Ancient Greece and the Modern Madness

Greece, once the ancient birthplace of reason, seems to have gone stark raving mad in a very modern way.
On Sunday the Greek people rejected the European Union’s offer of yet another multi-billion Euro bailout for its disastrous economy, apparently persuaded by their Prime Minister’s argument that doing so will enable him to negotiate an even bigger bailout without any pesky conditions that Greece enact economic reforms that are necessary if it ever hopes to repay any of it. The argument might yet prove true, as the EU has been so eager to keep all its members on board that it’s gone along with all of the previous bailouts and might yet be willing to dole out another one rather an admit that its one-size-fits-all currency scheme and post-nationalist political philosophy doesn’t work with a fissiparous coalition of vastly different-sized economies in countries that stubbornly retain their national self-interests, but then again it might decide sooner rather than later that Greece is simply more trouble than it’s worth. In either case the citizens of Greece will soon collide with the reality that it can’t keep on sending out government checks that total more than the economic output of the country, and that their fellow Europeans who are counting on their own generous government checks won’t keep making up the difference forever, and that the rest of the world hasn’t even any illusory reasons to help out, but in the meantime that great Greek invention of democracy allows them to vote against reality.
Although the futility of voting against reality is especially conspicuous in Greece, where the store shelves are empty and more than half the young people are unemployed and most 50-somethings are retired and the lines of the few gainfully employed are already long at banks that are readying to stop any withdrawals, the modern tendency to do so is nonetheless apparent everywhere. You’ll find it in Puerto Rico, where a similarly dire default situation is brewing, and in China, a more significant economy, and in Chicago, where the public sector unions are protesting the fact that their too-good-to-be-true contracts are at last proving too good to be true, as well as the debt-swamped broader American economy, and at the Supreme Court, where the latest rulings declare that a law doesn’t mean what it clearly says and that somewhere in between the lines of the Constitution there is definitive re-definition of the institution of marriage as it has been understood almost everywhere on Earth from the dawn of civilization until a couple of weeks ago, and you’ll find it in the electronic opinion pages of The New York Times, where a couple of white guys start talking about “whiteness” and wind up agreeing that the whole notion of reasoning from the objective facts of reality is a “white male Euro-Christian construction” and that such useful and verifiably true concepts as “true north” is “Nordo-centrism” and somehow rendered invalid by “insensitivity to people who live in the southern hemisphere.”
You’ll also find it on the cover of Vanity Fair, where a man quite artfully made to appear as a woman is expected to be regarded by polite opinion as a woman, at the Spokane chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, where the former president insists that despite her white ancestry she be regarded as black, in the ongoing debate about law enforcement that insists “black lives matter” when they are taken by police but that the far greater number of black lives taken by black criminals because of a lack of policing don’t matter, and of course in all those frustrating conversations with the ordinary people you no doubt frequently encounter who can’t see any fair reason why American government isn’t sending out evermore generous checks that total to more than the American economy produces.
The tendency is readily understandable to any observer of human nature and the rest of reality. Reality is so often unpleasant, and the alternatives that even the most limited imaginations might conceive are so much more desirable, that it is in the nature of human beings to vote against it. In this age of “virtual reality” it is tempting to conclude that better everyone should get that check in the mail, that the laws should mean whatever a majority of the Supreme Court thinks they should mean, that people should get to be whatever sex and race and species they prefer to be, that true north and other objectively verifiable facts be abandoned for their “Nordo-centrism” and insensitivity to the peoples of the southern hemisphere, and that the last rich person left on Earth should be made to pay for it all. After that we’ll all face the inevitable mathematical and biological and human nature reality, but until then at least the Greeks have bequeathed us all the right to vote against it.

— Bud Norman

Badgering in the Badger State

President Barack Obama was warmly welcomed to Wisconsin by Gov. Scott Walker on Thursday, then let loose with another one of his characteristic petty partisan screeds, this one ridiculing his host. The characteristically petty partisan crowd roared its approval, of course, and the characteristically petty partisan press described it as part of a “victory lap” after a week of favorable legislation and Supreme Court rulings, of course, but not a word of it bears more skeptical scrutiny.
Speaking to an adoring throng in LaCrosse, Obama likened the entire Republican to a senile “Uncle Harry” making nonsensical statements at a family Thanksgiving dinner, adding that “You still love him. He’s still a member of your family. Right? But you’ve got to correct him. You don’t want to put him charge of stuff.” He also compared Wisconsin’s government under Walker to that of neighboring and more-Democratic Minnesota, noting that Minnesota had raised taxes on the wealthy, increased the minimum wage, expanded Medicaid, implemented all-day kindergarten, offered subsidies for college, and had a lower unemployment rate and higher median income. With the applause indicating that he had an audience willing to believe that higher taxes and higher labor costs and increased government spending is the obvious explanation for Minnesota’s relatively healthier economy, Obama then boasted of his own successes with this same formula, and contrasted his humane approach with the Republicans’ policy of giving tax breaks to the wealthy and letting everyone else fend for themselves. Such callous economics was the cause of the ’08 financial crisis, Obama told the crowd, anding that “Being an American is not about taking as much as you can from your neighbor before they take as much as they can from you. We are not a bunch of individuals out here on our own. We are a community, we are family. We are in this together.”
One hardly knows where to begin rebutting such hogwash, but it might as well be at the beginning with that crack about the crazy uncle. This comes from the World’s Greatest Orator, who was going to end the era of partisan division and facilitate a serious discussion about the nature’s future. It also comes from the leader of a party that features a crazy and foul-mouthed Uncle Joe and a creepy face-lifted Aunt Nancy and a perverted Cousin Anthony who keeps sending pictures of his underwear-clas private parts over his cell phone and a First Mom who insists that everyone eat their vegetables while she wolfs down what the fancy chefs who’ve been flown have created and a cackling evil stepmother Hillary who seems next in line to lead our very dysfunctional national family, and we can’t share the audience’s satisfaction that everything has worked out so well since they’ve been “put in charge of stuff.”
Walker does a fine enough job defending his controversial policies in an op-ed article at Real Clear Politics, graciously headlined “Welcome to Wisconsin, Mr. President,” noting the significant economic gains that have lately occurred in his state in spite of the sluggish national economy. He didn’t anticipate the part about Minnesota, so for his benefit we’ll add that the high tax rates on job-creators cannot possibly explain the state’s job creations, the minimum wage increase is less than a year old and hasn’t yet pushed up overall wages and has almost certainly eliminated many minimum-wage jobs, the Medicaid expansion wouldn’t have been necessary if the Minnesota economy were as robust as he represents it, and probably was made more necessary by the many Minnesotans who lost the suddenly more-expensive health plans they liked and were promised they could keep but were relegated to Medicaid by Obamacare, there’s no proof that all-day kindergarten does children much good, somebody’s still paying those ever-increasing college costs that always go up further with the subsidies, and a more telling basis for comparison would be the relative improvement of the Wisconsin and Minnesota economies over the past few years.
Nor does the broader American economy seem to justify such arrogance. The labor participation rate is at a low unseen since Jimmy Carter’s presidency, wages remain stagnant, the Gross Domestic Product contracted the first quarter of this year and the most optimistic predictions having it growing at around 2 percent or a fraction over the full year, such meager advances have added more than $8 trillion to the national debt during the Obama presidency, and no one who isn’t within clapping distance of the presidents anticipates that happy days will soon be here again. We’re not heartened by the rest of the president’s great week, either. The Supreme Court ruled that the Obamacare law doesn’t say what it says on the written 2,000-plus, but that instead it means whatever five justice of the Supreme Court would prefer it said, and then on the big same-sex marriage decision it pretty much concluded the same thing about the Constitution, and whatever political benefits might redound to the president neither development is likely to do much good for the rule of law and Constitutional restraints on the federal government. A lot of Republicans and a few cowed Democrats also gave the president “fast track” authority to negotiate a top-secret free-trade deal with numerous Asian nations, and although we’re generally free traders we don’t like the top-secret and remain worried that it will allow him to pull some immigration and environmental shenanigans.
Most annoying, though, were his descriptions of capitalism and socialism. The natural rights of individuals to voluntarily trade and contract with another in a free market, an arrangement that has produced greater wealth and one more to advance civilization than any cockamamie bureaucratic regulatory scheme, is explained in terms of “taking as much as you can from your neighbor before they take as much as they can from you.” Any individual who has become self-sufficient by voluntarily trading and contract with another individual in a free market should be grievously offended by this, and we daresay their neighbors should be as well. But then again, we’re “not a bunch of individuals” in Obama’s America, we are a “family.” Obama is presumably the father, although regrettably not the absent sort of father figure he grew up without, and as that cheering throng of hipsters in LaCrosse would probably tell you, with all their progressive sophistication, father knows best.
On second thought, the very most annoying part of Obama’s speech was that line about how the unregulated avarice of that ruthless capitalist system that leaves everyone to fend for themselves was the cause of the ’08 financial crisis. The lie is so oft-repeated that it goes almost unnoticed and almost entirely unquestioned, but the pesky fact remains that it wasn’t caused by lack of regulations that prevented greedy bankers from making home loans to people who clearly could never repay them, but rather because of presumably well-intentioned government interventions in the free market, which encouraged and cajoled and eventually coerced the bankers to make those loans in the cause of affordable housing and civil rights and fairness and all sorts of focus-group tested themes. Obama surely knows this, as he did pro bono work for some subprime borrowers that forced Citibank to write them mortgage, and was a member of the Congressional Black Caucus was it was screaming racism at the regulatory “watchdogs” who were warning of the coming collapse and successfully resisting George W. Bush’s efforts to stop it, and he surely knows that as a result of his efforts housing became less affordable and black Americans wound up disproportionately poorer, as they remain today, and that in the end it was disastrously unfair to all the more credit-worthy homeowners and their creditors as well as just about everyone else.
Obama’s at least a deft enough orator to leave that part out.. We’re looking forward to Walker’s announcement that he’ll be running for president, and expect much better from him, and although he seems a nice and Wisconsin sort of fellow who won’t resort to petty partisanship and sneering ridicule we hope he will bluntly talk back to such hogwash.

— Bud Norman

Hillary’s Hilarious E-Mails

The small portion of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails that survived her elaborate efforts at secrecy and have at long last been pried from her by court order don’t contain any campaign-sinking “smoking gun,” so far as we can tell, but there is plenty of fodder for ridicule. None of the late-night comedy shows are likely to avail themselves of it, but without any pesky network affiliations we simply can’t resist the opportunity.
To begin, we note that Clinton’s e-mails are at least as sloppily written as the average American’s. This is to be expected, we suppose, given the severe damage that computers have done to the English language, and at this point we hold out no hope that the eventual Republican presidential nominee’s inevitably released e-mails will prove any better, but we feel it worth noting nonetheless. We compose our own electronic correspondence with salutations that include the appropriate courtesy title, followed by a comma and an indentation, followed by sentences that begin with a capital letter and end with a period and have all the necessary punctuation in between, and each of the words are spelled out in their entirety and never substituted with an arabic numeral or indecipherable acronym or faddish abbreviation or cutesy “emoticon,” and the sentences are arranged into paragraphs of related concepts, with indentation following, and it always ends with a formal “Sincerely” or chummy “Your pal,” depending on the recipient, along with a properly indented e-signature, as well of the rest of the stuff we were taught back in school during the more rigorous pre-E days of letter-writing. So far as we can tell we are the last people in America to hew to such outdated traditions, but we are steadfastly manning the barricades in hopes that reinforcements of proper writing will eventually arrive, and in the meantime we’re not going to let it go unmentioned that the presumptive next President of the United States is so gallingly illiterate. She was Secretary of State when typing this garble, after all, and one shudders to think what better-educated and more-illustrious predecessors such as John Quincy Adams and John Foster Dulles and Condoleezza Rice would have made of it.
Even those who aren’t such sticklers for proper prose will be amused by the slapstick antics that the awful writing reveal. One long and convoluted exchange with constant sidekick and Muslim Brotherhood legatee Huma Abedin, who is also married to that former New York congressman who kept sending e-mailed pictures of underwear-clad private parts to various other women, demonstrates  in a sort of “I Love Lucy” sketch that the presumptive next President of the United States does not know how to operate a fax machine. Another e-mail involved some unknown person who was “Twittering” in Clinton’s name, with the concern seeming rather ambivalent because whoever it was getting a good number of followers yet receiving unenthusiastic reviews in Newsweek. Another involved a planned article in the Parade Magazine supplement that many newspapers still run, along with assurances from the author that “she will like it.” Another was addressed to an underling who was asked to request that one of her underlings fetch Clinton some iced tea. The one that’s been getting the biggest laughs in the conservative media has Clinton asking someone named Lona Valmoro and the aforementioned Abedin, in a missive with the subject heading of “Cabinet mtg,” “I heard on the radio that there is a cabinet mtg this am. Is there? Can I go? If not, who are we sending?”
There’s also lots of stuff from Sidney Blumenthal, which is also hilarious to anyone old enough to recall him as one of the sleazier operatives of the previous Clinton administration, which is saying something, and much of it is his advice that the Secretary of State not be modest in claiming credit for the Libya policy that has since plunged that nation into such utter chaos that an ambassador and three other Americans died in a terrorist attack there, and a filmmaker was falsely blamed and sent to prison for criticizing Islam, and the Islamic State has gained a significant foothold there, and of course with benefit of hindsight it’s all something that the presumptive next President of the United States would prefer go unmentioned. It’s not the kind of thing the late-night comedians will find amusing, but again we think it ought not go unmentioned.

— Bud Norman

The Greeks and the Rest of Us

The situation in Greece seems hopeless, no matter how its citizens vote on an emergency referendum Sunday, and the rest of the world seems in pretty sorry shape as well.
Apparently nobody in Greece can understand the 72-word question being put to the voters, assuming that the government is able to print up enough ballots and get them distributed to all the polling places on time, and it’s certainly Greek to us. So far as we can gather, however, a “yes” vote is for accepting the European Union’s seemingly generous offer to continue the loans that have been keeping the Greek economy barely afloat, although in exchange for draconian budget cuts and other austerity measures that will almost certainly be painful to the already pained average Greek, and a “no” vote likely means a Greek exit — or “Grexit,” as it’s become known — from the EU and its onerous demands as well as extravagant promises of continued government largesse, although in reality it will more likely cause the complete collapse of the Greek economy and start causing all those ample government checks to bounce right out of the last of the country’s failing banks.
The very young and stupid Greek Prime Minister and his socialist party are backing the “no” vote, on the argument that it will allow him to negotiate an even more generous deal with his EU creditors, but only the most rash would predict how that might turn out. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and that the rest of the EU elite would obviously prefer not to lose a charter member of their club, which might bolster the growing number of Eurosceptics in Britain and other important countries as well, and make it embarrassingly clear that their essential organizing policy of a one-size-fits-all currency for a fissiparous coalition of 28 countries that still stubbornly cling to some sense of national interest and have very differently-sized economies was unworkable all along. On the other hand, Greece has become so unproductive and such a pain in the EU’s economic posterior that the club might well decide it is best rid of it, and that if Greece instead becomes a client of Moscow that it would be a small victory for what remains of the West in the renewed Cold War.
In any event, the Greeks will still wind up broke and rioting in the streets against the reality that they can’t forever keep on sending out retirement checks to 50-year-olds and unemployment checks to the more than 50 percent of the 20-somethings who are without jobs and taxing the in-betweens to such an extent that they’ve all stopped paying taxes and produce children and future taxpayers at a dwindling rate and have it all total up to about half the country’s gross domestic product, even if has seemed to work just fine up to now. These schemes always work out for while, and it’s so great when they do that the mean-spirited fuddy-duddies who warned that it would all come to a bad end are thoroughly discredited, but eventually reality intrudes and it does come to bad end and there’s nothing for the idealistic and generous to do but riot in the streets. One is tempted to shake his head in pity and disgust at the Greeks, who once upon a long-ago time gave the world Plato and Aristotle and Euripides and Aristophanes and Sappho and all sorts of intriguing ideas about human nature, but those same long-ago Greeks have taught us to notice that such weakness to temptation is by no means a uniquely Greek thing.
While the Eurocentric American media has mostly paid attention to Greek’s travails, a few stories have leaked out that Puerto Rico is also on the verge of default and bankruptcy. The same sort of extravagant promises made by politicians, and eagerly believed a majority of the country’s voters, have led a large portion of the island’s residents to take advantage of its immigration relationship with the United States and move mainland, which of course has contracted the economy and increased the need for government relief and raised the debt and further hindered the economy and forced more people to flee. Greeks and Puerto Ricans are relatively minor players in the world economy, but Chicago, the third-largest city of the first or second largest economy depending on your accounting methods, whose municipal bonds are now rated as junk, is finding that the promises made to and believed by its vast number of its public servants were a few billion dollars more extravagant than its dwindling number of taxpayers could keep. Similar situations prevail in numerous other American cities and counties and states, as well, and of course the the debt of the federal government is keeping a relative pace with that of Greece. Unlike Greece in its post-Drachma days the United States can keep printing greenbacks to service that debt, and unlike the Euro or the Drachma the greenback is the world’s reserve currency, which seems to be working up to now, but only the rash would predict how that’s likely to turn out.
Lest we sound unduly pessimistic about America so soon before the Fourth of July, we would also note that China, which is the first or second largest economy in the world depending on which accounting method you believe, also has its debt woes. Even in the still more-or-less Communist country felt obliged to make extravagant promises to the people, the people were eager to believe, and now they’re stuck with the gargantuan tab for giant ghost cities and other ambitious make-work projects. Similar examples of human beings succumbing to human nature be found all over the globe, and probably in at least one of the countless tax jurisdictions where you live, and at various points throughout human history.
In between those various points of human history when the clash extravagant promises and economic reality turned out very badly, there were periods of prosperity and the self-sufficiency of citizens and the resultant improvement in human achievement that resulted from the lessons that had been so painfully learned. They all ended when enough time had past that the lessons were forgotten and the extravagant promises became all the more enticing, but the process tends to repeat itself.
There’s some faint hope, we suppose, that here in America these lessons will be re-learned from the examples of Greece and Puerto Rico and China and Chicago and the rest of the bankrupt parts of the world, and that perhaps the inevitable crisis can be forestalled until the next presidential election when the people will choose correct course. Only the most rash would predict how that might turn out, though. Our guess is that the next presidential election will more likely be about homosexual marriage and the latest celebrity’s sex-change operation and subsidized condoms the Confederate battle flag and whatever shiny objects the media might find, and of course the extravagant promises that politicians always make the people are always eager to believe. For now, at least, it all seems to be working out, or at least well enough to make those further extravagant promises sound plausible.

— Bud Norman

Yet Another Deadline

Today is the deadline for reaching a nuclear deal with the Iranians, and by all accounts there won’t be any deal, but of course there will always be another deadline. By this point so many deadlines have passed and so many new ones have been set that it’s hard to see the point of going on, but hope apparently springs eternal at the State Department.
There doesn’t seem to have been much progress made over the past several deadlines, at least from the point of view of anyone who would prefer that the mad mullahs of Iran don’t get their hands on a nuclear weapon. After more than seven years of the Obama administration offering an open hand to the virulently anti-American and anti-semitic and longing-for-the-Armmageddon regime, and more than two years of sitting down at a Viennese negotiating table with them, they’re still insisting that no inspections of their military facilities be allowed and that all of the economic sanctions that forced them to that Viennese negotiating table cease the moment the deal is signed and not when it has been verified that there isn’t any nuclear shenanigans going on that those military facilities. Some “unnamed senior U.S. official” has acknowledged that America doesn’t allow foreign inspections of its military sites, and similarly unnamed U.S. officials have long sounded willing to go along with the sanctions demands, but even our French negotiating partners are balking at that while the Iranians seem eager to learn what further concessions they might extract from an American president who is clearly eager to make any sort of deal.
Our guess is that the Iranians are holding out for a deal that will require America to provide them with a sizable nuclear arsenal, along with the needed inter-continental ballistic missiles that can deliver them to Tel Aviv and Riyadh and Paris and any other locales that offend their religious sensibilities, along with the global positioning system coordinates needed to land them there, and that the final sticking point that requires yet another deadline will be whether New York City and Los Angeles and Wichita are also included in the bargain. New York City and Los Angeles are full of reliably Democratic voters, so that would be the sort of sticking point that would require a couple more deadlines to be set, but we expect that some unnamed senior U.S. official or another will find something in America’s sinful past and current policies that makes it unfair to object to the nuclear annihilation of such as reliably Republican town as Wichita.
The president’s foreign policy legacy is at stake, after all, and almost any deal that’s cooked up can somehow been portrayed by the obeisant press as some sort of triumph, so surely that’s worth another two or three or four or however many deadlines are required to get there.

— Bud Norman

The Big News of the Day, Here and There

The big news on Friday, at least here in the United States of America, was the Supreme Court’s discovery that same-sex marriage is a previously undiscovered right guaranteed by the 18th Century framers and ratifiers of the Constitution. Meanwhile, in France and Tunisia and Kuwait, the big news of the day was a trio of simultaneous terror attacks that left at least 54 people dead and one victim’s disembodied head impaled on the gates of an American-owned factory.
America’s State Department won’t yet concede that the simultaneous terror attacks were coordinated, but with uncharacteristic frankness it does at least acknowledge that they were more or less simultaneous, and were undeniably acts of terrorism, and at the risk of political incorrectness one might infer from this reluctant admission that it was all inspired by the same Islamic ideology that has also lately inspired the very Sunni Islamic State to toss homosexuals from tall buildings in its recently-conquered portions of Iraq and Syria and Libya to the delight of the assembled throngs and the very Shiite Ayatollahs of Iran to subject homosexual males to brutally forced sex-change operations. Still, we are told that any Catholics or Protestants or any other varieties or Christians or Orthodox Jews or Hindus or Buddhists or any other religions that hew to their millennial-old notions regarding sexual morality must reconcile their beliefs with the latest Supreme Court ruling and social fads, while the Sunni Islamic state is merely a “jayvee team” of terrorism and the Shiite Iranian ayatollahs are rational people who can be entrusted with nuclear weaponry no matter what declarations they have made about Jewish genocide or death to the Great Satan of America or the arrival of the 12th Imam and the end days, and that any old Baptist congregation or obscure Indiana pizzeria that is perfectly willing to tolerate but unwilling to celebrate a same-sex marriage must get its mind right about the latest judicially-mandated fads.
Although we are clearly damned to political incorrectness and whatever social stigma it might entail by saying so, this strikes us as absurd. By happenstance we ran into a dear old homosexual friend of ours on Sunday, not long after our attendance at a fundamental Christian worship, whose seemingly happy relationship with a homosexual lover has long outlasted our heterosexual but devastatingly failed marriage to a woman, and we shared a much-need laugh with a favorite old dirty joke of ours about parachute training and sodomy. We aren’t all assured that our friend shares our concerns about originalism versus that crazy “living constitution” interpretation of the legalistic stuff, or the ramifications for those of us those who still worry how that the latest Supreme Court ruling will affect the religious liberties of those of us who still harbor doubts about the future of a civilization based on old-fashioned notions notions about married men and women raising the next generation, but we are hopeful our friendship will remain intact. We assume he has the usual fashionable notions about same-sex marriage and tolerance of an Islamic ideology that quite clearly thinks otherwise, but we can’t help wondering how it might look from a French or Tunisian or Kuwaiti perspctive,

— Bud Norman

A Good Week for the President

This has been a good week for President Barack Obama, but not so much for the rest of the country.
The president somehow survived two scares, with the Republicans coming to the rescue to spare him the ignominy of the being the first president who failed to win congressional “fast-track” authorization to negotiate trade deals, and a couple of Republican appointees to the Supreme Court joining their Democrat-appointed colleagues to save his eponymous Obamacare law from a well-deserved blow, so of course the Democrats are already gloating about it. There are Republican arguments to be made for both developments, apparently, but we find them entirely unconvincing.
The Supreme Court case of King v. Burwell concerned a single sentence in the 2,000-plus page Obamacare law that quite explicitly specifies only people who had enrolled in an Obamacare health plan through a state-established exchange would be eligible for subsidies. Attorneys for the plaintiffs were able to argue that the legislative record and ample videotape of the law’s “architect” gloating how about they had snookered a gullible public all proved the sentence was intended to put political pressure on the states to start their own exchanges, and that the sentence does in fact explicitly specify only people who had enrolled through a state-established exchange were eligible for subsidies, while the defendant’s attorneys were reduced to arguing that c’mon, if you read a poorly-written law that was hastily forced down the throats of an unwitting public as it is written you will make a complete mess of it. Somehow Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy were swayed the latter argument, and of course all of the Democratic appointees were eager to embrace such logic, so you wind up with a 6-3 majority holding that a law doesn’t necessarily mean what it clearly says. The same argument probably won’t do you much good the next time you fail to signal a lane change, or murder someone, but that’s your fault for not being the first African-American president.
Some are arguing that decision spares the Republicans the political consequences of the complete mess that would have indeed resulted from applying the law as it was written, but given that not a single one of them voted for the damned thing, but we hold out faint hope that the Democrats who did force the damned thing down the throats of the American public would have also faced some political consequences. The Democrats are still stuck with responsibility for Obamacare, which continues to fail to live up to any of its grandiose promises and is instead causing health insurance premiums to skyrocket and the health insurance market to be increasingly dominated by a handful of corporations and doctors to be taking early retirement, and there’s still a chance that it might help the country might undo all the damage that has been done, but nonetheless we would have preferred that the Supreme Court had made the mess of its explicitly stated language more clear.
There’s also a Republican argument to be made for free trade, a principle we heartily endorse, but given the peculiar circumstances of this particular “fast-track” authorization it is not convincing. The past several Democratic and Republican administrations have already pretty much eliminated all the tariffs that once impeded international commerce, so the current debate mostly involves such “non-tariff barriers” as the disparate environmental and immigration and regulatory laws that put countries on an unequal economic footing. Given that the administration has insisted on strict secrecy regarding its negotiations, and given that the administration’s very open stands on the environment and immigration and regulations have been starkly insane, and that its negotiations with Iran regarding its nuclear weapons ambitions have been disastrously accommodating, we find no reason to hope that it can be trusted with reaching a trade deal favorable to the American average worker.
At least the Republicans can’t be accused of reflexively opposing anything the president soda because he’s the first African-American president, but of course those accusations will persist anyway. The Democrats who opposed “fast-track authorization” on purely protectionist grounds will reap the political benefits of their courageous stand against free trade, the Republicans will be tarred with some outlier presidential candidate’s ambiguous statements about the Confederate battle flag or whatever other issue the press can come up with, and next week will begin on the same unequal footing.

— Bud Norman

A Transgendered Heckle

The same Greece that was once the Cradle of Democracy is about to go bust, American troops are moving into eastern Europe as if the ’80s were calling and they wanted their foreign policy back, and the Republicans seem intent on entrusting President Barack Obama with the power to negotiate a top-secret trade deal with Asia that will allow all sorts of environmental and immigration shenanigans, but the story that caught our eye was the one about a transgendered illegal immigrant heckling a presidential speech. So far as we can determine this is the first time in the history of the republic that any president has ever been heckled by a transgendered illegal immigrant, so it seemed worth noting.
We’re not at all sure how Washington or Lincoln or Coolidge or either of the Roosevelts or any of the rest of those other archaic old white guys would have handled the situation, as it apparently never came up during their terms, but Obama responded with what strikes us as a very generous indulgence. He was addressing an “LGBT Pride” conference, the acronym referring to lesbian and gay and bisexual and transgendered persons, when a person identified as Jennicet Guttierrez started loudly shouting a demand to “release ‘LGBTQ’ immigrants from detention and stop all deportations.” The added “Q” stands for “questioning,” as we understand it, although we can’t pretend to understand what “questioning” means, except for a vague sense that it’s suppose to include those who can’t quite say what they’d wind up doing if they were stranded on a desert island or given a lengthy prison sentence or found themselves in some other unusual sexual circumstance. At any rate, Obama politely implored the heckler to restrain himself or herself, whichever the case may be, and quite reasonably asserted that such behavior was impolite for an invited guest to the East Room of the White House, which he presumptively referred to as “my house.” When the heckler persisted in his or her heckling, Obama at last had his sizable security contingent remove him or her from the premises, although so far as we can glean from the press reports Obama did not have him or her removed from the country, as the law would require.
Apparently there are some 75 transgendered illegal immigrants currently being detained in America, a surprisingly large number given the famously macho cultures from which most illegal immigrants come, but even so Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. Guttierrez seems to have little cause for heckling. The president has been far more indulgent toward illegal immigrants than we would prefer, or what we believe the plainly written laws would permit, and the fact that he had invited a collection of Ls and Gs and Bs and Ts to the White House, even if he did neglect to invite all those more countless Qs, suggests that he’s more or less au courant on the latest sexual fashions. Why transgendered illegal immigrants should enjoy preferential treatment over the more traditional sorts was not explained in the heckling, and neither did the heckling make a reasoned argument that America should stop enforcing its borders. Even the rest of the assembled Ls and Gs and Bs and Ts, and presumably those Qs who also somehow snuck in, helped to shout down the more au courant heckler.
The crowd’s response was probably heartening to the president, who for some reason endures more heckling from the left than the right. Except for that State of the Union address when some little-known Republican shouted “You lie” during a line about how Obamacare won’t cover illegal immigrants, which has since turned out to be an entirely accurate heckle, or Chief Justice Roberts’ silently mouthed protestation of “not true” after Obama’s verifiably not true description of the Citizen’s United decision, all of the heckling during his speeches has come from the pacifist Code Pink group or the anti-free trade labor groups or some other faction that finds him insufficiently liberal. He used to be heckled by pro-illegal immigration groups that demanded he allow open borders by executive action, and he used to try to politely quell the dissent by explaining that he had no constitutional authority to do so, but apparently there has since been some change in the Constitution that no longer makes this necessary.
Greece’s descent into bankruptcy and the revival of the Cold War and that awful free trade bill that the Republicans are signing on to are probably more important matters, but at a time when transgendered illegal immigrants are heckling the president they seem all the more unlikely to come to any happy conclusion.

— Bud Norman

Lowering the Stars and Bars

The Confederate battle flag will likely no longer fly over the South Carolina capitol, which is fine by us. As far as we’re concerned the Confederacy was a horrible idea, its “peculiar institution” of slavery was a moral outrage that could only be atoned by our nation’s bloodiest conflict, and its successful secession from The Union would have been one of history’s greatest calamities, so its flag has no reason to fly over the public grounds of any of the United States of America.
Having said that, we also admit to some annoyance with all the attention the matter has lately received. The long-overdue decision to furl the Confederate battle flag followed the horrific shootings by a deranged white racist of nine black Americans as they worshipped in an historic Charleston church, which is a matter of far greater importance and probably had nothing at all to do with the piece of cloth that had been flying for the past many decades over the state capitol, and the tragedy is being used for political purposes that make even less sense.
The recent opposition to the flag’s presence on the capitol grounds has been led by the state’s Indian-American and Republican governor, its white and Republican Senator, and another black and Republican Senator, and yet the usual media are predictably pressing all of the Republican presidential candidates with the usual accusatory tone about their stand on what was until the past week a state matter of  minor significance to the nation at large. Meanwhile, the presumptive nominee of the Democratic party, which was the party of the Confederacy and the party that dominated South Carolina’s politics when it re-started flying the Confederate battle flag in 1961 to signal its defiance of the civil rights legislation that most Republican legislators were supporting, and whose past failed presidential campaign featured the symbol on its buttons down south, and whose husband’s successful presidential campaigns did the same, is meanwhile being praised in the nation’s most prestigious newspaper for her “courage” in jumping on the latest bandwagon.
The unavoidable implication is that the Republican Party, the party that was founded on its opposition to slavery and led the defeat of the Confederacy and provided the most votes for that civil rights legislation, is as irredeemably racist at the nutcase who killed those nine worshippers. There are more substantive arguments to be made for this assertion, given the current Republican party’s opposition to affirmative action and longstanding resistance to social programs and usual support for aggressive law enforcement, but it’s no wonder that much of the media would prefer to seize the opportunity of a flag that the Republicans had nothing to do with. Affirmative action assumes blacks can’t compete on meritocratic terms with whites, and most Republicans do not, the past half-century of social programs have caused two-parent black families to become a rarity, and only Republicans seem willing to acknowledge this fact much less talk about solutions to its dire social and economic consequences, a retreat from aggressive law enforcement has resulted in far more murders than any deranged white racist could ever effect, and only Republicans seem to believe that these black lives also matter. That constant conversation about race that the Democrats are always urging but never participating in will continue long after the Confederate battle flag has been permanently lowered from the South Carolina capitol grounds, mostly because of a fashionably diverse coalition of Republicans from that much-criticized state, which has been handling its racial controversies with greater calm and careful deliberation and Christian love than has followed similarly contentious incidents in states generally considered more enlightened, and we can readily understand why those harping on about the defeated and disgraced battle flag of a long-gone Democratic cause would prefer not to talk about the rest of it.
There are also the predictable efforts to remove the Confederate battle flag from everywhere else, as well, and these are more problematic. It is one thing for a state government to collectively decide it will no longer honor this symbol on the public’s grounds, and another to decide that individual citizens can’t display it on their pickup trucks or baseball caps or southern rock album covers. The efforts seem to be succeeding, with almighty Wal-Mart declaring it will no longer sell any merchandise bearing the symbol and nearly-as-powerful E-Bay declaring the same policy, which is apparently making it hard for political memorabilia collectors to buy and sell those old Clinton-Gore and Hillary Clinton badges, and will eventually prevent someone from buying or selling an old “Dukes of Hazzard” lunchbox with its depiction of the stars-and-bars-adorned muscle car the titular yokels drove around in, and it now seems likely that freedom of speech will suffer yet another slight contraction.
It’s not that we’re sympathetic to Confederate battle flag-wearing folks, just that it’s still important to acknowledge a right to disagree. We’re here in Kansas, which even before the Civil War endured the days of “Bleeding Kansas” to become a loyal member of the indivisible Union as a Free State, so on the rare occasions you see the Confederate battle flag around here it’s usually adorned to some redneck or his pickup truck. “Redneck” is one of those ambiguous terms, as it is sometimes affectionately used to describe a hard-working and fun-loving and charmingly unpretentious good ol’ boy, but more commonly to imply a violent and racist and determinedly ignorant problem, and in this case we intend the latter definition. Still, we’re willing to assume that further into the south you’ll find the former variety of redneck displaying the Confederate battle flag as a symbol of all the many more admirable qualities of his southern culture, which has for a while now been luring many blacks away from their up-north and Democratic jurisdictions back to their ancestral homeland, and we note that the Hillary button with the symbol even added the usual explanatory phrase “heritage not hate,” so we don’t want to deny them the expression of that pride.
We’ll let the worst sorts of rednecks wave that flag as a symbol of their race hatred and ongoing defiance of the Union, as well, because their hatred and their chosen representation of it are probably better ignored than banned. Those biker gangs that have been such a problem in Waco, Texas, and other places for the past decades wear old Nazi symbols on their uniforms not because they have an intellectual affinity for the tenants of Nationalist Socialism, or because such anti-authorian types have any desire to live under such a strictly authoritarian system of government, but because they know those symbols are deeply offensive to the society they rebel against. If the hammer-and-sickle of the old Soviet Union were just as universally reviled, which it should be, you’d see that on those leather jackets as well. When you can’t buy something at either Wal-Mart or on E-Bay its supply is greatly restricted, an increased demand is sure to follow, and the value of even the most odious product will therefore increase.
The controversy will soon be forgotten, of course. We hope the tragedy that caused it will long be remembered, but we don’t expect that the bigger issues will soon get their due attention.

— Bud Norman

On History and the Ten-Spot

Alexander Hamilton was male, and a white male at that, but even those undeniable and unfashionable facts hardly seem sufficient reason to kick the poor fellow off the $10 bill. The Treasury Department he founded and ran with undeniable genius is planning to do just that, however, and for precisely that sexist and racist reason.
Current Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew, whose zero-interest-bearing and debt-laden and economically stagnant tenure will surely fare far more poorly than Hamilton’s in the history books, no matter how hard this current generation of liberal historians might try, has announced that his vastly more illustrious predecessor will soon be replaced on the ten-spot by a woman. They haven’t decided which woman yet, although it seems likely that it will be a woman of darker hue than Hamilton’s, and it doesn’t seem that matter that any of the admittedly august candidates can’t quite match Hamilton’s very extraordinary achievements on behalf of the country, as they’re hell-bent that it will be some sort of a woman.
We have nothing against the idea of a woman’s likeness on our currency, and note that the British Pound Sterling has fared well enough with pictures of various Queens on the paper, and that those Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea dollar coins they tried to make popular always bought us a full dollar worth of goods during their brief appearances, and we certainly won’t deny the important contributions that countless women have made to America’s progress, which in most cases have been far greater than anything the likes of Jack Lew will ever do, but it is infuriating to think that Alexander Hamilton of all people, white and male people that he was notwithstanding, will be the one to make room.
Even before his crucial role in establishing the unprecedentedly successful American economic system, Hamilton was a an important figure. While a successful attorney his eloquent writings helped fuel the revolutionary spirit in his already-crucial hometown of New York City, and when the revolution he had urged at last came about he backed up his words by putting his life on the line as a volunteer in the underdog army that fought the mighty British Empire. His exceptional talents were recognized by General George Washington, who promoted him to the level of aide-de-camp, and he led an out-manned and out-gunned contingent to victory over the formidable British Gen. Cornwallis at the crucial Battle of Yorktown. After Hamilton played a important role in the ratification of the Constitution, Washington’s faith in his young colleague’s varied talents was such that he appointed Hamilton as the first Secretary of the Treasury, and Hamilton then formed the Federalist Party as the first-voter based political organization in the history of democracy, helped his longtime foe Thomas Jefferson become President of the United States for the sorts of principled reasons that no longer seem to have any role in the nation’s politics, and otherwise led a life of exemplary public service.
Despite such undeniable achievements, Hamilton has always been one of the more controversial of the Founding Fathers. He was by all accounts a rather vain fellow, and after urging revolution against the British and doing to so many risky things to win independence from them he was strangely Anglophilic in his proposals to emulate the British economic and political and cultural model, and he had some famously foppish ideas about military uniforms. He clashed with the more revered Jefferson about economics and politics and culture, urging an urbanized and socially mobile and culturally dynamic society that was at odds with the Jeffersonian ideal of the gentleman agrarian, but mostly it was his economic ideas that make him unfashionable. If Washington was the father of our country, and Hamilton’s friend Madison the father of our constitution, and Jefferson the author of the Declaration of Independence and its principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and Franklin a brilliant polymath and lovable reprobate, Hamilton was the guy most responsible for making America a red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalist country, and the current crop of historians will never forgive him for that.
The stupid of idea of finding room for some woman or another and especially some “woman of color” on our currency began with the intention of replacing Andrew Jackson on the $20, as he was the guy who slaughtered the Seminoles in his rash effort to win Florida from the Spanish and forced the Cherokees onto the The Trail of Tears and was generally the worst-ever president as far as all Native Americans are concerned, and African-Americans and other hyphenated-Americans also don’t have much reason to like him, but he was also the founder of the Democratic Party and therefore doesn’t has to worry about his likeness remaining on our currency. None of Jackson’s politically incorrect outrages can quite compare to Hamilton’s capitalism, and Jackson’s depression-causing aversion to big banks makes him all the more lovable to his party’s current members, so Hamilton is apparently the one to go.
Oddly enough, Hamilton’s demotion comes at a time when he’s being celebrated in a hit hip-hop musical being staged on Broadway by an impeccably multi-cultural and racially diverse cast. That a red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalist should be a hip-hop star really isn’t all that surprising, though. He was born out-of-wedlock in the West Indies, fully embraced the cutting-edge lifestyle of New York City, and died in a gunfight defending his honor over a “dis,” and he was not only not one of those evil white male slave-holders but also contributed much of his ethically limited fortune to supporting the abolitionist cause, so he was arguably the first rap hero. We’d like to think that this relatively minor achievement is enough to keep him on the $10 bills, but in this crazy age it’s hard to be hopeful.

— Bud Norman

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