Trump takes the GOP Back to School

It seems that the Donald Trump phenomenon is something that pundits and commentators can’t seem to stop talking about, but also something they can’t seem to actually understand. One particular remark on Special Report Online struck me: Dr. Charles Krauthammer wondered how it was that a man born in wealth and with a tremendous fortune, how can he connect with middle and lower economic class voters?

The problem, it seems to me, may be that Dr. Krauthammer is a great intellect (and avid fan of baseball), but it seems he doesn’t watch enough movies. Because, as Ace of Spades explains, politics has become a a movie, analyzed in terms of a heroes journey and the sensibilities of plot, pacing and motivation. But how does that help us figure out the Trump phenomenon?

There are a lot of theories among pundits: some think he panders, some thing he simply shoots from the hip, some point out his crudity, borderline vulgarity and so on. All of that has some merit, but none of them capture the whole picture: Donald Trump is Thornton Melon.

Back to School is a great comedy, and a big part of the success is the ensemble cast. That’s because, just like Donald Trump, Rodney Dangerfield’s Thornton Melon is a man we root for in part in spite of himself. The thing is that if take away the loathsome, hidebound, patrician economics professor, the cartoon jock villains and the unctuous dean, and we’re left with Melon… who’s kinda an insufferable schmuck.

Insufferable perhaps, but a snappy dresser.

At the risk of fantastically over-analyzing a light 80’s comedy, Thornton Melon would be nearly intolerable in real life: he is constantly breaking the rules and suffering no consequences because he throws large amounts of cash at problems, he’s unashamed about being crooked and simply bribing public servants, he’s a womanizer, a coward and, most significant to the plot, he’s a cheater.

In Back to School we don’t root for Melon because he’s a hero, we root for him because he’s not actively a villain. Once we realize that, and that Paxton Whitehead‘s acerbic and patronizing performance is as important to the movie as Dangerfield’s own,  we understand Trump and his role in this film.

Because if Trump is Melon, who has been cast in the role of the uptight, head-up-his-ass professors that everyone wants to see get their comeuppance?

Heirs to the legacy of Lincoln, or two putzes in need of a pie to the face?

Since putting in the Republican Congress Republican Voters have been subject to one episode after another of what Ace aptly terms failure theater. No principle seems too big to sacrifice on the alter of expediency, no favor to donors too imbecile to come through on. The Republican base is appalled and feels betrayed. They’ve delivered both houses of Congress to their party only to be told ‘oops, turns out nothing worthwhile can be done without the White House too‘. The Republican leadership is running a con job on its voters, and they have noticed.  In other words, the base has collectively decided that it’s time to do something futile and stupid.

Enter Trump, stage right.

Not a Modern Holocaust: a response to ‘The Unspeakable Comparison’

At City Journal, a normally very reliable source for clear thinking articles and commentary, Guy Sorman presents a shocking article: The Unspeakable Comparison. In this article the author sets out a simple formulation; that the tide of refugees entering Europe at the moment is nothing less then the modern incarnation of the Jews fleeing from the Nazis in the 1939s. This is no idle speculation or sly innuendo but explicit in the article, which enters into the comparison within two sentences;

Several million refugees escaped from Germany, Poland, and the Baltic countries between 1933 and 1940, fleeing Nazism and throwing themselves against closed borders.

What makes the article so shocking is not so much its subject matter, but its quality, or rather the lack thereof. This article dramatically fails to live up to the (admittedly high) bar set for City Journal articles.

First, the article is filled with a number of dubiously truthful and bizarre non-sequiturs. Consider the author’s claim that “Outside the Jewish community, Nathan’s relatives and the 6 million other victims of the events that would later be named the Holocaust failed to inspire any kind of emotion, until Adolf Eichmann was tried in Jerusalem in 1961. The extermination of the Jews had previously been swallowed up by the collective unconsciousness, filed away as a collateral accident of the Second World War.”

This idea, that the Holocaust was unknown outside of the Jewish community until 1961 is simply untenable. As a simple point, the documentary film ‘Death Mills‘ (directed by Billy Wilder) was released in 1945. ‘The Stranger‘, directed by and starring Orson Wells (with Edward G. Robinson) and incorporating documentary footage of the camps, in a story about hunting a Nazi war criminal was released in 1946, becoming “the only film made by Welles to have been a bona fide box office success upon its release.” The film was nominated for an Oscar and made back triple the production costs.

In 1959 the film version of “The Diary of Anne Frank” would win 3 Oscars, and be nominated for a further 5. This is an adaptation of the Broadway play, which in turn was an adaptation of the book of the same name.

Simply put, to say that (at least in the United States), “the Holocaust failed to inspire any kind of emotion” seems irreconcilable with these (and many other) facts. This is but one of the offhand remarks the author makes that inspire puzzlement, rather then confidence.

Second, the author has a habit of simply asserting things, including the point that underlies the moral of his entire article: “This is not the Holocaust—not yet.” “YET”, the author says, with not a shred of justification. But lets go back, for the author seems to understand the weakness of his own argument, and the shameful inadequacy therein.

“Is this situation incomparable because Latifa, Ali, and Ahmed have not been exterminated with the same industrial efficiency as Samuel, Nathan, and Rachel? Why are they incomparable?”

The obvious answer, so obvious it’s painful, to “Why are they incomparable?” is because the author has not mustered a shred of evidence that these refugees are similar to Jews fleeing the Holocaust in the two ways that actually matter: Genocide, and the industrialized killing used to enact that genocidal intent.

The horror of the Holocaust doe not lie simply in the scale of the bloodshed, many more people in total numbers would die in defense of Soviet Russia, but in the deliberate and determined efforts of a nation to eradicate an ethnic group. This defining element of evil is simply not to be found in this conflict, or better put, not a defining characteristic of these refugees. More on this in a moment.

It is true that the conflict in Syria and Iraq is sectarian and barbaric, but it is sectarian and barbaric (for the most part) in a manner that is entirely consistent with the ancient religious wars of the area. “Convert or Die” is the bloody credo of ISIS, it is the way they seek to recapture the 7th century origins of their faith. What they are not is motivated by the pseudo-scientific race hygiene of the Nazis.

As an aside, it’s rather telling that the author pays no special attention to the clearly genocidal elements of the conflict that everyone has seen: the attempted eradication of the Yazidis and the indigenous Christian population. There is very little evidence presented that the refugee masses entering Europe are these critically endangered groups, and certainly none is mustered by Mr. Sorman. In a piece entirely directed to making the moral analogy with the Holocaust, it’s a curious omission.

Above and beyond anything else, while the author’s argument is ripe for being picked apart (so many other tendentious elements remain), it fails for not even mentioning the simplest and first point: that the very first quality of a nation is the ability of that nation, and that nation’s people, to decide who they wish to admit as citizens and residents. Without that, a nation is simply an area on a map.

What the author doesn’t say is again telling: he mentions 3 Muslim nations that “have somehow managed to welcome 3 million” refugees (Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, who may be themselves surprised to see the word ‘welcome’ used there…). Conspicuously absent from the list of “welcome” countries? Any of the sparsely populated, and very wealthy, nations of the Arabian peninsula.

Why exactly is it incumbent on the nations of Christian (or rather, post-Christian) Europe to put up this army of refugees, when their fellow Arab coreligionists close their own borders? Perhaps the author avoids this because he knows that the answer invalidates so much of his own assertion. He (amazingly naively) states “Do we really think Latifa, Ali, and Ahmed are risking drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, suffocating to death in a truck in Austria, or dying of thirst on some Greek road because they love to travel? Because they are looking for a part-time job in England? Of course not.”

Really? Putting aside that the USA regularly has seen economic migrants suffocating in container trucks, dying in the southern deserts and drowning on their way to the USA, if simple shelter from the conflict drives these refugees, why are they undertaking this arduous trip across a hostile Europe, instead of the much, much shorter trip to the Arabian peninsula?

Because these people are not fleeing a modern holocaust and have no interest in sitting in refugee camps in the Arabian desert. Sitting in the cafes of Europe? That, it would appear, is worth a bit of travel.

By the by, there is some debate about where this footage is from: the Youtube page claims German refugee busses. Other claim a bus in France in 2012. Such wonderful options…

Finally, the slipshod nature of the author’s argument spills into the comments section: a commentator identified as the author writes “Regarding the so called flight of French Jews to Israel , the numbers are stable”.

Which is directly contradicted by numbers supplied to the Washington Post by the Jewish Agency, which “says the number of French Jews leaving for Israel each year had been steady at about 2,000 until 2013, when it hit 3,400. Last year, it jumped to more than 7,000 — making France the leading contributor of immigrants to Israel and marking the first time that more than 1 percent of a Western nation’s Jewish population has left for Israel in a single year, according to Avi Mayer, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency.”
Overall, the greatest flaw in The Unspeakable Comparison is the near total lack of grounding in dispassionate principles. Rather, the entire article is framed as if accepting immigrants from this conflict is the penance that the West must pay for refusing shelter to Jewish immigrants generations ago. Mr. Sorman (in the comments) makes this moral framework explicit: “Angela Merkel is saving the honor of the western civilization” he declares. Quite the endorsement!

Reading The Unspeakable Comparison I could not help but think of an adage for Jewish thought, which I am told is one favored by the Lubavitcher Rebbe: The Head must be master of the Heart. Without calm and reasoned thinking, solutions become impossible, reason breaks down and morality gives way to the flush of excitement, that visceral reaction to doing something that ‘feels right’. Ironically, what the Jewish Mr. Sorman’s article lacks in dispassion, Thomas Sowell admirably supplies in his far superior The Past and Future of the Refugee Crisis. Without going into Dr. Sowell’s recommendations, he points out something that that entirely escapes Mr. Sorman’s jeremiad: that the best solution is not the importation of an indefinite stream of refugees, but acting to ameliorate conditions on the ground in the Middle East. Failing that, Dr. Sowell points out that far closer nations, such as Jordan and Egypt, could be offered compensation to alleviate their share of the refugee crisis and (potentially) provide a more attractive (and certainly closer) point of refuge.

In the end, the most curious part of The Unspeakable Comparison is the author’s… well, his failure to actually pursue the comparison. If, one accepts his argument, that the current refugees are the moral equivalent of the Jews fleeing the Nazis, then is not Assad’s regime and ISIS the moral equivalent of Nazis themselves? If this is to be the case, is not the clearest moral case not that Europe should suffer the tide of refugees, but rather take arms, that by opposition they may end the source of this conflict?

The admonition “Never Again” is, after all, not an admonition for the nations of the world to sit idly by, swelling their intake centers with those poor wretches lucky enough to flee their persecutors. No, it is an argument against allowing evils like the Nazis to hold sway. It is an argument against the indifference shown by the administration to ISIS, to Syria, to Iran, it is, in short, an argument for armed conflict as a method of destroying the greatest of evils.

But I suppose I have answered by own question: Mr. Sorman does not, and perhaps cannot connect that final dot and declare ISIS the moral equivalent of the Nazis, because that would cast his argument down. He desires exculpation from sin through ‘progressive’, ‘peaceful’ means. That these means ultimately do nothing to shorten the crisis… well, what’s a man seeking absolution to do?

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.

Does the State Department think Hillary lied?

The State Department has committed to reviewing and releasing Secretary Clinton’s “after a review”;

Hillary Clinton Asks State Department to Vet Emails for Release, New York Times,

State Department to release Hillary’s emails after review, New York Post, etc etc.

There is one problem with those headlines and the course of action they describe: there is no reason for a review. From Secretary Clinton’s UN press conference yesterday;

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.

In other words, given that she was not using a server and system secured to government security standards, Sec. Clinton voluntarily restricted herself to using her email only for non-classified topics and materials*. Information that could be viewed by the general public. So why is there any review at all?

By Sec. Clinton’s own statements, there is no reason for a review by the State Department, because she never transmitted or received any information that needed security. Which also means that the State Department never needed to redact any of her emails, as Gabriel Malor notes;

The only reason for the State Department to review Sec. Clinton’s emails would be… that her statement at the press conference cannot be relied upon, and there is loads of sensitive and/or classified information in her emails. The test for all this is simple:

-If the State Department reviews the emails, then they think Sec. Clinton’s emails contain material she claims they do not.

-If the State Department simply makes the emails available, without review or redaction, then they actually believe she was telling the truth.

Which do you think they will do?

 

*Yes, there are many divisions of classified and sensitive information, but this entire defense for Secretary Clinton using a private email (of dubious security) is that she rigorously avoided having problematic material in her email.

Will Hillary pimp out the Left?

As new scandals emerge to bedevil Hillary Clinton’s march to power, a question occurs: what exactly is this quality of Hillary’s that actually makes people want to vote for her? Right now it seems that Secretary Clinton is doing her own rendition of Taxi Driver, with her in the role of Matthew and the Democratic Party in the role of Iris (WARNING! Strong Language);

As I pointed out in an earlier post, conservatives have gradually come to terms with the “transparent selfishness and corruption” of Republican politicians, a recognition that the best that government can aspire to is an evil, albeit a necessary evil.

But the Left believes the opposite: that government can be a force for good, that rule by experts can usher in a new age of Aquarius, blah blah blah, etc. As Jonah Goldberg put it, “Liberalism, as an ideology, insists that government can do good and great things for the people and the world, if the people running the government are smart liberals.”

The left must claim that good government comes from good governors. The election of Barack Obama may be excused by his particular brand of practiced obscurity: he was a blank slate coming into office, onto which a majority of voters could project their allotments of “I hope”. Secretary Clinton allows for no such illusions as her history making it explicitly clear that she has a mafioso’s contempt for the strictures of government.

Apparently she was playing Tetris. Damn that L-block!

It is one thing for the Republicans to hold their nose and vote for the lesser of two evils: at the heart of the skeptical outlook of conservatives and libertarians is the idea that government may be necessary, but it remains a necessary evil. This is both a problem and a strength for conservatives: the expectation that the best and brightest are doing something, indeed anything but going into politics puts them at a certain disadvantage, but at the same time… well, it makes possible the “vote for me because my opponent will ruin this country” avenue of attack.

The left cannot so easily accommodate this reality. One of the greatest gifts the Obama presidency has presented to his opponents is, paradoxically, transparency. Not on his part (of course) but on the part of everyone else. Obama has so abused his office, so systematically embraced the machine of government, so taken to the things claimed to abhor that his defenders… well, they have been shown to be not so much principled as partisan.

You thought Obama’s election promised to advance the Anti-War movement he made so many appeals to? Well… that didn’t turn out so well.

You thought the left objected to a president killing people in far off lands with a stroke of the pen? Oops, turns out he’s rather fond of the practice.

With that in mind, let’s ask what offenses against good government Hillary has already committed?

-As MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell observes, the transparency requirements Hillary has evaded with her emails are policies liberals have desired for decades.

James Taranto of the WSJ points out that Secretary Clinton’s decision to provide her emails entirely in paper print-outs has some selling points, although entirely from the view of thwarting public access. Providing her emails in the form of boxes and boxes of paper slows Freedom of Information Act requests to a crawl and makes FYI, if you hear someone reference Hillary turning over 55k emails, correct them: it’s 55k pages of emails. Not at all the same thing.

-Liberals concerned with the power of money in politics will be (no doubt) overjoyed to learn that the Clinton Foundation “has received as much as $81m from wealthy international donors who were clients of HSBC’s controversial Swiss bank.

-Concerned with the plight of women in repressive Middle Eastern nations? Don’t worry, though Bill Clinton’s “friends” in the United Arab Emirates may have thrown some money into the Clinton Foundation coffers, Bill doesn’t “agree with everything they do“.

-Maybe that’s alright, so long as the Foundation abided by the rules set up by the State Department. Except they didn’t. Algeria managed to slip $500,000 into the Clinton Foundation coffers. No doubt it was a coincidence that they gave money to the Secretary of State’s family charity at the same time Algeria “was spending heavily to lobby the State Department on human rights issues.

-Further the Clinton Foundation makes sure to keep company with a, uh, rarefied group of donors. As the New York Times reports (emphasis mine);

The Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation has accepted tens of millions of dollars in donations from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Algeria and Brunei—all of which the State Department has faulted over their records on sex discrimination and other human-rights issues.

-As Mollie Z. Hemingway points out, when American companies do the things that foreign governments did with the Clinton Foundation, it falls under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. As she observes, “it would be weird if we held U.S. companies to far stricter standards regarding bribery than we did our own secretary of state.

Now, don’t mistake any of this: I don’t like Hillary. I haven’t liked Hillary for decades, and for reasons entirely to do with the standards and philosophy she professes to believe. But in a strange way,  all of this makes me a little less worried about Hillary. After all, as a conservative I have no illusions about the integrity of politicians, and there is something refreshing about a politician so blatantly mercenary. But for the left, if you think that the Republicans are the party of big business, why would you want to put in power a politician that has spent decades in Washington establishing that her loyalty is exclusive… to the highest bidder?

As Joe Scarborough of MSNBC asks, no doubt speaking for liberals everywhere, “How stupid do they think we are?”

OPEC’s Petrokrieg

For the last several months OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia,  has been waging a silent and yet very noticeable war. The contradiction is resolved by realizing that while almost everyone has noticed the precipitous drop in oil prices (and concomitant drop in consumer gasoline prices), many people have mistaken what is going on.

Crude oil prices have slumped from a high of about $110 at the start of July of last year to, as I write this, around $50 per barrel. Since the end of July of last year oil prices have dropped more then 50%, a trend that really became precipitious in August 2014. Now there are lots of possible explanations for this,but my explanation asks: what of consequence happened in July of last year?

Oh, yeah, that…

Obama indicates extension to Iran nuclear talks as deadline looms, July 16 2014, theGuardian.com,

Nations agree to 4-month extension of Iranian nuclear negotiations, July 21, 2014, CNN.com.

Since the initial extension to November there has been a further, 7 month extension into next year. Snap goes the dragon…

Source: Nasdaq.com

Let’s be clear, this is not an accident of factors, this is a deliberate course of action undertaken by OPEC. From Bloomberg (emphasis mine);

The United Arab Emirates has no plans to reduce output no matter how low prices drop, according to Yousef Al Otaiba, the nation’s ambassador to the U.S. Representatives from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the U.A.E. stressed a dozen times in the past six weeks that OPEC won’t curb output to halt the rout.

This is not a painless war on the side of OPEC: at $50 per barrel, every single OPEC state is below their breakeven point (breakeven is the price needed for these oil driven economies to fuel themselves).

Consider this table, from Citi Research’s data compiled and posted at MarketWatch;

Country 2014 fiscal breakeven oil price 2015 fiscal breakeven oil price
Libya* 317 184
Venezuela* 161 151
Yemen 160 145
Algeria* 132 131
Iran 131 131
Bahrain 125 127
Russia 105 107
Saudi Arabia* 98 103
Oman 99 103
Iraq* 111 101
UAE* 79 77
Quatar* 55 60
Kuwait* 54 54
*OPEC member
Source: MEES, IMF, Citi Research

At current prices, no one among the oil producing states can sustain their production.

If we consider the current oil production by OPEC as a weapon (as I do here), then it is a weapon masterfully deployed: flooding the market as OPEC is doing would normally be understood to be a classic market manipulation strategy; dumping. This practice of undercutting competitors (even if you have to absorb losses) was one of the anti-trust charges brought against Standard Oil when it was broken up. But today the deployment of the OPEC oil bomb is something that bolsters the poll numbers of the President of the United States! Quite clever that: even if we credit Obama’s understanding of the situation, he can do nothing without the risk of tanking his (cheap gas buoyed) domestic approval numbers.

Unfortunately for everyone, Iran is not so limited in their ability to respond to the Saudi backed attempt to bankrupt their nation;

The surge in Yemen this week by Shiite Muslim militants represents what some national security insiders are calling a “huge victory” for Iran, just as the Obama administration faces criticism for being too lenient in nuclear talks with the Islamic republic and appears — at least tacitly — to be coordinating with Tehran against Sunni terrorists in Iraq.

Amal Mudallali, Mideast analyst with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars writes in Foreign Affairs last October;

If the Houthis secured Bab Al Mandab and the sea in Al Hudaydah governorate, another strategic waterway, they would control the traffic from the Suez Canal and the Persian Gulf, a sobering prospect for those worried about increased Iranian influence in the region.

Iran and its proxy forces are coming close to controlling access to all sea traffic around the Arabian peninsula except for the Suez canal. This would force all sea traffic from the Isreali port of Elat, the Jordanian port of Aqabah (which is Jordan’s only sea access) as well as the entirety of Saudi Arabia’s western coast to use the Suez canal.

Bab el-Mandeb/Bab Al Mandab at the southern end of the Red Sea.

As Charles Krauthammer notes, Iran and it’s proxies are on the march all across the Arab middle east. Only a few days ago an Israeli air strike killed an Iranian general and his Hezbollah companions on the Golan Heights,  as Iran attempts to militarize the Syria-Israel border.

It’s important to remember that the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia isn’t simply an issue of regional rivals, but something far deeper and more explosive. Iran represents a powerful rival to the Saudi paramountcy in Islam itself, as Iran is the stronghold of the Shia branch of Islam. Sunni and Shia Islam have been in conflict since nearly the beginning of Islam itself, splitting as a result of the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE (and no, they apparently feel 14 centuries is not too long to hold a grudge). “Of the total Muslim population, 10-13% are Shia Muslims and 87-90% are Sunni Muslims” (source), so the threat of the Iranian bomb represents not only a triumph of one side over the other in this ancient war, but a triumph of the minority side. Add to that the racial and ethnic considerations that the Persian Iranians are seeking dominion over an Arab Middle East, and the ancient (but still fiercely remembered) domination of Arab Islam under the Turkish Ottoman empire… well, let’s just say that hatreds run deep in the Middle East.

To be sure, there are targets other then Iran in OPEC’s sights: the US domestic oil industry is being hammered (emphasis mine);

The financial debacle that has befallen Russia as the price of Brent crude dropped 50 percent in the last four months has overshadowed the one that potentially awaits the U.S. shale industry in 2015. It’s time to heed it, because Saudi Arabia and other major Middle Eastern oil producers are unlikely to blink and cut output, and the price is now approaching a level where U.S. production will begin shutting down.

From “America’s Going to Lose the Oil Price War“, January 12, 2015. “With crude prices sinking, oil industry layoffs are on the way“, January 20, 2015: the domestic US oil industry is shedding thousands, ultimately probably tens of thousands, of jobs.

Of course, all of this is aided by our political elites, who can reliably be counted on to be short-sighted: “Will cheap oil kill Keystone?” asks Politico, as politicians respond to OPEC’s price manipulations. “Keystone Foes Energized as Price Pinches Oil Sands Allure” (Oct 27, 2014), and in early January CBS news asks why the Senate is voting on KeystoneXL when “oil prices have tumbled down in the past three months.” I would ask if the media or our politicians have ever heard the adage “dig your well before you’re thirsty”, but… well, more successful writers than I have mused on the failings of our media-industrial complex. 

American Sniper: Rough Men and the revulsion of the Pappataci

In Rossini’s comic opera L’italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers) the heroine, Isabella, engineers the escape of the heroes from the harem of the Turkish Bey Mustafà by convincing the credulous Bey that he has been inducted into the Italian order of the Pappataci. The pappataci is described as the ultimate expression of Italian sophistication; an order of men devoted to chasing women, eating, drinking and making merry. In other words, a man that treats luxury as an end in and of itself.

A very worthy movie that has prompted some very unworthy criticism.

 

Now, why mention this? Because over the weekend the movie American Sniper going into wide release occasioned a little clash between our own class of pappataci and those Rough Men who, (as the sentiment attributed to Orwell), stand ready to do violence on our behalf. Reflections on the life of war hero Chris Kyle;

Which, in fairness, still beat the crass racial angle of this Huffington Post contributor;

And, just to make his feelings completely clear,

Now, to be fair, there is a lot going on, and the above were scarcely alone in their dislike for American Sniper. What they have is a certain similarity, a certain mode of thought that brings to mind the pappataci and his purposeful indolence. The pappataci seeks to cast off care, worry and responsibility and luxuriate, to become, in a sense, a child again. So much of the criticism of American Sniper hinges on this child-like approach:  it is the men who serve our country that are the real brutes, the real villains. At The New Republic they are so sure Chris Kyle isn’t a hero they publish a movie review by a man that hasn’t seen the movie (not kidding). The Penn State professor(!) who dismissed American Sniper after viewing the trailer alone chides the fans of Chief Petty Officer (CPO) Kyle saying,

For him, the enemy are savages and despicably evil. His only regret is that he didn’t kill more. He laments that there were rules of engagement, or ROE, which he describes as being drafted by lawyers to protect generals from politicians. He argues instead for letting warriors loose to fight wars without their hands tied behind their backs.

In other words, Chris Kyle articulated exactly the sort of truths that the pappataci cannot endure hearing: that we are at war with loathsome, vile men and that our fighting forces are ill served by the restrictive, political rules of engagement they are saddled with. This rankles the pappataci: they look at a news headline like “Boko Haram Appears to Be Using Abducted Girls as Suicide Bombers” and accuses men like CPO Kyle of being insufficiently sad for killing such men, for not having enough “moral anxiety”… as if a lack of moral certainty in the face of evil is a virtue, rather then a failing. That’s not quite true, they are quite sure that “[t]he real American Sniper was a hate-filled killer”, as an opinion piece is titled at the Guardian.

How is it possible that a man that spent his life in service to both his country and his countrymen, who so enthusiastically answered President Kennedy’s call “what can you do for your country”? Resentment, I think, explains a very great deal: the pappataci, after all, contributes nothing but consumes everything. There is a simple, and painful, truth at play here: these men that embrace luxury become like luxury: an addition rather then an essential.  As the phrase oft attributed to Orwell goes: “people sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” No one sleeps peacefully beneath the blanket of protection provided by the Micheal Moore’s or Seth Rogan’s of the world, nor are these protestations on behalf of “brown people” likely to engender much camaraderie.

Once upon a time this was different, for in ages past Hollywood and popular culture sold heroism, real heroism, without shame;

Sergent York, Hero of the Great War and devout Christian.

There can be no doubt in the world of the fact of the divine power being in that. No other power under heaven could bring a man out of a place like that. Men were killed on both sides of me; and I was the biggest and the most exposed of all. Over thirty machine guns were maintaining rapid fire at me, point-blank from a range of about twenty-five yards. When you have God behind you, you can come out on top every time.

Sergeant Alvin York

For a moment, let’s try an imagine what the pappataci of today would say had they lived in the time of Sergeant York.

Then again, maybe this fellow has the right of things…