The Settler View.

Daniel Carney’s father was a British diplomat who had a rough Second World War.[1] Daniel (1944-1987) was born in Beirut,[2] then the family lived in Tehran before “coming home” to Britain in 1948.  Apparently, it never seemed much like home to Daniel Carney.  Or perhaps he just wanted a more adventurous life than Britain and its crumbling empire could provide.  When he was 19, he went to Southern Rhodesia, which had just broken from the Black-ruled Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.  Here he joined the British South Africa Police (BSAP).  This national police force contained para-military units fully involved in the “Bush War” against Black nationalists operating from neighboring countries.[3]  They might be described as “a toughish lot, but very go ahead.”[4]  Carney spent three and a half years with the BSAP, doing stuff and listening to the tales of other people.  Then he packed it in for real estate and writing. 

Carney wrote fiction about what he knew and believed.  The descendants of White settlers seeking a better life at the price of a more rugged life dominated Southern Rhodesia, which had a vastly larger Black population.  Like most of the other “White Africans” who descended from European settlers in Algeria, Kenya, South Africa, Mozambique, and Angola, they saw themselves as besieged defenders of Western civilization.  They saw their opponents as pre-civilized “savages” who were being used by the Soviet Union which often supported their efforts at national liberation.  Before cancer killed Carney at a young age, he wrote two novels that expressed the settler view.  Both were made into movies. 

The Whispering Death (1969).  A former BSAP officer and his loyal African tracker hunt the guerrilla who murdered his fiancé.  He succeeds, but his killed by Army troops for going off the reservation.  Made into “Albino”/”Whispering Death”/”Night of the Askaris” (Dir. Jurgen Goslar, 1976), reviewed by right-thinking film scholars as “a nasty, repugnant tale of racial hatred and revenge.”

The Thin White Line (1978).  Former mercenaries from the Congo are hired to save a charismatic African president from captivity—so that he can be exploited by a Western mining company.[5]  Made into “The Wild Geese” (Dir. Andrew McLaglen, 1978).  One right-thinking reviewer described it as “deadly dull” even as it “exploits racism as some kind of sporting entertainment.”  It was the 14th highest grossing movie that year, so maybe not that dull. 

Carney wrote two later thrillers, but neither has anything to do with Africa: The Square Circle (1982), which was made into “The Wild Geese II” and Macau (1985).  His novel Under a Raging Sky (1980), perhaps offers insight into Carney himself: a young man chucks a boring white-collar job to seek adventure in Rhodesia.  He finds it. 

It is reported that, after his death, Carney’s heirs opposed republication of his books. 

[1] Various postings in China during the Sino-Japanese War; captured by the Japanese at Shanghai in early 1942;

 eventually exchanged for Japanese diplomats; posted to Natal, South Africa, and then Beirut. 

[2] Where the British were trying to keep the Free French and the Arab nationalists from duking it out before the whole Hitler thing had been sorted out.

[3] See Rhodesian Bush War – Wikipedia 

[4] Sam Collins to George Smiley, in John LeCarre, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974).  Collins is describing the criminals who own the gambling joint which he manages since being unjustly forced out of MI-6. 

[5] See: Wilbur Smith, Dark of the Sun (1965); Frederick Forsyth, The Dogs of War (1974); and John LeCarre, Mission Song (2006) for similar themes. 

Tax Avoidance.

            The United States Department of the Treasury estimates that, in 2019, federal revenue amounted to $3.5 trillion, federal spending amounted to $4.4 trillion, and had a deficit of $984 billion.[1] Of the total revenue, $1.7 trillion came from individual income taxes and another $232 billion from Corporate Income Taxes.  The Treasury also estimates that, in 2019, Americans paid around $600 billion less in taxes than they actually owed.[2]  Roughly, the unpaid taxes amount to one-seventh of federal spending, one-sixth of federal revenue, and two-thirds of the deficit.   Seen just from the perspective of Individual Taxes, the unpaid taxes amount to either one-fourth of the total taxes that should have been paid and one-third of the taxes that actually were paid. 

            According to the Treasury, the top one percent of income earners are responsible for about 27 percent ($163 billion) of the unpaid taxes; the next four percent of income earners are responsible for about 50 percent ($307 billion) of the unpaid taxes; the next seventy-five percent of income earners are responsible for about 21 percent ($125 billion) of the unpaid taxes; and the bottom twenty percent of income earners are responsible for less than 1 percent ($ 6 billion) of the unpaid taxes.[3] 

            The additional $80 billion over ten years for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) included in the “Inflation Reduction Act are intended to address this issue.  It includes $45.6 billion for “enforcement.”  The IRS projects that it will earn an additional $120 billion and change over the cost of the funding from enhanced enforcement. 

            Purely in terms of the gross income, it’s $20 billion and change each year.  As a return on an $80 billion investment, that’s an average of $12 billion in new money each year.  When, according to the Treasury, taxpayers are holding back $600 billion a year.  Eeez joke, yes?[4] 

            Nobody (except me, just in case there’s an IRS auditor reading this) likes the IRS.  Everyone worries that they are going to make an innocent mistake on the—to an untrained eye—complicated tax forms, get audited, and wind up making license plates in some federal hoosegow.  Doesn’t matter what the truth is; that’s what people worry about in the lizard part of their brain.  So, the IRS is an easy ox to gore come budget-writing time. 

            It has been.  Since 2010, the budget of the IRS has been reduced by a total of 20 percent.  The workforce for all aspects of tax collection has fallen substantially and the technology for handling tax information is reported to be outmoded.  In theory, about $35 billion of the new money is supposed to go to non-enforcement purposes. 

            What to make of these figures?  The IRS may put the money into pursuing a few high-profile and highly-publicized cases in the top five percent of income earners in hopes of scaring all the others into paying their share (or, at least, more).  Also, this may be throwing a bone to Progressives to off-set their surrender to Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.  If the IRS falls short on its plan to soak the very rich, it may fall back to scaring the less rich to not really rich to make up the difference.  Until that happens, and it may, the Republican warnings aren’t very credible. 

[1] See: Where Federal Revenue Comes from, How It’s Spent | St. Louis Fed (

[2] German Lopez, “The Roots of Republicans’ I.R.S. Conspiracy Theories,” NYT, 28 August 2022. 

[3] The NYT article unintentionally mis-states the shares. 

[4] As my grandfather said to my uncle when first regarding the uncle’s undersized newborn child, “You hardly got your seed back.” 

Just Typing Out Loud.

            A room-mate in college kept a pet rattle-snake named Edgar Cayce in a dry fish tank.  He used to feed it mice.  If you wanted to, you could watch this big bulge move through Edgar Cayce’s digestive tract.  The “Baby Boom” (born between 1946 and 1963) has been like the mouse moving through American society.  This has been reflected in products and institutions.[1]  All of them expanded and then contracted as the “Baby Boom” passed through. 

            Except colleges and universities.  Higher education has proved comparatively easy to expand, but really hard to contract, move, or even change to suit different times.  Part of the expansion came with “Sputnik” (1957).  All of a sudden, we were in a high visibility and high stakes race with the Russkies.  Federal money poured into higher education, albeit with the intention of producing more scientists and engineers, rather than humanities or social science BAs.  Part of the expansion came with expanding opportunities for women.  Many more went to college; some of these went on to become some version of Peggy Olson.  Part of the expansion came with the Vietnam War.  Young men could get a draft deferment if they were in college, so lots went.  In any event, colleges expanded in size (both physical plant and faculty numbers).  Small state teachers colleges got turned into second-tier state universities; state universities got turned into the “Enormous State University” lampooned in the “Tank McNamara” cartoon strip.  The larger point is that there are too many colleges. 

Why didn’t they contract when the “Baby Boom” moved farther down the snake’s digestive tract?  For one thing, higher education faculty and—for the most part—administrators are True Believers in what they are doing.  At some point in their lives, they fell in love with a subject.[2]  They believe in its moral value and in its economic utility.  They could have made a lot more money if they had gone to law school or business school.  But the work in those fields is mostly like watching paint dry.  So, they’ll put up with a lot of abuse to keep doing it.[3]  They will also fight like Hell if an administration tries to cut or change elements of the college education. 

For another thing, colleges have resources that businesses and public education don’t have.  They have alumni who can be dunned for contributions.  They employ a lot of people whose spending contributes to the local community.  Indeed, lots of the minor league public universities ended up being located well away from big cities in areas where closing or shrinking them would harm voters.  They pushed the idea that a BA is a requirement of a “successful” life. 

Fighting to stay alive has its own problems.  Schools spend a lot of money on the amenities arms race to lure scarce students.  They carry an ever-growing burden of administrators to deal with accrediting, state, and federal regulators.  They employ all sorts of Educational and Emotional Support Humans to carry a generation of students ill-prepared to handle stress.  This probably isn’t what anyone on any side wants to hear. 

[1] Cribs, tricycles, coonskins caps, jeans, cars, music, drugs and alcohol, and now walkers, etc.; elementary and secondary schools, vacations down the Shore, Social Security and Medicare, and now mortuaries, etc. 

[2] “Settle thy studies, Faustus, and begin to sound the depths of that thou wilt profess; Be a divine in show, but level at the End of every Art; And live and die in Aristotle’s words; Ah, Sweet Analytics, t’is thou hast ravished me!”—Christopher Marlowe, “Doctor Faustus” (1593).  Memorized the passage in John Webster’s Early English Literature class at the University of Washington in Fall 1972.  It’s why the hard core of us do what we do. 

[3] Doctors, lawyers, and college professors used to make about the same income.  College salaries have been held below the inflation rate for a long time. 

Fed Up.

            Once upon a time, Martin Short asked Mel Brooks “So, what’s your big beef with the Nazis?”[1]  He could ask Andrew Weissmann the same thing about Donald Trump.[2]  In a recent op-ed Weissmann makes several important points about the “raid on Mar-a-Lago.” 

            First, state secrets are STATE secrets and thus government property, not the personal property of any government employee or private citizen.  The government has the duty to defend the security of that information.  That went for the Pentagon Papers and the Edward Snowden revelations,[3] so it has to apply to the stuff that Donald Trump took with him into “a sunny place for shady people.”[4] 

            Second, the government had been trying to get the stuff back for quite a while.  Trump had returned some stuff, but not everything.  (In contrast, at the end of Bill Clinton’s second term, he and Hilary Clinton took home some furniture and other odds and ends that had been meant for the White House.  When they got called on it, they sent them right back.[5])  Meanwhile, the material in question was being stored in a room in Trump’s home.  Eventually, the Feds got fed up.  Nothing short of breaking down Trump’s front door with a battering ram and a warrant would work.  Feds shouldn’t have to get fed up in a situation like this. 

            It seems to me impossible to believe that whatever lawyers Donald Trump had representing him couldn’t figure out all of this, even if they had to refer to WestLaw on-line.  It seems impossible to me to believe that the lawyers didn’t tell him as much.[6]  So, in Weissmann’s words, the “redacted affidavit is further proof that Mr. Trump’s flouting of criminal statutes persisted for a long time and gives every appearance of being intentional.” 

            Third, “Mr. Trump’s penchant for hyperbole and spin to his base will be ineffective in a forum where the rule of law governs.”  That may be true if the intelligence community decides that Trump’s retaining the documents actually compromised American security or if Attorney General Merrick Garland decides that Trump retained them from a demonstrable corrupt purpose.  Either of those cases would likely trigger a prosecution.  Probably lawyers could cite many other legitimate charges.   One real question would be if Garland wants to prosecute the likely Republican presidential nominee in 2024.  Trump himself is shameless, so being charged with something isn’t likely to deter him from running for office.  Trial, verdict, appeals if not acquitted or if there isn’t a hung jury: all this could string out the proceedings for a long time. 

            Finally, an American election isn’t a “forum where the rule of law governs.”  Rather, it is a place where—too often—”hyperbole and spin” are the common currency on both sides.  If Trump loses, that’s one thing.  If Trump wins, it could mean a third impeachment trial.  Or not.  What if there really is a Republican wave in 2022 and 2024? 

[1] Mel Brooks & Jiminy Glick – YouTube Start at 4:41 for the line, but the whole routine is worth a watch. 

[2]  On Weissmann, see Andrew Weissmann – Wikipedia  and on his account of the Mueller investigation, Where Law Ends – Wikipedia

[3] In both of those cases, it seems to me that the revelations served the larger public interest. 

[4] As someone once described Monaco. 

[5] See: Clintons Began Taking White House Property a Year Ago – Los Angeles Times ( 

[6] OK, he didn’t pay no never mind to Bill Barr or Pat Cipollone.  Perhaps his current lawyers are sitting around with their heads in their hands going “What was I thinking?” 

In this age of rising authoritarianism.

            Journalism professor Peter Beinart refers to “this age of rising authoritarianism.”[1]  In what sense is this an “age of rising authoritarianism”? 

The history of Russia is a history of authoritarianism.  The appalling Tsarist monarchy gave way to the even worse Communist era, which gave way to the appalling Putin dictatorship.  The point is, Russia has been an authoritarian state for virtually its entire history.  The history of China is the history of authoritarianism.  The Qing monarchy gave way to the “age of the warlords” until the Kuomintang (KMT) established a national dictatorship.  The Communists replaced this dictatorship with their own—even worse—dictatorship in 1949.  Much has changed in China since the 1980s, but it remains a highly effective authoritarian state.  Since gaining independence from Britain in 1949, India and Pakistan have been, at best, false-front democracies hiding real authoritarianism.  The list of Less Developed Nations that are anti-democratic horror stories is as long as your arm and has been for decades. 

“Well, well, authoritarianism is rising in places like Europe.”  No, it isn’t.  If anything, we have been witnessing are nationalist revolts against threatening authoritarianism.  Poland and Hungary have resisted the encroachments of the anything-but-liberal and German-dominated administrative state of the European Union (EU).  In 2003, French President Jacques Chirac said that Eastern European countries who supported the American invasion of Iraq had “missed the chance to shut up.”[2]  One particular flash-point in this resistance came when semi-authoritarian Turkey used the refugee/migrant weapon against the EU.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded by issuing quotas of illegal immigrants to be absorbed by each EU member state.  It is possible to see Ukraine’s resistance to Russian’s invasion in the same light, even if the situation and the Ukrainian response are both more extreme.  Yet no one questions the legitimacy of Ukraine asserting its own independence against clanking, rather than creeping, authoritarianism. 

Then there is “Brexit.”  That went well beyond whatever the Poles and Hungarians have done.  It is best understood by an upwelling of English patriotism among an older generation for whom nationality still has some meaning.[3]  In contrast, the much-feared “Grexit” never happened because the Greeks bent before EU (and especially German) pressure. 

If authoritarianism isn’t “rising,” why claim that it is?  I suspect that is because it allows Progressive people to set Donald Trump in a particular framework.  “[T]oday you do not need to have a dictatorship or a one-party state in order to accomplish your goals. You can take a democracy and change it through expansions of executive power and other repressions until you have the same effect on the subject population and a quasi-rubber-stamp parliament, without declaring a dictatorship….Now with Trump, he uses fascist tactics.”[4] 

What might worry some people is that such a characterization might be used to justify exceptional measures in defense of “our democracy.”  

[1] Peter Beinart, “Has the Right Against Antisemitism Lost Its Way?” NYT, 28 August 2022.  The op-ed piece itself is really good on its subject. 

[2] See: – Chirac lashes out at ‘new Europe’ – Feb. 18, 2003 

[3] I suspect that it really began with the referendum on Scottish independence.  In the background of television news reports I noticed growing numbers of “Cross of St. George” flags.  That’s the English half of the more familiar “Union jack” created after the Act of Union (1707). 

[4] LISTEN: Ruth Ben-Ghiat on how Trump is already using “fascist tactics” | 

Two Weeks in Philadelphia.

            The mountains on the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece are steep-sided and forested at the upper levels.  They yield a host of narrow valleys.  From November to April each year, their streams fill, but then dry up.  The valley soil is badly eroded; much of the vegetation is scrubby laurel and myrtle; small-scale farming is possible, but goat herding is much more common; and no Greek government has ever seen much gain in spending money on schools, roads or reservoirs.  In short, it’s a poor place, one where it is “good to be from.”  Many are. 

            One of them was Savvas Paraskevopoulos (b: c. 1880).  He got together the money for a steerage-class ticket, gave up goat herding, and came to America in 1901.  He worked on railroads, moving West, Americanized his name to “Mike Mitchell,” ended up in Galveston and settled down.  He opened a shoe-shine shop, made a success of it, got married and had a family.

            Parents want children to make them proud.  His son George Phydias Mitchell (1919-2013) did.  In 1940, George graduated from Texas A&M as the class valedictorian with a degree in petroleum engineering and geology.  The Army Engineers immediately grabbed him for the duration.  After the war, he worked for one of the major oil companies, then formed a company, Mitchell Energy & Development Corp to find and develop oil wells.  He was good at this.  By 2004, he was estimated to be worth $1.6 billion.  So, the son of an immigrant Greek goat-herder becomes one of the richest people in the world. 

            In 1973 came the first of the “oil shocks” that turned the world economy and its politics topsy-turvy.  People started looking for ways to enhance America’s energy independence through new sources, fuel efficiency, and conservation.  George Mitchell gave the issue a lot of hard thought.  He knew that people had been investigating “massive hydraulic fracturing” (or “fracking” in the lingo of the business) for quite a while.  He wondered if it would be possible to apply “fracking” to the huge Barnett Shale of north Texas.  He wasn’t a guy to just “wonder if.”  By one estimate, between 1981and 1997, Mitchell plowed $250 million into finding out, then making it work on a cost-efficient basis.  That is, Mitchell unlocked a huge amount of natural gas at a low cost.  The Brookings Institution estimated that it has provided a net benefit of $48 billion per year to consumers and industry.  Soon, the methods were applied to other shales in the United States and Canada, then in China and other parts of the world. 

            Irving Yergin (1907-1986) did the sensible thing for a Jew born in tsarist Russia.  He went to America.  He worked his way west, ending up in Hollywood, where he went into the movie business, settled down, and had a family.  His son Daniel (1947- ) shone as a student (BA, Yale; MA, PhD, Cambridge University).  His dissertation turned into a successful book Shattered Peace: The Origins of the Cold War and the National Security State (1977).  Headed for tenure in the Ivy League, events redirected him.  When, in the 1970s, the two “oil shocks” roiled the global economy and politics, Yergin made himself into an energy industry expert with compelling opinions and a fluent manner of expressing them.  Yergin wrote a series of highly readable door-stops.[1]  Now Yergin has turned his attention to the “fracking” industry and some of its implications for renewable energy.[2]  George Mitchell is one of his protagonists. 

[1] The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power (1991); The Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy (2002); The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World (2011). 

[2] Daniel Yergin, The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations (2020). 

My Weekly Reader 22 August 2022.

            For obvious reasons, historians like to quote William Faulkner’s remark that “the past isn’t dead; it is not even past.”  It applies to so many contemporary situations.  Take the case of Xi Jinping’s China.  In some ways it resembles the Soviet Union.  It is a Communist Party dictatorship that persecutes both dissidents and minorities.  It remains a state-capitalist, rather than fully capitalist, economy.  The decision-making by its leader is so opaque as to make it a “black box.”  Outsiders straining to understand the future direction of China resort to what used to be called “Kremlinology.”  That is, they have to give a very close reading to the public pronouncements of Party leaders or their approved mouth-pieces.[1] 

China drew the lessons of the collapse of the Soviet Union and sought to fend off similar dangers.  First, it confirmed the Chinese leadership in its shift from a fully Communist economy toward a more capitalist economy integrated into the world market.  Second, it made the Communist Party very hostile to up-wellings of discontent.  Third, it left the United States as the sole super-power.  The diplomacy of balance between the United States, the Soviet Union, and China could not be sustained.  There was no counter-force to hold the Americans in check.  The ways in which America used that power has set the teeth of many foreigners on edge. 

            Under these circumstances, thirty years ago, Deng Xiaoping adopted the motto “hide capabilities and bide time.”[2]  In essence, China would build its power outward.  Its military would concentrate on strengthening China’s defenses against American power before developing the ability to contest American military power at a distance.  Its diplomacy would build influence in the Western Pacific/East Asia before extending China’s reach into more distant realms.  Its economic policy would build trade links in the same region, while using membership in the World Trade Organization and Most Favored Nation status to entangle American economic power in the trammels of its own “rules-based order.”[3]  China’s goal is something very like Imperial Japan’s “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.” 

            American mis-steps and mis-adventures facilitated a Chinese policy that seeks not merely to raise China, but to diminish the United States.  The disastrous invasion of Iraq, the financial crisis of 2008-2009, and the long political turmoil stemming from those events may lie at the root of the current sense among the American public that the country is on the wrong track in some way. 

            From this point of view, Xi Jinping is less turning from China’s long-term policy than he is taking the long-considered next step.  One thing that we still lack is a clear sense of how the Chinese leadership understands the Trump administration (as pure circus or as circus with substantive policies opposing China).  Another is how Americans—now apparently divided, pessimistic, and largely pre-occupied with domestic issues) will respond to Xi’s new phase.[4]

            Still, the first step in solving a problem is recognizing that you have a problem. 

[1] Rush Doshi, The Long Game: China’s Grand Strategy to Displace American Order (2021).  On Doshi, see: Rush Doshi – Fellow – The Brookings Institution | LinkedIn 

[2] Consider the motto of Nazi Germany’s National Political Academy: “Mehr sein als scheinen”—“be more than you appear to be.”  As good as anything offered by Polonius.  Without, you know, me endorsing Nazism. 

[3] Analogical thinking can be either productive or destructive depending on whether one chooses the appropriate analogy.  So it is worth people learning something about Gustav Stresemann (1878-1929) to figure out if he fits. 

[4] See the intelligent remarks by David Wilezol in his review, WSJ, 10 August 2021.   

Journal of Trump Studies vol 1 #2.

            Before and after Donald Trump’s election as president, the Justice Department was investigating him over allegations that the campaign had links to the Russian government.[1]  Indeed, the FBI team conducting the investigation told judges that there was a “well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between [the Trump campaign] and the Russian leadership.”  Trump fought back furiously against the allegations.  In May 2017, Trump’s dismissal of FBI Director James Comey backfired by leading to the appointment of Robert Mueller as a special counsel to investigate the allegations. 

            In his first year of investigation, Mueller indicted the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) for having bought anti-Clinton ads on Facebook; indicted Russian military intelligence (GRU) for having hacked into Democratic Party internet servers and revealed the embarrassing secret text of Hilary Clinton’s well-paid speeches to industry groups; indicted former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort for financial misconduct while working in Ukraine in the years before he joined the Trump campaign; and obtained a guilty plea from former campaign aid George Papadopoulos for having lied to investigators.  What they failed to do was to “prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Trump campaign [had] coordinated with Russia…” 

            Then, in November 2017, came a ray of hope.  White House Counsel Donald McGahn told investigators that Trump had ordered him to fire Mueller.  Although McGahn had refused and had talked down the president, perhaps this would serve to charge Trump with obstruction of justice?  Mueller persuaded Trump to be interviewed in January 2018, but Trump refused to follow through.  Mueller rejected the option of issuing a subpoena to compel his testimony. 

            Nor did Mueller try to run down Trump’s alleged financial ties to Russia, or try to get his tax returns, or investigate his personal finances.  In May 2018, his people told the White House that Trump would not be indicted.  “Mueller’s caution and restraint remain an enigma.” 

            Actually, they don’t.  Robert Mueller was a highly experienced prosecutor and former Director of the FBI.  Across a lifetime of distinguished public service, the law has been his guide.            “[W]hat do you do when you uncover acts that don’t explicitly violate the law but that clearly seem wrong?”  Katie Benner identifies this as the recurring stumbling-block of the Mueller investigation.  In her view, Jeffrey Toobin “rightly argues that the investigation was an utter political failure.” 

For Mueller apparently, if not for Trump’s opponents, the investigation was a judicial inquiry, not a political act.  For Mueller apparently, if not for Trump’s opponents, you can’t charge people with crimes or go on fishing expeditions in hopes of finding crimes just because you think someone is a “narcissistic scoundrel.” 

            Benner makes no mention of the Department of Justice Inspector General’s Review of Four FISA Applications and Other Aspects of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane Investigation that was released in December 2019.  That report began the official discrediting of the “Steele Dossier” which had under-pinned the conspiracy belief of the Democrats. 

            Investigations continue and may turn up some crime that can be proved.  Until then, while all right-thinking people despise Donald Trump, just being Donald Trump isn’t a crime. 

[1] Katie Benner, “How Mueller Failed,” (review of Jeffrey Toobin, True Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Investigation of Donald Trump (2020)), NYTBR, 23 August 2020. 

Playing with Paste.

            Will the newly-passed “Inflation Reduction Act” actually reduce inflation?  No, it will not.[1]  First, it does nothing to reduce inflation now and isn’t even intended to do so.  Over the course of a decade it will reduce budget deficits by about $300 billion.  Excess money, compounded by supply chain problems and delays in restarting oil refining, are what drives the inflation we have.  The Fed is tightening interest rates to reduce that inflation.  Most of Inflation Reduction Act’s deficit reduction will come between 2027 and 2031.  The Inflation Reduction Act is just a time-sensitive label plastered onto a bill dealing with other matters.[2] 

Second, in the last year Congress has passed bills[3] that increase deficits over the next decade by about $614 billion in the estimate of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).[4]  As they taught us in elementary school, “612 take away 300 leaves 312.”  Is that reality dangerously inflationary?  No it is not.  In 2021, US Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell just short of $23 trillion.[5]  Spread over a decade, the $312 billion amounts to about 0.1 percent of GDP. 

So, is it just pretty much a wash given the size of the American economy?  Not in the eyes of conservative critics.[6]  The abandonment of the “small government” Reagan Revolution since the start of this century has renewed the expansion of government programs without seriously expanding the taxation to pay for it.[7]  Businesses have one responsibility: to make a profit for their owners within the law.  For them, economic efficiency is—or should be—a little tin god.  However, governments act from a complex of motives, not all of them purely economic.  National security is one such imperative.  A Navy Carrier Strike Group is a big, complex, and expensive operation.[8]  Now, nobody needs a Carrier Strike Group.  Until they do.  Then they need it in a hurry, not in ten years’ time.  The United States Navy has eleven of them.  Efficient?  No way in Hell.  Something to think about if you’re Xi Jinping?  You betcha’.  The same rationale applies to things like climate change. 

In one sense, a question becomes how much we want the inefficient-by-necessity federal government expanding into new areas to shape production and consumption.[9]  Eventually, over time, the addition and expansion of programs with subsidies, regulations, and the impact of lobbyists can slow the economy.  The underlying economy has provided much of what makes America different from other places.  It is stronger, of course, than other states and able to influence change.  It also has—mostly–provided the chance for individual improvement. 

[1] Greg Ip, “Fiscal Agenda Doesn’t Help With Inflation,” WSJ, 12 August 2022. 

[2] See: The treachery of images (This is not a pipe), 1928 – 1929 – Rene Magritte – 

[3] Either in a bipartisan fashion or through reconciliation. 

[4] $278 billion for the veterans affected by toxic “burn pits”; $257 billion for the infrastructure bill; and $79 billion for the semi-conductor aid bill.  That doesn’t mean that these things aren’t worth doing.  Just means that we are going to put a big chunk of the cost on the credit card. 

[5] United States (USA) GDP – Gross Domestic Product 2022 | 

[6] Conservatives are the only critics of these policies.  Back in the 2020 elections season, Progressives talked openly of “running the economy hot” to achieve their social policy goals.  Our current experience is what they meant. 

[7] See: A Time of Change. | waroftheworldblog  OK, citing myself.  How self-reverential. 

[8] See: Carrier battle group – Wikipedia 

[9] See: Apoorva Mandavilli, “States Blame Federal Mix-Ups As Monkeypox Shots Are Lost,” NYT, 16 August 2022; David Fahrenthold, “Pandemic Fraud Claimed Billions Meant for Relief,” NYT, 17 August 2022.  Front page stories in the Times two days running for pity’s sake. 

With Astonishing Suddenness.

            Walter Russell Mead is a political scientist who writes for the Wall Street Journal; not a journalist whose idea of the “long-term” is the next presidential election.  Mead’s chief academic interest lies in international relations and American foreign policy.[1]  Like the historian Paul Kennedy,[2] Mead emphasizes the underlying bases of national power as well as the will and wisdom involved in using that power.  For him, economic dynamism, innovation, world trade in a globalized economy, and strong multi-faceted alliances all form the building blocks of strength. 

For some time, he has been critical of the direction of China’s policies foreign and domestic, and of America’s China policy.  In February 2020, Mead wrote a column very much in this vein for the Wall Street Journal.  An editor titled it “China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia.”  The government of China denounced the title as racist and demanded an apology.  Various American academics attacked the article as insensitive and reinforcing stereotypes.[3]  The Wall Street Journal refused to apologize.[4]  In March 2020, China expelled three WSJ journalists.  Rupert Murdoch, the feisty owner of the Journal (and many other things) has had the paper beating the tar out of the Chinese government ever since. 

            Mead doesn’t respond well to authoritarian-figures.  He penetrates to the heart of China’s current problem.  At least since the beginning of this century, China has used a part of its great economic power to develop great military power.  The instinct of Xi Jinping (and perhaps the whole leadership group) has been to use China’s strength to threaten its neighbors, rather than to use its power to entice.   Having re-taken Hong Kong and stifled freedom there, Xi now is fixed on Taiwan.  China is the largest single market for Taiwan’s exports.[5]  Various impediments to trade now can be expected as China seeks to make the Taiwanese and its allies recognize their dependence.  The naval exercises, air force flights into Taiwanese airspace, and the missiles were hardly necessary as a riposte to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit.  It just shows how Xi instinctively responds to a challenge. 

Mead is equally critical of democratic leaders who fail to sustain the foundations of their own nations.  Thus, he lashes “the strategic passivity and incompetence that blinded a generation of American political leaders to the growing threat of great-power war in the western Pacific.”[6]  In particular, “the U.S. and its allies allowed their overwhelming military superiority in the region to fade slowly away.”  (There’s a little “if they had only listened to me” in this.)    

One pressing question is whether American leaders can focus the American people on the dangers at hand in time.  Our domestic problems and divisions are so dauting.  Or, even more grimly, is there still time, at least before we have to re-run the Cuban Missiles Crisis? 

[1] See: Walter Russell Mead – Wikipedia 

[2] See: Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (1987) and Preparing for the 21st Century (1993). 

[3] The phrase “Sick Man of…” originated with the Russian tsar Nicholas I in 1852.  He labeled the Ottoman Empire “the sick man of Europe” because it was disintegrating through remarkably bad government and economic stagnation.”  The term came into widespread use.  In 1863 the phrase “sick man of Asia” got applied to the equally rotten Qing dynasty.  The term never had the connotation of deriding the people who lived in these failing states.  Xi Jinping probably knew exactly what Mead meant; his American critics probably didn’t because they were in fields like ethnic studies rather than history. 

[4] “Refused to apologize” as in Barry Lyndon – The Duel – YouTube Start at 1:17 if you want to cut to the chase. 

[5] Some 42 percent of Taiwan’s exports go to the mainland, another 15 percent to the United States. 

[6] Walter Russell Mead, “A Costly Passivity Toward China,” WSJ, 9 August 2022.