Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A.A. and Humility

David Brooks writes about Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.). The most famous behavior-changing program has millions of graduates “who fervently believed that its 12-step process saved their lives.” Yet the vast majority of people who try the program don’t succeed. Brooks says:
public policy [tries] to get people to behave in their own long-term interests — to finish school, get married, avoid gangs, lose weight, save money. Because the soul is so complicated, much of what we do fails. . . we should get used to the idea that we will fail most of the time. . . People are idiosyncratic. There is no single program that successfully transforms most people most of the time. . . get over the notion that we will someday crack the behavior code — that we will someday find a scientific method [to] design reliable social programs. . .

We should be humble about what social science can do. Yet we can learn from A.A.’s successes as well, for the program offers “shrewd insights” into human psychology:

➢ to get people to gain control over their lives, A.A. begins with an act of surrender and an admission of weakness.

➢ A.A. relies on fellowship—successful members become deeply intertwined with one another — learning, sharing, suffering and mentoring one another. Individual repair is a social effort.

➢ A.A. allows each local group to form, adapt and innovate with little quality control, part of an organization that’s decentralized, innovative and dynamic.

➢ instead of addressing too much drinking with the psychic equivalent of a precision-guidance missile, A.A. sets out to change people’s whole identities, arousing people’s spiritual aspirations.

As Brooks well knows, we live in a secular society that honors learned experts, working through a government of the educated to help the less–fortunate among us. A.A. by contrast says YOU empty yourself, seek fellowship, find God.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Riding the Tiger

"He who rides the tiger finds it difficult to dismount" (騎虎難下).

--Chinese Proverb

One hopes Chinese leaders are happy enough with their country’s prosperity to keep moving away from war and totalitarianism, as the previous blog implies they may be.

But ever since Deng Xiaoping opted in 1979 for free market incentives to grow China’s economy, its leadership has been riding a tiger. The authoritarian regime, run through the Chinese Communist Party, gambles that by continuing to generate and spread wealth, they’ll retain popular support. The party hopes the people who are China will refrain from overthrowing and devouring the leadership that rides its back.

One party rule. Under pressure, dictatorships usually fall back on force, and must be overthrown through assassination or bloody revolution. The Chinese democracy movement of 1989, inspired by that year’s spread of freedom through the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, found itself crushed by the Tiananmen Massacre. While 21 years later, the Chinese Communist Party is still successfully riding the tiger, leaders know that, as Shakespere said, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” (Henry IV, Part II). We saw leadership “unease” on China’s last National Day (October 1), when the nation’s most important parade marched by in front of leaders, TV cameras, and zero people.

Democracy, the peaceful transition of power from one leadership to another, is the most advanced form of political rule. Ultimately, power rests with the people, not some elite subset. Allow the people to choose their leaders freely, and when one group loses power, they will live to fight another day. Democracy has expanded worldwide over the last century because 1) the people want it, and 2) elites sooner or later see the benefits of transitioning power peacefully.

In the long run, China will—like Taiwan today—be a democracy. We just don’t know how long its “long run” will be. Until that day, not just China but the whole world will be “riding the tiger.”

Monday, June 28, 2010

The China Hope

"Victors can afford to be generous."

--Suffragette Katharine Dexter McCormick (1920)

China’s generosity impresses me as a sign of strength. China has allowed direct flights and shipping between China and Taiwan, a boon to an island that sends 41% of its exports to China, and has 4% of its population living on the mainland. So today Shanghai is an hour and 20 minute flight from Taipei; it used to take a day to get there, via Hong Kong.

Now the two areas are taking another big step toward ending their 61-year-old separation. They will initial—in Chongqing, wartime capital of the Chinese Nationalists who currently rule Taiwan—a trade agreement reducing tariffs on 800 types of exports, and opening up 11 Chinese service sectors, including banking, accounting, aircraft maintenance, insurance and hospitals, to Taiwanese companies.

The agreement means much more economically to Taiwan than China. Taiwan’s exports to China last year reached $62 billion, while imports from the mainland amounted to just $24.5 billion. Taiwan needs an economic boost; its economy shrank by 10.8% last year as a result of the recession. And China’s conclusion of a free trade agreement with the 10-country Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) threatened to hurt Taiwan still more by giving ASEAN preferential access to China’s market. Now Taiwan is back in the mix.

China of course may realize significant political benefits, if Taiwan’s population continues to warm toward its big neighbor. As mentioned earlier, Chinese President Hu Jintao would love to move toward reunification with Taiwan before he retires in 2012.

In another example of Chinese generosity, AP’s Tini Tran reports from Beijing that China’s leadership has reversed policy on labor strikes, now encouraging them as a way to promote worker wage gains. According to Liu Shanying, an analyst at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Political Science, China wants to restructure its export-driven economy into a more self-sustaining one driven by consumers with more cash to spend. Workers' salaries as a share of China's economy declined for the last two decades, dropping from 57% of GDP in 1983 to just 37% in 2005. So the leadership is reportedly allowing carefully-controlled strikes aimed at foreign-owned companies, as long as the strikes are contained within a factory site, focus on wage increases and working conditions, don’t spread to the streets, and don’t involve units larger than a single firm.

The reported labor unrest is in southern China, where workers have become more valuable since the leadership successfully directed investment toward China’s interior, thereby keeping workers at home who used to migrate to the coast. As a result of workers’ success in a labor-shortage environment, the minimum monthly wage in southern Guangdong province rose in March to between $135-$150. Elsewhere, it is as low as $95.

The moves to help Taiwan’s people and southern China's workers suggest leadership strength, and thereby offer hope China is headed for a peaceful, prosperous, generous future.

The China Threat

Brahma Chellaney is Professor of Strategic Studies at New Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research, a privately funded think-tank. Not surprisingly for an Indian, he is concerned about both China’s rising military power and America’s apparent inability to counter the threat. Chellaney points to these developments:

➢ China's inclusion of the South China Sea in its "core" national interests;

➢ its telling the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam that discussions among them of South China Sea claims is interference in China's internal affairs, and;

➢ the fact that China's expanding naval role and maritime claims collide with U.S. emphasis on freedom of navigation.

Quite naturally, Chellaney is upset by Chinese protests against the Indian prime minister’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, Indian territory claimed by Beijing. But he’s focused on America’s seeming indifference to rising Chinese power. China, Challaney asserts, believes the 2008 global financial crisis symbolizes 1) the decline of Anglo-American-style capitalism, and 2) the rise of Chinese style state-steered capitalism to “unstoppable” global ascendance:

➢ China's exports and retail sales are soaring and its foreign-exchange hoarding is now approaching $2.5 trillion, even as America's fiscal and trade deficits remain alarming;

➢ the U.S. remains dependent on Beijing to buy billions of dollars' worth of Treasury bonds every week to finance a “yawning” budget deficit — an advantage China will exploit in the years ahead;

➢ add the two wars the U.S. is waging overseas — one of which appears increasingly unwinnable — revealing a global superpower bogged down in serious troubles.

Chellaney worries that China’s efforts to lock up supplies of key resources guarantee continued support to renegade regimes including Iran. He says the recent U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution exempted energy, opening a path to greater Chinese clout in Iran. And with such "friends," and following a 13-fold expansion of its economy over the past three decades, China has enlarged its capacity to “sharpen its military claws.”

Chellaney contrasts U.S. policy toward China with the way Washington responded to Japan's emergence as a global economic powerhouse in the 1980s. In those days, when Japan kept the yen undervalued and erected hidden barriers to the entry of foreign manufacturers into its market, the U.S. pressured Japan into trade concessions. Today, the U.S. cannot do the same to Beijing, because China is also a military and political power.

To Chellaney, the central assumption guiding U.S. policy on China has gone awry — that assisting China's economic rise would help create both a compatible and cooperative partner and political openness within.

Challaney is right that the U.S.’s China policy rests on a belief that, in the interests of continued prosperity, an economically strong China will behave like Japan and support the existing political and military order.

And he is almost certainly right to suggest such thinking is wrong. China is no Japan. China expects big political and military changes will occur to accommodate the world’s once and future “Middle Kingdom.”

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Six Months: Energy

I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children. . . this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal

--Barack Obama, 6.3.08

Faced with tough choices about what to get done while they still have big majorities, Democrats have decided to. . . go on vacation. The House will take six weeks off in August-September instead of the planned five, allowing its members more time to campaign. As discussed earlier, that means unions don’t get open voting in organizing elections. Hispanics don’t get amnesty for illegal aliens. We don’t see more New Deal-type economic stimulation to create jobs, and we don’t cut the deficit either, or even pass a budget.

What Democrats might do, however, in a “lame duck” session after the election is over but before defeated colleagues depart town, is pass an “historic” energy bill. As Fred Barnes of the conservative Weekly Standard notes, Obama and Democrats see health care as their signature victory, and an energy policy victory would provide a fitting bookend to two years of political domination:
“Cap and trade” climate-change legislation is even more unpopular than Obamacare. But that’s hardly an impediment to pushing for its passage—especially if you’re thrilled with the idea of being a martyr for liberalism. Besides, it passed the House a year ago. So there’s only the Senate to go. . .

And the current Senate just might be won over in a “lame duck” session.

Patrick J. Michaels at the libertarian Cato Institute makes the case against “cap and trade.” Using the United Nations’ climate calculator, he finds the House “cap and trade” bill would lower the world’s temperature in 2100 by 1/5th of one degree. If all the Kyoto Protocol signers cooperated, the temperature increase would be 7% below what it otherwise would be—4.6 degrees higher instead of 5 degrees higher, assuming UN estimates are right. Why so little difference? Because China and other developing countries are outside the protocol. While American CO2 emissions have been relatively stagnant in the last decade,
China's have been staggering. In eight years, China's annual totals will be equal to what they emit now plus everything we emit. So if we stopped emitting completely, China completely counters our effort.

Obama isn’t wedded to “cap and trade,” however, just as he was able to give up on the public option in order to pass health care. Robert Samuelson, in the Washington Post, outlines what he thinks Democrats should do instead:

➢ pass a gradually increasing tax on oil or carbon that moves people toward more energy-efficient products, including cars, and link the tax to major spending cuts, a healthier economic approach than “cap-and-trade;”

➢ fund research and development of cheaper, cleaner energy sources, and;

➢ tap domestic oil and natural gas, creating jobs, limiting our dependence on imports, and profiting from drilling advances that have opened vast reserves of natural gas trapped in shale.

Judging by how health care turned out, we’re not likely to get Samuelson’s sensible recommendations. But Democrats may indeed pass some sort of signature energy bill.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Six Months: Economy (II)

The government (Democratic) party is ostensibly defending us from big business, more specifically, Wall Street and Big Oil. Understand, the government party’s effort to retain power depends on voters, in Jared Diamond’s words, being pleased with the “tribute” leaders send down to us. Democrats, in the style of first socialist Karl Marx’s “class warfare,” have chosen to 1) demonize capitalists, then 2) extract from them the “tribute” they’ll redistribute to voters.

The current version is what Forbes columnist John Tamny calls the Washington “political class” making war on “profits.” Tamny’s evidence is today's Democratic agenda of

➢ imposing a 24¢ a barrel tax on oil profits;
➢ taxing financial institutions $50 billion to create a new bailout fund, and;
➢ ordering airlines (already struggling to stay airborne) both to pay a 62.5% higher fine for bumping passengers, and to provide refunds to passengers whose bags arrive late.

An concerned Tamny notes, “there is no investment without profit, and there are no jobs without investment.” Of course, the “tribute” voters want is jobs, jobs, jobs. Democrats fail to grasp this lesson at their peril.

The main point: the private sector, not government, creates jobs. When government sets out to pillage the private sector, the problem’s not that the private sector stops creating jobs out of spite, it’s rather that the private sector can’t create jobs. As Margaret Thatcher put it, “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money.”

Like Tamny, Charlie Gasparino at Fox Business Network (and formerly with CNBC) is upset about the Washington “political class’s" economic decisions. Gasparino discusses the stimulus plan’s failure to create jobs, and the time wasted on health care:
instead of spending the money on building roads and bridges, states have hoarded much of the stimulus cash to keep their own workforces fat and happy. While the construction industry suffers 20% unemployment, state and local governments are keeping employment at the DMV just humming along. . .

Gasparino believes our failure to nurture the private sector echoes the Great Depression:
[What] made the Great Depression so devastating was that people were out of work for long periods of time. . . the unprecedented meddling of government came at a price: Businesses faced an uncertain future, so they simply refused to hire. . .

Gasparino concludes, therefore, that Obama is “a throwback to a different era—a time when unemployment remained high yet the president talked an optimistic game and ‘prosperity was just around the corner.’”

Here’s the wrong answer: beat up on business to create jobs. Here’s the right answer: help business create jobs. If Obama persists in pursuing the wrong answer, he might as well, as Gasparino suggests he’s doing, talk like Herbert Hoover.

And don’t doubt for one second that governing's about creating jobs. We now are learning how truly dependent the stock market is on job creation. Elizabeth Trotta, in the Wall Street Journal’s “Smart Money,” outlines what some call the tool for predicting short term stock market moves: the weekly jobless claims report. Cantor Fitzgerald’s Marc Pado thinks the two are correlated because weekly jobless claims actually do impact the daily market’s moves.

On the “Fund my Mutual Fund” blog, “Trader Mark” writes about the same finding. What works best is a rolling four-week average of the jobless claims. It inversely correlates closely with the S&P 500 average, as the chart below indicates. Jobless claims are a “coincident indicator” of where the market’s moving, unlike the more famous and more closely watched Department of Labor’s monthly unemployment report, which is a lagging indicator.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Six Months: Economy (I)

Jobs are issue number one. But in the four months until midterms and the six months until Democrats lose the total control they have today, there’s little more the party will do to boost job creation, given their commitment to New Deal-style government action. The party rejects the private sector-related incentives Republicans advocate, believing such incentives under Bush produced economic collapse. Obama’s election was a mandate to dial back to big government solutions.

But after a rough 18 months of rising, now high, unemployment and rising deficits, Obama seems to be backing off more "New Deal" actions, sticking with what he's already done. Reuters’ James Pethokoukis spells out why:

1. Deficit spending—the jobs stimulus program—hasn’t worked, but hasn’t yet backfired. Deficit spending’s downside is rising interest rates, followed by inflation. But price rises will come later; in the short run, with the economy still underperforming, we need not fear inflation.

2. Congress has no appetite for another jobs stimulus bill. Not just Republicans, but also many Democrats now worry about adding to the deficit. As the Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore writes, Congress has taken the unusual step of not passing (therefore, not debating) next year’s budget. After all, it’s embarrassing to grow in the open a budget that already has average federal agency spending rising over 50% just since 2008. Better just to hide the budget.

3. Democrats (secretly) believe Okun’s law is about to kick in. Okun’s law says jobs rise and fall with the GDP, but in the current recession, jobs are lagging behind GDP growth. The Obama camp expects job growth, in line with Okun’s law, will soon catch up with the GDP, providing a sweet rise in employment going into November’s midterms. But Pethokoukis, drawing on Goldman Sachs data, argues Okun’s law is working—current employment’s in line with our modest GDP growth, so don’t expect any sudden jump in jobs.

In truth, presidents don't actually control the economy, and surprises can be positive as well as negative. Look at housing. Increased unemployment has led to rising foreclosure rates. But the latest statistics from Realty Trac, which measures foreclosure rates nationwide, show that in May, foreclosures actually declined 3% from April’s total, and 1% from May 2009. The Realty Trac CEO feels the market is finally beginning to work through the backlog of depressed properties built up over the past 20 months—which would be a positive economic sign indeed.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Six Months: Hispanics

Democrats’ strategy for holding onto Congress in the upcoming midterm elections: bring back the folks who elected Obama, but usually don’t vote. They are the young plus minorities, i.e.—blacks and Hispanics.

Democrats are activating “Organizing for America,” the current name for the Obama political organization that works with his 13 million-strong email list of 2008 campaign supporters. If just some marginal voters who backed Obama in 2008 also come out for the midterms, Democrats reason, Democrats can win elections they might otherwise lose.

Hispanics are a key part of Democrats’ targeting effort. That’s why Obama has made such a big noise about Arizona’s law that requires police 1) to determine the immigration status of people they stop while enforcing state and local laws, then 2) to report illegals to the Feds. Obama wants Hispanics mad enough about Arizona’s Republican-backed law to go out and vote Democratic.

One clue the Democrats’ attempt to woo Hispanics may not work comes from a recent Gallup poll. Gallup found that while approval for Obama’s job performance among white voters holds steady at 40-41% and among blacks at 91%, among Hispanics Obama's job approval this year is down 12%, from 69% to 57%. Gallup traces the drop to Obama’s backing away from the comprehensive immigration reform--including amnesty for illegal immigrants--that won him Hispanic votes in 2008.

We’ve said Obama’s agenda is limited by the six months remaining before midterms take away his big Congressional majorities. Credit Hispanics for catching on to where they rank on Obama’s priority list—out of the money.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Six Months

We have no idea if Republicans will capture the House in November, much less the Senate. We know Washington will look different next January 1. Republicans may not get all the 41 seats needed for a House majority, but they're headed for major gains in both houses that will force the president into compromises with the party he calmly ignores today. Democrats must now weigh how much they can do while they still have all the power. They have months left, but the clock is running.

Different interest groups are competing for space on Obama’s shrinking priority list, including labor. Labor spent $400 million to elect Obama and Democrats in 2008, and want their payback while the gettin’ is still good. Labor cares most about doing away with the secret ballot in union organizing elections; open elections enable union agents to pressure workers to sign up. And as Michael Barone writes, unions just spent $10 million more to defeat Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) in her primary, because Lincoln last year decided now wasn’t the right time to eliminate secret ballots in union elections.

The unions wanted to eliminate Lincoln to show Obama and other Democrats they have the clout to push open voting up Obama’s priority list. But the union gamble backfired. Lincoln pulled off a surprise upset of the union-backed candidate. Lincoln’s victory means another interest group will gain priority over Obama’s agenda—at the unions’ expense.

It’s a tough time for unions, as their strength ebbs, and as people become more conscious of how unions hold back progress. Barone reports union membership dropped 771,000 between 2008 and 2009, and is down to 7.2% of the private workforce, with membership aging. While 17% of workers over 55 are union members, only 5% of those below 25 are. And for the first time, a majority of union members work for the government.

Democrats are hurting as the public learns more about how much public sector unions cost taxpayers each year, and how government is all about feeding itself, what Walter Russell Mead calls the “blue beast.” In France, where for 100 years public sector workers could blackmail the nation through general strikes (the last big one was in 1995), a very unpopular President Nicolas Sarkozy is about to raise the public sector retirement age after unions could only muster 22,000 for a May public demonstration in opposition.

And back home, the amazing documentary “The Lottery” about how teachers unions battle charter schools and the parents who fight to get their children into them, could increase public disenchantment with unionized teachers. In the movie, low income parents—contrary to what unions constantly tell us—show through their actions they care desperately about their child’s education, even while denied the middle/upper class option of expensive private schools.

The parents are blocked at every turn by unions who control the schools. Unions even bus in paid outside agitators to disrupt public meetings where parents try to speak, and demonstrate outside the charter schools parents love. The blatant anti-child, anti-parent actions of New York’s American Federation of Teachers (the union that blocked Superintendent Michelle Rhee’s Washington DC reform efforts) are there for everyone to see.

Maybe the tide is finally going to turn against reactionary unionism. Four months.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Whitman and Fiorina Unelectable?

Harold Meyerson, liberal Washington Post columnist, thinks so:

California Republican primaries have a nasty habit of rendering their winners unelectable in November, and this year's contest looks like it will be no exception. To win, [Meg] Whitman and [Carly] Fiorina -- conventional conservative business Republicans both -- had to take positions so far to the right that their chances of winning a state in which Barack Obama commands a 59% approval rating are slim.

. . . the issue most damaging for Whitman and Fiorina is immigration. Pressed by their GOP primary opponents and the Republican electorate to endorse Arizona's draconian new law, Fiorina proclaimed her support for it while Whitman countered the charges from her right that she was soft on immigration by affirming that she was "100 percent against amnesty" and demanding a huge increase in border enforcement. . . Southern California's Latino-led labor movement -- the most energized and strategically savvy labor movement in the nation – [is] particularly adept at turning out Latino voters for Democratic candidates and causes.

In winning their nominations, [Whitman and Fiorina] said things deeply offensive to a fatally large swath of California voters. Their campaigns may be gold-plated, but they have ears of purest tin.

Unmarried women are the core of Democrats’ strength, nationwide. Many, many unmarried California women will vote for male Jerry Brown over female Meg Whitman, and even more will vote for Barbara Boxer over Carly Fiorina. So why do female Republican candidates (not just Sarah Palin) set off such visceral predictions of unelectability from liberal columnists like Meyerson?

I think it’s because the image of Republicans the media have fixed in our minds—and have used against Republicans with real success—is WHITE MALE, EX-FRAT BOY (AND LIKELY BIGOT). Therefore, any Republican who doesn’t look like a frat boy bashes the media’s carefully-constructed image between the eyes. That hurts.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Impartial Media Parties with Democrats

Times may be super-“tough,” and the press may agree, but hey, as Mike Riggs, in the conservative “Daily Caller” indicates, “All work and no play, makes Rahm (see video) a dull boy:”
on the grounds of the Naval Observatory last weekend, Vice President Joe Biden and the [Democratic National Committee] hosted a pool party for their friends in the Washington journalism industry. It was “a nice way to spend a hot Saturday afternoon,” according to the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder. It was also a great way for the journalists in attendance —Wolf Blitzer and Ed Henry of CNN, as well as David Sanger of the New York Times — to reveal that their integrity is water soluble.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

More on Obama’s “Toughest” 18 Months

Peter Wehner, in “Politics Daily,” jumped on the same Obama quote—“this has been the toughest year and a half since any year and a half since the 1930s”—that I hopped on earlier. Both of us credited Daniel Halper, the man who found the Obama quote.

Wehner went over a similar list of “What about?” events that topped Obama’s bad 18 months, including the start of World War II, 9.11, Watergate, Vietnam, Carter and Reagan “stagflation,” the 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Truman’s first few months including dropping A-bombs, and Truman’s Korean War.

Wehner stressed how bad things really were in 1946, at the beginning of the Cold War, using a quotation from Dean Acheson’s Present at the Creation. Acheson, a top State Department official at the time and later Secretary of State:
wrote about the immensity of the task the Truman administration faced after war ended in 1945, which "only slowly revealed itself. As it did so, it began to appear as just a bit less formidable than that described in the first chapter of Genesis. That was to create a world out of chaos; ours, to create half a world, a free half, out of the same material without blowing the whole to pieces in the process."

The elite like knows we are stupid.

Rich Lowry, editor of the conservative National Review, summarizes the sheer unbelievability of the White House story they didn’t break the law offering Congressman Joe Sestak a job to not run against Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary. The White House made its offer at the very time it badly needed Specter to leave the Republican party to become the Senate’s 60th Democratic vote, providing Obama a filibuster-proof Democratic majority. As Lowry wrote:
The [White House] document suggests that, at [its] behest . . . Clinton offered Sestak an unpaid position on a presidential advisory board to get him to stand down.

[Clinton] might have had better luck if he'd offered him a choice Capitol Hill parking space. For a sitting congressman and former three-star admiral like Sestak, a spot on an advisory commission would [be] a nuisance to be avoided rather than a plum to be coveted, let alone at the price of his senatorial ambitions.

It's almost inconceivable that practiced political hands like Clinton and Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff behind the gambit, would have considered such a trifle sufficient enticement to sway Sestak. Besides, the advisory role doesn't jibe with Sestak's words or body language over the last three months, all of which suggested he'd been offered a real, honest-to-goodness job - you know, one with a salary and maybe even health benefits and an office.

Larry Kane, the host of a Philadelphia public affairs show, first asked Sestak about the rumored White House approach back in February: "Were you ever offered a federal job to get out of this race?" "Yes," Sestak said. "Was it secretary of the Navy?" "No comment," Sestak replied. "Was it high-ranking?" Sestak said it was, which implies something more than glorified volunteer work.

I try to understand what’s going on here. Nixon lied about Watergate and it cost him his job. Clinton lied about Monica Lewinsky, and was impeached and disbarred for doing so. Why does Obama’s White House tell such a tall tale about offering Joe Sestak an unpaid presidential advisory board position, when it’s clear he was offered a real job? Are we supposed to be stupid?

I believe the truth is immaterial to these folks for three reasons: 1) elite status means you make the rules, so breaking the rules you make means little; 2) members of the elite treat each other with the respect they have earned, protecting their own status by protecting the status of other elite members, and; 3) the elite’s collective power, combined with the votes of special interest groups who have thrown in their lot with the elite because of the edge they get over rival special interests, seems sufficient to control the elective process.

Put another way: 1) the media, the elite’s propaganda arm, will leave unchallenged the White House claim it offered Sestak an unpaid job; 2) Democrats, the elite's party, will brand as “Republican partisan” any outsider who challenges the approved story, while Sestak (now the Democratic nominee, having defeated Specter,) keeps his mouth shut, thereby keeping clear his path to the Senate, and; 3) the White House, confident of elite support, actually does believe those beyond its control don't have the clout to mount an effective rebuttal.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Hatoyama Resigns as Japan PM

Problems outlined earlier in this blog have, to me surprisingly, led to Yukio Hatoyama’s sudden resignation as Japan’s prime minister. He couldn’t solve the Okinawan base problem, opting to give in to the American demand for a continued Marine air base on the island in the aftermath of North Korea’s tension-raising sinking of a South Korean navy vessel in waters close by.

Caving in to Americans cost Hatoyama his majority in Japan’s upper house. With elections due next month for half the upper house seats, the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) couldn’t afford the Okinawa-related crisis on top of its lingering corruption problems linked to Hatoyama and the DPJ’s shadow ruler, Ichiro Ozawa. The Hatoyama cabinet’s popularity is down to a highly dangerous 17%. Hatoyama’s resignation will help the DPJ. But Hatoyama’s final act as PM will help even more—he forced the wily, shady, political genius Ozawa to quit along with him. Ozawa’s out as party chief and Japan’s de facto #2.

Hatoyama’s likely successor, Finance Minister Naoto Kan [picture], breaks the mold of Japanese prime ministers being descendants of previous prime ministers. Kan is self-made, and as health minister in the 90s, uncovered the scandal of HIV-infested blood being used in transfusions.

Gordon Chang, writing on the “Pajamas Media” website, identifies Japan’s more serious problems: “Their numbers are shrinking, their political system is disintegrating, and their ambitions are narrowing. While this is happening, they are being overtaken by the Chinese, whom they both fear and admire.” It does seem that Japan, in contrast to a U.S. that continues to grow through immigration, is suffering because of its declining population, and China’s strength does grow daily. But Chang, author of the 2001 book The Coming Collapse of China, may lack some credibility when it comes to forecasting.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Liberals Deserting Israel

Israel is a democracy fighting for its life for 62 years now. When Labor ruled Israel, Democrats in the U.S. were comfortable with the government in charge. But liberals have more trouble with Likud, Israel’s nationalistic, militaristic, hold-onto-the-West-Bank-by-building-settlements party.

Knowledgeable liberals take their cues on Israeli politics from the pro-Labor Haaretz (they read its English edition), Israel’s most influential newspaper. Of yesterday’s Israeli commando raid on a Turkish-organized flotilla of activists bringing relief supplies to Gaza, Haaretz has said:
the question was not who would win the confrontation, but who would win more public opinion points. In this test, Benjamin Netanyahu's government failed completely. [His] policy boomeranged and cost Israel its international legitimacy.

Haaretz’s stand—remember, the paper is talking to Israelis in the context of trying to undermine Netanyahu’s government—is echoed in the influential David Ignatius’ Washington Post column on the incident:
a wise leader should hedge his bets rather than roll the dice with a showy commando operation at sea.

Israel’s a democracy. For the democracy’s other side of the story, one supporting the position that flotilla activists left Netanyahu with little choice but to board the ships, please see Mona Charen’s list of facts in the conservative National Review.

Ignatius and other liberals live in an echo chamber of declining support for Israel, one well separated from the days when liberals defended Israel and stood up to conservative, WASPy Arabists in the State Department, roughly the period from 1948 to the early 1980s. Besides Likud’s having replaced Labor in running Israel, what’s going wrong?

Israel, to liberals, looks more and more like apartheid South Africa, minority whites using force to suppress a majority of non-white Palestinians (never mind everybody's a Semite). South Africa tried to wall off blacks into bantustans, depriving them of the vote within South Africa proper. Liberals feel Israel tries to treat the West Bank as its bantustan. Liberals could reach for spiritual unity by rallying against South Africa; now they have Israel and its strong military to rally against.

Briefly, the parallel is outrageously unfair to Israel. Israel is not only a democracy at home, it truly wishes to be rid of the West Bank, but now has to fear that Hamas will take over the West Bank, as it has taken over Gaza, and squeeze Israel from two sides, with Hamas's friends Hezbollah dropping rockets in from the North. Scary. Very scary indeed, with Iran close to having the bomb.

We must support Israel. Israel owes its existence to us, and we are its only friend. Liberals, don’t go wobbly now.