As the tide of war turned decisively against Imperial Japan in 1944, the powers that be needed someone to fill an ignominious interim and then leave. They installed Yoshijirō Umezu as the final Chief of the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff. A year later, Emperor Hirohito sent him to be one of two Japanese to endure the supreme humiliation of signing the instrument of unconditional surrender to the victorious barbarians aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. He was then shunted off to the reserves, followed in short order by Sugamo Prison as a war criminal and death from rectal cancer. In just two years, he had gone from leader of one of the world’s most formidable fighting forces to an intentionally forgotten nobody dying of ass cancer.
As his presidency collapses around him, Joe Biden should consider Umezu and whether he can avoid the entirety of his ignominious fate. If Biden doubts what the future holds, he need only consider his vice president, whose image may soon adorn the side of milk cartons as a missing person, wisely trying to separate herself from any more of the administration’s failures. An even greater signal came from Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), who has imperiled what is left of the Democrats’ legislative agenda. Last week, Manchin took to the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal to announce he would not support throwing several trillion dollars more on the nation’s credit card, at least not without a compelling reason. He wrote:
I, for one, won’t support a $3.5 trillion bill, or anywhere near that level of additional spending, without greater clarity about why Congress chooses to ignore the serious effects inflation and debt have on existing government programs.
Manchin noted that we cannot know what crises lay ahead, and might want to have some financial reserve left for the inevitable rainy day. He further observed: “An overheating economy has imposed a costly ‘inflation tax’ on every middle- and working-class American.”—a criticism that takes direct aim at the reckless monetary policy being run by Biden and his Federal Reserve Chairman, Jerome Powell (another winner appointed to high office by Donald Trump).
In a Senate evenly divided between the two parties, Manchin’s defection well in advance of when Congress returns to consider more blowout spending must come as a shock. It wouldn’t have happened if Biden’s popularity and standing hadn’t cratered, and is indicative of the magnitude of the crisis. While Manchin has differed from other Democrats on cultural issues, getting a West Virginia Democrat to support more federal spending usually isn’t hard. Furthermore, Manchin does not face reelection until 2024, which is long after voters usually would remember an objectionable vote over spending.
What Manchin knows is that Biden isn’t likely to last until 2024. The 78-year-old president cannot recover from disasters of this year, and will lose more altitude as the economy stalls from his mismanagement of the pandemic and the coming shock of tax hikes Democrats will insert into the 2022 budget they will pass this fall. The Afghanistan crisis isn’t going away either. The fight for power and survival post-Biden starts now, not in 2023 or 2024.
Congressional Democrats, who are the real power in the Biden-Harris administration, want Biden to stick around through next year’s midterm elections, in which Democrats are likely to lose the House of Representatives to Republicans. Then, tarred by humiliation abroad, Obama-style economic stagnation at home, and defeat for his party the polls, Biden can be pushed from the stage. Harris could take office in the hope that a fresh president and a year of doing presidential things would position her better for 2024. Alternatively, the untalented Harris may also be given the boot from the 2024 ticket, but in today’s racialist Democrat Party, that can only be achieved if another black woman takes her place. Keep an eye on Stacey Abrams, who last year was the de facto boss of Georgia.
Biden can limit this historic humiliation by leaving office sooner. Some 78-year-olds have surprising degrees of stamina and mental strength, but Biden is not one of them. He could wait for a decent interval after the Afghanistan fiasco and depart early in the new year, citing the strains of the job. However this outcome seems unlikely. Those who prop up Biden, much like the geriatric Soviet leaders who preceded Mikhail Gorbachev, don’t want to lose their grip on power, and certainly don’t want reform. These people range from Biden’s own cruel family to his White House senior staff, who will never again have such power, to congressional radicals, who are setting the Washington agenda independently of the weakened presidency to a degree unseen since the post-Watergate era.
That likely pushes Biden’s departure to early 2023, after the reality of a partially or completely Republican-run Congress sinks in, should one be elected. If that happens, the Democrats’ agenda will be mostly dead, and all of the Biden-Harris administration’s executive actions will come under withering congressional scrutiny. Why stick around? Harris’s ability at that point to salvage the 2024 presidential contest at least into the margin of election fraud is highly doubtful. It seems America is set to chalk up yet another failed presidency among the many of recent decades.
What about the Senate?
Showing again how good he is at missing the point, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell made headlines by rejecting the notion that Congress would impeach Joe Biden for wrecking American power globally through incompetence in Afghanistan. No duh, Mitch. Math is hard but not that hard. McConnell thought he was being very clever by pivoting to invite voters angry at Biden to provide McConnell once again with more undeserved power by winning midterm elections. That outcome probably won’t get us a border wall, less spending, the deportation of illegal aliens, or taking the fight to wokeistas across our society, but it will get McConnell a bigger office and spotlight. The phrase “happy as a pig in shit” comes to mind.
It is unclear if Senate Republicans understand the degree to which McConnell is hated among many rank-and-file Republicans and most Republican activists. Those who win elections for Republicans on the ground do not merely see McConnell as a disappointment or tale of woe; they actually hate his guts. Furthermore, polls show that McConnell is detested by more than just activists, with net disapproval greater than any other major political figure of either party. The 79-year-old, who has been the top Senate Republican for fifteen years, may be a significant drag on Republicans taking control of the Senate through a net gain of one or more seats in next year’s elections.
Wherever the balance of power between parties settles after the elections, McConnell will find himself in a Republican caucus that is more activist, with fewer squish members who talk tough at home and vote the right way on engineered votes that don’t affect the real world, but who basically just attend things in Washington, DC. The fictional Colorado governor in South Park’s Season Nine could be modeled on them: “I just wanted a big house and lots of respect. I didn’t want this kind of responsibility.”
Recent years have seen new blood like Tennessee’s two Republican senators, Bill Hagerty and Marsha Blackburn, both of whom replaced country club Republicans, join activists from the Tea Party classes of 2010 and 2012. Rick Scott of Florida is another star. Activist Republicans have a solid shot at replacing retiring Republicans in states like Ohio and North Carolina and unseating squish Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. In Wisconsin, incumbent Republican Senator Ron Johnson could prove through reelection that the way to win in swing states is by standing on principle, fighting the Left unapologetically, and energizing activists. In 2020, nice guy Cory Gardner tried the alternative in Colorado and got creamed.
One wild card is California, which holds a recall election on September 14. Recent polls have incumbent Democrat Gavin Newsom with an edge, but accurately polling an unusual, off-year recall election during a pandemic is far from easy. If Larry Elder, a black conservative intellectual with populist skill, succeeds Newsom, it would be the biggest political earthquake in California since tax-limiting Prop 13 passed in 1978. It is the clearest choice between Right and Left in California since Barbara “Don’t Call Me Ma’am” Boxer prevailed over Bruce Herschensohn in 1992. An Elder victory would also instantly make him a candidate for the presidency in 2024; in fact, even a close loss would put him in contention. If he were to win, there is a strong chance he could appoint a Republican to succeed Senator Dianne Feinstein, the 88-year-old liberal who is harder to find than Vice President Harris, fueling speculation about her health.
Another Californian putting steel on target is Robert O’Brien, the former National Security Advisor. I hosted O’Brien at an event at the Center for the National Interest. We covered numerous topics from Afghanistan to China to the semiconductor wars. In response to a question about a hyper-woke, anti-US statement put out by Secretary of State Tony Blinken, O’Brien said: “That sounds like something our POWs used to have to read in self-denunciation at the Hanoi Hilton.” Between O’Brien and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Republicans have themselves the extreme rarity of national security figures who aren’t trying to be Henry Kissinger, Part Deux.
Speaking of departures
Happy Labor Day, or as I like to think of it, Capital Day. After all, the production function tells us that Q=f(K,L), and why should labor get all of the glory since capital comes first?
We’re at the point of the bubble cycle where the only thing that seems to matter is Fed policy. Profits, unemployment, consumer sentiment, and prices matter some, but investors and commentators seem overwhelmingly seized with how long the Fed will keep feeding us the drug of loose money. And rightly so: reckless government policy has crowded out the regular functioning of finance. Thus, last week’s news that new jobs came in much lower than expected and a lower unemployment rate indicates people have permanently left the workforce was greeted with relief by markets. In the long term, it foretells a return to Obama-Biden stagnation, but in the near term it implies the Fed will further delay any real tightening of monetary policy. (The media can echo the government lie about inflation not biting, but they weren’t fooling an angry lady whom a friend saw vocally blaming Biden for starkly higher meat prices at Costco.)
Still twisting in the wind is the architect of the greatest dollar printing exercise in history, the aforementioned Trump-installed Jerome Powell. He reminds us of Janet Reno, who in Bill Clinton’s second term was the last cabinet secretary to be told she could remain in office. Bubba’s White House was wisely extracting a promise from her never to appoint another independent counsel for any reason whatsoever (too bad Trump used morons instead of Bubba’s personnel people). Reno reluctantly acquiesced. With Powell, there is no hesitance: while he was astutely independent of the Trump White House, even shaving a point off of GDP in 2019 to give the Democrats a fighting chance, he is an eager lieutenant to all who might give him orders under the new regime. It may not work: Biden needs his progressive base and that base doesn’t like white men.
Separately, Biden’s charm and “America is back” diplomacy are still failing to work on another target: OPEC and its larger OPEC+ grouping. With prices for regular-grade gas surging to $4.40 per gallon in California (more expensive than even Hawaii, which has no production and only one small refinery), Biden’s energy people are feeling some heat to do something. OPEC politely declined to alter its plan to increase production by 400,000 barrels-per-day each month. Biden officials released 1.5 million barrels from the national reserve—a minor blip for a country that consumes 18 million barrels on any given day. Biden officials also opened 80 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico to drilling to comply with a court order stopping the government from halting the leases. But in announcing the decision, the Interior Department added ominously: “additional analysis of climate change may be a significant consideration in the Department’s decisions regarding oil and gas leasing programs in the future.” Will this hostility deter investors? Probably.
Nuke the whales
In answer to a question from a smitten Lisa Simpson as to why he had a poster that urged, “Nuke the Whales,” Nelson Muntz said, “I dunno, gotta nuke something.”
Lisa’s response: “Touché.”
It is perhaps in this spirit that North Korea has restarted its plutonium-producing reactor at Yongbyon. This is the same reactor that was supposedly disabled permanently when Condi Rice and Chris Hill paid North Korea to put on a big show of blowing up a cooling tower. The tower was irrelevant to operating the reactor, which was restarted the year later. (At the State Department at the time, one of Christiane Amanpour’s producers at pointless CNN was irritated at my skepticism of the North Korean move: “But Christiane has been there and seen the dismantled equipment.” I doubted Christiane’s knowledge of reactor design, even though she is Iranian.) It has become one of a few reliable options for Pyongyang when it wants attention, the others being nuclear tests, missile tests, or conventional military provocations of South Korea.
This step seems like a pretty obvious reaction to Biden weakness. In addition to the fiasco in Afghanistan, Biden has gone thought at least six rounds of begging the Iranians to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal that heavily favors Tehran. Pyongyang logically asks if sanctions relief and payola are flowing for the mullahs, why not get in on the action?
The reactor restart is mostly irrelevant from a strategic standpoint. One reason we all love the isotope plutonium-239, one of just two paths to a nuclear weapon, is that it has a half-life of more than 24,000 years. Once you have enough, you can quit making it, because it lasts forever. That is why the USA shut down its last reactor used primarily for plutonium production at Hanford in early 1987, before anyone thought the Cold War would soon end.
But don’t expect Biden officials merely to yawn at the development and move on. Instead, the temptation to engage in talks with North Korea may be too great. They are still befuddled that Trump was more successful than any post-Cold War president in dealing with North Korea. In fact, Biden officials have been trying to engage North Korea since the beginning of the administration, but Pyongyang has ignored the requests. Likely reeling from coronavirus, North Korea probably wanted to put some more chips on its side of the table before beginning negotiations. Diplomacy ahoy!
Meanwhile, Japan, which will select a new Prime Minister on September 29, is doing something the USA has not seriously done despite decades of promises: increase the real quantity of military power in the Western Pacific. According to the South China Morning Post, Japan is likely to increase its defense spending again to nearly $50 billion. While this is still in line with long-standing unofficial practice of spending just one percent or so of GDP on defense, it will lead to more high-tech fighter planes, warships, and satellites deterring China—something the USA, with its bloated $750 billion defense budget and expertise in sucking at counter-insurgency in backwaters, never seems to produce. Biden told the nation that the U.S. collapse in Afghanistan would pave the way to focusing on threats like China, but this is almost certainly untrue: the Obama-Biden administration promised the same after Biden orchestrated a failed withdrawal from Iraq in 2010 that paved the way for ISIS to emerge, and the Pacific ended up with a few new ballyhooed pieces of junk like the Littoral Combat Ship, as more capable platforms were quietly retired or scrubbed.
We complain that NATO members seldom meet the two percent of GDP they promised to spend on defense, but one wonders what the post-modern wimps of Old Europe would do with their military if they spent two or five or event ten percent of GDP. Buy fancier uniforms and zero-emission tanks? Japan at one percent produces more real-word effect, and there are quiet discussions in Tokyo about rising above that traditional one-percent level.
Mediocrity of the week
When we think of mediocrities, we just can’t quit Mark Milley, the top uniformed solider and another winner hired by Donald Trump. With the heat on in Washington for the Army brass’s epic fail at the one thing they’re supposed to know how to do, Milley headed to Germany, headquarters of U.S. European Command and for some reason Africa Command. Before the recent unpleasantness, Milley was there in July to talk up yet another near-irrelevance, Atlantic Command, saying: “It is the mission of this command to fight the battle of the Atlantic” and allow shipments to reach Europe in a war. This refutes that adage that militaries prepare to fight the last war, since that was actually several wars ago. But in selecting priorities, our Congress and military can only ever choose “all of the above.” Today’s military does things poorly, but it does a lot of them.
This time in Germany, Milley made the bold prediction that Afghanistan would descend into civil war and soon play host to al Qaeda. Note that Milley’s opinions don’t just originate in his brilliant mind, but are informed by our $80 billion-per-year intelligence bureaucracy. You should take Milley’s prediction as potentially good news: it almost certainly means that there will not be a civil war in Afghanistan and that al Qaeda will not reemerge there. Milley is a strong contrarian indicator. Indeed, he has helped ensure the Taliban gets unitary control of Afghanistan by providing them with an air force and billions of dollars’ worth of other materiel. Sure enough, the Wall Street Journal reports today that the Taliban may have conquered the last pockets of resistance in the country. Milley the unifier!
If you watch South Park or have visited Denver with kids, you probably know about Casa Bonita, the Mexican restaurant with an indoor cliff diving show and little flags you raise when you want a waiter. The pandemic has hit the restaurant hard, which filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. Now, South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who made an entire episode about the restaurant, have come to the rescue, telling Colorado’s governor they plan to buy the place. An article reporting the news said a recent $900 million deal with ViacomCBS for six more seasons of South Park has given the two f—k you money to spend. Actually, they’ve had that at least since inking a $500 million deal to rent their library to HBO in 2019. South Park fans will have to make due with only a modest number of episodes per year, but can be grateful that Casa Bonita lives on indefinitely. The Viacom deal also requires them to produce 14 features for its Paramount+ streaming property.
Have a great week.