Saturday, October 10, 2015

Sleeping with the Enemy

While everyone is properly concerned about Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and while everyone awaits Clinton’s testimony before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, no one is paying attention to one the most significant dangers of a potential Clinton presidency. That would be, the presence of Carlos Danger’s wife at the right (or left) hand of the president.

You see, Anthony Weiner’s wife belongs to a family that has actively promoted and supported the Muslim Brotherhood. Lest we forget the MB is the godfather of Islamist terrorist organizations. Huma Abedin’s family ties to the group are well documented, on this blog and elsewhere. Links here and here. One knows that her association with the group was an issue in 2012, though at that time the discussion died out after John McCain disgraced himself by rushing out to defend her.

The fact that Hillary Clinton would be joined at the hip with an individual with ties to Islamist extremism and terrorism boggles the mind. Clinton is thus saying that Abedin's opinions that are worthy of serious consideration. She has no problem allowing Abedin to be privy to all of our nation’s secrets. I would call it disqualifying. I will leave it to others to explain why Hillary made such a grievous mistake.

One recalls that when the odious Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohamed Morsi,--currently sitting in jail and awaiting execution for fomenting violence-- was elected president, the first foreign dignitary to grace his presence was then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Did she do it because Jeremiah Wright’s protégé told her to? Was she influenced by her close personal advisor Huma Abedin?

One needs to keep in mind that the Hamas terrorist organization is an arm of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Where the current Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has re-established normal relations with Israel Mohamed Morsi wanted to destroy Israel.

On women’s issues, we have difficulty understanding why Hillary Clinton would legitimate a group that, in the weeks leading up to the Egyptian presidential election, was sending infirmary vans around the poorer neighborhoods of Cairo so that families could mutilate their daughters’ genitals without being inconvenienced by a trip to a hospital.

Why did the Clintons find this group congenial? And why did they hire Gehad el-Haddad?

Now, el-Haddad, a former high level employee of the William J. Clinton Foundation has just been arrested in Cairo for fomenting violence on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Washington Times has the story:

A senior Muslim Brotherhood official who, until recently, had been employed by the William J. Clinton Foundation was arrested in Cairo on Tuesday and charged with inciting violence.

Gehad el-Haddad served as one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s top communications officials until Egyptian security forces seized him as part of a wider crackdown on officials loyal to ousted former President Mohamed Morsi.

Before emerging as a top Brotherhood official and adviser to Morsiel-Haddad served for five years as a top official at the Clinton Foundation, a nonprofit group founded by former President Bill Clinton.

El-Haddad gained a reputation for pushing the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamist agenda in the foreign press, where he was often quoted defending the Brotherhood’s crackdown on civil liberties in Egypt.

He was raised in a family of prominent Brotherhood supporters and became the public face of the Islamist organization soon after leaving his post at the Clinton Foundation.

What did el-Haddad do for the Clinton foundation? And how did the Clinton Foundation try to legitimate Mohamed Morsi?

El-Haddad served as the Clinton Foundation’s city director from August 2007 to August 2012, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Just a month after El-Haddad left the Clinton Foundation to work full-time for the Brotherhood, former President Morsi was invited to deliver his first major speech at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), the high profile political family’s other nonprofit.

El-Haddad’s employment at the Clinton Foundation overlapped with his official work for the Muslim Brotherhood, which began in Cairo in February 2011 when he assumed control of the Renaissance Project, a Brotherhood-backed economic recovery program.

Was el-Haddad working to promote economic development or was he promoting Islamist extremism? One notes that there is no such thing as an extremist Muslim sect that cares about economic development:

El-Haddad was “charged with developing a long-term economic recovery program,” known as the Renaissance Project, during his time as senior adviser.

Egyptian media reported in July 2012 that the program was actually meant to bring the country more in line with the Muslim Brotherhoods extremist religious ideals.

“Renaissance is far more than the electoral program of PresidentMohamed Morsi or the Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party,” the Egypt Independent reported at the time. “It is a 25-year project to reform state, business and civil society, rooted in theBrotherhood’s Islamic values but conditioned by the experiences of the project’s founders in the modern economy.”

Clearly, his time at the Clinton Foundation did not teach el-Haddad anything about the virtues of liberal democracy:

El-Haddad regularly defended the Brotherhood’s authoritarian crackdown on civil society, even running damage control in December 2012 when Morsi supporters attacked women and children.
When widespread Democratic protests broke out on June 30, El-Haddad referred to the demonstrators as violent thugs in an interview with the Free Beacon.

“The anti-Morsi camp are providing a political endorsement to the violence,” he said at the time. “Some have resorted to violence because they didn’t do well at the ballot box.”

As the old saying goes, you are known by the company you keep. America ignored the company that Barack Obama kept before becoming president. Is it repeating the same mistake with Hillary Clinton?

Deconverted from the Psychoanalytic Pseudo-Religion

It might sound peculiar to those who still believe that psychoanalysis has something to do with science, but when people join the Freudian cause they act and function like converts.

In France, where psychoanalysis still exists in its purest form, people give their lives to Freudian theory and act like cult followers. As I have put it, they join a pseudo-religion. It’s like joining the Church of Scientology. The only difference is that converts to the Freudian cult have triple-digit IQs.

(FYI—the most interesting and readable study of conversion and other religious experiences can be found in William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience. Written over a century ago, the book describes different religious and spiritual experiences. A careful reader will note how closely they resemble what psychoanalysis has been offering.)

If psychoanalysis has its converts, it must also know have its share of people who have deconverted. Within serious religions they are called apostates. In the Freudian pseudo-religion their names are never spoken, but are treated like apostates.

Now, we have a video panel discussion about the psychoanalytic version of deconversion. The discussion took place in late March of this year in Versailles, France in an apartment that had previously been occupied by Mme de Pompadour. Evidently, the locale was well chosen.

The video was produced and directed by Sophie Robert, who also took on the role of questioner. Among the participants were University of Washington professor and prolific author of works about Freud, Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, Professor Jacques van Rillaer, emeritus of the University of Louvain, also the author of many books about psychoanalysis and behavioral therapy, psychiatrist and former psychoanalyst Jean-Pierre Ledru and your humble blogger.

It was a wonderful conversation and I very much enjoyed participating.

For now the only version is in French. Link below.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Lawrence Summers on the Global Economy

Like it or not, Lawrence Summers deserves a fair hearing. You might not want to read an old-line Democrat, but his views deserve some respect… before you explain why he is wrong. Anyway, it's better than being a new-line Democrat.

Writing in the Washington Post recently, Summers sounded an alarm about the condition of the world economy.

As the world’s financial policymakers convene for their annual meeting Friday in Peru, the dangers facing the global economy are more severe than at any time since the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in 2008. The problem of secular stagnation — the inability of the industrial world to grow at satisfactory rates even with very loose monetary policies — is growing worse in the wake of problems in most big emerging markets, starting with China.

This raises the specter of a global vicious cycle in which slow growth in industrial countries hurts emerging markets, thereby slowing Western growth further. Industrialized economies that are barely running above stall speed can ill afford a negative global shock.

If the traditional monetary policy solution to this problem is lower interest rates and cheaper money, that solution is no longer available.

Summers continues:

Policymakers badly underestimate the risks of both a return to recession in the West and of a period where global growth is unacceptably slow, a global growth recession. If a recession were to occur, monetary policymakers would lack the tools to respond. There is essentially no room left for easing in the industrial world. Interest rates are expected to remain very low almost permanently in Japan and Europe and to rise only very slowly in the United States. Today’s challenges call for a clear global commitment to the acceleration of growth as the main goal of macroeconomic policy. Action cannot be confined to monetary policy.

As for the much-touted economic recovery, it is, Summers says, a mirage:

There is an old proverb: “You do not want to know the things you can get used to.” It is all too applicable to the global economy in recent years.While the talk has been of recovery and putting the economic crisis behind us, gross domestic product forecasts have been revised sharply downward almost everywhere. Relative to its 2012 forecasts, the International Monetary Fund has reduced its forecasts for U.S. GDP in 2020 by 6 percent, for Europe by 3 percent, for China by 14 percent, for emerging markets by 10 percent and for the world as a whole by 6 percent. These dismal figures assume there will be no recessions in the industrial world and an absence of systemic crises in the developing world. Neither can be taken for granted.

Summers does not believe that the markets can bail us out this time. It might be because the Federal Reserve and the administration have been manipulating the markets for so long, that once the markets have a chance to exact revenge they will make everyone pay a very high price.

For his part, Summers belongs to the anti-austerity group. He wants to see more government spending, and more deficits.

Just as homeowners can afford larger mortgages when rates are low, government can also sustain higher deficits. If a debt-to-GDP ratio of 60 percent was appropriate when governments faced real borrowing costs of 5 percent, then a far higher figure is surely appropriate today when real borrowing costs are negative.

If the bond market is strong, Summers explains, we are not having any trouble borrowing money. Thus, we should borrow more. We have not yet run out of other people’s money. So we should take more of it. Of course, the bond market does not merely show confidence in the American economy. It says that it has more confidence in America than it does in many other places to park money.

Summers adds that there is no real inflation risk at the moment. And he does not want to see the Fed increase interest rates in this environment:

After last Friday’s dismal U.S. jobs report, the Fed must recognize what should already have been clear: that the risks to the U.S. economy are two-sided. Rates will be increased only if there are clear and direct signs of inflation or of financial euphoria breaking out. The Fed must also state its readiness to help prevent global financial fragility from leading to a global recession.

What else can central banks do?

The central banks of Europe and Japan need to be clear that their biggest risk is a further slowdown. They must indicate a willingness to be creative in the use of the tools at their disposal. With bond yields well below 1 percent, it is doubtful that traditional quantitative easing will have much stimulative effect. They must be prepared to consider support for assets such as corporate securities that carry risk premiums that can be meaningfully reduced and even to recognize that by absorbing bonds used to finance fiscal expansion they can achieve more.

As I understand it, the Fed has been buying up treasury bonds and even mortgages. If it did not do so, interest rates would rise and economic activity would be choked off. Now, apparently, Summers wants to ensure that corporations have the same access to very easy money, so he proposes having the Fed buy up corporate debt.

Again, if you are recommending that people manipulate the corporate debt market you are not in a very good position to criticize the markets.

Few people on the planet understand economics as well as Lawrence Summers does. That does not make him right, but it certainly suggests that we should respect his opinions. He seems positively Krugmanian here, but still his tone is far more constructive than Krugman’s—not a great challenge, but still….

One suspects that the Summers analysis of a pending economic collapse is largely correct. And yet, one also suspects that his proposals are forestalling the inevitable. Summers believes in government and people who believe in government believe that the government can fix all problems.

One needs to mention that other great economic minds, from Jim Grant to Jim Rogers lean toward accepting the inevitable right now, even to accept a default, because a quick cleanse now will be better than a grand cleanse later.

They would certainly accept, with Summers, that the Fed is largely out of bullets. And that that is what scares everyone the most.

As for why there is no corporate investment and business growth, one suspects that it cannot easily be solved by offering companies more cheap money. As I understand it, most new jobs are created by small businesses. Small businesses do not have access to the corporate bond market. They tend to use local community banks. But, how many of those banks have either gone out of business or have seen their lending curtailed by the onerous compliance costs imposed by Dodd-Frank?

And one cannot fail to note that the Obama administration already tried to solve the problem with increased government spending, especially in 2009. If that failed, why should we expect that more government borrowing and more wasteful spending will work this time.

I will leave it to those wiser than I to answer the question of what Dodd-Frank has contributed to banks' willingness to hoard money than make productive investment. And how much wealth is being sucked out of the economy by the Obama administration’s mountain of new government regulations? How much does Obamacare provide a disincentive to hire and to invest?

As I said, I do not know anywhere nearly as much as Lawrence Summers about these matters. But, shouldn’t they be part of the discussion?

Better Living Through Biochemistry?

Enough with the politics. Enough with everyone’s political passions. Today, we have some fascinating news from the better-living-through-biochemistry front.

The news concerns two substances that are fundamentally unrelated. Yet, both are widely touted as highly beneficial to your mental and your physical health. I am talking about oxytocin and anti-oxidants.

Beyond that superficial link, there is no real connection between the two.

You know about oxytocin, the great biochemical hope for peace and harmony. Since women seem to have much more of this chemical, it is assumed that giving it to non-women will make them more peaceful and loving and will even induce them to cuddle more.

Scientific American has the story:

Many studies trumpet the positive effects of oxytocin. The hormone facilitates bonding, increases trust and promotes altruism. Such findings earned oxytocin its famous nickname, the “love hormone.” But more recent research has shown oxytocin has a darker side, too: it can increase aggression, risk taking and prejudice. A new analysis of this large body of work reveals that oxytocin's effects on our brain and behavior actually look a lot like another substance that can cut both ways: alcohol….

Researchers led by Ian Mitchell, a psychologist at the University of Birmingham in England, conducted the meta-analysis, which reveals that both oxytocin and alcohol reduce fear, anxiety and stress while increasing trust, generosity and altruism. Yet both also increase aggression, risk taking and “in-group” bias—favoring people similar to ourselves at the expense of others, according to the paper published in August in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews.

It’s a little like empathy. It promises to make you more loving and caring, but it can also make you more aggressive and more bigoted. Who knew?

Better yet, it works like alcohol:

Oxytocin and alcohol therefore both have the general effect of tamping down brain activity—perhaps explaining why they both lower inhibitions.

It’s not a total loss. The researchers believe that they might be able to use oxytocin to treat alcoholism.

These findings suggest getting “love drunk” may impede a person from getting truly drunk—or at least make getting drunk less appealing. They also offer a possible biological explanation for why social support is so effective at helping people beat addictions. The researchers' biggest hope for now is that in the near future, the similarity between these two chemicals will allow scientists to develop oxytocin-based treatments for alcoholics.

As for antioxidants, these have often been touted as miracle substances. The more you ingest, the less likely you will be to get cancer. It has something to do with free radicals… which suggests a political agenda. Of course. Now, new research suggests that anti-oxidants facilitate the spread of cancers like prostate cancer, lung cancer and melanoma. Oops.

A new study has shown antioxidants doubled the spread of melanoma in mice—adding fresh evidence that taking antioxidant vitamin supplements may fuel the growth of cancer cells.

Researchers at the Sahlgrenska Academy in Gothenburg have found that the antioxidant N-acetylcysteine or NAC, which is available in some nutritional supplements, doubled the rate at which malignant melanoma--the most serious form of skin cancer--spread to the lymph nodes of mice. Repeating the experiment in human cells grown in lab cups, the scientists found that cancerous skin cells inserted with NAC and vitamin E, another strong antioxidant, became better at invading adjacent tissue.


Previous studies have shown an increased risk of prostate cancer for patients taking vitamin E supplements and have linked antioxidants to the spread of lung tumors in both mice and human cells. The Sahlgrenska study is the first to demonstrate that some antioxidants may cause malignant melanoma to metastasize at a quicker pace.

The researchers say that they are only concerned with the effect of anti-oxidant supplements. They see no problems arising from eating anti-oxidant rich foods. So, you don't have to throw out all of that pomegranate juice. Whew.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Obama's Rhetorical Strategy

Intellectual life in America has seen better days. We all agree with that. The question is: has it seen worse days?

A vibrant and functioning intellectual life requires that all ideas be stated and engaged. Such is not happening in today’s America.

In a radicalized, politically correct world one set of ideas becomes to dogmatic truth while the other side is dismissed as unworthy of discussion. Often, those who take the other side are personally attacked and demeaned. If not, their ideas are dismissed as empty-headed nonsense.

Thus is the marketplace of ideas corrupted and public debate made into a shouting match where the strong side attempts to silence the weak side.

This has been happening for decades now. The radicalized educational and media establishments have taken it upon themselves to indoctrinate their charges, insisting that leftist beliefs be taken as unquestioned truth. Thus, the marketplace of ideas has succumbed to a monopoly control. Those who do not follow the party line are put out of business.

Unhappily enough, our current president practices this same radical intellectual politics. He himself does not denounce his critics as racists and sexist, homophobic Islamophobes. He leaves that dirty work to his satraps and camp followers.

No, our president does not engage with differing ideas. He dismisses them as non-ideas, mumbo jumbo, worthless and useless, unworthy of consideration.

During the debate over the Iran deal Obama and his supporters insisted that the only choice was between his deal and war. Alternative policies, of which there were many, were dismissed as though they did not exist. Perhaps it was simply too difficult for Obama to think through them.

Recently, Bret Stephens reports, Gen. David Petraeus was asked to propose some ideas for a new strategy for dealing with Syria:

David Petraeus testified last month to the Senate Armed Services Committee on U.S. policy in the Middle East. Regarding Syria, the former general and CIA director urged a credible threat to destroy Bashar Assad’s air force if it continues to bomb its own people. He also recommended “the establishment of enclaves in Syria protected by coalition air power, where a moderate Sunni force could be supported and where additional forces could be trained, internally displaced persons could find refuge, and the Syrian opposition could organize.”

When Barack Obama was asked his views of the Petraeus proposal he responded as he has to many other alternatives to his view. He dismissed them as unworthy of his consideration:

But Barack Obama does not agree. At his Friday press conference, the president described such views as “mumbo-jumbo,” “half-baked ideas,” “as-if” solutions, a willful effort to “downplay the challenges involved in the situation.” He says the critics have no answers to the questions of “what exactly would you do and how would you fund it and how would you sustain it.”

America’s greatest living general might as well have been testifying to his shower drain for all the difference his views are going to make in this administration.

It isn’t about who is right and who is wrong. The current conditions of the Middle East ought, at the least, have taught Obama the virtue of humility. It ought to have pushed or nudged him to seek out some new ideas from a different group of advisers.

Alas, it has not. A president who is too arrogant to accept failure prefers to double down on it. Whether he is insisting that Vladimir Putin has gotten himself into a quagmire or that history is on his side, Obama refuses to deal with reality. The first symptom is his refusal to engage with dissidents in the marketplace of ideas.

If you cannot consider different policy proposals, because the only distinction you draw is between yours and theirs, you cannot conduct policy successfully. The Middle East being a case in point.

But, you will ask, what if Obama was right about Putin’s Syria quagmire? Stephens responds:

In the meantime, note what Vladimir Putin, lectured by Mr. Obama for getting Russia “stuck in a quagmire,” is achieving in Syria.

For a relatively trivial investment of some jet fighters and a brigade-sized support force, Moscow extends its influence in the eastern Mediterranean, deepens a commercially and strategically productive alliance with Iran, humiliates the U.S., boosts Mr. Putin’s popularity at home, and earns a geopolitical card he can play in any number of negotiations—Ukraine, gas contracts, Mr. Assad’s political future, you name it. If things don’t work out, he can pull up stakes within a week without much loss of money, lives or prestige. It’s a perfect play.

You cannot play in the major leagues if you are thinking in bush league terms. The game will simply pass you by, leaving you shaking your head on the sidelines.

When you ignore all alternatives to your own ideas, you are ignoring complex realities.

Stephens offers another example from the Obama playbook:

If Republicans want a tougher line in Syria, they’re warmongers. If Hillary Clinton thinks a no-fly zone is a good idea, she’s playing politics: “There is obviously a difference,” the president tut-tutted about his former secretary of state’s position, “between running for president and being president.”

Obama pretends that he is being forced to choose between doing nothing and re-invading the Middle East. He believes that withdrawal from the region was a major achievement. Stephens explains that Petraeus has offered an alternative, one that requires level of subtle thinking that seems to be beyond the president:

“It is frequently said that there is no ‘military solution’ to Syria,” Gen. Petraeus said in his testimony. “This may be true, but it is also misleading. For, in every case, if there is to be hope of a political settlement, a certain military and security context is required—and that context will not materialize on its own.” Is this, too, mumbo-jumbo?

The State of the Republican Presidential Race

Are Republicans on the brink of throwing the 2016 presidential election? Their competition has very little to offer, a few old, tired candidates. And yet, Daniel Henninger believes that Republicans have seriously diminished their chances because they are exercising poor judgment and lack party discipline.

True enough, Republican electors are expressing their feelings… venting, if you will… but, Henninger notes, they should take a lesson from the Democrats. That party achieved what it achieved in 2008 and 2009 by exercising strict discipline.

As I have often remarked on this blog, the therapy culture, which is obviously antithetical to conservative principles, insists that you express your feelings. It is a bad idea for individuals, bad for their mental health. It is a worse idea for groups.

Henninger explains how the Democrats did it:

After the 2008 elections gave Democrats control of the executive and legislative branches, they passed the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank financial reform act, which together reordered great swaths of the U.S. economy. That’s what control of government looks like, and it is rarely achieved without internal party discipline.

Six months ago, Henninger relates, Republicans were poised to take over the government. Which is more effective than shutting down the government.

As a result, the Republicans six months ago were on the brink of winning the White House back from an unpopular president and the uninspiring Hillary Clinton, while holding both houses of Congress. In control, the Republicans could legislate based on their beliefs—about ObamaCare, the tax code, spending, rampaging bureaucracies, even the federal subsidy for Planned Parenthood. That’s what winning looks like in American politics—or used to.

After explaining that the current workings of the House Republican caucus do not make the party look very good or very disciplined, Henninger moves on to the state of the presidential race.

I report his thought for your edification:

Meanwhile, the party’s base has elevated three amateurs to the top of its presidential nominating process— Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina. Two successful governors— Rick Perry of Texas and Scott Walker of Wisconsin—have dropped out. John Kasich, the high-achieving two-term governor of Ohio, whose voters have been on the wrong side of a presidential outcome only once since 1944, languishes at next to zero.

Today, the odds that the Republicans will win big in November 2016 are less than even. A GOP that was on the cusp of controlling the presidency and Congress has instead decided to present itself to American voters as a party of factions and niche players.

The Republican presidential nomination will float forward on its own mysterious forces. It now resembles the movie “Fitzcarraldo,” the story of an obsessive effort by a rubber baron to prove that a massive boat could be hauled over a mountain.

What is Henninger trying to say? He is saying that when a party wants to govern it advances candidates who know how to govern. Not one of the three leading candidates has ever shown any capacity to offer political leadership or to set and implement government policy.

After all, the best way to stop Obama, to roll back his executive orders, to repeal his legislative follies, to revive America… is to put a serious candidate into office, one who understands the workings of government and who can lead his party and the nation. It takes more than a few bright advisers.

Instead, the Republican field is led by a real estate developer and television personality who has insulted his way to the top. (Do you really believe that Republicans will fall in line behind someone who has clawed his way to victory by dismissing and demeaning them?) After him, the polls tell us, Republicans are flocking to a failed chief executive officer and a brain surgeon. Don't ask what's wrong with that picture. Ask yourself whether anything's right with it.

Conservatives value experience. They value tradition. They value principle, but not just for the sake of valuing principle. They value people who can make policy out of principle and who can put that policy into action. The want real results, not flamboyant displays of powerful emotion. In the past they have not been cult followers of celebrities or of people who have no measurable qualifications for office.

Perhaps the Republican base feels happy to have joined the celebrity culture. Perhaps they feel better for having vented their anger. I am sure that their therapists are proud. And yet, even if a celebrity can win the presidency, it only means that we will be able to see yet another president who is in way over his head.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Therapy ... by Prada

Who better to capture the essence of psychoanalytic therapy than Roman Polanski. And, who better to present it than the house of Prada. The clip stars Helena Bonham Carter and Ben Kingsley. Obviously, it affirms and confirms everything I have been saying about the accursed discipline.