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Monthly Archives: February 2010

Obama Fatigue

February 28th, 2010 - 11:21 am

Every President starts to wear on the public. But the omnipresent Obama has become wearisome in record time. Why?

1) Money: There is none. Every time the president talks of another billion for this, and trillion for that, the people sigh: “We don’t have it; he’s going to borrow it.” Unemployment is near 10%, so borrowing nearly $2 trillion each year makes more sense to Keynesian economists than to voters who don’t find hope by maxing out their credit cards when they lose their jobs.

Obama is weirdly oblivious to number crunching — as is true of many who have never been self-employed or had to scramble without a public salary. Yet even Hillary is now whining that her foreign policy is frozen by the fact of mounting American debt. Obama is the stereotypical great-aunt that sweeps into the Christmas dinner casually boasting about what she is going to do for this niece and that nephew, while most roll their eyes with the understanding that her credit cards are long ago maxed out — and more likely she will be hitting up relatives for loans. Americans don’t like magnanimity with other people’s money.

2)  Style: Great orators get better in their rhetoric, not worse. It turns out that the people risked a blank slate in Obama in part because in his teleprompted hope and change orations, he sounded fresh and mellifluous. Voters assumed he would wear well. But in nonstop interviews, press conferences, and conversations, the impromptu president seems no more comfortable than was an ad hoc George Bush. And just as liberals were turned off by Bush’s cowboyisms, so too conservatives are tired of Obama’s professorial, condescending sermons. After a year, the people are tired of all the “let me be perfectly clear” psycho-drama, the “make no mistake about” pseudo-tough man pose, the straw man “I reject the false choice that some would…,” and  the narcissistic “I have ordered…..my team…to.”  The boilerplate is now recognizable even to the Washington press corps. But as important, it dovetails with more disturbing propensities: there are the periodic signs of inanity like “Cinco de Cuatro” and “corpse-man;” the constant fudging on the truth of multibillion dollar new programs really “saving” money; and the surreal bowing to dictators and emperors, with the relish of turning our misdemeanors into felonies and our enemies’ felonies into benefactions.

3) Laureate Warmaking: Utopians cannot get away with quadrupling the number of targeted killings in Pakistan and Waziristan against suspected terrorists and their wives. Twangy Texans who believe that we are at “war” against non-uniformed enemy combatants logically order Predators assassinations against what they see as a ruthless, bloodthirsty radical Islamic  “enemy” in a “them or us” fight to the finish. But, again, not so Nobel Peace laureates, who want terrorists to be Mirandized, the architects of 9/11 to be tried in civilian courts in New York, and CIA interrogators to be investigated for waterboarding known mass murderers. So once you go down the path of our struggle against terrorists and jihadists as a criminal enterprise, with writs, trials, and prison sentences, then targeted killing and assassinating suspects, even from high in the sky, simply do not make sense. (Comparative morality argues that it is nicer to waterboard confessed mass murderers than to vaporize suspected terrorists.)

4) Saintly partisanship: Crass politicians can get away with the nuclear option or reconciliation. Hard-nosed Republicans senators once threatened to go nuclear with 51 votes in the Senate to get judges confirmed in the manner that once outraged liberal politicos who now are more than happy to ram through health care without 60 votes. But messiahs? Obama once gave a sermon on the dangers of mere majority rule, when he was a backbencher in the Senate and a favorite of the hard left. “Majorities” in his refined mind were then a sign of rowdy tyrannical populism. So such a parliamentarian really cannot now threaten to use a bare majority to smash through health care, not when he has assured us that he is no Harry Reid or Barbara Boxer, but rather a “no more blue/red state” “healer.” The wages of hypocrisy are usually more costly than mindless partisanship. And the more Obama talks of bipartisanship and reaching out, the more the law professor seems to go out of his way to be petulant and trenchantly “my way or the highway.”

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We Have Race on the Brain

February 24th, 2010 - 11:32 am

The Present Mishmash

What’s going on with race relations? I just read an account of racial tension at UC San Diego, involving largely white students  of a fraternity crassly parodying black history month. I remembered also that the Rev. Wright tapes were disturbing not just because of his lunacy, but due to the standing ovations from his congregation who were ecstatic in praise of his racist and anti-American hatred.

This week the Internet is alive with a tape of an elderly white Vietnam veteran duking it out with an African-American bully on an Oakland bus — with plenty of commentary and racial epithets from the observers on the bus. In Hawaii there is pending legislation to institutionalize racism against non-native Hawaiians, by creating reservation like federal sanctuaries to be governed by those of “pure” blood.

Yet in 2008 a multiracial electorate voted  for the nation’s first African-American president — who, in terms of racial solidarity, could only rely on 95% of,  at most, 10% of the registered voters who were African-Americans.

If harmony is measured by high-profile offices, then the country perhaps is postracial. For the prior eight years the secretaries of State were African-American. We haven’t had a white male in that post since poor Warren Christopher during the Clinton era.

Why the progress and tension at the same time? Here are some of the contradictions in matters racial.

1. Fossilized categories and programs. We don’t quite know what “race” is anymore. Intermarriage and assimilation should have made racial lines almost meaningless. Barack Obama, Valerie Jarrett, and Eric Holder talk about being black; but they are not nearly so in comparison to my Sikh neighbors in the Central Valley, who both are darker and, I imagine, have had harder childhoods. (What constitutes being “black,” or are we back to the Old Confederacy for the one-sixteenth rule?)

2. Self-identification. Choice, or rather accident, seems to determine one’s identity as much as reality: a half-Hispanic Bob Jones (mother is Linda Ramirez) might have problems convincing an affirmative action officer that he is not Italian. His exact counterpart Bob Luna (father is Hispanic) seems more “authentic.” But then what is “Hispanic” — 50% (or less?) Mexican-American heritage that must earn recompense due to “historic oppression”?

So does that include Brazilian and Chilean immigrants? Does a day on American soil and an Hispanic surname entitle one to affirmative action? (In my experience they have.) Does oppression include the Chinese 19th-century experience, or the Japanese internment — or is the quiet truth that set-asides and “help” are predicated on group statistical failures to meet supposed norms of economic success? Darker immigrants from India don’t qualify, lighter Mexican-Americans do? And to what generation do we continue — all the way to the 4th-generation of an intermarried Hispanic, who is, in truth, one-sixteenth of Mexican heritage? Is racial identification to be passed on like 19th century water rights? Does a name vaguely Hispanic denote race?

3. More Incongruities. Then there are the contradictions that have reached the point of caricatures. The n-word is a felonious offense. OK — but apparently on the comic stump it can be easily voiced (only) by black comedians. (On the Oakland bus tape, the angry African-American calls his white opponent a N—-r. ). We worry about the decline in the number of black baseball players, but not about the “overrepresentation” of Hispanics?

There is no affirmative action in the NBA. The point is that any attempt to seek proportional representation seems asinine. Whites who demand diversity are applauded as being more racially sensitive than those blacks who don’t. We can’t even get the politics quite right. For a hundred years a large block of the Democratic Party enforced segregation; for twenty years many Republicans were remiss and absent from pushing civil rights; therefore, the Democratic Party is the historically protective party of minorities?

I’ve noticed that when poorer Mexican-Americans intermarry there is rarely hyphenation. That is, Gracie Galindo happily becomes Gracie Becker; but the more affluent one becomes, the more attuned to the careerism of racial triumphalism one becomes, and the more liberal one professes to be, suddenly Gracie becomes Gracie Galindo-Becker. I leave it at that, since readers can fill in all the incongruent blanks from their own experiences.

4. An Entrenched Old White Elite? Then there is the role of diversity hypocrisy on the part of the white elite. In a perfect world, any advocate of affirmative action would swear off traditional influence peddling. The liberal lawyer who sues for diversity in the work place would not call the admission officer of his alma mater to seek heft for his son’s admission; the full professor of English who was hired sight unseen through word of mouth in 1974 would not predicate his hiring vote on diversity. In other words, many of the advocates for racial preferences assume that their own wealth, class, and influence will allow themselves and their clique exemptions.

5. Then there is the youth problem. Tens of millions were born after 1980, into a world of affirmative action with no recollection of the 1960s. They have had two antithetical experiences: one, today’s youth date, marry, “hang-out” without racial stigmatization: look at the mall gatherings or high school campus, everyone is mixed up (albeit less so with African-Americans on urban campuses); and yet, this generation is really the first to go through the race/class/gender indoctrination in our schools and the sermons on diversity. I don’t think the former phenomenon of easy integration (a product of immigration, popular culture, and demography) is connected to the latter. But our youth who live integration don’t like to be lectured about it — and their angst, if not push-back, is growing.

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Is there a philosophy of hypocrisy?

February 22nd, 2010 - 6:29 am

Here are a few things that I think don’t quite compute.

a)    The now familiar Palin/Edwards dichotomy. John McCain was damned for picking Sarah Palin who had not finished her first term as governor, and had previously only been elected to local political offices and served on a state commission.

Her middle American ‘you betcha’ twang, NASCAR persona, good looks, and occasional deer-in-the-headlines interviews with hostile anchor people, coupled with the kids, conservative creed, Christianity, and 19th century husband, sickened—there is no other word for it— the DC-New York punditocracy. Yes, they concluded, she really was from Wasilla. Yuk.

So we got everything in the media from the maverick McCain suddenly as cynical sell-out who settled for third-best, to Palin, the clueless Alaskan yokel.

In contrast, to this day, there is no in-depth analysis of Kerry’s disastrous pick of the first-term, uninformed Senator Edwards as his VP choice in 2004. And it took the National Enquirer to inform us of his later conspiratorial lying and bribery involving his illegitimate child—sordid facts apparently well known to—and hushed up by—the mainstream media. Remember, later presidential candidate Edwards was not just inexperienced, but as a confessed wonk, did not open a book. He was the owner of a mansion who preached about “two-nations” inequality, and he alternately used and humiliated his alternately heroic and conniving cancer-stricken spouse.

b)  The responsible Times.  For much of 2002-8, the New York Times leaked classified information about U.S. policy in the war on terror and gave up on Iraq (though John Burns, its military correspondent, was quite professional and courageous). Indeed, the serial story of Iraq was the IED, not the heroic capture of Fallujah or the stunning success of the surge. The Times gave a discount to Moveon.org to run its “General Betray-Us” ads at a time thousands of young Americans were fighting for their lives during the surge.

And now? The Times admirably sat on advanced warning of the current NATO offensive in Afghanistan; its editor emphasized that the paper was “responsible” in reporting matters of national security (i.e. the Times does not leak). Our current efforts in Helmand Province now are portrayed in the media in the manner of Patton’s WWII offensives—thank God for that.

c)   The war on terror.  For much of the Bush administration, one would have thought the Constitution had been shredded. My God—Tribunals! Renditions! Guantanamo! Patriot Act! Intercepts! Wiretaps! Iraq! Predator drones!

Indeed, for each of those ACLU talking points, then candidate Obama reflected the media outrage and damned these protocols. Yet suddenly, there is no in-depth critical analysis of these policies. Most are now kept and apparently thought by government and media to be of both utility and morality by virtue that Obama adopted them.

In some cases, rhetoric suffices.  Guantanamo is now  “virtually” closed, in the manner KSM will be virtually tried in New York. Assert rather than enact and a sort of virtual nirvana follows in the media.

Not long ago, we were to charge or investigate former administration and CIA officials for ordering the waterboarding of three confessed terrorists, among them Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the proud father of 9/11. And now? The number of Predator drone assassination missions has increased enormously. Apparently in this new age of war as a criminal justice matter, somehow the Bush-era coerced interrogations of confessed mass-murderers deserved popular outrage and were to be considered crimes, while the judge/jury/executioner sentences passed down on suspected terrorists (again, dead men need no Miranda rights)—and anyone in their general vicinity when the hellfire missile hits—are well, like renditions and tribunals, suddenly problematic.

d)  Good, then bad, DC. A year ago, government was at last working. Supermajorities were in both houses of congress. The Senate was filibuster proof, in a way the poor Republicans had not been able to achieve during the 2005 Bush efforts to reform Social Security.

Obama was on nearly every magazine cover, his visage popped up on the evening newscasts. Pundits wrote puff pieces about “inside” interviews. Health care, cap and trade, borrowing, bail-outs, more stimuli, cash for clunkers, all this and more needed no Republican input with such supermajorities in congress.

The system was working as it was designed; to paraphrase the president, ‘we won and you lost’. A recalcitrant liberal Senator here and there could always be bought off with a $300 million earmark. Polls hit near 70% approval. The Europeans went ga-ga. Government was moving again.

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Where Did Our Real Wealth Go?

February 17th, 2010 - 2:43 pm

The Greek Lesson

No, I don’t mean the classical Greeks, but their present-day counterparts.

Economists have given us all the usual diagnoses of what went wrong in a now bankrupt Greece — high taxes, tax cheating, too generous retirements, unsustainable entitlements, government corruption, and anemic demography.

Add to such socialism the natural foreign policy and collective expressions that always follow statism in the modern Western world — increased pacifism, utopian pretension, moral equivalence, cheap anti-Americanism — and we have the foreign policy expression of Greece (and much of the EU) of the last 30 years. (A citizen who believes by birthright that he is to be taken care of by the state always hates the state that can never do enough, in the fashion that the country who is taken care of militarily always hates its protector.)

In other words, Greece is the canary in the mine of the impending crack-up of the modern welfare state. It is a great gift to us all, this example. A year ago, the socialists, even as they were juggling and falsifying their books, were bragging that the Wall Street meltdown was a referendum — and capitalism was doomed. Now, the entire socialist dream is exposed and even the most ardent statist knows that there is no longer enough “others” to pay the tab.

The poor EU learned that the Greek siesta, the 10PM Athenian dinners, the state power company vans at the beaches in the workday afternoons, the kafenions full of 50-year-old men at 11AM, the angry students perpetually in the streets at each hinted reform, and the moonlighting telephone employees all came at the expense of far harder-working Scandinavian and German socialists, who apparently  now realize a nice two weeks each year on Santorini or Crete aren’t worth billions of their own Euros in rescue bailouts.

We Are All Greeks Now?

Here in California we see the symptoms of the same Greek malady as we go from one budget shortfall to the next — dream-like borrowing, raising taxes, and furloughing, in lieu of the tough medicine of cutting government payrolls, changing pension payouts, and freezing the pay of state-workers until their compensation mirror images those in the private sector.

Postmodern Western society will soon witness a real showdown, analogous to the teenager who rebels and either accepts that he is still dependent on his parents and therefore subject to the rules of the house, or runs away and implodes in a sea of drugs and street-life.

In short, how will an entitled society react when the money runs out and it learns that it must change or wither away — and all the whining rhetoric about “social justice” and “a green future” and “spread the wealth” and “redistributive change” won’t bring another barrel of oil or bushel of wheat or Douglas fir 2” x 4”?

Imagine…

Imagine a politician announcing: we are going to raise the Social Security age to 66. We are going to freeze and cut spending until we balance the budget within three years, and then with surpluses pay down the debt within 6 years. We are going to build 100 new nuclear power plants and open up the country and its shores to oil and gas production. We are going to cut back all federal entitlements and subsidies by 20% immediately. We are going to ensure enough water for agriculture. We are …

Would collective relief or revolution follow?

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Bidenism

February 15th, 2010 - 5:41 pm

“I am very optimistic about — about Iraq. I mean, this could be one of the great achievements of this administration.” Joe Biden, February 12, 2010.

Just Politics?

All politicians hedge and backtrack, as the daily news proves their previous assertions and boasts wrong. That somersaulting is part of American politics. But even the most astute triangulators know when to go silent, especially in the age of the Internet when one’s past statements are so easily juxtaposed with present reality.

Consider for a minute the Joe Biden odyssey on Iraq, because it has proven a variable primer on how the political class reinvented itself depending on the current pulse of the battlefield. Biden, like others, did not merely “evolve” on the war, but at each stage of his metamorphosis, emerged as a vehement, loud advocate of an entirely new position usually at odds with his prior assertions.

He apparently felt that either his charisma might delude us, or his apparent instability might earn from us  an exemption along the lines following his unhinged statement that  FDR addressed the nation on TV as President in 1929 —“Ah, that’s just Ol’ Joe being Ol’Joe,”  or that we all suffer  from collective amnesia:

Biden’s Timeline —”Dead, flat wrong”

1990: Biden votes against the first Gulf War and Bush I’s efforts to get Saddam out of Kuwait.

1998: Biden supports Bill Clinton’s call for regime change and “to dethrone Saddam Hussein over the long haul.”

2002: Biden asserts that Saddam has biological and chemical weapons and is seeking a nuclear arsenal, proclaiming, “We have no choice but to eliminate the threat.” He then votes in October for 23 writs authorizing President Bush to remove the dictator by force if need be.

2005: Joe Biden reassures the country that we must stay in Iraq: “We can call it quits and withdraw from Iraq. I think that would be a gigantic mistake. Or we can set a deadline for pulling out, which I fear will only encourage our enemies to wait us out – equally a mistake.”

2006: Biden declares that a sovereign Iraq is not sustainable, calls for trisecting Iraq into three separate entities and demands that President Bush “must direct the military to design a plan for withdrawing and redeploying our troops from Iraq by 2008.”

He adds that “Mr. Bush has spent three years in a futile effort to establish a strong central government in Baghdad, leaving us without a real political settlement, with a deteriorating security situation — and with nothing but the most difficult policy choices.”

2008: Joe Biden forecasts, “The surge isn’t going to work either tactically or strategically. … Tactically it isn’t going to work because … our guys go in and secure a neighborhood, but because we don’t have enough troops, we have to turn it over to the Iraqis, and they can’t hold it or won’t hold it.”

Joe Biden votes for legislation to oppose the surge, declaring that, “It’s an attempt to save the president from making a significant mistake with regard to our policy in Iraq.” He reiterates that the surge will not only fail, but make things worse: “I believe it will have the opposite — I repeat — opposite effect the president intends.”

Biden later elaborates on that: “The purpose of the surge was to bring violence in Iraq down so that its leaders could come together politically. Violence has come down, but the Iraqis have not come together. …There is little evidence the Iraqis will settle their differences peacefully any time soon. I believe the president has no strategy for success in Iraq.”

Biden then tells Gen. Petraeus that he is  “dead, flat wrong.” He later concludes there is “no end in sight” in Iraq and staying is “killing us.”

2009: A Vice President Biden accepts the Bush-Petraeus plan of continuing a U.S. combat presence in Iraq, and accepts the status of forces agreement and timetable of withdrawal as negotiated with the Iraqis by the Bush administration to remove U.S. combat troops as envisioned by the end of 2011.

2010: Biden claims credit for winning Iraq: “I am very optimistic about — about Iraq. I mean, this could be one of the great achievements of this administration. You’re going to see 90,000 American troops come marching home by the end of the summer. You’re going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government.”

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Why Did Rome Fall—And Why Does It Matter Now?

February 11th, 2010 - 10:58 pm

Count the ways

A German scholar twenty years ago listed, I recall, some 210 reasons for the collapse of the Western Empire. Readers, you have heard many of them, plausible and otherwise — corruption, civil strife, Germanic barbarians, Christianity, lead in the pipes of the elite, etc.

Any such discussion is also predicated on two other twists: the Eastern Empire at Constantinople went on for nearly another 1,000 years until the 1453 sack by the Ottomans. And for the last twenty years, revisionists have disputed Gibbon’s notion of a dramatic “fall” in the West, and argued instead that it was a “transition” as the “barbarian” “other” was insidiously assimilated into what would emerge in the latter Dark Ages as “Europeans.”

The East certainly had more defensible borders with the Danube and the Hellespont. Constantinople was far better fortified naturally and artificially than was Rome; the defense of Byzantium could rely to a greater degree on naval forces. And greater wealth was to be had in Asia and Egypt than in the northwestern provinces.

How could Christianity have caused the Western ‘fall’ when a very Christian East survived? (So I postpone here discussion of that crux of why the East enjoyed another 1000 years (e.g., larger population, greater wealth, less civil strife, more defensible borders, fewer Germanic enemies, etc.), given it shared many of the same pathologies of culture as the West.)

Them and us

My concern, however, is instead with the indisputable decline in material culture in Britain, Iberia, Gaul, Italy and North Africa from the 4th-5th century AD onward, with the end of strong government that had resulted in everything from secure borders to internal calm (the sort of world that St. Augustine in Tunisia saw ending at his death).

Rather than rehash Gibbon, or review the spate of recent books on Rome’s decline and our own supposed end, I throw out a few general notions.

Luxus

The Romans themselves by the first century AD (cf. Horace to Livy to Petronius to Juvenal) felt that the enormous influx of unearned wealth from conquered provinces had undermined the old republican virtues of small farmers and merchants (e.g., the old yeoman with four kids and a wife on five acres of grain now either devolved into the urban unemployed spectator in the Coliseum at Rome on the dole or evolved into the sterile estate owner with 50 slaves and 200 acres of wine grapes and an expensive pasture with a herd of beef cows.)

So the rise of latifundia, and the influx of unheard of wealth and slaves, gradually, in the ancients’ own view, created a dependent class on the dole and corruption among the elite. “Decline” as seen in the ancient mind was not inevitable, and was almost seen as a moral question — material progress resulting in ethical regress.

A Pretty Slow Fall

Yet Rome did not fall for four centuries after its moralists wrote of its decadence and decline. Why the resilience?

Entitlements and official corruption were for centuries subsidized by the profits accruing from global standardization and Romanization — brought about by the implementation and imposition of Roman law, order, and commerce throughout the Mediterranean. As long as the empire was cohesive, it brought in thousands yearly into its sphere of influence.

Those from the Black Sea to the Nile and from Portugal to Iraq were now subject to habeas corpus, a standard official language, regularization in weights and measures, and security on roads and the seas. The centuries-long result of such Romanization is easily discerned in the later historians from Ammianus to Zosimus, who remarked on both widening prosperity and a persistent moral crisis, rather than the dangers of material impoverishment.

We Are All Romans Now

So such global uniformity created real wealth in newfound places faster than such bounty could corrupt the citizens in the old Italian core to the degree to bring down what was now a world system. In other words, the creation of entirely new cities like Leptis or the growth of Asian centers such as Ephesus, brought previously unproductive tribal folk into the Roman system at precisely the time old Romans were no longer doing the things that had once created their own vibrant culture that swept the Mediterranean — the ancient version of the Chinese youth working 10 hours in an Adidas factory while an American counterpart is still “finding himself.”

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Why Fear Big Government?

February 8th, 2010 - 1:06 pm

Who is Afraid of Big Government?

There is no reason to review all the standard reasons why the American people are terrified of an all-powerful federal or state government. The case has been made in thousands of elegant treatises and books, and is best reflected in the Constitution and the written work of the Founding Fathers.

But let me list a few other, less elegantly expressed worries, many anecdotal in nature.

1) Juvenal’s “Who will police the police?”

One of the scariest things about government is its exemption from laws by virtue of its monopoly on lawmaking and enforcement. I see this every day, from the mundane to the profound.

Go to any downtown in America, and one can see how some supposedly efficient, job-creating con-artist once promised a new hotel, stadium, or enterprise zone, then convinced the city council to steal land from some and hand it over to others (e.g., him) — and left an ungodly mess in his wake.

That power to condemn creates a real paranoia in our own lives. While we can defend our homes from the intruder, there is no remedy against eminent domain, especially once we have lost faith in the collective wisdom of those who flock to political office.

On the more mundane level, this week I saw the following examples of government exemption. A local police car randomly did a running stop at a 4-way intersection (should I have called 911?); a city bus driver (very common) cell phoning against California law (report him to the cop running the intersection?); a city garbage truck spewing trash out its top as it sped down Freeway 41 (call his cousins at the state EPA?).

We are all routinely pulled over for any of the above infractions. But the larger the government, the more its power, and so the more its employees feel that they are royal and exempt from enforcement. In other words, big government creates millions who feel the law does not pertain to themselves. Ask Tom Daschle, Duke Cunningham, Chris Dodd, or Timothy Geithner. The result is an increasingly lawless society.

2) The Power of Envy

Government service offers veritable tenure and steady wages for the price of bypassing the American dream of “getting rich” in the private sector. Most follow the odds and realize that a federal bird in the hand is better than two in the private bush.

Yet legions of government (and often union) employees by needs must audit often far richer others, whether at the IRS, the county planner’s office, the zoning authority, or the state regulator. And here the public auditor can, by virtue of his unassailable position, quite easily stymie his private sector upstart counterpart.

A few examples from my own modest experience: Going into the DMV to deal with SEIU T-shirted employees is to face petty humiliation and impediment. I watched dozens of hurried customers stand in line while bored employees at the window lackadaisically redirected them to other bored employees. The subtext was “You need my form and stamp, so calm down, take a deep breath, and wait on my time. It’s not like I have to work for your rat-race company.”

Two years ago, the IRS sent me an “urgent” letter about supposedly not reported W-2s (one thing I learned from my late mother is never, never short the IRS, and so I usually overpay). My accountant in about 2 minutes showed me how an auditing clerk (or computer) had screwed up. He wrote an explanatory letter.

I worried (I didn’t have the demanded supplemental fee) for about 3 months. And then matter-of-factly, 90 days later another letter arrived — admitting the matter was now resolved and I need not pay anything. No apology or explanation. In other words, a single government official was able to try to extort thousands (I am sure many thousands who get such letters are terrified and just pay the bogus supplemental) without explanation. No one in private business can quite get away with that. (I am sure the employee, who hits a button to print such form letters demanding more money, never has his pay docked when the request is shown to be invalid). When the inanimate gasoline pump claims we must pay for 20 gallons for an actual 10 pumped, the gas station owner goes to jail.

I am all for codes, building inspectors, and plant regulators, but an excess of such investigators quickly creates a priestly class who take their own frustrations out on supposedly better off others.

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Civilization’s Lies

February 5th, 2010 - 3:04 pm

One of the sad characteristics of contemporary Western society is the tendency to embrace noble lies. These are assertions and acts that don’t square with reality, with what we see and hear—and are voiced for apparently noble social purposes. Here are a few politically-incorrect examples.

1)  Debt and Deficits. At our current rate we will very soon pile up between $18 and $20 trillion in accumulated national debt. We use the euphemism “stimulus”, talk of massive borrowing in terms of percentages of GDP, and casually pontificate about “inflating” our way out of the debt. The  fact is that the borrowing is now so massive that there is no way to pay back what we owe without massive cutbacks in accustomed services, and a probable decline in the apparent standard of living. I say “apparent” since many of the essentials that we are accustomed to—everything from sophisticated psychiatric counseling for long-term inmates, frivolous law suits, duplicate and needless medical procedures, to government employee expense accounts, farm subsidies, or grants to the arts and media—are not that essential and will gradually begin to disappear. Raising taxes will be in the short-term offered as a solution, but it won’t for long increase net aggregate revenue since it will eventually discourage economic activity.

And we lack both the patience and guts to cut taxes, and then use the long-term larger revenue stream, coupled with massive spending cuts, to balance the budget. In short, we will invent euphemisms like “stimulus” and “furlough” as the money runs out, and Americans adjust to a lower standard of living. One can already drive in rural central California and see roads that are cracked and full of potholes, random dogs that are not licensed, and thousands of trailer-rentals on blocks and garages-turned-into-rentals, as the government has given up on its old regulation and let large swaths revert to the 1940s and 1950s. I fear that any sixth grader from my 1965 primary school down the road could have read far better than an average contemporary high school graduate of my local community. This decline is not inevitable, given an expanding population, the prior investments of noble generations, continually evolving technology, and spreading globalization, but it is inevitable given the therapeutic culture, and present high-tax, high-spend, redistributive  gospel of the present government. No one on either side of the political divide simply says the present borrowing is staggering, unsustainable, and must be paid back by real sacrifice. So we lie on, as if Greece should be our model.

2) Israel. We are inundated with constant talk of the “Middle East crisis” and “the need to restart the peace process.”

Why? Is there a new Goldstone report on Tibet? Are the American people sleepless over the divided city of Nicosia? The brutal Turkish occupation of Greek Cyprus? The rough Russian annexation of Ossetia? The callous treatment of Muslims by the Chinese?

Of course not. A noble lie is that there is a “Mideast crisis” at all. “Occupied land” is not unusual. Palestinians are no more refuges than Cypriots or Tibetans. The IDF is far more moral a military force than the Russian or Chinese or Turkish army.

The reality? Hating Israel as a unique aggressor is simply predicated on five unspoken truths: 1) rampant anti-Semitism (one can hate Jews by the loftier notion of being “anti-Zionist”; 2) fear of radical Islamic terrorists; there are apparently no radical Tibetans hijacking planes or blowing up Madrid train stations due to Spanish ties with communist China; 3) oil, oil, oil. The Cypriots cannot enlist the Greeks to withhold 500 billion barrels of oil in the Aegean from world markets. If such a fantasy were true, Nicosia would be on the front pages; 4) Israel is Western, like the U.S., and in a most un-Western neighborhood, so hating Israel is a mechanism of hating the U.S. on the cheap; 5) demography. If there were a billion-person Orthodox community energized by a half-billion Greek-speakers, we most certainly would wish to solve the “Cyprus crisis”.

The truth? Money, fear, and age-old hatreds all are masked by “principles” and “morality.”

3) Illegal immigration.

Do the math on remittances—$50 billion a year sent back to Latin America; perhaps $20-25 billion sent from California alone, mostly from illegal aliens.

The following thought will get one censored as cruel and inhuman: millions of California residents, here illegally, without English or high-school diplomas, somehow manage to rely in part on state subsidies for food, housing, education, legal help, and transportation to free up cash in the  billions to be sent southward to Mexico.

In addition, much higher per capita rates of illegality, from gang activity to DUI arrests, characterize far too many of the illegal alien community, requiring state investments that outweigh the often argued advantages of increased sales taxes, Social Security deductions supposedly not drawn upon, cheap wages for unskilled labor, etc.

In other words, to suggest that a very sophisticated society is spending billions to educate, incarcerate, and treat millions from the former Third World is forbidden. And the corollary is even more bizarre still: millions risk their lives to flock northward to the United States, even as the premise of multiculturalism in the schools, affirmative action in the workplace, and the chauvinism manifested in popular culture is somehow that an oppressive Eurocentric America “owes” penance. Historians two centuries hence will remark on the anomaly of the notion that millions of Mexican nationals both wish to emigrate to the United States, but simultaneously once here to  voice grievances against the culture they so wish to join—sort of like the old demonstrations against Prop. 13 when protestors used to wave the flag of the country they did not wish to return to and trample the flag of the country they so eagerly wished to remain in. A modest proposal: to send money to Latin America, one here without legal documentation would either pay a 10% surcharge on the transaction or show proof of catastrophic health care insurance.

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Our Obama Saga—Part Two. Chapters Five-Six

February 2nd, 2010 - 9:47 pm

OK — Here’s the conclusion to the saga of Obama. I left off with Chapter Four and why the Obama locomotive went off the rails after only a year.

Chapter Five — The Verdict Is Still Out

So here we are after a year with the president below 50% in the polls, the progressive dream for a bit stalled, and the media uncertain whether to press ahead with their Ministry of Truth homage, or to bail before Obama shreds their last vestiges of disinterested credibility and takes them down with him. Or is that an overstatement?

I confess I am not entirely confident that this third great attempt in the last three decades to become Europe can be so easily stopped (and yet in just 12 months we saw the greatest decline in popularity of any first-year president in poll-recorded history).

So why the doubt?

The enormous borrowing for a time may spark an inflation-driven expansion timed to coincide with the November election. GDP growth will accelerate while worries about mega-deficits, stagflation, and persistent unemployment will, for a while, be put off to 2011. Much of the TARP money will be released in late summer, and it will create a temporary uplifting effect, analogous to the final binge of a soon to be maxed-out credit card.

We also have not quite yet seen the bitter pushback: expect a renewed “Bush did it” offensive, the promiscuous playing of the racial card to stifle dissent, and stimulus money lavished on everyone from train aficionados to solar panel producers. Do not underestimate either the role of the SEIU or Acorn-like groups during registration and balloting in key close run congressional races.

Americans have never given up on a president so early.  To do so would mean to a majority of voters not merely that they were wrong, but terribly wrong. To admit that is difficult; to admit that so early is terribly difficult.

While much criticism is made of the president’s scripted eloquence, his reliance on the teleprompter, his unease with repartee, his awkwardness in question and answer, nonetheless he is skilled with the teleprompter, and much of his message to many of the people can be teleprompted.

After all, that is in part how a two-year senator got elected in the first place. And as a rhetorician, Obama is skilled in weaving alternate realities. For you reader, his recent exegesis of his broken promises to put the health care debate on C-SPAN (it was sort of aired, didn’t you know that, dummies) was preposterous. But admit as well that such a bold alibi came right out of the mouth of Saruman in his Orthanc — mellifluous, assured, seamlessly shameless. It would make even Tartuffe proud. Obama’s art is more than just teleprompted eloquence.

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