In his first televised speech before Congress, President Obama asserted that prosperity will return once the government restores the flow of credit in the economy. It may come as a surprise to him, but an economy cannot run on consumer loans. Furthermore, credit stopped flowing in the U.S. for a very good reason: there was no more savings left to loan. Government efforts to simply make credit available, without rebuilding productive capacity or increasing savings, are doomed to destroy what’s left of our economy.
The central tenets of Obamanomics appear to be that access to credit will enable people to borrow money to buy stuff, the spending will spur production and employment, and thus the economy will grow. It’s a neat and simple picture, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with how an economy works. The President does not understand that consumption is made possible by production and that credit is made possible by savings. The size and complexity of modern economies has obscured these simple concepts, but reducing the picture to a small scale can help clear away the fog.
Suppose there is a very small barter-based economy consisting of only three individuals, a butcher, a baker, and a candlestick maker. If the candlestick maker wants bread or steak, he makes candles and trades. The candlestick maker always wants food, but his demand can only be satisfied if he makes candles, without which he goes hungry. The mere fact that he desires bread and steak is meaningless.
Enter the magic wand of credit, which many now assume can take the place of production. Suppose the butcher has managed to produce an excess amount of steak and has more than he needs on a daily basis. Knowing this, the candlestick maker asks to borrow a steak from the butcher to trade to the baker for bread. For this transaction to take place the butcher must first have produced steaks which he did not consume (savings). He then loans his savings to the candlestick maker, who issues the butcher a note promising to repay his debt in candlesticks.
In this instance, it was the butcher’s production of steak that enabled the candlestick maker to buy bread, which also had to be produced. The fact that the candlestick maker had access to credit did not increase demand or bolster the economy. In fact, by using credit to buy instead of candles, the economy now has fewer candles, and the butcher now has fewer steaks with which to buy bread himself. What has happened is that through savings, the butcher has loaned his purchasing power, created by his production, to the candlestick maker, who used it to buy bread.
Similarly, the candlestick maker could have offered “IOU candlesticks” directly to the baker. Again, the transaction could only be successful if the baker actually baked bread that he did not consume himself and was therefore able to loan his savings to the candlestick maker. Since he loaned his bread to the candlestick maker, he no longer has that bread himself to trade for steak.
The existence of credit in no way increases aggregate consumption within this community, it merely temporarily alters the way consumption is distributed. The only way for aggregate consumption to increase is for the production of candlesticks, steak, and bread to increase.
One way credit could be used to grow this economy would be for the candlestick maker to borrow bread and steak for sustenance while he improves the productive capacity of his candlestick-making equipment. If successful, he could repay his loans with interest out of his increased production, and all would benefit from greater productivity. In this case the under-consumption of the butcher and baker led to the accumulation of savings, which were then loaned to the candlestick maker to finance capital investments. Had the butcher and baker consumed all their production, no savings would have been accumulated, and no credit would have been available to the candlestick maker, depriving society of the increased productivity that would have followed.
On the other hand, had the candlestick maker merely borrowed bread and steak to sustain himself while taking a vacation from candlestick making, society would gain nothing, and there would be a good chance the candlestick maker would default on the loan. In this case, the extension of consumer credit squanders savings which are now no longer available to finance other capital investments.
What would happen if a natural disaster destroyed all the equipment used to make candlesticks, bread and steak? Confronted with dangerous shortages of food and lighting, Barack Obama would offer to stimulate the economy by handing out pieces of paper called money and guaranteeing loans to whomever wants to consume. What good would the money do? Would these pieces of paper or loans make goods magically appear?
The mere introduction of paper money into this economy only increases the ability of the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker to bid up prices (measured in money, not trade goods) once goods are actually produced again. The only way to restore actual prosperity is to repair the destroyed equipment and start producing again.
The sad truth is that the productive capacity of the American economy is now largely in tatters. Our industrial economy has been replaced by a reliance on health care, financial services and government spending. Introducing freer flowing credit and more printed money into such a system will do nothing except spark inflation. We need to get back to the basics of production. It won’t be easy, but it will work.
President Obama would have us believe that we can all spend the day relaxing in a tub while his printing press does all the work for us. The problem comes when you get out of the tub to go to dinner and the only thing on your plate is an IOU for steak.
“Real men go to Tehran!” brayed the neoconservatives, after the success of their propaganda campaign to have America march on Baghdad and into an unnecessary war that has forfeited all the fruits of our Cold War victory.
Now they are back, in pursuit of what has always been their great goal: an American war on Iran. It would be a mistake to believe they and their collaborators cannot succeed a second time. Consider:
On being chosen by Israel’s President Shimon Peres to form the new regime, Likud’s “Bibi” Netanyahu declared, “Iran is seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon and constitutes the gravest threat to our existence since the war of independence.”
Echoing Netanyahu, headlines last week screamed of a startling new nuclear breakthrough by the mullahs. “Iran ready to build nuclear weapon, analysts say,” said CNN. “Iran has enough uranium to make a bomb,” said the Los Angeles Times. Armageddon appeared imminent.
Asked about Iran’s nukes in his confirmation testimony, CIA Director Leon Panetta blurted, “From all the information I’ve seen, I think there is no question that they are seeking that capability.”
Tuesday, Dennis Ross of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a front spawned by the Israeli lobby AIPAC, was given the Iranian portfolio. AIPAC’s top agenda item? A U.S. collision with Iran.
In the neocon Weekly Standard, Elliot Abrams of the Bush White House parrots Netanyahu, urging Obama to put any land-for-peace deals with the Palestinians on a back burner. Why?
“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is now part of a broader struggle in the region over Iranian extremism and power. Israeli withdrawals now risk opening the door not only to Palestinian terrorists but to Iranian proxies.”
The campaign to conflate Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria as a new axis of evil, a terrorist cartel led by Iranian mullahs hell-bent on building a nuclear bomb and using it on Israel and America, has begun.
The full-page ads and syndicated columns calling on Obama to eradicate this mortal peril before it destroys us all cannot be far off.
But before we let ourselves be stampeded into another unnecessary war, let us review a few facts that seem to contradict the war propaganda.
First, last week’s acknowledgement that Iran has enough enriched uranium for one atom bomb does not mean Iran is building an atom bomb.
To construct a nuclear device, the ton of low-enriched uranium at Natanz would have to be run through a second cascade of high-speed centrifuges to produce 55 pounds of highly enriched uranium (HUE).
There is no evidence Iran has either created the cascade of high-speed centrifuges necessary to produce HUE or that Iran has diverted any of the low-enriched uranium from Natanz. And the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors retain full access to Natanz.
And rather than accelerating production of low-enriched uranium, only 4,000 of the Natanz centrifuges are operating. Some 1,000 are idle. Why?
Dr. Mohamed El-Baradei, head of the IAEA, believes this is a signal that Tehran wishes to negotiate with the United States, but without yielding any of its rights to enrich uranium and operate nuclear power plants.
For, unlike Israel, Pakistan and India, none of which signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and all of which ran clandestine programs and built atom bombs, Iran signed the NPT and has abided by its Safeguards Agreement. What it refuses to accept are the broader demands of the U.N. Security Council because these go beyond the NPT and sanction Iran for doing what it has a legal right to do.
Moreover, Adm. Dennis Blair, who heads U.S. intelligence, has just restated the consensus of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that Iran does not now possess and is not now pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
Bottom line: Neither the United States nor the IAEA has conclusive evidence that Iran either has the fissile material for a bomb or an active program to build a bomb. It has never tested a nuclear device and has never demonstrated a capacity to weaponize a nuclear device, if it had one.
Why, then, the hype, the hysteria, the clamor for “Action This Day!”? It is to divert America from her true national interests and stampede her into embracing as her own the alien agenda of a renascent War Party.
None of this is to suggest the Iranians are saintly souls seeking only peace and progress. Like South Korea, Japan and other nations with nuclear power plants, they may well want the ability to break out of the NPT, should it be necessary to deter, defend against or defeat enemies.
But that is no threat to us to justify war. For decades, we lived under the threat that hundreds of Russian warheads could rain down upon us in hours, ending our national existence. If deterrence worked with Stalin and Mao, it can work with an Iran that has not launched an offensive war against any nation within the memory of any living American.
Can we Americans say the same?
Back in January I threatened to inflict on Takimag readers a series of articles on how to convince patriotic conservatives that it’s time for America to scale back significantly on the military spending that wastes so vast a portion of our national resources, inflates our deficit (and hence our currency), and gives irresponsible civilians “big ideas” that entail sending Americans to die in questionable causes. These often result in blowback that actually threatens American security. We”re borrowing money from rivals and possible enemies to buy a really big gun, then using it to shoot ourselves in the foot.
Instead of a five- or six-part series, as I”d planned”let’s face it, who reads such things?”I”ll condense them all here into a small box of armor piercing bullet points. Each of us has friends who reflexively support a “strong military,” out of healthy instincts and old habits that once made sense”when the U.S. faced a massive Communist enemy active around the world. Our situation is radically different now, and it’s time that our thoughts gained some tenuous contact with reality. Why not start your friends thinking by offering them one or more of the following observations:
1. The U.S. spends more money on its “defense” than every other nation in the world combined. Are we really in that much danger? If so, from whom?
Radical Islam: Fine. How do nuclear submarines and Navy attack helicopters protect us from camel-polishing suicide bombers in Sheboygan?
Russia: What is Russia threatening to do? Which vital interest of ours has Russia endangered in the past five years? The past ten years? At any point since 1989? Now it’s true that Russia invaded Georgia, but so did Abraham Lincoln. And anyway, isn”t it great the way those Russian tank divisions reduced street crime in Atlanta?
China: Agreed, the Chinese are a rising power, with military aspirations to dominate places like… the China Sea. So why are we putting our entire economy in hock to them, moving all our computer factories over there, and in return… selling them rice? Remember when we used to sell cars to Latin America, loan them lots of money, and they”d pay us back in bananas? Well, that’s our emerging relationship with China. How exactly does this make us safer? Wouldn”t it be better to spend our money more judiciously, pay a little extra for tanks and computers built in the U.S., and keep some manufacturing base within our borders? As it is, we”re in no position to push back if the Chinese decided to expand; we”re dependent on them, as Mussolini’s Italy was tied to exports from Britain. And our chances of thwarting China’s wishes, the way we”re going, are about as good as the Duce’s.
2. We keep military bases on every inhabited continent, with thousands of troops protecting wealthy countries that don”t defend themselves, like South Korea, Japan, and Germany.
With our economy collapsing, our taxes soaring and deficits metastasizing like cancer, why are we serving as volunteer rent-a-cops for wealthy foreigners? What are we, idiots? It’s not like these countries even follow our lead when we go to war. The Germans elected a prime minister mostly because he opposed our war in Iraq, the Japanese use the money they save on defense to undermine our manufacturing base, and the South Koreans hate us for defending them. What gives? What do you think would happen if we put such countries on notice that in five years our troops would come home and they”d be on their own? What is the worst that could actually happen? Would it affect your day-to-day life one bit? Would it threaten your children”the way that massive deficits and a crashed economy do?
3. Do we really need the world’s largest military to remain a great country? Is that the only thing that’s great about America? Do we really need to frighten people into respecting us? Didn”t we get to be big and powerful by building things and working hard, saving our money and only sticking our necks out when our national interests were at stake? It was countries like Spain and France that emptied their treasuries trying to prop up unprofitable empires… while we ate their lunch. Why should we let China do that to us today?
4. We have enough nuclear weapons to blow the earth into a different orbit around the sun. No major power is going to attack us”ever. If they do, the whole human race goes bye-bye and we can all explain ourselves to Jesus. We didn”t go to war with the Soviets over Hungary or the Chinese in Korea. Neither are the Russians, Chinese, Pakistanis or Venezuelans going to try invading the U.S. today, tomorrow, or ever. Except, of course, as immigrants…. So why are we arming ourselves to refight the Korean war?
5. It doesn”t impugn the courage and sacrifice of our fighting men to admit that the Iraq war was a disaster. It got thousands of Americans killed, left tens of thousands permanently disabled, poured trillions of dollars down a big black hole, made us enemies around the world, and gave control of the White House and the Supreme Court to the Democrats. All for what? So a bunch of Arab Moslems who still hate us can democratically elect which anti-American leader will run their country, sell us expensive oil, and denounce us for human rights abuses. Why did we ever care what happened in Iraq in the first place? Because of a bunch of lies told to our soldiers by a bunch of cynical civilians with “other priorities” than serving their country. If our soldiers were safely home, we could forget the place existed. In fact, if Sauron, the Romulans, or Cthulu came down tomorrow and sucked Iraq off the face of the earth, would you or your neighbors notice? As long as Sauron kept the oil flowing….
6. The way to keep dangerous criminals like Al-Qaeda from coming into our country is to… keep dangerous criminals from coming into our country. Now we don”t know which criminals are dangerous in advance, so it might be safest simply to keep out all the criminals. Which includes people coming in here illegally, with the help of drug-lords and human smuggling rings. So one smart way to protect America might be to use our military force to protect the borders of our own country”instead of, say, the borders of Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany, Georgia, Poland, and South Korea.
7. If you knew a family that had more guns than all its neighbors put together, but was living on credit cards and cadging loans from people who hated them, what advice would you give them? To pay down their debts and start to save… or borrow more money to fill up their bomb shelters with even more semiautomatics?
There are a few good counter-arguments against the U.S. slashing defense spending”and I have to give credit, they came from my girlfriend. As she said, in essence:
“If we cut defense and saved hundreds of billions, wouldn”t the Democrats just use that money on more diversity programs, classes teaching Mexicans Hmong as a second language, and brightly colored condoms for kindergarten? Besides, if we”ve wrecked our economy and turned ourselves into a Third-World country whose only claim to fame is a massive military, maybe we better hold onto those weapons. They”re all we”ve got.”
In essence, she argues, the U.S. is well on the way to becoming a rogue state. It might as well be a really powerful one that everyone else is afraid of.
Needless to say, she is a Texan.
Despite any minor conservative attributes, Bobby Jindal, Sarah Palin and Michael Steele don”t possess any extraordinary qualities or demonstrably different principles from countless other Republican governors, congressman and senators. In an era when Americans are screaming for change, Jindal, Palin and Steele don”t exactly represent a big departure from the Republicanism of the last eight years or even enough of a noticeable difference from the current administration. What the GOP seems to be trying to offer is not a new path, a renewal of principles or any new hope “ but affirmative action “ as they push female and minority leaders to the forefront to play identity politics in combating America’s first black president.
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How Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s awful Republican rebuttal to President Obama’s speech before Congress represents a wrongheaded and ill-fated GOP strategy of minority and gender identity politics.
Recently conducted polls among a number of unidentified historians concerning their views about our best and worst presidents reveal certain long-term trends. Not surprisingly Lincoln was at the top of the lists while our Lancaster County native son, James Buchanan, was at the very bottom. Only a few notches above the man nicknamed “Old Buck” was the clueless W, whom the unidentified historians consider one of our worst presidents ever. FDR placed second and Wilson was sixth or eighth and Truman seventh or eighth, depending on whether one looked at the “liberal” or “conservative” (that is, neoconservative) polls. Clearly being a Democrat and a skirt-chaser helped one’s presidential ranking since JFK and Clinton, neither of whom did very much else in the White House, both ranked high among the “scholars” and the populace in different polls.
If there is another pattern here, it is that being a liberal internationalist in foreign policy, an administrative centralizer, and an advocate of massive income redistribution all contribute to high grades for former presidents among establishment historians. The exception, Bush II, was a warlike liberal internationalist and a government centralizer but nonetheless couldn”t quite cut it with leftist academics. The reason may have been that Bush kept the more leftist Democrats Gore and Kerry out of the Oval Office. The effect of Bush II was therefore to have prevented the country from moving to the left even more swiftly than it has.
The reverence for Lincoln among liberal and neocon Leftists is driven every day and every way by the racial question. It is hard for me to imagine that NR, The New Republic, or Commentary would have any sympathy for Lincoln’s views on protectionism or give a tinker’s damn about his association with an American Protestant nation-state. (That, by the way, is how Lincoln’s party identified itself and its founder for decades after the Civil War.) Absent the attempt to depict Lincoln as the initiator of the civil rights movement and as the precursor of our current multicultural president, I couldn”t imagine that anyone but protectionist nationalists would have any reason to remember our “greatest president.”
This, mind you, is not an attempt to run down Lincoln. As a public speaker rather than as someone who steered this country into the bloodbath of the Civil War, out of what might have been a miscalculation about the costs of suppressing the Southern secession, Lincoln is a figure of Shakespearean proportions. I admire Lincoln as a speaker and as a tragic historic figure, but I doubt my affinity for to him is related to his present glorification. Whatever his opinions about slavery (which are mine), Lincoln was not really the political precursor of MLK, Obama or (God knows!) FOX News Republicans. I doubt that, any more than his Southern opponents in the War, he would have admired our “post-racist” multicultural society. And in all probability Lincoln would have viewed Wilson’s crusade for democracy with the same disgust as Bill Kauffman. Lincoln was a nationalist, and not a liberal internationalist or a half-recovered Trotskyist from Brooklyn.
On the basis of recent polls that rank presidents (an aggregate of which is available at Wikipedia), it seems those polls conducted by “liberals” and “conservatives” are virtually indistinguishable in most of their key rankings. Both of them show deep reverence for Lincoln, FDR, Wilson and other activist presidents. But they also take note of Washington as the first president and place him in second or third spot.
The public, by contrast, has far less respect for the American founder. It pays to look at its sovereign choice after one has digested one’s meal. JFK usually finishes in third place, just trailing Lincoln and FDR, and in some polls, Washington doesn”t even make it as far as the top ten. In Gallup, Quinnipiac, and Washington Post polls, moreover, it seems that the public has no idea who the U.S. presidents were before the 1980s, although they claim to adore Lincoln, FDR, and John F. Kennedy, which may be a product of their public school lessons in selective history. (Bush, Sr. consistently places in the top ten in popular polls.)
For anyone trying to figure out why our latest presidential race featured the major party candidates we were given and resulted in the electoral victory that came about, I would urge that person to study the latest polls on ranking the presidents. These poll results confirm my view that the late Christopher Lasch got it all wrong when he asserted that unlike the rich and famous, the “ordinary people” still embody Christian bourgeois virtues. By now it has become anachronistic even to speak of “the people.” Our multiculturally educated consumer population doesn”t even have those homespun truths that Mencken once mocked the simple folk for embracing with excessive zeal. Indeed those who consume in our global democracy no longer even have founding fathers to look back to. They now have the media recreation of Camelot to celebrate, and of course gay porno films in which Sean Penn, playing a homosexual public official, gives open-mouth kisses to his lover. Why read up on Washington when one could enjoy these other activities?
Before he was a world-rebuilding, race-transcending international statesman, our president had become well acquainted with the Chicago Way.
And they tell me your are crooked and I answer: Yes, it
is true that I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.
~Carl Sandburg, “Chicago,” 1916
When Rudyard Kipling saw Chicago in 1891, he wrote, “I urgently desire never to see it again. It is inhabited by savages.” Twenty years later, a losing candidate for mayor complained, “Chicago is unique. It is the only completely corrupt city in America.” Socialist leader Eugene Debs called it “unfit for human habitation.” Mike Royko, the Windy City’s columnist-conscience until his death in 1997, suggested that “the city slogan be changed from Urbs In Horto, which means “City in a Garden,” to Ubi Est Mea, which means “Where’s mine?” “ Journalist Walter Winchell called the inhabitants “Chicagorillas.” Chicago nonetheless had its defenders. The actress Sarah Bernhardt said after performing there, “It is the pulse of America.” H. L. Mencken declared it “the Literary Capital of the United States.” And Norman Mailer, who condemned its politicians in Miami and the Siege of Chicago in 1968, wrote, “Perhaps it is the last of the great American cities.”¨” To Frank Sinatra, it would always be “that toddlin” town.”
Chicago’s most recent claim to singularity is its gift to the nation of Barack Hussein Obama. It seems surprising that no Chicagoan before him had seized the White House, given Chicago’s significance in national electoral politics. One measure of this importance is that the Republicans and Democrats have held more presidential nominating conventions in Chicago than in any other city”twenty-five, compared to ten for its nearest rival, Baltimore. Chicago’s clout and money were always welcome in national elections, even if its politicians were not sufficiently potable to sit uptable from the White House salt. Jack Kennedy said that he would not have won in 1960 without Chicago Mayor Richard Joseph Daley, a fellow Irish Catholic and old friend of Kennedy’s father. (When Illinois Republicans demanded a recount in 1960 of the famously unreliable Cook County vote, Daley agreed to check all the ballots at the rate of one precinct a day. “At that pace,” wrote Mike Royko wrote in his magisterial biography, Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago, “they would complete the recheck in twenty years.” A special prosecutor, who turned out to be a “faithful organization Democrat,” eventually dropped all charges against the accused polling officers.) Bill Clinton was so indebted to the second Mayor Daley, Richard Michael, that he made his younger brother William secretary of commerce.
Chicago’s politicians were kingmakers, not kings. Their legendary delivery of delegates at the Democratic Convention and electoral college votes to the Democrats” nominee required Democratic contenders to feign ignorance of the ways the votes were obtained and counted. Although the last time police had to seize large quantities of arms from polling places was in 1924, the number of dead who went on casting votes meant every Chicago election was called Resurrection Day. Yet electioneering was governed by explicit regulations, as Fortune magazine noted in August 1936: “Rule one of this art: never pay a bum his dollar for a full day’s voting in advance. He may drink it up before he has voted the requisite number of times, in which case he will spend the day sleeping it off.” Quaint electoral traditions, abolished by reformers in most other American cities by mid-20th century, made Chicago politicians a hard sell for national office. Even the saintly Adlai Stevenson could not overcome his identification with the Machine to beat Dwight Eisenhower for president in the 1950s.
Obama changed that, his achievement of becoming the first president of African descent less startling than being the first from Chicago.
At his inauguration on January 20th, Obama vowed to “remake America.” His devoted supporters were entitled to ask whether he remade Chicago during his twenty-one years there, three as a community organizer and eighteen as a lawyer and politician. Or did Chicago make him? He saw Chicago for the first time aged ten, when his grandmother determined the precocious Hawaiian islander should visit the mainland. His memoir, Dreams From My Father, mentions only three images from this three-day stay: the indoor swimming pool at his motel, the elevated train he stood under while shouting as loud as he could and “two shrunken heads” in the Field Museum that struck him as “some sort of cosmic joke” from which his mother had to pull him away. That would have been in 1970, Richard J. Daley’s sixteenth year as mayor.
Fourteen years later, Obama completed his undergraduate studies at Occidental College in California and Columbia University in New York. He wanted to change the world by organizing communities. His rationale was as idealistic as it was simple, or simplistic:
Change won”t come from the top, I would say. Change will come from a mobilized grass roots.
That’s what I”ll do. I”ll organize black folks. At the grass roots. For change.
The capital of urban activism in America was Chicago, probably because there was much to be active against. Organizers like Jane Addams and Saul Alinksy aimed at the realistic target of winning concessions from a corrupt power structure, rather than the more problematic goal of eliminating it. “Community organizing against the political establishment is a fundamental tradition in Chicago,” the left-liberal political consultant and columnist Don Rose told me recently in Paris. With “Another Old White Guy for OBAMA” badge pinned to his jacket, the seventy-eight-year-old savant recalled Saul Alinsky’s methods. Rose knew Alinsky, author of the 1946 bestselling Reveille for Radicals. Although the father of Chicago community organising died in 1972 at the age of sixty-three, Rose spoke of him in the present tense,
When Alinsky threatens to take three trainloads of black people to Marshall Field’s department store, he’s not trying to shut down Marshall Field’s, but to get it to hire blacks for various jobs. Or to bring legislation. Or to build a new police station, a new fire station. A kind of petitioning with the threat of force.
Obama admired him so much that he contributed a chapter to a book about him. (Hillary Clinton wrote her graduate thesis at Wellesley College on Alinsky, one of the few interests, apart from the pursuit of power, she shares with her new boss.)
Soon after his 1983 graduation from Columbia University, Obama applied to work for civil rights and community groups in Chicago. In the absence of any response, he became a researcher for corporate consultancies in New York. Two years later, a community organiser from Chicago approached him and asked what he knew about the place. Obama answered, “Most segregated city in America.” That apparent fact did not deter him from accepting a post in the tough South Side neighbourhoods where blacks had been ignored, abused and exploited for generations. “A week later,” Obama wrote, “I loaded up my car and drove to Chicago.”
* * * * * * *
Chicago has been a one-party city since 1931, when the Democrats captured city hall. Their monopoly outlived that of Italy’s Christian Democrats, who ruled in collusion with the Mafia and the Roman Catholic hierarchy in ways the average Chicago ward boss would find familiar, by thirty-four years. Despite beating the Soviet Communist Party’s seventy-four year record four years ago, Cook County Democrats have yet have their glasnost. The Democratic monopoly is so secure that the only elections that matter are the Democratic primaries, a Republican having as much chance to become mayor as Ralph Nader does of moving into the Oval Office. The Cook County Democratic Party provided Obama, when he arrived from New York in the summer of 1985, more instruction on achieving and using power than Saul Alinsky’s manuals. It all began with Anton Cermak, an immigrant from Bohemia who, like Obama, had the ostensible defect of a “funny name.”
“Tony” Cermak graduated from precinct captain to chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party Central Committee in 1928 and took the mayor’s office from the Republican incumbent, William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson, three years later. Thompson, who counted Al Capone among his many friends, had made the mistake of campaigning against Cermak’s foreignness. One slogan went,
I won”t take a back seat to that Bohunk, Chaimock, Chermack or whatever his name is
Tony, Tony, where’s your pushcart at?
Can you picture a World’s Fair mayor
With a name like that?
Cermak replied in terms that Obama might have used in 2008: “It’s true we didn”t come over on the Mayflower, but I came over as soon as I could.” Cermak carried the Chicago black vote by stealing the city’s leading Negro politician, William L. Dawson, from the Republican Party. Dawson had lost a leg in France during World War I, and like most blacks born in the South belonged to the party of Lincoln rather than the party of lynching. Cermak promised him an alderman’s seat, and he delivered his black constituents to the Democrats from then on. Chicago’s electoral arithmetic was simple: Democratic committeemen in the city’s fifty wards controlled captains of the 3,500 precincts, who got out the vote with promises of jobs”the mayor had at least 30,000 from the city payroll in his gift. “Tony was always careful to put a Jew, a Czech, a German, an Eyetalian, a Swede, a graduate from the University of Chicago, someone close to Hull House [Jane Addams’s settlement house for social reform], and a friend of the big bankers somewhere on his elective or appointive or advisory slate,” Fortune wrote. It added, “Police reporters say Tony employed twenty-six stool pigeons to spy on his own organization. He took no chances.”
Unfortunately for poor Tony, chance did not favour him in early 1933 when an assassin took aim at President-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Florida and killed Cermak by mistake. His coalition survived with the solid block of black votes from Dawson’s South Side precincts. Two Irish mayors named Kelly and Kennelly, creatures rather than masters of the Machine, served until 1955. Then, fifty-three year old Richard J. Daley”who had taken Cermak’s old post as head of the Cook County party two years earlier”came in with no intention of leaving.
Daley held on, winning four re-election contests, until his death. Daley’s reputation was as an honest man who took Communion daily at his parish church and never stole a penny. He tolerated corruption among his friends, until they were foolish enough to be arrested. He lived in a modest house only a few blocks from the one where he was born in working class Bridgeport. He took care of his own. He arranged, as George W. Bush’s father had, for his sons to avoid combat in Vietnam by putting them into reserve units that never left home. When one of his sons went to work for an insurance company, Daley gave the firm the city’s lucrative insurance business. Like Bush Jr., he was famed for his sometimes revealing misuse of language: “Today the real problem is the future.” “We shall reach greater and greater platitudes of achievement.” “They have vilified me, they have crucified me; yes, they have even criticized me.”
After his policemen beat demonstrators and a few journalists senseless during the Chicago Democratic Convention of 1968, he said, “Gentlemen, get the thing straight once and for all”the policeman isn”t there to create disorder, the policeman is there to preserve disorder.” The Machine he ran was crooked, as were the cops. His police force was run by political cronies, and everyone knew that it was easier to tip a cop $20 than to pay a speeding fine. If that had been all there was to Daley, however, he would not have been re-elected the first time, let alone the subsequent three. He assiduously practiced his prescription that “Good government is good politics.” Daley was a builder of great public projects and abysmal ghetto tower blocks. If Chicago is one of the most beautiful cities in America, that is as much his legacy as the police’s record of torturing black suspects and, in 1969, assassinating two leaders of the Black Panther Party in their beds.
In the 1963 elections, when Kennedy stopped at O”Hare Airport to endorse him, Daley lost the city’s white vote for the first time. But the black vote, thanks to William Dawson, who had been the Machine’s man in Congress since 1943, gave him his third term. Mike Royko wrote,
The people who were trapped in the ghetto slums and the nightmarish public housing projects, the people who had the worst school system and were most often degraded by the Police Department, the people who received the fewest campaign promises and who were ignored as part of the campaign trail, had given him his third term. They had done it quietly, asking for nothing in return. Exactly what they got.
To regain white confidence, Daley turned his back on open housing and other integrationist measures that the national Democratic Party was slowly embracing. He stymied the civil rights movement, outmanoeuvring Martin Luther King and his Chicago press advisor, a young Don Rose, with unenforceable written promises that he never kept to improve conditions for black people. Boss Dawson died in 1970 and, with him, the guarantee of black votes for the Daley Machine. On 6 April 1971, Chicago elected Daley to his fifth term with most white voters supporting him once again. Mike Royko recalled that, when reporters asked the mayor whether any of the presidential contenders”Ted Kennedy, George McGovern, Edmund Muskie and Hubert Humphrey, all of whom condemned his police state tactics of 1968 “ had telephoned to offer their congratulations. Daley smiled and said, “All of them did.”
* * * * * * *
When Obama arrived in Chicago in 1985, its politics were still adjusting to the vacuum left by Richard J. Daley’s death in office in 1976. Daley’s successors were two reform Democrats, the first a woman, Jane Byrne, and the second an African-American, Harold Washington. Byrne was not re-elected, because she broke her promise to reform the patronage Machine she inherited from Daley and antagonised the city’s black population. Washington tried to dismantle the Machine, but the white old guard in the city council blocked him. Racial tension between the mayor and his leading opponent, Alderman Ed Vrdolyak, were so bitter that Chicago earned another of its disparaging nicknames, Beirut-on-the-Lake.
Twenty-three years old, somewhat naÃ¯f, Barack Hussein Obama organized church and neighbourhood groups to force the city to remove asbestos and lead paint from public housing. He also led a campaign for playgrounds in the ghetto. These were serious struggles that, as well as improving lives, taught ordinary people, whom he paints sympathetically in Dreams From My Father, that they could confront power and win. Maybe not the game, but a few points. By his own admission, Obama’s achievements as community organizer were few. One of his staunchest supporters, a woman he called Sadie in his memoir, told him, “Ain”t nothin” gonna change, Mr. Obama. We just gonna concentrate on saving our money so we can move outta here as fast as we can.”
In 1987, Harold Washington, who had at least listened to the poor community of the South Side, died in office. His successors were, like him, Democrats. The first was the city council’s temporary president, Eugene Sawyer, who was appointed to finish Washington’s unexpired term. An African-American whom many black voters saw as being too close to the white establishment, Sawyer lost in the 1989 Democratic primary to Richard M. Daley. The Daley Restoration rode in on the back of a disillusioned black electorate, who mostly stayed home from the polls.
In the meantime, Obama had left to study law at Harvard in 1988. While he was away, the Machine under the new Daley adapted to modern requirements. Daley Junior imitated his father by giving what patronage jobs he could, circumventing court rulings against the practice by hiring loyalists on temporary contracts; but he shifted the balance towards exchanging government contracts for funds to finance his campaigns. Media ads became more important than ward heelers. Contracts to build highways and collect rubbish replaced city jobs as rewards to a new generation with higher social aspirations than their union member fathers. The goldmine would be redeveloping the failed public housing projects, among America’s largest, that Daley Senior had built to confine the black population to high-rise blocks. The constant from Daley to Daley was public money for private profit.
Chicago’s poor had lost the hope of the Harold Washington years by the time Obama returned from Harvard in 1991, with, as he wrote, “the neighborhoods shabbier, the children edgier and less restrained, more middle class families heading out to the suburbs, the jails bursting with glowering youth, my brothers without prospects.” Obama, though, had prospects and did not return to community organizing. At first, he worked with Project Vote that registered 150,000 African Americans who helped Carol Moseley Braun to defeat two white males in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate and go on to become Illinois” first black U.S. senator.
The law firm Davis, Miner, Barnhill and Galland hired Obama to work on civil rights and urban development cases. Its senior partners were Allison Davis, who left to become a property developer, and Judson Miner, whom Don Rose called “liberal, honest, progressive.”
Obama met and married Michelle Robinson, another Harvard lawyer, whose father had been a Daley precinct captain and patronage city worker. She went to work as an assistant to Daley’s chief of staff, under deputy chief Valerie Jarrett. Larry Bennett, who teaches Chicago politics at De Paul University, told me, “It’s a one-party city, and Obama has made his way in that system.” While maintaining that Obama was not a product of the Dailey Machine, Bennett observed, “Obama has one foot with the regular Democratic Party and one foot with the oppositional Democrats.” Whether he was seeking higher office or rights for the “grass roots,” Obama needed the Machine more than it needed him.
Ben Joravsky wrote of Obama in the liberal Chicago Reader,
When he returned in the early 90s, just out of law school, he was bright, young and incredibly ambitious, and the first thing he learned “ the first thing any ambitious wannabe politician learns around here”is that there’s no future in Chicago for anyone who defies Mayor Daley… For Obama, kissing the mayor’s ring is like putting that flag on his lapel. It’s part of the game he’s had to play to get elected.
Obama devoted 162 pages of his 442-page Dreams From My Father to his three years as a community organizer in Chicago. In the sequel, The Audacity of Hope, his subsequent political career received such little attention that New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza commented that “his life in Chicago from 1991 until his victorious Senate campaign is something of a lacuna in his autobiography.” This may have been because he was learning more from the legacy of Mayor Richard J. Daley than he had from Saul Alinsky. The first thing a Chicago politician learns is how to raise money.
* * * * * * *
Making money from nothing has been the Chicago way since its founding in the late 18th century as a trading post by John Baptiste Point DuSable, a freed Haitian slave. (“Chicago” derives from the Algonquin Indian word for “onion patch,” chigagou.) The Chicago method was best described by George Horace Lorimer in his “Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son” in the Saturday Evening Post in 1901 and 1902:
Does it pay to feed in pork trimmings are five cents a pound at the hopper and draw out nice, cunning, little “country” sausages at twenty cents a pound at the other end? … You bet it pays.
Putting a few thousand dollars into a politician also paid, when the politician regurgitated contracts worth millions. One of the luminaries of the system in the late twentieth century was a Syrian immigrant named Antoin “Tony” Rezko. Born in Aleppo to a family of Syriac Christians in 1955, Rezko was nineteen when he reached the United States. He learned English and studied engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He borrowed money to buy vacant lots in Chicago’s South Side and build cheap houses. His next ventures involved buying franchises to open fast food outlets for Panda Express Chinese fast food and then Papa John’s Pizzerias. His food empire expanded from Chicago’s South Side to Michigan and Indiana. The Chicago Tribune wrote in 2006, “Rezko pragmatically courted local politicians, such as befriending the aldermen who controlled zoning and land use decisions.” Rezko, his associates and his family gave generously to city and state politicians, at least $385,000 in ten years, and raised millions more.
In 1989, Rezko and his friend Charles Mahru established Rezmar Corporation to rehabilitate sub-standard properties with government funds and manage them on government contracts. They restored 1,025 apartments in thirty buildings at taxpayer expense. In 1990, one of the company vice-presidents, David Brint, read in the newspapers that a young man from Chicago had been named the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. Brint called Barack Obama and arranged for him to meet Rezko, who offered him a job. Although Obama declined, a friendship was born that would help to finance Obama’s first run for the state senate in 1996.
Don Rose put a benign interpretation on Obama’s involvement with Rezko. “He meets Rezko under innocent circumstances,” Rose said. “Rezko is doing the right thing. Lots of community groups with housing take up with developers.” Obama’s employer, Judson Miner, represented some of the Rezko projects. “Jud assigned Obama to handle some of the Woodlawn [Preservation and Investment Corporation] file.” Allison David had left the law firm she headed with Judson Miner to found Woodlawn, which went into partnership with Tony Rezko to convert a disused nursing home into an apartment building. Rose said, “Rezko was doing the right thing to build houses for the poor, but he was using some of the project as a personal piggy bank.”
As a leading donor and fund-raiser for political campaigns, Rezko bankrolled Richard M. Daley for mayor, Rahm Emmanuel for Congress, Rod Blagojevich for governor and the young Barack Obama. Rose admitted that Rezko’s largesse may not have been merely good citizenship. His businesses”property development and fast food franchises”needed “many and quick authorizations,” as well as subsidies, from government.
Valerie Jarrett, who hired Michelle Obama to work on Mayor Richard J. Daley’s staff, told the Boston Globe, “Government is just not as good at owning as the private sector because the incentives are not there.” Jarrett at the time was chief executive officer of Habitat, which managed more than 23,000 flats. She was one of six developers, along with Rezko, who gave at least $175,000 to Obama’s campaigns. (She now, along with Rahm Emmanuel, Valerie Jarrett and Daley’s former election strategist, David Axelrod, works in the Obama White House.)
Quick quiz: which of these do you believe?
(1) Public-private finance packages are a genuinely more efficient way of providing housing for the poor.
(2) Public-private finance packages are a sure way for politicians to repay those who financed their campaigns.
Hint: Tim Novak wrote in the Chicago Sun Times, “For more than five weeks during the brutal winter of 1997, tenants shivered without heat in a government-subsidized apartment building on Chicago’s South Side. It was just four short years after the landlords “ Antoin “Tony” Rezko and his partner Daniel Mahru”had rehabbed the 31-unit building with a loan from Chicago taxpayers.” Novak added that seventeen other Rezko buildings had been foreclosed by mortgagees and another six boarded up, leaving many of its former inhabitants homeless.
Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass, who has succeeded Mike Royko as bane of the Machine, wrote, “Obama hasn”t dared challenge Illinois Democrats on corruption.” The fact that Obama did not challenge Chicago’s bribery and chicanery does not mean he took part in it. Obama said repeatedly that Rezko received no favours from him. That assertion was contradicted by the discovery of a letter he wrote to the Department of Housing in 1998.
State and city treasuries advanced Rezko more than $14 million for the project, from which he and his project partner, Allison Davis, took development fees amounting to $855,00.
“In the state legislature,” political scientist Larry Bennett said, “Obama maintained a progressive tack on certain issues, but maintained relations with Daley.” Obama was more than a Machine functionary during his tenure in the state capital, Springfield. He taught at the University of Chicago Law School and sponsored reform of the state’s criminal justice system. Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, praised Obama’s civil liberties credentials. While Daley for more than two decades, first as the county’s top prosecutor, then as mayor, turned a blind eye to police torture that sent innocent men to death row, Obama pushed legislation to make it more difficult. “Barack engineered a law through the legislature that requires the police to record the entire interrogation,” Warden, who helped to draft the legislation, told me. Despite police resistance, Illinois became the first state to enact this defendant protection. Chicago police now video-tape all interrogations to prove they no longer torture suspects. “I don”t know how he twisted arms,” Warden said, “but he did.”
In 2000, Obama ran for Congress in the Democratic primary against the popular incumbent, Bobby Rush. While picking up an endorsement from the Chicago Tribune and liberal white votes in his home area around Hyde Park, Obama lost most of the African-American vote to the former Black Panther. It was said at the time that Daley gave his tacit support to Obama to send him to Washington rather than have to run against him for mayor one day. But Obama lost by thirty-one points, his first defeat.
That did not stop his bid two years later for the U.S. Senate. “When I decided to run for the U.S. Senate, my media consultant, David Axelrod, had to sit me down to explain the facts of life.” One fact was that he would need $5 million for the primary and another $10 to $15 million for the general election in November. “Absent great personal wealth, there is basically one way of raising the kind of money involved in a U.S. Senate race. You have to ask rich people for it.” The money came in, but it exacted a price. “I found myself spending time with people of means”law firm partners and investment bankers, hedge fund managers and venture capitalists.” He found that these people, many of them from backgrounds he would have come across at Columbia and Harvard Law School, “reflected, almost uniformly, the perspective of their class: the top 1 percent or so of the income scale that can afford to write a $2,000 check to a political candidate.” He is unusually frank for an American politician about the one per cent’s effect on him:
And although my own worldview and theirs corresponded in many ways”I had gone to the same schools, after all, had read the same books, and worried about my kids in many of the same ways”I found myself avoiding certain topics during conversations with them, papering over possible differences, anticipating their expectations.
In the same passage, he defended himself against the charge of selling out for money.
On core issues I was candid; I had no problem telling well-heeled supporters that the tax cuts they”d received from George Bush should be reversed. Whenever I could, I would try to share with them some of the perspectives I was hearing from other portions of the electorate: the legitimate role of faith in politics, say, or the deep cultural meaning of guns in rural parts of the state.
Of all the issues confronting America’s ruling class with, faith in politics and the Second Amendment right to bear arms are probably the least challenging. Nowhere in The Audacity of Hope did he claim to have vexed his benefactors with the message that their unearned wealth should be redistributed to create a more viable economy and more just society. Nor did he claim to have told them that government defence contracts should be cut back or that the banks and hedge funds should be more rigorously regulated. Again, he is frank with his readers, whom he would soon ask to vote for him:
Still, I know that as a consequence of my fund-raising I became more like the wealthy donors I met, in the very particular sense that I spent more and more of my time above the fray, outside the world of immediate hunger, disappointment, fear, irrationality, and frequent hardship of the other 99 percent of the population”that is, the people that I”d entered public life to serve.
His remedy was not to introduce legislation to separate electoral campaigns from big money. It was to dilute money’s influence with the participation of campaign volunteers on the basis that “organized people can be just as important as cash…”
Not many people have time for full-time, unpaid campaigning, he wrote,
[Y]ou go where people are already organized. For Democrats, this means the unions, the environmental groups, and the prochoice groups. For Republicans, it means the religious right, local chambers of commerce, the NRA [National Rifle Association], and the anti-tax organizations.
He won the Senate seat through a combination of sound politicking, money and luck (his opponent was caught up in an unfortunate sex scandal). Next, he found a house in the Kenwood neighbourhood near the University of Chicago that, with a cellar for 1,000 bottles of wine, was more suitable for a US. Senator to entertain his new friends than the condominium he shared with his wife and two daughters in Hyde Park. The deal he made to buy it was, by his own confession, “bone-headed.” Even Don Rose, despite his support for Obama, said the deal “didn”t pass the sniff test.” For help in
purchasing the property at 5046 South Greenwood, for which the vendor was asking $1.95 million, he went to his old friend and backer Tony Rezko.
Rezko had been an effective member of Obama’s senate campaign finance committee, along with fellow developers Valerie Jarrett and Allison Davis. By 2005, however, Chicago newspapers had already reported that Tony Rezko was under federal investigation for bribery, fraud and money laundering. The house Obama wanted was on one of two lots that belonged to a doctor, who was selling the two properties together. Obama and Rezko’s wife, Rita, completed purchase of the adjoining properties on the same day”Obama for $300,000 less than the sale price, Rita Rezko for the full price. Afterwards, Mutual Bank, which financed Mrs. Rezko with a loan of the legal maximum 80 per cent of purchase price, dismissed an employee, Kenneth J. Conner. Conner, who had accused the bank of overvaluing the vacant property at $650,000 to lend Mrs. Rezko the $500,000 she needed, told journalists, “The entire deal amounted to a payoff from Tony Rezko to Barack Obama.” Obama later bought a strip of land beside his property from Mrs. Rezko for $104,500. When the arrangements became public, Obama answered questions by the Chicago Tribune‘s editorial staff in March 2008. Had Rezko asked for anything in return from the prospective president? “No,” Obama said. “Because I had known him for a long time, and so I would have assumed I would have seen a pattern [of Rezko asking for favours] over the course of fifteen years.” Apparently, the letter he wrote on behalf of Rezko’s Cottage Grove scheme in 1998 did not count as a favour.
Federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who has become to Chicago’s politicians what Elliot Ness was to Al Capone during Prohibition, won a conviction in June 2008 of Rezko on sixteen of twenty-four charges of corruption. He followed this up with the impeachment of Governor Rod Blagojevich for fraud, extortion and seeking to sell Obama’s vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder. Obama’s ties to Blagojevich were not close, but they were connected through the Cook County Democratic Party and common advisors like Rahm Emmanuel and David Axelrod.
Obama never made an issue of the Daley Machine. As a politician, he did not join the South Side residents whose lives he once hoped to improve as an organizer in opposing the mayor’s excesses. Yet he kept what he called a “cordial, not close” relationship with the mayor. However, when he announced his candidacy for president in 2007, he endorsed Daley for mayor and Daley backed him for president. (That was the day Hillary Clinton should have known her campaign was over.) “It was a marriage of convenience, brilliantly brokered by David Axelrod, a campaign strategist for both men,” wrote Ben Joravsky in The American Prospect.
Obama’s endorsement cut the ground out from under Dorothy Brown, Daley’s most significant black challenger. And with Daley’s blessing it was suddenly safe for everyone and anyone in town to join Obama’s campaign for change and become a reformer. So long as it was Washington, and not Chicago, getting reformed.
Obama, who had learned about fund raising from the Chicago experts, went national in his search for money. His campaign used the internet to obtain small donations that involved ordinary voters in his fate, but it also did what the experts thought impossible: it raised more money from corporate American than the Clintons. The Center for Responsive Politics reported that among his biggest donors were Goldman Sachs at $955,223, JP Morgan Chase at $642,958, Citigroup at $633,418 and the largest corporate law firms, who are also registered lobbyists. His record-breaking $700 million in donations has set a new level for campaign funding, making high office more expensive than ever. It will inevitably leave elected politicians with more debts that some of their donors expect to be repaid.
* * * * * * *
There are two ways of doing politics short of revolution. One is for a community to seek participation in the system, as the once-disenfranchised peoples of South Africa, Bolivia and Brazil did. They put forward leaders to articulate their demands and, if necessary, take office for their benefit. The other way is for a politician to organise people to promote him for office and to support his demands. The first is a popular model, the second populist. George Packer wrote in the New Yorker, “Obama’s movement did not exist before his candidacy; its purpose was to get him elected.” He added that the “Obama movement remains something less than a durable social force.” Unlike the Democratic Party Machine in Chicago.
It would be a mistake to assume that Obama is owned by those who helped him to power anymore than Richard J. Daley was when he became mayor of Chicago in 1955. Mike Royko wrote of a cartoon that appeared in his newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, just after Daley’s election. He saw it in the house of Daley’s old friend, Alderman Tom Keane.
The cartoon portrays Daley as a grinning wind-up doll, clutching a sign that says “Give Chicago leadership.” Holding the oversized doll-crank are caricatures of John D”Arco, the Syndicate’s political representative, William Dawson, the black boss, Joe Gill, the party ancient, Artie Elrod, the Twenty-fourth Ward boss, Paddy Bauler, a boisterous ward boss and saloon keeper, and Keane himself, all smiling evilly.”
Keane told Royko, “Every time Daley comes over here, he looks at that thing and laughs.” Obama too may laugh one day at those who believe Richard M. Daley, David Axelrod, Rahm Emmanuel, Valerie Jarrett and the rest of the Cook County Machine will manipulate him. Yet, like Daley, he may know which favours must be repaid.
When Obama left Chicago for the White House this year, the city was much as he found it when he began his political life there in 1991. The Daley Machine was intact, favours were granted to cronies and the key to power remained the raising and dispensing of money. Obama will be only fifty-six years when he leaves the White House, provided the electorate grants him a second term in 2012. If he doesn”t disgrace himself, or perhaps if he does, he may yet become mayor of Chicago. He would be only three years older than Richard J. Daley was in 1955, and Daley lasted another twenty-one years.
Geert Wilders is in the US at the moment and will be showing his film “Fitna” in Congress tomorrow, Thursday.
US Republican Sen. Jon Kyl is hosting a film screening at the Capitol building on Thursday for Geert Wilders, a Dutch lawmaker whose film claims that Islam inspires terrorism. Kyl agreed to facilitate the event because “all too often, people who have the courage to point out the dangers of militant Islamists find themselves vilified and endangered,” his spokeman said.
I’d just like to add that you’re lucky, lucky people. No, not just because you’re American and all that and no, not in any cynical sense (although I don’t think that the film is all that subtle a piece, nor am I a great fan of Geert Wilders’ views) but seriously, you’ve had at one point in your country a sensible set of politicians.
Sensible in the meaning of getting the point that there are certain things which are indeed inalienable and which government can’t stop you doing just because they don’t like it: free speech being just one of those things.
One of the little secrets about my working life is that I’m currently half of the press office for the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP and no, I’m not asking for donations, we can’t take those from non-Brits) and it was one of our peers (a member of the House of Lords, think appointed members of the Senate if that helps), Pearson of Rannoch, who invited Wilders over to England to show his film inside Parliament. Just after the original invitation a certain Lord Ahmed (the first appointed Muslim peer) started making noises about bringing out 10,000 demonstrators if it went ahead. He’s denied doing so and the courtesies of private meetings mean no one can confirm or deny that he did.
But that was enough, when Geert tried to come to Britain a couple of weeks later he was banned from entry. No, really, an elected politician from a fellow member of the European Union was banned entry to the UK. Someone invited to come and give evidence to Parliament was banned entry.
Well, as you can imagine, this sort of thing is meat and drink to a politician. Wilders got on the plane and perhaps 90% of the fellow passengers were journalists. There was also a scrum at Heathrow, where he was not allowed to pass through customs but told to get the next plane back. I know of at least one newspaper (even I know the three journalists) that had one on the plane, one waiting for it to land and one standing next to me in Westminster just in case he made it through.
In one sense, all good fun and games as it gives press officers something to do: my principal was on innumerable TV and radio stations and in most of the newspapers the next day. In another and more important sense it’s entirely foul of course.
There are indeed legitimate restrictions on the right to free speech: that old shouting fire in a crowded theatre, or incitement to violence. But when the incitement takes the form of “if you say that then I’m going to riot” then it’s not the speaker who should be banned or tried but the rioter.
Strangely, on the actual day, the only angry muslim anywhere near Parliament Square was Lord Ahmed himself: the other 9,999 didn’t in fact seem to care. Much to the annoyance of the lady from the Dutch radio service. When I said that, well, that heaving mob of bebearded demonstrators doesn’t seem to have turned up she turned on me shouting that I had ruined her story. What could she possibly report if there wasn’t a riot?
There is a more amusing side to this banning of people who would say nasty things: we’ve been spared the “God hates fags” rhetoric of the Westboro Baptist Church. Whether God indeed does so I’ve no idea and don’t feel competent to decide, although I do slightly miss the sight of the Rev. Phelps being laughed at by a British crowd. We rather don’t do that sort of preaching here. Even more amusing is that Lord Ahmed has been found out. He started a three month prison sentence for an unrelated offence this afternoon.
But back to the important point, that you’re lucky, lucky people. You can go along and listen to the rhetoric of a Dutch politician, of a Baptist preacher, as you wish or as you don’t wish. You still have freedom of speech which, sadly, despite having invented the very idea in the first place, we in Britain no longer do.
Call me slow, but I think have finally understood one of the most puzzling claims of terror warriors, namely, that the crucial difference between them and their liberal opponents is that the latter believe that hunger and poverty cause terrorism. As Norman Podhoretz writes, “standard academic and intellectual discourse” holds that terrorism is “a product of economic factors,” namely, “hunger and poverty.” Victor David Hanson offers a vriation on this theme. With the assumption that poverty causes terrorism triumphantly refuted, Bush’s defenders go on to proclaim that only Bush truly grasped the nature of terrorism.
Neither Podhoretz, Hanson nor their comrades cite any evidence for the claim that the poverty-causes-terrorism theory is widely influential. Nor could they find much if they looked. When I googled “poverty terrorism,” nine out of top ten hits expressly deny that poverty causes terrorism. The one that doesn’t is a BBC report on self-serving “world leaders” demanding more assistance from rich Western countries. If anything is an academic or intellectual commonplace, it is to observe that the 9/11 attackers (to say nothing of bin Laden himself) came from affluent families. The claim that poverty causes terrorism comes up, if at all, only for ridicule.
Why then have Bush supporters carried on as if by denying that poverty causes terrorism they have decisively refuted their opponents? Podhoretz, Hanson, et al. are not stupid. Nor would I say they are dishonest. “The opponent has always to be explained,” wrote Walter Lippmann, “and the last explanation that we ever look for is that he sees a different set of facts.” What facts do Bush’s supporters see that make them fret over the poverty-causes-terrorism bugaboo?
I think the answer is this: In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the theme of Palestinian suffering is omnipresent. Some say that if you address the Palestinian’s grievances, you will remove their inducements to terrorism; others that the Palestinians need to solve their own problems and accept Israel’s right to exist. In the meantime, say the latter, Israel has the right to do what it takes to defend itself.
Remember that Bush’s defenders see all Muslim terrorism as essentially the same. Whatever the differences among Hamas, Hezbollah, al Qaeda or the myriad other Muslim terrorist organizations, they all share the same nihilistic hatred for freedom and civilization. Thus, when somebody argues that Israel can reduce the threat of terrorism by relieving the desperation of the Palestinians, Bush’s defenders do not just hear an argument about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rather, they hear a claim about the nature of all Muslim terrorism”including that aimed at Americans. Hence, they experience themselves as having refuted a core assumption of Bush’s opponents when they deny that poverty causes terrorism,
On its own terms, this view of “standard academic and intellectual discourse” makes perfect sense. Bush’s defenders have generally not acknowledged those scholars”such as Robert Pape“who see the each suicide terrorist movement as motivated by a distinct dispute over the control of land. Instead, they assume that all terrorism has the same cause, namely, a malevolent ideology. As the congruence of all Muslim terrorism seems obvious to them, they assume it is equally obvious to their opponents. They conclude that all that have to do to win the debate is to identify the correct global cause of terrorism. Their peculiar framework, in short, blinds them to the reality that the claim that poverty causes terrorism just isn’t very influential.
Lecturing a conscript conclave of Justice Department bureaucrats, Attorney General Eric Holder last week called America a “nation of cowards” for not spending more time talking about race.
Reading his speech, however, one recalls the sage counsel of Pat Moynihan to President Nixon in 1970: This whole subject might benefit from a long period of “benign neglect.”
One point Holder did allude to, without specifics, was this:
“It is not safe for this nation to assume that the unaddressed social problems in the poorest parts of the country can be isolated and will not ultimately affect the larger society.”
Fair point. And what are some of those social problems?
A 70 percent illegitimacy rate in black America, an incarceration and crime rate seven times that of white America, a 50 percent dropout rate in many urban high schools, African-American graduates reading and computing on average at eighth-grade levels.
And about these problems what is the black leadership doing?
Unlike Bill Cosby, the heroic Holder was virtually mute. Rather, he is upset that “on Saturdays and Sundays” we don’t go to church or hang out together. But why are the free associations of Americans, of whatever creed or color, any of Eric Holder or Big Brother’s business?
Having insulted us, perhaps Holder will start doing his own sworn duty. For one area where he has a lead role is enforcing the nation’s laws”in particular, the U.S. immigration laws. For the federal failure to enforce these laws is a contributory cause of one of those “unaddressed social problems in the poorest parts of the country.”
Case in point”rampant unemployment among minority youth.
According to the Center for Immigration Studies, among African-Americans 18 to 29 with only a high-school degree, unemployment is now 20 percent. Among black adults who do not have a high-school diploma, it is 24 percent. Among teenagers under 18, black unemployment is 30 percent.
Among native-born Hispanics with only a high-school diploma, the unemployment rate is 13.6 percent. Among high-school dropouts, 16 percent. Among Hispanic 16- and 17-year-olds, the jobless figure is 40 percent.
As these figures were compiled in December, before the last two months of sweeping layoffs, they surely understate the situation. And with both black and Hispanic dropout rates now reaching 50 percent in major cities, the social dynamite is piling up.
Last month, USA Today reported that the FBI estimates there are now 1 million gang members in the United States”up 200,000 from 2005″and these gangs are responsible for 80 percent of all U.S. crimes.
From other studies, young Hispanics are 19 times as likely as white youth to join gangs, while African-Americans are 15 times.
These millions of teenagers, and unskilled and less-educated young adults with no jobs and little prospect of finding them, are recruiting pools for criminal gangs.
Who is getting the jobs for which these native-born black and Hispanic young could quality? Illegal aliens hold literally millions of them.
Last week, the CIS reported, “An estimated 6 to 7 million illegal immigrants are currently holding jobs. Prior research indicates they are overwhelmingly employed in lower-skilled and lower-paid jobs.”
Exactly what sort of jobs?
“Illegals are primarily employed in construction, building cleaning and maintenance, food preparation, service and processing, transportation and moving occupations and agriculture.”
With the exception of agriculture, a majority of the workers in these occupations are native-born Americans. Thus, illegal aliens are taking jobs Americans are not only willing to do, but are doing, and taking 7 million of these jobs from young Americans now out of work.
By failing to enforce U.S. immigration laws, the government of the United States is selling America’s working class down the river.
In addition to the 7 million illegals holding jobs, legal immigrants have another 15 million. In 2008, when Americans lost 3.5 million jobs, 144,000 immigrants were admitted every month.
Why do we have an open-borders immigration policy that annually allows in millions, legal and illegal, to compete for jobs, when 10 million Americans are out of work and half a million are losing their jobs every month? The political correctness and moral cowardice of our Lords Temporal, who refuse to call a time-out on immigration until our own people go back to work, is killing the American dream for millions.
According to the census, as reported in The New York Times on Saturday, 97 percent of immigrants from Mexico do not speak English at home. They are less skilled and less educated than the average American.
Says demographer William Frey, “The new immigration magnets especially in the Southwest are disproportionately attracting young Mexican men who are willing to accept low wages.”
What further proof is needed that mass immigration from the Third World is taking jobs from Americans and driving down their wages when they do find work?
Here is a problem more serious than whether black and white elites are getting together on weekends to gabble about race.
But, dealing with it, Mr. Holder, will take courage.