In Damavand’s Shadow

In the shadow of Damavand, Iran’s highest mountain peak, unidentified assassins attacked and killed top Iranian nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. A bomb hidden in an old truck exploded near Fakhrizadeh’s car as he travelled east in the town of Absard, 70 km east of Tehran. Several assassins then raked his car with machine guns. Iranian reports indicate he died at the hospital. Fakhrizadeh was an officer in the Revolutionary Guards and head of the Iranian Defense Ministry’s research division. Western intelligence agencies identify Fakhrizadeh as the (now former) head of the country’s secret nuclear weapons program.

Fakhrizadeh’s assassination comes nearly 11 months after a U.S. drone strike killed Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force and one of Iran’s top military leaders. The man called Iran’s Oppenheimer is the 6th Iranian nuclear scientist killed since 2010. In Tehran in August of this year, two Israeli operatives on a motorbike shot and killed Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command who also used the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad al-Masri.

Pity the person considered Iran’s number two nuclear physicist, who just had his last night of peaceful sleep.

Iran has implicated Israel in the newest assassination, and Iranian leaders have vowed to strike back at those responsible. Of course, Israel isn’t the only party dreading an Iranian nuclear bomb, and relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf kingdoms have been at a nadir in recent years.

The timing of the assassination – weeks before Joe Biden apparently takes up residence in the White House – suggests that whoever did the deed perhaps saw their window of opportunity for action closing. Biden has already announced his intention to re-enter the nuclear accord President Obama “negotiated” with Iran, and to undo Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against the Iranian regime.

One think-tanker even claimed that Biden himself was as much a target of the attack as the Iranian nuclear program.

But as former CIA career officer Norman Roule told PBS, an operation like this would take months to plan and prepare, so it could not be simply a response to the presidential election. Still, no one doubts the Trump Administration will look on the action differently than the Biden Administration would. Biden’s former Obama Administration colleagues John Brennan (CIA director) and Ben Rhodes (National Security Council) have already denounced the killing.

With its enemies killing its friends in the middle of its capital, the Iranian regime will have trouble resisting the urge for retribution. Inaction will appear weak to regime critics and supporters alike. Yet any sizable reaction by Iran could make it difficult for Biden to re-enter the nuclear accord, and might even bring the two powers into open confrontation. Watch for Iran to wait to attack until after Biden’s signature is affixed onto the nuclear accord – but probably before the ink has dried.

Cryptocurrents

The Senate Judiciary Committee hauled tech titans His Most Serene and Excellent Kahuna of Twitter and Mark “I am not a Zeta Reticulan” Zuckerberg of Facebook to their Zoom cameras to testify about their policies for censoring conservatives on their respective sites this week. The Republicans on the Committee railed about how these businessmen were running their private companies the way they wanted to, which is wrong these days, while the Democrats cried out for more and better censorship- er, barriers against misinformation, which is typically information they wish everyone would miss.

But in a way, Twitter and Facebook are yesterday’s technology, anyway. More interesting developments took place in one of tomorrow’s technologies, that is, blockchains and cryptocurrencies. October 31 was the twelfth anniversary since a link to the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto’s paper titled “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” appeared on a cryptography mailing list at metzdowd.com. A couple months later, Bitcoin launched — January 9, 2009. Two years later, one Bitcoin was worth 35 cents. On January 9, 2012, a Bitcoin was worth $6.65. Today, Bitcoin stands at $18,685, with some expecting it to hit $65,000, and has a market cap of almost $347 billion.

It’s a reflection of how cryptocurrencies are slowly but surely ingratiating themselves into the ecosystem. PayPal recently began facilitating the purchase of Bitcoin and one of the other leading cryptocurrencies, Ethereum. Both Mastercard and Visa offer cryptocurrency cards, and Visa has also partnered with leading crypto exchange Coinbase.

Cryptocurrencies exist on a digital technology called blockchains, which allows for secure, decentralized, and anonymous transactions beyond the reach of authorities. Which presents its own twists. Blockchains also allow complex financial transactions to take place in minutes, where the current system takes days, maybe a week.

And Friday, payments startup company Circle announced that it had partnered with the Venezuelan government-in-exile led by Juan Guaidó (recognized by the United States, Canada, Brazil and over 50 other nations as the legitimate Venezuelan government). In fact, Circle was also working with the U.S. government to essentially convert seized Venezuelan funds into a cryptocurrency called USDC – which is pegged to the value of one American dollar – to bypass financial controls imposed by Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro.

Of course, with any new technology, regulation in the blockchain world is thin (but thickening up), and the price ticker for bitcoin can look like the heart monitor of a tweeker going cold turkey. Caveat emptor,

But as the U.S. government buries the dollar in Marianas-level depths of debt – and this before the Democrat moves into the White House, promising to give out trillions more – there might be worse ideas than finding alternative forms of currency.

The fact that you can hide secret messages in the currency is just the icing.

Update, 11/21/2020 1:21 PM. Fixed a couple of the links.

Make California Crazy Again

Some of the more surprising results from Election Season are Biden’s victories in Georgia (the first time in 28 years Georgia has voted for the Democrat) and Arizona, which, aside from 2020, has voted for the Democrat once in 72 years.

Texas was a lot closer than in recent years: in 2000, Bush beat Gore by 21 points.  2004 was worse, Bush over Kerry by 23 points.  Even Romney beat Obama by 16 points in 2012.  Trump’s 9 point margin of victory in 2016 dwindled to 6 points in 2020. Texas’ downward trend in victory margins surely is furrowing Republican brows in DC.

And Trump’s victory in North Carolina was too close to call until just the other day.

In 2018, 86,164 Californians moved to Texas, the number one destination of Californians leaving the Golden State. 68,516 Californians moved to Arizona, the number 2 destination.  Nevada – another narrow Biden victory – was fourth, with 50, 707 Californians moving to the Silver State.  And North Carolina and Georgia were 14th and 15th, respectively.

The Republican Sunbelt is under assault. By Californians.

Since 2007, more Californians have moved to Texas and Arizona than anywhere else.

We’re like a virus, and we’re bring our crazy California progressive politics with us.

Law professor and Instapundit Master Glenn Reynolds has urged these states to provide a “welcome wagon” that explains why the generally more conservative politics of these red states have made them so attractive they’ve even pulled Californians away from paradise.

Fine idea, sure, but as the saying goes, one good idea deserves another.

It’s time to Make California Crazy Again.

It’s apparent California must be some kind of conservative hellhole. Why else would all these fine progressive people be leaving the state? We need to make California the progressive paradise, where transgender surgery coupons are handed to you as you cross what racists call a “border,” where snack machines are stocked with your choice of artisanal narcotics, where dollars are delivered to your doorstep so long as everyone takes a number.

We need to draw all those progressive Californians infecting the politics of their newly adopted homes back to paradise. Back to sunshine, cool vibes, and abortion clinics in high schools. Better one state takes the progressive fall than the whole nation.

Wait, progressives already run this state, you say? They have a veto-proof supermajority in both legislative chambers?

What’s that? Their policies are what’s driving everyone out in the first place?

Well, that’s a problem.

Welcome wagon, anyone?

A dim glow in the dark

Despite a presidential contest with results ever grimmer, Election Day 2020 in most others ways gives conservatives hope. The Senate looks to be held, though Georgia’s January double runoff apparently will decide the matter. Lindsey Graham’s $100 million defeat of Jaime Harrison in South Carolina will look cheap by February.

Republicans gained seats in the House, too, when they were supposedly facing a “blue wave,” though it’s still Pelosi’s House. If the Democrats do tie the Republicans in the Senate 50-50, look for West Virginia’s Joe Manchin (D) to suddenly be the most popular man in the Capitol’s north wing. I’ll take McConnell over Schumer to win most of those battles.

But California, of all places, might be one of the happier surprise for Republicans. While Democrats still dominate California’s House delegation, two of conservative stalwart Orange County’s seats that voted Democrat in 2018 have Republicans now in the lead, though by paper-thin margins. And Mike Garcia in northern L.A. County leads Christy Smith – again, margins to make Gordon Gekko sweat – in the district he won after Democrat Katie Hill resigned after your choice of scandals.

But best of all, California voters defeated several progressive wishlist propositions, proving that in California, there beats a heart where conservative ideas still flow. Prop 15, raising commercial property taxes and undermining 1978’s tax-revolt Prop 13, is currently going down to defeat, 52%-48%. Prop 16, which would allow again for race-based affirmative action in hiring, education, and other arenas, got thrashed, 56%-43%. Prop 18, which would have allowed 17-year-olds to vote in the primaries of elections by which they will have turned 18, also crashed and burned, 55%-45%. An expansion of rent control lost big, 60%-40%. And, with Prop 22 passing, workers can now work as independent contractors again – escaping from the bonds of the disastrous AB5 – so long as you work for Uber or Lyft, or similar gig-type drivers. People love their food deliveries, thank God.

All of this proves California still offers fertile ground for Republicans. They just need the right messengers.

New Assemblywoman Suzette Martinez Valladares, in the 38th District, might be worth keeping an eye on. The daughter of a mechanic, who can change her own carburetor, a one-time staffer to Republican Congressman Buck McKeon, mother of a three-year-old daughter and executive director of a nonprofit, Valladares speaks with ease about both her family’s struggles as well as her family’s tamales, and has a telegenic appeal that guarantees camera time. The Assembly for her seems like but a start.

Nevertheless, California is still California – L.A. voted in a Soros-funded District Attorney, as a little amuse-bouche for you – but for once in a seeming eternity, a candle glows in the darkness.

Raise Taxes, Kill Businesses – Must be California

42 years later, California’s Proposition 13 continues to inspire attempt after attempt to kill it. This Election Day – er, Election Season – is no different. Passed in 1978 – back when the aerospace and oil industries were still vibrant enough to pepper the state with conservatives – the law allows property tax rates to be increased only upon a sale of the property and limits any increase to a 2% rate of inflation. Nothing a politician hates more than limits on taxation. Since ’78, progressives have thrown more propositions, lawsuits, and legislation at the hated law, and despite California’s voters electing bluer and bluer representatives, they still somehow continue to protect lower property taxes. There’s something about voting on actual legislation, with its provisions in black-and-white, rather than voting for personalities, that sobers the voters’ minds. Propositions cannot hide so easily behind a flashy smile or perfectly-creased pants.

It’s easy to imagine these tax-loving cretins in their Sacramento offices, watching with envy as property values throughout the state sprout ever higher. The Federal Housing Price Index shows that the House Price Index for California has risen almost 700% since 1979. This drives the politicians crazy, that in the wake of these gains, their hands remain cuffed, unable to pick the pockets of its citizens. Progressive dreams of income redistribution, even in the navy-blue Golden State, remain at least somewhat limited.

The latest attempt to undo Prop 13 is Prop 15. Prop 15 promises to raise property taxes by setting the tax rate at the market rate. But, knowing California voters’ reluctance to mess with Prop 13, the authors of 15 have limited its effects to only commercial properties. They presumably suspect the progressive voters here may not mind raising taxes on capitalist endeavors, so long as their own homes are left out of it. One can only marvel that California may pass yet another anti-business law, even as business flee the already-stratospheric taxes and cost-of-living.

A survey of California likely voters released ten days ago reveals 49% favor Prop 15, while 45% oppose it.

Don’t be surprised to see more moving trucks headed for parts east come 2021. And as the businesses flee, the Sacramento tax coffers will fall, and the politicians will look for where else they can raise tax rates. Why do I suspect those eyes will fall upon residential properties?

One effect of California’s feeble educational system: the local politicians educated in it never learn. Tuesday will tell if the voters have.

A Most Serene Choice

In 301 A.D., a stonemason and Christian named Marinus from a small Adriatic island fled the rantings of a woman gone mad claiming him as her husband, and founded a chapel and monastery on an Apennine mountain to live out his life as a hermit. Marinus became Saint Marinus, and the mountain grew into San Marino, the oldest extant independent sovereign state in the world.

Somehow, through centuries of Duchies and Popes, Borgias and Mussolinis, San Marino has retained its independence, with periods of brief occupation in 1503 and 1739. Even Napoleon never conquered the place. Wholly surrounded by Italy, the Sammarinese number less than 35,000 speak Romagnol and Italian, and are almost all Roman Catholic. And though never even a regional powerhouse, it must have done some things right for its flag to wave over Monte Titano through the centuries.

In fact, San Marino’s diplomatic maneuverings with the French tyrant Napoleon illustrate the wisdom that modern statesmen too often lack. In 1797, with Napoleon’s armies awash over Europe, advancing through northern Italy toward the San Marino’s longtime ally the Papal States, San Marino felt the growing pressure of both the rock and the hard place. The French demanded the arrest of the anti-French Bishop of Rimini. Showing the smiling duplicity essential to successful diplomats, Antonio Onofri, one of the two Captains Regent of San Marino – the offices vested with ruling authority over San Marino since 1243 – promised General Berthier San Marino would do all they could to help the French, even as the bishop fled across the border to safety.

But it was San Marino’s next decision that offers the real lesson. Napoleon was so impressed by Onofri and by San Marino, he sent his personal friend and emissary, the scientist Gasparre Monge, to San Marino with a letter that not only guaranteed its independence, but offered to extend San Marino’s borders – at the expense of San Marino’s neighboring Italian provinces.

San Marino, having befriended the great French conqueror, now had the chance to grow, to gain new land, new people, new riches. This is how the great grow ever greater, isn’t it?

The Captains Regent of the Most Serene Republic of San Marino turned Napoleon down. They would gain no new territory for their friendship. They wisely saw that Napoleon’s conquests might prove short-lived, and those he defeated might yet regain the advantage – and take their revenge on not only Napoleon, but Napoleon’s friends. By accepting Napoleon’s offer, the Captains Regent rightly saw it, perhaps as only the rulers of a state founded by a Catholic saint could, as a devil’s bargain: what might appear as San Marino’s triumph could by the very thing to risk its independence.

San Marino stayed content with its mountaintop, and today, after two more centuries of Italian revolutions, fascist takeovers, Nazi occupation, and communist infiltration, its borders remain unchanged since 1463, and San Marino remains independent.

Would any of our leaders today show such wisdom? To decline conquest, when tempted with it? Come Election Day, will any of the victors show the wisdom to know that, as the Eastern sage put it, “this too shall pass.”

Futureworld

Falling asleep in front of the TV the other night, talking heads in my ears, yabbering about the polls — a grim Election Day for Trump and the Republicans in the apparent offing — a vision from the future then seeped into my mind. It came in the form of a news article, dateline: June 19, 2023.

“Former President Donald Trump celebrated Juneteenth today by announcing his candidacy for the Republican nomination, throwing the 2024 presidential race into chaos.

“After barbecuing spare ribs at rapper Ice Cube’s Bel-Air estate in celebration of the newly established federal holiday, Trump took to the mansion’s rooftop to make his big announcement before being whisked away by helicopter, a banner emblazoned with the nascent campaign’s slogan, “Put America Back Together Again,” trailing behind in the wind.

“’It’s time we dump that loser broad in the White House,’ Trump said, in apparent reference to President Kamala Harris. ‘All she’s done is lose, ever since she kicked my ass – which, really, she kicked Pence’s ass, if you wanna get technical. And she’s done nothing ever since, absolutely nothing, it’s really quite remarkable,’ he said. He then listed several things Harris did that he would immediately reverse, ‘Starting on Day One, or before, even,’ he promised.

“Among Trump’s proposals was to divide California into five separate states, a single state along the coast, and four states carved out of its more rural, more conservative interior. This, Trump promised, would cancel out the admission of North Puerto Rico, South Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C. by the Democrat-controlled Congress in 2021. ‘The coast is iconic, you know, the California coast, I didn’t really think it should be broken up, so we’re keeping it as one state,’ Trump explained.

“Trump promised to increase the Supreme Court by twelve new Justices, and presented a list of forty judges he promised would be considered. ‘Twelve’s a good number, you know, twice as many as Kamala’s,’ Trump said, referencing the six new Justices Harris and the Democrats added to the Court in the spring of 2022.

“The reaction among Trump’s Republican rivals for the nomination was swift. Texas governor George P. Bush, who had been a frontrunner for the nomination once sought by his father, Jeb Bush, immediately announced he was withdrawing from the campaign. ‘I would not sully the good name of political campaigns by continuing to run for the same office as him,’ he intoned.

“Florida Senator Marco Rubio was more diplomatic. ‘I believe competition makes us all stronger,’ he insisted. ‘And no matter what office I may have in the future, I look forward to doing the work of the American people.’

“When asked about Trump’s announcement, President Harris laughed awkwardly. ‘As an American, he can do and say whatever he wants, and I’ve asked the FBI to put an immediate tap on his phone, as he is a known security threat,’ she said to reporters. The reporters had no follow up questions for her.

“In his announcement, Trump also promised to re-open all churches, which the Democrats had deemed ‘dangerous to science,’ free all Republican political prisoners currently housed in the federal prison at Alcatraz, and to review the status of former President Joe Biden, admitted to Walter Reed Medical Center in February 2021 and rarely heard from since.”

After waking up, I felt a little warm, and had to take my temperature. Can’t be too careful, what with the Wuhan floating around. Yeah sure, catching it’s unlikely, but in this world, anything’s possible.

Streaming Downward

As the election churns to its finish, and as pundits and polls try to tell us who the winner will be, it’s useful to remember that, as the saying goes, culture is upstream from politics. Culture has a greater and longer-lasting effect on our lives and our families than whoever wins a single election. The product of our arts, our sports, our religion, our education, culture informs our values, our ways of seeing the world and the people around us.

When we study the past, few will ever remember what laws were passed when, or what votes were cast by whom. Instead, we tend to look at an era’s literature, at the architecture, at the music and paintings and sculpture to understand the people of the past. A quick traipse through western civilization and you’ll find such luminaries as Beethoven, Shakespeare, Moliere, and, uh, Cardi B.

It’s of course bad enough that something as low and base as the rapper’s “W.A.P.” would find popularity. But leave it to the Democrats and Joe Biden to confer legitimacy on the demeaning and classless pop star by giving her an interview with him. What an example to set for the American people.

In another recent interview, with Hollywood trade publication Deadline, the British comic book author Alan Moore, who created the popular graphic novels, “The Watchmen” and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” (both of which have been adapted into movies) lamented how pop culture has been overtaken by superhero stories.  “I have no interest in superheroes, they were a thing that was invented in the late 1930s for children, and they are perfectly good as children’s entertainment. But if you try to make them for the adult world then I think it becomes kind of grotesque.”

Unfortunately, our culture, especially our pop culture, has been overtaken by these grotesques. But then Moore points to 2016, when the infantilization reflected at the box office, when half of the top twelve movies featured superheroes, and sees a link to the voters of Britain and the U.S. electing that year to leave the EU and electing Donald Trump president, respectively — elections that, according to Moore, reflected the infantilization of the population.

But here I think Moore gets it wrong. The true infantilization of the population is reflected in policies that, for example, keep young adults up to age 26 on their parents’ insurance policies, policies that seek to establish an ever-more paternalistic state too watch over us, make sure we get the right foods, the right medicines, the right rental rates for our apartments.

Our pop culture is dominated by children’s stories and vulgarities. It’s quite a change from the days of Shakespeare and Mozart. Or even Hemingway and Ellington. It should come as no surprise our politics are in the shape they are in. The waters flowing through need filtering.

Define Your Terms

During the presidential debate on Tuesday, moderator Chris Wallace asked President Trump to “condemn white supremacy.” Trump wasn’t precise enough in his answer for the Democrats and media, and so story after story went on about Trump’s supposed refusal to “condemn white supremacy.”

Wallace’s question exemplifies the Left’s trick of changing the meaning of language to suit their preferred outcomes and ideology.

If you look at a typical dictionary definition of the phrase, “white supremacy, you get:

“The belief that white people constitute a superior race and should therefore dominate society, typically to the exclusion or detriment of other racial and ethnic groups, in particular black or Jewish people.”

I suspect if you ask the average American, this is their concept of “white suprem

Poor fools.

For the Left, such a definition is just the beginning. Sure, you include such a concept, but then you expand and broaden the definition until it lets you justify whatever action you wish.

So, the Anti-Defamation League adds that white supremacy includes the “belief that white people have their own ‘culture’ that is superior to other cultures.”

Do white people not have their own culture?  To the extent any subgroup of people with something in common have a culture, it seems odd to exclude white people. There is no doubt Europe, at least, was predominantly made up of white people until rather recently. Were white societies so inclusive, they could not be called “white?” Or are they so inclusive now, they aren’t “white?”

But the real twists come with what the academic Left considers “white supremacy.”

The academic Left is beholden to Critical Race Theory, which, as UCLA law professor Cheryl Harris explained in the Nation, focuses “on the way that race is baked into the current political, economic, and social system so that racial subordination is reproduced through normal operations.” So, according to Critical Race Theory, the normal operations of society – presumably here, American society – is racist, because it results in racial subordination. There is no human agency here, simply the “system.”

University of Tennessee College of Law Professor Emeritus Frances Ansley, as quoted by Critical Race Theorist David Gillborn, states that white supremacy is, “a political, economic and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources, conscious and unconscious ideas of white superiority and entitlement are widespread, and relations of white dominance and non-white subordination are daily reenacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings.”

So now, white supremacy can mean the KKK stringing up “strange fruit” on “Southern trees,” but it also can mean, you know, the entire American society. All the same thing.

And then, after twisting the meaning of the term, the Left then goes ahead and changes the dictionary definition, just to cover its tracks.

So what exactly do you mean, Mr. Wallace? Are you asking Trump to condemn all of American society?

If so, I can understand Trump’s seeming hesitance to do so.

Ginsberg’s Favor

President Trump reportedly is set to appoint Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court on Saturday. Barrett is eminently qualified but will be “controversial” nonetheless, as the Democratic senators scour her seemingly exemplary life in a desperate attempt to justify their inevitable opposition. Whatever they come up with, it’s little more than a cover for the fact that the Democrats prefer judges who adhere to “living Constitutionalism” instead of Barrett’s originalism.

Living Constitutionalism” refers to a judicial method of weighing a case where the strictures of the U.S. Constitution are, well, more malleable than perhaps what an originalist would find. So it allows a Justice to find a right to same-sex marriage embedded in a document that was written by men who would have thought the idea absurd at best. And it allows a Justice to discover a “right to privacy” in the penumbras and emanations of other rights actually mentioned in the founding law of the land.

What living Cons often don’t seem to consider, however, is that, after turning the law into clay instead of stone – the better to spin it into whatever form one likes – the potter might change before the clay is finally baked. When it’s 5 or 6 conservative judges on the Court, Democrats should be thankful these judges adhere to a stonier Constitution. Tougher to chip off marble and granite than spin mud.

When living Cons disagree on a question of a law’s constitutionality, doesn’t the difference inevitably become a question of preferred outcomes? If you can find rights wherever you like, isn’t it then the case that where you don’t find rights, it drills down to the fact that you simply preferr the other outcome?

For example, the late Ruth Ginsberg frequently found in favor of copyright holders, including studio behemoths Disney, Time Warner, and Universal, in disputes with start-ups or independent publishers, such as in the landmark copyright case Eldred v. Ashcroft, for example.

In Eldred, Justices Breyer and Stevens, both living Cons who frequently vote[d] with Ginsberg on major cases, dissented from Ginsberg majority opinion. They found constitutional violations in an extension of the copyright term.

Whether Breyer and Stevens were correct or not is not the point here. Instead, that Ginsberg failed to see a constitutional violation suggests she didn’t because she preferred an outcome in favor of the corporate behemoths who lobbied for a longer copyright term (the better to protect the cash flo- er, the integrity of their creations).

Ginsberg, corporate stooge?

How else am I to interpret it, when she so frequently ruled in their favor? If the Constitution is alive, why didn’t she kill such oligarchism?

Fortunately, Barrett – or whomever Trump selects – will issue rulings with a stronger foundation: using the actual meaning of the law, not what she – or he – wishes the law meant.