Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The Speech Hillary Won’t Give

August 26, 2015

My fellow Americans:

I am going to level with you about the e-mail controversy.

I did not have inappropriate e-mail with that server."

“I did not have inappropriate e-mail with that server…”

No, really, this time.

There is a kind of personality that finds it hard to admit making a mistake, let alone wrongdoing. The ego gets in the way. And I have come to recognize this in myself. Well, the first step in fixing a problem is to see that you’ve got one.

Let me start with something obvious – America has bitter political divisions. And there is an unfortunate tendency to believe people you disagree with are not just wrong but wicked – which contributes mightily to government dysfunction. Alas, I now realize that I myself have fed this syndrome.

So when the e-mail controversy began, I waved it off as just more political crap, a nefarious effort by my foes to cook up points against me – you know, “the vast right wing conspiracy.” Well, it is a fact that many people do hate me and my politics, and will do anything to bring me down. However – there’s a big difference between that and pursuing a legitimate issue. I have failed to recognize and respect that difference (until now).

Since 2009 federal regulations require all e-mails be preserved as part of an agency's record-keeping system

Since 2009 federal regulations require all e-mails be preserved as part of an agency’s record-keeping system

So let me be clear, once and for all, with no more defensiveness, self-righteousness, dismissiveness, political posturing, or legalistic hair-splitting: my handling of my State Department e-mails was wrong.

There. I’ve said it.

Let me be more specific. The key point is that in America we have a fundamental principle of open government; and that applies to communications by public officials on public business. I should have realized I was violating that principle by using a private server, under my exclusive personal control, for my State Department e-mails. And that it would look like I was hiding something. Me – Hillary – hiding something? Who could imagine such a thing? (You do understand irony.)

And then – then – after this thing blew up, and I was indeed accused of hiding something – what did I do? I erased all the e-mails that I – yes, I alone, with no oversight – judged to be personal. The nation was supposed to just take my word that they were personal. And then I had the server wiped clean, to make sure those thousands of e-mails could never be seen. Hiding something? Who, me? What was I thinking?

Me, who served on the Watergate committee, and well remembered the infamous 18-1/2 minute erasure on Nixon’s White House tapes.

Unknown-1Now, I have tried to explain before why I thought what I did made sense at the time. I could go through all that again, but you know what? To quote a certain Secretary of State, “What difference does it make now?” Because the bottom line is that for all my rationalizations, it was a big boo-boo, and if I could have a do-over, I’d do things differently.

Well. Whew. This has been hard for me. But I feel better now. Confession is cathartic. And the silver lining in making mistakes is that you can learn from them. Let me tell you, I’ve learned a big lesson – which I truly feel will make me a better person, and a better public servant, in the future.

images-1Let us now move forward and see what we can do about tackling together the challenges our nation faces.

So please, please, please forgive and forget, and give me power, you goddamned bunch of ingrates, saps and morons . . . is this mike still on? Oh shit.

The Big Apple Nipple Crisis

August 24, 2015

So it has come to this.

What do you get when you mash up a) prudishness, b) a nanny-state mentality, and c) politically correct gender neutrality?

Legislation to ban public toplessness – male and female!

Photo by Julie Jacobson, Associated Press

Photo by Julie Jacobson, Associated Press

The casus belli is the “desnudas” of New York’s Times Square – gals with breasts covered only with body paint who pose for tourist photos, for tips – which Bronx Democratic State Senator Ruben Diaz* (a pentacostal minister) wants to banish. Casey Seiler’s droll reportage in the Albany Times Union quotes Diaz: “If equality laws are in the way, let’s push for equality so neither men nor women can go topless in our streets.” He seemingly said this with a straight face.

Missing from the story is why this is a problem requiring legislative action and penal laws. Diaz says, “so families can enjoy New York.” Many members of families enjoy seeing breasts (I do). But seriously – okay, semi-seriously – if the concern is about children, I doubt that any, in today’s American culture, will truly be morally corrupted by seeing painted breasts. Indeed, it could be a good teaching moment. And if you’re Amish, or whatever, and really want to shield your kids’ tender eyes, why then, don’t visit Times Square. Which is, after all – hello – Times Square, for cryin’ out loud.

imagesIn the Twenty-first century, this story would have been ridiculous enough, without the added fillip of banning male toplessness too, in some brain-dead application of gender equality. Need I really explain (well, I guess I do) that it’s not invidious discrimination when laws make reasonable distinctions based on differing facts and circumstances? And that male and female chests differ? (Vive la difference.)

As to the latter point, please refer to an incisive and erudite discussion in my 8/14/14 blog post.

The Times Union also notes that NYC Mayor de Blasio “has convened a task force” to address the desnuda crisis. It’s reassuring that New York is so free of serious problems that public officials have time for nipple issues.

* Not Assemblyman Felix “Mr. Nanny State” Ortiz!

The Great (?) Debate – Fox News Trumped

August 8, 2015

imagesIf (as we’re told) Fox News was aiming to derail Trump, they sure weren’t clever like a fox. The “debate” could hardly have been better contrived to boost him. When he afterwards complained of his treatment by Fox, did I detect a wink?

Previously I’d labeled meaningless Trump’s 20-25% poll standings. Hardly broad support, mostly mere name recognition, and anyway a certain percentage in polls will always endorse craziness.* It seemed a given that Trump would never win the nomination (and David Brooks still thinks he’s not truly a candidate). But now I’m not so sure.

I would have asked questions like, How will you deal with the looming explosion of Social Security and Medicare costs? A rising China and a stroppy Russia? UnknownISIS and the Mid East? Millions of undocumented residents? Our dysfunctional tax system? Foreign economic competition? A growing divide between the more and less educated? But while some of these issues were touched upon, most questions were more like When did you stop beating your wife?

Starting with the very first, which was tailored to spotlight Trump and his bombastic pugnacity — actually attractive to many voters. Unknown-1Likewise for the other seemingly taunting questions lobbed at him. That kind of mud-wrestling is his forte. Better to have probed wonky policy nuances (at least revealing his ignorance).

And it was not your imagination that Trump got more airtime than anyone. I checked. He did, by a lot; more than double what some other candidates got. Great going, Fox.

But one suspects the true aim was not fairness, nor to dent Trump, nor to inform. It was to entertain. Fox did gain a huge audience. The Romans threw Christians to lions; Fox threw pols to Trump.

Anyhow, the debate simply served to make Trump seem a larger, more powerful personality than all the other (comparatively) anodyne, pale, typical politicians, sucking away all their air. Unknown-2I’m reminded of Osama bin Laden’s dictum: “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse.”

Never mind what happens when you try to ride that bucking bronco.

*Also, many Trump backers are quintessential non-voting types.

Are Men Necessary? (Is Hillary?)

August 6, 2015

UnknownWhen I reported buying, at a used book sale, Maureen Dowd’s Are Men Necessary? I said I’d let you know the verdict after reading it. I bought it because Dowd is – can I say this? – one bitching writer. In her columns she’s a zingermeister who loves playing with words (though that can get wearying at times).

imagesThe book is basically about what used to be called “the battle of the sexes.” Dowd, calling herself a feminist, unsurprisingly takes the side of women. But she’s an equal-opportunity cynic, skewering both sides of every controversy. While she doesn’t like Clarence Thomas, she thought his feminist critics were disingenuous, using the sexual harassment stuff as cover for what was really a (failed) political take-down. Unknown-1And Dowd is scathing about the hypocrisy of those same feminists, so censorious toward Clarence Thomas, but all too willing, because of politics, to give Bill Clinton a pass regarding Monica (not to mention Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers, and Kathleen Willey). Dowd’s chapter on the episode has a pages-long riff about how he became obsessed, deranged, by thoughts of Monica and sex. But it turns out the “he” is Kenneth Starr (Clinton’s prosecutor).

Dowd also drops a dime (writing in 2005) on Hillary. It’s a good reminder (I haven’t forgotten, though most people seem to have) about all the unseemliness: the mysterious profits trading commodities futures; her healthcare debacle; images-1and how on leaving the White House the Clintons “backed up the truck” and made off with $86,000 worth of furnishings. Et cetera. Dowd doesn’t even mention the mystery of the subpoenaed Rose Law Firm records, the Marc Rich pardon, the Lincoln Bedroom, and to me the most disgraceful of all, Travelgate.)

If you’re counting, that’s eleven past scandals (not even considering Whitewater, or the new one, e-mailgate). Do we really want these grifters back in the White House?

But the book is mainly about the male/female thing. images-2One chapter concerns orgasms, with Dowd wondering why women have them at all, evolutionarily speaking, since they’re unnecessary for procreation. She winds up theorizing that it makes women favor men considerate enough to pleasure them, who will probably be better daddies too. But my wife pointed out that orgasmic contractions help move sperm toward the business end of the plumbing. Unknown-2And I thought Dowd missed the most obvious explanation: orgasms make women want to copulate. (Any Muslim practitioner of female genital mutilation would have told her that.)

Here’s an example of Dowd’s sardonic style: “deep down, beneath the bluster and machismo, men are simply afraid to say that what they’re truly looking for in a woman is an intelligent, confident and dependable partner in life whom they can devote themselves to unconditionally until she’s forty.”

That’s a good description of my own marriage, minus the last bit (at 56, my wife is still a keeper). But it may be true for the kinds of people Dowd hangs out with in her high-powered life as a big-time syndicated columnist.

Unknown-3This was a problem I had throughout the book. For example, Dowd talks about cosmetic reparation, like Botox, which everybody now does – everybody – men included. Well, maybe everybody in Maureen Dowd’s fey cocktail party milieu. But she has nothing to say to, or about, ordinary “everyday” folks. The book is mildly amusing, but if you want to find out whether men are necessary on Main Street, look elsewhere.

The $15 Minimum Wage – Money From Heaven

July 29, 2015

UnknownDo you favor a $15 minimum wage? Nobody asks where the money comes from. Heaven, I guess.

We’re told that if you give low wage workers more cash they’ll spend it, great for the economy. As though it’s free money.

Unknown-2

 

Or else the money is imagined to come out of business profits. When pigs fly. It will actually come from higher prices. And since low wage industries (like fast food) often serve poorer people, the extra money earned by low wage workers will ultimately come from . . . low wage workers.

Economics 101 says that when prices rise, demand falls. Raise the price of low skilled labor, and businesses will buy less of it. They’ll seek ways to automate instead (more self-service checkout machines if cashiers become too expensive, for example), which is already happening. imagesHigher minimum wages can only accelerate that – bad news for low skilled workers – who, once unemployed, often stay unemployed.

People imagine businesses can just pay more because they have profits to spare. In reality, profit margins tend to be pretty thin – like around 3% of sales for supermarkets. There’s no room for fat because in a globalized economy every business competes with every other. McDonald’s doesn’t compete just against Burger King and Wendy’s, but every other food option including home cooking – and indeed against every other conceivable product people could decide to buy in lieu of big macs. So prices must be kept as low as possible. Force prices up, due to higher minimum wages, and a business may become non-competitive. Bye bye jobs.

Yet defying this economic logic, advocates of higher minimum wages claim studies show they don’t actually kill jobs. Maybe so – in the short term at least – and if the rise is small, staying under 50% of median wages. But $15 would double the minimum wage, to 77% of the median. The long term impact on low-skill jobs is frightening.

Unknown-3We’re also told government is in effect subsidizing businesses like McDonald’s, that don’t pay a living wage, with food stamps and so forth filling the gap. That’s twisted logic. After all, plenty of people who get food stamps earn nothing. So you could equally say McDonald’s payrolls actually reduce what government must provide. Anyway, we give food stamps, and other welfare, because we as a society deem it the right thing to do. We shouldn’t expect (or force) private companies to do that for us.

In fact, higher minimum wages are an ineffective way to combat poverty. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that only 20% of the income benefits would go to those below the poverty line. (Most minimum wage workers are not primary family breadwinners.) So programs like food stamps, and the Earned Income Tax Credit, are much better targeted for helping the poor – without pricing low skill workers out of the market.

But New York State is currently in a paroxysm of political pandering on this issue. Governor Cuomo set up a board to assess fast food minimum wages. Legions of workers duly came and testified that $15 would be peachy. The outcome was pre-ordained. Our local Times-Union has denounced it – because the $15 wage will be phased in, not immediate!

Never mind the absurdity of singling out one category of jobs (and, unfairly, only in chain restaurants). Or how “fast food” can actually be defined. Unknown-4Or that New York, due to high taxes, already high unionized wage costs and other costs of all kinds, and the most burdensome bureaucratic regulation, is just about the least economically competitive state in the union, making large swathes of upstate into job deserts.

Politicians in this free-money fantasyland will never have to answer for the economic consequences. Voters won’t connect the $15 minimum wage with unemployment higher than it would otherwise have been. Just as public officials don’t answer for all the other ways they’ve run the state’s economy into a ditch. Indeed, the resulting tough economic conditions just encourage more populist politics, preening “compassion” and doubling down with yet more of the economic follies that got us here.*

I too have compassion for fast food workers, and wish they could earn more. It’s a hard life, and I’m lucky to be spared it. (Though I did work one very crummy job in my teens.) But the answer is not to wave a magic wand and expect Heaven to cough up the cash. Instead it’s to stop making it harder and costlier for businesses to operate. images-1And to make sure more people get the education they need for decent jobs – at least finish high school (too many don’t). A key reason fast food jobs pay so little is because there’s a vast oversupply of poorly educated people to fill them.

* Like rent control — more effective than bombing for destroying affordable housing.

Trumped

July 26, 2015

imagesYou expect some pithy comments on Trump statements. I won’t so dignify them.

That a billionaire TV personality with hair issues would get a lot of attention as a “presidential candidate” (in quotes because his chances are zero) is not in itself remarkable. UnknownAnd his statements are not due to stupidity. Too many people call others they disagree with “stupid” (like George W. Bush). Nobody gets high office or great wealth being stupid.

So, why does Trump behave as he does? He must calculate that, on some level, it works for him. That’s what’s disturbing.

Polls showing Trump with 24% atop a very divided Republican field are meaningless; most respondents at this stage are just shooting in the dark. But still. That many would name Trump bespeaks a lack of civic seriousness. Trump’s campaign is just one big middle finger, attracting middle finger type people.

The media bears some responsibility for debasing a presidential election. But one can hardly blame them; the public loves a freak show. Jon Stewart is certainly having a ball. Yet what a shame that it detracts attention from worthy candidates like John Kasich who have important things to say. America faces big issues and shouldn’t waste time with Trump talk.

images-1Kasich won’t likely even get into the TV debates, which will be limited to ten top-polling candidates – a meaningless criterion when most are in single digits. Trump, though, will make the cut, to ensure a circus atmosphere. But in any case a so-called “debate” with ten contestants will be a poor vehicle for informing the public.

It probably won’t ultimately matter. With most other candidates knocking themselves out to out-extreme each other, Jeb Bush will be the nominee.

images-2Maybe I just need to lighten up and stop being a grumpy old man.

Greece At The Rubicon

July 7, 2015

UnknownWhen the Euro was set up, they knew it was a fraught proposition, binding themselves to each other financially. The Germans in particular, fearful about giving up the strong Deutschemark, insisted on strict penalties for any country whose deficit breached 3% of GDP. Of course it was Germany itself, and France, that soon violated this, but the matter was fudged. Not a good precedent.

Meantime, there were also stringent fiscal criteria for admission to the Euro. So how did Greece get in?Unknown-1 It cooked its books, and lied.

Greece’s economy has long been weighed down by clientelistic politics producing an over-bloated state sector, with lots of well-paid unneeded government jobs, fat pensions and benefits, while tax avoidance became endemic, and red tape (giving all those government workers something to do) strangled business. Thus Greece could not pay its bills, borrowing heavily to close the gap. This is what was covered up. But about five years ago the retsina hit the fan when the hole became too deep, requiring a bail-out.

Reasonably enough, the Europeans (mainly Germany) insisted that Greece clean up its act as a condition for the bail-out – the “austerity” we hear so much about. In hindsight, they may have overdone it. You’d want to wean the country away from profligacy, but not crush its economy, because economic growth is the only hope for ever paying Greece’s debts. Greece did accept some reforms, but did suffer a pretty severe economic contraction, with 25% unemployment, which didn’t help matters.

Unknown-2Part of the problem is that lefty Greeks just don’t get it that, to support the lavish government salaries and other spending, you need an economy that actually produces something that earns money. Of course, that’s dirty capitalism. Feh. So Greece’s reforms did little to improve economic productiveness.

And the reforms in question, the so-called “austerity,” merely moved Greece from extreme profligacy to moderate profligacy. This shows just how deep the hole is, and suggests the Europeans probably also erred in failing to bite the bullet of just writing off a major part of Greece’s debt.

Unknown-3Through all this, Greeks have cast the Germans as villains, seeing no reason why they shouldn’t go back to the old ways of living high on the hog on borrowed money they can’t pay back. The Germans see no reason why, having themselves undergone, a decade ago, the same sort of painful reforms now asked of the Greeks, they should have to work to age 65 and pay taxes so the Greeks can retire at 57 with fat pensions and avoid taxes. A classic grasshopper-and-ant story.

Then in January the Greeks elected the Syriza party, a bunch of irresponsible leftists with a platform of rejecting “austerity” and restoring the days of wine and roses. images-1They danced in the streets exulting in this triumph of wishful thinking. The new government, led by Alexis Tspiras, proceeded to make a hash of further bail-out negotiations and to shred any vestige of trust by Europeans. And then, just as it seemed possible that a deal might nevertheless be struck, Tsipras kicked over the table by calling a snap referendum on whether to accept the bail-out terms.

He urged Greeks to vote No, saying they could have their cake and eat it too – twice over – that they could reject Europe’s terms yet stay in the Euro – and, indeed, could reject the deal and see off austerity, returning to their old cushy clientelistic habits. With what money? Who knows.

This insane fantasy Tsipras cast as a matter of national pride – standing up against European (mainly German) blackmail!

Unknown-5Two things happened in the week before the vote. First, Greece defaulted on a scheduled debt payment; a first for a “developed” country. And Greece’s banks all but closed (for lack of money), allowing only small ATM withdrawals, throwing much of the economy and many people’s lives for a loop.

You might think this foretaste of what could lay in store would give the Greeks pause in the referendum vote. You’d be wrong. This vote was a matter of pride, remember. The Greeks are a proud people – proud enough to borrow billions and tell the lenders “Fuck You.” Unknown-4And so they did – a resounding 61% voted No. And again the grasshoppers danced in the streets to celebrate their courage.

What happens now? Tsipras justified the referendum “No” as strengthening his hand to get a better deal from the ants who, of course, lacking backbones, might just cave. But the Europeans had said they’d construe a “No” as a vote to exit the Euro. Greeks have indeed made a courageous bet, and if it comes wrong, those who thought “austerity” was rough ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

It’s not really clear how a country can be kicked out of the Euro. But perhaps it would be as simple as the European Central Bank supplying no fresh Euros; after a time Greece would effectively be forced into a different currency.

The Economist believes Europe should think twice before such a drastic step into uncharted territory. It could pull a thread that unravels the whole fabric. And you wouldn’t want a failed state in the continent, with all the potential tsuris that could entail. Furthermore, Greece could be thrown into the arms of Putin, with whom Tsipras has been playing footsie. But The Economist also thinks that if Greece stays in the Euro, the kinds of crises we’ve seen will keep repeating basically forever.images

My view, FWIW, is that Europe should cut off this gangrenous limb once and for all. A Greece-free Euro zone should ultimately be stronger and more stable. And there’s the issue of moral hazard; Greekish behavior should be seen to have consequences, lest others (like Spain) be tempted to follow it.

But Europe should also ready humanitarian aid packages for Greece. We’ll see if the Greeks spit in their faces then.

America’s Political Decay

June 19, 2015

UnknownA favorite book of mine is Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History (1992). He argued that centuries of ideological conflict had essentially ended with the triumph of liberal democracy and free markets — because they fulfill deeply felt needs for self-realization and dignity. A beautiful story.

Unknown-1Not so fast, says . . . Francis Fukuyama, in his latest book, Political Order and Political Decay. Not that we’re going back to tyranny or socialism. But there’s trouble in paradise, and it’s right here in River City (America), poster boy for the political decay of the title.

Our political divide is between government lovers and haters – big government “progressives” versus small government conservatives. Yet the size and scope of government is not the whole story; quality matters. Big government wouldn’t be so bad if it were good government. imagesBut what gets lost between the two camps is that, as Fukuyama explicates, America’s quality of government has deteriorated steadily and markedly over the last half century.

Why? Ironically, a big factor is the distrust of government built into America’s DNA, which actually makes it hard for government to function well (thus fueling more distrust). Born of revolt against an imperious king, we created a cat’s cradle of checks and balances. That was fine as long as government didn’t do very much. But as its remits proliferated in the modern era, so have the societal interests wanting a say and making demands. The result is what Fukuyama calls a “vetocracy” – a system with so many points where one force can block others that meaningful action becomes impossible.Unknown-2

A related problem is that, by way of example, the relatively few farmers who gain greatly from farm subsidies will fight hard for them, while the mass of consumers and taxpayers, each harmed only a little, do nothing. Bad programs become impervious to change because someone always benefits.

Unknown-3Also, things weren’t too bad when one party had clear dominance and could, within limits, work its will. But now America is closely riven between two parties, each more ideologically cohesive than ever and ruled by activists seeing the other as satanic. Forget about conciliation and compromise.

Distrust of government furthermore leads us to circumscribe the actions of bureaucrats by a welter of rules, curbing their discretion. This produces exactly what we hate – a bureaucratic bureaucracy so tangled in overly complex red tape that common sense is lost.

images-1The U.S. Forest Service illustrates the syndrome. Fukuyama discusses how it began as a model for effective government during the Progressive era, led by the great reformer Gifford Pinchot. But gradually its mission got confused by layers of congressional mandates (often contradicting each other) and submerged under increasingly inflexible administrative procedures; all worsened by pressures from disparate interest groups with conflicting agendas. Our guide on our recent Yosemite tour remarked that the Forest Service doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing anymore. (See also my post about the TSA, whose mission quickly degenerated into one of following dumb procedures rather than actually targeting threats.)

Unknown-4Then there’s something unique to America. Our separation of powers gives a bigger role to courts than in any other country. This has made us peculiarly a nation of lawyers and litigation; exacerbated by legislation that often effectively delegates policy initiatives to implementation through litigation by private parties. (A good example, not mentioned by Fukuyama, is the Americans With Disabilities Act. Lawyers are a major interest group.) This is cumbersome, costly, and opaque, not very efficacious, and lacking in democratic accountability. No other country operates like this. They think it’s bonkers.

All these factors lead Fukuyama to deem America an outlier on the spectrum of difficulty of decision making. We have the most rigid, ineffectual, and reform-proof governmental model of any advanced democracy. This is why so many problems cry out for action – crumbling infrastructure, the immigration mess, and our glide path toward fiscal ruin, to name a few – but nothing can get done. (See my review of That Used to Be Us.)

Is there any hope of fixing this? No. (Sorry – I am an optimist, but a rational one.) Fukuyama pretty much agrees. Americans revere our constitution but frankly, while it worked great for most of our history, now it’s broken. But given that reverence, radical change (like switching to a parliamentary type system where government is much more able to accomplish things*) is inconceivable. (Yet a conceivable and important reform would be to eliminate the Senate filibuster rule and consequent need for 60 votes, not in the Constitution.)

For all I’ve written here, America’s saving grace is that government isn’t everything. Thank God for the private sector. Unknown-5This country’s dynamism is rooted in the energies and imaginations of its people, finding ways of getting on with things, regardless of bad government. Fukuyama, in the end, recognizes this; and moreover concludes by saying that despite the problems of democratic government, it still feeds the basic human hunger for agency – control over our lives. If government transmogrifies into controlling too much**, the remedy isn’t authoritarian rule, which controls even more; and those countries retaining it are still on the wrong side of history.

I can only sadly shake my head when people blithely talk of turning over yet more responsibilities, like health care, to government. “Progressives” never seem to learn from how often government tramples their professed values. There’s a wide gap between their lofty ideal of government and its reality.

* It does work well with a strong two-party system like Britain’s; but with fractured politics like Israel’s, not so much.

** I recently attended a talk about negotiating the bureaucratic gauntlet to move a patient from hospital to long term care. I asked, when and how did this stop being the exclusive province of family members? “I don’t know,” the speaker said, “but it isn’t right.”

Waiting For Snow in Havana

May 28, 2015

Unknown-5Carlos Eire was eight, with normal childhood concerns, a love for fireworks and pools, and a loathing for lizards, until Fidel Castro came along and ruined everything. Eire’s memoir, Waiting For Snow in Havana – Confessions of a Cuban Boy, gives a mordant child’s-eye-view of “the Revolution.”

OK, his was an affluent family (his father a judge), with more to lose than most Cubans, for whom the ousted Batista regime sucked. But Eire’s book belies Castro’s “Revolution” being an advancement of social justice, exposing its dark reality.

UnknownThe judge was a peculiar man; believing himself the reincarnation of France’s King Louis XVI, the book always refers to him thusly; his wife was “Marie Antoinette.” He put his shoes on before his pants. He insisted on adopting a quasi-pedophile who tried to molest the judge’s natural sons. And he remained in Cuba with that adoptee after the rest of the family escaped to America, even though from the start he despised “the Revolution.”

I myself was suckered in by its romanticism in 1959’s heady days. Then again, I was only eleven, and soon enough repented. Many on the left never did.

Unknown-3This is a litmus test of one’s political seriousness. The left talks a good game of Enlightenment human values but often falls for empty labels and slogans in place of the real deal, and otherwise readily trashes those values (especially freedom of thought and expression). Thus the enduring idealization of Castro  – a megalomaniacal dictator who cemented his power by imprisoning, torturing, and shooting great numbers of Cubans who did not kiss his feet.*

I am sick of palaver about the wonderfulness of Cuba’s education and health care. Truth is, the regime schools and doctors its serfs sufficiently for them to function at work – for which it pays them a pittance. Thus the economy manages to creak along, just. “The Revolution” was quite good at destroying the wealth of the rich and successful – much simply confiscated – yet the average Cuban is as poor as ever, and in fact, inequality is if anything worse. But don’t ever dare complain.

Social justice? One weeps to think how much better off those poor people would be with a normal government that allowed their enterprise to flourish, rather than crushing it with an oppressive, dysfunctional, crackpot economic model crafted only to perpetuate total societal control by the masters.

Unknown-4The hip political satirist Mort Sahl, asked to name the personage he admired most, said “Fidel Castro.” This was long past the time when any sentient being should have grasped the reality. (We’ve seen the same syndrome with Venezuela and Chavez.)

It’s now been 56 years, but in Cuba, as Carlos Eire put it, everything is still “Revolution this” and “Revolution that.” Seems to me 56 years should have been time enough to complete a revolution (especially with all dissension obliterated) and get on with normal life (not to mention actually making it better). If Cuba did need a revolution in 1959, it needs one far more now. The book’s title is never explained, but that’s probably the “snow in Havana” Carlos Eire has waited for, in vain. He never returned.

* Batista was often called a brutal dictator. True; yet he was toppled with relative ease. Why haven’t the Castros been toppled? Such regimes (and Venezuela’s, Iran’s, etc.) are far more repressive than old style “right wing” dictators ever were, thus far harder to get rid of.

Fighting the Secret Plot to Make the World Richer*

May 24, 2015

President Obama is battling for “fast track” authority, to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP, a trade deal among 11 big countries) without having it subject to Congressional amending. It’s the only way such a deal could conceivably happen.

Warren

Warren

Most Democrats, led by Elizabeth Warren, oppose this. They say the trade negotiations are being conducted in secret, shaped behind the scenes by corporate interests. (We all know Obama shills for fatcats, right?) As columnist Ruth Marcus points out, this Warren argument is simply bogus. It’s not as though legislators will have to vote on the deal without our knowing what’s in it. In fact, the proposed legislation requires the terms to be made public 60 days before signing – an unprecedented proviso.

Unknown-2But, as Marcus notes, the secrecy argument is a mere excuse, and Warren et al would still oppose this deal if the negotiations were broadcast live on C-SPAN. They paint it as selling out American workers by helping foreigners to compete unfairly against them. This reprises the 1990s NAFTA debate, when Ross Perot warned of a “giant sucking sound” of U.S. jobs going to Mexico. Warren says he was right. But in truth that sound was at most a whisper, with direct U.S. job losses minimal.

Well, free trade does threaten some jobs by exposing them to tougher foreign competition. But this perspective is like viewing the universe through a straw, blind to the bigger picture. Part of that picture is that freer trade lowers prices for consumers. This is huge; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that imports add $10,000 annually to the average American family’s purchasing power. That enables them to spend more, stimulating the economy and generating more jobs – probably way more jobs than the few lost to foreign competition.

Unknown-1By harping on those latter lost jobs while ignoring the benefits to consumers and the economy as a whole, Warrenite Democrats are literally favoring the interests of the few (very few) over the interests of the many. Some populists.

Unknown-4Interestingly, for most of its history, throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Democratic party understood perfectly well that freer trade was good for the many while protectionism cosseted the few at their expense. Not a good deal for “everyday Americans.” This was in fact a headline issue for Democrats. But then (perhaps too heavily invested with union interests) Democrats lost their way on the trade issue.

Meantime, even the focus just on America’s economy is too narrow and misses the larger reality. If NAFTA’s impact on U.S. jobs is debatable, its impact on Mexican ones was unarguably huge, making Mexico much more prosperous than it would otherwise have been. And surely a richer neighbor is something in America’s national interest.

imagesIndeed, whatever its effect on any particular job, or industry, or country, freer trade makes the world as a whole richer.** Any serious economist will tell you so. It does this by enabling capital investment to be put to the most economically efficient uses, unhindered by artificial barriers and constraints, which results in production of more goods with fewer inputs of resources and labor. That’s an enlargement of the global economic pie, so more people can get bigger slices. Since WWII, this – an increasingly globalized world, with more and freer trade – has been the prime driver which has raised billions of people out of poverty.

Surely that is something in America’s national interest. A richer world is a less troubled world; and can buy more that U.S. workers produce.

Warrenites cloak themselves as tribunes for those “everyday Americans,” believing that if Democrats sound this trumpet loudly enough they’ll win. Thus they are trying to move the party, and Hillary Clinton, to the left of President Obama – who in fact was just barely not too far left to win – barely. The British Labour party made the same mistake in their recent election, believing the country would embrace pet left-wing themes. It did not; Labour was crushed.

imagesOur next election, with a Democratic candidate tacking left and having big trustworthiness issues besides, will be the Republicans’ to lose. If only they can control their own self-defeating instincts and offer a halfway sensible nominee.

* I cribbed this title from a recent article in The Economist.

** Potentially $220 billion richer annually, from the TPP alone, it’s estimated.


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