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The death of Otto Warmbier is an outrage. Mr. Warmbier was a University of Virginia student, apparently with some wanderlust and a sense of curiosity. So he arranged to go on a tour of North Korea. The North Korean government made him out to be an enemy. For what? For briefly considering stealing a poster.

I’m not sure what the right answer is with North Korea. But the “strategic patience” route. doesn’t appear to be working. There needs to be a serious consequence for Mr. Warmbier’s senseless death, and I don’t think simply tightening economic sanctions on the whole country would be effective. It’s not the government that gets hurt by those sanctions, it’s millions of innocent, already abused people. I’ll leave it to others to speculate on what specific actions we could take, but I’m sure the State Dept. and the Pentagon have a menu of measured, proportional responses – without resorting to overt military conflict that would needlessly harm innocent people – to get America’s point across to a man with a luxurious private island and a $7 million yacht. I recognize this is complicated by the fact that the North Koreans have other prisoners, but doing nothing or doing something weak, will only invite further outrages. The North Koreans must learn that thuggishly beating one of our citizens to death over a poster is not worth it. This is not how civilized countries act.

Mr. Warmbier was a young man, full of promise, and empty of malicious intent. Kim Jong Un chose to send a message to our government by murdering him. We need to send a strong message back that even he can understand.

1TF

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Over the coming weeks, we may be getting an object lesson in the importance of a person’s reputation. Reputation matters. Reputation is something that is built up by years of discipline and habit. Reputation is not character – character is what you are; reputation merely what people think you are. However, if one is in the public eye enough, so that the public has had a sufficient amount of actions to judge a person by, than reputation can serve as a rough approximation of character.

James Comey has a strong reputation built through three decades of diligent service in the law. Perhaps the most dramatic example of James Comey’s independence and willingness to go where the evidence lay was in 2004 when as Deputy Attorney General, he faced down the White House Counsel and Chief of Staff and refused to agree to the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program

I’m not a President Obama fan, but I was impressed by his decision to appoint James Comey to the FBI Directorship; it showed Mr. Obama was serious about the FBI investigating alleged crimes without fear or favor. Mr. Comey had built a reputation for fair play that both parties appreciated.

Then there’s President Donald Trump. Mr. Trump has built a reputation over the course of the last three decades too. It’s one of brashness, attention-seeking and ignorance.

Yesterday, Mr. Comey said accusations the White House had made about him and the FBI “were lies, plain and simple.” Today, Mr. Trump answered in kind, saying what Mr. Comey said wasn’t about their meeting wasn’t true. Whom to believe? It’s times like these that you wish you had built up a reputation for integrity and truthfulness. Mr. Comey has; Mr. Trump hasn’t. And in the next few weeks, Mr. Trump may come to wish he had.

-1TF

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Tomorrow, voters in the United Kingdom will go to the polls to vote for Parliament. The terrorist attacks they have endured will be on their minds as will the ramifications of Brexit. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party has fallen precipitously in opinion polls in the past month, from a lead of 20 percentage points when May called the election to just a single point this week. The Labor Party ought to be ready to sweep into 10 Downing Street. But that’s unlikely due to its standard bearer.

The Opposition Leader is one Jeremy Corbyn. an avowed socialist, advocate for unilateral disarmament, former supporter of the Provisional IRA (not simply the regular IRA, but the actual violent wing), who used to be paid to appear on an Iranian government TV show. In short, the Labor Party nominated someone who is anathema to a lot of regular Britons might otherwise be tempted to support a change in government.  Labor has the good fortune in that voters simply vote for their own particular Member of Parliament, but having Corbyn on the ticket – even with him performing better than expected in the campaign – is probably a drag on their ticket.  Political myopia seems to be a problem on both sides of the Atlantic.  Amongst the major parties of Britain, France and the United States, only the UK Conservatives chose a candidate who wasn’t eventually detested by the other side (and May is merely perceived as “okay, although we have our doubts”.)  Conservatives are poised to hold onto power by default; May ought to avoid pretending she’s got a significant mandate.  Her steep fall in the past month indicates she will not.  Were it not for Jeremy Corbyn helming the party of the left, she might not even have 10 Downing Street.

-1TF

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Today is D-Day, the 73rd anniversary of the Normandy invasions which began the Allied retaking of northern Europe. It is good to reflect on the bravery and devotion to duty of so many who gave up so much – for some it was their very lives. For many on the homefront, it was, like today, a relatively quiet Tuesday – they didn’t yet realize their son or brother, husband or fiancee, or father was being torn from them.  We owe the dead and wounded our gratitude.  We also owe it to learn and employ the important lessons their sacrifice yielded.  A few of those lessons are particularly timely these days.

The first lesson is that hard undertakings are a little easier when there is effective cooperation.  D-Day involved the cooperation of many allies, primarily Americans, British and Canadians, but also some Australians, Free French, Irish and citizens several other countries helped in the assault.  America is the strongest nation, but we’re not the only nation.  Other Western nations are usually our friends, and as frustrating as they (and we) can be, we should be try to care and feed these relationships as best we can.

The second lesson is the importance of security; be careful whom you allow access to information. Operation Overlord involved loyalty and secrecy. Allied headquarters conjured an entire fake Army division to convince the Germans we were either attacking at Calais or even into Scandanavia rather than Normandy. Given recent headlines, one is left to wonder if a similar diversion could be used to today, given the willingness of some in the press’ interest in printing anything in the rush for clicks, and the willingness of those trusted with secret clearances (e.g. Snowden, Manning, Winner) to provide their favorite press outlet with secret information.

The third lesson is that completing a great enterprise will entail patience and perseverance. The Normandy invasions were not initially successful. Anyone who watched Saving Private Ryan saw some of the difficulty in achieving a beachhead. None of the major military objectives were taken on that first day (although the Allies were able to establish a beachhead).  It took six weeks of effort for the Allies to capture the last of those objectives, the village of Caen.  The enemy was working hard to stop them.  Another enemy is working hard to stop the West.  Patience, vigilance and perseverance are still key to eventual victory.

Appreciate what those brave soldiers did, and learn from their efforts so that we may be up to the challenge we face, just as they were.

-1TF

 

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I’m still trying to process President Trump’s speech pulling out of the Paris Accord. I found the speech to be a bit of a Rorschach Test. Those inclined to like Trump and espouse an “America First” ideology thought it great; I can see Pat Buchanan and company standing up and applauding. Those instinctively set to dislike him were probably horrified.

The most memorable line of the Trump speech was “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” That was going to be a winner amongst his supporters, many of whom, like the Brexit supporters, have an understandable concern about their country’s sovereignty being usurped by unelected technocrats. However, the Pittsburgh Trump hails is the Pittsburgh of history. There are no steel mills left within the Pittsburgh city limits (although some remain in the surrounding area). The citizens of Pittsburgh are far more likely to be freezing in an overly air-conditioned office park than they are to be sweating it out by a blast furnace. The mayor of Pittsburgh responded to Trump’s speech by saying the city would still abide by Paris.

Trump’s pithy Pittsburgh comment is really more about the small mountain towns of western Pennsylvania and the West Virginia panhandle, where folks are desperate to hear that better times are ahead. But Trump is offering sandcastles in the air to those folks by making coal workers think that brute force by the federal government can bring back coal. But it can’t. While the previous administration was unfriendly to coal, the main reason for coal’s demise isn’t in Washington, it’s in the market. Coal has new competition in the form of natural gas. Take away the fact that natural gas is safer to extract and cleaner to burn (or any other advantage it may have), and you’re still left with the fact that currently, and for the foreseeable future, natural gas is less expensive than coal. The market is speaking loudly, and President Trump can’t change that.

I’m a little puzzled by what Trump expects to get out of this. He is exasperating much-needed allies. And my admittedly limited understanding is that much of the Paris Accord is voluntary anyway. Trump could have pointed to certain parts of it and declared we wouldn’t abide by those parts. Instead, he junked the whole thing. Again, I respect that he’s fulfilling a campaign pledge. But I think that pledge may have been unwise in the first place.

– 1TF

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David Leonhardt of the New York Times wrote an interesting column complaining about declining funding for college. He held that declining state funding for college was leading to declining economic diversity, especially at four-year colleges.

Meanwhile, Fareed Zakaria was on CNN lamenting the lack of ideological diversity on campus, citing in particular the Notre Dame students who walked out on Vice President Pence’s graduation speech and the Middlebury students who shut down Charles Murray’s speech. There have also been problems reported at Berkely and at Evergreen State. It also seems each year, while the vast majority of graduation speakers are liberal, only conservative speakers get protested.

I wonder if these things might be tied. I went to school with a lot of working class & middle class students. They weren’t trying to “discover themselves” or “save the world” – they were learning to better their lot in life and become productive citizens. Many, like me, were working part-time to put themselves through school.
When you’ve actually got to struggle to get that education, you’re a little too busy to look for new things to be angry about. I suspect part of the problem of the Yale kids who berated two professors who had the temerity to think the school didn’t need to police Halloween costumes is they didn’t actually have real struggles to worry about. These Evergreen State kids who abused the professor who didn’t want to participate in a “Day Without White People” or whatever they wanted to call it need to see some actual hardship.

Some professors will try to guide them properly, but they appear to be becoming an actual aggrieved minority. Just look at what happened to the Duke University professor who didn’t want to attend diversity training, and advised other faculty members not to attend. He’s no longer employed at Duke. He should have been more diplomatic, but I also think had he been undiplomatic in supporting a liberal position, he’d still have a job.

Duke had someone undiplomatically express a conservative opinion (held in secret by many other faculty) and he is no longer employed. Yale had a mob assault a faculty member, and Yale just gave two of the mob leaders an award. People see this – and makes them wonder what the students are actually learning. And whether they want the government to pay for that.

Mr. Leonhardt may well have a point about lack of funding for higher education aid to poorer students.  And I appreciate that he also cited the money wasted on student centers and expensive never-pay-for-themselves athletic programs and other lower utility budget items as culprits in this problems.  But he may want to take a look at the ideological diversity of the faculty as another culprit.  The waste and the ideological litmus test (which are another form of waste by ruling out better qualified right-of-center applicants) makes people on the right less interested in funding overall.  But I’m really curious why those on the left seem less interested in financial aid.  Could it be that letting in more working-class, pragmatic students might interfere with the entitled liberal ones who may start protests but also vote the ‘right way’?

– 1TF

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And I thought American politics was a mess …

Last Sunday’s French elections made their Yankee counterparts appear almost tame by comparison. Neither of the two major parties made the May 7th runoff. The sitting government’s party finished fifth.

So now we’re left between the ostensibly “far-right” national front leader, Marine Le Pen, and the 39 year-old newcomer to elective politics, Emmanuel Macron. Macron is widely seen in the press as a heavy favorite because he was endorsed by the establishment party leaders and most of the French Party leaders. Furthermore, polling appears to give him about a 20-point lead. I would caution Macron’s supporters not to get ahead of themselves. Macron is genuinely the favorite to win, but I believe he’s only a slight favorite.

Macron is seen has the darling of the establishment even though he has never run a political campaign before. It is more a sign of the establishment’s fear of Le Pen then it is of any particular accomplishment or qualifications of its chosen savior. He appears to be playing the role of a Francophone Jared Kushner to Le Pen’s Steve Bannon.

The French press refers to Macron as a “centrist”, but I’m not sure that is an accurate rendition of the man. He was Finance Minister for the widely unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande. Yes, he wound up quitting Hollande’s government. But a true Centrist never would have been hired in the first place. Again, it appears to be an establishment attempt to bolster the only person standing between them and a President Le Pen. I suspect people outside of Paris may resent being told what to think. They see a 39 year-old kid, really (the French tend to prefer older Presidents – DeGaulle, d’Estaing, Mitterand and Chirac come to mind), being hailed as an especially talented leader, because he is opposing the candidate who is aiming her message at those left behind by Paris.

I know little of Le Pen other than her party’s deep unpopularity within European capitals and her hardline stand on immigration, and I have no dog in this fight. If I were French, I suppose I might supported the center-right candidate Francois Fillon before the hiring scandal emerged; after that I was politically agnostic. But I feel like I’ve seen this movie before – the cycle of populist support leading to elitist alarm which only encourages further populist support. The more the leaders of neighboring countries and urban elites in Paris, Marseille, Lyon and Toulouse express fear and loathing of Le Pen, the more those who resent those foreign leaders and major city dwellers will move to her. This race isn’t a toss-up – as of today, it favors Macron – but it’s not the the 2002 Chirac-LePen race (where Chirac got 82%) either. That one was over as soon as it started. This race still breathes.

– 1TF

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