22 January 2009

NO! It's not as bad as the Great Depression

As the new liberal Congress gets ready to throw another one trillion dollars down the sewer with the mistaken or, in some cases (read: Treasury Secretary Geithner), mendacious notion that it is going to stimulate the economy and jolt us out of the economic crisis, very few influential voices in this country are willing to call this for what it is: dangerous nonsense.

For one thing, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AR), one of the few brave voices in this rush to pull out the federal check book, reminded the audience of Hugh Hewitt’s radio talk show yesterday (Jan 21, 2009) that the proposed bill to stimulate the economy will do little or nothing in that respect. Not that all of the proposed spending is necessarily pork, but it does not belong in this bill, he explained. Some of the money for infrastructure and energy projects will not even be spent in the next four years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. In other words, under the guise of emergency spending Obama and his liberal allies in Congress are adding enormous amounts to the national deficit. And it will do nothing to the economy in the short term.

But more importantly, this bill is only being pushed because the country is “in the worst recession since the Great Depression”—according to those pushing it. Problem is, that is not true, at least not yet. Baltimore Sun columnist Jay Hancock looked at the actual statistics recently and concluded that while it’s important not to underestimate the economic downturn, right now the recession is not even as bad as the 1982 economic crisis. While unemployment is rising rapidly, it’s still nowhere near the 10.4 % unemployment rate of 1983. It’s not even up to the 7.8% of 1992.

There are other statistics, such as gross domestic products and services produced in the US that suggest things are not as bad as the 1930s--nor even as bad as 1982. Other factors may look disastrous, including the almost total collapse of the housing market in some regions of the US or the dissolution of great bastions in the financial markets, but while these are impressive events, they are not of widespread catastrophic magnitude.

So before Pelosi, Reid & Co. drive us all like lemmings over the cliff, could we perhaps have a little perspective?

21 January 2009

One Little Sentence

Should one be glad that the New York Times is keeping Roger Cohen out of the unemployment lists? I cannot say I am overly familiar with the man's columns, but today's puke-worthy adoration of St. Barack XLIV by Cohen leads me to answer that question in the negative. The column is not just drivel, it's religious claptrap in the official Media Cult of the Obamassiah. Of course, the Times, as any other person or corporation can express itself in whatever way it likes, but I don't have to like it.

In his column, Cohen passes grave judgment on the preceding 8 years and on the president who led the country:

America is returning to its Constitution: “We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” With that little sentence, Obama bade farewell to renditions, torture, the trampling of habeas corpus, Guantánamo and other stains on the nation’s conscience. This work will not be complete until Guantánamo is closed and those wrongly imprisoned, some for more than five years, are compensated.

The arrogance is inconceivable. For years, the public debate as well as the professional debate between Constitutional scholars, lawyers, Congressmen etc. has raged over the legal status of many of Pres. Bush's policies in the War on Terror. But Cohen knows best: it was all unconstitutional and Guantánamo is full of innocent people. With one little sentence, the verdict is passed. Surely fodder for those who want to also impose sentence on Mr. Bush.

Give me a break.

12 January 2009

And.... He's In! -- On Roland Burris Being Seated

After well over a week of legal tug-of-war, Roland Burris, Rod Blagojevich's pawn in his embarrassing game of cat and mouse with the FBI, was finally admitted to the Senate today. Of course, Harry Reid must have been fuming that Blagojevich had won this round in a game in which he, Reid, was also a mere pawn. But Burris has all the legal arguments on his side and so Reid got embarrassed, as the Washington Post put it.

Burris is another product of the Chicago political machine and though he may not be implicated in the Blagojevich scandal, America and Illinois should not expect anything even as competent as Obama's performance in the seat he is now going to be filling. Once Mr Burris takes his seat, he will be firmly shackled by Reid & Co. to make sure he does nothing that is not first approved by the Democratic Party. After all, Burris is hardly electable on his own terms and should be made to understand that he is expected to step aside for a hand-picked candidate in 2010, when Mr Obama's original term expires.

What a circus. Now only one joke remains: the Al Franken show in Minnesota.

Review of David McCullough’s John Adams

David McCullough. John Adams. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. (ISBN 0-684-81363-7, 751pp., index, ill.)

After seeing the HBO miniseries John Adams on DVD (we don’t waste our hard-earned money on an HBO subscription) I was intrigued enough to find out more about America’s second president, so I bought McCullough’s book on which the tv-series was based.

Adams is a relatively little-known figure among the Founding Fathers. The extravagant and heroic Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin make for much more interesting reading in history textbooks than Adams, who was never caught out on any sexual sin, never owned any slaves, never invented anything, and never led any battles.

Seen in that light, Adams must seem a terminally boring person, a president who swam against the tide of popular opinion when the country clamored for war with France and who made himself extremely little beloved by signing into law for which any 21st century president would be run out of town for even if he just wondered out loud about the desirability of such a provision: the Alien and Sedition Act. Fair enough, this monstrous law, which elevated personal insults of the president to the level of a criminal offense, ought never even have come to his desk and he should never have signed it.

Yet the second president was no more a monster than the forty-third for all the bile that was directed at both. Though Adams’ transgression of Constitutional safeguards was much more acute than George Bush’s creation of separate judicial procedures for enemy combatants at Guantánamo, since it criminalized speech—and speech against Adams—, there was a context in which Adams agreed to sign this legislation. This context also produced probably his greatest legacy to his country and almost certainly ensured that the infant United States did not die an ignominious crib death. It was Adams’s resolve to avoid war with France, almost at all costs and certainly at great personal political cost, that prevented a disastrous military conflict at a time when the young country could not have prevailed. The Revolutionary War had crippled any military strength the United States could muster from among the untrained farm hands that formed the core of the militia.

At the same time, though, that Adams resisted the evil machinations by Alexander Hamilton—surely the vilest character ever in American politics, period.—to militarize America and prevented the costly and unnecessary build-up of a standing army in peace time, President Adams was enough of a forward-looking realist to see that America’s future safety depended on what he referred to as the “wooden wall:” a strong navy. All of America’s enemies lay across the ocean. Though military success against the Barbary pirates is credited to Adams’s successor Thomas Jefferson, it was thanks to the second president’s insistence not to be distracted with ground troops and funding of a navy that Jefferson had the disposal of a fleet strong enough to defeat a band of Islamic thugs that had so far held all of Europe hostage over right of sea passage in the Mediterranean.

David McCullough’s book is much more than a chronicle of Adams’s presidency or his underestimated involvement in the Revolution. This biography paints a great picture of the man Adams as he was from cradle to grave. A lot of contemporary records have come down to us about John Adams, not in the least because the man was more than merely a prolific correspondent and a firm believer in keeping diaries. There are few people in world history who wrote more than Adams. But in addition to this boon to historians, Adams happened to marry a woman who, if perhaps not a more prolific writer, ranks but little lower on that scale. Most of his children and grand-children also kept diaries. This biography clearly benefits from the enormous library of letters and diaries from the Adams family, his correspondents, and his contemporaries.

One cannot help but gain enormous respect for John and Abigail Adams—and even come to love them in a sense. Their marriage was certainly not idyllic. Abigail suffered from many illnesses and infirmities that sometimes confined her to her bed for weeks or months. The pressures of public life, the burdens of which Abigail often did not feel herself able to endure, led to numerous years of separation while Adams was in Europe, in Philadelphia, or in Washington DC, while his wife remained at home in Massachusetts. And yet these two people were very well matched in every way. Abigail was able to provide her husband not merely the emotional support that would have been expected of a wife in the 18th century. In possession of a keen intellect herself, she was able to provide him with a sounding board and advice on practically any issue he encountered both in his legal and his political career. Abigail is also known to have argued with her husband in favor of incorporating full equal rights for women in the nascent republic. John Adams never committed to supporting such a notion, though he hinted that his reluctance stemmed from a correct appreciation of the mood of the times, which would never have supported it.

Adams stands apart from many of the Founding Fathers by being so normal and mainstream, but also in a sense ahead of his time. Especially on the subject of slavery and racism, the Adamses (both John and Abigail) were very outspoken. While Jefferson too claimed, limply and completely incredibly, to abhor slavery while never doing anything against it, John Adams spoke openly of his belief that all men were truly created equal and that any distinctions on the basis of skin color were morally repugnant. Adams described slavery as a “foul contagion in the human character,” and “an evil of colossal magnitude” (p. 134). Abigail was perhaps even more outraged by slavery, possibly because her father had owned a slave. Yet Adams refused to bring up the topic in the Continental Congress, aware of the fact that it would have killed among the southern states the taste for resistance against the British suppression that Massachusetts was suffering under more than any of the other states. Nevertheless, in his later years, Adams correctly predicted that the issue of slavery would be the cause of civil war between the north and south.

McCullough describes all the important (and many not-so-important) events of his life in admirable detail. Yet I have a few quibbles with the book. The biggest one is that Adams’s faith is hardly ever described. To the modern reader it may seem at times as if Adams believed only in some nebulous spirit-God who smiles benevolently on everything man does as if they are His pets. Adams’s faith seems to play almost no role in his thoughts or his actions. Nowhere are we even told what theology he subscribed to or what sort of church he went to, though one may assume (I do not know this) that he was a Congregationalist like most of rural Massachusetts in the 18th century, and therefore similar to what today would be called a Reformed Baptist. But Adams’s faith, and that of his wife, played a huge role in their lives and, as even the momentary glimpses in McCullough’s book show, provided him with the moral framework that guided him in his political beliefs and his policies. Also, Abigail believed that the calamities that befell Americans may well be the result of God’s wrath on the country for the evil of slavery. Both Adamses lived out of the Bible and enjoyed all of Creation as a gift of God.

I also think that McCullough’s style is, as others have said, too much on “autopilot.” The material seems a little disorganized and often one wonders why some items are even included. At 650 pages it is also simply too long for a popular biography. Many things could have been condensed and left out. What is more, McCullough offers very little argument. The book at times seems like an arrangement of personal writings, but the author provides no framework in which to place the material. Though it is possible to gain an understanding of the historical context of the Alien and Sedition Act through this book, Adams’s biographer includes little or no discussion of this highly controversial scene in American politics. If this were sold simply as a digest of the Adams Papers that would be fine, but McCullough claims it as a biography.

In the end, this is neither the hyped super-biography that it was sold as, nor the horrible failure some reviewers believe it to be. The book avoids the label “mediocrity” fairly easily because it is too well researched and too comprehensive in its inclusion of the various aspects of Adams’s life. But it is true that many topics are treated too superficially. Because of its length, these flaws are quite grave. 3 out of 5 stars.