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How Did All That Happen?

December 28th, 2010 - 8:26 am

The Improbables

There are a number of improbables, anomalies, paradoxes, ironies, absurdities — call them what you wish – on the national scene that simply defy reason. We usually fault an ignorant media as culpable for creating narratives that have no basis in fact and yet are rarely questioned. Here are some of the glaring examples and you decide how the unlikely became the gospel.

1. How did 20-minutes-of-fame Julian Assange construct the façade of an idealistic crusading electronic muckraker?

He seems much more likely a part P.T. Barnum showman/part celebrity narcissist. While promising to embarrass a number of banks and capitalist CEOs, he just contracted for $1.7 million in book deal advances — after enjoying his house “arrest” at the mansion of a supportive aristocrat, and after protesting the unwanted fame that has come his way rather than to be shared among the WikiLeaks board.

Assange talks of absolute transparency as an ipso facto virtue, but is shocked that his own protocols of leaking now are turned on himself — as we learn from preliminary legal leaks that he is a sexual cad at best, and more likely a creepy sort of honey-tongued predator. Amid his jet-set Westernized odysseys — predicated on the bounty and security of U.S.-European culture — Assange was certainly not too eager to root out and leak to us many state secrets from Russia, China, or Iran. What would we think of Assange had he given credit to his team at WikiLeaks; globe-trotted in Africa, the Middle East, China, and Russia to inform the world about Mugabe, Chinese plans toward Tibet, Ahmadinejad’s nuke project, or Putin’s attack on dissidents; or donated his profits to dissidents?

2. When did global warming so easily get away with becoming “climate change”? With record winter low temperatures again this year in Europe, and similar freezing weather in the U.S., we are given a number of contorted exegeses from climatologists and green activists that, in fact, argue terrible cold is proof of global warming. One wonders: if it were now 80 degrees in New York or dry and 70 degrees in London, would we be told such unseasonable heat was not an artifact, but likewise  real proof of climate change?

Philology usually is a good barometer of ideology: when global warming became climate change and now is evolving to “climate chaos,” you can see a case study in deductive thinking, as symptoms are fudged to conform to a preexisting diagnosis. Circular reasoning also is characteristic: we convince the coal-devouring and nuclear-producing Chinese that there is a soon to be big (Western-subsidized) global market for wind turbines and solar panels, given the spread of Gorism among Western elites and grandees, then we frighten Americans that the Chinese will soon capture the entire “green” market that we fostered unless we … (fill in the cap and trade / green subsidy-grant blanks).

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Illegal Immigration, Race, and Chauvinism

There is nothing about illegal immigration that should ipso facto involve matters of race, culture or ethnicity, given that it is a legal issue at heart. I think the great majority of opponents of open borders would be equally worried should 12 million illegal immigrants come here from a now bankrupt Ireland, Greece, or Portugal. That an illegal alien from a European country would claim my allegiance or empathy on the basis of ethnic solidarity would have zero currency.

So for most of us, the question is primarily a legal one — if federal statutes are not followed, what sanctity is left in the law itself? I am reminded of that classic exchange between Crito and Socrates, when the former urges the latter to break out of jail, disobey the law and its death sentence, and ignore what they both feel was an unfair verdict. Socrates, inter alia, reminds Crito that the individual cannot pick and choose his own level of compliance with those statutes he finds distasteful or inconvenient.

That is not to say that race hasn’t become inevitably intertwined throughout the discussion. Ruben Navarrette, Jr., on these PJM pages, cited some distasteful animal metaphors used in the context of illegal immigration by a number of officials and would-be officials that clearly cross the line of common decency. These, I think, are not the norm, but Navarrette is right nevertheless they must be condemned as reckless and thinly veiled racist speech.

By the same token, however, much of the amnesty movement itself resorts to tribal chauvinism and has turned the issue of sovereignty and illegality into an implied threat: either grant the DREAM Act or face the consequences of bloc voting in the future — as if all Latinos will think and act similarly, and one issue will adjudicate a voter’s electoral menu.

Note for example a recent essay on the eve of the DREAM Act by Rep. Luis Gutierrez:

A million more eligible young Latino voters will be in play by the time votes are cast in 2012. In every state of the union, they are becoming the newest voting constituents of every Senator and Congressman. Do you think they will forget who voted for and against the DREAM Act in two years? What about the two million newly eligible voters in four years? Believe me when I tell you they will remember who fought for — and against — deporting their sisters, cousins, best friends, boyfriends, and teammates. … This generation of immigrants — like every generation before them in U.S. history — will become citizens and voters eventually. In the meantime, their neighbors, friends, and families are already citizens and voters and more are reaching voting age each day. They are writing down their naughty and nice lists this Christmas in pen, not pencil, and will remember what you give them this Christmas for a very, very long time.

Follow the disturbing logic that ignores principle and focuses on raw self-interest: either grant amnesty on my terms to some of those who are here illegally or we are going to punish you as enemies (perhaps channeling the president’s own election-eve characterization) at the polls.

Note also the unfortunate ethnic appeal of Gutierrez: he does not argue for the bill on the merits that pertain to all illegal aliens per se (e.g., whether Chinese or Somali) but instead on the basis of racial affinities, as in “young Latinos” and their “sisters, cousins, best friends, boyfriends, and teammates.”

One wonders, would Rep. Gutierrez be so animated an advocate for DREAM-Act amnesty should the matter had involved, say, hundreds of thousands of Asian illegal aliens? And if not, why not? And are we to believe all Latino-American youth must naturally put aside concerns about the law and make those worries secondary to ethnic solidarity? Do we really wish each constituency in America to see shared problems in terms of our own ethnic “sisters, cousins, best friends, boyfriends and teammates” — or, in the recent racist appeals of a Rep. Loretta Sanchez, to vote according to ethnic heritages?

Finally, Gutierrez offers a disturbing racialist snide remark with: “I see a delightful — and at times challenging — spark of hope in the spirit of the young people fighting for this bill, whether it would help them directly or not. It is a remarkable counter-example to the stereotype of Facebook and Game Boy addicted youth who are thought to be apathetic about their nation, her laws, and society at large.”

I think Gutierrez’s implication is that those Latinos who are fighting for DREAM Act amnesty are in marked contrast with the rest of American youth (mostly non-Hispanic?) that in his view are apathetically addicted to Facebook and Game Boy and thus lack Gutierrez’s admirable notion of ethnic solidarity. But then note how Orwellian his rant becomes: he characterizes those youth not supporting veritable disobedience to federal law as “apathetic … about her laws.” In contrast, does not residing for years as an illegal alien constitute being “apathetic” about America’s “laws”?

Most illegal aliens simply left Mexico for a better life in the United States, mostly on word of mouth that there was very little enforcement of immigration law, work was plentiful, and prospects were far brighter than in Mexico. Most do not wish to go back to Mexico, understanding that while Mexico is a naturally rich country, it operates on political and economic principles that do not ensure wealth, security, and dignity for its own, at least in the manner of the United States.

Unfortunately a shrill elite finds, as Rep. Gutierrez implied, political capital in framing legal issues in terms of race and ethnic solidarity. In that context, they are the mirror image of those who in thinly veiled racial terms demonize illegal aliens.

One, for example, can still go onto a MEChA website and find separatist racial chauvinism. If most of the sites have been scrubbed of the old nonsense about a brown state for a brown people and “everything for the race” nonsense, enough remains to disturb:

  • MEChA must bring to the mind of every young Chicana and Chicano that the liberation of her/his people from prejudice and oppression is in her/his hands and this responsibility is greater than personal achievement and more meaningful than degrees, especially if they are earned at the expense of her/his identity and cultural integrity. MEChA, then, is more than a name; it is a spirit of unity, of sisterhood and brotherhood, and a resolve to undertake a struggle for liberation in society where justice is but a word. MEChA is a means to an end …
  • The Mexican-American (Hispanic) is a person who lacks respect for his/her cultural and ethnic heritage. Unsure of her/himself, she/he seeks assimilation as a way out of her/his “degraded” social status. Consequently, she/he remains politically ineffective. In contrast, Chicanos reflects self-respect and pride on one’s ethnic and cultural background. Thus, the Chicana/o acts with confidence and with a range of alternatives in the political world. She/he is capable of developing an effective ideology through action.

This message of “cultural integrity” and opposition to assimilation is not just rehashed sixties braggadocio, but again jumps out on the opening pages of such websites. It gets much worse from the racist La Voz of Aztlan, an extremist and marginal publication where one can read of real hatred and talk of “gringo dollars” — in addition to the most overt anti-Semitism imaginable, on par with the Klan’s anti-Jewish diatribes.

Even some mainstream Latino groups for some reason still cling to racialist terminology, as in the National Council of La Raza. In another Orwellian example, it arbitrarily has announced that raza simply does not mean what raza means (e.g., race, from Latin radix). But no one would find that assertion believable anywhere in the Spanish speaking world.

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2011 Politically-Incorrect Resolutions

December 19th, 2010 - 1:29 pm

The Pride of Solvency

I think the American people are not only scared of collective state and national debt, but sick of it as well. I mean by that abhorrence in the psychological sense—of reading that their governments are broke, of seeing public fraud and waste daily, of realizing that as they pay down their own private debts after 2007, so too they believe their governments could as well. Solvency has now become a matter of national pride.

Much of the elite trumpeting of “decline” and a “new multipolar world” and the “end of the American influence” derives from collective depression over owing $13 trillion in national debt, over seeing the Chinese posture with their trillions in American notes, over being typecast abroad as a spendthrift, out-of-control profligate culture. In other words, if my hunch is right, there is going to be increasing public pressure to balance budgets and pay off debt. Bill Clinton, fairly or not, remains popular today—despite the philandering, Monica, the disgraceful pardons, the serial petit corruption, and the unacknowledged role of a stingy Republican Congress after 1994—because as president he oversaw a few balanced budgets.

The desire for solvency will only grow even as we start to see progress: the more government is restrained from spending, the more we will want it to cut back even more. Too often we talk of debt in terms of GDP percentages, of only reducing the size of the deficit, rarely of simply balancing the budget in real dollars and paying down aggregate debt to ensure surpluses—if only for the psychological effect on a depressed populace. The first governor of California to achieve a balanced budget without raising the nation’s highest sales and income taxes will achieve celebrity status; the first one to cut the income tax to 8% and the sales to 7% and balance the books will be deified.


I think the American people are ready for a radical break with the sixties past and would welcome an end to multilingualism in government messaging, voting materials, documents, etc. It is not just that receiving documents in the mail in duplicate or even triplicate, or being put on telephonic hold while another language starts up, is wasteful, but such repetition contributes to error and misinterpretation. What helps some in theory, hurts most in fact. There is also a growing collective feeling that creating a climate in which one can function without learning English is divisive, promotes sectarianism, and ultimately is deleterious to the non-English speaker. In private, please learn and use ten languages, from modern Greek to Mandarin; in government commerce and transaction, try English.

English only in matters of government communications would promote unity, save billions in government administrative costs, improve the employment skill sets of the immigrant, and remind our increasingly diverse body politic that we are committed to a single language. Bottom line: we have had over thirty years of separate but equal linguistic policy; it has been a dismal failure in causing unnecessary expense and confusion for the majority, disunity for all, and balkanization and second-class status for the minority speakers. It is time to go back to a single language before we start to resemble Europe around 600 AD when Latin broke down and a multiplicity of languages emerged in the general chaos.

The Problem is the Student—not the teacher, school, or administrator

We hear the usual reasons why our public schools are failing: poor schoolroom facilities, top-heavy administrative costs, teacher incompetence and unions, education department tyranny, and feel-good, “I-am-somebody” therapeutic curricula. All these pathologies surely conspire to thwart learning. As a professor for twenty-one years, who usually teaches somewhere each year as a visiting professor, I can attest to such contributory factors. But all that said, I think our greatest problem is simply today’s student and the familial environment that has produced him.

I went to largely Hispanic and impoverished elementary schools from 1959-67. The teachers, by today’s standards, were probably insensitive and unduly harsh. None of those classrooms had any of the glitz we see today. In September and May the non-air-conditioned rooms were often over 90 degrees. I can remember our second grade class was 44, with 5 folding chairs that we rotated in and out of, given the absence of desks. Instruction was mostly by rote, with ruler slaps for poor cursive penmanship. Art class consisted mostly of “drawing” in the sense that to the degree the finished product did not resemble what the eye sees, so we were berated for “bad” work. I could go on, but you get the picture.

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Straws and the Camel’s Back

At some point in late 2010 once optimistic independent voters, moderate Republicans, and centrist Democrats stopped listening. They abruptly concluded that their 2008 Barack Obama proved not to be the great uniter, the great communicator, and the greater humanist who was to bring the country together around “centrist” values.

At about the same time, a once ecstatic liberal base began to worry that President Obama was not the brilliant postracial social organizer, the brilliant progressive explicator, and the brilliant big government architect who would take a center-right country with him hard to the left.

Stop it, Toto!

The result has been a sort of political implosion, the proverbial “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” moment when the omnipotent wizard’s face projected on the screen becomes exposed as a rather frightened Frank Morgan, busy with levers and gears—or, in our morality play, a deer-in-the-headlights Barack Obama relieved to sub out his White House press room to a designated president Bill Clinton at last back on his home turf.

In a number of ways, we can see how the Obama administration has been reduced to a sort of virtual administration. The messianic spell of 2008 ended with the largest midterm rebuke since 1938. Whereas in 2009 it was considered racist for a conservative to question the president’s wisdom at a Tea Party rally, by 2010 Democratic congressional representatives were vying with each other to find creative ways of using the F-word to belittle the president. Since his inauguration, the president has lost a point in the polls about every three weeks of his presidency, without much deviation.

There is little presidential stature left. When Barack Obama addresses the Sen. minority leader as “Mike” McConnell or claims the U.S. motto is e pluribus unum rather than “In God We Trust,” this is by now a non-news story—not after “57 states” or “corpse-men” or Austrian-speaking Austrians. Proclaiming that at some point individuals have made enough money raises no eyebrows either—not after “spread the wealth,” “redistributive change,” and claiming that the purpose of capital gains tax hikes was not to increase federal revenue but to ensure “fairness.” If the president were to go on another riff about “fat cat bankers,” limb-lopping surgeons, or Vegas junkets, eyes would roll—in the manner that today’s students start text messaging when their aging 60s hold-over professors keep ranting about Halliburton. Martha’s Vineyard and Costa del Sol helped see to that.

Been there, done that

An Obama speech echoing boilerplate themes such as “there are no red states, there are no blue states” today simply could not be given—the laughing in the audience would be far too much. After Eric Holder’s “cowards” outburst, the beer summit, Van Jones, the slurs against Arizona, and the video appeals targeted at particular racial groups, the public takes for granted that a Rev. Wright, the clingers speech, “typical white person,” and Michelle’s angst (e.g., “downright mean country,” “never been proud,” “raise the bar,” etc.) were disturbing premonitions rather than rightwing racialist paranoias.

For a while, “working across the aisle” delivered in mellifluous tones assured millions that their soon-to-be president had not compiled the most partisan voting record in the U.S. Senate (to the left of the nation’s only self-avowed socialist senator). Now? We yawn when Obama goes off on Republicans as “enemies” who cannot sit in the front seat of the car. Chicago-style target the enemy has gone from shocking to de rigueur to banal for this president.

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Now What?

December 12th, 2010 - 10:12 am

“What do we do now?”

– Robert Redford as Bill McKay, in the 1972 film, The Candidate*

We still remember a messianic Barack Obama criss-crossing all 57 states promising “millions of new green jobs” and to “close Guantanamo.” Those pre-September 15, 2008, days were heady times, the apex of doctrinaire postmodern liberalism without the responsibility of governance. Most of us then had never really heard of a teleprompter and were mesmerized by someone who could look out at us with instant impromptu recall of fact after fact — and in such eloquent fashion.

Remember how, with 19th-century monument backdrops or faux Greek columns, Obama rattled off the most honey-tongued panaceas at hundreds of “hope and change,” “this is our moment” revival hours. He lifted millions in Rev. Wright cadences without the nuttiness — and with plenty of advice to paramedics to attend to the fainting and collapsed. But the message? It was not unlike an Ivy League graduate student with his hand perpetually up in the seminar room, blurting out answers to questions before the professor could ask them. (Obamania reminded me of a farmers’ market shopper who once asked me what a “raisin plant” was and then inquired whether they would grow in Santa Cruz.)

War on terror? Easy, just shut down Guantanamo, end renditions and tribunals, pull out of Iraq, and prune back predator drones and other anti-constitutional and unnecessary Bush transgressions. Hadn’t we seen Redacted or Rendition? Wanting something to end, and being the right sort to want something to end, surely were to be synonymous with something ending.

Financial panic? At some point all those Wall Street greedy types that had enriched both the McCain and (to a greater degree) the Obama campaigns would realize that they had already made enough money, and they could either hand over what they owed us, or be socialized and recreated into working at the ministry of investment. Only in Obamaworld do the Peter Orszags among us never go into government briefly in order to revolve out to work for Citibank in Robert Rubin, insider, zillions-to-be-made style.

Tension in the world? No problem: reset diplomacy, talk to Ahmadinejad, reach out to Putin, lean on Israel, charm Assad or Chavez, start talking about Islamophobia and Western neglect of the real positive contributions of Islam. Presto, terrorists are reminded that our president’s middle name is Hussein and they desist. Enemies realize Bush is gone, and that a secretary-general sort is the new president of a flipped America. Peace reigns. Obama wins the Nobel Prize. Now we can finally heal the planet, as we quit trying to steal Iraq’s oil and enrich Halliburton.

Health care? Bring back HillaryCare but this time with “smart” changes and a competent salesman. As Obama advised worried congressional Democrats, this time around they had Obama as point man, or, as he sometimes bragged, “Just give me the ball.” He envisioned himself (literally) as Lebron James soaring to dunk, his congressional lackeys the uncoordinated nerdy cheerboys who would share in his reflected glory.

Eco-change? What better point man that a hip Van Jones, a bit further on the edge than Barack Obama, to shake down corporations for cap and trade and a vast new technocracy staffed by Ivy League green overseers and “millions of new (federal) green jobs”? Remember, the ooh/aah quote from Valerie Jarret about Van: “We’ve been watching him for a long time.”

I’ll stop. You get the picture: the grad students were going to run the campus and so instead of offshore drilling we were going to get properly inflated tires.

Not being Bush

Millions in commerce, journalism, academia, and the arts not only supported, but invested their careers in this adolescent world of Obama, to such a degree that tens of millions of others felt that they had to buy a pet rock or feel they had missed out on a “first-class temperament.”

Obama, now the “god” who, to paraphrase Sappho, sent his enthralled into tingling ecstasy, was an almost perfect liberal receptacle: half black with the ability to metamorphosize in bearing and cadence depending on the audience, young, charismatic, suitably Ivy League certified, on the edge with his Chicago organizing, but not on the edge with his Harvard Law Review fides, a non-socialist with a voting record to the left of the Senate’s only declared socialist — and free of any accomplishment, with lacunae instead of a resume, the largely empty vessel into which liberals could pour all their own pet utopian nostrums that usually Americans ignore.

You can see how Obama won. Yes, we know that 2008 was an orphaned election without an incumbent. The novelty of our first black president won 96 percent of the black vote and appealed to millions of affluent whites, youth, and minorities. The September 15 meltdown destroyed the McCain lead. McCain himself campaigned as if he wished to lose nobly in Ajaxian style. The media decided it had to ensure this once-in-a-lifetime gift, and joined rather than monitored Obama.

But there was more than that. Behind all this was our occasional but inevitable rendezvous (about every 30 or so years?) with this guilty liberal creed that the very system that has enriched and freed our society in ways unheard of elsewhere or in civilization’s past — free market capitalism under the aegis of republican government — is in itself pathological. In short, America has for so long become so free and so wealthy, we have institutionalized this periodic indulgence to fret that we weren’t free or affluent at all, or at least everyone here wasn’t, or that our exceptionalism came only on the backs of others, or that it was unsustainable and doomed. We go from worrying that those with cell phones and SUVs are about to kill each other over Xboxes and big-screen TVs in Black Friday rush shopping sprees to sermons that these exploited have no money to pay the electric bill to power all the gadgetry up the next day.

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Liberal Math

December 6th, 2010 - 12:40 pm

I grew up in a Democratic household. The talk at the family dinner table in the early sixties, to the degree it touched on politics, concerned the minimum wage, 40-hour work week, overtime pay, civil rights, disability insurance, or bond money for school construction and teacher training. In other words, it was a sort of “level the playing field” to ensure equality of opportunity.

I don’t recall discussions about the evils of American foreign policy, racial quotas, drug legalization, open borders and amnesty, the need for gay marriage, or abortion on demand. I do remember the national spokesmen whom we were supposed to admire — Pat Brown, Harry Truman, Hubert Humphrey — did not look or act like John Edwards or John Kerry.

Now one can argue that the seeds of the present Democratic desire for an imposed equality of result, embraced by a Howard Dean or Nancy Pelosi, is but the logical evolution from the old Democratic square deal. But there is a difference as well. In those days, except for the Kennedys, liberalism was not synonymous with big money and the desire for the elite lifestyle. These days it is and it makes it hard for liberals to square their abstraction with reality. Very wealthy people seek to be exempt from the regulations and taxes they impose on the middle classes on behalf of the poor they studiously avoid. I thought of all that when reviewing some of this week’s news.

Clay Feet

Item: John Kerry was extolling the stimulus effects of unemployment benefits, as in more money returns to the economy for each dollar paid out to the unemployed. If so, why not simply put us all on unemployment benefits and watch the economy grow?

Or perhaps Kerry could advocate a national boat sales tax to collect the sort of revenue that he so carefully had tried to avoid. Or perhaps he might look carefully at zillionaire family trusts and the billions they divert from the strapped federal Treasury. Or perhaps he could take away the tax deductions on third or fourth homes above a certain square footage, maybe ending the deduction for property taxes on multiple homes?

My point? Why do Democrats always go after the orthodontist, electrical contractor, or insurance agency owner, and never the Buffetts, Kerrys, or Gateses? Bill Gates and Warren Buffett will defer more money from the federal Treasury by avoiding inheritance taxes (to channel their profits into their foundations) than all the billions lost this year by keeping tax cuts for small businesses.

Item: Hillary Clinton, a multimillionaire, given her past lucrative books deals and sales, and her husband’s near $100 million in honoraria after a near decade of speaking fees, is now hawking signed DVDs of her convention speech in 2008. Apparently she hopes to pay off her sizable campaign debts that still exceed $9 million.

Questions arise: the Clintons this summer were just negotiating to buy a $11 million Westchester County mansion, despite owning luxurious homes in Washington and New York. (Chelsea’s wedding looked like the opening scene of The Godfather.) Cannot the Clintons defer purchase of such upscale estates until they pay what they owe, since the cost of the estate and the debt owed are about equal?  (I think Harry Truman would have said, “I pay what I owe and I don’t need a mansion.”) Nearly half the total of the campaign debt is also owed to her friend, the liberal pollster Mark Penn. Cannot he let some of his old debts be done with, especially since his poor advice and performance helped sink her campaign? Is it proper for a sitting secretary of State to hawk DVDs while in office? Given the hundreds of millions raised by liberals in 2008 — given that Obama was the only general election candidate in public campaign financing history to reject public funds and their limitations — cannot left0wing philanthropists cover Hillary’s debt if she is unwilling to give up her Westchester mansion?

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