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Meanwhile, Far South of the Border

The weather around here has been awful lately, but we’ve taken some comfort in reading about how much worse it’s been to the north and east. Similarly, no matter how bad America’s politics get we can still be glad that we’re not living in Venezuela.
Not so long ago in our lifetimes the oil-rich nation of Venezuela was prosperous and peaceful by Latin American standards, but the socialist regimes of President Hugo Chavez and then President Nicolas Maduro have wrought an unmitigated economic disaster. Unemployment is sky-high, such basic necessities as toilet paper are desperately hard to find, and the inflation rate is a staggering one million percent. Mass protests are filling the streets of the capital and other cities, the guy who lost the last presidential election under highly suspect circumstances is plausibly claiming to be the legitimate head of state, and it makes America’s protracted and seemingly intractable partial government shutdown look like no big deal.
President Donald Trump’s administration has pleasantly surprised us by siding with opposition leader Juan Guaido’s claim to the Venezuelan presidency, which is backed by those hundreds of thousands of protestors packing the streets, as well as the governments of several of the country’s South American neighbors. It’s surprising in part because Russia and the Venezuelan military and the more autocratic government of America are still backing Maduro, as well as the fact that Trump typically admires his strong man style of governance, and that Trump doesn’t usually much care what goes on south of America’s border so long as it stays there. We’ll attribute it to a traditional Republican revulsion for Latin American socialism and the clout of the very traditional Republican Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but give Trump some credit nonetheless.
Which is not to say that it will prove helpful to Venezuela, and it’s possible it could make things worse. There’s an understandable if not entirely unjustified resentment of Yankee imperialism throughout Latin America, which Latin American dictators have long used to rally public opinion against even the best-intended and well-considered efforts to intervene in their affairs, and Maduro should and Maduro should be able make even more hay of it when the Yankee imperialist is the hated-throughout-Latin-America Trump. Maduro retains the the support of the military, which we doubt Trump wants to tangle with, as well as Russia and Cuba and Bolivia and other countries Trump is eager to make deals with, while China and Mexico and other important trading partners are staying on the sidelines, and Trump is known for making his own sudden expedient policy shifts to the sidelines.
Even so, for now Trump finds himself on the side of Canada and most members of the Organization of American States and those hundreds of thousands of protestors taking to the streets, and we’re hopeful he’ll stay there. Chavez and to a lesser extent Maduro were once the darlings of America’s radical left, and the American right’s favorite cautionary tale about the consequences of socialism, and for now the right is clearly winning that argument. Although Maduro is a classic populist strongman autocrat and that Guaido fellow is a thin and youthful and handsome and glib fellow who reminds of a Venezuelan version of America’s Democratic center-left darling Beto O’Rourke, Trump is probably politically astute enough to know his stand will play well with all sorts of freedom-loving Americans.
Meanwhile, most of the rest of the world also seems worse off than we are here in frigid Kansas. Crazy Venezuelan-style left wing populism has much of Central America heading to the United States border, and crazy Trump-style populism is currently making things worse in Brazil and Poland and Hungary and Italy and the Philippines. The sensibly centrist governments of France and the United Kingdom are currently in crisis, too, with the streets of Paris once again burning and the Parliament in London trying to find its way out of a slumping European Union.
Better by far to be here in frigid Kansas than in China or Russia, or anywhere in Africa and the Arab world, or even the most up-to-date and well-heated cities of Asia and Europe. We’re still eagerly awaiting spring and the reopening of the federal government, and in the meantime we’ll warm ourselves with the knowledge of how much worse most of the rest of world’s unlucky folks have it.

— Bud Norman

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Oy Vey, That Stock Market

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

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

— Bud Norman

Re-Negotiating the Cold War

America’s declaration of victory in the Cold War might have been premature. Cuba is still communist, and by the time its upcoming negotiations with President Barack Obama are concluded it’s likely that impoverished and totalitarian worker’s paradise will have the last laugh.
Cuban dictator Raul Castro has opened the bargaining about normalization of relations with demands that include America’s withdrawal from Guantanamo Bay and reparations for the past 55 years of American embargo and assorted other imperialist sins, and it strikes us as a shrewd negotiating tactic. Castro has apparently been watching America’s negotiations with Iran over its nuclear weapons program and realizes how very generous our president can be when he’s eager to strike a deal, and he’s no doubt aware that Obama is a pure product of an American left that has always been sympathetic to Cuba’s communist dictatorship. We keep reading that Obama surely won’t cede to such outrageous demands, but we’re not at all confident that he won’t seize such a ripe opportunity to finally be rid of that Guantanamo Bay detention camp and spread some American wealth to an especially sleazy portion of the third world and prove his Nobel Peace Prize-winning solidarity with the oppressed workers of the world in the process.
Obama has already made a significant concession by telling the leaders of 35 nations at Summit of the Americas that “the days in which our agenda in this hemisphere presumed that the United States could meddle with impunity, those days are past.” This is an apparent reference to the Monroe Doctrine, which through 192 years of Democratic and Republican administrations successfully kept the European powers from meddling in Latin American affairs, then guided our efforts to keep the Soviet Union from meddling in the hemisphere, and has more lately prompted resistance to Iranian and Chinese meddling. The American left has long hated the Monroe Doctrine, especially when it was employed to thwart Soviet meddling, and will now be quite happy to leave all the meddling to Iran and the Chinese.
The Cubans will be eager to continue their own meddling in other Latin American countries, of course, and if they get another one of their demands met they’ll be able to do so without being included on the State Department’s list of terror-sponsoring governments. “We indeed have acted in solidarity with many peoples that may be considered terrorists” under the view of “imperialism,” Castro told the assembled leaders at the summit, adding that he was “referring to Cuba’s humanitarian missions in various developing countries.” These humanitarian missions have involved fomenting Marxist revolutions throughout Central and South America as well as Africa, and we suppose he’d also regard the Cuban dictatorship’s invitation to launch Soviet nuclear missiles from Cuba as humanitarian, but almost all of it has met with favor from the American left and will no doubt continue to do so in the future. The promise that America won’t counter-meddle already constitutes a major victory for the Cuban dictatorship, and one can hardly blame them for pressing for further concessions.
The equally odious government of Venezuela, which was Cuba’s most important post-Soviet benefactor until America’s fracking boom lowered the price of crude oil and brought its economy to a Cuban level of despair, is also demanding an obsequious apology for all those years of Monroe Doctrine, but it seems they’ve already got that. So far Obama is insisting that there will be disagreements with Cuba and demands for greater freedom in prison nation, but except for Cuba’s horrific treatment of homosexuals we can’t see him finding much fault with the rest of its present system of governance. Obama also spent some of his time at the Summit of the Americas that domestic criticism of his negotiations with Iran “It needs to stop,” so the Cuban dictatorship’s habit of quashing dissent surely won’t be objectionable. There’s that communist economic system and all the material deprivation that it has imposed on the Cuban people for the past 55 years, but Obama will likely be obliged to note equality of all that poverty, and of course there will be frequent mention of the universal health care they’ve got down there. Castro has already absolved Obama of America’s sins, and Obama is likely to regard that as ample compensation for any concessions he might make.
Whatever problems Marxism has thus far encountered in Latin America, American meddling will no longer be one of them. Which is not to say that the commies will get the very last laugh in the western hemisphere. Whatever Obama wants to do will meet fierce resistance in Congress, even from some Democrats with large constituencies of refugees from Latin American Marxism, and even an American public grown inured to the administration’s obsequiousness will surely balk at paying reparations to the commie Cubans who stole legally contracted American holdings in Cuba and then pointed nuclear weapons at us. The green light for foreign meddling in Latin America might encourage the Marxists who are tyrannizing their own countries and supporting the terrorist assaults on freer nations in the hemisphere, but none have ever worked out, and none ever will. Even the most abject American apologies and bone-headed agreements won’t change that.

— Bud Norman