Thursday, May 31, 2007
This is predictable, but that doesn't make it any less asinine:
Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards says a wave of mergers in the oil industry should be investigated by the Justice Department to see what impact they have had on soaring gasoline prices.
During a campaign stop in Silicon Valley Thursday, Edwards planned to berate the oil industry for "anticompetitive actions" and outline an energy plan he says would reduce oil imports "and get us on a path to be virtually petroleum-free within a generation."
"Vertically integrated companies like Exxon Mobil own every step of the production process -- from extraction to refining to sale at the pump, enabling them to foreclose competition," says an outline of Edward's energy plan.
This is so stupid we are left to choose between two alternatives: John Edwards is an idiot, or he thinks that we are idiots. There is no possible third explanation.
If oil companies were conspiring to control gasoline prices, why are they lower in the United States than any other oil-importing country on Earth? If it is conspiracy, rather than competition, that determines gasoline prices, why are they so volatile? Why do they fall when the world price of crude oil falls? One would think that oil companies would conspire to keep them high even when the world price for crude declines. And why have none of the tens of thousands of people who would have to participate in such a conspiracy decided to bring their evidence to one of John Edwards' colleagues in the class-action bar? Why have none of the numerous politically-motivated investigations of Big Oil in the last 30 years turned up any evidence of price-fixing?
I'll tell you why: Because the petroleum industry remains so fragmented that no conspiracy is possible even if the executives in question were so inclined.
Of course, the claim that "vertically integrated companies like Exxon Mobil own every step of the production process" is false far more often than it is true in a world in which state-owned oil companies manage 80% of the world's supply. Saudi Aramco, Petrobras, Statoil ASA, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and all their corrupt co-monopolists are hardly going to let ExxonMobil keep more than a small fraction of the value of the oil pumped from their national fields. Yes, a cartel is collecting monopoly rents from the world's oil consumers, but it is run from Riyadh, not Houston.
Now, there are bottlenecks in refining capacity, and that gives the owners of refineries the ability to drive higher margins in certain times or places, especially in California because it has banned the most common formulations of gasoline. Tight refinery capacity, particularly for gas that can be sold in California, is now the main reason why gasoline prices can remain stubbornly high even when crude oil prices fall. That invites the question, why have there been no new oil refineries built in the United States in more than thirty years? Do you think it is because a secret cartel of integrated oil companies has subverted their construction, or because government regulations, community activists, environmental agitators, and local property owners have raised the costs and the risks and thereby destroyed the expected rate of return on the necessary investment?
Your answer to that last question more or less determines whether you think John Edwards is an idiot or you are the idiot he's pandering to.
Regular commenter DEC has a blog! Go there for obscure animal news and outrages from the world's darker corners.
Yes, I've just gotten back from Vegas. In the car from Newark airport.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Sitting here as I am in the Starbucks at the Mandalay hotel in Las Vegas, I am behind the curve in the dissection of the Supreme Court's Ledbetter decision, which strictly construed the 180-day time limit under which employees may bring pay discrimination cases under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. At first blush, the decision looks great for employers who need some defense against "springing" claims of discrimination that go back many years. Unfortunately, I think that it is highly likely to result in some miserable unintended consequences, none of which will be an improvement on the status quo, of which more below.
Writing for a 5-4 majority, Princeton's favorite son delivered the opinion of the court (the actual opinions, which I have not yet read, are here(pdf)):
The Supreme Court on Tuesday made it harder for many workers to sue their employers for discrimination in pay, insisting in a 5-to-4 decision on a tight time frame to file such cases. The dissenters said the ruling ignored workplace realities.
The decision came in a case involving a supervisor at a Goodyear Tire plant in Gadsden, Ala., the only woman among 16 men at the same management level, who was paid less than any of her colleagues, including those with less seniority. She learned that fact late in a career of nearly 20 years — too late, according to the Supreme Court’s majority.
The court held on Tuesday that employees may not bring suit under the principal federal anti-discrimination law unless they have filed a formal complaint with a federal agency within 180 days after their pay was set. The timeline applies, according to the decision, even if the effects of the initial discriminatory act were not immediately apparent to the worker and even if they continue to the present day....
Workplace experts said the ruling would have broad ramifications and would narrow the legal options of many employees.
In an opinion by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., the majority rejected the view of the federal agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, that each paycheck that reflects the initial discrimination is itself a discriminatory act that resets the clock on the 180-day period, under a rule known as “paycheck accrual.”
“Current effects alone cannot breathe life into prior, uncharged discrimination,” Justice Alito said in an opinion joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. Justice Thomas once headed the employment commission, the chief enforcer of workers’ rights under the statute at issue in this case, usually referred to simply as Title VII.
Without having read the opinion, I'm nevertheless quite confident that the unintended consequences of Ledbetter will not be good for employers, or at least not the employers who actually deserve some relief from vexatious litigation. There are at least three negative results that immediately suggest themselves.
- At the margin, trial lawyers will drive employment cases to state courts and defendants will not be able to remove them to federal court. The result will be that employees from "blue states" with relatively pro-employee courts and protective laws (think New Jersey and California) will get justice, as it were, manifestly different than employees from states with less protective legislation and relatively pro-employer courts. This will increase, rather than decrease, the already considerable incentives for employers to move from states that are hostile to employers to states that are not (see, e.g., my occasional posts on New Jersey's "war on employers").
- This case will motivate the left like few others, and that significantly increases the risk of legislation that goes far beyond reversing Ledbetter. It is also a political gift to the Democrats, because it creates an ideal opportunity to appeal to every voter who thinks he has a grievance against his boss. Watch for new bills in Congress that purport to reverse Ledbetter but also include all manner of new opportunities for the plaintiff's bar. Watch the Democratic presidential candidates fall over themselves to promise employees a raft of new "rights" that they can hire trial lawyers to assert.
- If Ledbetter is not reversed legislatively, trial lawyers will drive disgruntled employees to altnernative bases for bringing claims. The most obvious alternative would be to allege "harassment" on the basis of protected classification -- sex, race, religion, handicapped status, and so forth. Unfortunately, harassment cases are far uglier than mere pay discrimination cases, for they usually involve a personal attack on the character of an individual. Just as a "fault" requirement for divorce triggers no end of nasty allegations between warring spouses, employers should watch for a surge in harassment allegations. As often as not, they will be on the advice of lawyers who need some basis for the complaint they hope to file.
Yes, the Ledbetter decision does ignores the realities of the work place, but so did the United States Congress when it enacted Title VII. Conservatives are right to say that it is not the Supreme Court's job to fix bad legislation, even if it is more than forty years old. Based on the news reports, Ledbetter seems like a good decision about a badly written written law, and it will appropriately drive Congress toward a legislative solution. Unfortunately, the consequences for employers will not be good regardless of the Congressional reaction. If Congress does nothing, it will drive disgruntled employees toward legal responses that are less attractive for everybody. If Congress does react, it is highly unlikely in this political season to confine itself to a simple reversal of Ledbetter. Either way, the labor market is going to get stickier, which will be bad for both employees and employers.
Of course, I would be delighted to hear that I am wrong. Please comment, especially if you are one of the numerous litigators in the TigerHawk community.
If you visit Las Vegas, be sure to take in the hyponotist comedian Anthony Cools, who plays at the Paris hotel and Casino. He is remarkable -- you will laugh until your sides split. But don't forget to bring your inner adolescent, because Anthony Cools is not "for the whole family."
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
As is obvious from the lame blogging, I've been otherwise engaged. Not only have I been very busy, but I was sick as a dog over the weekend. Now I'm in Vegas. So you can imagination that unhappy combination has kept me away from serious thinking.
Anyway, it has been a couple of weeks since I linked the O'Quiz. Now I remember why. I scored a miserable 5 out of 10, barely above the current average score of 4.8. Pathetic, especially since we know the average will soar once TigerHawk's readers pile in.
On to O'Quiz glory!
Monday, May 28, 2007
Cindy Sheehan is apparently surprised to learn that the Democrats used her for partisan advantage:
Announcing her decision on Memorial Day, the anniversary on which the US remembers its war dead, she said that her announcement had been prompted by the recent hostility she had faced from Democrats.
"I was the darling of the so-called left as long as I limited my protests to George Bush and the Republican party," she wrote. "However, when I started to hold the Democratic party to the same standards that I held the Republican party, support for my cause started to erode, and the 'left' started labelling me with the same slurs that the right used."
On Saturday, in an open letter to Democratic members of Congress, she announced that she was leaving the party because she felt its leaders had failed to change the country's course in Iraq.
I've been awfully hard on Cindy Sheehan in the past, but only because I assumed she knew she was a tool of the partisans and delighted to serve that purpose. It is actually sort of sad to think that all along she believed that her supporters were sincerely interested in victory for her cause, as opposed to victory for their candidates.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
On the brink of tomorrow's face-to-face negotiations with Iran, the United States stands accused of -- say it is so -- spying.
Iran summoned the Swiss ambassador Sunday to protest what it called recently uncovered U.S. espionage networks, state television reported, the day before the Islamic republic planned ambassador-level talks with the U.S. on Iraq.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry's head of American affairs met with Ambassador Philippe Welti and demanded "necessary explanation" of spy networks Iran announced it had uncovered Saturday.
The Swiss embassy has been working as the U.S. interest section in Iran ever since Washington broke its diplomatic ties with the country in response to Iranian militant students storming the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979.
"Recently, several espionage networks were identified that were active, under guidance of the U.S. intelligence apparatus, to commit infiltration and sabotage in western, central and southwestern areas of the country," the television quoted the Iranian official, Ahmad Sobhani, as saying in the meeting.
God, I hope it's true. We need some leverage over these weasels, something short of an empty implicit threat to blow them to kingdom come and our prayer that a few student protestors roll them out of office.
Of course, it would be bad news if the Iranians had actually busted our "espionage networks." I think they have not. If they had and wanted to rattle us before tomorrow's meeting, the mullahs would have quietly killed our agents and mailed the parts to the CIA station in our embassy in Baghdad. Since instead they called the Swiss ambassador in for a good hectoring in front of reporters, we can reasonably suppose that Tehran was looking to make cheap propaganda points rather than send a real message to the United States. The only "spies" the Iranians have arrested are utterly innocent reporters and academics.
In any case, I certainly hope the Iranians are right that we are subverting them, even if they think they're lying. Yes, they are paranoid, but it doesn't mean we're not out to get them.
If you are from New Jersey, you don't go to the beach, to the ocean, or down to the sea in ships. You go "down the shore." Now, there are a great many rules, town by town, that strictly regulate what may be done down the shore. One in particular caught my eye:
Many of the beach towns on Long Beach Island, one of New Jersey's most popular summer vacation spots, have laws prohibiting people from digging deeper than 12 inches in the sand. They stem from an accident several years ago in which a teenager died when a deep hole he was digging collapsed, burying him.
This year, the prohibition is for a different reason: More than 1,000 pieces of unexploded World War I-era military munitions were unwittingly pumped ashore during a winter beach replenishment project decades after being dumped at sea. Authorities say they've removed everything they could, but can't guarantee more munitions don't remain hidden.
I've never understood why people bury surplus munitions, even at sea. Wouldn't it be much more entertaining -- and safer for our progeny -- to explode all that stuff?
Oh, and don't ride a camel on the beach in Wildwood.
CWCID: Joe's Dartblog.
It seems to me that it is almost impossible to post a picture of Milka Duno, a Venezuelan woman who earned a position in the line-up at Indianapolis this afternoon, without coming off as sexist in one way or another. Am I sexist because it certainly appears that I'm posting the picture for, er, reasons that have nothing to do with her driving ability? Or is it sexist because I'm implying that she must not have driving ability? It's a no-win situation. Oh, well.
Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!
MORE: "Yes, we are pigs."
Saturday, May 26, 2007
This weekend, donate your frequent flier miles to injured soldiers and their families. The donated "Hero miles" will be used to get free tickets for injured American soldiers to fly home to visit their families, or to bring their families to visit them in the hospital. Most of the major airlines are participating, and have agreed to match all contributions between 6 a.m. today and 11:59 p.m. Memorial Day mile-for-mile.
Can you think of an easier, more appropriate Memorial Day cause? Give your miles today.
Friday, May 25, 2007
Don Surber points out that all the usual lefties who claim objectivity -- Amnesty International, The New York Times, and so forth -- have been silent on the revelation of al Qaeda's systematic methods of torture.
Read Mr. Surber's post, and then consider this: What accounts for this asymmetry? Is it that these organizations believe that they ought to apply different standards to the United States and al Qaeda? Is it that they would prefer to drive world opinion against the United States than against al Qaeda? Or is it because their purpose is to effect change, and they know that the United States is susceptible to change through moral suasion and al Qaeda is not? If the last, then what else will change the pro-torture stance of radical Islamists? If it is the war that America is leading against the jihad -- which global public opinion increasingly opposes -- then does the asymmetrical publicity of torture advance the interests of all the prisoners in the world, or only those lucky few in the hands of the United States?
Never mind the obvious point that not even unreconstructed anti-Americans accuse the United States of using methods comparable to those taught by al Qaeda.
CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.
MORE: Richard Fernandez is good on this, too: "Torture and the meaning of words."
It's stiff upper lip time, guys. Things are "pretty bad, but not Jimmy Carter bad":
For the younger reader, perhaps already infused with a nostalgia that recalls the 1970s as a time of peace and prosperity, a brief reminder of the golden era of Carter is in order. It wasn’t all disco and flared trousers and sex without condoms. Also fashionable in those days were unemployment, inflation and communism.
The US jobless rate was more than 10 per cent. Inflation touched 15 per cent. Soviet troops marched unmolested into Afghanistan. America watched helpless as its diplomats were held hostage by Iranian revolutionaries for 444 days. In the rest of the world, from Latin America to Asia, American power yielded to the communist advance; economically, America was being bested by Japan and Germany.
Not only that, but the stock market was in an extended bear market that had begun in 1966, and would not end until the summer of 1982. The result was that money poured out of financial assets into inanimate objects -- gold, silver, and collectibles and other supposedly "hard" assets -- always a bad sign. It was, after all, a time of national "malaise".
What should Americans do now? Buck up!
Steady on. Once Americans get into a funk, there really is no stopping them. It’s an old truth that things are never as good or as bad as they seem and so it is now.
Start with economics. America is not going to be overtaken by China any time in the next century. So large is the US advantage that, even growing at 3 per cent, the country’s economy adds more to the level of global activity than China does growing at 10 per cent.
Its soft power may have been attenuated these past few years, but not destroyed. Who is there to replace America? China? Do me a favour. Does anyone out there really think they would prefer to live in China rather than America? Europe? Viewed from the comforting perspective of a pavement café in Paris, Europe might look a more appealing place. But the continent is in the midst of a long, slow suicide; falling birthrates and a moral surrender to the forces of relativism have left it an easy prey for less tolerant cultures.
There’s no denying that Iraq is a self-inflicted wound and an energy-sapping one at that. But the scale of the damage to America there can be overstated too. All we’ve really learnt in the past five years is that even the US is probably not powerful enough to remake 700 years of history in five years. That doesn’t mean America is weak, just less strong than it thought it was.
Of course, a president, an inept one, can set back the course of a nation’s progress. Like Mr Carter before him, Mr Bush’s ledger is heavy on the liabilities. But America recovered from Mr Carter, thanks to good leadership and the ingenuity of a people whose great gift is their constant capacity to recreate themselves. Who’s betting it won’t do so again?
Of course, "not as bad as Carter" is hardly a rallying cry. If the Democrats produce anybody of Ronald Reagan's stature they will be very tough to beat in 2008.
MORE: For those of you who believe that America's troubles in the world and anti-Americanism is "different this time," reread Gordon Sinclair's editorial from 1973. Sinclair was a Canadian broadcaster, and until this editorial he was not known for being particularly supportive of the United States. Quite to the contrary, my parents, who listened to him on the radio when we lived in Ontario from 1965-1969, considered him to be quite anti-American.
Ape escapes, goes on 3-hour rampage
An orangutan chewed through her cage and went on a three-hour rampage at a Taiwan entertainment park until authorities subdued it with a stun gun, a park employee said Thursday.
The 19-year-old primate, named "Little Blackie," turned over iceboxes, garbage cans and motor scooters near the ticketing gates of Santao Mountain Entertainment Area in Kaohsiung County after her escape Wednesday, said a park worker surnamed Hsu.
"She just turned everything upside down," Hsu said.
About two hours later, a county agricultural team shot the orangutan with a stun gun, she said. No human or beast was injured.
An 11-year-old gorilla burst out of its enclosure at a zoo in the Dutch city of Rotterdam Friday, attacked a woman and went on a rampage in the zoo's cafeteria before being recaptured.
But is it "ownership" to buy a house with a no money down, interest only loan? That sounds a lot like renting to me, except with greater risk to my credit score and other assets if for some reason I can't keep up with the payments. The fact that my name is on the deed, is that such a great thing that billions of dollars in public funds are allocated to encourage me to sign it there?
Why was this myth created and perpetuated?
Chistopher Westley, writing for The Daily Reckoning, addresses this question in succinct and I thing accurate manner:
Home ownership was the American dream only to the extent that housing protected Americans from monetary inflation. Presidential candidates this year will wax ad nauseam that home ownership is the American Dream and that this dream is now too expensive for average Americans. What they won't talk about is how government policies, and specifically monetary policies, help bring thisI think Westley is correct. Home ownership is seen as virtuous and a goal to be attained because of the financial stability it has historically provided families over the long term. In real return, no one gets rich from a house, but home prices tend to keep pace with inflation over time. Of course if you buy it all with borrowed money, you don't really own it. In today's market "Home Ownership" has lost its meaning, and for many is unlikely to provide the protections it has in the past.
What is rarely asked is why home ownership ever became the American Dream. The dream was never so much to own a home for the sake of it. Rather, the real dream has always been to protect wealth from the evils of inflation, and the middle-class housing market generally served that purpose. Housing was the middle class's best hedge against a growing government intent on expanding its scope and power by inflating the money supply.
That won't stop our politicians from continuing to encourage it at all costs, however.
Unlike virtually every other conservative blogger in the universe, I have not written about the immigration bill. I just am not interested enough in the subject to have learned enough to write about it coherently. I know I should care passionately. Just can't. It's an obvious character defect.
That said, I agree with virtually everything that Andy McCarthy wrote on the subject in this post.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
This is a uniquely American story:
Zach Doty is raising eyebrows by taking the Second Amendment for a walk. Doty, who turned 18 last month, has been stopped by police twice in the past month after citizens spotted him with a loaded 9mm Glock pistol in a hip holster in plain view. No citations were issued because Idaho code allows residents 18 and older to openly carry a firearm in public. To carry a concealed weapon, you must be 21 and have a permit.
The second time officers checked out Zach -- on Sunday at Poleline and Greensferry -- his 15-year-old brother, Steven, was carrying a .22-caliber rifle in a sling on his back. Again, there was no wrongdoing because teens 13 to 17, with parental permission, are allowed by Idaho law to carry a rifle.
The home-schooled brothers said they intend to continue to openly carry guns in public on a regular basis for self defense -- both as a crime deterrent and to educate others that it's the public's right.
Post Falls Police Chief Cliff Hayes said his agency is still adapting to the teens carrying guns. "Zach is exercising a right given under law to a greater degree than other people have in my 20-plus year history here," he said. He said officers will continue to respond to calls to verify it is the Dotys and he encourages the public not to assume that it is them. "We have always stopped people walking with guns in Post Falls," he said. "We check them out and see why. If he was older we would not be stopping him (repeatedly), but he looks young and all of the patrol does not know him yet."
Officers have been given Zach's picture so they can become familiar with him. Hayes said Zach did not notify police he was going to openly carry, so reports of the teens walking with guns caught the agency by surprise. Zach did not have identification on him to verify he was 18 during Sunday's stop, but his mother responded with a medical card for verification. "In the future, when the public calls, patrol will drive by and if it is Zach, they will just clear the call without contact," Hayes said. "We'll leave him alone unless a law is being broken."
Hayes said he has met with Zach and Jude to explain some of the public's concern and that many people don't know about the open carry law. "This is going to alarm some residents, but it is still current law," he said. "Most of the public does not understand that this is legal."
I wonder if this sort of thing will catch on, or cause such hysteria that the laws will be changed.
(h/t Survivalblog) (corrected)
A lot of things happened in the late Sixties, and we are about to "remember" them all. Gird yourselves for a spate of fortieth anniversary retrospectives, complete with the obligatory implications for today. Next year will be even more retrospectish.
Forty years ago yesterday, Egypt's president Gamal Abdal Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, an act of war both because Israel had said that it would be and because law and history have long regarded it as such. The Egyptian blockade followed by one week Nasser's demand that the United Nations withdraw its blue helmets from the Sinai -- they had been there keeping the peace since 1956 -- and the mobilization of Syria's army. These and many other provocations eventually led to 7:10 a.m., June 5, the moment when Israel launched its jets in a surprising and devestating first strike against the Egyptian air force. So began the shooting phase of the Six Day War, one of the most astonishing military victories in history.
The New Yorker's David Remnick has published a review essay in the current issue of that magazine, "The Seventh Day: Why the Six-Day War is still being fought." It promises to be one of the more thoughtful of those retrospectives, focused on the competing versions of that war rendered by Michael Oren (the spectacular Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East) and Tom Segev (1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East, which I have not read). The wise among you will read the whole thing, but if review essays in The New Yorker aren't your bag, consider at least this:
For the Israelis, the 1967 war was a triumph of such miraculous speed and fantastic territorial consequences that its leading military commander, Moshe Dayan, quickly helped brand it “the Six-Day War”––a deliberate echo of the six days of creation in Genesis. (In the Arab world, the defeat was such a humiliation that when it was spoken of at all it was commonly referred to as an-naksah, the “setback,” an echo of al-nakba, the “catastrophe,” of 1948.) The Israeli victory changed the country in nearly every aspect. The response, both within the country and among Jews abroad, ranged from the joyful to the distinctly messianic—a messianism that helped lead to the occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Sinai, and the Golan Heights, and the establishment of one settlement after another. It was a war that Israelis regarded as existential in importance––defeat could well have meant the end of the state after less than twenty years––and yet winning had Pyrrhic consequences. Out of it came forty years of occupation, widespread illegal settlements, the intensification of Palestinian nationalism, terrorism, counterattacks, checkpoints, failed negotiations, uprisings, and ever-deepening distrust. What greater paradox of history: a war that must be won, a victory that results in consuming misery and instability.
This, I think, is directionally correct, even if the emphasis on Israel's supposed attitude in victory -- always Israel -- is inherently unfair. The Arabs, after all, did not have to fight this war (Nasser said later, "If I had known the Army wasn't ready I wouldn't have gone to war") but did because of their own hubris and because the Soviet Union urged them (of which more below). If we cared about Arab actions we would be forced to admit that they created the circumstances under which the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan fell into Israel's hands. This is particularly true of the West Bank, which Israel did not attack preemptively, but only after Jordan joined the war notwithstanding Israel's promise that it would not attack if Jordan stayed out. Is it really true, then, that Israeli "messianism" led to the occupation, or was it the obvious consequence of a shocking and massive military victory over an enemy that had waged a war of choice?
To be fair to Remnick, he is reviewing revisionist histories of that war, histories that look at Israel unromantically and often from the left. These historians -- all of them Israeli -- look at the contemporaneous statements and recorded memories of politicians and generals and rabbis and argue that Israel was ultimately a victim of imperial hubris. Maybe, but it might also be the cherry-picking of a few damning quotations from the hubbub of democracy. Just as one cannot derive the intentions of the United States from the bleatings of any particular general, the suggestion from the IDF's chief rabbi, flush with victory, that "now was the moment to blow up the Dome of the Rock" may mean exactly nothing. Was it more important that Shlomo Goren said these things, or that his commander, Uzi Narkis, refused the suggestion and threatened General Goren with arrest?
The asymmetry goes beyond Israel's hubris in victory. Revisionists often adopt the argument of the Arabs that Israel is the product of imperialism, and that the occupation of the West Bank is at base colonial. But what of the Soviets? Remnick again:
By the spring of 1967, tensions had begun to escalate. Soviet diplomats informed Syria and Egypt, wrongly, that Israel was about to launch a full-scale invasion of Syria, further inflaming Nasser. According to Foxbats Over Dimona: The Soviets' Nuclear Gamble in the Six-Day War (Yale; $26), a new book by the Israeli writers Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez, the Soviet Union was so anxious about Israel’s nuclear capabilities that it did everything it could to provoke a war. At the same time, the Americans, obsessed with the catastrophic war in Vietnam, were offering little assurance of help––“Israel will not be alone unless it decides to do it alone,” Lyndon Johnson, delphically, told Abba Eban, Israel’s foreign minister––and Charles de Gaulle, who had supplied Israel with Mirage and Mystère fighters, the core of the Israeli Air Force, now refused support, darkly warning Eshkol against a preëmptive attack. Israel felt isolated, Egypt emboldened.
Remnick does not make the point, but I will: the loss of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan is the result of imperialism, but it is Soviet imperialism. One superpower pushed its clients into a war of conquest, and the other did not. The unwillingness of Western academics to describe communists as "imperialist" stands between Israel and an honest reading of the history.
In any case, the remarkable thing is that all of these historians are themselves Israeli and remain citizens of good standing in that country. In that part of the world, that fact alone is a measure of Israel's justice. Indeed, there are few countries that examine their own national myths with the courage of Israel, and none of them are among the Arabs.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
The president of France, Nicholas Sarkozy, has stepped up:
French President Nicholas Sarkozy called Wednesday for sanctions on Iran to be tightened if the country does not adhere to the West's demands to cease its nuclear agenda.
If Iran attains nuclear weapons, Sarkozy warned, a road to an arms race will be paved that could endanger Israel and southeast Europe, he said during an interview with a German magazine.
Sarkozy announced that France will join the official US-led struggle against head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed ElBaradei, who recommended that Iran be allowed to enrich uranium in some of its nuclear plants.
The official TigerHawk ban on French jokes remains in force until further notice.
Apparently, it is Animated Maps Day at TigerHawk. Check out this short graphical history of American wars.
The CIA is congratulating itself for having "plugged" leaks to the media.
I haven't decided what's more pathetic, the thought that the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, a bright man whose main job is to anticipate what our enemies might do next and whose other job is four-star general, may actually think the kind of strategic leaking we've seen for years can be stopped by "an in-house policy of open communication"; or the thought of a public official who thinks a good way to relieve his "frustrations" is to violate a solemn oath, commit a felony, compromise our national security secrets, and abet those trying to kill us.
Frankly, I just want our spies to keep our secrets and not subvert the policies of our elected officials. Apparently, that is too much to ask from the CIA, which really should enact a simple rule that bars any employee of that agency other than designated press officers from communicating to or for the benefit of any reporter, under any circumstances, about any matter involving the United States. Knowing violation of that rule should involve automatic termination, whether or not the subject of the discussion is classified. Too demanding you say? Why? Any public company has the same rule, and the stakes are much lower.
MORE: This story suggests that the CIA has, in fact, failed to plug the leaks, victory lap notwithstanding.
Tomorrow, New Jersey's legislature will vote on yet another proposal calculated to drive jobs out of the state. Between the plaintiff-friendly courts and the structure of the corporate income tax and the impending requirement to give workers family leave with pay and no end of other issues, we will be left with government employees (there are an absurd number of those in this state), retail workers, personal service jobs that cannot be moved (think gasoline pumpers, barbers, and massage therapists), professionals, and executives who want to live here.
In a living, growing economy or a vibrant ecosystem, eventually something will grow in every niche. For instance...
This is the most interesting thing I've seen on YouTube in a month of Sundays, the American Civil War in four minutes.
Looked at this way, the Confederacy seems almost alive, an organism fighting for survival against another pounding it, strangling it, finally killing it.
UPDATE: YouTube is taking it down soon, and has now forbidden embeds. Click here, and do so quickly.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
A cute yet disturbing graphical depiction of America's relative fatness:
CWCID: Ezra Klein.
She stood twenty feet at the shoulder and was fifty feet long. She weighed about six tons. Her legs were more than ten feet long and packed the most powerful muscles that had ever evolved on a vertebrate. When she walked, she carried her tail high and her stride was twelve to fifteen feet. At a run she could attain a speed of thirty miles per hour, but raw speed was less important than agility, flexibility, and lightening reflexes. Her feet were about three and a half feet long, armed with four scimitarlike claws, three in the front and a dewclawlike spur in back. She walked on her toes. A single well-aimed kick could disembowel a hundred-foot-long duckbill dinosaur.
Her jaws were three feet long and held sixty teeth. She used the four incisorlike teeth in the front for stripping and peeling meat off bone. Her killing teeth were located in a lethal row on the sides, some as long as twelve inches, root included, and as big around as a child's fist. They were serrated on the backside, so that after biting she could hold her prey while sawing and cutting backward. Her bite could remove more than ten cubic feet of meat at a time, weighing several hundred pounds. A warren of windows, holes and channels in her skull gave it enormous strength and lightness, as well as flexibility. She had two different biting techniques: an overbite that cut through meat like scissors; and a "nutcracker" bite for crushing armor and bone. Her palate was supported by thin struts that allowed the skull to flatten out sideways with the force of a bite, and then stretch to allow massive chunks of meat to be swallowed hole.
With her overlapping jaw muscles, she could deliver a biting force estimated in excess of one hundred thousands pounds per square inch, enough to cut through steel.
Her two arms were small, no larger than a human's, but many times stronger. They were equipped with two recurved claws set at a ninety-degree angle to maximize their gripping and slashing capability. The back vertebrae, where the ribs attach, were as large as coffee cans, to support her belly, which could be carrying more than a quarter ton of freshly consumed meat.
She stank. Her mouth contained bits and pieces of rotting meat and rancid grease, trapped in special crevices in her teeth, which gave her bite an added lethality. Even if her victim escaped the initial attack, it would likely die in short order of massive infection or blood poisoning. The bones she expelled in her feces were sometimes almost completely dissolved by the potent hydrochloric acids with which she digested her food.
The occipital condyle bone in her neck was the size of a grapefruit, and it allowed her to turn her head almost 180 degrees so that she could snap and bite in all directions. Like a human being, her eyes looked ahead, giving her stereoscopic vision, and she had an excellent sense of smell and of hearing. Her favored prey were the herds of duckbill dinosaurs that moved noisily through the great forests, calling and trumpeting to keep the herd together and the young with their mothers. But she was an opportunist, and would take anything that was meat.
She hunted mostly by ambush; a long, stealthy, upwind approach, followed by a short rush. She was well camouflaged, wearing the colors of the forest, a rich pattern of greens and browns.
As a juvenile she hunted in packs, but when she matured she worked alone. She did not attack her prey and fight it to the death. Instead, she fell upon her victim and delivered a single, savage bite, her teeth cutting through armor and plate to reach vital organs and pulsing arteries; and at the moment when she had fixed her prey like a worm on a pin, she cocked a leg and gave it a ripping kick. Then she released it and retreated to a safe distance while it futilely roared, slashed, convulsed, and bled to death.
Like many predators, she also scavenged; she would eat anything as long as it was meat. Sinking her teeth into a suppurating, maggot-packed carcass satisfied her as much as swallowing whole a still beating heart.
Monday, May 21, 2007
If you are a male person seeking to make the acquaintance of a woman via an online dating service, follow this advice. It seems right to me.
If you are one of my children, you are required to read Bill Whittle's latest essay, in which he proposes that Western civilization can avoid the fate of every other civilization before it. Part I. Part II. Everybody else only ought to read it.
CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.
Anyone who is not trying to gain partisan advantage should think seriously about the best Iraq policy for the United States in the coming months and years. The purpose of this post is to propose a framework for considering both the Bush administration's policy and alternative policies offered by both the right and left. Toward that end, I offer a series of minimalist assertions, delightfully free of evidence and supporting linkage. Each assertion or question is numbered; please comment below with reference to the corresponding number. (Background note: Newer readers may want to look at the most recent edition of my "victory conditions" post, published about a year ago at The Belmont Club. It includes my basic thinking about the intersection of al Qaeda and rogue states.)
I. Our geopolitical interests in Iraq
The geopolitical interests of the United States and its allies in Iraq are numerous and in some cases conflicting. There is no single dominating interest. Rather, they are best described as alternatives, with one alternative being better than the other(s) if we set all other interests equal.
Setting all other interests equal (and in no particular order),
I-1. We are better off if Iraq has the capability and the will to interdict international terrorists (whether Sunni jihadis or Shiite radicals) than if it does not. Interdiction in this context includes the prevention of attacks on American or allied targets outside Iraq that have been planned, trained for, supplied, armed, manned, funded, or launched from Iraq, and denying refuge to people who have done any of those things.
I-2. We are better off if the government of Iraq and its domestic allies (including, if necessary, domesticated militia) can and will interdict international terrorists without our direct military involvement than with our direct military involvement. This is because our direct military involvement costs dollars and casualties that we would prefer not to spend.
I-3. We are better off if we have the option of using some of the military bases that we have built in Iraq for the long term than if we do not have that option.
I-4. We are better off if the government of Iraq is an active ally of the United States than if it is not. By "active ally" I mean generally supportive of the United States in geopolitical matters.
I-5. We are better off if the government of Iraq promotes a civil society that discourages or prevents expansionist Islamism or another form of destabilizing despotism than if it does not.
I-6. We are better off if Iraq does not pose a threat in fact to neighbors that might respond with destabilizing armament programs or actual military action.
I-7. We are better off if Iraq's geopolitical neighbors do not perceive Iraq to pose a threat than if they do.
I-8. We are better off if Iraq generally frustrates Iran's geopolitical objectives than if it generally promotes them.
I-9. We are better off if Iraq's ethnic groups -- the Shiites, the Sunni Arabs, the Turkmen and, of course, the Kurds -- do not promote their own transnational solidarity than if they do.
I-10. We are better off if Iraq is able to pump and export its oil than if it cannot. More controversial subpoint: We don't care about the nation of incorporation of the particular oil companies that export Iraqi oil, only that they do so.
I-11. We are better off if other great powers -- such as Russia and China -- are not able to exert significant influence over Iraq than if they do.
I-12. We prefer that there not be a massive humanitarian crisis in Iraq either during our occupation or after our withdrawal. We prefer this both for humanitarian reasons and because we know that many people in the world, including those who actually cause that crisis, will use it for propaganda purposes against us for years to come.
If you are inclined to comment, please propose additional American interests that I might have missed or take issue with those offered above.
II. The military, political and geopolitical circumstances of Iraq, including the interests of others
While I have read much more on Iraq than the average aware American, there are many people in the world, including readers of this blog, who know more about that sorry land than I do. That said, most public discussion of the path forward assumes widespread agreement over the status quo when in fact there is no such consensus. The statements below reflect my beliefs about the status quo, based on my own reading, but they may not prove correct or hold up to more expert or thoughtful scrutiny.
II-1. Inside Iraq, there has yet to emerge a leader or combination of leaders with the combination of charisma, bureaucratic competence, reputation, and vision to lead a unified Iraq and secure a substantial monopoly on the use of force in that country.
II-2. It is not clear whether the failure of Iraqi leaders to emerge is because (i) there are no such people after the suffocation of the Ba'athist years, (ii) such leaders can not emerge while the United States occupies Iraq (this might be because they do not want to appear as American lackeys, or because such leaders would want to use tactics that American officials would have to oppose), or (iii) such leaders are not inclined to step forward when they cannot secure their own lives or those of their family. There is a good possibility that all three reasons are true.
II-3. Notwithstanding the absence of effective national leadership, most individual Iraqis would be better off in a unified country than in a divided Iraq.
II-4. The United States, Turkey and Saudi Arabia would much prefer that Iraq stay unified, although Turkey and Saudi Arabia have markedly different preferences regarding the rights of regional and ethnic minorities (Turkey, which is afraid of Kurdish nationalism, does not want strong minority rights, but Saudi Arabia, which is concerned with the status of Iraqi Sunnis and worried about a powerful Shiite state on its northern border, does).
II-5. The United States prefers Iraq to stay unified because it increases the chances that it will act as an effective buffer to Iranian expansionism, thereby decreasing the insecurity of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arabs, and because a fragmented Iraq might have unpoliced spaces from which al Qaeda and Hezbollah could launch international attacks.
II-6. Contrary to the unsupported assertion of the Iraq Study Group, it is far from clear that Iran prefers a unified Iraq to at least some of the alternatives. In particular, a pliant Shiite client state in southern Iraq would increase Iran's strategic options in the Persian Gulf. Iran would have to balance this against the risk of unchecked Iraqi Kurdish nationalism and direct intervention from increasingly insecure Sunni Arab states.
II-7. Al Qaeda strongly opposes the unification of Iraq under any imaginable regime. Not only have the jihadis repeatedly demonstrated this through their actions, which have had the purpose of fomenting division within Iraq more than the eviction of the United States, but it stands to reason. In the absence of a supportive regime (such as the Taliban regime in Afghanistan), al Qaeda needs "open spaces" within failed states.
II-8. In short, a unified Iraq would allow, or have a chance to allow, many more of the favorable outcomes set forth in the first section above than two or three devolved sub-states would achieve.
II-9. A national leader or leadership for Iraq would have -- broadly speaking -- four means for unifying the country: (i) conquest, which would be extremely bloody given the relative military parity among the three main ethnic groups, (ii) sharing the spoils, or some less unsavory form of legalized bribery, (iii) nationalism, and (iv) negotiation followed by agreement among the elites who can deliver large constituents into a national grand bargain.
II-10. Conquest, which is really coercion through violence, might take two forms. If the United States participates -- as it is at the moment with the "surge" -- it will be less brutal, less likely to involve indirect or even direct intervention from regional powers, more ecumenical, and less "legitimate" in the eyes of many Iraqis, virtually all other Arabs and Muslims, and most of the rest of the world. If the United States withdraws, the coercion to unify the country will be more brutal by orders of magnitude, more likely to involve regional powers (virtually all of which are unconstrained in their willingness to brutalize their adversaries), more aligned along tribal and confessional lines, and -- paradoxically -- more legitimate in the eyes of most of the world. The legitimacy of any war to maintain Iraq's unity is important, because it is directly related to the sustainability of the surviving authority over the long term.
II-11. My best guess is that a strong and legitimate government of a unified Iraq will emerge more quickly if the United States withdraws. This is because the international journalists will mostly leave if the United States leaves, so the combatants will be free to use brutal methods that will more quickly and decisively exhaust the losers' will to fight. Unfortunately, we cannot reliably predict the nature of that ultimate national government.
II-12. It is possible that the slaughter following the withdrawal of the United States from Iraq will be terrible to behold. Your view of America's culpability for that slaughter will depend on whether you generally regard Iraqis as having the free will, or as having been buffeted by events beyond their control. In any case, it will be very difficult to predict the geopolitical consequences of that slaughter, because it depends on the nature and strength of the government that ultimately emerges.
II-13. Bribery (or other sharing of the spoils of mineral extraction) is a necessary but insufficient basis for unifying the country. The entire interested world should press Iraq to develop a reasonably equitable means for distributing the proceeds from oil and gas across sectarian and tribal lines.
II-14. Nationalism for the nation of Iraq does not appear to be a particularly powerful force. If it were, opposition to the United States would be far more unified than it is. Indeed, such Iraqi nationalism as there is may be a function of the presence of foreign soldiers on Iraqi soil. The voluntary withdrawal of the United States would probably weaken Iraqi nationalism. Perhaps the result would be different if Iraqis built a national myth around the idea that they forcibly ejected the United States, but that would certainly be contrary to American interests in the region.
II-15. Negotiation has the advantage of not needing a single leader or group of leaders with national reach. It requires only sufficiently strong and legitimate regional and ethnic leadership, and the widespread realization that all the alternatives will be worse for virtually everybody than the voluntary sharing of power. To foreigners, and particularly the United States, negotiation and agreement is by far the most appealing means for unifying Iraq under a single government. It involves the least ugliness, and it would probably result in the most attractive form of government from the perspective of the United States and other Western countries. In all likelihood, a negotiated national bargain would probably permit the United States to achieve a large proportion of its preferred outcomes in Iraq. For this reason, the United States has pushed Iraqis to negotiate with each other for four years. We have not really been successful, though, because negotiations are very easy to disrupt. Assassination is an extremely effective means for deterring or interdicting discussion between tribal, ethnic, and confessional groups, yet this is exactly what must happen for there to be a negotiated national settlement. Indeed, it is hard to see how Iraq reaches a negotiated settlement without substantially more security for the people who need to forge a national compact.
II-16. The purpose of General Petraeus' "surge" strategy is therefore to foster a national settlement by negotiation. The surge may face long odds, and Iraqis may not in any case negotiate their way to a national government, but without the surge the only obvious path to a national government is through conquest and coercion. Since that is an awful prospect, it is hard to see why we would not at least try the surge, even if its chances for success were slim.
II-17. Recognizing that the most probable result is that the surge will fail and Iraq's leaders will not negotiate their way to a settlement, Iraq is therefore most likely to unify after one group of armed men succeeds in conquering or coercing the competing groups of armed men. There will be much more fighting before there is less.
II-18. Today, Iraq is filled with terrorists, insurgents, and militiamen who have taken up arms. Eventually, they will stop fighting in Iraq. When that happens, it will be because they have (i) died, suffered a debilitating injury, or gone to a prison substantially more brutal than any conceived in the office of the American SecDef; (ii) been co-opted or otherwise recruited into the army of the victorious side; (iii) laid down their arms and return to the fields and businesses and cities and villages; and (iv) left Iraq to wage war elsewhere. Many experts believe that Europe will be a principal target of the post-Iraq jihadi diaspora. So will Saudi Arabia and Iran.
II-19. Of the results in the list above, history suggests that (iii) almost never happens, and (i) and (ii) in most cases would be vastly preferable to (iv). (Outside the United States, Israel, and a tiny number of other countries, soldiers almost never lay down their arms to return happily to civilian life because their civilian life is miserable. Fighting confers more excitement and prestige than the ordinary tedium of civilian life, so civilian life has to be pretty good to drag insurgents out of their holes.)
II-20. There is one circumstance under which (iv) (an Iraqi jihadi diaspora) would be preferable to the co-opting of soldiers in the national government, and that is if the winning side has the inclination to bend the resources of the new Iraqi state to the services of transnational Islamic terrorism (whether Sunni or Shiite). This is because seasoned terrorists do a lot more damage when they have the resources of a state at their disposal.
II-21. At such time it becomes obvious that the Iraqis will not negotiate their way to a grand bargain without a much more violent internal struggle, America will need to decide whether there is a strategy that can influence the ultimate outcome in our favor.
Release the hounds.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
I'll admit it. I love the Kingston Trio. Yes, they were lefty, but in a time when anybody with a rebellious streak was.
Listen to their hits in .wav files here, including the greatest mass transit song of all time, "Charlie and the MTA."
Saturday, May 19, 2007
So, apparently an Egyptian Muslim scholar is encouraging lactating women to breastfeed their male colleagues. At the office. Because it will discourage sexual harrassment.
I shit you not.
I sync my iPod on Saturday mornings and listen to accumulated podcasts while running errands and putting away the groceries. This afternoon I listened to the most recent edition of the Glenn and Helen Show, an interview of Conn Iggulden, the author of The Dangerous Book For Boys. Iggulden talks about the tremendous changes during the last thirty years in the way we rear and educate our boys, wonders about the damage we might be doing to them, and offers some hope that the pendulum is finally swinging back again. If you are a boy, a parent of boys, or a teacher of boys, do not miss the podcast.
Gerald Seib thinks that Iran is about to become a significant factor ($WSJ) in the presidential race.
Note to 2008 presidential contenders: It isn't just Iraq any longer. Iran is about to move in as a significant headache for all presidential wannabes.
Iran will reach this status next week, when the International Atomic Energy Agency issues a report on the country's nuclear capabilities. That report is expected to declare that a recent inspection showed Iran making faster progress than previously thought toward enriching uranium on a large scale.
That will prompt a rethinking of how much closer Iran is toward having the capability to produce nuclear warheads. Experts will continue to disagree over exactly how close it may be. But, for the presidential candidates, this still will produce a special kind of quandary -- and an especially acute one for Democratic contenders.
Republicans can stake out a position that at once declares support for the president, hostility toward Iran, a commitment to negotiations, and a willingness to attack Iran as a "last resort." None of that will alienate the Republican activists, except perhaps the part about negotiating (of which a bit more below).
Democrats, on the other hand, have to choose between the geopolitical nonsense demanded by their activist base and the obvious point that taking military action "off the table" will actually reduce our ability to negotiate our way to a sustainable resolution of our confrontation with Iran:
The balance is trickier for Democrats because they are playing to a party base that has become increasingly antiwar because of the conflict in Iraq. Moreover, the top candidates are operating in a field where fringe candidates are disparaging any suggestion that military action against Iran is an option. Thus, the formula that might work for Republicans such as Mr. Gilmore -- a call for economic sanctions that leaves open the prospect of military action -- is tougher to pull off for a Democrat.
The difficulty was illustrated at the first Democratic debate last month, when Illinois Sen. Barack Obama was thrown on the defensive on Iran. In a recent, extensive national-security speech, he had declared "we must never take the military option off the table" in trying to stop the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea.
That brought attacks from the left, from both former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who virtually accused Sen. Obama of war-mongering. He responded by saying Iran's possession of nuclear weapons would be a "major threat," but also felt compelled to add: "I think it would be a profound mistake for us to initiate a war with Iran." The balancing act, for him and others, isn't going to get any easier in the days ahead.
The interesting question is whether these dynamics will operate to constrain the Bush administration even more than it has been. As recently as last week Washington insiders were predicting a rapprochement between the United States and Iran, the rumor being that the relative doves were ascendant in the White House.
There is evidence that US-Iran relations are reaching a tipping point. Javier Solana, the EU’s top foreign affairs official, has told the White House that based on his conversations with the Ali Larijani, the Iranian nuclear negotiator, he believes that Iran wants a way out of confrontation. “Solana told us,” a White House official commented, “that our financial sanctions are having such a drastic impact that Tehran wants a deal.” However, finding compromise language will be challenging. The Iranians are still insisting that they will not surrender any rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that are available to other members, including an enrichment program. The US requires verifiable guarantees that Iran cannot and will not advance to a nuclear weapons capability. “Bush faces a hard choice,” the White House official continued. “Any deal will likely fall short of his original requirement that Iran abandons its enrichment program. He will have to overrule some of his closest advisers, including Vice-President Cheney to whom any agreement with Tehran is anathema.” Based on other conversations inside the Administration, our sense is that Bush is inclined to strike a bargain with Iran.
If Seib is right -- and I think he is -- that Iran will muck up the Democrats, will Republican partisans who might otherwise support the right deal with Iran object because it will perversely help the Democrats? Or are such people scarcer than hen's teeth anyway?
Finally, if the International Atomic Energy Agency comes to the expected conclusion that Iran is much closer to bomb-grade uranium enrichment capacity than previously thought, will that be another humiliation for the intelligence officials who prepare the "National Intelligence Estimate" (the last version of which declared only 21 months ago that Iran was approximately 10 years from that achievement)? Will they now accuse the White House of having pressured them into a too-dovish assessment of Iran's capabilities? Or will their original assessment, once offered as proof that the Bush administration was inflating the threat posed as Iran, now be regarded as another example of the Bush administration's incompetence?
The one thing we do know is that the press is unlikely to acknowledge that the White House had good reason to worry that our spies had underestimated Iraq's programs back in 2002.
Every decade or so the discovery of a new "hoard" of old coins rocks the coin collecting world. It has happened again.
In 2003, a high tech salvage recovery firm that rejoices in the name of Odyssey Marine Exploration recovered the wreck of the SS Republic, which sank off the coast of George in October 1865. That wreck contained American gold and silver coins worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in face value -- and tens of millions of dollars in numismatic value. According to published reports, "the recovered U.S. coinage include[d] 47,000 U.S. silver half dollars, 2,620 gold $20 double eagles, and 1,496 gold $10 eagles."
Unlike many "coin hoard" discoveries, the SS Republic salvage did not crush the value of coins previously thought to be rare because the Republic hoard contained a wide variety of denominations, dates and mint marks. In this regard the Republic discovery stands in stark contrast to the impact of the SS Central America hoard of 1989:
The S.S. Central America carried as cargo most of the San Francisco’s mint production of $20 Liberties for the year 1857. Embarking from Panama, the S.S. Central America sailed around Cuba on its way to New York, but tragically sank off the coast of Virginia in foul weather. The wreck was discovered in 1989, and it has taken until now to untangle the legalities of ownership and dispersal rights.
Prior to the discovery of the wreck, only about 35 coins dated 1857-S were known to exist in uncirculated condition. According to the April 2000 PCGS population report, there are now more than 3,200! One astonishing fact about the S.S. Central America hoard is the complete lack of diversity in the group. Approximately 95% of the coins recovered are 1857-S $20 gold pieces; there is no depth or real secondary choices from this incredible find.
Odyssey Marine, which is publicly traded, did a great job marketing the coins from the SS Republic back in 2004. It persuaded one of the two nationally-recognized coin grading services to designate the new grade of "shipwreck effect," which transformed silver coins chewed up by salt water into a collectible and tradeable asset of considerable numismatic value (no such designation was necessary for the gold coins, because even 140 years under the sea will not damage gold).
Now Odyssey Marine has found another wreck in the Atlantic ocean, and it has hauled away more than 17 tons of colonial-era coins with a guesstimated value of more than $500 million.
A jet chartered by Tampa-based Odyssey Marine Exploration landed in the United States recently with hundreds of plastic containers brimming with coins raised from the ocean floor, Odyssey co-chairman Greg Stemm said. The more than 500,000 pieces are expected to fetch an average of $1,000 each from collectors and investors.
"For this colonial era, I think (the find) is unprecedented," said rare coin expert Nick Bruyer, who examined a batch of coins from the wreck. "I don't know of anything equal or comparable to it."
Citing security concerns, the company declined to release any details about the ship or the wreck site Friday. Stemm said a formal announcement will come later, but court records indicate the coins might come from a 400-year-old ship found off England.
Because the shipwreck was found in a lane where many colonial-era vessels went down, there is still some uncertainty about its nationality, size and age, Stemm said, although evidence points to a specific known shipwreck. The site is beyond the territorial waters or legal jurisdiction of any country, he said.
"Rather than a shout of glee, it's more being able to exhale for the first time in a long time," Stemm said of the haul, by far the biggest in Odyssey's 13-year history.
He wouldn't say if the loot was taken from the same wreck site near the English Channel that Odyssey recently petitioned a federal court for permission to salvage.
In seeking exclusive rights to that site, an Odyssey attorney told a federal judge last fall that the company likely had found the remains of a 17th-century merchant vessel that sank with valuable cargo aboard, about 40 miles off the southwestern tip of England. A judge signed an order granting those rights last month.
In keeping with the secretive nature of the project dubbed "Black Swan," Odyssey also isn't talking yet about the types, denominations and country of origin of the coins.
Bruyer said he observed a wide range of varieties and dates of likely uncirculated currency in much better condition than artifacts yielded by most shipwrecks of a similar age.
Is there anything more fun than buried treasure?
Friday, May 18, 2007
The original caption says this:
Actors Rebecca Romijn, left, and Jerry O'Connell attend the Maxim Hot 100 Party held at the Gansevoort Hotel in New York City on Wednesday, May 16, 2007.
Surely we can do better than that!
In unrelated news, the TigerHawk reader survey indicates that 89% of our readers are male.
Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist saved the life of General David Petraeus.
In the live-blogging of Tuesday night's Republican Presidential Debate I wrote that Mitt Romney had committed the gaffe of the night with a confused charge that the various species of Islamic radical had "come together" in the war against the United States. I wrote:
This is both wrong and shallow, and I desperately hope Romney does not mean what he says. If there is one thing we need in our national security it is nuance.
The live-blog was by its nature hurried, but now we have a transcript of Romney's comment. Much of what he said was fair and reasonable, but at its center was an assertion (in bold) that I hope Romney does not actually believe:
It is critical for us to remember that Iraq has to be considered in the context of what's happening in the Middle East and throughout the world. There is a global jihadist effort. Violent, radical jihadists want to replace all the governments of the moderate Islamic states, replace them with a caliphate. And to do that, they also want to bring down the West, in particular us.
And they've come together as Shi'a and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda with that intent. We have to recognize that what we're doing in Iraq has enormous impact on what's going to happen in this global struggle, and that's why it's important for us to understand that if we were to just walk out precipitously, we could conceivably see the border with Turkey be destabilized by virtue of the Kurdish effort, we could have the Iranians take over the Shi'a south, and perhaps most frightening, you could have al Qaeda play a dominant role among the Sunnis and then have a setting where you'd have something far worse than Afghanistan on their hands.
Now, regular readers know that I see all sorts of threats in radical Islamism. I also believe that it is foolish to argue, as many on the internationalist left have, that Iranian revolutionaries and Sunni jihadists will under no circumstances cooperate against the United States because of their historical enmity for each other. Even the 911 Commission recognized that the Khobar Towers attack was probably a joint venture between Hezbollah and al Qaeda. There is, however, a vast gulf between acknowledging that enemies will occasionally band together against an even greater enemy -- as the United States and the Soviet Union did during World War II -- and saying that "Shi'a and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda" have "come together" with the goal of establishing a unified Islamic state and bringing down the West. If Iraq proves anything, it is that Sunnis and Shiite radicals will start killing each other long before they have accomplished even their first victory against the United States.
If Romney actually meant what he said -- and I definitely allow for the possibility that he was just up there spewing whatever nonsense he thought would win applause from South Carolina Republicans -- then it raises several problems.
First, he does not know the first damned thing about the most complex geopolitical struggle since the height of the Cold War and perhaps the summer of 1914. One of our ambitions should be to make sure that all these various radical Islamic groups spend as much time as possible killing each other rather than us. If we do not understand their ancient raging hatreds, that important objective will be much more difficult to accomplish.
Second, as disgusting as all of these various groups are, they are not equally transnational. The Muslim Brotherhood in its current incarnation is not nearly the same threat to the United States as al Qaeda. Sure, it is Islamist and anti-Americanism runs in its blood, but if the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Egypt it would not in all likelihood try to leverage that into attacks against the American homeland. Al Qaeda would. Failing to recognize these unsubtle distinctions is like not seeing that Josip Broz Tito, while a commie and a brutal man, was importantly different from Fidel Castro or Joseph Stalin. We can't fight everybody at once, and just as taking on Tito would have been wasteful and stupid, so would be demonizing the Muslim Brotherhood. At least until al Qaeda is stashed away in a tiny little lockbox.
Third, Romney's eruption is counterproductive threat inflation, useful only to extract applause from a room full of hawks. Otherwise, it is dangerous. Yes, Islamic radicalism is a grave threat, but it manifests in different ways against different targets. If we do not understand that we will craft the wrong policies for confronting it. In 1970, it would have been silly and dangerous to talk about Communism as a single unified threat -- silly because it would have been untrue and dangerous because it would have driven us into bad policies. By now we should know that radical Islamism is not one entity that has "come together" against the United States. And it won't in the future, either, unless we persuade these various groups that we are treating them all alike anyway.
Finally, if Romney climbs further out on this limb it would actually constrain him if he becomes president. If he campaigns by demonizing all Islamic radicals equally, how will he explain policies that call for playing our adversaries against each other?
We need more nuance in our public discussion of radical Islam, not less. Here's to hoping that Romney clears this up the next time.
The members of the House of Representatives who voted to outlaw planning for a military strike against Iran undoubtedly also want to outlaw thinking about the new and entirely uncooked intelligence report that North Korea and Iran have cooperated in the development of a new long-range ballistic missile capable of reaching Guam from North Korea:
Named Musudan, the new missile was first made public on April 25 at a parade marking the anniversary of the foundation of the North Korean military. Sources in Washington had told Yonhap this week that South Korea and the U.S. were trying to verify an intelligence tip that Pyongyang may have tested the missile in Iran, a country suspected of having purchased North Korean missiles and of continuing technology sharing.
The more likely ultimate target may not, however, be in the western Pacific. Stratfor (sub. req.):
If the Musudan was tested in Iran, perhaps during a series of missile tests earlier this year, it could indicate either a sales demonstration by Pyongyang or the testing of a system already sold to Tehran. The first is more likely, as there are no other signs that Pyongyang has successfully tested the Musudan to date. Either way, it would appear the new missile is intended not only to enhance the domestic security of North Korea, but also to create additional sources of cash -- which fits with previous North Korean missile sales and the renting out of its technicians, with all the implications of proliferation that brings.
With its estimated range of more 2000 miles, the Irans could not only hit Israel and the American bases in the Persian Gulf, but Cairo, Rome, and Berlin.
Not that we should plan for that, or anything.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Power Line makes a rather good point:
One of the Democrats' frequent talking points about Iraq is that the administration failed to plan the mission there adequately. It is ironic, then, that nearly all of the Democrats in the House of Representatives have voted to bar the administration from planning for the contingency of hostilities with Iran.
The bill in question is really quite astonishing:
An amendment to the defense authorization bill, introduced by Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.), a member of the armed services panel, failed Wednesday night by a vote of 216-202 with six Republicans voting in favor of the amendment together with 196 Democrats.
Andrews’ amendment, which had strong support from House Armed Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), would have prevented funds authorized in the bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from being used to plan a contingency operation in Iran.
So, 84% of the Democrats in the House of Representatives (and, I'm sad to say, almost 10% of Republicans) voted to ban the United States government from planning a military action against Iran. This is unwise to the point of recklessness. First, there are all kinds of circumstances under which we might have to retaliate against Iran. If we cannot plan an attack on Iran, how can we plan a retaliation? We have plans to invade or retaliate against some huge percentage of the countries on the planet, but 84% of the Democrats want to ban even contingency planning for a conflict with Iran.
Worse, the supporters of this bill -- who generally complain that the Bush administration has not followed the recommendation of the Iraq Study Group to "negotiate" with Iran -- would make it impossible to, er, negotiate with Iran. Why would Iran, a country that has endured thirty years of economic deprivation in the cause of its foreign policy, concede anything material in any negotiation with the United States if it knows that the consequences of building an atomic bomb, declaring unending war against Israel, and running proxy wars in Iraq and Lebanon were... nothing? Had this bill passed it would have destroyed the one method for confronting Iran that even most Democrats purport to support.
The Democrats had better hope that the voters really have decided that there are no meaningful foreign threats. Otherwise, they will be in real trouble in 2008.
CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
A couple of days ago Richard Fernandez of The Belmont Club linked to a bunch of old news reel clips that reported on the brutal means by which the "greatest generation" fought and won World War II. One quickly realizes that our fathers and grandfathers were tough men who did what was necessary to win. More tellingly, the military chose to release these reels to the public. The mothers and children and Democrats back home must have been quite different than they are today. We should not forget that when we ask ourselves whether we really support the troops.
The change really has been dramatic. Fernandez:
While people may not want to return to the methods of World War 2, it is dishonest to pretend, as it is now fashionable to do, that Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill conducted war according to some high moral standard that the Bush administration has somehow betrayed. The current rules of engagement of Bush-Hitler would be unrecognizable compared to that waged by the Greatest Generation, and more to point, compared to warfare conducted by any other country in the world today. World War 2 was the era of unrestricted submarine warfare, unlimited attacks on enemy cities, the development of weapons of mass destruction to counter threats which turned out were nonexistent and the internment of thousands of Japanese-American civilians. One may or may not like the facts, but they are the facts.
Of course, our parents and grandparents were not heartless, amoral people. The government -- with the loyal support of the media -- conditioned them quite consciously to accept that brutal tactics were necessary because our enemies were far more brutal. This is why even in countries that were neutral during the war, fascism is now thought to be orders of magnitude worse than Communism. (See, for example, this article about the historical ignorance of young Swedes.) We had to dehumanize fascists in order to justify the violence necessary to beat them, and the effects still show.
In the years following World War II the West renounced dehumanization in war. We did this unilaterally and alone. Notwithstanding a theoretical commitment to the post-war amendments to the Geneva Conventions (which in the hands of hostile NGOs and media bedeviled Israel in last summer's war) non-western countries and stateless armies still dehumanize their enemies as a matter of policy, but Western countries do not. The press supports them in this, by holding Western governments to entirely different standards than non-Western governments. If that was not already painfully obvious in the coverage of Afghanistan and Iraq, it became so in the Israel -Hezbollah war.
Apart from some tussles in the 1950s while the old soldiers were still adjusting to the new rules, the West has not really won a war since we decided that our enemies were people too (especially if you believe, as I do, that the Gulf War of 1991 was a victory in a battle in a war that ended before the defeat of the enemy). Is this a historical accident, or has the West decided to adhere to rules in war -- and peace, for that matter -- that have fatally handicapped our ability to win wars? Is it possible to win a real war without dehumanizing the enemy?
Excluding wars that are purposefully genocidal (in which one combatant has the objective of exterminating the other), victory in war amounts to forcing your enemy to do what you want, or to stop doing something you oppose. What does it take to achieve that victory? Well, since your enemy has already given up everything that is good in life to take up arms, live in wretched conditions, see his own friends and family die, and sacrifice his life, if necessary, it is very difficult to persuade him to do what you want. At that point, reason has departed the premises, so he will only stop fighting if he has no choice.
There are only a few ways to deprive your enemy of the choice to continue fighting. Of course, you can kill or cripple him. Unfortunately, unless your enemy has no population on which to draw, he will recruit more soldiers. In theory, you can disarm him. In practice, that is virtually impossible to do. The Germans occupied Norway with more than 600,000 soldiers -- one German for every five Norwegians, and not a one hamstrung by "rules of engagement" -- and still the resistance was able to manufacture Sten guns in makeshift factories in the woods.
You can also win by outlasting the enemy. Soldiers grow old, and if they make no progress they will not be able to inspire replacements. Most insurgencies do not "lose" so much as fade away. But it can take decades. To win this way one side needs more will to fight than the other side. The United States certainly has the capacity, both in soldiers and money, to keep doing what we are doing in Iraq indefinitely, and certainly longer than our enemy. However, there is considerable evidence that at least in the case of Iraq we are unable to sustain our will, and are therefore unlikely to outlast the enemy. This is the principle basis for the argument that negative press coverage hurts the American war effort. Of course, an unbelievably inarticulate president and an opposition that does not support the objectives of the war also sap our will (Lincoln faced the latter, but he was not the former, and that made all the difference).
If we do not want to kill an entire population, and if it is essentially impossible to disarm the enemy, and if we know we do not have the national stamina of a genuinely imperial power (our weak stomach for foreign occupation is perhaps the greatest proof that the United States is not motivated by imperial ambition), then we can only win by accelerating the collapse of the enemy's will to conform to our schedule.
There are only two ways to do this, and one of them won't work.
The preferred method -- which unfortunately is the one that history tells us will not work in Iraq -- is to make life so good for the population that it will no longer supply the enemy with materiel and replacement soldiers. The "good life" strategy will not work because the main source of enemy soldiers -- Iraqi and foreign Sunni Arabs -- cannot fathom a "good life" under the majority Shiites. They will not give up, and there are too many of them to exterminate.
The unpopular method -- which might work -- is drive the enemy population to the point of despair. During World War II, we did this with strategic bombing against civilian populations, blockades to starve civilian populations, and nuclear weapons against civilian populations. We also sent millions of young and then older German and Japanese soldiers home in body bags. We were able to do this because we decided that the fascists and the people who permitted them to come to power did not deserve to live. When we occupied their countries they did not resist because we had crushed their will.
Ralph Peters thinks that these tactics can work in Iraq.
The strategic errors of the administration, the pernicious effect of the media and factional hatred within Iraq all played their part. Corruption and al Qaeda's remorseless bloodlust made everything worse. Poor leadership plagued Iraqis and Americans alike.
But the subject presidents, pundits and professors all avoid is what it would take to win militarily. Because the answer's ugly. We prefer to sidestep reality in favor of comfy fantasies that negotiations will persuade blood-drunk murderers to all just get along....
Our best shot is to keep them on the run, to keep them off balance. But crippling their freedom of action requires that our troops seem to be everywhere at unexpected times. That takes raw numbers.
If, on the other hand, you let the terrorists and insurgents set the tempo, you lose both the support of the population and the war.
Executing such a policy also demands far better intelligence than we've produced in the past - our tactical intelligence has improved notably under the stress of war, but we still have a long way to go.
Above all, we have to maintain a strength of will equal to that of our opponents. War demands consistency, and we're the most fickle great power in history. We must focus on defeating our enemies, brushing aside all other considerations.
At present, we let those other considerations rule our behavior: We overreact to media sensationalism (which our enemies exploit brilliantly); we torment ourselves over the least mistakes our troops make; we delude ourselves that mass murderers have rights; we take prisoners knowing they'll be freed to kill more Americans - and the politicians and Green Zone generals alike pretend that "it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game."
That's the biggest lie ever told by a human being who wasn't a member of Congress.
Winning is everything. Fighting ruthlessly may not please the safe-at-home moralists, but it's losing that's immoral.
More of the same here.
Whether or not Peters is specifically right that unrestrained brutality can bring victory in Iraq -- I, for one, am increasingly unsure which enemy we should brutalize first -- the core point that he makes relentlessly is true: we can be patient, or we can be brutal, but if we are neither than we will surely lose every war we fight.
So what are the implications of all of this? If winning non-genocidal wars is primarily a contest of will, what does this mean for warfighting in the post-modern West? I have several propositions that I believe flow from this argument, and offer them in numbered paragraphs below. If you are inclined to comment you can refer to the paragraphs by their numbers.
1. If war requires our soldiers to do brutal things in our name, and if we must support them in that, perhaps we need to reconsider our modern reluctance to dehumanize our enemy. This does not have to amount to racism, but it will require forging a national contempt for the enemy. We need to be comfortable taking joy in the deaths of these miserable bastards. In this regard, precision-guided slurs might actually be weapons of war.
2. If virtually all wars are contests of will, and if it requires an extraordinary national commitment to sustain the national will, is it wrong to expect that "allies" will fight effectively along side when they share a different perception of the threat and therefore a less intense will to fight? If that is true, is it counterproductive to expect or require the military participation of less-interested allies in our wars (whether or not we have international approval or passive assistance, which is a different matter)? Should we expect to fight our most important wars alone, or with only those allies that are similarly in peril? Should we build our military accordingly?
3. Clearly, there are military operations that have legitimate objectives short of defeat of the enemy. The Falklands War was one, and the Gulf War was another. In both cases, the West sought only the removal of a conventional military force from a specific bit of real estate. Wars that require the crushing of the enemy's will to fight require a much greater commitment, because we must either be very brutal or very patient. The commitment necessary to win would appear to demand relentless reinforcement from the government and the elites who shape public opinion. There is obviously no such commitment in the case of Iraq, which may mean that we will have to withdraw whether we ought to or not. In the case of the wider struggle against Islamic extremism, are Americans sufficiently committed? I think we are not. The center-left elites are totally divided on the extent and nature of the threat and the means by which we must combat it, and the right is unwilling to make any sacrifice that might hurt economic growth (such as a serious program to reduce our consumption of imported oil, which comes at great strategic cost).
4. Were the post-war amendments to the Geneva Conventions a mistake? Recall the arcane discussion last summer over whether Israel's response to Hezbollah's attack was "proportional". We have gone from limiting the basis for war to constraining the conduct of war to the point where no law-abiding nation can be brutal within the terms of international law. If law-abiding nations cannot be brutal, will only unlawful nations succeed in breaking the enemy's will to fight?
Release the hounds.