Category Archives: Politics

Bringing Military Discipline to the White House

I do see the point going in –  a military man is sincere but disciplined. He has great knowledge but perfect discretion. He’ll wait politely for you to finish your thought and will always put his ideas after yours. If he sees any signs of disloyalty he will act with great furor. He will set the perfect example.

Unless…

  • He has reached the level where he believes his orders must be followed to the letter.
  • He looks down upon other employees because they lack his experience – no matter if it is completely unrelated to the task at hand.
  • He thinks the Commander in Chief fails to set a proper military style example and so is undeserving of his loyalty and obedience.
  • He has become completely fixed in his views of how certain problems should be solved.

The Prussians had so many wins in the 19th century that they started to buy into the notion that rule by military government was the best political solution. Then the Japanese bought in for the same reasons. We had a crippled President who would never believe in or successfully sell such an approach to managing his own government, even during a war. (LBJ learned nothing from this.) The chaos worked beautifully.

Our democratic system depends on open debate with some unsolved issues. It’s perfectly OK if some cabinet members are on different sides of an issue as long as they don’t spend their time undermining each other in public. Can you think of a public policy issue that has only one (reasonable) side? Trump has tried to run a purified cult with a unified view on every issue – that is impossible, so imposing it from above by choosing generals as ruling members brings anger and indiscipline.

These are battles without guns that Kelly had no idea how to win.

The election is over and here they come!

Okay – the election is over and the Dems get the House back so they are ready to rumble. What’s on their top 10 list? – Why, illegal immigration of course. I’m sure Nancy is dying to cry foul. She’d like to put all these caravan people up at the Trump hotel. Does Nancy have a fully developed policy in hand?

  • We don’t know how to process all these Hondurans.
  •  We don’t know how to separate immigrants from asylum seekers.
  •  We have never shown the capacity to deport them back to their country of origin. Once done – how do we keep them there?
  • Are we to blame for their economic morass?
  •  What do we do with children?

The  problem goes much deeper than the logistics of handling new immigrants. As general Mattis sends in some troops we need to think how badly Bill Clinton screwed this up. Back in the 90’s Central (and South) Americans were set up by US trade agreements to produce and sell us textiles.  Then Clinton decided to give away special trade status to every Asian country.  Most developing world trade aid is just a form of welfare since we know they’ll never buy anything we make – they’re too poor) so this was his idea of being charitable.

  • In 1997 Central American production (Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador) produced 19%% of our needs.  Asia (China, Vietnam and Bangladesh) also produced 19%.
  • In 2001 it was 22 to 17 (so far so good).
  • In 2006 it was 14 to 29
  • In 2107 it is 12 to 54%!

Quite simply we have allowed Asia to destroy countries that have far more political significance to us. Without work, their economies and societies melt down and their desperate people come here.  Who we trade with should be a strategic political decision.  We must be particular about who we buy our stuff from so we get the most bang for our buck.

All this reminds me of the Arab Spring where an ocean of overeducated Egyptians and Algerians wondered about with nothing to do but apply to graduate school and for government jobs. Choice #2 for these young people was ISIS. What are all those  20 somethings doing in Italy, Spain, and Greece  – same problem. China has all the capacity in the world to replace every laborer on the planet – at a lower cost. Even subSaharn Africans didn’t expect this.

“Free” traders have set policy that essentially forces us to take in Mexican and Central Americans as immigrants whose jobs “we” shipped to China/Asia. Mexico would be doing the same thing if it weren’t for cars and the corruption of NAFTA.

This is just another example of what happens when people use trade policy like they’re Santa with no consideration of immigration and factor price equalization.

Robert Reich should be the man that Trump sends to confront these desperate people.

Do bombs and death mean more bombs and death?

We sometimes feel like the failure of new terrorists or even their success are so stunningly evil that it will deter other nuts and copycats since they must watch all the negative media coverage. Wouldn’t they presume that they too would be pilloried for any such similar act? All those thoughts and prayers verses a smattering of applause from inside the alt-right and neo-Nazi websites.

Malcolm Gladwell espouses what is called a diffusion index of terrorism. It says the opposite. The more people who do this, the greater the nerve of those others who have thought about it. Maybe they think they can do it better or they actually want to be like that guy who they just saw on TV.  Either way, more attacks are bad without exception.

What if Trump and his band of Soros haters realized how weaponized their words are. Does Lou Dobbs have it in him to recant or recognize the link made between Anti-Semites and George Soros, Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg? Does Trump have the will or weight to pull all this rhetoric in the opposite direction – no chance. If he did, the wackos would probably just wink back. (Besides Dobbs wants the ratings!)

I don’t think Gladwell expected the terrorist theme to switch to domestic political villainy and its appropriate punishment. Teenage, incel angst has far fewer sympathizers (I presume). The significant expansion of new sample cases in just one week should leave Gladwell and the rest of us very discomfited. All the negative imagery of bombs and arraignments are food for other Lou Dobbs fans. The genie has been let out and suddenly advocating tough measures” against Jews and political enemies looks a lot more like “inciting to violence”- something we should be prosecuting, even if it does seem too late to Malcolm.

Does choreography matter?

I always guessed that our version of a new Republican authoritarian would be a Colin Powell type – plenty of medals, perfect posture, and low volume. Military people are usually sheltered by handlers so we wouldn’t hear a lot of (bad) history about stupid/uninformed comments.

I should have seen my mistake. We got a legitimate corporate contender in the 90’s. Instead of a smooth, buttoned up Jamie Diamond we got a paranoid dwarf -Ross Perot. Independent candidates are a varied lot. They often come unpackaged.

So now it’s come to this:

The backdrops are no longer long escalators (plus trophy wife). They are nodding pre-programmed idol worshipers, looking for camera exposure.

My sense is that his failure to choreograph the message is already a drag on the enthusiasm of the true believers. Just as with Bush Jr. they continued to side with their guy but their conviction faded. Trump needed tangible results in a few simple areas (for his simple followers) – there’s no wall, no Muslim ban, no change to NAFTA, no jobs coming back from China. Political corruption in his administration is worse than we’ve ever seen. He needs style to offset all these failures. (Does his Saudi defense help him in the heartland?)

He does best with a target- an adversary. The Dems would do best to hide in the trenches. (sorry Elizabeth) Without one he is adrift and so needs to go back to style. This, he has failed to do. Is there is too much baggage to be manageable?

The racists will be there, but the (economically) disenfranchised  and the authoritarians will sit it out. If the Repubs lose the House then the malaise will continue into 2020 and he could be really challenged  to get the nomination again. Toilet paper (moments) may have written the next act of the play.

Trump needed Hillary – without her he is flailing.

The Patriot Tax

How will people handle a 10% increase on all Chinese goods (initially just $200 bn of them)? Will they run screaming from Walmart crying for armed rebellion? … or maybe they won’t notice that a shirt at TJ Max went up from $13.50 to $14.75?

Catherine Rampell (WashPo Oped writer) thinks this is a travesty as though we (Trump et al) have sinned against the one true American creed – consumerism. Why is it so hard to accept the idea that paying a higher price for some things can be in the national interest? It makes sense to have tariffs against trade criminals and to protect jobs even if it’s at the expense of the consumer.

My guess is that this 10% price increase will be a giant non-event. Economists may whine but people won’t get too exercised. The question is -will this experiment in domestic preference sustain itself through the next administration. It seems clear to me that since Trump raised the issue of Chinese trade crime many non-Trumpsters have recognized the validity of the case. Now they must deal with one of the appropriate ways to counteract it. If you’re against their subsidization of exports and IP theft then what would you recommend? You no longer get to whine about the inefficiency of tariffs without proposing an alternative.

We could set up a rebate for the poor or increase food stamps. We could/should exclude non-essential consumer items that will never be made in the US no matter how much of a tariff we apply – Haloween masks and cheap plastic toys. I’m after things like LCD screens for airplanes and antibiotics. I’d like to know that such things were procurable in the US in case our giant parasite gets testy.

In the long run, production adjustments will happen; prices will do their job but if the market thinks this is just a temporary Trump-only policy then nothing will be achieved. It’s true – a rollback will come along with a smug proclamation of how tariffs never work but If the reaction to the tariffs is diminimus then it makes it easier to leave them intact. It would also help if the tariffs came with a guarantee that the revenue was used to pay down the national debt and increase food stamps.

Then retracting them would be almost impossible.

Trumpism is Not Spreading.

The first reason why this is not true is simply because there is no such thing as Trumpism. There is no plan, no ideology, A man without knowledge of anything cannot be given credit for a strategy or a phenomenon. The Poles and Hungarians might prefer autocracy. Australians and Italians might want to reduce immigration. None of the people in these countries are voting for these changes because they are watching Trump on TV.

The entire first world suffers from three common problems:

  • The maldistribution of income,
  • Anemic growth of lower and middle incomes.
  • Poor participation rates and/or high youth unemployment.

Italy’s economy over the last 20 years has not grown at all! The Spanish youth unemployment rate is 33.8%. 29% of 15-year-olds in the UK come from new immigrant families and one out of three babies are born to foreign-born residents (2/3 in the city of London). Australia is in the middle of the longest period of low wage growth since its last recession in the early 1990s.

There are only two possible reasons for this global mess – automation and China. Automation reduces worker demand and outsourcing to China sets a global price for labor. It tells every manager – 1st world workers are not worth any more than Chinese peasants. In the midst of this, liberal politicians decided to do the right thing and let in foreign immigrants.  America let in an ocean of Hispanic people. Europe let in Muslims. When you’re feeling economically oppressed you’re not going to be generous to new arrivals unless they look and sound exactly like you.

Our common global parasite ensures a common 1st world condition. How could politicians become so out of touch with basic human psychology? We’ve decided to label this – populism, as though it’s a new socio-economic phenomenon.  Isn’t it logical to want to curtail immigration when wages are stagnating and the foreign-born population is at a 70 year high? None of this is local or national – it’s global. This isn’t about white supremacy – it’s about supply and demand.

This should be a battle between economists and open border liberals but the economists are hiding in the bushes. Maybe they’re outnumbered by the efficiency lovers who can never get enough cheap labor. Their absence has been filled in by the likes of Steve Bannon, Viktor Orban, and Jimmie Akesson. These are not necessarily nice guys but stupid open border fanatics who have never taken a course in economics have facilitated their rise. If we expect economically oppressed people to open their hearts to economically oppressed foreigners we are asking way too much. I doubt they would be open to a new flood of Canadians fleeing a natural disaster. We are too quick to judge our grandparents who closed our borders during the depression.

They were bad humanitarians but good (labor) economists.

Should we all be optimists or pessimists?

Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychologist and author of Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progresszooms back and examines the “big picture of human progress” since the late 18th century, right around the time the Enlightenment Age kicked off. Pinker highlights the data on education, literacy, wealth, and longevity to make the broader case that life, is good and getting better.  He’s sort of the anti-Lester Thurow (circa 1983).

Global economic prosperity proves his thesis that science and reason have saved the day, but what if that prosperity is an illusion?

Pinker suffers from what I’ll call the jealous neighbor fallacy.  You are living on a street where all the houses are of similar value and design. Everyone has 1.5 children and a minivan. One day you notice your neighbor (Joe Blow) has a new Mercedes S550. You finally decide to confront him. You ask whether he got a new job or a huge raise. He tells you that nothing has changed, he simply leased the car with no money down. The dealer seemed more than happy to make the deal.

Then it gets worse – your other neighbor gets a new Tesla S, again all financed through the dealer. From that point on your wife and you wince a little as both your neighbors cruise around in high-class cars so everyone can see them. You feel like the poor people on the block. One day you go out to pick up your paper from the street and Steven Pinker is outside congratulating Joe on his financial good fortune.

The error that Thurow made was to never imagine we would borrow our way to faster growth. Ronald Reagan got us going and George Bush Jr. took it to a new level. Pinker doesn’t pay attention to the balance sheet – all he sees are the near-term benefits.

These numbers are extraordinary. This debt has allowed us to both stimulate our local economy but also those of our trading partners. They lend to us and we voraciously buy all their crud. We have lifted all boats which is why Pinker’s global averages look so marvelous. But that’s not all. Other countries have followed our lead just like neighbors copy neighbors when it comes to borrowing to buy new cars. Here’s what China has done:

Every time you hear Larry Kudlow brag about GDP growth you must balance it against the giant annual deficits we are currently running – 10 years after a recession, precisely when we should be running huge surpluses. Do we feel richer? Yes. Crime is lower, longevity is rising (sort of) and global poverty has fallen (mainly due to Chinese growth). If this were being achieved by virtue of rising productivity then we truly would have much to celebrate. (It’s not)

Unfortunately, if we look into the future using Pinker’s time frame this doesn’t end well.

Why do I feel so smart?

There is a name for the syndrome that many not-very-smart people suffer from: The Dunning-Kruger Effect (DKE). It’s easy to understand. People of limited intelligence don’t really know how much smart people know so they simply presume they are clever(er). This is how people with no understanding of how carbon dioxide absorbs or traps heat from the sun can be so sure that global warming is a hoax. They refuse to accept the opinions of experts because to do so is to lose agency. Besides, all those academics are liberals anyway. Ah – to be blissfully ignorant.

Today we have moved to the second level of DKE. We are led by a man and his cult members who suffer from DKE, not just a little, but with regard to every political and economic issue of the day. I may not understand many issues in as much detail as I should and I have never worked in government, but I am utterly certain that I am smarter than Donald Trump, his entire cabinet and every politician who comes out defending him. Need I produce a list of his stupid remarks?… OK, maybe just a few:

  • After arriving in Israel from Saudi Arabia, Trump told his hosts, “We just got back from the Middle East.”
  • Trump said that Frederick Douglass, who died in 1895, was “an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more.”
  • He claimed that Andrew Jackson, who died 16 years before the Civil War, “was really angry that he saw what was happening in regard to the Civil War.”
  • Trump picked a fight on Twitter with Qatar, apparently not knowing that this small, oil-rich emirate is host to a major U.S. air base that is of vital importance in the air war against the Islamic State.
  • Donald Trump said climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese.

I could go on and on. His defenders seem even worse somehow. How does a Republican congressman claim to be lucid while defending such an idiot? How can a good economist defend Trump’s trade policy when it has no coherence? Who thinks it’s a good idea to invade or nuke Iran if they make one more threatening remark?

Every day my own feelings of superiority are enhanced by his latest tweet. I have become a smarter man due to DTE– the Donald Trump Effect. A person with debilitating DKE has pushed up my intellectual confidence so much that I am absolutely ready to destroy all comers (as YouTube and Twitter call it). It’s as though someone just handed me a PHD in everything and I never needed to take a single course. All I have to do is listen to the news each morning and I am bursting with confidence in my intelligence…

Go on – ask me anything.

 

 

Does John Roberts care about the arc of history?

Let’s assume for a second that the head of the Supreme Court cares about his historical reputation. Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor don’t have that sort of pressure. They just vote their conscience and sleep like babies but eras in the court are described by using the chief justice’s name. Each one becomes most famous for it’s most significant decisions and the historical judgment falls most heavily on the chief – as if his name is on the stamp, even if he voted against the rest of his colleagues.

A  minister (Theodore Parker) in the 19th century once said:” The arc of the (moral) universe … bends towards justice.” – which I think means that the world gradually becomes a more liberal place where human rights gain favor and religious orthodoxy declines. If you were a justice on the court that voted in favor of returning runaway or freed slaves to the Confederacy (The Dread Scott case) then history has judged you harshly. If you voted against civil rights or voting rights or access for all to education then history has raked you over the coals. In fact, it’s rather hard to think of a conservative decision that has been judged as wise and good for the country.

You might point at the court’s shutting down the New Deal as a Presidential overreach: The Supreme Court consistently rejected laws giving the federal government authority to regulate industrial or agricultural production—FDR’s efforts to protect workers, raise employment, and lift farm incomes. FDR had won huge majorities in 1932 and ’34 and the people were all behind the New Deal programs. If FDR hadn’t tried to stack the court in retaliation this would have gone down as just another decision(s) by the court to favor big business, the donor class or retrograde ethical positions. Desperate times demanded desperate measures.

The Supreme Court has upheld segregation, supported the internment of Japanese Americans, found in favor of forced sterilization of people with disabilities, upheld sodomy statutes, told states they cannot ban child labor, stopped the recounting of votes in Florida in 2000, protected Exxon from punitive damages in the crash of the Valdez, and of course – found that corporations deserve the same protections as people when it comes to political (free) speech.  If we just singled out the voting record of the conservative justices we would be appalled by their votes. Conservatives, in particular, are often the most behind the times when it comes to individual freedoms and equal rights.

The United States is becoming unequivocally more secular and more open-minded towards minorities and LGBT people. This is not new – this the arc of history and if the Roberts court chooses to go crazy conservative with Gorsuch, Thomas and now Kavanaugh leading the way, they’ll find that history will judge them as backward dupes of the aged and the rich. Is that how Roberts wants to be known? Is he willing to hear it said that “the Roberts Court blew up the right to an abortion”? Is he happy that his court has chosen to empower corporations to the detriment of citizens and that it has done nothing to fix the national gerrymandering crisis? After Kavanaugh gets approved, we must hope that Roberts has some historical perspective and takes on the job of the adult in the room.

It’s his reputation at stake.

The Cultists Take Over

Cognitive dissonance is aggravating. We all cling to our beliefs like sacred possessions. To change an opinion is to lose a piece of oneself. If we start with “I love Trump” then we’ll do almost anything to sustain and defend our love. Communists were told that Nazism was their enemy in the 30’s so they sided with the allies against Hitler’s rise. Then they were told that Hitler was a great guy (after the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) . After Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 communists had to pivot yet again. Did any of this hurt Stalin’s popularity or that of communism in general – not really.

Trump hates Kim Jong Un. Trump loves Kim Jong Un. No problem. In fact a cultist will get angry at your attack of all this flip flopping and dig in even more. Kim Philby never wavered, why would our alt-right? Along the way a party will veer away from being political to being all about the great leader. It happened in China (under Mao), in Stalin’s Russia, in Mussolini’s Italy’s,  and in Chavez’ Venezuela.

The one rule you cannot break in a  cult is – never doubt the leader. If you disagree with him then you will be thrown out (“primaried”) . When you make your case on ideological grounds the cultists (now called the base) will not hear you, They’ll just get really really angry. Eventually this works to improve the popularity of the leader as the party purges non-believers. The more stupid or outrageous the actions of Trump, the more the cultists dig in so his popularity rises and the party becomes “purified”.

We know how this ends – in total failure. Stalin is denounced, Mussolini is hanged, Venezuela goes bankrupt and there is mass emigration. There is usually a very ugly period when the cultist know they’re going down and they ty to take down the others with them. Hitler youth often stayed in the rear to kill retreating soldiers.

Americans were trained to believe in a process (democracy), a set of rules (the constitution) and a system (capitalism) so it was thought that cultism was not something we would or could succumb to. Our flood of immigrants (the highest number of foreign born people since 1920) has changed the dynamic. Ethnocentrism is a powerful ugly force. It must be attacked explicitly but also implicitly – by reducing immigration to allow for integration and economic digestion.

In the meantime we can only hope that the radicalism of the Trump fanatics irritates the middle and the “old” Republicans sufficiently to ruin him in November.