Belmont Club

Beginnings and endings

This is where your earmarks are being spent. “BOSTON – More than one out of every five dollars of the $126 million Massachusetts is receiving in earmarks from a $410 billion federal spending package is going to help preserve the legacy of the Kennedys. The bill includes $5.8 million for the planning and design of a building to house a new Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the Senate. The funding may also help support an endowment for the institute.” In the meantime, taxes are being cut and compensated for by borrowing! “Democratic state leaders announced the elimination of $1.3 billion in proposed nuisance taxes from the state budget Wednesday, and will pay for the move with federal stimulus funds.  … The agreement between Paterson, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith eliminates new taxes on common items — including previously tax-free goods and services such as clothing under $110, sugared drinks, digital downloads, cable and satellite television, and manufacturers’ coupons. ”

One of the tell-tales of a growing dysfunction within a system is the collapse of priorities. When small things begin to loom large and truly momentous events are regarded with a dispassionate, almost distinterested attention, it is often a sign that leadership culture has lost its way. The Week describes the strange narratives being emitted by the Obama administration: talking up fiscal packages that they know are ineffectual; making fatalistic references to Depression Era history and Happy Talk in place of real plans.

Behind Romer’s delicate words is a question: Why does the Obama administration talk down the importance of monetary policy? The Federal Reserve still has weapons in its arsenal, including what’s called “quantitative easing”—technical jargon for what amounts to printing more money and deliberately inflating. These measures are not only powerful, they are a lot easier to stop when they are no longer needed—unlike, say, the administration’s big spending plans. …

In an administration that increasingly seems baffled by the financial crisis, a White House official who is willing to pierce the illusion of happy consensus can do a real service. We don’t need jolly, bogus reassurance. We need real thinking and a more open and productive debate. The administration’s top economist has now publicly, if elliptically, served notice of the likely inadequacy of the administration’s plans. Better to correct course early rather than too late!

It almost seems like one of those movies where paratroopers are telling jokes before jumping into certain death; almost as if the main issues are foregone and so the conversation must turn to something else. Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist caught the obsession with trivia in the midst of an existential crisis perfectly. When Fagin is sentenced to death, he can think of nothing but unimportant things on the brink of his own execution.

He looked up into the gallery again. Some of the people were eating, and some fanning themselves with handkerchiefs; for the crowded place was very hot. There was one young man sketching his face in a little note-book. He wondered whether it was like, and looked on when the artist broke his pencil-point, and made another with his knife, as any idle spectator might have done.

In the same way, when he turned his eyes towards the judge, his mind began to busy itself with the fashion of his dress, and what it cost, and how he put it on. There was an old fat gentleman on the bench, too, who had gone out, some half an hour before, and now come back. He wondered within himself whether this man had been to get his dinner, what he had had, and where he had had it; and pursued this train of careless thought until some new object caught his eye and roused another.

Dickens might almost be describing the Obama administration.  Maybe BHO’s grand speeches aren’t really promises to save the world. Perhaps he’s really saying the precise opposite. Here the illusion ends. There is no cake, as one reader wrote to me, “the cake is a lie.” You know when a man really has hope because he’s full of fight; bursting with defiance. In Obama’s case, it is like watching a man go through the motions while the world prepares to go on, almost without him.

Stratfor describes how al-Qaeda is getting back at Saudi interests in Pakistan because the Kingdom has been getting on their case. “All these threats raise an obvious question: Why is al Qaeda so fixated on the Saudis? One obvious reason is that, since the launching of a disastrous offensive by the Saudi al Qaeda node, the Saudi government — which previously had turned a blind eye to many of al Qaeda’s activities — has launched a full-court press against the organization. … Leveraging its successes against the al Qaeda franchises in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, Riyadh also is working closely with governments to combat the jihadists in places like Yemen as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is, in effect, a global Saudi campaign against jihadism, and we believe al Qaeda has no choice but to attempt to derail the Saudi effort in Pakistan and Afghanistan.” Where do we fit in all of this, if the War on Terror is over? If history has ended and we with it? The British newspapers say the President can’t even fake an interest in foreign affairs. Maybe at the end of the rainbow, the one he’s been chasing all his life, was the thing that had been pursuing him.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half heard, in the stillness
Between the two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always–
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of things shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.