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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Cruising the Web

The testimony by the commander of U.S. Central Command yesterday before the Senate Armed Services Committee is positively horrifying.
Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the general in charge of the war effort made clear that the U.S. strategy for arming “moderate” Syrian fighters had failed. Of the thousands of fighters they had hoped to train, just “four or five” are currently in the fight in Syria.

And with that, Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command, came under a blistering, bipartisan attack about the strategy in Syria and Iraq.

Senators called the strategy “a joke,” “an abject failure” and in deep need of revision. But neither Austin—testifying alongside Christine Wormuth, the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy—nor the critical senators had any better ideas.

And even as Central Command comes under investigation for allegations that intelligence was altered to offer a rosier picture of the campaign against ISIS, Austin appeared before the committee to give an essentially optimistic overview of the effort.

“Despite some slow movement at the tactical level, we continue to make progress across the battlespace in support of the broader U.S. government strategy to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL,” Austin told the assembled committee.
Who is going to believe that when he's also telling us this?
The 10-month, $500 million U.S. effort to train and equip moderate Syria had yielded a “small number” of fighters, Austin said, far short of the 15,000 planned over a three-year period.

“The ones that are in the fight, we are talking four or five,” Austin told the stunned committee.

The U.S. military has spent $43 million of the $500 million allotted by Congress, or roughly $9 million per fighter. (The U.S. had originally planned to have 5,400 fighters trained by now.) Wormuth said the U.S. military was considering alternative plans but refused to say what those plans were or when they may be rolled out.

“The new Syrian Force Program has gotten off to slow start,” Austin deadpanned, in response to the 5,395-man deficit in the number of fighters the U.S. hoped to train this year.
No wonder Russia has moved into this vacuum. Apparently, Pentagon observers were shocked at how badly General Austin's testimony went over. What would they expect with such facts to report.

Now they figure it out.
The former director of Norway's Nobel Institute revealed this week that he regrets the committee's decision to give the 2009 Nobel Peace award to President Obama.

Geil Lundestad, director at the institute for 25 years, said in his just-published memoir that he and the committee had unanimously decided to grant the award to Mr. Obama just after his election in 2009 more in hopes of aiding the American president to achieve his goals on nuclear disarmament, rather than in recognition of what Mr. Obama had already accomplished.

Looking back over Mr. Obama's presidency, Mr. Lundestad said, granting him the award did not fulfill the committee's expectations.

"[We] thought it would strengthen Obama and it didn't have this effect," he told the Associated Press in an interview.

The award so early in his term appeared to take the Obama White House by surprise, and Mr. Lundestad said U.S. officials privately asked if a Nobel Prize-winner had ever skipped the awards ceremony.

Normally the Nobel committee's decision regarding recipients remains private, and Mr. Lundestad's frank and revealing remarks regarding internal decisions have caused a stir in Norway, detailing the politicking and compromises that have gone into determining the annual laureate.

"Even many of Obama's supporters thought that the prize was a mistake," Mr. Lundestad said. In the book, he expressed regret that the decision had been based in a hope for the future rather than recognition of past accomplishments, and that their expectations for Mr. Obama were not fulfilled.
Well, that's just further evidence of how stupid the Nobel Peace Prize is. If they couldn't figure out that a prize given for prospective achievements rather than for actual achievements, then they're even more clueless about the world than I imagined. If you want to read a terrific book about the great and ludicrous choices made for the the Nobel Peace Prize, read Jay Nordlinger's book, "Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World"

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Jon Gabriel at Ricochet laments the debates that we're not having because of Donald Trump. So many of us were anticipating hearing the talented list of candidates running debate the issues.
Scott Walker would show how his gutsy union changes transformed a blue state, while Bobby Jindal shared how his school choice revolution changed Louisiana. Rick Perry could press his breathtaking jobs record and tell us how to “make Washington inconsequential in our lives.”

From the Senate, Tea Party constitutionalist Ted Cruz would bring the intellect, while Florida’s Marco Rubio brought the heart. Add Rand Paul to energize the growing conservatarian wing, and the trio would appeal to the young, minorities, and independents.

Moderate Chris Christie would reach out to northeastern voters once considered out of reach for the GOP while Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson added an outsiders’ perspective from the worlds of technology and medicine.

No more settling for uninspiring match-ups like Mitt Romney vs. Herman Cain, John McCain vs. Mike Huckabee, or Dubya vs. Alan Keyes. 2016 was going to be about Big Ideas on turning around a debt-ridden, war-weary, stagnant superpower. A policy wonk’s dream.

Even better, Republicans could finally laugh at the Democratic primary featuring a corrupt Clinton, a socialist Sanders, and a Bidenesque Biden. Imagine the contrast of tired old Democrats yelling about microaggressions and wiped email servers, as fresh, dynamic Republicans addressed high-level social and economic policy.
Instead we're reduced to debating these bons mots of Trump.
Trump on McCain: “I like people who weren’t captured”
Trump on Megyn Kelly: “There was blood coming out of her… wherever.”
Trump: Rick Perry “should be forced to take an IQ test” before debate
Trump is going to war with Scott Walker after being called “DumbDumb” by one of his supporters
Trump on Fiorina: “Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”
Trump on Heidi Klum: “She’s no longer a 10.”
It's all very dismaying. These are not the discussions fit for our times.
These are the lofty policy debates dominating the presidential election of a 21st century superpower. We aren’t discussing America’s $18.4 trillion national debt and our insolvent social programs. The stagnant economy and an expansionist China, Russia, and Islamic State. Burning cities at home and burning countries abroad.

Instead we’re trading GIFs of a reality show star on “The Tonight Show,” giggling about menstruation, and wondering if the most impressive GOP field in a generation are a bunch of “dummies” or if they’re a bunch of “losers.”

These are serious times. We are not a serious people.
Charles C. W. Cooke responds to those fans of Donald Trump who accuse conservative critics of Trump with not understanding how angry they are at the GOP establishment.
ere Donald Trump a staunch conservative but a little “rough around the edges,” his being used as a cudgel might make some sense. “We’re tired of your failure to deliver change,” his defenders might say, “and we’re tired of the impotent sheen that accrues to your preferred candidates. So we’re going to put in this guy and see if he does any better.” But Trump is not a staunch conservative — in fact, he’s not even close. Rather, he’s a self-interested narcissist and serial heretic whose entirely inchoate political platform bends cynically to the demands of the moment. While he has been running for president, he has praised single-payer health care, advocated campaign-speech restrictions, backed raising taxes, endorsed funding Planned Parenthood, and suggested that the entitlement crisis should be pretty much ignored — all positions that would have sunk any other hopeful. This matters. Why? Well, because his champions are contending that, because they are disappointed that Republicans often cave to progressivism while in office, they would be better off electing an outspoken progressive in the first instance — a preposterous position if I ever saw one. Leaving to one side that “caving sometimes” is better than “being an obvious fraud” (and it really, really is — an America without the flawed Republican party over the last decade is an America with higher taxes, card check, a carbon tax, gun control, no Justice Alito, a public option, universal pre-K, “free community college,” etc.), one has to ask this: If a large part of the Republican base really wants to “stick it” to the man, shouldn’t they choose an emissary with whom they agree?

....Other hastily assembled excuses include “he’s not a politician” — actually, he is now, and he should be treated as one; “he fights!” — yes dear, but for what exactly?; “he says what he thinks!” — yes, but you hate what he thinks; “Jeb!” — isnot the question at hand; and “he must be successful and accomplished and trustworthy because he’s rich,” which for some inexplicable reason did not get Mitt Romney off the hook three years ago. At times, it really can feel as if the whole thing is a cult and his apologists are members of a select group that simultaneously believes that it is in possession of the sole truth and suspects that that truth is too silly to explain at length. In this sense, talking to a Trump fan can be a little like talking to a Scientologist: to prod and to probe is to watch the eyes flicker and the lights switch on, and then to witness a reflexive doubling-down on the faith. How quickly does “Trump 2016!!” go to “I just like that he’s different.” How fast is the transition between “Go! Go! Go!” and “at least he says what he thinks.” Somewhere, deep down, the paucity of the argument is well understood. If one could only break through the machismo and make them understand . . .

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One of the subjects my students really enjoy analyzing is how the wording in poll questions can skew poll results. I have examples that I've been saving since the 1990s of such poorly written questions. Jim Geraghty points to one such question in the Washington Post about the Iran deal.
“As you may know, the U.S. and other countries have announced a deal to lift economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran agreeing not to produce nuclear weapons. International inspectors would monitor Iran’s facilities, and if Iran is caught breaking the agreement economic sanctions would be imposed again. Do you support or oppose this agreement?”

The Iran deal is complicated, and this wording just happens to emphasize the more appealing parts and neglects the unappealing parts. For example, the deal “lifts economic sanctions”… and gives Iran access to $55 billion to $150 billion in unfrozen assets, and the question doesn’t say that the administration admitted the influx of funds to Iran will mean more money going to terror groups.

The question mentions “international inspectors” but doesn’t clarify that the deal doesn’t allow inspection of Iranian military sites, or that inspectors will have to wait 14 to 24 days to enter certain sites.

As for the section that “economic sanctions would be imposed again,” that’s not likely to happen.
He notes that a more neutral wording shifted support for the deal six points.

Robert D. Kaplan's essay on the problems facing Europe are a depressing catalog that refutes all the idealistic pipe dreams that Europeans had for their future when they formed the European Union.
For decades, the dream of the European Union was to become a post-national paradise of prosperity and the rule of law, and gradually, through various association agreements, extend the bounties of civil society to contiguous regions. Now the process is being reversed: The contiguous regions are exporting their instability into Europe itself. Eurasia, a super-continent of historic exoduses, is starting to reintegrate Europe.

This tumultuous process occurs as the social welfare state -- the moral answer of European elites to the carnage of the 20th century -- has become nearly impossible to sustain at its current level in some countries. The prolonged multi-year stagnation, exacerbated by bad monetary policy, has begot populist movements that will turn against the latest wave of refugees once the initial bout of public compassion runs its course. Extremely low economic growth, plus the inevitable incidents of crime and terror, will darken the popular mood soon enough. Europe's borders, rather than loosen as they have for decades, will tighten, with elements of the interior-ministry-designed-police-state asserting themselves in some countries. In a continent where nationality is still determined too much by blood and religion, calls will come for a Great Wall of sorts.

As Europe’s postmodern period commences, a fluid geography is reasserting itself and erasing the last remaining divisions of the Cold War. For it was the survival of totalitarian states in the Middle East and North Africa into the 21st century that helped keep the Islamic masses locked up and safely away from Europe. But as significant parts of the Middle East dissolve into anarchy, from Libya to Afghanistan, Fortress Europe is no more.

Since antiquity, it was often demographic and military eruptions from the east -- whether in the form of Persians, the various Gothic tribes, Slavs, Magyars, and others -- that changed the face of Europe. The challenge from the east is now double-edged: Moslem refugees and an aggressive Russia. Either Russia will remain strong and dangerous, or weak and dangerous. If Russia remains strong and dangerous, it will continue to undermine the government in Ukraine and may choose to ignite so-called frozen crises in places like Moldova and Lithuania. It will also serve as a pole of attraction for European populists who admire President Vladimir Putin's emphasis on ethnicity and revisionism. If Russia becomes weak and dangerous, we should expect even more virulent nationalism and anarchy within Russia itself. Because of Russia's increasingly perilous economic condition, what seems implausible today may become ordinary tomorrow. The post-communist states of east central Europe, with their relatively weak institutions, will bear the brunt of these upheavals.


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Jay Nordlinger has an amusing post about bumper stickers. There is no politician or policy proposal that I feel strongly enough about to put on my car. I always feel that there is a bit of moral preening with a lot of the ideological stickers. Near the beginning of the year, I have the students do a warm-up while I check homework where I give them a bunch of bumper sticker slogans and have them guess the ideology and/or party of the person on whose car they'd see those stickers. They love doing this though, since it's the beginning of the year and we haven't done much with ideology and parties yet, they have trouble understanding some of them. I guess it's an indication of young my students are (10th graders) that they're confused by these slogans:
11. “I thought socialism made sense, but then I turned 9”

“It will be a great day when our schools get all of the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.”

“Except for eliminating slavery, fascism, and communism, war never solved anything”

“Liberty through Strength”

"A Woman without a Man is like a Fish without a Bicycle"

“God made man and woman; Sam Colt made them equal.”
They have a lot of fun going over this activity and there are always some students who can explain the meaning to the rest.

Thomas Sowell explains why not everyone succeeds even when there is equality of opportunity. He covers this topic in his new book, Wealth, Poverty, and Politics: An International Perspective, his response to all the hubbub about income inequality.
Even if all the doors of opportunity are wide open, children raised with great amounts of parental care and attention are far more likely to be able to walk through those doors than children who have received much less attention. Why else do conscientious parents invest so much time and effort in raising their children? This is so obvious that you would have to be an intellectual to able to misconstrue it. Yet many among the intelligentsia equate differences in outcomes with differences in opportunity. A personal example may help clarify the difference.

As a teenager, I tried briefly to play basketball. But I was lucky to hit the backboard, much less the basket. Yet I had just as much opportunity to play basketball as Michael Jordan had. But equal opportunity was not nearly enough to create equal outcomes.

Nevertheless, many studies today conclude that different groups do not have equal opportunity or equal "access" to credit, or admission to selective colleges, or to many other things, because some groups are not successful in achieving their goal as often as other groups are.

The very possibility that not all groups have the same skills or other qualifications is seldom even mentioned, much less examined. But when people with low credit scores are not approved for loans as often as people with high credit scores, is that a lack of opportunity or a failure to meet standards?

....As for inequality of incomes, these depend on so many things -- including things that no government has control over -- that the obsession with statistical "gaps" or "disparities" that some call "inequities" is a major distraction from the more fundamental, and more achievable, goals of promoting a rising standard of living in general and greater opportunity for all.

There was never any serious reason to expect equal economic, educational or other outcomes, either between nations or within nations. "Wealth, Poverty and Politics" examines numerous demographic, geographic, cultural and other differences that make equal outcomes for all a very remote possibility.

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Andrew Malcolm looked at Trump's supposed big moment of making a "major national security speech" aboard the USS Iowa battleship. He had the venue and the attention of the media and the opportunity to demonstrate that he wasn't as clueless about the Middle East on the Hugh Hewitt show.
But no.

Instead, Trump improvised for 13 minutes, and most of what he said sounded like this:

“We are going to make our country so great. We are going to make it strong. We are going to make it powerful.“

....As I listened to the Donald speak aboard the USS Iowa, and as I talked to his fans, I began to realize that when he finally meets his inevitable end, he may not go out with a bang.

He’ll go out with a whimper.

Why? Because Trump’s greatest strength as a candidate is also his greatest weakness.

Before the battleship event, I walked up and down the long line of ticket holders— an estimated 800 supporters paid as much as $1,000 to behold the candidate in the flesh — and asked a simple question: What do you like most about Trump? Everybody gave me the same answer. Each person phrased it differently, but it all basically boiled down to one thing — the single characteristic, more than wealth, fame or narcissism, that best defines the Donald.

Disrespect.

Trump disrespects politics. He disrespects the process. He disrespects the rhetoric. He disrespects his fellow candidates. And his fans love that, because they really, really disrespect politics, too.

“It’s his frankness,” said Mark Gutierrez, a Marine Corp veteran and retired L.A. Water and Power employee. “He’s not worried about being politically correct. He’s just going to tell it like it is. The things that people are feeling, he’s saying.”

His wife, Darlene, nodded. “There’s too much political correctness,” she told me. “People are tired of listening to all these meek and regular promises that the candidates make every four years. Trump just says, ‘This is the way it’s going to be.’”

....“Because he doesn’t play the game,” John said. “Those other Republicans, they’re all politicians. They’ll do more damage to the country — just like they’ve been doing my entire life.”

All of which is serving Trump well enough for now. The problem is that there’s more to politics than process, rhetoric and candidates. In an angsty age like ours, you can disrespect all that stuff and thrive.

But politics is also about the voters. The minute you start to disrespect them — to patronize them, to condescend, to imply that they’re too dumb, or lazy, or prejudiced to care that you don’t know what you’re talking about — you’ve sealed your own fate.

And that’s what Trump began to do in his “major national security speech” Tuesday night aboard the USS Iowa.

Instead of laying out his plan to protect America from stateless terrorist threats, he simply insisted that “we’re going to make the military so strong, so great … I don’t think anybody is going to mess with us.”

Instead of describing how he would deal with Tehran and Moscow, he simply promised that with him, America is “going to have a president who is respected by Putin and respected by Iran.”

Instead of revealing how he is going to do away with our “$400 billion a year” trade deficit with China, he simply declared that “it’s not going to happen anymore.”

Instead of naming his foreign policy team, he said that “I have the smartest people in the country lined up.”

“I know they’re smart,” Trump added, “because they make good deals — like me!”

And instead of explaining why he will be able to bend the rest of the world to his will and his opponents won’t, he simply announced that “they’re never going to be able to do it. It’s an instinct. It’s something special.”

“They don’t have it,” Trump concluded. “Believe me.”

At the moment, Trump’s supporters believe him — and that’s enough for them. I also understand that withholding detail is nothing new for Trump. But the summer is ending, and the primary season is beginning. What if, with each passing week, all of Trump’s “major speeches” turn out to be more of the same old applause lines? What if every debate performance, every interview, provides more evidence that Trump doesn’t care to learn about the world he aspires to lead? And what if his endless insults begin to look less like passionate, un-PC outbursts than like a stale strategy to stay in the news? What then? You can only say everyone else is stupid so many times before the voters start to realize that you think they’re stupid, too.

....But enough people do care about being disrespected that, eventually, after most of the 16 other GOP contenders have bailed and the rest of the base has begun to coalesce around another candidate, Trump will likely fade.

I could already see this happening, in a microscopic way, aboard the USS Iowa. As Trump took the stage with a red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap atop his head, I shook hands with an Air Force veteran named Vicky Villalobos. She was the political equivalent of a unicorn: an informed swing voter who majored in international relations, who read the opinion pages “every day,” who “loved” Ronald Reagan, but who also wished Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein were running for president. And she was here, she said, “to give Donald Trump a chance — to see what he has to say about the issues.”

When the speech was done, I found Villalobos and asked what she thought.

She shook her head no. Then she walked off into the crowd.

commander of U.S. Central Command yesterday before the Senate Armed Services Committee is positively horrifying.
Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the general in charge of the war effort made clear that the U.S. strategy for arming “moderate” Syrian fighters had failed. Of the thousands of fighters they had hoped to train, just “four or five” are currently in the fight in Syria.

And with that, Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command, came under a blistering, bipartisan attack about the strategy in Syria and Iraq.

Senators called the strategy “a joke,” “an abject failure” and in deep need of revision. But neither Austin—testifying alongside Christine Wormuth, the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy—nor the critical senators had any better ideas.

And even as Central Command comes under investigation for allegations that intelligence was altered to offer a rosier picture of the campaign against ISIS, Austin appeared before the committee to give an essentially optimistic overview of the effort.

“Despite some slow movement at the tactical level, we continue to make progress across the battlespace in support of the broader U.S. government strategy to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL,” Austin told the assembled committee.
Who is going to believe that when he's also telling us this?
The 10-month, $500 million U.S. effort to train and equip moderate Syria had yielded a “small number” of fighters, Austin said, far short of the 15,000 planned over a three-year period.

“The ones that are in the fight, we are talking four or five,” Austin told the stunned committee.

The U.S. military has spent $43 million of the $500 million allotted by Congress, or roughly $9 million per fighter. (The U.S. had originally planned to have 5,400 fighters trained by now.) Wormuth said the U.S. military was considering alternative plans but refused to say what those plans were or when they may be rolled out.

“The new Syrian Force Program has gotten off to slow start,” Austin deadpanned, in response to the 5,395-man deficit in the number of fighters the U.S. hoped to train this year.
No wonder Russia has moved into this vacuum. Apparently, Pentagon observers were shocked at how badly General Austin's testimony went over. What would they expect with such facts to report.

Now they figure it out.
The former director of Norway's Nobel Institute revealed this week that he regrets the committee's decision to give the 2009 Nobel Peace award to President Obama.

Geil Lundestad, director at the institute for 25 years, said in his just-published memoir that he and the committee had unanimously decided to grant the award to Mr. Obama just after his election in 2009 more in hopes of aiding the American president to achieve his goals on nuclear disarmament, rather than in recognition of what Mr. Obama had already accomplished.

Looking back over Mr. Obama's presidency, Mr. Lundestad said, granting him the award did not fulfill the committee's expectations.

"[We] thought it would strengthen Obama and it didn't have this effect," he told the Associated Press in an interview.

The award so early in his term appeared to take the Obama White House by surprise, and Mr. Lundestad said U.S. officials privately asked if a Nobel Prize-winner had ever skipped the awards ceremony.

Normally the Nobel committee's decision regarding recipients remains private, and Mr. Lundestad's frank and revealing remarks regarding internal decisions have caused a stir in Norway, detailing the politicking and compromises that have gone into determining the annual laureate.

"Even many of Obama's supporters thought that the prize was a mistake," Mr. Lundestad said. In the book, he expressed regret that the decision had been based in a hope for the future rather than recognition of past accomplishments, and that their expectations for Mr. Obama were not fulfilled.
Well, that's just further evidence of how stupid the Nobel Peace Prize is. If they couldn't figure out that a prize given for prospective achievements rather than for actual achievements, then they're even more clueless about the world than I imagined. If you want to read a terrific book about the great and ludicrous choices made for the the Nobel Peace Prize, read Jay Nordlinger's book, "Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World"

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Jon Gabriel at Ricochet laments the debates that we're not having because of Donald Trump. So many of us were anticipating hearing the talented list of candidates running debate the issues.
Scott Walker would show how his gutsy union changes transformed a blue state, while Bobby Jindal shared how his school choice revolution changed Louisiana. Rick Perry could press his breathtaking jobs record and tell us how to “make Washington inconsequential in our lives.”

From the Senate, Tea Party constitutionalist Ted Cruz would bring the intellect, while Florida’s Marco Rubio brought the heart. Add Rand Paul to energize the growing conservatarian wing, and the trio would appeal to the young, minorities, and independents.

Moderate Chris Christie would reach out to northeastern voters once considered out of reach for the GOP while Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson added an outsiders’ perspective from the worlds of technology and medicine.

No more settling for uninspiring match-ups like Mitt Romney vs. Herman Cain, John McCain vs. Mike Huckabee, or Dubya vs. Alan Keyes. 2016 was going to be about Big Ideas on turning around a debt-ridden, war-weary, stagnant superpower. A policy wonk’s dream.

Even better, Republicans could finally laugh at the Democratic primary featuring a corrupt Clinton, a socialist Sanders, and a Bidenesque Biden. Imagine the contrast of tired old Democrats yelling about microaggressions and wiped email servers, as fresh, dynamic Republicans addressed high-level social and economic policy.
Instead we're reduced to debating these bons mots of Trump.
Trump on McCain: “I like people who weren’t captured”
Trump on Megyn Kelly: “There was blood coming out of her… wherever.”
Trump: Rick Perry “should be forced to take an IQ test” before debate
Trump is going to war with Scott Walker after being called “DumbDumb” by one of his supporters
Trump on Fiorina: “Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”
Trump on Heidi Klum: “She’s no longer a 10.”
It's all very dismaying. These are not the discussions fit for our times.
These are the lofty policy debates dominating the presidential election of a 21st century superpower. We aren’t discussing America’s $18.4 trillion national debt and our insolvent social programs. The stagnant economy and an expansionist China, Russia, and Islamic State. Burning cities at home and burning countries abroad.

Instead we’re trading GIFs of a reality show star on “The Tonight Show,” giggling about menstruation, and wondering if the most impressive GOP field in a generation are a bunch of “dummies” or if they’re a bunch of “losers.”

These are serious times. We are not a serious people.
Charles C. W. Cooke responds to those fans of Donald Trump who accuse conservative critics of Trump with not understanding how angry they are at the GOP establishment.
ere Donald Trump a staunch conservative but a little “rough around the edges,” his being used as a cudgel might make some sense. “We’re tired of your failure to deliver change,” his defenders might say, “and we’re tired of the impotent sheen that accrues to your preferred candidates. So we’re going to put in this guy and see if he does any better.” But Trump is not a staunch conservative — in fact, he’s not even close. Rather, he’s a self-interested narcissist and serial heretic whose entirely inchoate political platform bends cynically to the demands of the moment. While he has been running for president, he has praised single-payer health care, advocated campaign-speech restrictions, backed raising taxes, endorsed funding Planned Parenthood, and suggested that the entitlement crisis should be pretty much ignored — all positions that would have sunk any other hopeful. This matters. Why? Well, because his champions are contending that, because they are disappointed that Republicans often cave to progressivism while in office, they would be better off electing an outspoken progressive in the first instance — a preposterous position if I ever saw one. Leaving to one side that “caving sometimes” is better than “being an obvious fraud” (and it really, really is — an America without the flawed Republican party over the last decade is an America with higher taxes, card check, a carbon tax, gun control, no Justice Alito, a public option, universal pre-K, “free community college,” etc.), one has to ask this: If a large part of the Republican base really wants to “stick it” to the man, shouldn’t they choose an emissary with whom they agree?

....Other hastily assembled excuses include “he’s not a politician” — actually, he is now, and he should be treated as one; “he fights!” — yes dear, but for what exactly?; “he says what he thinks!” — yes, but you hate what he thinks; “Jeb!” — isnot the question at hand; and “he must be successful and accomplished and trustworthy because he’s rich,” which for some inexplicable reason did not get Mitt Romney off the hook three years ago. At times, it really can feel as if the whole thing is a cult and his apologists are members of a select group that simultaneously believes that it is in possession of the sole truth and suspects that that truth is too silly to explain at length. In this sense, talking to a Trump fan can be a little like talking to a Scientologist: to prod and to probe is to watch the eyes flicker and the lights switch on, and then to witness a reflexive doubling-down on the faith. How quickly does “Trump 2016!!” go to “I just like that he’s different.” How fast is the transition between “Go! Go! Go!” and “at least he says what he thinks.” Somewhere, deep down, the paucity of the argument is well understood. If one could only break through the machismo and make them understand . . .

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One of the subjects my students really enjoy analyzing is how the wording in poll questions can skew poll results. I have examples that I've been saving since the 1990s of such poorly written questions. Jim Geraghty points to one such question in the Washington Post about the Iran deal.
“As you may know, the U.S. and other countries have announced a deal to lift economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran agreeing not to produce nuclear weapons. International inspectors would monitor Iran’s facilities, and if Iran is caught breaking the agreement economic sanctions would be imposed again. Do you support or oppose this agreement?”

The Iran deal is complicated, and this wording just happens to emphasize the more appealing parts and neglects the unappealing parts. For example, the deal “lifts economic sanctions”… and gives Iran access to $55 billion to $150 billion in unfrozen assets, and the question doesn’t say that the administration admitted the influx of funds to Iran will mean more money going to terror groups.

The question mentions “international inspectors” but doesn’t clarify that the deal doesn’t allow inspection of Iranian military sites, or that inspectors will have to wait 14 to 24 days to enter certain sites.

As for the section that “economic sanctions would be imposed again,” that’s not likely to happen.
He notes that a more neutral wording shifted support for the deal six points.

Robert D. Kaplan's essay on the problems facing Europe are a depressing catalog that refutes all the idealistic pipe dreams that Europeans had for their future when they formed the European Union.
For decades, the dream of the European Union was to become a post-national paradise of prosperity and the rule of law, and gradually, through various association agreements, extend the bounties of civil society to contiguous regions. Now the process is being reversed: The contiguous regions are exporting their instability into Europe itself. Eurasia, a super-continent of historic exoduses, is starting to reintegrate Europe.

This tumultuous process occurs as the social welfare state -- the moral answer of European elites to the carnage of the 20th century -- has become nearly impossible to sustain at its current level in some countries. The prolonged multi-year stagnation, exacerbated by bad monetary policy, has begot populist movements that will turn against the latest wave of refugees once the initial bout of public compassion runs its course. Extremely low economic growth, plus the inevitable incidents of crime and terror, will darken the popular mood soon enough. Europe's borders, rather than loosen as they have for decades, will tighten, with elements of the interior-ministry-designed-police-state asserting themselves in some countries. In a continent where nationality is still determined too much by blood and religion, calls will come for a Great Wall of sorts.

As Europe’s postmodern period commences, a fluid geography is reasserting itself and erasing the last remaining divisions of the Cold War. For it was the survival of totalitarian states in the Middle East and North Africa into the 21st century that helped keep the Islamic masses locked up and safely away from Europe. But as significant parts of the Middle East dissolve into anarchy, from Libya to Afghanistan, Fortress Europe is no more.

Since antiquity, it was often demographic and military eruptions from the east -- whether in the form of Persians, the various Gothic tribes, Slavs, Magyars, and others -- that changed the face of Europe. The challenge from the east is now double-edged: Moslem refugees and an aggressive Russia. Either Russia will remain strong and dangerous, or weak and dangerous. If Russia remains strong and dangerous, it will continue to undermine the government in Ukraine and may choose to ignite so-called frozen crises in places like Moldova and Lithuania. It will also serve as a pole of attraction for European populists who admire President Vladimir Putin's emphasis on ethnicity and revisionism. If Russia becomes weak and dangerous, we should expect even more virulent nationalism and anarchy within Russia itself. Because of Russia's increasingly perilous economic condition, what seems implausible today may become ordinary tomorrow. The post-communist states of east central Europe, with their relatively weak institutions, will bear the brunt of these upheavals.


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Jay Nordlinger has an amusing post about bumper stickers. There is no politician or policy proposal that I feel strongly enough about to put on my car. I always feel that there is a bit of moral preening with a lot of the ideological stickers. Near the beginning of the year, I have the students do a warm-up while I check homework where I give them a bunch of bumper sticker slogans and have them guess the ideology and/or party of the person on whose car they'd see those stickers. They love doing this though, since it's the beginning of the year and we haven't done much with ideology and parties yet, they have trouble understanding some of them. I guess it's an indication of young my students are (10th graders) that they're confused by these slogans:
11. “I thought socialism made sense, but then I turned 9”

“It will be a great day when our schools get all of the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.”

“Except for eliminating slavery, fascism, and communism, war never solved anything”

“Liberty through Strength”

"A Woman without a Man is like a Fish without a Bicycle"

“God made man and woman; Sam Colt made them equal.”
They have a lot of fun going over this activity and there are always some students who can explain the meaning to the rest.

Thomas Sowell explains why not everyone succeeds even when there is equality of opportunity. He covers this topic in his new book, Wealth, Poverty, and Politics: An International Perspective, his response to all the hubbub about income inequality.
Even if all the doors of opportunity are wide open, children raised with great amounts of parental care and attention are far more likely to be able to walk through those doors than children who have received much less attention. Why else do conscientious parents invest so much time and effort in raising their children? This is so obvious that you would have to be an intellectual to able to misconstrue it. Yet many among the intelligentsia equate differences in outcomes with differences in opportunity. A personal example may help clarify the difference.

As a teenager, I tried briefly to play basketball. But I was lucky to hit the backboard, much less the basket. Yet I had just as much opportunity to play basketball as Michael Jordan had. But equal opportunity was not nearly enough to create equal outcomes.

Nevertheless, many studies today conclude that different groups do not have equal opportunity or equal "access" to credit, or admission to selective colleges, or to many other things, because some groups are not successful in achieving their goal as often as other groups are.

The very possibility that not all groups have the same skills or other qualifications is seldom even mentioned, much less examined. But when people with low credit scores are not approved for loans as often as people with high credit scores, is that a lack of opportunity or a failure to meet standards?

....As for inequality of incomes, these depend on so many things -- including things that no government has control over -- that the obsession with statistical "gaps" or "disparities" that some call "inequities" is a major distraction from the more fundamental, and more achievable, goals of promoting a rising standard of living in general and greater opportunity for all.

There was never any serious reason to expect equal economic, educational or other outcomes, either between nations or within nations. "Wealth, Poverty and Politics" examines numerous demographic, geographic, cultural and other differences that make equal outcomes for all a very remote possibility.

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Andrew Malcolm looked at Trump's supposed big moment of making a "major national security speech" aboard the USS Iowa battleship. He had the venue and the attention of the media and the opportunity to demonstrate that he wasn't as clueless about the Middle East on the Hugh Hewitt show.
But no.

Instead, Trump improvised for 13 minutes, and most of what he said sounded like this:

“We are going to make our country so great. We are going to make it strong. We are going to make it powerful.“

....As I listened to the Donald speak aboard the USS Iowa, and as I talked to his fans, I began to realize that when he finally meets his inevitable end, he may not go out with a bang.

He’ll go out with a whimper.

Why? Because Trump’s greatest strength as a candidate is also his greatest weakness.

Before the battleship event, I walked up and down the long line of ticket holders— an estimated 800 supporters paid as much as $1,000 to behold the candidate in the flesh — and asked a simple question: What do you like most about Trump? Everybody gave me the same answer. Each person phrased it differently, but it all basically boiled down to one thing — the single characteristic, more than wealth, fame or narcissism, that best defines the Donald.

Disrespect.

Trump disrespects politics. He disrespects the process. He disrespects the rhetoric. He disrespects his fellow candidates. And his fans love that, because they really, really disrespect politics, too.

“It’s his frankness,” said Mark Gutierrez, a Marine Corp veteran and retired L.A. Water and Power employee. “He’s not worried about being politically correct. He’s just going to tell it like it is. The things that people are feeling, he’s saying.”

His wife, Darlene, nodded. “There’s too much political correctness,” she told me. “People are tired of listening to all these meek and regular promises that the candidates make every four years. Trump just says, ‘This is the way it’s going to be.’”

....“Because he doesn’t play the game,” John said. “Those other Republicans, they’re all politicians. They’ll do more damage to the country — just like they’ve been doing my entire life.”

All of which is serving Trump well enough for now. The problem is that there’s more to politics than process, rhetoric and candidates. In an angsty age like ours, you can disrespect all that stuff and thrive.

But politics is also about the voters. The minute you start to disrespect them — to patronize them, to condescend, to imply that they’re too dumb, or lazy, or prejudiced to care that you don’t know what you’re talking about — you’ve sealed your own fate.

And that’s what Trump began to do in his “major national security speech” Tuesday night aboard the USS Iowa.

Instead of laying out his plan to protect America from stateless terrorist threats, he simply insisted that “we’re going to make the military so strong, so great … I don’t think anybody is going to mess with us.”

Instead of describing how he would deal with Tehran and Moscow, he simply promised that with him, America is “going to have a president who is respected by Putin and respected by Iran.”

Instead of revealing how he is going to do away with our “$400 billion a year” trade deficit with China, he simply declared that “it’s not going to happen anymore.”

Instead of naming his foreign policy team, he said that “I have the smartest people in the country lined up.”

“I know they’re smart,” Trump added, “because they make good deals — like me!”

And instead of explaining why he will be able to bend the rest of the world to his will and his opponents won’t, he simply announced that “they’re never going to be able to do it. It’s an instinct. It’s something special.”

“They don’t have it,” Trump concluded. “Believe me.”

At the moment, Trump’s supporters believe him — and that’s enough for them. I also understand that withholding detail is nothing new for Trump. But the summer is ending, and the primary season is beginning. What if, with each passing week, all of Trump’s “major speeches” turn out to be more of the same old applause lines? What if every debate performance, every interview, provides more evidence that Trump doesn’t care to learn about the world he aspires to lead? And what if his endless insults begin to look less like passionate, un-PC outbursts than like a stale strategy to stay in the news? What then? You can only say everyone else is stupid so many times before the voters start to realize that you think they’re stupid, too.

....But enough people do care about being disrespected that, eventually, after most of the 16 other GOP contenders have bailed and the rest of the base has begun to coalesce around another candidate, Trump will likely fade.

I could already see this happening, in a microscopic way, aboard the USS Iowa. As Trump took the stage with a red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap atop his head, I shook hands with an Air Force veteran named Vicky Villalobos. She was the political equivalent of a unicorn: an informed swing voter who majored in international relations, who read the opinion pages “every day,” who “loved” Ronald Reagan, but who also wished Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein were running for president. And she was here, she said, “to give Donald Trump a chance — to see what he has to say about the issues.”

When the speech was done, I found Villalobos and asked what she thought.

She shook her head no. Then she walked off into the crowd.
John Sides has a perceptive column about the role of the media in the surges of Trump and Carson.
Trump does appear to be “resonating” with some Republican voters. And of course the media didn’t “create” him from whole cloth — which is, and now I’ll be a bit disagreeable, a straw man argument that has been used before by others defending the news media. (Nevertheless, I’d argue that media coverage had much to do with his fame prior to his campaign.)

But the question is: How did Trump come to resonate? Because he’s run a bunch of ads? Nope. He’s barely run any ads.

Because we all follow him on Twitter? Nope. Given how few people are on Twitter, his supporters easily outnumber his Twitter followers, if we extrapolate from his poll numbers.

Because he has super powers that allow him to directly transmit his classiness to our frontal lobes?

Okay, I kid. But without ads or super powers, there has to be another means by which Trump comes to “resonate.” In this case, it is because voters have had the opportunity to hear about him in the news media, and hear much more about him than the other Republican candidates.

That could change. I’d disagree with Chris again: The media could help bring Trump down. They could do it via closer and constant scrutiny. Perhaps Trump will help them here if he stumbles (or is perceived to). The media could also bring Trump down by “discovering” a different candidate. As I wrote before, “the media giveth, and the media can taketh away.”

I guess my biggest frustration here is that, at times, some in the media seem to think that they have no agency in politics. I don’t necessarily mean that Chris thinks that. But this is an implication I’ve heard or perceived before from others.

The problem with this belief is that it imagines that politics just “happens,” and all the media do is report it and comment on it. And certainly that’s a fair description, at least sometimes.

But at other times, you can see reporters discussing the campaign “narrative” as if it came from angels who floated down to earth on gossamer wings, clutching a sacred scroll that, once unfurled, told us The Narrative.

In fact, the news media collectively write the narrative. In so doing, they make many, many choices about how much to cover events and candidates during a campaign, and how to cover them.

Those choices have consequences. They’ve certainly had consequences for Donald Trump.

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