Advertisements

The Chinese Model and Its Flaws

Not so long ago, before the shakiness of the Chinese economy started shaking the rest of the world’s stock markets, some reputedly smart people were insisting that China was a model to be emulated. The New York Times’ star columnist and best-selling author Thomas Friedman, for instance, once wrote “Forgive me, Heavenly Father, for I have cast an envious eye on the authoritarian Chinese political system, where leaders can, and do, just order that problems be solved.”

div style=”text-indent:20px;”>It was a damned fool thing to say even at the time, even by the standards of The New York Times’ editorial page, and has since been revealed as such by the full percentage points or more that the Chinese catastrophe seems to be yanking away from the the the DJIA and S&P and the STOXX and Footsie and the NIKKEI and the rest of the acronyms and nicknames of all those panic markets in every nook and cranny of the world. Still, it’s easy to understand the appeal that a system where the reputedly smart people “can, and do, just order than problems be solved” would have to those who think they possess such wisdom and information and elite status that they could and would do exactly that if only the great unwashed masses of the body politic would allow them the power. China was reporting extraordinary growth in its gross national product, which according to some accountings had already overtaken America’s as the world’s largest, and the country was blissfully unbothered by anything resembling the fiscally sober and free-market-loving elements of America’s Republican Party, so a cause-and-effect relationship of course seemed obvious to a certain sort of so-called liberal, and the example of authoritarian rule that momentarily seemed to be working was simply too much for the more authoritarian-inclined yet so-called liberals to resist.

Now that it has become so quantifiably apparent on the stock market boards that the people running the Chinese economy can’t and haven’t solved all its very serious problems, the argument for letting a few reputedly smart people run a country is harder to sustain. The Chinese invested borrowed billions in a variety of bridges and infrastructure projects and entire new gigantic cities, just as the reputedly smart people on the American left would do, but the bridges mostly led to nowhere and the infrastructure projects were largely pointless and the cities remain uninhabited, and there’s nothing resembling the fiscally sober and free market-loving portion of the Republican Party around to be blamed for the obvious mess.
The worst possible outcome for America’s economy might yet be blamed on that same portion of the Republican Party, and some self-described or barely-disguised socialist might persuasively make the argument for letting a few reputedly smart people run the whole economy and the rest of your life, but at least the fiscally sober and free market-loving portion of the Republican Party will be able to make a plausible argument. We’re as alarmed as anyone else about this stock market dive, and well understand where it might lead, but we’re clinging to a faint hope that at least it won’t lead to a Chinese-style authoritarianism.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

Today’s Geography Lesson

We began the day with every intention of writing about illegal immigration, and how it’s suddenly an issue that seems to bolster the Republican party’s electoral prospects rather than portend its doom, but our research on the topic led us to a recent Washington Post story that tried but failed to make presidential contender Gov. Scott Walker look bad after a recent encounter with an illegal immigrant, and off to the side of the article was a suggested link to a story headlined “Which of the 11 American Nations Do You Live In?” The click bait was irresistible, given our longstanding fascination with America’s regional divisions, so we decided to fulminate about that instead.
The Post’s map of the north and western hemisphere of the world makes as little sense to us at its attempt to make Walker look bad for insisting on the enforcement of America’s immigration laws, and reflects the Washington press’s same provincial viewpoint of the country, but at least it doesn’t put us in the “midwest,” as so many people are wont to do. Here in Kansas the country is easily divided into four main parts, those being Up North and Down South and Out West and Back East, with our beloved state being in the very heart of a fifth and most essential region known as the “Heartland,” and no true Kansan can abide being called “midwestern.” We admit that Kansas taxonomy admittedly doesn’t really make much sense in geographic or political or economic or cultural terms, as Portland, Maine, and Portland, Oregon, don’t truly make belong in the same “Up North” category, and that Palm Springs, California, and Palm Beach, Florida, don’t have much in common except that they’re both “Down South,” and “Back East” and “Out West” only make sense in the context of America’s westward-looking history toward its manifest destiny, but at least it doesn’t pretend we’re part of any “midwest.”
By almost any definition the “midwest” includes Minnesota and Wisconsin and Illinois and Ohio and Indiana and other states that would seem both Up North and Back East to us, and we find that our geography and ethnography and politics and culture and economy and other defining regional traits have little in common with them. We prefer the company of the “prairie states” or “plains states” or “heartland” that stretches up from Oklahoma Ciy or so through the harsh Dakotas into the pugnaciously conservative Prairie Provinces of Canada, and is bordered from west to east by the Rocky Mountains and approximately Kansas City through the western portions of Minnesota. The Washington Post has us in a “midlands” region that somehow stretches clear to the Atlantic Ocean, with western Kansas somehow aligned with a “far west” region that stretches into Trudeaupian parts of Canada, and we have to wonder if the authors have ever visited our very remote part of the country.
We found a more reasonable division of the northern and western hemispheres of the world way back in the ’80s in a book titled “The Nine Nations of North America,” which was recommended to us a city editor at the newspaper we worked at who had come from Back East and was trying to make sense of his baffling new residence, and which dubbed Miami as the capital of the Caribbean and the Pacific Coast as a specific region and Quebec as a distinct nation and the mostly Spanish-speaking southwest and all of Mexico as a distinct political entity, and Kansas as part of a prairie region stretching well into Anglophone Canada as a political and cultural and economic bloc, but we also had our quibbles with that. We think the best definition of the country’s regional divisions used to be defined by the old college athletic conferences, before the days when greed and re-alignment altered the landscape.
The Big Ten used to have have ten teams that quite logically defined the “midwest,” and the Big Twelve, which once had twelve teams, and was once the perfectly appropriate Big Eight, was a fair map of the “heartland,” and the old Southeastern Conference reasonably defined the “deep south” while the Atlantic Coast Conference was a reliable indicator of Duke University and the rest of the respectable south, while the Pac-Ten mean the hippie-dippy West Coast and the Big East represented the pinko East Coast and everything more or less made sense. Now the Big Twelve has ten teams and the Big Ten has twelve teams and the Big Eight’s old University Colorado has somehow relocated to the Pacific Coast and the University of Missouri is in the Southeastern Conference and no longer playing the University of Kansas, and Tulsa University was briefly in the Big East, which is now mainly Catholic schools such as former Missouri Valley Conference member Creighton University of Omaha, Nebraska, so we can see why The Washington Post is so easily confused.
The cultural and economic part of it is confusing, as well. Kansas has always been part of the southwest as far as country music is concerned, with Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys being the guide, but the rock ‘n’ roll scene has always been connected to the midwest, with Detroit Rock City as the starting point and such Big Ten acts as Head East and John “Cougar” Mellencamp drawing reliable crowds, and the ingrained right-to-work laws are more in line with the southeast until and the oil and agriculture and leave-me-the-hell-alone politics are more in line with the economy Out West, and the abolitionist strain harkens Back East, and the bluegrass that fills the pecan orchards in Winfield every fall coming from the southeast, and a reporter for The Washington Post can easily be forgiven for failing to understand where Kansas fits into the big hemispheric picture.
In any case we’re not the “midwest,” as even The Washington Post has noticed. We’re not the something called “the midlands,” however, and have little in common with the Eastern Seaboard states the paper has lumped us in with. “Prairie states” is a better description, and “heartland” is better yet, and we suggest The Washington Post should keep that in mind when trying to disparage a politician for suggesting that the immigration laws should be strictly enforced.

— 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

The Perfect Scandal

Dennis Hastert was such a forgettable Speaker of the House that we had completely forgotten about him, but we have lately been reminded of his existence by all the gleeful news reports about his indictment by a federal grand jury. He’s charged with lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about a series of relatively small bank withdrawals, which is not particularly scandalous by Washington standards and raises the question of why the government is empowered to ask people nosy questions about relatively small bank withdrawals in the first place, but the inevitable unlawful leaks about the case have claimed the withdrawals were used to hush a sexual relationship with a young male who had been a student of Hastert’s during his days as a high school teacher and wrestling coach, which explains all the gleefulness of the press.
Hastert is a Republican, and a self-proclaimed “traditional family values” Republican with his name on a building at a Christian college at that, so the irony is far too delicious for the press to resist. The hypocrisy of Democrats who rail against income inequality while enriching themselves through government service to the one percentile, or decry the Republican “war on women” while rallying around the enabling wife of a serial sexual harasser, is more easily ignored when there’s a story like this afoot. There are still scores to be settled from the impeachment charges that were filed during Hastert’s speakership against President Bill Clinton after he lied under oath about his heterosexual sex scandals, too, and with Hastert having acquired the job after two Republican predecessors were found to have cheated on their wives there’s yet more ammunition for the old argument that there’s no longer any sense in expecting our leaders to hew to a higher standard of sexual conduct and that we should all just go ahead and do it in the road. Given the facts as they have been established thus far, and their usefulness for a variety of Democratic narratives, we expect the Hastert story should push the Islamic State, Hillary Clinton’s slush fund foundation, the recently shrinking economy, and everything else of greater public importance off the front pages for weeks to come.
Still, there’s no denying it does seem a very tawdry affair. Aside from the decades-old but still-sickening allegations of sexual exploitation of a student, which are bad enough, there’s also the matter of how a former high school teacher turned public servant had enough money on hand to pay the $1.7 million in blackmail that Hastert is alleged to have paid. Much of Hastert’s wealth is said to have come from real estate deals, including properties whose value was increased by laws passed during his speakership, and the rest has come from a lucrative lobbying career commenced shortly after he left Congress. Even those questions about why the government is empowered to ask people nosy questions about relatively small bank withdrawals are answered by the Patriot Act that Hastert helped to enact. If the facts as they have been established thus far prove true, Hastert will richly deserve the ignominy that is currently being heaped on him.
Nor is there much that even a die-hard Republican can muster in his defense. We were surprised to re-learn that Hastert was the longest-serving Speaker of the House in history, but one can liken that to the record-setting yet forgettable reign of Larry Holmes as world heavyweight champion, who remains overshadowed by his flamboyant predecessor Muhammad Ali and memorably thuggish successor Mike Tyson, just as Hastert is less well-remembered than his pugnacious and effective predecessor Newt Gingrich and his “first woman” and downright awful successor Nancy Pelosi. Chosen for his dull personality and happy talk of bipartisanship and presumably scandal-free past, Hastert spent his time in power going along with Clinton and then helping George W. Bush push through that Medicare drug plan and the rest of his big government heresies, and was otherwise so good at avoiding controversy that even such news junkies as ourselves had completely forgotten him.
One might note that a recent rash of underplayed stories about sexual exploitation of students by teachers mostly involve women educators in public schools, and that by up-to-date standards an emphasis on cases such as Hastert’s alleged behavior should be considered heteronormative, and that tawdry tales of lucrative careers in public service are quite bipartisan, with the presumptive Democratic nominee being a prime example, and that Republican presidential contender Sen. Rand Paul is currently being pilloried in the press for opposing repeal of the Patriot Act in defiance of a Democratic president who now likes all of the governmental powers it endows, and that the Patriot Act was intended to target terrorists rather people with other reasons for making relatively small bank withdrawals, and that the presumptive Democratic nominee’s husband has been a frequent flyer on the private jet of a known pedophile, ¬†and that everyone isn’t cheating on a spouse and higher standards of conduct should still be expected from public officials regardless of their party affiliation, but it will be of no use. Unless new exculpatory facts unexpectedly emerge, Hastert has handed the Democrats’ media allies an extraordinary gift, and Republicans can only hope that readers will notice the other sickening facts that somehow make it onto the inside pages of your local newspaper.

— Bud Norman

Oh Yeah, the Economy

There’s been a lot in the news lately, what with riots raging in Baltimore and Iranian warships seizing vessels ostensibly under the protection of the United States Navy in the Strait of Hormuz and whatever the latest Hillary Clinton scandal might be, but we’re still surprised how little attention is being paid to the ongoing lousiness of the American economy.
All the latest numbers were just awful, with an anemic 0.2 percent growth rate in the gross domestic product last quarter being the most glaringly awful, and yet only obsessive sorts such as ourselves who pay attention to these things would have noticed. The Washington Post had a refreshingly frank assessment of the numbers, as well as a piece about how the weather might be responsible, and all the business pages had some mention of it buried underneath the headlines about the riots and Bruce Jenner’s sex-change plans, but it didn’t get the kind of coverage that provokes water-cooler conversations at your average American place of work. We’re old enough to remember a time when a 0.2 percent quarterly growth rate in the GDP would have had the news anchors breaking into prime-time programming to advise their listeners to hide the children in the cellar, and the tsk-tsking from the respectable press would have been deafening, so the current insouciance seems quite striking.
Most of that hubbub occurred during the occasional economic lulls of Republican administrations, and we suppose the past seven years of more consistently sluggish growth have so inured the public to such data during a Democratic administration that it’s no longer newsworthy, but the economy still seems the sort of thing that people should be talking about. The White House is saying it’s a mere blip due to the unusually cold weather that prevailed in some parts of the country last winter, and as the great Iowahawk points out it is also claiming that last year was the warmest on record, and the dreadful export numbers can be blamed on the global economy, which we’re now proud to say we have little effect on, and there’s always the argument that Republican majorities in Congress aren’t coughing up enough “investment,” although the trillions of debt that have been accumulated in the past seven years don’t seem to have yielded much return, so perhaps the press has its reasons for downplaying the bad news.
Sometime between now and the next presidential election people are bound to notice the persist lousiness of the American economy, however, and we can easily imagine what reasons the press might have for ignoring it even then. There’s no case to be made that the Democratic prescription of high taxes to pay for more spending to enforce more regulations has resulted in the economic growth needed to pay for the billions of dollars of failed social programs that have already been spent in Baltimore or the billions more need for naval power in the Strait of Hormuz or the slightly less exorbitant cost of Hillary Clinton’s lifestyle of the rich and famous, and there’s probably an Obamacare angle on that Bruce Jenner sex-change thing, and at this point the Republicans’ tired but true plan of letting free markets be free and spending the increased revenues on imposing some order on the rest of the world might starting sounding plausible. As far as the respectable press will be concerned, better to focus on income inequality and the stubborn reluctance of some religious types to enthusiastically embrace sex-change operations.
The income inequality schtick might not work so well coming from a candidate who’s been racking up six-figure speaking fees and seven-figure book deals and building up a billion-plus campaign fund from all sorts of one-percenters here and abroad, and the whole party of transgendered libertinism schtick might yet be a few years aways from electoral fruition, so that’s all the more reason to maintain the current complacency about the lousiness of the economy. Sometime between now and the next presidential election it’s bound to come up at the water cooler of your average American workplace, though, and it will be fun to see the obligatory coverage.

— Bud Norman

Meanwhile, Back in the Economy

You might not have noticed, given the lack of attention paid by most of the media, but the great Obama economic boom came to an end last week.
After all the gloating that followed the relatively robust 5 percent growth in gross domestic product in the third quarter the fourth quarter numbers came in at at a disappointing 2.6 percent, and when you add in the negative first quarter that was blamed on cold weather and the increased Obamacare spending that was actually a drag on the economy but was counted as a boon and transferred to that reputedly roaring third quarter, along with the lukewarm rest of the year, it all comes out to a mere 2.4 percent growth for the year. It’s not recessionary like the last months of the Bush administration, but nothing to brag about, despite all the bragging that the president and a few of our more liberal Facebook friends were doing after that 5 percent figure hit the news, which probably explains why so little attention has been paid by the media.
The occasional stories that have appeared take care to quote economists who predict the coming year will at last achieve that elusive 3 percent GDP increase, which was considered treading water during past Republican administrations but is now regarded as a miracle on par with a Soviet five-year plan, and they tend to point out that 2.6 percent growth would be considered a godsend in Europe and offer the excuse of China’s slowing growth, but we doubt it will convince anyone that America’s economy is roaring along. Nor do we expect that the Democrats who have long championed European and Chinese style governance will reap much political benefit from the uptick, which can more plausibly explained by the oil boom that the administration has resisted, a point that will be unavoidably highlighted after Obama’s expected veto of an expected bill that would hasten construction of the XL Keystone pipe, and to Republican restraints on governmental control of the economy in general.
The president will continue to insist that his policies of higher taxes on the wealthy and increased government spending for the rest have delivered that tantalizing 2.6 percent growth rate, and will surely surge past that elusive 3 percent figure this year, and much of the media will be eager to reiterate the message. Anyone old enough to recall the 7 percent figures of the Reagan years will be skeptical, though, and even the youngsters will wonder why the country isn’t doing better. As much as we hate to bad-mouth the American economy, even during a Democratic administration, we don’t expect that Hillary Clinton or anyone else the Democrats might put up will be able to run on the party’s economic record even in the far-off year of ’16.

— Bud Norman

The Chill and the Boom

There’s no way to stretch out the holidays any further, and unless you’re lucky enough to occupy a high government office it’s time to get back to work and the long, hard grind through winter. For us that means resuming our reading of the news, among other things, although with all those high government officials still on vacation there’s not much there except the miserable weather.
Last year around this time the weather was just as miserable, but many of the media were eager to use that as an explanation for the upcoming miserable data showing a quarterly contraction in the economy. This time around the same media were disappointed that the holidays distracted attention from a robust 5 percent in the gross domestic product over the past quarter, and don’t seem eager to speculate how the frigid temperatures prevailing just about everywhere north of the Florida keys might slow the long awaited Obama boom. This is no time to be touting the president’s, so they’re filling the news hole the airtime with talk of that GDP figure and the the recent decline in gasoline prices and the slow but steady growth in the jobs market and the record highs in the stock market. Except for the college and professional football playoffs and the usual internecine Republican squabbles and the miserable weather there’s not much else, so their giddiness is understandable.
They won’t want too much attention paid to the economic news, of course, lest the public notice how the rosy reports differ from it own frost-bitten reality. The smart guys at Zero Hedge always manage to find the dark cloud within any silver lining, and they noticed that much of that 5 percent growth last quarter was achieved by an increase in consumer spending on higher health insurance premiums that was supposed to be counted in the contracting winter quarter that the government had already written off and was instead added to the far most robust report they’re now crowing about. Such Chinese-style statistical legerdemain is by now a common feature of the long awaited Obama boom, as is the apparent assumption by many of the media that paying higher health insurance premiums rather than the lower ones promised during the Obamacare sales job is a benefit to the economic well-being of the nation, and has thus gone largely unmentioned by many of the media.
That slow but steady growth in the jobs market has not raised the labor participation rate from the lowest level since the ’70s, largely because the number of legal and illegal immigrants has increased at a slightly faster and just as steady rate. The president’s extra-constitutional to confer amnesty on millions of illegal immigrants and thereby invite millions more is being touted by many of the media as part of his remarkable comeback after the mid-term election shellacking, along his with extra-constitutional agreement with the Chinese to combat global warming, but they probably won’t too much attention paid to that.
Those plunging gasoline prices are hard to ignore while shivering next to the pumps, but it will take a lot of doing by many of the media to make anyone think that the president’s policies have anything to do with it. The same president who made a campaign promise of skyrocketing electrical rates and appointed an Energy Secretary who openly pined for European gasoline prices and has denied drilling permits on federal land deserves no credit for America’s frackin’ oil boom, and any attempt he makes to claim credit will only make him seem all George W. Bushy and diminish his standing with the environmentalists of his party. The happily deflationary effects of lower gasoline prices will only encourage the Federal Reserve to keep up the money-printing that has fueled those bubbly record stock market indices, however, and somehow the president will get credit for that without losing his standing among the Wall Street-hating socialists of his party.
Nor will many of the media wonder if the Republican obstructionism and gridlock they’ve decried the past four years have anything with those rosy numbers they’re touting. Since the Republicans gained control of the House of the Representatives after two years of complete Democratic control of the Congress and presidency, and the officially reported deficits have gone down and government spending as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product has also declined, both which conservative economic theory considers a spur to economic growth, but better to report on those crazy conservatives’ challenge to the relatively timid House leadership. No use pointing out that most of the nation’s economic growth has occurred in states controlled by Republicans, either, especially when the governors of the most successful of them are among the contenders for the ’16 presidential race that is already affecting the reporting of many of the media.
Judging by the miserable weather forecasts we probably won’t be getting out of the house until then, and although the question seems of little interest to much of the media we can’t help wondering what effect it will have the economy if the rest of the country is similarly to get out to the store, but at least we’re back on the job and following what there is the of the news.

— Bud Norman

Polls, Politics, and Prioritizing Our Problems

All that “tranquility of the global community” the White House spokesman was recently boasting about dominated Thursday’s news, what with Israeli ground troops entering Gaza and a jet from the ill-fated Malaysian Airlines being shot down over Russian-occupied Ukraine, so it would have been easy to overlook an intriguing Gallup poll about what worries Americans most. The litany’s top top five doesn’t include the deteriorating international order, which should come as a relief to that insouciant White House spokesman, but neither does it include any good news for the Democrats.
Topping the list of most important problems is “immigration/illegal aliens,” which has shot up the charts since the recent invasion by unaccompanied minors from Central America, and the racist xenophobes of the Republican party are likely beneficiaries of the public’s concern. The Democrats and their media allies will have a hard time convincing anyone that the Republicans’ racism and xenophobia are what’s drawing tens of thousands of expensive illegal youngsters to the country, rather than the Democrats’ more compassionate and caring policy of holding out hope of amnesty and free stuff, and other polls indicate that most Americans are more inclined to the racist and xenophobic option of returning the invaders to their homelands.
Coming in a close second is the hodgepodge of “Dissatisfaction with government, Congress, politicians, poor leadership, corruption, Abuse of Power,” which is at least open to hopeful interpretations. The White House will prefer to read this as a righteous anger against those obstructionist Republicans in Congress who stubbornly refuse to rubber stamp the president’s agenda, but we expect that many respondents had in mind the Internal Revenue Service and Veterans Administration and National Security Agency scandals and any number of other problems that have more to do with the executive branch. Much of that dissatisfaction with Congress is caused by the Democrat-controlled Senate, too, and the Republicans in the other chamber don’t seem to have much power to abuse.
The “economy in general” comes in second and “unemployment, jobs” in third, and a sensible combination of these two would have probably come in first. The Democrats will argue that these problems could have been easily solved if only those darned Republicans had allowed them to rack up the national debt by a few more billion and add another million or so pages of regulations for the understaffed compliances offices of America’s corporations to comply with, but the Republicans should be able to get a few votes and a lot of laughs out of that.
“Poor healthcare, hospitals, high cost of health care” comes in fourth on the list, so the Republicans will have a head start on convincing the American public that Obamacare hasn’t solved all that. Despite an almost complete absence of news coverage, “federal budget deficit, federal” debt comes in at a surprisingly strong fifth place. The Democrats will boast that they’ve cut those deficits to less than the recent trillion dollar highs, even as they lambaste the Republicans for their stingy ways, but this far the public is not reassured. “Education, poor education, access” to education are the public’s sixth most pressing problem, and the teachers unions will need to spend a lot of dues money to convince any voters that they just need more funding and continued tenure and that federalized Common Core Curriculum to make things right at school. “Ethics, moral, religious, family decline” comes in eighth, and the party that would compel nuns to purchase contraceptives is not likely to appeal the people with those worries.
Democrats can take some hope in noting that “Poverty, hunger, homelessness” came in ninth, as these are the party’s traditional causes, but they’ll have to hope that nobody notices there’s more of all of them after six years of a Democratic presidency. It’s also good news for the Democrats that “foreign aid, focus overseas” barely made the top ten.
What’s missing from the top ten is also a problem for the Democrats. Only one percent of the poll’s respondents cited “race relations and racism” as the nation’s most pressing problem, and it’s probably a similar number who will take seriously the notion that racism is the sole reason for any dissatisfaction with the president. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision doesn’t rate any mention, even though it’s a staple of Democratic fund-raising and the Senate Democrats regard it as such a crisis that the First Amendment needs amending as a result. The Hobby Lobby decision is also unmentioned by any of the respondents, even though the Democrats are raising even more money with claims that it’s the first step toward the Republicans’ nefarious plot to subjugate women to bare feet and pregnancy. The even more nefarious plot by to Koch Brothers to do God only knows what was also overlooked, although that can cited by the fund-raising Democrats as further proof of how very ingeniously wicked is the conspiracy. We also note that income inequality and global warming and transgendered rights and all the other issues that seem to excite a certain sort of Democrat are not high on the list of what the general public is worried about.
We don’t have much regard for the general public, but is heartening to see that they have more sensible priorities than a certain sort of Democrat.

— Bud Norman

Independence Day

The past several Independence Days have been bittersweet. It is still sweet to celebrate the ideas of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that gave birth to our nation, but there’s no escaping a bitterness when looking around at what has become of them.
Almost everywhere is evidence of the decline and fall of America. The news briefs on the radio invited us to take heart in the latest job numbers that have pushed the unemployment rate down to a more or less respectable 6.1 percent, but they were too brief to mention that the number of working age Americans not working actually increased, that the number of full-time jobs actually decreased, and that the more the U-6 rate which includes the underemployed and involuntary part-time workers and discouraged workers remained at a Depression-era 12.1 percent. That $17 trillion of debt and all the bubble-inflating money printing that has kept the numbers even at these sluggish levels also went unmentioned, and of course there was no time to consider if the looming disaster of Obamacare and its incentives for employers to hire part-time workers who rather than pony up for the mandates on full-time workers has anything to do with it.
Obamacare and all the rest of the thousands of regulations and taxes and assorted governmental intrusions into the economy are clearly part of the problem, but there’s a nagging suspicion that it’s not all that’s gone wrong. The government is bossier and more lawless and as as incompetent as ever, as shown by the relentless storers about everything from its use of the almighty Internal Revenue Service to punish the dissenters to the endless waivers and delays and recess appointments and far-reaching executive orders issued by the president to the infuriating mistreatment of American veterans by their health care service or the administration-made invasion of illegal immigrants unfolding on the nation’s southern border, but none of that would have happened if the public hadn’t allowed it.
Another one of the great ideas that gave birth to our nation was a notion that America and its and government aren’t quite the same thing. The government had important work to do, and over the years it has done it with varying degrees of success and ethical behavior, but the heavy lifting was done by the likes of Thomas Edison in his laboratories and Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club and Milton Friedman in his office at the University of Chicago’s School of Economics and those guys eating lunch on the beam of the New York City skyscraper in that iconic photograph. The people used to do great things, and the government would let them, but for whatever reason we’re seeing less of it these days. Nowadays the great inventions are new social media and libido-boosting pills, the music no longer swings or bops or boogies or rocks but rather just thuds a monotonous nihilism, the big economic idea seems to be that no one should be allowed to get rich, and the photographer in search of an iconic image will have to find a disgruntled fellow in casual Fridays attire sitting glumly in an office cubicle. There’s still some space left between the government and the people, but it isn’t being put to good use.
Fireworks are already being ignited around our neighborhood in defiance of the city’s ridiculous ban, though, and the people of a small town in southern California have just risked the wrath of the high-minded media to repel an invasion of illegal immigrants, and some encouraging polls show people are wising up about the government. Ideas such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not easily extinguished, and might yet reassert themselves. There’s still some room left to make them happen again, and people who still prefer them to free contraceptives or the state’s protection from an oversized soft drink, and reason for hope.
A former Miss Texas has invited over to her swank lakeside home for a party, and a hipster pal down the street has asked that we join him in blowing things up along the banks of the nearby Arkansas River, and we’ll charcoal some hamburgers and bratwurst in between and revel in the sweetness of the American idea. Come Monday we’ll resume our modest efforts to make it come true again, and we urge you to do the same.

— Bud Norman

When Winter Lingers into Summer

You might not have noticed, what with all the political scandals and foreign crises and invasions of unaccompanied minors and soccer games vying for your attention, but the American economy remains very, very lousy. According to the ultimately official numbers that were released with little fanfare this week, the American economy is lousier than it’s been since the bad old days of the ’08 meltdown.
The first and most ballyhooed estimate of the first quarter’s Gross Domestic Product was for 0.1 percent growth, which was horrible enough but at least kept alive a streak of anemic growth and could plausibly be blamed on the miserably cold winter that had afflicted much of the nation. That was more quietly followed by a revised estimate of a 1.1 percent decline, and the administration’s apologists arguing that the winter was even worse than they’d realized and it would have been more dire if not for the miracle of Obamacare causing an uptick in health care spending. Only the most nervous sorts of investors and the hard-core news junkies would have heard about the final report of a 2.9 percent decrease in GDP, which is even harsher than the past winter and includes the unsettling news that Americans actually spent less money on their health. Upon closer examination the numbers become even more dismal, with declines in private inventory investment, exports, state and local government spending, and residential and non-residential fixed investment that cannot be explained by snowy roads and falling temperatures.
Still, those ever-bullish proponents of Obamanomics in the popular press are reassuring their readers that the lazy, hazy days of summer will correct the situation. Presumably this is the time of year when a young executive’s fancy turns to thoughts of private inventory investment, and everyone will be herding the kids into the car and hitting the road to a relaxing yet economically stimulative vacation despite the gas prices rising from all those foreign crises that have nudged the economy off the front pages. Those of us less enamored of the high-tax, high-regulation, high-minded anti-caplitalist scheme that has been imposed on the American economy the past six or so years remain bearish.
The smart fellows over at zerohedge.com note that after the miserable winter even if spring and summer and fall bring the rosy 3 percent growth rates that the government has been promising it will average out to a meager 1.5 percent growth for the year. They don’t seem at all confident of that, either, noting that the past 50 years of economic history have never found two years with growth of less than 2.6 percent that weren’t followed by a recession. After a long stretch below that economic Mendoza line another quarter of contraction would force the headline writers to use that dreaded “R word,” and the economy would be once again jostling with the latest scandals at home and catastrophes abroad for news space.
Such dire news should make the stock markets happy, as it will likely force the Federal Reserve Board to keep printing up money and pushing down interest rates at least through the mid-term elections next fall, but it will have an unsettling effect on those portions of economy that make their money honestly. All those scandals and crises don’t inspire much confidence in the nation’s leadership, either, nor do they bode well for the price of energy. Perhaps that invasion of unaccompanied minors from will rescue the economy, but even in the midst of a wet and warm summer we’re still feeling those wintertime blues.

— Bud Norman