Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Eternal Impeachment?

Passing articles of impeachment against Trump won’t get rid of him, but it will set a new precedent in American politics – namely, that every president gets impeached, as soon as the opposition party retakes the House of Representatives.
Well, it looks like the Democrats have finally done it. Nancy Pelosi gave her base what it has always wanted and greenlighted a House impeachment investigation against President Trump. Officially, it has something to do with the Ukraine. In reality, the Democrats are calling for impeachment for the same reason that they’ve been calling for impeachment for almost three years – because the wrong guy won the election back in 2016.

There are patterns in politics which, once they get started, do not easily stop. For instance, I think it is quite likely that, after Senate Republicans made their decision not to grant even a hearing to Merrick Garland, we’ll never see another Supreme Court Justice confirmed under divided government. Likewise, after what the Democrats did with the Kavanaugh hearings (which was complete overkill, since Justice Kavanaugh will probably turn out to be a liberal) there probably won’t be any more Supreme Court nominations that don’t involve baseless allegations of sex crimes.

But the precedent which the Democrats are currently setting really takes the cake, because if they go through with it, we can expect to see every president impeached, as soon as the opposition party retakes the House, for the rest of our lives. The impeached presidents will likely never be convicted, but the familiar cycle of back-and-forth swings in the control of Congress will have gained a new and highly telegenic component.

If that is going to be the future of impeachment in the United States, then how, one might ask, does it compare to the process’ past? A review of history is order, if only for the sake of making it clear just how far our system of government has gone awry.

The opposite of one bad thing is usually another bad thing, and the future that is now barrelling down on us, in which every president is impeached, will be no worse than the last two centuries, during which the impeachment process was rarely used at all.

 The goal of America’s founders was to create a republic. To preserve that republican form of government, the elected officials in Congress were expected to frequently use their impeachment power to keep unelected officials in line. The broad phrasing of ‘High Crimes and Misdemeanours’ was intentional, and the authors of the Federalist papers imagined presidents being impeached for waging undeclared wars or otherwise abusing their power, while judges could likewise be impeached for exceeding their constitutional authority and attempting to usurp legislative power from Congress.

But history didn’t go in the direction it was supposed to. The first official of any sort to be impeached and tried by the Senate was Judge John Pickering in 1804; he was convicted of “drunkenness and unlawful rulings” and removed from office. But when Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase faced the Senate the next year for his role in enforcing the unconstitutional Sedition Act, he was acquitted, and no other Justice has been impeached ever since.

The first presidential impeachment came in 1868 when Andrew Johnson was tried for wilfully violating an act of Congress that he deemed unconstitutional. Like Chase, Johnson was acquitted. And the framework in which such an event was possible – in which serious questions of constitutional limits were sometimes be decided by the democratic institution of an impeachment trial, rather than the oligarchic institution of judicial review – would not last into the coming century.

Ever since then, the probability of getting impeached has been proportional to the smallness of the offense. High crimes have made way for petty ones; grand overreaches of constitutional powers can’t get a politician hauled before the Senate, while misdeeds of the type that you or I could commit, such as lying in a sexual harassment lawsuit, just might do the job. That is how Richard Nixon was able to get away with expanding the Vietnam War to an entirely new country without risking his political life, but then ended up resigning anyway rather than be impeached for covering up a two-bit burglary.

And this process has reached its finale in what is happening to Donald Trump. The Democrats made up their minds from the beginning that they wanted him impeached, but they can’t do it for the high crimes he is actually guilty of, such as waging undeclared wars in the Middle East, because dusting off the constitution would put the entire bipartisan power structure in jeopardy. So instead, they spent two years blathering about Russian collusion, and when that didn’t pan out, they came up with the Ukraine thing.

An outline of Trump’s crime is as follows, and no, I am not making this up:

Back in 2014, Joe Biden’s son Hunter joined the board of the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma at a salary of $50,000 per month. Hunter Biden had no experience in the gas industry, and no qualifications for the position except that his father was Vice President. This, along with other events, led the Ukraine’s prosecutor general to open an investigation into Burisma for corruption. But then Joe Biden, while negotiating foreign loans in eastern Europe, threatened to withhold $1 billion from the Ukraine unless the prosecutor was fired and the investigation dropped, and he got his way. You can read the whole story in this article at The Federalist.

After Donald Trump became president, he asked the Ukrainians to reopen the investigation. To hear the Democrats spin it, you’d think that Trump was simply going to foreigners for dirt on a political opponent, but in truth, the US has always worked with foreign intelligence agencies on international corruption cases like this, and there is no law granting immunity to the son of the Vice President. The fact that this is a continuation of an investigation that began before Trump was president makes it even harder to dismiss as a matter of partisan politics.

And so it begins. If the more vocal end of the Democratic party has its way, there will be an impeachment trial, which will almost certainly end in acquittal, followed by another impeachment trial, and another, every four or eight years when control of Congress changes hands and the new majority doesn’t like the president.

And to the few citizens who are really paying attention, all of this will come as just one more reminder that the job of elected officials these days is not to wield power, but to draw attention away from it.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Tulsi Gabbard Is Right: America Should Stop Being Saudi Arabia’s Bitch

When America’s war machine is at the beck and call of the biggest human rights abuser in the Middle East, and not even Congress can stop the President from waging war on its behalf, something has gone terribly wrong.
Saudi Arabia’s long involvement in the Yemeni civil finally exploded onto the home front last weekend when a drone attack, launched by the Houthi rebels, destroyed oil processing facilities that handle half the country’s petroleum. This isn’t quite as dramatic as it sounds, because even though production capacity has been briefly cut in half, most of the petroleum infrastructure – oil wells and so forth – is still in place, and the bottleneck will only last until repairs are made. Still, it was enough to send oil prices spiking and get an interesting response from President Trump, who tweeted the following:

“Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!”

Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard replied to the tweet with:

“Trump awaits instructions from his Saudi masters. Having our country act as Saudi Arabia’s bitch is not ‘America First.’”

Now, as most folks are probably aware, the “culprit” that “we know” is supposed to be Iran, which has sided with the Houthis in the proxy war in Yemen. President Trump, on the other hand, has entered the war on Saudi Arabia’s side. Since America no longer has a constitution, no congressional approval was necessary, and when Congress tried to weigh in anyway, by passing a bill to end US involvement in the war back in April, the President responded with a quick veto.

The upshot is that America has inserted itself into the Arabian peninsula’s bitter Sunni-Shia rivalry by assisting in a brutal air war whose attendant famine and mass civilian deaths are driving more and more young men into the camp of the Houthi rebellion. These are the people I mentioned briefly in a post back in February, famous for, among other things, their one-of-a-kind national flag, which reads:

Allah is Great!
Death to America!
Death to Israel!
Curse on the Jews!
Victory to Islam!

As I’ve said before, these obviously aren’t the good guys. But neither are the Saudis, whose persecution of Shias and indifference to the suffering of poor Muslims all over the world has fed the flames for a whole catalog of terror movements. The Houthis are simply what you get when you treat the peasants the way the Saudis have been doing for decades. America has no business indulging this sort of regime.

And that’s why I agree with Tulsi Gabbard. Even though Gabbard is a Democrat, and I hence I reject her entire domestic agenda, I think she’s right to say that America should stop being Saudi Arabia’s bitch. If the President waits for instructions from a foreign monarch as to whom to attack, and then proceeds over the objections of his own country’s Congress, then he hasn’t done a good job of defending his country’s sovereignty.

That’s my opinion, unpopular as it may be on the Republican side of the fence. Nor do I buy into any of the propaganda about how America’s involvement in Middle Eastern statecraft is necessary to protect innocent countries from the evil that is Iran.

So the next time you hear a pro-Saudi neocon bloviating about Iran’s human rights record, just remember the facts. Iran didn’t wait until 2017 to let women drive – that was Saudi Arabia. And like Iran, Saudi Arabia executes a lot of people; what’s more, capital punishment isn’t limited to murder and sex crimes: the Saudis frequently behead religious dissidents, as well as teenage boys who participate in political protests.

And don’t forget about the Khashoggi murder. As a central pillar of international law, embassies and consulates are sacrosanct – pieces of a country over which it surrenders its sovereignty to a foreign government, even to the point of allowing criminals to live there for years if the hosts are sympathetic. And yet, in the mind of the Saudis prince, killing a visiting journalist, cutting him up with a bonesaw, and hiding the body in the backyard garden is an appropriate use for a consulate.

In an age when the West’s leaders had more honor, such an act would have resulted in an international uproar and the end of normal foreign relations for Saudi Arabia, as all of its embassies were closed and its ambassadors sent packing. Now? Hardly a whimper.

In conclusion: the American alliance with Saudi Arabia, and against Iran, isn’t based on human rights, or on putting America first, or even on upholding a stable and relatively peaceful world order. There just happens to be a very longstanding tradition, backed by a lot of oil money, of America being Saudi Arabia’s bitch.

And, as events have shown, it’s not a tradition that President Trump has any desire to challenge.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Nobody Will Win The Trade War

The tariffs which President Trump is imposing on China are a good way to look tough in front of the voters. But as long as the Federal Reserve keeps making it possible for America to consume more goods than it produces, the American working man will remain obsolete.
As anyone who hasn’t spent the last two years hiding under a rock must know by now, President Trump is waging a so-called Trade War with China. The idea – insofar as there is any idea behind it – is that by bringing home the victory in the trade war, Mr. Trump will restore the jobs that have been bled out of this country over the last few decades.

Now, it’s true that America has been losing manufacturing jobs since the 1980s, and many of our rust belt towns are only a shadow of what they once were. But if the situation really calls for a ‘war,’ trade or otherwise, then it’s necessary to answer the question of just what belligerent act started the hostilities, and just how it is that further belligerent acts will force the enemy to back down.

But thinking about those questions will cast a lot of doubt on the idea that a ‘Trade War’ with China is a good idea, or that it’s something which the United States (or China, for that matter) could possible ‘win.’

Like all of the economic problems in the modern world, the trade deficit with China – which is supposedly Trump’s causes bellum – is tightly bound up with monetary policy and central banking. America has a trade deficit with China because the Federal Reserve, by printing so much paper money, has allowed America to import more goods than it exports without running out of currency.

But if you listened to the politicians, you would hear that China is a currency manipulator, which is true, of course. China, like the United States, has laws which assign arbitrary monetary value to paper currency; both countries manipulate their tokens of currency to be worth more their intrinsic value. If China does this in a way that America doesn’t approve of, so what? It isn’t like America’s day-by-day decisions as to what it’s money should be worth don’t also create winners and losers.

No amount of currency manipulation by China would allow America to do what it does – that is, to consume more goods than it produces – if it weren’t for America’s own bankers creating enough dollars from thin air to support America’s present trade deficit. If we still used gold or silver money, trade deficits would be impossible. As it is, the easy money which the Fed has been providing, with Mr. Trump’s support, for the last few years will guarantee a continuation of the status quo, no matter how many tariffs and counter-tariffs are imposed to distract us from that fact.

As long as the dollar remains the global reserve currency, and America keeps on exporting dollars in lieu of actual goods and services, the American working man will keep on losing. Eventually, this arrangement will have to end, but after decades of deindustrialization, America can’t lose its ability to rely on foreign labour without becoming, in the meantime, a vastly poorer country. America’s wealthy classes are benefitting handsomely from an arrangement in which the Federal Reserve replaces the American worker as the means by which America pays for its imports.

And so, no matter what sort of rhetoric they put out for public consumption, politicians on both sides of the aisle will do their best to keep the trade deficit in place. Meanwhile, as the trade war continues, farmers will complain about being unable to find buyers for their grain, construction workers will complain about the higher price of steel, and Democrats will blame all our economic woes on President Trump and his deplorables, because they, like the Republicans, have no desire to talk about what has really made the American worker obsolete.

Now, the fact that America is losing the Trade War does not mean that China is going to win. Trade is, after all, supposed to be a mutually beneficial arrangement; no matter how hard you try, you can’t win at trade when the other side insists on seeing it as a zero sum game. Rather, what’s really going to happen to the Chinese, sometime in the next decade or so, is that the consequences of dealing with the United States on the terms I have described will finally catch up to them.

If the United States consumes more than it produces, then somebody has to produce more than it consumes, and the primary country filling that role today is the People’s Republic of China. For a great many years, China has done the opposite of what America has done; China has exported more than it imported, and that surplus has led China to accumulate of over a trillion dollars in imaginary paper wealth – specifically, in US Treasury Bonds.

The Chinese have lent us the money to buy their own products. It made them rich, in a sense, for the time being. But in the long term, it’s a losing strategy. China now owns so many dollar-denominated assets that the Chinese stand to be the next biggest loser, after America itself, when the bottom finally falls out of the US Dollar.

Both countries know this. Neither side really wants to upset the apple cart. The Trade War is a distraction, created out of political necessity, as President Trump must placate his voters with tariffs, and President Xi must save face by responding in kind. And at the end of the day, the game has no winners.