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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Terrorism Without End


The reason why the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is doomed can be summed up in a paragraph. The Arab populations left in political limbo when Israel recaptured in 1967 the territory that it had lost to Egypt and Jordan in 1948 exist only as a strategic weapon of disruption. They have been shaped into a population that is defined only by terrorism because that is the purpose that their sponsors put them to. There can be no constructive outcome of the conflict because you cannot negotiate with a weapon.
The trouble is not that Israel is unable to reach a settlement with the Palestinians; but that the Muslim countries funding and operating the terrorist groups that constitute the Palestinian political factions are unwilling to give up their weapon. Negotiating with the Palestinian Authority or Hamas is like trying to negotiate with a gun or bargain with an attack dog. There is nothing to be gained from such a futile task. The conflict will end only when those countries that are behind it will decide that it should end. And they have no reason to want it to end.
Palestinian terrorism is a strategic weapon of disruption that confines and unbalances Israel. At a cost of millions, the sponsors of that terror have inflicted billions in economic damage. And there is no reason for them to stop. Watching Israel and America try to reason with their attack dogs amuses them and allows them to expand their own influence by offering to act as mediators.
For that same reason, Islamic terrorism in general is also not going anywhere. What the Palestinians are to Israel, Muslim terrorists are to the West and the rest of the world. They are strategic weapons which are allowed to exist because they serve the purposes of their sponsors. Like most living weapons, they occasionally turn in the hands of their sponsors, but that only makes the task of directing them at the proper targets more urgent.
Terrorism can never be defeated by fighting terrorists. Combine massive wealth in some parts of the Middle East with staggering poverty in other parts and the supply of mercenaries is nearly endless. Syrian Jihadists are being paid $150 a month by Qatar; a good salary for an unskilled laborer in a region where life is cheap and every family has plenty of surplus sons and mouths to feed. A barrel of oil can buy the services of a killer for a month and Qatar pumps out millions of barrels a day.
Terrorism is cheap for the sponsors, profitable for the participants and hideously expensive for the targets. A soldier in a First World nation can cost six figures. For that same amount, a backward oil tyranny can field a hundred men. When those hundred men kill a soldier, then his nation will be heartbroken and question the costs of war. When those hundred men die, their mothers will ceremonially wail and cry out for more martyrs to avenge them. And the terror will go on.
The only comment I would make is that it will end because those national sponsors of terrorism are doomed demographically and economically. The Middle-East, as a whole, may be a few decades behind the birth dearth in Europe and China, but their populations will eventually crash. At about the same time (or perhaps even before) their oil reserves (with its revenue) will dry up.

Mars in the Crosshairs?

From Astronomy Aggregator, a report that a comet will pass by Mars in October 2014, and could even strike the Red Planet. From the story:
Discovered on January 3, C/2013 A1 Siding Spring was typical of comet finds: a dim moving speck on a photograph. However, recent observations suggest that Comet Siding Spring could be extremely interesting indeed – its current orbit brings it only 37,000 km from Mars.
... The brightness of the comet suggests an object between 10-50 km in diameter, similar to that of Comet Hale-Bopp....
Comet Siding Spring has garnered further interest after an orbital analysis by Leonid Elenin (ISON-NM Observatory). In a blog post on February 23, Elenin found that C/2013 A1 approached within 103,000 km (~64,000 miles) of Mars’s surface on October 19, 2014. Further, he noted that the chances of an impact could not be ruled out. Today, Elenin updated that analysis with new observations of the comet’s position. The new orbit brings the approach even closer - only 37,000 km (~23,000 miles) from the surface of the red planet. Despite the new observations, uncertainty regarding the impact was not eliminated.

Should the C/2013 A1 impact Mars next October, scientists will have a front row seat for one of the rarest of all geological events – an impact capable of causing a mass extinction had it been aimed at Earth instead. As the comet makes its closest approach to Mars, it will be racing outward from the sun at approximately 56 km/s relative to Mars. If the comet were to impact Mars, the energy released would be on the order of trillions of megatons, while the resulting crater could be up to 500km across and 2.5km deep depending on the exact size of the comet.

Even if the impact scenario is unlikely, the comet’s close approach means that Mars will almost certainly be within the coma, the comet’s tenuous atmosphere. Elenin suggests a slightly less apocalyptic scenario in this case: “Having a very tenuous atmosphere, the surface of the red planet will be subject to intensive bombardments by microparticles which, among other things, might cause malfunction of the space probes currently there.” The intensity of micrometeorite bombardment will depend on several factors, such as the exact proximity of the approach and how dusty C/2013 A1 is.
At its closest Comet Siding Spring will be a spectacular sight from the Martian surface. Elenin suggests that the brightness of the comet may surpass -8 magnitude for Martian observers, bright enough to make the comet visible in the daytime sky. As a result, Curiosity’s MastCam and navigation cameras may produce some spectacular images of the comet from the surface. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HiRise imager may also be able to contribute valuable observations at closest approach. The HiRise imager’s resolution of 1 microradian means that at a distance of 41,000km, objects should have a resolution of 4.1 km/pixel, meaning the nucleus will be directly resolvable.
(H/t Instapundit).

More White House Threats Come to Light

Now that Bob Woodward has come out to report threats from the White House for negative press coverage, other reporters and a president of an NAACP branch have also revealed similar threats. Can we say "tyrant"?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

White House Threatens Bob Woodward

Real Clear Politics has a video and partial transcript of a CNN interview with Bob Woodward, where Woodward relates that a senior White House official warned him that "you will regret doing this." What is the "this"? Criticizing the Administration's handling of the so-called "budget cuts."


Senate GOP Ponders Surrendering Power to Obama

Further proof that we do not truly have two political parties. Politico reports:
Days before the March 1 deadline, Senate Republicans are circulating a draft bill that would cancel $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts and instead turn over authority to President Barack Obama to achieve the same level of savings under a plan to be filed by March 8.
The five- page document, which has the tacit support of Senate GOP leaders, represents a remarkable shift for the party. Having railed against Senate Democrats for not passing a budget, Republicans are now proposing that Congress surrender an important piece of its Constitutional “power of the purse” for the last seven months of this fiscal year.
As proposed, lawmakers would retain the power to overturn the president’s spending plan by March 22, but only under a resolution of disapproval that would demand two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate to prevail over an Obama veto.
The proposal would require — like the sequester — that no more than $42.6 billion of the cuts come at the expense of defense programs. But the elaborate, almost Rube Goldberg construct is already provoking sharp criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike and reflects a political scramble to escape the fallout from the sequester.
As usual, Sarah Palin is able to cut to the meat of the issue, writing:
D.C.: Cut the Drama. Do Your Job.

Americans are sick and tired of yet another ginned-up crisis. D.C. needs to grow up, get to work, and live within its means. The real economic Armageddon looming before us is our runaway debt, not the sequester, which the President advocated for and signed into law and is now running around denouncing because he never had any genuine intention of reining in his reckless spending.

Remember that this sequestration deal came about because of the long debt ceiling standoff in the summer of 2011. It wasn’t the ideal outcome for anyone, but it did at least include real deficit reduction of about $110 billion per year for 10 years, which is still nowhere near enough to close our massive deficit. Keep in mind that since the sequester passed, the President has already hit American families and small business owners with his tax increases, or “more revenue” as he likes to call it. The American public doesn’t want tax increases; we want government to rein in its overspending.

If we can’t stomach modest cuts that would lower federal spending by a mere 0.3% per year out of a current federal budget of $3.6 trillion, then we might as well signal to the whole world that we have no serious intention of dealing with our debt problem.

If we are going to wet our proverbial pants over 0.3% in annual spending cuts when we’re running up trillion dollar annual deficits, then we’re done. Put a fork in us. We’re finished. ...

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Destroying Surveillance Cameras

It started in Berlin: Anarchists, donning black bloc attire, hit the streets at night in pairs, small groups or alone to smash and dismantle the CCTV surveillance cameras adorning the city streets.
They posted videos and photos of their exploits online and called the guerrilla project Camover. The German collective gave a playful interview to Vice U.K. in which they explained that they are “a diverse group of people: Shoplifters eluding capitalism who don’t want to be monitored, passengers who don’t want to followed step by step and anarchists fighting everything that wants to control us.” Vice noted that the Berlin-based anarchists then laid down the gauntlet:
Camover have also recently announced a competition encouraging others to get involved. All you have to do to enter is think of a name that begins with the words “Brigade…” or “Command…” and that ends with the name of a historical personality, recruit a mob and smash up cameras. Then you send pictures and video evidence to their website, and they declare the winning footage.
The anti-surveillance project quickly spread throughout Germany, to Finland, Greece and hit the U.S. West Coast this month. A group identifying itself as “the Barefoot Bandit Brigade” released a statement claiming to have “removed and destroyed 17 security cameras throughout the Puget Sound region,” with ostensible photo evidence published alongside. “This act is concrete sabotage against the system of surveillance and control,” wrote the group’s statement, adding that the Camover contribution was also intended in solidarity with anarchists in the Pacific Northwest currently in federal custody without charges for refusing to cooperate with a federal grand jury.

Media Covers Up Muslim Mass Shooting in CA

From Daniel Greenfield at Front Page Magazine:
Ali Syed shot six people in Orange County, killing three of them, and yet the story has not gotten the media coverage of other mass shootings. The media has reported it, but has failed to highlight it. And the word “Muslim” never appears in the report.
Not surprising, however. The U.S. media didn't report that the Trolley Square, Salt Lake City, Utah, shooter was Muslim either.

Why Only LEOs Should Have Guns--Cleveland Shootout

This is from a February 5, 2013, story, but I only just recently came across it. From Cleveland.com:
A November car chase ended in a "full blown-out" firefight, with glass and bullets flying, according to Cleveland police officers who described for investigators the chaotic scene at the end of the deadly 25-minute pursuit.
But when the smoky haze -- caused by rapid fire of nearly 140 bullets in less than 30 seconds -- dissipated, it soon became clear that more than a dozen officers had been firing at one another across a middle school parking lot in East Cleveland.
... Despite varying levels of experience, all 13 officers who fired their guns -- and many who did not -- told investigators they thought deadly force was needed to stop a violent encounter with two suspects who they believed were armed.
"I've never been more afraid in my life," said Officer Michael Brelo, who fired 49 shots that night. "I thought my partner and I were being shot and that we were going to be killed."
Brelo, according to his account, climbed onto the trunk and then the top of a zone car and reloaded his gun, firing rounds into the Malibu. An Iraq war veteran, Brelo said he saw "the suspects moving and I could not understand why they are still moving, shooting at us. Even through Iraq, I never fired my weapon. I never have been so afraid in my life."
Many of the officers who heard "shots fired" broadcast over police radio mistakenly assumed the gunfire was coming from the suspects, the report reveals.

Officers recounted for investigators seeing guns, objects that looked like guns or one of the suspects loading guns in the middle school parking lot -- which could not have been possible at that point in the incident. No gun was found in the car.
Some also believed that one officer who ducked behind a car that was hit by the Malibu was either run over or shot – heightening their fears.

The report also shows that many of the officers' worries were based on possibly erroneous information broadcast over police radio to the approximately 60 police vehicles involved in the chase.
During the chase, multiple officers indicated that a gun was being fired, that a tire on the Malibu had blown and, at one point, that a police car had been rammed.
All those things, the report indicates, fed into the officers' perceptions of danger going into the parking lot.
Officers David Siefer and James Hummel were following the Malibu near Clark and Quigley avenues when they broadcast over police radio that they saw the passenger turn in her seat, get onto her knees and extend both arms toward the rear window as if she was holding a gun. They also thought the passenger was a man.
"He's pointing the gun. He's pointing the gun out the back window. Heads up. Heads up. Passenger is pointing a gun out the back window. Everybody be careful," Siefer said.
Siefer later told investigators he didn't actually see a gun. "Despite not actually seeing a gun, Siefer broadcast on the radio that the passenger has just pointed a gun out the rear window," the report said.
Siefer also later incorrectly broadcast that the Malibu, while on Interstate 90, had blown a tire, though he wasn't the only officer who thought they saw that.
Later, Siefer reported that he witnessed the Malibu ram a Ford Crown Victoria police car on an East Cleveland side street. That also appeared to be inaccurate.

The only verified contact the Malibu had with any police car before the parking lot was when Detective Kevin Fairchild' s unmarked Ford Crown Victoria hit the Malibu's rear passenger side after a tight right turn onto a side street.
Though investigators never located a gun, they could not rule out the possibility that the suspects had one at some point during the chase before entering the parking lot.
Investigators searched for evidence that a gun was tossed from the car, even using the Sheriff's Office Dive Team to search some waterways along the chase route.
Forensic evidence also didn't help determine whether Russell or Williams had fired a weapon during the chase before their vehicle entered the parking lot.
Gunshot residue test kits collected from the hands of Russell and Williams, as well as from the interior of the car, all showed particles that indicated gunshot primer residue in the car.
However, investigators noted that because of the large amount of gunfire close to the vehicle and directed into the vehicle, the result couldn't help answer the question of whether a gun had been fired from the car.
"In other words, (the tests) reveal nothing or tell us nothing whether or not the suspects did or did not have a gun," DeWine said.
Evidence collected from the crime scene, the suspects and the car gave investigators other clues about what might have colored officers' perceptions the night of Nov. 29.
A forensic mechanic's inspection determined "within a reasonable degree of mechanical certainty" that the Malibu had multiple conditions it would need to backfire and that backfiring had occurred.
Two officers outside the Cuyahoga County Justice Center when the Malibu first sped by, beginning the chase, believed they had heard gunshots coming from the car. In addition, a guard outside the parking lot and a detective on the sixth floor of the Justice Center also believed they heard a shot.
Also in the front of the car was an empty red Coca-Cola can, two lighters and a charred glass pipe with cocaine residue. Autopsy results showed Russell had alcohol and cocaine in his system, and Williams had marijuana and cocaine in her system.
During the chase, several officers noted that one of the car's occupants was drinking something out of a red can. One officer, Sgt. Patricia Coleman, told investigators she was dumbfounded that the driver of the Malibu was "casually smoking a cigarette" during the pursuit while speeding through intersections and running red lights.
Officer Hummel told investigators that he was displeased with several aspects of the pursuit. He was interviewed about his thoughts after investigators discovered he had sent text messages about the pursuit to a dispatcher.
He told investigators he heard the Malibu backfire several times during the pursuit, leading him to believe it was that sound -- and not gunshots -- that led to the chase.
Hummel also was upset about unmarked cars remaining in lead positions in the pursuit, which he thought was unsafe. He also believed that some officers participated in the pursuit but did not remain on scene or enter their activity into their duty logs.
The report also confirms the chase technically began several minutes before the Malibu sped past the Justice Center, when officer John Jordan radioed dispatch center with the license plate of the Malibu, stating he was only looking for "info" on the car which was parked at East 22nd Street and Lakeside Avenue, near a men's homeless shelter.
When interviewed by investigators, Jordan said he later attempted to stop the car on East 18th Street near Superior Avenue because he suspected they were involved in drug activity. Jordan told investigators the passenger was screaming and acting unstable. When Jordan started to get out of his unmarked car the Malibu took off. He said he pursued the car but lost sight of it after several blocks.
"[Jordan] never radioed dispatch regarding the traffic stop or pursuit, didn't document the incident in his duty log and never came forward with the information," the report says.
Investigators said they found out through other sources that Jordan later returned to the homeless shelter, demanding to know who was in the car and threatening arrests if he was not told.
In short, the police were shooting at each other. Fired an incredible 140 rounds in less than 30 seconds, killing two unarmed suspects. Based on erroneous information, And made material omissions in reports. Wow! And why should we trust these people with guns?

The Italian Election

It was interesting to me that in what most people would view as an important election, the turnout was actually lower than elections in 2008. For instance, the AFP (via Google News) reported:
Italy on Monday was winding up landmark elections watched warily by eurozone neighbours fearful that no clear winner will emerge, while a lacklustre turnout reflected widespread frustration among voters fed up with austerity cuts and a grinding recession.
Sunday, the first of a two-day vote, saw a sharp drop in turnout of seven percentage points compared with the last elections in 2008, standing at 55 percent going into Monday's polling.
"Italy turns its back on politics, deserts the ballot boxes, and this is how it registers its protest," wrote the left-wing daily Il Fatto Quotidiano.
Leading daily Corriere della Sera said the low turnout reflected an "acute disorientation" in the electorate, fed up with biting austerity measures and facing a "crisis with no end in sight".
(See also this DW report and this story from Euro News). Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any information on which portion of the population turned out in lower numbers. So, was it "acute disorientation," voter "protest," or simply that, as in the United States, a large bloc of voters no longer feel that there are any parties that represent them?

In any event, the primary focus in the media has been on what the election portends. The Washington Post reports:
Italian voters delivered a stinging rebuke to the nation’s political class and to the painful economic austerity measures meant to bring down the crushing debt in the euro zone’s third-largest economy. With no single political force winning a clear path to a majority in both of Parliament’s chambers, politicians in Rome began arduous talks to form a government. Most scenarios were viewed as leading to a weak coalition vulnerable to a quick fall.
... Concern was fueled by the likelihood of a political vacuum in Italy for some time to come. The Five Star Movement of comedian turned politician Beppe Grillo, who has called for a referendum on Italy’s membership in the euro zone and a renegotiation of its debt, bested all predictions by landing 25.55 percent of the vote. The center-left party of Pier Luigi Bersani polled substantially lower than expected, securing enough votes for a majority in the lower house but failing to gain a majority in the Senate.
Meanwhile, the center-right coalition of former playboy prime minister Silvio Berlusconi — under whom Italy became entangled in a deep financial crisis — did far better than expected. Voters apparently were responding to his promise to roll back harsh austerity measures, which have been seen as restoring investor faith in the country at the price of sending it into a recession with no end in sight.
The last-minute coalition put together by Mario Monti, the former interim prime minister and architect of the Italian austerity program, came in a distant fourth.
The Guardian similarly noted:
Three years of German-led austerity and budget cuts aimed at saving the euro and retooling the European economy was left facing one of its biggest challenges as Italian voters' rejection of spending cuts and tax rises opened up a stark new fissure in European politics.

The governing stalemate in Rome and the vote in the general election – by a factor of three to two – against the austerity policies pursued by Italy's humiliated caretaker prime minister, Mario Monti, meant that the spending cuts and tax rises dictated by the eurozone would grind to a halt, risking a re-eruption of the euro crisis after six months of relative stability.
Businessweek, likewise:
For three years, euro-zone governments have managed to dodge the blows of political opponents trying to derail their efforts to maintain fiscal austerity.
Their foes have finally landed a solid punch. Voting in parliamentary elections on Feb. 24 and 25, recession-fatigued Italians threw their government into disarray by rallying behind politicians who promised to reverse the austerity program of outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti. The top-polling party, led by former comedian Beppe Grillo, promised not only to roll back Monti’s efforts but also to hold a referendum on Italy’s membership in the euro currency bloc. The vote left Parliament effectively deadlocked, which may lead to new elections.
The vote “is not just a kick in the teeth for Mr. Monti,” says Nicholas Spiro, managing director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy in London. “It’s also one for Berlin, Brussels, and Frankfurt.” The euro zone’s crisis-fighting effort has been spearheaded by the German government, the European Union, and the European Central Bank.
 In other words, the Euro crises continues.

The financial markets didn't react too well to the news. The Washington Post article cited above explained:
The vote, held Sunday and Monday, underscored the still-volatile nature of Europe’s debt crisis. Economists said the chaotic political outlook in Italy raised the prospect that deeper economic turmoil would again take root.
“We believe the likelihood of Italy entering a financial assistance program has increased as a result of the electoral outcome,” Citibank’s London research arm said Tuesday in an investment note.
The key index in Milan fell by 4.4 percent in midday trading Tuesday, with bank stocks particularly feeling the pain. Italian borrowing costs jumped to three-month highs, and those of other troubled European economies, including Spain and Portugal, also spiked.
Across the continent, market sentiment turned negative. London’s FTSE 100 fell 1.28 percent, the Paris CAC 40 dropped more than 2 percent, and the key index in Frankfurt was off by more than 1.8 percent. The declines followed drops overnight in Tokyo and Hong Kong. At the same time, investors drove up the price of safe-haven gold and pushed down oil prices on fears of lower economic growth.
 The Businessweek article reported:
Investors are clearly uneasy. As markets opened today, credit-default swaps on Italian bonds jumped to their highest level since 2011. Spanish and Portuguese bonds also slumped, reflecting fears that political turmoil could spread to other sickly economies. By most measures Spain is a lot worse off than Italy, with unemployment at 26 percent and the economy mired in recession.
 The Guardian article noted:
Fears that the deadlock will lengthen Italy's near two-year recession and spill over into the rest of the eurozone hit markets across Europe. The Italian banking sector fell 7% in value, dragging the main MIB stock market index 4% lower.

The market turmoil in Milan spread to Germany, France and the UK, with domestic banks among the biggest fallers. Deutsche Bank saw almost 5% knocked off its value, while Barclays suffered a 4% decline. The FTSE 100 fell 1.4%. The German Dax slumped more than 2% and the Paris Cac was down 2.75%.
 Reuters also reported:
The focus will now be on an Italian treasury bill auction on Tuesday when borrowing costs could rise given the uncertainty over the election result, he said.
The euro was trading at $1.3058, hovering near a more than six-week low against the dollar of $1.3047 touched on Monday on jitters about political gridlock in Italy hampering the country's efforts to reform and slash its debts.
The yen at one point on Monday soared over 3 percent against the euro and 2 percent against the dollar. The yen's recent steep losses on bets of aggressive reflationary monetary policy in Japan have made it vulnerable to sharp reversals.
On Monday the yen rose to a three-week high of 90.85 yen from its intraday low of 94.77 touched earlier in the day, its lowest since May 2010. The yen also surged to 118.74 against the euro from its day's low of 125.36.
The yen was trading at 92.13 early on Tuesday against the dollar and at 120.32 against the euro.
In other words, Italians are tired of paying the piper, and want Germany to pick up the bill. This is going to create additional tension within the EU. I don't expect Italy to voluntarily leave the Euro if Germany is going to continue funding bailouts. So, the result will be that Germany will have to take steps to force Italy to continue with an austerity program, disentangle itself, or choose to subsidize Italy.

Monday, February 25, 2013

DOJ Memo Admits Proposed Gun Control Measures Will Fail

The NRA was able to get hold of a Department of Justice memorandum that acknowledges that the proposed gun legislation will have negligible impact, if any, on the use of firearms in crimes; and suggests that only registration and massive forced "buybacks" would work. From Yahoo News (h/t Drudge):
The memo, under the name of one of the Justice Department's leading crime researchers, critiques the effectiveness of gun control proposals, including some of President Barack Obama's. A Justice Department official called the memo an unfinished review of gun violence research and said it does not represent administration policy.

The memo says requiring background checks for more gun purchases could help, but also could lead to more illicit weapons sales. It says banning assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines produced in the future but exempting those already owned by the public, as Obama has proposed, would have limited impact because people now own so many of those items.

It also says that even total elimination of assault weapons would have little overall effect on gun killings because assault weapons account for a limited proportion of those crimes.

The nine-page document says the success of universal background checks would depend in part on "requiring gun registration," and says gun buybacks would not be effective "unless massive and coupled with a ban."

Monetary Challenges for Europe and the U.S.

Both European and U.S. politicians suggest that we've weathered the worst of the financial crises. However, articles from the Wall Street Journal and Telegraph suggest that all that has been done is to kick the can a little farther down the road.

First, as to Europe, the Wall Street Journal discusses "Why the Euro Crises Isn't Over." The relevant portion:
The European political class, he says, believes that the crisis "hit its high point" last summer, "because that was when there was an imminent danger, from their point of view, that their wonderful dream would disappear." But from the perspective "of real live people, and families and firms and economies," he says, the situation "is just getting worse and worse." Last week, the EU reported that the euro-zone economy shrank by 0.9% in the fourth quarter of 2012. For the full year, gross domestic product fell 0.5% in the euro zone.
Two immediate solutions present themselves, Mr. Connolly says, neither appetizing. Either Germany pays "something like 10% of German GDP a year, every year, forever" to the crisis-hit countries to keep them in the euro. Or the economy gets so bad in Greece or Spain or elsewhere that voters finally say, " 'Well, we'll chuck the whole lot of you out.' Now, that's not a very pleasant prospect." He's thinking specifically, in the chuck-'em-out scenario, about the rise of neo-fascists like the Golden Dawn faction in Greece.
... Superficially, there is some basis for the official view that the worst of the crisis is over: Interest-rate spreads, current-account deficits and budget deficits are down. Greece's departure from the single currency no longer seems imminent.

Yet unemployment is close to 27% in Spain and Greece. The euro-zone economy shrank ever-faster throughout 2012. And—most important in Mr. Connolly's view—the economic fundamentals in France are getting worse. This week France announced it would miss its deficit-reduction target for the year because of dimming growth prospects.

It's one thing to bail out Greece or Ireland, Mr. Connolly says, but "if the Germans at some point think, 'We're going to have to bail out France, and on an ongoing, perpetual basis,' will they do it? I don't know. But that's the question that has to be answered."

The official view is that the bailouts of Greece, Ireland and Portugal—and maybe soon Spain—are aberrations, and that once those countries get their budgets on track, their economies will follow and the bad patch will be a memory. Mr. Connolly calls this "propaganda."

And here we get to the heart of Mr. Connolly's rotten-heart argument against the single currency: The cause of the crisis, according to the "propaganda," he says, was "fiscal indiscipline in countries like Greece and financial-sector indiscipline in countries like Ireland." As a consequence, "the response is focused on budgetary rules, budgetary bailouts and rules for the financial sector, with the prospect, perhaps, of financial bailouts through the banking union, although that remains unclear."

But even if the Greeks were undisciplined, he says, "both the sovereign-debt crisis and the banking crisis are symptoms, not causes. And the underlying problem has been that there was a massive bubble generated in the world as a whole by monetary policy—but particularly in the euro zone" by European Central Bank policy.

The bubble formed like this: When countries such as Ireland, Greece and Spain joined the euro, their interest rates immediately dropped to near-German levels, in some cases from double-digit territory. "The optimism created by these countries' suddenly finding that they could have low interest rates without their currencies collapsing, which had been their previous experience, led people to think that there was a genuine rate-of-return revolution going on," he says.

There had been an increase in the rates of return in Ireland "and to some extent in Spain" in the run-up to euro membership, thanks to structural reforms in those countries in the pre-euro period. But by the time the euro rolled around, money was flowing into these countries out of all proportion to the opportunities available.

"And what kept the stuff flowing in," Mr. Connolly says, "was essentially the belief, 'Well, yes, there is a high rate of return in construction.' " That in turn depended on "ongoing expectations" about house appreciation "that were in some ways not dissimilar to what was happening to the United States in the middle of the last decade. But it was much bigger."

How much bigger? "If you scale housing starts by population, then the housing boom in Spain and Ireland was something like three or four times as intense as the peak of the boom in the U.S. That's mind boggling."

That torrent of money drove up wages far faster than productivity improved, while cheap borrowing led to major deficit spending. After the 2008 financial panic, the bubble inevitably burst.

So what's needed now is not simply a fiscal retrenchment, or even a retrenchment along with banking reform. Wages and prices have to adjust to something like their pre-bubble trends, Mr. Connolly says, to make these economies competitive again. One way to accomplish that would be a massive depreciation of the euro—"really massive."

If that's not feasible, he says, Europe can try to "recreate the bubble" by bringing back the conditions that allowed Spain to borrow so cheaply. That is "essentially what [Mario] Draghi"—the European Central Bank president—"appears to be trying to do: to recreate a bubble." Mr. Draghi, by threatening to intervene in the sovereign debt markets, has driven interest rates in Spain down substantially. But because the banking system is distressed, and because house prices continue to fall, even these lower rates are not driving investment into the country the way they did before. And even if Mr. Draghi were to succeed, Mr. Connolly says, the ECB president would merely be "recreating exactly the dangerous, unsustainable situation that we had in the middle of the last decade."

Which leaves Europe with the last option: Germany pays. As Mr. Connolly puts its: "You can say to a country like Spain: 'No need to adjust your competitiveness, you don't need to have full-employment trade balance. You can still have full-employment current-account balance because we will give you transfers instead.' And by definition, if the point of that is to avoid adjustment, you have to do it this year, the next year, the year after, and every year, forever."
I don't think that Germany can or will want to afford to carry most of Europe for an indefinite period. Which means that the whole European Union is still at risk of flying apart.

Turning to the U.S., Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes about "Trade protectionism looms next as central banks exhaust QE." From his piece:
A new paper for the US Monetary Policy Forum and published by the Fed warns that the institution's capital base could be wiped out "several times" once borrowing costs start to rise in earnest.
A mere whiff of inflation or more likely stagflation would cause a bond market rout, leaving the Fed nursing escalating losses on its $2.9 trillion holdings. This portfolio is rising by $85bn each month under QE3. The longer it goes on, the greater the risk. Exit will become much harder by 2014.

Such losses would lead to a political storm on Capitol Hill and risk a crisis of confidence. The paper -- "Crunch Time: Fiscal Crises and the Role of Monetary Policy" -- is co-written by former Fed governor Frederic Mishkin, Ben Bernanke's former right-hand man.

It argues the Fed is acutely vulnerable because it has stretched the average maturity of its bond holdings to 11 years, and the longer the date, the bigger the losses when yields rise. The Bank of Japan has kept below three years.

Trouble could start by mid-decade and then compound at an alarming pace, with yields spiking up to double-digit rates by the late 2020s. By then Fed will be forced to finance spending to avert the greater evil of default."Sovereign risk remains alive and well in the U.S, and could intensify. Feedback effects of higher rates can lead to a more dramatic deterioration in long-run debt sustainability in the US than is captured in official estimates," it said.
... In America, the Fed would face huge pressure to hold onto its bonds rather than crystalize losses as yields rise -- in other words, to recoil from unwinding QE at the proper moment. The authors argue that it would be tantamount to throwing in the towel on inflation, the start of debt monetisation, or "fiscal dominance". Markets would be merciless. Bond vigilantes would soon price in a very different world.

Investors have of course been fretting about this for some time. Scott Minerd from Guggenheim Partners thinks the Fed is already trapped and may have to talk up gold to $10,000 an ounce to ensure that its own bullion reserves cover mounting liabilities.

What is new is that these worries are surfacing openly in Fed circles. The Mishkin paper almost certainly reflects a strand of thinking at Constitution Avenue, so there may be more than meets the eye in last week's Fed minutes, which rattled bourses across the world with hints of early exit from QE.

Mr Bernanke is not going to snatch the punch bowl away just as the US embarks on fiscal tightening this year of 2pc of GDP, one of the most draconian budget squeezes in the last century. But he may have concluded that the Fed is sailing too close to the wind, and must take defensive action soon.

Monetarists say this is a specious debate -- arguing that the losses on the Fed balance sheet are an accounting irrelevancy -- but Bernanke is not a monetarist. What matters is what he thinks.

If this is where the Fed is heading, the world is at a critical juncture. The US economy has not yet reached "escape velocity", and in fact shrank in the 4th quarter of 2012. Brussels has slashed its eurozone forecast, expecting a second year of outright contraction in 2013.

The triple "puts" of the last eight months -- Bernanke's QE3, Mario Draghi's Club Med bond rescue, and Beijing's credit blitz -- have done wonders for asset markets but have not yet ignited a healthy cycle of world growth. Nor can they easily do do since the East-West trade imbalances that caused the 2008-2009 crisis remain in place.

We know from a body of scholarship that fiscal belt-tightening in countries with a debt above 80pc to 90pc of GDP is painful and typically self-defeating unless offset by loose money. The evidence is before our eyes in Greece, Portugal, and Spain. Tight money has led to self-feeding downward spirals. If bondyields are higher thannominal GDP growth, the compound effects are deadly.

America may soon get a first taste of this, carrying out the epic fiscal squeeze needed to bring its debt trajectory back under control with less and less Fed help. Gross public debt will hit 107pc of GDP by next year, and higher if the recovery falters as pessimists fear.

With the fiscal and monetary shock absorbers exhausted -- or deemed to be -- the only recourse left is to claw back stimulus from foreigners, and that may be the next chapter of the global crisis as the Long Slump drags on.

Professor Michael Pettis from Beijing University argues in a new book -- "The Great Rebalancing: Trade, Conflict, and the Perillous Road Ahead" - that the global trauma of the last five years is a trade conflict masquerading as a debt crisis.

There is too much industrial plant in the world, and too little demand to soak up supply, like the 1930s. China is distorting the global system by running investment near 50pc of GDP, and compressing consumption to 35pc. Nothing like this has been seen before in modern times.


... In the Noughties the $10 trillion reserve accumulation by Asian exporters and petro-powers flooded the global bond market. At the same time, the West offset the deflationary effects of the cheap imports by running negative real interest rates.

The twin policy regimes in East and West stoked the credit bubble, and this in turn disguised what has happening to trade flows. These flows were disguised yet further after 2008 by QE and fiscal buffers, but the hard reality beneath may soon be exposed as these are props are knocked away.

"In a world of deficient demand and excess savings, every country will try to acquire a greater share of global demand by exporting savings," he writes. The "winners" in this will be the deficit states. The "losers" will be the surplus states who cannot retaliate. The lesson of the 1930s is that the creditors are powerless. Prof Pettis argues that China and Germany risk a nasty surprise.

America's shale revolution and manufacturing revival may be enough to head off a US-China clash just in time. But Europe has no recovery strategy beyond demand compression. It is a formula for youth job wastage, a demented policy when youth a scarce resource. The region is doomed to decline until the boil of monetary union is lanced.

Some will take the Mishkin paper as an admission that QE was a misguided venture. That would be a false conclusion. The West faced a 1931 moment in late 2008. The first round of QE forestalled financial collapse. The second and third rounds of QE have had a diminishing potency, while the risks have risen. It is a shifting calculus.

The four years of QE have given us a contained depression and prevented the global strategic order from unravelling. That is not a bad outcome, but the time gained has largely been wasted because few wish to face the awful truth that globalisation itself -- in its current deformed structure -- is the root cause of the whole disaster.

It will be harder from now on if central banks conclude that their arsenal is spent. We can only pray that their help will not be needed.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Why You Need A 30-Round Magazine

Joe Biden, the American aristocrat who is has 24/7 security by the Secret Service, thinks that all you need for self-defense is a double-barrel shotgun. The State of New York has decreed that no one needs more than 7 rounds to defend themselves. How persuasive is that?

In following up on a news item from what appears to be an Austin, Texas, TV station which was mentioned at the Ol' Remus' "Woodpile Report", about a home invasion by men dressed as SWAT. Searching under "home invasion" gave me a handful of stories from just the last month about home invasions by large groups of men.

First, the original story I was following, dated February 10, 2013:
Ten armed men stormed into a home early Sunday morning demanding money and drugs.

The home invasion happened at a home in Edinburg around 1:30 a.m.

According to Edinburg Police, the gunmen demanded money and drugs.
An eyewitness told Action 4 News that the suspects were dressed in black shirts that said “S.W.A.T.” on the front.
They were also wearing white ski masks and one man had on a clown mask.
A man living at the home was hit in the head with an RK gun.
Authorities said another woman was hit in the face with another gun.
The suspects took televisions, cell phones, car keys and wallets from the home.
A double barrel shotgun or seven-round magazine wouldn't have worked in that situation.

Second, this story from February 20, 2013:
Police are searching for three armed suspects after a home invasion in a San Juan neighborhood.
On Tuesday around 9 p.m., authorities responded to a home on 207 Washingtonian St., after a group of men stormed a home demanding money.
Sgt. Rolando Garza with the San Juan Police Dept. says, after ransacking the home, the suspects fled the scene before police could arrive.
"One of the victims had a bump on his cheek where he was pistol whipped," said Sgt. Garza. "We're looking for at least three males, all armed with weapons from a shotgun to pistols."
The getaway vehicle is described as a silver or gray Nissan Altima or Sentra, between the model years of 2004-2006.
The suspects are considered armed and dangerous.
A double-barrel shotgun? Natch! 7-round magazine? Not if you missed a couple times or had to shoot a couple of the suspects multiple times. (Remember the recent story of the woman who unloaded a revolver into a burglar, and he still was ambulatory).

Third, this story from February 7, 2013:
Authorities are asking for help in finding a group of armed men wanted for a home invasion that took place in the city's westside.

It all happened at a home off the 1600 block of West Ventura Avenue around 9 p.m. Wednesday.
Pharr police told Action 4 News that five to six armed men stormed the hoem demanding cash.
Investigators said the men all had masks on their faces as they displayed weapons during the whole incident.
The suspects then left in a grey or silver Lincoln Navigator in an unknown direction.
A January 22, 2013 report:
A total of 7 people arrested.

Francisco Ibarra, Auner Hernandez, Ignacio Berrones, Daniel Flores, Merari Hernandez, Jackie Rocha and Pedro Martinez, all linked to one crime--aggravated robbery.

“In one instance they shot the door and kicked it down, in another instance two of the home occupants were injured by gunfire..so these folks mean business but maybe the publicity and hear about these arrest, maybe they’ll put up their guns, nonetheless we are not going to stop,” Hidalgo County Sherriff Lupe Trevino said.

The men are equipped with high caliber weapons disguising themselves with hockey masks.

They are not just targeting businesses they’re also targeting homes.

Sherriff Trevino said usually its bad guys on bad guys but in recent cases he’s noticed that there is no connection between the victim and the suspects.
The increase in aggravated robberies, has Sheriff Trevino pulling 12 to 15 lawmen from the Gang unit, SWAT unit, and the regular Patrol unit.

All have been chosen to a part of an armed robbery task force.

Trevino said they are the best of the best.

Results have been positive but they didn't meet all of their objectives

“The part that we didn’t accomplish is that we have yet to link these 7 people to the 2 home invasion...we actually think they are two separate groups driving a similar vehicle,” he said.

He said the armed robbery unit is still intact and says they will continue to do their job to bring crime down.
The 7 men caught in the aggravated robberies are linked to the Firebird Icehouse drive-thru in Donna and JR's Mini Mart in Weslaco.
 These are all from one news station in one metropolitan area over just a few weeks.

Can Conservatives Unite Under the Umbrella of "Gun Rights"

as many have discussed over the past several years, there has arising in the United States a distinct ruling class with its own rules, mores, social outlook, and thought processes, that are completely alien to the citizenry at large. I had previously noted an article by  Angelo Codevilla discussing the attributes of our new ruling elite.Codevilla has published a new article at Forbes that expands on the themes and discussion of his prior article. He writes, in part:

On January 1, 2013 one third of Republican congressmen, following their leaders, joined with nearly all Democrats to legislate higher taxes and more subsidies for Democratic constituencies. Two thirds voted no, following the people who had elected them. For generations, the Republican Party had presented itself as the political vehicle for Americans whose opposition to ever-bigger government financed by ever-higher taxes makes them a “country class.” Yet modern Republican leaders, with the exception of the Reagan Administration, have been partners in the expansion of government, indeed in the growth of a government-based “ruling class.” They have relished that role despite their voters. Thus these leaders gradually solidified their choice to no longer represent what had been their constituency, but to openly adopt the identity of junior partners in that ruling class. By repeatedly passing bills that contradict the identity of Republican voters and of the majority of Republican elected representatives, the Republican leadership has made political orphans of millions of Americans. In short, at the outset of 2013 a substantial portion of America finds itself un-represented, while Republican leaders increasingly represent only themselves.
By the law of supply and demand, millions of Americans, (arguably a majority) cannot remain without representation. Increasingly the top people in government, corporations, and the media collude and demand submission as did the royal courts of old. This marks these political orphans as a “country class.” In 1776 America’s country class responded to lack of representation by uniting under the concept: “all men are created equal.” In our time, its disparate sectors’ common sentiment is more like: “who the hell do they think they are?”
The ever-growing U.S. government has an edgy social, ethical, and political character. It is distasteful to a majority of persons who vote Republican and to independent voters, as well as to perhaps one fifth of those who vote Democrat. The Republican leadership’s kinship with the socio-political class that runs modern government is deep. Country class Americans have but to glance at the Media to hear themselves insulted from on high as greedy, racist, violent, ignorant extremists. Yet far has it been from the Republican leadership to defend them. Whenever possible, the Republican Establishment has chosen candidates for office – especially the Presidency – who have ignored, soft-pedaled or given mere lip service to their voters’ identities and concerns.
* * *

Political partisanship became a more important feature of American life over the past half-century largely because the Democratic Party, which has been paramount within the U.S. government since 1932, entrenched itself as America’s ruler, and its leaders became a ruling class. This caused a Newtonian “opposite reaction,” which continues to gather force.
In our time, the Democratic Party gave up the diversity that had characterized it since Jeffersonian times. Giving up the South, which had been its main bastion since the Civil War as well as the working classes that had been the heart of its big city machines from Boston to San Diego, it came to consist almost exclusively of constituencies that make up government itself or benefit from government. Big business, increasingly dependent on government contracts and regulation, became a virtual adjunct of the contracting agents and regulators. Democrats’ traditional labor union auxiliaries shifted from private employees to public. Administrators of government programs of all kinds, notably public assistance, recruited their clientele of dependents into the Party’s base. Democrats, formerly the party of slavery and segregation, secured the allegiance of racial minorities by unrelenting assertions that the rest of American society is racist. Administrators and teachers at all levels of education taught two generations that they are brighter and better educated than the rest of Americans, whose objections to the schools’ (and the Party’s) prescriptions need not be taken seriously.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of American education’s centralization, intellectual homogenization and partisanship in the formation of the ruling class’ leadership. Many have noted the increasing stratification of American society and that, unlike in decades past, entry into its top levels now depends largely on graduation from elite universities. As Charles Murray has noted, their graduates tend to marry one another, perpetuating what they like to call a “meritocracy.” But this is rule not by the meritorious, rather by the merely credentialed – because the credentials are suspect. As Ron Unz has shown, nowadays entry into the ivied gateways to power is by co-option, not merit. Moreover, the amount of study required at these universities leaves their products with more pretense than knowledge or skill. The results of their management– debt, decreased household net worth, increased social strife – show that America has been practicing negative selection of elites.

* * *
Republican leaders neither parry the insults nor vilify their Democratic counterparts in comparable terms because they do not want to beat the ruling class, but to join it in solving the nation’s problems. How did they come to cut such pathetic figures?
The Republican Party never fully adapted itself to the fact that modern big government is an interest group in and of itself, inherently at odds with the rest of society, that it creates a demand for representation by those it alienates, and hence that politicians must choose whether to represent the rulers or the ruled. The Republican Party had been the party of government between the Civil War and 1932. But government then was smaller in size, scope, and pretense. The Rockefellers of New York and Lodges of Massachusetts – much less the Tafts of Ohio – did not aspire to shape the lives of the ruled, as does modern government. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal largely shut these Republicans out of the patronage and power of modern government.
By the late 1930s, being out of power had begun to make the Republicans the default refuge of voters who did not like what the new, big government was doing. Some Republican leaders – the Taft wing of the Party – adopted this role. The Rockefeller wing did not. Though the latter were never entirely comfortable with the emerging Democratic ruling class, their big business constituency pressed them to be their advocate to it. A few such Republicans (e.g. Kevin Philips The Emerging Republican Majority) even dreamed during the Nixon-Ford Administration of the 1970s that they might replace Democrats at the head of the ruling class. But the die had been cast long since: Corporations, finance, and the entitled high and low – America’s “ins” – gravitated to the Democrats’ permanent power, while the “outs” fled into the Republican fold. Thus after WWII the Republican Party came to consist of office holders most of who yearned to be “ins,” and of voters who were mostly “outs.”
This internal contradiction was unsustainable. The Republican leadership, regarding its natural constituency as embarrassing to its pursuit of a larger role in government, limited its appeal to it. Thus it gradually cut itself off from the only root of the power by which it might gain that role. Thus the Republicans proved to be “the stupid party.”
In 1960 Barry Goldwater began the revolt of the Republican Party’s constituent “outsider” or “country class,” by calling for a grass-roots takeover of the Party. This led to Goldwater’s nomination for President in 1964. The Republican Establishment maligned him more vigorously than did the Democrats. But the Goldwater movement switched to Ronald Reagan, who overcame the Republican Establishment and the ruling class to win the Presidency by two landslide elections. Yet the question: “who or what does the Republican Party represent” continued to sharpen because the Reagan interlude was brief, because it never transformed the Party, and hence because the Bush (pere et fils) dynasty plus Congressional leadership (Newt Gingrich was a rebel against it and treated a such) behaved increasingly indistinguishably from Democrats. Government grew more rapidly under these Republican Administrations than under Democratic ones.
In sum, the closer one gets to the Republican Party’s voters, the more the Party looks like Goldwater and Reagan. The closer one gets to its top, the more it looks like the ghost of Rockefeller. Consider 2012: the party chose for President someone preferred by only one fourth of its voters – Mitt Romney, whose first youthful venture in politics had been to take part in the political blackballing of Barry Goldwater.
One reason for the Republican Party’s bipolarity is the centripetal attraction of the ruling class: In the absence of forces to the contrary, smaller bodies tend to become satellites of larger ones. Modern America’s homogenizing educational Establishment and the ruling class’ near monopoly on credentials, advancement, publicity, and money draws ambitious Republicans into the Democrats’ orbit. That is why for example a majority of the Republican Establishment, including The Wall Street Journal and the post-W.F. Buckley National Review supported the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and its premise that big, well-connected enterprises are “too big to fail” - which three fourths of the American people opposed vociferously. For these Republican cognoscenti vox populi is not vox dei, but the voice of idiots. Accordingly, after the 2010 elections produced a large contingent of Senators and Congressmen pledged to oppose measures such as the TARP, former Senate Republican majority leader Trent Lott expressed confidence that Washington would soon break the new members to its ways, that pledges to voters would count for little against the approval or disapproval of prestigious personages, against the profit to be made by going along with the ruling class and the trouble that comes from opposing it.

That trouble is daunting. Whoever chooses to represent the country class might have right and reason on their side. Nevertheless they can be certain that the ruling class media will not engage those reasons but vilify the persons who voice them as ignorant, irresponsible, etc. Asserting moral-intellectual superiority, chastising and intimidating rather than persuading opponents is by no means the least of the ruling class’ powers. “It’s the contempt, stupid!” But the Republican leadership has proved stupid enough to deal with the contempt as the Pharisee in the Temple dealt with sin: “I thank thee Lord that I am not like other Republicans…”

* * *
Today the majority of Republican congressmen plus a minority of senators – dissidents from the Party but solid with their voters – are the natural core of a new party. The name it might bear is irrelevant. Very relevant are sectors of America’s population increasingly represented by groups that sprang up to represent them when the Republican leadership did not.
This representation is happening by default. It is aided by the internet, which makes it possible to spread ideas to which the educational Establishment gives short shrift and which the ruling class media shun. In short, the internet helps undermine the ruling class’ near-homogenization of American intellectual life, its closing of the American mind. Not by reason but by bureaucratic force majeure had America’s educational Establishment isolated persons who deviate from it, cutting access to a sustaining flow of ideas that legitimize their way of life. But the internet allows marginalized dissenters to reason with audiences of millions. Ideas have consequences. No surprise then that more and more of Republican elected officials seem to think less like their leaders and more like their voters.
The internet also spread the power to organize. Already in the 1970s Richard Viguerie had begun to upset the political parties’ monopoly on organization by soliciting money from the general public for causes and candidates through direct mail. The internet amplified this technique’s effectiveness by orders of magnitude, making it possible to transmit ideas and political signals while drawing financial support from millions of likeminded people throughout the country. Thus informed with facts and opinion, sectors of the country class have felt represented and empowered vis a vis the ruling class. Those on the electronic distribution list of the “Club for Growth,” for example, are at least as well informed on economic matters as any credentialed policy maker. The several pro-life organizations have spread enough knowledge of embryology and moral logic to make Roe v. Wade, which the ruling class regards as its greatest victory, a shrinking island in American jurisprudence and society. The countless Tea Parties that have sprung up all over have added their countless attendees to networks of information and organization despite the ruling class’ effort to demonize them. The same goes for evangelicals, gun owners, etc. Though such groups represent the country class fragmentarily, country class people identify with them rather than with the Republican Party because the groups actually stand for something, and represent their adherents against the ruling class’ charges, insults, etc.
In short, he describes an elite that is self-selective and trained to think, act, and speak similarly through attendance at elite universities. However, the elite universities aren't "elite" in the sense of producing the best educated and visionary, but because they have been selected to be elite. They produce people that think they are smarter than everyone else, but actually aren't. The problem is, both the Democratic and Republican elites move in the same circles. Conservatives are unrepresented in the upper echelons of government, big business, and education. (Rush Limbough's lament that for the first time he is ashamed of his country is a result of lock-step thinking of both parties in Congress).

Codevilla is not alone in his thinking on this. For instance, Megan McCardle wrote earlier this week about America's New Mandarins:
But I think that we are looking at something even deeper than that: the Mandarinization of America.

The Chinese imperial bureaucracy was immensely powerful. Entrance was theoretically open to anyone, from any walk of society—as long as they could pass a very tough examination. The number of passes was tightly restricted to keep the bureaucracy at optimal size.
Passing the tests and becoming a “scholar official” was a ticket to a very good, very secure life. And there is something to like about a system like this ... especially if you happen to be good at exams. Of course, once you gave the imperial bureaucracy a lot of power, and made entrance into said bureaucracy conditional on passing a tough exam, what you have is ... a country run by people who think that being good at exams is the most important thing on earth. Sound familiar?

The people who pass these sorts of admissions tests are very clever. But they're also, as time goes on, increasingly narrow. The way to pass a series of highly competitive exams is to focus every fiber of your being on learning what the authorities want, and giving it to them. To the extent that the "Tiger Mom" phenomenon is actually real, it's arguably the cultural legacy of the Mandarin system
That system produced many benefits, but some of those benefits were also costs. A single elite taking a single exam means a single way of thinking:
The examination system also served to maintain cultural unity and consensus on basic values. The uniformity of the content of the examinations meant that the local elite and ambitious would-be elite all across China were being indoctrinated with the same values.
All elites are good at rationalizing their eliteness, whether it's meritocracy or “the divine right of kings.” The problem is the mandarin elite has some good arguments. They really are very bright and hardworking. It’s just that they’re also prone to be conformist, risk averse, obedient, and good at echoing the opinions of authority, because that is what this sort of examination system selects for.
The even greater danger is that they become more and more removed from the people they are supposed to serve. ...
... many of the mandarins have never worked for a business at all, except for a think tank, the government, a media organization, or a school—places that more or less deliberately shield their content producers from the money side of things. There is nothing wrong with any of these places, but culturally and operationally they're very different from pretty much any other sort of institution. I don't myself claim to understand how most businesses work, but having switched from business to media, I'm aware of how different they can be.
In fact, I think that to some extent, the current political wars are a culture war not between social liberals and social conservatives, but between the values of the mandarin system and the values of those who compete in the very different culture of ordinary businesses--ones outside glamour industries like tech or design.

... The road to a job as a public intellectual now increasingly runs through a few elite schools, often followed by a series of very-low-paid internships that have to be subsidized by well-heeled parents, or at least a free bedroom in a major city. The fact that I have a somewhat meandering work and school history, and didn't become a journalist until I was 30, gives me some insight (she said, modestly) that is hard to get if you’re on a laser-focused track that shoots you out of third grade and straight toward a career where you write and think for a living. Almost none of the kids I meet in Washington these days even had boring menial high-school jobs working in a drugstore or waiting tables; they were doing “enriching” internships or academic programs. And thus the separation of the mandarin class grows ever more complete.
I’m hinting at the final problem, which is that this ostensibly meritocratic system increasingly selects from those with enough wealth and connections to first, understand the system, and second, prepare the right credentials to enter it—as I believe it also did in Imperial China.
And like all elites, they believe that they not only rule because they can, but because they should. Even many quite left-wing folks do not fundamentally question the idea that the world should be run by highly verbal people who test well and turn their work in on time. They may think that machine operators should have more power and money in the workplace, and salesmen and accountants should have less. But if they think there's anything wrong with the balance of power in the system we all live under, it is that clever mandarins do not have enough power to bend that system to their will. For the good of everyone else, of course. Not that they spend much time with everyone else, but they have excellent imaginations.

As I say, the mandarins are in many senses deserving: they work very hard, and they are very smart. But there is one important thing they do not know, which is what it is like to be anyone except a mandarin. ...
But the people entering journalism, or finance, or consulting, or any other "elite" profession, are increasingly the children of the children of those who rocketed to prosperity through the postwar education system. A window that opened is closing. The mandarins are pulling away from the rest of America.
     There are several implications from this. Most significantly, as Glenn Reynolds has written about, and Codevilla discusses in this earlier article on the Perils of Revolution, this produces what Reynolds calls the "moocher" class, those people (both poor, middle-class, and wealthy) who make their living from government largess, and the creative/working class that actually produce wealth (otherwise known as the "suckers"). However, because the elite rely on the "moochers" (and vice versa), and as Codevilla's notes in his article cited above, it leaves the rest of America without any representation or say in government.

     The question is who will step up to the plate. As Codevilla discusses, because the "country class" are unrepresented, they must turn to other groups to represent them. However, these groups are fragmented. Some groups don't particularly like one another. For instance, libertarians, who often support gay marriage, abortion, and drug legalization, are at odds with conservative Christians, although they may otherwise see eye-to-eye on government spending and overreach.

     One viable unifying voice was the Tea Party. (Rush Limbough may be trying to help strengthen the Tea Party). This is why I believe that the elite were so vocal in their attacks (including the crude references to "tea bagging") against the Tea Party.

     However, the ruling elite have identified another second unifying voice--cutting across the divides of many conservatives--and are now attacking it. That is gun rights. Passage of the 1994 Assault Weapons bill was devastating to the elite. For the first time ever, a Speaker of the House lost reelection. It was, in fact, responsible for sweeping Republicans into power in Congress. And it resonates among many voters. After the earlier Assault Weapons bill sunset, George W. Bush indicated that he was willing to pass a new ban if Congress put it before him. I know that a lot of gun owners that thought it was just empty rhetoric, but I believe he was serious. However, at that time, the proposal was dead in the water (although Federal regulations based on the AWB seemed to live on).

    I think the success of the Tea Party in these last two elections has scared the elite (both Democratic and Republican). So, not only must they crush the Tea Party, but they must also crush the "gun lobby," as these are increasingly becoming the only real challenge to their homogeneity. This, I believe, is why the President and his ilk are pushing gun control so strongly now.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Al Qaeda's Tips for Avoiding a Drone Attack


You may have seen news stories from a few days ago reporting on the discovery, in Mali, of an Al Qaeda list of tips for thwarting drone attacks. Whether they are efficacious or not is questionable, but here they are (via the Telegraph):
1. It is possible to know the intention and the mission of the drone by using the Russianmade “sky grabber” device to infiltrate the drone’s waves and the frequencies. The device is available in the market for $2,595 and the one who operates it should be a computer know-how.
2. Using devices that broadcast frequencies or pack of frequencies to disconnect the contacts and confuse the frequencies used to control the drone. The Mujahideen have had successful experiments using the Russian-made “Racal.”
3. Spreading the reflective pieces of glass on a car or on the roof of the building.
4. Placing a group of skilled snipers to hunt the drone, especially the reconnaissance ones because they fly low, about six kilometres or less.
5. Jamming of and confusing of electronic communication using the ordinary water-lifting dynamo fitted with a 30-metre copper pole.
6. Jamming of and confusing of electronic communication using old equipment and keeping them 24-hour running because of their strong frequencies and it is possible using simple ideas of deception of equipment to attract the electronic waves devices similar to that used by the Yugoslav army when they used the microwave (oven) in attracting and confusing the Nato missiles fitted with electromagnetic searching devices.
7. Using general confusion methods and not to use permanent headquarters.
8. Discovering the presence of a drone through well-placed reconnaissance networks and to warn all the formations to halt any movement in the area.
9. To hide from being directly or indirectly spotted, especially at night.
10. To hide under thick trees because they are the best cover against the planes.
11. To stay in places unlit by the sun such as the shadows of the buildings or the trees.
12. Maintain complete silence of all wireless contacts.
13. Disembark of vehicles and keep away from them especially when being chased or during combat.
14. To deceive the drone by entering places of multiple entrances and exits.
15. Using underground shelters because the missiles fired by these planes are usually of the fragmented anti-personnel and not anti-buildings type.
16. To avoid gathering in open areas and in urgent cases, use building of multiple doors or exits.
17. Forming anti-spies groups to look for spies and agents.
18. Formation of fake gatherings such as using dolls and statutes to be placed outside false ditches to mislead the enemy.
19. When discovering that a drone is after a car, leave the car immediately and everyone should go in different direction because the planes are unable to get after everyone.
20. Using natural barricades like forests and caves when there is an urgent need for training or gathering.
21. In frequently targeted areas, use smoke as cover by burning tires.
22. As for the leaders or those sought after, they should not use communications equipment because the enemy usually keeps a voice tag through which they can identify the speaking person and then locate him.

The Spreading Shiite-Sunni Conflict

While the Syrian civil war is generally described in the media as a popular revolt against President Assad, it has increasingly become a sectarian war between Shiites and Sunnis, mirroring increased violence between the groups throughout the Middle-East. One concern with the Syrian conflict was that it might spread across the border into Lebanon, further destabilizing the region. That appears to be what is beginning to happen. From the Washington Free Beacon (Feb. 21, 2013):
Syrian rebels have reportedly bombed two compounds operated by the Lebanese terror organization Hezbollah, the main Syrian opposition group announced Thursday.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) claims its forces bombed Hezbollah facilities in Lebanon and Syria, a cross-border raid that indicates the rebels’ desire to increase their attacks on allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“The development may mark a critical turn in Syria’s two-year war, bearing out fears that the increasingly sectarian conflict would spill over across Syria’s borders,” according to the Israel Project (TIP), which first reported on the operation.
Hezbollah reportedly has been preparing for an attack and had placed its forces on “high alert” in recent weeks according to TIP, a pro-Israel media group that spoke to FSA sources who confirmed the attack.
Syrian rebels have increased their rhetoric against Hezbollah, which has backed Assad’s regime.
The FSA claimed in recent days that Hezbollah had fired at its troops and then threatened to shell the terror group’s strongholds in retaliation, according to regional reports.
The FSA’s apparent willingness to strike Hezbollah indicates that a larger proxy war is playing out between the rebels and Assad’s backers, including Iran.
President Barack Obama has refused to intervene in the conflict in any significant military manner.
Middle East experts say Hezbollah is supporting Assad at the behest of its main sponsor Iran.
“For a group [Hezbollah] that has always portrayed itself as standing up for the dispossessed in the face of injustice, downplaying its sectarian and pro-Iranian identities, supporting a brutal Alawite-dominated regime against the predominantly Sunni Syrian, opposition risked shattering a long-cultivated image,” said Matthew Levitt, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.
“In the end, the strategic necessity of preventing the collapse of the Assad regime—which, if replaced by a regime representing the country’s Sunni majority, would be far less friendly to Hezbollah and possibly outright opposed to it—took precedence over the need to maintain the party’s image,” said Levitt.

An Invisible War in the Oceans...

... between viruses and bacteria. From NBC News:
The discovery of new viruses that appear to be spread around the world's oceans hints at a war waging between such viruses and their prey: an abundant group of bacteria.
The bacteria, collectively known as SAR11, are the most abundant organisms known to inhabit seawater.
They are everywhere, from the surface down to the bottom, from pole to pole," said study researcher Stephen Giovannoni, a professor of microbiology at Oregon State University, adding that SAR11 microbes are most abundant in the warm waters of ocean gyres, or rotating currents, where they can account for as much as 40 percent of plankton cells.
... In 1990, Giovannoni's lab first identified these microbes using DNA (the genetic code deoxyribonucleic acid) found in water collected near Bermuda in the Sargasso Sea. Microbes in this group were later identified in waters around the world.
More recently, using samples collected from the Sargasso Sea as well as from coastal Oregon waters, Giovannoni's team identified the four new viruses, which, the team found, killed SAR11 cells in laboratory experiments. They dubbed the viruses "pelagiphages," because they infect bacteria in the open ocean.
The team sequenced the genomes of these pelagiphages and compared these with DNA from other viruses. They found similarities between the pelagiphages and viruses that attack other ocean-dwelling bacteria. One of the new viruses, however, was so new that it created a new group, called a subfamily, of so-called podoviruses.

Russian Ghost Ship

This is interesting. The Daily Mail reports:
The MV Lyubov Orlova - named after a famous Soviet actress - was being towed to the Dominican Republic to be scrapped when the cable pulling it snapped, leaving the Orlova to slip away as the crew on board the towing ship battled howling winds and 10ft waves to try in vain to reconnect the line.

The stranded liner, which had left Canadian shores on January 23, was later secured by the supply vessel Atlantic Hawk, but the ship drifted loose a second time, according to a report on the PhysOrg website
Maritime authorities in Canada could not pinpoint the location of the ship, which has no warning lights and a broken global positioning system.
But now a U.S. intelligence agency has reported that the Orlova was sighted 1,300 nautical miles from Ireland's west coast.
Canada's transport authority has said the abandoned ship is no longer its concern as the vessel has left the country's waters, with officials insisting the owner of the Orlova is responsible for its movements.
A document from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency states that the Lyubov Orlova was spotted at the co-ordinates 49-22.70N and 044-51.34W, or roughly 1,300 miles from the Irish coast.
The agency analyses satellite imagery and uses the results to create detailed maps for the U.S. government.
The empty liner is understood to be slowly drifting towards the European coastline.
Now home only to rats, the 1976-built ship once carried passengers on Antarctic cruises.
The ship was seized by authorities in Newfoundland in 2010 amid spiralling debts owed to charter firm Cruise North Expeditions after faults on board meant a scheduled cruise had to be cancelled.
She is understood to have been sold to Neptune International Shipping in February last year to be broken up.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

America's Birth Dearth

The Daily Beast/Newsweek examines the decline in fertility in the U.S. and the implications for the country. Notable comment:
These changes are not theoretical or inconsequential. Europe and East Asia, trailblazers in population decline, have spent decades trying to push up their birthrates and revitalize aging populations while confronting the political, economic, and social consequences of them. It’s time for us to consider what an aging, increasingly child-free population, growing more slowly, would mean here. As younger Americans individually eschew families of their own, they are contributing to the ever-growing imbalance between older retirees—basically their parents—and working-age Americans, potentially propelling both into a spiral of soaring entitlement costs and diminished economic vigor and creating a culture marked by hyperindividualism and dependence on the state as the family unit erodes.

Crudely put, the lack of productive screwing could further be screwing the screwed generation.
After considering the situation in Japan, the article goes on:
American marriage is faltering—and the baby is being thrown out with the bath water. Forty-four percent of millennials agree that marriage is becoming “obsolete.” And even among those who support tying the knot (including many of those who say it’s obsolete), just 41 percent say children are important for a marriage—down from 65 percent in 1990. It was the only factor to show a significant decline. (Others, such as sharing chores, sexual relationship, and sharing politics, either held steady or were seen as increasingly important.) On the flip side of the coin, the percentage of adults who disagreed with the contention that people without children “lead empty lives” has shot up, to 59 percent in 2002 from 39 percent in 1988.

Even before the 2008 crash, childlessness among American women ages 40 to 44 of all races and ethnicities had steadily increased for a decade, with the proportion of childless women doubling from 10 percent in 1980 to 20 percent today. But the negative trend has accelerated since the Great Recession began. In 2007 the fertility rate in America was 2.12 and had been holding nearly steady for decades at about replacement rate—the highest level of any advanced country. In just half a decade since, the rate has dropped to 1.9, the lowest since 1920 (when reliable records began being kept) and just half of the peak rate in 1957, in the midst of the baby boom, according to the Pew Research Center. Now projections of future U.S. population growth are diving, with the census estimate for 2050 down almost 10 percent from the mark predicted in 2008.

Making the trend even more worrisome, the sharpest drop in fertility and birthrates came from immigrants, particularly Hispanics, who hitherto have been responsible for much of our continued population growth. But that unique advantage seems to have ended, with net migration from Mexico to the U.S. having stopped or possibly even reversed since 2008, according to Pew. Mexico’s own fertility rate has plunged, from 7.3 in 1960 to 2.4 today; among immigrants, the rate drops to the American norm in just a generation.

In the short run, the falling birthrate has coincided with the emergence, for the first time, of the single and childless as a self-aware, powerful, and left-leaning political constituency. Yet what’s proven good for the Democratic Party may not be so good for the country in the long term. Even using the more optimistic 2008 projections, the proportion of retirees to working Americans—sometimes called the “dependency ratio”—is likely to rise to 35 retirees for every 100 workers in 2050, twice today’s ratio. That sets the stage for a fight over debt, austerity, benefits, and government spending that will make the vicious battles of the last four years seem more like, well, a tea party.