Hubbub over Haifa Street

Interesting doings over at Belmont Club, where Wretchard has gotten into a shooting war with the Associated Press over the photos of the three Iraqi election officials who were killed on Haifa St, Baghdad. Wretchard noted the oddity that the cameraman was able to witness the event at all, given that he should not have known about it beforehand, and took several steady pictures from a standing position while thirty or so terrorists were firing machine-guns and throwing grenades. He drew no explicit conclusion, leaving that to the excellent community of Comments-denizens: that the cameraman was tipped off by the terrorists, and was furthermore assured of safe conduct during the hit.

So far, so good. This would hardly be the first time something like this has happened. But then sources at the AP chose to respond to Wretchard in print, which only gave him more ammunition.

Silly AP people. You have violated the cardinal rule of public-relations: NEVER let them see you bleed.

Check it out.


Global Warming and Kyoto

The problem of enviromentalism in an industrial world is already tricky enough when we restrict the debate to the realm of fact. The world's transportation, and much of its power generation, is based on the consumption of fossil-fuels. These fuels must be extracted from the earth, which causes a certain amount of damage to the surroundings; more importantly, when they are burned in power plants or automobiles, they produce various waste-products which detract from human health, and perhaps contribute to global climate-change (though this last point is hotly disputed).

Obviously, the world would be much improved if an alternate energy-source such as hydrogen could be put into place, and the private-sector is furiously researching technologies for producing and storing hydrogen. But the technology will come when it comes, and in the meanwhile many enviromentalist groups have arisen calling for sharp cutbacks in the use of fossil-fuels. This must be done, they say, to avert the spectre of "global warming" (never mind that two decades ago, everyone was worried about a new Ice Age).

A major step in this fight against global warming was the creation of the Kyoto Accords, which mandates steep cuts in the production of greenhouse gases, relative to the 1990-level, by the year 2012. In all probability, that time-frame is too short to allow for the significant influence of new technologies—consider the massive effort required to convert every gas station in the world to a hydrogen-pumping station, even if it were feasible today—so the only ways to cut emissions in time are to deploy expensive "scrubbing" equipment, or reduce the use of fossil-fuels.

At this point we must ask the obvious question: is it worth it?

For my premise, I assume that we will transition over to a hydrogen-based economy within thirty years, which is being generous. The hydrogen will be refined using power generated by solar power, fission power, and perhaps even fusion power (there are plans for the construction of an experimental fusion reactor in Japan by 2009). Additionally, solar technology will progress to the point that many homes generate their own power. In other words, greenhouse gases will cease to be a problem.

How much damage can the modern economy do to the world in thirty years? I submit that the answer is negligible. How much damage can the poorly-designed Kyoto Accords do to the people of the world? It depends.

First, it is important to realize that at present, fuel use is proportional to energy use. Hence, as China and India continue industrializing, their use of oil will skyrocket. China is not a signatory to the Kyoto Accords. Therefore, the ability of the Kyoto Accords to really limit greenhouse-gas production is limited at best.

Second, at present oil is the cheapest, most portable and energy-dense form of power that we possess. Until the technology exists to replace it, oil is the only thing allowing the modern world to have easy transportation and manufacturing, which have been the cause of so much good for humanity. Granted that there is significant room for more efficient use of oil, particularly with respect to American cars; but to push this process to the point where it is no longer economical translates into wasted money, that could have otherwise gone towards easing human suffering.

Finally, it is hardly certain that global warming is in fact a problem at all. (As I sit here in New York City, I devoutly wish that the temperature would rise a few degrees.) Atmospheric data collected by NASA have shown time and again that the temperature-changes in the Earth have slowed to a crawl; moreover, the polar ice caps are actually growing. Environmentalists tend to disregard atmospheric data, preferring instead to use surface-data. But such data is tainted by the Heat-Island Effect, which is simply a byproduct of urban crowding and construction. Perhaps this is why this data is preferred by environmentalists…

There are many good reasons to transition away from fossil-fuels, and I will applaud the day when it happens (and if I get access to the capital, I intend to work to bring that day closer). But we cannot allow our analysis of the costs and benefits of fossil-fuels to be skewed by questionable science, no matter how many people believe in it. There was a time when everybody was convinced that the world was flat, in spite of compelling evidence to the contrary. In many ways, we have regressed to that time.


Weimar Russia?

Ex-KGB boss Vladimir Putin has spent years quietly eroding the newly-established democratic framework of Russia. Now, it seems he is no longer being quiet about it.

Presently, Russia's governors are chosen by popular election. Under the new law that Putin just got rubberstamped by the feckless Federation Council, all governors will henceforth be appointed by Putin directly, and confirmed by the regional parliaments. Should a parliament refuse to confirm Putin's candidate, it could be dissolved and a "temporary" governor will be set up in its absence.

Equally alarming is a second law that has yet to be voted on, which would end the direct election of national legislatures.

With this stroke, Putin has for all practical purposes ended democracy in Russia. President Bush is tolerating this development for the moment because he has a full plate already; besides, it is difficult to dictate terms to a former superpower with a large nuclear arsenal. But I suspect that Bush is paying very close attention to the recent developments. Condoleeza Rice, incoming Secretary of State and a long-time advisor to the President, has been a specialist in Soviet affairs for all of her academic career, and much of her professional career as well. I have speculated before that Rice's appointment to SecState implies that our policy is going to reorient towards Russia. These latest moves by Putin have me totally convinced. We can no longer afford to assume that Russia will take care of itself.

One could ask, granted that a reemerging dictatorship is not a good thing; but why is it such a huge problem now? After all, Putin shows no inclination of returning to Communism, and is apparently an ally in the War on Terror. So long as we remain on civil terms, can't we just focus on the Middle East and let Russia alone?

Unfortunately, Russia is not as much of an ally as some think. Remember that the Iranian nuclear reactor in Busheir is being built by Russia. In fact, the project began even while Boris Yeltsin was still in power. It is claimed that the reactor is intended for power-generation; this statement is absurd, given that Iran is sitting on massive reserves of oil, and is not especially known for its eco-friendly attitudes. More likely is that the reactor is meant to curb the expansion of American influence in the Middle East.

Russia has not yet come to terms with its declining power. It still hopes to regain its former status as a superpower by building alliances with other nations, particularly in the Middle East. Also vital would be an alliance with China against the United States. Such an alliance is the single greatest danger facing the United States today, terrorism notwithstanding, bcause a Sino-Russian alliance could quite possibly expel the United States from Southeast Asia, leaving exposed the island of Taiwan (among other things). If you don't consider this important, consider that many of the components inside your computer are produced in Taiwan.

Putin's authoritarian plans are incredibly dangerous. If the Russian people cannot secure their own rights and freedoms, then it is imperative that the United States work to prevent an alliance between Russia and China. If we can keep those two seperate (or even, be still my beating heart, hostile to each other!), then it would be difficult for Putin to mount a serious challenge to our interests. Russia today is weaker than the Soviet Union ever was, though that could change as they build up their economy. Of course, Putin's actions are quickly driving away foreign investment.

On the other hand, Putin expended a huge amount of political capital in his ill-fated attempt to rule Ukraine by proxy, through his stooge Yankovitch. If Yuschenko ends up defeating Yankovitch in the new balloting, Putin may never recover. It would be nice, anyway.


Trouble in Venezuela?

Powerline posted a letter from a Venezuelan blogger who claims that the police in Caracas performed a sweep of a Jewish dayschool at 6:30 AM, just as kids were arriving. The blogger, Daniel Duquenal, termed this "our very first anti-semitic incident." Free Republic confirms this with a news report, adding that the state-run television network Venezolana de Television has been claiming for weeks that the Mossad assassinated a state prosecutor, Danilo Anderson. Anderson had been "investigating" 400 people accused of accepting funding from the U.S.-based National Endowment for Democracy during the election debacle.

Hugo Chavez has spent the last few years turning a once-proud state into a virtual dictatorship. He has instituted a massive military buildup, nationalized many key industries, and become a close partner of Fidel Castro, importing many thousands of Cuban "advisors" to help him in rigging the elections. But a descent into Jew-baiting crosses the final red-line (if any more were necessary). The Jews have always been the bellweather for how moral a society was: if the Jews are treated fairly, then all peoples could expect fair treatment (eventually) because the society is fundamentally inclusive. But the reverse is also true: a society that will abuse its Jews, will abuse anyone they can get away with.

Columbia has accused Chavez of providing support for the many guerrilla forces terrorizing that country, and Chavez has likewise ratcheted up the rhetoric towards Columbia. It has become clear that Chavez is the greatest threat to the stability of South America today; acts of anti-semitism only confirm the danger. Besides, the Venezuelan government has now made this very personal. An attack on one Jew should be seen as an attack on all, and we have a duty to our brethren in Venezuela to help remove this would-be Simon Bolivar from power.

[EDIT: I just heard rumors that Chavez is presently on a state-visit to Iran, where the mullahs erected a statue of him. It would not surprise me one bit. ]


Support Israel: Buy Amazon!

I'm starting a new program with my Amazon ad in the sidebar. I will be donating 2% of all purchases made through the link on my site to charities in Israel.

How can you participate? When you want to shop on Amazon.com, simply start from this site, click on the Amazon ad, and then shop normally. Two percent of every purchase will go to aid worthy causes in Israel; Amazon issues payments quarterly, and I will post how much charity-money I received and where it was sent. This is possibly the easiest way for you to give to charity: you pay zero extra money, and the only effort required is one extra mouseclick.

At present I am considering donating to the JNF, Od Yosef Chai (which distributes food to the needy), and youth centers for cancer patients. Other charities will be considered, funds permitting.

So if you have anything you were planning to buy from Amazon, whether books, or software, or clothes, start from this site and two percent of your purchases will go to worthy causes in Israel. You pay nothing extra. It's that simple.

Please spread the word, and help make this drive a success. Thank you, and happy Chanuka!


Europe, Free-Riding, and the Kantian Peace

Robert Kagan has stirred up a great deal of controversy in recent years for arguing in his book "Of Paradise and Power," that Europe and America have developed fundamentally different worldviews of international relations and the use of force. While America is largely operating in a realist world where force is necessary to preserve security, Europe has entered the world of the Kantian Peace, in which international norms and polite diplomacy determine states' behavior.

Kagan attributes this to two factors. First, the two world wars took place on European soil, and it was mainly to prevent a third war that the European Economic Community was formed, later to become the European Union. Second, Europe has been placed under the American security umbrella, making it unnecessary for European states to maintain large militaries of their own. Thus, Europe no longer has a military option; it must rely on diplomacy, foreign aid, and economic power to achieve its foreign-policy goals. This has shaped their thinking to a great extent.

This divergence of viewpoints has caused significant problems for the United States. Aside from the cost of maintaining the security umbrella, and of cleaning up European messes like in Bosnia and Kosovo when the Europeans are unable to, the United States can no longer expect Europe to support its foreign-policy. A sort of militant pacifism has taken root in Germany especially, but other places in Europe as well, that sees the realist behavior of the United States as an evil as great as that of her enemies.

But Europe's demilitarization is useful to America as well. First, it removes the possibility of yet another European war, particularly in the case of Germany, which would be extremely threatened by any military buildup in surrounding countries. Germany, in turn, is the most powerful economy in Europe and has no natural borders; if she chose to build up a military, Germany may well feel like she could expand at will. Nobody wants to go through all that again.

Second, a disarmed Europe increases American power. If the American military dwarfs that of Europe, the United States will be less constrained in its actions. Some in Europe, particularly the French, seek to build up a European army for the express purpose of balancing the United States, but I doubt they will get anywhere soon. Even during the Cold War, European countries fell chronically short of their military obligations under the NATO alliance. Moreover, the whole continent is struggling under the weight of their social programs, which are putting them deep into debt. A rebuilt military is out of the question, at least for the moment.

But that does not address Old Europe's increasingly-strong pacifism and lack of backbone. This should be worrying to all of us. Consider the difference between our response to the World Trade Center attack, and the Spanish response to the Madrid train-bombing. Our attitude went from complacency to a thirst for vengeance; the Spanish, on the other hand, responded by retracting their foreign involvements. Granted, the situation was different in a few ways, but there was no sense of national anger and resolve such as was found in America. The Spanish government persists in viewing the attack as a criminal act, not as an act of war.

If this corrosive pacifism will not be counteracted by the governments, it is up to the individual citizens of Old Europe to rediscover their will to survive. Much of the problem can also be found on the micro level, and is created by government regulation: in Britain, as is often reported in Samizdata, citizens are forbidden to defend themselves against armed robbery or burglary, and most firearms are likewise forbidden. Naturally, violent crime is skyrocketing, as the criminals are given free rein. Similar situations are found in much of Old Europe.

I believe the best way for Europeans to rediscover their courage would be if the governments lifted their restrictions on the ownership and use of firearms. It would do much to reverse the culture of powerlessness and fear, and accustom citizens to the use of force to defend against evil and threats to life and liberty. This new attitude would perhaps spill over into the national arena as well, giving European leaders a badly-needed jolt of fortitude.

Sadly, the governments like their citizens to be disarmed and quiescent. The official hostility to firearms use will likely persist for a long time, and with it, the unfortunate brand of European delusion and pacifism.