Houston–We Have a Problem

Presidential campaigns are rarely about what the job of being president actually entails. The campaign itself is mostly a contest between the two major parties and the respective incentives they face. Note that this process is only remotely connected to the actual job of being president. 

What presidents mostly do is make executive decisions about stuff that finds its way into the Oval Office inbox. But decision-making ability is not what the candidates typically campaign on. Instead they repeat party pieties ad nauseam, launch mindless attacks the other guy, and then proceed to assemble a poll-tested list of policy priorities. That list, often in the form of the party platform, is designed to attract a coalition that can produce 370 votes in the electoral college.  

Once in office the victor appoints White House and agency staffers with ties to the winning coalition groups. Policy priorities are then reformulated so that the groups most instrumental in securing the electoral victory are placed at the top of the pecking order.  That, in a nutshell, is how policy priorities are decided and ultimately, how policy is made. 

But the world has a habit of intruding on these neat and tidy arrangements.  Nobody in 2020, for instance, predicted our shambolic withdrawal from Afghanistan, or that Russia would invade Ukraine, or that Hamas, under the watchful eye of Iran, would launch a brutal attack on Israel, or that we would be bombing the Houthis, or that Venezuela would be eying Guyana. 

In fact, foreign policy was hardly even mentioned in recent presidential contests—even though the conduct of foreign policy is one of, if not the, major responsibility of the president. And not to put too fine a point on it, when during a 2012 presidential debate Mitt Romney had the temerity to argue that Russia was our principal adversary, he was brutally mocked by Obama. That was when Obama’s vice president was none other than Joe Biden, foreign policy expert. 

Which brings up our current problem. Neither of the top contenders in the 2024 presidential contest, namely, Joe Biden or Donald Trump, has demonstrated the slightest capacity for rational decision making with respect to policy. But each has demonstrated a crude personal survival instinct, the consequences be damned. Further, both have shown themselves to be inveterate liars, although not very good ones, with a penchant for corruption. 

Consider the 4 years of the Trump presidency. What exactly did he accomplish outside of what any normal Republican would have accomplished? The answer is…Nothing. 

How about uniquely Trumpian accomplishments? So remind me, where is that wall Trump promised to build? Remember…that’s the wall that Mexico was going to pay for. What did all those Trumpian tariffs accomplish other than to raise prices (an implicit tax) on consumers?  And who was it who appointed Dr. Anthony Fauci to run health care policy when the COVID -19 pandemic hit? 

And speaking of health care policy, Obamacare is still with us even though Trump had a majority in both the Senate and House. But, in fairness, he did manage to add about $7.5 trillion to the national debt. And thanks to Trump, Republicans don’t need to worry about that Senate majority anymore. Or a stable House majority. 

In fact, Republicans can credit Trumpian candidates with the trouncings they experienced in 2018, 2020, and 2022. Especially as affluent and highly educated suburban voters fled the party in droves. 

So how about Joe Biden? Well, the latest of a long series of fiascos is the special prosecutor’s report on how Biden handled, or mishandled, the classified documents he kept in his garage among other places. Which, by the way, is where his  drug addicted son had access to them since he was living there for a while. 

According to the New York Times, Special prosecutor Hur “found evidence that Mr. Biden had willfully retained and disclosed sensitive information after he left the vice presidency in 2017.” The Times continued to reference Hur who maintained that  “Mr. Biden came off as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.” 

The White House simultaneously maintains that (1) Biden did not “willfully” retain said documents and (2) Biden’s memory is “fine”. Hmm. 

Anyway the special prosecutor declined to prosecute. He contended that it would be difficult to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Biden formed the requisite criminal intent to commit a crime. That finding raises a couple of interesting questions.

Are we supposed to believe that Biden has the mental acuity to be responsible for the potential use of the nuclear football, but lacks the mental sharpness needed to form criminal intent? Are we supposed to believe that the formation of criminal intent is actually necessary to charge Biden with a felony? What about gross negligence—which does not require criminal intent. 

So why was Trump charged, but not Biden? Without question, both mishandled classified documents. But the evidence strongly suggests that Trump actively sought to hide evidence of wrongdoing from investigators, while Biden did not. Also remember that the prosecutor insisted he had proof that Biden shared classified information (implicitly) including sources and methods. Whether Trump shared information or was engaging in mere braggadocio has yet to be determined. 

None of this serves to excuse the behavior in question. It only affects the level of the charge. In Trump’s case, attempts at concealment suggest criminal intent. In Biden’s case there is no suggestion of intent. Just negligence, perhaps born of entitlement.  Or dull-wittedness.

But the difference between intent (in Trump’s case) and gross negligence (in Biden’s case) is simply a factor in calculating the severity of punishment. Both are still felonies. And let’s further consider the idea that a reasonable jury wouldn’t convict Biden because he is old and infirm. While that could be true, it is more likely that Biden couldn’t be convicted because partisan passions are running so high. 

Which is also the case with Trump. Remember that there are still millions of people who are utterly convinced that Trump won the 2020 election but that the election was stolen from him. And who still call the January 6 rioters “patriots”. 

Any reasonably competent defense attorney would make sure that at least one true believer was on a Trump jury, thereby insuring a hung jury. Pretty much the same way O. J. Simpson’s attorneys made sure that none of the jurors had taken high school chemistry. 

So where does all this leave us? Well, like the astronauts on the Apollo 13 mission, we have a problem. The problem is that both of the (heavily favored) candidates for their party’s respective presidential nominations are manifestly unqualified for the job. And both have the records to prove it. 

It is also the case that the “leaders” of the Republican and Democratic parties are terrified of their respective primary voters. Consequently they have chosen to remain silent. With rare exceptions they have chosen either to kiss the ring of Donald Trump (the Republicans) or in the Democrat’s case go along with the nomination of Joe Biden. This in spite of Biden’s obvious frailties and the real possibility of ushering in the administration of President Kamala Harris sometime in the next few years. 

In poll after poll, the great majority of voters insist that they do not want a Biden-Trump rematch. But that is where we are headed. It is clear that both the Republicans and Democrats  are sacrificing the interests of the country in order to appease their respective interest groups; both those who show up for the primaries and those who have a lock on the party machinery.

Unfortunately, unless something shakes up the race, the likely outcome is a Biden-Trump rematch which would delight Russia, Iran and Beijing. There is still a long time between now and the nominating conventions. It is not too late for things to change, but it gets less likely by the day. 

In the final analysis we have met the enemy and the enemy is…us. After all it is the voters who show up in the primaries and the general who ultimately determine who the victors are. And despite their insistence that they don’t want a Biden-Trump rematch, the voters, sheeplike may very well vote for one. 


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It isn’t Over Until the Fat Lady Sings

After winning New Hampshire’s Republican primary, Donald Trump put on a characteristic display of magnanimity. He referred to Nikki Haley as “Birdbrain”. He proceeded to follow up by announcing on the comically misnamed “Truth Social” that any future contributors to Haley’s campaign would be frozen out of MAGA land.  Finally he decided to weigh in on Haley’s dress, which for some reason or other he didn’t like.  Surely, one of the most pressing issues of the day, and one that potential voters should consider seriously. At least as seriously as they should consider him. 

Amid all the ruckus about Trump’s supposed inevitability—he leads Haley by 32 to 17 delegates out of 1,215 needed to win—it is important to realize that both the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary showed just how weak Trump actually is as a candidate in a general election. For one, the turnout in Iowa was unusually low. Only about 108,000 people showed up to caucus compared to 187,000 in 2016 and 122,000 in 2012. (Some, but not all of the falloff is undoubtedly attributable to the weather). 

By contrast, in New Hampshire the turnout was high—record setting in fact. And the high turnout can be attributed to Trump—by people who turned out to vote against him. In that primary, in which independents and Democrats could vote, Nikki Haley got 44% of the vote which was 7 points higher than the polls suggested. Further, inasmuch as Trump was president from January 2017 until January 2021, he essentially ran in Iowa and New Hampshire as an incumbent. 

Normally incumbents garner pretty close to 100% of the vote. (Biden got 64% of the Democratic vote even though his name wasn’t even on the ballot, most Democrats say they don’t want him to run,  and the primary was in name only). But Trump only managed to get 51% and 54% respectively in the Iowa and New Hampshire races. If that isn’t enough to give supporters pause for thought, a look at the result cross-tabs makes it clear that Trump’s voters are likely to be younger, less affluent and less educated than Haley’s (and DeSantis’s for that matter). Haley has been winning college educated, affluent voters, the very voters who used to make the GOP dominant in the suburbs. 

These are the voters who have been abandoning the GOP in droves. The result is that the Republican Party lost the House in 2018; the White House in 2020 and the Senate in 2021. In 2022 Republicans barely re-captured the House in spite of Biden’s horrific poll numbers and lost a golden opportunity to take the Senate as Trump selected MAGA candidates all of whom went down to defeat. Chances are that November of 2024 will repeat the pattern if Trump is nominated. Trump appears to have a tight grip on a shrinking party, which is surely indicative of a losing position. 

What is to be done if America is to be rescued from the prospect of an awful choice between Trump’s predictable chaos or Biden’s incompetence? (And mind you that doesn’t even count the very real possibility of Kamala Harris’s ascension to the White House.) Well, Nikki Haley has one month to stage a long-shot victory in South Carolina if she is to stay in the contest as a credible challenger to Trump for the nomination and Biden for the presidency.  Can she succeed?

Possibly. But only just possibly. Then again Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal has an excellent column on the subject in which she says that Haley should go for broke and attack Trump in her quest to win the South Carolina primary and derail him. After consulting with her friend and fellow Reagan speech writer Landon Parvin,  Noonan says Haley should  attack Trump on substance and should do so with the deft use of humor. She could do so by reminding people of all the awful things Trump has said and letting that sink in.  

She could begin by saying ( I am quoting from the column here) “Remember when Trump said he could shoot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue and people would still vote for him? Well, if he would try to shoot somebody in the middle of the street here in South Carolina, we would return fire. And that is what I intend to do today.”

Peggy Noonan has a point. The other combatants have either avoided confronting Trump directly (think DeSantis) or have approached the task full of anger (think Chris Christie). Then after being demeaned and humiliated by Trump, most kiss the ring and endorse him. A perfect example of profiles in cowardice. 

On the other hand, Haley can turn on the charm and take the challenge to Trump. She can do so forcefully and directly without being nasty. Like Margaret Thatcher did in her day, Haley may be able to win over voters who are tired of the nonsense that both of her opponents (Trump and Biden) are trying to sell.  It just might work. 


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The Rematch

With their respective primary victories in New Hampshire last night, ex President Donald J Trump and current President Joe Biden set the stage for a rematch of their desultory 2020 election contest. Consequently the 2024 campaign will pit two of the most determined ignoramuses ever nominated by a major party against each other in an epic battle of dismaying cluelessness.  

Let me be clear that when I refer to the ignorance of the major players, I do not mean to imply that either of them are stupid. By contrast I do mean that they are remarkably ignorant about the formation and implementation of public policy. They each appear to be naive enough to believe (or profess to believe) that simply passing a law or promulgating a regulation will actually achieve the desired outcome. The whole idea of unintended consequences is just ignored. 

As a result, the differences between Trump and Biden are remarkably small. The supporters of each will rebel against this idea. But let’s consider the fact that each campaign has “plans” to “fix” the “problems” that they claim to have discovered.  Take trade for instance. In his first term Donald Trump slapped tariffs on a whole host of products to “fix” the trade deficit “problem”. And president Biden continued the practice and added to the tariffs. 

And what did the trade deficit do? Well, from 2018 through  2021 (using the latest available numbers) the trade deficit increased 45% from $593 billion to $862 billion. By Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 it had increased again to $945 billion. So the policy (1) imposed a large tax on US citizens in the form of higher prices and (2) failed on its own terms. Do you see any of the major candidates arguing to rescind the policy? No. Why not? Ignorance on the part of both the candidates and the public. 

How about foreign policy, which according to exit polls is a priority issue for only about 10% of the voters. And while we are at it, let’s not forget that we are a major supplier of war materiel to Ukraine in its war with Russia; likewise to Israel in its war with Hamas and other Iranian proxies. Or that China is increasingly aggressive with respect to Taiwan and the South China Sea; that North Korea has lately taken to referring to South Korea as its enemy, or that Venezuela has its eye on Guyana. Not to mention that American hostages are still being held by Hamas or that we are now in a shooting war with the Houthis, another Middle Eastern Iranian proxy. 

So what are the proposed policy prescriptions of the respective campaigns of Trump and Biden. Well, Trump will end the Ukraine war in 24 hours. How do we know? Because he said he will. Just like he said he won in 2020. And, he says, he knows Putin very well and has a good relationship with him. There you have it. Case closed, no problem.

The Biden foreign policy aims are—well what are they? That seems to be a big secret. He has gone wobbly on the Israeli-Hamas war, probably because his party has been backing away from it, not least because it is ideologically hostile to a neoliberal foreign policy (as is the Republican Party). And, not to put too fine a point on it, there is a fair amount of antisemitism in the Democratic Party’s base. It also bears repeating that while social spending has soared (under both Trump and Biden) military spending under Biden has just about kept up with inflation, straining military readiness. 

How about Fiscal sobriety? Neither administration has anything to write home about. The budget deficit (not necessarily the best measure) increased $7.8 trillion during the Trump years. During the first 3 years of the Biden administration the deficit increased a little over $7 trillion. It will probably be more like $8 trillion before his first 4 years are up. By the way, Democrats love to blame recent deficits on the 2017 tax cuts. However, federal tax receipts increased 41% rising to $4.8 trillion from $3.4 trillion from 2020 to 2022. The growth in spending far outpaced revenue growth. 

Spending is the problem. And not just “emergency spending” to deal with Covid-19. Specifically, tax-and-vote spending and the something-for-nothing mindset of the electorate is the source of the public finance disaster we are in. Let’s remember that total accumulated federal debt is now about $33 trillion. 

Speaking of what we laughingly refer to as the federal budget, each candidate continues to display a remarkable inability to deal with arithmetic. Both major candidates have pledged to avoid reforming Social Security and Medicare, the main drivers of deficit spending. The mere fact that the programs are insolvent is a pesky little detail they are each determined to avoid mentioning. Interest on the debt by the way, now exceeds $1 trillion per year, which is greater than the military budget.  

So how have the candidates differentiated themselves from each other? They will each claim that the other guy either was then or is now, a terrible president. And neither of them will be wrong. But both Trump and Biden will just engage in name-calling rather than address substantive policy differences because substantive policy differences, except for things like abortion rights, are largely non-existent. 

As a practical matter even those differences are much smaller than they appear.  Let me explain.

Both Parties have staked out positions on abortion rights designed to please their respective bases. Those positions are wildly out of sync with national, (but maybe not with regional) opinion. The Republicans essentially demand an end to abortion rights. The Democrats essentially demand abortion on-demand, paid for with tax dollars. 

The public, on the other hand, does not like either Democratic permissiveness or Republican calls for a ban. The public probably prefers something like a ban around 15 – 20 weeks into pregnancy with an exception if the life of the mother is in jeopardy. 

The only politician willing to speak the truth on this has been Nikki Haley who correctly observed that a blanket national law would be impossible to pass since it would take 60 votes to pass the Senate and that is unlikely to happen. Try telling that to either base and see how far you get. 

Regardless, Dobbs v Jackson, placed the issue where it belongs. That place is in the political arena in state capitals, not the federal government. That, in the spirit of federalism, is where local political differences can be negotiated. Further, a national law—one way or the other—would probably wind up on the constitutional chopping block. 

Then there is the all purpose claim that Trump—and Republicans generally—represent a “threat to democracy”. For instance, Dem Governor of Illinois JB Pritzker has referred to Nikki Haley as MAGA in heels.  

Let’s think about this for a minute, and for the sake of argument let’s stipulate that the term democracy refers to an established procedure for the transfer of political power; the rule of law; the defense of property rights, and all the other rights established in the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, popularly known as the Bill of Rights. 

Now let’s consider the claim that Trump is a threat to democracy. There should be no doubt that the man is abysmally ignorant; that he has no problem palling around with dictators; that he is a liar of epic proportions; that he has no toleration for dissent; that he is probably a felon (though yet to be convicted); that his use of language veers into the edge of violence and he has very strong authoritarian tendencies. 

The main question here is this: are American institutions capable of restraining him—or anybody else in a similar position? My answer to both questions is: Probably yes, but only probably. 

Some background to the question first. Democrats have a long history, going back at least to Harry Truman, of calling Republicans fascists. There is accordingly a boy-who-cried-wolf aspect to all this. That’s probably one reason why so many Republicans simply ignore it when Democrats go into a fever pitch and call their opponents fascists, racists etc, even if the description really fits. And Democratic hands are not clean here either. For instance, Joe Kennedy was a Nazi sympathizer.   Strom Thurmond began life as a Democrat, ran for president in 1948 as a Dixiecrat, and ultimately became a Republican in 1968.

Can American institutions restrain any President, including Trump? It depends on what restrain means. It is extremely doubtful that we will ever face a “7 Days in May” type situation. After all, in the end the January 6, 2021 affair was a clown show. Was it a disgrace? Yes, of course. Did it ever have a chance of succeeding? Not a chance. And plenty of the rioters are today spending time in jail, which is where they belong.

The more difficult question has to do with the separation of powers and the  bureaucratic power of the Administrative state. There is, for instance, a very long laundry list of  cases where the courts have slapped the Biden Administration down for its abuse of the executive power. Some of the more consequential ones are:

  • The eviction moratorium
  • The Vaccine Mandate
  • Student Debt Cancellation

Additionally, although not necessarily in the courts:

  • A concerted attack on the first amendment by having executive agencies direct social media companies not to publish what the Administration labels “misinformation”
  • Routine efforts to do an end-run around the 2nd amendment
  • Sending the FBI out to intimidate traditional Catholics, referring to them as terrorists
  • Slow walking and then attempting to cover up Hunter Biden’s business dealings, tax evasion, and Joe Biden’s emails sent under pseudonyms while he was VP
  • Maybe 1 million people have been released into the country under a misused immigration-parole authority

This is actually a small sample. The list is almost endless. And this type of selective protection of rights is not the sole province of Biden, or of Democratic Administrations. There was the Obama (D) Administration’s use of the IRS against the Tea Party and the Nixon (R) Administration’s use of the Intelligence agencies, FBI and IRS against “enemies”. 

Ultimately, the protection of our rights depends on a culture of Liberalism and tolerance. Those virtues are under threat as they aways are. And neither party seems to be particularly interested in defending them. So that’s why the answer to the question(s) above is only: probably.


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The March for Life

Mostly they were young women. And they came by the thousands despite the cold and  wind and snow. At first it seemed like a trickle, but within an hour the trickle turned into a torrent. The Federal Triangle and Smithsonian Metro stations near the National Mall began to brim with Right-to-Life marchers who were there to listen to the speakers before marching. After the speeches, which included several Congressmen including Speaker of the House Mike Johnson,  they marched past the Capitol and headed toward the Supreme Court.  

Photo of a sign stuck in the snow at the 2024 March-for-Life.

The March-for-Life was unlike—very unlike—the standard issue demonstration that is typical of the ones that routinely take place in the District. It made no attempt to undermine the foundations of the American system as so many routinely do.  

Washington, DC — January 19, 2024. Right-to-Life Marchers group near the Washington, Monument.

In stark contrast to their left-wing counterparts, e.g,—Justice for Palestine, Black Lives Matter—both the Right-to-Life march and the underlying movement demonstrated support for the maintenance of American institutions and the rule of law. It should be noted that the overturning of Roe v. Wade  by Dobbs v. Jackson was the result of 50 years of patient legal work spearheaded by the movement and the Federalist Society. This in spite of furious, sometimes violent, opposition by the left: let’s not forget, for instance, the hearings of Bret Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas.   

The fact, and it is a fact, that so many Republican politicians are incapable of voicing a robust defense of Dobbs (which was correctly decided) is a comment on Republicans, not the underlying legal case.  

Instead of violence, looting and burning—remember those “mostly peaceful” protests during the pandemic? (See the map below). Or the use of violence to attempt intimidate Senators Sinema and Manchin that President Biden described as “part of the process”? Or how about the widespread violence of the 1960s? By contrast the speeches at the March were preceded by the singing of the Star Spangled Banner and the display of American flags. 

The theme of this year’s March (the 51st) was “With every woman, for every child”. In that regard the speakers called attention to the thousands of pregnancy centers the pro-life movement supports. In contrast, note that Congress just recently passed, and Biden threatens to veto,  two bills to fund those centers. Speakers also emphasized the importance of changing opinion on the morality of abortion rights, which also stands in sharp contrast with the coercive attempts at a stifling conformity of opinion that is so popular among left-wing proponents of right-think. 

Washington, DC — January 19, 2024. Marchers brave the snow for the Right-to-Life movemenr.

The movement also wants to put the lie to rest that abortion rights, even abortion on demand is the preferred choice of women, especially young women. Grant the self-selection of the crowd, it is hard to ignore just how many young women turned out for the March, not to mention surveys on the subject. A recent (May 2023) Gallup poll found that 47% of respondents thought that abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances, compared to 49% that thought that abortion should be illegal either in all or most circumstances. Hardly what you’d call uniformity of opinion. 

Washington, DC — January 19, 2024. Right-to-Life Marchers brave the snow and gather near the Washington Monument.

All in all, the March-for-Life was a robust demonstration of the strengths of the American experiment in self-rule; the importance of the right-to-life and above all the dignity of each and every individual human being. That each and every human being was created—created in the language of the Declaration of Independence—with equal rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Now would be a good time to remember that. 


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Trump Wins Big in Iowa

There is just no sugarcoating it. By garnering 51% of the vote, Trump won in a romp. Not only did he win, the vote totals of the two runners-up (Ron DeSantis 21% and Nikki Haley 19%), were close enough to keep them both in the race. As a result, there is no reason to expect either of them to drop out before the New Hampshire primary on January 23rd. All of which means that there is virtually no chance that the field will quickly narrow so that Trump will be forced to face a single challenger.

A look at the results below the surface contains more bad news for those of us who think Trump is a disgrace. The turnout was light, possibly because of the weather.  But it was light in the suburbs and urban areas, which are the more accessible areas and the areas where Haley was supposed to be strong.  By contrast the rural areas which represent Trump country, are far less accessible. But Trump voters turned up anyway and voted for him. 

Another factor was the demographics of the voters. Haley ran strong in areas with high incomes and a concentration of college educated voters. On the other hand, Trump ran very well in less affluent and less educated precincts. This suggests it will be difficult for Haley to make much headway among the Republican faithful. And it suggests that Trump has a ceiling on his support among the general public. 

High income precincts are defined as the ones with a median household income greater or equal to $100,000; less affluent precincts have a median household income less that $50,000. Precincts with a concentration of college graduates are defined as ones where 40% of the population has a college education; areas with fewer college graduates are ones in which 15% or less have a college education.

In short, the Republican Party is starting to look like very much like the Democratic Party of yesteryear. It is rapidly becoming a down-market party that is less educated and dominated by blue collar workers. On the other hand the Democratic Party has made substantial gains both among college educated voters and in the formerly Republican suburbs.  

So far however, most of the difference between the parties, with the exception of abortion rights, has been performative. The internal contradictions of the two party’s have not yet come to the surface. For example, in the old Democratic Party, tax policy was designed to tax the few to (allegedly) benefit the many. To the extent the Democratic Party base becomes wealthier and more educated (two sides of the same coin) it is difficult to imagine that the party will continue to advocate the massive income transfers it had formerly supported. 

By the same token, the old Republican Party was committed to free trade. Well, that’s gone out the window. Similarly, the old GOP was supportive of immigration (also a free trade issue). Easy immigration also provided a source of cheap labor for country club Republicans. And the folks in the Country Club are increasingly likely to be Democrats. 

All things considered, the trend continues. We appear to be on track to have a Presidential rematch between two clueless and corrupt old men. And as much as the voters insist that they want different nominees, we are going to get the ones the public votes for. In the end it looks like the winner will be the candidate the public detests the least. 


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Useful Idiots

Ours is an age that places a great deal of emphasis on authenticity. Coupled with the inherent relativism of popular phrases like “my truth”  and “lived experience” it is meant to obliterate the idea that there is an objective reality. What really matters in this version of events is how an event is perceived. Feelings trump reason. 

Hence the importance of Lenin’s memorable description of the naive Westerners who supported him; he referred to them as useful idiots. Nowhere is that description more apt than when it is used to describe Western supporters of Hamas and other jihadist groups in their war against Israel. 

Let us assume absolute sincerity on the part of students at elite universities who support Hamas; politicians like Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib; the leaders of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR); various peace organizations, and the rapper Macklemore. They all denounce Israel for exercising its right of self-defense in the wake of the Oct 7 attacks by Hamas. (America is also held responsible for supporting the “Zionist entity.”) The proclamations of Hamas are treated as gospel truth while anything the Israelis or Americans say is attacked as propaganda.

So why don’t we take a look at what Hamas and other Islamist leaders are actually saying, rather than what their apologists claim they are saying. One thing that often happens is that Jihadists say one thing in Arabic, but whitewash it in English for Western audiences. Elliot Kaufman has done a great service by publishing a piece in The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) about an organization named the Middle East Media Research Institure (MEMRI) that tracks, publishes and translates into English speeches and articles by these Islamist leaders. The article can be found at the link to the Wall Street Journal, above. 

The screen shot below is from a short video on MEMRI’s website. It clearly demonstrates what Israel and the West are really up against. It’s worth visiting the website while pondering the applicability of the phrase “useful idiots.”


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The State of Play

Question: What are the serious challenges the United States currently faces?

Hint: The answer does not include specifying pronouns.

The answers should be more than obvious. (1) America faces perhaps the most important foreign policy challenges it has ever faced. (2) America’s public finances border on catastrophic and need to be put on a corrective path before it is too late. (3) The mono-culture being promoted by elite institutions is not only an affront to the primacy of reason; it is illiberal and authoritarian.

Let us consider each of these challenges in turn.

Foreign Policy

Through arms sales and financial support we are indirect participants in both Ukraine’s war of self-defense against Russian aggression and in Israel’s war of self defense against Hamas. We are also an ally of Taiwan and the Philippines, both of which are increasingly threatened by China. In any of these situations, we could easily be drawn into playing an active military role.

Note that arrayed against the liberal democracies of the West plus Japan and South Korea, is an alliance of authoritarian and militaristic regimes. Russia, China, Iran and North Korea are supplying various types of aid to each other, as well as to Iran and its proxies Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and other Islamist groups. Note too that Hamas, by last count, still holds 9 American hostages as well as over 100 hostages of other nations.

The attacks on American military assets and commercial shipping in the Red Sea make clear that American military power has not served to deter Houthi aggression in Yemen (another Iranian proxy group). Nor has China been dissuaded from building up its military capability in the South China Sea where it continues to harass Taiwanese and Philippine assets.

Add to this the fact that the Biden Administration was unaware of the location of the Secretary of Defense for going on a week while the US was actively engaged in shooting down drone and missile attacks in the Middle East. And that Republicans, egged on By Donald Trump, have increasingly adopted an isolationist McGovernite “come home America” attitude toward more funding for Ukrainian aid. And that the Democratic Party, internally riven by barely disguised antisemitism, is rapidly backtracking on its support for Israel.

Add them all up and we have an inchoate foreign policy presided over by a ward healer at a time of maximum risk to national security.

US Public Finance

By the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 accumulated federal debt held by the public grew to about $27 trillion. For FY 2023, the annual US budget deficit grew to between $1.4 trillion (Brookings) and $2 trillion (Tax Foundation). The difference depends on the methodology used for taking into account the Supreme Court’s nixing the Biden Administration’s plan for student debt forgiveness.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the annual deficit will be about $2 trillion per year for the next 10 years. Which implies that we have now budgeted, meaning we have planned as a matter of policy to spend $20 trillion more than we expect to raise through taxation over the next 10 years. That would bring the total debt in public hands at about $47 trillion.

To put this in perspective, consider that current Social Security spending ($1.2 trillion) exceeds the Defense Department budget ($751 billion) and is about the same as Medicare spending ($747 billion). Those figures do not include Medicaid. Nor do they include what the government euphemistically calls income support programs.

It should be blindingly clear that this is simply unsustainable. Not only is it unsustainable from a financial standpoint; if the United States remains on its current fiscal path, it will be unable to modernize the military to meet the challenges presented by an expanding array of illiberal and hostile nation-states.

Further we ought to at least be cognizant of the fact that the fiscal situation we are in is taking place during a period of historically low 3.7%unemployment and relative low interest rates (notwithstanding the wailing in the press). As a result, in the event of a recession the US has precious little macro-economic maneuvering room.

The solution to the military-readiness problem is clear. Increase military spending sufficient to attain military readiness. The solution to the fiscal situation is equally clear. (1) Reform entitlement programs, primarily by raising the retirement age for payouts to begin. (2) Reduce social spending. (3) Simplify and flatten the rates in the tax code. (4) Deregulate the economy.

It is difficult to imagine the 4 reforms listed above becoming law because, among other things, we have a bipartisan agreement of whistling past the graveyard to avoid even suggesting curbing the free stuff the citizens mistakenly believe they are actually getting for free.

The Political Culture

Which brings up the problem of culture; specifically the nonsense currently being peddled at elite institutions. Under the guise of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) an academic bureaucracy has become the enforcement mechanism for a rigid conformity of acceptable viewpoints.

Speech that doesn’t hew to the DEI line is characterized as “hate speech” and therefore suppressed; facts that put the lie to the party line are supposedly “misinformation” or “disinformation” regardless of accuracy. The judges of all this are the bureaucrats that run the DEI departments and the mob that stands behind them. “My Truth” reigns supreme; “the Truth” doesn’t exist.

As Nietzsche said “There are no facts, only interpretations”. And so what remains is the will to power (also Nietzsche), which the DEI bureaucracy has in spades. Feelings prevail over reason. And for feelings to dominate effectively, force must be used to correct wrong-think.

That is why we have cancel culture, brought to us by elite institutions that serve as our cultural gate-keepers. But they are so prone to fads that we need to be cognizant of what George Orwell once said,”Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them”. What else explains college sophomores chanting in favor of Hamas killing babies because you know, babies can be settler-colonialists too.

Let’s not get too depressed about the current state of affairs. It was pretty dreary in 1979 too. Inflation was soaring; the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan; the Iranian government held American hostages. And then along came a guy named Ronald Reagan. And in the end the Soviet Empire collapsed under its own weight with a nudge from the West.

America has to decide whether it wants to step up as it did in 1980. Or whether it wants to elect one of the two ignoramuses who currently lead in the polls. In the end the elections in 2024 will not just be about the fortunes of individual politicians; the elections will tell us what type of America we actually live in.

I intend to vote for Nikki Haley if she gets the Republican nomination for President. If Ron DeSantis gets the nod, I will vote for him. If Trump is the recipient of the nomination, I will write-in Nikki Haley. Under no circumstances will I vote for either Donald Trump or Joe Biden. Let’s see what happens. As Churchill once noted, America always makes the right decisions after exhausting all the alternatives.


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Free Speech

A bipartisan group of 74 Congressman urged Harvard, MIT and UPenn to dismiss their respective presidents a few days after their Congressional testimony on campus antisemitism. Representatives  Elise Stefanik (R., NY) and Jared Moskowitz (D., Fla) actually co-authored a letter in which they “demanded”  that the boards of the three schools immediately remove Harvard president Claudine Gay, MIT president Sally Kornbluth and UPenn president Liz Magill. In so doing Congress once again provided us with an example of why we should be skeptical of (1) bipartisanship, (2) consensus and (3) government power.

Let’s stipulate from the outset that the nation’s elite universities are, not for the first time, caught up in an academic fad and that they suffer from a leadership problem.  That however is not a problem that should be addressed by Congress. Let us also note that, unbeknownst to the public at large, universities are run by the faculty not by the “management”.  This suggests that changing a university president will have little effect. It also suggests a simple solution to the problem: don’t attend a university whose management is repellant. Unless that is, the purpose of attending a particular university is simply to acquire credentials rather than an education. In which case all the wailing and gnashing of teeth is mere virtue signaling. 

More importantly, the testimony provided by the now infamous university presidents was, on the surface, largely correct. However, the underlying message was drenched in hypocrisy. In their testimony the three university presidents pretended to be defenders of free speech. But actions speak louder than words. University administrations have routinely engaged in silencing dissents from orthodoxy. And they have created the machinery for doing so with the establishment of DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) bureaucracies. 

All of this suggests that university administrations should defend free speech for real instead of throttling challenges to orthodoxy while  masquerading as free speech advocates.  And in the wake of the resignation of UPenn’s Liz Magill, “conservatives” ought not celebrate the collection of another scalp. In doing so they are guilty of the same free speech violation that they loudly complain about when they are on the receiving end. 

Finally, there is a far more important issue at stake here than an academic or political career. It is the bipartisan trampling of the first amendment. The relevant section reads “Congress shall pass no law…abridging the freedom of speech…” Let me acknowledge that Congress did not pass a “law” requiring that certain university presidents be terminated. That doesn’t matter. Congress provides huge amounts of funding for U.S. universities and consequently has considerable leverage over them. Already at least one Congressional committee has announced it will investigate the “learning environments at Harvard, UPenn and MIT”. 

In general, Congress is supposed to hold hearings, investigations etc that have a legislative purpose. If Congress, in its wisdom, is going to begin legislating on the learning environments at schools, it is awfully hard to square that with the first amendment. In fact it is awfully hard to square the letter writing campaign of Elise Stefanik (chair of the House Republican Conference) and Jared Moskowitz with the spirit of the first amendment.  

It should be noted that upon the resignation of UPenn’s Magill, Stefanik went into celebratory mode and posted her thoughts, such as they are, on X. Consider what she wrote in full. 

“One down. Two to go,” Stefanik posted to X Saturday. “This is only the very beginning of addressing the pervasive rot of antisemitism that has destroyed the most “prestigious” higher education institutions in America. This forced resignation of the president of @Penn is the bare minimum of what is required. These universities can anticipate a robust and comprehensive Congressional investigation of all facets of their institutions negligent perpetration of antisemitism including administrative, faculty, funding, and overall leadership and governance.” 

“@Harvard and @MIT do the right thing. The world is watching,” she added.

So make no mistake, Stefanik and presumably other Congressmen, intend to shape the speech of university presidents to their liking. That is specifically prohibited by the first amendment, which was adopted in part to protect the natural law rights of people from the likes of Elise Stefanik. 

It is well worth noting the articulation of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis of the case for free speech when he wrote a concurrence in Whitney v. California (1927). He said in part “If there be time to expose through discussion, the falsehoods and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

Actually the whole opinion in Whitney should be read. It can be found here


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The War on the West

It seems that a lot of people view the recent explosion of antisemitic activity on the campuses of elite universities and western cities as a sort of anomaly. After all, haven’t Jews been a reliable partner in many causes dear to the left. For instance, what about climate change, civil rights, abortion rights, affirmative action, feminism, Black Lives Matter and labor unions to name a few. Apparently, it hasn’t occurred to a lot of people on the left that progressive support for Hamas—and that is what it is—stems from progressive ideology. It is not anomalous at all. 

If you draw a Venn diagram of the causes listed above and include support for Hamas as a factor you will likely see broad overlap. The question is: why?

Permit a broad generalization. Progressives look at the world through the lens of “intersectionality” which is a creed—and it is a creed—that categorizes people according whether they belong to group defined as “oppressors” or “oppressed”.  Note that the definitions are  not only completely arbitrary, they are subject to redefinition at will, and, most importantly, the individual counts for nothing. Only the group and its arbitrary definition as oppressed or oppressor matters. 

Accordingly, intersectionality is merely an update of the classic Marxist class struggle. Call it Marx V2.0. You can also throw in Marx’s cousins, the fascist ideologues who made racial purity the dominant criteria for group membership. Again it is an abstraction, the group, that matters, not an actual person. 

With respect to the Israeli-Hamas war both the racial purity of fascists and Marxian intersectionality are in the mix. Hamas (and its principal backer Iran) has made it clear over and over again that its seeks to exterminate not only the State of Israel, but Jews wherever they live. So that rips away the phony distinction between Zionism and Jewishness. Palestinians are deemed oppressed and Jews (not “just” Israelis) are the oppressors. Further, the philosophy animating Hamas is necessarily totalitarian and based on religious and racial purity. Israel, by contrast, is pluralist. So Hamas and its backers have declared war on Western Liberalism. 

Once the totalitarian roots of Hamas are clear it is obvious why their allies are a rogues gallery that includes Iran, Russia, China, North Korea, and Turkey (a NATO member state!).  It also becomes clear that the U.S. has several challenges it must face head on if the West is to defend its civilization. 

First, and most immediately, the U.S. must once again be the arsenal of democracy as it was during WW2. That will also require changing public finances to (1) emphasize defense and (2) cut lots of largely ineffectual social spending.

Second the U.S. must face the reality that Hamas, Hezbollah etc are merely Iranian proxies. Iran must be dealt with and deterred. Iran’s mullahs will not be bought off. Russia and China will be paying close attention. As will Taiwan. 

If the U.S. acts with sufficient dispatch to deter Iran, the U.S. may be able to avoid being drawn into a shooting war. The alternative to acting firmly and decisively, however belatedly, is to accept and affirm the ascendance of totalitarian rivals while abandoning Western Liberalism.    

Third, the rot of progressivism that has taken root throughout the education establishment must be addressed. That is much easier said than done; freedom of speech must be preserved. Saved actually. We cannot be in the business of destroying villages to save them, Lyndon Johnson style. One way to begin is to aggressively foster education choice by supporting vouchers, charter schools, home schooling and parochial schools. The idea is that the money flows through to the student, not a government monopoly school.  

Further, there is no reason for colleges and universities to fund DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) departments with taxpayer money. These operations clearly seek the opposite of what they claim to seek, instead imposing a rigid orthodoxy on students and professors alike. And at the very least their activities are constitutionally suspect. 

Additionally, civil rights laws should be enforced as written. It should be the government’s responsibility to see to it that public universities guarantee equal opportunity, not equal results. 

This is only the very beginning of what America must do if it is to preserve and protect Western Civilization and liberty. Thus far the only politician who seems to understand both the stakes and the need to articulate a vision for dealing with the challenge is Nikki Haley. Let us hope she succeeds. None of the rest of them has come close to demonstrating the leadership or vision that America clearly needs. 


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The Argentinian Election

The New York Times today published a fairly typical hit piece. Typical in that it does most of its work by innuendo and guilt-by-association. The object of the piece is Javier Milei, the victor in Argentina’s presidential race. 

The Times described Mr. Milei’s election as “a victory for the global far-right movement” that was strengthened by Donal Trump and “similar” politicians including Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro. The supposed similarities Mr. Milei shares with other “similar” politicians go largely unexplicated. 

Other examples cited by the Times as testament to the horror of Mr. Milei include the assertion that Spain’s “far-right” Vox party has cheered him on; that Tucker Carlson interviewed him, and that after Milei’s victory, Elon Musk said that “prosperity is ahead for Argentina”.  The horror. 

The Times does concede, in a back-handed way, that the “far-right” Mr. Milei, an economist by training, is strongly libertarian. And that he is in favor “in theory” of open immigration and drug decriminalization. Does that sound like Donald Trump to you?

Mr. Milei, an economics professor and adherent of the Austrian school, also supports freedom of choice in such areas as prostitution, marriage, sexual preference and gender identity. He has come out strongly in favor of a school voucher system. Pretty right wing. 

He has come out against both abortion rights and euthanasia. His critics consider this to be an example of his “far-right” repressive agenda. But that is, of course, nonsense. A libertarian is naturally repelled by the use of violence against a third party, and that is precisely what abortion and euthanasia amount to. 

The NY Times has referred to Milei as a “Mini-Trump” largely because of what the paper describes as his bellicose style. But that is to confuse style with substance. Sure, from a stylistic standpoint his utterances  have been less than genteel. But that is where the similarities to Mr. Trump grind to a halt. Donald Trump doesn’t have a libertarian bone in his body. 

And while we are on the subject of style and substance, somehow or other the NY Times hasn’t displayed much concern over the rhetorical bellicosity, much less violence, of left wing interest groups like Black Lives Matter, Antifa, Jane’s Revenge, or environmental groups that spike trees. 

What is really on display here is the progressive terror of individual choice. Progressives are convinced that they know what’s best for you.  And they will continue to use the power of the State to enforce their will. And if you disagree, tough. Eat your spinach and shut up. After all, we wouldn’t want freedom of choice to disrupt the successes of urban public schools. 

Or would we? 


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