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Monthly Archives: June 2009

Some Hypocrisies Are Not Hypocrisies

June 30th, 2009 - 10:25 pm

The Usual Apology

I think the standard explanation of the trashing accorded the foolish Governor Mark Sanford (who in embarrassing, and by now truly surreal fashion, confessed, and confessed, and confessed to an affair with an Argentinean girlfriend) and the tsk-tsk treatment of former Senator and presidential candidate John Edwards — who, in grotesque fashion, fathered a child with his mistress, lied about it on several occasions while he tried to gain political mileage from his ill wife, all as he concocted an alibi that his aide, not he, had really impregnated Rielle Hunter — is that Sanford suffered from the addition wage of hypocrisy.

That is, self-proclaimed moralists like the late Henry Hyde, Newt Gingrich, Larry Craig, Mark Foley, John Ensign and other conservatives raised the sexual morality bar high on others, and then proved they could not meet it themselves, while libertine Democrats like a Bill Clinton, Barney Frank, or Jesse Jackson never claimed to judge others’ sexual mores. Therefore their behavior is not at odds with their rhetoric. So despite their public status, the “sin” in their case remains more a “private” manner.

Really?

But there are some problems with this facile analysis. While it is true that Americans seem to detest hypocrisy more than sin, there is something more to this strange unevenness in attitudes toward conservative and liberal transgression. Feminists have long argued that serial womanizing is a sort of moral cheapening of their gender. The supposed male power broker uses rank, money, and privilege to sexually exploit the vulnerable, gullible, younger (fill in the blanks) female. A lot of Foucouldian gibberish is thrown in about power and control — as in mandarin males exploiting victimized female subordinates in supposedly consensual relationships.

Womanizing Feminists

So why then do professed feminists largely ignore an Eliot Spitzer, Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy, who did not suffer an additional wage of hypocrisy? Monicagate, after all, was a classic feminist cause célèbre: Monica was younger, supposedly naïve, a subordinate, without power and a voice, a victim drawn into an asymmetrical relationship with her “boss,” who used his superior position to cajole the younger woman into exploitive sexual services. But, of course, feminists were largely quiet — although not entirely quiet as many prominent commentators trashed Monica, as they had Paula Jones, as they had Clinton’s harem, as a sort of trashy vixen, whose sluttishness (see David Letterman on such usage) endangered the political capital of a feminist supporter of everything from abortion to gay rights.

Another exegesis goes something like this: “Well, you conservatives suffer the additional wage of hypocrisy on matters sexual since you yourselves are so moralistic; while we liberals get hit hard on matters of high living and privilege given our professed egalitarianism. So it evens out.” But is that second half of the equation true?

Taxes for Thee, not Me

I don’t think so. Very few in the media ran with the Timothy Geithner messy story. The problem was not just that he took quite embarrassing unlawful deductions, but actually pocketed the very FICA allowances provided him by the IMF to address his exposure to self-employment payroll taxes.

In addition, Geithner was to oversee, as Treasury Secretary, the Internal Revenue Service, which, given its limited resources, must rely on the goodwill and honest voluntary compliance of the American taxpayer. Furthermore, Geithner was part of a new administration whose trademark theme was that an under-taxed elite, in near unpatriotic and greedy fashion, had made out like bandits in the Bush years. Thus, those over the sinister $250,000 threshold owed the rest of us overdue money as a sort of financial penance. I could ditto the cases of Daschle, Solis, and Richardson as well, but leave you with Charles Rangel and Chris Dodd — champions of the people and enemies of privilege, who in the most tawdry fashion sold influence for things like lower interest on loans and possible gifts to their eponymous centers.

Goristics

But perhaps the most glaring example is the strange case of former Senator and Vice President Al Gore. He was canonized with various awards including, but not limited to the Nobel Prize, on the basis that his disinterested global campaign to raise concern about global warming had given us all an eleventh hour reprieve from ruining the planet.

Remember the Gore themes: we are destroying the planet by gratuitous use of fossil fuels. Each of us must know his own “carbon footprint,” and adjust accordingly. But then we learned, in addition to the movies and books, Gore had created a carbon-exchange company, a modern version of medieval penance, in which for a fee Gore’s people would evaluate one’s environmental sins, and suggest how one could get right with the gods of the environment.

And on and on it went until in just a few years Gore’s net worth went from $2 million to nearly $100 million. But the additional rub was that Gore lived in an energy-gobbling big house, flew in carbon-polluting private jets, and seemed to benefit financially from the very policies he was lobbying governments to embrace. None of these facts had any effect on the media, the Nobel Prize committees, or his general public stature. Today he remains a liberal icon, not a hypocrite who seemed to live the carbon high-life he demonized so publicly.

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Thoughts on a Schizophrenic Society

June 27th, 2009 - 8:37 am


Such a Prudishly Crass Society

I was watching cable television about 5 PM on a Friday night, channel surfing between commercials on the Western station. Sandwiched between regular cinema programming were about several channels with what could legitimately be called light porn motifs. I then surfed through a confessional about phallic enhancement and a couple talking about herbal remedies for impotence.

Once I got out of that channel cluster, and went into the 200s, here and there came up infomercials on everything from how to buy foreclosures with no money down, how to get out of credit card debt, how to avoid taxes, and how to default on housing payments without hurting your credit. The talking heads looked just like those hawking natural Viagra a few channels earlier, and indeed were hawking the same instant gratification, sober faces advising radical conduct.

By the time I got back three minutes later to the Western channel, the Maverick episode was extolling the virtues of honesty and keeping one’s word. Television, in other words, is a cesspool. To channel surf through it to find an old Western, one has to take an antiseptic shower afterwards.


Are We Victorians or Libertines?

I bring this up because I am somewhat baffled by the reaction to this week’s news. Take poor Governor Sanford. The only excuse for the hysteria over his trip could be possible use of state funds for personal travel, or taking vacation time without logging it in, or unauthorized leave. All are serious breaches of professional conduct.

But “adultery” during a separation? This entire popular culture transcended fornication years ago when it decided that tampons, Viagra, and Extend were fair game for commercial television.  Our children know more about sexuality than our grandparents.

Can one think of very many politicians who were not guilty of some sort of adultery-Ted Kennedy? John Edwards? Bill Clinton? Newt Gringrich? Rudy Giuliani? John McCain? In a California governor’s race or during the Presidential primaries the oddity is always the non-adulterer. I am being descriptive not sermonizing.

Our greatest icons-Jefferson, JFK, FDR-at times conducted private affairs in a manner that this society would have sensationalized, a society that in fact is far more tawdry and without the decorum of the past.

I don’t know the circumstances of the Sanford marriage, but the notion that a culture that has deified sex, only to become  ”shocked” in Casablanca- like fashion that an official would reflect contemporary values is surreal. If this were 1910 or even 1950, I too would be shocked; but once our culture chose to elevate sex to Olympian  status, why does it insist on Plymouth Rock reactions to the logic result of its own values and emphases?


How Did Mr. Jackson Live so Long?

I am sorry Michael Jackson passed away, but baffled when sober commentators pontificate about what the “autopsy findings” will bring, and note his sometimes bizarre behavior. Does one think?

Again, with all due respect, it was hard to see clips of Michael Jackson in a normal mode-without the singer grabbing and/or pointing to his genitals or whispering in an infantile voice. (Another strange thing was to see Jackson on mainstream television at an awards ceremony gesticulating in a genital-obsessed fashion that apparently was just “dance” and good fare for senior citizens as if it were Ed Sullivan hour again).

I don’t think many of us have ever invited small boys over for conversation in our bedrooms, or traveled with a small city across town. He seemed in a perpetual drug daze, whether holding a child over a balcony or wearing pajamas to court. That surely took a toll in addition to the travel and performance.

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Recollections On a New Age Begun

Think of the hope and change of just the last six months that have changed all our lives. It was, I remember, around the beginning of February when the understandable liberal angst about the Bush deficit simply disappeared. Gone. Vanished. No more haranguing about red ink and shorting our grandchildren.

For the last eight years, I had some admiration-albeit along with plenty of bewilderment-at the newly fiscally mature Congressional Democrats and their impassioned attacks on Bush’s fiscal irresponsibility.

But then suddenly their principled opposition paid off. Deficits disappeared-at least the multibillion species. Yes, borrowing was replaced by kinder, gentler multi-trillion dollar “stimuli.” This was our moment, this was our time when a crushing debt of the last eight years was at last alleviated, and with the New Math we can be so stimulated as to grow our way out any shortfall the naysayers claim follows.

The other Bush nightmare immediately went as well-the primitive way of counting joblessness by the percentage of unemployed workers. Gone too was the Neanderthal idea that the silly Congressional Budget Office knows anything about the projected growth in GDP. And who can accurately project the likely size of deficits (and especially the arcane idea that you can’t save money on health care by borrowing another $2 trillion first to get the needed economies in place)?

So who said the government couldn’t run GM, or teach Chrysler a thing or two? All gone, those worries. Now I just read the New York Times columnists or listen to geniuses like Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner, and have discovered just how light, breezy, sunny things are becoming.

At about the same time we all awoke from our eight-year trance, the energy crisis ended. Flat out was gone. Solar, wind, geo, and bio swept the country. The old anxieties-nuclear this, coal that, ‘drill, baby, drill’, shale, tar sands, and that wolf in sheep’s clothing, natural gas-all went back to Texas with Bush’s  oil cabal. Now in the age of alternative energy, I know you share my relief that we have both plentiful power and a green planet, once Cheney’s old friends also slid back into the shadows and Palin “got over” her fetishes about ANWR.

I once worried that a Civic was too small, and now see that it is far too big. I just drove over the passes of the California coastal range and for the first time realized that I once used to be bored silly with those bleak untouched “natural” landscapes. Instead, in the ‘age of wind’ now I just absorb the manmade beauty of a far better horizon of hundreds of swishing windmills-2-, 3-, 4 propellered varieties, some white, others grey, with beautiful dirt roads carved out from the once ugly natural hillsides to each one-all unobtrusively churning, churning so that I can have air conditioning this summer without a carbon imprint.

I think it was around early spring when we could relax that Bush’s godawful “war on terror” was won. Finally, the Bush/Cheney hysteria ended, and we got instead the much preferable “overseas contingency operations.” These well-planned humanitarian efforts dispensed with any lingering “man-made catastrophes.” I used to shudder when I heard “Guantanamo” and braced for the “Stalag” and “Gulag” invective that followed. But then mysteriously that went away too in late winter. In place of those icky “enemy unlawful combatants,” there were suddenly misunderstood “detainees,” replete with personal stories about like our own.

Better yet, Guantanamo was almost, nearly, about to be closed as well, at least we knew sometime it would be gone and that was just as good as if it already was. Who knows, I thought at the time, maybe the innocent once released may at last turn up on a beach on some Caribbean island, as we make long overdue amends to these framed “terrorists”?

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“This Is the Moment”?

June 20th, 2009 - 4:10 pm


Let Me Count the Ways Why Obama Should at Last Speak Out ( —I write this at around noon on Saturday, and suspect the pressure of public outrage will soon get to Obama, and he soon will recant and start sounding Reaganesque)

 

(As in something like this:

 

“Hundreds of thousands of gallant Iranians are now engaged in a non-violent moral struggle against tyranny in Iran-one of the great examples of bravery in our times. All free peoples of the world watch their ordeal, and can only wish them success, while owing them a great deal of gratitude for risking their lives for the innate and shared notion of human freedom and dignity. We in the United States ask the government of Iran—as well as its military and security forces — to recognize the universal appeal of freedom that flourishes among its own remarkable people, to stand down and renounce its serial use of violence and coercion-and to ensure a truly free election where the voices of all can be at last fully heard, so that  Iran can once more properly reenter  the family of law-biding nations”.)

 

So why speak out louder? (Does not Obama see that the world has been given a rare chance, thanks to brave Iranians—as if the German people had risen up in 1938 in fear of what was on the horizon)

 

1)   It is the moral and right thing to do to support the brave and idealistic (the Congressional Democrats mostly get this. And, after a week of embarrassment, the “I worship whoever runs the White House” pundits are not far behind and scrambling to retract and revise last week’s obsequious columns.). The dissidents in fact can win in this new age of private instant communications, in which global news is not predicated on elite correspondents and news desks editors, but can flow globally and instantaneously, unfiltered, with unforeseen consequences.)

 

2)   The theocracy is a fiendish regime that hides behind third-world victimhood while it murders and promotes terror abroad. When it totters, the world sighs relief from Iraq to Lebanon; when it chest-thumps, thousands die at home and abroad.

 

 

3)   Of the three ways to stop a nuclear theocracy-(regime change, preemption, embargo), supporting the opponents of the regime is the most logical, peaceful, and cost-effective-and has the best chance of success. (Ask the worried surrounding Arab frontline countries).

 

 

4)    There is a long bipartisan American history of supporting dissidents who were fighting for election fairness abroad in Poland, Serbia, Latin America, and South Africa. (Does Obama think Mandela did not wish words of support from America? Why then would he think the Iranians being shot at in the streets would not wish moral clarity from the prophet of Cairo?). The Europeans (and even the Arab world) are way ahead of us.

 

5)   Obama’s realpolitik is flawed: 1) if the mullahs win, they will have greater contempt for our timidity; 2) if the dissidents win, they will not forget our realistic fence-sitting; 3) you can never believe (ever) anything the mullahs say or do. Negotiating with them is like signing a pact with Hitler. They are afraid of US voiced support for the dissidents, not the dissidents themselves who ask for our solidarity. If anything, the theocrats grasp that their own do not want a nuclear confrontation with Israel in which the people would be sacrificial pawns. Again and again, the dissidents have repeated that they are tired of being hated in the world as Ahmadinejad’s Iranians, not that they wanted Obama’s America to be less critical of Ahmadinejad. 

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What Do these First Six Months Mean?

June 18th, 2009 - 8:05 am

Where Are We Going?

Abroad

I think the Europeans, who, remember, caught Obamania quite early, thought they were going to get more of the bipartisan American security shield, albeit with a charismatic multicultural veneer that would resonate with their citizens: no more Texas. No more Christianity. No more twang. No more nuclur. No more Iraq. But same old NATO. Same old bad cop to their good cop. Same old wide open Ami economy. Same old chance for triangulation.  And?

As we are seeing in the Middle East, in the case of Israel, with Turkey, on the recent Iranian upheaval, and during the South America visit, Obama is clearly to the left of Europe. He sees himself more as multicultural prophet born out of the Third World, foe of colonialism, angry at past imperialism, skeptical of capitalism, eager to showcase his non-traditional ancestry and tripartite nomenclature. By coming from the West, but separating himself from the history of his own country, Obama has become a citizen of the world, who polls far higher, as intended, in the Middle East, than does his own country.

At no point does he suggest that the fact his father left Kenya for the U.S. and fathered at least one son who would grow up American rather than Kenyan was a great gift, as we see with the ordeal of many of the Obama half-siblings in Africa. Yes, he talks about change in America, but never tells the world exactly how an America of many races and faiths never descends into the hatred and violence we see most elsewhere in diverse societies. How, after all, does one apologize for success? (“I am sorry we are not killing as in the Balkans; so sad we do not follow the Rwandan model; schucks, no Kurd-Shiite-Sunni troubles here.”)

It used to be cute to talk about how “Bush turned off the Europeans.” Perhaps. But beneath all the public demonstrations and burning effigies, the old guard knew that Bush, like Clinton, Bush, and Reagan (but not Carter), would be there should the Russians, Koreans, Chinese, the lunatic regimes in the Middle East, the Al Qaedists and the rest threaten Western interests.

I don’t see how they can assume such a thing any more.

From the trivial like the treatment of the Churchill bust or the DVD gift to Gordon Brown, to the profound like the serial apologies, voting present on Iran, and deer-in-the-headlights stance on Korea, they must assume that the “European Rapid Deployment Force” is now their primary bulwark against the foes of civilization.

Bottom line: “Be careful what you wish for.”

It is neither caricature nor reductionism to suggest that the degree to which a country has expressed past hostility to the United States, the more it wins attention and apology from Barack Obama. In contrast, to the degree a country is constitutional and pro-American, the more likely it will be either ignored by Obama or  its internal affairs “meddled” with. Cf. the case with Iran, Venezuela, the West Bankers, Russia, etc. In contrast, woe to Israel! (And Iraq too).

Weird Iranian Politics

There is a certain difficulty, unease really, that one sees among Leftist and liberal commentators on Iran. The demonstrations in Tehran are ideal topics of liberal anguish: hundreds of thousands in the streets, women, gays, students, all calling for freedom, human rights, and non-violent change — and opposed by religious fundamentalists, the gun-toting army, creepy police. It should be a no-brainer.

But there is often silence. Why and how?

1)   Obama is President. US official policy is now liberal official policy, and there is a certain party line to embrace (we forget how right-wing radio went after Bush for the Dubai ports deal, the steel tariff, open borders, the deficits, No Child Left Behind. Prescription drug, etc.).

That means the President’s heretofore Kissingerian realism — wait until one side wins, and then deal with the winner in terms of our own interest — gets a pass. Suddenly liberals who called for the overthrow of everyone from the odious Pinochet to the even worse Somoza, are well, silent, offering Obama sound enough talking points that we must not play into the hands of this or that side, that both sides have anti-Americanism in common, that the bomb lurks large. Their realism may be clever and in the long run astute for the US, but it is realism nonetheless, and just the sort of realpolitik that they used to decry.

2)   The Iranian fascistic government — theocratic, anti-gay, anti-religious tolerance, anti-feminist — has always disguised its venom with Che-like popular anti-Americanism. Its theocrats don’t wear ties. They mouth Hollywood-like anti-Americanism. They hate Bush as much as the Left does. In other words, the Iranians (cf. again Clinton’s lunatic 2005 Davos remarks praising to the skies Iranian “democracy”) have always been given a sort of exemption given their Third-world fides, and refrain “we are the perpetual victims of a CIA-inspired coup over six decades ago.” (Kermit Roosevelt did not prevent democracy in Iran from 1979 to 2009 any more than Pearl Harbor forced the United States to spend a lot on defense the next 60 plus years).

3) Iraq looms large. The Iraqi elections were far more open, far more inspected than anything in the long history of Iran. Maliki is a more legitimate leader than any in Iraq. And yet we shun Maliki as tainted, while suggesting that Iranian thugs are somehow more authentic (note the large number of essays suddenly appearing arguing Ahmadinejad really won the election and the result should be respected.)

Here at home

We know the boilerplate: The President outlines the problem, punctuated with those awful “them” and “they” and “some” and “others” who as extremists stand in the way of all good things and present “false choices”, but remain unnamed. (Sort of like the tropes in 1984).

Then the standard references come to “the mess we inherited”, the “prior administration”, and “what we found.” These are the prefaces to his reluctance to … (fill in the blanks: run the private sector, spend massive amounts of money, take over health care, raise taxes, etc.). Then he pauses, takes a deep breath, and in fact outlines ways to take over GM, regulate compensation, run up massive deficits, nationalize health care, and plan record tax hikes.

Then he finishes with variations on the old campaign formula “this is the moment”, “hope and change”, “yes, we can”, “we will not be deterred.”

No one can quite believe that one has just heard Obama deny that he’s going to do exactly what he then outlines he is going to do — but at least for the last six months this deception sounded good.

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Voting Present on Iran

June 16th, 2009 - 7:17 am

Apparently the Obama administration is quietly watching the situation, serially voting present, and unwilling to say much until the final outcome is certain. Meanwhile, debate here centers around whether Bush’s past “Axis of Evil” approach to Iran’s theocracy, or Obama’s “We are sorry for what we did in the past” lamentation is the better course for dealing with a thug like Ahmadinejad. Some thoughts:

1. Conventional wisdom insisted that we had “empowered” Iran by removing Saddam and allowing the Shiites to gain democratic majorities in Iraq. It is at least as possible that we are destabilizing the autocracy in Iran by promoting Iraqi democracy that is no longer just a warning about civil chaos, but a positive view of a Shiite-majority democratic society unknown in Iran. The notion of two large contiguous oil producing democracies in the Middle East is unacceptable to the radical Islamists and most of the Sunni Arab dictatorships as well.

2. When one apologizes to a contemporary terrorist-sponsoring regime for events that occurred 60 years ago at the beginning of the Cold War, and does so without context of the past, then naturally one is self-censored, and will be reluctant to comment on contemporary events in Iran — relegated to a bystander watching the flow of events, predicating the response on who wins.

3. We are seeing in Washington that the multiculturalism impulse — one does not use Western paradigms to judge others — is far stronger than the supposedly classical liberal idea that human freedom is a universal concept that trumps culture. In other words, multicultural foreign policy is a sophisticated and politically-correct version of the old, far more intellectually honest realist notion that we let the bastards do what they want to their own people, and then deal with the thug that emerges in the real world of mutual self-interest.

4. For the probable majority of Iranians who voted against Ahmadinejad, the idea that the US was reaching out to him, despite his subsidies to terrorist killers in Lebanon and Iraq, and his brutality at home, was not necessarily a sign of American good will. If the prior policy of disengagement with the Iranian theocracy, while appealing to the good will of the Iranian people was so flawed, why was it, then, that despite America’s bad global PR, the Iranian people remained far more pro-American than did the Arab Street, whose autocrats about four years ago we ceased pressuring to liberalize?

For at least a decade, liberal icons like Bill Clinton (“Iran today is, in a sense, the only country where progressive ideas enjoy a vast constituency. It is there that the ideas that I subscribe to are defended by a majority … (It is) the only one with elections, including the United States, including Israel, including you name it, where the liberals, or the progressives, have won two-thirds to 70 percent of the vote in six elections … There is no other country in the world I can say that about, certainly not my own.)”,  Jimmy Carter and NY Times columnists have tried to make cute points that our worst enemy in the Middle East, Iran, was in fact the most democratic — ridiculing the notion of others that rigged plebiscites, pre-screened candidates, the absence of a truly secret ballot and free press, organized thuggery against dissidents, suppression of women’s rights, etc. were hardly democratic.

Iran, let us now confess, understood the America utopians very well, offering them both the thin veneer of “democracy” and at the same time the notion of revolutionary opposition to “imperialist” and “capitalist” America.  When Clinton in 2005 said that nonsense at Davos he was simply playing to the international politically correct Western bunch, the subtext was “hey, that awful Bush is running things now in the US, and it is a lot worse over here than it is in the Iran that he demonizes (cf. Clinton’s flourish: “…certainly not my own”). That Iran was killing soldiers in Iraq, sponsoring killers in Lebanon and the West Bank, trying to get a nuke to do worse to Israel did not mean all that much to Bill Clinton, at least if he could sound nuanced, neat, and contrarian among the international drones at Davos.

I’ll take axis of evil and evil empire any day to serial apologies to this creepy regime, and “certainly not my own” comparisons.

Reflections on the Iranian Enigma

June 14th, 2009 - 5:35 pm

Thoughts Tonight on Iran

1)   Why did we reject the Bush policy of non-engagement with a monster like Ahmadinejad, who oppressed his own and threatened nuclear destruction to Israel? Is it all that moral, or all that wise, or all that much in US realpolitik interests to apologize to a thug? Does it show solidarity with the Iranian people to court a nut? What is so smart in making Iran the center of our attention rather than the Maliki democratic government in Iraq? Hamas rather than democratic Israel? Is what we are now seeing in the streets of Iran proof of all the praise once heaped on theocratic “democratic” Iran by the likes of Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and the NY Times?

2)   Will someone please tell President Obama that when you send videos to Ahmadinejad, apologize for something that happened over a half-century ago, and ignore serial Iranian killing of Iraqi and American democrats in Iraq, you, well, send a message that implicitly you either approve of him-or are afraid of him? One of two things is happening in Iran: either a boasting, cocky Ahmadinejad rigged the election, without worry that anyone-much less the present US-would care. Or, if the election result is semi-accurate (I doubt it), he energized his base, by showing the rural believers that even much worshipped Barack Hussein Obama was courting their all-wise leader and de facto agreeing to the new Persian Islamic nuclear hegemony.

3)   So what constitutes Obama’s morality? Courting the Islamic street by distorting history? Being more critical of one’s own democratic open society than the autocratic Arab governments you seek to placate? Using your middle name abroad to court favor and separate yourself from America’s past, while insisting that those who invoke it at home are as illiberal as you are liberal in broadcasting it?

4)   Much of Iran wants what they see going on in Iraq. How odd that the ‘experts’ assured us that Bush had empowered Iran by removing his rival Saddam. Perhaps in the short term-but in the long term TV, radio, and osmosis from free Iraq is proving more destabilizing to the theocracy in Iran than are Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and shaped charged IEDs to Iraq.

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The Demise of David Letterman

I had a number of exchanges on the Palin-Letterman controversy (see below). Where to start on David Letterman’s attack on Palin on her visit to New York to do charitable work, accompanied by her 14-year-old daughter Willow?

The hypocrisy of the Left that used to monitor slurs about women’s appearances, sick jokes about statuary rape, demonization of women with charges of promiscuity-all this rightly was taboo? But now silence? (But then no one seemed bothered either by the rather shameless instance of plagiarism on the part of Maureen Dowd, the NY Times columnist, who habitually accuses Cheney/Bush/Rumsfeld of lying and other moral lapses.)

The metrosexual, hip David Letterman offered an apology I think that essentially was something along the following lines. Here’s my paraphrase: ‘Sorry, I confused the 14-year-old Willow Palin with the 18-year-old Bristol Plain, so I was wrong for suggesting the younger Palin girl would be “knocked up” during a baseball game with Alex Rodriguez, or draw in Eliot Spitzer for sex, when I really meant that Bristol certainly would.” (Note the silence about calling Governor Palin “slutty” looking. So if some right-wing nut says that Michelle Obama is “slutty” looking, are we to expect no consequences?)

Misopalinism

What it is about Sarah Palin that drives the Left insane? Her charisma? Her authentic blue-collar roots? The accent? Todd? The pregnancies? The ability to galvanize crowds. Joe Biden tried to fake his working class origins, but Palin seems to live, not romanticize, the life of the middle strata, so would not the Left appreciate someone from the non-elite?

I suggest two reasons for the fury of the  aristocratic Left. One was Palin’s stance on abortion. In the elite feminist mind, the perfect storm would be for a 40ish career woman, on the upswing of her cursus honorum, getting pregnant and, then, heaven forbid, delivering the child with full fore-knowledge of chromosomal abnormality. Or having her 17-year old come to full term with a child, unmarried, and without money?

The Shadow of Abortion

For most upscale, educated liberals, a daughter’s future career is ruined by pregnancy, and abortion is often the answer. Second, Todd Palin, the Palin accent, the Wasilla connection, the whole notion of Alaska, all this conjured up the elite liberal notion of “trailer trash”-and we all know from Obama’s clingers speech, that the white Christian working class is the last group in America that can be caricatured and slurred with impunity. To the liberal urban elite, poor “whites” are those responsible for racism and other sins associated with the dominant culture, and thus by association taint the white aristocracy unfairly.

Race, again, all the time

I received a lot of angry mail about a recent prediction that the Obama administration would acerbate not diminish racial tensions, by its addiction to identity politics and the constant invocation or racial difference. Nothing since his ascension has disabused me of that observation. Obama himself, in unusual fashion, has given a number of speeches abroad emphasizing his African heritage, his middle name Hussein, and his father’s Muslim’s connection.

We have heard the Attorney General call his countrymen “cowards” for not talking more about racial identity. We have heard our Supreme Court nominee state on repeated occasions that a Latina is intrinsically better at being a judge than a white male counterpart. Now Rev. Wright has reemerged to  suggest that Obama will no longer meet with him because “Them Jews ain’t going to let him talk to me ….”  (a new book about Obama suggests he and Wright met in secret during the campaign after the Wright racist outbursts).

He’s Back

Note as well, that Wright, in his anti-Semitic diatribe, employs the now customary straw men “they”, which we’ve become well accustomed to. (I note here that what was most disturbing about the Letterman Palin jokes and his “apology” was the audience laughing at his crudity-reminiscent of the standing ovations in the Trinity congregation that met Wright’s profanity, racist outburst, and damning of the United States. This country has a long way to go.)

This racialism will continue. Why? Because Obama discovered long ago than racial identification brings as many dividends as does the content of one’s character or achievement. It is a force multiplier and foolishly left untapped. I fear more, not less, of this, as the tab for Obama’s charge-it economy comes due at about the same time dubious players abroad conclude that serial apologies amount to a green light for adventurism. When his popularity dives, I think critics will be seen as biased and prejudicial.

What was ironic about all Wright’s accusations of Obama’s Jewish hypnosis, was that in just the first six months of his administration Obama has proven to be the most anti-Israeli President since the founding of the Jewish state. Wright should be delighted not disappointed; perhaps his unhappiness is the inability to bask publicly in White House visits, rather than ideological discord.

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I No Longer Quite Believe . . .

June 8th, 2009 - 7:45 am

I am afraid I no longer believe . . .

…That we have an inquisitive American media as we once knew it. There has emerged something as bad as state-sanctioned coercion—which we could at least identify, and thus struggle against.

Now comes a more insidious, brave new self-imposed censorship of the Orwellian mode. It is not just the perennial embarrassment Chris Matthews describing his Obama ecstasy on camera, or even Newsweek’s Evan Thomas comparing his President to God, or even CNN execs being exposed trashing the US abroad at Davos, or whitewashing Saddam, but rather a more incremental new groupspeak in which basic words and ideas—from terrorism to war itself—have been reformulated according to political dictates.

Iraq, from good to bad back to good?

Suddenly a Thomas Friedman and Fareed Zacharia (for the war, against the war, now for the war) are talking about victory in Iraq, and the chance to see its democracy foster change throughout the region. Bravo, but I think this is what Bush proclaimed in October 2002, when the House and Senate, in bipartisan fashion not only voted for 23 writs to justify the removal of Saddam, but praised him for his promise not to replace Hussein with another Gulf thug, but to try to foster a real democracy. What suddenly has transpired to suggest that mainstream pundits no longer think Iraq is ‘lost,’ but a keystone in a wider new Middle East policy to promote change? Had Bush listened to 90% of the pundits in those dark days of late 2006-mid 2007, there would be no democracy now for Obama to privilege as a cornerstone of US foreign policy. Or is that simple statement now also inoperative?

Cannot we wish Obama well, hope that the United States prospers under his leadership, appreciate his rhetorical skills—and yet still hold him accountable for what he says, and what he does?

Depression to Recovery in a blink of an eye?

From mid-November to mid-March, the media assured us that, as Obama warned, we were in a mess analogous to the Great Depression, a crisis, a morass. Then suddenly the stimulus passes (as of yet largely undistributed), the nearly $2 trillion deficit budget is approved—and? Yes, now the panic is over, the tide has been reversed, there are now time and resources to do healthcare, cap and trade, and massive education “reform.” The media went from Bush was Herbert Hoover to Obama is far better than FDR in a matter of a few days this winter, as the tanked economy, almost by sorcery, was suddenly ‘over the worst of it.’

Unemployment figures are now conditioned with contexts about new jobs created and new trends apparent—not that the aggregate jobless rate is still climbing. (What happened to “jobless recovery” serially evoked in the 2004 election?).

“They” and “Some” did it, not me…

Straw men are everywhere. The President, the First Lady, and the Attorney General cannot begin a speech without “some say”, “there are those who believe,” or “I am not convinced by others who argue”—all followed by their own enlightened antitheses. We are perennially back to Michelle Obama’s “they” who raised the bar, or the nefarious “some” in the Bush-Cheney-Halliburton nexus that shredded the Constitution with military tribunals and renditions in order to steal Iraqi oil.

No one points out that almost every historical reference Obama invoked in Cairo—from the supposed Muslim role in great world discoveries to Islam fueling the Renaissance and Enlightenment to the Inquisition and Spain—was inflated, but, more importantly, always inflated from a politically-correct point of view.

Sorry, it’s probably wrong

When our President talks about his relatives’ war experiences, his own family’s Muslim connections, or anything much about the past, I expect it to be flat-out ahistorical, misleading, or contextualized by an aide over the next two months. So yes, I do not believe that any of this relatives liberated Auschwitz or knew those who freed Treblinka. I do not believe any of his numbers concerning, or analysis about, Muslims in America. I do not think he has a clue about the Renaissance and its relationship to the flight of Greek-speaking scholars to Western Europe from the fear of Turkish Muslims, or the Enlightenment’s interest in a Greece suffering under the yoke of an oppressive Ottoman fundamentalism.

Get with the party line

To the extent that one reads that Obama has flipped on key points of national policy—NAFTA, renditions, military tribunals, Predator attacks, wiretaps, intercepts, Iraq, etc.—we hear from conservative and moderate pundits not that his past demagoguery on these issues helped to demonize here and abroad American foreign policy at a critical time. Instead, we are supposed to be overjoyed that we can now appreciate his new flexibility and be thankful that his contradictions at least now led to the right way of thinking.

I no longer believe . . .

…That I can quite trust mainstream science and scientific elites as I once did. When world leaders and Nobel Prize winners meet to decry global warming, I don’t believe that there is a true give-and-take. I doubt what follows is empirical discussion of what is causing global warming and whether it is a natural, temporary phenomenon or a long-term permanent threat.

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The Reckoning

June 5th, 2009 - 7:31 am

Obama Versus the Way of the Universe

I wish the President well, but he is butting up against human nature. And that is a fight one cannot win. If one runs up nearly a $2 trillion annual deficit, and then persists in such red-ink to the point of adding another $9 trillion, all to reach an aggregate $20 trillion national debt, there are not too many options. If there were, everyone-both states and individuals-would simply spend, call it stimuli, and then find academics to offer contorted explanations why it was OK and the money need not really have to be paid back. Does Obama think his debt is like buying  a house in a down market with an up market inevitable?–that is, we borrow to the max and then count on our equity to come to bail us out? But houses do not always go up, and we can’t quite sell off the US to capture our speculative profit.

So we all know the old rules, because the universe works according to time-honored precepts: we either must tax all of us (there are not enough of those evil “they” who make between $200-500K or even enough of the noble generous rich who make over $10 million a year and think Obama should increase inheritance taxes so that their children get only $1 billion instead of $2, while the hardware store owner’s kids sell the business) in insidious ways; OR simply cut government expenditures elsewhere to pay the annual interest payments, OR print money and screw the Chinese, European, etc. , debtors, inflating our way out via the late 1970s.

Sorry, there are no other real alternatives.

The only mystery? How the choice of payment is rhetoricized in the hope and change mode.

Deficit Foreign Policy Too

So it is with foreign policy as well. Obama’s make-over will have positive short-term effects, as he reminds the world ad nauseam that he is black, sorta, kinda from a Muslim family, and the son of an African who is more like the world than he like most Americans-and not George Bush and not a thieving capitalist and not a warmongering imperialist and not (fill in the blanks). (My favorite Cairo line was the apology on Gitmo where inmates have laptops and Mediterranean food, spoken to millions whose societies kill and maim tens of thousands in Gulags on a yearly  basis.)

But in the long run?

He hits against human nature. Most of you readers-in business, law, the professions-don’t continually praise your friends, competitors, and enemies (e.g., “Glad you got that job, Home Depot-we at Lowes didn’t really need it; what a wonderful bid you submitted, Hilton, much better than ours here at the Four Seasons; it was my fault here at Goldman Sachs that I didn’t match your better offer at Credit Suisse; I grew up working for the Royals, and can empathize why you Yankees don’t like us; it’s time we at Citibank  apologized to Chase for our past cutthroat competition; we are just too arrogant over here at Delta and wanted to let you guys at United know that.”)

Sorry

The world sadly does not work that way. If one were to do that, we know the outcome: a group of rival execs would say “Hmmm, time to steal market share from Citibank, or Hilton isn’t really up to the arena anymore, let’s move in on its Western region, etc.”

Only someone who has not been in the real world, but only marketed rhetoric without consequences (e.g., if Obama had a bad day organizing, or legislating, was he fired?) could believe such things.

A Farmer’s Tale

In short, Obama reminds me a little of myself–at 26. I had left the farm for 9 years to get a BA in classics, PhD in classical philology, and live in Athens for two years of archaeological study-all on scholarships, TAships, research-ships and part-time summer and school jobs tucked under the aegis of the academic, no-consequences world. By the end of endless seminars, papers, theses, debates, discussions, academic get-togethers, I had forgotten much of the culture of the farm where I spent years 1-18.

The Return

Then after the requisite degrees I left academia, and returned to farm 180 acres with my brother and cousin-and sadly was quickly disabused of the world of the faculty lounge.

Oh yes, I came back to Selma thinking, “I am not going to be the grouch my grandfather was, yelling at neighbors, worried all the time, nervous, seeing the world as rather hostile, hoarding a tiny stash of savings, worried as if bugs, the government, hired men, weather, and markets were out to destroy him. I’ll farm with my Bay Area manners and sort of think, “I will reset the farm, and things will at last work as they should” (not thinking that my grandfather raised three daughters, sent them to college while mortgaging the farm in the Depression, and spent on himself last, and was a saint compared to my pampered existence in the university).”

One small example of my late coming of age. A rather brutal neighbor (now dead and not to be mentioned by name (de mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est)), an immigrant from an impoverished country, a self-made man, veteran of infamous fights and various bullying, shared a communal ditch. We talked and exchanged pleasantries–at first–at the standpipe gate. He lamented how rude my late grandfather had been to him, and even had made unfounded accusations that he was less than honest (he was also sort of playing the race card, remarking about the prejudicial nature of California agrarian culture).

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