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Make sure the bad guys aren’t you!

Poor Hong Kong! Everybody is picking on Hong Kong. First China imposes a draconian legal code that removes the right of Hong Kong residents to protest. Then China announces much higher taxes on Chinese businesspeople working in Hong Kong:

Fears of a Hong Kong brain drain are increasing after China moved to tax its citizens’ global income, undermining the financial hub’s appeal to thousands of bankers and other white-collar workers from the mainland.

Faced with a tax rate as high as 45% — up from about 15% previously — Chinese professionals across Hong Kong are considering moving back home to avoid getting squeezed by both the new levy and sky-high living costs in the former British colony, according to interviews with workers and recruiters.

To make matters worse, the US is now piling on:

President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed legislation that gives his administration more power to impose sanctions on Chinese officials in retaliation for a draconian national security law Beijing imposed on Hong Kong.

Mr Trump said the Hong Kong Autonomy Act would give the White House “powerful new tools to hold responsible the individuals and the entities involved in extinguishing Hong Kong’s freedom”. The president also signed an executive order removing special trade and economic privileges that Hong Kong has enjoyed for years.

So let me get this right. Trump is going to take away “special trade and economic privileges that Hong Kong has enjoyed for years”. And Trump is going to “hold responsible the individuals and the entities involved in extinguishing Hong Kong’s freedom.”

I’m reminded of one of my favorite movie trailers, for Machete. In the film, a powerful man hires Machete to be an assassin, only to have it backfire. The trailer said something to the effect:

“If you hire him to take out the bad guys, make sure the bad guys aren’t you!”

If Trump plans to punish the people taking away Hong Kong’s freedom, maybe he should first make sure that he’s not one of those people. Personally, I wish Trump would extend those “special trade and economic privileges” to all 1.4 billion Chinese people. Instead, we should go after the people responsible for harming Hong Kong.

To his credit, Trump does seem to be inching in that direction:

While the Trump administration last week placed sanctions on Chinese officials over human rights abuses against Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang, it has not yet imposed any penalties on Chinese Communist party cadres involved in policy surrounding Hong Kong.

If we must retaliate with trade restrictions, aim them at the Chinese Mainland, not Hong Kong. Is the Trump administration really that clueless?

It’s always one step forward two steps back. The Trump administration is also thinking of banning WeChat and Tiktok. Full disclosure: The WeChat ban would hurt our family. But even beyond our family, is it really a good idea to cut off communication with 1.4 billion people?

Do you think future historians will write: “Trump’s decision to cut off communication between the Chinese people and the outside world was a turning point in world history. Nationalism declined everywhere and peace and understanding swept the world.” Or might we expect a different outcome?

The 1.4 billion Chinese people aren’t going away, and China’s not going to stop growing, regardless of our trade policies. It’s time we learned to live with them. Punish their government where appropriate, but don’t go back to the pre-Nixon policy of pretending that China doesn’t exist.

PS. At least give them credit for backing off the insane proposal to expel foreign college students. But what happens when Trump no longer faces an upcoming election?

It’s lies all the way down

The Trump administration says that Huawei is a threat to US national security. Maybe it is. But how would we know that? Statements from the Trump administration are sort of like performance art, or rap music where words are chosen because they sound good. There is no longer any correspondence with reality.

1. Trump promised to release his taxes before the 2016 election. That was a lie.

2. When asked why he didn’t release his taxes before the 2016 election, Trump said that it was because they were under audit. That was a lie; audits don’t prevent releases of tax forms.

3. When his taxes were subpoenaed, Trump said he could refuse to turn them over because presidents are above the law. That was a lie, they are not above the law.

4. When Trump’s press secretary was asked why Trump doesn’t release his taxes before the 2020 election, she said that it was because they were under audit. According to Rudi Giuliani that was also a lie; they are not under audit:

“All these tax returns have been by and large — maybe not the last one — but all of them have been audited, all of them have either been passed on or settled,” Giuliani told Maria Bartiromo on Fox News.

“There should be some finality in tax returns,” Giuliani added. “We get audited, we make a deal, we pay the government, you don’t come after me forever for that.”

Just days earlier, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany insisted that ongoing audits were the reason Trump was not releasing any of his tax returns.

It’s like digging through layers of history at ancient Troy, just one set of ruins on top of another. Lies all the way down.

All politicians lie to some extent. But usually it is reluctantly, only when absolutely necessary to achieve some objective. Eisenhower had his aides lie about Gary Powers, as in the 1950s it was considered unthinkable that a President would be caught red-handed lying to the American public. They at least tried to appear truthful. Trump doesn’t even care.

Trump also demands that his aides lie on his behalf. If they refuse, he fires them. If they tell the truth to law enforcement, he calls them rats. If they lie to cover up Trump’s crimes then he commutes their sentence—something even Nixon was afraid to do, fearing impeachment.

We know that the US was led into the Spanish American War, the Vietnam War and the Iraq War on the back of government lies. And those were all administrations that were far more trustworthy than Trump (although not very trustworthy in an absolute sense.)

If Trump is re-elected, all constraints will come off his behavior. The lies will get steadily bolder, more damaging to US national interest. I’m not able to predict where this will all go, but the long history of this sort of government in other countries is not a happy tale.

Will we witness another Gulf of Tonkin incident, but this time with a country much bigger than Vietnam? If we do, I for one won’t believe a thing I hear from the US government (or the Chinese government.)

In a world on nonstop lies, pacifism becomes the safest ideology.

PS. Today is a big win for Trump, a big loss for Trumpism. Sessions lost. He was by far the most Trumpian US senator back in 2016. A true believer, not a fake like Lindsey Graham. The fact that Alabama voters decisively rejected him shows that they care nothing for Trump’s ideas, only loyalty to “The Donald”. Trumpism will not survive Trump.

Larry Kudlow should resign

I like Larry Kudlow—-let’s start with that. But he’s not well suited to be a top administration advisor.

First he had to sell his free trade soul and endorse Trump’s protectionism. Now his relentless optimism (normally a good quality) is wildly ill suited the problems we face. Here’s Kudlow on June 22nd:

Kudlow says ‘no second wave’ of coronavirus coming

There’s no shame on getting it wrong—I also underestimated the threat. The problem comes when public policy is shaped by the assumption that things will go well. Public policymakers need to assume the worst, plan for the worst-case scenario. Congress’s recent stimulus package should have allocated funds under the assumption that there is a 100% chance of another Carrington Event in the year 2021.

I’ve lost a lot of respect for the conservative movement, which has stuck its head in the sand regarding both global warming and Covid-19. And now we are beginning to pay the price.

Trump needs to clean house if he wants to get re-elected. His current advisors are leading him down a path that threatens to create non-stop problems all through 2020.

People forget that Carter lost in a landslide despite a V-shaped recovery in 1980:

It’s hard to imagine Trump winning if this second wave of Covid-19 persists and the economy stalls. (BTW, the second wave is now causing increased deaths, not just increased cases. Remember a few weeks ago when conservatives assured us it was just a matter of increased testing, and that deaths would keep falling?)

I obviously hope that Trump loses. But I don’t want him to lose badly enough to root for America being put through the wringer for many more months.

Trump needs new advisors, and a Manhattan Project to attack this problem on all fronts.

PS. Roger Stone refuses to testify against Trump, knowing he’d be pardoned. And now his sentence has been commuted. As I keep saying, we are a banana republic. Although maybe “mafia state” would be more descriptive—Trump uses mafia language in describing people who do their duty and report crimes.

The only honest man left in the GOP:

PPS. Barr refuses to prosecute Flynn for lying to federal law enforcement officials. Yeah, it was a dubious case, but so are most other federal cases. Since when does the federal government refuse to prosecute people for lying to the FBI? Suppose it were you or I? Banana republic.

PPPS. Trump gets his talking points from Tucker Carlson. Now we know why he likes Tucker so much, Carlson’s material is written by Blake Neff:

Just this week, the writer, Blake Neff, responded to a thread started by another user in 2018 with the subject line, “Would u let a JET BLACK congo n****er do lasik eye surgery on u for 50% off?” Neff wrote, “I wouldn’t get LASIK from an Asian for free, so no.” (The subject line was not censored on the forum.) On June 5, Neff wrote, “Black doods staying inside playing Call of Duty is probably one of the biggest factors keeping crime down.” On June 24, Neff commented, “Honestly given how tired black people always claim to be, maybe the real crisis is their lack of sleep.” On June 26, Neff wrote that the only people who care about changing the name of the NFL’s Washington Redskins are “white libs and their university-‘educated’ pets.”

And over the course of five years, Neff has maintained a lengthy thread in which he has derided a woman and posted information about her dating life that has invited other users to mock her and invade her privacy. There has at times also been overlap between some material he posted or saw on the forum and Carlson’s show.

SJWs are right about one thing. The conservative movement hides a lot of racists. Gee, I wonder why Trump says Mexican-American judges are biased, and dark skinned leftist pols should go back to Africa, and America shouldn’t take immigrants from shit hole countries, and black NASCAR drivers should apologize for hoaxes they never committed, and Confederate symbols are honorable, and black athletes who protest racism should be fired while whites should not be fired for racist comments. Where could he possibly be getting these strange views?

PPPPS. I see that Clarence Thomas did not think that Bill Clinton should have been above the law in the Paula Jones case, but does think that Trump should be above the law in the New York corruption case.

Gotta love those “conservative” judges.

PPPPPS A while back I said Trump’s phase one China deal was a face-saving retreat, and there’d be no face two. Trumpista commenters said I was wrong. Now Trump admits I was right:

President Donald Trump said a phase two trade deal with China isn’t under consideration, saying the relationship between Washington and Beijing has deteriorated too much.

PPPPPPS. When Tesla stock was in the $200 to $300 range, its high valuation was cited as evidence that the stock market is prone to bubbles. I guess the current price ($1500) makes that bubble argument even stronger. Right? 🙂

Glass houses, stones, etc.

Someone comes to you with a letter advocating free speech, asking if you want to sign it. You ask, “Who’s signed it so far?” You are told that the only names they’ve gotten so far are Hitler, Stalin and Mao. Do you sign it?

I don’t know about you, but I’d sign it in a heartbeat. I’d think to myself “I’m a bit surprised to see these three names, but maybe they’ve recently seen the light.”

OK, the lady who wrote Harry Potter isn’t quite as evil as those three individuals, but you get my point. It doesn’t matter who else signs a letter. I’ve signed many letters and I never once knew who else intended to sign it. You are endorsing the content of the letter, not the signatories.

BTW, I’m told the lunatics have pretty much taken over the progressive movement. But who are all these people? I feel like Pauline Kael pondering her elusive Nixon voters—I’ve never once met a single fan of the cancel culture.

The National Review is in a gloating mode, reveling in their opportunity to point out how stupid the left is getting. A recent story was entitled:

The Forehead-Slappingly Stupid Attempt to Cancel Steven Pinker

Then another article with the same theme:

These are dark times. More important, these are stupid times, and Matt Yglesias has contributed more than his share to that. But to treat his signature on a letter endorsing an open culture as a threat is, incredibly enough, more absurd than anything we can remember Yglesias himself having written.

The 21st century certainly does seem dumber than the (late) 20th century. There were a few PC outrages during the Clinton years, but I don’t recall anything as silly as the stuff going on now. It’s still hard for me to believe that people are not joking when they suggest it’s immoral to sign a letter advocating free speech because someone with different political views also signed it. Sci-fi writers imagine waking up in a universe with different laws of physics; I feel like I’ve woken up in a place with different laws of logic. Even communism and fascism merely seemed evil; this cancel culture nonsense seems utterly crazy, incomprehensible.

And yet, the National Review couldn’t be satisfied with winning a few debating points. That had to overreach. (Never forget that conservatives are the “stupid party”.) They had to ruin everything by suggesting that Matt Yglesias frequently writes stupid things. That’s just stupid.

I probably agree with the National Review about twice as often as I agree with Matt Yglesias. But sorry, he’s extremely smart, a lot smarter than most of the people at the National Review. (Look at this recent defense of the greatness of Donald Trump if you want to get a sense of some of the people who write for NR.) Heck, I’d say Ezra Klein is also brilliant, and I’m currently mad at him for his treatment of Yglesias. I lose respect for people who can’t distinguish between “stupid” and “someone who’s politics I don’t like.” When I claim Trump’s stupid it’s because he acts stupid, not because I disagree with his politics, and certainly not because of the score he got on the SAT he paid someone to take for him.

[Yeah, he’s a billionaire, but he’s an affirmative action billionaire.]

And yet even at its worst, the National Review is head and shoulders above most of modern conservatism. The leader of America’s conservatives regularly tweets out statements of . . . let’s use the NR phrasing here . . . forehead slapping stupidity. And most of the conservative movement is afraid to criticize him, afraid they will be “cancelled” if they do. Has NR forgotten what happened to David French when he criticized Trump? (Not to mention the attacks on Yglesias’s colleague.) So it’s a bit rich to write an editorial mocking the mind-numbing stupidity on the left, without at least once nodding to the elephant in the room.

Here’s Anne Applebaum:

It felt like a tidal wave — until January 20 2017, when it suddenly didn’t. Trump was the president. A lot of people felt he had legitimacy and deserved support. Others came to like his rising stock market or the judges he appointed. Trump grew increasingly popular among the Republican voters who read conservative magazines, so the conservative magazines changed their tone. Trump was supported by the Republican donors who funded conservative organisations, so they changed their attitude too. Trump had jobs to give out, and people wanted them.

OK, conservative magazines had to prostitute themselves because their readers demanded it. I’m not naive; I know how the world works. But spare us your holier-than-thou attitude.

The 21st century is dumb and getting dumber every day. And it’s not just here. More and more you can find statements of Trumpian stupidity all over the world, by nationalist leaders (left and right) on almost every continent. Check out Brazil (right) or Mexico (left). Perhaps political systems (and news shows) are becoming more efficient than in the days of technocrats like Zedillo, giving voters (and viewers) what they really want—good and hard.

Tyler Cowen is almost invariably polite, or at least cautious and thoughtful, so you won’t see him call people stupid just because he disagrees with them. But this comes pretty close:

The actual problem is that we have a new bunch of “speech regulators” (not in the legal sense, not usually at least) who are especially humorless and obnoxious and I would say neurotic — in the personality psychology sense of that word.  I say let’s complain about the real problem, namely the moral fiber, emotional temperaments, and factual worldviews of the individuals who have arrogated the new speech censorship functions to themselves.

If that’s what Tyler is willing to say publicly, I can’t even imagine what he thinks privately.

Freddie deBoer says:

You want to argue that free speech is bad, fine. You want to adopt a dominance politics that (you imagine) will result in you being the censor, fine. But just do that. Own that. Can we stop with this charade? Can we stop pretending? Can we just proceed by acknowledging what literally everyone quietly knows, which is that the dominant majority of progressive people simply don’t believe in the value of free speech anymore? Please. Let’s grow up and speak plainly, please. Let’s just grow up.

Maybe they aren’t pretending. Maybe they actually are as dumb as they seem. I know that’s hard to imagine, but can we totally rule out the possibility that it just might be true? Is there any objective evidence showing that they are faking their stupidity?

The internet was supposed to make us smarter. Maybe it’s all a horrible mistake. Maybe it’s making us dumber.

PS. OK, the Kael anecdote is apocryphal. But remember the line in that old John Ford film, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Update: I use the term “prostitute” as a metaphor; actual prostitutes are more honest than politicians—giving value for money.

What’s at stake in November

American has never faced an election so consequential as the one coming up in November. In an era where “everything’s political”, what’s at stake is nothing less that the aesthetic vision of our future:

Even as the president makes the case for sculpture in teaching history and inspiring unity, his order advances another front in the culture war by dictatingan aesthetic vision for the park that emphasizes only the literal. “All statues in the National Garden should be lifelike or realistic representations of the persons they depict, not abstract or modernist representations,” the executive order reads.

A few months ago, the Trump administration put out a similar rule for federal architecture—nothing modern. Keep it traditional. So here’s our choice in November.

Trump:

Biden:

I think you know where I stand.