America the Beautiful (Ugly)

America the Beautiful Ugly

Judging by my Facebook feed, we should not continue to celebrate Columbus Day. Judging by the sentiment at the 20th anniversary of the Nation of Islam’s Million Man March ominously entitled Justice or Else!, we should not be celebrating July 4th, or really America-as-founded in any significant way. Judging by the logic of the political left as was on display at the first 2016 Democrat Party presidential debate, America has never been America the Beautiful. It is and always has been America the Ugly – racist, unjust, selfish, a scourge to the rest of the world – in dire need of continued fundamental transformation.

America has been taking it on the chin for most of my life. I suppose it began in earnest in the late 50’s and early 60’s with the counter-culture movement, later signified in anti-Vietnam protests and race rioting. Certainly racial politics and progressive, collectivist thinking had been chipping away at the bedrock of traditional American ideals. But it took a while to overtake our institutions.

While I was in grade school, I was taught to love America. People didn’t question America’s innate goodness. We were taught why millions and millions from all over the world wanted nothing more than to have a shot at life in America. The family of my paternal grandfather was like that, having escaped the Bolshevik revolution and ending up in NYC around 1920. When I was ten we went to Disneyland. In the Hall of Presidents, I saw the animatronic Abraham Lincoln deliver his historic speeches about freedom and the importance of the individual. It brought tears to my young eyes. I didn’t encounter vehement hatred for America until I went to college in Boston in 1979.

The first time I walked Harvard Square, student protesters handed me pamphlets about the evil, secretive Trilateral Commission and propaganda from MassPIRG. They were passionate about injustices that I’d never heard of before. They were all “shocked and appalled.” It was surreal and unappealing to me – I didn’t see the utility of living life in that continual state.

The drumbeat then was how the “Bedtime for Bonzo clown Reagan” was going to drive us to nuclear war and economic and environmental ruin. In my first Economics class, I was taught that the world would run out of oil by 2004. That professor also taught Keynesian models that even at age 17 I knew had been discredited. Other claims in the air at that time were that the oceans would be dead by the turn of the century and that we were going to suffer greatly from a rapidly approaching Ice Age.

Though things didn’t quite work out that way, that drumbeat hasn’t quieted. The villains have morphed, but the protest has spread from the University to secondary schools, pop culture, and most traditional institutions.

Life in today’s public schools is markedly different from 40 years ago. Just this week an Oregon boy was sent home for wearing this shirt:

patriotic tshirt

America, at least in its traditional sense, along with Christianity is being ejected from our public schools. In are multi-culturalism, identity politics, and environmental activism. Instead of an Ice Age, we are now taught to fear Anthropomorphic Global Warming. (Actually, proponents have learned not to commit to a particular temperature direction; it’s bad for business. So they’ve wisely shifted to the catch-all phrase Climate Change. Now the $22 billion per year industry has more sustainability regardless of its predictive shortcomings – climate will always change.)

Our children are taught not so much about the miraculous achievement of America’s founding as they are the injustices of European (read: white) aggression. Textbooks are scant on Franklin, Madison, and Harrison and heavy on slavery, the plight of Native Americans, and the history of women’s rights. Columbus is not portrayed so much as a brave explorer who helped spread western civilization but as a greedy, blood-thirsty conqueror who spread injustice and disease. America as founded is deemed guilty of the original sin of slavery and of ongoing rape of the planet. The sentence for these transgressions is death.

This mindset is necessary to continue to expand the State in America. The success of the American Experiment is a stiff headwind against the growth of the State. The State requires a pliant and needy population who are content to trade freedom and opportunity for the security of a safety net. (Our children are no longer taught Benjamin Franklin’s famous admonishment against this.)

The problem for Statists in America is that this has never been the American character. People who have come to America over its history were not meek and mild. They wanted to be left alone, not taken care of. Prototypical Americans want to pursue their dreams and they want to be able to profit from their labors. People like this are brave. They also understand the value of cooperation and specialization. People who value the individual above the state also have respect for others. This breeds compassion and kindness. Cooperative creative endeavors brought about unprecedented innovation and wealth, the “5000 Year Leap” that demarks the modern era. This collective experience has built reverence for free markets and entrepreneurism.

But there is a portion of our population for whom the promise of America has been historically withheld and subsequently less available – black Americans.

Despite civil rights laws and uncountable programs designed to assist blacks to overcome institutional hurdles, large disparities persist. Understandably, resentment is strong as was evidenced by the “Down with America” chants by tens of thousands in D.C. this past weekend. Those who are caught in the whirlpool of dependence rightly feel disappointed. Over the past 40+ years, they’ve been electing Democrats who have promised to deliver to them better prospects. When Obama was elected, the black community was elated, because it signified that the day of promise had finally come. But seven years later, it hasn’t.

This reality places the 2016 Democrat presidential hopefuls in an awkward position. They must embrace the policies of Obama and at the same time distance themselves. It was amusing to watch the attempt during the debate. They had to behave as though they hadn’t held power over the past seven years. Their answers are the same as ever. “There are too many guns!” “More taxes on the wealthy!” “Make Wall Street pay for college for everybody!” “The 1% are greedy!” “The Republicans are holding us back!” “It’s Bush’s fault!” “Raise the minimum wage!” “We haven’t gone far enough!” In a nutshell, they suggested that in order to solve the pressing problems or our day, we have to keep doing what we’ve been doing. Good luck with that.

It’s an old show. These are characters straight out of an Ayn Rand novel. But if you watch close enough, you can glimpse reality behind the curtain of promises and platitudes. There is a sense, on the part of most Americans, that something is really wrong. People sense that our system is not functioning properly. Most pundits miss it, but this is why Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina are polling so well. In normal times, those candidates would have had similar standings as do Webb, Chafee, and O’Malley (all poll at less than 1%.)

Americans know that our system is strained. Yes, the stock market is high. But people sense that we’re in a debt bubble that could not only burst at any time, but when it does it will dwarf the housing bubble of 2007.

Sanders and Trump both boldly and clearly descry the corruption of our electoral system – they both declare that moneyed interests rule the day. They have very different ideas about both the remedies and what a better system would look like, of course. But they both tap into the feeling of disempowerment that many Americans feel. (Sanders, though his performance was spirited and earnest, blew his remote chance of winning the Democrat Party nomination during the debate when he compromised his ethical high ground by calling for the sweeping aside of the ongoing and scandalous national security investigation involving ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.)

The Democrat candidates vilified and belittled Trump and the other Republicans. For their part, the Republicans, along with prominent conservative pundits, ridiculed the Democrat candidates. What one side accepts as axiomatic, the other discounts. This exchange is perhaps juvenile and distasteful. But it is instructive. Trump calls these hopeful leaders (along with Obama and other past and current leaders) stupid. It makes no sense to him why we would act the way we do on the world stage. His assessment reveals that he’s missing something.

He does not seem to understand the important element of what belies the policies and decisions to which he objects. He fails to perceive that American Statists, including Obama, Clinton, and Sanders along with many others, want some things to which they cannot publicly admit and remain electable. First, they want our system to collapse. They believe that they can build something better in its place. Second, they want a new order that obsoletes nationhood. They want One World government. This is not something you will hear any of them explain. They know it will not be well received. Americans still, funny enough, kind of like America.

The story of America is of course not monolithic. No human endeavor is pure. We label things, in this case America, good or bad based upon our perceptions and values. Statists dislike America as founded. It represents the exact opposite of their ideal. Through their eyes, American history has been a never-ending stream of oppression.

I took my family to NYC a few years ago. In Rockefeller Center, we grabbed a quick breakfast before the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. I asked an older gentleman if he would mind if we joined him at his table in the crowded café. He welcomed us graciously. It turned out that he was from Switzerland and a retired commercial airline pilot.  Over the course of his long career with Swissair, he had travelled extensively; to literally every country in the world. In a thick accent, he told my kids this: “Be thankful that you live in America, children. It is the greatest country in the world. It is not even close. By any measure – hospitality, kindness, generosity, fairness, choice, opportunity – America is a friend to all in need – it is the best.”

I’ll take his word for it.

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Guns are Good

Are cars good or bad? If you say good, what of the more than 35,000 annual domestic deaths due to motor vehicle crashes? If in consideration of these losses, hundreds of thousands of injuries, and their polluting exhaust you conclude that cars are indeed bad and therefore their use should be further limited, you may be discounting the higher lifestyle and freedoms that the automobile affords millions.

Many believe guns are bad. It’s a reasonable position, as their effects upon the human body are horrific. It’s especially easy to vilify guns in the wake of senseless mass shootings as recently happened at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. We can all imagine ourselves or our loved ones innocently attending classes or going out for an enjoyable night at the movies and suddenly subject to an unthinkable attack.  It is reasonable to take action to prevent that from happening.

Homicide by firearms number around 11,000 annually (and falling – the murder rate is down 50% from its historic highs in the early 1990’s, but it is spiking as much as 73% this year in some cities.) Suicide gun deaths are double that. A few thousand fewer people die each year by the bullet as do in motor vehicle accidents. Our reactions to these unpalatable incidents are very different, though.

Perhaps it’s because traffic deaths are overwhelmingly accidents. Only about 500 or so gun deaths are accidental. The others are all intentional. As mentioned, two thirds of these deaths are suicides. Of the homicides, historically around 75% are committed by people with a criminal history. Crimes of passion and first-offender murderous gun-wielding madmen are relatively rare.

But this doesn’t stop left-leaning politicians from calling for more gun control each and every time a lunatic strikes. Their argument is that it is innately wrong that guns should be so common and easy to obtain. I suppose they also believe that it follows that if we enforced even more gun restrictions than are currently on the books, there would be a reduction in these events. Though this may be sensible on the surface, fewer guns = less opportunity = fewer murders, the evidence does not support the claim.

We won’t be able to fully prosecute the gun control argument here. I do wonder why these same politicians never point out that every mass shooting (defined as more than four deaths aside from the perpetrator and numbering over the past century at around 170 or so) with two exceptions since 1950 occurred in places where it was illegal for citizens to carry guns. Gun free zones in fact act as advertisements where perpetrators can be relatively assured that there won’t be people there to prematurely thwart their efforts. Advocates for more gun control also don’t discuss the profiles of mass shooters  – almost always young, white, and male with a 60% likelihood of having been previously diagnosed with mental disorder. Some suspect that the behavior of some recent mass murderers may be linked to harmful side effects of powerful psychotropic drugs used to treat their behaviors.

Pundits and politicians also seem reluctant to discuss deeper social realities that may relate to these tragic incidents – the breakdown of the nuclear family, the lack of a clear demarcation between boyhood and manhood, the onset of violent video games, the worship of celebrity, and laws that make it nearly impossible to commit a person to a mental institution without their consent.

One might reasonably doubt that those politicians are really trying to solve the problem. It seems at least possible that they have ulterior motives. What might those be? You might consult the literature of their ideology and study history for answers. I’ll leave that up to you.

President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and many others blame the gun for the crime. Hillary said in a recent speech that it is wrong not to hold the gun manufacturers accountable for these deaths. (I wonder how GM and Ford feel about that one.) I think it’s safe to say that they and their supporters fall into the “guns are bad” camp.

History makes a counter argument. How did society function before widespread firearm ownership? In Europe and non-industrial parts of the world, power was held by the strong. The big man called the shots. The lord, baron, governor, duke, or king ran, what were in essence, protection rackets. There was no such thing as a middle class. There was little freedom or personal ambition and therefore progress was slow.  It was a world that lacked justice and Thomas Hobbes famously described in Leviathan where life was “solitary, nasty, brutish, and short.” In too many places, this describes life to this day.

Women were particularly vulnerable. They were nearly universally considered second class citizens, somewhere between men and children. This was not because women lacked strength of character and of mind, but strength of arm. The gun has served as an equalizer in society and indeed is a factor in ushering in the modern age.

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is amazingly powerful. It was written short and sweet so as to be difficult to subvert. That hasn’t stopped the efforts of the left, as its spirit would forbid the existence of a gun free zone. Often, those who favor the restriction of firearms refer to the Second Amendment as out of date and not suited for modern life. To hold this view, you must ignore the rationale that the authors themselves gave for its prominence in the Bill of Rights.

The reason that the Second Amendment is in our Constitution is this – to protect personal power. James Madison explained the role of the militia (private armed citizens.) It was necessary as a check against any governing force, foreign or domestic.

Madison and his contemporaries understood human nature better than our current crop of leaders. In an ideal world, guns would be unnecessary. Everyone would be enlightened so as to eschew violence and warfare. They would not seek dominion over others. But as the men of America’s founding knew, this is not human nature.

For that reason, guns are necessary. Like it or not. I believe the world is best served when moral and peace-loving people are better armed than those who are not. In the hands of the just, guns stop evil dead in its tracks. Therefore guns are a great good.

The Whole Middle East Thing

I remember my first lessons on world affairs as early as the second and third grades. We had to cut articles out of the newspaper and talk about them. Dominant at that time, more than forty years ago, was strife in the Middle East – mainly between Israel and its neighboring states. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Today, foreign affairs remain centered in the cradle of civilization.middle east

Odds are that you’re disappointed in American Middle East policy. Me too. Do you ever wonder why this part of the world has been so problematic for so long? (Far longer than the years since Israel was established as a nation in the wake of WWII – Thomas Jefferson fought the Muslim Barbary Coast pirates in the early years of America’s nationhood, and Europe has been invaded repeatedly since the beginnings of Islam over a thousand years ago – the current one is far more clever than those of the past.)

There is one main problem that has plagued past, current, and judging by the discussion of the issue in the recent GOP debate, likely future administrations. The problem is that westerners cannot or will not clearly see the driving forces behind the ongoing conflicts.

Our myopia comes from at least two places: a failure to understand human nature and a lack of moral clarity. We often think of humans as rational beings. We aren’t. We are emotional beings with the capacity for reason. This distinction is important to understand the full spectrum of human behavior.

Morally, we have bought in to the concept that all religions, creeds, and cultures have equal standing. They do, in terms of an individual’s freedom to believe as he or she wishes. But they don’t, in terms of the social structure and dynamics that result from those beliefs. The failure to see this distinction makes it impossible to properly evaluate the motives of others and determine the most effective ways to resolve conflicts. In the case of the Middle East, we specifically lack understanding of the inevitable social and political consequences of the religion of Muhammad.

Much of the confusion comes from the inability to discern Islamism from Islam. Western pundits and leaders such as President Obama insist that “Islam is a religion of peace,” sometimes claiming that the word itself means peace. (It doesn’t; it more closely translates as “submission.”) The reality is that Muslims do not represent one homogeneous group, just as do neither Christians nor Jews nor Atheists, but rather hold a wide spectrum of beliefs. Some are westernized, meaning that they have found a way to follow their faith within the context of a modern society such as America that seeks to maximize individual liberty.

Others, such as those attracted to groups such as Hamas, al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Boko Haram, ISIL, and the Muslim Brotherhood, do not fall into this category. They believe that all people must live under Sharia law, which supersedes all other law. Furthermore, they hold that they are commanded by Allah to actively pursue this end. This belief is known as Islamism. It is the motive force behind jihad and dawa (Islamist missionary strategy to change nations from within.)

For some reason, our leaders believe (or want us to believe) that Islamism represents a tiny fraction of the over 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. The evidence contradicts this. Distinguishing Islamists from other Muslims is tricky, as poll results regarding beliefs vary. The best I can figure from the data is that out of the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, maybe 200 to 500 million of them are truly Islamists. That, of course, is well sufficient to present real and present danger to all who disagree with them. Especially considering that among them are the leaders of nations such as Iran.

The inability to distinguish Islamists from other Muslims was behind the recent flap around Dr. Ben Carson’s comments on the topic. He very rationally explained that he did not believe that a Muslim who believed in the traditional tenets of the Koran would qualify to be President of the United States. He is factually correct, because the oath of office requires loyalty, first and foremost, to the U.S. Constitution. A traditional Muslim would be unable to comply. That his statement was viewed as controversial shows that our society is not currently capable of making this distinction; as a result to many it appeared as though he made a blanket “racist” statement about all Muslims. (There’s more going on underneath this, but we’ll have to save that for another time.)

To be fair, it’s a tough task to discern truth amidst the swirl of invective that comes from all sides. So how do we reasonably assess both the realities of the Islamist threat and the most effective policies to protect our people and our way of life?

Here are a few assertions that I offer for your consideration:

  1. Islamists are more numerous, and more powerful, than ever.
  2. The Islamist worldview is incompatible with the tenets of the U.S. Constitution and the American way of life.
  3. Islamists are serious about the destruction of western culture, specifically Israel and America.
  4. Islamists will continue their aggressions until they succeed or are forcefully prevented from doing so.
  5. Islamists represent a significant ongoing threat to Americans domestically.
  6. Islamists are fierce and dedicated, but far weaker than the full force of technologically advanced societies.

Maybe these appear obvious to you, or maybe they look like horse pucky. Presidential hopefuls Rand Paul, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton seem to believe that #’s 3-5 are not true.

Many in the west simply do not believe that Islamists mean what they say. They believe that Islamists are driven by the same motivators as anyone else.  Marie Harf, spokesperson for the Obama administration State Department said: “We need in the medium and longer term to go after the root causes that lead people to join these groups, such as lack of opportunity for jobs.”

George W. Bush said that Iraqis were the same as everybody else, they want freedom. Maybe so. But their ideas of freedom differ from yours, Mr. President.

If some or all of my six assertions above are untrue, I suppose it is most reasonable to continue to withdraw from involvement in the Middle East. The geopolitical realities there are a big mess. The national boundaries currently in place in the region mean a whole lot more to governments than they do to the people who live there. The population of the region roughly divides out into three groups – Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Among these, Muslims are the vast majority. Within that group, they roughly divide into three – Sunni, Shia, and Kurd.

Many of the difficulties there are not just with Islamist intolerance of non-Muslims, but of Sunni and Shiite intolerance of one another. It is an ideological blend incompatible with domestic tranquility, and fleeting moments of peace are only upheld via the fists of strongmen such as Saddam Hussein (we saw what happens when that heavy hand is lifted.)

It is tempting to just leave the whole mess to them and let them sort it out. That may have been possible in the past. It isn’t any more. Why?

Technology.

Islamists didn’t develop or create the destructive technologies that they employ today. But they sure are willing to use them. From IED’s to beheading videos, they have learned how to conduct real and psychological warfare in the most effective ways.

We stand on the verge of the day when Islamists will possess nuclear weapons. Let me ask you this. If and when they get them, do you believe that will show the same restraint that current nuclear-armed governments have?

President Obama called ISIS (he always uses the term ISIL) the “JV squad.” That was before they had successfully established the first Caliphate in 85 years. The significance of this to the Islamist is difficult to overstate. They believe that it signals the beginning of the foretold “end times.” It represents the successful completion of step five of a seven step plan to fully establish Sharia law worldwide. Steps six and seven aren’t pretty. In fact, nuclear weapons would be quite handy to successfully complete those steps.

The nuclear deal with Iran is therefore particularly crucial. The Obama Administration is quite comfortable with arms-length inspections and trusting Iranian intentions and integrity. Are you?

Candidates such as Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio and Lindsay Graham want to rearm and push the technological and therefore tactical and strategic military capabilities of the U.S. in order to play Wack-A-Mole with bad Islamic actors such as ISIS as they pop up. I’m unconvinced that this strategy will be successful.

It seems to me that the keys for solving Middle East problems lie with Middle Easterners. We need to support those Muslims who oppose Islamism. The problem? There doesn’t appear to be many of those around, at least not in power. Terrorist practices have been quite successful in intimidating all who might stand in opposition.

So here we are. We can’t ignore. We can’t invade. It’s quite a pickle. What do you believe we should do?