Recently in International Affairs Category
Waltern Russell Mead concisely explains the nuclear angle to the ongoing Ukrainian crisis. By failing to protect Ukraine's borders, America reinforces yet again the value to every country to be able to guarantee it's own security with nuclear weapons. That's a huge failure.
Here's the rub. When Ukraine escaped from the Soviet Union in 1990, Soviet nukes from the Cold War were still stationed on Ukrainian territory. After a lot of negotiation, Ukraine agreed to return those nuclear weapons to Russia in exchange for what (perhaps naively) its leaders at the time thought would be solid security guarantees from the United States and the United Kingdom. The "Budapest Memorandum" as this agreement is called, does not in fact require the United States to do very much. We can leave Ukraine twisting in the wind without breaking our limited formal obligations under the pact.
If President Obama does this, however, and Ukraine ends up losing chunks of territory to Russia, it is pretty much the end of a rational case for non-proliferation in many countries around the world. If Ukraine still had its nukes, it would probably still have Crimea. It gave up its nukes, got worthless paper guarantees, and also got an invasion from a more powerful and nuclear neighbor.
The choice here could not be more stark. Keep your nukes and keep your land. Give up your nukes and get raped. This will be the second time that Obama administration policy has taught the rest of the world that nuclear weapons are important things to have. The Great Loon of Libya gave up his nuclear program and the west, as other leaders see it, came in and wasted him.
I've been watching the uncontested annexation of Crimea by Russia over the past several days with astonishment. President Obama, America, and the rest of the world have basically shrugged the whole thing off. Obviously everyone is "deeply concerned", but apparently no one is going to actually do anything.
Obama expressed "deep concern" over Russia's moves, suggested Putin's troops leave and warned the occupation "would negatively impact Russia's standing in the international community." ...
Of course, it would be ridiculous to suggest Obama's passivity toward Putin is connected to the American's overheard promise of post-election "flexibility" to Putin's predecessor back in 2012. So, we won't.
Here's how Col. Putin responded to Obama's words of warning: He sent more Russian troops into Crimea.
Mead points out that Putin will probably keep Crimea and steal whatever aid the West gives to Ukraine.
Now Putin seems to be seizing the most important military assets Russia holds in the country and can reasonably hope to increase Russia's influence throughout the country as a weak government struggles with intractable problems. Meanwhile, he is probably licking his chops over the unpalatable choices Western statesmen now face. If the West doesn't ship billions of dollars to Ukraine, the current government will fail and national unity will fray. If the West comes across with the dough, Putin has a number possibilities for working the situation to his benefit. He can, for example, raise the natural gas price to a Ukraine flush with Western aid dollars, or demand repayment of Ukraine's existing debts to Moscow, transferring Western aid money into Russian pockets.
Maybe the calculation is that Russia is in a demographic death spiral anyway, so what's the point of fighting over territory that is full of people who seem to want to be a part of Russia.
It seems that Obama's calcuation in international crises is always to do nothing. Syria, Iran, Crimea, Snowden, Sudan, Egypt, Iraq.... It's hard to see how "do nothing" is always in the interests of the world's Superpower.
Drudge announces that Ukrainian opposition forces have siezed the capitol and that the president of Ukraine has fled. It's unlikely that Putin in Russia is going to stand for Ukraine as a whole drawing closer to the West, so we might be witnessing the beginning of our generation's major European war.
Ukraine's opposition has asserted its authority over Kiev and parliament in a day of fast-paced events.
MPs have replace the parliamentary speaker and attorney general, appointed a new pro-opposition interior minister and voted to free jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
Police appear to have abandoned their posts across the capital.
Protesters in Kiev have walked unchallenged into the president's official and residential buildings.
Will aircraft carriers go the way of battleships? It's particularly hard to protect aircraft carriers from large numbers of long-range missiles/drones. If aircraft carriers are becoming obsolete, what will air dominance look like in 20 years?
They will have some use in particular situations and environments, he said, but a carrier will never deploy anywhere it does not have absolute air domination and in some cases it would simply not have that.
"It won't be a useful weapon in the Taiwan Straits, and it may not be one 15 years from now, depending on how many nations have hypersonic missiles," he said.
Japanese youth are abandoning love and sex because relationships are mendokusai.
Mendokusai translates loosely as "Too troublesome" or "I can't be bothered". It's the word I hear both sexes use most often when they talk about their relationship phobia. Romantic commitment seems to represent burden and drudgery, from the exorbitant costs of buying property in Japan to the uncertain expectations of a spouse and in-laws. And the centuries-old belief that the purpose of marriage is to produce children endures. Japan's Institute of Population and Social Security reports an astonishing 90% of young women believe that staying single is "preferable to what they imagine marriage to be like".
Sounds very sad and lonely, but the people interviewed don't say they feel that way. Dystopian. Is this cultural self-destruction a byproduct of World War 2? It's hard to imagine that the end of that war wouldn't have consequences that would rebound across generations. Is it technology run amok? Generation-long economic stagnation? Lack of religious morals? Something in the water?
Do cultures die like this all the time, and Japan is just the largest and most recent example?
President Obama's hair-splitting on Syria is so clever that the war has been botched before it's begun. WRM has the timeline of the debacle, but he leaves out the complete failure to secure buy-in from the United Kingdom, our number one ally.
During his time in the White House, President Obama has repeatedly demonstrated a style of decision making that gets him in trouble. Especially when the stakes are high and the issue is complex, the President overthinks himself and tries to split the difference between tough policy choices. He comes up with stratagems that work beautifully on paper and offer well reasoned, moderate alternatives to stark choices. Unfortunately, they usually don't work all that well in the real world, with the President repeatedly ending up in the "sour spot" where his careful approaches don't get him where he needs to go.
This style of strategy is what's boxed him in and tied him in knots over Syria. He didn't want to intervene (too risky) but he didn't want to ignore the carnage completely (too heartless) so he split the difference and proclaimed a red line. He didn't lay the political preparations for war before the red line statement; again, too risky and too warlike. Instead, he split the difference once again: he made a threat without ensuring that he'd have the backing to carry it out.
Once the red line was indisputably crossed (after some more strategic hedging on his part when the red line was 'sort of ' crossed), President Obama then faced another decision: to bomb with or without Congress. Once again, intense reflection on his part led to split-the-middle decisions that made his life harder. He would bomb, but not bomb hard enough to make a real difference on the ground. That made his policies harder to defend for those who favored serious military action against Assad without doing much to build support from those who didn't want military action at all.
But even then the President wasn't finished splitting hairs. Bombing without Congress was too unilateral and too politically risky; but what would he do if Congress wouldn't sign a permission slip? It must have seemed like a brainwave in hair-splitting Cloudcuckooland: he announced first that he was definitely going to bomb, then that he was going to ask Congress before bombing, then that he wasn't necessarily bound by what Congress votes.
Regardless of the limitations that Congress puts in the "authorization to use military force" the fact is that there is a very strong possibility that the war in Syria will escalate and get very ugly. I'm unsure about the decision myself. We have an interest in punishing the use of WMD, but none of the factions in Syria are the kind of people we want to align with.
Congress authorized war in Iraq in the manner of a patron ordering a dish at a restaurant. Then, when the WMD didn't turn up and the insurgency turned out to be harder to beat and uglier to fight than we hoped, many people in the United States wanted to send the dish back. "Waiter, this war is too spicy! Take it back!" But the war didn't go away just because we came to think it was an ugly and misguided one.
There are many reasons to believe that a war with Syria will be short and relatively pain free (for those of us not under the bombs or in the ships and planes charged with delivering them). But there are no certainties in life, and especially not in war.
In voting to authorize force against Syria, Congress will be hoping for a short and inconsequential war; Syria, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, however, will all get to vote on what kind of war we actually have.
Syrian dictator Assad's brutal campaign of chemical warfare against the Syrian people demands a strong response from America and the rest of the civilized world. Too bad President Obama is incompetent and incapable of effectively wielding global leadership or American power.
Aside from ideological and political differences between myself and Obama, it's becoming increasingly obvious that the President is not able to perform the duties of his office in a credible, competent manner.
The president is a spent force, both domestically and internationally. Congress should help by voting to cut our losses; it should resist opening the door to the uncertain consequences of a military campaign conducted, without conviction or clear purpose, by this commander in chief. If Republicans can limit the president's authority to wander and blunder on the world stage, there is a moral obligation to do so.
Of course Syria should be viciously punished for using chemical weapons, but who trusts this president to do so in such a way that also sends a clear message to Iran? No one does. Why would they? Better to leave Iran with a modicum of doubt than let them witness any more of the tepid uncertainty, lack of conviction or absence of moral clarity from President Obama.
The only thing worse than no response from America is a floundering response, so Congress should stop it while they can. We don't need to go through the half-hearted lobbying effort in Congress, which will just underscore the incompetence and incapabilities of this administration. Republicans should vote to end this disaster now. A vote of no confidence is in order.
The Atlantic has an exhaustive and engaging article that touches on every aspect of drone warfare. It's well worth reading, even if you know a lot about the subject.
The attorney for one of the Benghazi whistleblowers claims that 400 surface-to-air missiles were stolen from Libya and are now in the hands of terrorists.
Former U.S. Attorney Joe DiGenova, who now represents one of the Benghazi whistleblowers, told a Washington radio station Monday that the real scandal in Benghazi is the theft of 400 surface-to-air missiles by some "very ugly people."
The Obama administration fears those missiles will be used to shoot down an airplane or blow up one of our embassies, he said.
DiGenova said he learned about this from his client Mark Thompson, who served as Deputy Coordinator for Operations in the Bureau of Counterterrorism at the U.S. Department of State;
Think 400 is a lot? Back in 2011, after the fall of the Gadhafi regime, DefenseTech estimated there were20,000 SAMs in Libya ripe for the picking.
These missing missiles could be very easily smuggled into the United States and are a huge threat to people, our infrastructure, and our economy. If this information is true, it seems more a matter of "when" than "if" they'll be used.
Remember when President Obama "reset" our relationship with Russia? Well, he's setting it back it again.
White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Russia's decision last week to defy the U.S. and grant Snowden temporary asylum only exacerbated an already troubled relationship. And with few signs that progress would be made during the Moscow summit on other agenda items, Rhodes said the president decided to cancel the talks.
"We'll still work with Russia on issues where we can find common ground, but it was the unanimous view of the president and his national security team that a summit did not make sense in the current environment," Rhodes said.
Obama's decision to scrap talks with Putin is likely to deepen the chill in the already frosty relationship between the two leaders. They have frequently found themselves at odds on pressing international issues, most recently in Syria, where the U.S. accuses Putin of helping President Bashar Assad fund a civil war. The U.S. has also been a vocal critic of Russia's crackdown on Kremlin critics and recently sanctioned 18 Russians for human rights violations.
The problem isn't the "frosty relations" -- those are completely justified based on Russia's adversarial stance towards America. The problem is that Obama was naive enough to have thought that he could have talked his way into genuine friendship with Putin.
Christians are being kidnapped, tortured, and held for ransom on the Egyptian-controlled Sinai peninsula. Egypt is descending into chaos, and there may not be much we Americans can do right now other than pray.
This man is just one victim of this widespread modern-day slavery, kidnapping, and torture trade in the Sinai desert. There are many pictures and videos of this horrible practice on the Internet.
For this story, this Christian man from the African country of Eritrea is going by "Philip," but that's not his real name. CBN News covered his identity for his protection.
"In some cases, we were tortured simply because we were Christians," he told us, his chest trembling slightly as he spoke.
"Sinai was always a place for human smuggling, but since around two years ago -- even a bit more -- it started also to be a place of human torture," Shahar Shoham, director of Physicians for Human Rights, told CBN News.
Shorham has documented more than 1,300 cases of torture in the Sinai. Those survivors, like Philip, made it to Israel. But most of the cases of torture are not documented.
Climate change is opening the Arctic's bounty to exploration and development. Civilization is a continual process of co-adaptation with the natural world. All changes have both positive and negative effects, and we need to learn to roll with the punches.
No matter what one thinks should be done about global warming, the fact is, it's happening. And it's not all bad. In the Arctic, it is turning what has traditionally been an impassible body of water ringed by remote wilderness into something dramatically different: an emerging epicenter of industry and trade akin to the Mediterranean Sea. The region's melting ice and thawing frontier are yielding access to troves of natural resources, including nearly a quarter of the world's estimated undiscovered oil and gas and massive deposits of valuable minerals. Since summertime Arctic sea routes save thousands of miles during a journey between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, the Arctic also stands to become a central passageway for global maritime transportation, just as it already is for aviation.
Part of the reason the Arctic holds so much promise has to do with the governments surrounding it. Most have relatively healthy fiscal balance sheets and, with the exception of Russia, predictable laws that make it easy to do business and democratic values that promote peaceful relations. The Arctic countries have also begun making remarkably concerted efforts to cooperate, rather than fight, as the region opens up, settling old boundary disputes peacefully and letting international law guide their behavior. Thanks to good governance and good geography, such cities as Anchorage and Reykjavik could someday become major shipping centers and financial capitals -- the high-latitude equivalents of Singapore and Dubai.
The Economist has long article explaining that the climate may be much less sensitive to carbon emissions than previously thought.
OVER the past 15 years air temperatures at the Earth's surface have been flat while greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to soar. The world added roughly 100 billion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere between 2000 and 2010. That is about a quarter of all the CO₂ put there by humanity since 1750. And yet, as James Hansen, the head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, observes, "the five-year mean global temperature has been flat for a decade."
Temperatures fluctuate over short periods, but this lack of new warming is a surprise. Ed Hawkins, of the University of Reading, in Britain, points out that surface temperatures since 2005 are already at the low end of the range of projections derived from 20 climate models (see chart 1). If they remain flat, they will fall outside the models' range within a few years.
This is great news. Civilization has spent trillons of dollars on carbon emission reduction and climate mitigation, and this expense has been a huge drain on the global economy. If climate change isn't as big a worry as previously thought then we can eliminate a lot of these policies and expenses.
This news isn't a surprise to any software engineers who took the time to look at the climate modeling code that was leaked back in 2009. The software models were garbage, so of course they started to diverge from reality.
(HT: Power Line.)
Everyone in the world with a bank account broke into a cold sweat when they learned about the EU and the Cypriot government raiding private bank accounts to bailout the banks. That could never happen here, right? Well, what's happening in the United States is much more subtle and also much more sinister. Thomas Sowell describes how inflation is worse than stealing bank deposits.
Does that mean that Americans' money is safe in banks? Yes and no. The U.S. government is very unlikely to just seize money wholesale from people's bank accounts, as is being done in Cyprus. But does that mean that your life savings are safe? No. There are more sophisticated ways for governments to take what you have put aside for yourself and use it for whatever politicians feel like using it for. If they do it slowly but steadily, they can take a big chunk of what you have sacrificed for years to save before you are even aware, much less alarmed.
That is in fact already happening. When officials of the Federal Reserve System speak in vague and lofty terms about "quantitative easing," what they are talking about is creating more money out of thin air, as the Federal Reserve is authorized to do -- and has been doing in recent years, to the tune of tens of billions of dollars a month.
When the federal government spends far beyond the tax revenues it has, it gets the extra money by selling bonds. The Federal Reserve has become the biggest buyer of these bonds, since it costs them nothing to create more money.
This new money buys just as much as the money you sacrificed to save for years. More money in circulation, without a corresponding increase in output, means rising prices. Although the numbers in your bank book may remain the same, part of the purchasing power of your money is transferred to the government. Is that really different from what Cyprus has done?
The Fed has been printing money at a breakneck pace for five years now and we haven't seen a lot of inflation, right? Well, except for food and energy, which are conveniently excluded from "core inflation". Health care, ammunition and guns have gone up a lot, too. What's more, prices for goods that should be declining due to information technology improvements may instead be staying level, but that's a net level of inflation that's hard to measure.
Inflation has numerous advantages over stealing bank deposits:
1. Inflation lets the government tax everyone in the world who uses dollars. All dollars everywhere are devalued, which basically let's us "tax" all the countries and organizations who hold trillions of dollars in their foreign reserves. The Chinese can't just divest themselves of all those dollars, but they do complain a lot.
2. Inflation reduces the value of our national debt and deficit. This is the reason that I'm convinced that inflation is a goal for our government. There's simply no other way to pay off the debt we're accumulating. This is a good reason to be a borrower right now, as long as you can borrow at a fixed interest rate.
3. Equities and capital assets can float with (moderate) levels of inflation.
4. A weaker dollar enables greater US exports of all kinds.
5. Inflation helps moderate sticky economic factors, like wages and house prices. Unemployed people are very hesitant to accept jobs with a lower salary than their previous job. Homeowners are very reluctant to sell their house for less than they paid. Inflation allows salary and house price numbers to go up even though the value is going down.
So what's my advice?
1. Borrow at low fixed interest rates. Pay off your loans as slowly as possible, because future dollars will be worth much less than current dollars.
2. Don't sit on a lot of cash. Be fully invested in equities and hope they float with inflation.
3. Don't lose your job.
Glenn Reynolds outlines the legalities of asteroid mining.
Asteroids are certainly available, and they're valuable. More than 750,000 asteroids measure at least 1 kilometer across, and millions of smaller objects are scattered throughout the solar system, mostly in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Even a comparatively small asteroid is potentially quite valuable, both on Earth and in space.
A 79-foot-wide M-type (metallic) asteroid could hold 33,000 tons of extractable metals, including $50 million in platinum alone. A 23-foot-diameter C-type (carbonaceous) asteroid can hold 24,000 gallons of water, useful for generating fuel and oxygen. Even 1 gallon of water, at 8.33 pounds per, can cost tens of thousands of dollars to launch into Earth orbit. Prices will probably come down now that SpaceX and other private launch companies are in the game. But the numbers would need to improve a lot for water launched from Earth to compete with water that's already floating in space.
Larger asteroids could be worth as much as the GDP of a superpower. Asteroid 1986 DA is a metallic asteroid made up of iron, nickel, gold, and platinum. Estimates of its value range between $6 and $7 trillion. Something that size won't be retrieved anytime soon, but the figure gives some idea of just how much wealth is out there.
Ok, so that's just a quote about how valuable asteroids are. If you're interested in the existing legal issues go read the article, but the bottom line is that anything you can move is up for grabs.
After quickly checking to make sure that my bank is wholly owned in the United States I literally laughed at Europe's new bailout template.
The euro fell on global markets after Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch chairman of the eurozone, announced that the heavy losses inflicted on depositors in Cyprus would be the template for future banking crises across Europe.
"If there is a risk in a bank, our first question should be 'Okay, what are you in the bank going to do about that? What can you do to recapitalise yourself?'," he said.
"If the bank can't do it, then we'll talk to the shareholders and the bondholders, we'll ask them to contribute in recapitalising the bank, and if necessary the uninsured deposit holders."
As Willie Sutton explained with regards to his bank robberies: "because that's where the money is".
Dijsselbloem's assessment of the economic incentives is basically correct:
"If we want to have a healthy, sound financial sector, the only way is to say, 'Look, there where you take on the risks, you must deal with them, and if you can't deal with them, then you shouldn't have taken them on,'" he said.
So now depositors have to share risk with shareholders, bondholders, and taxpayers. Most depositors aren't interested in that kind of arrangement, and they'll start withdrawing their money. Reserve ratios will drop. Interest rates will increase. Eurozone deficit spending will get even more expensive. The end of the euro.
An awesome choose-your-own-adventure where you play the sucker from the Secret One World Government who gets flown into fix the Cypriot banking crisis.