Go Elon!

Elon Musk’s kinda, sorta bid to buy all of Twitter for about $43 billion has provoked an utterly predictable meltdown of the  professional Left that manages to be both apoplectic and unintentionally amusing.  Consider, for instance the sober reflections of Robert Reich on the matter. 

Elon Musk

Reich, in the Guardian, argued that Twitter was right to shut down Trump’s account to “save Democracy”. (When Progressives talk about “saving Democracy” they really mean saving Democrats). Musk committed the sin of disagreeing with Twitter’s decision saying that U.S. tech companies shouldn’t be acting “as the de facto arbiter of free speech”.

That, apparently is what sent Reich over the top. He complained that “Musk has long advocated a libertarian vision of an ‘uncontrolled’ internet.” He then went on to assert “That vision is dangerous rubbish.” Which is all you need to know. It’s all about control, and Reich is all for it, provided he and his Progressive pals are the ones in charge. 

Amplifying the inanity he goes on to say “[A lack of accountability] is Musk’s dream. And Trump’s. And Putin’s. And the dream of every dictator, strongman, demagogue and modern-day robber baron on Earth. For the rest of us, it would be a brave new nightmare.” Which is the amusing part. 

Amusing because Robert Reich is comparing market accountability unfavorably to bureaucratic accountability. Just ask yourself this question, How long do companies last when they do a poor job of serving their customers? The correct answer is, absent government aid, not very long. Now ask yourself a related question, How long do failing bureaucracies last? The correct answer is: Forever. 

The hysteria over the Musk bid is not limited to Robert Reich. Max Boot similarly hyperventilated on Twitter “I am frightened by the impact on society and politics if Elon Musk acquires Twitter. He seems to believe that on social media anything goes. For democracy to survive, we need more content moderation, not less.” So there we go again saving Democracy by keeping a lid on what people are allowed to think and say. 

https://twitter.com/MaxBoot/status/1514570168730636290

And then there is Jeff Jarvis, Leonard Tow Professor of Journalism and Director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York. Speaking of the Musk bid, Jarvis took to Twitter and said “Today on Twitter feels like the last evening in a Berlin nightclub at the twilight of Weimar Germany.”

That of course is taken from Chapter 1 of the standard Progressive playbook.  Anybody who disagrees with the received wisdom is deemed to be a Nazi. Or some other kind of racist, misogynist, white supremacist, etc. etc. The list is endless.

As usual, the Progressives’ reaction is to pretend that free speech on the internet (and elsewhere) is not free speech at all. It is only free speech and worthy of protection if Progressives agree with it. Otherwise it is wrong-think and must be suppressed. 

Unfortunately, the suppression of free speech by bureaucratic means is becoming more common and more aggressive. Progressive members of the California state legislature, for instance, have proposed to take away the licenses of doctors who spread what they call “disinformation”, a not so subtle warning to doctors who are opposed to lock-down-and-mask-mandate protocols. 

And then there is the by now infamous Hunter Biden laptop story. The one that Twitter, Google, Facebook and Apple suppressed, calling it Russian disinformation in the final weeks of the 2020 Presidential race. Except that it turned out to be true. Funny thing though, neither Max Boot, who called the story likely Russian disinformation, nor Robert Reich has been heard from on the subject of accountability on that score.  

In the developing Musk story one thing is almost certain. If Musk proceeds with his attempt to buy Twitter, you can count on the federal bureaucracy throwing roadblocks in his path, beginning with the Federal Trade Commission, and maybe the SEC. 

The threat to freedom in the U.S. does not come from Elon Musk. It comes from Progressive elites whose Command-and-Control ethos is threatened by free speech and free markets. They claim to be bothered by concentrations of power. But that is a lie. They prefer the centralization and concentration of power—in their hands. 

Let’s stipulate that an awful lot of people say an awful lot of stupid things on various Social Media platforms, including Twitter. But stupid is not illegal. Neither is hate speech or the various phobias that Progressives are constantly inventing. They are the price we pay for freedom. 

And while we are stipulating that Social Media platforms can contain a lot of nonsense, let’s not pretend that is what bothers Progressives who, to put it mildly,  manage to post their fair share of nonsense. 

No. What really bothers Progressives is the prospect that their control over the parameters of content could be weakened. Their collective delirium at the prospect of Elon Musk opening up the game thus threatening their status as gatekeepers tells you all you need to know. 

Go Elon!

JFB

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Live Not by Lies

A little more than 48 years ago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, one of the greatest writers of the 20th century,  released the text of “Live Not by Lies.” The following day he was exiled to the West. He did not receive a particularly warm welcome. Then President Gerald Ford refused to meet with Solzhenitsyn fearing that it would imperil his attempts at detente with the Soviet Union. 

It is important to understand what Solzhenitsyn meant when he said live not by lies. In Soviet Russia, lies and propaganda permeated everything. Tests in school, for instance, routinely promulgated the party line; getting good grades, getting into the right schools and getting ahead necessitated joining the Party and then buying into and cooperating with the lies told by the Party. 

The  Soviet State, which was subordinate to the Party, routinely used violence to enforce its will. But while the use of violence was there on the surface for all to see—if they wished to see—the Party had a much more insidious weapon. 

The Communist Party induced people to cooperate in its lies. In order to get ahead, people would go along to get along. Consequently they would parrot out things that they knew in their hearts were lies. But they were afraid to say so out loud. And so they were corrupted as was their society.

The Party deliberately embarked on this campaign of spiritual demise so they could reconstruct the Utopia of a classless society. But first the Party needed to crush the human spirit and human individuality. They would do this by getting the citizens to deny their own self-worth and individuality. They would pretend to accept the lie that they were merely members of a class with class, not individual and familial, interests. Children were encouraged to spy on their parents. The East German Stasi was particularly adept at this. The notion of the family was thus attacked. The Party was to be supreme. 

There is no greater example of the lie than the fact that every single Communist dictatorship on earth was called a “Democratic People’s Republic.”

And so where are we now? Progressives, the not-so-new authoritarians, demand a total unrelenting conformity with the Party line, no matter what it is, no matter how obviously foolish. Dissent is not permitted. The punishment for heterodoxy is cancellation. 

Consider the Orwellian mind set of Progressives. We are supposed to pretend to believe that University of Pennsylvania collegiate swimmer Lia Thomas is a woman. This despite a teammate’s observation in the Daily Mail that “’It’s definitely awkward because Lia still has male body parts and is still attracted to women.” Anybody who points out the obvious—namely that Lia Thomas is a man—is labeled a “transphobe.”

Progressives now use the term “birthing person” and refer to “chest feeding” to avoid using the terms “mother”, “women and breast.” God forbid (another verboten term) that we imply that only women get pregnant and deliver children. 

And remember abortion doesn’t result in the killing of a human being. It’s simply a form of health care. 

Of course there is the discrimination problem. Progressives are quite OK maintaining simultaneously that (1) discrimination against women is forbidden and that (2) there is no such thing as a woman. And by the way, aborting unborn girls is OK because as we all know, there is no such thing as a girl. Or a boy. They just haven’t decided yet. And anyway, biological sex doesn’t count; gender, a self-determined social construction is what counts. 

About the discrimination bit. How exactly is that defined? Well here is what it is not. It is not a case that Joe refused a good or service to Sam because Sam is in a “protected” category. It is treated as a statistically disparate outcome between group A and group B. The underlying fiction is that all talents, skills, tastes and attributes are equally distributed among all groups. Therefor any variation in outcomes is a result of “discrimination.” Which of course the State will “correct” by its use of coercive power. 

Which brings us around to “systemic” and “structural” racism, misogny, and white supremacy. We are routinely told that the U.S. is uniquely racist through and through; that its institutions were developed to maintain a white power structure and that women are treated as second class citizens—by design. 

Needless to say anyone who refuses to buy into this is a white supremacist, defender of the patriarchy etc etc.  

What is awfully difficult to explain though, is why so many non-white, non-European immigrants are willing to cross such high hurdles to enter the U.S. And why so many immigrants show up in the U.S. penniless and wind up in the upper income brackets. And why, for instance, Americans of Indian descent earn far greater than the mean income in the U.S. And on another subject, why the majority of college students are now women. 

There is a reason for all this. It is that the Progressive establishment depends on lies in pursuit of its objective to recreate American society in its own Utopian image. It will never succeed because it is at war with human nature (See Lia Thomas above). 

With that in mind I pose two questions. (1) How much damage will Progressives do on their well trod path to failure? And (2) why do so many otherwise sensible people insist on pretending to believe what is clearly nonsense? It’s a puzzlement. 

Joe Benning

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The Intelligence Community & the Russo-Ukrainian War

The conventional wisdom these days is that Vladimir Putin made a catastrophic miscalculation when he decided to invade Ukraine. There are plenty of reasons to buy this. Not only has Putin called the dissolution of the Soviet Empire the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century; he has made no secret of the fact that he would like to re-create Russia as a world power, and wield influence, of not control, over the remnants of the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe—what Russia refers to as the “near abroad.”

In addition, the story goes, Putin expected his military to make short work of the Ukrainian defense forces. But instead of folding quickly, Ukraine has put up a ferocious defense. Five weeks in, Russian forces in Western Ukraine are stalled, Russia has by all accounts suffered horrendous casualties on the battlefield, and its military has displayed a stunning incompetence and brutality.  

Furthermore, NATO, which Putin wanted to divide, put on an unexpected show of unity, confounding his plans. But…what if Putin did not miscalculate (see Bret Stephens on this). And what if the geopolitical assumptions of the West are based on a misreading of history? Where does that leave us?

Suppose Putin never really intended to conquer all of Ukraine, just Eastern Ukraine with all its energy resources. That would secure Russia’s energy dominance. How unified would NATO be while Germany remains dependent on Russia for energy for years, if not decades? How eager would western companies be to invest in energy exploration and production when western policy is dominated by fantasies of Green Energy and the industry is being starved for capital by regulators? 

Similarly, with respect to the assumptions undergirding policy, Ross Douthat suggests that the neoliberal consensus around globalization may be wide of the mark. It is possible, he says, that rather than a convergence to Western liberalism as theorized by Francis Fukuyama in his “End of History”, the arc of history is starting to look more like Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations”.   If that is the case, instead of heading toward convergence, we are headed for Civilizational groupings in world politics. These would include China, Russia, the West, Iran and India. Seen that way, the strategic implications of the Russo-Ukrainian war likely has very different geo-strategic implications that are, at this point unknowable, but certainly discordant with progressivism. 

These alternative hypotheses bring at least two unsettling considerations to the fore. First, it should be clear by now that the U.S. has no strategy for dealing with a world remade by the  Russo-Ukrainian War. Does anyone believe, for instance, that a return to the status quo ante is viable? If not, then the West should  be building up its defenses and energy security. 

Rebuilding our alliances, defenses and energy security will take years. Yet, the Biden Administration continues to talk up Green Energy and fight the fossil fuel industry. It proposes only a meager increase in defense spending. And at the same time it seeks oil deals with Iran and Venezuela. 

Not only that, President Biden continues to personalize the war, thus making it even more difficult to see an end to it. He has called Putin a “war criminal and a butcher”, and has publicly stated that Putin “cannot remain in power.” After his well practiced clean-up squad walked back the remarks what remained was Biden’s claim that he was referencing “moral outrage” not policy. The charitable thing to do is to consider Biden’s remarks to be those of a bumbling old man with failing mental capacities. But foreign policy does not run on charity, something Vladimir Putin knows all too well, particularly as he considers the altogether unpleasant endings that came to the likes of Saddam Hussein, Maummar Ghadafi and Nicolae Ceausescu. 

Just as important as Mr. Biden’s thought processes, or lack thereof as the case may be, are the sources of his information. In that regard we keep on hearing about our crack intelligence “community”.  That would be the same intelligence community that has a well documented history of spectacularly bad calls, not to mention lying. 

Let’s just do a quick survey of some of those calls. There was the fiasco at the Bay of Pigs when the CIA launched a war against Fidel Castro’s Cuba that collapsed in two days. Then there was the CIA involvement in the Watergate break-in. The CIA was caught flat-footed when the Berlin Wall came down. Similarly they failed to detect and stop the 9/11 plot hatched by Osama-bin Laden. But they were convinced there were large caches of nuclear weapons stored by Iraq. A “slam dunk” as George Tenet put it. 

Let’s not leave out the lying—and not the small stuff—but things like lying under oath to Congressional Committees.  CIA Director John Brennan was caught hacking the computers of U.S. Senate staffers and then lying about it under oath. The former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, also admitted lying (under oath) before a Congressional Committee. When asked if the NSA was collecting data on millions of Americans he replied “No sir…Not wittingly”. That was a lie. He tried to whitewash it by saying it was the “least untruthful” answer he could give. Brennan and Clapper are now talking heads of CNN.

But let’s not stop there. CIA Director David Petraeus lied about giving classified information to his author / girlfriend and eventually pleaded guilty to mishandling classified information. There he is not alone. Former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, pleaded guilty to Unauthorized Removal and Retention of Classified documents. These were documents sought by the 9/11 Commission.  It has still not been determined if he destroyed any of the documents, thus denying the Commission the full record of events. 

Wait. There’s more. Back in 1977 Former CIA Director Richard M. Helms was fined $2,000 and given a suspended sentence of 2 years in jail when he pleaded “no contest” to charges that he failed to testify fully and accurately to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He later describes his conviction as “a badge of honor.”

Now that the New York Times has come around to belatedly acknowledging the obvious—that the NY Post story about the Hunter Biden laptop was accurate—it is worth taking a look at the roster of Intelligence community experts who signed a publicly released letter insisting that the story was Russian “disinformation.” The roster includes Jim Clapper (surprise), Mike Hayden (former CIA Director), John Brennan (again surprise), Mike Morell (former acting CIA Director and Hillary Clinton cheerleader) and Leon Panetta (former CIA Director). 

It was probably Aeschylus who first said “The first casualty of war is the truth.” And now regarding the Russo-Ukrainian War we are being subjected to a constant onslaught of “information” in an ongoing and parallel propaganda war designed to shape the thinking of the polities of the combatants and their respective allies.  We have no way of knowing which bits of information are actually true. 

But we do know some crucial things. The first is that the purveyors of this information long ago lost their credibility. That includes both the sources (Intelligence, Military and Political officials) and their cheerleaders in the press. The second thing we know is that there are a lot of people responsible for making foreign policy decisions with proven track records of incompetence. The third thing we know is that the agencies and people responsible for decision making have not been, and probably will not be,  held accountable for those decisions. If the trend holds, they will simply fail upwards. The fourth thing we can infer by observing behavior,  is that foreign policy is being made almost exclusively on the basis of partisan domestic political considerations. 

The lesson here is that the U.S. desperately needs thinkers who can rise above the conventional wisdom. Not only that, they need to be able to frame the issues clearly in a way that the public will understand. And the way they formulate and annunciate policy will depend on how they answer the most important question in politics, which is: Then what?

Joe Bennning

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The Continuing Assault on Freedom

Remember not so long ago when there was a constant (and often justified) outcry against the Trump Administration’s use of government power to quell dissent? Well, the use of government power to quell dissent has not ended. In fact it has probably intensified. But somehow or other the objections seem to have faded away, which suggests that the objections weren’t about the use of government power to stifle rights. On the contrary the objections were about who was using the power, not the power itself.

For example, consider the video below by John Stossel.

Stifling Dissent

JFB

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The Destruction and Destructiveness of Progressivism

As a consequence of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, certain hard truths* have emerged even as America busied itself with discovering the proper use of pronouns. Chief among them is that modern liberalism, let’s call it the American variant, is a smoking ruin. 

*Trigger warning. The use of the term “Truth” is deliberate, meant to imply that there is actually such a thing. Those who find the term offensive—second trigger warning on the way—can go jump in a lake. 

Anyway, back to the substance. 

American liberalism isn’t merely responsible for the catastrophe that is the Russia-Ukraine war. The underlying philosophy of American liberalism has produced a whole catalogue of mini-catastrophes that in the aggregate serve to repudiate the oft-stated claim that liberalism represents pragmatic governance based on “what works”. 

To begin with, let us consider how well it has worked in foreign policy. President Biden, who, we should recall, was President Obama’s point man on Ukraine, decided to prevent Russia from invading Ukraine by broadcasting what our vaunted intelligence services knew, or claimed to know, about Russia’s plans.  Did President Biden achieve his stated objective? No. He failed. 

Where then, it is fair to ask, is the famed “international community” we keep hearing about? Nowhere to be found. Except perhaps for an emergency meeting of the  United Nations Security Council, called after the invasion had already begun. The chair of the Security Council was—wait for it—Russia. Enough said.

And just how is NATO looking today? Germany still refuses to turn its nuclear power plants back on. With its aggressive green agenda, Germany has made itself vulnerable to an energy squeeze by Russia. Mr Biden has done his bit by shutting down the Keystone Pipeline. He has also nominated Fed governors who have advocated using stress tests and other regulatory measures to deny financing to the fossil fuel industry. 

And then while cheering on Germany’s renunciation of nuclear power, the Biden Administration continues to pursue re-opening the Iran nuclear deal. The result will be to allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons while pretending to develop nuclear energy for “peaceful” purposes. Kind of like the riots in the summer of 2020 were mostly peaceful. 

Then there is the ignominy of the U.S. surrender in Afghanistan that was engineered by Joe Biden. A surrender surely noticed by Vladimir Putin. As a result of it, American citizens and green card holders are trapped in that country, now under Taliban rule. In addition millions of Afghans face the possibility of starvation. All because what started out as a defense of the U.S. homeland after the 9/11 attack morphed into a doomed Wilsonian exercise in nation-building under President George W Bush. 

And let’s not leave out the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which among other things was predicated on our famed intelligence services assertion—with “high confidence” a “slam dunk”—that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. Weapons that have yet to be found, and never will be. But as is typical of government, the author of the slam dunk quote, George Tenet, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. For what exactly is the question that comes to mind.

The fiasco that is foreign policy is mirrored by the cascade of domestic policy failures that is the hallmark of the Biden Administration.  Remember that Mr. Biden was going to shut down the virus by July 4, of 2021? How did that work out? More people have died of Covid under Mr. Biden than did so under Mr. Trump. That is true when adjusted for comparable time periods, as well as in absolute terms. At least Mr. Trump got effective vaccines developed in record time thanks to Operation Warp Speed, saving countless lives.

And now all of a sudden, and just in time for the State of the Union message, the supposedly independent CDC has discovered—mirabile dictu—new science that allows them to greatly relax mask mandates. Never mind that there were already plenty of studies demonstrating the absurdity of the policy regime. 

But Mr. Biden, along with AG Merrick Garland, of the supposedly independent DOJ made great strides in painting parents of school children as “terrorists” because they objected to the mask mandates and public school propaganda in general. The infamous Garland memo equating parents with terrorism arrived with help from the teachers unions who “suggested” the terms to be used. 

Of course there is the temporary problem of inflation. That’s the inflation that Mr Biden assured us was not going to happen. He also assured us that any uptick would merely be transitory. Well it’s been transitory for about 9 months now and shows no sign of abating. 

But he has a solution to the problem that was caused by excessive spending, borrowing and money creation. Spend and borrow even more money. Create even more demand, and regulate production even more stringently. Bernie Sanders is in favor. So is Elizabeth Warren. And Nancy Pelosi. And Chuck Schumer. And Dick Durbin. And the Squad. That should settle it.

Of course there is the crime surge to deal with. That’s the crime surge that is happening all across the major urban areas of the U.S. that just so happen to be run by—liberal Democrats. Not only that, with the help of prodigious fund raising by progressive groups (when Republicans raise campaign funds it’s called “dark money”) they have elected extremely progressive District Attorneys who refuse to prosecute crimes like burglary and robbery. 

Not surprisingly, there have been severe outbreaks of crime. Companies whose stores have been robbed and ransacked by thugs with impunity—firms like CVS—have announced lots of store closures in urban areas. Just wait for a few months for the wailing to begin about how corporate America is redlining urban areas as if that is the real story.

While all this is going on, traditional public school performance has plummeted, particularly in low income income areas, where performance was already lagging badly. Needless to say, no one this side of sanity actually believes that mandatory mask wearing for 5 year olds makes (or made) the slightest bit of difference in stopping the Corona virus. But closing the schools has had a very large negative impact both on learning and the social development of kids, especially minority kids. And it goes without saying that the school districts most negatively impacted are those located smack dab in the middle of deep blue cities. 

However the school boards of those cities do have certain accomplishments. They have removed the names of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln from schools. They have instructed 5-year olds in the finer points of gender fluidity and they have rewarded teachers unions handsomely. 

So why is this laundry list of policy failures—and that is what they are—the result of American liberalism. Note I said “liberalism” with a small L, to distinguish it from the Classical Liberalism of the Scottish Enlightenment. Underlying the current American variant is the profoundly mistaken belief that human nature is infinitely malleable. That through proper social engineering human beings can be programmed to behave “correctly”. All that needs to happen is for conditions on the ground to be closely managed by central planners. Hence the Administrative State. 

That is why we have mask mandates; why schools are being turned into propaganda factories; why language is deliberately being used to obfuscate rather than elucidate (see pronouns); why obvious sex differences are being redefined as gender “choice”; why dissenting opinion is stomped out through cancellation. 

In short contemporary liberalism is at war with human nature. Consequently, it is also at war with the foundational tenets of Western Civilization. It denies the agency and dignity of the individual human person. It deems individuals as mere cogs in a machine; that decision making by individuals is simply an illusion cloaking what really matters: things like race, class and gender. Ultimately they argue, it is power that is at the heart of all human relations. Power without decency or restraint. Like Mr. Putin’s for example. 

That is the power that contemporary liberals crave. What else explains the liberal assault on free speech, on religious practice and the adoption of cancel culture? They know what’s best for you.

In the end the burgeoning authoritarianism of contemporary liberalism will fail because authoritarianism always fails when faced with freedom. All signs point to the new authoritarians losing badly when November rolls around. The question is: Will the Republicans reject Donald J Trump, act like adults, win in November and lay the groundwork for a restoration of liberty in the United States? 

It seems increasingly likely that the Republicans will win handily in November. All to the good. The jury is still out on the rest of it though. 

JFB

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What Ukraine Says About U.S. Politics

On January 20, 1961, President John F. Kennedy delivered his inaugural address after having won the Presidency by one of the smallest margins in U.S. History. In that address, undeterred by his margin of victory, he said “we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.”

On June 12, 1987 President Ronald Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate of the Berlin Wall where he said “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Those men could speak like that because they were confident of America’s future. They were confident in America’s future because they knew that it rested on a foundation of liberty.   

On November 9, 1989 the Berlin Wall came down as the Soviet Union imploded. 

A funny thing happened between then and now. Unlike Presidents Kennedy and Reagan, current and former Presidents Joe Biden, Barrack Obama and Donald J Trump, didn’t and don’t give a hoot about liberty. They are all about using the coercive power of the administrative state to re-engineer American society. While they may pay lip service to the idea, fundamentally, they simply do not believe in the power of liberty and the promise of a free America.  

That is why Obama and Trump were failures and why Biden is failing right before our eyes. Consider for instance, Biden’s handling of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. For the first time since World War II a European power has launched a military invasion of a neighbor, with the prospect of still more aggression yet to come.  

And what has been the Biden Administration’s response? Well, they predicted what Russia would do and used diplomacy to deter what they predicted would happen, from actually happening. In the end, Vladimir Putin simply ignored Biden and invaded Ukraine. So on his own terms, Biden failed. 

Biden then announced that he and our allies were united (which we are not) and would impose sanctions on Russia. Sanctions that are supposed to do what, exactly? No one seems to know. The sanctions are essentially toothless in that they have not, and will not in the future, dissuade Vladimir Putin from doing what he wants. Which is to resurrect some semblance of the old Soviet Empire.

Putin’s effort will no doubt fail and eventually come crashing to earth. But that is no thanks to the U.S. foreign policy establishment. Putin simply lacks the financial muscle or diplomatic savvy to succeed. Consider some numbers. In 2020 Russian GDP expressed in dollars was about $1.479 trillion, only about 55% of the UK’s GDP which was $2.7 trillion. In terms of per capita GDP, Russia’s was only $10,225, which is only about 25% of the UK’s $40,428. 

Russian defense spending was about the same as that of the UK; $63 billion for Russia compared to $60 billion for the UK. When viewed in terms of government budgeting, a whole other story emerges. Russian defense spending represents 11.4% of the budget; but only 4.23% of the UK’s—because the UK economy is so much bigger.  In the end Russia is a gas station armed with nuclear weapons. The burden its government imposes on its citizens is plainly enormous. 

And just to be clear about all this, while Russian GDP is only around $1.479 trillion, the GDP of the Eurozone is $13 trillion, while the GDP of the US is  $22.9 trillion. The population of Russia is 146 million people. US population is 329 million and the Eurozone population is 342 million people. 

So why are the Western allies so hesitant to step up? The citizens  of the Eurozone have been more than happy to let the US bear the burden of their defense. Moreover they are far more likely to view these rivalries in ethnic terms, rather than ideological terms as the US does (or did). 

A second, and probably more important factor is that much of the foreign policy establishment in the US has bought into the idea of American decline. Consequently, US politicians do not lead with confidence as Kennedy and Reagan did. In fact, they don’t lead at all. Mostly they are born followers who prefer bureaucratic rule making to the dynamism of free people and free markets.  

But it is always darkest before dawn. Back in the late 1980s all the talk was of America being overstretched. Anticipating the declinism of Donald Trump, Patrick Buchanan published “A Republic, Not an Empire”. Paul Kennedy a Yale historian published “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers”, suggesting that the US was falling victim to imperial overstretch. Every management guru thought that Japan was going to rule the world. President Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were constantly being told not to upset the Kremlin.  

The experts never guessed that the Wall would ever come down. But it did. The experts never guessed that Japan’s economy would be sluggish and close to zero growth for the next 30 years. But it was. The experts never guessed that inflation would come tumbling down and usher in the 25 years of growth that economists now refer to as the Great Moderation. But it happened.

The experts were sure that there were nuclear weapons in Iraq. They are still looking for them. They were positive that they could bring down health care costs with Obama Care. Enough said about that. In March of 2020, Dr. Fauci, then of the Trump Administration asked people to stay home for 15 days to slow the spread of the Corona Virus. Two years later the CDC is still on its mandate kick. 

In the summer of 2021, the experts assured us that inflation wasn’t a problem, it was merely transitory. That social protests in big cities were “mostly peaceful” while buildings burned on TV screens. That there wasn’t really a surge in violent crime. And so on.

We have gone through this sort of thing before. America always seems to muddle through, despite expert predictions. We will again. But it’s going to be a long hard slog. The first sign of a turn around will be the scaling back of the Nanny State, accompanied by a robust defense of the culture of liberty. With any luck, it could begin as early as November. 

JFB

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Shen Yun–Go See It

As soon as you can.

Shen means divine or divinity. Yun means feeling or rhythm. Shen Yun means “The beauty of heavenly beings dancing.” Shen Yun, based in New York, comprises 7 dance companies that perform all over the globe. We just saw it in the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. It is simply spectacular; a show that should not be missed. If you go to one ballet this year, Shen Yun should be it. 

The show uses Chinese mythology to tell stories that transcend particularism. The themes are essentially universalist. In some ways they are Shakespearian, in some ways Christian. The themes address the ideas of right and wrong, sin and redemption, truth, compassion and tolerance. These are qualities that recognize the dignity of the individual human person. They are also ideas that are an anathema to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). 

Shen Yun intends to recapture the traditional culture and values of China; a civilization has been with us for 5,000 years. Since Shen Yun is an offshoot of the Falun Gong movement, the CCP has forbidden the performance of Shen Yun in China. The traditional values it espouses are a mortal threat to the CCP. So the Party has been trying to stamp out religious belief and traditional Chinese culture ever since Mao and the Communist Party came to power in 1949. 

They, like all totalitarians, mean to make a New Man, one who is infinitely elastic and perfectible; one who fits the the proper image of the ideologues. That alone is worth thinking about, particularly when considering the joyless idealogues who have captured so many universities in America. After all they are attempting to do precisely the same thing. First they come for the statues; then they come for the people. What is cancel culture all about, if not to de-platform and silence people guilty of wrong think? And what happens to the robust debate that is part of our heritage if stifling conformity becomes the norm?

As conservatives never tire of pointing out out, politics is downstream from culture. It should be painfully obvious that the goal of the new authoritarians is the destruction of  Western culture that lies at the heart of our civilization. The better to re-create the ever malleable New Man who will do what he is told. Perhaps progressive camp followers in the media are simply too naive to realize it.  

Shen Yun provides an effective retort to the attempt to the new cultural vandals. By telling stories based on Chinese mythology, it champions the dignity and worth of the individual human person. It is a rebuke to the social planners who seek to create a New Man in their own image. (Take a look at the Video below). 

It is also worth noting that the horrors of the 20th century were not brought about by the Scottish enlightenment, now in so much disfavor, and derided as justification for colonialist white supremacy. Rather it was Adam Smith, David Hume, John Stuart Mill and others of the Scottish Enlightenment who provided the intellectual framework for developing modern institutions of liberty. 

Classical liberals are not the problem. It was instead Western utopians who provided what became justification for the world’s most prolific killers. Stalin, Mao, Castro and Pol-Pot among others originated in the writings of  Marx, Engles, Sartre, Proudhon, Robespierre and Lenin; and not to put too fine a point on it, cheerleaders in the press like Walter Duranty. 

It was widely reported, perhaps incorrectly, that when queried about all the death and destruction wrought by Stalin, Walter Duranty is said to have replied, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs”. To which George Orwell replied, “Where’s the omelet?”

We are still waiting for that omelet–the one that will never appear. 

JFB

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The Wrong Question

In the matter of Ukraine, policy makers in Washington appear to be obsessed with finding an answer to a question they think will unlock the formula for maintaining the peace in Europe.  That question is: What does Putin want?

It is an interesting question. It is also the wrong question. It implies that the solution to the developing crisis in Europe is transactional. Once we discover what Putin wants, the next step is to find a face saving way to give it to him. Otherwise we impose economic sanctions. Just like we did in Iran. And how is that working out anyway?

What is notable about this episode is the extent to which Western thinkers have mischaracterized the problem. David Brooks, an opinion writer for the New York Times, summed up the conventional wisdom the other day on PBS.  He argued that the seriousness of the Russia – Ukraine dispute was centered on the willingness of a large power (Russia) to use force to impose its will on smaller nations—like Ukraine.  In so doing, he argued, Russia was endangering the rules based liberal order put in place as a result of the catastrophic destruction wrought by the two World Wars of the first half of the 20th century.  

That is indeed the conventional wisdom. It also misses the point. There is a reason why the rules based system worked as well as it did for as long as it did. The reason does not lie in the work of the post war institutions we built like the United Nations, the Word Trade Organization, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Those organizations are simply instruments of Great Power geopolitics. 

The reason why the liberal world order flourished as it did is that the United States enforced the rules. Great Power politics did not vanish with the creation of a liberal international order. The United States emerged from the ashes of World War II with so much concentrated power that it was in a position to dominate the construction of the political and financial architecture of the emerging era. 

But those institutions, largely instruments of American power, were never going to be permanent. As the relative positions of other Great Powers began to improve vis-a-vis the United States, what had become became known as the Washington Consensus strained to adapt. While the United States largely held the Western Alliance together through NATO, other existing powers began to revert to old habits, particularly, Russia. 

Leave aside for the time being Russia’s general suppression of Eastern European countries through the Warsaw Pact. Russia also invaded Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968) to put down local attempts at liberalization. They put nuclear missiles in Castro’s Cuba in 1961, constructed the Berlin Wall in 1961 and invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. And all along the way they supported various national wars of liberation around the globe. 

The only thing standing in the way of more aggressive (what was then) Soviet behavior was the United States. When the wall finally did come down in 1991 it took with it the Soviet system. It wasn’t just the military power of the United States that Russia faced. The U.S. combined military power with soft power. Who can forget Reagan’s speech in front of the Berlin Wall when he said  “Mr. Gorbachev, Tear down this wall”. 

But the fall of the Berlin Wall  did not take down the dreams of socialism, autocracy and ultimately totalitarianism, although by rights it should have. Vladimir Putin, who went from being a junior KGB operative in Eastern Europe to a cab driver in Moscow, described the collapse of the Soviet Empire as “…the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.”

That hints at the answer to the question: What does Putin want? First and foremost he wants to protect and expand his power. That means destroying NATO, hence his demand that the West pledge to never admit Ukraine to the alliance.  

To a large degree Putin has already succeeded in knocking NATO back on its heels. He merely has to deliver the coup de grace. Remember the original goals of NATO: Keep Germany down; Russia out and America in.  Now consider, the response of NATO and the United States to Russian aggression in the matter of Ukraine. 

Germany is continuing with its plan to approve Russia’s Nord 2 gas pipeline which runs from western Russia to north-east Germany, bypassing Ukraine. This will make Europe, and particularly Germany, dependent on Russia for its energy supplies. And not to make too fine a point of it, former German chancellor Gerhard Schroder went to work for Gazprom and sits on the Board of Rosneft, Russia’s biggest oil producer.

In the meantime the Biden Administration has threatened “swift and severe sanctions” should Russia invade Ukraine. But it is hard to imagine that Vladimir Putin will be shaking in his boots over anything that the Biden Administration says it is prepared to do. Already the Administration has looked for an off-ramp by trying to make a distinction between a “minor incursion” and an invasion, albeit with some belated after-action clean-up. 

Then there is the matter of the botched Afghanistan withdrawal and the subsequent lies about it. (See today’s Washington Post for one example among many). Honorable mention goes to the Biden Administration’s obsession with getting  a “deal” with Iran despite the fact that Iran continues to ramp up its nuclear weapons program and has recently tested a ballistic missile capable of reaching Israel.  

All things considered the question that matters is not what does Vladimir Putin want. The real question that matters is: What does the United States want? Another way to put it is: What is in the best interests of the United States, and derivatively, the West? Which is not the same as what is in the best interests of Joe Biden’s political standing, which seems to be the driving force of his policy making. 

Faced with the correct question to ask, we are immediately confronted by a problem. It ought to be obvious that the default position of mankind is not peace and prosperity, all the nonsense about the Noble Savage notwithstanding. Achieving those goals requires constructing both institutions and leaders capable of delivering and sustaining them.

The existential problem we face—and it truly is an existential problem—is that America’s scholars, public intellectuals, universities, thought leaders and cultural arbiters no longer believe in the intellectual infrastructure that made the modern Liberal state possible. The classical Liberalism of the Scottish Enlightenment developed by Adam Smith, David Hume, John Locke and Edmund Burke are based on the idea of natural law; that there are universals that spring from that idea; that among them are the right to life and liberty; that those rights in turn depend on property rights and the right of contract; that the rule of law applies equally to all and that it is the job of Government not to create, but to secure those rights. Those beliefs are what made America, America. And the institutions built on those beliefs are what allowed those 13 colonies to become the richest most powerful country in the world.

But today’s progressives do not believe that, campaign rhetoric aside. Today’s progressives are determinists and racial essentialists. For them, race, class and gender are determinative. The hierarchy of oppression is the scorecard. The hysterical opposition to school choice, the insistence on forcing 5-year olds to wear utterly useless masks in schools (when they are open) and acquiescence to the 1619 project and “anti-racism” in public schools give the game away. Which is: Command-and-Control. 

That ideology, for the moment, dominates public discourse. And it is why policy makers are incapable of formulating the right questions to ask, much less coming up with the right answers. And why they shy away from global leadership. They cower in fear of being called Neo-colonialists.

Shortly after John Kennedy was inaugurated as President  he went over to Foggy Bottom and asked various employees whom they represented. The answers came back quickly—France, England, India, Japan, Egypt etc. Whereupon Kennedy reportedly asked “Where is the American desk?” 

That is a question we should be pondering today. Another is: what would the world look like if America were to abdicate its role as global leader and enforcer of liberal norms. Answer: It wouldn’t be pretty.

JFB

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Progressives Never Learn

Poor Joe Biden. You almost have to feel sorry for him, surrounded as he is by a multitude of disasters. But since they are largely the result of President Biden’s policy choices, we should feel sorry for the citizenry that is paying the price for his incompetence. It’s actually worse than that because while Candidate Biden promised to govern as a moderate, he is being led around by Bernie Sanders (VT-Rolling Stone)

Let’s face it, Mr. Biden’s  staff puts a speech filled with happy talk in the teleprompter. He proceeds to read it and by the end of his remarks it is clear to sentient beings everywhere that Mr Biden doesn’t have the slightest idea what he is talking about.  

Consider the inflation situation. Back in June of 2021 when the inflation rate was racing ahead at 5.4% here is what President Biden had to say

“The vast majority of the experts, including Wall Street, are suggesting that it’s highly unlikely that it’s going to be long-term inflation that’s going to get out of hand,” Biden said. “There will be near-term inflation, because everything is now trying to be picked back up.”

Leave aside the horrific grammar that seems to be endemic among ex-Senators. Also leave aside the minor fact that there is zero evidence that the “vast majority of experts”, by which he presumably means economists (other than the cheerleaders at the Fed) have actually signed on to this particular piece of economic incoherence. The fact is that the inflation rate, which was 5.4% in June is now 7.5%. And the word transitory, as least as it pertains to inflation,  has been shoved into the memory hole. 

In the wake of todays report of the highest inflation rate in 40 years President Biden gamely soldiered on. He announced that “While today’s report is elevated, forecasters continue to project inflation easing substantially by the end of 2022.” 

A better way to put is that those forecasters continue to be flat out wrong, and for the same reason they have been wrong all along. They are relying on a 70 year old model based on the Phillips Curve that is a relic of a different era. That model posits the idea that there is a predictable trade-off between the unemployment and inflation rates. As inflation goes up, unemployment goes down and vice-versa. Policy makers merely have to pick the optimal trade-off point as they set interest rates.  

That idea was wrong when it first surfaced in the late 1950s and it is still wrong today. But bad ideas never die; they just lie in wait for the next opportunity. So progressive policymakers who should have but didn’t learn from the experience of the 1970s  when President Jimmy Carter (and Presidents Nixon and Ford) made the same mistakes, have seized the opportunity to mess things up royally. 

And so here we are with 7.5% inflation and shortages on grocery store shelves. The shame of it is that this was an avoidable disaster. And it shows no signs of getting better anytime soon, pace Mr. Biden. 

The reason why prices are soaring is because of the policies championed and implemented by Mr. Biden and his Progressive buddies. They have been spending money like drunken sailors (with apologies extended to drunken sailors) and show no sign of remorse. Instead they continue to tout themselves as modern Messiahs who will right all wrongs in the pursuit of justice. 

Back on planet earth it is (or ought to be) crystal clear that soaring prices are the result of constrained supply brought about by lock-downs, transfer payments from savers to spenders, and the re-imposition of a regulatory regime focused on social justice goals rather than economic efficiency. At the same time the Progs have thrown scads of money hot off the Fed’s printing press at every conceivable social justice cause thus pumping up aggregate demand. 

We have constrained supply and increased demand. And we did it on purpose. It was integral to a disastrously failed anti-Covid strategy. Of course prices soared. What in the world did they think was going to happen? And they will continue to do so until the policy regime is reversed. But that would amount to a repudiation of the policy regime brought to us, or I should say, imposed on us by Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Elizabeth Warren and the whole crowd of collectivists who currently own the Democratic Party. 

And since they are not about to admit the obvious, namely that they are simply flat out wrong, they will have to be asked to give up the reins come November. And then we will have a brand new bunch of economic illiterates to deal with. 

JFB

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The Fed is Compounding the Damage

According to the Washington Post,  

“…the current Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, has dismissed claims that the Fed’s money-printing is fueling today’s price spiral, emphasizing instead the disruptions associated with reopening the economy. Like his most recent predecessors, dating to Alan Greenspan, Powell says that financial innovations mean there no longer is a link between the amount of money circulating in the economy and rising prices.”

Really? The Fed now maintains there is no longer a link between the amount of money in circulation and rising prices. Then why are they poised to raise the target rate for federal funds and reduce the size of the Fed’s balance sheet in March? Both of those policy shifts will reduce the amount of money in circulation, thereby lowering effective demand ceteris paribus. That, after all, is the point. 

The Fed is up to its old tricks, trying to change the subject so as not to be held accountable for the explosion in inflation that it sponsored. The Fed insists that it has the tools to deal with inflation should it become a problem. Well inflation has become a problem. The question is not whether the Fed has the tools to address the problem. The question is whether the Fed has the will to use the tools at its disposal. 

Consider the history. For years, a decade actually, the Fed’s stated policy goal was to increase the inflation rate to 2%. This it failed to do. Between the years 2010 and 2020 the inflation rate averaged 1.73%, staying between a low of 0.7% and a high of 3%. 

Then, during the first quarter of 2020,  in response to the Covid-19 pandemic the Fed drove short term rates to zero, created credit facilities for entire swaths of the economy and expanded the assets on its balance sheet from about $4 trillion in January of 2020 to  $8.8 trillion by the end of 2021. The broadly defined money supply rose 35% from March 2020 through December 2021. Unsurprisingly the inflation rate, which had been humming along at 1.4% in 2020, soared to 7% in 2021. 

It is important to understand the implications of the Fed increasing its balance sheet. The Fed began buying Treasury and Mortgage Securities, thereby increasing the assets it holds. On the liability side the Fed increased its “liabilities” by creating the dollars it needed to buy the assets it added to its balance sheet. In effect it just printed the money, thereby increasing aggregate demand. 

Another thing happened on the way to this explosion of money creation. The Fed took Congress at least partially off the hook. The Fed enabled the Congress to spend trillions of extra dollars without worrying about financing. By purchasing gargantuan quantities of Treasury securities, the Fed provided the necessary financing.  In so doing it blurred the distinction between fiscal policy (taxes and spending) and monetary policy (interest rates and the money supply). 

It is also notable that inflation rates are soaring around the major industrialized economies of the West, largely because they have adopted the same foolish policies. The ECB drove interest rates into negative territory, and UK rates were tamped down by the Bank of England. The inflation rate in the UK recently clocked in at 5.4% in December, the highest reading since March 1992. This Thursday’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) is expected to be somewhere between 7% and 7.3%. 

The political backlash is building as a result. Real (inflation-adjusted) wages are falling in the U.S and the U.K. because although nominal wages are rising, they not keeping up with inflation. Energy bills are set to rise in the UK by 50%. They are also set to rise substantially on the continent. Gas prices in the U.S. have risen 40% since December 2020. Chalk rising energy costs up to a combination of bad monetary policy and green energy initiatives. 

Protesters in Britain. Guy Smallman / Getty Images
Protesters in Britain. Guy Smallman / Getty Images

We should be absolutely clear why the inflation rate is soaring across the Western economies. Policy makers have systematically driven interest rates down to zero and expanded Central Bank balance sheets, thus increasing effective demand. At the same time they constrained supply with lock-downs, green energy policies, more income transfers, and expanded regulation. Constraining supply and pumping up demand produces higher prices. There isn’t any mystery about it.

Policy makers are already trying to pin the blame elsewhere. Such economic luminaries as Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) are already complaining about “corporate greed” as if human nature abruptly changed when progressives came to power. Andrew Bailey, Governor of the Bank of England, foolishly asked Britains not to ask for wage increases to offset inflation. As if workers, not policy makers, were the problem here. Meanwhile over in Brussels, at its last meeting the ECB declined to raise its policy rate despite exploding inflation on the continent. And of course, progressives in the U.S., always searching for bad ideas to implement are hinting wage and price controls. 

The fact is that policy makers in the leading Western economies created the financial mess we are in by spending too freely,  suppressing interest rates, and piling on more and more regulations. We have seen this movie before, and it doesn’t end well. To put the economy on track for long term sustainable growth it is going to take significantly higher interest rates, reduced government spending and scaling back the regulatory burden of the nanny state. Which is to say, a complete and utter rejection of the progressive politics of Command-and-Control.  

JFB

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