Thursday, January 29, 2009

Obama = Progressive = Collective

The Washington Post’s E. J. Dionne is a liberal who sees where the president is going:

Barack Obama intends to use conservative values for progressive ends. He will cast extreme individualism as an infantile approach to politics that must be supplanted by a more adult sense of personal and collective responsibility. He will honor government's role in our democracy and not degrade it. . . Obama pronounced debates about the size of government as irrelevant. What matters is "whether it works." Quietly but purposefully, he [is] overturning the Reagan revolution.

Dionne believes Obama’s “communitarian vision” fits poorly with "the stale political arguments" between liberals and conservatives that Obama frequently condemns, because the outdated arguments are about “two varieties of individualism.” Now, it’s time for the collective.

Conservative commentator David Frum of the American Enterprise Institute reached a similar conclusion. After listening to Obama’s inaugural, Frum wrote that “the age of big government, re-regulation, multiculturalism, and process-oriented diplomacy has come roaring back.”

Like Dionne, Frum invoked Reagan, but as a positive example. Frum believes Obama will follow the Gipper’s style:

Reagan showed a president can hold fast to a strong ideological line while still practicing a more congenial style. . . Reagan. . .was a conciliatory radical who always followed the old Roman maxim: “Suaviter in modo, foriter in re.” Gently in the manner, strongly in the substance.

To Frum, the Reagan-Obama path is “just a more polite way of demanding the whole damn field.”

“Communitarianism,” here we come.

Monday, January 26, 2009

China Basher?

Here’s a headline you don’t want to see: “Beijing says 10m Chinese have lost their jobs since [financial] crunch began.”

And here’s a story behind that headline that’s similarly hard to digest. James Pethokoukis of U.S. News & World Report writes:

Timothy Geithner, our probable next treasury secretary, [just took] a swipe at China . . . for manipulating its currency. Now first, Obama should be praying that the current economic slowdown in China doesn't lead to political chaos in the Middle Kingdom. It already appears that economic activity there has fallen off the cliff and unrest is rising. Second, helping shepherd China to being a full-fledged democratic-capitalist nation is what Geithner should be focusing on and talking about.

Here's how JPMorgan Chase economist Jim Glassman puts it: "China isn’t manipulating, it’s managing its currency to manage its way out of poverty. China’s living standard is 10% of the U.S. level. China isn’t taking advantage of the U.S. If China is successful, it will be able to reform its financial sector, eventually float its currency, and create a new market with opportunity for everyone. We should be cheering China’s progress not complaining about its currency. A stable yuan is a means to a better future for China and for the U.S., too."

Amen. In Henry Paulson, we had a Treasury Secretary who, if he didn’t turn out to be “master of the (financial) universe,” did know how to help China. Now comes Geithner.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Great Brains (III)

With Zelizer, we see again how Vietnam laid down a fault line between those who see war as an extension of politics and those who believe civilization has moved beyond war. Zelizer writes:

Sometimes Obama's team has articulated a new national security agenda—talking about multilateralism and diplomacy and "Smart Power" . . . But at other times, his team has attempted to show that Democrats can be equally aggressive on defense—appointing Bob Gates to secretary of defense and talking tough about a significant escalation of force in Afghanistan.

To Zelizer and others, “tough” is bad. Zelizer wants Obama’s “best and brightest” to commit to “smart power,” Joseph Nye’s attempt to save his appallingly-misnamed “soft power” from oblivion. In the Los Angeles Times, Nye himself discusses the importance to the Obama team of “smart power”, and shows how “smart” is the son of “soft”:

President Obama reminded us Tuesday that "our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint." A week ago. . . Hillary Rodham Clinton said: " We must use what has been called 'smart power,' the full range of tools at our disposal."

Smart power is the combination of hard and soft power. Soft power is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. . . soft power [includes] culture . . . values . . . and policies . . . Of course, soft power is not the solution to all problems.

No kidding.

Nye then describes how he saved his “soft power” by teaming with former Bush administration official Richard Armitage of the generally hard-line Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) to form a “CSIS Commission on Smart Power.” Armitage, Mr. Hard (until he left Bush over Iraq policy), and Nye, Mr. Soft, therefore produced Ms. Smart for new Secretary of State Clinton [picture at State Department].

So here we are. The last time “the best and brightest” were in charge during war, Kennedy was president, his team believed in being tough (“hard power”), American policy was to contain Communism by force if necessary, and we went to war in Vietnam. This blog is full of entries (here’s one) paralleling Kennedy to Bush. To Zelizer, Nye, and other academics, the Vietnam Tragedy is the great lesson of their lives. They want to make very sure Obama doesn’t follow Bush into some wrong war. So it’s time to take on directly Kennedy’s “best and brightest.” Say no to “hard power.” Say yes to “soft,” er “smart power.”

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Great Brains (II)

Democrats are about, as Obama said in his Inaugural, government that works.

Of course, the phrase “best and brightest,” made famous by David Halberstam in his book of that title, drips with irony because it’s about the brains who produced the Vietnam mess. The Woodrow Wilson School’s Julian E. Zelizer is out with a timely warning to the Obama folks to avoid what he calls three big mistakes of the Kennedy era’s “best and brightest”:

1. "Whiz Kid" Robert McNamara [picture] was too certain he could figure out a way to make Vietnam work; his confidence causing him to downplay strong warnings from the military, certain administration officials, and many legislators.

2. Kennedy’s people were too afraid of the political damage Republicans produced in the "Who Lost China" debates of 1952 and 1956 (well, actually not an issue in 1956), so too determined not to lose to Communists again.

3. Kennedy's people were believers in the "imperial presidency," so ignored legislators, such as Georgia's Richard Russell and Idaho's Frank Church, who opposed Vietnam escalations.

Zelizer specifically warns Obama not to ignore the “wisdom of veteran legislators such as Vice President Joe Biden.” That thought alone brings Zelizer’s whole analysis into question. Biden is quickly becoming Obama’s biggest embarrassment—more wiseacre than wiseman.

But back to Kennedy’s “best and brightest.” Their chief failure was ignoring people with Asian experience who knew how difficult it would be to win in the jungles where nationalist hero Ho Chi Minh had vanquished the French a decade earlier. Mike Mansfield, a senator unmentioned by Zelizer, served with the Marines in China and taught East Asian history at the University of Montana. Mansfied was the first U.S. senator (1962) to warn Kennedy the US should avoid further involvement in Vietnam.

McNamara’s doubts about Vietnam show clearly throughout The Pentagon Papers. Beginning in mid-1966, McNamara used his first team, Alain Entoven’s Systems Analysis numbers crunchers, to document that Vietnam was unwinnable—Vietnamese forces had the initiative in 85% of clashes with Americans. While 1966 may seem late, most American deaths in Vietnam occurred after that date.

One big reason European types dominated “best and brightest” decision-making is that the “who lost China” McCarthy-era purges of the State Department left it bereft of China experts. China turning Communist was a tragedy that birthed a second tragedy—waging a costly war in Vietnam without China expertise (see Barbara Tuchman's Pulitzer Prize winning Stilwell and the American Experience in China). Bush made the same mistake in Iraq, avoiding area expertise, until Petraeus took over.

Zelizer somehow misses The Best and Brightest’s chief lesson: listen to folks who speak the language.

Great Brains (I)

The New York Times' David Brooks reminds us that the rational, Keynesian model of economics hardly explains the current financial crisis. As Brooks puts it, how is it that “so many people could be so stupid, incompetent and self-destructive all at once”? Brooks points to new thinking about how the mind works—irrationally. He writes:

each person’s mind contains a panoply of instincts, strategies, intuitions, emotions, memories and habits, which vie for supremacy. An. . . unconscious process determines which of these internal players. . . control[s]

Brooks sources the work of Andrew Lo of M.I.T., who found that if stock traders make a series of apparently good picks, “the dopamine released into their brains creates a stupor that causes them to underperceive danger ahead.” People pick out those bits of data that make them feel good because the data confirms their prejudices.

Yet by contrast, in another piece published four days later on politics not economics, Brooks leans the other way, longing for the rational old days of Kennedy, when it was believed “Keynesian models would . . . scientifically regulate the economy.” Brooks brings back Daniel Bell’s The End of Ideology, published in 1962, to show how Obama is seeking to undo the ideological politics since the late 1960’s that have weakened social norms and produced fierce battles ever since, as groups vied to create new standards. As Brooks writes, “Personal became political. Groups fought over basic patterns of morality.”

Brooks says Obama’s challenge will be to translate the social repair we have seen over the past decade (lower crime, less divorce) into political and governing repair. According to Brooks, Obama sees himself as “a pragmatist, an empiricist,” someone “tackling the issues that require joint sacrifice — like reducing deficits, fixing Medicare and Social Security and reforming health care.”

Almost exactly Obama’s age (a week younger) and therefore unable to remember Kennedy’s “Camalot,” Brooks started out as a liberal, likely attracted to Keynesian rationality, Bell’s end of ideology; the Kennedy era’s “best and brightest.” Just like Obama.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Bush leaves tomorrow. The economy is in terrible shape, and it went down on Bush’s watch. Bush is in danger of being remembered as 2008’s Herbert Hoover. Bush oversaw the federal relief effort after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the feds, along with Louisiana and New Orleans officials, share responsibility for that mess. One can safely say Bush earns bad grades for both the economic downturn and Katrina’s problems.

Then there is Iraq. Democrats and the media fixated on Iraq from the beginning as Vietnam II. After Vietnam, we were supposed to be smart enough not to start a counterinsurgency. Yet Bush did. Sure Congress, including lots of Democrats, authorized the war. But Bush made the decision to go in, and it was so wrong. Or was it?

Now we know Iraq wasn’t Vietnam II. The U.S. made serious mistakes in Iraq in 2003-04, mistakes that led directly to 2006’s escalation of violence between Sunnis and Shiites. But as we did in World War II after failures in North Africa and Anzio, in Korea after misjudging Chinese intentions there, and in Vietnam after watching Westmorland’s “search and destroy” strategy fail, we adjusted in Iraq after 2006. Under David Petraeus, we turned defeat in Iraq into victory in about 18 months.

It makes a gigantic difference that we won in Iraq and al Qaeda and Muqtada al Sadr’s militia lost. Saddam Hussein is gone. Democracy may indeed stand a chance in the Arab world. The U.S. military has won again—Marines can add another line to their hymn. I don’t buy the stuff about how hard the victory was. You can’t say so publicly, but the total number of Americans killed in action is so much below that reached in previous tough wars, and our military gets better and better at reducing the number of civilian casualties they cause (as opposed to terrorist killings of civilians).

Bush took on al Qaeda after 9.11, defeated them in Afghanistan (though not yet in Pakistan’s Northwest frontier region), defeated al Qaeda and al Sadr’s militia in Iraq, and kept America free from the follow-on terrorist attack we all expected would come. Eventually, history will accord Bush credit for his most important work.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cave in to Hamas?

Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl’s [picture] analysis of what’s going on in Gaza provides real insight on how liberals look at the world. Diehl writes:

The war against Hamas is proving — once again — that the Middle East's extremist movements cannot be eliminated by military means. . . Israel must choose [between] attempting to drive the Islamic movement from power (which would be costly and leave its troops stuck in Gaza indefinitely). . . or withdrawing without any assurance that rocket fire against its cities would cease. . . [Israel’s] larger fallacy is the persistent conceit among Israeli leaders that Hamas can somehow be wiped out by . . . force of arms.

Actually, as we saw earlier, Israel doen’t have to “wipe out” Hamas to “drive” it “from power.” Israel can degrade Hamas’ capabilities to the point where Gaza’s people prefer the Palestinian Authority’s more moderate approach to Hamas’ ineffective extremism. But warfare working would be a blow, it seems, for Diehl. In Diehl’s eyes, Israel must lose because Hamas embodies the will of the people, presumably as did the Vietcong in Vietnam, and as Shiite militias did in Iraq. (Oops, our side may have won there.) As Diehl says:

Hamas is not merely a terrorist organization but a social and political movement with considerable support. Its ideology. . . is shared by a considerable slice of the population in every Arab country from Morocco to Iraq.

And Hamas enjoys the support of the media. Perhaps since Diehl is of that power group himself, he sees the media’s role as decisive:

the anger generated by the endless, graphic and one-sided coverage of the Middle East's satellite television channels [means that e]very day this war continues, Hamas grows politically stronger. . .

Here’s the counter-argument on war. The world is full of bad guys who believe they can win if “good people” will do nothing. “Good people” prevented us from defeating Hitler in 1936-38, at much less cost. “Good people” agitated for an end of the Cold War in the 1950’s (“Ban the Bomb”), in the 1960’s (“Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh!”), and in the late 1970’s-early 1980’s (Nuclear Freeze), before we finally won in 1989. Nearly 70% of Democrats in congress (and 83% of senate Democrats) voted against liberating Kuwait by force in 1991. “Good people” agitated against invading Afghanistan in 2001, and “good people” proclaimed Iraq a disaster and demanded a withdrawal from 2003 to 2008.

So why listen to Diehl? Hope Israel doesn’t.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Obama Win Ends an Era

Obama won the election while carrying 43% of the white vote. Still, that’s 2% better than white man Kerry did in 2004. Democrats were wise to nominate one of their own—they are the party of minorities and women. Both Gore and Kerry turned out to be hard sells to their base, unexciting oddities who, in the end, failed to appeal to white men anyway. Why should Democrats nominate a white man? In the year that was supposed to be Hillary's, Democrats rejected white males, instead enjoying an exciting battle between the first woman and first black nominee.

I wrote earlier about the importance of holding the tribe by being loyal to it. Democrats have paid a heavy price for supporting the Negro struggle for civil rights since the 1960s—white tribe appeals helped carry Republicans Nixon, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush to five presidential wins, and built support for Republicans in congress as well. Over time, civil rights dulled as an issue, and Democrats gained from gathering women (who continue to perceive themselves as some kind of minority) under its wing.

The party of women and minorities now represents an American majority. 2008 is the first time a Democratic presidential candidate won more than 51% of the popular vote since that party passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Obama, a minority liberal, is the Democratic tribal collection’s triumphant leader. Finally, the “majority of minorities” strategy worked.

Obama’s historical turning point should bookend the civil rights era, marked most importantly by women’s advance to leadership over our nation. We are in a time where men are hurting—they don’t do well in school, and they don’t do well in life (male unemployment--at the same level as female unemployment in December 2007--is up to 7.2% now, while female unemployment is at only 5.9%).

But the answer’s not Democratic-type affirmative action for men. The answer’s going to be better education, better job creation through small business success, and greater recognition that men have to be present in families for boys to do better. These can and should be Republican issues, as Barack Obama’s inauguration closes a door on race-dominated American politics.

Gloomy Times, Happy Days

In the long run we are all dead.

-- John Maynard Keynes

Keynes said what can safely be said about the future. But it can be safer to project longer-term trends than what’s immediately around the corner, simply because time and distance bring perspective. Today, nothing seems more important than the financial crisis that's in our face. But just as a housing bubble must burst, so too must the current housing-based financial crisis end someday with the resumption of buying and selling.

French philosopher Andre Glucksmann [picture] is, by contrast, more focused on what went wrong yesterday. He writes:

• our age is the first to proclaim the power to reduce risk to zero simply by spreading it around. It is the smiling reign of "positive thinking"--with ultimately disastrous effects.

• capitalism involves at once prudent regulation and the imprudent transgression of old rules, the sharing of risks and the audacity to risk more successfully than others. Economic progress is always alternating between creation and destruction, as old productive forces are left behind and new sources of wealth explode.

• But after the end of the Cold War, the promise of a pacified world seemed to announce the blessing of a postmodern history without challenges, without conflict, without tragedy.

Glucksmann’s denunciation of postmodern optimism is hard to argue with today. But I argue. Capitalism’s creative destruction, even with its downside, is uplifting and empowering the world’s people as never before. In the long term, we will be comfortable before we die.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Republicans and the Hispanic Vote

Ron Brownstein in the National Journal makes the case for Republicans becoming a permanent minority. He breaks the electorate into six groups: whites with college degrees, non-degree whites, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and other minorities. Asians and other minorities make up 7% of the population and 4% of voters. That figure will grow to 11% of the population by 2040, and the black population will remain roughly at its current 13%.

Brownstein knows, but doesn’t say, that the Democrats’ share of the black vote hit its all-time high this past year. We won’t necessarily see the same percentage or turnout for a post-Obama Democrat. The same goes for Asians and other minorities—64% voted for the first ever non-white nominee for president, and will be less race-influenced in post-Obama elections.

Whites accounted for 74% of the 2008 vote. The 35% of the white vote that’s college educated went 53% for McCain; those without college degrees voted 58% for McCain. Naturally, the non-college section of the white population shrinks over time, while the white share with college degrees, though growing relative to the non-college share, only retains its percentage of the total population. Overall, whites are currently two-thirds of the entire population, but drop to 51% by 2040. So the GOP total vote share is demographically challenged.

Hispanics will grow more powerful with each subsequent election. By 2040, they will be 25% of the population. That’s bad news for Republicans, because in 2008, Hispanics went 67% for Obama. Roll Call’s Mort Kondracke believes congressional Republican opposition to immigration reform—many Republicans, following talk radio's lead, attacked Bush’s reform measure as amnesty—punctuated by the Bush administration’s toughened enforcement of existing immigration law and improved border controls, resulted in the Democratic share of the Hispanic vote growing by 11% between 2004 and 2008, and the total Latino vote jumping by 40%. Though Obama attacked Bush’s toughened enforcement, Democrats may have trouble in a down economy boosting pro-immigration measures that enlarge the number of people chasing ever scarcer jobs.

The Hispanic vote remains in play, with the only certainty its growing importance.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Rove: Blame Fannie and Fred, not George

MP to Churchill re Clement Attlee, Labor Prime Minister: “You know, Winston, Clement is a very humble man.” WC: “He has a lot to be humble about.”

People ask why most of my blog comes from other sources. I am humble, yes. But I also know I’m well separated from the events and ideas I cover, so defer to those who have better access.

Karl Rove was there when government made decisions leading to our current financial crisis. So let’s hear him out. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Rove makes these points about how Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac contributed to our current mess, and what Bush did to try and head it off:

• the housing meltdown shows what happens when government grants special privileges to favored private entities; Fannie and Freddie had implicit taxpayer backing and could borrow money at rates well below competitors.

• the Bush administration warned in its April 2001 budget that Fannie and Freddie were too large and overleveraged. Bush wanted to raise Fannie and Fred’s capital requirements, compelling preapproval of new activities, and sought to limit their portfolios.

• Fannie and Fred, not wanting a level playing field for their competitors, fought back, engaged in a lobbying frenzy, hired high-profile Democrats and Republicans, and spent $170 million on lobbying over the past decade.

• When Republicans pushed for comprehensive reform in 2005, Democrat Chris Dodd of Connecticut successfully threatened a filibuster, Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts defended Fannie and Freddie as "fundamentally sound" and labeled the president's proposals as "inane," and Charles Schumer of New York dismissed Bush's "safety and soundness concerns" as "a straw man."

• Angelo Mozilo, CEO of Countrywide Financial [which gave highly favorable home mortgage loans to Dodd and other key Democrats], complained that "an overly cumbersome regulatory process" would "reduce, or even eliminate, the incentives for [Fannie and Fred]."

• Fannie and Freddie, which held $2.1 trillion in mortgages and mortgage-backed securities in 2000, held $4 trillion by 2005, and $5 trillion by 2008, almost half of all American mortgages.

• Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute and Charles Calomiris of the Columbia Business School suggest $1 trillion of this debt was subprime and "liar loans," almost all bought between 2005 and 2007.

• If Democrats had granted Bush the regulatory powers he sought, the housing crisis wouldn't have been nearly so severe.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Grim Economic News

Brad Kelly, writing in Investors Business Daily, passes on evidence from the Federal Reserve that we are headed for bad times:

• U.S. GDP will contract this year, with the risk of "uncomfortably low" inflation. That means we’re watching for deflation, which means depression.

• The Fed’s worried about the “yawning yield spreads” between Treasuries and mortgages plus corporate bonds. While lower rates are spurring a rush to refinance, they don't guarantee that consumers can get a loan or want to buy. Tracking of previously owned home purchases, begun in 2001, has just recorded its all-time low.

• Unemployment is jumping, with Friday's payrolls report predicted to drop 475,000 jobs.

Let’s hope the December unemployment report stays under 500,000, an already too-high figure.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Sticking it to Hamas.

So how does Gaza end? The New York Times’ Tom Friedman, whose first expertise is the Arab-Israeli conflict, says

America’s goal — has to be a settlement in Gaza that eliminates the threat of Hamas rockets and opens Gaza economically to the world, under credible international supervision.

Friedman wants an end to the Israeli blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza, in exchange for Hamas’ ending its rocketing of southern Israel. Some NATO-type peace force will enforce the settlement.

As the West enforced peace with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006? Israel's unlikely to repeat that mistake.

O.K., something else. I like the proposal of Bret Stephens, a Wall Street Journal writer who edited the Jerusalem Post in 2002-04, when he was 28-30 years old. Stephens says

• Israel can prevent Hamas rockets smuggled in from the south from reaching their current launching places in the north.

• Israel can weaken Hamas over time by avoiding a frontal assault on Gaza's urban areas but killing or capturing Hamas's leaders, destroying arms caches and rocket factories, and cutting off supply and escape routes.

• Israel can indefinitely occupy Gaza (outside urban areas) by standing firm against the global hypocrisy aimed at it.

• Israel should match every single rocket launched against it with an Israeli missile sent to a carefully selected Gaza target.

Israel’s goal wouldn’t be Hamas’ destruction. It would be reducing Hamas to ineffectiveness, so that the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority could replace it.

“Simple Arithmetic”

In Foreign Affairs, the magazine of the Council on Foreign Relations, Council President Richard Haass [picture] gives his version of the 21st Century’s new global order:

The increasingly nonpolar world will have mostly negative consequences for the United States -- and for much of the rest of the world as well. It will make it more difficult for Washington to lead on those occasions when it seeks to promote collective responses to regional and global challenges. One reason has to do with simple arithmetic. With so many more actors possessing meaningful power and trying to assert influence, it will be more difficult to build collective responses and make institutions work. Herding dozens is harder than herding a few.

So why not work instead with a few countries, those with 70% of the world’s people, the countries of my “Top 15“? Or the G-20, modified to include the biggest nations along with the largest economies, as outlined here? Yes, the U.S. should work with others, but no, it shouldn’t be “dozens,” and doesn’t have to be “dozens” if we move to a group of the right countries, a Security Council-sized group that truly represents most of the world’s people.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Michael Crichton on Religion

facts aren't necessary, because the tenets of environmentalism are all about belief. It's about whether you are going to be a sinner, or saved. Whether you are going to be one of the people on the side of salvation, or on the side of doom. Whether you are going to be one of us, or one of them.
--Michael Crichton
Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, 2003

Michael Crichton died on November 4, at the age of 66. He was brilliant, graduating summa cum laude from Harvard where he also obtained his M.D., then a post-doc at La Jolla’s Salk Institute. We know him as the successful author whose books sold over 150 million, and as the only person to have simultaneously the #1 book, movie, and television show (1994).

As “one of us” (see above quote), his comments on environmentalism as religion are particularly devastating. Crichton told his San Francisco audience in 2003:

we live in a secular society in which many people---the best people, the most enlightened people---do not believe in any religion. But I think that you cannot eliminate religion from the psyche of mankind. If you suppress it in one form, it merely re-emerges in another form. You . . . have to believe in something that gives meaning to your life, and. . . [t]oday, . . . environmentalism. . . seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists.

Crichton then proceeded to take apart the main tenants of environmentalism:

We have to get back to Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature.

Crichton asked if we really want to go back to when infant mortality was 80%, when one woman in six died in childbirth, or when, as it was in America a century ago, the average lifespan was 40. He pointed out that “People who live in nature are not romantic about it at all," and asserted that “if you. . . {t]ake a trek through the jungles of Borneo, and in short order you will have festering sores on your skin, you'll have bugs all over your body, biting in your hair, crawling up your nose and into your ears, [but] even in the jungles of Borneo you won't experience nature so directly, because you will have covered your entire body with DEET.” Bluntly, he asserted nature “will demand that you adapt to it-and if you don't, you die.”

If we don’t preserve the environment, we are doomed.

Crichton noted that while “the preachers of environmentalism” have for fifty years frightened us about population growth, fertility rates are falling almost everywhere, and predictions for total world population have gone from a high of 20 billion, to 15 billion, to 11 billion (the UN estimate around 1990) to 9 billion. So “these doomsday visions vanished, like a mirage in the desert.” Other mirages: a) running out of all natural resources, 2) Paul Ehrlich saying 60 million Americans will die of starvation in the 1980s, 3) half of all species on the planet will be extinct by 2000.

Here are some facts Crichton set against the religion of environmentalism:

• DDT is not a carcinogen and did not cause birds to die and should never have been banned, because the ban has caused the deaths of tens of millions of poor people, mostly children.

• the evidence for global warming is far weaker than its proponents would ever admit. The Sahara desert is shrinking, and the total ice of Antarctica is increasing. A blue-ribbon panel in Science concluded that there is no known technology that will enable us to halt carbon dioxide's growth in the 21st century.

To Crichton, “one of the problems with fundamentalists is that they have no perspective on themselves. They . . . believe their way is the right way, everyone else is wrong; they are in the business of salvation.” He wanted environmentalism out of the sphere of religion; he wanted hard science instead. Religions, he believed,
tend to kill people, and environmentalism has already killed “somewhere between 10-30 million people since the 1970s.” He even said, “The effort to promote effective legislation for the environment is not helped by thinking that the Democrats will save us and the Republicans won't.”

In a message seemingly aimed at Al Gore, Crichton proclaimed, “if we allow science to become politicized, then we are lost. We will enter the Internet version of the dark ages, an era of shifting fears and wild prejudices, transmitted to people who don't know any better. That's not a good future for the human race. That's our past. So it's time to abandon the religion of environmentalism, and return to the science of environmentalism.”

Can we abandon environmentalism as a religion? Probably not. Instead, we should recognize what Crichton said about religion elsewhere in his speech: “the reason I don't want to talk anybody out of [their] beliefs is that I know that I can't talk anybody out of them. These are not facts that can be argued. These are issues of faith.”

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Samuel Huntington

Samuel Huntington died the day before Christmas at 81. He was a Harvard intellectual who openly defended Western civilization, and America’s leading place in the West, against what by 1993 he saw as the greatest threat to civilization: the culture of Islam. Huntington felt that “globalists,” including transnational businesspeople, were undermining America’s and the West’s ability to defend its civilization because they had lost their national identities, believing only in the world market’s virtues.

Middle Eastern expert Fouad Ajami wrote a Wall Street Journal obituary bemoaning Huntington’s passing. Ajami noted that by 2004, Huntington saw three possible American futures: cosmopolitan, imperial and national. Huntington favored the national approach, in Huntington’s words, "devoted to the preservation and enhancement of those qualities that have defined America since its founding." He had no patience for the globalism of "Davos Man"(the global elite’s watering hole). But Huntington’s 2004 warning against imperialists was aimed at the American expedition to Iraq, and the American conservatives who had come to believe in an "imperial" American mission. He correctly predicted The American people would not sustain an effort to democratize others through military action.

Ajami marveled that Huntington, “with his typical precision,” had in 1993 written of a "youth bulge" unsettling Muslim societies, of young, radicalized Arabs, unhinged by modernity and unable to master it, emerging as the children of the upcoming radical age. Huntington had it right, but as Ajami wrote, “nowadays in the academy and beyond, the patriotism that marked Samuel Huntington's life and work is derided, and the American Creed he upheld is thought to be the ideology of rubes and simpletons.”

Friday, January 02, 2009

A Better 2009?

The terrible economy was 2008’s big story. It shaped the election outcome, as Iraq faded from the headlines. The U.S. is deflating a housing bubble, and this deflation means the rest of the U.S. economy and the world suffers. We are looking, looking for the housing market’s bottom. New housing construction has ground to a halt, having hit an all-time low in November, while increasing foreclosure sales continue to cut off normal market operations.

The stock market is a leading economic indicator. When we have a sustained market rally, probably only after the housing market hits bottom, that should be our signal recovery is underway. Right now, today, stocks are up. Prices are about half way back from where they stood on November 4, when Obama was elected, and where they were a month ago. Still, my FOX INDEX [chart], which measures the distance to a healthy market (12,000 Dow, 1,300 S&P, 2,500 NASDAQ), is at -4,201, a full 62% down from healthy toward its October 2002 bottom.

So the market remains bad, if hopeful Obama’s big spending will help.