Advertisements

The Politics and Other Problems of Nicknames

The stock markets were down but not precipitously in the calm before the trade war on Wednesday, all the late night comics had already beaten us to the obvious jokes jokes about the president and the porn star story, and there were no new “tweets” or significant developments in the “Russia thing.” During this blissful lulls in the news we came across one of those inside-the-pages and bottom-of-the-hour stories about the upcoming senatorial race in Texas, and we took a peculiar interest because it involved nicknames.
Even if you don’t usually follow Texas politics, as we usually don’t, you’re no doubt by now familiar with incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz, the ferociously anti-Republican establishment Republican who came in second in the Republican primary to the even more anti-Republican establishment candidate and eventual Republican President Donald Trump. Cruz easily won his party’s renomination in Tuesday’s Republican primary, partly with help from the endorsement of Trump, who had nicknamed him “Lyin’ Ted” and disparaged Cruz’s wife’s looks and accused Cruz’s father of complicity in the assassination of President John Kennedy during the primary battles, and for now he’s the betting favorite in the race.
In the general election Cruz will be pitted against Democratic winner Rep. Beto O’Rourke, which is a name you probably won’t recognize even if you’re a Democratic news junkie in Texas. He’s a congressman from one of the southwester-nmost of Texas’ many congressional districts, and a Democrat in a reliably Republican state, and apparently one of those occasional Texas liberals, but this is the first we’ve heard of him.
The first thing that Cruz pointed out, though, is that he’s not really “Beto” O’Rourke. He’s actually Robert “Beto” O’Rourke. In Spanish-speaking cultures “Beto” is an affectionate shortening of everyone from Roberto to Albertino to Henberto, although not usually Robert, and the Canadian-born and Cuban-descended released a satiric poem implying that the clearly-not-Latino O’Rourke was shamelessly pandering to the Latino community. In this age of shameless identity politics pandering by Democrats it would usually be a plausible argument, but in this particular case there are a couple of problems.
The first is that O’Rourke has apparently been going by “Beto” since long before he launched his political career. He’s among the fourth generation of O’Rourkes to grow up in the very latino town of El Paso, which he now represents in Congress, he immediately responded to Cruz’s taunts with a photo of himself as an adorable elementary school student clad in a “Beto” sweatshirt, and by all accounts all of his latino and caucasion classmates and constituents have always known him as “Beto.”
Then there’s the fact that Sen. “Ted” Cruz is actually Sen. Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz. He’s not lyin’ when he calls himself “Ted,” as he’s been going by that moniker since long before he launched a political career, but in this age of shameless identity politics by the Democrats he stands credibly accused of pandering to the racial resentments of the Republican party. How that plays out in the complicated politics of faraway and unfamiliar Texas remains to be seen, but from our Kansas perspective we would have advised that Cruz commence his reelection campaign  by pointing out that by any name O’Rourke is still an indisputable Democrat.
Our longstanding policy is to refer to any person we meet by whatever name they prefer, but that’s a matter of mere politeness rather than politics, and it’s rather personal. For many decades now we’ve gone by “Bud,” which of course is not our given name, as no decent parents ever named a child “Bud,” and although it’s an old inside joke that’s by now impossible to explain we still insist on it in all social occasions. We used to do all our bank transactions by the name, but one day we had to fill out a whole lot of forms to deposit a check written to “Bud,” something to do with the Democrats’ damned Dodd-Frank Act. We still sign everything important with “Bud” in quotation marks after the first and middle names, just to avoid any possible confusion, and always resent the imputation that a friendly nickname is a nefarious alias.
To whatever extent O’Rourke was hoping to ingratiate himself to Latino classmates, or Cruz was hoping to win over WASPy neighbors, we figure they they were both being friendly.
In any case, we wish both Rafael and Robert or “Ted” or “Beto” or whatever you call them the best, and hope it doesn’t come down to their preferred nicknames and the dumb identity politics on both the left and right. If it came down to a blind test by voters based solely on the candidates’ last names, we suspect a lot of Texas Democrats would go for Cruz and a lot of Texas Republicans would go for O’Rourke, Irish though it is, and that seems a damned dumb way to decide an election.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

How a Bill Doesn’t Become Law

The news was mostly relegated to the back pages and the scroller at the bottom of the cable news screens, what with the fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director’s testimony and all the resulting presidential “tweets” taking up all the good space, but the House of Representatives last week passed a bill that would largely repeal and replace the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.
The Dodd-Frank financial reform law is the dry and complicated and downright boring sort of thing that would get more attention during a typical presidential administration, which makes us all the more nostalgic for those good old days before President Donald Trump. We never liked the Dodd-Frank bill, so far as we can tell the repeal-and-replace law would be a significant improvement, and in a more normal news cycle a well-spoken Republican president would be able to enjoy a winning political argument. Instead, the matter is relegated to the back pages and the scroller at the bottom of the string, and the bill will probably be stalled in the Senate.
The few stories on bill note that Dodd-Frank was passed in the aftermath of the 2008 financial meltdown with the aim of preventing it from happening again, and for the sake of argument we’ll stipulate the Democrats’ good intentions, but the few allotted inches can’t make a case that the legislation did any good. Ostensibly in order to prevent the big banks from making reckless bets on subprime mortgages Dodd-Frank imposed thousands of pages on new regulations to prohibit commercial banks from certain kinds of “proprietary trading” and investments in hedge funds and private equity transactions, but none of that had anything to do with the financial meltdown. All the restrictions are imposed on commercial banks rather than the investments banks that were most involved in the crisis, and all of them had been compelled by the Carter-era Community Reinvestment Act that the Clinton administration started enforcing with crazed vigor, and most of those risky subprime mortgages were held by the quasi-governmental Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac outfits, and the Democrats should be glad they don’t have to talk much about that.
Nor did the bill do anything at all about those “too big to fail” banks that the Democrats were so worked up about when Dodd-Frank was passed by Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and signed by a Democratic president, and it wound up hampering the small banks and credits unions that Democrats have been romanticizing since before Frank Capra filmed “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The damned thing even forced us to spend an hour filling out forms to excise a nickname from a 47-year-old checking account a while back, and one can only guess at the extraordinary amount of time and money that the overall economy has spent on complying with all those thousands of pages of regulations. Banks will be able to accumulate more reserves to deal with shocks under the House Republicans’ alternative, which also wisely lets the bankruptcy courts sort out the inevitable failures, and the freedom and competition it allows would likely have a stabilizing effect on the financial system.
That’s hard to explain in the 140-character “tweets” and fourth-grade level orations that Trump favors, though, and these days he has other things to “tweet” and talk about. The press has plausible reasons for relegating it to the back pages and the scroller at the bottom of the screen, and it’s hard to imagine the general public taking a sudden interest in financial regulatory reform. The House bill now goes to the same Senate where the House’s Obamacare repeal-and-replacement bill currently languishes with 12 percent approval ratings, and the rules are different there and the Republican majority is slimmer and the Republican incumbents up for re-election in 2018 have their own reasons for striking a bipartisan pose, so this might be the last your hear of it.

— Bud Norman

Reflections on a Winter’s Night

Christmas was a happily low-key affair around here. With no family nearby and the streets treacherously icy we were content to stay mostly inside, enjoying the solitude and old recording of the Duke Ellington Orchestra’s swingin’ rendition of “The Nutcracker Suite.”
There’s something to be said for such a Christmas. We ventured out to hear a couple of songs by the hillbilly band that was playing at Kirby’s Beer Store, where a few of the hipster kids kindly pushed our light and rear-wheel-driven vehicle out of the ice-covered parking lot, and we had a couple of heartfelt telephone conversations with some longtime friends, but there was nothing to do that entailed the slightest stress. The schedule allowed for plenty of rumination, on matters ranging from the personal to the political, and the spirit of the day provided a welcome hopefulness.
All the personal stuff will remain personal, as is our wont, but it might interest a reader to know that we even found reason to be hopeful about the political. We are skeptical of the claims of an economic recovery and expect that the imminent enforcement of the Dodd-Frank bill and all the other recent regulations will outweigh whatever entrepreneurial spirit the private sector can muster, quite sure that the Obamacare news will grow even worse, and don’t expect any good to come of America’s clumsy relations with the rest of the world, but we do sense that Americans are becoming so discontent with it all that they’re ready to consider the hard measures that are the only alternative. They’re gradually growing wise to the notion that just a bit more government and a little more guidance by the elites is is all that’s needed, at least, so there is at least an opening for any articulate conservatives who might make the case for letting us unwashed masses work things out for ourselves.
Perhaps no such articulate conservatives will emerge, and maybe the Republicans’ internecine squabbles will rescue a Democratic party despite its manifest failures, but it now seems possible to hope otherwise. It might be nothing more than Christmas spirit, or the passing of the winter solstice and the certainty that days are growing imperceptibly but inexorably longer into an inevitable summer, but even in these dark and cold and icy days there’s still hope.

— Bud Norman

Regulating Our Way to Utopia

Those of a certain ripe old age might recall a comic strip called “There Oughta Be a Law.” It ran for many years in all the newspapers, a once-popular form of mass communication which those of a certain ripe old age might also recall, and each installment featured an earnestly stylized illustration of a reader’s complaint about some minor annoyance or another which the reader deemed worthy of government-imposed punishment. The title became a popular catchphrase that outlasted the comic strip by many years, reflecting a widespread belief that a sufficient amount of law-making would be able to rid the world of all unpleasantness.
The strip’s disgruntled readers, and anyone else who has ever griped that “there oughta be a law,” will be happy to know that the United States of America will soon arrive at a point when there will at last be a law for every little thing. That’s the conclusion we’re reached, at any rate, upon reading that over the past three months the federal government has been generating new regulations at a brisk pace of 68 per day. According to the fine folks at the CNSnews.com, the past 90 days have brought new rules regarding everything from volatile organic compound emissions from architectural coatings to “enforcement criteria for canned ackee, frozen ackee, and other ackee products that contain hypoglycin A.”
Liberals who would scoff at the report because the web site’s “C” stands for conservative should note that they provide a handy link to the federal government’s own regulations.gov web site, which provides the same information with obvious pride in their industrious attempts to set everything right. There’s a listing there of the number of new regulations that have been added over different amounts of time, and although there’s a link to President Obama’s executive order for a thorough review of existing regulations there’s no tally of the regulations that have been done away with.
This proliferation of regulation will likely increase at a quickening rate for at least the next four years. The Obamacare bill and the Dodd-Frank financial reform law both weighed in with around 2,000 pages of new regulations, but those who perused those acts — nobody actually read them, of course — noticed that most of those pages were devoted to creating new agencies empowered to write even more regulations. The Obamacare bill created 159 of them, and Dodd-Frank established agencies ranging from a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to a Financial Stability Oversight Council to an Office of Minority and Women Inclusion. Each of these new agencies will soon be generating hundreds and hundreds of new regulations, and because every regulation usually creates some problem that necessitates scores of new regulations the creation of new rules will increase exponentially until every possible outcome in life has been regulated. If perfect bliss does not result, the public will conclude that there simply haven’t been enough rules passed and that still more are required.
Any conservatives inclined to worry about the effect of so many rules on the ordinary American’s liberty should take some consolation in the notion that the law of averages dictates that least some of these thousands of regulations make some sense. For all we know the federal government has spared us some ackee-related calamity, and for that we should be grateful. All this regulating should have a salutary effect on the paper industry, too, and once we’ve reached that nearby point when every citizen of the republic is required to engage the services of a compliance officer or two just to avoid running afoul of the regulators we will at last achieve full employment.
In the unlikely event that the growing army of wizards in Washington, D.C., overlook some small annoyance that continues to afflict you, be assured that they’re eager to hear about. The regulations.gov web site invites all suggestions about new rules, just as the authors of the “There Oughta Be a Law” comic strip did, but in their case they can actually make it a law. We have lots of ideas, ranging from those droopy trousers that the young folks favor to brain-dead behavior of fast food servers, but we’re only going to recommend a regulation that there be a lot fewer rules.

— Bud Norman