Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Personal Aside: A Very Interested Reader in Rome.


As many of you know, I publish a weekly column in “The Wanderer,” the oldest national Catholic weekly in the United States. A priest who just returned from a decade of service in the Vatican tells me the newspaper has a very interested reader in Rome…one who after his Mass sips kaffee und koogan and reads U.S. periodicals…adorned in white, wearing a matching skull cap…one who speaks German as his first language but who is also fluent in English, Italian, French, Spanish, Latin, ancient Greek and biblical Hebrew. If he kept to his reading habits last week and perused the paper thoroughly…as he is wont to do…this is what he read about America’s politics and president:

For the first time last week, it became obvious that the American public is now struggling with a bi-polar notion of Barack Obama.

America Bi-Polar on Obama.

In the sensory hemisphere of the public brain, Americans are clearly enjoying the sensation of being seduced by his undeniable charm. On The Tonight Show Starring Jay Leno, the president of the United States was brilliant: relaxed, chatty, witty, silken…and awful. Awful at comparing his poor bowling score to what could be compiled by Special Olympics bowlers composed of physically and/or mentally impaired individuals. But the slobbering pro-Obama media minimized it and finally whooshed it all away. If George W. Bush had said that, there’d be a ring of wheel-chaired invalids circling the White House howling at his insensitivity.

On Leno he co-mingled mastery of economic jargon with enough command of numbers to impress viewers and tossed in hip allusions to Simon Cowell and Kevin Eubanks. Who are they? Cowell is the acerbic Brit critic who appears on American Idol. Eubanks is a black jazz guitarist who leads Leno’s studio orchestra who habitually slumps in leisure clothes as he strums…often the butt of Leno’s jokes on marijuana use, and porno viewing. Obama, riffing about Cowell and ribbing Eubanks for wearing a suit and tie (for the first time on TV) clearly pleased his strongest demographic (after blacks) kids 18 to 29.

This sensation-tingling hemisphere of the public brain loves him.

But the second hemisphere of the public brain, rationality, is terribly worried about the economic fate of their nation and the carelessness with which a majority believes spending and spiraling debt are being managed. No hint of the seriousness confronting the nation came through from the president on Leno but did a few days later on 60 Minutes—but from the CBS interviewer, not Obama. Once again Obama sprinkled his discussion of the most serious economic nature with jokes and one-liners reflecting blithe lack of concern and nonchalance. It prompted veteran liberal interviewer Steve Kroft to exclaim: “Are you punch-drunk?” The giggling stopped. It was clearly the most insolent question I can remember being asked by a reporter to a president.

Still, Kroft had a point. Increasingly, many Americans are worried that for all his charm, Obama may not have the depth to handle the job. It was probably this reason that Obama decided to go dull and non-charismatic in his second news conference where the teleprompter was replaced by a huge flat, TV-like screen which rolled his initial remarks.

The AIG Bonus Flap.

Seemingly everyone, last week…Congress, the president and the media…professed outrage with bonuses paid by federal funds to executives of AIG’s financial products division who caused the meltdown. But the bonuses were not a surprise to Treasury, Obama or congressional leaders because they sprang from a firm contract made months ago which was publicly reported in Bloomberg and Barron’s weeks ago.

Both White House and congress knew they were concluded with a firm contract between Tim Geithner, now treasury secretary, then New York Fed president, and AIG for a very good reason. Only those who inadvertently created the mess have the expertise to get AIG out of it and were they to leave, both AIG and the Fed would have a devil of a time unwinding it. Although a huge p. r. gaffe as we approach off-year elections, the bonuses amount to exactly 1/18,500th of the $3.1 trillion federal budget. This recession was not caused--nor is it being worsened—by such bonuses. The recession is caused by lack of credit spawned by dearth of confidence produced by no plan (at least until now) to detoxify the banks.

Far worse than the bonuses themselves was the media smokescreen the president and a coalition of senators whipped up to dodge blame. The president says he was “stunned” to discover the bonuses in the bill he signed and neither he nor his staff read fully. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) suggested bonus recipients should return the money and then commit suicide, citing imperial Japanese tradition when one is caught in dishonor—a statement for which he has refused to apologize (of course, he’s up for reelection next year).

Demagogues in the Senate hatched a plan to reclaim the money by unconstitutional confiscation. It involves violating the constitution’s Article I, section 9, clause 3--through specially onerous taxation: 90% for those getting the bonuses. This is nothing less than a Bill of Attainder …an act of a legislature declaring persons guilty of some crime ex post facto, punishing them without a trial and confiscating their money by taxation applicable only to the supposed offenders. The bill is on hold as New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo works his way down the list “convincing” bonus recipients to pay it back. He’s extracted by force…threatening to release to the public the recipients’ names…$50 million thus far—thuggery which qualifies him for a role in The Godfather IV if one is made.

By staging the phony uproar the Congress hoped to divert public anger from the pols to AIG. But…for me anyhow…the measured response from an exec veep of the company’s financial products division published in “The New York Times” made a lot of sense that these guys have been made the goats. Three denizens of Congress who were particularly repulsive last week: Barney Frank, of course, the lisping, swarthy tub of lard with a boyfriend at the appropriately named Fannie Mae…Charles Grassley who suggested AIG bonus recipients should return the money and commit suicide…and, of course, the most pompous bore, Chris Dodd.

Also, showboat Dems and Republicans capitalized on the public outrage over the bonuses to barbecue an innocent guy who had nothing to do with the bonus awards: Edward Liddy, the public-spirited Chicago executive, former Allstate CEO and G. D. Searle CFO who volunteered to run the company for $1 a year pro bono after it ran into trouble. Shouting mad lawmakers who had just given themselves a raise of $4,700 a year to their $175,000 salaries constituted the most flagrant hypocrisy in modern memory, even by Capitol Hill standards.

Worsening Budget Woes.

Breaking at the same time as Obama’s appearance on 60 Minutes was news from the Congressional Budget Office (now run by Dems) showing the Obama budget will produce $9.3 trillion in red ink from 2010 to 2019—a full $2.3 trillion worse than the White House had predicted. The CBO says deficit under Obama policies will never dip below 4% of the economy’s size—figures most economists see are unsustainable over the long run. Moreover by the end of the decade the deficit will likely exceed 5% of GDP, a seriously dangerous level.

Still Obama indicated he will not cut back on the original tenets of his budget including energy, health care and education. Of course not. Rahm Emanuel has applied his bare knuckled Chicago style to the problem, saying “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste. It’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Accordingly, Obama is using the emergency to enact the most revolutionary upheaval of society in the country’s history--enormous spending and federalization grabs in energy to “find new sources” and clamp on a cap-and-trade tax (not utilizing the Arctic Wildlife Refuge and the Outer Continental Shelf) in health care heavily nationalize it and in education to nationalize it with universal access to college as the goal.

Also last week came the long awaited Geithner plan to bailout banking’s toxic assets, aimed at unclogging the nation’s credit system. A coordinated effort by Treasury, the Fed and FDIC, it depends on a mix of federal and private funds to do the job. Commented University of Illinois law professor Larry Ribstein in probably the best surmise of the plan: “So now we have an elaborate shell game. The government subsidizes private equity companies to buy the assets at inflated values…[but] buyers are exposed only for the minimal payments they’re making on these hugely leveraged deals…[and] taxpayers who provided most of the money will bear most of the loss.”

If the Geithner plan works, Obama can riff his way through his first term without much worry. But if it doesn’t, get ready for a real pitchfork brigade composed of activists from left as well as right. The budget is so expensive Obama may not be able to sell this to his own Democrats. This is what has led no less a liberal prognosticator as Charlie Cooke to reason on ultra-liberal Obama idolater Chris Matthews’ MSNBC’s Hardball last week that the public may well be feeling buyer’s remorse, believing it made a grave mistake in giving unchecked power to the Democrats in Congress last year while electing Obama. When Dem apologists Cooke and Matthews shake their heads, something powerful’s afoot.

2010 Will be the Reckoning.

People are gravely concerned that in the words of Will Rogers, the Democratic Congress doesn’t seem to pass administration spending measures anymore: it just waves as they pass by. Obama handed over to ex-`60s hippie Nancy Pelosi of all people the important stimulus bill and it came back laden with non-essential liberal wishes, including repeal of the welfare reform legislation okayed under Clinton…which Obama cavalierly signed into law without reading.

Those midterm elections can easily do to Obama what midterms did to FDR whose high-powered New Deal suffered setbacks in 1938 when the Depression and unemployment didn’t abate. Then the GOP didn’t need to win a majority, or anything like this to do it: in `38 the congressional ground game changed with only one upset--the election of Robert A. Taft. Taft energized a coalition of Republicans and southern Democrats that spared the country from the New Deal’s worst excesses, managing it as uncrowned leader of the Senate until his death in 1953.

In 2010 vital conservative candidates will challenge wheeler-dealer (and liar to boot) Chris Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat who is long overdue for retirement. There will be a hot primary that could well dislodge wily old Republican Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania. Even if a Democrat wins the general, it will be a welcome draft of fresh air to get rid of that ancient turncoat.

Even impregnable Democrat House members can be great fodder for other congressional races. The names Charlie Rangel (D-NY), John Murtha (D-Pa), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.)—all serious ethics violators--are all well known across the country. They’ll replace the names of Jack Abramoff the fixer and Cong. Mark Foley (R-Fl.) listed as horrible examples in 2006 used by the Dems to wrest control. And Speaker Nancy Pelosi who has called federal interference with illegal aliens “un-American” can be a wonderful campaign aid for the GOP.

Then there are some favorable demographics for the Republicans. Off-years almost always show a slackening of voter turnout in behalf of an administration. Catch these numbers: whites who supported McCain by 55% to 43% were 74% of the electorate last year but they constituted 79% in the last off-year of 2006 and will likely top it next year. Voters ages 18 to 29, Obama’s biggest age group last year, ranked at 18% last November but amounted to only 12% in 2006.

One bit of good news about the economy has to do with social issues many authenticist Catholics are interested in. With so much on Obama’s plate and his need to attract coalitions for his programs, he’s not likely to move aggressively on FOCA (Freedom of Choice Act) or to tamper with the “conscience clause” affecting Catholic hospitals. He doesn’t need to alienate everybody all at once.

So don’t despair. All I can do is quote Bette Davis’ immortal line in 1950’s classic All About Eve: “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Notre Dame’s Commencement Speaker.

Erupting for authenticist Catholics last week was the latest Notre Dame outrage. Disregarding the counsel of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the university invited Barack Obama to deliver the 2009 commencement…yes, that Obama who as state senator personally strangled the Illinois Born Alive bill twice in the legislature, voting to deprive babies born from botched abortions to receive nourishment or comfort…and yes the same Barack Obama puts as top priority passage of FOCA…the self-same Obama who diverted money from adult stem cell research where cures are achieved to fund the murder of human embryonic cells where cures aren’t and who called it taking politics out of science…a diabolical U-turn in logic.

In fact, Notre Dame along with many other big name behemoth schools of learning is not a Catholic university but a Catholic-in-name-only university (CINO). That includes Georgetown, DePaul and Loyola here in Chicago and many, many others across the country.

What happened to them? Three things: (a) changes in the schools’ bylaws insulate faculties from head office accountability…(b) changes in boards of trustees from those devoted to Catholic education to big donors, many non-Catholics but also Catholics unacquainted with articles of the faith…and (c) secular-style marketing that has deemphasized Catholicism for widespread secular appeal to get more students and grants for big bucks which pay for exorbitant salaries going to some supposed “big name” professors.

This means that in most large CINO universities, the president is not much more than a figure-head, fund-raiser and faculty recruiter. The two big constituencies that pull much more weight are (a) the faculty and (b) the trustees (composed of big donors, well established ex-pols with clout to get federal or state grants, and tokens: blacks, Hispanics, women et al).

As one who has taught part-time at many, let me tell you the object of the game is prestige which lures the money. Recruit big name professors, pay them a ton of money and they will attract the students. And for commencements, get a big name. Obviously there is no bigger name than the president of the United States (or POTUS). To land a president is irresistible to hefty donors, the faculty, the media and the graduates who say “my school had a bigger celebrity than your school” meaning “my degree is more prestigious than yours is—nyaa-nyaa!”

You can write letters of protest to the Notre Dame president to ease your own blood pressure (his name: Father John Jenkins, CSC) but all you’ll get is a nice letter back.

What, then, to do? You can lobby big donors and alumni to protest…but often big donors are ill-educated on Catholic matters and alumni are often too engrossed in making their livings to care much. In my estimation when all fails, it is best to beg the local bishop to consider applying the nuclear option.

The Nuclear Option.

It starts by petitioning the local bishop to consider withdrawal of the Catholic designation from the offending university. The bishop could start off by making the threat at first privately, then publicly in the media. If he has the inner resolve to carry it out, there’ll be some personal suffering on his part. Assuredly the media will make him look like Tomas de Torquemada (the Spanish inquisitor-in-chief 1420-98) and the offending school will be lauded as a “champion of academic freedom.” But make no mistake, for a bishop to even suggest publicly he is considering removing “Catholic” would stress the seriousness of the matter. And if only one Ordinary is serious, it could cause an earthquake that could make changes. An Archbishop Raymond Burke now in Rome would have been the type of courageous individual who could make that announcement…and failing favorable negotiations…make it stick.

And if the school allows its Catholic designation to be stripped? My feeling is this: it’s far better to have only Catholic universities which do not violate their covenant than to have big name ones which mock Catholicism. Many CINO-run schools run roughshod over values, morals and traditions. DePaul in Chicago where I part-time taught advertises itself as the “largest Catholic institution of higher learning in the country.” It actually foments training in the homosexual culture for freshmen with a minor in so-called Queer Studies. What value is DePaul to Catholicism? The same with Loyola of Chicago where I was an adjunct professor.

In my view, nothing…even being libeled as a Torquemada…is as bad as allowing false teaching that contradicts the reason these schools…our country…and our Church… were founded.

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