America, Israel and Impossible Walls

So Donald Trump is promising to wall off the southern border. Whether you think this is a worthwhile endeavor or not depends on a great many things, but one strain of argument that has popped up is not so much that this is a bad idea, per se, but rather that it’s an idea beneath consideration, patently foolish and something no rational person would consider.

The response I have seen to this is very interesting and it often takes the form of “Israel has a border wall, why can’t the United States?”

What makes this question “Israel has X, why can’t we” so interesting is what it reveals, both about Israel and about the gulf between her and the other Western nations. It seems that Israel, alone among the Western nations, must engage in this kind of exercise in exclusion. Although England, at least, may soon be regretting the loss of their great moat against mainland Europe… The rest of Europe looks at such nationalism, such exclusion and shudders. Though, to be fair, European nations have more reason then most to rue forceful expressions of national pride.

This in turn fuels a feeling for some on the Right that Israel is the last truly Western nation, in the sense of being a nation that is distinctly modern and patriotic yet retaining its own cultural identity. In other words, that Israel is the last Western nation that is Western in the American sense. This would seem to be supported by the reviling of Israel in the most anti-American quarters of the Left, who despise Israel for precisely the characteristics that are admired by the right. The patriotism, seeing self-defense as a virtue and religiosity that the Right value are all characteristics far out of favor on the left.

Others will contend that a fence is useless, offering more picayune objections: citing tunnel infiltration and the abduction of Gilad Shalit. ‘Surely the wealthy Mexican cartels can surely replicate Hamas’ tunnel network?’, they declare. But this rebuttal would seem to miss the point; no one would seriously entertain the idea that condoms are useless because they have a (very small) failure rate. Yet to a certain kind of critic, the idea that the Israeli border walls are not 100% efficacious is the equivalent of them being useless.

In this way the Left is at least consistent: for years we were told that missile defense could never be practical. Which is true.. so long as you keep ratcheting up what constitutes “practical”. It’s also reminiscent of the attempt to ‘debunk the success’ of the Iron Dome system in the recent Gaza conflict.

This, I think, ties into the other reason the left find the question “Israel has a wall, why can’t we” so vexing: Israel has a wall because it retains a sense of self and a sense of sovereignty. European nations retain (with varying degree of success) distinct identities, but there is a terrible shame seen among the ‘elites’ in taking any pride in this. Israeli pride in Israeli identity is an uncomfortable reminder to many on the left, especially in Europe, of a time they want to forget.

There is also a rather amusing and circular argument and it goes like this;

“You can’t build a fence that won’t be scaled, or a wall that can’t be tunneled under.” Claims the opponent of a border barrier.

“Well,” goes the reply, “then we’ll put up X.” Where X is an ever increasing level of security, going from barbed wire topped fences to noveu-Berlin Wall affairs. As each new level is proposed, it is dismissed, until a point of security that everyone understands would be effective is proposed.

“Okay, may that would work,” admits the opponent, “but it would be sick. But I guess you want to see migrant children blown up by landmines/impaled on punji sticks/eaten by moat alligators?”

It’s a bit like the old example of a man that kills his parents then asks the court for mercy on the grounds that he is an orphan. The opponents of a border wall insist that innocuous measures will be ineffective, and effective measures would be too terrible for civilized people to actually deploy… oh, and you’re a dope if you propose innocuous measures, and a bloodthirsty savage for proposing the measures opponents understand would work.

Catch-22: it’s a way of saying ‘yes’ to the question “does a sovereign nation have the right to refuse access to non-citizens?” while at the same time ruling out any way to restrict access.

It seems in the end what is really being discussed is: if a nation will not put its own citizens before non-citizens, if it will not show loyalty first to its citizens, what loyalty then does that nation deserve from its citizens?

In the contrast of Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, many Americans (especially on the right) see one leader that they feel, outside of any evaluation of competency, truly loves his country and is doing all he can for it. The other leader would be President Obama.

Will Obama give Biden the Democratic nomination?

It’s becoming increasingly clear that Hillary Clinton’ speech at the United Nations in March about her use of a private email server, was… well, perhaps Clintonian is what she was going for;

QUESTION: Were you ever — were you ever specifically briefed on the security implications of using — using your own email server and using your personal address to email with the president?

CLINTON: I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material.

So I’m certainly well-aware of the classification requirements and did not send classified material.

We now know that at least half of that statement is untrue: there is classified material in her emails, and not merely classified material, but the most delicate and closely guarded of secrets;

The inspector general for the Intelligence Community notified senior members of Congress that two of four classified emails discovered on the server Clinton maintained at her New York home contained material deemed to be in one of the highest security classifications – more sensitive than previously known.

Remember that the four emails that are classified (two highly classified) were detected in a sample of forty (40) emails, this is not the total number of such records;

The four emails in question “were classified when they were sent and are classified now,” said Andrea Williams, a spokeswoman for the inspector general. The inspector general reviewed just a small sample totaling about 40 emails in Mrs. Clinton’s inbox—meaning that many more in the trove of more than 30,000 may contain potentially confidential, secret or top-secret information.

The inspector general’s office concluded that Mrs. Clinton should have used a secure network to transmit the emails in question—rather than her personal email account run off a home server.

“None of the emails we reviewed had classification or dissemination markings, but some included IC-derived classified information and should have been handled as classified, appropriately marked, and transmitted via a secure network,” wrote Inspector General I. Charles McCullough in the letter to Congress.

We cannot now know, but if the sample examined is representative Secretary Clinton’s emails might be 10% classified and 5% highly classified… in other words, 3,000+ and 1,500+, respectively. So why do I mention this in the context of Joe Biden? Let’s consider what former CIA operative and CNN national security analyst Bob Baer had to say about this matter;

“Seriously, if I had sent a document like this over the open Internet I’d get fired the same day, escorted to the door and gone for good — and probably charged with mishandling classified information,” Baer said.

What does this have to do with Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama? As other have observed, Hillary Clinton is in trouble, but she should be in very big trouble, of the criminal kind. But she’s not, not yet. And she certainly should be;

Even for those of us who hold a very low opinion of Mrs. Clinton’s character, integrity, and judgment, this is a graver offense than many had contemplated. Merely the storage of “Top Secret” e-mails – never mind their dissemination over open channels to some individuals likely not cleared to read them — is a federal felony. On top of that, it is unthinkable that Hillary could have sent such sensitive information and not known at the time that it was sensitive.

At the moment it’s very difficult to see Hillary Clinton’s (relative) lack of legal trouble as anything but the application of double standards so shamefully common in Washington. Obama’s Justice Department could be more aggressive, and indeed, was more aggressive when it came to similar allegations against former General David Petraeus, and far, far more aggressive in pursuing penalties against lower level individuals for mishandling classified information.

So on the one hand we have Hillary Clinton, a walking disaster area of security crimes (at least). On the other hand, we have Joe Biden: late to the field, but motivated by the urging of both sons, including his late and much mourned son Beau.

Hillary would seem to have an almost insurmountable lead in the polls, as well as a frightening amount of campaign cash. Joe Biden hasn’t even begun to run, how can he possible overcome Clinton’s advantages?

The simplest way is for his friend and colleague Barack Obama to… do his job. Or rather, let his attorney general do the job she is sworn to do. It’s actually a win-win for Obama. President Obama has earned a great deal of criticism for his uneven treatment of leakers and draconian treatment of whistleblowers. Dislike of Hillary Clinton is not confined to the precincts of the right wing: plenty of progressives seem eager for anyone but Hillary.

In such an atmosphere, all President Obama needs to do to hand the nomination to his friend Joe is to treat Clinton as the law would dictate she ought to be treated and stop playing along with the Clinton charade. Hillary knows that her only chance at election is to reassemble the Obama constituency, leaving her with little to no ability to strike back at Obama should the White House, State Department and Justice Department spokespeople decide to stop dancing around questions and start answering plainly.

For the second time it seems that Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions are controlled by Barack Obama.

From $15 to unemployed in three easy steps!

At National Review, James Sherk tackles the wonky math that has been used to support the call for $15 an hour minimum wage by claiming it will have a minimal effect on costs (short version: if it sounds too good to be true, it’s too good to be true). Comparing a Perdue report that claims that claims a $15 minimum wage “would raise fast-food prices only 4 percent” with more… nuanced figures from the Heritage Foundation;

 Last year, the Heritage Foundation estimated how a $15-an-hour minimum wage would affect fast-food prices — accounting for all these factors. That report used data on average fast-food balance sheets, relied on BLS wage estimates, and accounted for customers’ price sensitivity. This model found very different results: Prices would have to rise 38 percent to cover the higher wages, while sales and employment would both fall by over a third.

In the short term, the price of a Big Mac would rise from $3.99 to $5.50. A Big Mac meal would go from $5.69 to $7.85. That takes a much larger bite out of consumers’ wallets than a 17-cent hike. Moreover, this money won’t come from “the rich.” Warren Buffett and Bill Gates don’t spend much on fast food. Low- and middle-income Americans would bear the brunt of the higher prices.

Let’s not play favorites with Fast Food joints though! The WSJ reports comments from Wendy’s Corporation second-quarter earnings call;

[Wendy’s] CFO Todd Penegor talked about the pressure to pay higher wages and said that “we continue to look at initiatives and how we work to offset any impacts of future wage inflation through technology initiatives, whether that’s customer self-order kiosks, whether that’s automating more in the back of the house in the restaurant. And you’ll see a lot more coming on that front later this year from us.”

How did it come to this? Less then two years ago, we were assured that $15 minimum wage was a movement that was sweeping the nation, a sure-fire path to prosperity that would lift people out of poverty.

Such promises, such unbridled enthusiasm… such a complete ignorance of economic reality. What a reality it is: the $15 an hour movement played nursemaid to the future, a future of automation.

Meet the high school kid behind the McDonald’s counter. Or, rather, meet the machine that will replace that kid… and several tens of thousands like him.

The future came quickly, didn’t it? Those protesters outside of LA McDonald’s above don’t have to go far to see their replacements: just “get to the corner McDonald’s at 201 W. Washington Blvd, just below the 10 freeway” and you can see the future… also get some (alleged) food. LA Eater tells it simply even in an article looking on the bright side of fewer people working;

In the near future, not talking to humans may well become part of the built-in business plan for companies like McDonald’s, especially in cities like Los Angeles where a $15 minimum wage is set to become the norm. Lower labor costs and their associated payments (health care, insurance, etc.) means more money for stockholders, so don’t be surprised if kiosks start to become the norm. Let’s hope they at least pay to pipe in a little music though, otherwise the place is going to sound like a crypt.

There is no great conspiracy behind this, no hidden Cabal with the intention of keeping the poor down and the rich up. It’s a simple matter: labor, like everything else in commerce, has a value. Now, that value may fluctuate somewhat, but ultimately, labor is worth what employers are willing to pay for it. Right now, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers are willing to pay an average of a bit less then $9 per hour. Going to $15 an hour is a bit more then a $6 raise, that is, around a 66-70% raise.

Two workers under the new scheme are going to be making more then what three workers were making under the old scheme ($30 versus $27). Three months ago LA’s City Council voted in the $15 minimum wage, and the immediate question of “Does this spell the end for LA’s current restaurant culture?” became the question of the moment.

Whatever it means for LA, the future for any city or state that embraces this minimum wage will follow a simple course: people are going to be priced out of the labor market. It’s a cruel truth, and so public conversations don’t mention it, but not everyone can provide $15 worth of labor in an hour. Perhaps you can produce $10, or $9, or whatever. Those people are now functionally unemployable, their labor actually costing their employer more then the employee is providing.

Automation bridges the gap: those three workers making $10 before are replaced by two making $15, but producing more. Producing more with machines, that is. Little did they know, but those protesters demonstrating for higher wages may have earned themselves a new wage: Zero.

On the Morality of the Atomic Bombing of Japan

The 70th anniversary of the use of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, has prompted a round of discussion about the morality of the bomb, with discussions of varying quality. While with every year there seem to be more nd louder voices of condemnation, I personally find the arguments against the use of the bomb rather… lacking.

Thank God for the Atomic Bomb, an essay by Paul Fussel I consider essential to understanding not just the facts and figures, but the emotional impact the atomic bomb had. Read the whole thing, but a fine pull quote;

When the atom bombs were dropped and news began to circulate that “Operation Olympic” would not, after all, be necessary, when we learned to our astonishment that we would not be obliged in a few months to rush up the beaches near Tokyo assault-firing while being machine-gunned, mortared, and shelled, for all the practiced phlegm of our tough facades we broke down and cried with relief and joy. We were going to live. We were going to grow to adulthood after all.

In the Wall Street Journal Brett Stephens adds his own version of Thank God for the Atomic Bomb;

In all the cant that will pour forth this week to mark the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the bombs—that the U.S. owes the victims of the bombings an apology; that nuclear weapons ought to be abolished; that Hiroshima is a monument to man’s inhumanity to man; that Japan could have been defeated in a slightly nicer way—I doubt much will be made of Fussell’s fundamental point: Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren’t just terrible war-ending events. They were also lifesaving. The bomb turned the empire of the sun into a nation of peace activists.

When people question, “how can you be thankful for such a terrible thing?” Point out the following;

During the closing phase of the Pacific War, average monthly deaths, military and civilian, in Japanese held-territories in China, southeast Asia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, from disease, starvation, atrocities, or combat, was about 400,000 men, women, and children.

400,000 men, women and children dead per month at the hands of the Japanese: in other words, more then 10,000 dead per day.

Put aside all the American GIs that would not be killed in the invasion. Put aside all the Allied POWs that were not killed by the Japanese, who held their lives hostage against an invasion of the home islands. Put aside all those hundreds of thousands and you still have the Atomic bomb saving more than 10,000 lives for every day it shortened the war.

It’s a funny thing, in the discussions about how the US owes the Japanese an apology, I rarely hear about the hundreds of thousands of Chinese, Korean, Filipinos and others that were being killed by the Japanese even as they were “about to surrender”. Not a lot of talk about the tens of thousands of women, abducted for service in rape camps. Not allot of talk about attempted coupe that occurred when the Emperor finally gave the surrender order.

To put all those numbers in perspective, 400,000 dead per month is roughly equivalent to 13,000 dead per day, 556 dead per hour, just under 10 dead per minute.

Let that sink in for a moment: even as the bombs were being dropped on Japan, the Japanese were killing one Chinese soldier, one Filipino woman, one Korean child every 6 or so seconds.

It is an incontestable fact that bringing the war to an even just slightly earlier by dropping the bombs saved lives. Not just American lives that would have been lost in the invasion. Not just Japanese lives that would have been spent resisting the invasion. But civilians by the hundreds of thousands in Japanese occupied territories.

Funny how rarely that gets mentioned…

As for myself, I find my thoughts best reflected by the statement of Britain’s Air Chief Marshal Arthur Harris, regarding the fire bombing of Dresden, Germany;

I … assume that the view under consideration is something like this: no doubt in the past we were justified in attacking German cities. But to do so was always repugnant and now that the Germans are beaten anyway we can properly abstain from proceeding with these attacks. This is a doctrine to which I could never subscribe. Attacks on cities like any other act of war are intolerable unless they are strategically justified. But they are strategically justified in so far as they tend to shorten the war and preserve the lives of Allied soldiers. To my mind we have absolutely no right to give them up unless it is certain that they will not have this effect. I do not personally regard the whole of the remaining cities of Germany as worth the bones of one British Grenadier.