Destroying the Heartland

Did you see Tucker Carlson the other night, talking about Paul Singer? If not, here it is and for that matter, if you did, watch it again.

He’s spot on, judging by what I know. John Daniel Davidson in The Federalist adds detail to what Tucker says.

The point of highlighting the fate of this one town and the role of Singer in its demise isn’t to vilify capitalism or the free market in general, but to point out how the system is engineered to benefit the rich and powerful at the expense of everyone else. As Willis Krumholtz explains nearby in greater detail, the story of Cabela’s and the people of Sidney is an example of “financial engineering that paid a select few off, while the whole suffered.”

This critique goes to the heart of what the political right has been grappling with in the age of Trump. What is the proper role of the government ad public policy in American society? Whose interests should it serve?

Much of what’s behind Trump-era populism, not just in America but across the West, is the dawning realization that the post-Cold War global capitalist system doesn’t necessarily benefit working- and middle-class Americans—or at least that free trade and global capitalism aren’t unmitigated goods. They have costs, and those costs are borne disproportionately by ordinary people, the kind of people who get laid off from Cabela’s for no good reason other than it made Singer a pile of money.

This isn’t just an economic question. The role of government is also at the center of the ongoing Sohrab Amari-David French debate on the right about whether the public sphere can really ever be neutral and what, if anything, conservatives should do to advance what they see as the good. Libertarian-minded conservatives like French look at drag queen story hour and conclude, hey, this is just the price of liberty. We can no more use government power to prohibit drag queens in public libraries than we can use it to prohibit any other kind of free speech

Ahmari and others have challenged this way of thinking, positing that liberty has an object, which is the good, and that government’s role is not just to protect liberty but also to promote and defend the good. Things like stable and intact families, prosperous communities, and vibrant churches and schools aren’t merely what we hope might spring forth from unfettered liberty secured by a neutral and indifferent government; they’re the entire purpose of securing liberty in the first place.

The phrase A more perfect Union comes to mind. Our founders didn’t design a country to make certain individuals rich. They, and we mostly have no objection to that, it is the proper outcome of doing your job well. That doesn’t mean that doing your job well means to destroy the neighborhood or even the region.

Also in The Federalist and also linked above, Willis L. Krumholz gives a very good explanation of how this works.

Delphi, too, is a complicated story. The automotive parts company was coming out of bankruptcy before Singer bought it. That doesn’t excuse the mass-outsourcing of jobs, or policies that allowed this to happen even after a taxpayer bailout, but Singer doesn’t face the sole responsibility for what happened to those jobs.

Yet there’s a dark side to Singer’s brand of capitalism. For example, the case was surely made that Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops had “synergies.” They sell the same stuff, and the stores even look similar. But the two companies were separately profitable. Now, the combined company has a ton of debt, and little room to grow profit aside from cutting costs and using their newly acquired market power to increase prices.

Not only that, if everything is about shareholder returns, it should be noted that most mergers destroy shareholder wealth, not build it.

Hedge funds are different than private equity funds, and there are various types of private equity and hedge fund strategies. Many are totally benign, and often, private equity actually helps firms start up or recover from bankruptcy.

But there is a strain of private equity, known as leveraged buyouts (LBOs), that has been more destructive. In an LBO, a private equity (PE) firm buys a company. But that company is too big and expensive to be bought with the PE money alone, so paying out the existing shareholders requires saddling the company with oodles of debt. Often, 90 percent of the acquisition price is funded via debt.

But the PE firm doesn’t owe that debt, the company does, and some of the debt can even be used to pay the PE firm, and its partners, a dividend. The PE firm then exits the investment by re-taking the company “public” at what the PE firm hopes is a higher share price. At this point the PE firm has made money, and has no ties to the company it used to own, but that company still has the debt load.

OK read the articles and draw your own conclusions, I’m no expert, Thank God since I like to sleep at night, but I’ve watched over the last decade as Cabela’s has gone from being one of my favorite stores to a place I’d just as soon avoid. And closer to me, I’ve watched as Monroe Shock Absorbers has closed a plant that kept a town going, and as whatever Baldwin Filters is now, did the same to another town 10 miles away.

It’s real, it’s happening, and it’s eating the heart out of the middle of the country. Here, for my money, is one of the causes of many of the problems, including the opioids epidemic have their roots.

But Wait, There’s More!

I’m even less of an expert on who owns the GOP, although I’ve my suspicions. But I suspect Ace has a pretty good clue, and he’s one of very few who has the guts to call it as he sees it.

People like Paul Singer control the GOP and are effectively in a conspiracy against actual GOP voters. When Singer’s kid announced he was gay, Paul Singer basically mandated that the GOP become pro-gay marriage, and the GOP complied.

Another billionaire funder, Stanley Hubbard, told, in 2016, his own pet candidate Scott Walker that he must not question the Corporate Class Consensus on birthright citizenship and high levels of tolerated, supposedly illegal immigration.

Hubbard issued his rebuke, and Walker changed his tune to sing the Corporate Class anthem within a day.

Tuesday: Stanley Hubbard, a conservative billionaire who oversees a Minnesota broadcasting company and has donated to Walker’s campaign, confronts Walker on the issue during a lunch in Minnesota. Hubbard strongly opposes ending birthright citizenship, and he tells The Washington Post that he “might really quickly change my allegiance” if Walker pushs for such a repeal. Hubbard says he “did not get a real straight answer” from the candidate, but he comes away ready to write more checks to help Walker, adding, “I got the feeling that he is not at all anxious to talk about taking away those rights.”

A lot of “conservative journalists” are actually bought-and-paid-for propagandists for monied interests. You know how AEI “chairs” work? Specific billionaires fund specific “chairs” and give them to specific propagandists posing as “journalists.”

And

Meanwhile, Paul Singer calls the shots in the GOP. If you ever wonder why the GOP supports so many unpopular positions with incredible zeal and passion (such as vulture capitalism), and why the GOP runs away from some popular issues like border enforcement, and why the GOP takes the Democrat side on issues which are 50/50 (gay stuff, abortion), it’s because very rich liberals like Paul Singer, who have no interest in the GOP or conservatism except to pervert it into a tool to help put more money into their pockets,, have willed it so, and all of our chickenshit “representatives” can’t quit that sweet, sweet plutocrat money.

Pretty much, whenever the GOP is acting in what appears to be an inexplicably stupid or traitorous way, the reason is that, of course, they’re being paid to act that way, and they of course can’t admit that publicly.

It’s time to take this trash out.

Past time, actually. It’s been stinking for decades. But better late than never.

As for Ben Sasse, it was pretty obvious even before he was elected that he was a tool, long since bought and paid for. It’s people like him that cause us to hold our noses and vote for the least evil. It’s also why I almost never vote for an incumbent. And yes, I will be voting against him next year in the primary. In the general, we’ll have to see.

I see Sen Sasse has responded to Tucker Carlson, it is here. You make your own call, I have.

Cheap Stuff Makes You (and America) Cheap

This needs to be said, nay it needs to be shouted from the housetops. From Curtis Ellis, writing in American Greatness.

It’s well past time to ask whether procuring cheap imported consumer goods should be the goal of our foreign trade policy and if it’s the best way to raise Americans’ standard of living.

These questions have been the subject of debate throughout our nation’s history. America’s Founders answered with a resounding “No.”

The tea sold by the British East India Company underpriced the leaf colonial merchants were offering. King George’s prime minister Lord North believed that would convince Americans to buy it. “For,” as North said, “men will always go to the cheapest markets.” The Sons of Liberty tossed it in Boston Harbor instead.

The new nation’s first significant piece of legislation, the Tariff Act of 1789, among other things, sought to prevent lower-cost foreign goods from being dumped in America and smothering our own infant industries.

To those who said America should continue buying its manufactured goods from Great Britain, then the world’s low-cost producer, Thomas Jefferson advised “purchasing nothing foreign where an equivalent of domestic fabric[ation] can be obtained, without regard to difference of price.” (Emphasis added.)

Abraham Lincoln’s economic philosophy gave production primacy over consumption as the way to raise the American standard of living.

The goal is “to produce dear labour, that is, high-priced and valuable labour,” wrote Henry Carey, Lincoln’s economic adviser. High-priced laborers would produce more and be able to spend more. Consumption would rise in tandem with production and earning.

“Every man is a consumer to the whole extent of his production. To that point he will go, and beyond it he cannot go,” Carey wrote.

That is: by earning (producing) more is one able to consume (buy) more.

But the American attitude toward “cheap” was perhaps best summed up by William McKinley in a campaign speech he delivered in 1889:

They say “everything would be so cheap” if we only had free trade. Well, everything would be cheap and everybody would be cheap. I do not prize the word “cheap.” . . . It is the badge of poverty . . . when things were the cheapest, men were the poorest. . . . Cheap? Why, cheap merchandise means cheap men, and cheap men mean a cheap country; and that is not the kind of Government our fathers founded . . . We want labor to be well paid, we want the products of the farm . . . we want everything we make and produce to pay a fair compensation to the producer. That is what makes good times.

Fair compensation to the producer is what makes good times.

Indeed it is so, just as it has always been.

I can remember a day, probably about 40 years ago, when I suddenly needed a new dress shirt, likely I dumped a cup of coffee or something on it. So I did what we all do. I drove over to K Mart (then the most common low-cost retailer) and bought myself a new white broadcloth shirt, yes it had way too much polyester in it, but it got me through the day. The most expensive shirt I ever bought, even though I probably paid less than ten dollars for it. Why? Because I never wore it again.

And also a bad deal for K Mart, it was the last time I was in one of their stores.

In whatever developing country it was made, quality didn’t count for much, and this shirt had a collar point that I could not make lay down properly, even after I removed the stay and put in a removable one. And so the shirt was useless, it wasn’t even a useful rag like a cotton shirt would have been, it was just trash to be disposed of.

These days I rarely wear dress shirts, other than for casual shirts, but mine have labels like Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, and some others. They fit, they’re made properly, and they’re made with quality materials. If I need a cheap one, I buy it on eBay, although I do prefer to buy new ones.

And that is true all through society, I’ve long since found that an American (British, even Japanese) product from twenty years ago is a much better value than the cheap junk from China than Wal Mart sells. Yes, I miss Sam Walton, he really did try to find low-cost American products, but the kids are more interested in lining their pockets, than in providing a reasonable product at a reasonable price.

The only catch is that you have to know a little bit more about what you are doing, and some products simply aren’t made here anymore, like TVs. Well that what we get for buying cheap Chinese crap, we’ve put entire American companies, and their workers, and those that could fix things, out of business. When is the Last time you saw an RCA repairman when I was a kid they were state of the art?

William McKinley had it exactly right:

I do not prize the word “cheap.” . . . It is the badge of poverty . . . when things were the cheapest, men were the poorest. . . . Cheap? Why, cheap merchandise means cheap men, and cheap men mean a cheap country;

And if you are having trouble finding stuff made in the USA, this may help.

What’s Going On in Iran?

Have you been following the (mostly non-) news from Iran? Interesting isn’t it? China and Hong Kong, Iran and the Iranian people, plus the Iraqis and the Lebanese, it’s almost like people like being free. The best I’ve seen is Michael Ledeen in FrontPage Magazine.

The country is on fire. All classes, all tribes from the Persians to the Kurds are fighting the security forces and the Revolutionary Guards, the Basij, and an increasingly divided Hezbollah. The leaders of the regime are unrestrained in their crackdown. In order to keep their actions as far as possible from public view, the leaders have killed off the internet links with the outside world, and despite American boasts that Washington can turn on the internet at will, the regime has kept communications with Iranians at historic minima.

The proximate cause of these demonstrations was an overnight increase in the cost of gasoline. I say “proximate cause” because the anti-regime outbursts had been ongoing for months, if not years. The increased price for gasoline was significant, but not decisive. So far as I can determine, the crowds of demonstrators chanted political slogans, not economic ones. They wanted an end to the Islamic Republic, not lower prices for gas.

The Iranian eruption is only one of many in the region, as Lebanese and Iraqis also joined the protest against Tehran. Iraqis, led by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, called for an end to the Hezbollah domination of the country as part of a general demand for a thoroughgoing political transformation.

The most radical demand is the downfall of the whole sectarian, political Islamist system. This is the first and most important demand in Tahrir Square — they want a separation of religion and politics. This demand includes the government resigning, especially Adil Abdul-Mahdi, the prime minister.

Now mind, these guys aren’t asking for American boots, they want to be free, but on their terms, which are unlikely to be anything acceptable to Washington, let alone the heartland. But it’s their countries and their people. We can, perhaps, aid and abet a bit, but it’s up to them, to structure their lives as they see fit.

Because make no mistake, Iran under its present rulers is an implacable foe of the United States and keeps us from doing other things in the region that we should be doing. But this isn’t something, like Hong Kong, where one side is demanding democracy on the Anglo-American model.

Why that warning? Morris Ayek witing in en.qantara.de may have that answer.

Here, too, the distinctiveness of Arabic – although it has the same meaning in other languages – is useful in looking at Arab civil wars as wars between social entities. Non-Arab civil wars such as the Russian, the French, the Spanish, the Greek and so forth were between citizens. Groups that identify themselves through modern ideologies and institutions aim at the triumph of these ideologies. Indeed, they may be seen as a concomitant struggle in transition.

Arab civil wars, on the other hand, are wars between kinsfolk, however they may appear in their early stages. The social group becomes partisan, whether sectarian, tribal, party political or ethnic. The key difference between the two types of conflicts is that Arab civil wars have no end. In the non-Arab world, it is the ideology which is defeated, whilst with us Arabs, there can be no end. The Sunni, the Shia, the Alawite and the Christian will remain, like the Arab, the Kurd and the South Sudanese.

Social ties are the true driver

The only point of Arab civil wars is dominion, which is characterised by warlords who live by perpetuating war as a source of wealth, subjugating and plundering. They differ from other civil wars, in which each warring party has sought to build an economy with which to replenish resources and to guarantee victory. Ironically, this revenue-generating model is similar to the normal workings of an Arab economy.

Quite a lot more at the link, and I think it summarized pretty well why Anglo-American style democracy is not going to break out any time soon in the Middle East.

 

Putin, Trump, and the EU

Like I said yesterday in comments, I’m bored with the impeachment follies, it’s bullshit and it’s going nowhere, although it may well give President Trump a landslide victory, and that very fact may allow reasonable Democrats to get control of their party. But don’t hold your breath on that either. We’ll come back to it, sadly, when there is something to talk about.

Meantime, it does us no harm to look out over the parapet and see what’s going on in the world. So today, there is an excellent (I think) assessment of Putin by Areg Galstyan at American Thinker. Let’s have a look…

Vladimir Putin has ruled the country since 2000, and over these 19 years, influence groups around him have been fighting each other for a special position and status. Unlike most of his associates, Putin is indeed an ideologically motivated leader who perceives himself not just as a politician and an official, but as a sovereign, such as Peter the Great and Alexander III — the beloved emperors of the current Russian leader.

One of my blogfriends, a Briton living in Siberia, categorically states he is also a Christian, that may be so or it may not be, but he undeniably supports the Russian Orthodox Church, whether out of conviction or statecraft doesn’t really matter. Interesting that Putin and Trump, the two largest nationalist leaders, also profess as Christians, not many others do, as they attend St. Mattress almost every Sunday.

The new ideology that is called Putinism is uniting principles and foundations that have remained unchanged throughout all the historical stages of the development of Russia. Its foundation is the concept of National Democracy. It implies that the process of democratization and the formation of an active civil society is inevitable but it should not be carried out according to any foreign model. The Russian nation, like any other, has its civilizational, social, and cultural features. Today, 190 peoples live in Russia, and most of them retain their language, traditions, and mentality. From this point of view, Moscow is always under the permanent threat of external forces using any interethnic disagreements for their purposes. If, for example, a political decision was made to allow same-sex “marriage” in the deeply conservative regions of the North Caucasus, Tatarstan, and Siberia, riots would begin. And they would lead to the most unpredictable consequences. For a large part of the progressive West, this may sound wild. Yet for Russia, it is a matter of national security.

It is important to understand that Russia is not limited to Moscow or Saint Petersburg. These cities, like any major megalopolises, are centers of the dominance of progressive and liberal ideas. No one will argue with the fact that the United States does not begin and end in New York and California; there are also Texas, Tennessee, Utah, and other states. The victory of Donald Trump vividly demonstrated that it was conditional Texas and Kentucky that were the heart of America, not Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The situation is similar in Russia: Putin is guided by the mood of the regional majority, not the liberal minority of the capital. There are a lot of sensitive problems, and any Russian ruler has to maintain internal balance in order to keep the country’s physical integrity. This is an extremely difficult task. At certain periods of time, Emperor Nicholas II, and then the last general secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU, Mikhail Gorbachev, did not cope with this task. This resulted in the collapse of the Russian Empire and the USSR, respectively. Thus, the essence of Sovereign or National Democracy is in a banal formula: everything has its time. In other words, Putinism advocates an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary model of development.

There is quite a bit more, all of it good.

My takeaway is this, I don’t think Russia is much of a threat to the US. It is a big European/Asian power, yes, and it could do serious harm to the US, but why. The converse is equally true, and I don’t hear any American thinking we should destroy Russia.

We compete yes, especially for oil sales. As an aside, last month for the first time in 70 years we became a net exporter. But providing Germany’s fossil fuel doesn’t translate to a justification for war.

A key point is this, our interests are in fact, while not identical, similar, and until the 1917 revolution, Russia was (more or less) our friend, as much as any great power (saving only Britain) was or is. We pretty much know now (and probably should have before) that a lot of the Washington swamp hasn’t gotten the memo that the cold war is over. I’d guess that there is a similar cabal in the Kremlin. If for no other reason than its good for the arms manufacturers, and their subsidiaries in Washington and Moscow.

But we’re both interested in suppressing terrorism, especially after our ‘experts’ made the mid-east so much worse. And frankly, it is not really in either of our interests to encourage the Chinese, let alone the North Koreans.

NATO was formed 70 years ago to “Keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down”. It has done well on the first two, and after the failure of the Soviet Union pretty much failed on the last. That will I suspect have consequences as Europe returns to be the cockpit of internecine conflict. The EU will implode, probably in this decade, and then the great game will restart as the Germans once more try to form a European Empire. In truth, the EU itself is an attempt by Germany to form an empire by economic means rather than military, that is why Macron’s nose is so out of joint.

If as the linked author says, Putin believes in Westphalia, Vienna, and Potsdam and Yalta, then he is pretty much the Russian form of Trump. And as we know, now if we didn’t before we elected him, he’s not out looking around for wars to wage. I doubt Putin is either. Both have better things to do for their countries.

And I think it entirely possible that Putin is more trustworthy than either Macron or Merkel, let alone this new German running the EU.

NATO at 70, Uncivil Serpents, and Doing the Right Thing

So, this week looks like it will be about foreign affairs – until something changes, I reckon. But that’s where we start.

The North Atlantic signatories are meeting today and tomorrow in Britain. There is a lot of noise, between the president’s concern about European funding, which is certainly justified, French (which has not been a military member since the 1960s) carping about this and that. Macron is only staying for one day, he has other problems. There is a general strike coming in France on 5 December, that will pretty much shut the joint down. Not to mention the shouting matches between Macron and Erdoğan of Turkey.

In a sense, this looks to me like an alliance looking for a purpose. 70 years ago when it was formed under US and UK leadership it clearly was a counterpoint to the USSR and the Warsaw Pact. That war ended 30 years ago, and it seems to me that NATO doesn’t have a real mission anymore. It’s protected by deep state practitioners in all the allied countries, a fair number of whom seem to have not gotten the memo that the cold war is over.

Rule 5 is the heart of the whole thing. It is the provision that an attack on one is an attack on all, and lead to the American assertion (in the bad old days) that America’s eastern border was the Elbe River. That was good sense and admirable clarity. But now what? Some vague line in the middle of Ukraine, the Turkish, Syrian border. Really? Do we want to commit American boys and girls to fight for those things?

In many ways, Europe for the United States, and perhaps for Russia as well, has become a backwater, and its stultifying economy and penchant for internecine dispute and internal imperialism strengthens that notion. So the real question is Quo Vadis.

More here and here.

So in the middle of an election campaign, this is the team that Boris Johnson will attempt to harness this week. Good luck with that, he’ll need a barge load, I suspect.

When we talk about the deep state, we are referring to the same thing as the cousins call the Civil Service (actually most of my friends refer to them as uncivil serpents, for cause). It happens in all bureaucracies, people get aligned with something and no matter what the politicians do, there they stand.

One of the worst cases was in Neville Chamberlin’s tenure in Downing Street. Adrian Phillips wrote the book on Sir Horace Wilson. He published an excerpt on History News Network this weekend, and it looks fascinating. A paragraph or so:

In 1941, as his time in office drew to a close, the head of the British Civil Service, Sir Horace Wilson, sat down to write an account of the government policy with which he had been most closely associated. It was also the defining policy of Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister whom Wilson had served as his closest adviser throughout his time in office. It had brought Chamberlain immense prestige, but this had been followed very shortly afterwards by near-universal criticism. Under the title ‘Munich, 1938’, Wilson gave his version of the events leading up to the Munich conference of 30 September 1938, which had prevented – or, as proved to be the case, delayed – the outbreak of another world war at the cost of the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. By then the word ‘appeasement’ had acquired a thoroughly derogatory meaning. Chamberlain had died in 1940, leaving Wilson to defend their joint reputation. Both men had been driven by the highest of motivations: the desire to prevent war. Both had been completely convinced that their policy was the correct one at the time and neither ever admitted afterwards that they might have been wrong.

The book has joined my list, which you’ll not be surprised, is long, but this looks very good. It also appears to bear on much of what we have talked about today.

Churchill apparently never said that “Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing, once all other possibilities have been exhausted.”  But it’s a fair bet that he thought it pretty often, and pretty often it is true. But we do most often get around to doing the right thing.

As we did with the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. It’s not something we can credibly go to war about, as I said back on 15 June, this is likely to be a replay of Hungary in 1956, where we simply cannot physically support our friends.

But we eventually found a way, that will hurt China if they suppress the Hong Kongers without a direct military challenge. But look again at the picture that accompanied the article in June (pretty close to the beginning of the protests). Who are they looking to for help? Right, the British, after all, Hong Kong is a former Crown Colony. But that soon changes as the Hong Kongers realized that Britain wasn’t going to be there for them, and so the flags changed, from flags with the Union Flag, or the Union Flag itself, to the American flag. That change was important, for the US does have a habit of as John Kennedy said.

 We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

  Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

And so we found a way, a no doubt an imperfect way, but the American people first, and then the US government moved to align ourselves once again with freedom, and against tyranny.

The sad part is that Britain should have been on the rampart with us, but was MIA when it counted, whether they were too preoccupied with Brexit, or too in hock to their Chinese paymasters (as some say), or still another reason, doesn’t really matter. When it mattered, they, like Achille, were skulking in their tent. A sad commentary.

What wasn’t sad all, was that these polite protestors, brought out their flags, and even the new poster of our President, and sang our National Anthem by way of saying “Thank You”. I’d trade our leftists for these brave people anytime. What great Americans they’d make!

Weekly Funnies, Thanksgiving

Well. we made it through Thanksgiving it seems, on to Christmas.

And, of course

 

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