Our So-Called Foreign Policy: Globalists are Pushing for Anti-Jihadist Endless Wars in Africa

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I started off my new article for The National Interest on America’s lost global lead in semiconductor manufacturing with the observation that “One of the leading features, and weakness[es], of globalist U.S. foreign policy has been the tendency to look mainly to foreign policy to solve problems that domestic policy could likely handle better. That’s because all else equal, conditions at home are much easier to change and control than conditions overseas.”

And one of my examples was “To eradicate, or at least reduce, jihadist terrorism, administrations from both parties mired the nation in costly and protracted foreign wars rather than secure the homeland.”

Little did I expect that the very same day this piece appeared, a front page article in the Washington Post would make clear that although the America First-oriented Trump administration has at least partly learned this lesson, the bipartisan, globalist U.S. foreign policy Blob, (which will return to power if Democratic candidate Joe Biden becomes President, and which contains many Mainstream Media journalists who faithfully serve as its mouthpieces) remains clueless.

The headline alone clinches both these cases: “ISIS attacks surge in Africa even as Trump boasts of a ‘100-percent’ defeated caliphate.”

It’s clear purposes – to spotlight a major broken Trump promise, and to whip up fears that the same kinds of jihadists who have attacked the United States are alive and kicking despite the President’s boasts, and that his ego and blockheaded isolationist foreign policy impulses will only ensure that this threat will keep metastasizing if he remains in office.

After all, “The rise in violence comes as the Trump administration moves to slash U.S. troop deployments and threatens to curtail support for local governments on the front lines of the battle against Islamist militants. The White House is considering steeper cutbacks in U.S. military forces in Africa, despite warnings from some analysts that the reductions could further hamper efforts to check the extremists’ advance.”

Worse, readers are told, the President has been repeating this mistake elsewhere: Despite performing well in killing jihadist leaders, and tightening “the noose on [ISIS] followers in Iraq and Syria, other White House policies undermined the effort to defeat violent Islamist militant ideology globally, according to …counterterrorism experts.”

Specifically, “Trump surprised his own security advisers by twice announcing — and then reversing — a decision to unilaterally withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, signaling an abandonment of U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters who were still battling thousands of Islamic State militants who fled as the caliphate was crumbling.”

And the icing on this cake of failures: Mr. Trump’s “anti-Islam rhetoric and ban on Muslim immigrants handed the militants a propaganda win, reinforcing a ‘fundamental al-Qaeda message, which is that America is against Islam’” as one of these experts contended.

Leaving aside the fact that the immigrants ban wasn’t on Muslims, but on individuals from terror-prone countries, these establishment authorities have it completely backward and the President’s generally America First-y approach is the commonsensical and strategically sound route to follow.

Unless you, like they, think that U.S. advisers or forces or whatever should spend the indefinite future running around failed regions of the world trying to stamp out the extremist factions that keep popping up precisely because of their homelands’ chronically dysfunctional conditions? And that since this strategy has worked so well in the Middle East, it’s now time to reenact it in Africa, where circumstances may be even worse? Because the continent is “already beset by poverty, corruption and the novel coronavirus”?

In fact, as America First-ers recognize, it’s precisely because Africa’s countries are (to quote the Post article) “ill-equipped to fight insurgencies that are well-armed and geographically dispersed” – or to perform as effective governments in just about any way – that Trump travel ban-like and other border security measures represent America’s best hopes by far for ensuring that Africa’s jihadist problems don’t become U.S. jihadist problems. This America First approach, by contrast, can only mire the nation in a new series of futile Endless Wars in one of the world’s least promising theaters.

And to complete this portrait of foreign policy Upside Down World, the biggest mistake in this regard that Mr. Trump has made has been his eager adoption of the globalist goal of defeating ISIS “100 percent” – and presumably eliminating jihadist threats for good with military shock and awe.

Instead, as I’ve written, he should have focused on U.S. borders all along – or at least portrayed continuing anti-terrorist military involvement in the Middle East and elsewhere as a bridge to the time when they become secur enough to keep out jihadists et al however active they are abroad.

The oft-quoted Serenity Prayer begins this way:

“God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can; 
and wisdom to know the difference.”

That’s logic that’s hard to argue with – and evidence that whoever wrote it would have been an America First-er today.

Making News: New Magazine Article (Again) Debunks the Trump-as-Phony-Populist Claim

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I’m pleased to announce that a new article of mine has just been published in The American Conservative. It updates a piece I wrote last year for this magazine, and reports that, as then, official U.S. data indicate that President Trump’s administration has worked out well economically for most of the middle- and working-class voters in his base who bet that he’d be a genuine champion of their interests.

And keep checking in with RealityChek for news of media appearances and other developments.

(What’s Left of) Our Economy: A Curious Trade War Omission from the New York Fed

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If you were writing an economics blog item for a major government institution in America, and your subject was a trend that for two years now has been a major controversy in America, wouldn’t you include information on how that trend actually was affecting America?

Not apparently if you’re Hunter L. Clark, and you work for the New York branch of the Federal Reserve system – which hasn’t exactly been shy about weighing in on this controversy (President Trump’s tariffs on China) before (See, e.g., here and here.) Even more unusual: that previous New York Fed contribution to the trade war debate had emphatically concluded that the President’s policies have been an abject failure. Had this new item presented U.S.-relevant data, the clear conclusion would have been that the trade war has succeeded in at least one crucial respect.

Specifically, in a post last Friday, Clark wrote on how China’s export performance so far this year has been “supercharged” by the CCP Virus pandemic (which of course originated in one of its major cities).

Clark also noted various (convincing) reasons that this surge might be temporary, and even observed that some other counties had actually out-performed China export-wise. But China’s exports to the United States – which of course the tariffs (along with the rest of the President’s trade policies) aimed to curb and ultimately reduce) – went completely unmentioned. And that’s an awfully odd omission because combining Clark’s figures with readily available U.S. Census data shows that this wave of China export increases completely missed the United States.

According to Clark, compared with the same quarters last year, China’s overall goods exports this year “slightly increased in the second quarter and are currently forecast to grow by close to 6 percent in the third and fourth quarters of this year.” He italicized “increased” because forecasts generally expected a ten percent decline in Chinese overseas sales during these periods.

But despite that slight increase in China’s global merchandise exports between the second quarter of 2019 and the second quarter of 2020, during that year, official U.S. data show that these exports to the United States fell by 6.67 percent. And in contrast to the six percent improvement in China’s worldwide exports between the third quarter of 2019 and the third quarter of this year, its exports to the United States were down by 2.98 percent.

Also relevant to the trade war debate – did the Trump tariffs simply result in shifting the makeup of U.S. imports from China to other countries, therefore accomplishing nothing (at best) economically for the nation according to one of the Trump’s (and Trumpers’) favorite scorecards? Clark more reasonably doesn’t investigate this question, but the official American data make the Trump record look awfully good according to this standard, too.

As known by RealityChek regulars, the best global proxy for U.S.-China goods trade is U.S. non-oil China goods trade, and that’s especially true on the import side, since the United States buys no oil from China. And the numbers for this “Made in Washington” import flow (so named because commerce in these goods is strongly influenced by government trade policy) make clear that, whatever import shifting has taken place hasn’t prevented overall U.S. purchases of these foreign products from falling also.

Between the second quarter of 2019 and the second quarter of 2020, they fell by a whopping 18.92 percent. Since the U.S. September trade figures won’t be out until early next month, full third quarter results aren’t yet available. But on a July-August basis, these global Made in Washington imports were off by 2.13 percent.

These subjects, moreover, clearly are of more than academic or political score-settling interest. Despite facing the same CCP Virus-induced disruptions as the rest of the economy, domestic manufacturing – which is heavily exposed to Chinese and other foreign competition – has held up well. In inflation-adjusted terms, it’s production from its February peak through September is down just over six percent. Employment has been relatively resilient, too, along with capital spending.

Imagine how much worse its troubles would have been if it experienced the kind of Chinese export flood that’s washed over other economies. Indeed, this counter-factual seems eminently worthy of study. Including by the New York Fed.

Making News: New Article Spotlights America’s Second-Rate Semiconductor Manufacturing

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I’m pleased to report that a new article of mine has just been published in the November-December, 2020 issue of The National Interest. The focus: America’s loss of its longtime global lead in manufacturing semiconductors. Given the central role played by microchips to the constantly acclerating information technology revolution, this setback threatens both the nation’s prosperity and its security — especially since the world’s most advanced semiconductors are now produced a grand total of 100 miles from China.

Click here to read.

And keep checking in with RealityChek for news of upcoming media appearances and other developments.

Im-Politic: Some History Lessons for Virus Policymakers

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Once the CCP Virus began taking a major toll on American lives and the nation’s economy, I became aware of an historical comparison that I found as astounding and revealing as it’s been widely ignored. Today, months later, I’m still astounded by it, and it remains widely ignored. It’s the mind-boggling-by-any-measure contrast between the way that the current pandemic has been generally viewed and handled, and the way an even deadlier pandemic was handled between late 1968 and the winter of 1970.

That earlier disease outbreak was called the Hong Kong flu (after its supposed origin point), and according to U.S government health agencies, it killed about 100,000 Americans. And the reason I’ve found this fact astounding and revealing is that although this fatality number is just under half that currently attributed to the CCP Virus (218,000), as a share of the U.S. population then, it was only slightly lower. The actual numbers? In 1968, the fatality rate was 0.050 percent (in a population of 200.71 million). Today, it’s 0.066 percent (in a population of 330.47 million).

And even so, the economy and major institutions like schools were left almost completely open. I was in my mid-teens, and I don’t even remember any mention of it – and I was the kind of kid of read newspapers and watched the evening news. And my memory seems pretty accurate, as here’s the historical account that I’ve found whose descriptions of curbs and impacts that were put in place are the most extensive:

“All 50 states experienced increased school absenteeism during the pandemic; 23 faced school and college closures and 31 saw elevated worker absenteeism….

“Newspaper articles chronicled the widespread college closures, slowdowns in business and industry, and threats to Christmas mail deliveries. In December, the Apollo 8 astronauts were vaccinated to protect them from pandemic influenza in advance of their December 21 moon-orbiting flight, and President [Lyndon B.] Johnson was hospitalized with a respiratory infection that his aides said ‘could be called the flu.’ National concerns were reflected in a December 19 New York Times editorial describing the pandemic as ‘one of the worst in the nation’s history,’ bemoaning the ‘amount of discomfort and distress suffered by the millions who have already been hit,’ and the potential for ‘billions of dollars’ associated with treatment and lost productivity.”

Moreover, because the widespread shutdown and lockdown and stay-at-home route wasn’t taken, it’s more than reasonable to assume that collateral public health damage was minimized as well. That’s especially important because treatments for serious physical and mental health problems were so much less advanced back then. And of course, for all the New York Times‘ understandable economic concerns, growth and employment and overall living standards were barely affected.

These diseases are by no means identical. For example, the Hong Kong flu was particularly likely to hit school-age children – roughly the opposite of the CCP Virus pattern, in which seniors have been by far the most vulnerable.

But it seems fair to express the difference between the anti-pandemic strategies of today and yesteryear in this way: During the late-1960s, the federal and state and local governments let life proceed pretty much as normal, and although about 100,000 died, both non-virus public health damage (including deaths) and economic distress were minimized. Nowadays, much of the economy and other institutions (including schools) have been closed for varying periods and many remain closed today, and although the recorded death rate is virtually identical, the non-virus public health damage has been extensive, and the nation is struggling to climb out of its worse economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Without dismissing the need for precautionary and preventive measures (focusing on those most vulnerable,, to be sure), it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that viewed holistically – as is essential – the U.S. CCP Virus approach, as ragged as it’s been, has enabled the perfect to be the enemy of the good.

(What’s Left of) Our Economy: Has the U.S. Seen Peak Manufacturing Output for the Virus Era?

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Today’s monthly Federal Reserve report on U.S. manufacturing production was full of surprises, but not enough were of the good kind. And with signs of economic slowing on the rise, the new figures – for September – could mean that, for the time being, industry’s relative out-performance during the pandemic era will begin weakening markedly as well.

The surprises start with the overall figure for the September monthly change in inflation-adjusted output for American factories. Despite an abundance of encouraging data from so-called soft surveys like those issued by the private Institute for Supply Management and the Fed system’s regional banks (see, e.g., here) real manufacturing production dropped by 0.29 percent sequentially. The decrease was the first since April, when national economic activity as a whole bottomed due to the spread of the CCP Virus and resulting shutdowns and stay-at-home orders.

The biggest bright spot in the report came from the upward nature of most revisions. August’s initially reported 0.96 percent monthly gain is now judged to have been 1.13 percent. The July result was upgraded from 3.97 percent to 4.30 percent. And June’s previous 7.64 percent improve was reduced to 3.61 percent. Further, these advances built on similar upward revisions that accompanied last month’s Fed report for August.

In fact, the revisions effect was strong enough to leave domestic industry’s cumulative after-inflation production performance during the virus-induced downturn better than the Fed’s estimate from last month. As of that industrial production report (for August), manufacturing constant dollar production had fallen 6.39 percent from its levels in February – the final month before the pandemic began impacting the economy. Today’s new September release now pegs that decline at only 5.81 percent, and even the monthly September decrease left it at 6.08 percent.

Nevertheless, the breadth of the September monthly decrease in overall price-adjusted manufacturing output unmistakably disappointed. Yes, the automotive sector (vehicles and parts combined) saw its on-month production tumble by 4.01 percent. But in contrast to most of the manufacturing data during the CCP Virus period, automotive didn’t move the overall manufacturing needle much, as real output ex-auto rose only fractionally in September.

Also discouraging –and unexpected, considering the good recent capital spending data reported by the Census Bureau (see, e.g., the “nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft” numbers for new orders in Table 5 in this latest release) – was the 0.41 inflation-adjusted production decline in the big machinery sector following five months of growth.

And even though the U.S. housing sector has been booming during the recession, real output of furniture also slumped for the first time in six months (by 0.96 percent), while price-adjusted household appliances production was down 4.99 percent after its own good five-month run.

As indicated by today’s revisions, these glum September manufacturing output figures could be upgraded in the coming months. Yet given the CCP Virus’ return – which will at best greatly complicate the challenge of maintaining recovery momentum for industry and the entire national economy – no one can reasonably rule out the possibility that, for now, Americans have seen peak post-virus manufacturing production.

Glad I Didn’t Say That! Should Working-Class Whites Really Trust Biden?

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“The president can only see the world from Park Avenue. “I see it from Scranton [Pennsylvania]….”

-Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden, quoted on October 14, 2020

“A lot of White working-class Democrats thought we forgot them and didn’t pay attention. I want them to know . . . I get it. I get their sense of being left behind [during his eight years as Vice President].”

–Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden, quoted on October 14, 2020

(Source: “How Joe Biden — yes, Joe Biden — could revolutionize American politics.” by E.J. Dionne, The Washington Post, October 14, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/how-joe-biden–yes-joe-biden–could-revolutionize-american-politics/2020/10/14/b5d6abf2-0e4d-11eb-8074-0e943a91bf08_story.html)

(What’s Left of) Our Economy: The Public Outscores the Experts on China Trade Policy

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So many big takeaways from a new poll on U.S. and global attitudes toward China and U.S. China policy (both the economic and national security dimensions), I hardly know where to begin! But if I could only write a lede paragraph for a single news article (or blog item), here’s what I’d say: The American public is a great deal more sensible on how to deal with the People’s Republic than so-called “thought leaders.” And what I mean by “more sensible” is more “America First-y” and less globalist.

The survey was conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank not only squarely in the globalist camp, but a charter member of the globalist, bipartisan U.S. foreign policy “Blob” (which includes a sizable trade and economic sub-Blob) that exerted dominant influence over America’s course in world affairs until Donald Trump came along, and whose supposed expertise still mesmerizes the Mainstream Media.

Of special interest, CSIS sampled opinion from everyday Americans, those so-called thought leaders (whose follower-ship, as implied above, is greatly diminished), and thought leaders from countries that are U.S. allies or “partners.”

The gap between public and elites on China policy views seems widest on the economic and trade issues that President Trump has made so central to his approach towards the People’s Republic, and the CSIS survey contains decidedly good news for him and his fans in this area: The general public is much more supportive of the “go-it-alone,” unilateral sanctions and tariffs imposed by Mr. Trump to combat and/or eliminate Chinese transgressions in this area than the Blob-ers.

Although a multilateral approach (using “international agreements and rules to change China” economically) won plurality backing among the general public (34.8 percent), fully 69 percent of the U.S. thought leaders favored this route. Yet nearly a third of the U.S. public (32.8 percent) endorsed employing “U.S. government tools like sanctions and tariffs”, versus only three percent of the deep thinkers.

As I’ve written repeatedly, (e.g., here and here) a multilateral China trade strategy is bound to fail because international institutions (like the World Trade Organization) are too completely filled by countries that either rely heavily on China-style predation to compete in the global economy, and because even (or especially?) longstanding U.S. treaty allies had been doing business so profitably with the People’s Republic that the last development they wanted to see was a disruption of the pre-Trump status quo. So support for multilateralism in this case can legitimately be taken as support for do-nothing-ism – especially since the vast majority of these elites so enthusiastically pushed for the reckless U.S. expansion of commerce with China that’s lined many of their pockets, but that’s undermined American prosperity and national security.

The CSIS poll, moreover, provides some indirect evidence for this argument: Nearly as high a share of the foreign thought leaders backed a multilateral approach for dealing with China economically (65 percent) as their U.S. counterparts. And their support of U.S.-only approaches (seven percent) was only slightly higher than that of the U.S. thought leaders’ three percent. (The foreign thought leaders may be slightly more gung ho for America going it alone due to confidence that their own products will fill any gaps in the China market left by U.S. producers shut out by the trade wars. On a net basis, though, their countries are coming out losers this year.)

At the same time, one surprising (at least to me) economics-related finding emerged from the survey: Whether we’re talking about the American people generally, or thought leaders at home or abroad, just under 20 percent favor substantial decoupling from China as the best economic approach for the United States.

When it comes to messaging, however, the survey isn’t such great news for Mr. Trump – and Trumpers – on China trade issues. On the one hand, answers to the question on evaluating his performance in this area can – although with a stretch – be interpreted to show majority support for the view that his record has achieved noteworthy gains. Principally, 27.8 percent of U.S. public respondents agreed that the President’s China measures have “been effective in producing some tactical changes in Chinese economic policy” and 9.9 percent believe they have “been effective in forcing long-term changes.” Those groups add up to 37.7 percent of the sample.

Another 20.5 percent checked the box stating that Trump policies have “hurt U.S. consumers and exporters but protected important U.S. industries.” A case can be made that at least some members of this group would give these policies good grades, or that many would give them partly good grades, possibly bringing the total for positive views somewhere in the mid-40 percent neighborhood.

Much more certain, however, is that the most popular single answer (with 41.8 percent support) was that the trade war “has damaged U.S. economic interests without achieving positive change in China.”

Also signaling a Trump China messaging problem – as with much other commentary, the CSIS survey mostly measures China policy success as changing Chinese behavior. In my view, that goal is much less important – because it’s much less realistic, at least in terms of producing verifiable reform – than protecting U.S.-based producers from China’s economic predation. The relative resilience shown by domestic industry both throughout the trade war and into the CCP Virus-induced recession indicate that this goal is being achieved. But neither the President nor his economic nor his campaign team mentions it much, if at all.

CSIS’ polling also found that fully 71 percent of U.S. thought leaders gave Trump’s China economic policies the big thumbs down – and although they don’t vote, their aforementioned influence in the Mainstream Media could partly explain why broader American opinion on the Trump record seems so divided. (For the record, foreign thought leaders weren’t asked to rate the Trump strategy.)

But having established that everyday Americans have a good deal to teach the experts on China trade and economic policy, how do the two compare on China-related national security policies? As indicated above, the gap here isn’t nearly so wide, but worth exploring in some detail – as I’ll do in a forthcoming post!

(What’s Left of) Our Economy: The Trade Wars Would’ve Been Much Easier to Win if Not for Boeing

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Today’s grim news about recent Boeing aircraft orders and deliveries is just the latest valuable reminder that any evaluation of the Trump record on manufacturing and trade policy has to take into account the entire aircraft and parts industry’s transformation from a slight to a bigtime industrial laggard. Moreover, Boeing’s weakness – which has nothing to do with the President’s trade or any other policies — seems likely to continue for the foreseeable future, at least according to Boeing. The company’s latest long-term forecast for the global aircraft market affirms that it will take years for aviation worldwide to return to pre-CCP Virus levels.

The degree of the pain inflicted by Boeing’s troubles – which also include major safety woes that started making headlines in early 2019 – on the whole of domestic industry, and how unrelated manufacturing’s overall Trump era performance has been to the President’s tariff-heavy trade policies, becomes clear from diving into the most detailed U.S. manufacturing output figures available: the Federal Reserve’s industrial production data.

For example, the Fed numbers show that, during the Obama administration, adjusting for inflation, manufacturing output increased by 14.65 percent. Real aircraft and parts production output growth was just slightly slower: 12.39 percent.

But from the start of the Trump years until the arrival of the pandemic (February, 2017 through February, 2020), whereas the manufacturing sector as a whole expanded by 3.60 percent in price-adjusted terms, the aircraft and parts industry shrank by 13.10 percent.

Since the virus struck (from February through the latest available – August – numbers)? Manufacturing output is down by 6.39 percent after inflation, and aircraft and parts production is off by 10.81 percent.

As for the trade war impact, from March, 2018 (the first full month of President Trump’s metals tariffs and a good place for marking the start of the broader trade wars) until February, 2020 (the last month before the virus began significantly affecting manufacturing and the entire domestic economy), overall manufacturing production grew by a bare 0.83 percent. But that poor performance was clearly dragged down by the nation’s aircraft and parts factories – which turned out 10.74 percent less in terms of constant dollar product value.

Aircraft and parts were major industrial also-rans, too, during the comparable 23-month period preceding the first full month of the Trump metals tariffs. Their real production slumped by 4.11 percent, as manufacturing’s overall production rose by 4.07 percent.

The bottom line, then, couldn’t be clearer. The President was wrong in insisting that trade wars for big deficit countries like the United States are “easy to win.” But the facts also demonstrate that the victories the nation has won in these conflicts – which have been significant – would have been come much easier had the aerospace sector and its long-time leader Boeing not turned into such major losers.

Glad I Didn’t Say That! Following “The Science” on Lockdowns?

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“I would shut [the economy] down [if necessary]; I would listen to the scientists. We’re going to do whatever it takes to save lives.”

–Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden, August 21, 2020

“We in the World Health Organisation [WHO] do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus. The only time we believe a lockdown is justified is to buy you time to reorganise, regroup, rebalance your resources, protect your health workers who are exhausted, but by and large, we’d rather not do it.”

— Dr. David Nabarro, World Health Organization, October 11, 2020

(Sources: “Biden says he’d lock down country if spread of coronavirus warranted it,” by Evan Semones, Politico, August 21, 2020, https://www.politico.com/news/2020/08/21/joe-biden-lockdown-us-coronavirus-400126 and “Coronavirus: WHO backflips on virus stance by condemning lockdowns,” by Alex Turner-Cohen, news.com.au, October 12, 2020, https://www.news.com.au/world/coronavirus/global/coronavirus-who-backflips-on-virus-stance-by-condemning-lockdowns/news-story/f2188f2aebff1b7b291b297731c3da74)