What’s wrong with American trade? In short, the people America has negotiating its trade agreements. One Robert E. Lighthizer, a deputy trade rep under Reagan, took to the New York Times this week to tells us all what was wrong with current and recent trade policy. What he managed to show is that if people holding these sorts of views are the ones negotiating trade pacts on our behalf then we’re all ruined.

I’ll just start with his gross misconception of the effects of VAT. His claim is that because you don’t pay VAT on exports but you do on imports then countries which have a VAT unfairly subsidize exports. This is what is known in technical circles as “€œinsane”€. A VAT is a sales tax and in the US sales taxes are not imposed upon exports and they are upon imports. Further, he claims that the US relies mostly upon income taxes for revenue while the countries that have VATs rely mostly upon that VAT. He seems not to realize that the VAT is, just like sales tax, imposed on top of all of the other taxes.

But that isn’t his really great and grand mistake. No, he’s committed the ultimate sin in the consideration of trade and production. All of his complaints are about how current trade rules make things difficult for producers and exporters. All of his desired actions are about how to make things easier for producers and exporters. All of which is entirely the wrong way to think about either production or exports.

We don’t run the economy for the benefit of producers and we most certainly shouldn’t run it for them. The aim is to give consumers the maximum possible satisfaction given current resources and technology levels. Adam Smith pointed this out so it’s hardly a new idea: the sole purpose of any and all production is consumption. So if, as Mr. Lighthizer complains, China subsidizes its exports, this is a benefit to the American consumer. Our correct answer to this is to say “€œThank you, please may I have some more”€ (or, as Calvin Coolidge allegedly said, when the messenger delivered to the Oval Office his first paycheck as President, “€œThank you. Please come again”€).

“There’s a very simple point to be made about trade. Imports are going shopping. Exports are just the shit we do so we can go shopping.”

All of his evidence falls afoul of this wildly incorrect viewpoint. Developing nations are growing faster than the US and therefore we shouldn’t open American markets to them. What? What has that to do with trade? The aim and point of trade is to give American consumers access to the glories of world production, not to give American producers the ability to sell to the world. All the talk of market opening offers not being made, of different labor and environmental regulations elsewhere, of again Chinese currency manipulation. They’re all entirely irrelevant.

They are, quite simply, nothing at all to do with what America’s attitude toward trade should be. That attitude is, again quite simply, that some people out there in that great big wide world are making things which are better, cheaper, different, sexier, than what is made in the US and Joe Six-Pack and his wife would quite like some of it please. And it ain’t the business of government to stand between Joe Six-Pack and what he and his wife would like. That other governments deny their own citizens the bounty of American production is an irrelevance. As the late great Cambridge economist Joan Robinson, said, just because someone else is throwing rocks in their harbors doesn’t mean we should throw rocks in our own.

And this ignorance of the very point of trade is what has made America’s trade policy so dysfunctional over the decades. That we’ve got someone arguing these things, as Mr. Lighthizer is, who was a trade rep for the country, as Mr. Lighthizer was, is simply appalling. It would be like appointing a trade union leader because he says the point of trade unions is to lower the workers’ wages. Appointing a General who said surrender is the best means of defence.

There’s a very simple point to be made about trade. Imports are going shopping. Exports are just the shit we do so we can go shopping. Unless and until America’s trade representatives understand that point then we’re always going to have an entirely dysfunctional trade policy.

During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. —George Orwell

There was a time when the pen was mightier than the sword. That was a time when people believed in truth and regarded truth as an independent power and not as an auxiliary for government, class, race, ideological, personal, or financial interest.

Today Americans are ruled by propaganda. Americans have little regard for truth, little access to it, and little ability to recognize it.

Truth is an unwelcome entity. It is disturbing. It is off limits. Those who speak it run the risk of being branded “€œanti-American,”€ “€œanti-semite”€ or “€œconspiracy theorist.”€

Truth is an inconvenience for government and for the interest groups whose campaign contributions control government.

Truth is an inconvenience for prosecutors who want convictions, not the discovery of innocence or guilt.

Truth is inconvenient for ideologues.

Today many whose goal once was the discovery of truth are now paid handsomely to hide it. “€œFree market economists”€ are paid to sell offshoring to the American people. High-productivity, high value-added American jobs are denigrated as dirty, old industrial jobs. Relicts from long ago, we are best shed of them. Their place has been taken by “€œthe New Economy,”€ a mythical economy that allegedly consists of high-tech white collar jobs in which Americans innovate and finance activities that occur offshore. All Americans need in order to participate in this “€œnew economy”€ are finance degrees from Ivy League universities, and then they will work on Wall Street at million dollar jobs.

Economists who were once respectable took money to contribute to this myth of “€œthe New Economy.”€

And not only economists sell their souls for filthy lucre. Recently we have had reports of medical doctors who, for money, have published in peer-reviewed journals concocted “€œstudies”€ that hype this or that new medicine produced by pharmaceutical companies that paid for the “€œstudies.”€

The Council of Europe is investigating big pharma’s role in hyping a false swine flu pandemic in order to gain billions of dollars in sales of the vaccine.

The media helped the US military hype its recent Marja offensive in Afghanistan, describing Marja as a city of 80,000 under Taliban control. It turns out that Marja is not urban but a collection of village farms.

And there is the global warming scandal, in which climate scientists, financed by Wall Street and corporations anxious to get their mitts on “€œcap and trade”€ and by a U.N. agency anxious to redistribute income from rich to poor countries, concocted a doomsday scenario in order to create profit in pollution.

Wherever one looks, truth has fallen to money.

Wherever money is insufficient to bury the truth, ignorance, propaganda, and short memories finish the job.

I remember when, following CIA director William Colby’s testimony before the Church Committee in the mid-1970s, presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan issued executive orders preventing the CIA and U.S. black-op groups from assassinating foreign leaders.  In 2010 the US Congress was told by Dennis Blair, head of national intelligence, that the US now assassinates its own citizens in addition to foreign leaders.


“The American media does not serve the truth. It serves the government and the interest groups that empower the government.”

When Blair told the House Intelligence Committee that US citizens no longer needed to be arrested, charged, tried, and convicted of a capital crime, just murdered on suspicion alone of being a “€œthreat,”€ he wasn”€™t impeached. No investigation pursued. Nothing happened. There was no Church Committee. In the mid-1970s the CIA got into trouble for plots to kill Castro. Today it is American citizens who are on the hit list. Whatever objections there might be don”€™t carry any weight. No one in government is in any trouble over the assassination of U.S. citizens by the U.S. government. 

As an economist, I am astonished that the American economics profession has no awareness whatsoever that the U.S. economy has been destroyed by the offshoring of U.S. GDP to overseas countries. U.S. corporations, in pursuit of absolute advantage or lowest labor costs and maximum CEO “€œperformance bonuses,”€ have moved the production of goods and services marketed to Americans to China, India, and elsewhere abroad. When I read economists describe offshoring as free trade based on comparative advantage, I realize that there is no intelligence or integrity in the American economics profession.

Intelligence and integrity have been purchased by money. The transnational or global U.S. corporations pay multi-million dollar compensation packages to top managers, who achieve these “€œperformance awards”€ by replacing U.S. labor with foreign labor. While Washington worries about “€œthe Muslim threat,”€ Wall Street, U.S. corporations and “€œfree market”€ shills destroy the U.S. economy and the prospects of tens of millions of Americans.

Americans, or most of them, have proved to be putty in the hands of the police state.

Americans have bought into the government’s claim that security requires the suspension of civil liberties and accountable government. Astonishingly, Americans, or most of them, believe that civil liberties, such as habeas corpus and due process, protect “€œterrorists,”€ and not themselves. Many also believe that the Constitution is a tired old document that prevents government from exercising the kind of police state powers necessary to keep Americans safe and free.

Most Americans are unlikely to hear from anyone who would tell them any different.

I was associate editor and columnist for the Wall Street Journal. I was Business Week‘s first outside columnist, a position I held for 15 years. I was columnist for a decade for Scripps Howard News Service, carried in 300 newspapers. I was a columnist for the Washington Times and for newspapers in France and Italy and for a magazine in Germany. I was a contributor to the New York Times and a regular feature in the Los Angeles Times. Today I cannot publish in, or appear on, the American “€œmainstream media.”€

For the last six years I have been banned from the “€œmainstream media.”€ My last column in the New York Times appeared in January 2004, coauthored with Democratic U.S. Senator Charles Schumer representing New York. We addressed the offshoring of U.S. jobs. Our op-ed article produced a conference at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. and live coverage by C-Span. A debate was launched. No such thing could happen today.

For years I was a mainstay at the Washington Times, producing credibility for the Moony newspaper as a Business Week columnist, former Wall Street Journal editor, and former Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury. But when I began criticizing Bush’s wars of aggression, the order came down to Mary Lou Forbes to cancel my column.

The American media does not serve the truth. It serves the government and the interest groups that empower the government.

America’s fate was sealed when the public and the anti-war movement bought the government’s 9/11 conspiracy theory. The government’s account of 9/11 is contradicted by much evidence. Nevertheless, this defining event of our time, which has launched the US on interminable wars of aggression and a domestic police state, is a taboo topic for investigation in the media. It is pointless to complain of war and a police state when one accepts the premise upon which they are based.

These trillion dollar wars have created financing problems for Washington’s deficits and threaten the U.S. dollar’s role as world reserve currency. The wars and the pressure that the budget deficits put on the dollar’s value have put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block. Former Goldman Sachs chairman and U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson is after these protections for the elderly. Fed chairman Bernanke is also after them. The Republicans are after them as well. These protections are called “€œentitlements”€ as if they are some sort of welfare that people have not paid for in payroll taxes all their working lives.

With over 21 percent unemployment as measured by the methodology of 1980, with American jobs, GDP, and technology having been given to China and India, with war being Washington’s greatest commitment, with the dollar over-burdened with debt, with civil liberty sacrificed to the “€œwar on terror,”€ the liberty and prosperity of the American people have been thrown into the trash bin of history.

The militarism of the U.S. and Israeli states, and Wall Street and corporate greed, will now run their course. As the pen is censored and its might extinguished, I am signing off.

“The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago, and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital.”

With this defiant declaration, to a thunderous ovation at AIPAC, Benjamin Netanyahu informed the United States that East Jerusalem, taken from Jordan in the Six Day War, is not occupied land. It is Israeli land and Israel’s forever, and no Palestinian state will share Jerusalem. Israel alone decides what is built, and where, in the Holy City.

With his declaration and refusal to walk back the decision to build 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem, which blew up the Biden mission, “Bibi” goes home a winner over Barack Obama.

But it is a temporary triumph and hollow victory—over Israel’s indispensable ally. For the clash revealed that the perceived vital interests of Israel now collide with vital U.S. interest in the Middle East.

We have clarity. There is now visible daylight between U.S. and Israeli policy for all the world to see. And America cannot back down without eviscerating her credibility in the Arab and Muslim world

What are the major points of contention?

“That the U.S. position is not anti-Israel is attested to by the fact that Prime Ministers Ehud Barack and Ehud Olmert came close to a peace with the Palestinians.

To Netanyahu, withdrawal from Gaza was a strategic blunder that led to a Hamas takeover and rockets on Israel. That blunder will not be repeated with the West Bank. Israel had a hellish time forcing 8,000 Jews to leave Gaza and will not force 250,000 Jews to leave ancestral lands on the West Bank to create a Palestinian state where the possibility will always exist that Hamas will win at the ballot box and become the government. As for Jerusalem, its city limits are now Israel’s permanent borders. Annexation is irreversible.

The American position?

The West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is occupied territory. Building there violates international law. Peace requires a sharing of Jerusalem, return of almost all of the West Bank and withdrawal of the Jewish settlers. And any land annexed by Israel must be compensated for with Israeli land ceded to the Palestinians.

That the U.S. position is not anti-Israel is attested to by the fact that Prime Ministers Ehud Barack and Ehud Olmert came close to a peace with the Palestinians based on these principles.

Netanyahu, however, does not accept them. For he won office denouncing them, and in his ruling coalition are parties that not only opposed withdrawal from Gaza, they oppose a Palestinian state.

Given the irreconcilable positions, the deadlock, why will Israel not prevail as she always prevails in such collisions? Why would Bibi’s “No” to Obama’s demand for a halt to the building of settlements and a cancellation of the 1,600 housing units in Jerusalem not be the final and irrevocable answer that Obama must grudgingly accept?

Answer: There is a new party to the quarrel: the U.S. military, in the person of Gen. David Petraeus.

According to Foreign Policy magazine, in January, a delegation of senior officers from Petraeus’ command were sent to brief Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen.

“The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CentCom’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israel’s intransigence on the Arab-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that (George) Mitchell himself was … ‘too old, too slow and too late.’”

Mullen took this stark message—that America was seen as too weak to stand up to Israel, and the U.S. military posture was eroding in the Arab world as a result—straight to the White House. Hence, when Joe Biden was sandbagged in Israel, he apparently tore into Bibi in private.

“This is starting to get dangerous for us,” Biden reportedly told Netanyahu. “What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Yedioth Ahronoth further reported: “The vice president told his Israeli hosts that since many people in the Muslim world perceived a connection between Israel’s actions and U.S. policy, any decision about construction that undermines Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem could have an impact on the personal safety of American troops.”

Biden was saying Israeli intransigence could cost American lives.

Each new report of settlement expansion, each new seizure of Palestinian property, each new West Bank clash between Palestinians and Israeli troops inflames the Arab street, humiliates our Arab allies, exposes America as a weakling that cannot stand up to Israel, and imperils our troops and their mission in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As this message has now been delivered by Gen. Petraeus to his commander in chief, Obama simply cannot back down again. If he does not stand up now for U.S. interests, which are being imperiled by Israeli actions, he will lose the backing of his soldiers.

U.S.-Israeli relations are approaching a “Whose side are you on?” moment. Either Bibi backs down this time—or Obama loses his soldiers.

I look forward to the day when news organizations start to ban anonymous comments on their Web sites.

Maybe that’s the foolish optimist in me, but I want to believe that we will finally admit—to ourselves and to the public at large—that allowing people to hide behind anonymity has not been good for our industry, our culture or our country.

This past week, Susan Goldberg—editor of The Plain Dealer, where I work—decided to reveal the e-mail address behind dozens of anonymous comments posted on our Web site, Cleveland.com, under the alias “lawmiss.” This same person, who has weighed in on criminal cases in the past, posted a comment assailing the mental state of a reporter’s relative, which violated our policy against personal attacks. An online editor used Web software to look up the e-mail address of “lawmiss” and discovered it was the same as the personal AOL account of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold. The judge has been the focus of considerable scrutiny in our newspaper. Earlier this month, she threatened to throw another Plain Dealer reporter in jail for refusing to divulge a source.

Saffold denied posting any comments. Her 23-year-old daughter said she posted a few comments using her mother’s e-mail. Saffold’s daughter attended the same high school as my daughter; I was her softball coach in the late 1990s. My heart sank at this news. We don’t know whether she’s the real culprit behind the comments, which included references to two death penalty cases in Saffold’s courtroom. We do know her mother was willing to let her take the blame.

“Never,” the judge told The Plain Dealer. “I have not. My daughter may have, but I have not.”

Though these circumstances throw us into choppy waters of our own making, I support Goldberg’s decision to disclose the judge’s potential tie to the comments. “What if it ever came to light that someone using the e-mail of a sitting judge made comments on a public Web site about cases she was hearing and we did not disclose it?” Goldberg told Plain Dealer reporter Henry Gomez. “These are capital crimes and life-and-death issues for these defendants. I think not to disclose this would be a violation of our mission and damaging to our credibility as a news organization.”

“A not-so-amazing thing happens when people feel safe: They start to speak their minds.”

Most news organizations allow anonymous comments on their Web sites. Many, if not most, journalists oppose the practice. Some of us deplore the hypocrisy of requiring that letters to the editor have verifiable identities, addresses and phone numbers while allowing anyone with a keyboard and an e-mail address to post the kind of stuff they never would say if they had to provide their names. It makes for many an ugly day, discouraging thoughtful discussions and repelling readers who don’t have the stomach for the daily dose of vitriol. The Plain Dealer’s John Kroll leads the heroic effort to keep the site civil, but it’s an ongoing challenge.

Some argue that allowing anonymity is a way of outing the bigots among us. But reading multiple posts, often by the same person using a variety of identities, amplifies voices and exaggerates numbers. The haters are small in number, but they are tenacious, and the resulting echo chamber fuels a growing climate of fear and rage born of false impressions.

I’ve made no secret of my disdain for this kind of forum. There are columns I no longer write because I won’t subject vulnerable people who never have been interviewed before to the online attacks of anonymous trolls. I learned that the hard way after the daughter of an out-of-work factory worker who killed himself called me sobbing because of anonymous comments attacking her father’s faith, courage and integrity.

“You never told me people would say those things about my father,” she cried. “My mother says she’ll never talk to me again.”

In the past year, I’ve experimented with an alternative online discussion board on Facebook. I post links to my columns and other stories, offer opinions or ask questions, and spirited discussions unfold. Everyone has an identity, which is easy to confirm using online sources. Most post photos of themselves and pictures of their friends and families. I know only about 20 percent of my Facebook “friends,” who represent a wide range of political views, economic backgrounds and professions, but over time we have built a virtual community.

A not-so-amazing thing happens when people feel safe: They start to speak their minds. Dozens, mostly women, tell me they never have expressed their opinions so publicly before.

I’m not saying we’ve figured out the model for newspapers. Facebook is a small, easily managed group compared with the public at large. But I do think we’re onto something.

And I know that this “something” starts with a name.

“You have the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk.”

That was only part of the recent verbal attack mounted by Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party on the new EU President, Herman von Rumpoy. Some were aghast at the rudeness, others overjoyed.  I confess that for me the biggest thrill came with the ensuing and guttural-accented howls of protest from the assembled ranks of European parliamentarians. But then, these whey-faced nonentities mean little to me, the corrupt, centralizing, socialist conceit that is the European Union still less.

The tirade against Rumpoy throws into relief the overarching importance in a celebrity-obsessed and multimedia age of personality. Belgium may be notable for a few things—mainly chocolates, pedophiles, and fictional detectives—but larger-than-life political figures are not among them. Of course, in Britain we have our own problems. Having the spawn of Shrek mated to Gollum as Prime Minister prevents us from throwing too many stones at others. Aside from bankrupting the nation, selling our gold, and raiding our pensions, Gordon Brown carries the obvious disability of having all the presence of a stale pretzel. 

That this leaden, drop-jawed, fingernail-chewing Cyclops of the manse manages to bully minions and throw tantrums is positively the upside. His spin-doctors call it passion. I would term it borderline sociopathic. Yet even if my most cherished dream were realized—to send Blair and Brown into Taliban country in a soft-skinned Land Rover (something they have forced upon British troops) with a chocolate hand-grenade between them—I suspect our Gordon would perform his duties with the aplomb of a book-keeper on prescription sedatives. His unique selling-point is supposedly that we get what we see. O Jesus, save us…

“At a time when politicians are considered about as appealing as pubic lice—nasty little critters that cling on, climb high, cause general irritation and are the devil to dislodge—we need parliamentarians with courage, integrity, personality and depth.”

Leadership is about…er…leading. It is to do with inspiring confidence, pointing the way, raising morale and taking people with you. Then there is the small matter of competence.  Gordon Brown makes me want to sit in a warm bath and open a vein.  At a time when politicians are considered about as appealing as pubic lice—nasty little critters that cling on, climb high, cause general irritation and are the devil to dislodge—we need parliamentarians with courage, integrity, personality and depth.  We are doomed. 

There is no doubt that Britain is heading for a more presidential style of politics. In practice it means we will get all the empty, stage-managed rhetoric and none of the vigour and optimism.  And there are fewer checks and balances on the executive over here, so we can expect the legislature to become ever more brutally neutered.

The grinning liar Blair started the rot with the spin, the shamelessness and the contempt for parliament. It was once said of him as a schoolboy that because he wanted to be liked by everybody he was liked by no-one. Perhaps it is the lot of all who seek to hold the centre ground—they just seem calculating and unprincipled. After all, there are few things more nauseating than the soft Left or a British Liberal Democrat. Their smugness alone could burn a hole in the ozone. Sniping from the middle-ground is their way, doing back room deals, cozying up to whatever and whomever will provide electoral advantage. And in-between times they will knit you a sweater of lentils, save a lichen and stab you in the back. Strange bedfellows (as a Brazilian rent boy said of the politico in the gimp mask). 

One of my fondest memories of university days concerns the complaint letters received by the varsity magazine regarding my satirical gossip-column. A particular correspondent stands out. For he railed frequently against what he perceived to be my elitist and defamatory leanings. How judgmental of him.  When I countered by mentioning him in every succeeding piece, he threatened to sue. Today, the same pompous creature is no less—and certainly no more—than a “€˜prominent”€™ Lib Dem MP (a fine example of an oxymoron).  Still craving publicity, he would doubtlessly sit in a bath full of custard with a jelly doughnut in his backside if he thought it would make him popular.  It would not.

Contrast this with politicians of stature. These are the ones with conviction and political and moral compass. Before going up to university, I once met Margaret Thatcher. Although somewhat awed in her presence, I contained my impulse to bow low (unlike the nervous Welsh rugby player who famously panicked and curtsied to the Queen). Mrs. T asked me what I was reading at university.  “€˜Politics”€™, I replied.  “€˜Straight politics?”€™, she inquired.  I nodded.  “€˜There’s no such thing as straight politics”€™, came her riposte.  Now there lies a truth.

Mediocrity and banality abound and we will get it close-up and personal in the forthcoming General Election. There will be no red meat, no bite, no real charisma or conviction.  Crippling national debt and power ceded to Europe have ensured this. The bungling and unaccountable technocrat rules. Put a small man in uniform and he becomes a tyrant; place him in the monumental edifice of the Palace of Westminster and he will merge into a political elite that has wrecked the economy and created a cultural morass, that has squandered the best of Britain and replaced it with an ersatz society short on values and long on state-dependency.  Against the nobility of those they send to die on battlefields overseas, modern cash-snuffling politicians are simply inadequate.

On a cold November night in 1605, when Guy Fawkes was discovered in possession of thirty-six barrels of gunpowder beneath the House of Lords, it was plain he intended to atomize the political class. His explanation was succinct. He wished, he said, to blow the Scots back to Scotland. Over four hundred years later—and having endured for too long Blair and Brown and their Scots coterie—my sympathies are warming for Fawkes. To purloin the words of the late and great comedian Bill Hicks—I”€™m just sowing seeds.


Once, in the years B. D. (Before Deinstitutionalization), Australia’s mental hospital care took two forms. There was the public-asylum form. Then there was the private-clinic form.

In the public-asylum form—Sydney’s Callan Park, Melbourne’s Yarra Bend—they basically locked you up for decades and threw away the key. (Former psychiatry professor John Cawte wrote a book called The Last of the Lunatics, which poignantly depicts the prevailing circumstances.)

The private-clinic form, exemplified by Chelmsford in Sydney’s hats-and-gloves northwestern suburbs, was much classier than the public-asylum one. Because at Chelmsford—the subject of a 1992 television documentary on Britain’s Channel Four—they took the trouble to kill you.

Say hello to Chelmsford’s Lord of Misrule, Harry “€œDeep Sleep”€ Bailey, who committed suicide in 1985 before he could be imprisoned for bumping off 26 of his patients. Bailey still has champions (any Wikipedia contributor’s criticisms of Bailey’s handiwork tend to result in accusations of being “€œa Scientology stooge”€).

Long ago, Callan Park and Yarra Bend went the way of reel-to-reel tape. While since about 1990 deinstitutionalization has been as obviously absurd as Marxism and no-fault divorce, Australians are stuck with it under every conceivable future government.

Meanwhile, even the most violent patients can seldom get admitted to Australian cities”€™ public psych wards, where such wards still exist. So if your mental illness is incapacitating but you haven”€™t specifically been commanded by Radio Neptune through your dental plate to shoot your five closest neighbors, then tough luck. Unless you have your own health fund membership, in which case…

An autobiographical fragment may here be pardonable. Since childhood I have had major depression, unaided—but periodically worsened—by medicine or electroshock. How much life events caused this condition, how much heredity did so (my father hanged himself in 1994), I neither know nor obsessively care.

“Group therapy almost always gets dominated by one patient, usually menopausal, who missed her métier through being too Caucasian for an Oprah interview and insufficiently svelte for the starring role in Precious.”

In such circumstances, planning a “€œcareer”€ becomes a farce. One simply lives as austerely as possible; buys supermarkets”€™ generic brands; forgoes a car, indeed a driving license; inhabits the nether-world of contract work; walks rather than taking buses or trains—let alone taxis—and clings to private health insurance (which in Australia is largely unknown, and where known, has no connection with employers”€™ benefits). I stay teetotal for 363 days annually (allowing myself a glass of champagne for Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve), and avoid cigarettes. Once I tried cannabis, unaware it was cannabis; I felt so nauseated that I never touched it again, and merely contemplating other prohibited substances appalls me. My physical health is pretty good.

All of these trivia lead to saying that when the Black Dog periodically sinks his fangs into my carotid artery, I must be hospitalized in a private clinic. Such a clinic has two features. First, male patients will be only half as numerous as female patients. Secondly, the clientele will often be binge-drinkers, drug-addicts, and—a new antipodean development—the spectacularly obese.

Some of us had quaintly thought that mental illness possessed qualitative differences from drunks”€™ and space-cadets”€™ problems. Free will, for one thing. The mentally ill do not choose mental illness, though we can indubitably aggravate our illness. But not once have I met a druggie whom kidnappers released solely after he agreed to assume druggie status. Or a boozer whose boozing derived from bullies pouring grog down his throat, à la waterboarding at Abu Ghraib.

Nevertheless, in a private Australian psych clinic now, no differentiation between patients wrestling with a mental condition from infancy, versus patients who chose their condition simply by Bonging On or sculling Jack Daniels, must ever be suggested. Clearly, being a lush or hophead is always someone else’s fault. You are therefore—no less than any Haitian or Chilean toddler under the rubble—an authentic “€œvictim”€. Well, cozy clinic jargon like “€œaddictive behavior victims”€ does sound more polite than “€œdipsos and stoners”€.

Nor can you escape the tortures of “€œgroup therapy”€, a procedure apparently imported from Maoist re-education camps to bourgeois Australia without the smallest intervening trace of individual self-respect. Group therapy promotes “€œthe power of positive thinking”€—the power of truthful thinking is clearly beneath consideration—and almost always gets dominated by one patient, usually menopausal, who missed her métier through being too Caucasian for an Oprah interview and insufficiently svelte for the starring role in Precious. The only way of properly greeting her fortissimo proclamations to complete strangers that “€œmoy tablets have destroyed moy libido”€ is to rush towards the nearest bathroom before, or indeed after, you vomit.

And the obesity levels! We are not talking old-fashioned Falstaffian portliness, we are talking the moribund Henry VIII. Maybe we need the psych equivalent of Hugh Laurie’s Dr. House, limping with his cane, for diagnoses: “€œYou”€™re not suffering from clerical sex abuse, you”€™re suffering from cheeseburger abuse. Get outta here.”€

A decade ago, clinics had the opposite problem: anorexic teenage girls. Since no anorexic teenage girl admitted to proletarian origin, I can only assume that anorexia’s chief precipitant was an upper-class zip code.

It need further be said only that I was treated courteously by psychiatrists, incomprehensible though the mere ignorant layman like myself must find a “€œscience”€ which in 1973 depathologized homosexuality through that fail-safe clinical method, a majority vote. From nurses I received particular kindness. From cleaning-ladies I received greater kindness still. And—must this really be spelled out?—I oppose reinstating the ancien régime’s viler elements: leucotomies, lobotomies, “€œchemical coshes”€, Nurse Ratched’s progenitors.

I merely wish psych care’s physical improvement had been matched by comparable emphasis on individual responsibility. Dr. Cawte himself, concluding The Last of the Lunatics, realized that the old system’s sheer severity could represent hope:

“€œThe greatest virtue of places like [the mental home in Adelaide, South Australia, where he worked] was of rallying—of summoning strength or courage after weakness, sickness or dejection … Refuge—of a temporary kind—supported by sound medical care, provides one solution. Salutary refuge from community stresses is one moral of these recollections.”€

Note for group therapists: “€œSalutary refuge”€ means “€œsalutary refuge.”€ It does not mean “€œletting patients blame parents / the class structure / an insensitive Christian Brother for every problem they have from pill-popping to head-lice.”€

With the Boomer Revolution came the reinvention of everything we used to take for granted. The first old guard institution they decided to shut down was, “€œDoing the math.”€ Now we have New Math and the word “€œScience”€ applies to everything from astrology to having your hair done. You can take classes in “How to be Gay,” “What not to Wear,” and “The History of Feminist Tweets.”

Of course, the side effect of all this “€œNobody’s Wrong”€ culture is “€œEverybody’s Correct”€—even dropouts like Michael Moore, Sean Penn, and Janeane Garofalo. You can say anything is a life-threatening epidemic because nobody took real math after freshman year of high school so nobody knows how much is too much. All of a sudden, people who did water colors of farts in college are telling you: how steel behaves under certain temperatures, how CO2 affects the global environment, how investment firms need to deal with bundled mortgages, and their favorite parts of a 2,300 page health care bill.

These same people believe: CEOs are the ones taking all our money, we need to pay more tax, our schools are underfunded, and our children aren”€™t safe.

It’s hard to ask someone who got a dolphin in math, “€œWhat’s the math?”€ but I ask it anyway. They don”€™t care. They just know we need more shit. The numbers don”€™t matter. “Yes they do!” I scream. Then they go off on some tangent about my anger and how it’s my mother’s fault.

Certainly CEOs making money off a company that failed is deplorable. John Thain made 10 million dollars after running Merrill Lynch into the ground but that’s one guy. Wall Street is one street. Yes, there are absurd bonuses going on down in one part of Lower Manhattan but you”€™re talking about a handful of pigs. Civil servants make an average of $40k a year in bonuses alone. That’s $480 000 000 000 in tips. Who’s John Thain again? I forgot. I”€™m supposed to pay more taxes to an entity that makes what, half a nantillion in tips? I”€™ve said this before but Obama’s going for a total handout of 13 trillion dollars. About half the American population is employed which means each worker will be obligated to pay $85,000. They say this math is unfair because the rich will be picking up most of the tab but that is quite the dinner bill. Why is it so hard for people to understand that 12 million people stealing a little is a lot more damaging than one guy stealing a lot?

“In the 1960s, children were reading Wuthering Heights in the third grade. Today you”€™re not going to get to Bronte until you”€™re third year at NYU and even then you”€™re going to need 40mgs of Adderall to follow it.”

Another annoying myth mathists (math racists) love to tell us is schools need more money. Oooh, they have the same books they had last year, how sad. The way education is going; having old books is a school’s only hope. In the 1960s, children were reading Wuthering Heights in the third grade. Today you”€™re not going to get to Dickens until you”€™re third year at NYU and even then you”€™re going to need 40mgs of Adderall to follow it. The truth is we”€™ve doubled spending on education since I was born and it hasn”€™t done anything to test scores. According to the US Dept of Education, today’s k-12 schools get about a quarter of a million dollars per classroom per year. If teaching kids using gold chalkboards and diamond chalk is not affecting a student’s grades maybe it’s time to stop bitching about money and give the teacher a second look.

Nowhere does this fear of numbers inconvenience us more than the safety obsession. My kid is expected to wear a helmet whether she’s ensconced in her safety seat on the back of my bike or simply pushing her scooter around the playground. Outside of retards, my generation didn”€™t know what a helmet was until we were in our 20s. Now I”€™m supposed to put my kids in car seats until they”€™re eight-years-old!? EIGHT!? No wonder American kids are getting so fucking fat. We”€™re not allowed to let them have any fun. When I was eight we were making jumps for our bikes that went so high, you had to bring a magazine with you to read while you were up there. Not only did we not have helmets we didn’t have brakes. We stopped the front wheel with our feet. The worst that would happen would be the ghetto blaster you duct taped to the handlebars might make the Mötley Crüe cassette skip. Cut to my son at that age sitting in a fucking car seat like a paraplegic? Hell NO!

The defendants of legislation like this point out stats like 300 children were killed last year because they graduated from child seats too soon. Then they twist the number and say, “€œImagine a school blew up with 300 children in it. There”€™d be a massive outcry.”€ Frankly, it’s a miracle there aren”€™t more fatalities on the roads. There, you just passed a guy you could”€™ve hit. There’s another. There’s a truck you could”€™ve smashed into. What if you went off the road there? You”€™d be dead, ad infinitum, thousands of times a day. When you factor in the trillions and trillions of potential crashes the average American driver avoids in his life on the road, 300 is beyond negligible. It’s literally a ten-thousandth of a percent! Math is so vilified in today’s Fear Economy, we are living our lives based on a thousandth of a percent of the population. That’s enough to make Gay Marriage look relevant.

I could go on about this for 3.5 more hours but I”€™m over my 700-word count, which is already 100 words over the average blog article so I”€™ll stop right here, on the 970th word. 

In the Swiss newspaper Zeit-Fragen, Professor Dr. Eberhard Hamer from Germany asks, “How Sovereign is Europe?”

He examines the issue and concludes that Europe has little, if any, sovereignty.

Professor Hamer writes that the sovereign rights of Europeans as citizens of nation states were dissolved with the coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty on Dec. 1, 2009. The rights of the people have been conveyed to a political commissariat in Brussels. The French, Germans, Belgians, Spanish, British, Irish, Italians, Greeks, and so forth, now have “European citizenship whatever this may be.”

The result of aggregating nations is to reduce the political participation of people. The authority of parliaments and local councils has been impaired. Power is now concentrated in new hierarchical structures within the European Union. European citizenship means indirect and weak participation by people. Self-rule has given way to authoritarian rule from top to bottom.

“Washington denounces other governments for human rights violations while itself violating human rights every day.”

Professor Hamer then examines the EU commissariat and concludes that it, too, lacks sovereignty, having submitted to the will of the United States. The problem is not only that Europeans are waging an unconstitutional war ordered by the U.S. in a region of the world where Europe has no interests. Europe’s puppet state existence goes far beyond its mercenary service to the American Empire.

The EU has given in to Washington’s demand for “free access to the banking data of the central financial service provider, Swift, in Europe. All financial flows in Europe (and between Europe and the rest of the world) will now be monitored by the CIA and other American and Israeli intelligence services.” The monitoring will include transfers within Germany, for example, and within individual cities. “The data, even data of completely innocent citizens, have to be stored for five years, of course, at the expense of the banks and their customers.”

How sovereign is the EU when it it unable to protect the financial privacy of its citizens from foreign governments?

For some time Zeit-Fragen has been reporting Washington’s pressure on the Swiss government to violate Swiss statutory law in order to comply with American demands to monitor financial flows within Switzerland and between Switzerland the world. Writers show their astonishment at the total contempt Washington has for the sovereignty of other countries and the privacy rights of their citizens.

We Americans should not be surprised. Not withstanding statutory laws, our privacy rights are long gone. In the U.S. privacy has become a cruel and expensive joke. It means that parents cannot find out about the college grades of a son or daughter without the permission of the son or daughter. It means that credit card companies, banks and other financial institutions are required to waste money sending a steady stream of “€œprivacy notices”€ to customers about the use of the customer’s information. It means an American cannot get information about his account with a credit card company, telephone, cable, and Internet provider, bank, utility company or make any alteration in his account without providing a stranger with his Social Security number or other private information over and beyond one’s name, address, and account number. This routine is a joke when the government has access to everything. It is part of our Orwellian world that privacy is protected by the requirement to give strangers private information over the telephone.

The American sheeple quietly accepted the complete destruction of their right to privacy. Encouraged by success in smiting the American people, Washington has now destroyed the privacy of Europeans.

Indeed, the “freedom and democracy” government spies on the entire world and sends drones into foreign countries to murder people disapproved by Washington.

Washington denounces other governments for human rights violations while itself violating human rights every day.

Washington puts foreign leaders on trial for war crimes, while committing war crimes every day.

What happens when the dollar goes and Washington no longer has the money to bribe compliance with its demands? When that day arrives, freedom will reemerge.

While you were sleeping, more women were claiming they”€™ve slept with Sandra Bullock’s (hopefully soon-to-be ex) husband Jesse James, and although his mistress count hasn”€™t reached a Tiger-level of absurdity, things don”€™t look good for the “€œVanilla Gorilla.”€ First, the overly tattooed Michelle “€œBombshell”€ McGee spoke about their 11-month affair and the world saw her dressed in full-on Nazi regalia, then blond stripper Melissa Smith told Star magazine typically classy Jesse contacted her via MySpace to kick off their two-year affair. Now photographer Brigitte Daguerre claims she also had sex with Jesse four times and saved all 195 of his texts as proof. Rumors have surfaced that Sandra was interviewing divorce lawyers, but how many women will it take for her to dump the bad boy for good? Because Playgirl knows Jesse won”€™t be getting any money from his Oscar-winning wife, they”€™ve offered him half a million dollars to pose nude in a “€œcircus-themed freak show”€ setting. In other affair news, a source told Us Weekly that isn”€™t wasn”€™t all strippers and waitresses for Tiger Woods“€”the golfer dated a teenaged LeAnn Rimes before she met (and later cheated on) husband Dean Sheremet.  

Grab the boxing gloves for the latest in celebrity feuds: Squeaky-clean Donny Osmond has a big problem with Lady Gaga’s prison-themed “€œTelephone”€ video and its “€œsexual exploitation and graphic violence.”€ Gaga hasn”€™t responded to the former teen idol’s rants”€”she’s too busy counter-suing ex-producer Rob Fusari (who filed a $30 million suit against her) for taking advantage of an “€œinexperienced performing artist.”€ Earlier this week, Avatar‘s James Cameron made another enemy when the prickly director called Fox News poster boy Glenn Beck “€œdangerous”€ and a “€œf—-ing asshole.”€ (Beck called Cameron “€œthe Antichrist”€ three years ago.) Beck responded on his show by donning 3-D glasses and calling the most successful film of all time “€œa Smurf-murdering movie.”€ Round one goes to Jimmy. And Akon has pissed off an entire country”€”the singer is banned from Sri Lanka after starring in a too-sexy music video (appropriately called “€œSexy Bitch”€) that featured a Buddha statue. 

Don”€™t tell Angie: Brad Pitt said he’s growing his scraggly beard out of “€œboredom.”€ Someone get that man a film role, or even a seventh kid. Photos of Angelina Jolie from her young modeling days are up for auction on Friday, and even at 15 years old, there’s no mistaking those signature lips. The polarizing Katherine Heigl is probably the first cast member to exit Grey’s Anatomy not on the heels of controversy. She says she’s leaving to focus on her new baby. Emma Thompson brought a hot date to the premiere of her Nanny McPhee sequel”€”a very well-behaved pig who trudged along the red carpet, hopefully far from the prying eyes of PETA. Less polite, apparently, is hothead Ed Westwick. While at a New York restaurant, the Gossip Girl rascal was so offended by someone taking photos, he had him kicked out, despite the camera never being aimed his way. Those wanting to see Jack and Karen from Will & Grace sort of reunited will have fire up the DVDs instead of heading to Broadway. Megan Mullally has dropped out of the comedy Lips Together, Teeth Apart, reportedly over drama with the show’s director. But Sean Hayes is still hitting the stage in Promises, Promises opening April 25.

Dennis Hopper is still trying desperately to end his 14-year marriage, and his lawyer said the Easy Rider star, who is down to 100 pounds and had to stop undergoing chemotherapy for prostate cancer, is too ill to be questioned by attorneys. Naomi Campbell won”€™t be outdone by anyone”€”the feisty supermodel is turning 40 in May, and her billionaire boyfriend (who some call “€œThe Donald Trump of Moscow”€ minus the hair) plans on throwing her a lavish party, surely stuffed wall-to-wall with celebrities and abused underlings. Lindsay Lohan‘s recent night out ended with her tripping and falling into a cactus, and the boozy star is blaming the paparazzi for pushing her. Somehow, that couldn”€™t be less surprising or, somehow, fitting. The First Family is taking advantage of spring break by ditching DC for NY”€”Michelle, Sasha, and Malia Obama have toured Brooklyn, trekked to Harlem, and went to the Great White Way to take in The Addams Family and Memphis. And in terrifying news, Amy Winehouse has taken to tweeting about wanting a machete. Get thee to rehab, stat.

The “fin de saison” feeling is like the end of term in boarding school. Bittersweet. At school one was cocooned from the big bad outside world, here in Gstaad, far from the crowds and bustle, one has time to ponder the melting snows and dream about one’s youth. Closing day at the Eagle club was fun. At the Taki Cup presentation—the overall winner and new record holder was John Taki, in 36 minutes—I reminded the members that the Taki Cup has lasted longer than both world wars combined, which means it is a far more important historical event. Some Belgian people agreed.

Yep, cocoon is the operative word around these parts. Snow conditions, the weather, our blood pressure and other such weighty subjects are what concerns us. The world is going to hell but here it is spring snow that takes precedence over world hunger or the siege of Gaza. Back in no longer merry old England things have never looked grimmer, yet a card from a loyal Speccie reader, Richard Humphrey, gives me some food for thought. In it he includes a letter dated Oct. 13 1940, and the address is 39 South Mossley Hill Rd. Liverpool.  It is addressed to My dear cousin Mary from her cousins and it includes such gems as “At times we get terrible gun fire but so far we have had no damage with bombs….we have given up going to bed at night…but everybody around here is keeping very busy, knitting and going to first aid classes. Oh, I might mention our beautiful Cathedral has had one or two knocks but I am pleased to say it is not very badly damaged. Dear Mary, I don’t think I will be able to send you your usual pudding and mincemeat as we are not able to get the fruit to make a lot.”

“The EU, of course, is a purely administrative construct, diametrically opposed to direct democracy, which means it will do anything to hurt good old Helvetia.”

Makes one want to scream, doesn’t it, how incredibly rude of cousin Mary’s cousins not to bake the pudding while the bombs are falling. Strength, discretion, honor, all the things we so value today but missing back then. Right? Wrong with a capital W, but what the hell. The neglect of real priorities in Britain would make me weep if I were British, but being Greek makes it so much better—as long as there’s Germany around, that is. Friends ask me time and again why I no longer live in London. Well, back in the seventies things like the three-day week were bad but one somehow felt things could not go on as they were. And they didn’t. What happened was Margaret Thatcher. Lady T sure had her priorities right. Unlike the Blair-Brown gang, she did not bribe her way to power, in fact she did the opposite. And she did it so well the country lived off the fat for twenty years after those very great men brought her down. Now somebody has to pay but no one’s willing to reach for the bill. Brits have always been slow on the draw, but this is ridiculous. People are striking to keep their bloated earnings, and one in four is permanently unemployed and happy to be so because of benefits. Good old England and her people, just like cousin Mary’s lot.

But there’s always Dave. The reason his polls went down was that he told a few truths, and telling a truth to a modern Brit is instant seppuku. Now he’s reverted to type and tells people what they want to hear. Voters the world over like to hear anything but the truth, that’s why I’ve never been much of a democrat and count Franco, Pinochet and Metaxas among my heroes. And just look at Switzerland, God’s country as far as I’m concerned, because it is the only nation that practices direct democracy starting at hamlet level. In 1992, after a referendum, the Swiss refused the Circe-like calls to join the EU and become slaves to the crooks of Brussels. But the Swiss made it clear they wished to come to good terms with the buraucrooks and have bent over backwards to accommodate the sob’s ever since. The EU, of course, is a purely administrative construct, diametrically opposed to direct democracy, which means it will do anything to hurt good old Helvetia. At the UN last summer there was a motion tabled to dismantle Switzerland and divide up the pieces among her neighbors! Thank God it didn’t pass but the thought was there. 

See what I mean about democracies?  They are nothing of the kind, just a bunch of bureaucrats who are too fat and gouty to wear military uniforms and boots but surreptitiously act in a way even Uncle Joe would not dare to back in the good old days. Stalin, after all, did not abolish smoking, nor did he install health and safety rules. (So a few people were sent to winter sports places like the Gulag.)

All joking aside, like Douglas Mac Arthur, I shall return to London on May 15 because I’m giving a book party at Brooks’s on Monday the 17, where I also plan to finally wed the deputy editor of the Spectator, now that her father, Sir Humphrey Wakefield, and the sainted editor, Fraser Nelson, have given their approval.  All the Speccie columnists are invited, as well as all the editors, but I’m bringing my own priest from Mount Athos. The ceremony will follow the book party and the happy couple will finally spend their wedding night at the Ritz which happens to be next door. Yipeee!