Streetwise Professor

September 16, 2017

You Too Can Own a Copy of Hillary’s Therapy Session Notes, For a Mere $30!!!

Filed under: Politics — The Professor @ 11:15 am

Hillary Clinton expects you to spend $30* to read the notes from her post-election therapy sessions–all 512 pages(!) of them. She is also on tour, broadcasting hour after hour of therapy session with assorted media shrinks.

The therapy has obviously been an utter failure, because Hillary remains stubbornly stuck in denial and anger, and incapable of moving anywhere close to acceptance. The therapy has also failed to resolve her rampant internal contradictions, wherein she is simultaneously the smartest, most powerful woman in the world and the serial victim of offenses committed by all humans great and small, simultaneously the ubermensch and untermensch.

In What Happened, Hillary purports to explain her (to her anyway) inexplicable loss to the worst man in the world, bar none, Donald Trump. What Didn’t Happen would have been a much shorter book, because in her tome (and in her interviews) she blames everyone and everything for her loss. Check that: she blames everyone and everything except Hillary Clinton, save for some pro forma acknowledgements of responsibility, before she returns to her regularly scheduled blamecast. There are more scapegoats in this book than in all of Greece.

James Comey–whom, as you may know, I loathe–is the target of considerable ire. Lest you think that this is one thing Hillary and I can agree with, it ain’t. One of the reasons I dislike Comey is that there is ample evidence that he gave numerous passes to Hillary: most recently, it was revealed that he had basically decided to clear her before interviewing her or any of her flunkies, and basically said mother-may-I when requesting (not demanding) documents. But Hillary blames Comey’s late-in-the-day hedge on some of those passes for her loss: he never should have terminated the investigation that he felt compelled to resume later on.

The most tedious refrain in Hillary’s pity party is that she was the victim of misogyny. Please. For one thing, if misogyny is so rife in affecting American votes, why are there so many women in elective office in the US? It was just one woman in particular whom many Americans found off-putting.

For another, Hillary and her ilk believe that misogyny is rife on the right–but those people weren’t going to vote for her in any event. Hillary therefore must impute misogyny to middle-of-the-road swing voters in places like Wisconsin and Michigan and Pennsylvania who voted Democratic in the past but who voted for Trump this time around. (And who voted for women for high political offices–note that Debbie Stabenow has received a majority of the votes in Senate contests in Michigan, and that Jennifer Granholm was elected governor years ago. Tammy Baldwin, a woman–indeed, a lesbian–was elected to the Senate from Wisconsin in 2013.) Indeed, since there was a swing to Trump of female voters who had previously voted Democratic in these states, she would have to argue that moderate and Democratic-leaning women acted out of misogyny. Evidence for these assertions would be nice. I’ve seen none, and she presents none. Chalk this up as another example of Hillary’s penchant for insulting those she should flatter. In brief, Hillary believes that if you voted against her you are a misogynist, and if you are a woman who voted against her (or did not vote), you are a traitor to your ovaries to boot. That’s just pathetic.

The issue of states leads to one of her most appalling rants–the attack on the Electoral College. Well, those were the rules going in, lady, and had been in place for 229 years and 57 presidential elections prior to 2016. You didn’t play the electoral map properly. Trump did. You lose.

Further, if she had been an even remotely decent candidate, the Electoral College wouldn’t have mattered a whit. The loss in the Electoral College demonstrates some of her fundamental failings as a candidate, most notably an overweening belief in her own inevitability, which led her to run a lazy, uninspired, unstrategic and frankly stupid campaign.

I will also note in passing that precisely because of the Electoral College, her husband cruised to victory twice despite receiving a minority of the popular vote, and indeed a smaller fraction of that vote than the reviled Trump. Besides demonstrating one of the virtues of the Electoral College system (which can result in an unchallenged outcome even in a sharply divided electorate), this is also deliciously ironic, and karmic. But irony is not one of Hillary’s strong suits. (I honestly can’t say what Hillary’s strong suits are, but appreciation for irony and karma are definitely not among them.)

The obsessive self-focus of this book also apparently blinds her to all of the slings and arrows that Trump endured during the campaign (many of which were self-inflicted). By any objective measure, Trump experienced far more negative treatment than Hillary. You can argue that it was warranted, but you really can’t argue that fact. So why were negative coverage and damaging revelations fatal to Hillary, but not to Trump, even though (in her mind at least) those directed at her were false and those directed at Trump were true? After all, this was a contest between two individuals, meaning that the relative degree of negativity should matter.  Furthermore, it is gravely insulting to the American people to insinuate, as Hillary does, that they are utterly incapable of distinguishing fair criticism from false. In Hillary’s mind, she is wonderful, and every criticism is unfair, but Americans are too stupid to see through fake news concocted in Macedonia to perceive her incomparable wonderfulness.

The book and the interviews primarily show that Hillary is still Hillary, and she will always be Hillary. This should not be surprising. Hillary is a narcissist, and narcissists never change. She believes that she is so wonderful that any criticism is a grave injustice, and that Trump is so horrible that no criticism is too strong: the fact that she was criticized at all is to her an outrage. In her mind, she should have been elected by unanimous affirmation. She should move to North Korea.

Further, the book and interviews show that Hillary lost despite every objective advantage because of her myriad personal defects. Well before the election I pointed out often that Hillary was a horrible candidate, in large part because she is a horrible person. And wouldn’t you know, she done wrote herself a book to prove that to the world.

*That’s list price. The book is available at $17.99 on Amazon almost immediately after release: indeed, it is available new for $12.99 from some sellers. Draw your own conclusions.

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September 9, 2017

The Rosneft “Privatization”: The Farce Continues

Filed under: China,Commodities,Energy,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 3:32 pm

The Rosneft deal involving Qatar and Glencore, announced with such fanfare in December, and commemorated with Putin awarding medals a few months later, has been undone. A Chinese conglomerate, CEFC (not exactly a giant name in the energy business) has agreed to invest $9.1 billion. As a result, Qatar’s stake will fall by more than half to less than five percent. Glencore, which notionally owned half of the nearly 20 percent stake sold in December, but which went to great pains to point out that it was at risk to the tune of a mere $300 million, will retain only .5 percent of Rosneft. The Italian bank which funded the deal, Intesa, will be paid off and exit the transaction. And as Ivan Tkachaev notes in RBC, it also lets the heretofore unknown Russian banks who provided guarantees to Glencore (and perhaps provided some funding too, given the gap between the price of the deal and the contributions by Intesa, QIA, and Glencore) to eliminate their exposure to Rosneft. (Exposure that Rosneft/Sechin/Putin never admitted, and which was allegedly not supposed to exist in this “privatization.”)

Like the original transaction, this one raises many, many questions. And like the original transaction, no doubt few (if any) of these questions will be answered.

The most notable issue is that the transaction clearly was not done at a market price. The amount invested exactly pays off the Intesa loan, plus about $100 million to cover costs and fees: it would be miraculous if a market-price deal exactly paid off existing loans. Thus, the deal was clearly done to save Intesa from its predicament, which was quite dire given that it could not syndicate the loan, and its association with the deal put the banking some sanctions-related binds.

Further, the deal is a boon to Qatar, which is embroiled in a standoff with the Saudis and the rest of the GCC, and which has suffered some economic difficulties as a result. The deal helps its balance sheet, which was under pressure due to the economic conflict. Further, Qatar needs all the friends it can get right now, and being a major investor in Rosneft did not help its relations with the US.

Not only was the deal not at a market price, it is highly likely that the Chinese overpaid. The price was at a 16 percent premium to the average of Rosneft’s stock price over the previous month. It is extremely rare to pay a premium, let alone that big a premium, for a minority passive stake–especially in a country where minority investors are routinely raped. (And Sechin is a multiple offender in this regard.) Indeed, most such deals are done at a discount, not a premium.

Note that the original deal was at a discount, and Putin explicitly acknowledged it was at a 5 percent discount. He claimed it was the “minimum discount,” but it was a discount nonetheless.

The Chinese are not notorious for overpaying. Thus, it is almost certain that there is some side deal that makes the Chinese whole. Or better than whole. The side deals could be in the form of cash payments from Rosneft (or maybe even Qatar), but I consider this the least likely. Instead, CEFC could obtain oil at preferential prices from Rosneft, or provide financial services to the Russian company at above market prices.

Ivan also reminds me that just days before the CEFC purchase, Rosneft and the Chinese company announced a “Strategic Cooperation Agreement and a contract for the supply of Russian crude oil at the 9th BRICS summit.” Rosneft describes the oil contract thus:

Rosneft and CEFC signed a contract for the supply of Russian crude oil, opening up new opportunities for the strategic partnership. This contract will lead to an increase in direct supplies of crude oil to the strategic Chinese market and ensure a guaranteed cost-efficient export channel for the Company’s crude sales.

Price is not mentioned, but this could provide a mechanism that would allow Rosneft to compensate CEFC for any overpayment on the purchase price of the stake. (Recall that Russia obtained funding for an oil pipeline to China by contracting to deliver oil at discounted prices.)

Again, we will likely never know the details, but there has to be more to this deal than meets the eye.

Here is how the investor describes its business:

In recent years, CEFC China has been accelerating its strategic transformation, focusing on building an international investment bank and an investment group specialized in energy industry and financial services, which has helped boost the Company’s sustained rapid development. The Company has under it two group companies at management level, 7 level-one subsidiaries as investment platforms and an A-share listed company, with a workforce of nearly 30,000.

Underpinned by its European oil and gas terminals, CEFC China secures its position by obtaining upstream oil and gas equities and interests, building professional teams of finance and independent traders and providing financial support with a full range of licenses. The profits in the financial and logistics sectors are driven by its energy operations and financial services. In addition, CEFC China has set up its second headquarters in the Czech Republic to conduct international banking businesses and investment, and acquired controlling shares in banks and shares in important financial groups with its investment focusing on airline, aircraft manufacturing, special steel and food, in order to facilitate international cooperation in production capacity.

Hardly a major oil player, and certainly not a strategic investor that brings to Rosneft any technical expertise or access to upstream resources outside Russia. It’s just a supplier of cash. And as such, and as one that is providing cash to help previous Rosneft investors/lenders get out of a sticky wicket, you can be sure that it got a pretty good deal. Thus, like so many Russian transactions, the interesting action is not that which takes place in plain sight, but that which takes place behind many screens and curtains.

Although Sechin now boasts that Chinese investors are always the ones he wanted, that’s not what he–and notably Putin–said in December and January. Then they were saying how the participation of a noted western company–Glencore–put a stamp of legitimacy on the deal, and showed that Russia was an attractive place for western companies to invest.

Well, Glencore never really invested anything substantial in the first place: if there was any doubt back in December and January that this was a Potemkin privatization involving western companies, there should be no doubt now. And of course, Glencore comes out a huge winner in this. The company earned a lot of goodwill from Putin and Sechin for saving them from the embarrassing situation that they faced in 2016, with a privatization deadline looming and no investors in sight. More tangibly, Glencore obtained–and retains after this deal–a lucrative concession to market Rosneft barrels. It took on very little risk in the first place, and has very little risk now. Glasenberg received a seat on the Rosneft board, and apparently retains it, even though Glencore’s equity stake is now trivial. And Ivan gets to keep that totally cool Order of Friendship medal.

But he better not fall in with the “wrong crowd,” like previous recipient Rex Tillerson, whom Putin is now very sore at! But since I doubt Ivan has any prospect or interest in becoming a diplomat, that’s probably not going to happen. Ivan knows a good deal when he sees one. And this deal was very, very good for him and Glencore.

For Rosneft and Russia, I’m guessing not so much.

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September 2, 2017

Harvey’s Danger Has Passed (For Most, Though Not All)

Filed under: Climate Change,Houston,Politics — The Professor @ 9:36 pm

The last several days in Houston have been warm and sunny. Most stores are open (with the surprising exception of a local Starbucks), traffic is getting back to normal–unfortunately (I-610 in particular is a nightmare). There are still flood waters in some locations, but most of the water has drained. I drove on US-59 (I-69, which nobody calls it) yesterday. Here’s how it looked a few days ago.

us59_kayak_at_hazard_dave_rossman

Some of the bayous are pretty much back to normal. Here is Brays (or Braes) Bayou, at Calhoun Rd. near UH, as of Friday–less than 48 hours after the rain stopped.

brays_bayou_calhoun

That doesn’t look much different than on a normal day. (This bayou has been subject to a lot of Corps of Engineers work post-Allison. The place I first lived in for a bit had been flooded up to the 1st floor ceilings during Allison. That area did not flood this time around. Whether that can be attributed to work on the bayou I can’t say.)

I only had to contend with many small lizards who took refuge on my 2d floor patio. When I sat out there after the storm, I felt like I was at a casting call for a Geico commercial.

Thank you to all who contacted me via various channels to inquire about how I was faring. I am deeply grateful, and am glad to say that unlike so many others, I was mainly inconvenienced, rather than suffering bodily or material harm. I am deeply sorry for those less fortunate than I: there but for the grace of God . . .

As I told most of those who wrote, the impacts were highly variable, and largely driven by proximity to the bayous. Or as Beldar, who returned from a long blogging hiatus to write about Harvey put it, there were highly localized but widely distributed areas of impact. In the areas that it was bad, it was horrid. But the bad areas were not as ubiquitous as viewing the news would suggest.

As some commenters have noted, and has been widely recognized, Houston and Texas have acquitted themselves very well. The contrast with the New Orleans during and post-Katrina is remarkable on every dimension. Rather than social disintegration, there has been solidarity and a spirit of mutual aid. My tennis coach’s father works with Red Cross, and says that they have more volunteers than they can handle. The lines in grocery stores that I visited once they reopened were amazing placid, with people patiently chatting while waiting their turn. Would that Christmas shopping scenes be as civil.

But of course, numerous people of ill will outside of Houston and Texas have taken this opportunity to take swipes at the city, state, and their people. Examples include a disgusting “cartoon” in Politico (a Tweet of which the gutless bastards deleted when called out on it), an even more disgusting cartoon in Charlie Hebdo, and more Tweets than I could count claiming that Harvey was divine justice for Houston’s petrol-chem industry–presumably these were Tweeted from artisanal wood and hemp smart phones by people who don’t drive, eschew all plastics, and produce all their own food using only llama dung as fertilizer. (The Unabomber was an evil bastard, but at least he lived what he believed.) These criticisms make as much sense as fundamentalists blaming earthquakes in the Bay Area as God’s retribution on sodomites (which is an illustration of how political opposites are often doppelgängers).

To which most Texans reply: we really don’t give a shit what you think. Or as one meme put it: Hold our beer–we got this.

And of course there are those who are using this to advance their political obsessions. I’ve already mentioned those who assert, obnoxiously and ad nauseum, that Harvey was the inevitable and predictable result of climate change. Among the most prominent, and certainly most execrable of these, was one-time economist Jeffrey Sachs:

Gov. Abbott, we would like to bid you a political adieu. Perhaps you can devote your time to rebuilding Houston and taking night classes in climate science. Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, you will soon be asking us for money to help Texas.

My answer will be yes, if you stop spewing lies about climate dangers, agree to put US and Texas policy under the guidance of climate science, back measures to lower carbon emissions and stay in the Paris Climate Agreement. Then, of course, let’s help your constituents to rebuild.

And to ExxonMobil, Chevron, Koch Industries, ConocoPhillips, Halliburton, and other oil giants doing your business in Texas: You put up the first $25 billion in Houston disaster relief. Call it compensation for your emissions. Tell the truth about growing climate threats. Then, as citizens seeking the common good, we will match your stake.

This is the rankest opportunism, and his entire piece is written with a reckless disregard for the evidence about the link between CO2 and hurricanes generally (which is equivocal at best), and about the link between anthropogenic effects on climate and Hurricane Harvey in particular.

As I noted in my earlier post, Harvey was not an exceptionally powerful storm by historical standards, and indeed storms of its intensity were actually more common during the period prior to large increases in CO2 emissions. Harvey’s devastating effects were a result of the chance interaction of weather patterns that led Harvey to meander and linger over Houston.

At present another hurricane–Irene–is forming in the Atlantic. To illustrate the role of weather, there are two scenarios for its track. If the dominant weather pattern over the North Atlantic is a strong high pressure region, it will likely hit the US, most likely Florida. A weaker high pressure area, will result in Irene turning north and petering out in the Atlantic.

The other hobby horse being ridden with abandon is that Houston’s pro-development policies increased the damage: I’ve read that Houston’s lack of zoning bears some of the blame. Two of the most strident advocates of this view include The Economist and Bloomberg Business Week.

Well, on one level, this is Captain Obvious DUH territory: no development, no damage. More seriously, it is difficult to see how any policy change would have had an appreciable impact. The Houston Has No One to Blame But Itself litany wreaks of the correlation-causation fallacy, and post hoc ergo propter hoc arguments.

Where to begin? I guess with the fact that this was truly an exceptional storm, with record rainfall. Given Houston’s topology and geography, there would have been massive flooding even had the place been inhabited by Karankawa and the Akokisa indians living in grass huts sleeping on chickees, as it was once upon a time.

Houston is flat as a table. It is cut by numerous bayous and streams: its nickname is “The Bayou City.” Many of these streams are quite winding, which means that when they take on a lot of runoff, the water goes up and over the banks rather than rushing out to Galveston Bay, because it has nowhere else to go.

Yes, the pavement and building increases runoff. But several factors need to be kept in mind. First, Houston’s soil is sandy and its water table is very high, meaning that even absent parking lots and streets and buildings the capacity of the soil to absorb is limited. Second, contrary to the prejudices of people who write about Houston in blissful ignorance of the facts, Houston has the largest amount of green space of any city in the United States. Only about 10 percent of the area in Houston is rated as impermeable, and 90 percent is ranks less than 2 on a 5 point scale of permeability (with a lower score indicating greater permeability). Third, many of the outer lying areas that flooded were inundated by the Brazos River and connecting streams, which is another meandering stream, and which was not swollen by runoff from suburban developments, but which just couldn’t handle all the rain and the runoff from undeveloped areas.

And can anyone honestly say that any of Harris County would be that much less developed under any alternative development policies? Zoning for instance, might have affected the distribution of business and maybe some residential areas, but the total amount of the county that would be built on would almost certainly be virtually the same.

Yes, if Houston had adopted the policies of Detroit, and suffered the same economic shocks, there would be a lot more green space and Harvey would have done a lot less damage. No serious person considers that a good trade-off.

Indeed, there have been floods as extreme and even more extreme, back when Houston was far less developed than today. A good example is 1935, when Buffalo Bayou crested at 54 feet. It crested at a mere 40 feet in 2017. But downtown Houston has flooded ever since there was a downtown Houston, because downtown Houston lies hard up a flood-prone bayou. And it was put there because that bayou was the city’s economic link to the world, and which eventually made it one of the great ports in the United States.

In sum, given the prevalence of floods before the boom of the recent decades, it is difficult indeed to attribute this week’s floods to that boom. Instead, the floods are a constant, as is Houston’s geography and topology. Combine those with biblical rains, heavy even by Houston standards, and we have what we have.

Some–The Economist for example–blame permitting of houses in 100 year flood plains. The impact of this (the magazine estimates 8600 houses so located) on the total volume of flooding is certainly trivial, meaning that there are no external effects to speak of. Those who built in these locations assumed the risk, based on the same information The Economist used to make its calculations.

Yes, to the extent that such development is encouraged by subsidized flood insurance, or the prospects of post-flood government assistance, too many of such houses are built, and the private losses are socialized to US taxpayers at large. I completely agree with the principle of making people bear the full cost of insuring the risk, or the full cost of losses if they choose to build but underinsure. But again, the contribution of this to the magnitude of the flooding is probably too small to even measure: the magnitude of the flooding was due to record rain and Houston’s topography. Further, it also likely represents a small fraction of the estimated $160 billion in damage from the storm.

Jeffrey Sachs writes: “Houston has been growing rapidly without attention to flood risk.” It has been growing rapidly, but to say that this growth has occurred without attention to flood risk is a damnable lie–a libel, actually. Especially post-Allison (in 2001) there has been an effort to reduce the city’s vulnerability to flooding. Of course, as with any government endeavor, one can criticize the execution, and the priorities: as commenter and friend Tom Kirkendall notes, money squandered on sports stadiums and light rail (the lightest aspect of which is ridership) could have been better spent on infrastructure, including drainage improvements. But there has been considerable attention. There has been work on the bayous. (For example, there has been ongoing work on Brays Bayou near Calhoun for some time–and the crews were back at work on Friday.)  Moreover, as any Houstonian with a car can tell you (and that is the vast majority of Houstonians, as many outsiders often snarikly remark), every road repaving project is a long running saga because in addition repaving, the city is installing huge storm sewer lines. Shepherd has been a nightmare for years because of such a project.

If you look at the 2011-2015 Houston capital improvement plan, which sets out the various major road projects, you will see that almost all of them include “improving drainage.” There are 27 references to this in the document.

The strategy has been to try to direct runoff to the major highways, which is one reason for some of the most striking images of the flooding. Better to flood freeways than neighborhoods.

So Jeffrey Sachs, in his lofty and deliberate ignorance, can fuck right off.

The rainfall in Harvey was approximately double that of Allison, and covered a much wider area. For example, one reason that some of the major disasters Harvey caused did not occur with Allison is that the former storm overwhelmed the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs, whereas that did not happen with the latter because the heavy rain area did not extend that far.

I do not know for certain, but it is my impression that the Harvey flooding in the area that Allison also hit hard is comparable to what happened in 2001, despite the fact that Harvey’s rainfall was about double Allison’s. A comparison of 2017 and 2001 will tell a lot about how well post-Allison infrastructure changes mitigated the damage this time around.

Post-Allison, the Harris County Flood Control District put out an excellent report on the storm, and its effects. It was titled “Off the Charts” to indicate how exceptional Allison’s rains were. Since Harvey’s were about double Allison’s, off the charts doesn’t even come close to describing 2017.

No doubt HCFCD will put out a post-Harvey report, and will be challenged to come up with a appropriate title. I look forward to reading it, paying particular attention to what it has to say about the effect of post-Allison mitigation efforts.

But the basic point is that this is not primarily, or even secondarily a policy issue, regardless the attempts of opportunists to make it so. This was a historic storm–an epic storm–produced by a chance interaction of weather events. It dumped huge rains on one of the largest cities in the US–in amounts that would have no doubt overwhelmed every major city in the US. Moreover, it hit a city which nature made preternaturally vulnerable to flooding.

In sum, Harvey is a natural disaster. The economic cost is indeed due to economic development, but that is primarily an effect, rather than a cause, as Jeffrey Sachs, the Economist, Bloomberg BusinessWeek and myriad others with an axe to grind would make it.

Musical postscript. I survived Harvey’s danger, and didn’t even have to climb a flagpole.

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August 28, 2017

Hijacking Harvey: It’s High Pressure Meets Low Pressure, Not Climate Change

Filed under: Climate Change,History,Politics — The Professor @ 9:26 pm

As surely as night follows day, a large hurricane causes the usual suspects to harrumph that this MUST END THE DEBATE OVER CLIMATE CHANGE. Interesting that those who claim to be all about Science® argue that you should base your conclusion on a single data point, or a small number of data points.

This is happening now, as the rain continues to fall in Houston, as I can affirm by looking out my window. There is effectively a pump in the Gulf that is pushing massive amounts of moisture into central Houston, and dumping it on my head.

But as Dr. Wayne Spencer points out, attributing this effectively local event to global climate change is a huge stretch. There are those who hypothesize that greater warmth leads to greater ocean temperatures which leads to more frequent and intense hurricanes. There are those who hypothesize that this mechanism is too simplistic. Further, the evidence that there has been an increase in hurricane frequency and/or intensity is equivocal at best. The nearly nine year pause in major hurricanes in the western Gulf is certainly hard to square with this explanation.

And reading this Texas hurricane history (produced by NOAA) or this Louisiana hurricane history makes it plain that hurricanes are a fact of life in this region, and were long before consumption of oil, or even coal in significant quantities. (They also make me ask myself WTF was I thinking when I moved down here :-P) Scan those publications and you will find numerous monster storms, many of which date widespread use of the internal combustion engine, or even the steam engine.

No, what is making Harvey so horrible is something that I feared when I first saw the forecasts of the track before it made landfall: that it would stall over the coast and drop huge amounts of rain, like Allison did in 2001. And that’s what’s happened, but occurring later in the year and being more powerful (as later storms typically are), Harvey is outdoing even Allison in inundating Houston.

It’s the combination of the track and the economic development of eastern Texas that is producing the current catastrophe: those two things are intersecting in Harris county and the surrounding region. Harris county has grown dramatically over the years, and that creates a bigger target. Further, more development is more pavement and built up area, which doesn’t retain water: there is controversy here, but it is quite plausible that due to the political economy of development, takeaway and retention capacity hasn’t kept up with the runoff, leading to more flood risk for a given amount of rainfall. The Tax Day Storm of 2016 could be another illustration of this.

So what kept Harvey from going inland? A high pressure area in central Texas that moved east and has pushed Harvey back into the Gulf, where it can drink heavily and then relieve itself over Houston. This is a chance intersection of weather events and circulation patterns, not a signal of long term climate change.

This is not unique. Consider Racer’s Hurricane of 1837. It was a huge storm, probably Cat 4 like Harvey–illustrating that global warming is not a necessary condition for the development of such storms. Moreover, it wreaked havoc on the entire Texas coast, then the Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida coasts, before petering out in North Carolina (where it also did considerable damage). If you look at the track it did a sharp u-turn, almost certainly because it hit a high pressure area coming in from the north. (Sound familiar?)

What would have happened had Harvey not hit the high pressure, and continued inland from Corpus Christi? Likely a repeat of the 1921 San Antonio Great Flood, which led to flash flooding in the city, with up to seven feet of water in the downtown area. (No margaritas on the River Walk when that happened, I’m wagering.) Harvey is worse because by stalling over the Gulf, instead of moving inland (as the 1921 storm did) it can continue to replenish its moisture.

So this is about weather and circulation, not climate.

It should be noted that many other extreme weather events used to flog the global warming cause are also attributable to circulation, and in particular, the impact of high pressure systems. The great French heat wave of 2006, and the great Russian heat wave of 2010 were attributed–not by climate “deniers” (whatever the hell that is–who denies there is such a thing as climate?) but by NOAA and others who are sympathetic to the warming hypothesis–to high pressure systems that stalled, creating thermal inversions and extended periods of hot weather.

To attribute what is going on outside my window to climate change would require a credible model, with evidence to support it, showing that the probability of the collision of a major tropical depression and a high pressure system over the Texas coast is higher when the average surface temperature is a degree or so warmer than it was in the past. I’m not aware of any such theory, and reading Spencer, he’s saying there isn’t one.

So rather than try to hijack Harvey to advance a political cause, it’s better to accept it as one of those things in the category of “stuff happens.” In this case, “stuff” is high pressure meets low pressure over Houston. Further, that stuff like this will happen regardless of government policy–imagine the havoc that Racer’s Storm would do today, and it occurred a quarter century before the drilling of the first oil well in the US.

Rather than making this another opportunity for political theater, it would be far better if energies were directed to helping out those devastated by the storm. Texans (with a strong assist from those in neighboring states, especially Louisiana) are coping heroically. We gladly welcome assistance from others, and you know that help will be reciprocated (as it has been in the past). To those attempting to exploit Houston’s misery, shut your pie hole and pitch in. Or don’t pitch in–but shut your pie hole regardless.

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August 27, 2017

The Mask Is Off

Filed under: History,Politics — The Professor @ 6:42 pm

The mask is off in Berkeley, precisely because the masks are on. Masked Antifa thugs with black shirts and red flags–quite a chilling combination, no?–set upon a small group of individuals whom they declared to be Nazis. But, unlike in Charlottesville, there wasn’t a swastika in sight–or even an tiki torch. Instead, a small group of Trump supporters–including those with names like Irma Hinojosa (I’m sure her friends call her Billy Bob, or maybe even Nathan Bedford)  attempted to stage a rally, and were attacked by the Antifa types, who labeled everyone in sight (other than them) Nazis:

Andrew Noruk, who was wearing a T-shirt denouncing both the Republican and Democratic parties when two young women came up to him and started yelling at him.

“You’re a Nazi,” they shouted, leaving Noruk, who said he came out to protest Trump supporters, confused.

Poor, poor, deluded Andrew. If you aren’t one of them, you are a Nazi.

How ugly did it get? This ugly. And by the way, Shane, since the victim is “apparently” alt-right, does that make it OK with you? Sure not sensing any outrage in your coverage or your TL.

Also note the tremendous heroism of the black shirted thugs. Ten or so vs. one. Sticks and shields vs. nothing.

Where were the police, you’re asking? Um, they did a full on Sir Robin, and ran away–buggered off; scarpered. Shameful. I understand that this is the Berkeley PD’s new headgear. It’s appropriate in sooo many ways.

This should be–but of course won’t be–a clarifying moment. First, we see that if there aren’t actual Nazis around, that is no impediment to Antifa–they’ll manufacture one out of any material at hand. And indeed, anyone who isn’t full on Antifa likely qualifies as a Nazi in their book. But apparently the most useful of the idiotic–or is it the most idiotic of the useful?–like Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio are totally cool about delegating the task of Nazi-designation to this lot.

Second, this strips away some of the ambiguity present in Charlottesville. There were no plausibly violent Nazis massing in Berkeley, yet there was violence anyways. It had to have come from the left, and there is graphic evidence that it came from the left. So if the left engages in violence in someplace like Berkeley when they had to imagine a far-right provocation, it is highly likely that they engaged in, and came with the intent of engaging in, violence in Charlottesville when there were large numbers of their main enemy present.

In other words, things like Berkeley are a natural experiment that sheds light on the causes of political violence in the US. Viewing such experiments, it is beyond farcical to absolve the left of any responsibility for it in places like Charlottesville.

This is why I am saying that the mask is off. Events like those in Berkeley (and the threat of similar violence that led to the cancellation of a rally in San Francisco) reveal the aggressive and violent agenda on the far left. It is not resistance or reaction. It is a driving force.

Would that the useful idiots paid attention. But then they wouldn’t be idiots, or useful.

Third, there were other leftists protesting in Berkeley. These included relatively mainstream groups like the Democratic Socialists of American (recall that Bernie Sanders identifies himself as a democratic socialist). Yet the DSA was chanting Antifa slogans.

Is this entryism (a well-known tactic advocated by Trotsky, among others)? That is, has Antifa infiltrated the DSA and is pushing it in a more radical direction? Or more disturbingly, are mainstream left groups, heretofore non-violent, embracing a more violent and confrontational–and non-democratic–ideology?

I will note that the grotesque imbalance in media treatment of Antifa and other hard left groups on the one hand and Nazis and White Supremacists on the other does suggest a mainstreaming of communism that is extremely disturbing. Indeed, the mainstream media refuses to look seriously at Antifa violence, and when it acknowledges it, rationalizes it as a form of idealism, thereby whitewashing black shirted thugs spouting a red ideology.

Fourth, in some jurisdictions, law “enforcement” is ceding ground to violent individuals and organizations, which will beget violence and the Weimarization of America.

Meanwhile, here in Texas, we see spontaneous acts of civility, charity, and civic action under increasingly dire circumstances. These acts cut across racial, ethnic, and class lines. For instance, the man with the airboat festooned with a Confederate flag logo picking up strangers–including African-Americans. Which, alas, set the SJW set into a frenzy on Twitter, though I’m guessing that if they were in the water and he pulled up, they wouldn’t go all Japanese sailor mode and chose to drown rather than be rescued by an “enemy”. We are also seeing commitment to duty, hard work, and courage displayed by law enforcement and military personnel (including notably state and national guardsmen and women). We are seeing (for the most part) professional competence displayed by state and local authorities working under very trying conditions.

There are many Americas. I know which one I prefer.

 

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August 20, 2017

Even Orwell Would Be Agog

Filed under: Politics — The Professor @ 6:18 pm

If you read the news lately, you’d think it’s the 1930s all over again, and Nazis are the gravest threat the world faces  in 2017. Case in point, the Prime Minister of Sweden:

Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven called for people to stand up against the growing threat of Nazism and white-power movements to protect democratic values.

Fascist groups are moving forward their positions “step by step,” the premier said in a speech in Eskilstuna, Sweden, highlighting local demonstrations across the Nordic country as well as “Nazi groups, the Ku Klux Klan and white power protesters in Charlottesville.”

“It may be easy to try to laugh away these angry men with big words, small hearts and closed fists,” he said. “But all fascist movements were small when they were founded and were able to quickly gain followers during difficult times.”

I’ve spent time in Gothenburg. I’ve been through Malmo. Hell, I’ve been to the Stockholm train station. Based on what I’ve seen with my own two eyes, I can state with metaphysical certainty that Nazis in Sweden are not the country’s biggest problem, let alone Nazis in Charlottesville,VA.

For this . . . person to say this in the immediate aftermath of a Islamist terror attack in Spain that killed 14 in a reprise of an Islamist terror attack in Stockholm in April that killed four (and targeted small children), and in the immediate aftermath of an Islamist terror attack in nearby southwestern Finland that killed two, and in the aftermath of other Islamist terror attacks in Europe and the US almost too numerous to list is loathsome and appalling.

All the more so because it is deliberately political. Lovfen and others like him–including the increasingly loathsome Angela Merkel–are hyperventilating about Nazis–including Nazis thousands of miles from anywhere that is their business to begin with–precisely to distract attention from the real danger lurking in their midst, and their responsibility for letting this danger metastasize.*

And it’s even more cynical than that, especially in the US. By setting up Nazis as the straw man to epitomize evil, the left is staking out its claim as being the main adversary of this looming menace, and laying the foundation to claim that anyone who opposes the left is pro-Nazi. We are seeing this daily in the US, and we are also seeing cowardly political putzes like Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, John McCain and Lindsey Graham buy into this premise and validate a cynical strategy that will be used not just against them (which they actually well deserve) but against tens of millions of other Americans whom the left despises and wants to silence.

Given that Nazis in the United States, and even in Europe, are fringe figures, present in tiny numbers, made up exclusively of losers, hyping the Nazi menace actually trivializes the monstrousness of Nazism in the 1920s-1945.

If Nazis and white supremacists did not exist, the left would have to invent them. In a way they have. They are not completely a figment of the imagination, but the outsized role they are playing in current discourse is completely fantastical, and bears no relationship to reality. This is a calculated attempt to seize control of the political narrative and to silence vast numbers of people who oppose the identity politics of the left.

Ironic, isn’t it? The most ruthless practitioners of identity politics wildly exaggerate the danger posed by fringe groups obsessed with racial identity in order to silence those who are disgusted by identity politics. I think even Orwell would be agog.

*Lest you say that Europe’s Islamism crisis is thousands of miles away from anywhere that is an American’s business, I remind you that (a) the 9-11 plot was hatched in Hamburg, under the eyes of the German authorities, (b) Americans have died in many of the Islamist attacks in Europe, including in Barcelona last week, the attack in Paris in November, 2015, and the attack in Nice in July of last year–and that’s just off the top of my head, and (c) the foreign ISIS recruits that the US has spent billions killing in Iraq and Syria, and who have killed Americans engaged in that fight, come from Europe in large numbers.

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August 16, 2017

First They Came For Lee . . .

Filed under: Civil War,History,Politics — The Professor @ 6:26 pm

The battle over the monuments is not really about the monuments. It’s not even really about the legacy of the Civil War. It is about the left’s vision of what America was, is, and will be. Here’s the most important thing to remember. The hard-core left that is the driving force behind extirpating the icons of the Confederacy does not see it, or the Old South, as an exception, a deviation from an otherwise laudable and righteous history: they see it as just one manifestation of the fundamental evil of America, evil that is writ on every page of history from 1607 on down. In this worldview, the United States has been, from even before its formal beginning, characterized by racism, sexism, and oppressive capitalism. It is not something that is basically good, but which has fallen short of achieving its lofty ideals: it is something that is fundamentally rotten, and which must be transformed by any means necessary.

It should not be surprising how the left conducts its march through institutions. It is really rather brilliant in conception and execution, although malign in effect and intent. There is a long term objective–in this case, the transformation of the US. But there is a coherent operational plan that concentrates force on a specific objective, and once that objective is taken, moves on to the next one.

Right now the ostensible target is the legacy of the Confederacy, but once the battle of the Confederate monuments is won, they will move on to the next target, which will inevitably include sooner or later every person in the American political pantheon, and every political, social, and economic institution that reflects the American past and tradition.

The left also masterfully personalizes the conflict, and ruthlessly presents the false choice between being on the side of the angels, or the side of the devils. In the current case, Nazis and white supremacists have been made the face of the anti-left. And now the left–with the assistance of many useful idiots, to whom I will turn in a moment–presents the false choice: if you are anti-left, well, that means that you are a Nazi or a fellow traveler thereof.

This is what’s happening here, and it’s as plain as day. Today it’s Robert E. Lee. Tomorrow it will be Lincoln and Washington and the Constitution and the Founding. The ultimate objective is the delegitimization of the American creed.

What is particularly sickening about this is that the most militant–and violent–of the leftists are being sanitized, and indeed lionized, because of their alleged anti-racist cred: anti-racism has become a license for vandalism and violence.

This is unbelievably stupid, and unbelievably dangerous. Antifa and the like are just the mirror image of the most retrograde white supremacists. Black bandanas=White hoods. Hammer and Sickle (which is displayed prominently at many Antifa and leftist actions)=Swastika. Both are anti-American. Both are anti-liberty. Both are committed to use violence in order to achieve their maximalist objectives. Nazis on the one side, Bolsheviks on the other. And it’s not as if either is hiding it: their regalia and flags advertise it.

And crucially, both are the twisted spawn of identity politics, the bane of modern society. Both define everything in crude terms of race and ethnicity and religion. Both are collectivists–a point too often overlooked, even though it is of decisive importance. Both reject the Western individualist revolution that began with Christianity and then humanism, and advanced through the Reformation and the enlightenment. To them, you are defined by your race, religion, ethnicity and class. The only difference between them is the perfect negative correlation between which race, religion, ethnicity, and class they demonize, and which they deify.

And, of course, this creates a sick symbiosis: neither can really exist without the other, and the rise of one contributes to the rise of the other.

Further, both are totalitarian and absolutist, and this is what leads to such virulent attacks on a past which does not conform with their absolutist vision. The iconoclasm we see now almost daily is redolent of other absolutist movements in the past, be it the Year One insanity of the French Revolution or the shrieking violence of the Cultural Revolution in China.

Both must be condemned. More than that, both must be opposed forcefully by duly constituted civil authority whenever they act out their violent ideologies.

But saying this is apparently beyond the pale in current American discourse, which just shows how degraded that discourse has become. Antifa–again, an avowedly communist, anti-liberty, anti-American movement–is not just not criticized, it is defended, because its self-proclaimed anti-racism (which in fact includes a healthy dose of anti-white racism) absolves it from any taint. Trump’s calling out of Antifa as well as Nazis has led supposedly conservative establishment figures like Mitt Romney, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, and Charles Krauthammer to differentiate the indistinguishable, and to defend Antifa because of their opposition to Nazis and racists.

What Romney et al don’t get is who the hard-core left identifies as racists: it’s pretty much everybody who doesn’t agree with them in totality. It includes most whites (which is ironic, given the pastiness of most of the cheekbones and foreheads visible between black hats and masks). I guarantee it includes Mitt Romney, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, and Charles Krauthammer. By vouching for them now, and validating their claim of authority in establishing who is and who is not a racist, Romney et al are putting a target on a lot of people who are by no stretch of the imagination white supremacists or Nazis.

But of course the left has always benefitted from useful idiots. Romney et al are playing that role to perfection.

History will not be the only casualty. Free speech will be as well. Free speech has already largely died on college campuses, which are merely the laboratory and hot house of leftism. Coming soon to, well, pretty much everyplace you might consider speaking your mind.

This too illustrates the devolution of American civil society. White supremacism and even Nazism are not new to American life, of course. In a way, what is amazing now is how marginalized these things are today. In the 1920s, the KKK was a major political force throughout the US–not just the South. (Indiana was a Klan hotbed.) In February, 1939–almost 6 years after Roosevelt’s inauguration and 6 months before German tanks rolled into Poland–the American Bund (basically the American Nazi Party) held a rally in Madison Square Garden attended by an estimated 22,000. Yet Eleanor Roosevelt, an extremely liberal political figure whose husband was savaged by the Bund, defended its right to exist, organize, and speak: she also defended America Firsters, Father Coughlin, and others with whom she disagreed violently on basically every political and social issue.

But if she did that today, she would be savaged. Because the left has gone from being believers in and defenders of civil liberties and individual freedom to their avowed enemies. The American liberal tradition, rooted in the enlightenment and classical liberal values, is being eclipsed, and replaced on the left by an alien political mindset. A mindset, ironically, that also spawned the fascist and Nazi movements in Europe as well as the leftist movements they battled in the streets: to understand the symbiosis between left and right in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, read Paul Johnson’s Modern Times. It is that intellectual tradition (rooted in Germany) that gave rise to the tragedy of Weimar, and it is that intellectual tradition that has the United States slouching towards its own Weimarization today.

Both far left and far right are collectivist and anti-rational, and hence at odds with the American political tradition which was individualist and rooted in the rationalism of the enlightenment. That is why Robert E. Lee might be the first historical casualty, but he will not be the last. All of American history is in the dock, and staring at the gallows.

 

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August 14, 2017

Comments on the War Over the War

Filed under: Civil War,History,Politics — The Professor @ 7:49 pm

A few thoughts to follow up on the post on the war over the war, which sparked a spirited set of comments (for which I am grateful as always).

Re those memorialized, specifically Robert E. Lee. I am with Tim Newman on this. Lee was certainly not a pro-slavery ideologue, and was arguably far less supportive of the institution than most of his social position and background. I would characterize him as somewhat like Jefferson–he would have liked to get rid of slavery, but had no idea how to do that where it was already established.

He was, moreover, first and foremost a Virginia patriot, who believed he was defending his people from an invasion by a tyrannical government that violated the Constitution. As is often noted, in that time it was common to say “the United States are” (not is): identification with one’s state was quite common during the antebellum period in a way that most Americans cannot conceive of today. They can’t conceive of it precisely because of the outcome of the Civil War.

That said, pace Orwell, since the war was ultimately about slavery, Lee was objectively pro-slavery. Subjectively, however, like many Southerners, he was pro-Constitution as he interpreted it, and a patriot who viewed Virginia as his country.

The opponents who aroused Lee’s greatest ire provide a window into his mindset. Of all the Federal generals he fought, he detested John Pope–“that miscreant Pope”–with the greatest intensity. Because Pope was a favorite of the anti-slavery, pro-emancipation Radical Republicans, and his army (the Army of Virginia) was the most pro-Radical army in the field? Not directly.

Because of the Radical leanings, Pope and his army advocated a hard war in contrast to that waged by George McClellan. As a result, they committed numerous depredations against civilians and their property in northern Virginia. It was those depredations that outraged Lee, and spurred him to crush Pope. Pope and his army had (in Lee’s view) unjustly harmed Lee’s people–his fellow Virginians–and Lee was dead set on making him pay: why Pope and his army acted as they did was irrelevant to Lee. And he did make Pope pay, at Second Manassas/Bull Run two weeks shy of 155 years ago.

So should Lee be memorialized? Before answering the should, it’s best to understand the why. A people who had suffered as devastating a loss as the South did (with about 25 percent of its adult male population perishing, and its cities and farms in ruins) and who fought courageously, and who fought in what their minds was a righteous cause, will always want to commemorate their heroism and sacrifice: people who have suffered such carnage will inevitably want to give some meaning to it. Lee embodied those things, so it was inevitable that he would be the center of those commemorations.

The darker side of this was that the old order in the South did not want to concede defeat, and indeed waged an ultimately successful campaign of asymmetric and political warfare to restore as much as the old social order as it could: Lee was conscripted into that campaign, largely after his death. The Cult of Lee, a man who was widely admired even by many of his adversaries, was to a considerable extent the benign cover for a the Cult of the Lost Cause/Old South.

So, it’s complicated. And that’s exactly why I think that the monuments can be a teaching tool. They shed light on the entire arc of conflict from the 1850s through the 1950s (or 1960s), and help illuminate the subjective motivations not just of the leaders (like Lee) but Southerners generally throughout that century of hot and cold war. Presentism is the enemy of understanding, and where the monuments (and the Civil War generally) are concerned, presentism has run amok.

Speaking of complicated, let me move to the second subject that has sparked comments–Great Britain in the Civil War. For a variety of cultural, social, historic, geopolitical, and economic reasons, Great Britain was broadly sympathetic to the South at least at the onset of the war. The United States was a rising commercial rival. The US and Britain had fought two wars against one another, and because of its Revolutionary heritage many Americans saw Britain as an enemy–and many Britons felt the same way. Britain’s textile industry was heavily reliant on Southern cotton. And there were British businesses from button makers to Birmingham gunsmiths to Laird, Son & Co. (the builder of the infamous Laird rams) who wanted to make some money. Lacking the industrial base of the North, the South was a better customer than the North, but large numbers of British arms made it into the hands of Union soldiers: the Enfield rifled musket was the second most widely issued weapon in the US army, and the US imported about twice as many as did the CS.

The UK toyed with intervention in 1861 and 1862, especially in the aftermath of perceived provocations like the Trent Affair, when a US ship seized two Confederate envoys from a British vessel. British enthusiasm waxed and waned with Confederate battlefield fortunes, and when Lee moved into Maryland in September, 1862, intervention (or at least recognition) looked like a real possibility. But Lee’s defeat at Sharpsburg/Antietam on 17 September, and Lincoln’s announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation immediately thereafter, ended that. Britain wasn’t going to recognize a loser, and particularly wasn’t going to intervene on the side of slavery once the war became explicitly about slavery.

One last thing, not directly related to the post but to the events that spawned it. There are reports, contested but plausible, that Charlottesville Police withdrew in the face of the Antifa, or at least did not vigorously contest them. The governor of Virginia, the execrable partisan hack Terry McCauliffe, claims that the police had to withdraw because they were outgunned by the white supremacists. Others deny this.

Regardless of why it happened, the biggest official error was that the Neo-Nazis/white supremacists and the Antifa types were allowed to come into contact. There is no excuse for the authorities not to realize that the potential for violence was great. As a result, they should have been present in overwhelming force to keep the two sides separate, and crushed any attempt by anyone to get at the others.

The Weimarization of the US, where rival gangs of extremist thugs battle it out on the streets, is a very real possibility–it has already happened in some places, like Berkeley, and Charlottesville was also very Weimar-like. It cannot be allowed to progress, and indeed, it must be rolled back.

There must be no tolerance for violence–either by Nazis, Klansmen, or other varieties of white supremacists, or against them. Those lawfully assembled, no matter how loathsome they or their beliefs are, should be protected against physical attacks by those who oppose them: and if those lawfully assembled attempt to initiate violence, their targets should be defended as well.

Alas, I sense an implicit double standard, especially among the officials of left-leaning local governments, who either sympathize with the Antifa types, or are who are too cowardly to stand up to them and their less violent supporters (who are part of their political base). Further, this double standard is echoed more broadly in the media and politics, as the hue and cry over Trump’s statement decrying violence “on many sides” demonstrates.

Not acceptable. The normalization or rationalization of political violence will have baleful consequences. The responsibility of the authorities is to maintain civil order, thereby assuring that political disputes are carried out through political channels. The authorities need to take the side of civil order, and ruthlessly suppress those who would disrupt it, regardless of their politics.

Weimarization is a real danger. It must be stopped post haste.

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August 12, 2017

Iconoclasm and the Lost Cause

Filed under: Civil War,History,Politics — The Professor @ 8:42 pm

Protests over the removal of the R. E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, VA predictably descended into violence, with at least three dead: one killed when a car drove into a group of counter-protestors, and two police officers killed when their helicopter crashed while observing the chaos on the ground.

The protestors were primarily white supremacists, egged on by appalling figures like David Duke. Their opponents included Antifa types, as well as non-violent protestors.

As someone who has been intensely interested in the Civil War since I was 8 years old, I have considerable ambivalence about memorials to figures like Lee and Jackson, or to Confederate veterans generally–and to their removal.

I understand acutely that the memorials were primarily an assertion of political power. Many were erected in the 1890s through 1920s, and were monumental embodiments of the Lost Cause myth, which denied the evil of slavery and its fundamental role in causing the War–and the consequent destruction of the Old South. They were to a considerable degree defiant assertions of the resurgence of the old social and political order. Hence, I understand the bitterness and anger and humiliation that they engender, particularly among black Americans whose ancestors suffered under that order.

But this very history makes them artifacts that document an important and instructive period of American history. I would much prefer that they be preserved, contextualized, and interpreted as such. That they be transformed into museums, rather than memorials per se. Repurposing them can contribute to our civic education in ways that destroying them cannot.

The history of the monuments can educate people about the history of an era, and in so doing may actually contribute to a broader understanding of just why they evoke such bitter memories and emotions in many Americans. Extirpating the monuments will generate a frisson of excitement and satisfaction, but once they are gone the era which spawned them will become even more opaque to Americans at large, and the important lessons of that era will be lost to most. Ironically, this is actually not helpful to the interests of those who find the monuments offensive: they would be better served if the lessons they convey could be taught in the future, rather than largely forgotten, as will happen once the monuments are gone.

It is because of this loss of historical memory that I am averse to iconoclasm. I am also quite conscious that iconoclasm is itself almost always an assertion of political power, and as such can be as divisive as the erection of the icons was. A cycle of symbolism can sow discord, and generate much more heat than light. In a deeply divided country, we should be looking for ways to improve understanding and to provide fora for reconciliation, rather than to inflame divisions. Building the monuments was a way of showing who is on top: taking them down is a way of doing the same. But assertion of power relations exacerbates conflict and detracts from the advancement of true equality.

The Confederate monument controversy has also catalyzed tribalism, perhaps intentionally so, as this has definite political uses, most notably making it possible for the left to claim that the fringe mouth breathers who rallied to defend the monument are representative of all its political adversaries. It is also the last thing the increasingly tribal US needs at present.

There are of course always hard cases: the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest in Memphis (removed several years ago) is a good example, given his record as a slave dealer, the commander during the commission of a mass racial atrocity (the Fort Pillow Massacre), and leader of the first incarnation of the KKK. But even here, the fact that he was memorialized provides a very telling commentary on the attitudes of those who memorialized him. His very outrageousness makes his monument particularly instructive about the times in which he was cast in bronze and put on a pedestal.

The monuments are about a particular interpretation of history that held sway in a part of the country for decades, and as such are themselves historical artifacts that can inform and instruct. Transforming them from icons of The Lost Cause into museums that educate about the reasons for the Lost Cause myth, and the society that created it, would allow them to play a constructive role in America’s future, and in a way redeem the destructive role they played in the past. Making them the battlefields in a new civil war pitting some of the ugliest elements of America against one another only perpetuates their divisive legacy, as today’s events in Charlottesville demonstrate tragically and forcefully.

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August 9, 2017

How Do You Eat a Norkupine?

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:23 pm

North Korea represents one of the most daunting challenges imaginable. Although the North Korean military has aged and obsolete equipment, and would lose in an all out war, it could inflict massive casualties on whomever it fought. Further, it has the Sampson option: with massive conventional and chemical artillery forces in range of Seoul, before it was consumed in the inevitable retaliatory strike, North Korea could kill tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of South Koreans.

North Korea has also amassed a cache of nuclear weapons, estimated to number about 60. These weapons alone, without a reliable delivery mechanism, pose little threat to the US. The Norks are also working diligently on their missile forces, and have recently achieved several apparently successful tests of ICBMs. Nukes alone are little threat. Missiles alone are little threat. Put them together, and you have a real threat.

It is this convergence between missile and nuke technology that has brought this crisis to a head. The window to prevent this threat from becoming reality is closing rapidly with every successful North Korean test. But how to deal with the threat without wreaking vast destruction on the Korean Peninsula? No easy answers.

Kim Jung Un clearly sees nukes as the best guarantor of his survival, and that of his regime. But somehow guaranteeing regime survival is unlikely to induce him to give up these weapons. First, he is unlikely to find any guarantee credible: paranoids seldom do. Second, no one, least of all the US, is likely to consider any Un promise to disarm to be credible: “unpromise” is about the most accurate way you could characterize it. Further, if KJU believes that nukes make him immune from attack, he will believe that his freedom of action is much greater with nukes than without them: he can be far more aggressive and disruptive secure in the knowledge that his nuke missiles deter any retaliation.

So what to do? In the medium to long term, continued development of more robust missile defenses will mitigate the threat he poses. But in the short term, the only real leverage is economic, and (a) that is limited, and (b) it depends crucially on Chinese cooperation (and to some degree Russian).

But the Chinese actually enjoy US discomfiture: this gives them little incentive to cooperate. China will act only if it perceives that there will be a serious price to be paid if it doesn’t.

Since the earliest days of the administration Trump has been deploying every carrot and stick to get the Chinese to cooperate. Relenting on threats to deal aggressively with trade, currency and intellectual property issues. Threatening secondary sanctions against Chinese companies and banks who keep North Korea afloat–and relenting on those threats when the Chinese cooperate.

But greatest risk that China faces would be a war on the Korean Peninsula. It would receive the most fallout–figuratively, but likely literally too. A collapsed regime on its border is a Chinese nightmare, as would the resulting storm of refugees, not to mention a substantial risk of nuclear fallout–and perhaps even a Korean launch of a nuclear missile against China.

So China is unwilling to play a constructive role unless it believes that the US may indeed attack the Norks.

It is against this background that one must view Trump administration actions, from direct presidential threats to repeated flyovers of US nuclear capable bombers to today’s statement by SecDef Mattis, which effectively reprises his famous threat to Iraqi tribal leaders (though unfortunately absent the profanity): “I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you fuck with me, I’ll kill you all.”

Yes, these messages are ostensibly directed at KJU, the administration is definitely CC’ng Xi and the Chinese leadership.

This strategy does appear to have paid off: China voted in favor of  Security Counsel resolution imposing the most punitive sanctions on North Korea yet adopted. Chinese compliance on the ground remains to be proven, but it’s a start.

And there’s the dilemma. There are seldom ever purely diplomatic solutions: all negotiations depend crucially on threat points, and in international relations military force is a powerful threat point. This is especially true with North Korea, which as a pariah nation is relatively immune to other conventional blandishments. And this is also true here because the party with the most leverage, China, is likely to be most responsive to the risk of military conflict.

It is therefore hard to imagine any approach to North Korea that does not involve the threat of military force, including threats in terms that North Korea is usually the one using, rather than hearing used against them. Trump personally, and most of his top personnel, including Mattis and McMaster, have been doing just that.

This has elicited a horrified reaction among the establishment–whose opinions, I might add, deserve even less weight than usual given that they have proven singularly inept at dealing with North Korea over the past quarter century. From ex-Obama people (notably the execrable James Clapper), to senior Senators like Feinstein and McCain(!), we are told that Trump’s rhetoric is dangerous (“unhelpful”, in McCain’s case), that we can accept a nuclear North Korea, and that dialogue with North Korea is the only alternative.

But again, this is utterly vacuous. Dialog with KJU has any prospect of success only if he and the Chinese believe that a failure of diplomacy could result in mushroom clouds over Pyongyang. Further, acceding to KJU’s possession of an arsenal of nuclear weapons without contemplating what he will do next is a victory of hope over experience.

It is particularly bizarre to see this obsession with jaw-jaw in North Korea juxtaposed with the frenzy directed against Trump for attempting to talk with Russia. Here McCain is by far the most bizarre of the bizarre. For at least the past 9 years (since 8/8/8, when the Russo-Georgian War began), McCain has been spoiling for a fight with Putin. In Georgia. In the Donbas. In Syria. Further, McCain has cast attempts to talk to Russia as tantamount to treason. It doesn’t take much of an imaginative leap to picture McCain as a latter-day Major Kong, taking the big one for a final ride into Russia.

So if talking to KJU, or letting Kim be Kim, is the right policy on the 38th parallel, how can confrontation with Putin be the right policy? Putin has more military (notably nuclear) capability. Putin hasn’t made blood-curdling threats against the US. Putin is clearly a far more reasonable interlocutor than the Pyongyang Playboy. If you can transact with KJU, you can transact with Putin.

This palpable irrationality and rank inconsistency is yet further evidence that anyone spouting DC conventional wisdom should be ignored. This conventional wisdom is driven by something. What it is I don’t know exactly, but I know what it isn’t: logic.

The policy choice is therefore fold (as the Feinsteins and McCains and Clappers are proposing) or raise the stakes. But folding will just embolden Kim going forward–which is something that McCain would point out if it was Putin on the other side of the table, but which he blithely ignores here. And it is hard to see how the correlation of forces would move in favor of the US if the game is continued: indeed, it is likely to go the other way as Kim hits his nuke and missile building stride. So, as dismal as it seems, raising the stakes now, with all the attendant risks, is the best of a bad choice. The fact that John McCain and the rest of the CW set don’t like it may be the best endorsement of all.

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