Discomforting Urgency

In this movement exists a kind of urgency that only proximity to terror can produce, and yes, that urgency can be extreme and discomforting, because it must be. The sedative of all normalcies and niceties are the enemies so long as lives are in danger.

— Charles Blow, “Activists ‘Feel the Bern’?

This week’s featured post is “Why BLM Protesters Can’t Behave“.

This week everybody was talking about China

for two reasons: the massive chemical explosion in Tianjin (which was visible from orbit) and the devaluation of the yuan.

Tianjin is a port 75 miles from Beijing, and it contains the kinds of warehouses typical of a port, but on a Chinese scale. Something blew up there early Wednesday morning, killing over 100 people and injuring hundreds more. Thousands have had to leave their homes as sodium cyanide has been scattered widely.

The currency devaluation is one of those technical issues whose effects are anything but technical. The Guardian does a good job laying out various implications. A factor that complicates everybody’s thinking (and makes it more likely that somebody will over-react in a stupid way) is the Chinese government’s lack of transparency. We’re all trying to read tea leaves because we can’t get trustworthy data.

and Iraq

Jeb Bush knows why Iraq is such a mess: Even though the Surge totally worked and everything was fine when his brother left office, Obama and Hillary screwed it all up.

The saddest thing about this fantasy (contained in a “foreign policy speech” he gave Tuesday) is how predictable it was. The day before Obama was inaugurated, I wrote:

It’s just a matter of time before we hear: Bush had the war won, but then Obama came in and threw it all away.

The most direct parallel to Bush’s Iraq revisionism is Vietnam revisionism. Listen to Bruce Herschensohn tell the Vietnam story for Prager “University”:

Decades back, in late 1972, South Vietnam and the United States were winning the Vietnam War decisively by every conceivable measure. … On January the 23rd, 1973, President Nixon gave a speech to the nation on primetime television announcing that the Paris Peace Accords had been initialed by the United States, South Vietnam, North Vietnam, the Viet Cong, and the Accords would be signed on the 27th. What the United States and South Vietnam received in those accords was victory. At the White House, it was called “VV Day,” “Victory in Vietnam Day.” … The advance of communist tyranny had been halted by those accords.

Then it all came apart. And It happened this way: In August of the following year, 1974, President Nixon resigned his office as a result of what became known as “Watergate.” Three months after his resignation came the November congressional elections and within them the Democrats won a landslide victory for the new Congress and many of the members used their new majority to de-fund the military aid the U.S. had promised, piece for piece, breaking the commitment that we made to the South Vietnamese in Paris to provide whatever military hardware the South Vietnamese needed in case of aggression from the North. Put simply and accurately, a majority of Democrats of the 94th Congress did not keep the word of the United States. … Many of them had an investment in America’s failure in Vietnam. They had participated in demonstrations against the war for many years. They wouldn’t give the aid.

So there you have it: Hundreds of thousands of American troops fought for almost a decade without a clear result. But just a few more billion in aid to a famously corrupt South Vietnamese government would have finished the job.

That is so much more credible than the other story: that Nixon was a crook thrown out of office for good reasons, and that he was just lying when he declared victory. We could have kept our troops there for another decade, and when we left South Vietnam still would have fallen.

Or, if not more credible, Herschensohn’s version at least makes better wishful thinking for the people who started our intervention in Vietnam or continued it beyond all sense.

The same process is at work in Iraq revisionism: If you don’t want to admit you were wrong (because you want to apply all the same ideas to Iran and ISIS), then Jeb’s story is much more comforting.

I stand by what I wrote in 2005:

We can leave Iraq now, or we can leave after our losses have grown. That is the only choice we have.

America’s key mistake in Iraq was invading in the first place, not getting our troops (mostly) out of harm’s way.

BTW: My Facebook feed has been full of links to the Prager U video by West Point historian Colonel Ty Seidule, making a clear case that the Civil War really was about slavery rather than states rights or tariffs or any of the other excuses Southern whites have invented for denying that their great-grandfathers fought on the wrong side.

I love the message, but the video itself is a Trojan Horse. Here’s a tip: Before sharing something from an institution, take a look at the other stuff it puts out. Prager U is a project of conservative talk-radio host Dennis Prager, who stars in some of the videos. You really don’t want to encourage your friends to wander its “campus” and imbibe its point of view.

The Vietnam revisionism piece quoted above is much more typical of PU than the Civil War video. Other PU videos feature  climate-change denial, anti-feminism, a reduction of the Israeli/Palestine problem to “one side [Palestinians] wants the other side [Israelis] dead”, blaming all the problems of America’s public schools on teachers, and claiming that liberals are more racist than conservatives.

Do you really want to lend credibility to all that?

and 2016

Numbers about the GOP debate are in, so I have to correct a few of my initial responses from last week. First, I was wrong to say that nobody watched the kids-table debate among the candidates who didn’t poll high enough to get into the main event. It turns out six million people did, which would be a big number for any debate this early. I don’t know why they watched, but they did.

Second, I identified the losers of the debate as

Walker, Bush, and Carson. Not because they made any major gaffes, but because they seemed to fade into the background.

Post-debate polls agree with me about Walker and Bush, but not Carson. Ben Carson moved up to second in Iowa. 538 says his national poll numbers have moved up by an average of 2.4% and credits his performance:

Depending on which poll you look at, he was rated as either the most impressive or the second most impressive candidate in the varsity debate.

Again, not sure why.

538 identifies Carly Fiorina (from the kids’ table) as the big winner, going from nowhere to the high single digits, and Scott Walker as the big loser.

Speaking of Fiorina, according to the NYT:

Now, many Republicans, preparing to potentially confront Mrs. Clinton in a general election, are looking anew at Mrs. Fiorina, who rose from being a secretary to running the giant technology company HP, as the party’s weapon to counter the perception that it is waging a “war on women.”

Republicans who hold that hope really need to take a look at the exit polls from 2010, when Fiorina lost the California Senate race to Barbara Boxer. In a year when Republicans actually won the women’s vote nationally (51%-49%), Fiorina lost the women’s vote by a wide margin (55%-39%, with 6% going to “Other”).

If your policies appeal to a group, then nominating a member of that group will boost their turnout, as black turnout increased for Obama in 2008 and 2012. But identity politics won’t save you if your policies suck. If Marco Rubio runs on a platform that calls for building a wall on the Mexican border and tossing all the undocumented immigrants over it, and if his campaign panders to the working-class whites who believe they’d still be making big money on the assembly line if not for all those brown people — then Hispanics will decisively reject him. Ditto for Fiorina and women or Carson and blacks, if they just put a one-of-us face on the anti-woman, anti-black Republican consensus.

Ask your black friends how much pride they take in having Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court, or whether his race makes up for him providing the decisive fifth vote to gut the Voting Rights Act.

Or think about this: The last time the Democrats nominated a white man, John Kerry lost the white male vote 62%-37%.

Bernie Sanders shocked everybody by taking the lead in a New Hampshire poll. Polls are noisy this far away from the election, so it could be a blip. Or maybe not.

I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that we’re starting to hear rumblings about Joe Biden and Al Gore (though unidentified “close advisers” to Gore deny it) getting into the race. But the NYT’s Nate Cohn doesn’t think Clinton has much to worry about yet.

New evidence that this election cycle is unique: The negative ads have already started. Here’s Rand Paul’s attack on Donald Trump.

Contrast the bickering and name-calling on the Republican side with what’s going on among the Democrats: They’re competing to produce the best policy proposals. Clinton announced a plan to make college affordable, and Sanders produced a racial-justice platform.

To be fair, Scott Walker is due to unveil his ObamaCare replacement plan tomorrow. Salon’s Simon Malloy is not optimistic about it, given the op-ed Walker published Friday, in which he seems unprepared to recognize any of the real-life trade-offs involved in healthcare policy.

Also, the Trump immigration program is out. I’ll have more to say about it next week.

Trump is an example in the latest phrase I’ve added to the “Conservative-to-English Lexicon

Telling it like it is. Pandering to people who resemble the speaker.  Usage: Middle-aged white guy Wayne Allyn Root: “Donald Trump tells it like it is.” Alternate form: Calling it like he sees it. Usage: Ted Nugent writing, “Donald Trump … calls them like he sees them.”

and Cuba

John Kerry dedicated an American embassy in Havana, a big step towards more neighborly relations with one of our nearest neighbors. Maybe the embargo can end soon.

The embargo made sense for about a year. Castro’s new regime seemed fragile, and it was not unreasonable to think that the extra economic pressure of the embargo might push it over the edge, producing a more friendly government in Havana. Half a century later, it’s still here, because we can’t admit a mistake. (Marco Rubio makes pig-headedness sound like a virtue: “a half-century worth of policy toward the Castro regime that was agreed upon by presidents of both parties.”)

In America, the fundamental political divide on these issues comes down to this: Conservatives believe we are doing other countries a favor when we talk to them. So why are we “giving” Cuba an embassy? (Rubio: “President Obama has rewarded the Castro regime.”) Liberals believe talking to your enemies is just what you do, because you can’t kill everybody you don’t like.

The Atlantic asked the question Americans so often ignore: How does all this look from the other side? It published a column by a Cuban blogger, who imagines telling his grandchildren he was there at this powerful “inflection point” in Cuban history. When he writes about “a collision between two countries”, he’s not talking about the U.S. and Cuba, but the new Cuba and the old Cuba.

and you also might be interested in …

This year might see the most powerful El Niño on record.

36 retired generals and admirals published an open letter titled “The Iran Deal Benefits U.S. National Security”. It says the deal is “the most effective means currently available to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons”.

We just had the hottest July on record, keeping 2015 on pace to be the hottest year ever, breaking 2014’s record.

Well worth reading: “How the NRA Rewrote the Second Amendment“. One interesting tidbit is how bogus some of the pro-gun quotes from the Founders are.

“‘One loves to possess arms’ wrote Thomas Jefferson, the premier intellectual of his day, to George Washington on June 19, 1796.” What a find! Oops: Jefferson was not talking about guns. He was writing to Washington asking for copies of some old letters, to have handy so he could issue a rebuttal in case he got attacked for a decision he made as secretary of state. The NRA website still includes the quote. You can go online to buy a T-shirt emblazoned with Jefferson’s mangled words.

Computer programmer Byron Clark has set up his web browser to automatically replace the phrase political correctness with treating people with respect. So here’s how one Donald Trump quote appears:

I think the big problem this country has is treating people with respect. I’ve been challenged by so many people, and I don’t frankly have time for treating people with respect. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either.

Vox writer Amanda Taub comments:

The meaning hasn’t really changed, but it has been made clearer: Trump was asked about his disrespectful treatment of women, and his response was that the very idea of treating women respectfully was a problem for the country as a whole. That’s nonsense. Kudos to Clark for showing us why.

A Michigan math teacher explains “Why I Can No Longer Teach in Public Education“:

I have been forced to comply with mandates that are not in the best interest of kids. … The amount of time lost to standardized tests that are of no use to me as a classroom teacher is mind-boggling. And when you add in mandatory quarterly district-wide tests, which are used to collect data that nothing is ever done with, it’s beyond ridiculous.

… my take-home pay has been frozen or decreased for the past five years, and I don’t see the situation getting any better in the near future. … As a 10th-year teacher in my district, I would be making 16 percent less than a 10th-year was when I was hired in 2006.

If I were poorly compensated but didn’t have to comply with asinine mandates and a lack of respect, that would be one thing.

And if I were continuing my way up the pay scale but had to deal with asinine mandates, that would be one thing. But having to comply with asinine mandates and watching my income, in the form of real dollars, decline every year?

The fervor to fight ObamaCare is getting wacky in some places. Wheaton College is cancelling its student health insurance. Not because ObamaCare forces them to cover birth control — it doesn’t; the college qualifies for the religious non-profit organization exemption. But it has to notify the government that it is claiming its exemption. Then the government can instruct the appropriate insurance companies to cover students’ contraception by a separate policy Wheaton doesn’t pay for.

That’s too much for them; the notification makes them “complicit” in the great evil of birth control. Much better just to let its students go without health care entirely.

More proof ObamaCare is working: Gallup says the number of people without health insurance continues to go down, and it goes down faster in states that implemented the Medicaid expansion portion of the law.

and let’s close with something big

Like the elephant swimming pool at the Fuji Safari Park in Japan.

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  • Theresa Marshall  On August 17, 2015 at 6:47 pm

    Hi, love your efforts & try to read weekly. Just a note that, FYI, Yoani Sanchez is female, has her own website “14 y medio” and contributes frequently to the website “Translating Cuba”.

  • sjistarr72  On August 17, 2015 at 10:04 pm

    I saw a lot of people in my feed sharing that Prager U video… always check the source!

  • I vote  On August 17, 2015 at 10:09 pm

    And more evidence that this election cycle is unique: The “Referendum President.”

    Lawrence Lessig is floating the idea of running for President (as a Democrat) with only one thing on his platform of what he would accomplish: to pass a bill that gives everyone equal access to voting and equal representation. The bill would include reforming campaign finance, ending gerrymandering, having elections on a national holiday, and a few other things. He says that if he can raise a million dollars by Labor Day, then he’ll run. He’s currently at about $380,000. More info at: http://www.lessigforpresident.com

    Huffington post also did an interview with him about the idea:

    • Larry Benjamin  On August 18, 2015 at 9:21 am

      That sounds great. Is the guy from “The Rent Is Too Damn High” running again? Maybe he can run as a Republican, and the two of them can face each other in the general election.

      • I vote  On August 18, 2015 at 3:56 pm

        I think that you’re referring to Jimmy McMillan. So far I haven’t heard of anyone wanting to run a similar campaign as a Republican, It would make the mandate stronger if both parties ran “referendum candidates.” If the referendum candidates won the primary for both parties, then the general election would be about who do we want to be president after we fix the problems with voter suppression and campaign finance.

        Personally, I think that Buddy Roemer would be a good choice for “referendum candidate” on the Republican ticket. He ran as a Republican in the last election and talked alot about campaign finance, but he never made it into the Republican debates.

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