Our Euro President

Appearing in:

Forbes.com

Barack Obama’s seemingly inexplicable winning of the Nobel Peace Prize says less about him than about the current mentality of Europe’s leadership class. Lacking any strong, compelling voices of their own, the Europeans are now trying to hijack our president as their spokesman.

There’s a catch, of course. In their mind, Obama deserves the award because he seems to think, and sound, like a European. In everything from global warming to anti-suburbanism to pacifism, Obama reflects the basic agenda of the continent’s leading citizens–in sharp contrast to former President George W. Bush.

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Purple Politics: Is California Moving to the Center?

Appearing in:

Forbes.com

You don’t have to be a genius, or a conservative, to recognize that California’s experiment with ultra-progressive politics has gone terribly wrong. Although much of the country has suffered during the recession, California’s decline has been particularly precipitous–and may have important political consequences.

Outside Michigan, California now suffers the highest rate of unemployment of all the major states, with a post-World War II record of 12.2%. This statistic does not really touch the depth of the pain being felt, particularly among the middle and working classes, many of whom have become discouraged and are no longer counted in the job market.

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Play It Cool at the G-20, Mr. President

Appearing in:

Forbes.com

Barack Obama goes to this week’s Pittsburgh G-20 with what seems the weakest hand of any American president since Gerald Ford. In reality, he has a far stronger set of cards to play–he just needs to recognize it.

Our adversaries may like our new president, but they don’t fear him. And, on the surface, why should they? The national debt is rising faster than the vig for a compulsive, debt-ridden gambler. And our primary rivals, the Chinese, continue to put the squeeze on American producers by devaluing their currency, subsidizing exports and penalizing imports.

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California’s Golden Age

Appearing in:

Truthdig.com

California may yet be a civilization that is too young to have produced its Thucydides or Edward Gibbon, but if it has, the leading candidate would be Kevin Starr. His eight-part “Dream” series on the evolution of the Golden State stands alone as the basic comprehensive work on California. Nothing else comes remotely close.

His most recent volume, “Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963,” covers what might be seen as the state’s true Golden Age. To be sure, there is some intriguing history before—the evolution of Hollywood in the 1920s, the reaction to the Depression and the fevered buildup during the Second World War—but this was California’s great moment, its Periclean peak or Augustan age. Read more

Rome Vs. Gotham

Appearing in:

Forbes

Urban politicians have widely embraced the current concentration of power in Washington, but they may soon regret the trend they now so actively champion. The great protean tradition of American urbanism–with scores of competing economic centers–is giving way to a new Romanism, in which all power and decisions devolve down to the imperial core.

This is big stuff, perhaps even more important than the health care debate. The consequence could be a loss of local control, weakening the ability of cities to respond to new challenges in the coming decades.

The Obama administration’s aggressive federal regulatory agenda, combined with the recession, has accelerated this process. As urban economies around the country lose jobs and revenues, the D.C. area is not merely experiencing “green shoots” but blossoming like lilies of the field.

To be sure, the capital region has been growing fat on the rest of America for decades, but its staggering success amid the recession is remarkable. Take unemployment: Although the district itself has relatively high rates, unemployment in Virginia and Maryland–where most government-related workers live–has remained around 7% while the nation’s rate approaches 10%.

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The New Radicals

Appearing in:

Forbes

America’s “kumbaya” moment has come and gone. The nation’s brief feel-good era initiated by Barack Obama’s stirring post-partisan rhetoric–and fortified by John McCain’s classy concession speech–has dissolved into sectarian bickering more appropriate to dysfunctional Iraq than the world’s greatest democratic republic.

Yet little of the shouting concerns the fundamental economic issue facing the U.S. today: the decline of upward mobility and income growth for the working and middle classes. Instead we have politicos battling over two versions of “trickle down” economics.

The Democrats seem bent on installing a permanent ruling mandarinate alongside a small financial aristocracy. The Republicans, meanwhile, simply want to help the rich hold onto as much of their money as possible. Read more

California Disease: Oregon at Risk of Economic Malady

Appearing in:

The Oregonian

California has been exporting people to Oregon for many years, even amid the recession in both states.

Indeed, the 2005 American Community Survey report shows that California-to-Oregon migration was 56,379 in 2005, the sixth-largest interstate flow in the United States. The 2000 census showed a five-year flow of 138,836 people, the eighth-largest over that time period. Until two years ago, Oregon was managing to absorb this population with mixed results, but generally as part of an expanding and diversifying economy. But that pattern has ended, at least for now.

So now what will Oregon do with a suddenly excess population? California, at least, can say its emigres over time will reduce unemployment and reduce out-of-whack property prices. The immediate net benefits for Oregon are harder to discern. Read more

The Next Culture War

Appearing in:

Forbes

The culture war over religion and values that dominated much of the last quarter of the 20th century has ended, mostly in a rout of the right-wing zealots who waged it.

Yet even as this old conflict has receded , a new culture war may be beginning. This one is being launched largely by the religious right’s long-time secularist enemies who are now enjoying unprecedented influence over our national politics. Read more

Who Killed California’s Economy?

Appearing in:

Forbes

Right now California’s economy is moribund, and the prospects for a quick turnaround are not good. Unable to pay its bills, the state is issuing IOUs; its once strong credit rating has collapsed. The state that once boasted the seventh-largest gross domestic product in the world is looking less like a celebrated global innovator and more like a fiscal basket case along the lines of Argentina or Latvia.

It took some amazing incompetence to toss this best-endowed of places down into the dustbin of history. Yet conventional wisdom views the crisis largely as a legacy of Proposition 13, which in effect capped only taxes.

This lets too many malefactors off the hook. I covered the Proposition 13 campaign for the Washington Post and examined its aftermath up close. It passed because California was running huge surpluses at the time, even as soaring property taxes were driving people from their homes.

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Amid Obama’s Change is More of the Same

Appearing in:

Politico

The Obama administration has been, so far, hierarchical and even conservative in its thinking. Following and even surpassing the Bush administration’s reliance on an M.B.A.-trained elite, which drove the country nearly to ruin, the Obama approach seems to boil down to finding the smartest guy in the room, rather than utilizing people with hands-on experience or acquired wisdom.

This fixation on hierarchy has been unexpected for an administration whose stock sold on the notion of being something other than the same old, same old. Yet as it turns out, the Obamanians seem to be as narrow, if not narrower, than their much-disdained predecessors. Read more