Whither NATO?

The Czar hasn’t been neglecting his mail, but the question below was a pretty tough one from Operative B. Donald Trump, despite all his massive failures as a logician, poses a reasonable question: why not just chuck NATO, or at least force Europe to pay their fair share?

Well, there’s no question that historically, NATO has been a positive driver in the huge eradication of communism from every except China, Vietnam, Cuba, and American college campuses. The United States could have pushed the Soviet Union out of Europe on its own, sure, but having Europe engaged so heavily made it a lot easier. Libertarians who want the United States to be a limited National Guard force consistently fail to realize that between 1812 and today, most of the wars we fought defensively on started over there somewhere, and not in Utica or Reno. Having bases in Europe, with American troops co-trained with Europeans, worked demonstrably well in staving off Soviet incursions not just in Western Europe, but in oceans all over the world. Any reasonable person concludes that NATO, up to 1989, was worth every penny in saving lives.

But what about after 1989? Sure, Putin is a criminal thug, but he’s not really the same thing as global communism, is he? Do we really need to spend billions on NATO submarines, air forces, and ground troops just because Putin is an old-school mobster with nuclear weapons he’d sooner sell than launch? Can’t those forces be better deployed against the War on Terror?

That’s a lot of maybes. Yet the biggest reason people think NATO is a useless mess of red tape is because—under President Obama—that’s precisely what it is. Under other presidents, NATO remained a powerful check against Putin’s expansionist plans. Don’t take it from the Czar; take it from someone who knows both sides of the problem personally:

That’s a whole lot of rebuttal right, there. Without NATO, Europe would already look a lot different. For crying out loud, even a military moron like the President understands this. He would have shredded NATO years ago and dumped the money into gun control legislation if he could have—instead, he sent a carrier group to the North Atlantic—which is being buzzed by Russian warplanes practicing bombing runs, if you can believe it.

Georgia and the Ukraine are proof enough that Putin is a conquering bastard bad guy, no different than the Soviets before him in Afghanistan, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. And rolling into Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are not just possibilities to a Russian—they’re necessities. The history of all three countries (and yes, Finland’s too) is replete with invasions from Russia or the Soviets. It’s what they do.

NATO? Absolutely critical in 2016. Unfortunately, it’s been handcuffed by a slow-to-act President. Yes, the Democrats agree Bush is on the hook for doing nothing about Georgia, but Georgia isn’t a NATO member. Neither is the Ukraine—but Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are, and guess why they were so quick to join?

All right, if the Czar can’t convince you that NATO is a critical component to United States foreign interests, we can at least move on to who pays for it.

Who does pay for NATO? This is a tough question to answer because NATO has been part of American military structure for so long that it’s difficult to really separate. And NATO is funded in different ways, by different rules. And what a country pays to be part of NATO is not always what a country spends on NATO, either. It’s a mess.

But a couple of key points: first, the United States does not pay the “lion’s share” of NATO. In fact, across the different funding mechanisms, the United States pays only about 22% of the organization. Yes, no one pays more than us (Germany pays the second most, Italy third, and so forth). But this is based more on population than anything: typically, dues are assessed as 2% of GDP; this means no matter what, the United States pays more than Canada. Or Britain.

However, other countries can and do pay more than than 2% based on need. Poland and Estonia—both fearful of Russian expansion efforts—authorized themselves to pay over this amount. Surprisingly, so does Greece—but a few countries are also paying less than ever on NATO: Belgium, Bulgaria, Italy… and the United States, which has been slowing down how much it’s been contributing.

So yes—it’s tough to say exactly how much the United States spends on NATO at any given moment, but—follow along, Mr. Trump—we don’t pay substantially more than our fair share. And as long as we want to keep Russia out of Europe, and we do, we need NATO. And when it comes to international organizations, there are few better examples of a decently run organization.

Now, how about we ask a better question: why are Americans paying the same amount to fund the United Nations? And why are we paying more than everyone else to fund its peacekeeping operations?

The Jungle Book is a Masterpiece

Sir Ben Kingsley’s Bagheera probably questioned many times why he let Mowgli live, but he made the right call as Mowgli transcended Bagheera’s own wisdom and training in the classic mentor-being-schooled archetype.

Much to the Czar’s astonishment, he went to a movie today in a real theater without having studied reviews of the film in advance. This is normally a massive no-no, but the Czar already had high expectations for The Jungle Book and saw little need to pre-confirm what seemed like universal acclaim for this film.

The Czar may have seen one of the best films he’s ever seen, which was substantially more than the initially high expectations we had going in. The movie was so excellently done that hours later, the rest of the family is in another room coincidentally talking about how much they loved it. Frankly, we didn’t expect it to be nearly this good.

The Jungle Book was better than good. It is brilliant.

First, throw out your expectations for the story based on the original 1967 film: director Jon Favreau certainly used it as inspiration for many key items, but the story line is substantially more mature and fleshed out. The characters are not cartoons, but thinking and reasoning elements with their own natural needs. The film is evenly balanced from the opening scene to (and including) the closing credits.* Just as the humor is about to get too over the top, Favreau injects action. Just as the action gets too intense, the movie goes for beautiful visuals. Just as you’re about done drinking in the incredibly rendered CGI landscapes, it goes spooky and dark. But as it gets too somber, something funny happens. There’s not a weak scene in the movie, and keeps on a comfortable pace—never getting frenetic—from opening to last shot.

The original 1967 effectively doomed future remakes by casting the brilliant Phil Harris as Baloo the bear and Louis Prima as King Louie, the decidedly non-Indian orangutan. With such outstanding performances, anything else would either be a letdown or a pale imitation. Favreau solves this issue by casting Bill Murray as a sloth bear…actually, no—Bill Murray is playing himself so strongly that some scenes of Baloo seem like Murray in bear makeup—and Christopher Walken as an overtly malevolent presence. While Prima’s Louie was a dopey narcissist, Walken’s Louie is powerfully intelligent and very much in charge. As much as you want to laugh at his Astoria accent, and do, you can’t help but think this ape is certainly going to kill everybody he can. Likewise, Murray’s Baloo is a good-natured goof, but has no trouble being a plausible bad ass when the others won’t or can’t. He’s a fun bear, but bears have claws and teeth, too. In fact, when we first meet him, we see him expressing savage fury.

Likewise, whereas Kaa the constrictor was originally a laughable but creepy villain in the most blatantly animated way, Johansson’s Kaa is completely effective as a mesmerizing siren. Her powers of hypnosis are not just brilliantly handled on screen, but she serves as an essential point of exposition: how the hell did Mowgli become lost in the jungle, and why does that tiger hate him so much?

By the way, two points there: Idris Elba plays Shere Khan as the Czar’s favorite type of villain—the truth teller. Rather than being a conventional bad guy, Khan is menacing and vicious and ruthless, but is trying to warn the other animals that one day, soon, Mowgli is going to grow up into a human—and sooner or later, humans can ruin everything they come into contact with. And it’s not enough to send Mowgli back to his own people—he has to be killed before the others come looking for him. At no point does Khan lie, exaggerate, or bend the truth. He is completely sincere in his fear of humans, and that makes his villainly believable.

The second point is the actor Neel Sethi, who plays Mowgli: an 11-year-old playing an 11-year-old as an 11-year-old. The Czar has one of his own, and can reject the complaints by childless film critics that Sethi’s acting is not convincing. No, Sethi is perfect as Mowgli, and can easily see him in our own boy’s group of friends. He is a perfect 11-year-old: confident, smart, clever, strong, silly, and mildly dramatic when it matters. He was a great choice, and the Czar appreciated his depiction as dirty and battle-scarred: when we first meet Mowgli, he has old wounds all over his body from the horrible life of living in a jungle.

The Czar has no complaints with the story. Favreau may be no conservative, but he has long understood who buys his movie tickets. For a story that’s perfectly positioned to preach about man’s disrupting influence on nature, Favreau positively rejects all preaching. Instead of hippie ecological crap, Favreau shows that man’s true place in nature is as a caretaker, not as a destroyer. Indeed, it’s the animals who express surprise at Mowgli’s interest in helping others. In a powerful scene, even the haughty elephants learn that human ingenuity can transform everything for the better. And while it’s popular for the Left to dismiss Kipling as an imperialist pig, Favreau ignores all of that and sticks closer to the original story and the essential elements of his hero’s path than Disney ever dared.

A word of caution: the Czar did witness a dad having to remove his five-year-old daughter during a few scenes. This movie is best for ages 9 and up: it’s not a cute talking animals movie, but a bona fide adventure story set in a particularly nasty jungle. Plenty of reviewers seem to be warning parents this isn’t a Pixar movie. It sure isn’t: there’s plenty of blood, plenty of death, and genuine peril. But once again, before it gets to be too much, Favreau gently lets go of the throttle for a bit.

By all means, see this film. Adults definitely will appreciate it as much as the kids certainly will. It’s really that astonishing. And Neel Sethi will impress the heck out of you.

*By the way, stay on and watch the credits. There’s no surprise ending with Samuel Jackson, but the credits feature ingenious and clever animation supplemented by a solid torch version of “Trust in Me” by Scarlett Johansson and a Dixieland romp of “The Bare Necessities” done by Dr. John. Musically and visually, a real treat.

Ubi Pluit, Effluit

Alternate title: Semper ubi sub ubi. Ask any Latin 101 student as it is beneath the Czar’s dignity to translate such a puerile pun.

When it rains, it pours.

Around some cerebral circles in the conservative corners, a discussion about UBI is circulating. Shorthand for Universal Basic Income, it’s an approach being seriously considered by a handful of European countries as a wholesale substitute for their bloated, corrupt welfare systems.

Given that the United States also has a bloated, corrupt welfare system, people on the Left and the Right are wondering if the UBI model could work here. In effect, the entire welfare support system is eliminated—unemployment, food stamps, disability, basic welfare allowances—and every American citizen simply gets a flat check from the government to be used as desired. An allowance, really.

Of course, as others have pointed out, a flat check won’t work for everyone: folks with multiple disabilities and mouths to feed will warrant a bit more than a upper management executive living in a downtown condo. And in short order, we’ll be back to the old system. So are there any benefits?

The Left likes it because it technically expands welfare to include everyone: rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief. No one receives welfare anymore (it’s a co-op stipend!), and everyone has skin in the game. There are no stipulations, so if you want to blow your check on Xbox games, do so. Consider it a stimulus. But if you’re poor, that’s it: you don’t get another one until next month.

The Right likes this idea because it reduces the never-ending tax payout from the upper economic tiers. Basically, we spend less on welfare by doing so, and greatly simplify the rules at the same time. Since there are no stipulations on how you spend your stipend, you thereby eliminate corruption. Dump it all on booze or BMWs, if you want—because that’s where it ends.

The Libertarians seems to crave this idea because you now eliminate layers of government, prevent government minders from insisting on means testing, drug tests, auditing, and whatnot. You get your check every month and that’s that.

However, the Libertarians have discovered the one hook that makes this entire discussion moot. It matters not a jot if you like this idea or are opposed to this idea: it isn’t going to happen because it will require a substantial downsizing of government.

For bureaucrats, this isn’t some idle discussion about reforming entitlements or eliminating spending waste. SNAP, WIC, EITC, housing, etc., aren’t just cash transactions—they’re massive jobs programs employing tens of thousands of people. If UBI becomes a real thing, hey—we’re not going to need a lot of these folks, anymore. Actually, you could do UBI with a skeleton staff and a good computer and printer to roll checks out of it.

No matter what job transfers are created or administrative support roles are planned out as a result of UBI adoption, you will only be able to support a fraction of the thousands of departmental drones lurking in federal building basements. They’re going to be the first deserving takers of UBI as soon as they hit unemployment status.

In some respects, we shouldn’t care about them. Heck, the whole point of UBI is to help people like this. They can live, poorly, off UBI until the private sector absorbs their massive numbers the way it managed to absorb the defense industry layoffs in the post-Cold War 1990s.

That’s not the point, though: UBI is not going to happen because no candidate in any branch will be comfortable sponsoring the bill that will lay off tens of thousands of federal workers. It’s one thing to talk about eliminating departments during the campaign speeches, but this is a pittance compared to our social programs which account for almost a trillion dollars in spending per year.

It’s not that the Czar favors keeping our bloated, corrupt social welfare programs intact—it’s that he’s too cynical to think UBI will get further than academic consideration.

Perhaps we are wrong: perhaps Finland will discover how to roll with that punch, which will let other countries around the world anticipate this problem and accommodate it. And in 2024, when America has seen how it works, we can talk more seriously about it then.

Until then, the many benefits and many bad things that will follow with UBI are nothing more than idle chatter.

Selecting a Grill

It’s basically grilling season at last—although here in Muscovy the weather remains detrimental to good grilling. However, this delay shall be measured in days and the Czar, naturally, is quite excited.

No. Too small, with no ability to create a safe zone.

As grilling season kicks off, the Czar wants to remind you about a few grilling basics. If you haven’t read our long-running series on outdoor cooking basics, that a moment to do so, especially with advice on cleaning your grille and basic cooking safety practices, the pros and cons of different grills, and other cool things you can do with your grill.

In the last few months, the Czar has gotten a lot of questions from friends, neighbors, and people who lived long enough to talk regarding what type of grill to buy. Evidently, a lot must be falling to pieces right now, and while the Czar will not endorse a particular grill, he certainly has thoughts.

Gas Grills

There’s no doubt that a good gas grill is a great investment, but prices vary and for good reasons.
Low-priced gas grills are generally pieces of junk. You know that $150 no-name-brand special you get in the seasonal wasteland aisle at the local discount grocery store? Yep, that’s the one. You might want to save up some more money—generally, these will prove difficult to assemble with ill-fitting parts, will be nearly impossible to clean properly, and are certain to rust apart in two years or less. And remember that a grill made with ill-fitting parts isn’t just a nuisance to assemble—they can impede your cooking by letting too much heat out (resulting in longer cooking times) or too much oxygen in (resulting in scorched food that is raw in the middle). You really owe it to yourself to save up.

No. Too large, with too many elements that will never prove cost-effective. You’ll spend a fortune on gas.

Many home improvement stores offer a range of low-to-mid-priced grills, but not all of these are desirable, either. The Czar finds these cook nicely, are easy to assemble and clean, and store easily. Unfortunately, they just don’t last: the firepit rusts out, and replacement parts often approach the price of a new grill. After spending $200 – $300 every four years, the Czar realized he was wasting money and simply got himself a $600 grill that meets every requirement he needs.

Of course, with gas, you can get even more expensive. And let us tell you, it isn’t worth it. Here are the facts:

  • Side burners are a waste of money. You will use them perhaps once in your life. Your indoor stove is much more efficient at cooking sauces and so forth, and don’t require a billionth of the cleaning that gas grill side burners do. You can literally cut hundreds off your grill cost by skipping this option.
  • Searing ability is a waste of money. Whether they’re sear bars, sear burners, sear pins, or sear monkeys, these are ridiculous items that not only drive up the price of the grill but are totally unnecessary. Here’s the truth: you can sear food perfectly on any grill. Just turn up the heat to full blast at the start, sear your meat for 2 minutes per side, then dial down the temperature to cook the food more slowly. Those awesome grille marks are a technique, not a technology, and our posts above will show you how to do them perfectly without gimmicks.
  • Infrared cooking is a newer (1980s) technology used to produce searing and grille marks, and…well, you already guessed it. You don’t need them. If you grill correctly, adjusting temperature and leaving the lid closed, you will never need them. Now, sure, if someone buys you a grill with infrared technology, you’ll enjoy it. But a requirement? Nope. And worse, many infrared grills do not work properly, utilizing cheap, hybrid technology that doesn’t produce good quality. Because it can be hard for the average grill purchaser to know whether the infrared system is real or just marketing glop, you’d best avoid them.
  • Four and five burner grills are often another waste. You need three burners at a minimum if you’re doing good-sized cuts of meat: two on and one (the center burner) off. Doing burgers? Two on, one off (either left or right) so that you can transfer cooked burgers to a safe spot and to keep them hot without further (over-)cooking them. You just can’t do this with two burners. But four or five? You’re likely just using your gas up at a faster rate and spending hundreds more on the appliance. Be very reluctant to look at four or more burners unless you have a three-burner grill and just can’t cook enough food on it.

There you go.


The Czar has also scoffed at the hideously priced $800 – $4,000 units as well. Some of these are really sweet appliances with massive cooking surfaces and neat features. But to be realistic, they grill no better than cheaper grills. The Czar has no problems with people who entertain a lot needing a grill that can cook twenty steaks at once, but if you’re just a backyard guy or girl who does the weekends right, save your money.

Instead, look at BTUs and cooking area. Here’s an example. You see an ad for a Char-Broil grill that’s $350. Look carefully: it’s 30,000 BTUs, which is just okay. You’d get more heat from a charcoal grill. Try to get 35,000 or higher.

And its primary cooking area is 330 square inches. The primary cooking area is the grille that actually sits over the flames, and is its length multiplied by its width for you Common Core kids. The secondary cooking area—usually a mini-rack that sits above it on a second story inside the grill cover—is useless for cooking (it’s supposed to be for toasting buns, keeping food warm, and so on) is often added to the primary cooking area by stores. It is highly misleading to do so: only look at the primary cooking surface area.

Char-Broil makes a $500 grill that’s 40,000 BTUs and has a 400 square inch primary cooking area. For $100 more, you can get a Weber grille that produces just as much heat with a 507-square-inch cooking area. This means you can more food for the same amount of gas usage.

You see where we are going. Don’t always look at price: make sure the grill has at least three burners, at least 35,000 BTUs, and at least 400 square inches of cooking area.

If you have choices above all that you can afford, go for it… but remember when comparing any two models that you look at the BTU output as well as the primary cooking surface.

The Czar’s own gas grill? A Weber Genesis E-310 in black (cheaper than stainless) because of Weber’s ability to resist rust.

Charcoal Grills

Sadly, there’s not a lot of choice here: if you want one that will last forever, get a Weber (ideally, the one that’s 22″ across). The Kettle, Master-Touch, and Performer are all equally good.

Is any other picture necessary?

You may not have that option, and that’s okay. There’s a lot you can do with even a tiny tailgate party grill just by following smart grilling practices like cleaning it and lubricating the grille before cooking.

One other thing you can do to extended the life and power of your charcoal grill is by cleaning the ash out of it when it’s cool enough to do so. Charcoal ash is bad in three ways: first, a layer of ash on the inside of the grill body insulates the grill so that it robs you of heat. Second, ash absorbs heat, which further reduces its cooking potential. And third—especially third—cool ash traps water vapor. As a result, a dirty, ashy grill will rust faster than a clean one. A grill that’s cleaned out of excess ash (it doesn’t have to be perfect) after each use will very possible last decades. The Czar’s own Weber Kettle is from the 1970s and is in excellent condition with no rust, inside or out.

If possible, bring your grill inside during the rough weather months. A grill cover is a big help, but a grill sitting in damp conditions or under snow or ice will not last as long as one protected well from severe elements.

Smokers

What if you took the complexity and malarkey and misdirection of gas grills and applied it charcoal grills? Well, someone did! The world of smokers is every bit as stupid and confusing as gas grills. Of course, we can simplify things.

Be cautious when buying a smoker. Because BTUs aren’t as much a concern (you should be smoking over low heat anyway), you can relax on some of the math. But pay attention to:

  1. Interior volume. Smoke inexpensive smokers have enough room to smoke a ham sandwich and not much more. Look inside the unit before you buy it and decide whether you can live with that or need something bigger. The Czar likes to smoke turkeys and big old briskets, so he likes a lot of volume. But he doesn’t smoke whole hogs, so he doesn’t need a giant barrel smoker.
  2. Fittings. A smoker works by controlling air supply. You know what really doesn’t help? Ill-fitting parts: too many gaps lets heat out and air in, which results in hard-to-control conditions. Make sure your potential smoker is air-tight except at the firebox (intake) and vents (exhaust).
  3. Smoker type. Any smoker is a good one, really: a good electric smoker work work as well as a good offset, which works as well as a good water smoker, which in turn is as good as a barrel. There are benefits and risks to each, but these can be so balanced that you can pretty much be happy with any type. The Czar has used water, offset, and barrel smokers with identical results. His dacha neighbor uses a small electric smoker and can produce professional results. Another neighbor is a professional smoker who uses something that looks like a semi-tractor engine, and the food tastes just as good.

Just remember to plan what wood you want to use, what preparation your food requires, and how well you control the temperature and that’s really all you need. So much so, the Czar will let you in on a mighty secret: you can smoke on a charcoal grill. In fact, half the time, the Czar uses his Weber kettle grill and lets the water smoker sleep happily in ignorance.

Want another secret? The Czar has made completely authentic pulled pork using a gas grill. Yep: make a smoker pouch out of aluminum foil, put the wood in it, place the pouch in one end burner and keep the temperature at 225° for a few hours. The gas grill will sip gas very slowly, produce a lot of smoke, and give you a smoked food that will impress even a smoking snob. This is no shortcut, either: you can do ribs, fish, brisket, or anything you want, with completely awesome results. The Czar has done this when visiting friends, because just about any gas grill can be quickly converted to a smoker and then flipped back when done.

Or Get All Three
Okay, this part is true, too: the Czar owns one of each type of grill. For speed and precision, nothing beats a gas grill. The Czar can produce a gourmet meal with delicately grilled foods in 20 minutes with a gas grill.

But sometimes, you need that charcoal taste. There’s just something about the smell of the coals, and the sound of the fats sizzling into them, that just gets you. The taste of charcoal (without lighter fluid and with a lump of cherry or oak or both) imparts a heartiness to the meal.

And you know, on a beautiful Sunday morning, chucking on some ribs on a smoker is a treat for the eyes, nose, and ears. Watching clouds of hickory or cherry pour out of the smoker and the sweet smell of rub infusing into the meat is a perfect way to celebrate summer.

While it may mean more cleaning, the Czar will—two or three times a year—get all three going at once. Chicken grilling over charcoal, with hot dogs, hot wings, ribs, and catfish going on the smoker, while vegetables soften to perfection on a gas grill…not a bad way to host a party.

Just buy smart. It doesn’t take much to be a smart shopper when it comes to any of these three.

Consistency

GorT is an engineer – he enjoys building and fixing things: software, hardware, woodworking, etc.  In that light, GorT relishes consistency.  From his Jesuit education, an inconsistent platform or argument was always viewed as an easy target.

So with the current news about Hillary Clinton referring to an “unborn person” not having Constitutional rights this past weekend, I wondered the following: if someone believes that scientific models are essentially the proof of anthropogenic climate change then what do they believe when it comes to the scientific (biological) models that show that when a human sperm fertilizes a human egg in healthy conditions creates a human life…a person?  Is that science insufficient?

The Planned Parenthood Illinois Action’s Diana Arellano, manager of community engagement, said Sunday that Clinton’s comments undermined the cause for abortion rights.  Her comment “further stigmatizes #abortion,” Ms. Arellano said in a tweet. “She calls a fetus an ‘unborn child’ & calls for later term restrictions.”

Well, I guess use it when it suits your argument….

The Lady Protests Too Much, Methinks

Alas poor Hillary

Alas poor Hillary

Apologies to William Shakespeare, but this quote from Hamlet, Act III, Scene 2 might be apropos for Ms. Jill Abramson, former NYT Editor who penned this opinion piece in The Guardian.  The premise: Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest and trustworthy.

Given that even she cites a NYT-CBS poll up front in the piece stating that 40% of Democrats say that she (Secretary Clinton) cannot be trusted, this is indeed “shock[ing]” as she titled the piece.  Let us take a stroll through her argument.

To start with, Ms. Abramson attempts to address the most pressing issue: the FBI case regarding her unclassified email server:

Based on what I know about the emails, the idea of her being indicted or going to prison is nonsensical.

So while Ms. Abramson’s statement could be true, it is an artful dodge.  The following paragraph details how long she’s been “investigating” the Clintons, and it serves as the basis for why she thinks Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest and trustworthy.  Anyone who has looked at the laws, Executive Orders, and statutes regarding two areas: handling classified material and federal records retention, knows that it is actually highly likely that Hillary Clinton and a fair amount of her staff are in deep trouble.  In fact, many are looking at the next step of when, not if, the FBI recommends indictments whether Attorney General Loretta Lynch will pursue the case**.  The Gormogons have stated why this is a case to pursue so I won’t belabor it here.  The possible exception is the federal records retention issue – but this has been covered elsewhere on the intrawebs.  So either Ms. Abramson is ignorant of the current investigation and truly doesn’t know much “about the emails” or is accepting of the story that Secretary Clinton authored no classified emails (already proven false by emails found) and received and sent on no classified emails because they weren’t marked as such (ignorance is not an excuse and, in fact, the laws require one to report and address such occurrences).  I do agree, however, that it is unlikely she will go to prison over this issue if the DoJ actually acts upon the FBI case….but I could be wrong.

The next part is where Ms. Abramson shows her expert knowledge as an editor:

The connection between money and action is often fuzzy. Many investigative articles about Clinton end up “raising serious questions” about “potential” conflicts of interest or lapses in her judgment. Of course, she should be held accountable. It was bad judgment, as she has said, to use a private email server. It was colossally stupid to take those hefty speaking fees, but not corrupt. There are no instances I know of where Clinton was doing the bidding of a donor or benefactor.

First, if someone has “serious questions” and “potential conflicts of interest”, in my book, they are not honest and trustworthy.  I guess Ms. Abramson is more generous than I am.  She actually prefaces that section with how she measures a politician’s honesty:

The yardsticks I use for measuring a politician’s honesty are pretty simple. Ever since I was an investigative reporter covering the nexus of money and politics, I’ve looked for connections between money (including campaign donations, loans, Super Pac funds, speaking fees, foundation ties) and official actions. I’m on the lookout for lies, scrutinizing statements candidates make in the heat of an election.

Ok, now read that two or three times more and answer me this: what is her “yardstick”?  She never specifies it.  She states how she has looked for connections and lies and payoffs but never specifies exactly what makes one honest or not with regards to these things.  Maybe she thinks the reader will infer that if a politician actually has a connection between money and official actions or actually lies then they aren’t honest.

Laws? I don't need no sitnkin' laws.

Second, returning to the powerful editing job, Ms. Abramson states that the email server was “bad judgement” and “colossally stupid” to accept speaking fees – fees that create the impression of impropriety and corruption.  But the coup de grace in this section is the closing statement.  “There are no instances I know of…”  How many times have we heard this from the accused – either on Law and Order (bum-bum***) or in real cases’ coverage?  If Hillary Clinton actually did bidding on behalf of a donor do you think she is going to hide and cover it up and we’re left with unproven questions or do you think she is going to advertise it where Ms. Abramson can write about it?  Sure, maybe Secretary Clinton did not do so…but then why do the questions persist?  Because she’s a prominent politician?  Ok, I can name 25 other prominent politicians that don’t have lingering questions over links between donations and speaking fees and official actions.  The phrase, “where there is smoke, there is fire” exists for a reason.  But the sentence is pure genius on Ms. Abramson’s part.  It has to be true and yet, proves nothing one way or the other.  It is a throwaway and worth nothing.

Then the former editor tries to argue that compared with other candidates, Clinton is a saint:

As for her statements on issues, Politifact, a Pulitzer prize-winning fact-checking organization, gives Clinton the best truth-telling record of any of the 2016 presidential candidates.

OOoh, “Pulitzer prize-winning fact-checking organization”.  Did they check everything she said?  How well?  And they are ALL politicians, they lie – and let’s be honest**** here, all politicians lie – we might call it “stretching the truth” or excuse it with “they walked that back” or they do so by omission and subtle phrasing or they call it a “mistake”.  Heck, we still reference Hillary Clinton’s husbands infamous quote, “it depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”  Comparing them doesn’t prove that Clinton is fundamentally honest or trustworthy.

She closes with:

Still, Clinton has mainly been constant on issues and changing positions over time is not dishonest.

It’s fair to expect more transparency. But it’s a double standard to insist on her purity.

But that’s not the argument being made.  It’s not a transparency and purity measurement.  It is whether she is honest and trustworthy.  If it isn’t clear above, I don’t think any politician is honest and trustworthy.  Unfortunately, another woman candidate that I favored isn’t still in the race but she once stated the following:

Our founders designed a system that was intended to work for the people, not in spite of them.  It would work because it would be led by true public servants, men whose patriotism and love of justice would overcome self-interest or short-term motive.

Our founders would be outraged to see our leaders in Washington today, perched comfortably atop a broken system of their own design — one that is so big and complicated that only the big, the wealthy and the well-connected can handle it.

To continue abusing Hamlet in regards to Hillary Clinton and the dodging of some serious questions of honesty and trustworthiness, let’s cite more from Act III, scene 2: “No, no, they do but jest, poison in jest; no offence i’ the world.”

** The latest thoery I’ve heard is that Lynch might choose to do nothing, which could be interesting given the Scalia seat on the SCOTUS and the Senate.  Will those clamoring for the Senate to take action be consistent and clamor for the DoJ to take action as well?  Neither are required by law to do so…

*** I always hear that all-pervasive double beat when Law and Order is referenced

**** See what I did there.  Almost ‘Puteresque in puns and multi-footnote references

How Brussels Sprouts Terror Cells

The Czar wishes to offend everybody today.

Obviously, the dead of Brussels are a tragedy, and the wounded have our strongest hopes for a full recovery. The Czar does not intend to mock them, but will certainly criticize the hell out of the European mindset.

Yes, we should get right to the first item: the absurd insistence that Muslim immigrants be unquestionably welcomed into the community has made it easy, relatively speaking, for the bad guys to hide. The Czar noticed an all-too-familiar attitude among the neighbors of the Brussels terrorists: they didn’t want to say anything out of fear of stereotyping.

Of course this is a problem, but it’s also a problem if Muslims are prejudged unfairly as well. You can argue this back and forth—like we are here in the States—but ultimately this isn’t the major problem since the influx started decades ago unchecked. It’s not even in the top 5.

A bigger problem than that? Let’s start with typical European reaction. The Czar shares his contempt with many on Twitter who noticed that the largest social media reaction wasn’t over the tragedy, or what could be done to prevent the next attack, or whether something should have been done…it was over whether a French-flagged Baymax hugging a Belgian-flagged Baymax was the more heartfelt response versus the guy who Photoshopped a picture of Brussels at night with red, orange, and black colors in the skyscraper windows.

Call us mad with rage, but when you put up cute memorials of empathy all over social media by the millions, you’re basically making a commercial for ISIS. Look how many millions of people ISIS reached with a couple of simple bombs: people all over the world are providing free press and showing that they were very upset by it. Time was a local terrorist attack frightened thousands; now, it can frighten millions.

The ability of the European to roll over for people of moral depravity remains as astonishing to us now as it did thousands of years ago when Mongols raged through the East. Is any group more easily intimidated than Europeans? It’s hard to say.

Another problem is with institutionalized law enforcement cultural incompetence. To be fair, Belgium has a comparatively token force. Indeed, the Czar would not be surprised if he postulated correctly that the number of people fighting terrorism in Rhode Island exceeded the number of people fighting terrorism in all of Belgium. The Belgians literally do not have enough people—and probably won’t ever—have enough to fight all the terrorists coming into Belgium.

But other countries do, and this vexes the Czar. The Turks warned Europe that at least two of the Brussels terrorists were in central Europe—no one stopped them. Basically, as long as they were targeting Belgium, they were Belgium’s problem. It’s hard to fathom this, except to say that European unity and community is nothing more than a shrugged puff of smoke. How many countries did the terrorists visit on their way to Belgium? Who cares, seems to be the European answer. After all, if there’s one thing a European hates more than the foreigners coming to kill him, it’s the next village over and their different football club.

There’s also the issue of weapons control. Europeans love to rant about Americans and their wild west love affair for Tombstone-style shootouts and Valentines Day massacres, and how any civilized country would follow the European model of prohibition. However, whether it was the long-barrels used in Paris or the explosives used in Brussels, it seems that only people who have trouble arming themselves in Europe are the critics of American values.

Finally, and the Czar will have the most fun with this one, the Europeans seems to have two default setting choices when confronted with terror. Either they completely bow down in obedience to the most intimidating group in the room, or they become militant national socialists. Of course, our media paints this as a “disturbing rise in Right Wing hate groups,” but of course this is shorthand for a “predictable rise in Left Wing bullshit.”

As the Europeans continue to paint touching murals, hoping that the terrorists hit the next country over next time while ignoring their neighbors carrying Kalashnikovs and fertilizer into the apartment behind them, and dust off their brownshirts, the sad reality is that the terrorists picked Europe as a primary target for a bunch of reasons.

Alas, those reasons are thousands of years old.

The Humiliated, the Leader, and the Strength to be Alone—a timely piece

So I ran across this in my missalette for Palm Sunday. I don’t know if the editors are making an oblique political commentary, but it jumped out at me. I’ve removed some of the specifically theological content for emphasis.

Thronging the Way of the Cross

by Caryll Houselander

[…] Humiliated by their own not understood, but deeply felt, spiritual impotency, people try to compensate by material success. They attempt to fill the emptiness within themselves by money, position, flattery. They try to answer and quiet the unappeasable longing to achieve the glory of complete humanity by the achievement of human power; and a humiliated man who does manage to grasp power over other human beings is a potential danger to the world, far more terrible than an atom bomb or bacteriological warfare.…

Ideologies could not come into being without this epidemic humiliation, for they depend on a multitude of young men and young women identifying themselves with a human leader. Every member of the group accepts the ideas of the leader. He accepts the leader’s mind and his conscience. He lives, not by his own conscience, his own will, but by the conscience and will of the leader, until the time comes when he has no will but the leader’s. He loses sight of his own lack of mind and of purpose, and of his own limitations and littleness, and he abandons all personal responsibility for his own thoughts and actions. He is always in costume. He is always acting a part, and in time he really believes that he shares the force and genius of the leader. Thus, for a little while, he has a drug to anesthetize the ache of his own humiliation.

Even when a group is passive, group mentality fosters delusion and pride. But when the group is driven, or “led,” into action, it simply becomes the most dangerous and most horrible of all things: crowd mentality. Identified with a crowd, possessed by it, a man who is really just and temperate behaves like an irrational creature. He will blaspheme, lynch, murder, all without any sense of his personal responsibility. He is in worse shape than a man who is drunk, for he is not only himself out of control but has in him the uncontrolled evil in several hundreds or thousands of other men, too.

Undoubtedly many who thronged the Way of the Cross hurled curses and insults at Christ only because they were possessed by a crowd. Had they the strength to be alone, like Saint Veronica, they would have wiped the spitting of that crowd from the suffering face of Innocence. […]

Caryll Houselander († 1954) was a British mystic, poet, and spiritual teacher. (Who can be forgiven for omitting “punch a horse” in her list of misdeeds. Even great visionaries can miss just how stupid people am…)

The strength to be alone.

 

America, God, Mother: Once Upon A Time, Not Ironic Punchlines…

I was listening to Bill Kristol talk to Robert Putnam about what’s gone wrong in the country over the past few decades (you should too), and I thought of three things that they touched on only lightly if at all.

The first was patriotism. For a discussion which spent tons of time on the value of community, and Putnam’s horror at the constriction of the circle of “us,” there was no mention that to build a consciousness of community, you need to hold it up as worthy (not perfect, but worthy). Since the late ’60s, the American left has signed onto the proposition that our country is unworthy in its history, its institutions, its liberty. Whether as an organized conspiracy against whichever minority is being emphasized, an exemplar of whatever pejorative is being hung on free markets (Capitalism! Neoliberalism!), or a force for ill around the world, the only good they seem to see in the country is its having produced their enlightened selves who can demolish the it and replace it with the eternal order of Justice they’ve Gnostically intuited the rules for erecting. But first, everything must go!

This tendency has leached into the right, as well, from the paleo-conservative rage at social upheavals to the libertarian impulse to pull down governmental institutions in the absence of civil-society substitutes while attacking the moral systems needed to ensure ordered liberty in the absence of coercion.

And I suspect, as de facto anti-Americanism has become the order of the day in liberals’ worldview, it’s coming to the mainstream right, appalled by the thirty to forty percent of their voters, whom they’d held sentimentally to be the equivalent of the yeoman farmer, who prove wiling to back a cheap and transparent demagogue who manifestly believes not a whit in the American constitutional order, liberty, or anything beyond his own compulsive self-aggrandizement. As I’ve mentioned before, most people on the lower end of society are not contemptible (though of course, many are). And their support for Trump may be a sincere expression of rage against the situation they find themselves in, largely shaped by faraway cultural, political, and economic panjandrums. But the form of their protest is dangerous to a degree I suspect they don’t know. Not least because our “educators” have failed to educate them in civics and…patriotism. (As for the better-educated Trump backers, one merely boggles.)

Patriotism properly understood is not ethnonational chauvinism. Patriotism is that attachment to the country that, in the case of the United States, generally combined sentiment with an understanding, however basic, of our distinctive history and institutions, which we considered (gasp) good. And even (horrors!) better than most everything else on offer. To repeat: this is not merely a sentimental whim, but a historical and political-philosophical case, however distilled down into folk wisdom and cute stories about the Founders. (The distillation is not cynical: if you want to get your millions of fellow citizens whose IQ is below eighty to get the importance of transparency and courage in sustaining a republic, little George and the cherry tree and Barbara Fritchie are going to get you there in a way that handing them a copy of The Federalist Papers never will. There’s a reason centuries of  faithful, illiterate Christians knew their faith from stained-glass windows.)

The second factor is the diminution of religion. Again, in terms of social cohesion, religion is the vehicle by which we are most profoundly reminded of our duties to our fellow man. And it’s the primary vehicle for imparting the moral codes which allow people to live successful lives absent legal coercion.

If you want a factory owner to keep the lights on out of a sense of duty to his employees, you’re more likely to find it resonate in one who’s an elder at his church or a regular in his synagogue. The non-religious can of course be moral in this regard, but having a belief system which insists upon the non-negotiable, absolute, intrinsic worth of persons, and regards your decisions relative to them to be an ultimate criterion of judgment of your worth, creates an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual requirement to support and sustain the real people you know, not just “the people” in the abstract. (And, yeah, yeah, of course there are professedly religious people who are craven and wicked, whited sepulchers. And sincere believers who fall short. But c’mon, that should go without saying.)

By the same token, if, for example, you want to reverse the decline of the working-class family, you’d better find some way to return some stigma and meaning to the terms fornication, adultery, and divorce. If there’s a better way to do this than religion, human society hasn’t produced it. (See for example, the long Wesleyan revolution in working-class English mores, which only now seems to be over.) Secondarily, make partying reprehensible. (Uncool! Joyless scold! I can put whatever I want in my body! I know, I know…)

Finally, I was struck by Kristol & Putnam’s lack of discussion of what may be the single greatest social upheaval in our times, the mass entry of women into the salaried workforce. While the dropping of barriers to entry was a logical (and I think laudable) blow for equality, the expectation that women would become wage-earners seems to have been a second-order effect on a massive scale. It may have produced massive goods (from personal fulfillment to the putting of many more excellent brains in the service of solving problems), but as with everything else in life, there were massive tradeoffs, which we’re still reticent to discuss lest it be taken as lunatic attempts to “return women to the kitchen.”

Of course, whether some (many? most?!) married women would prefer to be “in the kitchen” raising their children full-time and/or free to perform the panoply of charitable and culture-sustaining jobs their grandmothers did is an open question that, for similar reasons, can’t be asked.

But in terms of American prosperity, we’ve now got, effectively, twice as many people chasing if not the same number of jobs, then considerably less than twice the number of jobs. And this has wage effects. And while at the upper end of the economy, where there’s lots of money to go around, it’s less pronounced. But we have gone very quickly from a second earner in a household being an exception to its being a relative necessity—and perhaps an absolute one at the bottom of the pay scale. And this has not only economic-inequality effects but places enormous strains on family formation and sustenance.

Simultaneously, the no-fault divorce revolution (originally sold to relieve the lot of a small number of women in hard-case straits) and the embrace of sexual libertinism by the culture at large (again, often proposed in feminist terms) blew up the nuclear family. Anyone in Generation X can remember how this went up and down the economic ladder, but more recently, the haves have regrouped and keep their families intact at considerably higher rates. Among the working class: carnage.

This problem, being both economic, cultural, and political in nature is not amenable to any obvious or easy solution. Likely the tectonic plates of the culture will shift in some new direction, taking politics and economics along for the ride, and we can hope it is in a socially cohesive direction.

To improve our sense of community (and desire to improve it), we need a sense that the community is worthwhile. We need a self-restraining populace that’s not merely atomized subjects cowering before the Orwellian state or aren’t Huxleyan slaves to their own transitory desires and vices, but citizens filled with a constructive sense of righteous behavior and love of neighbor. We need to fix our families. Because women are and always will be the center of families, solutions to its problems may well come from the armies of women who’ve achieved impressive and glittering academic and professional successes, but see past the feminist and economistic fallacies that they’re just interchangeable cogs whose greatest ability is to win rat races.

Putnam is right. Our sense of community is narrowed and frayed. What can one do? Well, here’s a suggestion for a first step. If you’re a metropolitan sophisticate, hop in a car, drive an hour out of your city and pull into a Taco Bell or a McDonald’s. Stifle your epicurean horror, order something with a cup of coffee or a soda you can nurse, and just sit there for an hour. Look at your fellow customers, your fellow Americans. Maybe eavesdrop a bit. Put yourself in their shoes. And then think, how do we all—“they,” “we”—get us all moving in the right direction again? Someone, somewhere will happen on a right answer, someone else another, and so forth; and it’s our duty to our fellows to find them and put them into practice.

The Czar Rages on Conservative Voters

One of the more reliable vanities that conservatives have always enjoyed is that, despite the ceaseless contradiction from the Left, conservatives are a smart, practical, intelligent bunch of people. After all, it has been said repeatedly, conservatives think with their heads and liberals feel with their hearts—and that really, when it all comes down to it, the conservatives wind up being right with prudent care and the liberals are basically just using visceral emotion to make snap decisions with ill-guessed consequences.

After this past week, the Czar isn’t so sure that’s the case anymore. Oh, sure—liberals still feel injustice more than they can prove it, and are eager to make reams of printed resolutions that always result in higher taxes but nothing else. That hasn’t changed.

What’s changed is that, for the first time, the Czar worries that a huge swath of conservatives are really freaking stupid morons.

What other case in point is required than this week’s primary results?

You might think the Czar is going to complain about the rise of Donald Trump as proof of conservative stupidity. Just the contrary: the sustained support Trump enjoys is the proof; his rise is merely a consequence of it.

We have been hearing forever that the Republican establishment is dead (Jeb Bush was jettisoned early) and that conservatives, who allegedly make up the bulk of the remainder, finally have control over their future. Governors Walker, Jindal, Perry, and Senators Paul, Cruz, and Rubio are tried and true tea partiers who want nothing more than to raid Washington like Vikings and throw out all the big spenders, RINOs, and squishes and fix all the problems put in there by Wilson FDR LBJ Carter Clinton Obama once and for all. Indeed, rounded out by the likes of Dr. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, never before has the Republican party looked so overwhelmingly powerful and conservative. What an embarrassment of riches!

Well, the embarrassment part held out just fine. After careful consideration during the first debates, Republican voters deeply pondered the many benefits of each candidate and weighed that against potential risks, and decided that each of them had to go.

As the Czar pointed out to you all last week, conservatives could easily have blown Trump out of the race this week. All we had to do was think for a goddamned second.

Instead, we acted just as badly as any liberal thinker and the results may be catastrophic.

Let’s glance at Twitter. The rise of #neverTrump was a good thing and began trending almost immediately. And it had a powerful effect on Trump’s supporters: many were forced to reconsider the wisdom of their choice, and others confirmed their vulgar repugnance in responding to those tweets. All in all, it cost Trump quite a bit of popular support.

It’s no surprise that the Trump campaign responded with #neverCruz.

But what the hell were all these people—some of whom who read this very site—signing tweets with both #neverTrump and #neverCruz? Who were they supporting? The crashing Marco Rubio, or the never-was John Kasich?

Let the Czar finally explain his rage, here. You hate Trump. Got it: we see it everywhere. But when Cruz is within a few percentage points of Trump and you pull the lever for Rubio or Kasich, you’re an idiot. You’re letting Trump win hundreds of delegates.

It’s de rigeur for home-schooled political pundits to refer to the Republican Party as the Stupid Party. Election after election, the Republicans find some way to screw it up: John Boehner, 47%, Sarah Palin, and on and on. So here we are, in 2016, and the Republicans give you not one but about ten conservative candidates, any of whom could easily turn Hillary Clinton in to a minor speed bump on the way to the White House.

And what do we do? We subject each of them to nonsensical purity tests: Walker was a RINO because he didn’t talk enough about foreign policy. Jindal was a RINO because he came from a blue state. Perry was a RINO because he stumbled during a 2012 debate. Paul was a RINO because he didn’t share his father’s 1930s isolationist view of the military. Rubio was a RINO because he got sodomized by the Democrats on immigration. Cruz is a RINO because, well, probably because he lied about amnesty or something. In 2012, we threw our hands up and wondered why just one of these people couldn’t be a candidate over Mitt Romney. In 2016, it turns out all of these people must be RINOs.

It isn’t the GOP that’s stupid. It’s us: the conservative voters, who eagerly became the circular firing squad that we endlessly mocked the Establishment for being.

So whom do conservatives want? Ronald Reagan, it seems—a pro-union former Democrat who was involved in a major illegal immigration amnesty stunt, who frequently compromised with democrats, who pushed America into all sorts of overseas military engagements, and may or may not have been aware of a secret deal with Iranians and communists to negotiate with terrorists. Got it.

But all these other guys are RINOs because they’re not as conservative as Reagan was?

You’re starting to piss us off. And the Czar will go further: Marco Rubio, for one, is more conservative, historically, than Reagan was. Cruz way more so. Hell, the Czar wonders if he should start comparing Kasich to Reagan as well.

And while you all send nasty tweets back and forth about Cruz and all the other departed candidates, Trump is laughing all the way to becoming the worst conservative Republican president since Nixon. Except of course, Hillary Clinton will beat him in the general so we’ll never know for sure.

When eight more years of liberalism happens, the Czar doesn’t want to hear a single word from you people about it. You were given multiple chances to destroy the Clinton dynasty in 2016, and you systematically disarmed them all for her.

Dummies.