Archive for the 'CW – wrong!' Category

WWIV or WWI?

Thursday, July 13th, 2006

A new war has begun. This is how Yossi Klein Halevi in TNR describes it:

The next Middle East war — Israel against genocidal Islamism — has begun. The first stage of the war started two weeks ago, with the Israeli incursion into Gaza in response to the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier and the ongoing shelling of Israeli towns and kibbutzim; now, with Hezbollah’s latest attack, the war has spread to southern Lebanon. Ultimately, though, Israel’s antagonists won’t be Hamas and Hezbollah but their patrons, Iran and Syria. The war will go on for months, perhaps several years. There may be lulls in the fighting, perhaps even temporary agreements and prisoner exchanges. But those periods of calm will be mere respites.

The goals of the war should be the destruction of the Hamas regime and the dismantling of the Hezbollah infrastructure in southern Lebanon. Israel cannot coexist with Iranian proxies pressing in on its borders. In particular, allowing Hamas to remain in power — and to run the Palestinian educational system — will mean the end of hopes for Arab-Israeli reconciliation not only in this generation but in the next one too….

The ultimate threat, though, isn’t Hezbollah or Hamas but Iran. And as Iran draws closer to nuclear capability — which the Israeli intelligence community believes could happen this year — an Israeli-Iranian showdown becomes increasingly likely. According to a very senior military source with whom I’ve spoken, Israel is still hoping that an international effort will stop a nuclear Iran; if that fails, then Israel is hoping for an American attack. But if the Bush administration is too weakened to take on Iran, then, as a last resort, Israel will have to act unilaterally. And, added the source, Israel has the operational capability to do so.

For Israelis, that is the worst scenario of all. Except, of course, the scenario of nuclear weapons in the hands of the patron state of Hezbollah and Hamas.

Perhaps this little war can be kept contained. Perhaps it can go on for several years with various peaks and lulls, as TNR describes. Perhaps. But if the Islamist aggressors choose to, they can cause a new WWI to break out, with treaty alliances coming into play to escalate matters beyond a point of no return, as happened in WWI. The always entertaining and somtimes accurate Debka describes the Syrian and Iranian elements in this burgeoning war that could drive the conflict into something much larger than it started out.

Iran’s national security adviser Ali Larijani flies to Damascus aboad special military plane Wednesday night as war tension builds up around Hizballah kidnap of 2 Israeli soldiers. Larijani is also Iran’s senior nuclear negotiator. He will remain in Damascus for the duration of the crisis in line with the recently Iranian-Syrian mutual defense pact. His presence affirms that an Israeli attack on Syria will be deemed an assault on Iran.

It also links the Israeli hostage crisis to Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West. The White House released a statement holding Syria and Iran responsible for Hizballah abduction and demanding their immediate and unconditional release. The Syrian army has been put on a state of preparedness. DEBKAfile’s military sources add that the Iranian air force, missile units and navy are also on high alert. DEBKAfile’s counter-terror sources report Hizballah acted on orders from Tehran to open a second front against Israel…

Hizballah’s leaders went into hiding, their bases were evacuated and their fighting strength transferred to pre-planned places of concealment. Ahead of the abduction, Hizballah ordnance and missile stocks were transferred to the Palestinian Ahmed Jibril’s tunnel system at Naama, 30 km south of Beirut, which was built in the 1980s by East German engineers. The Israel navy has long tried to smash this coastal underground fortress from the sea without success. Israel began calling up an armored division, air crews and technicians from the reserves Wednesday night.

Is it impossible to believe that things could spin out of control between Israel and Hamas and Hezbollah and involve Syria and Iran in a regional war? Is is impossible to believe that a regional war with Iran as a belligerent might not suck in oil-producing and oil-consuming nations? Is it impossible to believe that Cpl. Gilad Shalit might be this century’s Archduke Ferdinand? Time will tell.

UPDATE

We note that the conflict has just escalated to an air and sea blockade of Lebanon by Israel; Israel has already bombed Beirut’s airport. Meanwhile, the NYT weighs in with its typical helpful perspective from the enemy’s foxhole in an article entitled “Once Again, Gazans Are Displaced by Israeli Occupiers.”

Many of the intellectuals, the elites, and the MSM were creepy even in WWII

Sunday, June 11th, 2006

We have always operated under the intellectually lazy assumption that because the anti-war intellectuals, MSM, and elites largely went silent in public in WWII after Pearl Harbor that they had somehow come to their senses and changed their minds. Though this is no doubt true for a number of them, we seem to be seeing more evidence these days that public silence was not agreement. David Gelernter reminded us a couple of weeks ago of their pre-war antics in the WSJ:

Before Pearl Harbor but long after the character of Hitlerism was clear–after the Nuremberg laws, the Kristallnacht pogrom, the establishment of Dachau and the Gestapo–American intellectuals tended to be dead against the U.S. joining Britain’s war on Hitler.

Today’s students learn (sometimes) about right-wing isolationists like Charles Lindbergh and the America Firsters. They are less likely to read documents like this, which appeared in Partisan Review (the U.S. intelligentsia’s No. 1 favorite mag) in fall 1939, signed by John Dewey, William Carlos Williams, Meyer Schapiro and many more of the era’s leading lights. “The last war showed only too clearly that we can have no faith in imperialist crusades to bring freedom to any people. Our entry into the war, under the slogan of ‘Stop Hitler!’ would actually result in the immediate introduction of totalitarianism over here. . . . The American masses can best help [the German people] by fighting at home to keep their own liberties.” The intelligentsia acted on its convictions. “By one means or another,” Diana Trilling later wrote of this period, “most of the intellectuals of our acquaintance evaded the draft.”

We read today, in neo-neocon, that many of these elites did not change their minds after all:

I was rummaging around the house where I’m staying, looking for something to read, when I encountered an old favorite from my childhood, choreographer Agnes De Mille’s memoir And Promenade Home. While skimming through it, I came across a passage in which De Mille, a newlywed whose husband has gone off to fight World War II (he was to remain abroad for the two remaining years of the war but returned unharmed), describes some of the conversations she endured at social events during her long wait:

For dark, personal reasons, many people could not resist this chance at cruelty. There were the intellectuals who demanded aggressively if we believed in war and asked across our dinner tables did we relish the idea of being the widows of dead heroes? There were men of peace who fulminated against destruction and argued that no idea was worth fighting for that leveled Casino or Dresden….There were the newscasters who, after the fourth Martini, swore with something akin to professional pride that the war would last another eight years….

It is remarkable that the sentiments that Agnes De Mille recounted seem so under-reported today. We have a feeling that many of the elites and intellectuals were cowed into silence by Pearl Harbor, and the robust reaction of FDR and the hicks in the sticks. We have read Rex Stout’s The Illustrious Dunderheads, an account of the how the vehement anti-war Congressmen and Senators turned on a dime, and it appears likely to us that we have underestimated the insincerity of many men. Be that as it may, silence would be a great improvement over what we have now from many politicians, intellectuals, and MSM types.

Dishonesty, from the immigration debate to the Magic Hat

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

People really don’t like being lied to. We think that this factor contributes the extra degree of outrage to some political debates.

It occurred to us the other day, listening to a Democratic strategist (Bob Beckel?) on Hannity trying to debate John O’Neill. We are bored of John Kerry (“I have the hat, I have the hat”) and his buffoonish ways. But when we hear his sycophants trying once again to discredit O’Neill the only way they can — by shouting him down — our blood begins to boil once again. We just can’t stand the lies.

It’s the same with the immigration bill. George Bush did himself no favors when he gave that speech, as we have said. But it’s not just Bush. The polls lied — because while they asked oh so many questions about immigration, they typically never asked about the priority of enforcement over other issues. So you got nonsensical reporting, and warped commentary from otherwise sensible people. But the facts were always the opposite of the lies being reported as news by the MSM and certain of those in the elite political class. Consider how thigs suddenly looked different when it came down to real and true numbers — electoral numbers (via WaPo):

The opposition spreads across the geographical and ideological boundaries that often divide House Republicans, according to interviews with about half of the 40 or so lawmakers whom political handicappers consider most vulnerable to defeat this November. At-risk Republicans — from moderates such as Christopher Shays in suburban Connecticut and Steve Chabot in Cincinnati to conservative J.D. Hayworth in Arizona — said they are adamant that Congress not take any action that might be perceived as rewarding illegal behavior…

Several Republicans said they are getting more bricks in the mail — as part of a new grass-roots campaign promoting a fence between the United States and Mexico — than letters or calls supporting Bush and the Senate bill. Most said 80 to 90 percent of feedback coming from constituents last week was in opposition to Bush and the Senate on the citizenship question…

Despite some national polls showing strong support for a comprehensive solution of the sort favored by Bush, nearly every GOP lawmaker interviewed for this article said the House plan to secure the borders and enforce existing immigration laws is unquestionably the safer political stand in his or her district. Many Democrats from vulnerable districts say the same thing…

Rep. Chris Chocola (R-Ind.) said he told White House officials, who keep citing polls showing wide support for the Bush approach, that “they must not be polling anyone in the 2nd District.”…[Christopher] Shays, who represents an upscale, largely white swing district in Connecticut, said he informed GOP leaders of his opposition to Bush’s path to citizenship after talking to local voters in a recent 18-stop tour. If anything, voters are growing more “adamant” in their opposition, he said. In an interview, he proposed allowing illegal immigrants a chance to stay and work but not become citizens, which many senators said would be a deal-killer….

Some Democrats are feeling similar pressure. When the House voted on its get-tough bill that also made illegal immigration a felony, 13 of the 17 Democratic incumbents who face tough races sided with Republicans. “The folks I represent in Georgia are sick and tired of the fact that nothing’s been done to stem the tide of illegal immigration,” said Rep. John Barrow, who dismissed the Senate bill as “amnesty-light — no matter what they try to call it.”….Rep. John N. Hostettler (R-Ind.), a top Democratic target who represents a district so competitive it is known as the “bloody 8th,” warned that if House Republicans do not oppose guest workers, temporary workers and anything “that looks like amnesty,” they could very well lose the House.

Fellas and gals, this is not a close call, and never has been. The US government, from the days of Simpson-Mazzoli and well before, has done zero to effectively control the border and illegal immigration. The administration had no bona fides on this issue, having presided over half a decade of ineffective enforcement. The people have listened to 12,000 days of blather on this issue, and sometimes things reach a point where the lies just have to stop. It appears that now is that time. (HT’s: Mickey Kaus, John McIntyre)

Jefferson and Churchill describe the problems in Islam

Sunday, May 7th, 2006

Guess who wrote this report to Congress on the foundations for attacking America, given by an Islamic ambassador:

We took the liberty to make some inquiries concerning the Grounds of their pretentions to make war upon Nations who had done them no Injury, and observed that we considered all mankind as our friends who had done us no wrong, nor had given us any provocation. The Ambassador answered us that it was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every Musselman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.

Who wrote that? No, not the administration or its allies. It was a bit earlier, 1786, by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, whose war on the Barbary pirates we noted in passing some time ago. It may be hard to believe but real men actually existed before our wussified time. They did not avert their eyes because of the suicidal insanity called Political Correctness. Another was named Winston Churchill (from The River War) from 1899:

How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity.

The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities …but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it.

No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.

We have tried to say a few of the same things from time to time. You can go back to the Battle of Tours or to the Gates of Vienna if you like. Why do the US and the West pretend that this millennium-long war is something wholly other than what it is? (HT: Ace)

The Islamic cultural straitjacket and American cultural blinders

Saturday, April 29th, 2006

Overview: In order to achieve ultimate victory in our war against militant Islam, Americans are going to have to come to understand that the cultural blinders they have been taught to wear over these last decades are as imprisoning as the straitjacket of Islamic sharia societies. We have to free ourselves in order to help free them and create a more peaceful world. If we cannot shake off our PC blinders, we will lose the war; yet ours is the easier task compared to the reformation required in the Islamic world.

We in the West take the idea of progress for granted, as we have previously discussed. But what if your society doesn’t march to that drumbeat? What if your society has no concept of ‘progress’, only of ‘submission’? What if your society is rather zero-sum in nature, referring all things — including really trivial concepts like charging interest for a loan — back to a 1400 year old book? What if your society is further built around the idea of always pleasing higher authority? What if your society authorizes you to have contempt or disregard for those lower than yourself? What would we call such a society?

Well, that society would seem to resemble some aspects of feudal Europe and medieval Christianity. To blogger orangeducks, that society is the Islamic world of Iraq — and he has the business experience to back it up. It is a society where lying to superiors with good news is expected, certainly one form of ‘submission’, and lying to inferiors in order to gain or maintain advantage is taught from birth.

Example I, the Lease: The Art of the Deal in Iraq is to figure out, not if someone will try and screw you, but how and when. The focus is always on not getting caught over a barrel by the other guy, and to try to get the other guy over that barrel, using deception, lies, misinformation, lies, misdeeds, lies, and finally, more lies. The Agreement, that poor casualty of the desert sands, is considered to be a first step, not a final arrival, on the long march to screwing the “other guy.”

A few days ago, I was called point blank and to my face a “thief” and a “liar” by an 85-year-old Iraqi from whom we are leasing a house. I wrote the lease agreement, including clearly stating the price for the first 6 months, and then a discount price for the second 6 months. These prices were based on verbal (read:painful) negotiations that had lasted for days. Once completed, I gave the lease contract to the gentleman, and he had it for 2 days. He contacted me a couple times to change a few minor details, which I did. He then signed it, and I signed it, and then I sent it off to our offices in the US for payment processing.

The day after we signed, the gentleman was beside himself and putting on all sorts of theatrics. With full-blown indignation, he said the price was too low, and “the person” who wrote that wretched lease was trying to trick him and was a thief and a liar!

Example II: the Order. In addition to trying to screw each other, there is the opposite condition of trying to avoid embarrassment — to “save face” or keep one’s “honor” in front of each other. Under this cultural imperative the lies fly, efforts die, but the Muslim, forever, keeps his head held high.

So, for example, when you are talking to a company president about delivery progress of a critical item by his company to a location, he’s getting his information from his assistant, who is getting it from the field supervisor, who is getting it from the guy who is related to the guy who is friends with the guy who owns the trucking company, who gets it from the dispatcher, who gets it from the truck driver (who also happens to be the company president’s nephew, but that’s another story).

Each and every one of these guys, all the way through the chain, will lie to the guy above him when asked about the delay in shipment (and there IS a delay — always). In order to save face, each will say whatever they think is good news, no matter how false and misleading it actually is. By the time you talk to the boss, who is also trying to save face with you, there is no relationship between what you are being told and what is really happening — none.

I had steel prefabricated buildings to construct at project sites throughout Iraq. They were to be ordered from a factory in Kuwait, fabricated, loaded, and trucked to sites in Iraq in 11 weeks. I inquired as to progress at least weekly. I was told when they were ordered, when manufacturing began, when they were completed, when the buildings were staged, when they were loaded on to trucks, and when the trucks were waiting at the Iraq border. Everything was communicated with exact details every step of the way.

The trucks were held up at the border for several days, then a week, then two weeks. Excuses abounded. I finally sent a Westerner down to the factory in Kuwait, only to find that the first step — the order — had not yet been placed….

The stories are endless (even more endless than the length of this post!) At first we were all offended at being lied to so much. But after a while, you stop taking it personally, and you just start giving credit where credit is due: They can’t build anything, can’t manufacture anything, and can’t fix anything that breaks. But at least they are good at one thing: lying their asses off all day, every day. Think about this the next time Uncle Mah starts talking about using his nukes to provide electricity

Orangeducks puts his extensive personal experience into an overall concept of the society he has been dealing in:

Muslims, like the stick bug and the chameleon and the stone fish, have developed, to an amazing extent, the ability to deceive….They hone these deceptive traits by practicing on themselves, first and foremost, by perfecting the art that most Westerners would call “lying.” But to them it’s not really lying. To them, lying is simply the most effective means at their disposal for saving face, being clever, getting ahead, and trying to appear superior. Remember, deception is the Muslim’s most developed trait; their secret weapon. Its constant exercise is not a matter of shame, it’s a matter of pride.

And they absolutely drool at the site of an unsuspecting Westerner who waltzes into their midst, like the juicy beetle oblivious to the chameleon, with his Christian-based ideas of “Truth” and “honesty” and “ethics” and “integrity.” From Alexander the Great to the 101st Airborne, the first thing the Arabs saw was not our frightening array of weapons, but the big “Tootsie Pop” signs stenciled on our foreheads.

The Iraqis don’t seem like a bad lot, but it is critical to our victories, our expectations, and our tactics to understand the cultural straitjacket they wear. It is even more important for Americans to recognize the cultural blinders they have been wearing for decades now.

Somewhere in our library we have a world history from a century ago. It describes Russians as “a cruel people with an enormous capacity to endure suffering.” Such writing is unthinkable today. Over the course of the last hundred years, Americans have lost the capacity for such generalizations — for understandable and good reasons as well as bad ones. Yet all this has gone way overboard; we this week witnessed the case of a student who was severely reprimanded for noticing — correctly — that the students excelling in mathematics in a class were Asian. This is a trivial but poisonous example of the war on the home front that must ultimately be waged to defeat militant Islam around the globe.

The good news for America is this: many people are only pretending not to see what they see, in order to avoid the censure of their PC overlords. If the flare goes up, the PC will go down. It can’t happen too soon. (HT: Larwyn)

The logic of nuclear terrorism is that retaliation becomes the crime

Monday, April 24th, 2006

We think there is a pretty good chance Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could get away with blowing up lower Manhattan in a nuclear martyrdom operation.

Absurd, you say. Ridiculous. Unthinkable. Well, think again. We have written on this subject before, but were reminded of it again when we read Zbigniew Brzezinski’s piece in the LAT yesterday. The piece argued against attacking Iran (in almost identical terms to a London Times piece today), and included this:

[T]he notion floated by some who favor military action that Tehran might someday just hand over the bomb to some terrorist conveniently ignores the fact that doing so would be tantamount to suicide for all of Iran because it would be a prime suspect, and nuclear forensics would make it difficult to disguise the point of origin.

Brzezinski seems to be wrong that setting off a bomb in NYC would necessarily be “suicide for all of Iran.” Brzezinski’s reasoning is incomplete and self-serving, ignoring many factors, including the length of time required to do a forensic analysis, the probability of the analysis proving inconclusive, and the role of the media, among other factors. Let’s leave aside (or perhaps not) that this analysis comes from a foreign policy team so feckless that they let America and 52 hostages be humiliated for 444 days without taking effective action. Let’s take a look at what the US plans to do in the realm of “nuclear forensics” in the case the big one goes off in front of the New York Stock Exchange, via NYT:

The Pentagon has formed a team of nuclear experts to analyze the fallout from a terrorist nuclear attack on American soil in an effort to identify the attackers, officials have said. The team, which can draw on hundreds of federal experts, uses such tools as robots that gather radioactive debris and sensitive gear to detect the origins of a device, whether a true atomic weapon or a so-called dirty bomb, that uses ordinary explosives to spew radioactivity. The objective is to determine quickly who exploded the device and where it came from, in part to clarify the options to strike back, the officials said….

A senior military official, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose details of the program, said the threat reduction agency successfully conducted an exercise in October involving hundreds of people from many agencies. The participants, he said, included field workers gathering radioactive samples, nuclear analysts in laboratories working on the data and intelligence experts.

Do you understand what nonsense is currently the standard procedure of the United States in response to a suitcase nuke going off? “Hundreds of people from many angencies” will get their paws into this matter. For how long and when will they gather radioactive samples? How many committee meetings will there be, how many conference calls? What happens if the experts can not all agree? What happens if the plutonium actually came from old bombs spirited out of the Ukraine or Russia? What happens if Iran claims that materials were stolen? What happens if a Pakistani or Indian group claims responsibility? What happens if in a month the “hundreds of people” form the following conclusion: there is an 86% probability that the nuclear material originated in Iran?

If you are the president, do you act on the 86% chance? What about the 14% probability that you are wrong? And by the way, what is it exactly that you intend to bomb? Some military facility? Qom? Teheran? With what intensity? Will the destruction be proportional, or larger? Why?

On top of all these problems, consider what the worldwide media would have been doing for the days or weeks or maybe a month between the New York bombing and the completion of the forensic analysis. Imagine the 24/7 coverage of candlelight vigils, expressions of sympathy, and interviews with young children and old women by CNN, Fox and all the rest in Teheran and around the world. Day after day of wailing and calls for no more war, and pleas by the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury and various Imams and rabbis. To top it off, just imagine listening to Jimmy Carter or maybe Zbigniew Brzezinski himself calling for restraint.

Imagine the CNN graphic as the investigation proceeds: “Countdown to Doom.” How many times would we have to watch Failsafe and Dr. Strangelove? How many retired generals would be on the op-ed pages of the NYT and on the cable news? Do you doubt what we would hear from Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon, Noam Chomsky, George Clooney or Richard Gere?

All these horrors, on top of the horror caused by the New York explosion, are the reasons that things must be prevented from going that far.

The logic of nuclear terrorism is that retaliation becomes the crime. That is one reason why the Chirac Doctrine is preferable to the “nuclear forensics” approach with its “hundereds of people” doing all manner of analysis for a protracted period of time. Jacques Chirac has made it clear that if a WMD goes off in Paris, he has nuclear missiles with a return address to Mr. Ahmadinejad, no questions asked.

The United States should be similarly forthright in saying, for example, that in the event of a catastrophe, the likeliest suspect can expect instantaneous retribution 100x or more powerful than that visited upon this country. We can think of no reason for strategic ambiguity that serves the interests of the United States. Indeed, there is an ancillary good effect that the promise of destruction has on the “likeliest suspect” — that country would have an increased interest in policing others. We are not claiming that the approach suggested here is perfect; rather that the current policy of the United States, with its ambiguities and delays, makes it more likely that a gunslinger like Ahmadinejad might reasonably conclude he could get away with an unspeakable act.

Ahmadinejad, Iran, and Japan’s Great Crash of 1990

Saturday, April 8th, 2006

The hardest thing to forecast is the end of a bubble. One reason is that bubbles often do not feel like bubbles when you are in them. In the 1980’s, for example, Japan’s emergence as a global powerhouse because of its dominance in exports was seen as almost anything but a bubble. You will recall the doom and gloom talk about the end of the US when Japanese companies started buying American companies in the mid-80’s. Our former colleague Barton Biggs was pretty lonely saying the Japanese stock market was wildly overvalued. Everything was up, up, up! Even the Rockefellers threw in the towel, or so it seemed, selling their famed Rockefeller Center to Mitsubishi. At one point the grounds of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo were said to be worth more than the entire continent of South America. It was the Go-Go years on steroids, as the Nikkei 225 soared from 10,000 to 40,000 or so, and the Japanese were invincible, on top of the world:

japan2.GIF

We thought of Japan today as we read VDH discussing Iran. Islamic terrorism has been in a bull market at least since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. You can date it earlier if you like (to Munich, or Sirhan Sirhan, etc) but Iran has, like Japan, been a dominant and successful worldwide leader in exports since the overthrow of the Shah. Its unique export has been Islamic terrorism. At virtually every turn to date, the West has subsidized this noxious Iranian export by doing virtually nothing to stop it. From the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, through the Marine barracks in Lebanon, through the West’s inaction as Iranian clients Hamas and Hezbollah did their dirty work, Iran has gotten pretty much a free ride for the quarter century since Jimmy Carter. So it is no wonder, perhaps, that the millenarian and blowhard Mahmoud Ahmadinejad feels free to threaten the West 24/7 with economic and military ruin from his mighty land.

One thing about the conventional view of Iran seems quite suspicious to us. That is, the predictions about what happens in the aftermath of a US strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities (and quite a few others, no doubt) are uniformly disaster scenarios. Economic ruin, oil embrgoes, chaos in Iraq, impeachment of Bush, Muslim uprisings on the streets of Europe, the scenarios are uniformly bleak. Except for this, as noted by VDH:

[W]ho knows what a successful strike against Iranian nuclear facilities might portend? We rightly are warned of all the negatives — further Shiite madness in Iraq, an Iranian land invasion into Basra, dirty bombs going off in the U.S., smoking tankers in the Straits of Hormuz, Hezbollah on the move in Lebanon, etc. — but rarely of a less probable but still possible scenario: a humiliated Iran is defanged; the Arab world sighs relief, albeit in private; the Europeans chide us publicly but pat us on the back privately; and Iranian dissidents are energized, while theocratic militarists, like the Argentine dictators who were crushed in the Falklands War, lose face. Nothing is worse for the lunatic than when his cheap rhetoric earns abject humiliation for others.

Don’t misinterpret what we are saying. We are not predicting a rosy scenario if and when the President takes action against Iran, though the uniformity of disaster predictions reminds us of the uniformity of predictions that the Japanese bull market would go on forever. 100% consensus is nearly always a danger signal. And we do think Ahmadinejad, with his military budget 1% of the US’s, has been overplaying his hand rhetorically. Ahmadinejad’s millenarian fervor has been on a roll and in a bull market since his earliest days humiliating American hostages in 1979. Will he be taught the lesson that the Japanese have struggled with for 15 years — that all bull markets end, and the hyperinflated ones end very badly. The Japanese thought their future was heaven in the 1980’s, up to the beginning of 1990, as the chart above shows. The rest of the chart is below, and tells a completely different story. Witness what happened after the 1990 peak in the Nikkei 225, with a cruel ferocity and tenaciousness that destroyed Japan’s confidence for over a decade:

fdff.GIF

Which will it be for Iran, continued bull market, disaster or something else? Time, luck, and the character of our nation and its leadership, will tell.

UPDATE

In this photo of protests today against the West, Iranians show that they too date their bull market in terror, intimidation and blowhardism to 1979 and Ayatollah Khomieni:

kho.jpg

Speaking of blowhardism, the Iranians had this to say about our story just above: “This is a psychological war launched by Americans because they feel angry and desperate regarding Iran’s nuclear dossier,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told a weekly news conference. “We will stand by our right to nuclear technology. It is our red line. We are ready to deal with any possible scenario. Iran is not afraid of threatening language,” he added.

We shall see, shall we not? (Where are the lady protesters, by the way? — oh, never mind.)

The Cartoon Riots, the War, and the Dubai Ports deal

Friday, March 10th, 2006

We have said that the Cartoon Riots were as important in their way as 9-11 and that they were responsible for killing the ports deal. The overwhelming unpopularity of the ports deal — 70% of all Americans — was likely not, however, an emotional spasm by the American people, but a turning point. The fundamental nature of the war has changed in the minds of many Americans. This is no longer is Global War on Terror, but World War IV: the War against Radical Islam. The political class would do well to figure this out.

If the ports deal had come up six months ago, it probably would have gone through. There was no opposition to the deal for the first two months after its annoucement in November 2005. If the Cartoon Riots had not occured during the approval process, the deal likely could have concluded quietly.

At the end of January (us or MM), the Cartoon Riots began, and continued unabated (us or MM) up through and beyond February 13, when the ports deal approval was reported. The visceral disgust at the Cartoon Rioters provided the emotional power that fueled American opposition to the ports deal. The Cartoon Riots changed Americans’ perceptions of the fundamental nature of the war; no longer was it simply a war of “insurgents” and “al Qaeda” against US soldiers. The image of our enemy became this — people in London and the world over who wanted to kill us or convert us:

slaybutcher1.jpg

Muslims from all over the globe reacted to little cartoons — which they had never even seen — with threats to “behead” this one and “annihiliate” that one. They burned buildings and killed people. In London, they shouted strange Arabic chants, and even stranger English chants (“take Danish wives as war booty“). As we said recently: “the Islamists have contrived to make themselves and their religion look repugnant…mobs with primitive bloodlust killing people over drawings, like something out of anthropology class. These riots, making Islamist rioters look like savages, and making the mute among their co-religionists look even worse in their silence, have also brought renewed focus to the atavistic and revolting beliefs of the Islamists about art, the status of women, and their real plans for the Infidels. Many Americans have begun to ask: who would want to have anything whatsoever to do with Islam after watching such violent, threatening, irreligious behavior?” People who riot over drawings are either evil, primitive or mentally unstable; people who riot over drawings for “religious reasons” are all that and deadly dangerous too.

(Meanwhile, the MSM took one look at the violent Brownshirts of our time and their neo Nazi book burnings, and couldn’t begin to bow and scrape fast enough before them, making every kind of excuse for the mobs and their violence and threats; but the people are not as craven or obtuse as the elites.)

In a pre-Cartoon Riot world, the rationale for the ports deal was a plausible one: we need good allies in the Arab and Muslim world to help us defeat insurgents in places like Iraq, and Al Qaeda terrorists worldwide. In a post-Cartoon Riots world, this rationale doesn’t cut it anymore; it is insufficient. Americans now see that Islamists worldwide are arrayed against them, and these Islamists seem vastly more interested in killing Americans than converting them. In such a world, silent Muslims are potentially viewed as unindicted co-conspirators. Places such as the UAE and Dubai suddenly have come to be judged by a higher standard: prove to us Americans that you are on our side, and that you are not sympathetic to our enemy.

Worldwide radical Islam has been at war with the United States at least since the events in Iran in 1979. With the Cartoon Riots, it may be true to say for the first time that Americans have begun to understand and reciprocate.

UPDATE

For a more pessimistic view of what conclusion the America people may have silently drawn from the Cartoon Riots, see David Warren in RCP. He says that there may be a fundamental flaw in the WWII template seemingly applied by the Bush administration to our current conflict. According to Mr. Warren, in President Bush’s view,

we are dealing with what amounts to a planetary civil war, between those who accept the state-system descended from the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), and an emergent Islamist ideology that certainly does not. To Mr Bush’s mind, only legitimately-elected governments, presiding over properly-administered secular bureaucracies, can be trusted to deal locally with the kind of mischief an Osama bin Laden can perform, with his hands on contemporary weapons of mass destruction.

But Mr Bush was staking his bet on the assumption that the Islamists were not speaking for Islam; that the world’s Muslims long for modernity; that they are themselves repelled by the violence of the terrorists; that, most significantly, Islam is in its nature a religion that can be “internalized”, like the world’s other great religions, and that the traditional Islamic aspiration to conjoin worldly political with otherworldly spiritual authority had somehow gone away. It didn’t help that Mr Bush took for his advisers on the nature of Islam, the paid operatives of Washington’s Council on American-Islamic Relations, the happyface pseudo-scholar Karen Armstrong, or the profoundly learned but terminally vain Bernard Lewis. Each, in a different way, assured him that Islam and modernity were potentially compatible.

The question, “But what if they are not?” was never seriously raised, because it could not be raised behind the mud curtain of political correctness that has descended over the Western academy and intelligentsia. The idea that others see the world in a way that is not only incompatible with, but utterly opposed to, the way we see it, is the thorn ever-present in the rose bushes of multiculturalism. “Ideas have consequences”, and the idea that Islam imagines itself in a fundamental, physical conflict with everything outside of itself, is an idea with which people in the contemporary West are morally and intellectually incapable of coming to terms. Hence our continuing surprise at everything from bar-bombings in Bali, to riots in France, to the Danish cartoon apoplexy.

If David Warren is giving voice to what those repelled by the Cartoon Riots have come to silently believe, then the sea change in American attitudes we have observed is far greater even than we have written.

Good will, ill will — it doesn’t matter too much

Thursday, February 9th, 2006

Like you, we have in recent days read hundreds of articles on whether the cartoons were advisable or inadvisable, an appeal or a threat to moderate Muslims, a thoughtless and offensive provocation or an opportunity to be used, or both. Like you, we have read the arguments about free speech and its limits, media censorship versus the public’s right to know, and what is appropriate to say about religious traditions. In a sense, none of it matters.

Iran appears committed to war. Iran is committed to the destruction of Israel. Iran is committed to the destruction of the US. Iran is on the verge of nuclear weapons to enforce its aims. Iran is the sponsor of Hamas and Hezbollah and is willing to make common cause with those others who share its aims. These include Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea and the Sunni terrorists of al Qaeda, among others. Iran is seeking the assistance of America’s other enemies to further its mission, presumably to be carried out in asymmetric warfare. Iran is not the most powerful enemy of the US, but it appears to be among the most implacable.

In a certain sense, it is a waste of time to debate little matters like cartoons as though the answer to that debate would make any difference in whether we and our allies in a shooting war with Iran in the next several years. And believe this as well: the clever Ahmadinejad will contrive to portray Iran and worldwide Islam as the victim whenever the conflict goes hot. (The PR aparatus is fully functional.) From the recent successes in the French and cartoon riots, the Islamist Imams, the international Brownshirts, and the crowds that follow them are ready for Showtime.

NSA Wiretaps: the numbers tell a story of effectiveness, contrary to MSM spin

Wednesday, December 28th, 2005

First, let’s look at the negative spin from the UPI story:

U.S. President George Bush decided to skip seeking warrants for international wiretaps because the court was challenging him at an unprecedented rate. A review of Justice Department reports to Congress by Hearst newspapers shows the 26-year-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court modified more wiretap requests from the Bush administration than the four previous presidential administrations combined.

The 11-judge court that authorizes FISA wiretaps modified only two search warrant orders out of the 13,102 applications approved over the first 22 years of the court’s operation. But since 2001, the judges have modified 179 of the 5,645 requests for surveillance by the Bush administration, the report said. A total of 173 of those court-ordered “substantive modifications” took place in 2003 and 2004. And, the judges also rejected or deferred at least six requests for warrants during those two years — the first outright rejection of a wiretap request in the court’s history.

The UPI’s spin is 180 degrees out of phase of course. What they cite as failures or shortcomings are actually accomplishments when viewed through the prism of common sense.

So there were 600 surveillance requests a year during the Reagan, Bush I and Clinton presidencies. After 9-11, there seem to have been well over twice that number a year. Hmmm, sounds to us like Bush is doing the job he was elected to do. Moreover, less than 4% of the requests were modified at all, which seems like good focus on the administration’s part, not malpractice as the UPI spins it. Also, almost all of the modifications have taken place as we have moved further away from 9-11 (173 of 179 in 2003/4), which might indicate several things, including the environment’s becoming less target-rich, due to the good sleuthing by the Bush team. Finally, an infinitesimal 0.1% of the requests have been deferred or denied, further reinforcing our earlier points on the focus and effectiveness of the program, and by no means indicating any kind of rogue operation on the part of the administration. All in all, it sounds like an A+ effort by the Bush team, with the only open question the precise opposite of the MSM spin: does the extraordinarily low rate of FISA rejections indicate that the Bush administration is being way too careful in going after potential enemies of America?

The UPI uses the term “unprecedented rate” but misapplies it to the negligible number of challenges to Bush wiretaps: the term really should really refer to the unprecedented rate of seeking surveillance on enemies of America post 9-11, the unprecedented rate and number of approved wiretaps of these enemies, and perhaps to the efficacy and judgment of the Bush program, with the all-important “unprecedented rate” of al Qaeda attacks since 9-11 at zero, zip, nada.

You can’t expect the MSM, even the best of them, to frame a wartime issue correctly, can you? MSM, ho, hum.

UPDATE

It is now being widely reported (HT: Larwyn) that 64% of Americans approve of the NSA surveillance, according to this Rasmussen poll. What is so striking is that, looking in all the crosstabs, there is no group — by age, by sex, by party, by race, by anything at all — that disapproves, and most groups approve pretty overwhelmingly. You can’t really read this chart, but we include it to give you an idea of how impressive is the unanimity of majority approval, even including 50% of Democrats and 58% of independents.

However, there were no crosstabs of college professors, New York Times reporters, or Clinton-appointed judges, so results are imcomplete and could be misleading.

A journalist discovers that doing journalism means stopping the mental replay of “Platoon”

Thursday, December 15th, 2005

We have long been of the view that the MSM’s view of the military comes not from John Wayne movies or Vic Morrow’s Combat! but from Apocalypse Now, Platoon, the Deer Hunter and the like. (We think this change occurred sometime around Dr. Strangelove in 1963, and was beginning to show itself in Seven Days in May and 1963’s Manchurian Candidate. The Kennedy assassination furthered the development of the paranoid school of political/military filmmaking. But we’re not film critics.)

In any case, Margaret Friedenauer, a reporter from Alaska, confirmed our notion that there is a bad movie running in the heads of the MSM when she chanced to question her basic assumption today in Iraq:

Think about everything you’ve heard about the conditions in Iraq, the role of U.S. forces, the multi-layered complexities of the war. Then think again. I’m a journalist. I read the news everyday, from several sources. I have the luxury of reading stuff newspapers don’t always have room to print. I read every tidbit I could on Iraq and the war before coming.

Everything I thought I knew was wrong. Maybe not wrong, but certainly different than the picture in my head. I liken it to this; It was real struggle for me to choose to see the Harry Potter movies. I had read the books and loved the pictures I had in my mind of the details I read. I didn’t need to see a movie; I had a movie playing in my head of exactly how I perceived the stories. I had similar notions about Iraq, Mosul, the war and what exactly soldiers do…..

I still haven’t seen U.S. troops engaged or encounter car bombs or explosives. But I did see them play backgammon with some local police and Iraqi soldiers. I saw them take photos with more locals and make jokes mostly lost in translation. They gave advice and expertise to local troops on how to conduct a neighborhood patrol. They drank the local customary tea, and many admitted they’ve become addicted to it. They know several locals by name. I didn’t hear one slight or ridicule of a very distinct culture. One soldier mentioned it might be a good idea to clean up the trash around one polling place, and another commented on the status of women in the culture, but they were nothing but respectful, friendly and buddy-buddy with the Iraqis they mingled with today. And this is good stuff….

But I have a slight hesitation; I need to keep balanced. I can’t be a cheerleader, even if I have a soft spot for the hometown troops, especially after the welcome they’ve shown me. I still need to be truthful and walk the centerline and report the good or bad.

But then I realize it’s not a conflict of interest. If I am truly unbiased, then I need to get used to this one simple fact; that the untold story, might in fact, be a positive one.

This is what change looks like, though, as with all conversion experiences, the question is whether the old template wins in the end or the new knowledge is accepted. (HT: Instapundit)

A useful definition for future reference

Tuesday, December 13th, 2005

Steyn: “the defining act of a police state: the arbitrary criminalisation of dissent from state orthodoxy.”

Coming soon: Building a bridge to the 19th century

Wednesday, November 16th, 2005

You will recall that a few years ago politicians stressed the need to build a bridge to the 21st century. That was precisely the opposite of a critical need in America. In our opinion, building a bridge to the 19th century is one of the most important things we need to do. We will discuss this at length soon. From the Jack Beatty article in the Atlantic in January 2003:

“The American boy of 1854 stood closer to the year 1 than to the year 1900.”
—Henry Adams

We have lost a great deal in the last 100+ years, particularly in the last two generations, even though our lives have doubled in length and we are ten or a hundred times richer. We do not have to give up these good things to reclaim the old; but we risk the good things if we do not reclaim the old.

Beware, but pay attention to, long-term forecasts

Sunday, November 13th, 2005

We were reading this piece on the French riots by Jack Kelly, and came across a reference to the always provocative Asia Times commentator, Spengler; we thought we’d drop in for a visit. (You might also want to read the piece in Asia Times which might be called Tojo Family Values, about WWII revisionism being carried out by the General’s granddaughter.)

Spengler argues that Islam is undergoing a crisis because of the failure of the religion to accommodate to the realities of the modern world. Modern consumerist society is contrary to the rather ascetic, sharia-ruled, usury-forbidden societies favored by the Islamists. Unfortunately for them, consumerist societies are awfully rich, and the ones they favor are awfully poor — in part precisely as a consequence of their religious principles. He sees the crisis as coming to a head because of the ageing of the population:

Muslim countries face breakdown. America now has a per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of US$40,000 and a diversified economy. Iran has a per capita GDP of just $7,000 and depends on oil exports for the state subsidies that keep its population fed and clothed – and Iran will no longer be able to export oil after 2020, according to some estimates.

America can ameliorate the impact of an aging population by raising productivity (so that fewer workers produce more GDP), attracting more skilled immigrants (and increasing its tax base), and, in the worst of all cases, tightening its belt. American life will not come to an end if more people drive compact cars instead of SUVs, or go camping for vacation instead of to Disney World. But the Islamic world is so poor that any reduction in living standards from present levels will cause social breakdown.

In 2002, the United Nations’ Arab Development Report offered a widely-quoted summation of the misery of the present position of the Arab World, noting:
— The average growth rate of per capita income during the preceding 20 years in the Arab world was only one-half of 1% per annum, worse than anywhere but sub-Saharan Africa
— One in five Arabs lives on less than $2 per day
— Fifteen percent of the Arab workforce is unemployed, and this number could double by 2010
— Only 1% of the population has a personal computer, and only half of 1% use the Internet
— Half of Arab women cannot read.

Negotiating the demographic decline of the 21st century will be treacherous for countries that have proven their capacity to innovate and grow. For the Islamic world, it will be impossible. That is the root cause of Islamic radicalism, and there is nothing that the West can do to change it.

Among the Muslim states, Iran has seen the future most clearly, and drawn terrible conclusions. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad understands that life as Iranians know it is coming to an end, and has proposed drastic measures commensurate with the need.

In a program made public on August 15, Iran’s new president proposed a pre-emptive response to the inevitable depopulation of rural Iran. He plans to reduce the number of villages from 66,000 to only 10,000, relocating 30 million Iranians out of a population of 70 million. In relative terms, that would be the biggest population transfer in history, dwarfing Joseph Stalin’s collectivization campaign of the late 1920s. A generation hence, Iran will not have the resources to provide infrastructure for more than 50,000 rural villages inhabited mainly by elderly and infirm peasants. In response, Iran will undertake the biggest exercise in social engineering in recorded history, excepting perhaps Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge.

Spengler, as might be expected, is a pessimist and practitioner of dark humor. (Check out his Dear Abby responses to letters from heads of state, for example; President Bush should be happy to be the “leper with the most fingers.”) What Spengler predicts could come to pass; none of us know. But these sorts of gloomy long-term predictions are more of use as indicators of which variables are important than as predictors of outcomes. Just ask Malthus.

Changes in worker productivity, longer working lives for people, disease, war, euthenasia programs, radical Islamic reform, or changes yet unimagined could set a far different course than the one Spengler charts. What struck us most in the piece were two points: (a) some radical changes will undoubtedly occur in the next two generations in order that the demographic trends be accommodated — we just don’t know what they are; and (b) we have nowhere seen until today any reference to the rather frightening program announced in Iran, which plan suggests a dangerous, meglomaniacal streak in Mahmud Ahmadinejad. That is a situation we should perhaps worry a lot more about than what will happen by 2100.

Another reason Democrats are yelling about WMD

Monday, November 7th, 2005

We have suggested an explanation previously, but we’d add this to the mix: at least a quarter of House Democrats have been supporting the Republican agenda on a regular basis, as Jayson of Polipundit notes. Yet another thing to cover up by putting your hands over your ears and shouting at the top of your lungs.

Yawn, the outrage of the Bush budget cuts

Friday, November 4th, 2005

EJ Dionne thinks the cuts proposed in the budget, if they ever happen, are an outrage, and he has all sorts of examples, like 225,000 people who are working being eliminated from the food stamp program. The truth is that the cuts are a joke. $36 billion over five years? $6 billion in the first year? This is not budget-cutting, this is PR — PR for the right, the mean-spirited wing of the GOP, which ever yearns to swipe the bottle from the suckling babe. Or so the spinmeisters serving up this nonsense think.

Here’s the actual US budget, placed in historical context. You can have fun guessing which was the first year the entire federal budget was over — pause to consider this — $100 billion (1962), or which year sported the first deficit of $100 billion (1982), but you get the idea: $6 billion or $36 billion are chump change today. Here are the projected federal outlays to 2006 (the column furthest to the right):

$2.473 trillion in 2006 are the outlays of the federal government. $2.473 trillion. Almost 25x the federal budget of 1962. The proposed cuts are 0.24% of this 2006 amount….if they ever happen, if they are implemented through all the paperwork needed to make these marginal, and meaningless, changes. There is real work to do on the budget, and this is not it. We suggest that those who are pleased by these cuts, and those who are outraged, are both wrong.

Judy Miller is a victim of NYT BDS

Tuesday, October 25th, 2005

John Podhoretz makes some excellent points that the Times’ furor with Miller is really about her reporting on WMD, and is being acted out in all sorts of inappropriate ways, including the MoDo column and the sleazy innuendo pushed by Bill Keller (who, as a matter of corporate policy and governance, ought to either fire her or apologize). Here’s the real issue:

Keller told Calame that “by waiting a year to own up to our mistakes, I allowed the anger inside and outside the paper to fester. Worse, I fear I fostered an impression that the Times put a higher premium on protecting its reporters than on coming clean with its readers. If I had lanced the WMD boil earlier, I suspect our critics — at least the honest ones — might have been less inclined to suspect that, THIS time, the paper was putting the defense of the reporter above the duty to its readers.”

Really, this is most odd. We see no reason for anger whatsoever. If Miller was wrong about WMD, so was the rest of the world, including the French and German governments and their intelligence agencies, as has been long and oft noted. It sounds like a peculiar combination of hubris and radical chic at work in the NYT: if only Judy Miller had behaved like a real investigative reporter, and not believed the evil lies of the evil Cheney and Libby, she could have blown the whistle on the evil Bush administration, and the mighty NYT could have stopped the Iraq war. We’re willing to bet that there are people at the Times who actually believe such nonsense — maybe most of them.

The painful restructuring of Japan, Inc.

Sunday, October 23rd, 2005

Author and editor-in-chief of the Economist Bill Emmott advances the notion that Japan’s slow-motion Great Depression of the last fifteen years is just about over. He argues that three problems have dogged Japan for most of a generation have just about been solved: “excess corporate debt, excess capacity and excess labour.” He believes that a stealth restructuring has taken place in Japan to make the country competitive again. Emmott’s thesis is pretty persuasive. Let’s look at the three areas.

Debt: “the gigantic pile of dud corporate debt for which Japan became notorious in the late 1990s is now a lot smaller: from a peak of more than Â¥43 trillion in 2001, non-performing loans held by banks have more than halved to less than Â¥20 trillion (see chart 2). The number is now also thought to be more or less accurate, whereas until 2001 or so official figures for non-performing loans were appallingly and deliberately underestimated.”

Capacity: “the capacity-utilisation rate reported by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is back up to 1992 levels, and businessmen’s perceptions, as reported in the Bank of Japan’s regular Tankan survey, are that excess capacity has largely disappeared.”

Labor: “helped by changes to employment law, firms found flexibility in another way: by hiring part-timers and others on temporary contracts, both at far lower cost than for regular workers. In 1990 such “non-regular” workers made up 18.8% of the labour force. Earlier this year, that figure reached 30%, which in Japan’s 65m-strong labour force means roughly 20m people. Those workers are predominantly women, the young and the fairly low-skilled. Since 2003, the law has allowed contracts to be counted as temporary, and thus cheap, for up to three years. The use of contract workers remains forbidden in some sectors that employ lots of people, including health care and construction, but has gradually become permitted almost everywhere else. Canon, for example, a successful electronics firm that still firmly maintains a lifetime commitment for its “core” workers, employs fully 70% of its Japanese factory staff on such “non-regular” terms, up from 50% five years ago and 10% a decade ago, according to Fujio Mitarai, Canon’s president.”

You will recall that in 1990 and thereabouts, shock treatment — like the LBO’s of the 1980’s in the US — was recommended for Japan. This was not, however, the Japanese way: “A 15-year gradual work-off of the excesses inherited from the 1980s would not have been what most analysts would have recommended or even expected in 1990, whether they were rude foreign lecturers or polite Japanese. And it has been a more painful period than any visits limited to prosperous Tokyo would suggest. Provincial cities and rural areas have suffered greatly, with shuttered-up streets and rising levels of poverty. Suicides have soared, up more than 50% since 1990 to 34,500 in 2003.” This painful time appears near its end if Emmott’s thesis is correct.

We would note in passing that Japan’s resurgence has been aided by its strong rise in exports to China in recent years. For example, in 2004, Japan completed its sixth straight year of increased exports to China; they rose to $74 billion from $57 billion in 2003. Likewise, Japan has benefitted from low cost imports from China, making their total bilateral trade about $168 billion in 2004, and no doubt approaching $200 billion this year. East Asia co-prosperity is economically helpful to Japan. Thankfully, it is not this idea: 大東亜共栄圏.

H5N1 bird flu, vaccine, the MSM, and the perils of cost-benefit analysis

Friday, October 14th, 2005

Estimates vary wildly about the deaths from a pandemic of the so-called bird flu, the H5N1 virus strain. A very entertaining and informative HHS powerpoint on the matter put a high estimate for the next pandemic at 7 million deaths worldwide. Some estimates range over 100 million deaths globally, based on the 1918-1919 pandemic.

What you probably don’t know is that there is already a vaccine for H5N1. St. Jude Medical developed one in 2003. Another vaccine is currently undergoing tests, though it has already proved effective almost all the time, according to the University of Minnesota in a report from early August 2005:

The vaccine, made by Sanofi Pasteur, will next be tested in adults over age 65, likely beginning in about a month, according to the Associated Press (AP), and trials in children will follow shortly thereafter. Safety issues will be examined in these groups as well as optimal dosing levels. Normally, older people, children, and people with chronic diseases are most at risk for complications of influenza. The H5N1 strain may not fit this pattern; mortality rates in the 1918 flu pandemic were highest in otherwise healthy young adults.

The high doses needed for protection against H5N1 pose obvious challenges in regard to production capacity. In a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article today, Fauci said the 2 million US doses already ordered might cover only 450,000 people. Supplying even the amount of vaccine ordered for yearly US influenza vaccination programs is problematic, as evidenced by last flu season’s shortage when the Chiron company was unable to produce the almost–50 million doses it was to supply to the United States. In a flu pandemic, vaccine for the worldwide population would be needed.

The new vaccine, like yearly flu vaccines, is grown in chicken eggs, so the amount that can be produced is dependent on the supply of eggs that producers can supply to vaccine companies. And the growth process takes several months. Experiments on cell-culture vaccines, which would circumvent these limitations, are under way, but their clinical use is far distant. Said Fauci in the Times article, “The critical issue now is, can we make enough vaccine, given the well-known inability of the vaccine industry to make enough vaccine?”

Infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm said the news is hopeful, but he expressed great concern over supply issues. Even though the dosage will likely be refined as study continues, he told CIDRAP News, “We’re starting, from these results, with the amount of antigen needed to immunize a person standing at 12 times what’s needed for a typical flu vaccination.”

And the limiting factors aren’t only the egg supply. “We need to quickly scale up capacity,” said Osterholm, director of CIDRAP, which publishes this Web site. “Since the current annual vaccine-production capacity worldwide is about 1 billion doses of the 15 microgram–antigen vaccine, right now we have the ability to produce less than enough vaccine for 100 million people in the first year of a pandemic. This covers less than 2% of the 6.5-billion world population. The bottom line is that this will do little to stop or even arrest a worldwide pandemic.”

HHS sent out an RFP for 2 million doses of the vaccine on May 14, 2004, and here we are today, with no meaningful production of a vaccine, while health officials worldwide run around like, um, chickens with their heads cut off, shouting about the dangers of an imminent worldwide pandemic. (Can a headless chicken shout?)

Why? Why are we so unprepared? Why, given the hysteria that the MSM generated about Katrina! and Rita!, not to mention the errant snowflake, Abu Ghraib and Club Gitmo, and Natalee Holloway, why is the government apparently so far behind the curve?

The answer is: the numbers don’t pencil out for a mass production and inoculation program for the H5N1 bird flu. The cost benefit analysis says not to mass produce a vaccine for a very good reason: to date, the H5N1 virus has never exhibited the ability to infect human-to-human. It doesn’t make sense, from an economic standpoint and an allocation of medical resources standpoint, to stockpile a billion doses of a vaccine for a bug that people can’t transmit to each other. It is ridiculous to spend billions of dollars on such a wasteful enterprise. A bureaucrat would be fired, or laughed out of the room, for suggesting it……right up until the moment that the virus does begin passing person to person. The moment it does, it will be all-bird-flu-all-the-time on CNN and Fox. There probably will be a Bird Flu Network. Every government and corporate official will be relentlessly hounded and pilloried for their thoughtlessness, ineptitude, and insensitivity.

One way to deal with the hysterical media would be an appeal to adult behavior in management and editorial ranks of the MSM. Okay, next…. Another way to deal with the hysterical media would be censorship: you can’t yell BIRD FLU! in a crowded living room. Okay, next…. Maybe the American people will just have to learn to act like grown-ups, since the media surely won’t.

It is an interesting question as to what the proper preparatory role of government is in a case like this. We are big believers that, next to national security itself, a central role of governments is to prevent panics, to smoothe out what lies below the precipice. The government famously did not do this in financial panics in the 19th and early 20th century, but learned its lesson after the Great Depression — which is a central reason that the Great Crash of 2000 was a blip, not a major event. Likewise, the Bush administration did a mini-bailout of the airline industry just after 9-11: the point was really not the airlines, which have continued to have major problems, but to prevent unnecessary panics and dislocations when the nation was in shock and stressed out.

We think there is a valid argument that in cases like the H5N1 bird flu, that the government should produce some greater stockpiles of vaccine than has been done, but the case is not that strong. How many doses do you want produced? What is your justification for that number? How much should the government spend in advance of a real threat, as opposed to spending on all other priorities? You see how the argument for massive doses and massive spending falls apart. Yet, we know in the wake of Katrina! and Rita! and all the other scare stories, that a political agenda will be in play for the MSM, in addition to their natural, and economically fruitful, hysteria.

Our solution: get the available flu shot, drink OJ and plenty of liquids, stay dry and warm, avoid people with symptoms, and turn off the TV.

Help us win a bet

Monday, October 10th, 2005

A friend of this site has told us that we are out of touch with much that goes on in the broader world outside politics. He has bet us $100 that we can’t identify this person, apparently a well-known international singer and actress:

He has given us the following additional information: this person was born in India, has acted on the stage in the US and UK, been in the acting business since age 8, travelled to almost every US state, has numerous CD’s and DVD’s to her credit, has been famous for decades in her native land, is about 35 years old and was born on May 26, and adopted her niece when her older sister died. Despite all this information, we have no clue who she is, and only 72 hours to find out and win the bet. Let us know if you recognize this celebrity. (Of course, given who made this wager with us, it could all be a hoax.) Thanks!