended the University of Natal, where I was heavily involved in anti-apartheid activities. A Rhodes Scholarship took me to Oxford just before the Security Police came to detain me. I was to stay in Oxford for many years as student and teacher, well aware that it would be unsafe to return to South Africa. I finally did so in 1978 and thereafter returned frequently to teach and to write about the evolving situation for The Times and Sunday Times. Ultimately I left Oxford in 1995 to return to South Africa where I ran the Helen Suzman Foundation. I have ended up living in Cape Town. Throughout these many years I have heard countless friends and colleagues discuss “the Conor Cruise O’Brien affair”, which was quite a landmark in South Africa, particularly for liberals. This always intrigued me, for I had got to know Conor a little through his son, Donal. The account which follows depends heavily on the oral testimonies of eye-witnesses.

Conor visited South Africa on a number of occasions and was considerably interested in its politics which he, among many others, compared with both Israel and Northern Ireland. During several of these visits he gave lectures at the University of Cape Town (UCT) — generally regarded as the country’s premier university — and these were sufficiently well received for him to be invited by Dr David Welsh to return as a Visiting Professor to the university’s political science department in 1986.

This was, however, the era of the academic boycott of South Africa called by the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM). The boycott was continuously controversial with those (like Conor) who felt there should never be any impediment to the free movement of people and ideas. Over time the AAM, which was always controlled by the African National Congress (ANC) and often by the South African Communist Party, had succeeded in getting apartheid branded by the UN General Assembly as a “crime against humanity”, a fact which served to heighten the AAM’s sense of self-righteousness. In turn, of course, the political atmosphere both within South Africa and outside was charged by the increasing tide of revolutionary protest led by the United Democratic Front (UDF), which acted as a surrogate for the banned ANC. On the English-speaking university campuses, student feeling had become increasingly shrill, a development much strengthened by the decision to open these universities to students of all races.

One of the key pillars of the apartheid regime had been the Separate Universities Act of 1959, which forbade racial integration at tertiary education level. This was a tremendous blow to the liberal English-speaking universities — Witswatersrand (Wits), Natal, Rhodes and UCT, which all fought and protested strongly against the new Act. Thereafter black students were consigned to (inferior) “tribal colleges” within the so-called “black homelands”. Inevitably, political dissent spread from the black campuses into black schools, finally resulting in the explosion of the Soweto riots of 1976 which then spread right round the country. This in turn created a climate of continuous unrest in the nation’s black schools. The exiled ANC naturally seized on this new opportunity and extensive political mobilisation took place within these schools under the (educationally disastrous) slogan of “Liberation now, education later”. In practice this meant continuous school boycotts, stay-aways and protests and the enrolment of many schoolchildren as full-time political activists. The result was a steep decline in the standard of these “Bantu Education” schools, leading to a so-called “lost generation” of schoolchildren whose school lives were punctuated by continual and often violent clashes with authority.

Brexit and Balfour Daniel Johnson

As the British take their leave of the European Union, the temptation to become obsessed with the process to the detriment of the destination must be resisted. Important though the terms of Brexit undoubtedly are, they are less significant in the long run than the uses to which we may put our new-found freedom to shape our destiny. We need a national debate about the kind of country we now hope to be; and we need it now.

It is at such moments that nations turn to their philosophers, particularly those thinkers with the widest frame of reference and the deepest insight into their predicament. High on any such list is Sir Roger Scruton, who has earned his place in public esteem by virtue of sustained reflection on the condition of humanity in general and of England in particular—a life not merely of contemplation but of action, too. His convictions have been forged in a lifetime of ideological battles: some lost, a good many won.

At the heart of Scrutonian thought, however, lies the insight encapsulated in the title of his latest book: Where We Are. For this is above all an analysis of what we mean by a sense of place, of identity, of country. The British, Scruton argues, are indeed an insular people, but that is a cause for celebration rather than apology. Their distinctive legal and political system, their culture and character, are uniquely bound up with their islands: the home where they belong.

Scruton admits that he, as a global intellectual whose livelihood is as mobile as his ideas, counts as an “Anywhere” rather than a “Somewhere” in the taxonomy coined by David Goodhart. But he insists that “anywhere people need roots as much as somewhere people” and are all the more grateful for finding them. And in a luminous chapter on “the networked psyche”, he shows how the young, who have been most deracinated yet yearn to belong somewhere, react angrily to global “spectral powers” that undermine the economic and political basis of a homeland, which is accountability.

Upon this extended meditation on the meaning of nationhood, Scruton builds his case for a post-Brexit healing of internal divisions and an opening to the wider world. He is enthusiastic about Britain’s role in European civilisation, especially in establishing its foundation: the nation state. The EU, however, has evolved to meet the particular needs of the Germans for a new identity and the French for security. Brexit poses an existential threat to both, so he sees the task of British diplomacy as primarily one of reassurance. Freed from the iron hand of EU bureaucracy, Scruton says, the British will be able to reshape economy, environment and society to restore the common values that can enable us all to belong together in our islands.

What, though, are these values? Scruton rightly identifies the Bible as the primary source, though he is under no illusions about British religiosity. But he does not explain how a post-Christian, largely secular nation is to restore the best of biblical values to the central place they once held in public and private life. One example of how secularism may not be a barrier to national renewal is to be found in the place and the people whose story is told in the Bible.

Israel celebrates just 70 years of independence in 2018, but its values are of course much older. On a visit there in November I found that wherever I went this young nation knows how to treasure the land and its history. In Jerusalem, for example, I visited the excavations outside the Western Wall, where astonishing discoveries are revealing the city of David in all its glory. One may now follow the route that pilgrims took up to the Temple from the Pool of Shiloah. Such reminders of this continuous presence over several thousand years strengthen the unique bond between the Jewish people and the Holy Land.

Obamacare’s Medical Standards Are Harming Our Medical System Federal regulations intended to improve quality of care are instead decreasing quality, increasing costs, and making it harder for doctors to see patients. Terrence Leveck M.D.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, the federal government adjusts reimbursements to health-care providers up or down based on the quality and cost-effectiveness of their services, as measured by a set of standards established by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The standards use metrics such as how long emergency-room patients must wait to be seen and how long it takes heart-attack victims to get stents placed in their blocked arteries. The intention is to encourage savings and sound practices and enhance patient satisfaction.

The problem is that these requirements have not only increased costs but also may promote poor practices. For example, the CMS goal of stenting a blocked coronary artery within 90 minutes of a heart attack has not been shown to decrease mortality. Moreover, rushing a chest-pain patient to surgery to meet an arbitrary time goal may increase the odds of misdiagnosing other life-threatening conditions such as tears in the aorta, the main artery carrying blood from the heart. Before the imposition of the 90-minute rule, doctors routinely took x-rays of patients with chest pain looking for an aortic rupture. Its presence is a contra-indication to the blood thinners routinely given to heart attack victims. Chest x-rays are no longer recommended by some cardiologists because they prolong the work-up by a few minutes, making it more difficult to meet the 90-minute goal. “Sometimes I just need five more friggin’ minutes,” said one presenter at a medical conference.

Said another practitioner, “It is likely that these CMS quality metrics of . . . door-to-balloon times less than 90 minutes have physically harmed patients and dramatically increased costs for unnecessary cath lab initiations.” Medicare’s Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program assumes that hospital readmissions within 30 days are evidence of poor care somewhere in the system and that the hospital should be the responsible party. Hospitals at the top of the curve for readmissions are penalized financially. No allowance is made for underserved areas that generally have sicker populations, with fewer options for outpatient care. “Many readmissions occur because hospitals are extra-vigilant when patients who’ve had scary episodes, such as heart attacks or severe pneumonia, have setbacks and turn up again in the emergency room,” according to a 2016 report in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Following introduction of the ACA guidelines, readmissions did go down, but mortality went up, according to a study published in November in JAMA Cardiology. “It’s possible that doctors may have made treatment decisions designed to avoid readmissions rather than to give patients the best possible care,” said UCLA’s Gregg Fonarow, the study’s senior author. Doctors might, for example, have postponed sending patients back to the hospital until after the 30-day window for readmission penalties had passed, allowing heart failure to worsen and decreasing survival odds. “Nationwide, there may have been thousands to tens of thousands of extra deaths in patients with heart failure resulting from this policy,” Fonarow said.

The Incredible Tale of a Reckless, Partisan FBI Agent and Our Partisan Bureaucracy Peter Strzok’s story will hurt public trust in the federal government at the worst possible time. By David French

If the story hadn’t been verified by virtually every mainstream-media outlet in the country, you’d think it came straight from conspiratorial fever dreams of the alt-right. Yesterday, news broke that Robert Mueller had months ago asked a senior FBI agent to step down from his role investigating the Trump administration. This prince of a man was caught in an extramarital affair with an FBI lawyer. The affair itself was problematic, but so was the fact that the two were found to have exchanged anti-Trump, pro-Hillary Clinton text messages.

Here’s where the story gets downright bizarre. This agent, Peter Strzok, also worked with FBI director James Comey on the Clinton email investigation. In fact, he was so deeply involved in the Clinton investigation that he is said to have interviewed Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin, and to have been present when the FBI interviewed Clinton. According to CNN, he was part of the team responsible for altering the FBI’s conclusion that Clinton was “grossly negligent” in handling classified emails (a finding that could have triggered criminal liability) to “extremely careless” — a determination that allowed her to escape prosecution entirely.

After the Clinton investigation concluded, Strzok signed the documents opening the investigation into Russian election interference and actually helped interview former national-security adviser Michael Flynn.

In other words, it looks like a low-integrity, reckless, biased bureaucrat has played an important role in two of the most important and politically charged criminal investigations of the new century. Yes, it’s good that Mueller removed Strzok when he discovered the text messages. No, Strzok is not solely responsible for the conclusions reached in either investigation. But his mere presence hurts public confidence in the FBI, and it does so in a way that further illustrates a persistent and enduring national problem: America’s permanent bureaucracy is unacceptably partisan.

Saudi Arabia, Hezbollah and Lebanon By Herbert London President, London Center for Policy Research

The seas are roiling once again in the Middle East. Saad Hariri resigned as Lebanon’s prime minister, citing an assassination plot against him organized by his former government coalition partner, Hezbollah. “Wherever Iran settles,” he said in a television address, “it sows discord, devastation and destruction, proven by its interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries.”

It is noteworthy that Mr. Hariri delivered his remarks from Saudi Arabia. Lebanon’s president Michel Aoun, a long-time tool of Damascus, said he will not accept Hariri’s resignation unless he returns to Beirut and hands it over in person – certainly a strange course of action.

The Lebanese Army claims it is not aware of any assassination plot – hardly a credible statement when Hezbollah controls the Army and independent sources indicated Hezbollah killed Hariri’s father in 2005. On one matter there isn’t dispute: Hariri was not able to assert his authority in office; albeit he had to know the Iranian backed terrorist organization would not afford him the opportunity to use his limited powers.

Although it appears as if Hariri is doing Saudi Arabian bidding, he is actually exposing the Lebanese government for what it is – the subject of a hostile takeover by Tehran. The mask of credibility has been removed. Iran’s conquest and de facto annexation is complete.

Do these events presage a war between Saudi princes? Will Saudi leaders feel war is inevitable? Hariri needs Saudi support. Without it, he is swimming in the Mediterranean by himself. By contrast, Hezbollah merely waits for orders from Iran.

The fear is that self-interest might drive the Sunni factions to war, a war that will have profound effects on the region. Saudi Crown Prince bin Salman described the Houthi missile flying over Riyadh as an “act of war.” Moreover, the war in Yemen promoted by Iran may spill across the border into Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia ordered its citizen to leave Lebanon escalating this bewildering crisis. It also escalated its condemnation of Hezbollah declaring Lebanon had effectively declared war on Saudi Arabia.

Why weren’t Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills charged when they lied to Peter Strzok and the FBI?

A terrific catch by the Daily Caller’s Chuck Ross, whose story you should read in full. It was widely known that Peter Strzok, the FBI agent dismissed by Mueller from the Russiagate probe due to anti-Trump bias, had had a lead role in the Hillary Emailgate investigation. But I hadn’t realized until now that he was one of the agents who interviewed top Clinton cronies Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills.https://hotair.com/archives/2017/12/05/werent-huma-abedin-cheryl-mills-charged-lied-peter-strzok-fbi/

Or, more importantly, that they pretty clearly lied to his face about when they found out that Hillary had her own email server.

Strzok is the same agent who reportedly replaced “grossly negligent” with “extremely careless” in Comey’s statement on Emailgate after the probe ended, and he’s also one of the agents who conducted the interview with Mike Flynn that earned Flynn a charge of making false statements to federal officials. One agent with a bias, even a supervisor, doesn’t discredit an entire investigation with dozens of people involved, especially after he’s been kicked off by the top prosecutor because of it. But the question remains: If Mike Flynn’s lies were sufficient to warrant being charged, why weren’t Abedin’s and Mills’s?

Summaries of the interviews, known as 302s, were released by the FBI last year.

A review of those documents conducted by The Daily Caller shows that Mills and Abedin told Strzok and Laufman that they were not aware of Clinton’s server until after she left the State Department…

But undercutting those denials are email exchanges in which both Mills and Abedin either directly discussed or were involved in discussing Clinton’s server.

“hrc email coming back — is server okay?” Mills asked in a Feb. 27, 2010 email to Abedin and Justin Cooper, a longtime aide to Bill Clinton who helped set up the Clinton server.

Comey was asked about Abedin’s and Mills’s lies during congressional testimony last year and spun his decision not to recommend charges by claiming that, hey, sometimes people misremember things and sometimes those things aren’t essential to a case. You don’t want to charge everyone who says something factually incorrect in an FBI interview with lying to a federal official. But the server wasn’t a peripheral matter and the Clinton cronies’ knowledge of it wasn’t immaterial. Comey’s rationale for not charging Hillary with mishandling classified information was that, while she may have been grossly negligent — sorry, I mean “extremely careless”! — there was no evidence that she intended to mishandle it. But setting up a private server which Team Clinton *knew* was destined to route classified information through it comes very close to intent, and Abedin and Mills would have been well positioned to speak to that knowledge. Putting some pressure on them by threatening to lock them up for false statements might have led to some interesting admissions about what Hillary Clinton imagined the purpose of her email server to be. The same charge helped convince Mike Flynn to play ball with Mueller. Why wasn’t similar pressure put on Abedin and Mills?

What Flynn’s Guilty Plea Means, Sans the Exaggerations Charles Lipson

CNN could hardly contain its joy — or its exaggerations — in discussing Mike Flynn’s guilty plea. The cable channel provided wall-to-wall coverage, with barely a glance at the other big news: the first major tax bill in decades. The only thing missing was a Bronco chase on the L.A. Freeway.

President Trump’s apologists and his lawyers were spinning just as hard in the other direction. “Nothing to see here. Move along.”

In the days since the news broke, both sides have stuck to their talking points and turned the volume up to 11.

Let’s strip away the partisan hyperbole and sort out what we really know.

First, with Flynn’s plea alongside Paul Manafort’s indictment, Robert Mueller and the Office of Special Counsel have now snagged the two biggest fish they could catch, outside the Trump family itself. They are using every lure and net a prosecutor has. Manafort and Flynn have every incentive to cough up whatever dirt they have, and Flynn’s deal promises to do so. If that doesn’t worry the White House inner circle, they must be in a bunker.

Ah, but what dirt does the prosecutor have? Only Mueller, Trump and their inner circles know. Only they know whether senior Trump aides have committed underlying crimes or given false testimony. CNN doesn’t know. Fox doesn’t know. ABC doesn’t know and had to withdraw an incorrect report that the president himself was implicated. (The stock market was not amused.) Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) doesn’t know, even though he was smiling from ear to ear on TV and doing everything short of dancing and waving a “Mission Accomplished” banner.

What should worry the Trump team most is that Mueller presumably would not offer Flynn such a sweet plea deal if he didn’t have valuable information to proffer on higher-ups. And there aren’t many people above the national security adviser.

The quest for collusion is over as the desperate shriek for impeachment begins

The quest for collusion is over. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation has not — either through leaks or announced indictments — revealed any collusion, and Democrats and their allies in the liberal mainstream media know that it never will. This reality is setting in among the president’s clearer-thinking foes, and they are transitioning to an obstruction of justice claim in an effort to sustain the fight with President Trump.

Mueller’s investigation has been looking into Russian meddling in the 2016 election since May. His team has made a number of consequential findings, but none of them establish collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. We would know by now if anyone close to Trump had actually colluded with Russia to impact the 2016 campaign. The only thing we know for certain is that Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn have been indicted for or admitted to things that fall short of collusion and have nothing to do with the president.

The Democrats know their faux-outrage over collusion is hollow and spent. Given that Mueller’s investigation hasn’t found the holy grail or produced anything that rises to the level of criminality on the part of Trump, liberals in Congress and in the media are now transitioning to an obstruction of justice story-line. Mueller is not talking, so the president’s critics are creating a new line of attack based on the notion that the firing of former FBI director James B. Comey was somehow a criminal act.

The problem with the Democrats’ claim is that the president can fire the FBI director for any reason or no reason at any time. Never mind that, they say. The Democrats believe the president’s motive was to end an investigation into Flynn and that doing so was somehow outside the bounds of his authority — and therefore criminal. That’s right: The liberals want to take us into a mind-numbing legal netherworld where the president committed a legal act with a corrupt mind-set and should therefore be impeached. I can’t imagine how this convoluted reasoning will lead to an indictable charge against Trump, but it is becoming the Democrats’ latest obsession.

Michael Kile Climate Elfs Cheer Santer Pause

Christmas is upon us and who can blame grant-fed catastropharians for rejoicing? While temperatures have flat-lined for 20 years, they have a new paper to explain “the pause” to the satisfaction of all good warmists everywhere. Time to sing ‘The First Nobel’ and apply for yet more funding.

On December 14, 2007, a curious event took place in the climate space. Some folks at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research Christmas party wrote a song in adoration of themselves, Our First Nobel. The last line was a question: “Can an Oscar be far away?” After another decade of high-wire acts they deserve one, especially for the latest attempt to keep a dodgy global scare alive.

The song did not enter the public domain until November 2009. It was found in a large cache of emails (item 0462.txt) hacked from the UK University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. There were accusations of data manipulation to make global warming appear more threatening. Several enquiries found no evidence of crimes or even misdemeanours, yet a bad smell still lingers around the Climategate saga.

But to begin at the beginning. Two months earlier, on 12 October, 2007, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced the joint winners of its annual Peace Prize: the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Albert Arnold (Al) Gore Jr. It was awarded “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change”.

Convinced that Gaia’s elusive thermostat could be manipulated by somehow turning down the atmospheric carbon dioxide knob, the Committee wanted

to contribute to a sharper focus on the processes and decisions that appear to be necessary to protect the world’s future climate, and thereby to reduce the threat to the security of mankind. Action is necessary now, before climate change moves beyond man’s control.

Alfred Bernhard Nobel, a Swedish chemist, the inventor of dynamite and an armaments manufacturer, would have reached for the nitroglycerin; surprised as others were – and still are – by the choice. For there is no link between “climate change” and his three qualifying criteria.

Had Al Gore done anything to reduce the US military’s—or his personal carbon (dioxide)—footprint, in or out of office? Has the IPCC encouraged fraternity between nations, or the spread of peace—not climate change—congresses? Would UN insistence on “climate reparations” from the developed world—and less coal-fired power for the developing world—contribute to international harmony? And what is “peace”? How did Nobel’s conception of it become mixed up with environmental evangelism?

Cruelty and Sexual Harassment Civilization does not cure men of malice, especially when there are no repercussions for bad behavior. By Victor Davis Hanson

Observers look for some sort of common denominator that would make sense of the daily news blasts of nonconsensual sexual escapades of media, political, and Hollywood celebrities.

No sooner are these lists of the accused compiled than they have to be updated, hourly. Long hushed, covered-up, or even forgotten sexual IEDs suddenly go off without warning and blow up a career.

Weirder still, the now-outraged often overnight can become the outrageous.

One moment Richard Dreyfuss expressed furor when he learned that gay actor Kevin Spacey long ago had groped his own son under the table (while the three were working on a script). The next minute, Dreyfuss himself was accused of an earlier repulsive unwanted sex act or advance toward a female subordinate.

New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush condemns the bad behavior of journalist Mark Halperin — and then finds himself accused of similar coerced sexual behavior. Senator Al Franken’s often sanctimonious outrages over the Fox News harassers would soon apply just as easily to his own behavior. We forget that the original context of Juvenal’s famous quip “Who will police the police?” was the insidiousness of sex.

Note these latest scandals are different from the age-old stories of consensual adultery. They are mostly not consensual affairs in the workplace, supposedly initiated by grasping subordinates or by oppressive bosses in midlife crises. Nor are they the connivances in dating and courtship — all the sort of consenting unions gone awry that are the stuff of novels and films.

Instead, in nearly all these examples of sexual harassment, there is inherently a beauty-and-the-beast asymmetry, male arrogance — and spitefulness. What repels is not just unwanted or coerced sex acts — but the gratuitous cruelty that so often surrounds them.