a Sunni Mesopotamian wasteland masquerading as a caliphate

VDH offers some next steps in Ruins of the Middle East:

At this late date, amid the ruins of the last half-century’s foreign policy from Libya and Egypt to Syria, Iraq, and Iran, the U.S. should hunker down and distance itself from its enemies and grow closer to its few remaining friends. We need to arm the Kurds, and help them to save what is left of Kurdish Syria. We should inform Erdogan that either he joins the fight against ISIS or we will welcome a large and autonomous Kurdistan and would prefer that Turkeyleave NATO, as it should have long ago. We should forget the “peace process” and recognize that Hamas is an existential enemy of America and almost all our friends, and instead encourage an alignment of Egypt, the Kurds, Jordan, Israel, and a few of  the saner Gulf States against both ISIS and the new and soon-to-be-nuclear Iranian Axis.

A final note. In this period of fluid jihadism and changing alliances, we should make it extremely difficult for anyone from most Middle Eastern countries (except the few friendly nations mentioned above) to receive a visa to reside in the U.S., a first step in reminding the region that its cheap anti-Americanism has at least a few consequences. And just because ISIS is primordial does not mean that Assad and Iran are not medieval. They are not our friends just because they are enemies of our enemies; they simply remain our enemies squabbling with other enemies.

The present chaos of the Middle East was caused by our withdrawal from Iraq and a widespread sense that the U.S. had forfeited its old responsibilities and interests, and was either on the side of the Arab Spring Islamists or indifferent to those who opposed them. Tragically, while order may soon return, it is likely to be as a sort of Cold War standoff between a pro-Russian, pro-Chinese — and very nuclear – Iranian bloc, and a Sunni Mesopotamian wasteland masquerading as a caliphate, run by beheaders and fueled by petrodollars, with assistance from Turkey and freelancing Wahhabi royals from the Gulf.

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Apocalypse Soonish

“Today’s apocalyptic prophecies perform the function that such predictions always have: to organize people around a cause, to impose order on them, to wring money out of the flock, and to grossly oversimplify enormously complex problems.”

So says Kevin D. Williamson in Apocalypse Soonish.  Long-ish excerpt follows.  I love this guy’s brain/writing/sense of humor.  “The End Times roll on.”  Heh heh.

I have neither the expertise nor the inclination to relitigate the ups and downs of the climate-change debate, which rivals the Israeli–Palestinian conflict in its tediousness and intractability. But even if we set aside the criticism of the skeptics, including the best-informed of them, and limit ourselves to the projections of the more enthusiastic true believers, there is not much to justify the apocalyptic tone generally associated with the issue. The International Panel on Climate Change, for example, predicts that the costs of adapting to global warming will amount to a couple of points of global economic product a century from now. Obviously, some places will suffer more than others, but if the IPCC model is correct, then we are talking about a burden, not an apocalypse.

Benjamin Strauss, who revels in the prolix title of “vice president for climate impacts and director of the program on sea-level rise” for Climate Central, “an independent organization of leading scientists and journalists researching and reporting the facts about our changing climate and its impact on the American public,” early this summer published an article about the possible effects on American cities of rising sea levels induced by climate change. He reports that in New York City, the U.S. city “most threatened in the long run” in terms of the total number of people living in areas less than ten feet above sea level, some 700,000 people might be forced to find new homes — a century or so hence. That is about 8.3 percent of New York City’s population: not a trivial figure, but not the silence in heaven accompanying the opening of the seventh seal, either. There are a great many things that might induce 700,000 New Yorkers to choose different places of residence over the next century — say, the reelection of Bill de Blasio. Indeed, New York lost 10.1 percent of its population in a single decade not long ago, during the years from 1970 to 1980. Bad governance, failing schools, and a city wage tax caused Philadelphia to lose 28 percent of its population in half a century. People move around. Again, not an outcome that we would desire, ceteris paribus, but not the Four Horsemen, either.

We generally talk about climate change in terms of what’s expected to happen over the next century, but even that may be precipitate. According to Rob Painting, a true believer who writes for Skeptical Science, a website specifically dedicated to debunking climate-change skepticism, the response of the Greenland ice sheet to historical warming has generally happened “straight away,” meaning a lag time of essentially nothing to . . . a century. The Antarctic ice sheet, he writes, has generally had a lag time of between four and seven centuries, meaning that the time that passes between higher temperatures, should they come to pass, and the worst effects of rising sea levels could reasonably be expected to equal the amount of time that passed between the composition of the Summa Theologica and the composition of Abbey Road, or the interval between the apex of Marco Polo’s career and that of Gennifer Flowers. The sorts of mitigating policies preferred by the climate-change lobby require the balancing of complex and fast-changing economic and political considerations and calculations that are impossible to make over such periods of time. Congress cannot even bind subsequent congresses — legislating on a centuries-long timeline is absurd.

Today’s apocalyptic prophecies perform the function that such predictions always have: to organize people around a cause, to impose order on them, to wring money out of the flock, and to grossly oversimplify enormously complex problems. Some 2,000 years of Christian moral reasoning, and all of the complexity it involves, is utterly powerless in the public imagination compared with a version of the end times that is functionally indistinguishable from “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” — he’s making a list, he’s checking it twice, he’s gonna find out who’s naughty and nice. The sins have changed — today, we are expected to feel guilty about buying the wrong car instead of worshipping the wrong god — but the underlying mystical narrative is the same as it always has been, and there’s a good reason that the apocalyptic episode in the Terminator sci-fi universe has a familiar name (“Judgment Day”) or that the aspect of the global-warming story that has captured the public imagination is organized around a fundamentally Biblical episode: a great flood. And if 700,000 New Yorkers have to relocate in the face of divine wrath, the Akkadians got it a lot worse back in Gilgamesh’s day.

The point of revisiting this is not merely to abuse today’s alarmists with their recent follies, good sport though that is. Mr. Gwynne is absolutely correct that the fact that “the science” seems to have been spectacularly wrong in 1975 does not mean that it is wrong today. What it means is that it’s a damned lucky thing we did not cover the polar ice caps in coal soot.

It may be that the next time the Hale-Bopp comet rolls around, it will be trailed by a spaceship haunted by Marshall Applewhite and his Heaven’s Gate buddies, who will get what turns out to be finally and truly the last laugh. It may be that the Almighty, Who is by all scriptural accounts awfully unpredictable in these matters, will finally decide that He has had enough of our guff on April 6 of the coming year, or the year after. Everybody reads the tea leaves in his own way: I note with deep existential dread that the new Denny’s that has just opened up in lower Manhattan is offering a $300 brunch special, basically Moons over My Hammy with a bottle of 2004 Dom Pérignon, which may not be a sign that the end is at hand but surely is a sign that it ought to be. Malthusians, UFO cultists, end-times Christians, Luddites, nanotech truthers, science-fiction writers, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and others expecting the apocalypse-heralding Twelfth Imam to pop up like an angry Islamic jack-in-the-box out of some dusty Persian well, environmentalists of all stripes — coolers and warmers alike — astrologers, no-nukes crusaders, grown adults who are mortally terrified of corn and vaccines, and Al Gore all have promised us, each in his turn, an end of the world practically since its beginning. The scientists are very excited about the new reverb subsetting services for their NASA GLAS HDF5 data, whatever those are. One of these groups is more intimately engaged with reality than the other.

Posted in Environmentalism, Science | Leave a comment

The Cost of Carbon Reductions

h/t  Kevin D. Williamson in The Cost of Carbon Reductions

One of the problems with the global-warming conversation is that it is a political and economic debate masquerading as a scientific debate. Even when one takes as given the consensus view of how and why global warming operates, the policies do not flow inevitably and plainly from the science. The main obstacle to adopting an effective global-warming policy in the United States is not, contra Neil deGrasse Tyson et al., skepticism about scientific claims. Rather, the main obstacle to our adopting an effective global-warming policy is that the warming globe has upon it China, India, etc. Global warming is a global issue, and even radical cuts in the U.S. emissions would have little practical effect in the absence of similarly serious commitments in the rest of the world. And it is here that Tyson and his acolytes refuse to deal with reality. Forget about getting China to agree to artificially lower its future standard of living; here in the real world, even progressives in rich countries are backing away from modest global-warming policies.

Elsewhere (today’s WSJ) we learn that When you’re already rich you can afford self-defeating moral gestures.

The heirs to John D. Rockefeller ’s oil fortune are getting out of the fossil fuels business, as you may have heard from their many media admirers. That was the news last month after the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, with close to $860 million in assets, announced that it would divest the roughly 7% of its funds currently in fossil fuels.

“The action we’re taking is symbolism, but it is important symbolism,” said fund president Stephen Heintz. “We’re making a moral case, but also, increasingly, an economic case.” Mr. Heintz and the family he represents can reach their own moral conclusions about disavowing the energy industry that made them rich. But allow us to report a few of the economic—and environmental—facts.

But not everyone is on board:

“Logic and experience indicate that barring investments in a major, integral sector of the global economy would—especially for a large endowment reliant on sophisticated economic techniques, pooled funds, and broad diversification—come at a substantial cost,” wrote Harvard President Drew Faust last year, explaining the University’s refusal to join the divestment brigades.

“I also find a troubling inconsistency,” she added, “in the notion that, as an investor, we should boycott a whole class of companies at the same time that, as individuals and as a community, we are extensively relying on those companies products and services for so much of what we do every day.”

And in conclusion… the answer is capitalism and private investment in new tech (funded by today’s – and yesterday’s – profits).

Meantime, those tempted to join the Rockefellers ’ “moral” crusade might consider that the U.S. has decreased its carbon output tonnage more than any country, mostly thanks to the innovations of fracking and horizontal drilling, which have led to the natural gas shale revolution. These carbon reductions would never have happened if previous generations of Rockefellers had refused to invest in fossil fuels.

All of which makes the divestment campaign less about economic logic than a self-defeating act of moral posturing.

Posted in Environmentalism, Politics, Science | Leave a comment

Underfunded killer bureaucracies

Daniel Henninger writes in today’s WSJ that “From Ebola to the Secret Service, ‘killer bureaucracies’ have become a clear and present danger.”

The Secret Service is so disorganized it can’t protect, of all things, the White House. Veterans died waiting for admission to VA hospitals. The CDC lost track of anthrax, smallpox and H5N1 bird-flu samples. At the State Department, no one seems to quite know why a U.S. ambassador died in Benghazi. The 9/11 Commission explained in detail how the attackers evaded the bureaucracies. Add to this list the Internal Revenue Service, an agency of extraordinary power that has forfeited the public’s trust.

The “theoretical defense” of failures like these is that bureaucracies “perform large, needed tasks in a predictable way” and Liberalism’s perpetual answer for the failures is that the agencies need more money, i.e., “underfunding raises the risk of bad outcomes.”

But what if this argument is not only wrong but is now dangerous? What if we have reached a point past which using money to make already large bureaucracies bigger makes the likelihood of catastrophic events worse?

Forget FDR and the glory days of the 1930s. Federal bureaucracies in the 21st century are breaking apart amid a perfect storm of size, complexity and technology. The debris is endangering all of us…

People who study how complex systems work or fail have long known that introducing new or additional rules often increases the odds that the people operating the systems will make more mistakes…

The political class is clueless, or doesn’t care. With “reform” legislation such as Dodd-Frank, ObamaCare, Sarbanes-Oxley and the no-doubt imminent Ebola outlays, the compulsive fix-it men of politics make matters worse. These complex requirements are time bombs primed for more catastrophe – another financial crisis, another deadly VA scandal. They increase the confusions in an intrinsically error-prone bureaucratic system.

The answer isn’t impossibly wise and incorruptible angels using a bigger computer to centralize more power.

My guess is that the answer to this plague of bureaucratic damage runs in the opposite direction, toward scaled-down, distributed public responsibilities. Less power but better, safer performance.

Michael Barone makes very similar points in his column today:

…an increasing perception that big government just doesn’t work very well — even at things nearly everyone agrees government should do, such as providing healthcare for veterans or protecting the president and his family.

The deterioration in government’s competence is not just a recent or American phenomenon. That’s a point made in three recent books by the Economist’s John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, Yale law professor Peter Schuck, and New York lawyer Philip Howard. It’s also a major topic in Francis Fukuyama’s recently released Political Order and Political Decay.

But it is a process that has gained speed under a president who doesn’t seem much interested in the mechanics of government and whose confidence that more spending will produce better results keeps being undermined by events.

Democrats this year are running not just against the trend that presidencies usually (though not always) grow stale in their sixth year. They are in the uncomfortable position of defending policies which work against the grain of change in an Information Age, and for putting more trust in a government that isn’t competently performing basic tasks.

That’s an uphill climb as the world spins out of control, government keeps floundering, and the president seems unable to master events.

Posted in Freedom, Politics | Leave a comment

“The lifeless expression of consultant-guided anti-truth.”

Love that quip, and more, from the recent Noonan at WSJ, The New Bureaucratic Brazenness.  “Official arrogance is the source of public cynicism.”

We’re all used to a certain amount of doublespeak and bureaucratese in government hearings. That’s as old as forever. But in the past year of listening to testimony from government officials, there is something different about the boredom and indifference with which government testifiers skirt, dodge and withhold the truth. They don’t seem furtive or defensive; they are not in the least afraid. They speak always with a certain carefulness—they are lawyered up—but they have no evident fear of looking evasive…  They care only about personal legal exposure. They do not fear public wrath

Everything sounds like propaganda. That will happen when government becomes too huge, too present and all-encompassing…

We are locked in some loop where the public figure knows what he must pronounce to achieve his agenda, and the public knows what he must pronounce to achieve his agenda, and we all accept what is being said while at the same time everyone sees right through it. The public figure literally says, “Prepare my talking points,” and the public says, “He’s just reading talking points.” It leaves everyone feeling compromised. Public officials gripe they can’t break through the cynicism. They cause the cynicism.

The only people who seem to tell the truth now are the people inside the agencies who become whistleblowers. They call a news organization, get on the phone with a congressman’s staff. That’s basically how the Veterans Affairs and Secret Service scandals broke: Desperate people who couldn’t take the corruption dropped a dime. What does it say about a great nation when its most reliable truth tellers are desperate people?

Sometimes it looks as if everyone in public life is in showbiz, only showbiz with impermeable employee protections. Lois Lerner of IRS fame planted the question, told the lie, took the Fifth, lost the emails and stonewalled. Her punishment for all this was a $100,000-a-year pension for the rest of her life. Imagine how frightened she was. I wonder what the Secret Service head’s pension will be?

A nation can’t continue to be vibrant and healthy when the government controls more and more, and yet no one trusts a thing the government says. It’s hard to keep going that way.

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Free speech on campus

Of the latest in a long line of sad examples of colleges dis-inviting conservative speakers, Charles C. W. Cooke writes:

As it happens, I suspect that the decision-makers at Scripps would be sincerely astounded to learn how fanatical they appear from the outside, for their disinvitation is likely to be less the product of intellectual insecurity and more the end result of a genuine divergence between Left and Right. As a rule, conservatives believe that the matter of free expression is extremely simple: First, you let everybody speak on equal terms, whatever they choose to say; then, you permit anybody so moved to respond; and then, possessed of a decent respect for the opinions of mankind, you let the chips fall where they may, all the while accepting that life isn’t fair and that man is fallen. The academic and cultural Left, by contrast, seems increasingly to maintain that the question of speech is a convoluted and sticky one, and that the Right’s seemingly straightforward appeals to diversity of thought and free expression are hopelessly complicated in reality by Foucauldian power dynamics, by the existence of qualitatively different types of speech (“hate” speech, “propaganda,” “corporate speech,” voices that “must be heard,” etc.), and by the disquieting potential for listeners to be in some way damaged or set off (or “triggered”) by the experience. One really cannot overstate the incompatibility of these positions. For modern conservatives, an absolute defense of free expression is a cut and dried principle — the hallmark of civilization and human liberty. But for many modern progressives — especially those in academia — unfettered speech represents just one item within a busy hierarchy of competing values; an important idea, certainly, but not an unalienable one. This, I think, explains a great deal. If you believe — as many of his critics suggested at the time — that George Will did not merely write a criticism of the alleged campus rape epidemic but that, in some way, he actually did “violence” to women, it seems clear that you wouldn’t want him on campus.

The salient question, then, has to be this: Does Scripps know that, by ensuring that its campus will remain a parochial and intellectually cramped sort of place, it is doing its students a genuine disservice? Honestly, I doubt that it does. As politically and culturally useful as it might be for critics of the college racket to imagine otherwise, the authorities almost certainly did not disinvite Will in order to prevent the free-thinking among their charges from getting the “wrong” ideas about the United States. Instead, they will have convinced themselves that they were merely curating information in a manner that most effectively benefits the whole student body. Such attitudes, alas, are no longer relegated to the fringes, but have instead made inroads into businesses, charities, and even the U.S. government. Consider how often we see spokesmen say with a straight face that their organization is “too tolerant” to tolerate eccentrics, “too diverse” to allow outliers, and “too open” to permit free debate.

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Minimum Wage 101

This article (Minimum Wage, Maximum Politics) might have been titled Minimum Wage 101 if it hadn’t been published on the same date as the equally good Regulatory Capture 101.  “A mandated 40% increase in labor costs will put people out of work. But, hey, anything to help get out the vote.”

Key excerpts:

[Raising the minimum wage] sounds nice, and the hike would give a raise to Americans who already have jobs earning the minimum wage, assuming that they’re still employed after the required raise. Unfortunately, this 40% minimum-wage hike would also reduce employment opportunities for those who need them most…

The point is simple: The feds can mandate a higher wage, but some jobs don’t produce enough economic value to bear the increase. If government could transform unskilled entry-level positions into middle-income jobs, the Soviet Union would be today’s dominant world economy. Spain and Greece would be thriving.

But here’s what middle-class business owners, who live in the real world, will do when faced with a 40% increase in labor costs. They will cut jobs and rely more on technology. Such changes are already happening in banks, gas stations, grocery stores, airports and, more recently, restaurants. Almost every restaurant chain in the country from Applebee’s to McDonald’s is testing or already implementing automated ordering with tablets or kiosks.

The only other option is to raise prices. Yet it would be near-impossible to increase prices enough to offset the wage hike, particularly given today’s economic conditions. More important, price increases burden consumers, particularly those with low incomes who are supposed to be helped by a minimum-wage increase

An effective minimum-wage policy would also recognize that there are at least two distinct groups of workers who earn the minimum wage. First, there are breadwinners trying to support a family. This is relatively uncommon; such individuals represent only about 15% of minimum-wage earners, or about 0.3% of all wage and salaried employees, according to the nonpartisan Washington Policy Center.

Then there are young people who need entry-level job experience to get on the ladder of opportunity. Half of people earning at or below minimum wage are under 24 and 24% are teenagers, according to BLS. While a minimum-wage increase would benefit heads of households, who retain their jobs, it would typically price America’s youth out of the labor market, particularly America’s working-class youth. A sensible minimum-wage policy would exempt teenagers and students who need these jobs.

Finally, an effective policy would consider geography. Take California: In San Francisco, the unemployment rate was 4.7% in August thanks in large part to the tech boom in nearby Silicon Valley. A mere 80 miles away in Stockton, it was 10.3%. San Francisco’s economy can sustain a higher minimum wage, but in Stockton many people need any job they can find. States and cities should be allowed to adjust the minimum wage based on regional economic conditions or local needs…

Posted in Economics, Politics | Leave a comment