Thursday, March 10, 2022

Ukraine shows we live in a nationalist world

By Michael Barone, Senior Political Analyst | The Washington Examiner 

It turns out that we live in a nationalist world. That’s one of the lessons people are learning from the surprise early results of the Russo-Ukrainian war.

This is certainly not a welcome development for Davos Man — for the leaders of great international agencies, financial institutions, and corporations that gather in Switzerland in January or at Bilderberg conferences in May. They’ve been hailing the erosion of national barriers and the benefits of crossnational decision-making for years.

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the responses to it (by Ukrainians and by leaders and peoples around the world) prove that nationalism matters, for the worse but also for the better.

Start with the version of Russian nationalism that evidently inspired Vladimir Putin to invade. It is an incomprehensible decision not only to Davos Men, but also to viewers of every cable news channel.

But it was telegraphed by Putin’s speech at the March 2007 Munich Security Conference and in his July 2021 article on “the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians.”

Putin traced that unity back to the Ninth Century Rus’ federation centered on Kyiv and in Tsarist Russia’s conquest of much of what is now Ukraine in the 17th and 18th centuries. He cited the similarity of the Russian and Ukrainian languages and their common Eastern Orthodox religious tradition.

The actual history is more complicated. As the historian Timothy Snyder has shown, the boundaries of political entities in Eastern Europe have changed many times in the past 500 years. Most recently, there was the split-up of the multiethnic empires after World War I, Josef Stalin’s reshufflings after World War II, and the changes after the fall of the Soviet empire in 1989-91.

Since Feb. 24, Ukrainians’ resistance to the Russian invasion has shown that Ukrainian nationalism is strong even if, as Putin claims, it has shallow historical roots. Election results show that although eastern and southern Ukraine strongly supported pro-Russia candidates for president from 2004 to 2014, that support had largely dissipated by 2019.

Putin’s annexation of Crimea and Donetsk seizures seemed to have strengthened Ukrainians’ nationalism, whereas the desultory performance so far of the Russian military suggests that Russian nationalism is not as strong as Putin would like.

The larger lesson is not that all nationalism is bad, but that good nationalism can have strengths bad nationalism lacks. It’s a lesson that Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Charles de Gaulle taught more than seven decades ago and that the world is learning once again.

Another lesson is that the age of armed conflict is not over. German diplomats at the United Nations laughed when President Donald Trump chided their country for spending less than the promised 2% of GDP on defense. But no one was laughing when new Chancellor Olaf Scholz, shocked by Putin’s aggression, told the Bundestag Feb. 26 that Germany must spend 110 billion euros more this year.

Germans are, admirably, wary of bad nationalism. But they have just learned that sometimes there is no substitute for the good variety.

The Ukraine war is also teaching a lesson about energy. Europe, with Germany in the lead, and the United States under Biden have been raising energy prices and reducing reliability. They have leaned increasingly on renewable wind and solar sources and, in Germany's case, on natural gas piped in directly from Russia.

Now, Germany has nixed the Nordstream 2 pipeline, and the U.S. has stopped buying Russian oil. Germans may be ruing their 2011 decision to shutter nuclear power plants. Europeans, now welcoming American liquefied natural gas, may question why they banned fracking, which, at least until Biden imposed restrictions, has produced so much oil and gas here.

The larger lesson is that it makes sense for nations to rely on their own available energy sources now and that the costs of depending on Russia or on intermittent green renewables are much greater than putative climate benefits that might arise 75 years from now.

Another lesson: Nationalisms have historical roots, with consequences. Davos Man in the 1990s hoped that elections and privatizations in Russia and trade and technology in China would make those nations liberal societies. Unhappily, they haven’t.

Russia’s history of suppressing personal and property rights (see historian Richard Pipes) and China’s history of obedience to central authority persisted. The sweeping aside of term limits by Putin and Xi Jinping were warning signs that American leaders, beneficiaries of George Washington’s precedent, unwisely ignored.

Now Americans and Europeans have no difficulty in identifying Putin’s nationalism as malign, with some people going to childish extremes and boycotting Russian composers and Russian-cuisine restaurants.

Time for a better lesson — for newly aroused nationalists to appreciate the strengths and achievements of other people's nationalisms, even as we try to improve our own.



Dealing With Devils

By Judd Garrett

Joe Biden announced yesterday that the United States is “banning all imports of Russian oil and gas and energies" into America without any plans to offset this loss with domestic production by opening up the Keystone XL pipeline or authorizing more leases on federal land for oil exploration. This action will drive gas prices up significantly for the American consumer and hurt the middle class. Biden explained this move by saying, "This is a step that we're taking to inflict further pain on Putin. But there will be cost as well here in the United States… defending freedom is going to cost, it's going to cost us as well, in the United States." When pressed further about the rising gas prices that will result from his actions against Putin, Biden shrugged, “can’t do much right now, Russia’s responsible.” But, in fact, it was Joe Biden’s energy policy that he implemented on his first day in office which has caused the United States to become dependent on Russian oil to fill our energy needs, and now he is pulling the rug out from under our feet.

Senator Elizabeth Warren tried to redirect the blame of the rising gas prices by attacking the oil and gas companies when she lashed out at them by saying, "The cause of rapidly rising energy prices for consumers and manufacturers is clear: some of the nation's largest and most profitable oil and gas companies are putting their massive profits, share prices and dividends for investors, and millions of dollars in CEO pay and bonuses ahead of the needs of American consumers and the nation’s recovery from the pandemic… these price increases are being driven by energy companies’ corporate greed and profiteering."

But ironically, it is her industry, the government, which profits off the oil and gas industry the most. The profit margin for oil and gas companies on their sale of gasoline is 6.8% which is 6.8 cents on every dollar spent on gasoline. So, when gasoline cost four dollars per gallon, the profit the oil and gas company makes from the sale of 1 gallon of gas is 27 cents. Ironically, the tax on gasoline is on average 53 cents per gallon. So, the government, which people like Elizabeth Warren represent, who are continually calling oil companies price gaugers and profiteers, makes twice as much money off the sale of gasoline than the greedy oil companies. And the government does nothing to produce the gasoline that is sold, they are solely profiting off of. And it is usually their misguided policies which are driving up the price at the pump. But Elizabeth Warren will never say any of this because it would expose the scam that she is in on.

As gas prices are averaging over $5 per gallon nationwide and are expected to climb as high as $7 or $8, the Biden Administration has considered reaching out to Saudi Arabia, Iran and Venezuela to import their oil in an attempt to contain rising gas prices by offsetting the loss of the oil imports caused by his action against Russia. So, we are simply trading dealing with one devil to deal with three devils. We are being told that paying an extra $2-$3 more per gallon at the pump to squeeze the evil Vladimir Putin is not only the most effective course of action to end the war in Ukraine, but also the moral and patriotic thing to do because Putin is an evil dictator, and must be stopped.

Late night talk show host, Stephen Colbert said, “a clean conscience is worth a buck or two. It’s important. I’m willing to pay $4 per gallon. Hell, I’ll pay $15 per gallon because I drive a Tesla.” If I can’t afford to pay $2-$3 more at the pump, I definitely can’t afford to buy a $60,000 car. Actor George Takie told Americans, “We can endure higher prices for food and gas if it means putting the screws to Putin. Consider it a patriotic donation in the fight for freedom over tyranny.” If you’re a millionaire actor, doubling or tripling gas prices means absolutely nothing to your lifestyle.

It is strange that we are being told that it is our civic duty to pay more at the pump to go after an evil dictator, Vladimir Putin, but Donald Trump was widely criticized when he went after China’s evil dictator, President Xi with tariffs. Senator Ben Sasse tweeted about Trump’s China tariffs, “if he’s even half-serious, this is nuts… He’s threatening to light American agriculture on fire… This is the dumbest possible way to do this.” Senator Orrin Hatch said, “These tariffs… harm American manufacturers, damage our economy, hurt American consumers, and disrupt our relationship with our long-term allies.” Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Robert Lighthizer saying, “These tariffs would be particularly harmful for California, which has the country’s largest consumer electronics sector… would hurt American businesses and workers, they would also raise consumer prices.” A few years ago, it was not patriotic to pay a few more dollars for consumer goods to hurt an evil dictator, but now it is.

And is Vladimir Putin any more-evil of a human being than President Xi? They are both murderous tyrants. Putin invades a sovereign country killing innocent Ukrainian civilians, President Xi runs concentration camps where innocent Uyghurs are forced into slave labor and eventually executed. President Xi oversees a country where 9-year-old girls are forced work in sweat shops 12 hours a day for pennies. In light of all that, is President Xi a morally superior person than Vladimir Putin that he is untouchable from economic sanctions? Does anyone believe that the genocide and human rights abuses in China are any less horrific than what Russia is doing in Ukraine? It is moral to pay an extra $2-$3 more per gallon to hurt Vladimir Putin, but wrong to pay a few dollars more on imported consumer goods produced in China to hurt President Xi.

Why does President Xi and China always get a free pass? Why do we continually overlook all of the evil things he is doing, but so willing to take a hard line against Vladimir Putin? Have woke companies, like Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Starbucks, and PepsiCo stopped doing business with China in protest of their horrible human rights violations like they have done in Russia? Why is a country that commits genocide, uses slave labor, and has one of the world’s worst human rights record, our 3rd biggest trading partner and the leading importer into America, but we are unpatriotic if we do business with Russia?

Maybe because China has the second largest economy in the world, while Russia’s economy is smaller than Texas’ economy, half the size of California’s, and 1/8 the size of China’s. A study on the Chinese tariffs concluded that out “of 2,859 companies across sectors that are publicly traded on the U.S. stock market… more than half… were connected to the Chinese economy.” Cutting off trade with Russia does not substantially hurt American big businesses because Russia is not even one of our top 15 trading partners, and we only account for 3.6% of Russian Trade, so virtue signaling about Russia is very inexpensive to American companies because the average American is paying the cost of higher gas prices, while taking a moral stand against China would carry dire financial costs to corporate America because most are in bed with China.

So, our virtue and moral outrage is only reserved for countries who do not have a top ten economy; it is not based on the evil that a country does, but how big the economy of the evil country is. If doing business in Russia is financially supporting their war in Ukraine, then doing business in China is supporting China’s Uyghur concentration camps, forced labor and genocide. If it’s patriotic to cut off Russian oil into our country, then it must be equally unpatriotic to import consumer goods from China. But we willfully look the other way at the murderous regime running China because trade with China has become the life blood of our economy, but soon that genocidal regime will be running the world. So, contrary to the screeching of Elizabeth Warren, it is not the companies who produce domestic oil and gas, so we will no longer be beholden to an evil dictator for our energy needs that we should vilify, rather it is the greedy American companies who are selling us out to the genocidal Chinese Communist Party who are the biggest threats to America.


Blame the government for our woes


Putin deserves the blame for war, but government central planners deserve the blame for our economic and national security vulnerabilities.

Every major problem we are facing today is not because of war, but because of the arrogance, ignorance, and incompetence of government central planners and their cronies.

The elites pushing their agendas and their cronies’ pet projects, whether through short-sightedness or nefarious intentions, have delivered an obvious negative outcome for America.

Our economic woes started long before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. And while Putin deserves the blame for war, our government central planners get the full credit for our economic and national security vulnerabilities.

The highest inflation in the last 40 years was recorded before eastern Europe even entered the conversation. This came on the back of central planning decisions, while those central planners feigned ignorance as to the outcome. The Federal Reserve printing trillions of dollars and the trillions more of government “relief spending,” increased further with Biden’s “American Rescue Plan,” were enough to drive substantial inflation. Add to that the decisions that turned off large swaths of the economy over the past couple of years and structurally kept workers out of the labor force, which also disrupted the supply chains and labor markets to increase the inflationary pressures.

Then, include the Biden administration’s suspending oil and gas leases, withdrawing the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, and the crony corporate kowtowing to the elite push for ESG reducing oil- and gas-related investment; these actions all impacted rising gas prices before Putin’s madness came into play.

Once Russia invaded Ukraine, these existing vulnerabilities became bigger weaknesses, something that should have been obvious to the average American, let alone those in government “leadership” positions.

Not expanding the United States' capacity as a producer of oil and gas resources was both a farce and an obvious national security issue. It didn’t decrease the demand for those resources (although the pandemic reactions did temporarily); what it did was shift some percent of the production from the U.S., which has the technology, capabilities, and incentives to produce more cleanly, to nations run by terrorists, tyrants, human rights abusers, and other generally bad people. These regimes and countries share the same planet, yet do not produce as cleanly as the U.S. could.

That’s quite a “green” strategy — both from an economic “green” and an environmental “green” standpoint.

These decisions have reverberations globally, creating vulnerabilities for our allies in Europe, who also reduced their own nuclear and oil and gas energy production, exposing them to geopolitical strife.

So, while we could have been fortifying U.S. production so that one or more foreign bad actors wouldn’t be able to leverage that against us, our government and corporate cronies couldn’t see (or didn’t care) what was flashing in front of them like a giant neon sign and ultimately did nothing on that front.

These actions will only worsen the already fragile U.S. economic situation caused by their other policy decisions.

The average American ends up paying the price, both figuratively and quite literally.

It’s not just oil and gas. The past two years exposed the weakness of depending on China for key inputs and products. The Russian invasion is highlighting other dependencies, ranging from nickel (which is a key component in the batteries used to make electric vehicles, among many other things), aluminum, wheat, fertilizers, and many other products that are key to a smooth functioning economy and everyday living, and some that could even lead to bigger crises, like food shortages in parts of the world.

Instead of strengthening America, both for economic security and national security, the central planning government leaders have been actively making us more vulnerable, taking policy direction from people who range from activist-sponsored teenagers to global entities that would be thrilled with the destruction of the American economy and way of life.

There will always be some bad actor around the corner, and we must be prepared. It’s far past the time to reverse these bad government policy actions and focus on a stronger America and better strategic decision-making.

If we don’t hold government accountable and enact change, then we will only have ourselves to blame.