Why I Don’t Write About the Canadian Terrorist Attacks

by Dave Schuler on October 24, 2014

You must certainly know by now about the two terrorist attacks in Canada in as many days that have left two Canadian soldiers dead. I do not know or understand the circumstances, conditions, or context of the attacks and I have complete confidence in the Canadians’ ability to manage their own affairs.

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Virus Time

by Dave Schuler on October 24, 2014

Michael Gerson believes, as I do, that more resources need to be mobilized faster to stem the Ebola epidemic in West Africa:

Until there is a vaccine, limiting the spread of Ebola depends on education and behavior change. People must be persuaded to do things that violate powerful human inclinations. A parent must be persuaded not to touch a sick child. A relative must be persuaded not to respectfully prepare a body for burial. A man or woman with a fever must be persuaded to prepare for the worst instead of hoping for the best. This is the exceptional cruelty of Ebola — it requires human beings to overcome humane instincts for comfort, tradition and optimism. And this difficult education must come from trusted sources in post-conflict societies where few institutions have established public trust.

The Ebola virus has sometimes been like a fire in a pine forest — burning in hidden ways along the floor before suddenly flaring. There are, perhaps, 12,000 Ebola cases in West Africa. The World Health Organization warns there may be 5,000 to 10,000 new cases each week by December. This would quickly overwhelm existing and planned health capacity (1,700 proposed beds in Liberia from the U.S. military, perhaps 1,000 beds in community care centers).

At this level of infection, the questions become: Is Ebola containable? Will we see disease-related hunger? How will rice crops be harvested and transported? What effects will spiking food prices have on civil order? Might there be large-scale, disease-related migration? What would be the economic effects on all of Africa? Many are still refusing to look at these (prospective) horrors full in the face.

See also the handy infographic that accompanies the column linked above.

The epidemic is not operating in U. S. government time but in virus time. By the time we have accomplished the tasks we have set for ourselves in West Africa they will already be obsolete. We need to do more faster. And that means we can’t do it alone.

If only there were a government official charged with negotiating with foreign governments!

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Violating Your Own Doctrine

by Dave Schuler on October 24, 2014

Eugene Robinson accuses the president of violating his own doctrine (“Don’t do dumb sh*t”):

This is not a call for deeper U.S. involvement in Iraq and Syria. But if degrade-and-destroy is really the goal, I don’t see how deeper involvement will be avoided. This has morass written all over it. And morasses, as Obama knows, are dumb.

I think that Mr. Robinson should have no fear. Degrading and destroying the “Islamic State” was never the goal. Getting past the November election was always the goal.

The president will have more freedom of action after the election. Or not.

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The Big Picture

by Dave Schuler on October 24, 2014

From time to time I’ve mentioned looking at newspapers from 70 or 80 years ago and how slowly events were reported by comparison with what we’ve become accustomed to. During World War II, for example, the outcomes of battles might be reported weeks or even months after the actual events took place.

There was a kind of advantage to that. You had a greater opportunity to see the broad sweep of events rather than getting mired in the minutiae.

Leaping forward to today I’m seeing widely divergent opinions on what’s actually happening in Syria and Iraq and I attribute it to the “fog of war” that von Clausewitz wrote about. While some claim that the failure of the “Islamic State” to take the town of Syrian border town of Kobani shows they’re rocked back on their heels and have already reached the farthest extent of their rule while others say that we’re losing there.

To put Kobani into some perspective it’s a town approximately the same size as Wheaton, Illinois or Santa Cruz, California. Whatever strategic significance it has I would presume to be its position on roads joining Syria, Iraq, and Turkey.

David Ignatius clearly believes the “Islamic State” is hardly on the run:

Jalal al-Gaood, one of the tribal leaders the United States has been cultivating in hopes of rolling back extremists in Iraq, grimly describes how his home town in Anbar province was forced this week to surrender to fighters from the Islamic State.

The extremists were moving Wednesday toward Gaood’s town of Al-Zwaiha, the stronghold of his Albu Nimr clan just east of the Euphrates River. The attacking force had roughly 200 fighters and about 30 armed trucks. Al-Zwaiha’s defenders were running out of ammunition and food and wondered whether they should make a deal with the marauding jihadists.

as do the editors of the New York Times:

The town, once dismissed as inconsequential by American commanders, has become not only a focus of the American operation against the Islamic State, known as ISIS, but also a test of the administration’s strategy, which is based on airstrikes on ISIS-controlled areas in Syria and reliance on local ground forces to defeat the militants. A major problem is that the local ground forces are either unorganized, politically divided or, as in the case of the Kobani Kurds, in danger of being outgunned.

A setback in Kobani would show the fragility of the American plan and hand the Islamic State an important victory. Given Kobani’s location next to Turkey, the town’s fall would put the Islamic State in a position to cross the border and directly threaten a NATO ally, a move that could force the alliance to come to Turkey’s defense.

The big missing piece in the American operation is Turkey, whose reluctance to assist Kobani’s Kurds highlights the enduring weaknesses in America’s strategy. The decision to resupply the Kurds was a desperation move; the Kurds were at risk and Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has refused to help despite repeated entreaties from Washington.

We have almost no intelligence in the area. Reports on the ground has complained that the American air campaign is all but useless.

There is quite a bit of distance between believing that the fighter of the “Islamic State” are “ten feet tall” and recognizing that the “Islamic State” continues to extend its grasp. After all, Gulliver was no giant. He merely appeared so to the Lilliputian armies.

Just as a reminder, I do not believe that we should enter the field of battle against the “Islamic State”. They pose a threat to our frenemies in the region but very little threat to us and what threat they may pose in the future can be confronted by means other than going to war against them today.

Going to war against the “Islamic State” was the Obama Administration’s decision. Whether we have more to lose from an air campaign against the “Islamic State” that is doomed to failure than we do from not going to war with it is another subject about which there are different opinions.

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Fournier Goes Off the Deep End

by Dave Schuler on October 24, 2014

In a free flight of fancy Ron Fournier outlines a course of action for the balance of President Obama’s term of office in which he does considers everything he’s done to date and does the opposite:

For his sake and ours, Obama must fire himself. He needs to recognize that, for all of his strengths as a person and a politician, he’s shown an astonishing lack of growth on the job. Obama won’t evolve unless he replaces enablers with truth-tellers—advisers unafraid of telling the president he’s wrong.

He should start, of course, with McDonough. A solid public servant, McDonough has the misfortune of serving a president who doesn’t understand the importance of a chain of command, the perils of backchannels, the value of relationships, or the inherent powers of the presidency. Obama should hire and empower a CEO powerhouse.

What in the president’s past behavior leads him to believe that anything of the sort is remotely possible? The president believes that he knows better than any of his advisors (he’s said as much) and throughout his presidency he has signalled that he believes that anyone who disagrees with him is an ignorant yahoo. Now he’ll dismiss the cozy circle of his closest friends and replace it with ignorant yahoos? In what universe?

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The Governor’s Race

by Dave Schuler on October 23, 2014

Here in Chicago we are being absolutely deluged with television spots for the Illinois governor’s race, either from sitting Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn or Bruce Rauner, the Republican challenger. The most recent Chicago Tribune poll says it’s close:

With less than two weeks until Election Day, the race for Illinois governor is a dead heat as Republican challenger Bruce Rauner has made significant inroads among suburban voters, especially women, a new Chicago Tribune poll shows.

The survey found Rauner with 45 percent support and Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn with 43 percent. That’s within the poll’s 3.5 percentage point margin of error. Little-known Libertarian candidate Chad Grimm had 4 percent, while only 7 percent were undecided ahead of the Nov. 4 election.

The findings represent a sharp turnaround from a similar survey conducted Sept. 3-12 that found Quinn with an 11 percentage point advantage over Rauner. The governor’s race has tightened as voters become more focused on the campaign and both sides bombard the airwaves with tens of millions of dollars’ worth of negative attack ads on television, radio and newspaper websites. A single Chicago TV station, ABC-7, reported that more than $565,000 was being spent this week to air nearly 300 commercials.

During the past six weeks, the most significant change came from voters in the traditionally Republican-leaning collar counties that surround Cook County. Last month, Rauner held a narrow collar-county advantage over Quinn — 44 percent to 39 percent. But the latest survey showed Rauner now capturing two-thirds of collar-county voters.

The poll is largely meaningless since it is poll of registered voters rather than likely voters. The only aspect of it that’s interesting is the trend which certainly doesn’t look good for Quinn.

I anticipate that turnout will be quite low. I’ll be surprised if it’s as low as the 16% turnout in the primaries but I wouldn’t be surprised at 20% turnout.

The lower the turnout in Chicago and suburban Cook County the greater Gov. Quinn’s chances of re-election. Conversely, the lower that turnout and the greater the turnout in west suburban DuPage County, still a Republican stronghold, the greater Bruce Rauner’s chances of defeating him.

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The Autonomous Car of the Future?

by Dave Schuler on October 23, 2014

There’s a good article at Slate on the strengths and weaknesses of the Google car:

A good technology demonstration so wows you with what the product can do that you might forget to ask about what it can’t. Case in point: Google’s self-driving car. There is a surprisingly long list of the things the car can’t do, like avoid potholes or operate in heavy rain or snow. Yet a consensus has emerged among many technologists, policymakers, and journalists that Google has essentially solved—or is on the verge of solving—all of the major issues involved with robotic driving. The Economist believes that “the technology seems likely to be ready before all the questions of regulation and liability have been sorted out.” The New York Times declared that “autonomous vehicles like the one Google is building will be able to pack roads more efficiently”—up to eight times so. Google co-founder Sergey Brin forecast in 2012 that self-driving cars would be ready in five years, and in May, said he still hoped that his original prediction would come true.

But what Google is working on may instead result in the automotive equivalent of the Apple Newton, what one Web commenter called a “timid, skittish robot car whose inferior level of intelligence becomes a daily annoyance.” To be able to handle the everyday stresses and strains of the real driving world, the Google car will require a computer with a level of intelligence that machines won’t have for many years, if ever.

I’ll continue to bet a shiny new dime that there won’t be a single street legal autonomous car with an ordinary, non-experimental license on the streets of Chicago within the next five years. My guess as to the fate of the technology is that it will always be an ancillary technology—useful for parking and some other chores but not the way most people drive most of the time—and the car of the future.

I also continue to believe that even if the technological hurdles are overcome the regulatory and liability issues will kill truly autonomous cars except where they’re the only things on the road which, as has been pointed out, is called a railroad.

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Will Census Falsification Be the Next Scandal?

by Dave Schuler on October 23, 2014

I usually don’t check out links at the New York Post. Call it a prejudice. However, this story on census workers blowing the whistle on falsification of census data caught my eye and I’m glad I clicked over:

The city known as America’s story factory is making up Census data.

In the latest allegation of The Post’s exclusive probe into fishy goings-on at the Census Bureau, a new whistleblower says workers in the Los Angeles region have been manipulating economic data.

Contact information for the veteran Census worker — who reached out to me by e-mail recently and whom I interviewed by phone — has been turned over to congressional investigators who are looking into data falsification in other parts of the country.

“Everybody knows falsification is going on,” the whistleblower told me, adding the malfeasance in the LA region is so obvious that it’s hard to miss.

Will this become the next scandal du jour? The next scandal to receive attention from House oversight committees? Added to the dreary list that includes Benghazi, Fast and Furious, the IRS’s persecution of Tea Party-aligned (and Israel-aligned) groups?

Frankly, I doubt it. I don’t think it has legs. It’s just not sexy enough and it would be hard to establish White House fingerprints on it.

It deserves more attention. There are billions of dollars involved. Not to mention how it affects the drawing of Congressional districts.

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What’s the PPACA’s End State?

October 23, 2014

Ramesh Ponnuru has a column at Bloomberg View on a piece of legislation offered by Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Mark Begich: For the most part, the political debate over President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul has become a duel between vague slogans: Republicans say they want to “replace” the Affordable Care Act but generally don’t […]

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Studying Louisiana

October 23, 2014

At RealClearPolitics Sean Trende presents an interesting historical case study of Louisiana politics, harnessing this to an explanation of the challenges Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu faces in her re-election campaign there: But the real problem Landrieu has is that her 2002 and 2008 coalitions seem nearly impossible to reassemble. The 2002 runoff coalition suffers from […]

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