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A Very Hard Brexit

Should you ever despair about the state of America’s politics, as we so often do, console yourselves that it’s even worse elsewhere. At the moment, even the United Kingdom finds itself in a very sticky wicket over its “Brexit” from the European Union.

We’re avid Anglophiles in our literary tastes and cherish America’s longstanding “special relationship” with Great Britain, so we try to keep up with the news from across the pond. Lately it’s all been bad news, as the messy business of “Brexit” plays out. The traditionally Tory Prime Minister Theresa May had to resign as a result of her failure to find a solution, and untraditionally Tory successor Boris Johnson doesn’t seem to be doing any better.</div<

The controversy all started back in 2016 when the British people narrowly approved a referendum to withdraw seem from the European Union. There were all sorts of reasonable arguments for doing so, as the European Union imposes all sorts of rules and regulations about immigration and how to measure the weight of bananas, and although the United Kingdom wisely didn’t abandon the Pound Sterling for the one-size-fits-all Euro that keeps creating problems there were many persuasive arguments for British sovereignty.
All along the counter-argument was that the UK’s alliance with the EU gave it un-tariffed access to the European economies that collectively comprise the third-largest market in the world, and that was also compelling. Should Britain take a “hard Brexit”from the EU its economy will direly suffer, and if it doesn’t the government will defy the narrowly expressed will of its people. Which makes for a complicated mess, and this Johnson fellow doesn’t seem to be up to it.
Johnson is a “Britain First” kind of guy, often compared to to American President Donald Trump, and he has an arguably even uglier head of hair, and so far he’s been flailing. He tried to suspend Parliament, which is arguably even crazier than Trump suspending Congress, as it’s a more longstanding institution. Even Johnson’s better-coiffed brother has resigned from the government, there’s talk of special elections, creepy left-wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn awaits in the wings, and as much as we love the Brits they seem in yet another very bad spot.
The Brits have been through plenty of those over the last few centuries, on the other hand, and we we hold out hope they muddle through this one as well.

— Bud Norman

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Placing Preemptive Blame

President Donald Trump is assuring the American public that the economy won’t go into recession for so long as he’s in office, and that if it does he’s certainly not to blame. Somehow that does not inspire confidence.
The stock markets have been up the last couple of days and the unemployment rate is still unusually low, while the gross domestic product has lately crawled forward at an Obama-era pace, but there are reasons for Trump and the rest of us to be nervous. The treasury markets recently went into an “inverted yield curve,” an obscure statistic that has presaged every recession of the last 50 years, business investment has lately been down, the federal deficit is up beyond Obama-era levels, such major economies as Great Britain’s and Germany’s are sliding into recession, China’s behemoth economy is rapidly slowing, and since July there has been a 6.4 percent decline in consumer confidence. The global smart money doesn’t seem to have much faith in Trump’s leadership, and increasingly sees it as yet another reason to be nervous.
All of which amounts to another conspiracy against Trump, of course. Trump explains that the “fake news” media — which now includes Fox News — is drumming up potentially self-fulfilling recession prophecies in order to deny him a landslide reelection. The media are merely reporting the official government statistics, but Trump is also skeptical of official government statistics. Back when President Barack Obama was in office and the stats showed slow but steady economic improvement Trump opined that the bureaucrats were cooking the books to make the boss look good. When Trump became president and the bureaucrats continued to report the same slow but steady trajectory he happily embraced it as official government statistics, but apparently anything that doesn’t look good is coming from the “deep state” cabal trying to make the new boss look bad.
Trump is also preemptively blaming Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who has not done the severe interest rate-cutting Trump thinks is needed to prevent the upcoming recession that Trump assures us is not going to happen. Powell’s policies are quite prudent if the economy is the well-tuned ad humming machine Trump claims it is, and will come handy if that’s not the case and there are still interest rates to be cut, but if worse comes to worst Trump will have a handy scapegoat in the man he appointed to head the Fed.
No matter what, Trump will insist his global trade wars had anything to do with any global economic difficulties that might occur. He still insists that China is paying those billions of dollars of tariffs rather than the Wax-Mart shoppers, even as he backs off from his latest tariff threat for fear that Christmas shopping might not be as brisk, and there’s not reason a global trade war has anything to do with a downturn in the global economy.
Trump ran for president on the argument that all the military alliances and trading partnerships America had negotiated since the end of World War II were a raw deal, despite the relative global peace and prosperity that followed here and mostly abroad, and a promise that he’d knock it all down and negotiate a far better deal for the United States. So far he’s been fairly successful at the knocking it down part, but he’s not yet negotiated that sweetest deal ever.
None of the world’s dictators nor any of its democratically elected leaders have any reason to bail Trump out by agreeing to his demands for American hegemony, so that sweetest deal ever seems even more elusive. If they face any popular backlash to an economic downturn, both the dictators and the democratically elected leaders will happily and plausibly blame Trump.
On the other hand, the next recession might not happen before the next presidential election. There’s always a next recession, no matter who is president, what with the business cycle being an un-repealable law of economics, but they’re hard to predict. We’ve noticed they usually come at an inconvenient time for Republican incumbents, but despite his six casino bankruptcies Trump has often been lucky in his life.
An alarming 74 percent of the economists polled by the National Association for Business Economics expect a recession by 2021, but they probably have it in for Trump, and we remember the old joke about how economists have predicted the last 30 of the past ten recessions, and we hope they’re wrong. Not for Trump’s sake, of course, as we can’t stand the guy and will gladly blame his wrecking-ball economics if the global economy crashes to the ground, but because we don’t like recessions.

— Bud Norman

“BoJo,” “Brexit,” and Trump

Over the past many decades there have often been intriguing similarities between America’s presidents and the United Kingdom’s prime ministers.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill was a conservative Tory and President Franklin Roosevelt a liberal Democrat, but both men came from aristocratic backgrounds and excellent educations and they shared an instinctive abhorrence of Nazism, and Churchill came to share the Cold War stage with President Dwight Eisenhower. Prime Minister Margaret “Iron Lady” Thatcher was an iconoclastic conservative Tory whose election paved the way for President Ronald Reagan’s equally iron-willed and controversial conservative Republicanism. Reagan was succeeded by the more cautiously conservative President George H.W. Bush at about the same time that was followed by Prime Minister John Major, a cautiously conservative tory with the same sort of establishment pedigree as his American counterpart. President Bill Clinton ended 12 years of Republican presidencies by promising a centrist “third way,” and he was soon joined by Prime Minister Tony Blair, who ended a long run of Tory residence at Number 10 Downing Street on a similar centrist platform.
Since then Republican presidents have sometimes had to get along with Labour Prime Ministers and Democrats have overlapped with Tories, but for the most part the Special Relationship persisted. Putatively Republican President Donald Trump often clashed with Tory Prime Minister Theresa May, who had a more refined style and didn’t share his nationalist instincts, but she’s lately been forced to resign, and will now be replaced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is about as close a copy of Trump as the United Kingdom can find.
Johnson has a longstanding reputation for making up facts that suit him and bluntly insulting anyone who disputes his version of the truth, he’s a Britain-first nationalist who shares Trump’s distrust of international alliances and institutions, he was born in New York City to a wealthy family, and he arguably has an even more ridiculous hair style than the American president. Trump had signaled he would have preferred the even more anti-European Union politician Nigel Farage, who campaigned for Trump during his presidential race, but we expect that he and Johnson will get along quite well at the upcoming economic summits.
Johnson first gained notice in Britain as a journalist, which is a marked contrast from Trump, but we think Trump would have liked his style. He was an anti-European Union crusader at a time when Britain’s entry into the economic alliance was a hotly debated issue. There were plenty of good reasons for Britain to retain its independence, including nosy regulations and open border policies and one-size-fits-all currency, but Johnson wasn’t satisfied with that and invented all sorts of fanciful tales about condom size regulations and other outrages, getting fired from the Times of London for falsifying a quote but later finding a home at the Tory-leaning Telegraph. He parlayed his popularity into eight controversial but not at all catastrophic years as Mayor of London, and then somehow wound in May’s cabinet as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
Britain’s limited involvement in the European Union remained a controversial issue, with the country eventually voting by a slim margin in a referendum to “Brexit” from the agreement. Negotiating the terms of the divorce proved difficult, however, and eventually brought an end to May’s prime ministership. The United Kingdom had wisely followed Thatcher’s advice to retain its Pound Sterling currency rather than accept the Euro that the poorer country’s were using to rack up ruinous debt and require huge bailouts, but it had agreed to accept some very stupid immigration rules and other annoying violations of its sovereignty, so there was ample reason to cut ties with the continent, but on the other hand EU membership also offered very lucrative free trade with the world’s third biggest economy. The EU naturally used that leverage to demand concessions that Johnson and Farage and Trump and other “hard Brexit” advocates resented, and May wound up resigning in frustration with her failure to please anyone.
Perhaps Johnson will have better luck with the negotiations, but the conventional wisdom of American and Fleet Street media is that he’ll have the same problems as May. His Conservative Party and the “Brexit” are both unpopular, Britain’s economy needs the EU more than the EU needs Britain, the country has lately been having its oil tankers seized and harassed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a problem that will require North Atlantic Treaty Organization assistance, and much like Trump he’s widely regarded by the establishment types as a rank amateur who’s in over his ill-coiffed head. The anti-EU Trump has said he’ll reward Britain with a sweetheart trade deal if it makes a “Brexit,” but no matter how sweet it probably won’t be worth as much as free access to the far closer and nearly as large EU economy, and Johnson and Trump have some disagreements on matters ranging from the Iran nuclear deal to the importance of the NATO alliance.
Still, we wish “BoJo” and Trump the best of luck working it all out, as America and the United Kingdom have helped one another do ever since that unpleasantness back in 1812. In a couple of years there might a crazy left Democratic president and a crazy left Labourite prime minister who find themselves simpatico, and if so we’ll hold out work that doesn’t end badly.

— Bud Norman

England Swings Like a Pendulum Do

President Donald Trump arrives in England today for a three-day visit, and we expect it will be awkward.
By all accounts the American president is not popular with the general public in the United Kingdom, where large protests are expected to gather in the streets during the trip, and his relationships with the various levels of government there are similarly strained. There’s an ongoing “twitter” feud with London’s mayor, some continuing disputes with Scotland over Trump’s management of his disastrous-to-the local economy golf courses there, Parliament has hotly debated whether Trump should even be allowed in the nation at all, and the Royal Family seems to be handling the matter with even more than its usual exquisite carefulness.
Trump will get an official welcoming from the Queen at Buckingham Palace, as well as a fancy banquet and a gun salute from the Tower of London, which we’re sure he’ll enjoy, but that’s about it. The usual invitation for a visiting American president to spend the night in the palace has not been extended, there won’t be the usual House Guards parade with a trip through London’s streets in the gold carriage in the Queens gold-plated carriage that Trump has openly fantasized about, and it’s hard to see how any of Trump’s diplomatic objectives will be achieved.
Pretty much ever since the aftermath of the unpleasantness of 1812 America and Great Britain have enjoyed what Mark Twain hopefully dubbed a “special relationship,” which has persisted through two World Wars and a Cold War and all the post-Cold War unpleasantness in the Middle East, but that’s just another of those successful longstanding arrangements that Trump has gleefully sabotaged. He provoked a feud with London’s Muslim mayor and criticized its Muslim-friendly immigration policies, as if that’s any of America’s business, critiqued the Prime Minister’s handling of its “Brexit” from the European Union, which Trump has also criticized for its unfair trade policies and miserly defense spending, and lumped the UK with all the other Euro-trash he accused of taking unfair advantage of America’s economic and military might. He recently called one of the Royal family’s recent American-born and biracial members “nasty,” which he now denies doing even though the Fleet Street tabloid that interviewed him has released audiotape of him saying it, and the rest of it is even more complicated than that.
If Trump hopes to negotiate the best trade and military deal ever with Great Britain over the next three days, which is farfetched in the best of the circumstances, there’s no one in the UK at the moment who could sign off on it. Trump can exult in outlasting his longtime nemesis British Prime Minister Theresa May, who has recently resigned on a date later this month because of her failure to negotiate a successful “Brexit” from the EU, but she’s now a lame duck whose successor won’t be chosen in the next three days, and there’s no guarantee that the next Prime Minister will want to be seen giving Trump a sweetheart deal. There’s also no guarantee that the remaining members of our erstwhile allies in the EU, whose publics also much dislike Trump, will be any more accommodating.
Trump will get a sumptuous Buckingham Palace state dinner on the Royal family’s best China out of the visit, which we’re sure he’ll appreciate, but there won’t be any overnight stays or ┬árides in gold-plated carriages or any other concessions worth bragging about, and at this point we’re just hoping the trip won’t be yet another of his foreign affairs disasters.

— Bud Norman

Beto and the Way-Too-Early Buzz

Thursday’s news was chock full of significant with stories, as an unexpected dozen Republican senators voted against President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency, missiles were lobbed into Israel from the Gaza Strip, the United Kingdom still can’t find a way to make its Brexit from the European Union, Boeing’s 737 remains grounded around the world, and a couple of Hollywood celebrities have been charged with cheating their kids into fancy colleges. Even so, all the big news outlets found front page space and top-of-the-hour time to report that a former congressman and failed senate candidate named Beto O’Rourke has announced that he’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The attention paid to this back page and bottom-of-the-hour story seems so inordinate, however, that we’ve decided to ignore all the rest of that stuff and write about and opine about it ourselves.
Let us begin by griping that it’s far too early to be writing anything about the 2020 presidential election. Did anybody at this point in the past many election cycles warn the country about the upcoming presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and Barack Obama and Trump? Not sufficiently, at any rate, even at the end of a two-year-long slog, and we don’t expect the big news outlets will do any better at this point this time around.
Nor do we think this O’Rourke fellow is the next big deal that all the big news outlets seem to think he is. He was very popular representing the El Paso part of Texas during a few terms in the House of Representatives, but was little noticed elsewhere. He came close enough to knocking off stalwart conservative and entrenched incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in a statewide race in such a reliably stalwart conservative state as Texas to tantalize a national Democratic audience, but in the end he did fall short by more than a couple of percentage points. O’Rourke’s undeniably a telegenically youthful and handsome and physically fit fellow with a punk rock band on his resume, which could pose problems for Trump in this reality show era of presidential politics, but it’s no guarantee he’ll win a Democratic nomination. Among the crowded field of Democratic contenders are some rather hot-by-politician-standards women, some of them women of color, and given the identity politics of today’s Democratic party the primary electorate might well prefer that to some white pretty boy, enough if he does have a Latin nickname.
One of the right-wing talk radio talkers is already calling O’Rourke “O’Dork,” which seems to be the height of conservative wit these days, and Trump took time during a news conference with the Irish Prime Minister to ridicule O’Rourke’s hand movements, asking “Is he crazy or is just the way acts?,” and he took care not do the usual weird imaginary accordion or flag-groping thing president does. The rest of the conservative media are similarly eager to take on his wild-eyed leftist extremism. Meanwhile, some of the late night comedy show hosts and the rest of the the liberal media are insinuating hat O’Rourke is a centrist sell-out. Late night network wag Seth Meyers is a relentless Trump-basher, and pretty darned funny about it, but he’s consistent enough to react to a Democrat’s quote as if Trump had said it, and when he read O’Rourke’s recollection to Vanity Fair of a campaign speech when “Because every word was pulled out of me, like by some greater force, which was just the people there,” and used the usual Trump impersonation, it got the same big laugh as one of Trump’s typically absurd quotes.
If this O’Rourke fellow really is the centrist sell-out his critics contend we him wish the best, even if he does seem to have a similarly annoying reality show appeal and knack for ridiculous quotes as Trump, as we’d rather not see the Democratic party go so far to the left as it very well might. At this point there’s no telling what the Democrats might do, however, and to the extent we’ve be following the race they have some relatively sane contenders, including a couple of relatively hot-by-politician standards and hot-for-their age women, which seems to matter in this age of reality show identity politics, and many Democrats seem more concerned with beating Trump than achieving a socialist utopia. Given the way things have lately been going in the courts and Congress and the economic forecasts, it’s also well within the realm of possibility that the eventual Democratic nominee won’t be running against Trump.
Starting Monday, therefore, we’ll resume paying more attention to the more pressing news of the day.

— Bud Norman

An Entire World Heading for the Exits

America rarely pays any attention to the rest of the world, but over the past weekend it seemed all the talk was about “Brexit.” By now even the most chauvinistic newsreader is familiar with that ungainly portmanteau for Great Britain’s exit from the European Union, which was approved by a majority of the country’s voter in a referendum Friday, and understands why it really is a rather big deal even here in the faraway heartland of would-be fortress America.
The world’s fifth-largest national economy has declared its independence from an EU that had collectively rivaled the Americans and Chinese as the world’s largest economy, and by the time you read this the stock markets almost everywhere will likely be in a panic about the possible ramifications of such an international disruption. There’s also the possibility of further disruptions to the world order, as there are similar anti-EU movements afoot in many of the federation’s other 27 member countries that will surely be bolstered and embolden by Britain’s exit, and there’s already talk of the French leaving in a Frexit and the Swedes leaving in Swexit and the Netherlands leaving in a Nexit, although we wonder if that lattermost possibility wouldn’t more properly be called a Netherexit, and there’s the threat of Italy leaving in what will likely be called an Itexit, and by the time all the potential ugly neologisms have been coined there is reason to believe that the rest of the EU might well soon unravel. Elite opinion both here and abroad believes that the EU is an essential project to maintain the historically unprecedented period of peace and prosperity that has mostly attained over the European continent since the end of World War II, and there’s no denying that the populist movements fueling those anti-EU parties do indeed include some of those more unsavory sorts of nationalists who caused all the unpleasantness of the past century, so we concede there might well be further and more disturbing disruptions to the world order.
Still, from our spot here in the heartland of would-be fortress America we’re taking a more hopeful view. Britain still has the world’s fifth-largest economy and enough economic common sense that that it will still want to have a common market with the economic powerhouse across the channel, which will most likely be willing to continue friendly relations with the world’s fifth-largest economy, if the European reputation for sophistication is at all justified, and unless the crude populist with the awful haircut who has now ascended to the top of the British Conservative Party as a result of all this insists on some extortionate trade agreement we expect it will all soon be worked out to the satisfaction of the world’s stock markets. As for the threat of rising nationalist populist sentiment among the western world’s great unwashed masses, we’ve long believed that the EU and other bossy internationalist projects of the elite opinion here and abroad were the main cause of that problem.

The whole boondoggle began reasonably enough as a “Common Market,” with a number of large and nearby economies freely trading the best of their goods and services on mutually-beneficial terms, and even that was a hard sell to the non-elite sorts, unsavory and otherwise. We still recall an old New Yorker cartoon that showed some stereotypically stuffy Tory Member of Parliament saying it would be very un-British to join anything called a “Common” market, and of course the workers in the continental industries who couldn’t withstand the formidable British competition had their own objections, but with votes from consumers in all the countries who preferred being to able to buy the best and most affordable goods on services on a broader market they worked it out well enough to bring unprecedented peace and prosperity to most of Europe. The next step involved a common currency for the all the differently-sized economies involved, which encouraged the more dissipated economies to recklessly borrow at the same low interest rates afforded their more economically robust members, which has not worked out well. Then came political integration, which meant that each country was ceding sovereignty to a bunch of know-it-alls in Brussels who thought they knew how to run a business in Lancashire, England, or Orleans, France, or Athens, Greece, better than that unwashed shopkeeper in those Godforsaken jurisdictions could ever do. They were probably right about the Greek shopkeeper, but even and especially here in the heartland of would-be fortress America we can easily see how such detached and unaccountable bureaucratic meddling could fuel a populist uprising. Throw in the fact the orders were actually coming in from Berlin, Germany, where the previously sane and famously childless Chancellor has decided that the solution to her country’s below-replacement fertility rate is to import millions of fecund immigrants from more unsettled regions of the world where an Islamist hatred of western civilization is rampant, and that EU countries are bound by treaty with this civilizational suicide policy, and we can readily understand why many of even the most savory sorts of people with a love for their cultures will heading for the exits.
What probably explains why so much of self-involved America has been talking about “Brexit” is its glaringly obvious implications for the American presidential election. The incumbent Democratic President, who pretty much epitomizes elite public opinion, is a notorious Anglophobe who threatened that Great Britain would be “at the back of the queue” on trade negotiations if it dared abandon the EU, and his would-be Democratic successor, backed by much of the elite public opinion, is reduced to saying that she’ll try to help hard-working and stock-investing families get through the coming turbulence. Meanwhile the crude populist with an awful haircut who has somehow ascended to the leadership of the Republican Party has long been on record criticizing every free trade deal America ever struck, recently been stalwart opponent of immigration, and is running on the unabashedly nationalist promise to “Make American Great Again.” All in all, it should have been a good weekend for the Republican.
All politics is local, though, and in this locality the Republican seems to have a knack for blowing these opportunities. The mass shootings at a homosexual nightclub by an Islamist nutcase should have bumped his poll numbers up a few points, but his initial “tweets” on the matter congratulated himself on his prescience rather than offering condolences to the dead and the injured and his loved ones, and despite the incoherence of the Democratic response he actually saw his numbers go down. This time around the Republican happened to find himself in Scotland on the day of the referendum, taking time off from campaigning in swing states and trying to drum up business for his money-losing golf course that had all the invested locals and bought-off politicians and bullied neighbors angry at him, to the point that they were waving Mexican flags they somehow acquired at the protests, and his initial response to “Brexit” was once again clumsy. He initially “tweeted” how everyone in Scotland was exhilarated by the response, even though that portion of Great Britain had voted to remain by a landslide margin, and as the son of a Scottish immigrant mother he bragged to the locals that he was “Scotch,” which every Scot or Scotsman or Scottish person knows is a type of whisky and not a word that describes someone from Scotland, and the ensuing press conference was equally illiterate.
There was also a well stated statement about Britain’s right to sovereignty and a promise to put it at the front queue in our trade negotiations and allusions to the “special relationship,” and it’s obvious from the multi-sylabbic words and parseable grammar that someone else wrote it, but the Republican approved it and that’s an encouraging sign, but it’s still damage control rather than an offensive. The statement will probably get less attention than the Republican’s bizarre interview with Bloomberg News where the recently anti-immigration candidate criticized the globalist president’s high number of deportations of illegal immigrants and said “I have the biggest heart of anybody” and would therefore not have “mass deportations.” He didn’t back off from his threats of extortionate trade deals, and instead made an explicit plea to the supporters of self-described Socialist and too-far-left-for-even-the-Democratic-Party Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on both nationalist and socialist terms, but we think he missed a far greater opportunity to stick it to elite opinion.

— Bud Norman