Belmont Club

Gone With the Whine

A regime in the process of collapse makes a fascinating study. Venezuela, besides running out of nearly everything else, is now running out of newsprint. Without paper the authorities can’t even disseminate the results of the “Maximum Socialist Efficiency” seminar it held for 120 state-owned enterprises recently, to teach them how to produce the collective way.

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The final stage of socialism isn’t Communism. It’s an empty shelf.  The end comes when even Maximum Socialist Efficiency can’t pay the salaries of the secret police or find enough newsprint on which to disseminate the latest edicts. Socialism ends when the janitor turns out the lights, even though the lights haven’t worked in years.

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Although not nearly as bad as Venezuela, its interesting to note that the most telling blows against the Obama administration have been dealt by its own incompetence rather than the formal political opposition. Itself — not John Boehner — is  its own worst enemy. When faced with widespread snowstorms across the country and drought in California the president announced a new $1 billion climate change resilience fund to fight global warming.

The fund, which would need to be approved by Congress, is intended to help communities dealing with negative weather that’s the result of climate change.

Obama is touting the fund during a trip to California, which has been devastated by a drought that is threatening the Central Valley’s agriculture production and has led Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to call on Californians to conserve water.

During a call with reporters on Thursday evening, the assistant to the president on science and technology, John Holdren, said, without any doubt, the severe drought plaguing California and a number of other states across the country is tied to climate change.

“Weather practically everywhere is being caused by climate change,” Holdren said.

In the words of CBS News, “excess heat generated by all this warm water is destabilizing this gigantic bucket of cold air… So that’s the irony, that heating could cause gigantic storms of historic proportions”.  They’re just tossing the ball up now, hoping that Jornolist can tip it in the hoop.  Public statements have taken on the form of a word salad. For example, John Kerry, doing a good imitation of Yogi Berra, recently told the press he’s going to try and fix Syria again even though he doesn’t quite know what he’ll do.

BEIJING: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday that President Barack Obama had again asked for policy options on Syria but that none have yet been presented to him.

Kerry told reporters Obama was concerned about the deterioration in the humanitarian situation in Syria and also by the fact that peace talks between the opposition and government had not produced a discussion of a transitional government as had been planned.

As a result, Kerry said, “he has asked all of us to think about various options that may or may not exist.”

The Washington Post, in an article titled “Obama ambassador nominees prompt an uproar with bungled answers, lack of ties” surveys the modest qualifications of recently appointed US ambassadors and concludes rather cynically that not even the appearance knowledge is now necessary for anything important.  Juliet Eilperin writes:

A century-old debate over whether presidents should reward political donors and allies by making them ambassadors has flared again after a string of embarrassing gaffes by President Obama’s picks. …

Even former senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the new U.S. ambassador in Beijing, managed to raise eyebrows during his confirmation hearing by acknowledging, “I’m no real expert on China”…

The troubles began last month, when million-dollar bundler and Chartwell Hotels chief executive George Tsunis testified at his confirmation hearing to be ambassador to Norway. Tsunis admitted he had never been to the Scandinavian country and suggested, among other things, that the nation’s Progress Party was part of a discounted “fringe.” It is actually part of Norway’s center-right ruling coalition.

Noah Bryson Mamet was asked during his confirmation hearing this month if he had ever been to Argentina, where he would be ambassador. “I haven’t had the opportunity yet to be there,” said Mamet, who raised more than $500,000 for Obama’s reelection.

During the same hearing, Robert C. Barber, who raised more than $1.6 million for Obama in 2012 and has been nominated to serve as ambassador to Iceland, said he had never visited the Nordic nation.

Then there is Colleen Bell, the nominee for ambassador to Hungary and a producer of “The Bold and the Beautiful” soap opera, who raised or contributed about $800,000 to Obama in the last election. She stammered her way through testimony about U.S. strategic interests in the country, which is the focus of growing international alarm over far-right lawmakers’ attitude toward Jews and other minorities.

“I have no more questions for this incredibly highly qualified group of nominees,” McCain said sarcastically during the hearing for several of the nominees.

The proper answer to any such questions, as Hillary Clinton demonstrated when asked whether it was true that the US consulate in Benghazi was burned over a YouTube video is to fatalistically point out “what difference at this point does it make?” Somewhere along the line — perhaps in late 2013 — the administration gave up trying to even pretend mastery of the situation. It’s all “who cares?”

For all the billions of pixels expended on analyzing the Obama administration very few articles have seriously focused on the root causes its management dysfunction.  One exception is the Atlantic’s David Graham who zeroes in on what are really two aspects of a single defect. Quoting Glenn Thrush’s article he notes that a) Obama doesn’t delegate anything of importance to the cabinet; and b) that he micromanages everything.

The Cabinet, Glenn Thrush writes, have been reduced to a bunch of tailor’s dummies:

never has the job of Cabinet secretary seemed smaller. The staffers who rule Obama’s West Wing often treat his Cabinet as a nuisance: At the top of the pecking order are the celebrity power players, like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton…

“We are completely marginalized … until the shit hits the fan,” says one former Cabinet deputy secretary, summing up the view of many officials I interviewed. “If your question is: Did the president rely a lot on his Cabinet as a group of advisers? No, he didn’t,” says former Obama Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Little wonder, then, that Obama has called the group together only rarely, for what by most accounts are not much more than ritualistic team-building exercises: According to CBS News White House reporter Mark Knoller, the Cabinet met 19 times in Obama’s first term and four times in the first 10 months of his second term. That’s once every three months or so—about as long as you can drive around before you’re supposed to change your oil.

Lyndon Johnson used to brag that not a single outhouse in Vietnam could be bombed without his personal OK. But Obama has gone him one better: when faced with the meltdown of the Obamacare website Obama told a crowd that he wanted to fix it himself but didn’t know how.

“I wanted to go in and fix it myself, but I don’t write code.” He played the line for laughs, but perhaps it was more serious than he let on. This is the man who once boasted he could do every job on his campaign better than his hired hands: “I think I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters …. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.”

That didn’t mean he gave the job to anyone who did. The collateral confirmation for this personalistic management style is what Professor Jonathan Turley called the growing “cult of personality”.

I’m afraid this is beginning to border on a cult of personality for people on the left. I happen to agree with many of President Obama’s policies, but in our system it is often as important how you do something as what you do.

And I think that many people will look back at this period in history and see nothing but confusion as to why people remained so silent when the president asserted these types of unilateral actions. You have a president who is claiming the right to basically rewrite or ignore or negate federal laws. That is a dangerous thing. It has nothing to do with the policies; it has to do with politics.

Or as the Atlantic put it, ‘everything of importance is decided at the national palace’. This is natural. If everything flows from Lenin then only Lenin counts. Obama’s style is not that of the chief executive of a constitutional republic but that of an absolute monarch. The result is a cult of personality; not only autocratic, but also highly inefficient. He’s like a king who can neither ride nor couch a lance and won’t let any one else try. When combined with his tendency to take frequent and lengthy vacations it’s easy to understand why nothing gets done.

Thus the word salad, confusion, long stretches of inactivity followed by desperate shortcuts, poor staffwork, lousy execution are all the straightforward hallmarks of an executive who never ran anything other than a political campaign in his adult life. A recent Quinnpiac poll shows that 53% of respondents now believe Obama is incompetent. Perhaps more importantly even key administration officials apparently agree. They’re no longer even phoning it in. They’re demoralized, beaten in by themselves. All they’ve got left is a pen and phone with nothing worthwhile to write or say.

Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with you friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.

The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity for $3.99, or why the truth shall make you free
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Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea $0.99, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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