Tag Archives: Obama Administration

Rebuilding America’s role

The growing clash between the Presidency and the U.S. Senate– including prominent Democrats as well as Republicans—is the opening guns in an effort to restore American world leadership. After the aberration of the Obama renunciation and repudiation of American world dominance, Washington has little choice but to return to its role of world leadership. The growing chaos engendered by the Obama withdrawal is all too apparent.
Spokesmen for the parallel themes of decline and fall of American power are already retreating in the face of the catastrophes brought on in various regions by the willful withdrawal of U.S. power. [Fareed Zakaria, with his “Nationalist” Muslim Indian background so appealing to the Obama camp, whose book The Post-American World {2009} was prominently displayed by a campaigning Barack Hussein Obama, is now making a quiet if unannounced intellectual retreat. However, his hypercritical views of a U.S. past as CNN’s principal guru sets the tone for its worldwide coverage, in a sense ranged against the beneficent general influence of such international media conglomerations which form such an integral part of American “soft power.”]
Anticipating such a development, the return of an aggressive U.S. foreign policy, must include an analysis of a series of world strategic developments, some anticipated and others growing out of largely unanticipated changing conditions. But the obvious concern over arming the Iranian mullahs, leaders of world terrorism, with nuclear weapons becomes the totem of the emergence for a new American strategy.
The transformation to a new more sophisticated role from the long and costly Cold War had already been anticipated but effort to meet it was interrupted even before it could begin by the dramatic events of 9/11. Then there was the miasma of two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq fought inconclusively at Washington’s choice as much as by conditions on the ground. All this has been followed by whatever lasting effects the Obama interregnum– still to be evaluated as it winds down in these last two years—will add to the additional challenge.
But there is plenty of evidence everywhere that the vacuum created by a supposed lead from behind U.S. role over the last six years has led to near chaos in many regions of the world. And neither the increasingly benign attitudes of the Europeans nor the overestimated power developments in China and India would substitute for the application of U.S. power and strategic calculation to maintain world peace and stability. Nor, the Obama Administration’s hopes and efforts notwithstanding, can the corrupt and bloated UN bureaucracy be a substitute as world government.
For those still unknown leaders who will have to reformulate American leadership in the relatively near future, the task is as large as it is at the moment indefinable.
For one thing, there is every expectation now that a new, cardinal enemy has presented itself: Islamic terrorism. But unlike the Soviet threat, it may well not be targeted in a single capital, and in fact, may present different levels of threat in different parts of the world– not excluding domestic terrorist operations in the U.S. itself.
But the initial victories of the terrorists—to what extent aided and indeed abetted by the Obama Administration’s policies history will have to determine—is going to accelerate as is always the case with a ruthless new force in the world. That will be a scene including the allegiance of young recruits. They lend the Islamic terrorists a powerful if uncontrollable weapon against the West generally and especially Europe, in particular. Its very existence, however, the so-called lone wolf terrorist, will pose a particular and peculiar new problem for American strategists as well.
At the same time, Vladimir Putin’s old-style 19th century aggression in Crimea and eastern Ukraine and his feints against the Baltic States mean that the promise of the Soviet collapse was not fulfilled. True, there is no longer a centrally directed world Communist movement with its constituent states—some of them formidable such as East Germany. But a “normal country: has not taken the place of the old Soviet empire. Moscow can and does in the face of a disunited Europe and with its nuclear arsenal present a continuing major challenge to American policymakers. [Ironically, the attempt, still in its early stages, of Putin to rebuild Russian conventional arms and its military industrial base could reduce the threat of a Moscow fallback on nuclear weapons in any unforeseen crisis.]
The remarkably effective North Atlantic Treaty Organization which played such a pivotal role in the defeat of the Soviet threat is now up for grabs, ironically having survived its critical test—at least nominally– by its commitment to routing out al Qaeda in Afghanistan post-9/11. It thus fulfilled the commitment of an attack on one as an attack on all but may have been the final flowering of a brilliant strategic concept.
The continuing irresolution in Western Europe—with falling military budgets and hesitation in the face of Putin’s challenge—presents Washington with a new strategic environment. Nowhere is it more demonstrable than in the case of Turkey, the geographically critical NATO ally on whom the alliance also had depended for its large human reserves. Ankara leadership flirts with the Islamicists and purchases Chinese weaponry while at the same time demanding NATO support for its defense on its fragile Syrian-Arab border. [One could make the case, of course, that for much of its life, France played a similar divisive role inside NATO with its flirtation with the Soviets and nominal withdrawal of its forces from NATO command. Yet there was never any doubt of Gen. Charles de Gaulle’s dedication to a Europe independent of Soviet control, whatever its relationship to the U.S. At the moment, Turkish Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan does not give an equal assurance of his opposition to the Islamicists.]
China, with its ambitions to redress twohundred years of colonial subjugation, is an unknown quantity. The remarkable economic progress, earned through an open door for foreign capital and technology, is nevertheless fragile. Its collapse could produce total disorder in China and now would have a huge effect on the world economy.
The reconstruction of American post-Obama leadership will have to take place on three different levels. The continued maintenance and rapid technological progress of weaponry, which may have slowed during the Obama years, will have to be restored. Given the level of American military technical sophistication and its worldwide leadership that may be the least difficult of the new challenges, working with dual purpose activities throughout the economy.
More critical and difficult will be the apportionment of resources to the various elements of the worldwide threats to peace and security. Traditional military balances, as with a possibly resurgent Russia, will have to be juxtaposed against the growing threat of Islamic terrorism. Despite optimistic predictions in many quarters – not the least among the Obama Islam experts with their generally minimal view of terrorism [including a woeful effort to avoid conflict with the greater Islam by identifying the problem directly] –the threat of Islamic terrorism may take on aspects of the Cold War. The very fact that the threat is so diverse and at different levels of violence will make for more difficult formulation of counter strategies.
One important asset in the American effort will be the use of “soft power”, often applied to the world scene even without Washington orchestration. The dominant cultural role of the U.S.—often underestimated if sometimes at odds with Washington policy—is so great that its effect and implications are often underestimated in any effort to achieve the worldwide geopolitical balance. At the moment, for example, the Chinese Communist leadership is waging a bitter if nebulous campaign against the employment by Chinese intellectuals and state institutions of Western [read American] methodology in studying, analyzing and finding solutions to political, economic and social problems. That sort of intractable U.S. influence, while often not an instrument guided by American policy, will be critical in the restoration of Washington’s worldwide leadership.
Perhaps the greatest handicap to the resumption of the U.S.’ world role will come—as it so often has in the past—from the competition of unresolved domestic issues. Ironically, the heritage of American racial conflict and discrimination has received a fillip from the Obama years with the U.S.’ first black president’s narrow effort to exploit rather than heal outbreaks of racial tension. Growing income inequality, as a political rather than an economic problem for U.S. society, appears to be rearing on the American domestic scene for the first in the 200-year history of the Republic.
The accidents of the American domestic political scene may or may not throw up leadership capable of meeting these challengers or at least striking a balance between them as the U.S. almost inevitably reassumes its world leadership role.


But will it “deliberate”?

Americans like to believe as a culture they excel at detail. It’s not true. The Japanese, the Germans, and sometimes the French, may well do so. But the American forte is to reduce the complexity of big ideas – whether in politics or industry – and broaden their appeal or their functionality. The Brits invented TV, radar, discovered antibiotics – but Americans made them marketable and a commonplace.

Indeed, so-called popular culture, now a worldwide phenomenon, is a product of the American lifestyle which strives for universality. The ability to achieve a common denominator, sometimes at the risk of higher quality but wider acceptance, has characterized U.S. decision-making through its history and been the genius of the society.

Therefore, the devil remains in the details. And when they are lost sight of, among other things, there is the avalanche of continuing disasters which have befallen the Obama Administration. True, it is inspired by a 19th century ideology of progressivism that reduces all standards to relativism. But it also borrows heavily – what a comment on the history of ideas! – from the failed Communist and socialist theory that fell in on itself in 1990 with the sudden crash of one of the greatest and most cruel pipedreams in the history of governance.

But the self-evident nature of the Fast and Furious guns smuggling scandal, the Benghazi fiasco and martyrdoms, the IRS persecutions and their discrediting of government institutions, the NSA’s perceived overreach and threat of Big Brother, Eric Holder’s star-chamber pursuit of newsmen, the Secret Service’s corruption and mishaps, the Ebola muckup and threat of epidemic – all are in large part the failure to tend to detail.

One of the more inane criticisms, by Republicans as well as their opponents, is that the GOP did not offer large package proposals to solve all problems in the current midterm election campaign. In the first place there are no such remedies. Nothing has so led the Obama Administration into disasters as its so-called comprehensive solutions, whether Obamacare or its Mideast strategy. Their corollary of comprehensive solutions, that compromise is always best, is also belied by history – whether Dred Scott or the 1935 Neutrality Act.

Yes, the Senate Democrats with some Republicans in tow did pass a comprehensive immigration reform package which the House Republicans, rightly, refused to consider. Anyone who has taken the most superficial look at any aspect of the problem, for example the control of the southern border or the problem of overstayed visas, knows its infinite complications and the difficulties of finding solutions to them. Only by tackling individually each one of the many manifestations of immigration and in detail will progress be made. Nor will it be made by accepting an improvable estimate of the millions of illegal aliens in the country. That has significantly recently bounced back and forth from 11 to 12 millions with nothing by way of substantiation. A million here, a million there, and you have an insoluble problem! Common sense tells you U.S. officialdom obviously does not have even a ballpark estimate of the true number, given their wide varieties of entry, their origins, the refusal of local governments often to cooperate with U.S. Enforcement and Immigration Service [ICE]. An ICE which turns hundreds if not thousands of illegal alien criminals lose back on the general population obviously cannot find a “scientific” way to calculate how many “undocumented” it is really tallying.

Therefore, as we roll into an election which will give the Republicans control of the Senate – and not, if as this writer believes, with more than a splinter margin — one can only hope that body will return to its proudest moments. “The world’s greatest deliberative body” needs to deliberate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will go down in history as a leader who did more than any other, perhaps in its history, to limit debate. [If that old Capitol Hill adage that after the Senate dictatorship of Lyndon Johnson, the senators “learned” never to have a strong majority leader bears scrutiny, Reid has proved the point.]

It’s not just that there are almost 370 bills passed on by the House Republicans waiting for some sort of action in the Senate. Most of these were detailed pieces of legislation designed, however disputatious and boring, to create new law or more than likely simply amend existing nonperforming or ill performing legislation on the books. It certainly gives the lie to the accusation of a do-nothing Republican majority in the House.

One of the reasons why one might be optimistic about the new senate is that dozens if not most of these stalled House bills in the new environment will have the support of some Senate Democrats as well as their Republican majorities in the House and Senate. For example, there were probably a couple of dozen Senate Democratic votes for the Obama-blocked Keystone XL Pipeline go-ahead and the energy policies it represents; 11 of the current Senate had the courage to write the President calling on him to change his mind and support it. But Reid did not let it get to the floor.

Reid has invoked the so-called nuclear option on some votes, a simple majority vote rather than the traditional two-thirds, eroding the tiresome, troublesome, inhibiting ability of senators to talk endlessly, but hopefully in their best moments to say something significant and use their powers of persuasion. There may be no turning back now; what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. But it would be a terminal disaster if the new senate does not get back to its historic role of talking it out.

Need one say, too, choosing the new executive coming in 2016 calls for men or women of more decisive and quicker action? Recent events have proven Harry Truman’s old comment that the constitution and historical usage has made the American presidency a very strong executive and he must exercise its powers. In the presidential elections ahead, hopefully a lesson has been learned and the American electorate should restore the Senate to its proper place of dialogue but look among the governors and other executives for the talent to run 1600 Pennsylvania.

Leadership, the law, and statesmanship

One sweet note in the sour symphony coming out of Washington these past few weeks is the Supreme Court’s decision on recess appointments. In an emphatic unanimous decision, the Court reinforced the authority of the separation of powers and the hope that it will be the last and final successful bastion for constitutionalism.

You don’t have to be a lawyer nor have pretences as a constitutional law professor to understand the argument.

Pres. Obama had taken it into his head to use the constitutional provision for appointments to the executive to be made during a senatorial recess, thus negating the requirement of “advise and consent”. The Founders, in a day of poor communications and [alas!] the hope of a part-time federal government in the carefully isolated, hoped for, non-political federal capital, permitted appointments to go ahead for efficiency if the Senate were not in session.

Obama decided that since the Senate was not conducting legislative business, it was not in session. But the Court upheld a very important principle, that is, that the legislative branch would make its own rules and not be dictated to by the executive or any other outside party save the voters. The Founders saw the need was critical. For unless the legislators were charged with their own agenda, the legislature risked becoming an appendage of an all weaning executive. It had taken the British centuries and a civil war to establish their own principle of parliamentary supremacy in which the legislature was not only independent but by far the dominant of the three wings of government

So, in a sense it was a simple, clear cut and common sense decision. The Senate is in session if it says it is in session, the White House’s or others’ views notwithstanding.. And all the rationales of Obama’s partisans about “pro forma” Senate sessions is errant nonsense

Whether or not, as other recently Court decisions appear to indicate and more are to be anticipated, Obama has exceeded his authority in his “pen and phone” approach to government when the Congress is stymied, may remain for the historians to determine finally.. But the argument that his executive orders are less in number than his immediate predecessors is obviously another one of those foolish statistical gambits. It is not the quantity but their quality. And his half dozen or more changes in the law for Obamacare, for example, written and passed by two Democratic majority houses of the Congress [in an outrageous flaunting of tradition for critical and fundamental bipartisanship] appear to be equally unconstitutional.

There is an argument that in national crisis – particularly applicable to foreign affairs and military procedures – the president has the prerogative to go beyond the literal limits set by Congressional legislation. It has hoary tradition if not the weight of argument. Obviously appointing additional members of the National Labor Relations Board did not qualify for that kind of special consideration.

But there have been many instances that have. On May 25, 1851, for example, Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. A writ of habeas corpus is a court order that requires a person under arrest to be brought before a judge or into court. It dates as far back as the 12th century and is one of the foundations of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence and its grateful heirs around the world. Five years later, by inference, a Supreme Court justice was to condemn Lincoln’s action as unconstitutional but the wartime president insisted it had been done in order to facilitate his effort to put down the Southern rebellion. Lincoln’s action, in part, kept the slave-holding state in the union with the opening of the civil war, a strategic necessity for the North and perhaps for victory.

. Less controversial, at least among the Washington politicians in both parties, was Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “destroyers for bases” swap with Britain’s Winston Churchill in September 1940. FDR, without formal Congressional authorization transferred a fleet of ageing destroyers to Britain – facing a possible Nazi invasion across the Channel – for access to British bases in the Western Hemisphere. Although the deal had the private support of some Republican leaders, it was an obvious breach of legality and the Constitution and even FDR, that most popular of presidents, carefully prepared the groundwork for the illegal transaction. Roosevelt and much of the political leadership favored aid to a beleaguered Britain, fearful of Hitler’s threat to European domination and world conquest. But they faced an American public with its hangover from World War I still overwhelmingly determined to stay out of Europe’s “squabbles”, until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and Hitler’s declaration of war on American brought the U.S. into World War II.

Again, the exigenciesof war were the rationale for what FDR did.. But perhaps there is another moral in this case: FDR was able to act on a dinnertime proposal made in part by two journalists, Henry I. Luce and Joseph Alsop, through a good deal of backdoor negotiating with politicians – including the opposition – for something the leadership knew was a necessity but public opinion would have rejected.

That kind of liaison and “politicking” – and statesmanship — seems to be beyond the capacities of the Obama Administration, for whatever reason.


“The long march through the institutions” halts – temporarily?

In 1967 Rudi Dutschke, a flamboyant leader of post-World War II European student radicals looking back on two centuries of failed revolutions, had an epiphany: instead of attacking prevailing institutions head on, he advocated his fellow revolutionaries should take a “long march through the institutions’ of power to create radical change from within government and society by becoming an integral part of the machinery.In the decades since, more than one aspiring revolutionary has attempted to implement his strategy, some even claimed credit for inventing it.

But American students, more intent on panty raids and Florida spring break orgies when not on their iphones, have never been serious politicians. That is especially true compared to the history of student activism bringing on regime crashes in Europe and Asia. Looking back, the anti-Vietnam War student protests – including the tragic 1970 clash at Ohio’s Kent State that claimed four student lives and one permanent paralysis – were atypical. In fact, the American anti-Vietnam War protests were more conceived in guilt by ill-informed, ahistorical, cosseted collegiates unjustly spared Vietnam military service.

That all comes to mind, now, trying to make sense of Obama Administration policies through the fog of its obvious overwhelming incompetence. One begins to discern a pattern, a template that does come right out of the 60s. And alas! It is, willy-nilly, by accident or design, a success — albeit temporary — for “a long march through the institutions”.

We know less than we should about Pres. Barack Hussein Obama’s own scholastic life, mainly because he has expended every effort and vast sums to block the normal scrutiny given politicians. But enough is known to perceive him as one of those young radicals who took “the long march”. Policy in the second administration — now free of any new electoral veto except for next year’s mid-term Congressional elections –reflects all the old attitudes of generations of dissent from the left to traditional American values and resulting domestic and foreign policy.

The current tempest over Obamacare is, of course, not only quintessential but expresses the state of mind of the country’s current elected executive. One is tempted – seeing the unbelievable extent of the disastrous rollout – to see conspiracy. For even to the least computer-literate among us, whose daily lives involve constant contact with remarkably skilled IT marketing and billing in the private sector, it is inconceivable that the federal government could not have employed commensurate skills. Was this incredible mess just an accident characterizing the incompetence of the Obama Administration? Or did “the evil geniuses” behind Affordable Care – for example, the estimable “bioethicist” Dr. Zeke Emanuel – really intend chaos? Could it have been they meant to destroy former health care patterns, whatever their shortcomings, to create a situation so enervating that an exhausted body politic would accept Obama’s favored solution: “single payer”, “socialized”, government mandated medicine?

Probably not, simply because it’s clear the technicians, at least, suspected a coming disaster which has overtaken the purported “chief legacy” of the Obama Administration. The Obamacare chaos has now jeopardized, at least temporarily, the whole “liberal”/left agenda. But what we do see, in fact, is an aspect of that same “long march through the institutions”. Individuals have reached the government zenith with the mindset of earlier generations of American pseudo-revolutionaries who along the way enthralled a less astute and pampered academic and media elite.

Evidence for this hypothesis is even more dramatic in the Obama Administration’s foreign policy. For there, except in moments of crises, the U.S. public’s interest and direct involvement is minimal. American lifestyle with its abundance not only of the necessities of life, but increasingly luxuries in the pursuit of elaborate leisure patterns, has given determined leadership an opportunity: making external policy has been a plaything of the elite because of largely apolitical citizenry.

So it was that idealists [and some realists] seized world leadership vacated by an exhausted Europe after World War II. An increasingly prosperous American public was willing to pay the bills without too many questions, especially since it offered new opportunities in foreign trade. It permitted Washington to contribute mightily to the reconstruction and growing prosperity of the Europeans. At the same time, it called for continuing sacrifices for policies – not always astute — in defeating the new totalitarian menace of the Soviet Union and world Communism. It even took a hand, with not all that much success, in efforts initiated by the former European colonial powers, to lift so-called Third World countries out of their misery.

But always at their back were the minority voices on the left. They were armed, often, with sound argument based on gaps in strategy and policy – or the obvious failures such as unresolved wars in Korea, Vietnam, skirmishes in Latin American, and now Iraq and Afghanistan Their litany was never exclusive. They often shared common cause with individuals in the political center and the right. And that old cliché about the commonality of extremes was certainly often the case; “isolationism”, for example, on the “far right” was often shared by the “far left” if for very different reasons. But today in part because of the vacuum created by the Obama Administration’s “lead from behind”, bereft of American leadership destructive regional forces in almost every quarter of the globe have been unleashed.

This arrival of the left at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue via the long march zigzags back to an earlier time. But its fundamental beliefs, again allowing for its performance inadequacies, are clear:

  • A cultural war against traditional American institutions, disparaging and denigrating historic icons, emphasizing the foibles and transgressions [e.g., the unresolved issue of slavery] of The Founders Their unique contribution to Western political thought through their major achievement, the American Constitution, is seen as a “bourgeois” formula, its fundamentals to be amended or circumvented by “progressive” thought supposedly allied to changing economic and social conditions.
  • Increasing government intervention as the solution to all social and economic policies. Mounting evidence that many of the governmental social programs have had enormously damaging unintended consequences has not been a deterrent. Broader government powers of direct intervention and regulation have been seen as the only solution to the increasing complexities of modern life.
  • Anti-anti-Communism whereby Soviet totalitarianism was given a pass. Supporting its satellite proponents in Cuba, Nicaragua, Chile, Vietnam, or even North Korea in its earliest days, was a “progressive” pilgrim’s progress. In its most extreme forms, advocates proclaimed the necessity for an inevitable compromise between Marxist-Leninist values and those of traditional American capitalist democratic society.
  • Abnegation of American leadership and sovereignty in favor of promises of multilateralism in which the U.S. role would be marginalized. Reliance on the United Nations where a plethora of corrupt, demagogic and unrepresentative voices dominated was seen as an alternative to the exercise of American power. NATO, the most successful alliance in history, was either opposed or at every turn sought to be sabotaged.
  • A blind faith in negotiations for their own sake, with authoritarian regimes who do not know the meaning of compromise. The use of force in international relations was seen as a violation of the moral code; the concept of even a war of defense against evil forces was questioned. Instead naïve solutions were sought to problems which had long decades of complex history.

·        A blind faith in technology as a replacement for detailed knowledge and historical perspective and judgment achieved through accumulating large bodies of statistical “fact”. It is “Scientism” which the philosopher William James warned us about more than a century ago. This was reflected often in a marriage of convenience with the diplomatic corps, which for whatever its skills at protocol and the “modalities” of negotiation, falls a perfect victim of what the French call “déformation professionelle”. Foggy Bottom has rarely had a strong claim to a realistic view of the perils of international affairs.

The President has expounded repeatedly on almost all these theses, if not directly by indirection. Overturning the established order through “transformation” as he has labeled it is the order of the day for Obama and his close associates in either formal or informal positions of power. Where law and custom is contrary to their new concepts, a stretch of executive privilege and discretion is a major tool for trying to create a new order even if the legislative arm has demurred.

Yet, if we accept the hypothesis that a radical leftwing minority American leadership has reached the apex of their “long march” by capturing the presidency and Democratic Party Congressional leadership, it is by no means certain their victory is not pyrrhic. The fact that Obama’s once seemingly fanatical following among the so-called sophisticated young is turning away seems to be proof positive of the disaster which has overtaken the Administration. The debacle of Obamacare is so great as to deal the left a blow from which they cannot recover, at least in the near term.

And thus “the long march”, while a temporary victory, has led to such chaos at home and abroad that it is increasingly rejected by a traditionally complacent American body politic. Americans, falling back on legendary common sense, as always, will try to get on with their “pursuit of happiness” promised them in their fundamental political agenda. What is lacking for the moment is leadership out of the swamp.



Picking up the pieces

When a young, flibbertigibbet reporter asked the old Edwardian Harold Macmillan what might derail implementing the prime minister’s promised political agenda, he rejoined, “Events, dear boy, events!” For pseudo-aristocrat that he might have been – his grandfather was a Scottish crofter, his mother quintessentially Midwestern American – Macmillan knew well and had been a victim of the vagaries of human life,  that make plans just that, plans. [He almost died of wounds suffered in World War I.]

Macmillan’s maxim is one always to be remembered when, for example, attempting to discern where current trends will take the U.S.

Any serious attempt at calculating where the policies – or lack thereof – of the Obama Administration will guide the U.S. and the world is therefore conceit rather than speculation. But certain it is that even though there is another three years to go, it’s highly unlikely that Pres. Barrack Obama will either change his views, or even should he have an epiphany, he could now limit the enormous damage he already has done.

For Mr. Obama has not only made mistakes common to human frailty and any American president faced with the role’s enormous demands on intellect and character. He has, in fact, also turned his back on so many fundamental concepts and values at home and abroad. His successor, whoever he may be and from whatever corner of the American political spectrum he [or she] may come, will be beset with the enormity of the struggle to right the ship of state.

The Obama Administration has left a sorry trail of not only policy destruction but intellectual debris. For better or more likely for worse, it will require a period not only of assimilation but of radical readjustment to continue what has been by any estimate the remarkable history of the American experiment. Whatever else he intended and has accomplished; Mr. Obama indeed would have partially achieved a “transformation” of the U.S. which has been his announced goal. In an examination of the wreckage, one finds:

  • Mr. Obama and his colleagues have made new contributions to the political concept, always rampant in American life since the late 19th century, that the U.S. Constitution was basically flawed and superannuated. Therefore, it has been argued, many of its basic concepts had to be honed through “progressive” readjustment to, admittedly, the revolutionary events of contemporary life. In the process, the incredibly inspired concepts of separation of powers, federalism and counterbalancing of power – even at the cost of occasional temporary impasse –should be sacrificed for expediency and ”efficiency”. Mr. Obama’s continued exercise of legislative and judicial power forsworn by the Constitution to the executive, but held in reserve for the other two branches of government, the states, and ultimately the people, has become a commonplace. Take for instance his decision to extend deadline requirements originally written into law in Obamacare, without going back to the Congress for a legislative solution demanded by proper Constitutional practice. Then there are his attorney-general’s constant public announcements of refusal to defend enacted legislation. They set an unholy precedent.
  • Mr. Obama and his colleagues have made new contributions to the calumny that U.S. power and resources generously expended abroad, particularly since the end of World War II, have been reprehensible. It is the refrain of the pseudo-radicals of the 1960s, which poor imitation of their 1920s Communist forebears who brought us the Soviet Union, perhaps the worst despotism the world has ever known. However much they have sugar-coated these judgments in contradictory rhetoric, they have confirmed and contributed further to the domestic and worldwide attacks on U.S. leadership. Fundamentally, they refuse to acknowledge that, willy-nilly, if for no other reason, Washington has had to exercise power because of the enormous worldwide impact of its dynamic system and its gigantic economy. This overall concept of American misadventure, enhanced by lack of historical perspective and knowledge of the instruments of power and government, has led to creating power vacuums in every corner of the globe. The most dramatic, of course, is in the Mideast. There for overwhelming reasons – its strategic geographic position [Suez Canal, Dardanelles, and Eastern Mediterranean], abundance of fossil fuels [a principal ingredient of worldwide industrialization] and backward native societies [retrogression in Arab and Muslim civilization] – has had to be a major concern of U.S. policy since World War II.
  • Mr. Obama and his colleagues have made new contributions to unrealistic concepts of the strengths of world government as a replacement for the exercise of U.S. power. Even those idealists who see supranationalism as the ultimate goal of international relations have had to recognize that for historical and other reasons, the current United Nations is a corrupt and dysfunctional organization yet, at best, to prove itself. However seemingly realistic at the time, for example, the creation of the Security Council with permanent members as the driving force of the organization has turned out to be one of its greatest weaknesses. The current Security Council’s “big power” composition with its vetoes neither represents the current balance of world power nor an ability to pursue its goal of maintaining world peace and order. The plethora of UN subsidiary  technocratic and cultural organizations are something of a bitter joke – e.g. the world’s worst tyrannies presiding over human rights councils, nuclear watchdogs unable to recognize much less to halt proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, cultural activities inherently prejudiced and inconsequential, scandal-ridden and ineffective peace-keeping efforts, etc. All of this might be rationalized as the inevitable part of an effort to create something beyond a comity of nation states. But to actually entrust it with authority and decision-making, to ask it to substitute for national and multinational alliances, is infantile and only creates new problems.
  • Mr. Obama and his colleagues have sought to defuse world conflict and the, admittedly, disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, by refusing to acknowledge the new long-term threat to world peace and stability. For whatever reason, the President insists on ignoring the basic thrust of worldwide terrorism, that is, its foundation in Islamic radicalism which alas! relies on centuries-old twisted interpretations of a religion. He and his advisors have refused to identify Islamic terrorism for what it is. They have in effect denigrated the shock and mobilization which followed the 9/11 attack on American soil from great distance – a confirmation of the new life-threatening strategic aspects of U.S. defense. Obama’s U.S. is now as vulnerable to attack. And while the Obama Administration relies, thankfully, on the accumulated enormous technological and bloodied superiority of the American military, Washington now runs the risk of minimizing them in future engagements with potential new unforeseen adversaries.
  • Mr. Obama and his colleagues have sought to minimize and discredit the role of entrepreneurial capitalism, which with all its faults has built the largest economy and most egalitarian society in world history. A campaign to substitute programs of government-enforced social equality for the traditional American concept of equality of opportunity cripples recovery from a traditional – if more severe – business cycle. Washington has exaggerated and increased the role of dependency on government redistribution of wealth – with all its notorious inadequacies – as part of the American civilization. There is proper concern that this movement toward more and more bureaucratic encroachment and dependency may destroy the essential fabric of the American economic miracle of the last two centuries, individual initiative.

Returning to Mr. Macmillan’s admonition, unforeseen happenings may change radically change all this, that is, the effects of the Obama Administration, even with the likelihood it will continue present patterns until 2017. Such turnabouts have come in the recent past: the largely unanticipated Reagan Revolution. But the “logical” outlook is that the U.S. and the world are likely to suffer even more instability and decline in economic opportunity awaiting a change in U.S. leadership.




Washington’s “political” class is blinging out!

           A couple of decades ago when that temple of conspicuous consumption, Neiman Marcus, opened another store in metropolitan Washington, my old friend and astute political observer, the late Nat McKitterick, warned me we were lost.

For it was about then that – “a political class” – was becoming apparent in the nation’s capital. It was a new phenomenon. Those of us who knew Washington pre-World War II., remember how it largely emptied out on the weekends when the government elite departed for hometowns. The wretched climate in the former swamp meant summer holidays were forced on the bureaucracy when the thermometer maxed out, then without the now ubiquitous air conditioning. In an era when the country depended less on Washington delving directly into our inner most reaches [and pockets], part-time government, or something approaching that, could be tolerated if not welcomed.

Certainly the Founders wanted the new Republic to have limited government, peopled by a constantly fluctuating hierarchy composed of a wide range of citizens with other professions and livelihoods. True, eight of the original 55 men who participated in framing the Constitution were sometime politicians. And fourteen were rich enough to own slaves. George Washington, himself, was not only a slave owner but one of the richest men in the New World. Eighteen framers might be called “speculators” in land and finance. Still, they dreamed of a regime in which the power of the state would be lodged at its lowest level and therefore more responsive to the will of the people.

And, indeed, at the insistence of “the radicals” they immediately adopted the ten first Constitutional amendments to guarantee the people’s rights, changes most of which had been discussed earlier. They were adopted to ease the document’s approval from the various states’ legislatures, jealous of their power and fearful of a central government. The tenth amendment put it in unambiguous 18th century prose: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

The reasoning was clear: a ruling political elite was the nightmare of the Founders, especially those ideologues committed from the beginning to the Revolution against the British crown. Their opposition arose from an overweening King and Parliament repeat and Parliament which had usurped their rights as Englishmen. Steady progress of Anglo-Saxon individualism and strength of new and growing centers of power in Great Britain had erased the once divine right of kings. And then the power of the barons, squeezed reluctantly from John, gave way to a London elite which governed, but in part still based on aristocracy. That was not to be, the Founders hoped, in, after all, what was their Republic modeled on Greek popular democracy and the Roman worship of the law. [Benjamin Franklin, according to legend, famously quipped when asked by a constituent what had come of the secret constitutional conclave, and he replied, “A Republic, Madam, if you can keep it!”.]

But over two centuries that original intent, as undeniable as it is, has been chipped away “in order to form a more perfect union” and to meet the growing needs of a vast, new land and population and the effects of a continuing industrial revolution. By the time the U.S. finally assumed its obligations as a world power, in fact, as a superpower, in the post World War II environment, that process had gathered new, rapid momentum.

On The Hill, the old bourbon-and-branchwater boys gave way to new blow-haired pseudo-sophisticated Congressional staffers, who incidentally, didn’t know how to draft legislation. In the Congress, more and more seats were “inherited” – either through DNA or through gerrymandering which now was based on class, ethnicity and color rather than on old machine politics handing out a Christmas turkey. The two-year term in the House, intended to insure a rapid turnover close to the electorate, of necessity turned into permanent campaigning. The judicial system which more or less had bucked Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “court-packing” successfully in the mid-30s succumbed increasingly to politicalization – with sociologists rather than legal scholars providing psychoanalytical analysis for decision-making on school desegregation, and a couple of decades later, abortion, rather than resorting on the old torts.

In one of those vaunted reforms with unintended consequences [The 1883 Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act and all is subsequent additions], the effort to insulate the federal bureaucracy from the corruption of political “spoils” created an independent but self-aggrandizing bureaucracy. So much so that sheer dereliction of duty – as witnessed in the current Congressional hearings – is hard to punish with dismissal much less economic sanctions and imprisonment. Watching Committee television hearings, we have seen the apotheosis of the trendy, smirking, self-important, arrogant, self-anointed bureaucrat, defying elected inquisitor politicians – who, however tainted themselves, recognized the dangerous politicalization of the tax system has reached new and dangerous heights.

Grown like Topsy is a class of bureaucrats, political appointees supposedly in their command, reinforced by their K Street lobbyist appurtenances and an increasingly kept mass media and blabbering tax-free, high-paid foundations with pretenses for intellectuality. These latter all too often simply reflect the least common denominator on thinking about any strategy or policy. A systemic revolving door of cushy jobs await any government executive who falls from his seat – until the hoped for next election either brings him back or he continues to work with his alter egos in what is laughingly called the private sector.

Look around and you see the incredible character of our new political elite. They unashamedly reward themselves until the District of Columbia [despite its poverty-stricken Black ghetto] and the surrounding Maryland and Virginia counties have the country’s highest per capita incomes. Alas! The demise of the Founders’ effort for a politically neutral federal territory! And even with the Dulles Corridor information technology industry, you would be hard pressed to find productive sources other than intra-government relations.

To describe the relationship among the inhabitants of Georgetown, Langley, Bethesda, FriendshipHeights, and the other ‘golden ghettoes” of suburban Washington as incestuous would be magnificent understatement. These denizens are often tied by kinship – the former Internal Revenue Service head who presided when it targeted conservative organizations is married to the head of an Obama political organization [not audited], two major network news directors have siblings in “media relations” on the White House staff, etc., etc. They constantly hobnob in New York-priced restaurants, chatter at the plethora of cocktail parties, often vacation together in The Hamptons, Martha’s Vineyard or other plush resorts, when not taking overseas “inspection” trips at the taxpayers’ expense.

It is no wonder that such inbreeding leads to group-think. Only such relationships could produce the catastrophe of a fanatical effort to remodel at one stroke one-sixth of the U.S. economy, the medical services and health industry with its infinite and unanticipated complications. And then, of course, to continue to pursue that course when every single opinion poll in the country shows a majority of the voters oppose it. Obamacare is, in fact, the culmination of a growing tendency of “the political class” to demonstrate increasing incompetence and lack of realism in the face of the growing complexity of American economic, social and political life after the subordination of old methodology by the digital revolution. But it was the ultimate expression of a political class who knowingly and arrogantly “know” what is good for the rest of the population.

Is all lost?

The closest I have ever come to Oklahoma was as a teenage ColumbiaUniversity student I got an invitation from Phil Spitalny’s All Girl Orchestra, then playing at the Warner Bros. Theater on Broadway, to see Oklahoma! Opening that 1943 spring. I assume its freshness and authenticity is a reflection of its namesake. To this observer it seems if one wants an antidote to what is happening in Washington, which inspires faith in the American ethos and its political dreams, he must turn to the victims of the recent Oklahoma tornadoes. Even the mainstream media, so often given to stigmatizing ordinary Americans as boobs [“who cling to guns, or religion”], had interview after interview with survivors who expressed their acceptance of the inevitability of life’s disasters but determination to adhere to old Oklahoman and American principles of self-help and perseverance. And I doubt that many of them would recognize a Los Rudos cocktail — with cilantro. As the Communists were want to say, it is not accident that not a single Oklahoma county voted for Obama in 2012.

Therein, perhaps, still lies the essence and the hope of the Founders’ American dream.


Energy at home, energy abroad: disaster

Pres. Barack Obama’s war on fossil fuels is adding to world instability already wracked by international debt, demographic bulges and largely unpredictable galloping technology.

Domestic implications of his policies are increasingly apparent: the closing in of prospecting and drilling is costing tens, perhaps hundreds of thousand of jobs. The attempt to choose winners and losers through “green energy” subsidies is producing market distortions, huge losses of taxpayers’ funds and corruption rarely seen since the old Soviet Union’s Gosplan. Using executive fiat for arbitrary environmental rulings after Mr. Obama’s “cap and trade” quietly died in Congress is eroding Constitutional government by creating “precedent” for defying public opinion as expressed through the legislative process.

On the world scene, the impact is equally grim, although as always with intricate politico-economic problems, difficult to quantify.

It is a given, of course, that world energy is, as the economists say, an imperfect market. It runs the gamut: Pres. Hugo Chavez gives 100,000 bbl/da to his ideological buddy Fidel Castro to keep Havana lights on from Venezuela production, a principal source of American imports. Hand-me-down restrictive policies, a heritage of the Carter Administration’s misbegotten Department of Energy and its first head, James R. Schlesinger, dogs natural gas. Cartelization of the industry despite all the legislation and litigation since the Supreme Court broke up John D. Rocekefeller’s Standard Oil in 1911 continues to inhibit competition with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries [OPEC] trying to set production quotas to control prices.

Yet, by and large, world energy is fungible – that is, production, stocks and therefore prices in one region impacts the worldwide market. After becoming a net importer in 1970, then doubling imports since the mid-80s to 50% of total consumption in 2010, the U.S. as world’s No. 1 consumer [and a producer of 25% of the world’s liquid gold] is decisive in establishing price, stocks and supply in other markets.

By impeding U.S. production through its refusal to lift controls, dragging out decisions or initiating or threatening to initiate new controls, the Obama Administration helps put a floor under world prices. That’s despite their erosion by a fall in consumption impacted by the worldwide economic recession, a very “leaky” OPEC struggling to control its 40% of world production, and production in the Persian Gulf for some grades a fraction of costs in North America. At a time of growing worldwide economic stagnation, despite the argument the real price of oil is skewed by a depreciating petrodollar in which most of it is traded, cheap oil remains as it has always been the sine qua non of American prosperity – and probably for world recovery.

Higher prices gorge feudal satrapies with their small backward populations in the Persian Gulf, unable to absorb and efficiently utilize capital. Worse, they indirectly finance world terrorists wherever they may be. For example, Saudi subsidies to mosques and community activities in the U.S. and the West as well as in the rest of the Muslim world carry with them Wahhabbi sect preachers insinuating sharia [pre-modern Islamic law] into Western legal codes, advocating armed jihad against “:infidels” and even fellow dissident Muslim sects or reformers.

Higher prices produce a petroleum bonanza for the increasingly authoritarian and corrupt Russian regime permitting it to avoid basic post-Soviet reforms. They give Moscow’s inefficient producers increasing international political leverage through gas sales to Germany and other Western countries. They reinforce the Putin regime’s efforts to reestablish Soviet hegemony over Ukraine and Central Asia and Moscow’s hope to intervene in a post-U.S. withdrawal Afghanistan.

Higher prices for its meager oil exports has propped up – along with Obama Administration appeasement – the bloody al-Assad dictatorship at war with its own Syrian people.

Not only has the natural gas snafu produced a temporary domestic surplus –with new technology pointing toward vast new production but it prevents potential liquefied natural gas [LNG] exports to high priced markets such as East Asia. U.S. sales to South Korea, for example, would block a proposed Moscow-Seoul gas project whose transit fees through North Korea would bolster the bankrupt, peace-threatening regime in Pyongyang.

Much of this, again, is the Obama Administration’s heritage. But its pandering to environmentalistas within its ranks has exacerbated old problems and invented new ones. With most of the President’s foreign policy initiatives in shambles, the external manifestations of his energy policy could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.


Keynes, Keynesianism — and Keynesianitis

By William T Alpert and Sol W Sanders

Few would dispute the claim that John Maynard Milord Keynes was a genius.

He was one of a long line of British writers on the political economy, who revolutionized the sport. He was brilliant if sometimes torturous in seeking to explain the riddle of human economic life. Like his British [mainly Scots] forbears, and like their offspring on the Continent who continued the tradition after it had died in Britain, he was a savant of political, repeat, political economy. For they understood as successive generations of practitioners of “the dismal science” often have not, that it is not a science. They also knew that those who use statistics and, may the Lord help us, the new digital revolution, to build their “constructs”, not only to examine but to predict human behavior, will usually fail. Keynes, certainly, understood the “political” part of political economy well before James Buchanan received his Nobel Prize in public choice theory for its “discovery.”

Torturous? Well, at least more than a bit Machiavellian. He rather quickly left his Cambridge colleagues behind, including a homosexual lifestyle, when he ventured into the world. He had minimum truck with the leaders of the chattering classes of his time, the inbred Bloomsbury Set, and even less with the Fabian Society. The latter, of course, thought they had found the ultimate formula for a several hundred years search in utopian, Christian, anarcho, syndicalist, Marxian and other European socialisms. But unhappily, they were completely derailed by the Soviet heresy. For example, H.G. Wells would write a pamphlet not only endorsing but calling Stalin “beloved” on the eve of the Moscow Trials.

Torturous, too, if you are a layman and have tried to struggle through his General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, generally acknowledged as his magnum opus or through an incredible array of writing — some of it surprisingly good. See for example his The Economic Consequences of the Peace, in which he predicts the disastrous outcome of the Treaty of Versailles.

Machiavellian? Keynes not only put his stamp on the academic world and excelled in the vicious infighting of government bureaucracy but he made a fortune gambling in commodities. A fund he set up for his Cambridge alma mater despite taking a massive hit during the Stock Market Crash of 1929, produced an average increase of 13.2% compared with the general market in the United Kingdom declining by an average 0.5% per annum until 1945.

His contempt for many if not most of his bureaucratic contemporaries was monumental. After the Bretton Woods agreements were signed, the attempt to reset the world’s economies after World War II over which he presided, he snidely told one of his gophers: “The clerks have got it wrong again. The Bank [International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, latterly to be called The World Bank] should have been called ‘fund’, and the Fund [International Monetary Fund] should have been called ‘bank’.”

In his own way, Keynes could be called the father of Europe’s post-World War II miraculous reconstruction. This time his proposal that modest reparations should be sought, that all the powers should unite in rebuilding and with American credits under the Marshall Plan was accepted. They had been rejected when as a young rising star in the British Treasury he had proposed them as early as 1915 and at the Versailles Conference. But Keynes, alas, was not by any means always right!

“The day is not far off”, he wrote, “when the economic problem will take the back seat where it belongs, and the arena of the heart and the head will be occupied or reoccupied, by our real problems/the problems of life and of human relations, of creation and behavior and religion.”

In 2010 we are still waiting.

His reputation, however, has become omnipresent – – spreading even to his self-acknowledged opponents. In 1999, Pres. Richard M. Nixon, having thrown his own primitive economic prejudices to the winds and instituted disastrous wage and price controls, said, “We are all Keynesians now”. But however politically wily domestically or brilliant at international strategy, it’s unlikely that Nixon knew much about what Keynes had in fact argued.

Things haven’t changed. A Greek chorus of the kind of economists who believe econometric models can predict social and political events is once again invoking the Old Boy’s name to bless profligacy.

It is true that Keynes was an interventionist, that he believed government had a role and should employ it, to curb and limit the business cycles which have dominated modern economic life since The Industrial Revolution began with the advent of capitalism — and perhaps before. But Keynes set strict limits on how governments might borrow and toss capital into the machinery to get it up and going again.

Keynes did believe in something he called “socialized investment”, that is public funds/borrowing that had to be made for the general good beyond the normal functioning of the capitalist system. And, if not lick the business cycle, to at least ameliorate it.

He wanted to set up separate budgets — for current accounts and for longer term capital projects which might require government assistance if not sponsorship. That’s something, by the way, that most corporations do today but which the Congress, which so far hasn’t produced this year’s budget. has never undertaken for one of the largest commercial enterprises in the world, the U.S. government.

But he neither believed in general funding of an amorphous public debt through public borrowing and spending, nor of using the tax tables to work out solutions to social problems.

For a man who could twist the English language until it screamed for mercy, he actually made this point very clearly:

The more socialised we become, the more important it is to associate as closely as possible the cost of particular services with the sources out of which they are provided even when a grant-in-aid is also required from general taxes. This is the only way by which to preserve sound accounting, to measure efficiency, to maintain economy and to keep the public properly aware of what things cost. [CW, vol. XXVII,p p. 224-225] As early as 1931 [although it was hardly early for the British who already had endured a painful decade of restoration of the pound to its pre-war status,], Keynes, in a radio address, said:

“[At] the present time, all Governments have large deficits. For government, borrowing of one kind or another is nature’s remedy… for preventing business loses from being, in so severe a slump as the present one, so great as to bring production altogether to a standstill. It is much better in every way that the borrowing should be for the purpose of financing capital works, if these works are of any use at all than for the purpose of paying doles [or veterans’ bonuses]. But, so long as the slump lasts on the present scale, this is the only effective choice for the one purpose or the other [or a diminished Sinking Fund, which has the same effect] is practically inevitable For this is the case, fortunately perhaps, where the weakness of human nature will, we can be sure, come to the rescue of human wrong-headedness.”

“… My own policy for the Budget, so long as the slump lasts, would be to suspend the Sinking Fund, to continue to borrow for the Unemployment-Fund, and to impose a Revenue Tariff. [Author’s note: Few recognize that his The General Theory was written with the assumption of an economy closed to foreign trade – – unlike our own today, but that is the subject for another time.] To get us out of the slump we must look to quite other expedients. When the slump is over, when the demands of private enterprise for new capital have recovered to normal and employment is good and the yield of taxation is increasing, then is the time to restore the Sinking fund and to look critically at the less productive state enterprises.” [Essays in Persuasion, Norton 1963, pp. 161 and 162]

Perhaps even more to the point:

“I should aim at having a surplus on the ordinary Budget, . . . thus gradually replacing dead-weight debt by productive or semi-productive debt. . . . I should not aim at attempting to compensate cyclical fluctuations by means of the ordinary Budget.” The collected writings of John Maynard Keynes, 1971 by Macmillan, St. Martin’s Press, for the Royal Economic Society in [London], [New York] vol. 27 pp 277 – 278.

Maybe Keynes wouldn’t have been a Tea Party-er. But there is little doubt that his mind and heart would not have been with the Dodd-Frank-Geithner spend-until-we- recover crowd who have taken his name in vain. Pres. Barack Hussein Obama’s stalwarts may think they know what they are doing, throwing “stimulus” about – – mostly in the form of supporting and expanding government through national and regional public sector employment. But their claim that it is all following the philosophy of one of the last of the great political economists [rather than today’s econometricians pretending they are] is false.

His ghost must be screaming about the downs at Tilton in Sussex where his ashes were scattered in 1946.


William T. Alpert, Associate Professor of Economics University of Connecticut is co-founding managing partner of FIDES, Philanthropic Management and Advisory Services, LLC. Formally, Senior Program Officer of the William H. Donner Foundation, he publishes in labor economics. He is Executive Director of the Connecticut Council on Economic Education and Director of the Center for Economic Education at the University. He serves on several not-for-profit boards of directors. Alpert previously taught at Lehigh University (1981-83), Washington University, St. Louis, (1977-81), and Columbia University (1973-77). Alpert earned his Ph.D. M. Phil. and MA degrees (Economics) Columbia University and AB from Lehigh University.

Sol W. Sanders A 60+-year career in writing and political analysis for a wide variety of media and corporate entities, currently columnist THE WASHINGTON TIMES  [“Follow the money $£ € ¥ “], website http://www.yeoldecrabb.wordpress.com Author: A SENSE OF ASIA,  HONDA: THE MAN AND HIS MACHINES, MEXICO: CHAOS ON OUR DOORSTEP, THE COSTA RICAN LABORATORY,  LIVING OFF THE WEST: GORBACHEV’S SECRET AGENDA AND WHY IT WILL FAIL, A MEDIA GUIDE TO THE CANADIAN CRISIS,  THE U.S. ROLE IN THE ASIAN CENTURY, [Ed.], TV documentary “The Silent Invasion” (illegal immigration), MITSUBISHI ELECTRIC: THE CHALLENGE OF GLOBALIZATION,executive editor, GLOBAL AFFAIRS, over the decades op‑ed articles in THE WALL ST. JOURNAL, THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, THE STRATEGIC REVIEW, ASIAN AFFAIRS, THE NEW LEADER, CONFLICT, SURVEY.

Institutional Risk Analyst

April 20, 2011