The Fault is Not in Our Stars

In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Cassius speaks to Brutus and says this about Caesar:

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus; and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

Cassius is arguing that since he and Brutus were born equal to Caesar, they should not have to bow to Caesar. Recognizing that “the fault is not in our stars” gives us a pointer to understand why it is that people seek a Caesar in the first place—It is because when things inevitability go wrong, they will have someone to blame. That is easier than taking responsibility to be “masters of their fates.”

As the current economic crisis just begins to unfold, it is inevitable the public psychology will go through several stages: The first stage is denial—the situation is not really that bad and the Fed or some politicians will fix things. The next stage is blaming some politicians, while longing for the good old days under another politician. The corollary of this is hoping for a return to good times in the future when “so and so” gets into office. But, for a lasting economic recovery, we must enter the stage of public willingness to see that collectively we have chosen “dishonorable graves.”

Consider the case of Bill Clinton—arguably one of the most corrupt men to ever hold the office of president. What is disheartening is the number of people who long for a return the “great days” of the Clinton presidency. What they are longing for is a return to the days when the excesses of the credit bubbles were still building but were not yet visible.

Let me bring to your attention, not a litany of Clinton’s old scandals but a recent scandal reported by The New York Times. The former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan has suffered for 19 years under the tyrannical leadership of Nursultan Nazarbayev. According to London’s Sunday Independent, Nazarbayev “has been accused of overseeing one of the most nepotistic, ruthless and corrupt regimes in central Asia.” Nazarbayev is believed to have stolen at least $1 billion dollars of his countries oil revenue.

Given all of this, Nazarbayev would be one of the last people that you would chose to head an organization to monitor elections and promote democracy. Yet according to the New York Times, Bill Clinton is an enthusiastic promoter of just such a post for Nazarbayev:

Late on Sept. 6, 2005, a private plane carrying the Canadian mining financier Frank Giustra touched down in Almaty, a ruggedly picturesque city in southeast Kazakhstan. Several hundred miles to the west a fortune awaited: highly coveted deposits of uranium that could fuel nuclear reactors around the world. And Mr. Giustra was in hot pursuit of an exclusive deal to tap them.

Unlike more established competitors, Mr. Giustra was a newcomer to uranium mining in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic. But what his fledgling company lacked in experience, it made up for in connections. Accompanying Mr. Giustra on his luxuriously appointed MD-87 jet that day was a former president of the United States, Bill Clinton.

Upon landing on the first stop of a three-country philanthropic tour, the two men were whisked off to share a sumptuous midnight banquet with Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, whose 19-year stranglehold on the country has all but quashed political dissent.

Mr. Nazarbayev walked away from the table with a propaganda coup, after Mr. Clinton expressed enthusiastic support for the Kazakh leader’s bid to head an international organization that monitors elections and supports democracy.

According to the Times, Bill Clinton’s support paid off. Within two days, Frank Giustra had his elusive deal, and he turned his “unknown shell company into one of the world’s largest producers of uranium.”

And what was in it for Bill Clinton? Giustra has given or pledged $131.3 million dollars to the William J. Clinton Foundation.

Although this story has appeared in The New York Times it has been largely ignored by other traditional media outlets. No, there is no cover-up. The public simply doesn’t care to know. As long we don’t know, we believe the fault is in the stars.

It may be true that the current batch of presidential candidates is less corrupt than Bill Clinton. It is certainly true that none but Ron Paul has an inkling about what we as a people have to do to restore America’s prosperity. America’s decline is not in the stars—it is in our choices.

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10 Responses to The Fault is Not in Our Stars

  1. E says:

    I’m not sure if this article is productive. Even if I did consider the “case” of Bill Clinton, he’s not running for President. (I read the Giustra story and considered it irrelevant.) Every administration since the founding of this country has had these types of issues: Undue influence, ignoring the rules, politicking, bought-and-paid-for issues, kick-backs, etc. Ron Paul may yet be a man of impeccable morals, but his chances of becoming the next President, under the electoral college system, are presently somewhere in the neighborhood of two million to one. So I would ask of this article, “what is the desired effect?”

    To a degree, most Americans understand that the decline of the country is based on our choices. Concerning “our decisions”, it just depends who you ask. (ie. a farmer from Georgia will tell you that politicians who allow cheap labor and imports from China are destroying the basic fabric of America; while a trial lawyer will tell you that politicians who want to enact tort reform are destroying America.)

  2. E,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I would disagree that most Americans understand that the decline of our country is based on, in part, our collective choice to erode principles of economic freedom and instead elect self-serving politicians who promise something for nothing.

    There is little doubt in my mind that collectively we have not come close to mastering the truth that our society is not a victim of external forces. Until we do there is little hope of serious change.

  3. Mikester says:

    Great article Barry, and to those like “E” who ask “what is the desired effect?” I say, if he really understood as well as he says then he would not have to ask that question. The desired effect is to be a free again! What is the effect of voting for somebody ELSE, is what I would ask these people……!

    Barry, you’re awesome, I’m putting you on my links list immediately.

  4. Bob G. says:

    I would follow up similarly with Mikester’s comments.

    The point of Dr. Brownstein’s article, it seems to me, and thus the relevance of it is that is demostrates an awareness of getting locked into an unquestioned way of seeing the world.

    It is an opportunity for others such as the farmer from Georgia or the trial lawyer (referenced by “E”) to step back an consider a different way of seeing what they probably never question.

    The relevance may not be obvious immediately because it takes work to suspend initial judgements and persepctives in order to consider (not necessarily agree) some things that we rarely question.

    Bob G.

  5. Frank v2 says:

    Barry et al,
    I concur that we the people are the ones that make the choices in terms of selecting who we put in office. Certainly Ron Paul does have a vision but like E suggests, I don’t think he will stand a hope of winning the race. However, I do think that it is important for voters to step back and reevaluate the landscape. As a new American and excited about the prospect of participating in my first federal election, I am shocked and dismayed by the slings and arrows that are thrown back and forth by the candidates at a personal level, thus disguising the real issues at hand. It is time for real change, but are we really going to get anything different? Is there a shining knight on a white horse that is going to save the day? I don’t think so. But in the case of politics change for the sake of change is a good thing. It is a necessity: kind of like changing ones underwear and for similar reasons.

    In reflecting on your comments about corruption and star like qualities of the former President Clinton, I couldn’t help but reflect back to a short article my father Keith wrote for a local chapter of a Toronto, Ontario based instrumentation (engineering) organization back in the early 1980s. I thought you might find these comments both interesting from an historical perspective and also relevant in terms of the current environment we are in.

    Enjoy!

    Soyewannabee

    A Politician

    Until recently I’ve been baffled by the antics and strange performances of politicians. My God fearing Mother always maintained that being a teacher of a minister was noble and honourable while being a salesman or a politician was unacceptable if not downright sinful. Perhaps then my early scepticism was justified.

    The fog lifted quite by accident when a dispute between the Players Association and the Owners shut down the National Football League leaving Sunday afternoon open for gospel singing or whatever. It seems that our athletic heroes want at least half of the total earnings because $200,000.00 for a six-month year is just not enough. So while a good portion of the rest of the world worries about an ordinary job, our athletes want ‘big money’ to ‘play’ or no game.

    Work is now no longer just a four letter word; it is a whole string of four and five letter words. Generally speaking one of them doesn’t seem to be ‘money’. We get paid in proportion to the pressure that can be brought to bear without getting fried.

    Is it so strange then that politicians should show little or no restraint at this particular time. Their salaries, after all, are a very small portion of the GNP even in this unhealthy economic climate.

    For centuries now each profession has had its own descriptive words. Doctors ‘practice’ medicine and can be forgiven an error or two since they were only practicing. Preachers ‘preach’ the gospel for better or for worse. Teachers ‘teach’ their students with varying results. Farmers ‘farm’ the land in the hope that we will eat better. But Politicians ‘play’ politics.

    It’s now perfectly clear. If the football players feel justified going for half the overall receipts for ‘playing’ football, why should the politicians not have half the GNP for ‘playing’ politics.

    No wonder no one seems to care that some politicians vote themselves a 65% wage increase over three years while advocating a 6/5 society. They are just trying to catch up to the other people who make a living ‘playing’. We seem prepared to pay and pay to watch the political game played in spite of the fact that the result is always the same. The only winner is the politician. Equally disturbing is the fact that after one or two good plays, he is allowed to retire to a fat pension that he allocated to himself.

    Yes indeed, not only is it a lucrative field, it’s the only one that guarantees success.

    If you can talk out of both sides of your mouth at the same time, mean not one word from either side and still sleep at night – go for it!!

  6. Mikester,

    Thank you for your kind words.

    Bob,

    Sadly, the unquestioned way of seeing the world is not easily changed.

    Frank,

    Thank you for sharing wisdom from your dad.

  7. E says:

    Thanks for responding Dr. B. My point is that most Americans are biased in their understanding of the economic truth. The problem of a “collective mastering of the truth” again is dependant upon the person, person in a particular sector, and in some instances, person in particular region, is being polled. For instance, collectively, we may think it unnecessary and wasteful to spend $1200/month in taxes for a general Hurricane Insurance Fund, but the people in Florida certainly don’t think so. In Florida, they are apt to vote for politicians who promise to “fix the Hurricane Fund problem.” (They can’t because it’s a mathematical problem from an actuarial perspective.) If you’re referring to individual debt, and the erosion of economic principles among credit-card debtors, well, I don’t see how a non-self-serving politician would help. Individual choices (contract for debt, invest, spend, etc.) should not be in the hands of the government.

  8. E,

    Programs like the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund are another example of the “something for nothing” mentality that I have been referring too. This program encourages building in areas that are subject to frequent storm damage. Without subsidies people who choose to live very close to the beach would have to self-insure. Instead they demand subsidies from everyone else. Last year Florida’s governor was seeking to change the Florida program to a national one.

  9. Debbie Flores-Narvaez says:

    Whether it be the infamous media, which is no surprise to having it’s own set of problems such as a decline in hard news, the growth of info-tainment and advertorials, staff cuts and concentration of ownership, increasing conformity of viewpoint and suppression of genuine debate. Or better yet, our presidential candidates that come out of hibernation every 4 to 8 years to only tear each other apart in the public eye while seeking the same common goal: to “lead” a country with believable promises to fix the many problems that our citizens are faced with everyday to only be full of corruption themselves. These are the very “Caesar’s” that people seek for the convenience of “when things inevitability go wrong, they will have someone to blame.”

    Articles written of such can go on forever because playing the “point-the-finger” game comes with ease and leads to non-worthy arguments. What should start being the point of focus is the underlying problem at hand: ETHICS. What ever happened to ethics? Responsibility? Honesty? They say being the economy leader of the world fuels temptation for unethical behaviors. Irresponsible actions. And dishonest measures. But how can we claim to be anything of a “leader” in this world when our society’s actions don’t live up to the definition? Oh that’s right….I forgot. It’s an automatic given that since we’ve held that title for years, that our actions that have allowed us to get there and remain there means that we can keep doing what we do best: cover up, manipulate and point the finger (media, politicians and we the “people that seek for blame”).

    I still believe that the very sound principles that we learned in kindergarten need to be revisited when it comes to “restoring America’s prosperity”: Be kind to one another, play fair, share, help one another, don’t turn a blind eye. BE ETHICAL.

  10. Debbie,

    Thank you for your comments. I agree with you about the importance of ethics. For example, the principles that foster economic liberty and prosperity have at their basis ethical values.

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