Friday, March 06, 2009

Jim Rogers’ Agrarian Paradise – Romney at CPAC; Zombie banks, zombie politics; Better a red state than a dead state

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 3/06/09

Could be that we continually hire people with proven track records of incompetence – Hillary with her health care fiasco, Biden’s plagiarism, Freddie Mac board types like Rahm Emmanuel; Bernacke, Geithner, Greenspan, tax cheats, corrupt advisors, bride takers and those who advised Clinton on bribe taking like Obama’s Attorney General – so as not to place any blame on ourselves. This is how we protect our own kind whoever they may be. That is why we give them awards; to insulate them. We reward them to insulate us.

And it’s not only the Obama administration. We are constantly invited to listen again and again to the same experts who have been wrong right along in the press and on all of the talk shows. Unlike hockey, failure is not a barrier to further performance. Success at the task at hand is not even a priority. Dominance, territoriality, control; that is the object. The entire system becomes so calcified and stale; filled with the same old faces in different jobs as in the Obama administration, that when an entirely new and original voice appears on the scene – Sarah Palin’s or Bobby Jindal’s – it is treated as an invasive force and violently attacked. It threatens to bring down the whole time-worn Establishment.

It’s the Buck Turgidson mentality. That would be Air Force four-star General Buck Turgidson, whose first instinct, when U.S. President Murkin Muffley, sharply criticized him for a system of psychological screening procedures which allowed a psychopathic army officer to singularly initiate a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, was to protect his misguided program and his incompetent colleagues: “Well, Sir, there’s no need to condemn the whole program.”

General Turgidson would no doubt be up for a place in the current administration and perhaps even a seat at the Wednesday night soirées at the White House with Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder. Or at the very least, a gig as senior commentator on Fox or CNN.

So it is worthwhile every once in a while to listen to someone who has been right all along; someone who predicted this predicament and continues to do so; someone who talks straight. Jim Rogers, the investor known in the trade as legendary for his ability to predict major long term trends has been speaking out regularly on the financial crisis.

"I think it's astonishing,” he recently told CNBC. “They're ruining the US economy, they're ruining the US government, they're ruining the US central bank and they're ruining the US dollar. You are watching something in front of our eyes, very historically, which is basically the destruction of New York as a financial center and the destruction of America as the world's most powerful country."

We are indeed at a period of change, but it is not at all clear that Obama is the change as he claims to be or whether he is the pleasant interim offering a brief respite from which actual change will awaken. Jimmy Carter was such as figure and so was British Prime Minister Clement Attlee at war’s end. Both were periods of quiet consolidation which allowed power to reformulate and rise again.

We could see power likewise begin to reconsolidate again. Several things of original importance happened last week at the CPAC convention. First, was the mood; it was young, fierce and alive, as vital as the old school crowds in hockey when fighting was in flower. Mitt Romney gave a great solid speech and when he said, in reference to Obama’s Attorney General expressing in an official capacity his contempt for an entire race of human beings, “We re not cowards,” the crowd spontaneously roared to its feet as one, chanting, USA, USA, USA.

It was a moment to mark because of the quality of the noise. Possibly it was a beginning; a beginning for Romney and for the Republicans and possibly for America.

And if you saw it on TV as I did, you would see a terrific contrast; like the contrast between the exploding red bird’s nest – the symbol of rebirth and awakening – at the Beijing Olympics, juxtaposed to the bubbly, light blue water square; the square, the symbol of power, but way not the color of power. And what it contrasted with was a pensive night of gentle applause for Paul Simon and Art Garfunkle all huggy bear after a long spat, with Stevie Wonder and James Taylor – Sixties lite; a light blue sentimental serenade before the impassive President Obama and Joe Biden.

It left the Obama administration looking dangerously out of touch, said a commentator at The Wall Street Journal.

Joe Biden? Didn’t I not vote for him already ten years ago? How did he ever get here anyway? Did he get better over the decades as he claims? His pitch for what he calls Obama’s “so-called stimulus” suggests not. Already he has been silenced by the Administration. Or have we as an American people receded, like the economic tide, to Joe Biden level?

The second thing of importance at CPAC was this: Bobby Jindal came in at 14% and Sarah Palin at 13%, second and third in the Republicans’ fantasy picks behind Romney’s 20 percent. But Ron Paul was at 13% as well, virtually tied with Palin and Jindal: Ron Paul is tied for second choice in the Republican wish list for 2012.

Can a party assault the very idea of government, Matt Bai asked in a NYTs magazine article this week on Newt Gingrich. “In many ways, as the most-blogged-about politician since the election, Sarah Palin has become a kaleidoscope through which to view these questions. For many Republicans, the Alaska governor and hockey mom is the new and galvanizing face of conservative America; to others, Palin personifies everything that’s wrong with the party, an approach short on intellect and long on cultural resentment.”

That is the relevant question, and that is where Ron Paul comes in as well. At the core of this debate are the family values of the agricultural regions versus the corporate values of the city people. Palin most definitely represents the heartland in this movement and it is worth noting that Romney mentioned her in the first sentence of his speech.

Mitt Romney is from the holy land of hockey; Detroit, where Brett Hull might be considered the Bodhisattva. But Paul plays well in the heartland and his footing is solid. There is a raw indigenous spirit in Paul which can be accommodated by Romney. This is the important part because Ron Paul might mark the tide. He is an original in an age of shadow; he speaks straight when others draw hyperbole. All three; Palin, Paul and Romney speak to the heartland the western individualist spirit.

In our time we watch today the movie Watchmen, which has been declared one of the greatest movies ever. Even before we have seen the movie. This is part of a trend because Obama was declared one of the greatest Presidents ever, even before he was elected. And truth: His inauguration speech was declared one of the greatest ever and compared with Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address a full six hours before he gave it. Headlines and make up in both the New York Times and my local paper here in the mountains was more sensational than those of Pearl Harbor and Victory in Europe.

We are here in the Age of Hyperbole and Shadow: Obama pretends to be Kennedy even to the strange degree of getting a dog like the Kennedys. But he is not the real Kennedy. Nor it he the real Roosevelt nor the real Lincoln, and Hillary is not the real Clinton, George W. is not H.W. and the Watchmen are not the real X Men. Each is only a darker suggestion of the other (as Tiny Fey is only a darker suggestion of Sarah Palin). They are Shadows; doppelgangers. All as if from the land of the dead; zombie banks, zombie politics and culture, zombie press and ideas; a zombie jamboree; an age of political zombism.

It is a sign that we are not there yet but are rapidly coming to the end of things and that is what Rogers has been telling us. We are at the end of London and at the end of New York. Their purposes are complete. They have done their jobs well. But the world has moved on to a new century.

Why Rogers is so often right is because he takes a historical view. History makes its passages, then moves on. London was the place to be in 1809, he says. New York in 1909. And in 2009 China is the place to be. New York and London have passed through a colonial phase, an industrial phase and most recently an investment phase; these like Buddhist prayer flags, run in a sequence. Then they end and to try and bring them back is simply neurosis and the kind of neurosis which brings war and mayhem.

Rogers is investing in farmland because he speculates that food will be a good investment in years ahead and he means looking ahead to ten, 20 or 30 years.

That might sound bad to anyone who has never made it west of the Jersey Turnpike. But anyone who has ever driven north from the middle of North Carolina will understand that you can drive a 1,000 miles across green fields if you turn left before you get to Akron and never see city lights. And in some of the places along the way the most diligent and productive farmers plow with horses. If you bear left again around Chicago there will be another 1,000 miles of green fields across the Plains and another up through Alberta and from there another and another. In fact, some Japanese forecasters today see the East as a manufacturing region, Europe as a boutique and North America as a farm.

But only red America is the farm part. The question is still up in the air what they will do now in New York where they used to make the money.

Wall Street and the City of London are going to be "disastrous" for years, Rogers told CNBC, like in the 1950s and 1960s. Finance will "dry up and wither away" as we enter a long period of hard times.

"Power is shifting now from the money shifters, the guys who trade paper and money, to people who produce real goods. What you should do is become a farmer, or start a farming network," Rogers said.

Good for the heartland, the red states; good for Romney, Palin and Paul. Better to be in a red state than a dead state.