35 years ago

Today in 1983, I was a freshman at UW–Madison. My first-semester schedule — a horrid screwed-up mess because, in the troglodyte days of assignment committees to register for classes — I had just one comparative-literature class and marching band practice on Wednesdays. That’s what I remember, anyway.

A lot of people on the politically overstimulated UW–Madison campus were discussing ABC-TV’s upcoming movie “The Day After,” which depicted the U.S. following a nuclear war.

Unknown to us this day, the day of the movie (which I missed because that was also the night of the UW Marching Band banquet, a far more important event) or for years afterward was that apparently the U.S. and the Soviet Union came close to preempting “The Day After” for the real thing.

The Economist reviews 1983: Reagan, Andropov and a World on the Brink:

The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 was terrifying, but at least both sides knew the world was on the brink of catastrophe. As Taylor Downing’s snappily told account lays bare, what arguably made the near-miss of November 9th 1983 worse was that the West had almost no idea the Soviet leadership believed war was imminent.

East-West relations had been in dire straits for years. Ronald Reagan’s soaring anti-communist rhetoric, terming the Soviet bloc an “evil empire”, inspired freedom-lovers on both sides of the Iron Curtain, but panicked the Politburo gerontocracy. So too did his idealistic belief that missile-defence (“Star Wars”) might keep the peace better than MAD (mutually assured destruction). A hi-tech arms race spelled doom for the Soviet Union.

As communication had shrivelled, misunderstandings mushroomed. When the Soviets shot down a Korean airliner that had veered drastically off course into their airspace, nobody in the American administration could countenance the idea that the tragedy might be (as it was) a blunder, not an atrocity. The Soviets were certain the plane was on a spying mission.

NATO’s “Able Archer” exercise was also wildly misinterpreted. The Kremlin was convinced it masked war preparations. A routine change of NATO codes made the Soviets assume a nuclear first strike was imminent. In fact the KGB had an agent in the heart of NATO, Rainer Rupp. In response to an emergency request, he assured Moscow, with some bemusement, that everything in the alliance’s civilian bureaucracy was ticking along as normal. But the spymasters discounted the information, while “toadying KGB officers on the ground…sent back alarmist reports.” If the Soviet misreading of NATO intentions was a colossal intelligence failure, so was the inability of Western intelligence to realise just how jittery and ill-informed the Communist leadership had become.

As the Soviet Union put its nuclear forces on high alert, Lieutenant-General Leonard Perroots, the American air-force intelligence chief in Europe, reacted with puzzlement. A quid pro quo might have triggered an all-out nuclear war, which would, as Mr Downing puts it, leave only “cockroaches and scorpions” alive. Luckily, Perroots did nothing. After a sleepless night, the Kremlin leadership, huddled in a clinic outside Moscow with the ailing general secretary, Yuri Andropov, realised nothing was going to happen.

Mr Downing’s book gives abundant historical background, perhaps too much for readers familiar with the period. A useful later chapter depicts how realisation of the Soviet panic unfolded in the West, first in classified assessments and eventually, long after the event, in the public domain—not least thanks to Mr Downing’s television documentary, screened in 2008. He wisely avoids questions of the morality of nukes. Instead he focuses on the shortcomings that made accidental nuclear war far too plausible.


The Great (decline in world power because of the) Recession

Steve Forbes:

Perhaps the most toxic fallout from 2008–09 was not economic but rather geopolitical. It severely damaged faith in free markets in much of the world–most ominously in Beijing–even though government folly brought on the crisis. Policy errors that subsequently stunted U.S. growth for nearly a decade reinforced the perception in China, Russia, Iran and North Korea that the U.S. was a declining power, and they acted accordingly. It will take a few years of good, solid growth in America to put an end to this kind of deluded–and dangerous–thinking.

Whatever differences it had with the U.S., China believed Americans understood money and finance. The disillusionment triggered by the crisis quickly set in motion a resurgence of Chinese government intervention in the economy that goes on to this day. Violations of international trading rules that Beijing had agreed to honor proliferated. Forced transfers of know-how and trade secrets from foreign companies to Chinese ones mushroomed, as did involuntary mergers with domestic entities.

Disturbingly, China has chucked out the cautious foreign policy that had been in place since 1978. It is aggressively working to expand its influence regionally and globally. Spending on military forces and R&D is rapidly growing. Beijing is determined to be the master of cyberwarfare.

The liberal post-WWII order of American-led military security and growing trade is under stress.

Of course, a sustained Reaganesque economic and military revival at home and wise peace-through-strength policies overseas could right matters again, as they did once before.

What everyone missed from Helsinki

Facebook Friend Tim Nerenz:

Everybody has had their say about what Trump said in Helsinki, including Trump himself. I don’t care about that; I want to talk about what Putin said in Helsinki, which seems to have sailed right over the heads of Ken and Barbie press posers who look good in clothes and read virtuous words for lots of money. The Putin story is much better.

Trump was weird from the opening bell; all amped up about the DNC servers for no apparent reason. But Putin was on it; steady and focused like a pointer pinning a quail with a stare. Granted he has a dozen years of practice at these events, but my own decades of doing deals and watching deal-masters told me instinctively to pay close attention, and the boy did not disappoint.

After Mueller dropped his turd in the Helsinki punch bowl with his second round of non-prosecutable indictments a couple days prior, Putin responded with his kind offer of co-operation under a 1999 Treaty that none of us knew existed and then pulls the pin and throws the grenade of a charge that U.S. intelligence officials aided an international tax fugitive in funneling $400 million to the Clinton campaign. Ba-bam! We can help each other investigate international interference in your elections, says Putin…ALL of it.

Wait, what? $400 million? Aided by our own intelligence officials? Browder is his name? And we are hearing this in now in 2018 not from any of our own watchdog news media? So I quickly Google Browder – sure enough, a real guy with Interpol warrants for massive tax evasion and global skullduggery. Not a phantom like Guccifer 2.0. Renounced his American citizenship and went to loot Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union – foreigner who meddled in Maryland campaigns and paid to get federal legislation passed. Living in the UK. Seems like a well connected filthy-rich globalist sleaze ball, passes the Clinton orbit instant background check.

Bombshell of the century and the press does not bother ask a follow-up question – not the story they were sent there to write. Somebody please Make Journalism Great Again.

That was not Donald Trump talking – the fellow on the left with all the hair who is prone to hyberbolic off-script nonsense. That was Vlad the Impaler, the most disciplined public figure on the planet, who does not utter a syllable that is unplanned or un-purposed. He used complete sentences and his charges were specific and he waited to make them until the entire world was watching. Cold, methodical, surgical.

I’ll see your 32 hackers and $200k in Facebook ads and raise you $400 million, the DNC, the heads of your own intelligence services, and the Clinton Foundation. Here’s a soccer ball, Deep State, it’s your move. The charges are so outrageous, so over the top, that no thinking person would make them unless they were in possession of some evidence to back them up. Say what you will about Putin – he is every bit of bad that you can imagine and worse – but he is not stupid and he is not reckless and that must mean….ruh-roh.

Which brings me to John Brennan, former head of CIA and chief hysteric in the aftermath of the Helsinki presser. He thinks Putin ordered the hack of the DNC, CF, Clinton campaign, and their network or fund-scrubbing operations, and this week he declared it an act of treason to fail to publicly believe him. And the same Trump-hating lefties who wanted to erase borders, shut down ICE, and let illegal aliens vote four days ago are suddenly right-wing uber-patriots ready to start WWIII to defend the honor of the CIA and protect election integrity from foreign interference. I pledge allegiance to the former head of the CIA, and to the shadow government for which he stands… Bizarro world.

Well, I’m no traitor, so I believe you, Mr. Brennan; I think you are right that Putin ordered the hacks that succeeded at DNC and other places run by incompetent nincompoops and I think he was behind the successful hacks at CIA under your watch, too. I think he told WikiLeaks what to release and what to hold back in 2016, and he is sitting on the good stuff, including the dirt on Browden, Clinton, and our American intel traitors. That would explain a lot.

That might be what he and Trump talked about for two hours that made Trump so excited about DNC servers and emails. Who knows? I certainly don’t, but Robert Mueller does and his response to Putin’s offer of cooperation over the next couple of weeks will be very telling.

Trump and Putin: Another view

J.T. provides …

A few thoughts about Trump, actions versus talk, and negotiations with foreign leaders….

Trump understands negotiations like few others. He’s very much like Reagan in being tough on our adversaries, although they have a different style. Reagan, of course, called the Soviet Union “The Evil Empire,” and it was, and Reagan used very harsh rhetoric, and rightly so, considering the circumstances.

Trump won’t do that with Russia now, because it would be counterproductive. Putin is a genuinely bad guy. I think we all understand that, and that includes Trump. But, Russia is nowhere near as much of a threat nor is it nearly as powerful as the USSR was. Reagan’s was a different time and called for both different tactics and a different strategy. The way to get Russia to stop its nefarious ways is through a carrot-and-stick approach, much like before, except we can use a lot more carrot than stick, now, because Russia just isn’t as powerful as the old USSR was. Not even close.

Russia’s GDP in 2017 was less than a tenth of ours (1.577 trillion versus 19.390 trillion for us).

The EU’s GDP in 2017 was 17.277 trillion, also more than ten times Russia’s.

Germany’s GDP was 3.677 trillion in 2017.

France’s GDP in 2017 was 2.582 trillion.

Spain’s was 1.311 trillion.

The United Kingdom’s was 2.622 trillion.

Italy’s GDP was more than Russia’s (1.935 trillion). Even Canada’s (1.653 trillion).

All of these are NATO countries. And those aren’t all of the NATO countries, either. (Link : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Member_states_of_NATO )

(You can look at the other NATO members’ GDP at this link: https://tradingeconomics.com/country-list/gdp )

It’s quite easy to tell that Russia is the 21st century’s “sick man of Europe.”

In 2015, NATO countries’ GDP totaled 36.211 trillion dollars (from the wiki link above). That’s nearly 23 times as large as Russia’s in 2018 (Link: https://tradingeconomics.com/russia/gdp) .

I’m sure Putin knows this. I’m sure Trump does, too.

So, why did Trump treat Putin so nicely during the press conference? Because talk is cheap, which Trump also knows very well. Trump wants Putin’s help in corralling China and North Korea. He also wants help keeping Iran at bay and defeating ISIS, while guaranteeing Israel’s security. How does he get all that? Carrots and sticks.

Actions matter orders-of-magnitude more than talk. In April, Trump imposed a whole slew of sanctions against Russians. (Link: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2018/04/07/trump-sanctions-on-russia-this-is-as-far-from-collusion-as-can-get.html )

That hurts. I’m sure it got Putin’s attention.This, also, is the very opposite of “collusion.” Trump has been extremely tough on the Russians. Note that those sanctions are still in effect and were put in place months before the summit earlier this week. That’s the stick. Russia’s economy sucks and Trump gutpunched them in April.

Proving to foreign leaders that he wants to get along with them, because we’re all better off as friends than we are as enemies, is the exact same play he tried with Kim Jong-Un and with China’s Xi, as well. Did it work? Kim Jong-Un hasn’t fired any rockets off since then has he? Trump’s power of persuasion is his superhuman ability.

Trump is all about trying to get along with the foreign heads of state, but he understands that we sit in the catbird’s seat. Between us and NATO, we could cripple Russia’s economy if we needed to.

If Russia were an enemy, would Germany allow itself to get so dependent on energy from Russia?

Trump is right in calling Russia a “competitor” and not an enemy, much less an “Evil Empire.” That echoes what George W. Bush said about China when he said they were a “strategic competitor.” He’s also right to try to schmooze Putin face-to-face (as well as Mr. Kim and President XI), and make nice for the cameras in order to try to get cooperation (although the press conference was a mistake).

Will all of this work? Can he make “competitors” play nice? Well, it’s all about the economy, and between us, NATO, South Korea, Japan, and all of our other allies, we have Russia bent over a barrel.

None of us know what Trump and Putin discussed in their meeting. It was probably all sorts of things, and I bet trump pursued our national interests as hard as he could. Imagine how tough he was on Putin since he was so tough on our NATO allies.

I bet we’ll see progress on that front soon enough. It would help if the EU would be tough on Putin, too.

Putin quite obviously wants to reassemble the old Soviet Un


Jay Nordlinger:

[Monday] morning, President Trump tweeted, “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!”

Some of us see it differently. Putin’s Russia is a dictatorship that kills critics, violates borders, interferes in democratic elections, etc. — and that’s why relations between it and the United States, a great liberal democracy, are bad.

Also, the Mueller team has just indicted twelve GRU agents. Does our president think that’s the fruit of a “Rigged Witch Hunt”?

When Trump sent out the above-quoted tweet, the Russian foreign ministry responded, “We agree.” That’s something that ought to give us pause — all of us Americans.

• Some conservatives are remembering Jeane Kirkpatrick today, who, in a famous 1984 speech, said Democrats (her own party at that point) tended to “blame America first.” President Trump appeared to do so in his tweet. Then, at his press conference with Putin, he was asked whether Russia bore any responsibility for bad relations between Moscow and Washington. Trump said, “I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we’ve all been foolish.” And a bit later: “I think we’re all to blame.”

In times past, we conservatives referred to such a posture as “moral equivalence.”

• For two years now, there has been a debate over who hacked the Democrats in the 2016 election. In a debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump said, “I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. She’s saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don’t — maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, okay?”

Later, there was a theory that a Democratic staffer had leaked sensitive information and been murdered as a result.

The U.S. intelligence community holds that Russia is the guilty party, when it comes to election interference. Our intelligence community holds that Russia is still at it. H. R. McMaster, who was once Trump’s national security adviser, said that evidence of Russia’s guilt was “incontrovertible.” In February, Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, made a blunt statement: “Frankly, the United States is under attack.” Last week, with equal bluntness, he said, “The warning lights are blinking red.”

And, of course, Robert Mueller indicted those twelve GRU men.

President Trump, at his joint press conference with Putin, was asked whom he believed: Putin or the U.S. intelligence community. He answered, “My people came to me — Dan Coats came to me, and some others. They said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin — he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

That was corrected a day later when the White House claimed Trump meant to say “I don’t see any reason why it would not be.”

• Many of us have noted that Trump has excellent people around him — many of conservatism’s best and brightest. General McMaster was one of them. Then we have John Bolton, James Mattis, Dan Coats, Mike Pompeo, et al. But none of them was elected president. None of them ran for the office. The American people chose Trump. And “it all comes down to the man at the desk,” as George Bush the Elder said in the 1988 campaign. The president is where the buck stops, as Truman had it, or rather his sign did.

Dan Coats can be as blunt as he wants, and he does a service when he informs the public. But if the president chooses not to listen to him, or not to believe him — that’s the president’s prerogative, and the voters will react as they will.

• People have often pointed out that there seem to be two administrations, when it comes to U.S. policy on Russia: President Trump — and the rest of the administration. This idea was spelled out in a New York Times article, headed “Trump Opens His Arms to Russia. His Administration Closes Its Fist” (here).

• Sergei Magnitsky was Bill Browder’s lawyer — and a whistleblower. Magnitsky was tortured to death, real slow, by Russian authorities. Since that time, Browder has dedicated his life to human rights and justice. He has campaigned all over the world for “Magnitsky acts,” which place sanctions on Russian officials who abuse human rights. His activism has made him a prime target of Putin and the Kremlin. Bill (he is a friend of mine) has to watch his step at every turn. He has stuck his neck out, for truth and justice.

{Monday] at the joint press conference, Putin told his usual tales, his usual lies, about Bill (or some of them). All the while, Trump nodded solemnly and understandingly. It would be hard to tell you how disgusting that was to many of us.

• Putin suggested that the Kremlin and Washington cooperate in investigating Russian cyber attacks. Trump, gratified, called this “an incredible offer.” He repeated it: “I think that’s an incredible offer. Okay?”

“Incredible” is just the right word, though the president may not know it.

• Throughout this summit, Trump’s posture toward Putin has been gentle and respectful — even deferential. Contrast this with his posture toward Trudeau, Merkel, May, and their like.

• In an interview on Saturday, Trump was asked to name America’s “biggest foe globally right now.” Trump first said the European Union. Later, with Putin, he referred to the boss of the Chinese Communist Party as follows: “our mutual friend President Xi.”

People notice these things, and are right to.

• On his way to Finland, to meet Putin, Trump once again referred to the press as “the enemy of the people.” This phrase is greatly meaningful in Russia: Many, many people have been killed under that designation. What I mean is, many people have been killed as “enemies of the people.” I think American presidents should avoid this phrase, especially when talking about the free press, annoying as that press may be.

In Russia, many, many journalists have been killed, having incurred the displeasure of Putin. An American president should remember that.

• Over the weekend, I expressed the hope that Trump would bring up political prisoners, in the tradition of American presidents. (For my blogpost, go here.) Evidently, this did not happen. Some of us were especially hoping that Trump would bring up the case of Oleg Sentsov, the filmmaker and writer from Crimea who has been on hunger strike for over two months.

• In the Obama years, a lot of us made the following point: The president seemed annoyed with democratic protesters in Iran, for making it harder for him to deal as he wanted with the Iranian government. In a similar way, Trump seems annoyed with reality for intruding on his desired relations with Putin.

• I have been banging on a drum for many years (to no avail) — decades now. I don’t believe that Olympic Games, World Cups, and other such international competitions should be held in police states. President Trump said he wanted to “congratulate Russia and President Putin for having done such an excellent job in hosting the World Cup. It was really one of the best ever.”

I would greatly appreciate a president, or other leader, who said, “No more Olympic Games or World Cups in police states. Choose another place in this great broad world.”

• Over and over, Trump said, “The world wants to see us get along” — the United States and Russia. Sure. But sometimes, relations must be unsmooth between adventuring dictatorships and democracies such as ours. Every conservative, among others, knows this in his bones.

President Trump, at his joint press conference with Putin, was asked whom he believed: Putin or the U.S. intelligence community. He answered, “My people came to me — Dan Coats came to me, and some others. They said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin — he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

The view from the Great White North

Canadian J.J. McCullough:

There’s an overused anecdote in Canada about how an American newspaper guy, several decades ago, declared the headline “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative” the most boring one he’d ever seen. These days, however, I’d say the headline comes off less boring than implausible. When’s the last time Canada proposed any sort of initiative, worthwhile or otherwise?

The administration of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was caught off guard by the election of President Trump, and has not handled well the ensuing disruption of U.S.-Canadian relations. It’s a flat-footedness that has highlighted the degree to which the Canadian establishment has become complacent and unimaginative in managing this supposedly most sacred of relationships.

It’s been almost 30 years since then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney proposed, negotiated and implemented free trade with the United States (prompting the aforementioned headline). Yet in the decades since, the Canadian interest in the U.S. relationship has consisted mostly of “playing within the boundaries of that big change,” as Gabe Batstone of the Canadian American Business Council told me.

Part of this is no doubt because of the unwillingness of successive Ottawa administrations to risk the political consequences of inflaming Canadian anti-Americanism. Canadians may happily inhabit a broadly Americanized culture and economy, but it’s not difficult to provoke patriotic resentment of this status quo.

Notions that having deep economic integration with the United States represents some sort of national character flaw remain mainstream.  Pundits and public alike wax on with fantastical ideas that Canada could lessen this dependence on the United States if only the will was there. This resentful conventional wisdom warps the national understanding of the degree to which Canada’s wealth, safety and general pleasantness is a byproduct of its American integration, as opposed to being organic national virtues.

Trump’s aluminum and steel tariffs have given Canada a fresh excuse to indulge in the worst excess of such delusions. There’s nothing to call the recent bevy of absurd editorials that have filled major Canadian news outlets — from an Ottawa Citizen column on “why Canada should get nuclear weapons” to Maclean’s “case for invading America,” to any number of broader media provocations for a boycott of American goods and vacations —- beyond manifestations of a Canadian Napoleon complex.

Even supposedly serious voices propose strategies to circumvent Trump that pander to patriotic fantasies. Retaliatory tariffs have been endorsed by all parties. Conservative politicians have argued that their partisan agenda of tax cuts and energy deregulation will offset Washington’s damage. The case for building new pipelines, or signing trade deals with Asia or Europe, or lowering barriers of commerce among Canada’s provinces, or making enormous new investments in the Canadian military have all supposedly become “more obvious than ever.”

No Canadian dares make the case for the one thing that would objectively provide long-term relief: surrendering in Trump’s trade war before it begins.

As he stood beside the Canadian prime minister at the Group of Seven summit in Quebec, Trump joked to reporters that “Justin has agreed to cut all tariffs, and all trade barriers between Canada and the United States, so I’m very happy about that.” It was supposed to be funny, because that’s not Trudeau’s position.

But what if it was?

Ottawa could dramatically call the president’s bluff and announce its intention to embrace unqualified free trade with the United States, abolishing all existing tariffs, duties, subsidies, quotas and regulations employed to discriminate against U.S. goods in favor of Canadian ones. Canada could eliminate its astronomical dairy tariffs, adopt the U.S. understanding that yes, its softwood lumber is subsidized, and dismantle all protectionist measures aimed at keeping various American no-no industries —- telecommunications and banking chief among them — out of Canada on spurious pretexts of national security, or cultural sovereignty, or whatever. The ball would then be in Trump’s court to make good on one of his other G-7 musings: “No tariffs, no barriers, that’s the way it should be.”

Though it might injure Canadian pride in the short term — just as Mulroney’s deal originally did — complete free trade with the United States would impart scant hardship on Canadians themselves. All available evidence suggests one of the main things Canadians crave in life is easier, cheaper access to American goods and services. Yet such wants tend to go ignored in the politics of trade talks, which are biased toward guarding the privileges of protected industries at the expense of consumers — i.e., milk farmers over milk drinkers.

Compensation could be offered to those most disrupted, but the United States is not Mexico. Canada is not some shaky steel town. Many of Canada’s most jealously guarded firms in high finance, transportation and media employ only a privileged few, and are synonymous with wealth and unsavory government connections. The ultimate goal should be a Canadian economy properly positioned to maximize its competitive advantage in a binational, continental context, as opposed to one that invests large amounts of public money propping up redundant, noncompetitive Canadian industries for their own sake.

Honest free trade with America — not closer ties with China or Europe, nor any tweaking of domestic trade or taxes — is the only realistic plan for a long-term, prosperous Canada, immune to “every twitch and grunt” of the U.S. elephant, as the prime minister’s father so famously put it many decades ago.

To a certain class of Canadian raised on a diet of anti-American preening, nothing will seem more counterintuitive than walking toward Trump. But doing what’s right for the broader national interest sometimes means ignoring the counsel of those who possess the narrowest notions of patriotism.

Bad economics from the pulpit

Dan Mitchell won’t be preaching on Pentecost Sunday today, but maybe he should:

I almost feel guilty when I criticize the garbled economic thoughts of Pope Francis. After all, he was influenced by Peronist ideology as a youngster, so he was probably a lost cause from the beginning.

Moreover, Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell have already dissected his irrational ramblings on economics and explained that free markets are better for the poor. Especially when compared to government dependency.

But since Pope Francis just attacked tax havens, and I consider myself the world’s foremost defender of these low-tax jurisdictions, I can’t resist adding my two cents. Here’s what the Wall Street Journal just reported about the Pope’s ideological opposition to market-friendly tax systems.

The Vatican denounced the use of offshore tax havens… The document, which was released jointly by the Vatican’s offices for Catholic doctrine and social justice, echoed past warnings by Pope Francis over the dangers of unbridled capitalism. …The teaching document, which was personally approved by the pope, suggested that greater regulation of the world’s financial markets was necessary to contain “predatory and speculative” practices and economic inequality.

He even embraced global regulation, not understanding that this increases systemic risk.

“The supranational dimension of the economic system makes it easy to bypass the regulations established by individual countries,” the Vatican said. “The current globalization of the financial system requires a stable, clear and effective coordination among various national regulatory authorities.”

And he said that governments should have more money to spend.

A section of the document was dedicated to criticizing offshore tax havens, which it said contribute to the “creation of economic systems founded on inequality,” by depriving nations of legitimate revenue.

Wow, it’s like the Pope is applying for a job at the IMF or OECD. Or even with the scam charity Oxfam.

In any event, he’s definitely wrong on how to generate more prosperity. Maybe he should watch this video.

Or read Marian Tupy.

Or see what Nobel Prize winners have to say.

P.S. And if the all that doesn’t work, methinks Pope Francis should have a conversation with Libertarian Jesus. He could start here, here, and here.

Libertarian Jesus?

Some with leftist economic views would quote Acts 4:32, “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.” Those were, of course, voluntary associations. Jesus Christ never forced anyone to follow him. Using the Acts rationale, every family is socialist.

Theft and coveting are prohibited by two of the Ten Commandments.


Another undone Obama bad idea

Facebook Friend Michael Smith explains why the Iran deal deserved to die:

1. The “deal” did not end their capability to build a bomb, it only slowed it down and postponed their “breakout” for a few years so some future administration would have to deal with a nuclear Iran.

2. The number of centrifuges necessary for enrichment of uranium were reduced – to a number too small for nuclear fuel for power reactors but more than adequate for producing a bomb.

3. The “deal” removed sanctions, allowing Iran open access to world markets.

4. The US repatriated billions of dollars held since the mullahs deposed the Shah, giving them immediate cash to fund their military and terrorist programs.

5. EU countries have violated sanctions for decades and continued to trade with Iran. France has been one of the worse offenders and one of Iran’s greatest defenders. Only the US has honored all prohibitions.

6. Israel has proven that Iran lied about their bomb making research and had continued even though the swore they had stopped.

7. Satellite photographs show continued construction of nuclear facilities in contravention to the “deal” and international inspectors were denied access to these sites.

In short, the US and other western parties gave up much for nothing but a temporary delay that wasn’t even a delay, got nothing but a bunch of lies in return and Iran basically got everything and had to change nothing (other than being a little more stealthy as they continued doing what they were doing).

It was a bad deal. Rescinding it didn’t increase the chance of war because that chance never went away. The Obama/Kerry ‘deal” only papered over the issues and made the contemporary Neville Chamberlian Democrats claim they had secured “peace in our time” as they waved the deal in the air.

The Weekly Standard posted this two years ago, but it applies because of the events of this week:

It’s hardly any wonder that Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes has a “mind meld” with his boss, the president. According to a David Samuels New York Times Magazine article to be published Sunday and already posted to the website, Rhodes, like Barack Obama, is contemptuous of “the American foreign-policy establishment.” What Obama calls the “Washington playbook” dictating the sorts of responses available to American policymakers, Rhodes calls the “Blob.”

The Blob includes “editors and reporters at The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker,” etc. It also encompasses, according to Rhodes, Obama’s former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, and the administration’s first defense secretary Robert Gates. Presumably Leon Panetta, former Pentagon chief and CIA director, who goes on the record to criticize Rhodes and the president, is also part of the Blob, alongside “other Iraq-war promoters from both parties who now whine incessantly about the collapse of the American security order in Europe and the Middle East.” In other words, the emotion driving the administration’s foreign policy is contempt—contempt for allies, colleagues, and the generations of American policymakers who built the post-WWII international order, ensuring relative global stability, and peace and prosperity at home.

Samuels’s profile is an amazing piece of writing about the Holden Caulfield of American foreign policy. He’s a sentimental adolescent with literary talent (Rhodes published one short story before his mother’s connections won him a job in the world of foreign policy), and high self regard, who thinks that everyone else is a phony. Those readers who found Jeffrey Goldberg’s picture of Obama in his March Atlantic profile refreshing for the president’s willingness to insult American allies publicly will be similarly cheered here by Rhodes’s boast of deceiving American citizens, lawmakers, and allies over the Iran deal. Conversely, those who believe Obama risked American interests to take a cheap shot at allies from the pedestal of the Oval Office will be appalled to see Rhodes dancing in the end zone to celebrate the well-packaged misdirections and even lies—what Rhodes and others call a “narrative”—that won Obama his signature foreign policy initiative.

“Like Obama,” writes Samuels:

Rhodes is a storyteller who uses a writer’s tools to advance an agenda that is packaged as politics but is often quite personal. He is adept at constructing overarching plotlines with heroes and villains, their conflicts and motivations supported by flurries of carefully chosen adjectives, quotations and leaks from named and unnamed senior officials. He is the master shaper and retailer of Obama’s foreign-policy narratives, at a time when the killer wave of social media has washed away the sand castles of the traditional press.

As Rhodes admits, it’s not that hard to shape the narrative. “All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus,” Rhodes said. “Now they don’t. They call us to explain to them what’s happening in Moscow and Cairo. Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”

In Rhodes’s “narrative” about the Iran deal, negotiations started when the ostensibly moderate Hassan Rouhani was elected president, providing an opening for the administration to reach out in friendship. In reality, as Samuels gets administration officials to admit, negotiations began when “hardliner” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was still president. It was Rhodes who framed the Iran deal as a choice between peace and war, and it was Rhodes who set up a messaging unit to sell the deal that created an “echo chamber” in the press. “[Al Monitor reporter] Laura Rozen was my RSS feed,” says Tanya Somanader, the 31-year-old who managed @TheIranDeal twitter feed. “She would just find everything and retweet it.”

“In the spring of last year,” Samuels writes:

legions of arms-control experts began popping up at think tanks and on social media, and then became key sources for hundreds of often-clueless reporters. “We created an echo chamber,” [Rhodes] admitted, when I asked him to explain the onslaught of freshly minted experts cheerleading for the deal. “They were saying things that validated what we had given them to say.” When I suggested that all this dark metafictional play seemed a bit removed from rational debate over America’s future role in the world, Rhodes nodded. “In the absence of rational discourse, we are going to discourse the [expletive] out of this,” he said. “We had test drives to know who was going to be able to carry our message effectively, and how to use outside groups like Ploughshares, the Iran Project and whomever else. So we knew the tactics that worked.” He is proud of the way he sold the Iran deal. “We drove them crazy,” he said of the deal’s opponents.

It’s not clear whether or not Panetta supported the deal, but he admits he was wrong about Obama’s willingness to take all measures to stop Iran from getting a bomb.

As secretary of defense, he tells me, one of his most important jobs was keeping Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and his defense minister, Ehud Barak, from launching a pre-emptive attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. “They were both interested in the answer to the question, ‘Is the president serious?’ ” Panetta recalls. “And you know my view, talking with the president, was: If brought to the point where we had evidence that they’re developing an atomic weapon, I think the president is serious that he is not going to allow that to happen.” Panetta stops. “But would you make that same assessment now?” I ask him. “Would I make that same assessment now?” he asks. “Probably not.”

Rhodes tells Samuels that Don DeLillo is his favorite novelist. “That’s the only person I can think of who has confronted these questions of, you know, the individual who finds himself negotiating both vast currents of history and a very specific kind of power dynamics,” he tells Samuels. “And that’s what it’s like to work in the U.S. foreign-policy apparatus in 2016.”

So that’s it. For the last seven years the American public has been living through a postmodern narrative crafted by an extremely gifted and unspeakably cynical political operative whose job is to wage digital information campaigns designed to dismantle a several-decade old security architecture while lying about the nature of the Iranian regime.

Regardless of what you think of Donald Trump, and there is plenty to criticize even for right-leaning voters, the fact Trump is president means that people like Rhodes are not in power. That is another Trump accomplishment.

Then there is this, from Investors.com:

Democrats went gaga over a little-known law they claimed an advisor to President Trump violated following the 2016 presidential campaign. Now, the shoe’s on the other foot, and both the Democrats and the media that supported them have grown strangely quiet.

The law in question is the 219-year-old Logan Act, which makes it a felony for Americans to negotiate with foreign powers in an effort to undermine the U.S. in a dispute.

The law is little-known for a reason: Just two people have ever been tried under the Logan Act, and neither was convicted.

But that didn’t stop Democrats and their Deep State allies when they wanted to use it to investigate Trump’s former national security advisor, Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, in 2016. Democrats and the media laughably claimed that Flynn’s conversations with Russia’s U.S. ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, somehow was a violation of the Logan Act. Let’s be clear: Under no reasonable legal interpretation could one assume that Flynn violated the Logan Act.

But now a report in the Boston Globe asserts that former Secretary of State John Kerry may have stepped over the line when it comes to the Logan Act.

“With the Iran (nuclear) deal facing its gravest threat since it was signed in 2015, Kerry has been on an aggressive yet stealthy mission to preserve it, using his deep lists of contacts gleaned during his time as the top U.S. diplomat to try to apply pressure on the Trump administration from the outside,” the Globe wrote. “President Trump, who has consistently criticized the pact and campaigned in 2016 on scuttling it, faces a May 12 deadline to decide whether to continue abiding by its terms.”

Kerry met with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif at the U.N. about preserving the deal. He also has contacted German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, European Union official Federica Mogherini and French President Emmanuel Macron to interfere in President Trump’s possible decision to abrogate the Obama administration’s terrible nuclear deal with Iran.

If there ever was a violation of the Logan Act, this is it. Kerry is not an elected official. He’s a private citizen. He’s undermining the position of a sitting, elected U.S. president and his duly appointed representatives.

Surely the Democrats and the media, who made themselves such strong advocates of the Logan Act back in 2016 that they misapplied it against Lt. Gen. Flynn, will now respond to what looks like a clear violation now?

Of course not. Both the Democratic Party and the leftist media continue to make a mockery of the rule of law and the idea that both sides play by the same rules. The media and Democrats have downplayed any idea of the Logan Act being applicable in the case of leftist millionaire John Kerry, even though President Obama himself dragged out the Logan Act to threaten Republicans.

Former Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman, once the Democrats’ vice presidential candidate, now a party pariah (because he dared to support President George W. Bush on Iraq and opposes the Iran deal), criticizes Kerry.

“In my opinion, what (Kerry’s) doing is inappropriate and he shouldn’t be doing it,” Lieberman said. “It’s a duly elected administration so I hope John Kerry stops.”

Using that party’s own standard, Kerry should be prosecuted for his freelance diplomacy, which will inevitably undermine President Trump’s efforts to undo the ill effects of Kerry’s failed diplomatic efforts while serving under the Obama administration.

We shouldn’t be surprised. This is part of a new trend among the progressive left, from campuses and entertainment to politics and sports: to criminalize political differences with your foes, while pretending anything your political opponents do somehow violate cultural norms, decency or the Constitution. President Obama used it too.

It’s clear Kerry broke the law here — just as one of his idols, Sen. Teddy Kennedy, may have done when he secretly held back-channel talks with Soviet leaders in 1984 to thwart President Reagan.

If Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to do something constructive, he should prosecute Kerry. Then either Kerry will be punished (how about sending him to Guantanamo, since Obama administration foreign policy could be described as terrorism) or the law will be found unconstitutional in the legal system.

The Iranians’ crisis

In 1979, Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev signed the SALT II, resulting from the second round of the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks treaty.

Then the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and the U.S. Senate declined to ratify SALT II. Carter lost the 1980 presidential election to Ronald Reagan, who, when asked what his strategy was to take on the Soviet Union, simply replied, “We win, they lose.”

That history came to the mind of a Facebook Friend of mine when he posted this story from the New York Times:

TEHRAN — The sense of crisis in Iran runs deep and wide. The economy is in free fall. The currency is plummeting. Rising prices are squeezing city dwellers. A five-year drought is devastating the countryside. The pitched battle between political moderates and hard-liners is so perilous that there is even talk of a military takeover.

Now, the lifeline offered by the 2015 nuclear deal, which was supposed to alleviate pressure on Iran’s economy and crack open the barriers to the West, is falling apart, too: President Trump announced Tuesday that he was withdrawing the United States from the agreement, which he called a “disastrous deal.”

The chief loser will be the country’s moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, who now looks weakened, foolish and burned for the risk he took in dealing with the Americans.

Addressing the nation on live television after Mr. Trump’s announcement, Mr. Rouhani said Iran would take no immediate action to restart uranium enrichment and that it would negotiate with the other parties to the agreement, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.

Rouhani is not a moderate, but he is a President In Name Only. The real power in Iran are the successors of Ayatollah Khomeini, who you might recall did this …

… the failed rescue of whom cost eight American lives.

But in the long term, the unraveling of the nuclear agreement could be bad news for the entire Iranian leadership, already buffeted by mounting popular dissatisfaction over the economy and a lack of freedoms and prospects. It could be bad news for average Iranians, too.

“We will see more migration, more unemployment, more bankruptcies, more impoverishment,” said Amirhossein Hasani, who once made kitchen equipment but now tries to make a living selling foreign exchange. “Some might think this will lead to regime change, but protests will be cracked down and the government will be able to run the country. We will just get poorer.”

Even before Mr. Trump’s decision, the nuclear deal had not lived up to its promise of economic salvation for Iranians. Mr. Rouhani sold it as the solution to many of the country’s problems. He promised that foreign companies would flood Iran with investment and know-how, bringing jobs and opportunity to millions of unemployed people.

He also said that the compromise would lift Iran out of its international isolation. Indeed, several airlines resumed connections to Tehran after the deal was struck.

But deeper-rooted problems such as uncompetitive investment laws, widespread corruption and arrests of dual nationals by hard-line security forces dampened the boom the president had promised. Foreign businesses showed up in sizable numbers but balked at the conditions that confronted them.

But what really diminished the potential benefits of the agreement were the American sanctions that remained in place despite the agreement, and which have continued to prevent any serious bank from working in Iran. They also prevent almost all normal financial transactions, depriving Iran of much-needed credit and foreign investments.

The return of even broader sanctions could put even more pressure on the economy.

“Someone, please change our fate, whoever, even Trump,” said Ali Shoja, a cleaner who said he can’t afford to support his three sons. “I used to be a driver, now I clean. What’s next? I cannot become a beggar.”

Hard-liners, who have long lost popular support but control security forces, the judiciary and state television, were set to declare victory, since they have always argued that the United States could never be trusted in any deal.

They will use the opportunity to undermine Mr. Rouhani and to try to seize power. But Mr. Rouhani came in after eight years with a hard-liner, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at the helm. That both moderate and hard-line approaches have now failed has only deepened the sense of crisis.

Dissatisfaction over state policies is so widespread that many wonder if the Islamic Republic and its current ideology are even sustainable, fueling talk of bringing in a military strongman to set things straight.

The answer, of course, is for the Iranian people to get rid of their leaders.

“This is a big failure for Mr. Rouhani — America has cheated on him by not keeping its promises,” said Jalal Jalalizadeh, a former member of Parliament. “But in the end we are all losers. Now it is clear that only direct and open talks with the United States can ever solve this.”

In fact, the collapse of the nuclear deal doesn’t leave Iran with many options. Iran’s every move will be scrutinized by the United States and Israel, perhaps setting off a military confrontation the country can hardly afford.

Hard-liners say Iran should return to enriching uranium, as it was doing before the nuclear agreement.

“We will break the cement of Arak; we will reopen the heart of the nuclear plant,” Abolfazl Hassan Beigi, a hard-line member of Parliament, told local media, referring to a nuclear site Iran said it has disabled as part of the deal. “The Islamic Republic of Iran will start its nuclear activities again more powerfully than before, which will be a loss for America and its allies.”

But others point out that such moves could invite military action.

“I am for direct talks and transparent talks between Iran and America, the sooner the better,” said Abolghasem Golbaf, an analyst promoting change in the country. The talks should be open, for all to follow, he said. “When they talk secretly, they may make mistakes and nothing can be corrected. Iran and America should sit face to face at negotiation table.” …

Some say they are surprised to even hear people saying they support Mr. Trump, whom they see as someone willing to solve their problems.

“When I sit in the taxi or bus I sometimes overhear common people saying they adore Trump, he at least honors his promises in campaign, they say,” said Ali Sabzevari, a now-unemployed publisher. “Powerless people take resort to a hero, no matter who is the hero — Hitler or Trump, anyone can be their hero.”

There are leaders in the Middle East to which the U.S. should reach out — King Abdullah of Jordan and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, to name two. And of course there is Israel, this country’s longest standing Middle Eastern ally, but now once again a target of Iran’s military. Iran is a country that needs regime change, from within if possible, but from the outside if necessary.


Dead deal

National Review reports:

President Trump announced Tuesday that he will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, defying European allies and escalating tensions with an Iranian regime that vowed not to return to the negotiating table should the U.S. abandon the Obama-era nonproliferation agreement.

“It is clear to me we cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb, under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement..the Iran deal is defective at its core,” Trump said during his announcement from the White House.

“If the regime continues its nuclear aspirations it will have bigger problems than it has ever had before,” he added.

The announcement marks the beginning of a three to six month day delay period, after which the U.S. will reimpose the harsh economic sanctions that were lifted in 2015 in exchange for the regime’s commitment to cease developing its nuclear program for ten years. Trump has repeatedly maligned the 2015 deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, calling it “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.”

Trump and his newly-minted national security advisor John Bolton believe the agreement does not grant international inspectors enough access to verify Iranian compliance and serves only to provide Iran a temporary respite from crippling economic sanctions until the ten-year deadline is reached, at which point the regime will be free to continue building its nuclear program.

The decision to reimplement all of the sanctions lifted under the agreement, not just the ones that were set to expire in the coming days, represents the most aggressive approach on offer — one that will almost certainly scuttle the deal for its remaining five signatories: France, the United Kingdom, China, Russia and Germany.

The White House released a list of demands following the announcement that will serve as a prerequisite to renegotiation. In addition to requiring that Iran abandon all efforts to develop a nuclear weapon, they must also cease developing inter-continental ballistic missiles, end support for terrorist organizations, and refrain from further escalating the conflict in Yemen, among other requests.

European allies, including French president Emmanuel Macron, German chancellor Angela Merkel, and British foreign secretary Boris Johnson, had traveled to Washington in recent weeks to try and convince Trump to abandon his hostility to the deal, but their visits proved ineffective.

Macron has been particularly pessimistic about the geopolitical implications of U.S. withdrawal from the deal, to which France is also a signatory.

“That would mean opening Pandora’s box, it could mean war,” Macron told Der Spiegel over the weekend. “I don’t believe that Donald Trump wants war.”

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov also predicted a bleak future should the U.S. withdraw, telling reporters Tuesday that such such a move would result in “inevitable harmful consequences.”

All I can conclude from the overwhelmingly negative reaction is that Russia, France and other European countries, and American Democrats are afraid of Iran. But Trump is not.

Matthew Continetti observes:

The deal, announced to such fanfare in July 2015, did not live to see its third birthday. And for that, I am grateful.

Why? Because the president said not only that America will be leaving the accord. He declared that the period of waxing Iranian influence in the Middle East is at an end. The deal financed several years of Iranian expansion through Shiite proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. By reimposing sanctions, President Trump will weaken an already ailing Iranian economy. The Iranian currency, the rial, has plummeted in recent weeks. Inflation is rampant. The financial system is corrupted, dysfunctional. Strikes are proliferating, and often turn into displays against the government. This is a situation the United States should seek not to mitigate but to exacerbate.

Removing ourselves from the deal puts Iran on the defensive. Its people and government are divided and uncertain how to respond. Its leverage is minimal. Iranian citizens have seen their leaders use the money from the deal not to improve the economic lot of the average person but to fund the military, IRGC, and other instruments of foreign adventurism. Implicit in the deal was recognition of the Islamic regime as a legitimate member of the so-called “international community.” President Trump has rescinded that recognition and the standing that came with it. The issue is no longer Iranian compliance with an agreement that contained loopholes through which you could launch a Fateh-110 heavy missile. The issue is whether Iran chooses to become a responsible player or not, whether it curbs its imperial designs, cuts off its militias, abandons terrorism, opens its public square, and ceases its threats to and harassment of the United States and her allies. That choice is not Donald Trump’s to make. It is the Iranian regime’s.

Trump has made his choice. Like he did with the Supreme Court, the Paris Climate Accord, and the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, Trump kept a promise made many times throughout the campaign. In truth, anyone who has listened to Trump over the last several years should not be surprised by his decision. From the beginning, he understood that any deal which gives the weaker party benefits up front in exchange for minimal temporary concessions is not a deal worth taking. And since he does not accept the worldview that inspired the deal, there is no reason for Trump to remain in it.

The worldview Trump opposes privileges therapy and dialogue over realism and hard decisions. It imagines that the Iranian theocracy is a reliable or trustworthy hedge against Sunni power and will liberalize gradually as the arc of justice progresses. These are the ideas that motivated the presidency of Barack Obama. The Iran deal was the signature achievement of Obama’s second term, and it is now gone. In truth, though, Obama’s legacy was disappearing long before Trump made his announcement. Obama’s legacy, like much of his self-presentation, was a mirage, a pleasing and attractive image that, upon closer inspection, loses coherence.

Because he governed so extensively through executive order and administrative fiat, because he was so contemptuous of criticism and had a “my way or the highway” approach to negotiations with Republicans (though not with Iranians), the longevity of Obama’s agenda depended heavily on his party winning a third consecutive term in the White House. As Tom Cotton warned the Iranians years ago, an agreement entered into by a president and not submitted to the Senate as a treaty can be abrogated by the next man who holds the office. Hillary Clinton’s failure doomed the Iran deal and the reputations it had established. It was Barack Obama and John Kerry who allowed Donald Trump to exit the deal by rejecting longstanding procedure. Perhaps it was knowledge of this fact that inspired Kerry in his desperate attempt to preserve the agreement.

Trump has spent much of his time in office reversing Obama policies that were made outside of, or in opposition to, America’s constitutional framework. He has had the hardest time repealing Obamacare, for the very reason that the Affordable Care Act was passed by the Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court. That is a lesson for any president: To have a long-lasting influence on American life, work within the system bequeathed to us by the Founders.

Because Republicans widely shared a negative attitude toward the Iran deal, many people assume that President Trump is doing what any other GOP president would do. But I am not sure. Another Republican president who had come up through the political system, or been enmeshed in the foreign policy establishment, or held elite opinion in esteem may well have given in to pressure to remain in the Paris accord, keep the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, and stay, at least partly, in the JCPOA. Trump’s outsider status and independence give him the freedom not only to flout political correctness but to repudiate the international and domestic consensus in ways his supporters love.

It took a small boy to say the emperor had no clothes. And it took Donald Trump to say that Barack Obama’s foreign policy legacy was a superficial and dangerous mirage.

Iran has been an enemy of this country ever since …

You do not negotiate with enemies. You defeat enemies.