Friday, January 29, 2010

What Bipartisanship Means

For the minority party bipartisanship means being lectured by the President about their rhetoric, scolded for their tactics, and treated as if they alone had party members and supporters who use hyperbole.

In our view, this dressing-down at an event to which Congressional Republicans welcomed the President as a guest is grimly instructive about the President's state of mind. His response to losing is to bitterly complain that he has been demonized by his enemies. He reminds us of Nixon's most undignified moments of whiny, self-righteousness and ersatz martyrdom.

Fave Piece on the Unremarkable Speech

The SWNID Prize for Petulant Punditry on Obama's State of the Union goes to . . .

Colby Cosh of the Canadian conservative organ Macleans. His piece--nostalgic for Rutherford B. Hayes, of all people--combines virtuosic diction with lighthanded critique and trenchant political insight.

Some pull quotes:

The idea of the “State of the Union address” was revived by the tyrannical, warmongering racist Woodrow Wilson, that infallible guide to the inadvisable. . . .

Nowadays, the President gets to play rock star once a year with the Vice-President and the Speaker of the House as his rhythm section. (Though any bar-band bass player who upstaged his frontman with deranged mugging as often as Nancy Pelosi does would quickly find himself in a back-alley dumpster with a Rickenbacker colonoscopy.) . . .

Indeed, a Haitian asked to consider the “terrible choices” faced by Americans would probably say it wasn’t really suffering at all—just childish resentment at the mere existence of economic scarcity. (I understand that there’s a recession on, but what prior generation of Americans didn’t have to struggle to realize its ambitions? When have the non-rich not faced difficult choices and opportunity costs?)

Some Friday Perspective

Many SWNIDish acquaintances express disappointment with President Obama that they now characterize as embarrassment. While we have significant policy differences with BHO, we nevertheless reserve the response of embarrassment for more serious situations.

Like the one Argentines face with President Christine Fernandez, whose ties to her country's ambitious pork industry came to the fore in an interesting presidential pronouncement recently.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

And Did You Notice?

Justice Alito broke with the tradition that the Supremes and Joint Chiefs don't react to anything in a Presidential address. Watch for the telltale shaking of the head and uttering "not true" when the POTUS offers what follows the declaration of "all due respect to the separation of powers."

Because people only say "with all due respect to" before they violate respect, we excuse the distinguished Justice for his reflexive breach of protocol.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Quick Guide to Obama's SOU

For those who didn't see BHO's State of the Union, we offer the following quick guide.

Who's Bad in the Union: Wall Street, banks, insurance companies, oil companies, investment managers, those who make more than $250k/year, lobbyists, the Senate, America's Most Powerful Interests, CEOs, politicians (!), TV pundits, BHO himself.

Who's Good in and out of the Union: Main Street, working families, the House of Representatives, small businesses, China, Germany, India, BHO himself.

Who's Not So Bad after All: Dubya, who got blamed for nothing except massive deficits and the awful state of the economy, less than the blame heaped on him by any Democrat since Grover Cleveland. Bush even got indirect credit for a couple of things, like starting the financial bailout that helped Obama keep the economy afloat, though Bush is still miserably to blame for the resulting deficits.

What Didn't Happen Rhetorically: Red-meat populism, the on-the-one-hand/on-the-other-hand false choice. We register huge relief not to have heard multiple references to "fighting" for this or that, and amazement that BHO can hold forth for an hour without his favorite illogical trick. That was change we can believe in.

What Did Happen Rhetorically: Declaring the intention to "clear things up" or "set the record straight" and then offering an epic whopper (saying health care wasn't to score a big legislative victory in his first year, claiming that the deficits are someone else's fault).

Reaganism Omitted to Excellent Effect: All those sappy references to Heroic Citizens seated in the balcony. Maybe that overworked device will now slip into the annals of forgotten sentimentality.

Stuff SWNID Loves: eliminating capital gains taxes on small businesses, more nuclear power, more offshore drilling, more exports.

Same Old Stuff SWNID Hates: Calling "clean energy" projects "infrastructure," slopping up commitments to free trade with calls for "enforcement" that are nothing more than protectionist pledges to organized labor, referring to "overwhelming scientific evidence" for global warming when "predominant grant-supported interpretation of conflicting evidence" is more in order, talking about financial reform (as in regulation) without talking about monetary policy (as in interest rates having been too low for too long) or housing policy (as in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac having driven much of the housing bubble), suggesting that more tuition subsidies will create more college educated people and not simply higher tuition rates and more dropouts, privileging "public service" over private employment as if people who work for a profit don't serve the public.

Most Self-Defeating Observation Likely to Be Overlooked: Noting that health care and tuition have risen at record rates, then promising to subsidize them even more. A reminder to all, yet again: if you subsidize something, it will cost more.

Biggest Deal Likely to Be Overlooked: The favorable mention of a trade deal with Colombia. Finally, BHO may get something right in Latin America.

Biggest Distinction to Be Remembered: When a D talks about cutting taxes, it's always for behaviors that the D wants to encourage. When an R talks about cutting taxes, it's generally for everybody. If 95% of Americans got a tax cut, did you get yours? We certainly didn't get ours. Maybe he was referring to the way that our lowered incomes also lowered our taxes.

Stellar Moments of Political Hypocrisy: Talking about a freeze on discretionary spending "next year" after having raised it by more than 20% this year, insisting on bipartisanship by telling Ds to go forward with their massive majority and scolding Rs for saying no, saying "I'm not interested in relitigating the past" after having blamed the entire fiscal mess on Dubya, claiming credit for ending the Iraq War that was won with a surge that BHO opposed.

Challenge to Which SWNID Will Rise: Asking people to name a better approach to solving America's healthcare problems than what is in the works. We'll give two answers that leave a lot of ground in the middle for further discussion: Wyden-Bennett and what Dubya proposed back in 2005. Sorry, BHO, but we're wise to that trick of pretending that your solution is the only solution on offer.

Lamest Moment: Claiming that a bill on healthcare is "close." Beat that horse one more time, Mr. President: it might not be dead!

Moment of Silence: Discussion of the auto bailout and the exit strategy therefrom.

Singular Moments of Narcissism: Ending the speech with the stirring declaration "We don't quit," then ending it again with "I don't quit." Well, maybe that was a swipe at Sarah Palin.

And Some Notes on the TV Images: We didn't see much of Hillary, who normally is the focus of every third reaction shot (UPDATE: Hillary was abroad on State Dept. business). Who got the incredible idea to put Al Franken right behind the Joint Chiefs? The generalissimos must have spent the evening waiting for the supposedly hilarious Franken to given them a wedgie. But maybe he was preoccupied with the bankruptcy of Air America. NBC ran a commercial for Allstate after the speech, which just reminded us all that David Palmer was a President of whom we could all be proud.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Get the Background: Documentary on the Haitian Revolution

For those who want some perspective on Haitian history, here's a handy video documentary, YouTubed in six parts, that narrates the Haitian revolution.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Whence and Whither Haiti?

WSJ's Mary Anastasia O'Grady is consistently insightful in her analysis of politics and economics in the Americas south of what we commonly call America. Here's her take, very much worth heeding, on why Haiti is a mess and what it now does and doesn't need.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Republic Is Saved!

Say it over and over again: Scott Brown (R-Massachusetts)! Number 41 saves the Republic from ObamaCare.

And we take bad all the nasty things we've ever said about Jim Webb.

What's best is that we won't have to wait for half a dozen Supreme Court rulings to finish this abomination. An election in the Navy Blue State did it just fine.

Monday, January 18, 2010

T-Shirt Scholarship

St. John's College is one of our Republic's most distinctive educational institutions. With campuses in Maryland and New Mexico, St. John's provides a liberal arts education not just grounded in the classics but obsessed with them. The epicenter of the "great books" curriculum, St. John's offers no majors. Students begin in the Greek and Latin classics, work their way through the Middle Ages and Renaissance and finally into the early Modern period. Every student takes the same classes. Every instructor teaches across the curriculum, in all disciplines. Students take two years of Greek, followed by two years of French.

So an enterprising group of students recently produced t-shirts emblazoned with an Attic Greek sentence proclaiming, "If you can read this, you are over-educated."

Except, as the Santa Fe Reporter reports, they got the accent marks all wrong. This observation came from Thomas G. Palaima, a professor of classics at the University of Texas at Austin and a MacArthur Fellow.

We have so many observations we'd like to make about this, we must restrain ourself. But here are a few:

  • This situation arises in part because the Greek accent system is on the one hand moderately complex and on the other hand unnecessary to master for students who are simply trying to read ancient texts with reasonable accuracy and facility.
  • This situation is eerily parallel to a frequent occurrence in the SWNIDish experience. To wit: an earnest student comes to us begging that we share a Greek phrase that means something or other, hoping to print the phrase not on a t-shirt but permanently on the student's own skin, a crude practice known as "tattooing." Too often, such efforts come to a sad end, as the student or the tattoo "artist" garble the phrase into a bit of nonsense.
  • Professor Palaima, per the Santa Fe Reporter, laments the erosion of respect for learning of which he sees this t-shirt as an epitome. Meant to lionize learning, in fact it bowdlerizes it, as the overconfident students failed to check their accenture with a seasoned scholar among the faculty. This, per Palaima, is the kind of anti-elitism exemplified by such cultural phenomena as Sarah Palin.
Note well that we aren't making that last part up. On the university campus, everything leads to politics. Everything. And politics of a particular kind.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

More Theological Wisdom on Haiti

Noted theologian Danny Glover explains the cause of the Haitian earthquake. Listen patiently to the end of this clip for the surprising truth:

As those of a certain generation will recall, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature."

Nothing seems to provoke amazingly idiotic public statements so much as humanitarian crises.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Another Firsthand Report from Haiti

Another of our network of correspondents provides this dispatch, relayed by an American mother concerning her son, a volunteer in Haiti providing assistance prior to the earthquake (we've omitted the name for privacy's sake):

[The young man] is in FL en route to Ryder Trauma Center. He has multiple injuries to arm, elbow, hand and ribs from digging himself out of the collapsed Montana Hotel. He is in good spirits. Thank you God for keeping this info from me until now. I would have totally freaked out. The news said that only 100 out of 300 survived the hotel collapse.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Another Firsthand Report from Haiti

Here's a message sent late Wednesday from Salonique Adolphe. Salonique is based on Gonaives, at the edge of the earthquake's reach, but he is in touch with Port-au-Prince and connected to many there.

Greetings my dear brothers and sisters,
I want to thank all of you who were praying for us while we were undertaking the scary task of looking for people, assessing the situation and distribute, little as it was, water and crackers to the people.
First praise be to God because we found Bea, my sister in a bus headed to Gonaives while we were leaving L'Estere. What we did was we stop all buses we met who were headed to Gonaives. We were fortunate to find her in the third one we met. Thanks to all of you who prayed. She is safe. No visible hurt. No harm.
We paid her fair and she continued her way to Gonaives and we continued our way to Port-au-Prince. The addresses that were able to have access to, we found all except two. They were in class at their college when the earthquake hit, and they are among the missing.
I have seen some terrible situation and circumstances in my life: I remember how things were when Baby Doc (Jean Claude Duvalier) left the country, I remember minor earthquake that we had, especially in 94, I remember Hurricane Jeanne in 2004 and most recently Hurricanes Hanna and Ike in 2008, but one can put all those terrible events together and one would still be far from being in the situation where Port-au-Prince, thus Haiti is in today.
I mean dead bodies are all over. Port-au-Prince is an open grave yard. All the dead are laid on the ground in the streets. The most fortunate ones are covered with a white sheet, the rest who knows? It is a very concervative number to talk about 100,000 deaths. Destroyed vehicles. Destroyed houses, many, many houses are destroyed. It is heart wrenching. Those who hurt face a critical situation as there is no hospital who can receive more people to take care of them. In some instances, there are no medication. I had with me a bag full of medical supplies that my wife Gine gave me to give to whomever, we gave them to Red Cross. They were very happy to receive them and we were very happy to give it to them. Thanks to brother Dennis Smith. Now there the 2 millions people who need counselling, who need comfort, encouragement. I wish I could have here a thousand of my sister Regina Green to help them out. Getting healing for the physical pain is one thing, but get healing from the emotional pain, the trauma is not for tomorrow. Please pray for these people.
On our way to Port-au-Prince, we bought a good amound of bags of water and bottled water, crackers to distribute. We did it and everything went smoothly in spite of the fear we had when we were getting ready to distribute. Manno and Fevrier came with the bright idea of just bring them to the tents and give each pack to one person to share. It went smoothly. We praise God for that.
I was desvastated also when I saw Wall International Guest House. The first building is completely gone and they lost some dear souls. Please pray for Veniel and his wife and his co workers as they are trying to help many in this situation.

On our way back, my car broke down right before we entered Cabaret which used to be called Cabaret. Manno said there is nothing we could do for it without specific tools and time and setting; We had to leave it at the compound of the soldiers of Minustah who promise they will be watching over it. We then board a tap tap, from the tap tap to the very high top of a bus, because there was no place inside.
My friends in spite the wind we made it home safely. We praise God for that and we thank you for praying for us.

But arriving here, I met with two very bad news: Sister Robinson and her daugther, her unique child, died in Port-au-Prince as a result of the earthquake. Living Water family hits very bad. The second bad news is one of our student at the highschool was in Port-au-Prince at the moment of the earthquake and a wall fell on her. She is still alive, but they say she will not be able to survive it because it was too terrible. Pray for those two families.

More on Haiti's "Pact with the Devil"

Why do the most outrageous statements involve half truths?

Pat Robertson's latest outrage--attributing Haiti's perennial misery to a 220-year-old "pact with the devil"--dimly reflects a reality.

But first, some questions:

  • What in Mr. Robertson's understanding of history leads him to believe that anyone would need a pact with the devil to defeat the French?
  • What in Mr. Robertson's understanding of theology leads him to believe that the French, who ran Haiti as a particularly brutal slave colony, somehow had not by their enslavement of humans made a pact with the devil?
  • In light of the well-known historical fact that the Haitian revolution against the French seriously frightened slaveholders in the United States, provoking even more brutality in their own practice of chattel slavery, how does Mr. Robertson see his own country as unsullied by diabolical pacts?
  • Is Mr. Robertson a latter-day Manichean, who imagines one class of people who inherently belong to the darkness and another who belong to the light? Has he abandoned the notion that we have all seen that the fruit was desirable and taken it and shared it? that we all have hearts set on evil continually? that we have all sought to build a tower to make a name for ourselves? that we were all dead in our trespasses and sins? that unless we repent, we will all likewise perish?
  • As Mr. Robertson calls for a massive turning to God among the Haitians, does he deny the turning to God in Haiti that is the fruit of generations of Christian missionaries and Haitian Christians themselves? We ask whether he, as we do, knows an impressive array of Haitian Christians--bright, educated, dedicated, selfless, courageous--who set aside the pursuit of their own safety and security to bring the Good News to their oppressed, distressed countrymen. If not, we ask why he hasn't been paying attention.

But enough. To the half truth.

It is entirely fair, in the SWNIDish view, to refer to Haiti's situation as Satanic darkness. We are not alone in drawing the conclusion that Haiti is a basket case socially and economically largely because of a cycle of degradation fueled by the culture of voodoo, teaching that where advantage can be taken of another, the taking of advantage is the assertion of spiritual power and so right and good. Couple this with the legacy of an especially cruel regime of slavery, and Haiti exists in a distinct, if not unique, situation of tragic, nearly intractable poverty. We again direct gentle readers to the seminal work of former State Department official Lawrence E. Henderson, whose analysis has convinced us and many of our Haitian friends.

If there is a Haitian "pact with Satan," it is not somehow magical and mystical. It is mostly the same pact that cruel, selfish humans make daily. Haiti is at the extreme end of the scale of effects of such diabolical dealing, but we make a smug mistake to think that the Haitian situation is somehow different in its essence from our own.

Just as Haiti is a product of a distinct set of historical circumstances, so is our Republic. The prosperity we enjoy is hardly a reward for exceptional righteousness. Rather, it is the consequence of generations of culture that internalized a portion of the wisdom of the Reformation and the political thought that it generated in the early Enlightenment: that human beings have natural rights and a natural proclivity toward selfishness and the aggrandizement of power, and so civic and political institutions must protect those rights and restrain that selfishness for the common good. Thus, an earthquake of similar magnitude in Northridge, California, had few of the terrible effects that the Haitian quake has wrought, as the opinionists at WSJ observed today. Our legacy of good governance has yielded prosperity that allows protective building codes that mitigate such disasters.

Nevertheless, none of us is beyond the reach of tragedy, pain and death. Their seemingly random attacks are the awful reminders that break through our delusions to tell us that because life is short, it is also urgent. When we realize that such urgency must drive us to find God, we have received the very message that we could never hear without such events. And the great irony is that the message we then find--or that finds us--tells us that tragedy and death do not have the final word.

We first visited Haiti in the early 1990s, as usual, to teach a group of people something from the New Testament. Our syllabus was 1-2 Peter; our locale, the Cite Soleil slum. About twenty residents came daily, many missing the chance to work and earn a little money for food.

Early in the week, a member of the class asked me--through my interpreter, Avenel Clersaint--"How can we say that God is taking care of us when we Haitians suffer so much?"

Flummoxed by the frank question, SWNID stumbled verbally. Mr. Clersaint responded, "Let me answer him. This is a Haitian thing." He then proceeded to give an impassioned, articulate response in Haitian Creole, of which I understood not a word. The student seemed more than satisfied and replied briefly.

"Avenel, what did you say?" was the SWNIDish response.

"I told him that God had taken care of him. Though he hasn't had work for over two years, he and his family have had food to eat. That's God's care for him."

"What did he say back to you?"

"He wants you to ask the American Christians to pray for Christians in Haiti because we face so many temptations."

Pray that way, as well as for God's work to alleviate the present suffering of Haiti.* Give to that end as well. But let us also take heed for ourselves.

*Avenel and his family are indeed among the safe in the Port-au-Prince area.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Robertson Back as Most Embarrassing Christian

Why is Haiti always in such a mess? Is it bad governance? A culture corrupted by the values of voodoo? Mismanagement of natural resources? All of the above?

No, says Pat Robertson. Haiti made a binding, irrevocable pact with the devil some generations ago.

Apparently all Haitians did this for all time, affecting all Haitians forever. Except, apparently, those who have emigrated.

And this is what Mr. Robertson does to assure the public that he should receive their relief donations.

Please stop anyone you know from ever listening to this man again, let alone sending him money.

P.S. Mr. Robertson, Haiti achieved independence from France in the time of Napoleon Bonaparte, not Napoleon III.

Firsthand Update from Haiti

Here's a recent email from Leon D'Orleans, an extraordinary minister and leader in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. We've edited nothing, and it needs no comment.

Hello my friends,

I finally get connected.

The 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti very badly. Lots of building are collapsed; others are damaged beyond repair. No body knows for sure how many people died. The situation is not yet over.

I was at Blanchard when the major event ( hit ) took place. It was very scary to say the least. The damages done in some of the construction works are in most cases beyond repair. I also visited Cite Soleil after I've seen what's happened in Blanchard.

From what I saw at 5:00 (the quake started at 4:53 and lasted 2 minutes; although, from time to time ,even now as I'm typing it continues to reappear for few seconds on different occasions) the Medical Clinic and the Church at Blanchard seemed to be OK , the school has major cracks in front of the building by Gladys's office and on the second floor by the library. I saw several cracks around the foundation which looks like the earth is split around the foundation of the buildings . Thank God we encountered no deaths so fare in our compounds. Part of the wall in Blanchard suffered some damages but not major.

In Cite Soleil, we have lots of damages done to several of our buildings. The entire walls of the compound is collapsed, the back of the medical build is down. I saw water coming out of the ground due to several splits that were on the ground. The front of the church has some damages done to it but the building is functional. Other buildings, such as the first school building we built has some damages done to it. The worst damages I saw in Cite Soleil are the wall and the Medical building.

I didn't have time to visit neither Repatriate or Ibo Beach. I plan to do that later on today when I think it's safe enough to drive. I heard that the quake might last until 6:00 a.m. I doubt it seriously if the roads would be safe enough to drive. I saw lots of debris as I was driving back home from Cite Soleil. I couldn't drive my car all the way home. Traffic was unbelievable and definitely indescribable. I left my car on the airport road and walked home. My wife was happy to see me. Cell phones weren't working; she could get in touch with me to know how I was.

Our house so far is safe except for few blocs that felt from a shade that I built when I had the generator. I couldn't get to my office because the bookshelves are all over and blocked the doors. I couldn't get inside the office. My wife, Andremene, Nadege and I are all fine.

My mother- in - law's house is beyond repair but everyone is safe.

Most people including my wife decided to spent the night sleeping on the street away from any danger from any houses or walls. Several millions of people are doing the same for that's what is recommended and made sense.

That's all I could share with you for the time being; expect to hear more from me later on today after I gathered more information.

Please keep Haiti and its people in your prayers.

In the service of the King of Kings.

Leon & Jacky

Response to Haitian Earthquake: Give to IDES

Dust is literally settling in Haiti, and we expect that daylight and satellites will begin to reveal to the outside world the epic tragedy of the Port-au-Prince earthquake.

What to do? The US military, that most pilloried of global institutions, will doubtless be the main deliverer of short-term relief. They've got the logistics to get food, water, medical care, and temporary shelter to the most people in the least time.

Rebuilding for recovery will be done privately, and away from the limelight. That's where SWNIDish citizens ought to be involved.

We heartily recommend donations to International Disaster Emergency Services (IDES).* IDES will channel donations through Christian missionaries in Haiti, all of whom know their communities and culture well and can make the donations go a long, long way for the people most in need.

*In the interests of full disclosure, we remind gentle readers that we are a board member of IDES, for which we receive no tangible compensation but a boatload of personal satisfaction.

ObamaCare Deathwatch

Democratic Brahman Charles Rangel says that the nonconference noncommittee deliberations to arrive at a final healthcare revolution are in serious trouble, so expect no bill until February.

By February, this issue will be frozen to death. History, it seems, is calling differently than some understood it to be calling.

Time to get working on economically sensible, incrementally staged reform that will restore the economic decision making of patients.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Which Is Most Likely?

Some items possibly in the news soon:

  • Sarah Palin is signed by the Fox Network as a judge for American Idol.
  • Simon Cowell leaves American Idol to run for Governor of Alaska.
  • NBC invites SWNID to host a talk show at 10 p.m. weeknights.
  • Republican Scott Brown is elected by the People's Republic of Taxachusetts to the "Kennedy seat" of the US Senate, thereby ending the Democrats ephemeral supermajority and scuttling ObamaCare.
Brown leads the Dem in the latest (Democratic!) poll, albeit by a slim margin. Worse for Dems is the unenthusiastic state of their constituency in the bluest of states, not to mention the widely held assumption--based on unassailable facts--that states like MA will subsidize states like NE in the present bill. Meanwhile, BHO presently has no plans to campaign for the Democrat Coakley, apparently not wanting to risk the Presidential awesomeness on a potential loser. The strategy presently is an original one: link Brown to Dubya and Rush.

Word is that Senate Dems are considering delaying the swearing in of a Senator Brown until ObamaCare gets out of its nonconference noncommittee for a final vote. If so, we believe that Joe Lieberman will again flex his independent muscles and vote against cloture, thereby foiling the undemocratic move of the Democrats and sending ObamaCare back to ICU.

All this makes the MA special election the biggest thing since Bush v. Gore, as it could create a single Senate vote as momentous as Edmund G. Ross's.

Finally, something interesting.

Now back to our hermit's cave.