Work and Days

What's Ahead

Obama Hot Spots


1) Pakistan is a de facto belligerent, analogous to Syria without the billions in US aid. It is nuclear, and anti-Democratic (despite its national elections); its various semi-government entities and religious fanatics are against most that we are for. It offers Obama only bad and worse choices, and his campaign promises of hot pursuit into Pakistan look remote. Look to see gradual estrangement and an outsourcing of the problem to India.
2) Inflation or Collapse? I don’t think we are near a Great Depression by any metric—GDP performance, unemployment, or bank collapses. But at some time in the near future, the enormous bailouts, reprieves on debt, spiraling federal debt and borrowing from overseas, expansion of the money supply, envisioned near zero-interest loans, and trillion-dollar plus savings in gas and energy prices will, in the manner of a perfect storm, begin to create a great inflation. When capital invested in stock, cash, bonds, or real estate brings no interest or profit, then indebtedness has less of a down side, and inflation starts to roar.
3) Unbridled Left. So far the Left has held its tongue, still basking in a return to power of liberal government and perhaps the most ostensibly leftwing President in our entire history. That means the centrist appointments and flip-flops are permissible for a time and contingent on heart-and-soul, true-believer policies and appointments to come. But if that should not materialize, and war, recession, and inflation take off the veneer of Obamania, then watch the rumbling escalate into 1968-like furor.
4) Another 9/11? Wiretapping. Renditions. Predator attacks in Waziristan. The killing of insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq. Increased border security. All that has been as useful in preventing another attack as they have proven easy fodder for leftist critics. I think Obama realizes that (1) if he ends the above, and we get hit, the Left will take no responsibility for such laxity, but (2) suggest our vulnerability was due to tactical shortcomings of his administration (or perhaps justified retaliation from our enemies) rather than their zeal for the disastrous repeal of past safety measures.
5) Condescension. Americans are sincerely proud of our meritocratic system that puts no institutional hurdles in the way of anyone of any race or religion reaching the highest office. We forget American exceptionalism on that account, especially in the wake of global hysterical approval of the Obama victory. Yet those abroad who think his ascension marks a radical change in American foreign policy into something more resembling their own—leftist, statist, collectivist with financial and ethical claims on the United States—may become sorely suprised. In truth, the world is mostly a far more illiberal place, as we have already seen in some racially awkward remarks from the leaders of Russia, Italy, Venezuela, and Iran. So if Obama proves to be a staunch supporter of American values and interests (more a JFK abroad than a Jimmy Carter), expect intemperance from the Chinese, Russians, Arabs, and some South Americans (all with questionable records of tolerance for racial diversity in general and equal-handedness for blacks in particular).

Iran

Remember omnipotent Iran that we empowered after 2003—as if its centrifuges and anti-Americanism were not in evidence during the Clinton Administration? Suddenly forty-something dollars a barrel oil has resulted in near bankruptcy. It has little if any cash to give Hezbollah, and is now faced with an increasingly autonomous and democratic Iraq on its borders—and more and more unfettered Iraqi transborder communications extolling freedom of choice and empowerment of Shiite Muslims.

Surreal

Imagine: in March 2008 candidate Barack Obama announces:

(1) I promise to offer my rival Hillary Clinton the Secretary of State job, due to her superior knowledge of foreign affairs;

(2) Bob Gates has done a fine job with Afghanistan and Iraq and the war on terror (and missile defense and Guantanamo?) and he must stay on;

(3) We need a four-star general (who was George Bush’s Mideast envoy) like James Jones as National Security Advisor;

(4) John Edwards came out early for me, but I can’t appoint someone erratic like that to anything, and the best I can do for an equally early supporter like Bill Richardson is Commerce;

(5) I need more Clinton pros and that’s why I’m picking John Podesta, Rahmn Emanuel, Eric Holder and any others I can get to run the transition—and run the executive government;

(6) Oh, and I think the terrible FISA accords, Guantanamo, and the Iraq War are complex questions that surely require more than flippant campaign dismissals;

(7) Those Machiavellian oil companies that jacked up oil prices and deserve windfall taxes on their obscene profits, are incompetents who can’t control the market and will be lucky to turn a profit as prices will plummet—and so no need now for windfall taxes.

As I gauge the conservative reaction to all this, it seems to fall info four categories:

(1) This is outrageous hypocrisy! Obama ran a bait-and-switch campaign and deliberately misled the public and unfairly demonized his opponents with full knowledge he would flip as soon as he was elected and had responsibility for governance not campaign rhetoric;

(2) This is great! Gates and Jones are superb. Hillary is a heck of a lot better than a Biden or Richardson or Kerry at state. Petraeus and Crocker will still direct Iraq, and we will still be protected by the Patriot Act, wiretaps of terrorists, and keeping the enemy over there in Afghanistan and Iraq;

(3) This is tricky! Obama is just appointing bumper-sticker centrists, but the real governance is done beneath the radar-screen, so watch him usher in a host of stealthy leftists to wage the revolution;

(4) This is pathetic! Obama is a deer-in-the-headlights who hasn’t a clue what to do. He has no cadre of trusted, long time confidants, and hasn’t even taken office and yet has already switched positions ad infinitum, and looks as lined and tired as George Bush did after eight years of actual governance.

Myself? I haven’t got a clue to  what is going on, and just hope (sincerely!) that he governs well and, in Ajaxian fashion, helps our friends and confounds our enemies.


More on Westerns

For some reason I watched last night for the nth-time the 1962 epic How the West Was Won.

It is a flawed enterprise, but nonetheless I was struck by three impressions. First, there were excellent actors and directors. Lee J. Cobb, Harry Dean Stanton, Eli Wallach, and Walter Brennan offered rather brilliant cameo roles. Debbie Reynolds, Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, and Jimmy Stewart essentially played themselves—and well too. I had forgotten that John Ford directed the short segment on the Civil War; the brief talk of Grant/Harry Morgan and Sherman/John Wayne (hardly looked like Uncle Billy at all) after Shiloh, Day One, was pretty much historically accurate. Almost every fine character actor in Hollywood showed up from Lee van Cleef and Andy Devine to Karl Malden and Agnes Moorehead,

Two, I was also struck how much emphasis was given to strong women in the conquest of the West, especially the Reynolds, Carol Baker, and Thelma Ritter roles, and also the fair treatment of the Indians who are presented sympathetically. When they raid the wagon train, they are simply hunting for necessary horses; when they attack the railroad work gangs, it is justified by rail company dishonesty; when they kill railroad workers, it is justified by the white men’s own crimes.

There is also a sort of populism to the tale. The Railroad’s company man, Richard Widmark is, well, Richard Widmark, the epitome of the cruel boss that does the company’s bidding. In contrast the “folk” who built the West are poor people and immigrants who toil while the railroads profitted from their misery.

Third, this film could never have made today. While it is evenhanded in discussing frontier excess, the ultimate message is that the bounty we appreciate today (there is a final futuristic clip of the LA freeway system!) was due to the courage and sacrifice of our forefathers—a feeling I get every time I hike up 10,300 ft.Kaiser Peak (as I did yesterday) and look down upon the engineering brilliance below that resulted in the jewel of Huntington Lake (began in 1913 by the brilliant engineers and planners John Eastwood, David Redinger and Henry Huntington.)

PS. I had forgotten just how talented and attractive the youngish Debbie Reynolds was; she could move, act, sing, dance, and charm, and had it all—a stunningly beautiful American original.