Monthly Archives: February 2009

The Endangered Primate

Mike McNally warns that primates are definitely endangered- at least for the next four years:

…In light of this sudden outbreak of sensitivity over the depiction of primates [inspired by an anti-stimulus bill cartoon in the New York Post], what are we now to make of the ending of [the movie Planet of the Apes] — particularly since Obama is keen to encourage comparisons between himself and Lincoln? What, indeed, are we to make of the original 1968 version of Planet of the Apes and its sequels, all of which imagine a future Earth ruled by gorillas and chimpanzees? Because it appears that any and all media depictions of primates which have negative connotations are off limits for at least the next four years, lest they be interpreted as a coded attack on the president.

So no more King Kong remakes — unless the star is a giant polar bear battling global warming. Never mind that the reason apes are such effective icons in popular culture — whether in science fiction movies or satirical cartoons — is because of their closeness to humans in appearance and behavior (how unnerved would you be by a movie in which the Earth is ruled by sheep?). And why stop with popular culture? To be on the safe side, America’s zoos will presumably come under pressure to close their monkey houses, lest they evoke harrowing memories of the civil rights struggle. Such is the toxic environment that the left has created — and create it they did, make no mistake. The row over the New York Post cartoon was as manufactured a case of outrage as you will ever see. When I first heard about it I made a few notes with a view to writing something. One was: “expect demo outside NYP offices any day — local rent-a-mob with Sharpton directing the media.” Sure enough, there outside the Post building the next day was Al, whose exploits over the years have gone way beyond anything Tom Wolfe imagined for his Sharpton-inspired caricature, the Reverend Bacon, in Bonfire of the Vanities.

Watching the controversy unfold has been a textbook study in how the left works, and the Sharpton protest was a microcosm of the wider operation: dishonest, cynical leaders whipping up the ignorant and the gullible. Some people clearly misunderstood the cartoon because they were too stupid to get it, and because they’ve been conditioned by college professors and the media to see racism everywhere. Others — influential figures in politics and the media — knew perfectly well that the cartoon was poking fun at the incompetence and hysteria that accompanied the passage of the stimulus bill and that no slur on Obama was intended. But they feigned outrage in order to suppress legitimate criticism of the stimulus package, and to slander one of the few media outlets that hasn’t climbed aboard the Hope’n’Change Express.

It was pure coincidence that the cartoon row erupted at the same time as Attorney General Eric Holder was calling Americans “cowards” for not discussing race openly, but it demonstrates why Holder’s call for a “conversation” about race is at best futile, and at worst dishonest. Leftist interests, and many mainstream Democratic politicians, have long exploited race issues to win votes and get their way, and if they ever engage in an honest debate on the subject they’ll lose one of their most potent weapons…

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Your (The Not-So-Rich's) Taxes Are Going Up Too

First they told us that Barry was going to close Guantanamo and abolish Bush’s “illegal, unconstitutional” war on terror policies. But after taking office, they announced that Guantanamo will indeed be closed… you know, someday… and that, contrary to what had been previously said, “enhanced interrogation,” “rendition,” and wiretapping programs will continue.

Now, the New York Times tells us:

…Your taxes are going up.

They will probably go up in the coming decade, and the increase will be permanent. For a half-century, federal taxes have remained fairly constant relative to the size of the American economy — equal to about 18 percent of gross domestic product. But the 18 percent era has to end soon.

It won’t end because President Obama is some radical tax and spender, either. It will end because of a basic economic reality.

Americans have made it clear that they want a certain kind of government, one that can field a strong military and also maintain popular programs like Medicare. Yet we are not paying nearly enough taxes to maintain those programs. Even major changes to the health care system — the single most important step for closing the budget gap — will not close it entirely. Taxes must rise, too.

This is a point on which serious Democrats and serious Republicans agree, even if they do so with euphemism. “We are on an unsustainable path,” says Peter Orszag, Mr. Obama’s budget director. Judd Gregg, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, has said, “Revenues are going to have to go up.” Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Dan Crippen, budget experts who advised the McCain campaign, have quietly acknowledged the same.

…To the extent that Mr. Obama has talked about raising taxes, he has focused on households that make at least $250,000 a year. And their taxes will certainly need to go up. In the last three decades, as the pretax income of the top 1 percent of earners has soared, their total federal tax rate has fallen to 31 percent, from 37 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

But the problem can’t be solved just by taxing the rich. That top 1 percent pays only about one-quarter of federal taxes. Once the recession ends, taxes on the not-so-rich will need to rise, too…

The Times, with a straight face, explains that both “serious Republicans” and “serious Democrats” now agree on the need to raise taxes on both the rich and not-so-rich. What they leave out is the inconvenient fact that the Republicans warned the voters that Barry could not possibly finance his expensive programs and handouts without raising taxes on the not-so-rich as well, while the Democrats (and their media supporters) argued the opposite.

Our Late, Great State

Victor Davis Hanson on the “failed state” of California:

… a popular parlor game out here is to argue over what caused California’s mess—an inept Terminator as governor; a wacky state legislature that is the dividend of insanely gerry-mandered districts; refined, out of touch elite environmentalists who sued and blocked everything from agriculture and forestry to oil, natural gas, and nuclear energy production?

Or was it the murderous tax code that, to pay for income redistribution, demands the highest sales and income taxes in the nation, and drives out the best and brightest, while welcoming in the high-school dropout and eighth-grade graduate?

Or was the problem state regulations that make it almost impossible to run profitably a small business in compliance with rules that no one can fathom, and which seem designed only to employ more unproductive state bureaucrats?

Or was it the 4-million plus illegal immigrants who over a span of some 30 years, on average per capita will draw well over $50,000 more in entailments than they contribute in taxes?

Or was the rub a powerful state employee bloc, one that consistently demanded raises not tied to performance, but often well over the rate of inflation? (Indeed, many making over $100,000 got raises this year while the state remains nearly $40 billion in debt).

Or was it the out-of-control unionized, overcrowded prison system, that, after hundreds of law-suits and hundreds of millions in court costs, elevated incarceration into some utopian enterprise?

Or was it, to be candid, the screwed-up, shared California mentality, that wants everything now and in perfection, but has not a clue how to pay for it, or a care about the nebulous distant, but evil “they” who are to provide for it. (And a growing state work force that votes for its own excess, since it rarely sees any more the entrepreneur who once paid for it [and is on his way to Idaho or Nevada]).

I don’t know the precise calculus of failure.

…But I do suggest that one culprit was the state proposition system, our bi-yearly experiment in direct democracy in which for the last three decades we voted in all sorts of unfunded mandates, bonds, borrowing schemes and environmental prohibitions about this and that. And we did all this in a state whose high schools in many regions are only graduating 60% of their students. And of those who do graduate and go to college at the popular state college system, 50% must first take remedial math and English classes.

A half-educated, or indeed illiterate, electorate at the polls, voting for instantaneous entitlement, is, as thinkers as diverse as Aristophanes and Alexis de Tocqueville warn us, a rather dangerous thing indeed. And so it is as we see in our late, great California

We should have a Dantesque sign on freeway 80 as you enter the State:

“Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”

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Name Calling (And Fear Mongering) Not A Good Place To Start

Bill Willingham disposes of Attorney General Eric Holder’s fatuous “nation of cowards” speech with the disdain it deserves:

…According to the new Attorney General, Eric Holder, speaking today at the Justice Department, we’re a nation of cowards because we don’t talk about race enough. I have several responses to that grotesque statement, most of which aren’t printable. But I will say this much: If the past discussions about race in which I’d participated (voluntarily and otherwise) didn’t always – not often, not most of the time, but always – devolve into name calling, where I was denounced as a racist (usually as a starting point for said conversation), then I might today be more willing to continue to have discussions on the subject. I suspect I’m not alone in this.

In my experience, anyone who doesn’t immediately and enthusiastically subscribe to the idea that all American whites are active oppressors against other races is an irredeemable racist. Of course if you do agree you’re still a racist, just one of the self confessed variety.

In the interests of full and fair disclosure, I’m apparently also a misogynist, a homophobe, and a Nazi, this according to folks (some of whom were friends and colleagues) upon finding out that I have problems with feminism, gay marriage, and gun control. There were other accusations I could list, given time, but the truth is such incidents are too common and never important enough to be worth devoting too much of my time and memory.

So here’s my response to our distinguished public servant.

Dear Mr. Holder: serious and thoughtful conversations about race aren’t possible in today’s American culture, where name-calling and hurled epithets are the acme of discourse. Name-calling is a conversation ender. Always. And here’s some more cold water to pour on your notion: Name-calling is the proprietary weapon of the left. There’s no equality of blame, no comparison. We on the right aren’t “just as bad.”

That’s why I don’t play your silly games anymore. I only ever talk about important matters like race and gender politics with those for whom there is still the possibility of serious discourse and reasoned debate. Once again, I suspect I’m not alone in this. Your side has taken itself out of the game, and until such time as you on the left can get your house in order, you aren’t worth a reasonable man’s time or effort.

Here’s a hint though. Calling everyone a coward isn’t a good place to start…

Powerline discusses Barry’s “we have everything to fear” campaign on the economy:

…This is one of the weird aspects of today’s news: rather than trying to reassure businessmen and consumers, the Obama administration seems determined to provoke the maximum possible amount of panic, presumably because this will make it easier to rush sweeping pro-government legislation through Congress. One down-side, perhaps, is that the Dow has declined more than 2,000 points since Obama was elected President. While other factors no doubt predominate, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that some part of that drastic decline is attributable to the near-hysteria emanating from the Executive Branch.

Today the Federal Reserve revised its projections for 2008 downward. The Fed now thinks that GDP will decline this year somewhere between 0.5 and 1.3 percent. That’s not good, of course; the Associated Press notes that it would be the worst calendar-year contraction since 1982, when GDP fell by 1.9 percent–one and a half times the Fed’s worst-case projection for 2009.

The Fed also predicts that the unemployment rate will climb to somewhere between 8.5 and 8.8 percent this year. Again, not good. But the unemployment rate averaged 8.3 percent for the five-year period from 1980-1984. And at that time, it was combined with a devastating inflation that peaked at 13.6 percent in 1980, the last year of the Carter administration.

Yet I don’t recall Ronald Reagan or others in his administration trying to stoke panic when they came to power in 1981. Their attitude was one of quiet confidence, and they did everything possible to restore trust in America’s economy, even as they justified that confidence by reducing inefficient regulations and cutting wealth-destroying taxes. No doubt the success of the Reagan administration was due far more to the sound policies it followed than to any psychological impact of the confidence it inspired. Still, there is something to be said for reassurance.

To some degree, the current panic no doubt stems from the fact that for the last 26 years, the U.S. has encountered little in the way of economic trauma. A generation has grown up with the assumption that the unprecedented growth that took place between 1982 and 2008 was normal. But panic is rarely a good thing; the history of the 19th century doesn’t record “recessions,” but rather “panics.” The Obama administration is reaping short-term political gain, no doubt, by exaggerating our current difficulties. But a year or two down the road, it may regret its role in sowing panic among consumers and investors…

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What's The Frequency, Greg?

Tony Blankley tries to decipher Barry’s “management style”:

…Since the election, we have begun to get hints of [Barry’s] management style in four items Mr. Obama himself has described as of the highest priority to him — and thus, one presumes, items to which he would have given his personal attention: Cabinet selection, closing Gitmo, the stimulus package and bipartisanship.

Regarding the Cabinet selection, he famously said he “screwed up.” But from a management perspective, the unanswered question is: How did he “screw up”? Did he actively design the failed vetting process and actively assess the various negative pieces of information and fail to see their significance? Or did he “screw up” by letting others design the failed system and assess the data inflow? The former would show poor substantive judgment. The latter would show he wasn’t paying sufficient attention to a presumably vital matter. We don’t know yet which kind of “screw-up” it was.

The second item, President Obama’s performance at the Gitmo executive order, provided brief but revealing insight into the president’s personal involvement in vital decision making. He had campaigned hard on closing Gitmo. His first public signing as president was that executive order to close it down. The central issue of Gitmo’s closing was and is: What do we do with the dangerous inmates? President Bush kept it open primarily because his administration couldn’t figure out an answer to that question.

Thus, it was breathtaking that at the signing ceremony, President Obama didn’t know how — or even whether — his executive order was dealing with this central quandary.

President Obama: “And we then provide, uh, the process whereby Guantanamo will be closed, uh, no later than one year from now. We will be, uh. … Is there a separate, uh, executive order, Greg, with respect to how we’re going to dispose of the detainees? Is that, uh, written?”

White House counsel Greg Craig: “We’ll set up a process.”

To be at the signing ceremony and not know what he was ordering done with the terrorist inmates is a level of ignorance about equivalent to being a groom at the altar in a wedding ceremony and asking who it is you are marrying.

Once again, in the third item — the stimulus process — his lack of personal involvement in its design is curious. He recently said (incorrectly, I believe) that his presidency will be judged only on whether he fixes the economy or not. Thus, as he has identified the stimulus as essential to the recovery process, his willingness to let House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid design a bill that, even now that it’s passed, Mr. Obama has continued to criticize as needing improvement (on bank executive compensation) leaves one puzzled as to why he didn’t use his currently vast political clout with his own party allies to shape a bill more to his liking.

The final item to examine here is his repeated campaign and post-campaign commitment to bipartisanship. While he was gracious in inviting leading Republicans to the White House for a Super Bowl party, he permitted his congressional allies to completely shut out (except for the three collaborators) all Senate Republicans and all House Republicans, including their leadership and the GOP’s titular leader, Sen. John McCain, in the drafting of the bill and the final conference committee.

He says he wants bipartisanship. Why would he permit his congressional allies to kill any hope of bipartisanship by their egregious conduct?

I can think of four possible explanations for this almost unprecedented presidential detachment from the decision making of policies the president publicly declared to be vital to the country and his presidency:

1) He is a very, very big-picture man, and he delegates decisions even on the central points of vital issues.

2) For tactical reasons, he decided these matters were not worth using up political chits.

3) He is either hesitant or unskilled at management, and he let matters drift until it seemed too late to intervene personally.

4) Or his personality type leaves him surprisingly uninterested in things that aren’t personally about him.

Whatever the reason, this level of presidential detachment from high policy decision making is dangerous in a White House that has so many czars and other senior players (the West Wing staff is reputed to be more than 130 — about double the usual number) combined with emissaries and strong-willed Cabinet secretaries. It may well lead to what has been called (regarding another country’s government) “the immanent structurelessness to the running of the state.”

Whatever!!!: A New York Times news report tells us today that Barry’s war on terror policies will be about the same as Bushitler’s:

..the Obama administration is quietly signaling continued support for … major elements of its predecessor’s approach to fighting Al Qaeda…

What Would Lincoln Do?

Walter Berns delivers a column on “why America celebrates Lincoln.” Berns’s piece begs the question: is there anyone out there who doesn’t celebrate Lincoln’s saving the Union and “freeing” the slaves, notwithstanding the narcissists who love to indulge their sense of moral superiority by harping on Lincoln’s failure to achieve modern levels of racial political correctness?

Mr. Berns is a resident scholar of the American Enterprise Institute, known to leftists everywhere as the intellectual Mecca of neoconservatives, the notorious members of a Jewish cabal who, it is said, think war is the answer to every problem and who conspire with dumb gentiles like George Bush to send Americans to die in wars that benefit Israel. So, it’s only natural that neocons would love a president who insisted that war was the only answer to the problem of secession and slavery. But why would the anti-war left go along?

Nowadays no one seriously challenges Lincoln’s adamant insistence on war. Berns at least acknowledges the possibility of an alternative opinion which is more than most are willing to do. But he basically sets up strawmen and then knocks them down. For example consider his shot at the president considered to be the worst in history, James Buchanan (yes, even worse than W):

…[Lincoln’s] predecessor, the incompetent fool James Buchanan, believed that the states had no right to secede from the Union, but that there was nothing he could do about it if they did. Thus, by the time Lincoln took office, seven Southern states had seceded, and nothing had been done about it. Led by South Carolina, they claimed to be doing only what they and the other colonies had done in 1776. To oppose them might bring on the war, and Buchanan had no stomach for this.

Hmm…no stomach for war? Sounds a lot like today’s New York Times editorial board. But it wasn’t only that fool Buchanan who had stomach problems:

…Lincoln knew that the time had come when the only way to save the Union was to go to war. But could he say so and retain the support of the people who had voted for him? The abolitionists, for example. For them, slavery was a sin, and the slaveholders sinners. But their leading spokesman, William Lloyd Garrison, was no friend of the Union. He said the Constitution was “a covenant with death and an agreement with hell.” During the Fort Sumter crisis, Garrison said “all Union saving efforts are simply idiotic.”

The country’s leading antislavery editor, Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, said much the same thing. As he put it, “if the Cotton States shall become satisfied they can do better out of the Union than in it, we insist on letting them go.” But suppose we had let them go. How, then, would Greeley free the slaves, except by going to war with them? The self-righteous journalist did not say — perhaps he would have had us enter into “real” negotiations with the Confederates — but it was his desire to avoid war that led him to say what he said…

And there were more who wanted “to avoid war” including the guy who would become Lincoln’s Secretary of State:

… there was the effort, a desperate or last-chance effort, to avoid the war by way of compromise. On Jan. 16, 1861, the Kentuckian John Crittenden, on behalf of a Senate committee that included the Democrats Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois and Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, as well as Republicans Benjamin Wade of Ohio and William Seward of New York, proposed a set of six constitutional amendments that, among other provisions, prohibited slavery in the territories north of the Missouri Compromise line but protected it south of the line “in all territories now held, or hereafter acquired.”

Obviously, this was not much of a compromise, but it had the support even of some important Republicans. Lincoln, however, said no. “Let there be no compromise on the question of extending slavery,” he wrote his Republican friends in Congress. “The tug has to come and better now than later.” That tug came, and with it came the war…

So the pre- Civil War equivalents of Barack Obama and Maureen Dowd also wanted to “reach out” to the slave holders and avoid the mother of all quagmires that the War Between the States became. “Better now than later”? Sounds to me like a “rush to war.”

But then Berns asks:

…Would Lincoln have taken so hard a line, or refused all compromise, had he anticipated that the war would take the lives of — the number is appalling — some 620,000 Americans? Probably not. (Nor, I suspect, would the Southern states have seceded had they anticipated the price they would pay.)

Still, Berns goes on to argue that it was the right decision even if Lincoln wouldn’t have made it had he known the result would be the modern day equivalent of six million deaths, not including the non-combatants who died from war-related illnesses.

Berns’s argument is that but for Lincoln’s decision to go to war, slavery would have prevailed throughout the United States, not just the South. But he doesn’t consider the likelihood that slavery would have eventually died a “natural” death since, at the time, slavery existed in no other Western Christian country and thus almost certainly could not have survived into the 20th century.

A Wall Street Journal editorial asks whether Barry’s “stalwart supporters” are willing to follow him (the new Lincoln) into a larger war in Afghanistan:

The regents are on the ground and commanders are crafting new battle plans: President Obama is girding for a war surge in Afghanistan. Let’s hope he’s willing to see it through when his most stalwart supporters start to doubt the effort and rue the cost…

Isn’t it ironic? Barry can count on neocons like Walter Berns and the Journal’s editorial board for support.

I can’t wait for Frank Rich’s first quagmire column.

Of Doomsters and Geniuses

George Will provides some inconvenient and embarrassing predictions from former doomsayers:

A corollary of Murphy’s Law (“If something can go wrong, it will”) is: “Things are worse than they can possibly be.” Energy Secretary Steven Chu, an atomic physicist, seems to embrace that corollary but ignores Gregg Easterbrook’s “Law of Doomsaying”: Predict catastrophe no sooner than five years hence but no later than 10 years away, soon enough to terrify but distant enough that people will forget if you are wrong.

Chu recently told the Los Angeles Times that global warming might melt 90 percent of California’s snowpack, which stores much of the water needed for agriculture. This, Chu said, would mean “no more agriculture in California,” the nation’s leading food producer. Chu added: “I don’t actually see how they can keep their cities going.”

No more lettuce or Los Angeles? Chu likes predictions, so here is another: Nine decades hence, our great-great-grandchildren will add the disappearance of California artichokes to the list of predicted planetary calamities that did not happen. Global cooling recently joined that lengthening list.

In the 1970s, “a major cooling of the planet” was “widely considered inevitable” because it was “well established” that the Northern Hemisphere’s climate “has been getting cooler since about 1950” (The New York Times, May 21, 1975). Although some disputed that the “cooling trend” could result in “a return to another ice age” (the Times, Sept. 14, 1975), others anticipated “a full-blown 10,000-year ice age” involving “extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation” (Science News, March 1, 1975, and Science magazine, Dec. 10, 1976, respectively). The “continued rapid cooling of the Earth” (Global Ecology, 1971) meant that “a new ice age must now stand alongside nuclear war as a likely source of wholesale death and misery” (International Wildlife, July 1975). “The world’s climatologists are agreed” that we must “prepare for the next ice age” (Science Digest, February 1973). Because of “ominous signs” that “the Earth’s climate seems to be cooling down,” meteorologists were “almost unanimous” that “the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century,” perhaps triggering catastrophic famines (Newsweek cover story, “The Cooling World,” April 28, 1975). Armadillos were fleeing south from Nebraska, heat-seeking snails were retreating from central European forests, the North Atlantic was “cooling down about as fast as an ocean can cool,” glaciers had “begun to advance” and “growing seasons in England and Scandinavia are getting shorter” (Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 27, 1974)…

Credentialed intellectuals, too — actually, especially — illustrate Montaigne’s axiom: “Nothing is so firmly believed as what we least know.”

As global levels of sea ice declined last year, many experts said this was evidence of man-made global warming. Since September, however, the increase in sea ice has been the fastest change, either up or down, since 1979, when satellite record-keeping began. According to the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.

An unstated premise of eco-pessimism is that environmental conditions are, or recently were, optimal. The proclaimed faith of eco-pessimists is weirdly optimistic: These optimal conditions must and can be preserved or restored if government will make us minimize our carbon footprints, and if government will “remake” the economy.

Because of today’s economy, another law — call it the Law of Clarifying Calamities — is being (redundantly) confirmed. On graphs tracking public opinion, two lines are moving in tandem and inversely: The sharply rising line charts public concern about the economy, the plunging line follows concern about the environment. A recent Pew Research Center poll asked which of 20 issues should be the government’s top priorities. Climate change ranked 20th.

Real calamities take our minds off hypothetical ones. Besides, according to the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade, or one-third of the span since the global cooling scare.

And the ever incisive Chicagoan Joseph Epstein delivers a fair summary of Age of Barry so far:

…Like Augie March, I am an American, Chicago-born, but unlike Augie—a follower of Leon Trotsky—I have never been able to take politics with an entirely straight face. So often, I find my antipathies divided; faced with two equally outrageous candidates, a plague, I usually pronounce, on both their condominiums. The source of this is genealogical. When I was a boy, my father remarked that the aldermen of the City of Chicago, who were then paid an annual salary of $20,000, were spending as much as $250,000 to win election. “The arithmetic doesn’t quite work out,” he said, pausing, as if to say (though the phrase hadn’t yet been invented), “You do the math.”

Politicians, my rich Chicago heritage tells me, are all guilty until proven innocent. When the great Rod Blagojevich scandal broke a few months ago, I, like most Chicagoans, wasn’t in the least scandalized. All I found remarkable in it was the now former governor’s efficiency, in the realm of corruption, in eliminating the middleman and asking for the money himself.

Nigel Dempster, the late English gossip columnist, who specialized in exposing the sexual peccadilloes of British politicians, once remarked: “No one cares what politicians say—they’re all liars, cheats and fools.” I’ve met a few—a very few—who weren’t: Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Paul Simon, Jeane Kirkpatrick. At the same time, whenever I see Joe Biden, with those hair plugs and those too-large dental caps, I imagine him, perhaps unfairly, in traffic court signaling me into the men’s room, where in a husky whisper he lets me know that, for three grand, he can get me off that DWI, no sweat.

But even hardened Chicago-bred cynicism breaks down from time to time, and hopeless idealism not only threatens but actually does break through. Barack Obama’s presidency seemed such an occasion. He was young, handsome in an elegant yet inoffensive way, he had the gift of even temperament, he was articulate; if not as eloquent as advertised, next to bumbling George W. Bush he seemed a veritable Edmund Burke. True, over several years in politics he seemed to have accomplished nothing but election, which some would say is the real point of politics in any case, but so much about him seemed promising.

Obama himself wasn’t short on promises. He promised to change the very game of politics. He would bring transparency to government, toss out the lobbyists, encourage bipartisanship, unite the country, making us one people again…

All politicians disappoint, to ring a change on Tolstoy, but every politician disappoints in his own way. The first inkling of the disappointment with Barack Obama, as we know, came with his appointments. Two major ones—Bill Richardson and Tom Daschle—had to drop out for tax and more intricate delinquencies; Nancy Killefer, his chief performance officer, fell by the wayside for similar reasons. Timothy Geithner, nominated as secretary of the Treasury, was given a pass. But Obama’s lectures on the purity that he would bring to government were over. The high moral ground he had picked out for himself, he was finding, was swampier than he had supposed.Promises, promises, as the Burt Bachrach song had it; unkept, they come back to bite a man. Obama’s promise of a new bipartisanship hit heavy water as soon as his stimulus-package debate was set adrift. For one thing, only the idea for a stimulus package—but not the package itself—ever felt as if it were really his. From the outset it was instead the work of that fun couple, maestros Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, the Frick and Frack of heavy federal spending. And those two are as interested in bipartisan participation as Lord Byron was in marriage counseling. When the going on the package got rough, Obama said, in effect: “Well, I won the damned election, so we’ll do things my way, though of course I still invite bipartisan participation.”

Such has been the steamroller effect of it all that Obama lost another cabinet officer, the Republican Sen. Judd Gregg, who was to fill the job of secretary of commerce left unfilled by Bill Richardson. Secretary of commerce begins to look like a job that may need to be advertised in the classified section.

Meanwhile, Secretary of the Treasury Geithner, after laying out a plan to save the banks that satisfied no one, a plan that has been judged vague where not vapid, appears to be going the way of all geniuses. Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin, Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke—economic geniuses are falling like cats on the rack at the county fair in Texas. Enough of geniuses; a simple expert would come in handy. But not many of those are around, either, or at least not credible ones, which makes the new Obama presidency feel wobbly, weak, if not inept on the major crisis of the era.

Victims of the general ineptitude that the Obama administration has so quickly shown are transparency in government and the new (we hardly knew ye) bipartisanship. The stimulus package itself is felt to be suspect.

Which brings us back to disappointment and politics. It is in the nature of politicians to make promises; it is what they do. Some do so without the least intention of delivering on their promises. Some fully intend to deliver, but find the world obdurate, unwilling to go along with their fine intentions. Barack Obama now finds himself among the latter. With loony jihadists threatening from without, a crumbling economy terrorizing its citizens from within, Obama knew he needed straightaway to demonstrate utmost competence to stem fear and instill confidence. The reason for his wanting to assemble an able cabinet more quickly than any other administration in recent history was to show that, though the nation had major problems, they were under study and would soon be attacked by the most capable minds of our time. He needed to calm the country down, and show, in a measured but forceful way, that a strong hand was at the wheel.

This he has thus far failed abysmally to do. Very disappointing, to the country at large, and not least, I have no doubt, to Barack Obama himself. Viewed from Chicago, up whose greasy political pole the president has himself climbed, the jolt is a lot less jarring. “Them guys in the black suits and narrow ties, them Ivy League types, them goo-goos,” the Chicago alderman Mathias (Paddy) Bauler long ago said, “they think the whole thing is on the square.” Old Paddy, of unblessed memory, also said that “Chicago ain’t ready for reform.” Were he alive today to witness the sad early beginnings of the Obama presidency, he might add: “And maybe the rest of the country ain’t either.”

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Nobody To Hide Behind

Thanks to the Wall Street Journal online for printing John Updike’s brilliant essay, “On Not Being A Dove,” which appeared originally in the March, 1989 issue of Commentary. It should be read in its entirety, but here’s a brief excerpt:

..At the height of the Vietnam troubles, in the late 60’s, my wife and children in loving exasperation gave me for Christmas a large American flag. I was, as an American Protestant, the beneficiary of a number of revolts—Luther’s, which dumped the Pope; Cromwell’s, which dumped the monarchy; and Sam Adams’s, which dumped the British—and saw no need for any more. I was, furthermore, a Christian, and Christ said, “Render under Caesar those things which are Caesar’s.” I was, by upbringing, a Lutheran, and Luther had told the “murdering and thieving hordes” (“die räuberishchen und mörderischen Rotten”) of rebellious peasants to cease their radical turmoil and submit to their Christian princes. Faith alone, faith without any false support of works, justified the Lutheran believer and distinguished him from the Catholic and Calvinist believer. In all varieties of Christian faith resides a certain contempt for the world and for attempts to locate salvation and perfection here. The world is fallen, and in a fallen world animals, men, and nations make space for themselves through a willingness to fight. Christ beat up the money-changers in the temple, and came not to bring peace, he distinctly said, but a sword.

My thoughts ran as follows. Peace depends upon the threat of violence. The threat cannot always be idle. Privately and in the aggregate, we walk through life with chips on our shoulder, and when the chip is knocked off, we must fight. “You must fight,” none other than a Russian had told me, in late 1964, in the Soviet Union, concerning Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh had knocked off our shoulder the chip that Dulles and Eisenhower and the SEATO treaty had placed there. We had tried to subvert the North, we had tried to train and arm ARVN so it could defend the South, and neither had worked. We had to fight, though it meant pitting ourselves, with our white faces, against the other guy’s nationalism, halfway around the world, and picking up all the bad checks the French had scattered about in a century of conspicuously ruthless colonialism. It was all very well for civilized little countries like Sweden and Canada to tut-tut in the shade of our nuclear umbrella and welcome our deserters and draft evaders, but the United States had nobody to hide behind. Credibility must be maintained. Power is a dirty business, but who ever said it wasn’t? In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna told Arjuna, “Therefore you must fight. . . . Freedom from activity is never achieved by abstaining from action. . . . The world is imprisoned in its own activity, except when actions are performed as worship of God.” The Vietnam war—or any war—is “wrong,” but in the sense that existence itself is wrong. To be alive is to be a killer; and though the Jains try to hide this by wearing gauze masks to avoid inhaling insects, and the antiabortionists by picketing hospitals, and peace activists by lying down in front of ammunition trains, there is really no hiding what every meal we eat juicily demonstrates. Peace is not something we are entitled to but an illusory respite we earn. On both the personal and national level, islands of truce created by balances of terror and potential violence are the best we can hope for. Pacifism is a luxury a generous country can allow a small minority of its members, but the pacifism invoked in the anti-Vietnam protest was hypocritical and spurious. Under the banner of a peace movement, rather, war was being waged by a privileged few upon the administration and the American majority that had elected it…

The Bright Side of the Stimulus Bill

Miss Coulter, with marvelous malevolence, takes on the new “stimulus” bill:

…There are hundreds of examples in the 800-page “stimulus” bill [of government bureaucrats aggressively intervening in our lives] but here are just two.

First, the welfare bureaucrats are coming back.

For half a century, the welfare establishment had the bright idea to pay women to have children out of wedlock. Following the iron laws of economics — subsidize something, you get more of it; tax it, you get less of it — the number of children being born out of wedlock skyrocketed.

The 1996 Welfare Reform bill marked the first time any government entitlement had ever been rolled back. Despite liberal howling and foot-stomping, not subsidizing illegitimacy led, like night into day, to less illegitimacy.

Welfare recipients got jobs, as the hard-core unemployables were coaxed away from their TV sets and into the workforce. For the first time in decades, the ever-increasing illegitimacy rate stopped spiraling upward.

As proof that that welfare reform was a smashing success, a few years later, Bill Clinton started claiming full credit for the bill.

Well, that’s over. The stimulus bill goes a long way toward repealing the work requirement of the 1996 Republican Welfare Reform bill and rewards states that increase their welfare caseloads by paying unwed mothers to sit home doing nothing.

Second, bureaucrats at Health and Human Services will electronically collect every citizen’s complete medical records and determine appropriate medical care.

Judging by the care that the State Department took with private visa records last year, that the Ohio government took with Joe the Plumber’s government records, that the Pentagon took with Linda Tripp’s employment records in 1998, and that the FBI took with thousands of top secret “raw” background files in President Clinton’s first term, the bright side is: We’ll finally be able to find out if Bill Clinton has syphilis — all thanks to the stimulus bill!

HHS bureaucrats will soon be empowered to overrule your doctor. Doctors who don’t comply with the government’s treatment protocols will be fined. That’s right: Instead of your treatment being determined by your doctor, it will be settled on by some narcoleptic half-wit in Washington who couldn’t get a job in the private sector.

And a brand-new set of bureaucrats in the newly created office of “National Coordinator of Health Information Technology” will be empowered to cut off treatments that merely prolong life. Sorry, Mom and Pop, Big Brother said it’s time to go.

At every other workplace in the nation — even Wal-Mart! — workers are being laid off. But no one at any of the bloated government bureaucracies ever need fear receiving a pink slip. All 64,750 employees at the department of Health and Human Services are apparently absolutely crucial to the smooth functioning of the department.

With the stimulus bill, liberals plan to move unfirable government workers into every activity in America, where they will superintend all aspects of our lives.

Also, thanks to the stimulus bill, the private sector will gradually shrivel and die. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the cost of servicing the bill’s nearly trillion-dollar debt will shrink the economy within a decade…

Allen Barra, writing in the Wall Street Journal about the Alex Rodriguez steroid case, notes that A-Rod’s civil rights were violated and thus seconds Ann Coulter’s point about the dangers of government bureaucrats getting their hands on medical records:

…The main issue is . . . Well, since baseball had no penalty at the time Mr. Rodriguez used the drugs and there is no evidence that they improved his performance, what is the major issue? According to Marvin Miller, former head and founder of the Major League Baseball Players Association, “There is a major issue, one which virtually no one has mentioned, namely Alex Rodriguez’s civil rights.”

Mr. Miller was referring to the leaking of information from the test results. In 2003, the union and MLB agreed to anonymous testing of 1,198 players to determine the extent of drug use in the sport. It was agreed that if 5% of the players tested positive, then random testing would be implemented in 2004. The linchpin of the agreement was that the names of the players who tested positive would not be revealed to the teams or the athletes. When results indicated that 104 players had used some type of PED — at least 104 is the number now being given, though it has not been confirmed, nor were the samples retested to make sure the initial findings were accurate — the agreement for random drug testing was activated.

On Nov. 19, 2003, only six days after the testing was finalized, a grand jury subpoena requested by federal agents investigating the Balco steroids scandal was issued for the actual test samples, which were at a lab in Long Beach, Calif. The union requested that government lawyers withdraw the subpoena for all the 2003 test results. And when they refused, the union filed papers asking for clarification on what the government was entitled to. The next day, however, all samples were seized, not just samples from the 10 players associated with the Balco investigation.

In April 2004, both the baseball commissioner’s office and the players union were dismayed to receive a report from federal officials that listed the names of the 104 players believed to have tested positive. How could that have happened if the tests were anonymous? Apparently, says a source connected with the union, the lab’s code was cracked and the samples were identified.

Fast forward to this past Saturday, when the [Sports Illustrated] story was released. We’re now left with three major unanswered questions: Who made the leak, why did they leak it, and why was Alex Rodriguez’s name the only one leaked?

No one can be sure why A-Rod’s was the only name mentioned, but as baseball’s most highly paid and publicized player, and the only player to be publicly linked with Madonna, outing him would have generated the most publicity.

As to who did it and why, there’s a very short list of candidates, says Mr. Miller. “MLB, the union and the federal investigators all have the information, and if the first two had anything to gain by revealing a name on the list, I can’t imagine what that would be.” [emphasis added]

Meanwhile, after more than five years of litigation, the union’s lawsuit to recover the 2003 test results is pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and might end in the Supreme Court. And at least 103 other players will be having some uneasy nights.

It's About Politics, Not Economics

I love the way Harvard economist Robert Barro does an entirely accurate job on New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman:

…Atlantic: Do you read Paul Krugman’s blog?

Barro: Just when he writes nasty individual comments that people forward.

Atlantic: Oh, well he wrote a series of posts saying he thought the World War II spending evidence was not good, for a variety of reasons, but I guess . . .

Barro: He said elsewhere that it was good and that it was what got us out of the depression. He just says whatever is convenient for his political argument. He doesn’t behave like an economist. And the guy has never done any work in Keynesian macroeconomics, which I actually did. He has never even done any work on that. His work is in trade stuff. He did excellent work, but it has nothing to do with what he’s writing about.

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