Streetwise Professor

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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August 5, 2017

A Brief European Tour

Filed under: Economics,Energy,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 2:46 pm

Emmanuel Macron’s popularity has come off considerably since his victory in May. This is to be expected. He was the beneficiary of metropolitan France’s giddiness at the vanquishing of Le Pen, and the perceived slap at Trump (more on this in a bit). That intoxication has passed, and France is still France, riven as it always has been by deep political divides even among the elite.

I must confess that I may have misjudged M. Macron. I pegged him as a cipher whom Merkel would dominate. But if anything, Macron is proving to lean more towards Napoleonic ambitions, labeling himself “Jupiter” who aims to overawe the petty squabbling political nation.

Macron left some angered, and others nonplused, by his bonhomie with Trump during the president’s visit to France on Bastille Day. This actually makes perfect sense, and is the best demonstration of his intent to be his own man, rather than a Merkel flunky. As Empress Angela’s pretensions continue to swell, Macron knows that he needs a counterweight. He further knows that Merkel disdains Trump, and Trump don’t think much of her either. So the clever thing to do is to build a relationship to Trump. It signals independence. It will aggravate Angela. And it will provide Macron with some muscle in his dealings with Germany, and with the EU.

Speaking of the Germans, they are in a lather over the recently passed, and grudgingly signed, US sanctions on Russia. (Socialist) Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel called the sanctions “more than problematic” and accused the US of using the sanctions to advance its economic interests.

Vats good for ze goose is good for ze gander, eh, Fritz? German policy is all about advancing the interests of Germany, Inc. (or more properly, Germany AG). So spare me the sanctimony.

And as a factual matter, Sigmar is full of it. He states the US position to be “we want to drive Russian gas out of the European market so we can sell American gas.” This takes a very narrow and distorted view of the effect of sanctions on US companies, and energy companies in particular. The gains to US LNG are speculative, and would not be realized for some time. Other US firms–notably the oil majors–will suffer more with certainty, and suffer now, as a result of the new sanctions. Consequently, US energy firms fought the sanctions bill aggressively, and won some concessions.  So the idea that the sanctions effort was a Trojan Horse intended to advance US commercial interests is laughable. Congress proceeded with sanctions in spite of US economic interests, rather than because of them.

I think psychologists refer to what Herr Gabriel did there as “projection.”

One other thing about the sanctions bill. After it became law, Putin responded by ordering a reduction of 755 in staff at US diplomatic missions in Russia, and kicked the American diplomats out of some dachas. This is a good a confession of his strategic weakness. He really had no retaliatory measure available that would have really hurt the US without hurting Russia substantially more. So he was forced to resort to a purely symbolic measure. Something to think about the next time that you read about Putin the Colossus. Yes, he can be a pain, but when it comes down to it, he is playing with a very weak hand.

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August 2, 2017

Tell It to the Marines: SJWs are Inimical to Real Warfighting

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 11:43 am

Everything in the military should be directed to its purpose: winning wars while being sparing of American lives. As Patton said, making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country. The focus should be on lethality, and strategic, operational, and tactical prowess. All other considerations are beyond secondary, because it is a matter of life and death, not to mention national security.

This is why I read with satisfaction that SecDef Mattis wants to focus training on warfighting, not Mickey Mouse:

Notably, Mattis has ordered a review of the “requirements for mandatory force training that does not directly support core tasks” – the many hours soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines spend prior to deployment meeting the Pentagon-required tasks that sometimes have little to do with the role they will actually fulfill when deployed.

“I want to verify that our military policies also support and enhance warfighting readiness and force lethality,” Mattis said.

Damn right. And about time.  To do otherwise puts lives at risk, and jeopardizes the national interest by compromising the ability of the military to fight and win wars.

But real warriors have long been the target of Social Justice Warriors who want to use the military to advance their agendas, even when doing so is inimical to combat effectiveness, either because it diverts resources from primary missions, or because it actually undermines order, discipline, and effectiveness.

The recent kerfuffle over transgenders in the military is a case in point. The whole purpose of making transgenders in the military a cause celebre had nothing at all to do with fighting shooting wars: it was all about fighting the culture war. Some of the attacks on Trump for his bolt-from-the-blue statement that he was overturning the late-in-the-day Obama policy regarding transgenders in the military were rather astounding. One was the commonly repeated statement that there were as many as 15,000 transgendered individuals in the US military. That would be 1 percent of the force: bull. (How many transgenders do you know?) Even the Rand study that was commissioned to advise Obama administration policy put the number at less than half of that–at most–and admits that there is no empirical or epidemiological basis for the number. It is a wild ass guess. Nothing more.

Then there were statements like how terrible it was to exclude transgenders from the military because the suicide attempt rate among them is almost 10 times that of the population at large. Methinks that argument cuts quite the other way: why would you want to put in a high stress environment people who are disproportionately suffering from severe emotional problems? This is not conducive to military effectiveness, and even putting that aside, how is it helping these people? Suicide rates are already above average for military personnel, especially those who have been in combat: tell me how it is compassionate to encourage such emotionally vulnerable individuals to go into a profession that can test every fiber of the far stronger? Indeed, it is sick that transgenders are being used as pawns in the SJW war on convention and majority culture.

My policy recommendation is pretty simple: don’t ask, don’t snip. Apply the same standards of conduct and performance. Those that hack it, fine. Those that can’t–adios. That’s a truly non-discriminatory policy that is consistent with the overriding goal of the military: combat effectiveness.

The recent flap over transgenders sparked by a (go figure) Trump tweet is only the most recent example of the SJW campaign against traditional military norms. One that I’ve been keeping my eye on is efforts to change the Marine Corps, always a bête noire to the left because of its unapologetic, uncompromising stance on traditional standards of the service, and its resistance to PC tripe that the other branches have capitulated to. The anti-USMC vanguard sees an opening due to the recent scandal involving Marines sharing online naked photos of female Marines, often accompanied by unflattering commentary.

Is it gross? Yes. Would I be upset if my daughters were the subject of such indignities? Probably–although I am sure I would tell them that this is a problem easily avoided: don’t pose for (or take yourself) nude photos.

But even granting, for the sake of argument, that the Marine Corps is a socially retrograde institution, out of step with progressive values, and beset with misogyny: I don’t care! I look at the effects of its culture and traditions at achieving the purpose of the organization: on those terms, its record is unparalleled. Do not interfere with any military organization that has achieved a record unblemished by defeat. Do not interfere with any military organization that within the last 100 years has been able to get its men to fight and win horrific battles. There is no other body of troops of similar size that can match its record. Just look at the names: Belleau Wood, some bloody small wars in Central America and Haiti, Wake Island, Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, Bougainville, Tarawa, Peleliu, Saipan, Guam, Tinian, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Inchon, Seoul, the Chosin Reservoir, Hue, Kuwait, Fallujah I and II. Grinding, bloody battles all. Despite often fighting on a shoestring (always being last in line for equipment) and facing grave disadvantages in terrain, protection, and position, and taking grievous casualties, the Marines always prevailed. (Yes, Wake is an exception. But that was a forlorn hope in which the Marines covered themselves in glory.)

When people approached Lincoln with tales of Grant’s drinking, he responded: find out what kind of whiskey he drinks and send a barrel of it to all my generals. I have a similar response to those criticizing the retrograde social attitudes of the Marine Corps.

The truth is that we have little understanding of the unique alchemy that creates an exceptional military force like the Marine Corps. It is possible, and indeed even likely, that the attributes of the Marine Corps that most infuriate SJWs are inseparable from those that make it a nonpareil military force. PC won’t prevail on Peleliu. SJWs won’t take Saipan.

The case for letting Marines be Marines is strengthened by the fact that it is, and always has been (with some modest exceptions in WWII and Vietnam) a volunteer organization. Nobody makes you become Marine, and you should know what you are getting into: in fact, it is precisely that knowledge that induces many to join. Self-selection at work.

I have long admired the Marines, but I knew from my days at Navy that I could never be a Marine in million years–another example of self-selection. But that’s definitely a feature, not a bug. By attracting and retaining people that are suited to the institution’s idiosyncrasies, the Corps has created a culture and esprit that has allowed it to achieve great deeds. It ain’t for everybody. And that’s why it’s great at what it does.

During the recent transgender kerfuffle some criticized using the military to carry out social engineering, to which some objected that the military is nothing but a product of social engineering. But this is not true. Most longstanding military organizations are emergent, not designed or engineered. They are the products of a long evolutionary process. Channeling Hayek, organizations like the Marine Corps are the product of human action, not of the execution of any human design. They have an internal logic that is often tacit and really impossible to understand. One attempts to redesign or manipulate them at one’s peril. Or, more accurately, at ours. For doing things that undermine the effectiveness of the USMC, or of other branches of the US military, gets people killed and undermine the security and interests of the country.

 

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July 29, 2017

Could the Dossier Prove to Be the World’s Deadliest Boomerang?

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 2:58 pm

I’ve long considered Bill Browder to be a dubious, dodgy character. He has always posed as the white knight who tilted against Russian oligarchic dragons in the bad old days, and who paid for his temerity in crossing the powers that be. I take a somewhat more jaundiced view.

People who ventured into Russia during that era did so because it appeared that there were huge gains to be made because everything was up for grabs. But it was not for the faint of heart or the principled investor: it was for those with few scruples. Posing as the good Boy Scout who would make money in Russia by reforming the governance of companies like Gazprom was a good shtick to present to Western investors (who could thereby participate in Russia’s primitive capitalist accumulation while believing they had bought an indulgence), and a good way to keep Western regulators from prying too deeply. But Boy Scouts in Russia circa 2000 were road kill, with a half-life of about a nanosecond. Yes, Browder (as he will be glad to tell you) eventually got squashed, but he lasted there long enough during the baddest of the bad days to require an epic suspension of disbelief to take his story at face value.

But since he was booted from the country, and hounded in absentia by Russian authorities, Browder has succeeded in portraying himself as a stalwart fighter against Putin (whom he lavishly praised–back when Putin was going after other people). Browder has been the prime mover in the passage of the Magnitsky Act, which drives Putin and the Russian elite bonkers. As part of this campaign, Browder has been an adversary of Natalia Veselnitskaya, who has been hyperactive in attempting to undermine the Magnitsky Act–including meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner (a meeting apparently secured by dangling the promise of dirt on Hillary). Browder has long said that Veselnitskaya is a Kremlin operative.

Hence, the Democrats were salivating at the prospect of having Browder testify. He has longtime anti-Putin cred, and could provide testimony on the link between the Kremlin and Trump Jr./Kushner’s Russian interlocutor, thereby advancing the collusion narrative.

But in their eagerness, the Democrats  overlooked another connection–one that points directly at Democrats generally and Hillary in particular. That connection being Fusion GPS, the “opposition research” firm run by the biggest bottom feeder in The Swamp: Glenn Simpson.

Whoops!

Fusion GPS is the source of the infamous Trump dossier. It was retained first by Republican parties unknown, and then by Democratic parties unknown: the firm’s MO is to work through law firm and LLC cutouts to conceal its true, ultimate client. (Yeah. That screams integrity, don’t it? “Research laundering” would be one way to describe it.)

So Fusion GPS was really tight with someone whom Browder claims is a Kremlin operative. Fusion GPS was retained to do opposition research on Trump. The dossier it compiled (and supposedly it’s a leading contender for the next Man Booker Fiction Prize) was obviously created with support from figures in Russia. The dossier was plausibly intended to hurt Trump, and presumably to help Hillary (and post-election, it was used to help Democrats in their war on Trump).

In other words: the evidence of Russian-Hillary and Russian-Democratic collusion is much stronger and far more direct than any evidence of Russian-Trump collusion. Trump Jr. and Kushner bailed on the meeting with the alleged Russian agent within minutes: Democrats and Democratic operatives have been in bed with her for months and even years.

By bringing unwanted attention to Fusion GPS, Browder became very inconvenient for the Democrats. Their soaring eagle of a witness became an albatross.

For which they have only themselves to blame. The Fusion GPS-Veselnitskaya connection has been known for a long time. The firm has made the top of Browder’s enemies list precisely because it has long targeted him as part of its contract to trash the Magnitsky Act (which involves trashing Browder): in 2016 (!) he filed a complaint with the Justice Department accusing Simpson by name, and Fusion by name, with violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The connection came up in coverage of the trial of a Russian company (Prevezon Holdings) which was accused of money laundering. The case settled in May, and from March through October 2016 generated a lot of publicity because Browder moved to have Prevezon’s lawyers, Baker Hostetler, removed because it had represented him in Magnitsky-related matters.

Meaning that Browder probably couldn’t care less about damaging Trump, but he sure as hell has it in for Glenn Simpson and Fusion GPS. So Browder’s testimony did a lot more damage to the Democrats than it did Trump.

The big bottom feeder has agreed to talk to Congress, but only on the condition that he not reveal who retained him. The response to that should be: “you have to be fucking kidding me!” He should be subpoenaed, and if he dummies up, jailed until he gets his mind right.

The dossier should be at the center of any investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, and in US politics post-election. It was definitely intended to be used by Trump’s political opponents to hurt him, and hurt him badly. It was definitely created with the help of some Russians.*

But we don’t know what Russians, and for what purpose. Paul Gregory suggests that it was an FSB operation. That is very possible, but I have no idea exactly who was behind it (and one cannot treat Russia, or even the FSB, as a single-minded entity), or how the operation was supposed to work. Was it supposed to damage Trump? Was it supposed to be so ludicrous that it would backfire on whatever US figures pushed it (which would include McCain certainly, the US intelligence community, and perhaps Hillary and the Democrats)? If so, they greatly underestimated the credulity of the American political class, especially when they want to believe. Was it just intended to sow chaos, with indifference as to who in US politics it hurt or helped? (If so–mission accomplished!)

But there is a direct line between Russia and the US presidential campaign. We know who is in the middle: Fusion GPS/Bottom Feeding Glenn. We don’t know exactly who is on the US end, but Occam’s razor says the DNC and/or the Clinton campaign, directly or by proxy (but we can guess their interest). We don’t have the slightest idea who is on the Russian side, and what’s more, we don’t have a clue about the game they were playing.

But what we do know is that this is a far more direct case of colluding with Russians to influence the US political system than anything that has been demonstrated–or even rumored–about Trump. Anyone who claims to have a genuine interest in protecting US politics should want to get to the bottom of the dossier.

And once upon a time–oh, like anytime since January but before last week–the Democrats and the Never Trump Republicans like the execrable John McCain–were treating the dossier like Revealed Truth. It was what was going to bring down Trump!

What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue now, folks?

It would be delicious irony indeed if the dossier proved to be the world’s biggest and most lethal boomerang. The very fact that it has reversed course is precisely why those who threw it now want to scurry from it.

That should not be allowed to happen. Right now only Charles Grassley appears to have an interest in pursuing it. (Grassley and the Russians–Fridman, Aven and Khan–who are suing Buzzfeed for defamation: we might learn more from that lawsuit than from the entire US journalistic and political establishments. The three Russians have every reason to embarrass anyone involved in it: the establishment, not so much.) All those harrumphing about Russian interference definitely don’t.

They don’t not just because discovering the full story threatens to undermine the anti-Trump movement. They don’t because it threatens to implicate the entire Swamp as colluders, or accessories in collusion before and/or after the fact. The Swamp wants it to go away, which is precisely why it must not.

*Well, I suppose Christopher Steele might have made up the entire thing.  But the more plausible story is that someone or someones in Russia were feeding him this stuff.

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July 26, 2017

Europe Has Always Been at War With the Diesel Engine!

Filed under: China,Climate Change,Economics,Energy,Politics,Regulation — The Professor @ 7:26 pm

Europe is at war with the diesel engine. Paris, Madrid, and Athens will ban diesels starting in 2025. Even Stuttgart (home of Daimler and Porsche) and Munich (home of BMW) are following suit. France and Britain have pledged to eliminate internal combustion engine cars by 2040.   The cars–diesel in particular–are too polluting, you see. And so the Euros are intent on replacing them with electric vehicles.

Europe has always been at war with diesel!

Um, not really. Like Oceania and East Asia, Europe and diesel were once fast allies. In its early days of the fight against climate change, Europe figured that since diesel engines burn fuel more efficiently than gasoline ones, they could reduce carbon emissions by forcing or inducing people to switch to diesel. They gave tax breaks and incentives that led to 1/3 of the European car fleet being diesel.

Then reality crept in. Diesels create more particulates, which create nasty pollution, particularly in urban areas. The Euros thought they could address this by strict emissions standards. So strict, that auto companies couldn’t meet them economically. So they lied and cheated. Brace yourself: even morally superior German companies lied and cheated! So Europe bribed people to pollute their cities. Well played!

Further, even by its own objectives the policy was a failure. Even though diesel has lower CO2 emissions, it has higher soot emissions–and soot contributes to warming. Whoops! Further, the CO2 advantage of diesel has been narrowing over the years, due to improvements in gasoline engine technology. So at best the impact of diesel on warming has been a push, and maybe a net bad.

But never fear! The same geniuses who forced diesel down Europe’s throat have a solution to the evils of diesel: they will force electric cars down people’s throats.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, off the top of my head.

First, in the near term, a good portion of electric cars will be powered by electricity generated by coal. This is especially true if China goes Europe’s way.

Second, the green wet dream is for renewables to replace coal. Don’t even get me started. Renewables are diffuse and intermittent–they don’t scale well. They have caused problems in the power grid wherever (e.g., Europe, California) they have accounted for over 10 percent or so of generation. They consume vast amounts of land: air pollution (if you believe CO2 is a pollutant) is replaced by sight pollution and the destruction of natural habitat and foodstuff producing land. Renewables are a static technology (e.g., the amount of wind generation is limited by physical laws), whereas internal combustion technology has been improving continuously since its introduction in the 19th century. Really economic renewables generation will require a revolution in large-scale storage technology–a revolution that people have been waiting for for decades, but which hasn’t appeared.

Third, disposal of batteries is an environmental nightmare.

Fourth, mining the materials to produce batteries is an environmental nightmare–and is likely to benefit many kleptocrats around the world. Are greens really all that excited about massive mines for rare earths (notoriously polluting) and copper springing up to provide the materials for their dream machines? Will they pass laws against, say, blood cobalt? (And when they do, will they acknowledge–even to themselves–their culpability? Put me down as a “no.”)

Fifth, depending on the fuel mix, carbon emissions over an EV’s lifetime are not that much lower than those of an internal combustion car using existing technology–and that technology (as noted above) will improve.

Like I say, top of my head. But there’s an even bigger reason:

Sixth, unintended consequences, or more prosaically, shit happens. Just like the diesel box of chocolates was full of things the Euro better thans didn’t expect, and didn’t like upon consuming, the EV craze will also present unintended and unexpected effects, and in this type of circumstance, these effects are usually negative.

But they know better! How do we know? Because they keep telling us so! And because they keep telling us what to do!  Despite the fact that their actual record of performance is a litany of failures. (I cleaned that up. My initial draft had a word starting with “cluster.”)

Given such a track record, people with any decency would exercise some restraint and have some humility before embarking on another attempt to dictate technology. But no, that’s not the elite’s way. That’s not the bureaucrats’ way. They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing and will continue to prove that until someone stops them. Sadly, short of revolution it’s hard to see how that can happen.

Almost all attempts by states to dictate technology are utter fiascos. The knowledge problem is bigger here than anywhere, and the feedbacks are devilishly complex and hard to predict. Look at something seemingly as prosaic and well-understood as the production of oil and gas. Ten or twelve years ago, only a few visionaries glimpsed the potential of fracking, and I doubt that even they would admit that they foresaw the transformation that has occurred. Trying to dictate a technology that is dependent on myriad other technologies, and which may be rendered obsolete by technologies not yet developed, is something that only fools do.

But alas, there are many fools in high places.

The Orwellian switch from Europe and Diesel Have Always Been Allies to Europe Has Always Been at War With Diesel is particularly revealing because rather than recognize that the experience of Europe’s pro-diesel policy makes a mockery of policymakers pretenses of foresight, the failure of that policy is spurring them to embark on an even more speculative binge of coercion!

If you think CO2 is an issue, tax CO2 and let the market figure out the optimal way of reducing emissions: there are many margins on which to adjust, including technical innovation, fuel substitution, changes in lifestyle. Yet these madmen (and women) and fools insist on dictating technology right after their past dictates have proved failures. Worse than that: they are issuing new ukases because their old ones were crashing failures.

We are in the best of hands.

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July 23, 2017

Robert Mueller: Destroying the Village to Save It

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:01 pm

The office of Special Counsel (like its predecessor, the Special Prosecutor) is a Constitutional monstrosity, and hence must be tightly constrained in order that it not run amok, like Frankenstein’s monster.  It must be used in only the most exigent circumstances–circumstances bordering on the existential–because the potential for misuse is so grave.

The dangers of such a position are many.

First, a Special Counsel is likely to be appointed only because deeply political considerations make ordinary prosecutorial and judicial procedures unworkable. Thus, the office is always at risk of becoming intensely politicized, and the instrument of partisan warfare.

Second, even ordinary federal prosecutorial functions are often problematic because of their great power, and the lack of accountability: these problems are even more acute for a Special Prosecutor. The power to prosecute–or even investigate–is the power to destroy: remember Ray Donavan’s lament, “where do I go to get my reputation back?” But prosecutors can–and often do–misuse this power in pursuit of personal agendas including political ambition and an overweening belief in their role as righteous defenders of public integrity (which often leads them to pursue, Javert-like, campaigns against those who offend their sense of justice). This problem is exacerbated by the lack of accountability for overreach. At times even grave misconduct results in little more than a wrist-slap, creating a huge asymmetry: overreach can greatly increase the likelihood of winning a career-advancing victory, but there is very little downside from getting called on it. (Check out how prosecutors behaved in the Ted Stevens case, and how little price they paid for their egregious misconduct.)

This problem is even more acute for a Special Counsel, for which there are virtually no ex ante or ex post accountability measures. The SC is free from any real oversight from the DOJ (like ordinary prosecutors) and runs little legal jeopardy from overreaching. Besides, it’s a temporary job, so getting fired means returning to the sinecure from which one came.

All of the recent uses of this office or its predecessor–Whitewater (something in which I was conscripted into a bit role) and Scooter Libby–give ample evidence of the risks.

Given these fundamental dangers in the office of Special Counsel, if one is to be appointed, his (or her) charge should be drawn extremely narrowly. If during his investigation of that particular matter, the SC finds evidence of other misconduct that is incapable of being addressed by the normal procedures of justice in the US, the burden should be on him to demonstrate a need to expand his authority beyond the originally authorized scope.

Indeed, to mitigate incentive problems, if a SC presents such evidence, unless the new potential offense is extremely closely related to the one in the SC’s original authorization, a new SC should be appointed. This would constrain an SC’s incentive to engage in fishing expeditions with the goal of expanding his power.  By no means should the SC have the ability to determine, by himself, what falls within the scope of his charge.

The early days of the Mueller investigation are providing ample evidence of the dangers of the SC. He was appointed to deal with a matter that is the subject of the most intense partisan controversy in recent memory. His hiring of numerous attorneys who donated to the Democrats does nothing to undercut, and indeed reinforces, fears that he may be partisan. His friendship with a principal player in the controversy who has an axe to grind–Comey–is troubling, and even more so is his refusal to recuse himself from any matter involving Comey. The unending stream of prejudicial leaks also does not speak to investigative integrity, but instead suggests a fundamental unfairness, and a belief that all’s fair in this fight.

But the (leaked!) decision to expand the investigation to matters that have no bearing whatsoever on the supposed subject of the investigation–collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians to influence the 2016 election–is the true indicator of how perverse Mueller’s inquiry has become. Apparently anything that Trump, or a Trump associate, ever did is fair game. What, exactly, do Trump’s dealings in 2008 have to do with Russian hacking of the 2016 election, or Trump’s possible complicity therein?

Absolutely nothing. Oh, no doubt Mueller will be able to play some Six Degrees–or Ten!–From Vladimir Putin game to establish a “nexus” between Trump dealings in Florida in 2008 and the 2016. But if that’s the standard, there is effectively no limit on investigation at all. And that’s exactly the problem.

Assistant AG Ron Rosenstein did Trump–and the American people–a grave injustice with his already vague and sloppy charge to Mueller. It gave the ex-FBI head plenty of room to run. But Mueller is already going far, far beyond that.

And what’s to stop him? That’s exactly the problem:  Nothing. He is really accountable to no one, so there is nothing to stop him, short of the political equivalent of a nuclear second strike by Trump, such as firing Mueller or perhaps pardoning himself. Yes, those might permit Trump to survive, but they would be catastrophic for his presidency, and for the governing of the country until 2021.

Mueller for all the world is giving an Oscar winning performance of a SC run amok. I don’t see any evidence to reject the hypothesis that he is an agent of the establishment tasked with bringing down the establishment’s bête noire, by any means necessary. There is considerable evidence that confirms that hypothesis, the expansion of the investigation most notably.

And mark well: the fact that Mueller apparently has to expand his investigation strongly indicates that he found nothing whatsoever to support the suspicions that led to his appointment. If he was hot on the trail of Trump-Russia collusion, there would be no need to climb into the Wayback Machine to look into things that bear no relationship, or at best extremely remote relationship, to what he was supposed to be investigating.

No, it looks like Mueller’s motto is “For my friends, anything: for my enemies–the law!”

Maybe I’m wrong. But here appearances are a form of reality. Unless Mueller can show credibly, and indeed, demonstrate beyond challenge, that his actions are not driven by political animus, and a desire to purge DC of an unwelcome invader, if he does take action against Trump it will rip the country apart and inflame all of the divisions that made Trump president in the first place. The 60 plus million Americans who voted for Trump, in large part because they believed that the system was run by self-serving apparatchiks and was inimical to their concerns and interests, will believe that their darkest suspicions were confirmed.

If you think the country is divided now, wait for that. If you think the country is nearly ungovernable now, wait for that.

This represents another category error by the establishment, the elite. They think that Trump qua Trump is the problem, and that if he goes away, life can return to normal for the establishment. As I’ve written since well before the election, that’s complete, utter, bollocks: Trump is a symptom of elite failure and popular alienation caused by elite failure. Destroying Trump will not make it safe for the establishment to go out again. It will intensify the conflict–and crucially, signal that any means fair or foul is acceptable.

In their Trump obsession, and in the appointment of a Special Counsel who appears eager to do their bidding, the establishment is reenacting an infamous moment from Vietnam: they are destroying the village, supposedly to save it.

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Ending CIA Arming of the Syrian Rebels Sparks More Zero Sum Thinking on Russia

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 5:14 pm

The latest establishment freakout is over the Trump administration’s decision to terminate the CIA’s program to arm anti-Assad rebels. This episode displays prominently all of the establishment’s mental defects and psychological obsessions.

The first question relevant in appraising the wisdom of the CIA program is whether it is in America’s interest. The objective of the program was to assist in the overthrow of the Assad regime. Which benefits the US how, exactly?

Overthrowing is merely the first–and in some respects, the easiest–step. What comes next? Who/what replaces the existing regime? We’ve seen this movie in the Middle East, and it has never ended well. The aftermath of Khaddafy’s fall is probably the most illuminating example, and anyone who contemplates it for a moment should be very dubious about what wold happen in Syria post-Assad. After all, many of those the CIA was arming in Syria were either jihadists or inferior in combat power and will to jihadists: a post-Assad Syria would likely either be a jihadist state, or a collection of warring statelets, many (if not most) of which would be dominated by Salafists and provide operational bases for anti-western terrorism.

How is that in American interests? We are approaching our 17th year in Afghanistan, the objective of which was originally, and largely remains, to deny Islamic terrorists a base: so why would we want to pursue a policy that would likely give them one that is much more proximate to vital US interests?

The second question is: even overlooking whether the mission objective is wise, has the operation been successful? Here the answer is a resounding “no!” The anti-Assad forces have been losing ground steadily on the battlefield, and have no prospect of winning going forward. Why reinforce an obvious failure? Especially when many of the weapons supplied could well be turned against the US?

AHA! The establishment responds: the opposition lost because the Russians intervened! We are therefore advancing Russian interests by terminating the program!

This is indeed the focus of most of the establishment criticism: yet more evidence of Trump’s pro-Russian stance!

This argument epitomizes zero sum thinking: something that makes Russia better off makes the US worse off, and vice versa. Therefore, we should do something that (a) is unlikely to “succeed”, and (b) even if it “succeeded” would likely be adverse to US interests, because stopping it pleases Putin.

This is exactly what I mean by “mental defect” and “psychological obsession.” This is not strategic thinking: it is dangerous foolishness driven by a monomaniacal focus on Russia.

There is a sick irony here because zero sum thinking is one of Putin’s defining characteristics. His obsession with the US leads him to pursue things which either are adverse to Russian interests, or which utilize resources that could be much better deployed elsewhere, because he believes inflicting pain on the US somehow helps Russia. Thus, those who criticize the end of the CIA program because it will help Putin are mirroring the object of their hatred.

Bizarre.

And so what can Putin “win”? He maintains influence over a country that was a dung heap and economic basket case even before it was all but destroyed by six years of civil war. Check out how much the USSR threw down the Syrian rathole–fat lot of good that it did them. Putin has basically added another wrecked country that will be a dependent on Russia for economic support for decades to his collection of stellar allies. (Note too Putin’s efforts to make deals with Venezuela, which is hurtling into chaos and destruction.)  It is an ulcer.

If that’s what he wants to do–why get in his way? This seems to e a classic case of “never interrupt an enemy when he is making a mistake.” Oh! He will be able to retain an expand a naval base! Which, (a) he could never support in the event of a shooting war involving the US, and (b) could be obliterated in  a trice. It makes him feel important, but has zero strategic value.

Further, insofar as proving he’s a playa in the Middle East is concerned, this has also come at a cost which hardly seems worth it. He has alienated the Saudis and other Sunni states, and has enmeshed himself with the ally from hell–Iran. Good luck with that, Vlad.

And indeed, Iran seems to be the main beneficiary of Assad’s survival. For this reason, if the debate over supporting the anti-Assad forces takes into consideration his survival’s effect on the balance of power, the focus should be Iran, not Russia. In particular, Assad’s Syria is the vital link between Iran and Hezbollah. Hezbollah’s fortunes would take a serious blow if an anti-Iran regime rules Syria. Which explains why Hezbollah has spent much blood, and Iran has spent much treasure and blood, in fighting for Assad.

Well, truth be told, Hezbollah is not primarily an American concern. Yes, we have unfinished business with them (e.g., the Marine barracks bombing, among other things) but it is not high on the list of threats to the US. Hezbollah is first and foremost an Israeli problem, and arguably is an existential threat or at least a potential one, to Israel.

But if you’ll notice, Israel has pretty much stayed out of the Syrian war. It certainly has not publicly called for his ouster, nor is there evidence that they have worked to support the opposition or to undermine him. Indeed, Israel’s behavior suggests that they think he is the devil they know, and better than the alternative.

Israeli involvement in Syria has been primarily focused on striking direct support for Hezbollah, such as missile shipments from Iran destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon. But Israel has attacked these directly, rather than indirectly by going after Assad.

Note too that the Israelis have not been exercised with Russian intervention in Syria. In fact, Putin and Netanyahu have engaged in several businesslike meetings, and the two countries seem to have an understanding about Syria.

The US should take a clue from the Israelis. If they can live with Assad, the US can too. Yes, Assad is a butcher, and a man who has shown he will commit pretty much any crime to survive. But given that Jeffersonian democracy is not on offer as a successor, and indeed, any successor is likely to be virulently anti-American, a source of terrorism, and as big (or bigger) butcher than Assad, why continue an intervention that has proved a failure on its own terms? And no, “because continuing to arm the rebels angers Putin” is not the answer to that question. At least, it’s not for anyone in possession of his/her faculties, and not gripped zero sum thinking and an unhealthy obsession with Putin. Conditions which, alas, do not characterize the American political class at the moment.

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July 20, 2017

Hyperloop Hype. What Else Do You Expect From Elon?

Filed under: Energy,Politics — The Professor @ 6:59 pm

The classic sign of a con man is that he always responds to information or developments that undermine his previous promises with new!, better! promises. Elon Musk fits this template to a T.

Most of the news from Tesla lately has been less than favorable, and all of it contradicts previous pronouncements. Vehicle shipments have failed to make forecast, and it is  trying to manage expectations about Model 3 production and sales. It is becoming clear that Tesla will face considerable competition in electric cars, and from companies that have a proven ability to build automobiles in quantity with quality–both of which Tesla has yet to do. As a result, the price has cracked considerably in the past few weeks.

So Elon needs a distraction, and another fantastical statement about Tesla would probably be ill-advised. So what to do? Tweet tantalizing trash about Hyperloop, of course! (I have to rely on press reports, because Elon blocked me long, long ago. I’m so proud.)

Musk stated that he had received “verbal govt approval” to build the NY-DC Hyperloop.

Approval from whom, exactly? Elon didn’t say. Approval to do what, exactly? Elon didn’t say.

Forget the what: the whom question is amusing enough. I can imagine a conversation between Elon and an alderman in say, Applegarth, NJ. “Hey. I’d like to drill a tunnel under your town and run high speed capsules carrying passengers underneath it. What do you think?” “COOL! Go for it!” Then Elon whips out his iPhone and tweets that he got “verbal govt approval.”

Just think how many jurisdictions there are between New York and DC. (And how many of those are corrupt as hell.)  This is also the Land of NIMBY. So unless there is some supersecret Regional Subterranean Construction Authority that can approve–verbally, no less–the building of something like Hyperloop, can override local government in NY, NJ, PA, DE, and the Federal government as well, there is no single body to give the approval that Elon claims he has.

But reality doesn’t matter in ElonWorld. He needed something to feed the fanboyz, and he did. And non-fanboyz (e.g., the WSJ) actually treat these utterances seriously.

Note that Elon’s Hyperloop Tweet gets wall-to-wall coverage, but the fact that his brother-in-law Peter Rive has left Tesla to–wait for it–“spend more time with his family” has barely registered in the news.

Rive was a co-founder of Solar City, and was in charge of one of the projects that Elon had hyped earlier–the Solar Roof, which was supposedly about ready to be installed en masse.  Has anyone actually seen such a roof? I thought not. Yet more hype, the failure to deliver on which requires hyping Hyperloop.

Musk has gone through execs like Kleenex during a bad cold. And now he can’t even keep his relatives.

But Elon always has rent-seeking to fall back on. Of all his bullshit, the biggest is his claim that the company does not depend on government largesse: “And I should perhaps touch again on this whole notion of – it’s almost like over the years there’s been all these sort of irritating articles like Tesla survives because of government subsidies and tax credits. It drives me crazy.”

So I presume you sent back those CA ZEV and US subsidy checks, right Elon? For the sake of your sanity.

Thought not.

Take Elon’s pronouncements at face value (I know, I know) and you would think that the impending phase out of Federal subsidies would be great news for his mental health. But given the fact that EV sales have this tendency to collapse when subsidies go away (recent examples being Hong Kong, China, and Denmark), the loss of this revenue stream is a grave threat to the company. But never fear, California, which hasn’t met an idiotic green technology that it won’t throw money at, is getting ready to throw large green Elon’s way:

The California state Assembly passed a $3-billion subsidy program for electric vehicles, dwarfing the existing program. The bill is now in the state Senate. If passed, it will head to Governor Jerry Brown, who has not yet indicated if he’d sign what is ostensibly an effort to put EV sales into high gear, but below the surface appears to be a Tesla bailout.

. . . .

This is how the taxpayer-funded rebates in the “California Electric Vehicle Initiative” (AB1184) would work, according to the Mercury News:

The [California Air Resources Board] would determine the size of a rebate based on equalizing the cost of an EV and a comparable gas-powered car. For example, a new, $40,000 electric vehicle might have the same features as a $25,000 gas-powered car. The EV buyer would receive a $7,500 federal rebate, and the state would kick in an additional $7,500 to even out the bottom line.

And for instance, a $100,000 Tesla might be deemed to have the same features as a $65,000 gas-powered car. The rebate would cover the difference, minus the federal rebate (so $27,500). Because rebates for Teslas will soon be gone, the program would cover the entire difference – $35,000. This is where Senator Vidak got his “$30,000 to $40,000.”

The Tesla Model 3 would be tough to sell without the federal $7,500. But this new bill would push Californian taxpayers into filling the void. It would be a godsend for Tesla.

AB1184 would be a huge expansion of the current Clean Vehicle Rebate Project which has doled out 115,000 rebates for $295 million to buyers of EVs and hybrids since 2010, averaging about $2,550 per rebate.

Under AB1184, hybrids and hydrogen powered cars are not included, and rebates for plug-in hybrids are slashed – perhaps to keep Toyota’s technologies at bay.

Even the current, relatively small Clean Vehicle Rebate Project has been lambasted as a subsidy for the wealthy who can afford to spend $100,000 on a set of wheels. A study, cited by the Mercury News, showed that of nearly 100,000 rebates, over 80% went to Californians with incomes over $100,000. This notion of a subsidy for the wealthy also applies to the federal rebate.

So of course Elon threw himself across the Assembly door in Sacramento, right? He’s bombarding Jerry Brown with calls begging him to veto right?

Yeah, sure. No this smells for all the world like California doing a solid for a local company (and the wealthy Californians that buy its cars). And we know how Elon can work governments to get him to shovel money his way.

In some ways, you can’t blame Elon. As transparent as his shtick is, it seems to work. P.T. Barnum’s dictum about a sucker being born every minute seems to be a low-ball estimate when it comes to Musk’s con. So until it doesn’t work, he’ll keep doing it. Given that reality isn’t an option, what else is he going to do?

If Elon fools you once, shame on him. If he fools you twice, three times, four times . . . shame on you.

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