Tuesday, January 19, 2021

America's Culture of Narcissism

Yesterday Matt Taibbi offered some reflections on an old book, The Culture of Narcissism, by Christopher Lasch. Time being what it is, I have not reread the book since it first appeared in 1979. I recall that I liked the book and would certainly recommend it to your attention.

For the record, the full text of Taibbi’s remarks are only available to subscribers; I am happy to recommend that everyone subscribe.

The most striking part of the Taibbi article is his take, not so much on Donald Trump, as on Mitt Romney. As you know, the current junior senator from Utah is much admired by the media-- because he voted to convict President Trump at the first impeachment trial. And we all know that Romney blew his one chance at the presidency in 2012, for wimping out. 

Anyway, Taibbi offers this explanation of Trump. Between the idea of making America great again and the idea of draining the swamp, Taibbi prefers the latter:

Trump preached two big ideas…. First, he promised a cliché reactionary return to the good old days of “Great” America, which either meant a return to privilege (the left conception) or a clearing from the “swamp” of plutocrats who’d sold out the nation to fluff their own little nests, replacing them with Patriots who’d restore a strong America (the Trumpian version)....

I don’t think it’s necessary to litigate which description of “Make America Great Again” was more accurate, since to me it was always the less important of Trump’s promises. No one watching the pussy-grabbing braggart-hedonist Trump could imagine people accepting him as the leader of a “conservative” movement celebrating family and traditional values. What he really represented was a more honest recognition of what America was really all about, a less disguised cultural ideal.

So, Trump was more honestly and more flagrantly what the country was about. He was not, Taibbi thinks, an embodiment of conservative practices. One might argue that Trump was not really what the country was about, but that he was about what the country had become.

Consider Trump’s recent actions, which, to say the least, have tarnished his legacy. Since Trump is a quintessential New Yorker, to the great chagrin of New Yorkers who have no idea of what they look like to the rest of the country, he embodies the city’s therapy culture. It is not quite the culture of narcissism, but it is surely close enough.

So, therapy culture tells people to get in touch with their feelings. It tells them to give full-throated expression to those feelings. Fair enough. Now, after the most recent presidential election, Trump got in touch with his feelings of anger at what he considered to have been a stolen election. Isn’t that what therapy culture tells people to do. Then, he expressed his anger, not only by rejecting the election results but by trashing Republican officials in Georgia. That Trump’s anger, which he aimed at Georgian officials in the midst of two senate runoff elections, contributed mightily to two election losses seems clear enough. More importantly, he was simply doing what any therapist would have told him to do.

But then, Taibbi returns to Mitt Romney, a consummate fake, a phony and a fraud. In that Romney resembles no one as much as that consummate incompetent fraud named Hillary Clinton.

As for Romney, Taibbi writes:

Everything about Romney was fake. When he wore jeans to try to tone down his Wall Street vibe, they looked as natural as chaps or a hoop dress. His pitch was that Barack Obama was a statist who didn’t understand free enterprise and that he, Romney, would bring “jobs” back, especially for the little guy, the only problem being that Romney in fact was a private equity vampire whose expertise was in liquidating jobs, not creating them.

Would Romney have done better by showing the kind of man he really was? Taibbi suggests:

In retrospect, Romney might have won if he’d kicked off his campaign bragging to voters about how he became fabulously wealthy as a greed-sick finance pirate somehow paying a lower tax rate than teachers and cops. After all, he had the exact same job and morals as takeover artist Gordon Gekko, a fictional character many Americans to this day don’t understand was supposed to be a villain. Romney’s real message was Gekko’s: “Greed work

But, Mitt was not up to that challenge, one that Trump would embrace four years later:

Romney wimped out and instead hid behind platitudes like “the promise of America,” and “making trade work.” The phoniness paved the way for Trump, who had the stones to try the Gekko act for real. He was the human embodiment of “greed, in all of its forms… greed for life, for money, for love” (well, sex with porn stars) that by capturing “the essence of the evolutionary spirit” would save “that other malfunctioning corporation, called the U.S.A.”

Just by tossing out the pretense that politicians are beacons of rectitude and being undisguisedly himself, Trump won over Republican voters, crushing the old fake Republican message. Just like Gekko, he promised he would restructure America by draining the crooked deadweight. Most of all, however, he sold a proletarian version of the dream of unrestrained self-indulgence the city-dwelling Bobos in Paradise had already claimed for themselves, as Lasch described in Revolt of the Elites.

So, compared with the Romneys and the Obamas and the Clinton, Trump came across as an honest man. We will note in passing that Joe Biden is perhaps the least honest of them all, and also the most inept.

Taibbi continues with Romney:

Trump voters wanted to give just as little of a fuck as the rich phonies in organized politics who long ago bailed on America as a national idea, shipping jobs overseas, sucking wealth upward, and allowing Wal-Mart and Amazon to decimate towns even as they wept for our national symbols. Romney was symbolic of this, a man with a perfect mannequin-like exterior whose Bain Capital liquidated companies like KB Toys and the jobs that went with them, then turned around on the campaign trail and saluted the Statue of Liberty, Neil Armstrong, and the “greatest military the world has ever seen,” as if he were some kind of patriot.

Interestingly, Taibbi then turns to the Marquis de Sade, a culture hero in France. As it happens, French intellectuals have often noted that when the Bastille prison was stormed on July 14, 1789, one of its inhabitants was the Marquis de Sade.

The sad marquis had been imprisoned for drugging and raping a number of young women. French intellectuals did not much care about that. Those who fervently oppose rape culture in this country have barely noted the fact. And yet, de Sade’s famous maxim, to the effect that no one has the right to refuse to be the object of anyone’s desire is about as close as you can get to a rationalization for rape and sexual abuse.

Recently, France has begun an accounting of the pedophiles it has been showering with praise. Among them Gabriel Matzneff and Olivier Duhamel.

Combine a culture of unlimited consumption and an increasingly open cult of the self, and you get a future indistinguishable from the fantasies of the Marquis de Sade. Lasch wrote about how Sade’s ideal society, in which no one had the right to refuse to be the object of anyone else’s desire, was the apotheosis of “the capitalist principle that human beings are ultimately reducible to interchangeable objects.”

Lasch is surely wrong to see the Sadean principle as basic to capitalism. France, he might have noticed, has no truck with capitalism and free enterprise, both of which it considers Anglo-Saxon aberrations. The right to spend money other people have earned-- to translate the desire-based theory into more economic terms-- is the basis of the socialism that French intellectuals love so much.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Where Trump Erred

It wasn’t just Democrats who reveled in the storming of the Capitol last nearly two weeks ago. Many members of the NeverTrump right thrilled to the realization that they would be able to use the events of January 6 to show that they were right all along.

So, I would expand John Hinderaker’s point, from the Powerline blog (via Maggie’s Farm):

But the mini-riot at the Capitol last week finally gave the Democrats the opportunity to claim that their longstanding opposition to everything Trump, including nearly all of his successful policies as president, has been vindicated.

Hinderaker makes a subtle point about the claims of election fraud. We do not know whether such fraud existed, but we do know, he says, that there was no way that the election results were going to be overturned by the courts. Doubtless, he knows far more about the courts than I do, and he is certainly not opposed to Trump, so I will grant credence to his observation that the cases that Trump’s lawyers filed never had a chance-- anywhere.

He adds a point that is well worth making, namely that Trump had lousy taste in lawyers. For some reason, beyond my ken, Hinderaker does not mention Rudolph Giuliani-- who certainly did not cover himself or the president in glory.

Obviously, President Trump has contributed to his own demise. Not by battling the Democrats for the last four years, not always in the most elegant way but usually effectively, but by his post-election behavior. But here, a distinction should be made. President Trump questioned the integrity of the election, and argued that he really won it, if only legal votes were counted. As I wrote here, I think the jury is out on that question.

There is no serious doubt that voter fraud is a problem, and Trump was right to highlight it. The Democrats are now trying to use Trump’s supposed disgrace to prohibit all discussion of election integrity, which is dishonest political opportunism. Conservatives want honest elections, and in the months and years to come, we must fight for them against Democratic opposition.

But Trump also indulged a delusional fantasy: the idea that Joe Biden’s apparent victory would be reversed, and that he would serve a second term. There was never a chance that this would happen. The many lawsuits that Trump and his supporters filed were doomed from the beginning. Whether their allegations were true or false was a complicated fact question that could not possibly be sorted out in 60 or 90 days. This fact was obvious to anyone familiar with litigation, but one of Trump’s faults is that he has lousy taste in lawyers. Exhibit A is Michael Cohen; Exhibits B and C are Sidney Powell and Lin Wood.

So, Trump stoked false hope that the election results would be overturned. It was, Hinderaker says, never going to happen. Besides, Trump did not show competence in hiring lawyers. 

Trump was justified in questioning the results of the election, and did a public service by highlighting the important issue of ballot integrity. But he led many of his supporters seriously astray when he propagated the idea that his lawsuits, some of which were frankly inept and all of which were hopeless, would miraculously give him a second term. Sometimes a president, like many others, needs to know where to find good legal advice.

Biden Rewards Failure

As for that Iran Nuclear Deal, the incoming Biden administration is dying to reinstate it. That is, it is dying to rejoin the agreement.

We note, in passing, that our so-called European allies, that is, Great Britain, France and Germany remained within the deal. They imagined that they could influence Iran with tough talk, backed by the wind. Just recently, they chastised the mullahs for failing to respect the terms of the deal. In truth, these idiots should have chastised themselves, for refusing to crack down harder on the Iranian regime.

As for blaming Trump for our frayed alliances, one notes, yet again, that when countries want to be treated like allies they should act like allies.

Speaking of the Iran deal, Henry Kissinger-- remember him?-- offered some sensible remarks a few days ago. The New York Post reports Kissinger’s view, namely that Biden’s re-entry into the deal will set off a scramble throughout the region, to acquire nuclear weapons. Way to go, Joe!

At a conference for the Jewish People Policy Institute on Monday, Kissinger argued that Biden should by no means reverse President Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the accord.

Biden has said he means to return to it as long as Iran agrees to comply with the restrictions on its actions. But Kissinger notes that the deal’s time limits on key restrictions and “so many escape clauses” render it effectively useless in stopping Iran’s nuclear development.

Plus, the accord leaves Iran’s enrichment capabilities intact while banning US economic sanctions — when the ones Trump imposed are hitting the regime hard.

Iran’s neighbors know all this, and have no intention of being helpless against Tehran’s nuclear weapons. If Biden sticks with his plans, everyone else in the region will rush to get their own nukes.

And now there is the return of one Wendy Sherman. Not only has Sherman manifested her incompetence while negotiating the Iran nuclear deal, deal that guaranteed Iran the legitimate right to have nuclear weapons within several years, but she was also a member of the Clinton administration negotiating team that helped North Korea gain nuclear weapons. You might recall that Bubba announced breathlessly that the deal with North Korea guaranteed that the hermit kingdom would not get nuclear weapons. Of course, it was nonsense. It guaranteed nothing.

And yet, no one recalls this catastrophic failure, and no one much cares about the awful Iran nuclear deal. As for the latter, it was signed during the Obama administration, and anything that was enacted during the Obama administration is, ipso facto, good. 

The modern American left, the supposedly moderate American left, does not admit of failure. It does not allow reality to judge its projects. If Obama did it, it is good. Even if Wendy Sherman is one of the worst negotiators in American history, the incoming Biden administration will reward her with the job of deputy secretary of state.

How about that for failing upward. Apparently, her other major qualification is that she has the right kind of chromosomes. So says Robert Spencer:

AFP reported Saturday that Biden has appointed Wendy Sherman, whose chief claim to fame is negotiating the notorious Iran nuclear deal, to be deputy secretary of state. It’s a classic example of failing up.

Biden said of Sherman and anti-Russia career diplomat Victoria Nuland, whom he named undersecretary for political affairs, that they “have secured some of the most defining national security and diplomatic achievements in recent memory. I am confident that they will use their diplomatic experience and skill to restore America’s global and moral leadership. America is back.”

As for Nuland, presumably she was working on Russia policy when the Obama administration stood idly by while Russia did what it wanted in Syria. She must have been there when Russia annexed Crimea. And she might have had a hand in the Obama administration’s refusal to send defensive missiles to Ukraine.

Why did they not send the missiles-- which Donald Trump did send? Because Putin did not want them to. And let’s not forget that the Obama administration canceled a contract to send defensive missiles to Poland and the Czech Republic-- because Putin did not want them to do so. Obviously, this tells us that Trump was Putin’s stooge.

When you have no sense of reality and when you believe that you can simply make it up as you go along, people can garner outsized reputations based on failure. Then again, the primary Biden criterion is diversity, not competence.

Spencer presents the case against Sherman:

Well, that may be overstating the case, but there is no doubt that the disastrous State Department “experts” are back. Sherman is getting her promotion nearly two years after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled 55,000 pages of documents and 183 cds demonstrating that “Iran did not come clean about its nuclear program,” and that it pursued a program “to design, produce and test five warheads with 10 kiloton of TNT yield for integration on missiles.”

When Iran’s leaders denied that they intended to construct nuclear weapons, Netanyahu said, they were “blatantly lying.” He charged that “Iran lied about never having a secret nuclear program. Secondly, even after the deal, it continued to expand its nuclear program for future use. Thirdly, Iran lied by not coming clean to the IAEA.”

Wendy Sherman’s Iran nuclear deal was, according to Netanyahu, “based on lies based on Iranian deception.” The Islamic Republic’s Fordow nuclear plant was, he said, “designed from the get-go for nuclear weapons for project Amad…We can now prove that project Amad was a comprehensive program to design, build and test nuclear weapons. We can also prove that Iran is secretly storing project Amad material to use at a time of its choice to develop nuclear weapons.”

The head of project Amad was a nuclear scientist named Mohsen Fakhrizdeh.

So, Kerry and Sherman were the dupes of the Iranian regime. Naturally, the American left has derided the Israeli presentation, because, you know, it was not sufficiently diverse. 

So, failing up is precisely the right term:

In the two intervening years, Netanyahu’s presentation has been mocked, derided, or ignored altogether, but it has never been disproven. Even aside from it, as The Complete Infidel’s Guide to Iran shows, the deal was foredoomed in the first place, and had no chance of being effective to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The deal runs out in 2025. What about after that? Nothing. Apparently, at that point, Iran would be free to build nuclear weapons with no objections from anyone.

Even worse were the deal’s provisions for verification. It contained the provision that Iran could delay requested International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections for up to 24 days — ample time to clean up for the inspectors. The return to the deal will also be accompanied by a removal of sanctions that will get Western cash flowing once again into the Islamic Republic. What did Iran’s mullahs do with the billions Barack Obama showered upon them? They financed jihad terror groups around the world. What will they do now with their Biden money? Almost certainly the same thing.

What’s more, the deal, in its 159 pages, went into tremendous detail about the Iranian nuclear program and how it was to be temporarily restricted in various ways. It also expatiated at length on exactly which sanctions were to be removed. But it was conspicuously lacking in specifying penalties for Iran’s not holding to the agreement. There was vague talk about the sanctions being reimposed, but no concrete guidelines about how that was to be done, and nothing said about recovering money given to Iran in the interim.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Everyday Life in New York City

Reading Jason Curtis Anderson’s New York Post screed about life in New York City I started to think that I, a New Yorker, am living in another country. As it happens, my own neighborhood is not overrun by the homeless and is not crime ridden. I do not take the subway and do not travel around the city very much. The pandemic has caused us all to hunker down, and that means that many of us are missing the action. Those of us who are more elderly are not hanging out at all hours on the streets.

Anyway, Anderson is leaving New York. He is certainly not the first and will not be the last. He has written about his experience living in New York City, thus providing some color, as it is called, to the rounds of statistics that unfailingly demonstrate how bad New York City has become. 

So, we will ignore the shrinking tax base and the budgetary calamity that is looming. We will examine Anderson’s scenes from everyday life in New York City.

It has been nearly one year since the virus arrived in New York City. Here is what happened at first:

As COVID-19 settled into its new home in NYC, my local coffee shop closed, my gym shuttered, I lost my job at SUNY, and everything I loved was temporarily put “on pause.” A term that nine months later now feels like a cruel joke. None of us knew what we were facing back in March, or how long it would last. The streets became quiet, the city became still. All the sounds, the familiar faces, the busy restaurants, the daily rituals, the very pace of our existence slowed to a full stop. The silence was deafening.

Fair enough, city life did grind to a halt during the lockdown of early last year. The streets were empty. Traffic had stopped. As office towers closed, those who could leave town did leave town.

In my neighborhood, filled as it is with foreign consulates and heavy security, not much else changed. There was precious little traffic, the restaurants shut down, dry cleaners closed and the gyms were either closed or empty.

In Chelsea and the West Village another story was unfolding. It was a story of crime and lawlessness:

The homeless and mentally ill flourished in my Chelsea neighborhood overnight. Many residents fled our beloved city to safer suburbs and second homes. After a night in the West Village where I saw men looting cars, and a gunpoint robbery happen by the West 4th train station, I no longer felt comfortable here. I decided that I couldn’t abide the lawlessness and my first pandemic at the same time, so I spent the first wave of the pandemic upstate in a guest room at my family’s house, where at least I didn’t have to worry about the crime.

When Anderson returned to town he expected that the summer would bring a better time. He was wrong. The summer brought the Black Lives Matter riots. Local officials responded by shutting down the police anti-crime unit, emptying jails and letting the homeless run amok:

I imagined my summer would be filled with long walks, bike rides on the West Side Highway, and small gatherings on rooftops. I imagined we’d get over COVID and that the energy of the city would come back slowly over the next six months. I was optimistic, loved my city and loved my life here with all my heart. I hopefully assumed most New Yorkers had the same feelings I did. And then the riots happened.

Crime has taken over New York City.

The dark tone of daily life here now seems permanent. For months after the riots, stores in my area were still being burglarized. The helicopters were so close they would shake my top-floor apartment all night. In peak summer there were always two or three homeless people on both sides of every street in my area. Every aspect of my life became about avoiding them and staying far enough away from anyone who might attack me. Someone broke into my building one night but fled when they accidentally set off the alarm on the roof. The whole summer felt like living in a war zone.

Anderson sees the city entering a new normal. The fabric of everyday life has been destroyed, first by the riots and second by the government response to the riots.

Unfortunately, the worst parts of 2020 now all seem to be the new normal: homeless people wandering the streets, businesses closed, rampant crime, protests, riots, random acts of violence, dangerous subways. The day I moved out of my Chelsea apartment, I was packing the last of my belongings when a homeless man cut someone’s throat in a parking garage less than one block away.

And also:

This is not normal, and we should not be downplaying the drastic changes in public safety we are all experiencing. People getting shot in Grand Central Station is not normal. Walking by a store in Flatiron as it gets robbed at 4 p.m. on a Monday is not normal. A 1-year-old baby being shot and killed in a stroller is not normal. Our safest neighborhoods now becoming dangerous for the first time in 30 years is not normal.

I want you to know, however, that, by the dim lights of our political class, it’s all the fault of Donald Trump. I mention it just in case you missed the point.

Anderson continues to describe life in New York City:

What I found was New Yorkers of all backgrounds, desperately crying for help regarding quality-of-life issues. It seems many of us agree that the streets are no longer safe, and that the homeless-hotel deals bring crime to what were once safe neighborhoods. Random acts of violence happen daily, commuters are pushed in front of subways regularly, and no matter how loud we yell about our new societal problems, our elected leaders don’t seem to hear us.

The City Council and the mayor are all-in with the homeless doing whatever they want. People are harassed and assaulted on the street. They are in danger on the subways. Government officials do not care:

Just the other day, I asked City Council member Stephen Levin what he thought about naked homeless people wandering our streets, including some photos of homeless people having sex in public. To which he responded, “As far as I can see, these people aren’t doing anything to be undeserving of my kindness or yours,” and “How do you know they are homeless?”

As for the subways, here is a picture:

Carjackings are back; street prostitutes are back. Last week, I took the subway for the first time since March and it was filled with heroin addicts screaming at each other. It’s been almost a year and I don’t know a single person who’s comfortable walking home after 9 p.m. That’s where we’re at.

Apparently, decriminalizing crime has not worked. Nor has bail reform and blaming the police for black crime:

If life somehow manages to get back to “normal” within a reasonable amount of years, it’s not going to be because of bail reform and prosecutors who think charging criminals is racist. Being lenient on the homeless people who have taken over our streets and subways is not going to bring our beloved city back, no matter how many likes and retweets your noble aspirations receive.

Progress on these issues is only going to come when our leaders actually prioritize the city’s most important problems. A new park does the city no good if it’s not safe to take the train there, or walk home from at night. I understand that being a public servant is often a thankless job. I just worry that our current elected leaders are not actually the right people for this job — as they have already proven by ignoring these problems for an entire year.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Wherefore Bitcoin?

We all recall, because it was only two days ago, that our new overlord, one Jack Dorsey of Twitter, declared that he was a universalist humanist. Being as Jack wants to rule the world, and especially to take over the world mind, he has no real use for currencies. After all, currencies are printed by nations and in the one world he wants to inhabit, there will be no nations. 

So, Jack is all-in with Bitcoin. I have mentioned it on occasion, offering what seems to me to be the only sensible opinion-- namely that it is a bubble, like Dutch tulips. Nimble traders might be able to make some money with it, but, like the game of musical chairs, someone is going to be left holding the bag.

The amusing part now is that some people, possessors of hundreds of millions of Bitcoin have forgotten their passwords. If you forget your password, you no longer have any Bitcoin. And, as much as everyone insists that it is unhackable, that feels to me to be a challenge that no serious hacker could possibly ignore.

Anyway, Christine Lagarde, the head of the European Central Bank, formerly the head of the International Monetary Fund, does know something about banking and currency. And she has far more of a say about the future of Bitcoin than your humble blogger. One notes that, for making the ensuing comments, she might well be banned forever from Twitter. 

Zero Hedge has the story about Lagarde’s view of Bitcoin:

Lagarde made the comments during a Reuters Next conference earlier today, during which she asserted that Bitcoin was not a currency.

“When you look at the most recent developments upward, and now the recent downward trend … for those who have assumed that it might turn into a currency, terribly sorry but this is an asset and it is a highly speculative asset,” she said.

#Bitcoin ‘has conducted some funny business and some interesting and totally reprehensible money laundering activity,' @ECB President Christine Lagarde said at the #ReutersNext conference https://t.co/iaZUQ9LYZQ pic.twitter.com/ciKDqJZnbV

— Reuters (@Reuters) January 13, 2021

Money laundering… organized criminal syndicates… who would have imagined that such groups would be drawn to Bitcoin:

The former head of the IMF, who was previously found guilty of financial negligence by a French court over a €403 million arbitration deal in favor of businessman Bernard Tapie, went on to accuse Bitcoin of being heavily embroiled in criminal activity.

“(Bitcoin) has conducted some funny business and some interesting and totally reprehensible money laundering activity,” said Lagarde.

So, Lagarde proposes that Bitcoin be regulated. To safeguard investors, I imagine. But, what will happen to the value of Bitcoin once it becomes regulated?

The ECB head went on to call for Bitcoin to be regulated by financial authorities.

“There has to be regulation. This has to be applied and agreed upon […] at a global level because if there is an escape that escape will be used,” she said.

Globalists and technocrats have long begrudged Bitcoin because it is decentralized and therefore impossible to come under the control of centralized financial institutions. The cryptocurrency has also provided a refuge for dissidents who have been deplatformed by regular financial services and institutions over their politics.

Bubbles do not last forever. We do not know when the Bitcoin bubble will burst. It might double or treble before it does. Still and all, unless you really know how to trade markets, it is something to avoid.

Welcome Back, Samantha Power

Among the Obama administration retreads returning for another go-round is Samantha Power. You might know that Power, when at Harvard, came up with the notion that human rights violations are always our business, no matter where they take place. Hers was a universalist humanist vision of human experience, one that conveniently ignores nationhood, boundaries and borders.

We saw it in practice in Libya. You remember Libya, where the three weird sisters, Power, Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton convinced President Obama to bomb the country, the better to rid the world of Moammar Qaddhafi.

In fairness, we can ask how that one worked out.  Dave DeCamp explains:

Power argued in favor of US intervention in Libya under the guise of protecting human rights and preventing genocide. She was joined in her crusade by then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Susan Rice, who served as the UN ambassador at the time.

Reports from 2011 say the pressure from Power, Rice, and Clinton is what led Obama to intervene militarily in Libya, even though his other top advisors were against it. Then-Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates would later say that in a "51 to 49" decision, Obama decided to bomb Libya.

The US-NATO intervention in Libya that led to the brutal murder of former Libyan ruler Moammar Gaddafi was an absolute disaster. 

Destabilizing Libya turned the country into a haven for al-Qaeda-linked militants, resulted in targeted killings of black Africans, sparked a refugee crisis in North Africa, and even led to the creation of slave markets.

For advocating a policy failure, Power was promoted to the role of United Nations Ambassador, where, in a parting shot at Israel, she refused to veto a resolution that denied the legitimacy of Israel. 

So, now Samantha Power is back, as the head of the United States Agency for International Development. It shows us, yet again, that the American left has no standards of success or failure. It does not matter what results your policies produced. If you have the right sentiments, you are pronounced competent.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Is America Broken?

Is America broken? One would be hard put to dispute the point. Alana Newhouse, editor of Tablet, makes the case for brokenness, and she makes it persuasively. Many people are praising and discussing her essay, so we will also have a go at it. (via Maggie’s Farm)

She begins with a harrowing story about her sick child. She had always suspected that something was wrong with her child. Yet, all of the tests and all the great doctors kept reassuring her that nothing was wrong. Eventually, her husband came across an article that pointed them in the right direction, toward treatment for an undiagnosed condition.

So she raises an important issue-- what is wrong with the American medical system?

How was it, I then asked, that it took my husband and me—both children of doctors, both people with reporting and researching backgrounds, among the lucky who have health insurance, and with access through family and friends to what is billed as the best medical care in the country—years to figure this out, and that in the end we only did so basically by accident?

Over dinner with famed Canadian psychiatrist Norman Doidge, Newhouse asked how it could happen that so many eminent physicians could miss a correct diagnosis.

Doidge replied that the American medical system of broken:

There are still many good individuals involved in medicine, but the American medical system is profoundly broken. When you look at the rate of medical error—it's now the third leading cause of death in the U.S.—the overmedication, creation of addiction, the quick-fix mentality, not funding the poor, quotas to admit from ERs, needless operations, the monetization of illness vs. health, the monetization of side effects, a peer review system run by journals paid for Big Pharma, the destruction of the health of doctors and nurses themselves by administrators, who demand that they rush through 10-minute patient visits, when so often an hour or more is required, and which means that in order to be ‘successful,’ doctors must overlook complexity rather than search for it ... Alana, the unique thing here isn’t that you fell down so many rabbit holes. What’s unique is that you found your way out at all.”

No mention here of the role of government or insurance companies or the legal profession. In principle, Obamacare was going to solve these problems. Apparently it has not. As for my view, we would improve things significantly by getting lawyers out of the medical business.

At this point, Newhouse’s analysis takes a turn… and not necessarily for the better. She correctly identifies the cultural institutions that have been dominating our national conversation. But, she fails to see that these institutions have long since taken their leave of patriotic feeling. They have been systematically undermining patriotism. The results should have surprised no one.

In her words:

For seven decades, the country’s intellectual and cultural life was produced and protected by a set of institutions—universities, newspapers, magazines, record companies, professional associations, cultural venues, publishing houses, Hollywood studios, think tanks, etc. Collectively, these institutions reflected a diversity of experiences and then stamped them all as “American”—conjuring coherence out of the chaos of a big and unwieldy country. This wasn’t a set of factories pumping out identical widgets, but rather a broad and messy jazz band of disparate elements that together produced something legible, clear, and at times even beautiful when each did their part.

Considering how much of it was propaganda, how much the media was selling a narrative that tore down the country and diminished its achievements, we should not be surprised to see the country broken. One notes that the media has lately become far more explicit in its aims. Yet, this effort has been ongoing for decades now.

At this point, Newhouse starts asking what went wrong. She offers up the view of one Michael Lind, who believes that American business broke the country by offshoring jobs. This involved breaking labor unions. Like good Democrats Newhouse and Lind imagine that labor unions will solve all of our problems. One need but mention the role of teachers’ unions in damaging the minds of American children to conclude that we might be better off if we de-unionize the public sector, just as we have largely de-unionized the private sector.

Newhouse quotes Michael Lind:

The strategy of American business, encouraged by neoliberal Democrats and libertarian conservative Republicans alike, has been to lower labor costs in the United States, not by substituting labor-saving technology for workers, but by schemes of labor arbitrage: Offshoring jobs when possible to poorly paid workers in other countries and substituting unskilled immigrants willing to work for low wages in some sectors, like meatpacking and construction and farm labor. American business has also driven down wages by smashing unions in the private sector, which now have fewer members—a little more than 6% of the private sector workforce—than they did under Herbert Hoover.

Now that capitalism has emerged victorious over socialism and communism, some people feel compelled to tear it down. In so doing, they are breaking America.

They ignore the fact that Americans do not have the ability to do many of the jobs that were offshored. And it ignores the fact that cheap foreign labor makes more, better products available at prices that Americans can afford.

And it also ignores the simple fact that many labor unions have negotiated contracts that pay high wages but that make it impossible for companies to make a profit. One recalls the Dayton General Motors factory featured in the award winning film, American Factory. The workers had negotiated excellent pay, but the company went broke.

The important point is not how much unions can extract from companies, but how much value workers add to an enterprise.

But, Newhouse redeems herself by pointing out the ongoing assault on the American mind. 

The Obama administration could swiftly overturn the decision-making space in which Capitol Hill staff and newspaper reporters functioned so that Iran, a country that had killed thousands of Americans and consistently announces itself to be America’s greatest enemy, is now to be seen as inherently as trustworthy and desirable an ally as France or Germany.

And, of course, there is the systematic gaslighting that defines the transgender debate-- though it is not a debate when you only have a choice between accepting the prevailing orthodoxy or being canceled:

The biological difference between the sexes, which had been a foundational assumption of medicine as well as of the feminist movement, was almost instantaneously replaced not only by the idea that there are numerous genders but that reference in medicine, law or popular culture to the existence of a gender binary is actually bigoted and abusive.

America is being destroyed by groupthink. It is enforced through the educational establishment, where you have a choice between accepting the orthodoxy or seeing your career prospects evaporate:

A young Ivy League student gets A’s by parroting intersectional gospel, which in turn means that he is recommended by his professors for an entry-level job at a Washington think tank or publication that is also devoted to these ideas. His ability to widely promote those viewpoints on social media is likely to attract the approval of his next possible boss or the reader of his graduate school application or future mates. His success in clearing those bars will in turn open future opportunities for love and employment. Doing the opposite has an inverse effect, which is nearly impossible to avoid given how tightly this system is now woven. A person who is determined to forgo such worldly enticements—because they are especially smart, or rich, or stubborn—will see only examples of even more talented and accomplished people who have seen their careers crushed and reputations destroyed for daring to stick a toe over the ever multiplying maze of red lines.

Newhouse closes on a somewhat optimistic note:

The vast majority of Americans are not ideologues. They are people who wish to live in a free country and get along with their neighbors while engaging in profitable work, getting married, raising families, being entertained, and fulfilling their American right to adventure and self-invention. They are also the consumer base for movies, TV, books, and other cultural products. Every time Americans are given the option to ratify progressive dictates through their consumer choices, they vote in the opposite direction. When HBO removed Gone with the Wind from its on-demand library last year, it became the #1 bestselling movie on Amazon. Meanwhile, endless numbers of Hollywood right-think movies and supposed literary masterworks about oppression are dismal failures for studios and publishing houses that would rather sink into debt than face a social-justice firing squad on Twitter.