Herbert London

Herbert London

Herbert London is president of the London Center for Policy Research and is co-author with Jed Babbin of The BDS War Against Israel.

Saturday, 05 December 2015 05:14

A Word from London

A Word from London

Herbert London

Herbert London is president emeritus of Hudson Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).

Sandy Slams New York

Hurricane Sandy struck New York with unprecedented force revealing the illogic of mankind's arrogant belief that the forces of nature are under its control. This was identified as a type "one" hurricane, mild in the lexicon of hurricanes, but the rising tide and full moon contributed to a "perfect storm" with devastating effect. For downtown residents, the Hudson and East Rivers reclaimed their natural boundaries turning Water Street into its given name.

The water surge in garages led parked cars to break through barriers and float down Broad Street as if remotely controlled motorboats. One person was killed at 90 Broad Street by the combined force of 90 miles an hour winds and the water surge. Residents of the area, who assumed broadcast horror stories about the storm were exaggerated, soon learned the devastation was real.

Battery Park was turned into a lake with fish deposited from the Hudson struggling to survive in an unanticipated venue. The tunnel connecting the west and east sides of Manhattan were filled with ten feet of water throughout. Cars and trucks were rendered inoperable. The water level at Morris Street and Battery Place was chest high.

The complacency with which New Yorkers generally greet storms was crushed by a rising tide around Manhattan and in the outer borough areas near the ocean or the harbor. A large vessel was tossed ashore on a Staten Island beach as if cranes lifted and put it there. Stories of fires and transformers exploding lit up the skies around the city. Behind the fireworks was despair.

New Yorkers are resilient, but tension is in the air. Gridlock of an unprecedented variety brought Manhattan south of 39th Street to a standstill because traffic lights, in the absence of electricity, are not available. Tempers flare in normal circumstances; you can only imagine the reaction when movement is glacial.

Roughly half the deaths attributed to the storm were in Staten Island. This all but forgotten borough was tormented by wind that leveled houses and took the lives of young and old alike. Some residents who were born and raised here couldn't believe their eyes. Never before had the island experienced this kind of destruction.

The lobbies of Manhattan hotels had lines of downtown denizens eager to find a place to sleep. Apple stores were filled with youthful computer hands searching for electrical current. Power hungry folks are sitting close to every outlet in Grand Central Station. Gas lines were longer than those in 1979 during the second oil embargo. Plastic gasoline containers are a hot item in Home Depot.

For New Yorkers, the world has been turned upside down. A city with every amenity the mind can conjure, cannot light its streets. Some middle class families seek food in dumpsters on the street. "Homeless" has an entirely new meaning after Sandy.

Clearly complacency has been shattered. For some, such as Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Cuomo, it has been replaced by a belief in Global Warming as a factor in explaining the surge. Politicians are in the solution business, even when the solutions raise more questions than they answer.

One thing is certain: Those who thought they could ride the Hurricane out aren't likely to do so ever again. New York wasn't broken by Sandy, but it is injured. The toughness of New Yorkers is still on display, yet the swagger is subdued. Sandy lives in the mind of New York and it will not be forgotten any time soon.

Coming Apart Over Sequestration

"Sequestration" is a government word that for those in the military has a synonym: castration. When a bipartisan committee was established by the administration to motivate Democrats and Republicans to compromise on limits for federal spending, it was assumed some understanding could be accomplished. One provision of mutual disagreement and a stalemate is sequestration or automatic budget cuts should stasis be the result of congressional deliberation.

Well, here we are without an agreement and sequestration about to be imposed on the budget process. Sequestration according to the Congressional Budget Office, will reduce federal discretionary spending by nearly $94 billion in 2013 and $1.2 trillion over the next decade. One might assume conservatives would rejoice over this outcome. But that assumption would be wrong. This provision effectively ignores the real drivers of our debt and deficit problems by exempting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and federal employee pensions, while placing the burden of retrenchment on national defense.

According to a George Mason University study defense cuts of this magnitude would result in the layoff of approximately 2.1 million workers. But these national security reductions have even more severe implications. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Martin Dempsey, said sequestration would pose unacceptable risk to the nation's defense capabilities. Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Jonathan Greenert noted that sequestration will have a "severe and irreversible impact on the Navy's future." Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called the cuts catastrophic. "We'd be shooting ourselves in the head," he said. Admiral Ace Lyons maintains that if sequestration is imposed on the Navy, none of today's missions could be carried out in the future.

Almost every military officer in the nation is persuaded that this form of retrenchment will so hollow out the nation's ability to project power that the U.S. will be obliged to sit on the sidelines as the Chinese assert their influence in the Pacific and Iran operates on its imperial aims in the Middle East. The world is certainly not a safer place when the United States engages in self-imposed disarmament.

Clearly this is the time for a legislative onslaught. Letters from the Secretary of Defense, General Dempsey, the Associations of the U.S. Army and Navy, Chairman McKeon, the Chamber of Commerce to leading congressional leaders make the case sequestration is unacceptable. Yet curiously the issue has not galvanized public opinion.

My guess is the media has simply let this matter ride. But now that U.S. embassies are at risk and the full effect of rabid Islamic sentiment is evident across North Africa, time for the reassessment of sequestration is here. This is not a partisan issue. There are areas in the budget that must be cut and even military installations that must be examined under green eyeshades. But when it comes down to cutting the core, the strength of our defense capability, sensible legislators must shout "Stop!"

The third rail in politics must be more than Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare. In fact, as I see it, these programs should not be immune to budget slashing. Military spending is another matter. Power projection should not be compromised. A strong America accounts for a stable world and even a prosperous United States. If the sea lanes aren't secure, trade is put in jeopardy.

Sequestration is ultimately an arbitrary budget decision that sacrifices defense capability so we can retain ballooning social programs. This is the kind of trade-off that doomed the Roman Empire and the British Empire. Is their fate about to be ours? Are we so caught in the rhetorical web of entitlements that we have lost sight of national defense? I wonder if anyone in the Congress is listening to and observing this very dangerous scenario.

Obama's Ship of State Without a Helmsman

This presidential campaign season is a time for clarification. If campaigns have any value over and above the megaphone effect of why one candidate is more desirable than the other, it is the chance to use a campaign as an educational forum. From my perspective, even silence or ambiguity can be revealing. In this season, President Obama has indicated the threat and direction of American foreign policy through ellipses.

If the foreign policy of this administration can be described in one word, it would be "drift." Should one parse the president's campaign statements about foreign policy, only obscurity emerges. For example, what is the American policy in Libya? Why wasn't the embassy reinforced when requests for such action was made? At what point will the Iranian nuclear program be unacceptable? Why isn't aid to Egypt contingent on behavior this government considers acceptable? The questions beg for answers that are not forthcoming.

Friedrich Nietzche offered an explanation for this lack of responsiveness. He wrote, "Those who know they are deep strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem deep to the crowd strive for obscurity." Is President Obama without depth, yet appealing to the masses? Is substance a casualty of indecisiveness?

Surely what one might assume is a decisive vision of the president's foreign policy position. That vision may not be consensual; in fact, it may be divisive, but at least the public would know where the Obama team stands.

During the Civil War when President Lincoln was disconsolate about the state of Union forces, he turned to his minister for counsel. The minister told the president to turn to the Bible for solace. Lincoln did so. And there in the Book of Proverbs, he found the words that offered hope and inspiration: "When there is no vision, a people perish." President Lincoln realized he had to provide that vision. It wasn't enough to defeat Confederate forces, he had to limn a philosophical picture for the soon-to-be united nation.

In a sense, the same condition exists at the moment. Another president, Thomas Jefferson, echoed Lincoln's sentiment years earlier when he said: "It is the manners and the spirit of a people which preserve a republic in vigor." Alas, how does this republic maintain its vigor when all one encounters is drift, a predictable distance from clarity and public understanding?

Recognizing the failure - or should I call it a lapse? - is not easy. Leaders are wedded to positions, false or true, good or bad. History is replete with reverential assertions. "I believe it, ergo it must be true."

Yet another humanist from the past provides insight into this phenomenon. Leo Tolstoy writing in the 19th century noted:

I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.

Does President Obama suffer from the persistence of false conclusions? After all, he did infer the U.S. was (is) a neo-colonial state. He did engage in an apology tour across the globe for what he described as the "excesses" of American foreign policy. Yet aside from the apologies, there does not seem to be the articulation of a pathway to the future. Drift is not an answer since in drift one is a captive of historical influences over which there isn't control. A great power cannot be put in a turbulent sea without a rudder.

This foreign policy picture presented by President Obama hasn't any texture. Despite all the hyperbole and rapid-fire responses to questions and assertions, it is illuminating that the president has been unable to offer any guidance on American foreign interests, the defense of global freedom or how we should steer the ship of state.

Cover-up 2012

In 1973 there was a feeding frenzy among journalists who could not consume the details of the Watergate break-in fast enough. Pulitzer prizes awaited those with a new factoid or an interview with someone in the administration who broke ranks with President Nixon. In retrospect, this was a clumsy effort to interfere with the campaign of the Democratic challenger. There wasn't any justification for the act and a clumsy cover-up ultimately brought down the administration. President Nixon's resignation was ignominious as the Washington Post and the New York Times congratulated themselves over the president's decision. This was catnip for Nixon haters.

In 2012 there is another apparent cover-up over the attack on the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya, and the subsequent murder of the ambassador and three colleagues attempting to defend him. Although President Obama claims he did everything in his power to avoid the tragedy, several facts challenge this account. He was told several weeks before the attack that it was imminent and security at the embassy should be bolstered. Drones overhead provided the president with a bird's eye view of the marauding mob.

Most significantly, the president attributed this attack on the anniversary of 9/11 to an obscure video on You Tube about the Prophet Mohammed. It strains credulity that Libyan killers spend their evenings surfing the web for American-made films about Islam. Nonetheless, this ridiculous alibi was expressed by Ambassador Susan Rice at the UN and by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. While this claim was thoroughly discredited, it was repeated several times over a two-week period and even led to a tax-payer underwritten apology that aired in several Muslim dominated nations, yet another example of a supine national response to the murder of American offices abroad.

President Obama may disagree with this account, but there appears to be consensus that the essential features of the story are correct. Moreover, the contradictions emerging from the White House and the State Department along with the claim by several observers at the site that "someone" told those who wanted to assist the ambassador to "stand down," not once, not twice, but three times, suggest this is on event that warrants intense journalistic investigation.

Yet remarkably aside from Fox news, this isn't a story the so-called newspapers of record - The New York Times and Washington Post - even recognize. Aren't Pulitzers beckoning? Admittedly the proximity of the presidential election may have compromised analysis, but one might assume, based on journalistic platitudes that spring from the lips of the Fourth estate, that reporters have an obligation to search for the truth, even if this muse is elusive. Surely journalists do not have an obligation to defend the president, nor is it their responsibility to attack him. However, they do have an obligation to a report on a story with significant policy implications.

Did the president or a member of his team mislead the public because the attack by al Qaeda does not square with the view this radical group has been rendered impotent by the tactics of the administration? Was this communication confusion a function of presidential ineptitude? Perhaps what is most interesting is whether this is a cover-up.

If so, this is a cover-up of murder. Watergate may have been transmogrified into a major historical event, but in most respects the deaths in Benghazi are far more noteworthy than a clumsy break-in forty years ago. Americans deserve the truth; they deserve a journalistic community devoted to the search for it. Should political bias influence the decision about what is worth covering or ignoring, journalism will have succumbed to propagandistic accounts.

There are many instances when newspaper reports display bias, but rarely has there been an example of systematic silence about the murders of U.S. officials. This saga offers texture and national appeal; President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, Ambassador Rice, CIA head General Petraeus are the actors in a complicated drama. Each should be interviewed; inconsistencies revealed and accountability determined. Elections be damned. There is more at stake in this case than who is the next president of the United States. *

Saturday, 05 December 2015 05:12

A Word from London

A Word from London

Herbert London

Herbert London is president emeritus of Hudson Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).

Why a Campaign Should Consider More Than Economic Issues

Bread and butter issues will undoubtedly be emphasized in this presidential campaign season. The unemployment rate, the need for jobs, the rapid growth in dependents, fiscal deficits, and the enormous debt overhang will garner headlines in the weeks ahead. But there are other issues the nation must confront. While on some fronts the government cannot do much, campaigns are a venue for the airing of ideas, a time to educate and persuade.

There is little doubt the economy is teetering on the precipice of despair. The Republican team has an obligation to explain how it intends to fix or at least mitigate what ails us. It seems to me it is also time to discuss cultural degradation, a gravitational pull that is sinking American standards into the sinkhole of perversity. Increasingly media myrmidons push the envelope of acceptable behavior to a point where taboos themselves are called into question.

Clearly a government cannot and should not impose cultural standards on its citizenry. However when mephitic gases are in the air, protective devices are necessary. How does a nation defend its freedom when it is intoxicated by noxious fumes from television programs and Hollywood fare? I don't expect Romney-Ryan to have a magic elixir for this contagion, but I do think it would be useful for the campaign to address and acknowledge this issue.

Similarly foreign policy matters rarely win campaigns. Voters prefer local issues and, after all, Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan are far-away places. But are they? The Obama team has little to say about foreign policy because with President Obama at the helm, the world is chaotic.

* Iran is about to obtain sufficient refined fissile material to build several nuclear weapons.
* Egypt is moving rapidly into the dictatorial hands of the Muslim Brotherhood.
* Syria is in the throes of a civil war with at least 18,000 people killed by Assad.
* Afghanistan is reverting back to control by the Taliban, despite heroic efforts by the U.S. military to halt this tide.
* China is asserting its naval muscle by occupying contested islands in the South China Sea.
* North Korea threatens new nuclear tests.

And whether justified or not, the present administration has created an appearance of complacency, almost a casual belief that this mess will sort itself out without American intervention. This isn't merely leading from behind; it is an allergy to leadership.

Romney-Ryan should emphasize the need for leadership to fulfill a yawning vacuum in international affairs. Most foreign nations fear U.S. weakness more than U.S. strength. Reestablishing that strength is a message this Republican team should convey, not only to assure Americans that we intend to fulfill our leadership role on the global stage, but also to convince our allies that we haven't abandoned them.

Last, as I see it, the presidential campaign should be a time to restore hope, notwithstanding the overuse of this word by Barak Obama in the last presidential campaign. Hope is the real harbinger of change. For years Americans have been beaten down from "malaise" to "decline." It is time to remember our better nature, these animal spirits in our national DNA that offer pride and determination. We should embrace the future because we can shape it. Decline is indeed a choice and Romney-Ryan should say we reject it. America is not exceptional like other nations, it is the first among equals, the shining city on the hill that inspires freedom loving people everywhere.

We need a dose of optimism instead of emotional band-aids. And a campaign is when it is best to let this inspirational fury fly. Of course, there are the cynics who will reject this rhetoric as jingoism. But after the battering the American ethos has endured, it is time for optimism, time to rekindle the very character that goes to the heart of "we the people."

The Second Law of Thermodynamics and the Body Politic

The Second Law of Thermodynamics, which suggests that physical forces are gravitating to entropy, is a perfect metaphor for the moment. European economies are cascading into the netherworld of insolvency even as governments deny the reality. President Obama seemingly defies the rule of law by issuing executive orders that bypass the Congress. Unemployment in the U.S. remains over 8 percent for the 42nd straight month. And unemployment in Spain for those under 25 is at 50 percent.

That isn't all. Iran, China, and Russia have agreed to joint military maneuvers off the coast of Syria in an effort to bolster the Assad regime. And the U.S. is on the sidelines issuing empty platitudes about the ongoing butchery dictated from Damascus. Iran is moving closer to refined fissile material for several nuclear weapons as futile talks continue on the disarmament front.

Missiles are being fired from Gaza into Israel on a regular basis with more than 300 launched in the last two weeks. Evidence has been unearthed that Chavez, the president of Venezuela, has been underwriting the activities of narco-terrorists in Colombia and throughout the South American continent.

Extremist parties are gaining traction in Europe, a scenario reminiscent of the 1930s. The neo-Nazi party garnered 7 percent of the recent Greek vote. The Communist party is gaining adherents in France. Radical Islamists have safe houses all over Western Europe from Malmo in Sweden to Hamburg in Germany and Antwerp in Belgium. To the astonishment of those who adhere to Christian traditions, sharia has been gaining ground as a legal defense in many quarters including the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Educational attainment has been plummeting throughout the Western world, a form of international dumbing-down, despite a widespread belief in self-esteem. Notwithstanding the economic miracle in China, that nation remains a police state capable of violating human rights routinely and when the government considers it necessary, brutalizing is own people. But since the U.S. position is compromised by the assumption of debt in China, not a cross word about human rights violations is uttered.

The world is afloat in sovereign debt. Accumulated debt in the U.S. alone is more than 100 percent of the gross domestic product and climbing. A similar situation can be recorded in Japan and throughout the Western world. An entitlement psychology has brought financial markets to their knees, but few have the political will to tell electorates the truth.

A belief in the Judeo-Christian virtues is waning. Relativism has reared its head as a prevailing philosophical view leaving its admirers subservient to those committed to a belief system. "Anything goes" is not merely a once popular song, but a commitment to a way of life that rejects regulation, limits, and tradition. The boundaries that defined normative behavior have been shattered by the relativist orthodoxy.

A Wall Street Journal editorial refers to a leaderless globe. Alas this is true as the U.S. withdraws from its role as the international "balance wheel" and there isn't an alternative anywhere in the G-20. A world without leaders is a world on the brink of anarchy.

As Evelyn Waugh once noted, "Once the prisons of the mind have been opened, the orgy is on... ." Well those cell doors have been opened and unleashed is a moral tsunami whose full effect we cannot yet detect. However, surrender to the forces of despair is at least partially evident. I often hear people say, "What can you do?" as they shrug in acquiescence. Perhaps it would be useful to recall that Charles Peguy argued "Surrender is essentially an operation by means of which we set about explaining instead of acting." Indeed it is words we hear, more words from talking heads on television and Washington leaders, but action is conspicuously avoided. The words are soothing as an astringent on a humid day, but ultimately they are delusional. The beast in the body politic has not been defeated and he is restless.

Why Is the World Different?

An enraged madman kills a dozen people and injures many others in a carefully planned mass murder in an Aurora Colorado movie theater. What can one possibly say? So desensitized by stories of brutality on the nightly news, my emotions are muted. It seems to me that on first blush the nation is becoming coarser, more susceptible to the inner beast, that evil lurking in the hearts of men.

Was there a time of innocence? Perhaps not, but surely there was a time not so long ago when people helped their neighbors, left their doors unlocked and didn't listen to rap songs that encourage rape and the killing of cops. A dark cloud has moved over the culture that avoids any taboos. It pushes past normative standards so that violence through video games and television programming is in the cultural ambiance.

The world is different with an emotional apocalypse seemingly in our midst each day. Nightly news is filled with horror stories; the more lurid, the more likely it will be aired. Audiences are told "If you are squeamish, you shouldn't watch the next few scenes." For many this is cultural catnip. Push that envelope to new and more extreme positions and then contend that the issue is guns. Surely even Mayor Bloomberg, the arch defender of gun control, must realize a gun in the hands of St. Francis is not a weapon. Guns don't fire on their own; someone must pull that trigger.

The one word that won't be employed in all the accounts of mass murder is "evil." We rationalize. The fiend must have had a relational set-back. His parents mistreated him. School officials took his scholarship away. Who knows? The one thing we do know is "evil" will not cross the lips of the talking heads. After all, we are now all psychologists seeking fundamental answers for the inexplicable.

Goethe's Mephistopheles does have an answer that he offers to Faust.

I am the spirit that denies!
And justly so, for all that time creates,
He does well who annihilates!
Better, it ne'er had had beginning;
And so, then, all that you call sinning.
Destruction - all you pronounce ill-meant,
Is my original element.

Evil and destruction go as hand and glove. The fortunes of the evil spirit are found deep in the human spirit. We can control and subdue or release and avert our gaze. At the moment, I believe, we choose to do the latter. Mephistopheles is on center stage; even the Batman who fights to save Gotham is a "dark knight" hidden in the shadow of his own despair.

Our heroes are caught in the gravitational pull of a zeitgeist that is often degrading. And these are the heroes. Imagine the feral children unschooled and unsocialized facing the lure of the licentious calling. Their hand on the trigger will assuredly lead to annihilation.

Yet the pundits tell us they know what is wrong. Confiscate the guns, they say. But does confiscation result in the evanescence of evil? Easy answers never reveal easy solutions.

Freidrich Nietzche argued, "Those who know they are deep strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem deep to the crowd strive for obscurity."

And so the obscure keep us confused in a cave like the one Plato described where we see only shadows on the wall. We can't admit to ourselves that evil is in the air we breathe; we have allowed it to be unleashed. We cannot admit that mass murderers do the devil's work reducing sin to religious mythology. The radical secularists want to unfetter the limits of liberation and, alas, they have been successful. Now we reap the results.

Yes, the cultural world is different. In the Freudian escape from the bonds of tradition, we have unleashed a beast from deep in our souls. He is troubled and we are in danger.

From Social Security to Federal Benefit

In the parlance of Orwellian newspeak words often mean the opposite of their seeming intent. The Internal Revenue Service is anything but a service. Now we have yet another government inspired contradiction. Social Security has been transformed into the "Federal Benefits Payment." One might well ask how an insurance arrangement in which the recipient makes payments throughout his working existence is regarded as a "benefit." Whatever happened to "earned income"?

At the moment employees pay 15 percent of their income before taxes to the Social Security administraation. If one assumes a $30K payment per year and an employer's contribution of $375 per month at a modest 1 percent rate compounded over a 40-year work experience the total would be $1.3 million. In this scenario, you can assume withdrawal of 3 percent a year or $39,318 or $3,277 a month or roughly three times the present average Social Security "benefit." Moreover, using the more generous number the individual fund would last 33 years or until a 65-year-old retiree is 98 years old.

Why then is the system bankrupt? Why aren't payouts more generous? The answer in simple terms is that the government uses your money elsewhere. Social Security is not secure, is not really a benefit and, if there were any truth in advertising it should be described as a Ponzi scheme in which money "in" pays for money "out" without regard to the consequences of a deficit.

Where does this money go? Since this appears to be a pot of unexpended and reliably available funds, the Congress uses it for everything from highways to helicopters. Unfortunately the money is not in a locked box, so expenditures are often predicated on an anticipated source of S.S. payments. The money is often accounted for before it has been received. Close to 40 percent of the accumulated debt in the U.S. (now at $15.9 trillion) can be attributed to the S.S. shortfall.

It is also true that many receiving this "benefit" never contributed a dime to Social Security. These are people on disability (SSI) or those suffering from drug dependency. Many do not live in the United States but still are receive monthly payments. Mexico City alone has more than 1500 people receiving S.S. checks.

While most Americans have Social Security payments taken out of their paychecks, there are many who do not participate. Here again the term security is a misnomer. Social Security is anything but secure.

Orwell would have a verbal party with government titles, but the latest plan to convert Social Security into Federal Benefit Payment takes the cake. Obviously these verbal alternations are designed to confuse the public and in far too many cases it works. This is not merely lamentable; it is a reflection of a government that has little respect for the public it presumably serves.


Saturday, 05 December 2015 05:10

A Word from London

A Word from London

Herbert London

Herbert London is president emeritus of Hudson Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).

The Supreme Court Upholds Obamacare: A Sad Day for America

The America I love is disappearing from the public scene. When the Supreme Court ruling upheld the constitutionality of Obamacare, a disturbing and, in my opinion, dangerous precedent has been created, one not different from the "separate but equal" precedent behind Plessy v. Ferguson. A majority court decision confirms the view that there are virtually no limitations on the power of Congress.

Eighteen-year-olds are now told they must buy health insurance whether they want it or not. Suppose President Obama, adopting a page from Major Bloomberg's playbook, obtains congressional approval for a law against sugary soft drinks or perhaps marbleized steaks arguing that these personal choices can affect national health care policy and the cost of medical care. If the precedent in this case is applied, there is nothing that can stand in the way of enactment.

Similarly this decision legitimates government control over every aspect of health care decision-making. The unique relationship between a doctor and his patient is forever compromised and the very basis for medical ethics is now called into question. For most Americans, a government bureaucrat will determine whether you receive a ceramic or titanium knee replacement or whether a patient receives a pig's valve or an artificial valve during open-heart surgery. Cost will be king and the key variable will be age.

Of course this court decision doesn't constitute the end of challenges. Appeals will occur based on privacy matters, conscience exemption, freedom of contracts and the authority of the IRS to tax employers without congressional authorization or statutory authority. It is also likely that a Mitt Romney presidency will call for repeal of the healthcare law.

As poll after poll has demonstrated, Obamacare is among the most unpopular legislative actions ever adopted in this country. Most Americans are inclined to support a patient centered healthcare that empowers individuals to make medical decisions with their doctors and family members.

What is most disturbing about the law and the decision that upholds it is the arrogance behind the government's claim. As a result of the court majority view the federal government has the power to tax whatever it considers appropriate. Whatever happened to the position that "the power to tax is the power to destroy"?

It is instructive that President Obama said, "The individual mandate is not a tax." Now the Supreme Court says it is. If the legislation in its original form were deemed to be a tax, it never would have been accepted by the Congress. So in addition to the assumption of questionable power, the court has redefined the legislation in a manner inconsistent with its intent. Moreover, the Court has now arrogated to itself and the Congress unlimited authority to spend whatever it wants on the so-called "betterment of society" premise or the General Welfare Clause of the Constitution.

This is a sad day for limited government ideals. It is a sad day as well as for Founders of this nation who feared the assumption of power by the federal government. As a consequence of this decision, America looks very different, so different I can barely recognize her.

In Abraham Lincoln's Lyceum Address he discussed ". . . a political religion - a temple of liberty upheld by pillars hewn from the rock of reason." What we see with this court decision is the suspension of reason and cracks in the foundation of liberty. Yes, a sad day indeed.

Obama's Julia

Who is Julia? Julia is the eponymous voice of President Obama, a woman invented by the campaign to demonstrate how this present administration is assisting women in all aspects of life. However, inadvertently it displays the Obama vision of America, a vision right out of 1984 with Big Brother at her side throughout a lifetime.

In this cartoon narrative Julia evolves from birth to old age with the Obama government locked at her hip. The presumption is that Julia could not succeed without the helping hand of government. When Julia turns three she is enrolled in the federally funded Head Start pre-school program. Never mind that empirical evidence indicates Head Start is a failure despite $167 billion spent on this program each year.

In this evolving tale, President Obama's programs prepare her for college, offer free health care, student loans, free birth control of course, a chance to start a business, and an opportunity to retire in comfort and dignity. All of this from a beneficent government eager to carry Julia through the vicissitudes of life's stages.

That reliance on government has a baneful effect on society and on the individual is not entertained by Ms. Julia, nor is there any mention of the incompatibility between the Nanny State and the U.S. Constitution. By the time Julia has reached the age of Social Security she will be burdened with a debt of $45 thousand. If one multiplies Julia by the thousands, arguably the millions, unemployment will remain unnaturally high, entrepreneurship will be a disappearing concept, and Social Security will assuredly be bankrupt.

One gets the distinct impression Julia is European. She is offered the Faustian deal of cradle to grave security by a government promising more than it can or should deliver. In the process, the economy founders, debt mounts, currencies fail, and the moral strength of the West falters.

Julia is to Obama what Goldstein is to Orwell. One is presumably asked to pay obeisance to a female narrative that has an inevitably destructive outcome, albeit not one recognized by the Obama team. Similarly, in 1984 obeisance is paid to Goldstein as the exemplar of government involvement. It is a ritual without purpose. In fact, Julia is also a symbol of government that nurtures and provides even as it takes and devours.

It is one thing to discuss government's role as a "helping hand" when there aren't alternatives, but it is quite another matter to think of government as a crutch to be relied on throughout life. For the Obama campaign team to think this is an appropriate message is revealing. Either Obama operatives believe the public, the female public, will find this narrative appealing or they believe women are too myopic to see the implications in this government scheme.

Suppose for the sake of argument Julia does not have a government on which to rely. She would have to apply her God-given ingenuity to educational choices and finding a healthcare arrangement that's affordable and use her talent to start a business or develop professional skills in order to earn an income. Liberty gives her choices and power. Government may create the illusion of helpfulness, but ultimately it stifles innovation and inventiveness. The most appropriate vision for Julia is empowerment. Unfortunately despite the frequent employment of this word, government invariably enfeebles and makes one dependent.

If the feminist movement is interested in Julia it should be wary of the cartoon the Obama team has limned. As I see it, Julia should be a free-thinking individual capable of making her own choices in life and independent from the intrusiveness of government action. Julia should avoid personal debt and avoid as well serving as an instrument of government policy. She should be sufficiently sensitive to the fact that a government "benefit" comes with a price that is usually unseen.

Needless to say, the Obama team thinks Julia is a campaign attribute, but for thinking individuals this cartoon figure is a caricature implicitly describing all that ails this nation.

The Sleepers We Choose to Ignore

There is no doubt the U.S. is facing an exogenous threat from al Qaeda, the Iranian Guard and a variety of other Middle East radicals, but very often Americans downplay or underestimate the endogenous, or internal, threat that is at our doorstep.

Recently Erick Stakelbeck, the CBN news analyst, explained how Iranian diplomats and other assets are present in the United States and are prepared to launch an attack on our soil. Congressman Peter King issued a report indicating that hundreds of operatives are in the U.S. and that several Iranian diplomats at the U.N. were apprehended photographing sensitive sites.

The report also noted that Mosques are very often operational centers for reconnaissance and a sanctuary for the "sleepers," conditions acknowledged by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. In fact, the Iranian regime mocked reports that play down the potential influence of these terrorists in our midst. Another 9/11 need not involve planes flying into buildings, but rather bombs set off on trains, power plants, food distribution centers, bridges, water supplies, the electoral grid, etc.

As Steve Emerson, among others, has noted, prisons are often centers of recruitment to the most radical form of Islam and many of these potential terrorists are ensconced in positions of authority and in jobs at strategic locations. Moreover, Islamic doctrines urge violence against infidels including suicide bombings to enhance the imperial aims of Islam.

It is instructive that even though radicals transparently state their goals and tactics, authorities in the U.S. deny this reality. For example, Obama administration officials take pains to avoid even uttering the phrase "radical Islam," opting instead for the generic "violent extremism." At the same time radicals contend defeat of the U.S. is imminent and inshallah (God willing) will lead inevitably to the much-awaited Muslim caliphate, which is "the only true world order." In fact, as they see it, one cannot be true to the faith unless violent action is taken. To deny this religious imperative is to deny salvation under their faith.

Yet amazingly the Fort Hood shootings committed by Nidal Malik Hasan are regarded as an "isolated case," unrelated to his Muslim faith, by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. As long as the administration refuses to recognize acts like this one as terrorism, combating internal threats and violence is almost impossible.

First Amendment provisions also make apprehension of terrorists complicated. Since Islam promotes violence through Verses of the Sword and other suras, it is an inherent part of Constitutionally protected expression. Of course, a discussion of violence is not the same as violent acts, albeit the former often precedes the latter. This condition explains why Islamists often speak favorably of the American criminal justice system.

Establishing a balance between freedom and security is not easy. But in the absence of clear lines of demarcation, the nation is vulnerable to terrorism hiding behind Constitutional guarantees. Moreover, with Iran threatening violence should it be attacked by Israel or the United States, sleepers must be taken seriously. Perhaps it is time for government authorities to accept what our enemies are saying. The truth may be difficult to imbibe, but ignoring reality has consequences far more dire than anything we choose to ignore.

European Future on the Ropes

Based on the accumulation of recent reports, Europe is among the "walking dead." The recent elections in Greece and France indicate that the respective populations are resistant to austerity measures. Despite insolvency, or in France's case the prospect of insolvency, Europeans are so committed to their entitlements, they won't give them up. Claims that a higher millionaire tax will offset the deficit provides a frission for socialists, but does little to offset the financial imbalance.

A European Union initially designed to constrain German ambitions, now exists to do Germany's bidding. Chancellor Merkel represents the only European nation that can pay its own bills and help out other Union members. But ultimately this is a precarious position for German leaders who are continually confronted by businessmen who ask: "Why should we pick up the tab for a Greek bus driver who wants to retire at 55 or pay to underwrite the pension for a municipal employee in Palermo?"

The answers are not apparent, but the heat generated by these queries is at the very center of Germany's political debates. Moreover, the financial instability in the Union had led to political extremism. The rise of new socialist parties and fascist organizations across the continent is cause for concern. During Monsieur Hollande's campaign there were unfortunate manifestations of anti-Semitism with calls to control the Jews who dominate the financial system.

If the Europeans cannot tolerate austerity measures and do not have the wherewithal for innovation and the condition for genuine economic growth, the continent will soon become moribund. Even the euro will be perceived as an enemy of national fiscal policy.

Eying the European malaise are sovereign funds that can engage in "bottom feeding." The Chinese have already made major investments in Portugal and Italy and have been surveying the collapsing economic environment.

Complicating this economic tragedy in the making is the inability to integrate Muslims into the larger economic community while they simultaneously absorb a disproportionate share of welfare assistance. Although the evidence on this matter is not yet clear, it seems that the Muslim vote in France accounted for Hollande's electoral success. How then do you engage in austerity measures if the group most likely to be affected is a subset of the population that got you elected in the first place?

Notwithstanding arguments to the contrary, it seems that the disease affecting Europe may cross the Atlantic. U.S. banks have been inextricably tied to their European counterparts and these European entities are facing unprecedented cash shortfalls. With the U.S. economy on its heels, it is not in a position to bail out Europe's banking industry.

It is obviously time for Europeans to face reality. The era of cradle to grave entitlement is over. If the public insists on public funding that the economy cannot sustain, the continent's asset base will sink into the Mediterranean or perhaps become an extension of Asian enterprise. Europe is a grand museum, but the engine that generated wealth is antiquated and on its last legs.

As the Europeans hold on to outmoded socialist ideas, they foster their own demise. Alexis de Tocqueville once noted that:

Democracy and socialism have nothing in common, but one word: equality. But mark the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in . . . servitude.

For many Europeans servitude is just over the horizon - either servicing the Germans who maintain control through their economic success or the Chinese who buy European assets at a fraction of their actual value. The choices are not easy and the recent elections indicate some Europeans prefer to avoid hard choices. But like it or not, history will not disappear and economic reality rears its head each and every day.

Wake up Europe, your fate is about to be determined.

Betrayal from Within

It is axiomatic to suggest that if there are three Jews in a room there is likely to be nine opinions - each one shaped by a view of reality. As a consequence, there are dozens of Jewish organizations representing every political opinion and judgment under the sun. However, on one matter there was usually convergence, the welfare of Jewish life and the state of Israel.

That consensus has been blown to smithereens by at least two organizations: J Street and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), one relatively new in the Jewish organizational structure and one with a traditional Jewish pedigree.

J Street, (an American web site with "pro-Israel, pro-peace" views) has argued and continues to argue, that peace and stability in the Middle East can only be achieved through Israeli concessions. Overlooked in the J Street analysis -willy nilly - is the intransigence of the other side (the PLO and Hamas) that will not recognize the state of Israel and considers any concession only the starting point for the next negotiation.

While J Street represents a swath of left wing Jewish opinion, that is not its sole or even primary mission. According to Carinne Luck, Vice President for Campaigns, J Street is designed "to move American Jews" towards its position, i.e., to its left wing position. In fact, J Street is composed of field operatives, not constituency representatives. Like many of the organizations George Soros underwrites, J Street exists to influence opinion among Jewish leaders and among the Jewish political base generally.

The ADL has been an established Jewish organization for decades that stands against anti-Semitic actions and speech across the globe. Recently the ADL has been criticized for devoting relatively little of its resources combating radical Islam's threat to world Jewry. In fact, only 7.7 percent of its press releases issued over the past 15 years focused on Islamic extremism. By contrast, press releases condemning traditional sources of anti-Semitism, such as Nazism and Christian theology, totaled 37.8 percent and "social justice" issues that fall into ADL's basket of liberal opinion account for 30.5 percent.

It is certainly worth asking why this disproportionate allocation of resources exists. The ADL tends to ignore the Islamic roots of terrorism and the theological underpinning of Arab-Jew hatred found in the Koran. Recently the ADL joined with CAIR - the same organization indentified as a co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation that gave financial assistance to Hamas - in opposing Florida legislation that attempted to place limits on shariah. Abe Foxman, ADL president, argued that the legislation was biased against Muslims and that his organization exists to fight against bias wherever it exists. Unfortunately Mr. Foxman did not make reference to the bias against Jews that characterizes CAIR behavior.

According to a recent report on the ADL only three of the 841 press releases in the category of the Middle East and Israel related to Islamic extremism. However, many of the ADL's press releases on Israel concentrated on condemning "Jewish right wing extremism" and promoting left of center political causes. (For example, January '97 "ADL condemns attack on Palestinians by an Israeli soldier"; March '02: "ADL alarmed by reports of new Jewish terror group"; and November '09: "ADL calls Israeli Settlement Freeze 'Courageous and Unprecedented'.") Eleven percent of the ADL's press releases on Israel condemn Jewish right wing extremists.

While Foxman and others have said Islamic extremism is the biggest threat to Jews, its press releases and resource allocation express a different sentiment. Clearly studies of this kind are often incomplete, and the lines of categorical demarcation fuzzy. Nonetheless, the profound difference in focus among these categories is revealing. Any dispassionate reader of the data is likely to ask, why is the ADL largely overlooking the real threat to world Jewry.

At the risk of attributing political motives to specific action, it seems that in both cases, a liberal or left wing agenda trumps the welfare of the Jewish people. Both J Street and the ADL assume they are acting in the interests of the Jewish people, but in far too many instances this claim is mere cover for the expression of liberal ideas and attempts at propaganda.

Freedom and Constraints

In a nation obsessed with creativity, freedom is the exalted position, for freedom gives meaning to our actions. Yet it is a defect of ideology to assume action is reducible to one simple principle, a uniquely explanatory element. In reality, freedom is a complex and composite affair.

While freedom is often reduced to choice - a means to achieve our goals - in cultural terms freedom is defined negatively, i.e., non-compulsion from without and self-determination from within. However, freedom can exist in a culture with normative judgment and moral constraints. The newly liberated contend freedom means unbound without reference to ontological claims. But this is absurd. Freedom is defined by boundaries.

Camus, in The Stranger, maintained that there isn't justice (read: freedom) without limits. Those who believe you are free to do whatever you like invariably strike the walls of licentiousness. Freedom is inhibited by responsibility, morality, and law. The focus on autonomous choice ends up with a normative account of the human good.

In this postmodern era the limits imposed by norms are continually questioned. Freedom is now seen extending further into the domain of practical reason (what is done), but also speculative reason (what might be done). This postmodern idea seeks to extend the prerogatives of self-determination into every aspect of our lives, including challenges to human dignity and religious concerns.

The reason why this is the case is that post-modernists find any normative account of human nature inherently dangerous. They wish to control every aspect of life whether it be the meaning of existence, the content of moral norms, religious claims, and human sexuality. But this liberal ideal of freedom leads to a willful ignorance of human nobility.

Thomas Aquinas noted that the knowledge of the good plays an essential role in the actions of freedom. This is consistent with a point made by Thomas Jefferson in the "Declaration of Independence" who argued for the free pursuit of human happiness bounded by a well-understood idea of virtue. This was not Benthamite utilitarianism: if happiness derives more pleasure than pain, it is desirable to pursue "the greatest good for the greatest number." For Jefferson, it was the pursuit of happiness within the parameters of normative beliefs.

The exaggerated desire for freedom of indeterminate choice cannot be sated solely by the discipline of legitimate authority, albeit that is a necessary but insufficient condition for defining freedom. Ultimately the pursuit of truth, a deep vision into the human capacity - what James Q. Wilson described as "the inner morality" - is critical. Such a vision should address the complexities of our age, but also should resolve the difference between freedom's past and its present postmodern state. Norms do change. However their acceptance is more likely when they nourish our spiritual needs.

The freedom unhinged from norms invariably leads to confusion and despair. Unlimited choice is a spiritual nightmare. And the darkness of confusion emerges when we are paralyzed by options beyond our understanding.

Yes, we want to be free, but only when that freedom results in personal enrichment. That enrichment is paradoxically found in limits, the very condition against which the postmodern liberationists marshal their energies. Here is the irony of modern life: to be free we must recognize constraints. Even the artist challenging the barriers of the past must recognize the need for constraining techniques. The past always seizes us by the collar reminding mankind that fulfillment through the use of choice puts us on a path tread before. Ultimately mankind cannot escape its basic nature, and the real meaning of freedom within the contours of normative constraints. *

Saturday, 05 December 2015 05:08

A Word from London

A Word from London

Herbert London

Herbert London is President Emeritus of the Hudson Institute, Professor Emeritus of New York University, and author of Diary of A Dean, Hamilton Books, and America's Secular Challenge, Encounter Books.

When Choice Justifies Murder

While the road to serfdom is paved with good intentions gone awry; the road to self fulfillment - the dream of the modern person - is constructed with freedom stones resembling personal license. What is emerging in the United States, based in part on the empirical data in Charles Murray's Coming Apart, is a selective version of morality. If it feels good, do it. The constraints inspired by the Judeo-Christian tradition, our genetic inheritance, even our sex, are mere trifles compared to personal choice and desire. To my astonishment, even murder is justified as an act of personal morality.

Francesca Minerva argues that since babies have not formed desires and plans, they may be killed (she calls it "after birth abortion") if they interfere with the desires and plans of other people who have formed desires and plans, namely their parents and other immediate relatives, and also society as a whole. She writes:

If . . . an individual is capable of making any aims (like actual human and non-human persons), she is harmed if she is prevented from accomplishing her aims by being killed. Now, hardly can a newborn be said to have aims, as the future we imagine for it is merely a projection of our minds on its potential lives. It might start having expectations and develop a minimum level of self-awareness at a very early stage, but not in the first days or few weeks after birth. On the other hand, not only aims but also well-developed plans are concepts that certainly apply to those people (parents, siblings, society) who could be negatively or positively affected by the birth of that child. Therefore, the rights and interests of the actual people involved should represent the prevailing consideration in a decision about abortion and after-birth abortion.

Here is utilitarianism with a vengeance. It is not a new position since Peter Singer, the Princeton philosopher, made the same claim more than a decade ago. But this blunt justification for murder reverts, in a real sense, to an anachronistic dark period before Jerusalem and Rome when child sacrifice was accepted.

That parents, who have the unconditional obligation to protect an infant, are now given the right to destroy the baby if their plans and desires dictate, is a monstrous reversal of morality and every religious precept. Of course, that is precisely the point. Taboos established by religion must be overturned by the avatars of a new age based on unlimited freedom, even a freedom bordering on license.

Clearly affluence has provided our society with freedom never before entertained. For example, the average secretary has probably seen more of the world than an 18th century king or queen. However, the limits imposed by God, or nature, are now viewed as impediments to personal desire. If desire is the height of individual attainment, the moral compass offers no direction. We are merely in a sea of roiling water eager to latch on to any lifeboats.

As a consequence, the mediating institutions in society, the ones that mitigate the tension between the state and the individual - schools, families, churches - have been cast aside in the name of personal freedom. Sliding down this slope, the individual hasn't any buffers; he aims to fulfill desire. In the process, institutions cultivated over millennia are toppled like domino pieces.

Where this will end is now clear: murder of infants is permitted if it stands in the way of freedom, choice, and desire. Welcome to a brave new world that seemingly has more than a passing acquaintance with the dark ages.

The New Defense Posture for America

In testimony given to the Congress, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asserted that Congress's war powers authority is irrelevant. As he described it, U.S. intervention in Libya, Syria or elsewhere would be justified by permission from "relevant" international tribunals, such as the UN Security Council and NATO - the approval of the congressional representatives being unnecessary.

Presumably the Constitution that vests Congress with the power to declare war as well as deprive presidential war making of necessary funding is null and void. It is instructive that President Obama did not consult Congress before intervening in Libya. Based on recent experiences and Panetta's testimony what is emerging in this administration is the belief that the United States needs permission from foreign tribunals to use military force. This may be in keeping with the transnational impulses of Dean Koh and other State Department spokesmen, but it is certainly not consistent with the Constitution, national traditions, and independence.

Even Senator Levin, liberal to his core, tried to save Panetta from the implications in his testimony, but the Secretary persisted. For transnationals and progressives, the 18th century Constitution is an impediment to their goals. The promotion of global norms on human rights, the environment, and economic regulation take prevalence over all other considerations. As a strategy for altering the Constitution, transnationalists contend international law should be incorporated into American jurisprudence.

This philosophical stance is not merely legalistic; it goes to the very essence of national sovereignty. Are we a nation independent, relying on self-government and the will of the American people, or are we to be seen as a centrifugal force rotating as one of many states around a global sun, dependent on our relationship with other states and on "permission" for our actions?

For those who see a world increasingly interdependent, the answer is obvious. What is not so obvious is that many states regard globalization and international law as a way to harness U.S. influence. If unilateral action by the American government is restrained, if Gulliver is tied down, the "malevolent" action of Americans - as the internationalists see it - would be in retreat, if not nonexistent.

As a consequence, transnationalism is an expression of distrust, distrust in prior government engagements, distrust in the artificial limits imposed by the Constitution, and distrust in the projection of American power. That this position has been embraced by national elites is startling. According to this scenario we cannot afford our foreign adventures and will no longer have the will to defend our interests. The default position is progressive internationalism. It takes us off the hook. You don't have to put your economic house in order and we don't have to worry about national interests abroad.

Of course, if we went down this road the U.S. would be a different country - an eventuality radicals would embrace. But most Americans do not buy into the transnational position. In fact, poll after poll suggests the American people do not want American soldiers wearing United Nations insignia on their uniforms. Whether this transnational position is adopted may have more to do with the subtle manner in which elite opinion insinuates its agenda into daily governmental decisions than some plebiscite on the nation's future. In the process of managing details a lot of damage can occur.

For example, Secretary Panetta, managing the largest bureaucracy in government, offers daily signals to his staff and associates. What does he say to engender a belief in transnational defense decisions? What precisely does cooperation with Russia mean? Who will be invited to review defense installations? The future of defense decisions has arrived. Anticipated cuts in the defense budget over the next decade total a trillion dollars. The net result is apparent - a hollowing of military capacity and an inability to act unilaterally.

President Obama promised to change America and change he has brought. The question that remains is whether this is the change Americans wanted and whether this is the change with which we can live.

The Chinese Strategic Vision

It has been widely reported that the Chinese government is providing loans and outright grants to Latin American and African nations for the construction of schools, clinics, power plants, and even soccer stadiums. The Chinese have flexed their economic prowess across the globe, generating approval in many quarters, and raised eyebrows and concerns in some diplomatic circles.

Spokesmen in Foggy Bottom do not see a security concern since these involvements aren't in military installations and bases. But the investments are formidable, with a reported $6.3 billion spent in Caribbean governments, and more than $10 billion in Africa. Speaking out about this matter, Dennis Shea, the chairman of the U.S. China Economics and Security Review Commission said, "I am not particularly worried, but it is something the U.S. should continue to monitor." Sir Ronald Sanders, a former diplomat from Antigua and Barbados, noted, "They [the Chinese] are buying loyalty, and taking up the vacuum left by the United States and Canada and other countries, particularly in infrastructure improvements."

What are the Chinese up to? It seems to me the answer can be found in Sun Tzu's The Art of War. Sun Tzu contended there are ways to defeat an adversary without going to war. You can create an environment in which defeat is inevitable. For example, if Caribbean states are beholden to China for the infrastructure gifts that have been conferred, the U.S. and its regional influence will be neutralized, exposing its southern flank. One need not anticipate a Soviet-style government in Cuba and the Caribbean to recognize a subtle, but real challenge to American interests through Chinese humanitarian and commercial investments.

Similarly, the Chinese vision for the future can be characterized as "food, fuel, and minerals." Dominance in these three areas could create a stranglehold on basic resources the world requires. It is not coincidental that the Chinese government overpaid for Potash Inc., one of the world's major fertilizer companies. If the Chinese can control fertilizer, the Chinese can control food supplies.

Chinese government officials have moved aggressively to control commodities wherever possible. Oil futures have been purchased in East and West Africa and, as significant, mineral deposits such as manganese and titanium have been pursued throughout the continent without regard to the present market rates. The Chinese are notorious for paying handsomely in order to control mining rights.

The long-term strategy - if seen as a strategy - is that control of key commodities offers control of the globe, or at least, global influence without a shot being fired. It is clear that U.S. military is dependent on minerals, a dependency possibly under the control of a potential enemy.

It has been said the U.S. plays checkers, while our enemies play chess. But if one were a student of Sun Tzu it is evident the Chinese have a strategy, a vision of the future, while the U.S. is pragmatic, ad hoc, without an idea of what is over the horizon.

From Religious Fragmentation to National Unity

Writing in the New York Times (4/8/12) Ross Douthat writes "religious common ground has all but disappeared." The existence of a Judeo-Christian center that helped bind the teeming nation together is in retreat, he claims. In a nation as divided as ours, religious polarization is inescapable, as the race to the presidency has already suggested.

Fear about radical secularism, driving every aspect of religion out of the public square, and the specter of theocracy, haunting the precincts of the liberal left, are offset by churches that are institutionally weak and fragmented. Americans do not separate religion from politics, but they are sensitive to the manner in which they are combined.

As I see it, notwithstanding Douthat's thesis that fragmentation characterizes the religious landscape, there is hope for a strategic alliance, a way for religions to embrace a common theme. The United States owes its origin and unique institutional qualities to religion, to the Judeo-Christian tradition.

John Winthrop compared those seeking to avoid English religious prosecution in their pursuit of the New World with the exodus of Jews from Pharaoh's Egypt. Thomas Jefferson's reference to the phrase "all men are created equal" comes from the Book of Genesis. The separation of powers in the Constitution is based on the Augustinian supposition that evil and avarice must be countered with institutional checks and balances.

The Federalist Papers written by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay are filled with direct and indirect references to Original Sin, including the belief that "if men were angels" institutional sanctions would be unnecessary. The founding of the new nation was seen through a belief in God's will. Illustrations of the political motives and religious ideas abound.

For secularists to deny these antecedents undermines the unique history of the United States. We the people are religious to our historical core and those who want to take God out of the Pledge of Allegiance or deny religiosity in our public events eviscerate the national heritage.

It seems to me American history transcends the present fragmentation to which Mr. Douthat accurately refers. Most significantly, this reliance on the religious ideas that led to the birth of the Union could serve to unify our diverse population. The key would be an effort to educate Americans about their religious past, specifically the biblical ideals that helped to formulate the idiosyncratic system of government we have.

Our Declaration of Independence refers to God-given inalienable rights. Presumably since they are God-given, they cannot be removed by governments or those intent on dictatorial authority. Students may read the words in the Declaration, but do they understand and imbibe the lesson?

That is our challenge, to educate Americans about this civic dimension of religious ideas. A foundation for freedom and democracy can be found in our history and in the desire for unity, for the indivisible nation, Lincoln fought to create. Our historical past can be harnessed as a vehicle for coming together through an understanding of our religious heritage. Yes, we are divided now in part because our history is like a forgotten dream, but that might change if we can recall the gifts that God gave the new nation. *

Saturday, 05 December 2015 05:04

A Word from London

A Word from London

Herbert London

Herbert London is President Emeritus of the Hudson Institute, Professor Emeritus of New York University, and author of Diary of A Dean, Hamilton Books, and America's Secular Challenge, Encounter Books.

The Romney Hatchet Job

Attempting to parse the often-obtuse language in the New York Times has become an easier task than in the past due, in no small part, to the transparently hostile view of Republicans and the consistently admiring stance of President Obama.

Let me cite an interesting example from the 12/25/11 Jodi Kantor profile of Mitt Romney during his Harvard Business School years. She wrote:

And unlike Barack Obama, who attended Harvard Law School more than a decade later, Mr. Romney was not someone who fundamentally questioned how the world worked or talked much about social policy topics.

Several poignant questions emerge from this tendentious sentence: How can Ms. Kantor be sure that Barack Obama questioned how the world worked while a student at Harvard? How can she assert that Mitt Romney didn't discuss social policy topics? And what is meant by the word "fundamentally"?

In fact, Ms. Kantor cannot possibly answer any of these questions. No one can. Her assertions aren't based on fact, probably not even on hearsay; they are based entirely - I believe - on her confidence in what Obama may have written about himself. The contrast she limns is precisely what she wants reading audience to believe. And for many, it will be compatible with a deeply held impression. But is it true?

This was, after all, a front-page story designed to provide key insights into the character of a leading Republican candidate. As I see it, the article was a hatchet job that seemed to suggest Romney was only an ambitious student without deep convictions, a pragmatist who did not immerse himself in deep introspective thoughts.

Of course, drawing on the experience of man in his twenties to draw conclusions about his present convictions is faulty to begin with. However, despite two autobiographies very little is known about Barack Obama at Occidental College, Columbia, and Harvard Law School. His grades and transcripts have not been revealed and despite having been the editor of the Harvard Law Review, he did not publish articles about his legal reasoning or judicial preferences. This period in his life may have been fraught with philosophical examination, but Ms. Kantor doesn't know that.

The throw-away sentence in a long piece about Romney is revealing. What it shows is clear and abiding bias and an undeviating effort to exalt the President and indirectly undermine the Republican candidate.

It has been said by many before that the New York Times is an extension of the Democratic party. It is less a newspaper and more a partisan organ. Keep in mind the use of the word "fundamentally." It is a weasel word designed to provide cover. After all, Romney may have questioned how the world worked, but was it fundamental questioning? Since Ms. Kantor doesn't know, she merely assumes the case hiding behind the obscure word "fundamentally." Moreover, apparently she is sure that Obama questioned and talked and drank from the well of wisdom. (Those last six words are mine, but could easily be attributed to Ms. Kantor.)

Reading the New York Times with a jaded eye is necessary. It allows you to see that the "paper of record" is a public relations operation for the President, and has as much to do with news as an ad for Coke. Unlike Coca Cola, however, that promises to slake your thirst, the New York Times makes one thirsty for the news.

The End of the European Union?

At a 1999 conference sponsored by the Hudson Institute at Weston Park in England, Lady Margaret Thatcher was asked her opinion of the European Union. She replied, "It begins with false assumptions and will die of illusions." Lady Thatcher, as one of the advocates of Euro skepticism, hit the nail on the head. We are witnessing the unfolding, the dismemberment of a grand experiment conceived in well-meaning ideas, but fatally flawed by a false analogy.

Proponents of the EU such as Henry Kissinger argued it is far better "to make one call to Europe than many." The notion that Europe could be one nation like the United States overlooked tradition, culture, language, even the consent of the governed. When the U.S. faced the issue of unity, Jefferson said he would consent to the assumption of Massachusetts' debt if the capital of the new nation were located adjacent to Virginia. It was possible with a nation being formulated to make deals unrelated to an indelible past. Europe has had no such legacy.

What Europe did have was a series of assumptions about Germany. After World War II the Allied powers believed Germany had to be restrained as a giant Gulliver. The division of this nation into east and west was one constraining condition. It was also believed that if West Germany could be integrated into a European system, its imperial impulses could not be unleashed. Even German chancellor Helmut Kohl believed responsible German action was possible only in the company of allies. He called for a European Germany, not a German Europe, albeit history often has an ironic ring to it as recent events in Europe suggest.

With unification of the Germanys, NATO adoption, and the introduction of the euro, the plan for integration was seemingly put in place. Germany was sealed as a member in good standing of the West. But the West itself was unsettled. Cradle to grave security gave Europeans the impression they did not have to work in order to receive benefits. Less than half actually work and in southern Italy work has been unknown for three generations. With lavish benefits that Europeans came to expect, came a demographic nightmare in which birthrates fell well below replacement level. Who pays and who gets became a question every European leader had to address.

For more than a decade sovereign debt exceeded aggregate GDP, with politicians unable to control expenditures. To do so would have translated into electoral defeat. So the illusion continued until the annual deficits piled so high they could not be ignored. Here is where the default scenario begins. Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Italy have accumulated debts that cannot possibly be met by the IMF and the European Central Bank. Default is the only real option, notwithstanding band-aids such as the refinancing of the banks.

The upcoming German election will offer some glimpses into the future. Germany is the most successful economy in Europe; but as much as Ms. Merkel would like to retain the EU she realizes there are limits to what Germany can do and is willing to do. This election will be a referendum on the union with Merkel's adversaries asking whether a hardworking entrepreneur in Hamburg should be supporting a shiftless welfare recipient in Palermo. If the answer to this question is yes, Merkel will be defeated and Germany will soon be on the poverty line with Greece.

There is little doubt that European socialism has failed. Welfare, as the Europeans experienced it for at least two generations, is over. Austerity is in the air, so too is serious discussion of a return to national currencies. How can Europe even pretend to be democratic when political leaders cannot exert control over fiscal and monetary policies? The euro will be the dead canary in the European mine destroyed by irresponsible spending.

What Europe needs is not a bailout from the Chinese or the Americans or even the IMF, but pro-growth policies that liberate European ingenuity from the shackles of onerous regulation and extortionate taxes. The pleasure ride Europeans enjoyed is behind them. Now they must roll up their sleeves and let the hard work begin. To do any less is to relegate Europe to the ash heap of history, a wonderful museum with a dead present and an empty future.

Israel and the Existential Threat

For a variety of reasons, including a misguided infatuation with soft power, neither the United States nor Israel has exercised the legitimate right of anticipatory self-defense against Iran. As a result, Iran's entry into the nuclear club is a virtual fait accompli. In Israel, a nation already targeted for annihilation, self-defense is limited to contingency plans, active defense, and deterrence. However, each case is fallible.

Contingency plans make sense when preemption is an option. Should there be an attack on Israel, retaliation is the only option. Active defense is useful since it can confuse the planning of the enemy, but it is difficult, alas impossible, to know how many missiles will penetrate defenses in the midst of war. And last, deterrence is workable only if Iran is unwilling to risk the loss of life. If a theological scenario enters the nuclear equation, the prospective loss of innocent life may not deter.

In its latest report, in 2011, the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) "remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed nuclear-related activities involving military-related organizations." However when effective preemption or anticipatory self-defense is unstable, survival is largely dependent on missile defense from Arrow and Aegis destroyers. These systems in Israel are being perfected but they are not perfect. Hence Israel, as a way to enhance deterrence, might change its nuclear posture from "deliberate ambiguity" to counter-city targeting and cumulative penetration capability. As noted, this isn't a panacea, but it may well be that Iranian commentary about a nuclear conflagration as a prelude for the return of the Mahdi has rhetorical, not practical, application.

Certainly Israel would like to avoid these contingencies, relying instead on the United States to deter or, if that fails, destroy the nuclear sites. At the moment, the U.S. seems to be resigned to an Iran with nuclear weapons. The Obama administration either believes Iran is not a serious threat or that sanctions will at some point, so damage the Iranian economy that deployment is rendered nugatory. With Germany, Switzerland, China, and Russia violating the sanctions regimen, this hardly seems a viable course of action.

A nuclear Iran may be unthinkable, as every leader from Obama to Sarkozy, has noted. But action doesn't necessarily follow a promise. President Bush argued that his presidency would be deemed a failure if he left office and Iran had nuclear weapons.

Iran may be a threat to Europeans capitals and a long-term threat to the U.S. but it is a proximate threat to Israel now. It is the shadow that blocks Israeli sunlight. There are other issues in Israel including the Palestinian question; yet there is only one existential issue: the Iranian nuclear threat. Whether it is six months, one year, or several years away from completion, the Iran nuclear juggernaut is moving ahead serving as a Damoclean sword over the heads of the Israeli people.

Israeli batteries at the Iron Dome and Arrow facilities remain confident. They have every reason to feel this way. The troops are strong and their devotion to the security of the Israeli people is unshakable. Still there are the unknowns - penetration ratios, effectiveness in battle, unpredictable conditions. Yet every commander I met in my recent trip to Israel expressed the belief that they will do whatever is necessary to protect the Israeli nation. In Israel, it often seems that God is nearby. Despite the destruction of the First Temple and the attempt by the Romans to destroy the Second Temple, the Jewish people managed to prevail. When I said to one officer that Iran could have the means to destroy Israel, he said "Never again!" Need I say more?

Having Holder Resign

According to law and precedent the U.S. Attorney General is obligated to act independently; to represent the legal interests of the administration in a manner that holds law above politics and ethics above expediency. But in the case of the incumbent, Eric Holder, we have seen evidence of poor judgment, ethical violations, and questionable political actions.

Although "Fast and Furious" has been described as "one of the most incompetent and murderous operations ever undertaken in the name of the Justice Department," all the Attorney General will say is he closed the barn door now that the horses have fled. In a recently withdrawn letter from the Justice Department to Congress, Holder denies lying about the program:

. . . because it all has to do with your state of mind and whether or not you had the requisite intent to come up with something that would be considered perjury or a lie.

Operation Fast and Furious was organized by the Phoenix division of the ATF (U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives). This agency knowingly implemented a strategy of "gun walking" in the hope of discovering where the guns ultimately end up and using the weapons in order to build a case against the Mexican drug cartel. Ultimately 2000 guns were transported over the border with these weapons used in various crimes including the murder of the U.S. border patrol agent Brian Terry.

During his testimony Holder denied any knowledge of the operation albeit recently culled evidence suggests this assertion is untrue.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is the self-proclaimed mastermind behind the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and Pennsylvania attacks. Moreover, he has planned terrorist attacks ranging from the World Trade Center in 1993, to the Philippines, Thailand, Israel, Singapore, and Indonesia. In 2001, he became the chief of operations for al Qaeda.

During the end of the Bush administration, five detainees had been charged in military tribunal, but they indicated that without a full trial they would not plead guilty. Once President Obama came into office, the tribunal was halted. In fact, he and the Attorney General halted all trials at Guantanamo that examine detainee policies.

In April 2011 Holder cleared the military prosecutors to bring charges against Mohammed and his co-defendants. But this happened only after the Obama administration faced tremendous pressure to drop the civilian court trial.

On his second day in office President Obama banned secret overseas prisons and established a closing date for the Guantanamo Bay detention center. In August 2009 the Justice Department released a secret report of CIA's interrogation program. Obama took pains to stress that the decision to prosecute would be from U.S. Attorney Eric Holder and not from the White House.

Holder used this authority to investigate for possible criminal prosecution CIA operatives who interrogated terrorists in overseas locations. He noted that those who acted in "good faith and within the scope of legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel" had nothing to fear. However, his office was determined to examine whether agents acted in good faith. Aside from the chilling effect on the CIA and the impropriety of forcing individuals through investigations with virtually no chance of conviction, reversing a prosecutorial decision of a prior administration is a dangerous precedent.

In Philadelphia, two members of the New Black Panther Party were accused of voter intimidation when they stood outside a polling place on Election Day wearing military outfits and expressing racial slurs. One of these men was carrying a nightstick. They were allegedly trying to prevent white voters from casting a ballot so the Democratic candidates would win. A lawsuit was filed against this party and the two men by the Civil Rights Commission in the Department of Justice. However, soon after, the DOJ dropped the case claiming there was insufficient evidence to prosecute. Some have claimed that the decision was based on a desire to protect the civil liberties of minorities. One former voting chief at the Civil Rights Division said that pressure from the NAACP and some within the DOJ accounted for the decision.

Whether Mr. Holder exercised poor judgment, or concessions to extremists, or outright racial bias, he has demonstrated a clear partisan stance inconsistent with his role and the Constitutional provisions he swore to uphold. Hence, he should be asked to resign and perhaps to explain his faulty decision making. Americans deserve a Justice Department that delivers justice instead of narrowly constructed decisions designed to maintain Democratic Party control.

Is the College Experience Worth It?

Writing in the pages of The Chronicle of Higher Education (11/4/11) Pamela Haag asks "Are Elite Colleges Worth It?" Relying on a couple of recent books such as Richard Arum's Academically Adrift and Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus' Higher Education? she contends the college mystique has been shattered or at least called into question. A study by economists Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger finds that going to a selective college makes little difference in future earning power once inherent abilities are taken into account.

Of course, the argument is often made that the networking afforded through a selective college has invaluable payoffs. I find this contention somewhat dubious since the forging of connections seems more dependent on personality type rather than college affiliation. Facebook now provides that network for any reasonably resourceful person.

While Haag is concerned with elite institutions, there is a nagging more general question: Is college education worth the price? A decade or so ago, the answer would be obvious, and for a population striving for success from the bottom of the proverbial income ladder, it is still obvious. What has changed is that for many middle-class students this rite of passage offers very little in the form of income enhancement or even learning opportunities. As Academically Adrift contends, a significant portion of college cohorts do not enhance intellectual cognition as a result of the college experience.

Driving this question of value is the competitive global environment that relies on knowledge, innovation, and technology. If the United States is to succeed in the future, it must capitalize on its existing strengths, and train a workforce with sophisticated skills. At the moment, it is unclear that these goals are being met. On one matter there is consensus: a sizeable portion of higher education funds is wasted and college isn't, or shouldn't be, for everyone.

Much of college education is a waste of time with students taking courses of limited value or courses that have been diluted to accommodate notions of mass education. A once favorably disposed public is now raising questions about cost and results. It appears as if the college "bubble" will burst soon tearing down the once inviolable ivy walls. Almost everyone maintains an expensive college education is not a guarantee for higher real wages and it may not be worth going into debt for it.

Teenagers looking for a Moses to liberate them from boring classes and lead them to the promised land of prosperity are likely to be very disappointed with the college experience. In fact, contemporary illustrations yield a very different road to success. The dropout has become a central cultural figure who has pursued interests and financial success without the benefit of a college degree. This class of entrepreneurs includes: Bill Gates, Larry Page, Michael Dell, David Geffen, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Ralph Lauren, Jerry Yang, and Mark Zuckerberg among others. Henry Ford never had any formal education and he was certainly not alone among his successful cohorts.

Clearly one can easily produce a list of successful college graduates, but there is conventional opinion emerging that success and college degrees do not necessarily coincide. Peter Thiel of PayPal is presently offering fellowships for youngsters not to attend college, but to develop innovative ideas instead. I don't suppose that this will catch on, but one never knows.

As the price of higher education escalates beyond the rate of inflation, parents eagerly seek government loans and subsidies, but the main effect of government student aid programs is not a transfer of wealth from taxpayers to students, but from taxpayers to academic institutions. When government increases subsidies to colleges, it inflates student purchasing power thereby allowing colleges to raise tuition, ultimately leading to a demand for more government student aid. This circular process is an artifice that keeps tuition high and pricing competition low.

Considering the tuition cost of a quarter of a million dollars at most private universities over a four-year period, it is not surprising that many are considering non-attendance or less expensive alternatives. Despite media hoopla, there is not a rush to shun a college education, but that may be a scenario in the making. Unless colleges can demonstrate a relationship between cost and value, many students are likely to opt out of the higher education experience in the not too distant future.

The Vanishing Western Tradition

It is astonishing that those in the West are living through the near extinction of their civilization. For students in the Academy today, the western civilization history course, virtually a standard curriculum offering 30 years ago, has disappeared.

This survey course covering classical antiquity to the present was the glue, the all-embracing narrative, that gave coherence to everything else the university taught. At the very least, students came away from this course with a partial recognition of their civilization and its monumental achievements.

Now western civilization survey courses have been eliminated from the general education requirements, replaced in large part by courses and programs that either undermine traditions in the West or balkanize the curriculum.

Latino studies, for example, exalt the accomplishments of Spanish-speaking people. Black studies emphasize the plight of blacks in white societies. Women's studies superordinate the role of women. However, white studies denounce male-dominated, colonial societies. American history, on the rare occasion it is required, tells a story of conflict, exploitation and imperial goals. Third World studies is ostensibly a rehearsal of abuse and unfair dominance by the West.

Is it any wonder poll after poll demonstrates students are alienated from their own culture? Clearly many of those who will eventually assume leadership positions are no longer learning about their civilization's triumphs and its singular role in transforming the human condition.

According to a National Association of Scholars report issued in 2011, "The Vanishing West: 1964-2010," only two percent of colleges offer western civilization as a course requirement. Remarkably western civilization is rarely even required for history majors. By contrast, most institutions from 1964 through the seventies did have this requirement. In 1987 Jesse Jackson led Stanford protestors in a chant of "Hey hey, ho ho, Western Culture's got to go." The purpose of this demonstration was to eliminate a course on western civilization, and, mirabile dictu, Jackson and his claque were successful. From the triumphs of the West, e.g. individual rights, the rule of law, minority rights, free markets, the search for truth, the separation of church and state emerged a form of curriculum apologetics for racism, imperialism, sexism, colonialism. The course that stood as the foundation stone in the curriculum was shattered like piecrust by an ideological bandwagon.

In the absence of this foundation, the curriculum began spinning out of control into a phantasmagoria of offerings, many narrow in scope, many trivial in nature and many adhering to notions of political correctness.

Considering the Zeitgeist, it is unlikely the curriculum trend can be reversed easily. But it is worth asking: if the purpose of education is to be literate about our past, shouldn't some emphasis be put on the transmission of culture, especially the culture students inhabit? Shouldn't historians consider a fundamental responsibility for preserving our civic culture and the historical memory of our civilization?

Unless we are nihilistic, these questions should be answered in the affirmative. Redressing the wrongs of curriculum revision will not occur overnight. But those in the Academy would be remiss, alas culpable, if some effort to reintroduce western civilization into the college course of study were not entertained.

Matthew Arnold once noted that universities have an obligation to teach the best that is known and thought. However, he engaged in a lamentation, Dover Beach, when he realized the direction the Academy was taking. "But now I only hear its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar." As I see it, the time has come to hear a chorus of restoration and approval so that the West and its accomplishments are once again appreciated. *

Saturday, 05 December 2015 04:55

A Word from London

A Word from London

Herbert London

Herbert London is President Emeritus of the Hudson Institute, Professor Emeritus of New York University, and author of Diary of A Dean, Hamilton Books, and America's Secular Challenge, Encounter Books.

Armageddon 2012

The Iranian government, through a website proxy, has laid out what it considers the legal and religious justification for the destruction of Israel and the slaughter of Jews worldwide. Calling Israel a danger to Islam, the website Alef, with ties to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, said the opportunity must not be lost to remove "this corrupting material." There is a "jurisprudential justification" to kill all the Jews and annihilate Israel, and in that "the Islamic government of Iran must take the helm." The article written by Alireza Forghani, a strategy specialist in Khamenei's camp, is being shown on most state-owned sites, including the Revolutionary Guards' Fars News Agency, a clear indication this view is embraced by the regime.

The justification for this stance is the belief Israel will attack Iran's nuclear facilities and, as a consequence, Iran must preempt. Although many strategic experts described these comments as "bluster," Iran's Defense Ministry fired a two-stage, solid fuel ballistic missile, putting a new satellite into orbit, a development that indicates Iran has ICBM capability.

The head of Mossad recently noted that Iran has sufficient enriched uranium for four to six nuclear bombs and is continuing to enrich uranium despite four sets of UN sanctions. Recognizing this present state of affairs, Israeli forces have been engaged in a variety of preparations for an attack with Secretary of Defense Panetta indicating it may take place in the spring, despite U.S. disapproval.

It should be noted that the 1981 bombing of the Osirak nuclear facility in Iraq was also criticized by the American government, notwithstanding the fact nuclear weapons in the hands of Saddam Hussein would have been a game-changer in the Middle East forestalling the first Gulf War.

Any attack on Iran's nuclear facilities is far more complicated than the 1981 bombing at Osirak where there were only 12 casualties. This attack will have collateral damage and significant political blowback, albeit several Sunni nations will publicly condemn and privately congratulate Israel should the Iranian nuclear program be set back or destroyed.

To avoid or control retaliation, Israel will consider a variety of secondary targets including communication infrastructures and energy resources. But this cannot be a sterile operation; retaliation has to be entertained including the firing of thousands of missiles by Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon into Israeli population centers. Israel will be under siege. How the Obama administration responds is critical. The current passive climate in Washington has given the Iranian regime encouragement and explains why Netanyahu will only give DC officials 24-hour notice of the impending attack.

What must be realized is that Israel cannot allow Iran to attack first. That would invite a second holocaust. Every Israeli pilot in his F-16 realizes he is fighting to prevent the slaughter of Jews and the survival of Israel. Iran contends its military doctrine is defensive preemption, what the UN charter calls "anticipatory self-defense." But with the development of enriched uranium and statements about the destruction of Israel from Ahamdinejad to Khamenei, it is Iran that is on the offensive and Israel that must defend itself.

The world is at the precipice of disaster. Should these attacks take place; the U.S. will not be able to insulate itself. Iran will claim Israel needed the approval and assistance of the U.S. before an attack could be launched. And Israel will argue the inability of the U.S. to constrain Iranian nuclear weapons development, forced its hand.

It was assumed by the Obama intelligence team that time is on our side. That moment has now passed. The time is here. Sanctions have not had an appreciable effect in the Iranian enrichment program. In fact, Obama himself has delayed enactment hoping against reality that Iran will come to its senses. There is only a military option that remains, one that the U.S. will not consider, but one Israel cannot avoid. As a result 2012 is the year of difficult and, some would say, unavoidable decisions. The fate of Israel and a large part of mankind hang in the balance.

The Tipping Point

In an effort to bolster the political fortunes of President Obama, the media panjandrums have been cheerleading about the improvements in the American economy. Recovery appears to be building, notes the New York Times. The GDP growth is now projected at 3.5 percent, a tonic for the sleepy start of the fiscal year. The unemployment rate has declined, notwithstanding those who no longer seek employment.

The lights are synchronized in green for Obama's reelection, or that is the growing sentiment. But there is an argument, far more telling than present statistical improvement, which must be made. The policies of Obama's last four years have moved the nation down the road of serfdom. Giveaway programs have tied free individuals to the shackles of the state.

As of 2011, almost 45 million Americans are on food stamps, approximately one in seven people. In New York City 1.8 million citizens collect food stamps, one in four. Forty-seven percent of Americans do not pay a personal income tax, and most of these people receive subventions from the government. Thirty-six percent of Americans who file tax forms do not a pay personal income tax. The number of those in a condition of poverty increased 9.5 percent since 2009, with a total of 43.6 million. Again, almost all of these individuals receive government assistance of one kind or another.

My contention isn't merely that we spend more than we can afford - an obvious and well-treated concern. I would assert that despite positive signs in the economic picture, we are nearing the "tipping point," a transformative moment when a majority of Americans are dependent on government largess. This is the path Americans have been on for some time, but it has been accelerated by the policies of the Obama administration.

Thomas Jefferson once noted, "A government that can give you everything you want can take everything you have." Frederic Bastiat echoed this sentiment when he wrote "Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else," and Voltaire captured this concern with his claim, "In general the art of government consists in taking as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other." It is not surprising that in taking from Peter to give to Paul, Paul doesn't complain.

This isn't merely the essence of class warfare, it is the entrapment of leviathan. Former President Bill Clinton said "The age of big government is over." By any standard this comment is absurd. Big government is alive, well, and growing. There isn't the slightest sign it can or will abate until a crisis arises.

Moreover, it is difficult to envision what happens at that point since depending on one's calculation, the majority is already feeding from the public trough. Will a majority vote to reduce its benefits? Will a president about to be reelected on the basis of public giveaways tell the truth about economic conditions?

This presidential campaign offers a unique opportunity to tell the truth about what ails us. But the Republicans are afraid of "Third Rail" repercussions if they bring up unfunded liabilities in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. And the Democrats want to create the illusion they are the compassionate party, eager to assist the poor and downtrodden, a stereotype that is inconsistent with Big Labor support and the endorsement of the Plaintiffs Bar.

As a consequence, the truth is buried and the Hayakian scenario of The Road to Serfdom is ominously palpable. Perhaps it is time for both parties to accept Edmund Burke's admonition that "No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little." My hope is that this campaign is the beginning of a "little," to reverse the emerging tipping point in the American economy.

The Jeremy Lin Story

For diehard New York Knicks fans the last four decades have been years of promise and years of frustration. The Patrick Ewing era began with dreams of championship rings and ended with ringless fingers. For a time Madison Square Garden resembled a tomb of interred memories from Clyde "The Glide" Frazier, to Willis Reed, and from Dave DeBusschere to Bill Bradley. The past projected the only hope for the future. However, several weeks ago, in what can only be described as a magical moment, everything changed!

The Garden was energized by the unlikeliest of sources: a 23-year-old Chinese American who graduated from Harvard, not the most obvious basketball factory. Moreover, the young man in question, Jeremy Lin, was dropped from the roster of two other teams. He was regarded as too slow and too soft to make it in the NBA. He was sent down to the D League to improve his skills and was considered the likeliest person to be cut from the Knicks squad twenty-four hours before the decision was made to keep him.

In a scant half dozen games Lin transformed the Knicks franchise and New York City. He has created Linsanity, a fascination with team play unseen in New York since the early 1970s. Moreover, as opposed to players who preen in front of a camera after a dunk or who have tattoos all over their bodies as advertisements for themselves, Lin is self-effacing, tattoo free, and invariably gives credit to his teammates for recent successes.

In fact, he is the straw that stirs the drink. As a point guard he orchestrates the attack. He has been averaging about 25 points a game with seven assists thrown in for good measure. Most significantly, he has changed the fortunes of the team. The Knicks have won eight of their last ten games by playing team basketball, looking for the open man and unselfishly giving up the ball when the situation calls for it.

Lin was a successful, but not highly recruited basketball player from Palo Alto. In fact, his first college choice was Stanford, but the coach there didn't recognize his potential. He went to Harvard where he majored in economics, not exactly the conventional route to the NBA. He was not drafted out of college.

His parents are both engineers and brought up their son in a traditional Christian home. His dedication to Christian principles invariably emerges in his press conferences. Rather than live the flamboyant life of an NBA player, Lin did not have his own apartment and slept on a couch in his brother's flat, never complaining about the living arrangement.

In his first starting assignment against the Utah Jazz, I was seated in a floor seat about five feet from his brother. Sibling excitement is the only way to describe the scene that evening. Lin scored 28 points that night and led his team to victory, but the smile on his brother's face told an even more scintillating story.

Lin is the only Chinese American in the NBA. He is now a star who cannot be denied fame and fortune. But it is his attitude that wins fan loyalty. He puts team ahead of self, a position almost unknown in the professional ranks today. He gives credit to God for his success, but it isn't a treacly religiosity that he espouses. He appears to be comfortable in his own skin.

Whether he can lead the Knicks to the promised land of the championship remains to be seen. In the short term, he has generated interest in the team, given it a new and healthy perspective, and restored basic team concepts to a game infected with narcissistic attitudes.

Jeremy Lin is a phenomenon who has put electricity into the Madison Square Garden stands. When he is on the court all eyes are on him; he is the one player others want on their team. He makes the basketball machine hum and he did this coming from nowhere and scaling the heights of big time basketball in New York.

College Tuition Rates and the Free Market

When President Obama addressed the issue of unaffordable college tuition in his State of the Union address, he neglected to print out that federal subsidies are often responsible for the increase. He noted, "If you can't stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down." However, since tuition is dependent on federal aid, it cannot remain stable or go down unless federal aid is reduced.

Presumably the president is intent on campus-based aid when - only when - universities set responsible tuition policy. But what precisely does that mean? For private colleges and universities the tuition rate is fixed based on the competition. NYU is likely to set tuition increases near the Yale rate and Yale is likely to set its tuition at the Princeton rate and so the beat goes on.

Now if there were a real interest in "providing good value" as the president noted, there would be longitudinal studies on graduates. But what would one say about Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Ralph Lauren, among others, who were college dropouts? Moreover, what does it mean to talk about "good value" when students can design their own course of study avoiding mathematics, chemistry, American history, even Shakespeare?

Should the government deny assistance to colleges, many would collapse. Would that be a bad thing? It is if one of the colleges is your alma mater, or where your son or daughter is in attendance. But in reality, President Obama is not serious about reducing aid and most university officials know that the award for Pell grants is likely to rise and eligibility to loosen.

The affordability of college tuition is a national preoccupation with the average tuition at a public four-year university increasing three and a half times between 1980 and 2012. Still most parents in the United States contend they want to send their kids to college. They are caught in an ideological dilemma. On the one hand, they want to reduce the size and influence of federal authority; on the other hand, they realize that without the Pell grant and other federal subsidies they may not be able to afford tuition for their children. In 2011 Pell grants alone totaled about $41 billion.

As I see it, universities should tighten their expansive belts by refusing government assistance. This might encourage curriculum reform, a return to basics instead of the present curriculum that includes the fashionable and the trifling. In my experience there isn't a major university in the United States that couldn't cut 10 percent of its budget without in any way adversely affecting the delivery of programs and services. These cuts might also serve to catalyze institutional reform such as on-line programming and independent study projects.

Universities will not be remade over night. However, reducing the reliance on federal assistance would force desirable change. And even though the closure of some institutions might be regretted by students and parents, this action could be a benefit for taxpayers who have been put in the position of underwriting more institutions than the country probably needs.

The trick is to unleash market forces. Let curriculum reform dictate marketability. Let on-line courses serve as a credible alternative to classroom study. Let some universities fail; yes, some should fail. And let parents and students make choices based on the trade-off between taxes and tuition.

It is reasonable to ask, as President Obama has, why tuition is so high. Unfortunately he is prepared to propose a "solution" that only adds to the problem. If he were truly interested in addressing this matter, he might suggest it is time for the federal government to get out of the way so that market forces can flourish. There was a time when tuition rates were affordable for even working class people, but it was at a time before federal intervention. It may be time to turn the clock back to that period.

The Other University Bubble

It has become glaringly apparent that the college tuition bubble is about to burst. At a time of financial exigency, the cost of $250,000 for a four-year education at a private college is beyond the means of most middle-class parents. That story is now very much front-page news. What may not be front-page news, but is itself a related bubble, is the excessive commentary surrounding the liberal arts.

If one speaks to an academic immersed in the academic culture, he is likely to wax lyrical about the virtues of the liberal arts curriculum. I, too, was once in this camp. However, the liberal arts have been injected with foreign steroids that have ballooned the number of offerings and vitiated the meaning of the curriculum. If one were to rely on the Matthew Arnold standard of the best that is known and thought as a guide, the current curriculum is anything that will fit or whatever you can get away with.

The absurdity of the offerings from the Occupy Movement to Film Noir represent little more than outcroppings of the contemporary imagination. In fact, so absurd are many of the college level courses that it is impossible to caricature them. The university has let itself become a feast for those bursting with expression. Rather than distinguish between the worthy and the ridiculous, scholars refuse to distinguish at all. Every course fits the bill surrounding standards to some anachronistic moment in the past.

This is the age of open arms, of responding to student demands, of acceptance. Far be it for some crusty academic to argue that a course on the films of Woody Allen hasn't an appropriate place in the curriculum. To reject this premise is to be judgmental, a sin in the new order.

What students get out of these experiences remains unclear. Surely some of these courses are entertaining, some may even be illuminating, but what, if anything, do they offer the liberal arts? The presumption of the liberal arts experience is that by studying the great works of civilization, one arrives at an understanding (even a partial understanding) of the human condition, i.e., what makes us tick. Differences in time will reveal variegated themes, but passion, loyalty, sadness, conflict, envy, greed, and love do not vary. These are the conditions of life in the very air we breathe, and they are revealed in literature, philosophy, drama, and poetry.

To suggest - as the contemporary curriculum does - that these ideas don't matter is to miss the point of the liberal arts by allowing the trifling, the trivial, and the current to insinuate themselves into the curriculum and devalue the college experience.

As I see it, encouraging serious students to engage in an exercise like work or travel or even reading on their own might be as desirable as paying for the privilege of studying the inconsequential. The tuition bubble is about to burst and with it may be a curriculum that is flatulent and unworthy of scholarship.

Clearly my detractors are baying at the moon as they contend my allegations are exaggerated. But I have a useful exercise for the critics: read a core curriculum guide from 1950 at any major university and compare it with its modern counterpart. Even leaving aside breakthroughs in science and computer studies, the number of new courses with exotic titles is staggering. Expression is deemed good; all aspects of life are considered worthy of investigation and the line between scholarship and self-exploration unclear.

At some point, those who underwrite this very expensive education - whether they are parents, trustees, or government officials - will ask if we are getting very much of a return on investment. If the best one can say is the result is dubious, the bubble could disappear like soapsuds.

Colleges and universities won't die, but they will be obliged to define and justify their missions. That is a task both necessary and desirable for a nation that puts a premium on education and for an institution that has seemingly lost its way. *

Saturday, 05 December 2015 04:47

A Word from London

A Word from London

Herbert London

Herbert London is President Emeritus of the Hudson Institute, Professor Emeritus of New York University, and author of Diary of A Dean, Hamilton Books, and America's Secular Challenge, Encounter Books.

Woodstock in New York

The Wall Street demonstrators have managed to capture the attention of people across the globe. For some, this is the Arab Street transplanted to the U.S. For others, it is the anti-capitalist sentiment exemplified by the Obama administration. However, it also could be seizing the moment to create the Woodstock nation in the mind of an adolescent generation.

This outpouring of emotion about greed and exploitation is a rant against what these demonstrators invariably say: that Wall Street financiers are greedy. Alas, financiers are greedy and the bail out of the banks may have been good for Wall Street, but certainly not Main Street. However, these occupiers of Zuccotti Park in downtown Manhattan seem to be oblivious to Adam Smith who argued that greed in the aggregate can have a healthy effect on the economy.

The venting often yields fatuous solutions. "We want to change the system," say the demonstrators. Which system is not clear, nor is there a strategy for making that happen. It is easy to be sympathetic to a demonstration against unfairness, but that should be translated into actionable policy, a condition not yet discernible.

Is it the free market they oppose? Or is it income disparity? Is it the lack of opportunity or high paying jobs? Is the entire demonstration a form of puerile Marxism, or is there a foundation at the core of the demonstrations?

Perhaps at some point the progeny of Saul Alinsky will convert the expression of despair into a "cause." That could be an opportunity for the left or a tragedy for the country.

One man, who said it was hypocritical of me to denounce these demonstrators when I haven't denounced the Tea Party, seems incapable of appropriate distinctions. If you prefer the American Revolution to the Russian Revolution, does that make you a hypocrite? Alas, the demonstration near Wall Street hasn't any real focus at the moment. It is a display of unhappiness. What the young adherents seem to be saying is that life is unfair. By contrast, the Tea Party has a specific gripe and a specific method for addressing it. Tea Partiers believe that our government has become too large and intrusive. It is their belief that expenditures must be cut to ensure our future. You may agree or disagree with this position, but it is precise and subject to evaluation.

How is someone supposed to respond to unfairness or sin? Most New Yorkers realize intuitively that life is unfair. But most go about their business paying bills, taking care of their families and meeting their obligations. It often appears as if the occupiers of Wall Street have forgotten about the 99 percent who pay their taxes so the police can protect those in Zuccotti Park.

Weather conditions in New York have cooperated with the demonstrators thus far. But wintry conditions are coming. Will the demonstrators remain as devoted to their cause when snow is on the ground? It may not snow in Los Angeles but New York is the eye of the civil hurricane; when it ends here, it is likely to end elsewhere. Moreover, how does one remain devoted when positions are unfocused?

One member of the Zuccotti Park occupiers said he left his construction job in Pennsylvania to lend his support to the demonstrators who are clamoring for more jobs. "You are leaving your job to protest for more jobs?" I said. Being part of the action is probably more what he wants. I suspect he is not alone.

This is a huge, live burlesque show of kids craving attention and getting it from pandering adults. One cop said, "Let them have their fun." Unfortunately fun for them isn't fun for those who live and work in the Wall Street area. But nature addresses demonstrators of this kind: winter is coming. Maybe God is in Heaven and doesn't appreciate disruption for its own sake.

Israel and the U.S., 2011

There is little doubt that Israel looks to the United States for support. It is somewhat like the picked-on younger brother eager to have his sibling come to his aid. In the case of the U.S. and Israel that has usually been the case, albeit the 1956 war in the Suez was an exception.

Now something has gone sour. For reasons somewhat elusive, President Obama has arrived at the dubious conclusion conditions in the Middle East might improve if Israel and the Palestinians could arrive at an understanding about a Palestinian state.

Never mind that Assad kills his own Syrian citizens interested in regime change. Never mind that Egypt is unstable after Mubarak's unceremonious ouster. Never mind the civil war in the Sudan has led to the death of thousands. Never mind that the rebels in Libya may not be interested in a democratic republic. Never mind Iraq is close to civil war as U.S. forces decline. Never mind Afghanistan has a civil war with U.S. forces on the ground. Never mind Pakistan is a friend by day and a foe by night. And never mind Iran is about to acquire nuclear weapons. The issue for Obama is organic population growth on the West Bank. Now that's an issue worth the president's attention.

What most people do not know, including President Obama, is that most settlements are a literal stone's throw from Jerusalem. The communities that the president complains about are the ones that allow Jerusalem to survive. They offer strategic depth or at least a little of it. Without Judea and Samaria, Israel's waist is 81/2 miles wide. Israel would simply become indefensible. In fact, in this scenario a terrorist firing a Stinger from the Judean hills could shoot every commercial plane taking off from and landing at Ben Gurion airport.

While the president has referred to Israel's recalcitrance about return to the so-called 1967 borders, he overlooks the unwillingness of either Fatah or Hamas to recognize the state of Israel. On the contrary, even as they demand a state, they demonize Israel and launch weekly attacks against it.

Israeli opinion is divided. The left believes that since Israel cannot incorporate the nearly 4 million Arabs in the West Bank, the creation of a Palestinian state is a safety valve that avoids a demographic nightmare. The right contends a Palestinian state would be a sanctuary for terrorism disrupting Israeli lives now and into the future.

Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu contends a state can be created if the P.A. (Palestinian Authority) renounces violence, disarms, and recognizes the state of Israel as a Jewish state. It is a reasonable stance politically, but one opposed by all parties in the Palestinian territory. Once again Palestinians seem to embrace the Abba Eban dictum in which "the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." However in this case the opportunity may be seized by the General Assembly seemingly eager to impose a Palestinian state on Israel without preconditions. Fortunately, the U.S. is likely to veto any state proposal within the Security Council halting at least for now any Palestinian national entity.

Within the White House there are very few divisions. President Obama is intent on mollifying Arab opinion. It is also much too complicated trying to sort out issues as political cultures in the region are roiling; but the Israel-Palestinian issue can be addressed by simply putting more pressure on Israel. The only fly in the ointment is Obama is intent on reelection. For him to achieve this goal, he needs Jewish political and financial support. An active anti-Israeli agenda simply won't fly. So expect equivocation, appeasement and sounds of sweet harmony. It won't be sincere; then again it doesn't have to be since Jewish Americans are already inclined to support Obama even if it isn't in their interest to do so.

Israel and Just War Theory

Now that a trade of more than one thousand convicted terrorists for one Israeli soldier has been transacted, it should be clear to any of the skeptics which side in the Middle East puts the greatest premium on life. Similarly, it should be noted from this trade which side adheres to the principles of "just war."

Nevertheless, when Judge Richard Goldstone wrote his report about the conduct of the Israeli Defense Force in the Gazan "Cast Lead" operation, he indicated in several places that the troops acted irresponsibly leading to unnecessary deaths in the civilian population. Although Goldstone later recanted, the damage was done. His report became a propaganda weapon against the Israeli government from Europe to Africa, from the groves of Academe to the corridors of the United Nations.

The problem with the report is that Goldstone relied on the reflections of officials in Gaza instead of films provided by the Israeli forces. Seeing isn't always believing, and doctored pictures have a notorious history. Nonetheless, I recently spent several hours viewing films which seem to offer incontrovertible evidence that Israeli troops did whatever they could to control collateral damage.

In fact, there were times when they put their own lives at risk in order to avoid killing an innocent person. Time after time, a known terrorist hiding behind "human shields" in an apartment complex was spared in order to avoid the death of innocents. Rockets launched from a school roof remained untouched until children left the premises. In the heat of battle Israeli forces maintained a level of moral behavior that was exemplary. Were there civilians killed in the encounter? Of course, war is not volleyball. But that should not detract from the stance and behavior of the Israeli forces.

I recently had the occasion to ask a base commander about the behavior of his troops in battle. His response was revealing. "Our troops are trained to put life ahead of personal safety." The Israeli army officials contend that unnecessary shelling is not acceptable. Firepower is related directly to the force used against Israel.

Many commentators on this subject point to an Arab boy of about ten crying as he approached a checkpoint. Soldiers on the scene went into high alert. It was obvious this deranged youngster was recruited to be a suicide bomber. One Israeli soldier recognizing the boy's agitation called out to him, "Brother" in Arabic. It was not clear when or whether the youngster would set himself ablaze. Nonetheless, the IDF soldier continued to walk to the boy, took him in his arms, and disarmed the explosive device around his waist. It is instructive that from that time on the Palestinians have used a remote control device to explode suicide bombers. The episode also tells a great deal about the Israeli military psychology.

Arab attempts to paint a different picture of the IDF have been successful. Many in the Arab world see these well-trained and -disciplined troops as amoral. That, however, is far from the truth. These Israeli eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds are told from the first day of national service that they carry the banner of a civilization that puts a premium on life. Their job is to protect and defend. They are given a green light to kill only when other methods to stop an enemy fail.

At a training session for IDF entrants at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, teenagers drafted into military service discuss the roots of war, the conflict in the Middle East, the history of this new nation. But most significantly, they study just war theory and a moral stance for fighting those who rely on terror methods. Of course, no system is foolproof; occasionally a soldier will act improperly. This, however, is the exception. Israel is in a daily struggle. After all, 250 million Arabs want to destroy this nation. But Israeli leaders won't modify their moral code one iota. As the commander of this training center noted, "If we altered our approach, what effect would it have on soldiers when they leave military service?" One fights not only to save a nation, but to save basic civilization.

The Neglect of "High Flyers"

The Thomas Fordham Institute released the results of a study this week (September 19) entitled "Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students." This is among the first studies to examine the performance of America's highest achieving children over time and at the individual student level. Produced in partnership with the Northwest Evaluation Association, this study's results indicate that many high-achieving students struggle to maintain their elite performance over their school years and often fail to improve their reading ability at the same rate as their average and below average cohorts.

As I see it this study raises a troubling but predictable question: Is the U.S. preoccupation with closing achievement gaps and "leaving no child behind" coming at the expense of our "talented tenth"?

Although this study was done at the elementary school level, it has a direct bearing on higher education. So focused are academics on an egalitarian ethos that distinctions, once critical in the Academy, have virtually disappeared. With grade inflation endemic, the honor roll is little more than a roster of enrolled students. Even Phi Beta Kappa status has been vitiated by undifferentiated grading.

To suggest that there is a talented tenth that deserves special treatment would be regarded as a form of "elitism," a pejorative widely used on campus.

It is hardly surprising that the U.S. does so poorly on international tests. What we have encouraged at every stage of formal education is compression at the mean. That translates into a modest improvement at the bottom quartile and neglect at the upper quartile. Excellence is simply seen as less important than access.

That this condition may have an influence on national competitiveness is one of those factors better left unstated. This is an America where everyone is believed to be above average, even though the net result of our education systems is mediocrity.

Taxing Those Who Leave the U.S.

Suppose you oppose the tax and spend policies of New York State and have decided to leave. Although tax collectors will pursue you and you will have to demonstrate you spend more than half your time elsewhere, relocation is possible. An American citizen can march with his feet to a state system consistent with his economic and political philosophy.

But suppose you want to vote with your feet outside the United States. Suppose you do not agree with Obama's tax policy, or universal health care, or military policy, and choose to relocate. What you will find is that taxes are imposed based on citizenship, not place of residence. One may leave the United States but the United States will not leave you. Taxes will still have to be paid to a government with which one disagrees. In fact, the United States is the only country that taxes the global income of its citizens.

According to the IRS:

If you are a U.S. citizen or resident alien, the rules for filing income, estate, and gift tax returns, and paying estimated tax are generally the same whether you are in the United States or abroad. Your worldwide income is subject to U.S. income tax, regardless of where you reside.

There is evidence that policies are moderated by the ability of citizens to leave their residence and find a congenial home for tax policy or other policy concerns. The French "wealth tax" was so onerous, that many wealthy residents moved to Belgium. In time, this led to policy reform in France.

According to Forbes, after Obama's tax laws passed many Americans gave up their citizenship rather than pay taxes at an extortionate rate. However, their preference - in most instances - was to retain their citizenship even as they relocated.

In effect, the American government has a leash around its citizens. It says even if you wish to express your freedom of conscience by moving to another nation, the IRS will not let go. American citizenship means the payment of American taxes even if you are living in Sydney or Saigon and have decided not to return to the United States.

There is something odd about this arrangement in the land of the free. It is also a condition about which most Americans are ignorant, until that time when exasperation leads to a change of national venue. At that point the long arm of government reaches out for you whenever you may be.

Perhaps that explains why Mark Twain once asked "What is the difference between a tax collector and a taxidermist?" The answer: "A taxidermist leaves the skin." President Ronald Reagan once noted that "the government is like a baby's alimentary canal, with a happy appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other." Clearly a government that continues to impose its will on citizens who wish to leave the nation in body and soul is irresponsible.

It makes sense to tax those who live here and wish to retain their citizenship, but it makes very little sense to tax those who oppose the policies of the nation and, as a consequence, have moved elsewhere. *

Saturday, 05 December 2015 04:43

A Word from London

A Word from London

Herbert London

Herbert London is the author of Decade of Denial (Lexington Books), America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books) and most recently Diary of a Dean (Hamilton Books), and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.

From Coming Boom to the Coming Gloom

In a book entitled the Coming Boom by Herman Kahn published in1982, Kahn argued that despite the double digit inflation of the Carter years and the "stagflation" that plagued the period from roughly 1976 to 1981, an economic boom was just over the horizon. As it turned out Kahn was right as the ensuing Reagan years ushered in a period of economic growth and vitality.

What Herman Kahn observed in the book was the following: tight monetary policies would lead to high interest rates and a decrease in inflation; deflationary trends lead inevitability to a more efficient use of energy; issuance of long-term bonds will allow the government to tap into new markets; the demand for all commodities will increase dramatically due to pent up opportunities; debt relative to GDP is small; output of workers is likely to increase; the lag between invention of technology and commercial application is shortening; the U.S. is emerging as the globe's undisputed military power and, most significantly, a psychology of achievement and affluence is emerging that provides full confidence in the future.

These claims reinforced Herman Kahn's view that boom times were coming. But I wonder what Kahn would say today? The recent congressional debt limit debate gave the country an opportunity to assess where we stand and, by my lights, was a moment for gloomy predications. My chronic optimism serves as a modest counterweight, but the evidence provided in this piece speaks to conditions very different from 1982, most especially the sense of weltschmerz that dominates the present debate about the nation's finances. But there is more, much more that should be considered.

The debt of $14 trillion is almost equal to GDP. Dollars put into circulation have increased by 50 percent since 2008, an obvious effort to monetize the debt. The unemployment rate at the moment is 9.1 percent; however if you include those no longer seeking employment, the rate is over 15 percent (13.7 million Americans are unemployed and 989,000 have given up looking for working). Overall there are 6.4 million in the long-term unemployment category. The unfunded liability for Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security is $117 trillion, approximately $17 trillion for Social Security, and $90 trillion for Medicare and Medicaid. That aggregate total is more than all the registered wealth on the globe. The CBO (Congressional Budget Office) predicts the debt in 2020 will be $20 trillion. The sum necessary to finance a debt of that magnitude is roughly equivalent to today's defense budget.

The anticipated U.S. fiscal budget for 2011-2012 has revenue at about $2 trillion and expenditures at $3.7 trillion with a deficit of $1.7 trillion, the largest in U.S. history. This deficit is four times greater than the one in 2008. Moreover, this figure does not take into account pension liability, which is unfunded at the state level, and accounts for another $1 trillion.

As of February 2011, the last date on which figures were available, 44.2 million Americans are on foodstamps, approximately one in seven people. Forty-seven percent of Americans do not pay personal income tax. Thirty-six percent of Americans, who file tax forms do not pay. About 142 million Americans who filed did not pay anything in 2009. Income level, nominal and actual, above $50,000 declined from 2008 to 2010, with the most precipitous decline in the $100,000 to $150,00 category. The number of those in poverty has increased 9.5 percent since 2009 with a total of 43.6 million total. China presently holds $1.14 trillion in American securities, a condition that could put American financial interests at risk.

There were 89,000 people who received checks from the Stimulus program who were dead or in prison, and 3,700 tax delinquents who received stimulus funds. The individual share of the national debt is $46,000. Gold has gone from $853 a troy ounce in 2009 to $1,800 today, a condition that bespeaks uneasiness with U.S. markets. Household income has decreased by .7 percent since 2009 and there has been an increase of 17.1 percent in bank failures since 2009.

By any measure these statistics paint a gloomy picture, one that suggests the nation is at a crossroads. If you focus solely on the debt, it is easy to overlook the most fundamental problem. This nation faces a crisis not because taxes are too low but because government is too big, too intrusive, and too dominant.

If there isn't any change in federal policy, if we continue down the road we are on, any extrapolation of the numbers leads to be a disastrous result. By 2050, according to the CBO, spending will exceed GDP by 42 percent. How can our liberties remain intact when government controls such an extraordinary portion of the economy? Yet any discussion of entitlement program reduction is considered the third rail in American politics. This disparity between political sensitivity and economic reality has to be addressed by a Congress that understands the problems but is resistant to real reform.

If the Tea Party movement stands for anything it is the belief that the growth of government imperils freedom. That is an understanding Americans must imbibe. However there is the danger the United States has reached a Platonic tipping point at which the number of takers, i.e. outliers, is far greater than the number of givers, i.e. tax payers. This is not a scenario for democracy's survival. And yet, I maintain a faith in national resilience. At some point, I believe the public will awaken to the economic threat and force the Congress to act appropriately.

As I see it, we've gone from the "coming boom" to the "coming gloom," but what lies over the horizon remains undetermined.

The Walls That Divide Europe

It is something of an old chestnut that "good fences make for good neighbors," but it is also true that walls often keep people in and usually keep people out. This was true of the Berlin Wall constructed in 1961, and it is true of the walls being erected throughout Europe today.

These contemporary walls operate under the name of "no go" zones, areas that are off limits to non-Muslims. These zones function as microstates governed by Sharia. In many locations from Malmo to Hamburg, from Liverpool to Rotterdam host country authorities have lost effective control over these zones and in many instances are unable to provide even basic public aid such as police and fire assistance and ambulance services without permission from the local imam.

Here in unvarnished terms are the influences of multicultural policies that encouraged Muslim immigrants to live in parallel societies "walled in" through a desire for separation and the host's desire to avoid integration.

In Britain, for example, a Muslim group called Muslims Against the Crusades, has launched a campaign to convert twelve British cities - including Londonistan - into independent Islamic states. In the Tower Hamlets area of East London extremist Muslim preachers routinely issue death threats to women who refuse to wear Islamic veils. Neighborhood streets are plastered with posters declaring "You are entering a Sharia controlled zone; Islamic rules enforced." The Muslim extremist Abu Izzadeen heckled the former Home Secretary John Reid by saying, "How dare you come to a Muslim area."

At last count the French police maintain there are 751 "no go" zones (Zones Urbaines Sensibles, ZUS) listed on the French government website. And mosques in Paris have been broadcasting sermons and chants of "Allahu Akbar" via loudspeakers into the streets. By any stretch, this represents an occupation force in France.

In a widely publicized event, fire fighters in Malmo, Sweden, were attacked by Muslim stone throwers in their effort to extinguish a fire in the town's main mosque. The argument for the disruption was that the fire fighting team did not obtain permission from the imams to enter "their" community. According to Malmo-based Imam Adly Abu Hajar: "Sweden is the best Islamic state."

These walls that divide are having a profound influence on European societies. Muslim extremists employ the separation as a tactic to proselytize, and Europeans often describe these zones as evidence Muslims cannot be integrated. The governments in question, eager to maintain stability, acquiesce in favor of the multicultural position. However, the acquiescence does not yield an expected result. The "no-go" zones breed hostility; these areas are timebombs waiting to be set off by even relatively benign circumstances.

For decades the Berlin Wall was a symbol separating two worlds: freedom and dictatorship. It is instructive that the new walls separate liberal values from notions of religious extremism in a manner not entirely dissimilar from the past. Guns, tanks, and barbed wire do not separate "no go" zones from host societies, but the separation is real and no less dangerous.

A Palestinian State? What Does the Evidence Suggest

With a vote on statehood about to come before the United Nations' General Assembly in September it is incumbent on those who will consider this proposal to examine several facts. A recent report by Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik makes the following points:

* The Palestinian Authority pays monthly salaries to 5,500 prisoners in Israeli prisons, many of them known terrorists;
* The P.A. honors terrorists who have killed civilians, presenting them as heroes and role models;
* The P.A. glorifies terror attacks as heroic, including suicide bombings;
* Funding for these salaries and activities comes from the general budget to which the U.S. contributes;
* U.S. law prohibits funding of any person who engages or engaged in terrorist activity.

At the moment Hamas and Fatah terrorist prisoners are receiving monthly checks, a total of almost 18 million shekels ($5 million) monthly. In fact, it pays to be a terrorist since these monthly stipends are more than the average salary for a P.A. civil servant or military officer.

While this practice is going on, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that an additional grant to the P.A. will be made bringing U.S. direct budget assistance to a total of $225 million annually. Of course, neither the American public, nor most members of Congress are aware that a substantial portion of this foreign aid goes to support terrorists. My suspicion is that even Hillary Clinton does not know that a P.A.-sponsored summer camp for children is divided into three groups named after terrorists Dalal Mughrabi, Salah Khalaf, and Abu Ali Mustafa, each of whom planned and executed murders against civilians. My suspicion is that the Secretary of State does not know that Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, a man who she described as a moderate, routinely honors terrorist bombers on his radio broadcasts.

That these practices go on with U.S. subventions is outrageous. The P.A. is in direct violation of our laws and all salaries to imprisoned terrorists and money that honors terrorists should cease immediately. But there is also another lesson in these revelations. Despite all of the rhetorical anodynes from the Obama administration, terrorism is the modus operandi of the P.A. The creation of a Palestinian state is ipso facto the creation of a terrorist state with one goal, the destruction of Israel.

Despite all of the gamesmanship at the U.N., despite President Obama's assurance about adjoining states living in peace, the P.A. and its Hamas partner will not repudiate their goal of destruction and will not recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state. General Assembly members may be convinced that a newly created Arab state can live in peace with its Israeli neighbor; after all, petrodollars are very alluring, But the evidence that a narrative of violence is encouraged, alas funded, militates against an irenic scenario.

As I see it, the time has come for the United States to tell the truth about the West Bank and Gaza. We may not persuade Security Council members that this entire statehood enterprise is misguided, but at least we can state the American position clearly and unequivocally. As long as terrorism prevails, as long as it is cultivated by government authorities, there will not be, there cannot be, a Palestinian nation. If a day comes when Israel lays down its arms, destruction will follow; if there is a day when the Palestinians repudiate terrorism, peace will follow. The alternatives are clear. The question, of course, is whether anyone is listening.

Venice: A City of Dreams

Venice is more than a city, it is in fact the embodiment of the human spirit. Each day nature sends rising tides to test the resilience of this remarkable place. Barriers have been placed at sea as a prophylactic, but nature is relentlessly testing Venetian mettle.

It is hard to believe that this island metropolis is built on piles and stands below sea level. When the rainy season begins, Piazza St Marco becomes a lake that is negotiated with a rowboat. Venetians take this for granted. Every native has a pair of floaters in anticipation of flooding. Yet there are very few that would change places with those on the mainland as the escalating price of property suggests.

Tourism is yet another annual challenge. Carrying their backpacks and fanny packs, hordes march through the narrow streets in search of Tintoretto, gelatos, gondola rides, and the romance of Casanova. It is amazing that the Bridge of Tears can tolerate the weight of photographers trying to capture a moment of the past for the family album. Since there isn't any rhyme or reason for the street design, tourists are in a perpetual state of confusion. I encountered a couple from Boston who kept returning to the same spot even though they claimed to be taking a different route over an hour of desperate turns.

Of course, getting lost in Venice is one of the great joys in life. There is always a church you haven't encountered before. Or maybe you find the piazza in the movie "Summertime" where Kathryn Hepburn fell in the canal only to be rescued by Rossano Brazzi.

Venice surprises. Like the masks worn at Carnivale, the real Venice hides behind upscale shops and museums with priceless artistic work. In November, when fog engulfs the city and drizzle is in the air, the real Venice appears. Without motor vehicles, the sound of the city is bells. The tourists are in distant places. Stores are closed. The silence is breathtaking; the city is in hibernation soon to awaken in June when the tourists leave the train station and hop on the vaparetos along the Grand Canal.

In June the flowers are in bloom, water taxis have been removed from building caves and the gondoliers are given a lease on life. This is the beginning of the commercial boom, a period of prosperity that lasts about four months. For most Venetians, you make it then or you don't make it.

While Venice lives in the past, it is not immune to fashionable opinion. On the Piazza Stefano can be found the Open University of Diversity. The Guggenheim museum features modern art arguably too vanguardish for the Whitney. And every Venetian has a cell phone in perpetual use. It is the Italian way.

Yet what most find appealing is not the present, but the past. The Dogi Palace and the Galileo Tower attract many more tourists than the Guggenheim Museum. Even the Jewish ghetto tells a story of oppression and recovery over centuries. Four hundred Jews today keep the story of the Jewish Venetian past alive.

Venice speaks to history. Napoleon was a benefactor for the great centers of artistic achievement. Leaders from around the globe gravitated to this center of canals. There are cities with more canals than Venice - Amsterdam being a classic example - but none possess the mystery, the intoxicating sensuality of Casanova's birthplace.

As the gondoliers paddle their way along the canals "Volare" is played on recording devices. It is hokey, but confirms a stereotype for first time visitors. Yet there are few moments more rewarding than sipping a cold Bellini with real peach juice on the balcony off the Grand Canal as gondolas gracefully float by, suggesting that God, at least an Italian God, is in his heaven and much is right with the world.

Venice defies nature, but affirms life. She floats to a melody of her own creation that seemingly attracts visitors from every corner of the globe. If Venice is ever overcome by the sea, the world will suffer. But I cannot envision that day, for Venice exudes the spirit and energy of mankind that cannot be dethroned. *

Saturday, 05 December 2015 04:39

A Word from London

A Word from London

Herbert London

Herbert London is the author of Decade of Denial (Lexington Books), America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books) and most recently Diary of a Dean (Hamilton Books), and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.

Environmental Activism

Despite all the talk about energy independence emanating from Washington D.C., this government and its allies in the environmental movement do whatever they can to thwart this goal. Based on reliable discoveries in Utah, Arizona, and Colorado there may be enough fossil fuel from shale and natural gas to avoid any reliance on foreign oil. Why then is nothing happening to mine these resources and bring them to market?

The answer very simply is that extremist elements in the environmental movement have supplied sufficient pressure to make any drilling and mining impossible in these areas.

Using an array of tactics to challenge companies and impose their agenda, the environmentalists have been quite successful in hindering and preventing oil drilling and exploration. No doubt groups like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace want to elect politicians sympathetic to their cause, but they are also adopting guerrilla tactics designed to stop corporations from making contributions to causes they oppose.

The green campaign against Koch Industries illustrates how environmentalists harass privately owned companies that are impervious to social pressure and unwilling to appease their foes. From television to magazine accounts the Koch brothers have been featured as "monsters" without regard for the environment. That these charges have little foundation is of no consequence to environmentalists playing to win.

In the wake of the Supreme Court Citizens United decision permitting unlimited corporate contributions, activists have heightened their efforts to undermine corporate interests. One of the overarching areas targeted for propaganda purpose is environmental matters. Pull the curtain from shareholder proxies and you find a network of environmental advocacy groups promoting their agenda of "alternative" and "renewable" energy.

The goal of environmental activism is clear: attempt to curtail political contributions to candidates who oppose the extremist agenda. Getting companies on their side is the tactic and, remarkably, when companies feel the heat, they often concede. Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric, is a prime example of a business leader who has been converted into an environmental activist. He now makes it appear he is on the side of the angels, even though his position militates against the development necessary to deal with our dependency on foreign oil.

Immelt, among others, contends that the nation should pursue electric cars and solar panels, innovations that cannot possibly eliminate the need for oil-driven cars, home heating oil, and other fossil products, despite rhetoric that suggests clean technology will solve our energy woes.

So deeply embedded is this propaganda that it defies the scientific knowledge well known to officials in the Energy Department. When grants are given for the so-called clean energy technologies, opposition voices are often silenced.

Activists realize that if you can get government agencies and corporate leaders on your side using propaganda and intimidation as tactics, an effective alliance for environmental positions can be created.

For those who are scientific realists, this propaganda effort is discouraging. Not only does it place the United States in a disadvantageous economic position, and force our government to expend blood and treasure defending foreign oil fields, but it also challenges scientific verities and destroys corporate integrity.

The Nation's Economic Future

For most of last few months the Obama administration has maintained a "recovery" is underway. Seizing on a modest reduction in the unemployment rate, the president has waxed lyrical about the upswing in the nation's economy.

But the most recent economic data provides a very different picture. The 2011 economic slowdown is worse than any of the forecasts and is likely to be as substantial as the "crawl" in 2010. Growth has slowed from 3.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010 to 1.8 percent in the first quarter with an anticipated rate of 1.8 percent in the second quarter.

Some of the slowdown can be attributed to weak auto production, some to tragic effects of the earthquake, and tsunami in Japan, and some to the inability of the Congress and the president to come to grips with the fast-approaching economic crisis based on accumulated debt.

There is no question that economic growth is the only politically effective way to keep a financial disaster at bay. Growth should be at the 3 to 4 percent level in order to finance a debt over $14 trillion, that will rise to $26 trillion by 2020. But on the basis of present forecasts that goal may be unreachable.

The precarious nature of the bond market with well-known financial experts expressing concerns about Treasury Bills, suggests a gloomy foreshadowing. Moreover, the reluctance on the part of the present administration to curb its appetite for spending and its recalcitrance to consider budget retrenchment have put the financial markets in an uncertain and perilous environment.

Ultimately the market seems to be counting on a compromise over the debt limit that allows for an increase along with a reduction in expenditures. However, partisan sentiments are running high in this year before a presidential election, with each side driving their advantage for electoral support.

A recent New York Democratic victory in a Congressional seat normally held by a Republican has convinced the party leaders that "Mediscare" can be a tactic for further success. If this is true, any discussion of retrenchment in this program that in itself accounts for more than half of the national debt may be impossible.

On the other side of the ledger, Republicans eager to compromise have Tea Partiers looking over their shoulders arguing that compromise is ostensible defeat. Since the Tea Partiers have given vitality to a moribund party organization, this view cannot be overlooked.

Although this is not the time for stasis, this is what we have. Both parties are captive to their constituents and the arguments that follow from that connection.

The backdrop for this financial slowdown is related to endogenous issues of the kind mentioned in this article, but they are also related to the exogenous issues of bailouts, bank failures and sovereign debt across the globe. Chickens are coming home to roost as generous government programs undermine the incentive for and capacity of private enterprise. So many want so much from so few. The free rider is an international resident.

What this adds up to is not a pretty picture, despite present rhetoric offering a different scenario. We are at an economic precipice and decisions must be made to avoid another major crisis of the 2008 variety. The question, of course, is whether anyone has the will, the determination, to do what is necessary, even if unpopular. The test of democracy's resilience and the fate of the financial system lie in the balance.

The World of Political Discourse Enjoins the Imagination

When the president of the United States says we have to control expenditures and then advocates dramatic increases in the budget, I am perplexed. When I am told the economy is in recovery, but according to recent reports the unemployment rate has ballooned to over 9 percent, I am confused. When I am told we must win the war against radical Islamic forces, but we will be withdrawing our troops from the Middle East, conundrums emerge.

This is not merely Orwellian double-speak, something else is at work. Words create a picture, but it's a picture obscured by reality. Ludwig Wittgenstein spent his life trying to show how language can be useful in understanding the world, while still remaining inexact. "The limits of my language are the limits of my world," he noted. We are presumably imprisoned by what we can say.

The mathematician Godel spoke of the incompleteness theorem: "a statement cannot be proved." In other words there is a truth outside the limits of words and logic. A logical argument cannot prove its own axioms, and, as a consequence, logic itself must begin with an act of faith beyond logic.

What this suggests for those who are trying to make sense of the contradictions in the political world is that language is imprecise and truth is evasive. Invariably politicians use metaphor or word pictures to convey impressions. President Obama, during the course of his presidential campaign, relied on a tabula rasa in which his constituents could project onto his views anything they would like him to embrace.

It is instructive that the citizen searching for truth realizes at some point truth cannot be final. There is always a next truth. Frank Fukuyama may discuss "the end of history," but history cannot have an end. Ultimately the sensible person tries to assemble an understanding of life through the thickets of specialized terminology, political propaganda and conceptual coinage, searching for that active radiance, the moment of revelation.

Ralph Waldo Emerson noted "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds"; however, inconsistency in the political realm leads inevitably to cynicism. What can you believe, what confidence can you have in leaders, when one action contradicts the next? Politics by its very nature is the metaphorical on steroids. Impressions are what count. Facts give impression texture, but it is what lies beyond logic that enters our imagination. Thomas Mann in Doctor Fautus characterized this well by noting "all that one may well call vast, strange, extraordinary, magnificent, without thereby giving it a name because it is truly nameless." This space, this vast ocean of the unknown, kindled Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream in which Bottom says, "I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was. Man is but an ass if he go about to expound this dream."

There is much that we know without knowing it. And there is much we would wish to explain, without explication. Alas the world is confusing, but our politicians have an obligation to at least make the metaphor reach the outer reach of our imagination. There is something to be said for sound impressions.

Fin de Siecle Attitude

Is this the end of an era? Is Western civilization on a collision course with extinction? In a media world that thrives on pessimism, it is hard to know. Yet there is the nagging feeling that the myrmidons of doom may be right.

How can one explain the fact that a prostitute who slept with the former governor of New York is rewarded with a newspaper column on love and sex? Why should a down and out British actor be given a role as a movie star after revealing that he slept with a world-famous mannequin? Is getting attention by wearing foolish looking outfits or provocative gear the source of success in the music business? When did pornography become a legitimate business?

These are not merely questions filtered through tabloid perusal; they represent a shift in the public sensibility, a movement away from the bourgeois impulse, a shift of dramatic consequence.

One fine day, I know not when, the world moved from "Ozzie and Harriet" to Charlie Sheen, from sobriety to the drug-addled mind. It seems that the freedom secured through blood and treasure during World War II turned to license. "Anything Goes" is more than a Cole Porter tune; it is a Nietzchean call to test the limits of human existence.

Perhaps the roots of this challenge go back to the French Revolution when the "le deluge" was welcomed as a giant broom sweeping the past away. Jean Jacque Rousseau argued, "A little bit of agitation gives motivation to the soul, and what really makes the species prosper is not peace so much as freedom." This, of course, was a self-serving comment, since Rousseau consumed the fumes of revolution. In my experience, people weigh the benefits of freedom and security or peace, giving up a little of one to create some timely balance with the other.

What we have at the moment is neither freedom nor peace, but chaos. Several years ago when there were riots in Los Angeles over the Rodney King case, Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine, noted that:

. . . looting is the dominant way of life in America, and the hypocritical cries of outrage at what happened in Los Angeles were not wrong because the rioters were justified, but were wrong because they were classically racist: They selected and condemned one group for behavior of other groups that are not being equally condemned.

He singled out the rioters' "racist response" promoted by the fact that most of us know that we are complicit with the culture of looting. Here in undiluted form is cultural chaos theory. Presumably since, "looting is the dominant way of life," we are all complicit. The only thing wrong of course, is that looters chose to abuse only one racial and ethnic group.

Lerner seemingly confirms the T. S. Eliot aphorism that "People who have stopped thinking make for a powerful force." When people stop thinking any thought is acceptable including nonjudgmental thought. As a consequence, culture is in the odd position of not being criticized. Talent is relative along with every other consideration. I'm reminded of Daniel Boorstein's comment that "celebrity is someone who is known for being well known." Does Madonna have any discernible talent except for marketing herself as a talent? Does Reverend Al Sharpton have anything of substance to say, except proclamations of racism and self-promotional advertisements?

Down the slippery slope we go wondering whether recovery is possible. Tennyson, the eternal optimist, wrote, "Come my friends, it is not too late to seek new worlds." I hope he is right, but the worlds I see are drowning in chaos and the loss of limits. There isn't direction and there are days when hope seems to evaporate. But then "Spring is here, the world rejoices, nature comes, and you hear her voices." Sometimes the world turning isn't so bad.

Fraud Up and Down the Education System

In Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz the Wizard tells his constituents that he wants an educated populace, "so by the power vested in me I will grant everyone diplomas." Welcome to the education system of 2011. Much of what we now observe comes right out of the Baum novel.

When Charles Eliot was president of Harvard, he was asked why there is so much intelligence at this college, He replied, "because the freshman bring so much in and the seniors take so little out." My guess is if a university president were completely honest today, he might say the freshman bring almost nothing in and leave taking nothing out.

The question is if the society spends billions on primary, secondary, and higher education, why is it that so little is accomplished. There are, of course, many answers to this question, but I would argue the overarching reason is fraud, fraud at every level in order to satisfy political demands.

At the elementary school level it is simply embarrassing to have a large number of students leave who are illiterate or semi-literate. As a consequence, students pretend to read and teachers pretend to assert their competence. Test scores are altered to satisfy political concerns. In a society suffering from the Lake Woebegone effect in which everyone is above average, you can't tell Mom that Johnny and Mary cannot read at grade level. Rather than declare inadequacy, you change the grade. The disparity between NAEP scores - the gold standard of evaluation - and state sponsored tests is startling with NAEP scores 20 to 30 percent lower on average. Obviously some manipulation is at work.

When scores are low, mayors and governors are held accountable. Since most are vulnerable to the political heat, the incentive to cheat is overwhelming. In fact, across the country there is a euphemism for this cheating: scrubbing. This practice suggests that teachers should "search" for clues in the test that would allow for an alteration in scores.

At the high school level, graduation rates are invariably employed as a standard of evaluation. Yet here too most scores are bogus. If a student is pushed through the system through social promotion, his cognitive skill may be near zero, but he is added to the percentage of graduates nonetheless. Rigor rarely exists as a demand or a practice, a condition that explains in large part why American students compare unfavorably to foreign students on international tests in language skills, math, and science.

Once holding a diploma in their hands, however questionable their skill level, these high school graduates are now deemed college ready. Since America has a college for everyone and the society is committed to mass education, students who can read at only a marginal level or who cannot solve quadratic equations are seated in institutions of higher learning.

Surely something has to give. Invariably remediation must take place, but that is insufficient to deal with widespread incompetence. Obviously course content and requirements are modified. A physics instructor at the City University in New York told me recently it is impossible to teach real physics when your students are incapable of engaging eighth grade math.

Of course there are exceptions to the lugubrious picture I've painted. Yet in far too many cases fraud from one level to another is passed on like a virus that cannot be controlled or cured. In fact, most teachers and professors who know the truth become complicit in this institutionalized fraud in order to retain their jobs. They simply cannot say college isn't for everyone, and most students are not prepared to engage in college work, or that rigorous exit requirements at any level do not exist. Hence, there is the clarion call for more money; there is the deceptive claims about the success of our educational systems; and there is the belief this investment is worthwhile.

Unfortunately there is rarely a soul who will say fraud keeps this system going, and like it or not the emperor hasn't any clothes. *

Saturday, 05 December 2015 04:37

A Word from London

A Word from London

Herbert London

Herbert London is the author of Decade of Denial (Lexington Books), America's Secular Challenge (Encounter Books) and most recently Diary of A Dean (Hamilton Books), and publisher of American Outlook. He can be reached at: www.herblondon.org.

The Horror of Killing One's Own

Yemen's security forces killed more than three-dozen protestors in the last few days. Qaddafi has announced that allied efforts to destroy his anti-missile defenses are a form of terrorism and as a consequence, he is prepared to decimate the rebels in Libya. It seems to me that it is time to ask a question that haunts the history of our time: Are there limits to dictatorial power?

Since the Holocaust, the international community has given lip service to the idea that mass murder by dictatorial leaders should never be tolerated. Yet remarkably there are instances in Africa and Asia where this is common practice. In the Arab world where Sharia prevails, the killing of apostates is a routine practice.

Based on recent events, it would appear that conditions across the globe are sliding back to a barbaric period in which murder of one's own people for the retention of power is permitted or at least ignored. The argument is we cannot possibly intervene whenever atrocities occur. Or perhaps more logically, sovereignty trumps atrocity.

It is instructive that U.S. State Department officials employed the latter position for a time by suggesting we should not insinuate ourselves into a Libyan civil war. In other words, however sanguinary the attacks may have been and continue to be, there is not a justifiable role for the US. Needless to say, that position has been modified by our stance on the "no fly zone."

As I see it the basic Obama foreign policy thrust is based on an incremental U.S. withdrawal from regional influence. The withdrawal, I should hastily note, is both emotional - an unwillingness to defend our interests and our allies - and physical - a drawdown of troops based on the belief we cannot afford these foreign ventures.

That strategic vision, or lack thereof, has created a situation in which our enemies believe we are ineffectual and our allies believe we are untrustworthy. Instead of hastening to carve out a defensive stance for the U.S., one that recognizes our foreign interests, the administration has decided to channel our foreign policy through the United Nations. In doing so, the leverage that emerged in the past from the assertion of national power is lost. We are at sea as one nation in an international armada that has lost its way.

The new concept of America opting out of unilateral action has implications for nations with imperial goals. Iran has become the "strong horse" in the Middle East neighborhood by default. Our emerging position encouraged its evolution. Ortega y Gasset once noted, "To create a concept is to leave reality behind." Our concept of multilateralism is a chimera surrounded by a fantasy.

Winston Churchill warned that when democracies triumphed in World War II they "were able to resume the follies which has so nearly cost them their life." It seems we are at it yet again.

We watch with horror as power-hungry barbarians kill their own people. But we generally tolerate these actions. We are overcome by the magnitude of evil and the inversion of certitudes, but are helpless in their wake. We seek fresh creeds, but do not know how to deal with the revulsion in our collective gut. And all the while our leaders tell us this will pass and, after all, there is nothing we can do.

Is the world turning to savagery? Is the 1930s a scenario for the new century? Are we to allow shamefacedly the death and horror we have the capability to prevent? The derision of death lurks in our imagination, but the will to reverse it has not emerged. America cannot police the world, but the U.S. is still the only anchor that can assure international stability. It seems to me that role must be recognized and given the attention history has placed on it.

Libya and the Loss of American Sovereignty

For many, the American engagement in Libya is an enigma. Was the use of American aircraft a humanitarian mission to prevent a bloodbath, were these planes deployed to assist the so-called rebels, were they called on to send a message to Muammar Gaddafi - perhaps even to oust him?

There has been speculation about all of these as objectives. To complicate matters, President Obama's speech about Libya was filled with clichs and was sufficiently ambiguous to have the public arrive at any conclusion. (We want Gaddafi deposed, but that is not a policy objective.)

But now that the dust is settling even as the battles continue, it is increasingly clear, based on commentary from Samantha Powers and Ann Marie Slaughter, foreign policy advisers, that the objective was different from those widely considered. The Libyan exercise was a test case for trans-national progressivism. It was predicated from the start on multilateral cooperation and building consensus within the United Nations. How else could one explain the President's consultation with the Security Council rather than the House of Representatives?

This limited action, what the President described amusingly as a "kinetic military operation," was based on British, French, and U.S. cooperation, and a green light from the Security Council nations. Now, there is nothing new about multilateralism. Surely the wars in Afghanistan and even Iraq demonstrate this point. What is new is the seeming willingness of this government to abandon national sovereignty, to allow the U.N. to determine how American forces will be deployed.

While one-world advocates have long argued for the abandonment of nation states, they have finally found a U.S. President who agrees with their goals - President Obama once described himself as a "citizen of the world," but at the time the remark was considered rhetorical hyperbole. Little did anyone know that this was a serious definition of his role.

For acolytes of this position, such as journalist and author Fareed Zakaria, among others, the declining economic and military strength of the United States warrants multilateral action. However, once this view is adopted as policy, there is little turning back. Declinism has its own set of policy options.

That trans-nationalism was the objective in Libya above all other objectives is manifest in the failure to achieve any other goals. Gaddafi appears ensconced in Tripoli. The rebels are still on the defensive. Lives of civilians remain at risk. And if humanitarian impulses are driving policy, why not intervene in the Sudan or the Ivory Coast, where thousands have been and continue to be slaughtered?

If the U.S. is headed down the path of trans-nationalism, Americans ought to debate this matter. Should American treasure and blood be sacrificed under a U.N. banner by a multinational body that invariably displays anti-American sentiment? Even if the U.S. is losing the dominant global position it once had, it is the only nation possessing the weapons and logistics to be an international balance wheel.

As I see it, rather than a loss of resources that is driving policy, it is a loss of will, an emotional fatigue. The consequence is that many former internationalists eager to retain their stance have turned to trans-nationalism as an alternative. In doing so, however, policy makers cede control and independent action. They cede sovereign rights as well.

It is hard to imagine how destabilized the world will be with the draw-down of U.S. global forces, and political vacuums filled by the Chinese, Russians, and Iranians. With all of the imperfections in American policy, no nation in this century and the last has been more generous in coming to the aid of others in war and peace than the United States. If the Libyan action is a foreshadowing of a new American stance, the world will be a much more dangerous place than it is at the moment, and U.S. sovereignty will clearly be called into question.

Rediscovering Alexander Hamilton

It may be hard to believe but Alexander Hamilton lives. He lives in a brilliant documentary biopic directed and produced by Michael Pack and written and hosted by Richard Brookhiser. This documentary recaptures Hamilton's birth in Nevis, his military exploits in Yorktown, his fiscal policies on Wall Street and his duel on the Palisades of the Hudson River.

Hamilton was a man for all seasons and in keeping with his versatility, the film features themes that shaped and molded Hamilton's extraordinary life.

As America's first Treasury Secretary, Hamilton saved a debt-ridden nation from bankruptcy by establishing the legitimacy of the dollar. To test this hypothesis the filmmakers interviewed a contemporary Treasury Secretary. As one of the three authors of the Federalist Papers that set the stage for the Constitution, Hamilton created the legal and political architecture for the new nation. In keeping with their desire for a contemporary flair, the host interviewed a Supreme Court Justice to get his take on the Federalist Papers.

Hamilton was a man of great passion as evidenced by his illicit love affair and by his provoking of the Vice President of the United States, Aaron Burr, into a duel that ultimately cost his life.

It is instructive and clever that the host interviewed gang members in an effort to discover the consequences of disrespect. The comments prove to be insightful and illuminating.

As I see it, this film is a model for a documentary style that links the past to the present. Hamilton isn't merely a Founding Father, he is with us on the Columbia campus, at the New York Post, at Washington's side, and in the inner sanctum of government.

The Pack-Brookhiser film breathes with freshness. This is not a stuffy history that recounts 18th century America. It is an American tale that is timeless, set against a backdrop in which the present reaches back to find clues about the past.

Statues are ghosts of the past, reminders of history. But a film that shines on the present to discover antecedents, lives. The pornographers, prisoners, warriors, and calypso singers discuss money, rights, privilege, honor, sex, and battle. They offer voice to the episodes in Hamilton's colorful life and texture for the decisions Hamilton made.

Hamilton was Washington's amanuensis, his confidante. He recorded what the Father of Our Nation said and did. Yet he was more than a secretary; he was a guide and a leader. With that thought in mind the filmmakers plumb the depths of human experience to understand leadership and kindred souls who work together for a common goal, in this case the establishment of a new nation.

Alexander Hamilton was a quintessential New Yorker. From the Hudson to the East River, from the Battery to Harlem, Hamilton had a presence on every acre of Manhattan. Wall Street pays obeisance to him every day and the Caribbean islands where he was born and was raised convey rhythm Hamilton delivered to his adopted land.

Hamilton did not die a rich man, although he could have used his position to enrich himself. He was a man of integrity who set the temperament for a great nation. The spirit of exceptionalism that I believe still resides in the United States was the gift Hamilton and his confreres gave to the new nation. That spirit, that idiosyncratic sense of liberty, is what inspired this film and what makes it such a dramatic achievement.

Marxism Redux

Writing in the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Paul Mattick, a professor at Adelphi University, attempts to explain capitalism's failure in an article entitled, "Capitalism's Dismal Future." Presumably its future is a continuation of its past. As Professor Mattick notes:

Capitalism has been around for so many generations now, proving its vitality by displacing or absorbing all other social systems around the globe, that it seems a part of nature, irreplaceable. But its historical limits are visible in its inability to meet the ecological challenges it has produced.

Alas, even if one accepts some of the exaggerated claims of ecological degradation, the evidence does not suggest that capitalism alone is responsible for the problem. China, which has a state-controlled economic system, has environmental problems that surpass any in the United States and Europe. Moreover, a free market offers profit as an incentive to address the problem Professor Mattick identifies.

Mattick's overheated rhetoric does not stop there. He also asserts that depression and recoveries are "a recurrent feature" of the capitalist economy. As I see it, capitalism has the capacity to create wealth and put it at risk as well, as opposed to command economies that distribute limited wealth and keep their citizens in a permanent state of impoverishment. The choices are not between a self-equilibrating system and the Keynesian concept of government manipulation as Mattick indicates, but rather an imperfect system of private incentives and a government-dominated system for the allocation of resources. History has already indicated that the former is to be preferred to the latter, despite Professor Mattick's neo-Marxist interpretation.

Despite the assertion that capitalism is trapped in a cycle of its own creation, it is clear that capitalism is sufficiently flexible to address the problems the system has created. For example, Mattick makes reference to the poor the capitalist system leaves behind. Yet it is clear that the enormous wealth capitalism produces has allowed for government largess for the poor in the form of welfare provisions.

In fact, one could make the argument that government interference very often is the factor that imperils capitalist success. The guarantees provided by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac helped to create a real estate bubble that ultimately undermined the housing market. To cite another example, the "carry trade" that gives banks the opportunity to borrow at near zero interest and invest in 30-year Treasury bills at three percent has restored solvency in the banks, but has not encouraged loans to entrepreneurs or a reasonable return on the savings accounts of average Americans. These conditions suggest something that might be described as "crony capitalism" instead of mere capitalism.

However, seeking advantage or privilege, while one dimension of capitalism's perversion, is a constant, indeed a permanent, feature of command economies. Corruption in the form of bribery is the elixir that keeps the Chinese economy going and in the former Soviet Union, payoffs to party officials were the coin of the realm.

Yes, capitalism is fragile, in large part because people are fragile. But it is the most adaptable economic system the world has known. The free market, the essence of capitalism, relies on the aspiration and desire of the people aggregated into something called demand. That demand quotient changes as conditions in the society change, including everything from natural disasters to the availability of fossil fuels.

Professor Mattlick has rehearsed a theme that coruscates through Western Civilization, a utopia of full employment, the fair distribution of resources, responsiveness to human needs (usually as some elitist sees it) and equality. But to the dismay of many, such a system does not exist and cannot exist. What we do have is a capitalism that is robust, with all its flaws, and sufficiently adaptable to address the most basic human desires. That is not half bad and certainly does not presage a "dismal future."

The Divinity Dupes at Yale

Hucksterism is alive and well and residing at Divinity Schools in universities across the country. In fact, these institutions designed to provide instruction on religious practice have become centers for the promotion of leftist ideology and now Islamism.

On March 23 Imam Feisal Rauf, founder and chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, what some have called the mosque at the World Trade Center site, spoke at Yale on "religious tolerance and interfaith cooperation." The discussion, organized by Jews and Muslims at Yale, was moderated by Rabbi James Ponet, head of the Slifka Center for Jewish Life.

Imam Rauf has received international attention for the Cordoda Initiative with adherents and opponents aroused by the ensuing controversy. Rauf claims to foster strong ties and friendship among different religious faiths, but in all instances the understanding is a one-way street with Jews presumably coming to appreciate the unique contributions of Islam.

Having heard Imam Rauf speak, his soft and mellifluous tone conceals positions consistent with radical Islam. For example, during deliberations about the mosque near the World Trade Center site, Rauf refused to criticize Hamas as a terrorist organization, even though it is listed as a terrorist group by our State Department. He refuses as well to recognize the incompatibility between Sharia - which he espouses - and Constitutional precedents in the United States.

Rauf attempts to convince his audience of his good intentions with reference to his enthusiasm for the New York Giants football team, his having grown up in New Jersey and his love of the United States. But what remains unclear, in fact what is intentionally enigmatic, is whether this love of America trumps his love for Islam and the totalistic demands of the religion.

Moreover, there is an inherent hypocrisy in his approach that the left wing Divinity School embraces as well. While there is much said about understanding and cooperation, the onus is put on Jewish students to appreciate Islam, but there isn't any expectation that Muslims should learn to appreciate the Judeo-Christian tradition of the West.

Islam relies on the Constitutional guarantee of the First Amendment to challenge the most basic and fundamental precepts of constitutionalism. Islam does not recognize the separation of church and state. Islam doesn't have any provision for the protection of individual rights. Islam systematically subjugates women and refuses to offer them the full protection of the law. Are these conditions that should be embraced by the Jews at Yale's Divinity School?

Admittedly there are portions of the Koran that display a desire for cooperation in what is sometimes described as the Mecca period. However, Islam also applies the law of abrogation suggesting that what came later (even though the Koran is not written chronologically) is to be superordinated over what came earlier. As a consequence, the Medina period in which violence is advocated and Verses of the Sword are regarded as more significant than the earlier peaceful episode in Islam's evolution.

But did Imam Rauf mention this matter in his peroration? Of course not. Will Yale students challenge him on this matter? Of course not. Will this event be heralded as a peaceful exchange designed to promote understanding? Of that I haven't the slightest doubt.

In fact, this should be described as Rauf's Grand Sharia Tour Across America. It is a mission aimed at the useful dupes in the Academy who will accept his pronouncements. As I see it, the secret that won't be revealed and is "a third rail" in discussion is that the American left and Islam have very little in common ideologically, except for one matter: hatred of the American system and our way of life. *

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