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


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

After last year’s presidential election, Forbes magazine printed a story on how Jared Kushner helped Donald Trump win. The key insight was that Kushner had somehow created a 100-person data mining operation outside of San Antonio, Texas. I remember thinking that all of this sounded awfully sophisticated for a political neophyte. There seemed to be something incomplete about the story. Who were those 100 people? Why did we never hear from anyone who had been there?

Now comes word on MSNBC and CNN that Kushner is “under FBI scrutiny” in the federal Russia probe. Reportedly, Kushner is merely a person of interest, not the target of the investigation. I hope that’s the case. But I also hope the feds ask a few questions about that operation in Texas. I’m not saying anything underhanded happened there.  I am saying that the explanation provided in the magazine was unsatisfying and left me curious as to who was working at that site.  Citizens have a right to know whether that truly was a gravity-defying political operation operated by first-timers or if they got a little clandestine help from some discreet old pros.

– 1TF

It is striking how much more liberal the Washington Post has gotten recently. I don’t know if it’s the Jeff Bezos purchase, Donald Trump’s election or something else. But it’s palpable.

A Washington Post article today discussed how President Obama’s photographer trolled President Trump by printing pictures of the Obamas holding hands after Melania had apparently swatted Trump’s hand away during Trump’s overseas trip. It was bad form on the photographer’s part, but I suppose he can do what he wants. But why on earth is that news? For the Post to prominently post that story tells you something about their relaxed journalism standards. I’m not a Trump fan – I find him remarkably uninformed and self-centered – but the reaction of many in the media to Trump borders on the hysterical. There are many points of concern with this President. Fine. Take him on on legitimate issues; that’d be good for the country. But printing this ridiculously small and petty story about the photographer says more about the Post than it does about the President.  I get it – you hate him.  You hate yourself for being part of media machine that helped drive him to the Republican nomination, and now you’re trying to make up for it.  Fine – but that’s not news either.

One complaint I had with Hillary Clinton is that she brought out the worst in both Republicans and Democrats. President Trump appears that way. Many Republicans are troubled by him, but a sense of party loyalty causes them to pull their punches, even when punches are called for. Democrats meanwhile are at risk of becoming deranged. Their rage at him are causing them to do things they may not be proud of in the future. That includes Democratically inclined media outlets like the Post.

– 1TF

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

One can only wonder what is was in the mind of President Trump when he failed to shake German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s hand when they met last week. I don’t know if he simply doesn’t understand the importance of such symbolism or if – more likely – he sought to appeal to Czar Putin and the isolationism of the America Firsters, Either way, it was a huge mistake.

In the complex world we currently inhabit, the United States needs Germany’s friendship. Donald Trump himself needs Angela Merkel’s friendship. She has gravitas that he lacks. She’s been the elected leader of a one of the world’s great countries and Europe’s predominant economy for over a decade. She is the most proven leader of any free nation on that continent. He and our nation could benefit from her wisdom if he simply could summon the humility necessary for learning. A great man could and would summon that humility for the good of his country.

– 1TF

President Trump has announced he is not going to attend the White House Correspondents Association Dinner this April. Some mainstream journalists have said that the dinner is a relic that should be discarded. I respectfully dissent on both counts.

It’s not news that the President’s relationship with much of the mainstream press is seriously dysfunctional. He distrusts journalists and they distrust him. This contrasts with the veritable fandom that greeted the last President.

For decades, the WHCA dinner has offered one night when a president and his erstwhile tormenters could lay down their arms, have a meal and a little fun before returning to battle the next day. That appears to be more needed than ever this year. It is ironic that this is the year some media folks are saying it should end. During the Obama years, the dinner was just one more opportunity for hero worship. NOW, when the President and the press are at each others’ throat, is when the dinner serves a purpose.

Rather than have the President skip the dinner, the WHCA should consider having a comic who is less likely to lambaste Mr. Trump. Most major comics these days seem to feel it is their moral duty to ‘speak truth to power’ by ripping President Trump (and this after leaving the President Obama virtually untouched for eight years). Someone like Adam Carolla or Bill Burr is likely to spray comic abuse upon the whole room, rather than raining down exclusively on Mr. Trump. If the Association is graceful enough to invite a fair-minded comic and the President finds the grace to attend, it may do the town and the country some good.

– 1TF