ChiMerica 1 10 July 2019.

There are real grounds for alarm over China.[1]  Many economists believe that the continuing growth of the Chinese economy will lead it to supplant that of the United States as the world’s largest by 2030 or 2035.  Moreover, China is a dictatorship with apparent ambitions to push the United States out of its dominating position in the Far East and perhaps to exert Chinese influence more broadly.  China has been imprisoning he numbers of Uighurs (Muslims) in Xinjiang province.  Some people suspect that, under Xi Jinping, China has chosen a new course.   Abandoning a “liberalizing” path, the Chinese want to spread modern authoritarianism to other countries in the same way that the United States has been trying to spread democratic capitalism.

The Obama Administration saw the challenge in China.  However, it became mired in peripheral issues (the Middle East, Ukraine).  It never managed to mount an effective response to the central problem of China.  The “Trans-Pacific [Trade] Partnership” treaty fell victim to the populism of the right and the left.  It would not have been implemented even if Hillary Clinton had won the election.

Since 2017, the Trump Administration has pursued a different course.  In December 2017, the White House issued a “National Security Strategy” paper that claimed that China and Russia “want to shape a world antithetical to U.S. values and interests.”  In June 2018, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that “China wants to be the dominant economic and military power of the world, spreading its authoritarian vision for society and its corrupt practices worldwide.”  The head of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff[2] said “This is a fight with a really different civilization and a different ideology, and the United States hasn’t had that before.  The Soviet Union and that competition, in a way, it was a fight within the Western family.”

So far, the struggle has been waged purely on the trade front.  For many years, China has been running a huge trade surplus in trade with the United States.  That is, it sells far more to the United States than it buys from the United States.  However, much of that production is done by American companies who have off-shored factories to cut costs.  If they have to charge higher prices to their American consumers because of the tariffs, then why make the stuff in China?  There’s Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia.  In 2018, President Trump began slamming tariffs (taxes on imports) on Chinese exports to the United States.  Then, Trump tightened the screws with sanctions on the Chinese tech giant Huawei.  It has urged other countries to boycott Huawei and to refuse to participate in China’s “Belt and Road” infrastructure project.  Supply chains are going to start to move.

Because of the huge trade imbalance, China can’t exert much direct pressure on the United States by imposing tariffs of its own.  It can look for substitute suppliers for American exports, like soy.  It has started running lots of old Korean War movies (in black and white) in which China battles American aggression.

At the same time, neither side has pulled out all the stops.  For example, the U.S. has not made much of a deal about China imprisoning many Uighirs

However, we are in the early days of a huge struggle.  It is difficult to see yet how it will shake out.  Weak ending, I know, but true.

[1] Edward Wong, “U.S. vs. China: Why This Power Struggle Is Different,” NYT, 27 June 2019.

[2] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiron_Skinner

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Summer 2016 2 10 July 2019.

In the many days ago, some people suspected that FIFA (International Federation of Football Associations—i.e. the organization that ran the “beautiful game”) was as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.  When the British Football Association contemplated trying to get the World Cup venue in 2018 or 2012, it hired Christopher Steele’s firm to investigate FIFA.  He learned a lot.  In 2011, when the FBI opened its own investigation into corruption in soccer, agents talked to Steele.  The FBI group conducting the soccer investigation, was the “Eurasian Organized Crime” group.  It was based in the New York field office, rather than in Washington.  The FBI group’s leader at that time may have been Michael Gaeta.  Gaeta later moved to the American embassy in Rome.[1]

In the first week of July 2016, Steele asked Gaeta to come to London.  Gaeta got the meeting approved by Victoria Nuland, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, then met Steele in London on 5 July 2016.  Steele gave the agent 2-4 pages highlighting his information gathered so far.  It has been reported that Gaeta said “I have to show this to headquarters.”[2]  Was that the answer Christopher Steele hoped to hear?

To whom did Michael Gaeta report?

On the one hand, Gaeta reported back to Assistant Secretary Nuland, sending the papers he had been given by Steele.  Nuland later stated that “our immediate reaction to that was, ‘This is not in our purview.  This needs to go to the FBI, if there is any concern here that one candidate or the election as a whole might be influenced by the Russian federation. That’s something for the FBI to investigate.”[3]  Unless Nuland was using the “royal we,” who were the people with whom Nuland discussed the information sent by Gaeta?  Did it go as far up as Secretary of State John Kerry?  Then what did Nuland do?  Did she forward the report to FBI headquarters or did she tell Gaeta to tell Steele to tell the FBI himself?

On the other hand, another account says that Gaeta also sent the reports to the Eurasian Organized Crime team in the FBI’s New York field office.  There it sat until mid-September 2016.[4]  Gaeta had been, or still was, the boss of the Eurasian Organized Crime team.  So, he sends this stuff to the outfit and they go “meh, fan-mail from some flounder”?  Or do they cable/email him back, going “WTF Mike?”  IDK, maybe the FBI does run like the Post Office.

In September 2016, a frustrated Steele shared some of his materials with Jonathan Winer, previously the deputy assistant secretary of state for international law enforcement, and before that an aid to Senator John Kerry, now the Secretary of State.  Winer took the stuff to Nuland, “who indicated that, like me, she felt that the secretary of state needed to be made aware of this material.”[5]

[1] Mark Hosenball, “Former MI-6 spy known to U.S. agencies is author of reports on Trump in Russia,” Reuters, 12 January 2017.

[2] Michael Isikoff and David Corn, Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump (2018).

[3] Emily Tillett, “Victoria Nuland Says Obama State Dept. Informed FBI of Reporting from Steele dossier,” CBS News, 4 February 2018.

[4] Mike Levine, “Trump ‘dossier’ stuck in New York, didn’t trigger Russian investigation, sources say,” ABC News, 18 September 2018.  https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-dossier-stuck-york-trigger-russia-investigation-sources/story?id=57919471

[5] Jonathan Winer, “Devin Nunes is investigating me. Here’s the truth,” Washington Post, 9 February 2018.

Summer 2016 9 July 2019.

I’m 65 years old.  I’ve been reading some version of “History” since I was—IDK–ten years old?  I’ve been teaching History for 30+ years.  I’ve concluded that Human Error plays a vastly larger role in explaining events than does Human Conspiracy.  Still, there is enough strangeness in the Trump-Russia investigation to give someone other than me a suspicion.  We’re gonna have to lance this abscess somehow.  I hope that Michael Horowitz and John Durham do the job.  For the sake of the American Republic.

In April 2016, Marc Elias, of Perkins, Coie, hired Fusion GPS to conduct opposition research on Donald Trump on behalf of the DNC and the Hillary Clinton campaign.[1]

Then either nothing happened for a month or so, OR journalists have not yet discovered what did happen at Fusion GPS, OR I haven’t tracked down the reporting.[2]

In June 2016, the Russians began publishing the “hacked” e-mails from the DNC.

At some point in June 2016, Fusion GPS hired Christopher Steele to investigate Donald Trump’s Russians affairs.[3]  Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, the owners of Fusion GPS, “gave [Steele] no specific marching orders beyond this basic question: ‘Why did Mr. Trump repeatedly seek to do deals in a notoriously corrupt police state that most serious investors shun?'”[4]

Fusion GPS billed Perkins Coie for $1.02 million in fees and expenses.  Fusion GPS then paid Orbis $168,000.[5]  Steele didn’t pay his sources.[6]  According to one source, “Steven L. Hall, former CIA chief of Russia operations,” said that ‘Steele spied against Russia to get info Russia did not want released; ….’”[7]

It is just now reported that Christopher Steele has testified to the IG of the Department of Justice.  They find his statements “credible.”[8]  But what did he say?

[1] See: http://cdn.cnn.com/cnn/2017/images/10/25/fusion.perkins.coie.pdf  and https://www.cnn.com/2017/10/24/politics/fusion-gps-clinton-campaign/index.html, CNN, 25 October 2017.

[2] May and June 2016 are the months when Alexander Downer’s report on what George Papadopoulos had told him about the Russians having “dirt” on Hillary Clinton was not shared with the Americans, either formally or informally.  “Alas, and Alack, and Alaska.”  I’ll try to keep on it.

[3] Scott Shane, Nicholas Confessore, and Matthew Rosenberg, “How a Sensational Unverified Dossier Became a Crisis for Donald Trump,” NYT, 11 January 2017.  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/11/us/politics/donald-trump-russia-intelligence.html  NB: Here the chronology is not clear because the witnesses are not clear in their public statements.  Perhaps John Durham will sort out my confusion?

[4] Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, “The Republicans’ Fake Investigation,” NYT, 2 January 2018.  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/02/opinion/republicans-investigation-fusion-gps.html  NB: Who formulated this question?  Snark: As opposed to doing deals in China, India, Brazil, or the Republic of South Africa?  Kleptocracies.

[5] See: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-russia-dossier/ex-british-spy-paid-168000-for-trump-dossier-u-s-firm-discloses-idUSKBN1D15XH

[6] See: https://www.cnn.com/2017/11/15/politics/russia-investigation-fusion-gps-glenn-simpson-dossier/index.html

[7] See: https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/357602-ex-cia-russia-chief-unlike-trump-dossier-russia-wanted-to-give  NB: So, people in the Russian government decided to give Steele information for free that Vladimir Putin didn’t want released?  Really?  See: Sergei Skripal https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergei_Skripal, Alexander Litvinenko https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Litvinenko, and Boris Berezovsky https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boris_Berezovsky_(businessman), and a bunch of other people.  In contrast, “[Aldrich] Ames received $4.6 million from the Soviets.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aldrich_Ames#Espionage.  Can’t tell how much /Robert Hanssen got, beyond a basic $100K.    See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Hanssen

[8] See: https://washingtonmonthly.com/2019/07/09/dojs-inspector-general-report-on-russia-delayed-as-steele-found-credible/

The Worst President Ever 5 July 2019.

Typically, the popular understanding of American history is that the Revolution gave rise to the Articles of Confederation (the first government of the United States); then that ramshackle arrangement soon proved unsatisfactory to many people; and then the present Constitution created the legal framework for subsequent American history.  In fact, there existed deep divide over several issues.  First, federalism (a union of sovereign stares) versus nationalism (a union of states under a strong central government).  Second, the divide—which would only grow until our own time—over who got to be a full “American.”  Those arguments had to be fought out over many presidential administrations.

Many of the contentious issues that would shape American society down to the present day became evident in the administration of Andrew Jackson (1767-1845).  Jackson served as the seventh president of the United States (1830-1838)

He believed that the final interpreter of the Constitution was the President, not the Supreme Court or the individual states.  It is in this light that one must see his opposition to John Calhoun’s doctrine of “interposition,[1] rather than in some doctrine of general federal supremacy.

He believed in the forced removal of the Native Americans to lands west of the Mississippi.  In 1830, he signed a federal law, the Indian Removal Act, which ordered the rapid evacuation of Native Americans from the Southeastern United States.[2]  He defied the Supreme Court to do so.

He opposed the Second Bank of the United States.  The Bank sold government bonds to finance the deficit; it issued a “sound” paper currency that allowed the economy to expand; and it provided credit for business.  In this sense, it served as a predecessor for the Federal Reserve System.  He believed that the Bank endangered American democracy and prosperity by concentrating excessive wealth and power in a few hands.  He vetoed the renewal of its government charter.

Jackson then began shifting federal funds from the Bank to a number of “pet” banks in the state.  Many of the “pet” banks were located in the West.  The principal use of credit in the West was land speculation.  This led to easy credit from the “pet” banks and much speculation in land.  At the same time, Eastern banks found themselves with declining reserves, so they raised interest rates.  In 1836, in an effort to rein-in speculation, Jackson issued a requirement that federal lands sold to the public be paid for in gold or silver, rather than in the inflated paper currency issued by state banks.  This “Specie Circular” was one, important, factor among several causes of the “Panic of 1837.”   The resulting recession dragged on into the 1840s.

A pre-Keynesian, he eliminated the deficit and paid off the national debt.

He appointed Roger B. Taney to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  In the “Dred Scott Decision” (1857), Taney and the majority held that a) African-Americans could not be citizens, and b) that slavery could not be prohibited in the territories.

So, arguably, America’s worst president.

[1] “Interposition” meant that individual states could block the local enforcement of federal laws which the state government considered to be unconstitutional.

[2] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Removal_Act.  Enforcement of the Act resulted in the “Trail of Tears.”  See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trail_of_Tears

The Origin of the Russia investigation.

In May 2016, a Trump foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, told the Australian High Commissioner in London, Alexander Downer, that he had heard that the Russkies had “dirt” on Hilary Clinton.[1]  Downer immediately informed the Australian foreign ministry.

Six or seven weeks followed, during which time the Australian government did not inform anyone—officially or unofficially—that a hostile foreign power had breached the security of an American presidential candidate.

Christopher Steele had served in important positions in the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI-6), then had opened a private business intelligence company.  He had served in Moscow and had been the head of the “Russia desk” for MI-6.  In June 2016,[2] the Democrats had hired his company to conduct opposition research on Donald Trump.  Steele began investigating Trump’s Russian connections.  Between June and December 2016, Steele wrote 17 memos.  Steele’s memos suggested that a “well-developed” conspiracy linked Trump with the Russian government.  The Russian would help get Trump elected; President Trump would then end the economic sanctions imposed on Russia for its actions in Crimea and Ukraine.   Furthermore, the Russian possessed compromising personal information on Trump.

However, at this time, the FBI had no knowledge of Steele’s memos.

On 22 July 2016, Wikileaks began publishing the Democratic National Committee e-mails provided to them by the Russkies.  At this point, the FBI learned from the Australian government of the report on Papadopoulos.  [So, the FBI knew that the Russians had hacked the computers at the Democratic National Committee, that Russia was releasing stolen information through Wikileaks, and now had a report that the Trump campaign may have had fore-knowledge.]  On 31 July 2016, the FBI opened an investigation of Trump-Russia collusion: “Operation Crossfire Hurricane.”  The operation was conducted in great secrecy, with no leaks to the press.

After the launching of “Crossfire Hurricane,” the FBI sought a FISA warrant to surveil the communications of Paul Manafort,[3] Michel Flynn, Carter Page,[4] and George Papadopoulos.[5]  All four had varying degrees of prior contact with Russia.  [The warrant application was denied as “too broad.”]

In September, Steele shared his memos with the FBI.

[In late September, Michael Isikoff reported that a Trump campaign adviser was being investigated over contacts with the Russians.  The report was based on leaks.]

In October 2016, the FBI obtained a FISA warrant to surveil the communications of Carter Page.  A part of the supporting evidence for the warrant application came from the “Steele dossier.”

Thus, William Barr’s investigation isn’t likely to turn up compromising information.

[1] “The origins of the Russia investigation,” The Week, 28 June 2019, p. 13.

[2] Apparently at the time when the Australian government was not informing the American government of the remarks by Papadopoulos.

[3] The FBI had begun an investigation of Manafort after his candidate, the pro-Russian Ukrainian Yanukovich, had been ejected from power in early 2014.

[4] Page had been investigated by the FBI in 20013-2015 and found blameless.

[5] But not Jared Kushner or Donald Trump Jr. or Donald Trump Sr.  Why not?

My Weekly Reader 20 June 2019.

If you don’t like the Donald Trump Presidency, then there are some questions you need to address.  First, is Trump what the Brits call a “one off,” or is he the leading edge of a new wave in American politics?[1]  Second, what led to Trump’s election?  No, it wasn’t the Russians.  No, it wasn’t Hillary Clinton’s incompetence as a politician.  Both are real, but the decisive factors lay elsewhere.  On the one hand, Donald Trump decided to target the grievances of white, working-class men.  On the other hand, Donald Trump decided to run as a Republican, rather than in his natural home as a Democrat.  Like “Bud” White, “he’s not as stupid as he seems.”

The grievances of white working-class men are real.  Once upon a time, they were the mainstays of the “New Deal Coalition” that put Democrats into the White House from 1932 to 1952, from 1960 to 1968, and from 1976 to 1980, along with various majorities in Congress.  Unionized working-class jobs gave blue-collar workers middle-class incomes.  Then they fell by the wayside for complex reasons: mostly mechanization, but also the two successive oil “shocks” of the 1970s, organized labor’s attack on struggling employers in the 1970s, foreign competition, and ideological shifts in the two major parties.  Then, in the 1990s, China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) under favorable terms compounded the problems of American industry.

As a result, men’s industrial employment declined, new jobs shifted to other geographic areas;[2] new jobs required “college” rather than “vocational” education; and the social world of the “left behind” disintegrated (single motherhood, alcohol and drug use, general demoralization).[3]

No one in either party had bothered to address those grievances.  The suburban base of the Republicans lives in blue oxford-cloth shirts and Dockers (or the female equivalent).  The Democrats have embraced “identity politics,” which excludes the identity of the white working class.  These are “post-industrial” societies.

As a result Trump’s campaign could drag into the ranks of the Republicans a bunch of normally Democratic voters or non-voters.  The opened the possibility of a Republican presidential victory that must have seemed far-fetched if any of the other munchkins running for the nomination won in the primaries.  Republicans lined up behind Trump and they will do so again in 2020.  They get to pack the federal courts for the lifetime of the appointees.  They get to stall and roll-back the imperial decrees of Barack Obama.

Are we—as a country—better for it?

[1] That’s a disturbing thought.  In twenty years we could be talking about John Carpenter’s “Trump Tower: Power Outage.”  In 2025, radical environmentalists (but I repeat myself) sabotage the federally-mandated coal-fired generating plants that power New York City.  Suddenly, the nightlight of the city-that-never-sleeps go dark.  The elevators (and escalators) and AC and cable-television stop working.  Chaos breaks out in the streets below, but atop Trump Tower a “celebrity roast” of former members of the Trump Administration is underway.  Comments by Jim Mattis, Reince Priebus, H.R. McMaster, Hope Hicks, Sarah Saunders, Jim Comey, Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson, Nancy Pelosi, Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, etc.  I suppose the deranged killer haunting Trump Tower could wear a Robert Mueller hockey mask.

[2] Try selling your house if you live in Erie, PA.

[3] See: Isabel Sawhill, The Forgotten Americans (2019) and Oren Cass, The Once and Future Worker (2019).  If this is what happened to white Americans, then what are we to make of the impact of “liberal paternalism” on African-Americans since the 1960s?

My Weekly Reader A 19 June 2019.

In traditional societies, people found their identity within and as members of groups.  In the Medieval and Early Modern West, for example, the Christian churches taught morality and sponsored religious confraternities.  The peasant agricultural societies portrayed by Pieter Breughel involved much group labor and existed within the framework of village life.  European cities were governed by professional groups (guilds) and had purchased various group “privileges” from local lords or more distant kings.  People belonged to hereditary “orders” like Commoners and Aristocrats.  These societies existed within belief systems and economic systems that offered little individual choice.

Then things changed.  It took hundreds of years, but intellectual, political, and economic systems all changed.  The Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment created a skepticism about all received wisdom.  The Voyages of Discovery and the Agricultural Revolution began an economic revolution that spurred rapid growth in both population and wealth.  Rising distrust of received beliefs, an absolute confidence in the power of human Reason,[1] and the growth of a complex middle class then rocked the political system with an Age of Revolutions.[2]

A central feature of all these changes was the rise of Individualism.  Essentially, people aren’t Lego blocks.  Each person is different—if only in subtle and minor ways–from every other person.  Only the Individual person knows what is best for that person: strength and weaknesses, and hopes and fears.  Hence, society and government should seek to maximize the opportunity for Individual fulfillment.  This Individual freedom should be limited only by the requirement that one Individual’s freedom do no harm to the freedom of other Individuals.

This belief system gave rise to Nineteenth Century Liberalism and, by way of reaction, to Nineteenth Century Socialism.  Political Liberalism espoused individual equality before the law, individual rights guaranteed by law, governments answering to elected legislature, and freedom of the press and of thought.  Economic Liberalism espoused economic individualism, free markets, competition, free trade within and between nations, and a small government that concentrated on the essential functions of law and order and national defense.  What Liberals didn’t believe in was either equality or democracy.  Competition—between producers, political parties, and ideas—produced both winners and losers according to the informed choices of consumers.  The whole of society benefitted from competition even when individuals lost.  Similarly, people without the education necessary to understand the competition of ideas and parties, and people with no material stake (property) in the outcome of the debates should have no voice (vote) in the outcome.

Reacting against this position, Nineteenth Century Socialism called for co-operation over competition, planning instead of the market, collective ownership of the “means of production” in place of private property, and democracy with vote for all adult males.  After a while, revolutionary Marxism dominated Socialist thought.

The success of industrialization created immense wealth and immense numbers of industrial workers who were excluded from the political system while living in misery.  Something had to give.  Beginning in the late Nineteenth Century, it did.

[1] See Carl Becker, The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth Century Philosophers (1932).  Hilarious.

[2] I stole that from Eric Hobsbawm, Age of Revolutions: Europe, 1789-1848 (1962).  Remarkable.