Inverted world redux

July 29th, 2014

Bret Stephens:

Israel is culpable because (a) it won’t accept a Palestinian government that includes a terrorist organization sworn to the Jewish state’s destruction; (b) it won’t help that organization out of its financial jam; and (c) it won’t ease a quasi-blockade—jointly imposed with Egypt—on a territory whose central economic activity appears to be building rocket factories and pouring imported concrete into terrorist tunnels. This is either bald moral idiocy or thinly veiled bigotry. It mistakes effect for cause, treats self-respect as arrogance and self-defense as aggression, and makes demands of the Jewish state that would be dismissed out of hand anywhere else.

Jonathan Chait: “I still find myself far more sympathetic to Israel than to Hamas.” That’s nice. VDH has more.

Inversions

July 28th, 2014

How strange. We now live in a world where the editorial line of the Washington Post is more or less unfit to appear in the HuffPo when it comes to Gaza. More at the WaPo and at PL on our inverted world. BTW, we thought Wretchard was getting a little too dramatic when he transitioned from the various wars to Ebola — then we saw that the CDC is stonewalling USA Today regarding the failures of its medical “do not board” rule for airlines. That’s reassuring! Have a nice day.

Era of potential realignments

July 27th, 2014

Haaretz, of all places:

The draft Kerry passed to Israel on Friday shocked the cabinet ministers not only because it was the opposite of what Kerry told them less than 24 hours earlier, but mostly because it might as well have been penned by Khaled Meshal. It was everything Hamas could have hoped for.

The document recognized Hamas’ position in the Gaza Strip, promised the organization billions in donation funds and demanded no dismantling of rockets, tunnels or other heavy weaponry at Hamas’ disposal. The document placed Israel and Hamas on the same level, as if the first is not a primary U.S. ally and as if the second isn’t a terror group which overtook part of the Palestinian Authority in a military coup and fired thousands of rockets at Israel.

On Saturday, the State Department distributed photos of Kerry’s meeting with Qatar and Turkey’s foreign ministers in Paris. The three appear jovial and happy-go-lucky. Other photographs show Kerry carousing romantically with the Turkish foreign minister in the pastoral grounds of the U.S. ambassador’s home in Paris, as if the Turkish official’s prime minister didn’t just say a few days ago that Israel is 10 times worse than Hitler.

The secretary of state’s draft empowered the most radical and problematic elements in the region – Qatar, Turkey, and Hamas – and was a slap on the face to the rapidly forming camp of Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, who have many shared interests. What Kerry’s draft spells for the internal Palestinian political arena is even direr: It crowns Hamas and issues Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with a death warrant.

It’s not clear what Kerry was thinking when he presented this draft. It’s unclear what he had in mind when he convened the Paris summit. It can only be seen as surreal. Along with foreign ministers from Europe’s major nations Kerry greeted with regal honors Hamas’ Qatari and Turkish patrons, ignoring what Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority might have had to say.

Wow, Israel’s NYT slams the administration hard. And in other news, the crazed illegal immigration situation draws large protests in Massachusetts, and elsewhere among traditionally loyal D’s. In some ways our current situation is a disaster, but it does open the door for realignments among people who can think like adults.

Bonus fun: Netanyahu goes off on the nutty Presbyterians.

Then and now

July 26th, 2014

A president 100 years ago:

I don’t like the way the colors of this furniture fight each other. The greens and the reds are all mixed up here and there is no harmony. Here is a big purpose, high-backed covered chair, which is like the Purple Cow, strayed off to itself

Could the modern version be “the bear is loose?” Bonus question: what do the Pope and the governments of Great Britain, Italy and Canada have in common? Sigh.

Why not promote them………and other matters

July 25th, 2014

Jim Fox, the leader of the Mid-Iowa Boy Scout Troop 111:

The scouts and their leaders were on a 21-day trek from Iowa to Alaska – a trip that had been three years in the planning. As their vans were moving through a checkpoint into the United States, one of the scouts snapped a photograph. Agents stopped the van and ordered all the passengers to get out. They told the underage photographer that he had committed a federal crime. It was unclear which agency with the Department of Homeland Security’s CBP agency was involved in the incident. “The agent immediately confiscated his camera, informed him he would be arrested, fined possibly $10,000 and ten years in prison,” Fox told Des Moines television station KCCI. During the search, one of the scouts tried to retrieve a bag from the roof carrier. When he turned around, Fox said an agent had a loaded pistol pointed at the child. “He heard a snap of the holster, turns around, and here’s this agent, both hands on a loaded pistol, pointing at the young man’s head,” Fox told the television station. The scoutmaster wrote a detailed account of the incident on his Facebook page. He said he tried to watch the agents search the van but was ordered to return to his vehicle. An agent followed him and told the youngsters “that the next one to leave the van would be handcuffed and detained.” “The agent in charge informed me of the potential charges against (the) scout and informed me it is a violation of federal law for any American to take a picture of a federal agent or any federal building,” Fox wrote. Fox said he and another member of the troop were interrogated by agents – forced to answer questions about their background. They also wanted to know why the Boy Scouts were hauling “excessive amounts of lighters, matches and knives,” Fox said. After a lengthy delay, the Scouts were released

Too bad they were released, or we’d might recommend that the agents be promoted 1500 miles south to stem this disaster. And in other news, “killing bald and golden eagles remains a felony punishable by a $250,000 fine and prison time…In 2009, the agency first instituted a permit system to allow exemptions from prosecution—for five years—for wind farms and certain other projects that inadvertently harm or kill eagles. Last year, it extended the duration of permits for ‘non-purposeful take of eagles’ to 30 years.”

Final thoughts: Joan Rivers, and in lighter fare, “By Grabthar’s Hammer…what a savings.”

Tranquility Base

July 24th, 2014

No, not that Tranquility Base of 45 years ago. (Amazing how quickly going to the moon made for boring TV.) Bob Tyrell describes our new tranquility base, and the twist is that he’s actually a little hopey changey himself, certainly more than Mark Steyn, who sees endless violent cycles of Lather, Rinse, Repeat ad infinitum. (BTW, he displays a picture that really is worth a thousand words.) Bonus fun: Roger Simon discusses the lovely UN that gets $6-7 billion or more a year from us. Bonus question: how many refugee camps can you name that are older than the states of Alaska and Hawaii, and the countries Tanzania and Republic of Congo? Is the number more or less than the total number of countries in Africa? Guess first then peek.

Final comment: Baba Booey!

Let’s change the subject

July 23rd, 2014

Jalopnik:

On assignment for the Wall Street Journal, I was in San Francisco to drive the original Bullitt chase scene in a new, 2011 Ford Mustang V6. In the passenger seat was Loren Janes, the fabled Hollywood stuntman and McQueen double who had driven the movie’s most exciting scenes. Loren had graciously flown up from Burbank for the day to take the ride. What’s more, I had a CD of the Bullitt soundtrack to set the mood. The result is in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal.

Loren is a very level-headed guy who spent years doing crazy things for a living. Really crazy things. He pulled off hair-raising stunts in more than 500 movies-nearly all of them household names. He also has added excitement to more than 2,100 TV episodes. You realize that without guys like Loren, movies over the past 50 years would be rather static. When I asked Loren if anything scares him, Loren said matter-of-factly: “Not really. I’m asked that often. I’m not really afraid of anything, and I’ve never broken a bone. I’ve been a gymnast, a Marine, a diver and Olympic athlete, which was great preparation for stunt work. I was always comfortable in the air.”

Today’s post isn’t about jazz, but it’s certainly about cool. For those who share my fascination with Bullitt or have always been curious about stuntmen, especially those who began their careers in the early 1950s, here’s what Loren said to me during our conversation leading up to our drive on Sunday:

“I first met Steve McQueen while working on the TV show ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.’ Steve was the star. Apparently, there had been two stuntmen there Steve didn’t like, and they were both fired. They called me because they had scenes to film and I lived about five minutes from the studio.



“When I showed up on the set, I walked past Steve, who was sitting around. We were both taken with how much we looked like each other. He asked me to get him a coffee. I wasn’t happy that he was treating me like a gofer. I walked up to him and said, ‘I’m going to make you look better than you can make yourself look. Just don’t blow my close-ups.’



“As I walked away, I could hear him scream to the director or someone, ‘Fire him.’ Apparently they had said to him in response, ‘No, no, he has to do the stunt first. We’ll fire him after if you want.’ 



“When it was time to do the first stunt, the coordinator told me Steve wanted it done as athletic as possible — meaning realistic and seemingly impossible. The stunt called for me to go through a low window in a barn, roll off the ground, leap up, vault over two horses, land on Steve’s animal and ride off.

“I spent some time walking the set to make sure the ground was clean and that there were no surprises. I moved the horses a little closer together and moved a rock that I could use to spring off to go over the horses.



”When the director yelled, ‘Action!,’ I went through the window, did my somersault, ran 15 feet to the horses, leaped over two of them, landed on Steve’s horse and took off. Steve couldn’t believe it. I worked out daily on parallel bars and other gymnastic equipment in my backyard, so vaulting over the horses wasn’t a problem.



“On my way back, I brought him a coffee, and he laughed. From that day forward I worked with him on every movie he made, including his last, The Hunter, in 1980, where I had to hang off the Chicago elevated train traveling at 55 mph.

Bullitt is on TCM today, and TCM is one of the few best hopes for a revival of the American values of several centuries. What would you prefer, VDH links to the upending of obvious choices between good and evil?

Moral clarity, one way or the other

July 22nd, 2014

Benjamin Netanyahu:

Who wants civilian casualties? Who wants to accelerate and escalate? We’re forced to do it. And what would you do? What would anybody do? You know, you just have to put yourself in Israel’s place. And if you’re a leader, put yourself in my place. And ask a simple question, what would you do?

If you look at the historical antecedents, the answer is very clear. Israel is acting with great restraint because there’s no other country that’s been rocketed like this, with thousands of rockets. We’ve just had close to 2,000 rockets and mortars in the last few days, on every — just about every one of our cities…

Well, the only parallel, history parallel is Britain, rocketed by the Nazis in World War II. I don’t — you know, if we start drawing parallels, what Britain did compared to what we do, we’ve been showing a hell of a lot of restraint. So if there is any complaints, and there should be, about civilian deaths that they belong, the responsibility and the blame belongs in one place, Hamas. I don’t think anyone should get that wrong…

you know, in the Middle East, it takes two to tango, sometimes three and maybe four. The point is that there’s one side that is clearly bent on escalation and one side, that is Israel, that is bent on defending its people, as any country would under similar circumstances…

I’ll tell you what my experiences have been. I’ve been in war. I’ve been in battle. And when you take a surgical operation, you can’t guarantee when your soldiers are being fired from Hamas homes, that is, Hamas is targeting people with — from private homes. And you hit them back. Of course, some people are going to be hurt. That’s totally different from deliberately targeting them. We asked these civilians, before we went in, we said, please leave. We text them. We call them on cell phones. We drop leaflets. We told them where to go. And those who left were safe.

Now, those who didn’t leave, you know what they didn’t leave? Because Hamas told them to be there, because Hamas, while we try to avoid Palestinian civilian dead, Hamas wants Palestinian civilian dead. The more the better, so they can give you telegenic fodder. So this is the cruelest, most grotesque war that I’ve ever seen. I mean not only does Hamas target civilians, ours, and hides behind their civilians, theirs, it actually wants to pile up as many civilian deaths as possible.

Meanwhile, you have the NYT (HT: Noah Pollak), Code Pink, and many others — ah yes, the anonymous “youths” have reappeared — arrayed against Israel. Strange times indeed to find ourselves, Alan Dershowitz and Bill Maher on the same page.

4 years and 2300 words ago

July 21st, 2014

An analysis in Forbes by a McKinsey specialist in banking and a professor at BU found fault with the Dodd-Frank finance bill, whose anniversary is today. It doesn’t cover the things it needs to cover with clarity and simplicity, and it includes micro-managing of everything from Congolese minerals to Chinese drywall:

Hello Dodd-Frank — the most comprehensive rewrite of financial rules since 1933. This 2,319-page colossus — 10 times the length of Glass-Steagall — took 1.5 years to produce and will cost $30 billion and many more years to implement. Will all this time and treasure make Wall Street safe for Main Street? No.

Dodd-Frank is a full-employment act for regulators that addresses everything but the root causes of the financial collapse. It serves up a dog’s breakfast covering proprietary trading, consumer financial protection, derivatives trading, executive pay, credit card fees, whistle-blowers, minority inclusion and Congolese minerals. Dodd-Frank also mandates 68 new studies of carbon markets, Chinese drywalls, and person-to-person lending, and many other irrelevancies.

None of this deals with the central problem — Wall Street’s ability to hide behind claims of proprietary information to facilitate the production and sale of trillions of dollars in securities whose true values are almost impossible for outsiders to determine…With no way to independently verify, in real time, the precise nature of financial firms’ assets and liabilities, they are all vulnerable to panics by investors, counterparties, and depositors, based on rumors and speculation as well as fact.

The resulting serial collapse of Wall Street behemoths, in turn, led Uncle Sam to step in and issue his own brand of increasingly hard-to-value securities — some $24 trillion (according to Neal Barofsky, Congress’ TARP watchdog) in contingent guarantees to all manner of financial companies. This is a colossal liability, almost twice U.S. gross domestic product. If another massive bank run hit Wall Street–say, next week–Uncle Sam would be forced to print trillions to cover these guarantees. The prospect of getting paid back in watered-down dollars might then lead people to run even faster to the banks, to get their money and buy something tangible before prices skyrocket. Ultimately, Uncle Sam’s guarantees are only worth what they are written on — paper.

So Uncle Sam didn’t lead us out of the woods; he led us deeper into the woods. While he (temporarily) saved Wall Street, he may have gravely endangered Main Street. Meanwhile, many major players on Wall Street have been laughing all the way from their banks.

“Dodd-Frank rulemaking by various agencies has already resulted in more than three million words in the Federal Register, though most of the 387 mandated sets of rules have not even been put forth.” You won’t be surprised to learn that the regs still are not complete.

45 years ago

July 20th, 2014

Pretty exciting for black and white TV.

Planning and execution in the 2014 narrative

July 19th, 2014

A US Government solicitation from the GSA posted Jan 29, 2014 planned for the big jump in UACs:

Procurement Type: Request for Information (RFI)/Sources Sought
Title: Escort Services for Unaccompanied Alien Children

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has a continuing and mission critical responsibility for accepting custody of Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) from U.S. Border Patrol and other Federal agencies and transporting these juveniles to Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) shelters…

There will be approximately 65,000 UAC in total: 25% local ground transport, 25% via ICE charter and 50% via commercial air…the following two circumstances may occur: (1) The contractor could initially provide transportation services only in the Southwest Region of the U.S. for those juveniles who are apprehended in the state of Texas; or, (2) The Contractor may be required to provide transportation services for all juveniles who are in DHS custody throughout the continental U.S.

So there was a plan in January 2014 to bring 65,000 unaccompanied alien children (UACs) to Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) shelters. What is the ORR?

Office of Refugee Resettlement
The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) gives new populations the opportunity to maximize their potential in the United States. ORR’s programs provide people in need with critical resources to assist them in becoming integrated members of American society, such as cash, social services, and medical assistance.

So all of this was supposed to work out nicely on TV screens across the land, and to the electoral benefit of the media’s allies, with the government compassionately caring for our adorable small fellow citizens. It’s interesting to watch the political-media machine at the meta-level, seeing how the narrative for an election year is scripted and constructed. This one planned for 65,000 child refugees, initially starting in Texas, but then being dispersed throughout the United States. That’s of course exactly what has happened.

The objectives were well chosen: (a) legislation that would give the administration a big win; or (b) in the event of a loss, an effective cudgel to beat their opponents with. We met Eric Cantor at a small gathering earlier this year, and we think the chances of “getting something done” were pretty good. He was supposed to win his primary in the same week as Lindsey Graham, and that was going to provide momentum for a deal. When Cantor lost, surprisingly and decisively, that killed the prospect of a deal, so back to the narrative.

Unfortunately, as we’ve previously noted, while this crew has been outstanding at creating and sustaining the arc of the political-media narrative, it is lousy at tasks requiring executive skill. Ultimately, this makes their team look somewhere between silly and deranged, at least to those who are paying attention to facts, not narrative.

Andy McCarthy is in high dudgeon about all of this. We’re more interested in how many people are still fooled by the TV show, since global events are almost uniformly off-script. It’s a sad state of affairs to be governed by fiction writers while the world is demonstrating that it is not a sitcom.

Check back in 2016

July 18th, 2014

Commentary:

almost everyone agrees that there is very little chance of the Taliban’s capturing any Afghan city, let alone Kabul, after the departure of ISAF forces later this year. They do control large areas of certain provinces, but they lack the capacity and perhaps even the desire to take any of the country’s cities.

Okay then, that’s settled. But just to be on the safe side, let’s check back in 2016, which will be ten years after this story.

That mysterious bond market rally explained

July 17th, 2014

WSJ:

Investors wrestling with the mysterious U.S. bond rally of 2014 got a clue about where to look: China…The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note has fallen to 2.54%, from 3% at the end of 2013…

The Chinese government boosted its official holdings of Treasury debt maturing in more than a year by $107.21 billion in the first five months of 2014…Japan, the second-largest foreign owner of Treasury bonds, increased its note and bondholdings by $9.56 billion… the Treasury report isn’t a complete picture because it doesn’t account for China’s holdings at third-party custody institutions in other nations, such as the U.K. and Belgium…

China’s foreign-exchange reserves currently approach $4 trillion, the world’s biggest in size. China doesn’t disclose the composition of the reserves, but analysts say most are denominated in U.S. dollars…

“The big picture is that China buying may be helping to keep bond yields lower than they should be ahead of the Fed moving closer to raising rates,” said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ. “The market could wake up and get quite a shock…if China changes course.” The risk for the U.S. economy, said Mr. Rupkey, is that any slowdown in Chinese purchases could push U.S. bond and mortgage rates higher, which would put “the fragile housing recovery in jeopardy.”

There’s an economic reason for China to be doing this of course. But you do have to wonder if it’s part of another strategy as well. We’ve seen China jab and retreat in Vietnam, and then there’s Japan. Wheels within wheels is our guess.

Today’s short quiz

July 16th, 2014

What’s missing from this story? Oh yeah, this.

Looking backwards

July 15th, 2014

Consider the remarkable changes of the last 130 years:

Some signal facts of our progress in the last century. If you were born in 1900, your life expectancy was in the forties, and GNP per capita was about $4000. If you are born today, your life expectancy in about eighty, and statistically, as an average American, you are ten times richer. In reality you are a hundred or a thousand times richer, if you factor in your ability to be in Paris tomorrow for $1000, your ability to watch events from fifty years ago as they actually happened, etc. – not to mention that your toddler’s severe pneumonia can be reliably cured in 48 hours or so. Only a little of this has to do with government.

Mostly it is because perhaps more than 50% of everything ever invented in the history of humanity was invented in the last 130 years, and perhaps 50% of that was invented by Americans. Milton Hershey invented the candy bar, Carrier invented the air conditioner for a tire plant, Sears invented catalogue distribution, Henry Ford invented cheap cars, some guys from Bell Labs invented, and some others from TI commercialized, the transistor. It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of the invention and wide use of brand names, which communicate the quality and dependability of every product we buy. This alone deserves a Nobel Prize. And it was a large and growing market, the availability of risk capital, the development of standardized accounting principles, and protection of intellectual and personal property by the courts that made this possible.

We are at the end of an era; soon, there will be no one in America who remembers what life was like without telephones, running water, indoor plumbing, cars, airplanes, central heating, or electric lights; for our purposes here, we’ll include the children and grandchildren of these men and women as participating in a chain of continuity to those old days. One of our favorite quotes from Henry Adams is apt: “The American boy of 1854 stood closer to the year 1 than to the year 1900.” Soon, almost no one in America will have a visceral understanding of what 1854 was like, and what the heck Adams was talking about.

Then and now

July 14th, 2014

Within the lifetime and personal memories of many Americans still living, most everyone knew farmers and soldiers. As late as America’s entry into World War I, over 42% of Americans still lived on farms. Your grandparents knew farmers and soldiers. It’s hard not to know a farmer or have spent time on a farm when 4 out of 10 of your countrymen lived their lives in agriculture.

Similarly, everyone knew soldiers not so long ago. WWI drafted 2.8 million Americans, when America only had 50 million men in total. WWII took 10 million draftees, and there were 3.4 million between Korea and Vietnam. One way of looking at Vietnam, for example, is that the draftees were as many as all boys in the United States who turned 18 in 1970 — a pretty large group of Baby Boomers. And none of these figures include the men who enlisted — surprisingly, perhaps, the total number of Vietnam veterans is over 2,500,000. So for a long time in America it has been true that most Americans knew something of farming and the military in a direct personal way.

No longer. As a statistical matter today, there are almost no new soldiers or farmers in America. Annual military recruits amount to 175,000 a year and decreasing in a country of over 300,000,000. And it’s even worse in agriculture. There are lilterally almost no new farmers in America today. At the time of WWII, farming still occupied 18% of the labor force – it’s less than 2% today. Every single year America loses more farmers than it creates. Many (perhaps most?) young Americans probably have not one single friend who becomes a farmer or soldier today. This probably won’t change on the agriculture side; however, with the way things are going in the world, with the chaos and the aggressive military budget cutting, it is possible. perhaps even likely, that things might happen to halt the trend on the military side.

Over at the book nook

July 13th, 2014

Here’s a review of The Jet Set by Liz Smith, who thought it was fabulous. Here’s one in the WaPo by Jonathan Yardley, who not only detested the book but said the much-published author, a friend of ours, “can’t write.” Stadiem isn’t the only one belittled by Yardley; so was “Juan Trippe, who constructed Pan Am out of whole cloth and eventually presided over its demise, though he was influential in opening international jet travel to those who sat in what he called ‘tourist class’.” In fact the fascinating and complicated pioneering airline Pan Am existed from 1927 to 1991; Trippe died in 1981. Ah well.

Update. On CBS Sunday Morning in an author roundtable, Lee Child mentioned Jet Set as a book he recently enjoyed; Bill said it produced a notable increase in sales on Amazon. The most dramatic recent example of this of course is when the clever use of the Costco kerfuffle sent America to number one overnight at Amazon.

It’s le-lak, not namrepus

July 12th, 2014

As you may know, you get back from Mr. Mxyztplk’s planet by saying your name backwards. Backwards indeed. It’s Opposite Day every day now. And we do indeed live in Bizarro World. All of which brings us to this Jonah Goldberg piece. Very puzzling how someone can go through life this way.

Or maybe not. Here’s a fellow who says US foreign policy is going swimmingly in many areas, and that it’s your own fault if people lie to you. Bizarro World indeed.

Fasten your seatbelts

July 11th, 2014

A spokesman for the border patrol’s labor union:

The aliens who are getting released on their own recognizance are being allowed to board and travel commercial airliners by simply showing their Notice to Appear forms…This is not the CBP or another federal agency renting or leasing an aircraft, these are the same planes that the American public uses for domestic travel…we are allowing them to travel commercially using paperwork that could easily be reproduced or manipulated on any home computer. The Notice to Appear form has no photo, anyone can make one and manipulate one. They do not have any security features, no watermark, nothing.

They are simply printed on standard copy paper based on the information the illegal alien says is the truth…We do not know who these people are, we often have to solely rely on who they say they are, where they say they came from, and the history they say they have. We know nothing about most of them, ICE releases them into the American public, and now they are boarding aircraft at will with a simple paper document that anyone can easily alter or reproduce themselves

This should end well, yes? (Meanwhile….)

Rare and meaningful opportunity

July 10th, 2014

Read this and watch this and this. If this isn’t an opportunity, what is? What’s that we hear, crickets?