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Belmont Club

Deterrence and Bouncing Checks

April 8th, 2014 - 2:36 pm

James Perkovich writes in the National Interest that president Obama’s plan for a Nuclear Zero may even be more attractive after the Crimea.  While conventional wisdom holds that America’s retreat in the Crimea may induce other countries to arm themselves with nuclear weapons out of doubt for the American deterrent, Perkovich says that the crisis shows how subtly prescient Obama’s policy is. Aren’t we glad there are no sabers to rattle? he asks. For saber rattling must eventually mean the sabers will be crossed; just because deterrence worked in the past doesn’t mean it will work in the future. He writes:

unlike many of his opponents, the president and his supporters remember that deterrence is not fail-proof—otherwise it would not work. The weapons deter because they could be used, and any use could escalate to mass destruction. Even if deterrence is stable between the U.S. and Russia, it may have a higher probability of failure between less experienced pairs or, more ominously, groups of nuclear-armed states. As the eminent nuclear strategist Sir Lawrence Freedman put it several years ago: “The case for abolition…is that it is hard to believe that the past 60 years of self-restraint can continue for the next 60 years.”

But at least one group of allies may disagree with the case for abolition. The New York Times writes that Japanese are worried about the US response in Crimea.

When President Bill Clinton signed a 1994 agreement promising to “respect” the territorial integrity of Ukraine if it gave up its nuclear weapons, there was little thought then of how that obscure diplomatic pact – called the Budapest Memorandum – might affect the long-running defense partnership between the United States and Japan.

But now, as American officials have distanced themselves from the Budapest Memorandum in light of Russia’s takeover of Crimea, calling promises made in Budapest “nonbinding,” the United States is being forced at the same time to make reassurances in Asia. Japanese officials, a senior American military official said, “keep asking, ‘Are you going to do the same thing to us when something happens?’

The other group of people who seem to disagree with Perkovich are the Russians. The Washington Free Beacon reports that the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (Stratcom) warned Congress that Russia has been engaged in a nuclear buildup for more than a decade.  If the nukes are so useless then why is Putin building more of them even as Obama builds down?


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Vanishing Point

April 6th, 2014 - 9:56 pm

There was an interesting postscript to the Eich saga in the bizarre protest held against Internet entreprenuer Kevin Rose.  The San Francisco Chronicle reports that protesters stood with signs and flyers outside of the Google Ventures partner and entrepreneur’s home in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood Sunday, calling him a ‘parasite’ and a ‘leech.’  Techcrunch has a copy of the flyer:

‘As a partner venture capitalist at Google Ventures, Kevin directs the flow of capital from Google into the tech startup bubble that is destroying San Francisco. The start-ups that he funds bring the swarms of young entrepreneurs that have ravaged the landscapes of San Francisco and Oakland.’

The flyer claims to speak for the service workers who “serve them coffee, deliver them food, suck their c***s [?], watch their kids, and mop their floors” and goes on to complain that most techies are “just like Kevin Rose,” though again, it’s short on specific criticisms, aside from pointing out that techies make a lot of money.

A supposed manifesto from an organization called “The Counterforce” makes demands believed to be related to the protest.

To this end, we now make our first clear demand of Google. We demand that Google give three billion dollars to an anarchist organization of our choosing. This money will then be used to create autonomous, anti-capitalist, and anti-racist communities throughout the Bay Area and Northern California. In these communities, whether in San Francisco or in the woods, no one will ever have to pay rent and housing will be free. With this three billion from Google, we will solve the housing crisis in the Bay Area and prove to the world that an anarchist world is not only possible but in fact irrepressible. If given the chance, most humans will pursue a course towards increased freedom and greater liberty. As it stands, only people like Kevin Rose are given the opportunity to reshape their world, and look at what they do with those opportunities.

There is no direct relationship between the Eich and Rose incidents, besides the sheer outré character of the events, but one can’t help get the feeling that they emanate from the same strange universe, whatever universe that might be.  But it’s all shadows with nothing besides fantastic flashbacks of “Scorpio” from Dirty Harry and the People’s Temple crowds bellowing for an airlift to Russia to lend it shape.

Business Insider suggests the protests were something more prosaic. It’s social unrest. It’s poor people fighting for their share of the hipster pie outraged at the high rents in the Bay Area and the outrageous pricing of goodies beyond their reach. It’s the rebellion of “social equals” who find they are financial inferiors. It’s the outcry of people who thought they were part of a great movement who discover they are, after all, only menials. That makes it all the more pathetic.  Business Insider says:


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The Market For Common Sense

April 6th, 2014 - 2:23 am

In September 2013 the Guardian wrestled with a mystery. “‘No one can explain why a rich country has no food’ Toilet paper, rice and coffee have long been missing from stores, as Venezuelan president blames CIA plot for chronic shortages.”

Actually, an economist named Brad Schiller tried to explain it in March of the same year. He said the shortages were the result of Hugo Chavez’s war against the Law of Supply and Demand. Writing in the Los Angeles Times Schiller wrote: “two years before his death, Hugo Chavez tried to repeal the law of supply and demand … Chavez despised the law because he believed it robbed the poor and unjustly profited producers.”

In its place, he persuaded the Venezuelan legislature to enact the 2011 Law on Fair Costs and Prices, a price-setting mechanism to ensure greater social justice. A newly created National Superintendency of Fair Costs and Prices was empowered to establish fair prices at both the wholesale and retail levels. More than 500,000 price edicts have been issued. Companies that violate these price controls are subject to fines, seizures and expropriation.

Not that he had any good experience with price controls. Chavez had been draining the state-owned Venezuelan oil industry for years using the same methods of price controls. “The most flagrant subsidy is for gasoline. Venezuelans pay only 4 to 6 cents per gallon for gasoline, the cheapest in the world. But it costs Petroleos de Venezuela, the government-owned oil company, close to $2 a gallon to extract, refine and distribute it. With domestic consumption now running about 600,000 barrels a day, the financial loss on subsidized oil is roughly $20 billion a year.”

The result was the ruin of the Venezuelan oil industry and the flight of its petroleum engineers to Canada. But undaunted by this sad experience the Chavistas waged an ever more relentless war on Supply and Demand everywhere they could find it.

The sheer destructiveness of these measures can be told in the story of coffee. Venezuela was once the largest coffee producer in the world but in 2004 it imported coffee for the first time from Brazil. By 2012 Venezuela was importing 43,000 metric tons from abroad. Today the movement of coffee beans is attended with the care accorded to shipments of gold bullion, under the watchful eye of SADA. “With SADA, any significant transport of food items anywhere in Venezuela must be declared. The truck, the merchandise, the driver, the dates of delivery, everything must be recorded previously if you want to make a delivery.”

With this fund of experience under their belts, the Chavista government is now convinced that the key to controlling prices lies in regulating consumption even more closely. As the Guardian explains: “battling food shortages, the Venezuelan government is rolling out a new ID system that is either a grocery loyalty card with extra muscle or the most dramatic step yet towards rationing in Venezuela, depending on who is describing it.”



April 5th, 2014 - 8:16 am

Much of the shock following the removal of Brendan Eich from the position of Mozilla CEO came from the realization that, in a manner of speaking, America was now at war. True it’s a culture war, not a physical conflict. But if you were waiting for the moment when the Cold Civil War actually begins, this might be it.

Not that anyone should have been taken aback. After all, Larry Summers was sacked as president of Harvard following his criticism of Cornell West’s rap album and as a result of a 2005 speech in which he suggested that the under-representation of women in science and engineering could be due to a “different availability of aptitude at the high end”.

Mark Steyn, National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute are being sued for defamation by Michael “Hockey Stick” Mann for criticizing the theory of Global Warming.  The Gannet newspapers declared open season on gun-owners by publishing a map showing the names and addresses of registered New York gun owners, as a kind of dinner bell for burglars. “Come and rob … me”.

In fact, the Wall Street Journal points out that a similar database was used to ferret out Eich. “Eich’s support for Proposition 8 became public knowledge because of a California law requiring disclosure of personal information–name, address, occupation and employer’s name — of anybody who gives $100 or more to a campaign for or against a ballot initiative. The secretary of state’s office is required to post this information online, and, as’s “AllahPundit” notes, the Los Angeles Times made it available on its site as an easily searchable database.”

To continue: in 2012, “American fast-food chain Chick-fil-A was the focus of controversy following a series of public comments made in June 2012 by chief operating officer Dan Cathy opposing same-sex marriage”. For those who still remember it (along with the forgotten episode of the Benghazi consulate), the 2013 IRS scandal was all about investigating people who held the wrong political views.

It might be mentioned, though it hardly seems relevant, that Proposition 8 actually won by 52.24% to 47.76. Irrelevant because unacceptable, as James Surowiecki of the New Yorker explains:


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No Country For Young Men

April 3rd, 2014 - 2:25 pm

The author of the Twilight of Abundance, David Archibald, sent an email a few days ago, saying “there is a whole new world coming.” Archibald, who’s an Australian, warns in his book that the world is running out of food, energy and security. Where he differs from Malthus, however, is in arguing that the shortages are the consequence of policy, rather than the inherent limitations of the universe. The world is doing everything it can to run in the opposite direction of abundance because we think we have too much. The West dreads warmer weather, even though warmer weather might allow more crops to grow; it discourages energy production. And its leaders are working feverishly to throw away the residual security of the post Cold War world.

A friend said to me in response that the young have made their choice. “The world always changes because the young have new ideas. The younger generation is in power now. They make the decisions and the cultural choices.” Reflecting for a moment, I retorted, “but where are the young? They are not in the West. The youth in statistical terms is in the Third World. We don’t even know what they think. What we take as ‘youth culture’ and the voice of to-morrow are the attitudes of a shrinking cohort cohabiting with the geriatric majority. In that case, it’s the Western old choosing for the global young.”

My friend answered, “you know, you are right. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation did a survey of its audience and found the majority of those who watch its programs are old.  For a long time they made the mistake of pitching to the young, only to learn that it’s really the old codgers who watch TV.”

The Western Left’s biggest lie is that it represents a movement of the young, but it really represents the very old. Their very concerns are geriatric: Marxism, trash recycling, health and safety, public transportation and gossip.

The big giveaway is we as a civilization don’t want to go to the planets any more, because the old don’t want to go anywhere. Imagine clambering into spaceships! The very idea gives us the shivers. Only the young and immortal travel to places where they may never be able to get Ibuprofen.

The only place the Western young are found in abundance is movies where they are paid to play the average man. The movies are the fake mirror of the elderly West. In that mirror we remain young though in reality — like the Belgian Army — we are really more worried about lumbago than fighting off the depredations of Loki.

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Convoy to Scatter

April 2nd, 2014 - 7:53 pm

The phrase “shelter in place” has been used at least twice in the last few hours. The first was in reference to a shooting at Fort Hood. “The incident began shortly after 5 p.m., when Ft. Hood tweeted and broadcast an alarm that all personnel should take shelter in place” The second was to do with Kent State. “Kent State campus puts shelter in place after gunfire.”

What is “shelter in place”?

The phrase appears to have originated in connection with a hazardous environmental contamination. It was part of civil defense and disaster preparedness. The CDC says:

“Shelter-in-place” means to take immediate shelter where you are—at home, work, school, or in between. It may also mean “seal the room;” in other words, take steps to prevent outside air from coming in. This is because local authorities may instruct you to “shelter-in-place” if chemical or radiological contaminants are released into the environment. It is important to listen to TV or radio to understand whether the authorities wish you to merely remain indoors or to take additional steps to protect yourself and your family.

Homeland Security has a very similar definition: “Shelter-in-place means selecting a small, interior room, with no or few windows, and taking refuge there. It does not mean sealing off your entire home or office building. If you are told to shelter-in-place, follow the instructions provided in this Fact Sheet.”

Gradually the word has morphed to mean to hide somewhere in case a roving shooter guns you down. Wikipedia notes: “The phrase has also erroneously been used, instead of the more accurate lockdown, to describe precautions to be taken by the public when violence has occurred or might occur (particularly in shootings) in the area and the perpetrator is believed to still be in the area but not apprehended. The public in the area is advised to carry out all the same tasks as a typical shelter-in-place but without the key step of sealing the shelter up to prevent outside air from circulating indoors, in this scenario people are simply urged to lockdown – stay indoors and “close, lock and stay away from external doors and windows.”


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The Padlocks of Paris

April 2nd, 2014 - 2:09 pm

The phenomenon is called the ‘padlocks of Paris’. But the correct phrase is the Tragedy of the Commons. The Guardian describes the new Gallic custom of inscribing your love on a padlock, attaching it to a public monument and throwing away the key.

The idea is that by attaching the locks to a public place and throwing away the key, the love it represents will become unbreakable. However, with an estimated 700,000 padlocks now attached to locations across the French capital, the weight could be putting the structural integrity of the city’s architecture at risk.

Originally affecting the Pont des Arts and Pont de l’Archevêché, the padlocks can now be found on almost all of the bridges across the Seine, as well as many of the smaller footbridges that span the canals in the 10th arrondissement. On the most popular bridges the guard rails now consist of a solid wall of metal. In a testament to the popularity of the act, even Google Maps now denotes the Pont de l’Archevêché as “Lovelock bridge”.

“It’s so out of control,” says Lisa Anselmo, who co-founded the campaign with fellow expat and writer Lisa Taylor Huff. “People are climbing up lampposts to clip locks on, hanging over the bridge to put them on the other side of the rail, risking their lives to attach one. It’s a kind of mania. It’s not about romance any more – it’s just about saying ‘I did it.’”

The Last Time I Saw Paris It Reminded Me of Yale

The Last Time I Saw Paris It Reminded Me of Yale

Like so many trends it was at first it was cute. But as it caught on it became progressively onerous and has reached the point where it has become a public safety hazard. The phenomenon of everyone piling onto a resource till it is ruined was described in a paper by Garrett Hardin called the Tragedy of the Commons, “according to which individuals, acting independently and rationally according to each one’s self-interest, behave contrary to the whole group’s long-term best interests by depleting some common resource.”

Many on the Left who have heard of this theory interpret it to mean that every depletable resource should be declared “the common heritage of mankind”. It sounds nice but like the padlocks of Paris, it has precisely the opposite effect of its ostensible goals. The government of the Philippines, for example, decided to declare its wonderful hardword forests the property of the state after Independence. That meant it belonged to everybody and to nobody. The forests are gone.

It is a hard but sad truth that the only resources which have any chance of being preserved are those whose costs and benefits are privately borne. If you owned a bridge, you would never overload it with padlocks. But since the bridge is “public” how can you stop someone else who has exactly the same rights as you have from clamping another lock onto the bridge?


Four Simple Words

April 1st, 2014 - 2:57 pm

The rhetorical question is often asked: what do conservatives want president Obama to do about the Ukraine? As one commenter put it: “are you suggesting we should mobilize and take off on another foreign adventure to secure Ukraine?”

This completely misstates the problem whose roots lie in the understanding of four very common words: could, can’t, won’t and will. One way to respond to the rhetorical question above is to facetiously answer: “no it’s better to wait until Putin reaches the border of Poland or tries to take over Finland.”  After all, Finland has been mentioned in the press as a future Putin target and Poland has declared itself worried.

But that is a digression. Back to the four words. If the question should ever arise: ”are you suggesting we should mobilize and take off on another foreign adventure to secure Finland … or the Ukraine … or the Baltic”  the first question to ask is can we?

Can is a statement of capability. The question of whether America should help secure the Ukraine is different from the issue of whether it can.  What’s destabilizing is the revelation that Obama can’t.  It’s a crisis of capability brought about by policy mismanagement. A policeman can shoot you with his service weapon though most people know sane policemen won’t.  But if the public learned that policemen can’t shoot — because there’s no ammunition or no gun — that is a a more serious issue altogether.

As another commenter put it on this site: if the USAF didn’t have the capability to nuke Chicago there should be a Congressional investigation demanding to know why. That would indicate a failure of capability.


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The Message

April 1st, 2014 - 12:03 am

By firing a barrage of missiles into the Yellow Sea, USA Today thinks ‘North Korea is sending a message to the USA’. “North Korea is saying, ‘You can do all the exercises you want and we have the ability to hit you at a moment’s notice,’” a USA Today source adds.

Time Magazine agrees that it’s a signal, but they think the message is that North Korea would like the attention of president Obama. “If they really wanted to start something they wouldn’t have given advanced warning,” one expert was quoted as saying.

The incident seems to be a careful and precisely timed message from the North. If they wanted to hit the South, they could have. Instead, they sent a warning, firing most of their missiles right up to, but not over, the line. “If they really wanted to start something they wouldn’t have given advanced warning,” says John Delury, of Seoul’s Yonsei University. “The North Koreans did this to make a point.”

And that point was “to bring the focus back to stalled talks with the U.S. and others”.

But there’s an alternative way to interpret North Korea’s actions. Rather than reflecting a desire to return to smart diplomacy, rather than a desire to attend the king’s court, it may simply be the action of a wolf taking advantage of the distraction of a moose caused by other members of the pack.  Here’s the wolf’s chance to take a bite out of Obama’s hindquarters and he’s taking it.

As pointed out in the previous post, president is engaged in circular evolutions; pivoting to Asia from the Middle East, then pivoting from Asia to Europe and pivoting from Europe to the Middle East.  He is describing a complete circle. Now with North Korea causing trouble, he may be forced to pivot from the Europe to Asia again.

In November, 2011 President Obama pledged to pivot to the Asia Pacific from the Middle East. Then on March 27, 2014 president Obama declared he would shift his focus from Europe to the Middle East.   On March 28, Time Magazine announced: the Middle East matters most to Obama, not Putin. Then on March 30, 2014 the Hill reported that the US was shifting its focus from the Asia Pacific to Europe.  So I guess Putin matters after all.


Turn, Turn, Turn

March 31st, 2014 - 4:34 pm

Yes we can. Unlike previous scattershot presidents, Barack Obama has his priorities straight. Take his laser-like grand strategic focus.

In November, 2011 President Obama pledged to pivot to the Asia Pacific from the Middle East. Then on March 27, 2014 president Obama declared he would shift his focus from Europe to the Middle East.   On March 28, Time Magazine announced: the Middle East matters most to Obama, not Putin.

Then on March 30, 2014 the Hill reported that the US was shifting its focus from the Asia Pacific to Europe.  So I guess Putin matters after all.

Nobody mentioned Southwest Asia. The administration has probably already forgotten Afghanistan, that “war of necessity”, which was where Obama pivoted from Iraq. At a hearing this week, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert admitted his head was spinning.

“There’s a point to where the rubber band snaps,” Greenert responded. “And if we go to the Budget Control Act caps, and we continue on that track, then I think the rubber band’s pretty darn close to snapping, if you will.”

Obama unveiled the Asia-Pacific rebalance strategy in January 2012 just after U.S. troops had left Iraq, branding it as the next big foreign policy emphasis as the wars in the Middle East neared their ends.