MISSING: global recession, 6 billion careless owners.
No, really, why do I see thousands of people milling around in the shops as though the credit crunch was nothing more than an abdominal exercise machine with a built-in payment plan?
Alastair Darling, in his budget, forecasts a “return to growth in the fourth quarter” of this year, and here in London, the hellishly crowded Christmas shops suggest the punters think that’s a good thing. Bollocks. Am I the only person who is utterly furious? When everything went completely tits up we were promised an apocalyptic collapse of Western civilization. Finally all the tips we had gleaned from watching disaster movies were going to pay off.
You know the form: stock up on leathers, 4x4s (no need to worry about global warming in an apocalypse) and weaponry, set up gladiatorial arenas, cook your fatter neighbors, before retiring to some retreat with your leading lady. At the very least, you should be able to get a table in a restaurant good enough to impress that lady, and buy Eaton Square with the change.
Has that happened? My ass. Any girl daft enough to accept dinner with me is going to a place with an all-you-can-eat salad bar because every table at Sheekeys and the Wolseley is still crammed with bankers.
Don”t get me wrong. I”m not Gordon “back-to-the-Manse” Brown ranting about bankers like John Knox railing against Papal mistresses. I like bankers”and Papal mistresses, too”they invite me to parties and sometimes have even made me a penny. But I wouldn”t be human if my spirits weren”t raised by a few friends being found huddled around braziers under a bridge like Randolph and Mortimer. Trouble is, politicians are treating the economy with the foresight of a deep-fried Mars bar.
The recession was caused by free money being handed out willy-nilly. Don”t listen to anyone else: a Bank of England report recently blamed “excessive risk-taking in the upswing of the credit cycle and insufficient resilience in the subsequent downturn.” That’s like the parents of obese children criticising their bloated offspring for being greedy. Children eat, it’s what they do. If you want a slimmer child, here’s a tip”stop feeding it burgers; if you want to stop unsustainable debt levels fuelling property bubbles, raise interest rates.
To be fair, we just copied the U.S. It was Greenspan who invented the soft economic landing, oblivious to the fact that every now and again some salad and a little roughage was important for the diet, not just slower protein. But, he was only the nurse; the parents were the politicians, and they liked an economic style that stuffed ice cream into the brat’s mouth every time it started to cry.
Hardly surprising that every other country took their lead, and nobody from nurse, parents or child complained until the 10 year-old boom became the youngest patient on the cardiac ward.
The fact is, if someone gives me £100 for doing sod all, I”ll spend it. So did you and now we”re all in debt. You might as well take a crate of vodka into an AA meeting as expect anybody to act responsibly in a credit boom. The real danger is what they”re doing now.
The vodka has been drunk, and Majestic have delivered a few cases of Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon, oh and then there was the Special Brew, and did someone really polish off the Goldwasser and the Angostura bitters in what seemed a very promising new cocktail (for which we came up with a hilarious name) at 3 am?
Normally fatigue kicks in there, you sleep and wake with an unpleasant hangover that nonetheless reassures you for having suffered for your excesses. But if instead someone discovers the tequila? You drink shots until dawn, hit the all-night bars, collapse in an alleyway and wake up in jail in a position of unexpected intimacy with a tattooed cellmate called Cletus.
Lehmans et al. were someone saying “What, absolutely no more Angostura at all?” Time for bed and that painful but morally cleansing recession. Instead the politicians, central bankers and economic doves rang the doorbell, handed over the mescal and shouted “Arriba”, cutting interest rates to zero, printing money and telling everyone to go out lending and borrowing again.
The result: full tables in restaurants, recovering house prices and Christmas presents all round. Enjoy it if you want, but I”ll bet you that in a couple of years when everyone sobers up, we”re going to hear two very different things: I”m going to hear the maitre d” at the Wolseley saying, “Of course we have a table, sir, that’s no problem,” whereas all you”re going to hear is the sound of Cletus opening the lubricant.
“And this shall be a sign unto you: You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger.
“And suddenly there was with the Angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying: Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace to men of good will.”
Here the argument begins. Is it biblical to say, “Peace on earth and good will to men,” which is inclusive but inexact? Or does that dilute and distort the meaning of “Peace on earth to men of good will,” which is restrictive?
The former, while ecumenical, seems pacifist. Do we wish good will today to al-Qaida? And is not the chorus singing out peace on earth “to men of good will” at the first Christmas a “heavenly army”?
And is not the purpose of an army to destroy enemies—in the case of the heavenly army, the army of the Devil?
“Peace on earth to men of good will” seems more consistent with the Sermon on the Mount, where the Lord says, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”
Surely, Christ was not here calling down blessings on the legions that had brought a Roman peace to the known world by conquering all tribes and nations through the power of the sword.
Yet, Christ did not exclude Romans soldiers from the company of men of good will. Of the centurion who implored him to heal his servant from afar, as “I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof,” Christ said: “Amen, I say to you. I have not found such great faith in Israel.”
The centurion’s words have become immortal, as for centuries they have been repeated three times by the faithful before receiving communion at every Latin mass said on earth.
What the Bible seems to teach is that there are just causes worth fighting for and just men who fight in them, and “peace on earth” is not merely the absence of war, as “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,” but the presence of peace with justice.
To his credit, President Obama reintroduced, in his address at Oslo on accepting the Nobel Prize for Peace, the Christian concept of a just war.
”(O)ver time, as codes of law sought to control violence within groups, so did philosophers and clerics and statesmen seek to regulate the destructive power of war. The concept of a ‘just war’ emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when certain conditions were met: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the force used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.”
Obama is saying that not only must the cause be just, but the means employed. He went on to ask if, even in the “Good War” against Nazism, we always observed the Christian laws of war.
”(F)or most of history, this concept of ‘just war’ was rarely observed. The capacity of human beings to think up new ways to kill one another proved inexhaustible, as did our capacity to exempt from mercy those who look different or pray to a different God. Wars between armies gave way to wars between nations—total wars in which the distinction between combatant and civilian became blurred.
“In the span of 30 years, such carnage would twice engulf this continent. And while it’s hard to conceive of a cause more just than the defeat of the Third Reich and the Axis powers, World War II was a conflict in which the total number of civilians who died exceeded the number of soldiers who perished.”
Though World War II was a just war, Obama was implying, it was not always conducted justly. Indiscriminate bombing of defenseless cities of defeated nations—Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki—is difficult to reconcile with a Christian concept of (SET ITAL) jus in bello. (END ITAL)
And today’s wars? Certainly, after Sep. 11, Afghanistan was a just war, justly fought. But as it has become Obama’s war, with his having doubled U.S. forces in combat, what is it we are fighting for?
Comes the answer: to prevent a return of the Taliban, which could lead to a return of al-Qaida and a new base camp for terrorists preparing another Sept. 11. And if the Taliban return, Afghanistan will become a sanctuary for war on Pakistan, and the capture of its nuclear weapons by Islamic fanatics who would use them.
We are hence no longer fighting a war of necessity to root out terrorists so they cannot replicate an act of mass murder. We are fighting a preventive war—to prevent their return, from Pakistan, to Afghanistan.
Is this a just, necessary and wise war? From his own hesitancy in sending more troops and his ruminations at Oslo, Obama himself seems conflicted. And understandably so.
Merry Christmas, and peace on earth to men of good will.
For Democrats like Harry Reid, who called them “evil-mongers,” and Nancy Pelosi, who called them “un-American,” the NBC News poll must have hit like a sucker punch at a Georgetown wine-and-cheese.
The Tea Party movement, those folks rallying against spending last spring and Obamacare in the summer town halls, are viewed more favorably than the Democratic Party.
Forty-one percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of the Tea Party movement, to 35 percent for Obama’s party. Only 24 percent view Tea Party activists unfavorably, while 45 percent hold a negative view of the Democrats.
While Tea Party types played a role in the GOP’s comeback—helping take down Gov. Jon Corzine in New Jersey and turning a John McCain deficit of 6 points in the Old Dominion into a 17-point victory for Bob McDonnell—the movement is no subsidiary of the GOP. For it played a major role in routing liberal Republican “Dede” Scozzafava in New York’s 23rd and came within a point of electing a third-party conservative.
As Congressional elections are 10 months off, though primaries begin in the spring, where do Tea Party types find the battles to keep them in fighting trim? Copenhagen may have provided an answer.
While Obama came home with a nothing-burger, Hillary stole the show. Without authorization of Congress, she committed the United States to lead a campaign to transfer, beginning in 2020, $100 billion a year “to address climate change needs in developing countries.” The fund would start at $10 billion and grow by 1,000 percent in a decade.
The $100-billion-a-year global fund sprang from the fertile mind of Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
By 2020, U.S. citizens, whose nation is careening toward default, will be borrowing tens of billions more every year from China, if Beijing is still willing to lend to us, so we can ship those tens of billions off to the sump holes of the Third World.
The arrogance of power here astonishes.
Not only does Hillary’s commitment represent a doubling of U.S. foreign aid, she declared at Copenhagen that climate change—known as global warming before a blizzard brought Obama winging home early—is “undeniable.”
Now, undeniably, there is climate change. But we call it spring, summer, fall and winter. As for global warming and cooling, that has been going on for millennia. Not so long ago, we exited what is known as the “little ice age.” Over the 20th century, the official rise in global temperature was seven-tenths of one degree Celsius.
People are wailing about the “hottest decade” in history. But who would have noticed if the Chicken Littles had not told us we are all burning up and we must act now to save the planet?
How do we save the planet? By giving them power and money.
Hillary’s hundred billion a year is just the tip of the iceberg, and this iceberg is not melting. We are at the beginning of the biggest con in history.
Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency made an “endangerment finding” that carbon dioxide, the food of plants and trees, is a dangerous pollutant. Under the Clean Air Act of 1970, this gives EPA power to shut down the U.S. economy, though EPA head Lisa Jackson says the ruling will apply only to 10,000 utilities, refineries and large manufacturers that emit more than 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide every year.
Congress has done nothing to reverse this usurpation of power.
Strict enforcement of this finding would make America a pasture and guarantee China’s future as the first industrial power, the factory for mankind. What is the purpose of this preposterous EPA finding?
It is the EPA nightstick to club into line U.S. companies that are fighting the Gore-Kerry-Obama cap-and-trade bill stalled in the Senate, which represents another huge transfer of wealth and power from the private sector to Beltway bureaucrats.
What the Obamaites are saying to industrial America is: Back off your opposition to cap-and-trade, or the EPA shuts you down.
The Tea Party irregulars have it in their power to stop the New World Order crowd cold. All they need do is stop cap-and-trade in the Senate for 10 months, until November, and block Hillary’s $100 billion fund from ever seeing the light of day.
If the Tea Party activists can hold the line, they can, next fall, send Congress a message it will not soon forget about getting off this Acela to globalism and getting back to putting America first.
In Europe, democracy is dead. French and Dutch voted to kill the EU constitution. The EU rechristened it the Lisbon Treaty. The Irish voted no. They were forced to vote again. The British detest it, but Gordon Brown has denied them a vote.
The West is disappearing into a New World Order, and against globalism, the Tea Party folks may represent our last best hope.
Historically, at least in America, people who seek to thrive in the theatre, publishing, finance, media, or even the gossip columns, make their way to Manhattan. Once here, the climb begins, and it’s tougher than any mountain in Nepal. As E.B. White, the great Big Bagel chronicler wrote, “all it takes is a willingness to be lucky.” But first one must get through the velvet rope.
I was kept out until 1978, when Clay Felker, the man who discovered Tom Wolfe, and countless others, decided it was time for the poor little Greek boy to stand up and be counted. I flew from London to New York and went to work almost immediately. He spiked the first piece but then I struck it rich with a story about William Paley, the rich all-powerful head of CBS, and the prominent women trying to land him after his wife, the legendary Babe Cushing Mortimer Paley, had died. I described him as a man so old he was considered middle-aged even in Palm Beach, and gave the women names of various fish, blow fish, the barracuda, shark, etc. Clay was over the moon and called me at five in the morning offering me a job.
“I’m going to make you famous,” was Clay’s way of luring writers he liked. Fame, however, never meant a thing to me—chasing girls and excelling on the tennis courts or on the mat counted for much more. Esquire magazine back then was a must-read, and being a regular columnist on it meant doors flew open. Americans take hacks seriously, something I’ve never understood, but I took full advantage by spending my nights at Studio 54, Elaine’s, Le Cirque and various other Manhattan hot spots. The fun and games lasted almost ten years, until low-life Brit lad magazines took over the field. Then my father died, and I went back to the Olive Republic in order to attend to business, keeping only my house and a very low profile in the Bagel. Oh yes, I did start a couple of publications of my own in New York and Washington, one now only a fond memory, the other still going with my name on the masthead.
But Manhattan during the Fifties and Eighties is always on my mind. New York when I was very young was literally the shining city on the hill. Only recently I noticed that those wonderful Edward Hopper, red-brick houses with fire escapes and stoops on the outside are still there, but not really. They’re disappearing faster than Christians in Baluchistan. Roll down gates of storefronts are the next thing to go. The city has declared them to be on a par with fatty foods and smoking. So the sound of hearing them clang shut late at night will soon be a memory, like so many other pleasant noises offered by the city that supposedly never sleeps.
And yet, there’s always the Empire State Building, its many shades reflecting the mood of the city, a true Everest for city slickers, and Rockefeller Center, its gray-slate exterior varying during rain or shine, time of day and light. Its magnificence and richness, however, is omnipresent, witness to a once upon a time unconquerable America. Further uptown, the white-gray marble and huge windows of Bergdorf – Goodman with its mansard roof looms as an anchor as well as a border, delineating the shopping from the residential areas further north. Now, at Christmas time, the festive lights affirm that come hell or high water people will shop and spend and be merry.
Further north come the great beaux-arts and art deco apartment towers, the backdrop to our visions of urban glamour, witty badinage and Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing in white tie and tiara to a Cole Porter tune. There is a real dinner-jacket, very dry Martini atmosphere, with Central Park acting as the background to the rich enjoying themselves in their penthouses. (So what’s a mugger or two, or three, or four?) It is elegant and ethereal, and, most importantly, it reminds me of my happy youth and first loves.
The great Central Park West buildings and those of Fifth Avenue fronting the park created New York’s most memorable and humane skyline. The museum mile, as its known, is like a city within a city, an area vile developers have yet to desecrate. The last one who tried, one Aby Rosen, a German, got shot down, but he’s still lurking. Beaux-Arts and modernist principles make the museum mile the humanist urban place it is today. If the developers ever get their hands on it, goodbye humanity, hello greed and misery.
Wallace Stevens wrote that “sentimentality is a failure of feeling,” a witty remark but only that. What’s wrong with feeling sentimental over limestone buildings and mansard roofs, young blondes with bobby socks, fictive existences of silver screen idols long dead, plays, essays and poems about a mythic city on the Hudson? Not to mention F.Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald jumping into the fountain in front of the Plaza, or Langston Hughes’s Harlem? Or snowy Christmases gone by, with neighborhood kids singing carols and even using the word Christmas as in have a Happy Christmas. Which reminds me. The Pug’s Club Christmas card is probably the funniest and nicest holiday card ever sent out, and the one responsible for it is our president, Nick Scott. Pug’s have two of our 16 members who have been nominated for the Nobel Peace prize. Instead it went to a man who is doing to America what Blair-Brown did for Britain. With that unhappy thought, a very happy Christmas to all Takimag readers.
If you would know what Copenhagen is all about, hearken to this nugget in The Washington Post’s report from the Danish capital.
“Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenari—who is representing all of Africa here—unveiled his proposal Wednesday for a system in which rich countries would provide money to poor ones to help deal with the effects of climate change. …
“Zenawi said he would accept $30 billion in the short term, rising to $100 billion by 2020. … This was seen as a key concession by developing countries, which had previously spurned that figure … as too low.”
There was a time when a U.S. diplomat would have burst out laughing after listening to a Third World con artist like this.
But not the Obamaites. They are already ponying up.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack just pledged $1 billion at Copenhagen to developing countries who preserve their forests. Thus, America, $12 trillion in debt and facing a second straight $1.4 trillion deficit, will borrow another $1 billion from China to send to Brazil to bribe them to stop cutting down their trees.
When you slice through the blather about marooned bears and melting ice caps, oceans rising and cities sinking, global warming is a racket and a crock. It is all about money and power.
Copenhagen has always been about an endless transfer of wealth from America, Europe and Japan and creation of a global bureaucracy to control the pace of world economic and industrial development.
End game: enrichment and empowerment of global elites at the expense of Western peoples whose leaders have been bamboozled by con artists.
When Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and Rita came ashore in Texas in 2005, we were told this was due to global warming, and hurricane seasons would now get worse and worse until the world radically reduced the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
President Bush ignored the hysteria. What happened?
As Michael Fumento reports, the 2009 hurricane season ended quietly, with the fewest hurricanes since 1997, and not one hurricane made landfall in the United States.
When the feds sought to list the polar bear as an endangered species, Gov. Sarah Palin protested this “politicized science” and sued, claiming the polar bear was a healthy species whose numbers had doubled in recent years.
Was she wrong?
Is the Arctic ice cap melting? So we are told. But what harm has befallen mankind other than to have a Northwest Passage opened up to maritime traffic in the summer?
The Antarctic ice sheet is nine times as large as the Arctic, and here is what the British Antarctic Survey wrote last April:
”(D)uring the winter freeze in Antarctica this ice cover expands to an area roughly twice the size of Europe. Ranging in thickness from less than a metre to several metres, the ice insulates the warm ocean from the frigid atmosphere above. Satellite images show that since the 1970s the extent of Antarctic sea ice has increased at a rate of 100,000 square kilometres a decade.”
One hundred thousand square kilometers a decade?
This would mean Antarctic sea ice expanded by 300,000 square kilometers since the 1970s, or 116,000 square miles, which is an area larger than all of New England.
How can the Antarctic ice cap grow for three decades as the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has steadily increased, unless carbon dioxide has little or nothing to do with global warming?
Unlike the Arctic, Antarctica is a continent, and while chunks of ice are cracking off in Western Antarctica, in Eastern Antarctica, four times larger, the ice sheet is thickening and expanding. The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research reported last April that the South Pole had shown “significant cooling in recent decades.”
In April 1992, as the alarm over the Earth’s end times began, scientists worldwide issued what was called the Heidelberg Appeal, aimed at just the kind of hysteria we are witnessing now in Copenhagen.
“We are … worried … at the emergence of an irrational ideology which is opposed to scientific and industrial progress and impedes economic and social development,” said the scientists.
“We contend that a Natural State, sometimes idealized by movements with a tendency to look towards the past, does not exist and has probably never existed since man’s first appearance in the biosphere. … (H)umanity has always progressed by increasingly harnessing Nature to its needs and not the reverse.
“We do, however, forewarn the authorities in charge of our planet’s destiny against decisions which are supported by pseudo-scientific arguments or false and non-relevant data.”
Since then, 4,000 scientists and 72 Nobel Prize winners have signed on. Again, it needs be said: Global warming is cyclical, and has been stagnant for a decade. There is no conclusive proof it is manmade, no conclusive proof it is harmful to the planet.
A recent article in a glossy magazine about the rich and famous mentioned a $35 million house in Malibu, California, whose neighbors include the actor Mel Gibson and the singer Britney Spears. The owner of this mega-monument to good taste and inconspicuous consumption turns out to be one Teodor Nguema Obiang, son of a man who goes by the same name with the tongue-twisting Mbasogo thrown in to tell them apart.
Obiang junior is 38 years old, and is paid $4000 per month back in the old country. He is obviously a man who counts his pennies because he paid for the house in cash, as he did when purchasing a Gulfstream V jet for $38 million, four Ferraris for $ 1 million, two Rolls-Royce Phantoms at $350,000 each, two Maybach Mercedeses at $350,000 each, couple of speedboats and a large yacht for prices unknown.
Not bad for a 38-year-old with a (very) limited education making 48,000 greenbacks per year. The man sure knows how to save. And spend. Mind you, we are living in a capitalist society, so why not. Teodor’s excesses might not be tolerated in today’s economic climate, but he’s no Wall Street executive. No Lloyd Blankfein he. He’s not even a Bernie Maddof. What he is, yes, you guessed it dear readers, is black, and better yet, a real, honest-to-goodness African. His father is Teodor Nguema Obiang Mbasogo, president for life of Equatorial Guinea, and junior is his agricultural and forestry minister. Equatorial Guinea is a small coastal African country with a population of 500,000, most of whom live way below the poverty line but whose infant death rate is 93 percent, among the highest in the world. There is no clean water and no health services. Simon Mann, an English mercenary recently pardoned by Teodor senior (for a large yacht, I presume) reported his fellow jailbirds eating insects and rats, although he, being a European, got favorite treatment and was given grass and bread crumbs.
How does old man Obiang manage to live in a grand palace, have billions in American banks and be so generous with his penny-pinching son? That’s as hard to answer as trying to guess the motive that made Goldman Sachs give $500 million to help small businesses over five years last month. Equatorial Guinea has undergone an oil boom in recent years, which—on paper—has produced the highest per capita income in Africa. But for some strange reason its people continue to drink foul water, eat insects and rats, and watch while 93 percent of their children die of malnutrition and lack of health services.
Although African apologists like the vile self-publicist Bono might accuse the people of being masochists, the facts are very simple. Obiang has stolen the whole kit and caboodle while the oil companies, those nice guys who charged us more for their gas while oil prices were plunging, are happy to deposit the moolah in banks such as the Riggs Bank in Washington (it was fined 25 million dollars back in 2004 for accepting Obiang funds) Wachovia and Bank of America.
Here’s what Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, an otherwise pompous buffoon, had to say: “The fact that someone like Mr Obiang continues to travel freely here suggests strongly that the State Department is not applying the law…” And travel freely the Obiangs do. While their people starve, African crooks—Obiang is hardly alone—extort, steal and use corrupt methods to export millions in the hundreds and thousands to greedy bankers in Europe and America. They use shell corporations and off shore accounts to launder the money, and although Uncle Sam is aware of what is going on, the oil lobbies are busy protecting the thieves. Many payments of Equatorial Guinea oil and timber are made by western corporations directly to Obiang. He also receives bribes and extortion payments from the oil companies.
When I asked a past commissioner of customs why the U.S. government is turning a blind eye and only concentrates on drugs, I was told that “people can go without cocaine, but not without oil.” Worse is the fact that junior routinely travels to the United States with over a million in cash on his person which he fails to declare. A crime punishable up to five years in the pokey, but junior travels on a diplomatic passport, which I guess makes it okay.
Billions of western aid goes to poor African countries, but it never reaches the poor. Instead, it goes straight back to western banks and straight into the greedy pockets of people like the Obiangs. President Bongo of Gabon, now resting in that sauna-like place below, owned 15 enormous properties in France, had ten luxury cars and 70 bank accounts. Young Teodor obviously suffers from an inferiority complex to need such large cars and airplanes. My advice to him is to copy, say, Bill Kristol and John Podhoretz, and have a penile extension operation. Then purchase a mini. It might do wonders for his image.
But seriously. Equatorial Guinea has become the third largest oil producer in sub-Sahara Africa, with revenues of about 4.8 billion per year. Surely the Obama administration can do something about this bum, as well as the rest of the crooks in Africa. No more African aid until they cough up the stolen loot. Including the Malibu mansion, the jet, the yacht and the eight cars. And a little time in some federal prison to teach junior a lesson. But I won’t be holding my breath.
“It’s time to stop worrying about the deficit—and start panicking about the debt,” the Washington Post editorial began. “The fiscal situation was serious before the recession. It is now dire.”
The editorial continued:
“In the space of a single fiscal year, 2009, the debt soared from 41 percent of the gross domestic product to 53 percent. This sum, which does not include what the government has borrowed from its own trust funds, is on track to rise to a crushing 85 percent of the economy by 2018.”
What are the risks of an exploding U.S. public debt?
The Chinese, Japanese and Arabs still buying that debt will begin to suspect they are holding onto paper on which the United States will default, or will cheapen by inflating its currency—as the Germans did in 1923 to avoid paying war reparations.
When they do, they will stop buying U.S. debt and start dumping. The Fed will then have to raise interest rates to attract borrowers, throwing the economy into a tailspin.
Is Congress even aware of what is happening?
Harry Reid is talking about doubling Medicare rolls to include folks 55 to 64. Facing a second straight $1.4 trillion deficit, Congress is moving to raise the debt ceiling by another $1.8 trillion.
And the lead story in the Post Monday began:
“The Senate cleared for President Obama’s signature on Sunday a $447 billion omnibus spending bill that contains thousands of earmarks and double-digit increases for several Cabinet agencies.”
Total cost of the Senate bill passed Sunday was “$1.1 trillion, including average spending increases of 10 percent for dozens of federal agencies.”
Ten percent hikes for federal agencies? What is going on?
Democrats say the money is needed to make up for the neglect of the George W. Bush years. But the Bush years were the fattest years for federal social spending since the Great Society.
Sen. Dick Durbin says the spending is necessary “to keep cops on the street … so that families feel secure. … Money spent to help our first responders, firefighters and policemen is a critical investment.”
But aren’t cops and firemen a state and local responsibility?
“It is business as usual, spending money like a drunken sailor, ” said Sen. John McCain. “And the bar is still open.”
But when sailors get drunk and spend crazily, they are on shore leave and spending their own money. When they get back aboard ship, they sober up and shape up, and do the vital work they enlisted to do.
These congressmen never stop bingeing. They are addicts. They are alcoholics. And they are spending our money. According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, there are 5,200 earmarks in that one Senate bill, which averages out to 12 pork projects for every House member—and 52 for every senator.
What is going on in Washington?
Democrats are following the Rahm Rule of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel. “Don’t allow a crisis to go to waste. … There are opportunities to do big things.”
The Party of Government is exploiting the economic crisis to grow the government. And from the standpoint of self interest, this makes sense. Most government employees are Democratic voters, as are most beneficiaries of government programs.
Moreover, Democrats have to get the money out the door before the midterms, where the party is going to take a bath and lose power.
How else to explain this lead story last week in USA Today:
“The number of federal workers earning six-figure salaries has exploded during the recession. …
“Federal employees making salaries of $100,000 or more jumped from 14 percent to 19 percent of civil servants during the recession’s first 18 months—and that is before overtime pay and bonuses are counted.
“Federal workers are enjoying an extraordinary boom time—in pay and hiring—during a recession that has cost 7.3 million jobs in the private sector.”
When the recession started, the Defense Department had 1,868 civilian employees earning $150,000. Defense now has 10,100. The Transportation Department had one person earning $170,000 when the recession began. Transportation now has 1,690 employees earning above $170,000. Recession in America means boom times in D.C.
The financial crisis that almost sank the capitalist system was the work of Washington and Wall Street. The Fed created the bubble. The White House and Congress goaded banks into making all those subprime mortgages. Fannie and Freddie bought up the lousy paper and turned it into securities. Wall Street banks bought them up and put them on their books as Triple A assets. Federal regulators looked the other way.
Yet happy days are here again on Wall Street. And Washington never saw better times, with federal workers now earning, on average, $31,000 a year more than workers in the gutted private sector.
Is this the government the Founding Fathers dreamed of—or is this the kind of arrogant government they took up arms against?
Last weekend, in an attempt to uncover the mysteries of the contemporary art market, I put on my great uncle’s Lederhosen and posed as an eccentric Austrian collector at Art Basel Miami. The gallerists had largely ignored me the day before. This sartorial jeu d”esprit was an attempt to spark them into action. And it worked. The assistants—meticulously coiffed men and languidly bored girls—appeared to perk up. They showed me around and made introductions. I asked a few questions. They replied guardedly. I got the distinct impression that they were withholding information, or perhaps waiting to see whether I would reveal my hand. And maybe that is what the art world is”a big game in which no one is quite sure of the rules, but no one wants to be the first to admit it.
Let me give a sample conversation:
Austrian “collector”: (Examining beautiful, painstaking woodcut by Franz Gertsch) This is interesting.
Gallerist: Yes, Gertsch is a very important artist.
Austrian “collector”: How long would it take him to produce a print like this?
Gallerist: Gertsch works at his own speed.
Austrian “collector”: No doubt. And what speed is that?
Gallerist: Gertsch cannot be rushed.
Austrian “collector”: So how long would it take him, if he wasn”t being rushed?
Gallerist: (Reluctantly) I would say, anywhere up to 6 months. Maybe more.
Austrian “collector”: (Impressed) Wow, that is a long time. (Examining the tiny pointillist marks) Is he autistic?
Gallerist: (Pokerfaced) Gertsch is a very important artist.
Art Basel Miami Beach has been running since 2002 and is the sister event to the more established Art Basel in Switzerland. The fair runs for the first week of December. The official show takes place in the vast convention center. There are 250 galleries exhibiting contemporary artists; some, like Franz Gertsch, are very important. Miami’s other galleries and exhibition centers take advantage of the event to open their doors to this international assembly of art world movers and shakers. Galleries in parts of town such as Wynwood and the Design District showcase the new crop of artists waiting to be discovered.
I never knew exactly what was going on at the fair. There were a lot of people milling around but how many of them were in a position to pay the huge sums for which most of these works were being offered? Despite the ubiquitous gallerists and their languid/coiffed assistants, I never saw any evidence of business being transacted. And, in that sense, the art fair parallels the city of Miami itself. After New York and Chicago, Miami’s skyline is the third most impressive in America, according to the Almanac of Architecture and Design. And yet many of these huge buildings stand empty. Miami, like the art world, has been hit hard by the recession. Furthermore, and again like the art world, it is hard to know what makes Miami tick. San Francisco prides itself on its technology and bohemianism, New York is driven by finance and Los Angeles by the entertainment industry. And Miami?
The city is one of extraordinary diversity, even by American standards. Over one third of the population of the metropolitan area are Cuban. Large numbers of Haitians, Colombians and Brazilians live in the city itself. They rub shoulders with a generous sprinkling of European emigrÃ©s and well-heeled New Yorkers. People watching is a very entertaining local pastime. I enjoyed the sight of a statuesque platinum blond lady strutting down Lincoln Road, dragging two befuddled poodles behind her. She was no stranger to cosmetic surgery “ she looked as if she had recently been punched in the mouth and was now caught in a wind tunnel.
What brings the inhabitants of Miami together? In one sense, it is a shared love of pleasure. The sports cars are flash, the yachts are big and the dresses skimpy. There is a flirtatiousness in the air which cannot be explained by the sultry climate alone. However, is there still enough money flying around in a recession to sustain these sybaritic lifestyles? That is also a question which the art world is currently grappling with. Given the cost of shipping artworks around the world “ the actual cost as well as the insurance costs “ it is baffling how the contemporary art scene functions at all.
Back at the art fair, there were a number of works which I found baffling in another way. I am thinking of the $5000 door mat lying in the middle of the gallery, with a plaster cast of a doorbell on top of it. The poor girl working there told me that she had already had to chase a dozen people off the mat when they accidentally stepped on it. I was so perplexed myself that I forgot to play the game for a moment; I asked her outright what the point of this “work” was. She stammered a little and called her employer who proceeded to crush me beneath the weight of his art world babble.
Austrian “collector”: This is interesting.
Gallerist: Yes, Gabrielli is a very important artist. His experiments in form are designed to encapsulate the physical manifestation of a single thought, with all its lyricism and paradox. His pieces represent both interior visions and the very real destruction of the well-defined and corporeal. They stand on the anxious fulcrum of categorization where distinctions between forms and material disappear, or are made to disappear. Gabrielli is a very important artist.
None of this made any sense to me but it was so fluently and so earnestly delivered that any disagreement on my part would have felt like a personal insult.
I left that gallery full of admiration for the owner. Did he believe what he was saying? Was he making it all up? In any case, he had silenced me through his use of language. Like a master spin doctor, he had used language to befuddle rather than to clarify, and he had left me feeling like the idiot. That’s when I realized that language is also a big part of the art world game.
There are times when a dealer or a gallerist will push you for a reaction. At these times, there is one phrase which I find particularly useful. After a considered appraisal, I like to say, “Hmmm, yes, it’s very derivative.” Out of context, this is of course utterly meaningless. Its beauty lies in the fact that it could be an endorsement or a criticism—you never have to show your hand, and you come away sounding like a great expert.
The decades-long campaign of Ron Paul to have the Government Accountability Office do a full audit of the Federal Reserve now has 313 sponsors in the House.
Sometimes perseverance does pay off.
If not derailed by the establishment, the audit may happen.
Yet, many columnists and commentators are aghast.
An auditors’ probe, they wail, would imperil the Fed’s independence and expose it to pressure from Congress to keep interest rates low and money flowing when the need of the nation and economy might call for tightening.
They cite Paul Volcker, who to squeeze double-digit inflation out of the economy in the late Carter and early Reagan years, drove the prime rate to 21 percent, causing the worst recession since the Depression. Volcker, they claim, prepared the ground for the Reagan tax cuts and seven fat years of prosperity.
That decade, America created 20 million jobs—and another 22 million in the Clinton era. Without Volcker putting the economy through the wringer, it could not have happened. And had he been forced to explain his decisions, Congress would have broken his policy.
Such is the cast for Fed independence.
But if true, what does this say about our republic?
Is it not an admission that, though Congress was created by the Constitution, and the Fed is a creation of Congress, our elected representatives cannot be trusted with the money supply, cannot be trusted with control of the nation’s central bank? To have decisions made in the national interest, we need folks who do not have to answer to voters.
If this be true, the republic is closer to its end than its beginning, when Thomas Jefferson said, “In questions of power, let us hear no more of trust in men, but rather bind them down from mischief with the chains of the Constitution.”
Others contend that were it not for the independence and vision of Fed Chair Ben Bernanke, the economy might have gone over the cliff and into the abyss after the Lehman Brothers collapse in October 2008.
What opponents of Paul’s audit are thus saying is that elected legislators must be kept out of the temple where the great decisions about the economy are made, that these decisions must rest with bankers and economists answerable, as is the Supreme Court, to themselves and no one else.
But has the performance of the Fed been so brilliant any intrusion upon its privacy is sacrilege?
Among the failures of the Fed is the Great Depression. As Milton Friedman related in his A Monetary History of the United States, for which he won a Nobel Prize for Economics, the Fed hugely expanded the money supply in the mid-to-late 1920s.
Following a path of least resistance, the money flowed into the equity markets, where stocks could be bought on 10 percent margin. The market soared, and a huge bubble was created. When it popped, scores of thousands of investors conducted a run on the banks to get their money out to meet their margin calls.
Thousands of banks, short on cash, closed. One-third of the money supply was wiped out, and the Fed failed to replenish the lost blood. Thus did the Fed cause the Great Depression.
Smoot and Hawley were framed.
Moreover, every bubble from the dot-com of the late 1990s to housing this decade is a result of Fed policy. For unless there is an excess of money sloshing around, funds that surge into one market, be it housing, stocks or Third World loans, have to come out of another.
Moreover, if the Fed has not failed dismally in its duty to keep prices stable, how come candy bars and Cokes that cost a nickel in the 1950s cost 50 or 75 cents today, and new Cadillacs that sold for $3,200 in the late 1940s cost $55,000 or $60,000 now? Who is responsible for inflation, if not the Fed?
Moreover, it is now conceded that the Fed, in the early years of this 21st century, kept interest rates near 1 percent for too long, and created the bubble that popped in 2008 and almost brought down our own and the global economies.
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Because the Fed can create money out of thin air, we have been able to wage wars on credit, shovel out trillions in foreign aid, World Bank and International Monetary Fund loans, and run humongous budget and trade deficits that have brought our country to the brink of ruin.
And if Bernanke is a genius, how is it he didn’t see the train wreck coming and had to double-time it to the Hill with Hank Paulson to plead for $700 billion to bail out AIG, Fannie and Freddie, and buy all that rotten paper on the books of Citibank & Co.?
The greatest economy the world had ever seen has been horribly mismanaged and virtually ruined by the decisions of presidents, Congress and the Federal Reserve. Main Street has been wiped as Wall Street was bailed out. Why?
Bring on the auditors!
The hysteria over Tiger Woods is simply wonderful. Unlike Bill Clinton’s tarts, Tiger’s are a tiny bit better quality, which is not saying much. The prettiest of the lot, Rachel Uchitel, is something else. This is hard for me to admit, but she was at school with my daughter and I had actually noticed her and had said something to my little girl about her. (“Daddy, stop it..”) Rachel’s best friend was also an operator, a girl by the name of Shoshanna Lonstein, who managed to land a multi-millionaire once she graduated from Nightingale – Bamford, a top girls school in the Bagel. While attending school, Shoshanna was stepping out with a man called Jerry Seinfeld, of TV fame, not the type any self-respecting father would like to see his daughter bring home. In fact, I remember asking the mother of my children whether she planned to turn our daughter into a pole dancer or something.
Well, the papers are calling Rachel a socialite, which yet again goes to show how much they know. Uchitel’s grandfather was a sleazy nightclub owner whom I knew ever so slightly, and her old man overdosed and died a few years ago. Not exactly top drawer stuff, but better than Miss Chelsea Clinton’s future father-in-law, Ed Mezvinsky, who just served seven years in a federal lock up for bank and wire fraud. (Mezvinsky did seven, Jeffrey Epstein did two, I wonder which Clinton buddy is next?) The New York Times failed to report this, as unfit to print because it doesn’t fit its agenda, but just imagine if Jenna Bush had become engaged to the son of a crook…
Mind you, people are expressing surprise at Tiger’s antics. What universe are they living in? Billionaire sport stars pick up babes as often as Tony Blair lies, be it tennis, golf, especially basketball. There is hardly a black professional basketball player in the NBA that doesn’t have numerous children with different women. One of them has nine, but pays for only three of them for some strange reason. His case is being reviewed by the courts. Baseball players are mostly whites from poor areas and more often than not marry their high school sweethearts. The Hispanic ones are livelier, but they, too, prefer marriage to chasing pussy. Tiger Woods is known for his swearing and whining, his foul-mouthed tantrums on the course, and his constant claims that he had suffered prejudice because of his race. He’s no hero to those who know him. Celebrity worship being what it is in America, plus the fact he’s as rich as he is, made it easy for him to pick up “socialites” like Rachel Uchitel and cocktail waitresses like Jaimee Grubbs. Actually, he’s no Don Giovanni. The Don was reckless but he seduced mostly ladies and hard to seduce working class girls, as in the case of Donna Elvira’s maid. Tarts like Tiger’s were not to his liking, and I don’t care what Leporello says about his master having done 1003 women in Spain. He attempts to rape Donna Anna and somehow he gets away with it. The sympathy of the audience, that is. Everyone is drawn to the Don, from the jilted and obsessed Elvira to Spain’s present female defence minister, Carma Chacon, a die hard feminist. The Don’s image is not manufactured, like Tiger’s, it’s the real McCoy. Yet the Don is a mythical character and Tiger Woods is, well, sort of real. Go figure, as they say in Jupiter Island, where Tiger’s wife beat the crap out of him with a seven iron. I find the wife very attractive but not that sexy. She’s in it for the money, I’m sure, but Swedes are known to get physical when they catch their men in flagrante. I had a great friend, Anne Sophie, a real heart breaker and looker, who was the daughter of a Swedish ambassador and who stabbed her straying boyfriend eleven times. He lived and she went to jail, and he warned me when I stepped out with her what she was like. She was great, knife or no knife.
But back to the Don. My favourite Dons were Cesare Siepi and Ruggiero Raimondi.I have seen the opera many, many times, and at one time I knew every word of Leporello’s aria about how many women his master had seduced. (Novantuna in Turkia, mas in Espana mille tres. Of course it was hard to get lucky in Turkey back then). The Don is dragged down to hell in every production, but he lives and will live forever. He will always be a great man and hero, whereas Tiger’s good-guy image has begun to unravel.
But not for long. Consumerism, celebrity worship, status-seeking, and the artificial cult of youth will rehabilitate him. This is the world we live in. The New York Times just had a 3-page spread featuring one of the world’s most important people: Madonna’s gigolo, Jesus Luz. Another two page spread featured a slob who sues schools which don’t provide equal sport facilities for women, making him sound like the saint he isn’t, and discreetly reporting the slob had also done hard time for fraud. Tiger will be back because it was not his fault. We are racists and made him feel bad when he was young, and he needed some female TLC.