Obama and the Jets

Here in Wichita, Kansas, the “Air Capital of the World,” where general aviation is the backbone of the local economy, we’re always alert to the news stories concerning corporate jets. For the past three and a half years or so the stories have mostly been about Barack Obama’s relentless war on the industry, so you can imagine our surprise upon reading that he’s now offering corporate jet builders a billion dollars in subsidies.

The new policy is apparently an unintended consequence of the protracted debate over the renewal of the Import-Export Bank. We assume it’s unintended, at any rate, as we can’t imagine that Obama has suddenly acquired a new affection for corporate jets or seriously hopes to curry favor with the bitter gun-and-Bible-clinging Kansans who build them.

The Im-Ex, as it is known to those in the know, was established back in the ‘30s to help finance the purchase of American-made products by foreign buyers, but has since acquired a reputation as a dispenser of corporate welfare, with the Boeing Company’s huge airliner business being by far the biggest beneficiary. The bank’s periodic renewal is usually a routine act of Congress, but this time around it faced stiff opposition from several of the more conservative congressional Republicans, who were backed by such free market advocates as The Club For Growth, as well as such aggrieved corporations as Delta Airlines, which believe the bank is unfairly supporting their competitors’ purchases of Boeing products. More centrist politicians from both parties still love such cozy arrangements between government and business, as do such organizations as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and even the most stridently anti-corporate Democrats had been brought on board, so the bill had considerable bipartisan support all along, but it wasn’t until the Im-Ex’s head honcho promised to sweeten the deal with money for makers of smaller planes that the bill finally won passage in the Senate.

Obama signed the bill on Wednesday, citing it as an example of the common sense legislation needed to improve the economy, but he didn’t emphasize the corporate jet subsidies. The GOP immediately took to the internet with a reminder that as a presidential candidate in 2008 Obama had promised to eliminate the Import-Export Bank and called it “little more than a fund for corporate welfare.” The Republicans also correctly noted that Obama had previously sought to increase taxes on jet ownership, and had repeatedly given speeches that used business jets as a symbol of wretched corporate excess and immoral income inequality. No explanation for the contradictions has been forthcoming from the White House, so far as we know, nor any indication that Obama has disavowed his previous policies and rhetoric.

There’s a reasonable argument to be made for Im-Ex, which makes loans that are routinely repaid, and even for its special relationship with Boeing, an important American company whose only global competitor is heavily subsidized by the European Union, but the Obama policy of bashing corporate aviation with one hand and lavishing it with a billion dollars from the other hand is simply incoherent. A smarter administration would seek to negotiate a multilateral end to corporate subsidies with the European Union, whose member countries might well be looking for something to painlessly cut out of their budgets these days, and to devise a simplified tax code and reasonable regulatory system that would make corporate jet ownership more and allow the industry to be profitable enough that it would have no need of subsidies.

At the further edges of the right and the left, from the Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street, there is a rare agreement that corporate welfare should be abolished, but both sides have their own reasons. The right hates anything with “welfare” in the name, while the left abhors any mention of corporations. Obama seems to have staked out a strange middle position that is pro-welfare, anti-corporation, and unlikely to be of much help.

— Bud Norman

Romney Reconsidered

The outcome has been all but certain for so long now that it seems anticlimactic, but Mitt Romney clinched the Republican nomination Tuesday night with a win in the Texas primary. Congratulations are hereby offered.

Although we started out with the same qualms about Romney as the rest of our conservative brethren, especially that darned Massachusetts health care bill and a certain technocratic instinct that it indicates, over the course of the long race we’ve come to rather like him. He offers a convincing critique of the status quo, sensible alternatives, long and successful experience in both the public and private sectors, and he seems to be a good guy.

There’s no use denying that Romney won the nomination simply by lacking the glaring flaws and avoiding the embarrassing missteps that caused each of his opponents to self-destruct, but there’s reason to believe the same strategy will work just as well in the general election, and the slow, steady, reassuringly boring competence of the Romney campaign bespeaks the very qualities needed in the next president. Romney did not mark the occasion in his victory speech by proclaiming that it marked the moment when the earth began to heal and the oceans the started to recede, but rather said that “I have no illusions about the difficulties of the task before us,” and that is another good sign.

Romney isn’t the ideal candidate that we and the rest of the party faithful had yearned for, but we really can’t think of anyone who is, and it now seems clear to us that the Republicans have made the best available choice. We expect that he would be a better president than Barack Obama, and perhaps even a very good one.

— Bud Norman

Budgetary Baloney

Sometimes the muse fails a writer. Some outrages are so outrageous, some absurdities so absurd, some lies so utterly false, that the precise analogy, the proper metaphor, or even the accurate words remain elusive. So it is with President Barack Obama’s boast last week that he’s a fiscal skinflint who has been heroically dealing with massive debts caused entirely by Republicans.

“This other side, I don’t how they’ve been bamboozling folks into thinking that they are the responsible, fiscally-disciplined party,” Obama said Wednesday during yet another fund-raiser, this time in Denver’s Hyatt Regency Hotel. “They run up these wild debts and then when we take over, we’ve got to clean it up.”

What word could one employ to describe such balderdash, such bushwa, such malarkey, such claptrap, such hooey? If not for our strict standards of decorum we could toss in a few choicer synonyms from the barnyard vernacular, but even those would not quite be le mot juste for this sort of mendacious nonsense. What can one possibly liken to such a rant, when even the most far-fetched analogy falls short of its extraordinary dishonesty, and even the most damning metaphor fails to express its utter mendacity, and even the most pointed joke cannot match its knee-slapping hilarity?

Obama’s bizarre claim apparently originated with an article at the Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch site, where staff writer Rex Nutting asserted that the “Obama spending binge never happened,” and that government spending has risen during Obama’s administration at the slowest pace since the 1950s. The Obama campaign has been widely disseminating the article, the candidate himself smirkingly cited “real liberal outlets like The Wall Street Journal” as his corroborating evidence, and there is nowhere else on earth that the idea could have possibly been contrived.

Nutting’s article is pure accounting legerdemain, of course, as numerous commentators quickly noted. The smarter bloggers at Pajamas Media noticed it, as did the conservative think tankers at the Heritage Foundation, and even the president’s usually reliable allies at The Washington Post took time out from investigating Mitt Romney’s high school cruelties to give Obama’s Nutting-based claims three “Pinocchios” in a fact-checking column. More detailed explanations are clearly given in the linked articles, but the gist of it is that Nutting took a whole lot of spending that originated with Obama and moved it back to the Bush years, then used that record-setting baseline to measure the supposedly modest increases of Obama’s ensuing big spending years.

The Bush era was regrettably profligate, with an astounding $4 trillion in debt accrued during the eight years, but just three years of Obama have added another $5 trillion, government spending as a share of the national economy has risen to levels not seen since World War II, and in every budget the president has submitted he has asked for so much more spending that none one single member of Congress would vote for the proposal. Although congressional Republicans have too often been guilty of overspending, a situation now being slowly rectified by the party’s fed-up base in primary after primary, it should also be noted the biggest deficits of the Bush era occurred during his last two years, when anti-war sentiment and general Bush fatigue had caused a Democratic takeover of congress, and that Democratic control of both the legislative and executive branches resulted in new records.

Obama’s claim to fiscal probity is so wildly implausible, then, that many people might take it to be true. The ploy is a perfect example of how you can indeed fool some of the people some of the time, but it seems unlikely to fool enough of them for long enough to do Obama much good. Even the most sycophantic newspapers and broadcasters seem unwilling to go along with the ruse, and Obama likely won’t be able to resist getting back to his previous lines about how the stimulus saved the world, his many investments will pay off some in the future, and how he’s cut a sufficient number of government checks to be owed the loyalty of an electoral majority.

For Obama to continue to criticize his predecessor’s spendthrift ways is like, well, once again there seems to be no analogy at hand. At least the next time some politician makes a suitably outrageous claim, we’ll be able to say “That’s like Barack Obama claiming he’s a budget hawk.”

— Bud Norman

Memorial Day

On a long walk through the old and picturesque Riverside neighborhood of Wichita, Kansas, you might happen upon a small monument to the veterans of the Spanish-American War. Located on a tiny triangle of grass dividing two short streets leading to Riverside Park, the memorial features a statue of a dashing young soldier armed with a rifle and clad in the rakishly informal uniform of the era, a cannon captured from a Spanish ship, and a small plaque thanking all of the men who served America in that long ago conflict.
We always pause at the spot to enjoy the statue, an elegant bronze work that has tarnished to a fine emerald shade, and often to reflect on the Spanish-American war and the men who fought it. Sometimes we’ll wonder, too, about the men and women who honored those soldiers and sailors by building the small monument. The Spanish-American War had been one of the controversial ones, and the resulting bloodier war in the Philippines was still underway and being hotly debated at the time the monument was installed, so we suspect it was intended as a political statement as well as an expression of gratitude, and that the monument builders had to endure the animosity of their isolationist neighbors.
We’ll also wonder, on occasion, how many passersby are surprised to learn from the monument that there ever was a Spanish-American War. The war lasted for only four months of 1898, and involved a relatively small number of American soldiers and sailors, so our current crop of history teachers might be inclined to give it only short mention as a regrettable act of American colonialism before rushing on to the more exciting tales of the ‘60s protest movement or whatever it is they’re teaching these days. The world still feels the effects of those four months in 1898, when that relatively small number of American soldiers and sailors ended more than three centuries of Spanish colonial dominance, commenced more than a century of America’s preeminence on the world stage, and permanently altered, for better or worse, the destinies of Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam, yet the whole affair is now largely forgotten.
If you keep walking past the park and across the Little Arkansas River toward the east bank of the Arkansas River, just beyond the Mid-America All-Indian Center and its giant Keeper of the Plains statue, you’ll find a series of similar monuments dedicated to the veterans of other wars. One features an old torpedo and honors the men who died aboard the S.S. Dorado, “One of 57 submarines on eternal patrol,” during the Second World War. Another lists the names of the many local men who died while serving in the Merchant Marines. An austere black marble plaque beneath an American flag is dedicated to all U.S. Marines. There’s a rather elaborate area devoted to the veterans of the Korean War, with a statue, several flags, numerous plaques and a Korean gateway, which wasn’t erected until 2001, long after the controversies of that conflict had subsided.
The veterans of the Vietnam War are honored with a touching statue of an American soldier standing next to a seated South Vietnamese soldier, which was donated by local Vietnamese-Americans as an expression of gratitude to everyone of all nationalities who tried to save their ancestral homeland from communism, and that won’t be formally dedicated until the Fourth of July. We hope the ceremony will be free of protestors, or any acrimony, but even at this late date the feelings engendered by that war remain strong. Some American veterans of the war have publicly complained about the inclusion of non-American soldiers in the veterans’ park, while some who opposed the war have privately grumbled about any monument to the Vietnam conflict at all. Both the memorial and the attending controversy serve as reminders that the effects of that war are still being felt not just by the world but individual human beings.
Walk a few more blocks toward the old Sedgwick County Courthouse and there’s a grand monument to the Wichita boys who went off to fight for the union in the Civil War, featuring the kind of ornate but dignified statuary that Americans of the late 19th Century knew how to do so well, but a more moving memorial can be found clear over on Hillside Avenue in the Maple Grove Cemetery, where there’s a circle of well-kept graves marked by American flags and austere gravestones for the local boys who didn’t come back. Throughout the city there are more plaques, statues, portraits, and other small markers to honor the men and women who have fought for their country, and of course a good many gravestones for fallen heroes in every cemetery. This city honors those who fight for its freedom and safety, and that is one reason we are proud to call it home.
There is no monument here to the brave men and women who have fought for us in Iraq and Afghanistan, and no memorial to those who died in those far-off lands, but there should be, and soon. Both wars, and especially the Iraq war, have been controversial, and any memorial will be perceived by some as a political statement rather than an expression of gratitude, but it is not too soon to honor the men and women who fought for us. The effects of the wars will outlive us all, and none of us will ever see their ultimate consequences, but there is reason to believe that the establishment of a democracy in the heart of the Islamic middle east and the military defeat of al-Qaeda will prove a boon to humanity, and that is the reason those brave soldiers, sailors, and airmen fought and died there.
If we wait until the ill feelings subside, we might wait until the war has been largely forgotten. In every city and town of the country there should be something that stands for those who gave their lives for America in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it should be something that will stand for a century or more. Something that will cause the passersby of the 22nd Century to stop and reflect, and to be grateful.

— Bud Norman

Prophylactic News Coverage

In case you haven’t heard, the Catholic church is taking the Obama administration to court. That’s something you should have heard, given its rather extraordinary noteworthiness, but if you rely on the network news organization it might very well have escaped your attention.

When more than a dozen Catholic archbishops, the University of Notre Dame, Catholic University of America, Catholic Charities, and 40 other Catholic institutions filed a suit last week against the Department of Health and Human Services over a ruling that their insurance providers must cover contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients, the three major over-the-air newscasters all but ignored the story. The eagle-eyed observers at the venerable Media Research Center found that ABC’s “World News” and NBC’s “Nightly News” made no mention of the story whatsoever, while CBS’ “Evening News” devoted all of 19 seconds to the matter. Although CBS deserves some credit for at least a brief mention of the lawsuit it report could hardly have done the story justice, as it takes much of 19 seconds just to say contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients.

News judgments are vexingly subjective, and always dependent on what else happened on a given day, but it’s hard to find any of the usual journalistic explanations for this omission. A legal conflict between one of the world’s major religions — that would be the Catholics, not the Obama administration — and a president is clearly of importance, and not just to the significant number of Americans who are Catholic. All people of faith, including the Rabbinical Council of America, have a stake in the case, and anyone who holds opinions contrary to those of the Obama administration does as well.

Nor can the networks convincingly argue that they had more important things to cover. On the day the lawsuit was filed NBC found time to cover a solar eclipse that was visible only in a few parts of the world, and would have no discernible effect on future events, and ABC devoted three minutes and 30 seconds to the sentencing of a Rutgers student who had spied on a homosexual roommate. If anything else of greater importance than the lawsuit had happened that day, we’ve already forgotten about it.

One possible explanation for the network’s decision to ignore the lawsuit, which will seem plausible enough to the rationally paranoid conservative, is that they are devoted to helping the president and don’t believe the story will improve his political fortunes. We believe they are correct in this assessment, and ardently hope so, but we don’t expect they’ll succeed in keeping a majority of the public in the dark about the lawsuit. The networks all covered the administration’s contraception mandate with great enthusiasm back when the Obama campaign thought it had a winning issue, and there’s bound to be some lingering public interest in how that story plays out.

— Bud Norman

Romney Goes to School

The most compelling argument for Mitt Romney’s candidacy is still Barack Obama, but we’re also liking the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s recent comments on education.

Speaking Wednesday in Washington, D.C., to an Hispanic small-business group called the Latino Coalition, Romney said that as president he would expand the capital’s voucher program and use federal funding to bring more school choice everywhere, but otherwise “reduce federal micromanagement” of local schools. He also named the teachers’ unions as the main impediment to education reform, and argued that Obama “has been unable to stand up to union bosses and unwilling to stand up for our kids.”

One paper speculated that the speech was intended to bolster Romney’s standing with Hispanics, while another characterized it as an appeal to women, but we expect the proposals will have a more universal appeal. We’re neither Hispanic nor female, but we’re nonetheless eager to see radical changes occur in the schools.

There are plenty of test scores and statistics proving the sorry state of American education, but just a brief chat with a randomly selected young person will likely provide more vivid proof. We’re frequently astonished to discover what our young acquaintances don’t know, and often even more alarmed to hear what they seem to truly believe they do know. Old folks have always grumbled similar complaints about the youngsters, of course, but they’ve been quite right about it for at least the past several decades, and we currently have no reason to believe that the dumbing-down of America won’t continue.

Fixing the problem will require cultural changes that are largely beyond the power of any president to affect, but allowing good teachers and good schools to succeed while forcing bad teachers and bad schools to go away would bring about a significant improvement. Romney is correct in saying that the teachers’ unions will mightily resist any reforms along those lines, because they’re reliably supportive of even their most incompetent members, and he’s also right about Obama and pretty much any other Democratic candidate assisting them in the effort.

We’d love to credit Romney with political courage for daring to take on the mighty teachers’ unions, but honesty compels us to concede that they were going to fight him furiously in any case. He’s probably also noticed that several governors, including such stalwarts as Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and New Jersey’s Chris Christie, have lately taken on the once-invincible lobby and fared rather well. Teachers still enjoy a rather saintly reputation, which we attribute to many years of propaganda by Hollywood and popular fiction, but their unions don’t enjoy the same public affection.

Still, it’s nice to hear Romney picking the fight

— Bud Norman

Playing Out the String, Sloppily

Even the most avid sports fans tend to pay less attention to the regular season scores after their team has clinched a playoff spot, and even the most dedicated political buffs often stop checking the primary results after the nominations are locked up. In both cases they might be missing something important, because a late slump by a complacent team can carry over into the post-season and a relatively weak showing in the late primaries can reveal weaknesses that might harm a candidate in a general election.

Tuesday night’s largely ignored primaries in Kentucky and Arkansas illustrate the point. Presumptive nominees Mitt Romney and Barack Obama won their respective parties’ contests, as expected, but a closer examination of the box scores reveals some interesting problems for both men.

In the Kentucky primary Romney finished more than 54 points ahead of his closest competitor, the famously stubborn Ron Paul, but only garnered about 67 percent of the total votes in a four-way race. The results were similar in Arkansas, where Romney took about 69 percent of all the votes, with Paul and fellow also-ran Rick Santorum picking up about 13 percent each. Given that all of Romney’s competitors have stopped campaigning, and even offered mild and begrudging endorsements of Romney, the numbers suggest that the all-but-certain Republican nominee still needs to arouse some enthusiasm among the party’s hard-core conservative base, especially in the South.

More notable, though, were the scores on the Democratic side. In Arkansas, Obama lost about 40 percent of the vote to a quadrennial crank candidate named John Wolfe, and in Kentucky he lost 42 percent of the vote to “uncommitted.” Coming just two weeks after an embarrassing showing in the West Virginia primary, where Obama lost 37 percent of the vote to a candidate currently serving time in a federal prison, the results suggest that a sizeable minority of Democrats are not satisfied with their party’s nominee.

The Obama campaign and its allies in the news media will do their part to ensure that the primaries remain largely ignored, and for those who do take notice they’ll downplay the results as peculiar to small redneck states that aren’t going to vote for the president’s re-election anyway, but it’s impossible to argue convincingly that such large numbers of defectors don’t represent a problem. There are Democratic rednecks in every state, after all, and even in such respectable jurisdictions as New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Maryland the president hasn’t topped the 90 percent threshold that is to be expected for an incumbent president running against nominal or even non-existent competition.

After all the talk about the hard-fought Republican primary, the Democrats suddenly seem the less united party.

Those die-hard Republicans who continue to insist on voting for Paul, Santorum, Newt Gingrich, or any of the other conservative also-rans aren’t going to cast a vote for Obama. A few of them will stay home on election day, but we expect that the looming possibility of a second Obama term will be sufficient to get most of them to the polls to vote for Romney. Those Democrats who voted for a felon, a crank candidate, and “uncommitted,” on the other hand, might very well be persuaded to vote Romney.

— Bud Norman

Facebook Faces the Music

For those of you who inadvertently wandered here in search of a sure-fire get-rich-quick scheme, pleased be advised this site does not offer investment advice. Our portfolio includes a few strong positions in state lottery tickets, while most of our money is tied up in cash, but we claim no expertise in such matters.

We can boast, however, of a few bad investments that we never made. Through all our financial follies we never bet a dime on Solyndra or the Fisker Karma, for instance, and as of now we’re feeling rather shrewd for having avoided the initial public offering by Facebook.

After several years of extraordinary hype, including a major motion picture, Facebook’s foray into public ownership was probably the most ballyhooed financial event of the past several years. On Friday the popular social medium’s initial public offering — better known as IPO to the more savvy types — attracted the sort of full-court media pressure usually reserved for celebrity romances, Republican sex scandals, and the National Football League’s annual draft. The company wound up fetching a handsome price of $38 per share, and all weekend the news anchors sang ballads of the legend of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

On Monday the stock price fell 11 percent, even as the broader markets rallied on news of falling gas prices, and suddenly the headlines were less exultant. “Investors Pummel Facebook,” proclaimed the Wall Street Journal.  “Facebook’s Stock May Keep Falling: ‘There’s No Bottom’” shouted CNBC. The Associated Press wondered, “Where are Facebook’s Friends?” No one, it seemed, was giving Facebook’s stock the little thumbs-up “like” sign.

The business reporters speculated that the problem was too many shares, or technical difficulties that interfered with trading, or perhaps even Zuckerberg’s nonchalance, and in every case they seemed surprised by the turn of events. Without having done any analysis of Facebook’s financial fundamentals, but having some familiarity with its product, we can honestly say that the stock’s sudden downturn was not unexpected.

Facebook has become so ubiquitous that even such determined Luddites as ourselves have not escaped its insidious influence, and there’s no doubt some economic value in anything that can claim 900 million customers, but we never believed that a forum for people to bore other people they vaguely know with misspelled accounts of their mundane doings and half-baked opinions was a solid investment. The company’s product has proved useful to us on a few occasions, such as apprising us of a couple of divorces and thereby sparing us the embarrassment of asking certain acquaintances how the little lady is doing, or helping us to figure out who that person was that seemed to regard us as an old friend at a party, but it never seemed to have the same value as automobiles, indoor plumbing, ground beef, or other more essential products.

Indeed, Facebook always struck us as something of a soon-to-be-passing fancy. On our occasional visits to the site we’ve already noticed that several people who once posted regularly are no longer announcing their latest exploits, and we don’t wonder why they might have grown bored with it. The Facebook craze might well persist in a less frenzied fashion for a few more years, but it’s not surprising to see that so few investors are betting on it.

— Bud Norman

Taking Out the Eurotrash

The news from the G-8 summit left us too depressed to write, so we offer the following vignette from the files. This piece of geo-political vaudeville was originally presented as a skit in the Wichita Society of Professional Journalists’ “Gridiron” show, and is re-printed here without their permission.

(Scene opens at a meeting of the finance ministers of the European Union. Seated at a table are a FRENCHMAN, wearing a beret; a GERMAN, wearing one of those Kaiser Wilhelm helmets with the spike on top; a SPANIARD, wearing a sombrero; an IRISHWOMAN, swigging from a bottle of whisky; an ENGLISHMAN, nattily attired; a GREEK, wearing a toga; an ITALIAN WOMAN, provocatively dressed; a POLE, dressed in some comically stupid way; and SCANDINAVIAN, wearing a colorful wool stocking cap. All speak in exaggerated accents.)

GERMAN: This meeting of the European Union finance ministers vill come to order. As alvays, the topic is the disastrous state of your economies.

FRENCHMAN: I strenuously object to this German strudel. Zee French economy is not zee problem. We are zee world’s leading exporter of French bread, French toast, French fries, French kisses, and French’s mustard. In addition, we continue to surpass all other countries in haughtiness. No, zee problem is Greece.

GREEK: I will not tolerate this insult, you impudent French tickler. Greece doesn’t have any problem that a few hundred billion euro from the German central bank won’t solve. After all, we are the cradle of civilization, the birthplace of democracy, and the inventors of sodomy. Besides, we are no worse off than the Italians.

ITALIAN WOMAN (Very sultry): La dolce vita.

(All the men react very enthusiastically.)

GERMAN: Vat the hell does that even mean? You lazy Italians cost us North Africa, and now you are bankrupting our European Union.

FRENCHMAN: Leave her alone.

GERMAN: Do not make me angry. France does not want Germany to be angry.

POLE: The German is right. The southerners in the Eurozone aren’t pulling their weight. You don’t see the Polish economy in such a sorry state.

IRISH WOMAN: But of course you Poles have full employment. It takes three of you to screw in a light bulb.

POLE: You stupid Irish coffee. You think you’re so smart just because the Irish can do it with only two. One to hold the bulb to the socket, the other to sit and drink until the room starts to spin.

IRISH WOMAN: We are a simple people, we Irish. We’re a beer-swilling, wife-beating, bomb-throwing bunch of potato-heads, but we are still the world’s leading exporter of Irish people.

FRENCHMAN (Leaning toward the Irish woman): You know, I must be part Irish myself, because my penis is Dublin.

GERMAN: Please, this meeting must come to order. There is nothing more important than order!

ENGLISHMAN: I believe it was Nietzsche who said, “Out of chaos comes order.”

GERMAN: Oh, blow it out your ass, you silly English muffin.

ENGLISHMAN: Well. I must say, I now have no regrets about sticking with the Pound Sterling, you German chocolate cake. At least our money has pictures of real people and real places on it.

GERMAN: But we can still save the Euro. You people simply have to get your finances in order. No more lavish entitlements, no more bloated public sectors, no more six-month vacations.

GREEK: But the Greek people will riot and burn down the country.

SPANIARD: And the Spaniards.

ITALIAN: And the Italians.

ENGLISHMAN: And the English, I dare say.

FRENCHMAN: Zee French will riot, too, of course, but with a certain joi de vive that the other nations cannot match.

GERMAN: Don’t you know how to deal with the rabble on your streets?



ITALIAN: We have no idea.

ENGLISHMAN: I’m afraid not.

FRENCHMAN: Sorry, no clue.

GERMAN: You are pathetic and weak. I demand that you enact these reforms immediately.

SPANIARD: And I demand to know why I am wearing a sombrero. I am a Spaniard, not a Mexican.

FRENCHMAN: You stupid Spanish fly. It is because zees skit was written by an American. Americans think Spain is Mexico.

GREEK: You know, he’s right. This skit is nothing but a bunch of crude stereotypes and stale ethnic jokes. This must have been written by an American.

SCANDINAVIAN: No, it can’t be.

GREEK: Oh, yeah? You’re some kind of Scandinavian, right? Well, what kind?

SCANDINAVIAN: Svedish, Norvegian, Danish, Feenish, I don’t know. Dey’re all de same, aren’t dey?

GREEK: See what I mean? Only an American thinks that way.

FRENCHMAN: Sacre bleu! Zees entire European fiscal crisis is just an American plot. Zees was all dreamed up by some crazed American right-winger to discredit zee European social welfare model before Obama and zee Democrats can enact it there.

GREEK: But such a plot could never work.


GREEK: Because the Americans never notice what’s going on outside their country.

FRENCHMAN: Yes, you are right. Stupid Americans.

–Bud Norman

Barack Obama, Birther

The claim that President` Barack Obama was born in Kenya always struck us as a bit dubious. Although we wouldn’t put it past Obama to do something like that, the idea simply seemed too good to be true. We also didn’t care for the company in the “birther” crowd, which seemed to be populated mostly by tinfoil-hat-wearing types and the likes of Donald Trump, and there always seemed to be plenty of other things to bash Obama about.

Birtherism suddenly seems a more respectable conspiracy theory, however, now that we’ve learned it apparently originated with Obama’s very own literary representatives. The delightful gadflies over at Breitbart.com have dug up some promotional materials released by the Acton & Dystel agency back in 1991, and the biography of their as-yet-unpublished author states that “Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, was born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii.”

This doesn’t constitute proof that Obama is Kenyan by birth, of course, and the Breitbart.com writers make it painstakingly clear that they do not mean to imply it does, but the error seems worth a passing notice nonetheless. Not just because it’s hilarious, but because there’s some revealingly Freudian about the slip.

The woman who wrote the erroneous bio now says it was an honest mistake on her part, which is believable, but it can be inferred that she thought that an author born in Kenya would be of greater interest to a reader than one of a mundane American birth. Looking at the short biographies of some of the other esteemed authors represented by Acton & Dystel, such as consumer activist Ralph Nader, former House Speaker Tip O’Neill, and the briefly popular boy band New Kids on the Block, we note that none of them mention a birthplace. Because the error went uncorrected until 2007, right around the time Obama began campaigning in earnest for the presidency, we can also assume the author agreed that being born Kenyan would enhance his literary appeal if not if his political prospects.

A similar affinity for the exotic can be found in Elizabeth Warren, the purebred paleface Democratic candidate for Senate in Massachusetts who falsely claimed to be the only Native American woman on the Harvard Law School faculty, and for that matter in countless lefties of our acquaintance. In polite society these days no one wants to be thought a plain old American.

Unless they’re in a close election and are trying to portray their opponent as an out-of-touch rich guy, of course. Back in 2008 Obama’s dog-eating boyhood was part of the sales pitch, the idea being that his cosmopolitan upbringing would win the world’s affection after eight years of the gauchely American George W. Bush, but now that it doesn’t seem to have worked out as planned he’s back to being regular ol’ Barry, and any reminder of his formerly intriguing foreignness is considered a racist attempt to cast him as “the other.”

It’s nice to reminded, then, that Obama once reveled in the role.

— Bud Norman