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Living the Obama Dream

April 24th, 2011 - 8:09 am

Gas Dreams Come True

High energy costs to the Obamites are only unfortunate in terms of overcoming short-term political challenges. Otherwise, they are more or less welcome. That is not a partisan slur, but simply a summary of the 2007-8 Obama team’s view of energy prices — and the 2009-11 uninterest in exploring for new oil. True, we are, as the president says, pumping more oil than ever. But that is only because of prior leases, approved by Clinton and Bush, that have come on line, and the quite spectacular — and unexpected — oil finds in the North Dakota Bakken fields.

If one were to collate Obama’s campaign rhetoric (bad coal companies would be “bankrupt” under his envisioned cap and trade plans, energy prices would “sky-rocket”) with that of Secretary Chu’s (“somehow” American gas prices should climb to European levels; we should be worried about our abundant fossil fuel resources that can “cook” us), then the present climb to near $5 a gallon gas is what the president and his energy secretary once thought would be salutary — a sort of Europe U.S.A. After all, we Americans in our ridiculous pick-ups and SUVs (remember the president’s advice to the questioner concerned about fuel prices to trade in his gas-guzzler, or perhaps his earlier advice to inflate our tires in lieu of off-shore drilling) sort of got what we deserved.

Just consider all the positives that accrue from climbing prices: Subsidized mass transit (“high-speed rail”) — managed by government and operated by public union employees — becomes more palatable. When fewer people drive, then we are “cooling” the planet and lessening our carbon footprint. Moreover, subsidized wind and solar and “millions of green jobs” are closer to reality. The Volt, not the Yukon, is on the horizon — but, again, only at $5-6 a gallon.

In short, the only reason why Obama brags about record U.S. oil production is for purposes of reelection (otherwise, he would rather borrow to buy Brazilian off-shore finds to help our southern neighbor). We are living the Obama-Chu dream as outlined by both. Again, to quote Secretary Chu, “Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe.”

I think that “somehow” has been reified.

Big Debt, Small Problem

What is so bad about this year’s $1.6 deficit, or the additional $5 trillion in debt piled up by Obama since January 2009? Without the 2010 Tea Party-inspired midterm correction, would Obama today be at all rhetorically concerned about deficits? We lament that such borrowing is unsustainable, but why do we think others would agree? Is not Greece a more equitable, a more livable place in 2011 than in 1990? Instead, look at debt through the Obama prism.

Printing and redistributing more money devalue the currency, and are already leading to increases in inflation: those without capital benefit, those with it find their stash lessened in value.

The decline of the U.S. dollar is an inevitable reflection of a new unexceptional America, one nation among many abroad, with a currency that reflects such a readjusted profile. If it were a question of balancing the budget or expanding federal employment and entitlement payouts, then obviously “people come first.” Record debt means record levels of federal employment and redistributive entitlements. We have now reached a point where half the population pays no income tax. More money was borrowed in February than in all of “Bush did it” 2007. Half the population also receives some sort of federal pay or entitlement. For a quarter of the population, federal money is about their only source of income. Some may vote on the basis of worrying over deficits; but others may vote on the basis of whether checks are cut off and reduced — or instead maintained and increased.

Republicans have leverage to cut spending instead of raising taxes when the deficit is $300 billion; but at $1.6 trillion, tax hikes may be part of any “deal.” Raising taxes in this gorge-the-beast agenda is, of course, good. Compensation is arbitrary, and the government has a moral right to readjust net income, to ensure an equality of result rather than a mere law of the jungle equality of opportunity. In short, learn to love deficits. Greece and Portugal had Germany for back-up, we have the “rich.”

The Logic of Illogical Foreign Policy

An alien from the outer solar system would look at what we see as the confusion, misdirection, irresolution, and disingenuousness of American foreign policy in the Middle East, but conclude instead several clear-cut themes. One, we are suspicious of democracies. Why else would we harangue Israel and complain about the policies that led to a constitutional Iraq — the only two democratic states in the region?

Two, an outsider would also suggest that anti-Americanism is a good thing. Why? The two most anti-American and deadly regimes in the theater, Iran and Syria, both exported terrorists to Iraq, are wrecking Lebanon, wish to destroy Israel, are trying to acquire nuclear weaponry, and slaughter their own. Yet they are precisely the two regimes which we consider most authentic and worthy of reset diplomacy, and thus we apologize to them, promise not to meddle in their countries, and declare their dictators “reformer [s].” In contrast, brutal pro-American dictators, who nonetheless do not exercise the level of violence against their own as do the Iranians and Syrians, are ordered to go — and did. The former two surviving rogue nations bandy about pseudo-words like “revolutionary”; the latter two defunct regimes were simply less flashy, more straight-forward kleptocracies.

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Patient Obama

April 18th, 2011 - 1:52 pm

Last week the president gave a speech on the deficit, rightly trying to convince Americans that it is now beyond unsustainable. Yet his theme was that the Republicans’ attempts to reduce it were cold-hearted, endangering the most vulnerable among us, such as those with Down’s Syndrome, while protecting the proverbial “rich” from commensurate sacrifice. Let us, then, look at Obama, and the context of his speech, as a doctor might a patient.

Symptoms of the Illness

a) Obama just introduced a $3.5 trillion dollar budget with a $1.6 annual deficit — both record numbers. (If worried about debt, why then run up more record debt, if not by design to ensure higher taxes and larger deficit-run government?)
b) Obama ignored so far all the recommendations of his own blue-chip debt committee. (Why appoint an honorific committee that is to be humiliated?)
c) Obama demonized his opponents in precisely the manner that he had earlier warned against, both in his calls for a new civility following the Giffords shooting, and in promising not to demagogue cuts to entitlements in cheap partisan fashion. (Does his entire audience suffer from amnesia?)
d) Obama wants now to raise taxes on the “rich,” though right after the elections he had agreed that these hikes were a bad idea in such uncertain times. (An unwise idea in December is a needed one in April?)
e) Obama warns against shutting down the government in protest of unsustainable debt, though that is precisely what he voted for as a senator in 2006, when the deficit was about 1/5 of what it is now. (A Senator Obama would have been a President Obama’s worst nightmare?)
f) Obama said that neither he nor Warren Buffett needed another tax cut, although Buffett is the second richest man in America, who pays less a percentage of his income than most of those who make above the dreaded $250,000 — and Barack Obama is the country’s most privileged American who pays for virtually none of his own expenses. (The average optometrist really earns like Buffett and has no expenses like Obama?)
g) Obama still talks about ObamaCare, but has given 1,000 exemptions from it, often to those interests who were most for it. (If he exempted the entire state of Maine, could he just do the same for the other 49 and call it a victory?)

Diagnosis of the Malady

a) An erratic, unengaged president is bored with the work part of the job, enjoying far more the golf, attention, influence, and perks (despite not getting a “cool” phone system with a drop-down screen in the Oval Office), and so he simply sleepwalks through his speeches, oblivious to the contradictions he presents. (Who cares if his Libyan misadventure contradicts almost everything he said from 2002-10, since he was already on to Rio and praising Brazil for drilling off-shore in a manner we never would. Life is short, but the job cool.) OR

b) The president is cynical and says whatever he wishes without worry of consequences, because based on the past abyss between laurels and achievement (Harvard Law Review, offer of Chicago Law School tenure, record in the Senate, Nobel Prize, etc.), he feels exempt from scrutiny and audit. Indeed, he expects that he can always “hope and change” or “millions of green jobs” his way out of any rare, nit-picking journalistic follow-up. (A journalist will always declare him a “god” even if speech A nullifies speech B a day later). OR

c) The president says, like most, what he must to be elected and now reelected; Guantanamo, renditions, Iraq, tribunals, Predators, preventative detention, public campaign financing, revolving door politics, earmarks, lobbyists, etc. — these are all just “constructs” without real absolute truth. They are bad or good, depending on the political calculus at any given time — a consideration that changes sometimes hourly. So Obama seems to have discovered that what he said to get elected, or even said two weeks ago, he need not say today again or tomorrow. Polls change, so do talking points. (He also knows that 50% of the citizenry receive some sort of government money; almost 50% pay no income tax; and in February more money was redistributed than collected by the Treasury. Therefore most Americans will stick by him whatever he says — as long as he keeps the money flowing.) OR

d) The president is Machiavellian and, amid his apparent confusion and misdirection, has actually quite adroitly moved the country far to the left since 2009. While his growing number of critics bemoan his inconsistency, disingenuousness, ill-preparedness, contradictions, and lack of persistence, Obama looks only to the fact that the nation in the last 30 months has come to look more like his vision than that of his opponents. (The Left may groan, but they grasp that Obama’s youth, mixed ancestry, charisma, and untraditional candidacy are rare gifts that can advance a once unpopular agenda in a way a McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, or Kerry never could.)

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The Razor’s Edge

April 10th, 2011 - 12:25 pm

California in the Balance.

We calibrate California’s decline by its myriad of paradoxes. The nation’s highest bundle of gas, sales, and income taxes cannot close the nation’s largest annual deficit at $25 billion. Test scores are at the country’s near bottom; teachers’ salaries at the very top. Scores of the affluent are leaving each week; scores of the indigent are arriving. The nation’s most richly endowed state is also the most regulated; the most liberal of our residents are also the most ready to practice apartheid in their Bel Air or Palo Alto enclaves.

We now see highway patrolmen and city police, in the manner of South American law enforcement, out in force. Everywhere they are monitoring, watching, ticketing — no warnings, no margins of error — desperate to earn traffic fines that might feed the state that feeds them. I could go on. But you get the picture that we are living on the fumes of a rich state that our forefathers brilliantly exploited, and now there is not much energy left in the fading exhaust to keep us going.

I see California in terms now of the razor’s edge with disaster not far in either direction. A postmodern affluent lifestyle hangs in the balance here without a margin of error. Let me give some examples.

I drive a lot on the 99 Freeway both northward and southward. (What follows would apply to the 101 as well, or, in fact, to most state “freeways.”) In vast stretches of the 99 it is unchanged from the two lanes when I first began driving in 1969, but now with worse pavement, larger potholes, and treacherous shoulders. Yet the state then had about 20, not 37 million people, and around 12 million licensed drivers, not well over 25 million (and who knows how many unlicensed drivers?). Nonetheless, our ancestors were brilliant sorts, and left us a well-engineered and planned grid that can still handle all sorts of the minor challenges. So on a day of perfect weather, with good drivers, at low traffic hours between 9 and 2, and without ongoing road maintenance or construction, I can make the 190 miles to either Sacramento or Los Angeles in three hours — just as I used to in far older, less reliable cars of thirty years past.

But that is rare these days. You see, there are too many proverbial ifs now. Tamper with just one variable — leave too early or return too late; have some rain or fog; have one of the two lanes shut down for anything from tree trimming to pothole filling; experience one idiot whose lawn-mower or paint sprayer fell out of his open flatbed truck — and the fragile system shuts completely down, creating paralysis for thousands of backed-up drivers. For our generation’s grid to work as it should, we would need three lanes, in good condition, perhaps four — and a pool of drivers who were all trained, licensed, registered, and insured. But you see, we had other priorities and values the last twenty years and so we took for granted the freeways we inherited. So we indulged and as the proverbially obese clogged our arteries.

Consider also regulation. In a vast state of 20 million in 1970 few cared that there were new building code rules and mounting new labor statutes. All sorts of innovative bureaucracies came on line. I remember the mosquito abatement jeeps spraying pools suddenly everywhere to stop mosquito-born disease; the country dog people were out in force checking for licenses and shots on your farm to eradicate even the rumor of rabies. Now fast forward to 37 million residents, with a vast new government superstructure. and we have become both the most and the least regulated. The poor broke highway patrolman sits on the corner, straining his neck to find a cell-phone user who is a sure thing for a $200 hit. Yet he would hardly wish to drive two miles away along a rural pond where a dishwasher is tossed in open daylight — the former involves money and the law-abiding, the latter nothing but all sorts of unimaginable costs and trouble. So the message for the Californian is to toss the refrigerator out in the pond, but don’t dare use that cell phone while waiting for the green light. I rode my bike (idiocy, of course, being defined by doing the same thing as led to catastrophe a month ago) by a cluster of trailers and shacks the other day and quickly surmised that it would take about 10 bureaucratic divisions — EPA, building permit regulators, law enforcement, child protective services, health department, animal control, hazardous waste — to deal with the pathologies apparent to the passing naked eye, and so understood that we must grant the new homesteaders de facto freedom by virtue of their lawlessness, and as compensation try to make more unfree the lawful, whose transgressions are rare as they are lucrative.

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Kingdom of Lies

April 3rd, 2011 - 10:12 am

I am a subject in a kingdom of lies. At 57, I have grown up with decades of untruth — advanced for the purposes of purported social unity, the noble aim of egalitarianism, and the advancement of a cognitive elite in government, journalism, the arts, and the universities.

Alger Hiss really was a communist operative, albeit an elegant and snooty sort of one. The Rosenbergs were tag-team spies. Noble Laureate Rigoberta Menchu did not really write her own memoir. I admire the lives of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, even as I sensed there were large areas of their biographies that simply could not be disclosed and that the censorship was apparently for our own good. I know that if I did what Eliot Spitzer did I would not be hosting a TV show.

I did not quite know how “witch hunt” characterized the often disreputable tactics of Joe McCarthy — cruel and obnoxious were the better adjectives. You see, there were really communists in Hollywood at a time of a dangerous global cold war against communism, in a way there were never any witches at all in Salem.

But then for some reason I sensed that a murderous, camouflaged Fidel Castro killed more innocents than a murderous, gold-braided Augusto Pinochet. I accepted that we were to be silent about the former’s crimes since his ends were said to be good, while the latter’s crimes were for the bad — though economists of no particular political affiliations have shown that Chileans escaped poverty and dictatorship while Cubans were, and are still, plagued by both.

As far as Hollywood, goes, as I have said, I do not go to the cinema at all. The choices are meager. We can watch a George Clooney, Matt Damon, or Ben Affleck — multimillionaires all of mediocre talent — uncover some corporate or CIA conspiracy that threatens the environment (their employers and distributors are not corporate?), the non-white male, or global peace — or sit through yuppie crises whose double entendres and cute repartees are known mostly only to metrosexuals between New York and D.C., or from Malibu to Newport Beach. We are told they are films, but those too are lies; they are mere transcripts of the daily psychodramas of a privileged and bored class whose efforts are spent searching for global causes that might balance — as penance if you will — their own often angst-driven quests for influence, notoriety, and the material good life.

The media is our ministry of truth of the Oceania brand: one day Guantanamo, renditions, tribunals, preventive detention, Predators, the Patriot Act, and Iraq were bad; then one day in January 2009 I woke up and heard of them not all. I then recognized that they were now either good or at least necessary — or perhaps sinister IEDs of a sort left behind by the nefarious Emmanuel Goldstein administration, now too dangerous to even touch.

The Goldstone Report, I thought when I first scanned it, was worse than most undergraduate research papers I have graded — and therefore I expected it to be praised by the international community. And it was until even the author, like the rare guilty undergraduate who confesses to plagiarism, wants his signature off the report. But then long ago I got used to Israel being damned by reporters, NGOs, and the UN and EU types as apartheidists, racists, imperialists, and Nazis in direct proportion to the fact that visitors to the Middle East usually prefer to go Israeli cafes, hotels, and hospitals. Reporting on the West Bank is a 10 AM-2 PM day job, with a commute back across the green line. Half a million Jews ethnically cleansed in the 1960s from Baghdad, Cairo, and Damascus were opportunists; half a million who fled to the West Bank twenty years earlier are still recently arrived refugees. But then I don’t know why Jerusalem is a divided city and Nicosia is not; or why the Kuril Islands or East Prussia are not similarly said to be “occupied”; or why the fence in Israel is worse than the fence in Saudi Arabia.

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