A New Deal for Iran

The GOP sweep in the 2016 election means that the US approach to Iran will probably change. Obama’s “Iran Deal” has been subject to naivety on one extreme side and rumor-mongering on the other.

Many opponents of Obama’s deal, formally titled the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), say “we want a deal, but not this deal; this is a bad deal.” We could argue about whether that statement is accurate, but the GOP doesn’t care what I think; we should assume they will follow through on their hatred of the JCPOA.

If the current deal is bad, what would a better deal look like? How do we bring Iran back to the negotiating table?

I don’t even know if I’m advocating for a position, I’m just trying to lay out the facts as I see them to try to make people see how murky, risky, and uncertain this situation actually is.


My briefest summary of what has happened so far

U.S. and Europe impose economic sanctions, demanding Iran allow inspectors into their facilities to make sure they are not weaponizing Uranium. After many negotiations, a deal is reached which kind of does that, with some caveats of unclear effect, and sanctions are released.

Types of Nuclear Material

To build an atomic bomb, one usually needs plutonium or highly purified uranium-235 (U-235). Both of these are very rare in nature. Plutonium can be synthesized in an otherwise peaceful nuclear reactor. Trace amounts of natural U-235 (less than 1%) are typically separated out of more common and benign U-238, using centrifuges, and then concentrated together, over and over again, achieving higher levels of purity, a process called “enrichment.” U-235 enriched to 90% purity is considered “weaponized.” A uranium bomb requires 90% purity of U-235 in order to explode properly.

U-235 at less than 90% purity has some peaceful purposes, including as ship fuel, producing certain medical isotopes, certain physics research, and production of electricity, although the latter is possible with U-238.

The Most Important Caveat

It might anger some people to hear this, but we don’t actually have intel that there is weaponization occurring. All of this controversy is based on the precaution that Iran might be trying to weaponize uranium, and it is important to keep this in perspective when considering our options. There is no proof of 90% enrichment. Believe me, if there were, we’d be hearing about it, if not from the U.S. government, then from Israel. Even Netanyahu’s tour here was couched in terms of “breakout time” and what might happen, and offered no evidence of weapon-level enrichment, not from espionage, aerial reconnaissance, hacking, nothing. He did not even claim to have “secret” evidence, which is to his credit, because that kind of B.S. is becoming stock-in-trade of the post-fact era.
According to many experts, enrichment is not linear: Iran’s acknowledged 20 percent enrichment achieves 90% of the work needed to get to 90% enrichment.

Bibi at the U.N. (Courtesy of Reuters)

It does make sense that the Iranians would be trying to get to 90% purity and build a bomb for deterrence, given what happened to two of their neighbors:


But it made a lot of sense that Saddam was trying, too. Can you imagine if, for the second time in two decades, (actually the third in three decades) the U.S. went to war with a country rhyming with “Ira-” over weapons that turned out not to exist?

It’s worth considering that this regime has had almost 40 years to develop a nuclear weapon if it really wanted to, and yet they have not. It does not take that long. I would strongly recommend waiting for direct evidence. But what if that evidence is overplayed, or outright fabricated? We’ve seen it before, and our incoming president has a tenuous relationship with intelligence agencies. And I guarantee that any evidence presented will be messily questioned (which it ought to be, all things considered).


Most people agree on the following:

Goal 1: Iran does not develop nuclear weapons.

Why not? A few possibilities:

Scenario A) North Korea 2: Atomic Boogaloo

Even if Iran develops nuclear weapons and never, ever uses them, the mere fact that it has them would grant it admission to the exclusive deterrence club, those nuclear-armed nations which are rarely, attacked by other nations out of fear of escalation. These nations can thus can get away with (relatively) small acts of sabotage, terrorism or provo-cation that would otherwise bring retaliation.

In Iran’s case, most expect this to manifest through proxies, especially Hezbollah and the various Shi’a militias of Iraq, and probably an effort to resuscitate the Assad regime in Syria as well.

Scenario B) The First Use Nightmare

As I outlined in a recent post, it doesn’t make sense for anyone to actually use nuclear weapons first, especially not a nation in a technologically inferior position.

For a successful missile strike (one that they survive the aftermath of), they would need enough warheads to overwhelm interception systems and still do the necessary level of damage to prevent retaliation. They would need to be able to strike quickly enough to prevent retaliation. They would need their own interception system to deal with any land-based missile systems that survive their attack, as well as the submarine-based ones that would certainly survive. These conditions cannot be satisfied in the real world; for them to attempt a missile strike would be suicide, and they know it.

Even handing a device off to terrorists wouldn’t fool anyone (“Gee, where did they get that?”). It would also fail to accomplish any strategic objective, unless it were a gargantuan, multi-target undertaking that somehow slipped through every crack in our ever-growing surveillance state. Even then, there’s no endgame where they escape counter-attack. Using a third party also entails a small risk that they will not behave as requested, and if there’s a nuclear bomb involved, that’s also a big deal.

If the Iranians successfully developed a bomb, I do think something more like scenario A) would be much more likely, but I understand that “probably” is small comfort to someone living in, say, Israel. Scenario B) is irrational from an Iranian perspective, but people are capable of being irrational.

Scenario A/B 1/2) Middle East Arms Race

Whatever Iran’s first-use disposition, it would suit its rivals well to arm themselves. Saudi Arabia is a prime candidate, but many of the wealthier gulf states could make an effort if they felt a need. Not only does this volatile region become held together only by the threat of Armageddon, but the risk increases that one of these weapons could be stolen. Frankly, it’s amazing it hasn’t already happened in Pakistan.

Goal 2: Force is used as little as possible, without compromising Goal 1.

The reasons for this should be obvious. Unnecessary killing is bad. Even if you don’t care about Iranian lives, and love to watch bombs fall on the tee-vee, a war would cost some American lives too, and it’s worth making sure that such a loss is necessary. War is expensive. False positives impact our credibility.

Methods (In Order of Escalation)

Stuxnet 2.0

A repeat use of a computer virus to undermine Iranian efforts. Whether such a thing could even occur again depends on many things on the end of Western intelligence: knowledge of the hardware and software being used in Iranian facilities, knowledge of sufficient zero-day exploits to create another virus that can go undetected and successfully reach the systems in question, and the ability to phish Iranian officials, again, into allowing the virus into their network.


Pursuant to Goal 2, using force as little as possible, this should be the first option. The point is to make sure facilities aren’t weaponizing uranium or plutonium. This can be achieved cheaply and humanely by having a team just go look at it, so long as they are trustworthy and have proper access (that’s the hard part). Inspection is impossible without consent via agreement.

I wouldn’t recommend any “self-inspections,” even limited to select facilities. This is one of the most suspect provisions of the JCPOA/IAEA side agreements.

What if there’s a secret facility we don’t know about? I discuss this possibility under the next option.

If a deal is not reached and they don’t allow inspectors, it creates a “what are they hiding?” argument that will permeate the discussion until the next option is pursued:

Surgical Strikes

This is where you drop bombs and missiles on an enrichment facility, or maybe even insert special forces, in order to stop its operation.

If a given facility is deep enough underground, this can be difficult. We have bombs designed specifically to penetrate underground, but there are limits to how far they can go.

You can’t target a facility if you don’t even know it exists. This creates a strategic risk with this option: what if we “miss a spot,” and there remains an operational facility that we don’t know about? Even more so than under the “inspectors” option, because we would have demonstrated a willingness to use force, Iran would then have every incentive to go full steam ahead with production in order to establish real deterrence, before they go the way of Saddam. And if they made that attempt, we may or may not discover it before they succeed. They were able to hide the facility at Fordow for a very long time.

And fear of this, I suspect, would lead inexorably to the next option, perhaps even if they cave and allow inspectors:

Operation Iranian Freedom

This is Shock and Awe, Trump style, so just imagine (maybe we can equip our fighter jets with red-white-and-blue chemtrails, spraying something that violates the Geneva Convention).

This would be by far the most expensive option, in terms of money spent and lives lost.

Assuming the initial combat operations are about as breezy as they were in Iraq and Afghanistan, there still remains an occupation and reconstruction period.

On the “plus” side, Iran is less riven by sectarian differences than Iraq, and more accustomed to centralized authority than Afghanistan. It also has some degree of existing regime opposition, and a burgeoning youth demographic that isn’t bound to the status quo.

On the downside, Iran has a larger land area to occupy and a larger population to “pacify” than Iraq and Afghanistan combined. It also combines some of the worst geographical features of both previous occupations: dense urban centers and rough mountain terrain, which would allow trained fighters to blend in and conduct guerrilla attacks, something that’s been on their mind for over a decade.

All this to say nothing of the losses to the Iranian people.


How do we get Iran to re-negotiate after they were satisfied with Obama’s deal? None of the below choices are mutually exclusive.

Carrot: Sanctions

Financial Sanctions

Freezing Iranian assets stored in U.S. and European banks, and various restrictions on companies doing business with Iranian government banks, or Iranian private banks. This stuff is complicated, and I’m not going to pretend like I understand all of it, but the idea is supposed to be: “you get these nice things back when you cooperate,” or, “that’s a nice struggling economy you’ve got there, it would be a shame if something were to happen to its monetary liquidity.”

A quick aside on this: it bothers me when people say that by lifting financial sanctions the first time, we “gave” Iran $150 billion. This makes it sound like the U.S. government paid them that much money. We unfroze money that they already had in the bank. If you think that we didn’t get enough in exchange for that courtesy, though, that’s a worthwhile discussion. And there may have been other, lesser monies more literally “given,” but I’ve seen arguments to the contrary as well.

This is the important thing to remember if financial sanctions are re-applied: if the Iranians eventually agree to a tougher deal, *they will get their money back,* because that was the whole point of taking their money away.

Trade Sanctions

Restricting companies from doing business with the Iranian government or Iranian companies. There is a snag here at this point: the Europeans will be reluctant to impose sanctions again. Europe is a much bigger chunk of Iran’s trade than the U.S. is, which is only natural because of how much closer together they are, and since the combined E.U. market is slightly larger overall than the U.S. market. This makes them a vital piece of the puzzle. I’ve compiled the difference into a handy graph:

Imports/exports reversed to show Iranian perspective, based on available data from US Census Bureau and European Commission Director-General for Trade

That big dip in the green line is the beginning of E.U. sanctions on Iran. I didn’t bother converting the currencies because the exchange rate would actually make the difference even larger, but this data makes the point well enough: E.U. trade with Iran dwarfs U.S. trade with Iran. At this scale, one can barely even perceive the 2009 dip from U.S. sanctions. 2016 E.U. trade data is not yet available, but it should be expected to be significantly higher than 2015 because of the eased sanctions.

One could argue that it wouldn’t be such a drastic difference if we lifted our sanctions, and this increases our leverage, but if you’re a hard-liner, is there any scenario short of a different Iranian regime where you’d actually be comfortable with the U.S. freely trading with Iran? I don’t think it’s something that would realistically be offered or would get past a G.O.P. Congress.

Obama and Kerry had to twist arms to get the Europeans on board with sanctions before the JCPOA was negotiated, because it hurts European business too. But even if you think Trump has some magic Art of the Deal to pull out, the fact remains that the Europeans were, by and large, satisfied with the JCPOA, and eager to lift the sanctions once a deal was negotiated. In order for sanctions to be effective, then leverage then must be exerted not only on the Iranians, but on the Europeans to get them to exert leverage on the Iranians.

One can only hope that the whole thing about withdrawing protection from underfunding NATO countries was a masterful 4D chess move to use as leverage to swing the Europeans against Iran (I imagine, like most “4D chess,” it will wind up being used as such ad hoc, but was not planned so from the start).

On our end, it should be relatively easy for the GOP majority to pass a new round of sanctions if they wished to scrap the current deal. But it would be unwise to do so without a broader plan, because U.S. economic leverage over Iran is limited. If you dig through that U.S. Census dataset I linked under the graph (don’t worry, I dug for you) you’ll see that Iranian exports to the U.S. only passed $1bn/year once, in 1987. They are completely accustomed to not selling in the U.S. A new round of sanctions from just the U.S. would produce no economic shock in Iran, just prideful outrage.

The new administration may have opportunities for cooperation with the Russians on sanctions, but it’s too early to say much more than that.

Stick: Just Straight-Up Threaten Them

Even Obama’s team suggested “all options” to be on the table in terms of dealing with a breach-of-agreement, but people didn’t take him very seriously because he ultimately lacked “escalation dominance;” that is, he didn’t care enough, his opening demand was low, and he was unwilling to walk away without a deal.

Grim though it be, Trump’s volatility may allow him to effectively conduct gunboat diplomacy in a way Obama could not.

The whole thing, in the end, resembles the Melian dialogue from Thucydides. Once you get past some of the archaic language, the whole thing is rather chilling: “we don’t care what’s fair (like how we possess WMDs and allow certain other nations to violate the Non-Proliferation Treaty because we like them better), do what we say or we will destroy you.”


If you’ve read this far, you’re a real trooper. This thing ballooned way longer than I intended, but I covered every corner I could think of. I welcome polite, constructive comments, and will respond to such in good faith.

Edits: Re-ordered “Inspectors” and “Stuxnet 2.0” subsections to make more sense.

The Uncommonness of Common Sense

I don’t even know how to talk about Trump anymore, and this personal crisis has led to a long dry spell of political writing. Do I expend time and energy (and invite attack from the right), attacking him when I think he’s wrong? Do I waste breath defending him (and invite attack from the left), when I think he’s right? It’s such a deep gold mine, yet staring down into the pit of it gives me vertigo. I have two jobs and a bunch of “extracurriculars,” I ain’t got time for that.

I’m going to talk about something else today, completely out of step with the news cycle, that’s been on my mind for a while: the term “common sense.”

It bothers me. I think it’s one of the most abused terms in politics, in a way that attempts to shut down discussion.

What do we mean by “Common Sense?”

The word “common” suggests to me “in common,” but current usage is synonymous with “obvious to me.”

Not sensory-obvious, like the sky is blue or water is wet. But first-order-deduction-obvious: if I stick a fork in a wall socket, I will get shocked. If I flush the toilet again while it’s clogged, it will overflow. People who fail these deductions are considered deficient in some way.

If you ask a question that is considered to have an obvious answer, people often consider it within their rights to mock you for it.

Example: A couple weeks ago, a gas station cashier was very sarcastic and rude to me when I asked a question about getting change when paying for my gas with cash. Sorry Arco-at-Tracy Blvd.-and-Valpico lady, it’s the 21st century and I’ve never paid for gas with cash, but I wanted to avoid your dumb 35 cent debit surcharge so I just wanted to be sure before I committed my phat stacks of dough. I hope your day got better, lady.

You might think this trauma was what prompted me to bravely speak out today, but it wasn’t, honestly.

Other example: my coworker, seeing me make a mistake, tells me I need to use my “commonsense” (that was how he said it with his accent), even though I had no reason to have yet learned the necessary information.

The Problem

So now let me throw out two terms; what these two things mean to you will differ greatly depending on your political viewpoint:

“Common Sense Gun Control”

For conservatives, this mostly ranges from “background checks” to “no such thing.” For liberals, it mostly ranges from “background checks” to “ban all guns.”

“Common Sense Immigration Reform”

For conservatives, this mostly ranges from “extreme vetting” to “build the wall and mass deportation.” For liberals, it mostly ranges from “current level of vetting” to “total amnesty.”

Are you beginning to see the problem? Too many people do not have “in common” a sense of what is obvious! “Common sense” has become a meaningless term, except to implicitly denigrate those who hold a dissenting viewpoint and fire up and vindicate those who agree.

The Solution

I call for a total and complete shutdown of use of the term “common sense” until we figure out what the hell is going on.

What next for Christianity?

Christianity’s privileged position in America will be extended a bit by the Trump presidency. Not because I believe he has some special concern for Christianity, but because Trump has contempt for the offense people take to it. Remember, though, that Trump was a reaction against Obama and Clinton, and Obama was a reaction against Bush… what will the reaction against Trump look like in 4-8 years, when the pendulum swings back? We should still expect, within our lifetimes, for much of the Bible to be branded as “hate speech,” and restricted from public discourse, which will not make our job impossible, but much more difficult. We must actually seize this opportunity to spiritually revive this country at the grassroots level, to outreach en masse while we still can.
We need to be honest that Donald Trump is not a savory figure, and that Evangelical support for him has tarnished our image in the eyes of liberal secular culture. I say this not because I tremble in fear of what they think, but because for most of my life I was a secular liberal, repelled from Christianity by its adherence to political conservatism, and I am acutely aware of this problem: American Christianity has become so insular and political that people, by and large, do not understand what we mean when we say Christ died for our sins, and do not take it seriously because the personal decency of Christians is only visible up close. Most people don’t get close enough the way I happened to. All they see from afar is a poll showing that, statistically, we probably supported a guy like Donald Trump. Decency has become the best-kept secret of Christians, and it should not be this way.
Will we stand before the Father one day and say, “we streamlined the government and cut wasteful welfare programs! I was able to use my tax cut to buy a bigger TV.”
And he will respond: “Did you yourselves feed my sheep and care for the widows and orphans? Did your personal generosity bring my name renown?”
Will we stand before the Father and say, “we overturned gay marriage!”
And he will respond: “Did you bring my good news, or merely condemn?”
Will we stand before the Father and say, “we overturned Roe v. Wade!”
And he will respond: “did you yourselves care for the unwanted children who were born, for the single mothers and rape survivors?”
Will we stand before the Father and say, “we defended the 2nd Amendment!”
And he will respond: “So what?”
Will we stand before the Father and say, “we kept our children safe by turning away refugees, torturing terrorists and killing their families!”
And he will respond: “Are you sure it’s a good idea to bring that up?”

Don’t Be Too Shocked if the Election Isn’t Over Tomorrow

I know we’re all sick to death of it. One more day of this garbage, and then life will go on, right? Not necessarily. There are lots of ways this thing could drag out for a while. I wouldn’t breathe a sigh of relief until I heard a concession speech from someone.

Here are some scenarios that could happen, and they could overlap with each other. Even if each one by itself isn’t probable, they add up to form a significant percentage of likely outcomes for Tuesday:

1. Clear victory, disputed by the other side

Polls, as of today, suggest that Hillary will win the states she needs to win to secure a victory, but expect the slightest hint of any of this (or even something new, but similar, and/or completely made up) to be blown way out of proportion and become the top story this week:

A. From the Right

After all the huffing and puffing about voter fraud from Breitbart, Drudge, O’Keefe et al., as well as directly from Trump himself, there is broad grassroots belief that the system is rigged. People on the right are primed and ready to believe that the Democrats have committed widespread, systemic fraud involving illegal immigrants, the homeless, or the deceased. Whether it’s true is less important for the post-election day outcome than whether people are ready to believe it.

Which do you find easier to picture: Donald Trump is a combative billionaire, who has spent decades building a “brand” and a cult of personality and flirting with the idea of running for president. If it looked like he lost, would he go gently into that good night? Would he just allow Hillary Clinton to become president, a woman who, in his words, is “nasty,” “crooked,” “corrupt,” and “should be in jail?” Or would he cast doubt on the result? If you support him, which would you prefer? That he give up, or try? Therein lies the outcome.

B. From the Left

Less prominent have been suggestions of voter intimidation by Trump’s “poll watchers,” or just run-of-the-mill “patriots,” and even the possibility of voting machines being hacked by… the Russians! But because these stories are much less prominent in the left-space as I perceive it, and generally treated with healthy skepticism, I have to think it’s less likely that a surprise Trump victory would be disputed on these grounds. Although, the very surprise nature of it might lend credence to such theories.

If it comes down to it, which do you find easier to picture: Hillary Clinton is a former first lady, senator, and secretary of state, who has been preparing for decades to be the first female president, backed by the vague inevitability of being on “the right side of history.” If it looked like she lost, would she go gently into that good night? Would she just allow Donald Trump to become president, a man who is, in her words, “unqualified to be president,” backed by “a basket of deplorables,” and who trades in “racist lies?” Or would she cast doubt on the result? If you support her, which would you prefer? That she give up, or try? Therein lies the outcome.

2. Electoral College tie, or sub-270 plurality

If no one wins a majority of the electoral college votes (270), even if they won the most votes, a whole other process goes into effect, which I detailed a bit in my last post.

3. Faithless elector(s)

The electoral college isn’t just a points system, it actually still has “electors,” people who vote on behalf of the people of their states. What if they vote contrary to we the people? There are rules governing this, but what if those rules are broken? The stakes sure are high this election.

This is not a very likely scenario, but not impossible, and it has precedent.

4. Recount a la the 2000 election

Remember that? Combine with scenario 1), and what happens?

Just brace yourself, is all I’m sayin’.

No Matter How You Vote, I Still Love You

By Jonathan McGeachen

If you vote for the conman-with-no-plan, I still love you.

If you vote for the female-with-the-email, I still love you.

If you vote third party in a swing state when you might otherwise have voted for a more viable candidate, and that more viable candidate winds up losing, whichever side loses is going to blame you, but they shouldn’t, because it’s actually their fault. They should have nominated a better person. I still love you.

If you vote third party in a solid red or blue state, people would be very unreasonable to blame you for their loss, because your vote didn’t make a difference, but they probably will blame you anyway, because these are unreasonable times. I still love you.

If you happen to live in Utah and you vote for McMullin and Hillary and Trump both fall below 270 electoral votes and under the 12th Amendment the House somehow elects McMullin as a “compromise” with almost zero popular mandate, I still love you.

If you happen to live in Utah and you vote for McMullin and Trump wins a 12th Amendment House vote anyway, I still love you.

If Johnson somehow wins a state and wins the same way and you voted for him, or if Trump wins anyway as mentioned above, I still love you.

If the Democrats win the House because of Trump’s toxic down-ticket effect and said 12th Amendment vote is delayed or fails to reach a majority before the incoming Democrats arrive, who then proceed to elect Hillary, I still love you.

If the system deadlocks for a long time and Pence or Kaine becomes president under the 20th Amendment, I still love you.

I’ll still love you if you try to start an insurrection, but please, please don’t. Romans 13:1-2 doesn’t have a fraud exception, and was written by someone who suffered real persecution.

Protectionism for Global Workers

by Jonathan McGeachen

Anyone that’s talked to me about foreign trade and outsourcing (I have no idea what normal people talk about) knows that I support free trade. I believe it has been the main driver of global economic growth in the past 30 years, along with the information technology revolution. But free trade even enables the production practices that have made technology so cheaply ubiquitous, and with it, information. I am, as a Trump supporter might say, “a globalist cuck,” or as an ex-Bernie supporter might say, a “neoliberal shill.”

I wish! At least shills get paid.

(image by reddit user 2Thebreezes)

But I’ve been listening to people. There are many valid points made on the other side, about the dislocation of workers both in the developed world and the developing world, about concentration of wealth and tax evasion. Even though I still believe free trade produces the greatest net productivity and efficiency, I am open to the idea that it doesn’t produce the greatest net utility. And the last time I had a discussion with a Democrat about the ills of global capitalism, a thought occurred in the back of my mind:

“Trump’s protectionism could benefit third-world workers, according to left-wing logic.”

I’ll explain in a moment, if it’s unclear what I mean. No, I’m not here to advocate for Trump. Please don’t think that. Virtue-signalling complete. But I do expect that, regardless of who wins this election, this subject will come up again in 2020 and 2024, maybe even in the 2018 midterms. That’s what I’m looking toward right now.

The nomination of a Republican protectionist is a tremendous blow to the decades-long bipartisan agreement on free trade and deregulation known as the “Washington Consensus.” At first, I suspected it was an aberration caused by the Republican “Establishment’s” disorganization, and Trump’s celebrity, wealth, and unique anti-charisma that allowed him to swoop in and grab the party by the… something.

But maybe nominating a protectionist isn’t just the apopleptic death rattle of the Rust Belt, but the start of “something” larger that won’t necessarily confine itself to the Republican party, once this “something” sheds the 2016 election’s distracting overtones. There’s a massive, cross-cutting constituency on the far left (Bernie voters) and populist right (Trump voters) that would agree upon a well-crafted and well-presented protectionist platform. The point is less to draw these demographics “together,” because they’re incompatible in too many ways. The point is for a sane, centrist candidate to draw voters off the edges of these demographics. To, in a sense, outflank an opponent on both the left and the right at the same time. I’m probably not the first to realize this, and Trump’s platform isn’t quite “it,” but it’s a bigger step toward “it” than many people seem aware of. A party or candidate that embraces the overlapping concerns of both factions could perform formidably and firmly establish anti-globalization as an enduring ideology in the US.

Trump’s Missed Opportunities

1. Framing

As I said, Trump’s protectionism could benefit third-world workers, according to left-wing logic. The basic point being:

IF corporate globalism actually harms third-world workers by paying them less than their time is worth, under worse conditions than first-world workers enjoy;

THEN a reduction of US imports would reduce that harm.

Trump would have lost nothing by pointing this out as early as the primaries. It would have framed him as “compassionate,” and “globally-minded,” even if his priorities remained nationalistic to appeal to the primary voter crowd. His myriad other problems notwithstanding, it would have set him up to capture a handful more Bernie voters this November than it looks like he is going to. Without those myriad problems, perhaps many more.

Additionally, there’s the concentration of most profits into the hands of a few, and the difficulty of taxing overseas profits, which Bernie touched on but Trump has not very much.

A candidate that elaborates on these issues, as well as the familiar “they took our jobs” angle, will do better than a candidate that only focuses on one side of it.

2. Nuts and Bolts

The actual content of Trump’s trade platform revolves around negotiation and “deals,” with tariffs as mere threats for leverage in those theoretical negotiations. Coincidentally, Donald Trump has spent a lifetime building a brand as a great deal-maker. But anti-globalists should realize, negotiation is not the core of your problem anymore. Trump just wants to frame it that way to play to his perceived strengths.

Free trade is the default of international commerce. If I have a customer on the other side of an arbitrary border, I will sell to them if feasible unless government arbitrarily disincentivizes me. No “deal” is actually necessary for free trade to exist, unless a government first makes a decision to artificially restrict or tax the flow of goods across their borders, and then takes action to implement that decision.

The main positive use of trade deals over the past few decades has been, when advantageous, to mutually lower such barriers where governments have put them up. But if such barriers already don’t exist, what is there to negotiate? If a foreign government sees a benefit from the lack of barriers, why would they agree to a one-sided barrier on our end? I don’t care if he wrote a book on deal-making, Donald Trump isn’t a wizard who can magically bend foreign nations against their interests. Except maybe, maybe in the case of one-sided practices such as currency manipulation, using retaliatory tariff threats as leverage. But currency manipulation, while possibly a problem, is also not the core of it, just an icing on the cake.

So What’s the Core of It, Genius?

I already mentioned it: the cheapness of overseas labor. You can’t just negotiate overseas laborers out of a low standard of living. And if you target only a handful of countries, such as China or Mexico, you’ll just see production move to other countries where outsourcing remains profitable, such as Vietnam or India, or even, eventually, in Africa. You’ll just be playing outsourcing whack-a-mole forever.

If you apply a blanket tariff on imports, you’ll miss out on plenty of quality products produced under undisputably fair (compared to the U.S.) conditions.

My Proposed Solution

Against all my cucky, shilly instincts, here’s how I’d handle it if I wanted to try to promote a long-term better situation for workers both here and abroad, at a noticeable trade-off of productivity and profits, and increased consumer prices.

1. Unilaterally Cancel Many (Not All) Free Trade Agreements

Scrap all free trade agreements with nations that have some significant lack in workers’ legal protections relative to our protections. Withdraw from, or, if possible, reform any international institutions that might stand in the way of this (WTO, IMF come to mind).

Maintain and expand agreements with nations that have comparable or greater protections, and are like-minded in pursuing measures resembling step 2 (below). Perhaps even include mechanisms to punish partner nations’ non-compliance with step 2.

Either as a single nation or together as a union, but by “unilateral,” I mean no negotiation is necessary with offending nations (bonus: this appeals to the “git ‘er dun” crowd’s restless national pride).

The more worker-friendly nations that are on board going into step 2, the greater the effect.

2. Tariffs Designed to Reverse the Race to the Bottom

A. Clear Benchmarks

This is the key point, and the concept is simple: if a country has poorer legal protections for their workers than we do, we slap tariffs on imports from that country to discourage the “exploitation” of their workers at the expense of American workers. Especially when those protections are quantifiable. The worse the protections, the greater the tariffs. If the country has no standard at all in a given area, we apply a high, flat rate. We apply these standards uniformly to most other countries, unless their labor standards are similar to or greater than ours.

This pursues left- and right-populist goals at the same time: it reduces profit incentives for offshoring jobs from the US, and creates incentives for foreign nations to improve their working conditions. As they do so, they will gradually, automatically regain access to our import market. We reassess their standards annually or even monthly, and adjust our rates accordingly.

Some possible examples (percentages extremely open to adjustment, not necessarily 1:1 ratio):

Example 1: Madeupistan has a minimum wage of $1 per hour. US minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. $1 is 86% less than $7.25. 86% tariff, or maybe whatever it works out to after adjusting for cost-of-living differences.

Example 2: Madeupistan only pays overtime if you work more than 60 hours in a week. In the US, you get overtime over 40 hours. It takes 50% more time to make 50% more pay. 50%*50%=25% additional tariff.

Example 3: Madeupistan prohibits unionization. Automatic 50% tariff.

B. Phase-In

Don’t apply sky-high tariffs upon half the globe right off the bat; this would create an enormous and unnecessary market shock. Phase them in a few percent per year, up to the caps exemplified above.

 C. Legality

Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution grants the power to tax, and specifically to levy “Duties,” exclusively to Congress. Such a measure would need to at least pass through Congress to be legal.

D. Tariff Revenues

Do what you like with them, they’re not really the point.

What if it Doesn’t Wind Up Benefiting the Third World?

Then we’ll all have learned a valuable lesson, won’t we?

Isn’t This Just a Great Big White Savior Complex?

Seriously? What do you want from me?

The Most Important Issues This Year Are Apparently Trump’s Tax Returns and the War on Coal

Below are my reactions to things that stood out to me in the VP debate:

PENCE: …a war on coal…

That’s some pretty specific pandering.

Kaine: It is so painful to suggest that we go back to think about these days where an African-American could not be a citizen of the United States.


KAINE: She worked a tough negotiation with nations around the world to eliminate the Iranian nuclear weapons program without firing a shot.

PENCE: Eliminate the Iranian nuclear weapons program?

KAINE: Absolutely, without firing a shot.

We don’t know that “absolutely;” the Parchin facility appears to be subject to looser “self-” inspection rules than the others, but is also subject to a rabbit-hole of paranoid rumors. Iran has also, in the past, concealed the existence of facilities altogether (side note: I feel pretty sorry for the Institute for Science and International Security (“ISIS”). They chose the wrong acronym).

“Probably” or “maybe” would be a much more accurate word than “absolutely.”

PENCE: Hillary Clinton — Hillary Clinton — Hillary Clinton failed to renegotiate a status of forces agreement…

KAINE: No, that is incorrect. That’s incorrect.

It’s technically correct, but mainly not her fault. The agreement to leave by 2011, for better or worse, was put in place by Bush before he left. But, as the time approached, the Obama team feat. Clinton did not successfully renegotiate a later deadline. It may have been for some lack of trying, but internal Iraqi politics also played an important role: they simply didn’t want U.S. troops in their country anymore. But look where that got them.

PENCE: …war on coal…


QUIJANO: …neither of your economic plans will reduce the growing $19 trillion gross national debt. In fact, your plans would add even more to it.

Both of you were governors who balanced state budgets. Are you concerned that adding more to the debt could be disastrous for the country. Governor Pence?

This is a loaded question, for both of them really. All the Keynesians watching probably smashed their scotch glasses in an iron grip. It’s impossible to reduce the debt even a cent without doing half a trillion or more of the following, in some combination:

-Cut spending

-Raise taxes

Try the Fiscal Ship game and see how well you do.

QUIJANO: *Question about Trump’s tax returns.*

I like how they both gave their canned, rehearsed answers on the debt/spending/taxes question, a very substantive policy issue, and then the moderator wanted to move on with no cross-examination.

Then Pence attempts to rebut anyway, a brief session of talking over each other, and the moderator still wants to move on to the tax returns.

QUIJANO: Senator Kaine, on the issue of Social Security, in 18 years, when the Social Security Trust Funds run out of money, you’ll be 76… what would your administration do to prevent [a] cut? 

This is the most forward-thinking question I’ve heard in this whole campaign. 18 whole years out! The simple reality is, you either raise taxes, cut benefits (or privatize, which I imagine also involves cutting, because why would any private entity willingly take on an insolvent liability like that), or cut some other spending and put the money into benefits. Those are the only options. The fairest plan probably involves a combination of these things.

But I won’t be 67 until 2054. I’m not planning on Social Security still existing. I doubt the robot overlords would allow it even if it were solvent.

I like how Kaine completely dodged the question as to his own plan to attack Pence on privatization. And then Pence counter-attacks on spending with no specific plan either. But this is how pretty much any candidate handles Social Security.

Policing, Immigration

Nothing new here.

PENCE: … guaranteed that Iran will someday become a nuclear power, because there’s no limitations once the period of time of the treaty comes off.

On the other end, that’s also hardly “guaranteed.” If sanctions brought about an agreement once, they could do it again a decade from now. Do these people really live in a world where all outcomes are certain?

KAINE: That is completely antithetical to the Jeffersonian values of…

Something something Jefferson owned slaves something something Democrats were the party of slavery.

PENCE: But about Aleppo and about Syria, I truly do believe that what America ought to do right now is immediately establish safe zones…

This is about as useful as a “gun free zone” unless you’re willing to go to war to defend it…

PENCE: …the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike military targets of the Assad regime to prevent them from this humanitarian crisis that is taking place in Aleppo.

Called it! Libya all over again.

PENCE: We ought to deploy a missile defense shield to the Czech Republic and Poland which Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama pulled back on out of not wanting to offend the Russians back in 2009.

Agreed. That was naive.

KAINE: Governor Pence made the odd claim, he said inarguably Vladimir Putin is a better leader than President Obama. Vladimir Putin has run his economy into the ground…

Technically, Putin is a stronger leader, in that people follow him when he leads. Where he leads them is another question, though.

Technically, also, we ran Russia’s economy into the ground with sanctions and an oil market glut. They did have it coming, though.

KAINE: [Trump avoided paying taxes even on 9/11]

QUIJANO: The question was about Aleppo, Senator.

Whoa, moderator actually trying to keep them on-topic. Quijano is growing on me.

Except for how Kaine never did come back to the topic, except agreeing on a “safe zone.”

A whole lot of talking in circles, until…

PENCE: …Chinese building new islands in the South China Sea…

I’m glad to hear someone mentioning this. It’s worrisome, but also kinda cool.

PENCE: But for me, I would tell you that for me the sanctity of life proceeds out of the belief that — that ancient principle that — where God says before you were formed in the womb, I knew you, and so for my first time in public life, I sought to stand with great compassion for the sanctity of life.

Bold words, in this day and age.

PENCE: The state of Indiana has also sought to make sure that we expand alternatives in health care counseling for women, non-abortion alternatives. I’m also very pleased at the fact we’re well on our way in Indiana to becoming the most pro-adoption state in America. I think if you’re going to be pro-life, you should — you should be pro- adoption.

Very good.

PENCE: Because there is — a society can be judged by how it deals with its most vulnerable, the aged, the infirm, the disabled, and the unborn. I believe it with all my heart.

Pence bustin’ out that John Rawls?

PENCE: …war on coal…

Did anyone play a drinking game with this? I could imagine someone saying “three shots if Pence says “war on coal,” not thinking he’d do it more than once, and then he does it three times, and everyone winds up completely hammered.

In Summary

This debate was frustrating to read from a transcript because of all the interruptions. I wonder if it was better to watch.