Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Cruising the Web

I've been thinking for a while what a shame it is that Woodrow Wilson started the tradition of giving the State of the Union in person instead of sending up a written document. There is all this pomp and circumstance and attention for a president to basically give a campaign speech. And the tradition of a president giving one when he's been in office only a few weeks is ridiculous. He's not reporting on the state of the union but just giving a laundry list of promises. And that is what Trump did last night. He made a lot of promises without many specifics - just what he's been doing since he came on the scene. But at least his demeanor was more presidential. He does much better when he's reading the prompter instead of riffing on whatever comes into his head. It was a pleasure not to hear his blasts at the media. Though I had to laugh at Trump telling us that "the time for trivial fights is behind us." Yeah, how long will that last - from either side?

I think that Drucker's observation on how Trump's affect last night might help him with independents is correct.
"Overall his bearing and his focus on the economy and security will put him in the sweet spot of the electoral mandate he got in November," Republican strategist Brad Todd said.

Trump's speech was unique to him in its conventionality, both in tone and delivery. And that is likely to help him with voters who find his agenda appealing but have been looking for more presidential behavior out of the commander in chief.
Of course, all the good he wins from one big speech can be cancelled out by his next Twitter rant.
With Trump, it could all change on Wednesday with a fresh tweet or jab at his political opponents or the press. And immense challenges remain for Trump, who is promising more than he can possibly deliver.

But Democrats could find Trump more difficult to combat if he sticks to the script. And even if he doesn't, the tweets and barbs could be less of a distraction if they disappear under the umbrella of strong speeches to the nation like the one he gave Tuesday night.

As far as policy I wish he'd lay off all his pushing of protective tariffs. His language on ending regulations and tax reform are good. But his promises on not touching entitlements yet promising a new entitlement for paid family leave. Doesn't he realize that that is a new regulation on business that rather cancels out his promises on economic growth based on unleashing American business through deregulation can be cancelled out if he adds a new requirement on them? Though it was rather funny that the Democratic women who, I thought, had a visually successful symbolism wearing white to try to connect to suffragettes, couldn't even stand up for a policy for families that they actually support.

Robert Costa captured the peculiar aspects of this speech.

I do like that he spoke of education reform and put it in the context of a civil right to minorities. Those are the ones who would benefit from school choice.
President Trump, I hope you’re enjoying this. Savor this. Listen to those rave reviews flowing in on social media and on the news networks. See what happens when you tone it down, just a little! See what happens when you listen to the outside advice, stick to the prepared remarks (mostly), let professional speechwriters figure out how to make the rhetoric hit the right notes and when to soar, and what happens when you use a teleprompter.

Lord knows how long this Decaffeinated Trump will last, but for a little longer than an hour, he came across as impassioned but not irate, determined but respectful, eager to unify instead of constantly lashing out at every criticism.

But the man so often criticized as a narcissist really escaped his past image when he finally shifted the spotlight and paid tribute to those extraordinary individuals that all Americans must honor.

Jim Geraghty writes about what I was thinking.

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Germany's green energy policies are costing the country in several ways. They've gone all in on wind and solar power and subsequently are suffering power blackouts. So now they have to depend on other fuels - coal, gas, and nuclear - to keep the country going.
Germany was forced to recommission coal power plants to simply keep the lights on. The country’s green energy plans calls for the shut down of 30 such power plants by 2019.

Green energy approaches failed to meet Germany’s stated energy goals, even after spending over $1.1 trillion. The country’s “Energiewende” plan to boost wind and solar production to fight global warming hasn’t significantly reduced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and may have actually caused them to go up.

As a result of green energy’s rampant unreliability, Germany plans to cap the total amount of wind energy at 40 to 45 percent of national capacity, according to a report published by the German newspaper Berliner Zeitung. Germany will get rid of 6,000 megawatts of wind power capacity by 2019.

The country’s trendy and ineffective energy policy already forced payments to wind farms in the amount of $548 million last year to switch off, which prevented additional damage to the electric grid, according to a survey of power companies by the German newspaper Wirtschaftswoche.

Due to the inherent unreliable performance of wind power and political opposition to nuclear power plants, Germany has been forced to return to coal to generate electricity. Coal now provides 44 percent of Germany’s power, This shift caused Germany’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to actually rise by 28 million tons each year following the policy shift.

All of Germany’s subsidies and support for green energy have sharply increased power prices, with the average German paying 39 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity. The average American only spends 10.4 cents per kilowatt-hour by comparison.
It's a shame that there such irrational fear of nuclear energy which could provide both clean and plentiful energy.
Called a molten-salt reactor, the technology was conceived during the Cold War and forgoes solid nuclear fuel for a liquid one, which it can "burn" with far greater efficiency than any power technology in existence. It also generates a small fraction of the radioactive waste compared to today's commercial reactors, which all rely on solid fuel.

And, in theory, molten-salt reactors can never melt down.

"It's reliable, it's clean, it basically does everything fossil fuel does today," Kirk Sorensen, the chief technology officer of nuclear-energy startup Flibe Energy, told Business Insider...

"And it does a whole bunch of things it doesn't do today, like make energy without emitting carbon," he added, though the same could be said of any nuclear reactor.

What's more, feeding a molten-salt reactor a radioactive waste from mining, called thorium (which is three to four times more abundant than uranium), can "breed" as much nuclear fuel as it burns up.

Manhattan Project scientist Alvin Weinberg calculated in 1959 that if we could somehow harvest all the thorium in the Earth's crust and use it in this way, we could power civilization for tens of billions of years....

Ounce per ounce, uranium provides roughly 16,000 times more energy than coal and creates millions of times less pollution.

The argument to support growth in nuclear energy is so clear to James Hansen, a seasoned climatologist and outspoken environmentalist, that he passionately advocates for the use and development of the technology.

"To solve the climate problem, policy must be based on facts and not on prejudice. The climate system cares about greenhouse gas emissions — not about whether energy comes from renewable power or abundant nuclear power," Hansen and three other well-known scientists — Ken Caldeira, Kerry Emanuel, and Tom Wigley — wrote in an editorial for The Guardian in 2015.

"Nuclear energy can power whole civilisations, and produce waste streams that are trivial compared to the waste produced by fossil fuel combustion," they wrote. "Nuclear will make the difference between the world missing crucial climate targets or achieving them."

Climate science aside, the economics of nuclear energy are enough of a draw to make the technology worthwhile.

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JOnah Goldberg observes that we are living in a "remarkably stupid time." Today's bit of evidence is that journalists at the online site Quartz have studied the crucial question of how voice-recognition gadget will respond to sexually-tinged and abusive comments from their owners. Seriously. Here is what Quartz decided was worth studying.
People often comment on the sexism inherent in these subservient bots’ female voices, but few have considered the real-life implications of the devices’ lackluster responses to sexual harassment. By letting users verbally abuse these assistants without ramifications, their parent companies are allowing certain behavioral stereotypes to be perpetuated. Everyone has an ethical imperative to help prevent abuse, but companies producing digital female servants warrant extra scrutiny, especially if they can unintentionally reinforce their abusers’ actions as normal or acceptable.
In order to substantiate claims about these bots’ responses to sexual harassment and the ethical implications of their pre-programmed responses, Quartz gathered comprehensive data on their programming by systematically testing how each reacts to harassment. The message is clear: Instead of fighting back against abuse, each bot helps entrench sexist tropes through their passivity.
So they made sexual advances to gadgets and then gathered data on how Siri, Alexa, Google Home, and Cortana responded. And you know what, a lot of times, the gadgets didn't understand or ignored the comments. Sometimes, they even responded positively. They are clearly being kept down by the man! And their passivity in accepting sexual abuse from Quartz writers is a sign at how the patriarchy is a sexist capitalist plot. Women have been kept down for centuries and now it's continuing with our "digital servants" who have been programmed to accept sexual stereotypes and harassment. You have to read their "study" to believe it. Who knew that there were all sorts of guys out there who think it's a hoot to call Siri and Alexa sexist names to see how they'll respond. Yes, we do live in tremendously stupid times. The next thing is for researchers to get a government grant to study this important issue in more depth.

Jim Geraghty reports on a study by Lanae Erickson Hatalsky and Jim Kessler for the Third Way think tank on demographics and the 2016 election. Democrats have been hoping that demographics will be destiny and lead to the "Permanent Democratic Majority" that John Judis predicted back in 2002. Not so fast.
First, America’s demographic change is not evenly dispersed among states and voting districts nationwide. Second, over time voters are becoming less loyal to either party. And third, most voters, including the minorities that were supposed to fuel the ascendant Democratic coalition, do not self-identify as liberals.

....A big party requires a big tent, which means inviting and running candidates who don’t line up with the party’s orthodoxy on a lot of issues. This is not what progressive Democrats want to hear, and they will no doubt greet the Third Way study with scorn. It’s rather revealing that Hatalsky and Kessler even have to convince the party it has a problem and its current struggles are not a bizarre historical accident.

“From the 2009 high water mark for the Party, Democrats have lost 20 percent of their Senate seats, 25 percent of their House seats, 45 percent of their governors, 53 percent of their state legislative houses, and now the White House,” they write. “Republicans hold the governors’ mansions and both houses of the state legislature in 25 states, while Democrats control all levers of power in just five. . . . In fact, Republicans are now just one state legislature short of being able to call a constitutional convention to consider amendments to our founding document.” If this continues past 2020, the ramifications for redistricting will obviously be enormous.

Then again, Republicans may conclude that the current district lines look pretty good as they are. Right now, the Democrats’ favorite minority demographics simply don’t live in the House districts the party needs to retake the lower chamber

Ah, those environmentalists!
Environmentalist activists left behind enough trash and debris at the Dakota Access Pipeline campsites to fill hundreds of dumpsters, government officials said Tuesday.

Army Corps of Engineers officials say about 240 dumpsters towed out of the anti-DAPL opponent’s main campsite. Each of the dumpsters is chocked full of debris of old food stores, tents, building materials and abandoned personal belongings.

Officials estimate they’ll need another 240 loads or so to clean out the remaining section of the ramshackle campsites, most of which dot the parameter of the highly publicized and discussed DAPL route.

Chris Edwards of Cato points out
how much money those on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) spend on junk food instead of the nutritious choices the program states as their mission.
SNAP, or food stamp, benefits totaled $67 billion in 2016. Food stamps can be used to buy just about any edible item in grocery stores other than alcohol, vitamins, and hot food. But exactly what is being purchased by the program’s 44 million recipients has been mainly shrouded in secrecy—until now.

A November study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture finally shed light on food stamp purchases. The study examined detailed data for SNAP and non-SNAP shoppers for one large food retailer over a one-year period.

The study found that SNAP shoppers bought slightly more junk food than non-SNAP shoppers. For example, 9.25 percent of total purchases by SNAP shoppers were for “sweetened beverages” such as cola, which compared to 7.1 percent for non-SNAP shoppers. At the same time, SNAP shoppers spent relatively less on nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables.

For SNAP shoppers, “sweetened beverages,” “prepared desserts,” “salty snacks,” “candy,” and “sugar” accounted for 22.6 percent of purchases. These junk food items thus accounted for $15 billion of SNAP purchases in 2016, if the study is representative of all SNAP purchases.

SNAP is a bloated program, and cutting out junk food would be one way to reduce costs. The program was created to tackle hunger, but Harvard University’s Robert Paarlberg noted that on a typical day less than 1 percent of households now face “very low food security.” That low figure contrasts with the 17 percent of U.S. households that currently receive food stamps.

The main food-related health problem for low-income households today is not hunger, but obesity. CDC data show that people with low incomes are more obese than people with high incomes, on average. In general, low-income Americans are suffering not from too little food, but from too much of the wrong kinds of food.

Ending SNAP’s junk food subsidies would likely cut demand for the program and reduce taxpayer costs. If policymakers decided that food stamps could only be used for items such as fruits and vegetables, fewer people would use the program, which would be a good thing.


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Some journalists think that, since Trump's election, their profession is undergoing a renaissance. In their view, they are more necessary than ever to push back against the lies routinely coming out of the Trump administration. They are fighting back against the Dark Empire that is Trump's rule. Varad Mehta is not impressed. He notes that the word renaissance implies that the profession is reawakening. But there is no recognition of the differences in degree between Trump's obnoxious behavior to the media and what Obama actually did.
Trump’s tirades against the press — including his unconscionable tweet that “the FAKE NEWS media . . . is the enemy of the American people” — may be hurtful. Yet so far his attacks have been rhetorical. Barack Obama actually prosecuted whistleblowers and leakers and investigated reporters, prosecuting nine cases, compared with three by all previous administrations combined. But as more than one wag noted on Twitter, not a single journalist contemplated boycotting the WHCD even though the president was bringing the force of the law to bear against fellow reporters.

Worse still for the media’s reputation is that in their rush to get back to work, reporters have turned in one slipshod, incompetent effort after another. Coverage of Trump’s first month in office has been rife with misrepresentations and errors. Becket Adams of the Washington Examiner has kept a running count of stories that have been botched since the inauguration. It stands at 38 as of this writing. That is a remarkable number of stories to get wrong in the space of a month. “Whether through bias, sloppiness, or sheer panic, newsrooms have dropped their standards since President Trump was sworn in as 45th president of the United States,” Adams concludes.

Such failures should be an invitation to introspection, not celebration. Yet reporters, goaded by Trump’s fulminations and by their own sense of purpose and self-worth, have turned themselves, by their own admission, into an opposition party.
If journalists served as the opposition party no matter who was in the White House, I would be supporting them full heartedly. However, they were a cheering section for Obama and quickly brushed any scandal that occurred during his administration under their journalistic rugs to the degree that they provided no pushback to the braggadocio from the Obamanians that their idol presided over a scandal-free eight years. Please.
The way to convince someone you’re doing your job is to do it. Show, don’t tell. The proof will be in the reading and the viewing. Journalists would be well advised to heed the admonition of the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza: “We aren’t the story.” By doing that, the media can restore their reputation and live up to those hoary — but nonetheless valid — clichés about the importance of a free press to democracy. Great journalism speaks for itself. It requires no advocacy.

It’s not being back on the job that counts; it’s doing the job well. So far, the job the media are doing best is that of publicizing themselves. The media’s spurious efflorescence should not deceive us; the institution remains as flawed as it always was. These flaws are now even more glaring because the attempt to rectify them has served to remind us of their existence. To overcome them, the media will first have to overcome itself. The Obama years tarnished the press. From the evidence of his successor’s first month in office, the Trump era will do the same.

This is an interesting recounting by several former cabinet officials on what it was like to be the designated survivor for a president's address to a joint session of Congress.

The big leftist hope in France's presidential election has perhaps been too corrupt, even for the French.
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François Fillon vowed to fight on as a candidate in France’s presidential election despite being told he would be placed under formal investigation over allegedly arranging fictitious jobs for his wife....


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Mr Fillon, who won his Republican party’s primary contest last year, was the early frontrunner in the presidential race before the embezzlement allegations appeared in Le Canard Enchaîné, the satirical weekly, in January.

Last week, state prosecutors said they were handing over responsibility for the case to investigative magistrates to open a formal investigation.

Since the allegations first surfaced, the 62-year-old former prime minister has fallen in the polls from frontrunner to third place, behind Emmanuel Macron, the 39-year-old centrist candidate.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Cruising the Web

It sounds like Trump's new budget plan really does involve some magic. He wants to increase defense spending which is truly needed. But somehow he has to find the cuts elsewhere in the budget to do so.
The Office of Management and Budget on Monday declined to say how precisely President Donald Trump intends to cut every other federal department to find $54 billion to increase military spending.

But one budget category is clearly in his sights, said one OMB official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity per White House policy: foreign aid.

“This budget expects the rest of the world to step up in some of the programs this country has been so generous in funding in the past,” the OMB official said.
It might make a popular sales pitch on the campaign trail to talk about cutting foreign aid, but that's actually a teeny, tiny part of the federal budget.
Foreign aid amounts to just roughly one percent of federal spending, and many of the programs the money funds arguably are considered important to U.S. national security. Considering the small amount involved, foreign policy experts questioned the wisdom of cutting such a small investment that pays so many dividends.
There is no way to fund the sorts of increases in defense spending he wants to make with cuts in foreign aid. In fact, there isn't enough in the sorts of discretionary spending cuts that are politically possible to make to balance the defense increases. The real place that cuts and reforms need to be made are in the mandatory spending. But Trump has pledged not to touch Social Security and Medicare. So his promises to balance the budget plus increase defense as well as have an infrastructure package plus tax cuts is just not possible. His new OMB director, Mick Mulvaney, is supposed to be a budget hawk. I wonder how he squares his beliefs with his boss's magical thinking.

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For those women thinking of attending the next women's march, the March 8 "Day without a Woman," it might be salutary to learn who is behind the idea. Kyle Smith reports,
In a manifesto published in The Guardian on Feb. 6, the brains behind the movement are calling for a “new wave of militant feminist struggle.” That’s right: militant, not peaceful.

The document was co-authored by, among others, Rasmea Yousef Odeh, a convicted terrorist. Odeh, a Palestinian, was convicted in Israel in 1970 for her part in two terrorist bombings, one of which killed two students while they were shopping for groceries. She spent 10 years in prison for her crimes. She then managed to become a US citizen in 2004 by lying about her past (great detective work, INS: Next time, use Google) but was subsequently convicted, in 2014, of immigration fraud for the falsehoods. However, she won the right to a new trial (set for this spring) by claiming she had been suffering from PTSD at the time she lied on her application. Oh, and in her time as a citizen, she worked for a while as an ObamaCare navigator.

You can see why she’s a hero to the left. Another co-author, Angela Davis, is a Stalinist professor and longtime supporter of the Black Panthers. Davis is best known for being acquitted in a 1972 trial after three guns she bought were used in a courtroom shootout that resulted in the death of a judge. She celebrated by going to Cuba.
Can you imagine if there were an organized march of conservatives the leaders of which had similar backgrounds? The media would have its hair on fire blasting the idea. Smith concludes with deep skepticism about the impact of such a march.
Anti-Trump activism seems to have little to do with the political arts required to win elections — finding common ground, forging alliances, making friends. Instead all of these demonstrations are about denouncing enemies, and making yourself feel better about the November defeat by gathering publicly with those who share your rage. This sort of thinking leads to such self-defeating acts as interrupting traffic in places like New York City (where Trump got 18 percent of the vote) or San Francisco (9 percent).

If you want to persuade working-class Trump voters in Wisconsin to join your cause, annoying rich liberal Democrats trying to get to work a thousand miles away is a strange way to go about it.

David Harsanyi reminds us of the difference between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
This week, an Israel military tribunal convicted 19-year-old Elor Azaria, an Israeli Defense Forces medic, of manslaughter. Azaria shot and killed a wounded Palestinian terrorist who had minutes earlier stabbed a fellow solider in Hebron. Azaria claimed self-defense, but a three-judge panel found his actions disproportionate and dangerous.

It’s a complicated case that’s aggravated many underlying tensions within Israeli society. Whether Azaria deserved his sentence or not, in Western societies even the shooting of a terrorist can be cause for a trial, debate, and national self-reflection. In this system, elected officials — even those who disagree strongly with the conviction — honor the courts. The guilty also have a right to appeal the verdict. These are basic standards of law in any liberal democracy.

Also this week, Israel appointed George Kara, an Arab-Israeli, to the Supreme Court. Kara is best known for convicting then-president of Israel Moshe Katsav of rape and sentencing him to seven years in prison.

Now, it would take a sturdy imagination to visualize a Jew (or Christian, for that matter) holding a top government position in the West Bank, Gaza, or any Islamic-majority nation, much less imprisoning an official of the state. In Arab-controlled areas, a Jew won’t survive without military protection for long. Among the Palestinians, the shooting of an Israeli child (forget terrorist) would undoubtedly provoke celebration. Unlike Azaria, they would not find themselves in court, although they might find their name celebrated on a street sign.

When five Israelis (three of them American citizens and one a Druze) were murdered a couple of years back, Palestinians in Gaza fired celebratory gunshots in the air, “and praise for God and the attackers poured from mosque loudspeakers soon after the synagogue attack,” reported The New York Times. Fatah officials in Lebanon (the moderates) explained that “Jerusalem needs blood in order to purify itself of Jews.” I’ll spare the readers paragraphs of polls and incidents substantiating widespread Palestinian anti-Semitism.
So in what rose-colored glasses are necessary to think that Israel should be negotiating some sort of two-state solution with a people who celebrating killing Israeli children.
When we act like both sides are equally culpable, the longstanding position of the United States — which is better than the longstanding position of most European nations, which place the entire culpability on Israel — we feed the problem. For one thing, we pervert our own ideals when supporting “peace deals” predicated on one side’s demand that their new state be cleared of Jews. It’s certainly what we do when we allow the United Nations to pass resolutions that maintain the presence of Jews in the Old City of Jerusalem is an “occupation.”

....Many of the intractable disagreements that exist between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are driven by the inability of one side to come to terms with history. Palestinians will not have control over Jerusalem proper. There will be no “right of return.” Palestinians will not control their borders as France controls its borders — at least not any time soon. That’s because, in the end, no sane, civilized nation would help create a dangerous illberal state next door. Two events this week remind us how premature it is to .

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Tevi Troy
has an interesting look at the three groups within conservatism with regards to Trump. There are the "Ever-Trumpers" who have supported him from the beginning and are thrilled with him so far. They despise those conservatives who criticize Trump and see them as traitors who are aiding the leftist critics of Obama. Next, are the conservative Trump critics who are harshly criticizing Trump's character, behavior, and actions so far. And finally there are those conservatives who are on record for having criticized Trump through the primary fight, but now are more resigned. They're willing to still criticize him when necessary, but are also happy for some of the moves Trump has made, primarily his nomination of Neil Gorsuch and some of the others in his cabinet. They find it easier to fight back against the media for its bias against Trump.
Jonah Goldberg has observed that some conservatives are trying to find a “safe space” by focusing their attention on media bias against Trump and the excesses of anti-Trump protesters, both in the streets and in the Senate. As Goldberg put it, “When conservatives –– I'm not referring to Republican political hacks, that's their job; I'm referring to actual conservative writers –– go out and respond to the negative coverage solely by attacking the MSM messengers, they are in effect condoning –– or at least providing cover for –– Trump's behavior and feeding the idea that he's a victim whenever anyone does anything other than applaud.” Given this tendency, we may be seeing the emergence of a new and distinct group: the Safe Space Conservatives. The Safe Spacers are not comfortable with everything Trump does, but are choosing to direct their fire at the media and the left, with whom they are even less comfortable. One reason why Trump attacks the media so frequently is that anti-media sentiment may be one of the few remaining unifying tendencies across all of conservatism. The liberal writer and frequent conservatism critic Peter Beinart sees something similar, calling these people the anti-anti-Trump right.

Ultimately, it is this group that may offer us the best barometer of how things are going. They may decisively break for Trump if he's succeeding, but should they peel away, it might be a sign that his movement is losing traction. A related phenomenon is that of conservatives who are rooting for Trump to be successful as a conservative. This group is willing to criticize Trump when he’s wrong yet praise him when he’s right. This tendency, seen in places like National Review, makes NR’s reportage interesting to watch, not just to gauge how Trump is doing, but also to get a clearer take on matters—somewhere between the largely hostile mainstream media and liberal press, and the overtly pro-Trump and Trump-boosting organs such as Breitbart.
I tend to see myself as the last segment of the last group. There is plenty that Trump has done that I don't like. I don't care for him personally at all. But I'm also willing to defend him from unfair attacks and praise what I like. That seems to me to be the most honest approach for me to take.
int
Tevi Troy is a historian and a health policy analyst. His most recent book is Shall We Wake the President: Two Centuries of Disaster Management from the Oval Office. I haven't read it, but I listened to a podcast interview with him and it sounded really interesting. Troy explains why these divisions in the conservative movement are important.
Whichever group wins over conservatism will likely dominate the Republican party for the foreseeable future. With that party controlling the White House, Congress, and a majority of state houses and governors’ mansions, the direction of the GOP will also help determine the policy direction of the country. What seems like an intramural squabble among talking heads and scribblers could emerge as the start of a defining moment in 21st century political history.

In alignment with media criticism, Lee Smith has a behind-the-scene explanation for the two White House staffers who have ostentatiously resigned from their jobs in the Trump administration because they despised his policies.
What a strange coincidence that Price and Ahmed worked for the same person in the Obama White House, national security adviser for strategic communications, Ben Rhodes. In fact, they worked in the same room, outside of Rhodes' office, as the 2016 New York Times Magazine profile of Rhodes showed: "In the front office, [Rhodes'] assistant, Rumana Ahmed, and his deputy, Ned Price, are squeezed behind desks, which face a large television screen, from which CNN blares nonstop."

Among their other duties, Price and Ahmed helped manage Rhodes' "echo chamber" to market Obama's policies. Former CIA analyst Price explained to the Times magazine how he manipulated American public opinion from his desk in the White House. The Obama NSC relied on "compadres" in the media to proliferate its message, Price said. "I will reach out to a couple people, and you know I wouldn't want to name them — "

.... Ahmed was a political appointee in the Obama White House. According to Trump White House officials, it was very late in her tenure in the Obama administration when she applied for a civil service position with administrative duties. "Burrowing," as it's commonly called, is the process through which political appointees move into career government status. She was granted her new status at the end of January, just as the Trump team was moving into the White House. That is, Ahmed took the highly unusual step for a White House staffer of choosing a considerably less ambitious career path in government, as she went from a junior policy position to a secretarial post.

Why? Because as a political appointee from the Obama administration she was inevitably going to be replaced by a Trump appointee and she wanted to stay on. And yet in only four days—not eight, because, say sources, she took several days off—she came to the conclusion that she had failed in her attempt to influence the Trump team, which in fact "was attacking the basic tenets of democracy."
So what was going on?
Right, it was a set-up. The article is part of an information operation. Paired with that of her former officemate, Ned Price, Ahmed's story pushes the message that Trump is so bad that gifted public servants are resigning from their positions. The Washington Post story from late January incorrectly reporting that the mass exodus of senior officials from the State Department was unique to the Trump White House, rather than the normal bureaucratic turnover that greets every new administration, touched on the same narrative. In this case, it seems that Ahmed applied for a post only in order to resign from it, after collecting a paycheck for four days. Thus, U.S. taxpayers covered research expenses for an Atlantic story.
I don't think one has to be extraordinarily cynical to see what was going on here. And the media is quite happy to peddle this made-up story.



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The least surprising and least interesting story this week is that Donald Trump is not going to attend the Washington Correspondents Dinner. Does anyone at all besides Washington correspondents care? Why would anyone expect him to go, especially after his angry attacks on them as the "enemy of the people"? If he truly thought that, why would he want to eat dinner with them? I think it's a silly statement and wish that he'd get over his mania about the media and instead focus on selling his policies. But this whole story provided Karen Tumulty the opportunity to tweet out this memo by President Nixon about going to the dinner.

And Nixon wasn't the only one who didn't like going to the dinner. Jimmy Carter also was not a fan.
As it happened, Nixon skipped three correspondents' dinners in his six years, meaning he endured one more than Jimmy Carter—who skipped two of the four he might have emcee'd while in office. Rather than play the good sport, Carter followed Nixon's example; he declined to attend every other opportunity, as if he'd been burned too badly to return without an extra year off.

"I don't see how the White House press could be any more neg­at­ive un­der any cir­cum­stances," he wrote in 1978, "and I'd rather show a sign of strength."

....Carter was the last Democratic president to cower thusly from the popular press. When he skipped the banquet in 1978, Powell filled in. But when he did attend the following year, it was right around the time—spring of '79—that he had to fend off a hissing swamp rabbit as it swam toward his fishing boat. Powell relayed the story to a reporter, and a few months later the Washington Post ran it under the headline, "Bunny Goes Bugs, Rabbit Attacks President," hardening an image of Carter's comically ineffective leadership. Which just goes to show, Nixon was probably right about the risks of playing along. Perhaps "treating them with considerably more contempt is in the long run a more productive policy."

Jay Cost looks at the history of presidents who disliked the media.
Without excusing the president's choice of words, it is important to understand the larger historical and political context. As uncouth as Trump's rhetoric was, the fact remains that the government and journalists have long had an uneasy relationship, and prior presidents have, unlike Trump to date, used the power of the state to censor the press and even criminalize free speech.
Cost goes on to review the history of the Sedition Act which the Federalists passed under John Adams and then used to jail their political opponents who were criticizing them. During World War I, the Wilson administration used the Espionage Acts to punish the media for reports criticizing their conduct of the war. And that is not all.

Presidents have also been prone to use "rough elbows" against the press—hardball tactics that fall short of systematic suppression, but nevertheless have a chilling effect. In 1908, the New York World accused President Theodore Roosevelt of "deliberate misstatements of facts" regarding the purchase of the Panama Canal, based on reports from the Indianapolis News. Roosevelt responded by accusing the papers of "a string of infamous libels," and the World was charged in a New York district court in 1909, though the indictment was eventually quashed.

Lyndon Johnson's administration lied to the press so often about the progress in Vietnam that the phrase "credibility gap" was coined to characterize the disconnect between what the White House said and what really was happening. Richard Nixon confided privately to Henry Kissinger that journalists "are the enemy, and we're just gonna continue to use them, and never let them think that we think they're the enemy." His administration famously sought a court injunction to stop the release of the Pentagon Papers; it got one, but the Supreme Court eventually overturned the decision. More recently, Barack Obama's Justice Department investigated Fox News's James Rosen as a potential criminal co-conspirator for seeking classified information. In December 2016, James Risen of the New York Times blasted the administration for its "criminalization of the press" and said that Obama's was "the most anti-press administration since the Nixon administration."
I find Obama's actions against James Rosen plus going through the phone records of almost 100 Associated Press reporters and editors much more chilling than Trump's blather about the media being #fakenews or the "enemy of the people." In the end, it's just words, not using the power of the presidency to try to criminalize reporting that they don't like. As Cost writes,
Trump's "war" on the media is substantially different from all these examples, at least so far. No news outlet has been prosecuted. No journalistic endeavor has been enjoined. Nobody has been put in jail. Trump's assaults have been strictly rhetorical in nature and political in purpose. The president is calling the press the enemy in the same sense that Barack Obama encouraged liberals to "punish" their "enemies" at the ballot box and Hillary Clinton called Republicans her "enemies." This is American factionalism at work—the difference being that rather than calling out the other party, Trump has turned his voting coalition's ire against the press.

Or to be more precise, Trump is exploiting the ire that already exists. A September 2016 Gallup poll found that just 30 percent of independents and 14 percent of Republicans trust the mass media. During the election, Gallup determined that 80 percent of Republicans thought the media was biased in favor of Hillary Clinton, while most Democrats perceived no bias at all. By extending partisan warfare to the press, Trump is taking advantage of the fact that most Republicans, and many independents, seem to agree with University of Tennessee professor Glenn Reynolds that mainstream journalists are "Democratic operatives with bylines."

....[T]hese are hardly dark days for American journalism. It is incumbent upon the president to be more considered in his rhetoric, but presidential rhetoric is only fearsome when it is supported by the heavy hand of the state. That is not hitherto the case with the Trump administration.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Cruising the Web


Victor Davis Hanson contrasts
the way we used to regard the importance of assimilation to the celebration of diversity that we see today. When I was a kid, I can remember lessons about how wonderful the American melting pot was. I remember an illustration in a fifth-grade textbook that showed all sorts of ethnically dressed people, in stereotypical clothes from Ireland, Russia, Africa, Mexico, China, etc., dancing into a big pot out of which they came dressed in red, white, and blue. When I told my colleagues in the history department about that picture they all laughed at how ridiculous such an idea was. But I always felt that there was something healthy about that concept. Maybe I was inspired by Martin Luther King's vision that Hanson reminds us of. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
A “hyphenated American,” Roosevelt scoffed, “is not an American at all.” And 30 years ago, another progressive stalwart and American historian Arthur Schlesinger argued in his book The Disuniting of America that identity politics were tearing apart the cohesion of the United States.

What alarmed these liberals was the long and unhappy history of racial, religious, and ethnic chauvinism, and how such tribal ties could prove far stronger than shared class affinities. Most important, they were aware that identity politics had never proved to be a stabilizing influence on any past multiracial society. Indeed, most wars of the 20th century and associated genocides had originated over racial and ethnic triumphalism, often by breakaway movements that asserted tribal separateness. Examples include the Serbian and Slavic nationalist movements in 1914 against Austria-Hungary, Hitler’s rise to power on the promise of German ethno-superiority, the tribal bloodletting in Rwanda, and the Shiite/Sunni/Kurdish conflicts in Iraq.
These days, society seems to celebrate what separates groups of people rather than what united them. And now one political party is built on keeping those divisions alive.
This shift from the ideal of the melting pot to the triumph of salad-bowl separatism occurred, in part, because the Democratic Party found electoral resonance in big government’s generous entitlements and social programs tailored to particular groups. By then, immigration into the United States had radically shifted and become less diverse. Rather than including states in Europe and the former British Commonwealth, most immigrants were poorer and almost exclusively hailed from the nations of Latin America, Asia, and Africa, resulting in poorer immigrants who, upon arrival, needed more government help. Another reason for the shift was the general protest culture of the Vietnam era, which led to radical changes in everything from environmental policy to sexual identity, and thus saw identity politics as another grievance against the status quo.

A half-century later, affirmative action and identity politics have created a huge diversity industry, in which millions in government, universities, and the private sector are entrusted with teaching the values of the Other and administering de facto quotas in hiring and admissions. In 2016, Hillary Clinton ran a campaign on identity politics, banking on the notion that she could reassemble various slices of the American electorate, in the fashion that Barack Obama had in 2008 and 2012, to win a majority of voters. She succeeded, as did Obama, in winning the popular vote by appealing directly to the unique identities of gays, Muslims, feminists, blacks, Latinos, and an array of other groups, but misjudged the Electoral College and so learned that a numerical majority of disparate groups does not always translate into winning key swing states.
So identity politics is the core of the Democratic Party today. And then they were shocked, shocked that a segment of white voters voted their identity when they chose Trump. So are we doomed to ever-divisive politics based on race and ethnicity? Hanson thinks the future of such diversity politics is limited.
What is the future of diversity politics after the 2016 election? Uncertain at best—and for a variety of reasons.

One, intermarriage and integration are still common. Overall, about 15 percent of all marriages each year are interracial, and the rates are highest for Asians and Latinos. Forty percent of Asian women marry men of another race—one quarter of African-American males do, as well—and over a quarter of all Latinos marry someone non-Latino.

Identity politics hinges on perceptible racial or ethnic solidarity, but citizens are increasingly a mixture of various races and do not always categorize themselves as “non-white.” Without DNA badges, it will be increasingly problematic to keep racial pedigrees straight. And sometimes the efforts to do so reach the point of caricature and inauthenticity, through exaggerated accent marks, verbal trills, voice modulations, and nomenclature hyphenation. One reason why diversity activists sound shrill is their fear that homogenization is unrelenting.

Second, the notion of even an identifiable and politically monolithic group of non-white minorities is also increasingly suspect. Cubans do not have enough in common with Mexicans to advance a united Latino front. African-Americans are suspicious of open borders that undercut entry-level job wages. Asians resent university quotas that often discount superb grades and test scores to ensure racial diversity. It is not clear that Hmong-Americans have much in common with Japanese-Americans, or that Punjabi immigrants see themselves politically akin to Chinese newcomers as fellow Asians.

Third, ethnic solidarity can cut both ways. In the 2016 elections, Trump won an overwhelming and nearly unprecedented number of working class whites in critical swing states. Many either had not voted in prior elections or had voted Democratic. The culture’s obsession with tribalism and special ethnic interests—often couched in terms of opposing “white privilege”—had alienated millions of less well-off white voters. Quietly, many thought that if ethnic activists were right that the white majority was shrinking into irrelevance, and if it was acceptable for everyone to seek solidarity through their tribal affiliations, then poor whites could also rally under the banner of their own identity politics. If such trends were to continue in a nation that is still 70 percent white, it would prove disastrous for the Democratic Party in a way never envisioned during the era of Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton discovered that Obama’s identity politics constituencies were not transferable to herself in the same exceptional numbers, and the effort to ensure that they were often created new tribal opponents.
Add in that immigration is not going to grow at the rates anticipated. And future generations may assimilate more than expected.
Were immigration to slow down and become more diverse, the formidable powers of integration and intermarriage would perhaps do to the La Raza community what it once did to the Italian-American minority after the cessation of mass immigration from Italy. There are currently no Italian-American quotas, no Italian university departments, and no predictable voting blocs.
And, as Hanson points out, we're becoming more divided by class than by race.
Fifth, class is finally reemerging as a better barometer of privilege than is race—a point that Republican populists are starting to hammer home. The children of Barack Obama, for example, have far more privilege than do the sons of Appalachian coal miners—and many Asian groups already exceed American per capita income averages. When activist Michael Eric Dyson calls for blanket reparations for slavery, his argument does not resonate with an unemployed working-class youth from Kentucky, who was born more than 30 years after the emergence of affirmative action—and enjoys a fraction of Dyson’s own income, net worth, and cultural opportunities.
And what happens when members of minority groups don't follow the party line on ideology?
Finally, ideology is eroding the diversity industry. Conservative minorities and women are not considered genuine voices of the Other, given their incorrect politics. For all its emphasis on appearance, diversity is really an intolerant ideological movement that subordinates race and gender to progressive politics. It is not biology that gives authenticity to feminism, but leftwing assertions; African-American conservatives are often derided as inauthentic, not because of purported mixed racial pedigrees, but due to their unorthodox beliefs.
It's become clear that the diversity industry is only about liberals, not ethnicity.
Finally, ideology is eroding the diversity industry. Conservative minorities and women are not considered genuine voices of the Other, given their incorrect politics. For all its emphasis on appearance, diversity is really an intolerant ideological movement that subordinates race and gender to progressive politics. It is not biology that gives authenticity to feminism, but leftwing assertions; African-American conservatives are often derided as inauthentic, not because of purported mixed racial pedigrees, but due to their unorthodox beliefs.
This has long been true of how liberals regarded those of the approved ethnicity or sex who strayed from the liberal party line. Gloria Steinem, feminist icon, would call women who didn't support abortion 'female impersonators,' as she did Kay Bailey Hutchison during the Senate race back in the early 1990s. We've seen those attacks on Clarence Thomas once it became clear that he dared to be a conservative and vote that way on the Supreme Court. Remember the depiction of Thomas as a lawn jockey on the cover of Emerge Magazine in 1996. The sharpest attacks from the left have always been for those who had the courage to follow their own beliefs and not be intimidated into a straitjacket of ideology. And perhaps Hanson is right that we're seeing the first cracks in the diversity machine.
The 2016 election marked an earthquake in the diversity industry. It is increasingly difficult to judge who we are merely by our appearances, which means that identity politics may lose its influence. These fissures probably explain some of the ferocity of the protests we’ve seen in recent weeks. A dying lobby is fighting to hold on to its power.
It took decades to arrive at where we are today; we won't see the end of identity politics after just one election, but we can hope that one day politicians will be judged by the "content of their character," and not the color of their skin or which boxes they tick off on a diversity survey.

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Ian Tuttle links to this amazing story out of Denmark.
The Danish government has been inadvertently paying benefits to citizens fighting for the Islamic State in Syria, Danish officials said Tuesday, as outrage grows that militants are manipulating the country’s generous welfare system.

About 145 Danes have traveled to Syria or Iraq to fight for militant groups since 2012, according to the Danish security and intelligence services.

Officials said this week that they had identified a number of Danish citizens who, while receiving government disability pensions, had traveled to Syria to join the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

“It is a huge scandal that we are paying out money from the welfare funds in Denmark to people who are going to Syria and elsewhere in the world to undermine democracy that we have been fighting for for hundreds of years,” the country’s minister of labor, Troels Lund Poulsen, said.

Last year, the news media reported that more than two dozen Danish citizens receiving unemployment benefits had traveled to Syria to fight for ISIS, even though the law requires recipients to live in Denmark....

Until now, national regulations have made it difficult for the authorities to stop benefit payments to a suspected militant, even if the person had been identified by the intelligence services as an ISIS fighter. Officials said investigating the circumstances of individuals in Syria or Iraq was logistically challenging.
So they have had such militants traveling to the Middle East to fight for ISIS and then return to Denmark and keep picking up welfare checks. Unbelievable. Tuttle concludes,
In case you didn’t catch that: Even if Danish intelligence spots you jihad-ing your way across the Levant, RPG-launcher on your shoulder, sex slaves in tow, the Danish government will still have a hard time cutting off your government check.

The thing about managerial liberalism is that it only works when the managers are competent. When news like this emerges, you start to see how voters could start looking around for something — maybe anything — else.

Joseph Bottum writes of a horrific court decision out of Germany which ruled that an attempt by a group of Muslim men to bomb a synagogue was not anti-Semitic because the men were supposedly protesting against Israel.
The failed firebombing attack had occurred in 2014, during the Israeli conflict with Hamas in Gaza. In 2015 the lower court found that the men had intended their actions as a protest against Israel—with the result that the adults in the group deserved to have their sentences suspended, freeing them from jail time. And now, after review by a superior court, the German legal system has affirmed that German synagogues are legitimate targets of protest against Israel.

Remember this moment, for the German courts have exposed the mechanism by which opposition to Israel proves indistinguishable from opposition to Jews.

Perhaps at one point, a distinc­tion between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism was notionally possible. But those days have been gone for many years, lost in the mists. And now, even the attempt to make the distinction becomes a way of insisting on a Jewish difference. "Anti-Zionism is the new dressing for the old passion of anti-Semitism," as the French writer Bernard-Henri Lévy tried to tell a New York audience on January 11—and it is perhaps worth noting that the synagogue in Wuppertal was built on the site of a previous synagogue, destroyed by the Nazis on Kristallnacht in 1938.

To see the logic at play, suppose that three white men had attacked a traditionally black church in Birmingham, Alabama, scrawling graffiti and trying to set the church on fire. Caught and convicted, they were sentenced to a year in jail—with the jail time suspended. Yes, the judge explained, they had been unlawfully violent and thus deserved to be convicted. But he suspended their sentences because their purpose in attacking the African-American church had not been to harm Americans but to protest the failure of the Nigerian government to halt the kidnapping of schoolgirls by the radical African militia Boko Haram.

Or suppose something similar, but this time in Manila. After a court in the Philippines convicted several citizens of defacing a local mosque, the judge suspended their sentences—on the grounds that, however illegally they had behaved, they were engaged in legitimate political protest over the oppression of Christian guest workers by the Islamic government in Saudi Arabia.
Neither of those defenses for violence would be acceptable. But fire-bombing a synagogue is now more or less downgraded as an attack because the perpetrators can claim hatred of Israel as their motive and thus earn a suspended sentence. Try to imagine similar logic here in the United States if someone bombed a black church because they were angry about some action of an African government or a mosque because they were angry about Syrian or Saudi actions. And now Germany, of all countries, is turning their eyes away from clear attacks on German Jews. And sadly, that attitude has now permeated American college campuses.
If trying to set fire to a local synagogue is merely a criticism of Israel, then every Jewish house of worship is a symbolic embassy of a foreign power: a stand-in for the nation-state of Israel. And Germans prove not to be Germans when they attend a synagogue. The salient fact is instead that they are Jews.

The psychology by which anti-Zionism falls into anti-Semitism has been on display for years. We saw it in the United States in 2014 when a Temple University student punched a Jewish undergraduate and called him "kike" for arguing about Israel. And in 2015 when UCLA and Stanford student boards were caught interrogating non-Israeli applicants about Israel, just because they were Jewish.

What the German courts have revealed, however, is not so much the psychology as the logic by which anti-Semitism has returned to the West. A strong case can be made that modern anti-Zionism was always a subterfuge, born from an anti-Semitism trying to disguise itself. But now even the need to wear that mask seems gone. The German Muslims who attacked the Wuppertal synagogue in 2014 took Germany's Jews as representatives of Israel, and in 2017 the German courts agreed, simply as a matter of law.

Think about that for a moment. Once non-Israeli Jews have been legally recognized as symbols of Israel, not even a ray of daylight can slip between opposition to Israel and opposition to Jews. We needn't pretend anymore. Needn't nod sagely and agree that anti-Israeli groups—the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movements, for example—could theoretically avoid singling out American and European Jews. Needn't listen when the tattered old subterfuge is trotted out again to excuse attacks on synagogues.

Once and for all, anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism. German courts have told us so.



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Well, colored me shocked. Larry Kudlow points out how the media cognoscenti ignored the rosy forecasts of economic growth in President Obama's first budget and now are criticizing the Trump team for less rosy predictions.
Virtually the whole world is beating up on the Trump administration for daring to predict that low marginal tax rates, regulatory rollbacks, and the repeal of Obamacare will generate 3 to 3.5 percent economic growth in the years ahead.

In a CNBC interview last week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin held the line on this forecast. He also argued the need for dynamic budget scoring to capture the effects of faster growth. Good for him.

But what’s so interesting about all the economic-growth naysaying today is that President Obama’s first budget forecast roughly eight years ago was much rosier than Trump’s. And there was nary a peep of criticism from the mainstream-media outlets and the consensus of economists.

Strategas Research Partners policy analyst Dan Clifton printed up a chart of the Obama plan that predicted real economic growth of roughly 3 percent in 2010, near 4 percent in 2011, over 4 percent in 2012, and nearly 4 percent in 2013.

But it turned out that actual growth ran below 2 percent during this period. Was there any howling about this result among the economic consensus? Of course not. It seems they’ve saved all their grumbling for the Trump forecast today.
The contrast is even deeper because Obama's budget didn't include any measures for economic growth; it was a mixture of what became an ineffectual $850 billion stimulus and tax increases. We had eight years of low economic growth so some economists think that the days of higher growth are gone forever. Well, let's try what worked before in the early 1960s and 1980s - tax cuts and lower regulation and see if that works better than just the opposite.

Jean Sagouspe, a farmer in California's San Joaquin Valley reminds us of how farmers there are being put out of business by federal and state environmental policies.
But a scorched-earth campaign by environmentalists has created a regulatory drought that exceeds anything mother nature has produced. A 1992 federal law, the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, diverted 1.5 million acre-feet of water—roughly a fifth of the total water delivery—annually to wildlife and green hobbyhorses. That ultimately means flushing it out into the ocean. “Basically, they’ve now legislated a permanent drought in the San Joaquin Valley,” Mark Borba, a cotton farmer, told the Los Angeles Times when the law passed.

Subsequent lawsuits by environmental groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council have tightened restrictions even more. The San Joaquin River Restoration Program, the result of a 2006 settlement in a lawsuit over fish habitat, took away another some 225,000 acre-feet of water annually. Environmentalists have repeatedly sued the government for ostensibly violating the Endangered Species Act and failing to protect the delta smelt and other fish.

This has significantly curtailed water flows at two major pumping stations that serve the valley. As a result, more than 1.4 trillion gallons of water has drained out to sea since 2008. California also has fewer places to store water than it used to. Since 2000, dozens of dams in the state have been removed, according to a tally by the conservation group American Rivers, eliminating storage that could have helped harness floodwaters for crops.

This regulatory drought has real effects on people like me. Over the past three years I have been forced to kill over half my almond trees—more than 980 acres. This has caused me to lose more than $7 million in almond revenue, and it has eliminated about $10 million of my farm’s value. I’ve been forced to lay off 25% of the people who helped grow these crops. Some of these employees had worked with me for 20 years.

My story is typical. Across the Central Valley, hundreds of thousands of acres have turned fallow, tens of thousands of jobs have been lost, and billions of dollars of economic activity has evaporated. The Great Recession may be over, but unemployment in the valley is about double the national average.
With all these efforts and the killing of farmland and jobs, the goal of preserving the tiny fish at the heart of all this regulation, the delta smelt, is still dying out. Sagouspe writes,
The kicker: Fish populations haven’t recovered and the smelt is on the verge of extinction. But the water supply may have less to do with this than the ammonia produced by Sacramento’s sewage and nonnative predators, like striped bass, which for some reason don’t make it into environmentalists’ crosshairs.

Perhaps saving the smelt is only a secondary goal. Two years ago Rep. Devin Nunes, who represents parts of the San Joaquin Valley, wrote about a meeting of environmental activists that he attended in 2002, before he was elected to Congress. “Their goal was to remove 1.3 million acres of farmland from production,” Mr. Nunes wrote. “They showed me maps that laid out their whole plan: From Merced all the way down to Bakersfield, and on the entire west side of the Valley as well as part of the east side, productive agriculture would end and the land would return to some ideal state of nature. I was stunned by the vicious audacity of their goal.”
It is so ironic that, while parts of California are flooding, a man-made drought is bankrupting a significant part of the state's economy and throwing so many people out of work. This has been an issue for years and the situation has gotten worse.
President Trump can put an end to this madness. Last year Congress passed, and President Obama signed, a water infrastructure bill that gives the interior secretary more latitude to approve new dams and storage facilities. The Trump administration should make good use of this authority to sign off on projects that have been held up for decades by regulatory hurdles.

The alternative is more of California’s status quo: drought in a time of flooding, which is something only a bureaucrat could dream up.
I can just imagine the sorts of hurdles the environmentalists will throw up to stop such common-sense projects.

The WSJ reports
on how Bernie Sanders loyalists are focused on taking over the Democratic Party from the ground up.
Last week, a group of former Sanders campaign aides launched a super PAC with the explicit goal of mounting primary challenges to Democratic incumbents. Party leaders are urging Democrats to focus on fighting Mr. Trump and his GOP allies instead of turning their fire inward.

For now, the strategy of Mr. Sanders’s followers is to infiltrate and transform the Democratic Party’s power structure, starting with the lowest-level state and county committee posts that typically draw scant attention.

“From where I come from in the Bernie movement, people believe that there are permanent obstacles to change,” said Larry Cohen, the board chairman of Our Revolution, the political organization that grew from the 2016 Sanders presidential campaign.

The broader goal is not only to pull the party to the left on policy, but also to fundamentally alter how it operates by eschewing corporate donors, shifting resources from television advertising to neighborhood organizing and stripping power from longtime party elders—including the “superdelegates” who can tip presidential primary contests—ahead of the 2020 election.
They failed at the national level when the Sanders-backed candidate Keith Ellison lost the race for Democratic Party chairman against the establishment-backed Tom Perez. The Republican Party has experienced similar internal conflicts when Tea Party-backed candidates ran against more centrist GOP incumbents. Some of those candidates such as Ted Cruz, Ben Sasse, and Marco Rubio were successful and good additions to the party. And others like Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell lose winnable elections. I suspect that the same will be true on the other side of the spectrum. We'll see what kind of backlash there will be among these Sanders-inspired activists.




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Charles Krauthammer finds method in Trump's madness. Krauthammer sees the contrast between the experienced, adult members of Trump's foreign policy and security advisers and Trump himself.
t the heart of Donald Trump's foreign policy team lies a glaring contradiction. On the one hand, it is composed of men of experience, judgment and traditionalism. Meaning, they are all very much within the parameters of mainstream American internationalism as practiced since 1945. Practically every member of the team -- the heads of State, Homeland Security, the CIA, and most especially Defense Secretary James Mattis and national security adviser H.R. McMaster -- could fit in a Cabinet put together by, say, Hillary Clinton.

The commander in chief, on the other hand, is quite the opposite -- inexperienced, untraditional, unbounded. His pronouncements on everything from the "one China" policy to the two-state (Arab-Israeli) solution, from NATO obsolescence to the ravages of free trade, continue to confound and, as we say today, disrupt.

The obvious question is: Can this arrangement possibly work? The answer thus far, surprisingly, is: perhaps.
Krauthammer points to Germany's announcement that, as Trump had called for, it will increase the size of its military. China, in reaction to the assassination of Kim Jong Un's half brother with a banned nerve agent, has cut off its coal imports from North Korea. Perhaps the Chinese weren't motivated at all by Trump's meanderings on a "one China" policy and his demagoguery on China, but maybe something else might be happening on foreign policy.
This suggests that the peculiar and discordant makeup of the U.S. national security team -- traditionalist lieutenants, disruptive boss -- might reproduce the old Nixonian "Madman Theory." That's when adversaries tread carefully because they suspect the U.S. president of being unpredictable, occasionally reckless and potentially crazy dangerous. Henry Kissinger, with Nixon's collaboration, tried more than once to exploit this perception to pressure adversaries.

Trump's people have already shown a delicate touch in dealing with his bouts of loopiness. Trump has gone on for years about how we should have taken Iraq's oil for ourselves. In Baghdad last Sunday, Mattis wryly backed off, telling his hosts that "All of us in America have generally paid for our gas and oil all along, and I'm sure that we will continue to do so in the future."

Yet sometimes an off-center comment can have its uses. Take Trump's casual dismissal of a U.S. commitment to a two-state solution in the Middle East. The next day, U.S. policy was brought back in line by his own U.N. ambassador. But this diversion might prove salutary. It's a message to the Palestinians that their decades of rejectionism may not continue to pay off with an inexorable march toward statehood -- that there may actually be a price to pay for making no concessions and simply waiting for the U.S. to deliver them a Palestinian state.

To be sure, a two-track, two-policy, two-reality foreign policy is risky, unsettling and has the potential to go totally off the rails. This is not how you would draw it up in advance. It's unstable and confusing. But the experience of the first month suggests that, with prudence and luck, it can yield the occasional benefit -- that the combination of radical rhetoric and conventional policy may induce better behavior both in friend and foe.

Alas, there is also a worst-case scenario. It needs no elaboration.
Well, that's the most optimistic take I've seen on Trump's spouting off on Twitter and in public with foreign policy statements that are then walked back a day or so later after someone explains the import of what he was saying to Trump. I'm not sure that the "Madman theory" is how I would want American foreign policy to be structured, but if there are some benefits to having a president who speaks his mind based on his instincts rather than any real understanding of the issues, I guess we have to be thankful.

Meanwhile, Nate Robinson going between the legs of a 7'3" defender is the best thing I've seen in basketball all year.
Ah, Hollywood. Let's put them in charge of the country. Because they never have an "oops" moment or anything. Steve Harvey must be so relieved that he's not the one to have made the biggest flub in awards history.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Cruising the Web

The Washington Post points how how much Trump's new National Security Adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster differs with Trump on policy. THey differ on whether or not Russia is a threat and whether we should be work within multinational organizations like NATO. When it comes to the best way to respond to Islamist terrorism, Trump just riffs idiotically without any real understanding of what he's bloviating about. McMaster helped design the most successful counterinsurgency effort our country has been involved in since 9/11.
McMaster and Trump have very different understandings of the right strategic response to terrorism. Trump has lamented that the United States did not take Iraq’s oil and quipped that terrorists’ family members should be targeted. By contrast, in Iraq, McMaster developed counterinsurgency doctrines in which soldiers worked not just to destroy targets but to protect populations and win local communities’ hearts and minds.

Trump speaks of terrorism and Islam as if they were nearly synonymous. On the record, he has stated that “Islam hates us” and that there is “tremendous hatred” within the religion itself. McMaster discusses Islam in a manner consistent with the tactful U.S. foreign policy formulation that’s been used over the last decade. He refers to militant Islamists with the moniker “salafi jihadists” — referring to the Islamist ideal of restoring a bygone glory. McMaster says such practices have a “perverted” and “irreligious interpretation” of Islam.

For McMaster, the sources of Middle Eastern angst are primarily political. He explains the Afghanistan and Iraq insurgencies through a narrative of grievances exacerbated by “ethnic, tribal, and sectarian polarization.” As a student of the 19th-century German military thinker Carl von Clausewitz, McMaster is wary of promising fast and cheap victories.
Promising "fast and easy victories"? That's Trump's usual M.O. for all policies. Perhaps, Trump will allow himself to learn from the man he just chose as his National Security Adviser. We can only hope.

Ben Shapiro has some very important advice for conservatives: don't assume, simply because a group or person is in opposition to the same groups you are, that those groups and people are your friends. Just because those on the left don't like someone, doesn't mean that conservatives need to embrace that person.
Unfortunately, many conservatives have embraced this sort of binary thinking: If it angers the Left, it must be virtuous. Undoubtedly, that’s a crude shorthand for political thinking. It means you never have to check the ideas of the speaker, you merely have to check how people respond to him.

That’s dangerous. It leads to supporting bad policies and bad men. The enemy of your enemy isn’t always your friend. Sometimes he’s your enemy. Sometimes he’s just a dude sitting there minding his own business.

You don’t have enough information to know.


The logic of “if he melts snowflakes, he’s one of us” actually hands power to the Left, by allowing leftists to define conservatives’ friends. It gets to choose whom we support. This isn’t speculative. It happened during the 2016 primaries, when the media attacked Trump incessantly, driving Republicans into his outstretched arms. The media’s obvious hatred for Trump was one of the chief arguments for Trump from his advocates: If, as his detractors claimed, he wasn’t conservative, then why would the leftist media hate him so much?
But it's not enough to be hated the MSM. That' doesn't mean that someone, er, President Trump for example, is automatically right and good in everything he says and does.
If the media opposed Trump with all their heart and all their soul, that must have been some sort of reaction to Trump himself.

It wasn’t, though. It was a combination of factors, including the fact that Trump was amazing press and the press thought Trump an unusually weak candidate. More-honest leftist commentators openly preferred Trump to more-conservative candidates such as Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.

But Trump’s war with the media carried him to the nomination, and from there to the presidency.

In fact, Trump continues to live off of this backward logic. His press conference last week was no ballet of informational expertise and policy knowledge, nor was it a brilliant recasting of his policy successes. It was a blunderbuss attack on the media, entertaining in the extreme, occasionally daft, occasionally ridiculous. Yet many on the right immediately concluded that it was the most successful press conference in world history, not because it was successful with Americans per se — there was no evidence of that — but because it was a successful assault on the media, who had it coming.

Never mind if Trump lied to the media. They were angry. That showed it worked. Watching Chuck Todd fulminate and Chris Wallace rage and Don Lemon bemusedly tut-tut scratched conservatives where they itch — and it made Trump a hero.

None of this is to argue that Trump is a leftist or that conservatives are wrong to support many of his policy prescriptions. But if your standard of right and wrong is whether the Left hates it, you’re making a category error.

It’s not good enough to just be opposed by the Left – you must actually oppose the Left. We must ask what someone is fighting against, not merely whom. We must ask what tools they’re using — and we must insist they use the truth. Ideas and values matter more than identity.

But not anymore. The Left’s identity politics is focused on racial, ethnic, and sexual identity — aspects of identity that place you somewhere in the hierarchy of intersectionality. The Right’s identity politics comes with a label: enemy of the Left. So long as you’re wearing that button, you’re presumptively on our side and you’re nearly bulletproof.

Until it turns out that you’re not. Until we jump the wrong way because we substituted political laziness for a philosophy. Until we embrace somebody nasty because the other side hated him or her and stop caring about truth so long as the other side is triggered.
So many times, on Twitter or in comments from my blog's readers, people will criticize me for criticizing Trump and the basic argument is that Trump makes the right enemies. He's driving the media nuts and it's about time that someone did that. They're just sitting back and chomping on the popcorn enjoying his press conference because he's attacking the media. But that' isn't enough. There are actual policy changes that conservatives should want to see enacted. And we're going to need a president with political skills to help figure out the right policies and then how to push them through. And we're living in a toxic, partisan environment. It would be difficult for the most gifted politician to enact the sorts of policies on taxes, health care, immigration, regulatory reform that conservatives would like to see happen. Those conservatives who wish to see those policy changes take place should be asking themselves whether Trump's bluster and organizational deficiencies are furthering those goals, instead of thinking that having him attack journalists is sufficient fun for the next four years.

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Of course, the media deserve all the opprobrium that they receive from conservatives. Jonah Goldberg riffs on Mika Brzezinski's Kinsley gaffe this week when she said it was the mission of the press to "control exactly what people think."
Consider the hot topic of the moment: illegal immigration. The syndicate that distributes the column you are reading follows the AP Stylebook, which says that I am not allowed to refer to “illegal immigrants” (i.e., people who migrate illegally), but I can refer to illegal immigration (i.e., the act of migrating illegally). Kathleen Carroll, then the senior vice president and executive editor of the Associated Press, explained that the change was part of the AP’s policy against “labeling people.”

Many news outlets followed suit, using such terms as “unauthorized” or “undocumented” to describe immigrants formerly known as illegal.

The move was hailed by left-wing immigration activists as a great leap forward. And for good reason: It is part of their agenda to blur the distinctions between legal and illegal immigration, and to make it sound as if objecting to the former is morally equivalent to objecting to the latter. But as a matter of fact and logic, the difference between an “unauthorized immigrant” and an “illegal immigrant” is nonexistent.

The media play these kinds of linguistic games all the time. Economics professor Tim Groseclose walks readers through countless examples in his book Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind. Partial-birth abortion virtually never appears without a “so-called” before it, and the procedure is virtually never described clearly. The word “kill” is almost never used to describe any abortion, despite the fact that this is what happens. Whenever some great sweeping piece of liberal social legislation is passed by Democrats, it’s a “step forward.” Whenever a law is repealed, Republicans are “turning back the clock.”

The language games are part of a larger tendency of journalists to follow certain scripts that conform to how coastal elites see the country.

In 2015, during the ridiculous hysteria over Indiana’s religious-freedom law (since revised), a news reporter went around a small town asking business owners about the law. The owner of Memories Pizza, Crystal O’Connor, said anyone could eat there, but they’d probably turn down a job to cater a gay wedding. The story was immediately blown up by national news outlets as proof of some prairie fire of anti-gay discrimination, even though no one had been discriminated against. Memories Pizza had to shut down.

My hunch is that O’Connor nodded along when Trump said the press is the enemy of the American people.

For those liberals trembling in fear about Trumpian authoritarianism, David French presents a thoughtful counter-argument that Trump is "trending less authoritarian than Obama.
Lost in most of the coverage of President Trump’s decision to rescind the Obama administration’s transgender mandates is a fundamental legal reality — the Trump administration just relinquished federal authority over gender-identity policy in the nation’s federally funded schools and colleges.

In other words, Trump was less authoritarian than Obama. And that’s not the only case. Consider the following examples where his administration, through policy or personnel, appears to be signaling that the executive branch intends to become less intrusive in American life and more accountable to internal and external critique.
Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court is known for arguments against extended administrative overreach. Gorsuch has argued that the bureaucracy should not be making decisions that really belong in the purview of the legislative branch.
By overturning judicial precedents that currently require judicial deference to agency legal interpretations, the Court could put a stop to the current practice of presidents and bureaucrats steadily (and vastly) expanding their powers by constantly broadening their interpretations of existing legal statutes.

For example, the EPA has dramatically expanded its control over the American economy even without Congress passing significant new environmental legislation. Instead, the EPA keeps revising its interpretation of decades-old statutes like the Clean Air Act, using those new interpretations to enact a host of comprehensive new regulations. If Gorsuch’s argument wins the day, the legislative branch would be forced to step up at the expense of the executive, no matter how “authoritarian” a president tried to be.
The real reason that those on the left are so worried about certain policies enunciated by the Trump administration is for this very reason. Liberals prefer to have decisions made by unelected bureaucrats and judges rather than having the power that they've accrued in the past decades given back to Congress and the states.
Indeed, if you peel back the layer of leftist critiques of Trump’s early actions and early hires, they contain a surprising amount of alarmism over the rollback of governmental power. Education activists are terrified that Betsy DeVos will take children out of government schools or roll back government mandates regarding campus sexual-assault tribunals. Environmentalists are terrified that Scott Pruitt will make the EPA less activist. Civil-rights lawyers are alarmed at the notion that Jeff Sessions will inject the federal government into fewer state and local disputes over everything from school bathrooms to police traffic stops.

A president is “authoritarian” not when he’s angry or impulsive or incompetent or tweets too much. He’s authoritarian when he seeks to expand his own power beyond constitutional limits. In this regard, the Obama administration — though far more polite and restrained in most of its public comments — was truly one of our more authoritarian.
The contrast with Obama is stark.
Obama exercised his so-called prosecutorial discretion not just to waive compliance with laws passed by Congress (think of his numerous unilateral delays and waivers of Obamacare deadlines) but also to create entirely new immigration programs such as DACA and DAPA. He sought to roll back First Amendment protections for political speech (through his relentless attacks on Citizens United), tried to force nuns to facilitate access to birth control, and he even tried to inject federal agencies like the Equality Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) into the pastor-selection process, a move blocked by a unanimous Supreme Court. In foreign policy, he waged war without congressional approval and circumvented the Constitution’s treaty provisions to strike a dreadful and consequential deal with Iran....

Liberals were blind to Obama’s authoritarian tendencies in part because they agreed with his goals and in part because their adherence to “living Constitution” theories made the separation of powers far more conditional and situational. But authoritarianism is defined by how a president exercises power, not by the rightness of his goals. It’s early, and things can obviously change, but one month into the new presidency, a trend is emerging — Trump is less authoritarian than the man he replaced.
Boy, that sounds like a debate resolution that would really get people heated up. Authoritarianism, for some, is in the eye of the beholder. If you don't like Trump's policies, then you don't care how he's achieving them; he's still an authoritarian proto-fascist. If you like what Obama did, you don't care what means he used to achieve his ends. But not caring about how policies are achieved simply because you like the end result puts the country on a road to authoritarianism. Remember, the evasion of legislative solutions that Obama chose has set precedents that Trump and all the presidents who come after can emulate. That's why the Founding Fathers designed a system in which ambition can check ambition. As we're losing that, we're closer to an authoritarianism that should scare both sides of the ideological spectrum instead of being happy when the policies you like are the ones being enacted.

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Heather Wilhelm has some fun ridiculing the idea that leftist feminists have to have women's strike, ludicrously called "A Day Without a Woman."
If all goes according to plan, the Day Without a Woman will be actually a Day Chock-Full of Very Vexed Women Laser-Focused on Making You Late for Work. “The idea,” wrote the strike’s organizers in a February 6 group Guardian op-ed, “is to mobilize women, including trans women, and all who support them in an international day of struggle — a day of striking, marching, blocking roads, bridges, and squares, abstaining from domestic, care and sex work, boycotting, calling out misogynistic politicians and companies, striking in educational institutions.”

Ooh, that sounds effective! Just kidding. It sounds kind of annoying. But come on, let’s not be cynical. It’s for such a good cause, right? It’s all focused on truth and justice and good government, and a bipartisan response to specific policies proposed by the Trump administration, right? Well . . . let’s ask the organizers of the march. Spoiler alert: Here’s where things get a little foggy.

“On March 8th, International Women’s Day, women and our allies will act together creatively to withdraw from the corporations that harm us and find ways to support the businesses, organizations and communities that sustain us,” declares the Women’s March website, profiling its “Day Without a Woman.” Further questions, according to the March’s Twitter feed, include the following: “Do businesses support our communities, or do they drain our communities? Do they strive for gender equity or do they support the policies and leaders that perpetuate oppression? Do they align with a sustainable environment or do they profit off destruction and steal the futures of our children?”

Well! That’s strange. This seems like a standard, vague list of clichéd left-wing hobbyhorses, not a principled protest engaging current policy problems. Don’t worry, friends: Surely further research and reading will clarify things.

Well, okay, maybe not. Along with an end to “male violence” and, predictably, “a defense of reproductive rights” — in other words, abortion — “we also need to target the ongoing neoliberal attack on social provision and labor rights,”

....The upcoming “Women’s Strike” — and the dozens of iterations likely to come after it — has made it clear that it now has little to do with Donald Trump. It’s the same old leftist song and dance, desperate for a new marketing pitch. It’s a protest movement that would likely decry any Republican president — even if she were a woman. Beware, ladies. Beware.
How about "A Day Without a Leftist"? Sounds like it would be about the same thing. And no one would notice or care.

Lanae Erickson Hatalsky and Jim Kessler put forth an analysis in the Washington Post of why demographic changes in the United States have not led to a permanent Democratic majority.
Why did changing demographics not lead to electoral destiny for Democrats? Our report out this month provides several answers, starting with the fact that demographic change isn’t evenly dispersed. In our system of place-based government, unless millennials move to the rural South or the growing Latino population settles in equal measure across the Rust Belt, demography will take a long time. Take the U.S. House. Going into the 2016 cycle, the 159 House districts deemed safely Democratic by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report are already majority-minority. (The average is 45 percent white.) The 90 swing districts are 70 percent white — much closer to the breakdown in safe Republican districts, which number 186 and are 75 percent white on average.

The Senate is even more daunting, where 23 not very diverse states with 46 seats skew red, compared with only 13 states with 26 seats that cater blue. And despite Hillary Clinton’s popular-vote victory, Donald Trump won about 2,600 counties while she won 489. That might have been enough to keep the electoral college tally close, but it’s also a recipe for losing pretty much everything down ballot. So while national demographic numbers may continue to shift relatively quickly, they won’t significantly affect electoral outcomes if the changes are concentrated in the same cities and counties that already go blue.

“Demography equals destiny” also presumes voters are static beings with unwavering ideologies and consistent voting behavior. But voters aren’t merely reflections of their demographic characteristics, and it’s insulting to treat them that way. Young voters and voters of color aren’t monolithic liberal blocs who will always and reflexively support Democrats.


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Today is the 100-year anniversary of President Wilson being given the Zimmermann Telegram. That was the offer sent by the German foreign minister to German ambassador in Mexico offering an alliance with Mexico if they would attack the United States. They promised to help Mexico regain the land it had lost in the American Southwest after the Mexican-American War. The British intercepted the telegram and gave it to the Americans while making it public. The outrage over this helped pave the way for the U.S. to enter the First World War. Arthur Herman sees some lessons for the United States today from that long-ago diplomatic story.
What can we learn today from the Zimmermann Telegram? First, don’t underestimate America. In 1917 the Germans mistook self-restraint for weakness, and it cost them the war. Others would make the same mistake later: Japan and Germany in World War II, the Soviet Union at the start of the Cold War, al Qaeda on the eve of 9/11. Today Russia and China bid fair to make the miscalculation once again.

The second lesson is that conflicts will find America, even if America doesn’t seek them out. Just before his inauguration in 1912, Wilson remarked to a friend: “It would be the irony of fate if my administration had to deal chiefly with foreign affairs.” Yet two oceans didn’t make the U.S. safe from aggression then, and the danger is even greater in the age of ballistic missiles and cyber-attacks.

Wilson imagined he could keep the U.S. safe by staying aloof and above the fray. It took an intercepted telegram for him to realize that America had no choice but to act as a great power. One hundred years later, Mr. Trump should remember that Wilson’s realization has made the world—and us—safer.
Both my U.S. and European History classes just finished studying World War One. In both classes, at the end of the, unit, we listed all the political, economic, social, diplomatic, and cultural changes that emerged from that war. As I was writing all these consequences of the war on the board, it struck me that the changes for the U.S. and Europe resulting from this war were more momentous and long-reaching than from World War II. And just about none of them were predictable. Four empires collapsed and the tremors from those earthquakes coupled with the Russian Revolution are still being felt today. Not only was the map of Europe remade after the war, but so was the map of the Middle East as the Big Three drew boundaries of countries that had little correspondence to the ethnic divisions of that region. Ethnic and religious tensions today within Middle Eastern countries have roots at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919.

The economic position of the U.S. going from being a debtor to a creditor nation pushed us into being a great power whether we were able to realize it at the time or not. The changes for women and minorities rippled through society. Women achieved suffrage in many countries as a consequence of this war. Modernism in the arts, which had been beginning before the war, intensified and has altered all the arts since then, not for the better in my view. In the U.S, the reach of the federal government was stretched in ways that no Founder could have imagined, but progressives had been dreaming about. After a short hiatus in the 1920s, FDR would implement policies in the New Deal modeled on some of Wilson's policies put in place to run the country during wartime. When FDR asked in his first Inaugural address for "broad Executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe," it was the model of Wilson in World War One that he was thinking of. So as we remember the Great War, the centennial of which we've been commemorating since 2014, let's not forget all the unintended consequences that few can imagine that will emerge from any war that we again involve ourselves in.