Archive for January, 2009

The Failed Obama Administration

January 30, 2009

     Despite voting for McCain, I actually had high hopes for the Obama administration. I really really want it to be a success. It’s early, of course, but so far it does not look good. 

     The President has failed to exercise the needed leadership in dealing with the economic crisis, instead supinely letting the Congressional Democrats grab total control of what’s happening. The result is a gigantic spending bill — even today, $800+ billion is STILL a huge amount of money — that isn’t going to do what needs to be done. It’s telling that the bill didn’t get a single Republican vote in the House. The Republicans weren’t just being bloody-minded. Most of them fully recognize the need to push a lot of money out the door to stimulate the economy. But instead of doing that, the Democrats are just filling their own wish lists. 

     Our economic problem is especially nasty because it is not just a typical cyclical downturn — where businesses have built up inventory stocks, and cut back temporarily to get stocks down. That automatically corrects itself when inventories are run down and production needs to be ramped back up. But what we have now is an implosion of consumer buying, which would mean production won’t need to be ramped back up. It’s a vicious downward spiral; the worse it gets, the more consumer buying declines. That’s the essential problem the stimulus bill needs to attack. And quick. But the bill working through Congress, despite the huge price tag, in the main, doesn’t do so.

     Meantime, what ever happened to the $700 billion Congress voted last fall? Obama needs to get control of that situation as well. We hear nothing about it. Meantime too, there’s the mortgage default situation, which started the whole mess, because it throttled bank lending, which is what the $700 billion was supposed to cure. The economy as a whole will not get back to health as long as the mortgage sore continues to fester. Steps must be taken to prevent defaults, keep people in their homes, renegotiate their mortgage terms, and stabilize the whole situation, so it becomes possible to get a handle on what all the mortgage-backed securities are really worth, paving the way to getting banks back into a position where they are financially sound and can lend. What the Obama administration is doing about this, right now, seems to be absolutely nothing.

Inauguration Review

January 21, 2009

     Rick Warren’s invocation was noteworthy for the line asking forgiveness for failures to give respect to all people. Was that a note of penitence?

     I lovvvved Aretha Franklin’s rendition of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” Not a song whose words I ever liked before — but she jettisoned all its God talk!! And, thank-you likewise to President Obama for pointedly including nonbelievers among America’s religious groupings, in his inaugural address. 

     Yo-yo Ma seemed to be having a really good time in his musical performance. But Aaron Copland should have been credited as the composer of the original melody. 

     Shame on Chief Justice Roberts. C’mon, the presidential oath is not that long, you’d  think he’d have practiced a bit and gotten it right. You could see Obama knew Roberts had it wrong, but when his stopping still failed to elicit the correct version, he was gracious in going along with Roberts’s mangled one. Still, the bumbling detracted from the majesty of the moment. 

     President Obama’s speech was good, though not great. For my taste, it was too full of stock phrases, cliches, and banalities; and short on interesting, arresting, or striking tropes. The main theme was not expressed powerfully enough. I did appreciate (of course) his knock against “declinism;” his vaunting “the risk takers, the doers, the makers of things;” and his talk of the false choice between safety and ideals. His words to the Muslim world, though brief, were to the point and well said. I very much liked his statement that America is the friend of every nation, and of every person, everywhere, who strives for peace and dignity. (That was lifted straight out of my own putative inaugural address, never given.) 

     His peroration invoked December 1776 — a key totem of my own mythologizing (as seen in my last book — and my next one). Obama’s quotation was well chosen. But unfortunately he left the impression that the words were Washington’s. They were Tom Paine’s, in The American Crisis.

     Elizabeth Alexander’s poem, I thought, started off with a nice spare simplicity, but lost its way and became a mishmash that ultimately did not hang together. 

     But none of this is what really matters. Present on the inaugural platform was Congressman John Lewis, who was beaten nearly to death for trying to ride on a bus. That Freedom Riders’ bus has travelled an awfully long distance in four decades.

U.S. Senate appointment

January 20, 2009

     In light of all the rumors swirling around, I wish to make clear that I have had no contact with Governor Paterson concerning his pending appointment of a U.S. Senator to succeed Mrs. Clinton; and no person authorized to speak on my behalf has had any such contact. While I would be honored to serve in the Senate, I am not a candidate, at this time. 

     In today’s news, we hear that Obama’s entourage has indicated that it wants Caroline Kennedy to be appointed. In the first place, her name is Schlossberg, or at least that’s what it was for the past several decades until she decided she wanted to cash in on the Kennedy legacy after all. But anyway, I think it’s a moot point because I’d be very surprised if Paterson appoints her. The Obama camp’s endorsement ought to be the coup de grace to her candidacy, which was already faltering. It was previously looking like Paterson, if he appointed her, was being manipulated into doing so; now, he practically is forced to appoint someone else, lest he appear a total puppet. That’s how I’d see it, if I were in his shoes; though I admit politicians often exhibit a stunning inability to see things as I think they ought to. 

     I have nothing, really, against the lady, she actually seemed pretty admirable (until lately), and appointing her might have come across as a bold and brilliant move, had it come as a surprise. Instead, now, it would come across as capitulation to putative entitlement.

Kid safety?

January 12, 2009

            The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission has enacted regulations, effective Feb. 10, requiring that all products to be used by children 12 and younger must be tested for lead and phthalates (USA Today, Jan 9). Good idea, right? We want our kids to be safe, right?


            The testing will cost from about $400 for a small item to thousands of dollars for larger ones. Every item, in every store, with a child use, would have to be tested. Every item. Every store. Even second-hand stores. Products not tested would be deemed “hazardous” even if they contain no lead or phthalates. Even if they are made of wood.


            Excuse me, but this is insane. Yes, we want our kids to be safe. But what does “safe” mean? Reducing the possibility of harm to zero? Can’t be done; life isn’t like that. What we should want is to protect against big, widespread threats. For example, the current hysteria, based on bogus science, that immunizations might cause autism, is a really big threat to children’s safety if it leads to fewer immunizations.


            There have been a few cases in which potentially harmful substances like lead have been found in kid products. And, yes, small kids do put things in their mouths. But is there any evidence that any significant numbers of children have actually been harmed in this way? No, there is not.


            But one thing is certain: these regulations will harm our economy, big-time. Most retailers cannot afford to comply with such onerous and costly regulations. It’s completely impractical. At a time when our economy is in such trouble, with so many retailers struggling to survive, with so many jobs at risk, for the government to impose such costs on businesses is insane, in the literal sense of the word.


            It would be better to have a requirement that government regulatory bureaucrats be tested for lead in their brains.


            We are told that the era of deregulation is over, and government regulation is making a big comeback. Here we see what that means. Oy vey.



January 2, 2009

In an old Laurel and Hardy film, they drive up to a man’s house and get into a spat with him. In anger, he breaks a lamp off their car. (An old time car of course.) Hardy responds by walking up to the house front and doing something similar. The man retaliates on the car. Tit for tat, and soon the duo is single-mindedly wrecking the house while its owner ignores them and works on trashing their car. Each becomes solely focused on inflicting damage on the other with no heed to his own damage. Both house and car are demolished. 

     This is Israel and the Palestinians. Especially the Palestinians, sadly, who Abba Eban once said never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. For forty years, the Palestinians have fought Israeli occupation. Then Israel withdrew its occupation of Gaza; just pulled out and simply handed Gaza to the Palestinians. No more occupation, in Gaza at least. So, did the Palestinians set about building themselves a nation in Gaza? No, instead, their whole focus remained upon trashing the Israeli car. They continuously bombarded Israel with rockets. What was the point of that? What could conceivably have been gained by it? Absolutely nothing, except to finally, inevitably, provoke the Israeli reaction that has done tremendous damage to Gaza and its people. 

     Where are the grown-ups over there??

     Tough situation for an optimist.