Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Myth of the 97% Consensus

By Joseph Bast And Roy Spencer

May 26, 2014 7:13 p.m. ET: Last week Secretary of State John Kerry warned graduating students at Boston College of the "crippling consequences" of climate change. "Ninety-seven percent of the world's scientists," he added, "tell us this is urgent."

Where did Mr. Kerry get the 97% figure? Perhaps from his boss, President Obama, who tweeted on May 16 that "Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: #climate change is real, man-made and dangerous." Or maybe from NASA, which posted (in more measured language) on its website, "Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities."

Yet the assertion that 97% of scientists believe that climate change is a man-made, urgent problem is a fiction. The so-called consensus comes from a handful of surveys and abstract-counting exercises that have been contradicted by more reliable research.

One frequently cited source for the consensus is a 2004 opinion essay published in Science magazine by Naomi Oreskes, a science historian now at Harvard. She claimed to have examined abstracts of 928 articles published in scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, and found that 75% supported the view that human activities are responsible for most of the observed warming over the previous 50 years while none directly dissented.

Ms. Oreskes's definition of consensus covered "man-made" but left out "dangerous"—and scores of articles by prominent scientists such as Richard Lindzen, John Christy, Sherwood Idso and Patrick Michaels, who question the consensus, were excluded. The methodology is also flawed. A study published earlier this year in Nature noted that abstracts of academic papers often contain claims that aren't substantiated in the papers.

Another widely cited source for the consensus view is a 2009 article in "Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union" by Maggie Kendall Zimmerman, a student at the University of Illinois, and her master's thesis adviser Peter Doran. It reported the results of a two-question online survey of selected scientists. Mr. Doran and Ms. Zimmerman claimed "97 percent of climate scientists agree" that global temperatures have risen and that humans are a significant contributing factor.

The survey's questions don't reveal much of interest. Most scientists who are skeptical of catastrophic global warming nevertheless would answer "yes" to both questions. The survey was silent on whether the human impact is large enough to constitute a problem. Nor did it include solar scientists, space scientists, cosmologists, physicists, meteorologists or astronomers, who are the scientists most likely to be aware of natural causes of climate change.

The "97 percent" figure in the Zimmerman/Doran survey represents the views of only 79 respondents who listed climate science as an area of expertise and said they published more than half of their recent peer-reviewed papers on climate change. Seventy-nine scientists—of the 3,146 who responded to the survey—does not a consensus make.

In 2010, William R. Love Anderegg, then a student at Stanford University, used Google Scholar to identify the views of the most prolific writers on climate change. His findings were published in Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences. Mr. Love Anderegg found that 97% to 98% of the 200 most prolific writers on climate change believe "anthropogenic greenhouse gases have been responsible for 'most' of the 'unequivocal' warming." There was no mention of how dangerous this climate change might be; and, of course, 200 researchers out of the thousands who have contributed to the climate science debate is not evidence of consensus.

In 2013, John Cook, an Australia-based blogger, and some of his friends reviewed abstracts of peer-reviewed papers published from 1991 to 2011. Mr. Cook reported that 97% of those who stated a position explicitly or implicitly suggest that human activity is responsible for some warming. His findings were published in Environmental Research Letters.

Mr. Cook's work was quickly debunked. In Science and Education in August 2013, for example, David R. Legates (a professor of geography at the University of Delaware and former director of its Center for Climatic Research) and three coauthors reviewed the same papers as did Mr. Cook and found "only 41 papers—0.3 percent of all 11,944 abstracts or 1.0 percent of the 4,014 expressing an opinion, and not 97.1 percent—had been found to endorse" the claim that human activity is causing most of the current warming. Elsewhere, climate scientists including Craig Idso, Nicola Scafetta, Nir J. Shaviv and Nils- Axel Morner, whose research questions the alleged consensus, protested that Mr. Cook ignored or misrepresented their work.

Rigorous international surveys conducted by German scientists Dennis Bray and Hans von Storch —most recently published in Environmental Science & Policy in 2010—have found that most climate scientists disagree with the consensus on key issues such as the reliability of climate data and computer models. They do not believe that climate processes such as cloud formation and precipitation are sufficiently understood to predict future climate change.

Surveys of meteorologists repeatedly find a majority oppose the alleged consensus. Only 39.5% of 1,854 American Meteorological Society members who responded to a survey in 2012 said man-made global warming is dangerous.

Finally, the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—which claims to speak for more than 2,500 scientists—is probably the most frequently cited source for the consensus. Its latest report claims that "human interference with the climate system is occurring, and climate change poses risks for human and natural systems." Yet relatively few have either written on or reviewed research having to do with the key question: How much of the temperature increase and other climate changes observed in the 20th century was caused by man-made greenhouse-gas emissions? The IPCC lists only 41 authors and editors of the relevant chapter of the Fifth Assessment Report addressing "anthropogenic and natural radiative forcing."

Of the various petitions on global warming circulated for signatures by scientists, the one by the Petition Project, a group of physicists and physical chemists based in La Jolla, Calif., has by far the most signatures—more than 31,000 (more than 9,000 with a Ph.D.). It was most recently published in 2009, and most signers were added or reaffirmed since 2007. The petition states that "there is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of . . . carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate."

We could go on, but the larger point is plain. There is no basis for the claim that 97% of scientists believe that man-made climate change is a dangerous problem.

Mr. Bast is president of the Heartland Institute. Dr. Spencer is a principal research scientist for the University of Alabama in Huntsville and the U.S. Science Team Leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer on NASA's Aqua satellite.

This piece first appeared in the Wall Street Journal. I link to it from Real Clear Politics.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

I Checked My Privilege, And It’s Doing Just Fine

Reposted from Daily Caller By Kurt Schlichter | May 12, 2014

Liberals have a new word for what normal people call “success.” They call it “privilege,” as if a happy, prosperous life is the result of some magic process related to where your great-great-great-grandfather came from.

It’s the latest leftist argument tactic, which means it is a tactic designed to prevent any argument and to beat you into rhetorical submission. Conservatives, don’t play their game.

It’s easy to see that this notion that accomplishment comes not from hard work but from some mysterious force, operating out there in the ether, is essential to liberal thought. To excuse the dole-devouring layabouts who form so much of the Democrat voting base, it is critical that they undermine the achievements of those who support themselves. We can’t have the American people thinking that hard work leads to success; people might start asking why liberal constituencies don’t just work harder instead of demanding more money from those who actually produce something.

This “Check your privilege” meme is the newest trump card du jour on college campuses and in other domains of progressive tyranny. It morphed into existence from the “You racist!” wolf-cry that is now so discredited that it produces little but snickers even among liberal fellow travelers. After all, if everyone is racist – and to the progressives, everyone is except themselves – then no one is really racist. And it’s kind of hard to take seriously being called “racist” by adherents of a political party that made a KKK kleagle its Senate majority leader.

So how do we deal with this idiocy?

The proper response to the privilege gambit is laughter. The super-serious zealots of progressivism hate being laughed at, but there’s really no other appropriate response outside of a stream of obscenities. The privilege game is designed to circumvent arguments based on reason and facts and evidence, so the way to win it is to defeat it on its own terms.

Call: “Check your privilege!”

Response: “What you call ‘privilege’ is just me being better than you.”

They won’t like it. It will make them angry. Good. Because tactics like “Check your privilege” are designed to make us angry, to put us off-balance, to baffle us and suck us down into a rabbit hole of leftist jargon and progressive stupidity.

Don’t follow them. Mock them. Accuse them of adhering to a transphobic cisnormative paradigm and start shrieking “Hate crime!”

Don’t worry about not making sense. They’re college students. They are used to not understanding what people smarter than they are tell them.

Respectful argument should be reserved for those who respect the concept of argument. The sulky sophomores who babble about privilege do not. They only understand power. And we give them power when we give their nonsense the respect we would give a coherent argument.

They deserve only laughter. And to laugh at them, we simply need to refuse to be intimidated.

The plain fact is that what they understand to be “privilege” is really just what regular people understand is a “consequence.” It is a consequence of hard work, of delaying gratification and of sacrifice. No one came and bestowed this country upon us. We built it. Some of us died doing so. If we have privilege, it was earned at Bunker Hill, Gettysburg and Normandy. It’s not a function of skin tone or the number of vowels in your name; it’s a function of character.

Unlike them, many of us have lived overseas, and often in rather bullet-rich environs. Our life experience consists of more than reading Herbert Marcuse and showing solidarity with oppressed Guatemalan banana pickers by boycotting Chiquita. What we have today in this country is not anything to be ashamed of or to apologize for, but to be proud of.

Their poisonous notion of privilege is really just another way for liberals to pick winners and losers based not upon who has won or lost in the real world, but upon who is useful and not useful to the progressive project at any given moment.

This is why you see young people descended from Holocaust survivors tagged as bearers of “privilege” when their tattooed, emaciated grand-parents landed here with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Others who grew up in luxury get to bear the label of “unprivileged” because ten generations ago some relative came from a particular continent.

It’s idiocy. It’s immoral. We need to say so. For too long we’ve put up with this silliness.

What’s particularly amusing when you push back on these clowns is that they are so surprised to experience resistance to their petty fascism. Many of them, being the special snowflakes that they are, have never had anyone express to them the notion that they might be wrong. University administrators are too terrified of these whiny pipsqueaks to correct them. Certainly their helicopter parents never did – Gaia forbid that their little psyches be harmed by confronting them with their foolishness.

For too long we conservatives have played nicely, being good sports about being slandered and returning respect when offered contempt. It didn’t work. It’s time to try something new. And that something new is not taking guff from some 20 year-old gender studies major with a stupid tribal tatt, a sense of entitlement and a big mouth.

What they say is privilege is what we say is a reward for doing more with our lives than waiting for Uncle Sucker to refill our EBT cards. “Privilege” is a result of not being a human sloth, of not doing drugs, of not having kids when we can’t afford them, and of not living our lives as a practical exercise in chaos theory.

Check my privilege? I just did, and it’s doing great. If you want some privilege too, maybe you ought to get your sorry ass behind a job.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Borderlands - Hungary Maneuvers

Guest Post - By George Friedman
I am writing this from Budapest, the city in which I was born. I went to the United States so young that all my memories of Hungary were acquired later in life or through my family, whose memories bridged both world wars and the Cold War, all with their attendant horrors. My own deepest memory of Hungary comes from my parents' living room in the Bronx. My older sister was married in November 1956. There was an uprising against the Soviets at the same time, and many of our family members were still there. After the wedding, we returned home and saw the early newspapers and reports on television. My parents discovered that some of the heaviest fighting between the revolutionaries and Soviets had taken place on the street where my aunts lived. A joyous marriage, followed by another catastrophe -- the contrast between America and Hungary. That night, my father asked no one in particular, "Does it ever end?" The answer is no, not here. Which is why I am back in Budapest.

For me, Hungarian was my native language. Stickball was my culture. For my parents, Hungarian was their culture. Hungary was the place where they were young, and their youth was torn away from them. My family was crushed by the Holocaust in Hungary, but my parents never quite blamed the Hungarians as much as they did the Germans. For them, it was always the Germans who were guilty for unleashing the brutishness in the Hungarians. This kitchen table discussion, an obsessive feature of my home life, was an attempt to measure and allocate evil. Others did it differently. This was my parents' view: Except for the Germans, the vastness of evil could not have existed. I was in no position to debate them.

This debate has re-entered history through Hungarian politics. Some have accused Prime Minister Viktor Orban of trying to emulate a man named Miklos Horthy, who ruled Hungary before and during World War II. This is meant as an indictment. If so, at the university of our kitchen table, the lesson of Horthy is more complex and may have some bearing on present-day Hungary. It has become a metaphor for the country today, and Hungarians are divided with earnest passion on an old man long dead.

A Lesson From History


Adm. Miklos Horthy, a regent to a non-existent king and an admiral in the forgotten Austro-Hungarian navy, governed Hungary between 1920 and 1944. Horthy ruled a country that was small and weak. Its population was 9.3 million in 1940. Horthy's goal was to preserve its sovereignty in the face of the rising power of Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin. Caught between the two -- and by this I mean that both prized Hungary for its strategic position in the Carpathian Basin -- Hungary had few options. Horthy's strategy was to give what he must and as little as he had to in order to retain Hungary's sovereignty. Over time, he had to give more and more as the Germans became more desperate and as the Soviets drew nearer. He did not surrender his room to maneuver; it was taken from him. His experience is one that Hungary's current leadership appears to have studied.

Horthy's strategy meant a great deal to the Jews. He was likely no more anti-Semitic than any member of his class had to be. He might not hire a Jew, but he wasn't going to kill one. This was different from the new style of anti-Semitism introduced by Hitler, which required mass murder. A sneer would no longer do. In Poland and in other countries under German sway, the mass killings started early. In Hungary, Horthy's policy kept them at bay. Not perfectly, of course. Thousands were killed early on, and anti-Jewish laws were passed. But thousands are not hundreds of thousands or millions, and in that time and place it was a huge distinction. Hungary did not join Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union until months after it had started, and Jews, including my father and uncles, were organized in labor battalions, where casualties were appalling. But their wives and children remained home, had food and lived. Horthy conceded no more than he had to, but what he had to do he did. Some say it was opportunism, others mere cowardice of chance. Whatever it was, while it lasted, Hungary was not like Poland or even France. The Jews were not handed over to the Germans.

Horthy fell from his tightrope on March 19, 1944. Realizing Germany was losing the war, Horthy made peace overtures to the Soviets. They were coming anyway, so he might as well welcome them. Hitler, of course, discovered this and occupied Hungary, which was essential to the defense of Austria. In a complex maneuver involving kidnapping and blackmail -- even kidnapping one of Horthy's sons -- Hitler forced the Hungarian leader to form a new government consisting of Hungary's homegrown Nazis, the Arrow Cross Party. As with Vidkun Quisling in Norway and Philippe Petain in France, Hitler installed his eager puppets.

Horthy signed off on this. But that signature, as he pointed out, was meaningless. The Germans were there, they could do as they wanted, and his signature was a meaningless act that spared his sons' lives. My father said he understood him. He had no more power, except saving his sons. Without the power to control events, saving those lives cost nothing and gained something precious. In no way did it change what was going to happen during the next year in Hungary: the murder of more than half a million Jews and a bloodbath throughout the country as Soviet forces advanced and surrounded Budapest and as the Germans fought to their deaths.

My parents were grateful to Horthy. For them, without him, the Holocaust would have come to Hungary years earlier. He did not crush the Hungarian Nazis, but he kept them at bay. He did not turn on Hitler, but he kept him at bay. What Horthy did was the dirty work of decency. He made deals with devils to keep the worst things from happening. By March 1944, Horthy could no longer play the game. Hitler had ended it. His choice was between dead sons and the horror of the following year, or living sons and that same horror. From my parents' view, there was nothing more he could do, so he saved his sons. They believed Horthy's critics were unable to comprehend the choices he had.

It was the Germans they blamed for what happened. Hungarian fascists cooperated enthusiastically in the killings, but Horthy had been able to control them to some extent before the German occupation. Hungary had a strong anti-Semitic strain but not so strong it could sweep Horthy from power. Once the Wehrmacht, the SS and Adolf Eichmann, the chief organizer of the Holocaust, were in Budapest, they found the Arrow Cross Party to be populated by eager collaborators.

Parallels in Hungary Today

Hungary is in a very different position today, but its circumstances still bear similarities to Horthy's time. The country has a right-wing party, the Jobbik party, which is unofficially anti-Semitic. It earned 20 percent of the vote in the most recent election. Hungary also has a prime minister, Viktor Orban, who is the leader of a right-of-center Fidesz party and is quite popular. There is a question of why anti-Semitism is so strong in Hungary. Right-wing parties, most of which are anti-immigrant and particularly anti-Muslim and anti-Roma, are sweeping Europe. Hungary's far right goes for more traditional hatreds.

Orban's enemies argue that he is using Jobbik to strengthen his political position. What Orban is really doing is containing the party; without the policies he is pursuing, Jobbik might simply take power. This is the old argument about Horthy, and in fact, in Hungary there is a raging argument about Horthy's role that is really about Orban. Is Orban, like Horthy, doing the least he can to avoid a worse catastrophe, or is he secretly encouraging Jobbik and hastening disaster?

Hungary in a Broader Regional Context


This discussion, like all discussions regarding Budapest, is framed by the tenuous position of Hungary in the world. Orban sees the European Union as a massive failure. The great depression in Mediterranean Europe, contrasted with German prosperity, is simply the repeat of an old game. Hungary is in the east, in the borderland between the European Peninsula and Russia. The Ukrainian crisis indicates that the tension in the region is nearing a flashpoint. He must guide Hungary somewhere.

There is little support from Hungary's west, other than mostly hollow warnings. He knows that the Germans will not risk their prosperity to help stabilize the Hungarian economy or its strategic position. Nor does he expect the Americans to arrive suddenly and save the day. So he faces a crisis across his border in Ukraine, which may or may not draw Russian forces back to the Hungarian frontier. He does not want to continue playing the German game in the European Union because he can't. As with many European countries, the social fabric of Hungary is under great tension.

The Ukrainian crisis can only be understood in terms of the failure of the European Union. Germany is doing well, but it isn't particularly willing to take risks. The rest of northern Europe has experienced significant unemployment, but it is Mediterranean Europe that has been devastated by unemployment. The European financial crisis has morphed into the European social crisis, and that social crisis has political consequences.

The middle class, and those who thought they would rise to the middle class, have been most affected. The contrast between the euphoric promises of the European Union and the more meager realities has created movements that are challenging not only membership in the European Union but also the principle of the bloc: a shared fate in which a European identity transcends other loyalties and carries with it the benefits of peace and prosperity. If that prosperity is a myth, and if it is every nation for itself, then parties emerge extolling nationalism. Nationalism in a continent of vast disparities carries with it deep mistrust. Thus the principle of open borders, the idea that everyone can work anywhere, and above all, the idea that the nation is not meaningful is challenged. The deeper the crisis, the deeper and more legitimate the fear.

Compound this with the re-emergence of a Russian threat to the east, and everyone on Ukraine's border begins asking who is coming to help them. The fragmentation of Europe nationally and socially weakens Europe to the point of irrelevance. This is where the failure of the European Union and the hollowing out of NATO become important. Europe has failed economically. If it also fails militarily, then what does it all matter? Europe is back where it started, and so is Hungary.

Orban's Role


Orban is a rare political leader in Europe. He is quite popular, but he is in a balancing act. To his left are the Europeanists, who see all his actions as a repudiation of liberal democracy. On the right is a fascist party that won 20 percent in the last election. Between these two forces, Hungary could tear itself apart. It is in precisely this situation that Weimar Germany failed. Caught between left and right, the center was too weak to hold. Orban is trying to do what Horthy did: strengthen his power over the state and the state's power over society. He is attacked from the left for violating the principles of liberal democracy and Europe. He is attacked from the right for remaining a tool of the European Union and the Jews. The left believes he is secretly of the right and his protestations are simply a cover. The right believes he is secretly a Europeanist and that his protestations are simply a cover.

Now we add to this the fact that Hungary must make decisions concerning Ukraine. Orban knows that Hungary is not in a position to make decisions by itself. He has therefore made a range of statements, including condemning Russia, opposing sanctions and proposing that the Ukrainian region directly east of Hungary, and once Hungarian, be granted more autonomy. In the end, these statements are unimportant. They do not affect the international system but allow him to balance a bit.

Orban knows what Horthy did as well. Hungary, going up against both Germany and Russia, needs to be very subtle. Hungary is already facing Germany's policy toward liberal integration within the European Union, which fundamentally contradicts Hungary's concept of an independent state economy. Hungary is already facing Germany's policies that undermine Hungary's economic and social well-being. Orban's strategy is to create an economy with maximum distance from Europe without breaking with it, and one in which the state exerts its power. This is not what the Germans want to see.

Now, Hungary is also facing a Germany that is not in a position to support Hungary against Russia. He is potentially facing a Russia that will return to Hungary's eastern border. He is also faced with a growing domestic right wing and a declining but vocal left. It is much like Horthy's problem. Domestically, he has strong support and powerful institutions. He can exercise power domestically. But Hungary has only 9 million people, and external forces can easily overwhelm it. His room for maneuvering is limited.

I think Orban anticipated this as he saw the European Union flounder earlier in the decade. He saw the fragmentation and the rise of bitterness on all sides. He constructed a regime that appalled the left, which thought that without Orban, it would all return to the way it was before, rather than realizing that it might open the door to the further right. He constructed a regime that would limit the right's sense of exclusion without giving it real power.

Russia's re-emergence followed from this. Here, Orban has no neat solution. Even if Hungary were to join a Polish-Romanian alliance, he would have no confidence that this could block Russian power. For that to happen, a major power must lend its support. With Germany out of the game, that leaves the United States. But if the United States enters the fray, it will not happen soon, and it will be even later before its role is decisive. Therefore he must be flexible. And the more international flexibility he must show, the more internal pressures there will be.

For Horthy, the international pressure finally overwhelmed him, and the German occupation led to a catastrophe that unleashed the right, devastated the Jews and led to a Russian invasion and occupation that lasted half a century. But how many lives did Horthy save by collaborating with Germany? He bought time, if nothing else.

Hungarian history is marked by heroic disasters. The liberal revolutions that failed across Europe in 1848 and failed in Hungary in 1956 were glorious and pointless. Horthy was unwilling to make pointless gestures. The international situation at the moment is far from defined, and the threat to Hungary is unclear, but Orban clearly has no desire to make heroic gestures. Internally he is increasing his power constantly, and that gives him freedom to act internationally. But the one thing he will not grant is clarity. Clarity ties you down, and Hungary has learned to keep its options open.

Orban isn't Horthy by any means, but their situations are similar. Hungary is a country of enormous cultivation and fury. It is surrounded by disappointments that can become dangers. Europe is not what it promised it would be. Russia is not what Europeans expected it to be. Within and without the country, the best Orban can do is balance, and those who balance survive but are frequently reviled. What Hungary could be in 2005 is not the Hungary it can be today. Any Hungarian leader who wished to avoid disaster would have to face this. Indeed, Europeans across the continent are facing the fact that the world they expected to live in is gone and what has replaced it, inside and outside of their countries, is different and dangerous.

Borderlands: Hungary Maneuvers is republished with permission of Stratfor.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Thoughts on the Antarctic Glacier Story

Right now the Antarctic ice sheet is at its highest extent in all of known history. No wonder why environmentalists are seen by most Americans as more and more of a joke. I actually admire their religious fervor, even after the facts are becoming clear to most of the rest of us. There is no recent warming (17+ years) Ice is at an all time high in the south and under strong recovery in the north, storms of all kinds, especially hurricanes and tornadoes are at a very low point world wide, and still they believe. One scientific fact is clear - when you have a scientific theory, and it makes predictions, and they fail, merely changing the terms of debate or lying about it are not science, it is faith. Writing that ice increase "is happening in spite of (or perhaps because of) a rise in sea surface temperatures" shows that you have no respect for actual facts that challenge your faith.

Let me present some other facts. The south polar region is colder than at any time before. The "theory" of global warming, or climate change, or climate disruption, or whatever you guys call it these days is certain about one thing - warming will be greater closer to the poles than in the tropics. Now, the press is all aflutter with changes in 4 glaciers in Antarctica since 1992. But whatever is causing these observations, it certainly is not, it can not be warming, since it is colder down there. If it is colder, the theory fails. Something is happening. Its cause is not well understood. Many people like to quote numbers in the 90 percentile of "scientists" around a political word, consensus. Do they even know that this number is very variable depending on the question asked? Do they care? If they would ask the right question, ask if human efforts to tax hydrocarbon will cool world climate, you get a minority of qualified agreement. That is the question. Not climate change - it is and always has changed. The question is, will making energy prices higher and instituting world government control make it colder? And a better question, is colder better? Only a fool believes that one.

These people always use words like "belief" and "consensus." Don't they realize that these words have nothing to do with science? The science, such as it is, says that there is nothing we can do to change world climate in a way that will make the world a better place to live. We can do plenty about pollution, as in dirty and dangerous chemicals we spew into the water and the air. We are making great strides in this area. The air and water is far cleaner today than it was 40 years ago. This chimera of climate warming, change, or disruption diverts huge resources away from the pursuit of real pollution, and away from improving the lives of the poor, world wide. They should listen to James Lovelock, the founder environmentalist of the Gaia Hypothesis (who now believes that environmentalism has become a religion and train their guns on some real problems that we can actually make better. But... Those things do not have the side benefit of pushing their political agenda. That is why we see so much pushback, skepticism, and outright disbelief. That is why no congress of the United States will ever give in to this ginned-up hysteria. And that is good.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Borderlands: The View from Azerbaijan

Guest post - By George Friedman

I arrive in Azerbaijan as the country celebrates Victory Day, the day successor states of the former Soviet Union celebrate the defeat of Germany in World War II. No one knows how many Soviet citizens died in that war -- perhaps 22 million. The number is staggering and represents both the incompetence and magnificence of Russia, which led the Soviets in war. Any understanding of Russia that speaks of one without the other is flawed.

As I write, fireworks are going off over the Caspian Sea. The pyrotechnics are long and elaborate, sounding like an artillery barrage. They are a reminder that Baku was perhaps the most important place in the Nazi-Soviet war. It produced almost all of the Soviet Union's petroleum. The Germans were desperate for it and wanted to deny it to Moscow. Germany's strategy after 1942, including the infamous battle of Stalingrad, turned on Baku's oil. In the end, the Germans threw an army against the high Caucasus guarding Baku. In response, an army raised in the Caucasus fought and defeated them. The Soviets won the war. They wouldn't have if the Germans had reached Baku. It is symbolic, at least to me, that these celebrations blend into the anniversary of the birth of Heydar Aliyev, the late president of Azerbaijan who endured the war and later forged the post-Soviet identity of his country. He would have been 91 on May 10.

Baku is strategic again today, partly because of oil. I've started the journey here partly by convenience and partly because Azerbaijan is key to any counter-Russian strategy that might emerge. My purpose on this trip is to get a sense of the degree to which individual European states feel threatened by Russia, and if they do, the level of effort and risk they are prepared to endure. For Europe does not exist as anything more than a geographic expression; it is the fears and efforts of the individual nation-states constituting it that will determine the course of this affair. Each nation is different, and each makes its own calculus of interest. My interest is to understand their thinking, not only about Russia but also about the European Union, the United States and ultimately themselves. Each is unique; it isn't possible to make a general statement about them.

Some question whether the Caucasus region and neighboring Turkey are geographically part of Europe. There are many academic ways to approach this question. My approach, however, is less sophisticated. Modern European history cannot be understood without understanding the Ottoman Empire and the fact that it conquered much of the southeastern part of the European peninsula. Russia conquered the three Caucasian states -- Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan -- and many of their institutions are Russian, hence European. If an organic European expression does exist, it can be argued to be Eurovision, the pan-continental music competition. The Azerbaijanis won it in 2011, which should settle any debate on their "Europeanness."

But more important, a strategy to block Russia is hard to imagine without including its southern flank. There is much talk of sanctions on Russia. But sanctions can be countered and always ignore a key truth: Russia has always been economically dysfunctional. It has created great empires and defeated Napoleon and Hitler in spite of that. Undermining Russia's economy may be possible, but that does not always undermine Russia's military power. That Soviet military power outlived the economically driven collapse of the Soviet Union confirms this point. And the issue at the moment is military.

The solution found for dealing with the Soviet Union during the Cold War was containment. The architect of this strategy was diplomat George Kennan, whose realist approach to geopolitics may have lost some adherents but not its relevance. A cordon sanitaire was constructed around the Soviet Union through a system of alliances. In the end, the Soviets were unable to expand and choked on their own inefficiency. There is a strange view abroad that the 21st century is dramatically different from all prior centuries and such thinking is obsolete. I have no idea why this should be so. The 21st century is simply another century, and there has been no transcendence of history. Containment was a core strategy and it seems likely that it will be adopted again -- if countries like Azerbaijan are prepared to participate.

To understand Azerbaijan you must begin with two issues: oil and a unique approach to Islam. At the beginning of the 20th century, over half the world's oil production originated near Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. Hence Hitler's strategy after 1942. Today, Azerbaijani energy production is massive, but it cannot substitute for Russia's production. Russian energy production, meanwhile, defines part of the strategic equation. Many European countries depend substantially on Russian energy, particularly natural gas. They have few alternatives. There is talk of U.S. energy being shipped to Europe, but building the infrastructure for that (even if there are supplies) will take many years before it can reduce Europe's dependence on Russia.

Withholding energy would be part of any Russian counter to Western pressure, even if Russia were to suffer itself. Any strategy against Russia must address the energy issue, begin with Azerbaijan, and be about more than production. Azerbaijan is not a major producer of gas compared to oil. On the other side of the Caspian Sea, however, Turkmenistan is. Its resources, coupled with Azerbaijan's, would provide a significant alternative to Russian energy. Turkmenistan has an interest in not selling through Russia and would be interested in a Trans-Caspian pipeline. That pipeline would have to pass through Azerbaijan, connecting onward to infrastructure in Turkey. Assuming Moscow had no effective counters, this would begin to provide a serious alternative to Russian energy and decrease Moscow's leverage. But this would all depend on Baku's willingness and ability to resist pressure from every direction.

Azerbaijan lies between Russia and Iran. Russia is the traditional occupier of Azerbaijan and its return is what Baku fears the most. Iran is partly an Azeri country. Nearly a quarter of its citizens, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are Azeri. But while both Azerbaijan and Iran are predominantly Shiite, Azerbaijan is a militantly secular state. Partly due to the Soviet experience and partly because of the unique evolution of Azeri identity since the 19th century, Azerbaijan separates the private practice of Islam from public life. I recall once attending a Jewish Passover feast in Baku that was presided over by an Orthodox rabbi, with security provided by the state. To be fair, Iran has a Jewish minority that has its own lawmaker in parliament. But any tolerance in Iran flows from theocratic dogma, whereas in Azerbaijan it is rooted in a constitution that is more explicitly secular than any in the European Union, save that of France.

This is just one obvious wedge between Azerbaijan and Iran, and Tehran has made efforts to influence the Azeri population. For the moment, relations are somewhat better but there is an insoluble tension that derives from geopolitical reality and the fact that any attack on Iran could come from Azerbaijan. Furthering this wedge are the close relations between Azerbaijan and Israel. The United States currently blocks most weapons sales to Azerbaijan. Israel -- with U.S. approval -- sells the needed weapons. This gives us a sense of the complexity of the relationship, recalling that complexity undermines alliances.

The complexity of alliances also defines Russia's reality. It occupies the high Caucasus overlooking the plains of Azerbaijan. Armenia is a Russian ally, bound by an agreement that permits Russian bases through 2044. Yerevan also plans to join the Moscow-led Customs Union, and Russian firms own a large swath of the Armenian economy. Armenia feels isolated. It remains hostile to Turkey for Ankara's unwillingness to acknowledge events of a century ago as genocide. Armenia also fought a war with Azerbaijan in the 1990s, shortly after independence, for a region called Nagorno-Karabakh that had been part of Azerbaijan -- a region that it lost in the war and wants back. Armenia, caught between Turkey and an increasingly powerful Azerbaijan, regards Russia as a guarantor of its national security.

For Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh remains a critical issue. Azerbaijan holds that U.N. resolutions have made it clear that Armenia's attack constituted a violation of international law, and a diplomatic process set up in Minsk to resolve the crisis has proven ineffective. Azerbaijan operates on two tracks on this issue. It pursues national development, as can be seen in Baku, a city that reflects the oil wealth of the country. It will not endanger that development, nor will it forget about Nagorno-Karabakh. At some point, any nation aligning itself with Azerbaijan will need to take a stand on this frozen conflict, and that is a high price for most.

Which leads me to an interesting symmetry of incomprehension between the United States and Azerbaijan. The United States does not want to sell weapons directly to Azerbaijan because of what it regards as violations of human rights by the Azerbaijani government. The Americans find it incomprehensible that Baku, facing Russia and Iran and needing the United States, cannot satisfy American sensibilities by avoiding repression -- a change that would not threaten the regime. Azerbaijan's answer is that it is precisely the threats it faces from Iran and Russia that require Baku to maintain a security state. Both countries send operatives into Azerbaijan to destabilize it. What the Americans consider dissidents, Azerbaijan sees as agents of foreign powers. Washington disputes this and continually offends Baku with its pronouncements. The Azerbaijanis, meanwhile, continually offend the Americans.

This is similar to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Most Americans have never heard of it and don't care who owns it. For the Azerbaijanis, this is an issue of fundamental historical importance. They cannot understand how, after assisting the United States in Afghanistan, risking close ties with Israel, maintaining a secular Islamic state and more, the United States not only cannot help Baku with Nagorno-Karabakh but also insists on criticizing Azerbaijan.

The question on human rights revolves around the interpretation of who is being arrested and for what reason. For a long time this was an issue that didn't need to be settled. But after the Ukrainian crisis, U.S.-Azerbaijani relations became critical. It is not just energy; rather, in the event of the creation of a containment alliance, Azerbaijan is the southeastern anchor of the line on the Caspian Sea. In addition, since Georgia is absolutely essential as a route for pipelines, given Armenia's alliance with Russia, Azerbaijan's support for Georgian independence is essential. Azerbaijan is the cornerstone for any U.S.-sponsored Caucasus strategy, should it develop.

I do not want to get into the question of either Nagorno-Karabakh or human rights in Azerbaijan. It is, for me, a fruitless issue arising from the deep historical and cultural imperatives of each. But I must take exception to one principle that the U.S. State Department has: an unwillingness to do comparative analysis. In other words, the State Department condemns all violations equally, whether by nations hostile to the United States or friendly to it, whether by countries with wholesale violations or those with more limited violations. When the State Department does pull punches, there is a whiff of bias, as with Georgia and Armenia, which -- while occasionally scolded -- absorb less criticism than Azerbaijan, despite each country's own imperfect record.

Even assuming the validity of State Department criticism, no one argues that Azerbaijani repression rises anywhere near the horrors of Joseph Stalin. I use Stalin as an example because Franklin Roosevelt allied the United States with Stalin to defeat Hitler and didn't find it necessary to regularly condemn Stalin while the Soviet Union was carrying the burden of fighting the war, thereby protecting American interests. That same geopolitical realism animated Kennan and ultimately created the alliance architecture that served the United States throughout the Cold War. Is it necessary to offend someone who will not change his behavior and whom you need for your strategy? The State Department of an earlier era would say no.

It was interesting to attend a celebration of U.S.-Azerbaijani relations in Washington the week before I came to Baku. In the past, these events were subdued. This one was different, because many members of Congress attended. Two guests were particularly significant. One was Charles Schumer of New York, who declared the United States and Azerbaijan to be great democracies. The second was Nancy Pelosi, long a loyalist to Armenian interests. She didn't say much but chose to show up. It is clear that the Ukrainian crisis triggered this turnout. It is clear that Azerbaijan's importance is actually obvious to some in Congress, and it is also clear that it signals tension over the policy of criticizing human rights records without comparing them to those of other countries and of ignoring the criticized country's importance to American strategy.

This is not just about Azerbaijan. The United States will need to work with Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary -- all of whom have been found wanting by the State Department in some ways. This criticism does not -- and will not -- produce change. Endless repetition of the same is the height of ineffectiveness. It will instead make any strategy the United States wants to construct in Europe ineffective. In the end, I would argue that a comparison between Russia and these other countries matters. Perfect friends are hard to find. Refusing to sell weapons to someone you need is not a good way to create an alliance.

In the past, it seemed that such an alliance was merely Cold War nostalgia by people who did not realize and appreciate that we had reached an age too wise to think of war and geopolitics. But the events in Ukraine raise the possibility that those unreconstructed in their cynicism toward the human condition may well have been right. Alliances may in fact be needed. In that case, Roosevelt's attitude toward Stalin is instructive.


Borderlands: The View from Azerbaijan is republished with permission of Stratfor.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The World's Resources Aren't Running Out

Ecologists worry that the world's resources come in fixed amounts that will run out, but we have broken through such limits again and again
By Matt Ridley, Wall Street Journal

How many times have you heard that we humans are "using up" the world's resources, "running out" of oil, "reaching the limits" of the atmosphere's capacity to cope with pollution or "approaching the carrying capacity" of the land's ability to support a greater population? The assumption behind all such statements is that there is a fixed amount of stuff—metals, oil, clean air, land—and that we risk exhausting it through our consumption.

"We are using 50% more resources than the Earth can sustainably produce, and unless we change course, that number will grow fast—by 2030, even two planets will not be enough," says Jim Leape, director general of the World Wide Fund for Nature International (formerly the World Wildlife Fund).

But here's a peculiar feature of human history: We burst through such limits again and again. After all, as a Saudi oil minister once said, the Stone Age didn't end for lack of stone. Ecologists call this "niche construction"—that people (and indeed some other animals) can create new opportunities for themselves by making their habitats more productive in some way. Agriculture is the classic example of niche construction: We stopped relying on nature's bounty and substituted an artificial and much larger bounty.

Economists call the same phenomenon innovation. What frustrates them about ecologists is the latter's tendency to think in terms of static limits. Ecologists can't seem to see that when whale oil starts to run out, petroleum is discovered, or that when farm yields flatten, fertilizer comes along, or that when glass fiber is invented, demand for copper falls.

That frustration is heartily reciprocated. Ecologists think that economists espouse a sort of superstitious magic called "markets" or "prices" to avoid confronting the reality of limits to growth. The easiest way to raise a cheer in a conference of ecologists is to make a rude joke about economists.

I have lived among both tribes. I studied various forms of ecology in an academic setting for seven years and then worked at the Economist magazine for eight years. When I was an ecologist (in the academic sense of the word, not the political one, though I also had antinuclear stickers on my car), I very much espoused the carrying-capacity viewpoint—that there were limits to growth. I nowadays lean to the view that there are no limits because we can invent new ways of doing more with less.

This disagreement goes to the heart of many current political issues and explains much about why people disagree about environmental policy. In the climate debate, for example, pessimists see a limit to the atmosphere's capacity to cope with extra carbon dioxide without rapid warming. So a continuing increase in emissions if economic growth continues will eventually accelerate warming to dangerous rates. But optimists see economic growth leading to technological change that would result in the use of lower-carbon energy. That would allow warming to level off long before it does much harm.

It is striking, for example, that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's recent forecast that temperatures would rise by 3.7 to 4.8 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial levels by 2100 was based on several assumptions: little technological change, an end to the 50-year fall in population growth rates, a tripling (only) of per capita income and not much improvement in the energy efficiency of the economy. Basically, that would mean a world much like today's but with lots more people burning lots more coal and oil, leading to an increase in emissions. Most economists expect a five- or tenfold increase in income, huge changes in technology and an end to population growth by 2100: not so many more people needing much less carbon.

In 1679, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, the great Dutch microscopist, estimated that the planet could hold 13.4 billion people, a number that most demographers think we may never reach. Since then, estimates have bounced around between 1 billion and 100 billion, with no sign of converging on an agreed figure.

Economists point out that we keep improving the productivity of each acre of land by applying fertilizer, mechanization, pesticides and irrigation. Further innovation is bound to shift the ceiling upward. Jesse Ausubel at Rockefeller University calculates that the amount of land required to grow a given quantity of food has fallen by 65% over the past 50 years, world-wide.

Ecologists object that these innovations rely on nonrenewable resources, such as oil and gas, or renewable ones that are being used up faster than they are replenished, such as aquifers. So current yields cannot be maintained, let alone improved.

In his recent book "The View from Lazy Point," the ecologist Carl Safina estimates that if everybody had the living standards of Americans, we would need 2.5 Earths because the world's agricultural land just couldn't grow enough food for more than 2.5 billion people at that level of consumption. Harvard emeritus professor E.O. Wilson, one of ecology's patriarchs, reckoned that only if we all turned vegetarian could the world's farms grow enough food to support 10 billion people.

Economists respond by saying that since large parts of the world, especially in Africa, have yet to gain access to fertilizer and modern farming techniques, there is no reason to think that the global land requirements for a given amount of food will cease shrinking any time soon. Indeed, Mr. Ausubel, together with his colleagues Iddo Wernick and Paul Waggoner, came to the startling conclusion that, even with generous assumptions about population growth and growing affluence leading to greater demand for meat and other luxuries, and with ungenerous assumptions about future global yield improvements, we will need less farmland in 2050 than we needed in 2000. (So long, that is, as we don't grow more biofuels on land that could be growing food.)

But surely intensification of yields depends on inputs that may run out? Take water, a commodity that limits the production of food in many places. Estimates made in the 1960s and 1970s of water demand by the year 2000 proved grossly overestimated: The world used half as much water as experts had projected 30 years before.

The reason was greater economy in the use of water by new irrigation techniques. Some countries, such as Israel and Cyprus, have cut water use for irrigation through the use of drip irrigation. Combine these improvements with solar-driven desalination of seawater world-wide, and it is highly unlikely that fresh water will limit human population.

The best-selling book "Limits to Growth," published in 1972 by the Club of Rome (an influential global think tank), argued that we would have bumped our heads against all sorts of ceilings by now, running short of various metals, fuels, minerals and space. Why did it not happen? In a word, technology: better mining techniques, more frugal use of materials, and if scarcity causes price increases, substitution by cheaper material. We use 100 times thinner gold plating on computer connectors than we did 40 years ago. The steel content of cars and buildings keeps on falling.

Until about 10 years ago, it was reasonable to expect that natural gas might run out in a few short decades and oil soon thereafter. If that were to happen, agricultural yields would plummet, and the world would be faced with a stark dilemma: Plow up all the remaining rain forest to grow food, or starve.

But thanks to fracking and the shale revolution, peak oil and gas have been postponed. They will run out one day, but only in the sense that you will run out of Atlantic Ocean one day if you take a rowboat west out of a harbor in Ireland. Just as you are likely to stop rowing long before you bump into Newfoundland, so we may well find cheap substitutes for fossil fuels long before they run out.

The economist and metals dealer Tim Worstall gives the example of tellurium, a key ingredient of some kinds of solar panels. Tellurium is one of the rarest elements in the Earth's crust—one atom per billion. Will it soon run out? Mr. Worstall estimates that there are 120 million tons of it, or a million years' supply altogether. It is sufficiently concentrated in the residues from refining copper ores, called copper slimes, to be worth extracting for a very long time to come. One day, it will also be recycled as old solar panels get cannibalized to make new ones.

Or take phosphorus, an element vital to agricultural fertility. The richest phosphate mines, such as on the island of Nauru in the South Pacific, are all but exhausted. Does that mean the world is running out? No: There are extensive lower grade deposits, and if we get desperate, all the phosphorus atoms put into the ground over past centuries still exist, especially in the mud of estuaries. It's just a matter of concentrating them again.

In 1972, the ecologist Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University came up with a simple formula called IPAT, which stated that the impact of humankind was equal to population multiplied by affluence multiplied again by technology. In other words, the damage done to Earth increases the more people there are, the richer they get and the more technology they have.

Many ecologists still subscribe to this doctrine, which has attained the status of holy writ in ecology. But the past 40 years haven't been kind to it. In many respects, greater affluence and new technology have led to less human impact on the planet, not more. Richer people with new technologies tend not to collect firewood and bushmeat from natural forests; instead, they use electricity and farmed chicken—both of which need much less land. In 2006, Mr. Ausubel calculated that no country with a GDP per head greater than $4,600 has a falling stock of forest (in density as well as in acreage).

Haiti is 98% deforested and literally brown on satellite images, compared with its green, well-forested neighbor, the Dominican Republic. The difference stems from Haiti's poverty, which causes it to rely on charcoal for domestic and industrial energy, whereas the Dominican Republic is wealthy enough to use fossil fuels, subsidizing propane gas for cooking fuel specifically so that people won't cut down forests.

Part of the problem is that the word "consumption" means different things to the two tribes. Ecologists use it to mean "the act of using up a resource"; economists mean "the purchase of goods and services by the public" (both definitions taken from the Oxford dictionary).

But in what sense is water, tellurium or phosphorus "used up" when products made with them are bought by the public? They still exist in the objects themselves or in the environment. Water returns to the environment through sewage and can be reused. Phosphorus gets recycled through compost. Tellurium is in solar panels, which can be recycled. As the economist Thomas Sowell wrote in his 1980 book "Knowledge and Decisions," "Although we speak loosely of 'production,' man neither creates nor destroys matter, but only transforms it."

Given that innovation—or "niche construction"—causes ever more productivity, how do ecologists justify the claim that we are already overdrawn at the planetary bank and would need at least another planet to sustain the lifestyles of 10 billion people at U.S. standards of living?

Examine the calculations done by a group called the Global Footprint Network—a think tank founded by Mathis Wackernagel in Oakland, Calif., and supported by more than 70 international environmental organizations—and it becomes clear. The group assumes that the fossil fuels burned in the pursuit of higher yields must be offset in the future by tree planting on a scale that could soak up the emitted carbon dioxide. A widely used measure of "ecological footprint" simply assumes that 54% of the acreage we need should be devoted to "carbon uptake."

But what if tree planting wasn't the only way to soak up carbon dioxide? Or if trees grew faster when irrigated and fertilized so you needed fewer of them? Or if we cut emissions, as the U.S. has recently done by substituting gas for coal in electricity generation? Or if we tolerated some increase in emissions (which are measurably increasing crop yields, by the way)? Any of these factors could wipe out a huge chunk of the deemed ecological overdraft and put us back in planetary credit.

Helmut Haberl of Klagenfurt University in Austria is a rare example of an ecologist who takes economics seriously. He points out that his fellow ecologists have been using "human appropriation of net primary production"—that is, the percentage of the world's green vegetation eaten or prevented from growing by us and our domestic animals—as an indicator of ecological limits to growth. Some ecologists had begun to argue that we were using half or more of all the greenery on the planet.

This is wrong, says Dr. Haberl, for several reasons. First, the amount appropriated is still fairly low: About 14.2% is eaten by us and our animals, and an additional 9.6% is prevented from growing by goats and buildings, according to his estimates. Second, most economic growth happens without any greater use of biomass. Indeed, human appropriation usually declines as a country industrializes and the harvest grows—as a result of agricultural intensification rather than through plowing more land.

Finally, human activities actually increase the production of green vegetation in natural ecosystems. Fertilizer taken up by crops is carried into forests and rivers by wild birds and animals, where it boosts yields of wild vegetation too (sometimes too much, causing algal blooms in water). In places like the Nile delta, wild ecosystems are more productive than they would be without human intervention, despite the fact that much of the land is used for growing human food.

If I could have one wish for the Earth's environment, it would be to bring together the two tribes—to convene a grand powwow of ecologists and economists. I would pose them this simple question and not let them leave the room until they had answered it: How can innovation improve the environment?

Mr. Ridley is the author of "The Rational Optimist" and a member of the British House of Lords.
This article was first posted in The Wall Street Journal on April 25th. I post it here in its entirety because it might soon become unavailable on the WSJ website.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Canadian TV meteorologist on global warming

Canadian TV meteorologist on the need for some of that missing global warming.
Great video!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Putin Acted Because Obama is So Strong

Some things democrats say are pure parody, except that they mean them seriously. Democrat Chris Murphy, (D Ct.) of the senate Foreign Relations Committee said that. You have to see it to believe it.



Really now, does he think we are that stupid? Or is HE that stupid. Don't these people even try to learn about a subject before they pontificate on it? This is a man who is on an important committee that, among other things, takes a leading role in creating policy.

Question: Does Obama believe this? We already know that Vladimir Putin does not. http://www.caintv.com/dem.senator-says-putin-is-pani

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Trey Gowdy Tells Congress

Trey Gowdy tells congress that they can either stand for something or they can stand for nothing. Watch:


Monday, March 10, 2014

More Sitcom than CENTCOM

Guest Post By Spengler (David P. Goldman)

American foreign policy is more sitcom than CENTCOM. That in a way is the good news. Our failures are comic while those of other nations are tragic. Americans do not understand the tragic impulses of other peoples because they are exceptional. The Europeans failed as nationalists, and are failing as post-nationalists.

Because Americans are not an ethnicity but a union of immigrants committed to a concept, our nationalism discloses a universal impulse. We blunder when we forget how exceptional we are, and ignore the tragic impulses that impinge on other peoples.

Only once in the past century have we read the world aright. We got it wrong when Woodrow Wilson proposed a utopian postwar vision in 1919, when the isolationists tried to stay out of the European conflict in the late 1930s, when Roosevelt and Truman let Stalin absorb Eastern Europe, when we overextended and then turned tail in Vietnam, and when we undertook to turn Iraq and Afghanistan into Western-style democracies. Ronald Reagan got it right when he decided that it was time to roll back communism - but he also understood that we would have to live with Russia as a nation.

We have stumbled into the world's troubles like incongruous clowns in a tragedy: we observe the anguished faces of the other characters and conclude that everyone else on stage is insane. That is how Americans view Russian President Vladimir Putin. As Time magazine reported last week:
An Obama administration official leaked to the New York Times on Sunday the fact that German Chancellor Angela Merkel told President Obama she wasn't sure if Putin was in touch with reality. "In another world," Merkel reportedly said, according to the leak. Then in a conference call with reporters later in the day, three administration officials took turns firing rhetorical shots: "[B]eing inside Putin's head is not someplace anyone wants to be."
I doubt that Merkel ever said it, but that's a different question. Russia, as Colonel Ralph Peters (retired) told Sean Hannity last week, "believes in Russia"; to the Obamoids, belief in one's country is prima facie evidence of mental defect. Hillary Clinton, Senator John McCain and Senator Marco Rubio meanwhile compare Putin to Hitler, an example of what the late Leo Strauss derided as "reduction ad Hitlerium".

Contrast that to President Obama's characterization of Iran in his interview with Bloomberg's Jeffrey Goldberg:
[If] you look at Iranian behavior, they are strategic, and they're not impulsive. They have a worldview, and they see their interests, and they respond to costs and benefits.
That's been the longstanding view of this administration.

Just how does one define rationality in global politics? Here is a question that helps: What is the rational self-interest of a nation that will cease to exist within the horizon of present-day expectations? We look uncomprehendingly on the petty wars of perished peoples and marvel at the sheer vanity of their forgotten battles. How do we know that someone in the future won't look back at us the same way? There have been Great Extinctions of the Peoples before in world history, but never with the breadth and speed of the demographic declines in our own era. That should give us something of an objective gauge with which to judge the rationality of actors.

Iran's unprecedented fertility decline has accelerated - from about 7 children per female in 1979 to only 1.6 last year, according to a UN estimate. Russia, meanwhile, is struggling to emerge from what seemed like a demographic death-sentence only a few years ago. Ukraine is Europe's poster-boy for demographic death.

Iran is dying a slow and dreadful death: by mid-century more than a third of its people will be over 60, and by the end of the century, half its people will be over 60, imposing an impossible burden on a poor country. Its rulers are taking urgent steps to reverse the fertility decline, opening clinics to treat infertility, which reportedly affects one-fifth of all Iranian couples, against a world average of around 8%. Why infertility is so widespread in Iran is unclear; it might be due to the fact that the reported incidence of chlamydia, a bacterial STD that causes infertility, is several times higher in Iran than in Western countries. Former president Mahmud Ahmadinejad began campaigning for earlier marriage and bigger families in 2009, but fertility has continued to fall.

I argued nearly a decade ago (see Demographics and Iran's imperial design, Asia Times Online, September 13, 2005) that Iran's decision to acquire nuclear weapons is an entirely rational response to its demographic decline: "Iran's motives for acquiring nuclear power are not only economic but strategic. Like Hitler and Stalin, Ahmadinejad looks to imperial expansion as a solution for economic crisis at home. ... This may appear to be a desperate gamble, but conditions call for desperate gambles. Ahmadinejad is not a throwback, as I wrote with a dismissiveness that seems painful in hindsight. He has taken the measure of his country's crisis, and determined to meet it head-on. Washington, from what I can tell, has no idea what sort of opponent it confronts."

Iran is rational, but not in the way Obama seems to believe. If you need $100,000 for an operation that will save your life and have only $10,000, it is rational to bet the whole stake at 10:1 odds. Iran must break out or break down. That is why it will gamble on nuclear weapons acquisition.

Total fertility rate for Russia, Ukraine, and Iran

Source: UN and CIA

Apart from some fine work by the demographer Nicholas Eberstadt, though, the glaring facts of Iran's demographic predicament have escaped notice by America's policymakers. Not so the demographics of Russia: the prevailing view among Western analysts (and especially hawkish ones) holds that Russia is a doomed nation. In December 2011, Professor Eberstadt published an essay entitled "The Dying Bear: Russia's Demographic Disaster" in Foreign Affairs. Last year I reviewed on this site Ilan Berman's book Implosion, which stated this widely held view as follows:
Russia is dying. Russia is undergoing a catastrophic post-Soviet societal decline due to abysmal health standards, runaway drug addiction, and an AIDS crisis that officials have termed an "epidemic." The population of the Russian Federation is declining by close to half a million souls every year due to death and emigration. At this rate, the once-mighty Russian state could lose a quarter of its population by the middle of this century. And according to some projections, if Russia's demographic trajectory does not change, its population could plummet to as little as fifty-two million people by 2080. It's a phenomenon demographers have described as "the emptying of Russia" - a wholesale implosion of Russia's human capital and a collapse of its prospects as a viable modern state. (See Reports of Russia's death are exaggerated, Asia Times Online, October 15, 2013).
A specter is haunting Russia: the specter of depopulation. The cohort of Russian women of child-bearing age is so depleted that even a recovery of Russia's birth rate will not forestall severe problems. Nonetheless I thought Berman's thesis one-sided and overstated. Russia's total fertility rate has recovered from around 1.2 a decade ago to 1.7 last year, and Russia's population increased slightly in 2013 for the first time in almost two decades.

We do not know quite why this has occurred, but it seems that Putin's aggressive efforts to promote fertility have had some effect - unlike in Iran. Like Jonah's prophecy to Nineveh, the threat of extinction may have motivated Russia to change course. And like Jonah, our modern prophets rankle at the prospect that the ban of doom may have been lifted.

I suspect that Russia's revived nationalism has a great deal to do with rising fertility. That includes the revival of the Orthodox Church, which is consubstantial with the Russian state. Countries that lose their faith and their identity also lose their motivation to bring new generations into the world; that is how civilizations die, the title of my 2011 book on demographics and geopolitics. Putin's nationalism is also a rational response to an existential threat. The Germans might go gentle into that good night, but Russia will fight for its identity and its future existence.

Russian nationalism - historically an imperial more than a national identity - always was a brutal business, and especially nasty towards national minorities, as my ancestors from the Pale of Jewish Settlement on the Western order of the Russian Empire knew all too well.

A core goal of Putin's national revivalism is the reintegration of Russians left stranded in the "near abroad" by the collapse of the Soviet Union: Russia's imperial policy of salting its border states with Russian settlers backfired when the evil Soviet empire collapsed. From the Russian vantage point this is not a matter of scoring points but an existential issue, a sine qua non of what it means to be Russian, and exemplary of the motivation for Russians to want their culture to continue.

Western pundits ridicule Putin's claim that Russia is a bulwark against Western decadence. From a Western standpoint, Putin's methods are repugnant. But they are the only methods Russia has ever known. The problem is that Western Europe is decadent. Most European countries are headed for demographic extinction. Russia, which seemed passed the point of no return, is struggling to retrace its steps.

Total Fertility Rate for Russia and Selected European Countries

Source: UN and CIA


That leaves the West with a conundrum concerning the Russian intervention in Crimea and possibly elsewhere in Russian-majority areas in Ukraine. Russia does not want to be like other European countries. Hungary, Poland, and the Baltic States have the lowest fertility rates of any nations in the West, ranging from just 0.82 children per female for ethnic Magyars in Hungary (excluding the Roma) to about 1.2 for Poland. That is where Russia was in 2000. Russia prefers the fecund past to the bleak future of the Europeans. That is why the nations of Europe fought the First World War 100 years ago: to avoid becoming what they are today. They fought to sustain belief in their destiny as nations. As Col. Peters said in the cited interview, "Putin believes in Russia's destiny."

The re-assertion of Russian identity, meanwhile, is as brutal a business as Russian self-assertion has been since the time of Peter the Great. Putin's patriotism is not my patriotism. I don't particularly like what Putin did in Crimea, but it was delusional to expect any other course of action. Russia is short of Russians, and it cannot ignore the 22 million Russians left stranded in newly independent republics of the former Soviet Union.

The Obama administration is staffed by the sort of utopian liberal internationalists who attended conflict-resolution seminars at Ivy League colleges. Putin seems a throwback, and that is just what he is: he is trying to revert to Russian identity prior to the 1917 October Revolution, not without some success. To compare him to Hitler is Billingsgate. The hawks seem upset that Russia has not chosen to accept its decline with Stoic resignation. It is easier to condemn Russian brutality than to suggest an alternative path by which Russia would remain viable a century from now.

It was inevitable that Russia would intervene if Ukraine became unstable. It is tragic in the full sense of the world, namely an outcome to which the participants are driven by circumstances they cannot control. Russia's interest in Ukraine, particularly in the Russian-speaking eastern half of the country, is existential not opportunistic.

As in Georgia, there was nothing the United States (let alone the Europeans) could have done to hinder it, and nothing they can do to reverse it. The tragedy will play itself out, and at the end of it - the very end - there will be no Ukraine, because there will be no Ukrainians.

Whether Russia survives into the next century is an open question upon which the crude conclusions of hawkish foreign policy analysts shed no light. I do not know the answer, but I am sure that America will have to deal with Russia as a strategic power for the indefinite future - a power of second rank, perhaps, but not one to be trifled with in its back yard.

I am an American and a hawk who wants America to be the world's dominant superpower. Whatever our errors, we are the only nation in the world capable of altruism. We hawks had a mandate after September 11, 2011, such as no-one had in America since Pearl Harbor, and we misplayed hand after hand until our chips are nearly gone. If we fail to understand the underlying trends that drive events and the motivations of the main actors, we will be out of the game entirely.

What should we have done in Ukraine? As I wrote on February 20, the West had the opportunity to promote a constitutional referendum including the option of partition. If Russian speakers in Crimea or the Donbas region preferred affiliation with Russia, so be it. Ukraine's constitution was in ruins before the Russians moved in. The odious Viktor Yanukovich beat the "Gas Princess" Yulia Timoshenko in a reasonably fair election in 2010, and proceeded to abuse his presidential powers. When the Maidan Square demonstrators chased him out, Ukraine's parliament voted unanimously to dismiss him. The absence of a single "nay" recalls Soviet-era majorities.

The West could have been midwife to a new national consensus - either a single Ukraine reaffirmed by popular mandate, or a decent divorce on the Czech-Slovak model, or perhaps a federal solution somewhere in between. Instead, we encouraged a constitutional crisis in Ukraine. Now we are stuck with the dubious Ms Timoshenko, one of the wealthiest oligarchs to emerge from Ukraine's post-independence theft of national assets, and an intransigent Russia in possession of Crimea.

Spengler is channeled by David P Goldman. He is Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum, from which this post is reprinted. His book How Civilizations Die (and why Islam is Dying, Too) was published by Regnery Press in September 2011. A volume of his essays on culture, religion and economics, It's Not the End of the World - It's Just the End of You, also appeared that fall, from Van Praag Press.



Saturday, March 08, 2014

Two Cows - by Matthias Varga

TWO COWS - by Matthias Varga

SOCIALISM
You have 2 cows.
You give one to your neighbour

COMMUNISM
You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and gives you some milk

FASCISM
You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and sells you some milk

NAZISM
You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and shoots you

BUREAUCRATISM
You have 2 cows.
The State takes both, shoots one, milks the other, and then throws the milk away

TRADITIONAL CAPITALISM
You have two cows.
You sell one and buy a bull. Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows.
You sell them and retire on the income

ROYAL BANK OF SCOTLAND (VENTURE) CAPITALISM
You have two cows.
You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by
your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows.
The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Island Company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company. The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more. You sell one cow to buy a new president of the United States , leaving you with nine cows. No balance sheet provided with the release.
The public then buys your bull.

SURREALISM
You have two giraffes.
The government requires you to take harmonica lessons.

AN AMERICAN CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows.
Later, you hire a consultant to analyze why the cow has dropped dead.

A GREEK CORPORATION
You have two cows. 

You borrow lots of euros to build barns, milking sheds, hay stores, feed sheds, dairies, cold stores, abattoir, cheese unit and packing sheds.
You still only have two cows.

A FRENCH CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You go on strike, organise a riot, and block the roads, because you want three cows.

A JAPANESE CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce
twenty times the milk. You then create a clever cow cartoon image called a Cowkimona and market it worldwide.

AN ITALIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows,
but you don't know where they are.
You decide to have lunch.

A SWISS CORPORATION
You have 5000 cows. 

None of them belong to you.
You charge the owners for storing them.

A CHINESE CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You have 300 people milking them.
You claim that you have full employment, and high bovine productivity.
You arrest the newsman who reported the real situation.

AN INDIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows.
You worship them.

A BRITISH CORPORATION
You have two cows.
Both are mad.

AN IRAQI CORPORATION
Everyone thinks you have lots of cows.
You tell them that you have none.
No-one believes you, so they bomb the ** out of you and invade your country.
You still have no cows, but at least you are now a Democracy.

AN AUSTRALIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows.
Business seems pretty good.
You close the office and go for a few beers to celebrate.

A NEW ZEALAND CORPORATION
You have two cows.
The one on the left looks very attractive...

Friday, March 07, 2014

Snowden Testimony to EU Parliament

Edward Snowden testified to the European Union Parliament testified today. At least this is the say that his testimony was published. His introductory remarks are included here in full. This was originally published on the EU Parliament web page, including quite a few questions. Link in .pdf.

Introductory Statement

1)
I would like to thank the European Parliament for the invitation to provide testimony for your inquiry into the Electronic Mass Surveillance of EU Citizens. The suspicionless surveillance programs of the NSA, GCHQ, and so many others that we learned about over the last year endanger a number of basic rights which, in aggregate, constitute the foundation of liberal societies.

The first principle any inquiry must take into account is that despite extraordinary political  pressure to do so, no western government has been able to present evidence showing that such  programs are necessary. In the United States, the heads of our spying services once claimed that 54 terrorist attacks had been stopped by mass surveillance, but two independent White House reviews with access to the classified evidence on which this claim was founded concluded it was untrue, as did a Federal Court.

Looking at the US government's reports here is valuable. The most recent of these investigations, performed by the White House's Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, determined that the mass surveillance program investigated was not only ineffective -- they found it had never stopped even a single imminent terrorist attack -- but that it had no basis in law. In less diplomatic language, they discovered the United States was operating an unlawful mass surveillance program, and the greatest success the program had ever produced was discovering a taxi driver in the United States transferring $8,500 dollars to Somalia in 2007.

After noting that even this unimpressive success -  uncovering evidence of a single unlawful  bank transfer -- would have been achieved without bulk collection, the Board recommended that the unlawful mass surveillance program be ended. Unfortunately, we know from press reports that this program is still operating today.

I believe that suspicionless surveillance not only fails to make us safe, but it actually makes us less safe. By squandering precious, limited resources on "collecting it all," we end up with more analysts trying to make sense of harmless political dissent and fewer investigators running down real leads. I believe investing in mass surveillance at the expense of traditional, proven methods can cost lives, and history has shown my concerns are justified.

Despite the extraordinary intrusions of the NSA and EU national governments into private communications world-wide, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the "Underwear Bomber," was allowed to board an airplane traveling from Europe to the United States in 2009. The 290  persons on board were not saved by mass surveillance, but by his own incompetence, when he failed to detonate the device. While even Mutallab's own father warned the US government he was dangerous in November 2009, our resources were tied up monitoring online games and tapping German ministers. That extraordinary tip-off didn't get Mutallab a dedicated US investigator. All we gave him was a US visa. 

Nor did the US government's comprehensive monitoring of Americans at home stop the Boston Bombers. Despite the Russians specifically warning us about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the FBI couldn't do more than a cursory investigation -- although they did plenty of worthless computer-based searching - and failed to discover the plot. 264 people were injured, and 3 died. The resources that could have paid for a real investigation had been spent on monitoring the call records of everyone in America.

This should not have happened. I worked for the United States' Central Intelligence Agency. The National Security Agency. The Defense Intelligence Agency. I love my country, and I believe that spying serves a vital purpose and must continue. And I have risked my life, my family, and my freedom to tell you the truth.

The NSA granted me the authority to monitor communications world-wide using its mass surveillance systems, including within the United States. I have personally targeted individuals using these systems under both the President of the United States' Executive Order 12333 and the US Congress' FAA 702. I know the good and the bad of these systems, and what they can and cannot do, and I am telling you that without getting out of my chair, I could have read the private communications of any member of this committee, as well as any ordinary citizen. I swear under  penalty of perjury that this is true.

These are not the capabilities in which free societies invest. Mass surveillance violates our rights, risks our safety, and threatens our way of life.

If even the US government, after determining mass surveillance is unlawful and unnecessary, continues to operate to engage in mass surveillance, we have a problem. I consider the United States Government to be generally responsible, and I hope you will agree with me. Accordingly, this begs the question many legislative bodies implicated in mass surveillance have sought to avoid: if even the US is willing to knowingly violate the rights of billions of innocents -- and I say billions without exaggeration -- for nothing more substantial than a "potential" intelligence advantage that has never materialized, what are other governments going to do?

Whether we like it or not, the international norms of tomorrow are being constructed today, right now, by the work of bodies like this committee. If liberal states decide that the convenience of spies is more valuable than the rights of their citizens, the inevitable result will  be states that are both less liberal and less safe.

Thank you.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Chess, Ghetto Style

D'Angelo Barksdale: Now look, check it, it's simple, it's simple. See this? This the kingpin, a'ight? And he the man. You get the other dude's king, you got the game. But he trying to get your king too, so you gotta protect it. Now, the king, he move one space any direction he damn choose, 'cause he's the king. Like this, this, this, a'ight? But he ain't got no hustle. But the rest of these motherfuckers on the team, they got his back. And they run so deep, he really ain't gotta do shit.

Preston 'Bodie' Broadus: Like your uncle.

D'Angelo Barksdale: Yeah, like my uncle. You see this? This the queen. She smart, she fast. She move any way she want, as far as she want. And she is the go-get-shit-done piece.

Wallace: Remind me of Stringer.
D'Angelo Barksdale: And this over here is the castle. Like the stash. It can move like this, and like this.

Wallace: Dog, stash don't move, man.

D'Angelo Barksdale: C'mon, yo, think. How many time we move the stash house this week? Right? And every time we move the stash, we gotta move a little muscle with it, right? To protect it.

Preston 'Bodie' Broadus: True, true, you right. All right, what about them little baldheaded bitches right there?

D'Angelo Barksdale: These right here, these are the pawns. They like the soldiers. They move like this, one space forward only. Except when they fight, then it's like this. And they like the front lines, they be out in the field.

Wallace: So how do you get to be the king?

D'Angelo Barksdale: It ain't like that. See, the king stay the king, a'ight? Everything stay who he is. Except for the pawns. Now, if the pawn make it all the way down to the other dude's side, he get to be queen. And like I said, the queen ain't no bitch. She got all the moves.

Preston 'Bodie' Broadus: A'ight, so if I make it to the other end, I win.

D'Angelo Barksdale: If you catch the other dude's king and trap it, then you win.

Preston 'Bodie' Broadus: A'ight, but if I make it to the end, I'm top dog.

D'Angelo Barksdale: Nah, yo, it ain't like that. Look, the pawns, man, in the game, they get capped quick. They be out the game early.

Preston 'Bodie' Broadus: Unless they some smart-ass pawns.