An Achievement of Sorts

You know, it isn’t every day that somebody dishonors two races.

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Now It All Makes Sense

I eagerly await Beyonce’s proving she is not a member of the Illuminati. The scales have fallen from my eyes, I can tell you that.

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Russia Is Paranoid

Russia is paranoid; the Tsars (some of them) were aggressive; the Soviet Union was expansionist. That’s the very short summary of my views about a big country. For the counter-argument see James Kirchick’s article in the National Review:

Our present-day problems with Russia stem from two utterly different, and fundamentally irreconcilable, understandings of what the end of the Cold War meant. It wasn’t just a side that lost but a whole understanding of how the world should work. From the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand to the Sudeten crisis to the division of Germany, most of the 20th century’s major conflicts erupted over border disputes in Central and Eastern Europe. Vladimir Putin’s refusal to acknowledge that small countries have the same rights as larger ones has pitted a rules-abiding West against a rules-flouting Russia. Faced with neighbors wishing to break free of their post-imperial yoke, Russians have not paused to consider that maybe it’s their behavior, past and present, that has led the former “captive nations” to be wary of Moscow’s designs. Rather, Russians have internalized, in the words of former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer, the attitude that “nobody likes us, what’s wrong with everybody?” For Western policymakers to endorse such myopia is like giving car keys to a drunk.

As Russian troops marched into Crimea under the same pretext as German forces did into the Sudetenland — claiming to “protect” the rights and lives of allegedly threatened ethnic comrades — German chancellor Angela Merkel was said to have remarked that Putin lives in “another world.” He does. It’s a dangerous world where might makes right, one that successive generations of Western statesmen, along with courageous Poles, Czechs, Romanians, and countless others, fought to overcome. The post–Cold War “ideas and assumptions” of America and its allies were not “triumphalist” diktats meant to humiliate or “encircle” Russia by “rubbing its nose” in defeat, but fundamental principles of sovereignty and national self-determination established to avert war on a continent repeatedly plagued by it. Far from being too “triumphalist” in its dealings with Russia, if anything, the West was not triumphalist enough.

to which I would respond what aggression? The aggressor in every single instance cited by Mr. Kirchick was the United States. Russia reacted to our provocations.

Disagreeing with the Russians’ interpretation of events is well and good. Ignoring what actually happened? Not so much. Russia didn’t merely side with the Serbs during the ethnic wars in the Balkans. The U. S. took the side of one group engaging in genocide against another. It also bombed the Serbian capital, destroying the Chinese embassy in the process. That is not purely benign and it was aggression.

Coming up to the present day, the U. S. took the side of a clique of neo-Nazis to overthrow the legitimately-elected government of Ukraine to install a pro-U. S. government there. That, too, was not purely benign and it was aggression.

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What About Tesla?

Tesla has boosted its production up to 500 cars a month, still far below the 5,000 a month predicted by Elon Musk and it’s started to run into the same sort of problems with its autonomous vehicles that Uber has.

Predictions. What’s the most likely future for Tesla?

  1. Tesla will overcome its production problems, get more financing, and ultimately become the leader in both electric cars and autonomous vehicles. In 50 years Elon Musk will be viewed as a visionary genius.
  2. Tesla will never really overcome its production problems but it will get additional financing and continue to struggle along for the foreseeable future.
  3. Tesla and Elon Musk more generally will continue to produce what are essentially concept models of products. There will always be people willing to throw money at it and him, including the taxpayer.
  4. In 5 years Tesla will fold and Elon Musk will be thought of as a rent-seeking flimflam man.
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Functioning As Designed

The results of the first accident with human fatalities involving an autonomous vehicle are in. As Alexis Madrigal notes in the Atlantic, the vehicle was functioning as designed.

Strict liability is a standard of liability making the person or corporation responsible for the damage and loss they cause regardless of negligence, fault, or intent. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The way to deal with autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things more generally is strict liability.

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WWJWHD?

I recommend a very interesting article at Fortune about the decline of General Electric, under Jack Welch’s tenure the most admired company in the world. I don’t think you can come away from the article without concluding that Jeffrey Immelt was a lousy CEO.

Still, it’s hard to see precisely where he went wrong. Was he just unlucky? I can only express my uninformed opinion. Management time and attention are finite resources. Tackling too many new initiatives, making more acquisitions than you have the time or attention to manage are not winning formulae.

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What Was His First Clue?

I was torn between the title I’ve used for this post and “Too soon ve get old; too late ve get shmart”. In his latest column in the Washington Post Fareed Zakaria is astonished to find that Donald Trump’s superpower is marketing not deal-making:

It is nearly 500 days into the Trump administration. Where are the deals? Where is the renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement , the bilateral trade agreements that were going to replace the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the new and improved Iran nuclear pact, the China trade deal? Trump’s record in working with Congress is even less impressive. He has not been able to strike an accord with Democrats on anything, from immigration to infrastructure.

[…]

As talks fail, deals collapse and negotiations founder, Trump continues to tweet triumphantly about his great success. It makes one realize the president’s true talent. He has the confidence, bravado and skill to market failure as success. He can take a mediocre building, slap some gold paint on it and then convince people it’s a super-luxury condominium. Call it the Art of the Spin.

I think that Mr. Zakaria should be cautious lest his hatred of Trump blind him to the actual results from Trump’s blustering and peripatetic approach to diplomacy. It’s actually worked out pretty well for him so far.

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Is MBS a Reformer?

In my opinion the editors of the New York Times were conned:

In just a few weeks, on June 24, Saudi Arabia is set to lift the longstanding ban on women drivers, putting into effect the most visible social reform that Prince Mohammed has championed.

All to the good, right? Not so fast. Over the past two weeks, the prince reversed course, unleashing and then expanding a crackdown on the very activists who had promoted the right of women to drive.

The government rounded up an initial group of activists and then after an international uproar, redoubled its efforts. At least 11 people, mostly women but also a few men, have now been arrested and interrogated without access to lawyers. One woman was said to have been held incommunicado.

Saudi prosecutors have not disclosed the names of those arrested or the charges filed against them. But news reports said the list includes one of Saudi Arabia’s most high-profile feminists, Loujain al-Hathloul, who was previously detained for more than 70 days in 2014 for trying to post an online video of herself driving into the kingdom from the United Arab Emirates. Others include a retired professor, an assistant professor of linguistics who is also a blogger in English, a psychotherapist in her mid-60s and a young nurse in Riyadh, the Saudi capital.

Saudi analysts say the reversal is a reflection of Saudi politics and the prince’s desire to portray the lifting of the driving ban as a gift of the monarchy to Saudi women rather than a concession to international or domestic pressure.

But the crackdown also raises doubts about the prince’s commitment to women’s equality and freedom of movement. Pro-government media outlets publicized photos of the detained activists and accused them of being traitors, a shocking attack on a group whose only apparent offense was peaceful protest. They should be released immediately.

The willingness to engage in wishful thinking about Saudi Arabia on the part of Westerners is genuinely astonishing to me. Mohammed bin Salman isn’t a liberalizing reformer. He’s just consolidating power.

The two main groups opposed to his assuming more power than any Saudi leader since his grandfather are the other members of the Saud family and the conservative Wahhabi clergy. He coralled the former in a hotel and extorted money from them and threw the latter a brushback pitch in the form of his announcement about women driving. It really isn’t that hard to understand.

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Check Your Assumptions

At the New York Times Mark Fitzpatrick presents a simulator of war with North Korea. Try it out. The results aren’t pretty.

I do not advocate war with North Korea. I advocate what has been called “strategic patience”—essentially ignoring them. However, I think the scenarios presented by Mr. Fitzpatrick depend very strongly on one’s assumptions and, unfortunately, Mr. Fitzpatrick does not present his. I can only assume he makes the following:

  1. North Korea has the ability to strike the U. S. mainland with a nuclear weapon.
  2. China will spring to North Korea’s defense regardless of the circumstances.

My assumptions are quite different. I assume

  1. North Korea does not have the ability to strike the U. S. mainland with a nuclear weapon. There are as many opinions on this as there are analysts. IMO North Korea might be able to accomplish the feat with a single weapon and we might be able to defeat it. Also, keep in mind that launch capability and strike capability are not the same thing.
  2. If the North Koreans engage in a first strike, they’re on their own. That’s what the Chinese leadership has said and I believe them.

And here are my alternative scenarios.

Scenario 1

We engage in a first strike against North Korea using conventional weapons. The North Koreans respond with everything in their arsenal. The Chinese respond to our attack in North Korea’s defense. It goes nuclear almost immediately. This is the doomsday scenario. Millions of Americans, North Koreans, South Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, and who knows who else dead, probably several hundred million people in all.

Scenario 2

North Korea lobs a nuclear missile at U. S. forces. We respond with a decapitating nuclear strike against North Korea, 50-100 nuclear weapons in all. The conflict is over in less than an hour. Hundreds of thousands of Americans and South Koreans dead. Tens of millions of North Koreans dead.

Scenario 3

The U. S. engages in a decapitating nuclear first strike against North Korea and China, under the assumption that if we attack North Korea China will respond. Hundreds of nuclear weapons are used. North Korea is completely destroyed; China is able to mount some sort of counter-attack. Hundreds of millions of Chinese, North Koreans, South Koreans, Japanese, and Americans are killed.

I think that Scenario 2 is the only one that is at all likely and that’s assuming that the North Koreans make very bad assumptions of their own. Any of those sound appealing or even likely to you? Me, neither.

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What Went Wrong?

According to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction the large sums of money spent by the U. S. government on stabilizing Afghanistan since 2009 have largely been wasted. USA Today reports:

The damning report finds that much of the $4.7 billion spent on programs to stabilize areas cleared of insurgents has been largely wasted — some of it siphoned off by corrupt officials, some of it paying for projects that did more harm than good. All told, the U.S. government has appropriated about $126 billion to rebuild the country, most of it to train and equip security forces.

“The large sums of stabilization dollars the United States devoted to Afghanistan in search of quick gains often exacerbated conflicts, enabled corruption, and bolstered support for insurgents,” the report states.

One of the big problems was that success was measured in terms of inputs rather than in terms of outputs. That problem isn’t isolated to our efforts in Afghanistan.

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