Some Dare Call It Treason

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On May 17, President Trump sent forth the following idiotic tweet:

My Campaign for President was conclusively spied on. Nothing like this has ever happened in American Politics. A really bad situation. TREASON means long jail sentences, and this was TREASON!

The president’s tweet responded to the constant, equally idiotic accusations of his highly placed enemies that he himself was guilty of treason — supposedly for colluding with the Russians, actually for committing lèse majesté against the political class. But that doesn’t mean he’s right to take up their theme. “Treason” has a definition, and one of the worst things that can happen to the republic is for definitions to be widened by people in power until suddenly, anyone can be accused of anything.

It’s not a complicated matter. Anyone who can read the Constitution can understand the treason clause.

In The God of the Machine, Isabel Paterson pointed the significance of Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution:

The treason clause remains unique in all the long record of political institutions. In the first place, it declares that there is no such crime as treason in peace time. “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.” Nothing but armed rebellion or joining with an enemy nation — and nations are, by definition, enemies only when at war — can be treason.

That’s it. It’s not a complicated matter. Anyone who can read the Constitution can understand the treason clause. As recent years have shown, however, practically no one in power has ever read anything more challenging than slogans and donor lists.




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The Trump Cuba Chronicles

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On April 17, 2019, the 58th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion, John Bolton, America’s National Security Advisor, announced what may turn out to be the death knell for Cuba’s socialist government. (By contrast, at the same time NPR recounted and gushed about the 60th anniversary of Fidel Castro’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show and his visit to New York and Harlem in April 1959.)

No matter the ultimate outcome of Bolton’s announcement, this policy change will create the mother of all litigation, securing full employment for lawyers throughout Europe and the Americas on multiple lawsuits of greater length and complexity than Charles Dickens’ fictional Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. Truth is stranger than fiction.

This saga began in January 1996, when José Basulto, head of Brothers to the Rescue, flew into Cuban airspace — twice — and dropped half a million anti-Castro leaflets over Havana. Basulto hated the regime. He was a Bay of Pigs veteran and had spent two years in Castro’s prisons. He had founded Brothers to the Rescue, a group of volunteer pilots, to scour the Florida Straits for wayward “rafts” (crafts often no more than inner tubes cobbled together with twine) overloaded with refugees escaping Cuba — the sort on which Elián Gonzales was found.

No matter the ultimate outcome of Bolton’s announcement, this policy change will create the mother of all litigation, securing full employment for lawyers throughout Europe and the Americas.

But this time his hate got the best of him. Fidel was not amused by the leaflets caper. He ordered the next incursion of Cuban airspace neutralized. The following month, on February 24, Brothers to the Rescue flew a routine search mission. While outside Cuban territorial waters — and without warning — a Cuban Air Force Mikoyan Mig-29UB shot down two of the Brothers’ unarmed Cessna Skymasters, killing 3 pilots. The third Cessna, piloted by Basulto, escaped.

While the Cuban pilot exulted, “We blew his balls off! He won’t give us any more fucking trouble,” the US populace, Congress, and President Clinton were outraged. Two Republican Congressmen, Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina and Representative Dan Burton of Indiana had, two years previously, introduced legislation to tighten the screws on the Castro regime. But the Helms-Burton Act, as it came to be known, was tabled following Democrat filibusters in support of President Clinton’s efforts to improve relations with the island.

Following the downing of the two private planes on a humanitarian mission, Helms and Burton immediately reintroduced their bill. It was passed by both houses of Congress on March 6, only ten days after the cold-blooded murder.

Fidel was not amused by the leaflets caper.

Helms-Burton was the latest installment on a trade embargo first declared in October 1960 by the Eisenhower administration in retaliation for the nationalization without compensation of American-owned oil refineries on the island. The Cuban regime responded with the nationalization of all remaining American businesses and most American privately owned properties. Again, no compensation was offered for the seizures. Additionally, a number of US diplomats were expelled from Cuba. The US then severed diplomatic relations with the socialist regime.

Title III of the Helms-Burton Act authorized US nationals whose property in Cuba had been confiscated to file suit in US courts against persons who might be "trafficking" in that property. However, the act granted the president the authority to suspend the lawsuit provisions if it was necessary to the national interest of the United States and would expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba.

Private European companies, which had been investing in Cuba through joint ventures with the Cuban government, raised holy hell, creating a serious European Union trade dispute with the US. In response, President Clinton exercised the suspension authority through a nonbinding declaration of intention, approved in April 1997 in order to settle the brouhaha. That suspension has been renewed by every US president since.

And then along came Donald J. Trump. In June 2017, he impetuously declared, "Effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration's completely one-sided deal with Cuba."

The Cuban regime responded with the nationalization of all remaining American businesses and most American privately owned properties. No compensation was offered for the seizures.

But before making any changes, President Trump and Vice President Pence decided to meet with the members of the Cuban exile community in Little Havana, especially the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association. According to Carlos León, the second youngest member of the invasion Brigade 2506 and later to become the Association’s historian and Interim president (he was already this author’s cousin), Trump and Pence met with a select group of the veterans for four hours — much longer than the meeting had been scheduled for.

Very few of the veterans had supported Trump during the election but, according to Carlos, they found Trump and Pence to be good listeners and receptively involved in the give-and-take of the discussions. Most of the vets had supported most of Obama’s Cuba policies. They succeeded in tempering Trump’s proposed changes down to two minor initiatives all could agree upon.

The policy changes tightened US citizens’ travel to Cuba by more closely vetting the already approved travel categories — a step that in practice meant little, especially for the independent travelers flouting US regulations by departing from Mexico, Canada, and the Bahamas. And they sought to curtail American spending on the island to prevent proceeds from benefiting the Cuban military, government, and intelligence services. The latter basically made it illegal for US citizens to stay in government hotels, a change that benefitted the island’s burgeoning private B&B industry. The litigation suspension clause was not mentioned.

Until now.

Proposed policy changes (even under the unconventional Trump administration) are usually discreetly floated, to test reaction. When Carlos heard about the change to Title III of Helms-Burton, he invited John Bolton to officially make the announcement at the Casa de la Brigada in Miami. Ambassador Bolton accepted and, on April 17, the 58th anniversary of the failed invasion, before the assembled surviving veterans of the Bay of Pigs, he opened the floodgates of litigation against entities profiting from the uncompensated stolen properties in Cuba by the Castro regime.

It’s not just today’s joint ventures that are in Helms-Burton’s crosshairs. Past joint ventures and foreign companies with management contracts are potentially liable.

I asked Carlos his impression of Bolton. “For such a giant mustache, I expected a big man. Instead, he’s surprisingly small [5’7”].”

“Coño, Carlos! I mean his character,” I groused.

“The man is a straight-up guy — listening, engaged and transparent,” he answered.

Foreign private company joint ventures with the Cuban government — which always retains a 51% interest — have roller-coastered since they were first proposed. The 1990s were their heyday, after the fall of the Soviet Union, when Cuba was desperate for cash. In the early 2000s, after Hugo Chávez was elected President of Venezuela and began subsidizing the Cuban economy, Cuba reverted to centralizing its economy, and foreign investment dried up. About 200 foreign joint ventures folded. In 2010, some 300 Spanish firms were begging for the payments they were due. As of 2011, about 250 joint ventures remained viable.

But it’s not just today’s joint ventures that are in Helms-Burton’s crosshairs. Past joint ventures and foreign companies with management contracts — any entities profiting in any way from expropriated properties — are potentially liable.

On May 2, Miami-based Carnival Cruise Line became the first US company sued for using property confiscated six decades ago by Cuba’s revolutionary government.

"There could be up to 200,000 uncertified claims . . . and that value could very easily be in the tens of billions of dollars.”

According to the Washington Post, “The actions, in federal court in Miami, were filed by two U.S. citizens whose parents owned commercial docks in Havana and in the southeastern Cuban city of Santiago. ‘The communist government,’ the claim said, ‘nationalized, expropriated, and seized ownership and control’ of the properties when their families fled the island in 1960.”

Kimberly Breier, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, told reporters last month, “The most recent estimate we have from 1996, at the time that the law was enacted, [is] that there could be up to 200,000 uncertified claims . . . and that value could very easily be in the tens of billions of dollars.”

With Venezuela imploding and the specter of the liability of billions of dollars facing foreign investment in the island, Cuba faces a second “special period in Time of Peace” that will test the regime’s survival.




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Votes Nix Free Digs

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I see that voters in Denver have rejected a ballot measure that would allow homeless the right to eat, sit, sleep, and camp out in public parks and highway rights-of-way, and on public sidewalks. Voters rejected it by a vote of 81% to 19% — four to one! — despite its warm endorsement by the local Democratic Party, the local American Civil Liberties Union, and a group called Occupy Denver.

I guess the voters of Denver didn’t want to be occupied. I don’t want to be, either, except that I live in Seattle, a city that already is. Here the homeless eat, sit, sleep, pitch tents, park their ramshackle motor homes, steal grocery carts, and chuck garbage in a lot of places. At the park near my house the cops do clear them out from time to time, but they come back. Around some freeway interchanges near downtown their trash-strewn encampments seem to be permanent.

The problem is not that he abuses drugs; some of the people in the houses abuse drugs.

Denver’s ballot measure was called the “Right to Survive Initiative.” This “right” included “the right to rest in a non-obstructive manner in public spaces,” “the right to shelter oneself from the elements in a non-obstructive manner in outdoor public spaces,” and “the right to occupy one’s own legally parked motor vehicle.” All winter, as I went for daily walks, I passed several of these vehicles in the city park. They were in the park for months, conveniently located near the covered cooking areas and the restrooms.

I resent this. Not so much because it is dangerous to the public health. That is the reason politicians cite, but it’s a political reason, a lawyer’s reason. Some of the encampments may be a health hazard, but some of them near public restrooms and garbage cans may not be. Health is an issue, but it’s not the central one. The park near my home is an urban amenity. It is in an area of some of the most expensive real estate in the Pacific Northwest — real estate that is far too expensive to be used as a campground of any sort. Campgrounds belong on cheap land away from the city, in the desert or out in the woods. The park I’m thinking of is surrounded by million-dollar houses. Some of the owners of those houses are paying more than $10,000 a year property tax, to say nothing of their house payments. They need to work, full-time, at intelligent and stressful jobs to be able to live in such houses, and they treat their houses and yards with care. And right across the street, or a few blocks away, some suntanned, unshaven vagrant waddles up with a stolen Safeway cart overflowing with bags, pitches a tent that the welfare people gave him, and sets up housekeeping while paying nothing. The problem is not that he abuses drugs; some of the people in the houses abuse drugs. It’s not that he pees in the bushes. Dogs pee in the bushes. It’s that he’s there at all.

For years there have been signs in the windows of businesses saying, “Now Hiring.” There is a sign like that within a block of my house. Work is available.

I can hear the apologists: “You’re just a bourgeois.” Damn right. And no apologies. But I do not limit my solicitude to the owners of million-dollar houses. My neighborhood has townhouses, condos, apartments, and old houses cut into rental units. There are garages converted to mother-in-law units, some of them legal and some not, and there are houses shared by single tenants. I know of an old junk shop with a room in the back. I don’t object to any of those. I draw the line at sleeping in doorways and camping in the park.

Again, I can hear the apologists: “They’re homeless. Where are they supposed to go?” Hey, that’s their problem. It’s a problem that every adult has, and until recently everyone has been able to solve. It’s not that difficult. You ask, where can they go? The social welfare people regularly visit the homeless and offer them space in shelters — and they refuse to live there. And that’s fine: they can go to work. The unemployment rate in America is the lowest in 50 years, and it’s lower in Seattle than almost anywhere else. For years there have been signs in the windows of businesses saying, “Now Hiring.” There is a sign like that within a block of my house. Work is available. A few miles from my house is a Home Depot where a line of Mexicans stand every day, waiting for work for strangers who drive up in cars. These Mexicans are poorly dressed. Probably they speak only a little English, if any. Maybe many of them are illegal. But they are willing to work.




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Meddle Not!

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“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. . . . that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

That’s the theory of the Declaration of Independence.  This is my deduction: if a government has no just power to exist, anyone is morally free to go to work and try to shut it down. We should not assume, however, that everyone should start trying that stunt, right here and right now. It’s possible that foreigners, for example, should mind their own business. Here’s a principle that used to be honored in America: our government shouldn’t meddle with the affairs of other countries, unless it has a self-defensive reason for doing so.

That principle has been interpreted to mean that all governments are created equal, and that their so-called rights should always be respected. In other words, “We have the Bomb, but, to be fair, why shouldn’t North Korea have the Bomb as well?” I can tell you why North Korea shouldn’t have the Bomb, but you know it already.

Here’s a principle that used to be honored in America: our government shouldn’t meddle with the affairs of other countries, unless it has a self-defensive reason for doing so.

Now to my subject. Venezuela is ruled by a socialist dictatorship that is as mean and oppressive and just plain stupid as you would expect a socialist dictatorship to be. Very well. What follows from that?

Does it follow that our government should try to remove the government of Venezuela? That it should plot with the Venezuelan military to remove the country’s dictator? That it should, in effect, wage war against Venezuela as currently constituted?

This, it appears, is what our government is doing.

Does it follow that our government should try to remove the government of Venezuela? That it should plot with the Venezuelan military to remove the country’s dictator?

It’s not as if Venezuela had the Bomb. It’s not even as if Venezuela constituted an economic threat to us, now that we have enough of our own oil not to need any more of Venezuela’s. Besides, the socialists have wrecked the country’s oil industry. If crass self-interest were our guide, we would be happy to lose a competitor, in the political as well as the economic realm. The best advertisement for capitalism and limited government is the hideous failure of Venezuelan socialism.

It is reported that the vast majority of Venezuelans think it’s impossible for them to remove their own government, and that they want some foreign power to do it (guess which). I admit that if I were a Venezuelan, I’d probably be praying for an American invasion. In the current crisis, I probably wouldn’t have enough presence of mind to remember how badly the interference of “international Boy Scouts,” as Isabel Paterson called them, has turned out for some of the intended beneficiaries. But the truth, the truth on which self-interest and moral principle agree, is that the Venezuelans got themselves into this mess, and they need to get themselves out of it.




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The Opposite of Libertarianism

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In libertarian circles it is a conventional position that the word that describes our opposite is "statism," adherents of which are "statists." I challenge that assumption.

In the first place, most people are unfamiliar with the term “statism.” Its use merely adds to the aura of weirdness and abnormality surrounding the advocacy of liberty. To the extent that voters don't know the definition of “statism,” any argument relying on it cannot help us win elections.

Second, I am not an etymologist and lack data to prove this, but my gut feeling is that libertarian writers in the 1930s to 1960s felt comfortable using the word “statist” because (Ayn Rand comes to mind) they spoke French and viewed “state” as the English translation of état. In the USA, however, “state” specifically refers to one of the 50 states. The better translation of état is “nation” or “government.” So I propose that “statism” be retired in favor of either "nationalism" or "governmentalism" as the word by which we designate the opposite of libertarianism.

To the extent that voters don't know the definition of “statism,” any argument relying on it cannot help us win elections.

“Nationalism” is particularly attractive because it conjures up connotations of National Socialism as the end point of liberty's opponents. “Governmentalism,” on the other hand, pinpoints the government as our nemesis. Yes, “state” can also mean “government,” but I feel that my proposal would best align our language with that of the people we want to reach.




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Conserving the Body Electric

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My electric company, San Diego Gas and Electric, is a state-franchised monopoly that behaves in the weird way that has become natural for such entities. Obsessed with conserving our reputedly endangered resources, it is trying to get customers to buy less of its product.

Every month it sends me a discouraging report about my energy use. The damning data appear in three graphs.

One is a dull gray and shows the average kilowatt hours used by “90 similar homes an average of 1 mi.” from me. There’s nothing to say how these “homes” are “similar,” besides an indication that the company knows how many square feet I inhabit and whether I own or rent (as if that mattered). Clearly, it doesn’t know how many people live in my place, what their ages are, whether they work for a living, whether they are absent for months at a time, or, really, anything directly relevant to their energy use. And why is it “an average of 1 mi”? Why not within one mile? If my next-door neighbor is included in this similarity derby — which would make a lot of sense, since her home is physically identical to mine — I guess the statisticians will have to identify a corresponding someone two miles away, in a completely different neighborhood and population, to insert among the magic 90. Makes a lotta sense, don’t it?

So who are these efficient people? For all I know, they may be leaving their TV on all night, but they never use their stove.

Another graph is blue. That’s for my own energy use during the month. The third one is green. It represents my “Efficient Neighbors,” and it’s the one that has the enviable, top position in the grand display of stats.

So who are these efficient people? They are the “most efficient 20%” of the “90 similar homes.” So we’re back to that problem. Why these people? But if you’re wondering what “efficient” means, that’s not a mystery: the loaded word simply means that they use less total energy. For all I know, they may be leaving their TV on all night, but they never use their stove — because they go out to eat, thus transferring their inefficient use of energy onto other people’s bills.

I’m not as bad as the average, but I’m one hell of a long way from being “efficient.”

But I know you’re curious to discover exactly how inefficient I am. I’ll tell you. The average energy use of the 90 homes is 322 kWh. The average of the Efficient People (who, remember, are only “efficient” in relation to the 90 users sampled, all of whom, as far as I know, may be 20 times less “efficient” than normal people) is 159 kWh. I, environmental criminal that I am, sucked 303 kWh out of the ecology, all in a single month. I’m not as bad as the average, but I’m one hell of a long way from being “efficient.”

Yet somehow the notices from SDGE fail to make me ashamed of this Neronian orgy of energy use. They inspire me, instead, with two thoughts. The first is, “How much stupid energy does it cost these people to mail me this notice every month?” The second is, “Let’s turn on all the lights.”




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Will the LP Be Destroyed by Victories?

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The thesis of this reflection is simple: if the Republicans move to the right on economic issues, trying to attract fiscal-Right voters, and stay with the Right on guns, while the Democrats move to their social left by supporting legalization of recreational cannabis, sex workers, and gambling, then every Libertarian Party issue will be championed by either Democrats or Republicans who will have a better chance of winning elections. At that point, the LP will have no reason to exist.

The GOP recently passed tax cuts, and the current White House is aggressively deregulating. The LP can do little that the GOP is not already doing. The GOP is also extremely strong on gun rights and opposition to gun control, and, like the Democrats’, its foreign policy is veering toward military disengagement abroad.

The LP has won by forcing the two major parties to embrace libertarian issues in a way that would have been untenable and even unthinkable in previous generations.

Meanwhile, state and local Democratic parties are increasingly willing to reform criminal laws to legalize recreational cannabis. Right now it is also a vanguard or vogue position among far-left Democrats to support legalizing prostitution (a position that has long been championed by gay rights groups on the far left). There are whispers in New York that the Democrats in the state legislature intend to legalize both recreational cannabis and sex workers, a path that other state Democratic Parties are also treading.

The LP has won by forcing the two major parties to embrace libertarian issues in a way that would have been untenable and even unthinkable in previous generations. But take away weed, whores, guns, and tax cuts, and what is left for the LP to talk about? Nothing. There may be nothing more for the LP to do. But do not worry. I have a solution to this problem.

The one thing liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans cannot do is create a social space uniquely for libertarians. The Libertarian Party should essentially reimagine itself as a social club for liberty where running candidates is a hobby but the real purpose is building a community. The LP can organize meetings, sponsor online events, build forums for communication, assist the authorship and distribution of ideological content, and fund academic scholarships. The LP will probably never win elections even if it tries, so it has nothing to lose by moving in this direction.

But take away weed, whores, guns, and tax cuts, and what is left for the LP to talk about?

An organized movement built from LP grassroots community activism could then trickle down into the mass of mainstream voters, keeping the GOP on the far Right and forcing Democrats to defend the social Left. Other than providing services uniquely to libertarians, there may be nothing the LP can do that Republicans or Democrats could not do better in today's political climate.




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Phobe-o-Phobia

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Bigotry, these days, is a subject treated very much like a supernatural monster. Racism, sexism, and homophobia exert an outsized influence on the popular imagination. They are our vampires, werewolves, and zombies. And precisely because of their exaggerated power, while many people fear them, others deny their very existence.

To be accused of being a racist is little different from being charged with sorcery. Anyone so tagged becomes a pariah. Humanity recoils from such an individual as it once might have shrunk from one familiar with the devil. That this is true precisely because racism is no longer considered acceptable in decent society is largely lost on those who see a racist under every rock.

Racism is still, very sadly, real. So, too, are sexism and homophobia, though the latter two still lag behind racism in witching power. The problem develops when people are accused of these faults whether they’re guilty or not. As in colonial Salem, the charge alone is sufficiently damning and needs no proof.

To be accused of being a racist is little different from being charged with sorcery. Anyone so tagged becomes a pariah.

Most bigots don’t think they’re bigots. Their beliefs are misguided, but they’re based in something other than themselves. No one sets out to be a bigot. What sounds like prejudice to others sounds, to them, like the truth.

Racism, sexism, and homophobia — that unholy trinity — are said to simply exist, like the Blob. People in public life are branded, especially as racists, with no thought to their motivation. Any insensitive remark can be cited as proof. The Blob can strike anyone, anywhere.

Some people simply say stupid things. And sometimes, after they’ve said them, they change their minds. Finding a bigot under every rock casts doubt on the entire enterprise. Very often the motive to smear an individual shows more clearly than the motive to hate the members of a particular group of people.

What happens when the charge is factual? Do real bigots suffer much when they’re exposed? When, for every real bigot, there are 20 unjustly accused, which real bigots really suffer?

Free speech tends to show people in a true light. If people aren’t deathly afraid to say the wrong thing, genuine racists, sexists, and homophobes will say what they have to say; but when speech is chilled, everyone is careful. Real bigots can hide.

When, for every real bigot, there are 20 unjustly accused, which real bigots really suffer?

I want to know what people think about me. They shouldn’t need to hide. Not that it makes much difference to me that some may irrationally hate a group I’m part of. I’m an individual, and everyone whose opinion I value judges me as such. The free market will deal harshly with those who wouldn’t serve me because of any circumstance I can’t change — if I even wanted to.

A sort of hysteria has overtaken us. At any time, any one of us could be branded guilty of criminal thought. That’s what bigotry really is — thought. But only those who act upon their hate are truly dangerous. If they can hide, simply refraining from saying the wrong things, we’re defenseless against the actions they may sometime decide to take.

In the hierarchy of accepted speech, certain forms of prejudice are perfectly acceptable. At the other end of the ladder, some people are suspected of bigotry simply by circumstance. Now certain political views come under automatic suspicion. Even wearing a red cap is enough to evoke suspicion. We live in a frightfully irrational age, and the fright is visited on all of us. How many points do I have in the aggrievement Olympics? Two: I’m female and gay. Others will always outrank me. I have to watch my step.

Aggrievement isn’t power. It’s weakness. People obsessed with how badly they’re treated are not masters of their own fate.

The free market will deal harshly with those who wouldn’t serve me because of any circumstance I can’t change — if I even wanted to.

None of the vigilance against bigotry makes me feel safe. Our guards are trigger-happy. In their extremity and sheer irrationality, they’ve turned those who really hate me into heroes. Not surprisingly, standing up to a charge of bigotry has become an act of courage — a mark of integrity.

I think I’ll take my chances alongside those who resist the witch hunt. That sometimes puts me in strange company. But bigotry is on the wane, and the very atmosphere of hysteria — of unsubstantiated or exaggerated claims of bigotry — is proof that it is. Someday, sane people will realize that. When we’ve all been branded, branding will no longer loom as a threat.

In the meantime, I still don’t have enough points. Surely that ought to count as a handicap. May I have another point?




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Flying Down to Rio?

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While I am no President Trump fan — indeed, I regard The Boss as a deeply flawed president — intellectual honesty dictates that I should give him credit when credit is due. And I think that a recent meeting he had yielded some results that are worth reflecting upon. I refer to Trump's meeting on March 19 with Brazil's newly elected President Jair Bolsonaro. The two populist presidents appeared to get along well, as is perhaps to be expected from birds of a feather.

What was quite interesting was that The Boss announced he will designate Brazil a "major non-NATO ally" — interesting because the heralding of closer military ties, which is probably insignificant in itself, could lead to increased trade. Brazil is Latin America's geographically largest country, and its most populous (at well over 200 million people). Moreover, despite some poor performance during recent years, it is Latin America's largest economy, and the world's eighth largest, with a GDP of over $3.5 trillion.

Trump and Bolsonaro appeared to get along well, as is perhaps to be expected from birds of a feather.

The Boss even suggested that he would favor giving Brazil full NATO membership — totally bizarre, given his past skeptical remarks about the value of NATO and his seeming indifference to its cohesion and continued existence. In any event, NATO membership seems an unrealistic suggestion.

First, all the other 29 members of the alliance would have to agree, and clearly some of the current members — Germany and Turkey, to name but two — are run by leaders who hold Trump in deep disdain.

Second, Brazil currently spends only about 1.3% of its GDP on defense, and the requirement for a country being in NATO — albeit so far lightly enforced — is to commit to 2% of GDP to defense.

Trump has been good at raising tariffs and slowing free trade. The markets have not liked this.

Third, while Brazil's own erratic President Bolsonaro has expressed admiration for The Boss — no doubt a factor in the sudden warming of relations between the two countries — he has the Brazilian population to contend with. He is the first rightwing president the nation has elected in the 30 years since the military surrendered power. Since the US backed the military regime, many Brazilians are of course wary of American motives.

Still, this meeting and its results are a good first step toward a closer relationship with what is already an important international player with the potential to become a major power. The joke has been that Brazil has been and always will be a potential major power, but never an actual one. But perhaps the nation will finally eschew the sweet promises of socialism, settle into a centrist government with liberal economics, and thereby realize its true potential.

The real opportunity here, I would urge, lies not in the military but in the economic realm. We used to be Brazil's major trading partner. But China took that position a few decades ago, and still holds it. This is unsurprising, because China negotiated a free trade agreement with Brazil — something neither George Bush (who was quite good on free trade) nor Barack Obama (who opposed free trade until toward the end of his second term) even tried to do. This suggests an opening for The Boss, who half the time claims to favor free trade — although in the other half he bashes it, in gales of creative protectionism. He could at least open exploratory talks on the issue. Actually, there is probably a quick way to land a deal: ask for the same deal China got!

Perhaps Trump's ultimate desire to get a second term may lead him to not just talk about free trade, but to do something to actually advance it.

Brazil and America are a good fit for trading partners: we produce a lot of high-tech goods that Brazil needs, such as high-tech tractors and farm machinery. The Boss has been good at raising tariffs and slowing free trade. The markets have not liked this, and if the promised trade agreement with China falls through, the market will likely drop dramatically. And China, in retaliation to his tariffs, has switched buying soybeans and other agricultural goods from us to Brazil. This has made Brazil the world's largest exporter of soybeans, now eclipsing the US. The result — depressed prices for soybeans and other products, resulting in steep declines in many farm incomes — may well cost Trump crucial votes for his reelection. This — if it were combined with a stock market dramatically below what it is now — would likely cost him reelection.

So perhaps Trump's ultimate desire to get a second term may lead him to not just talk about free trade, but to do something to actually advance it. Who knows? Stranger things have happened, and The Boss is after all surpassing strange.




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Trump and His Antagonists

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Republicans who have experienced Citizen Kane may remember the scene in which candidate Kane gives his big pre-election speech. It’s all about how much he hates the opposition political boss, Jim W. Gettys:

Here's one promise I'll make and Boss Jim Gettys knows I'll keep it. My first official act as Governor of this state will be to appoint a special District Attorney to arrange for the indictment, prosecution and conviction of Boss Jim W. Gettys!

Kane’s wife and small son are watching from the balcony. The son asks, “Mother, is Pop governor yet?” “Not yet, Junior,” she replies. And that very night, she destroys Kane’s political career. You can take Kane’s promise as tragic overreach or comic overreach, but it’s overreach of some kind, and it earns the ordinary reward of overreach, which is failure.

Trump is open to severe criticism in many respects, but the “evidence” that launched this investigation was always laughable.

That is what occurred with the attempt to indict, prosecute, and convict Boss Donald J. Trump, and Republicans (at least those of the non-RINO type) have every reason to celebrate. But this isn’t just a story about a Republican president who is now better “positioned” for the next election. It’s a story about the power of the modern liberal state.

Obama-era officials of the FBI and the Justice Department joined with RINOs such as John McCain and with employees of the Hillary Clinton campaign to accuse Trump of subverting the American electoral process. With remarkably few exceptions, Democratic lawmakers, journalists, and academics expressed a fanatical belief in Trump’s guilt. An investigation was demanded, with the obvious purpose of having Trump thrown out of office and, if possible, sent to jail. The investigation was undertaken, and staffed with Democrats and “pit bulls.” During it, people who were alleged to have committed crimes unrelated to the investigators’ charge were apprehended with police state tactics and prosecuted in an inquisitorial fashion. For almost two years, Trump’s dealings were zealously explored, with the apparent goal of discovering something, anything, on which a charge could be based. Nothing was found.

This outcome should not be surprising to reasonable people of any party. Trump is open to severe criticism in many respects, but the “evidence” that launched the investigation was always laughable. The accusations in the Salem witch trials were a good deal more persuasive. Yet for two years, respected lawyers and journalists, leading members of “the intelligence community,” and the most powerful officials of the Democratic Party insisted that Trump was certainly and obviously guilty. When the investigation turned up nothing, most of them immediately began inventing new ways of investigating and convicting him, making no secret of their intention to get something on him.

Gettys’ riposte to Kane summarizes the affair to date: “You’re makin’ a bigger fool of yourself than I thought you would. . . . Anybody else, I'd say what's gonna happen to you would be a lesson to you. Only you're gonna need more than one lesson. And you're gonna get more than one lesson.” The presence of opponents who keep making fools of themselves should gladden the Republicans’ hearts, and it does. The problem is . . . well, I’ll speak for myself. I don’t want to live in an America in which even the president can be subjected to relentless judicial and legislative persecution, replete with accusations of “treason,” a charge that carries the death penalty. I take this personally. I don’t want it to happen to me. It makes me sick to see that it’s not just about Trump; it’s part of a deadly pattern.

With remarkably few exceptions, Democratic lawmakers, journalists, and academics expressed a fanatical belief in Trump’s guilt.

During the McCarthy era, people were harried for being “un-American.” Then there was something of a national repentance over insubstantial but fanatical accusations. A few years ago, it all started again, only worse. The “liberals” revived the term and have used it constantly ever since. Of course it is used of Trump. But it is also used of people who are, frankly, just like you and me.

If you are a libertarian, you spend a lot of your time entertaining or even pushing ideas that are un-American according to “liberal” or “progressive” activists and their endorsers in political office — ideas about guns, ideas about freedom of speech, ideas about equal treatment of races and genders, ideas about historical objectivity, ideas about welfare and social security, ideas even about the climate. If you reveal these views, you are unlikely to get a job as a teacher, or to be able to speak on a college campus without disruption or violence. Should you somehow become influential, you have a good chance of being harassed by mobs or boycotts. Whether you are influential or not, you have a good chance of being banned from social media. If you are a student in most parts of the country, you will have next to no chance of learning the views in question, except as they are scorned and ridiculed by teachers or professors. If you are merely an American citizen wearing a red hat, you face the significant possibility of violence if you enter a “liberal” neighborhood. If you are a person trying to run a business, or just trying to get to work in a neighborhood targeted by environmentalists, you find your life increasingly restricted — though not as restricted as the life of an inner-city mother trying to raise her kids under the increasingly heavy weight of the “progressive” state, killing jobs, killing her children’s education, killing her ability to defend her children and herself from the institutionalized violence of the War on Drugs.

Some Republicans are too preoccupied with worship of cops and soldiers, or with their own opportunities to engage in crony capitalism, to care about any of this. Others are coming to accept it as a fact of life. But it is not a fact of life, and it is no minor development. It is an attempt to change America into a place where the “progressive” state has a monopoly of wealth, power, and influence. Trump is not the issue. This is the issue.




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