The EU's Death Sentence

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Americans tend to think French presidential elections are weird. Rather than picking the winner in one furious night of counting, the French first vote to eliminate all but the two leading candidates. Then, two weeks later, they pick the winner in a runoff election. And polls are forbidden during these two weeks.

Any voting system has flaws. If your political precepts favor truth, the French system has one indisputable virtue: the actual percentage of voters favoring the second-round candidates is exposed early on. Pro-EU Macron got 24% of the votes, while anti-EU candidate Le Pen got 22%. Yes, there are many other differences between Madame Le Pen and Monsieur Macron, but let's focus on EU and sovereignty here.

Don't you wish the US had a way to count people who voted for Trump only because they couldn't stand Hillary Clinton?

The French have to suffer two weeks of disgusting political contortions, while the nine(!) rejected candidates negotiate their support for one of the two contenders. The numbers guarantee that more than 75% of the voters will be disappointed, regardless of who wins the runoff. French political traditions also guarantee that the remaining 25% will quickly become 100% disenchanted with their winner, but that's another story.

These pitiful percentages result in a brittle legitimacy, which is actually beneficial for the cause of liberty. A French president has enormous powers, even compared to the ever-expanding US executive authority. The still-ongoing state of emergency, which was established by Socialist president Hollande after the November 2015 Islamist attack, further reinforces these powers. The constant reminder of a low approval is a welcome counterbalance to this immoderate power. Don't you wish the US had a way to count people who voted for Trump only because they couldn't stand the Clintonista?

In the past 20 years or so, French politics have revolved around a simple question: who rules the French? Until the 1990s, almost nobody doubted that the French political class firmly held the reins, maybe with the help of some lobbies. Since then, the European Union, and especially the non-elected European commissars, have been given ever-increasing powers over the internal affairs of the EU-member states, and EU regulations have sunk their hooks ever more deeply into the daily life of citizens. In parallel, radical Islam is growing in France, thanks in part to proselytism financed by Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. Accelerating immigration from the African continent supplies a growing number of French residents who, even after acquiring French citizenship, favor their religious principles rather than the French constitution when they clash. The vaunted French secular legal system is a dead letter in thousands of Muslim-majority suburbs. Like the EU regulations, the Muslim rules weigh ever more heavily on French daily lives: schools have debated banning pork from cafeteria menus, swimming pools have held "women-only" hours to accommodate Muslim women, traffic is blocked on Fridays by believers praying in the street, etc.

One look at Macron's promises shows a slew of spendthrift measures and a refusal even to talk about the deep problems that are ruining the country.

This is why the French can legitimately wonder if they are still able to control their own destiny, or if they are bound to become subservient to the commissars and the imams. This is the center of Le Pen's arguments, and the key to her success: let the French keep their identity by stopping illegal immigration and pushing back against the EU.

While Le Pen is an overt Euroskeptic, her rival Macron is considered "safe" by pro-EU businessmen and politicians, and also by a large percentage of the middle class. He is already considered the next president. One look at Macron's promises, however, shows a slew of spendthrift measures and a refusal even to talk about the deep problems that are ruining the country, much less solve them. Many believe that this milquetoast, once elected, will simply squander public funds and private productivity in vain attempts to conciliate opposite interest groups. Now, the French national debt is comparable to the American debt (about one year of GNP). However, France cannot set its own monetary policy, since it abandoned the franc for the euro and therefore does not control its currency anymore. Continuing economic troubles ultimately mean a Greek-like situation in which France asks for a bailout from the other two richer EU countries — that is, Germany and England . . . oops, there goes England, never mind. Bloody Brexit.

This leaves Germany, which is already reeling from several bouts of rescuing the Greek finances. France has 11 times the GNP of Greece, and bailing it out would presumably be 11 times more expensive. There is no way Germany could afford it. The result would be the expulsion of France from the euro zone. France would then attempt to weather the storm by printing its own devalued fiat money, like it did several times in recent pre-euro history, to the great chagrin of investors holding French bonds.

After Brexit, would the EU survive the departure of another main financial backer? Probably not.

So the French now have a choice when it comes to the EU. They can either elect Le Pen and leave the EU. Or they can elect Macron and be kicked ignominiously out of the EU in a few years. The only question will be to decide whether to call this a Frexit or an adiEU. This being France, the current favorite euphemism for leaving the EU is a pun on a rude Anglo-Saxon synonym of "go away" that cannot be printed here. Such is the state of French culture.

After Brexit, would the EU survive the departure of the second of its three main financial backers? Probably not. The EU administration is a gigantic money pump transferring hundreds of billions of Euros (1 E = 1.08 US dollar or so) between richer and poorer countries, aided by an army of well-paid bureaucrats. Without payers, the system collapses.

In either case, this will mean 300 million people freed from the EU Moloch and from its commissars, who look more and more like crushing, soulless, anonymous bureaucrats the Supreme Soviet would envy. And that will be a good day for liberty.




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Race to the Top

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What might it look like if the libertarian vision prevailed over that of the “progressive” Left? If the Democratic Party, and the statist Left in general, is to be repealed and replaced, then something must take its place. Merely repealing it, with no replacement, won’t get rid of it. As long as people believe that it fills a need — no matter how badly it may accomplish that — they will at some point, and in some form, welcome it back.

The Libertarian Party has a platform that answers every Democratic crusade with a superior solution. We really can offer those in poverty the hope that they might enjoy a better life instead of a life sentence in their present condition. Our vision of human rights, based on the understanding that we all derive them not from the circumstances that differ but from the humanity we share, would elevate our status beyond that of pawns on a political chessboard. By concentrating on responsible behavior instead of a phobic obsession with drugs or guns — anything inanimate and utterly harmless unless abused — we can stop banning everything and encourage people to stop abusing one another. When we liberate education from the grip of the teachers’ unions and offer real choice to parents and kids, the lessons in liberty they will learn can turn the tide of human thought toward freedom.

Studies show that of the overall population, about 20% are on the hardcore Right and 20% on the equally hard Left. These people will never be moved. That leaves 60% somewhere in the middle. It is these folks who determine the outcome of elections and other decisions affecting us all. The statist Left survives because a majority of those 60% think it performs a necessary function. They may not all think it does its job well, but they at least tolerate its existence, and endure its idiocies, because they can’t imagine anything taking its place.

Libertarians really can offer those in poverty the hope that they might enjoy a better life instead of a life sentence in their present condition.

Statist leftism and liberalism — the latter being the openness to new discoveries, trust in rationality and belief in individual freedom that has given libertarianism its name — are two different concepts entirely. That mammoth standard-bearer for the Right, Rush Limbaugh, evidently ignorant of the difference, bellows about destroying “liberalism.” That isn’t going to happen, and it wouldn’t be a good thing if it did. Liberalism is as much a part of our Western, Judeo-Christian tradition as conservatism. To speak of lopping off half of our tradition is as foolhardy as it would be to advocate the extraction of half of our chromosomes.

Until we figure out how to make the Left obsolete, we will never repeal and replace the Democratic Party. As long as there are marginalized and discontented people — even though the Democrats are largely responsible for their marginalization and discontentment — the donkeys will never be sent out to pasture. Leftism has always been a powerful influence on the modern Democratic Party, and during the Obama years it tightened its stranglehold. Post-Obama, it has throttled the life out of every moderating philosophy.

There truly is a difference between how libertarians might pursue objectives formerly monopolized by the statist Left and the way “progressives” have done so. If every attempt we might make is blasted by our own side as “capitulation,” we need to recognize the message that will send. It will be an admission that the leftists are correct when they lump us all into the “far Right” and claim that they alone can move society forward. Those who have had it drilled into their heads that without their Democratic champions they’d be friendless and hopeless will be more convinced than ever that they can’t live without the authoritarians who supposedly care more about them than they do about themselves. Our lack of interest in replacing what we want to repeal — and in clearly articulating how we can do it — will be taken as an admission of defeat.

To speak of lopping off half of our tradition is as foolhardy as it would be to advocate the extraction of half of our chromosomes.

A crucial difference between libertarianism and the statist Left is our approach to social problems. Contrary to what our adversaries so often assert, many of us do understand that these problems exist, and we are by no means unconcerned about them. But we believe that problems are to be solved, not used as a basis of political employment. Because they think that if those problems disappeared, they themselves would no longer be needed, “progressives” merely perpetuate them. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and poverty must never be seen to diminish. The strangeness of a political movement that can never take credit for its successes — because it dares not admit that any real progress has been made, yet keeps insisting that progress is direly needed — never occurs to its adherents.

Libertarians will always be needed, because liberty will always need to be defended. Problems are impediments to freedom, unless they are solved. But libertarians have no incentive to perpetuate misery into infinity. People who are free to find solutions to their problems are happy, and not susceptible to “progressive” quackery.

The notion that liberty can only be defended by waging war is now widely shared by Republicans and Democrats. Perhaps the most important contribution a Libertarian challenge to the GOP could make would be an end to perpetual war. We would spread American ideals through peaceful trade. Instead of offering the world death and destruction, we might help it to attain a higher standard of living. What if the terrorists held a recruiting drive and nobody came?

The only political war worth fighting is the war for freedom. Government is the number one perpetrator of violence and the biggest threat to liberty. All it knows how to do is force people to conform to its dictates, so no political party dedicated to increasing its power can defend liberty. The political struggle in our country must include one major combatant that fights for freedom — because even if the Democrats magically vanished overnight, the Republicans would still be authoritarians. The GOP must be substantially and consistently challenged by a rival committed to uncoerced cooperation, based on mutual trust.

Perhaps the most important contribution a Libertarian challenge to the GOP could make would be an end to perpetual war.

We can trust that our fellow human beings are not idiots, and that they truly can govern themselves — even when they’re not like us. Each of the big-league political parties portrays the members of its opponent as vile — almost subhuman. They are comic-book villains: godless commies or gun-crazy deplorables. Political contests have degenerated into races to the bottom. Like manic limbo dancers, each side feels compelled to compete with the other by seeing how low it can go.

As it abandons faith in every principle but force and fraud, the Democratic Party is unraveling. If the Libertarian Party were to reach major-league level, it would bring its principles with it: faith in peaceful persuasion, respect for every individual human being, and optimism about our country’s future. Instead of a race to the bottom, competition between the Libertarians and the Republicans might become a race to the top. The repeal and replacement of the Democratic Party could herald a whole new direction for America.




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Corruption Revisited

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I was born in India, and not long ago I returned for an extended visit — which occasioned many thoughts that might be used in answer to the question that people frequently ask me: “Has India changed?” By this people usually mean, Is India on its way to “development”? Here is an attempt to answer.

What is the free market?

Ask middle-class Indians what they mean by the “free market.” They will often define it as a system in which corporations are given free rein to expropriate properties of rural people so they can build modern factories. They believe that the government should be allowed to pay a fraction of the market price to acquire farmers’ land to build infrastructure. They think that India would not grow if corporations and government were not subsidized by the rural segment of society. For them, the “free market” is a system in which individual forces are pooled for the greater good of India.

In India, an overt caste system has continued to disappear, particularly in urban areas — but scratch the surface and you find that it is deeply entrenched. When reminded of wretchedness and poverty, the well-off middle class likes to counter with talk about a high standard of living. In a country where more than 50% of the people have no toilets, and similar numbers have no electricity, water supply, or access to primary healthcare, one has to ask what is meant by that high standard.

Middle-class Indians think that India would not grow if corporations and government were not subsidized by the rural segment of society.

In fact, the Indian middle class is devoid of empathy for poorer brethren. Its members often fail to count their chauffeurs, maids, guards, and servants as human beings. These poor people are lucky if they get $100 per month for 12 or more hours of work a day, with no days off or vacations. The situation gets much worse outside the urban areas.

In India one must pay a bribe for everything one gets, and paying a bribe is usually not enough; one must grovel at the feet of those in power. Any sane person who wants to survive must stay politically well-connected, learning to exchange favors in an entangled mess. One can understand why Indians who must live in India may need to tone down their opposition either to the backwardness of society or to the tyrants that backwardness creates.

Most of the media is indirectly controlled by the government, for without government advertisement revenue it is hard to survive. Meanwhile, India consistently ranks among the most dangerous places for journalists. Freedom of speech in India is a myth, and even the richest and most powerful live in chronic anxiety.

Speaking of riches — the Indian GDP is $1,718 per capita. The average Indian is economically poorer than the average African. It is understandable why Indians try to emigrate. Given a chance, most would. Those who fail prefer to sing to the glory of mother India — and those who emigrate, alas, end up doing the same thing.

There is only one way to make sense of all this: by understanding the underpinning cultural forces.

India is a pre-rational society. It is deeply tribal and superstitious, allowing little space for forward planning or long-term thinking. In such a society, people are driven by a compulsive need for material gains but not by compassion, fairness, or goodwill for others. An irrational society has by definition no moral instincts; life is lived not by values but by expediency.

One must pay a bribe for everything one gets, and paying a bribe is usually not enough; one must grovel at the feet of those in power.

India has imported the easy, entertainment aspects of Western society, but it has forgotten to import — actually completely failed to see — the way of reason, of continuity between cause and effect. The Indian diaspora sings to the greatness of India, not because it believes in it — for if it did, it would return to India — but because to the tribal mindset a glorified India gives increased self-confidence. If lobbying for India in the West adversely affects the poor, downtrodden people who live in India, this is of no significance to the voluntary exiles.

Deep culture is entrenched and resistant to change, even after people — including very well educated people — have moved to a new society. It may not change for generations, if it changes at all.

Why international organizations fail

Financial corruption is only the tip of the cultural iceberg.

Economists and international organizations long to help India set up big factories and enter the modern world. Yet despite flashy isolated data, during the 70 years of so-called post-independence, modernization has impoverished the country. The problem is that much of it proceeds by force.

Indian corporations are extremely dependent on government support: direct subsidies, regulatory favors, and overt transfer of wealth from poor people. One might call it legal plunder or corruption.

In India’s tribal society, in which any organization of two people has one person too many, real growth comes from the informal sector. The formal economy is often the pest, but money lent to the informal sectors earns as much as 36% a year — while the same money lent to the formal sector earns a negative real-interest rate. Of course, the informal sector contributes little to taxes.

International organizations should be, but are not, encouraging growth in the informal sector. These organizations operate with a very shallow definition of corruption. For them, tax avoidance, bribery and the exchange of favors are the only corrupt practices. They endeavor to fine-tune institutions in emerging markets so as to remove corruption in public institutions, unconcerned that these institutions might be incompatible with growth.

They also want to educate voters. They want to enforce the separation of judicial, executive, and political functions, and they invariably fail. They fail to understand that to a pre-rational culture, separation of the three arms of the government is unimaginable.

Despite flashy isolated data, during the 70 years of so-called post-independence, modernization has impoverished the country.

Indian institutions have continued to degenerate since the British left. What exists today is merely the facade of what the British abandoned 70 years back. Western institutions did work in India as long as the British ran them, but those days are over. Once destruction of those institutions has been completed — and they are now in an advanced stage of decay — they can never be rebuilt. India will then be on course to becoming a recognized banana republic.

International organizations fail because they don’t think that culture matters. They think that people are blank slates. They think that locals always strive for the “right” institutions. To them, local history, religion, habits, and values have no significance. They believe that all people care about is economic growth and as long as the “right” institutions can demonstrate better growth, locals will offer their support.

But corruption in India exists because of the underlying corruption in the culture. Given the circularity of the statement, “corruption” is perhaps the wrong word. “Irrationality” is a better replacement.

Managed disintegration

With the best efforts, changing a culture is a long affair. It is entirely possible that cultures never fundamentally change. They cannot be changed unless the institutions that might reform them are compatible with them. Without compatible institutions, evolution of culture cannot happen — a society with incompatible institutions is confused and fails to see causality. The more irrational a culture, the more decentralized its institutions must be; but ironically, the tribalism of such societies creates the poison of totalitarianism from the bottom up. An enlightened ruler — one who cannot come into existence through democratic means — would allow such a society to disintegrate politically, for he would know that eventually nature would lead it to that future. Decentralization and the managed disintegration of India is what international institutions should be striving for.

Corruption in India, in the rest of South Asia, and in the Middle East, Africa, and South America is a product of irrational cultures, worsened by incompatible institutions. International organizations might do a patch-up job, but they will eventually fail and will make the situation worse if they focus on financial corruption, which is only a distressing symptom.




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Le Pen and the Super-State

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Marine Le Pen’s strong showing in the French election, in which she achieved a rough tie for first, makes her eligible for the final round, on May 7. At that point, she will lose, because all the other parties will unite against her.

That’s all right with me. Most of her program is the European equivalent of Bernie Sanders, plus anti-immigration. But she has fired a warning shot across the bows of the European establishment, and that is an important service, more important than libertarians are willing to admit when they are thinking ideologically instead of historically.

The European Union, or at least the European Common Market, was, in a way, a libertarian invention — a vast free trade zone offering an end to the internal warfare that had wrecked Europe on two occasions during the 20th century. But because pan-European institutions have been constructed in an era in which modern liberal ideas and social practices predominate among intellectuals and bureaucrats, the mechanisms of European solidarity became steadily more . . . solid. Bureaucrats in Brussels and their clones throughout the continent began to rule by directive, just like the tsars, and to encroach on every area of life. Europe was on its way to becoming a centralized state, a dictatorship of the bureaucratariat. In a society in which everything is registered, regulated, subsidized, or repressed, and all inconvenient facts are concealed from public view, it’s free trade for crony capitalists, jobs-for-life for entitled workers, permanent unemployment for everyone else, an economic growth rate descending to zero, and whatever civil liberties the nanny state allows you to have.

Le Pen has fired a warning shot across the bows of the European establishment, and that is an important service.

That was bad enough, but for ideological as well as economic reasons, the Eurocrats also brought in millions of migrants, not caring whether the newcomers embraced the values of local populations — because the Eurocrats’ project was to homogenize local populations.

Like things that come out of a copy machine, ideologies degenerate when subjected to generations of reproduction, so I suppose it’s not surprising, although it is shocking, that the European globalists didn’t see any difficulty in the fact that the people they were importing and subsidizing were often violently opposed to modern liberal — or any liberal — ideas. They saw opposition to immigration as a plot to bring back competitive European states — and so it became, as the populations of one state after another turned away from Brussels and toward some image of their own historic cultures. The prominence of Le Pen is a feature of this rebellion, and it is remarkable that in nation after nation, the current competition is between the national culture and Brussels, not among the various nationalisms of Britons, French, Germans, and so forth.

That kind of competition may come, but at present the important thing to recognize is that however uneasy libertarians may feel about the irrationality and sometimes tyranny of local cultures, it’s bad news when they are extinguished by a super-state. Europe’s original growth toward a general culture of personal autonomy and competitive capitalism was greatly encouraged by the fact that creative people could easily move from one local culture to another. This is the secret of the “Protestant” spirit of capitalism — in a religiously divided continent, Protestants and Catholics could see competitive models of society close at hand, and adopt or reject them. (Two interesting discussions of this matter: Hugh Trevor Roper, The European Witch Craze . . . and Other Essays; Nathan Rosenberg and L.E. Birdzell, How the West Grew Rich.)

In nation after nation, the current competition is between the national culture and Brussels, not among the various nationalisms of Britons, French, Germans, and so forth.

But the idea that individuals should be free to act on their own is as foreign to the Eurocrats as the idea that national cultures should remain distinctive. At what might be the last moment to resist homogenization-by-bureaucratic-edict, Le Pen and the Brexiters and all the rest of them have arisen and are making their impact. They’re on a rescue mission — the rescue of real diversity.

Now, you don’t have to like the EMT guys, but you may be happy that they finally showed up. And if you don’t want them to keep showing up, don’t keep setting your house on fire.




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The Proofreaders’ Puzzle

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“Donald Trump’s Governing Styles Has Critics Up in Arms” — thus the headline of an article in U.S. News & World Report (April 14).

Oh, does they?

The article presents evidence that it hasn’t been proofread any better than the headline. Try this passage: “For one thing, it's clear that Trump is not a devotee of reading, whether it's newspapers, books or memos. Instead, he is most moved by what he sees and hears in a most fundamental sense.” I’m still trying to figure out what it would mean to see and hear in a fundamental sense. And a nasty thought creeps into my mind: maybe this stuff has been proofread. Maybe someone was striving for that asinine repetition of “most.” And maybe someone doesn’t know that “styles” is plural.

I’d prefer that politicians spent all their time on the golf course, where they can do little harm, except to their egos.

Isabel Paterson, who had a lifetime of experience in journalism as both writer and proofreader, observed that “there is an irreducible minimum of pure error in all human affairs.” Good people, famous people, might proofread a text and yet leave “some peculiarly glaring mistake, probably in the front-page headline.” Even Liberty has had some proofreading errors. But if my suspicions are correct, the U.S. News nonsense fits a pattern, not of inadvertent error, but of sheer and sometimes willful ignorance. Nowadays, one isn’t surprised to find errors in a most fundamental sense in every morning’s news reports.

Here’s the Daily Mail (April 9),captioning a picture of President Trump going out to golf for the 16th time since assuming office:

Trump (pictured Sunday leaving Mar-a-Lago) is far outpacing his predecessor, who he repeatedly criticized for hitting the links.

It’s an apt critique of the president — although I’d prefer that politicians spent all their time on the golf course, where they can do little harm, except to their egos. But “who he repeatedly criticized”? Haven’t they ever heard of “whom”? As I write, the mistake has not been corrected; and when the article appeared on the conservative blog Lucianne.com, the headline reproduced the error in the caption:

Trump makes his 16th trip to a golf course since inauguration — far outpacing Obama, who he repeatedly criticized for hitting the links.

How many times during the past week have you read something like the following in a supposedly high-class journal?

The injured woman laid on the sidewalk.

Police drug the suspect out of his car.

The majority leader snuck an extra $100 million into the budget.

I just googled snuck, and in a third of a second got 13,100,000 results. Not all of them, I am sure, are reproductions of an illiterate rural dialect.

It’s disturbing to discover how few people who live by talking and writing understand common English verbs. This demonstrates (A) a collapse of the educational system, (B) a lack of interest in reading real literature, (C) a lack of sensitivity or curiosity about words, or (D) all of the above. Whatever the cause, it’s horrifying.

Tucker Carlson, the libertarian-conservative television personality, is a favorite of mine. I don’t enjoy criticizing him. But here goes. Carlson comes from a wealthy family. He attended La Jolla Country Day School and St. George’s School. He has a long career as a journal writer and editor. He has written a book. It is this Tucker Carlson who, on his April 4 program, discussing the word “monitoring,” which he used for government surveillance in general but his guest, Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman, refused to apply to the surveillance activities of Susan Rice, declaimed:

You see the Orwellian path we are trodding.

Trod on, Tucker. Maybe you’ll eventually trod up against a grammar book.

Ignorance of grammar . . . shall we become still more fundamental and consider ignorance of meaning? On April 10, a man named Cedric Anderson went into a classroom in San Bernardino, California, and killed his wife, a teacher in the school, a child she was teaching, and himself. The next day, the Los Angeles Times ran a story with this headline: “He was a pastor and a gentleman: ‘She thought she had a wonderful husband.’” The idea that Anderson was “a pastor” gives that extra little tingly irony to the story, doesn’t it? It’s a word the Times sought, grabbed, and flaunted — a mighty important word for the Times. But you cannot be a shepherd if you do not have a flock; you cannot be a pastor if you do not have a congregation. Reading through the article, one finds that this basic meaning of the word was totally lost on the LA Times, which was well satisfied with the following evidence of Anderson’s occupation:

Najee Ali, a community activist in Los Angeles and executive director of Project Islamic Hope, said he knew Anderson as a pastor who attended community meetings.

"He was a deeply religious man,” Ali said of Anderson, who sometimes preached on the radio and joined community events. “There was never any signs of this kind of violence . . . [O]n his Facebook he even criticized a man for attacking a woman."

On April 12, our friend the Daily Mail published a more accurate description of Anderson, calling him “a maintenance technician and self-described pastor.” But no one seemed interested in finding out whether Anderson was currently employed (which he seemingly was not) or in saying what a “maintenance technician” might be. The “pastor” identification continued to appear in other “news” venues — until journalistic interest in the story died without repentance, a couple of days later.

It’s disturbing to discover how few people who live by talking and writing understand common English verbs.

Let’s proceed from ignorance of meanings to the corruption of them.Last month’s Word Watch delivered a sharp rebuke to CBS radio news for its childishly politicized language. I could have said more about that, so I will right now.

Here on the cutting-room floor is an item that I might have mentioned last month, but didn’t. On March 3, CBS radio ran a story about Vice President Pence, who was criticizing Hillary Clinton’s use of email. Maybe the good people at CBS thought what you or I would have thought: “Oh great — we have to report on a dull speaker saying obvious things about a familiar subject.” But the report they produced was dull in another way — dull as in dim-witted, stupid, just plain dumb. CBS blandly announced that in making his comments, the sleep-inducing Mr. Pence had been “almost rabid.”

Of course, that’s an overt politicization of the news, but why is it dumb? It’s dumb because the statement itself is rabid, and therefore self-defeating. It’s dumb because the writers obviously didn’t realize that. And it’s dumb because of the pretense at delicate qualification that’s supposed to keep listeners from realizing that they’re listening to propaganda: “We didn’t say that Pence was rabid. We said he was almost rabid. We’re doing the best we can to be fair to this fascist.”

This is the network whose clinically objective way of identifying Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch was to call him “conservative ideologue Neil Gorsuch.” Not an opinion, mind you; just a fact: he’s an ideologue by profession, a card-carrying member of the Association of American Ideologues. But please let me know when you hear CBS referring to liberal ideologue Charles Schumer or liberal ideologue Elizabeth Warren — or liberal ideologue Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

It’s dumb because the statement itself is rabid, and therefore self-defeating.

A more interesting example of dumb people trying to do your thinking for you occurred on March 26. It was also on CBS radio news, but unfortunately it could have happened on any of the other networks, TV or radio. On that day I tuned in to hear that police were still assessing, or some verb like that, “the latest incident of gun violence.” So I started assessing, or some verb like that, this latest incident.

What had happened was that, 15 hours before, there had been a fight in a bar in Cincinnati, and shots had been fired. One person had been killed, and more than a dozen injured. This was a terrible, but hardly an unprecedented, event. It’s not clear that it was a big enough story to run in a national broadcast containing only about three minutes of news, but if you wanted to run it as a major news story, how would you package it? What category would you put it in?

I can say, without fear of sensible contradiction, that in the history of normal, quasi-objective news reporting, two categories would have occurred to almost everyone: shooting and bar fight. But those were not the categories that occurred to CBS. To the network’s news providers, this was violence, and it was gun violence, and it was the latest instance or example of the same.

Let’s take the last category first: latest. During the 15 hours between the shooting and the news report, how many fatal shootings do you suppose had happened? In 2016, there are said to have been 2,668 “murders by gun” in the United States. I assume that such murders are more numerous on weekends, but supposing that they happen at a uniform rate, this means that during those 15 hours there should have been fiveof them. If, however, we are looking at gun violence, or as normal people call it, shootings, we find that in 2016 there were 3,550 incidents in Chicago alone (up from 2,426 during the previous year). Other things being equal, there would have been six of these shootings in Chicago during the 15 hours.

This was a terrible, but hardly an unprecedented, event. It’s not clear that it was a big enough story to run in a national broadcast.

So the category of the latest is bogus. But what does it mean to be looking for the latestincident of something? Commonly, it means that you have an argument to make, and you’re seeking fresh examples or instances that you can use as evidence for your argument. Otherwise, the latest, the very latest, only the latest, etc., wouldn’t mean much. So CBS wanted to offer more than news; it wanted to push an argument.

It’s the perennial argument of all the established news providers. It isn’t that there are a lot of people who are on the losing side of violence, or that violence is increasing in certain parts of America, or that violent crime is a scandal, or that the trillion-dollar programs of our welfare state, which are meant to minimize crime by reducing poverty (because we all know that crime comes from poverty, and poverty is cured by welfare), are not working. No. The argument is simpler. It is simply that guns are bad.

Turn we now to the categories of violence and gun violence. A ride through any neighborhood populated by modern-liberal professionals, the men and women who populate what is jokingly known as America’s news organizations, will show you what they value and what they don’t. Valued: 6,000-square-foot private homes, organic food, nonthreatening gyms, skin care, expensive restaurants, wine tasting rooms, Nordstrom-class shopping centers, complex landscaping (and thus, illegal immigrants), household alarm systems, gated communities, on-street surveillance cams. Not valued: filling stations, churches, massage parlors, check-cashing emporia, rental units, fast food, homes of illegal immigrants, Walmart, trucks parked on the street, bus stops, strip malls, bars. In the precincts set aside by the professional classes for the worship of themselves, there is no occasion for violence or gun violence. No fights, even fistfights, ever take place. And nobody ever goes to a gun convention.

For these denizens of Valhalla, violence is an exotic word, and a thought-paralyzing concept. Having no relatives, friends, or acquaintances who commit violence, they regard it with a superstitious terror, like a creature from another world. No, not like such a creature, but literally that creature. Their own forms of misconduct are quiet, genteel, non-disruptive — false statements to clients, false statements to the public, false declarations on financial forms, extortionate lawsuits, bribery of public officials (in marginally legal ways), the occasional in-doors sex offense . . . the honesty of violence is missing.

A ride through any neighborhood populated by modern-liberal professionals will show you what they value and what they don’t.

They therefore do not understand how violence could happen. It could not be rooted in human nature. After all, they themselves are human, and they don’t commit violence. Neither could it be the outlet for aggressions that they also feel, but are afraid to act on. And surely it could not result from barbaric ways of life made more barbaric by elitist efforts to reform them — the kind of efforts for which the professional classes always self-righteously vote. It can only be explained as the product, not of human beings, but of things. The things are guns. Hence the category of gun violence.

The phrase is brutally unidiomatic. Was Lizzie Borden accused of committing hatchet violence? Did Jack the Ripper practice knife violence? Did Hitler invade his neighbors with tank violence? But now we have gun violence, and the distance of this phrase from ordinary speech should alert us to both a certainty and a prima facie probability.

The certainty is that it’s a carefully made-up term. There was no necessity for it; words already existed to cover all its applications, and cover them specifically — such words as the aforementioned shooting and bar fight, but alsoshooting spree, gang war, hold up, crime of passion, and so on. When you make up a vague, new, general term to replace established and specific ones, why are you doing it? Because the existing terms don’t serve your argument. Thus, global warming (once global cooling), which was specific enough to be refuted, yielded to climate change, which means anything you want it to mean, but still suggests that something needs to be fixed — by the people who invented the term.

Was Lizzie Borden accused of committing hatchet violence? Did Hitler invade his neighbors with tank violence?

What is gun violence? It may not be a homicide; it may not be an actual shooting; it may be threatening someone with a gun; it may mean using a gun to kill yourself. Yes, a suicide may also be a shooting, although that isn’t what the nation is supposed to get upset about; the professional classes insist on their right to kill themselves in any way they choose. But they will insert suicides into the statistics about gun violence anyhow, because that’s the purpose of gun violence: itlumps everything together — a bank holdup, a Mafia intimidation, a hunting accident, a crazy creep who kills a cop, a crazy cop who kills a creep, and Frankie of “Frankie and Johnny”:

She didn’t shoot him in the bedroom,
She didn’t shoot him in the bath,
She didn’t shoot him in the parlor;
She shot him in the ass.

So much for the certainty: gun violence was invented to push an agenda. Now for the prima facie probability, which has to do with the nature of that agenda: gun violence was invented, and is used, as a two-word argument for getting rid of all guns. Of course, I should have written “a two-word non-argument,” because you can’t win an argument by shifting terms around. You can’t win such an argument with intelligent people, anyway.

Now we return to my constant theme: these people bellied up to the conference table, talking about how primitive and dumb the rest of the country is — who are the dummies, after all?




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The Grand Itch

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One gray afternoon in the 1990s, while on a motor trip home from Philadelphia, I stopped by my old high school, the Henry C. Conrad High School in Woodcrest, Delaware, a near suburb of Wilmington. Standing on Boxwood Road, outside the chain-link fence, I noticed something odd about the building — broken windows, patched with wood or cardboard. I had never seen such damage before, not during my school days. But I simply assumed the damage was a reflection of the destructive tendencies unique to contemporary times.

It was later that I discovered that the building I had gazed at was no longer a high school. Conrad High was, by then, Conrad Middle School. The old high school had closed long ago — caught up in a huge forced busing plan to achieve “racial balance” throughout the northern New Castle County schools. The plan was referred to, mellifluously, as “metropolitan dispersion.” It did achieve dispersion, but not the kind intended by its authors and advocates.

I had never seen such damage before, not during my school days.

All such plans began with the so-called landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The court decided that racial segregation in public schools, in and of itself, denied minority students equal educational opportunities. “Today,” the court declared, “education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments.” And they went on to say, “In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.” And then came that crucial paragraph: “We come then to the question presented: Does segregation of children in the public schools, solely on the basis of race, even though physical facilities and other ‘tangible’ factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does.”

Education is the most important function of state and local governments? The mind reels — more important than maintaining the police? the firemen? the courts? Is education at taxpayers’ expense a right, or is it a privilege? — or is it, by now, a dubious activity forced on the public by its government? And what about those tangible factors? One might argue that, in the Brown case, tangible factors were the only proper concern of the court.

The court went on to say that “to separate [children in grade and high school] from others of similar age solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.” The court quoted an earlier decision by a lower court: “A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn.” That was plausible, although hardly requiring the justification that the Court found in “modern authority” — in particular, a magisterial tome by Swedish socialist Gunnar Myrdal entitled The American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy. The well-known footnote eleven in the complete Brown text documented the Myrdal influence. Concluding a list of several authorities was this notation: “And see generally, An American Dilemma (1944).”

Education is the most important function of state and local governments? The mind reels.

Having moved away from equality of tangible things and into the realm of psychology and sociology, the Supreme Court effected a change in the judicial climate. Separation of the races by neighborhood — which, of course, led to a different racial makeup in each school — became the equivalent of separation by law. And the federal courts, whether to eliminate the “achievement gap” between black and white students, or to compensate for the sins of past discrimination, mandated forced busing to achieve “racial balance.” In New Castle County, Delaware, in 1978, Federal District Court Judge Murray Schwartz ordered a busing plan into effect that Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist described as “draconian.”

Well before this, all the Wilmington schools had opened to black students — the elementary schools in 1954, the secondary schools in 1955, and the high schools in 1956. Of course, the schools were neighborhood schools and no more “racially balanced” than the neighborhoods where they stood. But the intellectuals were lurking — they had discovered a social ill and thought they had a cure. In 1966, sociologist James E. Coleman published a report entitled Equality of Educational Opportunity. In it, he maintained that inner-city black children, however undisciplined, when seated among middle-class white children, would accept the disciplined ways of the white kids as their own. And eventually, because of their increased discipline, the achievement levels of the black kids would equal those of the white kids. Coleman, whose undergraduate work was in chemical engineering, had gone on to study sociology at Columbia University. He was a true social engineer. But alas, here he miscalculated the stresses and strains — when busing to achieve “racial balance” was undertaken, the results were often the opposite of what he had predicted. The black kids maintained their rebellious ways, and the racially balanced classrooms assumed the chaotic quality of inner-city schools. Perceiving the threat to their children’s wellbeing, the white middle-class parents did a gallopade beyond the horizon. And perceiving this white flight, Professor Coleman did, as they say, a one-eighty, renouncing his report in 1975.

But by that time, the integrationist choo-choo train had gotten up plenty of steam. Forced integration had become an accepted social remedy — and a compensation for past injustice. And in New Castle County, later government actions were seen as compounding the past injustices. One such action was the state’s Educational Advancement Act of 1968, meant to consolidate its smaller school districts without referendum. It exempted three of the bigger districts, including that of predominantly black Wilmington. Thus, complainants saw the Act as resegregating the public schools. Other actions of similar effect were the construction of new highways and subsidized housing, which supposedly encouraged white flight, while maintaining urban-black isolation. The earlier idea that “discrimination was forbidden, but integration was not compelled” was overwhelmed by the felt need to make amends.

Alas, Coleman miscalculated the stresses and strains when busing to achieve “racial balance” was undertaken.

And making amends meant creating new victims. Eleven school districts in northern New Caste County were compressed into one. The students were hauled hither and yon to create the same ratio of black to white in every school. Some traditional high schools in the county, including Conrad and P. S. duPont, were closed and their mascots and other memorabilia thrown away. Two other high schools, Wilmington and Claymont, eventually closed for lack of students — no one wanted to attend. Students spent as much as three hours a day on buses, and participation in after-school activities became difficult, if not impossible. And the busing went on and on — the city kids rode for as many as nine years to the suburbs, and the suburban kids rode for as many as three years to the city. Thus, the busing plan, known as the “nine-three plan,” made every school day a nail-biter for many parents.

By 1993, the State Board of Education had had enough — it petitioned the Federal Court to declare that unitary status he been achieved — in other words, to kindly throw out the busing mandate. But an organization called “The Coalition to Save Our Children” arose with a consent order. The order listed conditions under which the board would be spared further litigation. These included the mandatory monitoring of the schools’ racial makeup with certain quotas to be maintained, “conflict management” that blamed the teacher for disruptive students, “culturally sensitive” examinations for minority students, programs for teachers in “cultural awareness,” a $1.6 million-dollar appropriation for alternative programs for “seriously disruptive” youths, and — believe it or not — a lower passing score for minority-teacher certification. There were other conditions, of course, all meant to assuage the problems caused by previous efforts at educational salvation.

The Delaware legislature was having none of this sort of nonsense, and in 1996, Federal District Court Judge Sue Robinson ended the busing mandate. In the year 2000, the legislature passed the Neighborhood Schools Law. Once again, the kids could go to school close to home. But of course, neither the court decision nor the new law could restore the missing high schools. The old Wilmington High School building is now occupied by the Charter School of Wilmington and something called the Cab Calloway School of the Arts. This last is a so-called magnet school, which brings me to the fate of Henry C. Conrad High School. Having withstood the strife as Conrad Middle School, the building was closed for renovations in 2005 and reopened in 2007 — transformed into the Henry C. Conrad Schools of Science. This latest Conrad emphasizes biotechnology and health sciences for students from grades six through twelve.

Students spent as much as three hours a day on buses, and participation in after-school activities became difficult, if not impossible.

But wait a minute — schools of the arts? schools of science? What’s going on here? These schools present specialized curricula — aimed at whom? The answer is obvious, of course, and most people are either too polite to laugh, or have little knowledge of recent history. The magnet schools are meant to attract the same middle class that fled the forced busing mandates — and thus restore “racial balance”? Well, no — the term has been replaced by “diversity,” but the absurdity of it all is still manifest. The magnet school turns diversity into an end with the curriculum as the means. It represents yet another theory to undo the mess created by the previous theory — there will always be another theory, and another, and another.

There was a time when the traditional schools worked reasonably well — even in the inner-cities. They taught and trained young people from all walks of life, according to their individual aptitudes and ambitions. But that was before the theorists took over, before real children became “the child,” before “look-speak” replaced phonetics, before the “new-math” replaced the multiplication table, before sex education became a sine qua non — and, of course, before “diversity” was equated with “racial balance.” All these later wonders sprang from the minds of the theory class, those individuals, mainly academics, whose reputations are built by outdoing one another in imagination, often while reality grows small in the rear-view mirror. Why couldn’t sociologists have predicted the effects of forced busing — if they truly understood human society? Perhaps, in the interest of education, the federal government should stop financing the theory class.

The magnet school turns diversity into an end with the curriculum as the means. It represents yet another theory to undo the mess created by the previous theory.

One cure for the problems of public education — a system of vouchers — has been widely advocated, especially by the late Professor Milton Friedman. These money-substitutes would give all parents a choice of private schools and allow market forces to improve the quality of education. But in such a system, the government could still get one foot in the door of every schoolhouse. Suppose some future Obamacrat decides that the government won’t cash the vouchers unless the schools presenting them have a unionized staff, or a specific ethnic balance, or accreditation by the same old educationist bureaucracy? With such restrictions, the quality of education could easily decline to its pre-voucher level. You say the public wouldn’t stand for it? Well — they’ve recently stood for things equally bad.

As for Supreme Court Justices, their lower-court colleagues, and lawyers in general — they do their best work when they address themselves to matters of law. When they develop that peculiar eczema identified by Mencken — the itch to save mankind — they become dangerous.

* * *

SOURCES

“An American Dilemma.” Wikipedia. http://wikipedia.org/wiki/An_American_Dilemma:_The_Negro_Problem_and_Modern_Democracy
Barzun, Jacques. The Barzun Reader. Ed. Michael Murray. New York: Harper Collins, 2002.
Berger, Raoul. Government by Judiciary: The Transformation of the Fourteenth Amendment. 2nd Ed. Fwd. Forrest McDonald. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1997. http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=675&itemid=99999999
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. 347 U.S. 483. Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School. www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0347_0483_ZO.html
Delaware State Board of Education v. Evans 446 U.S. 923 (1980). https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/446/923/
Friedman, Milton, and Rose Friedman. Free to Choose: A Personal Statement. New York: Avon Books, 1981.
“Gunnar Myrdal, Analyst of Race Crisis, Dies.” The New York Times, 18 May 1987. www.nytimes.com/1987/05/18/obituaries/gunnar-myrdal-analyst-of-race-crisis-dies.html
“Gunnar Myrdal.” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gunnar_Myrdal
Hannah-Jones, Nikole. “Making Sense of Magnet Schools.” The News and Observer (Raleigh): The Durham News. 5 Nov. 2005, p. 3.
“Henry C. Conrad High School.” http://conradhighschool.com/
Hofstadter, Richard. Great Issues in American History: A Documentary Record. Vol. II, 1864–1957. New York: Vintage Books, 1958.
Hube. “Desegregation Consternation.” The Colossus of Rhodey. 15 April 2007. http://colossus.mu.nu/archives/221158.php
Johnson, Paul. A History of the American People. New York: Harper Perennial, 1999.
Kakaes, Konstantin. “Why Johnny Can’t Add Without a Calculator.” Slate, 25 June 2012. www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2012/06/math_learning_software_and_other_technology_are_hurting_education_.html
Lamb, Kevin. “Race and Education: An Interview with Professor Raymond Wolters.” VDare.com. 25 March 2009. www.vdare.com/articles/race-and-education-an-interview-with-professor-raymond-wolters
Lewin, Tamar. “Herbert Wechsler, Legal Giant, Is Dead at 90.” The New York Times, 28 April 2000. www.nytimes.com/2000/04/28/us/herbert-wechsler-legal-giant-is-dead-at-90.html
Miller, Andrea, and Antonio Prado. “Conrad High School, the Jewel of Woodcrest.” Hockessin Community News, 21 Oct. 2008. www.hockessincommunitynews.com/article/20081021/News/310219937
___. “Remembering Claymont High School: First White School in Delaware to Admit Black Students.” Hockessin Community News,21 Oct. 2008. www.hockessincommunitynews.com/article/20081021/News/310219946
 ___. “A Sad Day When P. S. duPont Became an Elementary School.” Hockessin Community News, 27 Oct. 2008. www.hockessincommunitynews.com/article/20081021/News/310219938
Prado, Antonio, and Andrea Miller. “The 40-Year Legacy of Evans vs. Buchanan: A Struggle Over Education, Race, Power.” Hockessin Community News, 21 Oct. 2008. www.hockessincommunitynews.com/article/20081021/News/310219952
___. “Wilmington High School Red Devils Celebrate School and Mourn Its Loss.” Hockessin Community News, 27 Oct. 2008. www.hockessincommunitynews.com/article/20081021/News/310219949
Roberts, Sam. “Marva Collins, Educator Who Aimed High for Poor, Black Students, Dies at 78.” The New York Times, 28 June 2015. www.nytimes.com/2015/06/29/us/marva-collins-78-no-nonsense-educator-and-activist-dies.html
Taylor, Linda Schrock. “Short-Changed by the New-New Math.” LewRockwell.com, 11 March 2003. www.lewrockwell.com/2003/03/linda-schrock-taylor/why-johnny-still-cant-add/
White, Adam. “The Lost Greatness of Alexander Bickel.” Commentary, March 2012.
Wilson, James Q. Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It. New York: Basic Books, 1989.
___. The Moral Sense. New York: Free Press, 1997.




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Swedish Ice Balls

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As anybody who’s suffered through the I am Curious movies waiting for sex to happen, or Wild Strawberries waiting for the damn thing to just end already, already knows, Swedes have an unwholesome tolerance for tedium. Nowhere is this more manifest than in their willingness to put up with magisterial bureaucrats determined to protect them from the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. And I’m not just talking cradle-to-grave socialized living, here. I’m talking fire codes. Sweden must be the only place in the world to require fire extinguishers in igloos.

Being ice, the hotel returns each summer to the river from which it was quarried, and flows away.

Not that my hometown wouldn’t pull such a trick, if anybody could figure out how to build an igloo in Portland. But nobody seems to have done so, at least not that I’ve heard about. So it’s the Swedes who’re left to carry the ball. And carry it they do, because they’ve got a really persuasive igloo up above the Arctic Circle in Lapland. It’s a Swedish-modern sort of igloo they call the Ice Hotel; as the name suggests, the place is made out of ice.

And remade every year, because, being ice, the hotel returns each summer to the river from which it was quarried, and flows away. Every winter, it’s rebuilt room by room, ice-block by ice-block; and there, chiseled into the walls of the long hotel corridors, are niches with fire extinguishers.

Fire extinguishers! The entire building is made out of frozen water. The walls. The ceilings. The floors. The crystals in the crystal chandeliers, the bed my wife and I shared, the elegantly curved staircase leading to the eight-foot high platform beneath the bed. No need to put ice in your drinks, because the glasses in the ice bar are ice, along with the bar itself, and the stools you sit on at the bar. You couldn’t set this place on fire with a flamethrower. But if I’m remembering right what the football coach who taught eighth-grade general science told us, with enough heat — I’m thinking a thermonuclear flamethrower — might be able to ignite the metal in the fire extinguishers.

There you have it. The only flammable objects in the entire Ice Hotel are the fire extinguishers – except, of course, that by the time you got them hot enough to catch fire they wouldn’t, because they’d be at the bottom of a river of melted walls and ceilings and floors and chandeliers and beds and staircases and platforms and bar stools and liquor glasses and the bar the glasses used to sit on.




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Bring On the Trillion Dollar Coin!

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Most Americans regard the federal deficit and the national debt as a single problem. In reality, they are two separate but related problems. Let’s decouple them and discover whether the widely disparaged idea of a “trillion dollar coin” would actually be an improvement over the practice of continuous borrowing to cover the federal government’s deficit.

Hard money is money backed by a tangible good, typically gold or silver. Fiat money is money backed only by the “good faith and credit” of the government issuing it. In the United States, fiat money comes in two flavors. The vast majority of US currency consists of Federal Reserve Notes and their electronic equivalents, backed by government bonds sold to the public and various central banks. These bonds pay interest that is booked as an expense within the government’s annual budget. For fiscal year 2016 interest payments on these bonds totaled $432 billion, or more than $2,800 for each income tax return filed.

Trump needs no additional congressional authority to mint the coin, since the enabling legislation is already in place.

The second type of US fiat money consists of all coinage and a small amount of paper money with the designation “United States Note” rather than “Federal Reserve Note.” This type of paper money, issued mostly in $2 and $5 denominations, circulated alongside Federal Reserve Notes until the 1970s, and is still occasionally found in circulation today. Coins and US notes are not backed by government debt and pay no interest.

A few years ago, when Republicans in Congress were refusing to raise the national debt ceiling, an idea was floated for minting a platinum coin with a face value of one trillion dollars. This was and still is technically legal, thanks to a 1996 law authorizing the minting of platinum bullion and proof coins. The law empowers the Secretary of the Treasury to strike platinum coins in any denomination that he or she deems appropriate. The idea was that the trillion dollar coin would be minted and deposited at the Federal Reserve, which would then credit the government’s account with a trillion dollars. The government could then spend this newly created money by “writing checks” on this account without having to increase the national debt ceiling or issue additional interest-paying bonds.

The idea died when Republicans caved in and agreed to raise the national debt ceiling. Fast forward to 2017, and now it’s the Democrats who are playing budget brinksmanship in an effort to force President Trump to restore funding for many of their pet causes, such as environmental projects and Planned Parenthood. Currently the fight is over the legislation needed to avoid a government “shutdown” by the end of April. Shortly thereafter, Congress must deal with raising the national debt ceiling. Many Democrats can be expected to oppose such an increase if Trump is unwilling to fund their most critical spending priorities. By teaming up with conservative Republicans who oppose on principle any increase in the national debt, congressional Democrats would likely have the votes to block any debt ceiling increase and thus threaten another government “shutdown.”

However, President Trump has the option to do an end run around the Democrats’ plan by dusting off the “trillion dollar coin” idea and actually implementing it. He needs no additional congressional authority to do so, since the enabling legislation is already in place. This would be a bold move with far-reaching consequences, most of them good.

More importantly, the “trillion dollar coin” would sever the link between mounting federal deficits and ever-higher interest payments on the national debt.

For starters, it would deprive the Democrats of their most potent legislative weapon in their drive to maintain and increase spending on programs that subsidize and empower their core constituencies. Defeating the Democrats’ plans would not eliminate the deficit, but it would lead to less government spending than any plan forged by a “bipartisan consensus.”

More importantly, the “trillion dollar coin” would sever the link between mounting federal deficits and ever-higher interest payments on the national debt. Freezing and then lowering these interest payments are essential to the nation’s economic health, as this interest is a substantial drain on disposable income and productivity.

All government-created fiat money is inflationary, and money backed by hard assets would be preferable. But fiat money backed by “trillion dollar coins” is neither more nor less inflationary than fiat money backed by interest-paying bonds. Of the two choices, the “trillion dollar coin” option is better for both taxpayers’ pocketbooks and the nation’s economic health.




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The Coming of Trump

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Donald Trump is president of the United States.

Few foresaw the Donald’s electoral triumph. Mavens from Nate Silver to veteran Republican strategist Mike Murphy to little old me (actually, I’m over six feet tall) were certain Clinton would win. With the exception of Allan Lichtman, no major American political scientist predicted a Trump victory. (I should mention that Doug Casey, whose name is on the masthead here, also predicted that Trump would win.) Even Trump and his people seemed, on election eve, prepared to face the agony of defeat.

How did most prognosticators get it so wrong? We simply didn’t foresee that Trump would break through to win the Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. That was the difference in the election; almost everything else went pretty much as expected. Trump did win Florida, which Obama had carried twice. This was something of a surprise, particularly since many of us believed that Hispanic voters (15% of the Florida electorate) would go overwhelmingly for Clinton. Yet Trump actually did better among Hispanics than Romney in 2012. He won almost 30% of the Hispanic vote, even though pre-election polls showed him with less than half that much support among Hispanics. Clearly there were some hidden Trump voters among this population — “good hombres,” from the Donald’s point of view.

Even Trump and his people seemed, on election eve, prepared to face the agony of defeat.

But hidden supporters weren’t the main reason why Trump outperformed Romney among minorities. More important was the fact that Trump wasn’t running against Barack Obama. A lot of minority voters who got off the couch twice for Barry couldn’t be bothered to vote for a white female Democrat, even though it probably would’ve been in their best interest to do so.

Conversely, the forgotten white voter — the working class whites in the upper Midwest and elsewhere who’ve been left behind in the post-industrial economy and feel threatened by the rise of women and people of color — turned out in unexpectedly high numbers. Economic, racial, and gender ressentiment motivated them enough to put down that can of Bud and drive the pickup over to the polling place.

In the summer of 2016 I had a conversation about the election with a prominent libertarian intellectual. I offered the opinion that the Trump movement represented a revolt of the lower middle class — of the people caught between the nouveau riche of the technology and information economy on the one side, and “coddled” minorities on the other. For years these white working class folks have seen themselves (rightly) as being taken for granted by the Republican establishment, and largely ignored by the Democrats.

A lot of minority voters who got off the couch twice for Obama couldn’t be bothered to vote for a white female Democrat.

A little later I discovered just how many white males without a college degree there are in the voting age population. I don’t recall the exact number offhand, but I do remember being surprised at how large it was. I also remember thinking that if a lot of those guys actually showed up at the polls, Trump could win. But I immediately dismissed that notion from my mind. A high percentage of those folks don’t vote, I said to myself. I believed they would simply continue to accept their fate. But these people, the American lumpenproletariat, saw in Trump a candidate who truly seemed to feel as they do about many issues. They believed that he could be a savior who would improve their lives and preserve their values. And on November 8 they came out to vote for him. Whether they will still support him in four years’ time, or even a year from now, may be another matter, but as of now their support remains pretty firm.

The effect of the Libertarian Party on the election is hard to quantify. Gary Johnson probably took more votes away from Trump, but I don’t see that he gave Clinton any states that Trump would otherwise have won. The Green Party, on the other hand, arguably cost Clinton the election.

I had expected that leftists would hold their noses and vote for Hillary. Given how scary Trump appears from their perspective, and given the example of 2000, when Nader and the Greens handed the election to George W. Bush, voting for Hillary would have been the Left’s best option. But I guess the far Left is as irrational about politics as it is about economics, social policy, human nature, etc. Had Jill Stein’s voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin cast their votes for Clinton, she and not Trump would have been elected. If the Trump administration crushes the hopes and dreams of American leftists, Jill Stein and her wooly-minded supporters will bear a good part of the blame.

An electoral upset of epic proportions was produced by a combination of apathy among many minority voters, enthusiasm for Trump among working class whites, and a few thousand votes cast by clueless leftists. There were in addition two other factors in Trump’s triumph. Two prominent Americans, a man and a woman, played outsized roles in the Donald’s march to victory.

The American lumpenproletariat saw in Trump a candidate who truly seemed to feel as they do about many issues.

The man in question is the late Antonin Scalia. The dead may not vote (outside of Chicago and a few other places), but Justice Scalia exercised, from the grave, a considerable influence over the outcome of the election. A lot of people in places such as the suburbs of Philadelphia were wary of having Hillary Clinton fill not just Scalia’s empty seat on the Supreme Court, but the next two or more vacancies as well. That’s a big reason why a majority of white women were willing to vote for a p***y-grabbing lech like Trump.

The woman, of course, is Hillary Clinton. Some of the hate for her is doubtless based on pure misogyny, or fake news stories swallowed whole by the ignoramuses of America (such as the absurd claim that she was involved in child sex trafficking). But of course it goes well beyond that. Her Kennedyesque penchant for making up her own rules, her money-grubbing, her patronizing style and blatant ambition are all deeply unsympathetic traits. Of course, Trump personifies the same character flaws, on top of which he has no grasp of policy. But it turned out that the voters preferred an uninformed, boorish man to a fairly clever but calculating woman.

What effect Russian hacking had on the election is still unclear, and it’s by no means certain that the investigations now underway will throw real light on the matter. That Putin directed his minions to work against Clinton (and therefore on Trump’s behalf) is pretty obvious, but did the hacking actually change votes, or keep Clinton supporters away from the polls? I find it hard to believe that Russians decided the election. Russian intervention in our politics is certainly something Americans should be upset about. On the other hand, we’ve interfered in so many other countries’ elections during the post-World War II era that the karmic bill had to come due at some point.

The dead may not vote, but Justice Scalia exercised, from the grave, a considerable influence over the outcome of the election.

I happen to favor a friendlier US-Russia relationship. Putin is a gangster, but a friendly Russia would be very helpful in dealing with the two biggest geopolitical threats that we face in the early 21st century, namely Sunni jihadism and Chinese imperialism. The Russian annexation of Crimea (equivalent to the United States taking back Florida if we somehow lost it) and Putin’s little war in eastern Ukraine are not critical to the survival and prosperity of the American people. Russia’s friendship would allow us to make our way in the world with far fewer headaches. That appeared to be candidate Trump’s view, but President Trump has been far more circumspect. Certainly the members of his national security team, now that General Michael Flynn has been removed as national security advisor, are hardly pro-Russian.

We can’t simply ignore Putin’s interference in our election — which, far from being a one-off, was part of a larger, ongoing Russian effort to disrupt the Western alliance. So the future of US-Russia relations remains murky, given the division of opinion on the subject among US elites. Of course, if Russia really has compromising information on Trump, then we face a very different situation, one that could even lead to a constitutional crisis.

To sum up the election: Trump stunned the world. Hillary won the popular vote, but this was due entirely to her lopsided majority in California. In the other 49 states Trump outpolled her by nearly a million and a half votes. He garnered two million more votes than Romney received in 2012. He won 30 states. It was a fairly close election, but a clear victory for the Donald. Like it or not, the result was comparable to John F. Kennedy’s 1960 win.

* * *

As Trump entered office the Republican Party appeared triumphant. Republicans controlled the presidency, both houses of Congress, and more than half of the governorships and state legislatures. But the GOP is in fact in serious crisis. The Republican candidate for president has lost the popular vote in six of the last seven elections. Republican majorities in Congress are magnified by the ruthless gerrymandering carried out by Republican-controlled state legislatures. The core constituency of the GOP, non-Hispanic whites, is shrinking as a percentage of the total population. The party itself is riven by profound ideological divisions. The man who led them to victory in 2016 is probably best characterized as a conservative Democrat (he is of course a ruthless opportunist above all, and better at it than anybody else on the contemporary political scene). Personally and ideologically Trump has little in common with either the Paul Ryan wing of the party or the evangelical-social conservative faction. If he can hold the party together over the next four years, he will go down as the greatest political genius-manipulator since FDR.

Hillary won the popular vote, but this was due entirely to her lopsided majority in California. In the other 49 states Trump outpolled her by nearly a million and a half votes.

Some analysts see this as a real possibility. The creation of such a grand coalition would require that the GOP establishment embrace much of the economic agenda of Trump’s working-class supporters. This is simply not going to happen, as the fights over the repeal of Obamacare and the imposition of a border adjustment tax have shown. The Republican Party has been Balkanized; economic nationalists such as Trump and Steve Bannon are bitterly opposed by economic libertarians such as the Koch brothers and members of the Freedom Caucus in Congress, with Speaker Paul Ryan falling between the two camps (Ryan’s heart is with the libertarians, but he supports the border tax). At the same time, devotees of Wall Street crony capitalism control the main centers of economic policymaking in the administration.

The fact that Grover Norquist supports the border tax sums up the state of flux — or perhaps one should say the schizophrenia — that marks the GOP’s attitude toward economic matters these days. Where it will all lead in terms of policy implementation is anybody’s guess. Confusion or stalemate (or both) seem, at this time, the most likely outcomes.

Meanwhile the social conservatives (some of whom are economic nationalists, while others align with the libertarians) have been thrown a few bones by Trump, such as the abandonment of Obama rules protecting transgender schoolchildren, and the push to defund Planned Parenthood. But social conservatives are toxic in two ways. First, they tend to be absolutist; they despise compromise when it comes to certain issues. Yet in a country as big and diverse as America, compromise is usually necessary. Second, they turn off a lot of people, and not just secularists, when they begin to get their way. Nobody likes moralizing hypocrites (and hypocrites they are — imagine their reaction if Obama’s voice had been heard on the p***y-grabbing tape, yet Trump was given a pass) except perhaps others of their ilk, and the majority of Americans are not moralizing hypocrites. For Trump to keep the social conservatives on board without alienating the rest of us will require a very fine balancing act. And in 70-plus years of life, Donald Trump has not displayed the acumen and tact that such a balancing requires.

At the moment the party is so dependent on Trump, or rather his white working-class supporters, that there’s little it can do but tolerate his personal and policy eccentricities. Nevertheless, many (indeed, most) Republican politicians would much prefer to have Mike Pence sitting in the big seat. The congressional leadership, the people who ran against Trump in the Republican primaries, the internationalists and free traders, and many social conservatives loathe Trump the man, though very few of them have so far dared to say so openly. For the moment they are with him; they have little choice but to support him. They know that without Trump’s working-class support the GOP is doomed to become a minority party nationally, even given the disarray among the Democrats. But if Trump should falter, the party will dispense with him and turn the presidency over to Pence. Trump’s many ethical and legal conflicts, simmering on the political backburner, can be used to ruin him. If his core supporters should abandon him, a scandal or scandals will be brought before the public, followed by congressional and other investigations, ending in resignation or impeachment.

For Trump to keep the social conservatives on board without alienating the rest of us will require a very fine balancing act. And in 70-plus years of life, Donald Trump has not displayed the acumen and tact that such a balancing requires.

Last year I published an essay in Liberty that discussed the existence of “Deep Politics” in post-World War II America. The Trump period, however long it lasts, will be a time of deep political intrigue on a scale unseen since the Nixon years. Only political and policy success — and perhaps not even that — can keep Trump in office for a full term.

* * *

Will Trump’s policies succeed, will his popularity with his core supporters remain high? There are plausible scenarios under which a Trump administration does in fact “succeed.” Yet it’s clear that Trump is the least qualified person to be elevated to the position of leader of the Western world since Elagabalus was made Emperor of Rome in 218 CE. And then there’s the coterie of advisors who surround him.

The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, was rejected for a federal judgeship by the Republican-majority Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986 because there were indications that he might be a bigot. Bigoted or not, he supports policies that are for the most part reactionary and bound to excite opposition. We may see a new front opened in the War on Drugs, specifically against states that have legalized marijuana (ironic in that this administration will otherwise appeal to “states’ rights” in order to shift policy). Sessions also wants to imprison more nonviolent criminals, even though we already have the highest incarceration rate of any country on earth. He would have made a good attorney general for Woodrow Wilson in 1917, when that president was trampling on the rights of Americans in the name of winning World War I. But Sessions is probably not the man for the America of 2017.

The secretary of defense, retired Marine General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, was a good fighting general in the Patton mold. He’s a scholar, too, with an extensive private library. But he’s no administrator. He will find it difficult, and perhaps impossible, to master the vast bureaucratic complex he’s been called upon to oversee. Nor is it clear that his intellect and forceful personality will wear well over time with the Ignoramus-in-Chief. His tenure as defense secretary may well end before 2020.

Trump is the least qualified person to be elevated to the position of leader of the Western world since Elagabalus was made Emperor of Rome in 218 CE.

The new secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was CEO of ExxonMobil for a decade before becoming our nation’s top diplomat. Many readers of Liberty will be pleased to learn (if they don’t already know) that he’s a devotee of Ayn Rand. Others may agree with Steve Coll that Tillerson’s appointment confirms “the assumption of many people around the world that American power is best understood as a raw, neocolonial exercise in securing resources.” Tillerson, a former Eagle Scout, does not appear well-equipped to perform the duties of the nation’s top diplomat. During his confirmation hearings he created an international incident by threatening China with war in the South China Sea.

Now, I’m very much in favor of taking a stronger line with China, but I don’t believe that a hot war in the South China Sea or the Taiwan Straits is in our interest. Tillerson, with the rich oil and gas resources of the South China Sea in mind, may think otherwise. Additionally, Tillerson has complicated connections to Putin and Russia that may leave him open to charges of conflict of interest as he seeks to manage that very important bilateral relationship.

I am happy to say that Trump’s initial choice as national security advisor, retired Army general Michael Flynn, has disappeared from the scene as a result of ethical lapses and conflicts. His successor, Army general H.R. McMaster, is superbly qualified for the job. A man of courage and integrity, with a fine record of combat leadership in Iraq, he’s also probably the foremost intellect among currently serving general officers. Together with Mattis he should be able to keep Trump’s foreign policy on an even keel.

The most problematic of Trump’s appointments may be those to his economic team. Steve Mnuchin as secretary of the treasury and Gary Cohn as director of the National Economic Council should disturb many of Trump’s most devoted followers. You will perhaps recall how some of those followers berated Ted Cruz on national TV, simply because the senator’s wife worked for Goldman Sachs. Well, the new treasury secretary and the head of the NEA are both Goldman alumni. Until his appointment, Cohn had for many years been Goldman’s second-in-command. Of course, since many of Trump’s most devoted supporters are, objectively speaking, intellectually deficient, the Goldman connection may cause nary a ripple — at least at first.

Rex Tillerson does not appear well-equipped to perform the duties of the nation’s top diplomat.

Trump will need to deliver on his populist promises of more and better jobs, better and cheaper health care, and no cuts to Social Security and Medicare, or he is almost certain to lose the support of the working-class whites who put him in the White House. If he fails, then the cry of “Down with the plutocracy!” will be heard across the land, and none will be shouting it louder than the working class.

Perhaps even more important than the Cabinet members are the councilors who will surround the new president. Of these the most important are White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist and senior counselor Steve Bannon, and Trump’s son-in-law and “senior advisor,” 36-year-old Jared Kushner.

Priebus is the link to Paul Ryan and the Republican leadership in Congress, and to the Republican establishment. A modest man who has much to be modest about, he is likely to be a coordinator rather than a maker of policy. How well he can control, or rather restrain, the Donald remains to be seen. The initial returns are not promising. I would not be surprised if Priebus becomes little more than a cypher, with Bannon and Kushner, more forceful personalities, monopolizing the boss’s ear.

Bannon needs to pick up his game, and soon, or he’ll be back at Breitbart News, writing screeds attacking his former colleagues and boss.

Bannon has been widely castigated as a racist, a fascist, an anti-Semite, etc. He is in fact none of these things. Though a bomb-thrower to be sure, he nevertheless has a great deal of worldly experience and the capacity to look at issues with a fresh (and sometimes withering) eye. He should not be underestimated by his opponents on the left (or the right). He probably sees the best way forward to achieving a successful first term. Like Mattis, McMaster, and Kushner, he should be a very important actor in the unfolding of the Trump administration.

On the other hand, the botched attempt to ban entry to the US by Muslims from seven designated countries, which not only endangered the lives of people who had been of great help to us in Iraq but is still tied up in the courts, and the failure of the badly written bill designed to repeal and replace Obamacare, were largely Bannon’s fault. He needs to pick up his game, and soon, or he’ll be back at Breitbart News, writing screeds attacking his former colleagues and boss.

By all accounts Kushner was a key player in the Trump campaign. Being married to Ivanka Trump further fortifies his position. Yet he’s clearly untested when it comes to both domestic and world affairs. As with many young people, what he knows, he knows well. But what he doesn’t know he hasn’t yet begun to suspect exists. This could be a recipe for trouble, particularly should he come into conflict with more seasoned advisors to the president.

* * *

A successful Trump presidency could provide some satisfaction to libertarians. Lower corporate and individual taxes and less regulation are bedrock principles for most libertarians. But beyond that. . . . Remember, Trump’s margin of victory was provided by white working-class voters. These voters expect certain things from a Trump presidency that are not on the libertarian agenda.

For these folks a successful Trump first term will require that he indeed passes a trillion-dollar infrastructure program that provides millions of $20-$30 per hour jobs in construction and related fields. It will require that some manufacturing jobs come back to America from Mexico and elsewhere (although we know that any major return of such jobs to the United States is, for several reasons, an economic impossibility). It will require that he replace Obamacare with something that gives average Americans the same or better coverage, and at lower cost. It will require that not a cent of Social Security or Medicare benefits be cut, now or in the future. Can Trump do this?

Trump may get his trillion-dollar infrastructure program passed, and given the fact that interest rates are still very low, now would indeed be a good time to borrow that money and do the work. But the rest of what Trump needs to do to secure his presidency and build a new, nationalist Republican Party based on the working class is not only anathema to most libertarians and mainstream Republicans but pure pie-in-the-sky economically.

He is, in short, likely to fail. And if he fails his working-class base will disappear like snow in an oven. And then the knives will come out, and all the people the Donald has traduced and humiliated will have their revenge. The investigations will begin, dirt will be found, and the huckster and showman will no longer have an audience to applaud and bay at his every rich slander and outrageous lie.

Should this scenario become reality, how the final act will play out is far from certain. It’s not likely that Trump will go quietly, as Nixon did. On the contrary, Trump appears to know no limits when it comes to preserving his self-image as a conquering hero. What this may portend for America’s future is difficult to contemplate.




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Trust the Beauty, or Risk the Beast?

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While flipping through the channels I recently came across the 2004 remake of The Flight of the Phoenix. It led to the obvious question: why remake a perfect movie?

Sure, the original (1966) was filmed in black and white, but so was Citizen Kane. I frankly think the black and white cinematography contributed to the bleakness of the landscape and the hopelessness of the crash survivors. The remake is contrived and uninspiring, with no redeeming value beyond its color film. Why mess with perfection?

I asked myself the same question this week while watching two recent remakes of classic films that coincidentally share a theme: Beauty and the Beast and King Kong.

The updated story gave Kong a more sympathetic personality as the lovesick beast, but the script doesn’t wear well, especially the airheaded lines written for the female lead.

Do we really need another version of King Kong? Perhaps it was useful to remake the original 1933 black and white version that starred Fay Wray as the beautiful actress Ann Darrow who tames the heart of the beast. Masterpiece though it was for its time, its stop-action animation is laughably jerky for modern viewers. A makeover with modern special effects made it more accessible to the common audience, although film aficionados believe the original’s distance from verisimilitude helps to make it mythic.

The 1976 version with Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange updated the script as well as the special effects, trading the film director for an oil magnate (Charles Grodin) and the Empire State Building for the World Trade Center. The updated story gave Kong a more sympathetic personality as the lovesick beast, but the script doesn’t wear well, especially the airheaded lines written for Lange’s character, the actress Dwan.

The 2005 version with Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow and Jack Black as the director Carl Denham was spectacular, improving upon the technical quality of the film (and the acting) while returning to the original 1933 setting, the original storyline, and the original climax atop the Empire State Building. Watts was especially luminous in the role of the ingénue “whose beauty killed the beast,” and her tenderly flirtatious scene with Kong in Central Park, where so many romantic comedies have been filmed, was poignant and lovely.

This aspect of the film gives it a slightly libertarian tone, but for the most part it’s pretty standard prehistoric monster fare.

That should have become the definitive update of King Kong; there was no need for another. But here we are with Kong: Skull Island, and a quite different story. In each of the earlier versions, King Kong is captured, transported out of his wilderness habitat, and put on display as an entertainment spectacle, with an awe-inspiring chase scene culminating atop the world’s tallest building. By contrast, the latest version takes place entirely on Skull Island, where the hapless protagonist is not an entertainment impresario but a geologist and monster hunter who has enlisted the US Army as a protective escort. The girl (Brie Larsen) is a photographer, not an ingénue; the antagonist (Samuel L. Jackson) is a colonel, not an oil magnate; and Kong is not a lovesick tyrant but a benevolent king who has been risking his own life and safety to protect his subjects — the other creatures who inhabit the island — from a colony of evil underground lizards. Instead of trying to capture Kong and take him to civilization, these explorers and their escorts are trying to escape the island. The movie is often reminiscent of Jurassic Park with its numerous “Eww!”-inspiring deaths in the jaws of prehistoric creatures munching humans like appetizers.

While the 1976 King Kong asked us to view women as airheads and petroleum corporations as villains, Kong: Skull Island invites us to contemplate important political and social questions. What business does the US military — or scientists and anthropologists, for that matter — have going into other lands, guns a-blazing? How can we tell the good guys from the bad guys in a culture that’s foreign to us? Who should shoulder the blame when we get it wrong? How can we best transform enemies into allies? When is it right to defy authority? This aspect of the film gives it a slightly libertarian tone, but for the most part it’s pretty standard prehistoric monster fare.

Another new film based on the beauty and the beast dichotomy is, well, Beauty and the Beast, Disney’s live-action remake of its 1991 cartoon that was the first animated film to be nominated by the Academy for Best Picture in the feature film division — it’s that good. The score for both films, written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, is sublime. I’ve heard the title ballad, sung wistfully in the original film by Angela Lansbury, hundreds of times over the past 25 years, and the opening strains never fail to elicit a nostalgic tear. It is a perfect film.

So why remake the animated Beauty and the Beast? As it happens, this “perfect film” was a remake too. Jean Cocteau’s 1946 live action film is a magical fairy tale less known to American audiences because it is French. The story is more true to Madame La Prince de Beaumont’s book, in which a father asks his three daughters what they would like him to bring them when he goes into town. The two older girls ask for jewels and dresses, but the youngest wants only a rose. This later becomes significant, because the beast, whose spell can only be broken by true love, realizes that a girl who loves nature instead of material goods could see past his ugliness and recognize the goodness inside him.

I’ve heard the title ballad, sung wistfully in the original film by Angela Lansbury, hundreds of times over the past 25 years, and the opening strains never fail to elicit a nostalgic tear.

Cocteau alludes to several fairy tales in his film: Belle is the Cinderella who must clean while her sisters play; she’s the Snow White who can see into a magic mirror; her bedroom in the Beast’s castle is a garden like Georgina’s boudoir in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark.” Instead of animated special effects, Cocteau uses creative costuming to suggest that humans have been transformed into furnishings, and his lack of explanation adds to the magical effect. But this is a grownup fairy tale, not geared toward children. It’s sensuous and seductive. Leaving Belle’s room, the Beast drags his hand lingeringly across the exposed breast of a statue. Belle, lying on her bed, caresses the mirror on which she sees the Beast’s face. Cocteau’s direction is deliberately unrealistic and balletic, adding to the otherworldly effect. It is a beautiful, magical film, made all the more magical by the ambiguous ending — has the spell been broken and are they going to live happily ever after in his kingdom, or have they died and gone to heaven? The hissing swans in the stream where Belle finds the Beast near death suggest the latter; in mythology, swans and rivers are a symbol of “crossing over” to death.

During the past 30 years, Disney Studios successfully adapted many of the best-loved animated stories, including B&B, for the musical stage. Now they’re in the midst of adapting 20 of those animated films to live-action format. Perhaps the studio heads foresee a time when animation won’t be as appealing to children; perhaps they simply realize that releasing a new version of an old favorite is guaranteed box office gold. Indeed, the new B&B earned $357 million worldwide in its first weekend alone, and it doesn’t show signs of slowing down as mothers who were little girls a generation ago flock to the theater with their broods for a sweet spoonful of nostalgia.

So — is it really that good? Half a billion dollars worth of good? The music is just as wonderful, and a new song written for the Beast when Belle leaves him to rescue her father provides a deeper character development for him. The supporting characters who have been turned into household furnishings by the witch’s spell are richly drawn and charmingly voiced by such seasoned actors as Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, and Audra McDonald. But as the voices of household furnishings, they aren’t actually live action, are they? They’re simply animated in a different way. And it works wonderfully, especially when the furnishings return to their human forms and we recognize them with the same spark of joy as if they were departed relatives returning from the dead.

Watson has an unhealthy, unnatural thinness about her that always makes me want to give her a cookie or two.

However, Belle (Emma Watson) is a disappointment in many ways. Known for her role as Hermione in the eight Harry Potter movies, Watson is believable as an asexual bookworm but not as the buxom beauty who could capture the interest of the town’s lecherous and superficial Gaston (Luke Evans). Watson has an unhealthy, unnatural thinness about her that always makes me want to give her a cookie or two. Anorexia simply isn’t a good look for the most beautiful girl in town. By contrast, Brie Larsen, who plays the beast’s love interest in Kong: Skull Island, has a natural, healthy, unaffected beauty that would have been perfect for Belle — the girl whose very name means “beautiful.” Surely in all of Hollywood, with a film budget of $160 million, the casting director could have found a more believable actress to carry this film. Or maybe anorexia is a good look in Hollywood these days?

Watson’s singing voice is weak, and her speaking voice is cloyingly irritating with its contrived and officious accent. (I suspect she needed elocution lessons when she was cast to play Hermione, and was too young to make it feel natural.) For the Harry Potter movies the haughty, artificial accent works — Hermione is a schoolgirl trying to be noticed in a boys’ world, and her bookish intelligence successfully counterbalances her waiflike stature. By contrast, Belle’s most significant character trait is her independence — her refusal to bend to society’s expectations. The artificial accent belies that determination to be true to herself.

To return to my original question: this may not be a “tale as old as time,” but it is a tale as old as film — the story about whether to trust the beauty of a classic film or risk the beast of a remake. Had I never seen the originals, I would probably have loved both these films. Kong is an exciting adventure with well-drawn characters, and the music of B&B soars, despite the weakness of Belle. Perhaps each generation needs its own version of the classics, updated to reflect the social concerns of the day: the feminism of the ’70s, the corporate greed of the ’90s, the military overreach of today. Cocteau’sB&B, made at the end of WWII, alludes to the bestiality of war and the humanizing effect of a woman’s influence: the Beast’s hands smoke when he kills his prey, but the narrator assures us, “A young maiden has the power to tame the beast in a man.”

Cocteau opens his Beauty and the Beast with the statement, “Children believe what we tell them. They have complete faith in us.” Moviemakers wield that same kind of mythic power. Perhaps that’s why I prefer the classics among films: they speak to a mythology and social discourse that were current in my youth, and continue to resonate for me today.


Editor's Note: Review of "Kong: Skull Island," directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Legendary Entertainment, Warner Brothers, 2017, 118 minutes; and "Beauty and the Beast," directed by Bill Condon. Disney Studios, 2017, 129 minutes.



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