Interesting Newspaper Articles

The Economist | Religion: The new strife

Sad,  but true, from today’s WSJ, 3 May 2016:


The GOP Gets What It Deserves

‘America First’ is the inevitable outcome of the Republican descent into populism.
By Bret Stephens | 813 words

A joke in Milan Kundera’s novel “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting”goes like this: “In Wenceslaus Square, in Prague, a guy is throwing up.

Another guy comes up to him, pulls a long face, shakes his head and says: ‘I know just what you mean.’
The joke is supposed to be about life in Czechoslovakia under communism, circa 1977.

It conveys exactly what I feel about the moral and mental state of the Republican Party, circa 2016.

Last week, Donald Trump delivered his big foreign-policy speech, built around the theme of “America First.”

The term seems to have been planted in his brain by New York Times reporter David Sanger, who asked the Republican front-runner in late March whether it was fair to sum up his foreign policy as “something of an ‘America First’kind of approach.”

Trump: “Correct, okay? That’s fine.”
Sanger: “Okay? Am I describing this correctly here?”
Trump: “I’ll tell you—you’re getting close. . . . I’m not an isolationist, but I am ‘America First.’

So I like the expression. I’m ‘America First.’”
Did Mr. Trump know anything about the history of the America First Committee before he seized on the phrase?

Did anyone in his inner circle advise him that it might be unwise to associate himself with a movement whose principal aim was to prevent the United States from helping Winston Churchill fight the Nazis during the Battle of the Atlantic?

Once he learned of it—assuming he did—was he at least privately embarrassed?
Or was he that much more pleased with himself?

With Mr. Trump it’s hard to say: He has a way of blurring the line between ignorance and provocation, using one as an alibi when he’s accused of the other.

Is he Rodney Dangerfield, the lovable American everyman pleading for a bit of respect? Or is he Lenny Bruce, poking his middle finger in the eye of respectable opinion?

Whichever way, the conclusion isn’t flattering. Either Mr. Trump stumbled upon his worldview through a dense fog of historical ignorance. Or he is seriously attempting to resurrect the most disastrous and discredited strain of American foreign policy for a new generation of American ignoramuses.

And now he’s about to become the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, assuming a win in Tuesday’s Indiana primary.
It’s true that Mr. Trump benefits from having as his main opponent Ted Cruz, the man recently described by former House Speaker John Boehner as “Lucifer in the flesh.”
That’s about right, assuming Lucifer is the fellow who sows discord where harmony once reigned. In 2014, the “Republican establishment,”as it is now derisively known, succeeded in securing its largest ever majority in the House since 1928.
It won nine seats in the Senate and regained the majority for the first time in eight years.
The GOP also took control of 31 governorships, with historic gains in state legislatures. These were significant political achievements, which only awaited a reasonably serious presidential candidate to lead to a sweeping Republican restoration.

Instead, Mr. Cruz used the moment to attempt a party coup by treating every tactical or parliamentary difference of opinion as a test of ideological purity.

The party turned on its own leaders, like the much-vilified Mr. Boehner. Then it turned on its (classically) liberal ideas, like free trade and sensible immigration policy.

And now it’s America First time again—the inevitable outcome of the GOP’s descent into populism.

Mr. Cruz, who used to be fond of calling Mr. Trump “my friend Donald”when it seemed opportune, now presents himself as the only man standing between his nemesis and the nomination.

But Mr. Cruz’s trashing of his fellow Republicans hastened the arrival of the ultimate party-crasher.
Arsonists who set fire to their neighborhood run the risk of burning their own house down.

And then there is the GOP rank-and-file. It is supposed to be sinful for conservative columnists to blame Republican voters for making disastrous choices, at least without the obligatory nods to their patriotism and pain. But if Democrats don’t get a moral pass for bringing Bernie Sanders this far in the race, Republicans shouldn’t get one for bringing Mr. Trump to the cusp of the nomination. The point of democracy isn’t freedom. It’s political accountability. That goes for elected officials—and for the ones who elect them.

The “white working classes”that are said to form the core of Mr. Trump’s support deserve better than to be patronized with references to their “anger.”

They deserve to hear an argument about the disaster they are about to impose on their party, their country and their own economic interests. A Trump nomination will not destroy the GOP, any more than George McGovern’s nomination destroyed the Democrats.

But it all but guarantees another Clinton presidency. How should that make you feel? Note the Kundera punchline atop this column.

Write ■


From 27 April 2016 Wall Street Journal:

The Auto Emissions Crackup

One more example of what an analyst calls ‘sophisticated state failure.’

By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. | 762 words

As expected, Volkswagen’s scandal over emissions cheating is spreading to other car makers. Porsche, Audi, Mercedes and GM’s Opel division in Germany are recalling cars for failing emissions tests.

In France, Renault and Peugeot have been raided by police. Japan’s Mitsubishi admitted on Tuesday that it had been fudging mileage data for 25 years, putting the company’s survival in doubt.

In an honest world the scandal would now spread to the agencies and politicians that conspire to set implausible rules and then help create ways around them for industries that employ millions of their voters and whose products are of vital daily purpose to virtually everyone in their societies.

The crackup here is bigger than the crackup of a single regulatory initiative. The problem only begins with agencies maniacally hoeing their row because it’s theirs, beyond reason, with science reduced to their useful idiot.

Take the Environmental Protection Agency standard that Volkswagen, in its still-unexplained obsession with reconquering the U.S. market with diesel cars, is guilty of flouting.

EPA’s latest target of 0.07 grams of nitrogen oxide per mile represents a 90% reduction from NOx output of the average car on the road today.

It represents a 97% reduction compared to the 100 million pickup trucks on the road. The law of diminishing returns, if agencies behaved rationally, would have caused EPA to declare victory on nitrogen oxide and turn to other matters.

But acting rationally is not an agency interest. The Clean Air Act gave EPA the atmosphere as its regulatory bailiwick, and it won’t let go.

And since racking up of continued costs for small gains must be justified somehow, an unsupported scientific orthodoxy is rolled out—the theory, which permeates federal regulatory endeavors, that anything toxic in large amounts is toxic in small amounts.

Even the chair of the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee testified in 1997: “I do not believe we are sufficiently well-informed to make the judgment that regulating [fine particulates] to near background levels is an appropriate national commitment.”

The agency since then, of course, has made an even bolder leap to claim that the Clean Air Act entitles it to regulate virtually all activities in the atmosphere in the name of climate change, though 85% of the relevant activities take place outside the U.S. beyond EPA’s reach.

It might seem easy to blame the politicians who superintend this machine, but politicians come and go, while the machine endures.

The Bush administration started out criticizing fuel-mileage standards as perverse and ineffective, yet when the Iraq war went bad, President Bush seized on tighter rules to suggest he was making war on America’s “oil addiction.”

The fuel-economy regime was created in 1975 when gasoline price controls were still extant. If politicians wouldn’t let price ration usage, they needed another way to temper demand—that was the idea behind fuel-economy mandates.

Those price controls are long gone but the mileage mandates survive because so many interests have sprung into being around them, though the cited purpose has become “emissions,”not “energy security.”

In setting his own mileage goals, President Obama selected 54.5 miles-per-gallon because the White House wanted an impressive “headline number.”

The actual target is closer to 40 mpg when various allowances, gimmes, favors to U.S. auto makers at the expense of their foreign counterparts, subsidies to pet technologies, etc., are counted.

And of course, “your mileage may vary,”because the EPA and auto makers silently agreed on a testing procedure that has nothing to do with real-world driving.

The ne plus ultra is Tesla, a company massively propped up by indirect and direct official handouts. Electricity is the most important source of global greenhouse emissions, so the U.S. pays Tesla to make a car that runs on electricity.

Multiply the emissions scandal by many thousands and you have the crackup of the Western model of governance.

Their retirement systems were premised on workforces growing faster than retired populations, yet now are helpless to adjust when the opposite is true. Their tax and welfare systems suppress work, entrepreneurship and eventually childbearing, and now need to be kept ambulatory by direct lending from their central banks.

One thing that can’t be changed, though, is the programs themselves no matter how maladaptive they prove. Jan Techau, of Carnegie Europe, coined the phrase “sophisticated state failure”for the impasse afflicting the advanced industrial nations.

If you think the U.S. is somehow immune to rigid elites and dysfunctional priorities, somehow specially blessed, think again. If you suppose Donald Trump is the solution, an even ruder awakening may be coming.■


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