April 06, 2008

Clinton Blather, Israeli Accomplishment

The Clintons have published their tax returns for years 2000 through 2006, and have provided the estimate for 2007's income as well. They're an American success story. Over the period in question, they've earned about $110 million. Virtually all of their income is attributable to the celebrity of Bill Clinton's charismatic presidency. $50 million for Bill's speeches, $30 million from Bill's exciting autobiography (I never read it; don't know anyone who has), another $10 mil for Hill's autobiography (ditto, re: readership), something north of $1 million for Hillary's Senate salary (she would not have been elected without Bill's presidency), and then a lot of vague income from Bill's connections to Demo high rollers like Ron Burkle and his Yucaipa Co., and its connections to Dubai, from whence (increasingly) all blessings flow. The only income item you would not connect to the fact of Bill's fame & adulation is his presidential pension, which accounted for only about $1 million during those years.

I think the Clintons always wanted to be rich. It's why, long ago, they got involved in the Whitewater investment, why Hillary dabbled in commodities trading. When Bill was President, I think the Clintons were among the least wealthy inhabitants of the White House in recent memory, just a couple of bright kids from modest backgrounds who yearned, more than anything, to be a power couple. Hillary's tolerance for Bill's sexual antics is not really that surprising. Fidelity was subservient to ambition, even, as Shakespeare said, to a "vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself and falls upon another." The Clintons had no desire to remain commoners; I think the troubles they've gotten into with matters like Whitewater and now Bill's dealings with Ron Burkle and Dubai (which will inevitably get messier as the facts are revealed) arose primarily from their naivete about sophisticated business dealings. The fatcats saw their potential and usefulness and ingratiated themselves with the callow Clintons, who have tended to be smarter than they are wise.

When the Clintons went on vacation, lacking a Western White House or Rancho Cielo or Prairie Chapel Ranch like the Republican plutocrats, they went to Martha's Vineyard and hung with the beautiful people. This is where and how they wanted to be; to be Big Rich like their increasingly rich friends, with a Texas Unit of $100 million. Bill got up from his quintuple bypass in 2004 to resume his dogged pursuit of cash. He didn't slow down at all really. In the seven years covered by the tax returns of 2001 to 2006 and the 2007 estimate, Bill made about $7 million a year, on average, from speaking. That's about $135,000 a week. I imagine that each speech is a variant on a standard template; I would surmise that whatever trade group or conference he's speaking to, his speech is full of standard Renaissance Weekend phrases. Lots of "challenges," and "integrated solutions," and doing things that "scale." Sort of like reading a Thomas Friedman column in the New York Times, in other words, when Friedman dons his "geo-green" outfit. (I hereby bet myself $100 that the book Friedman is working on right now while on leave from the Times contains his pet coinage "Geo-green" in the title. He's been test-marketing the phrase in his columns for about a year now, and he's really pleased with himself.) The growing ranks of Clinton detractors muse that all these groups buying his speeches are seeking "access" to a new Clinton White House. While that might be true to a very limited extent in some cases, it's stretching things in my opinion to generalize across the board. Most people just like that feel-good Clinton blather.

As in his presidency, nothing gets solved by all this jargoneering. The period between 1992-2000 was a critical period for the United States to move toward self-sufficiency in renewable energy, securing water supplies and dealing with climate change. As Al Gore has proudly told us, he knew about these things way, way back in his Harvard undergrad days, and he was in the Administration for eight years with Clinton. The Kyoto Treaty was defeated 95-0 while Clinton was President and Gore was VP. The 1990's were also the heyday of SUV development in the U.S., probably the most retrograde environmental action we could have taken short of burning coal outdoors for no reason at all, including power production. This set the stage for the ruinous deficits of oil importing, the trade imbalances and now the runaway inflation of gasoline prices. All of this usually gets laid at the door of George W. Bush, of course, but it took a long time to get to where we are.

The state of Israel, the American Left's favorite whipping-nation, has been faced with even more intractable environmental problems. While liberal America beats up on Israel for displacing Palestinians in 1947, without, I notice, offering to cede back all of the present United States to the Native Americans, the Israelis have ambitiously undertaken real fixes to the same problems. Israel is building 500,000 recharging stations for electric cars that are being built by a Renault-Nissan consortium. The cars will have a range of 120 miles and operate with the power of a 1.6 liter gasoline engine. The recharging stations, in turn, will be powered by wind turbines and by a giant photovoltaic array being built in the Negev. The electric cars will become the basis of Israeli private transportation, and the system will be in place by 2011. And recognizing that an eventual two-state solution will increase pressure on water supplies for a growing population, Israel has become a world leader in seawater desalination using the reverse osmosis system. Desalinated water now accounts for 15% of all water use in Israel, and this water is also supplied by the Israelis to the Jordanians and Palestinians. The price has been reduced to about 60 cents per cubic yard, a price reaching competitive levels with fresh water supplies.

Israel's response to environmental problems seems to consist of three parts. 1. Figure out what the problem is. 2. Research how to deal with it. 3. Deal with it. The United States, by contrast, is almost good at step 1, does a little of step 2, but never bothers with #3. I think the Clintons (and soon George W. Bush, who wants to do a little speaking himself, to "replenish the ol' coffers" after his term ends) are prime examples of how this process of stagnation happens. We don't deal with pressing environmental problems because, increasingly, the "leaders" see their trajectory as leveraging their public careers into private wealth which will insulate them from -- well, I guess, the natural world and all its problems.

Israel's response to the same dilemmas we face stands as a rebuke to the flaccid inertia of American leadership. Maybe the difference arises from something very fundamental: Israel shares an attitude of common purpose, reinforced by its worldwide pariah status, which no longer exists in the United States. Celebrities like Bill and Hillary Clinton are very good at pandering to the sentimental fiction that such commonality of interest still exists here in America, but it's simply a marketing gimmick, as their private lives demonstrate.

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