Is ISIS crazy?

ISIS’s capture of of Palmyra has aroused fears that the terrorists will smash the archaeological treasures of this ancient Semitic city. The fears of justified, given ISIS’s conduct in places like Nimrud, Khorsabad, and Mosul.

But according to Nicolas Pelham, writing in the New York Review of Books, even as ISIS forces made a great show of destroying some antiquities on display in the museum in Mosul, the leadership was planning to sell others:

The video that ISIS circulated of its demolition job on Mosul’s antiquities museum in February 2015 was designed to market what it did not destroy. Of the thirty original pieces in the museum’s Hatra hall, according to al-Jumaili [an antiquities professor at Mosul University], the ISIS jihadis had hacked at ten.

They had not filmed the prehistoric, Islamic, and priceless Assyrian halls, because those artifacts were for sale. Their rampage through the Hatra hall, al-Jumaili surmised, was designed to boost demand and hike prices on the black market.

An Iraqi government adviser estimated that the caliphate might have already earned hundreds of millions of dollars from its sales of Assyrian remains. ISIS, the adviser told me, is the world’s best-financed terrorist organization, worth an estimated $8 billion. But with America bombing its oil installations, it was anxious to diversify revenues. (These figures for ISIS finances can’t be confirmed but are widely believed by the informed Iraqis I talked to.)

I’m skeptical of the claim that ISIS has made hundreds of millions of dollars from selling antiquities, and it’s unclear that it will come out ahead by smashing one-third of its Mosul museum inventory. However, I don’t doubt that ISIS is making good money from trafficking in captured antiquities.

Which brings us back to questions we discussed during our most recent Power Line podcast: Is ISIS crazed and, if so, how long can it flourish?

Smashing antiquities seems like a crazed act, but not, perhaps, if it’s a method of driving up prices. Mass beheadings seem crazed, but not, perhaps, if they are a method of terrorizing populations into submission and scaring out wealthy citizens whose property will then be confiscated.

In an article in the Atlantic, Graeme Wood argued that ISIS is no mere collection of psychopaths, but rather a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. According to Wood, ISIS expects the apocalypse to follow its defeat of the army of “Rome” at Dabiq, Syria.

If Wood is right, ISIS is, in the final analysis, crazy. But in many subsidiary ways, it is crazy like a fox. As such, it may be able to flourish for quite some time.

Democrats Say: We Fear Marco!

The New York Times headlines: “Prospect of Hillary Clinton-Marco Rubio Matchup Unnerves Democrats.” As well it should:

They use words like “historic” and “charismatic,” phrases like “great potential” and “million-dollar smile.” They notice audience members moved to tears by an American-dream-come-true success story. When they look at the cold, hard political math, they get uneasy.

An incipient sense of anxiety is tugging at some Democrats — a feeling tersely captured in four words from a blog post written recently by a seasoned party strategist in Florida: “Marco Rubio scares me.”

The one who should really scare them is Hillary Clinton, as her ineptitude as a candidate becomes more palpable with every passing day. But the strategists quoted by the Times have a point: at this stage, the Republican who poses the starkest and most favorable contrast with Hillary is Rubio:

Democrats express concerns not only about whether Mr. Rubio, 43, a son of Cuban immigrants, will win over Hispanic voters, a growing and increasingly important slice of the electorate. They also worry that he would offer a sharp generational contrast to Mrs. Clinton, a fixture in American politics for nearly a quarter-century who will turn 69 less than two weeks before the election.

Do you think? Are Democrats really figuring this out just now?

Characteristically, even as they acknowledge his potential strength as a candidate, the Democrats can’t resist ripping him. Note the silly stereotypes they engage in while doing so:

“I think they do underestimate him,” [John] Morgan added. “He’s energetic, he’s photogenic, and he will say whatever you want him to say.”

What is that supposed to mean? Marco has always been his own man. He got his start taking on the establishment, in the form of incumbent Republican Governor Charlie Crist. And he has been remarkably consistent on the issues.

This one is equally oblivious:

Mr. Gelber praised Mr. Rubio’s ability to use his family’s story to convey compassion for people marginalized by society, but he said he believed, as many Democrats do, that this was disingenuous.

“It’s a little maddening when his policies are so inconsistent with that,” Mr. Gelber said. “My head would explode.”

The Democrats have been in power for six years, while wages have fallen, unemployment and underemployment have persisted, poverty has increased, food stamp usage has reached unprecedented heights, and economic inequality has widened. Yet they are so thick-skulled that they think it is tautological that their policies favor the poor and the downtrodden. They apparently are unable to comprehend that conservatives like Rubio (and us) actually believe that conservative policies work best, especially for those who are trying to climb the ladder of opportunity.

Maybe this is one of the reasons why Democrats tend to underestimate not just a politician like Marco Rubio, but Republicans in general.

Today’s Energy Unicorn: The Scent of Musk

What is it about Elon Musk? People must think his name is “Steve Jobs” in some obscure Slavic language. Sure, I think the Tesla is cool, and think they might lead to something useful some day, but right now they’re a boutique toy for affluent people. (A friend who drives a Tesla in a Midwestern state has a custom bumper sticker: “How do you like my coal-powered car?”) And I like Musk’s enthusiasm for private space travel, since NASA has gone the way of all government monopoly bureaucracies. Not much hope for the “final frontier” when the agency head says, as NASA’s new chief did in 2010, that NASA’s “foremost” mission was “reaching out to the Muslim world.” I don’t even think that wimp Jean-Luc Picard would go for that.

Anyway, Musk’s latest invention that has everyone thinking he’s saved the world is a battery for your house, called the Powerwall. It is being represented as a breakthrough in “distributed energy,” as it suggests you could charge up your battery on solar panels or windmills during the day, and use it to run your house overnight, or provide backup power in the event of a regular grid power outage. Cost for a 7 kilowatt battery: a bit north of $7,000. Based on the expected lifecycle of the Powerwall, it is still more expensive to use than getting electricity from the grid, except possibly in places like Hawaii with extremely high electric utility rates. Maybe it will get better and cheaper—though there is no “Moore’s Law” for batteries, or any other energy technology for that matter, despite Al Gore’s fondest whimseys. But for now, as Bloomberg reports:

“It’s a luxury good—really cool to have—but I don’t see an economic argument,” said Brian Warshay, an energy-smart-technologies analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

In addition, even the 10-kilowatt version of the Powerwall will only power the average house for about five hours, and is not powerful enough to run your central air conditioning. Seeking Alpha reports:

To put the inadequacy of this product into perspective, here’s a great summary of the power requirements of many household items. It’s pretty clear that without “going crazy”, your house can easily draw 3kw of electricity; and yet, Tesla’s 10kWh back-up battery has continuous output of only 2kw, and thus is inadequate to run even a medium-sized house, and would be completely dead in five hours anyway, with no capacity to run central air conditioning or charge an electric car. (For a medium-sized house, a central air conditioner alone draws nearly 5kw.) Sure, to make that battery last longer than five hours, everyone could huddle into one broiling hot room and shut off everything but the refrigerator and a few light bulbs, but why would you do that when a comparably priced 16kw natural gas-fired generator can run your entire house (including the air-conditioning) for as many hours as needed, at a cost of less than $2/hour (assuming 195 cubic feet/hour consumption at full draw and a New York State gas price of less than $10 per 1000 cubic feet of gas)? (Okay, I concede that in a major earthquake, your gas service could suffer an outage, but for that situation, you can run a gas-fired generator off a propane tank.)

But the most devastating critique of the Musk hype comes from Will Boisvert of the Breakthrough Institute, the center-left think tank that takes energy seriously. In “The Grid Will Not Be Disrupted,” Boisvert writes:

But does all the messianic talk of battery-powered “disruption” and solar triumphalism stack up? Hardly. For all their ballyhooed price reductions, Tesla batteries are still way too feeble and expensive to come even within hyping distance of neither a reliable power supply, nor an off-grid revolution.

On cost, the average residential retail electricity prices in the US are $0.12 per-kWh, while electricity from Tesla’s Powerwall on paired rooftop solar would cost 30 c/kWh or more. Given that 80 percent of pre-orders for Tesla’s batteries are for the utility-scale Powerpack, not the residential Powerwall, battery storage will likely benefit big baseload power plants (the grid) more than solar homeowners. And no matter the staggering cost, battery storage cannot solve the problems of integrating unreliable wind and solar power into the electricity system. In fact, Tesla’s batteries spotlight just how deep and intractable those problems remain.

Do read the whole thing if you have time, as it’s a real tour de force. Be sure to take in this handy chart:

Tesla Powerwall copyAnd yes, we’re going to start giving out the Power Line Energy Unicorn Award, which is nearly as prestigious and easy to get as a Green Weenie. Here’s what it looks like:

Unicorn copy


Is Hillary’s Candidacy Just Another Business Deal?

Jennifer Rubin notes this morning that Hillary’s obviously terrible campaign skills are getting noticed in the mainstream media. It’s so bad that Hillary is actually going to launch her campaign a second time next month with a big public rally.

It is said that a lot of second- and third-tier Republican candidates (Carson, Huckabee, Fiorina, etc) are only running to enable them to get nice post-campaign media contracts from Fox News, and in a similar vein I’ve been wondering whether Hillary’s entire candidacy isn’t basically the same thing, just on the Clinton scale. And apparently I’m not the only one thinking this.  One of our readers writes in today:

Could it be that Madam Hillary and Uncle Tom Clinton have agreed in principle to bilk the country one last time, with Madam Hillary having virtually no desire to actually “become” president at all (thus avoiding ANY potential fate as befell her beloved spouse)?

One only needs to track the current level of funds earmarked to go to the campaign fund versus the extent of contributions that are misappropriated toward the Clinton “Trust” (actually their offshore accounts per se) at the end of the campaign. Then watch as God-forbid Madam Hillary is elected…but shortly thereafter must resign due to failing health and vast sums of retirement cash!!

My new theory is that indeed Hillary wants the nomination primarily for the market value it would confer on Clinton Inc., but that neither she nor Bill would mind her losing because it will cement their stratospheric market value for another decade either way. After all, once Obama becomes an ex-president, he’s going to become the top liberal draw—unless you are the first major party woman nominee for president. And if she happens to win, so much the better for Bill, who can keep charging $500,000 a speech.  (What? You think he’ll actually be the “first man” of the nation, taking on some kind of charitable cause like first ladies always have? Do you really not know the Clintons yet?)

Some enterprising reporter should ask whether Bill and Chelsea will continue to make paid speeches if she’s in the White House. If Hillary every answers a media question again.

Obama expounds the limits of Iran’s anti-Semitism

In the course of his recent interview of President Obama — painful reading from beginning to end — Jeffrey Goldberg asked a somewhat challenging question regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran. “You have argued,” Goldberg observed, “that people who subscribe to an anti-Semitic worldview, who explain the world through the prism of anti-Semitic ideology, are not rational, are not built for success, are not grounded in a reality that you and I might understand. And yet, you’ve also argued that the regime in Tehran—a regime you’ve described as anti-Semitic, among other problems that they have—is practical, and is responsive to incentive, and shows signs of rationality.” Oh, wise man, how do you square this particular circle? Obama responded:

Well the fact that you are anti-Semitic, or racist, doesn’t preclude you from being interested in survival. It doesn’t preclude you from being rational about the need to keep your economy afloat; it doesn’t preclude you from making strategic decisions about how you stay in power; and so the fact that the supreme leader is anti-Semitic doesn’t mean that this overrides all of his other considerations. You know, if you look at the history of anti-Semitism, Jeff, there were a whole lot of European leaders—and there were deep strains of anti-Semitism in this country—

Goldberg (unfortunately) interrupted him at this point. Obama then continued:

They may make irrational decisions with respect to discrimination, with respect to trying to use anti-Semitic rhetoric as an organizing tool. At the margins, where the costs are low, they may pursue policies based on hatred as opposed to self-interest. But the costs here are not low, and what we’ve been very clear [about] to the Iranian regime over the past six years is that we will continue to ratchet up the costs, not simply for their anti-Semitism, but also for whatever expansionist ambitions they may have. That’s what the sanctions represent. That’s what the military option I’ve made clear I preserve represents. And so I think it is not at all contradictory to say that there are deep strains of anti-Semitism in the core regime, but that they also are interested in maintaining power, having some semblance of legitimacy inside their own country, which requires that they get themselves out of what is a deep economic rut that we’ve put them in, and on that basis they are then willing and prepared potentially to strike an agreement on their nuclear program.

This appears to have been good enough for Goldberg, but it should make a serious man cry. Let me count the ways.

Obama is in the process of finalizing an absurd arrangement with Iran that will at the same time obviate the cost of its pursuit of nuclear weapons and reward the regime for entering into the arrangement. They will reap the economic rewards of taking advantage of President Obama’s surrender to their (absurd) terms.

The Islamic Republic continues its program of ideological anti-Semitism and regional expansion. We await Obama’s “ratchet.” The regime evidently fears it not. This is glorified hot air.

Obama reiterates “military option [he's] made clear[.]” The word “clear” here is the tell; it demonstrates that Obama is lying. There is no United States military option. Indeed, Obama’s public relations work on behalf of the Islamic Republic of Iran is suggestive of its removal from the shelf.

How does a seriously committed anti-Semitic regime weigh the costs and benefits of its anti-Semitism? I long for Professor Obama to draw from the well of his historical learning to apply the cost-benefit analysis to the Nazi regime of 1933-1945. Somebody get this man a copy of Lucy Dawidowicz’s The War Against the Jews, 1933-1945.

The Israelis draw the lesson they refer to in the slogan “Never again.” Emanuele Ottolenghi offers reflections that are precisely on point.

How does Professor Obama apply his cost-benefit analysis to the Iran’s 1979 bombing of the AMIA (Jewish) in Buenos Aires? It targeted Jews and killed 85 people. What costs was Iran prepared to incur? What costs has Iran incurred? The applicable cost-benefit analysis might illuminate how Iran thinks about the prospect of “eliminating” Israel by means of its proxies and with the nuclear weapons it is striving at all cost to obtain.

As for the regime’s alleged need to maintain a “semblance of legitimacy” inside Iran and therefore its alleged need to “get themselves out of a deep economic rut,” what does he mean? Obama is not saying that the regime lacks a semblance of legitimacy inside Iran at present. Obama himself continues to provide the regime something more than a “semblance of legitimacy.” Is the Supreme Leader feeling the pressure? No one outside Obama’s circle of friends can take this at face value.

Assuming that Obama intends his remarks to be taken seriously, which I don’t, I find Obama’s comments among the stupidest and most ignorant he has ever uttered, although I concede on this point that that the competition is stiff.

NOTE: Noah Rothman also takes a stab at doing justice to Obama’s comments here. It occurs to me that the words of Walter Laqueur in connection with Jan Karski’s mid-war report on the Holocaust in his book The Terrible Secret also apply here: “Democratic societies demonstrated on this occasion as on many others, before and after, that they are incapable of understanding political regimes of a different character….Democratic societies are accustomed to think in liberal, pragmatic categories; conflicts are believed to be based on misunderstandings and can be solved with a minimum of good will; extremism is a temporary aberration, so is irrational behavior in general, such as intolerance, cruelty, etc. The effort needed to overcome such basic psychological handicaps is immense….Each new generation faces this challenge again, for experience cannot be inherited.” In Obama’s world, I would add, experience can’t even be experienced. Ideological blinders render him obtuse (again assuming his words are to be taken at face value, which I don’t).

A Police-Involved Shooting In Omaha

On Wednesday, Omaha police officers attempted to serve an arrest warrant on Marcus Wheeler, 26, who was wanted for an earlier shooting. Wheeler opened fire on the officers and killed one of them, Kerrie Orozco, 29:

Officer Kerrie Orozco, 29, died at Creighton University Medical Center shortly after the 1 p.m. shooting, Schmaderer said at a news conference. Schmaderer said the suspect, 26-year-old Marcus Wheeler, also died at the hospital.

Schmaderer said Orozco was part of a fugitive task force looking for Wheeler to serve a felony arrest warrant. Wheeler, who was wanted on a warrant charging him in an earlier shooting, opened fire on the officers as they approached him. Officers fired back, and Wheeler was later found behind a neighbor’s house suffering from gunshot wounds, the chief said. …

“Mr. Wheeler is a convicted felon and a known gang member,” he said.

Mrs. Orozco had just had a baby:

Orozco was a seven-year veteran of the department and worked in its gang unit, Schmaderer said. She was also a new mother with a premature baby who is in an Omaha hospital.

“(The baby) is set to be released from the hospital tomorrow,” Schmaderer said, his voice breaking. …

Besides her daughter, Orozco is survived by her husband, Hector Orozco, two stepchildren ages 6 and 7, her mother and two siblings.

Kerrie Orozco coached baseball at an Omaha Boys and Girls Club, was a Special Olympics volunteer and served as president of the Police Officers’ Ball to benefit the Special Olympics, the chief said. She also took in rescue dogs and was a Girl Scout mentor.

Kerrie Orozco

Kerrie Orozco


There is nothing here for the Department of Justice to investigate, since there is no allegation that the Omaha police did anything wrong. So Loretta Lynch will take no notice. Nor will President Obama, Al Sharpton or anyone else suggest that the murder of Kerrie Orozco should inaugurate a candid national conversation, or should be an occasion for soul-searching. There will be no riots or demonstrations. Nothing happened in Omaha on Wednesday that advances any narrative of the Democratic Party. So there is nothing to see here, nothing to be said. No lessons to be drawn. You may as well just move along.

More evidence that the criminal justice system is too lenient

The big local news in the Washington, D.C. area is the capture of Daron Wint and his arrest for the murder of Savvas Savopoulos, his wife and 10 year-old child, and his housekeeper, Veralicia Figueroa. According to reports, Wint worked for the company Savopoulos owned and operated.

The case against Wint appears to be extremely strong. Therefore, for purposes of this post, I will assume he committed the crimes.

Wint has an extensive criminal history in two states, which includes domestic violence, assault, and burglary. In Maryland, to cite a few examples, he was convicted of assaulting his girl friend in 2009. The next year, he pleaded guilty to malicious destruction of property after allegedly threatening to kill a woman and her infant daughter, breaking into the woman’s apartment, stealing a television, and vandalizing her car.

Wint also has three assault convictions in upstate New York that date back to 2007. He served time for each conviction. And there is an outstanding arrest warrant against him for criminal contempt for violating an order of protection in a case that involved a former girlfriend in Oswego.

We are told that our criminal justice system is needlessly and heartlessly jailing young Black men. Daron Wint is a young black man who, given his extensive record of violence, should have been in jail.

The same is true of Demetrius Blackwell, who killed New York City police officer Brian Moore, and of Aaron Alexis, the Navy Yard mass murderer.

We are also told that employers should be willing to hire young black men with criminal records. In fact, the Obama administration, via the EEOC, is suing employers for using criminal convictions to screen black job applicants. The government claims that, somehow, this screening ( which it uses) can amount to racial discrimination even if applied race-neutrally.

However, Savvas Savopoulous, his family, and his housekeeper would almost certainly be alive today if, based on a criminal background check, his company had quietly passed over Daron Wint.