Essays

He was the Walrus, goo-goo-ga-joob

 

What day is this? June 18, 2017, you say? Why that can’t be! That would mean that…Holy Shit! Paul McCartney is 75? Oh, say it ain’t so!

No, it’s true. Happy Birthday and many returns, Sir Paul.

This is the man, the versatile artist and gifted songwriter, who made so much of his stock in love songs.  Where we look from the outside it appears he has lived his life with a reverence for love, not one to give his affections wantonly. As a young man he was known the world over. Those big brown eyes and boyish charm melted the hearts of girls and women everywhere. He could have had his pick of anyone, and perhaps in his bachelor days he did. I have no idea, but in spite of the great fame and adoration that might easily have swept him into ill advised romance he was instead patient and prudent in when and where he chose to make a commitment.

I was never privy to the inner workings of his marriage to Linda. I’m sure it wasn’t perfect, for no marriage ever is. By all outward appearances, though, it surely seemed to be a love that was true and enduring. They certainly seemed happy. And Paul never spared his praise for and devotion to her, in public pronouncements and in song. My Love and Maybe I’m Amazed still stand as some of the most poignant love songs of all time, both inspired by his love for Linda.

I can imagine the awful heartache and sorrow that came with her passing. This was surely a case of someone losing not just a wife, a friend and lover, but losing a part of yourself. Envy is a bitter potion, yet properly indulged if felt for what these two people had in each other.

I thought at the time that he would never remarry. I thought he would be like George Burns, enduring life for fifty years alone without his beloved Grace. Paul and Linda seemed to fit that mold, don’t you think? Still, loneliness can be a potent intoxicant. When he took up with Heather it seemed that sufficient time had passed. It was good to see that she made him happy. This good man could have given to her the same kind of devotion that he gave to Linda. A heart as large and true as his could hardly be left bereft for the rest of his days. I understand what happened to him. Maybe he did too, yet still could not resist. The Achilles Heel of the sentimental romantic.

I looked at Heather and saw something I recognized. Not in her so much as in the familiarity of the feelings involved.  Sir Paul had fallen into a trap which has snared many a man. To find your love, the soul that is your other half of being, is a rare and precious gift. I can speak with ease for my sex, admitting something that perhaps many will not. Men are easy. Where it concerns matters of the heart most of us are blind or we are fools. In the worst cases both. Some of us never find “the one”, succumbing to a life of womanizing or just dedicating ourselves exclusively to the “masculine” pursuits. Some of us stumble blind through life and trip over the one without ever knowing. Ignorance is bliss. A greater woe betide the man who misses this and realizes later what he has missed, especially if he has gone on to “settle” for someone else. A piece of advice for you ladies: don’t allow yourself to be a man’s “Plan B”. This never ends well. And let’s be honest with ourselves here, it works the same in reverse.

Then there is the case when a man finds that one love, that person who “gets” you. The Yin to your Yang, a pairing that completes both of you. And then you lose her. You screw it up and she leaves, or she is taken from you by accident, untimely demise or unknown circumstance. It leaves a hole in you, but also a burden. For the rest of your days, consciously or unconsciously, your eyes will forever watch, your ears forever listen, your heart will ever seek a replacement. You will tell yourself that you can love her because you want so badly to believe it. It may be her eyes, the way her hair falls across her face. It may be her voice or her laugh. The inflection of voice when saying certain words. She reminds you of her. It may be something more subtle. Perhaps she emits pheromones that pair to your receptors. Whatever the case you can easily find yourself taken in this web, willing your heart to accept what the mind sees and projecting your lost love into this person. For all the similarities that may exist eventually your heart will know that it has been deceived. She is not the same.

Some men suffer this fate and make the most of it, for better or worse. Sir Paul suffered this and had to pay dearly for it.  Not the money. To a heart like that and a wealth like his the currency would be inconsequential. Its the price of betrayal dealt to his heart. Yet in spite of the whole nightmare his capacity for love remained, manifest in his music and later with a new bride, Nancy.  Now I can look at her and conclude this was not a case of equating the physical appearance to the lost love. She is a lovely and accomplished woman, still nearly twenty years his junior but wearing it quite well.

A lover needs someone to love. Women are better equipped to be alone, I think. We men simply can’t bear it; we end up killing ourselves through one means or another. I hope Sir Paul has a fab birthday and has many years of happiness to share with his new love. Thankfully for the world he has not “had enough of silly love songs”.


 

The Odd Things I Remember from the 70s

 

Preschool and elementary years in a suburban apartment. I only realize now how young my parents were. They were still on their first leg of life’s journey. My younger sister was still an infant and had many health problems, several surgeries before the age of five. It seemed a fine enough home to me, what did I know any better? I thought everyone lived in an apartment and had grandparents with a farm out in the country.

Our apartment was an end unit, my bedroom window looking out upon a common green where I first learned to play football. Back in those days my dad was still pretty athletic. He had that Johnny Unitas flat-top. He was a fan of the AFL, before the leagues merged in 1970, his favorite team the Oakland Raiders.

In just a little over a mile to the north there was the constant sound of construction as the 270 outerbelt was still being built around Columbus, Ohio.  My parents were country folk from neighboring Pickaway County. My mother was afraid to drive in Columbus; she thought there was too much traffic and everyone drove too fast. My dad had a red Corvair convertible that he was so proud of. It’s design was the curiosity of our block, especially after Ralph Nader succeeded in branding the car “unsafe at any speed”.

I walked to my elementary school, a little less than a mile away. After being escorted for the first couple of weeks I was permitted to make the walk to and from on my own, something almost unconscionable today.  Most all of us had stay at home moms, except for one boy in my class, Danny. Danny was a bit of an oddity, the only child picked up by a van from KinderCare at the conclusion of each school day. Danny’s mother had to work because she was raising Danny on her own while his dad was fighting in Vietnam. Danny was so proud to tell that his dad was a soldier.  I did not discover until years later that during the time we were schoolmates Danny’s father had already died in combat sometime in 1969.

My dad’s older brother was also serving in Vietnam at the time, with the Air Force, flying low level counter-insurgency missions in an AD-10 over the jungles. The AD-10 was among the few non-jet planes used in that conflict, known as the flying dump truck for the heavy load of ordnance it could carry. I remember sitting in our basement at my dad’s workbench, watching him paint and build models of the AD-10 and other warbirds.

That year at Christmas I got my first radio, a small Motorola transistor powered by a 9V battery. This began many years of my childhood to be spent in my room listening to the radio and reading books. There were always piles of books in our house.  My dad was an avid reader of paperbacks, my mother of magazines, and my grandparents were always buying me books. There were numerous collections; Scholastic Book Series “______ do the strangest things” and child’s biographies of Washington, Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Lincoln.  Also JFK and MLK, both fairly fresh in their graves at the time. I remember my first copy of Jack London’s Call of the Wild, Kipling’s The Jungle Book, and a collection of short stories Tales of Time and Space. The latter of these was of special interest as our home were avid followers of the nation’s space program.

I remember at the time of the Apollo 11 mission my grandparents were away on a trip to Europe. My dad had his vacation during that time and we spent the duration at my grandparents’ farm. The lawn tractor nor the farm tractor, a rusty old International Harvester model, were considered safe for me. Instead I learned to care for the chickens, sheep, collect the eggs and help in the garden. The garden was a gigantic plot to my young eyes, surrounded by berry brambles, a variety of Irises in pink, purple and white. And in the very middle of this garden there was a slim galvanized pipe that towered to a height of fifteen feet above where there was mounted a Martin house. The Martins made full use of this. During the day they were always heard fussing and rustling about the house. In the evenings we would marvel at their sleek vee wings spread as they swooped down and soared away from the buffet of mosquitos.

On the night of the moon landing I tried to stay awake but fell asleep on my grandparents’ living room floor in front of their gigantic RCA console TV. Back in those days they were built right there in Circleville. I remember my parents waking me to witness the historic event. There had been so much build up to it all, I remember at the time finding it somewhat anti-climactic. At that age I hardly know now what I had expected, I just remember some sense of disappointment. My parents were born in the depression. They attended high school in the 50s and witnessed the space race as young adults. It meant something more for them.

I realize now that in spite of the title I have shared an awful lot that was actually the end of the 60s, chronologically. Some decades bleed into others as an era. I think this was true for 1968-1974, the Nixon years. So I guess my recollections are bifurcated into two 1970s: the 70s that bled from the end of the 60s and then everything that came after. The after coincided with puberty and the teen years so maybe that is the difference. Memories of childhood and memories of growing up; two different things, aren’t they?

Coming back to that radio… That summer of 1970, between 2nd and 3rd grade, I remember spending a lot of time listening to it. WCOL AM, 1230. That was the pop/top 40 station of the time. This was my introduction to music. FM radio was still relegated to “doctor’s office music” at the time. From 1970 to 1974 this was the voice we youngsters of the time shared. I began that summer with a steady diet of CCR, The Beatles, Mountain, Mott the Hoople, Three Dog Night, Aretha Franklin’s Rose in Spanish Harlem. They played that one a lot. Mac Davis and Ray Stevens were early “crossovers” who got a lot of air.

In the fall of 71 we moved to a rental house in the country. I remember that the rent on the place was $125 per month. It wasn’t my business and I had no reason to care, I just remember it because I was often entrusted with delivering the rent check to the landlady, just a couple of houses up the road. I wasn’t aware at the time, but my parents were beset with a lot of medical bills for my sister. Dad had to sell his prized Corvair and we made our travels in a used, blue Chevy Bellaire sedan for a few years thereafter.

It was then, largely thanks to my grandfather, that I developed my interest in NFL football. To this day it is really the only sport I have any interest in. The Baltimore Colts were the reigning league champions at the time. My grandfather was a huge fan of the Miami Dolphins because of his attachment to Don Shula, who he had watched play as a defensive back with the Cleveland Browns back in the 1950s. I got my very first package of Topps Football trading cards that fall, some of which I still have today. I remember they came in a three compartment, clear blister pack with a cardboard tab at the top to hang from the display. From that first pack I obtained such NFL notables of the time in the form of Johnny Unitas, George Blanda, Joe Namath, Don Maynard, Dick Butkus. Also some forgettable players like Larry Krause, Cyril Pinder and Bake Turner. One of the things I remember most about these packs was the smell of the hard-as-rock stick of bubble gum that was sealed with the cards in every package. Once in a while I may dig out some of the old cards and still catch the slightest hint of that scent lingering. I went on to collect hundreds of more cards in subsequent years, but none of them ever seemed to measure up to the 1971 set. With each year the cards became more and more of a disappointment.

The music changed. 1971 brought the Beatles’ solo efforts, George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord, John Lennon’s Instant Karma and Ringo’s It don’t come easy.  Time passed and the venerable WCOL favored us with the likes of Joan Baez, Carole King, Melanie, Todd Rundgren and Harry Nilsson. Three Dog Night’s Jeremiah was a bullfrog and Paul McCartney’s (he hadn’t sprouted “Wings” yet) Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey were regular staples for months. Good Christ! I just realized that Paul McCartney turns 75 tomorrow! Happy Birthday, Sir Paul!

Another little thing that was anticipated from the radio every day was Dick Orkin’s syndicated spoof, Chickenman, a two and a half minute vignette featured during morning drive and again around 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. This bit of silliness originated in Chicago several years previously. We were always a little behind the times in those days. Carly Simon, James Taylor, Al Green, Gladys Knight and the Pips were played a lot. And Elton John. He was just beginning to take off in the states at that time.

Halfway through junior high we moved to a proper farm, a lovely plot of ground along Darby Creek. Unlike my grandparents, who at the time still had their farm, we did nothing with livestock. We were just dirt farmers. With this change there came a change in the radio too. I now had a plug in model with AM and FM. I outgrew WCOL and migrated to WNCI FM, 97.9 on the dial. WNCI had a pop format, but they also featured Casey Kasem’s weekly Billboard Top 40 countdown. It was here that I began to learn of Fleetwood Mac, Seals and Croft, ZZ Top, Queen, Supertramp, The Who, whetting my appetite for more. These were also the days of the Sunday night silliness we all knew as the Dr. Demento Show.

I was not into watching a great deal of television in those days. It would be nearly another 20 years before anything even resembling cable would come to our part of the world. Somehow our household had remained a mostly “radio” home. The set in our living room was set alternately between 610 AM, WTVN or WMNI AM, a country station. In those years I would cringe whenever my mom put on the country station. Oddly I now have a liking for some of the old country classics. There were a few TV programs that we enjoyed. My parents enjoyed MASH, though I was not permitted to watch it until the 8th grade. It was deemed unsuitable for me before then.

My most lasting memories of television in those years was watching the NFL on CBS or NBC until it grew dark. Then on Sunday evenings there was The Rockford Files with Jim Garner. I thought he was cool, I loved his car. I can’t remember now if it was a Camaro or a Firebird. And then there was the NBC Sunday Night Mystery Theater, which featured alternately McMillan and Wife or McCloud or Columbo. There were a few others in that repertoire as well. Jim Hutton’s Ellery Queen and George Peppard’s Banacek. On occasion now I may catch one of these old gems on one of the “retro” networks. I am dismayed to see how camp these were, but it was gripping viewing at the time. I can still sit through some of them, if only to remember lying on the floor in front of the fireplace and watching on our little 32″ screen.

In the summer of 75 came new discoveries.  Nixon was gone, we were stumbling through the Gerry Ford years.  Our house did not have central air. On warm nights the only relief to be found came from having your windows open and a gigantic, industrial strength attic fan in the upstairs hallway. This behemoth was right outside of my bedroom. Though it did draft a mighty breeze through the windows it was loud as a truck! In fact it was so loud that it carried down that hall to the landing at the top of the stairs and filled the wide open space of the A-framed ceiling. This would cause my parents to crank up the volume on the TV when Johnny Carson was on.  There was many a night when I drifted off to sleep hearing the laughter of that Burbank studio audience and the guffaws of Ed McMahon.

One night in the middle of that summer it was a steambath outside. The fan and the television were roaring, but it was too hot to close the door. Since all other sounds were drowned out I could turn up my radio to block the din. I was scrolling through the FM dial and chanced upon Close to the Edge, by the band Yes. I had never heard it before and sat up in my bed transfixed by Steve Howe’s lilting caress upon the neck of “that” guitar. What I was hearing was only an excerpt, though. It was the intro theme music for a radio program on WCOL FM, which until that time I had never known existed. The show was called Midnight and other Beasts, hosted by a DJ named Terry something-or-other. Come on! I’m doing great to remember this much!

Midnight and other Beasts featured deep album cuts. Jeff Beck and Jan Hammer ( later of fame for his Miami Vice theme music in the 80s), Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, King Crimson, Zeppelin, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Fleetwood Mac before they went pop. Before this time I had occasionally heard a little David Bowie from the top 40 countdown, but otherwise he received little airplay where we were. I got a heavy dose from this program. There were more Stones than I had ever heard, The Who, more Yes and Genesis. I became a regular listener of the program, each time coming away wondering “How come we haven’t heard this?”

In the pop music scene we were entering the dreaded age of disco. There were all of these other exciting things happening in the music world and we were missing out! I didn’t know what it was called at the time, but I was developing a taste for “prog rock”.

The 70s droned on. We suffered through disco, the Jimmy Carter years. There were some highlights. Those early years of SNL were precious. I also discovered cigarettes. And weed. Lots and lots of weed. Dr. Demento had introduced me to more of Monty Python. In those years, if you were lucky, you might catch an episode after 10:00 on PBS on a Saturday night.  We were treated to the early years of Steve Martin.

About 1978 I got my first cassette tape player. I loaded up on everything I was missing from the radio through the Columbia House music club. Steely Dan, ZZ Top, Rush, Supertramp, Queen, Yes, Genesis. There was a fairly decent catalogue to choose from and between this and the vinyl I had been able to purchase I built a respectable collection. It was then that I realized that my tastes fell mostly outside of the mainstream. I was ripe for the alternative movement in the decade to come. It wasn’t until then that I finally got current. I later had the opportunity to travel and live in other places that broadened my universe in many ways. When alternative morphed into grunge I was still on the train. They lost me somewhere after that. Since then I still hold to my musical roots and to the 80 alternative, but for the past decade I’ve been exploring the indieverse. There are still a lot of good things happening out there, if you know where to look. And there are a lot more places to look today than there were in 1970s midwest America.

It is often said that America lost it’s innocence after the JFK assassination. As an event that may have been the start of it, but from my life experience I’ll say that we had not fully shed this until the 70s had passed. It was the last days of the analog age, where we were still mechanical rather than digital. Much of this modern technology has its uses, this forum here as a fine example, but I thought we did alright with what we had in the 70s.  Now that I am mostly retreated from the outside world I find myself doing many of the same things I did then.  I still till the ground, plant the seeds and tend the garden. Things like this and the trees, the birds, the earth, they are constants. Yes they change, but in their own time and not as a result of anything we do. We are still only renting this space.

Johnny Carson is dead, you can’t even buy cassettes any more and the world is still a scary place. We just have different kinds of scary now. When I lay down at night and close my eyes I can still hear Close to the Edge playing feebly through the air as I drift to sleep. As I enter the land of Midnight and other Beasts….


 

For the Newshound-to-Novelist ( Donna-Louise)

 

We reflect on the state of our lives. Not when we’re happy, no. When we are happy we are simply enjoying living it. If it’s good don’t think about it too hard: you might spoil it. It’s the Heisenberg Principle as applied to relationships.

It would probably, at least sometimes, be healthier for us all to spend a bit more time in reflection. Reflection like anything else requires a balance. Not enough and you rocket blindly up the motorways of life, unprepared for those pesky obstacles that will arise in your path. Too much and you’ll simply drive yourself mad. It seems for most of us, sadly, that regret is the impetus behind our reflections. We search our past to determine where it all started to go wrong. Often the search will only further cloud the issues, or worse. Sometimes these reflections cause us to discover very disturbing things about ourselves.

There will be in any given year a score or so of writers, pop psychologists and self help gurus who will profit by their recorded musings upon marriage or relationships in general. Most I suspect are charlatans, though this is likely my inherently skeptical nature. Let’s be fair. They’re not all charlatans and even those who are probably come at the question with only the best intentions. Of course good intentions are the tarmac laid upon the path to hell, if one believes in that sort of thing. But I digress…

Suffice it to say that there are libraries filled with books and advice on the subject of marriage and relationships. Clever, thoughtful, probing analyses filling page after page, volume upon volume, often saying the same things dressed up in varying costume. There are topics that warrant such exhaustive study, but I would submit that our interpersonal relationships need not be one.  All wisdom on the subject has been given in brief phrases, poems, song. These are the medium for things so elemental.

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Fond affections are never said. They are only sung in song.

Gordon Sharp, This Mortal Coil, It’ll end in Tears

Oh, save your life                                                                                                                                     Because you’ve only got one…                                                                                                               …And I’m not happy                                                                                                                               And I’m not sad…

Morrissey (The Smiths), This Night has opened my Eyes

No six-hundred page tomes, no matrix of bio-rhythms, no meditation technique or tantric rituals. Simple things can be easily complicated, to their ruin. Complicated things are better simplified.  We all hear different voices. What speaks to one heart may not to another, but these few precious lines speak to me.

Do these speak to your heart? I invite others to share those voices which speak to theirs.


 

The Wise King Solomon: A response to thoughts on Universal Basic Income

 

It is written that the good King Solomon once stated ” There is nothing new under the sun.”  Without diving into the context of this within scripture I have always found this to be a timeless statement of a universal truth.  To place it within the context of the oft cited “Fecal handbook of the world’s religions” it is the Hindu truism contained therein: this shit has happened before.

The Paradoxical Millennial has again favored us with some thought provoking material. In his post today, Money for nothing….

https://aparadoxicalmillennial.com/2017/06/13/money-for-nothing-a-few-thoughts-on-universal-basic-income/feed/

He has opened discussion on the concept of Universal Basic Income.  It is not an entirely new idea, as surely there are few that are, but it is an idea which has been steadily creeping into numerous forums.

In his opening TPM correctly cites the fact that UBI is a concept raised before now, indeed by some of the more notable minds from the field of economics. As a general concept the UBI is not entirely without merit. It is only when the questions surrounding how we are to arrive at the methods of implementation that we find ourselves at some difficulty. It is an astute observation to state that there is something there for everyone. It appeals to the equality and social justice crowd as it has a certain visceral connection with the emotional argument.  And there is also the appeal for those of a libertarian persuasion in its purely economic rationale.

I do not believe that the UBI in and of itself can bridge the divide in economic theory between right and left spectrums, but in opening the debate it exposes much of the falsehoods  which have taken root in both sides. It is when we are to place the argument upon the template of market versus big government that we begin to remove the first layers from that onion. In doing so it may well also bring tears to one’s eyes!

The left, if not in fact openly hostile to capitalism, is at the very least highly suspicious of the model and it’s titans. They admonish us with regularity that big business, corporations, the rich are not to be trusted. It is only by placing our trust in their advocacy on our behalf against these greedy forces that we may be saved from these malevolent powers. Conversely the right will always tell us that the left is not to be trusted and come to the defense of the corporate world by espousing the gospel of free trade. Let the market decide. Allowing the market to decide would surely be the right medicine, but if only this were true in practice. In all honesty we have not enjoyed a true and unfettered practice of “free trade” since some time back in the 19th century, and even then it had already begun to be tainted.

Despite what either side may say for the consumption of their respective constituencies, neither are honest in what they purportedly practice. What is simultaneously sold from each is in fact entirely contradicted by their actions. Instead of a watchdog guarding the consumer or a free pass issued to corporations there is in reality a conspiratorial policy of “We will allow you to do as you like as long as we are cut in for our share of the action, pay no attention to what we say publicly.” This is more often referred to as “crony capitalism”. It is anything but free trade.

In a system of a true free trade, pure commerce as exercised between peoples absent any other external authority placed upon it, one would find the very purest form of Social Darwinism. For those who truly embrace the practice of free trade such conditions would be the ideal. For those who only mouth the words while practicing their own self-serving version of it there can be no inclination to accept it’s true form. Their false version of free trade tips the scales to insure that they are assured a positive outcome for themselves irrespective of the vagaries of economic tides. It’s rather ironic when one gives this just a little further thought. The so-called free traders claim that they support free trade because it allows the entrepreneur to pursue their aims upon a level playing field. It is in a very real sense, were it truly as they have stated it, a form of gambling. The entrepreneur takes their disposable income and/or that of investors (also gamblers) and forms capital. This capital is then placed into the market under some enterprise which they have reason to believe has favorable odds of a positive return. There are no guarantees ; it is all subject to chance. When there is a hedge in place behind every wager it is no longer gambling. It’s a form of cheating. When government authority can collude with corporate enterprise to their benefit it is no longer free trade. It also is a form of cheating.

There are some from within this camp who further qualify their position by stating “I don’t believe in just free trade. I believe in fair trade.” This is as close as the right will ever come in finding common ground with the left and their quest for equality and social justice. They both claim to be seeking what is “fair”, albeit for different audiences. And therein lies the peril of accepting the social justice argument on behalf of UBI. Fair is an abstract, not an absolute. It is not so clear cut as, say perhaps, darkness and light or hot and cold. It is not an objective term.  If one approaches the question of a UBI under these parameters there is a problem at the very outset: who is to decide what is fair? Equality and social justice are subjective human constructs. They are myths.

We have a symbol for justice, the blindfolded lady holding up the scales. This is to signify that justice is blind, that it plays no favorites and only makes judgement based in truth. It is a good way of illustrating what justice ought to be in it’s ideal, but it is still only a symbol providing a human form to what is in the end only a futile human aspiration. We do not render justice. We may try to, but justice as determined and administered by man is not blind. It is imperfect because it derives from the imperfection of man.  I do not mean to say that we should not strive to achieve justice. We simply must humble ourselves to accept that we are not so infallible as to truly reach the goal. When we strive for perfection we may at best reach excellence, but nothing more. Nature, or as some care to characterize it “God”, is the only blind arbiter. Nature makes no judgements and can favor no side. Nature simply acts/reacts to maintain balance. These are the true “scales” of justice. This is perhaps fitting. We refer to nature as “mother”; we refer to justice as a blind lady holding a set of scales.

Nature is not conscious. Nature randomly “selects” members of any species which carry those traits that are optimal in assuring a species’ survival within any environment as may exist at the time. As conditions may change a trait or set of traits will be in the ascendant or decline to adapt to those changes. Where this translates in humanity, in Social Darwinism, is that there will always be winners and losers in the lottery of human life. We may fool ourselves into believing that we are somehow clever enough to steer or alter this course, but the truth of the matter is that it has precious little to do with what we do or don’t do.

This may come across as being hard-hearted, but it’s just good science. I can provide a stellar example for all of you. We pat ourselves on the back for having learned so much about our bodies, how they work. As a species we have made revolutionary advances in or understanding and even manipulation of genetics. We have made enormous strides in medicine, curing diseases and preserving the lives of great numbers of human beings who absent these advances may not have survived. They would otherwise have been “culled from the herd”, their contribution to the human gene pool forever erased.  These were traits which Nature had determined, for whatever purpose, were undesirable. They were not to the long term benefit of the survival of our species. While we may delude ourselves into believing that we have somehow outsmarted Mother Nature with these advances, she will in fact still have her way. Not following me? Well it works like this. When we intervened in this process, contrary to nature’s selection, we have in effect watered down our own gene pool by permitting those inferior traits to remain and grow within the pool.  We have expanded our vulnerability to what nature had determined was a weakness, an undesirable trait. We may not see the effects in our lifetimes, but rest assured in her own way Mother Nature will have the last laugh.

We may try to impose our own order on our society and in many respects we may well succeed in doing so. There are, however, limitations to this. There are too many factors that are too random, simply beyond our capacity to control. Aside from the purely genetic science human beings are possessed of other traits. Social traits. These are determined by a personality type, upbringing, cultural heritage and the overall environment. These are those things which help to define our human rather than our animal nature. Included among these many traits are those who are possessed of a drive and those who are not. Those who will succeed and those who will fail. Those who will learn from their mistakes and those who will not. There will always be givers and there will always be takers. All of the clever and enlightened social engineering for all time will never alter these basic facts of the human condition.

I fear that I do not see a way that the UBI can or will be administered without trying to ignore these facts. The stated ideal is that this income be set at a universal mark and applied equally to all, regardless of talent or skill, vigor or lethargy. I clearly understand all of the mathematical calculations making the case for this versus whatever we may be doing now. They are indeed valid points and in the purely numerical sense these provide a sound footing in support of the concept, but for one minor shortcoming. They do not take into account the quantity of human nature.

This may be somewhat clumsy by way of an illustration, but please bear with me as it is the first practical example which comes to mind. Let us say that there is a restaurant chain that employs mostly younger, unskilled workers. All new employees start at the federally mandated minimum wage, with merit increases of $.30 per hour with every 6 months of service with acceptable performance. Troy, who works full time as a cook on the night closing crew, has been with the establishment for 30 months. He has earned a positive performance review with each six month interval and has had perfect attendance, thus entitling him to five merit increases in his hourly rate. When he began working the minimum wage was set at $7.25 per hour.  With his merit increases he is now earning $8.75 per hour. In 60 days a new minimum wage will take effect, raised to $10.00 per hour. So Troy also gets a raise to the new minimum, but subsequent new hires coming on board after the increase, with no experience and no record of performance, will earn the same as he.

Now maybe for Troy it’s not about the money. Maybe he’s just dedicated to his craft. Or maybe not. Maybe Troy sees some injustice in this and says to his boss, ” Hey Boss! If I have earned $1.50 in merit increases for my services then shouldn’t I be getting $11.50 per hour? Its not fair that I earned the increases with my hard work and these other yahoos just starting make the same as me.” Now by law the employer is not obliged to accommodate Troy’s request, but the young man does have a valid point nonetheless. Oh what to do now? Hmm….

My point in this illustration is that human nature being what it is and everyone trying to determine what is “fair” this would be only the first of many challenges in finding the UBI rate that is “fair”. An example of this unconditional grant was given stating that the unemployed elderly male would be provided exactly the same grant as the young female lawyer.  Who would it be to decide what that “fair and equal” grant was to be?  I understand that the concern might easily be countered with “everyone gets the same” when the young lawyer will cry foul. “Hey! That’s not fair, he gets the same as me! I worked hard, sacrificed a lot of my youth to obtain this law degree. And I have law school to pay for! Shouldn’t I get more?” That is just one example of what I am sure would be many. I can understand the rational argument that ” It’s just a basic minimum, Miss. Everyone gets it, even you, see? It’s not even means tested.” Where one is likely to encounter problems in addressing these concerns as they arise comes from the rather improbable assumption that everyone is able to think rationally where it comes to money. I dare say that there are too many among us whose every reaction is rooted in the emotional response, even the ability of rational thought being entirely absent.

There are legitimate answers to this type of objection being raised, but there will be the ongoing battle of having to keep people convinced of these explanations. And then of course there are all of the other questions that are raised.  How is this to be funded? If, for example, the funding would come (in the interest of fairness) from a universal tax to be paid by all into the UBI treasury how is it that it does not become a redistribution of wealth? If it were mandated that all pay the same amount and then even those who didn’t really “need” the grant would receive exactly the same then there will be this objection: What Joe Schmoe the plumber paid in was a significantly higher percentage of his income than the billionaire out in the Hamptons, yet the billionaire gets exactly the same grant? No matter what we may do there will always be those people who will be convinced that even though the rich paying more will do nothing to benefit them directly it is still necessary in the interest of “fairness”. So then in response to this objection the tax rate to fund the program would be set where all citizens pay the same as a percent of their income. In that case it ends up with essentially what we have now: the rich pay more dollar wise as a percent of their income, but the poor, though paying the very same rate, realize the greater benefit from the program. That is a de facto redistribution of wealth no matter what one may call it.

If UBI is an entitlement that is to be administered through the government we can be assured that it will be so far bastardized from what was originally drawn up as to be unrecognizable. It will be played as a bargaining chip for yet more government authority under the guise of “fairness”. Make book on it. The ideal might very well be for the UBI to supplant so many other redundant government programs and on it’s face that is a fine idea. The difficulty there is that one must place their trust in government to act in the better interests of the people than those of their own socio-political class. I believe you might say “Not bloody likely!”

UBI is, however, something which may have a chance at working, once the details are all sorted out. There is one crucial element that would need to be realized first: education. We would all need to radically alter our thinking about many things that have come to be accepted as the norm. There are surely more than I may list here, but as critical matters I believe there are three. These are, assigned no specific order of importance:

  1. The funding of education, in particular higher education
  2. Taxation
  3. Private property

On the first of these I would cite the earlier example of the young female attorney, or any of the “professional” disciplines. Law school, Med school, any post grad school is an expensive proposition. We should ask ourselves why. If we mean to achieve a basic threshold of sustenance to all citizens, regardless their station in life, their training, skills, etc. we should all be clear on our understanding of why, to what ultimate social benefit. There is the fairness/justice case which seems to steer us onto the thin ice. Then there is the “more cost efficient” case, which moves us back closer to terra firma. If monetary concerns are the measure of advantage/disadvantage in determining fairness and equality in an outcome, might we not also (or instead) apply this thinking in determining the fairness/equality of opportunity? Afford all citizens an equal opportunity in education irrespective of an ability to pay. The playing field is equalled, the only remaining determinant is what one does with that opportunity. The young attorney in this instance would not have an argument that she was entitled to the greater grant for her education debt. Conversely the tool and die maker would not have the argument that he is stuck in a tradesman’s career because he did not have the money to obtain a more esteemed degree.  We need to learn to be more careful when discussing opportunity that we do not equate it with results.

On the next matter of taxation never has there been any matter of public policy more worthy of a complete demolish and rebuild.  The world over taxation is misapplied and misused. The misapplication comes in the practice of taxing property and productivity. The misuse is in the exercise of taxation to alter or influence behaviors and to wield the power to tax as a punitive tool. In either instance these are, whatever their intent in theory, in their practice a tax upon productivity. Productivity builds wealth. It builds the wealth of individuals and nations alike. To put it in nautical terms productivity is the engine; wealth is the ship.  Why in heavens would you try to power the engine of a ship while dragging anchor? It just isn’t logical, is it? Yet this is what we do when taxing income, real property and family estates. It is government wielding a confiscatory club over its people. It removes capital from the market where it is more likely to do the most good. In the private sector it is necessary to produce results or close shop. The enterprise that continually loses money is doomed. Yet in government, where failure can be reliably expected the failure is rewarded with? Just throw more money at it. Tax it, print it, doesn’t matter. The well of the public treasury never runs dry.

Suggestions that we tweak the code, go to a flat tax, add a VAT, these are all just subterfuge. They are regurgitations of the last bowl of vomit they served us. All of the existing tax codes need to be rendered null and void. In the case of the US the only sensible approach is for the individual states to establish a sales tax at a rate they deem proper. This is not a tax on productivity; rather a tax on consumption. Take away congress’ ability to borrow and SHUT DOWN the Federal Reserve. For those duties specifically enumerated for the federal government in the constitution they will make due with revenues collected and not spending budgets formulated out of some fantasy realm. Individual states collect their revenues and the Federal government is granted a percentage of each state’s collection. No more; no less.

There is a further beauty in this plan in that it would stimulate economic growth at a rate unseen in over a century. This tax structure forces the states to compete with one another for commerce. If for example the State of New York wanted to continue to fund their own brand of fool’s paradise at the taxpayer’s expense they might determine that they would require a state sales tax of, let us say, 16%. If their population would sustain this level of taxation, were pleased with what they received for price of admission then everyone is happy, right? And this would contribute more dollars as their share to the federal treasury. While next door in Pennsylvania the Statehouse says ” we dont need 16%! We can do our job at a tax rate of 9%” People and businesses will figure out rather quickly that it is to their advantage to set up shop in Pennsylvania, rather than New York. The tax rate remains the same, but their revenues climb because of the increased economic activity.  Vermont sees this and decides that maybe they could reduce their rate too. Eventually New York has to either wise up and change their ways or watch their tax base continue to wither and their services go unfunded. The Federal Government is not going to bail them out in this case because? Well the Federal Government is now dependent on the states, not the other way around.

On the third and final of these points, private property, we again need to look and listen more closely at what is said versus what is done. By taxation, regulation, probate courts and the abuses of eminent domain private property rights have been steadily eroded. With a growing percentage of the population being “unlanded” it has become quite easy for governments at every level to trample upon private property rights with impunity and go largely unnoticed. Where the cries of protest have been raised governments have managed to squelch their volume through the combined forces of intimidation and appealing to the politics of envy before those who hold no vested interest in these fights.

If private property rights were respected and property owners left unmolested by government agencies many of the concerns that a UBI is touted to solve simply would not exist.  Real property left to be developed or preserved and appreciate as a free market would allow would help to insure the elderly remaining secure in their homes and that wealth could accumulate to the benefit of subsequent generations. The grotesque and obscene estate tax laws in the US have nearly extinguished the family farm. The best way to care for your people is not to care for them. It is to empower them to care for themselves.

These are three huge questions that will arise and will have to be properly addressed if a UBI ever has a prayer of happening here. Elsewhere in the world is anyone’s guess, I suppose. I can only speak for here.

Finally there are two other observations about the benefits to be gained from the establishment of a Universal Basic Income that I wish to close with.  To state that a UBI would aid in an increase of market efficiency and reduce the size of the state hovers on the periphery of a truth. Reducing the size of the state in itself  would carry us all light years in the direction of increasing market efficiencies. There were the further observations as to the social and cultural benefits to be realized by a UBI and it’s potential need as a response to the growing trend of automation.  I do see UBI as a potential positive in fostering artistic and cultural growth as well as a hedge against economic displacement resulting from technology. In mentioning these two things together I am, however, reminded how one in fact aided in the creation of another without the addition of basic income endowment.

A little over 11,000 years ago humans embarked upon one of the most life altering technologies in our history as a species. We had functioned primarily as hunter/gatherers roaming across the vast open tracts of lands on the planet up until this time. And then agriculture was developed, a true game changer. The development of the technology of agriculture allowed for the development of the static settlement; forerunners to cities, city-states and a growing human civilization. When fewer hands were required just to keep the people fed this freed up the development of other skills and talents: art, writing, food preservation, irrigation, further experimentation and tool building, just to name a few. And each of these lead to improvements in the standards of human existence and the creation of still more new arts and sciences. All of these were the positive benefits derived from an advance in technology.  Yes, it put a lot of hunters out of work for a while, but they did find other things to do with their time. And at this point in our history we were still some ways from the development of currency. I’ll grant you it hasn’t all been peachy since, we’ve had our share of troubles, but in the overall as a species we have fared at least reasonably well since.

Universal Basic Income is an intriguing idea, one which certainly is worth further exploration, but I would offer a final caveat.  It seems that we are always trying to solve our problems by doing something different. Perhaps we should realize that a good portion of our problems are of our own making and anything else are simply things that are beyond our ability to control. We are able, however, to control what we do. Perhaps our answers lie in doing less.


 

Earth spirals out of it’s orbit towards the sun! In a related story Tories lose majority…

 

In a nuclear blast those at the epicenter are blessed with an instantaneous vaporization; indeed a case of “They never knew what hit ’em!” The real and lasting danger is of course the fallout. If we are to begin with this as the analogy in discussing the state of British politics the blast was Brexit. Yesterday was the fallout.

Within the realm of political strategy Prime Minister May’s stated rationale for calling the early election may have made some sense, yet one had to have a sense of unease that perhaps this was an error of judgement. Political strategies are quite often cultivated within the petri dish known as conventional wisdom. What is just as often wanting from this formula is that, though long on convention, the more critical element of wisdom seems notably absent.

Today the headlines shriek of panic: Britain on edge! UK plunged into uncertainty! Hung Parliament! Well, those are headlines. It’s probably not really as bad as all that now, is it? These taglines are created by journalists, who in my experience seem to rank like politicians and lawyers somewhere between the earthworm and the slug on the evolutionary scale.  Britain has survived the Romans, Saxons, Vikings, Normans, Regicide, the Protectorate and yes even decades of Labour rule since 1945. This too shall pass.

There is the irresistible temptation on the left, indeed already manifest, to crow about the resurgence of Labour and the country coming to its senses to reject both the Conservatives and the results of the Brexit vote. I strongly suspect that this is nothing more than partisan hyperbole, the rejection of either or both coming from no more than those whose sentiments were already in Labour’s camp from the last round. I believe the more likely causes for yesterday’s results are similar to the Presidential election results of 2008 and 2012.

In 2008 there was a set of conditions which set the political stage, the most acute of those being the financial crisis. There was an effort to portray this as being the most crucial of causes. It was the rejection of the failure of capitalism. Remember the headline “We’re all socialists now”? This was a convenient oversimplification of the result with more of the causes deriving from prior events.

In 2000 a Republican administration was elected by the most narrow of margins, on the heels of what had arguably been eight years of Democrat rule under the affable and personally popular Bill Clinton. Regardless how this came about George W. Bush was going to be an unpopular figure in a decidedly biased media, all the more so entering the office under a cloud of controversy as he did. Bush won on the merits of two key factors. First was the utter ineptitude of the Democrat candidate, Al Gore. Were it not for his benefitting from being part of an administration which had presided over relatively bullish times in the economy the race would not even have been close. The second factor was an electorate which had frankly grown fatigued with the state of perpetual scandal that had marked the Clinton years.

Bush had promised much to his constituency, a conservative base, which he failed to deliver.  Bush had billed himself as a conservative but in governing proved to be anything but. As a product of Republican establishment he served with fealty only to the same. Goldman Sachs, in the person of Hank Paulson, still ruled the treasury. Though responsive to the 9/11 terror attacks Bush conducted the same incoherent and misdirected policy in the middle east that has been the hallmark of Republican and Democrat administrations alike for decades. At varying intervals during his eight years Bush enjoyed congressional majorities yet failed to adequately capitalize upon these to enact any truly meaningful agenda. Instead he and the congress provided yet another entitlement program, prescription care for seniors, an over reaching Department of Education in the form of the “No Child left behind Act”, and the abominations of the Patriot Act and the TSA. The latter of these two, like genital herpes, gifts that just keep giving.

Now it would have been one thing to have failed in accomplishing all of the stated agenda. Agendas are plans which most often will fall somewhere short of a full fruition, but this failure was compounded by an active participation and cooperation with an establishment whose least concern is for the benefit of anyone other than themselves. Like a cat scratching the litter over their freshly deposited feces Bush parted the stage with yet another abomination: TARP, or the bank bailout.

If one takes all of these and then adds financial and economic crises with another milksop establishment candidate in the form of John McCain all of the required ingredients are present for many voters to simply stay home. And that is exactly what they did.  In the millions. Fast forward to 2012. Republicans enjoyed remarkable success in the 2010 mid-terms, voted another Washington establishment figure to lead the House, John Boehner, and failed to exercise checks that were within their constitutional power against the Obama agenda. For their poor choice of candidates fielded in several Senate races they fell short of solidifying that check. And in 2012 the progressive establishment wing of the party again failed to deliver a candidate who could carry the day. Mitt Romney is a nice guy. Too nice. He might have been acceptable at another time, but he was not the right choice for that election.

So again in 2012 there were millions of voters who simply decided that with no better choices presented to them it was better to just sit another one out.  In both instances Obama did not win because of a sea change in the sentiments of the voters, in fact quite the contrary. He won because the opposition did not turn out in enough numbers, realizing that the alternative presented was just really more of the same. Different pocket, but the same pair of trousers.

In yesterday’s UK election the want of any party having attained a clear majority would seem to support the conclusion that the same has occurred. Both of the major parties only offered more of the same, failing to recognize that the Brexit vote was more than anything a rejection of the status quo. Add to this Prime Minister May’s less than inspiring response to a number of high profile terror attacks during the campaign is it any wonder that a good number of Britons decided to take a pass? I’ve not seen them yet, but I would hardly be surprised if the turn out numbers were to prove less than that of the Brexit vote.

In any event under the British Parliamentary system this sort of result yields a coalition government, which is hardly the worst that could have happened. Where many pundits may see an ambiguity in the result I disagree. I believe it states rather clearly that the British people are not pleased with the menu, a now recurring theme in western elections. Until the menu is remade I suspect that sales will remain flat in these establishments.


 

The Madame has spoken; or, More underwhelming response to the Islamic Menace

 

Last night after first hearing of the attack in London I had to record something. I had been working outdoors for most of the day and had just settled in with some tea and switched on the television in the vain hope that there might actually be something worth watching. The moment the screen came to life I saw flashing lights, heard English voices and read the banner posted at the bottom of the screen: three terror incidents in London. The very first thought that sprung into my head was ” Son-of-a-bitch! Those fuckers are at it again!” As I felt my blood pressure and body temperature rise I changed channels to BBC World to learn more.

As with most of these incidents the first hours are spent by reporters and commentators tripping over themselves to find how many ways they can say the same thing for 120 minutes or more without saying it the same way twice. As usual they failed in the attempt. Dismally. In the course of this I did happen to hear the release of the Prime Minister’s prompt response and that just sent me over the edge. She obviously saw the need to issue some statement to address the event and quickly. Yet even in the haste to do so she saw fit to temper her response by qualifying it as a potential terrorist incident. God forbid that we should somehow offend any of our muslim neighbors. From this I managed to choke out a brief post in response. At the time I was already thinking that I would be writing a “part II” of my posting from two weeks prior, After Manchester:Have you had enough now?

 

To avoid falling into the same trap as the journalists on scene last night I will not attempt to find new ways to say what has already been said. When one is angry, and indeed I was last night, it is always better to sleep on it and then sort out what you want to say. Words uttered in anger, like decisions made in haste, are usually regrettable. After having taken sufficient rest and waking at my normal hour, 4:30, I spent some time in the cool silence of that precious pre-dawn hour, sipping coffee and listening to the birds. Self administered therapy. Only after this did I check the television to find what new revelations we might have. I did not have long to wait before the cameras panned to 10 Downing and the crawl at the bottom of the screen announced ” awaiting Prime Minister May’s statement at 10:30″. I sat attentively through this brief address and will work from there.

 

To begin I’d like to make one overall observation.  I stated above that words uttered in anger often prove regrettable. When one is in a position of leadership it is often necessary to speak in response to a crisis. When leaders are human they will no doubt feel anger, or fear, anxiety, whichever emotion is typically evoked by the form of the crisis. While it is important that their address does not speak solely from that emotion it is still warranted to allow at least some of it bleed into the tone of the address. In what was unmistakably an Islamic terror attack it would have been fine to simply call it what it was, not qualify it as being a potential terror incident.  After a night to formulate a more thorough response the Prime Minister issued a statement this morning that says all the right things, but I can tell you this is not what the jihadists are hearing. All they are hearing is weakness.

 

The jihadists spent last night watching and listening to the aftermath and are reveling in yet another successful blow struck against the infidel. The have managed to kill and maim some dozens of westerners in a public place with a very high profile. Their actions have attracted scores of television cameras from networks across the globe to broadcast the turmoil left in their wake, showing the shocked and confused expressions on our faces and the images of their blessed martyrs dead on the pavement. And the icing on this cake was to hear the leader of the nation acknowledging the attack while still cautious to state only that it was a potential terror incident. To the jihadi’s way of thinking this translates something like Gary Cooper as the Sheriff in a classic western arriving at the scene of a shootout after it has happened. Even without having witnessed it happening it is painfully obvious what has occurred. Then the Sheriff doesn’t draw, just places his hand at his holster and says to the gunmen ” It’s possible that you fellas may be responsible for these killings, but I’m not certain of it, so even though I possess the means to shoot you all full of holes I’m going to give you a warning first. Then I’ll go back to the jail, sleep on it, and when I come back here in the morning I will give you one very stern talking to!” These jackals are laughing at us.

 

The Prime Minister stated that Britain is experiencing a new trend of brutal terror.  I beg your pardon, Madame Prime Minister, can you explain to all of us what is new about it? Are these attacks in some way more brutal than previous attacks? We’d just like to be very clear on exactly what you are saying.

 

The Prime Minister said the suspects wore fake suicide vests to spread panic and fear. So you’re telling us that you understand what this enemy means to do, you are apparently clear on this, yet you still seem reluctant to simply and without any hesitation call it what it is.  Madame Prime Minister I would submit that if you are sending mixed signals to your own public perhaps you should be giving a bit more thought to how you are being perceived by the enemy.

 

She also said ” We can not and must not pretend that things can continue as they are.” Well I must say I agree. This statement demonstrates nothing more than a profound grasp of the obvious. Please correct me if I should have this wrong, but didn’t you say essentially the same thing two weeks ago after the Manchester bombing? The threat level was elevated to critical following that incident, which in view of this latest attack coming so close on the heels of the last gives one cause to wonder. Exactly what additional measures are triggered when that threat level is designated critical? Apparently these were sorely inadequate.

 

Madame Prime Minister when you tell us that things need to change and “in four important ways” you are inspiring…. well, wait. Perhaps that’s a poor choice of words. You are laying out the basic framework for your plan of action.  So for a new trend in brutal terror we will respond with? It’s a bit unclear. It would seem that there is really nothing new in your plan. I’m not fool enough to expect that you would provide operational specifics. Nor would I want you to.  But to speak frankly what you have said this morning smacks of nothing more than a subtle repackaging of the last plan.

 

I understand that the security and intelligence community do not have the luxury of trumpeting their successes. Orwell, as he did on so many other matters, summed this up quite succinctly: “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf”. This morning the Prime Minister informed us that these services have succeeded in thwarting 5 organized attacks this year. Thank you to the men and women of these services for the ugly and thankless tasks that you perform on our behalf. The Prime Minister also stated ” Our country has made significant progress in disrupting plots and protecting the public.” Really? Can you look into the eyes of the parents of those girls slain in Manchester and say this without blinking? I’d love to see you try.

 

There was another disturbing reference in the Prime Minister’s address. In speaking to combatting terrorism at home she used the term ” …having, frankly, embarrassing conversations”. Embarrassing for who exactly? The implication here is equal to the use of the term “potential” terror incident. It suggests that we should feel embarrassment when we do what the government clearly has not, which is to confront the threat head on. If you are a muslim living in a western nation you are the ones who should be feeling embarrassment (and shame) when the subject is raised.  We have nothing to be embarrassed for. They are attacking us, not the other way around. I have to give the old gal her chops, she is trying to move things in the right direction, at least by what she says. Yet still it is remarks such as these that show she is still unwilling to entirely abandon the politically correct script.

 

So let me see if I have this correct, then. We have stiffer penalties for terror offenses. Okay, that’s good. Its still only a reaction, but it cant hurt. Might I suggest public execution? Just a thought….

 

Then we have less tolerance of extremism. Wasn’t that a part of the last plan? And here is something else to weigh when we consider this. How can you say that significant progress has been made in disrupting plots and protecting the public while at the same time seem to suggest that we’ve been too tolerant of extremism. These two ideas do not seem compatible. I don’t believe that it is we, the people, who have been too tolerant of extremism. I believe it is you, the government, who have been too tolerant of extremism. The first duty of any republic should be to provide for the defense and security of its’s people. Instead you have busied yourselves with transgender rights, speech codes and climate accords. I am fairly certain that none of these were included in the contract.

 

Now this next one I think may be the most disturbing: holding the internet companies to account.  This can be a slippery slope.  It would be one thing if the government were to act in a manner which would compel these providers to be self policing with content and to provide open access to security agencies to those accounts with the type of content that we are concerned with.  That plan has some inherent trap doors in it, but with a very clear set of guidelines and stringent monitoring it could be a valuable tool . Now as I understand it British intelligence services already operate in ways that have less restriction than their American counterparts, but this vague and generalized bullet point from a ten minute address has a ring of unsettling familiarity. It brings to mind two creations resulting from the 9/11 attacks, each of which were intended to demonstrate publicly that the government was taking proactive steps, but which are both insidious and intrusive measures that do more to inconvenience a free people. These are the patriot act and the TSA. Both of these are wide nets. They may lend the appearance of security, but that is all they are. Window dressing. It’s the use of a shotgun where the sniper rifle is warranted instead. To paraphrase the President: surveil the shit out of ’em! Just leave the rest of us alone.

 

The final point of this plan is a shifting, amorphous ectoplasm of winning hearts and minds, defeating ideology and reinforcing British values. A bit squishy, that one, but I’ll try to pin it down. The best place to begin reinforcing British values is in immigration and refugee policy. Don’t shut the door gently on people from the Islamic world. Slam it in their faces. Second, still related to immigration policy, don’t make the mistake that the French have made and continue to make. Instead of no tolerance for extremism what about no tolerance for non-assimilation? You either want to be a part of this society or you don’t. This is our home, you come here as a guest. If you will not respect and observe our customs then right over there is the door. Don’t let it hit you in the ass on your way out. And to all of those who will stand on the sidelines and shout “Racist!” here is a suggestion for you. If you don’t have any more respect for your fellow citizens than this perhaps you should consider catching the next plane, train or ship heading out. I’m confident you will find your tolerant, enlightened and welcoming utopia on some other shores. Of course if that were true we are left to wonder this: Why does everyone want to come to our country?

So! Now that the jihadis have been placed on notice that there is going to be a new set of rules this must be the beginning of the end for them, right? I’m feeling more confident now. Aren’t you?


 

Now its London. I’ll ask again: NOW have you had enough?

 

It seems as though it was only a few days ago that I was writing in response to the Manchester bomber.  We now witness another clearly coordinated attack on innocents in London. The Metro Police have reacted quickly as we all would expect. This evening, besides the event itself, there are two things that should be concerning to Britons and all of us in the west.

First it is the fact that we are still RE-acting. Police are reacting. This is still being treated as a law enforcement matter. Do not get me wrong. I am glad that Metro is there. These are the things that the police should be for, not issuing traffic tickets. As I asked following the Manchester attack I must ask again: When will it be enough? How many more attacks do our citizens endure before we start treating this as what it is? These people ARE AT WAR WITH US. When do we go on offense? This will not end until we do.

The other concern this evening is that I hear the Prime Minister issued a prompt statement wherein she stated that they are “treating this as a POTENTIAL terrorist attack”. NO! Ya think?!

Potential? Madame Prime Minister just who is it that you are concerned about? Are you concerned about your own people, or are you more concerned that you might piss off a few muslims? Potential my ass!

More on this tomorrow morning.


 

Accorde Paris Adieu…

 

Hunter S. Thompson’s famed alter ego, the great Gonzo, once spoke wistfully of his equally renowned attorney, Laszlo: ” Laszlo? He is gone. He will be missed. Not by me, but….” I must admit to sharing much of the same sentiment in the wake of the President’s announcement this week that the US would be exiting the Paris Climate Accord. The wailing and gnashing of teeth which has followed this announcement is as spectacular in scale as it is hyperbolic in tone. Why if NASA had announced the discovery of a giant asteroid in an unalterable collision course with the planet that would still have to compete for a place on the front page. For the many who seem to be at worst horrified, or at the least deeply saddened, I do not count myself in their numbers. It will be missed, but not by me.

In spite of the voluminous reports to the contrary I suspect that in the country as a whole there are more in my column with this topic. Some of these are people who are able to approach the question rationally and thus conclude that the argument for climate change as presented simply does not measure up to sound science. There are others who without making a thorough examination of data merely discount the whole idea for no other reason than an inherently skeptical nature. And, lest we forget, there are undoubtedly those who just don’t give a shit. On an emotional level I would have to identify as being in that third category. On an intellectual level I find myself in equal measure of the first two.

In weighing any issue it is first important to call something what it is, otherwise there is no prayer of having all reading off the same script. If the definitions are not agreed upon all the debate in the world is utterly futile and this is where our problems begin.  Twenty years ago the term was “global warming”.  Implied in this by those carrying the banner was that the term referred to global warming as the product of human activity.  As years passed and data was compiled which would clearly contradict the warming trend the label was altered to “climate change”. As before the implication remained that this was a result of human activity. So in either case one is presented with terms that say one thing, but are intended to imply something beyond what is on it’s face. Regardless the words used to define the issue let us just say for argument’s sake that the concern underlying what is expressed is the human impact upon long term climatology. This is in fact what is being asserted by the leaders of this “movement”. Just consider, as another example, the “health care” debate. In that instance the real subject is not health care, rather health insurance.

The Paris Climate Accord defines the problem using the term climate change, so as a matter of simplification we shall stick with this term for discussion. Ostensibly this accord proposes a set of actions and policies to be implemented by the signatories for the purpose of curbing those human activities which have been deemed detrimental to the long range trends of the mean global temperature. For the purpose of quantification the benchmark has been set to contain the rise of that mean temperature to no more than 2 degrees fahrenheit by the end of this century. This is a convenient set of parameters as statistically speaking the vast majority of those alive today will not be around at the end of the term to see whether or not, A) that the goal has been met, or B) that the proposed climate models were in any way correct. More importantly those responsible for establishing the plan will not be around to defend the results whether they be good, bad or indifferent.

Another important factor in weighing a question is to gather data from multiple sources. Our liberal friends are constantly reminding us that diversity it critical. Following their logic one might be safe in assuming that this same principle will apply in data collection. Aside from this it is a practice that is essential to proper scientific method. While science is to be blind, impartial to any considerations other than raw data, reality does require one additional element. One has to consider the source.  This is especially true in this case as it seems that many carrying the banners and sounding the horns are not scientists, rather they are politicians, celebrities and other curious varieties of public figures. To be fair I realize that these are only the mouthpieces, not those actually conducting the science, but these people do like to cite “the science” and the “consensus of scientists”.  So then we must ask ourselves who are these scientists?

The scientists most often cited as the source affirming the climate-change-by-man credo are climatologists.  On it’s face the label seems clear enough, doesn’t it? A climatologist is someone who studies climate.  Well, that much is true. If one cares to, and indeed I am one who does, burrow down deeper into what a climatologist is this is best explained in this way. A climatologist is a meteorologist with either two or four additional years of post graduate work in their field. Or not. A meteorologist who has been visible on a major network, whatever other credentials they may possess, is regarded among those to adhere to the premise of climate change (the movement, not the phenomenon) as a credible source to affirm their belief. Into this mix one can also count the avuncular and beloved “Bill Nye the Science Guy”.  William is photogenic, more or less, possesses an engaging personality on camera, and I will admit does seem to be rather knowledgeable in science in a general sense.  This does not, however, automatically make him an accredited authority in the study of climate. There are numerous scientists who reside within the academic community who are recognized as authorities in this field. Many hold titles in prestigious institutions where they are ostensibly professors. The TA’s of course perform this less dignified task; their primary role is to conduct research. Theirs is the realm of theory. Now theory in and of itself is not a bad thing, per se, I don’t wish to imply that it is. Theories are formed based on a set of observations and are designed to be then tested in practice.

There are a couple of problems I see with these sources. The research scientist with tenure at a major university, aside from the pure science, performs another important function. Universities don’t bring these people on board their faculty so they can fuel the research out of their own coffers.  These scientists are brought on board so that their credentials lend feasibility to the endowment of grants, many of which come from government. If you think that there are no politics involved when obtaining one of these grants then you are sorely mistaken my friend. This is where politics only begins to be injected into this equation. It sets the stage for circumstances often found, for right or wrong, in many crime investigations. A detective or set of detectives may have for whatever reason formed a working theory of what may have occurred.  When this happens there is the tendency not to follow facts where they may lead, instead seeking evidence or facts that will fit the theory at the exclusion of anything which may contradict that theory. Although this may not be proper procedure a detective’s experience and prior knowledge of the parties involved may well provide a sufficient intuition for pursuing a theory which does ultimately lead to justice being rendered. In these cases this behavior may be forgiven. Not so with science. Science is not about intuition or consensus. There is no reason not to think that this has occurred in this particular science. In fact there is some rather high profile evidence of the deliberate falsification of data to fit the theory from no less than a former Fellow of East Anglia University who had been on the inside of an “official study” of climate change.

The other problem that I have with these sources comes from where common sense beckons. If a goodly number of climatologists are an advanced form of meteorologist then logic would dictate that one look at prior performance.  Meteorologists that we see on television are always needing to qualify those occasions when they’ve gotten it wrong by explaining that it is not an exact science. I’ve always been mildly humored by the forecast of a 20% or 40%, or any % chance of rain. Or snow. To my way of thinking it’s 50%: it is going to rain, or it isn’t.  But I understand that it is not as simple as that. A percentage of a chance of one weather phenomenon or another is built upon models, based on probabilities. They are at best an informed guess. This is not meant as a criticism with which to tar the entire profession. It is just a simple fact. They can forecast probabilities, but at the end of the day they can only work with what nature gives us. My point here is just to cast a justified level of skepticism to the accuracy of weather or climate forecasting.  We are talking about a science that has in most cases only a little better than 50% accuracy rate in forecasting what the weather will bring for the next 5 days. Never mind 5 years, or as is the case with the climate change commandos 50 or 100 years.  Questioning the validity of this science as it is repeatedly shoved down our throats is not “climate change denial”. It is an entirely reasonable question to ask if we want to stake so much upon policies which are rooted in nothing more than models that may have no better than a 50% chance of being correct. It’s like playing Russian Roulette with 3 of the 6 chambers filled. Who would do that?

It is utterly ridiculous and dishonest to brand someone as a climate change “denier” because they don’t automatically subscribe to your pet theory. I don’t deny climate change, I simply dispute your version of it. There is climate change. There always has been and there always will be. The last truly momentous climate change occurred with the end of the last Ice Age, which I would point out there is ample science to prove that this occurred over tens of thousands of years. Climate will change and there is not one damned thing we can do about it.  The entire premise is deeply flawed. Climate is changing because of human activity; ergo, reducing or eliminating the activity will change the climate in the other direction or halt the climate’s move in it’s current direction. If there is any denial happening it is a denial of reality on the part of the climate change argument.

Denial is a hallmark of liberal or progressive thought.  Socialism doesn’t work because it denies human nature.  Inserting political correctness into the daily interactions between the sexes does not work because it denies human nature.  Prohibitions do not work because they deny human nature. Progressives deny God, or as I like to think of it Nature, because it presumes an authority greater than their own. They don’t want to eliminate God; they want to be God. Their tireless efforts to convince all of humanity that we are on the course of climate catastrophe if we do not follow their way is one of the greatest proofs that they want to be God. It’s not enough for them to deny human nature. Now they just want to deny Nature period. We can have endless debate about God, the nature of God or the wrath of God. Our history shows that we will never agree, but as to the wrath of nature? There is no denying that. You don’t have to like it, I’m sure that most of us don’t, but that does not change the facts. Nature will do as it sees fit whether we are here or not.

So farewell Paris Climate Accords! You will be missed, but not by me.


 

In sympathy of pre-election blues

 

My young friend at A Paradoxical Millennial has graced us once again with his analysis of British electoral politics. Yesterday he posted Pre-Election blues; or, something of a rant 

Pre-Election Blues; or, something of a rant

After having read his thoughts I did post a comment with a promise of some further elaboration, which follows here.

APM has expressed a lament which has become increasingly common in the western democracies of late, that being the poor choices which major political parties have foisted upon us all at the ballot box. This is by no means a new phenomenon, though it has certainly been voiced by more and more of the electorate as we traipse gingerly into the 21st century. APM, a self identified millennial, is a member in good standing of that club who are a rather large factor in a rising chorus of disenchantment with the state of our political processes.  It is a product of the expanding and rapidly accelerating information age in which they have clawed their way to adulthood.

Throughout much of our modern history information has been controlled, filtered through select mediums to present a particular tone to the public narrative. Fifty years ago the average voter was informed by what version of events were reported through the existing media infrastructure: the major broadcast networks, news publications such as The Times, The Washington Post, etc. Reporters and editors selected what was to be reported and how, and perhaps more importantly what was not to be reported. Outside of their sphere, in the reality where the proverbial rubber meets the road, the latter of these are what are correctly identified as “lies of omission”. The late Marshall McLuhan exposed this rather widely. Many among us are familiar with McLuhan’s famous quote “The medium is the message”. Others may not be aware of another of McLuhan’s gems, “A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding.”

For decades a narrative was formed by this elite class of our media. This narrative, by virtue of nothing more than it’s source, was regarded in most circles of society as the gospel truth. As an institution they were empowered to see to it that the public would all read from the same script. This “fifth estate” was part of a three legged stool of media, academia and government. As with any three legged stool each of the legs were essential to keeping it upright. Take away any of the three and the stool will teeter over onto the floor. The information age has steadily eroded this formula. The millennials have grown up in and are now an integral part of a population that finds itself beset with as many sources of information as the ether can hold. There are still filters, but these are no longer all connected to the same guiding hands.

From my own historical perspective this is both good and bad.  It is good in the sense that it creates a set of conditions which allow for a legitimate and potent challenge to the universal narrative. It is at the same time bad in that it invites that circumstance which McLuhan warned of: point of view substituted for insight and understanding..  With so many sources, each which may carry the taint of a bias, it becomes more of a challenge to the consumer of information to separate the facts from fiction. What should be remembered in order to hold this in it’s proper perspective is that McLuhan warned of this danger before, not after the advent of the information age. Although it may not have been his intent he had rightly identified that the media, as defined in his age, was guilty of making their point of view a point of fact. Even as we have transcended the prior order of our media sources the traditional media establishment still engages in the same old set of rules. They refuse to accept that the once exclusive control that they exercised over “messaging” is being steadily wrested from their grasp. One can often hear them publicly expressing their resentment at this in overt terms and even more often observed in their increasing departure from even the pretense of objectivity. Out of this is born a new mantra: fake news!

The major networks and the major political parties of both the UK and the US rely upon the upper tiers of academia to serve as the farm club system to keep their rosters filled. Whether it is BBC or ITV, NBC, CBS or CNN, Labour or Tory, Republican or Democrat, they all bathe in and emerge from the same filth. These form a sub-society, segregated from society at large, who all drink the same purple kool-aid from the same font. Their cult has created an orthodoxy to which all members must pledge their unadulterated allegiance above all else. Anything less makes them instantaneous candidates for expulsion from the club. There is to be but one truth: their truth, and no other may challenge it. Academia, the media and government are merely the institutions. The establishment are those inhabiting these institutions and it is growing increasingly evident to the public that they do not mean to relinquish their hold upon these any time soon.

APM observes that the Labour Party continues to spout the same nonsensical gibberish that led to the winter of discontent which punctuated their dismal rule in the seventies. They’ve nothing new to offer. The same can be stated for the Democrats here in the US. Their rhetoric has been virtually unchanged for the past fifty years. Both continue to mouth the same tired platitudes while inching ever closer to the end of their limb. They are not climbing higher up the tree; merely reaching for the next skinny branch that isn’t there before they ultimately plummet. Everyone on the ground can see this and some have even tried to warn of their peril. It is not that they can’t hear the warnings, they simply refuse to heed them. And indeed, why should they? They’ve no reason to think that they should try anything different. They seem to have their constituencies locked up and as long as these continue to greedily parade to the trough to accept what they are being fed there really is no incentive for change, is there? That’s a more polite way of saying , ” Idiots! You all get what you deserve!”

On the other side of this coin one finds the Tories and the Republicans, who also seem to refuse to believe what they are being told and what their eyes should plainly see. Like the liberals they continue to cater to the disparate groups which comprise a coalition of their base constituency. Though not uttered in so many words their actions have consistently demonstrated that they also worship at the altar of “big government”, the only distinction being that their version of big government is better. In the financial crisis of 2008 the phrase “too big to fail” was coined. I think this missed the mark, it is rather “too big to succeed”. There is a common theme present in the platform of either: Vote for us because we’re better than the other guys.  In fact it’s not even a “vote for us”. Both sides make the appeal that one must vote against the alternative.

We have not been presented with the choice of casting an affirmative ballot for quite some time. Our choices have been restricted to only exercising a vote against one side or the other.  Whether we are talking about Brexit or the election of Trump, for as much of an upset of the status quo as either may be, I do not believe that these represent an affirmative vote at all. For all of the talk attributing these to populism, nativism, bigotry or any other condemnation from the establishment these electoral shifts represent none of these. In both instances these translate as still being a vote against the alternatives. It is a declaration of “A pox on both your houses!”

It remains to be seen if Trump will truly be the change agent that he has promised. In Theresa May I fear that my English cousins are not being offered a change agent. Instead it is a choice to elect more of the same, just so long as it isn’t Labour! In both cases I suspect that their elections will result not in something significantly better, rather they are options that will be “less bad”. It’s a bit like being wheeled into surgery and being told just before the anaesthetic ” We’re going to be removing your left leg today “, and upon waking discovering that they had only removed your left foot. You still won’t be happy with the results, but at least it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

As an electorate we should perhaps try to think of ourselves as the long-suffering wife discouraged by the poor treatment from her spouse.  Some years ago there was a young mother in our neighborhood who would come to meet for evening walks. She and her husband had two children under the age of five at the time and both were engaged in the early stages of their medical careers.  This young woman frequently vented her frustration with her husband’s behavior. Her chief complaint was that while she continued to break her back at work while still taking the lion’s share of parenting duties she would find that on his days off he would spend the majority of his time playing video games. I typically chose not to get involved in any way with this sort of marital dispute, having enough of my own to contend with. After hearing her whine about this state of affairs for the umpteenth time I cast caution to the winds and rushed in where angels fear to tread. I asked her, ” So how long has this been going on?”. Her reply was that it had been going on since the birth of their first child. I then asked her “Well when did you decide to say something about it?” Her next response was equally disheartening, admitting that she had not said anything yet because she was afraid to. I understood this, it’s a familiar dynamic in young marriages, but I did not succumb to sympathy. I then very simply stated to her, ” If you have accepted it and continue to accept it then you’ve no right to expect anything different. It doesn’t matter whether you choose to use the carrot or the stick, but if all you do is continue to whine to the rest of us the story never changes.” She never spoke of the problem again, at least not in my presence. I don’t know if they resolved this conflict and as I had no stake in the outcome it doesn’t matter one way or the other. For the amount of time I have left on this earth I think that most of the damage has been done where government is concerned. If they began to apply the proper remedies today I would still very likely be cold in the ground before there would be substantial improvement. So in this likewise I may have little stake in it. My advice to millennials is, however, the very same as I had offered to our old neighbor.  If you keep accepting what you’ve been fed you will doubtless continue to get more of the same.

This, of course, leaves the question: How many more Brexits and Trumps will it take before they start getting it right? That will be up to you.


 

After Manchester:Have you had enough now?

 

I had prepared a post for today that was of a more humorous nature. Ironically it is a story which involves a bomb squad and a controlled detonation. In light of the sobering events last night in Manchester I have considered that this would be in poor taste and will post it later.

I have expressed strong opinions on terrorism and how it ought be dealt with before. In this particular instance I am stirred to a more ferocious reaction due to my particular attachment to the city of Manchester. I feel a very strong bond with our mother country. There is a lot of English blood running through these veins. To me Manchester, more than London, more than Southampton, Bristol, Bath or the chalk downs of Wiltshire, represents the spirit of Britain. All of these bombings and Islamist attacks infuriate me, but this one perhaps more than all others.

It has been more than the attacks themselves that anger me. It is the reaction to, or in some instances the lack of reaction, that I find even more disturbing. To some this may seem a rather curious statement so I will explain.  What is troubling to me is that after so many times we are still reacting. What will it take to become proactive in addressing this scourge?

There has long been a mindset present amongst the political class of the west to treat this as a matter of  law enforcement, which by its very nature is a reaction. Laws are only rules, words written on paper. They do nothing in and of themselves to prevent any act. They only empower the authority of the state to impose the prescribed sanction upon the offender after the crime has been committed.  I am of the mind that some basic law and some semblance of order (as spontaneously reached by the participants) is all well and good. I’m no advocate for complete anarchy, but as I have said before as a society we have devolved from “the rule of law” to the “rule of lawyers”. We have so many laws as to diminish the value of any law at all. I don’t mean this in any religious context, but cite a biblical reference as a sound illustration. In the new testament Jesus admonishes the Pharisees for having (I’m paraphrasing here, rather than chapter and verse) become so consumed with adherence to their many laws and customs  as to have become blinded to the spirit of the law by the letter of the law. It was suggested instead, and I dare say this is the essential theme of the new testament, that there was given a new law: to do unto others as you would wish done unto you. To love your neighbor as you love yourself. The ideal inherent in this was that if as a people we were to follow this one law all of the others would fall into place behind it.  Sort of a roundabout way of admitting that all the laws in the world will make no difference to any who will not follow the prime law. It embodies the concept of the spirit versus the letter.

Even where the west has taken a more proactive approach, the application of military force, it has been done so in many ways by half measures. I do not wish to insult the peril and sacrifice that our fine young men and women in the armed forces have subjected themselves to. They are the instrument, the tip of the spear as is said.  I commend each and every one of them for what they have done and are still doing. There is nothing halfway in serving as the boots on the ground. Ever. The half measures statement applies to the policy, the way that political leadership have exercised this power.  On the one hand they speak of such resolve and dedication to eradicate the threat, making a great show of our arsenal and deployments to aggressively root out the bad actors. On the other hand, however, they take such great pains to be almost apologetic for it. Constantly uttering public assurances that this is not a war with Islam and defining terms of engagement with more concern to avoid at all costs any collateral damage from occurring from any combat action. Essentially it has been a policy that says this: we want to show that we are actually doing something about this problem, or at least be able to say so, but we don’t really want to piss off anyone in the process of doing it. Well sorry to burst your bubble, but the purpose of a military is to, when required, kill enemies and break their stuff. It’s really not any more complicated than this.

What is treated as a law enforcement policy is a reaction. What should be treated as a defense policy is to be proactive. When one enters a fight, regardless the scale or nature of the conflict, announcing at the outset that you will be pulling punches in the upcoming bout is rather counterproductive to one’s stated objective, isn’t it? It would seem that our leaders in the west have deluded themselves into believing that this war can be prosecuted under a set of terms and rules of our own choosing and that the enemy will abide by the same. Can they not see how catastrophically foolish this is? I believe that they can: they simply refuse to.

This is the direct consequence of politically correct thought and social engineering policy directed by the state infecting every level of government, including our military. Instead of concerning themselves with a military prepared to fight the next war, rather than the last war, they have instead been preoccupied by matters of such profound importance as “don’t ask/don’t tell”. Apparently no one ever bothered to tell these Einsteins that the culture within a military has already long had practices and traditions in place to adequately address any of these concerns. Did they really think that only in the late twentieth century homosexual men would sometimes gravitate towards an all male environment? There have been gay soldiers throughout history, it is not a new phenomenon. And soldiers and officers alike have long been aware of it. One would have to expect that in such an environment there might be some jibing and tasteless remarks about sexuality in general, not just homo-sexuality. We are after all not talking about choir boys. And if a soldier carries his weight and does his duty he will have at least the begrudging respect of his comrades, regardless their sexual preferences.

At least the attitude at the top of the defense department under this new administration has been changed, we can hope for the better. And in what has been said thus far, with regard to policy, is a marked departure from the feckless and misguided direction of the previous eight years. Of course it remains to be seen what will actually be done, but early indications are at least promising.  As it pertains to the attack in Manchester it might be reasonably concluded that it comes in reaction to the President’s address to muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia this week. I’ve not actually heard this yet, but I am confident that it will take little time for the likes of the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and MSNBC to assign blame for this attack squarely upon the back of the administration for what they will interpret as the provocation in that address.  It may well be a reaction, a statement to challenge the message contained in the Saudi address, but it is disingenuous to suggest that it is the cause.

Part of our difficulty, as with so many other things out of the New York to Washington DC orbit, is that the issue has been defined in the most incorrect language. I don’t mean incorrect in the sense of the language being impolitic. I mean that the choice of words to define what we are engaged in are simply wrong: they do not say what needs to be said. We have heard the term countless times for the past fifteen years now. The war on terror. It is a war on terror, not a war with Islam.  No, I’m afraid that is wrong. Terror is a tactic. Tactics are means employed by an enemy to effect their desired outcome, whether that be material enrichment, revenge or the advancement of an ideology. What we are at war with currently is the latter of those three. We are, in fact, engaged in a war with Islam. Not by our choosing, there were no high level international strategic planning sessions to say ” Hey! What about we declare war on the religion of Islam?” Islam is at war with itself and the more aggressive faction of that war has in fact been at war with western civilization since 1979. They began attacking us, not the other way around. It actually reached back a bit further than 1979, but for the most modern iteration of the conflict this serves as a good marker.

The last great clashes of civilizations and/or ideologies were the second world war and it’s byproduct, the cold war. These were conflicts of ideology: democracy versus Nazism first and subsequently democracy versus Communism. In both instances these were battles between “free” societies and totalitarian states.  It was possible to assign these to a geographic marker, the ideologies embodied by a geopolitical state. States, like laws, are not in fact “physical” entities in a true sense. They are an abstract.  We were not at war with the state of Germany or the state of the Soviet Union in the literal sense. We were at war with the ideology and the barbarism as embodied in and exercised by those states. There was no confusion in determining the distinction. We were at war with the ideology, or again as with Islam they were at war with us. We did not start the conflict. There was a clarity in the purpose of the execution of the war. Rationally we could recognize that not every individual citizen of Nazi Germany were to blame or were willing combatants, but we clearly identified that the German state as controlled and guided by the Nazi thugs was where the ideology “lived”. Thus the instrument of war was rightly directed at the German state. It may well have been regrettable, but our conscience was clear. We did not allow for the distinctions made for the “innocent” Germans to in any way hamper our successful prosecution of the war.  Though their lives might have been extinguished by our bombs or bullets their blood was on the hands of the regime that carried them into the conflict.

War is by its very nature an ugly business. As the day approaches it won’t be hard to locate any veteran who can tell you this. Memorial Day is for those who served and more so for their comrades who did not share the trip home. World War two was a war conducted as any war should be: with an eye toward it’s unfettered and victorious conclusion. A victory defined on our own terms and no other. Not of our choosing, but when put upon us resolved to put all necessary means to it’s conclusion at the earliest possible date with an enemy entirely vanquished. Not piecemeal, not by half measures. We entered knowing full well that there would be many casualties. Trying to conduct a war by half measures only ensures more casualties, prolonging the agony and placing the ultimate victory in jeopardy.

In his address to the muslim world leaders this week the President was not offering provocation. Though couched within the most forceful while still diplomatic language the message was essentially this. We all recognize there is a problem. We are no longer going to pretend that it does not exist. It is a problem for us in the west and it is a problem for all of you in the Islamic world. It is in your best interest to aid in eliminating the problem. We are prepared to put forth our stake in this and we expect your active help. And finally understand that absent this it will become entirely your problem when we are left to resolve it on our own.  The academics and theorists will wring their hands and proclaim our doom at taking such a bellicose posture with the Arab states. I suspect that their greatest fear is being exposed that their way has not worked, but only made a bad problem even worse.

When there is a bully in a neighborhood, or any other setting for that matter, there are four groups of people who will be engaged with that bully for good or ill. First there are the victims. Next there are those who will join in the bullying. Then there are those who will stand silent and watch it occur. And finally there will be those who will stand against the bully. If all you ever have are the first three categories the bully never goes away, but only grows stronger. When this happens the people are then left with only two choices: join in the bullying or become victims themselves. And it is here, then, that it boils down to the more simplified dynamic: you are either part of the problem or you are part of the solution.

If we expect to defeat Islamic terrorists we must go and destroy them where they live. People from Islamic countries, innocent or no, must be barred entry to our societies until the conflict is brought to a victorious conclusion. Muslims that are already in our societies need to be registered and subjected to constant scrutiny. If they are truly innocent then they need fear nothing. If they truly believe in and support our values of liberty and equality they need fear nothing.  This becomes a situation akin to objecting to voter ID laws under the guise that these promote discrimination against minorities. Minorities, the same as any other citizen, are required to present a government issued ID for financial transactions. They are required to have a government issued drivers license to legally drive on public roads. They must present official government issued documents to obtain said driver’s licence. And, if they have the good fortune of appearing youthful enough, they will be required to present a government issued ID to purchase alcohol or cigarettes. Why one even needs to present a government ID at the pharmacy. So what possible objection could there be for being asked to provide an official ID to vote? Unless, of course, your motive is to commit voter fraud. If anyone has any other rational explanation for this I’m all ears. So likewise if you are a muslim or of middle eastern descent living in a western country and you are entirely innocent of any malicious intent then you have no reason to cry foul at the scrutiny. It may be an inconvenience, but no more so than any of the other examples provided above. It is not our fault that people from your culture have chosen to make war on us, and only in the most cowardly of fashions I might add.

The Manchester attack was clearly designed by both timing and venue to target children. Whether the bomber was a lone wolf or attached to ISIS or Al Queda, Hamas, Hezbollah or any other organized terror group makes no difference. The motive and the results are the same. Here is an irony for you.  Those who you may hear shrieking the loudest for the protection of muslims’ civil rights are of the same cloth that when attempting to champion any of their other pet causes will gird their position from assault by proclaiming that it is “for the children”. So taking a page from their book I might just as well say that any of the measures listed above, though objectionable to some, are no less valid and permissible because it is in the interest of protecting our children.  And in this case, weighed against the horrific juvenile casualties in Manchester last night, I could make this as an honest assertion and bearing a straight face.  I somehow suspect, however, that those of that particular political inclination will manage to find some way to disagree.

I would ask that today all Americans set aside for the moment any consideration of the man who holds the office.  Whether one happens to approve of the man or not the office of the Presidency represents all of us before the world this week in diplomatic visits to the Middle East, Israel and the Vatican. Take a moment to appreciate the serendipitous nature of an American President conducting an official state visit to the Holocaust Memorial in Israel on the morning after the Manchester bombing. It is a memorial to victims of an hateful ideology that is now rivalled by an equally hateful ideology with a stated purpose the same as the Nazis: the extermination of the Jewish people. Islamic radicalism has taken on an even bigger mantle to include all of western society. It is an evil that must be treated the same if it is to be defeated. As Americans we should all be proud to be represented by a Presidency expressing solidarity with all those who would resist barbarism and tyranny in whatever form it may take. All the more so as it is done in the shadow of a monument remembering not just Jewish suffering, but all human suffering.

It used to be said that politics end at American shores. The political left, academic establishment and the networks and major news outlets shredded this maxim and tossed it into the dustbin long ago. They are more concerned with protecting their bankrupt ideology than they are with protecting American lives.  The same might be said for their counterparts in Britain with respect to British lives. This morning I pose this question to all of them: Have you had enough now?


 

 

On the Question of Faith

 

Fellow WordPresser, A Paradoxical Millennial (sorry for getting that incorrect before) has shared with us what I hope is only just the start of a short story, The Cage, linked here:  http://aparadoxicalmillennial.com/2017/05/06/and-now-for-something-completely-different-the-cage/

I liked the flavor of this tale and it’s stark illustration of the barriers erected to keep a society segregated into differing spheres.  Please read it yourselves to see what I mean. There was an observation incorporated into this story regarding a subject I have given some considerable thought to myself. It describes a condition present in our modern world which I do find rather disturbing: the marginalization of faith.

Before you start to get your hackles up in defense of the “have you been saved” pitch please hear this.  I have no desire to convert anyone or to preach a particular creed. If we are to talk in the terms of religion, as opposed to faith which is something different, I am undeclared, non-aligned, unaffiliated.  I am an agnostic. That having been said I still have formed ideas about the questions of spirituality and faith and it’s rightful place in our society. Even without holding any vested interest in one or another I am still appalled at the relentless assault upon faith and those who choose to practice a faith in their lives.

In the prevailing “progressive” mindset that resides in left leaning politics, academia and media it has become the fashionable thing to scoff at and disparage religion and faith in general and it’s practitioners specifically.  Any person who declares their faith openly is characterized as some ignorant, backwoods rube who asserts that each and every word in the Bible is the inspired word of God and is to be taken literally, right down to the last Thou and Thine. I won’t try to claim that there are not those of that variety. I’ve met them, they are a little creepy for my liking, but all in all I think they are mostly harmless. The attempt to characterize any who hold their faith as an important aspect of their lives as belonging to some blindly following sect is dishonest and clearly hostile in it’s intent.

The evangelical Christian is the preferred target for this contempt, but this hostility extends to Christianity as a whole, equating any identifying as Christian as falling into the evangelical category. Oddly there are many who have adopted this attitude towards Christianity who at the same time seem to be only too willing to play hands off with Islam. Often this is taken the step further to laud the sanctity of that holy faith and extension of added consideration and protection to the rights of Muslims to practice freely.  These same people are conveniently able to turn a blind eye to the tenets of Sharia law and radical clerics that are in clear contradiction of those other progressive virtues of diversity, tolerance and equality for all. It is a clear contradiction, but one which can easily be explained.

The radical elements of Islam have hijacked the faith as a vehicle to their own sinister ends. They have openly declared war upon the infidels of the west, Christian and Jew alike. You can try to pretend that this is not so but it does not change the fact.  For the progressive, leftist, statist, whatever you may care to call them it is another inconvenient truth.  For the further purposes of this discussion I’ll simply refer to them as “the left”.  They know that the jihadis have defined the terms of engagement and they have accepted it. They just can’t bring themselves to admit it because doing so plunges them through a trap door of their own making.  To acknowledge openly that the jihad has declared war upon Christianity and to then move to defend against it places them in the very uncomfortable position of being the de facto defenders of the Christian faith.  For the progressive this simply will not do because Christianity is a rival church.  Though it is not spoken their position in practice has become an embrace of the idea that ” the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.

The left is unable to separate cultural legacy from the religious practice.  One does not have to march under the banners of Christian Knights to defend what is a historically Christian culture against that which means to bring it’s end.  The jihadis have in fact borrowed a page from the left’s own playbook. The left in trying to advance any of their ideology will meet any opposition by demonizing the opponent. As an example let’s consider affirmative action preferences in granting admission to state universities. It is not possible to discuss much less debate this with the leftist on the merits of the policy. Any opposition is immediately characterized as racist. They simply redefine the terms of engagement in a manner which puts their opponent into a defensive posture.  By defining their jihad as a war against religious infidels the Islamist terror syndicate has done exactly the same thing.

In many respects Christian churches have surrendered much of their social mission to the state. For much of our nation’s history there were no federal or state programs to serve as the social safety net. Those who fell upon difficult times either struggled to rise above it or if they obtained assistance that came through a church organization, whatever their particular affiliation may have been. The rise of the statists brought this largely to an end. To be sure there are still church organizations who do much to aid those in difficult circumstances, but they are no longer the primary source for this kind of aid. That role has been co-opted by the state.  Where assistance was once provided with the counsel against poor choices and discretion was permitted to revoke this where the recipient made no effort to correct their errors, the state positioned itself as the benefactor and salvation without judgement. Want to have six children before the age of twenty-five with no father in the home and no visible means of support? No problem! We’ll gladly pay for these children, why it’s the Christian thing to do, isn’t it?

The biggest bat in the arsenal of the left where it concerns their battle with faith comes in the form of their mantra “separation of Church and State”.  This is another case where they have conveniently redefined the language to suit their own purpose.  The constitution does not say that anything associated with faith in any way whatsoever must at any cost be kept strictly removed from any state entity. That is their interpretation. What the constitution does actually say on this topic is that the state shall not establish an official religion, i.e. no state sponsored church. If there were more Americans who acquainted themselves with the history of our English forebearers they would know that the purpose of this particular provision in our constitution was to avoid the bloody sectarian battles waged in the name of either the Roman Church or the Church of England ( see Charles I ; regicide ).  When these loons raise an uproar for a Christmas tree or a Nativity display on state grounds they only demonstrate their ignorance. In the case of the Christmas tree, as with so many other supposedly Christian icons, it is in fact a pagan tradition that was handily adopted by the Church to gain acceptance from the early European heathens.

When we defend those institutions which have some religious origin it is not a defense of or a promotion of the religion or any sect thereof. It is the simple acknowledgement of a cultural heritage which, whether one likes it or not, is rooted deeply in Judeo-Christian tradition and history.  To recognize and accept this is not for the purpose of endorsing a particular church. It is not for the exclusion of any who may not share in that heritage. It’s our heritage and we should not try to rewrite history to placate a few malcontents because they are “offended”. The irony is that most of those who are wailing the loudest are native born Americans. For any coming into a western country who were not aware that this is a culturally Christian society I would say that perhaps you should have done more homework on this before arriving.

Religions and their churches, the church hierarchies, are a human creation, not divine. Churches have historically, and to a certain extent still are, political entities. They are a vehicle for the exercise of power, plain and simple. Faith is the manifestation of one’s spirituality.  Although we may not agree with another person’s interpretation of this the freedom of conscience encoded in our constitution allows for the individuals free practice thereof. It does not say that you have to believe it. In fact it doesn’t say that you have to believe anything.

To say that I am an agnostic does not mean that I do not believe in God. I may not believe in your god, or Chaim’s god or Abdul’s god. What many reconcile themselves to as an entity that somehow resembles a human form and resides in some other plane of existence called heaven is their means of understanding the power or forces that are beyond our understanding. What one man may call the will of God I call the will of nature. There are things beyond our control and beyond our ability to understand. You may call it what you will.


 

 

Reflections on The Cider House Rules

 

The Cider House Rules was a film that caused some considerable buzz in its day. It may be largely forgotten now, but it remains one of my favorites. I recommend the film to any who may not have seen it and thus will attempt to explain my admiration for the work without divulging too much of the story.

Now to make full disclosure I will confess to being an avowed Anglophile and for this reason I will find myself enamored of any picture that features Michael Caine in its cast. I’ve yet to see a role that he has performed that I did not like. Even with that admitted bias I believe it is still fair to say that The Cider House Rules was one of his most powerful performances. Caine was nominated for and won the Oscar for best supporting actor in his role as Dr. Larch.  From his voluminous portfolio this should stand as one of his greatest roles.

The film is based upon the John Irving novel of the same name and was billed as ” a story about how far we must travel to find the place where we belong.” Never one to shy from controversial topics or themes Irving confronted one of the great moral quandaries of our time in this tale, that of abortion. This was only one of many questions dealt with in the story, but it’s inclusion is significant not only for the tremendous profile given to the history of abortion in America.  The treatment of this topic fits very well into the theme that is encapsulated in the title.

Dr. Larch is the director of an orphanage set in Maine in the early forties.  In addition to his kindly mission of taking and providing care to the orphaned and unwanted, striving to find good homes for them with a family, he also offers distressed young women the choice of terminating their pregnancies.  The performance of abortions was still illegal in that time. This occurred in a time and place that the people were uncomfortable to acknowledge even the existence of such things.  It is the sober recognition that any law may be passed to prohibit certain acts or behaviors, but where there is a demand for these that demand will always be met by someone, law or no.

Dr. Larch is a secondary character in this tale, the main protagonist being Homer Wells, an orphan, portrayed by Tobey Maguire in the film.  Homer was twice placed in a home and twice returned to the orphanage, after which Dr. Larch takes the youth on as a protege.  Again with a view towards not divulging too much of the story I’ll provide no further detail of their relationship.  It is later in the story that young Homer gains an opportunity to experience the world outside of the orphanage and lands a job at an apple orchard working alongside of migrants.  This entails housing as part of the compensation, in a bunkhouse on the estate known as the Cider House.

Though never formally educated Homer is the only one present among the workers who is able to read. Posted within the house are what are titled “The Cider House Rules”, a list of do’s and don’ts for the residents. Homer reads these aloud for the other workers when they are curious what the notice says. Even though they are illiterate and uneducated the workers have enough sense to understand something very profound. They observe that these are rules that are made without the consent of the occupants by people who do not live there and are thus not subject to the same rules. The workers quite logically conclude that as these rules were made by those who do not have to live there or live under the same rules, the rules are to be ignored.

Hence the title and this is the theme that makes the story and the film memorable. Of course the broader theme is, as it is billed, finding one’s way in life. Taking that journey to ultimately find where one belongs. These themes meet in conflict in the story just as they do in real life. There is the path that may be found by those bold enough to seek it. There is the path that may be followed at the direction of those who deem themselves fit to give it yet do not themselves walk in the same shoes.

I can not say if this was Irving’s intent by including abortion as a part of the story, but I can see clearly how it relates to the theme.  I usually like to steer clear of the debate that rages around the subject of abortion.  I am convinced that much of the fury from both sides of the argument are puffed up, exaggerated solely as a tactic. I may well be wrong about that but those are my thoughts nonetheless.  I am by sentiment of the pro-life camp. I am by reason pro-choice. The Cider House Rules provides a good illustration for why.

In the story there are young women who find themselves in difficult circumstances. We don’t know all of the specifics of their individual cases. Some may have found themselves left with child by a lover who had upon the news abandoned them. Some may have found themselves in the condition as a result of rape or incest. Or in many instances, as I suspect is still true today, these young women found themselves in a position where they were confronted with the prospect of having to raise and care for a child all by themselves and not having the means or support to do so. These were women, or more correctly mere girls in many cases, facing these daunting prospects in an era where the social stigmas were still very much at work. For right or wrong the reality was that they and their children were faced with distinct disadvantages well beyond those of an economic nature. The young mothers to be in this tale were among the fortunate few who could connect with a qualified physician who could and would perform the procedure in a sanitary and clinical environment. In that era there were many who were not so lucky.

When rules and law on abortion are made by those unable to wear the same skin as those facing that choice it becomes just like The Cider House Rules.  Making rules for others that one does not have to abide by themselves.  One does not have to approve of the act and is certainly free to offer counsel against it, but to turn it back as a point of law I think would be unwise.  As long as human beings possess reproductive functions and are left free to engage in these there will be inconvenient and/or unwanted pregnancies. There is no right or wrong to it, that is just a fact. Where these conditions exist there will continue to be, just as there always has been, a demand for the service.  Any question of legality aside where there is a demand for anything there will be someone able and willing to meet that demand.  Far better this be left where it may be answered under safe, sanitary and transparent conditions.

I don’t believe that The Cider House Rules was penned as a morality tale about abortion. Irving chose to treat the subject for whatever motives he may have had.  This theme encapsulated in the title has much broader application.  We find ourselves living under The Cider House Rules every day.  Bureaucrats from a myriad of federal agencies, nameless and faceless beings under the guise of their agencies’ authority, make and enforce rules upon others in places where they don’t have to live.  That same nameless, faceless class of beings populate the EU congress in Brussels. They make rules and issue proclamations for some distant Cider House that they have never set foot in and likely never will.  There seems to be an inevitable tendency amongst those in authority to practice the rule of “do as I say, not as I do”.

Whether by a seizure through force of arms in an autocratic society, or by guile and deception as exercised through some construct of democracy, those in positions of authority are there because they sought it. The very nature of such a personality should be viewed with suspicion. Within a democracy we have the opportunity and the responsibility to apply this. This requires being informed and employing critical thinking when examining the information available. If one does not make their own effort to separate fact from fiction then they are vulnerable to all manner of manipulation.

If uneducated and illiterate migrant workers could see and reject the hypocrisy of The Cider House Rules the overlords of the estate would have good cause for concern. That is an aspect that was not dealt with in either the novel or the film, but we see this at work in our real world Cider House today.  The establishment, i.e. career politicians, mainstream media analysts, the academic community, these are the parties who have penned life’s Cider House Rules. They are the smart people who know best, the ones who write the rules but don’t have to follow them.  Somehow all of those illiterate, uneducated migrant workers, i.e. the electorate, have awakened and called bull shit on their game. We reject your rules, we reject what you have been feeding us.

Their reaction to events tells it all.  They carry on with the narrative that the people have succumbed to ignorance, seduced by populism.  They mouth the words, more to convince themselves I believe, that this current political climate has emboldened the bigots and reactionaries. The racists feeling their grip slipping are staging one last gasp against the inevitable progressive tide of history. Make no mistake that this is precisely what these people believe. It is what they believe about themselves and what they believe about all of us. When Mrs. Clinton uttered those now unforgettable words “basket of deplorables” that was no error. She meant every bit of it. This is how the elite class sees us. That we should ever wise up and reject them could not possibly be their fault. Nothing ever is their fault.

And sadly, in a sense, it isn’t. It’s our own fault for allowing it to go on.  It is going to take more than one set of elections before these people will go away. They are rooted deeply in many parts of our society. They are like dandelions on your lawn. It does not do to go along and just randomly pick them off here and there. If you want to be rid of them they must be ripped up by the roots.

The Cider House Rules is a good metaphor for the current state of our politics. It is an even better film. If you’ve not seen it I recommend that you do so. Hopefully once you have that scene will come back to you again and again as you hear someone reading you rules that they don’t have to live by.


 

 

On the future of the EU…

 

I have recently engaged in a sort of correspondence via postings with The Paradoxical Millennial regarding the current political landscape in the western world.  Yesterday I offered some analysis and commentary on the 100 day fixation on the Trump presidency.  At the conclusion I had offered that some further thoughts might be shared with regard to the EU and its future.  I will attempt to do this here in the form of a general address, but with your kind indulgence I may at times write in a voice of a more conversational character with my esteemed colleague from the Mother country.

TPM, as I will address him, is very close to the heart of this topic.  As a resident of the UK in the wake of Brexit questions surrounding the EU are more front and center.  Those who follow such things here in the US have at least a reasonably good idea of what is happening with Brexit and the general direction of the EU. For the great majority of Americans, however, these subjects are vague at best. I would hazard a guess that if one were to ask the average American millennial on the street to say what is the EU it would most likely elicit a response something like ” Uhh…I don’t know. Eastern University?” The EU falls into the category of topics typified by an attitude of ” I can’t see it from my house so I don’t care.” This leaves the question then: should we?

Now in the case of the average Briton the answer is certainly yes. Even though as a nation the divorce papers have been filed it is still in the best interest of both parties that they manage to make it an amicable split. Divorces will by their nature tend to turn rather ugly, yet we should all hope that this does not occur in this instance. As with the husband and wife divorcing so too will the tone and course of this dissolution be determined largely by the counsel representing the two parties in the court.

I was intrigued by earlier thoughts shared by TPM in the posting of 31 March, Thoughts on Brexit, nine months on. I will shift to my conversational voice here. TPM one of the things about this post that leapt off the page at me was your expression of disappointment in the vitriolic posture that many of your countrymen took in the debate.  Each generation seems to lament the ugly turn that the politics of their time may seem to have taken.  Having witnessed more election cycles in this country than I am inclined to admit I can assure that with each there has come a mantra from media sources stating that ” this has been the ugliest campaign ever.”  Without fail this phrase will enter the conversation in every election. It is the nature of the beast. It is like making sausage. If you witness it being made you may lose your appetite for it and when you get the finished product you can never be entirely certain just what is contained in the casing.

I appreciated your very sober examination of the subject.  For all of the fears that have been fanned from the “stay” crowd in the wake of this momentous vote we should hope that most share your cautiously optimistic view of how this will proceed.  I unfortunately am unable to put my finger on that pulse so I will rely on you to keep us informed of prevailing sentiments.  You have expressed, both in the posting and in conversation since, that the general concept of the EU is good, at least on paper. The concern is what it has become in actuality. English voter participation tends to be somewhat higher than it is in most US elections, yet I noted that the participation rate in the Brexit vote was at about the average level, 76% if I recall correctly? The figures that I consulted were very shortly after the election so a more accurate measure may have been taken since. For the gravity of the question I must say I was a bit surprised that participation was not higher, but I have a theory on this.

This is based on nothing more than a suspicion, but bear with me if you would. I suspect that many Britons, like many Americans, have their lives so consumed just in trying to live day to day that they do not find the time, or frankly, have the desire to dive that deeply into these questions.  Often voters in these circumstances will form their opinion or make their decision based on those of family members, friends, co-workers.  In their own experience or through anecdotal accounts many Britons may have developed some reservations about the impact of one EU rule or another. Their sense may be that there is indeed something wrong there, but this is tempered by a caution. There is a lingering fear of the unknown. Maybe leaving the Union could go badly for us, they may think. Certainly that is the message that was carried in your media narrative.  In light of these factors I believe there are two categories of British voters who were quite significant in the final outcome. These were the voters who had a sense that it was time for Brexit, but erring to the side of caution may have opted for the “stay” ballot to be safe, on the one hand. The second were those who found that they could not be firmly convinced one way or another and listening to the prevailing media narrative concluded that their vote wouldn’t matter anyway and chose to sit this one out. My conclusion is that the overall sentiment to leave was in fact higher than that reflected in the final tally.

I have always found striking parallels between American and British politics. I could cite countless examples of it, but will refrain from that now. The concerns surrounding the EU, in Britain and indeed on the continent, actually mirror many of the concerns in this country.  The blueprint that was written for our self government was pretty clear. Much care was taken ensure that checks and balances were written in to prevent abuses. The design was for a representative republic of sovereign states united and under the protection of a federal authority with well defined limitations on it’s powers. For those of you familiar with the EU and its original charter I would ask you: is any of this sounding familiar?

Any system is only as good as the parties operating it. The problem in the EU is the same as the problems we have here in the states.  On paper there is actually a sound plan. In practice what is done is so far removed from the original as to be barely recognizable. There is another glaring case of this very same problem in the United Nations. On paper, in it’s original charter, it was a fine and noble thing.  Crafted out of the very best intentions in the wake of the greatest human catastrophe the world had just endured, a suffering not the least of which was borne by Britain. What has occurred since, however, is a grotesque perversion of that charter. The United Nations has been hijacked by the membership of nations whose interests are far from being united. It has been co-opted by parties who manipulate the workings as an instrument the thwart their foes or to enrich themselves.

The federal government here and the EU both have assumed powers that are well outside their charter.  They have injected themselves as an authority over matters in which they have no legitimate place whatsoever. There is a hubris present in the individuals who populate these institutions, a smugness in the knowledge that as long as one is in position to write the rules then one is in position to break the rules with impunity. This is done under the cover of a legitimacy that is imparted by the institution. Simply being a member of the institution bestows authority. There is no accountability. The growing realization of this among the electorate is the driver behind both Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. It is not so much a whole hearted vote for either as it is a rejection of the status quo.

The momentum for similar sentiments is growing on the continent.  Le Pen’s growing following in the volatile stew of French politics is a sign. There is discontent, rumblings among the populations of Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and growing now in the Scandinavian countries as well. There is an American parallel to this. In places like Massachusetts, Maryland, California there is a satisfaction with the status quo. Demographically and politically these states are positioned to benefit from things remaining as they are. Worth noting in each of these cases are the oceans of red ink present in their debts and unfunded liabilities. Other states, the traditionally “red” states are balking at federal abuses and carry budgets and balance sheets that are solvent. This leads me to the other key component in determining the fate of the EU.

Thus far we have accounted for the following:

  1. Federal overreach, the infringement of state sovereignty
  2. A bureaucratic organism with no accountability
  3. Arrogance and condescension

Now we add to these the final and what I believe to be the key component: debt. Not manageable, with a little self discipline and austerity we can work our way out of this kind of debt. Spiralling out of control, astronomical, incomprehensible debt. In both instances those holding the levers of power have ignored it, denied it, added to it and simply “kicked the can down the road” for next administration to deal with. We’ll take care of it later, tomorrow. Next year. But tomorrow never comes. Next year never comes.

This kind of fiscal mismanagement is unconscionable in running a household or business budget. We all know that it is not sustainable. We all know that were our household budget or our company’s budget saddled with these levels of debt the banks would have cut us off long ago. The very mention of our names would set off all the alarms and engage the auto-locks on all of the doors.

I have to confess that I do not know how this operates with the Euro, it may be similar, but in the US the solution is just print more currency, or more properly in today’s technology just add another set of zeros to the account. They do it because they can. It is tantamount to pouring gas on a bonfire.

There has been the suggestion that the EU is good in principle, it simply needs to be reformed. The same may be said for the US federal government. The problem in either case is that it may already be too late. As long as the fiscal shell game can be continued we can all hold hands as we skip along and whistle past the graveyard, but there is a point where the sidewalk ends. There will be more Brexits to come. They may begin as only one per year. For a time. And then there will be more. The first couple of boulders on the slope will be dislodged and then there will be nothing to hold back the avalanche to follow.  When the final debt bell rings, and rest assured it will, the EU will disintegrate.  As for the United States? There may be a similar fate in store. If California can suggest secession in protest of a Trump presidency ( they have, that we should be so lucky!) is it any less plausible that in a meltdown that a state like Texas, perhaps, might not bail on the ship as she goes down hard by the bow?

I don’t have a crystal ball and I do not mean to suggest that I wish for these things to happen. Wishing that they won’t will have about as much impact.  You would have a hard time convincing me that the EU can or will be salvaged. It’s demise is only a matter of time. If the Russian bear wanders into Europe to pick at the carcass I feel relatively confident in saying that Uncle Sam can not be counted on to save the day. Not this time, for I am afraid there is neither the will nor the wherewithal.  I don’t think the world is going to end, but it’s a pretty sure bet that the geopolitical map by the end of the 21st century will look much, much different.

 


 

 

Perspective and Reality

 

Here is an exercise in perspective to help illustrate a reality.  I do not recall who it was that said this originally. I think it was a congressman or senator and I will admit to simply being too lazy to take the time required to look it up. In any case it was once said (I’m paraphrasing, not a direct quote) ” A billion here, a billion there…pretty soon you’re talking about some real money!” This encapsulates the cavalier attitude taken in Washington about our federal spending. For the past four years the federal treasury has enjoyed record levels  of revenue and yet somehow in spite of this the annual budget has continued to run a deficit to the tune of roughly one trillion dollars. This not only suggests, it affirms that there is not a revenue problem: there is a spending problem.

When discussing dollar figures for any department or program the numbers just spill out. We hear them, but plainly do not appreciate the enormity of it all. Here is a little math exercise to help get a handle on it.

If one were to begin to verbally count from one to one billion the average amount of time within that span of numbers to actually speak aloud each number in succession would come out to about 5 seconds for each. That is our starting point.

5,000,000,000 seconds divided by 60 (seconds per minute) = 83,333,333.33 minutes

83,333,333.33 minutes divided by 60 again (minutes per hour) = 1,388,889 hours

1,388,889 hours divided by 24 (hours per day) = 57,870.37 days

57,870.37 days divided by 365.25 (days per year) = 158.44 years

158.44 years translates to roughly 158 years, 5 months and one week, give or take a couple of days. That is how long it would take to manually count from one to one billion.

It takes 1000 billion to make 1 trillion. Not even taking into account the added time in voicing the additional set of digits in each number this would translate to 158,440 years to manually count to one trillion. The United States is fast approaching 20 trillion dollars in accumulated debt.

158.44 years x 1000 = 158,440 years

158,440 years x 20 = 3,168,800 years.

3,168,800 years is by all the best measure that science can provide us longer than the time that humans have been walking the planet. It is at least not as far back as the extinction of the dinosaurs, but still in human terms that is a pretty long time. Agreed?

You are welcome to get your calculators and check the math for yourselves, but by my reckoning that is how long it would take to manually count to 20 trillion. Adding the time required for the additional 20,000 sets of three digits to be uttered would actually stretch that span a bit longer. Im sorry, thats wading a bit too far into the weeds to make the further calculation. It suffices to say that we are talking about one hell of a long time.

In the highly unlikely event that deficit spending were to end this year and we were to begin to apply 500 billion dollars to the debt annually it would take 40 years to retire the debt. That assumes 0 interest and no recurrence of deficit spending in that time. The other part to this equation that needs to be realized is that it would entail a reduction of 1.5 trillion dollars in annual spending. It would also assume revenues remaining static at their current levels. Sadly none of these scenarios are realistic.

The revenues could increase with expanded economic activity, but to make up that difference on expanded revenues alone and with no spending cuts would require a level of growth that is both unprecedented and unrealistic. Any way of going about it the spending cuts would have to occur. It is inescapable. Now here is where it gets even worse. Even without adding any further debt there remains 200 trillion dollars in pending liabilities to federal entitlement programs. Granted this is stretched over a span of some years, but it is a ticking debt which under current structures only continues to expand.

There is a saying in the world of banking.  If you owe the bank $10,000 and you don’t have it? Well then you have a problem. If you owe the bank $10,000,000 and you don’t have it? Well then the bank has a problem. What I have just illustrated is the same formula, only on a considerably grander scale. The bank has a BIG problem. If anyone breathing believes that 20 trillion dollars of debt is going to be repaid they are deluding themselves. It is not, will not ever happen. There will be a default on that debt. Not a matter of if, only when.

All of the repercussions entailed by this can not be foreseen. It will be catastrophic, to be sure, but to what degree and for how long is anyone’s guess. Ultimately it may be a good thing when that reset button is hit, for the long term, but it begs the question what comes after? Again no one can say with absolute certainty, but there are some things happening now that are disturbing indicators. Around the world there are moves by governments and financial institutions to eliminate currency and digitize all money. When one stops to seriously ponder this it must be seen that we are already well on the way there. The only other option for the United States is an action which has already been well underway. They have had a innocuous sounding term to describe this: quantitative easing. What this translates to is simply printing more money. They are attempting to quietly, while no one is really paying close attention, monetize the debt. Aside from the more obvious consequences for this is that to completely monetize that level of debt would create a hyperinflation approaching the speed of light. That may be a bit of hyperbole, I haven’t run the actual math on this, but it is a frightful prospect nonetheless. The degree of collapse is unfathomable, incomparable to anything ever seen before.

The world won’t end, but the way of life we’ve been accustomed to will be forever changed. It may be that somewhere on the other side of this nightmare life actually gets better, but one can not wait for our institutions to make that happen. That will be up to us.

Sorry to piss in your cornflakes.

 


 

 

What is a Libertarian: a reply to Politry

 

For any who have read my previous postings I am hopeful that many of the libertarian ideas have shone through in a clear light. Yesterday I had occasion to stumble across the title of a posting that intrigued me. Emerging Ideologies:The Libertarian was posted by Ray on the site Politry on 24 March. I took the time to read this posting and found the impressions contained therein to be quite informative. After having given these considerable thought I have decided that it would be productive for the discussion to post a response here on this site. So, with this as my preamble…..here goes!

I have long been aware that there is a good deal of misunderstanding over what a Libertarian is and what Libertarians believe. Let me first qualify all of this to state that I am not a registered member of the national Libertarian party, nor do I speak on behalf of them. I am simply a politically engaged citizen trying to clarify Libertarian principles.  I have found over the years that much of the difficulty many seem to have in clearly understanding Libertarians lies with some confusion surrounding the meaning of certain words.  I have encountered many who seem to conclude that because of the shared linguistic root libertarian means liberal, or at least that the two are related to one another. They are and they are not. Let me explain…

In the posting Emerging Ideologies Ray made some brief reference to the classical liberal ideas. I am not 100% certain this is what was meant by the reference, but when I hear the term classical liberal it brings to mind John Stuart Mill and the classical liberal period of the mid-nineteenth century.  Now here there is indeed a link between to two. Mill was arguably the father of classical liberalism. His 1859 essay On Liberty aroused great controversy in it’s day and begat the classical liberal argument to the social and political orthodoxy of the day. It is heartening to me to learn that there seem to be a growing number of millennials who are warming to principles contained in this classical philosophy. One of today’s more notable voices in restoring these to the public discourse is Boris Johnson, the one time Mayor of London and a leading figure in current UK politics.

The unfortunate point of the current linking of libertarian-liberal in the minds of many is that the modern understanding of the term liberal is quite removed from it’s classical definition. In our current political climate liberal is a term equated with the Democrat party and Democrat politics. Conversely its counterpoint, conservatism, is equated with the Republican party and it’s politics. Here we have waded into the murky pool of semantics.

Liberalism as it is identified today does to some degree share the socially progressive spirit of classical liberalism, yet that is where the similarities end. Ironically there are a number of elements contained in the modern conservative philosophy that square more with the tenets of classical liberalism. Mill was a champion of individual liberty and decried the coercion of both the State and of public opinion. Modern liberalism, whatever it’s stated aims may be, is decidedly wed to the idea of the supremacy of the State. And despite the differing aspects of the two parties’ platforms both the Democrat and Republican parties have molded themselves into a class of Statists. At the end of the day there are only minor distinctions in how they actually govern. They may have glaring contradictions in their social philosophy, but as a practical matter what either of them do in terms of governing is simply the exercise of power through the existing mechanism of the State. At no time since the days of FDR has the federal government shrunk in size. It continues to grow like a tumor on the brain. The stated differences in ideology between the two parties are nothing more than a public face designed to engage and enlist the continued support of their varied and conflicting constituencies.

There has been volumes of analysis over this past Presidential election. I don’t want to get diverted from my main idea here and get bogged down in an argument about Trump, but I think these points do deserve a mention in this discussion. Since it is ultimately the electoral count that decides the Presidential election it could be said that the key to the Trump victory came down to the results in three states. Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Aside from any of their urban centers the geographic, economic and social profiles of each of these states are largely rural. Lots of farms, pick up trucks with gun racks in the back window, the fields and forests every autumn populated with rugged men in Carharrts and blaze orange. These factors would paint an image of the archetype of a “red state”, yet historically these are states that go Democrat in national elections. So what happened this time?

These states have been historically Democrat because of a large population of a reliable Democrat constituency, the union member.  The rank and file membership of these unions are by and large not socially liberal and on these matters many of them differ strongly with the party. They are not idealogues. They are more what I would term the “generational Democrats”. Its part of their familial identity. As an example, lets consider a question that is usually included in part of the paperwork for a hospital admission. Somewhere in there one is usually asked, just in case the worst should happen, what is your religious affiliation?  For many who may not have set foot inside of a church since elementary school this will be answered with either “none”, or it will be answered by whatever church one’s family identified with when they were growing up. If you were “raised” Methodist, never mind what you’ve actually practiced, you would be likely to put down Methodist. For a lot of these people their politics are the same. “Our house was always Democrat when I grew up, so I suppose I’m a Democrat.” These are a class of people who at one time were identified as the “Reagan Democrats”.

If one were to ask most of these people to explain the beliefs and principles of the Democrat party they could not answer. They might respond with the usual vague generalities usually associated with the party: they are for us, the little guy.  They stand up to the enemy, the corporate management always trying to stick it to the union worker. Most of them have believed this for all of their lives. What happened in this most recent election is that many of these DINOs ( democrat in name only ) looked around at their world in recent years and discovered that their experience was not matching up to what they had always been told. They began to examine the party and it’s campaign and had an epiphany. They began to understand that a party that was for environmentalists and illegal aliens, sanctuary cities, LGBT equality, all of these other issues, could not possibly act to appease these constituencies and still act in the best interests of the union worker. Enough of them concluded not that they were voting for Trump, rather they voted against the party that they believe betrayed them. Instead of this litany of Russians and God knows what else the Democrats just need to admit that they have no one to blame but themselves.

The chief governing principle of a true Libertarian is rooted in Jefferson. That which governs least governs best. For this reason we are often erroneously identified as something just once removed from the anarchist. The error in this is that it presumes that the opposite of very structured governance is automatically a descent into anarchy. This is not true. In any social construct where a centralized authority or well defined rules are absent people will assume a spontaneous order. As Jefferson was more aligned with Locke than Hobbes the basis of his thinking was that people are generally “okay” and if left alone they have the ability to continue being “okay” without a lot of direction or supervision. He was not so naive as to believe that as a nation we could all just sit around with flowers in our hair and chant kumbaya. Jefferson understood that the paramount duty of the federal government was to provide for the common defence of the collective states. There was enough realism present to know that not everyone else in the world were going to operate from the same playbook. I would remind you that it was Adams, the Federalist, who chose to pay tribute to the Barbary pirates at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Jefferson was the one who said enough is enough, now let’s go kick their asses.

This segues to the question on those matters of defense, where I will grant you that Libertarian Party candidates have not exactly done much to win over many to the cause. I have no explanation for the vacant and naive drivel that Ron Paul served up on these matters. Perhaps it is rooted in his ethical creed as a physician. In the case of Gary Johnson (a man that I like, but do not believe is fit for the office) I think that the problem is that this is a subject he has actually given little thought to. From the platform that the Libertarian Party crafts for itself their candidates are more or less painted into a corner when attempting to produce a coherent position on matters of defense and foreign policy. I can tell you what a Libertarian’s answer should be on these questions, and that too comes back to Jefferson.

Jefferson’s ideal was to live and let live. If we can all get along, engage in trade where all parties benefit that is a good thing. Let the people get about their business. Jefferson’s pragmatism told him that to live and let live is an ideal that not all will share. The crucial ingredient for liberty is freedom and freedom is not free. It has to be defended. It is therefore necessary to be strong and vigilant so that one is prepared when that freedom is threatened to defend it, by force of arms if need be, and to prevail. To be prepared to die in it’s defense because life without liberty is not a life worth living.

Now its very easy for one to say “that was then, this is now”, and I understand the sentiment. That doesn’t mean I agree with it. I can outline for you a scenario how the principle could be applied to today’s world. We have managed to get ourselves entangled in the middle east. One can debate whether we should have gone, not gone, but I’m not going there. We are already there so the reasons for it are now a moot point. To apply a Libertarian principle to this situation would be as follows:

Step 1)  Bring all of the troops and equipment home

Step 2) Cut off all forms of aid to any of the countries in the region. If private organizations choose to raise and deliver humanitarian aid to these areas then that is their own business

Step 3) Put the countries in the region on notice that henceforward America will develop and use our own energy supplies and they can sell their oil elsewhere. From this day forward we will not be a customer; we will be a competitor

Step 4) Put these same countries on notice that the United States does not recognize the legitimacy or conduct diplomatic relations with nations that encourage or otherwise condone the enslavement, abuse, persecution or otherwise bring harm to human beings because of their sex, sexual orientation, religion or politics. Within the confines of your own borders you are free to do as you wish, but where you practice barbarism do not expect the aid, support or good graces of the United States to smile upon you

Step 5) Build and maintain at all times a potent and state of the art military force, not to occupy or police any part of the world, but to be ever ready to respond with overwhelming and devastating force to any attack or threat upon the United States. Let it be known that the official policy for rules of engagement for our military forces are to take no prisoners, make no allowances for collateral damage and to destroy the aggressors ability to make war on us without discretion. Also let it be known that those who by their actions incur our wrath have no expectation of restoration or aid from us once we have defeated you. You made your bed, now sleep in it.

The Libertarian defense policy is simple. Do as you like in your own sandbox. We are not difficult to get along with, but we do not suffer tyrants. We will not start a conflict, but rest assured we will finish it when provoked. And finally, we reserve the right to execute a preemptive strike upon any force that demonstrates a credible and imminent danger to our nation and it’s people.

You have accurately identified a number of the tenets of Libertarian thought. We do tend to fall within the realm of what is generally regarded as being liberal on social issues.  This is not a conscious effort to somehow “split the difference”, as you suggest in your essay. Our positions in these matters are not rooted in either conservative or liberal ideology. They are, rather, born of an adherence to the ideal of individual liberty. Freedom of conscience and freedom of choice. Freedom of conscience means this:  I do not have to like or personally approve of gay marriage. I am free to think what I think and to say what I think. As a Libertarian, despite my own personal beliefs or opinions, I am bound to affirm and respect the other person’s freedom of conscience and to uphold their right as a citizen to equal protection under the law. For the Libertarian this applies to all or it can apply to none. Let me qualify this before some smart ass tries to blow this up with a specious argument: there are exceptions to this rule.  If your freedom of conscience and the exercise thereof in any way entails bringing harm to others or prohibits another’s exercise of the same freedom all bets are off. You have broken the contract and are subject to the penalty as prescribed by law.

You referenced the pro-choice / pro-life conflict. While it is generally true that Libertarians will come down on the side of pro-choice that is by no means universal. Here is again where an ideal must be put up against pragmatism.  My own personal belief is that taking the life of a baby is morally wrong. I am not, however, in a position to render moral judgements on others and I sure as hell don’t want the federal government to be in authority to render those judgements either.  While I may consider that it would be better if this were not an option as a matter of policy I have to say that I support the pro-choice position. Abortion is not a new thing, it has been practiced in various ways for thousands of years. This is a genie that is already out of the bottle. To turn back the law banning it’s practice would only lead to further harm. There will still be a demand for the service and those willing to provide it. Outlawing it only forces it from a clinically safe environment coming under some scrutiny of a standard back into unsanitary and unsafe conditions.

On economics yes we are strong proponents of free market capitalism. A truly free market is one where market forces are left to act as they will. What we have now, and both Republicans and Democrats are guilty as sin on this, is a system where the government through regulations and various other means tips the scale to favor those who can bring the most benefit to the government or those in government. This takes the form of campaign contributions or tax revenues. Or often times both. This is not a free market. It is pay to play. If you read some of my other recent postings you will find that I have provided quite a lot more detail on this subject.

You are correct in identifying a number of Libertarian minds who have managed to make a home for themselves within the Republican party. I must admit that I am mildly amused at the puzzlement you express in trying to understand how they have landed there. You have not come out directly and said it in so many words, but there is the suggestion of a tone there that exclaims it as ” How could they!? “. If I am reading something that isn’t there then I will stand corrected. I find that in your musings upon the Libertarian quandary you are dancing all about it, but you’re not quite there until you come to the end of the second paragraph. You have rightly identified that because many of the tenets of Libertarians are conservative by today’s definition they are not welcome in the Democrat party. Also the ideas and practices of the current Democrat party are not welcome in the mind of Libertarian thought. Some Libertarians find a home in the Republican party where they may not be welcomed with open arms, but at least they can get through the gate. The modern day Democrat party has established an orthodoxy. One accepts all of it or none of it. If you want in you have to drink the Kool-aid like all the rest of them. Perhaps the question you should be asking is not “Why do they go to the Republicans”, rather “Why wouldn’t they want to join Democrats”.

As a political force Libertarians are a long way from being in place to further any legislative agenda. Where we may align ourselves with one major party or another is not motivated by realizing an agenda under anyone’s sponsorship. It is out of a desire for our voice to be heard in the debate. Our true mission lies with educating a public that is sadly misinformed on a lot of things. It has come to be generally accepted that the federal government has a legitimate role in many things where it simply does not. Not constitutionally and not from any vantage point of common sense. The federal government has grown in size, scope and authority that far exceeds the bounds that our founders set for it. It will not do to play defense and merely slow the growth. It is a leviathan that needs to be dismantled. I don’t expect Democrats or Republicans either one to do this. Not on the scale that is required. It is an unfortunate thing, but I fear that much more calamitous things will happen before enough people open their eyes to realize where they’ve been misled.

I don’t speak for all Libertarians, but I am putting myself on record so that some day, should it prove necessary, I can rightly say I told you so.

 


 

 

The Unaffordable Care Act, part deux

 

The crowing that you hear this morning is not the proverbial rooster announcing the start of a new day.  It is instead the chorus of professional pundits and Washington insiders celebrating the failure of the Republican controlled house to bring a vote to the floor in their repeal and replace efforts on the ACA, or Obamacare.  It is a predictable reaction born of their propensity for Shadenfreude. For those who may be unfamiliar with this term it is a German word which roughly translates to joy at the misfortunes of others.  Any news that is bad news for the administration is good news to them. These are pundits with stripes identifying them as coming from both sides of the aisle.

There are those of Democrat sympathy who praise the fact that their golden piece of legislation has been preserved. There are also those favoring the Republican side who assure us this is just one more example of the false and feckless leadership within the party. After countless attempts, all of which were doomed to a veto while Obama remained in office, they have finally had both houses of congress and the White House and they still cant get it done. More excuses.

As with most things that come out of Washington one needs to wade into the weeds that reside somewhere between the two versions of the story to find something resembling the truth.  There is the narrative that speaker Paul Ryan needed to pull the vote at the last minute to save themselves the humiliation of a defeat. There is some measure of truth in this and it reflects a certain common sense.  If it is known in advance that there are not sufficient votes to pass the measure there would be little sense in going through the exercise. It is true that having done so, in what seems to be the favored term of the day, would have made for “bad optics”.  But as the stated objective from the beginning was to repeal and replace it would make little sense to try to pass a bill that was clearly not going to achieve this.

The opposition party hails this as an “see, I told you so!” moment, proving that Republicans are incapable of governing. And of course they can’t resist the opportunity to claim a victory in halting one the President’s key initiatives. It furthers their long held narrative that the President, who is not of their ranks, is nothing more than an unenlightened populist and a rank amateur. This comes from people who have been on the inside and understand how government works. Okay. Let us accept this premise for a moment. They know how to make it all work because they have been there, inside as part of the system. They consider themselves to be the professionals. Well if that’s true they need to be judged upon their record which quite frankly isn’t all that great. These are the members of congress, Republicans too, who have had control of the purse strings of our federal treasury. It is their constitutionally mandated job. They have presided over years of record high tax receipts and yet they still have managed to engage in deficit spending at a rate of one trillion dollars annually. This record of performance in the private sector could not be sustained nor would it be tolerated, but in Washington that is just business as usual.

Now here is the truth of the matter. The Democrats did not defeat this. The effort was defeated by Republican members of the “freedom caucus”, as they have come to be known. They refused to provide the speaker with their votes which were needed to attain passage of the measure. Further, this action is not a defeat. It is an action which prevented passage of a flawed piece of legislation. A wise woman once said to me “why stop doing one thing that makes you unhappy to do something else that still makes you unhappy?” We’re not talking about happiness in this instance, but the message still applies. The Affordable Care Act, for any measure of good it may have done, has been an unmitigated disaster. To repeal it and then replace it with a version that is only disastrous to a lesser degree is still a disaster nonetheless. It’s better to take the time to get it right.

Getting it right is not that hard. All that need be done is to learn from our mistakes. The matter in question is not health care: it is health insurance. Health insurance is generally regarded as something that one should purchase, a wise investment if you will. It is not something that, as the ACA dictates, one should be mandated to purchase by the federal government. Let us consider a line item present in most household budgets that is not as critical as health insurance.

How many of you out there have a monthly cable bill? Are you happy with your cable provider? Do you feel that you have enough choices in providers available to you and is there healthy competition among providers? The response to these questions will not be universal I am sure, but for the vast majority the answers will be in order yes, no, no and no. In the ideal of a free market if there are conditions which a majority of consumers find unsatisfactory the market will respond. In a free market this occurs when a competitor enters the market or an existing player in the market responds to the wants of the consumer. As consumers move to take advantage of the more attractive service or value of a competitor this drives the direction of the market. The other providers adapt or they fail. Now if you follow this you are probably led to the question “why doesn’t this happen with the cable companies?”

The reason is rather simple. The cable industry is not a free market. Cable companies, in order to operate legally, have to be licensed. Licensing is a function of government, at the federal level through the FCC, and also through a myriad of state and local regulatory authorities. These licenses insure two things. First they insure that the State is in for a piece of the pie. Second, as a reward for their fealty the cable companies are granted monopolies outright or benefit from regulations which foster conditions to create and preserve a monopoly. The rules of the game are rigged to favor the players who can pay the biggest tribute. This helps them, it feeds the regulators and it locks out those who would otherwise introduce competition in the form of better performance or better rates. This breaks down to this simple formula:

 

Winner = Cable Company & Regulators

Loser = The Consumer (you)

Want another example? Here is a good one.  In recent years there are lot of people who have finally succeeded in giving up the habit of smoking cigarettes.  Many of us (yes, I am among their ranks) have done so through the use of the e-cig, or “vaping”. Maybe it doesn’t work for everyone. Of course that may be because everyone is not ready to quit, but I digress…

Here is a classic example of the free market at work. The product gains in acceptance and popularity. The market responds to meet the growing demand with the start up of thousands of small vaping shops nationwide. Its a win-win, right? People are finding an effective way to give up a harmful habit (albeit still legal, mind you) and others are realizing a livelihood as a result. Winner, winner, chicken dinner….so who is the loser? Well that would be the tobacco companies. You see although their business may be thriving in other corners of the globe, here in the United States their market is dwindling and doing so rapidly. But don’t worry for them. They’ve got this covered.

There are several reasons for their declining market. Part of it can be attributed to more education and anti-smoking promotion. Another part of it are the obscenely punitive sin taxes placed upon the product. These are enacted ostensibly to reduce smoking, which to some degree has certainly worked. The revenues are supposedly directed to help cover health care costs associated with smoking related diseases. As these factors have moved more away from cigarettes the tobacco companies have recognized that many of their former customers have switched to vaping. To recapture a part of that market the tobacco companies have come to market with e-cig products of their own. In terms of the conventional tobacco product companies there are not a lot of players remaining and little chance of new ones starting up. The new frontier of vaping, however, is still an open field. And here is where the free market ends.

In the latter half of 2016 a piece of existing federal regulations were amended which provided the FDA with the authority over e-cig products. Never mind the fact that the regulations were written to apply to tobacco products and e-cigs contain 0% tobacco. What do you suppose is the net result of this? Thousands of these small, private vaping companies are compelled to cough up extortionate fees and perform costly upgrades in their businesses in order to remain licensed to sell. This achieves the unstated but clearly intended purpose of putting them out of business. Of course the tobacco companies can absorb these costs. It’s a small price to pay in order to recapture that market which has moved to vaping. The same government that continues to pass laws restricting tobacco consumption wherever possible and preach to us all about the evils of “big tobacco” continues to profit handsomely from revenues realized from the sale of the product. Acting through regulation which protects the tobacco companies they continue to salvage those revenues by placing the taxes upon a product that does not even contain tobacco. Here is another formula:

Winner = Tobacco Companies and Government Regulators

Loser = The Consumer

A significant part of the mantra chanted to get the ACA passed was demonizing those evil insurance companies. There is little doubt that the design of the ACA was to ultimately put the private insurers out of business. The economics of it assures this. Part of the method for obtaining passage of the act was to entice those same insurance companies to get on board with the plan. In the short term the industry did profit from this, but the Act was a beverage served up with a poison pill. We’ve seen the result of this as insurers continue to bail from the exchanges.

There is one aspect of that sales job that I am still surprised they were able to put over on the insurance companies.  With a limited number of providers in the marketplace and a law mandating the purchase of the product the insurers were no doubt enticed by being handed a captive market. They are in the business and had to understand that certain models have to be in operation in order for the insurer to remain solvent. This model was the younger healthier citizen being compelled to “buy in”, thus subsidizing the greater pay outs typically required by the older and less healthy. One of the more popular provisions of the ACA was that which allowed parents to leave adult children up to the age of 26 on their policies. With so many college grads working at Starbucks and still living in Mom and Dad’s basement its understandable why this part of the ACA has been embraced. Yet how did the insurance companies fail to see the impact of this upon the financial model of the plan? The key demographic group that was to sustain the program, the 18-30 year olds, were left with an easy out to keep from paying in but for four years of that twelve year span. How was that ever going to work? Well the ugly truth is that it was never meant to.

The health insurance market, like cable and tobacco, is not and has not been a free market for years. In every other instance that government has entered as a part of the equation in a market the loser is ultimately the consumer. You don’t even need to compare with those models outside of the field of health insurance. Just look at where government has already been an active participant in the market. Medicare. Medicaid. The VA. A survey of their consumers, I am confident, will yield very poor results in terms of performance and customer satisfaction.

So is refusing to bring a flawed bill to the floor of the house a failure? For the purposes of political advantage it is easy to present it as such, but on the contrary I see it as a victory. I would rather more time be spent getting this right and getting it right means taking government, especially the federal government, out of the equation altogether. Forced to accept the bill as offered would inspire a paraphrasing of the bard.

A shite sandwich; served as any other flavor

Doth taste and smell as foul


 

 

An epidemic of despair

 

This is penned at the behest of a good friend of mine. It concerns a subject that I have been aware of but have deliberately steered clear of.  The chief source of my aversion to the topic is that it has become something which has some impact hitting close to home.

It is, in some small way, an ode to a young man named Jason.  My friend informed me that Jason had died of a heroin overdose one evening in the past week.  Jason had been an employee, a valued member of a team, as well as a friend who was always willing to provide help and support in situations outside of the workplace.  I never met Jason in person, yet I know him as well as I know his story. Jason died at the age of 28, leaving a pre-school aged daughter behind.  I myself have an adult child of the same age group who is likewise afflicted with this scourge. I have for some time been prepared to meet similarly tragic news regarding his fate. I have accepted the fact that it is not a question of if, but only when I shall receive such news. The circumstance has moved well beyond any point at which I might have any impact upon the outcome.

To the vast majority of people living in this country today Jason’s case is only a statistic. One more in the daily rising toll of people, young and old alike, who have fallen victim to the needle. They don’t know his name or his face or the first thing about him. He is just another number in one of many categories of statistics.  Human beings may comprise a part of any set of statistics, but being a statistic is dehumanizing.  Usually when I write about matters of current public concerns I like to be able to cite some numbers, provide some factual support for any argument I may try and make for or against anything. I could do that in this instance, for surely there are a wealth of statistics available on the war against heroin trafficking, addiction and yes, alas, fatalities. I wont do that. If you want statistics you can find them on your own, it wont be difficult. This a human problem so I will try to relate it in human terms.

This is a challenging topic for me in more ways than one. Aside from my own personal connection to the problem there are other elements that create a difficulty in addressing the issue. As a libertarian I have views concerning narcotics that will not square well with many people and families who have had their lives upended by the explosion of availability, affordability and lethality of this drug.  I have always been deeply troubled by the hypocrisy inherent in the drug laws of this country.  The multi-billion dollar industry of alcohol makers have managed, through their well funded lobbying efforts and their contribution in tax revenues to the public coffers, to purchase for themselves a legitimacy. Do not mistake me. I have no ax to grind with these companies. They make a product that has been around a very long time, it is legal and in steady demand. I dont begrudge them making a profit from it nor do I begrudge any citizen’s right to consume the product. Of the many follies of federal legislation in our history the Prohibition looms as one of the most colossal in it’s failure and it’s consequences..

Many of the substances which have also been banned by governments state and federal were at one time, although perhaps frowned upon, entirely legal to possess and consume. At the federal level the Food and Drugs Act of 1906 was the start of legal controls and prohibitions over many of these substances. This was born out of the same era that saw the rise of the Women’s Temperance League and other popular movements which ultimately provided momentum to the passage of the 19th Amendment. Pharmacology was by our current standard of measure a science still in it’s evolution. As the name of the Act itself would imply it was concerned more with matters of food, labelling and standards of purity. Where this law began to address drugs was the requirement to list in labelling the presence of any of ten drugs which were deemed under the Act to be “addictive” and/or “dangerous”  Included in this list were morphine, opium, cannabis and…? Care to guess? Why yes! Alcohol also made the list. A little over a decade later came the Prohibition.

Thirteen years, millions of dollars and thousands of deaths from organized crime later the Prohibition came to an end. Alcohol was once again legit and quickly became a boon of tax revenues while still greater restrictions were placed upon the rest of the 1906 roster of ten.  Thus resumed and expanded the long history of the public treasury being enriched by the vices of the populace.  Further evidence of the governing philosophy that organized crime is not so bad when one considers the alternative.  Alcohol was still recognized as being addictive and dangerous, but since it was in demand and presented such an attractive opportunity as a generator of tax revenues it was given a pass. More than a pass: a blessing from the State.

Even though the dangers of alcohol were recognized these were somehow diminished when it could, under the wise and benign regulation by the State, be controlled by the State. If one wished to sell the product legally it became necessary to pony up the price of admission in the form of licensing fees. As a bonus the sale of the product could provide an ongoing revenue stream with the addition of excise taxes upon every sale. Maybe alcohol wasn’t such a bad thing after all. Of course it was still necessary to counsel moderation, but once the coins had landed in the treasury not much further thought was given to this.

One may argue that if the revenues were the sole motivation in lifting the ban shouldn’t the same logic and motivations extended to those other banned substances?  It is a valid question and it is easily answered following the simple laws of economics. Supply and demand. These other substances and their effects were not as well known, thus they were not in demand. This and the fact that the long, slow poisoning by alcohol might pass unnoticed until such time as the damage was done.  Morphine, opiates and cocaine were substances where their abuse carried with them greater and more immediate lethality. Drink too much liquor one night and in most instances the greatest consequence might be the dreaded hangover. Overindulgence of these other substances would often leave their users dead, or given their more virulently addictive qualities would put them on the fast track for the same result. Certainly more quickly than could be accomplished with alcohol. The other reason for this inconsistency of reasoning was that unlike opiates or cocaine, which typically required some importation of raw materials with a knowledge of and facility for their refinement, alcohol could very easily be produced in one’s basement, kitchen or barn. Too many opportunities for the State to be cut out of it’s share of the action.

That leaves the question of cannabis on the list. In those times the knowledge of cannabis and it’s effects were nowhere near as widespread as today, so there was nothing even remotely like the demand for alcohol. So why the continued prohibition and increased penalties associated with it? There were two reasons primarily, one climatological and the other sociologic.  Cannabis could be fairly easily cultivated throughout much of the continent.  Where it was largely unknown in many quarters of the country there was a certain familiarity with the effects in the south. The south where the descendants of slaves were familiar with it’s use and where segregation and racial bigotry were not only practiced, but state sanctioned. There were a handful of redneck dixiecrat politicians, devout segregationists all, who didn’t much cotton with any of them niggers gettin’ all hopped up on the “reefer” and running around raping the white women. It happened folks. Look it up.

Though there is more reasoned debate on the subject today the fact remains that our modern day drug policies are the bastard children of those formulated in the ignorance and greed of the early part of the last century. Couple this with the trend over the past 40 years or so of creating multiple bureaus and agencies with overlapping authorities, each determined to justify and sustain their existence with ever more tax dollars fed to their respective budgets, and you have the bloated and largely impotent State mechanism referred to collectively as “the war on drugs”.

If the growing rise of heroin abuse and deaths are any indicator one might suspect that this war, if not already lost, is certainly not going in our favor. The reward and results for the dollars spent are severely wanting. The conduct of this battle seems to overlook the most rudimentary laws of economics at work here.  There is a demand for the product and a supply to meet or exceed the demand that has driven the cost of the commodity downward. Lots of product, readily found and easily affordable. All of the requisite parts for a dynamic economy. The heroin trade has emerged like a deadly but smart virus. It is potentially lethal to its hosts, but not so much so as to bite off the hand that feeds it.

I’ll let you all in on a little secret. I was a teenager in the 70s. In those years before the age of “just say no” marijuana was plentiful and it was cheap. It wasn’t (usually) any where near as good as a lot of today’s product, but a healthy ounce could be had for 35-40$. There was a healthy demand and a more than adequate supply to meet it.  Like a lot of other people my age in those years between 1975 and 1981 I consumed bales of it. I grew up not in California or New York but in one of the most waspish corners of the Midwest. Flyover country. Young people, not all but many, liked smoking dope. We had no interest in heroin, wouldn’t know where to find it and quite frankly I think most of us were scared of it. That was something that you only found in places like New York or LA. It was something you saw portrayed on TV cop shows like Kojak and The Streets of San Francisco, or in movies like the French Connection. There was no demand for heroin and, at least to best of my knowledge, there was little if any supply of it. At least in my part of the world there wasnt.

We look at where we are today and have to ask just how in the hell did we arrive here? Another component in modern economic activity is marketing. Good marketers are people who couldnt scare up the jack for law school. They are professional bull shit artists whose sole purpose on the planet is to convince people that they need and want things that they didn’t even know they wanted or needed. Maybe thats a little bit of an oversimplification, but hopefully you can appreciate the spirit in which it is given. Another function of marketers is to make a careful study of the demographics and dynamics of a given market, be it geographic, generational or otherwise. From this study they try to identify where their greatest prospective buyers reside and where and how they do business. Now given the magnitude of today’s heroin trade one has to conclude that somewhere in our population there was that latent demand for the product. From there it is not a giant leap to figure out that there was some keen marketing at work to identify and then exploit that target market. It all stands to reason, doesn’t it? Would we be where we are today if this were not so?

If we continue to connect the dots in this exercise we can begin to find some of the answers. Not all, but some.  The vast majority of heroin around the world originates from southwest asia. I dont suppose that it is any coincidence that since this plague has descended upon us we have been in a state of perpetual war in….where? Southwest asia. You know, places like Iraq, Afghanistan. Surely you’ve heard of them? Then there are our nominal yet suspect allies in the region. Places like Turkey. And theres the chaos of what was Syria with a flood from there and a host of other middle-eastern countries into the EU with their open borders and welcoming naivete. Couple this with an administration of the last eight years whose enforcement on our southern borders was suspect at best. Mexico has a nominal government in Mexico City, but it is common knowledge that vast segments of the country are run by drug cartels. And who knows how many there are in the Mexican government that are in the pocket of those same cartels? More than a few, I suspect.

These are your shrewd marketers. They have been making a handsome living off of their drug exports to the US for decades. They have no love for our federal authorities. Our agencies are a clear and present danger to their livelihood. They have a common distaste for the Norte Americanos shared with the growers and producers of heroin in the aforementioned southwest asian countries. From the sheer standpoint of economics this is a marriage made in heaven.  The growers need to move their product to sustain their revenues, many of which we must suspect will go to fund their asymmetrical campaign against the west. The cartels have the distribution system in place to one of the single largest markets for drug export on the planet. Heroin usage had reached a point of a nearly all time low. The cartels continued trucking marijuana and cocaine, but those demands were also shrinking. The popularity of the cocaine derivative, crack, and domestic manufacture of crystal meth and the growing popularity of prescription opioids was really beginning to put a drag on the potential of continuing to grow their American market.

In the commerce of any commodity when sales grow soft marketers begin looking for other sales opportunities. So what did the cartel’s marketing department see in us? A contracting economy, or at best a stagnant economy. An administration who demonstrated no will for the vigorous enforcement on it’s southern border. A population with growing segments deprived of opportunities, beneficiaries of government handouts to sustain them at a level just above despair. More and more people out of work, on disability or some other form of assistance. And an increasing number of older Americans, many of them even high profile, demonstrating a tendency for addiction with prescription pain killers. This was the product of a pharmaceutical industry and medical community that, intended or not, created a demand for the product. So much so that there became a growing trade in the trafficking of these. The problem inherent in this was that these were already items subject to federal regulation and control. Once the lid was off of that bottle the authorities already had some mechanisms in place to effect a crack down.

Now enter the heroin producers. The cartel provides a steady client in wholesale distribution to supply the retail market. They have found a solid customer with established credentials and capital liquidity. The cartel can flood the market with so much supply that the market price is driven downward by fierce competition between so many retailers. Now all of those people who had fallen prey to opioid addiction could find a much cheaper and much more readily available fix in heroin. As the competition for the growing market grows more fierce retailers start looking for that edge. That brings us to these increasingly lethal additives like fentanyl.

Any questions? There are no doubt some other details left out here. I never said I had all the answers, but this pretty well explains how we arrived here. I dont know the way out, I’m sorry.  The libertarian in me says that ultimately the responsibility lies with the individual. Whether its alcohol or crystal meth or crack cocaine or huffing spray paint, the addictive personality is going to find something to feed the addiction. Some people can drink and some people cant. Usually they are the same people who should avoid drugs, motor vehicles and the voting booth. Not for their own sakes, but for ours. I think part of the solution is to be found in a total rethinking of our drug policies. But thats only part of the equation.

I am sorry for your loss, my friend. The only thing that could save Jason from himself was Jason himself and sadly the same can be said for all of those who have fallen to this epidemic.  My only other suggestion would be to appeal to their patriotism. Instead of pissing away your hard earned dollars ( or benefits, whichever may be the case ) lining the pockets of foreign drug lords you should instead support your hemp growers local and keep that money right here where it can do more good. It may be a lot more than $35 an ounce these days, but we’re growing some pretty good shit right here in the US of A.


 

 

But if thought corrupts language…

 

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
George Orwell – 1984

For those among you who find it tiresome to once again trot out this oft cited dystopian masterpiece you may feel free to stop reading here. For all the rest, please read on. This is a line taken from a piece of fiction. When attempting to support one’s arguments it is generally considered better to use fact instead of fiction, but as art will imitate life can not life also imitate art? Besides this there are political and social arguments that emanate from Washington and the halls of academia that are wholly rooted in nothing but fiction. Almost daily, I would venture to say.
The Oxford dictionary of the English language is generally agreed to be a good source for factual content so let us begin there. We must start with a single word: gender. Oxford defines this as follows:
Gen-der n. 1 a the grammatical classification of nouns and related words, roughly corresponding to the two sexes and sexlessness, b each of the classes of nouns (see MASCULINE,FEMININE,NEUTER,COMMON adj. 6) 2 (of nouns and related words) the property of belonging to such a class. 3 colloq. a person’s sex.
Now it is a reasonably safe assertion that the majority of English speaking Americans are not knowledgeable of language other than their native tongue, that being the American variety of English in all of its various dialects and manifestations. The concept of gender assignment to nouns is a curiosity; it is foreign. For those who may have wrestled through the obligatory two years of foreign language as a prerequisite to college there is at least a knowledge of such a thing, though even then it may not be a concept wholly grasped. Suffice it to say then that in the daily life of the average American the word “gender” is not typically associated with language. It is instead regarded as a term synonymous with the noun form of the word sex, as again defined by Oxford:
sex n. 1 either of the main divisions (male and female) into which living things are placed on the basis of their reproductive functions.
In spite of the clear differences in the proper definition of the two words there is a general acceptance in the public discourse that the word gender is known as a term corresponding to the individual’s sexual identity. Taking all of this into account let us return to the premise posed by Orwell’s words.
One may never be able to determine just where this began or who the culpable party or parties may be, but it does appear that we have a case of the latter half of Orwell’s proposition in this line. That language has been co-opted, used, to corrupt thought. The orthodoxy of politically correct speech dictates that gender refers to sexual identity. The definition, the thought, has been corrupted via the language. It is accepted now. Therefore you will accept it. Yes, you will, for you see the act of questioning this, actually seeking to use the truly correct as opposed to the politically correct definition is to allow thought to corrupt the language.
The specter of a number of other prescient ideas expressed in Orwell’s work begin to loom over any discussion of the matter.
“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”
“Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”
“…..two and two are four. Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”
Though these words come to us from a work of fiction penned in the middle of the last century they speak very plainly to what is perpetrated in real life today. Words are made to mean what suits a particular agenda. The acceptance of these erroneous ideas is to be automatic, unchallenged. And at all times words will mean whatever they need to mean in the advancement of the agenda. If you do not accept this you are insane. You are a hater.
One who does not see this has been swallowed by the orthodoxy just as they have swallowed the proverbial purple Kool-aid. They have either been conditioned to a point that they are unable to see it, or? The other possibility is just that they refuse to see it. In denial, easier to accept and embrace the lie than to summon the necessary mental faculties to find the truth. When your currency is fiction facts can be very inconvenient.
I do not mean to suggest that we exist in a world that is all very clearly defined in black and white. The fact is that much of what we negotiate in our daily lives resides within the murkier shades of grey. But grey is composed of parts of the two. In order to make any sense at all of the grey areas one needs to understand the difference between its component parts; what is black and what is white. When the definition of either or both of these has been corrupted from the truth then it all becomes grey. Two and two are four. Or three. Or five. It doesn’t really matter now does it? It means whatever you think it means.
We are not perfect beings nor do we live in a perfect world. Nature can be a cruel mistress. To our eyes nature may sometimes make a mistake. Sometimes young are born with genetic defects. Incurable diseases, absence of limbs, improper function of vital organs, cognitive impairments. They happen. They are not mistakes, per se, merely the random function of nature. Or to some be it the will of God. However one chooses to define this they are occurrences beyond our control. We do not know the purpose of such things and nor are we meant to.
Can a person be born with a mental and emotional make up of one sex, but through some genetic mishap be born with the physical characteristics of the opposite sex? Certainly. It can happen, it has happened and it no doubt will continue to happen. For whatever reason that nature or God may ordain it. Although it is a rare thing there is indisputable physical evidence of the existence of hermaphrodites. Not the creation of science or surgery, but actual human beings that have been born that way. So to try to suggest that transsexualism is somehow a myth is absurd. It is a real thing. Pedophiles, whether the creation of nature or of experience are no less real things. I know I’m skating out onto the thin ice here, but bear with me. I am not attempting to equate the two. I mention it for the sound purpose of illustrating a point.
Let us consider this scenario. You are an average American with a child in a public school. Maybe you’re white and live in the suburbs in a traditional two parent home. Maybe you’re a single mother living in a more urban environment. Or a grandparent in a rural area raising one of your grandchildren. Maybe a family of illegal (or undocumented, if you prefer) immigrants whose children were born here. Different people, different backgrounds, socio and ethnic, but the one common thread is that each have their children enrolled in a public school. Your tax dollars, or at least someone’s tax dollars are supposedly going to educate these children. Your public school district will readily admit that many of those tax dollars come to them via the federal government under the kind auspices of the U.S. Department of Education.
Within this community of parents and guardians there are many differing beliefs, customs, values. It is not a monochromatic, bigoted, monolithic collection of haters. They all have school age children and share a concern for the best interest of said children. If some career bureaucrat within the Department of Education decides one day that they wish to use the power and authority of their agency to champion the cause of pedophiles and their plight in society it would be a policy that would arouse a good deal of controversy. First there is the question of how this matter falls within the purview of the Department of Education. Second, and more importantly, the parents and children served by the school are going to be, regardless of any other differences they may have, strongly opposed to the use of their school as a vehicle to implement such a policy.
The high minded and socially enlightened bureaucrat, who no doubt only acts from the most sincere desire to protect and preserve the sacred diversity that is the common good, will frame their reasoning in such a fashion as to appear completely benign in character. A full embrace of tolerance, which is of course a critical component of the social education of our children. This bureaucrat will likely have either the active and vocal support of the administration’s chief executive, or at the very least a passivity that will not stand in the path of the workings of good government. It will be a policy statement couched within the typical legalese double-speak of government, but in effect will say something like:
“The phenomenon of pedophilia is not an illness or aberration. These poor people did not ask to be born as they are; it is simply the circumstance of their genetics. Just because they are different from the norm does not mean that they are not entitled to the same tolerance of their sexual orientation as the homosexual, bisexual or transgendered individual. They have a right to be who they are, comfortable within their own skin, and not have to cower in a closet from the bigoted and intolerant treatment of ignorant haters. They have the same rights to access of public restrooms and facilities in our schools as any other American. Therefore, as a matter of public policy, these people shall be free to enter the restrooms or locker rooms of either gender at any time in any public school. The attempt on the part of any school or school district or state board of education to interfere with or controvert this policy shall be met with a filing against them through the Department of Justice for civil rights violations and the withholding of funding from the federal Department of Education.”
In other words the Department of Education is telling us that although they are unable to pass legislation that would legitimately mandate such a policy they will, nevertheless, ram it down your throats through threat of costly litigation and the leverage of those precious tax dollars. It is a form of paternalism akin to “ If you are going to live under my roof you will abide by my rules. If you don’t like it you can get out and fend for yourself.”
Now for those of you saying “That is patently absurd. The Department of Education would never try to do such a thing. Why that would be insane!”. I would ask you. Really? Are you so sure? If I had told you say ten years ago, that the President of the United States himself would, on a Friday afternoon issue an executive order, circumventing any constitutional process or recognition of the states’ rights on the matter, that would mandate the free and unfettered access to the restroom or locker room facilities in a public school or institution to an individual self identifying as being of a gender ( the correct word here would be sex ) other than physically indicated by their genitalia, or else? If this can occur through executive fiat why, then, could it not just as easily occur for the sake of the pedophile supported by the same sketchy logic? Ne dit jamais jamais, mes Amies!
The point here, however, is twofold and really does not require a lot of laborious reasoning to comprehend. The individual who openly identifies as being a pedophile will nearly universally be vilified. No set of parents or guardians defined earlier will accept being forced to allow this individual into such private and thus vulnerable circumstances with their children. The specious “right” of the pedophile could simply be preserved by the pedophile not announcing to the world what they are. The argument only becomes absurd if one will accept the notion that the pedophile will voluntarily identify themselves as such. Whether they may be a product of genetics or of experience does not change what they are. The only difference between pedophilia as a sexual orientation and pedophilia as criminality is the behavior.
There is the similarity with the case of transsexuals in this respect only. Whether they are a product of genetics or conscious choice does not change what they are. Oh, but wait! Maybe it does, actually. We could debate whether or not pedophiles are genetic or by choice, but how does one prove this one way or the other? Cloaked in a protection for their sexual orientation and not being able to determine positively one way or the other this places them into two categories. The first would be that there are those who are truly the victim of their own faulty genetics. The second would be those who choose to engage in the behavior and under the guise of protection for their involuntary orientation.
The problem that has been thrust upon us all now is this: we are to rely upon and accept nothing more than the assertion of an individual which gender (again, its sex) they identify as for establishing which restroom or locker room they may use in our public facilities. Well, as with the pedophile, how are we to be sure? I hear the rumblings out there of those who will insist that I am one of the haters, that I do indeed mean to equate transsexualism with pedophilia. In response I return to Orwell: orthodoxy is unconsciousness. You are not thinking, you are not listening.
Where the pedophile seeks to hide their true identity it would seem that that the transsexual seeks to openly declare it, or at least that’s what the media would seem to want us all to believe. My suspicion is that the voices of those championing most loudly for the rights of these individuals are not even transsexuals themselves. Rather they are individuals who have hitched their ride upon this as the latest cause célèbre. As with most things much of the controversy would be removed if government just kept their ever obtrusive nose out of the matter altogether. One only needs to objectively consider simple physiology to find a reasonable resolution to all of this.
For the individual identifying as female but who is equipped with male genitalia one should think that their objective would be to identify as being female by living as a female. If that were the case upon entering the ladies room it might be noted that there is a conspicuous absence of urinals. So, dressed the part and behaving as a female, would not this individual simply realize their public identity by not broadcasting the fact that they have a penis, go into a stall and do their necessary business, replace their panties and go on about their day? That’s not forcing someone into a closet. It is in fact allowing them to live as they identify. What’s the need to declare it? If that is who you are on the inside then isn’t that just being who you are, as surely this movement tells us is all these people really want.
Now I suppose the other side of this equation becomes a bit more difficult to realize where it comes to the restroom. For those identifying as male but finding themselves equipped with female plumbing the urinal becomes a daunting enterprise. Not really sure what your options are there, other than to always wait for a stall or enter the ladies room and simply be mistaken as a very “butch” female. I don’t suppose that would do, though, as it fails to accommodate their “living” their gender (sex. Its sex. The correct word is sex.) Sorry folks. I don’t have the answer for this one.
Those of you clinging stubbornly to the orthodoxy, I hear your wailing and gnashing of teeth. “ That’s the restroom!”, you retort snarkily. “ What about the locker rooms, huh?” Well you may rightfully ask. Here the accommodation becomes more of a challenge, I will grant you. I know this will fly in the face of your manner of thought, but here is what I would consider a reasonable solution to the issue. It goes something like this:
I am a parent or guardian of a child who during their elementary years may have perhaps exhibited some behaviors or traits that would seem opposite of their sex. It’s not so unusual to observe this in children really, as at those tender ages they aren’t really “sexual” beings yet, are they? Now if this were to continue into middle school with the onset of puberty and my child can begin to verbalize what they are experiencing then I might seek the help of a medical professional. I would want to have that discussion with that doctor or doctors and if there were enough cause to warrant it I might wish to take whatever steps are necessary to obtain an actual clinical diagnosis of the condition. If from that point it were confirmed then I would, as a responsible parent, upon enrolling that child in school make an appointment to meet with school administration and explain the facts. My child has this medical condition. He/she is different in this way. I want my child to be able to be themselves, but I understand that this does pose some challenges. I know that kids can be assholes and there is nothing you can do about that. It is not your job to change minds other than by educating them. The rest of it is on the individual. All I ask is that you make some accommodation with regard to restrooms, gym class or situations where the “identity” may pose a problem.
One of two things will happen here. The school will work with you to meet those requests or they will not. If they don’t, then I’m simply looking for another school. I would not want my child to live in fear of being who they are. I likewise do not want my child feeling that they need to broadcast their sexual identity. In parenting one has to continually confront some unpleasant truths. In this instance I would have to tell my child “This is the hand you have been dealt. This makes you unusual. Not abnormal, not deformed, just unusual. There are not great numbers of people who have what you have. You can be under no illusions; there will be times that this is going to make your life very difficult. You don’t have to like it, but if you want to preserve your sanity you are going to have accept that. Who you are is determined by what is between your ears, not between your legs. Given your condition you should understand this as well as anyone. But you must also understand that not everyone will. The fact is you are very different. It’s not right or wrong, just different, and as long as you understand that then whatever anyone else thinks doesn’t matter.”
The bottom line is this. It only becomes a big deal if you allow people to make it a big deal. An executive order makes it a big deal when it doesn’t need to be. But I could, of course, be wrong.


 

 

A policy that does not, can not and will not work

 

This policy does not make our country safer.  This policy infringes upon the rights of the individual.  This policy is contrary to our values and traditions. There! I said it. I’m not the only one. These are statements that have been repeated over and over for public consumption for the past week or more. Oh! Wait a moment! I am so sorry. You thought I was talking about the temporary “travel ban”, as it has come to be called.

I apologize for the confusion! No, I was referring to the TSA. I like to think of them as “thousands standing around”, though I believe the official title is the Transportation  Security Administration.  How could one disagree with this? The opening statements are undeniably true when applied to the TSA. In the name of security the TSA, and for that matter the Department of Homeland Security, are given license to urinate upon the fourth amendment on the grandest scale on a daily basis. I appreciate that these assertions may be regarded as being impolitic given that those who serve in these agencies are heroes on the front lines protecting Americans from harm.  Evidently the only requirements for fitting the title of hero is to wear a uniform, and/or carry a badge and in some instances carrying a state issued firearm. The latter is not always a requirement, but to be sure it helps. For any of you who may be unclear on the latter of these the state issued firearms are the good guns, not like those in the hands of private citizens.

Isn’t it astounding that some people in this country can muster a barrage of righteous indignation at a mere 109 people being inconvenienced by the executive order? I say this because the current mantra seems to emanate largely from those who profess to speak out against what they describe as an unconstitutional policy, and yet somehow they remain curiously mute on the thousands of American citizens who are subjected to the inconvenience and intrusive nature of TSA policies every day.  I’m all about fairness! Would any of you please be kind enough to explain to me how existing travel security procedures are in any way different from those which you are so loudly lobbying against now? Oh, that’s okay. I won’t hold my breath waiting.

Let’s subject this outrage to a reality check, shall we? There is nothing partisan about this, it is just sound logic.  The left and their mouthpieces at the networks are hyperventilating over what they call an unconstitutional ban that is based upon a religious test, i.e. it is targeted at Muslims.  They argue that these people are being targeted without probable cause.  There are sound arguments to be presented against this position, but for argument’s sake let’s stipulate that this is true.  If we are to accept the argument then surely this extends to octogenarian grandmothers in wheelchairs, twelve year old girls and, oh I don’t know, say perhaps an Episcopalian Minister.  What possible probable cause is there for those examples to be subjected to the latex glove treatment from a TSA official? These people are working themselves up into a lather over 109 people when thousands of American citizens are subjected to unreasonable search procedures in our airports every single day. Since we are dealing within the realm of constitutional rights here let’s take note of another fact. The American citizen who is subjected to these security procedures is in fact protected under the US Constitution. To the best of my knowledge this protection does not extend to non-citizens who are trying to enter the country.

We also, as we so often do it seems, have a problem with the language being used in defining the argument.  The executive order is not, as it has been characterized, a travel ban.  It is a temporary, precautionary restriction upon entry into our country for individuals travelling from countries that have been identified as having a demonstrated propensity for terrorist activities.  It is in place until such time as more stringent security precautions can be implemented to make a more thorough vetting of their background. So yes, before you cry out, it is a form of profiling. One can bemoan the injustice of profiling all day, but the fact remains that this is an effective tool utilized in security and law enforcement the world over.  It has been and continues to be used for one very simple reason: it works.

If innocent people have been killed or otherwise harmed by individuals who shout Allahu Akhbar as they pull the trigger it makes no difference whether they are acting alone or as part of an organization. The common denominator is that they act in the name of a jihad. Therefore it is an extraordinarily foolish exercise to dispatch one’s security force to profile the Swedes or the Chinese.  They may very well have their own terror cells, we don’t know for certain do we, but they have to date done nothing that would serve as probable cause.

I’m going to go out on a limb here, as I am often want to do. Let’s say I accept the language. Lets say we can call it a Muslim ban. The very obvious question to be asking is so what if it is? Oh I know this is sacrilege. I am now officially a heretic. That’s okay. I can live with it. I can live with it because I am able to present a rational case based upon entirely reasonable conclusions.  There is an axiom that is applied regularly to a wide variety of fields.  The best predictor for future behavior is past behavior. We need only look at France or Belgium, or more recently now Germany too.  Events of the last couple of years in these places are a warning of what we should expect if our government continues to embrace an open door policy at all costs.  Normally I don’t have objections when the machinery of government is brought to a screeching halt. It saves us from all of those things that government does to us, not for us. The one paramount constitutional duty assigned to our federal government is to provide for the common defense of these states. Frankly much of the policy of our government for the past fifteen years has done a poor job of this.

There are good and peaceful Muslims. There are true refugees in desperate need, fleeing murder and tyranny. I don’t dispute that for one moment.  I don’t deny our country’s tradition of serving as a haven for the refugee.  The true refugee most often ends up becoming a solid citizen, more appreciative of our liberties than many who are born here. We still have a duty to all of our citizens, native born and refugee alike, to insure that those we admit are indeed refugees and not wolves in sheep’s clothing.  If that means that some people from that part of the world are going to be inconvenienced by further scrutiny then so be it.  If they are of the true refugee class this will be the least indignation they have suffered in trying to get here.

We have already seen what the politically correct version of immigration policy can yield. Remember Tashfeen Malik? The record already shows that both she and her cohort, husband Sayed Farook, if properly screened absent the politically correct filter would have been at the very least under close observation. That or they might have been apprehended prior to their acts and for probable cause. Likewise for the Tsarnaev brothers. France and Belgium for decades conducted an immigration policy and accepted the non-integration of their Muslim population that have yielded a particularly bitter harvest.  I truly would not mind being proven wrong on this, but caution dictates that if we are to pursue similar policies than we are to expect similar results.

There are those who posit the argument that we need Muslims to help us root out the evil. I don’t disagree with this either, but aren’t we wise to take any extra measures necessary to insure that we are indeed admitting Muslims of this variety?  Absent this we are left with two other alternatives: those who would do us ill and those who will stand idly by , or worse, aid and abet the cause.  It is an inconvenient fact, but the Islamic world is where these people live. If we ignore or deny this we do so at our peril.

 


 

 

Day One

 

If you are anything like me then you did not sit up until 1 AM watching the broadcast of inaugural events.  Okay for some, I suppose,  but speaking for myself I might liken it to watching paint dry.  I managed to catch the inauguration and the inaugural address live and was able to spend the rest of the day digesting it. I did not pay much attention to the talking heads on the networks, though I did entirely by accident catch a few snippets here and there.  They seem to largely be the same voices that have since election night (and before) promised dark days ahead for our country. Doom and fear of the looming apocalypse.  I retired last evening with some mild trepidation that we might all awake to some plague of biblical proportions. Or worse.

Today, which I guess we must say is officially day one for the Trump administration, I arose before dawn. Of course I always do that, but today it was with a sense of much greater anticipation.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that the sun did rise, in the east as it is supposed to. I checked and found that my family was still alive.  There were no frogs or locusts populating my lawn. Still not convinced I then looked up various news feeds. There were no catastrophes, natural or man made, making the headlines. California is, at least geologically, still connected to the contiguous lower 48.  Rivers have not run dry, the oceans have not flooded our coasts and NORAD reports that their screens are free of any impending threats against our country from the Russians, Chinese or NorKo’s.  Its not a perfect world, but all in all a pretty benign start to what had been promised as a horrendous and dark day in American history. Of course as I write this the day is far from over. Still plenty of time for everything to fall apart.  I’ll wait and see, but I am leaning more towards the glass being half full today.

My interests extend well beyond the topic of current political events, though I fear that I must sometimes leave the impression that this is not the case.  It is a subject that concerns me greatly and so I often return to it. I can only offer my opinions based on what I observe and my knowledge of historical context.  Much of my observation is of opinions which are frequently presented as fact and a startling level of misinformation being propagated through the traditional media outlets. That in and of itself is enough of a concern, but what I find more alarming are the number of people,  young and old alike, who mindlessly parrot whatever they may have heard through these outlets, having accepted it as gospel truth without applying any critical thinking of their own. This more than anything is what continues to drive me back to such subject matter. It is not my purpose to change any minds. It is only my sincere hope that I may cause those who hear what I have to say will take the first steps toward doing some critical thinking of their own.

There are those who are predisposed to a certain ideology that will reflexively assume a defensive posture, assured by their world view that I must be an apologist for Trump. I understand it. It is part of their conditioning. Those who wont part with this probably have not even read this far, so I shall not trouble myself to refute their position.  For those who have a mind open enough to have come this far down the page I will continue to explain. My observations, my interpretations of these and thus the opinions that I may form and posit here are not a defense of nor a promotion of Trump or republican politics.  Rather, it is more a condemnation of the opposition. That opposition, whether characterized as democrat or progressive, liberal, socialist are what I will refer to as the left. It is a term that most will recognize and understand it’s connotation in a political sense.  I am unable to be an apologist for Trump because thus far he is an unproven quantity. He has said a lot of things, some that I may agree with and some maybe not so much. For me anyway it is far more important to see what he does.

Based on nothing more than what we have heard from him we may speculate as to what those actions may be, but as none of these have been yet realized it is only that: speculation.  On the other hand there is a history of what the left has done. Prior behavior being the best indicator of future behavior it is not difficult to form a well informed conclusion of what they are likely to continue doing. If you like what they have been doing then you must either be a part of government, and thus benefit from their policies, or perhaps a direct beneficiary of a government entitlement. In either case you are not likely to be swayed, though stranger things have happened. The success of the Trump candidacy is attributable to one factor more than any other.  That is the fact that for the better part of the past two decades the republicans, who are supposed to compose an opposition, a check against unrestrained liberal policy, have operated in collusion with democrats in the ever expanding scope and expense of the federal government. Irrespective of politics nearly all Americans have suffered as a result.  Not just those living and working today.

What our young people seriously need to start getting a handle on is that the tab is being passed down to them. And their children. For the duration of their lives. Consider the coming citizenry of the nation as children being reared to adulthood within a family. There are those who are simply given everything and then there are those who have been taught how to fend for themselves.  Which of these are better prepared for life in the harsh realities of the world? Not the idealized world that has been promised by the left. The real world, as it is. Its a rhetorical question. Anyone with an ounce of common sense knows the correct answer.

The American left has been promising this utopian vision for more than 50 years. We are 20 trillion plus in debt and have been overspending our annual budget by a trillion dollars a year. In spite of this massive “investment” to hear them tell it we still have so much more to do. Their script never changes other than to add more “free stuff” to their list. No matter how great all of this may sound there is a reality here that can not be denied. Its not a question of politics or party affiliation. It is simple math. Language can be tricky. Words can mean different things to different people at different times. Numbers are an absolute. The math is not subject to “consensus” or “interpretation”. It is what it is: unsustainable.  Sustainability is part of the eco-left’s mantra, so clearly there is an appreciation of the concept on their part.  Curiously they seem unable to translate it to fiscal policy.

It remains to be seen whether or not Trump can accomplish everything he has said. It’s an ambitious agenda. It may be that we are witness to business strategy as politics. Come to the table asking for a hundred when your actual goal is fifty. Negotiating down to seventy-five makes you look reasonable and yet you still come away with more than you wanted. If this is the case then we should consider that if Trump accomplishes half of his stated goals then he has succeeded. I suspect that most Americans would share in that success in one way or another. We’ll see.  If more Americans are ahead of where they are today in four years time then the question will have been answered.

Trump’s inaugural address encompassed much of the same populist theme of his campaign. It was also full of the same stinging indictment of the establishment and their status quo. Unless one has a vested interest in that status quo I can’t imagine how there could be any disagreement with what he said. And how or why would any American find fault with a stronger, wealthier and safer country? Are these not conditions which provide universal benefit? If you can disagree with any of that you’re going to need to explain to me why. Maybe I’m missing something?

I’ve had a full twenty-four hours to digest the President’s address. There is one line from it which I believe is the clearest means of explaining how we make the country great again.

We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example.”

It will be refreshing to live in a country led by a vision of setting an example than one in which the leadership seeks to make an example of it’s people.


 

 

Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and Hate Crimes

 

I stopped making New Year’s resolutions years ago.  I figured out that if one is for some reason unable to find the will of resolve on April 4 or June 22 (pick any date at random from the calendar), then trying to set the agenda gauged upon the first date of the calendar year will make no difference.  I’ve learned to treat the concept in much the same manner as Geoffrey Rush’s explanation of the Pirate Code: The Code is more what you call guidelines, than actual rules.

So! With that preamble I will tell you that my only kinda-sorta resolution for this calendar year is to listen to less news. I should be more specific and say news broadcasts. They have become tiresome, predictable.  There is no more suspense to it than the small town newspaper with its daily chronicle of who died and what burned down. This quasi-resolution of mine was not arrived at with malice aforethought. On the contrary it was forced upon me by the development of a sad and tired narrative that took shape before we even found ourselves a full week into 2017 AD.

If by some remote chance you may not have heard this sad tale I will relate it to you in an abbreviated form.  From Chicago a story broke on Tuesday evening, locally, then on the national stage on Wednesday morning.  Apparently a young man in his late teens or early twenties was accosted and then abducted by four other youths and then taken and held against his will at a west side apartment. The best accounts thus far have determined that the young man was held there for 24-48 hours. Now with all of the other mayhem that occurs on a daily basis in the city of Chicago this is an event that would have gone un or under reported. Just like most of the rest of the carnage.  What made this incident extraordinary was that the abductors were brazen enough to torture and abuse their captive and stream the whole thing live on Facebook. Yes, there is video. I can’t tell you where to look, but if you have sufficient grasp of the English language, the manual dexterity to operate a keyboard or smartphone and are familiar with the use of search engines then I am certain you can find it.

Residing  within reasonable proximity of the area I can assure you that this is hardly the worst thing to have happened in Chicago this week. The young man is free now and aside from some bruises, a mild scalping and humiliation he will be fine.  At latest count there have been 9 killed and 29 wounded in Chicago in the past week. He’s certainly better off than they are. On a more hopeful note if one extrapolates these numbers through a 52 week period Chicago may find their homicides reduced by nearly half in 2017. If the numbers hold up they will fall far short of their 2016 mark of 780. Of course we’ll have to wait and see how things go when the weather warms up.

I know I promised to be brief, but there are a couple of other elements to this story that bear mentioning. The four abductors are black. The victim is white and developmentally disabled. Not that this should make any difference in the ideal of a colorblind society, but there it is. Facts are sometimes inconvenient. The facts of the race of the parties involved in this incident bear mention nonetheless.

If I were to hold to my non-resolution it is quite likely that I would discover that this story will fade from the national headlines in a week. Two at the most. I could, of course, be wrong about that, but I’ll say that it’s a fairly safe bet. It is also a fairly safe bet that if the races were reversed in this case we would all be treated to a full court press on this story from the national media.  One could argue against this assertion, I suppose, but using recent history as a measure I’d say there is ample evidence to support it.  To be sure this young man is still alive, so there is not an entirely accurate comparison in terms of the results, but in terms of the racial aspects a stark contrast becomes apparent.  When a black youth is shot by a white cop (or cops, plural) there is a story that will be featured for weeks or longer. Even when the circumstances are cloudy. For that matter even when the cops are not white. In these cases it is material worthy of the lead story on the nightly newscasts, a la Ferguson, a la Charlotte, etc.

Just imagine if the roles had been reversed. What if a black youth had been abducted by four white teens and subjected to the same and had it streamed live over Facebook or any like social media? Why the indignation and moral outrage from our networks would be wall to wall, wouldn’t it? Go ahead. With a straight face try to deny it. For you see this would fit the desired narrative of the backwards, knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing, angry white male, bigot, homophobe, climate change denier, Trump voter that has been set loose upon our nation as a result of the recent election. There would be no escape from this story. It would permeate the networks, newspapers, social media. It would achieve the stated desires of the actual captors in this case. It would go viral.

For as sorry as all of this is these are not even the worst results related to the incident. As hard as that may be to imagine there is a more insidious element which has crept into this tale. There are now two classes of people who have emerged to introduce the term of hate crimes to the narrative. There are first those who are proponents of this absurd concept, who seeing a case that works in the reverse of the intended application, now rush to tag this case with the label to somehow legitimize the idea.  Secondly there are those who disagree with the very idea of the definition. They now wish to discredit the concept by applying it to this incident in a transparent attempt to bait the hypocritical denial of those having defined the term to begin with.  Both parties are wrong. The first set are wrong in that the idea of further defining what are already criminal acts under statute as being hate crimes is simply nonsensical on its face. The second set are wrong for accepting the premise at all, however it may be applied.

The very idea of the hate crime is a degradation to the victim. Although the intent may have been to assign a further degree of criminality corresponding to motive, this also serves to diminish the victim of the crime. Bestowing the added level of victimization to an aggrieved party suggests that somehow they are something less than deserving of the same protection under the law as anyone else. It suggests that as they are something less it is necessary to accord them an additional, special protection under the law as an accommodation of their inherent victim status, i.e. their inferiority as a citizen.

Those who have defined hate crimes and have enacted such legislation are incapable of seeing this.  They are of a class of public policy makers who continually seek out and cultivate new classifications of victimhood. This builds a constituency that they can champion, thus further empowering themselves and their ideology. They know that this is what they are doing, but they dare not say it and so they present it as an added punitive measure against a biased motive. They have adhered to this script for so long that they have convinced themselves.

I am confident that even without the benefit of a law degree one might make a careful examination of criminal statutes in the state of Illinois and discover that there already exists a sufficient sanction against the acts of these four young people. The additional charge of a hate crime does not make them any more guilty of the act or more deserving of the penalty.  If the mental faculties of the victim are to be weighed in the case at all that is the province of the jury’s discretion when rendering their judgement at trial. Likewise for racial motivation, should it exist. These factors not withstanding the fact remains that the crime was committed as defined by existing statute.

Are the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting last summer any more or less dead due to their sexual orientation? If a hatred of homosexuals was the sole motive of the shooter does that in any way at all alter the fact that he committed the crime of murder as defined under statute? The answer in both instances is a resounding no. Lets reach a little further back. Are the children who died in the daycare center of the Murrah building in 1995 any more or less dead because of Timothy McVeigh’s political motivations? Again that would be a no. I could go on with countless examples, but there is no need.  Taking the lives of innocent people is a hateful act in and of itself. Further naming it as such does not change this.

Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy are not real. They are harmless fictions we indulge our children with. Hate crimes are also a fiction, but we are grown ups. Aren’t we?


 

 

A view from the Class of ’80

 

The years 1979 through 1981 were strange days.  A no-mans land, the uncertain age as the seventies began to turn into the eighties and the eighties were trying to shed the tired old skin of the seventies.  It has been noted that decades, as they are defined as a cultural event, are determined not by chronology. Rather, they are marked as having begun or ended with certain historical events. It is those events and not the calendar that form the boundaries of what we may commonly recognize as being the sixties or seventies, eighties, etc.

This is of course subject to some debate, but one might say for example that the sixties were launched not by the date 1 January 1960. Instead the sixties, as we understand it as an age, commenced with the Kennedy assassination 22 November 1963.  All of the tumult and madness we know as the character of that decade did not conclude until the Nixon resignation 9 August 1974. The day after that marked the beginning of the seventies. The Beatles as much as anything else helped to define the sixties and their “white album”, as it has come to be known, stands as one of the iconic markers of the age. The same might be said for Sgt. Pepper, but I digress…

For all of its eclectic nature the one track from this LP that was probably the most revolutionary for the time was, aptly, Revolution #9. Number 9, number 9, number 9, the repetitious and hypnotic loop amid electronica, random samplings, words and voices. In retrospect one finds an eerie prescience in this. The sixties, if they did indeed end on the 9th day of August 1974, then surely the seventies ended on the 9th day of December 1980. Although all four members are credited it is recognized that Revolution #9 was the brainchild of John Lennon. The number 9 always figured prominently in his life, marking the day of his birth, in October 1940, and the day of his death in December 1980. A life begun and ended on the 9th. His creation perhaps heralded the beginning and the end of the sad days marking the decade succeeding the Beatles’ heyday.

Six weeks following that tragic night outside the Dakota saw the swearing in of our 40th president, Ronald Reagan. This did not mark the start of the decade though it was certainly one of its milestones. Besides synth-pop, big hair, acid washed denims and bad movies the eighties were identified just as much by the years this man occupied the white house. If you listen to discussions of Reagan amongst the political class you will conclude that he was a polarizing figure; you either loved him or you hated him.  I have some fair recollection of that 1980 campaign, though to be honest I was not really paying that close attention at the time. There are two things about it, however, that I do recall quite distinctly. One of these is the horror and dread that was whipped up with people of my age group concerning the dire consequences awaiting us with a Reagan presidency. The other is the utter white faced shock of the network pundits on election night.

I graduated from high school a few short months before the election that year. It was the first election that I was eligible to vote in, though I confess that like most of my peers I did not exercise my franchise that year. I was a big, dumb farm boy from a rust-belt swing state. I wasnt paying the bills yet and thus did not have an appreciation for how dire things were economically. What I was aware of as a recent graduate was the prevailing forecast of the day that we were headed into a still deeper recession and that jobs would continue to grow scarce. Speaking from my own experience I can say that this was indeed true for the unskilled and inexperienced worker. With Reagan’s election most of the nation experienced a glimmer of hope for the future with the sobering understanding that things were likely to get worse before they got better.

Despite the media portrayals of Ronald Reagan, ranging from the doddering, senile, has-been B-movie actor to some sort of anti-christ ( r o n a l d, 6 letters, w i l s o n, 6 letters, r e a g a n, 6 letters), most of us found that the old guy kind of grew on you. Even among the younger crowd, at least in the working classes. The same might not be said for those populating college campuses of the day, but to a lot of us Reagan reminded us of our grandfather.

We were struggling. 1980,81 and 82 were lean years. Not everyone was patient and there was a lot of grumbling. Those who were opposed to Reagan by their nature anyway only took this to add fuel the fire, assuring us all “see! we told you this would happen!” But Reagan stayed the course. Like our grandfather he was there to coach us along, reminding us that if we would just keep at it and follow his advice we would be rewarded in the end. it would all pay off in the long run. He had that confidence of our grandparent’s generation, the sincere belief in the american ideal. Yes those days were tough, but we did get through it and in the end, just like our wise old gramps he was proven right. By 1983 and 84 there was work everywhere.  You had to be purposely not looking if you didnt find opportunities for yourself.

I remember this. I lived it. I have grown kids now, they are young and still in the entry stages of the workforce. I try to explain to them what that had been like but its foreign to them. They have no frame of reference from their own experience. They’ve never witnessed it and for all of my efforts they  can’t imagine it. Their experience has conditioned them to “the new normal”. This is just like the malaise of the Carter years; the age of diminished expectations. The majority of americans did not want to swallow that pill then and if the results of this election are an indication they still don’t want to swallow it now.

I wont for a moment try to suggest that Donald Trump is a Ronald Reagan. He is who he is and love him or hate him you have to agree that he is genuine. I mean that in the sense that unlike a career politician he simply says what he has to say. No filter, no equivocating. You don’t have to agree but there is no disputing that with Trump all the cards are on the table. What you see is indeed what you get. Aside from their distinct differences as individuals there are clearly strong parallels between the 1980 and 2016 elections.

First and foremost there is the defiance of experts, prognosticators, the political class in general. They also despised and underestimated Reagan. More importantly they despised and underestimated the electorate, in both instances. Then there is the fact that like Reagan Donald Trump takes the reins of a wagon that has steered way off of the trail. He enters to form an administration that must preside over the chaos and damage wrought by his predecessor. In Reagan’s case he was inheriting simple incompetence. Trump inherits a lot of damage that has been deliberately inflicted.

Finally, there is that same glimmer of hope for the future that accompanied the start of the Reagan years. We must remember, however, that as it was in 1980 so is it today: things are quite likely to get worse for a time before they get better. Whether Trump has that same ability to steer us through those troubled waters as Reagan did remains to be seen. There will be a chorus of voices raised against him and anything he does. That is the province of the executive branch in this country, regardless of who sits in the oval office. Whether you voted for the man or not I would entreat you to be patient and give the man a chance because we are in rough shape, people.  No matter who is in charge it is going to take a lot of work to fix what is broken in Washington. There will be pain. There will be blood. Like it or not this is the horse we all get to ride for at least the next four years. If Trump can not succeed then neither do we. We’d all do well to remember this.


 

 

One size fits all

 

One size fits all is a category that was commonly assigned to garments issued as uniforms.  It has migrated from uniforms to an effort at a blanket of uniformity.  It is perhaps a natural state of the human condition to seek one universal solution to our problems. If there is one simple solution to an issue that will work for everyone in every circumstance then it of course makes sense to employ it. Wherever such a panacea may exist it has surely been placed into common use. I may be trying too hard and thus not able to come up with a good example. I suppose we could apply this to something so elementary as say avoiding burns.  If one wants to prevent suffering burns to one’s flesh there is a universal measure of protection against this. Do not stick your hands or other parts of your body into open flames, upon griddles or in the path of blowtorches. Avoid physical contact with sources of thermal energy. Simple enough. There is, however, the unfortunate fact that many of our concerns are not so simple as this. In those instances the universal approach is practically speaking unattainable. Given that fact one must accept that the quest is futile.  And yet we persevere….

If you suffer from some ailment that is the result of your own behavior or life choices do not despair. There is no need to change your habits. There is now a pill or other form of medication to fix the problem.  If schools seem to be failing to deliver a sufficient level of education fear not! A universal testing standard for all will insure that no child is left behind. If there is a scourge of drug abuse in your society then surely the enactment of universal and mandatory sentencing of offenders will stem that tide. And should you fall prey to some catastrophic attack as a result of a lack of security procedures in commercial air travel well rest easy, friend.  A system, administered by your wise and benign federal government, will be implemented whereby each and every individual boarding an aircraft will be subjected to the most stringent scrutiny of their belongings and persons. There! Problem solved!

All of these examples are pretty complex and serious, life impacting issues for most if not all of us. The one size fits all strategy plainly does not fully or effectively address the concerns. Not all problems are simple thus nor are the answers to said problems.  For some reason this seems to elude our understanding, or at least the understanding of those empowered or entrusted to find and apply the solutions. To be fair a good deal of the responsibility for this may rest upon our own shoulders.  Many of us seem to gravitate to those who will promise us the one size fits all solution.  It absolves us of the need to give these issues any further thought. What’s the point of a serious and careful review of these proposals to determine their real efficacy? If it sounds good and can be explained in a 10 second sound byte then that’s good enough. We all have more important matters with which to concern ourselves.

If one relies upon the major media outlets another burning issue these days is income inequality. There could be a lengthy debate as to the degree and the reasons for this, but examining some statistics it can be concluded that there are many more Americans in poverty these days. There are record numbers of people receiving some form of public assistance. Median income and net worth per capita has been in a downward trajectory for nearly a decade.  The workforce participation rate has dipped to it’s lowest point in our nation’s history. These are not issues of income inequality: there will always be income inequality.  They are disturbing statistics nonetheless. The underlying tenet of the income inequality argument assumes that a dynamic economy is a zero sum game. That is to say that it assumes that there are only finite pieces to the economic pie. If there are those who have less it can only be because others have taken more than their rightful share of that pie. I’m not accepting the premise, merely explaining the argument. It is yet another example of the divisive politics of envy, or class warfare as it is often tagged.

This leads me to an example where we find two tactics employed in one proposal.  In an uncharacteristic concern for fiscal controls there are provisions either proposed or already enacted in various jurisdictions to compel welfare recipients to be subject to drug testing. There is the concern, valid in many instances to be sure, that there may be those on the public dole who are engaging in drug abuse at the taxpayer’s expense. The mandatory submission to drug testing for all recipients is the one size fits all solution to the problem, while it is also a further effort to fan the flames of class warfare. I have a friend who responded to this idea in a manner that illustrates the latter. “I have to be tested where I work. Why shouldn’t they?” That is a predictable reaction, no doubt taken into account as a political calculation by those behind such legislation. Not to argue the point, mind you.  It is surely a legitimate question, but I believe the wrong question.  The question should be “ Why should you have to submit to drug testing at your job?”

There is a definite distinction between drug use and drug abuse, one that is often missed.  In the attempt to craft a one size fits all solution this is certainly true.  Drug abuse in the workplace is a valid concern. It increases the risk to safety in the workplace, for employees and patrons alike. It also further exposes the employer to liability.  Private companies can make the valid legal argument that as private companies they are within their rights to make such conditions. Most of us can readily agree, however, that legality does not necessarily equate to that which is wise or right. One of those bothersome grey areas that does not lend itself to the universal answer, I’m afraid. The same problem exists in this approach for both workplace testing and for the welfare recipient.

The concern in the workplace test is to insure that an employee is not impaired and creating a safety hazard while they are at work. What that person does on their own time is their own business. The testing metric for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, only identifies whether or not the subject has the chemical in their system.  It can not be an accurate measure of whether or not the subject is impaired while at work. In weighing this each case needs to be judged upon it’s own unique merits. This is no less true for the welfare recipient.

What these one size fits all proposals suggest is that if a welfare recipient tests positive for marijuana use their benefits be suspended. Now if you are on public assistance you really shouldn’t be spending your limited resources on dope. There is no one paying for or subsidizing my habits. I don’t want my pockets picked to fund yours. The problem here is that the policy assumes too much based upon too little.  Someone on welfare might have friends who do work for a living and who have decided to share some of their stash. If the welfare recipient smokes up a little with some friends one evening it does not instantly qualify them as a drug abuser. Now if you want to examine the habits of welfare recipients individually, using some metric other than a urine or blood test I have no issue with that. If upon a fair and careful examination it can be learned that the beneficiary of public dollars has a serious drug addiction and is abusing both drugs and the public welfare system then sure! We all should not be paying for this. Let the individual suffer from the laws of natural consequences. What will happen with them is what happens with any drug abuser ultimately, whether on assistance or not. They will get treatment and beat the addiction or they will end up homeless and/or dead.

Instead of concerning ourselves with the recreational choices of welfare recipients we should really be asking why are these people in these circumstances to begin with. In some cases it may well be because of a drug problem, but one lab test alone does not assure that is the case.  I can craft my own arguments, but the realm of the arts is so rich with illustrations  I’m always pleased to include them in any debate.  I have for the past decade or so been a fan of the indie music scene.  One act that I have come to enjoy is a band who call themselves The Andrew Jackson Jihad and I will close by quoting a verse from one of their songs.

If I had a cigarette for every time a perfect stranger asked me for a cigarette

Then I’d have enough cigarettes to get me through the day

And if I had some spare change for every time a perfect stranger asked me for some spare change

Then I’d have enough spare change to take care of these bills I need to pay

And dude I know that times are tough

But that does not mean that you can have my stuff……

….. ‘cause I think you deserve much more than a smoke and fifty cents

You deserve to be self sufficient and buy your own cigarettes

 


 

 

 Anachronism      

 

In the wake of nearly every presidential election there is a certain volume of noise about the Electoral College.  Where there has been a very clear margin of victory in both the electoral count and the popular vote it is largely muted. When the two results are contrary the sound is magnified five or ten fold. This most recent election being of the latter category we are hearing plenty about it.  Those at the disadvantaged end of this curious electoral equation are, for right or wrong,  quite vociferous in their calls for the abolishment of this anachronism.  For any arguments they may make it can not be discounted that it is a matter that it is their proverbial ox being gored.

An anachronism by definition is something which is assigned to another time, the past, and which is better suited to its time of origin.  It is by implication something which conforms to another era, but which may not match up to current day standard or practice. That’s not the official Oxford definition, but for our purposes it describes the sentiment behind the use of the term.  Accepting this as an accurate definition then it may be said that yes, the Electoral College is indeed an anachronism.  That in and of itself, however, does not mean that it is wrong or that it should then be abolished. It had at its creation a purpose and, whether one likes the result or not, still serves a valid purpose today.

There have been, now counting the 2016 result, five instances in US history where the winner of popular and electoral vote are not in concordance.  To most of us alive today we may only have held some dim recollection from our US Government class as to the existence or workings of this system.  It was not until the 2000 election that we were all given a refresher course. Mr. Gore won the popular vote and… Well we all know what happened in Florida.  There was a great deal of voice given to the elimination of the Electoral College then and was heard for at least a couple of years thereafter. This furor died down eventually with subsequent elections concluded in more decisive manner. Still for a good many the lesson from the 2000 election has remained with us.  Most of us can understand why and how the most recent election has unfolded as it has. The hue and cry to place the College in the dustbin has been revived nonetheless.

On its face the reasoning for abolishing this system would seem reasonable enough. Appealing to one’s sense of fair play without understanding the intended purpose it does present as something of an injustice. Elections are held, votes are counted and in democratic fashion the candidate with the majority or plurality of the votes cast should be the winner. That thought process is pretty straightforward. This is, after all, how we understand democracy to work. In spite of what one may conclude to the contrary the founders of this country also had a clear understanding that this is indeed how a pure, direct democracy works. It is because of this understanding that they deliberately crafted a representative republic and not a direct democracy.  A representative republic is the result of a democratic process, but it is not a direct democracy. This may be a bitter pill to swallow for some, but there it is.

Things were different in the late eighteenth century. Certain things were accepted then that have been righted since.  An honest assessment of the society and of the men responsible for forming our system of government will reveal that there was indeed a certain patrician flavor in that company.  There were some elitist attitudes present among them and this did manifest itself to some degree.  There were those who were fearful of finding themselves held captive to the whims of the rabble. Though there may have been some of this translated into the creation of the Electoral College it was not the only purpose for it. For whatever faults these men may have had as individuals as a whole they shared in a profound understanding of human nature and all of it’s shortcomings.

Beyond any of their socio-economic prejudices there was a foresight at work in this planning.  It was understood that the wants of the merchants, artisans, doctors and lawyers, educators who inhabited those populous urban centers would often be at odds with the wants of the farmer, rancher or pioneering settler in what was at the time a mostly rural nation.  The Federal system that was envisioned was not the all-consuming Goliath that confronts us today. The ideal was for a federal government of very limited authority over the nation as a whole, a sovereignty to be preserved in the member states. The federal government was to have authority only in those matters necessary to the protection and preservation of the states. Where one state might be more populous and urban in its character they would have the powers reserved to them for representation and administration of law in accordance with the consent of their population, the governed. Likewise for the less populous and more rural states. Therefore it was considered that the proper role of the federal government was to preside over this union in a manner that would preserve and protect the rights of each of those sovereign states, though the individual interests of their respective populations might differ.

In order to cast a federal government properly into this role the possible result of a direct democracy would compromise its ability to be an impartial arbiter of the interests of the union as a whole. Election to federal office by direct democracy would create an imbalance of those interests.  Representation at the federal level would be weighted by those few populous centers. With a majority thus established and those representatives acting in accordance with the wants of their own constituency the governance of all member states could be dictated by only a few of the most populous of their members. Thankfully enough of our founders could see this and were troubled by it. Enough so to enact measures to remedy the potential ill.

We’ve all heard the expression ” a picture is worth a thousand words “. When we examine the question of the Electoral College there are two pictures that come to mind which best illustrate that this anachronism still holds some worth today.  Much was made of the 2000 election’s red vs. blue rendering of the electoral map by county. There is a very similar map reflecting 2016 election results.  Both present a sea of red with blotches of blue along the coasts and in urban centers scattered across the map. These pictures tell a valuable story and in less than a thousand words.

There are some exceptions to these rules, but in general the red vs. blue county map tells us the following:

  1. In most of New England blue is monolithic
  2. In New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania there are substantial red areas. Only in Pennsylvania was there sufficient turnout to counter the blue dominance of the heavily urbanized areas
  3. The south is distinctly red with blue interspersed in counties that are urban, centered around universities or are composed of a predominantly minority population
  4. The midwest is likewise red with blue filling the urban centers of Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis and Minneapolis-St.Paul. The Madison orbit of Wisconsin and diehard democrat constituencies of eastern Iowa remain solid blue
  5. The west is red, much of it deep red, except for counties with overwhelming Latino populations and the liberal bastions of Denver, Las Vegas, Seattle, Portland and the California coast

These blue areas are populous and/or minority in character.  They also persist in areas that have long entrenched democrat party control. Now one must ask what do these things tell us, beside the obvious differences in demographics? It boils down to just a few simple facts.

The blue and the red represent two different manners of thinking that transcend democrat vs. republican politics. Red areas represent a population that for the most part wishes to be left alone to take care of themselves. They are live and let live, they want to run their own affairs, they don’t want Washington dominating so many aspects of their lives. They do not need or want help from Washington. They try to live within their budget and expect that government should do the same. Left alone they feel confident that they can manage their own health care and retirement. They dont mind looking after their neighbors, but they dont agree with subsidizing failure and bad choices.

Blue areas represent a thinking that government exists to right wrongs, to carry the burden of responsibilities that weigh too heavily upon the individual and in general be the arbiter of fairness. It represents a culture of both entitlement and enablement. They need each other. The enablers relying upon the entitled for their power and authority; the entitled relying upon the enablers to do what enablers do. Enablers fuel dependency. It applies to anything. Drink, drugs, money, it makes no difference. Enabling behaviors feed dependency.

There are those who might care to dispute this assessment, but the facts bear out the argument.  Look at that red vs. blue map again and pay particular attention to the states of New York, Michigan, Illinois and California. Each of these states cover a considerable geography beyond their population centers. Each of these states are historically democrat dominated, due to their heavy urban populations. Yet when one looks at the county map of each of these states it is worth noting that in terms of their geographic area these states are mostly red counties.

Consulting per capita statistics for debt by state one finds that New York is number 1, Illinois number 6 and California number 8. There are some statistics that will contradict the correlation I am trying to make, but bear with me. Michigan ranks number 27, but the solidly red state of Alaska ranks number 3 in this category.  For arguments sake we can stipulate that these are anomalies of a sort and look instead at a top ten. In order they are:

10. Nevada  9. Washington  8. California  7. Rhode Island  6. Illinois  5. New Jersey  4. Connecticut  3. Alaska  2. Massachusetts  1. New York

Were the District of Columbia properly designated a state they would be number one. So eight of the top ten states for debt are solidly blue domains. Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island bear the added distinction that they are the only states besides Hawaii who did not have a single red county in the 2016 election.

If the criteria is a rating of overall fiscal solvency New York ranks 42, California 44, Michigan 35 and Illinois 47. The solidly blue Massachusetts ranks dead last unless one counts Puerto Rico.  State and local tax burdens? New York number 1, Illinois number 5 and California number 6. State and local sales taxes? California number 10, New York number 9 and Illinois number 7. What about the states with the highest annual budget deficit? Illinois number 4, California number 5, New York number 12. New Jersey ranks number one in this category. New York, California and Illinois all have in excess of 201 billion dollars in unfunded entitlement liabilities.

On the whole the blue parts of the map do not demonstrate sound histories in spending and policy.  They are areas that have remained in largely democrat party control for long periods and are known for embracing those policies which the national democrat party have espoused for at least the last forty years, if not more. Common among these are the notion that government must always do more. More taxing, more spending, more borrowing, more entitlements. If you want your federal government to be run the same as New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois or California then by all means lets abolish the Electoral College and move to direct democracy. I’m sure all those red counties will play along, aren’t you?

 

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