Arrias: Chloe Kim, American

In an article the other day, after she won a gold medal, a reporter waxed lyrical about Chloe Kim. The author went to some pains to point out that Miss Kim is Korean-American.

I protest. She isn’t. Neither are her parents.

The Kims came to the US to be Americans. Yes, they were born in Korea. And they appreciate their Korean heritage. They love their family members who still live in South Korea. But they left. Not because the Republic of Korea is a bad place. In fact, South Korea is a great place. But they left Korea. Because the US is different, it’s exceptional. Want proof?

Here are some questions you might want to research.

How many people of American descent are on, for example, the Chinese Olympic team? Or for that matter, how many folks of US descent are on anyone else’s team? There are, of course, a number of Americans, living in the US, enjoying US citizenship, who through the benefits of dual citizenship, get to compete on another team. Then they return to the US. Which sometimes seems a bit odd to me…

But let’s go a little further: how many countries let someone from someplace else rise to be a senior member of the government? The US has had any number of senators and congressmen who were citizens of other countries before immigrating to the US.

Currently, 6 Senators, 18 Congressmen, 1 Governors, Mayors of several cities, and 1 member of the cabinet were born abroad; (the current Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, was born in Taiwan).

Twenty years ago we had a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (General John Shalikashvili) whose parents had been born in Georgia, in the Caucuses, and had fled to Poland when Communist Russia invaded Georgia. The general was born in Poland and the family came to the US in 1952 when he was 16. He was drafted after graduation from college, commissioned a year later, and rose through the ranks to become chairman.

Two of our National security advisors were born outside the US: Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski; men who shared our nations most important information with just a handful of other people, men who acted as the closest advisors to the President.

Do any other countries turn such a blind eye to your origins as the United States? The answer is no. It is a living demonstation of Jefferson’s immortal words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Yes, we have problems. That’s because we’re all imperfect. We’ve had problems and we will have problems. And many of them will be difficult to solve and will be painful. The horror that took place in Florida last week is proof enough of that.

But at its root, what we have here, this place, America, is unique; it is exceptional in the best sense of that word. More than 100 years ago President Theodore Roosevelt gave a series of speeches on what he referred to as “hyphenated Americanism.”

His point then, which resonates down to us today, is that no one should be judged on where they came from, or what religion they follow or any other criteria, save one: are they Americans? You can come to the US and start new, as long as you embrace one criteria: you become an American.

The press, and many in academia and elsewhere, trumpet multiculturalism. In that trumpeting lies the real threat to the republic. As Roosevelt noted:

“The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities, an intricate knot of German-Americans, Irish-Americans, English-Americans, French-Americans, Scandinavian-Americans or Italian-Americans, each preserving its separate nationality.”

President Woodrow Wilson, democrat, president of Princeton University and a man of unimpeachable liberal credentials, put it a bit more tersely than Roosevelt:

“Any man who carries a hyphen about with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic whenever he gets ready.”

But, in an interview, Miss Kim noted that her parents came to the US to live out the American Dream. It seems that Miss Kim gets it, as do her parents. If only the press were as smart as the Kims.

Chloe Kim, no hyphen. Just an American.

Copyright 2018 Arrias
www/vicsocotra.com

Arrias: North Korea and the Berlin Olympics

Editor’s Note: As a winter sports enthusiast from way back, I discovered that coverage of the current Winter Games was not as visible as it had been in decades past. Arrias adds content and context to the 2018 Games….BTW, if you haven’t, “The Boys in the Boat” is one of the better books I have read in years.

North Korea and the Berlin Olympics


In his wonderful “Boys in the Boat,” D. J. Brown tells the story of the crew team from the University of Washington who, in 1936, journeyed to Berlin and won the gold medal for the USA. It’s a great book and I highly recommend it.

But there are several facets to the tale; one, of note today, is how Hitler used the Olympics to showcase his new Germany. Prior to the Berlin Olympics the Olympic games were still big deals, but it was Hitler who turned them into a spectacle, an event far bigger than simply athletes getting together to compete at the highest level. After Hitler, it became a way to showcase a city and a nation, a way to make grand political statements, all couched in terms of brotherhood and unity and peace. And it’s worth noting that the particular individual who orchestrated this production for Hitler was a charming and beautiful woman, Leni Riefenstahl.

Riefenstahl was an actor and dancer who became one of pre-war Germany’s great directors and producers. While she denied to her death having knowledge of the holocaust, she was clearly drawn to Hitler, had a close working relationship with Hitler’s master of propaganda – Dr. Goebbels, and remained part of Hitler’s inner social circle throughout the war. And she certainly had knowledge of the movement of Jewish Germans out of Berlin prior to the game, the better to display “Aryan purity.”

A key part of all this was her ability to craft an image of the new Aryan race for the world to see, with the stage she created for the Olympics. Riefenstahl was the creator of the bigger than life spectacles that have been mirrored in every subsequent Olympic game.

She was a very smart, beautiful, charming woman, in league with an evil regime…

And we are seeing the same thing today.

North Korea’s maximum dictator, Kim Jong Un – seemingly taking a cue from Goebbels and Hitler – sent his sister, Kim Yo Jong, to represent him at the Olympics in Pyeongchang, ROK. She’s the first member of the Kim family to enter South Korea since 1950. And everyone is fawning all over her. Everyone first notes that she’s part of the nasty regime, but then they switch over to nearly breathless comments about her presence, noting that this puts a young, female face on North Korean leadership.

Yeah, sure.

Let’s review. North Korea is the most repressive regime on the planet. Really, no one else comes close. Tehran and the mad mullahs? That’s Club Med compared to North Korea. In the late 90s North Korea faced a famine that lasted several years; at least 5% of the population died. Did they change policies? No. In the last 10 years the economy of North Korea has been essentially flat, with per capita income hovering near $1,000. Yet they – Kim Jong Un and his devoted sister – have managed to invest several billion in the development of nuclear weapons and missiles to carry them.

In excess of 1/3rd of the economy is devoted to the military. But watching a movie from outside the country is a felony. Female face of the future regime? Rape is a tool of control for this regime. Voice of the future? Communicating with the west can be punished with death. Kim has reportedly executed more than 300 people since coming to power in 2011, many members of the inner circle who were simply getting too popular. And full-scale repression of the populace continues. It’s been said that the entire country is a gulag. That may be as accurate a description as any.

What’s amazing about this whole mess, to include insane commentary that Vice President Pence made a major foreign policy gaffe by not engaging with Ms Kim, is that despite the amount of information we have on what is really going on in North Korea, when a charming face steps in front of us, many seem quite willing to forget all that “nasty stuff” and believe the tale we are being told.

The Olympics are a great sports venue. But they’ve been used for more than 80 years by dictators and their charming assistants to deceive and mislead, and in this particular case, in an attempt to weaken the ties between the US and the Republic of Korea.

Enjoy the games. But don’t be misled by this charming, latter day Salome.

Copyright 2018 Arrias
www.vicsocotra.com

Arrias: Doom? Maybe Not

We’re doomed, if you listen to some folks. They may be right. There certainly are things going on that give you pause. But perhaps they’re miss-interpreting a few things.

The big stories this week were the President’s State of the Union address, the release of the memo from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the 500+ point drop in the Dow.

But I’d point to the stridently partisan crowd during the State of the Union address.

It was particularly bizarre that almost half of Congress didn’t applaud when the President noted that black unemployment has never been lower. One could interpret that as Democrats don’t really want blacks to have jobs, unless Democrats create the jobs. Here’s a piece of advice from Ronald Reagan: “there’s no such thing as a bad piece of good news.” Lower unemployment among blacks is a good thing. Period.

But the underlying story the media is bleating is that, because of Trump, the government is separated from the people, people don’t trust the government, and that various elements of the government don’t trust each other. This, we are told, is an existential crisis.

Is it?

Start with this: we all really want the same thing: meaning in our lives, basic freedoms, food on the table, family taken care of, healthy kids, good schools, etc. And while a small percentage will insist these be provided, the vast majority understand there needs to be real jobs, real workers and real wages and that the government can’t just mandate these things.

So, could it be the reason we’re at each other’s throats is misunderstanding about what is now another common belief?

There are, arguably, three major blocks of the population. One block simply wants government to leave it alone. They go about their jobs, for the most part probably don’t vote, and are convinced the only thing they can do is keep their heads down and hope no one notices them. They don’t really trust government, but it’s a less strident level of distrust. Many of these folks occupy what might be called the middle of the spectrum.

Then, there’s a large block that believes government is, and pretty much always has been, out to get them. This is what the media refers to as the far right.

Finally, there are those who actively supported the government until Trump took over. Now, they’re convinced that Trump will undermine society and use government to destroy the nation.

Convergence…

The common theme here is fear of government. For some, it’s a new fear, having spent much of their lives convinced that government created, or at least government monitored, solutions are the best approach for nearly everything. For more than two decades their perspective on government was the dominant one. Suddenly, however, these folks have begun to fear government. To which I say: Good!

They are now in the same boat not simply with most Americans, they’re also in the same boat as the Founding Fathers.
If there’s one theme that runs through the Constitution it’s the idea that government powers at all levels must be limited, and they must be separated, because government can’t be trusted. James Madison, in the Federalist Papers (number 47) commented that: “the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive and judiciary, in the same hands… may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

When Congress lets authorities slip through its hands and flow to judges or to bureaucrats, they violate this tenet. When a president enacts, or pushes his departments to enact regulation after regulation, in an unchecked expansion of federal reach, he violates this tenet. Such has been the behavior of government for decades. Perhaps that is changing. And that’s a good thing.

The long and short of it is this: government – at any level: local, state or federal – is not to be trusted. As George Washington observed: “Government is not eloquence. It is force. And like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

We live in dangerous times. But it has always been so. Freedom isn’t easily preserved, we need to fight for it, every generation, every year, perhaps even every day. As Patrick Henry, noted: “Virtue will slumber. The wicked will be continually watching.”

Maybe what we’re seeing around the country is that some who were quite enamored of government until just recently are now waking up from their slumber. If so, that’s a good thing.

Copyright 2018 Arrias
www.vicsocotra.com

Arrias: Davos Economic Forum and School Redistricting

One constant issue here in the Tidewater is ‘school re-districting.’ Everyone is very conscious of which school district they are moving into, wanting the best for their kids. So, it’s quite frustrating when a city council approves construction of more housing, knowing it will force changes in the school district boundaries, and when citizens push back, they find “the decision’s been made, too late.”

The lesson is that even up close, in your own city and town, participatory government is hard, controlling politicians is difficult, and an out-of-state developer may have more say than several hundred moms and dads who live “here.” And as for controlling politicians located hundreds, or thousands, of miles away?

Hmmmm…

The President spoke in Davos, Switzerland the other day. It was a pretty good speech, brief and to the point. It encapsulated the President efforts: roll back bureaucracy, free up investors and business, let the market place, the individual, and individual energy and creativity, drive the US economy.

But there’s something not quite right about Davos itself: select politicians, technocrats, academics, and business ‘leaders,’ gathering together to talk about, well, what to do about the rest of us.

That’s really what the Davos Economic Forum is: political and economic leaders meeting to “shape global regional and industrial agendas.” Those are their words; this small group is going to shape agendas – our agendas.

Think: global school districts.

Davos is predicated on very un-democratic concepts of economics, politics and control of market forces. Davos is about a small group sitting down and drawing up agendas, agendas that are not voted on, agendas that in some cases run counter to our and other constitutions.

The majority of the folks who attend Davos, by their attendance, signal they’re more aligned with the murky dealings of the Pentavirate (see Stuart MacKenzie (aka Mike Meyers) in “So I Married an Axe Murderer”) then in representative government or Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand.

But, you might argue, it’s just talk. Businessmen getting together to talk, politicians from different countries getting together to talk, what’s wrong with that?

In the US, if leaders of the steel industry were to get together – private meeting – to discuss what’s next, might we not consider that as trying to control the market? If all the oilmen met in the same room and talked about production and investment and prices and future markets, we’d call it something different. Why is it wonderful when techies get together in Davos, but it’s a trust or a cartel or price fixing when oil industry execs get together in Paramus?

Why is it okay for politicians from different countries to get together and talk about the government economic and industrial policies of others? Why is it okay for these same politicians to talk blithely about policies that would require greater centralization of power, many of them actions counter to both the letter and spirit of the US Constitution?

Thankfully, Mr. Trump didn’t go down that road. Rather, he spoke to his quite pragmatic (and Constitutional) efforts: restoring American strength – economic, diplomatic and military.

In fact, his last two paragraphs summed it up well, and in a subtle way, put an American thumb into more than one eye at Davos:

Together let us resolve it use our power, our resources and our voices, not just for ourselves but for our people, to lift their burdens, to raise their hopes and to empower their dreams. To protect their families, their communities, their histories and their futures. That’s what we’re doing in America, and the results are totally unmistakable. It’s why new businesses and investment are flooding in. It’s why our unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in so many decades. It’s why America’s future has never been brighter.

Today, I am inviting all of you to become part of this incredible future we are building together. Thank you to our hosts, thank you to the leaders and innovators in the audience but most importantly, thank you, to all of the hard-working men and women who do their duty each and every day, making this a better world for everyone. Together let us send our love and our gratitude to them because they really make our countries run. They make our countries great. Thank you and God bless you all. Thank you very much.

“They” – that would be the citizens – all of us. Not the folks in Davos, just you and me.

Copyright 2018 Arrias
www.vicsocotra.com

Arrias: Continuing Irresolution

What really happened last week is this: Congress didn’t fail to pass a Continuing Resolution, Congress failed to pass a budget.

The federal government’s fiscal year begins on October 1st. If the government is functioning properly, a total budget, with 12 separate budget bills, would have moved through the various committees of Congress, been passed by both the House and Senate, been de-conflicted in joint committees, and sent to the President for signature, and signed by midnight, September 30th. Every year.

Who says? Well, the Constitution. And a host of laws. It is, in essence, the real job of Congress: pass laws to protect the nation and provide for the general welfare, and appropriate money to accomplish that.

There should be 12 Bills: 1) Agriculture and the FDA; 2) Commerce, Justice and Science; 3) Defense; 4) Energy; 5) Financial Services and General Government; 6) Homeland Security; 7) Interior; 8) Labor, HHS and Education; 9) Legislative Branch; 10) Military Construction and Veterans Affairs; 11) State and Foreign Operations; 12) Transportation and HUD.

These cover all federal government activities. Each – individually – moves through subcommittee hearings and committee hearings, are voted on in both the House and Senate, a joint committee works out differences, the final bills are then approved, and then the President signs them.

All before October 1st.

It’s been a long time since that’s happened. In the last 40 years Congress managed to pass all the budget bills on time only in 1977, 1989, 1995 and 1997. Remember, this is Congress’s #1 job.

When Congress fails to complete the regular appropriations bills on time we operate under what are known as Continuing Resolutions (CR), bills passed by Congress to continue funding the government at the same rates as the previous year’s budget, within any or all of the above 12 areas.

But, once you’re operating under a CR, a sense of crisis develops, with calls to “pass a budget” and start work on next year’s budget. The end result is an “omnibus” spending bill where-in all necessary appropriations are wrapped up into one gigantic bill and pushed through, usually at the last minute, with any effort to refine the bill painted as obstructionist. The 2017 omnibus appropriations bills – due on President Obama’s desk no later than September 30th 2016 but released May 1st 2017 – totaled $1.16 trillion.

In 2007, 2011 and 2013 we had CRs that lasted more than 15 months — in short, we never passed any real budget at all.

Walter J. Oleszek, of the Congressional Research Service, adjunct professor of government at American University, offers:

These omnibus bills grant large powers to a small number of people who put these packages together – party and committee leaders and top executive officials. Omnibus measures usually arouse the irk of the rank-and-file members of Congress because typically little time is available in the final days of a session to debate these massive measures or to know what is in them.

Yet, the Senate has rules, generated by the Senate – the Constitution is silent on internal process except to say each house of Congress will establish its own rules – that require 60 votes for passing spending bills. The argument has been made that such a 3/5th majority will make it that much more difficult for the Congress to increase spending. (Take a look at our national debt, and our unfunded annuities, and ask yourself how well that’s worked out.)

Nowhere in the Constitution is there any word about filibuster, super majority, or any other special rules. Such concepts were and are the creation of people enamored with using parliamentary procedures to preserve both structure and supposedly to preserve collegiality during debate. Again, I would ask how well has that worked out?

We face an increasingly dangerous world – China’s power-hungry regime, a nuclear-armed North Korea, resurgent Russia, nuclear proliferation, Islamic terrorism, etc. – and our national security apparatus needs budgetary stability to plan ahead, forecasting procurement and operations within a well-defined budget.

Insisting on collegiality when there is none, and thereby sacrificing the basics of good governing, has led to this situation, and holding defense and security interests hostage to an immigration issue, is unconscionable. It’s time the leadership of the House and Senate, particularly the Senate, threw out arbitrary rules that slow the budgetary process, and force Congress to perform its basic functions and pass budgets on time. They’re already falling behind on the next budget.

Copyright 2018 Arrias

www.vicsocotra.com

Editor’s Note: I normally put these comments up front, but as it turns out, Arrias told me he really needed another 600 words to complete his thoughts. They are cogent and formidable. This morning seems like a good opportunity to add some of mine. As a Hill veteran of the 105th Congress and four years as a budget staff director, I was taught to respect Regular Order (“RO”), the process violated by what is presented above. RO means all the appropriations of the Congress, (revenue bills must rise in the House), are first authorized and then scrutinized in all particulars before being approved by Appropriations committees of jurisdiction and then sent to the Senate for a similar two-step process with at least a modicum of transparency. And then back to a joint conference to ensure there hadn’t been too many funny things inserted in the sausage factory.

We haven’t done that a decade. Congress has always been a fractious place, but this “Continuing Resolution” nonsense is destroying the ability of good people in Government (some remain) to do their jobs in an ordered manner with reasonable oversight.The way we do it now, is that the whole Federal Budget is presented as a big trash bag filled with the whole complex enterprise of the nation, levied by rule at equal funding from the last time they did this. Currently, that could be only a few weeks ago. And the Big Deal of the morning means we are going to do this again in three weeks.

For those of us who worked on the budgets of the past, that process simply doesn’t work, and we would have lost our jobs, or if we had played some of the games being played of late, in the hoosegow. I fear for what is left of the Republic.

At some point, we have to hold The Swamp accountable to do their jobs.

– Ed

Arrias: The Watchman

Editor’s note: This one is personal.

– Vic

The Watchman

I used to keep a sign in my office, where the watch officers could see it, a line from the Old Testament: Ezekiel 33:6:

“But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life… I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.”

The point is simple and clear: The real world has some harsh realities, everything isn’t win-win, every situation can’t be “worked out,” every situation doesn’t have a silver lining. In fact, the entire concept of intelligence is about decidedly Win-Lose situations. If you get intelligence wrong, bad things can happen. In some cases, truly horrific things can happen. At the very top of the pyramid of this process is that particular slice of intelligence called “Indications and Warning,” (I&W).

I&W is exactly what it sounds like, the process of watching a specific problem, looking for any hint that something is going wrong (Indications) and, when the situation warrants, blowing the horn and providing “alertment” to those who need to be alerted (known as Warning.)

The obvious problem of I&W is knowing when to sound the alarm, when to, as Ezekiel noted, to blow the trumpet. You never want to miss sending out a warning when one should have been sent out. But, you don’t want to sound the alarm unless it’s necessary. Crying “Wolf” not only degrades the system, in the modern world, crying wolf can lead to a self-generated crisis; and such mistakes aren’t particularly well tolerated.

This past weekend in Hawaii the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency – a state agency – put out the following false text during a drill:

“Emergency Alert: BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

Several points come to mind.

1) The director of HEMA needs to be fired and the person who sent out the message needs to be fired; a detailed investigation is needed to make sure everyone knows precisely what happened. People inside the system need to understand both what went wrong and that mistakes of this sort simply won’t be tolerated. Want a worker-friendly job? Go someplace else.

2) Containing North Korea must be job one. As much as everyone wants to blame Mr. Trump, this is not Trump’s fault. This is primarily Mr. Kim’s fault, he’s the one building the nuclear arsenal and ballistic missiles. Is there more blame to share? Certainly. Begin with the Clinton agreement in 1994 to fund peaceful nuclear reactors in North Korea, with an inspection regime inadequate to preventing North Korea from continuing its nuclear weapon development program. (I can hear someone crying now: “It wasn’t inadequate.” Yes, it was. North Korea has nuclear weapons. The program lived. Inspection failed.)

There’s more fault to go around. Both the Bush and Obama administrations had clear indications that the regime had continued the weapon development programs and essentially did nothing. How clear? Underground nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, 2013, 2 in 2016. When Trump came to office North Korea already had nuclear weapons; the test last September was a test of a larger weapon.

3) As horrible as a nuclear strike would be, civil defense has a role. A nuclear detonation over Hawaii would kill many people. But many more would live. A well-rehearsed civil defense system would maximize the number who lived, and improve the process of providing aid and relief to survivors. What happened in Hawaii is a lesson to us all that we need an effective public warning system, and we need a revamped civil defense system nation-wide; the world we live demands that we all address this heightened risk.

4) Expanded Missile Defense is needed now, one that provides a high degree of reliability, one that would make it unlikely that a single missile or even an attack of several missiles could actually reach US territory.

5) Finally, the US deterrence force, our nuclear arsenal, must be modernized. The paradox of deterrence is that the more reliable, capable and flexible the nuclear force, the more effective its deterrent effect.

What happened in Hawaii was a serious mistake. We need to recognize and accept that our nation’s defense, civil and otherwise, has problems and move forward and fix those problems.

Copyright 2018 Arrias
www.vicsocotra.com

Arrias: Iran: Will This Time Be Different?

Over the past week speculation has spanned the full spectrum as to what will happen in Iran: the Mullahs who’ve ruled Iran since 1979 are facing protests in a number of cities as many citizens call for greater freedoms and greater representation in their government.

The catalyst for the riots was rising food prices. But there are also reports that there are factions within the government who have incited the riots – the students being unwitting pawns – to pressure President Rouhani on future spending. One faction apparently wants more money spent inside Iran; others want to continue to expand Iran’s presence in Syria and Lebanon. These stories sometimes refer to President Rouhani as a “moderate” cleric. They’re careful, however, to place quotation marks around “moderate.”

In Iran several things are of note: 1) moderate mullahs aren’t; 2) No one comes to power (government or military) unless approved by a very small group of clerics. You can’t run for President or for the legislature (Assembly) until approved by a council of clerics; 3) The small council of clerics are approved by the Ayatollah Khameini; then, and only then, are the people allowed to vote. Western democracy it’s not. In short, the Ayatollah is the real power; 4) The Ayatollah isn’t going to give up power easily.

Iran is an amazing country, with 81 million people, larger than Alaska, with a civilization that is 4000 years old. Iranians have produced some of the finest art and literature in the world. They’re smart, talented, educated. It has been said repeatedly that Americans have more in common with Iranians than with any other people in the Mid East.

To listen to many – hopeful – experts, this time the people will win. In fact, if you listen to what’s being said, it’s inevitable.

But history hasn’t been kind to the idea that the people will win, and that ever greater liberty is a given. This concept, from the school of thought that history is developing to some new and improved end state (popular among Marxists), sounds good if you’re clever with the definitions. A squishy, feel-good, new age religion-spirituality supports this.

But not to put too fine a point on it, you can make a fairly clear argument that nations aren’t really in God’s portfolio. Nations are, as our Declaration of Independence notes, instituted among men. And they are full of failures and errors. Some few fix themselves over time, most do not. In most, the concerns are not about rights and justice, they are about power. And so, back to Iran, the Ayatollah and his mullahs.

Western civilization developed political philosophies that supported justice and individual rights; within that framework it was understood that each individual would be able to pursue those interests that served him best, whether they sought temporal or eternal reward. And so, Western thought focused on states that would provide the minimum necessary conditions for that pursuit.

The other civilizations of the world have chosen different paths. But at the core of all those paths, is a desire not to provide justice, but to hold power. The West created mechanisms to thwart those efforts (though the efforts are by no means fool proof); no other school of philosophy spent so much effort on limiting the power of the state.

In Iran the Mullahs may claim they speak for God (or Allah, if you prefer), but whether they happen to, from time to time, say something with which God agrees, they really speak for themselves, and seek power for themselves. They will not yield it gently. Perhaps the people will overthrow them this time, perhaps not. (If I were a betting man I would put my money on the Mullahs right now). Perhaps they will someday overthrow the Mullahs. But, those in power tend to remain in power. And the more power they have, the harder they hold onto it.

The Mullahs want to retain power. In all likelihood they will use every means to do so, including extreme violence. If we really want the pro-democracy movement to succeed, we will need to not only get involved, but we will need to understand that it will get very messy, will be very unpleasant, and may not work. Or we can sit and watch and hope it works out. And remember, odds are it won’t work out, at least not for the near term.

There are no easy answers.

Copyright 2018 Arrias
www.vicsocotra.com

Arrias: Under Qualified?

Editor’s Note: Arrias takes a last outing in bedraggled 2017.

I join him in wishing you a happy and prosperous 2018!

– Vic

Under Qualified?

I have some really smart friends who send me things to read. Last week one sent an article about the President’s plans for modernizing the nation’s transportation infrastructure – roads, bridges, rail, seaports, airports, etc. The cost will be roughly $1 trillion over 10 years. Only $200 billion will come from the federal government, just $20 billion per year, the rest from the various states.

It seems like a good idea.

At the same time I read an article by one highly respected newspaper that referred to members of the Trump administration as “under-qualified.”

A year ago, as Trump formed his administration, we were warned that: the markets would drop precipitously; currency would flee the country; the nation would explode in race wars; Trump would simultaneously give the nation over to big business and set himself up as virtual dictator (I’m reminded of the standup comic who discussed “jumbo shrimp”); Trump had sold out to the Russians; Trump would declare war on immigrants leading to a drain of workers and further economic crisis. Etc., etc., etc.

One year later, unemployment is at 4.1% (lowest in 17 years), black unemployment sits at 7.3% (also lowest in 17 years), the market finished the year just short of 25,000, and the economy is experiencing real growth above 3%.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump, labeled an “agent” of spymaster Putin, has announced he’ll sell sniper rifles and anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, as the insurgency in Eastern Ukraine heads into its 5th year. And to top if off, Russia (and China) were fingered by Trump as competitors in his national security strategy. So much for Putin’s influence.

So, back to the roads and rails.

$20 billion per year, in an annual federal budget of almost $4 trillion isn’t exactly a crazy amount of cash – less than 1%. For nearly two decades there’ve been repeated harangues to repair our roads and bridges. It’s what all Congressmen routinely ask for: spending in their districts, on projects that will include local hiring. This should be a “gimmee.”

Except Trump is asking for it; so expect opposition.

Which led to a little reflection on some of the things Trump accomplished:

– Pushed Congress to pass tax reform: the most far-reaching in decades, business taxes down, more than 80% of us get a tax reduction. If this results in the economy sustaining 3% growth, the result will be increased total tax revenue and a reduction of debt
– Generated a focused national security strategy in less than 11 months
– Began the unraveling of a host of complex and economically stifling regulations
– Began the effort to refocus and recapitalize the armed forces
– Gave the economy real hope and it responded with robust real growth and the lowest unemployment in more than a decade

What’s most interesting is that he’s done this by doing the simple, obvious things, with “unqualified” help.

For decades we’ve heard politicians, think tanks, and former political staffers – folks the newspapers would call “qualified” – tell us that doing any of these things will be “very difficult” and slow and, most importantly, so complicated it really can’t be explained to the American people. Instead, the voters need to leave it “in the hands of experts” who really “understand” this kind of thing. Like the experts at the Federal Reserve who in 104 years have given us a recession on average every 5 years, as well as the great depression, our greatest recession, and have overseen the loss of 90% of the value of the dollar.

Experts. Highly Qualified.

The truth is sometimes unpleasant, especially when careers are spent crafting an alternate version of reality. Mr. Trump, “under-qualified” as he is, apparently is unaware of that other reality. Meanwhile, what he’s doing is working; the economy is improving and he appears determined to defend the nation. Maybe, it’s really not hard to see what must be done?

It’s understandable that some people object to things getting better because it comes from someone they hate, and his success appears to undermine their entire careers.

Nevertheless, the economy is improving, and the nation appears to be moving towards greater prosperity, greater security and a less intrusive government. Let’s hope 2018 brings more real growth. And maybe, instead of trying to sabotage Trump out of spite, some folks will accept that it’s okay for things to get better.

Copyright 2017 Arrias
www.vicsocotra.com

Arrias on Christmas Eve: Two State Solutions

Everyone in the United Nations (UN) seemed very angry last week because the President announced that he’d move the US Embassy to Jerusalem – Israel’s capital.

Since nations pretty much always put embassies in capitals, or at least that’s been the rule for the last 6,000 years, I frankly think this wailing, cursing and gnashing of teeth is all theater.

After all, Presidents Clinton and Bush both promised to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and President Obama stated that Jerusalem was the undivided capital of Israel. The major difference between them and President Trump appears to be that Trump is actually going to do what he said he was going to do…

The President also released his National Security Strategy; it seems, particularly in comparison to those of the last few administrations, to be both reasonable — no massive changes in direction, and an effort to address things as they are (what’s sometimes called “realpolitik”), while narrowing the focus to things that are strictly national security issues.

All well and good.

As for the UN, most of the members are very angry, condemning the President’s decision as a threat to the ‘Two-State Solution,” the accepted, go-to answer since the 70s.

But, the President has made it quite clear that he too, supports the Two-State Solution.

The land called Palestine has been inhabited continually for at least 6,000 years. The Jews first moved into the area some time around 1400 BC, and ruled until the 6th century BC. The region has since been ruled by Assyrians, Persians, Greek, Romans, several Arab dynasties, and for a few decades, Europeans. From 1516, when conquered by Sultan Selim I, until taken by the British and Arab coalition in 1916, the region was part of the Ottoman empire, the longest single period of control by any one nation or empire. Since then the region has been ruled by the British (under the British Mandate), the UN, Israel and the Palestinian authority.

So, who has claim to it? Certainly the Jewish people have some claim to Jerusalem and the surrounding region. Yet, it’s become an article of international foreign policy “truth” that there must be a two state solution.

But it leads to an interesting question: When do you acquire “ownership” and when do you lose it?

Consider this…

Taiwan’s been inhabited for about 6,000 years, by a people related to the early inhabitants of the islands of SE Asia and Micronesia, who probably migrated to the area looking for farm land. In the 1200s fisherman from China began to visit the islands, but there was no other interest in the island until the early 1600s when the Dutch attempted to establish trading posts there; the Ming Empire learned of it and drove them off. Spain established a settlement in 1626; it fell to the Dutch in 1642. In 1662, after the fall of the Ming dynasty, a Ming general, escaping the Qing dynasty, drove out the Dutch and established an empire on Taiwan, the first Chinese to control the island; this lasted until 1683, when the Qing dynasty seized control.

The Qing ruled Taiwan until 1895 when the Japanese seized control. The Japanese controlled Taiwan (Formosa) until the end of World War II, when Republic of China troops were ferried to the island by the US Navy.

So… Palestinians have had political control of parts of Palestine for, depending on how you define it, a bit more than 40 years, almost 70 years or at most 95 years. The Chinese had control over Taiwan for 212 years, but haven’t had any control over the island for 122 years. The People’s Republic of China, established in 1949, has never controlled any of Taiwan.

The US has a “One China” policy, but while we maintain an embassy in Beijing, we remain publicly committed to Taiwan’s democracy and de facto independence.

The President says there’s great power competition between the US and China, admitting something the last administration tried to wish away. Maybe one way to make it clear to Beijing that we’re serious would be to simply float the idea of viewing Taiwan in much the same way the world – including China – views Palestine?

If we’re going to have a dose of reality in our national security strategy, but we perhaps also want to be consistent with what the UN says is the right answer in the Middle East, why not consider a Two China policy?

Copyright 2017 Arrias
www.vicsocotra.com

Arrias: National Security and the Debt

Several days ago I read a comment that an entire generation of social programs were being destroyed by the Trump administration. It was suggested that President Trump plans to, through the vehicle of the next budget, reduce funding to a number of entitlement programs. The individual further commented that our defense spending was far too great and needed to be cut. Hmmm…

Some thoughts on US spending:

1) The last time the US government spent less – that is to say, the total federal outlays actually decreased from one year to the next – was 1965. The change was less than 1%, but it did drop. (That there had been a 6.5% increase in spending between 1963 and 1964 is relevant.) Previous to that, the only serious reduction in spending since the end of World War II was from 1953 to 1954, a 7% decrease in spending. For every other year since 1949, federal spending has increased from one year to the next.

2) As has been repeated often, national security spending keeps dropping; the trend line is significant. In 1950 US defense spending represented just over 30% of all federal spending. By 1953, with the Korean War — and the intensification of the Cold War, national security spending jumped to nearly 70% of the budget. Since then it’s been falling, with a few up-ticks for short periods; during the height of the Vietnam War spending peaked at 45% of federal spending then began to fall again (with another up-tick under Reagan, rising from 22% to about 27% under Reagan, then falling to about 17% by 2000, and then rising to the current level of about 22% of total federal spending.

3) The debt has grown substantially, with massive amounts of growth since 2008. It’s popular to suggest that if we hadn’t been engaged in the war on terror, and if we hadn’t gone into Iraq, that the debt wouldn’t be that bad. More numbers: Since 2002, when the War on Terror spending really began, the national debt has grown from $6.2 Trillion, to $20 Trillion. During that 15-year period the US spent approximately $9.3 Trillion on national security.

Stated differently, if the US had spent ZERO on defense over the last 15 years, beginning in 2002, the national debt would still have increased $4.6 trillion, a 74% increase.

What can we learn from this? First, anyone who thinks Congress can actually spend less from one year to the next (except in defense) needs a reality check. It doesn’t happen and it hasn’t happened in two generations. And it won’t happen. There are no serious plans to reduce federal outlays on any of the major entitlement programs. All that might happen is that the rate of increase might be adjusted down from one year to the next, but that are no plans to actually reduce any major entitlement.

Second, the debt, short of some major economic growth, is projected to grow. Before President Obama left office the Congressional Budget Office projected the national debt would increase by another $5.5 trillion by 2025.

So, where does that leave us?

To begin, Congress is incapable of stopping spending. Hoping that somehow it will happen “next year” is probably less productive than buying a lottery ticket; at least you have a remote chance of winning the lottery. The only possible course that leads to a real reduction our debt is real growth (growth beyond any inflation). That’s been done in the past, and might be again. The number needed is 3-4% real growth – sustained. But that requires that our economic efforts be focused on stimulating that growth. There is only one path to do that and that is to reduce taxation while also reducing government regulation. The President appears to understand that and the tax reform he has pushed through Congress, and should sign this week is an attempt to start that.

Meanwhile, complaints about excessive defense spending simply don’t match with the facts. There is a separate argument about miss-spent defense dollars. But for now we need to recognize that we have under-funded our national security for most of the past two decades, even as the threats around us continue to multiply. That needs to stop. We need security and we need real economic growth. But we mustn’t try to fix the national debt on the back of our nation’s security.

Copyright 2017 Arrias
www.vicsocotra.com