Category Archives for Politics

Saudi Arabia Inches Closer to Archduke Ferdinand

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As I’ve mentioned before, Saudi Arabia trembles on the edge of disaster. Consider what I wrote on the subject less than a year and a half ago:

I’ve also already noted that oil has historically been overpriced. Middle eastern dictatorships have long relied on this for stability – Saudi Arabia most especially. Their entire nation essentially runs on a patronage system that begins at the top with the Saudi King. He buys loyalty from those directly beneath him – literally buys it – with oil money. And they buy loyalty from those beneath them with that same oil money. And so on. The entire system depends on the flow of oil money.

The recent plunges in oil prices have put this system in mortal peril. The money flow has slowed tremendously. In the past, Saudi Kings would have lowered output in order to push the price back up. But right now they can’t. The obvious reason that everyone is talking about these days is all the new oil sources coming into the market, specifically from fracking in the US, but also from other sources. On top of that, OPEC has lacked the discipline it’s had in the past. If they agreed to cut output, nobody would actually stick to the agreement.

But the other reason is the Saudis themselves. King Salman is caught in a huge catch-22 right now. On the one hand, if he doesn’t cut production and force prices back up it will bankrupt his country. On the other hand, if he cuts production he’ll run out of money to pay his cronies with in the short term. As I’ve noted previously, unlike his older brother King Abdullah, he has not yet had time to truly consolidate his power. He’s also eighty years old, and by all reports not in the best of mental health. And, as I noted in the piece last year, the succession path in the kingdom is currently shaky. It’s uncertain that his recently appointed heir would actually become the next king.

The situation has only deteriorated since then. Oil prices haven’t risen – they’ve dropped. The price drop comes despite Saudi Arabia’s cuts to oil productionl. The Saudis’ ability to define oil prices at will hasn’t just been damaged, it’s been utterly and completely destroyed. Increases in oil production, mostly from the United States, have fundamentally changed the market dynamics. The recent output cuts from the kingdom will have only two results: reduced market share and reduced revenue.

As I noted above, the Saudis cannot afford reduced revenue. They’ve already run themselves into a deep financial hole. And their country essentially runs on the royal family buying support from the peasants. When the money dries up, the powder keg explodes.

I’ve also noted the political instability in the country.

My very strong opinion is that whatever his actual intentions, King Salman has just laid the groundwork for a Saudi civil war.

In moves announced on Saudi state television, Salman replaced Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz and named the powerful interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, as next in line.

bin Nayef, on the other hand, is recently appointed to the position and hence will also not have had much time to consolidate his power. Again, however, he is of the Saudi royal family, so there will be some built in power base there. But he’s also unlikely to have the time to consolidate a power base. King Salman is 79. How many years before he, too passes? His predecessor, King Abdullah, lived to 90. So perhaps another decade? Maybe a few years after that?

Only two years later, I could write nearly the same article today. It turns out that King Salman has, once again, replaced the crown prince.

Saudi Arabia’s king has appointed his son Mohammed bin Salman as crown prince – replacing his nephew, Mohammed bin Nayef, as first in line to the throne.

King Salman’s decree also means Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 31, will become deputy prime minister while continuing as defence minister.

It looks like Prince Mohammed bin Nayef never had even less time to consolidate his power base than I expected. But he did manage to run down the clock, ensuring that Mohammed bin Salman has even less time than bin Nayef might have had he lasted. King Salman is now 81. How many years does he have left? His death is now even more likely to touch off a succession crisis.

Given the instability already inherent in the region and the critical strategic importance of Saudi Arabia’s oil, that crisis will have global implications. Will it be the next Archduke Ferdinand moment?

My money says yes.

Like it or Not, Mexico Will Pay for Trump’s Wall

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Mexico likely will pay for Trump’s wall. The mechanism has been bloody obvious ever since the idea was raised. Instapundit sums it up in one sentence:

DUDE, ALL IT TAKES IS A TAX ON REMITTANCES: Vicente Fox to Trump: When will you understand that I’m not paying for that f***ing wall? And you think there’s a political downside to taxing money sent from the U.S. to Mexico?

Mexicans working abroad sent $24.8 billion home in remittances in 2015. That’s more than their oil industry earned in the same year – an industry that once generated 80% of the Mexican economy. Let’s be honest: we all know that most of that comes from the United States. Slap a 10% tax on that and it’s more than $2 billion dollars a year. That’s plenty of money to pay for a wall – a big wall. And Mexico can’t do a thing about it, no matter what Vicente Fox says.

As Instapundit notes, it’s hardly going to be an unpopular tax. And when it’s done paying for the wall, American citizens (you know, the ones who can actually vote) will continue to find it popular. Why? The only reason anybody ever likes any tax: because it will tax someone else.

Interestingly, from a policy standpoint, the tax also helps with another issue. It discourages illegal immigrants. Remove the incentives and you reduce the behavior. Forget for a moment whether you agree with the policy or not. In terms of implementation, this kills two birds with one stone.

The new Congress has already found a legal mechanism to build the wall. The tax to pay for it is coming soon – mark my words.

Realignment

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A generation change is underway in American politics, and it has been for some time. The media has subjected us to arguments of the GOP crack up for years – and they are correct. What they have failed to note is the strong evidence that the Democratic party is also fracturing. The simple fact of the matter is that both major parties are facing realignment of the sort that we generally only see once per generation.

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The election of Bill Clinton in 1992 ushered in the era of the Baby Boomers in American politics. The defeat of his wife almost – almost – neatly bookends this. Although Trump himself, at 70, is a Baby Boomer, his election is the beginning of the end for that demographic’s political power. Vice President Pence, 57, is technically a Boomer himself, but barely.

The political power of Generation X is rising – and over the next decade it will eclipse the Boomers. The GOP felt the brunt earlier. The Democratic party’s hold on the White House has insulated it from the turmoil. The 2016 election has stripped away this insulation. The next four years will reveal a Democratic party in terrible shape.

Other pundits have already noted the party’s shallow bench. This is clearly true. Only eighteen of fifty governors are Democrats. The Senate and the House are both majority Republican. Republicans control thirty state legislatures and seven more are split.

But it’s only part of the story, and not even the most important part. The bigger issue is demographics – yes, the same demographics that partisans have assured us would usher in a permanent Democratic majority. Those partisans are wrong. There are no permanent majorities in American politics.

Let me repeat that: there are no permanent majorities in American politics.

The fault lines in the Democratic party have been there for all to see since 2008. This year’s primaries made them blindingly obvious. In short, the Democratic party serves four major constituencies that make up it’s coalition. They are:

  1. Rich white “limousine liberals.”
  2. Single women
  3. African Americans
  4. Immigrant communities (including 2nd and 3rd generation descendants)

The media rarely breaks it down like this. They love to talk about the “gender gap,” conveniently ignoring that the gap disappears (and often even flips) among married women. They love to lump the last two categories together into “minorities.” This is deliberate rhetoric designed to keep everyone on the same page.

But the reality is that each of these four groups has different interests. For the past few decades, those interests have overlapped enough to form a solid coalition. But those interests are now diverging. The 2008 and 2016 primaries tell the story well. In both years, the primary vote split very nearly down the middle. In 2008, groups 1 and 2 voted for Hillary Clinton while groups 3 and 4 voted for Barack Obama. In 2016, groups 2, 3, and 4 voted for Clinton while group 1 voted for Sanders.

The simple fact of the matter is that the interests of these groups are diverging. Group 3 is eyeing group 4 carefully. Indeed, that’s why Trump pulled in double the African American vote that Mitt Romney received. The reasons are crystal clear to anyone willing to look with an objective eye. Large amounts of low-skilled, low paid immigrants from group 4 are hurting group 3 more than anyone by competing for their jobs. Trumps message on immigration connected with a portion of the African American voters. Over time, it will connect with more. This is a real issue that the Democratic party has papered over for years now. In their loss, expect it to rise to the top.

But group 4 also conflicts with group 2. You may believe that the US is a cesspool of sexism. Maybe you’re right. Maybe you’re not. But if you want to pretend that many of the countries we’re importing immigrants from at the moment aren’t considerably worse on this score, then you’re living in a land of delusion. I have this bridge…

An influx of Hispanic, Asian, and Middle Eastern immigrants does not help the feminist cause. The political alliances between these groups have just about lasted as long as they possibly can. The split is coming.

Again, this isn’t a forecast of the inevitable demise of the Democratic party. The Republican party’s coalition is changing, too. Had Hillary won, it would have postponed the realignment. It never had a prayer of preventing it. Our two parties aren’t going away, and they won’t lose their lock on American politics. It’s also unlikely that we’re moving away from a polarized, fifty-fifty nation. But by the time my children are old enough to vote, we won’t recognize either party anymore. And a lot of people who would currently never even dream of voting for one party or the other will be solid converts.

What Does the FBI Have on Hillary?

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hillary-clinton-uh-oh_newFBI Director Jams Comey informed Congress today that the Bureau is reopening its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server.

FBI Director James Comey told his bureau he broke with custom in alerting lawmakers that the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server was being reopened because of its political sensitivity.

In an internal memo obtained by Fox News, the beleaguered director noted that the FBI typically would not communicate with the public when reopening a case, according to a Department of Justice source. But Comey said he had to in this case because Clinton is seeking the White House in an election on Nov. 8.

“Of course we don’t ordinarily tell Congress about ongoing investigations, but here I feel an obligation to do so given that I testified repeatedly in recent months that our investigation was completed,” Comey wrote. I also think it would be misleading to the American people were we not to supplement the record

Comey and his Bureau, of course, have spent the last year going through political hell as they investigated Clinton. He’s catching flak from both sides of the aisle. There is absolutely no reason that he wants to go through this again. Imagine being the poor agent who had to sit down in Comey’s office (just yesterday, according to reports) and convince him to reopen the case. A little empathy informs us the conversation probably went something like this:

Comey: Son, you’d better have something damn good, because there’s no way I’m reopening that case for anything less.

Agent: Well, sir… we have this.

Reopening this investigation ten days before the election is going to be seen as political by every side. And Comey knows Hillary personally. He’ll know perfectly well that her reputation for viciousness and holding a grudge is well earned. If Hillary wins on November 8th and Comey has nothing substantial, he’s toast. He’s not an idiot – he knows this.

Which means there’s no way he reopened this investigation unless he had something real, and something important.

Get some popcorn folks. This election just got real.

Why I No Longer Consider Myself A Libertarian

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libertariansDavid Henderson shares the following anecdote on EconLog. I hope he will forgive me for quoting it in its entirety. The context, however, is crucial for the point I’m about to make.

As such, those on the left or the right of America’s political spectrum may regard the proposals I offered in this book as an incoherent hodgepodge. Following my son’s advice, I totally deny that and instead make a counteraccusation: many on the right and left have made a fetish of what is nothing more than a problem of engineering: sometimes government is the right tool for the job, and sometimes it isn’t.My own thinking on this issue was strongly influenced by occasional debates I have had with two of my colleagues at the Naval Postgraduate School–Francois Melese and David Henderson. Francois and David are what you could loosely characterize as “libertarian” in their world view, and we often argue about the role of government in society. One particular “clash” stands out in my mind, because it helped me crystalize my thinking on this matter. So we were talking while eating lunch at the Taco Bell in downtown Monterey of all places. Suddenly David, a man in his sixties, excused himself, got up, and ran outside. What had happened was that he had seen several young men bullying and roughing up another young man, and David had gone to intervene.

In thinking about what David had done, I finally understood how he and other libertarians could see their vision of limited government as a viable means of running a society. Such a society would be entirely workable if most people behaved like David! And I realized then that no answer would ever emerge from ideological debates over the size of government because it was the wrong question to ask in the first place.

This is from the recently published book by my Naval Postgraduate School colleague Jonathan Lipow. The book is titled Survival: The Economic Foundations of American National Security. It was recently published by Lexington Press.Whenever Jonathan and I talk about economic policy or defense policy, we find ourselves disagreeing. But the conversation is always pleasant. You can see why from the above quote.

I don’t think, though, that most people would have to behave like me for a limited government to work. I think the number is well below half. And the main bullies we would have to focus on restraining are the ones in government.

For most of my life I have considered myself strongly libertarian. The story illustrated above highlights exactly the problem with libertarianism, although Mr. Henderson doesn’t realize it. I that the number of people who must behave as described is well below half. I’ve also been fortunate enough to know quite a few people who behave in that manner. I have some truly great friends. Now that I’m out of public schools, I seldom witness the kind of bullying described. When I do, I too try to behave as described. I leave it to others to decide whether I succeed or not.

Even so, the problem with libertarianism as a philosophy is exactly this. It’s not so much that it requires too many people to act this way. It’s that some parts of the libertarian philosophy itself actively reduce the number of people who will act this way. This kind of behavior is socially and culturally bred. The western world, and indeed the anglosphere in particular, developed a culture over the course of centuries that led to this kind of behavior. When you grow up and live your life surrounded by it, it’s easy to think that it’s universal to the human race.

The simple truth is that it isn’t universal at all. Outside of the western world, this kind of behavior isn’t developed and encouraged at all. Even within the western world, it’s strongest in the nations colonized by Britain.

That doesn’t mean you won’t find this kind of behavior at all outside the western world. You most definitely will find it. But not in anything like the numbers needed to sustain anything like a libertarian society. There’s a reason that libertarianism as a philosophy developed in the English speaking world, and a reason that it hasn’t spread much outside of that world. It requires cultural norms that simply don’t exist.

Beyond that, libertarianism leads to its own downfall through its insistence on open borders. If you import too many people who don’t act as Mr. Henderson, eventually you can no longer sustain your libertarianism.

To be completely clear, I personally still greatly prefer to live in a more libertarian world. I thrive in it. My friends and family thrive in it. But a perfect libertarian world must necessarily lead to its own downfall. The only way to maintain a libertarian-ish world is to maintain a culture that can support it. That’s why these days I consider myself not a libertarian but rather a Christian nationalist libertarian (in that order). The first two are an absolute necessity in order for the third to function.

The Anti-Hillary Preference Cascade Is Now In Full Swing

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hillarycollapseIn January I described the phenomenon of a preference cascade and posited that Hillary Clinton would eventually find herself on the wrong end of one. In February I noted that the cascade looked like it might have started. Indeed, a few months later it looked like that might have been the case – except that it proved to be too little, too late. The tide turned against Hillary at the end of the Democratic party’s primary process, but by then she’d secured enough delegates to win anyway.

Today, however, the situation has changed. The anti-Hillary preference cascade has blasted into full swing.

Five weeks ago the Real Clear Politics polling average showed Clinton with a 7.9% lead over Trump. Democrats and mainstream media sources declared the race over. Trump had no way to close such an insurmountable lead. He might as well pack it in, they told us. Nate Silver showed Trump at one point with just a 12% chance of winning in November.

Except that today the polls have narrowed dramatically. Today’s RCP polling average shows Clinton with a mere 1.8% lead over Trump. To be sure, that’s still a strong lead. Yet it is no longer a commanding lead. In a mere five and a half weeks, Trump has moved the polls by six points. To the best of my knowledge, this is unheard of in presidential politics.

Keep in mind, also, that this massive shift in the polls does not yet fully include any of the following:

  • Clinton’s “basket full of deplorables” comment – the 2016 version of Mitt Romney’s 47% gaffe.
  • Reactions to the news of Hillary’s health issues over the weekend.
  • Any new information from the 600+ megabytes of new information on the DNC leaked by WikiLeaks earlier this week.
  • Reactions to the child care plan Trump announced yesterday.

Most damning of all, it does not include the fact that Hillary Clinton has a proven history of choking under pressure. By next week the polls will factor in all of the elements above. As a result they will crank the pressure all the way to eleven.

This is the beginning of the preference cascade, not its end.

All Politics is Self Interest

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meBryan Caplan suggests that he is aware that normal human beings value group identities, yet he is still solidly in favor of open borders. Vox Day retorts that this is not so much a sign of logic as of other things. In his own words:

I don’t buy his answer. I have a much more logical one. Bryan Caplan grasps the massive political effects of group identity, but remains a cosmopolitan and open borders advocate because he sees it as being in the interest of the group with which he identifies.

I’m going to take the reply even a step further. I believe that more or less everybody ultimately subscribes to the politics of self interest. Some examples:

  • Some states in the US spend as much as $20,000 per student annually on public education. Every state spends at least $6,500 per student annually. New York spends enough to put each student through the best private school in my area. Utah, at the bottom, still spends nearly enough to send every child to the well regarded local Catholic school. Yet every single teacher I’ve ever met still supports higher spending on education.
  • I’ve never met a defense contractor who honestly supports lowering military spending.
  • Single women vote overwhelmingly for social programs that help unmarried mothers. Married women vote overwhelmingly against them.
  • Warren Buffet is a big proponent of raising taxes on the rich. He made the core of his fortune in insurance, predominantly by helping rich people structure their wealth to avoid taxes.
  • Bill Gates loves to push technology as the solution to everything.Almost all libertarians are successful people who can handle (and even thrive in) open, minimally regulated environments.

In every one of these cases you can make an argument in favor of the positions being adopted. Indeed, the people who fit the criteria laid out above almost universally consider themselves principled people. They always do make better arguments in support of their opinions. And yet their opinions always seem to match their own self interest.

I’ve even watched people completely change their (supposed) deepest political convictions as the group they identify with changes. Every time they’ll give you an argument about how they’ve evolved and grown as a person. Every time, their positions (both old and new) magically correlate to their life circumstances.

There are very few people out there who are truly principled in their beliefs. Very few. It is simply the way of the world.

Ted Cruz is a Dealbreaker

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sadtedBy choosing not to endorse Donald Trump tonight, Ted Cruz guaranteed that he will never be the GOP presidential nominee.

Everyone in DC hates him. Tonight he showed us why. It’s not because he’s separate from the establishment. He’s not and never was. The tail end of the primary cycle demonstrated this conclusively. The establishment rallied around Cruz as their candidate of last resort. It was eminently predictable – and predicted. We know him as their red headed stepchild. But even red headed stepchildren are still part of the family.

But now we know exactly why he’s the red headed stepchild and not the well loved son. He’s a weasel who can’t keep a deal. How do we know? Simple. Ted Cruz was on stage tonight because he’d agreed to endorse Trump. That’s how these things work. If he hadn’t agreed to do it, they wouldn’t have given him such a prominent speaking slot. So clearly he agreed – and then failed to follow through.

This is going to haunt him for the rest of his political career whether or not Trump wins the White House. Ted Cruz is a deal breaker. Whatever his beliefs or your beliefs or anybody else’s beliefs, Ted Cruz has proven beyond a doubt that he’s a man you simply can’t work with. When he runs next – whether in 2020 or 20204 – he will have no allies of any substance because nobody will trust him. And they shouldn’t. He can’t keep his word.

He’s also doomed with the voters. Half of those who voted for him already held their nose to do it. The 35% who voted for Trump will never vote for Cruz now because he just spat in their faces.

Ted Cruz will never be the GOP presidential nominee. Once again, he’s shot himself in the foot with his own ambition. Then again, maybe it’s just his Asperger’s.

Nobody Actually Cares About Plagiarism

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melaniaIn the computer science profession there’s a bit of a truism. For four years your college indoctrinates you never to copy anybody else’s code. Do your own work! Then you hit the real world and the first thing you do is… copy everyone else’s code.

Working code is the gold standard in the software industry. And while there are signatures of code that you can often use to detect the author, the reality is that there are only so many ways to translate the same basic algorithm into working code. The truism above is a bit overblown. But it also recognizes a simple reality in our profession: working code proliferates.

Quite a lot of code is written using example code, a segment of a co-worker’s code, an online tutorial, or some other similar snippet as a working model. When we want to do something in our software, quite often one of the first things we do is seek out some example of actual working code… and then use it as a base. Is that plagiarism? Your college would say yes, and an undergraduate could find himself failing a course (or worse) for such an offense. Out in the real world it’s basically expected. Headaches often ensue if the example code has bugs in it. But often it’s the fastest way to get to something that works.

Don’t get me wrong – out and out plagiarism of source code is a copyright violation. It’s straight up illegal, and very few developers actually do that. What I’m describing is a substantially lesser “sin.”

But is it even a sin?

Consider two scenarios: in scenario (A) I use example code from a hypothetical source to get my own code working. In scenario (B) I fight through the (often poor) documentation to get to working code on my own. Given my coding idiosyncrasies, would anybody be able to tell the difference between code I wrote in scenario (A) and the code I wrote in scenario (B)? Sometimes yes. But far more often the answer is no.

Frankly, most technical fields operate this way. Finding the right answer is what matters, and in many cases there is only one correct answer. Engineering often works this way. Ditto architecture and drafting. If getting the answer right is the primary concern you can basically expect this kind of pattern.

The simple reality is this: outside of a few specialized fields, nobody actually much cares about plagiarism. Authors, musicians, filmmakers, and photographers care, of course. In creative fields, plagiarism is a life and death matter. Journalists care. Academics care. Notice anything that links these fields together? In every case it’s important for the original author to receive credit.

The Melania Trump case is a boring one. Journalists, academics, and creative types care. Evidently they care a lot, if my social media feeds are any indication. Nobody else cares much at all – and frankly, they shouldn’t. Our politicians should be plagiarizing people. I don’t care one bit how original the ideas of any of my elected leaders are. I care that they have good ideas. I want them to plagiarize – for the same reason that I want software engineers to look at working code. I want ideas that work. Original ideas seldom do.

At this point somebody is going to bring up the obligatory example of Joe Biden. Biden, for those not yet up to speed, withdrew from the 1988 presidential campaign over plagiarism. Fair point. Let’s discuss it. I have three responses.

  1. I don’t care. I was ten in 1988, I didn’t follow politics, and I didn’t even know this had happened until twenty years after the fact. It shouldn’t have mattered then, either.
  2. Biden withdrew from the 1988 presidential race in the fall of 1987. The plagiarism scandal played a role, sure. But if he’d truly been well positioned for the run, he could – and should – have survived it.
  3. The world has changed since 1988. Journalists ran the world back then, and journalists didn’t like the plagiarism. They made Biden pay. They’re trying to make Melania pay now. They’re about to find out that journalists don’t run the world anymore.

Does this hurt the Trump campaign? Definitely. But only among those who mostly weren’t voting for him anyway. Nobody else cares.

How Many #NeverTrump Endorse Trump This Week?

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sessions_endorses_trumpOne of my own senators, Senator Jeff Sessions, was one of the earliest Donald Trump supporters behind the scenes. Reports show him being friendly to The Donald as early as last fall, and rumor has it that he wrote the GOP nominee’s official immigration plan. Yet the Alabama Senator didn’t officially endorse Trump until February 28th. Why did he wait so long?

Because February 28th was two days before the Alabama primary. The official endorsement came at what was then Trump’s largest rally to date. That rally also happened to be in Alabama.

In other words, they timed the endorsement for maximum effect. Which begs the question: how many supposed #NeverTrump players have planned to endorse Trump all along? And how many are waiting for maximum effect – most likely at Trump’s own request? My guess is “more than zero.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m quite certain that many #NeverTrumpers are wholly sincere and that many will never, ever endorse him. I’m equally certain that others are merely playing the game. I wholly expect several prominent Republican Trump bashers to make their official endorsements this week.

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