Monday, March 30, 2009
By Bernie Quigley
- for The Hill on 3/30/09
There will be no seeking peace with this new President. In fact, it may be time to recall the old phrase from the Sixties, “warmonger.”
Kagan loves Obama.
“Hats off to President Obama for making a gutsy and correct decision on Afghanistan,” he writes in the Washington Post this past week. “With many of his supporters, and some of his own advisers, calling either for a rapid exit or a ‘minimal’ counterterrorist strategy in Afghanistan, the president announced today that he will instead expand and deepen the American commitment.”
There is also some logic to the administration’s approach to Iran, says Kagan.
If anyone is wondering about the sudden puppy love expressed for Obama by neocon founding father Robert Kagan these past days in the Washington Post, Jim Lobe, U.S. foreign policy expert, offers a clue in the Asia Times.
A newly-formed and still obscure neo-conservative foreign policy organization is giving some observers flashbacks to the 1990s, when its predecessor staked out the aggressively unilateralist foreign policy that came to fruition under the George W. Bush administration.
The blandly-named Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) - the brainchild of Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, neo-conservative foreign policy guru Robert Kagan, and former Bush administration official Dan Senor - has thus far kept a low profile; its only activity to this point has been to sponsor a conference pushing for a US "surge" in Afghanistan.
But some see FPI as a likely successor to Kristol and Kagan's previous organization, the now-defunct Project for the New American Century (PNAC), which they launched in 1997 and became best known for leading the public campaign to oust former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein both before and after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
PNAC's charter members included many figures who later held top positions under Bush, vice president Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and his top deputy Paul Wolfowitz.
Obama, who cannot talk without propagandizing his thought with flaring oratory or charmed rhetoric, shamefully calls it now “America’s war.” Less than 100 days into the new Obama administration it comes as no surprise.
Those who never served love the idea of war. Are we not men?
And did Obama really just compare Tim Geithner to Alexander Hamilton, asks former Clinton administrator David Rothkopf, in a Washington Post essay on Sunday?
“Gradually it becomes clear. This is not just a global economic crisis. It's a global leadership crisis . . . Isn't there someone somewhere with decent values, a firm hand on the tiller and at least one big new idea? Where have all the leaders gone?”
Everywhere you look, he says, it seems that the men and women in positions of power are receding. The closer you look, the smaller they get.
There are a few great ones around, actually. Lee Kwan Yew, for example, who in the past 30 years brought prosperity to his people more quickly than any in the history of the world. Others too. But their names never come up because they live across the Pacific and their names are hard to say and remember. And a great part of the economic problem which cripples us today is that we are unable to see across the Pacific.
How did we get here, asks Rothkopf? But in answering, he only goes back as far as Vietnam.
We have long before that traded up true art for sociology, creativity for novelty, deeper truth for scientific investigation. Possibly as far back as 1917. Possibly before. It invades every aspect of our thinking and being. It has driven us headlong to a culture of incompetence, fueled by a post-war economic cycle which has just hit the wall. At the end of this cycle we farm out strategic thinking to just anyone with a good baritone voice, a good suit, a forceful writing style and enough special interest cash to form their own lobby group.
We live today much like the South of the 1930s which sought leadership in the past: A past, as Faulkner said, that was not even past. As Virginia still asked back in the 1930s, “Where are the Lees of today? Where are the Stonewalls?” We are likewise entrapped and obsessed by the cult of the war hero and the Ghosts of Christmas’s past and daily we hear as we do again in the Rothkopf essay, “Where are the Churchills? Where are the Roosevelts?” By 1941 when North Carolina’s W.J. Cash published The Mind of the South, highly critical of the Confederate mentality, he found that the South had moved on and was ready and able to engage contemporary economy and culture: Ready to engage the times without the burdensome tradition and the age-old repetitive advice of the honored dead. It was the moment of liberation which when unseen but it was from that moment that the South awakened.
We will awaken too. But not today.
Today Obama will do what Kagan and Kristol – playing good cop and bad cop on TV and in the press – tell him to do, as Bush and Clinton did. And whatever “Bob Rubin's farm team” – so uniformly drawn from one time and place, says Rothkoph, “that they look like a poster child for the early warning symptoms of groupthink” – tell him to do again. All of them play this President, so deeply impressed by anyone who went to an Ivy League school, like a fiddle.
There were indeed substantive leaders and independent thinkers who intricately understood the financial and economic disasters which opened with the red buds last spring and who were fully capable of dealing with them as best they could be dealt with. Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts and co-founder of Bain Capital, comes first to mind, but the country showed little interest, put off by absurd considerations of personal grooming style and evil-natured religious prejudice. Instead, we chose dress up, cool, and the easy mockery of a dark wing, late-night comedienne and in the critical hour turned to a line up that New York Times’ columnist David Brooks early on compared to American Idol.
Obama and his Transformers have a vision of future history; a vision of themselves as the Shining Ones that they wish to project onto the future. But history doesn’t do that. It never has. It is dress up and play acting history. That is why he calls himself and most unfortunately actually sees himself as the new Kennedy, the new Roosevelt, the new Lincoln and even the new Jesus. It is a purely narcissistic deception even worse than Bill Clinton’s affliction. He sees himself starring in a future Cecil B. DeMille production of Moses and the Horde; hovering over his own glorious memory in the future as Clinton imagined he would, and thinks he must today just fill in the blanks with historical big stuff that will have him remembered as a great later; soaring oratory institutionalized by dutiful propagandists and hagiographers, iconic posters, world peace or maybe world war; but anyway, a Noble Prize at the end for one or the other. He’s already got an Emmy.
But there is only one President today that he resembles going into Afghanistan: George W. Bush, who begins to look better and better every day as history turns and whose bold action in going alone into Iraq is now being vindicated by Obama’s copy cat moves into Afghanistan.
Obama isn’t the new Lincoln. He’s the new George W. Bush.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Could be that we are all destined to be born again as Americans in Texas. Could be that something will happen in Texas to make us different kinds of individuals in the world and a different kind of country. Something from which there will be no going back. Could be that destiny awaits us in Texas. The great visionary Salvador Dali saw a cosmic man-child, Geopoliticus Child, born there in the desert; hatched there, hatched out of a world egg. A new man for a new millennium beholding to none who came before.
Our primary myths arise from Texas. New England was much the same as England after the Revolution. And even when my grandparents arrived here, the mills in Manchester, New Hampshire, were identical to those in Manchester, England, and so were the people and so was the countryside. But Texas is different. Right away you notice it: The sky is big, the desert flat and arid. It does something to you.
The Alamo brings us a more American myth. We began to rise then in conflict with one another in the Mexican War and in the great civil conflict which followed on its heels. And in Texas, lost, gunned down and left for dead, we met our spirit friend. He nurtured us back to life and health. And when we were born again by the Indian healer’s hand we were finally Americans with no thoughts remaining of our European prehistory. Chief Joseph said this spirit would always walk among us, and when we least expected it, it would be there. Like at Appomattox, when Robert E. Lee was signing the surrender. He noticed an Indian present, Col. Ely Parker, a Seneca who worked for Ulysses S. Grant. Lee said, “I’m glad to see there is at least one real American here.” The Indian said, “We’re all Americans here.” Europeans have not such friends. No one does.
(RE: Bush) I have always shared the values and the family culture of the Bushes. And as one born in New England, which often seems hindered in its progress by a wistful yearning for the Old World of England and the Continent, what I like about the Bushes is that they continued their American journey and moved to Texas. Because sometime maybe 30 years after watching the Lone Ranger with my father, I somehow came to understand why he wore a mask. The Texas lawman was left for dead in the desert and was brought back to life by an Indian healer. But he had no memory of his own history; no memory of Boston, England, France, Poland, Russia, Italy or Ireland. He was born again; born American and he had only the Indian to guide him. He had nothing else and was alone in the desert. He was new in the world and free. Free for the first time. We are the Masked Man, our identity incomplete. But free for the first time, born in Texas.
Born in Texas – Rick Perry’s opportunity
By Bernie Quigley
- for The Hill on 12/09/08
Could be that we are all destined to be born again as Americans in Texas. Could be that something will happen in Texas to make us different kinds of individuals in the world and a different kind of country. Something from which there will be no turning back. Could be that destiny awaits us in Texas.
When George W. Bush, the First Texan, leaves the White House there will first be, as he says, a hanging, but then there will be a reappraisal of his actions in the White House primarily about one issue, the invasion of Iraq. Already, W’s brother Jeb is being considered for the Senate in 2010 and onward and upward to the Presidency in 2012 or beyond, with hopes of extending the legacy of the Bush family to a third Bush in the White House.
But this is the question that should be asked: Should George W. Bush’s actions and initiatives be seen in context of his family or of his region? In other words, when Bush initiated bold action against Iraq after 9/11 was he acting as a Bush or as a Texan?
The fate of the Republican Party rests within this riddle.
For several years now we have been bemoaning a slip into a monarchist tendency as both parties have been promoting families and admired individuals; the Clintons and the Bushes, and now the Kennedys again as Obama pitches Caroline Kennedy into the Senate. It is assumed that the relative will be like the forebear and it is that perception that sends conservatives today to look to Jeb Bush, W’s younger brother and the former governor of Florida. But that fundamental premise may be misguided.
For many in the Jeb camp – many in the Northeast, including liberals – W is seen as the wayward son; a frontier caricature, as he is presented in the current Oliver Stone movie bearing his initial, while Jeb is the “good” Bush.
George the Father – H.W. – would never have run off and blasted his way into Baghdad just to bag Saddam Hussein. In the first Gulf War he remained on the edge of Armageddon and his wise advisor, Brent Scowcroft, today a friend of Obama, publicly warned of the consequences of W’s invasion. So it is assumed today that the “good” Jeb will be more like the temperate father and will be a comfort to a war worn body politic looking for a little rest.
I think this is misunderstood. W is a Texan. It’s got nothing to do with the other Bushes. He loves Texas as Jefferson loved Virginia. In going into Iraq, W was not acting like a bad Bush, but like a good Texan.
This is the fork in the road for conservatives and each trail now has a premise and a tradition. Soon each will have its own leader. The moderate, Eastern conservatives like Colin Powell and Peggy Noonan will call for Jeb or somebody just like him with hopes of following in the tradition of Father George. But a new path is growing here and in time could be seen to have opened with W, the Texan, not W the Bush. The natural leader for this new direction is Rick Perry, Governor of Texas.
Perry, a fifth generation Texan born to ranchers in little Paint Creek, just north of Abilene, literally follows in the footsteps of George W. Bush as the current Governor of Texas. And if this whole process these last eight years is seen as not so much about the Bushes but instead about Texas and the rise of Texas and the South and Southwest – Southern historian Dan Carter once used the phrase “The Southernization of America” - this view would more readily conform to the paths of economy and demographics since the Second World War and the trajectory of history it presages.
Conservatives are reaching a fork in the road; a split between the small government trend which took its initiative with Ronald Reagan, and more traditional conservatives like H.W. Bush with sensibilities formed in the Northeast.
And there is a disturbance in the force now, expressed by the influential conservative commentator William Kristol in a recent New York Times column.
Kristol writes: “But conservatives should think twice before charging into battle against Obama under the banner of ‘small-government conservatism.’ It’s a banner many Republicans and conservatives have rediscovered since the election and have been waving around energetically. Jeb Bush, now considering a Senate run in 2010, even went so far as to tell Politico last month, ‘There should not be such a thing as a big-government Republican.’”
I think it has been assumed that Jeb would not adopt the small-government position, organic to the oldest traditions of the South, Texas and the Southwest, but would instead lead conservatives hoping to bond now with Obama and support the bailouts. A view well expressed by Emil W. Henry Jr., assistant secretary of the Treasury from 2005 to 2007. As he wrote recently in The Washington Post: “We view sound economic growth as the best way to promote prosperity and protect economic freedom.
Infrastructure expenditures are capital investment for future growth. By investing in the reduction of air, automotive and rail congestion and by improving the reliability of our power supply, we will increase productivity and foster competitiveness.”
As Kristol points out, in his two terms as governor, state spending actually increased by over 50% with Jeb.
There is a tone of anxiety in Kristol’s column, titled, Small Isn’t Beautiful. It comes because a number of conservative governors, starting with South Carolina’s Mark Sanford, are backing away from Obama and the bailouts. Perry has signed on and being governor of the biggest and most prominent state in the red realm, he is the natural leader of this new movement.
Here he is with Sanford in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed: “As governors and citizens, we've grown increasingly concerned over the past weeks as Washington has thrown bailout after bailout at the national economy with little to show for it.
“In the process, the federal government is not only burying future generations under mountains of debt. It is also taking our country in a very dangerous direction -- toward a ‘bailout mentality’ where we look to government rather than ourselves for solutions. We're asking other governors from both sides of the political aisle to join with us in opposing further federal bailout intervention for three reasons. First, we're crossing the Rubicon with regard to debt.”
Americans phoned and emailed into Congress ten to one in opposition to the Wall Street bailout first proposed by Hank Paulson. Neither party in power spoke to that group. Sanford and Perry do and if this is an awakening constituency, we too will have crossed a river; the Mississippi, like Davy Crockett, on his way to the Alamo.
This is not to say what W would do regarding the bailouts, but to say that W actually is a Texan, got there by love, and he does understand the sensibilities of natural-born Texans like Perry. Most Easterners do not and default to brother Jeb.
There is some irony that Kristol and his friends and family in actual generosity of spirit first welcomed the South and Texas into the political parlor of conservatives when most in the northeast then and today disparaged them as rubes, rustics and dangerous populists and radicals. They followed together into Iraq as a fair-minded cultural coalition but one possibly with quite different motives and objectives. That friendship could break apart now.
Texans are tough. I opposed the war on Iraq from the first morning of the invasion, eviscerating the belligerent Bush and savaging his fellow Texan, Karl Rove, on BBC radio and in dozens of articles thereafter. And denounced as well the weak and vacillating Democrats in the Congress who enabled and appeased them.
But the one person I came to respect through this whole process is George W. Bush. Had only 20 Democratic Senators had the courage of conviction and the tenacity of purpose that Bush had, the war in Iraq would never have happened.
by Bernie Quigley
- for WesPAC, 6/12/06
Could be that we are all destined to be born again as Americans in
Our primary myths arise from
Six years into the new millennium we sense an awakening. It is appropriate that we sense it in
I felt a sea change in politics a few months back when reports of the Fighting Dems first began appearing on Wes Clark’s web site. I’d been in the room with General Clark when he signed the book to enter the primary in
It is a trifecta week: three major and formative events are at hand - Jim Webb, the Texas Democratic Convention and the Yearly Kos. Jim Webb, running for Senate in
This is the pattern of many who are returning to the Democratic Party. Born Democrat in Northern cities and Southern towns, they left the party during the Reagan administration. Now they are coming back. My thought is that they were right to leave then and now they are right to come back. Now is the time for a new turning of the political culture.
The Democratic Party was once the party of the real people of this country. The people who grew soybean and cotton, the people who gathered for barbecue at the Legion Hall, who went to church, listened to Johnny Cash, and served without rumination or discussion when they were called to duty.
Now they are coming back. Jim Webb is one of them and so is Wesley Clark. Webb is an astonishing individual, well known to all of us who were awake during the war in
From Webb’s political writings, it seems clear that the Dungeon & Dragons Warriors of the White House Cabal which engineered the misbegotten vision of hubris and fantasy play in
We heard similar words from General Clark during the
Last week Russ Feingold, Senator from
Feingold speaks with clarity and authenticity. His integrity has brought him to the top of the youthful and dynamic movement which vents its spirit daily at the Daily Kos and the other blogs.
My thought is that this is the most important of generational movements in
Recently, Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos, who coined the phrase Fighting Dems and has heavily promoted them on his blog, suggested a fork in the road for Democrats. He wrote in an op-ed article in The Washington Post saying that there are now emerging two Democratic Parties; old Democrats, and he mentioned Senator Clinton and John Kerry, and new Democrats (he mentioned Russ Feingold and Mark Warner, who have recently scored one and two in his monthly survey of readers). General Clark also consistency scores high in Daily Kos polls and has since he entered Presidential politics in the last election.
“Hillary Clinton has a few problems if she wants to secure the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination,” wrote
Hillary Clinton leads her Democratic rivals in the polls and in fundraising, said
The Yearly Kos, uniting the netroots this week in Las Vegas, is a Who’s Who of new Democrats, and although Markos does not endorse candidates at the conference, star power participants who are candidates or possibly will be candidates for public office include Mark Warner, Wes Clark and Eric Massa.
This could be a watershed event and such a turn in the culture comes none too soon. Pundits, some of whom were the original neocon enablers, have recently compared the Bush Presidency with the Jacksonian period, when the newly empowered Southern states to the west flaunted a new populism in the face of the Whigs in the Northeast, driving them to extremes. I think it is an appropriate analogy. And it should be remembered that the Whigs, who bore a close similarity to the passive and effete wing of the Democrats today, were driven out of business. But from there a new party rose like a
It should be recalled that when the country desired to be born again in the 1830s it could not rely on the mainstream press, which had succumbed to the same passivity, corruption and ambivalence as the political culture as a whole. So William Lloyd Garrison began a new press, The Liberator, in 1831, and the Gray Champion and Yankee Crusader, Theodore Parker, mounted the podium at
Nature will always find its way in a country with a temperament as free and independent as ours, and this time it is the independent journals and the blogs rising organically into the political culture. Markos is their William Lloyd Garrison.
These events come in a good week. Al-Zarqawi is dead and with Henry W. Paulson heading to the Treasury Department, there are clear suggestions that Rove and his folkloric crew of unenlightened amateurs have been sidelined and the Bush Administration is making attempts to rejoin the world.
But after six years when every utopian, millenialist, religious zealot and political cultist was drawn to his aura, we have to wonder. With what strengths do we approach the new century having let go the reins of the world for six years? When President Jimmy Carter went back to the farm after four years, which had been left in the hands of brother Billy, he found there was little left. Paulson will need strong kung fu to reach over the transom and grab hold the dollar before it sinks into oblivion.
The sudden appearance of competent managers from a mainstream sensibility like Goldman Sachs and the dispersal of ideologues are good for the country. But it may not be good for the President. As he, like myself and 40 million others who rose together in a wave out of WW II, turns 60 in the next few weeks. He has always seemed to dislike his own generation and sometimes to despise it. Indeed, he strangely seems to have no real friends his own age. And he was clearly chosen by an older generation to oppose his own and to do the impossible – to form an alternative path to the inevitable destiny of one generation following the next; to hold back time. The recent suggestion of competence in the White House reveals the able hand of James A. Baker, administrator of extraordinary competence in the Reagan Administration and the Bush family fixer. As the President turns 60, once again, the reins have been taken from him by his family. He cannot feel good about his work in the world to date at a birthday which signals completion and returning. And that cannot be good for the country.
I am not one of the people who hate the President. I have always shared the values and the family culture of the Bushes. And as one born in New England, which often seems hindered in its progress by a wistful yearning for the Old World of England and the Continent, what I like about the Bushes is that they continued their American journey and moved to
Friday, March 27, 2009
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 baseline-scenario.com – 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.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
By Bernie Quigley
- for The Hill on 3/24/09
The first misstep was when Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner made the traditional attempt to establish dominance over China’s more than one billion by saying that President Obama believed that China was devaluing its currency. Didn’t work that well and had even an ironic aspect given the financial disasters which occurred under Geithner’s watch in New York.
Next, China responds in a London meeting by saying it is worried about its investments in U.S. Treasuries. China, for the first time, initiates a territorial imperative into the discussion by lecturing, putting itself in the dominant position of teacher and the U.S. in the submissive position of the irresponsible pupil.
Then China masterfully plays the Tibet card. It openly attacks and arrests Buddhist monks on the 50th year anniversary of the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Two weeks prior, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton virtually gave them permission to do so. In that historic moment, the United States officially submitted to Chinese dominance.
South Africa came as a surprise. The frosting on the cake for China. South African officials announced yesterday that His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a winner of the Noble Prize for Peace, will not be allowed to speak at a peace conference in Johannesburg. Officials there say South Africa doesn’t want to offend its new Chinese friends.
Wow. And we thought South Africa was our own sub-state. The Clinton people and the Nantucket liberals like Gordon Brown even see it as their model for globalization. We thought we had that one in our pocket with a black President.
These last few days the Chinese have been conspicuously and openly prancing around a young middle-range government employee that they have dressed up to look like the Panchen Lama, the second most important monk in Tibet, to praise the way of the Chinese and the backwardness of Tibetans. The real Panchen Lama has long disappeared. He was kidnapped as a child and has not been heard from in years. This open display of the phony Panchen Lama illustrates a new confidence in China’s feelings of economic dominance. By the way, if the Chinese do not want the real Panchen Lama they can send him to our house.
But April 2 is the big day. On April 2, the G-20 will meet at a long awaited meeting in London in which, as The Wall Street Journal reports, China will call for the creation of a new currency to eventually replace the dollar as the world's standard, proposing a sweeping overhaul of global finance that reflects developing nations' growing unhappiness with the U.S. role in the world economy.
“The unusual proposal,” reports the Journal, “made by central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan in an essay released Monday in Beijing, is part of China's increasingly assertive approach to shaping the global response to the financial crisis.”
To understand China’s strategy is to understand the cultural tradition of yielding power which goes back 6,000 years to the Wu Priesthood. Over the millennia it has brought forth Lao Tsu and Sun Tzu. Vietnam’s General Giap said he used it to beat the Americans in Vietnam. It is an intuition-based philosophy which is diametrically opposed to the casually hide bound Protestant Ethic. It relies on waiting; waiting for as long as it takes – decades, centuries, millennia, if necessary.
The Wu Priesthood tradition says opportunity comes with an opponent’s weakness and weakness in one region indicates pending breakage in the whole.
The Chinese sensed pending breakage in the American Consensus when the Thai baht broke its climb back in the late 1990s. They sensed breakage when we changed the dollar from a perfect balance of circles and squares to the bloated big-head thing all a kilter put together in the Clinton administration. They sensed it when we started running former Presidents’ relatives for President like they do in Argentina, and using them for Secretary of State instead of professionals. They sensed it in the 2008 election when America was offered two candidates; one who wanted to go to war with Russia and another, sprung from Oprah’s couch, who knew nothing about economy, management or governance and in fact had never had a real job, but had a terrific, flashing smile and oratory gifts which rang like Caruso.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Wall Street has a phrase for a market that drops then comes back: A Dead Cat Bounce. But 2009 could be the Year of the Dead Cat because the cat may not come back this time. This time all of Wall Street has failed. If the cat doesn’t come back, it could bring the end of globalization: The end of the globalization of capital and culture as well, as both are hooked up together.
I first predicted the end of globalization several years ago and have been writing on that theme ever since. (I am a “Pundit’s Blog” columnist for The Hill, a political journal in Washington, D.C.) I am looking for an agent on a book titled above about the awakening political trends of the moment. Things are not what they seem. Both investor Marc Faber and the legendary commodities guru Jim Rogers predict a great future for agriculture over the next 30 years.
Rising economy empowers those in its stream and this will mean a great future for the red states in America and a bleak future for the urban financial and industrial areas – the blue states; New York in particular. I predict this will have historic consequences for North America and the world as the Northeast - which brought the South and West into the American federation through military conquest - will increasingly have to look to the South, the West and the heartland for support as it is increasingly unable to find purpose.
"Those investors in London and New York," says Rogers, "will be driving taxis. The farmers will be driving Lamborghinis."
Friday, March 20, 2009
By Bernie Quigley
- for The Hill on 3/20/09
On his first public day as a national figure, Jim Webb, the new Senator from Virginia, rebutting George W. Bush's State of the Union speech back in January, 2007, was already a living legend. He sent chills through Washington establishment by using the phrase “Wall Street barons.” Whoa! Be careful with that! It could ruin everything. It was the Clinton Democrats and the DNC who were the new Wall Street strivers.
In little over two years, there are essayists today on NPR calling for Maoist tactics of marching them through the streets with dunce hats on the way to execution.
And there is certainly a lot of blame to go around. Chris Dodd deserves some. But recall last week’s polling showed him to be vulnerable in Connecticut and coming in under 50% to unnamed opposition. That was before his role was revealed on the AIG bonuses. By itself, it would have proved to be a harbinger for 2010; a positive one for Republicans, who are already looking up in the polls.
It was an important poll because one of the most liberal states turning on one of its most liberal politicians would have revealed a real change of attitude. Especially focused on one who had been an almost permanent regional icon in Washington like the Kennedys from Massachusetts or the Bushes from Texas. Dodd’s sudden vulnerability would reveal a deep and rapid change at the top of the body politic.
Then the crowd turned on him with a vengeance when it discovered his role in the AIG bailout bonuses. Now they are literally calling for blood.
But there were others who could have taken this hit all along on the fiscal crisis and the economic turndown. People like Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, Hank Paulson, George W. Bush. Bill Clinton and Alan Greenspan. Barack Obama.
Obama says he takes the blame, like Clinton and the others did, but he doesn’t take the blame, he only says that. Because taking the blame would mean he would actually have to retire his position if he was a man of honor. Of course he won’t. No one ever has since Japan’s Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto took complete responsibility for a public scandal and resigned in July 1998.
I remember it well because I brought my kids out to watch it on TV to illustrate to them what honor was. The Japanese have a Samurai ethic, so when the principal takes responsibility for failure he must yield his authority. In the Clinton administration over a million Rwandans died and died by the knife, while the President and his men and women searched for the will to act and did not find it. Clinton took full responsibility. He went to Rwanda after his tenure and apologized. We have a basketball ethic.
Is Dodd being scapegoated? If so, for whom?
Scapegoating is a manifestation of a conflict of feelings. It would be for all of them: Clinton, Greenspan, George W. Bush, Hank Paulson, Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner. And Bernie Madoff and Barack Obama.
But Obama in particular. Dodd is taking the hit for Obama.
There is a purpose in a culture for honor. It prevents the dishonest blame of scapegoating.
There is a purpose for scapegoating as well. The scapegoat is a proxy. He deflects blame from the principal who actually deserves it. But not for long.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
By Bernie Quigley
- for The Hill on 3/19/09
2009 could be the Year of the Dead Cat; Wall St.’s phrase for a market that falls, then bounces back to life. But I don’t think the cat is coming back this time. This time all of Wall Street has failed. If the cat doesn’t come back, it could bring the end of globalization: The end of the globalization of capital and culture as well, as both are hooked up together.
Globalization was always an illusion. It was simply an extension of American influence in the world at a time in our history when circumstances gave us extended influence. Globalization was an extension of Hamilton’s government-sponsored capitalism envisioned to expand across the universe.
Oddly enough, globalization may have been killed off intentionally by the Republicans in the Bush administration which saw only part of the world as its pasture and the rest belonging to The Others.
I first heard of the end of globalization when John Ralston Saul, the Canadian author and essayist and the husband of Canada’s then-Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, made a few public comments on the new Bush administration. He made the point that when Bush signed on to the “preemptive doctrine” it bought an end to globalization and a return to the nation-state. History may prove him right.
The Canadian press got a good laugh out of it (and they are very good at that), but I thought he was right. Because what disappeared when Bush came to office was the illusion that we Americans live in a world without walls and given the choice, everyone in the world would want to be just like us.
We were at the turning point anyway. The Chinese and the Indians were about to seize all the chips and nothing could be done about it by the Adam Smith playbook. Certainly, they would not take second seat under Bush, Obama or anyone else, once they became first in the world. It is no where in human nature to do so. Especially in ancient regimes which were previously occupied and colonized by the English
Enter Dick Cheney, the Republican Party’s answer to Sid Vicious. Cheney, like the medieval torturer in Kafka’s great story, “In the Penal Colony,” was born to play an end-game. He was always the working class day hop pandering to the Old School; the panting and adoring provincial from the heartland, tagging-along with first-class Republicans like Ronald Reagan and gentry like George Bush the Elder.
But what was odd about these new Bush, Jr. Republicans was that they did not seem to care about money any more at all. They cared about church. They passed the dirty work of oil and capital, and the tawdry issues of influence peddling with desert sheiks, over to Dick Cheney. Just as Jimmy Carter passed his peanut farm over to brother Billy when he went to Washington, D.C. You decide, Dick. Whatever. Of course, when President Carter went back to the farm four years later, there wasn’t much left. Like this.
Anyway, most of the big boys were already moving from New York and Texas to Singapore and Shanghai, leaving the ranch to the young ‘uns.
We have lived in two ages since Vietnam: The Age of Leadership and Excellence and the Age of Diversity and Globalization.
James A. Baker, when working as Chief of Staff for Ronald Reagan, is said to have gotten so tired of hearing the expressing, “leadership and excellence” that he rigged the White House computers to fail when someone used the expression.
We love clichés: They bond us. But soon the Age of Leadership and Excellence would yield to another. When the Age of Diversity and Globalization rose at the beginning of the Clinton period, it was difficult for a journalist to go an afternoon without hearing the phrase.
Now we’ve come to the end of that as well and it could bring something entirely different.
I would think there would be potential for a third party or even a regional party, as regionalism may be our destiny if globalization fails. We will have to begin to look at the shape, content and utility of our own package and tool it up to fit the new economic times an circumstances.
In that regard, the stakes today are higher than they have ever been since 1865. It could well be that Jefferson’s vision of a “decentralized” country would be the practical and obvious model after the Hamiltonian vision of an all-powerful Centralized (World) Bank and Government and “one size fits all federalism” had filled the west and filled the world then suddenly turned back.
Once it has run its course different economic groups and types of regional character and community tier economies could begin to develop across the continent out of economic necessity. Especially since the red states are looking to great wealth ahead as some of the best forecasters predict, while the big cities face abandonment.
I grew up in a city of 150 empty factories so it is a reality which is close by, and one which we remain in denial. Part of Obama’s New Great Depression delusion is global; the world is not flat broke as it was in the 1930s; some parts look to gain in the turmoil, others will fail. Part of the delusion is local: The regional economies are not universally flat across the country as they were in the 1930s; the farm and mining states have inherent wealth; they will be punished under the new federal initiatives.
The west is filled. The regions and communities have developed their own souls and characteristics. Possibly federalism, like globalization, is running to the end of its course.
I remember calling the President of a junior college in Florida with a question at the beginning of the Age of Diversity and Globalization. As soon as I identified myself and said I wanted to ask about such and such, she said the answer was, “Diversity and globalization.”
I said, “I haven’t asked the question yet.”
Now the Age of Diversity and Globalization has ended. It will be time to change the buzz words again. Maybe something about gold, devolution of power to regional circles of responsibility and Austrian economics?
How about the Age of Jefferson?
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
By Bernie Quigley
- for The Hill on 3/17/09
Al Gore’s chronic insistence that the global science community universally supports his position on global warming, “ . . . for goodness sake,” is less than encouraging to anyone who has ever been around academia. Universities always support and agree on everything, from Derida to Gore. Then they get bored and a new generation flips it. Next time it will be Alfred Russel Wallace and David Bowie. And the last will be scorned. That is the nature of modern university education and research; it seeks to be all the same here, there and everywhere, like a McDonald’s franchise or a Starbucks. It is inherent in our Hamiltonian world of federalism, globalism and mass communications.
So I’m shorting Al Gore; one more appearance on Saturday Night Live and that will be it. The ‘70s will be over. Next up, that George W. Bush prototype from the early ‘80s, J.R. Ewing and Dallas. With that, I’m going long on Sarah Palin.
You can feel in the headlines this morning that the vast institutional Greek chorus which is the press is beginning to finish up with Obama’s free ride and starting to look ahead.
“Outrage from the public and politicians over the $165M in bonuses paid out to firm's executives is blowing back on the president and his initiatives,” reads the lead story in the Washington Post. First time for that. They are going after Timothy Geithner, the Treasury Secretary. He should have known about the bonuses being paid to AID executives.
Geithner single-handedly managed to get this administration off on the wrong foot. Critics said he was not the right man for the job as he bore some responsibility for the financial disasters when he worked in New York, but criticism was not allowed in the Obama “honeymoon.” He set the wrong tone when the first official sentence we heard from the administration was Geithner challenging the Chinese. Then they had to quickly rush The Hillary across the Pacific to faun.
AIG has the top two stories in the Post, and just below is a news item on how China is advancing in this global crisis. “Lower prices worldwide allow acquisition of key natural resources needed to fuel growth,” is the lead.
Likewise at The New York Times, beneath the top AIG story is one which tells how China exploits paths to growth in the downturn: “A $600 billion package for infrastructure, training and research is aimed at making China more competitive.”
Gone is the make believe that we are in a new Roosevelt era. The sea is finally changing. As these China stories begin to point out, we are not in a global uniform downturn as we were in the 1930s; we are not in a fixed American or European system in which Churchill, Clemenceau or Geithner and Obama can dictate down to secondary players. We are in a contest. And China is winning.
It is a turn to the positive; an encounter with reality and the first step toward positive engagement. David Brooks of The New York Times has identified the turning and he has been patiently waiting for this moment. “Over the centuries, the United States has been most conspicuous for one trait: manic energy,” he writes today.
Somewhere right now there’s probably a smart publisher searching for the most unabashed, ambitious, pro-wealth, pro-success manuscript she can find, and in about three months she’ll pile it up in the nation’s bookstores. Somewhere there’s probably a TV producer thinking of hiring Jim Cramer to do a show to tell story after story of unapologetic business success. Somewhere there’s a politician finding a way to ride the commercial renaissance that is bound to come, ready to explain how government can sometimes nurture entrepreneurial greatness and sometimes should get out of the way.
Spring is ahead. But so far, the Obama Presidency has seemed like a long autumn and a hard winter. Sap is running here in New Hampshire and I’m seeing signs, but not in this administration. It is not in the nature and gerenal make up of Larry Summers, Eric Holder, Tim Geithner, Hillary Clinton or Rahm Emmanuel to awaken in spring. Not to mention Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank; visceral creatures of the night with sharp teeth and claws, regularly dispatched to the news shows.
But spring may be Sarah Palin’s time. She will give the keynote address at the annual Senate-House Dinner June 8, sponsored by the House and Senate Republican campaign committees. By then the climate may be just right for her. If she is to rise, she will rise then.
And there is something beyond the economy that we need to understand by then: The war in Iraq, or is it Afghanistan or is it Pakistan? Have we won? Have we lost? I really have no idea. That is something that will need to be clarified.
The ‘70s aura of the Obama crowd brings with it more than a vague whiff of the post-Vietnam era. Ambassador Clinton, who had her picture in Life Magazine as an undergraduate in the Sixties and thus became a generational icon to the anti-war crowd, today hopes to insure the world outside our borders that the Obama administration is different from the one which largely fought the war in Iraq.
This is confusing because it seems, as it was when Clinton was in the Senate, that she is both for the war and against it. But it suggests the same anti-war attitude of the Vietnam period. This attitude even tends to nullify the good intentions and work of Obama and the First Lady in addressing Iraq veterans and their concerns. It appears patronizing. It even appears to suggest that soldiers and veterans have been somehow victimized.
But that is not how history remembers itself. As Ulysses S. Grant pointed out, history remembers victory and deplores failure. History will remember the invasion of Iraq as a victory. CENTCOM has denied rumors that General David Petraeus wants to run for President. But he could help with that, possibly on a team with Governor Palin in 2012.
Monday, March 16, 2009
By Bernie Quigley
- for The Hill on 3/16/09
If investment guru Jim Rogers is correct, and recently he has been, agriculture has a blissful future ahead, which should be good news for the states and provinces in the United States and Canada where farming thrives. But not so good for the investment communities which rose and flourished through the Reagan/Clinton period.
If wealth comes to the heartland the agricultural states should rise in relevance and status over the next 30 years. And Obama’s trillion-dollar public works program aside, the spent industrial wastelands he hopes to rebuild seem to lack specific function and purpose in days ahead. Which brings in a fairly spooky prospect: Those agrarian regions of North America which will prosper and flourish in the decades ahead will increasingly be called upon to support the urban idle and out of work.
And increasingly, there is alienation between city folk and country folk. The New York Times reports this weekend that farmers in California are moving to create a separate state.
“Those Hollywood types don’t have any idea what’s going on out here on the farms,” said Virgil Rogers, a retired dairyman from Visalia, in the Central Valley. “They think fish are more important than people, that pigs are treated mean and chickens should run loose.”
The final straw for folks was Proposition 2, the Times reports, a ballot measure in November that banned the tight confinement of egg-laying hens, veal calves and sows. While many food activists and politicians in the state hailed the vote as proof of consumers’ increasing interest in where their food comes from, the proposition’s passage has angry farmers and their allies wanting to put the issue of secession to a vote, perhaps as soon as 2012.
“We have to ask ourselves, Is there a better way to govern this state?” asked a former Republican member of the California Assembly, Bill Maze, president and a founder of the nonprofit group, Citizens for Saving California Farming Industries, which is spearheading the farmers secessionists’ efforts. Rogers, another co-founder, is chairman of the board.
Rogers and the others have proposed splitting off 13 counties on the state’s coast, leaving the remaining 45, mostly inland, counties as the “real” California. The people in those coastal counties, he told the Times, which include San Francisco and Los Angeles, simply do not understand what life is like in areas where the sea breezes do not reach.
It was suggested up here in 2007 that New Hampshire realign itself in a similar fashion. New Hampshire’s low tax profile draws many from across the border in Massachusetts. The problem is they bring Massachusetts with them. The separatists in the north said the influx has overwhelmed and destroyed the independent Yankee spirit of the mountain state, resulting in voting patterns and politicians like you would find in Massachusetts.
Similar sentiment could well arise in Virginia, between the northern regions like Fairfax County which is dominated by mostly out-of-town folk who work for the Washington, D.C. government industry, and the western part of the state which is rural and agricultural. Some in the rural and agricultural western parts of New York have also suggested separation from New York City. And visa versa.
Those former investment bankers in London and New York, Rogers likes to say, will soon be driving taxi cabs. “The farmers will be driving the Lamborghinis.”
If so, it could result in an increased alienation of the urban and agricultural regions; red and blue America, not unlike that which began during the Andrew Jackson administration when cultural sensibilities shifted from urban and Eastern to rural and Western, completely realigning politics and changing history.
Today California is a troubled state; 42 billion debt, rapidly losing population, and so ungovernable that there have been recent calls for a Constitutional Convention. It is still in denial about the depths of these issues and has not begun to seek solutions.
And as politicians have been saying recently, as goes California, so goes the country.
Friday, March 13, 2009
The G-20 Should Gather in Ottawa - and move the UN there as well
By Bernie Quigley
- for The Hill on 3/13/09
Holding the G-20 meeting in London cripples the negotiations from the start. Such an important meeting, to be more than a geriatric ruling class façade, should recognize the rising economic powers in the world. They will determine the future of capital and the fate of globalization. Otherwise, it will be doomed to failure. Already, the leading European nations have indicated that they will ignore the advice of the Anglos. Globalization began in London as a blood and guts journey of world conquest. Everyone remembers.
Likewise, they should move the UN. At a UN summit in September, 2005, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez proposed that the UN should move out of New York. He was right, it should. Some of us here in New England made that same point a few years ago at the beginning of the war on Iraq.
If they want to hold these meetings at the top of economic power, they should start holding them in Shanghai. But state and world capitals should not be placed at the top of power.
A nation’s capital or a world economic capital is, or should be, a mandala – a benign vortex of varied and different countervailing forces which in their entirety make up that world. Washington, D.C. was the perfect “benign center” between the industrial North and the pastoral and agricultural South in the colonial period but lost that positioning with the opening of the West. The “little lumber town” of Ottawa was the proper center for Canada, which consisted only of Quebec and Ontario when Queen Victoria declared it the capital in 1857. It too was centrally located at the center between two regions with vastly different sensibilities when the large western cities of Vancouver and Calgary were nonexistent. Today Ottawa, with a statue of Victoria on one side of the river, and one of the fierce and formidable Maurice “The Rocket” Richard on the other, forms a harmonious balance of opposites.
The UN could learn from this scenario and so could the G 20.
New York City was a terrible place for the UN to begin with. Placing a capital at the seat of power dictates down, making it an authoritarian Empire. No question, New York was the capital of an American global economic empire in the post-war world. It might have been better to make it a temporary Authority while the rest of the world, much of it in ruins, got back to strength. But once the world was on its feet again and fully empowered, the wise view of Victoria and Washington, finding the benign center between strong forces, should have prevailed. New York City is a pocket of influence and is susceptible to looking out for its own kind. London is worse. Authoritarianism is innate in situations like these and breeds contempt.
The world we face ahead without question, is an East/West world; one delicately balanced between the burgeoning Asian economies, India and China in particular, and the West.
This is where the millennium begins. Its center – the center of the world ahead - is the Lakes Region, and in cities like Detroit, Toronto, Chicago or Windsor, Ontario and Ottawa.
Canada, with its great humanitarian military general and senator Roméo Dallaire on the ground at Rwanda, was the voice of one calling in the desert in a complete failure of leadership and will by the U.S. even greater than that today in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Since its onset, Canada has shown itself to be a better world citizen than the United States or England and its banks are the envy of the world in an era of turmoil.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
By Bernie Quigley
- for The Hill on 3/10/09
Now that Republicans have defaulted to their cult figure, Rush Limbaugh, it is maybe time to go back and clean the stables. Same for the Democrats. They appear no better off, sporting their “new Kennedy” – second time around – with a full set of ideas that they themselves fully repudiated by 1985. With no place to go, they turned back the clock. We are at the end of something here; something bigger than Obama and Bush.
Luckily there is one among us with the initiative, leadership, work ethic and determination to carry us across this gulf: Santino the chimp.
Santino is a chimpanzee who lives in Furuvik Zoo just north of Stockholm. He has impressed his scientists and keepers lately with his ability to plan ahead. He collects stones before opening time so he can have them at the ready to throw at visitors when the zoo opens. His preparations include not only stockpiling stones, but also fashioning projectiles from pieces of cement that break off the artificial rocks in his habitat.
Santino collects stones and hides them in different places before the zoo opens. Certain individuals seem to bother him and he keeps a look out for them. He has taken the leadership of the other chimps in his group. None of the others knew how make projectiles or store and throw stones until Santino came around.
Our time is a between – a bardo, the Tibetans call it – a death-like period that is not yet finished with the old thing, but not yet started with the new thing. And strangely it feels like the last days of the Nixon administration. Maybe because Nixon is strangely starring in two movies right now, one light, one dark.
Whatever might be said about Nixon as a politician, he was a perceptive writer and historian and may have missed his calling. He once made a point about how history can emerge out of nowhere. It can turn on a dime and run unexpectedly for a hundred years.
It once turned like that between noon and four thirty p.m. on October 21, 1805 when Lord Nelson turned back Napolean’s fleet in a sea battle that came to be called Trafalgar. Before that hour England appeared to be finished, overwhelmed and beaten down by the Americans and the French. But it was only a gulf; a breach in time between epochs, and England’s great century was still ahead.
For awhile, Nelson said, just before he died, it looked like it could go either way. That it went England’s way was due entirely to the character and fidelity of Nelson.
We are perhaps in such a breach today with no Nelson in sight. But we do have Santino and that’s impressive. This is the way the world begins again. With one man or woman who, like Captain Jason Nesmith of Galaxy Quest, never, never gives up. Or in this case, a chimp.
Monday, March 09, 2009
By Bernie Quigley
- for The Hill on 3/09/09
Tom Friedman asks yesterday in his New York Times column, what if 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession and is the year that everything changed. And in 20 years hence – I’d make it longer – people will ask what you did in 2008. Like they asked about 1929 and the Great Depression.
“What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically,” he writes, “and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: ‘No more.’”
Friedman is a modern day Ida Tarbell, the greatest journalist of all time. Her editor, S.S. McClure, said that she was his best and most important journalist because when she took to an idea he knew millions of others would take to it as well. Likewise, Friedman today.
In that regard he leads the bandwagon and is of greater importance as his own personal institution than Congress and the Administration, the sycophant press and the culturally reinforcing Mao Theater that is Hollywood, all of which consist of secondary floats in the parade of ideas and action.
Friedman calls this stepping “out of the normal boundaries of analysis of our economic crisis.” I disagree with that. It is stepping into the greater cultural and historical picture, without which we will never get it right. As commodities guru Jim “The Legend” Rogers has been saying, many people have predicted this. Many have been waiting for it. Many have gotten it right.
The problem with first hindsight when a crisis appears is that we always assume history will move in the same direction as it last did and it never does. It is a symptom that we are missing or intentionally ignoring the originality of the problems. The current situation needs a dose of Shunryu Suzuki’s zen mind/beginner’s mind – the past is dead; the future is not yet born. Every situation is different and unique in its circumstances and problems need new eyes to be understood clearly and correctly. Put away the little 3 x 5 card from undergraduate school that says “history repeats itself.” There is no Second Roosevelt. There is no Second Lincoln. But Friedman’s observations bring a sign that reality is beginning to set it.
We are long from real crisis. The last started in 1929 and ended in 1946. The managers at the beginning were honed in a war of survival. ‘Twas ever thus. Today at the helm we have descended into the last of the third post-war generation, denizens of middle mind and middle management who got to their positions by getting good grades on tests. The greatest crisis they have faced is quitting smoking. We are at the end of that, waiting still for the end to end. And already there is panic and violence related to the economic downturn. Shots fired in Ireland this week bring first blood.
We have not yet heard from the new voices. In my estimation of cycles and generations, the people who will fully solve this problem are only now between nine and 13 years old, just as those who fought and won the Second World War were only 10 years old in 1929 when the crisis started.
In several ways this current breakage suggests the recession of the 1830s and the cultural transitions which took place at that time. We are at a transition similar to that in the mid to late 1800s when major manufacturing in the Anglosphere shifted from England to New York and New England almost exactly as it today shifts from the U.S. to China. But here is something. In that period one could be born in Ireland, work in Manchester, England, in a factory and move with dozens of friends and relatives to Manchester, NH, or Fall River, Mass. Both England and New England prospered in the changeover. Indeed Victoria rose in this period and brought England to the pinnacle of power. One would expect that California could likewise find a way to make some cash today with all the comings and goings across the Pacific.
But no. Instead, California is disappearing. She is 42 billion in debt, rapidly losing population and ungovernable.
As commentator Joel Kotkin writes this week in Newsweek, it is the Death of a Dream: California has returned from the dead before, most recently in the mid-1990s. But the odds that the Golden State can reinvent itself again seem long. The buffoonish current governor and a legislature divided between hysterical greens, public-employee lackeys and Neanderthal Republicans have turned the state into a fiscal laughingstock.
Hard times hit and we slowly disappear. Novelist Susan Straight describes her California life as a vision out of Camus or Kafka: At night, I can hear the soft thumps as the rats land on my roof. They launch themselves from the branches of the apricot tree because they want to get inside my attic, into a house with heat.
The house next door, and the one next to that, have been empty since October, she says. The rats are cold and hungry. The skunks have a den somewhere next door, where the metal shed was dismantled. Opossums, raccoons and lizards also find comfort where they have colonized the abandoned yards in her neighborhood in Riverside where about one in eight homes are in foreclosure or a few months away.
Their yards have gone feral, with hundreds of dandelion heads glistening gray in the night.
Friday, March 06, 2009
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.