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Monthly Archives: November 2008

1. Tempered not melted. The question is not whether America is in decline, but whether it is in decline at a more rapid pace than true of Europe, Russia, or Asia. And one bright spot in the otherwise dark economic news will be the resilience of the United States. Forget trillions of this, and billions of that, or our sinking GDP and GNP, or deflation and unemployment rates, or all the other data—at least for a moment. Instead consider the gargantuan mess that Europe is in with its even wilder real estate market, greater deficits, and far larger banking losses from bad loans abroad. Russia is a mess; with less than $50 a barrel oil, it will be worse than a mess. Export-driven China may have trillions of US dollars in reserves, but it has tens of trillions in infrastructure investments to make before it can match US roads, dams, and airports, much less approximate our standard of living. Americans are far more meritocratic than others, success far less predicated on birth, accent, parentage, or class. We are more optimistic, and do best when pressed (Consider a broke America in 1939, and a rich America in 1946 that defeated the Axis and sent billions to its allies in the UK and Russia.). Our demography is far more encouraging than Europe’s. We react to crises far more energetically; compare US troops in Afghanistan to their NATO counterparts; or ask who adapted more successfully in Iraq—the US Marines far from home, or Al Qaeda terrorists in their own backyard? Once the dust settles on this crisis, I wager the United States will be relatively stronger after than before the meltdown. One can do almost anything with a $13 trillion economy, a two-percent-plus growing population, and a stable political system; much harder with a shrinking work force that breaks apart along class lines and resentments. Even while pundits write weekly books about the ‘end’ of the United States, or at least ‘American decline,’ the United States will emerge relatively stronger for the ordeal.


2. Who’s illiberal?
So far the likes of Hugo Chavez, al Qaeda’s Dr. Zawahiri, the mullahs in Iran, and Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi have all in varying degrees commented, in racialist fashion, on the African ancestry of President-elect Obama. More of such insensitive slurs by foreigners about our President’s skin color, the legacy of slavery (as in “house slave”), etc. will follow. And Americans will take note of the vast divergence between an American electorate easily and without bias voting for an African-American as their Commander-in-Chief, and a supposedly multicultural world leadership abroad snickering about it. In the past Michelle Obama has called her country “mean” and until recently not worthy of her own pride. But now as we watch the reaction abroad to Obama the next four years (once the mass hysteria of crowds dies down), I think a number of those on the Left will confess that the “other”—whether in Europe, the Middle East, South America, or Asia—will prove a lot less liberal about our President than the much-caricatured American public. This will be a positive development and remind critics here at home just how different their country is from the alternative. It really is an exceptional place, and I doubt very seriously that China will soon have a German-Chinese Prime Minister, or Germany an African-German Chancellor, or Japan a Congolese-Japanese Prime Minister, and so on. The point is not, again, that mere racial diversity brings with it automatically wisdom, only that our critics abroad, who fault America’s often tense experiences with a vibrant multiracialism, are themselves decades behind the object of their vituperation.

3. Turning on a dime. There is such a thing as divine Nemesis, even though the god seems to sleep for long periods. The media violated all the classical cannons of fairness and objectivity in this presidential campaign. Now they are in a dilemma, since most of their long-voiced objections about Bush won’t be operative any more—on matters of taxes, Guantánamo, the bail-outs, FISA, the Patriot Act, Iraq, guns, abortion, capital punishment—inasmuch as Obama suddenly won’t be hoping and changing much of anything, but often leaving things on these issues as they are, while turning management over to the tentacles of the Clinton octopus. The media, in Animal Farm fashion, will have to do a ‘that was then, this is now’ turnabout, as they dream of reasons why Gitmo is not that bad, or why keeping the Bush tax cuts for a bit will stimulate the economy, or why wiretapping on suspected terrorists, on reflection, isn’t really that subversive. And as they reinvent the once evil administration policies, and the formerly Hillary hacks into inspired Obama ideas and experienced and professional Obama appointments, few will believe them. Done, over with—the media has lost credibility and will have to start over from square one. And all that was a much needed development. (PS—after the India nightmare, note the Obama reaction to dismantling the FISA accords, Patriot Act, Guantánamo, and withdrawing from Iraq, as the campaign rhetoric of Bush shredding the Constitution morphs into something like ‘the public will turn on a dime and blame us for criminal laxity if anything like 9/11 happens on our watch.’)

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Last Time Around

In September, I complained about the lack of journalistic standards shown by the Monterey  County Herald. They never acknowledged the reply, much less offered a retraction for their incorrect factual allegations about what I wrote.

Now they once again are citing something I offered in the most recent PM posting about 10 politically-incorrect reasons to be depressed.
(http://www.montereyherald.com/opinion/ci_11069229).

I think a reply will only confirm the validity of my original essay, and shed light on contemporary problems in both journalism and the university as outlined in the posting. Call the following a “teachable moment.” So here we go again (my comments follow theirs in parentheses).

Our second favorite conservative columnist, Victor Davis Hanson, chooses an odd list of examples as part of a fresh column trumpeting his political incorrectness and grousing about what has gone wrong in our fair state. Comparing the good old days of Gov. Pat Brown’s to rotten more recent times, Hanson writes of things that would “make our forefathers weep.”

He lists, with cryptic lack of elaboration, a walk through downtown San Francisco, a stroll along Fresno’s main street, an afternoon at the Los Angeles airport, a visit to the park in the small San Joaquin Valley town of Parlier and “a glance at the catalogue of Cal State Monterey.”

One imagines Hanson is channeling a 10-year-old column by our favorite conservative columnist, George Will, in which he famously lamented the over-the-top political correctness of CSU-Monterey Bay.

(“cryptic lack of elaboration”?–the essay was a reflection on ten things that had gotten worse, and was a blog that already had run to 1700 words. I have no control whether other sites such as realclearpolitics, instapundit, or powerlineblog choose to run it. It was not a formal column, but a long reflection.

1) I think most Californians who walk in downtown 2008 San Francisco and compare it to what it was like 20, 30, or 40 years ago would be depressed.

2) I suggest the editors go down the Fresno mall and ask seniors what in comparison it was like when it opened in the early 1960s.

3) Does anyone think flying in and out of LAX is a normal air-travel experience?

4) I suggest the editor picnic in the public park in Parlier.

5) Now we hit home with CSU Monterey Bay.

I have never read, as the Herald alleges, a 10-year-old column by George Will; but as a 20-year veteran and emeritus professor of the CSU system, I suggest I am more familiar with the campus, now and when it opened, than Will, insightful though he probably was.

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Ten Random, Politically Incorrect Thoughts

November 21st, 2008 - 5:32 pm

1. Four years of high-school Latin would dramatically arrest the decline in American education. In particular, such instruction would do more for minority youths than all the ‘role model’ diversity sermons on Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, Montezuma, and Caesar Chavez put together. Nothing so enriches the vocabulary, so instructs about English grammar and syntax, so creates a discipline of the mind, an elegance of expression, and serves as a gateway to the thinking and values of Western civilization as mastery of a page of Virgil or Livy (except perhaps Sophocles’s Antigone in Greek or Thucydides’ dialogue at Melos). After some 20 years of teaching mostly minority youth Greek, Latin, and ancient history and literature in translation (1984-2004), I came to the unfortunate conclusion that ethnic studies, women studies—indeed, anything “studies”— were perhaps the fruits of some evil plot dreamed up by illiberal white separatists to ensure that poor minority students in the public schools and universities were offered only a third-rate education.

2. Hollywood is going the way of Detroit. The actors are programmed and pretty rather than interesting looking and unique. They, of course, are overpaid (they do to films what Lehman Brothers’ execs did to stocks), mediocre, and politicized. The producers and directors are rarely talented, mostly unoriginal—and likewise politicized. A pack-mentality rules. Do one movie on a comic superhero—and suddenly we get ten, all worse than the first. One noble lion cartoon movie earns us eagle, penguin and most of Noah’s Arc sequels. Now see poorer remakes of movies that were never good to begin with. I doubt we will ever see again a Western like Shane, the Searchers, High Noon, or the Wild Bunch. If one wishes to see a fine film, they are now usually foreign, such as Das Boot or Breaker Morant. Watching any recent war movie (e.g., Iraq as the Rape of Nanking) is as if someone put uniforms on student protestors and told them to consult their professors for the impromptu script.

3. All the old media brands of our youth have been tarnished and all but discredited. No one picks up Harpers or Atlantic expecting to read a disinterested story on politics or culture. (I pass on their inane accounts of ‘getaways’ and food.) The New York Times and Washington Post are as likely to have op-eds as news stories on the front page. Newsweek and Time became organs for paint-by-numbers Obamism, teased with People Magazine-like gossip pieces (at least, their editors still cared enough to seem hurt when charged with overt bias). NBC, ABC, and CBS would now make a Chet Huntley or Eric Sevareid turn over in his grave. A Keith Olbermann would not have been allowed to do commercials in the 1950s. Strangely, the media has offered up fashionably liberal politics coupled with metrosexual elite tastes in fashions, clothes, housing, food, and the good life, as if there were no contradictions between the two. No wonder media is so enthralled with the cool Obama and his wife. Both embody the new nexus between Eurosocialism in the abstract and the hip aristocratic life in the concrete.

4. After the junk bond meltdown, the S&L debacle, and now the financial panic, in just a few years the financial community destroyed the ancient wisdom: deal in personal trust; your word is your bond; avoid extremes; treat the money you invest for others as something sacred; don’t take any more perks than you would wish others to take; don’t borrow what you couldn’t suddenly pay back; imagine the worse case financial scenario and expect it very may well happen; the wealthier you become the more humble you should act. And for what did our new Jay Goulds do all this? A 20,000 square-foot mansion instead of the old 6,000 sq. ft. expansive house? A Gulfstream in lieu of first class commercial? You milk your company, cash in your stock bonuses, enjoy your $50 million cash pile, and then get what—a Rolex instead of a reliable Timex? A Maserati for a Mercedes, a gold bathroom spout in preference to brushed pewter? The extra splurge was marginal and hardly worth the stain of avarice on one’s immortal soul.

5. California is now a valuable touchstone to the country, a warning of what not to do. Rarely has a single generation inherited so much natural wealth and bounty from the investment and hard work of those more noble now resting in our cemeteries—and squandered that gift within a generation. Compare the vast gulf from old Governor Pat Brown to Gray Davis or Arnold Schwarzenegger. We did not invest in many dams, canals, rails, and airports (though we use them all to excess); we sued each other rather than planned; wrote impact statements rather than left behind infrastructure; we redistributed, indulged, blamed, and so managed all at once to create a state with about the highest income and sales taxes and the worst schools, roads, hospitals, and airports. A walk through downtown San Francisco, a stroll up the Fresno downtown mall, a drive along highway 101 (yes, in many places it is still a four-lane, pot-holed highway), an afternoon at LAX, a glance at the catalogue of Cal State Monterey, a visit to the park in Parlier—all that would make our forefathers weep. We can’t build a new nuclear plant; can’t drill a new offshore oil well; can’t build an all-weather road across the Sierra; can’t build a few tracts of new affordable houses in the Bay Area; can’t build a dam for a water-short state; and can’t create even a mediocre passenger rail system. Everything else—well, we do that well.

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6. Something has happened to the generic American male accent. Maybe it is urbanization; perhaps it is now an affectation to sound precise and caring with a patina of intellectual authority; perhaps it is the fashion culture of the metrosexual; maybe it is the influence of the gay community in arts and popular culture. Maybe the ubiquitous new intonation comes from the scarcity of salty old jobs in construction, farming, or fishing. But increasingly to meet a young American male about 25 is to hear a particular nasal stress, a much higher tone than one heard 40 years ago, and, to be frank, to listen to a precious voice often nearly indistinguishable from the female. How indeed could one make Westerns these days, when there simply is not anyone left who sounds like John Wayne, Richard Boone, Robert Duvall, or Gary Cooper much less a Struther Martin, Jack Palance, L.Q. Jones, or Ben Johnson? I watched the movie Twelve O’clock High the other day, and Gregory Peck and Dean Jagger sounded liked they were from another planet. I confess over the last year, I have been interviewed a half-dozen times on the phone, and had no idea at first whether a male or female was asking the questions. All this sounds absurd, but I think upon reflection readers my age (55) will attest they have had the same experience. In the old days, I remember only that I first heard a variant of this accent with the old Paul Lynde character actor in one of the Flubber movies; now young men sound closer to his camp than to a Jack Palance or Alan Ladd.

7. We have given political eccentricity a bad name. There used to be all sorts of classy individualists, liberal and conservative alike, like Everett Dirksen, J. William Fulbright, Margaret Chase Smith, or Sam Ervin; today we simply see the obnoxious who claim to be eccentric like a Barbara Boxer, Al Franken, Barney Frank, or Harry Reid. The loss is detectable even in diction and manner; Dirksen was no angel, but he was witty, charming, insightful; Frank is no angel, but he merely rants and pontificates. Watch the You Tube exchange between Harvard Law Graduate Frank and Harvard Law Graduate Rains as they arrogantly dismiss their trillion-dollar Fannie/Freddie meltdown in the making. I suppose it is the difference between the Age of Belief and the Age of Nihilism.

8. Do not farm. There is only loss. To the degree that anyone makes money farming, it is a question of a vertically-integrated enterprise making more in shipping, marketing, selling, packing, and brokering than it loses on the other end in growing. No exceptions. Food prices stay high, commodity prices stay low. That is all ye need to know. Try it and see.

9. As I wrote earlier, the shrill Left is increasingly far more vicious these days than the conservative fringe, and about like the crude Right of the 1950s. Why? I am not exactly sure, other than the generic notion that utopians often believe that their anointed ends justify brutal means. Maybe it is that the Right already had its Reformation when Buckley and others purged the extremists—the Birchers, the neo-Confederates, racialists, the fluoride-in-the-water conspiracists, anti-Semites, and assorted nuts.—from the conservative ranks in a way the Left has never done with the 1960s radicals that now reappear in the form of Michael Moore, Bill Ayers, Cindy Sheehan, Moveon.org, the Daily Kos, etc. Not many Democrats excommunicated Moveon.org for its General Betray-Us ad. Most lined up to see the premier of Moore’s mythodrama. Barack Obama could subsidize a Rev. Wright or email a post-9/11 Bill Ayers in a way no conservative would even dare speak to a David Duke or Timothy McVeigh—and what Wright said was not all that different from what Duke spouts. What separated Ayers from McVeigh was chance; had the stars aligned, the Weathermen would have killed hundreds as they planned.

10. The K-12 public education system is essentially wrecked. No longer can any professor expect an incoming college freshman to know what Okinawa, John Quincy Adams, Shiloh, the Parthenon, the Reformation, John Locke, the Second Amendment, or the Pythagorean Theorem is. An entire American culture, the West itself, its ideas and experiences, have simply vanished on the altar of therapy. This upcoming generation knows instead not to judge anyone by absolute standards (but not why so); to remember to say that its own Western culture is no different from, or indeed far worse than, the alternatives; that race, class, and gender are, well, important in some vague sense; that global warming is manmade and very soon will kill us all; that we must have hope and change of some undefined sort; that AIDs is no more a homosexual- than a heterosexual-prone disease; and that the following things and people for some reason must be bad, or at least must in public company be said to be bad (in no particular order): Wal-Mart, cowboys, the Vietnam War, oil companies, coal plants, nuclear power, George Bush, chemicals, leather, guns, states like Utah and Kansas, Sarah Palin, vans and SUVs.

Well, with that done—I feel much better.

Thoughts, Past and Future

November 17th, 2008 - 8:40 pm

As I wrote in the past, the real issue is no longer whether one has confidence that Obama will prove a gifted leader, but rather to hope that he does. I think most readers wish well for our country—and thus for our President-elect. Here are some more observations on problems ahead.

1) There has to be an end to these serial bailouts—financial, the insurance companies, now cars, next cities and states, and soon mortgage holders (we will de facto punish those who struggle to pay their mortgages on time on homes with negative equity, but reward with reductions those who are late or don’t?).

Aside from the fact we are broke and are $10 trillion in debt (a large aside), there is an existential problem here. Without a concept of failure, there can be no success. If we always offer the excuse “too big to fail” to save corporations and firms that were run into the ground by greedy or stupid CEOs, brokers, and traders, or that defaulters always were victims rather than occasionally foolish or even sly (e.g., 2nd and 3rd mortgages taken out for consumer purchases, or as efforts to flip houses), then nothing changes. Learning, as Aeschylus says, comes from pain. All our childhood admonitions from “failure breeds to success” to “try, try again” are rendered null and void. We don’t want to live in a T-ball limbo where there is neither success nor failure, but just an endless slog in between.

2) There is now no journalism as we knew it. It died during the campaign. And so we have no mainstream media audit of politics other than the vestigial shrill warnings about the last three months of the dangerous Bush administration. From the New York Times, NPR, PBS, or Newsweek, we will hear little whether Obama is choosing a good or bad team, or said silly things or contradicts what he promised. They simply have lost all credibility and now the republic is left largely with bloggers, talk radio, and a few newspapers as mostly partisan auditors. This puts the mainstream media in a terrible bind. If Gitmo is not closed immediately, are the victimized detainees there suddenly redefined as terrible killers who can’t be let out? If adhered to, does the Petraeus-Bush withdrawal plan to leave Iraq by 2011, suddenly become sober and judicious? If not tampered with, do FISA and the Patriotic Act morph into reasonable measures? Does the economy suddenly improve on January 21, and Afghanistan become stable? Will anyone believe a Katie Couric, Chris Matthews, the front page of the New York Times, or listen to Andrea Mitchell when they speak of Obama? The media has bet that there was no efficacy to Guantánamo, the Patriot Act and similar provisions, and Iraq. But the fact is in the same period we were not attacked. If there were a connection between the two (and many of us think that there was), then shutting down Gitmo, repealing the Patriot Act, and getting quickly out of Iraq could be done within the first year easily and without risk. But will it happen, and if so, what would be the reaction following another 9/11-like attack?

This is not my concern, but rather what advisors to Obama are currently mulling out. Again, traditional journalism as we knew it —the big dailies, the weekly news magazines, the networks, public radio and TV—no longer exists. Death by suicide. RIP—around March, 2008.

3) I am still baffled about the exact role of race in the past election and the new Obama Presidency. Like everyone, I am pleased to see that race has been proven to be no bar to the highest office. But is the real triumph simply that the first African-American is a man of the Left? Few cared about the path-breaking career of Clarence Thomas other than to demonize him. Harry Belafonte called the first African-American Secretary of State “a house slave.” No one really praised Sec. Rice’s unprecedented career. She, unlike Obama, was an African-American with a long familial history of racial struggle; Obama in contrast is half-white, and the son of an African national and did not grow up with the vestigial racism in the South. His success is remarkable, but why did other landmark careers go unnoticed? The answer seems to be not race per se, or being African-American even (given that Obama is of half African ancestry)—but that apparently someone of mixed racial ancestry was elected President from the Left (accomplishing what no other northern liberal Senator had done since JFK). That is all I can come up with. Had Colin Powell run and won in 1996, defeating Clinton, Inc., I don’t think he would have enjoyed anything akin to the present worship.

Thoughts on a recession

I remember the recession of the early 1980s well and it was not pretty. In 1979 I applied for an academic job and was told there were 4 tenure-track openings nationwide in my field and 150 active candidates with Classics PhDs competing for them. When I then turned to farming, the first crop loan I co-signed on was in fall 1980 and taken out at an interest rate of 16%. By 1983 the price of raisins had fallen from $1,400 a ton to $480 in a single year. The local raisin cooperative went broke, and renounced their capital debt to their own members (we lost $70,000) whose vineyards had just plunged in value from $15,000 an acre to $4,000.

Things, in other words, when one measures inflation, interest rates, and unemployment, were far worse then than now. I used to wonder why my grandfather had saved two barrels of used, rusted bent and worthless vineyard staples in the back of the barn amid rat nests and spider webs, salvaged from an old vineyard that was uprooted in the 1950s. By 1983 I was reusing them all to mend vineyard wire. We may get to that, but so far we are not in such a mess yet, despite the Great Depression/FDR rhetoric.

But even more importantly, there are already self-correcting mechanisms under way. Oil has crashed like no period in history. Gas is below $2 a gallon and getting even cheaper. The country is already saving over $1 billion a day in imported fuel costs from its former highs and that affects everything from transportation to manufacturing.

Talk about stimuluses—if such a $2 gallon savings from previous highs continues, the average commuter may save $1500 a year. That not only saves consumers billions, but means our enemies and rivals in Iran, Middle East, Russia, and Venezuela suddenly have billions less to spend on terrorism, new weapons systems, and general mischief. (They may become more desperate and adventuresome, but will still have less wherewithal).

Housing prices for young people in states like California are suddenly affordable for the first time in decades. The war in Iraq is less dangerous for Americans than are neighborhoods in our major cities. Not all is doom and gloom as we read. Capitalism is no more dead than it was supposedly in 1980, 1991 or 2001. The world is less dangerous now than in 1979. There was a reason we were not attacked in the seven years after 9/11—though it will take a decade from now for most to fathom why.

Why blame the Mormons?

All the exit polls suggest that the notion of gay marriage was rejected in California, largely by huge Hispanic and African-American majorities, enhanced by recent Obama voter registration drives. Why then do activists picket churches, when the larger anti-gay marriage constituency could be found in East Palo Alto, South Central Los Angeles or Parlier? Wouldn’t it be better to bus gay activists into those communities to do teach-ins and public demonstrations?

Mail

Many cited Ann Coulter and others as proof of right-wing hatred. Two points: first, as polemicists they are balanced by and in the same business as Michael Moore or a Keith Olbermann et al. But my drift was altogether different. I was talking about a mainstream culture, not polemicists—publishers like Knopf issuing a book about killing Bush, Hollywood losing billions on serial movies about supposed American criminality in Iraq, documentaries about shooting Bush, etc.

Second, the vast majority of scholars and academics is on the left. Polls, surveys of campaign donations, interviews—they all reflect the reality that professors are far more predictably partisan than are hedge fund directors or Wall Street investors.

Voicing doubts about Obama by an historian is only controversial in the sense I was not voicing doubts about Bush (and I have in the past on issues like first Fallujah, failing to cite the congressional 23 writs of October 11-12 to go into Iraq, illegal immigration, excessive spending, etc.).

When scholars critique Bush, they are “engaged,” and “seeking to shed light from the past on contemporary issues”; when one questions Obama, one apparently becomes a hack. I note another difference: when I get paleo-right criticism on the war, for example, usually it is differentiated and not so ad hominem; but the Obama supporters tend to send in pro forma “you’re a hack” puerile groupthink. Throughout this campaign, almost every column that expressed worry about Obama was within 24 swarmed by Obama partisans, all either beginning and ending with ‘you’re a ———————.

PS. I wrote a version of the following the other day for the NRO corner, and I think it sums up this dilemma for the new Obama administration discussed above:

For much of the last few years, and especially the last few months of the campaign, we have heard a familiar narrative. Guantánamo was a virtual Stalig, where far more innocents than terrorists were unjustly incarcerated. Given that this gulag served no useful purpose, it should be summarily shut down, and the unfairly detained suspects at last returned to their families back home. The FISA laws and Patriot Act were aimed more at bogeymen than jihadists, and what little advantage they gave us was not worth the shredding of the Constitution.

The ‘fly-paper’ theory of Iraq—thousands of belligerents flocked to Iraq, were killed and defeated, discredited radical Islam, and, their loss of face, coupled with a constitutional Iraq, made the region and the U.S. safer–is a puerile reductive fiction. What bellicosity we experienced with supposedly rogue terrorist-sponsoring states such as Syria and Iran was largely due to George Bush’s juvenile cowboy rhetoric—‘bring ‘em on’, ‘smoke ‘em out, ‘dead or alive’—and his refusal to defuse tensions and misunderstandings through reasoned diplomacy.

The promotion of democracy was a neocon pipedream, in which partly through violence, partly through cultural arrogance, we tried to clumsily project our values on deeply religious, traditional, tribal—and in the end, deeply different—societies, whose own alternate politics cannot be so crudely dismissed by our rather arbitrary standards.

American unpopularity in the Middle East had nothing to do with globalization, westernization, age-old envy or the newfound ability via instant communications to see how much worse life was in an autocratic Arab world than in a free West, but was largely a phenomenon of George Bush’s Iraq War and his neocon advisors’ crude tilt toward the Zionists. “The War On Terror” was largely a construct to wage perennial war, impugn the patriotism of critics, and scare the American people, through false consciousness, into voting against their real economic interests.

I think that is a fair enough appraisal of the opposition’s view of the Bush anti-terror philosophy. And as is true of all theories, we will soon perhaps see the extent to which it proves the more accurate in the real world of the next administration.

So the closing of Guantánamo, repeal of the Bush anti-terrorism legislation, rapid withdrawal from Iraq (though we are already past Obama’s original target date of March 2008 for withdrawal of all combat troops), cessation of pressure to democratize and the end of hectoring against Arab authoritarianism, soothing rhetoric from a new Chief Executive, renewed diplomatic reaching out to Teheran and Damascus, more even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian problem, and rejection of the notion we are in some sort of war, much less one of a “global” nature, should ensure greater American popularity, win-over our critics, defuse tensions with Iran and Syria, and ensure another seven years of safety from a major terrorist attack at home.

So come late January and beyond we shall see, and we all should genuinely wish the Obama administration well in their promised radical departure from the past, since the stakes are high for us all.

What Obama Might Do.

November 13th, 2008 - 12:36 pm

Is it all that Bad? Some Openings for Obama

1) Iraq. Far fewer American soldiers died in combat in Iraq over the last forty days than were murdered in Obama’s Chicago during the commensurate period. So now Obama can claim the Petraeus plan as his own, accept the gradual withdrawal, and ‘win’ Iraq. The Moveon.org crowd will see that our troops, as under the last year of Bush, are continuing to leave— but now itself take credit that ‘we are getting out.’ The centrists will be happy that we didn’t suddenly abandon Iraq as Obama once promised. In two years, on the present schedule we will be mostly out of the country, and Obama can again boast about ‘solving’ the mess. Few will remember that Bush’s tough decision on the surge, much less that his continued constancy, ensured 26 million Iraqis a new start—and, with a constitutional rather than Saddamist Iraq, made US interests more secure in the region.

2) Energy. Gas in nearing $2 a gallon. Oil is at $55 a barrel. That fall could be worth nearly a half-trillion dollar stimulus per year as oil free falls to one third it 2008 high. Already, families who drive 2000 miles per month are saving $150-250 per month in fuel costs. Obama might get away with a 10 cents a gallon tax and could use it to pay down the deficit (he won’t), but you get the picture that the US government, and /or its citizens, suddenly has options and can siphon something back from OPEC.

Reagan likewise realized a real windfall when prices crashed in the early 1980s. What we don’t want to see is some Carter-like, oil-shale monstrosity, but rather lightly siphoning profits from our enemies to encourage alternate fuels so that we are ready for the next hike. Let us pray that Obama includes coal and nuclear power to run the grid, and limits his hands-off, green boasting to areas that don’t have much oil anyway; e.g. “I promise not to drill in Manhattan or Berkeley!”

3) Our enemies. Obama can concentrate on talking about lowering oil prices (or rather should appreciate that the natural market forces are giving him low prices freely). If we go down to below $50 a barrel on oil, I think Iran would have real problems with its centrifuges and missiles. Putin and Co. won’t be so bellicose, given their cash reserves will vanish (they are beginning to do that already). Radical Islam will find fewer floating dollars to tap into. Hezbollah will be cash poor (and much weaker vis a vis Israel). Chavez will have to cut all those subsidies with which he used to buy allies. The point is that most of our enemies are oil exporters, and the crashing prices could bring Obama real foreign policy dividends if he finds ways to keep oil prices low when the economy rebounds. Right now, for all the talk of gloom and doom, Obama has been given a great foreign policy and economic gift. Let us hope he finesses it the right way.

4) Europe. Be careful what you wish for. Europe has been given a free ride long after continent EU became the largest economy in the world. The hate-Bush religion was largely a cover for deeply entrenched anti-Americanism, spurred by the rise of US global cultural hegemony that prompted envy and jealousy at the crass rich and powerful Amis. But now the Euros too have taken the Obama vows—and that gives the United States some leverage. He could smile, and hope and change them into either contributing more to NATO and Afghanistan, or quietly continue to withdraw US troops under the banner of removing the hegemon and letting Europe be Europe. Talking nice and carrying a big stick is far better than berating the Europeans while we give them a blank check.

5) Illegal immigration. Obama realizes that three past rolling amnesties—and, in some years, a million new illegal aliens arriving across our borders—over the last few decades have changed somewhat the electoral map of New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and California, and may soon alter them altogether. So I doubt he has much incentive to do the right thing on illegal immigration. But the vast majority of Americans are still furious that the law is held to such ridicule. What then might he do?

Essentially nothing. By that, I mean allow the fence to continue; let the immigration service continue to fine employers; count on the weak economy persuading fewer to come north and some to return south; quietly deport felons and lawbreakers. If entries are stopped, if the pool is static; and if the formidable powers of integration and assimilation return, despite being stymieing in the past by multiculturalism, then all the contentious issues of amnesty, guest workers, etc. start to recede. So doing nothing, but letting present policies continue would turn out to help him a great deal.

Final Campaign thoughts.


I offer these not out of partisanship, but out of real concern and confusion

1) I pray each night that Barack Obama gets up healthy and stays that way—since the idea of Joe Biden as President is as frightening as Sarah Palin is not. Even Al Gore’s similar combination of ego and surrealism is no match for Biden’s self-important outbursts. I don’t think Putin and Chavez will say, “Aw shucks, that’s just old Joe being Joe Biden.”
2) Why didn’t McCain just once say: “Mr. Obama: Bill Ayers bragged about bombing our country right before 9/11. You were 40, then, not eight. So why did you keep emailing this unrepentant terrorist for the next four years?”
3) What was the sanctimonious refusal to evoke Rev. Wright all about? Why didn’t McCain just say: “Mr. Obama: you claimed in 2004 you never missed a service at Trinity. A few you months ago you said you did. Which is it—when you run for Senate in Illinois you brag you’re a loyal worshiper with Rev. Wright, but when you run for President you say you’re not? The issue isn’t race; it is your character.”
4) Why did Sarah Palin relent to the insane gottach interviews with Couric and Gibson? Why not just do the warm up, soft-ball radio interviews with Limbaugh and Hannety first, then say, “I’ll do my first excusive no-holds barred interview the day after Joe Biden does his?” The result was Couric played gotcha, the media did the rest in making her a clothes-grabbing, hillbilly yokel, and few remembered that a little later Biden bragged to the same Couric that FDR addressed the nation on television as President in 1929.
5) Intellectuals said Obama was their guy. Then why not have him release his Columbia transcript so thinking people can lord his grades and classes over Bush, Palin, McCain, etc.? You’d think reporters would wish to find something to wax about—like an A+ in Gender and Post Colonial African Literature, or an honors thesis on Psychology of the Oppressed.
6) How can Obama be serious in saying his grandmother was born in 1922 and yet lived through both world wars? Weak on WWII? Like Americans supposedly liberating Auschwitz?
7) Where did all these Clintonite retreads come from in the hope and change era? And does Billary think they have an in with, or are gnashing their teeth at, the ‘the king is dead, long live the king’ former coterie—Podesta, Emaneul, Richardson, Ross. The list is growing daily and these ‘keep Saddam in his box/give a basketball or two to the North Koreans’ guys are not new.
8) On election night McCain seemed sort of relieved. And so did Bush? Were there any conservatives who really wanted to be President this year? Was an honorable man like McCain tired of hearing about the “new McCain” and the wonderful lost “old McCain”—in the same manner that Bush tired of “Bush Hitler”? Do you think Oliver Stone in 2012 will do an “H” about young Obama blowing coke and smoking weed?
9) I never saw any evidence in Chicago of Obama’s racial healing, or bipartisanship in the US Senate, or much moderation anywhere. So why does anyone think as President he will “rule”, as they say, from the middle? See below.
10) I think the Democrats privately don’t really believe that there have yet been vast structural changes, so they will ensure they occur: get rid of talk radio via the fairness doctrine; trials and hearings for former Bush officials; open borders and amnesty or ‘earned citizenship,’ and no more secret ballots for union members. All of that could help to ensure lasting Democratic majorities—and I think we will see it all come to pass.

Upside Down World

November 8th, 2008 - 2:41 pm

It Doesn’t Compute

Everyone knows that by and large the black and Hispanic communities are not in block voting sympathetic to gay marriage much less overt homosexuality. Living at ground zero of the illegal immigration influx, I see such attitudes voiced openly and unashamedly

Here in California what was the ‘No on Prop 8′ gay lobby thinking, when the Obama registration drives in California brought in thousands of new voters–that they were really all UC Santa Cruz undergrads or absent-minded professors who forgot to register?  Did they really think all those evil white Mormons and Church of Christ throngs in California would overwhelm them at the polls? In truth, each new Obama minority voter registered was a de facto vote against gay marriage.

There is a strange phenomenon that occurs when someone damns the abstract Right by ignoring  the far more concrete Right in his own midst. I saw that in the 1970s when pampered leftists in college would damn Nixon’s Middle America, and then go back home to enjoy the largess of their wealthy conservative parents. If Bill Ayers were really a revolutionary, would he not have burned down his father’s estate rather than have bombed a public facility for the general use? Or might he have given all his inheritance to Chicago community organizers? And if gays want gay marriage, I suggest they put their Obama buttons back on, and come to Fresno, LA, San Jose and began re-canvassing the neighborhoods with gay teach-ins and bilingual seminars on gender tolerance, or perhaps enlisting rap singers to stop the  ‘fag’ lyrics and instead start offering tunes that celebrate diversity and gay tolerance.

On a personal level, I was always struck how Ronald Reagan Jr., or Christopher Buckley or the daughter of George Wallace sometimes chided, or even lashed out at conservatives by evoking memories of their own far-right parents in support of their centrism or liberal views. Excuse me? Ronald Reagan as California governor was often a firebrand who courted confrontation; William F. Buckley opposed civil rights legislation; and George Wallace stood in the door to block racial integration. The point? Before lamenting the illiberalism of the present conservative movement and reinterpreting their namesakes’ legacies, they should really cool the rhetoric against those who were not nearly as right-wing as their own sires and instead perhaps write an essay criticizing their own parents for helping to foster the very landscape they now find in part odious.

The Problem with identity politics and coalitions

They are unrestrained. Once one runs on the  notion that he is a hyphenated American, there is no end to it. Obama had not been elected one minute, and immediately the Moveon.org people claimed their anti-war due. Then wily Bill Richardson was on TV bragging that the Hispanics in the southwest had won him the election, and that they needed to be rewarded. The gay community will think federal support for gay marriage is a dividend of their support as well. Ditto women, unions, radical environmentalists, etc.  The list is endless once one appeals to the tribe and the single-issue voter rather than to shared ideas and values.

Like it or not, Obama, at a time  of soaring deficits and debt, has promised the entitlement industry even more. In a recessionary cycle of shrinking sales and red ink, he has promised the unions everything. At a time of multiracial complexity, the African-American community, at margins of 95% support at the polls, has claimed him as their own. The claims are indeed many, but the reciprocity by needs will be few.  Even the media will want their due, claiming (rightly) they too elected him. Endlessly each group elbows another faction.


Wealth and Poverty

For much of my early life as a farmer I never netted over $10,000. As a professor for 20 years as CSUF, in comparison to farming, I thought the pay was very good—I started in 1985 at $23,500 and thought I was in heaven when I reached after 15 years $60,000 , especially compared to raisin income and plum returns.

Although I do better now, I have no envy or anger at those who make big money. Here are a couple of considerations about the current furor over the Obama tax hikes that, with income and payroll combined with state and Medicare, could put some incomes in the 65% tax bite. First, it is their money, not mine. I long ago realized that an academic enjoys all sorts of perks, summers off, sabbaticals, free time that higher-paid CEOs or doctors and lawyers do not. Each person to some degree has some free will about the sort of work, sacrifice, and unpleasantness necessary to endure to alter his income.

Second, after 50 some years of living in the central valley of California, I conclude that a lot of the precursors for low income, not all, but a lot, is brought about through so-called ‘lifestyle’ choices–the use of drugs, breaking the law, alcohol usage, the desire even to have more than 3-4 children, divorce, the inability or unwillingness to finish high school– as well as injury and illness. It is politically-incorrect to list sloth and laziness, but such traits also contribute to impoverishment.

Third, this is the 21st century, not the 19th. Those who makes $40,0000 or $80,000 or $1,000,000 per year all pretty much have hot water for their showers. Their tap water doesn’t sicken them, and they watch about the same TV shows and mostly have cell phones. Mass consumerism, easy credit, and technology have blurred the distinctions between wealth and poverty. That I buy a Wal-Mart sweat suit to ride a bike in the winter for $20 does not mean that I am any colder than the Manhattan exec who buys one with a designer label version for $150 at a boutique on Park Avenue. His $20 million-dollar penthouse apartment is no warmer or cooler than my Selma farmhouse. As far as the private jet, the yacht, the 5 homes, I’d prefer to fly commercial, rent a kayak, and have trouble enough keeping two toilets running and the hot water heater from silting up without worrying about either 50 of them or a staff of 5 to oversee them all.

So the advantages of wealth are more of a status thing and free choices of recreation or more leisure time than a vast difference in material conditions. For all the talk of the uninsured, one can buy catastrophic health insurance for $200-300 a month. And at the local rural health clinics in my area, many people, a year or two after arriving from the third word in Oaxaca, find good dental care, prenatal attention and major medical treatment pretty much free, something, for example, unheard of in rural Mexico.

Fourth, I realize, however, that human nature being what it is, that when we confiscate someone’s income (and that is what a 50% plus rate begins to do), we destroy initiative that in the long run enriches us all; while at the same time creating inefficient agencies that redistribute the money that often has the effect to discourage self-reliance on the other end of the spectrum. This is not the 1930s when there were few government safety nets, but a time of complex entitlements from unemployment insurance, welfare, disability insurance, social security, Medicare, Medicaid, income tax credits, low income tax deductions, subsidized housing, health care, and food stamps (On Thursday at the Selma Food 4 less, the four people ahead of me all had prepaid country food stamp credit cards, and their carts had, I would wager, more expensive foods than did my own). The question now is whether to enlarge these entities by tapping 5% of the population to pay even more, and whether a reluctance to agree is either rightly considered selfish or unpatriotic (I am paraphrasing Obama and Biden).

Look to California

We will soon have the highest sales taxes in the country. Our income tax rate is among the very highest. Our property is assessed at astronomical and overinflated values. And we Californians in return get substandard schools, pot-holed and crowded freeways, antiquated rail, crowded and therapeutic universities, and broke hospitals. Millions over the past three decades with degrees flee to tax-free Oregon or Nevada, but millions more come replace them from impoverished and depressed areas . The state is unrecognizable from my youth in the 1960s. We were given ideal weather, rich soil, mountains and sea, oil and minerals, timber, ports and bays, lakes and rivers, and our forefathers built industries in the silicon valley, agricultural in the valley, defense and tourism in LA–and we have essentially squandered it.
Things add up.

I flew yesterday from California to Florida. All the beverages (including water!) were for pay only. No complimentary snacks. No movies either as of November 1 it was announced. An extra bag was charged to be checked in. When one reads of the spikes in oil prices and the tremendous transference of wealth abroad both in energy costs and consumer imports from China, one in insidious ways can now see the results as a sort of an accustomed trivial affluence starts to crumble and crack.

An Obama dividend?

Many are frustrated by Obama’s apparent lack of knowledge, and the slick way in which his rhetoric masks his ignorance–and the complete infatuation of the media. But surely this could work abroad?
Imagine: Obama might say that he wants hope and change and so wishes to withdraw 40,000 troops from Europe to stop our unilateral and hegemonic presence on foreign soil. A German PM or the Spanish and Greek socialists would not say much of anything, as the Euro public and press are still mesmerized from the Victory Column nonsense. And so the foreign press praises to the skies how Obama just took the US, in neo-isolationist fashion, out of Europe.

He’s Back

Rev. Wright was on television, subdued and playing the victim of the “snippets” card, as if those infamous Hannety-played out-takes had done in him. He was forgetting, of course, that despite the Wright venom that aired, Barack Obama was OK with that: in his famous post-Wright KKKofA / GD America speech, Obama promised that he could no more disown Rev. Wright than the black community and his own grandmother. No, what did in the Right Reverend was the National Press Club performance. And it was not even his repeated racist views there that did it. The rub was the foolish arrogance of insulting the national press in their nerve center in DC. Had he simply made nice to the assembled reporters rather than insulting them, his racist views would not have mattered that much (they hadn’t in the past). They can forgive a black militant, but not one who mocks them openly.

The first President-elect Obama Press conference. Suggestions

1) call on 1 opposition press person at least 1 time

2) Don’t talk more about hypo-allergenic puppies more than the state of the world

3) Don’t make cheap cuts about an aged former first lady that would better apply to Hillary Clinton

4) Use the teleprompter more

Bring back the WPA?

The hysteria of this boomer generation never ceases to amaze. During the 1970s and 1980s we went through 7%+ periods of unemployment. The Great Depression saw spikes of 25% and more. Yet we go over 6% and suddenly CNN is blaring about the need to restore massive public works projectes, and the government hiring of millions.

The Mea Culpa Press

Scanning various media today and doing a few radio interviews, I was struck how they have all simply taken conservative pre-election claims that we didn’t know who the stealth candidate Obama was, given his blank slate , and now agreed–but in worry that they don’t know whether he will come through on their own agendas. Indeed conservatives are more likely to wait and see, as liberals worry out loud “now what?”

In fact, listening to the widely-circulated interview of Newsweek editors worrying about Obama’s contortions (“this creature” and “creepy”) is damning proof that they are really no longer journalists. For months most assured us that worries about the plastic Obama were illiberal, then they got what they wanted and now confess to us what they themselves knew all along, that there could be no there there:

So is the elite media worried Obama will prove a centrist rather than a liberal?
Or a black nationalist rather than a hope and change healer?
Or that they have been so stung that they utterly lost their reputations for credibility they are now scrambling to restore a shred of them?
Or do they wish to be a day ahead of the curve and now somehow fill the void created by the departure of the anti-Christ George Bush and be on the cutting-edge of slicing Obama?
Or are they such sad creatures of the day, that they simply babble, then re-babble as the hourly perceptions change?

Like many, I wrote some pre-election essays with titles like ‘The Obama Enigma’ and ‘The Blank Slate’ and got the usual tons of hate mail that most now get from the organized Obama electronic minutemen, but is the media party line really now to be “We also knew all that then, but can only say it now”?

The Day After

November 6th, 2008 - 2:48 am

Reconciliation

I wish President-elect Obama well, and hope that even his critics can concede that he waged a successful and often brilliant (if not shrewdly stealthy) campaign.

It seems to me that conservatives have a golden opportunity to offer criticism and advice in a manner that many liberals did not during the last eight years. By that I mean I hope there are no conservative versions of the Nicholson Baker Knopf-published ‘novel’ Checkpoint, the creepy documentary by Gerald Range, the attempt to name a sewer plant after an American President, or the celebrity outbursts that we have witnessed with the tired refrain of Hitler/Nazi Bush—that all have cheapened political discourse. When I hear a partisan insider like Paul Begala urging at the 11th hour that we now rally around lame-duck Bush in his last few days, I detect a sense of apprehension that no Democrats would wish conservatives to treat Obama as they did Bush for eight years.

In the future, criticism should be offered in unified pro-American tones, rather than anti-Obama screeds. When disagreements arise, they should be couched in a sense of regret rather than ebullition. There should be no conservative counterparts of Bill Maher, Michael Moore, or Al Franken.

That said, read on.

Be Careful of what you wish for…

Note the Iraqis immediately rushing to say Obama surely won’t pull out of the Iraq prematurely. Note secondly that just recently they were grandstanding that we had to leave. I had noted earlier a Zen-like possibility with an Obama victory: those who counted on Bush-Hitler to both defend them and be a big target for their cheap anti-Americanism, might not like going it alone as equal “partners” in the much praised “multilateral” fashion.

Obama may just say “We are right behind you when you deal with Russia, Iran, North Korea, China, etc.” Note again, as Europe goes wild over Obama, the subtext is, “This would never happen here.” After all, we Amis have had African-American secretaries-of-state for eight years (well over a quarter-century ago Andrew Young was UN ambassador)—and still no Turkish-German Foreign Minister or Congolese-French Prime Minister? In some sense, Obama will bring welcome moral clarity to foreign relations, because if he really is a multilateralist, current opportunistic foreign dependencies will be forced to weigh in on multilateralism.

On the Taboo of Race

The landmark consequences of electing the first African-American President dominated the news cycle for the last 24-hours. But just as importantly, we have forgotten that we have chosen the most hard left candidate since Henry Wallace assumed the Vice Presidency, in a transparent fashion without fraud or deception. That marks a landmark shift in American attitudes, like it or not. And no one reported on that anomaly, or on the fact that Obama was the first northern liberal to be elected since JFK—or even the first senator to make it since JFK (and LBJ via the Vice Presidency).

On matters of race, at some point the country will evolve beyond the current narrative of the last day that runs something like—‘You redeemed yourself by voting for Barack, and now we can all say we are truly Americans’. The problem with that understandable sentiment is a number of its corollaries: ‘Unless you support European socialist solutions offered by a charismatic African-American candidate, then you confirm America as a quasi-racist nation.’ And this thought: African-Americans voted for a black candidate at a 95% rate; Hispanics at perhaps 75%; yet the country was judged as free of racial tribalism on the basis of whether whites voted for a black candidate far to the left of any Democratic nominee during the last three decades in pluralities greater than they did for past white Democratic candidates like Gore or Kerry. And they did!

It will be interesting when the first Hispanic candidate wins to see whether Mexican-American citizens en masse reaffirm the country to be finally fulfilling its promise—and what would be the reaction of African-Americans and Asians to such ethnic solidarity.

This solidarity may be a natural reaction, but something is still puzzling about hours of television showing African-American ecstasy based on apparent racial pride rather than glee that someone of Obama’s views was elected—all often editorialized by teary-eyed objective journalists. A person from Mars who watched this post-election celebration, might study the popular reaction to the Obama victory and become puzzled: “Aren’t people now saying pretty much what Michelle Obama said twice, and to great criticism, during the campaign: that the emergence of Barack Obama was occasion for many to have pride in their country for the first time?”

Be careful Barack

When off the teleprompter, natural exuberance takes over. The day before the election, Obama was praising his late grandmother and I heard him say that his grandmother, born in 1922, had witnessed both world wars (including 1914-1918?). In his acceptance speech, Obama mentioned that he might not achieve all his aims in “one term”—so we are talking about dynasties of two terms before even assuming office? We remember likewise he kept saying we are only going back to the Clinton tax hikes (up to 40% on top brackets), while omitting the 15.3% FICA and Medicare taxes once the caps are to be eliminated. And we remember that he kept saying he was going to pay for (a trillion dollars worth of) entitlements in large part by “ending that war” (which even by his figures was running at about $100 billion or so now a year (we would need to be in Iraq another 10 years to waste enough that would have gone to new social programs?))

Second Stimulus

After running up the annual deficit to a near half-a-trillion dollars in stimuli rebates and bailouts, now we are to send checks out again for subsidies for food, housing, and power? And how to pay for it? And the consequences of looking for others to channel money to be redistributed? At some point, there should be some overarching exegesis to explain all this. Something like: ‘Compensation is arbitrary and not based on either fairness or logic. So government is necessary to make the needed corrections and to redistribute in the way a flawed market cannot.’ At least then we could learn the logic involved.

Internal Struggles

We are going to witness a gargantuan struggle among the Obama camp in the next 90 days. On the one hand, the following argument will be advanced:

“Look, Barack, we have a historical opportunity with the Congress, the honeymoon, voter momentum, and your communicative brilliance. Carpe diem!”

“Liberals will never have such a window again, so let’s move full blast with Axlerod, Emanuel, and the Chicago Boys before they know what hit them: make lots of hard-left appointments for agency heads, executive branch controllers and cabinet posts; restore the fairness doctrine and get talk radio out of the picture as it was pre-1987; empower unions with an end to secret elections; move on de facto amnesty and keep the borders porous, given how the continually replenished illegal alien community, with periodic amnesties, evolves into Democratic constituencies in key states; go for BOTH tax increases on income up to 40% and ending the FICA caps so you can get another 15.3%. That way we can pay for some of these new programs. Try to create a national health care system akin to Canada’s. Don’t just go for the agenda, but for structural changes that will make it almost impossible for conservatives to win again. Now with incumbency, restore campaign financing in all its manifestations, lest some Republican gets smart and emulates our money-raising strategies. And while we are at it, why not call in Cheney, Rumsfeld and the Bush neocons and charge them with war crimes for Guantanamo and water-boarding?”

Realists will counter:

“Wait! LBJ, Nixon, and others all blew their mandates. Festina lente (‘make haste slowly’). Remember the Clintonian 1993-4 debacle with gays in the military, Hillarycare, Les Aspen at Defense (cf. his no armor in Somalia decision), Travelgate, etc, so we don’t need more hubris that means calling in another Dick Morris and triangulation to save the Obama presidency. Either raise income tax or lift FICA caps, but don’t do both unless you want to gut, not shear, the sheep. Throw the loonies looking for jobs under the bus where they can join Ayers, Wright, Khalidi, etc. Adopt the Petraeus withdrawal plan, but claim it was really the “Obama” plan all along. Turn over the cabinet to Larry Summers and Robert Rubin types and a few Republican-lites like Chuck Hagel.”

So we will see who wins—or whether Obama votes “present,” and the sides go to and fro, back and forth ad nauseam. Beware, we will hear soon a Reaganesque “Let Obama be Obama!”—if we knew exactly what that would mean?

Sarah Palin

There was something bothersome about the treatment of Sarah Palin. Her final campaign appearances and interviews showed calm, poise and competence. Her charm galvanized the base. And yet the hard Left on day one reduced her to a Neanderthal creationist. The DC-NY Republican grandees demonized her as a cancerous bimbo who spoke in a patois and represented a culture that was an anathema. Now after heroic campaign work, she returns to Alaska with leaks that she was a diva, appeared in a bathrobe, and threw things, as failed strategists grasp at scapegoats for their lapses. I hope she completes her term, runs for Senate, and comes back to DC to haunt her critics. Long after 2008, we shall remember that an Atlantic Mazagine blogger for days on end trafficked in rumors that her own daughter delivered her mother’s Down Syndrome child. That smear says it all.

Good/Bad John McCain

Let me understand the current media analysis of John McCain: 2000—“Old” John McCain runs against the more conservative George Bush and loses, so he’s declared principled and good; mid-2008—“new” John McCain runs against a messianic Barack Obama and could win, so he’s ruthless, quasi-racist, and bad; late 2008—“new-old” John McCain loses against Obama and makes a typically gracious speech, so suddenly he’s the new ‘old’ John McCain again?

Creepy People

We, of course, wish to be liked abroad. But there are reasons why in many cases we are not. That is, many governments welcome authoritarians. They prefer tribal, religious, and racial chauvinism compared to our diverse plurality. They like class hierarchies and resent our mobility. They prefer statism, are anti-democratic, and have contempt for consumer capitalism. So why would we wish governments currently composed of radical Palestinians, Iranians, Venezuelans, North Koreans, Syrians, or Russians to like or admire us? While we would wish not to gratuitously excite their ire, their empathy toward us should make us worried not relieved. Who cares whether the royal House of Saud is happy over the election, or those in the Iranian parliament or the activists of Hezbollah?

Campaign casualties

1. No one will again trust the media to report objectively a general election. Turn on NBC or CNN or read the front page of the NY Times, and you will expect an editorial for the more liberal candidate without pretense of objectivity.
2. Public financing is over as a bipartisan tradition. The Democrats may try to resurrect it, once as incumbents they see advantages in limiting fund raising, but no one will ever again believe the mantra of big money + big politics = sleaze
3. Colin Powell. Now a tragic figure. His endorsement of Obama came too late to appear principled (at a time of Obama’s soaring ratings rather than, say, in mid-September when McCain was ahead). And when he had nicer public things to say of the crooked Ted Stevens than he did the principled hero John McCain, one remembered that his former subordinate Mr. Armitage once apparently knew that Mr. Libby had been charged with a crime that was not a crime, and if it were, Mr. Armitage himself had privately admitted that he was the culpable party. Surely Armitage should have been fired or at least reprimanded by Mr. Powell.
4. Obamacons. The timing and rationale for conservatives jumping for Obama became suspect not because of their decision per se, but because it came late, and was often without an explanation of why Obama’s tax or spending plan, or foreign policy, or proposed new entitlements were superior to John McCain’s.
They will be orphaned since there are too many more liberal in line ahead of them to enjoy Obama’s graces, and they burned their bridges with their former conservative supporters. Had any of them simply said in March, “I am for Obama since I think he is a superior candidate to Clinton, Giuliani, Romney and McCain because his preference for a European-model is to be welcomed”, I think they would seem mavericks and issue-orientated thinkers rather than opportunistic.
5. Beltway Republicans. When the conservative party spends wildly, runs up deficits and justifies them by citing percentages of GDP rather than apologies for trillions borrowed, gives us the likes of the criminally-minded such as Cunningham, Abramoff, and Stevens, the morally dubious like Craig and Foley, and the sycophantic like a Scott McClellan or FEMA’s “Brownie” and the other incompents in high-profile administration jobs, then don’t they naturally lose?
Fiscal restraint.

The promises of bailouts and fiscal reprieves from the two candidates were like two Roman emperors outbidding each other for the services of the Praetorian Guard in order to become coronated. Not a word where the borrowing would ultimately come from, how it would be paid back, or how the indebted incurred their obligations in the first place.

As a self-interested columnist, I would hope Obama reassumes his natural hard-left position of his 1996-2005 period that would provide both plentiful column topics and prove counterproductive to his I fear scary agenda. But as an American, I surely hope he doesn’t, and so wish him personally well, and success as a possible centrist commander-in-chief that advances American interests.

Interesting times…

A Blank Slate

November 2nd, 2008 - 11:37 am

Much Attention, Little Knowledge

Obama himself at various times in his memoirs—never have presidential autobiographies sold so many copies, and yet have been so little read by the press—talked about people seeing in him what they wished. And now on the eve of the election, I confess I have no idea about who he is or what he stands for. If he is elected, I can only hope for the best, and pray a few sober old Clintonites like Paul Volcker or Robert Rubin will step forward.


What is a “Huge Sum”?

Does Obama really, as Joe Biden promised, wish to shut down coal-generated electricity plants?

He denied it, of course. But then on the eve of the election we see a recording just released of what he recently boasted about on the topic: “If somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”

Note again the boastful Obama’s usage of “bankrupt” them—as if the destruction of an entire industry that currently warms the water, cooks the food, and keeps the lights on for 150 million Americans can simply fold, without consequences to the industry’s workers and to us, the consumers of their electricity. Are we to use our stoves for  five or six hours a day as the wind and sun allow, in order to prove that we are ‘green” and no longer ‘selfish’?
So, are the selfish rich making $300,000, $250,000, $200,000, $150,000 or $120,000?
Who knows, we’ve heard all of these figures as benchmarks for the next gargantuan tax bite. Is ‘socialism’ an unfair indictment of Obama’s policies (perhaps mandated ‘equality of result’ is more polite)?  I think not, since he regrets the inability to use the Supreme Court to redistribute capital, or what he later dubbed ‘spread the wealth around’. Is the term ‘socialist’ antithetical to, or suggestive of, his agenda that would raise income-based taxation in many states (state, federal, FICA, Medicare) to 65% of the incomes of those who now pay over 60% of the nation’s aggregate taxes, while upping the number of those exempt from federal income tax obligation to nearly half of the nation’s wage earners?

What does one call that? Fairness—when one proceeds to give cash credits to many of those who are not paying any federal income taxes at all? That will be a pretty large political constituency—half the nation’s wage-earners—who will be appreciative that someone exempted them from all concern about where and how much of their government’s revenues derive.

More Therapeutic Studies?

I worry about education, since at various times Obama has called for reparations (in deed, not word), more oppression studies, and praised ethnic magnet schools. Clearly to address the underclass we need instead a more traditional curriculum and back to basics emphasis on reading, literatures, math, and science, and less on the therapeutic “they” who did this to us. I wrote an article in the current issue of City Journal on this, and worry that much of our most critical problems derive from a substandard school system, that needs radical reform and competition, not more money.

Yes, No—or Present?
I don’t know what Obama feels about drilling, nuclear power, FISA, NAFTA, capital punishment, abortion, guns, Iran, the surge, Jerusalem, campaign financing, etc. But I do get the impression that he is more or less cognizant that most of his views around 2006 were at odds with the American people’s, and so he had to change or drop them (and most of his social circle) to get elected, or at least mention them only at small private gatherings in San Francisco.

The mystery? Will he revert back to the constant Obama of the last 30 years who waged  dirty 1996 and 2004 campaigns, and shared apparently ideologies with Ayers, Khalidi, Pfleger, and Wright and others in his Chicago extremist cadre? Or will he govern as a center-leftist, corralling a Frank, Pelosi, and Reed and the most fringe beyond them?

Truman or Carter?
Will Obama really, at a time of near recession, create a trillion dollars of new spending programs, when many of the existing ones don’t work and contribute to a half-trillion dollar current deficit? Note in almost every speech, Obama lists a new federal bromide to address our malaise, rarely if ever advice to curb our own extravagant spending and borrowing, honor our debts, live lives that lessen our reliance on a burdened federal government, or seek personal responsibity to curtail illegitimacy, drug use, high school drop-out rates, and illegality that do so much to impoverish the nation. Surely some of the things that got us into the current mess were self-induced and not entirely the fault of the greedy “they” on Wall Street and in Washington?

A Minor Morality Tale

His aunt Zeitunie is a minor road bump and familiar to everyone who has an embarrassing relative. But Auntie Z. is also emblematic nevertheless of many of the concerns one has about the blank Obama slate. Let me state first that no one is completely responsible for one’s immdiate family, but we need at least a statement on that from Obama that his aunt’s illegality is a worry to him, and he will take as much care to see her comply with American law as he did to write of her in the past. Some minor concerns:

1) Charity Begins at Home? She appeared in cameo fashion in his memoirs as proof of his strong family ties (and attended, I think, his swearing in as a US Senator); but then was subsequently languishing as an illegal alien, in violation of a deportation order, in a public housing project a mere hour’s flight from Chicago. I am skeptical of someone like Obama who dubs others “selfish” for worrying that upping federal tax by 20% on those who currently pay the most in taxes (5% income tax hike, 15.3 FICA self-employment tax exposure), all for dubious expenditures, and cannot even take care of someone he cited in his memoir as “family.”

2) An Objective Press? The press story is somehow now about who ‘leaked’ information that his aunt had defied a deportation order and was in the country illegally. This is yet another sign that US immigration law is made laughable, and its enforcement a joke to the rather limited extent the law is even applied.  One not only can overstay a visa, ignore a court order, ignore campaign laws, ignore public housing requirements, but do so in such a context that revelation of such serial lawbreaking, not the serial lawbreaking itself, is proof of wrong.

3) Mr. Axlerod of recent Chicago Fame. More of the double standard. David Axlerod, the Chicago master of leaking information to destroy adversaries, is suddenly worried about supposed leaks of government documents? Aside from Joe the Plumber, he should ask why and how the sealed divorce records of both Obama’s Democratic primary rival and his general election Republican opponent were leaked, imploding both campaigns and ensuring the election of Obama in 2004 to the Senate. If the aunt story was improperly leaked by a right-wing immigration official, can’t Axlerod at least say “Damnit, I was Axleroded!”

4) If You Can’t Trust Your Aunt, Who Can You Trust? Obama said that his historical rejection of campaign finance (after a promise to abide by the statutes), and his subsequent creation of $600 million war-chest, should not cause worry because so many of the donors were “small”.

Thus any questions about fake names, addresses, lack of compliance with identifying donors by name, foreign contributors, and prepaid credit cards were essentially McCarthyite—given the historical lift Obama had given the American electoral process.

But if the Obama campaign cannot even guarantee that his own aunt followed the law (it is illegal for foreigners to contribute to US presidential campaigns), what does that say about the millions of others we are supposed to believe, on the assurance of Obama himself, were supposedly legitimate and lawful donors? How ethical is it for someone who is in violation of the law, and receiving some sort of public subsidy to then donate money, illegally again, to a campaign?

5) Do as I Say, not as I Do!
The media, rather than enlightening us about Obama’s background, consistency in thought, past behavior, and character, instead turns on anyone and anything that stands in the way of his ascension. So Auntie Zeitunie is a distraction, yes. But also no: perhaps the next President of the United States, who promises to tax to increase the social safety net, and demonizes those as selfish who disagree, can at least help a little in taking care of his own aunt, and ensure that she changes her mind about her defiance of deportation orders, her violation of Boston public housing guidelines, and her rather brazen disregard of campaign financing laws.

6) It’s the Law, Stupid! That is the issue here. The law really does matter. I can’t think of any aunt of any President who violated so many statutes to so little consternation—or someone who so authoritatively lectured the nation on the responsibilities of social welfare and their moral obligations to give to the state purse, who in turn proved so unaware of the impoverished and illegal conditions of his own family.

A minor point, but indicative that Obama remains a blank slate on the eve of the election. We had 2 years of hope and change, and not a day of hope for what? and change this or that?