Archive for May, 2010

What Presidents Read

Bookcases fascinate me. Not the wooden superstructures. The titles on the shelves. They reveal what a person feeds her mind, heart and soul. It’s comparable to peeking in people’s shopping carts at HEB. You learn a lot about people by what they ingest.

I’m particularly interested in what leaders read. What shapes their thinking, their decisions, their character.

Naturally, I was intrigued that in 2006 President Bush read 95 books including biographies on Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln and LBJ, Philbrick’s “Mayflower” and Crichton’s “Next.” In 2007, his list included “Khrushchev’s Cold War,” a bio on Andrew Mellon and Nasr’s “The Shia Revival.” 

His last full year as president saw King’s “Vienna 1814,” Meacham’s “American Lion” and the Bible cover to cover, an annual ritual.

When I saw President Obama walking off Air Force One with a book in his hand, I strained to see that it was “The Post-American World” by Fareed Zakaria. The author claims that the book is not about America’s decline; it’s about everyone else’s rise. But I still can’t help but bounce the concept of post-American exceptionalism off the foreign policy we’ve seen from the Obama Administration.

Take Iran, for example, which last week signed an agreement with Brazil and Turkey to exchange uranium. Iran’s staunchly anti-American president stood arm-in-arm with the leaders of two of our most reliable allies in their respective parts of the world. 

The deal reflects America’s waning influence in the world. It makes a UN sanction of Iran less likely and a nuclear-armed Iran no less likely. Even the French acknowledged the agreement would not slow Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Mr. Obama remained silent last summer when pro-democracy protesters took to Iran’s streets to question the re-election of a radical regime. Prior to that, he spoke softly about his desire for conversations with Iran built on “mutual respect.” 

What has the silence and soft talk gotten us? An Iran just as committed to nuclear armament and the annihilation of Israel as ever.

The U.S. changed its tone on Iran and Iran has toned us out. Iran went from the axis of evil under Bush to the circle of reason under Obama. Subsequently, Brazil and Turkey have given it the legitimacy insinuated by the U.S. commander-in-chief.

As a result, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gets his face splashed around the world like he’s any old head of state. In truth, he’s one of just a few crackheads of state.

And we want to meet him for coffee.

Examples of the ineffectiveness of Mr. Obama’s appeasement and silence abound: Russia, Syria, Honduras, Venezuela. As do examples of our undercutting friends: Czech Republic and Poland over missile defense, Great Britain over the Falkland Islands, Israel over using military force against Iran.

Few things promote internal unity like a strong external front. It makes the internecine debates less cataclysmic. Principled foreign policy can prevent the self-fulfilling prophecy of a “post-American world.”

It’s not rocket science. Punish bad behavior. Reward good. Support our allies. Thwart our enemies. Unfortunately, good and evil, friends and enemies seem to be relative terms for Mr. Obama.

His reality is post-almost-everything: post-modern, post-Christian, post-American. The only thing it’s post-not is malaise.

Greek to Me

A certain short-sightedness surrounds American university Greek life. Fraternities and sororities undoubtedly have some benefits, but they also tend to perpetuate a “live for the moment / party while you can” mentality. For, as Mark Wills sings, you will soon have “a mortgage and an SUV and all this responsibility” and you’ll wish you were back on fraternity row.

The nation of Greece has exhibited the same myopia as the fraternities and sororities its alphabet names. The Greeks have lived for the moment, so to speak, spending feverishly on entitlements and benefits while investing sparingly in the future. The rest of Europe and the IMF (including the United States) now get to foot the bill. A modern Greek tragedy, if you will.

The most striking statistic that I have seen in this tragedy: Greece’s public sector employs 40% of its total workforce. No wonder taxes and public debt are high, productivity is low and a move to cut government spending leads to blood in the streets.

Besides the obvious lack of humanpower, why else is Greece’s private sector so weak? Why does the Greek economy generate sub-3% growth rates in non-recession times while ours and other nations grow at plus 4%? Simply put, Greece is not open for business.

Take the 2010 World Bank “Doing Business” survey. Greece ranked 109th in the world in ease of doing business generally; 140th in starting a business; 147th in employing workers. Its best ranking? 43rd. The category? Closing a business. What an accomplishment. 

With the pending European Union bailout, the Greeks will live to protest another day, but it will take more than a bailout to right the ship permanently. The Greeks must muster the individual sacrifice and collective determination of their ancestors to check their public sector and catalyze their private sector.

Greece will need the courage of Thermopylae to wean its citizens from the nanny state. An intangible public debt crisis may not be impetus enough. It may take a force the power of Persia to achieve the feat.

The question for us half a world away is: What are we learning from Greece’s and Europe’s weaknesses? Do we believe we are immune to their trials? Do we know we aren’t and just not care? Do we see traces of their plights in Albany, Sacramento and other bigger-spending, slower-growing U.S. states?

It’s Greek to me why Team Obama wants to lead us toward a tax-and-spend social democracy the likes of which are crumbling under their own weight overseas. Surely someone on the squad understands the unfolding Big Fat Greek Economics Lesson. Surely someone wants to learn from Greece’s grief before it becomes our own.

Assimilation Through Immigration

I have often wondered what keeps really rabid, borderline barbaric sports fans of opposing teams from ripping each others’ heads off in confined areas. What keeps the obnoxious Giants fan from getting jumped at Cowboys Stadium after a New York road win? How can a Suns fan stay safe surrounded by a stadium of Spurs supporters?

I’m no sports psychologist, but the answer has something to do with the fact that each fan, regardless of affiliation, pays good money to get in the door. Each ticket provides legitimate rights to attend and to express allegiance to any team. Though ticket holders vary in whom they cheer for, they unite in their desire to experience the game.

Similar to property rights, groups of people are defined as much by who is excluded from them as by who is included in them. The more porous the membership criteria, generally the weaker the entity. High standards of entry promote an understanding that each member is pulling his or her own weight. Unity and assimilation result.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen three incidents that have heightened awareness of immigration and border security issues.

First, the Arizona legislation giving state and local law enforcement agencies permission to assist the federal government in executing federal immigration laws. Governments working together to maintain agreed upon standards (i.e., the law): Novel!

Is there a chance for local law enforcement to overreach? Yes, similar to the chance that already exists with federal agents.

Secondly, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s calling a woman “bigoted” for merely asking questions about illegal immigrants’ draining the resources of the British government. We have neighbors in our own community who have left their native U.K. over frustration with this very situation.

Thirdly, the Times Square attempted car bomber arrested Monday while trying to flee to Pakistan. I’m all for perceptive street vendors, but if we have to depend on savvy hot dog dealers to stymy terror attacks, we’re in trouble. We need a clearer understanding of those seeking citizenship, and we need to know which citizens attend terrorist training camps.

Securer borders make common sense. They remove suspicions by communicating to the whole that each part is doing its part; that all pay taxes to help cover the costs of the infrastructure and services they use; that all have entered through legitimate channels, thereby increasing the chances for assimilation into the history, customs, purposes and priorities of our nation.

A CBS / New York Times poll completed Sunday found that 78% of Americans believe that the United States could be doing more along its border to keep illegal immigrants out. Sixty percent said the Arizona law was about right or did not go far enough in securing the border.

Some activists are loudly boycotting Arizona because of the law. I will be watching for a quiet increase in Grand Canyon visitors in the coming months. I just may be one of them.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 209 other followers


%d bloggers like this: