From the Department of Can I Call Them or What

I don’t generally get to enjoy many instances in which I’ve gone out on a limb and either said so-and-such will happen, or thus-and-so is what’s really going on behind the scenes, and then have subsequent events or revelations confirm my suppositions.

One such was when the whole “Ebonics” fraud first came to national prominence.  I remember saying to someone at the time that just sit back and wait, the next step will be a requirement that captive customers, such as school systems and government agencies interacting with the public, will be mandated to provide “services” related to “Ebonics,” or to be “certified” or at least “trained” in “Ebonics.”  Then would follow in short order shoals of the politically-connected setting up “consulting” firms or providers of “Ebonics”-related claptrap, all to line up at the government-contract trough.  Sure enough, about three or so years later (forgive my inexactitude in dates; I’ve slept since then), out of California — but of course — came news of pretty much precisely what I’d predicted.

But again, I don’t get to enjoy many of those moments.  My vision seems to have lost its ability to penetrate, and I don’t see what is on the other side of the hill (to borrow an expression from His Grace F.M. the Duke of Wellington).

At the moment, however, I may be enjoying such a moment.  Gentle Reader will recall, perhaps, my statements about what I thought to be Russian motivations and objectives in that country’s penetrating the Democrat National Committee, Her Herness’ illegal e-mail system, and the e-mail systems of their various collaborators (I won’t say “co-conspirators,” although certainly some of Her communications while secretary of state reveal deeply criminal designs and actions).  I wrote about it, here.  Short version of my suggestion:

“Which is why I am convinced that Wikileaks has not come anywhere close to releasing the most damaging materials in its possession, and will very carefully not do so before the election.  It is in Vladimir Putin’s interest to have in office a crippled president.  It is in his interest to have a president across the table from whom one of his operatives can sit and read from materials so incriminating that not even the American “news” media will be able to avoid the compulsion to publish.  Material so damning in its lay-it-out-in-black-and-white-on-Her-own-keyboard terms that only the Al Frankens, Nancy Pelosis, Alcee Hastingses, and Chuck Shumers of the House or Senate will be unwilling to vote for her removal from office.”

We now have a brief report, consisting mostly of conclusions, without it seems much in the way of evidence, that Putin’s thinking may well have been running on precisely that line.  Byron York over at The Washington Examiner asks “Six questions about the Russian hacking report.”  Here’s his Question No. 2, in full:

“2) Was the Russian campaign intended more to help candidate Donald Trump or to undermine President Hillary Clinton? The report says Putin ordered the 2016 campaign ‘to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.’ The report goes on to say that at some point Putin ‘developed a clear preference’ for Trump. But it also says that, ‘Moscow’s approach evolved over the course of the campaign based on Russia’s understanding of the electoral prospects of the two main candidates. When it appeared to Moscow that Secretary Clinton was likely to win the election, the Russian influence campaign then focused on undermining her expected presidency.’ That suggests some sort of shift in the Russian campaign. But when? What does it mean when the report says, ‘When it appeared to Moscow that Secretary Clinton was likely to win…’? Because if the Russians were following U.S. coverage and commentary, it always appeared that Clinton was likely to win — from the primaries through the Democratic convention through the general election. In other words, during the entire campaign, the consensus of the American commentariat was that Clinton was likely to win. Did the Russians disagree, or did they have a degree of insight into the polls, or simple clairvoyance, that Nate Silver didn’t? Or was the Russian campaign overwhelmingly devoted to ‘undermining [Clinton’s] expected presidency’?”

Allow me to point out something that all too often gets overlooked when thinking about Soviet incursions into American society and politics.  Low-level functionaries were — and likely remain — fundamentally unable to comprehend basic elements in the psychological landscape of ordinary Americans.  I think of the scene in Alexander Dolgun’s book when his interrogator is drilling down on Alex’s habit of “borrowing” U.S. embassy cars to go joy-riding (not infrequently with a girlfriend).  The interrogator is absolutely, genuinely convinced that Alex is not essentially boosting cars but rather is among the very few higher officials (at 20 years old, no less!!) who is entitled to use embassy vehicles, and that this is therefore evidence that his protestations of being nothing more than a lowly file clerk are bogus.  Alex tries to explain to him that sneaking Dad’s car is just what American kids do.  The interrogator just cannot understand it; growing up in Russian and then Soviet society he didn’t have the wiring to process that idea.

That inability to tune in to the workings of the individual American’s mind is not at all to suggest that the Soviets either do not understand how Americans (or Westerners in general) behave in the mass, or that they did not and do not understand precisely the legal and political structures around which Western societies are built.  When you think about it, that makes perfect sense.  Russia always was a class-based society, even more so than in Western Europe — whether you were serf, free peasant, boyar, provincial noble, military officer, streltsy, oprichnik, or townsman — who you were was socially and legally very much a function of what you were.  Self-definition and mold-breaking are things you seldom find mentioned in descriptions of the Russia that was.  Marxism and its Soviet practitioners of course whole-heartedly embraced that notion.  “Hereditary class enemies” was a categorization that condemned hundreds of thousands, if not millions, to death by shooting, starvation, or labor.  So it should come as no surprise that Soviet contemplation of masses of Westerners was always much more in touch with actuality than their ability to grasp — beyond the usual motivations of money and sex — what made individual Westerners tick.

For the American intelligence communities to come up with the statement that Soviet operations ever for a moment thought anything other than that She was going to cruise to victory is to confess to a glaring blind spot about the people you’re trying to analyze.  Either our people are fools (which I doubt) or alternatively they are desperately trying to preserve the narrative that Putin was trying to put Trump over the top.  Barring the ol’ boy getting on FoxNews and stating as much in plain English I will never accept that as being true.  Accepting that as true requires me to believe either (i) Putin had insights into the election which were shared by exactly no one at all in all of American (or for that matter, Western: no one outside America thought Trump had a snowball’s chance either) professional political life, or (ii) Putin was pissing up a rope on purpose, spending a great deal of effort on something he believed to be a fool’s errand.

Wikipedia sums up Occam’s razor thus:  “The principle can be interpreted as stating Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.”   I will suggest what I humbly call Countrylawyer’s Corollary to Occam’s Razor:  Among competing hypotheses, the one which requires assumptions demonstrably false is not the correct selection.  Whatever else Vladimir Putin does, he has never been known to piss up a rope on purpose; any hypothesis which asks me to assume that Putin has done or is doing so I therefore discount.

A possible competing explanation for Putin’s motivation is suggested by the same (leaked) report.  NBC News reports:  “But the intelligence analysts who prepared the report also concluded that the hacks were payback for the Obama administration’s questioning of Vladimir Putin’s legitimacy as president.”

<sound of buzzer>

Bullshit.  In just what manner would Soviet leaking of e-mails, very few if any of which could be traced back to Dear Leader, have been “payback” as to him?  He’s leaving office.  He’s sown so much chaos and discord that it’s highly unlikely the damage can be reparable in our lifetimes (the article to read, by the way, is Cloward and Piven, “The Weight of the Poor,” from 1966).  Based upon his personal and political up-bringing as well as his known affiliations (Ayers and Dorhn, Jeremiah Wright, the Alinskyites in Chicago) there is every reason to entertain very strong suspicion that it’s just that chaos and division that has been a principal objective of his eight years in office.  Remember that for the committed revolutionary (which Dear Leader is) the present is nothing more than a waystation on the path to the Revolution.  Dissolution and destruction must necessarily precede the achievement of the socialist fantasy.  Lenin captured the notion exactly in his comment on late-Tsarist Russia:  The worse, the better.  [The book to read is Fire in the Minds of Men: Origins of the Revolutionary Faith.]  Casting the legitimacy of the 2016 presidential election into doubt would fit perfectly into Dear Leader’s portfolio.  Talk about Brer Rabbit and the briarpatch.  For Putin to believe that by further subverting Americans’ dwindling confidence in their electoral process, he was frustrating, rather than furthering, a personal political objective of Dear Leader is to suppose Putin was unable to recognize in Dear Leader a fellow Soviet Person (as they used to be called).  I refer you to Countrylawyer’s Corollary.

Bolstering me in my doubt of the “payback” thesis is that, beyond Dear Leader’s party loyalty and some in all honesty fairly perfunctory mouthing of platitudes, he did as little as possible to assist Her to victory.  Maybe that was because he thought, just as everyone else did, that Her victory was inevitable (but wait: wasn’t She “inevitable” back in 2008? how’d that work out, again?).  But that also ignores the pretty widely known and very deeply nourished personal animosity between the Clintons and Dear Leader.  If Dear Leader has time and again demonstrated one trait as a specifically party politician, it’s that he’s entirely comfortable letting the Democrat Party in general and specific Democrat politicians in particular sink or swim as best they can.  I suggest that if Putin was thinking to get “payback” against Dear Leader by beating Her up, then that would demonstrate a fairly comprehensive failure by Putin to understand the dynamics of the most significant single political relationship in the United States . . . or at least, what was that, until November 8, 2016.

Finally, Putin was — and from all report, still considers himself to be — KGB.  To this day they refer to themselves, among themselves, as “chekisty,” by the way, in homage to the original Soviet secret political police, the Cheka of “Iron Feliks” Dzerzhinsky.  Whatever its other moral failings as an organization, and however abhorrent their agents’ practices may be, I have never read, heard, or otherwise come into any information that would suggest that chekisty get petulant or plan their acts in petulance. To attempt to personalize this operation and tie it back to Dear Leader, as a parting shot by Putin, would require assuming that Putin really gives a damn one way or another about someone who’s going to be irrelevant in just over two weeks from today.

You know how your own thoughts or statements about Person X or Circumstance Y often say more about you than about X or Y?  I’m picking up the same vibe off this so-called intelligence “analysis.”  More specifically, his entire life long Dear Leader has made his entire world about him, personally.  Hired to write a book about — I forget what it was, now — he instead come up with an autobiography.  Every utterance of his and his acolytes (including his wife) has emphasized the messianic theme of his life.  Don’t want to destroy the private healthcare provision system in the U.S?  You’re racist.  Suggest that perhaps the tax enforcement system in America should not be weaponized to persecute specific political beliefs and movements?  It’s because you hate the First Black President.  And so forth.

Dear Leader works in petulance like other artists work in oils, or watercolor, or clay.  In fact, if petulism is not a word, then it needs to be.  By it I mean the conscious practice of personal affront and personal vengeance as an organizing principle of one’s life.  Petulism, like messianism, has been a constant theme in Dear Leader’s public life.  In this he is a direct contrast to the chekisty, who have deeply internalized the old Sicilian maxim that revenge is a dish best served cold, and even better yet, by hands which cannot be traced back to you.

I of course have no direct knowledge to back up my hunch.  I will however refer Gentle Reader to the dozens of intelligence analysts who formally and in writing protested that they were being commanded to write much more rosy analyses, reports, and projections about the Middle East in general, and the status and progress of the struggle against al Qaeda and ISIS and their affiliates in particular, than was warranted by the facts or consistent with their actual opinions.  This report was prepared at the same levels that produced those directives, and one may in good faith ask whether the same officials were involved.

So in my supposition, from before the election, that Putin was not so much trying to get Trump elected as to cripple Her as president, I think I’m entitled to some portion of a quiet victory lap.

Pardon Her

That post title is not a misprint.

Nor is it an indication that I’ve finally gone off my meds (consisting of beer; on those few occasions when I see someone in a doctor’s office and I’m asked if I’m taking any medications, my invariable response is, “Does beer count?”).

Nor have I suddenly become unable to read, and thus discovered an element of intent in a statute which plainly contains no such element.  18 U.S.C. § 793(f) reads, in full —

(f)Whoever, being entrusted with or having lawful possession or control of any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, note, or information, relating to the national defense, (1) through gross negligence permits the same to be removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of his trust, or to be lost, stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, or (2) having knowledge that the same has been illegally removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of its trust, or lost, or stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, and fails to make prompt report of such loss, theft, abstraction, or destruction to his superior officer–

Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.”

The FBI director allowed that he was recommending She not be prosecuted for violating that statute because they couldn’t find any solid indication of intent on Her part to commit the acts described in it.  No Virginia, the word intent does not appear in that statute, nor does any variant of it.  Nor, for that matter, does reckless.  But the mens rea for both components of it is in fact expressed, so that you cannot even say that you must infer the standard of intent. The affirmative act proscribed requires only “gross negligence” (which was, as I recall, more or less exactly how Comey characterized Her actions), and the omission (failure to report) requires only “knowledge”.  She certainly had knowledge of the events itemized in the statute.

She is, in round numbers, Guilty as Hell, as are many of Her underlings and associates.  She is subject to imprisonment for up to ten years.  Full stop.

I have expatiated, both here and elsewhere, on why Her actions in respect of this country’s most sensitive information (barring, perhaps, the actual nuclear launch codes) made it impossible for me to support Her candidacy, no matter how revolting Her opponent may be, and no matter what Her actual policy actions might have turned out to be (in contrast to Her objectives as stated for public consumption).  Her blithely compromising our national security would alone have done that.  That, added to Her sale of the fourth-highest public office in our gift (the secretary of state is fourth in line for the presidency, behind only the actual president, the vice president, and the Speaker of the House), and you could have run a yellow dog against Her and I’d have voted for the dog.

Before proceeding, I want Gentle Reader to understand how it pains me to have to write that last sentence.  I grew up among Yellow Dog Democrats, people who proudly proclaimed they’d vote for a yellow dog if you ran him as a Democrat.  And they meant it, too.  I once attended a talk given by the author of a book about a very tumultuous time in my Southern state’s history.  It was neither more nor less than a full-blown constitutional crisis, and several key players came together to salvage the integrity (to the extent we enjoy any around here) of the Rule of Law.  Come to think of it now, those several weeks early that winter marked the point at which the Democrat Party in this state went into a decline from which it has not recovered to this day, forty-odd years later.  What I remember most about the author’s presentation was the praise heaped on the then-chief justice of our state supreme court, because he chose to uphold his oath of office, rather than do what he dearly wanted to do, namely not do anything that might benefit a Republican.  Apparently he actually did struggle with his decision, on exactly that basis.  Pause and think about that for a moment:  The highest judge in the state finds it even a close question as to whether to put party loyalty before his “so help me God” oath to preserve, protect, and defend the constitution of our state and of the United States.  I want to go find his grave, that I may shit on his headstone and otherwise desecrate it and those of his ancestors.

All of the above notwithstanding, I would like nothing more than to see Dear Leader pardon Her on his way out the door.  Certainly pardon Her for Her compromise of national security and all the crimes She committed in connection with the cover-up (destruction of evidence, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and God only knows what else), and — here I confess I waffle a bit — probably for the corruption-related crimes as well.

However much She richly deserves to spend the bulk of the balance of Her life in an orange jumpsuit (She’s on the wrong side of 70 and not in good health; there’s a decent chance She wouldn’t do the full term even if sentenced), if She is prosecuted by the Trump administration, it will later be explicitly used by a Democrat administration as a precedent to bring witch-hunt criminal charges against defeated opponents.  Capture office and you not only sideline your opponent politically, but you use the physical coercive power of the United States government to destroy the individuals on the other side.  I still remember — I think it was the very first day of class — my 1L criminal law class, and the professor pointing out that criminal law is concerned with the application of the physical coercive power of millions upon millions of people and all the wealth they command to the body, the corporeal being, of a single human.  Or as Stalin phrased it, “How much do you suppose the Soviet Union weighs?”

Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and the other totalitarians are of course only the best-known practitioners of that principle.  A goodly bit of The GuLAG Archipelago covers Stalin’s use of the Soviet criminal law system (I refuse to use the expression “justice” in connection with anything appertaining to the Soviet Union) to wreak the physical destruction of vanquished political foes.  And by “physical destruction” I don’t mean that they had to eek out a marginal existence as third assistant bottle-washer in some dreary provincial town.  I mean they were sent to the execution chambers, just as they had, by the way, joyfully sent thousands of others before them.  So my sympathy for them is muted.

What is less known, because the perpetrator is something of a secular saint around here, is that Stalin and Hitler were far from the only ones doing that.  I refer Gentle Reader to the story of one Andrew Mellon (yes, of that family).  He had been Coolidge’s and Hoover’s Secretary of the Treasury.  After Hoover’s blow-out defeat by FDR, the new president instructed the chief prosecutor for the IRS, one Robert H. Jackson, to bring criminal charges against Mellon.  Not, you understand, for any misdeed taken in any official capacity, but rather for allegedly fiddling on his personal income taxes.  The specific offense charged (because Jackson did FDR’s bidding; his reward later was appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court) was Mellon’s having claimed deductions against his income.  The problem was that the deductions were specifically legal to claim, and Mellon was well within his rights to claim them.  No matter; Roosevelt commanded that he be charged and prosecuted as a criminal, and Jackson the toady in fact tried to do it, although the grand jury returned a no true bill.  The whole sordid story is well-told in Amity Schlaes’s The Forgotten Man.  Not having been able to get the grand jury to do his master’s bidding, Jackson then went after Mellon for civil penalties; eventually Mellon was fully exonerated.  Jackson went on to become the chief Allied prosecutor at Nuremberg’s IMT trials of the chief Nazi defendants.

So Gentle Reader may not think it can’t happen here, because it can and it has.  In fact it continues.  What’s left of the Democrats in Texas have made several — thus far unsuccessful — runs at their opponents.  In Alaska they succeeded in a witch hunt trial of Sen. Ted Stevens.  They convicted him of corruption and he lost his re-election bid to a Democrat, with the vote of whom the “Affordable” Care Act became law.  There was only one problem:  The Department of Justice rigged the whole thing, up to and including manufacturing of evidence and suborning perjury.  Don’t take my word for it.  Let’s hear from the Special Counsel’s report (completed and released too late to avoid the disastrous consequences of his loss to the Senate):  “The investigation and prosecution of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens were permeated by the systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence which would have independently corroborated Senator Stevens’s defense and his testimony, and seriously damaged the testimony and credibility of the government’s key witness.”

The fact that She is in fact guilty, that there is no reasonable dispute as to Her guilt, the fact that the damage She did to national security interests, all in an effort to cover up . . . well, we don’t know quite why she went to such lengths . . . will endure for decades:  None of that changes my thinking.  Trump’s prosecution of a consummately guilty person will, no matter the outcome, later be used by his Democrat successors as an excuse to destroy the innocent.  And then it will be only a question of time before a successful Republican does it.  And then it will become part of our political DNA.  Lose office and they’ll hound you into jail or the grave, whichever comes first.

When you raise the stakes of political challenge-and-defense to that level, candidates and incumbents alike will stop at nothing in their effort to win.  And by “nothing” I am not speaking metaphorically.  At that point anything and everything will be viewed as being on the table, up to and including outright assassination.  Grabbing the scalp of a senator is one thing; when the stakes are the Oval Office on the one hand or federal incarceration on the other, things become imaginable which otherwise never ever would.  When we reach that point we will be indistinguishable from some banana republic, from Mexico, from Putin’s Russia, from Cambodia, from North Korea.

So I heartily endorse the notion that Dear Leader will pardon Her for Her criminal actions in regard of The E-Mail Server and its cover-up.  The sale of office offenses I have a little more hesitation about, but if pushed would probably swallow that as well.  My hesitation in that respect arises from the unfortunate fact that sale of public office is so easily accomplished and so difficult to prove, and it may be practiced at all levels of government, and its unabashed practice — which would, by the way, be the inevitable outcome of Her getting away with it — has the independent ability to destroy the republic.

And the pardon must come from Dear Leader.  Everyone expects him to, anyway, for starts.  Secondly, such a pardon from a President Trump would in an instant destroy his credibility with everyone who — as I did — pulled the lever for him by reason of Her guilt.  If you want to destroy Trump’s presidency once and for all, have him grant Her clemency.

I would note that, because the FBI has an independent counter-intelligence function, pardoning Her will not end its jurisdiction fully to investigate and evaluate all those e-mails.  This is important, because the American people do deserve to know the full details of what She did while in office.

I would not, however, support clemency for Her raft of co-conspirators and enablers.  Exactly how many hundreds of people had to be in the loop on that illegal server, seeing what any fourth-grader could recognize as classified information flit to and fro?  How many bag men for the Clinton Foundation were there who made the arrangements with the foreign donors?  All of Her scheming could never have got off the ground were it not for the underlings.

Let us run a thought experiment:  I am some senior staff member to a senior government official.  I am given instructions by my chief that I know from the moment the words leave his mouth are flagrantly not just illegal, but constitute major felonies.  Thinking that my chief and I sink or swim together gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling, because I’m thinking he has the political pull to save himself, and by doing so will necessarily save me as well.  What if, on the other hand, I can look back and find ample precedent for the outcome that my chief, for whose benefit I am asked to commit multiple crimes, is going to skate and enjoy a long and remunerative retirement, while I go to prison?  Will I be more likely or less likely to go along with it?  How likely is it that my chief will organize a John Q. Zimmelfritz Legal Defense Fund to keep my country ass out of chokey?

What if senior staff at the State Department had refused to communicate with Her except across a properly authorized, secure government e-mail account?  What if She Herself had had to do all her negotiating favors for the King of Morocco, or the Russian uranium interests, or Ericsson for cash (like the $750,000 speech Bill gave to Ericsson’s board of directors, or the $500,000 speech he gave to the Moscow bankers financing Putin’s acquisition of 20% of U.S. uranium production capacity, or the $23 million that the king kicked into Her foundation), instead of having shoals of willing errand-boys and -girls?  I will tell you one very likely outcome of my alt-history:  We would be getting ready for our second President Clinton right now, because millions of voters — voters such as yore ‘umble correspondent here — would very likely have opted for Her, instead of Trump.

I don’t want to live in Central America, or Russia, or China, or North Korea.  I damned sure don’t want those places brought here.  Pardon Her, and be done with it.  To borrow from Cromwell:  In the name of God, go!

Ambivalent Insight

What does it say about oneself that one can see into the mind of a scoundrel?  There’s little question that it’s a useful ability, but is it something to be proud of that you can do it?  “I can think like an utterly depraved wretch.”  Yeah, write that home in a letter to mom.

It appears that the general consensus is that Wikileaks is a Kremlin front-operation.  This is not something difficult to figure out, in all truth.  Just ask yourself what damaging information has been leaked as to Putin’s Russia, or to Red China, or North Korea, or Iran, or to any other communist or former-communist client state.  And how much ought there have been released, given how those countries and their rulers operate, both at home and abroad?  This is Sherlock Holmes’s dog not barking in the night, writ large and in blood.  It therefore inevitably follows that the leaks of e-mails hacked from the Democrat National Committee, from Her campaign guru John Podesta, from Her private shady operator Sidney Blumenthal, and from others near and dear to Her are in fact an attempt to influence the American presidential election.  I just don’t see there being room for intellectual good-faith disagreement on the subject.

The question is thus suggested:  Influence it in favor of whom?  The self-evident answer is “in favor of Vladimir Putin,” but that’s only the ultimate answer.  The question is which candidate is Putin trying to put into the Oval Office.

The hand-wringing class has proclaimed that the answer is Donald Trump of course, because he said “pussy” on camera.  Or something like that.

I have always thought the Conventional Wisdom on this subject betrays an extremely shallow understanding of Putin, Trump, and Her.  It looks only at the surface ripple, the splash of the moment, and ignores the deep currents and subsurface eddies of what’s actually going on.  “These e-mails are horribly embarrassing to Her; of course he’s trying to put Trump over the top.”  And why?  Well, Trump has spoken disparagingly of NATO, and implied that America’s commitment to it isn’t absolute.  Ergo:  Putin likes Trump.  And besides, Putin’s evil and Donald Trump is the Very Incarnation of Evil (or will be until four years from now, when the then-current Republican nominee will be Satan’s Mentor and Donald Trump will be an august senior statesman the passing of whom the stage is a lamentable — lamentable! I tell you — indication of Our Republic’s degradation . . . just like Bush was to Reagan and Dole, like McCain was to Bush, Romney was to McCain, and not Trump is to Romney), and because they’re both So Evil, they must like and desire each that each other prosper.

I think the above is superficial.  In asking whom Putin wants in that office, the question to ask is which candidate might Putin think it easier for him (i) to predict, and (ii) to control.  Because that’s how Putin has to operate in a world in which he does not, directly or otherwise, control overwhelming physical force.  Yes, they’ve got some nifty toys, but he understands, as he must, that in a head-to-head match-up with the American arsenal, at least for the time being, his best hardware would be left a pile of smoking wreckage.  He’s a gambler, but he’s not reckless.  So without a Real Safe Bet on physical force, what is left to him but political control?  He doesn’t have to invade the spaces around Russia if he can so direct their actions, and so constrain the ranges of their options, that they have little choice left but to do his will.  It should go without saying that if he can largely control the person at 1600 Pennsylvania, he is 90% of the way to accomplishing that.

I will observe that it must be taken as axiomatic that you cannot control what you cannot predict.  That fact alone must incline Putin away from a Trump presidency.  There’s just about nothing bad, either personally or politically, that you can say about Donald Trump that I wouldn’t freely agree to be at least plausible, if not likely, and very possibly damned near a certainty.  And among the many bad things said is that the guy’s imbalanced; that he’s a narcissist; that he’s a pathological liar who doesn’t even mind it that you falsify every single one of his factual claims.  All of those have to produce billowing clouds of warning smoke for Putin.  How in the world can Putin predict what a Trump is going to do in Situation X?  You can’t ask what will allow him to cash in on his public service after he leaves office.  Trump doesn’t need the money.  You can’t ask what will burnish his reputation.  Trump’s been squandering his reputation for over 30 years now; in fact, his Bad Reputation is precisely the reputation he’s proudest of.  You can’t ask what will offend his base of support.  Trump was only slightly exaggerating when he allowed that he could shoot a man dead in broad daylight and his people would still vote for him.  You can’t ask what will help him to perpetuate his machine.  Trump doesn’t have a machine; hell, he’s just barely got a campaign organization.  Who out there is riding Donald Trump’s coat tails?  About whom does Donald Trump give enough of a damn that they could go to him and say, “Listen, chief; you gotta stop this business or you’re going to wreck us come next November.”  You can’t examine his record in public office because he’s never held any such office.  You can’t examine his public statements because he’s completely comfortable boxing the compass on just about any issue you can name, and you can’t embarrass him by pointing out that he’s done it once more.

I submit that to Vladimir Putin, Trump must appear to be an unguided rocket with at least two of five motor nozzles that are partially plugged, and a short circuit in the launching system.

But would She be so much easier to predict and therefore control?  I suggest She would.  And why?  For starts, we know for a fact that She will joyfully sell the highest public offices in the land for cash to hostile foreign actors, including foreign state actors.  I will remind Gentle Reader that the U.S. Secretary of State is fourth in line for the presidency, after the president, the vice president, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.  There can be no honest argument, after the recent releases of e-mails, that She was not perfectly willing to sell access to Herself, and to take official action (or refrain from it, just ask Ericsson) in exchange for cash donations to Her foundation and/or direct payments to Her husband.

But more to the point:  She has a passion, verging on a mania, for secrecy.  She could have run all of Her pay-to-play scams on that private server, and still run all of the State Department’s legitimate business across an official, secure government server.  She chose to do otherwise.  When discovered, She chose to destroy all the evidence She could.  She chose to have her underlings commit perjury for Her protection (Huma swore under oath that she had accounted for all e-mails in her possession or control . . . and now they find while investigating her husband a further 650,000 e-mails on a shared laptop).  She chose to lie, and lie, and lie about the entire episode, when She must have known that eventually it would all come out.  If there is a depth to which She will not sink in Her efforts to shield what She does in public office from the scrutiny of the public, no one has ever identified it.

As has been pointed out, the Clintons — He and She — make nothing.  They provide no intrinsically valuable service.  They have no valuable skills to sell.  All they have to peddle is influence in government.  And my o! my have they done well at it.  Millions upon millions upon millions of dollars in personal net worth, between two people who, as of January 20, 2001, had not held a real job in the better part of twenty years or more, but rather had worked a series of very modestly-paying government jobs.  So if you destroy Her, and Her network of supporters within and without government, you destroy Her livelihood, a livelihood to make which She has, as mentioned, joyfully sold the highest offices of the land.

Which is why I am convinced that Wikileaks has not come anywhere close to releasing the most damaging materials in its possession, and will very carefully not do so before the election.  It is in Vladimir Putin’s interest to have in office a crippled president.  It is in his interest to have a president across the table from whom one of his operatives can sit and read from materials so incriminating that not even the American “news” media will be able to avoid the compulsion to publish.  Material so damning in its lay-it-out-in-black-and-white-on-Her-own-keyboard terms that only the Al Frankens, Nancy Pelosis, Alcee Hastingses, and Chuck Shumers of the House or Senate will be unwilling to vote for her removal from office.

What are the exact odds that, should She be elected, within a few weeks at most, a very quiet meeting will not occur, quite off the record you understand.

“Congratulations on your election, Mrs. President.  You’ve worked your whole adult life for this and now you’ve accomplished what no woman before you has.  You are to be commended.  Now let’s talk about this e-mail.  <reads aloud>  Or perhaps this one.  <reads aloud>  Or, gosh darn it, perhaps this one.  <reads aloud>  Now Mrs. President, you and I both know those aren’t even anywhere close to as bad as they get, don’t we?  And you and I both know that there are many, many news outlets in this great wide world which would gladly take these stories and run with them.  Aren’t there?  And you can’t stop any of them, can you?  So let’s talk about how you’re going to run your office, is that OK with you?”

And so forth.  At that point we have a U.S. President who is owned, from the top of her noggin to the soles of her sensible shoes, by any of several hostile foreign intelligence agencies.

I have to say I’m proud to see that at least one other person seems to be thinking along lines similar to the above.  There is almost no level on which it is in Vladimir Putin’s self-interest to see a President Donald Trump sitting in that office, squinting at him with those porcine eyes of his.  Her?  Putin can work with Her, can work on Her, can . . . and will . . . own Her.

In Which I Go Full Tin-Hat

So yesterday the FBI re-opens an investigation, according to a letter which the director, James Comey, sent to Congress.

The Donald Trump campaign, and of course all the outfits which have been watching that campaign self-destruct, again and again making unforced errors, only to recover, somehow, as well as all the outfits that are more hoping that expecting that Hillary Clinton’s decades of malfeasance — including outright criminal behavior in the form of sale of public office and intentional mishandling of classified information, just to name a few — would finally catch up with her, are exulting.  They present the letter as news that the FBI is re-opening its investigation of Hillary Clinton.

The Letter to Congress (that expression puts me in mind of Lord Chesterfield’s Letters to His Son, one of my favorite expressions of which is the good earl’s characterizing his (bastard; is nothing immune from irony?) son, Phillip Stanhope, as an “abandoned whoremonger”) says no such thing, of course.  All it says is that certain e-mails have come to light in connection with an “unrelated investigation”; that those e-mails “may be relevant” to the earlier investigation of Her “personal e-mail server”; and, that in light of his previous testimony that the Feeb had completed its investigation of Her e-mail server, Comey feels obliged to inform Congress that is no longer the case.  The FBI will “assess whether or not this material may be significant,” and will get back with them.

All of which is to say, ho-hum.

Carl Bernstein, of Watergate fame, has this to allow:  “We don’t know what this means yet except that it’s a real bombshell. And it is unthinkable that the Director of the FBI would take this action lightly, that he would put this letter forth to the Congress of the United States saying there is more information out there about classified e-mails and call it to the attention of congress unless it was something requiring serious investigation.”  Full transcript at that link, by the way.

But that’s not the only word.  As it turns out, Comey — who’s never been an FBI agent, and whose actions in blatantly torpedoing the actual investigation of Her have, it seems, produced vehement outrage in the agency itself — felt called upon to explain himself to his underlings, whose integrity he sold out before all the world, in a letter which has now (will people never learn it’s 2016 already?) been leaked.  The Washington Post has a transcription, here.  Comey emphasizes his “repeated” statements in recent months that the investigation was complete, and how they discover additional materials.  And so to “correct the record,” the FBI is now going to take “appropriate steps to obtain and review” the e-mails.

And just where were these e-mails found?  Well, they were found in an e-mail account shared by Her Muslim Brotherhood operative closest aide, Huma Abedin, with her soon-to-be-former husband, Anthony “Carlos Danger” Weiner.  The physical discovery was on Huma’s laptop.  The “unrelated investigation” referred to by the FBI is their investigation of Weiner’s sexting relationship with a 15-year-old girl.  If Comey is unsuccessful at sweeping this stuff under the rug as well — and allow me to put down the marker that I firmly believe that’s exactly what he has in mind — and if the American public is not so covered in civic scar tissue from the repeated and prolonged revelations at just how corrupt the Clinton empire actually is, and consequently fails to give Her the office which She has always believed belonged to Her by right, then Weiner will truly have earned the nickname I saw him tagged with yesterday, viz. “the Fredo Corleone of the Democrat Party.”

So what does it all mean, then?

Comey certainly cannot be protecting either his reputation or that of the FBI.  He has ruined those for all time.  Don’t think the acquittal across the board of the Bundy crew out in Oregon this week was anything other than outright jury nullification?  Don’t think it might have been a reaction to seeing how the High and Mighty flout the laws to the peril of the country, and have the very police power itself collaborate in the cover-up?  What color is the sun on Gentle Reader’s planet, then?

<paste cri de coeur>

[How’s this for a civil disobedience program:  No More Convictions.  If every federal criminal jury were to return a “not guilty” verdict in every single trial, if every jury in a tax case were to find against the IRS, if every jury in every suit brought by an administrative agency were to find for the citizen, then maybe perhaps the political class might get the message that the rest of us have had about all we’re fucking going to take of them.  The boycott would continue until both She and Comey had (i) resigned all federal offices, (ii) made a full and public confession of exactly what they have done, (iii) executed an agreement in enforceable form never to seek or accept public office from any federal, state, or local entity, and (iv) surrendered their law licenses with an enforceable undertaking never to seek reinstatement.  I make that modest proposal fully aware of the horrible implications it would have, if implemented.  I am not unmindful of the innocent victims of horrific crimes who would see their perpetrators walk away unpunished.  I am certainly aware that, as Things Work Out at the cosmic level, I would in all likelihood be one of those victims.  But if we allow a system to continue in which the law simply does not apply to specific individuals from a specific political class, then Benjamin Franklin will have the answer to the question implicit in his response when questioned what the Constitutional Convention had wrought: “A republic, if you can keep it.”  Weimar Germany didn’t collapse under the weight of reparations; it was never invaded; it was not cast into outer darkness by any constellation of hostile powers.  It collapsed because ordinary Germans gave up on it.]

<end of  cri de coeur>

My guess is that the FBI special agents running the Weiner investigation went to Comey and told him something along the lines of, “Listen, coach:  You’re not going to do to us what you did to those bastards who served you up Hillary Clinton on a tray with the apple in her mouth, ready to be shoved into the oven and baked.  We’re not signing any bullshit non-disclosure agreements.  You either shine a light on this or we will.”  [Update: 01 Nov 16:  It looks as though my hunch may match up pretty well with what actually played out in the FBI.]

So what can Comey do?  Well, my guess is that in the FBI there are very specific, and very specifically enforced, rules about disclosures in respect of an on-going investigation.  By officially designating this material to be part of an on-going investigation, Comey seals it off from the light of day.  Unless I really misunderstand things, there is no deadline at all for how long the FBI has to take to make a decision to refer something for prosecution or not.  I would be amazed if Comey ever makes that “assessment” he’s promising Congress.  His “assessment,” if any, is likely to take the form that he assesses his job to depend on seeing to it that the contents of those e-mails and how they came to be on the laptop used by a pedophile to sext his victims never, ever, ever see the light of day.

And they won’t.

This is not, in other words, the “bombshell” that Carl Bernstein thinks it is.  It is, rather, precisely the opposite.  John Podesta, as corrupt a political operator as has ever run a pay-to-play scheme for a politician, has demanded that Comey immediately disclose what’s in those e-mails.  I guarantee you that She knows precisely what’s in them.  But this demand permits Comey to play — publicly, at least — all coy about the “on-going investigation” thing.  I will also promise you, however, that Her operatives will be permitted to participate in the “investigation”.  [Historical note:  In July, 1914, the only demand from Austria-Hungary which Serbia turned down was the demand that Austro-Hungarian officials be allowed to participate in the Serbian investigation into the antecedents, planning, and execution of the assassination plot against the Archduke Franz Ferdinand.  They were wiling to agree to a laundry list of humiliation by the Austro-Hungarians.  But not that:  They were willing to accept what they had to have known would be the nearly-certain destruction of their country rather than agree to that one demand.  And so it came to pass.  Let us watch what Comey does, very carefully this time.]

I will hazard a small prediction:  Within hours, if it has not already commenced, we will see public statements from Her campaign and its surrogates which, by reason of their confidence and substance, indicate that they in fact do not fear the supposed “investigation” and “assessment” of this additional “material” by the FBI.  When someone is acting as if what would otherwise be a known and grave threat does not exist, Innocent Bystander is entitled to question why.  Again, from July, 1914, the question was asked why, in its dealings with Serbia, did Austria-Hungary behave as if Russia — which was known to view itself as the protector of all Balkan Slav countries — did not exist.  And the answer was of course that Austria-Hungary had taken out an insurance policy in Berlin, in the form of the famous “blank check” given by Imperial Germany, that whatever their ally did Germany would march beside them.  My hunch is that Her campaign has already received the desired assurances from Comey.  Without fear of actual disclosure, they can pivot to media spin, confident that whatever bullshit they get their operatives in the “news” media to put out there will not be contradicted by leaks from within the FBI.

Is all this tin-foil-hat territory?  It may well be.  But given how intentionally Comey blew up his own “investigation” of Her, I’m afraid the burden of proof must be viewed as having shifted to Comey.

Cooking Chitlins: On Experimentation

How joyful it is to welcome chitlin season once again!  Went to my regular supper this past Friday evening, and I must say they were very tasty.

In preparation for the festivities, the preceding weekend I had thawed out a couple of quarts that I’d saved from last winter, and on a whim I tried a little variation when I heated them back up to eat.  Specifically, having warmed them back up, I put a couple of forkfuls’ worth in two teacups.  In one I added Worcestershire sauce, and in the other, Marsala cooking wine.

I am pleased to report that the Worcestershire sauce was a complete success, a result which I confirmed Friday at the chitlin supper when I had them bring a bottle to the table and I tried it out on an entire serving at once.

The Marsala wine was just too strong a flavor.  It may well be that because I added it to the finished product the flavor hadn’t had a chance to mellow out.  Maybe I’ll add it in while heating up a small helping next time.  The jury’s still out on that, in other words.

My next two experiments will involve apple cider vinegar and teriyaki sauce.  The vinegar will definitely be something to add while heating them back up.  I know some folks cook with it in the pot as well, and that’s certainly something I intend to try, based on how the smaller-batch experiment turns out.  The teriyaki will be something that can be, like the Worcestershire, added to the final serving.  You know, if you ever-so-slightly slur “chitlins teriyaki” when you say it, you sound amazingly like you’re saying “chicken teriyaki.”  So the impish chitlin chef could have a little fun offering his unsuspecting guests a nice plate of chitlins teriyaki.

I will keep Gentle Reader informed of my results obtained, as always.

On the Kaiser and the Administrative State

A couple of weeks ago a buddy forwarded to me a photo that a friend of his had taken, of House Doorn in the Netherlands.  This is it:

house-doorn

As Gentle Reader might surmise from the bust in the foreground, this was the house in which Kaiser Wilhelm II spent the last two decades or thereabouts of his life.  He is buried on the grounds there, and is likely to remain there forever.  His express wish was not to be returned to Germany until it became a monarchy again, and the likelihood of that occurring is somewhere in the neighborhood of 0.0.

Being the considerate, courteous feller that I am I thanked my buddy.  I passed along that I have the two-volume biography of Wilhelm by Lamar Cecil, which I found to be very well done, and remarkably fair given the subject.  Cecil doesn’t pull punches, but refrains from gratuitous character-blackening.  But it’s his final comment on Wilhelm that sticks in the mind.  Of the last kaiser it could equally be said, so Cecil, what Wellington pronounced upon George IV:  He lived and died without being able to assert so much as a single claim upon the gratitude of posterity.

My buddy then e-mailed me back to allow that Cecil’s judgment echoed what he had read about ol’ Kaiser Bill in both Paris 1919 and The War That Ended Peace, both by Margaret MacMillan.  I have both and recommend them both, but the exchange with my buddy got me to thinking back to the war’s beginnings.

As I think I’ve mentioned before, the Great War has been a fetish of mine for right at 30 years.  I can’t say I have any friends I know to give a tinker’s damn about it, but for me it is a source of endless fascination and continuing reflection.  [N.b.  By an odd coincidence, a very dear friend of mine had one grandfather who was a machine-gunner for the kaiser; the other grandfather had been a machine-gunner in the A.E.F.]

I have on loan from a mutual friend the BBC mini-series 37 Days, the story of the interval between the Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination on June 28 and the August 3, 1914, British declaration of war.  As you might expect from the Beeb, the story is told primarily from the viewpoint of the Anglo-German dyad.  There are two brief scenes each of Franz Joseph and Nicholas II; the balance of the action takes place in London and Berlin.  The central character around whom the narrative is framed is Sir Edward Grey, the British foreign minister.  Ian McDiarmid plays Grey marvelously.

There are a couple of historical inaccuracies in the plot.

Franz Joseph is implied to be the motive force behind the famous ultimatum to Serbia, when in fact it was his cabinet, and above all his military Chief of the General Staff, Field Marshal Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, who seized upon the assassination (which Franz Joseph greeted with, above all, a sense of relief, remarking as much in so many words) to crush Serbia once and for all, both to remove a source of agitation for the empire’s Serb minority and to re-assert Austria-Hungary’s place as a Great Power in Europe.

In Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm’s initial reaction is presented as being bellicose, when it was nothing of the kind.  At least at first.  For obvious reasons the Austrians wanted to know whether they had Germany’s backing in doing anything to Serbia as such in response to the assassination.  So they sent Alexander, Count von Hoyos a foreign service official, with a memorandum in hand to see the Austrian ambassador to Germany, who was then to meet with Kaiser Wilhelm and the German Reichskanzler, Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg.  Bethmann-Hollweg’s initial reaction during that meeting — and more importantly, the kaiser’s as well — was cautionary.  But during the Austrian ambassador’s meeting with kaiser and chancellor, Hoyos was meeting with his own German counterpart to “explain” the memorandum’s actual meaning.  Hoyos had long been, it seems, a proponent of violent reckoning with Serbia, and the gloss he put on the memorandum was that Austria wanted a short, victorious war against Serbia and it expected Germany to live up to its alliance obligations.  That “interpretation” was then communicated up to Wilhelm, and by the time dinner came around that evening, Wilhelm was wearing his war paint and declared that whatever Austria wanted to do, Germany would back it to the hilt.  Thus was the famous “blank check” given.

The final point of inaccuracy in the BBC miniseries is that it presents Bethmann-Hollweg as being much more belligerent, and much more energetic about provoking warlike measures by the Austrians, than he actually was.  He’d never served in the army and had no illusions about its out-sized role in Germany policy-making.  He had long been an unsuccessful opponent of Admiral Tirpitz’s quixotic naval construction programs.

But that’s not what this post is about.  The BBC miniseries very accurately presents the role played by the German General Staff, the Generalstab.  The generals very very much wanted a war, but not a war between Austria and Serbia.  They were looking for war with Russia, a preventive war.

What follows below is the (slightly edited) e-mail I sent to my buddy:

If you back up a half-step from the historical narrative and look at the meta-story of it, what you realize is that what was going on was that the responsible organs of government – the kaiser and the reichskanzler — abdicated a central decision-making function – how to address the continent-wide instabilities created by two decrepit, ancient political systems (Austria-Hungary and Russia) as they desperately fought for continued relevance in a notoriously volatile part of Europe — to supposed “experts” viz. the Army Generalstab. 

Everyone and his cousin knew the issue – What to Do About the Balkans, Dear – to be fiendishly complicated. 

But hist! the Generalstab more or less hijacked the decisional process.  For them the issue wasn’t the Balkans as such, it was the supposed settling of accounts (“Which accounts, exactly?” the innocent bystander might have asked) with Russia.  For decades – ever since Caprivi had let the Secret Reinsurance Treaty with Russia lapse in 1890 (I think it was), the Generalstab had assumed a war with Russia as part of Germany’s treaty obligations to Austria-Hungary.  To be true, they’d at first discounted the possibility that despotic Russia and republican France could ever find their way to the same bed, but in 1894 it had happened.  But they were “experts,” after all, and what good is an “expert” if he can’t “solve” any problem you set him, right? 

In 1914, the “experts” of the Generalstab offered several assurances to the responsible decision-makers:  (i)  There was a rapidly approaching, apocalyptic event – the overtaking of Germany by Russia in military and economic power – the result of which, if not stopped, was the utter destruction of Germany as a flourishing polity and puissant European power.  (ii)  Only the Army had the power to stop it.  (iii)  The only method of addressing this on-coming apocalypse was to cede authority and command over events to the experts, who were to be given free hand in crafting a salvation from it, and that salvation was a specifically military solution.  (v)  There were no unknown developments to fearfrom the experts’ be-all-and-end-all solution of provoking a general war against Russia in the east (oh, for example, the American industrial economy being effectively thrown into the scales on the other side, or Italy getting bought by the Allies with promises of Austrian territory).  (vi) Any known risks of side-effects had been fully accounted for and contained (the Schlieffen Plan and knocking France out of the war in six weeks, thereby reducing the British and more critically the Royal Navy to impotence . . . assuming Britain even bothered to come in at all). 

You will readily recognize in the above the fundamental paradigm of the modern state.  The organs pursue their own agendas, which they form internally and without reference, by and large, to the determinations of the responsible political organs.  Those agendas grow from the agencies’ own objectives, the ultimate outcomes of which, whatever other attributes they might enjoy, invariably display one common feature: the increase in the control exerted by that agency, and the protection of its insiders.  The agencies invariably present their programs never as a trade-off among competing priorities, but rather as the sole chance of staving off catastrophe.  The agencies explicitly take the position that no one from outside them can possibly understand their pet issue(s) or be morally entitled to take a position on them which must be respected and is entitled to be accounted for in any ultimate resolution.  The agencies strenuously maintain, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that they possess full knowledge of every possible consequence of their actions, have accounted for those consequences, and have so arranged everything – Everything, I tell you!! – that no meaningful harm can come from just turning the keys over to them, and if we’ll all just shut up and do as they say, the lion will lie down with the lamb and all will be for the best in the best of all possible worlds. 

Hold that template up to nearly every single agency of modern government, and you will see it fits like pigskin on a pig.  The legal system?  Check.  The EPA?  Check.  The Fed?  Spot-on.  The educational industry?  Oh boy yes; try making a suggestion about how classroom education might be improved to someone carrying an NEA card in her purse and see how much an Outsider gets listened to.  Pretty much any of the alphabet-soup agencies?  Like it was tailor-fit to them.  The military?  Pretty much yes, although the cultural memory of Vietnam has done a great deal to pop a lot of seams in the cloth (kind of ironic that the one aspect of modern America which doesn’t fit perfectly the paradigm of summer, 1914 is precisely the American military in its relationship with the responsible organs of government). 

And now remind me how the Kaiser’s decision to put the generals in the saddle in July, 1914 worked out.

We are glibly informed by our president that, “I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone,” and so he’ll jolly well do as he pleases and Congress be damned.

We have the Consumer Financial Protection Board, which actually isn’t a “board” at all, but rather a non-firable single administrator whose budget comes from the Fed’s surplus income and who answers to no one (mercifully, that structure was just the other day ruled to be unconstitutional by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit).

We have the EPA just more or less deciding to destroy the American power system through regulating carbon dioxide as a “pollutant”.  The courts, indulging the lunacy, agreed that what comes out of your chest as you exhale is subject to regulation by the EPA.  Think about that one, Gentle Reader.  The product of one of your basic life processes is subject to regulation in Washington, D.C.  You are a discharge point.  The EPA runs the National Point Discharge Elimination System (at least for wastewater; I can’t say off the top of my head whether it applies to airborne pollutants — like your breath — as well).  Can you say “residency permit” and “internal passport,” Gentle Reader?  Don’t think it can’t happen; the Army Corps of Engineers famously tried to regulate wet-weather pools on private land as being “navigable waters”.

It is an unfortunate fact of Life that it is far, far easier to do harm than good.  It took the better part of 600 years to build the cathedral at Cologne (or Köln, as we Germanophones would say it); one truck bomb lit off by an ISIS sleeper cell (and the German security services have admitted that such are already there) could bring it down with a few hours’ work.  The German Generalstab managed, with a few weeks manipulation of processes and personalities, to provoke a war which just about destroyed European civilization; in fact, it did destroy it.  If in 1895 you’d asked anyone but a raving lunatic whether it was OK to shoot and gas 6,000,000 people because of where — not just they, but their ancestors going back six generations — went to church, they’d have tried to calm you down while they quietly fetched the gentlemen bearing the straitjackets.  If you’d suggested that it was OK to kick hundreds of thousands of people off land they and their ancestors had inhabited for centuries (as happened in Poland, and eastern Germany, and the Sudetenland), they’d have very carefully put a table between you and them.  If you’d proposed that it would be a very good thing to starve to death your entire independent agricultural class, they’d have run for the hills shouting there was a madman on their tails.  And yet by mid-century all this and much, much more had happened, and had been blessed not just by the perpetrators but by “serious” third-party observers, such as The New York Times whitewashing the Holodomor.

What might an uncontrolled administrative state work by way of mischief?  I am afraid that I will live long enough to find out.  I am terrified that my sons almost certainly will.

The Economist Gets It Wrong

This is almost becoming an evergreen post title.  Once upon a time, The Economist was a serious magazine (it describes itself as a newspaper, by the way), to be taken seriously.  It was not at all unusual to open an issue and see letters to the editor from senior sitting cabinet ministers of serious countries.

Not, as Inspector Clouseau would say, any more.  I let my subscription lapse quite a few years ago, and nowadays I mostly read it on the throne in the gents’, here at the office.  I forget just when they went to being a shill for the usual drearily predictable far-left wing causes.  I’ve commented on the style manual apparently in effect at the place, under which every article on no matter what topic has to be tied somehow back into How Awful Global Climate Change is and why it would be real swell if we all just blew up the entire world economy on the off-chance that we might influence the “average global temperature” by two degree . . . 125 years from now.  Or something.

This year they’ve gone all-in to elect Her Herness.  Every week’s edition is full of how horrible it would be if Donald Trump is elected because he says such Mean Things and he’s so tacky and “thuggish” and so on and so forth.

If The Economist has done any extensive reporting on Her signing off on 20% of U.S. uranium production to the Russians, at a time when Her husband was being paid several hundred thousand dollars to give a twenty-minute speech to a Russian bank in Moscow (I mean, for God’s sake, even The New York Times reported on it, it was so egregious), I’ve not seen it.

If they’ve seriously analyzed the detailed report of the FBI director, in which he very meticulously went down each and every element of multiple federal felonies, showing that She checks every single box . . . and then recommended no prosecution, the week after Her husband and the U.S. Attorney General just happened to have a lengthy pow-wow in a private jet (of course! “global climate change” is only a problem when one of the unwashed masses wants to let off a little carbon), it’s got by me.

If they’ve mentioned the time gaps in Her e-mails that she (falsely) represented as being Her complete work-related e-mails — gaps when She was documented as being overseas, and there are days when there’s not one single stinkin’ e-mail in the pile she produced (fancy that: the U.S. Secretary of State is overseas on official business, and not one solitary work-related e-mail is sent to Her or by Her for multiple days, when over Her tenure She averaged 21 per day) . . . I haven’t seen a word of it in their pages.

Just another example: At the same time that Her department is squeezing the government of Sweden on its joyfully doing business with countries which are among the strongest, most active sponsors of world-wide terrorism — including specifically Iran — Her husband sets up a fund-raising arm in Sweden that collects a cool $26 million, and Bill Himself pockets $750,000 from Ericsson, which had been selling communications equipment to Iran for use in that country’s security services.  Almost immediately after Bill pockets his three-quarters of a million dollars for a few minutes’ speech, the U.S. State Department backs off Ericsson, allowing it to “police” itself.

Look:  The Economist is perfectly entitled to pick a side and to toss away its 170-plus years’ reputation for the sake of the ideology of the moment.  I’d wager I’m not the only person who has watched what they’ve made of themselves over the past 20 years, and has decided their subscription just wasn’t worth it (it isn’t cheap and never has been).  They can do without me, and seem to be doing fine.

But I do get fatigued by their relentless propaganda.

The cover story of the July 30, 2016, edition is “The New Political Divide,” in which, in the editorial leader (for those unfamiliar with the magazine’s layout, they lead off each week with a series of editorials, the lead of which is the cover story; then there are the letters and news blurbs; then comes a longer article on specifically the cover story) for which we are informed:  “The conventions [Republican and Democrat] highlighted a new political faultline; not between left and right, but between open and closed.”  By “open” they mean specifically open borders and free trade.  They identify Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders as being the hucksters for “closed” and  Her as at best “equivocating.”

I don’t necessarily disagree with the proposition that, all else being equal, the free movement of people and goods across what are, after all, only man-made lines is a Good Thing.  I don’t even disagree with this statement:  “The multilateral system of institutions, rules and alliances, led by America, has under-pinned global prosperity for seven decades.”

Where The Economist goes off the rails is in the bait-and-switch of its analysis.  The key word here is “global,” but not in the sense that they wish us to take it — that is, “world-wide”.  Yes, the post-World War II prosperity has become world-wide, and even over just my own adult life has accelerated beyond any measure that could reasonably have been hoped for it at my birth.  It’s just amazing.  But:  The mood that has fueled the rise of Donald Trump is not an antipathy for “open” but a resentment that the benefits of “open” have become, over recent years, anything but “global,” at least not in the sense of “commonly shared by everyone”.

You see, there is a wide perception — and one backed by reality, unfortunately — that the population has become separated into two groups.  One the one side are those groups who bear the chief burdens of “open,” and on the other those who enjoy the bulk of the advantages.  The floods of illegal immigrants from Mexico and points south, and who are supposed now to receive work permits, driver’s licenses, welfare benefits, public housing rights, and so forth, are not competing for jobs, housing, and economic stability with those who most strenuously advocate their continued tide.  It’s pretty safe to say that not a single staffer at MSNBC is going to lose out on a job or promotion to an illegal immigrant.  Nor will a single government functionary.  Nor will a professor at a college.  Or a lawyer.  Or a doctor.  Or an accountant.  Or . . . well, you get the picture.  But the guy who drives a truck delivering auto parts to dealers around Little Rock, for example?  His livelihood is at stake when someone able (because living with three generations of four separate families, all wedged into a three-bedroom house) and willing to work for 40% less than he’s been making now has a work permit and doesn’t have to fear deportation when he gets his commercial driver’s license.

By like token, it doesn’t take much persuading to convince our out-of-work former factory worker that the rules by which China is allowed to play “international trade” are so stacked that he’s just plain screwed, now and for all time.  The guy who used to work making machine components has watched his company shut down the factory because of over-regulation, higher taxes, increased labor costs (only a small portion of which our hypothetical worker can trace into his own pocket, by the way), or whatever, and then move production overseas.  Company’s now doing fine; our Worker, not so much.

And then, of course, he sees the wealthy and prominent scofflaws doing as they damn well please, while his kid gets ground up in the juvenile justice system over a playground fight.  He sees Her getting caught red-handed compromising our national security, and likewise getting away with it.  He hears stories of enormous banks pushing loans to people they know can’t afford them, and then when the borrowers go belly-up, the banks thoroughly gun-deck the foreclosure process . . . and nothing seems ever to happen to them.  They remain as big as ever, and he hears the sums of money — tax money, his tax money — shoveled out to them to keep them afloat.  He hears a presidential candidate dismiss his concerns as “clinging to his guns and religion.”  He hears his home, his family, the world he grew up in and would like to pass down, to some degree at least, to his own children dismissed as “fly-over country”.  He is told that he is a bigot if he dares to question the wisdom of the Elites.  He is — at least if he is white — constantly accused of something called “white privilege” and for the life of him he can’t understand what’s “privileged” about having gone to work at age 16 and paid for every damned thing he owns out of his own pocket.  He notices that the people pasting these labels on him seem to be doing conspicuously better than he and his family are.

Precisely how reasonable is it not to expect a population so treated to embrace someone who promises to Change It All?

What The Economist seems to forget is that once upon a time most of a country was pretty easy to convince of the benefits of free trade.  In 1906 the Liberals in Britain blew up the Unionist Party in a general election.  The Unionists had pinned their flag to protectionism.  The Liberals wrapped them in the issue and rode to a landslide victory.  People can understand the benefits of free trade . . . when those benefits can be shown to benefit themselves in ways they can see.  It’s when “free trade” is used as a cover for the Insiders to get fat while the rest of the joint goes without that people turn away from it.  It’s the perception — and especially when that perception increasingly tracks reality — that the world is rigged against them that will turn people against that system, time after time.

I suggest it’s not just generic “inequality” that has got Americans up in arms this year.  America has never really done envy very well.  For decades the socialists would complain about how they just couldn’t get much traction here, setting class against class.  In America, they found, even the poor were determined one day not to be poor, were pretty OK with a system that would let them one day not be poor any more, and in fact even become well-off, and expected one day not to be poor. And they expected their children would not remain forever poor, forever shut out from opportunity to better themselves.  But what Americans can’t stand is a scam, a fraud, a rigged game of heads-She-wins-tails-you’re-a-bigot-and-lose-your-job-to-someone-whose-very-presence-here-is-a-crime.

But then again, no one at The Economist is going to lose his job to some government-backed factory in China, or to some guy who gave the finger to the country’s immigration laws and now has a work permit and lives in public housing.  No child of a staffer there is going to be rejected by a college because X% of the class entering places are now reserved for children of a certain color, or from special places, or whose parents speak very specific languages, or who engage in peculiar — very peculiar — behavior.  They know how to work the system and its rules; their children will do just fine.  Our truck driver from Arkansas?  His 17-year-old daughter is trying to navigate a house of mirrors and he can’t help her and he knows it.  You really want to piss a man off?  Set his child up to lose out and then keep him from pitching in to help.  And then rub salt in the wound by lecturing him on how contemptible he is while you’re doing it.

Yes, there’s a political divide out there, but it’s got bugger all to do with the one The Economist preaches to us.

Sometimes You See it in a Single Card

[Ed. — Wow.  I haven’t put anything up on this humble little blog since spring.  What have I been doing?  I couldn’t tell you, for the life of me.  The time just sort of heaves and sighs, and poof! there are another few months gone under the bridge.  Is this what we have to look forward to, as we age?]

You can see it in the slightest things, sometimes.  Someone in whom a particular mind-set, a philosophy, a Weltanschauung is so stamped that it has become a part of who he unthinkingly is will sometimes do or say something and not realize that he has laid bare, to some degree, the most fundamental mechanisms of his soul.  Reporters, the overwhelming majority of whom in Western societies are hard-core leftists, are especially prone to do such things.  They’re so far to the left that they don’t even realize that they are leftists; that’s just how the world looks to them.  And so they’re forever turning cards face-up on the table so that the rest of us can see what’s going on behind their eyes.  They’re no more self-conscious about it than a dog licking his balls.

I recently ran across a splendid example of it, in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the newspaper I’ve used as my internet start page ever since CNN took to shilling for al Qaeda back in 2006.  [Remember the snuff film they produced, of U.S. soldiers getting killed by snipers in Iraq?  They made and released that film in an explicit, self-proclaimed effort to influence the outcome of the 2006 mid-term elections.  CNN took that film, which its own makers had announced as an intention to subvert the American political process, and ran it, again and again and again.  What would we have thought if the Germans had made a similar film in 1944 and then Movietone had run it with the newsreels before every showing of every film in the U.S?]

The article deals with a statute with a wonderfully German name:  the Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz, or the Federal Education Improvement Law.  With typical glee in abbreviation and acronym (the Gestapo’s nickname was also one: in truth its full name was the Geheime Staatspolizei) it’s universally known as Bafög.  In round numbers it provides for federal level financial aid  to German students who are attending university (and presumably the technische Hochschulen as well).  The process starts with filling out a standard form, much like the FAFSA form here in the U.S.

At least, the Bafög provides that financial aid to students whose families aren’t well-off above a certain threshold.

The article’s title — “Unity and Justice and Bafög” is a play on the first words of the German national anthem: Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit, unity and justice and freedom.  The point of the article is that our newly-minted Abiturient — the holder of the coveted Abitur, which allows you to attend college in Germany — looking forward to the freedom and Selbstbestimmung (self-determination) of adulthood, with the university years as joyful, stimulating, liberating, challenging, endlessly intriguing opening chapter, is in for a let-down when he sits down to fill out the Bafög application. You see, on page 3 of the form the student is required to state his parent’s income and resources.  Too much and you don’t get any Bafög assistance.

Oopsies!  Turns out the blossoming student isn’t viewed as being quite liberated from his parents, after all.  More to the point, his ability to be a care-free student —

is materially affected by attributes of his family.  Wait.  Isn’t one of the Big Points of university exactly the separation of the student’s identity from that of his background?

The article correctly states the issue implicated:  We are called upon to take a position in the “eternal conflict between freedom, equality, and justice”.  You see, the problem with Bafög is that it is taxpayer funded.  By all taxpayers.  Including the baker whose son is doing an apprenticeship at the local machine shop, whose daughter is a waitress at the restaurant down the street, and whose wife is a nurse’s assistant at the hospital.  His and their money is being taken from them to fund the heightened life prospects of our new student.  Remind us again how this is just and equitable, if the student’s ability to launch himself in life with recourse to the resources of those who — at this point in life at least, before spouse and children appear — have the No. 1 Biggest Stake in his future prospects, is not to be taken into account.  [Note that just making university “free” to everyone doesn’t address our baker’s objections.  He’s still having to fork out to give someone else’s child a leg up in life, irrespective of the ability to help of that child’s parents.]

The article suggests that from our hypothetical tradesman’s perspective, it would be much fairer to require the student and his family to borrow the money and then pay it back from his presumably greater earnings.  As they do it in America, the author points out.  But what has been the result of that system in America, the author asks.  “Mountains of debt” just at the outset of one’s career.

The other way to go is the Scandinavian model, in which everyone — including the children of millionaires — has a right to support from the state.  To treat the children of the wealthy differently would be “not to take them in earnest.”  Whatever.

And now, the tell.  “The liberation from the oppressing bonds of background, which it [the money-for-everyone system] promises the student, has another hook.  It only come as a package.  In other aspects of life as well the state prefers to work directly, without disruptive intermediaries such as the family, with people.”  It is a “großangelegtes Vereinzelungsprojekt” — a comprehensive atomization project — with “grave side effects.”

There you have it.  The socialist system rests upon what is in substance an unlimited claim upon the individual humans who make up society.  It cannot and will not tolerate any other locus of power or independence.

First and foremost is the nuclear family.  It is no accident that among the earliest “reforms” of every socialist dictatorship (and they all are, even the Scandinavian ones with the smiley face) is a programmatic subversion of the nuclear family.  Divorce laws are loosened, the legal privileges of married status are withdrawn.  Children are removed, sometimes by force (membership in the Hitlerjugend or the Young Pioneers was not optional), and often by enticement (universal “free” day-care, anyone?) from their parents’ supervision.  The adults from whom they receive their daily, drip-drip-drip of influence are no longer the parents (or grandparents, or older siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, and so forth) but rather government functionaries, teaching lessons, values, and self-understanding chosen by the state.  Children are encouraged to spy and report on their parents.  Those who do (or who are said to have) are celebrated, publicly.

Churches come into the cross-hairs for the same reasons.  From the liquidation of the hierarchy under the Bolsheviks to Hitler’s co-opting the German churches — kudos to Bonhoeffer and the other organizers of the Confessing Church movement in Germany; they weren’t going along to get along — there is a remarkably consistent pattern in the subversion of religious organization by socialist government.

The Cultural Revolution was more of the same.  A couple of years ago I read a fascinating biography of Chairman Mao, and of course that period comes in for some close examination.  Traditional Chinese society is, of course, exactly that: deeply and abidingly traditional.  Although the Reds had completed their formal conquest of the country by 1949, and even though they had starved — very intentionally, by the way — somewhere between 45 and 60 million people — mostly peasants — to death during the Great Leap Forward (the link is to the Wikipedia article, which give a high of 42 million and a low of 18 million; on the other hand, this history gives the 45-60 range), Chinese society still remained in many of its core organizing principles the same traditional society it had been.  Mao realized that he had to smash, irretrievably, that hold which tradition had, because in traditional Chinese society the state, as such, played so small a part in everyday life.  Hence the Cultural Revolution’s targeting of everything which traditional China revered, first and foremost the teachers.

It was Mussolini who made famous the formulation: Everything within the state; nothing outside the state; nothing against the state.  This is the first and basic credo of the socialist.  You can pretty it up and say, “Government is just the name for the things we all do together,” but it’s the same thing.  You can stick a label on it — Gleichschaltung — so you can speak in catch-phrases.  You can even attempt to replicate it, to some degree, in the context of a free association, in such things as labor unions, with their ladies’ auxiliaries, athletic teams, children’s groups, and so forth.  But that doesn’t really work, does it, without coercion.  Witness what happened in places like New Harmony:  Without the coercive power of the state, the experiment in an all-encompassing socialism flew apart under the stresses of its own centrifugal forces.

Which is why, at bottom, if the premise of socialism is this unlimited claim upon the individual lives of the people, its essence is violence, physical coercion.

But how does this fascism-with-a-smiley-face play out in wonderful Scandinavia?  Let’s go back to that FAZ article for a reference to just one of those “grave side effects”:  “There are for example few lands in which so many people as in Sweden die completely alone, without any connection with their family.”  Or we can look at the WHO data on alcohol-related disorders:  For males, the rate in the U.S. is 5.48%.  In Sweden it’s 6.32%; in Finland 6.39%; in Norway (you know, that place we’re all supposed to be like) it’s a whacking 9.05%.  Here’s a link to an article in The Washington Post about the prevalence of diagnosed depression.  In the U.S., according to the map at the link, the rate appears to be in the 4-4.5% range.  It’s hard to tell from the map (there’s a further link to the underlying study, if Gentle Reader wants to read that far), but it looks like Sweden comes in at 4.5-5%, and Finland and Norway at 5.5-6%.  Those don’t sound like terribly bad numbers, until you consider that the jump from 4% (the U.S. low-end) to 5.5% (the low-end in wonderful Norway) is a 37.5% leap.

It looks, in other words, as though whatever else the intrusion of the state into every nook and cranny of its citizens’ lives is working for the better, it still seems not to do a very good job of avoiding your dying drunk, depressed, and alone.

Cheer up, Comrade.

Variations on a Theme by Ferguson

As I think I’ve mentioned on this humble blog before, the most interesting part of the U.S. Department of Justice report on the Ferguson, Missouri riots was not the racial aspect of what the Ferguson police department were or weren’t doing (and certainly not the conclusion that the officer was perfectly justified in shooting dead a violent felon who’d already made one attempt to seize the officer’s weapon and use it again him).  It was the degree to which Ferguson monetized its city court system and by extension its criminal law powers.

We are now seeing a variation on that theme, except that now we’ve got two rent-seekers fighting over the spoils.  “Rent-seeking” is what economists call the practice, as Wikipedia.org phrases it, of “seeking to increase one’s share of existing wealth without creating new wealth.”  Among the most egregious rent-seekers are (i) government at all levels, and (ii) lawyers.  I still recall hearing a fellow lawyer gloating over some peculiarly ill-advised statute which our state legislative assembly had passed, with specific emphasis on what a boon it was going to be for lawyers such as himself.  It made for depressing listening, the more so when I considered that he was correct.  That statute was going to generate untold extra business for lawyers in situations where the world just doesn’t need lawyers to be mixed up in them.

There is a company in Utah, Corrective Education Company, which markets its services to retailers.  For retailers, Gentle Reader should understand, shoplifting is a non-insurable risk.  That means that when someone steals from them, they either get it back themselves or they eat the loss.  It is part of the reason that, as the (true) saying has it, “The poor pay more.”  They do.  They do that because in poor neighborhoods losses to shoplifting are greater, the margins are thinner, and the money to cover the losses has to come from somewhere.  So it comes from everyone paying more for the same product.

What Corrective Education Company (CEC) does is a species of what is known in civil litigation as “alternative dispute resolution,” or ADR.  The point of ADR is resolution of civil disputes is that it is faster that a full trial and the results are less subject to judicial screwing-up.  It is phenomenally popular among economic actors whose business existence is exposed to repeated risk of litigation.  CEC has taken that same concept and is applying it to criminal offenses, specifically shoplifting.

What happens is that when a perp gets caught shoplifting from a CEC client, he is offered a choice:  He can have them turn him into the police for criminal prosecution, or alternatively he can sign an admission of what he did, then go through what CEC promotes as a “life skills” course the point of which is to impress upon the perp why it’s not a good idea to be a criminal and some degree of how to avoid staying a criminal.  And the perp pays CEC, roughly $500 or so.  Some portion of that money goes to the victim, but most of course stays with CEC.  Oh, and by the way, the perp doesn’t end up with a criminal record.

This idea has sparked outrage from entirely predictable quarters.  Remember Ferguson?  Well, there is an entire host of players who feed off the criminal justice system.  Police, prosecutors, court staff, judges, and then the whole tail-end process — the probation services companies (many if not most cities contract that out, either to private operators or to larger government entities, like the state itself), drug testing companies, counselors, and other busy-bodies.  The perps pay for them too, by the way, through the assessment of court costs, fines, and fees for all those private probation service companies, drug testing companies, counselors, and other busy-bodies.  Those outfits sure as hell don’t work for free, and the taxpayers have no interest in funding them.

What made the Ferguson system so pernicious, and I can vouch that their offense was distinct only in degree, not in kind, is that when the perp who’s copped a plea so that the prosecutor and police can tick that box off as being a closed case can’t find a job because of a criminal record, or can’t hold a job because its attendance requirements are inconsistent with having to run down to his probation officer every week or however often, and so can’t pay his court costs, fines, and fees, or he’s just not making enough money to pay them, he gets cycled back through the process, spending time in jail on the way (so he loses what job he had, and now can’t pay those court costs, fines, and fees), and on and on.  Plus, he’s now got a criminal record.

By the way, the court costs, fines, and fees for even a misdemeanor offense are uniformly a helluva lot higher than $500.

At any rate, in California (Gentle Reader knew that was coming, right?), the San Francisco city attorney has sued CEC, alleging that what it’s doing is extortion, false imprisonment, and so forth.  The case was filed back in November, 2015; I just saw a television news report of it yesterday on my way through a room where a television was on.  So I decided to see what I could find out about it.  Here’s the Los Angeles Times write-up, complete with link to the complaint filed.  And here Reuters, and SFGate, with their respective write-ups.

Let’s get an idea of the scope of the problem, from the LAT:  “Last year alone, retailers lost $44 billion to theft by shoplifters, employees and vendors, according to a national retail security survey. The CEC founders have said their ‘vision is to reinvent the way crimes are handled, starting with retail theft.’”  Forty-four billion dollars literally walking out the door.  Mind you, that’s not breaking-and-entering, or hijacking the trucks carrying product.  That’s broad-daylight theft.

Now let’s hear from the city attorney who’s filed the suit:  “But the civil lawsuit, filed in San Francisco County Superior Court, calls the tactics ‘coercive’ and ‘deceptive’ and says the program ‘has not been approved by any California court or prosecutor.’”  Well, of course it’s not been “approved”; this is a competitor to the other side of the criminal law industry.  They’re offering first-time perp a roadway out of his pickle for $500 and six hours pissed away in a seminar.  Versus dozens of hours spent with police, prosecutors, waiting around at cattle-call court dockets, then many hundreds of dollars in court costs and fines, followed by several thousand dollars to some private probation supervisor and drug-screening company (along with the hundreds of hours pissed away dancing attendance upon them).  Whom, exactly, does Gentle Reader think the owners, management, and employees of these third-party providers support come election time?

Even more to capture the motivation behind this lawsuit, here’s a longer extract from the LAT article:

“But legal experts said that particularly in California — where Proposition 47 has made petty theft a misdemeanor — it is unlikely that police and prosecutors would have pursued it.

That makes the threat of referral for prosecution problematic, said Stanford Law School professor Joan Petersilia, who with her students is surveying the increase in diversion programs — some of which partner with for-profit companies — that have resulted from shifts in California criminal justice policy.

Petersilia called CEC’s tactics ‘just so obviously wrong’ and said they do not fit the philosophy of restorative justice, which is based on empathy for the injured party and a solution that repairs the harm.

Most of the money under this model goes to CEC, not to the retailer or injured party, she said, adding that for those with money, it is not punitive enough, and for those without, it is unduly harsh.”

“Just so obviously wrong”; that is a characterization for use by someone who doesn’t really have an argument that will stand up against being pushed against.  What is the “tell” (to use a poker expression) for what is really going on here?  It’s in the bland phrase “increase in diversion programs — some of which have partnered with for-profit companies — that have resulted from shifts in California criminal justice policy.”

This is nothing more than a fight over the money that can be extracted from petty criminals.  Remember that, for starts, such crimes are at the bottom of just about every prosecutor’s priority list.  That’s just a fact of life, both for economic and political reasons.  No district attorney has a budget that will permit him to go hammer-and-tongs after every petty thief.  No district attorney won or kept office on a campaign platform of cracking down on the gal grabbing a lip-stick on her way out the door.

Most important to remember, in deciding how vigorously to wring one’s hands at the horrors of these perps getting nabbed not by the constituted authorities but by their own victims, is that even when they are prosecuted,  all that money in court costs, fines, and fees to those “diversion programs — some of which have partnered with for-profit companies” also does not go to “the retailer or injured party” either.  It sticks with the court officials, with the penal system, with those “partners” of the criminal legal system.  So Ms. Petersilia’s crocodile tears don’t move me much.

I long ago abandoned using the expression “justice system.”  No, what we have is a legal system.  In fact, it is more properly characterized as an industry.  It feeds multiple actors, some governmental, others private.  But what they all have in common is that they all pay their home mortgages, put tires on the car and shirts on their kids’ backs off the proceeds — we may call them the back-end proceeds — of crime.  They have livelihoods for so long, and only for so long, as an endless stream of perps is dragged through a legal system which is tailor-made to extract the maximum amount of cash from them for the minimum input in time.  Take away that cash and they’ll have to go get jobs and convince others to do business with them.

CEC is neither more nor less than threatening the rice bowl of an entrenched cadre of rent-seekers.  And so I have zero sympathy for their plight.

Harriet and Andy

The news in numismatics this week is that Andrew Jackson, the nation’s seventh president, is to be booted from the face of the $20 bill in favor of Harriet Tubman, of Underground Railroad fame.

Jackson’s getting the axe for two reasons:  The present administration is determined to put a face on U.S. currency that is not a white male face, and Jackson owned slaves.  He is also warmly despised for ejecting the Five Tribes from the Eastern United States.  So he has to go.

Harriet Tubman was a leading figure in the organization and operation of the Underground Railroad, that system of hiding places and safe houses which conducted escaping slaves from their points of origin to Canada, where the fugitive slave laws didn’t apply.  It was work conducted, at least in the South, at peril of the parties’ lives, and once in the north, at peril of arrest and imprisonment.

Suffice it to say that Harriet Tubman was equipped with guts enough to equip a regiment.  If you were to set out to fill an auditorium with the Greatest Americans who have thus far lived, she’d have a seat somewhere.

And yet I do not favor kicking Andrew Jackson off the $20 to make place for her.

Why?

For starts, a portrayal on U.S. paper currency is, if you will look at it, presently reserved for people who did great deeds in their capacity as public officials, not for acts of private significance, however worthy.  The only even possible exception is Benjamin Franklin on the $100 bill, but even then, Franklin was among the United States’ most important public servants.  The revolutionary alliance with France, that enabled us to win the war for independence in the first place, was a product of Franklin’s credibility at the court of Louis XV, of Franklin’s acknowledged place in world society (he regularly corresponded, as an equal, with the pre-eminent scientific minds of his generation).  Even before the war, he represented several colonies in London, and it was his personal experience of vituperation in Parliament which decided him that continued affiliation with Britain was not a workable long-term solution.  Later, he was a key player in the constitutional convention in 1787.  So even though he never held any public office under the United States Constitution, he was one of the men but for whom that compact would never have come into existence.

The other public servants scarcely need introduction.  Washington?  Father of the country.  Lincoln?  His deeds require no justification for the reverence in which we hold his memory.  Hamilton?  Father of our national economy (and also a key player in the constitution’s birthing).  Grant?  If being the key commander in winning the Civil War doesn’t merit his place, what might?  On coinage the pattern is similar.  Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson.  Eisenhower, who held together the Western allies in defeating Germany.  The two heads I don’t really understand are Truman’s on the dime and Kennedy’s on the half-dollar.

There is a single exception, and one that never took off:  The Sacagawea dollar (by coincidence I happen to have one in my pocket at this moment).  But even she has a claim to a service in the public interest:  It was she who guided the Corps of Discovery (better known at the Lewis and Clark Expedition) over the western mountains, who was valuable in securing for them the safe passage from the tribes whose lands they crossed.

Now let’s think of why Jackson might be on the $20 bill.  He was the founding light of the oldest continuing political party in American history.  Being a party hack doesn’t really merit a spot on the currency, though, does it?  Victor of New Orleans?  Well, as every school child knows, that battle was fought after the peace had been signed, although the point has been made that it in fact was not, in all likelihood, totally irrelevant for that reason.  There is strong reason to believe that Britain, had it been in possession of the mouth of the Mississippi, would not have surrendered it willingly after the war, which would have utterly changed the complexion of later American development.

No, I think Jackson earned his spot on the $20 bill when he stared down the South Carolina nullifiers.  As Gentle Reader will recall, a protective tariff had been adopted for the benefit of northern industrial interests.  The new imposts had the desired effect, of making imported manufactured goods more expensive than domestic production.  The burden fell hard on the Southern agricultural interests, because of their dependence upon their trade relationships with the British to move their cotton crop.  They bought a large proportion of their manufactured goods from Britain as a result of that trade.

Needless to say, the Southern interest was outraged at the new tariff law.  South Carolina announced an intent to “nullify” the federal statute.  It even passed an ordinance declaring the law to be unconstitutional and null within its borders.  It just was not going to apply in South Carolina (sort of like all these bullshit “sanctuary cities” that have announced that the federal immigration statutes don’t apply within their city limits — San Francisco is very much in the slaveholders’ tradition in this respect).

Let’s pause for a moment and take stock of where things stood during the Nullification Crisis:  In 1832-33 the United States was still a comparatively weak country, a comparatively small country.  Its parts were not yet bound by an enormous rail network, and outside the coastal plain there weren’t even all that many canals.  Large areas were still virgin wilderness (that situation applied far longer than one might expect: not far from where I live there is a county in which there were still over 100,000 acres of virgin hardwood in 1910).  The forces of cohesion in the country were still fragile, and there were still many powerful actors in the world who would have rejoiced in a failure of what was then known as the American Experiment.  This was still a world in which people’s demands for written constitutions were believed to be, and were treated as, an act of rebellion.  In fact, the Revolutions of 1848 in Central Europe were based in large part on precisely that — demands for written constitutions to tie down monarchs’ privileges.

[By the way, note what this understanding of constitutionalism has to say about the notion of a “living constitution.”  Until the U.S. Supreme Court got into it, everyone understood that a written constitution was written for the precise reason that its meaning did not morph over time into whatever you wanted it to say.  The U.S. Constitution was a revolutionary document for exactly the reason that it was written and its meaning did not change to suit the whims of the ruler of the moment.  The idea of a “living constitution” in which no provision has any permanent meaning does violence to the very concept of a constitution, and until the American left got at it, was universally understood to do so.]

The United States with its written constitution was a direct and immediate threat to all those crowned heads in Europe who fiercely resisted the pressure to shackle themselves to a written document with ascertainable substance.

Had South Carolina succeeded in openly defying the federal government as to Congressional action in respect of a matter unambiguously placed within its constitutional competencies — the regulation of trade with foreign nations — the American Experiment would have failed.  The country would not have survived, and there would have been no Underground Railroad because the borders would have been largely closed off.

Jackson was having none of it.  Congress authorized the Force Bill to compel South Carolina’s compliance with the law.  But of course, it would have been Jackson as commander-in-chief who would have been charged with implementing that, or not, and if so, how vigorously.  And what was Jackson’s position?  Well, a visitor from South Carolina asked him if he had any message he’d like to send to the good folks back home.  Jackson gave it to them with the bark still on it:  “Yes I have; please give my compliments to my friends in your State and say to them, that if a single drop of blood shall be shed there in opposition to the laws of the United States, I will hang the first man I can lay my hand on engaged in such treasonable conduct, upon the first tree I can reach.”

South Carolina knew he meant every last word of that promise.  Compare and contrast Dear Leader’s “red line” in Syria that wasn’t.  South Carolina knew what it had to expect from Jackson, and a compromise was reached.  Syria knew what it had to expect from Dear Leader, and it has acted accordingly.

Jackson, in short, did no more and no less than save the union in 1832-33, at a time when there was an immediate danger of its dissolution.  For that, he more than deserves his place on the $20 bill.  Whatever Harriet Tubman’s private courage and dedication to the cause of human liberty may have been, her life’s work simply does not rise to that level of national significance.  The Underground Railroad never would have changed a damned thing about the institution of slavery; there is no way on earth they could have spirited enough slaves out of the South to make any but the most minuscule dent on the institution.  It took a civil war to make that happen, and had it not been for Jackson’s stance in the face of the nullifiers in 1832-33, there never would have been the northern industrial and demographic powerhouse twenty years later which tore the poison lance of slavery from the national body by main force.  Just wouldn’t have happened.

If you absolutely want to have Tubman’s face on U.S. currency, bilge either Truman or Kennedy, preferably the latter.  But to degrade the man whose courage saved the country betrays a profound ignorance of American history.