|1:34 PM, Apr 16, 2014 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
Nobody loved Shai Agassi and his company, Better Place, more than Tom Friedman. Friedman dedicated two slobbering, wide-eyed, wet-kiss columns to Agassi's Better Place in 2008. You can read them here and here.
Have a gander at Friedman in full tout mode:
What would happen if you cross-bred J. R. Ewing of "Dallas" and Carl Pope, the head of the Sierra Club? You'd get T. Boone Pickens. What would happen if you cross-bred Henry Ford and Yitzhak Rabin? You'd get Shai Agassi. And what would happen if you put together T. Boone Pickens, the green billionaire Texas oilman now obsessed with wind power, and Shai Agassi, the Jewish Henry Ford now obsessed with making Israel the world's leader in electric cars?
You'd have the start of an energy revolution.
What I find exciting about Better Place is that it is building a car company off the new industrial platform of the 21st century, not the one from the 20th — the exact same way that Steve Jobs did to overturn the music business.
What was this Jobsian revolution Agassi was leading? Better Place was going to upend the entire auto sector by having people purchase cars and fuel the way they do cell phones and mobile data contracts: You pay a subsidized price for an electric car, which you buy from Better Place—and then lease the battery from them, paying a set monthly fee for fill-ups, depending on how many miles you intend to drive. Whenever you need more juice, you stop by one of the Better Place stations for either a charge or a whole battery swap, performed by robots. Agassi came from the tech world and was, like Friedman, a fixture on the Davos/TED/gilded-lecture circuit. As such, he found it remarkably easy to raise nearly $1 billion dollars to kick-start this "energy revolution."
The only problem is that the entire concept was ludicrous. In order to succeed, Better Place would have had to build a giant, national network of expensive brick-and-mortar stations. It would have had to move an enormous number of people out of a variety of conventional vehicles—small compacts, station wagons, mini-vans, pick-up trucks, SUVs—and into a one-size-fits-all electric car in order to handle standardized battery transactions. It would have had to engineer this epochal shift in very short order, because the carrying costs of the infrastructure become fatal if the customer base doesn't go immediately to scale. And if their customer base did scale, then the network of stations would almost certainly be overwhelmed by users.
11:42 AM, Apr 16, 2014 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
A video of a large al Qaeda gathering in Yemen has raised eyebrows in the press. Nasir al Wuhayshi, the head of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), as well as general manager of al Qaeda’s global network, can be heard saying to a crowd of more than 100: "We must eliminate the cross. ... The bearer of the cross is America!"
CNN’s Barbara Starr first reported on the brazen meeting, pointing out that “the CIA and the Pentagon either didn't know about it or couldn't get a drone there in time to strike.” When Obama administration officials and some within the U.S. intelligence community speak about al Qaeda its sounds like the group’s senior leaders are cowering in fear somewhere, waiting for the next missile to strike. They are not supposed to be openly hosting a large anti-American rally.
And then there is how American officials speak about AQAP and Wuhayshi. They are supposedly “affiliates” of al Qaeda, distinct from al Qaeda’s “core” in South Asia. But this is simply not true. Wuhayshi is as “core” as they come.
Wuhayshi was Osama bin Laden’s protégé. The first head of al Qaeda handpicked Wuhayshi to serve as his aide-de-camp out of a group of Yemenis who had traveled to Afghanistan to serve as bodyguards. Bin Laden saw Wuhayshi’s potential and decided to groom him to be something more than muscle. The diminutive, but brilliant, Wuhayshi faithfully served at bin Laden’s side through the Battle of Tora Bora in late 2001. He eventually fled to Iran, where he was detained for a time, before being shipped off to his native Yemen. There, in 2006, he took part in a prison escape that freed up al Qaeda “core” talent to do the organization’s bidding in bin Laden’s ancestral homeland.
Al Qaeda’s goal has always been to launch insurgencies in Muslim countries it thinks are ripe for a jihadist takeover. Saudi Arabia and Yemen have been high on al Qaeda’s list in this regard. But a fierce counterterrorism campaign begun by the Saudis in 2003 quashed al Qaeda’s post-9/11 push inside the kingdom. Some al Qaeda leaders fled to Yemen, but it was Wuhayshi’s newfound freedom, alongside other prison escapees and Guantanamo returnees that really rejuvenated al Qaeda’s leadership in Arabia.
It was Ayman al Zawahiri, then Osama bin Laden’s top deputy, who first publicly recognized Wuhayshi as al Qaeda’s leader in the Arabian Peninsula. In early 2009, Wuhayshi relaunched AQAP, swearing allegiance to al Qaeda’s senior leadership in the process. And, in the summer of 2013 Zawahiri appointed Wuhayshi to the position of al Qaeda’s general manager. Wuhayshi’s appointment coincided with a large-scale terrorist threat. This was detected when U.S. intelligence officials learned that Zawahiri had hosted an internet-based communication with more than 20 of his subordinates, including Wuhayshi. More than 20 U.S. diplomatic facilities were shuttered in early August 2013 as a result.
Hosted by Michael Graham.10:30 AM, Apr 16, 2014 • By TWS PODCAST
THE WEEKLY STANDARD Podcast with senior editor Lee Smith on why the U.S. needs to push back against Vladimir Putin.
This podcast can be downloaded here. Subscribe to THE WEEKLY STANDARD's iTunes podcast feed here.
9:37 AM, Apr 16, 2014 • By DENNIS P. HALPIN
President Obama is about to undertake a fence-mending mission to America’s Asian allies in Tokyo, Seoul, and Manila. The U.S. “pivot” to Asia is coming under renewed scrutiny following Beijing’s announcement of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) for the East China Sea in November, Pyongyang’s recent firing of two midrange missiles into waters near Japan and South Korea, and regional whispers questioning American resolve.
The situation calls to mind the scene in Casablanca where a man emerges from the shadows as the Vichy French police, under the watchful eye of the Nazis, haul a hapless customer out of Rick’s casino. The man notes: “When they come to get me, Rick, I hope you’ll be more of a help.” Rick’s cynical reply: “I stick my neck out for nobody.” The man in question could well be these Asian allies as they watch President Obama first back away from his “red line” in Syria and now admonish an undeterred Vladimir Putin over his aggression against Ukraine.
The seriousness of the U.S. pivot thus remains a matter of debate—and some doubt—from Tokyo down to Manila. Even before Crimea, Philippine President Benigno Aquino raised alarm bells in February, cautioning the West about China’s maritime ambitions. He went so far as to compare Beijing’s bullying of the Philippines in the South China Sea to Hitler’s demands on Czechoslovakia over the Sudetenland. (Of course he failed to note that the Philippine Senate’s decision not to renew the 1947 Military Bases Agreement with the United States in 1991 had led to the withdrawal of U.S. forces. It seems likely that Beijing would be more cautious in its aggressive approach toward Manila in the South China Sea if a U.S. fleet was still in port at Subic Bay.)
As the Ukrainian drama was unfolding, a smaller cat-and-mouse game was being played by Beijing with America’s Philippine ally. Manila officially protested on March 11—just as Russia tightened its grip on Crimea—after Chinese coast guard vessels blocked the resupply of a small group of eight Filipino soldiers guarding the disputed Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea. In a replay of the Cold War’s Berlin airlift, Manila then air-dropped food and water to the beleaguered soldiers. More recently, in late March, a Philippines military vessel outmaneuvered the Chinese Coast Guard blockade and directly resupplied the stranded troops.
In a highly irate article, China’s state-controlled and highly nationalistic Global Times stated that the “small and weak” Philippines had become the vanguard force in “provoking China.” It added that Chinese forces could remove the Filipino soldiers at any time “like taking thieves away.” Beijing seems to be reading the Crimean tea leaves.
8:40 AM, Apr 16, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The city that President Obama was credited with “saving” – before it turned out that he hadn’t – is getting a little help from Washington as it struggles through the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history.
As reported by Reuters:
Michigan officials and President Barack Obama'sAdministration are discussing a plan to free up $100 million in federal money to aid Detroit's retired city workers, the Detroit Free Press reported on Tuesday.
Citing two people familiar with the talks, the newspaper said the talks were centered around federal money flowing to Michigan for blight removal. Under the plan, $100 million would be earmarked for Detroit, reducing the $500 million the city's emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, plans to use to eliminate blight over the next 10 years.
The $100 million saved could then be used by Orr to ease pension cuts for retirees under the city's plan to adjust its $18 billion of debt and exit the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, according to the report.
It isn’t much money, measured against how prosperous the Motor City once was and how deep the hole now is, after years of corrupt, one-party rule.
But you have to start somewhere.Washington looks after its friends and figures, no doubt, that taxpayers a generation from now will understand and be good for the money.
And, anyway, they’ll have no choice.
'It’s not even close.'7:01 AM, Apr 16, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Former New York City mayor is pledging to spend $50 million this year to push gun control, the New York Times reports. For this and other deeds (such as taking on obesity and smoking), Bloomberg believes he's going to heaven.
“I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close,” Bloomberg told the Times.
Here's the full context of Bloomberg's heaven quotation:
Mr. Bloomberg was introspective as he spoke, and seemed both restless and wistful. When he sat down for the interview, it was a few days before his 50th college reunion. His mortality has started dawning on him, at 72. And he admitted he was a bit taken aback by how many of his former classmates had been appearing in the “in memoriam” pages of his school newsletter.But if he senses that he may not have as much time left as he would like, he has little doubt about what would await him at a Judgment Day. Pointing to his work on gun safety, obesity and smoking cessation, he said with a grin: “I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.”
As for the gun control push, Bloomberg tells the paper he wants gun rights advocates to fear him.
Michael R. Bloomberg, making his first major political investment since leaving office, plans to spend $50 million this year building a nationwide grass-roots network to motivate voters who feel strongly about curbing gun violence, an organization he hopes can eventually outmuscle the National Rifle Association.
Mr. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, said gun control advocates need to learn from the N.R.A. and punish those politicians who fail to support their agenda — even Democrats whose positions otherwise align with his own.
“They say, ‘We don’t care. We’re going to go after you,’ ” he said of the N.R.A. “ ‘If you don’t vote with us we’re going to go after your kids and your grandkids and your great-grandkids. And we’re never going to stop.’ ”
He added: “We’ve got to make them afraid of us.”
5:08 PM, Apr 15, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Marco Rubio is pushing President Obama to strengthen Russian sanctions. “Russia’s efforts to foment unrest in eastern Ukraine are tantamount to another violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. Assertions from Moscow that Russia is not involved hold little credibility, particularly in the wake of its unlawful annexation of Crimea," the Florida senator writes in a statement released by his office.
“The Obama administration must immediately increase sanctions on Russia. Sector-based sanctions should begin to be imposed and President Putin’s own financial assets, and those of his associates, targeted. By delaying the most significant penalties, the United States and our allies have unfortunately sent the message to Russia that there will be little cost to pay for this type of behavior. We should also stand with Ukraine as the interim government attempts to deal with these provocations. This includes immediately providing the lethal assistance they requested weeks ago. We also need to take measures to reassure our allies in Central and Eastern Europe by deploying more alliance assets to their territories to reinforce our NATO commitments to their security.
“Armed takeovers of foreign territory by masked men are the crude tactics of bygone regional powers, not the actions of 21st century nations. Until Russia is convinced of a real cost of its current course of action, I fear that Ukraine’s stability will continue to be undermined. I urge the President to act without delay.”
3:02 PM, Apr 15, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott of Texas is more popular among female voters than his Democratic opponent, state senator Wendy Davis, according to a new poll from PPP. The Democratic polling firm found 51 percent of Texas voters support Abbott while 37 percent support Davis. That's not surprising, since Texas is a solidly Republican state.
But Davis, who rose to fame last year by filibustering a bill in the Texas legislature that would restrict late-term abortions, isn't just losing among voters overall. Just 41 percent of women voters say they support Davis, with 49 percent saying they support Abbott. Abbott also has positive favorability among women voters (35 percent favorable, 27 percent unfavorable) while Davis is underwater on that metric with women (32 percent favorable, 46 percent unfavorable).
Texas voters also disapprove of Barack Obama's job as president, with 58 percent saying they disapprove and just 36 percent saying they approve. The numbers aren't much better for Obama with women voters (56 percent and 38 percent, respectively).
Abbott, the attorney general, recently told THE WEEKLY STANDARD in an interview why he thought Davis was not doing well in her race against him:
Abbott mostly ignores his opponent. In his primary night victory party in San Antonio, he doesn’t mention Davis at all. With some coaxing in our interview, he simply notes that she’s too liberal for Texas.
“After Senator Davis got into the race, she realized, wait a second, Texas is a little bit different than the narrow focus that she had,” he says. “As a conservative who has been involved in running the state of Texas for more than a decade, I know where Texans stand on issues. Where they stand is where I stand on issues.”
2:25 PM, Apr 15, 2014 • By ELLEN BORK
At the beginning of this month, two prominent Hong Kong democracy advocates visited Washington to seek America’s support.
Vice President Joseph Biden “dropped by” to meet Anson Chan, a former top civil servant under both the British and Chinese administrations, and Martin Lee, a distinguished barrister and founder of the territory’s democratic party. The White House press office gave a brief “read out” of the meeting citing America’s “long standing support for democracy in Hong Kong and for the city’s high degree of autonomy.”
Considering China’s predictably negative reaction, and the low priority given to supporting democracy abroad by the Obama administration, the White House reception for the Hong Kong democrats was respectable. At the same time, Mrs. Chan and Mr. Lee might share the sentiments a Russian democrat opposition politician expressed after a meeting with President Obama: “less than what we wanted but more than what we expected.” What Hong Kong’s democrats need is for the U.S. to explicitly support democratic elections for the chief executive and a fully democratic legislature.
Beijing is expected to decide sometime this year on changes to how the chief executive will be chosen in 2017, but few expect real progress toward democracy. Beijing set up the post-1997 government it wanted so that it could rely on pro-Beijing “patriots” who “love Hong Kong” to run Hong Kong. Under the system devised by Beijing, the chief executive is chosen in a manner reflecting “the actual situation” in Hong Kong. Far from full democracy, Beijing’s “ultimate goal” is for Hong Kong people to vote on candidates selected by a “broadly representative nominating committee” and in keeping with “the principle of gradual and orderly progress.” In the past, such gradual progress has meant expanding the committee that rubber stamps Beijing’s choice of chief executive from 800 to 1,200.
Beijing’s interpretation of the “actual situation” differs from what Hong Kong people want and is at odds with democratic principles. At the same time, without legitimacy and accountability, Hong Kong’s government is growing weaker and concerns about the future stability rising. There are increasing tensions between Hong Kong citizens and Mainland Chinese residents, deterioration in press freedom, and incidents of violence against journalists. The possibility of provocations orchestrated by Beijing to justify a clampdown, including the imposition of an anti-subversion law, is real, especially during civil disobedience campaign planned for this summer.
Beijing likely prefers the problems of authoritarian rule to allowing democracy. In the past, American leaders have tried to reason with Beijing that greater liberalization is in Beijing’s interest – but Communist party leaders tend not to see things the same way as elected democrats.
1:26 PM, Apr 15, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The crisis in Ukraine has not reached the dreaded point where it turns into a shooting war. And likely it will not. So we hear no urgent analysis of things like objectives, interior lines, unity of command, logistical staying power, the durability of alliances, and the other matters that have been the concern of European strategists since the days of Napoleon. Germany is not going to invade Russia and visa versa.
But there are analogous strategic considerations and on most of them, Russia has the advantage. It faces a weak alliance – NATO – that counts on the member with the least at stake in this crisis for its existence and effectiveness. The United States picks up 75 percent of NATO’s tab and depends on Russia for … nothing.
The alliance is not only structurally weak, it also suffers from its lack of single, centralized command. Germany’s Merkel may be NATO's strongest leader but she will be as busy keeping her allies in line as she is in dealing with the opposition. Vladimir Putin is not similarly handicapped.
Then, there is the question of will and stamina. If it is to be a war of economic attrition, then, as Gerald F. Seib points out in the Wall Street Journal, economic sanctions cut both ways and:
Europeans are much less enthusiastic about economic sanctions than are Americans, because they have more to lose in the process. Their economy is more tied to Russia’s, so their companies have more to lose if economic ties are cut.
Some 30 percent of Europe’s natural gas comes from Russia. If NATO clamps down on the flow of money through banks, Russian can retaliate by cutting the flow of gas, by pipeline, to nations where it gets cold. Ukrainian independence and sovereignty are nice in the abstract but don’t keep citizens warm in the winter.
One suspects that Mr. Putin, meanwhile, is prepared to have his people suffer the pain of stock market losses and higher interest rates if that is what it takes.
12:34 PM, Apr 15, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Writing in the Daily Beast, Mark McKinnon argues that a Hillary/Jeb contest in 2016 would be good for the nation. (Not to mention, good for business.) His arguments amount to the usual pap, made without much rigor or, even, conviction. That is, Hillary & Jeb are both experienced. Not too partisan. Real policy chops. So on.
But there is one little item that catches your otherwise flagging attention. Mr. McKinnon asserts that in such a contest, voters would be treated to
Donnez mois une breaks, Mon, one thinks. Does not Mr. McKinnon realize that Messrs Lincoln and Douglas actually a) disagreed on what one might call “the big issues,” b) had the ability to say things in compelling fashion, and c) actually believed in what they said.
But, then, they suffered from not having access to the services of the kind of consultants available to Jeb and Hillary.
11:41 AM, Apr 15, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Attorney General Eric Holder tells the Huffington Post that he had "youthful experimentation" of marijuana. In other words, he smoked pot in college.
As the liberal website reports:
Asked about his own personal history with marijuana, Holder told HuffPost he used pot in college and had characterized it as "youthful experimentation" in background checks for various federal nominations.
"Yeah, I certainly have said in my four, five, whatever number confirmation hearings I've had that you fill out the forms, that I had 'youthful experimentation' -- I think was the phrase that we were told to use -- when I was in college," Holder said.
Holder also told the Huffington Post he's "cautiously optimistic" about legalization in Washington and Colorado:
Based on the reports he has received out of Washington and Colorado, Holder also said he thinks things are going about how he'd expected them to go.
"I think what people have to understand is that when we have those eight prioritiesthat we have set out, it essentially means that the federal government is not going to be involved in the prosecution of small-time, possessory drug cases, but we never were," Holder said. "So I'm not sure that I see a huge change yet, we've tried to adapt to the situation in Colorado with regard to how money is kept and transacted and all that stuff, and try to open up the banking system."
"But I think, so far, I'm cautiously optimistic," Holder continued. "But as I indicated to both governors, we will be monitoring the progress of those efforts and if we conclude that they are not being done in an appropriate way, we reserve our rights to file lawsuits."
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