THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 676 May 23 - 29, 2011
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May 23, 2011
Niven is coming over for a hike shortly.
Saturday I did two short essays. The first was on Newt Gingrich, and the second was prompted by remarks Newt made on the immigration question. They are both intended to inject some reality into the discussions. In particular, there is no simple solution to the immigration question, and pretending that there is does not help the situation; whatever else Newt has done, he has tried to make us aware of that. Read the essays.
Sunday I attempted to inject some realities into the Israeli question. I note that this morning's news has President Obama frantically trying to explain his Thursday Middle East speech in which he seemed to make important concessions for Israel. Obama supporters are trying to throttle back the rash of criticism directed at Prime Minister Netanyahu, who directed a 4 minute on-camera lecture to the President on the realities of the situation. Both the US State Department and the Israeli Foreign Ministry are trying to get the situation back under control and out of the headlines, back to normal diplomacy. At stake for Israel are the enormous subsidies the US gives to Israel, and the smaller but still quite large subsidy the US pays to Egypt. The subsidy to Egypt tends to stabilize the region; it provides money for the Egyptian military, with plenty of room for the customary baksheesh of Middle Eastern countries, giving the Egyptian rulers enough money for internal bribes to allow a relatively open economy -- or did until recently. The new Egyptian government hasn't stabilized things. Tourism is down to near zero levels, wheat prices soar, and Egypt is threatened with total economic collapse.
If you haven't read the Sunday exposition on the Middle East, do so before continuing; I'm going to assume you know what's in it.
I concluded last time that there was no longer any possibility of agreed borders between Israel and Palestine. That opportunity was lost when Yasser Arafat rejected the Clinton-brokered Camp David summit accords, and declared the new intafada which was quickly followed by the Ramallah lynching. Since that time the possibility of any mutually agreed border has fallen to zero. Palestine is not going to sell off the settlement areas in Judea and Samaria, nor is Israel going to hand over the -- largely Christian -- ethnic Arab/Palestinian areas of Israel in a swap for parts of Judea and Samaria. Israel might well be pleased to lose a million or so Arabs, but it's not going to happen. Many of them far prefer Israeli citizenship to being turned over to the tender mercies of the rulers of Palestine, at present Hamas; and of course that leaves out the question of defensible borders. If the 1967 borders were indefensible, the hodgepodge resulting from "mutually agreed swaps" of Arab Israel for Jewish Settlements in Judea and Samaria would be far less so. It's hard to imagine what those borders would look like, but it's an exercise in absurdity anyway: it's not going to happen.
Any border between Israel and Palestine is going to be imposed, not "mutually agreed". If Obama does not know know this -- and it's very difficult to believe that he does not -- Secretary Clinton and the Foreign Service certainly do, as does most of Capitol Hill. There is not going to be any mutually agreed border between Palestine and Israel. There is not going to be any contiguous Palestinian state that unites Gaza and the West Bank. (The Camp David Accord proposal included an elevated railway and an elevated freeway between Gaza and Judea.) Israel is not going to give up the settlements, the Golan Heights, or the fortifications in the Jordan River Valley, nor will the IDF give up unmonitored and unrestricted access to the Jordan Valley. Israel does not have the resources to force the settlers to leave the West Bank. The IDF won't do it; the experience in Gaza was too traumatic. Nor could any Israeli government survive an hour after Palestinian police began forcibly removing Jewish settlers from homes around Bethlehem or in Samaria.
This is reality; but assume that somehow it happened and there were "mutually agreed swaps" leading to some kind of border: there remains the question of the refugees who claim a right of return. After the 1948 war, and again after the 1967 war, a number of Arabs fled Israel, in both cases at the encouragement of Arab governments. Most expected to return after the Arab victories. When those victories didn't materialize, they became refugees. How many is controversial, but a half million is a not unreasonable compromise. There are now more than a million who claim refugee status and a right of return to Israel. That includes the surviving original refugees and their lineal descendents including heirs to property to which they have a nearly indisputable title going back to the Turkish government that preceded the British League of Nations Mandate that created Trans-Jordan and Palestine. Some are Christians. I know some of these people. As one put it, "I know that the Germans did terrible things to those people, but I do not know why that gives them the right to my home." The home she describes is in the Jerusalem-Bethlehem corridor, and she grew up in it as a girl. Their family has always been Christian, and they claim descent from the original first generation baptized by the Apostles. Whatever the truth of that claim, they certainly owned that property under the Turks and under the British Mandate government, and it is certainly occupied by European born Jews whose title comes from the Israeli government. No compensation has ever been paid -- not that such compensation would be accepted. "It is not for sale. It has never been for sale."
That story can be multiplied by thousands. How many thousands is not clear. Some of the refugees are descendents of nomads of no fixed address -- much of Palestine in 1948 was undeveloped desert. Some have questionable origins or questionable titles to land in Israel. Discard all those of questionable status and there remain hundreds of thousands of genuine refugees displaced from land in pre-1967 Israel, and who claim a right of return. Add the the others whose status cannot be determined and the number climbs toward a million, perhaps more. While my friends have homes and jobs in Bethlehem (one is a physician married to another Palestinian who is legally resident in Jerusalem although he is not allowed to live there), most of those claiming refugee status live in poverty in refugee camps.
The Arab Israeli wars also produced tens to hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees, who were forced out of Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Yemen, and other Arab lands. They fled to Israel, where they were absorbed into the Israeli economy and have long since ceased to have any kind of refugee status. That did not happen with the Arab refugees. They were put up in refugee camps and kept there. They were not absorbed into any Arab countries, and most of them remain stateless refugees (although of course many had the gumption to get out of those slums and go elsewhere. Some came to the United States, some legally and some just came in hopes of claiming sanctuary).
The refugee claim to a Right of Return was the official stumbling block to the Arab acceptance of the Camp David Accords which would have restored well over 90% of the land taken in the 1967 war. The refugee claim to a Right of Return will not be given up, and that issue alone will prevent any Arab/Israeli negotiated peace. Borders and the conditions of peace in the Middle East will not be settled by negotiation. They will be imposed, or they will remain in dispute. This is simple reality.
The question for the United States is a simple one: what part should we have in imposing peace in that region? This can only be answered by an analysis of national interests. One of the factors in that determination is the reliability of nations. Who makes and keeps agreements? The Egyptians did, even though Sadat was assassinated for his part in the Egypt/Israeli accord. Mubarak kept the agreement. His government was corrupt -- almost all governments in that region are corrupt, with baksheesh for public officials as a normal procedure -- but it had more economic liberty than many Arab governments. That government is gone, the Egyptian economy is in terrible shape, and the prognosis is uncertain.
US trade with Israel is significant, particularly in science and technology. As to the rest of the Middle East, so far as I know the main reason for the US to be interested in the region at all is the obvious one: energy. Although US oil and gas reserves are high, the development is low.
Niven is here. I'll continue later. But the situation is clear: there is not going to be peace over there except by imposition. Is that in the US interest? Or would we be better off investing in energy developments here?
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|This week:||Tuesday, May
.Continuing a discussion of US policy in the Middle East:
In yesterday's mail Steve Chu asks why the US does not develop domestic resources rather than pour blood and treasure into the Middle East. Here is the classic economic answer:
Of course this economic principle neglects both price and cash flow: that is, the US at present must borrow the money to pay for political, military, and economic intervention in the Middle East. If the purpose is to conserve domestic resources for later sale at higher prices, this reflects a longer term outlook than I would expect. It is also a fairly high risk strategy.
Meanwhile, an aid to the President of Palestine has
denounced Prime Minister Netanyahu's address to a joint session of Congress
"a declaration of war."
The President's speech on the Middle East last Thursday was given in the hope that he could restart the Israel/Palestine so-called Peace Process. Whatever its effect, it does not seem to have accomplished that.
The news on the radio is that President Obama signed the
Westminster Abbey guest book with the date of 24 May, 2008, which has caused
some mirth and (possibly feigned) puzzlement...
He seems to have dropped the Middle East topic for the duration of his
Ireland/England/Continental tour. The actual purpose of the trip is unclear.
He has issued another warning to Qadaffi, and NATO night bombing of the city
of Tripoli has intensified.
The effects of the bombing were disputed. The targets seem
to have been military barracks located in the city. Libyan spokespersons
said the barracks had been evacuated. Effects of the air strikes are
For a left wing account of the bombing and conditions in Tripoli see http://www.counterpunch.org/mckinney05242011.html by former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. McKinney questions the usefulness of NATO in the Post Cold War world. Some of her article might have been written by people holding far less liberal views than McKinney's.
The United States is involved in three wars in the Middle East. The Prime Minister of Israel is in Washington on an official visit. Meanwhile, the Commander in Chief tours Europe, and signs himself in as being in the year 2008. One presumes he remains in control of the situation.
May 25, 2011
The unanticipated loss of what was thought to be a safe Republican House seat in upstate New York has thrilled Democrats across the country, and caused a considerable stir among Republican strategists. The election was complicated: there was a "Tea Party" candidate who got 8% of the vote, enough to have changed the election result had they gone to the Republican. Oddly enough, the "Tea Party" candidate had formerly run for the seat as a Democrat. Democrats spent a lot of money in the campaign. So far as I can tell the principal issue in the campaign was Medicare, with the Democrat running adds showing the Republicans pushing Grandma off a cliff.
I didn't follow that election, and there isn't enough known -- certainly not by me, but I suspect not by anyone -- about the distribution of the votes, turnout by precincts, and the rest of it to allow any real analysis of why the Republicans lost what was thought to be a safe seat in what is thought to be a Republican year. I'll wait for more data.
One thing we can do is look at the Medicare issue. It's going to come up again and again.
One of the long term trends in modern America is the increasing Federal transfer of funds from the younger generation to the older. At one time that was primarily through pensions -- younger workers are taxed to make payments to older retired -- but lately health care has become more prominent. Another long term trend is the cost of health care, which has risen steadily as a percentage of national income to exceed 1/6 and is approaching 1/4. Since most health care expenditures go to older patients, this dramatically increases the transfer of income from younger to older. Note that it is also a transfer from productive to non-productive, and since the taxes do not fall so heavily on the less productive, the burden concentrates on the middle class -- middle in both age and income. This is more or less inevitable.
The Medicare program works quite well. Most of those involved in Medicare are happy to have it and unwilling to vote for any reduction. The election in the New York 26th seems to have been largely a referendum on Medicare, and the Democratic advertisements seem to have largely presented the message that the Republican health care plan would end Medicare.
This is why a precinct by precinct analysis of the vote is important: if that vote shows that people in retirement homes, and in precincts with aging populations, had a dramatic change from Republican to Democrat in this election, it is likely that the Medicare question was the deciding factor: in which case we ought to conclude that the Republicans are not getting their message across.
The Ryan Medicare plan does in fact abolish Medicare as we know it -- but it does not affect anyone 55 years of age or older. Those already on Medicare and those over 54 years old headed for it will get what we already have. The Ryan plan does not change anything; what it does is to try to save enough money in health care costs to allow those entitled to Medicare to get it. In the present situation and in this economy they won't get it because the money isn't there.
Medicare is going broke. We can't afford it any longer. To keep it going we'd have to raise taxes just for that purpose.
This isn't really news. It has been discussed since before the election
of Barrack Obama, and not all the discussions were bereft of facts. See,
for example, Robert Samuelson, Newsweek (Newspeak?) journalist in
It has long been known that we can't afford Medicare as presently structured. The only argument is over when it will collapse, and as health care costs go up and up the day when Medicare is out of funds comes closer and closer.
The question is, what does Obamacare do to save Medicare? If voters are rejecting the Republican plan as expressed in Ryan's bill because it abolishes Medicare for all those under 55 years of age, what do they expect they will get in return? What does the Obama health care plan deliver?
The 26th was designed to be a Republican district. The main lesson I get from the 26th NY District election is that the issue was Medicare and the Republicans didn't make their case; and they had better learn how, because a good part of the Republican base consists of elderly middle class voters, and if they are voting Democrat out of fear of losing Medicare, Republican strategists had better develop an answer to this fast.
"The Myth of Killer Mercury" by Willie Soon and Paul Driessen (link) in today's Wall Street Journal makes a number of critical points, and is worth your time. It also should come to the attention of the House committee that authorizes EPA budgets. The EPA apparently pays more attention to ideology than science, to the advantage of China and the detriment of the United States. Soon and Driessen present data that I have no way of checking, but presuming its accuracy are quite enlightening: US power plants emit perhaps 50 tons of mercury per year. Contrast that to 44 tons from forest fires; 26 tons from human cremations; 400 tons from Chinese power plant -- and 9,000 tons annually from vulcanism. Mother Nature accounts for 99%, and if we got rid of all the rest the result would hardly be noticed. If the economy were booming, with plentiful energy, it would make sense to debate the cost/effectiveness of phasing in even more efficient stack scrubbers for power plants. Until that time, this new regulation makes no sense.
If you are curious about the effects of the Bond Market in these odd financial times, see "Know Thy Bond Vigilante" by Holman Jenkins in today's Wall Street Journal (link).
It will be a different America.
The President thought a toast to the Queen would be a good opportunity to make a speech without a teleprompter. He's always nervous without his teleprompter, and one presumes that being at a British State Dinner is not without stress. Americans have never been comfortable with court etiquette. It's not something we study. Mr. Obama is not always the embodiment of what I would call dignitas, but he is the President of the United States.
May 26, 2011
A caller to the Rush Limbaugh show asked why the Republicans came up with the Ryan plan rather than do what they were elected to do, which is repeal Obamacare. The connection to the caller was lost in the middle of the call, so we didn't hear the rest of what the caller, a Florida Republican county level politician wanted to say. Limbaugh spent a good part of the rest of the program trying to explain and justify the Ryan plan. He didn't do that very well. He's for it, but the best he could say is that Medicare is the deficit, there is no way to save it as it stands, and the Ryan plan addresses the fundamental problem. Just stopping Obama's plan -- what there is of it, because much of it has yet to be implemented, and of that much has been wavered -- would be going on the defensive, and the Republicans need to be on the offensive, to use a football analogy.
This isn't a football game.
The scary part is that if Limbaugh can't articulate a concise and appealing argument for the Ryan plan and against panic, one wonders who can.
Meanwhile Karl Rove has an article in today's Wall Street Journal "Why the Republican Lost in NY-26" (link) also trying to address the problem. Rove's subtitle is The Ryan Medicare plan needs a clearer and more populist defense.
Rove, Bush's political strategist, doesn't come up with the concise and appealing argument either. He tries. The problem is that the issue is too complex for simple sound bites. Rove concludes
The reverberations of the loss of the Republican safe 26th Congressional District in Tuesday's election continue. We see the shape of the 2012 election year. So far the Republicans do not have a strategy for dealing with this issue.
There are other issues in this election, but this one looks to swamp everything else. That's discouraging. Will future elections all be dominated by entitlement issues? If so, it bodes ill for the Republic. Do note, though, that 8% of the vote went to a "Tea Party" candidate who had previously run for the office as a Democrat and who presumably would have been willing to join the Pelosi caucus had he won in 2010. That, too, is a frightening tactic.
There is still no timeline for accomplishing the mission in Libya, assuming that the mission is regime change. That isn't clearly stated: Obama said in England that the mission is protecting Libyan civilians. And Cameron made it clear that the air strikes on Tripoli are US assets. Apparently we are protecting civilians in Benghazi by bombing Tripoli. Obama has told us that the mission would be completed in days, not weeks; it is now two months, and the end is not in sight. Meanwhile, in Egypt, Mubarak, the former US ally who had kept the peace, is on trial for his life; a clear message to Khadaffi: never let go. Die in office, for you will surely die if you are out of office. Have a nice day.
A side note.
Of course you have heard of Comet Elenin. http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2011-135 Last night on Coast to Coast Richard C. Hoagland said he has reason to suspect that the comet isn't a comet at all, it's some kind of guided ship. Since it's about 300 million miles away and moving fast enough that it will come to its closest approach to Earth (about 20 million miles) next October 16, this seems unlikely: that is, although it's moving pretty fast for a solar system object, that's awfully slow for an interstellar object. Where did it come from? At, say, half a million miles a year, it would take it considerable time to travel a lightyear. (It's moving at about 10^-5 lightspeed if I've done the math right.) As a science fiction writer I would be intrigued by the notion of a slower than light spacecraft approaching Earth -- after all, Niven and I had a #1 Times best-seller in Footfall which was about a slower than light alien invasion of Earth -- but alas, I suspect that Elenin is more likely to be a not very spectacular event, nowhere near as interesting as Hale Bopp. Pity.
And I am off to the barber shop.
May 27, 2011
I got some mail up last night. A couple of items seemed important enough for View. I'll be back after breakfast.
And that is a proposition very much worth discussing. Of course it is probably a mistake to treat all the various Arab street movements equally. Syria is not Iran is not Egypt is not Tunisia.
The more I look at this the more I think a Lunar Colony is sustainable. Perhaps the Chinese will do it.
And we have more mail including a continuation of the Mercury discussion
It appears that Ms. Noonan has finally gotten with the program:
I do not always agree with Miss Noonan, but I have generally found it worth while to reflect on her views. She did an awesome job for Reagan.
This column is especially astute. Explaining all this will be very difficult; she understands that. I wonder how many others in politics do.
May 28, 2011
I was looking for something else buried in the dim past here on this site -- snake biles, if you must know -- when I came across the reference to this:
A View from the Eye of the Storm a talk delivered by Haim Harari at a meeting of the International Advisory Board of a large multi-national corporation, April 2004. http://www.jerrypournelle.com/archives2/archives2mail/mail309.html#eye I had forgotten that I had published it here. It is an analysis of the Israel/Palestine conflict from an Israeli scientist, and it says many things that need saying. When I published it I had less appreciation for the Israeli position than I do now. Much has changed since then. The analysis holds as true now as it did then.
Actually that entire mail week was good, with a long series of discussions on the Iraq War. Contributions by Dr. Greg Cochran. Monty, and many others. Letters from serving officers and nco's. And all of it fairly relevant now in 2011, if only because I told you so... Begin with The Arrogance of the NeoJacobins...
While digging around in the past I found this, which may be worth reading through the section on how the ARPANET saved GPS. http://www.jerrypournelle.com/archives/archivesview/view27.html#ARPA
A reader says
It is certainly disturbing. I reserve further comment until I know more. One might also reflect on the comments.
May 29, 2011
I took the day off.
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 5,000 - 12,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here. This site is run on the "public radio" model; see below.
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