Thursday, March 26, 2015

Zero Base Budgeting in the news

Over the years since I started this blog many people have asked me what the title "Zero Base Thinking" meant. Now that zero base budgeting is in the news, as the formative concept for 3G Capital's great success, Forbes has a nice piece up about it. PJ O’Rourke had described it well in my favorite political polemic disguised as humor, "Parliament of Whores." Read the book if you are one of the few who still reads books, but meanwhile Forbes has a nice encapsulation of the concept:
All it really is is insisting that as people prepare this year’s budgets they start with a blank sheet of paper. Rather than just taking last years’ budget and updating it a bit for inflation and or wages. But the effects seem to be really rather large: which is why we almost certainly want the government itself to take up the practice when looking at its own budget.
It is also a good technique to use to organize thought. That is where the title of this blog comes from. It also explains the subhead:
Question authority. Find out the facts. Think for yourself
Zero base thinking means you try to shed your preconceived notions when presented with new evidence. Fight confirmation bias by starting from a blank sheet of mental paper.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Subtlety: A U.S. Strategy Against the Islamic State

By George Friedman

U.S. President Barack Obama said recently that he had no strategy as yet toward the Islamic State but that he would present a plan on Wednesday. It is important for a president to know when he has no strategy. It is not necessarily wise to announce it, as friends will be frightened and enemies delighted. A president must know what it is he does not know, and he should remain calm in pursuit of it, but there is no obligation to be honest about it.

This is particularly true because, in a certain sense, Obama has a strategy, though it is not necessarily one he likes. Strategy is something that emerges from reality, while tactics might be chosen. Given the situation, the United States has an unavoidable strategy. There are options and uncertainties for employing it. Let us consider some of the things that Obama does know.

The Formation of National Strategy


There are serious crises on the northern and southern edges of the Black Sea Basin. There is no crisis in the Black Sea itself, but it is surrounded by crises. The United States has been concerned about the status of Russia ever since U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt negotiated the end of the Russo-Japanese war in 1905. The United States has been concerned about the Middle East since U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower forced the British to retreat from Suez in 1956. As a result, the United States inherited -- or seized -- the British position.

A national strategy emerges over the decades and centuries. It becomes a set of national interests into which a great deal has been invested, upon which a great deal depends and upon which many are counting. Presidents inherit national strategies, and they can modify them to some extent. But the idea that a president has the power to craft a new national strategy both overstates his power and understates the power of realities crafted by all those who came before him. We are all trapped in circumstances into which we were born and choices that were made for us. The United States has an inherent interest in Ukraine and in Syria-Iraq. Whether we should have that interest is an interesting philosophical question for a late-night discussion, followed by a sunrise when we return to reality. These places reflexively matter to the United States.

The American strategy is fixed: Allow powers in the region to compete and balance against each other. When that fails, intervene with as little force and risk as possible. For example, the conflict between Iran and Iraq canceled out two rising powers until the war ended. Then Iraq invaded Kuwait and threatened to overturn the balance of power in the region. The result was Desert Storm.

This strategy provides a model. In the Syria-Iraq region, the initial strategy is to allow the regional powers to balance each other, while providing as little support as possible to maintain the balance of power. It is crucial to understand the balance of power in detail, and to understand what might undermine it, so that any force can be applied effectively. This is the tactical part, and it is the tactical part that can go wrong. The strategy has a logic of its own. Understanding what that strategy demands is the hard part. Some nations have lost their sovereignty by not understanding what strategy demands. France in 1940 comes to mind. For the United States, there is no threat to sovereignty, but that makes the process harder: Great powers can tend to be casual because the situation is not existential. This increases the cost of doing what is necessary.

The ground where we are talking about applying this model is Syria and Iraq. Both of these central governments have lost control of the country as a whole, but each remains a force. Both countries are divided by religion, and the religions are divided internally as well. In a sense the nations have ceased to exist, and the fragments they consisted of are now smaller but more complex entities.

The issue is whether the United States can live with this situation or whether it must reshape it. The immediate question is whether the United States has the power to reshape it and to what extent. The American interest turns on its ability to balance local forces. If that exists, the question is whether there is any other shape that can be achieved through American power that would be superior. From my point of view, there are many different shapes that can be imagined, but few that can be achieved. The American experience in Iraq highlighted the problems with counterinsurgency or being caught in a local civil war. The idea of major intervention assumes that this time it will be different. This fits one famous definition of insanity.

The Islamic State's Role


There is then the special case of the Islamic State. It is special because its emergence triggered the current crisis. It is special because the brutal murder of two prisoners on video showed a particular cruelty. And it is different because its ideology is similar to that of al Qaeda, which attacked the United States. It has excited particular American passions.

To counter this, I would argue that the uprising by Iraq's Sunni community was inevitable, with its marginalization by Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite regime in Baghdad. That it took this particularly virulent form is because the more conservative elements of the Sunni community were unable or unwilling to challenge al-Maliki. But the fragmentation of Iraq into Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish regions was well underway before the Islamic State, and jihadism was deeply embedded in the Sunni community a long time ago.

Moreover, although the Islamic State is brutal, its cruelty is not unique in the region. Syrian President Bashar al Assad and others may not have killed Americans or uploaded killings to YouTube, but their history of ghastly acts is comparable. Finally, the Islamic State -- engaged in war with everyone around it -- is much less dangerous to the United States than a small group with time on its hands, planning an attack. In any event, if the Islamic State did not exist, the threat to the United States from jihadist groups in Yemen or Libya or somewhere inside the United States would remain.

Because the Islamic State operates to some extent as a conventional military force, it is vulnerable to U.S. air power. The use of air power against conventional forces that lack anti-aircraft missiles is a useful gambit. It shows that the United States is doing something, while taking little risk, assuming that the Islamic State really does not have anti-aircraft missiles. But it accomplishes little. The Islamic State will disperse its forces, denying conventional aircraft a target. Attempting to defeat the Islamic State by distinguishing its supporters from other Sunni groups and killing them will founder at the first step. The problem of counterinsurgency is identifying the insurgent.

There is no reason not to bomb the Islamic State's forces and leaders. They certainly deserve it. But there should be no illusion that bombing them will force them to capitulate or mend their ways. They are now part of the fabric of the Sunni community, and only the Sunni community can root them out. Identifying Sunnis who are anti-Islamic State and supplying them with weapons is a much better idea. It is the balance-of-power strategy that the United States follows, but this approach doesn't have the dramatic satisfaction of blowing up the enemy. That satisfaction is not trivial, and the United States can certainly blow something up and call it the enemy, but it does not address the strategic problem.

In the first place, is it really a problem for the United States? The American interest is not stability but the existence of a dynamic balance of power in which all players are effectively paralyzed so that no one who would threaten the United States emerges. The Islamic State had real successes at first, but the balance of power with the Kurds and Shia has limited its expansion, and tensions within the Sunni community diverted its attention. Certainly there is the danger of intercontinental terrorism, and U.S. intelligence should be active in identifying and destroying these threats. But the re-occupation of Iraq, or Iraq plus Syria, makes no sense. The United States does not have the force needed to occupy Iraq and Syria at the same time. The demographic imbalance between available forces and the local population makes that impossible.

The danger is that other Islamic State franchises might emerge in other countries. But the United States would not be able to block these threats as well as the other countries in the region. Saudi Arabia must cope with any internal threat it faces not because the United States is indifferent, but because the Saudis are much better at dealing with such threats. In the end, the same can be said for the Iranians.

Most important, it can also be said for the Turks. The Turks are emerging as a regional power. Their economy has grown dramatically in the past decade, their military is the largest in the region, and they are part of the Islamic world. Their government is Islamist but in no way similar to the Islamic State, which concerns Ankara. This is partly because of Ankara's fear that the jihadist group might spread to Turkey, but more so because its impact on Iraqi Kurdistan could affect Turkey's long-term energy plans.

Forming a New Balance in the Region


The United States cannot win the game of small mosaic tiles that is emerging in Syria and Iraq. An American intervention at this microscopic level can only fail. But the principle of balance of power does not mean that balance must be maintained directly. Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia have far more at stake in this than the United States. So long as they believe that the United States will attempt to control the situation, it is perfectly rational for them to back off and watch, or act in the margins, or even hinder the Americans.

The United States must turn this from a balance of power between Syria and Iraq to a balance of power among this trio of regional powers. They have far more at stake and, absent the United States, they have no choice but to involve themselves. They cannot stand by and watch a chaos that could spread to them.

It is impossible to forecast how the game is played out. What is important is that the game begins. The Turks do not trust the Iranians, and neither is comfortable with the Saudis. They will cooperate, compete, manipulate and betray, just as the United States or any country might do in such a circumstance. The point is that there is a tactic that will fail: American re-involvement. There is a tactic that will succeed: the United States making it clear that while it might aid the pacification in some way, the responsibility is on regional powers. The inevitable outcome will be a regional competition that the United States can manage far better than the current chaos.

Obama has sought volunteers from NATO for a coalition to fight the Islamic State. It is not clear why he thinks those NATO countries -- with the exception of Turkey -- will spend their national treasures and lives to contain the Islamic State, or why the Islamic State alone is the issue. The coalition that must form is not a coalition of the symbolic, but a coalition of the urgently involved. That coalition does not have to be recruited. In a real coalition, its members have no choice but to join. And whether they act together or in competition, they will have to act. And not acting will simply increase the risk to them.

U.S. strategy is sound. It is to allow the balance of power to play out, to come in only when it absolutely must -- with overwhelming force, as in Kuwait -- and to avoid intervention where it cannot succeed. The tactical application of strategy is the problem. In this case the tactic is not direct intervention by the United States, save as a satisfying gesture to avenge murdered Americans. But the solution rests in doing as little as possible and forcing regional powers into the fray, then in maintaining the balance of power in this coalition.

Such an American strategy is not an avoidance of responsibility. It is the use of U.S. power to force a regional solution. Sometimes the best use of American power is to go to war. Far more often, the best use of U.S. power is to withhold it. The United States cannot evade responsibility in the region. But it is enormously unimaginative to assume that carrying out that responsibility is best achieved by direct intervention. Indirect intervention is frequently more efficient and more effective.

The Virtue of Subtlety: A U.S. Strategy Against the Islamic State is republished with permission of Stratfor.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Demographics as Hate Crime

Bruce Levenson, owner of the NBA's Atlanta Hawks, is being forced to sell his team in disgrace. His crime? In an email sent three years ago, he touched on the subject of the team's dearth of ticket sales, especially season tickets, which were (and still are) the lowest in the league . He wrote about the crowds showing up late for games, too. A hate crime, surely.

FULL TEXT OF THE E-MAIL (via the Hawks):

From: Bruce Levenson
Sent: 8/25/2012 11:47:02 PM
Subject: Re: Business/Game ops

1. from day one i have been impressed with the friendliness and professionalism of the arena staff -- food vendors, ushers, ticket takers, etc. in our early years when i would bring folks from dc they were blown away by the contrast between abe pollin's arena and philips. some of this is attributable to southern hospital and manners but bob and his staff do a good job of training. To this day, I can not get the ushers to call me Bruce yet they insist on me calling them by their first names.

2. the non-premium area food is better than most arenas, though that is not saying much. i think there is room for improvement and creativity. Levy is our food vendor so we don't have much control but they have been good partners. i have wished we had some inconic offereing like boog's barbeque at the baseball stadium in balt.

3. our new restaurant, red, just opened so too early for me to give you my thoughts.

4. Regarding game ops, i need to start with some background. for the first couple of years we owned the team, i didn't much focus on game ops. then one day a light bulb went off. when digging into why our season ticket base is so small, i was told it is because we can't get 35-55 white males and corporations to buy season tixs and they are the primary demo for season tickets around the league. when i pushed further, folks generally shrugged their shoulders. then i start looking around our arena during games and notice the following:

-- it's 70 pct black
-- the cheerleaders are black
-- the music is hip hop
-- at the bars it's 90 pct black
-- there are few fathers and sons at the games
-- we are doing after game concerts to attract more fans and the concerts are either hip hop or gospel.

Then i start looking around at other arenas. It is completely different. Even DC with its affluent black community never has more than 15 pct black audience.

Before we bought the hawks and for those couple years immediately after in an effort to make the arena look full (at the nba's urging) thousands and thousands of tickets were being giving away, predominantly in the black community, adding to the overwhelming black audience.

My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a signficant season ticket base. Please dont get me wrong. There was nothing threatening going on in the arean back then. i never felt uncomfortable, but i think southern whites simply were not comfortable being in an arena or at a bar where they were in the minority. On fan sites i would read comments about how dangerous it is around philips yet in our 9 years, i don't know of a mugging or even a pick pocket incident. This was just racist garbage. When I hear some people saying the arena is in the wrong place I think it is code for there are too many blacks at the games.

I have been open with our executive team about these concerns. I have told them I want some white cheerleaders and while i don't care what the color of the artist is, i want the music to be music familiar to a 40 year old white guy if that's our season tixs demo. i have also balked when every fan picked out of crowd to shoot shots in some time out contest is black. I have even bitched that the kiss cam is too black.

Gradually things have changed. My unscientific guess is that our crowd is 40 pct black now, still four to five times all other teams. And my further guess is that 40 pct still feels like 70 pet to some whites at our games. Our bars are still overwhelmingly black.
This is obviously a sensitive topic, but sadly i think it is far and way the number one reason our season ticket base is so low.

And many of our black fans don't have the spendable income which explains why our f&b and merchandise sales are so low. At all white thrasher games sales were nearly triple what they are at hawks games (the extra intermission explains some of that but not all).

Regardless of what time a game starts, we have the latest arriving crowd in the league. It often looks and sounds empty when the team takes the floor.

In the past two years, we have created a section of rowdy college students that has been a big plus. And we do a lot of very clever stuff during time outs to entertain the crowd. Our kiss cam is better done than any in the league.

We have all the same halftime acts that other arenas have but i question whether they make sense. people are on their cell phones during half time. i wonder if flashing on the scoreboard "$2 off on hot dogs during halftime tonight" just as the half ends would be a better use of our halftime dollars and make the fans happier.

We do all the usual giveways and the fans are usually their loudest when our spirit crew takes the floor to give away t-shirts. It pisses me off that they will yell louder for a t-shirt then for our players.

Our player intro is flat. We manufacture a lot of noise but because of the late arriving crowd and the fact that a lot of blacks dont seem to go as crazy cheering (another one of my theories) as whites, it is not great. Even when we have just returned from winnng four straight on the road, i am one of the few people in the arena standing and cheering when our team takes the floor. Bob has kicked around ideas like having the starters coming down aisles rather than off the bench during intros. Sounds cool but may highlight all the empty seats at the start of games.

Not enough of our fans wear hawks jerseys to games. i have just begun to push for ideas like discount food lines for folks wearing jerseys, special entrances, etc. I think we need a committed and perhaps incentivized fan club. We need to realize atl is simply different than every other city. Just adopting nba best practices is not enough. we have to create our own.

I am rambling and could probably go on forever. If you have any specific areas you would like my thoughts on, let me know.

Best,
Bruce

Friday, August 29, 2014

Dr. Strangelove Speaks

In the 1964 film "Doctor Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" the character of Dr. Strangelove was purported to be based upon the real-life Henry Kissinger, who became National Security Advisor and ultimately Secretary of State under Richard Nixon, and continued under Gerald Ford. Since then his firm, Kissinger and Associates, has been advising leaders and governments around the world. If there is an actual expert on geopolitics alive on this planet, it is Dr. Kissinger. He is 91 years old. In today's Wall Street Journal he has penned what may well turn out to be his final Op-Ed. His message to the world is too important to ignore. I quote it here, in its entirety. Since this is a no-revenue private blog, my repost of it here is surely allowed under fair use provisions of copyright law.

The Assembly of a New World Order

The concept that has underpinned the modern geopolitical era is in crisis

Dr. Henry Kissinger

Libya is in civil war, fundamentalist armies are building a self-declared caliphate across Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan's young democracy is on the verge of paralysis. To these troubles are added a resurgence of tensions with Russia and a relationship with China divided between pledges of cooperation and public recrimination. The concept of order that has underpinned the modern era is in crisis.

The search for world order has long been defined almost exclusively by the concepts of Western societies. In the decades following World War II, the U.S.—strengthened in its economy and national confidence—began to take up the torch of international leadership and added a new dimension. A nation founded explicitly on an idea of free and representative governance, the U.S. identified its own rise with the spread of liberty and democracy and credited these forces with an ability to achieve just and lasting peace. The traditional European approach to order had viewed peoples and states as inherently competitive; to constrain the effects of their clashing ambitions, it relied on a balance of power and a concert of enlightened statesmen. The prevalent American view considered people inherently reasonable and inclined toward peaceful compromise and common sense; the spread of democracy was therefore the overarching goal for international order. Free markets would uplift individuals, enrich societies and substitute economic interdependence for traditional international rivalries. 

This effort to establish world order has in many ways come to fruition. A plethora of independent sovereign states govern most of the world's territory. The spread of democracy and participatory governance has become a shared aspiration if not a universal reality; global communications and financial networks operate in real time.

The years from perhaps 1948 to the turn of the century marked a brief moment in human history when one could speak of an incipient global world order composed of an amalgam of American idealism and traditional European concepts of statehood and balance of power. But vast regions of the world have never shared and only acquiesced in the Western concept of order. These reservations are now becoming explicit, for example, in the Ukraine crisis and the South China Sea. The order established and proclaimed by the West stands at a turning point. 

First, the nature of the state itself—the basic formal unit of international life—has been subjected to a multitude of pressures. Europe has set out to transcend the state and craft a foreign policy based primarily on the principles of soft power. But it is doubtful that claims to legitimacy separated from a concept of strategy can sustain a world order. And Europe has not yet given itself attributes of statehood, tempting a vacuum of authority internally and an imbalance of power along its borders. At the same time, parts of the Middle East have dissolved into sectarian and ethnic components in conflict with each other; religious militias and the powers backing them violate borders and sovereignty at will, producing the phenomenon of failed states not controlling their own territory. 

The challenge in Asia is the opposite of Europe's: Balance-of-power principles prevail unrelated to an agreed concept of legitimacy, driving some disagreements to the edge of confrontation.

The clash between the international economy and the political institutions that ostensibly govern it also weakens the sense of common purpose necessary for world order. The economic system has become global, while the political structure of the world remains based on the nation-state. Economic globalization, in its essence, ignores national frontiers. Foreign policy affirms them, even as it seeks to reconcile conflicting national aims or ideals of world order.

This dynamic has produced decades of sustained economic growth punctuated by periodic financial crises of seemingly escalating intensity: in Latin America in the 1980s; in Asia in 1997; in Russia in 1998; in the U.S. in 2001 and again starting in 2007; in Europe after 2010. The winners have few reservations about the system. But the losers—such as those stuck in structural misdesigns, as has been the case with the European Union's southern tier—seek their remedies by solutions that negate, or at least obstruct, the functioning of the global economic system.

The international order thus faces a paradox: Its prosperity is dependent on the success of globalization, but the process produces a political reaction that often works counter to its aspirations. 

A third failing of the current world order, such as it exists, is the absence of an effective mechanism for the great powers to consult and possibly cooperate on the most consequential issues. This may seem an odd criticism in light of the many multilateral forums that exist—more by far than at any other time in history. Yet the nature and frequency of these meetings work against the elaboration of long-range strategy. This process permits little beyond, at best, a discussion of pending tactical issues and, at worst, a new form of summitry as "social media" event. A contemporary structure of international rules and norms, if it is to prove relevant, cannot merely be affirmed by joint declarations; it must be fostered as a matter of common conviction.

The penalty for failing will be not so much a major war between states (though in some regions this remains possible) as an evolution into spheres of influence identified with particular domestic structures and forms of governance. At its edges, each sphere would be tempted to test its strength against other entities deemed illegitimate. A struggle between regions could be even more debilitating than the struggle between nations has been.
The contemporary quest for world order will require a coherent strategy to establish a concept of order within the various regions and to relate these regional orders to one another. These goals are not necessarily self-reconciling: The triumph of a radical movement might bring order to one region while setting the stage for turmoil in and with all others. The domination of a region by one country militarily, even if it brings the appearance of order, could produce a crisis for the rest of the world. 

A world order of states affirming individual dignity and participatory governance, and cooperating internationally in accordance with agreed-upon rules, can be our hope and should be our inspiration. But progress toward it will need to be sustained through a series of intermediary stages. 

To play a responsible role in the evolution of a 21st-century world order, the U.S. must be prepared to answer a number of questions for itself: What do we seek to prevent, no matter how it happens, and if necessary alone? What do we seek to achieve, even if not supported by any multilateral effort? What do we seek to achieve, or prevent, only if supported by an alliance? What should we not engage in, even if urged on by a multilateral group or an alliance? What is the nature of the values that we seek to advance? And how much does the application of these values depend on circumstance?

For the U.S., this will require thinking on two seemingly contradictory levels. The celebration of universal principles needs to be paired with recognition of the reality of other regions' histories, cultures and views of their security. Even as the lessons of challenging decades are examined, the affirmation of America's exceptional nature must be sustained. History offers no respite to countries that set aside their sense of identity in favor of a seemingly less arduous course. But nor does it assure success for the most elevated convictions in the absence of a comprehensive geopolitical strategy.

Reposted from The Wall Street Journal.

Terrorism as Theater

By Robert D. Kaplan

The beheading of American journalist James Foley by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq was much more than an altogether gruesome and tragic affair: rather, it was a very sophisticated and professional film production deliberately punctuated with powerful symbols. Foley was dressed in an orange jumpsuit reminiscent of the Muslim prisoners held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay. He made his confession forcefully, as if well rehearsed. His executioner, masked and clad in black, made an equally long statement in a calm, British accent, again, as if rehearsed. It was as if the killing was secondary to the message being sent.

The killing, in other words, became merely the requirement to send the message. As experts have told me, there are more painful ways to dispatch someone if you really hate the victim and want him to suffer. You can burn him alive. You can torture him. But beheading, on the other hand, causes the victim to lose consciousness within seconds once a major artery is cut in the neck, experts say. Beheading, though, is the best method for the sake of a visually dramatic video, because you can show the severed head atop the chest at the conclusion. Using a short knife, as in this case, rather than a sword, also makes the event both more chilling and intimate. Truly, I do not mean to be cruel, indifferent, or vulgar. I am only saying that without the possibility of videotaping the event, there would be no motive in the first place to execute someone in such a manner.

In producing a docu-drama in its own twisted way, the Islamic State was sending the following messages:

  • We don't play by your rules. There are no limits to what we are willing to do.
  • America's mistreatment of Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo Bay comes with a "price tag," to quote a recently adopted phrase for retribution killings. After all, we are a state. We have our own enemy combatants as you can see from the video, and our own way of dealing with them.
  • Just because we observe no limits does not mean we lack sophistication. We can be just as sophisticated as you in the West. Just listen to the British accent of our executioner. And we can produce a very short film up to Hollywood standards.
  • We're not like the drug lords in Mexico who regularly behead people and subsequently post the videos on the Internet. The drug lords deliver only a communal message, designed to intimidate only those people within their area of control. That is why the world at large pays little attention to them; in fact, the world is barely aware of them. By contrast, we of the Islamic State are delivering a global, meta-message. And the message is this: We want to destroy all of you in America, all of you in the West, and everyone in the Muslim world who does not accept our version of Islam.
  • We will triumph because we observe absolutely no constraints. It is because only we have access to the truth that anything we do is sanctified by God.
Welcome to the mass media age. You thought mass media was just insipid network anchormen and rude prime-time hosts interrupting talking heads on cable. It is that, of course. But just as World War I was different from the Franco-Prussian War, because in between came the culmination of the Industrial Age and thus the possibility of killing on an industrial scale, the wars of the 21st century will be different from those of the 20th because of the culmination of the first stage of the Information Age, with all of its visual ramifications.

Passion, deep belief, political protests and so forth have little meaning nowadays if they cannot be broadcast. Likewise, torture and gruesome death must be communicated to large numbers of people if they are to be effective. Technology, which the geeky billionaires of Silicon Valley and the Pacific Northwest claim has liberated us with new forms of self-expression, has also brought us back to the worst sorts of barbarism. Communications technology is value neutral, it has no intrinsic moral worth, even as it can at times encourage the most hideous forms of exhibitionism: to wit, the Foley execution.

We are back to a medieval world of theater, in which the audience is global. Theater, when the actors are well-trained, can be among the most powerful and revelatory art forms. And nothing works in theater as much as symbols which the playwright manipulates. A short knife, a Guantanamo jumpsuit, a black-clad executioner with a British accent in the heart of the Middle East, are, taken together, symbols of power, sophistication, and retribution. We mean business. Are you in America capable of taking us on?

It has been said that the murder of Czar Nicholas II and his family in 1918 in Ekaterinburg by Lenin's new government was a seminal crime: because if the Bolsheviks were willing to execute not only the Czar but his wife and children, too, they were also capable of murdering en masse. Indeed, that crime presaged the horrors to come of Bolshevik rule. The same might be said of the 1958 murder of Iraqi King Faisal II and his family and servants by military coup plotters, and the subsequent mutilation of the body of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Said by a Baghdad mob -- events that presaged decades of increasingly totalitarian rule, culminating in Saddam Hussein. The theatrical murder of James Foley may appear as singular to some; more likely, it presages something truly terrible unfolding in the postmodern Middle East.

To be sure, the worse the chaos, the more extreme the ideology that emerges from it. Something has already emerged from the chaos of Syria and Iraq, even as Libya and Yemen -- also in chaos -- may be awaiting their own versions of the Islamic State. And remember, above all, what the video communicated was the fact that these people are literally capable of anything.

Terrorism as Theater is republished with permission of Stratfor.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Democrats at War

A tale of two presidents, each in his turn fighting the same two wars at different times. An interesting comparison of two different men doing the same job in entirely different ways.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

An Angry Black Man Calling for Change

All media depictions to the contrary, this fellow is a part of a growing movement in his community. A movement that respects the teaching and legacies of M.L. King Jr. and Malcolm X.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Case for Israel

Pat Condell makes the case for the Jewish State, well before the recent unpleasantness in Gaza.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Obama, in his own words.

The Senator had high expectations for himself, as he promised that, if he were to receive Americans’ vote for President: "You have to understand that if you seek that office, then you have to be prepared to give your life to it. Essentially, the bargain that I think every President strikes with the American people is, ‘you give me this office, then in turn my fears, doubts, insecurities, foibles, need for sleep, family life, vacations, leisure, is gone. I am giving myself to you."

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.