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Trump at Long Last Considers a New Haircut

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump has long been notorious for paying his creditors less than promised and threatening  lawsuits more costly than the remainder if they objected, and while bragging about his untold and undocumented wealth has on four occasions resorted to bankruptcy filings to pay out mere pennies on the dollars owed for his failed casinos and strip joints. We’re told by his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters that such ruthlessly unscrupulous business practices are precisely what’s needed to deal with those duplicitous Democrats and “establishment” Republicans and wily Chinamen and assorted other foreigners to make America great again, but even as we contemplate the horrible alternative of presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton becoming president we do not find the argument at all persuasive.
With our government already $19 trillion in debt and the shortfalls on all its grandiose entitlement promises rapidly approaching all-the-money-in-the-world levels, Trump has already proposed several you-can-believe-him-they’re-great solutions. He told The Washington Post that he could entirely eliminate the national debt within eight years with no tax increases just by renegotiating all of the country’s trade deals in a really great way, believe him, and then a couple days later he told Fortune Magazine that he’d never said he could eliminate all the debt within 10 years and only expected to reduce the debt a “percentage,” because of all the other great things he plans to do about infrastructure and such, and when asked what percentage he replied “It depends on how aggressive you want to be,” and that “I’d rather not be so aggressive.” More worrisomely yet, he also told the CNBC cable news network that he’d handle the debt of the casino and strip joint that America has lately become by the same means that have worked out so well for himself in the past, by asking the country’s creditors to accept less than what was promised.
Asked by his stunned interlocutor if he was really talking about renegotiating sovereign bonds already issued by the government of the United States of America, Trump replied in typically un-parsable English that “I don’t want to renegotiate the bonds, but I think you can do discounting, I think, you know, depending on where the interest rates are, I think you can buy back — you can — I’m not talking about with a renegotiation, but you can buy back at discounts.”
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s typically un-parsable English allowed him much wiggle room as he inevitably walked back his comments, as the notoriously straight-talking truth-teller so often does, so the very next day he was on CNN assuring another national television audience that “People said I want to go and buy and default debt, and I mean these people are crazy. This is the United States government. First of all, you never have to default because you print the money, OK?” None of which is at all reassuring.
Call us crazy, but our best reading of Trump’s earlier comment suggests that at least in one particular moment in time Trump was actually talking on national television about paying the country’s creditors less than was promised but somehow achieving this feat without a renegotiation. This is what’s known in economics as “crazy talk.” Any debt that is paid at less than what had been contractually promised has most certainly been renegotiated, whether acknowledged or not, the entirety of the financial and political world would surely regard it as a default by the world’s biggest-or-second-biggest-economy-depending-on-the-accounting-methods, and although this method has previously worked out to the benefit of Donald J. Trump there is simply no explaining how it might work out to the benefit of America or the rest of the world. Given the chance to print his own money, just as President Barack Obama has done during the past seven-and-a-half years or so while doubling the national debt, we aren’t at all certain that the failed casino-and-strip-joint owner would avail himself of the opportunity. It didn’t work out well for the Weimar Republic or Zimbabwe or any of the other casino and strip joint countries that tried to inflate their way out of debt, but we’re assured by his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters that the oft-bankrupt Trump is such an exceptionally shrewd businessman that this time will surely be different.

Which is not to say, alas, that the most likely alternative is any better. The presumptive Democratic nominee has also pledged to keep her hands off those entitlement programs that are driving the country toward inevitable bankruptcy, which would involve a fight that neither of these self-described fighters have the stomach for, and unlike her most likely rival she’s not only ambiguously open to negotiations on taxing the public to keep the economy limping along even if those tax increases hinder economic growth and wind up reducing public revenues but is enthusiastically for them, so we take care not to endorse either of them. We’re still  looking around for some third  or fourth option that might be more appealing, and although haven’t settled on any yet,  and although we admittedly don’t hold out much hope that there is one, be assured we’ll keep trying.

— Bud Norman

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The Greeks and the Rest of Us

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

— Bud Norman

Oh Yeah, the Economy

Perhaps it’s just because we’re not hanging out with a high-rolling crowd, or because baseball season is underway and the National Basketball Association’s playoffs just concluded, but nobody seems to be talking about the economy these days. All of the non-business news media seem equally uninterested, to the point that it takes another announcement from the Federal Reserve Board to get any front-page play for those poor newspaper scribes stuck on the economy beat.
We suspect this has something to do with the diocletian nature of all that boring data that the Fed went on about Wednesday. The economy isn’t quite bad enough for the Republicans to make an issue of it, and not nearly good enough for the Democrats to do any bragging, and apparently not so bad that the Fed feels obliged to again ramp up the money-printing that fueled that newsworthy stock market boom, but not so good that it intends to raise interest rates above 0 percent any time soon, and only the economics geeks understand what any of that means and none of them seem agree about it. Better to talk about baseball and basketball and whatever else might be going on, we suppose, but we can’t shake a nervous feeling that something important is going unremarked.
Perhaps it’s also because no one seems to know what to do about it. President Barack Obama’s only big economic initiative since that pork-laden “stimulus” bill and all the other debt-increasing “investments” he and his Democratic majorities in Congress foisted on the country back in the bad old days has been his Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal with most of Asia, and the Republican congressional majorities that resulted from those earlier fiascos have been largely supportive, and it’s suddenly the remaining Democrats who are balking, and by now it’s more a story about our troubling politics than our troubled economy. David Brooks, The New York Times’ token “conservative” who fell in love with the perfectly pressed crease in Obama’s pants way back in ’08 and has never quite gotten over it, blames it all on what he calls the “Tea Party” faction of the Democratic party, which is wedded to labor unions and their protectionist preferences, and although he admits that Obama’s characteristic secretiveness prevents anyone without top-secret security clearance from knowing what the free-trade deal is he rightly notes that those same Democrats don’t seem to mind they have no idea about the wacky deal he’s making with the even wackier mullahs of Iran about their nuclear weapon ambitions. Our conservatism requires no quotation marks, and we’re staunchly Republican, and will grouse that the “Tea Party” analogy belies Brooks’ putative conservatism because the “Tea Party” was pretty much right about the growing debt and all the regulatory red-tape resulting from all those expensive “investments” and everything else, and we’re free-traders to our Adam Smith core, but even we are so spooked about Obama’s negotiating record and what might be hidden in that Trans-Pacific partnership that we’re willing to wait another two years or more for a better and more transparent agreement. There’s some fun in watching all the presidential hopefuls in both parties try to finesse this mess, even if the smart ones seem to understand they can simply ignore it, but otherwise we can well understand why people are following the divisional races in major league baseball and The Golden State Warrior’s long-awaited basketball championship.
Eventually everyone will be forced to pay some attention to the economy, certainly by November of ’16, and at that point it will be all about politics. The Republicans will argue that the numbers regarding jobs and household wealth and Gross Domestic Produce could have and should have been been much better, the Democrats will reply that those admittedly unimpressive numbers would have been so much worse without the president’s “investments” and resultant regulations and trillions of dollars of debt that everyone would have stopped going to work and buying groceries and falling for the latest advertised seductions and we’d all be rubbing sticks together in some cave, and that the same president’s secretiveness and lack of meaningful relationships with anyone else in government sank that Trans-Pacific Partnership that might have helped, and there’s no way way of knowing who the public will blame.
They’ll blame somebody, though, because there’s no getting around the end-of-the-month fact that economy isn’t that good. Even through the rose-colored glasses of the Federal Reserve Board the economy is expected to grow at at only 1.8 to 2 percent this year, barely enough to sustain those much-touted jobs number that haven’t quite kept up the arrival of new legal and illegal immigrants, another issue proving problematic for both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates, and on those rare occasions when people talk about the economy nobody seems to singing that happy days are here again. Whatever the economic numbers might be deep inside the business section around the next election day, we expect the Democratic nominee will be griping about the inequality of it all, which will resonate with a large resentful population of the country, and the Republican nominee will be talking about tax-cutting and de-regulating and unleashing the potential of the economy, which will resonate with the more hopeful portion of the electorate, nd the electoral numbers will decide the matter.
Until then, we’re as confused as anybody else. Zero percent interest rates don’t seem to provide any incentive for making the loans that could fuel an economic boom, and it isn’t any good for those poor old folks counting on interest-bearing retirement plans, but anything higher is likely to scare away investors in such uncertain and debt-laden and over-regulated times such as these, and that free-trade deal with a crucial foreign might or might not be a good idea, as only those with a top-secret security clearance would know, so we’ll anxiously await whatever happens. In the meantime we note that The Kansas City Royals are back on top of the American League’s Central Division and that The New York Yankees are within striking distance of the lead in the Eastern, and we’ve had a certain sympathy for The Golden State Warriors ever since they won their last title 40 years ago with that arrogant white boy Rick Barry as the star, so we’ll hope for the best.

— Bud Norman

Second Thoughts on a Sexual Revolution

One of the compensating advantages of growing older is that one’s sex drive eventually diminishes to a point it no longer overwhelms dignity, dispassionate analysis, common sense, simple courtesy, and other higher impulses of the human soul. At least that used to be so, until modern pharmacology and Madison Avenue started selling perpetually teenaged libidinousness, but now it seems that the older the United States of America gets the more its public square becomes obsessed with private parts.
The economy is contracting and the national debt is rising, murders are up in the recently burned-down sections of Baltimore and other cities where the police are in retreat, a head-chopping gang of Islamist psychopaths calling themselves the Islamic State are conquering more of the Middle East, and similarly significant stories abound for those still interested in finding them, but dip into a random magazine story or coffeehouse conversation and the subject is more likely to have something to do with sex. If it’s not the former Bruce Jenner’s glamour girl appearance on the cover of Vanity Fair or that hipster co-ed hauling a mattress around Columbia University to protest a “culture of rape” in higher education, it’s the latest court ruling on same-sex marriage or one of those stories that keep popping up lately about women teachers in the middle schools with an unaccountable attraction to schoolboys. There also the usual tawdry sex scandals in Washington and every state capital, all the tiresome and un-erotic babble about the intersectionality of race and class and gender categories and the fluidity of sexual identity and the rest of that cacophonous jargon one suddenly needs in order to be conversant down at the coffeehouse, and of course there are still plenty of those biennial election-cycle allegations about the Republicans’ insidious plot to revive the Comstock Law and restore the patriarchy and roll back the glorious sexual revolution that has brought about these happy times.
The entertainment media are similarly sexually obsessed, as we suppose they have been at least since the silent movie days of Clara “The It Girl” Bow, and judging by what we see on models on the high-fashion runways and the starlets at the award show red carpets and the scantily-clad women staggering on the cracked sidewalks outside the low places of our prairie hometown the entire women’s clothing industry is as well. Sit-coms, hip-hop records, television advertisements, magazine covers, “reality shows,” late night cable programming, all the fawning attention paid to that naked fat woman from HBO’s “Girls,” entire departments of modern academia, along with the rest of our culture, including the more up-to-date churches, all proclaim an age of unfettered sexual freedom and endless bacchanal and infernal bickering over the proper terminology and protocol to make it all go smoothly. People who used to explain themselves to strangers in terms of their occupation or denominational affiliation or number of children now identify themselves by their sexual preference or “gender identity,” any sexual predilection, no matter how arcane or disconcerting to normal sensibilities, now has a web site and a lobbying group and “community” of like-minded people to provide encouragement, and the Roe v. Wade decision and an Obamacare law that mandates contraception and abortifacient coverage for everyone from nuns to Baptist businessmen and a host of other public policies make it all official, and anybody who admits any discomfort with this state of affairs is routinely dismissed from polite conversation as a blue-nosed puritan.
So far as we can glean from the snippets of boisterous conversation we involuntarily overhear from the fashionably hirsute fellows and their tattooed but otherwise comely young women companions in the next booth at a coffeehouse where we drink beer and grouse about foreign policy and economics and baseball with a gray-haired pal of ours, and from the often tragic gossip we can’t avoid despite our best efforts in our infrequent social encounters elsewhere, as well as the conspicuous lack of non-political and non-sports conversation we share with our gray-haired friend, it doesn’t seem to be working out very well for anyone. As we read the news, with agedly skeptical eyes unaffected by modern pharmacology and largely immune to the blandishments of Madison Avenue, we find further confirmation that no one out there seems genuinely satisfied with the situation.
That campus “culture of rape” that the young woman with the mattress and the Senator from California and the editorialists at the big papers and the rest of the feminist establishment are so worried about doesn’t seem to be so much an epidemic of college boys forcing themselves with brute strength onto unwilling young innocents as it is a widespread regret with the consensual albeit slightly reluctant “hook-up” encounters that have become so common since universities stopped being in loco parentis and started being simply loco. We’re sympathetic to the young women’s plight, as our hazy memories still recall the social pressures that accompany sexual desire and how very powerfully they can affect someone who hasn’t yet acquired advanced age and diminished sex drive, and how very grave the consequences can be, yet we find ourselves averse to their cause. Unable to come right out and call for a return to chivalry and chastity and the rest of that religious ’50s-era repression stuff, the “culture of rape” critics and their friends at the Department of Justice are urging that due process be suspended for any college boy accused of letting his sex drive overwhelm his dignity, dispassionate analysis, common sense, courtesy, and other higher impulses of the human soul, even if it didn’t cross any established legal boundaries, and was well within the standards of unfettered sexual freedom and endless bacchanal that has been officially established as the societal norm, and we don’t believe that will work.
Nor do we believe that the former Bruce Jenner will likely find genuine satisfaction by having his penis and testes amputated, no matter how comely he might appear through the miracles of Vanity Fair’s photographic and make-up and air-brushing experts. That’s not just our admittedly uniformed opinion, as even a doctor at Johns Hopkins University, which was once the first hospital in America to perform “sex-change operations,” argues that the procedure doesn’t really change a person’s sex, tends to result in a suicide rate 20 times that of the general population, and is no longer done at his institution because some patients’ claims to be “‘satisfied’ but ‘still troubled'” are “an inadequate reason for surgically amputating normal organs.” The social consensus seems to be otherwise, what with the all-powerful ESPN sports network awarding the former Bruce Jenner its “Arthur Ashe Courage Award” rather than to an Iraq War veteran who became a successful athlete and “Dancing on the Stars” competitor despite the double amputations he endured from his service to his country, but we don’t think that will work, either.
All that blather about people basing their self-estem and personal identities on their sexual predilections seems equally futile, as a person’s occupation and numbers of children and denominational affiliation will ultimately have more important social consequences, and little of the rest of it makes any sense from our admittedly straight white Christian Republican conservative perspective here in the middle of America. Straight white male Christian Republican conservatives in the middle of America that we are, over the years we’ve had a number of dear friends who were homosexual or bisexual or something for which we’re not even sure what the currently polite terminology would be, but all had admirable attributes we found in common which seemed entirely unrelated to either their sexuality or ours. They seemed to find something in common with us as well, and some valuable friendships have resulted, so we are inclined to believe that social interactions are best conducted on such terms. By now we are inured to even the most lurid tales of heterosexual and homosexual and bisexual and whatever your might call it behavior, and you don’t even need to couch your back alley encounter in terms of “love,” as the homosexual lobby and broader sexual freedom movement routinely does, but we can’t help noticing that the tellers of these tales never sound genuinely satisfied, and that the fulfillment of their overwhelming sexual desires has come at the expense of some noticeable measure of dignity, dispassionate analysis, common sense, simple courtesy, and other higher impulses of the human soul. This surely marks us as blue-nosed puritans, but we suppose we’ll just have to declare that an oppressed identity and start a web site and hire some lobbyists and find a community of like-minded individuals to encourage such anti-social tendencies.
We have no hope or even any desire of reviving the Comstock Laws or restoring the patriarchy or rolling back the glorious sexual revolution that has brought us such happy times, nor do we believe that any other straight white male Christian Republican conservatives entertain such fanciful fantasies, but of course those allegations will continue. During the last presidential election the former Clinton family operative and putative American Broadcasting Company “journalist” George Stephanopoulos quizzed all the Republican presidential contenders about their stand on banning contraception, and despite all of those candidates’ obviously sincere confusion about what the hell he was talking about we were overhearing coffeehouse conversation about the Republicans’ attempts to revive the Comstock Laws and how it was far more important than the national debt or the deteriorating situation in the Middle East or the economy of any of that that asexual stuff. As a matter of fact, which is still out there for those who take in an interest in such outdated concepts as facts, the congressional Republicans are currently pressing for over-the-counter contraception deregulations that the Democrats and their doctor-lobby pals oppose, but in the end this will matter even less than the fact that former Bruce Jenner will still won’t be a woman even after his normal male organs have been lopped off.
We’ve also given up any hope of restoring the patriarchy, and won’t lament the worst of it, and we continue to wish our best to all those women who find fulfillment in the workplace and other non-traditional niches of our society but can’t help noticing that its passing is not without some unfortunate consequences. The patriarchy has already been quite thoroughly smashed in such places as those burned-out neighborhoods in Baltimore and the other murder-ridden jurisdictions where fathers are rare and even  the police are in retreat, and the social consequences don’t seem nearly so idyllic as what was promised, and we’re skeptical that whatever comes in its wake in the rest of the country will be any more successful. This will also mark us as blue-nosed puritans, but we suppose that we’ll just have to start a web site and hire a lobbyist and seek the company of like minded-indivuals as well as stocking up on whatever guns and ammunition are still legally available to deal with that.
Our personal inclination, after so many years of being young and libidinous and our many dear friendships with heterosexuals and homosexuals and bisexuals and whatever you’re supposed to call them, is to live and let live. That’s why we’re still affiliated with a Republican party that isn’t really calling for a revival of the Comstock Laws or fighting for the maintenance of an imperfect patriarchy or hoping to roll back the sexual revolution to the point that the married sit-com characters are still sleeping in separate beds, as Rob and Laura Petrie did on the “Dick Van Dyke Show” of our innocent youth, but we would appreciate a more agedly asexual and dignified and dispassionate and commonly courteous assessment of the rest of it.
The left’s reaction to oppressing gender discrimination of the Islamic world has been heartening to us, and we believe its revulsion of that culture’s murderous homophobia is entirely justified, but for the sake of solidarity we’d like to see it must some outrage about Islamism’s executions of Christians and Jews and the rest of the privileged people they’ve lately been executing. It would also  be nice if the oh-so-sensitive sensibiliies of the left would consider one parent homes affected those inner-city neighborhoods they claim to care about . We further suspect that the left’s indifference to the matter of national debt also derives fro the fact that it will eventually be dealt with by the children they never had, thanks to Roe v. Wade and all those contraceptive mandates and the rest of the popular culture and official mandates, and that all of these issues are being considered from the perspective of a society that by virtue of modern pharmacology and Madison Avenue are considering these issues from the perspective of perpetually teenaged libidos, and at the risk of sounding blue-nosed and puritan we’d like to see an end to that. It would be nice, too, if the left’s preference for unfettered freedom were extended beyond the bedroom and into the workplace and the rest of those boring areas of life. We’d also prefer that the facts of biology and economics and basic human nature prevail, and a world where women don’t freely admit to voting with their private parts rather than their brains, but that’s about as likely as a revival of the Comstock Law.

— Bud Norman

The Young and Undecided

The very smart folks over at City Journal, which is about as high-brow a conservative publication as you’re likely to find, have been pondering the young folks. We are relieved to learn that they’re as flummoxed by the subject as we are, and that apparently so are both of America’s major political parties.
Our limited contact with the “Millennials,” as the 18-to-33-year-olds of the moment are fashionably known, is almost always desultory. We currently know some encouraging examples of young adulthood, including most of our friends’ newly grown children, but our typical attempts at conversation with this demographic cohort are discouraging. Perhaps it’s our penchant for such disreputable dives as The Vagabond and Kirby’s Beer Store, where the younger clientele tend to be of the hipster variety, but we’ve found that most of them are as stupid as that old friend’s dog that used to run headlong into closed doors.
They voted voted in overwhelming numbers for President Barack Obama, which should tell you something, but according to the very smart folks over at City Journal they have “already proven cagey about their political alliances.” Polling indicates they have liberal views regarding social issues, which corresponds with our own observation, but are more conservative regarding fiscal issues, which we find dubious. The same date indicate that “millenials” are distrustful of all institutions, from government bureaucracies to corporations to churches, which seems plausible enough, but at the same time they vote for more government and spend as much as their meager incomes will allow on the products on corporate America and trust that a certain Judeo-Christian standard of civil society will continue to prevail. This convoluted miss-mash of ideas leaves the “millenials” susceptible to the blandishments of either party, according to the conventional wisdom, but we suspect the Democrats will continue to enjoy an advantage.
Although the “millennials” comprise a frightening 25 percent of the voting age population, we expect they’ll play a less prominent role in the next few elections. Most of the youngsters we encounter are determinedly apolitical, and their higher-than-usual turn-out in the past two elections was mainly due a fad that is not likely to be replicated by Hillary Clinton or any of the other likely Democratic contenders. Those who do bother vote to vote for the un-hyped candidates in the mid-term elections are are more likely to be the disillusioned, which will diminish the Democrats’ advantage, but a majority are still likely to vote for the free stuff the Democrats are offering and be put off the the stuffy reputation the Republicans will always endure. Our experience of today’s young people suggests they are very keen to be thought cool, and until the Republicans jettison their stands on abortion and same-sex marriage and the rest of those Judeo-Christian standards they’ll be at a severe disadvantage in courting this cohort.
Most of these young people will never get an abortion or marry someone of the same sex or benefit in any way from the end of the Judeo-Christian epoch of western civilization, and they will be limited by the slow-growth economy and burdened by the nation’s swelling debt and diminished by the society’s decline, but we don’t expect they’ll ever figure it out. The youngest of the “millennials” was 12 years old when Obama was elected on a utopian platform of hope and change, and some were even recruited for those awful cult-of-personality videos of schoolchildren singing his praises, but we hope the dismal job market and over-priced educational opportunities that wait them as they enter adulthood will jar a certain common sense into their hairy heads. The older ones, alas, we expect to keep rushing headlong into that closed door.

— Bud Norman

A Presidential Wish List

One of the non-stories we most look forward to every year is the ceremonial unveiling of President Barack Obama’s annual budget proposal. None of Obama’s budget proposals have ever won even a single vote in Congress, and this one also isn’t likely to do any damage, but it’s always instructive to see what’s on the president’s wish list.
This year’s yearnings were trotted out Tuesday at a Washington elementary school, presumably because the tykes there would be more likely to take them seriously than any adult, and they are predictably expensive. The plan calls for spending $3.9 trillion next year, adds an extra $791 billion of spending over the next ten years, and winds up ballooning the national debt from the current $17 trillion-something to a nice round $25 trillion by 2024. Just the interest payments on all that debt would amount to $812 billion a year, making the hopelessly optimistic assumption that rates don’t rise, as well as assuming Obama’s less-than-rosy prediction of 2.6 percent annual growth in the economy, and the sum far exceeds planned defense spending but will pay for the lion’s share of China’s military.
Such profligacy “enables us to meet our obligations to future generations without a mountain of debt,” the president said with a straight face. Even the most innumerate urchin at an elementary school in the District of Columbia will immediately wonder how high debt has to be pile before it is considered mountainous, but the wizened reporters at the event were mostly unfazed by the statement. The Washington Post gave the proposal a more respectful hearing, noting approvingly that it “also aims to tame the national debt by raising taxes on the rich, squeezing payments to health-care providers and overhauling immigration laws.” Politely setting aside the sorry history of soaking the rich, the unsettling likelihood that squeezing payments to health-care providers will result in less health care being provided, and the inevitable economic and social costs of overhauling immigration laws along the lines Obama would prefer, the Post preferred to spend several paragraphs on the proposal’s supposed benefits to pre-school programs and the National Institutes of Health and climate research, “much of it aimed at providing support to a struggling middle class.”
There is reason to hope that the Congress won’t be so gullible. The most weak-kneed of the Republicans won’t dare go along with such nonsense, and even the safely-seated Democrats have yet to cast for such fiscal insanity. The recent budget agreements have been disagreeable to conservative tastes, to the point that they’ve provoked a much-needed insurgency within the Republican party, but at least they’re a darned sight better than what the president is wishing for.

— Bud Norman

Gaining From a Bad Deal

Good policy is good politics, according to an old saying, and like most old sayings it is often but not always true. The congressional Republican’s cowardly capitulation to a “clean” debt ceiling deal on Wednesday might prove one of the frequent exceptions to the rule.
No real Republican would argue that the deal isn’t disastrously bad policy. The legislation basically hands a blank check to the most profligate president in history, guaranteeing the nation’s debt will rise to a staggering $17.2 trillion just after November’s mid-term elections, and achieves nothing in the way of much needed spending cuts or any other curbs on a government rapidly and clumsily expanding into every niche of American life. Although the party leadership and the minority of Republican congressman who followed them argue will that the deal guarantees the full faith and credit of the federal government, an increasingly restive conservative base will not be convinced that adding yet another $512 billion dollars of debt over the next few months is the most fiscally responsible course of action.
Nor can the Republicans point to any immediate political advantages gained from the deal. Indeed, the more prominent media are gleefully quoting the Democrats’ gloating that the deal represents a total defeat for the Republicans in general and their more rock-ribbed Tea Party constituents in particular. House Speaker John Boehner, whose hold on the house speakership grows more tenuous with each passing offense to the party’s most essential voters, couldn’t even win the inclusion of an amendment to rescind some previous unpopular budget cuts to veterans’ benefits that the Democrats probably could have been shamed into accepting. As the most outspoken opponent of the deal and the only Republican to attempt a filibuster Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas was rewarded for his noble efforts by some of the most sneeringly disdainful press coverage of his already controversial career, and if the party leadership and its timid followers expected to be lauded by the pundits for their non-partisan willingness to compromise they have been sorely disappointed.
On the other hand, at least the Republicans aren’t being pilloried for their strident partisanship and stubborn refusal to compromise. That’s what happened every other time the Republicans tried to use the debt ceiling as leverage for sensible reforms and essential spending restraint, with the damage done to the party’s popularity evident in all the subsequent opinion polls, and we will generously assume that the Republican leadership was merely trying to avoid yet another hit. Those talk radio hosts shrieking “damn the opinion polls, full steam ahead” are quite right to argue the public should be grateful for the Republicans’ efforts, that government shutdowns are a minor inconvenience at worst and a welcome break from bureaucratic meddling at best, that a federal default would not occur in any case, and that the eventual consequences of all that debt far outweigh any damage done by a protracted political squabble, but they are wrong to assume that an electoral majority of the country can be made to understand any of it.
A crucial percentage of voters pay too little attention to politics to hear these arguments, and even if the arguments were to somehow sneak into the news accounts that occasionally interrupt the average uninformed American’s day he would likely be unmoved. Government shutdowns always sound scary when the news anchors say it, the laws and constitutional requirements precluding default are as a confounding as the economic concepts involved, and the public has become inured to warnings about it since the Democrats started squawking about it back in the Reagan days. When the debt it called due and the inevitable economic calamity occurs it will be big news, but at the moment the weather is a far more pressing matter for the average American.
Unless the bottom falls out before November, the Republicans’ cowardly capitulation could provide them with a slight advantage in the mid-term elections. By that time the deal will be largely forgotten even by the talk radio hosts, who are already shrieking less loudly than after other Republican leadership outrages, and the majority of Republican congressman who opposed the deal will be able to remind their conservative voters that they at least voted “no.” The Democrats won’t have another unpopular showdown to blame on the Republicans, and they’ll still be remembered as the party that promised you could keep your health care plan if you liked it and then cancelled the policy and forced you to pay more money for one covering things you don’t want or need. To the extent that America’s dire fiscal situation is an election issue, even the most cowardly capitulators in the party can claim that they were forced to bankrupt the country by the Democrats.

— Bud Norman

No Accounting for Government

The sharp-eyed fellows at the CNSNews.com site have noticed something peculiar among the veritable mountains of data that the federal government routinely generates. Apparently, the United State’s national debt has been precisely $16,699,396,000,000 for the past month.
This is hard to account for, as one would expect that a debt to go up or down by at least some miniscule amount over the course of 31 days, and in the case of a government that ran a $98 billion deficit during the same period of time it would be expected to go up by approximately $98 billion, but government accountants seem to have a knack for hard accounting. Their efforts have somehow kept the debt stuck just $25 million below the legal debt limit, conveniently preventing the government from being in violation of its own laws, and that is rather precise work. After all, $25 million is a just a tick or two on the national debt clock, a relatively piddling sum that the president can blow through in just a few vacation days, so they’re cutting it awfully close.
Such a neat trick is the result of “extraordinary measures,” according to a letter sent by Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew to Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, which is appended by several pages of jargon-laden prose explaining how the illusion is achieved. The Secretary further explained that the statutory debt limit has been suspended by yet another law, and that the measures his department is employing to keep the debt under control are not at all extraordinary, being “the same one that have been used in previous debt limit impasses,” so the public is advised not to worry about anything. Lew also added some pointed criticism of the House budget proposal, threw in a pitch for the president’s plan, and warned that any attempt to further limit the debt will endanger the full faith and credit of the country.
Some might doubt the veracity of CNSNews.com, as the “c” stands for conservative, and perhaps that explains the lack of coverage elsewhere. The story contains links to corroborating Treasury Department documents, however, and the “dot gov” on the web address should satisfy the skeptics. Reporter Terence P. Jeffrey seems to be imply that’s there something fishy about the methods that have kept national debt just below its legal limit, but we’re not such suspicious sorts and are willing to accept the possibility that the unchanging debt is just a happy coincidence of revenues and expenditures evening out to the exact penny for an entire month. An extraordinary coincidence, as the Treasury Secretary might say, but altogether innocent.

— Bud Norman

How the Right Was Framed

Reality always asserts itself in the end, but it is the nature of people to prefer an appealing fiction in the meantime. Exploiting this well known human failing is called “framing the issues” or “messaging” in political parlance, and lately the left has been doing even more than the usual amount of framing and messaging.
Consider the curious case of the debt ceiling. Any discussion of the debt ceiling should begin with an understanding that term refers to the amount of money the government has limited itself to borrowing, and that raising it therefore allows the government to add to its $16 trillion debt. There should also be a general agreement that if the government continues to borrow another trillion or every nine months or so the debt will eventually reach a point where reality asserts itself with a ruthless vengeance, but apparently the fiction that such profligacy can go on forever is too appealing to resist. The president can therefore tell the nation’s press that raising the debt ceiling is simply a matter of “paying America’s bills,” which he implies were racked up by spendthrift Republicans over his penny-pinching objections, and the assembled reporters do not break into howls of derisive laughter. He can even go on to assert that failing to go an undisclosed number of trillions further into debt would be the height of fiscal irresponsibility, and do so not only with a straight face but a rather stern and indignant one.
There is no basis in legal or economic reality for the assertion that failing to raise the debt ceiling will inevitably result in America defaulting on its obligations, but it is unavoidably true that getting by without further borrowing will require deep and painful budget cuts, massive tax hikes reaching far into the pockets of the middle class, or a politically toxic combination of the two. Something untrue is obviously preferable to that sobering conclusion, so the president can safely assume that much of public will be easily persuaded that it would be imprudent not to rack up at least another couple trillion of debt.
Similarly nonsensical messages have been sent on the much-discussed matter of guns. Some of the assertions can be charitably described as debatable, but others have been flatly false. The current president’s claims about the number of unregulated gun sales is provably false, and former president Bill Clinton’s whopper about the incidence of mass killings is so conspicuously at odds with reality that even the Washington Post’s fact-checkers were compelled to say so. Such falsehoods are easily forgiven, though, because they serve a soothing argument that the government can protect all of its people from the tragedies that have always afflicted humankind. Anyone who publicly doubts this tale, and insists that the government allow individuals the means to defend themselves, is just as easily portrayed as a child-hating gun nut.
Conservatives are constantly in search of messages that will frame these sorts of issues in ways that will win the support of the average American, but they are at a natural disadvantage. Numerous pundits have offered suggestions about how the Republicans should talk about the debt ceiling, but anything other than blunt truth abut the hard choices facing the country would betray conservative principles. A friend of ours has shrewdly suggested that the Republicans speak of guns as a feminist issue, standing foursquare for a woman’s right to shoot a would-be rapist not only as a pro-gun rationale but also an effective rebuttal of the party’s sexist image, but even that compelling argument is unlikely to be effective against the less troublesome option of letting the government take care of things.
The fantastical nature of the left’s well-framed messages will sooner or later be revealed, of course, but that will only lead to more framing and more messaging. It will be explained that the country went broke because those parsimonious Republicans didn’t allow the president to borrow even more, that the next murderous outburst by an undetected lunatic occurred only because only because law-abiding gun owners hadn’t been denied of their rights, and that government still isn’t sufficiently empowered. Some people will feel obliged to state things more frankly, but they shouldn’t expect it to do much good.

— Bud Norman

High Dudgeon and Higher Ceilings

President Barack Obama was in high dudgeon when discussing the upcoming debt ceiling negotiations with the House Republicans during Monday’s rare news conference. High dudgeon is Obama’s default rhetorical position, of course, but when it comes to his dealings with House Republicans nobody’s dudgeon goes higher.
Obama started things off by boasting of the $1.4 trillion in spending cuts that he has signed into law over the past two years, and touting his plan to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next decade. All those spending cuts haven’t prevented the federal budget from increasing in size over the past two years, and all of the budget proposals that he has gotten around to submitting entail a decade of unprecedented deficits, but given how much he would have preferred to spend perhaps he’s entitled to some credit for a relative stinginess. We note that he’s counting the $2.5 trillion of savings achieved by not fighting the Iraq and Afghanistan wars past this year, so we suggest he also add in the several trillion dollars we’ve no doubt saved by now from not fighting the Spanish-American War past 1898 and declare the nation’s accounts square.
The president’s plan involves a lot a lot of actual tax increases along with those mythical spending decreases, which the president proudly describes as a “balanced approach,” and he was quick to remind the press that he won re-election with this very appealing-sounding slogan. Although the president spoke loftily of a “balanced way where everyone pulls their weight, everyone does their part,” he also made clear that he was still talking about tax increases only on the hated rich and evil corporations, so it must be conceded that he is remaining true to his campaign promises if not economic reality. Trying to reduce the deficit without massive tax hikes, Obama seemed annoyed to explain, is “not a recipe for growth.”
Making a fair assumption that most Americans had never heard of a “debt ceiling” until it became an inescapable news story during his unpleasant squabble with the crazy Republicans a couple of years ago, Obama helpfully explained the issue as simply a matter of “paying America’s bills.” Apparently those bills were all racked up by spendthrift Republicans despite Obama’s penny-pinching objections, because he was clearly quite offended that those Republicans would now try to run out on the check. If the nation does not go further into debt, Obama said, it risks becoming a “deadbeat nation.” Refusing to allow the government to go just a couple more trillion dollars into the hole, Obama continued, would therefore be the height of fiscal irresponsibility. He seemed quite vexed that anyone would dispute him on that point. Indeed, the president could only conceive of the most sadistic motives for wanting to accumulate national debt at a slower pace.
“But it seems as if what’s motivating and propelling at this point some of the House Republicans is more than simply deficit reduction,” Obama said. “They have a particular vision about what government should and should not do, so they are suspicious about government’s commitments, for example, to make sure that seniors have decent health care as they get older. They have suspicions about Social Security. They have suspicions about whether government should make sure that kids in poverty are getting enough to eat or whether we should be spending money on medical research.”
The president went on to remind the press “That view was rejected by the American people when it was debated during the presidential campaign,” and in retrospect it doesn’t seem surprising that Romney’s anti-old people and pro-starvation platform wasn’t the big winner we Republicans had hoped for. Obama might have mentioned that those meals for the poor kids are all the more important since poverty has increased over the past four years, and that government medical research will be all the more crucial once the Obamacare taxes start discouraging the private efforts that have traditionally yielded the most important breakthroughs, but he apparently he didn’t want to overemphasize the point.
At least the president didn’t repeat his previous claims that the Republicans also want dirty air and water, and for autistic children to fend for themselves, and for various other Dickensian degradations to be visited upon the American people, but he appeared quite miffed nonetheless. It should make for an interesting sit-down with the Republican leadership, and we suspect that this unpleasant squabble will be just as inescapable as the last.

— Bud Norman