Thursday, June 27, 2013

More traitor than hero. Much more.

It seems the more that comes out about NSA "whistleblower" Edward Snowden, the less he looks like a whistleblower and the more he looks like a straight-up traitor. In From the Cold gives more of his distasteful story:
As of this writing, the man who exposed the crown jewels of NSA's intelligence-gathering activities is still on the international concourse at the Moscow Airport, apparently awaiting a flight to Havana, the next stop on his way to Ecuador.
So far, Mr. Snowden has missed at least two flights to Cuba, but (apparently) he has little to worry about--at least on the Russia leg of his global adventure. Various Russian leaders, including Vladimir Putin, have stated they have no intention of turning Putin over to U.S. authorities. True, there is no formal treaty covering such matters between the United States and Russia, but we have extradited at least seven individuals back to Moscow in recent years. As in most aspects of the bi-lateral relationship, extradition is clearly a one-way street.
But the travels of Edward Snowden raise some rather interesting (and dangerous) possibilities. While much of the world hails him as a hero, there is the very real chance that Snowden is nothing more than a spy, masquerading as a whistle-blower. As Bloomberg reported yesterday:
U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating whether Edward Snowden’s leaks may be a Chinese intelligence operation or whether China might have used his concerns about U.S. surveillance practices to exploit him, according to four American officials.
The officials emphasized there’s no hard evidence yet that Snowden was a Chinese agent or that China helped plan his flights to Hong Kong and then to Moscow, directly or through a witting or unwitting intermediary. Rather, they are duty-bound to probe such a worst-case scenario for the U.S., said the officials, who are familiar with the case and asked not to be identified to discuss classified intelligence. 
Well, since the beginning of this affair that has been the big question, alongside "What is your name?", "What is your quest?", "What is your favorite color?" and "What is the capital of Assyria?" But right now, it is us being tossed into the Gorge of Eternal Peril. The release of Snowden's information coincided with the a visit by Chinese leadership to the US in the aftermath of revelations that the Chinese had been hacking US government networks. In From the Cold gives the caveat, but then gives the caveat a caveat:
To be fair, the potential "Beijing connection" may be little more than an effort by the intel community--and the Obama Administration--to cover their collective posteriors. Counter-intelligence officials were reportedly aware of Snowden's massive download of NSA collection documents in mid-May, about the time he left Hawaii and traveled to Hong Kong.
Yet, the collective resources of the FBI (on American soil) and the CIA (overseas) were unable to prevent Snowden from leaving the United States. Equally embarrassing, the same agencies have had difficulty keeping up with him as he circles the globe, and there has been no talk about possibly nabbing him. Might we suggest a little light reading about the Mossad operation that capture Adolf Eichmann in Argentina?
Another piece of this still-incomplete puzzle is that Snowden didn't actually just fall into this classified information. He sought it out:
Edward Snowden took a job with a firm that provides contractors to the National Security Agency solely to gather evidence about U.S. surveillance programs, the self-avowed leaker told the South China Morning Post Newspaper.
"My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked," the Post quoted him as saying in a story published Monday. "That is why I accepted that position about three months ago."
The documents Snowden has revealed so far -- he claims to have thousands more -- revealed classified details of U.S. programs to monitor domestic telephone traffic, as well as the activities of Internet users overseas.
He has also said the National Security Agency hacks into major Internet pipelines to intercept millions of communications flowing through them each day.
That sorta changes things, doesn't it? No one is claiming Snowden is the sharpest crayon in the box. He's a high school dropout, yet he not only ended up with a treasure trove of highly classified signals intelligence but he managed to elude the CIA and the FBI and escape the country. He claims he did it because, to paraphrase, he saw the US becoming more like China and Russia, so he flees to ... China and Russia. The first place he fled was to China. This does not make sense. He is obviously being played, but by whom is the question.

Did China put him up to this? In From the Cold:
[T]here are hints that Snowden may have shared that treasure trove of top secret documents with his Chinese hosts during that sojourn in Hong Kong. Call it the "price of admission." While the former British colony enjoys more autonomy (and freedom) than other parts of China, the harboring of an individual like Mr. Snowden doesn't happen by accident, or without the approval of senior leadership in Beijing.
And, given the fact the Chinese have been so accommodating to the former intelligence analyst, it's quite likely they got something in return; namely, detailed information on NSA collection efforts against the PRC's computer networks. With that sort of windfall, it's quite reasonable that Beijing would offer protection, clearance for a private jet flight on to Moscow, and other forms of compensation.
In other words, Snowden may be no different from Robert Hanssen, Rick Ames, John Walker and other turncoats who sold out their country for good, old-fashioned cash. After all, Snowden needs some way to pay the bills, beyond future income for book and movie deals. For the type of information he may have provided, Snowden could receive millions of dollars from spymasters in Beijing and Moscow. That could support a very comfortable lifestyle in Havana, Quito, or other locations beyond the reach of American extradition laws. 
Not beyond reasonable doubt, but the circumstantial evidence is piling up, and many do not like where it is leading. Patterico:
If you’re wedded to the narrative of Snowden-as-hero, then he Struck a Blow for Truth and Justice, and it hardly matters that he is furnishing unfriendly countries with information that has zero to do with exposing surveillance of U.S. citizens — but gives those countries a propaganda victory, or perhaps something even more valuable, like a technical roadmap of our surveillance network. To make a whistleblower omelet, you gotta crack open a few choice secrets for our enemies, to encourage them to facilitate your escape from the country you’re trying to save.
The more I learn about Snowden, the more I find his actions distasteful — and I haven’t seen anything he revealed that is obviously a violation of the Fourth Amendment. When media outlets broke the SWIFT story during Bush’s tenure, I was outraged. While I was torn about prosecuting the journalists, I wanted to explore whether the journalists should be prosecuted if they knowingly helped reveal classified information about an effective and legal program — and I leaned slightly towards the view that prosecution was wise. Tell me why I should not feel the same way about this. I know it’s very fashionable to say that it’s unthinkable to “prosecute journalists for journalism” — but if national security information is legitimately classified, helps us fight terrorism, and is knowingly revealed by a “journalist,” I don’t know that such actions are obviously beyond prosecution.
As I said in 2006, a lot of it comes down to whether the journalist is exposing wrongdoing or whether they are just telling our secrets. Often they think they are doing the former when they are just doing the latter.
Does a spy get to be a hero if he is revealing secrets to “We the People” as well as Russia and China to buy off their cooperation? 
(emphasis in original)

Snowden’s fans think he’s morally justified in doing basically anything he has to in order to stay out of the feds’ clutches, whether it be handing propaganda windfalls to Russia and China by seeking refuge there or threatening to spill a gigantic treasure trove of sensitive information. Maybe they’ll draw the line if/when we find out he paid off his protectors with intelligence — as Greenwald now admits Snowden did to a small degree in revealing the IP addresses of Chinese computers hacked by the NSA — but I doubt it. This is why it gets stupider by the day to say that the story of his escape is merely a distraction from the far more important story of U.S. surveillance capabilities. How is it “distracting” to know there’s a guy running around in China and Russia with huge stores of state secrets, essentially blackmailing the government to let him leak selectively with impunity or else he’ll leak indiscriminately? On what planet is that a non-story?
As for the point that all of this stuff has been carefully vetted, Snowden’s critics toss around the word “narcissistic” usually without explaining what they mean, but this is a fine example of it. He seems to believe he’s reached a degree of omniscience where he can pick and choose what to leak with confidence that it won’t put people at risk, won’t injure the American public’s interest in its own national security, and won’t give rogue regimes critical information on how to improve surveillance. Why he thinks this, I have no idea. Whatever he has and however long he’s sifted through it, he can’t see the entire chessboard, especially on the enemy’s side of the board. To take a minor example, the stuff he leaked about the NSA spying on Medvedev at the G20 a few years ago noted that the U.S. thought it had discovered a change in the way the Russians were transmitting their leadership signals. Did Russia realize that before the Guardian’s story was published a few weeks ago? Probably. Maybe not. Who knows? Does Snowden? And if that’s the sort of thing he’s willing to leak to a paper, what’s in the doomsday files that he doesn’t feel comfortable sharing with journalists (yet)? It’s amazing to me that he feels he can tell what’s truly damaging and what isn’t, and that he thinks he can keep this information secret at his whim from intelligence services all over the world. Frankly, knowing now about the doomsday files, don’t enemies like Russia and China have an extra incentive to disappear him? If anything happens to him, Snowden’s defenders will assume that it was U.S. intel that did it; presumably that’ll trigger the doomsday files, and that’ll give Russia, China, and everyone else access to whatever’s in Snowden’s secret stash. I’m not sure, in other words, that the doomsday stuff doesn’t jeopardize his safety more than it protects it.
It’s hard to recall now, but this clusterfark began ostensibly because Snowden’s conscience could no longer tolerate infringements on Americans’ civil liberties by the U.S. government. Are we to believe, then, that everything in the doomsday files is related to that narrow subject too? If it is, then why is he holding it back? Release it and help the civil libertarian cause before it’s too late. If it isn’t, then why did he take it in the first place and why is he threatening to release it now? We seem to be paying an increasingly steep price in blows to national security for what we’ve learned about data-mining.

"Comprehensive immigration reform"

is the subject of my latest column for Independent Voter Network.

Think this whole Senkaku Island dispute is nothing?

Via Information Dissemination, This is, apparently, an actual model of the aircraft carrier ... er, destroyer (yeah, that's it. A destroyer! That's it! That's the ticket!) Hyuga for sale in Japan:

Isn't that a Chinese aircraft carrier sinking in the background? 
As if the message was not clear enough, the model is the "Operation Senkaku" variant.

China really should not be trying to piss off Japan. Two words: Kido Butai.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Can it happen?

I have gotten sidetracked this week by the new video game The Last of Us, which was released last week. I had not planned to buy it, but with its glowing reviews (some have compared its potential effect on video games to what Citizen Kane did for movies) and the fact that much of it takes place in my ancestral home of Pittsburgh, I broke down and bought it. I’m not all the way through the game yet, but I have to agree with the glowing reviews.

Screen shot from magazine GameInformer of The Last of Us in one of the game's Pittsburgh chapters. Visible here are the US Steel Tower, BNY Mellon Center, One Oxford Centre, and the Fort Duquesne Bridge. Also making an appearance in the game is Fifth Avenue Place and the underpass of either the Liberty Avenue Bridge or the Boulevard of the Allies. While these features are not necessarily in their proper locations or proportions, the designers obviously did a lot of research into downtown Pittsburgh.
That said, The Last of Us is not for everyone. The game takes place in a post-apocalyptic United States. In that respect, it is similar to the popular Fallout series, in which you run around the mostly depopulated, anarchic, post-nuclear wasteland of the US, crawling inside ruins of famous monuments, avoiding mutants, bandits, and high-radiation areas, and generally just trying to survive. While I like the Fallout series and find it to be an interesting game, it is very depressing. And I do not understand why many fans of its publisher Bethesda were excited when Bethesda cut off further development of downloadable content for its hugely successful Skyrim title (with its story still unfinished) because they thought it was putting resources into the next Fallout game.

But The Last of Us makes the depressing Fallout look like Disney World by comparison. While Fallout tempers its grim story with an acknowledgment that it could never happen, largely because before the nuclear war the United States as depicted in Fallout was some weird 1950’s-style creature with futuristic technology – in short, a country that never existed – The Last of Us goes out of its way to explain that what was destroyed was the United States as you know it now, as well as at least 60% of the world population.

The apocalypse that forms the basis of The Last of Us’ world is not a nuclear war, but an almost overnight biological pandemic. A mutated strain of the fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis (“cordyceps”) infected much of the population, turning them into zombie-like creatures. In that respect The Last of Us is like the Resident Evil series and other survival horror games (though regrettably Resident Evil seems to have abandoned that genre as of late). The zombie apocalypse has always been a mainstay for horror. It can be far more frightening than nuclear attack inasmuch as while a nuclear attack is devastating to life and property, once it destroys, kills, poisons, and irradiates, that’s it. There are devastating after effects, but once it happens, it’s done and steps can be taken to start some sort of recovery. By contrast, the zombie apocalypse is ongoing. What it does not kill it turns into more zombies. Their presence puts anyone at risk of becoming a zombie and makes large areas uninhabitable. You can’t start recovery because you can’t stop the zombie outbreak.

Which is exactly what happens in The Last of Us. The cordyceps is initially spread through spores. You inhale the spores and the fungus starts growing inside your body and gradually taking over and destroying higher brain functions. Removal of the cordyceps without killing the host is impossible. In the case of the most hated enemies in the game, the “Clickers,” the fungus has taken over them entirely. The cordyceps has taken over their bodies entirely, warping them physically, growing over the top of their heads and through their eye sockets, destroying their eyesight. They can only see by “clicking” for echolocation. Their humanity destroyed, the Clickers only goal is to spread the cordyceps fungus, this time by biting.

The very limited backstory to The Last of Us indicates the cordyceps outbreak spread almost overnight. With removal of the fungus impossible and all attempt at vaccination ineffective, the US government tried to set up “quarantine zones” around major cities where the uninfected could live relatively safely behind walls and barricades. But as the uninfected population continued to fall and as many of the remaining uninfected were wracked by despair and privation, many of the quarantine zones were abandoned or fell to bandits, civil war, and the cordyceps itself. The government of the United States still exists in The Last of Us, but it controls only a few cities of the continental United States, under a state of emergency, its security forces hypervigilant and at times corrupt.

It’s a horrifying picture, a horrifying story, made much more uncomfortable by the fact that the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus is an actual real-life infectious fungus.

So, can The Last of Us actually happen?

It probably helps and is very comforting to know that while the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus is an actual real-life infectious fungus, it only affects ants, grasshoppers, spiders, and other insects and arachnids. In fact, it’s considered a good thing to help control these populations. Given the differences in physiology and biochemistry between insects and humans, the possibility of cordyceps spreading to humans is minimal.

Even if it did spread, the possibility that the cordyceps would spread the way it does in The Last of Us and affect human behavior is almost zero. While the cordyceps has been known to wipe out entire colonies of ants, it is not known to turn infected ants into attacking mutants. What it does do is, as the fungus grows within and on the ant, it turns the ant into a zombie who climbs to an overhanging leaf and clamp down on a major vein with its mandibles. Then the ant dies and the fungus turns the corpse into a fruiting body to spread the spores. What it certainly does not do until the ant’s death is destroy physical abilities of the ant, such as its eyesight, which would seem to actually inhibit the spread of the fungus. Obviously and quite understandably, Naughty Dog, the developers of The Last of Us, took some liberties for purposes of putting together a gripping story.

The portrayal of the collapse of civilization in The Last of Us is chilling but history strongly suggests a major pandemic would play out much differently. If one examines what is believed to be the worst pandemic in human history, the Black Death, which killed an estimated 75 million – 200 million people across the Eastern Hemisphere in the 14th century, one can find few similarities with The Last of Us. The Black Death (still not fully explained but often believed to be a form of bubonic, pneumonic, and septicimic plague spread by the rat-spread Yersinia pestis bacterium) wiped out an estimated 30-60% of Europe’s population, including entire towns. It caused major socio-economic upheaval across Europe (check out Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron, for instance), but government (albeit government a lot more limited than it is today) never ceased functioning, never retreated into walled, barricaded cities, never abandoned large portions of the territory it ruled to the plague. And that was when the cause and spread of the Black Death was entirely unknown and government’s response to it almost totally ineffective.

The US government’s response to disasters is not always stellar (see, eg, Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy), but it is far, far better than is the norm across the globe, and it is far, far better than is portrayed in The Last of Us, in which the government response is actually worse than the response to the Black Death more than six centuries ago. Tools for fighting the cordyceps infection, such as gas masks, ingress screenings and bleach (to kill the fungus itself), are shown in The Last of Us and would in real life form the basis of a much more effective response than the one seen in the video game.

So, The Last of Us is a great game, a great story, and a great chance to ask “What if?” And it should be enjoyed (if one can “enjoy” such a depressing scenario) as such. But the actual possibility of The Last of Us happening is next to zero.

Monday, June 17, 2013

New column for Independent Voter Network

As regular readers of this blog and my old blog, as well as followers of my Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn accounts know, my political beliefs are rooted in my own theory of government, with the result that my positions vary from the far right (generally defense, foreign policy, and crime, which I talk about most often) to the far left (gay rights, drug legalization, abortion). Some would consider me an independent, others a maverick. I consider myself a Jeffist.

A few months ago I was contacted by  the Independent Voter Network, a group based in my adopted home of San Diego that presents news and op-eds from the viewpoints of people like myself who are either not easy to pin down ideologically or whose positions are all over the political spectrum depending on the issue. IVN asked if I would be interested in writing for them. At the time, I was immersed in completing the manuscript for Rising Sun, Falling Skies and told them I'd be happy to write for them, but that I could not do so until the manuscript was completed, which would be at the end of May.

Well, IVN has waited patiently, and so today marks my first column for them. It is a discussion of Rob Portman's change of heart on gay marriage in particular and takes a different look at politicians changing their positions in general. This piece is called In Defense of Flip-Flopping. I hope it provides food for thought. 

In the meantime, check out some of the other fine work of the Independent Voter Network.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sayonara San Onofre

Well, this sucks:
Southern California Edison announced plans on Friday to shut down the troubled San Onofre nuclear power plant.
SCE planned to permanently retire Units 2 and 3 at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), the utility said in a news release.
Unit 2 was taken out of service on January 9, 2012, for a planned routine outage.
Shortly thereafter, Unit 3 was taken offline on January 31, 2012, after a small leak was detected in a tube inside a steam generator.
Unexpected wear was found in the metal tubing that carries radioactive water in all four of the plant’s steam generators, two for each reactor.
SCE cited uncertainty surrounding a proposal to restart Unit 2, as well as costs, as the reasons for its decision.
It submitted a plan to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in October 2012 to restart Unit 2 at 70 percent capacity for an initial period of five months.
That plan has been under review ever since, and several public meetings have been held on the matter.
However, a recent ruling by an arm of the NRC created further uncertainty about when a decision would be made on the restart plan, SCE officials said.
Additional administrative processes and appeals could result in delay of more than a year, according to SCE.
During that time, the costs of maintaining San Onofre and the costs to replace the power it previously provided would continue.
The company decided that the continuing uncertainty was not good for customers or investors, Edison International Chairman and CEO Ted Carver said.
My very early years were spent in Toledo, so the very first nuclear power plant I ever saw was Davis-Besse. As we would drive by it within shouting distance of its cooling tower, I remember being mesmerized by that giant cooling tower and all the power lines, transformers and transmission towers going in to and our from the complex. I've always liked Davis-Besse for that reason. San Onofre, however, has a completely different design, one that has become famous for reasons unrelated to energy:

About to be busted: the San Onofre nuclear power plant. (
The first time I drove down the 5 to San Diego from Los Angeles and saw these ... things between the freeway and the Pacific, I had no idea what they were. They looked extraterrestrial. Then I remembered they had been shown in the movie Naked Gun. 

Southern California will suffer from the loss of generating capacity from San Onofre. My beloved adopted home of San Diego and Los Angeles will likely face brownouts and skyrocketing electric rates. Of course, when you refuse to build power plants, you can expect that.

Syrian Chemistry

So, it seems the moment both the far left and the far right in the US have been dreading is here: confirmation that the Assad regime in Syria has used chemical weapons:
American and European intelligence analysts now believe that President Bashar al-Assad’s troops have used chemical weapons against rebel forces in the civil war in Syria, an assessment that will put added pressure on a deeply divided Obama administration to develop a response to a provocation that the president himself has declared a “red line.”
According to an internal memorandum circulating inside the government on Thursday, the “intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year.” President Obama said in April that the United States had physiological evidence that the nerve gas sarin had been used in Syria, but lacked proof of who used it and under what circumstances. He now believes that the proof is definitive, according to American officials.
But a flurry of high-level meetings in Washington this week only underscored the splits within the Obama administration about what actions to take to quell the fighting, which has claimed more than 90,000 people. The meetings were hastily arranged after Mr. Assad’s troops — joined by fighters from the militant group Hezbollah — claimed the strategic city of Qusayr and raised fears in Washington that large parts of the rebellion could be on the verge of collapse.
Senior State Department officials have been pushing for an aggressive military response, including airstrikes to hit the primary landing strips in Syria that the government uses to launch the chemical weapons attacks, ferry troops around the country, and receive shipments of matériel from Iran. But White House officials remain wary, and one American official said that a meeting on Wednesday of the president’s senior advisers yielded no firm decisions about how to proceed.
It is unclear precisely how the Obama administration made its final determination about the chemical weapons use in Syria. According to the internal memorandum, intelligence agencies have “high confidence” in their assessment, and estimate that between 100 and 150 people have died to date from chemical weapons attacks. The memorandum goes on to say that the conclusion is based on a variety of intelligence.
“Our intelligence community has high confidence in that assessment given multiple, independent streams of information,” the memorandum said.
More details on possible military options from the Wall Street Journal:
A U.S. military proposal for arming Syrian rebels also calls for a limited no-fly zone inside Syria that would be enforced from Jordanian territory to protect Syrian refugees and rebels who would train there, according to U.S. officials.
Asked by the White House to develop options for Syria, military planners have said that creating an area to train and equip rebel forces would require keeping Syrian aircraft well away from the Jordanian border.
To do that, the military envisages creating a no-fly zone stretching up to 25 miles into Syria which would be enforced using aircraft flown from Jordanian bases and flying inside the kingdom, according to U.S. officials.
The White House is currently considering proposals to arm the rebels in Jordan, according to U.S. officials. White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden declined to comment on the details of those deliberations.
The limited no-fly zone wouldn't require the destruction of Syrian antiaircraft batteries, U.S. officials said.
Officials said the White House could decide to authorize the U.S. to arm and train rebels in Jordan without authorizing the no-fly zone recommended by military planners. A White House announcement could come soon, officials said.
That would be my preferred course of action -- not ground troops and maybe not even a no-fly zone. Assuming we can even identify non-Islamist opposition groups (a big assumption). There is deep opposition within the American electorate for "military action" in Syria, which can limit our options. As Allahpundit pointed out:
I’ll repeat what I said in this post last month about polls showing deep opposition to U.S. action in Syria: The only way he can sell it is by emphasizing the WMD angle. If you look back at the polling data, only when chemical weapons are mentioned does public opinion against getting involved there begin to soften. Go figure that U.S. intelligence would suddenly conclude that sarin has been used at precisely the same time that Obama’s looking to intervene in Syria for strategic reasons unrelated to WMD — namely, that if the rebels aren’t reinforced soon somehow, Assad and Hezbollah might roll right over them and the big upcoming “peace” conference will be even more meaningless than it’s expected to be. One of the ironies of the U.S. putting such stock in the peace talks, notes Aaron David Miller, is that when they inevitably fail, military intervention of some form will be the only option left to Obama. He boxed himself in. Maybe he realized that and decided to get the ball rolling today. Another grand irony is that if you asked Americans what they’re most afraid of vis-a-vis Assad and WMD, most would probably say it’s the prospect of jihadi rebels overrunning his stockpiles and using those chemical weapons against western targets. Well, thanks to Assad’s recent victory streak, that seems less likely than ever right now. And yet here we are.
Maybe. I do not necessarily believe chemical weapons need be the "red line" that Obama portrayed it to be. The use of chemical weapons in, say, Outer Mongolia, would not necessarily warrant a US response.

The issue here is the that 1. the Syrian war is rapidly expanding, drawing in Iran, Lebanon, Israel, Turkey, and Jordan; and B. we have a chance to dump a real bad guy in Assad who is currently front man for an anti-American, anti-Western cabal in Syria-Iran-Hezbo'allah. As the always-readable Michael Totten explained it last year:
Syria’s tyrant Bashar al-Assad is in the middle of a life-or-death struggle. He might be overthrown. He should be.
The Arab Socialist Baath Party regime, beginning with its founder Hafez al-Assad and continuing through the rule of his son Bashar, is the deadliest state sponsor of terrorism in the Arab Middle East. It assisted the bloodthirsty insurgency in Iraq that killed American soldiers by the thousands and murdered Iraqi civilians by the tens of thousands. It has used both terrorism and conventional military power to place Lebanon under its boot since the mid-1970s. It made Syria into the logistics hub for Hezbollah, the best-equipped and most lethal non-state armed force in the world. It has waged a terrorist war against Israel and the peace process for decades, not only from Lebanon, but also from the West Bank and Gaza. And it is Iran’s sole Arab ally and its bridge to the Mediterranean.
Tehran is the head of the Iranian-Syrian-Hamas-Hezbollah resistance bloc, and Syria is the junior partner in the alliance, but both governments have American blood under their fingernails. Unlike Damascus, however, Tehran may acquire nuclear weapons capability within the next couple of years. If we could take only one member of that bloc off the board, we’d be wise to pick the Iranian government. The Syrian government, though, is the second-best option. And it’s lower-hanging fruit right now because Assad is facing an armed insurrection.
Short of regime change in Tehran, the overthrow of Assad is the worst thing that can happen to the Iranian government and to Hezbollah. Iran will lose its only ally in the Arab world, and Hezbollah will lose one of only two patrons and its entire overground logistics network. Scud missiles and other enormous weapons can’t exactly be mailed to Hezbollah from Iran through the Beirut international airport.
A fresh government in Damascus will almost certainly be less friendly toward Iran and Hezbollah and more friendly toward Lebanon. Beirut will be able to make more of its own decisions, which are naturally closer to what the US and Israel would like, even if they aren’t ideal. So many of Lebanon’s politicians are currently bribed and bullied by Assad into doing his bidding, inducing their support for Hezbollah and violent “resistance” against Israel. Even Hezbollah’s most powerful tactical “allies” only support the organization under duress.
And why is Assad and his allies such bad guys? The use of chemical weapons, for one thing. Then there is this bit:
WikiLeaks published a batch of revealing diplomatic cables from Lebanon last year. One describes how Nabih Berri, Lebanon’s speaker of Parliament and Hezbollah’s supposedly most stalwart ally, reacted during the Israeli bombardment of South Lebanon in 2006. “Berri condemned the ferocity of Israel’s military response,” the cable writer says, “but admitted that a successful Israeli campaign against Hezbollah would be an excellent way to destroy Hezbollah’s military aspirations and discredit their political ambitions. . . . We are certain that Berri hates Hezbollah as much, or even more, than the [Western-backed] March 14 politicians; after all, Hezbollah’s support . . . is drawn from the Shiites who might otherwise be with Berri.”
According to another cable, Lebanon’s current prime minister, Najib Mikati, described Hezbollah as “cancerous” and wishes to see its militarized state-within-a-state destroyed. Mikati is the man who replaced the previous prime minister, Saad Hariri, at Hezbollah’s insistence. If even Syria’s and Hezbollah’s hand-picked allies are waffling and possibly even plotting behind the scenes, the entire rigged system may come crashing down if there’s a regime change in Damascus.
But there is that opposition inside the US to military action in Syria. Totten:

Many on both the political left and the political right in the US think we ought to stay out of this. Partly that’s because the devil we know, so to speak, is sometimes preferable to the devil we don’t. And we have good reasons to believe a post-Assad government will almost certainly be unfriendly to Israel, as nearly all Arab governments are, but it might also be unfriendly to the United States. After the disastrous results of the Egyptian parliamentary election last year, where radical Islamists received twice as many votes as secular parties, we’d be fools to think a Syrian election—assuming an election is ever actually held—would bring to power parties that are politically liberal and friendly. Since Libya degenerated into a failed militia state after the fall of Muammar el-Qaddafi, we’d be naive at best to assume a stable order must necessarily follow Assad’s. And the Iraqi insurgency taught us that the Arab world’s reaction to our removal of even a genocidal tyrant can lead to serious blowback that grinds on for years.

It gets worse. From a Terry Glavin column titled "No one cares about Syria:"
The body count in Syria over the past two years easily exceeds the death toll from the first two years of the war in Iraq. As a humanitarian crisis, Syria is worse than the Kosovo War of the late 1990s and the Haiti earthquake of 2010 combined.
And still, a paltry $306,000 is all that a coalition of front line Canadian aid organizations had managed to raise for Syrian relief, three weeks into a major push for private donations that began May 15. In contrast, the coalition raised roughly 20 times that amount — nearly $6 million — during the first week of its 2010 Haitian earthquake relief campaign.
When it comes to “rapid onset” crises brought on by earthquakes or floods, Canadians are generous to a fault. But in “conflict-related” crises, generosity routinely gives way to suspicion and confusion, Marie-Jo Proulx, the Humanitarian Coalition’s communications manager, told me. So that’s partly the problem.
“It’s complicated. With Syria, people feel that they don’t understand the politics or the history of it,” Proulx said. “The different groups, the perpetrators, who’s in charge — these are questions, irrespective of the humanitarian needs.”
What’s straightforward enough is that out of a population of about 20 million, the UN reckons nearly seven million Syrians are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Last month, UN General Assembly president Vuk Jeremic said at least 80,000 Syrians had been killed since Syria began to degenerate into massacres, jihadist violence and sectarian killings following Baathist dictator Bashar Assad’s brutal suppression of the country’s youthful and non-violent 2011 democracy uprising. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights puts the body count at 94,000, and possibly as high as 120,000. By comparison, the Iraq Body Count project put the 2003-2005 death toll in the Iraq war at 67,365 civilians.
Almost six million Syrians — nearly three times the number of Haitians made homeless in the 2010 earthquake — have nowhere to live, either because of being driven from their homes, or because their homes have been destroyed. About 1.6 million Syrians have found their way into refugee camps in neighbouring countries, mostly Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. The refugee camps are swelling by roughly 7,000 people every day.
The way the Syrian crisis has been reported in the news media, the political freight shunted around in debates about whether to “intervene” or not and the plain disgrace of NATO leaders mostly standing around with their hands in their pockets through it all — none of this has helped mobilize efforts to come to the aid of the Syrian people. “The only meaningful impact we can have now is to help these poor innocent civilians,” Proulx said. “There is a lot of work being done on the ground, but funds are just trickling in.”
It isn’t only Canadians who are confused. Oxfam America president Ray Offenheiser told Foreign Policy magazine earlier this month that the public response to Syrian relief appeals in the United States has been “just nil.” Last week, Oxfam America had raised only $140,000 of its goal of $53 million for Syrian relief. In contrast, in 2010 Oxfam America managed to raise nearly $30 million to help the 2.4 million Haitians made homeless by the earthquake that year.
Last Friday, the UN issued the most ambitious aid appeal in the UN’s history: a pitch for $5 billion. That’s the amount necessary just to provide food, water, shelter, medical assistance and the basics of life for the refugee population, and also to assist Lebanon and Jordan with stresses on infrastructure.
But what can you do for people in a war zone? The best humanitarian act we can commit is to get rid of Assad.

Unless you are an elementary school student or a Ron Paul supporter, you can easily see how the Syrian war has already engulfed its neighbors. Iran is sending in Pasdaran troops to prop up its ally. Hezbo'allah is trying to shore up its rear in Lebanon while moving in to support Assad. Israel has already attacked Syrian military assets. Jordan and Turkey are swamped with refugees. Turkey has also suffered border incursions from Syria. The Syrian war has also contributed to the protests against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan across Turkey (which is a good thing). Then remember this war is taking place around an area disputed between Turkey and Syria: the southern Turkish province of Hatay, home to the ancient cities of Antioch and Alexandretta.

Staying out of the war is not an option. We don't have to send in ground troops or even any troops. But we must recognize this is another front in a battle for civilization.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Stabbing the American people in the back

Once again, Republicans and Democrats in Washington are getting together in the spirit of bipartisanship to screw the American people. DC elites versus the rest of us. How nice.

Once again, the vehicle for said screwing is "Comprehensive Immigration Reform" -- the legalization and eventual citizenship for an estimated 11 million illegal aliens living in the US. Such reform is necessary because ... well, no one has really tried to explain why it's necessary. Once these 11 million illegal aliens are legalized, then the federal government can secure he border ... which under the Constitution it's supposed to be doing anyway but is not because it wants to legalize these illegal aliens. But once those illegal aliens are legalized, then the United States can reap the benefits ... whatever those are, since no one has ever really explained how the United States or its people will benefit from this legislation.

It's almost like they don't know of any possible benefit to the American people. Or they don't care. I don't know which is worse.

What we do know is once these 11 million illegal aliens are legalized, the Democrats will basically have 11 million new voters and the Republicans will have lotsa cheap labor. In a time of high unemployment, 11 million new workers will be dumped on the market, depressing wages and making already scarce jobs even harder to come by.

"We're from the government and we're here to hurt you."
(And, yes, I'm using the term "illegal aliens" intentionally. That is the proper legal term.)

So, over the repeated, explicit objections of the American people, the Republicans and Democrats in Washington are about to push through legislation that will benefit themselves but, as far as I can tell, will not benefit the American people in the slightest and will actually harm them. In short, this legislation is utterly reprehensible and an abuse of federal power.

So, while we are all distracted with the Scandalpalooza, war in Syria, possible war in the Far East, and riots in Turkey, our elected officials in Washington are about to knife the American people.

Mickey Kaus, no far right wing conservative he, has created a "handy pocket guide to the provisions of the bill that promise tough future enforcement, etc. – and the reasons why they don’t do what they pretend to do" listing the catchphrases and what they really mean. A sample:

Schumer-Rubio promise/Why bogus
“Multiple triggers”/Legalization is immediate. DHS just has to write border “plan.”  The most any “triggers” can possibly do is delay green cards and citizenship.
“90 % effectiveness”/ If not reached, triggers only toothless commission. … Also: “90% effectiveness” – as defined by DHS–is really more like 50%.
“Pay back taxes”/ Only if already “assessed” by IRS (unlikely). Newly legalized may instead get refunds.
“Learn English”/ Only need to sign up for English class.
“Clean record”/ Allows two free misdemeanors. Additional misdemeanors (including assaults) can be waived by DHS.
“Pay a fine”/ Can be waived by DHS
“Back of the line”/ Get to wait out the line while living in the U.S (unlike suckers trying to come here legally).
Border fence/ Leaves it up to DHS, which decided not to complete fence in first place
“Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy”/ Only has to be “substantially” operational–whatever that means, as defined by DHS–before green cards are issued. (Legalization has already happened, remember!)
Read the whole thing, or download the PDF.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tiananmen at Taksim

Well, not quite in terms of blood, but it's the principle that counts:
Turkey has ‘no more tolerance’ for violent protest, Prime Minister Erdogan told the parliament. He was speaking as police used water cannons and tear gas to take over Taksim Square in Istanbul from anti-government activists.
Erdogan lashed out at the protesters as he was addressing MPs on Tuesday. In his speech he separated the peaceful protesters concerned with the development plans at Gezi Park from those in Taksim Square, who he said are responsible for violent clashes with police forces.
The prime minister blamed the Taksim protesters of injuring security troops, damaging public property, disturbing public order and damaging Turkey’s image among international investors.
Erdogan’s speech came hours after hundreds of police walked into Taksim Square just after dawn and used tear gas and water cannons to fend of protesters attempting to enter it. Police removed protest banners from buildings overlooking the square. The prime minister hailed the move, which he described as tearing down “rags”.
Clashes erupted in the streets surrounding Taksim Square, while the police took over part of the square by marching in large formation and then driving out the remaining protesters by rounds of tear gas.
Some people threw Molotov cocktails, and one of the riot police cars was set on fire. Those protesting in Gezi Park have distanced themselves from the attackers in Twitter posts, some calling them “agents provocateurs,” who play along the official depiction of the protesters as marauders and extremists.
The use of Molotov cocktails here must be balanced against the violence that had (allegedly) already been perpetrated by the Turkish police. And claims that the protesters have been violent would seem to be open to question given that so many of those arrested by Turkish police have been the violent thugs known as lawyers.

The stakes might be getting higher and higher, as Ed Morrissey pithily describes the basic disagreement:
“Tayyip side of the Moon,” reads one piece of graffiti in this AP video taken in Istanbul earlier today.  Another piece of graffiti on a bus window reads “Devil Tayyip,” also taken by the AP.  Both show a certain measure of contempt for Turkey’s prime minister Tayyip Erdogan, and the feeling may be mutual.  Erdogan ordered police to assault the barricades in Taksim Square and end the two-week-long standoff between the Islamist government and the Kemalist protesters[.]
"Kemalist" is a reference to Mustafa Kemal, called "Ataturk" or the "Father of Turkey," who was responsible for the formation of Turkey's secular state over the rubble of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.

And, indeed, this is the basic battle: secularism and pluralism versus barbaric Islamism.

And, right now, barbaric Islamism is winning.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Rising Sun, Falling Skies now available for pre-order on Amazon.

Happy I am pleased to announce that Rising Sun, Falling Skies: The Disastrous Java Sea Campaign of World War II is now available for pre-order from Amazon. It will be published in March 2014.

Rising Sun, Falling Skies covers the heroic efforts of US naval forces trapped and isolated in the Far East after Pearl Harbor, who joined with British, Dutch and Australians in a desperate effort to halt the overwhelming Japanese onslaught. The campaign started badly with the Japanese destroying the US Far East Air Force on the ground in the Philippines and sinking the British battleship Prince of Wales and battlecruiser Repulse and ended even worse with the disastrous Allied defeat in the Battle of the Java Sea that led to the Japanese conquest of the oil-rich Netherlands East Indies, what is today Indonesia, and the achievement of the Japanese objectives in going to war.

In the middle, American, British, Dutch and Australian fighting men were done in by factors almost too numerous to list: ambivalent leaders, incompetent generals, indefensible positions, old, worn-out ships; almost no air support, badly outnumbered fighting men, outclassed and outnumbered aircraft, no hope for reinforcement, no hope even for replacements, no chance to rest, no chance to maintain their equipment, constantly low on supplies, especially oil and munitions; poor communications and bickering governments. In the face of these crushing odds, the only hope the Allied forces had was to delay the Japanese, buy time for the new warships and aircraft under construction in US shipyards and factories to enter the war. Every day counted. This was a modern-day Thermopylae, with a stand every bit as heroic, every bit as desperate, every bit as memorable as Leonidas and his 300 Spartans.

Rising Sun, Falling Skies takes a more American perspective on the naval campaign, including the efforts of the cruisers Houston and Marblehead, our submarines and ancient-but-game "four piper" destroyers, both crippled by criminally defective torpedoes; the desperation that doomed the USS Langley and the hunted Patrol Wing 10, who performed reconnaissance work that was borderline suicide. But our faithful and equally heroic allies will receive their due as well: the last stands of the British cruiser Exeter and the Australian cruiser Perth, the little-known British temporary repulse of a Japanese invasion force an hour before Pearl Harbor, and the mountains of unfair abuse heaped on the gallant, humane Dutch commander Karel Doorman, who went down with his ship in the Battle of the Java Sea.

The Japanese, too, will come in for examination. Their navy was a bizarre contradiction of very modern, very powerful ships with capable officers that achieved victory using a doctrine rejected by their own superiors and tactics that did not work. They would succeed in a conquest so vast, so complete that it would rival the German blitzkrieg, but would also sow the seeds for their own defeat in the war.

Rising Sun, Falling Skies has literally been 30 years in the making. Readers of my blog know that I study military history with an almost unmatched zeal. For me, it all started with World War II in the Pacific, with the Java Sea Campaign, its drama, and its mysteries holding a special place in my heart. The book is packed with as much information I can cram into it and fresh interpretations on a campaign that has not gotten a lot of attention, and the efforts made and miseries suffered by our servicemembers that have never been fully appreciated. This is a dream come true. Whether readers agree or disagree with my take on the campaign, I hope everyone will enjoy reading it.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Is Erdoğan’s Turkey cooked?

Somewhat lost here amid the furor of the Obama Scandalpalooza (Benghazi, IRS, DOJ, HHS, etc.) has been the news of massive protests in Turkey against the country's Islamist/neo-Ottoman Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Barry Rubin gives the background:
More than 1000 people have been injured in several days of protests in Istanbul and 11 other cities against Turkey’s Islamist regime.  The number of dead is not clear. There have been more than 90 demonstrations, making these the biggest anti-Islamist protests in a decade. Hundreds more were hurt in conflicts with police in Ankara, the capital. The demonstrations began as an environmental protest about the destruction of a famous Istanbul park but had spread to Ankara, too.
The movement began in Taksim Square, Istanbul’s most famous. The police responded toughly using tear gas and pepper spray. Some compared this to the Arab Spring demonstrations elsewhere in the Middle East, though this idea seems exaggerated.

Gradually the Justice and Development Party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been working to transform Turkey into something much closer to an Islamist state. Hundreds of political prisoners have been jailed on trumped-up charges of planned coups; the army has been forced to submit; a new constitution is being developed; and the independent judiciary is under assault by the government.
Much of the mass media has been bought up or intimidated. One must also take into account educational system changes, the declining status of women, and rising efforts to reduce the sale of alcohol. Turkey has more journalists in jail than any other country in the world.
So does Tulin Daloglu:
A few facts: When people brought the AKP government to power in November 2002, they cast their votes in protest of the mainstream political parties that had brought Turkey into severe economic crisis; people wanted to give something new a chance. In the following two elections, the Erdogan government probably continued to win due to its economic success, and because the opposition parties continued to fail to convince the people that they could do a better job once in power. Invoking Ottomanism is all about Erdogan’s personal vision, but there is no data — except for the prime minister’s word — that people voted for the AKP to reawaken the Ottoman era.
Erdogan may be mentally at war with the CHP’s mindset, and may feel more connected to the Ottoman past. He is, however, the prime minister of a republic, not an empire. But if he insists on returning back in time to the 1780s, there are those who can remind us that Sultan Selim uprooted an Armenian cemetery there to build the barracks. Going back in time and pushing an Ottoman agenda even in city planning is really pushing a certain segment of the society to the edge. But these few trees at Taksim Square seem to be only an excuse to unload an amassed anger about many things, such as the demolishing of a historic movie theater, Emek; the construction of a new bridge that connects the Anatolian and European sides of Istanbul, cutting more trees there; introducing new rules to the restaurants at Beyoglu and  Istiklal Caddesi, the heart of entertainment in Istanbul; and the limitations brought to alcohol consumption. The list may continue to grow.
The point is, protesters in Istanbul are expressing frustration that Erdogan has turned the city into his own playground, forcing his vision for the city on everyone. This is annoying those who feel he is altering places sacred to them and has not even bothered to include their perspective in making all the changes.
As Erdogan continues to describe the protesters as people engaging in “illegal activities” and “street bandits,” he may be missing an opportunity to connect with those who think his policies are ignoring them and that he is treating them as if they don’t count. Not everyone has to praise the Ottomans or believe that rebuilding demolished Ottoman buildings should be prioritized. It’s one thing for one to know his or her past, but something else to try to relive that past and reawaken it every day. Many want to live the present and prioritize the values of the republic. Erdogan’s remembrance of history is about praising the Ottoman era, covering over its mistakes, and about putting down the republican era, highlighting all its problematic chapters. This imbalance weighs heavily on people, and they are literally showing on the streets that they can’t take it any longer.
People expect Erdogan to be more inclusive and accept the fact that they have a say as to how their city will be shaped, and not just when they cast their ballots. “I have never favored a majority rule, but I won’t ever allow the minority to force [its decisions] on the majority,” Erdogan said. That may sound fine, but how do you find common ground by altering what are sacred corners of the city for a certain segment of the population, all the while making decisions on the new look without their input?
In that framework, these weeklong protests are a reflection that Erdogan has gone too far on some sensitive issues. Istanbul is a uniquely beautiful city divided between the European and Anatolian sides. It is big, its traffic is too crowded and it’s impossible for anyone to know every part of Istanbul, but everyone crosses through and knows Taksim. It’s the heart and the pulse of the city. While the protesting crowds are trying to make a statement that they don’t want their square, their crossing point, to be changed — at least not without their consent —  Erdogan said Sunday that a mosque will be built there.
And the always-readable Claire Berlinski, who lives in Istanbul/Stamboul/Constantinople/Byzantium/Byzantion, gives the foreground:
The story began when the government in Ankara decided that Gezi Park, in the center of Istanbul, should be demolished and replaced by a shopping mall. Now, Gezi Park is hardly the Jardins de Luxembourg. It’s a shabby rat trap that you wouldn’t walk through alone at night, and you’re more apt to find used condoms on its lawns than daisies and cowslips. But it is, all the same, one of the last remaining spaces with trees in the neighborhood.
Over the past decade, Istanbul has seen a massive construction boom. Lovely old buildings have been razed by the hundreds and replaced by shopping malls. Until this week, I would have said that while this transformation was not to my taste, it was very much to the liking of the people who live here: after all, they were certainly doing a lot of shopping. Apparently, I was wrong.
When the company building the shopping mall began cutting down trees, protesters occupied the park—peacefully. But in truth, these protests weren’t about the park or even about the shopping malls. They were about a people exhausted by Istanbul’s uncontrolled growth; by its relentless traffic; by the incessant noise (especially that of construction); by massive immigration from the countryside; by predatory construction companies—widely and for good reason believed to be in bed with the government—which have, over the past decade, destroyed a great deal of the city’s loveliness and cultural heritage. But most of all, they are about a nation’s fury with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s growing authoritarianism, symbolized by Istanbul’s omnipresent police, the phalanxes of so-called Robocops. They are so notoriously trigger-happy that journalists on Twitter post a daily tear-gas report.
"Robocops?"  Cute.
Of late, almost every sector of the electorate has felt unease about one part or another of Erdoğan’s agenda. Restrictive new alcohol legislation, rammed through parliament, as usual, with contempt for the minority opposition, has prompted outrage; the so-called peace process with the PKK, which no one understands, has caused great unease. Anxiety is growing as well, not only about press censorship, but also about the prosecution of those who insult government officials or “Islamic values” on social media. There is outrage about the bombing in Reyhanlı that left 52 Turks dead and which appears to have been attributable to a series of inexcusable police and intelligence blunders (but no one knows, and no one believes what the press writes); there is fear of war with Syria; there is concern about strange reports that al-Nusra, a Syrian militant group affiliated with al-Qaida, has been cooking up Sarin gas in Adana, five miles east of the United States’ Incirlik Air Base; and there is deep skepticism about Erdoğan’s plans for grandiose construction projects—such as a third airport, a second Bosphorus canal, and a gigantesque mega-mosque intended to exceed in size every mosque left behind by his Ottoman predecessors. The thing will dominate Istanbul’s already-martyred skyline, and replace yet another pleasant and leafy park.
The recent announcement that a new bridge over the Bosphorus was to be named after Sultan Selim the Grim, slayer of the Alevis—a substantial and beleaguered Turkish religious minority—didn’t help matters. Nor did it soothe fears when a minor AKP official from the sticks wrote on Twitter that “My blood boils when spineless psychopaths pretending to be atheists swear at my religion. These people, who have been raped, should be annihilated.” Two weeks ago in Ankara, a disembodied voice on the subway, having apparently espied them by means of a security camera, denounced a couple for kissing. The voice demanded that they “act in accordance with moral rules.” In return, incensed Ankara lovers staged kissing protests: as the couples shyly smooched outside the subway station, a group of young men confronted them, chanting “Allahu Akbar!” It was reported but not confirmed that one of the kissers was stabbed; but given the mood of hysteria here right now, it would be unwise to believe every rumor one hears.
Erdoğan, it seems, severely underestimated the degree of his subjects’ displeasure, confident that God, a strong economy, and a weak opposition were all he needed to ensure his hegemony. He brusquely dismissed the tree protesters’ concerns: “We’ve made our decision, and we will do as we have decided.” An AKP parliamentarian then unwisely announced that some young people “are in need of gas.”
So the Robocops once again used pepper spray and water cannon against the protesters. A photographer captured them spraying tear gas directly into the face of a vulnerable, middle-aged woman in a pretty red dress. The photo went viral and enraged the public: she was clearly no hooligan. As one conservative journalist noted, she looked “decent.”
Rather than dispersing for good, the protesters returned—and more gathered to support them. This wasn’t supposed to happen. The police panicked. At dawn, they attacked with pronounced violence, injuring not only students, but also journalists and opposition members of parliament who had come to show their support. They also seriously wounded the photographer who took the “red dress” photo, which was probably not a coincidence. Nor was it likely a coincidence that they fired a tear-gas canister “at close range” at the head of journalist Ahmet Şık, best known for writing about the infiltration and corruption of Turkey’s police forces by the followers of the Turkish imam Fethullah Gülen. For this, Şık was jailed as a “coup-plotter.” This time, he wound up in the hospital, though he is expected to recover.
Riot police blocked the roads leading to Taksim, the city’s central square, as well as those leading to Istanbul’s famous Istiklal Avenue. They fired gas bombs at everything that moved, including the city’s bewildered stray dogs. Helicopters circled the skies. Wi-Fi in the city center was jammed. The hospitals quickly filled with the injured. So far, reports of deaths have been hard to confirm, with some exceptions. Human-rights activist Ethem Sarısülük is now brain dead, having “come under fire” from police—what kind of fire, we don’t know. Mehmet Ayvalitas, reportedly a member of a banned group of left-wing hackers, is also dead. Human Rights Watch believes the casualty numbers are much higher than those claimed by the government. Reports of two other deaths, in particular, sound credible, but it’s impossible to be sure. I saw a video of a police vehicle crushing a woman under its wheels; I would be surprised if she survived.
I obtained casualty reports from the hospitals in my neighborhood, which is close to Taksim Square. From one: “A 22-year-old male has lost his left eye due to a plastic bullet. A 19-year-old male is being watched closely with a subdural hematoma diagnosis resulting from the impact of a gas capsule. A 22-year-old male patient has taken a frontal hit in the head and suffered a fractured skull and is under close watch due to acute hematoma diagnosis.” From another: “Over 100 injured patients were treated. Of these, nine suffer from significant trauma, five were admitted for surgery. Of these, one suffered trauma in the testicle, one subdural hematoma (brain), and two trauma of the left eye. One was operated on and has lost all eyesight. The other eye patient is being watched with the diagnosis of eye perforation. Of those planned to be operated on, two suffer from maxillofacial trauma, one with a broken left arm and another with multiple fracture of the collarbone.” From yet another: “Received hundreds of applications during the first two days due to central location. Majority were respiratory cases, eye irritation due to exposure to gas. Of the three patients with head injury, a 34-year-old female received emergency surgery due to brain hemorrhage and compression fracture. The same patient was also operated on the next day due to subdural hematoma. She is under surveillance in life threatening condition.”
It seems the Turkish police are making an effort to blind the protesters. Literally:
It is confirmed that rubber bullets have knocked out the eyes of at least six people. Gas has covered the city like a volcanic cloud. Everyone, even those who stayed indoors, has been weeping and coughing. Adding insult to injury—and injury to injury—the cops fired gas into the accident and emergency ward of two hospitals close to Taksim Square. The police now seem to have moved from pepper spray to a more noxious lachrymatory agent—probably CS gas—causing panic among the public, which believes itself to be under attack by some terrifying species of chemical weapon.
Almost as chillingly, the muzzled and gutless Turkish media downplayed the events. The main source of news here was Twitter. Precisely as BBC World was showing shocking scenes of the protests, Turkey’s TV24 was featuring a lecture from Erdoğan about the dangers of smoking. While Taksim burned, NTV aired a cooking show, and another channel featured an incisive documentary about liposuction.
But as news of the injuries and deaths spread by word of mouth, and particularly as photos and videos of the clashes and the wounded began circulating on social media, the entire city rose up in fury. The three largest Turkish football teams, usually mortal rivals (in some cases literally), announced that they would unite to join the protests. Istanbullus poured out on the streets, some in their pajamas, banging pots and pans, whistling, clapping, and shouting “Erdoğan, resign!” Elderly women handed out lemons from their windows (people here erroneously believe these mitigate the effects of tear gas), and shouted at passersby to “keep resisting!” Taxi, bus, and minivan drivers honked their horns in support. Massive crowds crossed the Bosphorus bridge from the Asian side of the city, all marching to Taksim Square. I have never seen such a spontaneous outpouring of public rage—coupled, of course, with the hysterical joy of the mob. But others have seen it here before. In the 1980s, the great travel writer Jan Morris described Istanbul thus:
The leftists think of themselves as progressives, modernists, but they are really honoring a tradition even older than Islam: for long before the caliphate was invented, the city crowd was a force in Byzantium. In those days the rival factions of the Blues and the Greens, originally supporters of the competing charioteers in the Hippodrome, were infinitely more riotous than any soccer crowd today, and the great circuits of the racetrack, around whose purlieus the backpack nomads now drink their mint tea . . . was the supreme arena of anarchy, the place where the frustration of the people found its ferocious release in bloodshed and insurrection . . .
I see better now what she meant.
Indeed. The Blues and Greens even cut their hair a particular way.
Turks held up signs calling their prime minister “Chemical Tayyip” and spread the slogan on Facebook. Then reports began pouring in from other cities—protesters, in the dead of night, marching to the parliament building in Ankara; protests in Konya (particularly amazing, because this is the ruling party’s base), and in Eskişehir, Trabzon, Adana, Edirne, Antalya, and Diyarbakır—protests spanning the whole geography of the country.
Yesterday, the riot police pulled out of Gezi Park. Cries of triumph echoed through the city. But the exuberance was short-lived, for the Robocops quickly turned their attention to gassing the rest of Istanbul. Beşiktaş (where the prime minister keeps his office), Dolmabahçe, Gaziosmanpaşa, and Baghdad Avenue became the new blood lands. So did the cities of Ankara, Antalya, Izmir, Adana, Kocaeli, Mersin, and Eskişehir. Interior Minister Muammer Güler announced that as of yesterday evening, 235 demonstrations had taken place over six days in 67 provinces, with 1,730 people detained. Unconfirmed reports tell of torture in Istanbul police stations.
Have you ever been in a Turkish prison? (Oh, come on. Someone had to say it ...)

Could this be the beginning of the end of Erdoğan's reign of terror? Rubin is not hopeful:
The political implications of the protests are not clear. They are probably unlikely to shake the determination of the government. “We do not have a government, we have Tayyip Erdogan,” political scientist and protester Koray Caliskan told the Reuters news agency.
Erdogan is very arrogant, has a strong base of support, and enjoys the full support of the Obama administration.  The Turkish economy is generally considered to be strong. Erdogan will have to decide whether to slow down the Islamization process—he has been clever at being patient—or, perhaps, on the contrary, to speed it up, claiming his regime is facing sabotage.
Daloglu is agnostic:
Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government won’t step down because of the weeklong protests in Istanbul, which spread to at least 10 other cities — including Ankara, the capital of the country. The protests began on Monday, May 27, as an innocent demonstration of 500 people in Istanbul to oppose a construction plan to replace a park at Taksim Square with an Ottoman artillery barracks that was originally built in 1780 and destroyed in 1940.
It’s too early to come to a conclusion as to how these events might impact the ballot box. Today’s issue, however, is that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan does not seem to understand the message coming from the streets, and is attempting to paint himself as a victim once again — this time as a result of the good service he says he is providing the public.
Berlinski, on the ground as she is, is a bit more hopeful:
Erdoğan may believe that he can outlast the protesters, and he may be right, particularly if the protesters succumb to the temptations of violence and vandalism. So far, they have been reasonably constrained. But the Robocops are exhausted—photos are circulating of them falling asleep on the street—and if there is one thing a prime minister best known for “taming the military” can’t do, it is to call in the army to settle things down. If the protests keep escalating and the crackdown intensifies, it’s hard to see how this can end well. Best case: the protests will spook the prime minister and give him a much-needed dose of humility. Worst case: The protests will spook the prime minister and leave him even more paranoid and vengeful.
Unfortunately, the early signs point toward the second scenario. Speaking of these events yesterday for the first time since the protests began, Erdoğan announced that the police had come under attack, and that the main opposition party and “certain media organizations” had provoked the events. He threatened to take the fight even deeper into the streets: “If they’ve got 20,000 people to go to Taksim, I can get 500,000 to turn out in Kazlıçeşme. We have that strength. . . . What is happening is entirely ideological. This approach is targeting my government, my person, and the municipal elections. They are thinking about how they can take the municipal authority from the AK Party.” He then suggested that anyone who drinks is an alcoholic—though he subsequently clarified that one or two drinks a year might be alright—and denounced Twitter, which has been trending for days with the slogan, “Tayyip, Resign!” That obviously displeased him. “There is now a menace which is called Twitter,” he said, and “the best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.” Just last week, he thought it was alcohol. He did concede that the police had been a touch excessive. The words came out of his mouth, but there was no corresponding remorse on his face.
The protests are about authoritarianism, plain and simple. What will happen now is anyone’s guess. The demonstrators are disorganized, and while they know what they don’t want, they aren’t sure what they do want. The opposition parties are hopeless. Politicians do not resign in Turkey generally; Tayyip Erdoğan certainly won’t. But he has damaged himself greatly and unleashed an unpredictable evil upon a land that has already known far too much of it. How strange that such a shrewd politician should make so grievous a tactical blunder. Then again, it is well known that whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.

If the shoe was on the other foot ...

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has decided to hold a quick special election to replace the recently-deceased Senator Frank Lautenberg:
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie plans to conduct a special election in October to fill the unexpired term of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, provoking a scramble among hopefuls in both parties looking to grab the seat.
Saying “the people must choose,” Christie moved Tuesday to end at least part of the speculation surrounding the vacant post, announcing that a primary will be conducted on Aug. 13, with the survivors facing off on Oct. 16. The victor will fill out the remainder of Lautenberg’s term, which ends in January 2015. Whoever wins likely will seek a full six-year term in the November 2014 election.
The governor also intends to appoint a replacement until the election. His choice is expected later this week, sometime shortly after Lautenberg’s burial on Wednesday. Christie hasn’t indicated whether he intends to choose a caretaker or someone who may vie for the remainder of the unexpired term.
About the only sure thing is Christie will opt for a fellow Republican to replace Lautenberg, a Democrat.
“I’m going to pick a person I believe to be the best person,” he said in making the election announcement. “I do have a list in my head. You all know me. I don’t dawdle.”
The decision puts to rest speculation about the path Christie intended to pursue. New Jersey has conflicting statutes on how to fill an unexpired senatorial term. One allows the governor to make a temporary appointment until the next general election – in this case, Nov. 5. But another state law maintains if the vacancy occurs within 70 days of the primary – it did in this case, the New Jersey primary was Tuesday – the governor can call a special election to fill the vacancy.
There was some speculation that Christie might choose a strong Republican contender and let him or her serve out the remainder of Lautenberg’s unexpired term, giving the GOP a leg up on potential Democratic foes when the seat comes up on Nov. 5, 2014.
Instead he opted for a quick election, maintaining that pending issues are “too great to be determined by an appointee for a period of 18 months.”
“I want to have an elected senator as soon as possible,” he said.
The decision could prove costly – the New Jersey Office of Legislative Services estimates that the combined primary and special election could cost the state $24 million. But it relieves some of the political pressure Christie faced over the timing.
Christie is in the midst of his own re-election campaign. He currently holds what some polls point to as a 30-point lead over his challenger, state Sen. Barbara Buono. But GOP insiders maintained that the governor wanted to avoid conducting the Senate and gubernatorial election on the same day.
The most likely Democratic Senate candidate emerging is Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, an African-American with a national reputation. If Booker is the Democrats’ choice, he’s expected to draw black voters to the polls, probably cutting into Christie’s electoral edge if they appeared on the same ballot.
Not surprisingly, this is causing considerable GOP angst:
The term for Lautenberg’s vacant seat runs until November 2014. Christie had two options in how to fill it. Option one: Simply appoint someone to serve out the rest of the term and let voters elect a new senator on schedule next year. Assuming Christie appointed a Republican, that would give the national GOP an extra vote in the Senate for almost 18 months — granted, likely a moderate vote, but that’s still preferable to a liberal Democrat. Maybe the appointee would impress Jerseyans with his Senate record and would stand an incumbent’s fighting chance to hold the seat against Cory Booker next year. Or maybe he wouldn’t intend to run against Booker at all, which would free him up to vote as a conservative for the remainder of the term. Jersey Democrats threatened to sue Christie if he went this route, but as Ed Krayewski noted at Reason, he had cover from the state’s bipartisan Office of Legislative Services. Reportedly, they issued an opinion earlier today stating that the 18-month appointment would be just fine legally.
Option two: Christie could throw all of that away by appointing a very short-term replacement for Lautenberg and scheduling a special election for sometime later this year. That would give Booker all kinds of advantages. Not only wouldn’t he have to face a GOP incumbent with more than a year’s experience in office, he also wouldn’t need to worry about his opponent having lots of time to fundraise. The risk to Christie in choosing this option was that it would bring all sorts of Democratic voters out to the polls on election day who might otherwise have stayed home. And that means Christie, who’s cruising to victory at the moment, could suddenly see his own gubernatorial reelection bid jeopardized by the big surge in Democratic turnout. All of which makes this a no-brainer, right? Appoint a Republican to finish Lautenberg’s term and trust that Christie’s big lead in the gubernatorial race won’t suffer too much for it. How angry could Jersey Democrats be if he appointed a Republican as squishy as he is?
So which option did Christie choose? Option two, of course — except that, in order to protect his own ass electorally, he decided to schedule the Senate special election in October, not on election day in November. Now he gets the best of both worlds, all but handing the seat to Booker ASAP to burnish his “bipartisan” brand while ensuring that he himself doesn’t have to face the extra Democratic voters who’ll turn out to vote for Booker. National Republicans are, as you might imagine, honked off[.]
So what?

Look, I get that the Democrats often try sleazy procedural tactics designed to screw Republicans. Witness the passage of Obamacare, or the constant blocking of good federal court nominees and the midnight promulgation of draconian environmental rules. For that matter, that's how Lautenberg got the nomination to replace the scandalized Robert Torricelli, who was forced to withdraw barely a month before the 2002 general election, in the first place (in violation of black letter New Jersey law). That is beneath contemptible, and deserves far more of a retaliation than the national GOP has been willing to give them.

Yet, put the shoe on the other foot here. If Christie was a Democrat and was calling for a special election that had a good chance of putting a Republican in the Senate seat, would the GOP be complaining? Nope. They would be celebrating his spirit of "bipartisanship," as the Democrats are now.

The people of New Jersey are generally liberal Democrats. Patriotic liberal Democrats, but still liberal Democrats. To try to trick them using procedural technicalities into electing or simply being stuck with a senator who does not represent them is just as sleazy as anything Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi has attempted.

Neither party has a monopoly on the right thing to do. But Chris Christie has chosen the right thing to do, something that may not be in his best political interest, but is in the best interest of good representative government. And Christie should be celebrated for so choosing.

When you vote in the Muslim Brotherhood ...

Don't be surprised if you are voted out as the vacation paradise of the world:
The U.S. Embassy issued a warning about increasing incidents at or near the famous pyramids at Giza about a dozen miles from downtown Cairo. Most of the incidents are due to overly aggressive vendors who in some cases come close to criminal conduct, the embassy says.
"U.S. citizens should elevate their situational awareness when traveling to the pyramids, avoid any late evening or night travel, utilize a recommended or trusted guide, and closely guard valuables," according to a security message on the embassy's website last week.
Visitors going toward the ancient complex, roughly an hour's drive in traffic from central Cairo, are encountering Egyptians who work in the tourism sector and surround and pound on tourists' taxis and cars in what the embassy says may be an effort to pressure visitors to ride in their horse-drawn carriages.
In some cases, angry vendors have tried to open vehicles' doors, frightening visitors, the embassy said.
Egypt's minister of antiquities, Ahmed Eissa, insisted the Giza pyramid complex is safe. He said neither his office nor the tourism police have received complaints, according to newspaper reports.
Others who have traveled to the area say the problems are real.
"It's a new level of frightening," said Graham Harman, associate provost for research administration and professor of philosophy at the American University in Cairo.
Vendors began the practice of banging on cars pulling up to the pyramids within the first six months after Egypt's revolution in 2011. Once tourists enter the complex gates the harassment continues.
The Giza Necropolis, home of the pyramids of Khufu (or Cheops), Khafre (or Cephren) and Menkaure (or Mykerinos); and the Sphinx (with probably the head of Khafre or (Cephren)), among many other things. It's sad to see how Cairo has encroached on these beautiful ancient Wonders of the World.
This is not hostility toward tourists. Far from it. This is sheer desperation:
Visitors to Giza can see the depth of financial despair evident among those who work in the tourism industry, a main source of income for many Egyptians. Many vendors seem starved for travelers. Stable owners who offer horseback rides through the sprawling desert have fed their horses hay that was bought on loan while others over the past two years have been forced to sell their animals.
Tourism is diminished across the country.
Ayman Hussein works for a travel agency in Aswan, a city in Upper Egypt not far from Sudan that is near a set of magnificent temples. He said tourism has dropped by more than half since the days before the nation's uprising.
"Please tell the people: Come to Upper Egypt," Hussein said.
Making matters worse, prices of electricity and basic foods have been rising.
"It's very hard," Hussein said, but he brushed off news that there may be dangers hundreds of miles away at the Giza pyramids.
"We love the tourists," he said. "Don't worry about this."
I believe you guys love the tourists, Mr. Hussein, but it's hard not to worry. The Muslim Brotherhood that rules Egypt advocates barbaric shar'ia law. They want women veiled, alcohol gone, and Christians killed (just ask the Copts). Unaccompanied, unveiled women are often raped by gangs of Muslim men in Cairo itself. The only crimes police care about are those that are offensive to Islam, which does not include rape. Even though Egypt is dependent on tourists who visit its pyramids (and, remember, the Giza Necropolis is only a small portion of the pyramids of Egypt) and even though most Egyptians take immense pride in their pre-Islamist past, Salafist Muslim allies of the Muslim Brotherhood openly advocate for the destruction of the pyramids as "offensive to Islam."

You feel bad for these people. I feel bad for these people. I dearly love Egypt and want it and its people to succeed. But my sympathy is somewhat limited. The Egyptians wanted to get rid of Hosni Mubarak. They knew what the Muslim Brotherhood stood for. We knew what the Muslim Brotherhood stood for and reminded them of it.  They voted (actually voted in what was recognized as a generally fair election) the Muslim Brotherhood into power. Now that the Muslim Brotherhood's well-known hostility to the West and anything "un-Islamic" is killing the country, don't come bitching to me. We have neither the ability nor the inclination to rule your country for you. Help yourselves and get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies.

However bad this looks for Egypt, Walter Russell Mead argues that the US Embassy's report means things can only get worse:
This is the same basic message presented by a World Economic Forum report that ranked Egypt as one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a tourist.
This is less dramatic news than reports of the latest massacre in Syria or riot in Turkey, but it’s possibly more significant in the long term, for two reasons. First, it’s the US Embassy that has issued this warning; second it’s on the front page of USA Today, so plenty of people are going to hear about it.
Tourism has been hit hard by political turmoil in Egypt. Many travelers are avoiding the country or canceling trips. Hotel occupancy in Cairo is 15 percent or lower in some parts of the city.
The Embassy warning may be the sign that it’s time to stick a fork in Egypt’s tourism industry. The Egyptians can forget about a tourism revival anytime soon.
Foreign economic aid won’t be able to replace the lost tourism revenue, which, as the NYT reports, ”provides direct jobs for nearly three million people, critical income to more than 70 industries and 20 percent of the state’s foreign currency—now desperately needed to prop up the plummeting Egyptian pound.” And so the economic death spiral will continue.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Book Review: Calamity at Chancellorsville

So I went to the new Barnes & Noble at Keystone at the Crossing last week. Not as happy with it as I was with the old Borders at that location or the old Barnes & Noble at Clearwater, inasmuch as their history section overall, and especially their world history section, seems to be smaller. But I did stumble across and pick up Calamity at Chancellorsville: The Wounding and Death of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson, by Mathew W. Lively. It seemed amazong to me that there would be an entire book on Jackson's death, but there it was. Naturally, I had to grab it.

For the uninitiated, the Civil War Battle of Chancellorsville took place between April 30 and May 6, 1863, mostly in a wooded area known as, curiously enough, the Wilderness, in Spotsylvania County, Virgina, focusing on a crossroads known as, curiously enough, Chancellorsville, although it was more an aspiration than an actual "ville" inasmuch as it consisted of one large mansion.

The 133,000-man Union Army of the Potomac, led by General Joseph Hooker (who in my opinion was one of the best Union generals of the war) was trying to outflank and envelop General Robert E. Lee's 60,000-man Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, dug in at a nearly unassailable position (as the Army of the Potomac had found oout a few months previously) at Fredericksburg. When Hooker stole a march on Lee and occupied Chancellorsville, Lee had to keep some forces in a blocking position in Fredericksburg while moving the bulk of his army to the Wilderness.

The key phase of the battle took place on May 2. General Lee had been informed by his scouts that the Union right flank was unsecured, basically hanging "in mid air," with fortifications that faced to the south and Lee's army. Lee had General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson and his Confederate II Corps engange in a flanking movement, marching 12 miles around a pig iron foundry known as Catharine Furnace and through the Wilderness toward the exposed Union right. If the move was to succeed, it had to be undetected.

General Hooker was, in fact, concerned about his right flank. He had tried to move several of his units to support it but comunication problems meant they could not reach it in time. Union scouts had spotted General Jackson's corps moving through the woods, and Hooker ordered the Geneal Oliver Howard, commander of the XI Corps on the Union right, to take precautions against an attack from the west. Howard reported that he was doing so; in fact he had done nothing. The only Union forces facing the west were a few pickets and two cannons. The troops of the XI Corps, considered among the worst in the Army of the Potomac and therefore plced on the Union right where combat was not expected, had sat down to dinner with their rifles stacked and unloaded.

Around 5:30 pm, those Union troops were startled to see foxes, rabbits, and deer fleeing the Wilderness in terror towards them. Shortly thereafter, General Jackson's 21,500 men exploded out of the woods screaming the Rebel Yell. The XI Corps disintegrated. Jackson's troops advanced to within sight of Chancellors-"ville" before darkness, Union artillery, and the very speed of their advance halted it for the night.

Though it was now dark, Jackson wanted to press on, and scouted down what was called the Orange Plank Road (because, you see, it had wooden planks, though they were not orange) ahead of his troops. Behind him was another scouting party led by General A.P. Hill. Jackson's staff warned him he was in danger but he did not listen.

As his party was returning, there was an exchange of gunfire between Union and Confederate pickets. Fearful of a moonlight Union counter attack, the rebel 18th North Carolina Infantry Regiment saw about two dozen cavalry galloping towards them and opened fire. The "cavalry" turned out to be the scouting parties of Generals Hill and Jackson. The fusillade of fire was devastating. While Hill was unhurt, almost all of his staff was killed. Of Jackson's party, which was further away, only one was wounded -- Jackson himself, who took two bullets in his left arm and one in his right hand.

The wounds to Jackson's left arm were so severe he could not continue. He was placed on a stretcher to carry back to a field hospital, but en route one of the stretcher bearers tripped and fell, dumping Jackson, who landed on his shattered left arm. He groaned in agony. His left arm had to be amputated at the field hospital. He seemed to be recovering well and was sent behind the front to be with his wife, but he contracted pneumonia and died on May 10.

Author Mathew W. Lively is actually a medical doctor with a lifelong interest in the Civil War (not unlike a lawyer with a lifelong interest in the Battle of the Java Sea) so Calamity at Chancellorsville is a sort of forensic analysis of General Jackson's death, but is mostly a description of its circumstances and a discussion of its mysteries. I had previously read Stephen W. Sears' Chancellorsville, in which he expresses the belief that the critical injury to Jackson was not the bullet wounds to his arm, but the fall from the stretcher. Lively concurs with that analysis and goes further, saying that the fall from the stretcher bruised Jackson's right lung (though he doesn't explain how landing on his left arm could have damaged his right lung). It was this bruise that caused the pneumonia, with its onset delayed by the shock of Jackson's arm injury.

For a narrowly focused book, Lively's has an interesting discussion of Jackson's flank attack and, in a general way, the Chancellorsville setting. He goes into Jackson's motif as "a good man fighting for an evil cause." He also explains precisely where and how Jackson was shot, debunking several myths in the process. Finally, Lively examines the mysterious fate of Jackson's (now missing) amputated arm.

Most interesting for me is the discussion of the Wilderness and Catharine Furnace. When I was growing up I read The Golden Book of The Civil War, Adpated for Young Readers from the American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War. Even back then I did not find the narrative itself all that great, but it is chock full of beautifully illustrated maps of almost all the major battles. These remain the best maps I have seen of any Civil War publication.

The maps of the Chancellorsville and later Wilderness battles (I can't find an online version of them) always intrigued me. I never understood how Chancellorsville could consist of one building; The Golden Book of The Civil War never explained it. Its image of Catharine Furnace (often misspelled as Catherine") consisted of a single brick building that appeared to be rubbled and abandoned. Except Chancellorsville and now Calamity at Chancellorsville made clear Catharine Furnace was in operation. How could the furnace operate when it was a single rubbled building?

As the National Parks Service makes clear, it was much more than that:

The strangely mysterious Catharine Furnace.
As they explain the drawing:
Recent archaeological work reveals the extent of the industry at this site. Hundreds of people worked and lived here. The artist depiction shows only a small portion of the vast area occupied by the complex. 
Catharine Furnace, like many of the iron furnaces in the area, closed in the late 1840's. It was the shutting down of the iron industry that allowed a young second growth forest to develop by 1863 that the local civilians called The Wilderness. Catharine Furnace was reactivated during the war for use by the Confederacy. It was destroyed by George Custer's cavalry during the Wilderness Campaign in May of 1864. Today one stone stack remains.
The remaining single stone smokestack of Catharine Furnace.

The Catharine Furnace Monument.
So there appear to be no contemporary pictures of Catharine Furnace, nor apparently do any plans remain. The drawing from the Park Service is the result of archaeological work. Interesting to see our own American history becoming more and more dependent on archaeological work like ancient Greece and Rome.

It was Lively's book that first put me onto the connection between the Wilderness and Catharine Furnace, which was something else not explained by The Golden Book of The Civil War. The original forest was mostly torn down to fuel the furnaces. The furnaces were shut down in the 1840's. Only some 20 years later in 1863, the forest had grown back to such an extent that it was (and is) now called the Wilderness.

Anyone claiming how damaging logging is needs to examine the history of the Wilderness and Catharine Furnace. But I digress.

Given that he is a medical doctor used to writing for scientific journals, Lively has a surprisingly easy and engaging writing style. Calamity at Chancellorsville is not long (173 pages) and is so well-written that it reads shorter than even that. I was able to finish it in a weekend.

If you have an interest in the Civil War and Stonewall Jackson, I must say this book is for you. I highly recommend it.