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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

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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

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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

The Greeks and the Rest of Us

The situation in Greece seems hopeless, no matter how its citizens vote on an emergency referendum Sunday, and the rest of the world seems in pretty sorry shape as well.
Apparently nobody in Greece can understand the 72-word question being put to the voters, assuming that the government is able to print up enough ballots and get them distributed to all the polling places on time, and it’s certainly Greek to us. So far as we can gather, however, a “yes” vote is for accepting the European Union’s seemingly generous offer to continue the loans that have been keeping the Greek economy barely afloat, although in exchange for draconian budget cuts and other austerity measures that will almost certainly be painful to the already pained average Greek, and a “no” vote likely means a Greek exit — or “Grexit,” as it’s become known — from the EU and its onerous demands as well as extravagant promises of continued government largesse, although in reality it will more likely cause the complete collapse of the Greek economy and start causing all those ample government checks to bounce right out of the last of the country’s failing banks.
The very young and stupid Greek Prime Minister and his socialist party are backing the “no” vote, on the argument that it will allow him to negotiate an even more generous deal with his EU creditors, but only the most rash would predict how that might turn out. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and that the rest of the EU elite would obviously prefer not to lose a charter member of their club, which might bolster the growing number of Eurosceptics in Britain and other important countries as well, and make it embarrassingly clear that their essential organizing policy of a one-size-fits-all currency for a fissiparous coalition of 28 countries that still stubbornly cling to some sense of national interest and have very differently-sized economies was unworkable all along. On the other hand, Greece has become so unproductive and such a pain in the EU’s economic posterior that the club might well decide it is best rid of it, and that if Greece instead becomes a client of Moscow that it would be a small victory for what remains of the West in the renewed Cold War.
In any event, the Greeks will still wind up broke and rioting in the streets against the reality that they can’t forever keep on sending out retirement checks to 50-year-olds and unemployment checks to the more than 50 percent of the 20-somethings who are without jobs and taxing the in-betweens to such an extent that they’ve all stopped paying taxes and produce children and future taxpayers at a dwindling rate and have it all total up to about half the country’s gross domestic product, even if has seemed to work just fine up to now. These schemes always work out for while, and it’s so great when they do that the mean-spirited fuddy-duddies who warned that it would all come to a bad end are thoroughly discredited, but eventually reality intrudes and it does come to bad end and there’s nothing for the idealistic and generous to do but riot in the streets. One is tempted to shake his head in pity and disgust at the Greeks, who once upon a long-ago time gave the world Plato and Aristotle and Euripides and Aristophanes and Sappho and all sorts of intriguing ideas about human nature, but those same long-ago Greeks have taught us to notice that such weakness to temptation is by no means a uniquely Greek thing.
While the Eurocentric American media has mostly paid attention to Greek’s travails, a few stories have leaked out that Puerto Rico is also on the verge of default and bankruptcy. The same sort of extravagant promises made by politicians, and eagerly believed a majority of the country’s voters, have led a large portion of the island’s residents to take advantage of its immigration relationship with the United States and move mainland, which of course has contracted the economy and increased the need for government relief and raised the debt and further hindered the economy and forced more people to flee. Greeks and Puerto Ricans are relatively minor players in the world economy, but Chicago, the third-largest city of the first or second largest economy depending on your accounting methods, whose municipal bonds are now rated as junk, is finding that the promises made to and believed by its vast number of its public servants were a few billion dollars more extravagant than its dwindling number of taxpayers could keep. Similar situations prevail in numerous other American cities and counties and states, as well, and of course the the debt of the federal government is keeping a relative pace with that of Greece. Unlike Greece in its post-Drachma days the United States can keep printing greenbacks to service that debt, and unlike the Euro or the Drachma the greenback is the world’s reserve currency, which seems to be working up to now, but only the rash would predict how that’s likely to turn out.
Lest we sound unduly pessimistic about America so soon before the Fourth of July, we would also note that China, which is the first or second largest economy in the world depending on which accounting method you believe, also has its debt woes. Even in the still more-or-less Communist country felt obliged to make extravagant promises to the people, the people were eager to believe, and now they’re stuck with the gargantuan tab for giant ghost cities and other ambitious make-work projects. Similar examples of human beings succumbing to human nature be found all over the globe, and probably in at least one of the countless tax jurisdictions where you live, and at various points throughout human history.
In between those various points of human history when the clash extravagant promises and economic reality turned out very badly, there were periods of prosperity and the self-sufficiency of citizens and the resultant improvement in human achievement that resulted from the lessons that had been so painfully learned. They all ended when enough time had past that the lessons were forgotten and the extravagant promises became all the more enticing, but the process tends to repeat itself.
There’s some faint hope, we suppose, that here in America these lessons will be re-learned from the examples of Greece and Puerto Rico and China and Chicago and the rest of the bankrupt parts of the world, and that perhaps the inevitable crisis can be forestalled until the next presidential election when the people will choose correct course. Only the most rash would predict how that might turn out, though. Our guess is that the next presidential election will more likely be about homosexual marriage and the latest celebrity’s sex-change operation and subsidized condoms the Confederate battle flag and whatever shiny objects the media might find, and of course the extravagant promises that politicians always make the people are always eager to believe. For now, at least, it all seems to be working out, or at least well enough to make those further extravagant promises sound plausible.

— Bud Norman

Too Much News for a Summer’s Day

Summertime is when the living is supposed to be easy and the news slow, a time for the pundits to reach into the tickler file for a timeless think piece to fill up space, but that doesn’t seem to be the case this year. News is now flowing like a river of lava from a volcano, the living is not at all easy along its path, and there seems little time to mull what it all means.
The lazy, hazy days of summers of have brought Russian tanks rolling into Ukraine, the Syrian civil war spilling into Iraq and threatening to overwhelm Baghdad and all of America’s hard-fought gains in that ever-troublesome country, more provocations in the South China Sea, the release of five dangerous high-ranking terrorists in exchange for a soldier who seems to have deserted, and the rise of a wide range of grumpy political parties across Europe threatening to unravel that continent’s unpopular experiment in central planning and political correctness. On the domestic front there’s an invasion of unaccompanied minors on the southwest borders that is enjoying a White House reception, the shocking maltreatment of aging patriots by the Veterans Administration, a highly suspicious development in the slowly unfolding scandal of the Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of the president’s “tea party” foes, and some notable successes by that “tea party” is making the Republican party an even grumpier foe of this country’s unpopular experiment in central planning and political correctness. If Hillary Clinton planned her book tour and presidential campaign launch for a slow news cycle she was probably disappointed by the competing news, but the fact it’s gone so badly she’s probably now glad of it is also an intriguing story. All of which obscures the same old story about the sputtering economy, and supersedes past scandals such as Benghazi and the National Security Agency and such golden oldies as Solyndra and Fast and Furious and the rest of it, but otherwise does little to bolster faith in a long, hot summer.
In addition to its dizzying quantity the summer’s news also has an unmistakably significant quality to it. Those Russian tanks herald a new Cold War, the Iraq debacle heralds the revival of an Islamist strain that had been prematurely declared dead, China’s bellicosity is causing tensions that cannot be soothed by a presidential tour of the region, the sort of mischief that those five released terrorists might cause is demonstrated by the released terrorists who’s leading that charge in Iraq, and those grumpy new political parties in Europe are a reminder that the west isn’t all unified in response to such existential challenges. The children’s crusade from the Third World into America and the dying veterans at the bureaucratic hospitals and the impeachable implications of the IRS’ misbehavior all deserve consideration, and merge into a broader story that explains why those “tea party” folks are so grumpy and even the oh-so-polite-to-Democrats journalists are giving Clinton a hard time. There seems to be a common theme to all this news, but we’ve too busy following links from one internet page of bad news to another to develop a unified field theory of it all.
All that bad news hasn’t been so plentiful that it kept the president from enjoying a round of golf at a swank Florida course over the weekend, and we suppose this is meant to be reassuring. Ike used to golf through a crisis, according to popular legend, and everybody liked Ike. Somehow we are not reassured, however, and find ourselves pining for those lazy, hazy days of summer when the living was easy. We even find ourselves looking forward to the chill of fall, when an even grumpier Republican party will be on the ballot with a promise to resist central planning and political correctness and all this damnable news.

— Bud Norman

On Board with Ukraine

Here’s hoping the Ukrainian people succeed in their heroic struggle for freedom and democracy, and that the western civilization they hope to join isn’t yet too enervated to offer meaningful help.
At the moment it seems possible that the Ukrainian people might prevail, as the mass protest movement for independence has forced pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych from Kiev and established a tenuous interim government controlling most of the country, while the western nations have belatedly offered incompetent but nonetheless crucial support. There is still reason to worry they might fail, though, as Yanukovych retains control of much of the eastern and largely ethnic Russian portion of country, the Winter Olympics are now over and Russian President Vladimir Putin thus has a freer hand to intervene with his usual cunning and ruthlessness, and the west’s recent record of resisting tyranny is not encouraging.
After weeks of characteristic dithering he European Union is offering monetary as well as rhetorical support for the new government, and the White House is issuing stern warnings against Russian meddling. These are positive developments, but they likely won’t inspire much confidence in the Ukrainians or much fear in Putin. America’s “reset” diplomacy with Russia has re-set the country to its traditional role of anti-western antagonist and encouraged its meddling not only in the old Soviet Union’s sphere of influence but also the Middle East and even the western hemisphere, the American president’s stern warnings of “red lines” in Syria and “grave consequences” for the terrorists who murdered for Americans in Libya have proved toothless, longtime allies from Poland the Czech Republic to Israel to South America and Asia have seen longstanding American promises betrayed, and the Ukrainians have no reason to believe that their fledgling democracy can expect resolute American support.
Any Ukrainian with access to the internet can find further reason for worry on YouTube, where an anonymous has post video of Victoria Nuland, the State Department’s top official for Europe, discussing a plan that would allow Yanukovych to retain a measure of power and ban opposition leader and national hero Vitali Klitschko from power. The proposal was too weak even for European tastes, and Nuland can be heard responding to their understandable objections by uttering an obscene suggestion for the EU. Aside from the worrisome fact that such foul language is now so ubiquitous it intrudes even into high-level diplomatic discussions, the conversation confirms a natural suspicion that the Obama administration’s first instinct was to mollify the Russians even at the expense of a proud nation’s long-sought independence.
President Barack Obama tried to allay these fears during a news conference last week in Mexico, saying “Our goal is to make sure the people of Ukraine are able to make decisions for themselves about there future,” but judging by Nuland’s remarks he doesn’t fully trust them to choose their own leaders. He preceded that statement by saying “Our approach as the United States is not see these as some Cold War chessboard in which we’re in competition with Russia,” which also does not bode well. Obama and the rest of the left got the Cold War wrong, they apparently have not yet realized that we are still very much in competition with Russia, and they are clumsily playing checkers while Putin plays chess with typical Russian skill.
The Ukrainians might yet pull it off. Klitschko, the Ukrainian national hero that Nuland wanted to bar from power, is not only a recent world heavyweight boxing championship who well understands the masterful deployment of brute force, he’s also said to be a pretty fair chess player.

— Bud Norman