In 1941, the United States was first assigned the so-called “triple A” or AAA rating, a reflection of the widespread belief, at least in the free world, that the United States government could be relied upon absolutely to pay its debts. At the time, the United States had recently grown into the world’s largest economy. The dollar, after the end of the Second World War, became the world’s reserve currency under the terms of the Bretton Woods agreement. Other hard currencies were to be convertible to U.S. dollars, which were in turn convertible (for international investors, at least) into gold (the so-called “gold exchange standard”).
No one has ever accused Rick Santorum of being coy. The former Pennsylvania Representative and two-term Senator has built a reputation for being outspoken and unapologetic, a political point man for opinions that have become politically incorrect.
Former Congressman Newt Gingrich has never shied away from controversy, so the recent turmoil among his presidential campaign staff, leading to the abrupt departure of a number of his senior aides, was very much in character. At the time, the candidate whom Robert Novak of the Washington Post had once identified as a top presidential contender seemed to be dead in the water. Gingrich, however, has opted to soldier on, and while campaign funding is lagging, the toxic political climate and economic turbulence have made presidential electoral politics more uncertain than at any time in recent memory.
Congressman Ron Paul has joined the presidential race again, but with a difference: This time around, there’s no House seat to return to as a consolation prize. The Texas congressman, long known for holding the line on the U.S. Constitution, limited government, and sound economics, has announced his retirement from the House of Representatives, regardless of the outcome of his latest bid for the White House.
What news could possibly draw a smile from the normally sphinx-faced Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke? The news that his longtime adversary on Capitol Hill, Ron Paul, is retiring from Congress. But it’s doubtful that Bernanke will have many other light moments in the months to come.
With the federal borrowing clock allegedly ticking down to financial Armageddon on August 2, discourse on Capitol Hill is becoming predictably envenomed. The official Republican position, framed repeatedly by House Speaker John Boehner, is that no legislation to raise the debt limit will be admissible without deep spending cuts, and that tax increases of any sort will not be countenanced by the Tea Party-fueled Republican majority in the House. The Obama administration and its allies in Congress are making calls from a time-dishonored playbook, pushing for tax increases on the rich rather than meaningful cuts in government spending, and accusing Republicans of calculated obstructionism.
The debt chickens are coming home to roost in Greece, and the hen house is collapsing. As the hard-pressed Greek parliament convened to vote on an enormously unpopular austerity measure insisted upon by international bankers with the power to prolong Greece’s agony with another bailout, furious mobs set Athens ablaze and fought pitched battles with police. On Monday morning, Greeks surveyed with horror the smoldering rubble of more than 90 buildings across the capital. The popular consensus: this is just the beginning.
A United States of Europe — minus recalcitrant Great Britain — is nearly upon us; thus saith Forbes magazine. “The euro, in its old form, has fallen into crisis and the price European countries have to pay is a large loss of sovereignty,” writes Clem Chambers (left) in the Establishment conservative magazine. Chambers continues:
Investors are bullish on Europe yet again after a two-day summit in Brussels produced a triumphant agreement on the part of the 17 eurozone member nations to get their collective fiscal house in order. The options for Europe going into the conference were stark — at least, according to the doomsday rhetoric emanating from European leaders and media commentators on both side of the Atlantic. Failure to reach the foreordained agreement at Brussels would have been “a luxury we cannot afford” opined French President Nicholas Sarkozy, who added that “maintenance of the eurozone is our duty. We have no other choice.”
The European crisis continues to mushroom, even as Eurocrats meet in Brussels to try to stave off implosion of the eurozone. Tuesday’s sale of Italian debt forced the government of Italy again to accept interest rates or “yields” in excess of seven percent, a level proven by experience to be unsustainable. Thursday will be another bellwether day, as Spain and Belgium — both of whose bonds are commanding steep yields — auction off debt of their own. But at the rate interests on government debt are rising across the eurozone, a few more weeks could write the epitaph for the once-touted international currency.