Hong Kong and the Rest of Us

The images from Hong Kong over the weekend were heart-warming and awe-inspiring, with hundreds of thousands of people taking to streets and demanding freedom and democracy in defiance of the Chinese government’s brutal authoritarian crackdown. There’s hope that it’s reaching a critical mass that even the worst of the Chinese dictatorship can dish can’t resist, and that the people of the remarkable island city of Hong Kong will get the freedom they and democracy that all people of the earth deserve.
There’s also some faint hope that the movement will spread through the rest of authoritarian China, and perhaps even around the globe, but for the moment free and democratic America doesn’t seem to be playing its usual role in nudging it along.
President Donald Trump is waging a mutually destructive trade war with China over its undeniably unfair trading practices, but he still boasts of his close friendship with Chinese dictator Xi Jinping and doesn’t seem to care much about how his good buddy handles his pesky domestic protesters. In a series of “tweets” the president “tweeted” about how he was wreaking great damage on the Chinese economy, but late “tweeted’ that “I know President Xi of China very well. He is a great leader who very much has the respect of his people. He is also a good man in a ‘tough business.” I have ZERO doubt that if President Xi wants to quickly and humanely solve the Hong Kong problem, he can do it. Personal meeting?”
Trump later clarified by “tweet” that he didn’t mean a personal meeting between himself and Xi, but rather a personal meeting between Xi and the hundreds of thousands of protestors flooding the streets of Hong Kong. We can’t imagine how those negotiations would turn out, nor can we imagine what Trump would consider a humane solution. In 1989 there was a mass demonstration on Tiananmen Square that threatened to bring freedom and democracy to China and the Chinese dictatorship squashed it with brutal force, and in a 1990 interview with Playboy Magazine Trump said “When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it, then they were vicious, then they were horrible, but then they put it down with the power of strength. That shows you the power of strength.” When asked about it in a 2016 Republican primary debate, Trump insisted he wasn’t endorsing China’s response but clumsily explained, “I said that it was a strong, powerful government that put it down with strength. And then they kept down the riot.
Trump used to wax nostalgic at his campaign rallies about how protestors would have been taken out stretchers, and he’s winked at or urged on on similarly rough responses to protests in Turkey, the Philippines, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and of course Russia. Those brave souls taking to the streets of Hong Kong clearly cannot count on Trump’s support, and at this point we’d advise anyone thinking of taking to the streets against to be brave but cautious.
Meanwhile, we also notice that none of those damned Democrats running for president seem to care much about those brave souls on the streets of Hong Kong, or any of the rest of the yearning-to-be-free world. Thus far the Democratic primary debates have been mostly about free this and free that for everyone in America, along with the usual promises made to various classes and races and sexual orientations within our borders, and somehow foreign policy never seems to come up. It might seem a missed opportunity for the Democrats, given what a mess Trump has made of foreign policy, but all of them seem to have the same Democratic instincts for protectionist trade policies and the same aversion to meddling in the world’s affairs on behalf of freedom and democracy.
Which seems to be where the rest of America’s at these days, in its time of relative economic prosperity and severe self-doubt. The once-iconic Democratic President John Kennedy vowed at his inauguration that America “shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any fried, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and success of liberty,” but the Democrats jumped ship on that when the Vietnam War went sour and haven’t gotten back on since. The once-iconic President Ronald Reagan ultimately won the Cold War with similarly tough anti-Soviet rhetoric and no bullets fired, despite cutting off authoritarian allies in the Philippines and elsewhere, but these days most of the Republicans remember him as the guy who have gave amnesty to a bunch of Mexicans, and Republicans seem to have little regard for the people bravely pouring into the dangerous streets of Hong Kong.
By the vagaries of history China gave Great Britain a 99-year lease on Hong Kong after Britain got the best of a war over tea and opium, and despite Britain’s reputation for harsh colonial rule it granted the island city an unprecedented freedom and democracy, and the enterprising people of Hong Kong made it a very profitable enterprise even at Britain’s reasonable tax rates. When the lease ran out in 1997 Britain honored its deal, and the Chinese were at first willing to take its fair share of the profits from the roaring Hong Kong enterprise, but since then they’ve been cracking down on all that freedom and democracy the Hong Kong protestors had become accosted to over 99 years.
For obvious reasons we’re not running for president on either party’s ticket, but if we were there seems to be an opening here. America’s engagement in the rest of the world has always a messy business, to be sure, but under Republican and Democratic administrations America’s disengagement has always proved worse. In the short term standing up for Hong Kong’s freedom-loving and democratic protestors might not help Trump negotiate a trade war peace with his buddy Xi, but in the long run a free and democratic Chinese government is more likely to arrive at a mutually beneficial trade deal. Some Democrat might yet make a bold stand on behalf of the Hong Kong protestors, but he or she won’t want to negotiate with a more capitalist and formidable China anymore than Trump does.
Still, we hold out hope for the best. Freedom and democracy are resilient ideas, both here and abroad.

Trump’s Inevitable Descent into Helsinki

There are still a a few of President Donald Trump’s die-hard supporters and a couple more reluctant fans among our readership, mostly family members and old friends, and they occasionally let us know how weary they are of our constant criticisms. Like all Trump fans they seem to relish blunt talk, though, so we’ll just come right and out say that Trump has just concluded the most disastrous and disgraceful presidential trip in the modern history of diplomacy.
We’ve already written out our aghast objections to Trump’s behavior at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Belgium, where his bully boy diplomacy clearly weakened the alliance despite his parting boasts it was stronger than ever. Between slaps to the forehead we also expressed our disfavor with his behavior in Britain, where he insulted the Prime Minister and lied that he didn’t and acted like a stereotypically boorish American tourist around the Queen and annoyed the general population of both the United Kingdom as well as Ireland, and didn’t get any lucrative deals except for some much-need publicity for a struggling golf course he owns in Scotland.
Somehow, however, Trump saved the worst for the last with his much-ballyhooed meeting with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in Finland. One hardly knows where to begin the describing the awfulness of the debacle, but we might as well start with Trump meeting Putin in the first place.
The appearance of the American president and the Russian dictator standing as equals on a stage with festooned with equal numbers of American and Russian flags was a needless concession to a tin-pot dictatorship that has lately been invading its neighbors, propping up brutal Middle Eastern regimes, shooting down civilian aircraft, assassinating domestic enemies on our allies’ soil, as well as launching a three-pronged cyber attack on America’s last presidential election. To compound this offense to America’s dignity, Trump also told a whole world’s media that he blamed “both sides” for the recent unpleasantness in Russo-American relations.
Trump had little to say about Putin’s invasion of his neighbors in Georgia and Ukraine except to nod as Putin said they’d agreed to disagree. Trump also had little to say about Putin’s support for those brutal Middle Eastern regimes, except to say he hoped to work out a deal that would also make Israel happy, which is a plausible but imperfect argument and one too damned complicated for Trump to make. Trump had nothing to say about Russia shooting down civilian aircraft or killing state enemies and the occasional unintended British life on British soil, and what he said about Russia’s three-pronged cyber attack on the past American presidential election was most disgusting of all.
The day Trump left on his disastrous diplomatic tour the special counsel investigation into the “Russian thing” announced a detailed and well-sourced indictment of 12 Russian officials for meddling, and laid out a convincing explanation of how they did it, and by now the only people who harbor any doubts about Russia’s role are Sean Hannity and this guy we know from Kirby’s Beer Store and Putin and Trump himself.
Trump acknowledged that all of his advisors had “said they think it’s Russia,” but added “I have President Putin — he’s just said it’s not Russia.” Trump said he couldn’t imagine any reason why Putin would have favored him in the election, although Putin later told that international press that he did indeed favor Trump, and Trump added that “I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.” Unless you’re Sean Hannity or that guy at Kirby’s or another unusually die-hard and fact-resistant Trump fan, it was an humiliating performance, and raises all sorts of suspicions about that “Russia thing.”
Trump was conspicuously polite to the Russian dictator, especially in contrast to his characteristically rude treatment of the leaders of our democratically-elected allies, and was most harsh about his past two presidential predecessors and that “witch hunt” of a special counsel investigation that just handed down those detailed and well-sourced indictments of 12 Russian officials, and went on a rant about why the DNC’s computer server wasn’t seized and how frustrated he was that even a President of the United States couldn’t any answers. It’s hard to concoct any explanation that’s not fishy, but the die-hard fans are giving it their best.
The general gist of it seems to be that the “Russia thing” really is a “witch hunt” no matter what all those Trump appointees might say, and that the real scandal that will get the real villains shot for treason is on that DNC computer server, and that a friendship with such a puny economy and tin-pot dictatorship as Russia will do more to make America great than those freeloading Euro-trash in the European Union and United Kingdom or Great Britain or England or whatever you call it ever could. They’re also citing America’s past sins and making the “blame America first” arguments that the Democratic left once used to justify Democratic weakness in the Cold War and President Obama’s awful apology tours, and they’ve forgetten how outraged they used to be.
So far, though, neither Trump nor any of his apologists have yet been able to convincingly point to anything tangible that the great dealmaker Trump got out of this trip.

— Bud Norman

On the Odd New Detente with the Damned Old Russkies

One of the foremost reasons we’ve long suspected that there’s something more to the “Russia thing” than a “WITCH HUNT!” is President Donald Trump’s undeniable Russophilia. It’s been apparent from the start and was once again on full display again Tuesday’s news.
Trump boastfully acknowledged to the press that during a president-to-dictator phone call the president congratulated the dictator on his landslide victory over the last unbanned-from-the-ballot opponent in an obviously phony-baloney race, and his press secretary acknowledged that he didn’t bring up any of that unpleasantness regarding the people that Russia quite clearly poisoned on the sovereign soil of our longtime ally Great Britain. Instead the president and the dictator focused on areas of possible agreement, according the press secretary, and the president himself called it a “very good call.” Certain Republicans and most Democrats were appalled, but no one should have been appalled.
During his unlikely presidential campaign Trump boasted of his close personal relationship with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, and although he later denied any relationship with Putin at all he wound up predicting they’d eventually be good friends. He praised Putin’s “strong leadership” and reveled in similar compliments from the dictator, and scoffed at the emerging reports of Russian interference in the election, saying it was just as likely some obese fellow in his New Jersey bedroom. Trump denied that Russia had invaded Ukraine, then clarified that he meant Russia had indeed done so but only “in a sense.” Trump also touted the many advantages of a Russo-American alliance in dealing with such threats as the Syrian civil war and terrorism in general and Chinese trade or whatnot, and described the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance as “obsolete.” Even the erstwhile Fox News host Bill O’Reilly was taken aback when Trump defended Putin’s indisputable assassinations of journalists and political rivals by saying “We do plenty of killing here.”
As president Trump has mostly hewed to the same Russo-friendly foreign policy. He’s eventually conceded to all of his intelligence agencies’ conclusion that the Russian did meddle in the last election, but still figures some fat guy in Jersey might have also been in on it and show far has shown any little interest in doing anything about it. His aides, by now mostly fired or on their way out, at long last persuaded Trump to affirm America’s commitment to the NATO agreement, although he continued to castigate them all as freeloaders. He claims credit for the sanctions that even most the Republicans in Congress insisted on, but he took his own sweet time about it, and although his United Nations ambassador and recently-fired Secretary of State took strong stands on the Russkies poisoning people on British soil Trump hasn’t “tweeted” a thing about it.
Trump’s defenders point to the “dozens” or “near 200” Russkies killed by American forces during a recent skirmish in the war going on in Syria and Iraq, depending on which media reports you read, but the lieutenant general that was on the ground and in charge says they were mercenary forces not aligned with the Russian government and the American forces got permission to wipe them out from the frustrated Russkie command. They also note that war is going so quite swimmingly in defeating the Islamic State, the vilest villain in the conflict, but at this point it’s hard predict how American and Russian and that very odious Syrian dictatorship come out of it. They also note that Trump has been trumpeting a surge in military spending, but what should Russia care if it’s not about them? In the aftermath of that president-to-dictator phone call both Trump and his press secretary said the two heads of state of would soon met to discuss way ways to avoid an arms race.
The most benign explanation seems to be that for entirely disinterested reasons Trump truly admires Putin’s authoritarian rule, thinks our long trading and military partners are a bunch of freeloaders, and that however things turn out in Syria or elsewhere at least you don’t worry about the Islamic State anymore. It’s an openly held opinion on some of the far right message boards, and has slightly more carefully-worded apologists on talk radio and certain other conservative media, but that’s a hard sale these days. A small but significant percentage of Republicans are still standing on the same Cold War-era and Russo-phobic foreign policy ground that President Barack Obama ridiculed just just six short years ago, and all the Democrats seems to have suddenly found the same anti-Russian religion.
Given all the rest that’s going on in the “Russia thing,” it still looks suspicious to us. As we wondered back during the primaries, what the heck kind of Republican talks like that?

— 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

Labour’s Love Lost

Britain’s Labour Party went full-blown lunatic left last week, even by British standards, and we can’t help wondering what that portends for America.
All of Fleet Street’s reports about the party’s leadership election assure us that Labour won’t be leading Great Britain any time soon, which means the formerly special relationship between our countries won’t have an anti-American Prime Minister complicating the situation with our current anti-British administration, which would be further complicated by the Prime Minister being peculiarly anti-British and the administration being oddly anti-American, so we’ll cross our fingers and hopefully take their word for it. Still, these things that happen in Great Britain tend to spill over across the pond. Margaret Thatcher’s brilliant record-setting run as Prime Minister presaged Ronald Reagan’s consequential election to the presidency, Tony Blair’s “third way” between Thatcher’s undeniable successes and Labour’s preferences was soon followed by President Bill Clinton’s “triangulation” strategy of getting back to Democratic basics without too much fiddling around with Reagan’s undeniable successes. Given this past history, and the current sentiments of the analogous Democratic Party here in the rebellious United States, the possibilities are frightening at worst and complicated at best.
Newly-eleccted Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who ran away in a five-man race with 59.5 percent of the vote, is so far to the left that even the senior officials of the Labour Party, which at last check was already slightly to the left of the Democratic Party, are refusing to serve in his shadow cabinet. Corbyn is endorsed by the Sinn Fein Party and happy to talk to the Irish Republican Army terrorists it represents, but insists on principle that he won’t talk with the conservative-by-British-standards Sun newspaper. He’s avid for the right of self-determination for Palestinians and Venezuelans but not for the people of Northern Ireland or the Falkland Islands. His victory speech was festooned with signs welcoming the supposedly sympathetic but suspiciously young and male and unmarried and non-Syrian “refugees” of the Syrian civil war, yet he’s been rather inclined to sympathize with the Assad regime who crossing-a-red-line chemical attacks have been forcing the exodus from that country. He’s comfortable with Iran having nuclear weapons, but would prefer that Great Britain give up its own nuclear arsenal, wants to re-open coal mines while preaching against fossil fuels, hopes to nationalize the financial and energy sectors along the same consistent lines, and generally rambled on to a point that event the most robustly pro-Labour of the Fleet Street sheets was alarmed.
Of course it can’t happen here, to borrow from the title of an old Sinclair Lewis novel about the inevitable American fascism. Except that all of a sudden the self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has jumped to a huge lead — or a yuge one, as the equally scary billionaire populist Donald Trump would have it — over the oh-so-establishment and supposedly inevitable former First Lady and New York Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is liberal enough to scare the bejesus out of us conservatives but apparently not quite enough to satisfy the more up-to-date liberals, and thus a similar far-left lurch for the Democrats seems quite plausible. Given the tenor of the conservations we have with the attractive yet liberal young women we encounter around the local hipster dives, and given that liberal young men tend to follow where the attractive liberal women go, a Sanders insurgency seems inevitable. The senior officials of the Democratic Party might decline to go along and go down with the Clinton ship, but those attractive young women at the local hipsters dives don’t seem to know or care who they are. Nor we do expect that the young liberal men hanging on their every word will care.
Sanders’ unexpected front-runner status is largely attributable to the Grand Central Station-sized pile of baggage Clinton brings to the presidential nomination race, while Corbyn’s victory can only be attributed to the collective craziness of what’s left of Labour’s true believers, so there’s some hope so there’s hope that the Democrats will escape Labour’s fate. The only hopes are Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden, though, or maybe that O’Malley guy who languishes in the one percent range as penance for instituting effective police policies in Baltimore and hopes to make up for it by welcoming a few hundred thousand of those Syrian “refugees,” and here in as in Great Britain we have to conclude that least one of the two traditional major parties is badly broken.
Or perhaps both. The Tories, God love ’em, wouldn’t stand a chance in any American state’s Republican primary, even California, and they haven’t shown any courage against creeping socialism since those well-remembered days of Thatcher, and we’re not entirely convinced by Fleet Street that they couldn’t blow an upcoming election to Corbyn’s Labour if the United Kingdom Independence Party and other tougher–on-national-sovereignty parties split the sensible vote. The same scenario could play out here, with a billionaire populist enjoying a yuge — sorry, we meant say “huge”, but Trump fever has  infected even us –and thus  causing a wave of defections from the senior officials of the party and thereby handing a victory to the collective craziness of the American left.
Great Britain is another country, though, and the Fleet Street press, which is usually more reliable than their American counterparts, assures that it won’t happen there and probably won’t happen here. We’ll keep our fingers crossed. We note that Corbyn wears a beard, as does second-place Republican challenger Dr. Ben Carson, who otherwise is not at all like Corbyn, but we won’t even guess what that portends.

— Bud Norman

Forever Scotland, More or Less

That Scottish independence referendum proved anti-climactic. Had the Scots voted to secede from the United Kingdom it would have been one of the biggest stories in years, roiling financial markets and re-aligning the geo-political order and fueling separatist movements around the world and provoking thousands of op-ed pieces and stirring up God only knows what other sorts of irksome mischief, but the apparent vote to stay put just means that a rather desultory status quo will continue indefinitely.
Disappointing as it might be to the world’s press and other cheerleaders for catastrophe, the result is not surprising to anyone who still credits the Scots with a modicum of common sense. When the United States declared its independence from Great Britain they believed that “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation,” and laid out a litany of complaints that included standing armies quartered among the general population and taxation without representation and an ongoing slave trade, but after 307 years of union the would-be Scottish nationalists were never able to make such a convincing case to their relatively pampered countrymen. Instead they relied on Obama-esque slogans of “Yes We Can” and “hope” and “change” along with a blatant appeal to the most base sort of tribalism and the endorsements of empty-headed show biz celebrities, and apparently that wasn’t enough to overcome a lot of questions about the country’s currency and solvency and place in the security arrangements that have prevailed over the past half century and more.
That the question even came up is prompting some soul-searching all over the western world, with the press in even the more seemingly solid jurisdictions pondering the strange discontent that seems to have settled upon the unwashed masses almost everywhere. The reliably elitist New York Times worries that it’s symptomatic of a global rebellion against the elites, and at the other end of the media spectrum the reliably populist billionaire Rupert Murdoch is saying the same thing without the same fretful tone. All the world’s various secessionist movements, from Spain’s Basque and Cantalonia regions to Flemish Belgium to Italy’s hard-working northern portion to the Kurdish enclaves of the Middle East to Texas and California, all have very specific complaints, but there’s a natural inclination to lump them all together. The independence-minded Scots were dreaming of a country that would levy higher taxes and lavish more generous social services and pursue a more savage-friendly foreign policy, along with the welcoming immigration policies that are not usually associated with nationalist movements, but The New York Times can’t help likening them to America’s “tea party” movement because both represent the same threat to the established order. Those elites and their established order should not be reassured by Scotland’s acquiesce to the status quo, however, because it seems begrudging and disgruntled. There is clearly little enthusiasm in Scotland for Britishness, a concept that has become almost meaningless in the post-war era, but they just can’t muster the necessary Scottishness.
One of our few forays outside the United States was a driving tour of Scotland with our Pop a few years back that seemed to take us through every square mile of the country, and we found it a strikingly dissipated land. The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful, and you’ll still meet some likable folks in the picturesque villages, but there’s no mistaking that the best of the country is in the past. All of the best architecture is centuries old, and the stubbornly elegant squares of the cities are filled with statuary the great Scotsmen who enriched the world with their genius long ago, and the unattended churches are adorned with the names of Scotsmen who died fighting for Great Britain in wars long since forgotten, but what’s new is shabbily modern and the pubs are likely to erupt in a brawl at a moment’s notice and the mostly tabloid press is filled with tawdry crimes and scandals and the kinds of empty-headed show biz celebrities who endorsed Scottish independence. We had a nice beery evening listening to a Scottish folk band in a gorgeous little seaside pub, and couldn’t help noticing the resemblance to the bluegrass that the folkies are playing down in Winfield right now, but otherwise Scottishness seemed mostly a matter of higher taxes and more social services and the rest of the dissipating socialist agenda, and suspect that in the end that was not enough to persuade the average Scotsman to dissolve a familiar arrangement.
Any American op-ed writers looking for a local angle on the Scottish story would do well to avoid the “tea party” allusions. Limited government and lower taxes and expanded liberty and increased personal responsibility appeal to Americanism in a way that a welfare state does not appeal to any instinct of Scottishness going back more than 307 years, and those who are dissatisfied with status quo here still have what it takes to assume the burdens of nationhood.

— Bud Norman

Crying for Argentina

The Catholic church on Wednesday chose Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as its new leader, henceforth to be known as Pope Francis, and one immediate consequence is that San Antonio Spurs shooting guard Manu Ginobili is no longer the world’s most famous Argentine. The 76-year-old pope probably can’t drive the lane with the same acrobatic derring-do as his celebrated countryman, especially in those long robes favored by the Catholic clergy, but we’re sure he’ll bring other valuable skills to the job and we wish him well.
With Argentina enjoying a rare moment in the international news, it seems a good time to take note of a few other stories emanating from that troubled and often overlooked land.
One is the nation’s recent decision to stiff American bond holders out of about $1.3 billion of sovereign debt. A United States court has ordered the Argentine government to pony up the money, but its lawyer told the panel of judges last month that it doesn’t much care what a United States courts says. The move has left international financial markets worried about the possibility of a massive government default, which would be the heavily-indebted country’s second in the past 11 years, but the Argentine government is also unconcerned with the financial markets have to say.
Nor is the government concerned with the opinions of the Spaniards, who are vigorously protesting the Argentine government’s recent nationalization of the Spanish oil company YPF. Argentina paid a bargain basement price of no money at all for the company, which is the largest business in the country, and plans to run it as a state-owned corporation. Given the government’s notorious record of inefficiently running its many state-owned corporations, one can expect that the oil company will soon be worth what the country paid for it.
In a related development, the Argentine economy is in a shambles. The country has boasted of some impressive increases in its gross domestic product the past several years, mostly on the strength of rising commodity prices, but no one really believes the government’s boasts. Particularly dubious is the government’s claim of a 10 percent annual inflation rate, which sounds awful enough but is well below the 26 percent that more objective observers are reporting. The International Monetary Fund has grown impatient with the government’s statistical legerdemain and threatened to expel Argentina, but once again the Argentines don’t seem to care.
Firmly in charge of all this mess is President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, a more comely version of the late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. The widow of a past president and the current heir to the party of Juan and Eva Peron, which is somehow the only explicitly fascist party in the world that still enjoys the approval of the international left, Kirchner has cracked down on political dissent and anyone who questions the government’s economic statistics. Like all Latin American leftists she has also clashed with the Catholic church, which has an annoying habit of insisting that government is not the highest power over individuals, as she has sought to make contraception a universal entitlement and legalized same-sex marriages.
All of which might explain why the Obama administration has been taking such a painstakingly neutral stance on Kirchner’s saber-rattling threats to take the Falkland Islands away from the British. The tiny specks of land off the Argentine coast have been under British rule for 180 years, are almost entirely populated by English-speaking people of British descent, and by a landslide margin of 1,518 to three the country recently voted to remain a part of the British empire. These facts and a “special relationship” with Britain were sufficient for the Reagan administration to offer all its help to Margaret Thatcher when she had to tack the islands back from the Argentines in 1982, but the Obama administration has been so careful not to back Britain that in its statements of neutrality refers to the territory by its Argentine name. This has not played well in Britain, but neither Obama nor Kirchner cares about that, and any debt-ridden, numbers-fudging, dissent-quashing government that wants the Catholic church to help dispense birth control is unlikely to take a strong stand against another.
The new pope was reportedly a staunch critic of Kirchner during his years as Argentina’s bishop, which bodes well for his papacy. If he can drain the occasional three-pointer, he might go down in history as one of Argentina’s greatest men.

— Bud Norman