Parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus.
A few days back, the Wall St. Journal published an editorial written by Yuri Vanetik about the Mueller report. Or, more specifically, about his personal connection to the subjects wound up in the just-released Mueller report.
Mr. Venetik is a wealthy individual from Orange County, California who uses some of that wealth to be politically active. If the Orange County, California isn’t enough of a tip-off, he supports Republicans. He also was born in the former-Soviet Union. His family were Jews who fled Ukraine in the 1970s when he was a child.
Mr. Venetik has contributed to conservative campaigns. Being a substantial contributor at that, he is knows and is known among the money circles of national politics. He has some decidedly superficial connections with some of the other names associated with Trump. He says, however, that he supported neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton in the last election; he backed Bush and Rubio in the primary and voted for an unnamed-third party in the general. More importantly, though, his first name is Yuri, a name that just drips with intrigue. It has even been used as shorthand for a Russian spy.
Mr. Venetik has not been investigated by the FBI nor by the Special Investigator’s team. He was never charged in that investigation and, apparently, has never been prosecuted for any criminal activity. However, a selfie taken with Paul Mannefort was enough to net him a four-part exposé in the newspaper chain which publishes the Sacramento paper The Daily Bee. The article juxtaposes various suspicious-sounding or minor incidents over the course of his lifetime into a narrative that implies Venetik is a Russian spy who works to manipulate Trump and the American body politic. He has sued the paper and obtained partial retractions but, as he suggests in his editorial, the accusations and innuendo will forever be tied to his name. Whatever he does until the day he dies, be it politics, charity, or just business activity, a Google search is going to bring up that he was part of this whole “Trump thing,” whatever that was.
I always assumed it was understood that the Left, particularly the hard-left, saw the Soviet Union as fellow travelers in the struggle for, well, whatever the hell they’re struggling for. It seemed to follow that they might look at the counter-reformist new Russians as inheritors of the Soviet’s mantel. I should be glad, shouldn’t I, that they too have come to see those ex-Soviets as the enemy of freedom – as an “Evil Empire,” if you will? The anti-Russian frenzy I’ve personally witnessed surpasses even that of the most ardent Cold Warrior of the early 80s. It is shocking, sometimes, but let us all agree. The Soviet Union was bad. Full Stop.
It makes me wonder, how out of place are the current tactics – both the political actions of the Progressive Left and the actions of the “Deep State” with regard to the Trump wiretapping and Hillary email revelations – how out of place would they be in Stalin’s Russia? Or maybe Kruschev’s Russia?
Could we find a case where a fairly successful resident of Russia had some opinions, and a propensity to express them, that didn’t jive with those of the Supreme Soviet. While that in itself wouldn’t get you shot in the back of the head, it might draw the wrong kind of “official” attention. Suppose also this figure had some relatives who fled to the West and on to America at the end of World War II. The possibilities might open an intensive investigations on the potential threat to Soviet security. Maybe somewhere along the line, they find he illegally imported something (literature, denim jeans, who knows) from Germany.
Maybe he’s brought up on charges for tax evasion or customs violations. He might end up in jail or a gulag. If so, from a societal standpoint, the man broke the law and, caught, he paid the price. You believe in the rule of law don’t you? Society and even the officials that control it have a plausible deniability that what, objectively, is tyranny is, for them, merely the rule of law, a fundamental pillar of freedom. Maybe the charges are minor, but the public association of that individual with improprieties means he loses a job, or misses out on promotions, or has difficulty forming and maintaining the relations that made him “successful” to begin with.
One can imagine this happening in the Soviet Union. I am almost certain I could find clear documentation of something very similar happening in Putin’s Russia. This is stock copy describing how a tyrannical government goes about controlling its people while avoiding the outright “gun them down in the streets” stuff that sparks revolution. I could probably, also, post a dozen variations on the story involving conservative figures in the United States, all taking place within the last couple of years.
Is there even a discussion left to be had? We have become what we have feared. We have met the enemy, he is us but, hell, he isn’t so bad after all.
The real question might be less about how far down a previously-unthinkable path we have come, but which direction are we headed? What horrors lie in the darkness under those trees, upon which we are quickly coming. Are we about to become Stalin’s Russia? That is most unlikely, as we have the example of Stalin’s Russia from which to learn. Mark Twain said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. What rhymes with “enemy of the State?”
At the end of last week, Netflix removed the film Touch of Evil from their streaming offerings. This is a 1958 film noir piece by Orson Welles. It takes place on the U.S.-Mexico border and tells a tale involving the nature of honesty and corruption among police. It is (slightly) based on the novel Badge of Evil from 1956.
There is a story that Welles obtained the script from a producer when he asked that he be given the worst script available. Welles claimed he wanted to prove he could make a great film out of a bad script. Another set of stories involve the post-production intrigue. After the initial showing, the studio re-edited the movie even going so far as to re-shoot some of the scenes. Welles has claimed that he was locked out of the editing process, although versions of events suggest he was simply unavailable, in Mexico, working on another project. Whatever the truth, Welles was not satisfied with the final product and wrote a memo to the studio detailing his grievances and how he would fix them. Based on this memo, a 1998 re-editing took place in an attempt to make a “Director’s Cut” corresponding to Welles vision. The original Welles version has been lost.
It was this 1998 version that was on Netflix.
Welles was, of course, know for his directorial innovations. A number of the actors in this film worked for a reduced rate simply for the opportunity to work with Welles. Star Charlton Heston recalled that Welles was originally only to act in the film but Heston insisted that making him the director might be a condition of Heston’s getting on board as the lead actor.
Welles plays an aging policeman and is made up to look old, fat, and well-past his prime. The costume is so convincing that I wasn’t sure I was even looking at Welles (although, as Orson Welles himself aged, he came to look more and more like his 1958 character). Somewhat implausibly, Heston plays a Mexican law enforcement officer, costumed in a Mexican-style mustache. Several character question why he doesn’t have a Mexican accent when he speaks English, and acting decision that Heston later regretted.
The story is so-so and parts definitely don’t age well. I took a film class in high school that covered, among other works, Citizen Kane and, while watching Touch of Evil, recognized some of Welles’ signature techniques throughout. Perhaps what impressed me the most was the opening tracking shot, described as the longest tracking shot in film-making at the time. More interesting than its technicalities, however, is the tension that it creates.
As the film opens, we see an assassin placing a bomb in the trunk of a car. Shortly thereafter, an old man and a stripper walk out from a nightclub and get in to the now-wired car. We in the audience tense up, wondering if the car will explode as starts. It doesn’t. Instead, it drives through the empty parking lot, through an alley, and then out onto a crowded street. We are now left hanging on every nuance of the camera’s focus wondering when the bomb will explode and whom might be the collateral damage. Quality stuff.
For me the craft saves what would otherwise be something not going out of your way to watch.
It’s also worth watching for its commentary on current events.
The story involves cross-border criminality and drug gangs. Orson Welles, himself, had no serious problem with marijuana use but felt heroin was akin to “suicide.” The script reflects these sensibilities of his in a rather over-the-top manner, blunting the films ability to contribute sensibly to the “opioid crisis” debate. But on other subjects, the film is amazingly topical.
Welles made the decision to transform the lead, Heston’s character, from a U.S. District Attorney to a Mexican cop. Heston is also the exemplary “honest” cop in the story, which makes for some interesting dialog. Heston expresses some traditional, dare we say, libertarian themes about government and policing but they come from a foreigner. He often precedes his commentary, phrased as inquiry, with speculation about how things are “in your country.”
A policeman’s job is only easy in a police state.
So says Heston’s character. Is he criticizing only those whom he is coming to see as unethical policemen or is this a criticism of American policing as a whole? Taken as a 2019 statement, one would almost certainly suspect the latter. In 1958, did this portrayal of Mexico as the less corrupted government make sense? Was it meant to be ironic? Or was Mexico, to American audiences, just some unknown country to the South about which, well, pretty much anything might be believable?
Since the Second World War, Mexico had entered a relatively peaceful and prosperous phase, which would extend until the 1970s when the effects of long-term one-party rule became ever-more damaging. In 1958, the country was still considerably poorer than the U.S., but it wouldn’t have been seen as a failure.
Heston also comments on the nature of the criminal justice system with a message that could bear some repeating in our age. Welles’ police captain suggests that the job of a cop is to lock up criminals perhaps, he implies, by any means necessary. Heston objects,
Putting criminals behind bars, no! In any free country, a policeman is supposed to enforce the law and the law protects the guilty as well as the innocent.
We’re rapidly approaching an absurdist dystopia where the English common-law maxim “Everything which is not forbidden is allowed” becomes T. H. White’s “Everything which is not forbidden is compulsory,” his definition of totalitarianism. But it is a tyranny of good intentions. So many among us expect that the purpose of law is to guide us in our good behavior, a path on which we all would anyway want to remain. We have forgotten that the law is there to protect the guilty, not to avenge the victim. Or worse, avenge society against non-conformist thought, even in the absence of a victim.
Heston doesn’t stop there. He also weighs in on the border wall debate. Interestingly, he doesn’t side with the post-Heston, pro-Wall NRA.
Susie, one of the longest borders on earth is right here between your country and mine. An open border. Fourteen hundred miles without a single machine gun in place. Yeah, I suppose that all sounds very corny to you.
The open border of 1958 perhaps didn’t impress Americans, like Susie, one way or the other. We took it for granted that as a free country at peace, with neighbors who are friendly to us, we had no need to guard our borders like some kind of police state.
The film shows the characters dashing back and forth across some fictional border crossing willy-nilly. Yes, there are agents at the border but their duties seemingly consist of asking travelers whether they are American before letting them pass (an experience that I’ve had, myself, at the border crossing in Tijuana). It wasn’t that long ago that this was normal, proper, and entirely unalarming.
The ideal 1950s that conservatives long for with their construction of a wall simply didn’t exist. The reason your grandmother immigrated to America “by the rules” was there just wasn’t any real incentive to do otherwise. If your wait for official approval is twenty-years (or, perhaps, forever, as it is in some situations), the risks of bypassing the whole immigration process don’t seem that terrible anymore.
The world has changed since 1958. Maybe fourteen hundred miles without a single machine gun is, today, a pipe dream. The only solution on offer is our current arms race between bad and worse. I wonder if it would, instead, be possible to address the underlying problems?
This movie got put into my queue by my kids. They wanted to watch Dinosaur movies and were looking at anything that Netflix dredged up as related to their interests. I don’t think they watched much of this one, as there is a complete lack of animated Dinosaurs. However, when I was checking out their viewing history I managed to watch the first half-a-minute or so and I thought that this film sounded kind of interesting. I put in my streaming queue, but never managed to get around to it.
The opening titles explain that, in 1990, there were only 12 Tyrannosaurus Rex skeletons that had been unearthed around the world. None had more than 40% of the skeleton recoverable. The name of the film comes from the finding of the 13th.
The movie starts out with the locating and extracting of that 13th specimen. It was not only larger than any other known T-Rex fossil, but also roughly 90% complete. The story is told with a combination of present-day interviews with the participants and video camera footage taken by them during the dig.
It quickly becomes evident that this movie is less about dinosaurs than it is a story about the Federal Bureaucracy. Yes, terms like “dinosaur” and “fossil” may well still apply, but unfortunately they don’t refer to a species long extinct.
The real story of the film is the horror of having agents of the Federal government set their sights upon you and then proceed to utterly destroy you while backed by the full faith and credit of the People of the United States.
The narrative of what happened is convoluted and, mostly likely, unknowable down to every detail. I’ll try a short version. If you would rather watch the movie and have it delivered to you in a nice presentation, I’d say stop here. The film is well done, and worth watching – and it may be made better if you don’t know what is coming.
The basics are this – an organization (Black Hills Institute) of privately-organized (i.e. non-goverment, non-university) fossil hunters discover a ground-breaking example of a T-Rex fossil. After an agreement with the landowner, they remove the fossil and begin preparing it (most likely) to be displayed in their own museum, which they will build to house this and their other artifacts. Someone (unknown in the movie) notifies the Feds. It turns out that the fossil was located on an Indian Reservation, which would have made it the property of the Indian Tribe. The film suggests that perhaps the tribe brought the original complaint. However, the particular parcel of land is actual held in trust by the U.S. Government for an individual (Indian) landowner, the landowner who agreed to sell the fossil in the first place. The film suggests also that perhaps the landowner brought the original complaint, as a way to get out of his original agreement to sell. The identity of the complainant is not known. In any case, because the parcel is held in trust, the selling of land (and a Federal judge, eventually, concludes that because fossils are really just “rock” they are, indeed, land) requires a permit (cost $100) be obtained the Bureau of Indian Affairs – to protect the Indian from himself one presumes. Furthermore, as U.S. Federal Land, the Antiquities Act of 1906 prevents unlicensed removal of any artifact without prior permission of the U.S. Government. Throw into all this, once the Federal action begins, the landowner claims he did not consent to the original sale of the fossil and says therefore that the Black Hills Institute folks should never have taken the fossil away in the first place. The fossil, the records of its discovery and collection, and many of the other records of the Black Hills Institute are seized and impounded by the Government who claims, because of all the improprieties, that it now owns the fossil.
Ultimately, the fossil is returned to the landowner. The original sale was for $5000, which was a record sum at the time. He sells again at auction, this time to the Chicago Museum of Natural History (backed by major corporate sponsors) for $7.6 million.
In the meantime, the tale takes another turn. The Federal Government brings charges against five individuals and the business entity itself for various violations under the Antiquities Act, charges totally some 150 counts. Many of these are felonies. If convicted, some individuals face incarceration for several hundred years. The Tyrannosaur fossil that started all of this, however, is absent from the indictment, likely because of the determination of the courts that it was privately owned. The crimes charged are not particularly serious from a layman’s standpoint. They mostly involve collecting fossils from the land borders where the diggers thought they were on one side of a border and the government asserts they are on the other. But, as it goes with Federal crimes, the government has built upon the charges. A fossil dug without a permit first crosses state lines (to give the Feds jurisdiction) and then is sold overseas. Charges can include then the transfer of money internationally (wire fraud and money laundering) and of course that old standby, conspiracy (because there is a team of fossil collectors involved).
At the end of the trial, all but a dozen of the charges are dismissed and there is only a single individual to whom a felony has stuck. In one of the examples, failing to declare the carrying of travelers checks upon returning from Japan results a felony customs violation. The defendant maintains that the form in which he had the travelers checks issued exempts them from declaration. While this detail made the transport of the travelers checks legal, the distinction between different check endorsement options was simply too complicated to convincingly explain to a jury. Note that it is not alleged that any impropriety occurred with the money. Once back in the United States, the money was deposited in the banking system, properly accounted for, and all taxes and fees were paid. For the convictions, the judge ordered double the maximum sentence – a total of two years in Federal prison for the improper completion of customs forms. The title quote is the governments entry on the prisoner’s intake forms.
The movie speculates that the judge was driven to punish these defendants (they tried several times to get him to recuse himself for bias) because he was swayed by a divide between the academic/governmental paleontologists and the amateur/for-profit fossil hunters. While for most of our history it was private interests that discovered the fossil record, since the late 1970s those in academia see those without as essentially pirates, stealing the heritage of humanity for their own nefarious purposes. One theory is that these individuals were punished so heavily as a warning to others to stay out of the federally-funded university system’s playground.
We are also treated to some interviews with the Bureau of Land Management’s agent who investigated and compiled the charges. He explains his righteous cause in protecting public assets from theft. It makes sense. It is only when one sees this taken to its logical, albeit absurd, conclusion that one starts to question whether this kind of power is really necessary. Particularly so in light of the modus operandi of Federal prosecutors to use maximum force (150 charges) to hammer anyone who strays outside the law.
Most of us understand that without recourse from the law, there are bad actors in our society that will take advantage of the rest of us. Indeed, they often will either way, but we enact laws to try to prevent, mitigate, and punish. When we see an obvious wrong (e.g. a commercial entity profiting by taking valuable minerals from public land), we fully support efforts to protect the public interest. Law enforcement likes broad and, perhaps, vague laws so that they have the “tools” to deal with such wrongdoing. If they recognize that something bad is happening, they want the law to be broad enough to cover them. This allows them some discretion to enforce or not enforce, depending on their take on the individual situation. Most will say that they use their discretion, and won’t pursue purely technical violations. And yet, I’ve read time and again about prosecutors coming up with creative interpretations of laws allowing them to punish individuals for doing things that on the face of it are not illegal. Particularly at the Federal level, there seems to be a goal of charging everyone who is targeted and convicting everyone is charged. With each of us committing 3 felonies per day, in practice that means the Federal government can pretty much jail anybody, for any reason, at any time.
This is not a good thing.
Thus many of us would rather see too few laws than too many. More left to individual action and reaction than clear guidance in the laws of this land, even if that leaves loopholes for the worst of society to exploit. For this, we are called extremists and worse. But I don’t think it is an extreme view to see the occasional horrible and unjust abuse of the law as an inevitable result of our current legal structure.
This very week, President Trump has set off what will probably be another protracted legal battle by undesignated significant fractions of two National Monuments within the state of Utah. Trump cited “abuses of the Antiquities Act,” giving excessive power over land use to “far-away bureaucrats.”
I neither knew this was in the news when I began watching Dinosaur 13, nor did I know the role that the Antiquities Act played within the film. Viewing Dinosaur 13 just became a lot more topical.
I’m still only at the beginning of The Legends of Eisenwald, but there is a form of quest that has been repeated a number of times. The player is introduced to three competing factions and tasked with achieving unity between the three. At some point, the game suggests there are three possibilities.
- Convince two of them to join forces against the third;
- Choose one of them, and help that one defeat the other two; or
- Help one grow so powerful that the other two will set aside their difference to defeat him.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (link is probably paywalled) was titled How Obama Nudged Arab Leaders Toward Israel. In their write-up, the authors describe how Obama’s mishandling of the Arab Spring and the Iran nuclear weapons program caused Arab leaders (Egypt, Jordan, and to form closer ties to Israel.
From the article:
From the perspective of Arab leaders, [the Obama] administration supported the wave of political Islamism that engulfed the region in the Arab Spring’s aftermath. It also threatened their regimes in unprecedented ways by abandoning Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak and slowing military exports to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain under the pretext of democratization. Worse, the administration signed a nuclear deal with Iran that reintegrated the ayatollahs’ regime into the international community while unleashing a wave of destabilization throughout the region.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got the cold shoulder from Obama. This allowed him to use Israeli’s traditional role as an American insider to protest and push back against the administration’s missteps. In turn, this made him a natural leader among the other Middle Eastern states that, just as Israel, were harmed by the Obama policies.
The authors do not frame their piece as a criticism of Obama. It seems more to inform the readers of how the Arab-Israeli peace process has moved forward, while perhaps unwittingly, probably permanently. Reading it, I assume it is a cloaked criticism of Obama, but I could be wrong. Indeed, perhaps the former President out-thought us all. Perhaps he chose option number 3.
But seriously, it hardly seems like a prudent move to destabilize a region in order to goad the powers of that region to work towards peace, even if it turns out that is what has been achieved. The Wall Street Journal piece does not attempt to analyze whether the advance in Arab-Israeli relations outweighs the negatives (as summarized in the above quote).
It begs the question. Does this suggest that sometimes the United States is better off doing nothing? For decades, the U.S. has brought Arab and Israeli adversaries to our table in attempt to force them into agreements. In doing so, were we helping to define their adversarial relationship? I have to wonder if there was any way to achieve the positives of Obama’s result without the negative consequences, or does it really take a crisis before people (both leaders and the rest of us) are willing to rethink their entrenched positions?
Hillary: the Movie got added to my to-rent list during the 2016 presidential primary. A friend had posted on line asking what was wrong. For those who subsist purely on streaming video, the Citizens United film that made “Citizens United” everyone’s favorite epithet, the offering was no where to be found. Said friend speculated whether the controlling media entities, Netflix and Amazon, were doing it out of political bias. Myself, I suspect more mundane money issues involved. Nevertheless, I can’t stand being told what I can and cannot do, so I promptly queued up the DVD for rental.
It is now a good year-and-a-half beyond that most recent primary and almost a decade beyond when the film was originally made. So I’m a little late to the game. Hopefully, Hillary won’t be mounting another presidential run in 2020, but one never knows. As for the scandals which are presented in the movie, I’ve read about several of them but several others were new to me. Of course, there was no time in the last 10 years when I considered myself a Hillary supporter. At the time, in the 2008 primary, I had stated I preferred Barack Obama as the Democrat’s nominee.
The movie itself is fairly well put together. There seems to be an effort to use documented information and to present opinions from the liberal side when possible. The more conspiratorial accusations against the Clintons are avoided in favor of incidents with public testimony or written evidence. A couple of the bits draw over heavily on emotions (e.g the focus on a dead soldier and his parents, where the point in question was Hillary’s inconsistent commitment to the War on Terror), but at least half the movie has a solid factual grounding.
Like I said, viewing the movie in a timely manner would never have swayed my vote (I now think Hillary would have made perhaps the worst possible president in U.S. history). As far a documentaries go, it was OK but not great. It was worth watching, however, to get some perspective on what the Citizen’s United v. FEC ruling was really all about.
It also makes me want to watch The Path to 9/11 (and ABC miniseries), but I can’t do that either. The Clintons had the DVD release blocked.
Related to the topic of my last political post, Dilbert artist Scott Adams posted an analysis, of sorts, suggesting that something like half the body politic is experiencing “Mass Hysteria” (and isn’t dat sexist right there?)
Earlier this year I called it “fantasy to the point of derangement,” which accounts for it on a case-by-case basis, but begs the question of why it is so widespread. Mr. Adams suggests a cultural phenomenon as a way to explain its breadth.
I guess it goes without saying that I’m one of the ones he describes as being “outside the bubble.” I also find it interesting that, for the purposes of his argument, the actual truth is irrelevant. In other words, even if Trump is proven to be a Hitler-loving, racist, National Socialist who is under direct control of the Russian government, it still doesn’t change the fact that those who assumed the truth have been suffering from a mass hysteria.
Several years ago, I was hit with a realization.
It suddenly seemed clear to me why “establishment” Republicans, particularly at the national level, vote the way they do on fiscal matters.
We’ve very recently seen the collapse of Republican’s legislation to reform Obamacare. To the average voter, this is incomprehensible. Perhaps the defining moment of the Obama presidency was his passage of the ACA by a single vote, and is complete reconfiguration of the American Health Care system. Many voters, in electing Donald Trump and a Republican majority, expected this program to be reversed as the first order of business.
And nothing happened.
Nearly any major reform dealing with the budget suffers the same fate. Particularly when Republicans are in charge, the goals will seem so clear; Reduce the size of government; Cut spending; Cut taxes. But when push comes to shove, nothing happens, often after infighting between the various wings of the party.
Even the most simple of targets, looking at the deficit, ends in disappointment. As an aside, I am convinced that a large chunk of the public has difficulty distinguishing between the debt and the deficit, and that the media deliberately plays upon that ignorance. Be that as it may, may a politician has promised to eliminate the deficit or (in different word) refuse to raise the “debt ceiling.” Yet the only time that was done was under Clinton with a windfall in stock market taxes.
As a result, Democrats can so easily claim the party of fiscal responsibility when it suits them. Republicans, they say, in the face of deficits will continue to insist on lower taxes, which only makes the problem worse.
Voters then come to the conclusion that there is no difference between the two parties, and so periodically swap back and forth between them.
What is going on? Here is what I am thinking.
The debt will never, ever be paid off. Someday it won’t have to be.
That first statement should be mathematically obvious. And if you accept that premise, the second statement must follow as well. Logically, everything must have an end state, and so too with the national debt of the United States. What might happen?
- Currency collapse, and a resulting wiping of debt obligations
- War, which either eliminates the United States’ “full faith and credit” or rejiggers the world economy similar to the first bullet
- natural disasters on a global scale (the end of the world)
- singularity, which makes the per-singularity accounting irrelevant
After this happens, the notion that “we” will have to pay off our sovereign debt would be ludicrous.
So the deficit doesn’t matter.
In fact, a dozen or so years of policy experience has “proven” that. Through the end of the Bush II years and through the first Obama term, a massive deficit was run to fund the various bailout and stimulus policies. Many predicted a loss of faith in the U.S. economy as it thresholds of debt-to-GDP ratios that has spelled trouble for other countries. In hindsight what happened? Nothing. The “markets” bounded back from their lows into one of the longest bull runs in history. Other metrics, such as inflation numbers, that normally would be difficult to control under excessive debts have remained and historic lows.
Of course, the conventional wisdom is not that the deficit doesn’t matter. Everyone knows it still does. But what happened (apparently) is that the economy was managed through the downturn and recovery so that the deficits were appropriate given the situation. That’s the key. We can accept deficit spending. We can accept ever-growing deficit spending. We can even accept deficit spending that is growing faster than we ever thought was acceptable, as long as behind the scenes we know that the risks are being properly managed.
This applies equally in a non-crisis situation. In more normal times, everyone understands that deficits will continue to rise and fall. As long as “balance” is preserved, we can assume it will all turn out alright. That balance is achieved, in a Republic (in our Republic, at any rate), through the political process. Thus the parties each have a role to play.
For their part, the Republicans need to accomplish several things.
1. As a nation, we cannot admit that we don’t give a rat’s ass about debt and spending. Republicans, as traditionally the fiscal conservatives need to show adequate concern.
2. Oppose taxes, provided you don’t violate rule #1.
Spending can be supported or opposed for purely political reasons. (e.g. anti-welfare, pro-military). Note that there is no good reason to oppose populist spending or spending that is supported by your “base,” as long as rule number 1 can be satisfied.
Democrats version of #2 is “tax the rich.” They, too, can support or oppose spending for political reasons. These days, it’s hard to find what’s left for the left to oppose. The Democrats have become the party of the government. So not only do they support spending on welfare, and programs for the needy, but they also want more spending on law enforcement and other public services that traditionally fell to “law and order” Republicans. But one assumes there are still a few things they’ll oppose, just to balance out the Republicans’ spending requests.
Because it’s that tension that matters. As long as “the markets” see the two sides fighting to keep the governments fiscal situation in “balance,” they can assume all will work out and the deficit doesn’t matter.
So what do you think? Am I on the right track?
If I am, then perhaps it is true that as long as the game is played, debt and deficits just don’t matter and worrying about it is folly.
It also explains the “disappointing” performance of Republicans, when in control, and the political system in general. Particularly as debt reaches what otherwise would be considered dangerous levels, it becomes more and more important not to rock the boat. Any “radical” solutions, even if they would improve the fiscal situation, are more dangerous than the status quo of talking up a good game and ultimately doing nothing.
Or, put another way, a President Rand Paul proposing to reduce the deficit is much more dangerous than a President Hillary Clinton proposing to run it up even more.
One final point, though. This non-nonchalance is from the political and macro-economic view. The real harm from deficit spending is a crowding out of good money with bad. That is, the money that pours into the economy that is “borrowed” (either financed by foreign investors or by the Federal Reserve) devalues the money to be reinvested from productive activity, distorting business decisions. Thus, while we might not expect to see hyper-inflation, spiraling interest rates or defaults on debt, we might expect persistently low economic growth and a shifting away from things like manufacturing to services (particularly government and regulatory).
If Putin’s Russia was more-or-less not involved in “throwing the election,” what would be his best move right now? To make it look like he did decide the election, of course.
Yesterday, the Wall St. Journal’s most recent article (paywall) talks about the how the press and the left are trying to make the most of the Trump administration’s ties to Russia. In fact, they’re not any closer (and perhaps less so) than U.S. policy and Democrat administrations working toward that policy. Before the Crimea sanctions in 2014, the policy of the U.S. was engagement toward Russian and the development of business and economic ties. To suddenly find evidence of a “Manchurian Candidate” behind every business relationship is fantasy to the point of derangement.
Likewise, anyone with half a brain understood the reality of the relationship between Putin’s Russia and the United States. We all know that former agent Putin has rebuild the security service of his nation on the model of his old KGB. We all know that Russia Today mixes real news, alternative stories, conspiracy theories and outright misdirection in a way that has appealed, particularly, to a certain segment of Americans. Anyone who couldn’t see the hand of new KGB behind that wasn’t paying attention. We all know that Russian mobsters are particularly adept at cybercrime and suspect that the ties between those mobsters and their government are a tangled web.
So knowing all that, are the “revelations” about the involvement of Russia really a sign of the greatest election corruption in the history of Democracy? Or is it pretty much business as usual for Putin’s Russia? We mere mortals have no way of knowing what the U.S. CIA, NSA, and FBI have as evidence regarding Russian activities. From what I’ve read, it is in line with what Russian has done for years.
But speculate with me here for a moment. If it is not. If there is evidence of a “smoking gun” connecting the Russian government to specific information release that impacted the election, which is easier? To hack Democrat’s email servers and provide the information to the public in a way that is a deciding factor to an election? Or to manufacture evidence, after the fact, to make it appear that intent and direction existed where there really was none?
The accusations of foreign meddling in elections is a favorite of Putin’s. If anything, it’s the conspiracy theories which bear his signature.
I direct you to a blog post by a Ukrainian citizen commenting on the involvement of Russia. His theory, which I like, is that whatever Putin may have done, the intent was not to throw the election. He, like everyone else, probably believe The Donald stood little to no chance. Instead, by feeding the anti-Hillary contingent during the election, he would weaken her administration by firing up the inevitable conservative opposition. Donald Trump as President may have actually been an even worse outcome, from Russia’s standpoint.
But now, his goal is still to embolden the opposition so as to weaken this administration. As before, he can do it by feeding this “Russian Stole the Election” mania of the left. Or, perhaps better yet, he can sit back and watch the American left try to destroy itself and everything else it can get its hands on.
As Napoleon was reported to have said to his Marshals, “When the enemy is making a false movement we must take good care not to interrupt him.”