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Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Fantasy House of Barack Obama

September 23rd, 2012 - 9:27 pm

It All Failed?

By Fantasy House I do not mean — or rather only mean — Barack Obama’s La-La land in which Austrians speak Austrian, Hawaii is in Asia, Afghans speak Arabic, the Maldives lie off Argentina, there are seven additional states, servicemen are zombie corpse-men, and Kansas twisters kill 10,000 at a time.

Rather I refer to the fantasies that Obama employs to deal with a very real world he inhabits. The president just told Univision that you “cannot change Washington from the inside.” In other words, the president just shattered his own four-year fantasy that he, like Lincoln, would take the train from Illinois to D.C., not just to remake America, but also to change the very way things are done there.

Now Obama accepts that the second coming of an Illinois savior has failed, not because he tried to change the ethics of Washington (he never did), but because upon arrival he almost immediately did in Washington what he was used to doing in Chicago. And so lobbying, insider politics to help campaign bundlers, private deals to pass health care, the revolving door, and nonstop campaigning all replaced hope and change.

I suppose in place of change from the “inside,” he now envisions more “outside” executive orders like the de facto Dream Act, having the EPA shut down more coal plants, stopping more federal energy leases, granting more recess appointments, and extending more executive privilege. 

Shattering Glass

The president’s illusions about the economy have, one by one, been exploded. Do we even remember the 2010 “summer of recovery”? Or “millions of new green jobs” that ended in Solyndra-like realties? “GM is alive, Osama bin Laden is dead” — well, sort of, in the sense that the government can take any insolvent company, inject $25 billion into it, and keep it alive until the next election.

Somehow we are to console ourselves that 43 months of 8% plus unemployment is success. The president keeps bragging that he has created 4.6 million new jobs. But who cares about the actual number created, if the number lost is the far greater figure? Do businesses brag that they grossed $4.6 million when their bottom line is a net loss of $500,000? The jobs fantasy has also evaporated in the reality that we have lost more jobs than gained under Obama, millions no longer look for work, and the percentage of adults working is at near-record lows. Where did the fifteen million more on food stamps come from?

Check your tire pressure; tune your cars up; “bankrupt” coal companies; “skyrocketing” electricity prices, Steven Chu’s dream of gas prices at “European levels” — all that only ended up at $4 a gallon gas. Yet we still don’t know whether that price spike is supposed to be welcomed, in the green sense of helping to sell subsidized Volts and “cutting our carbon footprint.”

The deficit? What deficit and debt? The president insists to David Letterman that he doesn’t know what the aggregate debt is — only that whatever it actually is, George Bush caused it! He barnstorms on the idea that ending the war in Afghanistan (where was the supposed “peace dividend” from Iraq that was supposed to cut the deficit?) will help pay down the $1 trillion-plus he borrows each year. Yet taking 39.5% from top incomes and hiking capital gains taxes will not even give us a 20% reduction in the annual deficit. So after the next tax hike, then what? We go to 50%,  55%, 60% — to pay our fair share for millions of more green jobs?

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Obama’s Middle East Delusions

September 17th, 2012 - 12:00 am

The Premodern Middle East and Postmodern West Don’t Mix, Mr. President

Globalization certainly did not bring the premodern world of the Middle East closer together with the postmodern West — despite Barack Obama’s 2007 narcissistic vows that his own intellect and background could bridge such a gap. If anything, the more we know about each other, the more we sense we are back to Lepanto and the siege of Vienna. Since the 9/11 anniversary attacks, the Obama administration has seemed bewildered, petulant, and more or less shocked in Casablanca-style fashion about the hatred shown the United States — whether overt among the Arab Street, or implicit among Arab governments’ wink-and-nod inability to protect U.S. embassies. It apparently forgot some basic rules about how to deal with radical Islam, and instead regressed back to the old familiar appeasement that led to 9/11/2001.

I. Pretexts

Mr. President, do not obsess over the pretext of the day. Terry Jones is only as crude as Andres Serrano and his Piss Christ, which I don’t recall warranted a personal call from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to the artist to cool it, much less a federal effort to detain a Coptic filmmaker. Sometimes Muslims will rage at a Rushdie novel, sometimes at a papal reference to a Byzantine letter, and at other times at a supposedly flushed or torched Koran. Or maybe a grainy amateurish video will be set them off to kill a nun, blow up a priest, burn down an embassy, or assassinate a Western ambassador.  There are three-hundred-million-plus free-thinking Americans, and thus at least that many possible “slights” — if you choose to go down that road of blaming free expression rather than the primeval mind that objects to it.

The opportunities for Muslims in the Middle East to be outraged at the West in general and the U.S. in particular are legion. You, Mr. Obama, the most powerful of all Americans, must remember that these totems are mere tools of an al-Qaeda, a Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic Jihad — or whatever the particular aggrieved party calls itself this week. They are no more than crude pretexts to direct fury among their ignorant and impoverished masses at opportune times against the United States, and thereby gain power.

In that regard, each time we castigate a Rushdie, a Danish cartoonist, a U.S. soldier, or a nut like Terry Jones, we simply play into the hands of the Islamists. The latter are thrilled when American grandees look weak, desperate, and only too eager to fall over themselves in undermining their own singular Constitution and distancing themselves from their own values. Far better it would be to say, one time — and only one time: “We cherish and protect freedom of expression and abhor censorship and violence; if that bothers you, it bothers you.” End of story.

2. The Sources of Islamic Anger

Remember the source of premodern Islamic anger. Why did the Zawahiri brothers, or the late bin Laden, or the Islamist of the week hate the West, and in particular the United States?

It surely is not, as their apologists plead, because of our “foreign policy.” We are enlightened compared to what Putin did in Chechnya or how Chinese treated their Muslim minorities. You, readers, know the American record better than do I: we graciously accepted Muslim refugees, even ingrates like Mohamed Morsi or the 9/11 mass murderers. We fed Somalis; helped to remove Gaddafi; freed Kuwaitis; liberated Afghans (twice); birthed Iraqi democracy; bombed Christians to save Muslim Kosovars and Bosnians; fund Jordanians, Egyptians, and Palestinians; and so on.

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When 40%, not 97%, Is Illiberal

One of the legacies of the Obama presidency is that “white male” as a term of embarrassment has now transcended the hothouse of the campus and gone mainstream. We are lectured by media figures, celebrities, and politicians ad nauseam that the November election is really about a new America of diverse minority groups, gays, feminists, and green pitted against a dying and shrinking number of old white guys. Sometimes that narrative requires absurd assumptions.

If blacks vote this election in ratios of 97% for Obama, it is not really proof of racial solidarity, but because Romney somehow is a racist. In this regard, consult the wisdom of Louise Lucas, a Virginia state senator, who is part of something called the Obama “Truth Team”: “What I am saying to you is Mitt Romney, he’s speaking to a segment of the population, who does not like to see people other than a white man in a White House or any other elected position.”  Note that Lucas adduces no evidence to back up her slander.

In turn, Romney supporters allegedly have employed racial “dog whistles” — coded language like “golf,” “welfare,” or “cool” — intended to call out white racist males who favor Romney by supposed margins of 40% to 60%. Again, examine the logic — when various minorities prefer Obama by margins of 70% to 97%, we are to assume that they are both enlightened and that Romney is a racist; when white males vote in far greater percentages for Obama than do minorities for Romney, we assume they are racist and illiberal. That white males usually vote for the more conservative candidate, regardless of race (ask John Kerry), is ignored.

You’re Pale, Not Me

Harry Reid, the rather old, white, wealthy, and grumpy Senate majority leader, recently remarked that “the day after the election 17 angry old white men will wake up and realize they just bought the country.” I am not as angry, old, white, or wealthy as Harry Reid, so I assume he has better claims on membership in that guild than I — and millions of white male others.

Radio host Richard Fowler joked to rather pale, unexciting, and male Bill Press on the latter’s TV show that the Republican National Convention was “pale, stale, and male.” Giddy on hearing the glib stereotype, and apparently assured that his own liberalism meant that he was not included in it, Press chimed up that they were “old farts.”

Not long ago, an upscale, well-paid host on MSNBC by the name of Melissa Harris-Perry attacked Paul Ryan as a “wealthy white man.” Ryan, of course, makes a lot less than does Harris-Perry. A bit earlier, the rather boring and very white NBC host Brian Williams asked Mitt Romney whether he would pick as his VP candidate another “incredibly boring white guy.”  These examples of the new racial polarization could be multiplied, from the idiot rantings of a quarter-educated Cher to supposedly serious entertainers like James Earl Jones, Morgan Freeman, and Chris Rock (the 4th of July is now “white people’s independence day”) to the ranting of the Congressional Black Caucus to “put y’all back in chains” Joe Biden.

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The Terrifying New Normal

September 3rd, 2012 - 6:04 pm

The World We Don’t Question

I’ve witnessed two of the most radical developments in my lifetime the last four years — changes far greater than those brought on by the massive new increases in the national debt, the soaring gas costs, the radical decrease in average family income, the insolvent Medicare and Social Security trajectories, or the flat housing market.

One is the fact of less than 1% interest rates on most savings (well below the rate of inflation), and the other is an epidemic of 20-something unemployment. All that is the new normal.

Why Save?

The hallmark advice of retirement planning was always to scrimp, save, and put away enough money to make up for retirement’s lost salary, increasing medical bills, and the supposed good life of the “golden years.” If a couple had saved, say, $300,000 over a lifetime (again, say, putting $500 away each month for 30 years at modest compounded interest), then they might expect a so-so annual return at 5% of about $15,000 a year on their stash, or about $1,250 per month.

In other words, perhaps Mr. and Mrs. Retiree could find enough with Social Security to live okay and pass on the principal to their kids. But well aside from the fact that many Americans have been laid off, taken pay cuts, lost home equity, had their 401(k)s pruned, or had to take care of out-of-work relatives, there is no 5% any more on anything, not even 2% or  in most cases 1%.  Saving money means nothing really in terms of return, only the realization that inflation eats away the principal each year.

To earn a decent return, the retiree has had to wade into bonds, stocks, and real estate buying and selling, with all their attendant risks that loom larger after 65. The old American idea of receiving a fair so-so interest on a little money in the savings account vanished. And no one seems to care.

The Federal Reserve perhaps had its reasons to keep interest rates low, given the massive spending, 2008 collapse, and the anemic “recovery,” but whatever the purported aims, the policy is not working. Yet cheap money proves to be no stimulus, even at rock-bottom interest rates. Firms don’t seem to think that near-zero interest (and the banks now have a rather scandalous margin between what they charge for ordinary loans and what they pay in interest) balances out the new anxiety over tax hikes, more regulations, and spiking energy costs. (Did Obama believe that employers simply existed to pay ever more taxes for his growing technocracy to redistribute?)

In classical Roman Republican terms, near-zero interest (and calls for “cancellation of debt and redistribution of property”) represented a vast transfer of wealth from those who saved to those who owe. Imagine a contemporary version of Catiline yelling, “If elected, I promise we won’t pay those SOB one-percenters any more than a third of a percent on their not-pay-their-fair-share stashes.” At least that way we might have known what we were dealing with.

The Really Lost Generation

Few seem to note that those who receive nothing on their retirement savings don’t retire so easily. And when they don’t retire, jobs don’t open up — which brings us to my next observation: the lost generation of those between 21 and 30, who at various ages and periods came into the workplace the last four years. Many have 8% plus student loans. I doubt half of those will ever be paid off, given the epidemic of unemployment in this cohort.

Unemployment rates of those 16-24 are now officially over 50%. Even the cohort between 16 and 29 suffers from 45% unemployment. In short, in four years we have become Europeanized: young people with no jobs who are living at home and putting off marriage and child raising — a “lost” generation in “limbo,” etc. etc. They may have a car, borrow their parents’ nicer car for special occasions, watch their parents’ big screen TV, and have pocket change for a cell phone and laptop by enjoying free rent, food, and laundry, but beneath that thinning technological veneer there is really little hope that they will ever be able to maintain that lifestyle on their own in this present day and age. Meanwhile, just like some Middle East tribal society, “contacts,” “networking,” and “pull” are the new gospel, as parents rely on quid pro quos to offer their indebted, unemployed (and aging) children some sort of inside one-upmanship in the cutthroat job market.

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