Saturday Commentary and Review #143
The Damage of the 1965 Hart-Celler Act, Huntington 'Vindicated', Germany's Left-Populism, Why America Can't Produce Enough Military Ammo, Albanian Blood Feuds
Every weekend (almost) I share five articles/essays/reports with you. I select these over the course of the week because they are either insightful, informative, interesting, important, or a combination of the above.
Many of you reading this are immigrants, and almost every one of you residing in the New World is a descendant of immigrants. Some of you are opposed to immigration in terms of numbers, others are opposed based on the perceived quality of the overall immigrant pool for your country. Still others are outright opposed to any immigration whatsoever. And then there are those who are reading this who support continued immigration, usually with certain qualifiers. This is a diversity of opinion that I am happy to host, as this issue is a major one across the West (and beyond), and will continue to be so, especially as the notion of “climate refugees” continues to build up steam.
This issue is also an incredibly polarizing one as strong moral judgments are applied to those with strong views on it. For example, immigration restrictionists are often denounced as “xenophobes” and/or “racists” (yes, some of them can be fairly described as such), and therefore outside of the bounds of acceptable society. Those who are very, very liberal regarding immigration are sometimes criticized as seeking to replace the older core population of the country (and yes, this can fairly describe some of them too). This issue is so significant because it touches upon every aspect of society: politics, economics, culture, faith, family, etc. Lastly, immigration is transformational; it transforms the immigrant, but if it is present in large enough numbers, it will also transform the host society.
Since Hamas attacked Israel three weeks ago today, some liberals have had their eyes opened regarding immigration as they have witnessed just how many Muslims in the West are siding with the Palestinians (and yes, some are actively supporting Hamas too). Large pro-Palestinian demonstrations have been taking place in London and Paris, with immigrant populations forming the overwhelming majority of the demonstrators. For civic libertarians this is fine, as they should have the right to free speech and assembly. For liberals who support Israel these demonstrations have caused some of them to question their priors, especially if they are Jewish and do not separate the State of Israel from the Jewish people as a whole. What no one can deny is the fact that immigrant populations will bring their own politics along with them as they settle in their new country of residence.
At present, the southern US border is wide open to migrants seeking to cross the border and enter the USA illegally. This is being facilitated by the US government, in a very, very unique historical experiment wherein the world’s most powerful country is letting practically anyone in, not due to any inability to stop the flow, but because the flow is actually desired by the government (for now). As of 2014, the OFFICIAL NUMBER of illegal immigrants in the USA was 12,120,000, but I doubt that anyone actually believes this figure to be correct as it was certainly much, much higher than that. Add to that the number of legal immigrants who continue to arrive year after year and you realize just how much the USA has been transformed over the past several decades.
I, like you, enjoy crapping on mainstream media for its decline in quality and how untrustworthy it has become, but sometimes you can find gems in it. For example, this very long essay by David Leonhardt (an excerpt from his new book “Ours Was the Shining Future: The Story of the American Dream”) is an incredibly worthwhile read on the history and impact of immigration in the USA since the 1965 Hart-Celler Act became law. In it, he strikes a moderate tone regarding immigration, but does conclude that it has benefited the wealthier and has negatively impacted the working class:
“This bill that we will sign today is not a revolutionary bill,” President Lyndon B. Johnson said as he put his signature on the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, at the base of the Statue of Liberty. “It does not affect the lives of millions.” All that the bill would do, he explained, was repair the flawed criteria for deciding who could enter the country. “This bill says simply that from this day forth those wishing to immigrate to America shall be admitted on the basis of their skills and their close relationship to those already here.”
Edward Kennedy, the 33-year-old senator who had shepherded the bill through the Senate, went even further in promising that its effects would be modest. Some opponents argued that the bill would lead to a large increase in immigration, but those claims were false, Kennedy said. They were “highly emotional, irrational, and with little foundation in fact,” he announced in a Senate hearing, and “out of line with the obligations of responsible citizenship.” Emanuel Celler, the bill’s champion in the House, made the same promises. “Do we appreciably increase our population, as it were, by the passage of this bill?” Celler said. “The answer is emphatically no.”
Johnson, Kennedy, Celler and the new law’s other advocates turned out to be entirely wrong about this. The 1965 bill sparked a decades-long immigration wave. As a percentage of the United States population, this modern wave has been similar in size to the immigration wave of the late 1800s and early 1900s. In terms of the sheer number of people moving to a single country, the modern American immigration wave may be the largest in history. The year Johnson signed the immigration bill, 297,000 immigrants legally entered the United States. Two years later, the number reached 362,000. It continued rising in subsequent decades, and by 1989 exceeded 1 million.
The critics of the bill were proven right:
The critics’ predictions—that annual immigration might soon triple, as one conservative congressman forecast, and eventually surpass 1 million, as another anticipated—ended up being more accurate. The advocates of the 1965 law also incorrectly promised that any increase in immigration would come from white-collar professionals filling specific job shortages. Willard Wirtz, Johnson’s labor secretary, went so far as to tell Congress that the bill offered “complete protection” against increased labor competition. In truth, many arrivals have been blue-collar workers, admitted as extended family, seeking a broad range of jobs.
In 1965, the United States already had a more open immigration system than many other countries, with a higher percentage of foreign-born residents than most of Europe, and a far higher share than Japan. The 1965 bill went further, and became what the journalist Margaret Sands Orchowski has called arguably the world’s most liberal immigration law. Theodore White, the chronicler of 1960s political history, described the law as “noble, revolutionary—and probably the most thoughtless of the many acts of the Great Society.”
Leonhardt poses three questions:
First, how have the immigrants fared in this country? Second, what have been the economic effects for people who were already in the United States? And third, how has the immigration wave altered American politics?
Regarding the first question, he answers that they are doing better than ever, but with major caveats:
Children of post-1965 immigrants have ascended at a pace strikingly similar to their predecessors, as two economists—Leah Boustan of Princeton and Ran Abramitzky of Stanford—have documented. As in the past, immigrants themselves tend to remain poor if they arrive poor. And as in the past, their children tend to make up ground rapidly. Overall, most children of the recent immigration wave have grown up to earn at least a middle-class income. “The American Dream is just as real for immigrants from Asia and Latin America now as it was for immigrants from Italy and Russia one hundred years ago,” Abramitzky and Boustan write. There is no permanent underclass of American immigrants.
There are certainly caveats. In a country as large as the United States, averages hide a lot of variation. Some immigrant families suffer discrimination and remain in poverty for multiple generations, much as some native-born American families do. It is also worth pointing out that intergenerational research necessarily comes with a lag. Many recent immigrants have indeed been poorer than earlier immigrants were, and perhaps their children will struggle. The children of undocumented immigrants face particular hardships.
As for the 2nd question:
THE SECOND BIG question about immigration is how it has affected the living standards of people who were already in the United States. On the surface, the facts look damning.
The decades when the American masses enjoyed their fastest income gains—in the middle of the 20th century—were also the decades when immigration was near historic lows. The 1965 law ended this era and caused a sharp rise in the number of immigrants entering the workforce. Shortly afterward, incomes for poor and working-class Americans began to stagnate. The 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s were a time of low immigration and rapidly rising mass living standards. The period since the ’70s has been neither.
Yes, it has helped to drive down wages:
But the story does not end here. The same evidence suggests that immigration has played a meaningful, if secondary, role in holding down wages. In 2017, the National Academy of Sciences released a 600-plus-page report on immigration, produced by a committee of prominent scholars. The committee reviewed the relevant research, including studies of surges of immigration to specific metropolitan areas. The report included a table summarizing the estimated effect of immigration on native wages, from each of the relevant studies since the 1990s. The table is dominated by negative numbers. Immigration does have costs.
Logic and history point to the same conclusion as the economic data. That is why CEOs long favored high levels of immigrants and labor leaders such as A. Philip Randolph and Samuel Gompers long opposed them. It is also why the architects of the 1965 law vowed that it would not allow more manual workers to enter the country. When immigration increases, employers often have the upper hand. When immigration is low, the economist Sumner Slichter explained a century ago, employers are forced “to adapt jobs to men rather than men to jobs.” People sometimes claim that immigrants work in jobs that native-born Americans do not want. But Christopher Jencks, a social-policy professor at Harvard University, has pointed out that this statement is incomplete: Immigrants typically work in jobs that native-born Americans do not want at the wages that employers are offering. One reason that employers can offer such wages, Jencks adds, is the availability of so many immigrant workers.
As to the third question, Leonhardt relies on the work of psychologist Jonathan Haidt, whose work led other researchers to divide people between “univeralists” and “communalists”:
In the years that followed, Haidt and his colleagues created a broader version of the survey, known as the Moral Foundations Questionnaire. Around the world, educated professionals emphasize two values above all: care for others, especially the vulnerable, and fairness. Working-class people put significant weight on those values, too, but not quite as much. And working-class respondents emphasize values that are of little import to college graduates, such as respect for authority, appreciation of tradition, and loyalty to family and community. Other researchers have come to use the terms universal and communal to describe the two belief sets.
Both universalism and communalism have important advantages. The universalist passion for fairness and harm prevention has undergirded every great social-justice movement of the past century. While some communalists defended racial segregation and sexism as cultural traditions, universalists refused to accept them. In foreign policy, universalism helped lead to the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II. Universalism has made the world both freer and more equal.
Communalism can claim its own accomplishments, though. Without loyalty, tradition, and respect, human beings would not have been able to form groups that allowed them to survive. In modern times, communalism has inspired Americans to enlist in the military and become teachers at local elementary schools. The same outlook helps explain why working-class households tend to give a greater percentage of their income to charity (often their churches) than upper-income households. Communalism also played a central role in social-justice movements: Religious groups, and the loyalty they inspire, were crucial to both abolitionism and civil-rights activism. Today, communalism continues to promote equality of opportunity: According to research by the Harvard economist Raj Chetty and his colleagues, children are more likely to escape poverty if they grow up in a place where people have strong social connections.
Leonhardt goes on to argue that the Democrats have become much more universalist, especially as their base has moved away from the working class and towards the professional management set. He also argues that this is the main reason as to why the working class continues to move to the right, politically.
This is a brilliant read. Click here to read the rest.
I made a comment recently that Israelis and pro-Israel partisans in the West will appeal to “The West” to support it in its conflict with Hamas. This is a perfectly natural thing to do, as everyone in any conflict looks to amass as many allies as possible. Appeals based on shared civilization/history/blood are frankly the most effective, as it stirs something on the inside…….but only if you actually care about those shared characteristics.
In much of the world, Israel is viewed as a “western settler colony”, with all of the negative baggage that comes with it (e.g. accusations of “genocide”). The modern state of Israel does have much in common with the West, especially considering how many Israelis have recent descent from Europe in particular. Many living in Israel were actually born in the West.
Is Israel actually “western”? This is not the place to tackle this question, as it would deserve a standalone essay of its own. My single line answer would be “yes and no” (please don’t get mad at me!). By placing Israel in the West, Israelis and their supporters can then appeal to the West to come to its aid, whether diplomatically, economically, or even militarily. If you were Israeli, you would almost certainly do the same thing.
Joel Kotkin has already made my (easy) prediction come true. In this opinion piece, he urges the West to get its shit together because its universalism isn’t actually universal, and that Samuel P. Huntington was right in that religion and culture will continue to be the main drivers of conflict for the foreseeable future:
History is rearing its ugly head, and it would best not to look away. Time to put away our foolish utopian dreams and face the harsher, more divided world, predicted in Samuel Huntington’s 2011 book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order .
In the heady days following the collapse of the Soviet Union, many public intellectuals, as well as presidents like George W. Bush and Barack Obama, embraced the notion of an ever expanding, liberal and democratic world order. Some, like political scientist Francis Fukuyama, even preached the “end of history,” prophesizing “the good news” of democracy’s inevitable spread and insisting that tech growth favours “a universal evolution in the direction of capitalism.”
Two examples proving Huntington’s thesis:
Recent events, notably the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, suggest it’s time to bury these notions. In Clash, Huntington predicted the Ukrainian conflict as well the resurgence, at the expense of the West, of many cultures, including Indian, Chinese, Arab and Turkish. He noted all seek recompense for steep declines during the period of European predominance. Rather than a world shaped by the logic of markets and the rule of law, this is engendering the ascendency of autocrats and intensifying tribalization and primitivist religious movements.
Our two concurrent wars demonstrate Huntington’s thesis. The assault on Ukraine, which he foresaw, reflects not neo-Soviet ideology but a deeply Russian Orthodox racial world view. After all, Vladimir Putin’s fears about NATO expansion into the former U.S.S.R., notes historian Robert Service , parallel traditional nationalist concerns that claim Ukraine is an essential part of their state, with roots to the earliest civilization that was long based in Kyiv reaching back to the ninth century.
China’s emergence similarly speaks of revanchist notions more reflective of Han nationalism and Imperial tradition than Communist ideology. The red mandarins may spout Marxist credos but their appeal to the masses lies largely in nationalist desires to achieve the stated aim of becoming the leading global superpower by 2050.
The dangerous conflict in the Middle East further reinforces the “clash of civilizations.” The takeover of the Palestinian movement by Hamas wipes away even the smallest fig leaf of liberal intent for a two-nation solution. Hamas’s goal is simple: eradicate Israel and its Jewish inhabitants. Longer term, the goals of the Islamists also include imposing their faith on even those Christians full of sympathy for the beleaguered Palestinians. The imbecilic Obama-Biden pandering to Iran demonstrates the foolishness of ignoring the fundamental realities of “clash of civilizations”; you can’t make a partnership with someone who wants you dead.
The West’s “self-inflicted” weakness:
Given the enormous technical and natural resources of the West, we should be able to navigate the “clash,” making allies, for example, with other tribes like the Indians, Japanese and Koreans, all countries that have experienced rapid growth based on engagement with the capitalist world. The major obstacle may be self-inflicted — a lack of belief among large segments of the western population that disdains our own heritage and prefers to embrace groups seen as victims of neo-colonial oppression, however brutal and hate-filled.
Antisemitism, that reliable indicator of Western rot, is on the rise in Europe, the U.S. and, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau admits, even in Canada. But hatred being bred largely on campuses seeks not just to destroy Israel and the Jewish people, but is in conflict with the very logic of openness that has allowed our countries to morph from racist to distinctly multicultural societies.
Kotkin is very much an Israel hawk, but there is quite a bit of truth in what he has to say. Check out this bit:
Nor can we be too confident in a western defence establishment and intelligence services that have been focused elsewhere on green absolutism or gay rights, as the head of MI6 recently opined. The obsession of NATO and the U.S. military in fighting climate change and white nationalism is borderline insane at a time when they should be more concerned about their dubious war-fighting ability and our industrial prowess to meet the new challenge.
Ultimately the West cannot win, or even stay relevant, in the “clash” if it does not believe in itself and is willing to employ all possible means to protect its interests. With a debilitated sense of self-belief, the West, for all its manifold technical and cultural progress, may be ill-suited to battle the pernicious forces shaping our present clash of civilizations.
Will the Hamas attack on Israel serve as a wake-up call for the West? I have my doubts, as the universalism that has captured western governance and institutions still remains in the driver’s seat, despite the rise of populism.
As for Kotkin, he applauds the “….very logic of openness that has allowed our countries to morph from racist to distinctly multicultural societies”, but fails to grasp that this multiculturalism that he supports and celebrates is negatively affecting the ability of the West to come to Israel’s aid….and it’s only going to get worse as the Boomers die off.
In the past 15 years, Germany has gone through a financial crisis (2008), a migration crisis (2014-16), and now an economic crisis thanks to its short-sighted energy policies regarding nuclear reactors, renewables, and joining the sanctions regime against Russia. The first could be forgiven, the second was an own goal, and the third was also self-inflicted.
Post-war Germany has been quite conservative in its politics whereby the Christian Democrats were just as predictable in power as their main rivals, the soc-dem SPD. Other parties would sometimes enter government, but they too preferred to not rock the liberal democratic boat. For the first two decades after reunification, this continued to be the case, as the former West swallowed the former East. This is no longer the case.
The meteoric rise of AfD, a party that seeks to restrict immigration and challenge Brussels, is constantly in the news. Derided as ‘authoritarian’ and even ‘fascist’, it’s sin is in not adhering to the accepted principles of liberalism in political, cultural, and social areas. Even though the party has no opposition to the constitutional order, it is still viewed as a ‘threat’ to that very same order, so much so that it is under constant surveillance by state security. Despite this, they have rocketed to second place in national polls, just behind the governing CDU.
The AfD is a populist party, but they are no longer the sole populists on the German political scene. This past week, Sahra Wagenknecht (ex-member of the Marxist Die Linke), announced the formation of her own party to contest future German elections. Sahra has long been a maverick on the left, and her split from Die Linke has been a long time coming. She has criticized it for becoming too bourgeois and too focused on trendy social and cultural movements, at the expense of bread and butter economic issues. The great Christopher Caldwell provides us with a look at Sahra and her left-populist agenda:
Ms. Wagenknecht has been hinting at the break for months. The Left party descends from Communist East Germany’s old ruling party, which Ms. Wagenknecht joined in 1989, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. But it is not the party it once was. To put it in crude American terms: It has become too woke for Ms. Wagenknecht. Germany’s present government is made up of Social Democrats, Greens and market-oriented Free Democrats. It offers an agenda for a “lifestyle left,” to use Ms. Wagenknecht’s phrase, not a real left. And yet many of her longtime colleagues have been seduced by it.
At a time of housing shortages and weak wage growth, the government’s unwillingness to stem the influx of economic migrants is “irresponsible,” Ms. Wagenknecht says. Its heavy-handed energy regulations are burdening poorer families. Its uncritical assent to the United States’ backing of Ukraine is prolonging the war, driving up energy prices and crippling the German economy.
Ms. Wagenknecht faults her party not just for failing to oppose the government but also for bullying and belittling those citizens who do. In 2021 she wrote a best-selling attack on fashionable leftism that she titled “The Self-Righteous.” That fall she appeared on one of Germany’s top political talk shows to insist that those who dissented from Germany’s draconian Covid rules were “normal citizens” and to explain why she was unvaccinated.
Sahra has identified an opening in the German political scene and is seeking to exploit it. More:
Ms. Wagenknecht’s detractors say that what is going on is simple: She is turning into a right-winger.
This is not quite right. Her thinking still bears the stamp of her formative Communist years. Her stance on immigration may be restrictive, but she favors opening Germany’s borders to political asylum seekers. (It is labor immigration she wants to restrict.) She may bemoan the flow of migrants from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, but she blames American foreign policy for it.
Elitists vs. Populists:
In Germany as in the United States, a deep divide has opened in the electorate between “populists” and “elitists.” Neither side is happy with these epithets, still less with the imputations of extremism that tend to accompany them. Ms. Wagenknecht is certainly a populist. But in a German context the question of whether she is a populist of the left or of the right has a special urgency.
After seven postwar decades in which moderation was the country’s political watchword and the Christian Democrats were the repository of almost all the country’s conservative tendencies, Germany has changed. Lashed by the euro crisis of 2010, the migration crisis since 2015 and the Ukraine-war-induced industrial crisis, the country has radicalized almost beyond recognition. Alternative for Germany, known by its German initials, AfD, is the country’s first broad nationalist party since World War II. It comes in second in most opinion polls.
She is not fond of AfD, despite their wooing of her:
Ms. Wagenknecht has said she considers Mr. Höcke a right-wing extremist and wants nothing to do with him. Germans’ attitudes about her new party tend to revolve around whether they think she will broaden the right-wing populist uprising or dilute it. The polls point to dilution: In August the newspaper Die Zeit published an Insa survey taken in the state of Thuringia, where AfD is the largest party, showing that, were a Wagenknecht-led party to run there, it would finish first, with 25 percent, followed by AfD at 22. Polls previously showed AfD with 30 percent.
Others are more skeptical that Ms. Wagenknecht will draw voters from the far right. In a much-remarked-on essay in the center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the social scientist Oliver Nachtwey, who is based in Basel, Switzerland, emphasized that her preferred targets were not at Germany’s extremes but at its liberal center — and that her criticism was “not so different from the right’s culture war.”
Implications for the broader West:
Something is happening in Western countries to drive the masses (as they used to be called) away from parties of the left and center left that were set up over the past century to welcome and champion them. At times Ms. Wagenknecht blames the laziness of professional politicians. “It is easier to regulate speech,” she once said, “than to raise the minimum wage.” She often talks as if there are really two lefts: a wage-raising left that wants to distribute wealth fairly and a speech-regulating left that wants to affirm gender identity or fight racism. For a long time those two lefts — economic and cultural — tended to find a home in the same parties.
But perhaps this was a historical accident rather than a real affinity. Generations ago, farmers and industrial workers set the tone in left-wing movements. Their project to secure fairer economic treatment had some overlap with the projects of migrants, racial and ethnic minorities, women and intellectuals. Today, though, farm laborers make up an infinitesimal percentage of most Western work forces, and industrial employment has contracted sharply, too. So the left, quite naturally, has become not just a different political movement but also a different kind of political movement. Not because anybody changed his mind or made an ideological mistake but because the left now reflects different people’s interests.
Abounding in minorities, the left is increasingly attentive to hierarchies of respect and vigilant about monitoring them. Abounding in intellectuals, it is increasingly — and mistakenly — inclined to view democracy as a search for truth rather than as a search for consensus; it is prone to cast those who disagree with it, no matter how numerous, as democracy’s enemies and even as authoritarians.
The question is: can her form of economic re-distributive leftist populism find an audience? Or are her politics a relic of a bygone era?
Sanctions-hit Russia has ramped up military production to very significant levels, something that wasn’t anticipated by the designers of the sanctions regime that has targeted it. Ukraine is now sounding the alarm, demanding more supplies of weaponry and ammunition from the West in order to continue defending itself against Moscow, but the problem is that the West is running out of supplies. Making matters worse for Ukraine is the fact that a new war has broken out in Israel and Gaza, and the Americans now have their attention divided between these two client regimes that they sponsor.
Many voices in the USA are urging the ramping up of military production, butsays that it’s not that easy due to many factors, including the merger frenzy that has consolidated the defense industry:
As stockpiles dwindle, there is now widespread agreement among policymakers that America must rebuild its capacity to arm itself and its allies. But according to a new scorching government report released this week, that’s mostly just talk. The Pentagon doesn’t bother tracking the guts of defense contracting, which is who owns the mighty firms that build weaponry.
And now, let’s talk the defense base. Here’s an exceptionally boring chart that involves all the money in the world. Welcome to the Pentagon.
One of the more important side stories to the recent wars in Ukraine and Israel, and competition with China over Taiwan, is that the U.S. defense industrial base, composed of 200k plus corporations, is being forced to actually build weapons again. Defense is big business, and since the end of the Cold War, the government has allowed Wall Street to determine who owns, builds, and profits from defense spending.
The consequences, as with much of our economic machinery, are predictable. Higher prices, worse quality, lower output. Wall Street and private equity firms prioritize cash out first, and that means a once functioning and nimble industrial base now produces more grift than anything else. As Lucas Kunce and I wrote for the American Conservative in 2019, the U.S. simply can’t build or get the equipment it needs. There are at this point a bevy of interesting reports coming out of the Pentagon. The last one I wrote up earlier this year showed that unlike the mid-20th century defense-industrial base, today government cash goes increasingly to stock buybacks rather than actual armaments. And now, with a dramatic upsurge in need for everything from missiles to artillery shells to bullets, we’re starting to see cracks in the vaunted U.S. military.
Slow ramp up:
Surges due to wars aren’t new, and there’s always some time lag between the build-up and the delivery. But today, the lengths of time are weirdly long. For instance, the Army is awarding contracts to RTX and Lockheed Martin to build new Stinger missiles, which makes sense. But the process will take.. five years. Why? What is new is Wall Street’s role in weaponry. We used to have slack, and productive capacity, but then came private equity and mergers. And now we don’t. The government can’t actually solicit bids from multiple players for most major weapons systems, because there’s just one or two possible bidders. So that means there’s little incentive for firms to expand output, even if there’s more spending. Why not just raise price?
But don’t take my word for it, take that of the Pentagon. In 2022, the DOD reported that “that consolidation of the industrial base reduces competition for DOD contracts and leads DOD to rely on a more limited number of suppliers. This lack of competition may in turn increase the risk of supply chain gaps, price increases, reduced innovation, and other adverse effects.” And that’s why, more than a year into the Ukraine conflict, the ramp-up is still not where it needs to be.
The Pentagon is “blind”:
This week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which is a Congressional office charged with investigating problems in government and business, explained why. The GAO came out with a report on how the Pentagon is doing essentially zero oversight of Wall Street’s acquisitions of defense contractors. The title is as boring as you’d expect, designed to have few people pay attention, but offering a red-alert to procurement officials.
The report is simply jaw-dropping. Despite all the chatter about consolidation at high levels within the Pentagon, and in Congress, the bureaucracy has made essentially no progress whatsoever. For instance, we have a trillion dollar defense budget, but there are just two people in the Department of Defense who look at mergers in the defense base. You couldn’t staff the morning shift of a small coffee shop with that, and yet two people are supposed to look at the estimated four hundred mergers plus going on every year among defense contractors and subcontractors.
Four hundred mergers every year is a lot, but of course, that’s just an estimate. Why don’t we know how many acquisitions happen in the defense base? As it turns out, it’s an estimate because the Pentagon isn’t tracking defense mergers anymore. To put it in boring GAO-speak, Pentagon “officials could not say with certainty how many defense-related M&A now occur annually because they no longer track or maintain data on all M&A in the defense industrial base.” So the DOD is almost totally blind to the corporate owners of contractors and subcontractors, which might be one reason that, say, Chinese alloys are being discovered in sensitive weapons systems like the state of the art F-35.
Click here to read the rest.
We end this weekend’s SCR with a long look at the blood feuds that still plague the northern Albanian Highlands:
I had flown to the Balkans in late July 2017 to learn about blood feuds, or the ancient oaths of vendetta sworn between warring families and passed on from one generation to the next. The killing is concentrated in northern Albania—in the rural, often unreachable villages of the Accursed Mountains, and in the modern city of Shkodër, one of the oldest municipalities in southeastern Europe. Here, justice works like this: When a man is murdered, his family avenges his death by similarly executing either the killer himself or a male member of his clan. Sometimes, after a killing has been successfully vindicated, the feud is settled. Other times, the head of the family that initiated the feud, while admitting both sides are now ostensibly “equal,” nonetheless chooses to perpetuate the cycle by killing a second male from the avenging family. “In this way the feud might rage backwards and forwards for years or even generations, each family being in turn murderer and victim, hunter and hunted,” the Scottish anthropologist and ethnographer Margaret Hasluck writes in The Unwritten Law of Albania, one of the first accounts of the customary law of the Albanian highlands.
Guns remain the primary means of blood-taking here, in part because guns are relatively easy to come by in Albania. Reports estimate between 600,000 and 650,000—though maybe twice that—were looted from military stockpiles in the late 1990s, after the Albanian government unlocked its weapons depots in the midst of what seemed like inevitable civil war (“Guns were the first thing we went for, then flour for bread,” Aleksander Marleci, a local politician in Shkodër, told Politico in 2016). When I asked my young translator, Elvis Nabolli, how hard it was to get a weapon in Albania these days, he laughed and laughed. “You want a gun? You can have a gun.”
This is a favourite subject of mine. I can talk about this endlessly.
Click here to read the rest.
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