Streetwise Professor

July 19, 2018

Freakouts Cause Flashbacks–to Montenegro, of All Places

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 6:55 pm

The freakout du jour–Trump’s questioning whether it made any sense to have Montenegro in Nato–triggered a flashback (from inauguration day, in fact):

Another example of dysfunction is Montenegro’s impending bid to join Nato. Just what is the rationale for this? There is none: Montenegro brings no military capability, but just adds an additional obligation.

But it’s worse than than. Nato’s biggest weakness is its governance structure, which requires unanimity and consensus in major decisions. This is flagrantly at odds with one of the principles of war–unity of command–and makes Nato decision making cumbersome and driven by the least common denominator. Nato’s governance, in other words, makes it all too easy for an adversary to get inside its decision loop.

Coalitions are always militarily problematic: Napoleon allegedly rejoiced at the news that another nation had joined one of the coalitions against him. Nato’s everybody gets a vote and a trophy philosophy aggravates the inherent problems in military coalitions.

Put differently, decision making power in Nato bears no relationship to contribution and capability. This is a recipe for dysfunction.

So what is the point of adding yet another non-contributor (population 620K!) whose consent is required to undertake anything of importance? This is madness.

It is especially insane when one considers that Montenegro is a Slavic country with longstanding ties to Russia, and in which Russia has a paternalistic interest. Parliamentary elections last year were extremely contentious, with the pro-western incumbents barely hanging on. Post-election, there were allegations of an attempted coup engineered by the Russians. The country is extraordinarily corrupt. All of which means that if you are concerned about Russia undermining Nato, Montenegro is the last country you would want to admit. It is vulnerable to being suborned by Russia. Outside of Nato-who cares what Russia does there? Inside of Nato-that is a serious concern, especially given the nature of Nato governance.

But apparently current Nato members believe that it would be really cool to collect the entire set of European countries: frankly, I can think of no other justification. There is no better illustration of how Nato has lost its way, its strategic purpose, and its ability to think critically.

Now Trump’s particular objection (that Montenegrins are excitable types who might trigger WWIII) was typically Trumpian, in that it was a rather bizarre thought process/formulation that ultimately led to the right conclusion: it makes no sense to include Montenegro in Nato, and doing so can only cause trouble.  Arriving at the correct conclusion based on fractured reasoning–or a fractured articulation of the reasoning–usually occurs only by accident, but it happens enough with Trump that it is unlikely to be totally accidental.  But given that the establishment places undue emphasis on articulateness and verbal polish, the convoluted explanation completely prevents people from taking the conclusion seriously–in part because they are too busy freaking out.

Something that I pointed out in my post goes double–or triple–today.  Simultaneously freaking out about the existential threat posed by Russia and the outrage of objecting to including Montenegro in Nato is utterly illogical to the point of idiocy, and no amount of verbal acuity is going to change that fundamental fact.  That circle cannot be squared.

So here’s what we have on offer: articulate and invariably wildly wrong, or wildly inarticulate and sometimes right, especially on big issues.

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July 17, 2018

In Helsinki, Trump Declares That This Is War to the Knife–Against His Domestic Enemies

Filed under: China,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 6:04 pm

Even by the standards of the last two years, the hysteria that erupted over Trump’s statements in the press conference with Putin in Helsinki were off the charts.  Benedict Arnold! Treason! Traitor! Impeachment! On CNN some supposed ex-Watergate lawyer compared it to Kristillnacht. I suppose if we wait a few hours it will become the latter-day equivalent of Auschwitz.  I’m only surprised that I haven’t seen it compared to the Hitler-Stalin Pact.  Give it time!

The most disgusting comparisons in my mind were to Pearl Harbor and 9/11, suggesting that what Trump did would have been analogous to sitting down with Tojo after Pearl Harbor or Osama after the Twin Towers went down.

Reality check.  Pearl Harbor death toll: 2403. 9/11 death toll: 2996. 11/8/16 death toll: zero.  1,117 American sailors were vaporized, drowned, or incinerated on the USS Arizona alone on 12/7/41.  Anyone comparing Russian hacking to those catastrophes is completing lacking in perspective, not to say mental balance, and is willing to make the most outlandish comparisons out of partisan spite.  Especially inasmuch as spy games have been going on since time immemorial, and between the US and Russia/USSR for decades.  What transpired in 2016 is par for the course. Where’s the outrage been all these years?

And is the US supposed to go to war with a nuclear power over hacking? For that is the implication of the Pearl Harbor and 9/11 analogies.  That is not just lacking in perspective–that is utterly deranged.

And what is the hysteria about, in the end?: mere words.  Nothing of substance transpired at the summit–as could have been expected.  The overwrought fears that Trump would totally capitulate on Syria, or recognize the Russian seizure of Crimea, or sell Ukraine down the river turned out to be imaginary.  There were just anodyne statements about working toward common goals, which will likely result in nothing.

How would things have been different, or be different today, or tomorrow, or next year, had Trump aggressively chastised Putin publicly about the alleged interference in the 2016 election?  No different at all, except that the hysterics would have had to find something to be hysterical about.   And I guarantee you: they would have.

What would Putin have done had Trump called him out?  First, he would have denied.  As he apparently did when Trump brought it up.  Second, he would have responded with a litany of sins that the US has committed against Russia, in which he would no doubt include the 2011 elections in Russia. After all, the man is the master of whataboutism and bald face denials of the obvious.  Why would you expect any different yesterday?

“Did so!”  “Uh-uh.” “Stay out of our politics!” “You did it first!”

That would have been edifying.

Which would leave us where, exactly? Right where we are today.

And if the failure to say sufficiently condemnatory words about Russian interference is treasonous, what is the failure to do anything about it when it was happening, in full knowledge that it was happening?  Which is exactly what the Obama administration did–by its own admission.  Would the hysterics have given Trump a pass if he had imitated Obama and told Putin to “cut it out”?  Yeah.  Right.  This also suggests an utter lack of seriousness.

What I find most deeply disturbing about this is that the Russia/Putin fetish is distracting attention from a real strategic threat.  By every measure–economic, military, geopolitical–China is a more dangerous power than Russia.  Indeed, even if you emphasize cyberattacks as the primary threat, China is likely far more dangerous than Russia, although amnesia about things like massive penetration of the F-35 program or the OPM hack (which compromised the personnel records of every federal employee) seems to be epidemic.  And it is not as if China does not, and has not, attempted to interfere in US elections.  (Johnny Chung, anybody? Maria Hsia? Buddhist Temples?)

Chairman Xi must be beside himself in glee that the US is tearing itself apart over Russia, a declining power, to the neglect of China, a rising one.

Perhaps Trump could have spared himself some of the attacks had he been more critical–though I am doubtful that he could have done anything short of killing Putin that would have placated the critics.  But no doubt Trump knew that.  No doubt he knew that having a summit at all would put him in a vulnerable situation.  Certainly he was aware that the indictment of the 12 Russian GRU personnel was a trap set by elements in his own Justice Department.

Yet Trump had the summit, and indeed pushed to have it, and said what he did at the press conference, knowing the likely fallout.  Why?

Of course the anti-Trump theory is that he is in Putin’s thrall, either because of genuine admiration or blackmail.  But this does not comport with much of his actual behavior in office, which includes killing hundreds of Russians in Syria, opening declaring an energy war, browbeating Nato to spend more on defense directed at Russia specifically, blasting the Germans about NordStream II, and on and on.  Further, what is the likelihood that there is some deep dark secret that only a few Russians know?

I think the more likely explanation is that Trump deliberately provoked his frenzy in full knowledge of the consequences, to prove that he will not back down, and that he will not validate his critics by acquiescing to their demands.  It was a typically Trumpian in-your-face-what-are-you-gonna-do-about-it moment.

The only other person I have seen with a similar take is James S. Robbins:

The easiest thing to do politically would be to avoid Russia. The president did not have to attend this summit meeting, especially with the midterm elections months away and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s expected report looming. He could have simply avoided both the issue and the optics.

But Donald Trump did not become president by doing the easy or expected thing. His political M.O. is to disrupt the opposition by owning the downside. A summit with Vladimir Putin is the perfect Trumpian way to say to his frantic critics that he couldn’t care less what they think. And it may force some of the more thoughtful ones to begin to consider the possibility that President Trump is right, and the entire Russian collusion narrative has been a lie.

I seriously doubt the last sentence.  Or at least, I doubt that there are any critics who are both frantic and thoughtful (and the former greatly outnumber the latter).  But it is pretty clear that Trump has signaled that this is war to the knife–against his domestic political enemies–and he is not capitulating.


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July 10, 2018

To Those Hysterical Over Trump’s Jacksonian Resurgence: Internationalist, Heal Thyself

Filed under: Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 5:42 pm

As Trump wings his way east, first to a Nato summit, and then to a meeting with Putin in Helsinki, the commentariat and political class in the United States and Europe are on the brink of–another?–psychotic event.  The meeting with Putin in particular has triggered panic.

One recurrent theme is that Putin and Trump have similar views on the “rules based, institutions based, international order.”  Therefore, they are effectively allies and jointly a threat to the peace and stability of the world.  The title of one piece in Bloomberg summarizes the angst: Putin is Trump’s brother from another Motherland.

As a factual matter, it is true that both Putin and Trump challenge the existing post-Cold War consensus.  But since they reach that destination by very, very different routes, the similarities are far more superficial than the differences.  Furthermore, the consequences of this apparent convergence are likely to be far less dire for the United States than the angst-ridden claim.

It is only natural that Putin challenges the existing order.  After all, he presides over the main successor state to the Soviet Union, and much of the existing order was designed explicitly to contain and neuter the USSR.  Furthermore, the collapse of the USSR left Russia marginalized,  at best, which does not comport with Russia’s deeply held views that it is a great power–a view that Putin holds, clearly.  Russia also has a truly Westphalian mindset, which holds that the internal affairs of any nation are its business alone, and not subject to the meddling of others–or the “international community” at large.  Indeed, the one multilateral organization that Russia supports–the United Nations–receives its approbation precisely due to the fact that it can be used to derail international efforts to interfere in the internal affairs of states–including pariah states.  Putin’s revisionism is therefore readily understood.

Trump’s is more complicated, and reflects a longstanding divide in the United States.  Much of the criticism of Trump from the American establishment–including the part of the establishment that considers itself conservative, and indeed the sole legitimate voice of conservativism–is therefore a manifestation of longstanding divisions in American politics, which (a) caused his election, and (b) is why it is becoming less hyperbolic to talk of a new American civil war.

The best template to explain and understand this is Walter Russell Mead’s division of American foreign policy thought into Hamiltonian, Wilsonian, Jeffersonian and Jacksonian schools.  The establishment is decidedly Hamiltonian and Wilsonian.  As Mead–and I–noted from the onset of Trump’s emergence–he is the avatar of the long marginalized, and indeed scorned, Jacksonian America.  The establishment thought that this component of the American polity had long since been condemned to obscurity, and views its resurgence with the fright of a horror movie character seeing The Mummy or Jason Voorhees come back from the dead.

Jacksonians challenge virtually every aspect of the Hamiltonian-Wilsonian consensus.  The foreign policy establishment–whether Neocon or liberal internationalist–believes that America has some grand mission abroad, to bring democracy, peace, equality, freedom, or economic progress, or some combination thereof, to the rest of the world.  Jacksonians (and Jeffersonians) do not believe in such missionary work, and indeed are quite skeptical of it.  In the words of John Quincy Adams (ironically Jackson’s political foe and bête noire) “she [the US] goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” Jacksonians are deeply patriotic, and believe that theirs is the greatest nation in the world, but that it should lead by example and not attempt to impose by force or more subtle forms of coercion or blandishments its views, beliefs, or mores on others.

This leads them to be deeply skeptical of international engagements, let alone conflicts, when US interests are not directly threatened.  And unlike internationalists, they define American interests narrowly.

On this score, recent history is strongly supportive of Jacksonian skepticism.  As in so many aspects of life, the past quarter century–or perhaps to date it more precisely, since the fall of the USSR in 1991–has demonstrated the incompetence of the architects of internationalist policies, the infeasibility of these policies, or both.  This period has been marked by a litany of bloody, expensive failures, of which Iraq and Libya are the most conspicuous (but not only) examples.  Interestingly, these failures were the responsibility of different parties, different administrations, and different mindsets (Neocons on the one hand, “responsibility to protect” on the other), and differing degrees of international buy-in, but these different parts of the establishment shared a belief that the exercise of American power could make the world a better place by destroying monsters abroad.  The experiences strongly suggest that these beliefs were utterly mistaken.

(A confession: I supported the war in Iraq.  In retrospect, it was the worst misjudgment of my life. One of the main challenges of writing this post is to not overlearn from that mistake.)

Putin was adamantly opposed to US/European action in Libya, but he was prime minister at the time and Medvedev acquiesced to American and European pressure.  Give the devil his due: regardless of his motivations, Putin’s (and Lavrov’s) diagnosis of the consequences of that intervention were far more accurate than, say, Hillary’s, or pretty much any member of the US or European foreign policy “elite.”

Given this woeful record, what person in his right mind would NOT be skeptical of a deeper intervention in Syria, say, with the objective of regime change?  Syria makes Game of Thrones look simple by comparison.  Yet few things attract the foreign policy establishment’s ire like Trump’s oft-expressed desire to withdraw from Syria, or at least sharply limit American involvement there to destroying ISIS.

And given this woeful record, deep skepticism about the competence of the establishment, and the desirability of messianic interventions even if guided by a competent establishment, is well-justified.

Which leads me to reiterate a theme that I have written about for going on three years now: if the established elite hates Trump, and the Jacksonian resurgence that he personifies, they have no one–no one–to blame but themselves.  No one has brought more discredit to the beliefs of the establishment than that self-same establishment.  Internationalist, heal thyself.

Jacksonians also prize sovereignty and independence, and bridle at attempts to subordinate the US to international bodies, or tie it down in alliances with nations whose interests are less than fully aligned with America’s–especially when the US pays a disproportionate share of the expense.  And especially when the alleged allies repay the effort and expense with endless ankle biting and carping criticism.

Here is where Trump’s criticism of Nato resonates.  That Nato nations free ride on US defense expenditure is beyond dispute.  Trump calls the Europeans out on this, and they squeal like stuck hogs–and the US foreign policy establishment squeals right along with them.

More implicit in Trump’s criticism is a question about the purpose of Nato in 2018.  It had a purpose in 1949.  It had a purpose in 1990.  What is its purpose now?  Trump is effectively daring it to find one.

The UN and many other international bodies are often opposed to the US, and even the alliances (especially with Europe) seem to consist of Lilliputians intent on tying down the American Gulliver.  This also rankles independent and sovereignty-minded Jacksonians.  Global progressives think that the US is a malign force that needs to be suppressed and controlled by international bodies.  That also grates intensely on patriotic Jacksonians.

Jacksonians—and many Hamiltonians—are also justifiably critical of an omnipresent nanny state that regulates every aspect of human existence.  This is why his criticism of the EU is justified, and why many Americans nod in agreement.  And why many Europeans also agree, even though intense social pressure forces them to mute their criticism.  Jacksonians also value democracy, and hence are not enamored with the profoundly anti-democratic EU (whose motto appears to be: “you will vote until you get it right”).  So European outrage at criticism of the EU is music to my ears.

The Trump—Jacksonian—critique of the foreign policy establishment in the US and abroad therefore has much merit.  And again, the very reason that Trump is in a position to challenge the elite consensus is that the elite has failed time and again to deliver on its promises.  It is a legend in its own mind.  In reality, not so much.

The Hamiltonian side of me is most disturbed by Trump’s stance on trade.  But even here one can see his point.  It is farcical to characterize the current world system as one of free trade.  Real free trade would not involve byzantine agreements that only a mandarinate can interpret.  China is profoundly protectionist.

I think that Trump is a mercantilist, and that represents a deep intellectual error.  But many of his critiques of China in particular, and to a lesser degree the Europeans, have some basis in fact.  Whether trade wars are the best way to redress what Trump criticizes is anther matter.

Given all this, I discount the shrieks of the establishment—heavily.  One can object to some of Trump’s specific criticisms.  You can criticize his methods.  But if he is a barbarian at the gates, the city that fears he is about to sack it is vulnerable because of its own profound internal failings.

Which brings me back to Putin.  One of the standard attacks against Trump is that by sharing a distrust of the current international system with Putin, Trump is strengthening Putin and weakening the United States.

I am of course no Putin booster (as 12 years of posts amply demonstrate), and think it is desirable to contain Russian influence.  But to believe that Trump’s challenge to the prevailing consensus empowers Putin and disempowers the United States is to engage in the same kind of zero sum thinking that I have criticized Putin for in the past.

Indeed, Putin should be careful what he asks for.  A replacement of the multilateralist international system with a more independent, unilateralist—and Jacksonian–United States will not necessarily redound to Putin’s benefit, and may be his worst nightmare.  The increase in American defense spending, and the aggressive promotion of US energy, are antithetical to Putin’s interests.

At best, the reorientation of US policy may give Putin more freedom of action in places like Syria—to which I say, good luck with that, and welcome to it.  It may also empower Russia to some degree in the near abroad, but even there Russia’s fundamental—and increasing—weaknesses (economic, demographic) will limit the damage it can do.

But fundamentally the US shares few interests with Russia, and has many opposing interests.  America unbound, more unilaterally assertive where it views its true interests to lie, and not distracted or enervated by efforts in peripheral areas, is more threatening to Russian interests in the long run than a Clinton administration would have been.

Further, Trump’s more benign view of Russia may reflect an assessment that Russia is not truly a great power, given its economic, demographic, institutional, and social limitations.  In terms of capability, and arguably intentions, China represents a more pressing challenge to the US, and focusing on Russia represents a foolish diversion of resources and division of efforts.  That is, Trump may be less cultivating Putin than patronizing him.

In sum, the post-Cold War world order has been vastly oversold.  The encomiums heaped upon it reflect intentions—and self-congratulation–far more than results.  Putin challenges it for his reasons.  Trump challenges it for very different reasons.  Arguably both are acting in their national interests.  A meeting between these two challengers to the existing order could not have occurred unless that order had failed, fundamentally.  The hysteria surrounding it is a testament to the failure of the hysterics, not the success of what they are defending.



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July 8, 2018

The CFTC Intervenes to Prevent Moral Hazard in the CDS Market–But Why the CFTC?

Filed under: Derivatives,Economics,Politics,Regulation — cpirrong @ 8:36 pm

The WSJ reports that the CFTC engaged in extraordinary efforts to prevent manipulation of the CDS market by Blackstone Group.  Blackstone had bought about $333 million in protection on homebuilder Hovnanian, and then extended a low-interest loan to the company to induce it to make a technical default on debt the company itself owned (having bought it back).  The CFTC caught wind of this, and put on the full court press and eventually, uhm, persuaded (by intimating that it considered such behavior manipulative) Blackstone to negotiate an exit from the CDS with its counterparties.

In the Allen-Gale taxonomy, this would be best characterized as an “action-based” manipulation, as opposed to trading-based, or information-based.  It is clearly not a market power manipulation.

The conduct at issue is clearly a form of rent seeking–a set of transactions engineered for the purpose of obtaining a wealth transfer.  Unlike a market power manipulation, the direct welfare costs of this activity were probably small, and limited to the costs of negotiating with Hovnanian, and executing the CDS transactions.  However, as in most manipulations, the big costs here were indirect.  Blackstone’s scheme undermines the CDS market as a risk transfer mechanism.  In effect, Blackstone’s stratagem was a form of moral hazard, in that the insured could affect the probability of loss.  Moral hazard raises the cost of insurance, and leads to suboptimal risk transfer.  (Yes, I know that CDS market participants shudder at the use of the word “insurance” to describe CDS, in part because they want to avoid insurance regulation.  I am not using the word in its legal sense, but in an informal way to describe a risk transfer mechanism.)

CDS are particularly prone to moral hazard because individuals (notably, the managers of corporations) can do things to trigger defaults, and CDS can provide them directly or indirectly with an economic incentive to do so.  Further, CDS contracts are incomplete (i.e., not all possible contingencies can be specified) and often as a result contain ambiguities that clever rent seekers can exploit to win a payoff.

The CFTC’s actions are therefore laudable.  What’s particularly curious about this, however, is precisely the fact that it was the CFTC that intervened here.  Under Title VII of Frankendodd, the SEC has jurisdiction “over ‘security-based swaps,’ which are defined as swaps based on a single security or loan or a narrow-based group or index of securities (including any interest therein or the value thereof), or events relating to a single issuer or issuers of securities in a narrow-based security index”–the CFTC has jurisdiction over everything else.

The Hovnanian CDS are clearly in the SEC’s ambit, and not in the CFTC’s.  But in the case of the Hovnanian CDS, the SEC has been conspicuously absent. IIt is not mentioned at all in the WSJ piece.)  Curious, that.  Even more curious given the jealousy with which the SEC (like most government agencies) defends its turf against perceived incursions–especially the CFTC.   Why did the SEC let the CFTC take the lead on this, without a peep of protest?  And why did the CFTC apparently overstep its authority?

Things could have become interesting had Blackstone persisted with its scheme, and the CFTC filed an action against it.  In the event, an obvious legal response by Blackstone would have been to claim that the CFTC had no legal authority to take enforcement action.

Given this legal issue, the CFTC’s intervention may have less of a deterrent effect on future manipulations than an SEC intervention would have.

The SEC does not have the reputation of being a shrinking violet by any means, but it has been noticeably shy in some high profile events, the Hovnanian CDS story being one, and Tesla being another.  Makes me wonder . . .

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July 7, 2018

No, Putin is Not a Genghis Wannabe Pinin’ for the Hordes. это Россия.

Filed under: Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 9:42 pm

The WSJ embarrasses itself with this silly Yarosov Trofimov “think piece”  titled “Russia’s Turn to Its Asian Past.”  I say “think piece” in quotes because that’s what it pretends to be, but there really isn’t a lot of thought in it.  It is a farrago of random quotes and facts about Russian history that actually betrays little actual knowledge of Russian history.

Trofimov’s basic thesis is that spurned by the West, Russia is increasingly looking east, and moreover, “some Russians” (how many, out of a population of ~140 million he doesn’t say) look favorably on the Golden Horde.  Indeed, the piece is illustrated with a drawing of Putin as Genghis Khan–and even though Trofimov didn’t choose the illustration, he did speak approvingly of it on Twitter.

Trofimov’s “evidence”?  Well, Putin laments Russia’s lost empire, for one thing.  This is hardly a new phenomenon: Gaidar wrote a book about a decade ago titled “Collapse of Empire” which starts out discussing the lost empire syndrome and how it has haunted Russian consciousness since 1991, and which argues that Russia won’t progress until it gets over that loss.  Gaidar noted that this was accompanied by widespread resentment of the West, and ambivalence–or worse–about where Russia fit in.

For another, “Now Russia is increasingly looking East, toward an uneasy alliance with an illiberal and much more powerful China, and—in recognition of the country’s increasingly Muslim makeup—with nations such as Turkey and Iran.”  This is just great power politics.  In what represents continuity, rather than change, a leadership that believes in multipolarity, rejects globalism, has a decidedly Westphalian worldview, and views the US as its primary rival is looking for like-minded allies, who happen not to be in the West.  Go figure.  This doesn’t make Putin a Genghis wannabe pinin’ for the Hordes.

Trofimov assembles quotes from assorted people who claim Russia is rejecting the West due to various slights, real and perceived.  Again, in a nation of 140+ million people, you can find people–even well-known ones–who can express all sorts of views.  Moreover, again, it’s a long way from saying that Russians generally think that they’ve been making a huge mistake for the past, oh, several centuries blaming Russia’s relative backwardness on the “Mongol (or Tatar) Yoke.”

Trofimov’s lack of seriousness is best illustrated by his treating seriously one person in particular–Aleksandr Dugin, whom Trofimov describes as “the leading voice of this Eurasianist movement in Russia today.”  OK: I dare you to name the second leading voice.  One would probably be very hard-pressed to do so, which indicates just how marginal this movement is.

Dugin is a fringe figure to whom Putin paid some attention years ago, but his fifteen minutes of fame is long over.  He is now basically an outcast, having been fired from Moscow State University in 2014 for saying “kill them all” when asked what should be done with Ukrainians.  Giving Dugin any credence would be akin to emphasizing the importance to American contemporary thought of some Neoconfederate who once was a professor until he was driven from the academy for his lunatic ravings.

And oh, it’s not like Eurasianism is a new thing.  The current strain is sometimes referred to as “Neo-Eurasianism”, to distinguish it from the earlier version that flourished for a time in the emigre community after the Revolution (of which Nikolai Trubetzkoy was probably the most well-known advocate).  There are differences, of course, but the key commonality is that Eurasianism old and new emphasize Russia’s apartness from the West, and attribute it largely to its unique geographic position.

Having seen Dugin portrayed as some Svengali-like figure to Putin by those who view the Russian president as a bogey man, I have learned that anyone who gives him any importance whatsoever is unlikely to have anything insightful, or even interesting, to say.

The most amusing piece of “evidence” Trofimov presents is “a small theme park reconstruction of Sarai Batu”, “the Horde’s razed 15th century capital.” Whatever!

The most annoying thing about Trofimov’s article is its utter lack of historical perspective.  He acts as if Russian ambivalence and hostility towards the West is a new thing.  As if Russian questioning of its relationship to the West is something that has developed in the second half of the Putin era.  As if it is a novelty for some parts of the Russian intelligentsia and political class to reject the West and insist that Russia carve out a distinct place in the world and develop its distinct–and superior–society.

Hardly.  It is in fact a very old thing, and represents a major theme in Russian history.  Trofimov says that what is happening now is “an attempt to undo the westernizing approach that has dominated the Russian state going back all the way to Czar Peter the Great, three centuries ago.”  In fact, there have been such attempts ever since, well, the time of Peter the Great (e.g., the Old Believers who rejected Peter’s changes to bring the Russian Orthodox Church’s rituals in line with those of the Greek).  The subsequent centuries have seen see-sawing debates between Slavophiles and Westernizers.  Virtually everything that Trofimov cites as indicating some great new reversal of Russia’s progressive arc to the West in fact has echoes in the writings of the Slavophiles in the mid-19th century, and in those of their successors over the years.  They have never gone away.

Indeed, a Russian much admired in the West for his stand against the Soviet Union, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, was essentially a Slavophile who was hardly a lover of the West.  Ironically, one of the criticisms leveled against Solzhenitsyn when he returned from exile in 1994 is that he had nothing new to say about Russia, but was merely recycling old Slavophile thinking:

WHEN Alexander Solzhenitsyn set foot on Moscow soil July 21 after 20 years of forced exile, the influential Russian literary journal, Novy Mir, was already preparing to publish his programmatic tract, “The Russian Question at the End of the 20th Century.”

The lengthy article, which examines Russian history since the 17th century and sums up the writer’s historio-philosophical views, is “as significant as his celebrated 1990 essay ‘How to Rebuild Russia,’ ” Novy Mir editor Sergei Zalygin excitedly told the Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

But what new ideas does Mr. Solzhenitsyn truly bring to his Russian brethren? Surprisingly few. In fact, the man acclaimed as Russia’s greatest living writer presents almost nothing that hasn’t been heard before, either from him or the host of Russian nationalist Slavophiles dating back to the 19th century. Indeed, the 40-page essay is permeated with familiar principles such as “healthy isolationism,” antidemocratism, nationalism, and xenophobia.

Thus, to the extent that there are anti-Western intellectual currents in Russia, and that some in Russia (particularly among the intelligentsia) are advocating Russia turn its back on the West, this represents historical continuity, rather than discontinuity.

And it is particularly important to emphasize that this is now, and has always been, much more of a parlor game for intellectuals than something that has affected Russian government, policy, or statecraft.  Indeed, if anything–now and in the past–the direction of causation has been from international setbacks to intellectual ferment, than it has been from intellectuals’ ideas to Russian policy, whether under tsars, commissars, or presidents.

Trofimov actually acknowledges this, but then throws it aside:

It’s not clear to what extent the Kremlin believes its own propaganda. While resentment over Russia’s diminished stature is a key motivator of Mr. Putin’s behavior, so far Russia’s decision-making has been driven largely by opportunism rather than by a grandiose civilizational shift. “I don’t think Putin is thinking in terms of historical mythologies,” said Mr. Kortunov of the Russian International Affairs Council. “I don’t think he needs an ideological grounding for his policies.”

Actually, it’s quite clear: it doesn’t believe it at all.

In sum, all this chin pulling over “who lost Russia?” or “is Putin a new Stalin/Genghis?” is vapid.  It is an offshoot of the End of History fantasies that accompanied the end of the Cold War, and which posited that the entire world would converge to the liberal Western model, particularly that epitomized by the US.  The competing Clash of Civilizations view made much more sense at the time and has certainly stood the test of events much better.  No one lost Russia because Russia was never the West’s to lose.  It has always been a self-consciously distinct civilization that has constantly struggled to define its relationship to the West.  The current intellectual debates within Russia, and the nature of Russian policy towards the West and the rest of the world, are continuations, not departures.  History rhyming, as it were.

The current obsession with Putin in the West obscures that fundamental fact.  Putin could get killed by a falling house tomorrow and very little would change.  It wouldn’t be like the death of the Wicked Witch of the East leading to the liberation of the Munchkins. Russia would be Russia.  The changes in Russian policy and mindset would be superficial, at best.  Russia would continue its centuries-long attractive-repulsive relationship with the West.  Russia would continue to have strong authoritarian tendencies and an abiding suspicion of its neighbors.

Unfortunately, the Trofimov piece, like so many others, completely lacks this historical context, and leaves one with the impression that what is happening now in Russia is something extraordinary.  It’s not: it’s very ordinary, in the Russian scheme of things.  But by giving the opposite impression, articles like this create false perceptions about current events, and false expectations about how things may change in the future, or how American or European policies could materially impact how things evolve.

There’s an old expression: это Россия.  That’s Russia.  Often said with a shrug, indicating resignation about things that have always been so, and are unlikely to change.  Yaroslav Trofimov hasn’t identified something new.  He’s basically described something quite old: это Россия.  Would more people understand that was the case.

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July 3, 2018

When It Comes to Its Pathetic Military, Economic Powerhouse Germany Can’t Even Manufacture Decent Excuses

Filed under: Economics,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 8:15 pm

Trump sent a letter admonishing European nations that have failed to meet their solemn promise to spend 2 pct of GDP on defense.  In reply, Merkel dispatched her Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, to deliver a whinge that would embarrass a teenager explaining to mom why he hasn’t cleaned his room.  For the last 10 years.

Shall we begin the beating? Let’s!

Nato, she said, was not just about “cash” — but also about “capabilities” and “contributions”.

Just what “contributions,” exactly? Tiresome, supercilious lectures, with a heavy emphasis on Germany’s moral superiority?  Nothing that actually goes boom or risks killing anyone downrange, apparently.

And what capabilities? By Germany’s own accounting, its lack of readiness is “dramatic”:

What’s wrong with the Bundeswehr?

  • Bartels pointed to “big gaps” in personnel and equipment. At the end of 2017, no submarines and none of the air force’s 14 large transport planes were available for deployment due to repairs.
  • Other equipment, including fighter jets, tanks and ships, was outdated and in some cases not fully operational because of bad planning or a lack of spare parts. Some air force pilots were unable to train because too many aircraft were being repaired.
  • Soldiers have experienced increasing levels of stress and there was a lack adequate leadership due to some 21,000 vacant officer posts.
  • The report said the government needed to pursue reforms “with greater urgency” and increase defense spending.
  • A lack of funding and inefficient management structures and planning were behind the problems. Germany has cut defense spending since the end of the Cold War. In 2017, it spent about 1.2 percent of its economic production in 2017 on the armed forces, which is below the 2 percent target recommended by the NATO alliance.

Other than that, they’re a powerhouse!

Tanks? Did you ask about tanks? Planes?

The Bundeswehr is due to take over leadership of NATO’s multinational Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) at the start of next year, but doesn’t have enough tanks, the Defense Ministry document said.

Specifically, the Bundeswehr’s ninth tank brigade in Münster only has nine operational Leopard 2 tanks — even though it promised to have 44 ready for the VJTF — and only three of the promised 14 Marder armored infantry vehicles. [An American tank company has 14 M1s, by the way.  A company.]

The paper also revealed the reason for this shortfall: a lack of spare parts and the high cost and time needed to maintain the vehicles. It added that it was also lacking night-vision equipment, automatic grenade launchers, winter clothing and body armor. [It would probably be more efficient to list what they aren’t lacking.]

The German air force is also struggling to cover its NATO duties, the document revealed. The Luftwaffe’s main forces, the Eurofighter and Tornado fighter jets and its CH-53 transport helicopters, are only available for use an average of four months a year — the rest of the time the aircraft are grounded for repairs and rearmament.

And I guarantee you, these problems are NOT because of intense use and deployment.  It is neglect and stinginess–pure and simple.

German leadership is apparently deaf.  So deaf that they can’t even hear Trump:

Bundeswehr Chief of Staff reacts: Volker Wieker defended the military, saying “no complaints have come to my ear either in Germany or from our allies.” He did however admit that combat-readiness needed to be improved.

Back to Frau van der Leyen:

“You can easily spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence without actually offering anything to Nato,” she said in Berlin on Tuesday evening. “The question for Nato is not just how much you spend nationally on defence, but how much does the country provide in terms of contributions that Nato needs.”

Maybe so, if this example of pointless military expenditure is representative of the best Germany can do.  But if you don’t spend squat you clearly won’t offer anything to Nato.  And squat is pretty much what your contributions are to Nato needs.  Training with broomsticks and shouting “bang! bang!” is not what Nato needs.

So let’s see whether you can spend money on defense and buy some capabilities with it, shall we?  Let’s put that vaunted German efficiency to work!

Germany, Ms von der Leyen stressed, was the second-largest supplier of troops to Nato behind the US, as well as the second-largest supplier of troops in Afghanistan.

Germany also has the second-largest population and economy in Nato, and on a per capita basis and a GDP basis, so it should supply the second-largest number. Even so, it definitely does not pull its weight.  It is a free-rider by every measure whose contribution does not match its population or economic heft.

Insofar as Afghanistan is concerned, Germany has suffered fewer KIA there than not just the US, but the UK, Canada, and France.  On a per capita basis, it has suffered far fewer than Australia, Italy, Poland, Denmark (which has suffered only 14 fewer KIA, despite its vastly smaller population–and the disdain with which Germans treat them), Spain, the Netherlands, Georgia, Latvia, Estonia, New Zealand, Norway, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.

None of which, I might add, hosted anything like the Hamburg Cell of Al Qaeda for years.

Given that record, any decent, self-respecting government official (perhaps an oxymoron!) would pass over Afghanistan in silence.

The minister also pointed to the prominent role of the German Bundeswehr in Nato’s push to bolster the security of member states in eastern Europe.

Prominent? Like how, precisely?  The VJTF is the primary Nato contribution to the security of eastern Europe, and we’ve already seen just how pathetic Germany’s contribution to that is.

“To be clear: we stand by the 2 per cent goal that we set ourselves in Wales. We are on the way to meeting it. And we are ready, and have shown that we are ready, to take on substantial responsibilities inside the alliance,” the minister said.

“We are on our way to meeting it.” On your way? When will you get there? In time to celebrate Putin’s 90th birthday?

I can guarantee you that this pathetic response will not mollify Trump.  To the contrary–it will only make him more pissed off.  Meaning that the next Nato summit will be loads of fun!

In other news, Germany says that sanctions will not affect Nord Stream 2:

Germany has been assured by the United States that any sanctions imposed on Russia will not affect the building of a gas pipeline to bring Russian gas to Europe, a spokeswoman for the German economy ministry said on Friday.

The spokeswoman said that guidelines provided by the United States suggested that construction of Nord Stream 2 would be unaffected.

I dunno, Fritz.  Sounds like a dare to Trump, and if he takes you up on it, it will be to screw you, not the Russians.  And continuing to make pathetic excuses for reneging on Nato commitments just might spur him to do so.

Finally, Merkel, who has become the epitome of the careerist politician who clings to power at all cost, jettisoned her supposedly principled moral stand on refugees and agreed to set up camps at the German border to detain them for processing.  Her Bavarian gadfly, Horst Seehofer, was apparently mollified by this concession.

The Social Democrats in the coalition have yet to sign off.  I would not be surprised if Merkel uses their opposition to renege on her commitment to Seehofer–it is probably as firm as her commitment to boost defense spending.

I will not be surprised at anything Merkel will do to hang on to power.  No doubt she will suffer pretty much indignity to do so. Because that is pretty much her overriding concern, to which everything else is subordinate. Meaning that I sincerely hope that Trump continues to bust her chops about Nato, and pretty much anything else, for that matter.

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June 18, 2018

Putin’s Very Useful Idiots

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 2:28 pm

This article is of interest primarily because it represents an inversion of, a retreat from, and a repudiation of, the collusion narrative:

[Former CIA Moscow station Chief Dan Hoffman] points to the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting, which he says was a deliberately discoverable Russian operation.

“I think what Vladimir Putin was thinking is the best way to soil our Democratic processes, link the Trump campaign in some conspiratorial way, because it’s Russia, back to the Kremlin.”

Two years on from that meeting, President Donald Trump and his team are still being investigated over allegations of Russian collusion.

. . . .

Mr Hoffman says the Trump Tower meeting has the Russian President’s fingerprints all over it.

“It wasn’t meant to be a clandestine operation, that’s the last place he would ever do that. There’s too much security, too much press, too many people there,” he said.

“What I think Vladimir Putin was doing, was deliberately leaving a trail of breadcrumbs from Trump Tower to the Kremlin.

“I see the full spectrum of Russian intelligence operations and frankly, if the media can find something that Russia did, like the meeting at Trump Tower, then it was meant to be found.”

. . . .

Mr Hoffman believes Mr Putin’s intention was to spark a media frenzy.

“[It was] kind of like a poison pill. Eventually the media will expose them,” he said. [Emphasis added.]

In other words, the politicians and journalists (and special prosecutors?) who have freaked out about the Trump Tower meeting are the ones who fell for Putin’s machinations. It is the politicians and journalists (and special prosecutors?) who have been Putin’s instrument in destabilizing American democracy.  It is they who have been Putin’s pawns, not Trump.  In their unreasoning hatred of Trump, they fell right into a trap that Putin laid.

This was my first reaction to the Trump Tower meeting “bombshell” back in 2017.  It’s not that complicated to figure this out–there would have been no reason for the meeting if Trump had been colluding with Putin all along.  It is the allegations of collusion that have advanced Putin’s interest, not collusion itself–and setting up a meeting like that in June, 2016 was an obvious way of stoking those allegations.  But to see someone from the CIA endorse this rather obvious logic is quite interesting.  It signals that the collusion story is effectively dead, and never should have drawn a breath in the first place.

Von Mises (not Lenin) wrote that communists called western liberals who were “confused and misguided sympathizers” for the USSR “useful idiots.”  (This phrase is typically attributed to Lenin.) Today’s western media and establishment politicians are fully deserving of the epithet.  But they do the 1920s and 1930s-era unwitting dupes for Lenin and Stalin one better: rather than being sympathizers (confused or otherwise) they advance the objectives of someone they claim to despise in every way, and in so doing they damage the very thing they claim they are protecting. Given this, “useful idiot” seems rather generous, doesn’t it?

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Never Interrupt Your Enemy When He Is Making a Mistake–Immigration Edition

Filed under: Politics — The Professor @ 1:56 pm

In his biography of Joseph Chamberlain, British politician Enoch Powell (who would eventually illustrate his aphorism) said: “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of all human affairs”.  The next political life to end in failure may be that of Angela Merkel, who is facing a revolt from her CDU’s long time coalition partner the CSU.  CSU leader and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, an adamant foe of Merkel’s immigration policy, had proposed a policy which included denying entry into Germany of individuals who had already registered for asylum in other countries–as they are obliged to do under EU law.  Merkel threatened to veto Seehofer’s initiative, and he said he would proceed regardless, forcing Merkel to fold, or to sack him, which would no doubt bring down her government.  Merkel begged for time to negotiate with Greece and Italy and other “front line” states.  Seehofer gave her two weeks.   Since the other countries don’t seem to be in much of a negotiating mood, there is a very good chance that in 14 days matters will come to a head and Merkel could well be forced to exit.

Insofar as negotiating is concerned, I am in Italy now, and if you are following the news you will know that new the Italian government is taking a hard line on immigration.  It has already turned away one ship of refugees, and has told NGOs that it will turn away two more already at sea.  The Italians are fed up with immigration, and German diktats on the subject (and on other matters too), and certainly cannot be seen to knuckle under to Merkel in their first weeks in office.

For her part, Merkel is doing her best to prove Churchill right about Germans being either at your throat, or at your feet:

The German chancellor turned to neighbors, including Austria, Greece, Italy and Bulgaria, for help as a fierce dispute over immigration threatens to topple her three-party coalition.

Immigration may be the proximate cause of Merkel’s demise, but ultimately it is a matter of hubris that comes with long tenure in office.  Such hubris is one of the main causes of the near inevitable failure that Powell wrote about.  It leads to riding roughshod over even–and perhaps especially–political allies who dare question, and those trampled underfoot nurse their grievances and look for their opportunity to exact revenge.  Hubris also tends to make politicians so convinced of their own rectitude and brilliance that they become deaf and blind to the legitimate criticisms of others.  These things have brought down far more consequential and admirable figures than Merkel: Margaret Thatcher comes to mind.

Ironically, it was a stand on immigration–the exact opposite of Merkel’s, in fact–that brought Powell’s career to an end (with his incendiary “Rivers of Blood” speech).  In Europe and the US, it is now the most divisive issue on the political agenda, pitting the establishment elites against the hoi polloi.  In his inimitable fashion, Trump took the opportunity presented by Merkel’s distress to put the boot in, tweeting “The people of Germany are turning against their leadership as migration is rocking the already tenuous Berlin coalition. Crime in Germany is way up. Big mistake made all over Europe in allowing millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture!”

Translation: So, you want to f*** with me at the G-7 Angela? You ran for another term as chancellor to thwart me? Let’s see how that works out for you, shall we?  Who’s going to outlast whom? Want to bet on it?

There is an old Latin expression (attributed to Caesar by Plutarch): “De gustibus non est disputandum.” Tastes (or preferences) are not disputable, and everyone has the right to their own.  In democratic polities, this would imply that the hoi polloi has the right to its preferences on matters like immigration, and those should be respected–especially if those advocating such views prevail at the polls.  But today’s establishment will have none of that.  The preferences of large numbers of Americans and Europeans (and arguably a comfortable majority thereof) are subjected to intense dispute, hostility, scorn, and abuse by the establishment.

This is amply illustrated by today’s freak out by the better thans regarding the separation of children of from adults (who may or may not be their parents) caught entering the country illegally.  Put aside the fact that this is not a new policy dreamed up by Trump in a tweetstorm–the Obama administration did it as well (not as if that would make it right, if it isn’t, but to illustrate the hypocrisy of those shrieking about the issue today).  Put aside the fact that holding children with adults makes them much more vulnerable to abuse.  Put aside the fact that families who apply for asylum at an authorized port of entry are not separated–only those who request asylum as a fallback strategy after being caught trying to enter the country illegally.  Let’s just consider the politics.

Progressives on both sides of the Atlantic seem to think that heaping abuse–including routinely accusing those who implement or support the policy of being Nazis (with ex-NSA director Michael Hayden being among those disgracing themselves with such accusations)–will somehow advance their political cause.  Their stupidity and utter imperviousness to evidence and experience  is really quite astounding.  It is exactly this sort of behavior that got them Brexit, and Trump, and the AfD in Germany, and a populist victory in Italy, and populist governments in eastern Europe.  Yet they seemingly think that insulting people even more viciously and even more loudly will work THIS time.

In fact, it is playing right into their enemies’ hands–Trump’s in particular.  Want to galvanize a Trump turnout in the midterms?  Shriek about immigration and how anyone who wants to impose restrictions on it is a Nazi.

So be my guest–go right ahead.  Knock yourself out with the Nazi thing. I certainly won’t object.  Because as Napoleon said: never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.


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June 6, 2018

Putting Germany First

Filed under: History,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 1:24 pm

Angela Merkel is set to challenge Donald Trump’s America First agenda at the G-7, presumably to the strains of Deutschland über alles.

This is just another illustration of Germany’s utter lack of self-awareness, because criticizing America First is rather jarring coming from Merkel and her country’s political elite, which espouses Germany First in all but the slogan.  But actions speak louder than words.

Consider the record of the last few weeks.  The German elite threw an absolute tantrum at the prospect of an anti-EU government in Italy, and strongly backed the Italian president when he rejected such a government.  The German budget minister, Guenther Oettinger said “The markets will teach the Italians to vote for the right thing.”

This was yet further evidence of German tone-deafness, because the backlash against his remark, and the real possibility that the Italian reaction would be to have another vote that would strengthen the populists even more, unleashed another market meltdown. This forced the EU, led by Jean-Claude Juncker, to go into damage control mode and force Oettinger to apologize and to get German politicians to put a cork in it generally, lest they do even more damage.

Oettinger, in other words, had committed a gaffe.  That is, he said exactly what he really believed–and you know that the German establishment believes exactly the same.

Another case in point.  Completely oblivious to the optics of Germany and Russia cooperating to benefit at the expense of the Poles (e.g., the three partitions, Molotov-Ribbentrop), Merkel and Germany are unwilling to give the time of day to the Poles’ objections to the Nord Stream II pipeline. Germany has also been extremely critical of Poland’s democratically elected government, and is leading the charge in the EU to cut aid to Poland (and Hungary) for “violating the rule of law.” Like the Italians, the Poles apparently just got it wrong when they voted and are in need to Teutonic guidance.

Altogether now: “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles, Über alles in der Welt . . . ”

I’ve already mentioned in a previous post the obliviousness of Germany’s anger at Trump for interfering with its ability to do business with a state that has vowed-repeatedly-to exterminate Israel.  Yes, Angela did criticize Khamenei’s characterization of Israel as a “cancerous tumor” that Iran would eliminate, but again, actions speak louder than words.  Germany’s preferred policy–a continuation of the JCPOA, with a bonanza of European (and especially German) investment in and trade with Iran-would do far more to assist Iran in realizing its objective than Merkel’s words will impede it.

Merkel is apparently of the belief that she’s not advancing German interests.  Oh, no! She’s the defender of the “liberal international order”:

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany told Mr. Obama that she felt more obliged to run for another term because of Mr. Trump’s election to defend the liberal international order. When they parted for the final time, Ms. Merkel had a single tear in her eye. “She’s all alone,” Mr. Obama noted.

What self-sacrifice!

Tell me: just exactly where does Iran fit into the “liberal international order”? Russia? China? All of these are avowedly opposed to that order, and say so at every opportunity.  All are clearly revisionist powers. But in her hatred for Trump (and likely for the US generally), Merkel is more than willing to reach out to them.  Subjectively, Angela is all about the “liberal international order.” Objectively, quite the opposite.

You may dislike Trump’s America First/MAGA agenda and rhetoric.  But it does have one thing all over Merkel’s: honesty.

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May 28, 2018

Thank God for the Revolution, But Don’t Take It For Granted

Filed under: Politics — The Professor @ 8:10 pm

Two things from Europe are worth some discussion.

In Italy, the president, Sergio Mattarella, rejected a proposed government advanced by a coalition of populist parties from both left and right.  In the words of the FT, Mattarella “faced down” the populists–who just happened to have won the elections, and who trounced the “mainstream” EU-philic parties.  In so doing, the president was following hallowed EU tradition: the proles will vote until they get it right!

Ostensibly the reason for the rejection was the inclusion of a hardcore opponent of the Euro as the Finance Minister.  No doubt that was a convenient pretext.

The EU proclaims that it is democratic, and EU politicians routinely blast Trump and Orban and others for being authoritarian.  The EU is in fact demonstrably anti-democratic, and objectively far more authoritarian than those it excoriates as such.  Mattarella’s actions are clearly authoritarian and anti-democratic.

No doubt the EU sees Italy’s incipient rebellion against it, and the Euro, as a mortal threat.  They should.  But the reaction–thwarting the results of an election, rather than mounting a persuasive campaign that appeals to voters and addresses their concerns–reflects a weird combination of arrogance and defensiveness.  This is the reaction of frightened people who understand at some level that theirs is a deeply flawed project, and that they have no idea on how to address these flaws.  S0 rather than addressing the sources of discontent, or even attempting to understand them in a serious way, they attempt to suppress its expression–even (especially?) when that expression occurs at the ballot box.  Incapable of facing them down in an election, the EU oligarchy must resort to facing them down through undemocratic means.

The other case is that of Tommy Robinson in the UK.  Robinson is a notorious critic of Muslim immigration into the UK.  He has been routinely accused of “racism” (though last time I checked, Islam was not a race): given the promiscuity with which that term is thrown about, I always treat it with skepticism.  It is the default way in establishment circles to discredit those who challenge orthodoxy, a low form of ad hominem intended to silence and ostracize.  Being an actual racist may be a sufficient condition for being called a racist, but it is not a necessary one.  So the fact that someone is called a racist tells me exactly nothing.

Robinson is in the news–well, sort of, as will soon become clear–for having been arrested and incarcerated (after a “trial” lasting minutes), for livecasting from the outside of a courthouse where a group of child rapists, who happen to be Muslim, are on trial.

The charge against Robinson was that he violated the terms of his suspended sentence.  Said sentence was not for any conduct remotely related to his activism, or racism, but for providing misleading information on a mortgage application. (Arguably the original charge was pretextual, but leave that aside for the moment.)  But the judge leapt at the opportunity to clap Robinson behind bars for daring to call attention to one of the most sordid and colossal failures of the British establishment.*

But that’s not the most outrageous thing here.  The judge also imposed a gag order forbidding any reporting on Robinson’s arrest and incarceration in the British press.  Several outlets that had posted articles online immediately took them down.

This is revealing on so many levels.  Again, it betrays a deep fear–bordering on panic–in the establishment of the wrath that hoi polloi may visit on them.  (Tim Newman argues this persuasively.) The judge obviously fears that Robinson may become a cause célèbre, meaning that the judge believes that large numbers of Britons are “racists” just like Tommy Robinson who might rally around him and challenge the elite.

Again, not the act of a confident elite–the act of a very shaken one.  (Brexit likely being a major contributor to this self-doubt.)

Further, it illustrates the degree of intimidation and fear among the hoi polloi that the elite fears.   Tommy Robinson is hardly a polished fellow.  He is arguably a dodgy one.  His name is itself revealing.  It is not his given name, but a pseudonym taken from a prominent football hooligan in his hometown of Luton.

But as the judge clearly fears, Robinson evidently represents the views of a large portion of the British populace.  Yet though many agree, few speak out, and it is left to a marginal and truculent figure to launch a kamikaze attack on the system.  This illustrates the relentless and ruthless application of social pressure by the establishment–the politicians, the media, and the police, who repeatedly tell people that their social media posts are being monitored for “hate speech”–and the consequent intimidation of pretty much everybody but the likes of Tommy Robinson and a few like hi.

That is, silence and preference falsification are the rational responses of those who are deeply uneasy about the social changes that the UK has undergone.  These responses are decidedly characteristic of repressive societies, not free ones.

The UK at present differs from China’s “Social Credit” system in degree, but not in kind. Social control enforced by the threat of ostracism and even imprisonment is a pervasive reality.

To which I say: thank God for the Revolution, and the Bill of Rights.  There is no right to free speech in the UK as guaranteed by the First Amendment–and people are quite aware of that, and trim their expression accordingly.

I also repeat something that I have said often: the UK is the US’s Ghost of Christmas Future. Many of the same forces and fissions that are manifest in the Robinson affair are operating in the US.  Again, the US has a better institutional bulwark against that, but given the disproportionate influence of the established elite in the institutions of government, the courts, media, and higher education, that is hardly secure.

There is also a more militant (Jacksonian) strain in the US, and it operates from a rather broad geographic base, which given the Constitution has political power (hence the left’s hostility to the Electoral College and the Senate).  This geographical divide also gives many people a sense of solidarity and strength which makes them more willing to speak out: many Texans (e.g.) are willing to be more outspoken because the disapproval or ostracism of coastal elites has little adverse effect on them, and may indeed even bring approval from those in their lives who matter to them.

But progressivism is relentless, and American progressives want the US to be more like the UK, and the EU, with them in charge and the rest of us playing the part of obedient plebs.

So thank God for the Revolution, but don’t take it for granted.

*It is a revealing commentary on the Animal Farm some-animals-are-more-equal-than-others reality of modern Britain that in this day of the #MeToo movement, where the British press–and the FT in particular–goes on and on about gender pay equity and the lack of women in corporate board rooms, that anyone who dares speak out about the systematic rape of young women throughout Britain is running grave personal and legal risks.  So is mistreatment of women–including rape–a big deal, or isn’t it? Apparently it depends on who does the mistreating, and what women are the victims.

Another observation of some note is that Robinson’s recording of the exterior of a British courthouse is considered a crime in a country where every public space is constantly under video surveillance.  That speaks to the issue of repressiveness in Britain.


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