Technical prowess notwithstanding, US communications intelligence is dumb congenitally. In a previous column I explained that NSA’s use of sensitive antennas to capt the electronic spectrum, of supercomputers to record “the take,” and of sophisticated algorithms to search it suffer from the same deadly lack of quality control (counterintelligence) that afflicts human collection; moreover that elementary countermeasures reduce even the possibility of capting useful information. The latest revelations that the NSA has been listening to such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s private conversations as well as to Cardinals at papal conclaves highlight a more fundamental flaw, namely US government officials’ misunderstanding of intelligence, of the very reason for spying.
Germany goes to the polls this coming week. The German media are desperately trying to convey Spannung (meaning tension and urgency), and party apparatchiks here and there fret about the emoluments of their offices. However, the German voters are united with the rest of humankind in not giving a rip. Frau Merkel will continue to run Germany with this or that coalition. Her principal (Social-Democratic) opponent did well against her in a TV debate but hasn’t been able to think of any socialist demand that Mrs. Merkel’s nominally conservative government hasn’t already fulfilled or credibly promised to fulfill. The differences are about the reimbursement rates for dental care and about Bavaria’s plan to impose highway fees on foreigners—which, to Bavarians, means anyone outside barfing distance of a Munich beer tent. (And, no: none of this is a joke.)
I’m the first to celebrate boredom and civic disengagement—indicia of the rule of law, if not exactly its purposes. But then, this is Germany. If you’ve paid attention to the past millennium or so, you have to worry about what’s smoldering under the surface. Germany is a very large force among democratic nations, and the single largest force in the EU. Her place in the world ought to take front and center in an election—no? No.
- Can we Accelerate Democracy with new information technologies and more transparent rule following and accountability? John McGinnis thinks we can and he stopped by Liberty Law Talk to discuss these ideas.
- Did the War of 1812 reveal the failure of Jeffersonian ideology? Stephen Knott argues that it did in our feature review essay of a new anthology on the War of 1812.
- Something new on healthcare from the National Research Initiative at AEI: “[E]stablishing government financed premium supports to subsidize the cost of health insurance, eliminating incentives for employer-provided health insurance, allowing individualized premiums, and promoting long-term contracts.” Since there are no real policy proposals to counter Obamacare and the seeming drift toward single-payer, it is definitely worth a look.
I’m going to ventilate, yet again and at the risk of further endangering the planet, over climate change—more precisely, the toll that the obsession has taken on our political institutions. Since everything is connected to everything else, I take the liberty of starting far afield—in Germany, and with a map:
The shipwreck off the Italian coast, Bret Stephens writes in the Wall Street Journal, is an apt metaphor for the entire continent. Stephens recounts an old Berlitz ad featuring a German coast guard trainee who receives an SOS call from an English ship: “May day, May day. We are sinking! We are sinking!” “What” replies the nervous trainee: “are you sinking about?” That’s the question that should be asked of Europe’s political as well as maritime captains, Stephens notes: What on earth are they thinking?
A perhaps yet-more apropos joke was told to me many years ago by my then-colleague Radek Sikorski (now Poland’s Foreign Minister, whose gutsy talk on the EU a month ago in Berlin received well-deserved attention):
A Lufthansa jet loaded with passengers from across Europe leaves Frankfurt and, en route to New York, develops engine trouble. The pilot announces through the intercom:
“Ladies and gentlemen, vee vill have to land on the water. But there is no reason for concern. Passengers who can swim, please sit on the left side of the plane. Passengers who cannot swim, please sit on the right.”
The passengers sort themselves; the plane lands on the water; and the pilot comes back on:
“Ladies and gentlemen, unfortunately vee do not have life vests. Passengers on the left, please find the nearest exit. Passengers on the right, thank you for flying Lufthansa.”
A year or so hence, Mrs. Merkel’s parting words?