Archive for May, 2012

VAMPIRES, HOSTS and HOSTAGES

Friday, May 25th, 2012

VAMPIRES, HOSTS and HOSTAGES

In the PUBLIC SQUARE

This piece is also available on The Policy Think Site — http://jaygaskill.com/VampireHostagesInAmerica.htm

Commentary

By

Jay B Gaskill

VAMPING THE METAPHOR

“Obama argued at a press conference in Chicago that his escalating attacks on Romney, whom the campaign has dubbed a ‘vampire’ for making profits as workers were being laid off, are not petty politics…”

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/05/22/obama-stakes-his-re-election-on-bain-attacks/#ixzz1vdG0aXVP

Vampires everywhere?

Earlier this year, I read a very entertaining and interesting book, Abe Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith.  It will soon be released as a movie.  Note that our president has identified himself with Abe Lincoln (among scores of other iconic figures – see The Martian in the White House http://jaygaskill.com/dot2dot/2012/05/18/the-martian-in-the-white-house/ ). I suspect that Barack Obama sees himself as the Great Vampire Hunter of our time. This raises a question.

Who is the REAL vampire hunter?

Not only is the leader of the free world confused about vampires, it seems that our president doesn’t quite get capitalism.  He has polemically mischaracterized Governor Romney’s tenure as the head of Bain Capital, a highly successful venture capital investment company that has salvaged and turned around scores of failing companies by making them successful (among them Staples, Sports Authority and Domino’s Pizza); but to the Obamistas, this is a form of corporate vampirism.

Presumably the president and his economic team think that all businesses are equally entitled to succeed, and that the failure of investors to subsidize losers is somehow analogous to vampire bats feeding off a herd of wildebeests.  A less inapt metaphor might have been to talk about vultures, but that misses the essential point: Neither vultures nor vampires create new, healthy businesses.

A success-aimed investment strategy, like that which governed Bain Capital, necessarily requires that flawed, broken and inefficient models be cleared out of the way to make room for the new models that will thrive. We should note here that individual commercial enterprises are not like countries when they fail because their employees can and often do quickly migrate to new jobs with the more successful competition. Some economists refer to this process as creative destruction.  Without creative destruction, motorcars would still be hand made in small shops; and only the very wealthy could drive.

That Invisible Elephant

There is an elephant in the room. We are witnessing a very large scale systemic failure, much as the catastrophic failure of an immense bridge might appear in extreme slow motion. Without paying adequate attention, we have been living through the successive collapse of two models of human organization: one is done for, and one is well one the way to the end game:

[1] In the late 1980’s, the large authoritarian socialist states did not generate enough real employment and real prosperity to survive the pressures of competition; either they failed (as evidenced in the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union), or they began adapting (as in China’s blowtorch semi-capitalist economy).

[2] In the late 1990’s through the present, we have been witness to the slow, inexorable collapse of the mixed economy, socialist-Lite welfare-state experiments, especially in Europe and the UK. Without adaptive reform, these states will follow the Greek example and fail one by one.  No modern sate is exempt from this failure trend –the ongoing need to adapt or fail is as old as the human condition.

A Better Vampire Metaphor.

THE PLAYERS

The hosts in this metaphor are all the “breadwinner” enterprises, the (mostly but not entirely private) productive, profitable private commercial businesses that provide real goods and services that actually fulfill a demand that can be measured in real value tendered. There is an allied set of support services (think of legal, juridical and protection functions, mostly but not exclusively performed by public institutions).  Closely linked to the breadwinner enterprises there is an expanding circle of the breadwinner’s dependents (immediate family and extended family). And there is another loosely linked circle of recognized, not-family affiliated dependants. The status of this outer group depends on a fragile consensus among the productive breadwinner enterprises – “We are willing to pay for the care and feeding our grand parents, and even others similarly situated, but our sense of obligation is not unlimited….”

The vampires in this metaphor are all the political and other power manipulators (who mostly but not exclusively dwell in government) who sustain themselves and even thrive by sucking value from the breadwinner enterprises in order to perpetuate their status.  They earn the title vampires when their activities do not represent value added, especially in contrast with voluntary, well managed charitable actions, because this subset of “public servants” do what they do (a) without generating value in return; (b) by burdening the life conditions of the affiliated and not affiliated dependents with irrational rules administered by bureaucrats; and (c) by promoting symbolic faux values (e.g., think of a new, protected ADA category, the ‘morally challenged” to get the idea) that are designed to create ever new classes of dependants who “need to be helped” at public expense. The additional cost to the burdened breadwinners is analogous to vampires swarming a dying horse.

The hostages in this extended metaphor consist of the dependants that the breadwinners actually care about, plus elements of the core support services (typically public protection and national security) that have wide popular support among the “ordinary” people.

THE VAMPIRE-HOST GAME

The vampires are individually intelligent, but collectively stupid.  Over time, their individual blood-sips, all for the nominal cause of some new dependency, aggregate to much a much greater blood loss than the host organism can tolerate.  This is the condition of the overburdened, over-harvested, commercial economies in all of the gravely weakened mixed economy, socialist-Lite welfare states.  A potentially fatal host-disease has infected Greece. The epidemic is growing, and it will not end (if we are not careful) until the USA, itself, collapses.

Collectively the vampires achieved this unhealthy state of control over the affairs of state because by exploiting a political strategy of hostage bartering.  Opposition to increased bloodletting has typically been countered with the threat of cutting support to the dependants that the breadwinners care most about and essential services like public protection. Even a legendary vampire fighter like The Reagan was backed in a corner when the vampires threatened hostages at budget time.

The massive public debt in the Western economies is the byproduct of a series of expensive compromises with vampires to save hostages.

As I write this, the metabolism of the productive enterprises that support the breadwinning economy is behaving like a weakened host surrounded by vampires who are buzzing about, discussing strategies for its revival. Without the host, the vampires will starve; but hungry vampires will not be denied – this collective hunger makes them collectively stupid to a self-destructive extreme.  At the moment, the vampire elites are proposing saline injections, while “radical” voices can be heard in the distance, shouting “Stop sucking the blood!”

Meantime, the baby vampires cavort around the dying creatures, shouting “Occupy!” The vampire children are embedded among mobs of hostage pawns caught up in an agenda only dimly understood.

THE OUTCOME

All metaphors have their limits.  This one doesn’t take into account that minds can be changed (the vampire-host relationship is the result of policies that can be reversed); that rational self interest can lead to self restraint (reasonable vampires understand the need to let the host recover); and that there is an overriding moral component to all this.

The left has attempted (with transient and spotty success) to promote an ethic of “fairness” in which the very condition wherein some enjoy success, while others do not, is inherently and collectively unfair. Via this propaganda campaign (at least three decades old), the left still hopes that the American people can be propelled into a regime that compels leveled outcomes.  This is a thinly disguised sales pitch by vampires to their hosts – “Hold still ‘till we bleed you all the way to equality”.

But there is a more ancient – and more widely held – ethic, one that is much more likely to prevail: It is fundamentally unfair to take away your earnings in order to give them to someone else that did not earn them.  This is seen as particularly unfair – even repellant – when, as is so often the case due to the inherent dysfunction of welfare-state bureaucracies, only a small fraction of the extracted blood actually finds its way to the promised beneficiaries. After all, the vampires must be fed…at all times and under all conditions.

We live in a democratic, constitutional republic, not a vampire feeding pen.  Reasonable minds can differ over the allocation of public resources to benefit activities and people outside the host economy.  But there is little room for reasonable disagreement about one overriding imperative: Keep the productive, breadwinner economy healthy and thriving.

The question of the day is whether the American public gets it, as their current president clearly does not.

THE VAMPIRE TEACHING TOOL

Metaphors can be used polemically or they can be effective teaching tools.  The teaching value of the vampire metaphor is manifold.  When well explained, it helps illuminate a number of things misunderstood by the clueless subset of the left and right:

[1] …how a sequence of separate policy failures and defaults over the last five decades have made fiscal conservatives complicit in the accumulation of crippling sovereign debt;

[2] …why it is now imperative to dramatically lift the regulatory and economic burdens on business development and growth;

[3] …how to frame the urgent case for market-intervention restraint when misguided vampires attempt to selectively “help” politically connected, politically correct business projects at the expense of other more efficient and promising ones;

[3]…why the government vampires are congenitally incompetent at managing the breadwinner sector on which their parasitic livelihoods depend.

The pending collapse of all of the mixed economy, socialist-Lite welfare-state experiments is a valuable warning. If we choose to take heed, Europe will be our crash-test dummy. If not, we will be the crash dummy for the survivors.

JBG

This article is Copyright © 2012 by Jay B. Gaskill, Attorney at Law.  Forwards, links and quotes with attribution are welcome.  For everything else, contact the author via email– law@jaygaskill.com.  Jay B Gaskill is the California attorney who served as the 7th Alameda County Public Defender (in Oakland, CA) before he left his “life of crime”.  This article and others can be found on The Policy Think Site www.jaygaskill.com and the linked Blogs.

THE MARTIAN IN THE WHITE HOUSE

Friday, May 18th, 2012

The Martian in the White House

A Political Meditation by

Jay B Gaskill

Attorney at Law

Andrew Breitbart (1969-2012), the deceased journalist, still has a respected website.

The latest expose′ that is chronicled there is the discovery of a small biographical booklet of our president produced by his literary agency, Acton & Dystel – founded in 1976, in connection with a never-published autobiographical manuscript, titled –  Journeys in Black and White.

The Acton and Dystel agency distributed an Obama biographical description in a booklet in connection with Barry’s forthcoming book – Journeys in Black and White. The booklet begins with this line –

Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, was born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii.”

Andrew Breitbart and the affiliated journalists at http://www.breitbart.com/ did not and do not believe that Barry Obama was born in Kenya, just that he claimed to be.  From the Breitbart website –

Andrew Breitbart was never a “Birther,” and Breitbart News is a site that has never advocated the narrative of “Birtherism.” In fact, Andrew believed, as we do, that President Barack Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on August 4, 1961.

The point of interest for them and me is Obama’s ever fluctuating image of himself.

The chameleon metaphor fails to aptly capture the fluctuating Obama phenomenon because the color-changing lizard retains its essential form as its body alters skin color to blend in. The fluctuating Obama persona seems to be something fundamentally different, the constant changing of one’s essential character in order to stand out, advancing one’s agenda of personal advancement by becoming the character that is expected and hoped for by others.

I believe that this explains how Obama was able to temporarily convince a number of moderate liberals and conservatives who were vehemently through with Bush II that candidate Obama was one of them.  For many of these otherwise intelligent men and women the spell has been broken…but a spell it was.

The latest kerfuffle over Obama’s evolution on gay issues is just one more attempt to cast a new spell, to become a new persona.  The problem with this sort of flux is that – to paraphrase Lincoln – you can “become someone” for some of the people some of the time, but you can’t keep it up for all of the people all of the time.

The quintessentially American literary giant, Ray Bradbury, demonstrated this problem in a compelling short story, part of his brilliant and poetic book, The Martian Chronicles. Earth colonists (whose lives evoke small town 1950’s LA) are beginning to live on Mars near the ruins of the mysterious, extinct Martians.  In the story, “the Martian”, one lonely and empathetic surviving Martian has the ability to appear as whatever person someone wants. The lost Martian attaches to a bereft family by morphing into their missing child.  The Martian is taken in and loved – no questions asked – but eventually wanders away.  At the tragic end of the story, we learn that the lonely Martian has been doing this for many other people – driven by loneliness and exile, it seemingly can’t help it.

At the end, the Martian is surrounded by a crowd of people, each of whom has lost someone. Different names are called out while the creature tries to morph into their conflicting expectations.  The Martian’s fatal flaw is that it wants to become the person someone is longing for because it cannot be true to itself without alienating the same person.

It is a poignant and tragic story.   But Americans are entitled to expect more than poignant tragedy in a leader, especially in a time of grave economic crisis.

The pro-Socratic Greek Heraclitus said that character is destiny.  But character is inspired, not installed like a computer program. Character is forged by trial, not played like a video game. Character is sustained by faith.  Yes, faith. All trust relationships are founded in faith. No institution, whether religious or secular, owns the patent.  Faith is open source software.  It was issued along with the human capacity for moral intelligence by the Author of the Moral Law.

Trust will determine the next election.  Character does not fluctuate.  And character is the gold standard of trust.

JBG

Copyright © 2012 by Jay B Gaskill, attorney at Law

First Published on The Policy Think Site and linked blogs.

As always, links, forwards and attributed quotations are welcome and encouraged.

For everything else, please contact the author by email – law@jaygaskill.com

OBAMA, THE POPULAR DEPRESSION PRESIDENT?

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

OBAMA, THE POPULAR DEPRESSION PRESIDENT?

Why is this not working for me?

Also posted on The Policy Think Site – http://jaygaskill.com/ObamaDepression.htm

POLITICAL ANALYSIS

BY

Jay B Gaskill

In today’s (May 15, 2012) New York Times, columnist David Brooks acknowledges that by now the economic news alone would have crushed an ordinary incumbent, but that Obama remains strikingly competitive because of democratic demographics, and his own personal likability. Brooks writes that,

“Obama is far more popular than his policies.”

Why is this not working for me?

Let’s review some history:

Here are my notes from 2008, just before the Super Tuesday primary vote, as I posted them on a Policy Think Site blog.

I: PRE-NOMINATION

“Who’s Who?” in the Presidential Wannabe Race

Hillary is Nixon without the anti-communism.

Obama is Carter without the southern governorship.

Edwards is a trial lawyer without a chance.

McCain is Truman without the charm.

Giuliani is Dewey without the wedding cake.

Romney is FDR without the wheelchair.

Thompson is an actor/lawyer without a TV gig.

Huckabee is a Republican Bill Clinton without the bimbo eruptions.

These were thematic capsules, concededly bit snarky, but containing at least as grain of truth.

It will be McCain or Romney against Clinton or Obama.

COMMENT: AT THIS POINT IN THE CARTER-REAGAN RACE, THE INCUMBENT PRESIDENT ALSO REMAINED STRIKINGLY COMPETITIVE BECAUSE OF DEMOCRATIC DEMOGRAPHICS AND HIS OWN PERSONAL LIKABILITY.

In 2008, after the nominations, I posted a list of what I called THE REAL ISSUES.  Here they are:

The Trade, Fiscal & Credit Deficit Time Bomb

We hear rhetoric only.  Yes we owe China half the national debt. Yes, we’ve promised benefits we can never fund.  But how – really – do we get out of this? We hear a resounding campaign silence from both camps.  This is because any practical solution involves short term sacrifice, mid-term sacrifice and long term sacrifice.  The bottom line: The country cannot afford to pamper its boomers and its leaders can’t afford to tell them that right now.

The Burning Crises – At least one of which will burn the new incumbent badly

[1] Real Estate Deflation Driven Credit Meltdown

Truth be told, the candidates are thrilled that the current administration and congress get to sweat this one out for now.  Neither candidate is willing to say the truth – that real estate prices were too high, and that the government just has to let them fall to meet incomes.  And neither candidate has a realistic clue about what to do next.

[2] Partial Collapse of American Auto Industry

Look for a partial bailout of GMC, Ford and/or Chrysler.  But without a massive commitment to nuclear power and a new electric grid, no manufacturer can afford to commit to a plug-in and drive strategy, which is the only technology “on the self’’ that can revolutionize the industry in the near to mid-term. A hydrogen powered transportation system?  Not for at least 15 years.  The economy can’t wait.

[3] Resurgence of Malignant Marxism

Marxism has broken out again in our hemisphere and it is in the interests of China and Russia – and even some Middle East mischief makers – to stoke that particular fire.  Ironically, communism, socialism and the other Marxist economic models have failed, yet petro-dollars have given the corpse artificial life.  Oil money has been just enough to resurrect this dismal, authoritarian way of life for one more shot at the American jugular.  The timing is good for our enemies because we are suffering from an acute form of the “nobody loves me” neurosis, made worse by the post-modern multiculturalism that acts like a “guilt virus”. What are the symptoms of this virus, you ask? They include policy ambivalence, addiction to the grand moral gesture and an aversion to self-assertion. Will we be cured in time? Stay tuned…

[4] Dangerous Oil Supply Vulnerability

Windmills and camp songs won’t get us out of this in time.  Unfriendly dictators and enemies hold most of the energy cards.  We’ve dithered for fifteen years, trapped in arguments about boutique issues other than national survival.  We need to actually build stuff that works.  And time’s up.

So…

HOW DOES IT LOOK NOW?

As an incumbent president, Obama has presided over the allocation of several trillion dollars in federal expenditures advertised as a bold remedy for the recession.  But high unemployment is chronic and chronically underreported. Underemployment is hugely higher than previous levels. Growth remains insufficient to employ the new job seekers entering the workforce, much less sufficient to reduce the size of the legions of the out-of-work.

Liberal economist Paul Krugman, a committed Obama supporter, is now calling our economic circumstances a “depression”. I quote –

So now we’re in another depression.” {New York Times, May 10, 2012.}

In today’s New York Times, columnist David Brooks acknowledges that by now the economic news alone would have crushed an ordinary incumbent, but that Obama remains strikingly competitive because of democratic demographics and his own personal likability.

Brooks writes that,

“12 percent of Americans approve of Obama even though they don’t think he has an agenda for moving us forward. In survey after survey, Obama is far more popular than his policies.”

Then Brooks adds this (I think untenable) explanation:

“…the secret to his popularity through hard times is that he is not melodramatic, sensitive, vulnerable and changeable. Instead, he is self-disciplined, traditional and a bit formal. He is willing, with drones and other mechanisms, to use lethal force.”

{See “The ESPN Man” – link: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/15/opinion/brooks-the-espn-man.html?_r=1&ref=opinion .}

YES, WE VOTERS ARE A FICKLE LOT

I’m one of those democrats who saw my party drift so far to the left that it was unrecognizable, yet (like the conservative scholar Victor Davis Hanson) I still cling to my democratic registration (in my case, hoping against all reason that my primary votes will help move the party back to fiscal and foreign policy sanity).

The democratic demographic is much more fickle than Mr. Brooks realizes.  I vividly recall the first time I refused to vote for the democratic presidential candidate (Carter for one more term).  I couldn’t bring myself to vote for the GOP, so I voted Libertarian.  Believe me when I say that there is a great deal of seething dissatisfaction with this president among a large plurality of democrats.  They will never openly declare that they will vote against America’s first black president, but in the privacy of the ballot chamber, many will not be able to vote for him.

Leaving aside the merits of the gay marriage issue, I need to remind my liberal friends, and my fellow conservatives and centrists, that in California’s last gay marriage vote (Proposition 8), the same African American voters who overwhelmingly supported Obama overwhelming voted against gay marriage.  Yes, Mr. Obama can still count on that core constituency (part of the democratic demographic to which David Brooks referred), but turnout is everything, especially in the swing states.

“51% TRUST ROMNEY’S ECONOMIC JUDGMENT MORE THAN OBAMA’S”

The single most significant poll number to date in this election was just released by the Scott Rasmussen polling organization. The “…survey finds that 51% of Likely U.S. Voters trust Romney more than Obama when it comes the economy, while 39% trust the president more. Ten percent (10%) are undecided.”

LINK —

{http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/elections/election_2012/election_2012_presidential_election/trust_on_issues_obama_v_romney .}

If Paul Krugman is right, then Obama is probably going to lose this election, because “It’s the economy, stupid”.

JBG

Copyright © 2012 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

First published on The Policy Think Site and linked blogs.

Forwards, links and quotes with attribution are welcome and encouraged.  For everything else, please contact the author at law@jaygaskil.com .

NEVER AGAIN! -Or- NOT MY PROBLEM…

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

As the chilling prospect of an atom-bomb armed jihad looms, our current president is finally willing to stick his political neck out…on the gay marriage question. But he has continued to block Israel’s plans for a self-defensive strike against Iran’s rapidly maturing atomic-bomb program.

The Policy Think Site >>> www.jaygaskill.com

http://jaygaskill.com/NeverAgainvsNotMyProblemRedux.htm

NEVER AGAIN! -Or-

NOT MY PROBLEM…

May 10, 2012

By

Jay B Gaskill

I first posted a version of this piece on July 30, 2007.  I am painfully reminded of the observation attributed to the Italian revolutionary, Garibaldi – The more things change, the more they remain the same.*

In 2007, a correspondent of mine whose opinions I greatly respect, Dr. Lawrence White, sent me a thought provoking piece of his, from which I quote excerpts as follows:

Are We Our Brother’s Keeper? Revisiting “It’s Not My Problem”

Editorial by Lawrence W. White MD

“In the time leading up to Pearl Harbor, the large and influential America First movement, led by Charles Lindberg, and an assortment of anti-Jewish figures, isolationist Republicans, and figures from both the right and the left, including Norman Thomas, Gore Vidal, Potter Stewart and Walt Disney, declared that hostilities in some far-off place were none of our business, and certainly not worth the loss of American life. The underlying assumption, never stated, was that American lives were worth more than the lives of those affected by the onslaught of aggressive war by the Axis powers. …

“What have we learned since then? The expression “Never Again” has a worthy pedigree. It was coined by Rabbi Meir Kahane and referred to the Shoah.

“Yet we have really learned nothing. Since the time of “America First”, we have avoided intervening against the most egregious instances of genocide. Are American lives really more important than those of Bosnian Muslims, or the Tutsis of Rwanda, or the Czechs or Hungarians revolting against tyranny during the Cold War, or those we abandoned in Viet Nam in 1975, or the Cambodians murdered on the killing fields, or the Shiites who rebelled against Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War?

“With all these other instances, it may be comforting to know that the abandonment of the Jews during the Nazi period was not personal. As they say in the Mafia, it was just business. It was simply part of the general approach to “realpolitik” foreign policy, in which our involvement is dictated by (and only by) our own narrow interest, without regard to morality or legality.

“Yet, as Jews, we are acutely aware of what it means to be on the wrong side of ‘It’s not my problem’”.

Copyright © 2007 by Lawrence White

As the chilling prospect of an atom-bomb armed jihad looms, our current president is finally willing to stick his political neck out…on the gay marriage question. But he has continued to block Israel’s plans for a self-defensive strike against Iran’s rapidly maturing atomic-bomb program.

Mr. Obama’s most recently stated position on gay marriage is nominally a federalist one (let the states decide this), essentially the same as held by former Vice President Cheney. Is this a serious position or pandering? Obama’s remarks got wide media attention as presaging an “historic” change because he is understood as signaling that he will try to force the change on all states over time.

This has produced an eerie foreign policy-domestic policy mirror effect as follows:

(1) Internationally, President Obama says to Iran that there will be grave consequences if they go nuclear, without actually promising to do any such thing.  As a result, he is not seriously understood to be threatening the mad Mullahs that the US will use military force.

(2) Domestically President Obama seems to imply to his followers that he will follow up on gay marriage in his second term without actually promising to do so.  Yet, he is taken seriously by the still-hopeful social liberals.

The only consistent thread is an ideological one.  Iran is right to be skeptical about Obama’s saber rattling, and the social conservatives are right to be skeptical about his federalist restraint. And we are all entitled to be skeptical about whether this political chameleon has any deeply held core positions except as they put him at the center of attention – not the political center.

I believe that the truth of the matter is that Mr. Obama fears that a Middle East conflict, even a short one in which the Iranian threat is removed by overwhelming American force, will spike oil prices and tank his increasingly slim chances for reelection.

This leaves him with a gesture option, a micro strike against one Iranian nuclear facility accomplished so close to the election that its success or failure and the economic blowback from either will not have a chance to affect votes. Such a scenario (at least as he or some advisor might think) would leave him with the “commander-in-chief” halo without the burden of results.

If I were an Israeli, I would not and could not trust this president.  This is one of those moments when I (and they) would wish we had a Harry Truman in the White House. “Never again!” should still mean something after the sacrifices of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations in World War II, because…

Israel’s survival manifestly is our problem.

Why is not Israel’s survival and security a reliable core interest of American foreign policy for this administration? …Because Mr. Obama just doesn’t get it.  Granted, he is no friend of Israel, and betrays no actual concern for her survival, except as it affects his personal political fortunes.

But even if the overriding moral issue is invisible to our self-absorbed president, this is much bigger than Israel as such.  It is about averting the next Dark Age.  Western civilization is at actually at risk; our future is actually at stake; and little Israel is the moral, psychological and practical fulcrum on which history’s outcome will turn.

US foreign policy, from its very inception, has been driven by a moral component but also by an equally important amoral one.  This is why our long-term, large-scale military engagements tend to be couched in moralistic terms, tinged with self-interest.  The inherent tension between these components (morality and self-interest) is reflected in various competing political camps and their ideologies of convenience.

As a nation, we love to rescue the innocent, we love being appreciated by those we choose to help and – above all – we Americans love winning.

For better or worse, our most popular military engagements tend to be shaped by three interconnected attractors:

  • Double bull’s-eye marketing;
  • The action movie narrative arc.
  • Victory or don’t bother

US foreign policy adventures are best sold when the moral crusade bull’s eye and the national security bull’s eye overlap.  But popular support tends to fall apart when events drag out to the point that reality no longer resembles the neat and satisfying narrative of the thriller.

All the while, something else overshadows the practical psychological calculus:  Any civilization that lacks an understanding of evil on the “Burkian level” (evil of a scale that triggers the concomitant obligation of all civilized peoples to defeat it) will prove incapable of defending itself.

This limited space has no rrom for a peroration about the reality of evil as a force in the modern world.  For that you can go to three of my articles: “The moral Challenge of Radical Islamhttp://www.jaygaskill.com/beast.htm, “How do we Explain Evil?http://www.jaygaskill.com/explainingevil.htm, and “Reflections on Evil and the Modern Mindhttp://www.jaygaskill.com/evil2l.htm.

Suffice it to say that, until Western civilization recovers our deep, ancient knowledge about evil, we are at risk of immolation. Our current moral ambiguity is an “evil enabler”.

Please indulge an extended self-quotation from one of my earliest discussions of the nature of evil on the “Burkian” scale:

In economics, “Gresham’s Law” is the tendency of bad money to drive out the good.  A form of Gresham’s law applies when we bicker about evil in the marketplace of ideas.  When we use the epithet “evil” like a schoolyard taunt, when we indulge the impulse to demonize our opponents, we debase the currency of our discourse.  The real thing tends to be forgotten or marginalized.

I recall the stories about British civilian plane spotters in WW2 who were trained to identify bomber silhouettes. Clearly, intelligent identification is essential. So what are the parameters.  What is the shape of real evil?  I see three parameters.

First. Purpose matters.

As Oliver Wendell Homes said, “Even a dog knows the difference between being stumbled over and being kicked.”

Second. Scale matters.

I don’t mean to trivialize smaller scale wrongdoing, say on the level of ordinary crime, because it is so obviously worthy of our ongoing attention.

But the scale that most concerns me is that of the events and trends that alter life generally.  I believe this was the scale of evil that Edmund Burke had in mind when he said “all that is needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”

Third.  The core nature of the threat matters.

Think of an earthquake or tornado, and contrast an example of large scale, human directed malevolence, like the Nazi death camps or the Pol Pot massacres. In common natural disasters, structures and the physical basis for life are imperiled.  Our response is calibrated accordingly.  When purposeful human malevolence looms, we are threatened on the immediate physical level, but we are also attacked on the level of our deepest values.

This is why true evil draws us back to our core values.

We Americans can endlessly argue with each other about our military actions – past and proposed; we can bicker about what is or is not in the immediate, vs. long term national self-interest; and we can quibble about what is, was or will be a prudent course of action in light or our limited military and political resources.

But surely it is insanity to argue endlessly about the moral and practical imperative to defeat the looming Islamist extremist threat to civilization.

Hitler’s brutal hegemony was the apotheosis of evil on the Burkean scale. The Shoah was the result of an ambivalent and tardy response of Western civilization in the face of an outbreak of existential and essential evil on the Burkean scale.  The Islamist extremist threat is this century’s latest and most virulent form of Burkean-scale evil.

If the West permits another holocaust in the form of a depopulated Israel at the hands of Islamic fanatics, a new Dark Age will follow like the Arctic night follows the summer.

No one will be safe.

* Re  Garibaldi’s quote:  As a correspondent (who last wrote me from London), Ralph Goldstein, has reminded me, the quotation was undoubtedly from the 19th century French journalist/novelist, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr.  Garibaldi probably repeated it.

JBG

Copyright © 2007, 2012 by Jay b Gaskill, Attorney at Law

As always, links, forwards and quotations with attribution are permitted and welcome.

For everything else, please contact the author via email law@jaygaskill.com.

Yesterday’s Krugman, Today’s Brooks

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

As published on The Policy Think Site

http://jaygaskill.com/YesterdayKrugmanTodayBrooks.htm

Yesterday’s Krugman, Today’s Brooks

Be Still My Brain

Analysis

By Jay B Gaskill

The commentariat sometimes approach reality…usually obliquely

What reality, you ask?  Subsidized consumption does not cure the economic logjam caused by irrationally generous subsidies in the first place.  In effect, if you pay people and institutions for being less productive[i], you get what you have paid for…and almost nothing else.

Consider Europe. The EU allowed less productive countries to hijack the credit of more productive ones. Bankruptcy, an abrupt end of easy lending and depression loom. That dangerous impasse is the predictable outcome of what some are calling a “structural” problem and of what others might call undisciplined liberalism.

Consider the USA. The federal government has subsidized less productive enterprises and programs (using taxes, fiat money and an unsustainable expansion sovereign debt) at the expense of the more productive (mostly private) sector of the economy…for decades.  Bankruptcy, the abrupt end of easy lending and depression loom.

On each continent, conventional liberalism clings to an outmoded solution:

Subsidized consumption will cure all.

Not.

KRUGMAN ADMITS SOMETHING

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/07/opinion/krugman-those-revolting-europeans.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

In Sunday’s New York Times, Paul Krugman writes about Those Revolting Europeans, trying to defend his ever repeated doctrine that they (read ‘we’) just need to pour a lot more borrowed or fiat money on the problem (while accepting a “little” inflation in return); that surely, this time, the  Keynesian nostrum will cure things.

But in the middle of Krugman’s piece, a bit of reality breaks through.

“One answer — an answer that makes more sense than almost anyone in Europe is willing to admit — would be to break up the euro, Europe’s common currency. Europe wouldn’t be in this fix if Greece  still had its drachma, Spain its peseta, Ireland its punt, and so on, because Greece and Spain would have what they now lack: a quick way to restore cost-competitiveness and boost exports, namely devaluation.

“As a counterpoint to Ireland’s sad story, consider the case of Iceland, which was ground zero for the financial crisis but was able to respond by devaluing its currency, the krona (and also had the courage to let its banks fail and default on their debts). Sure enough, Iceland is experiencing the recovery Ireland was supposed to have, but hasn’t.”

That was a fascinating admission.  What Krugman is not telling us is that, unlike Europe, Iceland had no one to bail it out.  The exposed lenders were allowed to fail, and now the country is on the rebound. The Iceland example is usually cited by conservatives as a counter example to the liberal folly that seeks to cure improvident subsidies with more of the same, and rewards failure with somebody else’s money.

Failure is a good thing because it teaches prudence and presages a fresh, wiser restart.

Krugman concludes his piece with the observation that “breaking up the euro would be highly disruptive, and would also represent a huge defeat for the ‘European project”’.  Truth be told, the “answer that makes more sense than almost anyone in Europe is willing to admit” is the same kind of answer that almost any conventional liberal, Krugman included, stubbornly refuses to admit. Why? …because it “would also represent a huge defeat for the liberal project” to which Krugman and others, in spite of the accumulating evidence, have all tethered their rafts.

DAVID BROOKS ALMOST GETS IT

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/08/opinion/brooks-the-structural-revolution.html?_r=1&ref=opinion

The Following day, David Brooks writes in the New York Times.  In The Structural Revolution

(May 7, 2012), he points out that-

“…structural problems have retarded growth and wages for decades. Consumers tried to compensate by borrowing more. Politicians tried to compensate by reducing the tax bill, increasing deficit spending, ensuring easy credit for homebuyers and by helping workers shift out of the hypercompetitive, globalized part of the economy and into the less productive and more sheltered parts of the economy — mostly into health care, government and education.

“But you can only mask structural problems for so long. The whole thing has gone kablooey. The current model, in which we try to compensate for structural economic weakness with tax cuts and an unsustainable welfare state, simply cannot last. The old model is broken. The jig is up.

“President Obama is too minimalist. He doesn’t seem to believe America’s structural problems are that big, making his reform ideas small. Mitt Romney and Representative Paul Ryan understand the size of the structural problems, but their reform plans are constrained by the Republican Party’s single-minded devotion to tax cuts.”

The ever civil Mr. Brooks is to be cut some slack for his kindness to the present administration (for “minimalist” above, I’d substitute “clueless”).   But I would appreciate a bit more bright line clarity.  When any society choses to go the extra thousand miles to selectively burden its productive members in order to generally benefit its less productive ones, a painful breaking point always is reached.  That point is now.  We are witnessing the crackup of the postmodern liberal experiment.  The current crop of liberals-in-charge have achieved the seemingly impossible: the alienation of working Americans (those who still can and those who still want to) from those politicians who pretend to still care about an honest day’s work as a value in and of itself.

For every structural dysfunction, there is an underlying moral lapse.  I’m still waiting for that part of the conversation to reach the commentariat.

JBG

Copyright © 2012 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Forwards, links and quotes with attribution are welcome and encouraged.

For everything else, please contact the author by email – law@jaygaskill.com .

Published on The Policy Think Site, the Bot 2 Dot Blog, and other linked blogs and sites.


[i] I am using the traditional definition of “productive” as it relates to those activities and services that make a profit by filling a market demand. The recent scandals relating to federal subsidies for failing (or less than economically viable) solar companies, represent the subsidization of the “less productive”.  The use of public funds to bail out such enterprises, post-failure, is one more form of subsidization of non-productivity.  Risky investments need to be allowed to fail as well as succeed; they are not a wise (nor a particularly moral) use of public resources.

Update to Why the Race is not About Race

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

Re “Race”, Read Reviving the Obama Race Canard Jonathan Tobin’s piece on the Commentary Magazine’s website. LINK

http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2012/05/04/reviving-obama-race-canard-election-opponents/#more-792900

Tobin was responding to a 5-4-12 piece in the NYT, “the conceit of a front-page feature in today’s New York Times titled, ‘Four Years Later, Race is Still Issue for Some Voters.’” As he puts it, “The president’s problem this year is, as [the NYT author] puts it, ‘now that history has been made it [race] is less of a pull.’ Ohioans, like the rest of the country, are judging him on his performance, and the results are less than gratifying for the president.”

D’accord.

EXPLAINING ROMNEY

Friday, May 4th, 2012

THIS ARTICLE IS ALSO POSTED ON THE POLICY THINK SITE AT —

http://jaygaskill.com/ExplainingRomney.htm

There is a reason that so many ostensibly qualified GOP leaders decided to sit this election out.  It was not that they thought they could not win.  It was because they feared they would win.

EXPLAINING ROMNEY

A cultural analysis

By Jay B Gaskill

The incumbent president and his challenger present a study in contrasts –

  • Dreams of an absent father vs. the real deal;
  • A literary response to childhood vs. an achievement response to rearing;
  • A pattern of grandiose gesture vs. one of modest accomplishment.

The soviet dissident poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, once wrote, “One day, posterity will remember these strange times, when ordinary common honesty was called courage.”

A paraphrase suggests itself: One day, posterity will remember these strange times, when ordinary decency and extraordinary achievement were called “square.”

For the postmodern sophisticates who inhabit our commentariat, Governor Romney is an alien presence in our midst, a square peg inhabiting a rounded culture.

The truth is more startling than the metaphor.  Mitt Romney is an unusually decent man who has been transported by unique circumstances from an earlier time.  Think of a character like Don Draper of Mad Men, unscarred (i.e., without the war experience, the booze and smokes, having learned the lesson of spousal loyalty and family values early and without the angst and divorce[i]); then imagine our character is lifted out of the late fifties and early sixties, undamaged; then he is briefed on the modern culture and inserted into the present.  When he is placed in a series of modern educational settings, Harvard Law and Business School among them, he then succeeds in both business and politics.

When we examine the pattern of Governor Romney’s achievements, we don’t find much extraordinary luck (there are countless males born into well-off families who have escaped insanity, suicide, loss of siblings or children, drug addition, sexual scandal and who lived entirely civilian lives out of range of gunfire). But in Mr. Romney’s life experience we do find a combination of five major elements that are rarely so well coordinated in a single life: high intelligence, great personal discipline, tireless perseverance, a high moral standard of conduct and the absence of catastrophic bad luck.  Mitt Romney’s parents had excellent reason to be proud of their son, but Mormons are not given to braggadocio.

Writers have spilled a lot of virtual ink by contrasting the life paths of Romney and Obama (See for example, The Businessman vs. The Professor by James Ceaser[ii] and the piece by Noemie Emery – later cited in endnote iii) with other leaders who arrived at that White House on Pennsylvania Avenue having dealt with and overcome some difficult personal challenges. One thinks of FDR’s polio, JFK’s back injury and other medical problems, George H W Bush’s WWII parachute escape, and even Bush the younger’s battles with depression and alcoholism.  Some of the compare-and-contrast rhetoric is delivered as if the current contest is between two “golden boys”, one of whom suffered from being “not white”, while the other suffers from being “too white.”

I’ll leave a discussion of the personal challenges faced and overcome by young Obama for others to address.

The Romney piece of this discussion tends to give zero weight to the challenges of a modern male holding together a family consisting of a wife living with MS and five strapping sons.  Character does matter, as does its formation. While Romney’s life was apparently free of major trauma, it was not free of challenges.  His character was formed in the crucible of a Mormon upbringing. As a young man, he served 30 months as a missionary in France (Mormons are trained early in surviving rejection). He was beaten while defending two young women missionaries who were attacked by a horde of rugby players. To put it mildly – France was not a particularly easy mission field for the LDS.  Yet young Romney emerged unscathed from all of it and from all the other frictions that attend being Mormon in a non-Mormon world. Another LDS male characteristic is a degree of reticence and humility.[iii]

Please stay with me on this.  Allow me to follow the “America tends to get the leaders it needs” theme for a moment.  Assume arguendo that our best leaders – the ones that we may have opposed at the beginning but later are grateful for – tend to emerge on stage when needed, equipped with the traits that will matter most. Often, these are traits that were not fully appreciated at the time. For that matter, many leaders were not fully appreciated at the time.

Harry Truman was not a gifted orator, but he had moral integrity; he was plain-spoken and stubborn when he thought he was in the right; and he was not decision challenged.  Without those traits, there might well have been no Israel, and the US could well have lost the Cold War at the very outset.

Let’s assume for the sake of discussion that Governor Romney might – just might – have been called by history to undertake some extraordinarily difficult executive responsibilities for the next four years, something very few presidents have faced.  As an intelligent man in full possession of the facts, Mitt Romney is well aware of the grave difficulties facing this country.

Now ask yourself – What are the advantages at this exact moment in history of having a fresh, emotionally undamaged leader[iv] with a record as a determined and effective problem solver?

I believe there is a reason that so many ostensibly qualified GOP leaders decided to sit this election out.  It was not that they thought they could not win.  It was because they feared they would win.

Almost any ordinary politician who has looked squarely at the truly daunting problems that this country will face[v] during the years 2013-2017 will want to sit on the sidelines: Let someone else fail or take the heat for doing the difficult things that the situation requires of a great leader.

The next president needs to be emotionally undamaged, and possess the skin of an armadillo… because no one will get through the next four years without taking a merciless beating from all sides.

Before the outbreak of WWII, the greatest generation had not yet proved itself, but it would rise to meet the greatest challenge of the century because of the prevalent character of the culture and of the men and women with character that inhabited it. The undamaged went to war and many returned damaged, but few were daunted in the sense that they rejected the entire premise of the war itself. That was to come later, as the generic “anti-war’, “back to roots and berries”, “tune-in, turn-on and drop out” subculture congealed around an anti-imperialist, anti-Western ideology. At its worst that movement was fed by the false dichotomy – “Join us against ‘the man’ or be called a ‘racist / fascist’”.  This mindset has a stronger lingering influence over the commentariat that it does the “commoners”, especially among the now-displaced blue collar workers.

Romney just seems like an alien because the postmodern moral culture has radically deteriorated from its pre-WWII condition (common sense, morally robust); but he (the man out of time) has not.  All specific policy disputes aside, this election is about the value of accomplishment and the accomplishment of values.

JBG

Copyright © 2012 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

…First published on The Policy Think Site (www.jaygaskill.com) & The Dot 2 Dot Blog http://www.jaygaskill.com/dot2dot/.

As always, forwards, links and quotes with attribution are welcome.  For everything else, please contact the author via email at law@jaygaskill.com.


[i] The “naturalistic” thread in modern fiction has predisposed us to expect dysfunction and cynicism and to suspect healthy models. Think of it. We’re living in a culture that has almost given up on virtue except the “oppressed” version.  Does anyone stop to think – Is the culture itself dysfunctional?

[ii] “The dimension of personal qualities promises in 2012 to be highly interesting. It stands out, in the first place, because of the things that seem to be off the table. One of them is consideration of the candidates’ military records, which has been an issue in every contest dating back at least to 1988, whether it was a matter of the candidates’ heroism or valor (George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole, John Kerry, and John McCain) or whether questions were raised about service itself or special treatment (Bill Clinton and George W. Bush). Neither Mitt Romney nor President Obama served in the military, and we will likely hear nothing about this issue. Also off the table are matters relating to candidates’ personal turmoil, substance abuse, or infidelity. Search the nation, nay the universe, and you will not find two more scrupulous and exemplary family men than Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. If there is any issue to be raised on this account, it will likely focus on their treatment of the family dog. As for substances—Obama’s youthful experimentation aside—Mitt Romney does not drink even beer, and President Obama during his famous beer summit looked like he didn’t know how to.” http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/businessman-vs-professor_640523.html

[iii] The author is not a Mormon, but had the pleasure of growing up in “Mormon Country” with some exemplary representatives of that faith, a number of whom went on to Harvard Law.

[iv] “The Roosevelts, Bushes, and Kennedys never knew what it was like to be one paycheck away from utter privation, but they were abundantly damaged by pain and bereavement and reminders that life is unfair. John Kennedy and the elder George Bush were chauffeured to private school in the depths of the Depression, but they also belonged to a war generation, joined the armed forces as soon as was possible, nearly drowned when their vehicles were sunk or shot down by the enemy, and saw friends, comrades, and relatives die. Franklin Roosevelt had polio, a famously terrible marriage, and long separations from the woman he loved. Theodore Roosevelt struggled with asthma, and at age 25 had been so shattered by the sudden and simultaneous deaths of his wife and his mother (the latter at 48 still a stunning young woman) that he fled to the West to hold on to his sanity. Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and the elder George Bush buried very young children; and Kennedy was part of his family’s struggle to raise his retarded sister as normal, a struggle it finally lost. George W. Bush was a failure until he was 40, and almost became one of a long line of dynastic children, starting with the sons of John and John Quincy Adams, who were destroyed by depression and alcohol. John Kennedy had gone through such stress in his earlier years—repeated hospital stays, back pain, and adrenal gland failure; war, PT-109, and the deaths of his brother, sister, and brother-in-law—that he was a basket case by the time he reached 30, and took several years to regain his élan.” From Authentically Yours in the May 7 Weekly Standard, by Noemie Emery, columnist for the Washington Examiner http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/authentically-yours_642176.html?nopager=1

[v] The hollowing-out of American manufacturing, the outsourcing of those jobs, the crippling sovereign debt, the risk of destabilizing inflation and the chronic, structurally-embedded underemployment, the pending European economic collapse with its concomitant ripple effects on a fragile US economy, the out-of-control entitlement growth, the risk of a nuclearized Middle East are just some of the no-win (damned if you fixit – because of the pain, and double-damned if you don’t fix it) challenges facing POTUS 2013… If you haven’t been following all of this, you are sleeping better than you should.