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Monthly Archives: November 2010

The Age of Adolescence

November 30th, 2010 - 3:33 pm

Never-never land

One of the great themes of the 1960s was to “do your own thing.” But usually “liberation” distilled down to creating your own rules and norms to justify allowing the appetites and passions to run free, while offering some sort of exalted cover for being either gross or mediocre — or both.

The hip generation that came of age talked about a new, perpetually youthful world that would supplant the values and aspirations of a fading bankrupt establishment (e.g., cf. Bob Dylan’s “the order is rapidly fading”). And in time the promise of the sixties, in fact, did permeate the last half-century, creating a contemporary culture of perpetual adolescence, of defying norms and protocols without offering anything much in their place.

From Lady Gaga to Iranian Nukes

Witness current events. A 22-year-old PFC Bradley Manning, without much experience, knowledge, or maturity, somehow becomes a “military analyst.” (I thought those were 2-star generals, RAND Ph.Ds, decorated colonels, or old Kissingerian National Security Council pros.)

And in our culture without hierarchy and requisites that title apparently allows him — in between downloading Lady Gaga music while in a combat zone in Iraq—to tap into the secret cables of the U.S. State Department, and destroy two decades worth of diplomatic contacts, trust, and friendships.

No matter — you see poor Bradley was also upset, depressed, and he felt underappreciated. In part, that was because his drag-queen boyfriend had recently dumped him. He was, in his own words, “regularly ignored except when I had something essential then it was back to ‘bring me coffee, then sweep the floor.’ … [I] felt like I was an abused work horse.”

Iranian nukes? North Korean missiles? Again, no problem. Bradley, you see, was depressed and in response had the desire and the power to change the global order. (Or in 60s parlance, “who is to say that Bradley doesn’t have the right to shut down the diplomatic world?”) Even Bob Dylan would be impressed with how “the times they are a-changin’.”

Wikicoward

Next, enter one Julian Assange — himself on the lam, avoiding a little sexy horseplay that the uptight Swedish authorities for some reason deemed thus far sexual battery and molestation. Jason is also angry at “them,” the Western world that does horrific things like guarantees enough affluence and security for those like Julian to jet about at will without any visible means of support. In the tradition of sixties nihilism, Julian, of course, tries to gussy up his destructive egotistical angst into some sort of cosmic humane call for more transparency and nice behavior on the part of the U.S. State Department and military.

In more earthly terms that means he is supposed to be something more than a two-bit computer punk that he is, one who would be terrified to extend his online liberationist creed to Iranian mullahs, Chinese communists, Hezbollah terrorists, or Russian gang lords. The latter do far more to trample the human spirit than does any Western nation, but they also at times tend to decapitate, blow up, or jail permanently any would-be Julian who dares to cross them.

Ant-Christ

While this is all going on, we have the spectacle of brave curators at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery offering us for Christmas season a new exhibit, emblematic of this current post-“piss-Christ”/Andres Serrano age of art.

Its title is coyly encrypted in postmodern bipolarity: “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.” And the exhibition apparently is full of Mapplethorpe-inspired gay-related imagery and offers us an image of Jesus being swarmed over by ants. Clever, brave, bold, shocking. Or in the words of the overseers of the federally-subsidized National Portrait Gallery, such artistic courage proves how the gallery is now “committed to showing how a major theme in American history has been the struggle for justice so that people and groups can claim their full inheritance in America’s promise of equality, inclusion, and social dignity.”

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Sometimes reality seems at odds with perceived wisdom. Yet these disconnects rarely seem to enter public discussion. Here are a few examples, big and small.

The Axis of Evil and Unending Wars

The Korean mess reminds us again of who was and who was not in the ill-famed “axis of evil” as articulated in January 2002. Germany, Japan, and Vietnam were not, all once bitter foes of the United States. The former two were defeated and their hostility ended in reformed, postwar democratic governments. The latter won a political victory over the United States, and the question whether there would be a South Vietnam analogous to an independent South Korea was answered in the negative.

By the same token, the triad of evil all had ongoing but unresolved wars with the United States. Saddam Hussein at the time had lost the Gulf War but survived, and that fact in turn had led to an unending no-fly zone war. (Note that today Iraq would not be in the axis, given that Saddam is no more). An armistice in 1953 did not settle the question of whether an aggressive communist North Korea would leave South Korea alone. And our war that had de facto started with Iran in 1979, and which waxed and waned over the next thirty years through terrorist surrogates and American counter-measures, continues today.

Perhaps peace ensues when clear-cut defeat or victory decides a war. In contrast, an ongoing, on/off conflict is the legacy of truces and temporary armistices, as we pass the unresolved war on to our children.

The present strategy in Korea? Who knows? But I think a prosperous South Korea is between the rock of hoping for the relatively nonviolent implosion of the failed state of North Korea in some sort of East German fashion, and the hard place of a communist thugocracy in the bunker lashing out in “we will take you down with us” fashion.

Note well that in the supposed age of counter-insurgency, we still have assets like carrier battle groups, armored divisions, bombers, and high-tech fighters. War is cyclical, and while some thought the U.S. would only fight in messy, dirty Vietnam-like wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan, we should remember that even that scenario was not always the recent norm — remember Grenada, Panama, Gulf War I, and the Balkans.

Military history reminds us that wars of all sorts — insurgencies, terrorism, conventional land invasions, high-tech aerial combat, missile exchanges — can in theory break out anytime. It was always the great strength of the postwar U.S. army, nursed on the experience of World War II from the jungles of Guadalcanal to the B-17 missions over Germany, that it was multifaceted and ready for any challenge.

Some ask: “Why do we have any F-22s given the realities of an Afghanistan?” Others would counter: “Why do we not have more given the realities of an even more important Korean peninsula?”

Fewer or More Terrorist Plots?

The latest foiled terrorist attempt in Portland comes on the heels of the Times Square bombing plot, the New York subway plot, the unsuccessful Mutallab Christmas bombing, the Fort Hood shootings, and the increasing high alerts in Europe and the U.S. of new terrorist attempts to come.

All that raises questions about why radical Islamic terrorists are either increasing their efforts to kill Westerners, or at least not abating them — despite the reset/outreach efforts of the new administration. Have these wannabe killers forgotten the widely reported al-Arabiya interview, the Cairo speech, the bowing to the Saudi royal family, the promised civilian trial of KSM and closing of Guantanamo, the declarations from the head of NASA, and the euphemisms of “man-caused disasters” and “overseas contingency operations”? Did not the radical Islamists understand the message of outreach of the new American administration, the end of the dark days of “smoke ‘em out” and “dead or alive,” and the de facto confession that our policies were unnecessarily provocative during the eight years between 2001 to 2009? Thereby will they not at least mitigate their efforts to murder Americans, given our newfound decision to seek compromise rather than confrontation? And if not, why not? Why treat our magnanimity with contempt?

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Reflections On An Ailing Society

November 24th, 2010 - 8:47 am

Buffettism

Warren Buffett is once more calling for higher tax rates, in advising the Congress to revoke the Bush-era tax rates and apparently to return to those of the Clinton administration — reminiscent of the elder Gates touring the country stumping for a reinstatement of a substantial inheritance tax. Aside from the fact that the deficit is not due to falling revenues, but almost entirely a result of astronomical federal spending increases since 2000, this bromide is quite pathological, this peddling of elixirs that the sellers do not drink.

a) Buffett, a nice enough and civic-minded philanthropist, in the past has lamented that he paid taxes on his profits at the capital gains rate rather than the income tax rate, and so paid less, percentage wise, of his real income in actual annual taxes than did the working classes. But he was never under any obligation to do so. So why did he?

Why not, given his enormous prestige and influence, start a national campaign for fellow hyper-rich, in the spirit of public service, to subject their profits to income tax rates, not capital gains rates on their multi-million dollar trading income? That seems a far more noble cause than advocating higher income taxes on the food market owner or general contractor, with twenty employees, who manages to make $280,000, much of which he will plough back into his business — if he can.

b) If Buffett is worried about the deficits and has confidence in government to use our money wisely (hence his desire for greater tax revenue), then why in heaven did he pledge so much of his money to the Gates Foundation and other tax-exempt private philanthropies? The world’s two richest men have in essence taken billions of dollars in future revenue away from the United States Treasury, inasmuch as such private foundations will allow the Buffett/Gates fortunes to be exempt from substantial inheritance taxes on their estates. This is the message: “all of you lesser folk pay higher taxes to a wise government that knows how to spend it. But me? I trust my favorite private foundations to do a better job and so will divert my taxes to them.” And when a Bill Gates Sr. speaks on the wisdom of greater inheritance taxes — given his billionaire son’s financial status, and the multibillion dollars in inheritance taxes that won’t be paid on the future transference of the family’s fortunes — should we laugh or cry?

c) Why did Buffett not become an advocate of higher taxes on those who make over $250,000 when he was in his twenties and thirties and desperately trying to pile up his first five or so million? Did he really pay astronomical income taxes at those astronomical tax rates in the 1950s and 1960s or seek to avoid them through capital gains lower taxes and write-offs? Why do so many of these zillionaires chase the dollar almost to the exclusion of all else, and then only when wildly successful in a manner that the other 99% were not, suddenly in the twilight years want to make it tougher on others? Is that the price of penance?

Korea as the Proverbial Deranged Neighbor

I’ve mentioned that I once had a deranged neighbor in the general vicinity out here in rural California. His pit bulls threatened us when we irrigated near the property line. His compound of various itinerant crashed trailers was an eyesore. His kids were near criminals. His message: “I am crazy with nothing left to lose; pay me obeisance or watch havoc ensue” (e.g., your good life will not be too good if you screw with me and my perennially bad life). This was the logic of a frenzied Hitler circa 1936-9: “You smug and now prosperous law-abiding Britain and France shudder at the memory of Verdun and the Somme; well, I claim that I welcome them again. So keep silent, or I will bring you down to my rung of the Inferno.” I imagine that every once in a while the professional upscale suburbanite at a stop light gets the middle finger from the punk, as if to say, “I doubt you’ll ram me with that Lexus and MBA, so screw you.” And he’s North-Korean right most of the time.

North Korea preens because it has two thuggish former or present patrons nearby, and a number of success stories — Japan, South Korea, Taiwan — in missile range. That’s not a bad formula for perpetual shake-downs.

The age-old antidote for a North Korea is too unimaginable for most of us: we who have most to lose should appear crazier and far more likely to inflict harm than those who have nothing to lose to ensure deterrence. But that tact could not guarantee calm, and so we logically opt for the higher percentage diplomatic route of paying the mordida.

Insanity is a force-multiplier in nuclear poker. North Korea is playing the Huns of the 5th-century AD to us, the tottering late Romans, who paid to avoid for a while the misery that was second nature to the barbarians. We are lectured, quite rightly, that Korea is grandstanding at a time of succession, that it is broke and wants a crisis to bring in some more bribe money (as if being unhinged were as good an asset as oil exports), that it shows off a new nuclear plant to garner more cash, and that it is close to implosion and has few choices. I hope so, but I am afraid also that 2011 will be our 1979, inasmuch as 2009-2010 bowing, apologizing, and treating enemies as friends and friends as neutrals is all so reminiscent of 1977-8. In short, North Korea may think 20011-12 is about the last chance it is going to get with a Carteresque president, and it wants to make the most of it, pronto.

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All The News That Is Unfit to Print

November 19th, 2010 - 10:04 am

When News is No News

Here are a few important developments that remain strangely ignored. I say strangely, but most readers understand why some news becomes news and some does not.

1) Iraq. The United States military between 2007 and 2009 crushed al-Qaeda in Iraq. It destroyed cadres of radical Islamists and Baathists. It stabilized the country. It was one of the most stunning military performances in modern history, and helped to destroy the image of a competent and scary al-Qaeda. Yet everything from the recapture of Fallujah to the sheer number of Islamists that were taken out of Anbar Province was largely ignored. It is as if we went to sleep in 2007 with “Iraq is lost” and then woke up in 2010 with “Of course, it is quiet now. Why wouldn’t it be?” — but with little thought of what transpired in between. We know few names, fewer stories of the heroic Americans who turned Iraq around after 2006 — or kept it from imploding from 2003 onward.

2) Chinese Roguery. China’s Communist Party predicates foreign policy on mercantilism — period. Note that Chinese foreign relations favor thugs, especially those with oil or the propensity to do others harm. Most of the world’s bad actors — Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Zimbabwe — are Chinese partners. Yes, almost anywhere there is a crisis, a Chinese diplomat is somewhere in the vicinity. In all the praise of the Chinese miracle and envy of its industry, gleaming airports, and solar panels, few note that to the degree that a nation’s people is unfree and without a say in its governance, that it has natural resources to exploit, and that its government is an enemy of Western-style freedom, so too China will be there in the background. Few care. Maybe it’s all the cash; maybe those old stale Mao suits still win a pass from the liberal media.

3) The Gulf Oil Hysteria. We were told that aquatic life in the Gulf of Mexico would be ruined for generations. Offshore drilling in general was now to become obsolete and synonymous with environmental catastrophe. Drilling was stopped in the gulf. Prophets of doom assured us of the scary Exxon Valdez comparisons. And yet life returned to normal, without much discussion of the absence of permanent damage or why the horror stories proved not so horrific.

4) The Great Obama Flip-Flop. For over a year of hope and change, we were told by Obama that renditions, preventative detentions, and tribunals were anti-constitutional, that Guantanamo was synonymous with a gulag, that Iraq was lost, that Predators were a sort of airborne terror, that KSM and other terrorist killers should be tried in civilian courts — and what happened? Suddenly the world was turned upside down and what was once bad was now tolerable. And not a whimper about why, just the quiet assumption of “that was then, this is now.”

5) The Europe-America Cool-Off. Europe wanted Obama, got Obama, and now its elites are quietly whispering: “Why did you fulfill our childish wishes?” Europe always talks left and anti-American, but silently expects American defense for its own protection, an open economy for its free-trade exports, and our free enterprise private sector to lift the world economy. Now it is being out-Europed by Obama. It is worried that the new U.S. is going to adopt a failed EU socialist model, ignore human rights, cut realpolitik deals with Russia or China, prune its overseas stature, print money, spread debt, substitute UN multiculturalism for the Atlantic alliance, and trumpet a “Pacific president.” There is only room for one Europe, not two — as Europe is learning.

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Dead Souls

November 14th, 2010 - 8:09 am

Millions of us shuffle around, sighing that most of what we hear pounded into our brains is either banal or as untrue as it is dangerous to identify it as such. So we ignore it, we the dead souls who live in the world of unmentionable thoughts.

The world of banality

Here is a daily inanity: “The great majority of Muslims are moderates,” and its ancillary: “Only a tiny percentage of Muslims are terrorists.” Both are true, but they have value as admonishments only if there were a widespread Western effort to demonize Islam and persecute Muslims, or we knew that mass destruction required millions of conventional troops. But neither is true.

Last year anti-Semitic hate crimes far outnumbered attacks in America on Muslims.

Let us do some hypothetical math to suggest a small minority can be a very great worry. If the common referent of 1 billion Muslims in the world is roughly accurate, and if there are only, say, 10% of the number who are rather radical in their beliefs (e.g., the tens of millions in places like Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia), we may be talking only about 100 million Muslims who are indifferent to speaking out against terrorism (we saw that reflected in a number of polls after 9/11 tracking public opinion in the Middle East, in which only a quarter to a third of the respondents had a positive opinion of Bin Laden or the tactic of suicide bombing.)

And further if, of that 10% /100 million subset, only one in ten is actually sympathetic, or willing to offer aid, to terrorists, and if, among that population of about 10 million, another one in ten actually wishes to commit terrorist acts, then we would have 1 million Muslims worldwide to watch out for — or one in a thousand Muslims that might cause some worry.

In that context, I ‘d prefer the other banality “not all Muslims are terrorists, but most of today’s global terrorists are Muslims”— given that terrorism of the age requires very few zealots. The miniscule .1% of the Muslim community as potential terrorists is quite a lot, given we never hear of the size of the pool from which we are postulating.

No military solution!

I heard this banality four times this week on the air and at two lectures: “There is no military solution!”

Well, yeah, of course, you cannot bomb or blow up your way to democracy in Iraq or Afghanistan. But who ever embraced that straw man as the sole answer in our ongoing wars?

The fact is that in both theaters only military action can demoralize the terrorists and insurgents enough to back off to allow ongoing diplomacy and so-called nation-building to proceed.

Iraq is fairly stable not just because of constitutional reform and Ryan Crocker’s inspired diplomacy or Gen. Petraeus’s brilliant efforts to assure civilians hope and safety, but also because the U.S. military and the Sons of Iraq in the Anbar Awakening annihilated vast cadres of al-Qaeda and radical Sunni terrorists.

The history of war suggests gridlocked conflicts evolve to diplomatic solutions once one side fears losing or at least sees it cannot win. The banality of “there is no military solution” among today’s elites has become synonymous with either “we are losing” or “we want out.”

The unmentionables

Then there are the unmentionables that we dead souls carry around as well. All matters that even touch on race are good examples. The California papers are now heralding that the state’s schools have a majority of Hispanic students. But while that is good news to liberals who seem to see race as essential not incidental to larger society, it raises then some very uncomfortable corollaries for reporters — such as, is there any connection to why California’s once top-flight public schools have fallen to near dead last in test scores, given millions of non-English speakers?

Answers are offered in our major newspapers this week along the following lines. We are told in these articles that only 40% of Latino parents can vote (= if they could vote, would schools change for the better? And why did parents not take action to qualify to vote? And did not they already vote — with their feet — by the very fact they fled their homes to risk something entirely alien in the north?)

In order not to address those questions, an “expert” is introduced into the article to reference school board elections where noncitizens might vote (= if one does not follow the law, change it!). We are next reminded in these reports that few parents speak fluent English. Presto! — another PhD is found to suggest that rather than illegal aliens learning English, California should learn Spanish (= if a century and a half of custom is bothersome, drop the custom).

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California’s Assorted Rocks and Hard Places

November 11th, 2010 - 5:19 pm

News came out on Thursday that the California budget deficit is actually closer to $25 billion, twice what we are told. This follows from last year’s $42 billion shortfall, which was closed by all sorts of one-time tax increases and gimmicks. Here is our general dilemma in a nutshell.

Taxes

Fact one: California has among the highest taxes in the nation, over 10% on top incomes, and about 9.5% that hits earners when they get above $47,000.

Sales taxes, depending on the county, average close to 10%. The result is that thousands (the exact number is unclear, perhaps between 2,000 and 3,500) of more affluent Californians are leaving the state each week for low- or no-tax states. Raise income taxes or sales taxes or gas taxes higher, and there will be a stampede. Note that property tax rates are not singularly that high in comparison to other states. Yet that fact is of little help since our assessments are often astronomical (given that we like to live on the coast and then, once there, ensure others cannot).

The apparent solution for now is to slap one- or two-year higher taxes on vehicle registration (sky-high), or issue fees to use state facilities, or to hike tuition at public colleges and universities (still cheap in comparison to private counterparts).

State Employees

Fact two: we have among the highest compensated state employees and teachers in the United States, with singularly powerful public employee unions. (I was governed by one for 21 years: professors at the closed-shop CSU were forced to pay union dues — even if we were not in the union, and objected to the union’s efforts to end merit pay and accountability and to ensure near universal tenure).

Yet in many categories we need more state employees to attend to basic services. But we cannot since the state operates a sort of caste system in which we pay so much to the entrenched that we cannot afford to hire more numerous entry-level workers. (Part-time PhDs at the CSU system make Wal-Mart greeters seem privileged in comparison). This is regrettable, because we tend to reward the superannuated and simply write off the younger and idealistic. An entire cohort of young California credentialed teachers and college graduates in general are in limbo, stuck in low-paying part-time jobs for the foreseeable future that won’t pay the interest on their student loans.

The Refined Classes

Fact three: a particular class, largely coastal, professional, and liberal, believes utopia is nearly here, if we just impose more regulation, higher taxes on businesses, and more environmental legislation. They have not a clue how others pump oil or gas, grow food, and produce lumber, only that they like driving, like eating, and like nice houses, but are not particularly interested in the grubby Neanderthals who allow that to happen.

So in times of near depression voters insist on stringent global warming/carbon emission laws, and keep adding regulations that hamper rather than encourage wealth creation. (Note: the more regulations we impose, the more they are ignored and the more lawless we become. Here in rural California, it is now common to see instant restaurants on the roadside: no septic systems, food preparation trailers plopped down with canopies, picnic tables, and plastic chairs, without the scrutiny that struggling restaurants put up with. Ditto instant hardware stores out on rural intersections where everything from new rakes to gas rototillers are peddled: no sales taxes, no questions, just a quick sale and on to the next location).

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Stay Worried

November 6th, 2010 - 11:19 pm

Economics 101

What worries me about President Obama is really one general issue: his very concrete enjoyment of the good life as evidenced by his golf outings, Martha’s Vineyard vacations, and imperial entourages that accompany him abroad, and yet his obvious distrust of the private sector and the success of the wealthy. Yet my discomfort here is not even one that arises from an obvious hypocrisy of, say, a Michelle on the 2008 campaign trail lecturing the nation about its meanness or her own previous lack of pride in her country, juxtaposed with her taste for the publicly provided rarefied enjoyments of a Costa del Sol hideaway at a time of recession.

No, my worries run deeper. Apparently, the president is unaware that after some 2,500 years of both experience with and abstract thought about Western national economies, we know that a free, private sector increases the general wealth of a nation, while a statist redistributive state results in a general impoverishment of the population. At the root of that truth is simple human nature — that people wish to further their own interest more fervently than the more abstract public good (e.g., why the renter does not wash the rental car, or why the public restroom is treated differently from its counterpart at home), and can be encouraged to invent, create, and discover which in turn helps the less fortunate, lucky, healthy, or talented.

Texas or California?

We all accept, of course, that the question is not one of a laissez-faire, unchecked robber baron arena, versus a Marxist-Leninist closed economy, but rather in a modern Western liberal state the finer line between a Greece and a Switzerland, or a California and a Texas.

In the former examples, the desire to achieve an equality of result through high taxes, generous public employment, and lavish entitlements destroys incentive in two directions — creating dependency on the part of the more numerous recipients of government largess, and despair among the smaller but more productive sector that sees the fruits of its labor redistributed to others — with all the obligatory state rhetoric about greed and social justice that legitimizes such transfers.

In the latter examples, an equality of opportunity allows citizens to create wealth and capital on the assurances that the incentives for personal gain and retention of profits will result in greater riches for all.

Neither Baron nor Insect

We in America more or less understood that dichotomy, and so neither idolized a Bill Gates or Warren Buffett with titles like count, lord, or baron, nor demonized them with revolutionary spite (i.e., “insect,” “enemy of the people,” or even “greedy” and “selfish”). Instead, we assumed that Buffett had enriched his investors and more or less could not possibly use all the vast billions he accumulated (he, in fact, lived rather modestly and much of his treasure will probably end up in the Gates Foundation). One way or another, it was worth having Microsoft Word with the expectation that the zillionaire Bill Gates’ shower is still no hotter than ours, and his private jet goes not much faster than our own cut-rate Southwest Airlines flights. All that seems simple enough — until now.

So, again, what troubles me is that the president seems unaware of this old divide — that what allowed the pre-presidential Obamas, respectively, to make quite a lot of money as a legislator, author, professor, lawyer, or hospital representative was a vibrant private sector that paid taxes on profits that fueled public spending and employment or made possible an affluent literary and legal world. All that was contingent upon the assurance that an individual would have a good chance of making a profit and keeping it in exchange for incurring the risk of hiring employees and buying new equipment.

Grows on Trees?

Instead, Obama seems to think that making money is a casual enterprise, not nearly so difficult as community organizing, and without the intellectual rigor of academia — as if profits leap out of the head of Zeus. I say that not casually or slanderously, but based on the profile of his cabinet appointments, his and his wife’s various speeches relating Barack Obama’s own decision to shun the supposed easy money of corporate America for more noble community service in Chicago, and a series of troubling ad hoc, off-the-cuff revealing statements like the following:

As a state legislator Barack Obama lamented the civil rights movement’s reliance on the court system to ensure equality-of-result social justice rather than working through legislatures, which were the “actual coalition of powers through which you bring about redistributive change.” To Joe Wurzelbacher, he breezily scoffed that “my attitude is that if the economy’s good for folks from the bottom up, it’s gonna be good for everybody. I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.” When Charlie Gibson pressed presidential candidate Obama on his desire to hike capital gains taxes when historically such policies have decreased aggregate federal revenue, a startled Obama insisted that the punitive notion, not the money, was the real issue: “Well, Charlie, what I’ve said is that I would look at raising the capital gains tax for purposes of fairness.” And as President Obama, again in an off-handed matter, he suggested that the state might have an interest on what individuals make: “I mean, I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.”

In other words, for most of his life Barack Obama has done quite well without understanding how and why American capital is created, and has enjoyed the lifestyle of the elite in the concrete as much as in the abstract he has questioned its foundations. Does he finally see that the threat of borrowing huge amounts to grow government to redistribute income through higher taxes risks greater impoverishment for all of us, despite the perceived “fairness”? That suspicion alone explains why those with trillions of dollars are sitting on the sidelines despite low interest, low inflation, and a rebounding global economy. In short, millions of profit-makers believe not only will it be harder to make a profit, but far less of it will remain their own— and all the while the president will deprecate the efforts of those who simply wish do well for themselves. With proverbial friends like those, who needs enemies?

Until that mindset changes and can be seen by the public to change, the recession will not so easily end.

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What the Election Was Not About

November 3rd, 2010 - 7:24 pm

1. Communication—As If You Would Have Liked My Agenda Had You Just Been More Informed

President Obama’s postmortem press conference was a near disaster. He seemed subdued, but also sometimes petulant—still convinced that we, in fear and distrust, “lashed out” in anger at the doctor rather than the disease. In fact, the same voter furor that turned on him is, he thinks, what earlier elected him: only his failure to channel it properly explains the setback. Finally he did admit that he was “shellacked,” but he believes that partisanship confused us voters into shellacking him.

This common complaint that he failed to communicate just how wonderfully he had done is quite an unhinged Carteresque/Kerryesque exegesis. The problem was not that the American voter did not know about the second stimulus, ObamaCare, the efforts to push cap and trade, card check, and $3 trillion more in debt, but that he knew them all too well. When framed by 10% unemployment, slow growth, record food stamp usage, and home foreclosures, the problem was, again, too much, rather than too little, information. Obama was overexposed, not underexposed. The more he communicated on the campaign trail—“back seat,” “enemies,”“they” don’t want you to vote—the more the jaded voter turned from his cause. I fear very few will now listen to the new Obama in extremis calling for a new civility of the sort he helped destroy with his offensive and polarizing slurs and smears the last month.

2. We Spent Too Little?

Given what we know of the models of Spain, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and California, we should not take seriously another lunatic explanation that we did not borrow enough. Supposedly Obama followed the conservative Japanese route of the 1990s and thus was too fiscally restrained. This is more than insane. Increasing government spending on the way to a planned 40% of the economy, while borrowing $3 trillion was not timid. The real reason Obama turned a recession into a near depression? Let us count the ways: a) He trash-talked business (from the Chrysler creditor mess to the “at some point I do think you’ve made enough money” toss-off) into stasis, and the private sector now sits on the sidelines hoarding trillions of dollars in fear of ObamaCare, more regulation, and government confiscation.

b) His team talked non-stop about raising taxes—income taxes, payroll taxes, capital gains taxes, inheritance taxes, health care taxes, even VAT taxes. Psychologically that frightened off investors and entrepreneurs.

c) The government wasted the borrowed stimulus money on pork-barrel projects and spread-the-wealth social programs that produced no real wealth.

d) His advisory team simply quit and left town—Emanuel, Romer, Summers, Orszag—more or less confirming that they did not ever know quite what they were doing.

e) He wasted millions of legislative hours on health care that terrified employers, and very little on incentives to businesses to create jobs. I could go on, but you get the point that Obama supposedly not following the Greek mega-borrowing model was not our problem. (By the way, for all its innate crises, Japan still is in far better shape today than Italy, Spain, and Greece).

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