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 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 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 public servants were a few billion dollars more extravagant than it 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

On a Horrible Tragedy and Its Opportunities

Wednesday’s murders of nine innocent people as they gathered together to worship God in an historic Charleston, South Carolina, church is an incomprehensible tragedy. For some, of course, it is also an opportunity to push political agendas that are better considered in less emotional circumstances.
Already there is the usual clamoring for more laws restricting the right to gun ownership, which follows each of the all-too-frequent mass killings that occur in this country. President Barack Obama took a few moments out of his busy schedule of fund-raising to make the familiar pitch, falsely asserting that such tragedies are unique to America before backpedaling a bit and stating that they’re simply more common here, which might or might not be true and in any case cannot be explained by the Second Amendment. The causes of such senseless slaughter are not easily understood, nor are any solutions readily apparent, and society’s ongoing efforts to grapple with the problem should be based on facts and logic rather than even the most justifiable outrage, but those of us who believe that every citizen has a natural right to arm himself against such ineradicable dangers, and that gun laws frequently prove counter-productive, will have to hope that cooler heads once again prevail.
In this awful case all nine murder victims were black, their murderer was white, the motive was apparently a severely psychotic racism, and that unusual circumstance of course raises all sorts of issues and plenty of opportunity for an appeal to raw emotion.
Those who advocate for additional penalties against “hate crimes” have predictably seized the opportunity to make their case. There’s no denying that a long-simmering race hatred is an especially odious reason to commit murder, compared to the monetary fits of passion or sense of desperation of simple lack of moral reasoning that are far more often the cause, but the results are always the same and the reasons are never clear and the legal ramifications of trying to make such distinctions are problematic and best assessed dispassionately. The “hate crimes” advocates always seize on the most horrific cases, such as the murder of Wyoming youth Matthew Shepard ,which might or might not have been motivated by anti-homosexual animus, or the brutal death of black and blameless James Byrd by being chained and dragged from a pickup truck driven by some severely psychotic racists, but such unusual stories seem to undermine their arguments. In Shepard’s case the killers were sentenced to two consecutive life prison sentences without the possibility of parole, spared the death penalty only by means of a plea agreement that the victim’s parents supported, and in Byrd’s case the less culpable killers were given similarly life-long sentences and the ringleader’s death warrant was duly signed by Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who nonetheless was subjected to attack ads during his subsequent presidential campaign that featured the victim’s daughter saying he was insufficiently tough on “hate crimes” because he had refused to sign legislation that would attach those unspecified  tougher penalties. Our recent experience of staunchly conservative and Christian and death-penalty imposing South Carolina suggests that its juries and judges will take an equally strong stand against anyone who walks into a church and murders nine innocent people who have gathered to worship God, for whatever reason he might have, and whatever color he and his victims might be. The case for adding additional penalties to distinguish the victim from the other equally-bereaved murdered should also be considered by facts and logic rather than emotion.
This senseless murder of nine innocent black people by a severely psychotic white racist comes at a particularly inopportune moment in America’s race relations, as well, and those who are intent on further roiling the country haven’t been able to resist that ripe opportunity. Those who allege that white America at large is severely and psychotically racist and prone to murder, from the oh-so-respectable staff of Salon.com to that angry black woman who heckled a Cable News Networks’ white reporter and black commentator during their attempt at a broadcast, the tragedy in Charleston is a satisfying verification of their most long-simmering prejudices. There are indeed plenty of psychotically racist white people out there, as the sickening comments section on one of the media reports shows, but the facts are that a black American is far more likely to die at the hands of some impassioned or desperate or morally impaired black man than because of a severely psychotic white racist, and logic and moral reasoning suggests that this tragic fact should also be given society’s most deliberate and dispassionate consideration, so those of us who truly believe that all lives matter will once again have to hope that cooler heads prevail. In the meantime we will mourn the victims of this terrible crime, pray that the God they had gathered to worship will be merciful to their souls, and keep faith our justice system will be true to its stern purpose.

— Bud Norman

Oh Yeah, the Economy

Perhaps it’s just because we’re not hanging out with a high-rolling crowd, or because baseball season is underway and the National Basketball Association’s playoffs just concluded, but nobody seems to be talking about the economy these days. All of the non-business news media seem equally uninterested, to the point that it takes another announcement from the Federal Reserve Board to get any front-page play for those poor newspaper scribes stuck on the economy beat.
We suspect this has something to do with the diocletian nature of all that boring data that the Fed went on about Wednesday. The economy isn’t quite bad enough for the Republicans to make an issue of it, and not nearly good enough for the Democrats to do any bragging, and apparently not so bad that the Fed feels obliged to again ramp up the money-printing that fueled that newsworthy stock market boom, but not so good that it intends to raise interest rates above 0 percent any time soon, and only the economics geeks understand what any of that means and none of them seem agree about it. Better to talk about baseball and basketball and whatever else might be going on, we suppose, but we can’t shake a nervous feeling that something important is going unremarked.
Perhaps it’s also because no one seems to know what to do about it. President Barack Obama’s only big economic initiative since that pork-laden “stimulus” bill and all the other debt-increasing “investments” he and his Democratic majorities in Congress foisted on the country back in the bad old days has been his Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal with most of Asia, and the Republican congressional majorities that resulted from those earlier fiascos have been largely supportive, and it’s suddenly the remaining Democrats who are balking, and by now it’s more a story about our troubling politics than our troubled economy. David Brooks, The New York Times’ token “conservative” who fell in love with the perfectly pressed crease in Obama’s pants way back in ’08 and has never quite gotten over it, blames it all on what he calls the “Tea Party” faction of the Democratic party, which is wedded to labor unions and their protectionist preferences, and although he admits that Obama’s characteristic secretiveness prevents anyone without top-secret security clearance from knowing what the free-trade deal is he rightly notes that those same Democrats don’t seem to mind they have no idea about the wacky deal he’s making with the even wackier mullahs of Iran about their nuclear weapon ambitions. Our conservatism requires no quotation marks, and we’re staunchly Republican, and will grouse that the “Tea Party” analogy belies Brooks’ putative conservatism because the “Tea Party” was pretty much right about the growing debt and all the regulatory red-tape resulting from all those expensive “investments” and everything else, and we’re free-traders to our Adam Smith core, but even we are so spooked about Obama’s negotiating record and what might be hidden in that Trans-Pacific partnership that we’re willing to wait another two years or more for a better and more transparent agreement. There’s some fun in watching all the presidential hopefuls in both parties try to finesse this mess, even if the smart ones seem to understand they can simply ignore it, but otherwise we can well understand why people are following the divisional races in major league baseball and The Golden State Warrior’s long-awaited basketball championship.
Eventually everyone will be forced to pay some attention to the economy, certainly by November of ’16, and at that point it will be all about politics. The Republicans will argue that the numbers regarding jobs and household wealth and Gross Domestic Produce could have and should have been been much better, the Democrats will reply that those admittedly unimpressive numbers would have been so much worse without the president’s “investments” and resultant regulations and trillions of dollars of debt that everyone would have stopped going to work and buying groceries and falling for the latest advertised seductions and we’d all be rubbing sticks together in some cave, and that the same president’s secretiveness and lack of meaningful relationships with anyone else in government sank that Trans-Pacific Partnership that might have helped, and there’s no way way of knowing who the public will blame.
They’ll blame somebody, though, because there’s no getting around the end-of-the-month fact that economy isn’t that good. Even through the rose-colored glasses of the Federal Reserve Board the economy is expected to grow at at only 1.8 to 2 percent this year, barely enough to sustain those much-touted jobs number that haven’t quite kept up the arrival of new legal and illegal immigrants, another issue proving problematic for both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates, and on those rare occasions when people talk about the economy nobody seems to singing that happy days are here again. Whatever the economic numbers might be deep inside the business section around the next election day, we expect the Democratic nominee will be griping about the inequality of it all, which will resonate with a large resentful population of the country, and the Republican nominee will be talking about tax-cutting and de-regulating and unleashing the potential of the economy, which will resonate with the more hopeful portion of the electorate, nd the electoral numbers will decide the matter.
Until then, we’re as confused as anybody else. Zero percent interest rates don’t seem to provide any incentive for making the loans that could fuel an economic boom, and it isn’t any good for those poor old folks counting on interest-bearing retirement plans, but anything higher is likely to scare away investors in such uncertain and debt-laden and over-regulated times such as these, and that free-trade deal with a crucial foreign might or might not be a good idea, as only those with a top-secret security clearance would know, so we’ll anxiously await whatever happens. In the meantime we note that The Kansas City Royals are back on top of the American League’s Central Division and that The New York Yankees are within striking distance of the lead in the Eastern, and we’ve had a certain sympathy for The Golden State Warriors ever since they won their last title 40 years ago with that arrogant white boy Rick Barry as the star, so we’ll hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

If He’s So Rich, How Come He Ain’t Smart?

A healthy ego is required to run for the presidency of the United States, but Donald Trump takes it to his characteristic levels of excess. The tendency was on full display Tuesday during the announcement of his campaign for the nation’s highest office, where he boasted of his top-secret-but-foolproof plan to defeat the Islamic State, confidently predicted that “I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created,” bragged that his nearby Gucci store was worth more than Mitt Romney, and described himself as “the most successful person ever to run for the presidency, by far.”
The oft-bankrupt real estate mogul and longtime reality television series star clearly isn’t running on the usual aw-shucks-I’m-just-a-regular guy shtick that fabulously wealthy Democrats such as Hillary Clinton routinely employ, and we must admit that he’s at least savvy enough to know that wouldn’t have worked for him, and that it probably wouldn’t have hurt the aforementioned Romney to have been a little less defensive about his more honestly earned and more generously shared wealth, but surely some small measure of humility is required to actually be the President of the United States. We’ve read enough Greek dramas to know about hubris and nemesis, and enough of the Bible to know that pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall, and when you throw in that ridiculous haircut of his and the embarrassment of a long-running reality television show Trump seems to be just asking for it. While we admire financial acumen just as much as the next guy, or at least the next Republican guy, we also have to quibble with his rather limited definition of success.
Trump might or might not be the richest person ever to run for the presidency, depending on which accounting of his extremely complicated spreadsheets you choose to believe, but that hardly makes him the most successful. George Washington had successfully led a rag-tag army of farmers and merchants to victory over the world’s mightiest military, which is at least as impressive as getting rich, which we he also did. Alexander Hamilton’s failed candidacy came after he had played a key role in that same rag-tag army’s victory, and then as the first Secretary of the Treasury had set up an American financial system that was the most successful wealth-generator in history until our recent profligacy ruined it, and we’re further impressed that he selflessly chose not to enrich himself in the process. Ulysses S. Grant had successfully forced the legendarily wily Robert E. Lee to Appomattox, which most historians agree was of far greater significance than his numerous failures as a businessman. Dwight Eisenhower had led a fissiparous coalition of out-gunned countries to victory over the Nazis, thus saving the world from history’s greatest calamity, and one needn’t be a historian to see how that’s a bigger deal than a Gucci store and an Atlantic City casino. That Trump measures success only in terms of dollars and cents, and even then by the most favorable accounting methods, is as problematic as his ego.
Other past presidential candidates have offered up impressive resumes full of notable successes, as well, and in many cases they’ve haven’t resulted in successful presidencies. Herbert Hoover had become quite wealthy with his international mining ventures, and he did so without the benefit of inherited wealth and in a way that won him world-wide acclaim for his ethical business practices, then volunteered for such hard jobs as coordinating relief efforts for Europe after World I, coordinating similar relief efforts for the victims of the Great Mississippi Flood, and serving as Commerce Secretary during the boom years of the Coolidge administration, and he was widely regarded as spectacularly successful in each of these tasks. He’s now regarded as one of the least successful presidents, however, and we think that’s largely due to all the counter-productive tinkering he did to overcome the Great Depression because he believed in his own powers more than he did the resilience of the free enterprise system. George H.W. Bush had a resume that not only included a successful private sector career but also public service posts ranging from Central Intelligence Agency director to Ambassador to China to being Vice President during the most successful presidential administration of our lifetime, and a similar confidence in himself had less dire consequences but slowed the momentum from the aw-shucks-I’m-just-a-B-movie-actor Reagan years.
Pretty much every presidential candidate ever has had a less a ridiculous haircut than Trump, going all the way back to the powdered wig days and even through the era when the bald were still eligible for the job, and none of them ever became famous for saying “you’re fired” to the sorts of desperate attention-seekers who co-star on cheesy reality television shows, and even the egotistical likes of John Kerry and Barack Obama preferred to let their allies in the mainstream press talk about how they would be the greatest presidents God ever created, and all of these things also figure into our definition of successful. By our accounting Donald Trump isn’t anywhere near the most successful person to run for president, and we have no doubt he’d be a spectacularly unsuccessful president, and his candidacy seems the quixotic quest of one of those desperately attention-seeking sorts you find on cheesy reality shows. The money and the name recognition and the desire of much of the media to portray the Republican nomination race as a freak show will bring him plenty of attention, and the fabulously wealthy and downright ridiculous Ross Perot has already proved that a certain percentage of the country can fall for it, but the sooner he’s out of this race the better.

— Bud Norman

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