Tag Archives: Barach Obama

The Bully-In-Chief and the Naked Empress

You would think that a society that has spent the past ten years wringing its communal hands over how to deal with school yard bullies and their consequences would recognize one in the man-child Donald Trump, and have a clue of how to deal with him.  Obviously not.

Most interesting is the self-inflicted dilemma of the Repugnantlan Party; those stalwart wearers of flag lapel pins,  supporters of our troops and police, champions of right to life until born, true believers that they have a monopoly on patriotism, self-appointed protectors of the constitution that they are systematically raping in the name of God, country and free enterprise….They stand trembling in the shadow of Trump.  Ironically, the shadow is less than the man, but the Repugnantlans are less still in their collective incapacity to confront this breathing amalgam of narcissism, arrogance, deceit and rank ignorance, and say to themselves and the society that they presume to lead “This man does not represent our values, and we will not lend our Party’s label to his twisted and destructive enterprise.”   Or something to that effect.  But that apparently demands more courage than they can collectively muster.

Nor were the alternatives all that attractive.  A party that has embraced a thinly disguised agenda of bigotry, religious zealotry, misogyny and elitism under the brand Conservatism, and thus done severe damage to the meaning of that term; that same party has looked desperately in its wings among the kooks and Hucksters, and mini-narcissists in waiting, for an alternative to the Enfant Terrible, to no apparent avail.  Short Form: they’re screwed.

The question before the Repugnantlans is: Do we face a firestorm at the convention in the effort to save the party?  Or do we face a firestorm at the voting booths and watch the party be bludgeoned into dust, at the possible tangible loss of Congressional majority.

Given the level of courage and integrity currently in evidence in the party leadership, it is conceivable that they would rather suffer the risk of defeat in the less frightening confrontation and anonymity of the voting booth, than to risk the physical, in-your-face, mano-a-mano confrontation that is promised by Thugs for Trump at the convention.

And as disturbing as all this is in what it says about the state of Party leadership, what is even more disturbing is that there is a constituency that is big enough to give Trump this power.  The question is: is this a constituency of mini-bullies supporting a master bully in their greatest fantasy of power, or as some observers suggest, are Trump’s followers mostly very angry people who see Trump not so much as their leader, but their hammer to render a failing system to the dustbin of history. A similar speculation has been rendered of Bernie Sanders, who is beginning to sound more like Trump in his prognostications for the coming Democratic Convention.

Then there’s the Demo-crass.  They have a different kind of fear, or should.  They face the risk that fewer people will turn out for Ms Inevitability, a.k.a ‘Hillary Don’t-Cry-For-Me-Argentina Rodham-Clinton’, than the die-hard crazies who will turn out for Trump.  On paper, she should have this thing licked.  She’s got ‘credential’s.  She’s engineered the back room of the Convention.  She’s got an enviable Rolodex ( because, as she acknowledged in the prvate computer server grillings, she’s not particularly tech savvy) and the financial backing.  What she lacks is credibility.  Not necessarily an insurmountable problem for a politician.  But she has such an incredible knack for shooting herself in the foot, that it’s totally reasonable for the average person to wonder if she can be trusted with nukes.

In one of her rare moments of candor, she acknowledged after the Florida primary that she is ‘not a natural politician’,  like her husband or Obama.  So why is she running for the position of Politician in Chief?  Is it because she’s a superb, wonky tactician like her husband?  Uh-huh!  When the press were battering her phalanx of flacks, she carefully sequestered behind her security wall.  When an attack was needed, she sent out Bill.  When credibility was needed, she grasped for Barack’s coat-tails, and when that was inconvenient as in the case of the Pacific Trade agreement, she let go.  She claims to fight for the underdog, but what has she ever won for the underdog of substance? Health care, voting rights, better treatment of women anywhere in the world?  She claims experience, but where is the wisdom?  Health care? Libya? the Russian Reset? Syria?  Is her wisdom and pragmatism possibly hidden in that gold-plated speech she gave to Goldman Sachs which remains more closely guarded than her official emails as Secretary of State.  Could it be that if that text ever saw the light of day, it would reveal her to be as shallow and vacuous as the Mitt-ster?

Hillary is nothing but an avatar of women’s and minorities aspirations, but without the substance and quite possibly the will to deliver more than pious platitudes. A candidate whose image quite likely has to be re-invented every two weeks by her army of ‘advisor’s who are still groping for a credible product, isn’t much of a vehicle for progress.  An individual who has struggled against as improbable opponent as Bernie Sanders, in spite of all the advantages she amassed for her presumed coronation, must be profoundly lacking in substance.  A person, whose chief praise in recent weeks is that she has broken many barriers, but always seems to do it the hard way, is not a strong credential for endorsement.  I can’t really picture myself pitching my wares to a prospective employer with the line:’I git it done, but always the hard way’.   Endurance is fine, but competence would be better. She is the Demo-crass equivalent of Jeb Bush.  They  could make an awesome fusion ticket of irrelevance and incompetence.

On any rigorous assessment of substance, Hillary is an empty suit.  Indeed, the Empress has no clothes.

Hillary’s only claim to viability as a candidate is that, next to Trump, she looks at least sufferable, and may almost pass for presidential.  But even that may not be enough to save her if the terminal boredom or revulsion of so many independents and many in her own party is enough to deny her the critical margin for victory.

And then there’s the wild card:  The Republican Convention is July 18 to 21.  The Democratic Convention is July 25 to 28.  What if the Repugnantlan Party finally found the testicular fortitude to deny Trump the nomination on merits (or lack thereof), and installed Romney as the plug-and-play answer?    A contest between two equally brittle avatars.  But on surface, it is conceivable that Romney, an executive in private and public enterprise, could appear to have more chops than Ms Inevitability.

The Demo-crass High Command would have to assess  very quickly which old horse has the better chance.  The Demo-crass will be in the same convention dilemma as the Repugnantlans of reconsidering the ‘presumptive’ nominee, but the Repugs will have gained first mover advantage, which Mitt, the consummate capitalist, knows is critical.  Could the Hillary Horde pivot quickly to a new opponent and a new strategy?  Not likely, if two presidential campaigns are compelling evidence. Could the Democratic Party?  Probably not a prayer.

Can Elizabeth Warren save the ticket?  She would likely carry the ticket.  But if I were her, I’d be extremely wary of signing on to the HIll ‘n Bill show.

Onward.

20160612

 

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Cool Hand Barach — The Sequel

In late 2010, I wrote the original post at the time of a showdown regarding tax cuts.  I suggested that Obama, who at that time was portrayed as weak and indecisive, was really playing rope-a-dope with the dopes in both the Republican and Democratic parties. I believe that subsequent history has confirmed that assessment.  I’m prepared to go out on a limb again.

This time, it is the threat to unilaterally use force in Syria.  It seems crazy for him to take this positions on the surface, with the utter failure of Iraq so fresh, the current failure of Af-Pakistan fresher still, and the questionable success of Libya highly debatable, and a cautionary tale for any intervention in Syria. Given his commitment to end both wars, and his reluctance for engagement in both Libya and Syria, his sudden if reluctant commitment to unilateral action seems inconsistent, to put it politely. But is it crazy, or calculating?  I have a sense that he is playing a very high stakes game of poker (or more appropriately, pool) with a very narrow window of opportunity.  Here’s how I see it.

1)  His primary tactical target is to neutralize Syria by way of….Russia.  He does that by means of threatening a strike which would put Russia in a very difficult position.  Russia knows he can do it.  Putin is just not sure if O is crazy enough to do it,…and that’s the problem.  Because if O is crazy enough, then what does Russia do in response?  It likely does not want to consider a reciprocal military response, for which it is likely not adequately positioned.  It could consider a cyber response, but that could get easily out of hand with no fun for anyone.  And to do nothing would be an insufferable political embarrassment.

2)  So the easiest way out for Putin (and let us be sure: it’s all about Vlad), is to lean on Syria and say ‘Cut out the chemistry lab stuff.  Go back to slaughter in the accepted conventional way that everyone has tolerated so nicely for the past 99,000 deaths’.  He then goes back to O and the UN and says that the great humanitarian state of Russia has negotiated a cessation of further gassing of the neighborhood, and we should all go back to concentrating on a further negotiation to end the more acceptable means of slaughter while that slaughter continues.

This seems like a great symbolic, do-nothing solution to everyone but the Syrians on all sides.  Russia saves face. O doesn’t have to pull a trigger for which there could be infinite unintended consequences. Life goes on…or not for some.

3)  But a message has been sent nonetheless that ripples out from the bloody streets of Syria.  Assad now knows the limits of his prime patron. Russia has been put in a smaller box than Obama.  And the dark eminences in Tehran also know the possible limits of  their prime patron. And that causes uncertainty about the limits of future support.

4)  But it’s not all about the Moslems. In Jerusalem the worries remain that the autocrats in Syria and Egypt could ultimately succumb to the Moslem extremists, who would not necessarily seize control, but could destabilize the  neighborhood.  While the Israelis wring their hands, Obama gently suggests to them that this might be the best, and dare we suggest last, time for them to achieve an agreement with the Palestinians so as to take that issue off the table for other Arab and Moslem militants, undermining Hezbollah and Hamas, and rendering Al Qaeda’s recruiting posters pointless.

5) With the Palestinians off the table, Iran has no remaining bogeyman to divert its population’s attention from its day-to-day plight but the distant Great Satan, and the populace can begin concentrating on contemplating the cost-benefit of endless investments in centrifuges at the expense of everything else.

6)  LATE BREAKING NEWS: OBAMA SEEKS AUTHORIZATION BY CONGRESS.  Perfect. He wins either way.  Either Congress pulls the plug, and lets him off the hook, or Congress authorizes and we’re back to Step 1.  If Congress pulls the plug, he lays the issue at the Security Council where Russia and China, with their own internal political problems, are called to task for aiding and abetting slaughter by stonewalling international intervention, of which they do not want to set even the most remote precedent for their own home-brew caldrons.  And how long will Congress debate this one, with the Republicans divided internally as much as Democrats, and Democrat doves forming an unlikely alliance with Rand Paul libertarians.

Meanwhile, the killing proceeds unabated.

If my inferences are correct, Obama may be playing a very high stakes game that could significantly alter the dynamics of the Middle East, but not necessarily its direction.

*   *   *

I believe that Obama, the community organizer, understands far better than John McCain and Hillary, the Elitists, the limits of what the US can do alone in the Middle East and elsewhere.  We may be the only superpower, but it does not make us all-powerful. We can influence events but we cannot control them and assure outcomes. And that is the ultimate point.  The best we can do in the long run is to watch and wait and see what emerges from the morass, and prepare to negotiate a relationship with whatever survives and appears to sustain. This is not ambivalence, or cowardice or indifference; it is pragmatism.

The Middle East today is a bastardization of history, gerrymandered by Western powers without regard to history and culture.  It is unsustainable in current configuration for that reason.  The Genie is out of the bottle. The pretense that we have a humanitarian mission when everyone suspects that our only motivation is to sustain access to oil does not compel our engagement in Syria, no matter how regrettable the human suffering.

The world is on fire, and the fires must burn themselves out, because their containment and curtailment by other means is beyond the resources, wisdom and will of the observers.  What we are witnessing is the disintegration of social and political systems, just as we have witnessed the decay and dysfunction of economic systems in recent years and of environmental systems currently.  How they re-constitute is anyone’s guess.

The rules of war that define decorum between armies in feudal contests of force between nation-states are becoming irrelevant as we move to conflicts between civilians and their armies within nation-states.  The organizing paradigm is transnational political and religious (same thing) movements.  The battle is between anarchy and authoritarian control. In the West, the question is whether democracy can coexist with security when the forces of disruption use democratic processes as a cover for anarchistic asymmetric warfare against established authority.  And, will Authority sustain security in concert with democracy, or at its expense for ulterior motives that become all too achievable in the specter of chaos. In the East and South, these questions are largely moot.

Meanwhile, back in the US of A, our own internal divisions and dysfunction are beginning to show disturbing signs of similarity to Egypt. The NSA, drug wars, gerrymandering voting districts, voter rights, erosion of public trust in public institutions, little armed ayatollahs of the religious and secular right .  We too are disturbingly close to the edge of the precipice, and the soil of a once firm civic footing is eroding under our feet.

*   *   *

The issue of chemical weapons, as horrific as they may be, is a side-show.  Does it really matter if we use chemical weapons or drones, or Abrams tanks, or M4 assault weapons, or napalm, or cluster bombs, or fry the grid and take a society back to the stone age with death by a thousand other means?  Dead is dead, maimed is maimed, and at the end of the day the body count is the inverse measurement of humanity’s progress from its ignorant and barbaric roots.  So far, the score doesn’t look good.

Onward.

20130901

The Fed Food Fight

This is just a ‘man-on-the-street’ piece from one who knows no more about the Fed than what I read in the business press.  But I feel compelled to offer my dime’s worth (formerly a quarter due to inflation, until devalued by the Great Repression), because the issue of the Fed succession touches more than who occupies The Chair.

Let’s address Ms. Yellen first; not because she’s a lady, but because she’s the disruptor to Mr. Summers’ presumptive coronation. Sometimes women are their own worst enemy.  I’m not referring to Ms. Yellen, but to her female supporters who ironically diminish her by focusing on the gender bias issue and glass ceiling cracking opportunity, almost to the point of clouding her intrinsic qualifications.  Yes, gender bias is out there.  Yes, it’s stupid. Yes, it would be hopeful and helpful if Mr. Obama could look into his soul and ask two piercing questions:

–  Am I judging her on the same grounds that I hoped the American people would judge me?

–  Am I judging her merits in the same way that I hope others will judge my daughters?

That probably sounds naive and simplistic, but it would be nice to imagine that the President has not been rendered so cynical by the grind of his presidency that he cannot exercise the simple clarity of thought that he so often and eloquently preaches.

Ladies, you want to be treated as equals?  Sell Ms. Yellen on her merits, not her gender.  And enlist the support of as many influential men on the same basis.

*  *  *

As for Mr. Summers. I find it amusing that many of his reported supporters use a line of reasoning as lame as Ms. Yellen’s female supporters’ line is self-defeating.  A chorus of voices are reported to urge that Larry Summers is ‘misunderstood’.  On multiple issues, we might add.  That’s an impressive defense.  I’ll have to try that on my resume sometime.  ‘A brilliant person (just kidding) but misunderstood.’

Alan Greenspan was inscrutable, apparently even to himself.  Mr. Bernanke was serially misinterpreted, particularly by those with advance economic degrees and assorted high-powered business credentials.  What we really need as a follow-on act is somebody whose positions are so obscure and whose capacity to articulate, in spite of his academic pedigree, is beyond the comprehension of both mere mortals and peers, but whose  personality can engage controversy like a lightning rod in search of a bolt.

*  *  *

As for my choice, (not that it matters)?  Ms. Yellen.  She has the experience in the institution. Her insights have generally been ratified by history. By all indications, she will provide continuity in current policy which has stabilized, if not advanced, the economy.  She appears to be neither doctrinaire nor ego-centric, which means that she will hopefully continue Mr. Bernanke’s process of consensus-building, which means listening as well as jaw-boning.  Finally, being an outsider to Mr. Obama’s inner circle, she provides an independent and fresh perspective which he desperately needs.  True, I can’t picture her joining in a game of pick-up basketball with POTUS, but then again, I can’t picture Mr. Summers doing that either.

The ultimate test of Mr. Obama’s choice should be: does the individual enhance the institution of the Fed, and its capacity to enhance the economy?  We know from abundant examples in the corporate world that charismatic and egocentric CEOs generally reign at the ultimate expense of the organizations entrusted to them, and their stakeholders.  (You can fill in the names of your choice.)  The Fed and the economy do not need charisma and brilliance and grand=standing.  They need responsible stewardship.

*  *  *

And now a few final thoughts on Mr. Bernanke in the twilight of his tenure.  Again, as a person on the street without insights into the inner workings of the bureaucracy,  it is my sense and dismay that Mr. Obama appears to be treating Mr. Bernanke shabbily on the eve of his departure.  I believe he deserves better.

I think the revelation of Mr. Bernanke’s departure could have been done with a little more finesse than Mr. Obama showed and is capable of.  His remarks about what he was looking for in the next Chairman also seemed to be a veiled and undeserved swipe.

I remember when Mr. Bernanke first assumed his position, he struck me as a refreshing change from Greenspan’s studied obfuscation. In one of his first press conferences, his effort to initiated more transparency was twisted by a media and parochial business interests intent on insinuating uncertainty and controversy that might render transparency hopeless.  After all, if the Chairman can be understood by the masses, what need do we have for an army of Fed-ologists, interpreters, soothsayers and assorted conjurers of meaning?

I remember him delivering a speech advocating for greater housing for lower-income families at a time when CNBC was focusing on viral property flipping in the real estate hotspots that would ultimately be our undoing.

Mr. Bernanke is in somewhat the same position as President Obama. Neither of them can do what only the Congress can do, and yet Congress’s manifold failures seem to accrue undeservedly to them.  A Republican controlled Congress which has waged an explicitly declared and concerted campaign to render the President impotent, and dismantle the government they were sworn to uphold is just this side of a criminal enterprise deserving of prosecution under the RICO Act.  The Democrats, by no means blameless, are guilty of lesser charges of collective negligence, incompetence, and cowardice under fire.

As I stated in a previous blog, the Fed is at best a blunt instrument for economic stimulation.  It can set context, and create supportive conditions of liquidity, but the notion that it can significantly impact employment in an era of structural transition is unrealistic.  That role is better served by fiscal policy, which can be guided by the President, and empowered by Congress, and targeted with more precision to need.  The failure of fiscal policy is not Mr. Bernanke’s, nor is its cure.

To Mr. Bernanke’s credit, he stepped forward in the financial crisis when most others stepped back, or sideways, or waited for the dust to settle.  As an outsider to it all, I had more trust in and respect for him and Sheila Bair than most of the other players that I am aware of.  For someone generally regarded as an academic, he showed considerable entrepreneurial initiative in trying new tricks to stabilize a dynamic, and probably catastrophic situation without the availability of the best information.  He was truly a risk taker, and so far a judicious one. Whatever may be the shortcomings of his policies in the eyes of observers, we remain in a better condition, however tenuous, than Europe and China, and not because of our God-given ‘exceptionalism’.

To the charge that he and the furtive Tim Geithner (of the studied sideways glance, made popular by Lady Di) were in cahoots with the banking kleptocracy, I would offer the perspective that his first objective was to stabilize the system. Restructuring the system by the Fed alone, and without strong Congressional support, seems as improbable as resuscitating the economy. And, until the cavalry and the new legislative tools arrive (and I still don’t see dust on the distant horizon), you’ve got to work with the players in the neighborhood, as best you can, and as repulsive as that may be.

To the charge that he did not see the obvious coming, I question that.  I sensed in some of his earlier comments that he had growing concerns about the economy.  But as with the President, he is both a manager and a leader.  The manager has to recognize the situation as it is; the leader has to evoke a vision of what can be, or perhaps only sustain an optimism that will deter a bad situation from getting worse, contrary to what  W did in down-talking the economy in 2001 to lay the groundwork for rationalizing his tax reductions.  What did Bernanke really know before the crash?  I suspect that only Bernanke knows, because by then he likely learned to keep his own counsel as much as possible.

Is this an ill-informed and ill-deserved defense? Perhaps, but then, none of us ever know everything about anything in real-time.  And even long after the fact historians manage to conjure new perspectives on old facts, which suggests that knowledge is rarely complete, even with time, and ‘truth’ is too often a matter of perspective and presumption rather than fact.

Onward.

20130804

Cool Hand Barach

When your friends are your enemies, and your enemies are no worse than your friends, you're in a pretty secure place:  things can only get better.  So it seems to be with the Big O.  Both sides have painted him as a patsy. To a degree, he seems to encourage the portrayal. But I wonder if he's rope-a-doping the oppositions; the Republicans more than the liberal Democrats.

 

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