Sandinista! The US Left and Nicaragua

When the Sandinista insurgency overthrew the barbaric dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza in 1979, many on the international Left believed that Nicaragua had become a nation alive with political possibility. American radicals, in particular, understood the revolutionary new government led by Daniel Ortega to be a noble rebuke to the hegemony imposed by American imperialism, and regarded it with the same romantic infatuation previously reserved for Fidel Castro's Cuba. Young idealists, including New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio, hurried to Central America to assist Ortega in his declared mission to build a thriving, independent socialist state. Their devotion to and justification of every measure the new revolutionary regime introduced was so pronounced, and the pilgrimages to the country so numerous, that these Americans came to be known as the “Sandalistas.”

Some returned disenchanted. But for the most part, the consensus among US leftists has been that, whatever its various imperfections and shortcomings, the Sandinista revolution remained a project deserving of sympathy and support—an attempt to build a fairer society in the teeth of a vindictive campaign of Western intimidation led by the US which could not bear to see any socialist experiment succeed. Amazingly, a not insignificant number of US leftists remain committed to the revolutionary socialist cause in Castroite Cuba and in Maduro's Venezuela in spite of the repression and hardship the citizens of those countries experience at the hands of their rulers.

However, recent events in Nicaragua have caused stirrings of unease among many of Ortega's previously loyal US supporters, and in some cases, strident criticism. Tough new measures were introduced in April 2018, when thousands of Nicaraguans took to the streets to protest a sudden rollback of social security benefits. Manuel Orozco, a Senior Fellow at the DC think tank, The Inter-American Dialogue, described the protests as a “consequence of years of unsatisfied demands and growing repression and censorship [of] dissident groups.” Three hundred and thirty-two Nicaraguans died in the fighting, and 565 were arrested. By December 2018, the opposition had been defeated and its leaders were fugitives.

The assault on human rights accelerated, the New York Times reports, when “a wave of arrests of politicians and civil society leaders on unsubstantiated charges of subversion ... left the long-ruling president, Daniel Ortega, running practically unopposed in November’s general elections.” Ortega’s blacklist included many of former Sandinista supporters, including one of his Ambassadors to the United States, Arturo Cruz Jr., and a scion of the country's famous Chamorro family.

When demonstrations erupted in the revolutionary town of Masaya (the center of the Sandinistas’ war against the Somoza regime in the 1970s), it looked for a moment as if Ortega would be forced from power, and that a new democratic government might be allowed, finally, to emerge. Ortega responded by shuttering a major independent TV station and arresting its news director, closing down the independent Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) and confiscating its computers, and expelling foreign NGOs from the country.

Vilma Núñez, the CENIDH president and a former Sandinista, told a reporter from the Times that Nicaragua is even more repressive today than it was under the Somozas. Protests became so large that when rubber bullets proved to be ineffective, Ortega ordered his troops and police to respond with grenade launchers and assault rifles. In the past few weeks, with national elections scheduled for November 7th, Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice-President Rosario Murillo, have taken unprecedented steps to ensure that they result in a comfortable win for the regime.

Ortega and many of his Latin American counterparts continue to blame Nicaragua’s troubles on “American imperialism,” but the non-sectarian American Left has demurred. Earlier this year, American writer and activist Margaret Randall joined 500 other former pro-Sandinista activists who signed a letter accusing the Ortega-Murillo regime of betraying “the memory of tens of thousands of Nicaraguans who died for a democratic Nicaragua.” They continued: “We are well aware of—and detest—the long, shameful history of US government intervention in Nicaragua and many other countries in Latin America. However, the crimes of the US government—past and present—are not the cause of, nor do they justify or excuse, the crimes against humanity committed by the current regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.”

In an article for the Havana Times on July 1st, Randall explained her decision to sign the open letter like this:

The Ortega-Murillo duo is so power-crazy and cruel that we—as part of a US community who once actively supported the Sandinista government—felt we had to challenge them in our open letter. There is ample documentation about the many ways in which they have usurped power, kidnapped, imprisoned and tortured anyone opposing them, and repressed protestors in general.
Claiming to speak for the poor and disenfranchised, they have siphoned off millions from foreign aid, principally from Venezuela, for themselves and their children. They have cut deals with ultra-right-wing leaders and businessmen, while imprisoning comrades from the days of the revolution.

“This [anti-Ortega movement] was not a US-inspired plot,” Randall concluded. “Nicaraguans were thinking and continue to think for themselves.” She is particularly unimpressed that Ortega has managed to defang and co-opt his former conservative opponents by making deals with the business community and the country's Catholic Church. The late Cardinal Obando y Bravo was once among the Sandinistas’ fiercest opponents, but before his death, he became their equally vehement supporter after Ortega agreed to the most restrictive abortion laws in the region.

In Nicaragua today, any woman who has an abortion is subject to arrest and imprisonment, even if she became pregnant as the result of rape or incest. (It bears mentioning that in March 1998, Ortega’s own stepdaughter accused him of sexually abusing her since she was 14. Her mother took her husband's side.) A doctor who performs an abortion faces 30 years in prison. The law is so strict that a pregnant 27-year-old woman was refused treatment for metastatic cancer, on the grounds that the chemotherapy might endanger her fetus.

It may be that this measure alone was enough to turn much of the American Left against Ortega. No Marxist or socialist feminist could possibly support a government that enacted such an inhumane law merely to end the Church’s opposition to the regime. After all, the other repressive steps taken by Ortega—breaking up opposition rallies, sending in armed thugs to beat regime opponents, closing opposition newspapers, refusing to allow independent trade unions to function freely—are also characteristics of the Cuban and Venezuelan regimes, and have not been enough to dampen radical enthusiasm for those brutal socialist projects.

* * *

So are the Sandinistas’ former supporters in the free West ready to admit, at long last, that they were wrong about Ortega? Not especially. The gathering consensus among former supporters of the Sandinista solidarity movement seems to be that Ortega has lost his way and betrayed the revolution and its ideals. A lengthy essay for the New York Review of Books by veteran former New York Times journalist Stephen Kinzer entitled “Ortega in His Labyrinth” is emblematic of this tendency.

Kinzer's stated aim is to try and understand why Ortega has visited such an unrelenting campaign of violence on his own countrymen, and he is well placed to conduct such an analysis. During the 1980s, Kinzer was the Times’ bureau chief in Managua and filed dispatches chronicling the progress and pitfalls of the new revolutionary regime. As Julia Preston wrote in a 1991 review of Kinzer's book, Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua, “He was not always first, but he was thorough. He had an opportunity to provide more comprehensive coverage than any other single reporter during his five years in Managua, and often he succeeded in doing so.” One might have expected, therefore, that Kinzer’s experience and insight would make his new assessment compelling. Ortega's draconian record has, after all, provided him with a lot of material.

Alas, instead, Kinzer’s essay offers a distortion of the historical record in support of the claim that Ortega’s brutality is uncharacteristic of the Sandinista project. Ortega’s betrayal of Nicaraguans (and, by extension, the revolution’s Western leftist allies), Kinzer argues, is demonstrated by the arrest and detention of important Sandinista comrades from the revolutionary era. Indeed, Kinzer elects to open his essay with the arrest of the 73-year-old revolutionary, Hugo Torres, who was “chief of intelligence for the Sandinista People’s Army as it fought US-backed right-wing contra rebels during the 1980s.”

This was a particularly shocking move, he writes, “because [Torres] is a ‘historical Sandinista,’ one of the revolutionaries who overthrew the oppressive Somoza dictatorship and went on to reshape Nicaragua while fighting the contras. Until now, these figures have been considered national heroes and therefore untouchable.” Dora Maria Téllez—“a heroine of the 1979 revolution who at the age of twenty-two commanded three thousand Sandinista rebels and went on to become minister of the heath”—has received the same treatment, as has Victor Hugo Tinoco, a Sandinista diplomat that Kinzer remembers for “his scathing attacks on the Reagan administration when he was Nicaragua’s ambassador to the United Nations.”

Kinzer is correct that Ortega is recreating a dynastic tyranny like the one he helped to overthrow, and his article unsparingly exposes and condemns the regime’s present repression. He also explains how Ortega worked the system and manipulated elections to ensure his re-election as president. But these methods, and the egregious human rights violations they involve, are no different from those employed by Ortega, Torres, and Tomás Borge, the head of the Interior Ministry (secret police), to quash dissent during the 1980s. And it is here that Kinzer’s blind spot becomes most evident.

Kinzer claims that the Sandinistas who seized power in 1979 were “idealistic young comandantes who immediately launched a literacy campaign and then set out to redistribute land and empower the poor.” All of this, he marvels, “electrified the world.” It would be more accurate to say that it electrified the radical Left, who were equally taken with Fidel Castro’s endlessly hectoring speeches. He seems to think that no reasonable person of goodwill could possibly have foreseen what is now unfolding in Nicaragua. Ortega, he avers, “seemed an unformed but reasonably promising leader. Few could have imagined that he would degenerate into a hermit dictator”:

Ortega’s response has no precedent in Nicaraguan history. He sent out police squads and gangs of masked thugs, with orders to use live ammunition against unarmed protesters. They killed more than three hundred. It was the bloodiest burst of repression in the twenty-first-century history of Latin America.

Eager to prove that he remains a man of the Left, however, Kinzer adds the gratuitous observation that “US agencies have encouraged and funded anti-Ortega groups in Nicaragua,” and points his finger at the CIA, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and the bipartisan National Endowment for Democracy (NED). These agencies, he writes, “and other institutions of American power have usually worked so relentlessly to foment these rebellions that their legitimacy is uncertain.”

Kinzer’s denigration of the NED—a regular target of the anti-imperialist Left—is particularly unfortunate. This is an organization that helps independent groups trying to develop democratic institutions in undemocratic states. It supports the struggle for democratic freedoms wherever they are endangered, be it in countries ruled by left-wing regimes or in former Communist countries that have been moving toward what Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán likes to call “illiberal democracy.” In a revealing aside, Kinzer complains that some of those opposed to Ortega in the US are tainted because they are “promoters of American empire who have spent generations trying to crush Cuba, and who are now seeking ways to strangle Venezuela.” (Cuba was crushed by incompetent and tyrannical governance, and Venezuela is being strangled by Nicolás Maduro, not the United States, which—correctly—supports his freely elected democratic opponent, Juan Guaidó.)

But worst of all—and fatal to his analysis—is Kinzer’s refusal to acknowledge the copious evidence of Sandinista repression during the ‘80s, some of which he recorded in his own columns at the time. In power, the Sandinistas were just as repressive as Ortega is today, and as Somoza was against those who threatened his right-wing dictatorship. Ortega was certainly not above closing newspapers during the years of the Sandinista revolution, and he did so repeatedly. In 1988, Kinzer interviewed a democratic critic of the regime, who asked him a rhetorical question: “How long has [Ortega] been saying that there is freedom of expression in Nicaragua, while newspapers were censored and radio shows shut down?”

Kinzer is certainly knowledgeable enough to recall that many other reporters who covered Nicaragua in the revolution’s heyday found themselves unable to share his enthusiasm, myself included. In 1986, I wrote an op-ed for the paper at which he worked entitled “No Illusions About Nicaragua, Please; Repression Is a Fact.” I pointed out that a year after the supposedly democratic 1984 elections, Daniel Ortega “proclaimed a state of emergency, suspending all civil liberties and political rights, including what Managua calls the right to ‘seek, receive and spread information and ideas.’”

I also wrote two articles for the New Republic, in which I recorded my impressions of the country in 1983 and 1987, respectively. In 1983, I saw a “slow but clear movement toward a Cuban-style regime,” and in the second, I saw “few signs of pluralism, and government repression [that] has become fierce and pervasive.” No longer could opposition parties publish their own newspapers—the last time that happened was in 1985, before the regime proclaimed a state of emergency.

By the Sandinistas’ own admission, these new measures had nothing to do with the war against the contras, they were intended to persecute the patriotic domestic opposition. Labor leaders protesting wage cuts were accused of “economic sabotage,” a phrase used by the Soviet Union in the first purges in the 1920. Tomas Borge, then head of the Interior Ministry, said that the only way the revolution could succeed was through “coercion by the state” and “development of our counter-espionage services.” His operatives were trained by agents of the notorious East German STASI, who taught them well how to create a fearsome secret police that could successfully terrorize the population.

Emulating Cuba, the Sandinistas set up revolutionary block committees to engage in regular surveillance of their neighbors; they also set up “people’s courts” to convict citizens of political crimes at which confessions were introduced that had been extracted from prisoners held incommunicado. In 1986, a 29-year-old defector testified before the US Congress that, since 1979, the regime had assassinated 2000 political opponents—an allegation he supported with names, dates, and places.

If Kinzer distrusts my conclusions about Nicaragua, he might instead consult a major 1987 article in the Washington Post by reporter William Branigan, entitled “Pattern of Abuses Laid to Sandinistas.” In May of that year, Branigan reported on “18 days of suffering and terror for one of the thousands of Nicaraguans who have passed through the Sandinista prison system.” Like countless others, the woman he interviewed was thrown into a tiny lice-infected cell with a steel door, no light, and only a hole in the ceiling to let in some air. A nurse was given a 30-year sentence for an “offense against public order and security.” Her crime? She was accused of treating wounded contras. Although she was two months pregnant, she was beaten, sexually abused by guards, and denied food and water for three days. Minister of the Interior Borge called such acts “revolutionary justice.” Branigan concluded that the Sandinista government “violates the human rights of its citizens on a large scale.”

Alternatively, Kinzer could consult another lengthy report in his own paper, the New York Times, by his colleague on the Nicaragua beat, James Lemoyne. Writing in June of 1987, Lemoyne reported that the Sandinista Army had “committed serious human rights abuses in the southern border region of Nicaragua, according to interviews with several refugees who fled to Costa Rica” as well as “accounts from other peasants still in southern Nicaragua and investigations by two American human-rights groups.” Those investigations collected testimony of “bombings of peasant hamlets and shootings.” Refugees he interviewed “were unanimous in accusing the Sandinistas and not the rebels of human rights violations.” Lemoyne reported that the army had forced 6,000 peasants from their homes, charging them with supporting the contras, and had designated the area a “free fire zone.” As in Vietnam, that meant they were permitted to shoot any civilians living there who refused their orders. In April of that year, he wrote, Sandinista soldiers had fired on unarmed refugees trying to cross the San Juan River into Costa Rica, killing seven and wounding five.

In another article published that same month, Lemoyne reported that 6,000 peasants were told to pack their bags and abandon their homes and were then sent to a resettlement camp 12 miles away. A total of 17 villages were forcibly evacuated in the southern war zone, and he estimates that a total of 100,000 Nicaraguans suffered the same fate after the war against the contra rebels began. He also noted that the Sandinistas “appear to be guilty of serious human rights abuses in their treatment of peasants here,” citing reports published by two American human-rights groups, The Puebla Institute and Americas Watch. (I participated in the Puebla Institute’s human rights mission.)

Kinzer is undoubtedly correct when he argues that these violations do not compare to those committed in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador by right-wing death squads, sometimes allied with the official armed forces in those nations that enjoyed US backing. Nevertheless, many journalists and columnists writing for the left-leaning US press were painfully slow to acknowledge the reality of Sandinista repression, if they ever acknowledged it at all.

* * *

Should the examples I've cited above not be enough to jog his memory, Kinzer might prefer to revisit his own 1983 evaluation of Nicaragua for the New York Times Magazine. He was a good deal more critical of the Sandinistas at the time than he is prepared to be in retrospect. “Nicaraguans who engage in systematic criticism of the Government,” he wrote, “are being closely watched, their freedom of speech and assembly is restricted, and they are subject to harassment and arrest.” The Sandinista newspapers functioned as “relentless cheerleaders” for the government, while the opposition paper, La Prensa, found that articles

that criticize faulty public services, quote opposition leaders or portray Cuba or the Soviet Union in an unfavorable light are normally censored, though editors discreetly circulate photocopies among friends and foreign diplomats. No foreign newspapers are available. The country's only television news program is run by the Government, and a reporter for one of the remaining private radio stations told me he had to report the news "in a certain way" if he wanted to keep his job.

While the poor peasants and city laborers didn’t care much about issues like press freedom, Kinzer reported that they were disillusioned by “chronic shortages, ration cards and long lines in stores.” When he visited a general store in Jinotega, he wrote that “Nearly every one of the 50 or so customers who passed through the store” while he was there, “had something nasty to say about the Sandinistas.” He also acknowledged that diplomats told him “the Sandinista comandantes rarely take a major step in foreign or domestic policy without consulting Havana.” Finally, he concluded that the Sandinistas “have not shown the ability to govern efficiently on their own.” It is no wonder he reported that thousands of Cubans were in Nicaragua—not just teachers and doctors, but also “high-ranking military officers and counterintelligence experts.”

And what guided the revolution? Kinzer informed his readers that Daniel Ortega’s brother, the Defense Minister Humberto Ortega, told him that “Marxism-Leninism is the scientific doctrine that guides our revolution.” In other words, the Sandinista leadership unambiguously sought the creation of a second Cuba in the Western Hemisphere—a regime allied with the Soviet Union that could provide another destabilizing threat to the West’s war on Communist totalitarianism.

In 1990, the late expert on Central America, Robert S. Leiken, predicted that the Sandinistas were likely to lose the February national election to the opposition candidate, Violeta Chamorro, in spite of an extensive campaign of harassment, bribery, and intimidation. Prior to the election, the Sandinistas brought out the turbas, the so-called “divine mobs,” that they used to threaten and beat up opponents. By mid-December 1989, seven opposition leaders had been murdered, 12 had disappeared, 20 had been arrested, and 30 others assaulted. In late January 1990, the Organization of American States’ observer team reported that “a convoy of troops attacked four truckloads of UNO [the major opposition party] sympathizers with bayonets and rifle butts, threatening to kill them.”

Leiken’s prediction of a Sandinista electoral defeat was by no means widely shared. The general consensus in the US at the time was that they would win another comfortable victory. But Leiken understood that “people are tired of Sandinista coercion and corruption and a standard of living that has fallen 90 percent since the revolution in 1979.” His op-ed ended by quoting President Óscar Arias of Costa Rica, who told him that it was “inconceivable that the Sandinistas could win a fair election.”

Was the Sandinista political party, the FSLN (the Sandinista National Liberation Front), a Marxist party seeking to build a socialist revolution, or nationalist party seeking independence from the United States and social reforms that would benefit the poorest in the country? The evidence shows that its leadership considered themselves to be communists. Writing in the New York Review of Books in December 1985, Leiken quotes Comandante Bayardo Arce, leader of what was once the most radical faction in a disunited FSLN before the overthrow of Somoza. All factions believed in building a Cuban-style socialist state, he said, but had agreed in 1977 not to announce that goal “in an open way.”

Speaking in May 1984, Arce told his “fellow communists” in the Nicaraguan Socialist Party that the elections that year were only held for the benefit of Western liberals—or as some called its gullible supporters, “useful idiots.” The purpose of the elections was to “disarm the international bourgeoisie” and to hoodwink the US. Controlled elections would enable them to create a new “Red constitution,” at which point they would discard “this whole artifice of pluralism … which has been useful up to now, but has reached its end.” The democratic opposition stood no chance. As Leiken remarked:

The FSLN controlled the cabinet, the state security apparatus, and the army, the militias, the police, state TV, and radio. The local block committees (the Sandinista Defense Committees—CDS) in charge of such basic functions as ration cards, visas, and applications for public jobs and housing, had become extensions of the Sandinista party. Opposition groups had been forbidden to hold outdoor rallies since early 1981; political and trade union activists were frequently detained or imprisoned, and opposition offices were attacked by Sandinista mobs called turbas; pamphlets and newspapers were confiscated. The Sandinistas encouraged people loyal to them to join the opposition parties and trade unions and form factions with them.

In other words, the Sandinistas were certainly not the “idealistic young comandantes” of Kinzer’s imagination. Kinzer is nostalgic for the “global explosion of enthusiasm the likes of which had not been seen since the Spanish Civil War.” But this “enthusiasm” was supported by the same pro-Soviet Left who convinced themselves that the Cuban revolution was also something nationalist, independent, democratic, romantic, and inspirational. In Cuba, too, the US Left sponsored “Venceremos Brigades” to work in the fields, and developed front groups like “Fair Play for Cuba” and later CISPES, to defend the Castro regime and other revolutionaries in Central America from what they believed to be the propagandistic lies and misinformation of their conservative critics.

One could, of course, have opposed the Reagan administration’s policy of supporting the contras and remained honest about the FSLN’s goals and methods. But a number of idealistic journalists and activists preferred to retreat into a maddening kind of denial that persists to this day.

* * *

The truth of what was happening in Nicaragua was hardly a secret. When Kinzer declares that Ortega’s degeneration into “the most brutal ruler in his country’s history” was not foreseeable, he should speak for himself. Nor was Ortega ever “a soft-spoken, introverted, even self-effacing revolutionary,” even though it is true that he had been “a Boy Scout and once considered entering the priesthood.”

Other, more clear-eyed journalists were less enchanted. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Shirley Christian, who covered Nicaragua at the same time as Kinzer, arrived at an entirely different conclusion. In her 1985 book, Nicaragua: Revolution in the Family, Christian persuasively argued that “the leaders of the Sandinista Front intended to establish a Leninist system from the day they marched into Managua, whether they called it that or not.” In a review of her book for the New York Times, Timothy Garton Ash wrote that Christian provided “a wealth of detail to demonstrate … beyond reasonable doubt that the Sandinistas set out from the start to gain for themselves as much power as possible, permanently, and to use lies, lawlessness and violence against their political opponents when these seemed necessary to achieve that end.” As for Ortega, Christian reminds her readers that when he spoke at the United Nations, he consistently “took positions that were anti-United States, anti-Chinese and pro-Soviet.”

Indeed, Ortega thought like any Soviet leader. During a late-night interview with the members of Mayor Ed Koch’s “New York City Delegation to Central America” in 1987, I asked Ortega if he favored, as Castro once did, an expansion of the revolution throughout Central America. Looking perplexed, he replied, “No. That would be Trotskyism.” The exiled Bolshevik leader believed, contrary to Stalin, that the revolution could only succeed if major revolutions took place in advanced Western countries. Stalin was intent on building “socialism in one country.” As for the literacy program that Kinzer sentimentally extols, Christian points out that learning Spanish was reduced to “skills equivalent to only the first year or two of primary school”—barely sufficient to read the FSLN’s primitive propaganda.

That was true then and—since Ortega regained the presidency and changed election law to guarantee lifetime rule for himself and his cronies—it remains the case now. Obviously, Ortega and his wife have upped the ante, making it impossible for any opposition candidate who might stand a chance to even run for office. He no longer spouts Marxist ideology, he has reconciled with the Catholic Church, whose Archbishop now supports his reign in power, and he has cut deals with the business community that protects their holdings and wealth. But he has succeeded in making his rule permanent, without the problems his party faced when waging the contra war while allied with the Soviet bloc.

Kinzer is correct that Ortega is no better than Somoza, the dictator who imprisoned him for seven long years, but he is quite wrong to argue that this is a regrettable new development. Daniel Ortega is just another in the long list of Latin and Central America caudillos. It is long past time for those formerly sympathetic to his regime to acknowledge the mistakes the Left made during the Cold War. They were duped by ruthless and cynical men who starved their own countries in the name of idealism that never really existed. Ortega, Castro, and Maduro haven't changed. They are enemies of liberty and democracy, and they always have been.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://quillette.com/2021/09/27/sandinista-the-us-left-and-nicaragua/
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The casual anti-Catholic bigotry one occasionally finds in Quillette is, I suppose, more an artifact of the liberal individualism that distinguishes most of its writers than a firm ideological stance. No surprise then to find it in this disappointing piece, though one might have hoped for a bit more from Mr. Radosh. Something perhaps about the sheltering of demonstrators, or the necessity of caution in opposing a regime that controls all public institutions and effectively holds the country hostage. Nope: the unalloyed joys of abortion-on-demand (illustrated, as always, with poignant anecdote) have been sacrificed, and the Church bought off by throwing it a bone. That’s Mr. Radosh’s take.

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So what is the moral of this story? It seems to me that every culture has it’s natural center of gravity. In Afghanistan that’s medieval theocracy, in Latin America it’s brutal dictatorship. Instead of judging a dictator by some absolute theoretical standard perhaps one should judge it in comparison to the alternatives:

That’s the thing. There may be enough Nicos alive who remember the alternative and who are right to consider Ortega an improvement – however dismal it might be to say that. Meanwhile I congratulate those lefties who are honest enough to withdraw their support from the Sandies and freely admit that Nicaragua is Animal Farm which it is. As for me, I offer my warm congratulations to the Taliban for not having any mass beheadings … yet. It seems they’ve made a Great Leap Forward into the 17th century and that’s progress and I’ll take it.

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That’s an interesting point which dovetails nicely into mine. New ideologies are like viruses which are harmful from inception- it is only through time that selection removes the more destructive ones and adapts the ones which are left to become mostly net neutral in the extent to which they are harmful to the host.

It is interesting that the ‘render unto Caesar’ line was so misunderstood yet so pivotal, it was one two factors which created the conditions for the Enlightenment- the first being the weakening of the ‘Divine Right’ of Kings through the necessities of English Common Law, the second the loss of the ability of the priestly class to rule on matters of objective truth. The misunderstanding, by the way, was the trick contained in the declaration- God has dominion over anything, including Caesar’s realm, even if he chooses not to exercise said dominion.

Catholicism has become in many ways proof that an ideological meme can actually become beneficial over time- by voluntary relinquishing temporal power in the minds of its followers and allowing for the values of value pluralism and viewpoint diversity. In general, it is a force for good in the world adding to social cohesion and community health, with Northern Ireland proving through its economic and educational results that the healthy parental communities Catholicism encourages can take the poor and help them exceed their once wealthier contemporaries. It only has one remaining negative hurdle to overcome- declaring birth control a remittable sin, perhaps by utilising 1 Corinthians 13.

The irony of Socialism is that in order for it to become more benign it has to reread Marx in the context of understanding that the basic prophecies of Socialism didn’t come true. Marx was right about the end results of competition but he ignored the far stronger pull of powerful vain men to want to see themselves as a force for good in the world. This vanity was the thing which destroyed the British Empire without a shot being fired- Gandhi simply understood his opponent, the British, all too well.

But Marx does have a couple of things to teach us, after all. The first is that urge of Socialism can be harnessed for the good- Sweden has perhaps understood this best- by abandoning their resentment towards Capital, and removing the urge to punish or erode it through inheritance tax (which obtains a maximum of 0.6% of all government revenue in examples like Belgium), it actually increases the amount of tax it can extract voluntarily from capital. A while back, Sweden obtained 2.75% of its revenue from corporation tax, with the UK managing 1.8% and the US an anaemic 1.13%- and this is before one considers the far greater income derived from CGT in systems which don’t seek to erode capital. It turns out resentment and anti-capitalism is terminally bad for the revenue.

The second lesson of Marx is that an alignment between Big Government and Big Business is to be feared more than anything else. It is not by accident that finance happens to be the most powerful lobby, by far, in Washington or that finance is where we have seen the greatest amount of game-rigging through exploits and an understanding of short and long-term debt cycles. This is not to say that finance is inherently bad, but it needs to be exposed to natural risks and weaned off the perverse incentives the ‘too big to fail’ mentality causes.

Government needs to get back to the core business of insuring fair rules to the game, without the perennial preference shown to large players and big donors. Unfortunately most State Interventionalism can show the same signs of totalitarianism to which Socialism surrenders. Most governments need to grapple with the reality that government can’t really exceed 50% of the total wealth a society produces, with the optimal figure closer to 40%- if the faster relative decline of Europe’s share of global wealth produced is anything to go by- in the same period that America’s share shrunk from 39% to 33%, Europe’s shrunk from 33% to 17% or 18%.

Instead, government needs to learn to cannibalise waste in order to meet the non-market needs of the 21st century. Few who loathe the billionaire class actually realise that even if one confiscated all billionaire wealth in America it would only run American government for roughly six months. Where the Right goes wrong is in imagining that all government is bad- the National Weather Service can only work through international the co-operation which exists outside of competition and it does a fairly good job at helping citizens protect their private property rights through advance warning of pending disasters.

Historically, there are plenty of business partnerships which were comprised of liberals dreaming big and hard-working conservatives keeping them on task, instead of exploring new and exciting ideas- it was partnership which paid off time and again in the world of business. I think this is because liberals are great at generating new ideas and terrible at vetting them, whereas natural conservative scepticism is great for filtering the great ideas from the terrible.

This is where Left-leaning liberals completely misunderstand the figure of Newt Gingrich. It wasn’t that he held any particular animus towards liberals, or wanted Republicans to start thinking of Democrats as the enemy- although there was a veneer of this at the surface level, because he didn’t like their ideas. No, it was simply that he understood that Washington dinner parties gave liberals the chance to polish their better ideas and discard the worse ones. He understood that conservatives had a better grasp of ordinary peoples hopes, beliefs and daily realities, and he didn’t want to give Democrats the chance to refine ideas which would have broad appeal.

I think the socialist urge- when construed as the urge to help- rather than mired in resentment towards capital, could be harnessed as a force for good, but it has a lot of growing up to do. First it needs to understand that the desire to help can become a tyranny of altruism when its use becomes debilitating, rather like a mother smothering a child with overprotectiveness. These harmful effects are worst when we examine the formation of intergenerational welfare dependence, or the way indiscriminate high density public housing became an amplifier for social ills.

What Maslow got wrong was in failing to realise that labour is a basic need even more important than food, water, warmth, rest, safety and security, especially for men. It’s absence is why we are seeing the rise of Deaths of Despair in America, just as much as it is the causative root of the fact that 50% of all violent crime in America occurs in 2% of districts. For many, drug dealing or shooting up into oblivion are preferable alternatives to sitting on a sofa with nothing to do.

The answer might be the type of Liberal Paternalism proposed by Richard Thaler, with gentle incentives thrown in to encourage good choices. In Sweden, the government refunds 30% of debt interest through tax refunds- it works just as well for mitigating student loans as it does in encouraging home ownership, reducing the burden to the taxpayer inherent to the rental sector and public housing. Of course, they should also probably move to a Graduate Contribution scheme for living expenditure debt, with actuarials establishing the thresholds for where repayment starts, depending upon the future prospects of the subject chosen- but I will leave that for another time.

A good essay, showing the perils of ideology.

As usual, my essays are to be found on my Substack, which is free to view and comment:

Or maybe those “formerly sympathetic” Leftists weren’t duped at all, but knew exactly what those “ruthless and cynical men” were: committed Marxists intent on imposing communism and a one-party state, and ensuring it’s survival through brutality. (Lot’s of us knew that from the get-go.)

And that those “formerly sympathetic” Leftists were, and still are, fine with this brutality. Just a little embarrassed by the fact that it’s now so obvious.

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What makes you think this was “voluntary”? The Catholic church held on to temporal power for as long as it could, and as recently as 1864 the Pope condemned liberty and democracy in no uncertain terms.

Only one? That’s certainly debatable.

I’m not sure where, exactly, you locate those two lessons in Marx. Regardless, you left out what I regard as his most enduring insight: that capitalism is rapacious and insatiable. His estimation of capitalism’s virtues (astounding levels of innovation and productivity) and flaws (amoral exploitation) were dead-on. However, he failed to foresee the possibility of a consumer society in which the fruits of industrial production would be shared broadly enough to keep the majority of the population quiescent. In successful capitalist countries, government intervention and labor movements have compelled the masters of capital to constrain their behavior and share the wealth. As you recognize, this rapprochement may be endangered in the U.S. because of the massive influence the wealthy exert over our corrupt political class.

Agreed – this is very well put.

Gingrich was a cynical opportunitist who used scorched-earth tactics to take the House for the GOP after decades in the wilderness. House Democrats had become lazy and corrupt and were long overdue for defeat, but Gingrich pioneered a politics of personal destruction that poisoned D.C. and, over time, undermined the possibility of bipartisan compromise. Trump is the apotheosis of Gingrich’s pugilistic approach to politics:

[F]ew figures in modern history have done more than Gingrich to lay the groundwork for Trump’s rise. During his two decades in Congress, he pioneered a style of partisan combat—replete with name-calling, conspiracy theories, and strategic obstructionism—that poisoned America’s political culture and plunged Washington into permanent dysfunction. Gingrich’s career can perhaps be best understood as a grand exercise in devolution—an effort to strip American politics of the civilizing traits it had developed over time and return it to its most primal essence …

The way he saw it, Republicans would never be able to take back the House as long as they kept compromising with the Democrats out of some high-minded civic desire to keep congressional business humming along. His strategy was to blow up the bipartisan coalitions that were essential to legislating, and then seize on the resulting dysfunction to wage a populist crusade against the institution of Congress itself …

The great irony of Gingrich’s rise and reign is that, in the end, he did fundamentally transform America—just not in the ways he’d hoped. He thought he was enshrining a new era of conservative government. In fact, he was enshrining an attitude—angry, combative, tribal—that would infect politics for decades to come …

Political scientists who study our era of extreme polarization will tell you that the driving force behind American politics today is not actually partisanship, but negative partisanship—that is, hatred of the other team more than loyalty to one’s own. Gingrich’s speakership was both a symptom and an accelerant of that phenomenon.

I agree that work serves as an important source of meaning and that long-term unemployment can be psychologically debilitating, but this seems overstated. Personally, I would rather lose my job than try to exist without food, water and central heating.

Some leftists (like Bertrand Russell) genuinely believed in the principles of socialism while rejecting the brutal methods Lenin and Stalin used to achieve their “utopian” end. Russell was prescient in his criticism of the Bolsheviks; others (like Jean-Paul Sartre) took longer to realize the truth and condemn the soul-crushing Soviet system.

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Agreed. But I’m constantly amazed at those who defer and deflect until it simply becomes untenable, then come up with justifications for horrible acts.

(Yeah, I know, Wikipedia, but you can’t have everything…)

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But I presume that you would try to seek another one, unless you’re near to retirement and have good benefits. But don’t be fooled- both the Deaths of Despair epidemic and the rise of gang culture are a response to the denial of labour needs, not material ones- although there is extent to which males also baulk at low status service jobs. A lot of labour basic need, is based upon the need of males to seek status. It’s a need intimately tied to our ability to reproduce.

This shows a certain level of liberal bias. Frustration with congress and its all-time low approval ratings is just as much to do with what they do poorly, as they what they don’t do. A prime example would be funds for sick 9/11 rescuers- the bill could have been signed off on its first draft had it not been for the perennial desire to attach politically unacceptable funding amendments to the Bill precisely because the Bill was so important.

Have you ever looked at the historical trendline of government expenditure? Although their is an extent to which trickledown is now obsolete because of globalism (the good tends to materialise in areas where labour is cheapest), there still exists a weaker force which relates to market transfers of the upper and second quintiles trading money for the time of those further down the economic spectrum. It can be seen in everything from restaurants to home improvements (how’s that lakeside property of yours coming along).

Although government can, at its best, exceed this market tendency, in most instances it fails to deliver on its promises- most exemplified by Pournelle’s Law and the massive bureaucratic waste of government. Look those on the Left tend to focus on iPads (which is of limited utility in the classroom anyway) for schools which often don’t have internet. and it hard to see how an environmental impact study to cover a mural should cost a minimum of $300k, or why affordable housing is so outrageously- until one understands that the bureaucratic class is just as prone to venality and corruption as the politicians themselves.

So in this sense

Is exactly what the doctor ordered.

I agree with this part of the analysis. But consider Newt Gingrich only a bit player in this story. The real culprit in this story is American media. I know we disagree on this- media was the main culprit of mass incarceration in that they instilled the urge to punish cruelly in the American people. Virtually every other country in the developed world (other than Germany) followed Americas lead on proactive policing and systems similar to CompStat, and saw there crime figures fall off a cliff as a result- the idea that it was civil change or lead are complete bullshit- but nowhere else in the world saw the types of precipitous rises in prison populations. Because you media stoked fear for ratings, just like most now give the public a completely catastrophised view of climate change- which is a serious long term problem but by no means a civilisation ender (although the more outlandish dark green solutions might well be).

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01125-x

The worst case scenario now is likely the Rocky Road scenario.

One can read countless articles online about how 3C would be a disaster, but nobody talks about the fact that a more likely course is probably around 2.6C with modest innovation, or that we could get it down to 2.2C if Western governments had done what they had promised at Paris, and spent considerable amounts of money on RND instead of crowd-pleasing wind and solar which will accomplish far less.

In many ways media is devolving before our eyes- they’ve gone from being the tail that wagged the dog for our politics to something out of Tomorrowland: A World Beyond.

Look at the harms caused by the highly invidious selective reporting of only African American cases of Police Shootings at a national level. It has directly led to massive shortfalls in American policing, nobody wanting to take on the job, and a 36% increase in violent crime at the same time that every other country in the Developed world saw their violent crime fall during the pandemic.

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You seem to be attracted to monocausal explanations. In my experience, life is more complicated than these simplistic models assume.

True, but none of this addresses the role that Gingrich played in destabilizing the U.S. political system.

I disagree. I strongly support principled opposition to wasteful and counterproductive spending, but knee-jerk obstructionism is nothing of the sort. During the Obama administration Republicans routinely opposed policies that they had previously supported solely to deny him political victories and prevent him from winning a second term. Democrats did the same with the COVID relief bill under President Trump. A winner-take-all, zero-sum mentality is dangerously dysfunctional within the American political system. In addition to blocking those rare policies that would be beneficial, it undermines faith in democracy itself and contributes to the kind of toxic hyper-polarization that we’re currently experiencing.

Americans have always been more punitive than citizens of other wealthy countries, largely because of the influence of conservative religious ideologies. While it’s true that the media (especially local media) helped create the “Mean World Syndrome” with an “if-it-bleeds-it-leads” approach to news, fearmongering politicians share the blame. Tough-on-crime candidates regularly bashed their opponents for opposing mandatory sentences and supporting rehabilitation. (This is why Bill Clinton abandoned efforts in his first term to focus more on rehabilitation and got behind the omnibus crime bill instead.) In recent years a bipartisan consensus has developed on the need for criminal justice reform – Trump signed the First Step Act – but that’s likely to be undermined by demagogues who opportunistically exploit the high murder rates in certain cities. Extremist leftists who stand by the self-evidently absurd “Defund the police” slogan are not helping.

As usual, your absolute sense of certainty on complex and contested issues is unwarranted. Problems like crime and climate change are wickedly complicated, as actual experts will acknowledge. There are no simple and obvious solutions – It’s disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

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Here, I think you are mostly right, and I didn’t understand why . But to understand Gingrich in his time and place, you have to understand that with him leading the charge, the Republicans took control of the House for the first time in forty years. They had controlled the Senate off and on under Nixon and Reagan, but the the South still mostly voting Democratic – despite the supposed quote by LBJ that having passed the Civil Rights Act, the Democrats would lose the South for a generation. Gingrich brough the party into control, on the platform that the party stood for something, some philosophical principles, and that it would be consistent where the Democratic coalition of liberal northerners and conservative southerners could talk a good line from either side Gingrich wanted to show that of their mouth in many places, but would always cave to something.

So, having gained control over the Legislative branch, wanted to show that they could do more than just oppose legislation, but that they could oppose the Executive branch of government, and force it to negotiate. And sometimes, to bring negotiation, you have to stake out extreme claims. Gingrich in some ways overreached on that, and made it more personal than it should have been. And when it gets personal, we overlook the complexity of difficult issues, as you suggest. But in his time and place,Gingrich’s goal was to draw distinctions.

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I didn’t say it was the only reason, but it a far more plausible explanation than poverty, which we know from the literature tends to be more likely to specifically cause property crime through crimes of opportunity- but not other forms of crime. Many studies cite inequality as a source of crime, but all of best ones I’ve seen can only show correlation and fail to identify causation.

This is because they are looking at material envy father rather than status envy.

Men don’t get the esteem of their peers unless they work, and they don’t get to mate unless they are well regarded in their peer group- after genetic attractiveness (usually determined through symmetry) the very next thing that women look at when assessing potential lovers and partners is what it the relative status of the male within their group is.

So in some ways it is inequality- but only indirectly, usually the motivation is envy and the perception of a lack of a level playing field or rigged game.

The second study shows that perceptions of unfairness actually feed into lower levels of attainment in maths and reading. Unfortunately this sheds light on the one of the awful consequences of the Obama decision that all disparate rates of discipline in schools should be taken as evidence of systemic racism or implicit bias in teaching actually leads to greater perceptions of unfairness- for the simple reason that if an African American child is not reprimanded for something which white kids are routinely punished for, then they will interpret this as a lack of caring about them.

It also sheds light on the dynamics of different perceptions of academic ability by race (and also the ability of hard work to raise outcomes- which, for children of Chinese immigrants has been shown to be around an additional 15 points worth of IQ in terms of academic outcomes). Not only are Black teachers usually a living example of the power of agency and are thus more likely to able to engage African American children, but white teachers become unwitting participants in a system of social feedback based upon feelings of procedural unfairness and oppression narratives.

Otherwise why do we have state schools like this in the UK, which seem to be able completely overturn all the convenient and easy narratives about race, by creating a perception of fairness and imparting the power of agency:

Newham is the second poorest borough in London and has perennially high crime figures. It is a diverse multi-ethnic community, with high numbers from the Black British demographic and over half of its students on free school meals- yet it outperforms Eton. I would suggest that oppression narratives not only create toxic social feedback systems which depress academic outcomes, but also lead to the perception of a rigged game of which the purest manifestation is the denial of the ability to work, gain status and ultimately access to females. Drug dealers are far more likely to get laid than men who sit around on sofas all day, and long-term unemployment for a male is one of the strongest predictors for divorce and separation from their children.

No. I often express my conclusions in summary form- none of us have the time in the day to explain all our reasoning and evidence.

Look, every politician wants to achieve political power. His observation that the minority wins when Congress achieves nothing was an incredibly astute political observation, and regardless of what you make think of the ethics and morality of the position it was the only solution for a party which was facing political extinction far more early than anyone realises.

Plus, you have to remember that Democrats have an inherent advantage in that they pretend to bribe people with other people’s money. It never works. The Laffer curve may not work in all areas of the economy, but it certainly does with wealth and capital flight. Obama tried taxing Americans overseas assets and the net results were catastrophic- a huge number of people forced to renounce their citizenship and a huge numbers of foreign companies unwilling to trade with Americans, personally or at a corporate level, it they had any means possible of sourcing an alternative supplier or employee. And its ultimately destructive- Swedish revenue from corporation tax and CGT massively outstrips contributions from its American equivalents through inheritance tax, corporation tax and CGT as a portion of revenue to GDP and it had lead to an economy which has grown in leaps and bounds at the same time as America’s has declined.

Most countries in the OECD are honest with their citizens. Tell tell them that if they want more government services or better redistribution then people in the top 40% will have to pay (because taxes can actually be extracted from them) or taxes will need to be raised generally. Although Left wing movements have begun to spin the familiar myth that it is possible to tax the rich at levels which are substantial enough to make any sort of difference, there still exists the generational knowledge and accumulated wisdom to know this is a patently false lie. People retire when pushed to pay taxes beyond a certain threshold, they engage in capital flight and hide their money in offshore accounts, investing them back into productive regions through holding companies. Meanwhile little Sweden proved what was possible in terms of raising living standards, providing social safety nets and generally creating happier stress-free citizens in a climate which was friendly to capital and which encouraged the domestic investment of wealth, without a perennial inclination towards complicated and expensive tax schemes.

Here in the UK, most citizens seem to be willing to spend an additional 1 or 2 pence in taxes per pound on the NHS, but we simply don’t trust the government to spend the money on what we want. If the Democrats were honest with voters by saying we will provide you with universal healthcare, but you will have to pay for it yourself through the introduction of a 10% consumption tax on everything you buy other than essentials like food, then there might be no need for the Republicans to resort to desperate tactics to have a chance at retaining some form of preventative control over the Senate. But the Democrats are not being honest, they persist in the myth that it is possible to tax working capital without profoundly adverse consequences.

Don’t get me wrong. Your system is replete with criminals and scoundrels, who routinely use money to influence politicians (which it more the fault of the political class). Bad actors as a portion of all corporate and high net wealth players, are probably somewhat higher as a percentage than the 5% or so which in common in other Developed countries. It’s your system- all the Democrats had to do to beat Newt Gingrich was promise to find the money to spend on new decent programs by cannibalising the huge levels of bureaucratic and government waste which are so common in your system- but they didn’t. Why? Perhaps because there were too many players within the permanent state who knew where all the bodies were buried.

Republicans cheat, but Democrats lie. It’s the axiomatic truth of American politics. Don’t blame Newt Gingrich for responding to a bad faith argument in kind.

Just as true of Trump and the Democrats as Obama and the Republicans- and the argument that they did it first is one which should be outgrown on the school playground.

I largely agree with this, but its a broader cultural phenomenon. The American ending of A Clockwork Orange springs to mind. In reality, the analysis shows it’s about 50/50- of all violent offenders 50% are irredeemable Dark Triad types, but the other half can be saved.

Well, there is plenty of blame to go around on this one. I greatly admire Larry Krasner for his ethos, but he deferring to graduate kids who don’t know their arm from their elbow on proactive policing or quality of life crimes. New York didn’t stop their proactive policing during their recent industrial dispute- they just stopped the rent-seeking which for some reason has become associated with Broken Windows and Hotspot policing. It’s effectively a tax on the poor, which is generally enforced by politicians threatening budgets and pensions.

The problem is that there are plenty of incredibly good American systems which could be effectively used to change America’s direction Peter Moskos runs a Violence Reduction blog and there is the Centre for Policing Equity which uses police data to overcome the overperception of risk bias which all humans possess, irrespective of race, but the problem is that there isn’t much of media which is willing to elevate moderate and sensible positions- the incentives have become a reflection of social media where the most inflammatory voice in the loudest.

Plus, it was always the politicians and the prosecutors, although I would also suggest that a police officer exercises discretion in who to arrest and charge, and the American imperative to ‘let the courts decide’ is an abdication of responsibility, and a failure of the one of checks and balances against injustice.

My summaries or conclusions. The lead hypothesis doesn’t hold in that we would have seen accompanying in cognitive impairment, which is not in evidence.

Then why did firearms homicides rates rise so precipitously in a period of steadily growing economic opportunity?

RND is not a simple or uncomplicated approach- it is by its very nature complex because it asks us to look at all the possible solution. By comparison deference to existing approaches, such wind or solar or even nuclear are by there very nature the simplistic approach.

Sometimes the answer is to utilise even adapt staid, and what in other circumstances might be considered myopic technologies, for new and exciting applications:

https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/five-things-know-about-desalination#:~:text=The%20process%20involves%20removing%20salt,it%20produces%20pollutes%20coastal%20ecosystems.

That’s what you are pretending, by disingenuously suggesting that my summaries or conclusions aren’t based on an overall evaluation and a good deal of research into some very complex issues.

Plus, I am right. The governments who committed to fund innovation at Paris have fallen well short of their promises to fund innovation, even though in some instances total funding has exceeded the promises of Paris, but with crowd-pleasing approaches which will accomplish little.

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You certainly implied it. If you don’t want to be misunderstood you should consider writing with more nuance.

I agree that this is a significant part of the problem.

Very true. But we do have time to provide links to supporting evidence.

It’s absurd to suggest that the GOP was facing “political extinction.” Before 1992 Republicans had won every presidential election since 1968 with the exception of the post-Watgergate 1972 election. (This was back when they actually won the popular vote in addition to the Electoral College.) The South was well on its way to abandoning the Democratic party in favor of Republicans.

This line is so loaded it made me laugh out loud. One could also say Democrats spend money on social services that actually benefit the people who vote for them instead of spouting populist rhetoric and cutting taxes on the wealthy when they achieve power.

And yet, the economy and employment grew at a healthy rate during Obama’s second term. I don’t have an opinion on the wisdom of that particular policy, but calling it “catastrophic” is obvious hyperbole.

True; if the U.S. wants generous cradle-to-grave social services taxation will need to increase at all (or most) income levels. But the current rates on the wealthy and corporations are low by historical standards, particularly when lobbyist-designed loopholes are taken into account. There’s also a massive amount of waste in the education and health-care systems that could and should be eliminated.

You do know that numerous economists disagree with you about optimal levels of taxation, right? It’s a shame you’re wasting your time writing blog posts that are read by a few dozen people since you seem to understand almost every issue better than experts who have dedicated their lives to studying them!

They’re far more honest than pseudo-populist Republicans like Donald Trump.

Really, Geary? Speculating about conspiracy theories?

You’re fundamentally misunderstanding the impact that Gingrich and politicians like him had on the U.S. political system, perhaps because you’re viewing it from afar through the lens of writers who share your ideological predilections.

Uh, yeah. That’s exactly what I said in my next sentence.

This is a very silly caricature of Krasner’s approach to criminal justice reform. I recommend you view Philly DA for more of the actual story.

True, but the MSM which you frequently pillory has done a far better job than fearmongering conservative outlets.

As you know, gun crime in the U.S. is heavily concentrated in gang-infested urban areas. Economic opportunity takes a different form in these neighborhoods. Moreover, I’m not defending the simplistic thesis that violent crime is driven exclusively by poverty. That’s the point of most of my responses to you: it’s complicated. Far more complicated than you seem willing to acknowledge.

You’re attacking a straw man. Please find me a serious climate scientist who thinks that solar and wind are the sum total of the solution to climate change. Here’s what a nuanced approach looks like:

Research which allows you to understand extremely complicated issues better than experts and justifies confident assertions that you “know” the answer without any qualifications? As I said, if the solutions to all the world’s problems are are clear as you think they are you’re wasting your time writing about the perils of fatherlessness for the 500th time on QC and your Substack. Why not get your ideas published in places where they might have some actual impact, especially since you’re providing definitive answers to wickedly complex problems?

I love your point and would suggest that maybe the “formerly sympathetic” were the “useful idiots” in the theologically liberal versions of Protestantism (anti-American) and Catholicism (soft-headed socialists).

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You may be seeing this writer’s intentions more clearly than me, but the way I initially read this article it seemed to mainly expose the thin priority of Leftists – who finally draw the line in the sand against Ortega over abortion – after having had exceptional forbearance with murder and mayhem and complete lack of traditional civil liberties.

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A good point. For the Molochite Left, it is sacramental; an intolerable blasphemy to contravene it. That the subject exhaust’s Radosh’s account of church/state relations is as lazy as it is bigoted.

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My point is that it is a lie- all the evidence worldwide shows that as taxes rise on the rich, revenue declines. The only exception is Switzerland where they actually have a successful wealth tax. Here the super-wealthy have agreed to pay 0.7% of wealth, as an alternative to tax on income or by other means, but it is administered by cultural voluntary consent amongst the rich- their way of paying their share- whenever a canton decides to raise the wealth tax, the rich all simply pull of stakes move to another canton. The most interesting thing is that they don’t move when the wealth tax is lowered- something to be said for culturally conservative morality I would say.

But generally, the Laffer curve applies to wealth and the rich more than any group. A case in point would be the Trump tax cut- tax rates might have lowered but revenue didn’t. They also didn’t rise. But I would say that was more a function of the Argentinian problem, economically speaking.

I’m sorry that’s just plain wrong. Trump did cut taxes on the middle classes- but only to a moderate extent and only for a time limited period. In the source listed, the Republican party had signalled their intention to extend the 2025 limit. Again, the Laffer curve- although the rate of tax was lowered, tax revenue didn’t decline.

I’ve known people who have been forced to abandon their American citizenship in order to access their retirement plan (selling a small business owned abroad). It not just investments, a large number of foreign companies no longer want anything to do with the roughly 9 million Americans living and working abroad, for the simple reason that American Government has a long history of using ethically inappropriate information sources to advance American companies commercial interests (something not found amongst its staunchest allies- where the pro formo is a blind eye).

Here in the UK we pay about 34% on anything above roughly $1,400 a month up to about 67K at which point it becomes around 42%. In addition, we pay 17.5% on all non-essential goods and services. Finally, we pay on average about $2,500 a year in council tax, our equivalent of property taxes.

You’re talking about a tiny minority of economists who have been popularised by the NYT- you need better sources from the Left- if you were smart you should watch or read Mark Blythe- I may disagree with him on many of his prescriptions, but diagnostically he is bang on the money. If you pay any attention to Paul Krugman or Thomas Piketty then I should call you Linus and ask you where your comforter is. They are by no means mainstream.

I agree with the pseudo part.

Do you really disagree with Pournelle. Office jobs are mainly obsolete. Yet in America you have 600,00 people working in the private insurance industry, 500K of whom only leech off of ordinary Americans health provisions and a significant portion of government which is doing the exact same thing. These are the archaic and unnecessary jobs which make ambulances cost $3K and mothers and daughters share prescriptions for diabetes.

We pay less than you per citizen in taxes and almost everything is free (unless you need a physio). Good God man, it is not the comfortable tropes that you have been fed upon. In other parts of the world there is no need for federal swan scarers, because the airlines are expected to manage the liability themselves- and, yes, Sully would have never been made in another country, and no other country would have allowed pilots pay and benefits to fall so low.

I actually agree with this. It’s fair criticism. But personally I held a certain amount of animus towards Nigel Farage, but in the end I abandoned it because I wanted to understand why people voted for him or his politics. Now, I would have a pint with him and probably still disagree with him! But at least I would do it in a gentlemanly way. I don’t ask you to do the same, only to consider it.

I have watched it! He is right about the parole system, but wrong about a great many other things. His scientific approach is a selective approach which is popular amongst left-leaning sociologists but doesn’t stand the test of the empirical data or the rigour of discomfirmation. This is not an opinion, but rather the practical experience of virtually every country barring America.

To give a little perspective on the other side, I have personally had long conversations with one particular prosecutor on the other side of the debate. His view was that if sentences were overly stringent then it reduced the risk to public safety. This is contrary to my view of justice. In the UK, we charge appropriately (although we could charge less for low risk of violence drug dealers, by about a third).

Larry Krasner has the right motives, but here is the thing- you will not get the economic opportunities you need without quality of life policing. People need to work safely from bar to bar, or restaurant to car- for the simple reason that one of the best jobs you can offer to a kid who has fallen in with the wrong crowd is bar manager or chef! I have actually aided charities with a reform orientated approach, so don’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs until you have personally stopped a young teenager from getting in trouble with the law again.

I don’t like Fox. I am no longer keen on Tim Pool, although I still watch his news, as opposed to opinion channel. Just today I became a paid subscriber to Breaking Points- probably the best single news source is America- for the simple reason that they managed to put a non-Lincoln Project Republican and a Progressive in the same room without killing each other. You probably won’t notice the difference in me for a while. I am stubborn.

I’m not disputing that there are complex issues which define thorny issues. I know it’s not strictly Bayesian, because most people don’t look outside the sample, but my first instinct when I looked at the problems that started to come out of the woodwork after Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin was what happens in the absence of race. That’s why I speak from a position of superior authority, epistemologically speaking, than you.

You need to read up about the Scottish Model and how they managed to turn Glasgow from the Knife Crime Capital of Europe, into Scotland being one of the lowest reporting countries for violence. And you do know that they drink single malt as a sport there. right?

Sorry, if I was a bit off there mate…

I’ve read Drawdown. Although admittedly, when I borrowed from our local library I mainly skimmed and looked to the rankings (for various solutions). They are wrong about the agriculture, but not about the preservation efforts.

I gave you a long sample of the dynamics or status envy- that’s out on a branch, although it’s probably true. Have you ever been unemployed for more than a year? I have. Tony Blair saved me. I had worked in Retail Banking and they shut the one part of it I didn’t loath- the small branch keyholder work that I loved. It was devastating. I stayed unemployed for over a year. But bloody Tony Blair insisted I go on a training course and within six months I was having conversations with directors and senior managers as though I was the next big thing. It turns out that if your IQ is over 150 it’s easier to get up off the mat.

My dad was a Vietnam Vet. He did his twenty. He got made redundant and it made him crazy within six months. He never beat his wife or did anything wrong, but there was one point where they had an argument, he couldn’t find her, he got paranoid, and was intent upon kidnapping us to America so he had a better chance of maintaining custody (only for a couple of hours- but he would have lost anyway, because my mother is a well-spoken English schoolteacher!)

You’ve obviously found your niche. You are comfortable. But don’t be comfortable in applying your own personal experiences to other people. One of the things which surprised me when I was training some of my workforce in basic computing skills was how deeply held some of there cultural ingroup feelings were (it’s not a matter of equality, but fairness). I had to work harder with the language barrier for the Albanian workers, and they thought I was teaching them things that I hadn’t taught them.

Because I don’t want editorial ‘help’. I have had offers, some paying considerably more than the current Quillette terms. I like my discursive approach. I’ve published sonnets (although admittedly not paid) and erotic fiction.

My brain doesn’t fire as well as it should. I cannot always feel the thing that makes me eloquent. I can delve into simplicity. Make it easier for me and for others, but how is that not selling out, when hearing about Icarus, I refuse to reach?

The thing that writing and the search for truth have in common is that they are a forge. Acclaim is not given to the man with the good credentials. It is recognised by others. Ordinary people recognise expertise, but experts ask for more. That’s because to become authorities in their fields they have to be very acute to what is going on elsewhere. I don’t like the types of personal rivalries which occur in academia- I generally confine myself to giving academics a better eating and drinking experience than they sample elsewhere- but I do value their contribution towards society, provided to doesn’t reach the stage where they tells people what type of person is good, and what type of person is not.

No. I never claimed that. But I do cultivate a centre of uncertainty which will make me abandon a position if proved wrong. Very people do that. You don’t. And I have not met a single person on QC who has the same trait towards objective uncertainty as me. I’m a contrarian mate. I’ve been writing about housing oligarchies on Substack! I received a rather similar dogpile to what you and JackB used to receive for that particular kettle of fish.

The reason why I anger you such much mate, is because I am dangerously misinformed on certain issues, and by normal conditions to your own culture, you should won me over by now.

You fundamentally misunderstand my motives for being here, I don’t want to win the fight, I want to solve it.

Because I am not a good enough writer, yet. It’s not an aptitude you know- it’s a skill that occasionally clicks into place- although some people are more capable than others. If you look at the most accomplished intellectuals, speaking publicly, they all follow the comfortable terrain of a script, or a precis for their work. The best interviewer I’ve seen is Coleman Hughes, funnily enough- because he has the habit of actually reading every work by a writer and then attacking from an oblique angle from the past.

This is my sandbox. I was not ready to write on Substack. I can hit it once or twice per dozen times, but I put myself out there too early.

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I love you really, mate! :heart_eyes:

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The problem with the revolutionary Marxists and their successors that dog them every time they come within a cooee of overthrowing the big end of THEIR town, is that the only class they ever represent is themselves; i.e., a class of socially, educationally and economically insulated small vendor, professional services and stipended administrator/bureaucrats and pedagogues, who are the rules and process bound petty bourgeoisie, that think they can do better than their more entrepreneurial and grander regime cousins.

This group is informed by petty bourgeois fantasies of class, whether worker or peasant, that they would never normally socialize with, but whose dealings with ‘the oppressed’ is always in the NAME of high sounding ideological clichés of ‘struggle’, ‘suffering’, ‘victimhood’, ‘justice’ and whathaveyou at the hands of their ruling class senior cousins, whose perfidies they immediately replicate with the only mechanism they really understand…crushing bureaucracy and administrative fiat, 5 year plans that are always 5 years out of date and notable only for the things they failed to take into account right from the beginning…which you would expect from people who lacked the entrepreneurial skill to make it into the top ranks of the ancien regime in the first place…and who wouldn’t ordinarily make it as cashiers in a small town general store.

Even under mafioso capitalism in Russia, where they weren’t fussed about incorporating elements of the old order, admitting that you had once been a 5 year plan manager might get you a job in garden maintenance for people who not only know how to screw people, but actually make money doing it at the same time.

This is not to say that petty bourgeois ideological fantasies are untrue per se. All regimes are populated at the top level by sociopathically cunning bastards who screw anyone who shows the slightest sign of weakness. But what gives some legitimate truth value to the petty bourgeois myths is when the Big End of Town loses perspective as to what fundamentally keeps it in power. The first is a minimally robust, coherent, competent, consistent and sufficient administration of power and its narrative of regime legitimacy. The second is to deliver just enough material resources down to the lowest and poorest cohort, to keep them going at some semblance of normality, no matter how miserable that might be.

There is no class struggle and mass discontent within regimes that deliver the basics. It doesn’t need to be ‘fair’, ‘just’ or particularly ‘benign’, just as long as the meek and humble keep their noses above water often enough not to feel they have nothing left to lose… Those regimes only need a security system that weeds out petty bourgeois agitators who are unrepresentative swill anyway. But if the regime doesn’t deliver the basics for too long (mass populations are pretty forgiving), those agitator propagandists get traction fast, enabling them to create/facilitate/organize ‘mass struggle’ out of the myth of it.

When we think of all the revolutions we have to come to know and love, in France, Russia and China, all of the ancien regimes failed first, either as result of chronic incompetence, malfeasance and mass exasperation, and/or chaotic regime collapse, as a result of disastrous wars… which gave any agitator with a good line and a bit of organization a free kick in front of goal.

In the case of Nicaragua, the Sandanistas only got a shot at overthrowing the Samoza family because of popular exasperation with 40 years of its blind greed, nepotism, grand larceny and an even grander incompetence, only matched by the last Bourbon absolute ruler of France. The Nicaraguans would have supported Alfred E Newman (What, me worry?) if he could have plausibly offered them an escape from the Samozas.

And exactly the same thing has happened in Nicaragua as has happened everywhere else once the ancien regime finally collapses, when a bunch of guys whose main claim to fame has been the easy bit; you know, rousing speeches and getting rid of a hated dictatorship, but find themselves riding the tiger, which is really hard. The wretched place was in pieces like Humpty Dumpty and putting it back together again required not just pedestrian administration, but brilliance, innovation, skill, focus, discipline, good instincts and endless amounts of very hard work, done by people at the very top of their game; not some cabal of school teachers and petty bureaucrats!.

But these new regime apparatchiks aren’t stupid either. They sooner or later work out that all that high flown rhetoric wasn’t going to get them or the country out of the shit, that they weren’t really up to the job, couldn’t manage all the many and often contradictory variables and naturally, as time went by, their position started to look vulnerable and increasingly unstable…particularly if it doesn’t occur to them to do what the more pragmatic revolutionaries do, which is is to deal with devil capitalism and leave the economy to people who actually know what they are doing…

There is no disappointment greater than one that has been borne on high hopes and the Sandanistas did what they all do when reality catches up with them, which is to ‘consolidate’, suppress dissidents and concentrate entirely on hanging onto power…whose inevitable effect is to complete the suite with all the nest feathering you would expect…to produce a regime that is just like all the others that people like the Sandinistas like to overthrow…which means more secret police and all the rest of the paraphernalia of repression in the name of justice, peace and liberation of the people…

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True. That’s one of the reasons I support a Canadian-style single-payer health system.

Interesting!

Fair enough, but (IMHO) your writing would be more effective if you acknowledged some of that uncertainty when making your arguments. FWIW, I’ve abandoned quite a few positions over the past six or seven years. I used to be a fairly doctrinaire progressive but I’ve moved right (on some issues) in response to (1) the self-destructive excesses of Wokeism and (2) the influence of center-right never-Trump conservatives, whom I now read and listen to on a regular basis.

I have no expectation of ever convincing anyone of anything by debating online!

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