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Taking In-Coming From the Out-Going

In the long stretch between Election Day and Inauguration Day the Obama years have overlapped with the Trump years, and of course that is not going well. Two such oversized egos as President Barack Obama and president-elect Donald Trump, both with such undersized regard for the longstanding norms of the American republic, were never going to amicably share such a drawn-out moment in our recently rancorous history.
The pair had a somewhat promising photo-opportunity together when they met in the White House just after the election, although most of the shots showed them both looking a clearly stunned and unsettled by the results, and they both described the long conversation as cordial and said all the reassuring things that outgoing and incoming presidents always say. Since then, however, things have predictably deteriorated. Obama gave a widely publicized interview with an old friend in which he speculated that he could have a won a third if only the Constitution had allowed, which is the kind of thing that two-term presidents have traditionally said only in chats with old friends that aren’t so widely publicized, and Trump responded with a petulant “tweet” saying “I SAY NO WAY!,” which is entirely unprecedented in presidential history.
Obama was then at Pearl Harbor for a somber World War II memorial ceremony with the Japanese Prime Minister, where his speech included that “It is here we remember that even when hatred burns the hottest, even when the tug of tribalism is the most primal, we must resist the urge to turn inward; we must we much resist the urge to demonize others,” which can arguably be interpreted as a criticism of the incoming president, which is indeed a departure from tradition for out-going presidents. Trump certainly seemed to take those arguably anodyne phrases personally, as he quickly “tweeted” in response that “Doing my best to disregard the many inflammatory President O statements and roadblocks. Thought it was going to be a smooth transition — NOT!,” which is also well outside the usual norms of presidential rhetoric.
So far both sides are claiming all the re-hiring and re-painting and re-assignments of parking spaces that go with any old presidential transition are nonetheless proceeding smoothly, along with the gold-plating of the toilets and the skimpier uniforms for the household staff and whatever else is required for this particular presidential transition, but the rift has already had consequences more significant than hurt feelings. Obama has unleashed such a last-month torrent of regulations that Trump will be hard-pressed and much-hassled to un-do them all, and Trump is already talking deals with the long line of companies that have threatened to move jobs out of the United States. One can only imagine what sorts of presidential pardons will be issued between now and the still-distant Inauguration Day by the out-going president, and what the president-elect will have to “tweet” about it, but one of the in-coming president’s most trusted advisors is already advising an entirely unprecedented and vastly more pervasive use of the president’s pardon powers. Obama has ordered retaliation for Russia’s internet hackings and other meddling in the election, which the Central Intelligence Agency and other officials confirm, but Trump continues to deny it ever happens and told the press that “I think we should get on with our lives” in any case.
The two are also clashing over the very serious matters of Israel’s security and the rest of that thorny Middle Eastern situation. After nearly eight years of diplomatic and rhetorical slights against Israel, and a long effort to negotiate a very accommodating deal with with the Iranian apocalyptic suicide cult that has vowed to build nuclear missiles to wipe out the Jewish state, Obama has concluded his time in office by allowing the United Nations to pass a resolution condemning the building of housing for Jewish Israelis in some disputed territories. The disputes regarding those territories are complicated, and to be fair Obama has also added $34 billion worth of state-of-the-art American weaponry to Israel’s arsenal during his administration, but there’s a lengthy case to be made that Obama’s legacy is a disgraceful backstabbing of our only modern and democratic and mostly sane friend in one of the world’s worst but most unavoidable neighborhoods.
Trump tried to fit his argument against the move into a “tweet,” and came up with “The United Nations has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!” Although poorly punctuated and otherwise quite unprecedented in the history of presidential rhetoric, we’ll concede it does contain a certain kernel of truth. There is a lengthy case to be against the United Nations in general and its treatment of Israel in particular, and we’ve made it at length here over the years, but when you try to boil it compress it into 140 characters concluding with “So sad!” you wind up calling into question every international agreement that the United States has ever negotiated through the United Nations, which is not something an in-coming president should be doing. The past many millennia of human history show that successful diplomacy requires a certain precision of language, and that punctuation is also important, and the sooner the president-elect realizes this the better.
Neither man has proved himself worthy of the high office they momentarily seem to share, and their clash of oversized egos has been a tawdry spectacle. We’re supposed to take sides, so we’ll stick with the old norms of the American republic.

— Bud Norman

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Of History and Housing

Much has been said lately about President Barack Obama’s unreliable knowledge of history. Some have chided him for his recent suggestion that mass-murdering Vietnamese dictator Ho Chi Minh was a Jeffersonian democrat, others for his apparent belief that every advancement in the history of the American economy was a government creation. These errors can easily be attributed to his relative youth and naïve faith in Howard Zinn’s oft-assigned “A People’s History of the United States,” but there’s no explaining how he can get the recent financial meltdown so very wrong.
Obama was still coughing out bong hits with the Choom Gang when Jimmy Carter planted the seeds of the crisis by signing the Community Reinvestment Act way back in the ‘70s, but he was already playing his own small role in the debacle as a bank-suing lawyer when Bill Clinton got the subprime mortgage industry going in earnest and he was there to vote “present” as a Senator when it all came crashing down. He should know as well as anyone that the government employed a variety of both sticks and carrots to induce America’s banks to lower their credit standards and make the hundreds of billion dollars worth of loans to subprime borrowers which inflated a housing bubble whose popping brought down the international financial system. During a speech Tuesday in Phoenix, however, Obama blamed the whole affair on “recklessness on the part of lenders who sold loans to people who couldn’t afford them, and buyers who knew they couldn’t afford them.”
The speech was full of similar howlers. He boasted of a robust recovery creating jobs without mentioning that most of them are part-time and low-paying, touted investments in new energy technologies without mentioning the resulting bankruptcies, talked about a boom in natural gas production as if he had anything to do with it, and repeated his complaint about “phony scandals” as the incompetence and lies of the Benghazi debacle and the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of his political opponents were matters of no importance. More nonsense came in the form of a five-point plan that he believes would simultaneously increase property values and make housing more affordable.
Step one is for Congress to pass “a good, bipartisan idea” that would allow every homeowner to finance his mortgage at today’s rates. He did not mention which government regulations are preventing homeowners from doing so, if there are any, so we assume that the banks have some reason of their own for denying re-financing to certain customers. Perhaps it is the same capitalist greed that prevented them from loaning to unqualified borrowers until the government intervened, but it might also be the same sensible desire for self-preservation.
Step two is to “make it easier for qualified buyers to buy home they can” by simplifying regulations and cutting “red tape.” This is a surprising suggestion, regulations and red tape being Obama’s preferred solutions to most problems, but his complaining about “responsible families” who “keep getting rejected by banks” makes it sound a lot like the old policy of imposing the government’s notion of a good loan on lenders.
Step three is the Senate’s immigration reform bill. Apparently a massive influx of uneducated and unskilled workers with no assets and limited incomes is the fix for a sluggish housing market.
Step four is to “put construction workers back to work repairing rundown homes and tearing down vacant properties.” Obama didn’t mention who would do this, so we assume he meant the government. We’ve been procrastinating on a need repair to our garage, so if he wants send over some federal employees to attend to that he is welcome to do so.
Step five is the one that’s been getting most of the attention from the media, which has been somewhat limited given that the address was advertised as yet another of his “major” ones. Obama proposed that the government begin “winding down” the New Deal-era Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac programs, an idea that was laughed at as a “gaffe” back when Sarah Palin proposed it in ’08, and denounced as racist when the agency’s finances came under congressional scrutiny, then declared that the private sector should play a leading role in providing financing for home ownership. With typical presidential snarkiness Obama added that “I know that must sound confusing to the folks who call me a raging socialist every day,” but he also added that the government should play a “limited role” that would be “just like the health care law that set clear rules for insurance companies and make it more affordable for millions to buy coverage on the private market.” The folks who call Obama a raging socialist every day will not be reassured.
Although Obama sounded almost Hayekian in his denunciations of the old regulatory regime and his praise for private enterprise as the “backbone” of the housing market, and sternly warned against any bail-outs of the sort that he had earlier boasted of providing to the auto industry, it was nonetheless clear that he intends for the government to resume its role of ensuring loans for anyone who might vote Democrat. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would at long last go away, but the government would continue to secure loans and provide a secondary mortgage market. The names will change, just as liberals now call themselves “progressives,” but the policies and their unhappy effects will remain the same.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, as George Santayana famously warned, and those who remember it incorrectly are likely to make things even worse.

— Bud Norman