Friday, March 27, 2009

Waiting for the Beginning: Obama’s Transformers vs. the Titan of Aquarius

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 3/27/09

It is hard to find a theme behind a Q & A session that takes in 100,000 questions, the most prominent one about smoking dope. Note to President Obama: If you ask that email callers use their real names and possibly a picture and not that of their personal druid deity, it dramatically cuts back on the schizophrenics who travel the anonymity of the web like Brer Rabbit in a global briar patch. But here’s a thought.

In his on-line call in yesterday Obama said many of the lost jobs in recent years involve work that was done by people getting very low wages and those with limited work skills. He said it will take some time — perhaps through the rest of the year — before vigorous hiring resumes, and that might not happen until businesses see evidence the economy is rebounding. He wants high-paying, high-skills jobs for the future.

It sounded like he was describing the economy of Ireland in the 1990s. The one that just crashed and burned. But it still sounds like a great idea. For Switzerland. We travel in different circles, but in my part of the world I saw a whole lot of low wages and limited work skills. Like on the red clay of North Carolina where between 1990 and 2000 the presence of good natured and hard working plain folk increased almost 400%; enough to support until very recently a whole network of rooster fights down through the Smokies and on through to Mexico and the Sierra Maestra. Giving the willies to Obama’s high-maintenance Chez Panisse crowd. Nice of them to come in from Berkeley though to help with the new White House garden.

I think Bob Dylan might have first used the phrase “transformational” in describing candidate Obama. Y’all remember him. Sells Pepsi on TV. Then it caught on and everybody was saying it. When I hear Obama and his people speak, however, the French novelist Marcel Proust comes to mind. I get the feeling that the cultural world of Obama and his Transformers is a remembrance of things past. They have pulled out a bunch of ideas from the 1990s; like Al Gore’s now defunct Silicon Valley; the 1970s – windmills; from the 1960s, the soaring Kennedy rhetoric; the 1930’s the phony Roosevelt persona, and the 1860s: the New Lincoln. We should be able to say by now that no President has mined the past and vowed to sustain it with such devoted persistence as this one.

Obama’s Presidency, like James Buchanon’s and Benjamin Harrison’s, is the end of a wavelength. What we need today is a beginning.

I can’t see that much substance is likely to come out of these trendy events accept the conspicuous building of a public persona. This is image work. So much image work. So many cameras. So much soaring oratory. So little time.

And some smoke and mirrors to boot, hoping to transfer the conversation from Timothy Geithner’s rescue plan widely under attack as obfuscation even by long-term Clinton cultists.

Here are MITs Simon Johnson and Yale Law School’s James Kwak – co-founders of – in the L.A. times:

Monday’s proposal by Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner is the government’s latest shot – and perhaps its last clean shot – at extricating up to a trillion dollars worth of toxic assets from the financial system and making an economic recovery possible.

But will it work?

We believe the best mechanism for solving the banking-sector crisis is government-supervised bankruptcy, also known as receivership. However, President Barack Obama’s administration has made it abundantly clear that it will not consider this option, except perhaps as a last resort.

But it is certainly worth while having a national discussion on where the country is going in this prequel to a vastly important turning of world history. We read commentary by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman that getting on a plane in Singapore and arriving in New York is going from first world to third world, New York being the third world. We hear it elsewhere as well.

It seems to fit that New York is in decline. Tom Wolfe’s Masters of the Universe no longer live there. And the assault the Transformers are making on the productivity of these people and most all tipped employees who make more than they do at Starbucks, suggests that this fairly large group, very possibly the best, brightest and most capable among us, are not likely to be back. This is a Titan vs. Titan world. Only the strong survive. And those with the clearest, historical perspective.

After reviewing Obama’s web based “Town Hall” Open for Questions, for counterpoint it is worth a quick trip across the on-line Pacific to visit the site of one of the most legendary of New York’s financial Titans, Jim Rogers (“Jim Rogers Blog”). He can be the Titan of Aquarius because he got married on the first day of the first millennium of Aquarius: January 1, 2000.

Rogers, an American citizen living in Singapore, has been at odds with the Obama administration on the bailout strategies.

"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."

He has some snippets related to this on a sequence of video clips on his blog; some in conversation with Bloomberg’s Bernard Lo and they stand in high contrast to those of Obama’s Transformers. They start with a vision much like Friedman and the others describe; a silent high speed train, speaking to riders in a quiet voice like HAL’s, pulling into Singapore’s spotless and sleek brave new world.

A voice over tells us: No group in human history has improved the standard of living faster than Singapore has.

Then Rogers comes on with economic trends and data:

Singapore 40 years ago was a swamp with a half a million people. Singapore now is a country with the largest foreign currency reserves per capita of any country in the world.

China is going to be the most important country in the 21st century, so I think the best skill I can give my children is to be fluent in Mandarin and to be fluent in Asia because Asia is the future.

America is the past. Europe is the past. The 21st century belongs to Asia. China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore. That’s where all the money is now.

Singapore has been the most successful country in the past 40 years, says Rogers. Japan was the most successful in the last 50 years. It too was a one-party state for nearly all of that time. China is the most successful in the last 30 years. It too was a one-party state. And Singapore the most successful in the last 40 years.

“Not suggesting that one-party states are good . . . but the facts are, these countries have done well . . .,” he says as the interview trails off.

Not sayin’, just sayin’.

Then Lee Kuan Yew, the Prime Minister of Singapore between 1959 and 1990 who engineered the transition of a volatile Third World country with no natural resources to a stable First World Asian Tiger comes on: I say without the slightest remorse, that we would not have made this economic progress if we had not intervened on very personal matters: Who your neighbor is; how you live; the noise you make; how you spit or where you spit; or what language you use. Had we not done that and done it effectively, we would not be here today.

This is a long way from Brittany and Lil’ Wayne but this is the face of the competition. This is the face of the First World.