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Monthly Archives: December 2009

A Humpty-Dumpty View of the World

December 30th, 2009 - 9:34 am

What might explain the inexplicable like the following?

A president comes into office facing a $500 billion deficit and grows it to $2 trillion.

A president comes into office facing a threat of radical Islamic terrorism, and at home changes the very name of the struggle from war on terror to a variety of wishy-washy euphemisms.

A president comes into office facing a variety of Middle East thugs, from al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas to Syria and Iran, and employs the ancient kowtow, the postmodern apology, and the Carteresque reach-out to allay the threat?

A president comes into office after record high energy prices have nearly crippled the American economy, and he ignores new drilling and brushes off nuclear power — only to wax about wind and solar that provide less than 5% of our energy needs, and crushing cap and trade taxation to come.

The Wrong Narrative

I think candidate Obama had the wrong narrative. Many presidents do. Bush railed against nation-building and decided he would do just that.  Reagan raised not lowered deficits. Clinton ended up being a moderate after 1995. But rarely has a candidate’s entire world view been so abruptly refuted in the first year of a presidency.

As president, Obama suddenly found himself a stranger in a strange land, far from that of the Ivy League dean, the upscale liberal suburbanite, the radical chic, hip world of Chicago yuppies, and the brooding, shrill pulpit of Rev. Wright. The result is that his fantasies are out of place in the all too real world of the White House.

When he started his campaign in 2007 the U.S. economy was still strong, and he felt his redistributive agenda would merely need to skim off a few trillions from the wannabe rich.

There was plenty of money socked away; we could “share the wealth” and “they” could “pay their fair share” in “patriotic” fashion to ensure “redistributive change.” But when the recession hit, the money dried up, and there was no “they” any longer. No matter, Obama is stuck with his preconceived notion of gorging the beast, and so we will rack up $8 trillion more in aggregate debt and redefine the English language, as trillion becomes billion, and billion a mere million.

War—what war?

It was so simple in late 2007. The surge was “not working.” Few were dying in Afghanistan, now dubbed the good war where there were lots of Europeans. Al-Qaeda was quiet and its dozens of plots all foiled.

Presto — the real narrative was how the Bush-Cheney nexus destroyed our liberties. Only a Chicago law lecturer could understand the complexity: the Patriot Act, renditions, tribunals, wiretaps, intercepts, Guantanamo, Predators, all that had shredded the Constitution.  Such a compelling thesis — as long as one could blame the prior administration for keeping us safe.

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Barack Obama would drop this mythical war on terror, and instead conduct legal seminars at press conference to remind us how the “prior administration” had scared us to death to destroy our liberties.

Then the real war returned in Afghanistan. Iraq quieted down. And there really are thousands of radical Muslims like Major Hasan and Abdulmutallab who want to kill us.

So the narrative imploded. Even the most fawning Obama aficionado does not wish to get blown-up at 30,000 feet, because a political hack appointee wanted to broadcast politically-correct credentials.

Now a reluctant Obama has to face the reality that all his chest-thumping about his middle name, his unique background, and his liberal sensitivity means less than nothing to a killer such as Dr. Zawahiri.

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On the Horizon

December 27th, 2009 - 11:59 am

Some Modest Obama Predictions

1) We will begin to hear ever so insidiously mention again of the “war on terror”; some quiet memo will go out to cool all the talk of ‘man-made disasters’ and ‘overseas contingency operations’.

2) Either shortly or soon next year, Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano will resign. I don’t see how the nation’s point woman on domestic terrorism can claim that the system worked like “clockwork” (she has since backtracked) when the Nigerian terrorist’s own father contacted American authorities long ago to warn us about the proclivities of his own son, who came within seconds of blowing apart a transcontinental jet. The system worked only at the 11th hour thanks to a courageous Dutch tourist who took matters into his hands.

3) I think the overseas bowing, apologizing, and kowtowing will stop in 2010—it brought no tangible results. Indeed, Obama is one bow away from global caricature and humiliation. And when one examines the recent behavior of Iran, Russia, Venezuela, or Syria, one concludes that they all think they can make favorable readjustments in regional landscapes and power relationships in 2010. Obama’s advisors will try to stop his natural inclinations to apologize, and I think will be successful—given the gathering storm clouds of 2010.

4) We may hear something finally in support of the Iranian dissidents. The ‘reach out to Ahmadinejad’ line has failed. And Iran will probably get the bomb in 2010. Since we will not ratchet  up sanctions or impose  an embargo, the only hope to stop an theocratic bomb will be regime change—and that may prompt some Obamians to speak out on behalf of the courageous rather than worry whether the murderous will meet with us.

5) We will hear lots of talk about fiscal sobriety next year. Obama realizes that the $2 trillion annual borrowing is unsustainable and warping his foreign policy as well as his own sense of stature. He also knows that “they” who will pay increased income, payroll, health, and state taxes are simply not numerous enough to end the deficits, and may slow down or find ways to reduce income exposure—as the combine tax bite goes over 60%.  As a result, we can expect some sort of federal excise tax or stealthy fees, or at least some euphemism for finding more revenue.

More taxation won’t get close to balancing the budget by 2012, but might get us in four years back to where we started in 2009 with the Bush 2008 deficits—after adding another $8 trillion in debt. Fiscal sobriety, not more spending, will be the 2010 campaign slogan. But even here expect the Orwellian: after establishing himself as the largest spender in US presidential history, Barack Obama will a) hope and change it all, as if “Bush did it”, b) assume that by talking eloquently about fiscal responsibility he has de facto achieved it.

The Tired Race Card

One Matthew Yglesias (whom I have seen quoted, but whose books or articles I have never read until today) wrote something that was just sent me called, “That Old Time Racial Paranoia.” In it, he suggested that I was a racist to have suggested Obama sees things from the prism of race/class/gender orthodoxy.

But surely anyone who collated Obama’s self-described (cf. his 2004 interview with the Sun-Times [“Yep. Every week. 11 o’clock service.” Ever been there? Good service.”]) dutiful attendance at Rev. Wright’s racist pulpit, reviewed his friendships with Father Pfleger, Rev. Meeks, and other Chicago activists, went back over his Pennsylvania clingers speech, remembered his “typical white person” quip, added in his rush to judgment ”stupidly” remark in the Prof. Gates mess, recalled Michelle Obama’s “mean country” slur and first time she was proud of the US remark–anyone who did all that, would conclude that, yes, an apparently strong influence in Obama’s worldview is the assumption that oppression is predicated on race. (If I had gone to one religious service  in which my pastor evoked the sins of black people in collective fashion, then I would have left in shame of my attendance.)

Indeed, almost everything Yglesias wrote in his short hit piece is untrue or ill-informed.

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Where Did These Guys Come From?

December 23rd, 2009 - 9:54 am

The Origins of Obamism

I do not think it will be easy to delay Obamism. It is not just that both houses of Congress are under liberal leadership with ample majorities, with a White House and captive media egging them on. The problem is that now the entire engine of the federal government is harnessed in the most unapologetic way to pushing through a far left agenda. There is no shame, no hesitancy in using the full powers of the state.

How does that work out? Without qualification (remember we are in a new age of transparency and ethical reform) votes are bought with hundred-million-dollar earmarks; the attorney general predicates judicial action on the political ramifications of indicting or not indicting; federal bureaucracies (watch the EPA if cap and trade stalls) are devoted to the new Caesar rather than the letter of the law.

Such a strange scenario we have found ourselves in—a clear majority of Americans is opposed to almost everything Obama has to offer; congressional representatives know they are acting against the will of the people, but know too that they are offered all sorts of borrowed money for their districts to compensate for their unpopular actions. And a charismatic commander in chief believes that he can charm even the angriest of critics, and that anything he promises (Iran’s deadlines, closing of Guantanamo, new transparency, no more lobbyists, etc) means zilch and can be contextualized by another “let me be perfectly clear” speech spiced with a couple of the usual “it would have been impossible for someone as unlikely as me to have become President just (fill in the blanks) years ago”

No, I would not count Obama out. So what drives his agenda? What are its origins?

Here are the three most prominent catalysts.

Equality of Result

What Barack Obama advocates is as old as Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics, the agenda of the classical dêmos and Roman turba.

It is why the French Revolution emphasized égalité and fraternité, while the Founding Fathers instead championed the freedom of the individual from the despotism of the state. In short, equality of result doctrine ignores the role of markets, of skills, of tragedy itself that renders some of us ill, others in perfect health, some born gifted, others less so, some evil by nature, others good, and instead promises that the state can even us all out through its power of material redistribution. Give us all the same amount of money and perks at the end of the day, and then utopia reigns under the benevolent watch of Ivy-League professors and organizers.

It is a given that what we make is not our own, but predicated on the liberality of society. Thus, for those who were too greedy, too conniving, or even too lucky, the state must step in to ensure that we end up the same.

In its most benign form, we know this as progressivism or communitarianism, a big government, high tax philosophy that co-exists within democracy. Its more pernicious strains are socialist, in which the state ensures, through bureaucratic fiat and a labyrinth of laws that curb free expression, that redistribution is institutionalized. And the virulent form (thankfully with the fall of the Soviet Union and the transformation of China not so global-threatening any more)  is, of course, a murderous communism, in which any means necessary are justified to ensure the desire ends and the rule of anointed apparat. Remember, history’s greatest killers (Stalin and Mao) do it all “for the people.”

Multiculturalism

But there is another element to Barack Obama besides progressive statism. A number of contemporary –isms and –ologies (multiculturalism, moral equivalence, utopian pacifism, post-modernism) also help to explain Obamism, especially in cultural terms. Our universities subscribe to race/class/gender theory of exploitation, in which much of the unhappiness of today’s women, of today’s nonwhite, and of today’s poor originates with the privileges of the white Christian Western male that are predicated on oppression.

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The Long March From California to Copenhagen

December 17th, 2009 - 11:42 am

The Great Debate Oddly Is Not Over

We are still in a great public debate between capitalism and socialism, and individual freedom versus statism — odd since hundreds of millions worldwide have escaped poverty the last 30 years due to the spread of Western-inspired free markets.

Many choose sides in the debate based on their own predicaments. Sometimes the more independent and secure who have thrived under capitalism promote it, the more dependent who have not detest it.

At other times the realist mind is opposed to the idealist.  And we can also envision the split as an age-old dichotomy between the tragic view and the therapeutic: either man is born pretty awful and must toughen himself through denial of the appetites, or he is by nature wonderful but corrupted and hurt through the burdens placed on him by society.

Free Will

In whatever way we frame the debate, again more than ever Americans are choosing sides.

On the one, are those who believe personal freedom and liberty trump egalitarianism and fraternity. Oh, they don’t believe in letting the less successful perish, but they seek to help those who do not do as well in the open arena through three mechanisms:

1) a limited government that in extremis would support only the needy, sick, disabled and aged (no more self-esteem counseling, 6-year student loans, or research grants for self-adjustment);

2) reliance on entrepreneurship, freedom of action, and private enterprise to allow real economic growth that enlarges the pie itself rather than perennially haggling  over the pieces of a shrinking whole.;

3) A culture of shame that makes the more successful help those less so in his family, in his community, and in his nation through philanthropy and private giving.

Collective Concern

On the other side are those who wish a large government to ensure an equality of result. Their notion is that personal responsibility, talent, behavior, luck, fate, etc. do not so much determine why one is well off and another not so. Instead, there is insidious racial, gender, and class oppression everywhere — sinister forces at work that conspire to keep those down who otherwise in a fair system would thrive.

Therefore a big paternalistic — all-knowing, all-powerful — government must step in, rein in the wild horses, break them, and harness them to pull the collective cart. At the end of the day, those who like to work long hours, start businesses, or take risks can continue for the sheer enjoyment of it; while others who chose not to  will end up with about the same house, car, medical care, college, and travel opportunity. Does the son who likes to lay inside on Saturday mornings go unfed, just because he won’t help his brother mow the lawn? Is he any happier for his sloth, the other any better for his zeal?

Key to the statist mind is the acceptance that compensation is inherently unfair: why should a brain surgeon who takes out 3 meningiomas successfully a day make any more than the poor floor cleaner who washes the linoleum between operations? The former gains more status anyway, so why deepen the wound of inequality through unequal pay for the latter?

Ultimately that is what the present struggle is over. The Obamians wish to err on the side of egalitarianism rather than freedom of the individual. Traditionally there has been a balance in the US, but we are witnessing a genuine attempt to swing the pendulum hard to the left.

Example 1: California

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Is America a Deer in the Headlights?

December 13th, 2009 - 5:23 pm

No one quite knows what is going on.

Inflation?

Interest rates are at rock-bottom levels. But banks are reluctant to lend—both afraid of shaky borrowers and loathe to get tied down with low-interest obligations if inflation roars back. “They” say inflation won’t return, but the people know that it will, since expanding the money supply by two trillion dollars per annum, as interest rates are near zero, does not seem a stable scenario.

Real Estate?

Millions of Americans are dutifully paying their under-water mortgages each month, but getting peeved when they hear of all sorts of new programs to ensure others do not. Indeed, the message seems to be that the government cares for the hyper-wealthy or the very poor, while merely talking about the middle class, as it wages war on those who seek to be rich.

No one is getting much of a return on cash in the bank. But most are still paranoid about investing  in Wall Street, given the hit that their 401(k)s took last September.

Real estate should be a good investment, but cash is scarce, and no one knows where the property bottom actually is. So those employed with income and capital are more likely paying off debt or hoarding cash for an emergency to come, than buying and hiring.

California property should be a good buy, given dramatic drops in home prices. But with 3500 upper-middle class dissatisfied leaving a week, and 2500 rather poorer arriving, it seems at some point there simply will no longer be an affluent, big-income, big-home, pay-lots-of-taxes upper stratum left.

Jobless Recovery?

We should be in a natural cycle of rebound, but it looks instead like what the Democrats used to call a “jobless recovery.” The President has hosted a job summit, and jawboned businesses to expand. But most are terrified of an array of new taxes and regulations, and are instead hunkering down. Caricaturing surgeons and the Chamber of Commerce didn’t help. Talk of new cap and trade taxes hurt. So did promises of higher payroll, local, state, and federal tax bites.

We know the federal borrowing (nearly $2 trillion this year) cannot go on much longer. Yet we seem to want to get as much cheap money at 1-2% interest as we can still from the Chinese. The result is that the more the administration and Congress talk of fiscal responsibility, the higher they set the new debt ceilings.

Enjoy It While It Lasts?

There is almost an end-of-the-century / ‘after me the deluge’ madness in the Congress. With rock-bottom congressional approval ratings, a President with freefalling polls, and a public angry at almost every piece of proposed legislation—from socialized health care to cap and trade—Congress’s  mood seems to be “let us race to cram through this statist agenda and  get it institutionalized before we all get thrown out in 2010.”

We went from Duke Cunningham, Jack Abramoff and “the Culture of Corruption” to Charley Rangel, Chris Dodd, and John Murtha without a blink.  What a strange time when we harangue CEO grandees for flying on private jets, while Nancy Pelosi flies to and from San Francisco on a monstrosity.

In short, I am not so worried about the recession, it’s the recovery that terrifies me, given looming energy  hikes, inflation and interest sure to rise—overseen by a government intent on redistributing income.

Then there are things overseas . . .

We are in a similar holding pattern of uncertainty abroad. For a year we reached out to the South American Marxists, Ahmadinejad, Putin, Assad, and other unsavory characters. We professed an end to George Bush’s war on terror, and even renamed its protocols.

But so far, it doesn’t seem that any of our enemies reciprocates. Chavez brags of his new nuclear plans and taunts the democratic Colombians.

Putin smiles, but does little to help us with Iran. There is no progress in the Mideast. Only George Bush’s Iraq warfront seems stable.

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Why Are We Tiring of Obama?

December 10th, 2009 - 10:28 am

The China Presidency

I have an heirloom china pitcher on my mantle that has dozens of glued cracks—so much so that it is now purely ornamental and will not hold water. When I was a boy I’d ask my mother when, and under what circumstances, did the china crack apart.

She would provide stories about each fissure and mend, many of the break narratives handed down to her from her own grandparents in the house. There wasn’t one single accident, but instead dozens that rendered a once useful pitcher into an non-functional art object.

Something of the same is happening with our President. He is experiencing the sharpest popularity decline in the history of first-year administrations. The problem is not just that he inherited a bad economy; Reagan did too. Or that the war in Afghanistan heats up, since it is not nearly as bad as the mess Nixon inherited in Vietnam.

Instead, after 11 months there has emerged a series of bothersome incidents that the public has come to associate with Obama, both the man and his philosophies. Some are major policy issues; others trivial acts of no cosmic importance. None in themselves matter all that much. Each gaffe or mistake was contextualized and mended, or attended to by Robert Gibbs. Some are Obama’s fault; others the work of associates. Sometimes mere chance is the culprit.

I know Bush had his own list of catastrophes; other Presidents did as well. Again, my point is not trying to adjudicate relative culpability, but rather just to remind us all how and why Obama dived over 20 points in the polls in just 11 months—and his speeches transformed from inspirational to caricatures.

In short,  taken together, after nearly a year, these fissures have nearly ruined the once pretty texture of the Obama administration, and almost rendered it incapable of effective governance.

Here is a random selection. I provide no chronology or theme. Nor do I judge the relative importance of any one incident. The point, again, is only that each was a fissure, some small, some major—all were glued over. The result is that now the public understands that its china presidency is fragile and held together by mere glue.

Here it goes:

Constant apologies abroad for everything from slavery to Hiroshima

Bows to Saudi royalty, the Japanese emperor, and Chinese autocrats

The on-again/off-again Guantanamo shut-down mess

The fight with the former CIA directors

The public show trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed

The reach out to Ahmadinejad Castro, Chavez, and assorted thugs

The Honduras fiasco

Czars everywhere

The serial “Bush did it”/reset whine abroad

The Queen of England/I-pod fiasco

Gordon Brown gets snookered in his gift-giving

Unceremoniously shipping back the Churchill bust

The end of the special relationship with the UK

The New York on-the-town presidential splurge

Anita Dunn and her Mao worship

Timothy Geithner/Tom Daschle/Hilda Solis and their taxes

What ever happened to Gov. Richardson?

“No lobbyists” = gads of them

The Podestas’ insider influence-peddling empire

Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” chauvinism

The Special Olympics silly quip

Trashing Nancy Reagan

The Skip Gates/police acting “stupidly” mess

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Our Present Anxieties

December 4th, 2009 - 9:50 pm

These guys are really sensitive, aren’t they?

I thought that former Vice President Al Gore’s vein-bulging attacks on Bush & Co. marked a new “no rules in the arena” era of politics. Fine—if the Left wished to write novels, make films, and write op-eds about doing in Bush, and if Nazi/brownshirt was to be on everyone’s lips, from Al Gore’s to Garrison Keillor’s, then I thought surely they would be immune to criticism when their turn to return to power came.

But no. Instead we are getting this hysteria about the evil Cheney criticizing Obama, or furor that “bipartisanship” has ended, or mania about the archaic filibuster. It is sort of like the retiarius throwing his net every which way while stabbing with trident—only to cry foul  and “how dare you!” when nicked back by the sica of the Thracian.

“Jobless Recovery”

I am delighted as anyone that the latest unemployment figures show a slight drop in joblessness to 10%. Much of the media is upbeat as well—which raises the question: in 2004, John Kerry ran on the theme of a “jobless recovery”, a charge resonating through the major media outlets. Yet unemployment in the last quarter of 2004, when these accusations were most frequent, was 5.4%— and soon dipped to average 5% for 2005. If 5.4% is termed “jobless”, what is 10%—job-full?

Reset button/’they did it’ diplomacy

Barack Obama, nearly a year into his term, is still talking about Bush culpability for everything from unemployment to Afghanistan.  At what year will it ever stop?

Bush inherited a nuclear Pakistan, a firewall between the CIA and FBI in matters of counter-terrorism, an appeased and ascendant Osama bin Laden, unsustainable no-fly zones over Iraq (the French had already bailed), al-Qaeda with a safe zone in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, and an intifada-prone Mideast—in other words, no more than the regular stuff. But I don’t remember Bush talking of the creepy Clinton pardons—Eric Holder  being at their epicenter—after a year in office.

When Clinton arrived in January 1993, the Balkans were a mess, and no one knew what to do about Milosevic. Eastern Europe and the former republics had been promised varying degrees of NATO membership. And we were running staggering trade deficits, and in a recession. But even Clinton got over blaming Bush soon enough.

Bush I had to deal with an invigorated Saddam Hussein, the Kuwait mess, a Noriega who was out of control, easing the Soviets out of eastern Europe, a divided Berlin reuniting—and, again, the usual stuff.

Reagan inherited a demoralized military, an insane regime in Khomeini’s Iran, a bellicose and appeased Soviet Union, and communist expansion in Central America.

In other words, nothing Obama has seen overseas is, by past standards, all that unusual. Iraq was mostly quiet when he assumed office. We had not been hit again since 9/11. The Patriot Act and anti-terrorism protocols were in play and working. The fact that he has not yet closed Guantanamo and kept Predators, tribunals, renditions, etc. apparently means he finds them useful—despite the reset rhetoric.

But what is different from past Presidents is the serial, incessant whine of “poor me”, “Bush did it”, “we have to hit the reset the button” with the Russians, the Arabs, the Iranians, the Europeans, etc. I thought all this would have the usual shelf-life of 6 months. But here it is nearly a year and we are getting more, not less of it. We are back to the lamentations of Jimmy Carter, who, 30 years after his disastrous leadership in 1979-80 on the Iranian hostage crisis, is still talking about how others would have done worse, and how he had saved thousands of lives.

Suggestion: a 10-day-free-period in which no one in the Obama administration says “they did it” and “we had to reset…”

Debt will do us in…

Either Obama will stop the  astronomic spending and spiraling debt, or he will not only destroy his presidency, but take his party—and many of us— down with him. He apparently did not understand that the fury against Bush was not just due to Iraq, but the unprecedented $300-400 billion annual deficits. But rather than address that, Obama has scheduled a number of trillion-dollar-plus annual deficits for the rest of his term.

Obama’s legacy is to reduce the word “trillion”—which used to be a mind-boggling concept—to the equivalent of “billion”, as in a “trillion here, a trillion there.”

There are solutions, of course.  Don’t laugh: the ridiculous can become the real when the money runs out. We can furlough federal employees 1 -5 days a month. We can inflate our way out by expanding the money supply. (I started farming with 12% inflation, and 19% interest rates and 10% unemployment, and watched the price of raisins go from $1,350 a ton to $480 in a single year: ergo, anything, I learned, is possible. [There is really no "they" who will step in and save us.])

E.g., we can default on Social Security and Medicare—as in saying “those who make over $150,000 will not be eligible for Medicare” or have 50% of their Social Security withheld as tax. Don’t laugh, worse may be in store.

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