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Belmont Club

The Return of the Sorcerer

November 1st, 2013 - 2:26 pm

Dylan Byers at Politico describes the spell that President Obama weaves over favored journalists when privately speaking with them off the record. Famously reticient on the record, Byers says Obama is nothing if not voluble off it, willing to shoot the breeze with any journalist he considers to be ‘smart’.

get him in an off-the-record setting with a small group of opinion columnists — the David Brooks and E.J. Dionne types — and he’ll talk for hours. …

“It’s not an accident who he invites: He reads the people that he thinks matter, and he really likes engaging those people,” said one reporter with knowledge of the meetings. “He reads people carefully — he has a columnist mentality — and he wants to win columnists over,” said another. …

The goal in these get-togethers, participants said, is two-fold: First, the president wants to convince the columnists that he’s right — about the debt ceiling, about health care, about Syria — and that his opponents are wrong. …

The second goal is more tactical: By meeting privately with the people who shape national opinion, the president ensures that his points of view will be represented in the media — even if those points of view aren’t directly attributable to him.

In return, the anointed pundits are duly flattered. They walk away feeling affirmed, in the belief that they are worthy of confidences, respected by the players, able to handle the hard questions of state.  They return to their desks ready to spread the fire.

Said a columnist who has attended multiple meetings, “When you can write your column with absolute surety, knowing that what you’re saying is a true reflection of what the President of the United States is thinking, how do you not do that?” …

Both reporters and columnists believe he prefers talking to people who are thinking about — and willing to be influenced on — grand concepts, rather than those who might pepper him with questions about day-to-day events and process. Indeed, in an effort to ween White House staff off their obsession with the “who’s up, who’s down” Washington culture, he has encouraged them to spend less time watching MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and more time watching ESPN’s “Sports Center.”

You have to be special to join the circle, one so high above the madding crowd that you are like the president, who as Valerie Jarrett puts it, was “bored to death his whole life … just too talented to do what ordinary people do.” The question that almost asks itself is how if such people are so smart, so comfortable with ‘grand concepts’ then how could they have gotten so many things wrong in the past 5 years.

Part of the answer may lie in what grand thinkers are consciously believe they are not. Vice President Joe Biden explained why nobody in the White House seemed to know the Obamacare website would not function. “Neither he and I are technology geeks, and we assumed that it was up and ready to run.”

“But the good news is although it’s not, and we apologize for that, we’re confident that by the end of November it will be and there will still be plenty of time for people to register and get online.

The President tried to get online, and my daughter tried to get online. I did not, because it was clear that I wasn’t getting online. …

Look, all I know is they talk about 50,000 lines of this and this, I don’t know the technical reasons. So I don’t know, I wish I could tell you, that’s why I became a lawyer.”

But just you wait and its going to be just fine. Buzzfeed has the details of a PR campaign designed to sell the world on signing up for Obamacare before Christmas.

Organizing for Action, the advocacy group closely aligned with President Obama’s agenda, launched a new campaign Friday, encouraging families to press loved ones to purchase health insurance during the holidays under the Affordable Care Act.

A new “Health Care for the Holidays” website debuted after midnight Eastern time, along with a YouTube video featuring a young man confronted by his parents at the dinner table over his lack of health insurance. “We have something really important to talk to you about,” his parents say in the video titled “Get ready to have the talk.”

The website offers tips on how to have a conversation with family members about health care and encourages visitors to “think about how you’ll bring it up” with relatives during the holidays.

Always be closing. Always be closing. Even if there is nothing to sell. Because the geeks will — you know — take care of it.

It will happen because, as Daniel Greenfield described it, “government is magic.”

Our technocracy is detached from competence. It’s not the technocracy of engineers, but of “thinkers” who read Malcolm Gladwell and Thomas Friedman and watch TED talks and savor the flavor of competence, without ever imbibing its substance.

These are the people who love Freakonomics, who enjoy all sorts of mental puzzles, who like to see an idea turned on its head, but who couldn’t fix a toaster.

The ObamaCare website is the natural spawn of that technocracy who love the idea of using modernity to make things faster and easier, but have no idea what anything costs or how it works.

Fixing a toaster’s a job for the geeks; beneath the men with the Grand Ideas. If they wanted to fix toasters they wouldn’t have become lawyers. And that inability is a feature, not a bug. Greenfield continues:

In some ways the America of a few generations ago was a far more modern place because it was a more competent place. For all our nice toys, we look like primitive savages compared to men who could build skyscrapers and fleets within a year… and build them well….

Those aren’t things we can do anymore. Not because the knowledge and skills don’t exist, but because the culture no longer allows it. We can’t do them for the same reason that Third World countries can’t do what we do. It’s not that the knowledge is inaccessible, but that the culture gets in the way. …

Competence is built on the unhappy understanding that things won’t work because you want them to, they won’t work if you go through the motions, they will only work if you understand how a thing works and then make it work by building it, by testing it and by expecting failure every step of the way and wrestling with the problem until you get it right.

That’s modernity. It isn’t glamorous. You can see it in black and white photos of men working on old planes. You can see it in the eyes of the astronauts who first went to the moon. You can read it in the workings of the men who built the longest suspension bridges, laid undersea cables and watched their world change. They were moderns and their time is done. …

Our own cargo culters invoke FDR and JFK, they talk about the New Deal and the Great Society, they make grand promises and roll out big programs, and then they wait for it all to work. They don’t understand themselves how or why it would work. But government is magic and the appearance of a thing is just as good as a real deal. … All you need to do is remember the great dreams of the past, listen to a few inspirational JFK speeches and then carve a computer out of wood and wait for free health care to arrive.

And it will, won’t it? Even conservatives are half convinced, borne along by the belief that if the NYT says it will, as does the Washington Post; that if enough money is printed then of course it will. With that many sorcerers chanting in unison magic will prevail.

Maybe that’s why President Obama hits it off so well with the great columnists of Washington. At these klatches, with the buzz of traffic and bustle of the grimy world held to a hum in the distance, the world lies spread before them malleable, fresh and new. And the great men can feel, even if lesser mortals cannot, that all that’s required to transform that dull universe into something extraordinary is the right phrase, the correct sales pitch, the perfect sound bite. Then the stars will vibrate to the idea and the multitudes will Get It. And so the search continues among the wordsmiths for the Spell, who believe in it with the conviction of zealots. Only try this. Try that. Try again. For they know the dictum: always be closing. Even if there is nothing to sell.

The Founders, in rejecting the spell of aristocracy, were in their way rejecting magic. They seemed to say ‘trust in no king, no great leader’ — and that the highest and best thing we could aspire to was to simply be ourselves and make things work. In place of sorcery they trusted in the sanctity of the ordinary, in the immanence of truth; that a government “of the people, by the people, for the people”, while not on Obama’s imagined level would neveretheless never perish from the earth. But magic would; for even if Greenfield fears the sorcerers will return, their day is done.

Their time is done because the wooden computer will not boot. Because the sums are in rebellion. Because reality, which is the real source of all true magic, was never consulted, let alone invoked. Lord Dunsany wrote memorably about the pangs of the old-time last magician, fleeing away from a world grown cold to spells toward his true home.

And there came upon him at last those mortal tremors that are about the end of all earthly journeys. He hastened then. And before the human destiny overtook him he saw one morning, clear where the dawn had been, luminous rock of the bastions and glittering rampart that rose up sheer from the frontier of the Country Beyond Moon’s Rising. This he saw though his eyes were dimming now with fatigue and his long sojourn on earth; yet if he saw dimly he heard with no degree of uncertainty the trumpets that rang out from those battlements to welcome him after his sojourn, and all that followed him gave back the greeting with such cries as once haunted valleys at certain times of the moon. Upon those battlements and by the opening gates were gathered the robed Masters that had trafficked with time and dwelt awhile on earth, and handed the mysteries on, and had walked round the back of the grave by the way that they knew, and were even beyond damnation. They raised their hands and blessed in.

And now for him, and the creatures that followed after, the gates were wide that led through the earthward rampart of the Country Beyond Moon’s Rising. He limped towards it with all his magical following. He went therein, and the Golden Age was over.

I’m sorry to see it go. But we need to make the website work and get the toaster to toast.

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Top Rated Comments   
Managerial Competence is fostered by free markets and free enterprise. Tocqueville often talked of the US as a Commercial nation and commerce greatly shaped the culture. Contractual relationships were common. The US Constitution itself is a contract among Americans down the generations -- living, dead, and yet to be born. Contracts can be altered or terminated or renegotiated. This makes people pay attention. For a century after the Civil War the Economic life of the nation was dominated by contractual relationships. This has changed and the laws -- indeed, the Constitution itself -- are now often simply ignored by "the powers that be." When one side can freely change a contract it is no longer a contract.

As the economy became more politicized patron-client relationships began to dominate. Influential people acquired clients. Loyalty to patron, the party, and "the cause" is valued over competence. In fact a less competent operative might be viewed as more trustworthy than a competent one since they have fewer options and are more reliant on their patron for protection from the other influential people. The system no longer selects for a high level of managerial competence. Even intelligent people must do stupid stuff to get ahead. In the end it is a way of life and success requires a competence of a different sort -- the competence of the operative.

A system that is built on the basis of influence and special carve outs will begin to fear Managerial Competence and, short of some crisis that threatens the systems existence, will seek to undermine it. Competent Management would threaten the special carve outs that are dragging the nation down but that the many operatives rely on for their livelihood and status.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"A new “Health Care for the Holidays” website debuted after midnight Eastern time, along with a YouTube video featuring a young man confronted by his parents at the dinner table over his lack of health insurance. “We have something really important to talk to you about,” his parents say in the video titled “Get ready to have the talk.”"

Oh, man, I can see the youtube comedy spin off on this already. After the syrupy-sing-songy background music and background narrative of how mature it is for a young adults to have their very own health insurance, the camera pans back to the parent's quiet conversation, and the kid suddenly jumps up and shouts at his parents:

"WTF, are you people nuts? For $600 a month, I could have a new Volvo C70 or Infinity G37. Why would I blow all that cash on health insurance when Obama promised it to me for free when I voted for him in the last election?"

And as he turns his back to the camera and walks away, he adds "OMG, Mom, Dad, get a grip. I live in the real world!".

Classic. Just a beautiful piece of potential agitprop.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
...And when their pretty sandcastle towers inevitably dissolve with the incoming tide, there's always some Kulak wrecker or class enemy to blame.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (107)
All Comments   (107)
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Well, maybe that's what I meant. Note also that a lot of bad old entertainment is long since lost because it wasn't good. These days not only can I not find any tv shows to watch or movies to see, but I've come to loath Hollywood so that I don't even care to consider what comes out, starting with the MSM of course but expecting the worst even in light comedies or the rendering of scifi classics

I think I mostly agree but I'd still have to qualify re: the definition of "good." Silly stories, bad plotting, bad acting, murky photography, tinny music, laughable SFX? Sure.

But none of it was ever "bad" in the sense of the raunch that pervades today's entertainment (including the "good" stuff). You could take your 8-year-old to the most "adult" Hollywood pic of the time, and kid would hear virtually no swear words, see no graphic nudity, no gore, and would not witness psychopaths and giggling butchers being celebrated. In short there was no need at any point in any of these films to cover your kid's eyes or ears.

There's a pernicious sort of false history being peddled about these days that "real life" for Americans back in the 30s, 40s and 50s was just as vulgar, sexualized, potty-mouthed and violent as today, and that people who claim things were more decent in middle America and the city square back then are just basing that on the (fantasy) idealism of Hollywood movies. Like Frank Capra's Bedford Falls, for example. The revisionists are now telling us that the "real America" version of Bedford Falls was Pottersville after all. That Bedford Falls existed only in Hollywood, not in America.

This is a lie. Actually a damned lie. I know it because of the parents who raised me, and because of the small town I was raised in. Dad served ten years in the military, which included combat duty. Did the guy hear every curse word in the book and see some unrepeatable things? I'm sure he did. But I never heard the guy drop an f-bomb. Not once. Ever. Even under the most stressful conditions. And he would not tolerate raunch being put in front of his kids. He once towed both my older sisters (then around 11 and 12) straight out of a comedy movie when some chippie disrobed for the shower and an extended joke was made of it while a male character played peeping tom. Dad just didn't think that kind of thing was appropriate fare for his girls.

Now we get f-bombed on the public street and the 12-year-olds dress like hookers.

Dad came from a generation where there was still not just an understanding of but a consensus on "public decency." I'm Gen X and I have seen that standard erode almost to the point of vanishing, within my own living memory. Most of this can be laid directly at the feet of the entertainment industry. I hope Hollywood is happy, now that Pottersville extends to every living room, bedroom, school hallway and computer in America, and that there is now no way to "change the channel" or "turn it off" even if you wanted to. It's everywhere.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
To be honest, your mention of the Hunger Games is apt. Given the nature of the HG society; stratefied, all power and wealth centered in Capitol City, the contempt and fear the Governing Class and their parasites have for the people, and the willingness to commit mass murder to maintain power: Suzanne Collins may have tapped into the *zeitgeist* of our own Governing Class.

The curious/diabolical distinction between the HG scenario and genocidal totalitarian regimes of past is that the mass murder in HG was (1) not committed in the dark, secret bowels of a Lubyanka prison, but on national television for all to see, and (2) the teens themselves were in many cases the executioners. Thus, both the viewers and the victim-teens themselves become in a measure complicit in the crimes. That is pure diabolical -- to destroy not just bodies but souls. Roman Coliseum bloody, except with tweens-teens and electronic SFX.

Yeah, the pampered, artificial and downright foppish appearance of the Capital City dwellers (Stanley Tucci in a blue pompadour wig, IIRC) reminded me of some of the characters in Terry Gilliam's 1985 movie "Brazil." Also a totalitarian nightmare story.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
How could they have gotten so much wrong so completely? Remember all those sneers at the "unknown unknowns"? The person who refuses to acknowledge their existence is going to be stumbling over them at almost every step, a la Obama and crew. I am regularly reminded of a know-it-all teenager, arrogant and stupid: "I didn't do it! It wasn't my fault! And besides I promise not to do it again!"
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
mpg said: Nor is the entertainment "better" by just about any criteria save technical and technological. Today's popular entertainment is as visually and aurally stunning as it is morally appalling compared to pre-1960 fare.

Well, maybe that's what I meant. Note also that a lot of bad old entertainment is long since lost because it wasn't good. These days not only can I not find any tv shows to watch or movies to see, but I've come to loath Hollywood so that I don't even care to consider what comes out, starting with the MSM of course but expecting the worst even in light comedies or the rendering of scifi classics ... have to go out now and see what they might have done to "Ender's Game", reviews suggest they tried to stick closer to the book than I'd heard earlier, which is usually a good thing. But the technology is seriously shazzam.

And food? Variety, freshness are up, even cost are lower now, not to mention (in selected large metro areas) restaurants of every variety with the average quality pretty good and it's easy enough to find terrific food in eleven cuisines and barely more than it would cost at home if you had any idea how to do it. You may have to seek out a farmer's market to get absolutely farm fresh stuff, that might have been easier to do 50 or 100 years ago, but it was also much easier to find really stale and crappy stuff as the only available foods in some of those same selected metro areas. I'll stick by the food claim, overall.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Can't help thinking of the scenes in the Hunger Games when the judges are surprised by the protagonist firing an arrow into an apple among them.

Todays Millenials are like that woman- they are smart enough to know they are being marketed, and are only a few steps from outright rebellion. The approaching 40% unemployment in the 18-25 demographic will only get worse with an immigration deal, and when they find out how much they are paying for health insurance, it will be the last straw for most.

That doesnt mean the Dems will win- they still have the low-info-voter, and the completely illiterate like the 105% of voters in places like Philly, where the Dems bussed them in. And you can bet this kind of voter fraud and enemy groups suppression (IRS-TeaParty) that undoubtedly happened in 2012, and the foreign/illlegal campaign contributions that happened in 2008 will happen again.

The real question is what happens when the young independents wake up and realize how badly they have been screwed.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
True, and I think this is why Obamacare isn't the great masterstroke to secure leftist dominance of American politics forever like so many believe.

I think it's the modern day equivalent of the Dredd Scott Decision, and will bring down the failed welfare state paradigm of American governance much like that court decision set off a chain of events that destroyed slavery instead of saving it, as James Buchanan and Roger Taney had intended.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
To be honest, your mention of the Hunger Games is apt. Given the nature of the HG society; stratefied, all power and wealth centered in Capitol City, the contempt and fear the Governing Class and their parasites have for the people, and the willingness to commit mass murder to maintain power: Suzanne Collins may have tapped into the *zeitgeist* of our own Governing Class.

Subotai Bahadur
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Death of a Salesman
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Richard; a brilliant analogy - genius! Thanks
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment

Gets a performance review, based on his testimony under oath in federal court...

The evidence is there...

during the top kill operation, they had all three elements needed to kill the
Macondo 252 well

1) the well had integrity up to 10,000 psi
2) they had a supply of 16.4 pounds per gallon mud
3) they had the capability to pump 109 barrels per minute

Based on those FACTS, the expert consultants to the President's Oil Spill Commission, in the Tyagi report, concluded that the top kill would have succeeded.

It is very likely that if the top kill had been designed to deliver more than 109 bpm of 16.4 ppg drilling fluid below the BOP stack for a sustained period, the Macondo blowout could have been stopped between May 26-28, 2010. Given that the well was successfully shut-in with the capping stack in July, and that the subsequent bullhead (static) kill was successful, certainly a higher rate top kill would have been successful at that time.

More than half of the oil that flowed into the Gulf of Mexico could have been avoided, if the government was competent.

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Today's video of stopped flow of oil into the gulf
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment

--not very grave words, hey, MP? But they mean the world. What is the single over-riding purpose of such an investigation? To find the facts. What is the single over-riding rule of method? Do not break the chain of custody re the evidence.

So how, with the eyes of the world and swarms of interested-party observers on the site, did this custody break, this one-single-thing-that-must-not-happen, happen to happen?

Why would DNV so arrange the prevention of this thing that must not happen, to where it COULD happen --so spectacularly, and so casually?

What is it that gave DNV the incentive to so arrange, without fear of real consequence, or even real publicity, such a monumental disconnect between opposites such as concern vs unconcern, effort vs no effort, reliability in the face of performance pressure vs unreliability so perfect and permanent that the very nature of that performance pressure must be diametrically opposed to itself?

Who could answer these questions?


An analogy would be a fatal-accident car held as evidence. The car had failed to brake for a curve and ran off a cliff, killing a detective on the trail of a mobster. Before the police dept's forensic team writes the final report and the judge allows that report into evidence, a brake specialist from Murder, Incorporated shows up with his tool kit and spare parts at the evidence yard and gets a day alone with the car, nobody watching. Later, nothing is found wrong with the brakes --nobody noticed the brand new hydraulic hose with the price tag still dangling. There's a little commotion over that brake specialist from the mob, but the impetus is toward accepting the report, partly because the alternative would become so messy. So the official report blames the death on the impact of the car with the boulders at the bottom of the cliff --and in that report, everything is true.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'm really find two things quite fishy.

1) Halliburton has samples of the original cement, water etc. taken from the Deepwater Horizon that they hid. Yet the DOJ allowed then to enter into a criminal plea deal letting them off the hook for this act. They only were held to be criminally responsible for destroying computer simulations, not the physical evidence.

2) The USGS has "rocks" taken from the deck of the Damon Bankston after the mud spilled off the DWH onto her before the explosion. Given that the well has been proven to have mechanical integrity up to 10,000 psi by government supervised tests after the blowout preventer was removed, the only place those "rocks" (or more likely cement fragments) could have come from is from the flow path between the pay zone, down the annulus to the rat trap, and back up the shoe track. Failed foam cement would paint a big bull's eye on Halliburton. But since Rep. Markey's whole meme on BP's alleged criminal negligence was based on them using "too few centralizers", a meme rejected by Judge Wayne Andersen, who presided over the Marine board investigation.

The proof is on my blog here

So there is yet another case of illegal suppression of critical physical evidence by the GOVERNMENT.

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1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
May 27, 2010 is a date that will live in infamy. It was the day the DOI instituted the offshore drilling moratorium at 2 AM, while BP was showing great promise in killing the well. But killing the well would "waste the crisis' Obama needed to build political support to pass Cap & Trade in the Senate (it already having passed the House) thereby allowing him to seize control of the oil business, just as he has seized control of the healthcare business.

Obama threw the residents of the Gulf Coast under the bus that day.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Wretchard wrote before the show must go on until one day the numbers simply stop working. Isn't our sorrow and fear at this point the slow death/decaying of our once grand society?

Even though the magicians and grand wizards are gone, the hundreds of tiny feet on the centipede keep marching on because it hasn't realized the magic that keeps it going is gone?

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The really outrageous absurdity of Obamacare is the compulsion of insurors to cover pre-existing conditions that will inevitably incur enormous expenses, breaking the bank. In fact, used properly, the denial of coverage for a pre-existing condition has a beneficial effect AS IT WAS APPLIED. Most insurance companies made the pre-existing denial an incentive to the insured person, by applying it to the FIRST YEAR OF THE POLICY for conditions that the insured person had some discretionary power to improve. The insurance policy would not pay costs for the pre-existing condition during the first year, but coverage would kick in AFTER that.

In my case, hypertension began fairly early in life; for my brother, it had started in his teens. Knowing that the insurance companies would not pay for costs associated with the hypertension UNTIL A FULL YEAR HAD PASSED had the effect of making me take the problem seriously, and do everything I could to mitigate and treat it.

The Dumb Masses in the Federal Government PRETEND to be compassionate. In fact, they are simply telling people "Don't bother taking care of yourself! The Government has you covered!"

Of course, what the Government will do is confiscate money from healthy people, hold onto most of it for their own purposes, and give an occasional token payment to an appropriately grateful politically-correct victim type, with a crowd of photographers on hand to record the event.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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