Still out there… even in China

Hollywood is beginning to notice there are still quite a few people left who are interested in uplifting and edifying entertainment:

Given the crop of projects being shopped at the Cannes film market that features Christian-themed narratives — notably An Interview With God, Samson and God Bless the Broken Road — and with Wim Wenders’ doc Pope Francis: A Man of His Word playing as an official selection at the festival, there are signs that fare once ignored by international buyers and Cannes programmers is receiving a warm welcome…

“When I was first approached to take on [An Interview With God], I felt reluctant because I thought, ‘Oh my God, there really isn’t an evangelical community outside of the United States,’” says Wander. “But we’ve been getting interest from places like China — I never would have thought that — Japan, the U.K., spots that typically don’t respond to these kinds of films.”

One has to be careful here, because what Hollywood calls “faith-based” is often over-the-top heretical and completely un-Biblical (see: Noah).  That said, recent films like Paul – Apostle of Christ are showing it doesn’t take a large bankroll to produce a film worth seeing, particularly when one stays respectful of the source material.  When such films triple their production budget in ticket receipts, even secular (but profit-minded) Hollywood begins to take note.

This is one reason it’s critical Christians are careful with our entertainment vote, which consists of how we choose to spend our money.  Noah only made money because of the overseas market – it would have been a flop on domestic tickets alone.  While Hollywood knows the overseas market is lucrative, the experience with Noah will give them pause.  Similarly, A Wrinkle In Time, which largely abandoned what Christian influence was in the original book, has also underwhelmed at the box office (and is rumored to have lost $100 million for Disney).

There is great potential here.  Moviemakers who desire to honor God with their work have raised their game, rising above some of the cheesy stereotypes of their past efforts.  If Hollywood decides this is a financially winning formula, it’s possible they’ll support these projects, even if they personally disdain the worldview involved.  I don’t expect Hollywood to become a source of evangelical proselytizing.  But moving the window closer to God’s perspective would be a great development for our culture.  He can speak even through the unlikeliest of messengers.

Consider that seriously when you choose your entertainment.  Are you helping to strengthen our mass media culture, or going along with its slide?

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Sounding a Mayday

A new memoir by retired Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz revisits the decision by then-Secretary Robert Gates to shut down the F-22 Raptor production line well short of the service’s calculated minimum operational requirement.  The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been tremendously expensive for the United States, both in lives and money.  As time goes on, we may find the largest cost of those conflicts was to cause such an intense focus on counterinsurgency warfare that our higher-end capabilities were allowed to atrophy.  Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States has considered Russia and China “near peer competitors” — in short, not quite the superpower America is.  That situation is changing more rapidly than many planners anticipated even a decade ago.  China fielded its first operational stealth aircraft years before expected.  While they are still having some growing pains, this development invalidated some of the reasoning behind shutting down the F-22 — that the U.S. Air Force was largely untouchable.

…Schwartz’s predecessor General Mike Moseley “never gave up in his principled attempts to get those 381 F-22s” the book states. That push ended up getting Moseley fired along with his civilian counterpart, Air Force Secretary Mike Wynn. After the culling, the brass thought that the new bomber was simply too important and that the chances of winning both the F-22 and bomber arguments with Gates, who was staunchly averse to building high-priced weapons that couldn’t be used in Iraq or Afghanistan, was next to zero.

Schwartz, in an attempt to see if a reduced F-22 production number would be palatable to the Defense Secretary, executed an independent assessment that ended up stating 243 F-22s was the absolute minimum the force could get by with. But Gates balked at that number as well.

In the end, the production line was shut down after only 188 Raptors were built.  The F-22 is designed to ensure air supremacy by sweeping adversaries’ aircraft from the skies.  For context, it is assuming that role from the 1970s-vintage F-15 Eagle, of which the Air Force procured nearly 900 over the decades since its debut.  That number does not include the 225 F-15E “Strike Eagles” specially designed with more focus on ground attack missions than air-to-air operations.  The F-15 production line continues to operate today, fielding orders from major U.S. allies more than a dozen years after the United States bought its last Eagle.

In short, the U.S. bought far too few Raptors, and now has no option to build more (the production line having been dismantled).  The Air Force was able to replenish its F-15 fleet over the years, purchasing newer aircraft and retiring older airframes.  This will not be an option for the F-22 design, as reopening production is cost-prohibitive.  As a result of this shortfall, the Air Force has kept a large number of F-15s in service as teammates to the Raptor.  But this generates the cost of maintaining four distinct fighter platforms: the F-22, the F-15, the smaller F-16 (most known for its use by the Thunderbird Demonstration Team), and the new F-35 attack aircraft.  The F-15 and F-16 were built concurrently as a “high-low” mix: a smaller number of highly capable F-15s to defeat enemy air forces, and considerably more of the less capable (and less expensive) F-16s to operate in a mostly “permissive” environment.  The same approach was intended for the F-22 and F-35.  With the premature closure of the F-22 line, the Air Force has to choose between keeping the F-15s around longer (adding to budget strain), or shifting some of their air superiority mission to the larger (but less capable) F-16 fleet until sufficient numbers of stealthy F-35s are flying.

This was not the first time the U.S. shot itself in the foot while buying a major aircraft system.  The B-2 bomber, which critics love to point out cost more per unit than any aircraft in history, was originally supposed to be a fleet of 100 aircraft.  Rattled by the program cost at a time the Cold War was winding down, Congress funding the Air Force for only 21 (of which only 19 are in operation today).  After 9/11 the system proved far more versatile than its original mission of nuclear combat with the Soviet Union, flying incredibly long missions non-stop from the U.S. to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere.  Instead of 16 nuclear weapons, the aircraft can carry up to 80 satellite-guided 500-pound bombs, accurately hitting scores of targets on each mission.  Such capability creates high demand, but with such a small fleet these demands have worn out the B-2 force and the Air Force is scrambling to produce a replacement system as mentioned in the book excerpt above.  It’s arguable an original fleet of 100 aircraft would have reduced or eliminated the need for another design procurement this soon.

But such is the “penny-wise, pound-foolish” ways of government acquisition.  The F-22 and B-2 are arguably the most advanced and capable aircraft ever built — and no more of either can be produced because the facilities have shut down.  It has been 65 years since an American soldier was lost to enemy airpower — in 1953, during the Korean War.  Three generations of military planners have been able to reasonably assume the U.S. would control the skies in any conflict they foresaw.

Our investment decisions in recent years may soon call that assumption into serious question.  Penny-wise, pound-foolish is bad, but not nearly as bad as penny-wise, blood-foolish.

Never take for granted

The right to assemble for worship:

Chinese police officers demolished one of the country’s largest evangelical churches this week, using heavy machinery and dynamite to raze the building where more than 50,000 Christians worshiped.

The Golden Lampstand Church in Shanxi Province was one of at least two Christian churches demolished by the authorities in recent weeks, part of what critics describe as a national effort to regulate spiritual life in China.

Under President Xi Jinping, the government has destroyed churches or removed their steeples and crosses as part of a campaign that reflects the Communist Party’s longstanding fear that Christianity, viewed as a Western philosophy, is a threat to the party’s authority.

And never forget there are plenty of people living in the United States, Canada and Europe who’d like nothing more than to take down all the crosses and dynamite all the churches here, too.

By the purse strings

Since leaving the military, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Michael Mullen has spoken often about what he considers to be the biggest danger to U.S. security: the national debt.

China may be about to give us an object lesson in that assessment:

China added to bond investors’ jitters on Wednesday as traders braced for what they feared could be the end of a three-decade bull market.  Senior government officials in Beijing reviewing the nation’s foreign-exchange holdings have recommended slowing or halting purchases of U.S. Treasuries, according to people familiar with the matter.

China holds the world’s largest foreign-exchange reserves, at $3.1 trillion, and regularly assesses its strategy for investing them. It isn’t clear whether the officials’ recommendations have been adopted. The market for U.S. government bonds is becoming less attractive relative to other assets, and trade tensions with the U.S. may provide a reason to slow or stop buying American debt…

Most Americans who pay attention to government spending habits are happy merely to see the deficit fall.  But even if the deficit were brought to zero (i.e. the government miraculously balanced its budget) the outstanding debt still has to be renegotiated periodically, as old bonds mature and new ones are issued.  When there is less demand for new bonds, the yield (interest) has to rise in order to become more attractive.  Thus, even with a balanced budget, our roll-over debt is a potential time bomb.

For the last decade, the U.S. has been able to take advantage of record low bond yields as the Federal Reserve held interest rates at historic lows in the wake of the mortgage debt crisis in 2008.  This, incidentally, is why your bank pays you next to nothing on your savings any more — the same policy that keeps the government’s borrowing costs low essentially robs individual savers.  Unlike taxes, people don’t immediately recognize this fiscal effect the debt has on them.

If forces beyond the government’s control — say, the largest holder of U.S. debt decided not to roll over its holdings — caused bond yields and interest rates to rise faster than desired, the results would bankrupt the U.S. Treasury overnight:

Given its sheer size, if the interest rate on that debt were to rise by even 1%, the annual federal deficit rises by $200 billion. A 2% increase in interest rate levels would up the federal deficit by $400 billion, and if rates were 5% higher, the annual federal deficit rises by a full $1 trillion per year.

The only way to begin mitigating this risk is to not just balance the budget but to start paying down the debt.  Think that will happen?

Me neither.  The day may be fast approaching when the government, in order to service its creditors, has no choice but to cut many of the programs people have become entirely dependent upon.  It may also impose confiscatory taxation, seizing the property of those who’ve managed to save and invest during these irresponsible years.  In both cases, the social consequences will be enormous.

As the Instapundit likes to say, “things that can’t go on forever, don’t.”  The exponential rise of our national debt can’t go on forever.  It’s simply a question of when an event will occur that undeniably shows the emperor has no clothes.

Making a list, checking it twice

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations plans to note who’s naughty or nice:

America First

This is long overdue in our international relations, and should be a key plank of the new National Security Strategy to put American interests first (see pages 19 and 40 here).  Much of the foreign aid we give out yields dubious returns for America.  And unlike other nations (*cough* China *cough*), we aren’t exactly smart in our use of “soft power.”  Much of the “aid” we supply all too often ends up in the hands of local thugs in power, while China’s efforts produce visible changes and local goodwill.  No doubt if the locals balk, China is not reluctant to tighten the purse strings.

So why do we not do the same with our spending overseas?  At its most blatant, foreign aid is about “winning friends and influencing people.”  But how much influence do you really wield if the recipients of your largesse habitually spit in your eye, knowing they can get away with it?

We are not in the financial position we were after World War II, where America accounted for nearly one-quarter of the global economy.  The Marshall Plan of the late 1940s was unprecedented in scale for American foreign policy, but it also seemed a relatively small price to pay to stabilize Europe and inoculate it against further communist encroachment.  Today, advocates of foreign aid like to point out that it makes up “about one percent of the federal budget” — but that still amounts to billions of dollars that produce scant results compared to the Marshall Plan.

Here’s hoping those countries put on Nikki Haley’s “naughty list” Thursday feel the choking off of unappreciated American dollars.  Since the Federal Government currently borrows nearly 1 in every 5 dollars it spends, those dollars are more appropriately spent at home.

Hagiography exemplified

hag·i·og·ra·phyˌ   haɡēˈäɡrəfē,/        noun

1. The writing of the lives of saints.
derogatory: adulatory writing about another person.
– biography that idealizes its subject.

See for example the New York Times article about “How Mao Molded Communism to Create a New China.”  In amongst the portrait of Mao as a “tiger” and “monkey king,” the article completely fails to mention Mao as the greatest mass murderer in history, responsible for an estimated 45 million deaths.

It’s as if the newspaper’s “Red Century” series is meant to indoctrinate a new generation into believing communism wasn’t all that bad

For more fun examples, see the Times’ story on “Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s Odd Journey From Victim to Criminal”…   (Note to the Times: entering a ‘naked plea’ — essentially “no contest” — on charges of desertion tends to have that effect.)

Much more of this — now!

The Justice Department announced today that it filed a lawsuit against Crop Production Services Inc. (Crop Production), headquartered in Loveland, Colorado, for allegedly discriminating against U.S. workers in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

The complaint alleges that in 2016, Crop Production discriminated against at least three United States citizens by refusing to employ them as seasonal technicians in El Campo, Texas, because Crop Production preferred to hire temporary foreign workers under the H-2A visa program.  According to the department’s complaint, Crop Production imposed more burdensome requirements on U.S. citizens than it did on H-2A visa workers to discourage U.S. citizens from working at the facility.  For instance, the complaint alleges that whereas U.S. citizens had to complete a background check and a drug test before being permitted to start work, H-2A workers were allowed to begin working without completing them and, in some cases, never completed them.  The complaint also alleges that Crop Production refused to consider a limited-English proficient U.S. citizen for employment but hired H-2A workers who could not speak English.  Ultimately, all of Crop Production’s 15 available seasonal technician jobs in 2016 went to H-2A workers instead of U.S. workers.

The U.S. should not simultaneously have unemployment and programs to permit the hiring of foreign workers.  It’s long past time to take all the incentives out of the “guest worker” programs by making them prohibitively expensive for U.S. companies.  Guest worker visas should be so difficult to obtain that companies find it cheaper to offer retraining opportunities to American citizens than to import Indian or Chinese laborers. As retraining becomes more widely available, the government should also make clear that Americans who fail to take advantage of the opportunity will no longer be allowed to draw unemployment benefits.

This may all be part of the “dismal science,” but it’s certainly not rocket science.  Where globalists went wrong was in applying the principle of comparative advantage to international trade without taking into account that money, like water and electricity, takes the path of least resistance.  “Free trade” cannot be fair trade when one party (like China) doesn’t offer a minimum wage or the basic economic protections we’ve come to take for granted.  By allowing such lopsided relationships, we’ve sold our economic inheritance for pennies on the dollar at WalMart, while allowing practices we find abhorrent to flourish overseas.  This is hardly the U.S. leading by example.

Protecting American jobs may cause the prices of some goods to rise, but that’s literally a small price compared to allowing our economy–and its workers–to be undermined fatally by current practices. As Toby Keith sang:

“He’s got the red, white and blue flying’ high on the farm,
Semper Fi tatooed on his left arm,
Paid a little more in the store for a tag in the back that says USA

Hire American.
Buy American.
BE American.

America first.