The Rhyme of Texas History

Senator Wendy Davis knew exactly what she was getting into.  Her stand was to be a 13 hour test of endurance, constantly speaking without any food or water.  Since she couldn’t even sit, a back brace reinforced her spine.  Her feet that would carry the load were shorn with pink running shoes, the uniform of a marathoner.  She girded herself for the physical strain of a filibuster, the only way to stop SB5, a series of restrictions on abortion that would close 37 of the 42 clinics in the state if passed.  The rights of all women of Texas were on the line, and Senator Davis would not yield.

On a warm day 177 years earlier Jim Bowie heard the army of General Santa Anna was approaching San Antonio.  Though he was ailing, he readied for the fight.  He and 188 other men made their last stand for freedom in the mission known as the Alamo.   After a 13 day siege, Santa Anna’s troops stormed in and slaughtered them all.  But the process wasted 3 weeks, giving Sam Houston time to organize – and the news of the slaughter confirmed it was now a death match.  They would either win their freedom or die trying.  The Texans rallied and eventually won their independence.

Senator Wendy Davis’ fight is not over, and with a new special session it is likely to end in defeat.  But like the Alamo, sometimes a battle lost is a war won.

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Wealth is How You Feel

Around the world, two stories have been consistent since 2008 – the developed world is struggling with a depression while the developing world largely charges ahead.  The two worlds have never been so far apart as the careen towards similarity.  But in this hemisphere, three stories have come to show where it all comes together – how “wealthy” is what a nation feels more than how it is.

Forget how Japan and Europe are wallowing in desperation for a while – on this side of the big ponds things are happening.  It may be slower than anyone wants, but change is happening.  The reactions to that change show that my favorite saying is still true – that while people are people, cultures are cultures.  Wealth, or at least the feeling of wealth, is a state of mind.

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Pirate Banking

Avast, ye dogs!  So you live on a small rock with no resources and a pretty hard life.  Ships loaded with treasure go past all the time, hardly protected by anything other than a navy which you can spot over the horizon.  What do you do?  For big hunks of the Caribbean and many other parts of the world, the answer for many was to turn to piracy, or at least turn a blind eye to it.  Rich nations could afford to give a little bit to the cause and, as long as the gunships were far away, life was pretty easy.

Those were the good old days.

Some tiny nations that used to be havens for pirates have found a new, more lucrative way of making a living out of nuthin’.  Rather than prey on the wealthy, they help hide their wealth – not under the “X” on a treasure map, but in a real bank operated far from prying eyes (and taxing ledgers).  An estimated $32 trillion (as of 2010) is hidden away in the tiny nations on the fringes of civilization.  It’s an issue which is becoming as hot as the Caribbean sun in most of the developed world, especially the UK.  But what can be done about it?

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Cold Currency War

In the Cold War, the foundation of diplomacy was mutual fear and hatred.  With that behind us, interdependence  has introduced a new system which includes much closer relationships – and something more like angst and loathing.  So has our relationship with China evolved.

As China has awakened, the GDP has grown by a factor of ten since 1990.   The population went from 22% urban to 52%.  All of this came at the expense, and mutual support, of hungry US consumers, corporations, and our nearly limitless need to finance our debt.  It was too much, too quickly, and wise investors saw that it was a bubble ready to pop – or at least relax the insane pace.

That day is coming very soon.

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Professor Bernanke, Again

I think most of us would agree that people who have, say, little formal schooling but labor honestly and diligently to help feed, clothe, and educate their families are deserving of greater respect – and help, if necessary – than many people who are superficially more successful. They’re more fun to have a beer with, too. That’s all that I know about sociology.
– Ben Bernanke

President Obama has made it clear that next January, when his term is up, Chairman Bernanke is going to be replaced.  It’s not like the big guy is being fired, though.  “Ben Bernanke’s done an outstanding job,” Obama said in an interview with Charlie Rose.  “He’s already stayed a lot longer than he wanted or he was supposed to.”  What else would he want to do than to be arguably the most powerful man in the world?  Simple.  The title “Professor Bernanke” always suited him much better than “Chairman Bernanke”.

That’s just about the only thing that his admirers and critics can agree about him  – although the former might laugh it out while the latter would say it though clenched teeth.

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Funny is More Fun

Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies.
 – E B White.

What makes something funny?  It turns out that there are many different Humor Theories and none of them are funny.  That may seem like a problem right there, but the irony that you expect it to be funny and it isn’t could be funny if you … Hey!  Wait!

OK, so this duck walks into a bar and asks the bartender, “Why is it so often a duck?” and the bartender says, “Look, if you want to analyze stereotypes you could ask why it’s always a bar.”  The duck shrugs his wings, sits down, and gets so hammered he doesn’t even remember pecking to death the priest, the rabbi, and the lawyer.

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A Coming Golden Age. Really.

Perhaps the economy is a lot like the weather – if you wait long enough, it has to get better.

As we’ve noted before, income inequality is likely to improve in the US and the rest of the developed world once the postwar “Baby Boom” starts to retire.  With as much as a quarter of the population removed from the labor force, there will be more jobs to go around – perhaps even too many.  Wages are likely to rise and opportunities for employment will be everywhere.

If that doesn’t sound good enough, recent studies have suggested that inflation is likely to be low as the population ages, meaning interest rates will remain low and capital is likely to be plentiful.  It’s starting to sound like this Depression is going to end with a golden age.  Seriously.

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