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Works and Days

Our Brave New World

February 7th, 2009 - 7:28 pm

The Apocalyptic Style

Be careful when one uses the superlative case—best, most, -est, etc.—or evokes end-of-the-world imagery. The new Secretary of Energy Chu, who seems eminently qualified and is a Nobel Prize Winner, strangely just declared, ‘We’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California’, and went on to declare vineyards all but doomed here—apparently due to global warming.

True, we’ve had this year (and part of last) a mini-drought. In my 50 years of memory of California there have been many; usually they last for a year or two, then we get matching wet years. (In some years in lieu of Sierra irrigation water, I have turned on our electric pumps (15 hp/1000 gallons a minute) in May and turned them off in late August—24/7. And over a 10-year span of dry/wet years, the seasons balance out (e.g., the water table in my front yard varies from 35 feet in wet years to 50 in dry; and my great-great-grandmother’s abandoned 6-inch well, that in the 19th century used to provide hand-pumped water for the house, still, after 130 years, has water in its casing that goes down only 50 feet.)

More germanely, I drove Thursday from Los Angeles in a pouring rainstorm, and now am looking at a steady snowfall outside my window in the Sierra. Several feet are piled up on the ground as we are nearing mid-February blossom break for fruit trees—with more predicted on the way. Is the Secretary convinced that we will run out of water and have no crops (grapes, remember, grow well in the desert if they are irrigated), or does he think hotter weather means things simply don’t grow? If the former, perhaps the Sec. might support raising the Sierra dams a few feet, or even building a new one, given that millions of acre feet of precious water pour out of the Sierra each spring and into San Francisco Bay from the Sacramento and San Joaquin watersheds, due to law suits and legislation that aim to restore 19th-century water runs that supposedly will bring back former populations of amphibians, insects, fish, and riparian mammalian life.

The truth is that we have plenty of water to farm and to support millions of people—if we utilize properly our resources and invest more in reservoirs and water conservation and storage. But we do not have enough water—if we insist on a business-as-usual infrastructure, designed for 15 million Californians that must now serve 36 million. Open borders, radical environmentalism, urbanization and edge-citification, enormous entitlements instead of infrastructure investments, high taxes that lead only to gargantuan deficits—not Mother Nature— will, in the aggregate, ensure Dr. Chu’s prediction of an end to California agriculture.

Hyperbolic

So it is unwise to use such hyperbole. Compare the Obama administration’s much ballyhooed “most stringent ethics standards”—ever!—that only leads to 10 (“exempt”) lobbyists appointed to the administration, and at least four tax cheats (an accurate rather than hyped description) nominated to Treasury, government oversight, HHS, and Labor, as well as someone like Richardson imploding, and complete silence about Rangel, Dodd, and Frank.

Likewise it is unwise to keep evoking “patriotic” to describe those who vote for the stimulus package, and cry ‘catastrophic” if opponents disagree and the $1 trillion dollar debt program is delayed. If supporters in congress of Bush and Cheney were criticized for suggesting that to cut off funds for soldiers in the field or to declare a war “lost” was unpatriotic, then surely it is wrong to do the same for an opponent of a stimulus or tax plan.

The Obama Style

If one would carefully read Obama’s al Arabiya interview, or the text of Biden’s Munich address, or Eric Holder’s acceptance speech, there is a now clear style: 1) preface your remarks with the fact that the last 8 years have been horrible (ruined relations with the Muslim world, politicization of the Justice Department, ruined relations with our allies, (fill in the blanks.).
2) Then evoke the superlative to promise something entirely new, singularly moral, historically ethical.
3) Hope that no one remembers 9/11 or that you just praised the Saudi king and trashed a US president, or that you once helped pardon a Most Wanted fugitive, or that we already enjoy good relations with Germany, Britain, Italy, France, etc., or that Russia, Iran, and radical Islam really do not care too much what we say—only whether we do pretty much what they want.

I think in political terms it would be far wiser for Team Obama to say that problems are complex and have no easy solutions; that they will try to continue with what they thought worked the last eight years and won’t with they thought didn’t; and that there are too often only bad and worse choices. All that would be honest and would lower expectations, much more honestly and effectively than the constant “We are in a Great Depression” rhetoric or “The world hates us” screaming.

Confused

So is rendition fascistic or necessary? Is FISA shredding the Constitution or problematic? Is the Patriot Act now necessary, and no longer dictatorial? Is Guantanamo a Gulag that must be shut down, or a complex issue requiring a task force and a year of study? Should we have been out of Iraq by March 2008, or are we to withdraw according to the General Betray US/”suspension of disbelief” Petraeus plan? Will there a Hollywood movie Rendition II? Or a Nicholson Baker Knopf sequel to Checkpoint?

Stimuli

I think we are ignoring three things about the stimulus package. First, the soaring deficits and mounting aggregate debt in the 2000s contributed to our present debacle. (Yes, Bush and the Republican Congress are to be blamed for spending sprees that cannot be explained entirely by 9/11, Katrina and the two wars). We were already ‘stimulated’ and running a Keynesian economy, so why is more of what got us into this trouble the solution?

Second, the crash in oil prices from $148 a barrel to less than $40 has resulted in, along with dives in imported natural gas, a monstrous stimulus–perhaps three-quarters of a trillion dollars per year for consumers. Can’t we pause a month or three to see the effects of thousands of dollars in cheaper heating and transportation costs for the American household?

Third, interest on US treasury bonds is nearing almost nothing. Yet, Asia and Europe are still buying them. The result is that the US is receiving trillions in free loan money that should be translating into cheap mortgages and interest rates, and an infusion of cash that will soon kick in unexpectedly dramatic fashion.

In other words, while we scream about the Great Depression, there are insidious, rarely mentioned stimuli already in play that are far more helpful that borrowing a $1 trillion to redistribute and hire more government employees.

(Addendum: Can anyone follow the politics of the simuli?  Republicans who between 2001-6 oversaw massive borrowing and spending are suddenly fiscal conservatives when out of power; Democrats who blame the Keynesian Bush for getting us into this mess, now want to out-Bush Bush and spend and borrow in ways he never imagined?

Can’t Republicans say,”Sorry, we spent too much, and now, out of power, we realize that and want to reform and go back to our core philosophies and not spend what we don’t have it, so trust us this time.” And can’t Democrats say, “We had no problem with Bush’s big-government deficit spending, and so we think the answer to the current mess is to create even greater deficit spending.” At least that would be honest, and preferrable to Republicans suddenly appearing as Eisenhower fiscal conservatives, and Democrats trashing Bush ad nauseam while following his expansionary policies.)

Brave New World

I wonder sometimes how many Americans think they are going crazy as they sense a certain reality that cannot be spoken of for a variety of political, or cultural reasons. What sort of system subsidizes an unemployed single mother to have fertility treatments to deliver 8 more children to ensure a family of 14, after receiving tens of thousands of dollars in past state entitlements? Was the Dr. involved desirous of the assured business from a subsidized patient, were the parents oblivious to the ill-equipped daughter living in their home, would the mother have delivered the children had she not been assured of free medical services?

I drove from Peppderdine to Fresno on Friday and tried to tune into local radio stations as they came in and went out of range. As I left the LA basin, went into the San Fernando Valley, descended into Bakersfield, passed through Delano, and whizzed on by Visalia, there was a disturbing pattern. In every on-the-half-hour news flash, some illegal alien or gang member was announced as wanted for hit-and-run/drunk driving, or arrested for gang shootings, or suspected of some sort of theft or armed robbery. At these moments I was looking around at hundreds of cars in the three lanes of freeways (yes, in the pouring rain), and wondering whether they too were listening to these frightening news accounts—and wondering about the billions of dollars necessary to offer emergency room surgeries, rehab, and follow ups, legal bills to try, defend, sentence, jail, and release such felons, and the tab for providing interpreters and entitlement support for dependents of such criminals. And then I remembered that even to cite the above is to incur the charge of racism or illiberality. Strange times.

It doesn’t compute

One senses something is very wrong with our tax system when quite well-off people like Daschle, Geithner, Killefer, and Solis simply don’t pay their taxes and then suddenly do only when they are nominated for administration posts. That raises the question: those of us who go to an accountant, pass on any deduction that is iffy, try to take a lot of withholding to pay the fed early, and do not quibble on anything with our quite legalistic accountant, are, well, in a minority.

Those who have more money, and know more about the tax code, seem not only to cheat, but to cheat until they are forced to pay something back at the 11th hour, and then are never charged for what might well have put the rest of us in jail. I have no idea whether the phenomenon is specific to Washington or liberal Democrats, or the rich in general. But I do know that there are thousands in my environs who work off the books, are paid in cash and do not pay their proper share either—as the country is ripped off by both the top and bottom ends of the spectrum. Past time for the fair or flat tax.

About every three weeks Andrew Sullivan posts something about what I wrote, apparently because he finds it illiberal—the latest my predictions (before the Obama apocalyptic ultimatums, the Solis tax problems, etc) of a near Obama meltdown. Odd—as I once wrote, my only connection with this bizarre person is a debate once in which quite animatedly he alleged that I had supported torture, before apologizing a few days later when he discovered I had written TMS columns taking the direct opposite stance. So I am absolutely baffled how and why someone like this can continue to be taken seriously: for weeks he peddled vicious, absolutely false rumors that Sarah Palin did not deliver her recent child. On the eve of Iraq, (he now seems to suggest that he was brainwashed by, yes, those sneaky neo-cons), he blathered on with blood and guts rhetoric, mixed with fawning references to Bush, and embraced apocalyptic threats, including the advocacy of using nuclear weapons against Saddam should the anthrax attacks be connected to him. He seems not merely to support any incumbent President, but to deify them, and can go from encomia about the rightwing Bush to praise of leftwing Obama without thought of contradiction. In the summer before 9/11 he was in the major news outlets, trying to save his career after accused (accurately as he confirmed) of trafficking anonymously in the sexual want ads as an HIV-positive would-be participant in the unmentionable. (In other words, someone who was caught in a well-publicized scandal about which he confirmed its main details, without much sensitivity to human fraility, helped to spread false information about a potential VP designed to ruin her reputation.) At some point, one would think such a suspect individual would have been ostracized by sane people—or indeed perhaps he already has.

Updates

I had a lot of letters recently asking for a few updates on various things. Yes, we are going ahead with the trip to Rome/Crete/Athens, and tours and lectures on Minoan, Mycenaean, Greek, Roman, WWII, Frankish and Islamic sites, and are nearing 35 confirmed guests, not bad in the midst of a recession which is surprising. Last year the majority signed up after Feb 1. And we sold out at 65 (maximum we could take and be comfortable on two moderately sized buses). I’m hoping for a group between 35 and 65. Bruce Thornton returns and is a marvelous lecturer. We will have a number of guest lecturers as well.

I just finished editing the 10 essays of Makers of Ancient Strategy. From the Ancient Greeks to the End of the Roman Empire, for Princeton University Press. Ten classical scholars contributed essays on ancient examples from Greece and Rome on germane topics like preemption, counter-insurgency, terrorism, nation-building, democratization, unilateralism/multilateralism, homeland security vs. constitutional liberties, etc, as well as the careers of Spartacus, Alexander, Julius Caesar, Pericles, etc., and we have ancient historian contributors like Adrian Goldsworthy, Barry Strauss, Donald Kagan, Ian Worthington, Tom Holland and others. I just finished the general introduction, and the volume should be out mid to late next year.

Finally finished the novel on the freedom of the helots (No Man A Slave) and the great march into Sparta by Epaminondas; it goes to the agent on March 1.

Beginning a book on The Savior Generals, ranging from Themistocles and Scipio to the likes of Sherman, Ridgway and Petraeus, should have 8 case studies on how and why rare captains saved what was generally regarded as a hopeless military situation—how such brilliant commanders came to the fore, what they did and how, and how they ended up.

I have some essays in the current or upcoming World Affairs, Claremont Review, VFW Magazine, New Criterion, in a volume on the Hoplite controversy, and a few others. Also from January 8th to April 17, I am teaching, every Thursday from 8-12 noon for the Pepperdine graduate program on public policy, a class on globalization and Westernization: we just finished Madden’s Empires of Trust, are reading the difficult Gress’s From Plato to Nato, and will go on to Neal Ferguson’s Colossus and end with the Zakaria/Kagan debates. Hope to lecture on the July Hillsdale Mediterranean Cruise to Venice, Greece, and Turkey.

We are also just beginning a new program at the Hoover Institution, on military history and contemporary conflict. There are a number of interesting people involved already—Gen. John Abezaid, Peter Berkowitz, Ken Jowitt, and others—and we hope to have in some sort of capacity one or two military historians. I’m looking forward to it becoming finalized this autumn.

Final Note

I had a conversation (an argument) recently with a European, about contemporary culture. I tried to explain the mutually reinforcing elements of socialism, atheism, utopianism, pacifism, and statism (he was giving America a second chance to morph into Euros under Obama). But if one believes in no transcendence, that there is nothing other than the present, then for too many satisfying the appetites becomes the prime directive. Childlessness, living at home in one’s 30s, dependence on the state, all that derives from a system that ensures equality of result, and substitutes Logos and Ratio for any notion of a deity that sees sin and sacrifice, and reminds us that our souls are immortal and affected by their brief residences in our flesh. In other words, that Euros expect free health care, free care for their elderly parents, free schools, free defense from the USA, harbor little hopes for rising above the station of anyone else, find housing and jobs scarce, and don’t feel they can or want to leave behind something for their children larger than what they inherited— are all interrelated phenomena. European postmodern man offers mostly platitudes that he thinks please those who might be dangerous to him, and finds psychological recompense and solace by gratuitously trashing those who aren’t. Note how such constitution peoples favor Hamas over Israel—and usually almost anyone over the US. Were Hamas a successful democracy that took no European aid and offered it in turn no threats, and Israel a failed fascistic terrorist movement that depended on Europe for aid and comfort, while engaging in terrorism and voicing postmodern platitudes about oppression, then we would expect Israel to be a strong European ally. (I think many Europeans are more sympathetic to the Palestinian Authority or Syria or Iran than the incipient democracy in Iraq).

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