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Monthly Archives: October 2009

A Very Interesting Next Three Years

October 31st, 2009 - 10:04 pm

Up is Now Down, Down Up

If one were to collate the public statements and actions of many in the Obama administration, one would conclude that the most conciliatory past language masks the most divisive, polarizing administration in recent history — a fact born out by most polls. Surely this is one of the most radical turnabouts in memory: in a mere ten months the mellifluous voice has become a siren that charms and hypnotizes the voters as they are lured onto the partisan shoals.

Progressive powerhouses?

There is a strange fascination with strongmen of history, particularly mass murderers and mass enslavers like Mao and Julius Caesar. That may explain the effort to deify Obama in such Olympian terms — the “speech” at the Prussian triumphalist Victory Column in Berlin, the faux classical temple backdrops at the convention, the Latin motto vero possumus, this is our moment when the seas recede and the planet shall cool, or the appellation by journalists and rock stars (Sting is the latest) that Obama is some sort of “god.”

Good or bad and nothing in between

The Obama world appears divided in Manichean terms, between good and evil, the anointed and the reactionary Neanderthals. The evil doers include doctors who cut out tonsils only for profit, greedy insurance companies that jack up health care costs, the heartless Chamber of Commerce, the Mob/astro-turf/nazi-like town-hallers and tea-partiers, the “stupidly” stereotyping police, the “do what they’re told” and “asshole” Republicans, and the fake news outlets like Fox News and the demonic Rush Limbaugh. Let us put their pictures on the screen and scream out two-minutes of hate at these illiberal enemies of the people  for their harming millions without health care.

On the other side is the saintly White House advisor Valerie Jarrett who “speaks truth to power,” the now martyred real truther Van Jones, the framed ACORN, the legions of purple-T-shirted SEIU unionizers (as I said, they even wear these to work in California, as I can attest from a recent visit to the DMV where there was a sea of purple on the other side of the windows), and the sober and judicious like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, who suffer so much for the oppressed

There is an Animal Farm taste to this administration: on the barn wall there are plenty of “thou shall not” rules — Guantanamo, renditions, tribunals, wiretaps, intercepts, Predators, Patriot Act — that are crossed through and now rewritten as “thou shall sometimes.”… Taxes are good for us, but bad for the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee or the Secretary of the Treasury. Campaign financing laws, C-Span-aired health-care debates, and no-lobbyist rules are essential for the republic — sorta, kinda, maybe .

FDR did it!

The more the talk of togetherness, hope and change, and healing, the more the daggers come out: it has been ten months and still Bush is blamed daily by the President for all his assorted ills. Imagine had a Harry Truman every day lamented, “Damn that FDR—he left me with WWII, the bomb decision, a traitorous Stalin, a Europe to be rebuilt, a Korean powder keg, a worldwide communist ascendancy, Greece and Turkey about lost, and colossal debts — and I’ve got to hit the reset button on him every day.”

What is there about dissent that drives the Obamians crazy? He goes after Fox. He whines about Rush Limbaugh. The town hallers are the mob. He provides Sean Hannity with his pre-show sound bites. His team ponders handing out NEA grants on the basis of being a toady. School girls sing his praises. What is next? Green “yes, we can” scarves and tiny little Audacity of Hope books to wave at rallies?

We’ve only just begun

Remember, all these are just the preliminaries. The Bush tax cuts have not yet expired, but will soon. Inheritance taxes will soon skyrocket. The promised end to the FICA caps on the “wealthy” is coming — along with surcharges on energy and health care. For some, that could easily mean a combined 20% hike in FICA and income taxes, tacked onto state tax hikes, not to mention more property, sales, and local taxes. Given that Obama got 56% of the vote of those who make over $200,000 it should, well, be interesting. (e.g., “Surely, Buffy, Barack didn’t mean us, did he?) Then there is the 2,000 page health care bill that your family doctor will have to sort out.

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All Falling Down . . .

October 27th, 2009 - 7:24 pm

Money

Obama’s mega-borrowing is predicated on a rather thin margin of safety. We can service nearly $2 trillion in additional debt this year—on top of the existing $11 trillion—only because interest rates are so low.

But as a veteran of the near usury of the 1970s and early 1980s, I see no reason why interest rates won’t shoot up to 10% once the economy recovers and the U.S. has to convince lenders to buy our paper in an inflationary spiral. In other words, we could fork out each year about $150-200 billion in interest costs on our annual red ink, in addition to paying annually another trillion dollars to service the existing debt. (We forget that many of us young people in the 1970s and 1980s simply never bought anything new due to high interest: my first new car was not purchased until 1989 when interest was only 7.2% on it; my parents bought a small condo in 1980 for the unbelievably low rate of 8.8%, due only to redevelopment incentives in a bad neighborhood of Fresno. Inflation will be back, even in this quite different age of globalized competition and low wages.)

When Obama talks of a trillion here for health care, a trillion there for cap-and-trade, it has a chilling effect. Does he include the cost of interest? Where will the money came from? Who will pay the interest? Has he ever experienced the wages of such borrowing in his own life? Did he cut back and save for his college or law school tuition, with part-time jobs? Did he ever run a business and see how hard it was to be $200 ahead at day’s end?

What destroys individuals, ruins families, and fells nations is debt—or rather the inability to service debt, and the cultural ramifications that follow. When farming, I used to see the futility in haggling over diesel prices, trying to buy fertilizer in bulk, or using used vineyard wire—when each day we were paying hundreds in dollars in interest on a “cut-rate” 14% crop loan.

The difference between the 5th century BC and late 4th century BC at Athens is debt–and not caused just by military expenditures or war; the claims on Athenian entitlements grew by the 350s, even as forced liturgies on the productive classes increased, even as the treasury emptied. At Rome by the mid-3rd century AD  the state was essentially bribing its own citizens to behave by expanding the bread and circuses dole, while tax avoidance became an art form, while the Roman state tried everything from price controls to inflating the coinage to meet services and pay public debts.

Integral to public debt are two eternal truths: a public demands of the state ever more subsidies, and those who pay for them shrink in number as they seek to avoid the increased burden.

Once the conservative Bush people started talking about trillions in debt in terms of percentages of GDP rather than of real money, I feared we were done for: if a so-called conservative is doing this, I thought, what will the liberal Congress do when it gets back in power?

(One more historical truth: the melodramatic language of people dying, starving, being ignored, etc. increases as the level of government services expands as the fears of public insolvency spread: in the late 1930s our grandparents thought tiny sums from social security were lavish godsends, now we assume a temporary suspension in cost-of-living increases on top of generous pay-outs is nothing short of a national disaster and proof of our collective selfishness.)

Abroad

The same storm clouds pile up on the horizon of foreign policy. One can get away with Carterism for a year or two. Remember, Jimmy Carter was loved up until about 1978, as he bragged of human rights, slashed defense to use the money for more entitlements, promised to get troops out of Korea, sold out the Shah, intrigued with the exiled Khomeini, pooh-poohed communists in Central America, sold warplanes without bomb racks to our allies, lectured on the inordinate fear of communism and sermonized how no one would die on his watch.

We were his Plains Sunday school class, he the sanctimonious prayer leader. The lions abroad would lie down with us, the new lambs, at home. “I will never lie to you” Carter repeated ad nauseam. I used to listen to his call-in empathy radio shows while driving to work as a grad student, and at 24 thought “Does this adult really believe all this?”

And then somewhere around 1979 the world finally sized him up—and the result was a bleeding American goat crossing the Amazon as the piranha swarmed. Radical Islam was on the rise. The Soviet army invaded Afghanistan. Nicaragua blew up. Iran took hostages. And in reaction Carter devised brilliant strategies like boycotting the Olympics and arming jihadists in Pakistan—and more lecturing us from the rose garden. He wanted a flashy hostage rescue mission—after slashing defense in 1977-8: but the two don’t mix, as he learned.

Obama likewise is outside the mainstream of bipartisan Democratic foreign policy as practiced by Truman, JFK, LBJ, and Clinton. He’s to the left of Carter, and indeed, on both Afghanistan and Iran, to the left of France and Germany. Readers, none of you thought you would ever see Europeans wanting us to buck up in Afghanistan and  get tougher against Ahmadinejad.

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Obamanoia

October 21st, 2009 - 10:17 pm

Little Hope, Less Change

Consider: The 120,000 troops in “the surge is not working” Iraq are now complaining of ennui —while the White House is paralyzed over whether to send more troops to the new escalating front in Afghanistan. How odd the present perceptions: Bush’s bad optional war became good in the public mind, and Obama’s necessary good war became bad. (Careful study of the history of both countries, the existing challenges, and the topography might have suggested to candidate Obama to be careful about demonizing the surge while chest-thumping a war he never wished to finish. Did Obama really think he would be elected, hailed as the anti-war laureate, simply summon home the troops from the “quagmire” in Iraq, and then fly over to Kabul to do a Victory Column speech?).

The Russian gambit failed; Putin humiliated the Eastern Europeans and then rubbed it in by lecturing us about “hands off Iran.” The July threat to Iran of comply—or “face consequences” by September—morphed into September’s comply—or “face consequences by the October head-to-head meetings—which, in turn, morphed into October’s comply—or some day soon face consequences.

Sorta, Kinda, Maybe Diplomacy

Soon we will get everything on the official transcripts and websites scrubbed down to read: Guantanamo really will close on March 1, 2010; Iran must comply this time by June 1, 2010; all combat brigades will be out by March 2008, 2009, 2010; health care must pass by August, September, October, November.

Oil is climbing back over $80 a barrel; the dollar is falling against the Euro to 1.50. The annual deficit is already over $1.6 trillion and may go well over that. The tab for health care will hit right under $1 trillion. Unemployment may be headed over 10%. The people who voted for Obama were mad over Bush’s bailouts, unemployment, deficits, and supposed divisiveness. And?

They got greater bailouts, higher unemployment, larger deficits, and Chicago politics.

Please, please

Right now to save America we need some steady leadership that reassures businesses of lower taxes, less government spending, no new regulations, educational reform to improve the work force, and confident expansionary energy exploration and development. Instead, we get a prescription to terrify private enterprise: Mr. President, every time you besmirch someone as greedy, lying, and unduly rich, some business, somewhere, pulls in its horns.

Uncertainty Everywhere

Full recovery is uncertain, given (1) oil prices have been low and are now climbing, boosting the import tab higher and higher (what happened to candidate Obama’s promises of more drilling?); (2) interest rates are historically low, meaning the price of servicing the mega-deficits hasn’t hit yet; but they too will climb, further taxing the hocus-pocus borrowing; (3) so far higher taxes are just talk; but soon the income rates will climb at a time when many of the states have already increased their sales and income rates. Remember the promised end to the FICA caps on higher incomes; note the promised health care surcharge taxes. And keep in mind that 55% of those in the cross-hairs who make over $200,000 voted for Obama.

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Confessions of a Cultural Drop-out

October 17th, 2009 - 9:40 pm

I have some confessions to make, not because any of you readers are particularly interested in my views; but rather because I think some of you are in the same boat: Have you stopped reading, listening, watching, and paying attention to most of what now passes for establishment public or popular culture? I am not particularly proud of this quietism (many Athenians did it in the early 4th century BC and Romans by the late 3rd AD), but not really ashamed of it either.

Shut up and see a movie?

Take Hollywood protocol—make a big movie, hype it, show it at the mall multiplex. But I went to one movie the last year. Maybe three in the last four years. There is not much choice here—car crashes, evil white men killing the innocent, some gay or feminist heroes fending off club-bearing white homophobic Mississippians in pick-ups. Or you can endure the American war-machine kidnapping, torturing, or murdering even more of the helpless abroad—with Robert Redford, glassed down, tweed in display, or snarly George Clooney sermonizing, like the choruses of Euripides’ tragedies.

The usual themes—some evil corporation is destroying something (fill in the blanks: the environment, the neighborhood, the small town, etc.), some CIA conspiracy is out to ruin a crusading heroic journalist, or some brave professor or writer is exposing a massive cover-up—are, well, boring, even with the sex, the blow-em-up explosions, and some nice scenery. (And all this from a corporate Hollywood—reliant on the security of the American military, crass in its high tastes and destructive in its behavior, and all the while profit and status obsessed! [The world of Halliburton makes the world safe for Botox?])

If it is not all that, we get instead some neurotic suburban psychodrama about a senseless midlife crisis of some aging yuppies, wondering whether their empty lives really have meaning. Then there are always the “action” movies about tomb-robbing, treasure-hunting, or Zombie killing, but even they try to mask emptiness with a politically-correct throw-away line now and then. Can’t they make one movie of the Lewis and Clark expedition or Lepanto, and one less with Tom Hanks as the anguished and caring postmodern man?

Why not DVDs?

If I watch DVDs, they surely are not of recent vintage. I couldn’t tell you a single release in the current most rented 100. I rewatch instead Westerns—Peckinpaugh, John Ford, the classics like Shane and High Noon, the greats like Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Lee Marvin, George C. Scott, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman, John Wayne, etc., and, as I wrote a few months ago, almost anything with a brilliant, but now forgotten character actor such as a Jack Palance, Richard Boone (cf. Cicero Grimes in Hombre), Ben Johnson, or Warren Oates—if only for their accents, ad-libbed lines, and carriage. Only the greats like DeNiro or Pacino, or a Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, and a few others (a Hackman, Eastwood, or Hopkins) approximate the old breed. (A Mickey Rourke, Gary Oldman, or John Malkovich are at least originals and, like real people, look the worse for it). So I find myself replaying something like a Das Boot or Breaker Morant, or supposedly corny 1930s and 1940s classics like How Green Was My Valley or The Best Years of Our Lives.  If I want to watch a film that failed at the box-office, I’ll take One-Eyed Jacks or Major Dundee or Pat Garret and Billy the Kid; their failures are better than today’s “successes”.

Today’s under thirty American male actors sound like they either have sinus congestion, or are trying to convince someone they are not as effeminate as their contrived appearance otherwise suggests. If my life depended on it, I could not identify any of the current leading actresses. The country needs a screen presence of a Burt Lancaster or Frederic March and it gets instead a Ben Affleck or Leo DiCaprio.

Musical Time Warp

Ditto music. I don’t know the name of a single rapper. Don’t follow rock anymore. Don’t want to. I like a Mark Knopfler or Coldplay, but mostly missed music’s 21st century. I’m so lost that I think a Bob Seeger and Bruce Hornsby are contemporary mega-stars, though I couldn’t identify a recent hit of either. I haven’t seen any of the kids write as well as Springsteen or Van Morrison. One Otis Redding had more talent than the entire hip-hop industry.

Who is Katie Couric?

Add in television. I haven’t watched a network newscast in 10 years. If I want to see a 60-Minutes hit piece, I’ll watch a You Tube video where the amateurs are far more interesting and honest about their ambush journalism. Do the CBS hit-men still try to jump in and cross-up some poor official, as he stammers while they hammer on? Is Andy Rooney still around?

I don’t know which anchor is where. I bump into them in their re-aired interviews like the Couric/Palin disaster or Gibson with his eyeglasses on his nose as if were a professor of Romance Languages grilling Sarah the Idaho co-ed, but other than that could care less.

I’d take an old paleo-liberal like Eric Sevareid, John Chancellor, or David Brinkley any day over the most conservative on NBC or CNN. The old guys had style, even class; today’s crowd spends more on teeth-whiteners than on books.

Obama is perfect for the age. Like Bush, he had the Ivy-League degrees; unlike Bush he had the pretension that they meant something, even though in his mind the Berlin Airlift, the German language, Auschwitz, World War II, Cordoba, the geography of the U.S., almost anything dealing with history, geography, literature, or well, knowledge in general—well all that is stuff that others less relevant than he learned in college.

Commercial-free TV?

I like C-Span and have always admired Brian Lamb. I used to be a big fan of PBS and PR, but no more. The laudable shows are far outweighed by the race/class/gender agendas, usually someone in a soft drone, talking scarcely above a whisper, about some new heretofore unnoticed pathology of the US military, corporation, or government (pre-Obama) that a particularly angry but heroic professor or investigative reporter is going to enlighten us about.

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Confusions of the Age

October 14th, 2009 - 9:40 pm

I get confused by the news quite often. Here are five anomalies that make no real sense.

1)   Football as Ethical Sermonizing. Most watch football as a release from anxieties, work, and even the race/class/gender obsessions of our age, and see players in non-racial terms. And I think viewers put up with the growing hypocrisies, pretensions, and repugnancies of the NFL—star players involved in drugs, assaults, shootings, (even the creepy  base cruelty to animals), the dubious origins of some of the owners’ vast fortunes, hack sportswriters masquerading as Platonic thinkers, high-priced, crass spoiled multimillionaires occasionally offering cheap sound bites as if they were civil rights leaders of the Gandhi or King caliber—because of the courage of hundreds of gladiators to engage each Sunday in an incredibly dangerous, nearly pre-civilized struggle in the arena.

But with the Limbaugh matter, the entire Potemkin edifice is exposed. The race mongers Jackson (‘hymie-town”) and Sharpton (“white folks was in caves…”), the latter whose incendiary antics defamed a DA and led to rioting and death, talking of decorum is like, well, NFL players talking about proper role-model behavior. And are proper politics now, in this brave new world of government control of an increasing number of businesses, criteria for private enterprise? Is Ted Turner never allowed to buy another sports team, given his outrageous political statements about Iran, Israel, Bush, global warming, etc? Perhaps we need a federal “acquisition board” with “nonpartisan” humanists and former federal officials like a Jimmy Carter, Al Gore, or Van Jones to adjudicate the moral character of potential buyers?

2.To Russia With Love. Do you laugh or cry about our policy with Russia? When we serially cried out “reset” button, blamed Bush for the new Cold War with Russia, and promised to “listen”, we knew the US was walking blindfolded up the steps of Putin’s guillotine. So we humiliated the Czechs and the Poles (who have suffered far worse from the Russians) in exchange for the mythical “help” with sanctions on Iran. Today, Putin’s brief verdict of “premature” on sanctions said it all. If we can reconstruct the Obama/Hillary disaster, it goes something like this: Putin always liked the win/win/win/win idea of a nuclear Iran (the missiles point at the U.S., good profits for Russian companies, tensions in the Gulf always a help with high oil prices, everyone begs Russia to “leash” their new feral nuclear bulldog). So he entraps the idiotic Americans by vague promises of Iranian sanctions in exchange for reestablishing Russian fear and obedience in the former Soviet sphere—while revealing how America’s economic dive and strategic hesitation are proof of a more endemic decline. When Hillary talks of how delighted she is that Russia is “so supportive”, are we to cry for the beloved country? It is as if Putin not only knew he would win on this one, but get the added bonus of showing the world how obsequious, naïve, and impotent the new U.S. was in the bargain.

3. Not to be Spoken. What is this recent confusion about sodomy in the news, which transcends even the context of rape and coercion? I don’t quite understand how “sodomy” in the current press is presented as a sort of force multiplier to all sorts of sins. For example, the grotesque Polanski matter is not just presented as a repugnant rape of a child, but emphasized ad nauseam as even more repulsive and horrendous due to the additional wage of sodomy. Almost anytime the press wishes to emphasize the particular cruelty or the unpleasant carnality of a sexual crime, they include, if applicable, the word sodomy, with the understanding that such an act is sensationalized and fraught with depravity. And, again, it is not always just the matter of coercion, but rather what the Greeks called “para phusin” (contrary to nature, as in the notion of confusing sexuality with the excretory system [see Aristophanes on this]). Popular culture has all sorts of expressions that correlate the act with a certain physical unpleasantness, from prison jokes to the generic “We got screwed” by this or that. But yet at the same time, the act seems to be an absolutely taboo subject in even the most generic referencing to the male homosexual movement. I know the issue of civil rights is a separate one (and one I support as equality of all before the law), but if popular culture has all but suggested that heterosexuals who engage in such an act are depraved when carried out consensually, and especially worthy of odium beyond that accorded to the rapist, when as an act of coercion, why is the subject simply taboo in matters of public discussion of male homosexuality? When it was touched upon in the days of worries over co-factors for the increased vulnerability to the HIV virus, a firestorm followed that such discussions were indirect expressions of homophobia. (As a father of three, who in the 1990s went through the California public school,explicit sex education classes, I can attest that my children were taught that unprotected sex in general, not especially particular types of unprotected sex, were equivalent to a near death sentence.) So what is the politically-correct stance to take the next time a talking head on the news grimaces and then in sober tones goes on to relate that case A involving coercion or incident B without coercion or revelation C involved sodomy--are we to be outraged at his deprecation of a particular act more associated with a particular group and to think this is selective moralizing if not homophobia, or to be outraged that suspect A or person B crossed the lines of behavior and is even more morally repellant for such an act that went beyond rape, or as now simply to think in paradoxical fashion,  ’wow, that is a really awful act / wow  I am not supposed to think that is a really awful act”?

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Nobelitics

October 10th, 2009 - 7:57 am

Nobel Prizes from Lala Land.

Norway is a tiny country that was born lucky. It is weak and defenseless (and was quickly overrun in World War II [while neighboring, neutral Sweden sold the Third Reich 40% of its iron ore, that went for everything from Tiger tanks to kill Americans to the ovens at Auschwitz—with free shipping across the Baltic included as a favor]. In the late 1940s it would have been Finlandized during the Cold War, if not for American-led NATO. And the world’s largest military is still pledged to its defense, in case any of the nations, to whose icons it bestows awards, some day decides to send terrorists or nukes its way

Second, it sits on or near enough oil to allow what is otherwise a rather insignificant country to be the wealthiest per capita oil producer in the world, and enjoy the influence that many in the Gulf have grown accustomed to. Throw in minerals, natural gas, timber, and fish and the nation sits on a bonanza of natural wealth. No wonder there are philosophers who ponder how to dispense the largess and absenteeism is a national crisis (one receives almost ad infinitum the same cash whether “sick” at home or well on the job). The population of under 5 million is largely homogeneous (90% Nordic), and is thus stable, and both rich and safe beyond its wildest dreams. It does not border a Third World country; “difference” and the “other”—even with recent Islamic immigration—is still defined as speaking Swedish or Danish.

Hollywood Nation

In other words, Norway has the leisure to be utopian, and cannot quite understand why other countries are not as liberal as it has proven. So Norway loves to give award to all sorts of right-thinking frauds (Menchu), scoundrels (Elbaradei), terrorists (Arafat), Stalinists (Le Doc Tho), Elmer Gantrys (Jimmy Carter) and hucksters (Gore)— as it sits in judgment of others from Lala land.

Remember, though, the Norwegians privately would not like to live under Central American communism of the Ortega brand, or right next to nutty nuclear Iran, or have Palestinian terrorists on their borders, or in general live the real life that the nation sanctimoniously advocates in the abstract. It sees what happens to neighboring Denmark’s cartoonists when they exercise free speech. It once saw what Neville Chamberlain wrought for its own neighborhood.

Norway is, in other words, the Hollywood nation. Imagine it is as the son or daughter of a movie star, one who grew up in Malibu, and feels so terribly about it that he lectures the U.S. about everything from global warming to George Bush’s assorted sins—confident that he will never have to work at Ace Hardware, and never have to live near South Central LA. That’ sums up  Norway.

T-Ball Awards

Effort and intention, not achievement, matter to these pious Europeans. We should honor preseason favorites, not 20-game winners; praise dazzling book proposals, not best sellers; gush about on-the shelf Pentagon plans not battle victories. Don’t dare end the Cold War, or save millions in Africa from AIDs, or get rid of Milosevic; but most certainly do dare to convince the world that the Muslims jump-started the Renaissance. For that brave assertion, global peace will surely follow.

Norway on the Potomac

More seriously, the Obama Prize represents two recent larger Nobel trends: 1) an effort to curtail American foreign policy in favor of international deference (as in the case of rewarding Carter and Gore for their defamation of Bush in their opposition to Iraq); 2) a general disconnect from accomplishment in favor of leftist intentions, as in the case of Elbaradei or Rogaberta Menchu who accomplished essentially nothing (and spoke or wrote about that nothing in suspect fashion), but were a hit among international Western elites as authentically anti-Western non-Westerns.

Anyone who has taught in the university over the last thirty years has witnessed dozens of mini-sorts of Nobel Prizes each year handed out to faculty on the basis of what they represent or said rather than accomplishment; but it is still remarkable to see such postmodernism hit the world stage, where reality is virtual and constructed on language and expressed intent.

Think of the tiny Norway’s Machiavellianism: A utopian American President is now supported for his rhetoric—and yet also sent a signal that brave new Nobel Prize laureates simply don’t support Israel, pressure Iran, stay in Afghanistan or Iraq, or keep open Guantanamo. It is as if that Oslo is saying ‘our man in Washington’ is, well, now really ‘our man in Washington.’

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The Power of Payback

October 7th, 2009 - 12:20 pm

Nemesis Everywhere

I have believed in the power of the goddess Nemesis (“dispenser of dues”) ever since I was introduced to the concept as a teenager studying classics, especially in the texts of Hesiod, Herodotus, and Sophocles.

Some of you know her also as a variant of eastern Karma, or the folk notion of ‘what comes around, goes around’, or the now common “ain’t payback a bitch”? We all agree on the symptoms: overweening success and surfeit (koris) lead to hubris (gratuitous arrogance), which in turn promotes destructive behavior (atê), that at last calls you to the attention of divine Nemesis—who ensures your ruin.  At Rhamnous on the Attic coast there is a beautiful temple to the goddess, proof of her ubiquity and power.

Obama as all-knowing Oedipus

As sure as sun rises, you readers knew that, as early as 2007, Obama’s fiery rhetoric about the disaster in Iraq and the good war in Afghanistan was not only disingenuous, but would come lurking back to haunt him—especially given the efforts of the talented David Petraeus, and the myriad challenges of the age-old tribalism in Afghanistan.

And so it has. He now owns the “good” and “necessary” war that, according to Obama, we supposedly wrongly “took our eye off of.” Now at last Obama is free as he wished to go into Pakistan in hot pursuit of terrorists (and as he once boasted in the debates amid the trashing of the then big-target Bush administration.)*

Snap My Fingers—Guantanamo Closed!

Remember Guantanamo? He could have said in January: “Tough call. Eric Holder once thought it was fine. Where else do you put non-uniformed murderers, who are sort of foreign soldiers in a global war unlike domestic criminals, but yet not soldiers either as we have traditionally defined them at Geneva?  We will have a long look at the facility, get bipartisan input from the Bush administration and the Congress, and then choose the bad rather than the worst choice.”

Nope. Instead, we got the hope and change soaring cadences about shutting it down within “a year” and “reset button” inanity—ad nauseam. That will prove to be impossible. Already he is throwing his Guantanamo czar under the bus, even as Mr. Craig blames (you guessed it) the Bush administration for his inability to depose of the detainees. (Did he really think that divine-sounding Germans and British leftists who shouted that we were running a Stalig would really want their own terrorists back home rather than in Cuba under lock and key?)

Snap Twice—Europeans Hypnotized

In fact, most contemporary meltdowns involve Nemesis. Did Obama imagine that he could wow cynical Europeans with diversity stories about Chicago, as if they were props at a campaign rally or guilt-ridden college deans? Yes, it worked in 2008, but already then his fatuousness was gaining the goddess’s attention. (I am careful when doing European interviews; even sympathetic Euros have at best an ironic streak, at worse a sort of delight in embarrassing you, given their world weariness and suspicion of anything that sounds of idealism or naïveté (cf. the old trope of ‘innocents abroad’). Obama should have learned all that from his Brandenburg Gate/Victory Column stunt two summers ago. (When he stands next to the smaller, but more significant Sarkozy, Obama now seems almost pre-teenish.)

And Then There is Always Letterman to the Rescue

Ditto David Letterman. It was not just that he indulged in the same sort of behavior as the butts of his jokes serially enjoyed, but that such jibes naturally turned attention to his own supposedly exempt lifestyle. If a Clinton or Edwards got caught up in the vanity of power, and needed the ego-boosting or enjoyment that younger flesh might impart, why did Letterman, given his similar character, think he was any different? Did he think the goddess was snoozing when he libeled the 14-year daughter of Sarah Palin as a dugout tart?

Be Careful….

The Greeks remind us that when success and bounty arrive, then, especially, it is time to be self-effacing, modest, generous, and forgiving. If not, retribution follows—whether because human nature dictates that the crowd wishes misfortune upon the haughty, or, as I confess that I believe, there is a sort of divine force that seeks to remind us of our own folly and can only do that in appropriately dramatic and timely fashion.

If it were true that the financial meltdown of last September and the tough time in Iraq were reminders to the Bush administration that once around 2003, coming off Wall Street surges and easy victories in Afghanistan and Iraq, they should have calmed down, and treaded softly (rather than ‘mission accomplished’ and ‘bring ‘em on’), so too Obama should have feared the goddess last winter.

Nemesis Was Watching, watching…

Nemesis has caught up with him in oh so many ways. From what we can tell, he was not a serious student, but rather a glib and politically astute observer, who rode affirmative action, identity politics, and campus trends (I am now gleaning this from his own autobiography) right through Occidental and Columbia to Harvard Law—without much scholarship. He was given much more attention at Chicago Law School for what he represented than what he accomplished. He arrogantly thought he could glide into the racist cauldron of Trinity Church, and glide out as an authentic African-American organizer of the Jesse Jackson sort.

His Senate career was similar—long on soaring rhetoric, in perpetual campaign mode, predicated on white liberal guilt and ease with a charismatic “other”—and short on actual accomplishment.

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Change and Hope

October 2nd, 2009 - 6:54 pm

The Olympic Fiasco

I think most Americans were rooting for Chicago. As I wrote on NRO’s corner, I know I was. But Rio had a really convincing hope and change/ multicultural/new guy on the block case. And consider: given the recent bad windy city publicity (You Tube beatings, state and city corruption, Blagoism, Daley ward mobsterism, rumors of pre-Olympic wheeling and dealing on land angles, administration Chicago hard-ball Rahm Emanuel/David Axelrod politics, etc.), Chicago, Illinois ,was seen abroad as less competitive, far less competitive, than the other cities. I think almost any fair-minded neutral judge could grasp how those realities were going to play out. (Do not forget that Euros love to be gratuitously fickle and so in the first round trashed the reset-button, fawning American who wants to wow them through obsequiousness. And the more I watched Barack/Michelle do the “I grew up in the neighborhood” thing, the more I noticed the Euro-audience wincing (not smart bragging about your childhood Chicago “right hook” to an audience that has just watched horrific fighting in the streets of Chicago).

But even without the self-centered story-telling it was a hard sell anyway.  How can a post-national, I’m sorry Obama, trapped in a sort of we are the world paradox, be seen in nationalistic and near tribal fashion stumping for his own home town?  Again, it did not help that he appeared in campaign mode, tossing out the usual personal, somewhat hokey (and all but narcissistic) stories about himself and his family, that I know don’t resonate, much less make effective arguments, in the less therapeutic world of hardball politics abroad. In short, the community organizer was out organized by the multicultural ascendant Rio.

Almost all of Michelle’s statements were heartfelt and well meant. But they too proved in a global context counterproductive—and almost embarrassing in their now accustomed egocentricity. So the mystery remains, why did Obama think he should risk presidential and national capital in such ambiguous circumstances? Ego? Sloppy prep work? Payback to pals? Hubris?—e.g., I can fly in, do the hope and change cadence, fly out, and leave them hypnotized.

Sarkozy Drew Blood

Sarkozy really hurt Obama internationally, since his sarcastic ‘beam back down Barack’-like statement cut to the bone on the issue of such fluffy talk versus little substance: utopianism sermonizing on non-proliferation is great, but what about the spinning centrifuges? What does the Left do when the French are now to our Right? How can a weaker power sound braver than the stronger? And more principled? Europe is becoming worried, in the “be careful what you wish for” fashion about the Obama era, since the old bad cop/good cop game is up. It is now Europe good cop/US nicer cop. Much irony in this again…

The Challenge Ahead

Here is the problem for our President: the Iranian negotiation is an IED that will blow up in our faces. The theocrats want, need a bomb for a variety of reasons (why would a country that burns natural gas off at the oil well head need “peaceful” nuclear power?). Bombs have been a win/win situation for both Pakistan and North Korea. If Iran wins, we are off to the races—Saudi Arabia next, Egypt? Syria? Venezuela?

I hope the President is up to encouraging madcap drilling in the Alaska, Gulf, California, and the Dakotas to get these new finds into production, since if or when the Israelis strike, all hell is going to let loose in the Gulf. Cannot someone tell Obama that the moral, the peaceful, the only realistic thing now is to get tough with Iran through ostracism, sanctions, boycotts, even, heaven forbid, a blockade if need be, to prevent the far more terrible scenarios that lie ahead?

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