April 29, 2018

Will post-US Korea unify or stay divided? Historical perspective

Ahead of a high-profile, first-ever summit between the leaders of the US and North Korea, there is a lot of attention being given to the individuals involved, exacerbating the tendency to focus on personal rather than societal factors. So let's zoom out and see what the historical background and the current context suggest about how the relations will play out.

This look will be broken up into several posts, starting with the forces that cause national unification over the time-scale of centuries, and ending with the forces that cause paradigm shifts in political regimes over the time-scale of decades. After all, a unified Korean peninsula would certainly require paradigm shifts in both the North, South, and the US, compared to the status quo of the Cold War.

Beginning with the conclusion, I think when the American empire leaves the Korean peninsula, it will in fact unify, to become as strong as possible under the pressures of both China and especially Japan (and a fat-tail risk from Islamic radicalized nomads from Central Asia). The state will be centered more toward the south than the north, as southerners will feel greater pressure to band together in the face of threats from Japan, while northerners will feel relatively less pressure from their north.

However, that may have to wait until paradigm shifts occur in the regimes of the major players -- already there in the South, perhaps soon in the North, but not yet in the US. Still, the process should be observably under way within the next couple decades, mainly waiting on a change of regimes in the US -- from Reaganism to Bernie-ism, as Tulsi Gabbard takes Mike Pompeo's place as Secretary of State.

Brief history of unification and division in the Korean peninsula

First, we emphasize that a unified polity in Korea is not a given, over the region's history -- nor that a unified peninsula would be centered toward the south.

It was under unified control for the last thousand years, from roughly 900 to 1400 (Goryeo kingdom, centered toward the north) and roughly 1400 to 1900 (Joseon kingdom, centered toward the south), but not for the thousand or so years before then. From roughly 1900 to 1950, it was occupied by Japan. After Japan lost in WWII, it was split between the major victors, with the Soviets supporting the North, and the US the South.

During the roughly 200 years before unification began, the peninsula was divided between northern and southern kingdoms (Balhae and Silla), with the north having a greater record of expanding outside its natural boundaries (e.g. into Manchuria). For the roughly 700 years before that -- back to the start of the first millennium -- there were in fact three kingdoms, with the southern region being sub-divided into two, and one of them (Baekje in the southwest) being an off-shoot of the northern kingdom (Goguryeo). Even before the Three Kingdoms period, there was one kingdom in the north (Gojoseon) and a confederacy of states in the south (Jin).

Over the millennia, the boundaries between north and south -- when the peninsula has been divided -- have remained close to what they are today.

The point is that the current division is not necessarily an artificial status imposed by external powers, as though the peninsula had an inherent tendency to be unified. For awhile it was, and for awhile before that, it wasn't. Should it remain divided long after the US pulls out, it will not necessarily be due to a "legacy of imperialism". For the longest time, the peninsula was in a stable state of division along roughly the current north-south lines, and it's possible (though unlikely) that it will return to that stable division for whatever reasons kept it stably divided before 900 AD.

And if it does unify, it's not inherently going to be centered toward the south, since during the two equally long periods when it was unified, one was more northern and the other more southern. We have to analyze what made unification more northern or more southern in the past, and see which of those sets of forces is the closest to the current set of forces.

Causes of national unification

That brings us to the matter of what forces cause smaller polities to merge into larger ones, from a loose tribal confederation up to a multinational empire.

There must be a "meta-ethnic frontier" dividing two very different sides -- different language, religion, subsistence pattern (farming vs. herding), physical appearance (bodily as well as adornment), historical territory, and so on. This sets up the strong sense of "us vs. them".

One of those sides must be already unified and expanding, so that it encroaches upon the other side. When one side is highly unified and literally moving in your direction, your own side had better unify its various little groups in order to withstand the advance, repel it back to where it came from, and maybe even conquer them in turn.

The advance by the other side must last over a long period of time, rather than be a fluke. If it were only a one-off "acute" encounter, you deal with it as best you can but don't bother changing your societal structure long-term. If, however, the encounters are "chronic," you had better change society to deal with it. That means that unification will be slow and steady, rather than a rapid response, as the people on the receiving end of the expansion are trying to figure out if they are dealing with an acute or a chronic problem.

Ethno-political unification shows hysteresis because it is not cheap or easy to do, given all the usual competing interests across the small-scale groups and among the individuals involved. It is not like flicking on a light switch whenever you enter a room and need to see.

When a process is very costly and difficult to kick into gear, it will want to stay turned on and "idle" when there is an apparent lull in the reason that it turned on in the first place. That's why you don't turn off your car at every red light you come to, and then turn it back on again when it changes from red to green. The process only winds down when there is a sustained absence, rather than just a lull, in the reason for turning it on.

Peter Turchin lays out the social mechanics of this process in technical and popular books (Historical Dynamics, War and Peace and War), illustrated with numerous examples across time and geography.

To give one example, the Romans unified into larger and larger groups due to the expansion of the Celts from the butter region of Europe into the olive oil region. Eventually the Romans became a unified expansionist nation of their own, and turned the tables on the Celts during the Gallic Wars. After a sustained absence of the original Celtic threat, the Roman Empire began losing its raison d'etre, its elites began in-fighting over status rather than banding together against a common foe, and the Romans devolved back into a smaller-scale group.

Having set up this basic framework, the next post will look at the expansions into the Korean peninsula that have caused it to unify before, so that we can compare them to current or likely expansions against the peninsula, to predict where the situation goes from here.

April 28, 2018

In Rust Belt, Trump betrays "Hire American" promise, shills for cheap-labor immigrants

At one of his rallies that nobody bothers watching anymore, Trump addressed a Rust Belt audience in Macomb County, Michigan, on the theme of employment and immigration.

Did he say, "We're going to deport immigrants so that the greedy employers will have no choice but to hire struggling American workers and pay them a decent American-level wage"? Of course not. While actually in office, the fake populist has reverted to his cheap-labor instincts as a greedy employer himself.

From Breitbart's write-up:

President Donald Trump told American farmers on Saturday that he would allow guest workers to come into the country, despite his promise to protect American workers.

“For the farmers, OK, it’s going to get good, and we’re going to let your guest workers come in, because we’re going to have strong borders, but we have to have your workers come in,” the president said during his campaign rally in Washington, Michigan on Saturday.

Trump said that the unemployment numbers were so good that it was possible to allow guest workers in the country to work the fields and do seasonal labor.

“We have to let people come in. They’re going to be guest workers, they’re going to come in, they’re going to work on your farms, we’re going to have the H-2Bs come in, we’re going to have a lot of things happening,” Trump said.

The crowd of supporters did not cheer in response to his comments.

“But then they have to go out,” Trump concluded, prompting cheers again.

The president quickly changed the subject to manufacturing, talking about how Foxconn factories were being built in Wisconsin.

The Foxconn plant in Wisconsin -- now there's another beauty. They will only be hiring immigrants, as is their practice at their other plants already in America. Chinese will do the professional jobs, and illegals (probably also Chinese) will do the less skilled jobs.

The president admitted as much in his speech to CPAC (see the first link), that at any factory that comes back to our country, immigrants will be used to keep down labor costs and boost profit margins for the owners, rather than to give good jobs to the bottom 80% of Americans. Foxconn, Chrysler, you name it.

Promising to gut the hell out of NAFTA was the only way he flipped so many Rust Belt states, including the very close race in Michigan. Yet he barely mentioned it during the rally.

And we know the reason why -- his economic team has surrendered on re-industrializing our economy to benefit the working and middle classes, and has inverted the "NAFTA re-negotiation" theme to get even better deals for the large farm-owners who already benefit like crazy from NAFTA, and to get white-collar professionals a larger slice of the Mexican market in their sector (finance, tech, etc.).

The same applies to the fake trade war against China -- that is being used solely to get more benefits for white-collar professionals here who work in intellectual property, as well as moguls in finance, tech, and media, who want to enter the Chinese market in those sectors. None of it is bringing back the industrial commodities and manufacturing sectors to American soil, where they would provide solid employment and incomes for the increasingly precarious American citizenry.

On the one hand, every time Trump shills so shamelessly for cheap-labor immigration, it drives his true supporters up the wall. Aside from the harm it deals to our material standard of living, as those cheap-labor policies get enacted by his administration, it shifts the Overton Window entirely back in the opposite direction from what his campaign accomplished -- toward elitism, toward globalism.

The entire basis for mass immigration is for greedy employers to secure an endless supply of cheap labor, so when he touts the value of it in one sector like agriculture, and then another like manufacturing, he's really making a general argument for unmitigated immigration.

"Gotta keep those labor costs down for the employers, folks -- if it dumps another 50 million immigrants into your communities, just move somewhere else, unless you're OK with being losers for the rest of your lives."

On the other hand, his serving as the ventriloquist dummy for the Koch brothers only helps to accelerate the downfall of the GOP, as voters see how thoroughly incapable it is of undoing -- or even mitigating -- the cheap-labor globalist policies of Reaganism. Even electing the biggest joke of a politician, just because he was promising the right things on the right issues, could not compel the GOP to follow the orders of its own voters.

That will clear the way for the Bernie revolution to sweep into the government and take over where the GOP had failed. After Trump's historical upset victory, the Democrats learned that they have to fight populism with populism, if their shut-out party wants to dethrone their rivals as the dominant, paradigm-setting party, rather than play within the boundaries established by the GOP and occasionally win the White House.

That may have been appropriate when the voters wanted Reaganism, but now that the GOP's own hardcore primary voters have chosen the candidate who campaigned on doing something very different from Reaganism -- something populist and non-interventionist -- the signal has been sent that we want something anti-Reaganite from a Democrat candidate as well.

In the meantime, support for the GOP will continue collapsing, as none of its candidates for the mid-terms are campaigning on restricting immigration in order to ensure that Americans get hired, and at higher wages. The president himself keeps campaigning on exactly the opposite program.

Once the Bernie people take over the government, the populist-nationalist Trump supporters will enjoy some action at last on the issue of employment and immigration. They're all about dramatically raising the floor on the income scale -- "abolish cheap labor" will be their slogan. And once you abolish cheap labor, you abolish immigration de facto as well.

And guess what -- debt-burdened, dead-end-job-having Gen X-ers, Millennials, and Gen Z-ers are not going to give an absolute shit if the same policies that raise their own standard of living have the side effect of ending immigration.

So while the wave of the future will not indulge former-Trumpers' nationalism rhetorically, it will deliver on the issue nevertheless. And that will be totally fine -- results over rhetoric, material issues over cultural concerns. The wrong pitch would be ending immigration as the central issue, with the side effect being higher incomes.

Former Trump supporters should get out in front of this paradigm shift and help it to stay neutral and declare a truce on cultural matters, rather than let the identity politics warriors among the Dems try to hijack the labor issue to benefit immigrants over already-struggling Americans. With Bernie supporters and former Trump supporters teaming together, the moribund identity politics movement doesn't stand a chance.

April 26, 2018

Religious extremism comes from shallow roots in its historical development

(This post will serve as an overview, and a follow-up post or two will look at particular cases.)

Religious extremism comes in two opposite degrees of adherence -- fundamentalism and abandonment (apostasy). By "extremist," we're talking about the zealous kind of fundamentalism, rather than mere traditionalism. And we're talking about a zealous kind of apostasy, rather than mere fading away or lapsing.

The resonant phrase "zeal of the convert" suggests that most fanatics about religion -- pro or anti -- have shallow roots in the religion in question, while those who are more level-headed about the religion must have deeper roots. This phrase refers to events over the lifespan of an individual, but it applies at a higher time scale to whole communities or cultures, based on when the religion was adopted by the group.

Those who are recently converted have not been participants in the developmental process that created the religion up to that point. So if the religion is nascent, it is hard to distinguish converts from originators in how much of a hand they've had in its development. However, if it has been around for awhile and has mostly congealed into a mature form, converts will be mostly passive consumers of an elaborate product made by a wholly different group.

So the religion will feel organic to the community that adopts it early on, while it cannot avoid feeling somewhat alien to those communities that adopt it much later on.

Indeed, to late adopters it has become so elaborate and so hardened -- allowing no further development -- that it requires a huge leap of faith to accept it, or else total rejection as though it were an organ transplant from a different species.

Even for those late adopters who accept it, they will question why there is such a long developmental process, from the origin of the religion through centuries of evolution. To the early adopters, all of those changes have been organic and internal -- solving the initial problems, or smoothing out the initial wrinkles, until we got it just right. But to the late adopters, that developmental process feels artificial, as though adulterating the purity of the original -- the ongoing profane work of man, not the completed divine work of the gods.

Thus late adopters tend not only toward greater zeal, but toward fundamentalism, or seeking to strip away the later encrustations to reveal the pure original. This leads not only to erasing all sorts of canonical beliefs, but also practices and rituals -- it leads to cosplaying as though you were a member of the original group that started the religion.

By taking a time machine back to the early days, these cosplayers can start their own traditions. The trouble is that every several generations, they will want to go back to the beginning all over again, and start another set of traditions. They therefore do not intend these as traditions to be kept by future adherents, but more like contemporary interpretations of the original -- to help it make sense to today's members, unmediated by centuries of actual traditions.

Strong adherents from an early adopter group, though, will appreciate the rich history and traditions that have put the flesh onto the original skeleton of the religion. For them, "going back to the origin" would be tearing off and discarding the flesh of the organism, just to gawk at its skeleton -- puzzling, and disturbing.

And at the other end of the adherence spectrum, late adopters who reject the religion are not just fading away or downplaying something they still kind-of believe in. They see the centuries of elaboration, that they played no role in, as proof that this religion is just a creation of man, and not a revelation sent from the gods.

This kind of apostasy is cynical, bitter, and dismissive -- not the kind from a lapsed member of an early adopter group, whose atheism is more trusting, bittersweet, and charitable toward the believers and practitioners. The late adopter apostate never felt truly part of the religious community, so there's no love lost for them.

The early adopter apostate did feel organically part of the group, and does feel a loss upon leaving them. They may say that they are "still culturally a member" while not a practicing or believing member. The late adopter apostate does not affiliate even "culturally" with the group.

Having reviewed the social psychology, in the next posts we'll look at some specific historical cases of this phenomenon. The most familiar place to start with is Christianity, contrasting those who were Christianized early vs. later. Then we'll look at the other world religion, Islam, and see a similar pattern.

Apart from religious concerns per se, this will also touch on foreign policy, as the LARP-ers in both religions are obsessed with the contemporary politics of the lands where their religions were founded. Given how influential these groups are within their home nations, their status as late adopters of their religion is crucial to understand their obsession with the current affairs of such distant and seemingly irrelevant lands.

April 22, 2018

The breakdown of Arab identity, as barbarians threaten civilization in the Middle East

The civil war in Syria is emphasizing the increasingly fractured nature of "Arab" ethno-cultural identity -- and not just in the sense that it always had numerous sub-types like "Syrian Arab," "Egyptian Arab," "Iraqi Arab," etc. It is getting to the point where there is no coherent over-arching Arab identity to begin with, and where the distinctly non-Arab nation of Iran has greater influence in the region.

There is instead a growing cluster of identities around the two poles of barbarians (although they and their allies might use the term "noble savage") and civilization (whose enemies might label it urban degeneracy).

First, where did Arab identity come from? It served to group together the various peoples who were facing a common enemy who was unlike them, and who had been occupying their lands for centuries. No, that was not any European country, as Europe never colonized the Middle East and only oversaw their polities for a few decades after WWI.

It was the Ottoman Empire that had taken over much of the Middle East and North Africa (along with the Balkans). Ethnic identity is geographically rooted, and to the Arabs, the Ottomans might as well have come from outer space -- located well outside of the Fertile Crescent, in Anatolia and the circum-Aegean region, sealed off from the Middle East by large mountain ranges.

The most sustained opposition to Ottoman rule came from the tribes of the Arabian Desert that unified around the political clan of al-Saud and the religious clan of al-Wahhab, beginning in the second half of the 1700s and lasting until the Empire bit the dust after WWI, in which the Arabians played the leading role. The Arabians were never under direct occupation and rule, living in the desert that the Ottomans had no interest in.

And the geometry of their encounters with the Ottomans was more threatening than it was for other places in the Middle East -- the Empire began to surround them on all sides, running down the Red Sea coast to their west, the Persian Gulf coast to their east, and the Fertile Crescent to their north. Feeling like the walls are closing in all around you puts you in a more apocalyptic do-or-die mindset, rather than getting hit by an advancing wave from one direction only, where you feel like retreat is possible.*

After the Ottomans were driven out of the Middle East, the newly liberated groups all rejoiced as part of a single cultural group -- the Arabs, giving a nod to the leading role of the Arabian Desert tribes.

Their languages were re-interpreted to be mere dialects of the same language, Arabic -- again giving credit to the Desert tribes rather than the other regions. Thus, a person in Beirut spoke "the Levantine dialect of the Arabic language," rather than a person in Riyadh speaking "the Arabian dialect of the Levantine language" if the Levant had played the leading role in over-turning the Ottomans.

And the names of their new nations and political parties gave primacy to Arab rather than local identity -- e.g., the "Syrian Arab Republic," where the qualifier "Arab" lies closer to the head noun "Republic," while the qualifier "Syrian" lies farther away (it's the same in the original Arabic).

The Arab identity not only distinguished them from their former Ottoman rulers, but also from their Persian neighbors, who like the Anatolians are sealed off from the Arabian peninsula geographically -- and therefore ethnically -- by their own set of great mountains. Persia never fell to the Ottomans, so they could have led the charge against the Empire, but they did not, and so enjoyed no particular goodwill from the Semitic speakers who threw off the yoke themselves.

So far, so good in the post-Ottoman world -- Turks in Anatolia, Iranians in Persia, and Arabs in the Arabian peninsula and North Africa.

But with the waning of the original impetus behind Arab cohesion -- Ottoman expansion -- the various sub-types of the Arab identity felt less and less motivation to consider one another as working on the same big team toward a similar big goal.

Then, all it took was for one group within the Arab team to turn against the others, and the weakened cohesion would escalate to outright hostility -- not only in the material realm of armies and economies, but in the ethno-cultural realm as well. Suddenly, the offending group were not real Arabs, or were not acting like proper Arabs should -- or if they were, then the offended group no longer wanted to be part of the big Arab team, and would carve out their own identity distinct from being Arab.

It was the original expansionist group within the Arabs -- the Saudis, going since circa 1750 -- who continued to push to expand their influence throughout the Middle East, both materially and culturally. Their political leaders from the al-Saud clan are still aligned with the religious leaders from the al-Wahhab clan, and that means the spread of the fundamentalist strain of Sunni Islam (Wahhabism / Salafism), preferably at the barrel of a gun (jihadism), or if not, then through control over cultural institutions financed by oil wealth.

There is no longer a foreign empire for the Saudis to drive out -- Israel is mainly occupying Palestine, not the entire Middle East and North Africa like the Ottomans did, and the United States has never succeeded in militarily occupying and administering any part of the region, as much as they keep trying to.

That leaves Saudi expansion to target other members of the Arab world, especially if they are secular nationalist governments like Iraq and Syria, where the Saudis have sent jihadist militias to destabilize the societies. Still, expansionists seek to dominate even those neighbors who are similar, because just being similar doesn't make you the equal to the superior expansionist nation. The Saudis have been in a long bitter rivalry with Qatar, which most outsiders would lump in the same category of "backward Salafi monarchies from the Gulf" as Saudi Arabia itself. Yet in their drive to be #1, the Saudis have been zealous in trying to undercut #2 just to be sure.

Their larger preoccupation, though, is with Iran, whose sphere of influence has often included the eastern and northern parts of the Fertile Crescent, most recently during the 1700s. The United States has made that into reality once again by creating a power vacuum in Iraq after 30-odd years of weakening the secular regime there, allowing the long-time regional power of Iran to fill the void. An expansionist nation like Saudi Arabia does not want to see another nation expanding, which would set them on a collision course, so most of their concern is with containing Iranian influence.

As the targets of Saudi expansion all find themselves in the cross-hairs of the same group, it leads them to consider themselves as members of a single team, in strong opposition to the group that is targeting them. Materially, this means military alliances forming among Iraq, Syria, and Iran against the Saudis and their Gulf allies. Ethno-culturally, it leads people from the Fertile Crescent to increasingly shed their identity as "Arabs," as their main threat is the Arabians.

So far, those identities are local ones from before the Ottoman Empire, such as Lebanese, Phoenician, Canaanite, etc., for a person living in Beirut. Maybe Levantine or (Eastern) Mediterranean, if they're willing to join a regional identity -- but nothing that would encompass the Arabian Desert.

Right now, they have not joined a single big identity that opposes the expansionary forces of the Gulf jihadist nations. It is a seemingly very heterogeneous group -- the Shia of Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria; Christians anywhere; Alawites and Druze in the Levant; and urbanized Sunni, who are not the more easily radicalized rural Sunni.

In fact, it may be primarily a split between urbanized and rural groups -- religious minorities tend to cluster in urban areas, since greater population size allows for more specialization and diversity, whereas less populated rural areas do not and tend to have more homogeneous cultures.

In the Middle East, "rural" does not mean humble sedentary crop farmers, but proud nomadic livestock herders. The tension between settled peoples and nomadic peoples goes back to the origins of agriculture and pastoralism, with one side framing it as a struggle between civilization and barbarism, and the other side framing it as slavery vs. freedom.

So perhaps as time goes on, the no-longer-Arab targets of Saudi expansion will adopt a cultural identity that rises above their local identities -- the New Cradle of Civilization, to invert the pejorative connotation of the Saudi phrase "Shia Crescent". On the other side: desert barbarians.

Egyptians will probably go the way of the Turks and identify on a "local" level since they are a large region.

Interestingly, the Palestinians seem to be siding with the desert barbarian side of this re-alignment. Not only because that way of life is more a part of their history, lying so close to the desert and having a large Bedouin sub-population among them. But also because of their adoption of Muslim Brotherhood identity politics a la Qatar (Hamas, who replaced the secular nationalist PLO led by Arafat).

Palestinians are also more sympathetic, in general, to the jihadist side of the Syrian civil war just to their north. In the West, this has fractured the Palestinian solidarity movement -- it is no longer primarily about national liberation from a European colonial settler state (Israel), a transition that is expected to happen sooner or later. It is instead about the character that the post-Israel society will take -- one side wants it to be more like Lebanon or Syria, while the other side wants it to be more like Qatar or Saudi Arabia.

The barbarian-aligned faction of the pro-Palestine movement is larger and more influential, and has worked to marginalize the pro-Palestine faction that wants a secular nationalist government that would align with the civilized part of the Levant to their north.

It is not only Middle Easterners who find themselves caught in that tension, but also Westerners who don't have any stake in the matter. Those who consider Palestine part of the civilized Levant or Eastern Mediterranean want it to have a secular nationalist government, while those who view Palestinians as noble savages rebelling against a highly developed state like Israel, would rather let Hamas take over and form an alliance with Qatar.

On the ground, Palestine will likely end up as the western-most location of the desert barbarian identity, or at best a bridge region between civilization and barbarism.

That is why Westerners concerned with our foreign policy in the Middle East are already dividing their attention between focusing on Palestine or on Syria. They can already sense that in the short-to-medium term, those two will belong to different sides of a larger fault-line between modern and medieval. That intuition will be confirmed as the peoples of the region begin to discard Arab identity and take on the settled vs. nomadic identity.

* The last time the Arabian Desert tribes got totally surrounded by a foreign Empire was by the Sasanians from Persia -- and that led directly to the uniting of their tribes during the birth of Islam, and their explosion through the walls in all directions, leading to the Muslim conquests of the Middle East and beyond. This time has been no different qualitatively, although not so extensive quantitatively.

Lesson to folks in the region: do not surround the Arabian tribes on all sides ever again, or you'll provoke another apocalyptic Muslim army to fan out from the desert and wreak havoc on civilization.

April 18, 2018

With GOP-ers not campaigning as populists, only choice is Bernie Dems

On the theory that the GOP is undergoing a transformation from a globalist into an anti-globalist party, or from an elitist party into a populist working-class party, we should see legions of GOP candidates campaigning on these transformational themes.

We're approaching the first midterms after the purported foundational event of the transformation -- Trump's winning the nomination and then the general election in 2016. And primary season is coming up, so that would be the best time for internal differences to be emphasized.

Populist candidates should be using that phrase, or at least key policies associated with it -- tariffs meant to bring high-paying manufacturing plants back to America, "I don't want people dying in the streets" just because they're too poor to afford the hospital bill (which the government will pay instead), and so on and so forth.

Anti-globalist candidates should be talking about unwinding our failed empire that spans much of the globe, beginning with the Middle East and Afghanistan -- "I stand with President Trump when he says we should pull out of Syria right now," etc.

And yet, the ads that are saturating cable news right now are the same old cuckservative crap that the voters decisively rejected two years ago. If we wanted a "Constitutional conservative," we would have voted for anyone but Trump -- that's their slogan, not his.

While they are shamelessly trying to appropriate his name -- "Trump conservative" -- it means nothing without saying which parts of Trump's platform back then, or policies right now, you're latching onto. Tax cuts, deregulation, and conservatives on the courts? BORRRINNNG. Been there, done that -- that's what got us into the mess that we elected Trump to start digging us out of.

They don't mean "Trump conservative" in the sense of seeking massive cuts to the empire-support side of the budget. Or that, even if you did want to preserve the imperial project, at the least you would ruthlessly negotiate down the prices paid to the weapons manufacturers and defense contractors -- get more for less! Shrink the deficit and debt! Balance the budget!

Nope. Not one sign of wanting to reform the gravy train going to the elites within the GOP sectors of the economy, who will continue to get massive bailouts and bubbles inflated on their behalf by these ridiculous dinosaur candidates.

Hilariously, none are running on "repealing and replacing Obamacare" -- wouldn't want to remind the voters of how pathetically little you accomplish if they cast their lot with you! And again, in the supposed re-alignment of Trump's time, there should be a whole new crop of GOP-ers saying, "Send me to Congress, and I'll work with President Trump to undo the Medicare D law that says they have to pay whatever gouging prices the drug monopolies demand. We're going to negotiate down those prices so fast, it'll make ya head spin!"

With zero Republicans anywhere running on the combination of issues that delivered Trump his upset victory, it's the same ol' slap fights between the closeted homosexuals appealing to the country club yuppies, and the crazy-eyed ideologues appealing to the Tea Party dead-enders.

And remember, this is at a time when there are record retirements from the Congressional GOP -- entirely among the mainstream "governing" wing of the party, symbolized by the Speaker of the House himself. If the Trump "movement" were going to seize power, rather than remain isolated on the fringes, this is the only window they're going to get. If instead a bunch of country clubbers and Tea Partiers fill these record number of uncontested slots, the Trump candidates would have to wait years for another such ripe opportunity.

Translation: there is no Trump movement. There may be a good amount of popular support for it, but there is absolutely nobody running to meet that demand. Why? Because the GOP is an ossified party at the very end of its dominance, which began nearly 40 years ago under Reagan. They didn't even give the voters Trump -- he staged a hostile takeover, which they fought bitterly every step of the way.

A terminal-stage party does not respond to its voters, who it takes for granted, and it cannot adapt to new problems. If you thought the GOP would learn the lessons of 2016, you thought wrong. They're just going to ride it out until the Bernie revolution takes over the government, and whine impotently about socialized medicine.

Just as the dethroned Democrats did after Carter's failed attempt to transform it away from the New Deal / Great Society paradigm, the Republicans in the Bernie era will continue running legacy candidates because they will see the Bernie take-over as just a fluke or a brief nightmare that they'll soon wake up from.

The Democrats ran New Deal style candidates in '84 and '88 -- and got crushed. They had to submit to the Reagan revolution and run a semi-liberal variation on the Reaganite themes if they wanted to win, and they finally got that with Bill Clinton -- took them long enough, though.

The Republicans in the Bernie era will not run a populist or isolationist at first. They will not accept that their formerly dominant paradigm has been superseded, and they will continue running Reaganites like Nikki Haley in 2024, and Marco Rubio in 2028, both of whom will get obliterated. Maybe by 2032, they'll get with the program and run a Tucker Carlson / Ann Coulter ticket.

The populist-nationalist Trump supporters must be realistic about when their issues will actually take over the party -- it will only happen when the party elites are forced to do so in order to win elections. So far, since 1980 they've been doing OK on the Reaganite paradigm. They're going to have to see the Bernie revolution take over the Democrat party, and then win with a general electorate for several cycles, in order to accept that as the new reality, where Trump's old platform will be the right-wing variant on what the people now want.

For that matter, how many Bernie-style candidates are running on the Democrat side? A whole bunch. They even have them all listed in one convenient page so you can check who to vote for in your elections. That is the sign of a re-aligning and reviving party, rather than a backward moribund party.

In the meantime, before the GOP finally gets a clue, your only choices for populists are on the Democrat side, albeit so far only among primary candidates. But that just means you should vote in the Democrat primaries, to advance populists into the general election, since there are no populists to advance out of the GOP primaries, where your vote would be wasted.

And some Democrat primary candidates will be guilt-free choices, since they may have supported Trump over Hillary! Dennis Kucinich, running for Ohio Governor, was on Fox Business an awful lot in 2016 saying he wanted Bernie, but that Trump was hitting the right notes on trade and re-industrialization, foreign policy, preserving the social safety net, etc., which Hillary was not interested in, and how shameful it is for Democrats that Trump is so easily stealing all these old New Deal issues away from the party.

To reiterate, the GOP will never give you populist candidates unless they see that as a winning strategy on the other side, forcing them to compete on the same winning issues on their own side. Right now, the other side in their minds is still Hillary Clinton and neoliberalism, so they only need to offer the right-wing version of that -- Reaganism.

The Democrats have already seen populism win on the other side -- Trump's nomination and then winning the general. They now have to compete on those populist issues if they want to stay relevant, and that will drive the Bernie take-over of the party.

The GOP does not react this way to Trump's success because he is not the other side to them, so they don't feel the pressure to fight populism with populism. Trump is, in their minds, a fluke internal to their party -- not the thing they need to beat Democrats.

Likewise, the Democrats did not see Carter, the skeptic of the New Deal, as necessary to defeat Republicans -- they assumed he was an internal fluke, and kept running old-style New Deal candidates well into the Reagan revolution. But the Republicans saw Carter's success on the other side and realized that in 1980, they needed to run Reagan rather than New Deal-friendly Republicans, if they wanted a solid answer to Carter's program of deregulation.

So, as strange as it may seem, if you want Tucker Carlson in 2032, you have to vote for Bernie first in 2020.

April 16, 2018

Are special elections like primaries, where turnout does not carry over to general?

Time to throw a new pitcher of cold water on the idea of there being a blue "wave" coming for the midterms, based on the outcomes of the special elections held so far -- supposedly a harbinger of the enthusiasm gap that will wipe out the GOP in the fall.

Of course, the GOP will do worse in at least the House and maybe just tread water in the Senate, but that doesn't mean either will flip, let alone by a large margin. We see this from the history of midterms for disjunctive presidents like Trump, Carter, Hoover, Cleveland, Buchanan, and Quincy Adams (those who were the last of their era, attempting to re-orient their ossified party, but failing and getting supplanted by an entirely new paradigm by their rival party).

Nor does polling support a "wave" for Democrats, who only enjoy single-digit leads in the generic ballot.

The main empirical basis of the "wave" narrative is the outcome of the special elections held so far (including state-level), and the other forms of collective action like the protests (women's march, anti-gun march, etc.). Democrats are so fired up that they're "swinging" their districts or states by so-many points from the 2016 presidential election -- just imagine the "wave" in the fall if even half of that swing holds!

The problem is that these special elections are not ordinary -- they're not the general election held in the fall of an even-numbered year. They're out of place in the year, or in the wrong-numbered year. They are too early to qualify in most people's minds as election-elections.

During the 2016 campaign, I discussed why primaries and generals are independent of each other, and why primary turn-out does not predict general turn-out over the years. Briefly, primaries are early-stage behavior -- and if there's nothing exciting going on early, few will show up. But when the "real" elections take place, when voting "really" counts, a whole lot of voters will show up who had tuned out the early activity.

It's possible that these special elections are functioning like primaries -- allowing people to participate early if there's something exciting going on within their side, or giving people a reason to keep sitting on the couch if it's boring on their side. Here, it is not the internal electoral battles to decide the future of the party, but just any reason to get out of the house and take part in collective action for your party, or against the other party.

As with primaries, though, just because a lot of people turn out early on doesn't mean so many more will turn out on the real date. Maybe a lot of folks who were already going to vote Democrat in the fall are turning out early because they're highly motivated to take collective action against Trump and the GOP. And maybe a lot of Republicans are eventually going to turn out in the fall, as they routinely do, but are just sitting at home early on because there's nothing exciting for them to do at this preliminary stage.

Or maybe the specials will resemble the ordinary elections. In the primaries, there is simply no correlation one way or another with early turn-out and general turn-out. My hunch is the specials are like primaries, where over the years there is no correlation one way or the other, and the early stage and final stage behaviors are independent of each other.

One of my unpaid interns out there somewhere can go through the historical data to test these ideas. Start by separating presidential from midterm years. Check which party did better during special elections -- either the partisan gap per se, or how the gap changed from the previous ordinary election. Then check the partisan gap per se in the next ordinary election, or the swing in the gap from the last ordinary election. There aren't a whole lot of these specials at the national level, and getting the greater range of cases at the state level would take some hunting around for the data. But someone could look into it.

Although I'm not empirically checking to see if my analogy is right between primary and special elections (both being "early"), neither is the side that just assumes the special elections are a harbinger of the ordinarily scheduled elections.

My argument is more congruent with the other signs we have of what will happen, so I'll stick with that until someone goes back over many years of data and shows that performance in specials predicts performance in ordinary elections.

If you're only going to pick one midterm season to investigate, it would be 1978 or 1930 -- the most relevant to this year's, as midterms during a disjunctive presidency.

April 12, 2018

Mueller probe's power dynamics make it like Plame Affair, not Watergate or Lewinsky

It's time to zoom out from the nano-hysteria du jour on the Mueller probe, and look for historical parallels to see what's going on and how it will play itself out.

To begin with, the details of the case are irrelevant since this is not a prosecution based on suspicion of a crime having been committed, and devoting precious finite resources to this rather than to other crimes. It's clearly a shape-shifting pretext used to further an attack in a collective conflict -- Team A targeting Team B, picking off as many as they can, however they can.

In this case, it's the Feds (DoJ and FBI) vs. Trump's circle. This witch hunt is not partisan, as all the principal actors are Republican. The Special Counsel investigation started with Russian interference in the 2016 election, but has gone in any direction from there that they please (unlike a real prosecution).

The Feds started the beef by putting Trump's circle under surveillance during the campaign, and turning up the heat even more after he won, by insinuating that his circle had colluded with the Russian government to swing the election away from its rightful winner, Crooked Hillary Clinton, who did not threaten to "drain the Swamp" or show up to the CIA headquarters to call them all a bunch of fifth columnists.

Trump escalated the feud by bumping off one of their top guys -- FBI Director Comey -- which prompted their side's de facto leader, Deputy AG Rosenstein, to appoint Special Counsel Mueller to hound the Trump circle about anything they could dig up, not only the Russian interference ideas.

But those are just the particular details -- they do not have anything to do with who's going to win the feud, as though there were some dispassionate God of Justice that will divinely intervene if the outcome looks to be going the wrong way for the side that has logic and evidence on its side. Nope: it all comes down to power dynamics. This is a pure power play between two sides, so that's what we will analyze.

Drawing on the theory of political cycles by Stephen Skowronek, we note that Trump (and his circle) belong to the dominant party -- the GOP, which has been dominant since the current political paradigm was established by that party in 1980 under Reagan. Dominant party presidents do not get impeached or de facto removed from office -- only opposition presidents suffer that fate. Clinton was a Democrat during Reaganite GOP dominance, Nixon was a Republican during New Deal Democrat dominance, and Andrew Johnson was a Democrat during Civil War Republican dominance.

Not surprisingly, those presidents also faced a hostile Congress -- both houses belonged to the rival, dominant party. A mismatch between the White House party and the Congress party already sets up for a showdown, but when the target president is from the opposition party, he begins in an even weaker position.

The dominant party uses their control over Congress to rein in a president from the opposition, lest they threaten the dominant party's paradigm. The facts of the matter are immaterial, and they will find whatever pretext they need to get revenge for the opposition president trying to undo a key element of the dominant party's paradigm.

In Johnson's case, it was slow-walking the abolition of slavery, a key plank of the dominant Republican paradigm during the Civil War. In Nixon's case, it was pulling out of the Vietnam War, when militarism was a key plank of the dominant New Deal Democrat paradigm. In Clinton's case, it was promoting universal healthcare, an assault weapons ban, and other liberal goals during the Reagan GOP paradigm.

Since Trump is from the dominant party, and so are both houses of Congress, we can conclude that he will not be impeached by the House, let alone removed by the Senate. Even if the Dems take over the House during the midterms, they will not also take over the Senate (the map is stacked against that). So they would face the choice of impeaching the president knowing full well that the Senate would reject it easily. They will be seen as having wasted a bunch of time, money, and emotional energy -- just for a big fat disappointment that was totally predictable from the start.

Clinton got impeached but not removed by the Senate, but that was not totally predictable -- with the Senate being controlled by the rival, dominant party, it was certainly possible. If a Dem-controlled House thinks of impeaching Trump, they know from the outset that they'll get shut down by the GOP-controlled Senate, making their efforts knowingly pointless, rather than a risk they think is worth taking.

But what if a miracle happens and the Dems take back both houses of Congress? That never results in impeachment either, not even during the increasingly polarized climate of the past 40 years. Reagan's last two years were under a Dem-controlled Congress, as was all of Bush Sr's term, and the last two years of Bush Jr. Neither came close to getting impeached, and not for want of a pretext either -- there was the Iran-Contra scandal during the late '80s and early '90s, and the unpopular Iraq War during the late 2000s.

However, there were Special Counsel investigations that hit on those themes, and did result in taking out some of those close to the president. So we may see -- in fact, we are seeing -- that level of collective attack toward the president's circle. But unlike impeachment, these were totally internal factional fights within the dominant party. In neither case did the president himself get wounded personally. Therefore, neither will Trump himself.

The first case was the Special Counsel investigation of the Iran-Contra affair. We won't dwell on this one since the power dynamics didn't match those of today. They had a dominant GOP president and an opposition Democrat Congress. This case would only apply if Democrats took over both houses of Congress in the midterms and launched a new or beefed-up Special Counsel investigation for Trump's final two years.

The important points are as follows. Both the Special Counsel and those he was prosecuting were from the dominant party, making it internal rather than partisan. Those who got indicted or sentenced would later get pardons from Bush Sr, another member of the dominant party, in the last days of his presidency. The dominant party ultimately protects its own members.

When Congress is controlled by the opposition party, it may make the executive branch members of the dominant party concerned when scandal erupts. If the opposition Congress takes over the matter, they could start impeachment hearings. So instead, the dominant party gets out in front of things, and through executive branch options like a Special Counsel investigation, they open up what looks like an in-fight, although ultimately the president will pardon or commute the damage done to members of his party.

Rather than the Iran-Contra scandal that took place in the context of an opposition-controlled Congress, the Mueller probe is shaping up to be more like the Special Counsel investigation during a period when the dominant party controlled the White House and Congress -- the Iraq War-themed Valerie Plame affair of Bush Jr's first and second terms, although before the opposition party took over the Congress in 2007.

Briefly, the narrative went as follows. Bush was busy lying the American public into the Iraq War by insinuating that Saddam Hussein would soon have weapons of mass destruction, and toward that end he had tried to get uranium from Niger. The diplomat sent to Niger to investigate that claim, Joseph Wilson, wrote op-eds in the NYT saying Bush's claim was bogus. His wife was an undercover CIA agent, Valerie Plame, who recommended her husband for the job of investigating the "Niger uranium" claim.

This public undercutting of Bush's rationale for war pissed off his administration, some of whom in the VP's circle decided to get back at the whistleblower. How? By revealing to a conservative columnist that the whistleblower's wife was a CIA agent, whose job and full name the columnist then revealed in a newspaper article. But it turns out she was undercover! With her cover blown, Plame's career as a spy was over -- and that's what you get for helping to undercut the "Saddam has WMDs" rationale that the admin was pushing to get us to accept the Iraq War.

That's what Special Counsel Fitzgerald was investigating. Again, forget these details of the case, since they don't matter -- power dynamics matter -- but just so the background is clear.

As in the Mueller probe, all the powerful characters were in-fighters from the same dominant party, the GOP -- the AG (Ashcroft) who recused himself just like Sessions, the Deputy AG who took over the investigation (Comey -- yes, the same one as now), the Special Counsel (Fitzgerald), the fantasy dream targets (President Bush and VP Cheney), and the members of the White House circle who actually did get investigated and/or indicted (Armitage, Rove, Libby). A Republican media columnist was also central (Novak), although he doesn't seem to have a counterpart in the Mueller probe.

As in the Mueller probe, it's impossible to summarize the shape-shifting course of the investigation and the acts it was investigating -- check out the Wikipedia entry linked above, and try digesting the gist of the zillion words in less than three weeks.

Or Google "valerie plame affair" and see how many endless results pages you get that seem to be talking about nothing, yet very seriously. Over ten years later, nobody remembers it who was not obsessed with the micro-scoops on it back during its original media-seizing run -- unlike Watergate, Monica Lewinsky, Iran-Contra, etc.

And these obsessives were from the opposition party, largely from the media sector, and were certain that something would be revealed from the Special Counsel that would bring down the illegitimate ("selected, not elected") president and his administration -- and wound up with nothing but a terminal case of blue balls.

In the end, only the Chief of Staff to the VP, Scooter Libby, got indicted, and even then Bush commuted the prison part of his sentence so that he avoided jail. One of the perks of being a dominant-party president is knowing that you and your circle will never be in any ultimate legal danger.

Libby didn't commit an underlying crime, but was found guilty of process crimes during the investigation itself (perjury and obstruction of justice). The true culprit of the underlying crime -- leaking that Plame was a CIA agent -- was the Deputy Secretary of State Armitage. Yet he was not prosecuted, even though the Special Counsel knew from the get-go that he was the culprit -- the Special Counsel just wanted to go on a fishing expedition to put a few more notches on his prosecutorial belt.

Analogizing from there to the Mueller probe, they find some crime related to the 2016 election, let's say a campaign finance violation from paying hush money to Stormy Daniels. Someone linked to it, say Trump's attorney Michael Cohen, will get indicted and/or sentenced. The president commutes or pardons Cohen. Maybe commutes or pardons Flynn, whose indictment is not related to the 2016 election (process crime). Maybe commutes or pardons Manafort, whose crime was also unrelated to the election -- money laundering long before -- although that seems harder to sustain, since it's not a mere process crime.

At any rate, nobody from the actual Trump administration gets indicted. Manafort and Cohen never joined the government, and Flynn was National Security Adviser for all of five seconds before Deep State railroaded him out. These people from his outside-the-government circle get protected.

Nobody remembers jack shit about any of the details of this investigation in 5-10 years, unless they were already addicted to the daily micro-scoops when it was originally on TV. Future observers are puzzled when they unearth how much media content was obsessively devoted to the investigation.

Trump's presidency, like Bush Jr's, does not get remembered fondly by most people, although the Special Counsel investigation will play no part in the story of what made it bad -- except perhaps as a meta-commentary on the ridiculousness of the investigation itself and its obsessive consumers in the media.

So, it's not crucial for Trump to somehow end the investigation. He himself is in no ultimate danger, and neither are the members of his circle. Worst case scenario, someone like Cohen gets an indictment on mickey-mouse charges like campaign finance violation, but gets pardoned anyway, and only carries some embarrassment afterward, which no one remembers.

The only thing that would put him in danger is if he keeps escalating his feud with the Feds -- firing Comey was what triggered the Special Counsel investigation to begin with, which is more powerful than the original FBI investigation into bogus Russian involvement in the election. The Feds would strike back this time as well, and he might also alienate members of his own party in Congress.

If enough of them disowned him from what they consider "their party," they wouldn't have his back any more than they would a president of the rival party or a third party. And since he's a disjunctive president, whose mission is to radically alter the paradigm of his own party, they already would like to see him leave office, so they can go back to their comfortable, familiar old paradigm of Reaganism.

As annoying as it is, he's just going to have to let the sucker burn itself out.

April 8, 2018

Learning lessons from the Syrian quagmire; Trump should copy Obama to wiggle out of Deep State's headlock

In recent weeks, Trump had made repeated and unequivocal statements about wanting Americans out of Syria immediately, lest we waste another $7 trillion in the Middle East.

This parallels, almost to the day, the statements that most of his top Cabinet officials made last year about Assad's fate being left up to the Syrian people, as the US was no longer going to be in the regime change business anymore.

These Cabinet officials included Secretary of State Tillerson, UN Ambassador Haley, and Press Secretary Spicer -- but crucially not Secretary of Defense Mattis, who was asked directly about this matter during a press conference with his British counterpart in London, and completely dodged the question, which was as good as an answer that he -- and the Pentagon -- still wanted regime change.

The Deep State responded to Trump's attempt to pull the US out of Syria by not just bombing a government airfield over there, but by more than doubling the number of Americans on the ground (at least 2000), building more bases to dig in its presence in the northeast, amassing a private army of Kurds that threatens to provoke Turkey into attacking their American masters, and shifting the rhetorical frame away from non-intervention and toward Assad must go, the US will stay in Syria forever, and Russia and Iran are pulling the puppet-strings and may need to be attacked as well.

* * *

Everyone who apologized for the strike on Syria a year ago by saying it would go no further than a few pock marks on a little airfield has been proven totally wrong. Not just regarding the series of escalations that the US did in fact take after bombing the airfield, but regarding the whole framework and tone of viewing the situation.

Obviously if Trump gives the Pentagon an inch, they will take a mile. Military intervention and occupation is a self-sustaining process, where one action begets more actions. It is not a one-time, cathartic, get-it-out-of-the-system release of energy, characterized by negative feedback loops. It is founding a little armed colony that will grow and grow and grow.

The other discredited framework is that we shouldn't worry until it's too late and the really bad shit has already happened. This approach views our commentary, whether on the internet or in phone calls to our Congressmen, as akin to calling a coin that is tossed in the air. Will the call be accurate or inaccurate?

In real life, accuracy of a prediction does not matter as much as survival from the process whose outcomes are being predicted. If the person calls "war" and the coin lands "no change," nothing is lost. Innocuous false alarm. If the person calls "no change" and the coin lands "war," there are massive negative consequences -- not just the war itself, but the lack of preparations you now suffer from, after assuming the coin would land "no change".

This asymmetric pay-off function means we should always err on the side of mobilizing to head off disaster once we see that the war-coin is tossed into the air.

And with a self-sustaining process like collective violence -- whether a mob rioting or an army invading -- we can never know ahead of time the order of magnitude of the damage done. Maybe only a few individuals will be killed -- or a few dozen, or a few hundred, a few thousand, a few million. All it took was the assassination of one individual, Archduke Ferdinand, to ignite a positive feedback loop that ended up killing tens of millions.

In a negative feedback loop, one person or at most a few people get killed, and that's the end of it. Some robber who shoots someone to steal their wallet, or two guys who get into a deadly fight in a bar when one steps on the other's shoes.

This is individual-level violence, not collective. Any further individuals have a rapidly smaller motive to get involved in the existing violence -- it's just a beef between those two guys who bumped into each other, no need for any bystanders to take offense and get involved.

If the killing is between members of entire groups -- Team A vs. Team B -- then anyone on Team A has a motive to get involved in killing anyone from Team B, and vice versa. That makes each killing like a contagious event that spreads in an epidemic, where if one person gets killed from Team A, it provokes multiple members of Team A to strike back and kill multiple members of Team B. One killing begets multiple killings. Collective violence like this could be between two races in a race riot, two groups of fans for rival soccer teams, or two armies on opposing sides of a conflict.

When we are faced with the decision to get involved in collective violence, the disaster can easily turn out to be orders of magnitude worse than we thought possible, as it feeds on itself. It must require the most catastrophic immediate threat to us, to even consider getting involved.

And needless to say in this case, Syria poses the American people absolutely no threat. They have never attacked us, are not attacking us now, and have no plans to attack us in the future.

The worst attackers from the Middle East have been the Saudi Arabians, who carried out 9/11. Yet they are our #1 allies in the world -- no one has so brutally attacked us and gotten off scot free. The Pentagon prioritizes its alliance with jihadist nations who can help it to attack Iran in their part of the world, rather than its duty to protect the American people on our side of the world. Imperialism is necessarily globalist, and weakens the core nation in order to prop up the crumbling borders on its far-flung fringes.

* * *

As this pathetic process repeats itself all over this year, almost right down to the day, how can Trump and his allies do better this time to resist plunging us further into the Syrian quagmire?

This is all the more important in 2018 since the Russians are far more involved in Syria, and have stopped giving the US the benefit of the doubt about the Trump administration being anti-interventionist. They have clearly stated that a US attack based on a hoax chemical attack may be met with the gravest consequences.

First, Trump must realize that he personally has zero political capital when it comes to deciding military policy, where he is dwarfed by the combined political capital of the Pentagon and other warmongering institutions like the CIA. At every major decision, he has said "I don't want to do this, and I campaigned against doing this, but the Pentagon has my head in a vise, and I have no choice but to surrender to their orders." Syria, Afghanistan, now Syria again.

Aside from giving the Deep State the inch that turns into the mile, he signals weakness by pushing so strongly in one direction and then, one week later, parroting his enemies so strongly in the opposite direction. It makes it clear that he got out-maneuvered and has not only folded, but has chosen to spread his enemy's propaganda for them.

The only recent precedent we have for a president resisting the Deep State that wanted to get us further involved in a factional conflict, was Obama in 2013. Not coincidentally, it was the same country of Syria, same region of Eastern Ghouta, same phony pretext of chemical attacks, same jihadist allies of ours, and the same demand by the Deep State and its mass media mouthpieces to Do Something militarily.

And not coincidentally, on Twitter Trump himself lobbied Obama non-stop and in the most unequivocal terms not to get us entangled any further in Syria.

How did Obama wiggle out of the Deep State's headlock? He could not take them on personally, since no single person can outmatch the political capital of the entire Deep State when they are foaming at the mouth for war.

Instead, he passed the buck to the Congress and to the American people -- putting the decision up for a prolonged public debate. Although the Deep State outweighed the political capital of Obama himself, they did not outweigh the political capital of the entire American citizenry and its representatives in Congress.

And the more they heard about it, the more they talked about it, and the more they thought about it, the more they wanted nothing to do with it. Opinion polls showed it was deeply unpopular -- and worse, that it was most unpopular with Republican citizens (which may, in fairness, have been partisan naysaying). Getting an endorsement from Congress was dead on arrival.

So, it never happened. The Deep State had been arming, funding, and enabling its proxy forces in Syria, and would continue to stand by these jihadist militias as they tried unsuccessfully to topple Assad. But Obama and his allies kept it from getting orders of magnitude worse -- no thousands of Americans on the ground, no amassing a private army of Kurds right along the Turkish border that would provoke that regional power into attacking their NATO ally, and no prospect of the other nuclear superpower launching a punishing attack on the US since Russia was not involved in Syria in 2013.

* * *

Trump's Achilles heel is his blindness to institutional forces, and seeing relations in entirely personal terms, as well as his obsession with countering whatever Obama did, whether it was good or bad. So it may prove impossible for him to copy Obama's successes, if framed that way. Thus, it is imperative for his allies to frame the decision to give Congress and the American people the final say-so, in terms that flatter his ego.

It would not be passing the buck to tell the Deep State "hey, it wasn't my decision" -- it would be giving a voice to the Forgotten Man and Forgotten Woman, none of whom were chanting "Death to Assad" at the Trump rallies. And it would not be copying Obama's proven success -- it would be taking a historically bold move that no other president had the guts to try, far more bold of a move than whatever Obama may have tried.

It will probably require lying to Trump about what Obama did in the same situation -- tell him that Obama just choked like a dog before the generals, whereas Trump will pull off an ingenious trick by throwing the matter to prolonged public debate, where it will die of its own unpopularity. Trump has already started calling Obama weak for ignoring the "red line," so it will take some effort to convince him that Obama was secretly doing the bidding of the Pentagon, and that he should make it a public debate instead.

We don't have to like the kind of people and situations we're dealing with here, but that's the best shot we have to keep the Deep State from getting America further entangled in the Syrian civil war.

Nevertheless, we should remain realistic that this task will be even harder to pull off in 2018 since Trump just idiotically made John Bolton his National Security Adviser, who will be constantly in his ear agitating for war. Again, spend more time framing the bold move Trump can take to make this a referendum with the public and Congress, and less time calling him an idiot for making an idiotic decision that is fait accompli for now.

And do whatever you can to weaken and damage Bolton's reputation, framing anything that goes wrong as Bolton's fault. McMaster was garbage, and presided over last year's escalation in Syria, but Bolton is worse still.

Don't bother lobbying directionless, sycophantic Hannity on Twitter -- more sympathetic will be Tucker Carlson, Ann Coulter, and perhaps Lou Dobbs, who openly groused about "Oh please don't get us sucked into another one" when Bolton was on air a few weeks ago. And the usual libertarians in Congress like Rand Paul, who has good rapport with Trump.

And of course, prepare to vote out every Republican in the midterms and for Bernie in 2020. We're not getting what we voted for, and it's time for a little regime change within our own country before it becomes a shithole itself.

April 7, 2018

Galactic brain meme, getting enablers of immigration to pay for The Wall

Apropos of the post below...

ICE raid shows why GOP is so weak on immigration -- they profit too much

As a reminder of why the GOP will never get tough on immigration, legal or illegal, the biggest ICE raid has rounded up nearly 100 illegals at -- where, exactly? Well, knowing that those durn LIEBRULS are the ones behind our demographic replacement, they must have been getting paid working at a media outlet, or a tech company, or a bank, or a university.

In reality, it was in the agricultural sector of a deep red state -- a meatpacking plant in a rural county outside of Knoxville, TN, which has voted Republican in every election during the 100 years from 1916 to Trump (and in 1912 they voted for Teddy Roosevelt, the rogue Republican running on a third party ticket).

Identity politics has zero to do with mass immigration -- the elites are not trying to erase our identity, our culture, our race, our ethnicity, our whatever. They are class warrior materialists, simply looking to boost profits by cutting labor costs. They do that by hiring cheap foreigners, whether by off-shoring a manufacturing plant to China or by allowing in hordes of Mexicans (the group arrested in this raid).

Because the GOP is the vehicle for sectors of the economy that are labor-intensive, it is they who will fight hardest against keeping America American. Their material interests are most threatened if the cost of labor goes up when only Americans can be hired. The agricultural sector is the worst, but so are the many Republican-aligned "small businesses" that rely on immigrants to clean, cook, and do other menial tasks.

This is no different from the antebellum plantation landowners, who hauled in legions of African slaves to work more cost-effectively than Americans in the agricultural sector. We saw what happened before when an entire sector of the economy put cheap foreign labor over the welfare of society, and we could easily see that again.

You might have also heard Republicans representing the agricultural sector shouting the loudest about Trump's announced but not implemented tariffs against China, and China's potential but not actual retaliation of putting tariffs on American soybeans.

Senator Sasse from Nebraska is the worst, but only the most vocal, of a group that needs to be neutered politically if this country wants to re-industrialize its economy in order to provide its citizens with high-paying jobs that don't require a college degree.

Again, we see the current Reaganite GOP acting like the antebellum Democrats, who not only hauled in zillions of cheap-labor foreigners to toil in the fields, but who sought to lower tariffs so that their agricultural exports would not get retaliated against, even if that meant American industry and manufacturing would suffer.

The antebellum Democrats also did not want to spend money on infrastructure to modernize the economy away from agriculture and toward the Industrial Revolution. At least they paired low spending with low taxes, unlike their Reaganite GOP descendants today who just put everything on a great big government credit card and push us deeply in debt.

They were also the military expansionists of their day, just like the Reaganite GOP, which itself is a form of anti-American globalization. Imperialism means there is no core nation of America, which gets reduced to a central district within a single sprawling empire.

And what good came of their main expansion anyway -- during the Mexican War? As of this century, the Greater Southwest is being rapidly reconquered by Central Americans and increasingly by Asians. Its American residents will have to wage a Second Mexican War to take it back -- and at a time when national cohesion is imploding, and the other regions of the country will not be interested in going to war for them or paying for it either.

Before the ultimate solution, where the regions secede from each other for good, in the meantime the goal must be to remove the GOP from power at all levels and in all places. They have been the main political enablers of mass immigration, which has exploded under their Reaganite paradigm of the past 30-some years, as it benefits the labor-intensive sectors of the economy that control the GOP.

Aside from that political change, there must be an economic change that targets and punishes the employers and landlords of illegal immigrants -- they are the ones who sustain the immigrants on a material level, not the pitiful amounts of welfare that they may be able to scrounge up. Because those employers will mostly be aligned with the GOP, their party will not punish its own controllers, and that opens an opportunity for the Democrats to punish them.

Perhaps the Democrats will use different rhetoric -- about greedy Republican employers who profit from exploiting cheap laborers who have no rights, rather than about the erasure of American culture or the demographic replacement of Americans. Who cares? What matters is the end results.

Toward that end, I've maintained that the best strategy for reducing illegal immigration now and going forward is to demand a high minimum wage for immigrants (say, $25 an hour), and for them to be provided with cheap housing (say, $1000 a month) within 1% zip codes. That will eliminate most immigration, legal and illegal, which is only brought in for the purpose of cutting labor costs to employers or raising housing prices for landlords.

Obviously it would be pointless to pitch that idea to any Republican, but it would at least get a hearing with the Bernie revolution that is quickly taking over the Democrat party. And if the populists who voted for Trump storm the Democrat party, they will have even more influence over the shape that the re-alignment takes.

Clearly, trying to alter the ossified Reaganite GOP has proven to be a 99% failure, notwithstanding the welcome 1% improvement. The Bernie paradigm is still just beginning to take shape, so get in on the ground floor with that party, and there can be and will be lasting changes made on immigration.

Also, no more debunked myths about Democrats importing foreigners to vote for them, as though there were no hope for reforming that party on immigration either. I keep hearing that from Ann Coulter and Tucker Carlson, who do have the guts to call out the GOP for its cheap-labor interest in immigration, but who try to suggest the Dems have a strong material interest in immigration as well. Multicultural identity politics is not a material interest, and will be blown away by cold hard material interests like workers wanting higher wages and cheaper housing.

Electorally, amnesty would be suicide for the Dems, not the GOP. Hispanic citizens don't vote, immigrants of any background don't vote, and Hispanic immigrants really don't vote. Only 28% of eligible Hispanic immigrants voted in 2012. African-American citizens are much more reliable voters -- 72% voted in 2012, no different from white Americans who voted at 68% in 2012. Immigrants are also confined to safe red and safe blue states, not purple or swing states like Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, etc., where it is African-Americans who could swing a race that was close among white voters.

Since immigrants disproportionately displace African-American citizens by working for low wages and piling into low-rent housing in urban areas, the Democrats are destroying the non-white part of their electoral base by supporting mass immigration.

Unlike the shut-out Democrats, Republicans have obviously not been hurt electorally for their mass immigration policies -- they have been the dominant party since Reagan, when mass immigration began, and the voters of Texas, Iowa, Tennessee, etc., have never thrown out their GOP politicians despite getting flooded with immigrants.

As the Bernie movement -- an actual movement with meetings, volunteers, activists, and candidates -- shifts their party in a populist direction, it's the Democrats who will put American workers first and cheap (foreign) labor second. If we can get them to pass and enforce a national $25 minimum wage, immigration would dry up overnight, and current illegals would not get hired anymore and have to return to their home countries.

The times they are a-changin'.

Related post: Kate Steinle's illegal immigrant killer was let in by Reagan or Bush, and was sustained by employment in GOP sectors that hire itinerant day-laborers, likely agriculture.

April 3, 2018

Roseanne, 20-some years later

Since this is now the most talked-about pop culture phenomenon, there are several layers to discuss -- the show itself, the audience's reactions to the show, the pundits' commentary on the audience's reaction to the show, and on and on.

The show itself is a time warp back to good writing and performances, rather than what passes for comedy today -- which is built on random wackiness instead of humor, a self-aware rather than naturalistic tone, and driven by a series of buzzwords, references, and one-liners that do not require a particular place, cast, or narrative for them to be made, instead of humor arising from the how the distinctive characters interact with each other, their time, and their place, according to a plotline.

The political aspects of the show are no different from the original -- working-class populism based on the daily challenges of living below the top 10-20%, with the hot-button issues being mostly one-off distractions like the "very special episodes" of the 1980s and early '90s. They are not trotted out to score cheap rhetorical points against an enemy in a highly polarized debate, but presented as obstacles of contemporary society that everyone in the cast must work together to find a solution to.

When the high schoolers on Saved By the Bell encountered the problem of homelessness, no one ham-fistedly said, "Well, what do we expect with Republicans in the White House and trickle-down Reaganomics continuing to fail the working class?" The point would have been taken, but it would not have fit into the genre of a sit-com or drama.

Cycles of political tension and collective violence go in 50-year cycles, according to Peter Turchin's research, the last peak landing around 1970 and another expected to land around 2020. The valley between those peaks was the first half of the '90s, and that's when the non-partisan "very special episodes" were common, whether on sit-coms like Saved By the Bell and Roseanne, or dramas like My So-Called Life and the early seasons of Law & Order.

Political tension within sit-com writing and acting was a lot higher during the last peak, as seen on All In the Family. Presumably those tensions will re-emerge as we approach the upcoming peak. But so far in the Roseanne revival, the format of "characters playing out a national partisan political debate" was limited to Roseanne and Jackie airing their grievances over the 2016 election as a cathartic form of making up and moving on with their personal relationship.

I just don't see the target audience craving a partisan knife fight between cardboard cut-outs standing in for the Dumbocraps and the Rethuglicans.

The unexpectedly weak partisanship and the relative minimization of culture war issues stems from the show's working-class characters and setting. The culture war only matters to middle-class and elite people, who are well-off enough on a material level to have free time, money, and cognitive resources to worry about airy-fairy issues. People with more pressing material concerns are not interested in debates about trannies and bathrooms.

As Andrew Gelman and colleagues have shown, partisan polarization is minimal among poor people but wide as hell among the wealthy. The real culture war is between the elites who got rich through the oil industry vs. those who got rich through the media industry, not between construction workers in Texas vs. construction workers in California.

Contra Thomas Frank, the culture war is not the opiate of the masses, but of the chattering middle and upper classes.

And sure enough, the Roseanne revival's main audience is the Rust Belt, according to Nielsen ratings by media market, showing that the appeal is for people whose material prosperity traditionally came from certain kinds of economic activity -- not certain ideologies, or certain religious practices, or whatever else.

The show has not been welcomed in the South, southern Appalachia, Texas, or the Mountain West (landing with a thud in Roseanne's hometown of Salt Lake City). The only place outside the Rust Belt where it did well was Tulsa, OK, which is part of the Ozarks. While some of those regions, especially the South, have seen the disappearance of manufacturing and industrial jobs, they have also seen a deluge of post-industrial tech-bubble jobs, unlike the Great Lakes region.

The Sun Belt has also seen a flood of immigrants who will work for peanuts, allowing the middle class and elites to enjoy a higher standard of living than their counterparts in the Rust Belt. Need your yard landscaped, or your kitchen remodeled? Why hire an American when you can hire a cheaper immigrant? This decline in concern for their fellow Americans, especially the working class, is reflected in their "whatever" attitude toward the should-be all-American appeal of Roseanne.

MSNBC dug up the ratings by media market from the show's first season in the late '80s, and it was a hit all around the country -- Seattle, Albuquerque, Knoxville, Wilkes-Barre, etc., not just the Midwest. But that was before NAFTA and other globalist free trade deals hollowed out the manufacturing sector in those places, before the rise of the tech bubble economy, and before partisan and regional and cultural polarization had reached the high levels of today.

It's not surprising that the show's revival is not popular in places that have become over-run with liberal tech-bubble yuppie transplants. But it is striking how lukewarm or cold the reception has been in the Greater South.

It would be King of the Hill, not Roseanne, whose revival would do best in those places. Although it is a symptom rather than cause, the rise of cultural phenomena like King of the Hill that eclipsed those like Roseanne shows how the Republican party lost the Reagan Democrats of the Great Lakes, who would only return -- likely for just one trial election -- if they would speak to the concerns of the audience for Roseanne instead of the audience for King of the Hill.

The stark contrast between the two shows goes right over the heads of the clueless liberal elites, who lump everyone who is not a creative-class professional living on the coasts, into the same "basket of deplorables" -- whether that's a white working-class family outside of Chicago, or a conservative household outside of Dallas headed by a manager / salesman, since that manager works for the gas & energy sector rather than an informational sector.

Aside from Hank Hill being a manager rather than a worker, his personality and lifestyle could not be more different from Dan Conner's -- mild-mannered, long-suffering, deferential, puritanical, devout, gentle, well-behaved, and workaholic. He is the Protestant Work Ethic incarnate. Also naive, impressionable, and welcoming of immigrants -- characteristically Nordic and Lutheran.

Dan Conner is a Celt of no particular religion, yet who feels compelled to reinforce cultural norms more than Hank, who may be more personally repulsed but who keeps it to himself. As someone who it is not easy to walk all over, Dan is a more masculine character, which threatens not only the soft-handed coder who votes Democrat, but also the keep-your-head-down regional manager for Chili's who votes Republican. More temperamental, he fights and puts down his foot more often than Hank, but is also more playful, charming, and funny.

In a cultural landscape populated by polarized figures, it's welcome to see someone like Dan who is neither an effete liberal degenerate nor a spineless conservative wet blanket.

But it isn't just liberal elites who mindlessly conflate Dan Conner and Hank Hill. Conservative elites have been just as clueless, always expecting to win the votes of the Dan Conners of the Rust Belt, just because he isn't a homosexual owner of a Manhattan PR firm. He may not be -- but neither is he a manager for a Texas oil-related company, nor a pointless defense contractor in Virginia feeding off of the bloated federal budget.

These Dan Conner guys keep voting Democrat, who take them for granted. They gave Trump a shot, but will start shifting back to voting Democrat as that party re-aligns itself under the Bernie revolution, giving them Democrats they don't have to hold their nose for (like Connor Lamb).

When they took these guys for granted, they would only give them token benefits for having voted Democrat -- stage their ads in a small-town diner, give them Chris Matthews to present the evening news, and hire Bruce Springsteen to headline their fundraisers.

Now that these voters have temporarily defected to Trump, the Democrats must now actually deliver cold hard results that improve their standard of living -- and that means not obsessing over giving amnesty to cheap-labor immigrants who undercut Dan Conner's wages and drive him out of his neighborhood after millions of new residents in his town have bid up the price of housing.

A more interesting development will be Roseanne the character's reaction to the failure of the GOP as an entire party, and Trump individually, to deliver on the campaign themes that were supposed to alter the Reagan party into a working-class populist party. Roseanne the person has never been Republican, having sought the Green Party nomination for president and having voted for Obama. I don't see her character obsessing over the boogeymen for either Fox News or MSNBC and CNN -- Hillary, Comey, Mueller, etc., or for that matter, Trump himself.

Perhaps the most radical departure the show will take from the standard Trump voting crowd will be the de-personalization of the political world, and a focus strictly on the issues. Trump has not only created a personality cult around himself, he only sees things in personal rather than institutional terms -- prizing personal congeniality and loyalty, even if that person cuts completely against the president's stated agenda for re-shaping society's institutions (e.g., John Bolton as National Security Advisor).

Well, the Obama-to-Trump voters don't care about what kind of theatrical performance Trump puts on for his audience, and they have no loyalty to the man or the party in control of the White House. Their vote was a purely transactional, high-risk / high-reward gamble that they took on the candidate who promised to shake up the status quo on an instrumental level, not just rhetorically.

If that gamble does not pay off -- oh well, no big deal, it was a chance they had to take, and now onto Bernie and his people, who look like much more promising candidates for shaking things up and getting shit done for the populist agenda.

We already know how the Republican partisans will respond to the failures of the current administration -- keep complaining about the leaders, keep voting for them anyway, and keep parroting their talking points about corporate tax cuts and deregulation during a populist uprising.

What's up in the air is how the Obama-to-Trump voters are going to respond, especially the Independents rather than the diehard Democrats. Dems will go right back to voting for Dems. But Independents could tune out altogether, glom onto a third party, or turn their attention to getting Bernie's people to take over the Democrat party.

Watch for cultural signals of this shift on Roseanne itself and the audience reactions to it.

April 2, 2018

Guns don't protect speech, and govt is not the main censor: Antitrust needed to break up media / tech monopolies who control public forums

As the gun nuts become more desperate to defend their policy of allowing private citizens to amass personal arsenals of military-style weapons, they have shifted from making one sort of slippery slope argument to another.

First, they began by appealing to other gun nuts and conservatives, arguing that if you let the government prohibit you from owning an extreme type of gun, they will not be satisfied and will move on to prohibiting ordinary types of guns. Realizing that there aren't that many gun nuts or conservatives in the population, compared to moderates and liberals, they gave up on that line of defense.

Now they have begun trying to appeal to normies by arguing that the political goals of moderates -- not just conservatives -- are served by a hardline stance on gun deregulation.

The NRA's recent propaganda tries to show non-whites and women as the winners from gun deregulation -- letting them practice self-defense in dangerous ghettos or against violent would-be rapist males. If you want to regulate guns, the propaganda says, you're only going to make disarmed minorities and women more vulnerable -- and therefore, gun-grabbing liberals are the real racists and sexists.

No one believes any argument about liberals and Democrats being the real racists and sexists, but that doesn't stop the Right from trotting out these failed appeals over and over again. The even more retarded among them agree that it's a pointless argument -- but only because appealing to normies at all is pointless, and that they should only focus on ginning up hysteria to turn out the gun nut "base" (a tiny minority in a country where 3% of the population owns 50% of the guns).

In the same vein as "Dems are the real racists," gun nuts have begun arguing that extreme deregulation of gun laws serves another treasured goal of moderates -- protecting free speech. As a commenter here recently said, "When you give up your second amendment they will take your first amendment."

I'm not clear on whether they focus on freedom of thought and speech, or extend it to freedom of assembly also -- as though we could not freely assemble in public without the possibility of showing up armed, to deter would-be breaker-uppers of our crowd.

At any rate, "No 1A without the 2A" is the most paranoid branding mistake that gun nuts could make when trying to appeal to normies. The desired regulations are not to repeal the 2nd Amendment anyway, but to de-militarize the weaponry that private citizens own.

The NRA was not a gun nut lobby until the late 1970s -- meaning, the focus on more military style weapons, vigilante fantasies, and paranoid rhetoric about the federal gubmint coming to take your guns.

Americans did enjoy free speech before the late '70s, and if anything the situation has deteriorated during the Reagan era since. That's not because the Reaganites championed censorship per se, but because of their over-arching goal of deregulation and laissez-faire toward corporations.

That directly led to the consolidation of the media into five gigantic monopolies, and later to info-tech firms that would centralize all online media into a few monopolies. From that concentration of wealth and power came the ability to censor speech -- and with the ability, the implementation.

And unlike the agricultural, energy, and military-industrial sectors of the economy who control the Reaganite GOP, the senior management of the media and info-tech sectors are overwhelmingly liberal. So when they flex their organizational muscles, it will be to strangle conservatives.

Impotent right-wingers only wagged their limp fingers at the media and tech monopolies whose towering wealth and power they had encouraged and indeed worshiped. Why would organizations with the ability to censor, not actually use it? For the greater good? -- bullshit, they're imperial corporations controlled by power-hungry billionaires.

And for the longest time, conservatives refused to even identify corporations as the main threat to free speech -- their #1 enemy was always the gubmint, from whose tyranny the corporations would save us. Corporations would never regulate our lives, right?

The growth of the internet was supposed to provide a forum inherently immune from attacks by government tyranny -- it was a virtual rather than physical space, and distributed rather than centralized in organization. And yet, it has given us mega-corporations that are the sole space for most speech these days, which is subject to arbitrary censorship by the managers of these corporations.

The only way to break their hold on free speech is to break up their concentrated wealth and power, through antitrust actions. But the dumb dinosaur Reaganites are still adhering to the faith about laissez-faire regardless of the costs to society and to individuals -- even when the regulations would crush liberal censors like Facebook and Twitter.

It's time for the Right to get with the Trumpian times, and start demanding trust-busting of media and tech monopolies in order to protect free speech -- not promote some laughable vigilante fantasy about protecting your free speech with guns.

Your entire private arsenal will have zero effect on Twitter, Google, Facebook, and YouTube banning conservative people or ideas. You're not going to take your private arsenal to a college campus and do literal battle with the Leftist professors. And you're not going to launch a literal attack by surrounding the CNN headquarters with your militia buddies.

You have to fight power with power -- and security-blanket arsenals give no power to the cosplay warriors who own them. They must instead take over the government to dismantle the over-sized corporations that have such a monopoly on the forums of speech.

Somebody's going to be doing the regulating. Regulate them before they regulate you.