Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Stop Regulating Commerce Between Foreign Nations

If Congress and the President had a basic understanding of what powers the constitution’s commerce clause does and does not give them, this whole Iran fiasco could have been avoided.
For several months now, the Americans and their allies have been trading threats with Iran. What began with attacks on oil tankers in the Straits of Hormuz – which the United States blamed on Iran – has escalated into the downing of drones by both sides, and then in July the Iranian Revolutionary Guard seized a British ship in the Straits, in retaliation for Britain’s seizure of an Iranian vessel near the Straits of Gibraltar earlier in the month.

News sites are blaring with headlines about ‘War Drums,’ though the public should view this through a lens of scepticism. Rumours of war have always kept newsmen in business, and so they tend to get deployed whether there’s actually going to be a war or not. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t dismiss the possibility of war out of hand.

All of this raises the question of how we got to the brink of war, and to answer that question, we need to go all the way back of the Constitution of 1787, in which Congress was given power ‘To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.’

Debate over the commerce clause usually centers on how broadly to read the phrase ‘among the several states.’ Occasionally, the political and legal debate will turn to the subject of regulating ‘commerce with foreign nations.’ Some people might naively think, as I once did, that imposing sanctions is an exercise of this power – and they would be right, if they were talking about the sorts of trade embargoes that were used in the early Republic, when, for instance, Jefferson signed the Embargo Acts to retaliate for Britain’s impressment of American sailors to fight in the Napoleonic War.

But that isn’t what modern sanctions – like the sanctions that lie at the heart of the Iran debacle – are doing. The Trump administration hasn’t simply decided that Americans must not trade with Iran, what it has done is imposed punishments for any firm, in any nation, which does business with Iran. What the government has now claimed is the power to regulate commerce between foreign nations.

Here is how this plays out in practice: Most countries still want to have normal trade relations with Iran, which, unlike the United States, did keep its end of the deal with respect to uranium enrichment. However, these countries’ merchant classes have generally refused to go along with the pro-Iranian policies of their governments, for fear of ending up like Meng Wanzhou.

Meng, you may recall, was the Chinese woman who was arrested in Canada last December, at the request of US authorities, on account of dealings she had carried on with Iran in her capacity as CFO of Huawei. She has been held in Canada ever since, as the authorities there dither about whether to extradite her to the United States to be tried for breaking American laws.

Keep in mind that Meng wasn’t actually in the United States when she committed any of her alleged crimes. She was just a Chinese businesswoman doing business with Iran. And one can only imagine how America would react if the roles were reversed – if, for example, an American travelling in Russia was arrested at the request of Chinese authorities for defying Chinese sanctions against Taiwan. Needless to say, the United States would not take well to such treatment.

And yet when the American authorities deal with China’s citizens this way, seemingly level-headed publications like The Federalist defend their modus operandi, with articles like this one accusing China of “bullying” Canada by making (unsuccessful) demands for Meng’s release, and defending Canada’s role with such hackneyed prose as the following:

“The Canadian government has tried very hard to explain to Beijing that Meng’s arrest was not politically driven.... The [U.S.] Justice Department launched a criminal probe into Huawei’s dealings in Iran in April 2017. The arrest warrant for Meng was issued in August by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, and Meng was charged with “conspiracy to defraud multiple international institutions.” To U.S. authorities, arresting Meng in Canada was a natural choice, because Meng stopped traveling to the United States in 2017.”

This would all make a bit more sense if the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York somehow had jurisdiction over alleged frauds committed in China and Iran. Under the Constitution of 1787, it doesn’t, but as that constitution wasn’t written with global imperialism in mind, the people who presently run this country have seen fit to abandon it.

China’s leaders, being as commercialist as they are, ultimately decided to let the matter slide rather than jeopardize Sino-American trade by responding in kind. Needless to say, it won’t always be this way; the Chinese know that, a few years hence, America won’t be the largest economy any more, and it will be their turn to make the demands.

In the meantime, the biggest losers are the Iranians. Although most countries do not share America’s antipathy toward Iran, few international corporations are willing to risk the wrath of the global hegemon. When a company must choose between severing ties with Iran, and ceasing to do business in the United States, raw economics determines that the ‘indispensable nation’ will come out on top.

This is why Ron Paul has been saying for so long that sanctions are ‘an act of war.’ For one country to be cut off from the rest of the world by the threat of violence against anybody of any nationality, anywhere on Earth, who dares to treat it like a normal country, is an attack on the sovereignty of not just one foreign nation, but all of them.

But America’s days of acting this way are numbered. The Americans have long depended on the rest of the world’s demand for paper dollars to keep them in the number one economic spot even though they manufacture few tangible goods. But with their liberal use of sanctions, the Americans are sawing through their own perch.

More and more countries are dedollarizing in order to make it harder for the United States to claim jurisdiction over their commerce – and this process will sooner or later result in a disastrous shock to the American economy, with severe inflation as dollars lose their appeal abroad and come flooding back home. And all of it, perhaps, would have been avoidable, if only America’s rulers had taken their constitutional limits more seriously, rather than trying to regulate commerce between foreign nations.

America’s founders fought the War of Independence in order to gain for their new country a “separate and equal status” with other nations. Hegemony was never part of the plan. A return to constitution government requires that America recognize that it is a nation among nations, not an overlord among vassals, and act accordingly.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Remembering 1969

No matter how far off the rails present-day America goes, there are still moments in our national story that will never lose their brightness. July 20th, 1969, is one of these.
This blog has been criticized for its pessimism, something which shouldn’t surprise anybody when I call myself “Twilight Patriot” and identify myself as someone “with eyes open wide enough to see the coming nightfall.” Nonetheless, due attention should be given, from time to time, to the sort of moments that came to define American greatness – the things on which I am so dismayed to see the curtain being pulled down.

Although I despise the civilization that presently surrounds me, the one thing about America that I will never cease to love is its history, and today, 20 July 2019, marks the fiftieth anniversary of one of the great moments in that history.

People have a lot of opinions about the Apollo Program and the moon landings. Were they a hoax, a waste of time and money, a brash offshoot of the cold-war rivalry with the Russians? I will not waste time debating whether they were a hoax, and as for whether Apollo was a waste of money or a minor spinoff of the cold war, those notions can be laid to rest simply by thinking about how 1969 will be viewed in the coming centuries: my belief is that the fact that men walked on the moon will be remembered, and the surrounding politics and economics will be forgotten.

And that is the beauty of it. Exploration and discovery need no validation outside of themselves. From the dawn of time, men have been venturing to go beyond the next hill, to climb the unclimbed summit, and to see that which no one had seen before. People will remember the moon landings as a time when mankind did such a thing. The bootprints on the moon, and the knowledge that the number of men who have walked there is no longer zero, but twelve, will endure beyond the fall of our civilization.

I am not a techno-utopian, and I will not wax eloquent about how space travel is the solution for anybody’s problems here on earth. But that isn’t what exploration has ever been about. The awareness that someone is out there, pushing the boundary into the unknown and sharing that experience with the rest of us here at home, is enough to satisfy me, as, I am sure, it is enough to satisfy millions of other Americans, especially the young and the young at heart.

I don’t think that the government ought to be spending large sums of money on a new space race, nor do I think that there is any chance of a return to the moon in the near future along the lines that the Trump administration is promising. The culture and politics of the 1960s are those of a bygone era. If there is to be another round of adventuring, let private adventurers lead it and fund it themselves – there are plenty who are willing to do so.

Right now, American civilization is on its downslope. As I have explained elsewhere on this blog, I expect the next half century to be a time of brutal and well-deserved decline. And the people that are left to pick up the pieces will remember the fallen regime as one of the biggest human rights abusers that the world has ever seen – as well they should, because to do otherwise would be to insult the memory of its victims.

But I hope that, in times to come, as the American collapse takes the place of the fall of Rome as the historical archetype of debauchery and excess, America’s earlier eras will retain their brightness, and revolutionary America will be a model to be looked up to, as was the Roman Republic. In our day, when something is compared to Rome, we know from the context whether to speaker has in mind the sprawling empire of Nero and Domitian, or the city-state of Poplicola and Cincinattus; in the future, when men and women speak of America, I hope that the listeners will likewise know when the country of Washington and Jefferson is being referred to.

And there will also, I hope, be a place for the America of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins.

Every nation is born in a valiant struggle for freedom, and every empire meets its end in an orgy of debauchery and mass injustice. But the Americans will always be remembered as the nation that, in the intervening years, sent a few of its bravest men to walk around on the moon.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Book Review: Twilight's Last Gleaming

John Michael Greer’s novel about the sudden end of American hegemony should be of interest to anyone who shares my conviction that the present order in this country neither can, nor ought to, continue much longer.
An empire does not admit to itself when it is in decline. No – that realization has to be imposed from without, and often quite bluntly. This, at least, is the theme that John Michael Greer runs with in Twilight’s Last Gleaming, his novel of how the American empire might fall in the not-too-distant future.

Not everybody thinks of the United States as an empire, but in Greer’s eyes, you need to be an empire in order to consume a third of the world’s natural resources despite having only 5 percent of its population. And Greer gives America’s leaders credit where credit is due for managing the empire efficiently – rather than governing every colony directly like Britain did, at a huge financial and human cost, we just keep troops positioned strategically around the world, ready to pull a regime change when someone adopts economic policies that aren’t to our liking.

Dammit, we need that oil.’ The US President’s remark to his advisers when he realizes that Tanzania has turned to a Chinese firm rather than the Americans to develop a new offshore oilfield pretty much sets the stage for what this book is about. The CIA and the Defence Department get to work plotting regime change, without realizing that this time will be different, because with China giving behind-the-scenes aid to the Tanzanians, the Americans must face what they haven’t faced since 1941 – a conflict between equals.

I won’t bother myself about spoilers in this review, because Greer, in his book, didn’t bother to create any suspense – the reader can see each plot element unfolding a mile away, from the moment the Chinese smuggle cruise missiles into Tanzania in ordinary shipping containers. The American aircraft carrier ends up where carriers will end up as soon as they see their first real combat since 1945. The F-35s go where a competent enemy is bound to send any aircraft designed with commercial rather than military concerns at the fore. And the American ground troops, reduced to fighting without air superiority or decent logistics, end up in POW camps.

All of this, by the way, is only the first third of Greer’s book. The rest deals with the impact of the defeat on the American home front, and with the new international order that arises once American hegemony is dead and buried. Passages of the novel are told from perspectives in America, Tanzania, Kenya, China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia… you get the idea. One thing you need to be warned about is that, with the possible exception of the Russian president, Greer’s characters are completely forgettable. They are flat as flat can be, within a week of reading the book, I had forgotten all but two of their names.

Where Greer excels is in what is usually known as world-building, though I hesitate to call it that, as sketching out possible futures for the real world is a much more intellectually demanding task than inventing fantasy settings. And Greer’s futures are believable. America will keep playing hegemon until someone makes us stop – you can’t get by without a little bullying when you consume more resources than you produce. And sometime within the next few decades, we will get worsted by one of the world’s ascendant powers, of which China is chief.

It’s toward the end that, in my opinion, the book wanders off into fantasy. The idea that, in our day and age, a constitutional convention might remake America with only failed interference from the President, and no interference at all from the Supreme Court, is quite na├»ve – in the real world, power does not give itself up voluntarily, no matter what the text of the constitution has to say about the matter. If Washington’s power is to be broken, as Greer thinks it will, then it will take resistance much fiercer than anyone in modern America is willing to give.

Twilight’s Last Gleaming. The novel is not, by any means, a perfect map for the future, but it does accurately describe a lot of the unpleasant things that will happen when the American empire learns the hard way that the world is no longer its own to rule..

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Letter of July 2019


I recall a time when conservatives such as myself derided liberals for the cult of personality and mindless adulation which they heaped upon President Obama. And we liked to see such praise turned on its head, so when the Utah painter Jon McNaughton made a name for himself by painting Obama trampling the constitution, burning the constitution, or fiddling while Washington went up in flames, we clamored for more.

I thought that people on my own side would never make such idols out of their politicians. But it turns out that just eight years later, things have come full circle.

Now, instead of Obama, Mr. McNaughton usually paints Donald Trump: Trump guarding the border, Trump draining the swamp, not one but two paintings of Trump on a football field, defying the whole NFL to respect the flag. And now there is a scene of Trump on the same White House steps where Obama had stood a few years earlier, except now, instead of trampling the constitution, Trump has his foot on the head of a snake!

 Some internet commentators replied with confused attempts to link the scene to the familiar “Don’t Tread On Me” flag. But people like myself, with a little knowledge of biblical symbolism, saw exactly what was meant: McNaughton is saying that Donald Trump is the Messiah.

Conservatives need to be realistic about President Trump. He didn’t defund Planned Parenthood, build the wall, or repeal Obamacare back when his party controlled Congress. And the watered-down tax cut of December 2017 does not a Messiah make.

I am still going to vote for Trump next year, because I believe that his party is marginally better than the alternative. But those who lionize him ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Monday, July 8, 2019

How to Tell if Something is Fascist

I didn’t expect that Barrack Obama and Emanuel Macron would turn out to be fascists. But if we take the Left’s rhetoric to its logical conclusion, that is indeed what has happened.
When you hear the name ‘Emmanuel Macron,’ you probably recall that he’s the President of France. Perhaps you remember how he beat Marine LePen by a two-to-one margin in the second round of the 2017 presidential election, or how he got hitched to future First Lady Brigitte Macron – they met when he was 15 years old and she was a 39-year-old teacher at his high school; his parents sent him to a different school in an attempt to break off the relationship, but to no avail, and after Macron turned 18, Brigitte divorced her husband to marry him.

If you’re a right-winger like myself, then Macron probably comes across as an effete socialist, out of touch with the working class and woefully unfit to confront Europe’s existential problems. What he definitely isn’t is a fascist.

Unless you take the American left’s logic seriously.

You may recall that President Trump’s Independence Day celebration, with tanks and fighter jets, elicited howl of protest from the leftist media, who denounced the spectacle as militaristic, authoritarian, and fascist. As some of us still remember, planning for this show began after President Trump saw a military parade in Macron’s France and decided he wanted to do something similar in his own country.

Also, in France, the tanks got to actually drive down the streets, while Trump settled for static tanks due to fears that their treads would damage Washington’s weak, swampy roadways. So if, as the media assert, this kind of spectacle means that a nation’s leader is a fascist, then not only is Emmanual Macron a fascist, but he is an even bigger fascist than the prototype fascist, Donald Trump.

As it turns out, President Macron is not the only left-winger who has suddenly found himself redefined as a fascist in this new sense of the word. As is known to everyone who hasn’t spent the last two years hiding under a rock, Donald Trump’s desire to enforce the border means that he is a fascist. Because enforcing the border means locking people up when they cross it illegally. And some of those illegal border crossers are children, and there is nothing more fascist than children in cages.

Except that none of these policies were started by President Trump. Illegal aliens are being treated the same way today that they were under the Obama Administration. Trump talks a lot more about on cracking down on illegal immigration, but policy-wise, little has changed between the two. Obviously, during the Obama years the detention camps were seldom reported on, and nobody called Obama a fascist for his halfway efforts to enforce the border – halfway efforts upon which, I must remark, Trump has scarcely improved.

But that was before Donald Trump became president. Border enforcement is something that Trump talks about a lot, therefore, it is a fascist thing to do. Which, if we’re being honest, must retroactively make Barrack Obama a fascist.

George Orwell, as you may recall, was fond of griping about the decrepit state of political discourse in his time. In 1946, he lamented that “the word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable.’”

It seems that now, some seventy-odd years later, the American Left has gotten around to rectifying that situation. “Fascism” no longer has no meaning – rather, it refers to whatever a particular ‘Someone Not Desirable’ is doing at the moment. Which, depending on the phase of the current news cycle, may include half-assed border enforcement, or giving a speech in front of a couple tanks.

Which makes Barrack Obama and Emmanuel Macron fascists, too.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

What I am Celebrating on Independence Day

Today, I will honor the memory of Washington, Jefferson, and the other brave men who waged the War of Independence. But I will not insult the Founders by claiming that the form of government they established is the same one that exists at the present day.
My understanding of Independence Day has changed a lot over the years.

As a very small child, it was the day when I would go with my family to a vantage point in the Arizona desert to watch the fireworks appear. I did not yet know that fireworks were man-made, it seemed to me that they were just a natural atmospheric phenomenon that occurred each year on the Fourth of July.

As a slightly older boy, I got to have the experience of celebrating the holiday in Indiana, where it’s impossible to overlook the fact that fireworks are artificial, because everybody – even the children – has the pleasure of setting them off themselves.

And besides the fireworks, my childhood Independence Days were celebrated in the usual way with parades, barbecues, and family gatherings, of which I have many fond memories. As a teenager I became aware that public readings of the Declaration of Independence had at one point in history been part of the retinue, but my attempts to reintroduce the practice at our barbecues inspired little more than quaint amusement.

Most Americans see the Fourth of July as a celebration of their flag, their military, their government, and some vague concept of national unity. But to me, Independence Day is now a celebration of one thing: the Declaration of Independence.

Not the flag. Not the troops. Not even the constitution. Only the document that says that when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce us under absolute Despotism, it is our right, it is our duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for our future security.

And, of course, Independence Day is also a day for celebrating the heroes like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, Paul Revere and Joseph Warren and Daniel Morgan and all the other brave men who fought in the War of Independence to make those words a reality.

The first Fourth of July wasn’t about flags – the colonists had just done away with the Union Jack, and weren’t even agreed on what their new flag would look like. It wasn’t about the troops, some of whom were fighting on their side of the war, and some of whom weren’t. It wasn’t about a certain form of government, so much as their right to break down and reestablish governments when they felt the need to do so. And the spirit of that first July Fourth was flatly opposed to any ideal of national unity.

Rather, that Fourth of July was about freedom and independence and local self-rule, and the right of the elected colonial legislatures to break away from an oppressive central government that wouldn’t recognize their rights.

Some people, when they give their speeches today, will laud the Founding Fathers for setting up a written constitution that has endured for 231 years and is protecting the rights of Americans even today. I will not be doing so.

I am not going to pretend that the Founders gave Congress the power to regulate every aspect of American life, or that they intended to set up a welfare state in which a quarter of the country’s collective income is redirected to somebody other than the one who earned it. I will not claim that the country with the highest incarceration rate in the world has somehow managed that feat while adhering to constitutional protections of defendants’ rights. I will not claim that the Founders gave the president the power to unilaterally start wars anywhere in the world, or that they gave five judges on the Supreme Court the power to rewrite the constitution at will, and to veto all state laws of which they disapprove.

I will not insult the Founders by claiming that the government we have now is the same one that they created. Rather, I will give them credit for what they actually did – waging a successful war of independence, and setting up a good constitution that lasted as long as the people were willing to fight to defend it.

But the Founders did not set up a constitution capable of protecting our liberties for all time without any further need for rebellions or wars of independence. They did not even try to do such a thing. They were wiser than that. They knew that revolutions are necessary from time to time.

And they knew that, while the Constitution may dabble in checks and balances, the Declaration of Independence is the Check of Checks, for no mere words on a page can constrain the ambitions of aspiring despots when the common people are unwilling to bear arms against a government that acknowledges no limits on its power.

Today, I am celebrating a time in my country’s history when men were braver than they are today. I am honouring the 6,824 patriots who fell in battle during the Revolutionary War, and the nearly 20,000 more who died of disease and starvation on rotting British prison ships in New York Harbour.

And I will do what I can to keep a memory of that time alive, in the hopes that somewhere, someday, our country’s founding principle – that loyalty to one’s government is never more important than the human rights which that government was meant to defend – will once again find widespread acceptance.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Thoughts of a Deficit Whisperer

Trillion dollar deficits have an upside that the other injustices of modern America don’t – they carry within themselves the seeds of their own destruction. As a deficit whisperer, I’ve done my best to make a timetable for when out-of-control spending will bring the whole rotten system tumbling down.
Classical liberals such as myself have a lot to complain about when we look at how America is governed. Of all the things that rankle us – be they endless wars, judicial despotism, bureaucratic overreach, mass incarceration, what Planned Parenthood does, or any of the other rampant injustices in our society – deficit spending stands out as the thing which contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction.

In other words, unlike most of the awful things the US government does, deficit spending will actually crash the system if it keeps going on like this. And because I am passionate about all those other injustices, I can watch each uptick of the deficit looking forward to the coming denouement.

So what does it mean to be a deficit whisperer? It means I pay careful attention to where the deficit is now and where it is heading in the future, as I try to make a timetable for when it brings the whole rotten system tumbling down – which is bound to happen once the dollar starts looking weak in the eyes of foreign countries, and America loses the ability to mooch off of other countries’ workforces by exporting dollars.

Back to the present situation: Sometime in the past week, the US federal budget deficit exceeded a trillion dollars. I can’t say for certain when it happened;’s estimate of the deficit jumped from $999 billion to $1.007 trillion overnight on Sunday when they updated their source data. But whatever the particulars, the outcome is that trillion dollar deficits are back in America, and this time, they are here to stay.

Unlike under Obama, when the trillion dollar deficit was a temporary measure taken during an economic downturn, the Trump deficit has come during a boom time, with every indication of being the new normal. Indeed, if present trends continue, the deficit will reach $2 trillion less than three years from today!

But numbers like a billion and a trillion only have meaning when you put them in context, and for that, the all-important number is the debt-to-GDP ratio. For the US, it’s currently 105.6%, but it’s forecast to reach 121.5% four years in the future. From then on, we can expect a steady rise. My own prediction is that sometime before 2035, debt will reach double the GDP.

And then comes the economic meltdown. It probably won’t be a matter of the US defaulting on the debt, as there is no need to default when a country can print its own currency. Rather, foreign traders will simply lose confidence in the dollar once they realize that the US can only remain solvent by rapidly inflating its currency.

This will spark a chain reaction, as the dollar will lose most of its value once international trade has moved on to some other currency. Trillions of US dollars will be shipped home in short order, leading to severe inflation, an end to most imports, and an economic collapse worse than the Great Depression. I predict that, due to inflation and economic decline, the price of oil will reach $1000/barrel sometime before 2045.

The central government will prove unable to meet the challenges posed by the aging population and the end of material security and military power. Without the ability to maintain order or keep the goods flowing, the regime in Washington is bound to fall. I predict that by 2055, the United States will have broken up into separate countries, putting an end to the imperialistic wars, judicial despotism, bureaucratic overreach, mass incarceration, and taxpayer funded abortions.

It will be brutal, but it will be worth it. And once the people have been rudely awakened from the state of thoughtless torpor in which they are presently maintained by their endless comforts and amusements, then maybe, just maybe, one of those new countries will evolve into something that resembles the kind of republic that the Founders intended for America to become.