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Jet-Setting and Leggings

Maybe it’s just because of a slow news cycle while the Republicans recover from their health care fiasco and the Democrats await the next big revelation about Russia or something helpful, but that flap about the two young women who didn’t get onto a United Airlines flight because they were wearing “leggings” is still getting a lot of attention. It’s a story with legs, as we used to say back in the newspaper days, and plenty of what used to be called sidebars.
By now you probably know, thanks to the diligent efforts of United’s crack public relations team, that the airline does not impose a dress code on its customers but does enforce one for its employees, and the two young women were attempting to board on company benefit tickets. There was nonetheless the predictable and understandable feminist outrage about women being told what to wear, and the usual fuddy-duddy but still-reasonable arguments about companies having a right to enforce dress codes, and a plausible counter-argument that the dress code in question is more restrictive of women’s choices than men’s, and a counter-counter-argument worth considering that there are practical reasons for that. The story mostly has legs, though, because it’s being argued across a generational as well as ideological divide.
Way, way back when we were in the early years of elementary school our beloved Pa used to fly almost constantly on business trips for his very big-time aerospace company, and our beloved Ma would often drive us out to greet his return at the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, and it’s hard to describe how it overwhelmed our childhood imaginations. You could could walk right up to the exit gates without any hassles back then, and Pop would always come through the door in slightly wrinkled but otherwise impeccable business attire with all the weariness and slight smile of someone has just solved a high-tech problem or swung a very big-money deal, and pretty much everyone else looked pretty impressive. Even the returning tourists had a prosperous and classy look about them, which was hard for us to maintain on the long car rides that our family vacations entailed, and it inspired a certain inspiration to be part of what was then called the “jet set.”
By the time we were grown up enough to buy an occasional airline ticket things had changed, though, and the people we found ourselves standing in line with at the departure gate looked pretty much like the people at the nearest bus stop. The “airline hostesses” weren’t nearly so hot as those R-rated “stewardess” movies at the drive-in had promised, the food was just as awful as all the standup comedians said, and “jet set” had somehow been dropped from the popular lexicon. Then came the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and after that airline travel joined dental appointments and colonoscopies on our list of most dreaded activities, and of course the standards of what people were now being forced to undress had also further declined.
Meanwhile we started noticing people showing up at funerals and weddings and Sunday morning worship services and all sorts of places in shorts and t-shirts and ball caps, and a perhaps related decline in public civility, as well as a general lack of aspiration for anything like our childhood yearning of a “jet set.” We’re not so old that we didn’t notice when almost all the young women started wearing those skin-tight pants, although we are old enough that we put “leggings” in quotation marks because it’s still a neologism to us, and we have mixed feelings about that. Some of the young women look quite good in those pants, there are others we’d advise to try something different, but in no case do we feel it’s our place to offer either compliments or advice, and we just try to be civil. Neither do we offer any comment on those young men wearing shorts on the coldest day of winter or wool sherpa caps on the hottest day of summer, even if they do look damned ridiculous, and we always appreciate when no one comments on our slightly wrinkled and decidedly fuddy-duddy attire.
Still, we can’t help yearning for that “jet set” of our childhood imagination, and can still see ourselves seated in suit-and-tie on a carefree flight to an exotic location next to an attractive woman of a certain age attired in a loose but revealing-in-a-flattering-way dress, drinking some well-mixed cocktails and sharing some screwball comedy flirtations while a comely “stewardess” re-fills the glasses, and we’re free to gallantly light her cigarette should she desire one, and a world of elegant possibilities still awaits. If the kids prefer their “leggings,” even the ones who really don’t have the legs to pull it off, we’ll not deny them the choice, but they don’t know what they’re missing. We hope that United Airlines will continue to impose a reasonably fuddy-duddy dress code on its employees, and that a free-market will somehow reward its decision, and that a certain dignity will return to both the airports and the bus spots, but mostly we’re in favor of freedom and will accept its results.

— Bud Norman

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About That Ballyhooed Speech

President Donald Trump’s much-ballyhooed address to a joint session of Congress wasn’t awful, at least by his usual standards. There was none of the “that I can tell you” and “believe me” and “OK?” or other tics that usually pepper his speeches, the characteristic boastful hyperbole was toned down a more typical political level, his sentences were parseable and occasionally almost oratorical, and he didn’t give the late night comics anything obvious to ridicule.
That was sufficient that even the media Trump has identified as enemies of the American people were offering begrudging praise, and although his most ardent supporters might have found it a bit boring and been disappointed that there it offered nothing to chant they probably liked it as well. Still, by the standard of what was needed it wasn’t a very good speech. Once people start to recover from the shock of a presidential-sounding Trump, pretty much everyone will find something in it to grouse about.
Trump shrewdly disarmed his most hysterical critics by opening with a condemnatory few words about a recent shooting in Olathe, Kansas, of two immigrants from India by a man who shouted “Get out of my country” as he opened fire, as well a recent uptick in anti-semitic incidents and other crimes apparently motivated by racial or ethnic animus, but it won’t stop complaints that his previous nativist rhetoric has contributed to the problems. His critics will also note that later spoke at greater length about the crimes committed by immigrants, and had a couple of widows on hand to illustrate the point, and emphasized how big the problem was by creating a new agency in the government to deal with its victims. Although we were advocating stricter enforcement of immigration laws way back when Trump was calling Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney “cruel” for his relatively modest proposals, we’re also leery of new agencies and can’t help wondering why the country can’t better serve victims of crime no matter who perpetrated it.
Trump also made clear he was steadfast against all crime no matter who perpetrates it, and he wasn’t quite so extravagant about overstating the extent of it as he has been in the recent past, but he didn’t offer any specific solutions, He spoke of supporting “the men and women of law enforcement,” which we take to mean to that his Justice Department won’t be harassing local police departments into retreat from their more aggressive tactics, as the administration President Barack Obama did, which almost certainly has to do with that undeniable if overstated recent uptick in crime driven largely a few cities where the Obama administration was particularly tough on the cops and crimes rates have indeed been soaring, but we would have liked to have seen that argument more fully developed.

The same lack of specificity permeated the rest of the speech. Trump swore his fidelity to “free trade,” but he sounded so perfunctory about it and so impassioned when he went on at much greater length about “fair trade” we would have appreciated a clearer description of what he wants the international commerce to look like. There is still an influential number of Republicans who still hew to the party’s erstwhile free market principles in Congress, and all the Democrats there who still aren’t so far left as self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders were all for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade deals that Obama negotiated, and we expect they’re also wanting some further clarity about the matter. Anyone employed by or invested in one of America’s many export-dependent industries, such as the agricultural and aviation sectors that make up the biggest chunk of the economy around here, are also bound to be anxious for further details. He spoke of how America’s iconic Harley-Davidson motorcycles have a 100 percent tariff slapped on them by some unnamed countries, which so far as we tell are India and the Maldives, which is indeed unfortunate for any aspiring Indian and Maldivian biker gangs, but we like to hear more about a trade war might affect the wheat and airplane markets. He’s for getting rid of Obamacare’s individual mandate that requires people without health insurance to pay for the privilege, which is fine by us and a great relief after his campaign statements to the contrary, and he’s for interstate insurance markets, as is every sentient being on the planet, but he’s for that preexisting conditions part of Obamacare and was conspicuously vague about how he’s going to make all that work.

Speaking of the Republican party’s erstwhile free market principles, Trump also took some largely unearned credit for strong-arming and bribing some recognizable brand names into keeping some of their American workers on the job, and he promised more of the same. There were no flow charts or graphs to exactly how Trump intends to personally manage a $17.4 billion economy with all of these great deals, and we couldn’t help recalling how he’d run his casinos and airline and real estate university and various other namesake ventures, but we were reassured that at least he didn’t say “believe me, OK?” He promised to do a lot of de-regulating, which warmed our principled free market Republican hearts, and even announced a policy of only allowing one new regulation for every two repealed, which struck us as rather arbitrary but nonetheless reasonable, but all that talk about intervening in every corporate re-location suggests that the one new regulation will be more far-reaching that those few forgettable lines from section two A part IV of the This Thing or the Other Thing Act of 1936 and that bit about proper wattage of lighting in federal buildings from the Affordable This or That Act of the dying days of the Obama Administration that are tossed out.
Trump read the usual Republican boilerplate about the national debt, and rightly noted how it had nearly doubled during the Obama administration, but he also proposed enough infrastructure spending to re-build the entire country, and suggested we could do it maybe twice or even three times if we don’t get it just right, and surely we’re not the only ones left hoping for a more explicit explanation of how he plans to pull that off without the debt. He’s talking big tax cuts and promising that along with all de-regulating they’ll speed up the sluggish pace of economic growth, which we our free market sensibilities regard as good bet, but we’re not such risk-takers that we wager it will be enough to rebuild an entire country of this size a couple of times over. Trump said we’d already spent that much in fighting the war against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is only true if you very much want to believe Trump because that he can tell you, OK?, and he seemed to promise there’d no more such foolish spendthriftiness for at least the next four years, but he also promised to eradicate the Islamic State terror gang and radical Islamic extremism in general, so we’re still unclear how those numbers will work out.
The only other mention of foreign policy was some talk about new alliances with old enemies, which Trump likened to our post-World War II arrangements with Germany and Japan, which we took to mean that he’s going full steam ahead on selling both of them and number of other countries out to the Russian dictator that he has frequently praises. It got short mention in the speech and the immediate stories about it, but given all the allegations of Russian meddling in the election and the recent leaks about the Trump campaign’s contacts and the past officials with undeniable ties to the Russkies who have been kicked off team Trump and whatever might or might not be in those still-undisclosed tax returns, as well as all that gushing praise Trump keeps heaping on Putin, the story is likely to linger.
All those Democrats who laughed at Romney’s Cold War-era foreign policy are suddenly sounding like John Birchers, and there is still a significant number of Republicans left who hold to the party’s erstwhile stern position about the Russkies, and we expect they’re eagerly awaiting more details about the matter. The same coalition is likely to take a look at the fine print in all that infrastructure spending, too, as every last pre-Trump Republican stood firm-fast against such spendthrifty tomfoolery back when Obama was proposing it, and all those Democrats who used to think it was a great idea will hate it because it’s now Trump’s idea, and we have to admit that they’ll have an argument that the private investment part of the spending is an invitation to outright corruption, and even the Sanders wing of the Democratic party will probably oppose Trump-branded protectionism. The Democrats were mostly well-behaved during the address, but they couldn’t suppress a laugh when President Trump repeated candidate Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” of corruption, and given that Trump retains full ownership of business interests that don’t necessarily align with the national interest we expect the late night comics will provide plenty more laughs about it in the coming months and years.
For now, though, Trump will probably enjoy a few days of relatively good press. That shtick of reading parseable sentences without provoking any “Twitter” feuds worked well enough for Trump that even the enemies of the American people are glumly admitting a certain presidential tone, and it will be interesting to see if he sticks with it.

— Bud Norman

What’s Seen on the Front Page, and the Unseen Consequences

Some eleven hundred people are going to keep their jobs at the Carrier heating and air conditioning plants in Indiana, an early Christmas gift from president-elect Donald Trump, and we’re happy for them. We can’t help worry, though, how it will work out for the rest of us.
Trump can rightly boast that he hasn’t even taken office yet but has already saved those eleven hundred jobs from being shipped off to Mexico, having negotiated the deal that offered Carrier a compelling mix of tax incentives and veiled threats to only cut 300 to 600 jobs at the plant and 700 at another facility, so naturally he boasted at length Thursday during his “Thank You Tour” of ongoing campaign rallies and photo opportunities in the heartland. Even The New York Times and The Washington Post and all the alphabet television networks were obliged to run shots of Trump beaming in the company of grateful workers, and to quote his bold claim that “Companies are not going to leave the United States any more without consequences. Not gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen.” For the moment, at least, Trump’s populist economics seems triumphant.
As the great Frederic Bastiat observed about economic policies, however, “it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the ultimate consequences are fatal, and the converse.” One would have to be very hard-hearted not to feel good for those presumably hard-working Hoosiers whose jobs were spared, yet one would also have to be very soft-headed not to wonder what happens when every American company in search of tax incentives starts making veiled threats of their own.
Perhaps they can all be tax incentivized and otherwise bullied into unprofitable arrangements with their employees, but it’s hard to see how that works out for anybody over the long run. Perhaps the co-author of “The Art of the Deal” will make such great deals, such beautiful, huge deals that everyone winds up getting rich, but that’s not the way it worked out with Trump Mortgage or Trump Network or Trump University or Trump Steaks or the Trump Taj Mahal casino-and-strip-club or numerous other Trump-branded businesses, not to mention the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League, although we hear that the made-in-China Trump ties are still selling briskly, so we’re skeptical that Trump can run every other business in the country any better. Perhaps all those foreign markets that Trump has promised to protect America from won’t decide to protect themselves from Trump and all his business partners in the American economy with retaliatory measures, too, but we think you’d find a better bet and at least a pair of bare breasts at a Trump casino if there were any left.
For the moment, though, Trump is indeed triumphant. It’s hard to argue with a front page picture of smiling Indiana furnace-makers, and corporate big-wigs in fancy offices shipping jobs off to Mexico are such central-casting villains that even Ayn Rand would have a hard time rising to their defense, and old quotes from long-dead French economists, no matter how time-tested, are now easily shouted down. The Democrats have been peddling protectionism and central planning for as long as we can remember, and although the self-described socialist and almost-Democratic-nominee Sen. Bernie Sanders is grousing about the tax breaks involved in the Carrier deal we expect that most of his congressional colleagues will be happy to make similar deals on behalf of certain of their constituents. We also expect that most of the Republicans who once stood steadfast against such nonsense back when President Barack Obama was picking the winners and losers will now be incentivized and bullied into going along as well, and those hardy few who resist will be angrily “tweeted” about and face difficult re-election races. For now most of America seems quite happy about having someone in the government run the entire American economy, even if they’re rather angrily divided about who that person should be, and Bastiat’s wise warnings about the unseen consequences of well-intentioned economic policies will go unheard, and for that matter the consequences will be mostly unseen.
You’ll be seeing lots of pictures of Trump posing next to grateful workers whose villainous boss has been incentivized and bullied into letting them keep their jobs, but none of the workers who would have been employed if free people and free markets had been allowed to continue along the circuitous and often bumpy route that has led to the past many years of rising global prosperity and relative peace and rapid technological and scientific advancement and widened scope of glorious liberty. The progress has been slowed by the past eight years of Obama’s meddling, indeed the past 90 or so years of varying degrees of government meddling, and Trump might slow it further yet. He’s also promising deregulation and tax cuts and all the other free market notions that Republicans have traditionally peddled, and he might incentivize and bully enough Democrats to make that happen, but we do hope he’ll refrain from trying running every business in America with American workers and American materials, the way he didn’t run his, no matter how tempting the photo opportunity might be.

— Bud Norman