Advertisements

Catalonia, Catalonia, What Makes Your Big Head So Hard?

The last time Spain had a civil war it was fought between supporters of the fascist dictator Francisco Franco and communists who wanted to establish a worker’s paradise similar to Stalin’s Soviet Union, which offered an even worse choice than the one America voters faced in the last presidential election. This time around it’s the seceding government of the largely autonomous Catalonia region against the federal government, and although it lacks the military might to wage an actual shooting civil war like America once endured with its secessionists the spat doesn’t look to end well for anyone.
Catalonia’s regional government has declared its independence from Spain, but the Spanish government has asserted constitutional authority to prevent that from happening. The Spaniards have kicked all the rebellious Catalan officials out of office, arrested several of them, sent in enough firepower to get it done, and the smart money is betting they’ll prevail. So far no nation has recognized Catalonia’s independence, and the polling there suggests most Catalans would prefer to remain Spaniards.
An independent Catalonia would be a tiny country with a tiny population and tiny economy, too, but it could be viable. It has the world-class city of Barcelona as its capital, lucrative borders with the Mediterranean Sea and France, and a long tradition of running its regional affairs to the satisfaction of its people. Catalonia also has its own way of talking, a rich distinctive culture that gave the world Antoni Gaudi’s mind-blowing architecture and some great cuisine, and no doubt some very valid complaints with the Spanish federal government. There’s a case to be made for Catalonia’s independence, but from our vantage point here in Kansas we’re not buying it, and we’re sure it worries people all over.
Even here in Kansas, where the leaves are beautifully turning and we’re temporarily back to sunny skies and temperatures as moderate as you can hope for in late October, there’s a certain uncomfortable sense that here and around the world too many people are itching to sever the bonds that have long bound them to their countrymen. It’s probably more pronounced in Spain, where the Catalans have officially declared their independence and the Basques have long waged an occasionally terrorist war for it, or in Canada where the Francophone Quebecois have long threatened to assert their independence, or in the United Kingdom, where the Scots recently agreed by a scarily slim majority to stay on board. There are countless independence movements in South America and Africa and the Middle East, as well, and given how none of those regions have managed their affairs to anyone’s satisfaction that’s all the more unsettling.
Even here in relatively hale America there’s the longstanding talk about Texas reasserting its independence and California splitting into three states, as well as all the ongoing talk on both sides about the reliably Republican-voting blue states and the the hard-core Democratic blue states parting ways, and although none of it seems likely to come pass any time soon it doesn’t look to end well. If the tiny country of Catalonia and its tiny population and tiny economy gain independence, it will only encourage the separatist movements in the Basque region of Spain and the Quebec province of Canada and the Scottish portion of the United Kingdom, not to mention all those destabilized elements in the more already unstable portions of the world, and it might even wind up enflaming the conflicts here in once-Bleeding Kansas.
From our perspective here in Kansas we’re sympathetic to local rule, and can’t blame Europe’s nationalist parties for their skepticism about European Union rule, and well understand that a lot of those South American and African and Middle Eastern boundaries were badly drawn by European powers, and that some adjustments in some places are required. Catalonia’s case, though, is less compelling. When America declared its independence from the United Kingdom its Continental Congress acknowledged that “When in in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth to which the Last of Nature and Nature’s God entitles them, a decent respect for the opinion of mankind requires that they should declare the the causes which impel them to the separation.” The rebellious congress of the United States America compellingly made that case in the Declaration of Independence, and so far the Catalans haven’t.
So far as we can tell the Catalans’ case isn’t based on any valid complaint that the federal government has prevented them from running their region to the people’s general satisfaction, but rather on a stubborn ethnic pride that wants to assert itself. This is understandable enough from our perspective here in Kansas, where we also have our own way of talking and doing things and resent any outside interference, but not convincing. So far at least Kansa continues to do things mostly it own way, begrudgingly allows those crazy Californians and New Yorkers and the rest of the blue states to do things their own way, and as bad as things are everywhere they could be a lot worse.
So far as we can tell Catalonia and Spain could continue the same slightly tolerable arrangement, and we hope they do. Some adjustments to the borders might be required elsewhere, but for the rest of us some stability and a lack of stubborn ethnic pride would be more comforting right now.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

Happy Bastille Day

Today is Bastille Day in France, and it’s a big deal over there. The holiday celebrates the date in 1789 when French revolutionaries stormed the notorious Bastille prison where political dissidents were being held, which proved a turning point in the civil war that toppled the despotic monarchy of Louis XVI, and July 14 still stirs a feeling of liberte, egalite and fraternite in French hearts in much the same way the Fourth of July makes Americans feel proud of their revolution.
The French Revolution didn’t work out quite so well as the American one, however, what with the Reign of Terror that shortly followed and the dictatorial rule of Napoleon Bonaparte that quickly ensued and all the wars that inevitably resulted. We can well understand why the French are still relieved to be rid that Louis XVI fellow, who really was a particularly despotic monarch, but we’re harder pressed to see how they think it all worked out well enough to celebrate. The French eventually settled into a reasonably peaceable and productive democracy, with scientists who pasteurized milk and painters who created that awesome Impressionist stuff and a military that maintained a profitable empire in Africa and Asia, but they had a bad 20th century. At this point in the 21st century they’ve arrived at a Bastille Day with French President Emmanuel Macron sharing the stage with American President Donald Trump.
Trump was ostensibly given the seat of honor because this Bastille Day coincides with the centennial of America’s entry into World War I, one of the two times in the 20th century when America’s military might came to France’s rescue, but we assume there were other reasons as well. Franco-American relations have been complicated as far back as the XYZ Affair, and in the age of Macron and Trump it’s all the more complicated. At first glance the two leaders seem polar opposites of one another, but on closer inspection bear some unsettling similarities.
Trump ran on a nationalist and isolationist and protectionist platform, Macron on a platform of cosmopolitanism and international cooperation and free trade. On the campaign trail Trump frequently cited France as an example of what America shouldn’t be doing with its immigration policy, usually citing a friend “Jim” who had ceased his annual vacations to the country because “Paris isn’t Paris anymore,” and Macron has been one of the European leaders frankly talking about the need for a post-American world order. During Macron’s race Trump “tweeted” some friendly words about Macron’s opponent, who was from a Vichy-derived nationalist and isolationist and protectionist party that was also backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and we’re sure Macron would have preferred Trump’s opponent, whose myriad flaws are surely well known to our American readership. They’ve also clashed over the Paris Climate Accord, with Trump ending America’s support because “I was elected to represent the people of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” and Macron quickly exploiting the European backlash by promising to “Make the planet great again.”
Trump’s a 71-year-old political neophyte with a 47-year-old photography model wife, Macron’s a 39-year-old career civil service technocrat with a 64-year-old school teacher wife, the former is more quintessentially American than we’d like to admit, and the latter is Frenchier than any self-respecting Frenchman would want to admit, so it does seem an unlikely pairing on a Bastille Day stage. Still, as the dined together with their spouses at a reputedly swank restaurant beneath the Eiffel Tower the two leaders probably found they had much in common.
Macron won election as the leader of his own newly-created and defiantly disruptive party, much as Trump did, and he prides himself on a pragmatism unmoored from any coherent political ideology, much as Trump does. Both are friendly to business interests and averse to needless government regulations, except for some disagreements on immigration policy they both take the same tough-on-terrorism stands, and we guess they’re both equally eager to make sort of deal about something or another. Macron shares Trump’s tastes for fancy dinners and big military parades, too, as well as the same distaste for all the constitutional restraints and constant press criticisms that stand in their way of getting things done. Macron has recently proposed doing away with a third of the French Parliament’s deputies, which is bold even by Trump’s standards, and the French press has likened him to “Sun King” Louis XVI by calling him the “Sun President,” which is about as harsh as anything the American press has yet come up with against Trump.
The two leaders agreed to disagree about the Paris Climate Accord, which will probably help both with their domestic political audiences, but didn’t announce any noteworthy agreements. Nothing was expected for the old Franco-American relationship celebrating Bastille Day and the centennial of America’s entry into World War I and world leadership, though, and the two leaders got along well enough that something good might come of it. Our guess is that Macron is pragmatic and unprincipled enough that he’s trying to find a sweet spot between an increasingly isolated but still significant America and the post-American European alliance he’ll be talking up again tomorrow, and our faint hope is that the savvy real estate developer Trump will hold his own in the negotiations.
The trip obliged Trump to take a couple of questions from the American press, and naturally one of them was about those e-mails his son released about a meeting he and Trump’s son-in-law and campaign manager had with someone they understood to be a Russian lawyer offering help in the election from the Russian government. Trump’s rambling reply described his son as a “good boy” and “young man” who didn’t do anything that wasn’t usual in American politics, but Trump’s son is the same age as the French President, whose leadership Trump had just effusively praised, so it was a bad setting for the argument. Macron declined the opportunity to gripe Russia’s meddling in his country’s past election, and although that was a characteristically shrewd French diplomatic move we’ll leave it to our Francophile friends to guess how that plays with his domestic political audience.
Both Trump and Macron will be back at the mercy of their domestic political audiences by Monday, if not sooner, and we expect the mobs of both countries will eventually grab the metaphorical pitchforks and storm the metaphorical Bastille against the both of them. Although we admit that both of them were arguably preferable to the people they ran against, we still don’t have much regard for either of them, and at this point we’re only rooting for France and America.

— Bud Norman

A Bad Weekend in Europe

All the president’s men and women took to the Sunday news shows to talk up his dramatic trip to Europe, with breathless accounts of triumphs we very much wanted to believe, but from our perspective it seemed as slapstick a comedy as Chevy Chase taking the Griswold family on “National Lampoon’s European Vacation.”
The trip began promisingly enough in Poland, where President Donald Trump delivered an uncharacteristically coherent speech before a large and adoring crowd. In his address Trump robustly urged Poland to defend western civilization’s unique values against its enemies, specifically cited the revanchist Russian government’s recent intrusions into Ukraine and other parts of its former Soviet Union empire as an example, and explicitly reiterated America’s Article Five commitment in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to back it up, which had been conspicuously omitted from his last speech in Europe. Even the most Trump-wary conservative commentators effusively praised the speech, which they found a welcome change from the apologetically morally-relativistic and multi-culturalist pablum that President Barack Obama had spewed to foreign audiences over his eight years.
We probably typed as many column inches of annoyance as any of those commentators during Obama’s interminable time in office, and are still as annoyed as any Pole or Czech about him canceling the missile defense deal his predecessor had negotiated with Poland and the Czech Republic as part of his ridiculous “re-set” effort with the Russkies, so we’ll concede that Trump’s speech was a marked improvement. Still, we found ourselves short of being effusive about it. The crowd was large and unanimously adoring because Poland’s government has lately taken an authoritarian turn that does not tolerate dissent any more willingly than did its communist predecessors, so a truly robust defense of Western values should have made mention of that, and it pains us to admit that even Obama’s apologetic and morally-relativistic and multi-cultural speech in Poland at the end of his interminable term did so.
Whatever points Trump might have have scored for western civilization in that speech, he promptly threw them all away in an ensuing joint press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda. The Polish government has lately been restricting press freedom in ways that Trump can only envy, and Trump expressed his sympathy for the cause by damning most American media as “fake news” before a worldwide media audience. He was particularly irked by the unfavorable coverage of the National Broadcasting Company, explaining it was because he once had a hit reality show on the network, and although capitalism is indeed a western value we don’t think that Trump strike quite the right balance with a free press.
Worse yet, Trump also advised his international audience that it can’t necessarily believe it anything it hears from America’s intelligence agencies. In response to a question from one of those darned NBC reporters if Trump accepted the conclusion of America’s intelligence community that Russia had meddled in America’s past presidential election, the winner of that election said that he thought they might have but so had other countries he wouldn’t name and other people he wouldn’t speculate about, and he recalled how they had been wrong about all sorts of things including an Iraqi weapons of mass destruction program prior to the Iraqi war, and “nobody really knows for sure” what is true. During his winning Republican primary campaign Trump had alleged that Republican President George W. Bush knew from intelligence reports that there was no such program but lied the country into a disastrous war over it anyway, but the current story is that the intelligence agencies had knowingly misled him, and in any of the tellings of the story the Republican Party and America and its intelligence community and the rest of western civilization don’t look good.
All of this complicated the next day’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, of course, but naturally there was an attention-diverting “tweet” from the president early that morning. “Everyone here is talking about why John Podesta refused to give the (Democratic National Committee’s) server to the (Federal Bureau of Investigation) and the (Central Intelligence Agency), Trump “tweeted” from Hamburg, Germany, adding “Disgraceful.” In case you don’t follow the news diligently, Podesta was the campaign chairman for vanquished Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, there was some fuss about her e-mails during that long-ago campaign, and even such Trump-wary Republicans as us are still annoyed about it. Not even such an eager-to-believe sycophant as Sean Hannity will buy that’s what everyone in Hamburg was talking about on the opening of a G-20 summit of the world’s 20 largest economies, though, and Podesta was not the head of the DNC and had no authority over it’s e-mail server, so he was thus was able to plausibly “tweet” back about a “whack job president,” and all the president’s men and women seemed relieved it was overshadowed by Trump’s much-anticipated face-to-face meeting with Putin.
Before they got around to that, though, the European Union and the Japanese government had announced negotiations on a free-trade agreement that was clearly a preemptive measure against the protectionist trade policies that Trump had run on in his winning presidential campaign. Trump had treated Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to a round of golf at his high-priced Mar-a-Lago resort, and boasted of their personal relationship, but Abe explained his participation in a treaty that will leave the United States automotive industry disadvantaged in the European and Asian markets by saying it demonstrates “a strong political will to fly the flag for free trade against a shift toward protectionism.” A few days earlier German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who now seems to speak for 18 or so — minus Russia — of the countries in the G-20, had stated that “whoever thinks that the problems of this world can be solved by protectionism and isolation lives under a huge misconception,” and Trump is clearly negotiating his art of the deal to make America great again from an isolated position.
Even that disaster was overshadowed by the first face-to-face meeting between Trump and Putin, however, so all the president’s men and women did their best to spin that on on all the Sunday morning talk shows. They all noted that by all accounts Trump did bring up Russia’s meddling in the past presidential election, but Trump had already said that it was based on unreliable American intelligence and that everybody does it, and there was some discrepancy in the American and Russian accounts about whether Trump accepted Putin’s claim that Russia was entirely innocent in the affair. One of the only Russians in the meeting claim that Trump agreed, the American Secretary of State who was one of only three Americans in the meeting quite believably admit that Trump agreed the American media had overstated the extent of Russian meddling, and we assume that at least 19 of the G-20 reached their own conclusions.
We also assume that most of Trump’s die-hard supporters here in the USA don’t much care what a bunch of Eurotrash and Latin and Asiatic globalist opponents think, and take their opprobrium as a badge of honor, but in the long run it probably does matter. Negotiating all those great trade deals to make America great again with a now-unified front of 18 of the world’s strong economies seems trickier than ever, and here in the domestic politics of the USA Trump didn’t do much to quash all that press talk about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia. Over the same weekend The New York Times had Donald Trump Jr. admitting that he and the Trump campaign chairman attended a meeting with a Kremlin-tied lawyer in anticipation of possible dirt on the soon-to-be vanquished Clinton campaign, whose chairman had been undeniably hacked, even if that was Obama’s fault and not Putin’s, and any triumphs from Trump’s visit seem likely to get lost in the next news cycle.
Trump predictably skipped the traditional post-G-20 news conference but “tweeted” his own clarification of his meeting with Putin, unhelpfully explaining that he had already made his position on Russian meddling in the election clear, and added that he was working with Putin to create an “impenetrable Cyber Security unit” to prevent the sort of hacking that he may or not believe Russia perpetrated. Such Republicans as Senators Marco Rubio and Lindsay Graham and John McCain were showing up on the Sunday shows and “tweeting” their skepticism about such a proposal, with Rubio likening it to having Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad partnering in an anti-chemical weapons coalition,  a short time later Trump was “tweeting” his assurance that it wasn’t going to happen, and all in all it didn’t seem a very triumphant end to Trump’s European trip.

— Bud Norman

What Could Go Wrong?

President Donald Trump is now embarking on his first foreign trip since taking office, and we expect he’ll be glad to get out of the country. He’s spent the week griping to the graduates of the Coast Guard Academy that he’s been the most unfairly treated politician in all history, “tweeting” claims that the ongoing investigations into his campaign’s possible role in Russia’s election meddling are a “witch hunt,” and testily denying everything to a pesky pack of the press, so at least he’ll be able to change the subject for a while.
On the other hand, the conversation might well take another controversial turn or two before the nine-long-days trip is over. The celebrity apprentice president has already provoked controversies in his dealings with such friendly countries as Australia and Germany, which takes some doing, and the itinerary for his trip includes some far trickier encounters.
The tour starts out in Saudia Arabia, where the royal family has reportedly prepared to roll out $68 million worth of red carpet, which should be enough to satisfy even Trump’s sense of grandeur. So far Trump has been saying everything the Saudis want to hear about arms deals and their war in Yemen and other and other deals that are  dear to their hearts, but he’s also the guy who called for a complete ban on Muslims entering the United States, and until recently he was a vociferous critic of the country, and his planned speech on Islamic radicalism will require more carefully diplomatic language than Trump is accustomed to using. A visit to Saudi Arabia is fraught with peril for even the most seasoned presidents, and Trump is seemingly still starting a learning curve.
The next planned stop is in Israel, which is always tricky. Trump has long been outspokenly supportive of the Jewish state, and enjoyed a friendly relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but he’s lately abandoned his campaign promise to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem and reportedly blabbed some top-secrets shared by the Israelis to the Russians, and has long habit of making stereotypical Jewish jokes in public. His daughter and son-in-law are both Jewish, which provides some cover for such japes, but we expect his aides will be nervous for the duration of the visit.
After that Trump moves on to Italy and the vatican for a meeting with Pope Francis. Back in the campaign the Pope opined that Trump’s proposed wall along the border with Mexico wasn’t consistent with Christian values, Trump replied with characteristic bluntness that the Pope was “disgraceful” to say so, but both men are promising a friendlier conversation when they meet face to face. Absent any inappropriate jokes about a priest and a Rabbi and a Presbyterian minister walking in to a bar it seems a safe enough stop.
Next up is Belgium, where he’s scheduled to meet the king and queen and Prime Minister, and although they probably won’t be spending $68 million for the chat that should go fine. He’s also scheduled to meet the newly elected President of France, after Trump implicitly endorsed his Vichy-linked opponent in the recent French vote, as well as the president of the European Union, an institution both Trump and that Vichy-linked opponent have long outspokenly criticized, so that might also require more diplomatic language than Trump is used to using. There’s another meeting scheduled with the leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which Trump has lately concluded is not “obsolete,” as he frequently described it during the campaign, but he’s still grousing that its members are mostly a bunch of freeloading deadbeats, so there’s no telling how that might go.
Trump’s European trip then returns again to Italy, where he’ll take his place along the leaders of the G7 nations, and we hope he won’t mind sharing the stage with all of them. All those countries have pretty pesky presses of their own, though, and the American media will also be on hand to egg them on, and at that point the conversation might well take any number of controversial turns.
There’s always a chance Trump will return home with a lot of brand new best friends, and that the media won’t find anything to criticize, but Trump being Trump and the media being the media that’s not the way to bet.

— Bud Norman

<

Vive La France, Or What’s Left of It

The big news on Sunday was from France, of all places, where what’s left of the global establishment prevailed in a presidential election over the rising global anti-globalist populist movement. No one in France expects the election will herald a glorious new age in that long-declining country, given that it was a choice between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, but the rest of the world is still debating what it might mean everywhere else.
Emmanuel Macron won by a comfortable 66-34 margin, which is even more comfortable than all the much-maligned polls had predicted, by running as a putatively independent candidate was was “neither left nor right.” He was a longtime member of the Socialist Party, which is one of the two major parties and the closest equivalent of the Democratic party, but had shed the party label when the Socialist incumbent reached an eye-popping 4 percent approval ratings, and would be considered far-left by even current American standards, but he could plausibly claim the centrist position in France. He’s a former investment baker who’s more comfortable with free market capitalism than Democratic runner-up and self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, more unequivocally pro-North Atlantic Treaty Organization than the Republican president, and takes a pro-free trade position while promising restrains on all the regulatory meddling from Brussels.
Macron is also 39 years old, making him the youngest leader of France since Napoleon Bonaparte, which has been a while, and he’s got a 64-year-old wife, which the polls show endeared him to a certain demographic of the French electorate. All politics is local, too, and France is so far outside our locality that we can’t imagine what other oddball issues might have played a role in the election, but so far as we can tell from this far-off vantage point his biggest advantage was that he running against Le Pen.
All the international media described her as the “far-right” candidate, which is accurate enough in an international context, but that doesn’t translate well into American. She was outspokenly opposed to unfettered immigration from the Islamic world and stridently insistent the immigrants conform to traditional French values, and opposed to the infringements on French sovereignty imposed by the European Union, and didn’t cotton to all the free trade involved, so even much of the talk-radio segment of America’s conservative media embraced her as one of their own. The old conservative hands who still write down their words noted that she was until recently the candidate of her father’s National Front Party, which advocated not just nationalism but an industry-socializing and all powerful socialism, and had only renounced the party affiliation because its Vichy roots and unabashed racism polled poorly, and that she wasn’t any kind of conservative recognizable by American standards.
Everywhere in the international media from the center-right to the far-left is celebrating Macron’s victory, but from here on the plains it seems another premature celebration. Macron’s economic prescriptions don’t seem any more likely to fire up the long-moribund French economy than those of his successor with the 4 percent approval rating, and his blithe attitude toward all those undeniably troublesome Muslim immigrants will likely add to that unprecedented 34 percent that a “far-right” candidate just earned in oh-so-enlightened France. The similarly commonsensical Geert Wilders has also lost in Denmark, where the Muslim problem also brought out a signifiant minority, but the “Brexit” vote that pulled Great Britain out of the European Union and the election of President Donald Trump in America, of all places, suggests that the international center is still being pulled in a nationalist direction.
Our hope is is that Macron will take a calculatedly centrist position on immigration, that political parties all around the world will be similarly commonsensical and not leave the nationalist-socialist types to address it, and that France and the rest of us will continue to limp along that rocky path of freedom.

— Bud Norman

<

Barack Obama’s Not-So-Excellent Adventure

More than eight exceedingly long years have passed since those “Hope and Change” days when Sen. Barack Obama was running his first successful presidential campaign, but we still well remember the giddy optimism of his die-hard supporters. One of the promises they all seemed to believe was that after eight exceedingly long years of George W. Bush’s crazy cowboy foreign policy had tarnished America’s reputation, the rest of the world would once again admire and respect America under the apologetically cosmopolitan leadership of a former community organizer and not-yet-one-term Senator. Judging by President Obama’s recent foreign travels, in the lame duck days of his not at all optimistic second term, we’d say that hasn’t quite panned out.
Obama’s trip east turned into the latest installment of the old “National Lampoon’s Vacation” franchise, with the ironic twist of the President of the United States playing the Chevy Chase role, along with some of the late Rodney Dangerfield’s “I get no respect” shtick. It began with Air Force One touching ground at the Beijing airport before the Group of 20 summit, with no red carpet or high-ranking handshakes or reassuring photo opportunities to greet the president, and without even the courtesy of one of those high-rise airplane ladders he wound up exiting from the belly the beast as he would in such hostile territory as Afghanistan, and a Chinese official wound up in a shoving match with the American press and shouting “This is our country, this is our airport” at National Security Adviser Susan Rice. There were further diplomatic statements from both sides regarding the matter, and none of them left any doubt it was an intentional insult to a President of the United States.
The president was there mainly to finalize his insane “Paris climate accord,” which is not a treaty because it would never be ratified by even a Democratic senate but is nonetheless binding enough to impose all sorts of onerous regulations on the American economy to make a meaningless gesture about a problem that might or might not exist, and apparently that was enough reason to endure the snub. The Chinese government’s only obligation under the “Paris climate accord” is to maybe think about doing something so absolutely stupid in another 14 years or so, and apparently that was enough to inspire such an official show of contempt.
During the big economic summit Obama also managed to outrage the Fleet Street press and its avid British readership, which has been an annoying habit of his since he first took office in those “Hope and Change” days and sent back a bust of Winston Churchill, by once again threatening Great Britain with trade recriminations for its exit from the European Union, which is by now a fact despite his earlier toothless threats. Moving on to Laos, the tour featured the President of the Philippines vowing that if the President of the United States brought up the subject of the Filipino death squads currently battling the country’s suspected drug dealers in a planned meeting he would say “son of a bitch, I swear at you.” With the Philippines’ effect on the global climate being rather minimal this was enough for Obama to briefly cancel the meeting, but after the usual the exchange of diplomatic statements the meeting went on and apparently no curse words were exchanged and nothing much of any other interest happened. Obama also took the occasion of being in Laos to pledge help with all those unexploded bombs that America dropped there some decades back, and to lecture some young Laotian students about how lazy Americans aren’t doing enough to help with climate change as such industrious and pre-industrial peoples such as themselves.
Meanwhile, Russian planes were making “unsafe close intercepts” on American planes over the Black Sea, the Iranian navy was harassing American warships in the Persian Gulf, and no ally nor rival anywhere in the world seemed to admire or respect the apologetic cosmopolitan leadership of the apologetically cosmopolitan American president. This comes at the end of eight long years of riling the allies everywhere from Poland and the Czech Republican to the more capitalist portions of Honduras, and appeasing the rivals in the insane Shiite theocracy of Iran and the troublemaking Sunnis of the Muslim Brotherhood, and “resetting” relations with Russia back to Cold War lines on the map of Ukraine, and confront China’s brazen territorial expansion with such timidity that even China’s targets are threatening to curse Obama’s mother.
There’s not so much talk of “Hope and Change” in this election year, and we certainly can’t find any. The Democratic nominee was Obama’s Secretary of State during the first four of the past eight disastrous years, and offered that emboldening “reset button” to the Russians, and although she is credibly credited with advising sterner policies at times one of those times was the disastrous deposing of a defanged Libyan dictator and the ensuing chaos that spread from that country. The Republican nominee talks much sterner stuff, to the point of proposing random torture on prisoners of war and killing their relatives and turning all their oil rights over to the Exxon Corporation, but he seems even friendlier to the Russians and until he releases tax returns there will be reasonable suspicions about just how friendly, and he was also outspokenly in favor of deposing that defanged Libyan dictator, although he now routinely lies and says he wasn’t, and he’s also openly speculated about not honoring America’s treaty obligations if he didn’t like the deal and starting trade wars with China, and he blames that crazy cowboy Bush and his lies for all the dysfunctions of the Middle East, and he’s spouted much other similar nonsense that doesn’t inspire much hope for positive change.
We’ll just have to get used it, we guess, and the rest of the post-American world will have to as well. Still, we can’t help thinking that all of us will wind up fondly recalling those good old crazy cowboy days.

— 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

From Belgium to Arizona to the Latest “Tweet”

Another deadly Islamist terror attack, this time in Brussels, Belgium, the capital of the European Union and headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The President of the United States spent a full 51 seconds expressing his concern about the matter before launching into some happier talk about his communist Cuban hosts, and then spoke about it again at somewhat greater length with a fawning interviewer from the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network while taking in a baseball game, and the usual talk about a religion of peace and worries about a backlash followed in the usual places, and then the news moved on to more novel stories.
Say what you want about the presidential primary races, there’s no denying their novelty. A bit of actual reality showed up in the Republican’s reality show, however, as the two remaining viable candidates both weighed in on the slaughter in Brussels. Front-runner Donald J. Trump, the self-proclaimed billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-etcetera mogul, argued that some good old-fashioned torture would have prevented the tragedy, while Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was critical of both the administration’s continuing reluctance to address by the problem of Islamist terrorism by name and Trump’s apparent ambivalence about America’s European alliances in general and NATO in particular.
There’s some concern on the more or less respectable left that each terror attack further drives a frightened public into the arms of such a proudly tortuous tough guy as Trump, who once shaved the burly Vince McMahon’s head in a World Wrestling Entertainment production called “Battle of the Billionaires” and has bagged more babes than you’ll ever dream about, believe him, and that might yet prove worth worrying about. A double-whammy of attacks in San Bernardino and Paris knocked the mild-mannered neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson out of the race and into the arms of Trump a while back, and the Democrats understandably poll very poorly with their it’s-nothing-to-do-with-Islam stands, and Trump’s sizable horde of followers think anyone with a reluctance about torture is a “pussy,” which is apparently acceptable political parlance these days. There’s still some hope on the more or less respectable right that the public will be nudged to choose someone with a well-informed and keenly strategic mind and statesmanlike temperament, and pay enough attention to Trump’s rambling remarks and and impolitic impulses to notice that he’s not such a man, and that whatever well-justified frustrations we have with Europe they are an important part of our economy and the entire western civilization project, and that European alliances and NATO might yet come in handy again.
The death toll in Brussels didn’t stop the juicier parts of the Republicans’ reality show, however, as some naked pictures of Trump’s latest wife and a bit of libel against Cruz’ fully-clothed wife were both something novel to move to on. An anti-Trump political action committee not affiliated the Cruz campaign apparently had an internet page that featured the aforementioned naked pictures, with some copy suggesting this was not a particularly First Lady-like thing for a woman to have posed for and adding that anyone who was offended might consider voting for Cruz. Although the PAC was not affiliated with the Cruz campaign Trump apparently assumed it was, and he “tweeted” out that “Lyin’ Ted Cruz just used an picture of Melania from a G.Q. shoot in his ad. Be careful, Lyin’ Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!
Trump’s libelous insinuation that he has reputation-ruining information against a rival’s wife and is withholding it at the threat of blackmail strikes us as a rather big story, too, but this won’t be the first time it’s gone largely unnoticed. A similar libelous insinuation and threat of blackmail was made against the Ricketts family, owners of the Chicago Cubs, who had contributed to another anti-Trump PAC that was running a long-overdue ad featuring some of Trump’s more outrageously misogynistic statements, and he also made a thus-far hollow threat to sue the Canadian-born Cruz over his eligibility to run for the presidency unless he also stopped saying critical things about Trump. He’s also promised to “open up the libel laws” so that anyone who writes anything “mean” about him will “have problems, such problems,” so it’s no surprise that he’s willing to let the public remain unaware of crucial information about a potential First Lady or overlook a looming constitutional crisis if they’ll just bow to his Nietzschean will to power. So far Cruz, who enjoys a reputation as a shrewd lawyer even among his most bitter ideological opponents, hasn’t bowed. He called Trump’s bluff on that birther nonsense and the issue has largely gone away, except among those Trump fans who also buy the Obama birther nonsense, and his “tweet” about his wife was “Pic of your wife not from us. Donald, if you try to attack Heidi, you’re more of a coward than I thought,” which strikes us as rather gallant, if anybody cares about that stuff anymore. The son of the Chicago Cubs’ owner said it was “a little surreal when Donald Trump threatens your mom,” which is defense enough by the Cubs’ standards, and we can only imagine how the likes of the Iranian mullahs or the latest North Korean nutcase will be cowed by Trump’s insulting “tweets.”
Over on the Democratic side the front-runner, former First Lady etcetera Hillary Clinton was calling for more surveillance, presumably of the some sort that she used to damn George W. Bush for doing, and her still-remaining rival, self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, was calling for “international unity,” which we suppose would be a nice thing, assuming everyone was unified on our side. We’re not at all sure what side they will ultimately choose, though, even if we can be assured they won’t be the ones doing the torturing, at least not to the terrorists, so we hope the Republicans and the rest of the country get this one right.
Tuesday’s results were a split decision, but probably don’t reflect any effects of the attack on Brussels. Trump’s big plurality win in the winner-take-all state of Arizona was all about his anti-immigration stance, and probably helped by the left-wing goon squads who tried to shut down his rallies, and Cruz’ landslide majority in Utah was mostly about how Mormons regard such an unscrupulous businessman and unsavory character as Trump. Clinton won Arizona, where her open borders stand plays well with the local Democrats, and Sanders won Utah and Idaho, where such an unscrupulous dealer and unsavory character as Clinton didn’t play well with the handful of Democrats, but the Democratic National Committee probably found another couple hundred of those of “super-delegates” out there and Clinton’s long-promised coronation seems more likely.
We offer our heartfelt condolences to the people of Belgium, and everywhere else from San Bernardino to Moore, Oklahoma, to to Paris to Mumbai that the barbarians have attacked, and wish that America was in better to shape to deal with it.

— Bud Norman

Oy Vey, That Stock Market

These days our interest in the stock markets is mostly academic, but the past several days have been quite interesting nonetheless. Pretty much everywhere the stock markets are panicking, and suddenly the most alarmed pundits are surpassing even our usual gloom and doom.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average took a catastrophic 1008-point plunge Monday before a roller coaster rally reduced that to a still dire drop of more than 588 points, which is about 3.7 percent of the market’s total value lost in a single day, which is enough for some pundits with a economic stake in their reputations to advise people to invest heavily in bottled water and canned foods. Our own reputation for economic prognostications is of negligible value, as we won’t even pretend to know what the hell is going on out there, but for what it’s worth we’ll go on record to say that it apocalyptic predictions sound plausible enough to us.
Maybe it’s just that early 1008-point plunge that’s got us fretful. We’re old enough enough to recall a time with the DJIA measured in four digits, and when a three-digit drop dominated the next day’s headlines, so a three-digit drop has a scary sound to our ears even in this age of a Dow so many thousands ahead of even the Reagan days. That 588-point closing plunge even seems frightening, especially after the previous week of steep decline, and there’s little elsewhere in the news to provide reassurance that this is just one of those occasional dips in the inevitable road to prosperity. The popular explanation is that the Chinese economy, which might or might not be the world’s first largest economy depending on which method you believe, is suddenly going from vastly overstated good fortune to probably overstated decline and that the rest of the world is running the numbers and realizing that as a result they’ll fall far short of the promises that have been made to their restive peoples. The rest of the world is mostly the United States, which might or might not be the world’s first largest economy, depending on which method you believe, and the European Union, which is by all accounts a solid third in the pecking order, even with Greece’s ongoing catastrophe and all the the other brewing problems with that misguided project to meld fissiparous Europe into one state and economy, and the Latin American economies that have lately seen a plunge in the value of their currency, and the African states that are so dysfunctional they barely rate a mention in the stock market news, and the Asian countries that are overwhelmed by the Chinese, so the global situation doesn’t seem at all encouraging.
We have some faith in our fellow citizens that they’ll still be able to provide the products and services they’ve made their lives’ work, so that the bottled water and canned goods aren’t the next shrewd investment, but we have little faith in any of the governments and we’re still pretty gloomy and doomy. The communist Chinese method of mandating by law that by power of the gun the economy will continue to climb no matter how many ghost cities they build is proving powerless against the almighty market forces, the United States’ and European Union’s method of simply printing enough money to pay of all the promises is proving just as ineffectual, and the rest of the world is of course entirely hapless. The inevitable fact that ghost cities and printed money and false promises of government-engineered property aren’t enough to sustain a global economy seem to have reached their conclusion.
Those Dow Jones Industrial Averages were always overstated, to our admittedly unreliable thinking, by all all the quantitative easing of free money that had nowhere to go in a zero body yield world except the stock markets. All of the eye-popping numbers the markets produced seemed wildly incongruent with an economy that had a record lows in labor participation and declining wages and the scant job claims outstripped by immigration, and the current panic seems more in line with the reality of the actual situation. Although we don’t recommend investing in bottled water and canned goods we don’t expect any good news about the economy soon.

For those who insist on a silver lining we we will note that the economy should soon its rightful place among the pressing issues of the day, and that the public will not be inclined to buy any arguments for the status quo.

— Bud Norman

Ancient Greece and the Modern Madness

Greece, once the ancient birthplace of reason, seems to have gone stark raving mad in a very modern way.
On Sunday the Greek people rejected the European Union’s offer of yet another multi-billion Euro bailout for its disastrous economy, apparently persuaded by their Prime Minister’s argument that doing so will enable him to negotiate an even bigger bailout without any pesky conditions that Greece enact economic reforms that are necessary if it ever hopes to repay any of it. The argument might yet prove true, as the EU has been so eager to keep all its members on board that it’s gone along with all of the previous bailouts and might yet be willing to dole out another one rather than  admit that its one-size-fits-all currency scheme and post-nationalist political philosophy doesn’t work with a fissiparous coalition of vastly different-sized economies in countries that stubbornly retain their national self-interests, but then again it might decide sooner rather than later that Greece is simply more trouble than it’s worth. In either case the citizens of Greece will soon collide with the reality that it can’t keep on sending out government checks that total more than the economic output of the country, and that their fellow Europeans who are counting on their own generous government checks won’t keep making up the difference forever, and that the rest of the world hasn’t even any illusory reasons to help out, but in the meantime that great Greek invention of democracy allows them to vote against reality.
Although the futility of voting against reality is especially conspicuous in Greece, where the store shelves are empty and more than half the young people are unemployed and most 50-somethings are retired and the lines of the few gainfully employed are already long at banks that are readying to stop any withdrawals, the modern tendency to do so is nonetheless apparent everywhere. You’ll find it in Puerto Rico, where a similarly dire default situation is brewing, and in China, a more significant economy, and in Chicago, where the public sector unions are protesting the fact that their too-good-to-be-true contracts are at last proving too good to be true, as well as the debt-swamped broader American economy, and at the Supreme Court, where the latest rulings declare that a law doesn’t mean what it clearly says and that somewhere in between the lines of the Constitution there is definitive re-definition of the institution of marriage as it has been understood almost everywhere on Earth from the dawn of civilization until a couple of weeks ago, and you’ll find it in the electronic opinion pages of The New York Times, where a couple of white guys start talking about “whiteness” and wind up agreeing that the whole notion of reasoning from the objective facts of reality is a “white male Euro-Christian construction” and that such a useful and verifiably true concept as “true north” is “Nordo-centrism” and somehow rendered invalid by “insensitivity to people who live in the southern hemisphere.”
You’ll also find it on the cover of Vanity Fair, where a man quite artfully made to appear as a woman is expected to be regarded by polite opinion as a woman, at the Spokane chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, where the former president insists that despite her white ancestry she be regarded as black, in the ongoing debate about law enforcement that insists “black lives matter” when they are taken by police but that the far greater number of black lives taken by black criminals because of a lack of policing don’t matter, and of course in all those frustrating conversations with the ordinary people you no doubt frequently encounter who can’t see any fair reason why American government isn’t sending out evermore generous checks that total to more than the American economy produces.
The tendency is readily understandable to any observer of human nature and the rest of reality. Reality is so often unpleasant, and the alternatives that even the most limited imaginations might conceive are so much more desirable, that it is in the nature of human beings to vote against it. In this age of “virtual reality” it is tempting to conclude that better everyone should get that check in the mail, that the laws should mean whatever a majority of the Supreme Court thinks they should mean, that people should get to be whatever sex and race and species they prefer to be, that true north and other objectively verifiable facts be abandoned for their “Nordo-centrism” and insensitivity to the peoples of the southern hemisphere, and that the last rich person left on Earth should be made to pay for it all. After that we’ll all face the inevitable mathematical and biological and human nature reality, but until then at least the Greeks have bequeathed us all the right to vote against it.

— Bud Norman