November 2015, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Pew Finds That Americans Think The National News Media Have A "Negative Effect" On The Nation:  At the end of long poll on attitudes toward government, Pew asked Americans how they felt about other institutions.
Of 10 nongovernmental institutions included in the survey, majorities say four are having a positive effect on the way things are going in the country: small businesses (82% positive), technology companies (71%), colleges and universities (63%) and churches and other religious institutions (61%).

The public is more divided over the impact of three other institutions – the energy industry (48% positive), labor unions (45%) and banks and financial institutions (40%).

And three others are viewed as having decidedly negative influence on the country.  Just 33% say large corporations have a positive impact, 32% say that about the entertainment industry, and just 25% say the national news media has a positive effect.  Majorities say all three have a negative effect on the way things are going in the U.S.
(65 percent say the national news organizations have a negative effect, so 10 percent are undecided.)

As you would expect, Republicans and Republican leaners are less likely to view the national news media positively than Democrats and Democratic leaners (17-33%), but both parties give the media (and the entertainment industry) negative ratings.

I'll repeat an observation I've made before:  Similar ratings for elected officials would lead our "mainstream" journalists to call for changes, perhaps even resignations — but they appear to have little effect on our news organizations, even though those negative ratings are probably costing the news organizations large amounts of money.

(This distrust of our national news media is not new, but it is deeper than in was in 2010; in that year 31 percent thought that the news media had a positive effect.)
- 3:45 PM, 24 November 2015   [link]

The Downing Of That Russian Su-24 By The Turks Is Grim News:  Here's the BBC version of the story.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has bitterly condemned the downing of a Russian jet on the Turkey-Syria border.

He described it as a "stab in the back" committed by "accomplices of terrorists".

Turkey says its jets shot at the plane after warning that it was violating Turkish airspace.  But Moscow says it never strayed from Syrian airspace.
Grim, and almost inevitable.  Syria is not a large nation, so it was nearly certain that a war plane would stray outside its boundaries — or appear to.

Americans are likely to know about the Russo-Turkish conflicts, if at all, from a humorous song.  But the two nations have fought twelve wars since 1568.  (Thirteen if you count the Korean War, where the Turks sent an army unit, and the Russians sent pilots.)  Neither nation has forgotten that long and bitter history.

For the moment, I would just remind you that early reports are often wrong in whole or part, and that neither nation has a reputation for telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

With that caution in mind, here's the Daily Mail version.
- 1:25 PM, 24 November 2015   [link]

ISIS Could Be Destroyed As A State In About Two Weeks, Say British Military Experts:  And some of them are even speaking on the record.

For example:
Col Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, former head of Britain’s chemical. Biological and Nuclear regiment, and who has spent much time in Syria, said: “Coalition troops overcame Iraqi forces within two weeks in 2003, and they were much better trained than IS fighters when it comes to things like using tanks.”
Note my qualifier, please.  If ISIS lost control of all the territory it now holds, it would probably go underground, and wait for a chance to come back out.  It wouldn't be a state any more, but it would still exist.

Bretton-Gordon's estimate does not necessarily contradict the two-month estimate I mentioned two days ago.  He is telling us how long the campaign would take, not how long the preparation, plus the campaign, would take.  You can't move, for instance, an armored division half way across the world over night.
- 11:26 AM, 23 November 2015   [link]

If You Want To Understand What's Going On In Europe, a good place to start would be Christopher Caldwell's Reflections on the Revolution In Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West.  It was first published in 2010, but the central arguments in it are, if anything, even more timely.

If you haven't read Caldwell on this subject before, you might want to start with this recent article, "European Insecurity ".
If Europe doesn’t get serious about protecting its borders, it’s going to head back to the days of barbed wire and concrete walls.  That’s what President François Hollande warned when he went before a rare joint sitting of France’s National Assembly and Senate to argue for an extended three-month state of emergency.  His warning came in the wake of the half-dozen simultaneous bomb and machine-gun attacks in Paris on November 13, claimed by the Islamic State (ISIS), that left at least 130 dead.
I should warn you that the book and the article are insightful, instructive — and, if you are at all like me, depressing.

One interesting detail in the article:  Caldwell suggests that German Chancellor Angela Merkel sees this flood of migrants as a solution to Germany's demographic problems.

(Here's a list of Caldwell articles in the Weekly Standard.)
- 10:47 AM, 23 November 2015   [link]

Here's Steven Hayward's Weekly Collection of pictures.

(You may not want to share all of them with leftist friends.)

I liked two of them best: the dolphin cartoon and the zombie apocalypse sign.  The Gnome Guide is pretty good, too.
- 8:30 AM, 23 November 2015   [link]

Four Items Ordered, Three Separate Deliveries:  This weekend, while nursing a sore back (which is much better, thank you), I ordered four items from Amazon.  I expected them to come in a single delivery, or two at most, since they are all parts for the new computer I will be assembling soon.

Instead, according to the tracking messages, they will arrive in three separate deliveries, two today from the Post Office and the UPS, and the third Wednesday, probably from the Post Office.

Since I wasn't asking them to rush any of these items, I had to think a bit before I understood why there were three separate deliveries.  Even for fairly generic computer parts, Amazon doesn't have a single warehouse that holds all these items, and so — I think — it is easier for Amazon to ship directly from each site, rather than combine the four into a single shipment.

That's particularly likely to be true when the items are sold by some other company, but "fulfilled" by Amazon, as some of these are.

(Why not four separate shipments?  Because two of them are identical hard drives.  Which I am really hoping the Post Office treats gently.

As I understand it, one of Amazon'x secrets is its ability to get other companies to hold much of its inventory.)
- 8:07 AM, 23 November 2015   [link]

Not Being A Car Guy. I have no idea how accurate Dan Niel's reviews of high-end cars are — but I get a kick out of the way he writes.

Here, for example, is how he starts his review in this weekend's Wall Street Journal:
This is one of those times I am mystified by popular taste.  The Lexus RX premium crossover sells about 100,000 copies a year, every year?  Really?  This plush, pas de balles, early-Cubist nightmare with a smile like Dick Cheney will sell 100 grand in the next 12 months?
There is more along those lines, perhaps too much more for some tastes.

(Here are some images of the car, if you are wondering whether it really does have a smile like Dick Cheney's.)
- 12:42 PM, 22 November 2015   [link]

What Would It Take To Destroy ISIS As A State?  On 18 November, the New York Times said the United States couldn't do it.
On Monday, Mr. Obama wisely refused to agree to escalate America’s involvement, which in addition to airstrikes already includes 3,500 troops in Iraq ostensibly devoted to training, and about 50 Special Operations forces in Syria.

The Islamic State is not a challenge America can handle on its own.  Should more ground troops ever be needed, they should come from countries in the region with the backing of air power, intelligence, logistics and possibly other support from the United States, France, Russia and other nations.
(Emphasis added.)

On 19 November, the Wall Street Journal said France couldn't do it.
France is still a militarily capable nation, as it proved when it turned back an al Qaeda offensive in Mali in 2013. It can do significant damage to ISIS if it increases the tempo of its current bombing or deploys its Foreign Legion to liberate the city of Raqqa.

But France can’t lead a decisive military campaign on its own, which is why Mr. Hollande is casting about for potential partners.  He won’t find them in Europe, despite his decision to invoke an obscure and toothless European collective defense clause.
(Emphasis added.)

In this weekend's edition of the Journal anonymous military experts say that it could be done, by either nation, in a campaign lasting about two months.
Many strategists say military advances will show little progress unless more work is done to eliminate the militant group’s financing, counter its propaganda and cut a diplomatic deal among world powers on Syrian rule.

For military planners, destroying the terrorist group’s headquarters and crippling its fighting force is a relatively simple assignment, say strategists: It would require some 40,000 troops, air support and two months of fighting.

The problem is what do to after taking responsibility for won territory.  With the recent experience of Afghanistan and Iraq, that is a job no Western leader wants.
(Emphasis added.)

But that destroying ISIS as a state would leave a mess that nobody, other than Assad, wants to clean up.

According to the New York Times, the United States — under President Bush — had almost destroyed ISIS, by the time Bush left office, so that two-month estimate doesn't seem implausible to me.  And it would be interesting to learn what American experts such as General Petraeus think about how the occupation problem could be solved,

(The Journal article, which is worth buying, goes on to discuss other military options, all of which seem to end with the same problem: that if you overthrow ISIS, you have a mess left to clean up.

Incidentally, that NYT editorial is unintentionally quite funny.  The editorial writers begin by attacking Republicans for calling for a declaration of war on ISIS — and then later call for Congress, including Republicans, to establish a "legal framework for the American military action that has been underway for more than a year without any such grounding".  That "legal framework" sounds an awful lot like a declaration of war, to me.)
- 2:28 PM, 21 November 2015   [link]

"Why The Bicyclists?"  James Taranto ended a long attack on John Kerry's latest major gaffe by recycling a "mordant" joke:
The Hannah Arendt Center describes a mordant joke “told during the Holocaust, especially amongst Jews in concentration camps”:

“The Jews caused the Great War,” an anti-Semite tells his friend.

“Yes, the Jews and the bicyclists,” says the friend.

“Why the bicyclists?” asks the anti-Semite.

To which the friend replies: “Why the Jews?”

At this point John Kerry no doubt would launch into a passionate and grandiloquent defense of bicyclists.
At one time, Americans were often laughed at for our boasting; now we have a president, and a secretary of state, who see it as their duty to go to other countries — and criticize the United States.
- 9:19 AM, 20 November 2015   [link]

Andrew Malcolm's Weekly Collection of Jokes.

Malcolm liked this one best:
Meyers: Donald Trump’s new book outlines his plan to make America great again.  Though the book doesn’t say specifically when he’s leaving.
As did I.

But I liked this one almost as much:
Meyers: An Ashley Madison user is suing the adultery website for falsely advertising a higher number of female users than it truly had.  And if you can’t trust a website that helps you secretly cheat on your spouse, who can you trust?
There may be a common trust theme underneath those two jokes.
- 9:01 AM, 21 November 2015   [link]

Open Islamists In Saint Denis:  Yesterday evening, I saw, at the end of a BBC story on the raid, video of Islamists driving by the police in Saint Denis and, according to the announcer, shouting insults.  My gutter French isn't good enough for me to understand what they were saying, but I could see that they were flashing "V" signs, presumably to celebrate the terrorist attacks last Friday.

I was struck by both the open defiance of the police — and the fact that the BBC was willing to show it to us.

(No guarantee, but you might be able to find the video in this batch.   The scene I saw was at the very end of the story.)
- 9:09 AM, 20 November 2015   [link]

The Washington Post Investigates The Clintons' Fund Raising:  And the Post dug deep.
LITTLE ROCK — Over four decades of public life, Bill and Hillary Clinton have built an unrivaled global network of donors while pioneering fundraising techniques that have transformed modern politics and paved the way for them to potentially become the first husband and wife to win the White House.

The grand total raised for all of their political campaigns and their family’s charitable foundation reaches at least $3 billion, according to a Washington Post investigation.
"[A]t least $3 billion"!  (I thought that deserved an exclamation point.)

(I plan to say more about parts of this this study in later posts.)
- 1:53 PM, 19 November 2015   [link]

Will French President François Hollande Invoke Article V Of The NATO Treaty?   Here's Article V, just in case you haven't memorized it.
The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council.  Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.
The article has been invoked only once, after the 9/11 attack on the United States.

But it may be, again.

(The timing of Hollande's visits suggest that he has a simple strategy:
French President Francois Hollande will meet his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama in Washington on Nov. 24, the presidential Elysee Palace says on Tuesday, adding he will also meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Nov. 26 in Moscow.
Most likely, Hollande plans to ask Obama for help first, and then if he doesn't get what he wants, ask Putin — who would probably jump at the chance to divide NATO — for the help he didn't get from Obama.)
- 9:01 AM, 19 November 2015   [link]

The Obama Administration Ignored Specific Warnings About The Rise Of ISIS:   Three days ago, I argued that President Obama is underestimating ISIS because he doesn't want to hear that he has been wrong, and because he is served by people who tell him what he wants to hear.

A long, front-page article, "In Rise of ISIS, No Single Missed Key but Many Strands of Blame", in today's New York Times includes a specific example supporting my argument:
And there were, in fact, more than hints of the group’s plans and potential.  A 2012 report by the United States Defense Intelligence Agency was direct: The growing chaos in Syria’s civil war was giving Islamic militants there and in Iraq the space to spread and flourish.  The group, it said, could “declare an Islamic state through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria.”

“This particular report, this was one of those nobody wanted to see,” said Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, who ran the defense agency at the time.

“It was disregarded by the White House,” he said.  “It was disregarded by other elements in the intelligence community as a one-off report.  Frankly, at the White House, it didn’t meet the narrative.”
(Emphasis added.)

And similar reports and news articles still don't meet Obama's narrative.

So we shouldn't expect Obama to change his strategy against ISIS, except in minor cosmetic ways, under pressure from the public, and our allies.

In fact, I fear that he will become even more isolated, even less willing to face facts that do not fit his "narrative".

(There is much in the article besides that quote.)
- 8:24 AM, 19 November 2015   [link]

The Post Got The Scoop On Terrorist Abaaoud's Death:  Yesterday, after I linked to a Washington Post story on the death of the ringleader of the Paris attacks, I noticed that no other news organizations had the story, independently.  (That part of the Daily Mail story was based on what the Post had learned.)

That lack of independent news stories bothered me enough so that, when I woke up, I was planning to put up a post noting that the newspaper seemed to be out on a limb, by itself.

But now there is official confirmation:
The suspected ringleader of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, has been identified as one of those killed in Tuesday's raid in the suburb of Saint Denis, the Paris prosecutor says.

His body was found riddled with bullets and shrapnel in the shattered apartment in the northern suburb.

The Belgian national, 28, was identified from his fingerprints.
If you live anywhere near the Post's headquarters, you might have heard a large sigh of relief this morning.

(Here's why I was uncertain, and became even more uncertain about the story:  There was the usual problem: The Post was relying on two anonymous sources, and, to make it worse, the Post did not tell us how the body had been identified.

I became more skeptical because there were no independent stories from other news organizations; ordinarily, an anonymous official who speaks to one news organization is willing to speak to others.

What probably happened is that, after the Post story came out, those sources were told by their superiors to shut up.)
- 6:10 AM, 19 November 2015   [link]

The WSJ Answers Two Questions:  Almost a month ago, the Wall Street Journal published two long articles that answered questions that had been bothering me for some time.

For years, I have wondered how the Chavistas were stealing all that money from Venezuela.  It was obvious that they were stealing enormous sums — the country has been both oil rich and poor for years — but it wasn't obvious to me how they were doing it.  In this article, "U.S. Investigates Venezuelan Oil Giant", the Journal explains:
Now, U.S. authorities have launched a series of wide-ranging investigations into whether Venezuela’s leaders used PdVSA to loot billions of dollars from the country through kickbacks and other schemes, say people familiar with the matter.  The probes, carried out by federal law enforcement in multiple jurisdictions around the U.S., are also attempting to determine whether PdVSA and its foreign bank accounts were used for other illegal purposes, including black-market currency schemes and laundering drug money, these people say.
I should have realized that they were stealing from Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. — because that's where the money is.

Similarly, in recent months, I have been wondering why so many migrants to Europe were from Eritrea, a small nation that is, technically, not at war with its neighbors, or itself.

It might not be a great place to live, but it couldn't be, I thought, as bad as Syria, or Iraq.

But those who live there don't agree, judging by the number who have left.
The U.N. estimates that 400,000 Eritreans—9% of the population—have fled in recent years, not counting those who died or were stranded en route.

On the rickety smuggling boats crossing the Mediterranean, Eritreans comfortably outnumber other nationalities.  More than a quarter of the 132,000 migrants arriving in Italy between January and September were Eritreans, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Eritreans accounted for a majority of the 3,000 people who have drowned in the Mediterranean this year, humanitarian agencies say.
Since 2012, about 2 percent of all Eritreans have sought asylum in Europe; by way of comparison, a little more than 1 percent of Syrians have sought asylum in Europe during the same time period.

One of the things motivating Eritreans to leave is the draft.  That may seem insufficient to explain the numbers, until you learn that the draft in Eritrea is rougher than the draft in most nations.
Eritreans abroad say they are pushed to leave by conscription that enlists every man and woman in the military during their last year of high school.
. . .
Teenagers are inducted at the Sawa military base, get four months of training, then take an exam that determines whether they are put in active service or allowed to continue their education as reservists.  Around two-thirds are immediately mobilized as soldiers.  But all remain conscripts, often for decades.   They are locked in a system that pays a monthly stipend of 500 nakfa, about $10 on the black market, and forbidden to leave the country.
(Emphasis added.

I assume the conscripts must spend much of their time cultivating crops and herding animals; otherwise I don't see how they could feed their army,)

Eritrean leaders justify that system because they gained independence from the much larger Ethiopia after a civil war lasting about 30 years — and have not truly made peace with Ethiopia.

Should the Eritreans leaving their country be treated as economic migrants or refugees?  The European have not come to a unanimous answer to that question.  Most Eritreans are probably not in danger of being slaughtered if they stay in Eritrea, but it is not the most pleasant nation in the world, either.

(As I often say, the numbers we have from many countries are not very good.  There's an interesting example of that in the Wikipedia article on the demographics of Eritrea.  Note that two authoritative sources, Pew Research and the US State Department, give very different estimates on the proportions of Christians and Muslims in Eritrea.)
- 3:41 AM, 18 November 2015   [link]

Scratch One Very Bad Guy:  Probably.

Here's the Daily Mail story, with many pictures, a map, and a time line. .
The mastermind behind the Paris massacre is said to have been killed during an hour-long firefight with French commandos following a pre-dawn raid of a flat in the nation's capital, two senior intelligence officials say.

Abdelhamid Abaaoud, 27, and his 26-year-old cousin Hasna Aitboulahcen are believed to be the two terrorists who died in a gun battle which saw 5,000 rounds of ammunition fired.
And here's the Washington Post version of the same story, for those who would like some confirmation.
PARIS — The suspected ringleader of the Paris attacks was killed Wednesday in a massive predawn raid by French police commandos, two senior European intelligence officials said, after investigators followed leads that the fugitive militant was holed up north of the French capital and could be plotting another wave of violence.

More than 100 police officers and soldiers stormed an apartment building in the suburb of Saint-Denis during a seven-hour siege that left at least two dead, including the suspected overseer of the Paris bloodshed, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, officials said. Abaaoud, a Belgian extremist, had once boasted that he could slip easily between Europe and strongholds of the Islamic State militant group in Syria.
Good news, if true.

And it probably is.

Too bad about the loss of the French police dog, "Diesel".

(The Post is right to call him a "ringleader", rather than a "mastermind".)
- 12:55 PM, 18 November 2015   [link]

The Mystery Terrorist With The Fake Syrian Passport:  He came into Greece by boat, in a group of "migrants".  He died in an attempt to bomb the French national soccer stadium.

And that is about all that we know about him.*
PARIS — The mystery man arrived in Europe on a boat from Turkey that washed up on the azure shores of Greece on Oct. 3.  He disembarked with 197 desperate migrants on the isle of Leros, where harried police processed the man whose Syrian passport named him as Ahmad Almohammad, a 30-year-old from Idlib.

He then followed the same trail into Western Europe trodden by hundred of thousands of asylum seekers escaping war and conflict in the Middle East, passing through Athens, then Macedonia and Serbia, according to Greek and Serbian officials.

Then the man disappeared — until Friday, when he reappeared, this time in the form of the disfigured body of a suicide bomber in Paris, outside the Stade de France.
Reporter Anthony Faiola makes the required bow to political correctness by saying that legitimate refugees may be kept out by fears of infiltrators like this mystery man, but then returns to reality.
There is no question that, on rare occasions, militants are slipping through border controls with migrants.   Moroccan national Abdelmajid Touil, suspected of supplying weapons used in a March terrorist attack in Tunis that killed more than 20 tourists, had traveled to Italy a month earlier on a migrant boat from Libya.  In May, he was arrested near Milan.

Now French officials are alarmed by the prospect that several of the assailants involved in Friday’s attacks — seven of whom are dead, with two suspects on the run — may have tapped the migrant routes.  “We are looking very closely at their travels,” said a French official involved in the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
And even adds this fact: "In September, officials in Germany said almost a third of asylum seekers there claiming to be Syrian were not actually from Syria."

But many, especially among our "mainstream" journalists, are unwilling to face these facts.  For an example of that reluctance see this Los Angeles Times editorial..

(*It is possible, of course, that intelligence agencies had discovered more about him, and are not sharing it with the public.  If true, that would be fine with me.)
- 7:48 AM, 18 November 2015   [link]

Want To See Some Numbers On Global Terrorism?  You can find them in this 112-page report from the Institute for Economics and Peace.

Here's the bottom line:
In 2014 the total number of deaths from terrorism increased by 80 per cent when compared to the prior year.   This is the largest yearly increase in the last 15 years.  Since the beginning of the 21st century, there has been over a nine-fold increase in the number of deaths from terrorism, rising from3,329 in 2000 to 32,658 in 2014.
Those numbers are much too precise, of course.  If I had to guess, I'd say those numbers are probably within 10 or 20 percent of the true numbers, but would be much worse for some countries, for instance, Yemen.

By way of the Daily Mail, where they give the tabloid treatment to the report.

The Mail leads with the wealth of ISIS, with the resources they have managed to grab in such a short time.  Those who wonder how to attack the terrorist group's logistics will find some hints in the article.
- 10:57 AM, 17 November 2015   [link]

Russia Makes It Official:  A bomb destroyed that airliner.
MOSCOW —The mid-air explosion of a Russian jetliner over the Sinai desert last month that killed all 224 people on board was the result of a terrorist attack, Russia’s chief intelligence officer said Tuesday.

At a meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin, Federal Security Service head Alexander Bortnikov said that traces of explosives found in the plane’s wreckage indicated that an improvised explosive device had been detonated on board.
Egyptians are questioning 17 airport employees, and have two suspects, already.

(Given the small size of the bomb — less than four pounds of explosive — I would guess that it had to be placed in a vulnerable spot.)
- 10:11 AM, 17 November 2015   [link]

"Hillary Told Chelsea Truth About Benghazi, But Not American People"  Just in case you missed this article.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton blamed an internet video for the Benghazi attacks in her conversations with family members of those killed despite having told a foreign leader two days earlier that the video played no role and having emailed daughter Chelsea that a terrorist group had carried out the attack.
(Or another one with the same facts..)
- 6:17 AM, 17 November 2015   [link]