Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Not so cherry post on the way cheap credit has become almost necessary to make ends meet for the “average” American family.  Not so clear how we’re headed to recovery at this rate.  As the author notes:

Because we outsourced our jobs, incomes fell. Because incomes fell and savers were punished (thanks to abysmal returns on savings rates) we pulled future demand forward by splurging on credit. Because we splurged on credit, prices in every asset under the sun rose in value. Because prices rose while incomes fell, we had to use more credit to cover our costs, which in turn meant taking on more debt (a net drag on incomes).

And on and on.

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Greek Default

What’s happening to Greece is a glimpse of America’s future: years of artificial plenty followed, quite dramatically, by unrest, massive cutbacks in services, and a loss of power and prestige.  This, all due to excessive government spending and a lack of economic productivity.  To a lesser extent, it’s also the story of how foreign institutions, international bankers, and foreign governments will control a people’s destiny if those people are too indebted to them.

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I am more than a little chagrined about the passage of Obamacare. 

It will cost a lot, it will reduce quality of care, and eventually it will create a debt crisis when combined with the impact of other entitlements. This debt crisis will end in American default on its debt (and insanely high interest rates and mass confusion) or  slow motion inflation (and insanely high interest rates), and, in either case, a general destruction of wealth for many years not so different from the recession we’re now enduring. 

This is all very bad, of course, but the worst impact of Obamacare will be spiritual:  Obama has made us all welfare cases.  And every election from now until the end of time will be one where the majority of voters (i.e., net recipients) clamor for more from the government, which will squeeze every harder on the shrinking  plurality of the prouctive class (i.e., net taxpayers).

In addition, I am greatly afraid this victory will embolden Obama, who is verye sensible of the backlash that will hit vulnerable Democrats this fall, and thus he will be filled with a great sense of urgency and ability to continue to change America and the relationship of Americans to their government as long as his party has the majority.  

Perhaps, Cap and Trade or Immigration Amnesty is next. 

The man is, if nothing else, driven by an agenda.  He is an ideologue.  His goal is to put wins on the scoreboard of history, and he sincerely believes in much of what he’s doing.  This makes him all the more dangerous, as evidenced by his maniacal energy and focus on healthcare even as the economy continued to stay in the tank  and even as his numbers fell.  He will push on the gas harder, even if it weakens his party and his own chance of reelection.  He knows, as we all should have known, once this passed it will be hard to repeal, and he knows, as we all should have known, that this type of entitlement will change the dynamics of American politics for generations if it becomes part of the landscape.

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To appear more human, Obama tried to be funny and folksy, but his wise cracks and “million dollar smile” came across more as creepy sarcasm.  This act also created a problem of tone.  People want to see that he cares about them and their problems , that he “feels their pain” the way Bill Clinton did so well. He failed in this regard.  He always does.  It’s not his strong suit.  It was more like a pep rally atmosphere.  And he was fully of excuses, on banks for instance, rather than careful explanations and defenses of his policies.  This made him look simultaneously cocky and weak.

The speech was screwy on many levels:  he failed to convey empathy effectively, the speech lacked a unifying theme, his “rah rah” engagement with the partisan Democrats will likely alienate independents, the facts hurt him on unemployment and the debt, and his response to the same was logically contradictory, i.e., freeze spending but spend new money on flying cars and solar and what-not.  I also think his doubling down on healthcare will scare seniors, even if Medicare reform long-term makes good policy sense.  Finally, his jobs bill sounds kind of unbelievable; if a $1T stimulus couldn’t sort things out, what will $30B do. It hurts these programs’ popularity that none of us really knows anyone helped by the stimulus.  He named a few random companies, but I literally have never seen a project or met anyone who was employed because of that boondoggle.

Like most state of the union speeches,  it won’t move the dial much, but since the dial is pointed so negative for him, that makes this speech a big failure.

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The American Conservative has been a bit unwieldly from the start, attracting dubious characters whose only “conservative” instinct was isolationism rooted in the very unconservative impulses of pacifism and alienation from the values of fellow Americans.  Pat Buchanan has had little involvement for a while.  Taki left and started his own magazine, which now appears to be headed towards self-destruction.   What remained has been adrift for quite a while. Now, confirming for the millionth time the truth of O’Sullivan’s First Law, the American Conservative under the leadership of Ron Unz has started to question the immigration reform views of traditional conservatives, suggesting that fears of Hispanic Crime–which tends to be 3X the rate of native-born whites–are overstated and exaggerated. Don’t we have the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal to promote such mythology?

Of course, crime is not the only reason to oppose massive Latin American immigration.  There are other issues like the job security of native born Americans and the ways that Third World values corrupt our political culture and collective ways of life.  Ignoring these other concerns shows a real lack of conservatism, and the suggestion that these fears are irrational is not only stupid, but is easily refuted factually, as Heather MacDonald and Steve Sailer have done for years.   But the bigger question is:  why, even if crime were absolutely a non-factor in Latin American immigration, would a conservative, concerned with conserving a particular American way of life from change and degradation, support what has been one of the most significant drivers of our national dissolution, disunity, and decline.  I would not want millions of people from anywhere coming here, even if they all were quite pacific.  Conservatism is supposed to be about conserving something, but Unz has demonstrated (again) a marked indifference to the survival of America as a coherent and historical entity.

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This was unintentionally hillarious:

“Make no mistake. We will close Guantanamo prison.”  That’s what President Obama said during his recent remarks about national security in the aftermath of the attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day.

I feel better already.  It’s like George W.’s “dead or alive” remarks, but, you know, a little different.

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Jennifer Rubin has an extended essay in Commentary on why there is so much visceral dislike of Sarah Palin among Jews.  I think she overstates her case a bit.  There is no doubt she has a Jewish problem, but all Republicans do–Jews vote approximately 70% Democratic–and it seems to me hardcore liberals of all kinds hate her guts, as do Beltway and Wall Street Republican types, and they all do so for mostly the reasons that same reasons.  She is the arch-representative of the Other:  rural, physically fit, fertile, less educated, less sophisticated, religious, gun-toting, etc.  It’s the Apollonian-Mercurian distinction, of which Jews are simply one particularly prominent member of the latter group.  I basically wrote something very similar to Rubin’s piece last year, but with this (more useful in my opinion) analytical framework–as opposed to the Jew/Gentile framework.

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One of the worst aspects of conservative “activism” is (a) the dominance of beltway pundits and their utter disconnect from the “tea party” crowd, and in particular the beltway’s contempt for the latter’s untutored and more tribal and culture-focused conservatism and (b) the right’s divisions and internal enmity, which prevents practical coalition building against a common enemy:  liberalism, its welfare state, and its numerous toxic cultural organs.

Conservatism is a simple and widely held view, which need not be philosophical, strictly speaking.  It takes nothing more than a recognition that life used to be more orderly and civilized, where such awareness comes from living memory and things easily discovered in books and conversation, coupled with contempt and hostility to those who seek more, similar changes.

Our forbears who opposed Soviet Communism had a similar problem, which is at once encouraging and sobering, when we take account of the longevity of the Soviet regime.  Consider this passage from the Age of Delirium, which chronicled the later years of the Soviet Union:

[T]here was moral political unity in the Soviet Union but not behind Marxism-Leninism.  The unity existed behind the desire to live according to an idea and to force all others to do likewise.  It was the drive towards unanimity that explained some of the negative characteristics of the dissident milieu, which was permeated with rumor-mongering and intrigues and divided by intolerance and sectarianism. . . .

The ideological atmosphere of Soviet society was reflected in relations between people who concerned themselves in any way with politics.  Among such people–and this category included the majority of the unofficial intelligentsia–friendship almost always had connotations of comradeship and its demands for uncritical idealization.  The intensity fo these friendships was evident among dissents who formed an extended family on political grounds, virtually living at each other’s houses, exhibiting photographs of each other, and interesting themselves deeply in each other’s personal affairs.  It went without saying that this type of friendship became insupportable if there was the slightest change in the political outlook of the parties.  Under those circumstances, a disagreement between friends was understood as a betrayal, and the closest friendship could turn into the most unforgiving enmity, with people suddenly waking up to and expatiating at length about the repulsive and despicable personality traits they had overlooked for years when the object of such an attacks was a close and valued friend.

What can we learn from this?  First, we should not indulge in foolish and petty infighting, particularly with those such as libertarians who have no constituency, natural or otherwise.  Yes, we should disassociate from those who would raise a false flag, such as neoconservatives, who have to some extent undermined real conservatism from within and diverted it to unnatural ends like endless Mideast Wars or conflict with Russia or open borders.  But we should spend more of our time and energy where the utterly disreputable politics of the far left is ascendent and also unpopular, such as immigration and health care.

Let’s learn from the relative success of our ideological adversaries at home.  How did they proceed?  Most notably, the Left advanced for many years on many fronts, slowly chipping away at the status quo with the lever of common American principles, such as equality and due process.  But they always have upped the ante upon success.  Consider the dramatic change in sexual mores and the rules regarding the same.  First, they argued for a constitutional right for birth control for the married.  Then the unmarried.  Then abortion.  And now we are seriously debating gay “marriage.”  This is a slow motion cultural revolution.

Under the successful leftist campaign, the newspapers, media, universities, political fundraising, and public schools all have been put to work to discredit our past, expose (and distort) its alleged flaws, replace our former authorities, destroy our economic independence, take away our guns, distract us with sensation and materialism and a lack of tribal unity, and generally move step by step towards their goals. (By contrast, the right has won back the right to bear arms through a similar strategy in reverse, focusing activism and money state-by-state.)

In other words, the left’s biggest triumphs have not been through symbolic violence by extremists far in front of the cultural mainstream–like the work of the Wobblies or Haymarket Square bombers–but rather the drumbeat of Gloria Steinem, Boasian anthropology, Freudian psychology, Keynesian economics, the haggiography of MLK, and the leaderless ideology of diversity and multiculturalism.  And the culmination:  a culture defined by the values of Hollywood, the crony capitalism of Wall Street, and the Manchurian presidency of Barack Hussein Obama.

Something like this in reverse is the answer, and, like the Left’s successes, will depend on some luck, circumstances, public relations and intellectual efforts nationally, and a certain degree of organizing locally.  The stated goals of the left must be exposed, as must their bad faith.  While there are many obstacles, there is much to work with for conservatives seeking national renewal, not least the dissatisfaction with Obama’s fiscal profligacy, his (and the neoconservatives’) open borders extremism, the Democrats’ excessive concern for America’s black minority, their contempt for our economic independence and historical freedoms, their lack of patriotism and their lack of hatred for our enemies, their hostility to Christians and rural Americans, their dominance  by unrepresentative and hostile minority factions, and much else. In other words, we need to hack away at the Left on those fronts where there is a majority, or at least strong plurality of support, rather than indulging in silly fantasies of revolutionary violence, the creation of a new pagan or quasi-scientific right wing that is anti-Christian (i.e., against 80% of the country), or the Rockefeller Republican strategy of compromise with our enemies, who will only respond by asking for more next time around.

That all said, arguing with crazies or getting caught up in distractions like the cult of Charles Johnson (the erstwhile militant neocon at LGF) or crackpots on the neo-nazi movement is a big waste of time.  Let’s instead speak to normal people on those areas where we agree and cooperate today, even if we must part ways and have smaller, more manageable disagreements about finer points of policy and strategy, tomorrow.

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Interesting article on Obama’s penchant for issuing deadlines.  I think this is a mark of his lack of previous management experience; he has not lost face previously from setting deadlines that others and events outside of his control have rendered irrelevant.  He is a novice, and his leadership style shows it:  replete with abusive and over-heated rhetoric, unrealistic deadlines, contradictory directions to subordinates, paper threats, and increasingly ineffective strings of generalities he calls “speeches.”

It would be fun and funny if it all weren’t so deadly serious.  At least health care looks like it’s gone from very bad–socialism that destroys the independence and innovation of American medicine–to the merely bad, in this case a crony capitalist giveaway to insurance companies with toothless limitations on costs.  There will be some redistribution, mostly from the young to the old and, along the same lines, the healthy and insurable to those with chronic health problems.  But the government won’t (right away) be deciding who gets care and who doesn’t, private insurance will remain, and the Democrats will probably get wolloped in 2010.  And Obama will own this thing along with all the problems of American health care going forward.

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Not So Clever

One thing you learn quickly in business is that the safest thing to do and often the smartest is to under-promise, over-deliver, and be parsimonious with commitments. Obama’s done none of these things, and it all shows an amateur at work whose appreciation for the real world is sorely lacking. Consider this take-down in Harper‘s of all places:

All these maneuvers might seem tactically “smart”: Goldman Sachs, Citicorp and the hedge funds contributed mightily to Obama’s election; John McCain wasn’t able to call Obama a peacenik or “soft on Al Qaeda”; and Baucus’s insurance and nursing-home friends weren’t put to any trouble, which would have caused Obama problems with Baucus about other tax matters before the Senate Finance Committee.

But maybe such cynicism isn’t altogether so smart in 2009. Wall Street, unpunished and unrepentant after three decades of recklessness, is poised to embark on new, unregulated financial adventures, such as the issuance of securitized life-insurance policies known as “life settlement” bonds. Rewarded for their failures with huge sums of public money, the newly emboldened casino managers are liable to sink the ship next time, instead of just flooding it.

In Afghanistan, American soldiers are consistently dying in small batches (under orders from their Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader) while Afghan civilians continue to perish in far greater numbers under American and British bombs supposedly aimed at the Taliban. You don’t even have to remember Vietnam or the Russian occupation of Afghanistan to recognize the profound absurdity of the administration’s counterinsurgency strategy. Respectable experts, from Edward Luttwak on the right to George McGovern and William Polk on the left to Andrew J. Bacevich somewhere in the middle, have demolished the notion that such a military campaign can succeed in subduing a nationalist or tribal rebellion.

As for Baucus and health care, it’s clear that whatever bill comes out of the Finance Committee, large numbers of Americans will remain uninsured or underinsured. This means that the emergency room at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York will continue to overflow with poor children who come for primary care because their parents can’t afford a pediatrician. And it means that America’s industrial corporations will continue to suffer from a competitive disadvantage with manufacturers based in civilized countries where health care is considered a public trust and a right and the government pays the bill.

Does this sound smart? Or does it sound really, really stupid?

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Obama is surprisingly naive for a guy who spent so much time in Chicago; there will be a million ways to bankrupt his healthcare system and exploit its vulnerabilities, and the end result will be an unpopular, unworkable, and very expensive system that will alienate his marginal supporters among white yuppies and independents.

Consider the scenario envisioned by Dick Morris:

Will a young, healthy, childless individual or couple buy health insurance costing 7.5 percent of their income, as required by Obama’s health legislation? Not until they get sick. Then they can always buy the insurance, and the Obama bill requires the insurance companies to give it to them. And if the premiums come to more than 7.5 percent of their income because they are now sick, no problem. Obama will subsidize it.

Instead, young, healthy, childless people will likely opt to pay the $1,000 fine (aka slap on the wrist) mandated in the bill. After all, even if they make as little as $50,000 a year, the fine is a lot cheaper than 7.5 percent of their income (or $3,500 a year)!

So … these young households will not contribute to the coffers of any health insurance company until they are sick and need the coverage. By then, their costs will come to vastly more than their premiums.

Who will subsidize the difference? We will.

“We,” by the way, are the “money people,” the 30-40% net contributors of the federal government’s revenues. These people of the upper middle and upper class, typically professionals or small business owners who have decent incomes–a far cry from the idle rich–will be ground into dust under Obama, and perhaps this is the real goal even beyond universal health care.

I’m not sure, though. Naivite, wishful thinking, and outright stupidity often explain things more fiathfully than grand and malevolent conspiracy theories. If there is one thing Obama has demonstrated in spades since his election, is that he’s not as sharp or even as street smart as his credentials would suggest. He’s a man of idealism and attainment more than actual achievement.

Naivite is exactly what we would expect from a guy with the “golden resume” rather than actual life experience. Rahm Emmanuel on the other hand . . .

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Camille Paglia notes how anti-dissent the left has become:

And I remain shocked at the priggish derision of the mainstream media (locked in their urban enclaves) toward those events. This was a moving spectacle of grassroots American democracy in action. Aggrieved voters have a perfect right to shout at their incompetent and irresponsible representatives. American citizens are under no duty whatever to sit in reverent silence to be fed propaganda and half-truths. It is bizarre that liberals who celebrate the unruly demonstrations of our youth would malign or impugn the motivation of today’s protestors with opposing views.

Of course, this hatred of anyone that upsets the apple cart of liberalism is apparent to anyone who has been to college in the last twenty years. Some hippies went on to live in the hills of Vermont, but a great deal more went on to poison several generations of youth.

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It may be thought that in these hard economic times, the economy will dominate the next election. This is probably true.  But it is a mistake to view social and economic issues as distinct categories.  In particular, issues like affirmative action, crime, and immigration may become more important to voters during economic hard times.

Welfare, affirmative action, crime, and social issues were important factors in the success of Reagan Republicanism twenty years ago. Affirmative action gains special salience during hard economic times and was used to great effect int he ’82 and ’90 recessions.  While affirmative action hiring policies may be annoying, limits on promotions and selective firings informed by racial preferences will sting more and divide the white working class even further from the Democratic coalition than these voters’ economic hard times alone would suggest.

The consensus among Republicans and Democrats alike has been not to make too much of a fuss about immigration and affirmative action.   Under Bush, conservatism was supposed to be “compassionate,” which meant policies indifferent to the native born population and hostile to the older American principles of thrift and limited government.  Everyone was so busy making money and flipping houses, it seemed petty to make too big of a deal about government services for illegal aliens or the quotas that prevailed in public sector and corporate hiring.  But as unemployment approaches 10%, the real swing voters–the white working classes–are realizing that these policies involve picking winners and losers in zero sum hiring and firing games.  At the same time, cigarette taxes and symbolic displays, such as Obama’s siding against law enforcement in favor of an obstreporous black colleague, remind these voters that Obama and the Democrats have less and less use for them and don’t identify with their values and interests.

These hard times create many opportunities for conservative politics.  For starters, spendthrift that Bush was, he had respect for private property and was substantially less inclined to expand the government’s reach into private life than Obama.  This difference would have been hard to fathom just a few years ago, but the Obama stimulus, health care, and moronic programs like “cash for clunkers” stand in sharp relief to Bush’s general tone.  Second, the argument that there are “jobs Americans won’t do” and that “diverse workplaces are important” will fall on deaf ears of whites who are out of work or deeply upside down many months into Obama’s administration.  Indeed, these cliches will be treated as insults and reinforce the suspicion that Obama does not mean to represent all Americans equally.

Republicans have long been afraid to make these arguments.  No one likes to be called racist and get disinvited from cocktail parties.  But voters are making these arguments for them:  on blogs, in private conversations, on the comment boards of newspapers, in anonymous posters, and on the insides of bathroom stalls.  The Republicans can either tie this rumbling into a coherent politics of fairness, preserving national identity, and sound economic policy, or they can be called racist all the same, while doing nothing to stand up towards the racist and socialist policies of the Democratic Party.

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I wrote way back when that Obama’s insecurities about his identity and deference to his party’s left, in particular on “black issues,” may be his undoing. It will radicalize conservatives. And it will be out of touch with the moderates whom he must court to remain effective and get reelected.

So why might Obama say something like what’s below?  It seems politically suicidal, positioning him with all the grievance mongers and scab-pickers like Al Sharpton, Sheila Jackson Lee, John Conyers, and the whole rest of that useless group of flatterers.

Could it be because he heard this kind of nonsense for 20 years and really believes it?

As when the reality of his church was revealed, Obama must again be asked and again explain:  who is the real Barack Obama?  Is he the postracial healer?  Or is he the “race man” who is simply a more effective Jesse Jackson that aims to help his group because of group and tribal loyalty and has little interest in the country’s welfare as a whole?

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The stimulus did not work. Joblessness and misery of all kinds are increasing. The “green shoots” nonsense of the spring has subsided. It’s Nouriel Roubini’s hour, once again.

The question remains, and it is also hard to figure out, whether the recession is so bad we’ll have major deflation, or if the government’s money-printing strategy will devalue the currency and lead to hyperinflation? It’s the most important economic question of the times, and no one really knows the answer.

I lean towards inflation, but the data seems now to point more the other way. I am a crappy prognosticator in any case, but I do think prices will go up and output down in the usual “stagflationary” supply shock, as I said way back when. Whether one or the other factor–i.e., the deflationary or inflationary trend–is dominant, I don’t know. This is another way of saying, even if prices go up, I don’t think it will be signs of or helpful to a recovery, and we’re in for bad times one way or the other. I made this “stagflationary” point about the Bush stimulus way back in early 2008.

I do think it’s become clear (as it did under Carter) that fiscal stimulus and Keynesian ideas won’t work. That’s the meaning of the infamous chart showing the gap of rhetoric and reality on unemployment in the era of the huge Obama stimulus.

The only chart Obama really cares about are his popularity poll numbers, of course. And even that’s starting to slip.

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