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Monthly Archives: May 2011

Land of the Lawless

May 30th, 2011 - 7:03 pm

When the Law Does Not Pay

I do not think in California there is much law these days. We are regressing to the days of my grandfather’s stories. He used to relate to me a wild Central Valley circa 1900, when the sheriff was a day away. A neighbor down the road is now openly violating county zoning regulations by simply moving in immobile Winnebagos and creating a sort of ad hoc mobile home park — with jerry-rigged electricity, sewage, and water. “Restaurants” pop up around my farm along the side of the road, exempt from state and local inspection, apparently by parking a canteen, plopping down some plastic chairs, an awning, a porta-potty, a hose — and, presto, we have an eatery, with signs no less.

There are no dumping laws enforced in rural California: stopping the guy who throws out his garbage and a sofa is a money-loser; finding the guy in the Mercedes who uses his cell phone is a money-winner.

Yet most state lawlessness out here is predicated on priorities of enforcement and driven by public employee unions who see us the people in terms of “fees” and “fines” to feed their salaries, perhaps in the way the Thanksgiving chef eyes the roasting turkey amid hungry mouths.

AWOL in Washington

The new lawlessness at the federal level, however, is far more serious, because it is predicated on “social justice”: those deemed “in need” shall be exempt from the law; those “not in need” shall not.

The War Powers Resolution, like it or not, is the law of the land. It requires the president to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action. Without an authorization of the use of military force or a declaration of war, the military cannot remain in combat abroad. That’s why George W. Bush went to Congress to authorize the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. During the heated rhetoric over the Iranian missile controversy, presidential and vice-presidential candidates Obama and Biden both expressed support for the resolution — apparently outraged that Bush might unilaterally bomb Iran without notifying a Senator like themselves.

So when we recently passed the 60-day limit after the initial and continual use of armed forces in Libya, why did not Obama seek permission from Congress?

Here the question is not the usual Obama hypocrisy that has seen him demagogue and damn Guantanamo, preventative detention, tribunals, renditions, the Patriot Act (just signed by a former critic via computerized autopen from the UK no less), and Predators — only to expand or embrace them all. Rather, the problem is a question of legality itself.

Is the War Powers Resolution the law of the land or not? Or are we to assume a progressive president is complying with both UN resolutions and an Arab League mandate, and therefore, as the good internationalist and Nobel laureate, sees no reason to consult, as American law requires, his own elected U.S. Congress — the latter a more suspect and reactionary body that does not enjoy the moral stature of the UN or the Arab League?

This disregard reminds us of the shake-down of BP, when the administration more or less declared by fiat that the demonized corporation had to cough up a $20 billion contingency clean-up fund — reminiscent of someone in the classical Athenian ekklesia or late 18th-century French assembly going after the better off by mere proclamation.

In that regard, an administration is sworn to uphold the established law; why, then, was the Defense of Marriage Act arbitrarily rendered null and void without legislative appeal, simply because it was considered illiberal by those now with executive power? Can President Obama and Attorney General Holder de facto declare a law unconstitutional and then not enforce it? Could a renegade conservative counterpart likewise declare Roe vs. Wade unconstitutional, and go after abortionists because it deemed them too liberal?

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Land of the Lawless

May 30th, 2011 - 7:01 pm

When the Law Does Not Pay

I do not think in California there is much law these days. We are regressing to the days of my grandfather’s stories who used to relate to me a wild central valley circa 1900 when the sheriff was a day away. A neighbor down the road is now openly violating county zoning regulations by simply moving in immobile Winnebagos and creating a sort of ad hoc mobile home park—with jerry-rigged electricity, sewage and water. “Restaurants” pop up around my farm along the side of the road, exempt from state and local inspection, apparently by parking a canteen, plopping down some plastic chairs, an awning, a porta-potty, a hose—and, presto, we have an eatery, with signs no less.

There are no dumping laws enforced in rural California: stopping the guy who throws out his garbage and a sofa is a money-loser; finding the guy in the Mercedes who uses his cell phone is a money-winner.

Yet most state lawlessness out here is predicated on priorities of enforcement and driven by public employee unions who sees us the people in terms of “fees” and “fines” to feed their salaries, perhaps in the way the Thanksgiving chef eyes the roasting turkey amid hungry mouths.

Awol in Washington

The new lawlessness at the federal level, however, is far more serious, because it is predicated on “social justice”: those deemed “in need” shall be exempt from the law; those “not in need” shall not.

The War Powers Resolution Act, like it or not, is the law of the land. It requires the President to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action. Without an authorization of the use of military force or a declaration of war, the military cannot remain in combat abroad. That’s why George W. Bush went to Congress to authorize both the Afghanistan and Iraq war. During the heated rhetoric over the Iranian missile controversy, presidential candidates Biden and Obama both expressed support for the Act—apparently outraged that Bush might unilaterally bomb Iran without notifying a Senator like themselves.

So when we recently passed the 60-day limit after the initial and continual use of armed forces in Libya, why did not Obama seek permission from Congress?

Here the question is not the usual Obama hypocrisy that has seen him demagogue and damn Guantamo, preventative detention, tribunals, renditions, the Patriot Act (just signed by a former critic via computerized autopen from the UK no less) and Predators—only to expand or embrace them all. Rather, the problem is a question of legality itself.

Is the War Powers Resolution the law of the land or not? Or are we to assume a progressive president is complying with both UN resolutions and an Arab League mandate, and therefore, as the good internationalist and Nobel Laureate, sees no reason to consult, as American law requires, his own elected U.S. Congress—the latter a more suspect and reactionary body that does not enjoy the moral stature of the UN or the Arab League?

This disregard reminds us of the shake-down of BP, when the administration more or less declared by fiat that the demonized corporation had to cough up a $20 billion contingency clean-up fund—reminiscent of someone in the classical Athenian ekklesia or late 18th-century French assembly going after the better off by mere proclamation.

In that regard, an administration is sworn to uphold the established law; why, then, was the Defense of Marriage Act arbitrarily rendered null and void without legislative appeal, simply because it was considered illiberal by those now with executive power? Can President Obama and Attorney General Holder de facto declare a law unconstitutional and then not enforce it? Could a renegade conservative counterpart likewise declare Roe vs. Wade unconstitutional, and go after abortionists because it deemed them too liberal?

Or perhaps a better example was the bailout to Chrysler that was contingent upon reversing the contractual order of creditors, putting union members and retirees, contrary to law, to the front of the line, and those who held Chrysler debt to the rear. Was the logic something like the following spread-the-wealth notion: Bond-holders are wealthier anyway and so have enough money already; union members—and Democratic stalwarts—actually do the work, and so have a moral claim to the money that trumps the superfluous legal right of the wealthy and powerful?

Or we might ponder the administrative decision by bureaucratic decree to stop a company like Boeing from opening a new airline production line in South Carolina, purportedly because it is a red-, right-to-work state. Again, the logic is that companies cannot open factories where they wish, since they have moral obligations that must stand above a mere legal notion of freedom of commerce and association.

Do we remember the voter intimidation case dropped against the Black Panthers—on the supposition that, given the history of the poll tax and Jim Crow voter discrimination, a little minor pushback is small potatoes?

Then we come to federal immigration law, or rather the deliberate effort to undermine it—in a fashion that goes well beyond the neglect of the law shown by previous administrations. The Obama administration is going to court, along with Mexico, to sue the state of Arizona that is trying to find ways to bolster a federal law that the administration will not enforce.

But it gets worse: the Obama administration tries to subvert states that wish to follow its own laws, but ignores cities that deliberately flaunt them by declaring themselves “sanctuary cities”. And consider entire states like California, whose Assembly just passed its own version of the “Dream Act” to provide millions in state funds to support illegal aliens at the state-run colleges and universities (at a time when the state is $15 billion short in balancing its annual budget, and, due to such a shortage of funds, must release 40,000 prisoners because of an inability to comply with a court-order addressing overcrowding).

By now we know the accustomed logic. Demonize those who would seek to obey the law (e.g., they wish to arrest kids on their way to ice cream, they want alligators and moats in the Rio Grande, they are “enemies” who Latinos should “punish”, they have already “basically” finished their fence) and apotheosize those who break it (e.g., no mention of the 20,000-30,000 illegal alien felons in the California penal system).

A Slippery Slope

I find all this quite frightening for a variety of reasons. Once the moral high ground is claimed, then legality is constructed as some sort of reactionary impediment in the way of egalitarian “fairness”. The process works geometrically: each time the federal government rules by fiat instead of following the law—for reasons of humanitarianism abroad, ecological responsibility, worker fairness, gay rights, or empathy for the alien—it becomes a little bolder the next time.

The Left simply disregards its former purported role as guardians of constitutional law, and grows quiet, again on the apparent logic that the rare progressive presidency is simply too precious a commodity to endanger by maintaining any consistent criticism in the manner it once went after the Bush administration.

Imagine the reaction of the New York Times, NPR, or a Senator Obama, had a President Palin decided to bomb Iran off and on for 70 days without congressional consultation, or had she decided to throw open the U.S. border to any from Europe who could fly in, or had she violated union contracts to favor junior Wall Street creditors, or had she demanded that an Al Gore organization plop down several million in a contingency fund for the damage it had done oil workers by obstructing efforts of companies to gain oil leases.

Where does this end, this effort by Ivy League lawyers and civil libertarians to substitute supposedly enlightened progressivism for purported reactionary law? We easily and rightly condemn the crime when the Right tries to overthrow legality in the cases of a Franco, Hitler, Greek Colonels or Pinochet, who are easily identified as autocrats and dictators openly subverting constitutional government. But the assault from the Left is more insidious, given that the miscreants do it in self-declared high-minded fashion for “us”. I think here of the frightening trial of Socrates in ancient Athens, the ascendency of the Jacobins during the French Revolution, or Hugo Chavez’s thuggery in Venezuela—not coups as much as overdue punishment of “them.”

Without the law, there is nothing.

Where Dreams Die

May 24th, 2011 - 5:51 am

I was given a great gift — but see below — to travel throughout California the last week, by land and by air over the state. It was hard to determine whether the natural beauty of the landscape or the ingenuity of our ancestors was the more impressive. The Sierra is still snow-locked and towers in white above a lush valley floor below. The lakes of the 1912 Big Creek Hydroelectric Project — Shaver, Huntington, and the still snowbound Edison and Florence above — belong in Switzerland. The squares of grapes and trees below look like a vast lush checkerboard from above.

I prefer the beauty of the Napa and Sonoma valleys to Tuscany; the former lacks only the majestic Roman and Renaissance history of the Italian countryside. Human genius in just a half-century has almost matched 2500 years of Italian viticulture. The California coast — the hills, beaches, and landscape — could be in the Peloponnese and easily stands the comparison. When early summer finally comes to the state in late spring, as it did last week, the result is almost divine: warmth and light without high humidity, daily rains, or high winds.

They say the Central Valley is the ugliest part of the state; I disagree. Last week from my great-great-grandmother’s upstairs balcony I could see snow capped mountains tower just thirty miles away; in-between were millions of green trees and vines and the water towers of small towns in every direction. Nothing in Spain or southern France is prettier. A man would have to be mad to leave such beauty, and the brilliant work of his predecessors who as artists built the dams and canals, laid out the agrarian patchwork, founded these communities that serve as bookends to the works of architectural and municipal genius in San Francisco, or Los Angeles and San Diego. Yes, a man would have to be mad — or quite rational — to leave paradise lost.

You see, here is the situation in California. Tens of thousands of prisoners are scheduled by a U.S. Supreme Court order to be released. But why this inability to house our criminals when we pay among the highest sales, income, and gas taxes in the nation? Too many criminals? Too few new prisons? Too high costs per prisoner? Too many non-violent crimes that warrant incarceration? God help us when they are released. We know what crime is like now; what will it be like if thousands are let go? I doubt they will end up in the yards of the justices who let them out.

I think I have a clue to what’s ahead. Here is an aside, a sort of confession of my last six months in the center of our cry-the-beloved state:

December 2011: rear-ended by a texting driver; I called 9/11 and the police; she called “relatives” who arrived in two carloads. You get the picture. Luckily the police got there before her “family” did, and cited her. Still waiting to fix the dented truck.

March 2011: riding a bike in rural California, flipped over a “loose dog,” resulting in assorted injuries. Residents — well over 10 in various dwellings —claimed ignorance about the dogs outside their homes: no licenses, no vaccinations, no leashes, no fence. Final score: them: slammed door and shrugs; me: ruined bike, injuries, and a long walk home.

May 2011: two males drive in “looking to buy scrap metal.” They are politely told to leave. That night barn is burglarized and $1200 in property stolen.

Later May 2011: a female drives in van into front driveway with four males, “just looking to rent” neighbor’s house. They leave. Only later I learn they earlier came in the back way and had forced their way in, prying the back driveway gate, springing and bending armature.

Later May 2011: shop is burglarized — both bolt and padlock knocked off. Shelves stripped clean. It is the little things like this that aggravate Californians, especially when lectured not to sweat it by the academics on the coast and the politicians in Sacramento.

NB: I have been hit three times in the last 10 years: 1) driver ran stop sign, slammed into my truck, limped off, was run down and detained by me until police arrived; 2) speeding driver hit a mattress in the road (things such as that are rarely tied down by motorists in California), swerved, was hit, did a 180, braked, but still hit me at 45 mph head-on (survived due to the air bags of the Honda Accord); 3) rear-ended as explained above. But this time your wiser author, when the car rear-ended me at 50 mph, was driving a four-wheel-drive Toyota Tundra with huge tow bar in back; the texter was driving a Civic. Nuff said.

Such is life 180 miles — and a cosmos away — from the Stanford campus.

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2011, not 1970?

We have had about a half-century of racial preferences and often unspoken but real quotas for hiring and admission based on racial identity. If the original intent was to level the playing field for African-Americans and Latinos, who had been subject to systematic and often gratuitously mean discrimination throughout much of the American South and Southwest, nonetheless the current rationale for sustaining affirmative action has become a veritable nightmare of contradictions, biases, and incoherence that is now well beyond reform. Conservatives mostly believe this; an increasing number of liberals quietly think it.

Who Is What?

First, what exactly is race today in America in which intermarriage and immigration have increasingly made it — and its ugly twin racial purity — often irrelevant? We are no longer a country largely 85-90% “white” and 10-12% “black,” but something almost hard to categorize in racial terms. Do university admission officers adopt the 1/16, one-drop racial rule of the old Confederacy? Does being one fourth African-American qualify one for consideration; three-fourths Japanese; half Mexican-American? Does a simple surname add — and often by intent — authenticity and credulity? The son of Linda Hernandez and Jason Smith — a Bobby Smith — is not considered, without genealogical investigation, Hispanic, but the son of Linda Smith and Jason Hernandez — a Roberto Hernandez of equal 50/50 ancestry — is almost instantly? If so, is race a state of mind and personal choice more than circumstances of birth? What exactly is white and what a minority — a dark-skinned Armenian-American is the former, a light-skinned Colombian American is the latter? A dark Sicilian-American is white, Barack Obama is black?

We are reaching the point in a multiracial and intermarried America where admissions officers and employers simply would have to hire British genealogists to trace our bloodlines — and instead, in millions of cases, therefore resort ad hoc to what Americans profess or think they are. Plenty of societies in history have predicated preferences on race — apartheid South Africa, Germany of the 1930s and 1940s, and the Confederacy are the most obvious — but all at some point had to codify their prejudices by some sort of repugnantly explicit genealogical science. We differ only in that our racial categories are said to be for preferences and recompense rather than for discrimination and punishment, and that we believe in our intellectual and moral arrogance that racial biases can, in our careful hands, be used for good purpose.

Sins of the Father

Second, there is no longer an easy yardstick by which to calibrate skin color or racial identity with past or present oppression. The original, noble enough justification of affirmative action rested on two principles: a sort of reparations that extended preference to atone for undeniable past discrimination; and a leveling of the playing field that assumed ongoing prejudice based on outward appearance and accompanying stereotyping — usually in terms of white privilege used against the darker other. But in 2011, such notions have become surreal. Someone with quite dark skin from India or Egypt surely is more easily recognizable as “the other” than someone indistinguishable from the “white” majority who has a Latino surname; yet would not a college admissions officer more likely admit a Pedro Gomez than a Tarsam Singh?

Is there a color-coded graph somewhere that says the darker one is, the more consideration one is due? Apparently not — given that most East Asians and Arabs are not usually extended affirmative action status. OK, but do third-generation affluent Japanese-Americans qualify for preferences on the rationale that their parents as children were interned in camps in the American West; or fifth-generation Chinese because their great-great-grandparents were treated horribly while building the transcontinental railroad?

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Fantasies, Present and Future

May 13th, 2011 - 5:47 am

The Obama administration has offered a number of recent fantasies. Here are a few examples.

a) Despite owning the presidency, the House, and a filibuster-proof Senate between 2009-10, the president could not introduce an immigration bill, in the manner he rammed through health care? What nefarious force stopped him, and why does he blame “them” in a recent speech in El Paso? Who are “they,” who so illiberally sidetracked his immigration visions during his first two years, and instead preferred “alligators and moats” to reform? Democrats in the House, Senate, or administration between 2009 and 2010?

b) How in the El Paso speech can one pontificate about and deplore partisan politics and “ugly rhetoric” on immigration when at the same time asking the audience to log on to a White House website to lobby for the president’s political agenda — a few months after asking “Latinos” to “punish” their Republican “enemies”? Is the latter “ugly rhetoric”? If not, why? And was it not more ugly rhetoric, when his whipped-up audience interrupted his own cheerleading with “they’re racists!”?

c) Obama also swore that 650 miles of border fencing of all sorts along a 1,900 mile-plus Mexico-U.S. border means that the border fence “is basically completed.” How does less than one third of a task constitute “basically completed?” What does “basically” mean?

d) In his speech on the debt a month ago, Obama seemed confused over the sudden additional $5 trillion in debt. But who ran that up between 2009-2011? A Republican House, Senate, or President Bush? A Republican-controlled Congress? And what happened to his own debt commission?

e) If not raising income tax rates was smart in December 2010, why is raising them suddenly smart in April 2011?

f) Why was voting against raising the debt ceiling in 2006 considered principled when we owed $8 trillion, but it is not when we owe $14 trillion?

g) We are to believe that future additional drilling in the U.S. will not help lower world oil or gas prices, but calling on the Middle East to pump more, or praising Brazil’s proposed commitment to offshore exploration, will?

h) What role does inviting a rap “poet” to the White House who has praised a cop-killer and invoked violent imagery about the former president play in the promised new age of civility?

i) How can increasing five-fold Predator targeted assassination missions against suspected terrorists, dropping precision bombs to take out the person and family of Muammar Gaddafi, and ordering a hit on Bin Laden be considered OK, but waterboarding three admitted terrorists who claimed responsibility for 9/11 and gave information that led to the demise of bin Laden be considered both amoral and illegal?

j) How can we praise the authority of the UN and our newfound compliance with its authorizations, when we cite a UN resolution to offer humanitarian aid and to enforce a no-fly-zone over Libya — but then deliberately subvert them by trying to bomb and kill Gaddafi, whose destruction is and is not the object of our campaign, but most certainly not in the praised UN resolution?

As before, I will let readers decide the answers to the above questions from the usual alternatives previously discussed:

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Thoughts on a Surreal Depression

May 7th, 2011 - 9:59 am

Here in Fresno County, in the heart of California’s San Joaquin Valley, the official unemployment rate in February to March ranged between 18.1 and 18.8 percent. I suspect it is higher in the poorer southwestern portions, especially near my hometown of Selma, about two miles from my farm.

Since 2000 we have both lost jobs and gained people, and the per capita household income is about 65% of California’s average, the average home price about half the state norm.

In some sense, all the ideas that are born on the Berkeley or Stanford campus, in the CSU and UC education, political science, and sociology departments, and among the bureaus in Sacramento are reified in places like Selma — open borders, therapeutic education curricula, massive government transfers and subsidies, big government, and intrusive regulation. Together that has created the sort of utopia that a Bay Area consultant, politico, or professor dreams of, but would never live near. Again, we in California have become the most and least free of peoples — the law-biding stifled by red tape, the non-law-biding considered exempt from accountability on the basis of simple cost-to-benefit logic. A speeder on the freeway will pay a $300 ticket for going 75mph and justifies the legions of highway patrol officers now on the road; going after an unlicensed peddler or rural dumper is a money-losing proposition for government.

The subtext, however, of most of our manifold challenges here in the other California are twofold: we have had a massive increase in population, largely driven by illegal immigration from Latin America, mostly from Oaxaca province in Mexico, and we have not created a commensurate number of jobs to facilitate the influx.

I often ask business people on the coast why there are not more industries in places like Selma other than agricultural related work that is locale specific. I would sum up their responses as something like the following: Our workforce does not have the educational and linguistic skills to justify, in global terms, the amount of wages and benefits necessary to employ them, hence jobs are mostly in service and government. Software engineering, computers, or Silicon Valley-like industry are out the question. But apparently so are large manufacturing jobs, despite an abundant workforce. As I understand employers, they seem to suggest that steel pipe, electrical wire, or radios would not be better manufactured or fabricated here, and yet still cost two to three times more than a counterpart assembled abroad.

In addition, they believe that the state government would look upon any employer of a large industry not as a partner that would alleviate unemployment and lessen county expenditures, but more or less a sort of target to regulate, advise, lecture, and chastise, both to justify the expanding government regulatory work force and to achieve a fuzzy sort of social justice. There are, of course, large plants and businesses here, but hardly enough to absorb the thousands entering the work force.

The result is about one in five adults is not working in the traditional and formal sense. A morning drive through these valley towns confirms anecdotally what statistics suggest: hundreds, no, thousands, are not employed. Construction is almost nonexistent. Agriculture is recovering, but environmentally driven water cut-offs on the West Side (250,000 acres), increasing mechanization, and past poor prices have combined to reduce by tens of thousands once plentiful farm jobs.

We live in one of the most blessed climates in the world, without major floods, earthquakes, fires, or tornadoes. The soil is unmatched. The Sierra and its rich snowpack loom immediately to the east with all its recreational, hydroelectric, and timber wealth; we are but three hours from either San Francisco or Los Angeles. And yet this is now one of the most impoverished areas in the United States, statistically in many categories of income, education, and employment well behind Appalachia.

But we are experiencing a funny sort of depression, or rather a surreal sort. I grew up with stories from my grandparents of 28 people living in my present house. My grandmother, she used to brag, had a big kettle of ham bones and beans cooking nonstop each day and fed assorted relatives as they came in from the vineyard and orchard. My grandfather made one trip to Fresno (16 miles away) every 10 days for “supplies.” The pictures I have inherited from my mother show an impoverished farm — this house unpainted and in disrepair, ancient cars and implements scattered about, a sort of farm of apparent 1910 vintage, but photographed in the 1930s — one that I could still sense traces of as a little boy here in the late 1950s.

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OK, Let’s Decline

May 1st, 2011 - 6:53 am

“Leading From Behind”

A recent report in The New Yorker suggested that the Obama’s administration’s weird sort of/sort of not foreign policy is now gleefully self-described as “leading from behind.” Not exercising leadership is a reflection, the article suggests, of Obama’s view that the U.S. is both disliked and in decline. Decline?

Here are some tidbits from the Ryan Lizza adulatory piece. The following I think is meant as a compliment:

“The one consistent thread running through most of Obama’s decisions has been that America must act humbly in the world. Unlike his immediate predecessors, Obama came of age politically during the post-Cold War era, a time when America’s unmatched power created widespread resentment. Obama believes that highly visible American leadership can taint a foreign-policy goal just as easily as it can bolster it.”

I supposed eliminating “unmatched power” would also eliminate “widespread resentment” — in that few are envious of the failed. Here is another assessment also offered as a tribute:

“One of his advisers described the President’s actions in Libya as ‘leading from behind.’ That’s not a slogan designed for signs at the 2012 Democratic Convention, but it does accurately describe the balance that Obama now seems to be finding. It’s a different definition of leadership than America is known for, and it comes from two unspoken beliefs: that the relative power of the U.S. is declining, as rivals like China rise, and that the U.S. is reviled in many parts of the world. Pursuing our interests and spreading our ideals thus requires stealth and modesty as well as military strength. ‘It’s so at odds with the John Wayne expectation for what America is in the world,’ the adviser said. ‘But it’s necessary for shepherding us through this phase.’”

What the hell is “this phase”? Where are we “reviled” and by whom? Syria? Russia? Yemen? Somalia? Cuba?

Decline or Ascend?

Does “decline” mean inevitable collapse, like an aging person whose mind and body have become enfeebled? That was certainly the view of the ancients, who felt civilizations had finite life-spans (see Jacqueline de Romilly’s The Rise and Fall of States According to Greek Authors.) Do environmental catastrophes, resource depletion, or foreign armies end societies? They can, as the complex pyramidal societies from the Minoans and Mycenaeans to the Mayans and Aztecs learned.

All that said, decline is far more often a choice, not a preordained destiny. There was no reason that Athens at 338 B.C. needed to lose to Philip at Chaironeia or even that the loss there meant the end of Greek freedom. Macedonian forces were a fraction of the size of a far larger Persian force that had swept from the north into a far weaker Athens in 480 B.C. No law said that drama of the quality of the Orestia, Oedipus, Ajax, Bacchae, and Medea had to give way to the sitcoms of Middle and New comedy of the fourth century B.C. By September 1945, England had far more of its industrial base intact than had Germany or Japan, and had suffered far fewer losses, both material and human, since 1939 than either of the defeated Axis powers whose entire national ideologies had been rendered bankrupt and their people reduced to global pariahs. Why, then, did a country that produced the sort of four-engine bombers en masse that its wartime adversaries could not, or a Spitfire fighter better than any produced by Japan or Germany until the advent of the jet, end up decades later with unsold Jaguars while Mercedes and Lexus swept world markets? And why did a bombed out Frankfurt and Tokyo (200,000 incinerated in March 1945 alone) rather quickly out-produce a less damaged Liverpool (e.g., 4,000 killed in the blitz) or Manchester? Clearly the UKchose a path in 1945-9 that a once flattened Germany and Japan did not.

If Rome was supposedly “doomed” by the 5th century A.D., why did the Eastern Empire last another 1,000 years? Why was 1978 America a very different place than either 1955 or 1985 or 1996? How did gas lines, stagflation, and malaise lead to the boom of the Reagan and Clinton years?

Our Choice, Not Others’

President Obama, listen carefully. By every benchmark, this should be an American century. Our known fossil fuel reserves are soaring, as new finds of coal, natural gas, oil, tar sands, and oil shale keep growing, not shrinking. Demographically, we are expanding; Europe, Japan, and China are shrinking.

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