Both Black and Blue Lives Matter.

This is ill-timed, so it is probably ill-considered.  Probably mealy-mouthed as well.

Generally, crime rates in America are down markedly from two decades ago.  (This is not true if you live in Chicago.)  The drop has not entirely been explained.  One explanation, advanced by the police is that aggressive street policing (e.g. “stop-and-frisk”) has taken criminals off the street, deterred many others, and stopped a downward spiral of civic demoralization.[1]

Effective or not, the policy had unhappy consequences that were not, but could have been, anticipated.   First, African-Americans are victims of crime at much higher rates than are whites.  Since we live in a still-segregated society, this means that most crime is intra-racial, rather than inter-racial.  African-Americans are disproportionately both victims and victimizers.  Concentrating policing on high-crime areas inevitably assumed a character that could easily be construed as “racist.”

Second, the vast majority of people living in high-crime areas are not criminals.  As a result, “stop-and-frisk” involves stopping and frisking lots of innocent people in order to catch a few guilty ones.  All those innocent people have every right to feel that they are being harassed merely because they fit some demographic profile.  Not much effort seems to have been committed to trying to ease this feeling, if it even would be possible.

Third, policing appears to be a “coarse art,” instead of a “fine art.”  Ordinary fallible and flawed human beings have to figure out how to carry out the strategies defined by their superiors.  Often they have to carry out these policies while in contact with difficult, non-compliant people.  Moreover, America is awash in firearms.  Far too often, these interactions end in violent death.   Often, but not always, the circumstances are gray rather than black and white.  Afterwards, prosecutors, judges, and juries are more inclined than not to reject condemning the police.  Politicians pile-on, affirming that the laws are applied in a discriminatory way, or voicing platitudes, or asserting an unquestioning integral defense of police conduct.

If you stay at this policy long enough, you’re going to anger an awful lot of people.  It’s like building up the “fuel” for a forest fire.  All that is required for a conflagration is a lightning strike or a series of them.

Trayvon Martin.  Michael Brown.  Eric Garner.  Laquan McDonald.  Walter Scott.  Freddy Gray.  All were lightning strikes that set off a conflagration.  On the one hand, the “Black Lives Matter” protest movement sprang up.  On the other hand, American views on the state of race relations shifted from optimistic to pessimistic.  Recently, Baltimore prosecutors have suffered a series of stinging defeats in the effort to prosecute police officers in the arresting-to-death of Freddy Gray.  Then, police in Minnesota and Louisiana shot to death two black men in what should have been minor incidents.  More lightning strikes.

Protests erupted in many cities.  In Dallas, a black sniper used the occasion of one such peaceful protest to kill five police officers.

It has been difficult to hold an intelligent conversation about these matters.  For one thing, the subject is both complex and painful.  For another, it coincides with other complex and painful controversies.  The white populist revolts in both major parties.  The mass shootings and terrorist attacks.  Are these issues inter-related, with a common solution, or is it just our bad luck that they arose at the same time?

[1] See Barry Friedman, “Thin Blue Lines,” NYT Book Review, 3 July 2016.  Friedman reviews Heather Mac Donald, The War on Cops:, and Malcolm Sparrow, Handcuffed.

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Climate of Fear XXI.

Used to be, presidential candidates could just say “I stand for the principles of the Whig Party” and let it go at that.[1]  Now, a presidential election campaign requires candidates to lay out their plans for examination by voters.[2]

Hillary Clinton has begun to do so.  One key area is climate change.  Here she seeks to reach beyond the goals set by the Obama administration.  President Obama believed that emissions had to be reduced, so he ordered the EPA to use the Clean Air Act to issue regulations that would compel vehicles and power plants to cut emissions by 25-28 percent below the 2005 level by 2025, and by 80 percent by 2050.

According to many economists, a carbon tax would be highly effective in reducing emissions.  Indeed, the goals for 2050 and perhaps even those for 2025 can’t be reached without a carbon tax.  It would drive up the price of carbon fuels above the price of alternative fuels, creating a market demand for those alternative fuels.  This, in turn, would shift the terms for solar and wind energy while stimulating a demand for mass transportation.

However, it would hit hard on ordinary consumers by raising gas and electricity prices.  So, Ford F-150s, “Mommy vans,” and air conditioning would all become prohibitively expensive.[3]  Such voters would become angry, angry hippos and—in an act of false consciousness[4]—vote Republican.  Clinton has rigorously avoided proposing a carbon tax.

Conceding that the Democrats are unlikely to win control of both houses of Congress (perhaps not even one), she envisions acting on climate change without legislation.  Clinton believes that “meeting the climate challenge is too important to wait for climate deniers in Congress to pass comprehensive climate legislation.”[5]  She would use the Clean Air Act to issue regulations that would reduce emissions by airlines, oil refineries, gas wells, and cement plants.

What might such action accomplish?  She hopes to raise the number of solar panels from about 70,000 today to 500 million by 2020.  She wants to spend $60 billion on mass-transit and energy-efficient buildings.  Experts believe that the Obama Administration already has done just about everything that administrative regulations can achieve, even if the courts allow all of them to remain in effect.  Taken all together, her energy proposals will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent of the 2005 level by 2050.  That is, the same mark as that set by the Obama administration.  Furthermore, a Clinton administration would need to get at least $60 billion in appropriations through Congress.  This seems equally unlikely to be achieved.

Nevertheless, Clinton has won some support from the environmental community, which sees the danger of climate change as more pressing than any other danger.  “We know that [a carbon tax] is not politically realistic.  And we need to be realistic about what we can get,” said Scott Hennessey, vice president of the solar power company SolarCity.[6]

The real issue is the American unwillingness to be taxed, rather than “climate deniers.”

[1] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAjwAuHHQJs

[2] Voters in long-established democracies realize that their own candidates are just writing a wish list, but they believe that the other candidate means to try for integral fulfillment of his/her agenda.

[3] Actually, they already are in environmental terms.  It’s just that on one wants to tell people the truth.

[4] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_consciousness

[5] Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, quoted in Coral Davenport, “Clinton’s Climate Change Plan Avoids Mention of a Carbon Tax,” NYT, 3 July 2016.

[6] Which spent a measly $200,000 on the Podesta Group lobbying firm in 2015.  See: http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/firmsum.php?id=D000022193&year=2014%20Campaign%20Contributions  This was not mentioned in the NYT article.  See n. 5 above.

CrISIS 8.

A certain amount seems to be agreed about the history of Islamic fundamentalist ideology: Saudi Arabia sought to fend off criticism of the monarchy by pouring money into the proselytizing of Wahhabism throughout the Muslim world; this intellectual milieu opened the road from one form of commitment to other, more extreme, forms of commitment; both al Qaeda and Hamas benefitted from this in the past in the sense that there existed a broad tolerance for Islamist terrorism.  However, now ISIS has emerged as the champion of conservative Sunni Islam.  The “end-of-days” thread in the thought of ISIS has alienated many (perhaps most) Muslims.  That still leaves people (the policy-makers, the politicians who front for them, and the scholars and intelligence officers who advise them) with dilemmas.

For one thing, ISIS might best be thought of as a coalition, rather than a coherent movement.  On the one hand, it is essentially an Iraqi Sunni movement.  Yes, it flourished in a Syria torn apart by civil war, but it has at its core Iraqi Sunnis who had participated in the insurgency that followed the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, then fled to Syria.  On the other hand, it is an international “brand” that inspires malcontents elsewhere to act against both “Unbelievers” and “Misbelievers.”  Will any one strategy succeed against ISIS or is it just an umbrella term for several separate wars?

For another thing, will mowing the lawn on a regular basis (i.e. drone strikes on Islamist leaders) accomplish anything?[1]  The answer probably depends on whether one is attacking a tightly circumscribed transnational terrorist network (like Al Qaeda) or a broadly-based insurgency (like the Taliban).  Killing the leadership of a network will disorganize it and disrupt its communications.  Killing the leader of a local insurgency may just lead to the movement coughing up another leader, one possibly more radical than his predecessor.   The U.S. has faced this dilemma since 9/11.  Starkly: hunt Osama bin Laden or invade Iraq?

For a third thing, “is the main threat the radicalization of Islam or the Islamization of radicalism?”[2]  That is, do some elements (individuals or groups) of Muslim communities move toward a conflict-oriented fundamentalism?  If that’s the case, then the solution may be more effective policing to discern people headed down a pathway to violence.  Alternatively, do some madmen just seek a “cause” with which to identify, and ISIS is the flavor of the month?  If that is the case, then perhaps the defeat of ISIS will reduce the appeal of “jihad.”  (NB: Probably both.  So, where are the physical and psychological spaces where the two groups meet?)

The Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov reports that about a quarter of the ISIS recruits in Europe are actually converts from some other faith or from no faith, while many of the Muslims come from families that were non-observant.  One way to read this is that secularization has left some people intellectually and emotionally adrift.  Another way to read it is that troubled people search for some rock to cling to so they aren’t washed away in their inner storms.  The two are not incompatible.  Moreover, Trofimov is understandably pre-occupied by the danger of attacks in the West.  What about the many more dissidents in the countries of the Muslim world?

Can ISIS be defeated?  In one sense, yes, obviously. Bomb them back to the Stone Age.  But can it “die”?  Are Bozo Haram and Bangladeshi terrorists and “lone wolves” in California and Florida actually in touch with the Islamic State in any meaningful way?  Or are they just inspired by the example?  If ISIS is defeated in Syraqia, will it be discredited or will people continue to evoke it as an ideal?  There are no easy answers to any of these questions.

[1] Yaroslav Trofimov, “U.S. Killings of Militant Leaders Deliver Mixed Results,” WSJ, 27 May 2016.

[2] Yaroslav Trofimov, “For Some New Militants, Islam is a Flag of Convenience,” WSJ, 17 June 2016.

Chechen jihadis.

The characteristics of the Second Chechen War were the important role played by radical Islamists and their use of terrorism.  Shamil Basayev and Ibn al-Khatab were important figures.

Shamil Salmanovich Basayev (1965–2006) was born in a Chechen mountain village.  He did a couple of years in the Red Army, but not in a combat unit.[1]  Then he worked on a collective farm; he tried to get into law school, but didn’t make the cut; he studied engineering, but flunked out; and then he sold computers in Moscow.  Basically, a slacker who ought to be recognizable to many young Americans: slept all day, played video games all night.  Then, in November 1991, Chechnya declared its independence from Russia.  Basayev and some friends hijacked a Soviet airliner and took it to Turkey to publicize the cause of Chechen freedom.  Then he became a soldier of Islam, or at least of the Muslim areas of the old Soviet Union that were trying to break away.  He fought in Nagorno-Karabakh (1992), Abkhazia (1992-1993), and then in the First Chechen War (December 1994-August 1996).  The war went badly for the Chechens until Basayev seized a hospital in southern Russia and the 1600 people inside it.  He wanted the Russians to stop attacking Chechnya.  He didn’t exactly get what he wanted, but he did force a pause in Russian attacks, and he did get away, and he did get a lot of publicity.  Which was nice.

Basayev found a kindred spirit in Samir Saleh Abdullah Al-Suwailem (1969–2002), more commonly known as Emir Khatab, or Ibn al-Katab.  Khatab was born in Saudi Arabia.  He left at age 18 to join the last stages of the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan.  He was in Afghanistan from 1989 to 1994, although with interruptions.  Here he met Osama bin Laden.  Along the way he lost a chunk of his right hand while handling an IED.[2]  In 1992, he may have fought in Nagorno-Karabakh.  He fought in the Tajikistan civil war from 1993 to 1995.  In 1995 and 1996 he fought in the First Chechen War.

After the end of the war, Basayev tried politics, but his career fizzled out, while Khattab became a warlord in the ruined Chechen republic.  Peace did not agree with them so well as did war.  In 1998, Basayev and Khatab organized the Islamic International Brigade.  Most of its members were from neighboring Dagestan, with a smattering of Arabs and Turks and a few Chechens.  In August 1999 Basayev and Khatab triggered the Second Chechen War when they raided into Dagestan.  Then the jihadis organized a number of terrorist bombings of apartment buildings in Moscow and other Russian cities.  When the Russians counter-attacked into Chechnya in 1999, Basayev and Khatab led the guerrilla war fought in the Chechen mountains.

Eventually, the Russkies got fed up with trying to kill Khattab by ordinary means.  Khattab was a good son: he regularly corresponded with his mother in Saudi Arabia, using a courier named Ibragim Alauri.  The Russian intelligence service tracked down Alauri and “turned him.”  In March 2002, Alauri arrived in Chechnya with letters to Khattab.  He met with Russian intelligence officers.  They sprayed the letters from his mother with sarin, a fast-acting poison, then sent Alauri on his way.  Khatab died on the night of 19-20 March 2002 from touching the letters.[3]

When the war went badly for the Chechens, Basayev organized acts of large-scale terrorism: the seizure of a Moscow theater, and “Black Widow” suicide bombings by women in burkas from 2002 through 2004.  In July 2006 he was killed in the explosion of a land-mine.

[1] The Red Army didn’t train Chechens to be fighters.  1.) Why bother?  It’s in their blood.  2.) You’re just storing up trouble for later.

[2] A “Khatabka” is a Russian and Chechen slang term for a home-made hand grenade.

[3] Alauri was killed in April 2002 in Baku by agents sent by Shamil Basayev.

Chechnya.

Chechnya is a little place in the North Caucasus mountains.  Russia is to the North, Turkey is to the Southwest, and Iran is to the Southeast.  A lot of the country is mountains.

In the 15th Century, faced with pressure from the Christian Russians, the pagan Chechens converted to Sunni Islam to win the support of the Muslim Ottoman Turkish empire.  However, the Chechens weren’t very good Muslims.  Paganism remained powerful until early in the 1800s and Chechen Islam absorbed a bunch of pagan practices: mosques were built near streams and Allah was often referred to as Deila, the head god of the pagan Chechens.  Furthermore, Muslim religious-based law conflicted with traditional law and people didn’t always think that “sharia” was better.  Even today, Chechen Muslims like and continue to use alcohol and tobacco.

After that, Chechnya remained independent—backward as all get-out, but independent—until the end of the 18th Century.  At the start of the 19th Century the Russkies started pressing again while the Ottoman Empire crumbled.  From 1834 to 1859 an imam (Muslim cleric) named Shamil led a guerrilla war against the Russians.  The Russkies won, but the whole region of the North Caucasus saw repeated rebellions for the rest of the century.  The whole region tried to set up an independent country after the Russian Revolution (1917-1921), with the grandson of the Imam Shamil among the leaders.  That didn’t work: the Reds got control of the place by 1922 and Shamil’s grandson ended up in Germany.  The Soviets promised the Caucasus peoples autonomy, but soon reneged on that promise.  Discontent bubbled until a new insurgency broke out from 1940 to 1944.  The Soviets defeated this rebellion, then deported all 500,000 Chechens to Central Asia.  Perhaps 120,000 of them died in the process.  After the death of Stalin in 1953, the survivors were allowed to return.

Chastened by this hard experience, the Chechens kept their heads down until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990.  Then the Chechens again declared their independence.  Their leader at the time was Dzhokhar Dudayev.  The Russians, under Boris Yeltsin, declined to accept Chechen succession.  If the Chechens bailed out, then lots of other people would bail out.  Two years of incredibly brutal and devastating war followed.  Chechens won their independence, but the price was extremely high.  The war had wrecked much of the country.  Hundreds of thousands of refugees had been driven out of the country.  The guerrillas who had fought the war had become radicalized as exponents of “jihad” and had a hard time returning to civilian life, such as it was.  The country collapsed into chaos, with kidnappings for ransom becoming the only growth industry.  (About 1,300 people were kidnapped for ransom in four years.  Mostly, they got out alive, if not all in one piece.[1])

Worse followed.  In 1999, rebel bands attacked into the neighboring Soviet Union; and a series of bombings of Russian apartment buildings killed about 300 civilians.[2]  This set off the Second Chechen War.  This time the Russkies beat up on the Chechens and re-gained control of the country—sort of.  It also set off a civil war between “opportunist”/Sufi Muslim Chechens who supported the Russians and Wahhabist jihadis who fought them.  The Kadyrov family, father and son, led the Sufi faction.  In 2004 the jihadis killed the father–Akhmad Kadyrov.  In 2007, the son—Ramzan Kadyrov—became President of the Chechen Republic.  This guerrilla war continued until 2009.  Kadyrov takes a dim view of Wahhabism, and of jihadis.

[1] Clip from “Proof of Life.”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2aKHsTOoq0

[2] The Russians blamed these on Chechen terrorists, but a lot of people think the Russian secret service did them as a justification for war.  So, when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s dad said that some secret service had framed his kids for the Boston Marathon bombing, , that’s where he was coming from.