American Elephants


A Grand Tour of British Accents by The Elephant's Child

The voice is that of Andrew Jack, a dialogue coach.



Understanding Ukraine: The Problems Today and Some Historical Context by The Elephant's Child
April 3, 2014, 6:32 am
Filed under: Europe, Freedom, History, Politics, Russia | Tags: , ,


An Unusual London Bus Shelter by The Elephant's Child

Pepsi Max surprised London commuters with a very unusual bus shelter. This is brilliant advertising. Memorable, startling, fun, and people who experienced it will talk about it all day, and tell all their friends. What more could a creative director ask?



President Barack Obama Visits Brussels by The Elephant's Child

The imperial presidency at work. The president is off to Brussels with a 900-strong entourage, including 45 vehicles and three planes, to attend the EU and NATO summits.The visit will cost Belgium more than €10 million, to cover his 24 hours in the country.

The president will arrive on Tuesday night with a 900-strong entourage, including 45 vehicles and three cargo planes. Advance security teams orchestrating every last detail have combed Brussels already, checking the sewers and the major hospitals, while American military helicopters were last week given the green light for overflights. The city hosts at least four EU summits a year, with each of these gatherings costing €500,000 in extra police, military and transport expenses. “But this time round, you can multiply that figure by 20,” said Brussels mayor, Yvan Mayeur.

Belgium itself is mobilizing 350 police and military on motorbikes to secure the president’s routes to EU and NATO summits on Wednesday, while a convoy of nine US helicopters will take Obama to an American first world war cemetery.

Brigette Grouwels, who heads the city’s transport policy, said locals should just take the occasion to walk, cycle and take public transport, and experience first hand a city unencumbered by cars.

I want our president to be safe on foreign visits, but this is getting ridiculous. Every time he takes a trip, we hear more about the disruption his grandiose entourage causes, and the expense, than about anything accomplished by the trip.

Imposing a €2 million cost on Belgium for a 24 hour visit seems both excessive and unnecessary. But an entourage of 900? Besides drivers for the 45 vehicles and pilots and crew for the three planes, who are those 900 people? What bothers me is that the Obamas seem unaware of the problems they cause, and simply feel it is their due.

Michelle’s presidential suite in Beijing runs $8,350 a night. I don’t know what kind of entourage she has. But it makes a nice Spring Break for the kids.



Here Is What is Troubling Americans About Our Politics and Our Government by The Elephant's Child

I read a lot, but I seldom seem to get to the newest books when they are new, partly because I’m suspicious of blurbs and wait for reviews by people I trust. I’ve been fooled by blurbs once too often. So I didn’t get to Angelo  Codevilla’s book on “The Ruling Class” when it came out in 2010. It is a delight.

The people who run our government at the state and federal level have come to believe that—

Ever since the 1930s, as people who think this way have taken over more and more functions in an ever bigger government, they have become ever more inclined to dismiss the public’s opposition as ignorant and to believe themselves entitled to shape a new and different America.

Through their conception of their own superiority, and by accumulating power, they have made themselves into a bipartisan Ruling Class that now dominates public affairs and encroaches ever more into our lives’ most intimate details….

Hence, our Ruling Class’ first priority in any and all matters, its solution to any and all problems is to increase the power of the government—meaning of those who run it, meaning themselves. Secondly it is to recompense political supporters with public money, privileged jobs, contracts, etc. That is why our Ruling Class’ solution, not just for economic downturns and social ills but also for  hurricanes and tornadoes, global cooling and global warming, has been to claim more power for itself.

Codevilla says “While Europeans are accustomed to being ruled by presumed betters whom they distrust, the American people’s realization of being ruled in the same way shocked this country into well-nigh revolutionary attitudes.”

Professor Codevilla spreads the blame around in bipartisan fashion, but if you surf the internet or listen to talk radio, you are well aware that this is a major concern of the American people and they are continually trying to  figure out just what to do about it. This lucid little book is a great help to understanding.



A Bully at Home, Feckless in Foreign Policy. by The Elephant's Child

Daniel Henninger began his column in the Wall Street Journal today thusly:

By the time the second World Trade Center tower collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001, the whole world was watching it. We may assume that Vladimir Putin was watching. Mr. Putin, a quick calculator of political realities, would see that someone was going to get hit for this, and hit hard.

He was right of course. The Bush presidency became a war presidency that day, and it pounded and pursued the Islamic fundamentalists of al Qaeda without let-up or apology.

During that time, it was reported that Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer in East Germany, deeply regretted the fall of the Soviet Union’s empire and despised the Americans who caused it to fall. But no one cared what Mr. Putin thought then.

Mark Steyn added:

That’s true. A couple of days after September 11th, the Bush Administration called Moscow and demanded the Russians agree to letting the US use military bases in former Soviet Central Asia for their planned invasion of Afghanistan. That must have been quite a phone call. Washington was proposing not only to do to the Afghans what the Kremlin has so abysmally failed to do, but to do it out of the Russians’ old bases. And yet Moscow understood that, for once, America was serious. And so, presented with a fait accomplis, they agreed to it.

Back to today, Daniel Henninger again:

Sometimes world affairs go off the grid. Diplomats may give reasons why it is not in the interests of Mr. Putin or Russia to take this course. Vice President Biden told the Poles in Warsaw Monday that Mr. Putin’s seizure of Crimea was “flawed logic.” It is difficult for men embedded in a world of rational affairs to come to grips with Mr. Putin’s point of view: He doesn’t care what they think.

And everything Obama does confirms to Putin that the Crimea is his, so why stop there. So Putin will roll on, reassembling the Russian Empire. The Obama Administration pursues its own foreign policy priorities:

Secretary Kerry says the U.S. will send scientists to discuss homosexuality with the President of Uganda.

National Security Advisor Susan Rice wants to take affirmative action in the legal sense on behalf of women. The post of U.S. ambassador to Russia has been vacant for three weeks. Al Kamen of the Washington Post says Ms. Rice would like to place a woman in Moscow. It was rumored that White House press secretary Jay Carney who once worked in Moscow for Time magazine wanted the job of ambassador.

Russian forces invade the Ukraine Naval Base.  President Obama reveals his “Final Four” picks. Joe Biden is in Eastern Europe conferring with our allies there, and trying to convince them that we are serious.

Conservatives who note the stark difference between Obama’s domestic legally questionable hardball and his passive international posture must wonder whether Obama behaves as he does because he is naive or just because he wants the U.S. to have less say in the world. His stated foreign policy objectives are to keep the U.S. out of war and transform America’s image from that of unilateralist bully to a nation that plays well with others.

The trouble is that under Obama the U.S. does not play well with others. Obama’s view of the world is extraordinarily naive, as is the substance and the style of his foreign policy.



The Background to Current Events: by The Elephant's Child

Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin is the essential history to current events. We tend to think of World War II as “the good war,” celebrated in movies and fading memory. It was good in the sense that it was a war waged against true evil, but it was a desperate war in which the whole world was threatened. But we tend to forget the Cold War, a time when kids hid under their desks, and people built fallout shelters. Before World War II even began, index America’s wartime ally Josef Stalin had killed millions of his own citizens—and kept killing them during and after the war. Before Hitler was finally defeated, he had murdered six million Jews and nearly as many other Europeans. At war’s end, both the German and the Soviet killing sites fell behind the iron curtain, leaving the history of mass killing in darkness.

Bloodlands is a new kind of European history, presenting the mass murders committed by the Nazi and Stalinist regimes as two aspects of a single history, in the time and place where they occurred: between Germany and Russia, when Hitler and Stalin both held power. Assiduously researched, deeply humane, and utterly definitive, Bloodlands will be required reading for anyone seeking to understand the central tragedy of modern history.

Timothy Snyder has done a series of articles for the New York Review of Books about the current crisis. Worth your time:  “Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine,” “Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda,” and “Crimea: Putin vs. Reality.



Naivety And Incomprehension: What Happened to The Working Relationship? by The Elephant's Child

lead

Vladimir Putin just pitched the post Cold War rule-book out the window, and the European countries are understandably nervous. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s announcement that he wants to downsize the military to the size it was before World War II, may go down in history as the most inappropriate announcement ever made by a cabinet member.

The White House spin machine is telling friendly reporters that Vladimir Putin has fallen into a trap,  which may be carrying the idea of “spin” a little too far. Walter Russell Mead said “Putin is increasingly likely to go down in history as a failed state builder, a man who took Russia down the wrong path and who added to the burden of Russian history.”

But those are long term considerations that, unfortunately for the diligent White House staffers working to spin the next news cycle, won’t help the President now.  In the short term President Putin has put President Obama in an ugly spot. President Obama’s foreign policy depends on three big ideas: that a working relationship with Russia can help the United States stabilize the Middle East, that a number of American adversaries are willing to settle their differences with us on the basis of compromises that we can accept, and that President Obama has the smarts to know who we can trust.

Putin’s attack on Ukraine calls all three propositions into question. What Obama’s belief in the possibility of deals with countries like Russia and Iran leaves out is that some countries around the world may count the reduction of American power and prestige among their vital interests. They may not be hampering and thwarting us because we are unnecessarily and arbitrarily blocking their path toward a reasonable goal; they may be hampering and frustrating us because curbing our power is one of their central objectives. This is not necessarily irrational behavior from their point of view; American power is not a good thing if you hate the post-Cold War status quo, and it can make sense to sacrifice the advantages of a particular compromise with the United States if as a result you can reduce America’s ability to interfere with your broader goals.

Washington’s flat-footed, deer-in-the-headlights incomprehension about Russia’s Crimean adventure undermines President Obama’s broader credibility in a deeply damaging way. If he could be this blind and misguided about Vladimir Putin, how smart is he about the Ayatollah Khameni, a much more difficult figure to read? President Obama is about to have a difficult meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu in which he will tell Netanyahu essentially that Israel should ground its national security policy on the wisdom of President Obama and his profound grasp of the forces of history. The effect will be somewhat undermined by President Obama’s failure to understand the most elementary things about Vladimir Putin.

Foreign policy is harder than it looks, and Mr. Obama’s foreign policy team is not an impressive bunch. Will the American public see this as just another case of difficult foreigners doing bad things in some little-known country, or will they see this as  clear evidence that this president is too naive and too passive and he is endangering the country?

Secretary Kerry said huffily on Face the Nation: “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country. That’s not the act of somebody who’s strong, Putin is acting out of “weakness” and “desperation.”

It’s easier to threaten friends. They probably won’t do anything. Obama said essentially that if Israel wouldn’t agree to the U.S. idea of a peace deal with the Palestinians, then the U.S. won’t be able to defend Israel if the peace talks fail. Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which began last July, have made no visible progress. Palestine refuses to recognize the right of the Israeli state to exist, won’t stop shooting rockets into Israel, continues to teach its small children that martyrdom in the interest of killing Jews is a holy aim, and insists of the ‘right of return.’ Obama’s ideas about Israel were likely formed by his friendship with the radical Palestinian professor Rashid Khalidi. He does not change his mind.



Obama May Be Uninterested in Geopolitics, But The World Won’t Wait. by The Elephant's Child

A pro-European protester wears a gas mask during street violence in Kiev

The Ukrainian government’s assault on protesters in Kiev’s Independence Square has shocked the world. The European Union is being forced to reexamine some of their assumptions about foreign policy. After the horrendous killings of protesters, President Obama, backed by his sterling foreign policy team, Chuck Hagel, Susan Rice and Joe Biden, said “There will be consequences if people step over the line.”

No one took that warning seriously. There is a fundamental shift we are witnessing in the national-security strategy of the United States, and this one means big repercussions for the world. Government snipers kept right on shooting protesters, and Obama’s passive statement merely reminded the world of all his previous red lines.

Talks mediated by three EU foreign ministers and a Russian envoy, got Viktor Yanukovych to agree to stop the violence, share power and hold early elections. Later on Friday, the Ukrainian parliament unanimously restored the 2004 constitution which curtails presidential powers. Mr. Yanukovych has lost control over the chamber, which also voted to release his predecessor, Yulia Tymoshenko, who was jailed on trumped-up charges in 2011. Government riot police which had used live ammunition against civilians, withdrew from the capital’s center.

A new “national unity” government is to be created within 10 days to work out other constitutional changes to strengthen Ukraine’s democracy. Presidential elections will be held before the end of the year.

Yanukovych has fled Kiev for the city of Kharkiv. The protesters want Yanukovych to resign. He says he is not resigning, and may just be attempting to shore up support. Russia is reportedly prepared to fight a war over the Ukrainian territory of Crimea to protect the ethnic Russian population and the military base there. Russian officials say in private that Ukraine falls inside Russia’s sphere of influence.

“We will not allow Europe and the US to take Ukraine from us. The states of the former Soviet Union, we are one family,” said a foreign policy official. “They think Russia is still as weak as in the early 1990s but we are not.”

There is no scenario where Yanukovych resigns and the opposition takes over. Putin does not intend to lose the Ukraine. Yanukovych has enriched himself and his family  since taking power in 2010, but his popularity has declined as the corruption has gone up. The people want a clear path into the EU and NATO, the clubs of a free Europe. They have experienced Russian domination, and don’t like it. And the Holodomor may have been long ago, but it is not forgotten. For Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, the possibility that a united Ukraine might desert Russia and join Europe is completely unacceptable. The situation is — fluid.



The Socialist Scandinavian Paradise Is Turning Away From The Welfare State — Unaffordable! by The Elephant's Child

stockholm_sweden_riddarholmen_church_59566_1920x1080

Trends. It’s always hard to decide what is a trend and what is just a temporary aberration, but the Nordic countries are increasingly turning away from the welfare state. Swedes in the supposed socialist paradise are  turning to private health insurance to reduce long wait times and rationed health care services. The country started cutting government spending as a percentage of GDP in the 1990s, and that has continued.

Throughout the Nordic countries the size and scope of government are being cut back as nations find themselves strapped for cash. In Denmark, when Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s government took power in 2011, there was little to suggest that she would make any dramatic changes to the country’s welfare state which is funded by the world’s highest tax burden.

However, the center-right government raised the retirement age and reduced the period for unemployment benefits from four years to two years. Corporate taxes were cut to 22 percent from 25 percent. Young people on  benefits are required to undertake training and student aid is withdrawn from those taking too long to finish their studies.

Finland is moving to trim similar sorts of programs. Only Norway is unlikely to tackle serious reform because of its vast oil wealth and ironically, it has a conservative government. The new center-right Prime Minister Erna Solberg has pledged to preserve the welfare state.

About one in ten Swedes now has private health insurance, and the numbers are increasing. “It’s quicker to get a colleague back to work if you have an operation in two week’s time rather than having to wait for a year” privately insured Anna Norlander told  Sveriges Radio on Friday. “It’s terrible that I, as a young person, don’t feel I can trust the health care system to take care of me.”

The Local noted that “visitors are sometimes surprised to learn about year-long waiting times for cancer patients.” Is that before or after they decide how aggressive the particular cancer is?

The welfare-state period may be regarded as a brief interlude. Until the 1970s, Sweden had strong market-oriented policies in place that increased wealth and standards of living, because of reforms introduced at the end of the 19th century. Light regulation and property rights were enforced, government was limited, and a private banking sector flourished. The cradle to grave socialist services implemented in the 1970s proved to be unaffordable.

Sweden has deregulated whole industries and encouraged the privatization of public services. Income tax in Sweden is lower than France, Belgium and Denmark, though that’s not saying much. Public spending as a share of GDP has declined from 71.0 percent in 1993 to 53.3 percent last year.

It is important to keep in mind that the Nordic States are all small homogeneous countries, though they have had significant Muslim immigration. Sweden is the largest with just over 9 million population, followed by Denmark  5.5 million, Finland 5.2 million and Iceland 308,000. Sweden’s population is roughly the same size as North Carolina, and Denmark is similar to Minnesota, if that helps to put things in perspective.



Antarctic Adventures Can Become Addictive by The Elephant's Child

Icebreaker1928
1928: The cutter Bear, used by U.S. Admiral Richard Byrd on an expedition to the South Polar regions. (click to enlarge)

The Week has assembled a group of historic photographs of icebreakers here, from a much longer historical photography collection from the U.S.Coast Guard, showing icebreaking since the mid 1800s. You start getting interested in the Arctic and Antarctic, and explorations and rescues, and first thing you know, you’re collecting every book you can find about Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton’s Antarctic explorations and the Endurance, and then you get the 2002 Kenneth Branagh film (excellent) and books about the incredible expedition and examples of leadership, survival and courage, and you’re hooked.  You’ll be ordering up the whiskey reproduced from the Scotch Whiskey buried for a hundred years, in Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition Hut. There’s even a book about that.



Sherlock Mini-Episode: Many Happy Returns by The Elephant's Child

O.K. So how can he be still alive? You saw him fall off the building. You saw him dead.  A major tease from the BBC.




Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,439 other followers

%d bloggers like this: