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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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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

Another Win for the Establishment

There are a lot of political races being run in this crazy election year besides that dispiriting presidential contest, so we like to check in on them from time to time in vain search of some faint sense of hope for the country. Last week the intriguing race was just west of the county line in Kansas’ First Congressional district, where an “establishment” type knocked off an “anti-establishment” type incumbent in a unusually heavily-funded Republican primary in that remote and largely unpeopled district, and this week the big news has come out of the distant First District of Wisconsin, where incumbent Republican House Speaker and very personification of the “establishment” Paul Ryan won an even more lopsided victory over a tattooed and otherwise impeccably “anti-establishment” challenger.
We do find some faint sense of hope for the country in both outcomes, albeit with the same nagging ambiguity that marks this crazy election year. There was some appeal to that fire-breathing anti-establishmentarian out in western Kansas, but when you’re so darned rebellious that you wind up getting kicked off the Agriculture Committee and so ideologically pure that you vote against a Farm Bill which had satisfactory cuts in the Food Stamp program and keeps the current business model of the First District economy more or less intact we figure you’re asking for trouble. In the case of Paul Ryan, the feelings are yet more mixed.
The handsome and youthful Ryan has had a starring role in the past many years of the binge-worthy Republican reality show, and veered from hero to villain and back again through all the plot twists. He first took a seat in the House of Representatives as a budget-cutting villain to the left and hero to the right, back when the two sides used to fight over such things, and was held in such high regard by the “tea party” enthusiasts for fiscal solvency that he was named Mitt Romney’s running mate in the ’12 race to appease all the hard-core “anti-establishment” Republican types. That didn’t work out, of course, and since then Ryan has been increasingly reviled by his erstwhile anti-establishment supporters because of his reluctant support for some less-than-ideal continuing-resolutions they strike these days instead of establishing real budgets, and he’s been in some on some illegal immigration and free-trade deals that weren’t popular with the anti-establishment types, and after taking over from the hated-by-the-anti-establishment types John Boehner he was pretty much stuck with another awful continuing-resolution fiascos that further aroused talk radio ire. Then he wound up with Donald J. Trump as a nominee, whose newly popular version of anti-establishment furor was very much against illegal immigration and every single trade deal passed in the last 100 years or so and not at all concerned with any of that politically-toxic fiscal solvency nonsense, which added yet another plot twist.
The Republican Speaker of the House was initially reluctant to endorse the Republican presidential nominee, but eventually wound up doing so without much enthusiasm, and the Republican nominee used the very same language to express his reluctance to endorse the Republican Speaker of the House and then wound up doing so with the same lack of enthusiasm, then sending sending out a thankful “tweet” to the challenger just before Ryan wound up winning with a blow-out percentage of the vote anyway. The anti-Trump press gleefully reported it as a win for the non-Trump faction of the GOP, and although we agree we’re only ambiguously gleeful about it.
Ryan is all wrong on that illegal immigration issue, as far as we’re concerned, even if we’re not quite so hopped up about it to embrace the Republican presidential nominee’s crazy talk about building a wall and making Mexico pay for it, and we can’t help recalling a time so recent as Ryan’s vice-presidential bid when the Republican nominee was saying that any talk of merely enforcing immigration and thus causing self-deportations was “cruel.” We’re with Ryan on those free-trade agreements, along with most of the First and Fourth Districts here in Kansas, where the export-dependent agricultural and aviation industries predominate, but at the moment we seem to be facing a bipartisan consensus against us. Ryan has signed off some continuing-resolution deals that are horrible by any Republican measure, but the alternative was a government shutdown that might well have halted those subsidy checks to the First Districts of both Wisconsin and Kansas and had other political consequences that no one can forecast, and we’re more inclined to trust the political deal-making instincts of a 16-year-veteran of the Congressional wars than a private sector deal-maker whose casinos went bankrupt four times despite house odds.
For all our frustrations with him, we note that Ryan is one of the few people left on the American political scene who is still stubborn about all that politically toxic fiscal solvency nonsense, and at least has some sort of half-assed over-the-coming-decades plan to deal with it. The American experiment is currently hurtling toward financial insolvency, neither of the major political party nominee have expressed any willingness to address the matter, and indeed both are trying to out-bid one another on how much they’ll spend to make America great again, so it’s nice to know that such an obstinate fellow as Ryan will likely be around to perhaps provide some hopeful plot twist or two about keeping America afloat.
All politics is local, as the venerable cliche goes, and we suspect that the First District of Wisconsin had the same self-interest in a Speakership that the First District of Kansas had in a seat on the Agriculture Committee, and that¬†little of it has anything to do with that dispiriting presidential race.. Both seats are safely Republican, though, so no matter how that dispiriting presidential race turns out at least Kansas’ First District will likely once again have a seat on the Agriculture Committee and the First District will have either a Speaker of the House who’s willing to take on entitlement reform, or at least a minority leader with the same admirable yet suicidal inclination. If the faint hope we find in this makes us “establishment,” so be it.

— 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

How to Pick a President

We’re not running for president this time around, for reasons we’ve previously explained, so naturally we’ve taken an avid interest in those who are vying for the job. Choosing a favorite among the candidates is starting to take up a lot of our time, as there are so darned many of them, especially on the Republican side, but as usual the internet has provided a short-cut. A friend advised us of the existence of a web site called isidewith.com, and simply by filling out a brief questionnaire we we able to learn how closely each candidate’s stands on the issues of the day aligns with our own.
Right-wing extremists that we are, we were pleased but not at all surprised to see that former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and current Florida Sen. Marco Rubio scored an admirable 95 percent rate of agreement with us, and that current Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is not far behind at 94 percent. We were somewhat surprised to find an acceptable 89 percent rate of agreement with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, given our very strong disagreements on foreign policy, and very surprised to find only an 87 percent rate of agreement with our tentative choice, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a similar rate of 86 percent for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who we have no use for, a solid 80 percent for Dr. Ben Carson, who we like a lot but can’t help noticing has never held elected office, and numbers in the ’60s and ’70s for the rest of the crowded field, with of course the all the Democrats coming in last place.
We can’t help noting that Ohio Gov. John Kasich is the Republican most likely to disagree with us, and thus be wrong on one of the major issues of the day, which is a shame given that his impressive electoral victories in the most important and predictive swing states suggests he might be among the most likely of the possible general election contenders. We also couldn’t help being slightly embarrassed to find that we’re in agreement with former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a full 30 percent of them, and even in agreement with self-proclaimed socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders 18 times out of a hundred, but we were relieved to see we agree with former Baltimore Mayor and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley only 9 percent of them of the time, which we figure makes us right about 91 percent of time. All of these numbers deserve skeptical scrutiny, of course, and a few more clicks on the web-site offered some explanations.
The web site wisely allows a choice of how important a respondent considers each issues, and weighs accordingly, and it seems that Walker lost points because the web site has concluded it cannot definitively state the candidate’s position on the issue. We’re willing to take Walker at his lately tough-on-immigration word, though, and will give him the extra credit. The web site also concluded that it cannot definitively state the candidate’s position on raising taxes on the rich to reduce student debt, but given that Walker has been a steadfast tax-cutter and the bane of Wisconsin academia we’ll also give him even a few more extra points on that issue. He’s not in favor of decriminalizing drug use, but if Hillary or one of the other Democrats don’t win that won’t be such an important issue to us. The rest of the disagreements cited are of little to bother us.
That 30 percent rate of agreement with Clinton isn’t so bad on closer inspection, either. She gained points by claiming to be a staunch ally of Israel, although her support of the Iran deal and everything about her years as Secretary of State call that into doubt, and she also agrees with us about the use of drone strikes, although she’s sort of stuck with that and we’ve never agreed with her view they should be used to the exclusion of special forces raids that capture suspects for indefinite detainment and harsh interrogation. We agree with Clinton that Wall Street executives should not charged for their role in the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis, but we doubt she agrees with us that her husband and his Housing and Urban Development Secretary and all those congressmen who conspired to force the Wall Street executives to make those subprime loans should face some sort of consequences. She’s against the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal with China, as are we, but in our case it’s because we don’t trust the president’s secret negotiations and in her case it’s because she’s against free trade.
Sanders also claims to be a friend of Israeli, which we doubt, and he shares our disdain for the Common Core curriculum, but we don’t like because of its America-bashing version of history and he doesn’t like the idea of educational standards, and we’re told he’s a staunch Second Amendment guy, but that it goes back to his student radical days when the Weather Underground and Black Panthers and other armed revolutionary groups made that a left-wing imperative, and otherwise our occasional agreements are forgivable.
There’s more to the matter than how often a voter agrees with a candidate, of course. One must also consider what the contenders have previously accomplished for the public good, and what hardened character and pleasing personality was required to get it done, and just how important those areas of disagreement might be, as well as which one is most likely to keep on of those Democrats from winning. Such calculations defy precise quantification, and require careful observation over a long and testing campaign, but already they’ve eliminated Donald Trump from consideration and severely handicapped Huckabee and call some of the mid-tier candidates into question, and we’re still tentatively favoring Walker. There’s lots yet to see, though, and even when it’s all been seem we’ll need some web site or another for the final calculations.

— Bud Norman

A Good Week for the President

This has been a good week for President Barack Obama, but not so much for the rest of the country.
The president somehow survived two scares, with the Republicans coming to the rescue to spare him the ignominy of the being the first president who failed to win congressional “fast-track” authorization to negotiate trade deals, and a couple of Republican appointees to the Supreme Court joining their Democrat-appointed colleagues to save his eponymous Obamacare law from a well-deserved blow, so of course the Democrats are already gloating about it. There are Republican arguments to be made for both developments, apparently, but we find them entirely unconvincing.
The Supreme Court case of King v. Burwell concerned a single sentence in the 2,000-plus page Obamacare law that quite explicitly specifies only people who had enrolled in an Obamacare health plan through a state-established exchange would be eligible for subsidies. Attorneys for the plaintiffs were able to argue that the legislative record and ample videotape of the law’s “architect” gloating how about they had snookered a gullible public all proved the sentence was intended to put political pressure on the states to start their own exchanges, and that the sentence does in fact explicitly specify only people who had enrolled through a state-established exchange were eligible for subsidies, while the defendant’s attorneys were reduced to arguing that c’mon, if you read a poorly-written law that was hastily forced down the throats of an unwitting public as it is written you will make a complete mess of it. Somehow Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy were swayed the latter argument, and of course all of the Democratic appointees were eager to embrace such logic, so you wind up with a 6-3 majority holding that a law doesn’t necessarily mean what it clearly says. The same argument probably won’t do you much good the next time you fail to signal a lane change, or murder someone, but that’s your fault for not being the first African-American president.
Some are arguing that decision spares the Republicans the political consequences of the complete mess that would have indeed resulted from applying the law as it was written, but given that not a single one of them voted for the damned thing, but we hold out faint hope that the Democrats who did force the damned thing down the throats of the American public would have also faced some political consequences. The Democrats are still stuck with responsibility for Obamacare, which continues to fail to live up to any of its grandiose promises and is instead causing health insurance premiums to skyrocket and the health insurance market to be increasingly dominated by a handful of corporations and doctors to be taking early retirement, and there’s still a chance that it might help the country might undo all the damage that has been done, but nonetheless we would have preferred that the Supreme Court had made the mess of its explicitly stated language more clear.
There’s also a Republican argument to be made for free trade, a principle we heartily endorse, but given the peculiar circumstances of this particular “fast-track” authorization it is not convincing. The past several Democratic and Republican administrations have already pretty much eliminated all the tariffs that once impeded international commerce, so the current debate mostly involves such “non-tariff barriers” as the disparate environmental and immigration and regulatory laws that put countries on an unequal economic footing. Given that the administration has insisted on strict secrecy regarding its negotiations, and given that the administration’s very open stands on the environment and immigration and regulations have been starkly insane, and that its negotiations with Iran regarding its nuclear weapons ambitions have been disastrously accommodating, we find no reason to hope that it can be trusted with reaching a trade deal favorable to the American average worker.
At least the Republicans can’t be accused of reflexively opposing anything the president soda because he’s the first African-American president, but of course those accusations will persist anyway. The Democrats who opposed “fast-track authorization” on purely protectionist grounds will reap the political benefits of their courageous stand against free trade, the Republicans will be tarred with some outlier presidential candidate’s ambiguous statements about the Confederate battle flag or whatever other issue the press can come up with, and next week will begin on the same unequal footing.

— Bud Norman

Free Trade and No Winners

At the same time the guy who is still doing the Doonesbury cartoon and the rest of conventional wisdom were for some reason or another were ridiculing the Republicans for their knee-jerk opposition to anything our first African-American president does, the congressional GOP was lining up behind fast-track authority for President Barack Obama to negotiate some sort of deal or another with the vast Asian economy. Given the instincts and the luck of the Republican party, it’s not surprising that the very rare occasions when they sided when with the president was also one on of those rare occasions when he might have been right and even one of those rarer occasions when it all turned out to be a political disaster.
Although we’re disinclined to believe anything the National Broadcasting Company’s news network has to say, we’re inclined to believe their latest poll showing that a clear majority of the American is either outright opposed or at at the very east skeptical about providing Obama with fast-track authority to negotiate a trade weal with the vast Asian economy. That number would naturally include all the trade unions and workers and voters in the susceptible-to-foreign-competition economies in both Republican and Democrat districts, as well as all the ideologically protectionists types in every district, nor matter how cushy their big-media sinecures might be, along with all the more economically insecure grumpy free-trade and laissez faire types living in export-economies such as ourselves who simply wouldn’t trust the president with any sort of authority to do anything. Throw in the president’s usual secrecy about the deal, and the nagging suspicion that at worst it’s some of redistribute-the-wealth-to-Asia and scheme and an old-fashioned snookering of the Iranian nuclear bomb that the president is also negotiating on on uncomfortably fast track, and the latest revelations that’s something about illegal immigration in there, along with all the phony-baloney arguments against a reasonably negotiated fair trade deal, and we’re surprised the numbers weren’t even more toxic.
There’s some consolation in the way the president is castigating his usual Democratic allies in the same way he usually castigates his usual Republican allies, and an undeniable amusement how the mainstream press suddenly doesn’t seem to know who’s side to take, There’s also a certain interest regarding the crowded Republican presidential candidates, with some of the more intriguing candidates taking careful position against the unpopular legislation and some staking a worth-considering argument for it, and a partisan reassurance that even the dumbest Republicans were at least taking a stand for free trade, but on the whole it’s a debacle. If the president and his suddenly chummy Republicans allies get their way it will likely wind up re-destributing America’s wealth, if they don’t it will mostly be because of wrong-headed protectionist arguments that the likes of the Democrats believe, and the best-case scenario is that a reasonable fair-trade agreement will await another two years for the possibility that one of those Republicans who figured it out winds up in office and there aren’t too many Democrats to along. We’ll cling to that long-shot chance, and hope to find something more heartening out there.

— Bud Norman

The Fun of the Free Trade Fiasco

As much as we favor free trade, and would like to see more of it with most of the advanced Asian economies, we must admit it’s been fun watching President Barack Obama’s proposed Trans Pacific Partnership go down in flames. Even on one of the rare occasions when he seems to have the right idea, the president’s tendency to insult rather than argue with opponents, his secretiveness and opacity, his long record of being untrustworthy, his lack of legislative experience and personal relationships, and the rest of his usual leadership flaws are on such conspicuous display that even the Democrats are grousing about it.
This time around it’s the Democrats who are the targets of the president’s insults, so they’re mostly grousing about that. Longtime Democratic operative Brent Budowsky writes in The Observer that he has “never seen any president of either party insult so many members of his own party’s base and members of the House and Senate as Mr. Obama has in his weeks of tirades against liberals on trade,” and adds that “Mr. Obama’s tirades on trade have included accusations that these liberal Democrats are ignorant about trade policy, insincere when offering their opinions, motivated by politics and not the national interest, and backward looking toward the past.” We can’t recall Budowsky objecting when the president was saying Republicans want dirty air and dirty water, and telling them to “sit in the back,” or making countless similar accusations and slurs, but we’re pleased that he has belatedly come to the conclusion that ¬†such invective is not presidential.
Nor is it very persuasive, judging by the president’s apparent inability to insult members of either party into line over the past four years or so, and even in the case of the Democrats it’s not at all accurate. Loathe as we are to defend Democrats, we’ll concede that most of the ones in the House and Senate have some familiarity with the arguments about free trade, even if they’ve reached what we consider the wrong conclusions, and we don’t doubt they’re all too sincere about the wrong things they say, and to whatever extent they have political motivations for opposing Obama we can only assume it is because they’ve wrongly concluded that a majority of their constituents and unionized donors will not benefit from free trade, and we actually would prefer that Democrats occasionally look backward to the past to see what has and hasn’t worked. Such well-intentioned stupidity should be met with reasoned and respectful argument rather than gratuitous ad hominem insults, but well-intentioned Republicans with better ideas have already learned that this is not the president’s style.
Irksome as the chore might be, we must also say in the Democrats’ defense that they’re right to complain about the president’s unwillingness to publicly divulge any of the details of the deal that he’s asking for fast-track approval to negotiate. The Democrats were willing to vote for Obamacare in order to find out what’s in it, a decision that many current and especially former members of Congress have come to regret, but this is about free trade rather than expensively and inefficiently bureaucratized health care so they’re not keen about the general idea in the first place, and thus we can hardly blame them for wanting a look at the fine print. We’re disappointed that even the most zealously pro-free trade Republicans aren’t just as skeptical, given the administration’s negotiations with Iran, and the very real possibility that Obama is motivated by western colonial guilt and has some sort of lopsided reparations deal in mind, and the noteworthy development that even Democrats no longer trust the guy, and so we find ourselves with most strange bedfellows on this issue.
A smoother presidential operator, armed with the unaccountable support of most of the opposition party, could probably prevail by taking a solid case to the American and pulling some parliamentary tricks and calling in some hard-earned favors from reluctant congressional allies, but both parties and even the press have by now figured out that’s not the president’s style. The president’s preferred style of insults and secrecy and demands that he be trusted invariably hardens the opposition, whether Republican or Democratic, and it seems likely to doom any chance of a good free trade agreement with most of the advanced economies of Asia, which would be great boon to the American economy, but we do admit it’s been great fun watching it nonetheless.
There’s always the possibility that the deal might be be a bad one, after all, so the missed opportunity of a good one is well worth the spectacle of the Democratic infighting. We note that the aforementioned Budowsky is especially insulted by the president’s especially pointed insults to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, “the most nationally respected liberal leader in American politics,” and that the apparently still-existing National Organization for Women is grousing that the president’s criticisms are due to “sexism,” and that a smart fellow over at the right-wing Federalist has looked at the Democrats and concluded that “This Is Elizabeth Warren’s Party Now,” so it is comforting to contemplate that Obama remains anathema to the right and is no longer the most nationally respected figure of his party on the left and is therefor the lamest of ducks. It is not comforting to think that the Democratic party has lurched even further to the left during the Obama administration, but the defeat of the Trans Pacific Partnership will leave Obama and all the Democrats without any significant legislative achievement on the economy since Dodd-Frank and the Stimulus Package and Obamacare, none of which are well-remembered, and those Iran negotiations and that Israeli-Palestine “peace process” and the “re-set” with Russia aren’t likely to yield anything worth bragging about on the foreign policy front, so one can only hope that the next administration will be more likely to come up with the best deal.
In the meantime we’ll cope with the sluggish economy, and hope for the best, and enjoy the spectacle of Democrats enduring those presidential insults.

— Bud Norman

Free Trade and the Devil in the Details

Rarely do we find ourselves in agreement with President Barack Obama, but the finite range of political options and the law of averages and that old saw about even a stopped clock being right twice a day have led us agree with him on the need for a free trade pact with Asia. We agree with the basic idea of free trade with Asia, at least, although we’d very much like to know what devilish details might be in the pact he intends to negotiate.
The administration has been suspiciously tight-lipped about those details, to the point that even such administration-friendly media as Politico are reporting that even the most administration-friendly Democrats in Congress are complaining about it. So far as we can tell the administration’s explanation is “trust us,” which of course we don’t, especially after the gymnastic capitulations in its negotiations with Iran, not to mention every other foreign policy move the administration has made, and we are heartened to see that this time around a solid majority of the congressional Democrats are also suspicious. A solid majority of the congressional Democrats is predisposed to oppose any sort of free trade, a result of the party’s fealty to protectionist labor unions and those black-masked and brick-hurtling anti-globalist types who are somehow impeccably multi-cultural and cosmopolitan, and they have plausible arguments about a lack of pressure on China’s currency manipulation, even if it’s made slightly less plausible about all the money-printing the Fed has done to keep Obama’s economy above water, but it’s still good to hear them adding the administration’s characteristic lack of transparency and trustworthiness to their gripes.
A solid majority of the congressional Republicans seem willing to go along with it, which we hope has more to do with a sensible predisposition to support free trade than any newfound trust in the administration’s competence in negotiating such matters, so if the whole deal falls through, as it very well might, at least Obama won’t have his usual scapegoats. Some Republicans are also reluctant about approving Obama’s “fast track” authority to negotiate a deal, which we hope has more to do with their doubts about his negotiating skills than any aversion to free trade, but if there’s no deal it’s because of Obama and those darned Democrats that he couldn’t get to trust him.
A stopped clock is only right twice a day, and the law of averages dictates that the Obama administration is right far less often than that, so it’s a shame if one of our rare agreements should come to naught. A certain paranoia born of previous experience makes us wonder why Obama has settled on such a sensible policy as free trade with Asia, though, and we suspect that some sense of colonialist guilt isn’t why, even if none of the nations involved have ever been American colonies, and that it might all be some sort of multi-billion dollar reparations scam, so maybe we don’t agree with the administration after all. Perhaps a free trade act with Asia is a good idea whose time won’t yet come for another 18 months or so, or until however it long it takes to administration that can be trusted to negotiate a deal in America’s interests. As of now a solid majority of Democrats don’t seem to trust this administration, and although they’ll be predisposed to oppose free trade and distrust any Republican on the matter, but perhaps in another 18 months or so there won’t be enough of them the block a better deal.

— Bud Norman